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Chapter Twenty-Four — Not Good at Feeling
Was he really ready for a visit? Aron wasn’t a stranger, but that didn’t mean he should receive him wearing pajamas. There was too much mess lying around, too. Mumbling to himself, he began tidying up the small living room, which now, after staying at Aron’s house for a while, seemed unqualified for the ‘living’ part of the phrase.
It wasn’t like he could not afford something more expensive. He just didn’t want anything else. For him, the little shoe box, as his mom had called his apartment at one point, frustrated with his refusal of getting something more decent, or what she considered more decent, was more than enough.
Used to. Now, he could only think of how Aron was going to feel in that cramped space. Probably not too comfortable. Funny, he had never thought of this before, when Aron and he had been nothing but best friends. Aron had often visited and he hadn’t told Carter once that he needed a bigger apartment. But then was then and now was now. And ever since their … relationship had evolved into …
Maybe he was just going to talk to Aron in the door. But what if Aron wanted to come in, after all?
Hmm, Aron was a guest, and a guest had to be treated properly. Decided that he was going to play the obliging host part, he marched into the kitchen and began exploring the contents of his fridge and the few cabinets he had in there.
A lonely beer watched him from the shelves of the refrigerator. His mom had brought plenty of food, but she had been stern about alcoholic beverages since he was still medicated. His father had said nothing, just nodding gravely. Aron’s mom had also sent food for an entire army, but it was basically just the kind of food to feed a sick person, and not someone paying a social call.
With a shrug, he took out the beer bottle, and then he began scouting the cabinets for some chips. He could still vaguely recall buying some at a discount. Were they expired? No, no, no, he wasn’t going to get his best friend in the hospital with food poisoning just because he was an idiot.
Finally, he managed to find one bag. He stared at the expiration date, trying hard to make sense of it. But it seems like half his brain, if not all of it, was busy with anything else but trying to read what was written on the label. Running away from his own thoughts had never been this hard.
Hard. Like Aron’s big, beautiful …
Stop thinking of Aron that way!
Don’t play the innocent, you bastard!
Ah, like I want us to hump him the moment he’s at the door?
Be serious, that would scandalize the neighbors. And seriously, aren’t you supposed to be my most rational part of the body? Are you playing the other head’s part now?
C’mon, you know I serve as a stand-in for any part of the body you feel like having a conversation with.
Yeah, he was a hot mess. All right, the chips weren’t expired. They had to do, along with the lousy beer.
But what the hell was he going to do with the way he looked? He jumped into the shower, almost managing to sprain an ankle. How long was Aron going to take? Well, he did say after work, but …
What time was it? Frantically, he rinsed his hair and sprayed water everywhere, hoping that he was going to come out clean and smelling like a normal person, not a homeless. Not that he usually had a problem with personal hygiene, but compared to Alex, he was practically the embodied image of a hobo. He didn’t have a closet the size of an apartment and one thousand nice smelling bottles.
Ah, there was still time. Okay, now he needed some proper clothes. What was he going to wear? With brusque moves, he opened wide his closet, where his perfunctory plain attires lay neatly, arranged by his very doting mother.
Ah, why hadn’t he thought about getting some new clothes? Really, Aron was going to think that …
He stopped in front of the closet and began laughing like a madman. Seriously, when had it mattered to Aron what he wore? Obviously, a few days spent as a local fashion icon and he was going crazy over having nothing to wear. He was definitely, undoubtedly, going slightly mad.
With a sigh, he put on a pair of slacks and a t-shirt. Really, he had no idea what he was expecting from seeing Aron.
Maybe for you to drop to your knees and take him into your …
What the fuck, dude? Guy’s married.
To a douche.
It doesn’t matter, he doesn’t know it.
All right, he thought. In Aron’s reality, THE reality, they hadn’t seen each other in two years. Well, Aron had seen him, lying there, in the hospital …
Had Alex been there all that time? The thought was giving him the willies. He had been plenty of freaked out and he hadn’t been stuck in a hospital bed, without being able to move, or speak, or anything.
No wonder Alex had behaved like a hysterical person the moment they had changed back. He could almost feel for the guy. Yeah, he really could sympathize. The guy must have been through hell.
He opened the door, trying to seem as nonchalant as possible.
“Hey,” kaçak iddaa he called, forcing a smile.
His best friend was standing there, looking as handsome as Carter could still remember from just a few nights ago. But he wasn’t looking at him with the same eyes. He was just smiling, and he did look happy, but that was totally different from how Aron had looked at him, when he had thought Carter was his husband.
Ah, damn, he had barely spoken a word and he could feel the world spinning. He wanted for time to just stop, so he could look and look at Aron for all eternity. But time had the bad habit of running, second after second, at the same tic-tac speed as always, from the beginning of … itself.
Aron almost pushed him inside his own apartment, coming at him fast and grabbing him in his strong arms.
“I missed you, buddy,” Aron said, and Carter wondered if it was okay to hug back.
He didn’t have time to decide as Aron pushed him back to stare at him.
“Well, given what you’ve been through, I’d say you look really good!” Aron spoke, his eyes shining and his face all a smile.
“Would you like to come in?” Carter spoke, saying each word separately, like he was a robot in a 60s SF movie, and gesturing amply towards the living room.
That didn’t seem to bother Aron at all. Oh, well, Aron was used to all his quirks, and that was nothing.
“Yeah, of course,” Aron replied, the smile never leaving his face.
“I have beer and chips,” he hurried to add, this time without the weird speech impediment.
“That’s great!” Aron patted his back and Carter finally let him step inside.
He pointed the sofa, and both sat down. Aron didn’t seem interested in the beer and chips, though.
“How are you feeling?” Aron questioned him, his kind dark eyes searching his face with a mix of longing and bewilderment, and also with a tinge of hope.
Ah, damn, now he needed to make conversation.
I’m missing you. So much.
I want to kiss you.
I want you to leave your husband, and then come live with me, like forever, and we can get a dog, and then a house, that if you don’t like that one you have, because I don’t, because Alex tormented that interior decorator and sent the poor man into therapy, and seriously, maybe this is not a sofa, but that thing ain’t either and …
“Hey, buddy, you here?” Aron called gently. “What are you thinking of? I can tell you’re thinking of something.”
“I was … thinking of … how I feel,” Carter spoke slowly.
Like what answer could be the right one. Obviously, not whatever was crossing his mind at the moment.
“It was quite a strange thing, that accident,” Aron shook his head.
“Alex says I pushed him,” Carter said directly, making Aron wince and hunch his shoulders like he was trying to make himself little in the sofa.
The smile was gone from Aron’s face, too, and the corners of his lips pulled down. Carter could sense the man’s pain. It wasn’t just embarrassment. He could not begin to fathom what had happened between Alex and Aron, the moment they got back home, Alex in his own body this time around. Could Alex have told Aron about the body swap? If that guy had one ounce of self-preservation in his supermodel body, he must have kept his mouth shut.
“I was so afraid he was going to take that ludicrous story to the press that I told your parents,” Aron said apologetically. “I didn’t want them or you to find out about such a thing from the newspapers, or the Internet. He did calm down, eventually, and I wish I didn’t say a thing. It was not the time, nor the place to make them upset over something like this.”
“So you don’t believe him,” Carter said. “Your husband,” he added with difficulty, the word heavy and unpleasant in his mouth.
“No, how can I believe such an outrageous thing?” Aron huffed. “In his name, I must apologize. He’s been through a lot … well, definitely not as much as you, but he tends to take everything too much at …”
“He’s a screamer,” Carter shrugged.
Aron threw him an odd look. He also seemed a bit conflicted.
“Hey, listen, Carter,” Aron spoke, “could you please tell me what happened that day? For the love of all that is holy, I cannot believe what my husband tells me.”
Husband. Aron’s husband. Someone who wasn’t him. Husband wasn’t even a complicated word. It only had seven letters, and there was nothing weird about it.
Yeah, Alex was the best householder in the universe. Probably a housekeeper. In Zsa Zsa Gabor’s vision of what a housekeeper meant, not like a maid or something.
“You’re spacing out again, buddy,” Aron touched his shoulder.
He turned to look at his longtime friend. How come had he never looked at Aron like this before? How come had he never noticed how handsome the guy was? How come had he never realized he was …
What? Attracted to Aron? But that was something that he had only recently discovered. So, maybe, just maybe, the accident had happened for a reason. It had opened his eyes. It made kaçak bahis him feel … and he was not exactly good at feeling.
“Hey,” Aron chuckled. “Stop looking at me like I’m one of your girlfriends. You almost make me blush,” he joked. “By the way, any new conquests?”
“Like how? From the hospital bed?” Carter questioned, without a trace of irony.
“So, no hot nurses ready to give you a sponge bath?” Aron grinned.
It was obvious Aron was trying to make him feel at ease. That was how things had always been between them, Aron always doing something so that Carter could express what he wanted to say, without too many detours and delays.
“That thing is so overrated,” Carter stated. “It’s not as pleasant as people make it out to be. And I think that nurse who did give me a sponge bath was just in overdrive for some reason. I can take showers by myself. I just did. Took a shower.”
It’s not like I can help it. He’s so close, I only have to lean in and kiss him.
Don’t do it.
Ah, finally, you’re agreeing with me on this.
“Good for you,” Aron said with a smile. “But, about the accident, could you please tell me what happened? Just so you know, I don’t believe what Alex says. Except maybe for the part when you two were quarrelling.”
“Quarrelling?” Carter asked. “I don’t remember that part, either.”
“Either? Wait, do you remember anything from the accident?”
Carter shook his head dejectedly.
“Nothing. It’s like that part of the brain is blank.”
“That is so weird,” Aron murmured. “That was exactly Alex said the first time he woke up after the accident. That he could not remember a thing. Maybe it will come to you later. Just like for him.”
“But didn’t you say you don’t believe him?” Carter asked, his heart small as a pin.
“I don’t believe the horrible things he says. But I think he remembers the accident, only that he twists everything in hope of some gain.”
“That’s a fine husband you have right there,” Carter commented dryly.
What don’t you bite your tongue before you say another word?
Shut up. I can’t help it.
You won’t. That’s a different thing. Hating on Alex won’t get you points with Aron.
Ugh, I get it.
“Look, I’m not here to make a case for him. But he’s a bit insecure.”
“Insecure? He’s a supermodel. The world is at his feet,” Carter poured some more ice on his words.
He has you as his loving husband. He’s the richest man in the universe right now.
Aron hesitated and threw him a side glance.
“Anyway, I was hoping you could tell me. But, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re fine.”
Aron placed a hand on Carter’s knee and squeezed.
He’s touching me.
It doesn’t mean anything.
Should I kiss him?
Are you stupid?
“What makes Alex think I could do such a thing?” he asked, his eyes fixed on Aron’s hand, still resting on his knee.
“Ah, well, first of all, he doesn’t know you,” Aron pulled his hand away. “Basically, the only time he met you was at the wedding and …”
“And I called him an overrated slut going around, making people gay,” Carter said promptly.
Wait, what are you doing?
What does it look like I’m doing? I’m setting things straight.
Oh, sure. Straight.
Aron frowned for a second.
“Well, that was then. Now is now,” the guest began speaking. “And I’m hoping you and he can be friends now.”
“Friends? Really?” Carter frowned, too. “I cannot be friends with that guy!”
Aron seemed taken aback.
“All right, I won’t say you should be friends with him right now since both of you need to get back on your feet, but I was hoping …”
“Aron, keep your hopes for other things,” Carter said shortly and looked away.
“Okay, you two started on the wrong foot. You said some mean things, he said some mean things …” Aron tried to pacify him.
“Mean things? He tries to convince you that I pushed him in front of a fucking car! That kind of thing could throw me in jail!” Carter exploded, and got to his feet.
All right, this was out of character from him. But it mattered. Aron didn’t believe Alex. But still, why was Aron not sending the douchebag away with a foot in his pert behind?
Because Alex is his husband. And you’re not.
“I told you, I don’t believe him,” Aron’s voice began to strain, too. “And you made the most appalling wedding speech in the history of weddings. So it’s no surprise that he has no lost love for you. But I want all of us to be friends,” Aron seemed to find it hard to keep his wits about him.
“There is no way we will all be friends,” Carter shot back.
Aron drew one deep breath.
“Okay, I cannot force such things on either of you if you two are so bent on behaving like 8-year olds.”
“Why 8-year olds? Why not any other age?” Carter questioned. “9-year olds are not particularly rational beings, as for 10-year olds …”
“Stop running away from this conversation, Carter. Are you forgetting how well I know you?”
“Okay,” illegal bahis he mumbled, feeling a little chastised.
“It’s okay if you cannot be friends with Alex. But I’m here, because I want the two of us to be friends again.”
From Aron’s tense stance, Carter could tell the man was hanging by the next words he was going to hear.
“We cannot be friends,” he said without looking at the other.
“What?!” Aron exclaimed, like he could not believe his ears. “C’mon, Carter, why? I mean, it’s been two years, and …”
“And you’re still married to that douchebag,” Carter said stubbornly.
“Is this still about the fact that I’m married to a guy?”
Not just any guy. That guy.
Or anyone else who’s not me.
You’re not going to say that, are you?
You know I’m not.
Aron might have known Carter well, but there was no chance in hell or high heavens to guess what was going on in his old friend’s mind now.
“So you have a problem with me being gay, still,” Aron said, with pursed lips. “I cannot believe you!”
“Why? Should everyone wave the rainbow flag just because you found some twink to fuck?”
That’s not fair and you know it.
“I don’t understand you. It’s like you don’t want to see me happy,” Aron reproached.
I want to see you happy. There’s nothing I want more.
“Couldn’t you marry some girl and settle down, have kids, and white picket fences, and everything?” Carter continued, his fingers digging deep into his palms.
That’s a mighty shiny shovel you have there for digging yourself in.
Shut up. I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t be just friends with him.
“Seriously, all my life, I thought I knew you,” Aron shook his head. “And not for one second, I believed that you would be against me being gay.”
“Well, then how come you didn’t say anything before getting married?” Carter mumbled.
“Because I was afraid that …” Aron’s words died away.
“Yeah?” Carter pressed.
“Never mind,” Aron stood up. “I should get going.”
“To your gay husband?” Carter said through his teeth.
“Hey, watch it,” Aron growled. “You’re lucky you’re just back from the hospital.”
“Or else?” Carter asked, his back still turned. “What would your gay ass do?”
“Or my gay ass would kick your straight ass until you’re ready to listen,” Aron snapped. “Whatever. I was expecting much more from you.”
Aron marched toward the door.
Carter could feel his feet moving on their own, his hands rising to try to stop Aron from leaving.
“Wait, Aron …”
For a second, Aron turned. But words didn’t come out, and Carter just stared at his best friend, hoping that, for the umpteenth time since they had known each other, Aron would tell him the right answer.
And Aron walked through that door, and he did nothing.
Nothing at all.
Except for leaning against the door, and pressing his head against the wood, and staying there for long minutes, trying hard not to feel a thing.
He’ll never know.
Funny how slowly he was getting used to his old life. Going through the motions, that was what he was doing. He had had no courage to call Aron again. It was okay for Aron to be upset. He knew he would be.
But that didn’t mean that he was thinking less of Aron. If anything, his brain seemed so preoccupied with reliving everything that had happened during those weird days when he had been Alex, that it was a wonder he was getting anything done at all.
He was speaking to his parents, regularly. Aron’s parents were coming by, from time to time, too. Clementine had told him, without reproaching him, that Aron just needed a bit of time and he was going to come back and try to convince Carter to be friends again.
“I know my son. Hopefully, it won’t take him two whole years this time,” she had added with a small smile.
“Are you really bothered by Aron being gay?” Aron’s father had been more direct, and less forgiving.
He had shaken his head. Probably Clementine and Gary Ruskin were changing looks between them, wondering what was going on. But he could not say it, not to them, not to any other living soul.
I’m not gay, but … I somehow want Aron to choose me over that two-timing bastard.
That sounds childish. And you have no proof.
“You two only need time,” Clementine had hugged him. “And when that happens, I won’t forgive you for not coming to visit at least once every two weeks. It’s not much I’m asking, right?”
“How often does Alex come by?” he had asked without thinking.
Other people would have thought him rude and never given him an answer. But Aron’s parents knew him well, maybe not as well as Aron, but still.
“Not as often as we would like,” Gary had replied, in his wife’s stead.
Now he was just standing in a coffee shop, busy breaking open packs of sugar and pouring the contents into the cup he wasn’t going to drink. He was there only because he needed to get out of the house once in a while.
The worst thing to endure was, funny enough, the silence. There were no people calling, no busy workplace, no Yolanda to chase around the desk, no Mark to keep his busy schedule in check and have lunch with, no barre classes to run away from, no interviews on TV, and no …
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