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Eli turned on the porch light and sat at the base of the stairs, watching the door. Though it was nighttime, he had very few lights on in the house: one lamp in the living room, whose light spilled out into the entry hall and made large polygonal shadows, and one in Eli’s bedroom that gave the upstairs hallway a faint warm glow. The rest of the house was dark and vacant. He was sure it was all the light he needed and wouldn’t dare use any more than that, afraid that the neighbors would notice them at such a late hour. While they weren’t generally inclined to prying, with Eli’s parents out of town, they were surely more observant than usual.
As he stared at the door, Eli felt his sense of time getting confused as each minute that passed seemed longer than the minute before. His mind wandered to the conversation that he just had, dissecting and examining what was said. He worried that Matt wouldn’t come. After reading through his mental transcript several times, a light rapping at the door brought him out of his mind and back to the entry hall. He stayed seated on the stairs and suddenly became aware of his rapid heartbeat and the vibration of his blood moving through his veins. Another sequence of quick knocks brought Eli to his feet. A wave of goosebumps started at the top of his head and had washed over his whole body by the time he walked over to the door.
He let Matt inside, and they exchanged whispered greetings. Eli turned off the porch light and the light in the living room and led Matt up the stairs.
“You’re taller than I thought,” Eli said.
“It says it on my profile.”
“I know. You just— look taller, I guess,” Eli could hear a slight shakiness in his voice. He looked back as they reached the top and found himself staring into Matt’s eyes. They were light blue in the pictures, but they seemed more green in this light. He smirked, and Eli gave a shy grin as he motioned for him to enter the bedroom. Eli stepped in behind him, shutting the door.
The first thing Matt noticed was the deep red color of the walls. The red-delicious walls were peppered with decor both popular and personal. There were several posters; some were of bands and celebrities; others were of the novelty variety. A few pieces on the walls looked like the products of a required art class, maybe several. There was a twin bed pushed up against one wall, the most decorated one, that was covered with a red-and-black checkered comforter that Matt saw had a matching pillowcase. Laying beside the matching pillow was another with a dark brown case; the crooked seams and the pattern of deep wrinkles indicated the amount of haste that went into this addition, clearly meant for him.
“Cute place,” Matt said as he continued to look around at the room.
“Oh, uh… thanks.”
Eli stood stiffly by the door as Matt casually inspected. Across the room from the bed was a desk that faced the window; a laptop, a cup of writing utensils, and a stack of composition notebooks were just a few things piled onto it. Matt sat at the desk, looking at the sparsely lit street outside. He turned to Eli, who looked like the embodiment of tension itself.
“Is it alright if I sit here?”
“Sure,” Eli’s voice nearly cracked.
Matt looked him in the eyes again; the warm circles of chestnut tried to look back at him, but they bounced indecisively from the left eye to the right, back to the left and then the right again. He felt like an intruder.
“Don’t you want to sit?”
Eli heard the question, and understood it, but didn’t respond immediately. He stood, still attempting eye contact.
“Yes,” he waited for a moment before he walked over to the bed, sitting at the end closest to the door.
He conceded eye contact and focused on his fingers which fidgeted with each other.
“You seem nervous,” Matt spun the chair around to face Eli. He hadn’t given up on eye contact yet.
“Do I?” Eli gave a slight chuckle.
He flashed his eyes up at Matt for a moment before returning his attention to his hands. Matt got up, swaggered over to the bed, and stood next to the boy. Eli tried to look up at the young man, but only managed to pick his head up long enough to see how tight Matt’s jeans were and went back to his hands again.
Matt did so, sitting just a foot away from the boy who wouldn’t look him in the eye.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-two, two years younger than you. You asked me that earlier.”
“You said that, but this isn’t the room of a twenty-two-year-old.”
Eli’s fidgeting slowed, his attention moved to his feet, which sat still on the floor.
“How old are you, really?” There was a hint of concern in Matt’s voice.
“Eighteen,” Eli’s voice cracked that time.
Matt leaned back no his arms and looked around the room once more; there was nothing more to discover in there, but he needed to do something. Eli looked up from the ground but didn’t turn to look at Matt.
“Do you want to leave?”
“Do you want me to?”
Matt sat back up. They sat in silence for a minute or so before Eli finally turned to Matt. His attempt at eye contact this time was a noticeable improvement over the last.
“You can, uh— l-lay down if you want.”
Matt laid down on the bed, resting his head on the wrinkled pillow. His legs stretched out to where Eli sat. Eli lifted his arms awkwardly, and Matt placed his feet in the boy’s lap. Eli slowly brought his arms down and rested them on Matt’s legs. Matt watched him adjust his arms a few times, searching for the most comfortable position.
“It’s your bed, ya know. You can lay here too.”
Matt took his legs out of Eli’s lap, and he crawled to the head of the bed, laying on the checkered pillow. Matt turned on his side to face Eli, who looked up at the ceiling. They laid in silence; Matt watched Eli’s chest rise and fall slowly over and over as the boy stared up at the blankness of the ceiling. They stayed like this for several minutes.
“Praying or astral projecting?” Matt asked, breaking the silence.
Eli sighed and rolled over to face him. He smiled at getting to look at Eli’s gorgeous dark eyes again. Eli was still silent.
“Hello,” Matt gave a smug smile.
“Hi,” Eli grinned slightly but blushed furiously.
Matt started to chuckle, and Eli couldn’t resist laughing with him. As the laughter began to calm down, Matt gently grabbed Eli’s hand and brought it up between their faces. They both watched as Matt opened Eli’s softly closed fist and interlocked the boy’s fingers with his own. Eli’s breathing got heavier for a moment, but relaxed the longer he felt Matt’s strong hand cradling his. The wide, panic-stricken look of his eyes faded. He found himself instinctively stroking the young man’s hand with his thumb and staring unflinchingly into his greenish blue eyes.
Eli rested his head on their joined hands and smiled. Matt picked up his other hand and began stroking Eli’s arm in circular motions. With each circle, Matt’s hand moved further up Eli’s arm until it reached his face, grazing the boy’s nose with his fingers. They ran down across his mouth and traced his jawline; the whole hand caressed the nape of Eli’s neck. Without realizing it, Eli was pulled into a soft kiss. When he did realize what was happening, he did not attempt to stop it. Their hands separated. Matt switched which hand was at the nape of Eli’s neck, wrapping the other around Eli’s waist and pulling the boy’s body close to his own. Their kiss intensified, mirroring the magnitude of Eli’s violent heartbeat. Without warning, Eli pulled away from Matt’s lips, but not from his body. He looked at Matt, who noticed the boy’s eyes were welling up.
“What?” Concern had returned to Matt’s voice in a more caring and obvious way. “Is something wrong?”
“I haven’t done this before.”
“That’s uh… that’s all I’ve done before. Ever.” Eli rested his forehead on Matt’s chest.
The young man’s heartbeat was excited but nowhere near as harsh as Eli’s. He hugged Matt, at least as best as he could with Matt lying on his back, and he reciprocated by delicately playing with Eli’s hair.
“It’s alright,” Matt sighed, “I didn’t want to assume, but I’m not surprised.”
Eli lifted his head from Matt’s chest, leaving behind two small wet marks where his eyes had been. He tried to soak up his stains with his sleeve as Matt continued to rustle his hair.
“I’m just being weird and—”
“No, you’re not.”
Eli stopped and found the teal eyes once again.
“You’ve had some fun with other boys, at camp or something, but no real dates…” Matt’s rustling became more like petting. “Just a handful of quick kisses. By some lake with a Native American name. Somewhere out of sight, while no one was looking.”
Eli sat up with his back against the wall of posters and crossed his legs.
“Just one. Not even a handful,” Eli uncrossed his legs and brought his knees into his chest. “I was ten. After ten, boys stop exploring those kinds of feelings. Not much action then.”
“I know,” Matt sat up too, propping himself up on the pillow.
“Everyone else gets to explore and figure shit out. They kiss and fuck and fall in love, and I get to watch. Just watch.”
“Not forever, though.”
“But still too long.”
The silence returned. Eli closed his eyes and rested his head in his knees. Matt moved closer to him and stroked his leg in a tender and nurturing way.
He sat up fully and whispered into Eli’s ear, “I know. I know.”
He was petting the boy’s hair again. Eli picked his head up. Matt only caught a brief glimpse of the sparkle of tears in his sad, dark eyes before the boy pounced on him.
Eli locked Matt in a tight hug and kissed him furiously, pinning him down to the bed. Matt reluctantly kissed him back. He couldn’t tell how long this went on before Eli broke away. Somewhere in hustle, Eli had managed to position himself straddling Matt’s waist. In one swift motion, the boy removed his shirt and dived in for another kiss. As they kissed again, Matt got upright and lightly shoved Eli off of him. The boy had a guilty expression.
“Put your shirt back on,” Matt said in a hushed tone.
Eli got his shirt from the side of the bed and began to put it back on.
“Stop apologizing. It’s not your fault,” Matt crossed his arms.
Eli finished with his shirt and crawled over next to the young man.
“Why’d you stop me?” Matt suddenly found it difficult to look him in the eyes.
When he finally did, he could see no more tears in the boy’s eyes, but still hurt and sadness. His heart stung. His eyes panned around the room once again.
“My room looked just like this one. A while ago. Six years, maybe,” Matt looked back at the sad chestnut eyes, “I was lonely too. And desperate.”
“Are you calling me desperate?”
Matt stands, and Eli moves towards the edge of the bed to be closer to him. Matt puts a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
“Please. Wait. Don’t force it,” his voice was stern but laced with sorrow. “There’s always enough time; you’re not running out. Be with someone you trust absolutely. It only takes one man to do a lot of damage, but it takes so much more to fix it.”
Matt leans down and kisses Eli on the forehead. As he heads for the door, Eli springs from the bed and dashes up behind him.
“Can we still talk, though?”
“You should get some rest. It’s late.”
“In general, then?” Eli stood next to Matt in the doorway, “You seem like a nice— a cool guy… And I could use someone to talk to about this stuff.”
Matt couldn’t resist a reasonable favor for those brown eyes.
“Sure,” he took a step out of the doorway and turned back to Eli, “Aren’t you gonna walk me to the door?”