An asexual. Russell couldn’t believe his luck. It did explain a lot, but now what? Russell didn’t want to break up with him, but he also wanted things to eventually progress further than mild make-out sessions. He hadn’t even put his hand up his shirt yet, and it had been several weeks since the sleepover.
But he had other distractions. Holiday break had begun, which meant Christmas with his extended family. He loved Christmas as a child, but now he dreaded it. Not even the gift cards he’d get made the ordeal worth it. He glared at the “Jesus is the reason for the CHRISTmas season” plaque in his grandparents’ kitchen with enough intensity to set it on fire. Or so he wished.
His grandparents had a large rectangular table in their dining room, long enough to sit eight. Russell sat next to his father, who sat next to his mother. His Aunt Clara and Uncle Tim sat across from them. Their son, his cousin, sat directly across from Russell. Jeremy was a couple years younger than him, and was his least favorite relative.
Then came the usual praying over the usual ham, followed by the usual “what are you doing after high school?” questions.
His uncle, who looked similar to his father, asked, “Have you got a girlfriend yet?”
“Tim!” Russell’s mother interjected. “He’s not allowed to have one.”
“Never stopped me.” Tim winked at Russell. “The boy’s 17. He’s old enough to date.”
“I’m not interested in anyone,” Russell said hastily. “I’m focusing on my studies.”
His mother beamed, pride shining in her eyes. “See, he has his priorities straight. And after college, he’ll find himself a good wife who’ll be grateful he remained pure. Isn’t that right?”
If he stuck with Sal, he’d have no problem remaining “pure.” But part of him wanted to destroy his purity out of spite.
“His future wife will have more experience than him if he keeps this up,” Tim said. “Any pretty girls in your class?”
Russell shook his head, though it was a good question. Come to think of it, he’d only had one crush on a girl, back in middle school. His others had all been boys, aside from-
“Are you still planning on becoming a lawyer?” Clara asked.
Russell opened his mouth, but his mother answered for him.
“Of course he still is.”
“And he’ll be a great one,” his father added, giving Russell a rare smile.
Being a lawyer was one of the last things Russell wanted to do, but it had always been his parents’ dream. A highly successful son bringing in 6 figures. They would accept nothing less from him. Not that he didn’t have his own dream job. But it was dumb, embarrassing, and his parents would never approve.
“Russell, you need a haircut,” his grandmother said. “You look like a girl.”
Russell had been waiting all day to hear that comment, and he put his fork back down. “Some boys have long hair.”
“Only rock stars and hoodlums. I’ve yet to meet one who-”
“I have a boy friend who has long hair,” Russell said. “He’s not-”
“Ew! You have a boyfriend?” Jeremy crinkled his nose. “No wonder you’re not interested in girls.”
“Jeremy, don’t joke about that,” Clara said.
Jeremy stabbed his fork into his ham. “He said boyfriend, not me.”
“I meant a friend that’s a boy.” Russell tried keeping his voice level, but failed.
His mother narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re not talking about that Sam kid, are you?”
Russell lowered his head. “Sal.”
“Who’s Sam?” Tim asked.
“Sal,” Russell corrected again.
“Some long-haired hoodlum Russell brought over for dinner a couple months ago,” his father said.
Russell tightened his grip on his fork. “He’s not a hoodlum.”
“Someone sounds defensive of their Sammy.” Jeremy smirked at Russell.
“Sally!” Everyone paused to stare at Russell. “His name is Sal,” he explained for the third time. “He’s… Italian.”
“Been getting some Italian sausage then?” Jeremy muttered to Russell.
Russell ignored him and reached for the last slice of garlic bread, but Jeremy snatched it first. “Hey!”
“Too slow, faggot.” Jeremy shoved half of it in his mouth.
“You’ve already had three. I haven’t had any.”
“Why don’t you ask your Sally for some?” Jeremy said. “I mean, he is Italian.”
“Russell!” his mother scolded. “Watch your language.”
Russell’s shoulders slumped in shame. He picked his fork back up, poking at his last bites of ham, hoping Sal’s Christmas was going better than his.
* * * * *
Christmas living with Tyler and Brenda was surreal. Sal hadn’t properly celebrated the holiday since his mother was alive. Tyler and Brenda didn’t have any family nearby, so they all spent the day alone together. Brenda made pancakes and sausage, which they all ate before tearing into presents.
If only Russell had been there to spend it with him. But he hadn’t heard from him since break started, even though Russell promised to text him every day. Sal had tried calling but it went straight to voicemail. Maybe he did want to end things after all.
As Sal laid in bed for the night, pining for his love, something tapped against his window.
Sal jumped, clutching his blankets to his chest. But there was a large tree next to his window, so he convinced himself the branches were hitting it. He heard another tap.
How windy is it outside? He tried to ignore the goosebumps running up his arms. The tapping turned into a knock. Sal bolted upright, his heart pounding in his chest. Tree branches didn’t knock. Should he investigate? Or should he hide under the covers and hope the culprit wouldn’t break in?
Curiosity won out, and he crawled out of bed. Though he slipped his phone in his pajama pocket in case he had to call the cops. Pillow in hand, he stalked toward the window, taking shallow breaths. Once there, he held the pillow over his head, yanked the blinds open, and screamed. Except no sound escaped him.
A large figure perched on the ledge of the roof, peeking in at him. Sal stood, paralyzed, until his brain registered who the figure was. He tossed his pillow back on his bed, and opened his window. “What are you doing here!”
“I came to see you.” Russell climbed inside, and dropped down to the floor. “How does your window not have a screen though? I mean, it’s convenient right now, but that has to suck.”
Sal yawned. “I don’t know.”
“And what about when it’s hot and you want to open your window? I’d be worried about people falling out and bugs crawling in.”
“Happy as I am to see you, why are you here?”
“I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas in person.” Russell gave Sal a quick peck on the cheek.
“Technically, it’s not Christmas anymore. And what about your parents? Do they know you’ve left the house?”
“Of course they don’t. Do you think they’d let me stay up past my bedtime, much less leave the house?”
“You have a bedtime?”
Russell ignored the snide remark. “I wanted to serenade you, like in the movies, but I was worried my singing would wake up your parents. Or that you wouldn’t hear me, what with your window being shut and all. Which would make me have to sing louder. Which would increase the chance of waking your parents up.”
“So instead you scare me to death by knocking on my window at a ghostly hour.”
Russell pulled Sal into his arms, hugging him tight against his chest. “I’ve missed you. Can’t we cuddle in your bed for a bit? Then I can sneak back home before my parents wake up.”
Sal, always down for cuddling Russell, crawled back into bed, Russell following after removing his shoes.
Russell stroked Sal’s hair. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to call you. My parents took away my phone for a week.”
Sal gasped. “You got your phone taken away? What did you do to deserve such a punishment? Watch a PG movie without parental guidance?”
Russell shoved him away. “I’m allowed to watch PG movies on my own.”
Sal rolled his eyes. “Fine. PG-13.”
“No. I… failed a math test.”
“What! No way.”
Russell nodded. “My math teacher posted the grades online the day before break. My parents saw it.”
Sal felt a rush of gratitude towards Tyler and Brenda for never checking his online grades. Then again, even Sal hadn’t gotten a failing grade in quite some time. Russell getting one was unheard of. “I can’t believe you got an F. I’m so proud of you.”
“An F?” Russell let out a gasp. “No! I got a B-minus.”
Now that was a lot less surprising, though Sal felt a little let down. “You got your phone taken away for getting a B?”
“B-minus! That might as well be a C-plus.”
“What’s wrong with a C-plus?” Sal asked.
“I get C’s all the time. It’s not a big deal.”
“It is if you want to go to a good college.” Russell covered his face with his arm. “Oh God, how could I have messed up so badly?”
“Why do you have to get in to a good college?” Sal asked. “What’s wrong with a regular college?”
“Nothing. But a good college will grant me opportunities a regular college won’t.”
Sal snorted. But it was then when he realized he had no idea what Russell planned on doing after high school. Aside from attending college. “What kind of opportunities are you looking for?
Russell paused for a moment. “Ones involving law school. I’m going to be a lawyer.”
Sal turned on his side to frown at him. Of all the occupations he imagined Russell taking up, lawyer wasn’t one of them. Maybe a librarian, or a teacher. Or the CEO of an office supply store. “Are you serious? A lawyer? You?”
“I want a job that pays well.”
“There’s other high-paying jobs.”
“My parents always said I’d be great at it. It would make them proud.”
Silence filled the air for a moment as Sal processed this new bit of information.
“Please tell me you’re not becoming a lawyer because your parents want you to.”
Russell didn’t answer.
Sal’s eyes widened, and he leaned in. “Are you serious? You’re only doing this because of your parents?”
“No.” But Russell’s voice didn’t sound convincing.
“Oh God, you are. Why would you do that to yourself?”
“Can we drop it, please?”
“Fine.” Though Sal still had a lot to say on the subject, but stayed quiet. Maybe some other time he could convince Russell to ignore his parents’ wishes.
“What about you?” Russell asked after a few minutes of silence. “What are you going to be?”
A good question Sal tried not to think about. Truth be told, he had no idea. But Russell would probably be upset and try to make him discover his true passions that would lead to some career. And if there was one thing Sal didn’t want, it was a career.
Russell seemed to have guessed his answer. “You could go to the local community college,” he suggested. “You could take classes and figure out what you like. It’ll be something.”
Sal shrugged. “I’ll think about it.” But he had no intention of thinking about it. Instead, he thought of something else he could do that didn’t involve him going to college. “Where are all these ‘good schools’ at?”
“Mainly the East coast,” Russell said.
“Then I’ll move to the East coast.”
Russell was silent for a moment, like Sal had been upon learning his future plans. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll go wherever you go.”
“Sal...” Russell let out an exasperated sigh. “You shouldn’t plan your future around me.”
“Why not? I have no plans.” Sal rested his head on Russell’s shoulder, giving his neck a kiss. “My mind is made up. I will follow you to the ends of the earth.”
Russell stared up at the ceiling. “Do whatever you want then,” he said in a monotonous voice.
“You don’t want to live together?”
“We’ve only been together a month and a half. You shouldn’t throw your future away for a six week relationship.”
“But my future is working retail. I can do that in any city. Any state. Any country. It’s not a big deal. And it’s not like a have a lot to leave behind.”
“It’s your life.” Russell glanced at the clock on the nightstand. “I wish I could stay all night with you, but I should get back home before I’m missed.”
“If we lived together, we could be like this every night,” Sal said.
The corner of Russell’s mouth twitched as he got out of the bed. “Maybe.”
After exchanging goodnights and kisses, Russell climbed down a trellis that was against the wall next to the roof’s ledge. And Sal watched him walk to his car, where he turned around and waved. Sal waved back, and waited until he drove off before going back to bed.
Tired as he felt, his thoughts about the conversation he had with Russell kept him awake. It sounded as though Russell didn’t expect their love to last. But why? Sal wondered. Does he not take our relationship seriously? He said he loved me… didn’t he? Sal wracked his brain, thinking back on all the times he had spent with Russell. But he couldn’t recall him ever saying “I love you.” He doesn’t love me. He only likes me. But why?
After much hypothesizing, Sal reached a conclusion. It’s because I’m asexual. A lump formed in his throat. If that’s the case, why won’t he break up with me, instead of stringing me along like this?