If he actually had any money on him right now, he'd bet that Alex has something to do with this, because the Marissa who had never had a girlfriend would never have dreamed of suggesting what she's suggesting, and manage to look serious while doing so.
I just think it would help, she says.
He hadn't realised they were in a situation that needed help.
She looks at him. You can't even look at me when we're together, she says.
He wants to argue with her, to disprove this statement, but he realises that he can't. She's telling the truth.
It's Marissa's idea, he says. He thinks it's important to explain this, to let him know the origin of this crazy plan. Seth looks at him as though he's lost his mind, asks why he couldn't just find some random guy.
If I'm going to do this, I don't want some random guy, Ryan says.
Ryan has had all night to talk himself into this. This doesn't mean he's forgotten that Seth hears threesome and imagines himself with two women, or that he's spent years being accused of doing what Ryan is asking of him. He's ready for the no.
He's not ready for Seth walking in on them later that night.
You're right, Seth says, it shouldn't be some random guy. He stands there, awkwardly, and neither of them know what to do. Marissa gets up from the bed, cups Seth's face in her hands, and kisses him.
Ryan watches like it's a dream. It doesn't feel real, any of it, not Marissa taking Seth's hand and pulling him over to the bed, and not Seth's mouth suddenly on his, warm and wet and silenced for once, not the way Seth's hand touches his cheek with too much love.
No. It's the hand that does it, the gentleness, the softness, the way it's tender and caring and everything that it shouldn't be. It's all wrong; he thought it could be just sex, hard and fast and rough and focussed entirely on getting each other off. He can't fuck Seth. He can't. This isn't a gesture that's a prelude to fucking. It's the prelude to making love.
He's already as hard as he's ever been in his life and he doesn't want to be. He doesn't want to open his eyes, because Marissa is there, and it's all so wrong.
He forces his eyelids open. He moves away from Seth. He doesn't make eye contact.
I can't do this, he says, and he's already halfway to the bathroom by the time he says it, still hard, feeling like the world's tilted on its axis and nothing's ever going to be the same again. He's had that feeling before, but he doubts this is going to be like gaining a family. This is losing something. He closes the door, sinks to the ground, covers his ears, tries to breathe. Did it really seem like a good idea, once upon a time?
Seth's gone, she says, and he isn't surprised. She sits down next to him, leans into him. I'm sorry, she whispers, and he can tell she's on the verge of tears, I thought it was going to be okay. I thought –
He kisses her because he doesn't like it when she cries. He wants to be able to stop the tears, to make things okay. Maybe he can make this okay, at least.
He realises she's kissing him for the same reason, even though he doesn't cry.
Even though he's close to it now, and he doesn't want to be.
It's not quite fucking and it's not quite making love. It's some kind of desperate attempt to make the other feel better, a more extreme version of a tight hug and whispers that everything will be okay. It happens in the bathroom, which is free of the memory of a kiss and a hand on his cheek, and when he comes, he is thinking of Marissa and Marissa only, Marissa, Marissa, Marissa –
But his eyes are closed, and somewhere in the darkness there's a dark-haired boy he'd do anything for.
Afterwards, she fixes her skirt and smiles sadly at him.
They manage to avoid speaking to each other for two days. If Kirsten and Sandy notice, they don't say anything, to Ryan, anyway. Forty-eight hours can feel like a lifetime sometimes, he thinks. He spent all of last summer away from Seth, and he knows there have been times when they haven't spoken to each other for days, for reasons other than a failed threesome, but this feels longer than the rest of them put together. The silence feels like it's taking over, a third presence in any room they happen to be in together, before one of them leaves.
On day three, he wakes up to find Seth sitting on the floor.
This is stupid, Seth says. I mean, so you didn't wanna go through with the whole threesome thing. Hey, I probably wouldn't want to do me either. And the more I think about it the more I think that threesomes? Not such a good idea. And I miss you, man. I know you're not much with the talking, but you're good with the listening, and Captain Oats is no substitute, believe me. So – are we cool?
Yeah, he says. We're cool.
A smile creeps across his face.
It wasn't you, he says later, eyes on the television screen and fingers working the controls.
What wasn't? Seth is either distracted by the game or deliberately making it harder, Ryan thinks.
That night. It wasn't that you're not – doable.
Did you just say doable?
Sometimes Ryan thinks Seth focuses on all the wrong things.
Look. It should have been some random guy. I couldn't – do that with you and have everything be okay afterwards.
So what you're saying is, I am doable.
Ryan chooses not to dignify that with a verbal response. Onscreen, his player defeats Seth's. Game over.
On the second day of everything being almost back to normal, he wakes up to find Seth there again.
Marissa says you guys broke up, Seth says, sounding more uncertain and small than Ryan has ever known him to be.
We didn't. That is his automatic response, before he considers the situation carefully. Or maybe we did. Things – haven't been working out.
He hasn't spoken to her since she left that night, he realises. He hasn't even thought about it in terms of breaking up. He's had his eyes closed again.
Seth asks why.
Ryan can't find any right words.
So. So he gets out of bed and sits down next to Seth and looks at him. Seth looks back with wide eyes and maybe, if Ryan isn't dreaming this all up, longing of some kind.
They sit there for a moment or two or maybe an eternity, just looking, and then Ryan leans in and Seth leans in and they're kissing.
There's that hand on his cheek again but it seems to matter less now. This isn't a part of something else; it's just the two of them, no favours, no obligations, no need for meaninglessness.
It's okay now.
So I am doable, Seth declares triumphantly.
Ryan feels that he has provided enough non-verbal evidence for this fact, but Seth craves verbal confirmation anyway.
Yes, you are doable, he says with a small sigh.
I knew it. I knew you couldn't resist my charms.
Ryan smiles, says nothing, continues touching, kissing, stroking. Seth's hands are on him, gentle, kind, loving. They are making love. He thinks maybe he can deal with this, if Seth can. Mutuality in these things is everything.
When he comes he doesn't see the boy in the darkness. There's no need. His eyes are open.