Ephram asked Colin to sleep over because it had seemed like the right thing to do at the time. He hadn't really planned on it (thought about it yes, sometimes, just before he rolled onto his side and drifted off with one of his two pillows pulled tight against his chest, but he hadn't planned), it just came out while they were sitting up in Colin's room pretending to do homework.
"So, you're not doin' anything this weekend?" like it was part of some larger conversation, even though they'd actually been talking about geometry, which Colin was still in. Back in New York, Ephram had been in Gifted even in subjects he didn't really care about, like math. He'd done geometry in seventh grade. Back there, he didn't talk to kids who were still in geometry, not because he was so much better or whatever, but because that was how things were. They didn't have anything to say to one another.
Colin laughed a little. "Nope. The team's having some party or something."
"Oh." Sure. Colin always had something to do. He was like a king granting audiences to peasants.
"Why? Something going on?"
"You're not going to the party?"
"What's the point?" Colin shrugged. "It's just going to be a bunch of drunk assholes falling all over themselves."
"Well, yeah," Ephram said, but he couldn't come up with anything to say in favor of being around drunk assholes, especially if you were Colin and couldn't drink anyway. "That must suck," he said, although it didn't seem like that much of a hardship to him, frankly.
Colin shrugged again and looked out the window. He couldn't drink, Ephram knew. His dad had told him. "Not even a drop," Ephram's dad had said, squinting hard at him. "I'm serious, Ephram." Ephram had nodded, impressed by how much his father seemed to care. He remembered the jokes his father used to tell at the dinner table, making fun of this patient's fat wife or that one's devotion to cats. His dad had been a great surgeon before. Now he was ... something else.
"So did you want to come over?" he asked, not even really hearing the words until they came out of his mouth.
"You mean, like, a sleep over?" Colin said.
Ephram flinched -- he didn't mean it like it sounded, like he was a girl or something. "Um," he said.
"Okay," Colin said.
"Okay," Ephram said.
Amy heard about it at lunch, when she asked if Colin wanted a ride to the party. "I'm gonna hang with Ephram," Colin said and Amy's glance had been hot and fierce. Ephram felt himself blush. He wanted to shake her and scream "I know, I know" in her face because talking to Colin, hanging out with Colin, being friends with Colin was like some twisted form of self-punishment. He knew that.
"I know," he said, when she grabbed his arm in the hallway.
"I thought you weren't going to be friends with him," she hissed.
"But now you are." She stepped back, her long hair tossing like a horse's mane. She was pissed.
"I guess," he said. "Yeah."
"I don't know why you're doing this," she said.
Her face changed, the anger draining out of it like someone had pulled the plug out of her. She turned and walked away, her hair a swirl of honey swinging over her shoulder. Ephram watched her go.
In some ways, being friends with Colin was like being set free.
Colin came over while they were finishing dinner. Delia -- excited by the prospect of Ephram having "a friend" over -- jumped up at the knock and flung the door open before Ephram could get out of his chair.
"Oh, it's you," she said to him.
"Sorry," Ephram said, pushing her out of the way.
"It's nice to be loved," Colin said.
"She was hoping for Bright," Ephram explained.
"He's not too old for her?"
"No accounting for taste," Ephram said. "Come on."
Ephram sighed. His dad was a good enough guy, most days, but he was always so there suddenly, asking questions. And he paid attention to the answers, now. But Colin didn't seem to mind.
"Hey, Dr. Brown," he said. "What's up?"
"Nothing, nothing." He stood back with his hands shoved in his pockets. Surveying his work, Ephram thought. "You look good."
"I feel good," Colin said.
"Are we done here?" Ephram asked. "Because Colin and I have some studying to do. Upstairs."
"Uh huh," his dad said. "You realize that alcohol use is not only illegal at your age, but contraindicated with Colin's medication."
"Good night," Ephram said, and grabbed Colin's bag.
"Your dad's pretty cool," Colin said. He was sitting cross legged on the bed, one of Ephram's comics open on his lap.
"Please," Ephram said. "You have no idea."
"True," Colin said.
"I have this theory," Ephram said, "that other people's parents are, like, these extraordinarily cool hip crazy people, but their kids can't possibly know that, or the world would come to a halt. Like, you think my dad is cool, when really he's a total idiot except when it comes to brain surgery. And your mom is the calmest nicest woman I've ever met."
"Only she's a screeching banshee about leaving your shoes on in the house," Colin said.
"See, that's my point," Ephram said. "If you thought she was cool, you'd implode."
"Hmmm." Colin tilted his head to the side. "Maybe. Is this true of everyone's parents?"
Ephram shook his head. "Oh, no. Definitely not. Like Dr. Abbott? Not him."
Colin laughed. "No, definitely not him."
It was on the tip of his tongue, then -- I kissed her -- but he couldn't say it out loud. Not because of some stupid promise, but because he and Colin had something, a friendship or something, that would vanish if he told. Whatever it was, it mattered to him, having it, protecting it, not losing it.
They stayed up until Ephram didn't know when, long after Delia had come in and said good night to them, kissing Ephram on the cheek.
"That was so cute," Colin said, clasping his hands under his chin. Ephram rolled his eyes.
"Please," he said. "That was my dad checking up on us."
His dad himself came in about an hour later with hot chocolate. Ephram rolled his eyes at Colin behind his dad's back, but it was good even if it was an excuse.
The house creaked and settled and fell quiet and they were still up, Ephram on the floor on his sleeping bag with his back against the bed and Colin on his stomach across the mattress, flipping pages slowly. He hadn't been into manga before, he said.
"Not like I remember," he said, lifting his eyebrow. "I mean, that's what Amy said when I asked her."
"You seemed like more of a sports-beer-girl guy from the stuff I heard," Ephram said, tipping his head back over the edge of the bed so he could see Colin's face.
"You wouldn't have liked me much," Colin said.
Ephram felt his breathing stop. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.
Colin shrugged. "Nothin'," he said. "Just, I get the feeling that if I had been around when you first got her, you and I wouldn't be friends now."
Colin was right, of course. Ephram didn't know how he'd been before the accident, but since he'd come back, Colin seemed almost psychic about how people felt. "Is that a problem?" he asked.
"Nope," Colin said, and smiled.
"Alright, then," Ephram said.
"It's just weird to think about," Colin said, pushing the book aside and resting his chin on the back of his hands. "How different things would have been."
"Who knows," Ephram said. Colin's elbow almost bumped his nose, but Ephram didn't mind. "I mean, maybe we would have been friends anyway."
Colin looked at him over the hill of his shirt sleeve. "Sure, maybe," he said. He grabbed the edge of the comic and pulled it toward him. "Check this out."
Ephram turned and propped his elbow up on the bed. "Oh yeah," he said. "That's David Lee. See, he's one of the classic characters, he's, like, a real person by day and a superhero by night, only he's much happier during the day. It's, like, a commentary on the nature of --"
Colin was laughing at him. Not really at him, like, not necessarily in a mean way, but looking at him and laughing, probably because Ephram was being a huge and inarticulate dork.
"Sorry," he said and actually had to wipe tears off his face. "Man, really."
"I know. I'm a complete dork. This can't come as a surprise to you."
"Nah, man." Colin slapped his hand lightly. "It's cool."
"Whatever." It wasn't cool, he wasn't cool. He wondered, in fact, how he'd gotten this uncool, since he was from New York and all. Manhattan, even, not even, like, the Bronx.
"Dude," Colin said. "Your hands are really cold."
Ephram looked down at his hand on the bedspread. It hadn't felt cold until Colin had put his own rather warm hand on top of it. Ephram jerked away.
"It's fine," he said.
"Seriously, it was like ice. Is it cold down there?" Colin leaned over the edge of the bed and touched the floor. "Jeez!" he said. "Doesn't your dad pay for heat?"
"It's an old house," Ephram said. "It's drafty."
"It's fucking freezing."
"It's fine," Ephram said in the tone of voice he used to make his father leave him alone. It never failed to work on his dad unless his dad was really and truly pissed, but Colin didn't even really seem to notice: he kept pressing his hand against the floor and lifting it up again.
"Dude, you're totally not sleeping down there," he said. His face was a little red from hanging off the edge of the bed and Ephram wished for one horrible moment that he'd have an aneurysm or something, and then overflowed with guilt.
"Whatever," he said. "It's fine."
"Yup," Colin said, and then he inched back on the bed and pulled the comic up near his chin so he could see it, and that seemed to be the end of it.
He realized Colin was asleep about an hour later, when he said "hey, check this one out, man," because Colin liked the ones where someone died a tragic death (Ephram ignored the psychological implications there -- sometimes a comic is just a comic) and Colin didn't move.
"Colin?" he said.
He was lying across the bed, his cheek on the corner of the comic. Ephram wondered if Colin drooled, and then wondered if he was being a crappy friend by thinking that.
He stood up and stretched. His legs tingled and his feet were cold. The apartment in New York had had steam heat and in the winter the floor would creak with the sounds of expanding pipes. It was one of the things his mother had liked best about it. "It's old fashioned, Ephram," she would say when he'd complain for central air. "It's traditional." He'd thought it was just noisy and the apartment was usually so stifling hot that he'd kept his window open a crack even in January.
Here, the house was always cold. He didn't read anything into that either.
He went to the bathroom and even washed his hands before he came back because Colin was a guest and everything. He turned off the lamp as he came back into the room and stood silent for a moment until his eyes adjusted. He could hear Colin breathing. Light from the streetlight outside reflected off the glossy page of the comic.
Ephram leaned on the edge of the bed and pulled at the book. It was sliding free when Colin woke up.
"Huh?" he said. "Ephram."
"Yeah. It's me." Ephram picked up the book and closed it and set it on the table.
"Getting in?" Colin mumbled. The blankets moved and rustled.
"Dude," Colin said. "Gimme a break, all right? I'm tired."
"No, it's cool, I --"
Ephram got in. He'd just lie down for a minute and then get up again when Colin fell asleep. His sleeping bag would be warm enough --
Colin was facing him.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," Colin said. "I can see you."
Ephram folded his hands over his stomach. It wouldn't take too long. Colin had said he was tired.
"Can I ask you something?" Colin said.
"Um, sure." Ephram closed his eyes. If Colin could really see him, maybe that would encourage him to go to sleep.
"So, you're from New York, right?"
Ephram smiled. "Last time I checked."
"And people there are more ... sophisticated and stuff."
Ephram opened his eyes. "I guess. Sure."
"Cool," Colin said, but he wasn't finished. He was trying to ask something else, but Ephram couldn't tell what it was. "I kissed Amy."
"Oh! Oh," he said, trying for normal. Of course he did. Of course they did. Amy had wanted to kiss Colin for months and months -- Ephram had known that even when he was kissing her, even when she didn't know it. He had been a place holder, nothing more. "Good for you, man," he said.
Colin sighed. "Yeah. Except. Can I tell you something?" He had rolled up onto his side. His heat was filling the space underneath the blankets, creeping over to Ephram's side of the bed.
"Sure," Ephram said.
"When I kissed her. Amy. I don't know. It felt like I was in a play or something. Like she was wishing she was kissing someone else."
"Oh," Ephram said. His stomach hurt.
"Not you," Colin said.
"What?" Ephram closed his eyes. She didn't tell him, she didn't tell him, he thought. There was no way. Amy wouldn't.
"I don't mean she wished she was kissing you."
"What? Man, I don't know what --"
"I know she kissed you," Colin said. "That's not what I meant. I meant me. She was wishing she was kissing, like, the old me."
"Oh. Um --"
"It would have been better if it had been you, you know? I mean, at least you're a real person, you still exist. I could at least punch you in the nose or something."
"Not that I would, you know. Punch you in the nose."
"Ephram," Colin said, his voice quiet and low. "Have you ever?"
Ephram squinted in the dark. He could see the outline of Colin's face, the dark shadows where his eyes would be. "Ever what?"
He didn't know what he'd say. He hadn't. He'd never had sex with a girl, and now here Colin was asking him for sex advice to use on Amy. This couldn't get any worse.
"Kissed someone. A guy."
"I'm not like that," Ephram said. It wasn't totally a lie. He hadn't ever kissed a guy, so he wasn't like that. Thoughts didn't make you anything. They were just thoughts.
"No, no. I know, man." Colin nodded vigorously. He was upon his good arm. His nodding made the bed move. "So, um. You haven't."
"Okay," Colin said.
"Okay," Ephram said. He closed his eyes again. He could feel his heart beating, pounding really, staccato against his ribs. Colin wouldn't know what staccato meant, even if he hadn't ever been hit in the head by a road.
He felt it before it happened. The bed moved again, and that was weird because he wasn't used to his bed moving when he didn't move it. The last time he'd slept with anyone it was Delia, the night she'd had the nightmares, and that seemed different. Very different. Colin was closer to him -- Ephram could almost feel his skin. If he moved his arm, they would be touching, him and Colin, in his bed --
Colin's breath was on his face.
Ephram held himself very still. He barely breathed. He would not move. No matter what happened, he would not --
"Ephram," Colin whispered. "This is your last chance."
Ephram did not move, and the kiss came while he was inhaling, as if he'd pulled Colin in just by breathing. His mouth opened and his eyes opened and Colin was kissing him, Colin Hart, leaning over him, his own eyes open too, and glimmering in the dark. Ephram's lungs burned. Colin's tongue pressed his, barely, and Colin pulled away.
"Sorry," he said, his voice too loud. "Sorry."
Ephram touched his mouth. "I --" he said.
"can I, um," Colin said.
"Yes," Ephram said. "Yeah."
The second kiss happened faster, grew deeper, and then they were doing it, making out, on his bed, in his room, him and this other person, this guy who wanted him, who kept saying his name over and over again, "ephram", like it was a magic word and not just his own stupid family name.
Colin was on top of him, one leg slid between his, his hands on Ephram's hips. Ephram didn't know what to do with his own hands, so he settled for hooking his arms around Colin's neck leaving them there. It was kind of girly, Ephram thought, but he was kissing kissing a guy, Colin, so he didn't think he really had to worry about being girly at this point. Colin had soft hair at the back of his neck. Colin had a soft mouth, hot and wet and so distracting that Ephram almost didn't notice that his pajama pants were sliding down over his hips.
"Hey, hey," he said, grabbing at his waistband.
"Don't you want to?" Colin murmured against his neck.
"Yeah, I. But."
"Then let me," Colin said. His hand slid over Ephram's stomach.
"Oh god," Ephram whispered, and let go of his pants.
He'd made out with girls in New York, sometimes pretty hot and heavy, but even city girls had limits, and he wasn't the type of guy who liked to push things. It would have been funny -- that the furthest he'd ever gotten was with a guy from Poduck, Colorado -- if it weren't so hypnotic.
Colin's hand was warm and light and slid into his pants without hesitation. It trailed through the hair there and grabbed him, his dick, and moved. God, it moved, and Ephram moved his hips with it, contrapuntal, his back arched, his mouth open. It was heaven. It was --
"Colin," he whispered, urgent, trying to wiggle away. "Colin, wait! I'm gonna --"
"Here, use my shirt." Colin reared back and yanked his shirt over his head and shoved it into Ephram's hand. Then he put his hand back down there and slipped it over Ephram's dick and Ephram gasped out loud and arched his back and came.
For a minute he couldn't hear anything except his own harsh breath, and Colin's in his ear. He became aware of other things gradually. The skin of his stomach sticking to Colin's with sweat, Colin's thigh firm between his, his erection pressing against Ephram's leg, the soft creak of footsteps in the --
"Shit!" he hissed. "My dad!"
Colin jerked back from him and flopped down on the far side of the bed. Ephram grabbed the blankets and yanked them up to his chin, squeezing his eyes shut, but the footsteps just went down the hall to the bathroom. After a minute, the toilet flushed, and the footsteps went back past the door. They didn't stop.
"Holy shit!" he whispered, biting into the blanket to keep from laughing. "Oh my god! Are you okay?" He touched Colin's shoulder.
"I hurt my arm a little," Colin said, rolling onto his back.
"Oh yeah?" Ephram asked. He rubbed Colin's forearm gently. "It feels okay." He was overcome with affection for Colin, his skin, his breath, the fact that he still called Ephram "E" sometimes. He leaned in and kissed him until Colin was sighing and shifting beneath him, and that was something else amazing, that he could do that to someone else, that he, Ephram, could do it and not just have it done to him. Colin's dick was hot and hard and bigger than Ephram had expected, but it fit easily in his hand He kissed Colin's neck and stroked him until Colin groaned against his shoulder.
"Dude," Colin said after, his sweaty forehead against Ephram's shoulder. "You forgot the shirt."
"Whatever," Ephram said. "I've been doing my own sheets for a year." He could feel Colin's smile.
"So," Colin said after a while. He shifted until he was pressed all along Ephram's body, his head in the dip of Ephram's collarbone. It felt strange, like Ephram was bigger than he was, stronger. He tightened his arm around Colin's waist. "I don't suppose you'd want to tell people about this."
"Oh yeah." Ephram laughed. "Because I want to be the Gay Kid from New York as well as the Weird Kid from New York. Sign me up."
"Hey, not to mention, you turned me gay. I used to be a jock."
"Okay, you totally kissed me," Ephram said, digging his fingers into Colin's side. Colin squirmed agreeably and kissed him, sloppily, only half on the mouth.
"So we'll just have to hang out, then. You and me." He slipped his hand up under Ephram's shirt.
"Sure. I guess. If you want," Ephram said. Colin poked him. He was drifting off to sleep when Colin spoke again.
"Ephram," he said. "I've never done this before."
"Join the club, man." He smiled into the dark.
"No, I know," Colin said. "I just. This is cool. I just wanted you to know."
Ephram squeezed and Colin's body pressed against his. "Yeah. It's cool," he said.