It had been several weeks since Sal met Russell’s parents. And every day after, Russell and Sal had spent their lunch time together.
“You are so lucky to be privileged enough to eat with someone as amazing and gorgeous as myself.” Sal took a sip of water to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. The one downside of peanut butter. He smacked his lips. “Normally I’d never let someone as pathetic as you eat lunch with me.”
“Lucky me,” Russell said.
“And I still don’t like you. I just feel sorry for you.” Sal shoved the last bit of sandwich in his mouth.
Russell shook his head. “You’re a real pain in the butt.”
“I’ll give you a pain in the butt,” Sal said.
Russell grinned. “I didn’t know you were into that.”
Sal grew hot, and turned his face away from Russell.
Russell gave his shoulder a nudge, sending a rush of shivers down his spine. “You blush so easily.”
“I’m not blushing,” Sal said quickly. “I never blush. What are you talking about?”
“You’re blushing right now.”
Sal covered the side of his face with his hand. “No I’m not.”
“Then why won’t you look at me?”
“Because I can’t stand to-”
Russell grasped Sal’s chin and turned his head towards him, Sal too startled and weak to protest. His entire body tingled as he gazed into Russell’s tropical ocean-blue eyes, and glanced away when he remembered that his own eyes were the color of fecal matter.
Russell ran his thumb over the side of Sal’s jaw, Sal melting at the touch. “Are you trying to grow a beard or something?”
“What?” Sal pulled away from Russell’s hand, and rubbed his jawline.
“Your face feels stubbly, like you need to shave. Except you have nothing to shave. You suck at growing facial hair.”
Russell’s facial hair had grown in beautifully, so Sal couldn’t think of any good comebacks. It didn’t help that he had been trying to grow a beard. His latest ploy to win Russell over was to grow facial hair, in case Russell was into facial hair. There goes that idea, Sal thought. He made a mental note to start shaving again. Then, he remembered that he didn’t have anything to shave and wondered why he ever bothered to do so in the first place. How can I ever win Russell’s heart if I can’t even grow a beard?
An idea struck him.
“Wanna spend the night at my house tomorrow?” Sal asked, avoiding Russell’s eye. “I mean, I know you never have anything better to do and I have nothing going on this weekend. It’s a rare opportunity.”
“Fun. I’ll have to ask my parents though,” Russell said, smiling. “I’ll text you when I know for sure.”
“Except for the part where I never gave you my number.” Sal slid his phone out from his pocket, and pulled up his contacts.
“Good idea.” Russell took out his phone, and the two exchanged numbers.
* * * * *
“Tonight’s the night, Mouser.” Sal hit his fist in his palm. “The night I’ll win Russell’s heart.”
Sal had spent all day on the internet, searching for advice on winning over men. It all summed down to looking attractive, giving compliments, and being respectful. Funny how those are the same things that would win me over, Sal thought. Looking attractive was easy enough, since Sal already thought himself attractive. Compliments and respect, however, would be the hard part. He wondered if he could just impress Russell instead. Sal thought himself a man of many skills, so impressing Russell should make up for not complimenting or respecting him.
“Mew,” Mouser mewed. The doorbell rang.
* * * * *
Tonight’s the night I’m gonna do it, Russell thought, walking up the steps to the front porch. I’m going to make him mine. Ever since he realized Sal liked him back, he had debated on pulling some sort of move on him, or dropping hint bombs. Unfortunately, Sal was incapable of taking hints. So Russell planned on making his feelings blatantly obvious without outright expressing them. His stomach lurched at the thought of having that sort of conversation. How does one bring such a thing up?
After staring at the front door for several minutes, Russell reached over and rang the doorbell. He heard what sounded like someone running down some stairs. A thump, followed by a click. And the door opened, revealing Sal on the other side. His hair was pulled back in a slick ponytail, and his shirt was more formal than his usual, faded shirts.
Russell chewed his thumbnail. Complimenting his appearance would be a big hint. “You look pretty,” he said, thumbnail in mouth. He stopped chewing at Sal’s incredulous expression. “Pretty ugly.”
“And you look like a mortician.” Sal eyed Russell’s usual black attire, which contrasted with his pale skin. “Who died?”
Russell shouldered Sal aside as he stepped in.
Brenda had ordered pizza, which the two boys took up to Sal’s room, along with two cans of Coke. They sat next to each other on the floor, pizza box in front of them.
“Wanna see how much pizza I can fit in my mouth?” Sal asked, grabbing a slice from the box.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Russell said. “You’ll choke-”
Sal ignored his warning by shoving half the slice in his mouth. Surprisingly he didn’t choke. Russell couldn’t help but be impressed.
“I’m a pizza-eating pro,” Sal said through a mouthful of pizza. “And a Street Brawler champion. I’ll murder you in it.”
Sal wasn’t exaggerating. He really was a champion. Or at least against Russell. Russell had found that he wasn’t good at the game at all, button-mashing being his only strategy. It didn’t help that he was on the floor, having to look up at the computer screen. And Sal had the chair which made his view eye-level.
“You suck at video games,” Sal said, after winning yet another round.
“That’s because I have better things to do than sit around playing video games.”
“Only because you’re not allowed to play them.”
“I’m allowed.” Russell stared at the controller in his hands, trying to think of a game he had at home that wasn’t Bible-related, or for children. “Sometimes I play computer games.”
“The games on Nolapets don’t count.”
Russell avoided his eye by reaching for his can of Coke on the desk. “What the heck is Nolapets?”
“Some virtual pet site for kids.” Sal waved his hand flippantly, leaning back in his chair. “I only know about it through memes.”
“Yeah right,” Russell said. “I bet you spend all your free time racking up Nolapoints by playing Shekko Roll. That’s probably why you’re so good at Turbo-”
“A-ha!” Sal leaned forward, pointing his finger at Russell. “If you don’t play Nolapets, then how do you know about that game?”
Russell raised an eyebrow. “How do you?”
A hint of pink appeared in Sal’s cheeks. “I don’t.” He pushed himself away from his desk. “If you don’t believe me, check my internet history.”
“God no. I don’t want to see what kind of porn you’ve been watching.”
Sal flinched. “”I do not watch porn!”
“Yeah, just like you don’t play Nolapets.” Russell made a move to shove him, though Sal being in a chair and Russell being on the floor made it difficult. He debated on whether he should poke, pinch, or tickle him instead. Which method was flirty enough to give an obvious hint, but not so obvious of a hint that things would get awkward?
But Russell lost his chance to do either, for Sal stood up. “I don’t need this abuse.” He made a move to walk towards his bed, but somehow managed to trip over his own foot, into Russell’s arms.
Russell held back a gasp, but cradled Sal in a caring manner. Until he noticed the perplexed look on Sal’s face. He really was clueless. Either that, or he didn’t like him in that way. Russell pushed him out of his lap, then wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. “Klutz. Who trips over their own foot?”
Sal rolled onto his stomach, appearing out of breath. “Like you’ve never done that.”
Russell was about to make a comeback, but let out a yawn instead. The digital alarm clock displayed 12:07. When was the last time he stayed up so late?
“Are you tired already?” Sal asked, sitting back up.
“No.” Russell stifled back another yawn.
What might have been eagerness filled Sal’s eyes. “We can go to bed now, if you want.”
Despite all that had happened, Russell still wasn’t confident that Sal liked him back. But he had to have. Especially the lengths he went to seemingly impress him. Just last week, Sal had brought a gallon of milk to school, bragging about how he could down the entire thing in one sitting. And he did. Russell was impressed, until he started vomiting and had to be escorted to the nurse.
“Or we can keep playing games, or watch a movie. I’m fine with whatever.”
Russell gnawed at his worn-down thumbnail. Maybe he should do the adult thing and steer the conversation towards their feelings for each other. It would be easier than playing guessing games. They could start simple. Russell opened his mouth to ask if Sal liked anyone, but the words didn’t come out.
Sal tilted his head to the side. “What’s wrong?”
“I, uh… I don’t have a sleeping bag. Do you have spare blankets I could use?”
“Why would you need any of those things?” Sal asked. “There’s blankets on my bed.”
“You want me to share a bed with you?”
“Not really. But I’d feel guilty making you sleep on the floor when there’s plenty of room on my bed.”
“If you insist.” Russell peeled off his shirt, tossing it aside, expecting Sal to do the same. Or at least show some sign of admiration.
Instead, Sal averted his eyes, his face a bright shade of crimson. “What are you doing?”
Russell gave him a flirty half-smile. “What? You don’t expect me to sleep in these clothes.” He gestured towards Sal’s outfit. “I’m sure you don’t plan on wearing that to bed.”
“Can’t you change in the bathroom?”
“We’re both guys.” A horrible thought occurred to Russell, causing his half-smile to fall. “Is this about me being pan?”
“No. I just don’t want to see any more of you than I already have to.” For once, Sal sounded like he meant it. The disgust was real. He walked over to his dresser, pulling out sweatpants and an old shirt from the middle drawer. “I’ll change in the bathroom.”
Sal hurried out of the room. A pain stabbed Russell’s chest. Here he was, thinking Sal might have liked him. But in reality, he wouldn’t even change in front of him. Like everyone in the locker room after finding out he was pan. They’d all make a scene if Russell so much as glanced in their direction. And Sal turned out being no different than them. Russell took his pajamas out of his backpack and pulled them on with a heavy heart.