Jiggling the key in the lock, I shuffled into AJ’s apartment, Suki under one arm and my laptop over the other shoulder. I hollered for AJ, setting the dog down so she could take off and sniff around.
“Suki, don’t shit on the floor,” I warned. She hadn’t been feeling well lately. A touch of colitis, a friend said.
AJ walked out of the bedroom, cell to his ear, holding up a finger. “Yeah.” He paused. “Everything is? Great. Thank you.” He hung up, big grin splitting his face.
I put my laptop on the couch. “What was that about?”
“Clinic,” he answered. “Test results came back negative. Better safe than sorry after that asshole tried to bareback me.”
I smiled. “Isn’t that interesting. I tested clean a few weeks ago.” Ever since AIDS ripped through the 80s and changed things forever, I’ve been careful. Getting tested regularly was a way of life.
He looked at me, surprised. “You tested even though you and JJ were exclusive?”
I sat on the couch looking up at him, elbows on knees, hands dangling between them. “I’m a little paranoid, I guess. JJ and I always used condoms.” I snorted softly. “You know how anal JJ was, and I just got in the habit.” I wasn’t about to admit that barebacking made me nervous.
“Have you ever done it raw?” It didn’t seem as if he was digging for past exploits or looking for a fight. Just curious. With his head cocked to the side like that, he almost looked like a kid asking his parents why the sky was blue.
“A couple of times, back when I was young and stupid.” And I’d been a little nuts afterward, waiting to find out if I’d die. What must it have been like to fuck and not worry about catching something that might kill you?
Suddenly he wouldn’t look at me. He crouched to play with Suki for a moment. I was about to ask him if he had any more good books to loan me when he cleared his throat.
“Uh, Fen?” I looked at him expectantly. “What would you say if… well, how would… um. Jesus. Would you consider doingitbarewithme?” I almost didn’t catch that last part.
For some reason, I noticed the gentle way he petted my dog, barely touching her as he stroked her head. I licked my lips. “You’re clean, I’m clean…yeah.” My voice dropped. “Let’s do it.”
The lopsided grin he gave me betrayed what it cost him to ask me that, the relief that he didn’t go too far. We’d not been together long, after all. “Of course, that means no fucking around. Are we to that point?”
Exclusivity? That sort of took my breath away. I’d only just gotten out of an exclusive relationship. Also, he was tending bar at a hot club and being hit on all the time. “Sure you want to turn down those offers from the twinks? You could be fucking up a storm, and maybe you should.”
He rounded the coffee table to sit beside me on the couch. Whether it was to be closer to me or to face the same direction so he didn’t have to look at me, I didn’t know.
“If I were twenty-five, I’d say you’ve got a point. I’m not, though. After awhile, it’s just fucking.” He finally met my gaze. “The attention’s nice, but shallow.” He shrugged. “It gets annoying.”
Trust. That was the issue. He and I had known each other for ages, but this was special. This was…life and death. I wasn’t sure I knew how to do that. I’d trusted JJ and look what happened. He was in New York, and I was in St Paul. I covered my eyes with a hand. “I’m afraid.” I barely said the words.
Gently, he took my hand, not forcing me to look at him but not letting me hide. “Of what?”
I could always talk to him. That’s why we’d been best friends. “Of things not working out. Of failing…again.” I tried to laugh but it sounded a lot like something else. “This is serious shit, AJ. Serious. If we commit, we have to be totally honest, all the time. If you go home with someone, I have to know. Same for me. Are we ready for that?”
With a gravity he didn’t usually adopt, AJ kissed me, slow and deep, and in the pressure of his lips and the lack of hesitation that held me captive, he made a promise between us.
“First of all, you didn’t fail with JJ. He wasn’t honest with you about not wanting to move. I’ll be honest, and not just about some meaningless hook up that may never happen. I’ll tell you if I’m not happy with us. Before it’s too broken to fix.”
I nodded solemnly. “Do that…or I’ll have to kill you.” May never happen, not will never happen. I heaved a mental sigh. Why was it so hard to commit to someone these days? Why did we all hesitate?
“So what do you say?” he asked, ignoring my attempt at lightheartedness. “Think you can trust me like I trust you?”
He had the prettiest blue eyes. I’ve told you that, right? Gorgeous. I wanted to believe. I wanted that badly. “Yeah…”
The expression on his face was equal parts elated and serious as he stood and held a hand out to me. My heart gave a few heavy thuds as my fiingers touched his. He pulled me into his arms and sighed. With sure steps, he led me down the hall and into his bedroom.