Thomas and I are sitting in my empty dorm. We’re attacking two slices of french toast smothered in honey with our forks like cavemen with spears. Every now and then I make sure to lick my honey-covered fingers seductively. They taste as sweet as this moment feels. Thomas and I are taking turns staring at each other and racing our eyes back down to our strawberry shaped plates when we make eye contact. Thomas smirks when this happens. I tap my foot, trying hard to get rid of my boner. The loud silence is like a third obese person in the room.
I can’t stop talking.
I’m hoping that my words will shoo away the silence and make him leave Thomas and I alone to unscrew the lids covering our hearts. We’re about to say how we feel about each other. I think. Thomas keeps saying something about needing a person to be forward and brave enough to make the first move and that then he’ll follow along with them.
I think he’s giving me the green light.
To just go ahead and place my brown lips on his pillow lips and to just get this over with. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for six months since I first saw Thomas in our Cultural Foundations III class last September and found out he was gay by creeping through his Facebook profile.
But I could be wrong about him hitting on me right now. I’m not sure. I’ve never done this before. Flirting. Making moves on someone. Trying hard to get them in your bed. I’m a nineteen-year-old gay black male that’s a sophomore at NYU and yet I’m still a virgin in everything. Hand holding. Hugging. Kissing. Hand jobs. Blowjobs. Sex. It’s sad. And I just want to take a crash course in it all. Tonight.
I’ve basically created a support group out of my friends to help me lose my virginity. They’ve listened to the dance choruses of my heart when the signs point to Thomas being into me and to the acoustic ballads when the signs point to Thomas being simply indifferent. They also stopped me when I was considering giving my virginity up to this one guy I didn’t even like just because I was eager to lose it.
I couldn’t have done this on my own. Putting myself out there and inviting Thomas to hang out so many times. “He’s into you I think,” my friend Rachel said after Thomas stopped to talk to me in the dorm lobby, “He was so nervous talking to you. You should really just ask him out on a date.”
See, I’ve never told a guy I’ve liked him before or asked someone out on date or made a move on someone. I hate rejection. For a long time it was hard for me to believe that someone could like me when I didn’t even like myself. But now I like myself. Kind of. So I’ve promised all my friends that I’m going to do it tonight. Put myself out there. And that’s a big deal. But right now taking a picture of my dick and posting it on Facebook asking everyone what they think about it seems easier.
I can’t stop being nervous. It’s in part because Thomas is potentially flirting with me right now but it’s also because of the weed I foolishly smoked in his bathroom around half an hour ago.
“No, André, you have to inhale it and then take another breath of oxygen to push it down into your chest,” Thomas explained to me, pushing out his toned chest to demonstrate.
I knew this but I hated doing it. I hate smoking weed. It makes me weird. But all of the boys I become crazy about are crazy about weed so I feel like it’s a “beat them or join them” situation. I thought that I would have been able to get away with just holding the smoke in my mouth for a couple of seconds and then blowing out funnels of smoke that look like miniature tornados but Thomas’ spotlight eyes had caught me. I took a deep breath and did what Thomas had told me to do. It felt like I was voluntarily shoving ash, dirt, and grass down my throat. I started coughing.
“Jesus that’s awful. How do you guys do it so casually?”
Julian shrugged. “Practice. Look,” Julian said, showing off by blowing smoke up his nostrils.
“Cool,” I lied in between coughs, the air feeling like sandpaper against my throat.
When we were finished Julian went into his bedroom to return to pouring all of his life into his game and Thomas and I sat at his kitchen table in silence. Thomas was staring at me as if I was a neon sign and I was pretending not to notice. I stared at the floor and sighed.
“Sorry I’m not more talkative,” Thomas slurred. He was slumped in his chair and his cheeks had sunk more than my eighty-year-old grandmother’s. But he still looked cute with his shaggy seventy’s porn star hair and his thick pink lips that I wanted to bounce on like a trampoline.
“It’s okay,” I said with a twinge of “it’s actually not okay” behind it. “It’s just you know… it’s hard for me to know what you want from me. I can’t figure you out.” I have been putting myself uncharacteristically out there for Thomas. I bombarded him with texts to chill tonight despite the fact that he’s been blowing me off a lot lately. “Sorry I have to study,” he’d text back five hours later all the other times I had asked him to hang out. I had even thrown an entire party, spending sixty dollars on alcohol and snacks, just so I could have something to invite him to. Thomas came and talked to everyone and joined in on the fun even though I could see he was out of his comfort zone. And one night he even invited me up to his dorm to hang out and meet his friends and roommates. It’s hard to catch him but he’s trying just as much as I am. I think.
I was going to throw another fake party today until I lied and texted him that all my friends were bailing on me but that we could still hang out and drink beer and watch Bob’s Burgers if he wanted to.
Thomas had texted: “Yea sounds good. It doesn’t make much difference to me who is and isn’t there to be honest with you.” I canceled the party.
But I’m not sure if that was a good idea. Because here I was watching Thomas struggle to grab words. “I know. I know,” Thomas apologized to the kitchen table, and me, for his awkwardness. He pushed his hair out his face. “I just…” he held his hands up, “I’ve just changed a lot from the person I used to be. I’m trying to be more calm and centered,” he said softly. “Trust me, it’s better for everyone.”
“Does Meagan think that?” I asked. Meagan has been Thomas’ best friend since high school. She goes to NYU too. I had met her just last week and became instant friends with her. She was as lively and friendly as me and had even sat on my lap to vent about having a one-way crush on Thomas’ other suitemate, David.
“I think so,” Thomas answered me. “I haven’t talked to Meagan about it but I just know she thinks I’m better the way I am now. She doesn’t have to say it. I just know.” I tried to imagine how fucked up Thomas could have been that his friends would prefer a zombie version of himself.
Thomas has told me before that he’s busy working on changing himself. It was two weeks ago when we were standing on the sidelines of his friend’s, Bianca, birthday party. We had just toasted and taken shots out of dish bowls because there were no more cups. It was probably the tenth shot we had taken that night. My method had been to ask “Shot?” each time we fell into an awkward silence. Thomas told me that last year he had done a bunch of drugs: shrooms, molly, acid, coke, LSD, and had even been slightly alcoholic but that he had stopped all of that now. “I usually don’t drink hard liquor,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of nights where I’ve just blacked out and gotten really angry. So I just drink beer now.”
“That’s smart,” I had replied hoping that that was what Thomas had wanted to me say. Thomas had also gone on about how he carefully conserved his words now because he didn’t want to become angry. I told him that didn’t mean that he had to put his personality inside of a bubble. That’s it’s possible to be calm and be who you are at the same time. That it wasn’t an either/or situation. And I told him the same thing tonight.
“Don’t you think it’s counterproductive?” I asked a little too loud. I kept worrying how weird this conversation sounded to Julian if he could hear us from his bedroom. “I mean what’s the point of trying to fix yourself if it’s actually making you more disengaged from people? Most people try to improve themselves so they get along better with people. But you’re actively trying to detach yourself from the world.” I get assertive easily because I care easily.
Thomas shook his head and laughed as if I had just pulled a Sherri Shepherd and said the Earth could be flat for all I knew. “You don’t understand. You don’t know my problems. I’ve been through a lot man and I’m really trying to fix myself.” His voice was tense.
“What do you want from me?” I pleaded. “Do you want me to stop?”
Thomas shakes his head. “No man. It’s fine.” I couldn’t tell if this was painful or therapeutic for him. Every word he said sounded numb and tired. Like each one had had to work a double shift before finally getting to come out of his mouth. “I use to be a really direct person,” Thomas says to the room. “I would just say whatever was on my mind. Even if it was mean. But not anymore. Like if someone is forward with me I’ll follow along but I need someone to make that first move y’know? It’s just that I’m not going to actively put myself out there first.” He looks up and stares at me to see if I understand. I thought I did. At least my tingling crotch thought it did.
“But like what if the other person is shy too?” I asked, dragging my words out, my best attempt at being coy and flirtatious. “What if they don’t like putting themselves out there?”
Thomas smirked and shrugged. “I know I’m difficult but it’s just…how I have to be right now. If they make the first move I’ll go along with them,” he repeated.
I came up with an idea to move things along. I needed to get him alone in my room. I had cleaned up my room, made up my bed, and made sure my roommate would be gone for the night in the hopes that the night would lead to this.
“I have the biggest craving for waffles right now,” I lied. “There’s frozen waffles in my freezer. Do you want to come down with me?”
Thomas smiles. “Yeah, sure.”
I ran out of Thomas’ dorm and into the hallway and turned around the corner, adjusting my pants so my boner didn’t show. I waited for him and giggled as we ran down the stairs to my dorm that’s directly below his. I swung my door open and checked to see if my roommate or two suitemates were here. They’re all gone. I dug through our freezer and pulled out two boxes.
Thomas and I stood in the kitchen with our bodies touching each other. “Okay,” I said, holding out the boxes like trophies, “I have waffles and french toast. Which one do you want?”
“Hmmm… I’ll take the french toast.”
“Okay, but the only thing is I don’t have any syrup.”
“Oh, I have honey in my room. I’ll be back.”
While Thomas is gone I put the french toast in the microwave, turned on bubblegum pop music, and sat on the kitchen counter, kicking my feet like a three year old.
I’m about to have sex, I thought.
And that’s how I ended up at this moment. Sitting with Thomas at my kitchen table eating french toast smothered in honey while exchanging smirks and glances in silence.
“So what’s your type of guy?” I ask.
“You’ve seen my tumblr.”
Last week Thomas had hesitantly given me the name of his tumblr blog when I shoved my phone in his face and asked him if he had one. I strolled through it to see three years worth of nude young, muscular, brown haired white boys who were the epitome of the term “twink”. I kept scrolling, hoping to see one person that was golden brown like me and the french toast I’m eating right now but I found none.
“So just white boys?” I laugh to cover up my hurt feelings. “You’re not into any black guys at all?”
“Well actually…” Thomas says, clinking his plate as he cuts his french toast. “My boyfriend last year was black.”
Thomas looks up at me with his eyes that are the color of honey mixed with milk chocolate. “What’s your type?”
“I don’t know…” Should I list the qualities that match up with his? Masculine? Shy? Fit? Innocent? Socially awkward as fuck? I chicken out. “I guess I would just say I like… interesting people…I’m sure that’s not helpful at all.” Thomas doesn’t say anything so I keep going. “I mean I just like figuring people out. I’m a weird person so I guess I want someone who is weird too.” I change the topic. “Have you hooked up with anyone since you’ve been to NYC?”
“Not since freshman year.”
“Well do you want to hook up with anyone?”
“Not really. I don’t think it’s best for me right now. I just want to focus on my self. What are you looking for?”
“Not like a serious relationship or anything. I think just casual dating would be best for me.”
Thomas nods his head. “Have you hooked up with anyone this year?”
“No,” I shake my head casually, “Not this year.” Not this year, not ever.
My suitemate Gabe walks in.
“Hey!” I shout. “How’s it going?”
“Hey André. I’m good,” Gabe slurs with a dumb smile on his face. He’s looking at me but his eyes aren’t. He’s obviously drunk.
“Are you about to go to bed?”
“Yeah, probably but you guys-”
“Oh!” I shout, grabbing my computer and walking towards my bedroom, “I guess we’ll just go into my room then! Come on Thomas. Good night!” I shout at Gabe, closing my room door at the same time.
Before I went to Thomas’ dorm I had turned on the Christmas lights my roommate has lined up along his wall. The warm orange glow feels like a mother’s gentle hug against the darkness. It makes you feel safe enough to throw out all of your secrets. Like you could say “I love you Thomas.” and not get your heart broken in two. Thomas slouches on my roommate’s bed and I plop down on mine. The music from my computer is playing softly in the background.
“Soooooo…” I say.
“Soooooo…” Thomas responds, shrugging with his hands and patting his stomach once.
“So what have you done with a guy?” I ask.
“Everything.” He answers bluntly. “How about you?”
“Nothing all the way…” I say, trying to dance around the truth of my virginity.
“What does that mean? Have you or haven’t been in a relationship with a guy?”
“No,” I give up to him. “No, I haven’t done anything at all.”
“So you don’t want to be in a relationship?”
“It’s just hard for me to trust people after everything I’ve been through.”
“You have to open up to someone. I mean what happened to make you like this? Can you even tell me one thing to help me maybe understand?”
Thomas opens and closes his mouth. He shakes his head and laughs. “I’m sorry but…”
“It’s okay. I just want to be there for you. You can trust me you know? Trust me, I understand…” I take a deep breath before I screw the lid off my jar of painful memories. “Okay, here, you want to know a secret?” I whisper.
“So last year I got kicked out of my dorm because I got really drunk and broke all the dishes.” He’s silent. “So yeah, you see? Freshman year wasn’t easy for me either. I mean that happened and remember the story I told you about me getting a ticket for peeing on the street when I was drunk?”
“Yeah!” Thomas shouts, “I got a fucking ticket for having an open container!” He’s pouting like a three year old now.
“Yeah, and I wasn’t even the only one drinking on the street. I told the cop that but he was just like ‘No, fuck it. We caught you, so we’re writing you a ticket.’” Thomas’ scrunched up face tells that me he is driving down the frustrating memory right now. He doesn’t say anything else.
I lie down and close my eyes, leaving Thomas alone to bathe in the anger of his memory.
“Did you expect me to be a more talkative person?” Thomas asks, his voice crescendos into a whine.
“No. It’s fine. It’s just hard for me to know what you’re really thinking. It makes me nervous. I never know if I’m bothering you or not. Your eyes always look like there’s something more you’re not saying. Do you want to talk more?”
“I guess so,” Thomas groans. “It’s just I don’t know what to do about it or how to fix it. I know I’m socially awkward.”
“Stop that!” I yell into my pillow.
“Insulting yourself. You’re fucking fine man. Just stop stressing out all the time and be yourself.”
“I’m just saying the truth.”
“Wait a sec…” I get out of bed and open my room door, checking to see if Gabe is still in the bathroom. He’s in his bedroom. I close the door, speed walk to Thomas, stop in front of him, and bend down to kiss him on the forehead. It feels like I’m kissing a brick wall. And then I sit back down on my bed, waiting for him to say or do something, anything.
Thomas is staring at the wall with an open mouth.
“Sorry,” I whisper. “I just wanted to…put that out there…”
“No… no… it’s fine man. I just didn’t know you felt that way about me.”
“Oh,” I say deflated. I know where this conversation is heading. “I thought it was pretty obvious. You didn’t have any idea at all?”
“Well it was an idea in the back of my head like one or two times but I was just like nah…”
“Well I mean you are a pretty likable person…”
Thomas shakes his head. “I don’t like to think about that kind of stuff. I’m not trying to put myself out there like that. That’s why I haven’t cut my hair. I don’t know if I lead people on without knowing it. I just don’t know how to reject people. How do you tell someone you don’t want to date them? I don’t know if I’m a tease. Am I tease?”
“I don’t think you are. It’s my fault probably. I should of just been honest with you from the get go. I just thought it was pretty clear that I liked you.”
“It’s just I know I can’t be in a relationship right now. We can still hangout man.”
“Yeah… I guess we can just drink beer and watch Bob’s Burgers.” I clap my hands and stretch. I just want this conversation to end and for Thomas to leave. Now.
“Sounds good. Look… I’m sorry-”
“No! No! It’s totally fine. Next time I know just to be upfront from the get go. It’s my fault. So yeah…” I shrug my shoulders. “That’s that…”
We sit in silence.
“So I guess I’m going to go,” Thomas says after a century, stretching when he stands up so the fire red band of his Calvin Klein underwear taunts me. He looks down at pitiful me and with his arms held out. “Give me a hug.”
I stand up and give him a quick half-hearted hug, turning my head so he can’t see the embarrassment on my face.
“Bye,” Thomas says as walks out and closes the bedroom door behind him.
“Bye,” I whisper.
When I hear the front door close I call Kaitlyn and cry.
So that’s that.
For the first time ever I gave up more of my heart to someone than the carbon dioxide I’ve given up to the world and I got nothing in return. But I’m not mad. At least someone ended the night feeling better about himself.
Thomas needed it more than I did. I think.