#16 Home, whatever that means
“Where’s Kian tonight?” Andre asks while he starts to empty the box of supplies, inspecting the pans and other stuff that I can’t even name. Some look like torture devices. Maybe they make pasta or something?
“Should I stop asking about him?” Andre takes a step in my direction. “You sound… upset? I thought you guys were doing okay yesterday?”
I shrug, feeling stupid. “I probably shouldn’t talk about our personal stuff with anyone. Kian doesn’t like it when I do that.” Two seconds later, I already crack. “He doesn’t like any of my friends. Well, he doesn’t know you well enough to have an opinion on you, and he thinks Liv is sweet, but everyone else… he thinks they’re loud, too opiniated, talk about sex too much, indulge in PDA so much it makes him uncomfortable, and they’re just not his type of people. He doesn’t understand Mila’s job, thinks Scarlet is too good for her, and he doesn’t get why I’m friends with Thomas either.”
“That sucks.” Andre motions for me to sit down on one of the stools at the small table next to the kitchen. He doesn’t have a big dining table, since that wouldn’t fit into the space. He opted for a huge corner sofa and a big flat screen TV, sacrificing the room there could have been for a larger table. Just a small one with two stools is all he’s got. “I haven’t had dinner yet. How about I make us some noodles or something, and you tell me all about it.”
“I really shouldn’t.” I know deep down Kian would have a fit if he knew I’m talking to Andre about our relationship, but I need to let it out desperately. I’m way more bothered by what happened last night than I let on. Of course Kian doesn’t need to be friends with my friends, but Mila, Thomas and Tracy are my family. Thom has been my best friend since I was a little kid. Kian disapproving of his way of life hurts me in a way I don’t even completely understand.
“Okay, so… no noodles?” Andre is already getting ingredients out of the cupboards and fridge.
“Definitely noodles.” My stomach rumbles loudly. “Do you think I’m an idiot for trying so hard to fit Kian into my group of friends?”
Andre starts to cook, thinking over my question. “I don’t think you’re an idiot, but I also think it’s not realistic to expect your boyfriend to love your friends as much as you do. None of my exes became best friends with Ivan, Malik and Chase. They got along just fine, but they didn’t stay in touch when we broke up.”
“Of course no one stayed in touch with that asshole Eric.”
“I did date after Eric.” Andre doesn’t seem bothered about me bringing up his abusive ex. “I had boyfriends after that. None that lasted, but I did fall in love again. Ivan, Malik and Chase liked the guys, and we all hung out together sometimes, but in the end they were just… you know, my boyfriends. Not their friends. I never minded that. But I think your friends mean a bit more to you than mine to me.”
“They’re my family. Especially Thomas.” I pull up my sleeve and show him the Celtic knot on my shoulder I got about two years ago. My first and only tattoo. “It represents brotherhood. Both our families are complicated, but ever since we were little boys, we’ve been each other’s… everything, really. My mother adored Thomas.”
“She died when I was 19.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Andre pours me a glass of water and hands it to me. It’s a sweet gesture, trying to take care of me in some small way.
“It’s okay, it’s been years. Point is… I don’t even know why it upsets me so much that Kian doesn’t like any of my friends. I just don’t get it. They’re such amazing people. I get that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but… I mean… If he loves me, how can he not love them?”
“Do you like his friends?” Andre asks curiously.
Hmm. Excellent question. I try to think back to all of Kian’s friends I’ve met so far, and then I realize… “I don’t… I don’t think I’ve ever actually met his friends?” I frown, sure that’s not right. “I mean, I met an old college buddy of his, but they never hang out or anything. And I met his colleagues, but he despises them. And his neighbors, who sometimes invite us over for coffee, but they’re not really his friends.”
“So he has never brought you around his real friends?”
His real friends.
Fuck. How did I not see this before?
“I don’t think he has any,” I breathe, my heart sinking. “Oh God, Kian doesn’t have any real friends. He’s got neighbors, acquaintances, and colleagues, but not friends like I do. No one he hangs out with when I’m out with my friends. No one who he meets up with at the gym. No one who texts him funny memes and calls him to chat.”
“He doesn’t have friends?” Andre repeats. “Oh my.”
The noodles are done, so he fills up two bowls and sits down with me, jamming his fork into the swirl of noodles, veggies, and chicken. I follow his example. It’s not a fancy dinner by any means, but I’m starving, and it tastes like heaven.
“That’s weird, right?” I mutter in between bites. “That he doesn’t have real friends?”
“It’s a little concerning,” Andre admits. “But… from what you’ve told me so far, he hasn’t been out long, and he’s mostly around homophobic assholes. He’s been pretending for a long time to be someone he’s not. It’s hard to make friends when you’re not true to yourself. It’s one thing not to come out yet, but I think Kian was not only pretending to be straight, but to be an entirely different person al together.”
He’s right. That’s exactly it. He only seems to be himself around me, and I wonder if he even truly knows who that person is. If I know who that is.
“I should cut him some slack,” I decide. “I have no idea what that must be like. I’ve always had a million friends, and I knew deep down that when I came out, they would all accept me. I never got to tell my mom I’m bi, but I know she’d have been fine with it. Even Dad is, and I wasn’t entirely sure he would be. I have nothing but acceptance in my life.”
Andre is smiling as he listens to me, eating in silence.
“I only came out a couple of years ago,” I go on. “I was 28 when I first used to word bisexual to describe myself. I experimented in college, but I didn’t think that meant anything, because I knew all along I liked girls, so I was sure I couldn’t be gay. I did find guys sexy too, and I watched a lot of gay porn, but I think I didn’t want to admit what that meant. I didn’t keep it a secret because I was scared of people hating me the way Kian was. And he was right – his dad is a dick, and so are all of his colleagues. My family and friends aren’t like that, and Thomas is my only colleague. He’s bisexual too, I think. He doesn’t really know, he’s struggling with it a little bit, but Tracy is crazy supportive and they both enjoy threesomes with both men and women, so they don’t think too much about what to call themselves. I’d say they’re bisexual and in an open relationship, but they both identify as straight and call themselves monogamous.”
“Labels don’t matter that much, as long as you’re happy and know what you want.” Andre takes a sip of water. “Why did you keep it a secret for a while, if you weren’t worried?”
Excellent question. “I think I wanted to figure it out for myself first. What about you? When did you come out?”
“I wanted to figure it out for myself too.” Andre grins. “Of course, that only took me until I was 14. It’s easier when you’re not into girls at all, I guess. I remember my friends talking about girls all the time, and I was totally crushing on Malik.”
“Malik?” I repeat, raising an eyebrow at him. “You mean your best friend Malik?”
“The very same. He’s the only friend from high school I still hang out with. He moved here a few years ago, and we reconnected. Nothing ever happened between us. He’s straight as an arrow. I realized that when I confessed my feelings to him, leaned in for a kiss, and he backed away and fell over his own feet, hitting his head on the edge of a loose tile, and I had to go with him to the emergency room. He needed stitches.”
We both laugh at the story. I only met Malik briefly yesterday, and I didn’t talk to him much, but I can see why Andre would have been into him at one point. He’s this beautiful black man with gorgeous long hair and muscles to die for.
“He’s not very feminine though,” I realize. “I thought you said you like feminine guys.”
Andre shrugs. “It’s not like there were any of those back in high school, and Malik is a really sweet guy. There’s nothing between us anymore, in case you’re wondering. Got over him way back when I was 15, and we stayed friends through it all. He still teases me about that kiss, of course.”
“Like friends do,” I agree, grinning. “That’s awesome. You met Ivan in college, right?”
“First day of class,” Andre replies. “I dropped out after a couple of months, but we stayed friends. I actually introduced him to Bethany, his wife. She was my neighbor, and I knew the day I met her she’d be perfect for him, so I set them up by inviting both of them for dinner the same night. They’ve been together ever since.”
“I love that!” He looks so happy talking about his friends. “And Chase?”
“I met Chase in college too, but in a very different way. A mutual friend set us up on a blind date.”
I figured Chase was gay when I met him briefly at the bakery. He’s the epitome of a feminine gay man. Makeup, flashy clothes, the kind of guy who might even wear heels sometimes. “He seems like your type.”
Andre laughs. “You’d think so, based on looks, but he’s not at all. We hit it off as friends, but there was no romance there, so we decided to stay in touch but pass on the dating part of things. Ivan and Malik are friends too, but Chase is a little much for them. We only hang out with all four of us when I invite all of them. They’d never hang out with him if it wasn’t for me. I think he’s hilarious though. He does drag sometimes, and I always go to see him. The guy can sing and dance better than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“Hey! That’s offensive!” I jab my fork at him. “You saw me busting a move at karaoke!”
“Exactly why I know that Chase is better than you are.” He grabs our empty bowls and puts them in the sink. “Do you need to get home to Kian, or do you want to hang out? Watch a movie or something?”
I text Kian to ask him if he’s home yet. Turns out he just got home, but he still has a ton of work to do. When he tells me to have fun with Andre, I accept his offer to stay for a movie. We both stretch out on the couch and we bicker for half an hour about what to watch. Not because we actually disagree or care all that much, but because I love teasing him, and I think he likes it too. In the end, we settle for The Choice, a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book about a woman who falls in love with her neighbor even though she already has a boyfriend. We don’t see much of it, talking through all the scenes. We never seem to run out of things to talk about, and he even has dessert to indulge in. Lactose-free vanilla ice cream for him and chocolate ice cream with cookie dough for me. Ivan’s favorite, apparently.
I love that he has his friend’s favorite dessert in his freezer when he can’t even eat it himself. It’s the kind of thing I do too. I’ve always got Thom’s favorite beer in the fridge, I get Mila cupcakes from the bakery all the time, and I know what every single one of my friends likes to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack.
With a start, I realize I don’t actually have Thom’s favorite beer in the fridge anymore. I’m never at my apartment, so the fridge is empty. And… Thomas has never been to Kian’s house. I’ve basically been living there for months and months, but aside from a dinner with Mila and Scarlett, no one has hung out with me there. I always go to their places, or meet up with them at a bar, the gym, the bakery, anywhere but where Kian is.
That’s what bothers me, I think. It’s not even that Kian doesn’t like them, but that I don’t feel like I can hang out with them at my home anymore, because I don’t even know what home is these days. On top of that, I know it would make Kian uncomfortable. He didn’t want Andre and me to film our reels in his kitchen, and he doesn’t like it when I bring my friends around.
My friends are everything to me. Not liking them is like… like he doesn’t like me. That might not be fair to Kian, to feel that way, but it’s the truth. I feel like if he doesn’t like my friends, he can’t possibly truly love all of me.
“Hey,” Andre says softly, nudging my leg. “You okay?”
I try to shake off the depressing thoughts. “Yeah, just… Kian stuff.”
“Want to tell me?” He pauses the movie we’re not watching anyway. “You know I won’t tell a soul.”
The next hour, we talk about my love life, and it helps. It helps more than anything has so far. I still don’t know how to solve any of this, but I do feel lighter when I leave Andre’s apartment later that night. I hug him tightly before I leave, and he squeezes me before letting go.
“It’ll be okay,” he says in a voice that doesn’t leave any doubt. “Just give it time.”
“Thanks. This was nice. We should do it again.”
“Definitely.” He flashes me one last smile before the doors of the elevator close.
Time to go home, whatever that means.