Left Left... Right?
Matthew flipped through tinder on his phone as he half listened to the episode of Archer on his laptop. Neither were activities that he particularly enjoyed, but he was bored and lonely and when his friends weren’t off with each other or having sex with their newest fling they informed him of the wonders of both. He wasn’t convinced.
As he flipped though the guys that either attended his college or worked in the tiny town he was not impressed. On the occasion he did swipe someone right they didn’t like him back and behold- no match. When he very occasionally got the glorious indication that he had a new match either it was a mistake or the guy immediately said something stupid, beyond rude, or both. A moment before he was going to give up he saw a familiar face, but one he didn’t expect to see here, in everyone’s profile picture, on the school’s website maybe, but on tinder, set to gay? Tentatively after checking which direction was which, just in case his hours of swiping had somehow all been wrong Matthew swiped right. He held his breath for a split second waiting for the screen to darken, for this boring lonely night to turn into some sort of crazy romance. But the moment passed, and on he went to another unknown guy who looked twice the age he claimed to be with a cigarette handing out from between crooked teeth.
Sighing Matthew threw his phone off the side of his bed and curled under the covers, he tried for a few moments to watch the show but he just couldn’t do it. Shutting his computer and sliding it to the edge of his lofted bed he said a short silent prayer for it to not fall off and faced the wall. He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep, and just as it did every night, it took hours until the thoughts buzzing around in his head finally faded into the dark static of sleep.
Matthew woke early, earlier than he ever wanted to on a Saturday. He would have probably just fallen immediately back to sleep, but without his phone he didn’t know what time it was. Once he had climbed down from bed he had to pee, and when he had peed he was hungry, and once he was hungry he figured he might as well shower and start his day.
After his semblance of a morning routine Matthew found himself settling into an armchair in the library. The library was strange with no one around. He didn’t have too much homework so on went the headphones and the Netflix, somehow it felt more productive in the library, he would even watch a documentary. Funny how learning was so fun when it had nothing to do with any of his classes.
Ping Matthew almost missed the small sound, but the small vibration that passed through the chair invoked an almost pavlovian response, it was his phone and he must check it.
The small red flame icon sent a pang of resentment through him. Who had he accidentally swiped for now, who was drunk, who was playing a trick on him now. Swearing he was going to delete the app Matthew aggressively tapped the tinder icon with his middle finger.
James? The mystery man from the night before, the macho rugby player that had most likely slept with all the women in the school. There were of course the rumors about the women’s rugby team, but the men’s team? All bros to the highest power, their mating call of no homo could be heard from buildings away when there was a party. There was no way he was gay, and yet... Appearing the night before could have been anything, a drunken dare, a mistaken switch of settings, but at 8am on a Saturday morning, it could only mean one thing- he was playing tricks. Sighing again Matthew turned back to learning about the dangers of fast food, glad that he had eaten a boiled egg and toast for breakfast.
Ping buzz. Again Matthew’s phone was in his hands before he could even parse that the sound had happened. He glanced at the screen and again there was that little red flame. New message from James. And here it began, the laughing the teasing, haha I always knew you thirsted after my body, and the like. But that would at least James knew who he was, maybe it was worth checking, and then, then he would delete the app.
You’re up early, would you want to grab some coffee
There was no way that a message that normal could come from tinder. But not answering would be rude wouldn’t it, he had to just answer, he could say anything, he typed fast, out of annoyance not eagerness he told himself.
Matthew intended to just go back to his show and wait for the inevitable no response, but a bit of movement caught his eye, a response, immediately?
Okay see you in the commons in 10
Matthew sent his message before he could chicken out, but getting his act together enough to pack up his back and head to the student center was a bit harder, he actually arrived 15 minutes later, sure that even if James had been willing to meet him there was no chance that he would still be there. More people would be waking up, more people would see them together, coffee or not it people would notice, something James couldn’t want. But there he was, sitting at one of the small tables, a small white cup in hand playing something on his phone, or possibly trolling other sad boys. Wondering where this cynicism was coming from, James hadn’t done anything… yet... Matthew went to meet him.
“Hey I worried you weren’t going to come. I just got something already I hope that’s okay.” Matthew nodded and dropped his bag at the other tall stool. He went to get his own coffee, or rather tea. He didn’t fancy getting coffee tummy at such a possibly pivotal moment.
“I didn’t know you knew who I was.” Matthew wasn’t shy, not even with people he found attractive, at least not usually, but the possibility of being pranked wouldn’t leave him, even though with every passing moment it seemed less and less likely.
“Well I don’t really,” James laughed “but I've seen you around, and you seem cool, thought why not say hi.”
Maybe he was just looking to be friends, friends were good.
“You really must be confused if you thought I was cool. “ Matthew, happy that he now knew what was going on slid onto the stool, wishing he was slightly taller, then he wouldn’t have to wiggle so unceremoniously onto the small metal seat.
“Well you can stay on the slack line for more than two seconds, that’s pretty cool to me, and you paint? Are you an arts major?” James leaned forward his big green eyes were so intent, it was like he really was interested in Matthew, but the fact he knew his hobbies was, well, interesting.
“Not a major, but I dabble, I’m actually doing bio, I don’t know why, and it’s killing me a little. I like learning how we work though, if only I could get past all the classes about the small things, I don’t really need to know exactly how amphibians can live in the liminal zone between the water and land, I want to know about people- or at least mammals.” Matthew realized he was leaning forward himself. He gulped his tea and sat backward. Maybe if he could shut up about himself for a minute he could find out something about James, figure out why one of the most popular, and attractive guys would want to meet him.
“Other than being a rugby star, how do you spend your time?”
“Doing this and that, other than parties I kind of stick to myself. I was really shy when I was younger, I don’t think I quite grew out of it, not without a few drinks at least.” James smiled but looked slightly down, he didn’t look like the arrogant character Matthew had imagined him to be, he was like a regular person his comment about being shy could almost be true.
As the next hour passed Matthew slowly relaxed and began to see James as a person and not like the archetype he had assigned to him. It was nice to have a new friend. Plus James wouldn’t be so concerned with sleeping with all the people Matthew was interested in. Maybe it would be nice to have a straight friend.
“What are you doing the rest of the weekend?” snapped back into the conversation Matthew considered James’ question. What was he doing this weekend. His lab for one, but other than that, staring at various screens and being bored. Now wanting to seem too boring Matthew frowned, how could he phrase. James saved him by speaking again.
“I don’t want to intrude of course, and feel free to say no, but I wondered if you wanted to come to the rugby party tonight, at Tony’s apartment. It would be nice to have someone there who can actually hold a conversation.” A party invitation. Something Matthew would have to consider when he was over the surprise. It wasn’t that Matthew didn’t go to parties, he just was never invited, his friends just ‘heard something was going on’ and then they went.
“I'll think about it.”
“Cool, I hope to see you there.” And then it was over, the weirdest morning Matthew had had in a while. Well it wasn’t that weird, and that made it even stranger. A regular guy hanging out drinking coffee with him, just chatting, and then the invitation. Maybe it was just a formality, something to say to end the conversation. Whatever it was it made bio lab seem even less interesting than it had before. But, with the goal of finishing before the party would start Matthew actually finished it in one afternoon. But as evening fell he had a large decision to make, followed by several small ones. First should he go to the party, that was already half decided he couldn’t not go, even if he hadn’t been invited someone was bound to show up or call him begging him to show up, and he admitted, he wanted to talk to James more. Even if the party wasn’t the best place to chat he would at least have a reason to reach out again.
Flopping onto his bed Matthew considered the next question, if he was going to go, what was he going to wear? After trying on an embarrassing number of similar t-shirt and jeans outfits, he decided on a soft blue t-shirt he had had for an embarrassingly long time and equally old but buttery soft jeans. They might have been a little too tight, but they were the most comfortable thing he owned short of pjs, and he wanted to be comfortable in such a new environment. Ready Matthew checked his phone. It was only 9:30, way too early to even consider going out. Growling to himself Matthew opened his computer again and turned on a pregaming playlist. He never went to pregames, but a shot or two while he waited wouldn’t hurt. Well shots would hurt so he mixed himself a quick drink and danced around his room with it, picking up bits of clothing and throwing them into the closet. By the time it was time to go his room was cleaner than it had been in months and he was a drink away from a buzz. Making sure he had his keys, wallet, and id, Matthew headed out the door. He was about halfway to the apartment when his phone lit up, a friend request, James. Matthew of course accepted, and before he could go more than ten more steps there was the familiar ping and buzz.
Hey are you coming the message, in the comforting blue of facebook this time made Matthew hurry a bit more. If James had the time to message him he must not be drowning in girls and therefore might be available to talk to, even at the party.
Matthew heard the party before he had even reached the complex the apartment it was in. He thanked his foresight to live on campus, even if it was less cool than living in an apartment the parties were significantly quieter, and for someone that didn’t tend to stay out too late, that was a blessing.
The door was open and Matthew walked right in, the rooms were packed so he pulled out his phone, the ultimate transitional comfort object. While he had it in his hand he figured he might as well message James back.
Here the simplest of messages.
Most of the faces were familiar, but not people that he particularly wanted to speak with. He wandered looking for a drink, and worrying that he should have brought his own. Everyone seemed to have a bottle of beer, and there seemed to be none sitting out. Maybe he should have left earlier. The more drunk the others were, the more he needed to be drunk to deal with them.
“Matthew!” James appeared out of the kitchen with two bottles in his hands. “You came I’m so glad. As you can see most of these guys are already useless.” And looking around Matthew could see that the majority of the guests were definitely past the point of polite conversation. James slung an arm around Matthew’s shoulders and handed him a bottle.
“Cider, I hope you don’t mind, I keep my own stash here, beats PBR any day.” Surprised but grateful Matthew took a drink.
After finding a quietish couch to chat the two men fell easily into a conversation, about homework, about missing home, about parties and the cheap beer they always had. After making their way through a few ciders each there was no way that Matthew could go another second without breaking the seal.
“Where’s the bathroom?” Feeling a bit less stable than he would like to admit Matthew found the room dirtier than he would like and relieved himself. After washing his hands and avoiding touching the knob as much as possible he went to find James again. Though the he hadn’t expressed a desire to speak with anyone else Matthew was worried James might have disappeared into the thick of the party, leaving Matthew with no one to talk to. His fears were realized when he returned to the couch and there were two people he had never seen before passionately going through the bases fast enough any major league player would have been proud.
Considering just walking back to his room Matthew turned. As he squeezed through the throngs he thought he heard his name being called. Sure it was a coincidence or a hallucination Matthew continued through the door and outside.
The cool air was a relief. Matthew hadn’t realized how hot it had been outside, but the crisp autumn air felt amazing. Matthew looked at the clear sky and was amazed by the few starts that were bright enough to shine through the light pollution. He laughed and spun. He was a happy drunk, and even if James had disappeared he had still had more fun at this party than all the other parties he had gone to this semester, and even better he might have found a new friend. Maybe he wouldn’t need to cling to the fringes of the other groups he had been hanging with. Maybe he wouldn’t have to always be the designated driver to get invited out maybe-
“Matthew!” He turned, sure this time his name was being called.
“You left! I couldn’t find you!” It was James; the other man had an almost wild look in his eyes. I wanted to-” James was holding Matthew’s arms, gently, but firmly “-I wanted to say goodbye, or I didn’t want you to go.”
“I just thought you wanted to talk to someone else, its fine, I should probably sleep soon anyway.” Matthew smiled and gently pulled himself out of James’ grip.
“Wanna walk somewhere? It was too loud in there anyway.” If Matthew didn’t know better he would guess that James was making reasons to spend more time with him. Well it was fine with him.
They walked in silence for a while toward campus. It was such a beautiful night Matthew couldn’t stop smiling, a new friend, the crisp night, the leaves just beginning to turn, he felt ridiculous but it was rare he felt so carefree.
Something brushed his hand softly, Matthew ignored it, but then a moment later it happened again, and then again, and finally with a soft puff of air from beside him James clasped his hand. Matthew turned to look at the other man but his eyes were resolutely forward. Matthew squeezed the hand in his and gently wove his fingers through James’. He was just tipsy enough to not worry about what it might mean, he was trapped in the peace of the night and thinking wouldn’t bother him until later. When they came to the peony garden there was a choice, Matthew could either go to his dorm the long way, across campus following the multitude of paths that lead in nonsensical directions or they could take the shortcut through the woods. Matthew paused for a moment but James led the way toward the short cut. It was darker under the cover of the trees but it was lovely with glimpses of the moon, Matthew could almost imagine that he could hear the creek though it was still too far away to hear.
When they were fully in the trees James paused.
“I’ve wanted to do this all day.”
“Walk?” Matthew asked. James didn’t answer he just used his free hand to cup Matthew’s cheek and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. James pulled away slowly and didn’t let go of Matthew’s face.
“I didn’t realize you are as tall as me.” Matthew hadn’t noticed either, he had thought James was taller, but he was just- bigger. Storing the information away for another time Matthew leaned his head into James’ palm and put his free hand on James’ hip. Overtaken by an unknown force Matthew began to hum, a simple tune from somewhere he couldn’t remember. They swayed in the quiet darkness, and for a moment everything was perfect just like that, two almost strangers just standing in the dark. But soon Matthew wanted another kiss. He leaned in and this time it wasn’t so brief, not so innocent.
James’ lips were soft, but just a tiny bit chapped, his mouth was apple-y with just a hint of yeast from their earlier ciders, and when Matthew slipped a hand under his shirt his skin was smooth and cool, the gentle contours of his muscles were interesting, and Matthew wanted to explore them sometime he wasn’t so occupied learning what made him lean further into his kisses. Matthew untangled his hand from James’ wanting to feel more of him. With his left hand already exploring James’ torso and back his other went straight for the other man’s ass, it was firm, as muscled as the rest of him, perfect. Gasping James used his now free hand to return the favor pulling Matthew closer to him, so close there was no breath between their bodies and Matthew could feel James begin to get hard against him. It was intoxicating to have such an impact on such a beautiful man; just knowing what he was doing had such an effect made Matthew aware of the growing tightness in his own jeans. Matthew knew it was probably weird but he didn’t want to close his eyes, he kissed James with his eyes wide open. The other man’s eyes were closed, his dark lashes stark against his cheekbones even in the near perfect dark, and Matthew imagined that he could see a hint of a blush across those same prominent bones. When James pulled a hair’s breath away to pull a full breath through his kiss swollen lips Matthew realized that his own head was swimming, whether it was from lack of breath or the absurdity of the kiss he didn’t know, but he knew is added something to the moment, the dark, the heat, the off balance feeling he felt down to his bones. He had always liked guys, always been comfortable in that knowledge, he had come out in middle school but here he was amazed that a guy, that kissing a guy could be so- awesome.
“Wow” James whispered the word with his eyes still closed. With a few more inches between their faces Matthew could really appreciate the beauty of James’ face, the gently curving lines of his jaw, his cheekbones, and the shadows they cast even more dramatic in the dappled moonlight that filtered in through the trees. Slowly he opened his eyes and met Matthew’s, and as a chilly wind rustles through the leaves Matthew remembered who this beautiful man was, and as much as he didn’t want to bother, and wanted to go back to kissing him he had one question that had to be answered.
“Don’t you like girls?” James looked confused for a moment, still trapped in the previous moment, but when he caught up his laugh echoed through the trees.
“I do! I just like guys too. It doesn’t have to be one or the other you know.” Matthew thought about that for a second. For someone that was well versed in queer theory he could have guessed that, but for some reason he was skeptical.
“I’ve seen that face before.” James’ smile was fading. “I know it seems odd but really its no big deal…” Matthew already felt a bit silly and didn’t know what to say to save face so he just pulled James closer again, the distance between their bodies had slowly grown just as the distance between their faces had. Feeling the firm warmth of James’ body again chased any thoughts or doubts.
They must have spent hours in the woods together, kissing, talking and walking aimlessly. It took hours to walk the distance to the dorm, a walk that usually took only a few minutes, but those hours were worth every shiver and goosebump they got from the dropping temperature and the intensity of their connection.
Sunday was a difficult day for Matthew, he was so tired after being too keyed up to sleep until the sun rose. He had finished most of his homework in his marathon Saturday afternoon but he still had enough to make the Sunday evening panic as horrible as it usually was. And yet he had hope he was going to the library to study with James, though the location suggested it was really to study Matthew didn’t mind, he honestly enjoyed James’ company.
Armed with laptop and a bio textbook he had no intention of reading Matthew headed to the library. When he found the area James had told him to look he was less than happy. Instead of finding just James he found James, three other rugby guys and, of course, a few of the women that always seemed to be around him. Trying to keep the huff of annoyance inaudible Matthew flopped into a chair at the side of the room and opened his computer. If he wasn’t going to get to talk to James he might as well get some work done for the rest of the week.
It took almost ten minutes for James to even realize Matthew was there. He waved from the middle of the group. He looked like he might say something but a small, well-manicured hand on his arm had him turning away immediately. Huffing again Matthew turned back to his work.
You are so far away its like you aren’t even here L the message appeared in a small chat box at the bottom of Matthew’s computer. He had no idea where it had come from but there was of course a picture of James playing rugby.
It's just imessage. Easier to look like you are doing work if it is on the computer yeah? James must have seen the confused look cross Matthew’s face. Matthew knew what imessage was of course; it just hadn’t been on his computer before now, he didn’t know how James had initiated it. Curious but resolute he still he didn’t answer, unwilling to give up his annoyance just yet.
Econ is the literal worst. I thought I would have more time to chat but these dummies refuse to do anything without collaboration. And if Matthew really listened he did hear that the chatter was mostly about something vaguely business sounding. Still, that girl didn’t have to hang all over James like that. Matthew wasn’t possessive, and really he had no claim to James but really, it was unseemly. Still he supposed it wasn’t James’ fault.
Cool, I didn’t know it worked on the computer. Almost instantly James looked up and smiled into Matthew’s eyes. Matthew’s anger dissipated and that made him a bit angry, a smile wasn’t supposed to have that much power, he should be influenced so easily, and yet, he felt his mouth pulling up into a smile as he began his next message.