On the Couch

It started in a way that might have been an accident. We were sitting on opposite sides of the couch, watching anime together on Netflix. Conner was curled tight around the pillow on the right side, his feet pulled up onto the couch. I was lounging on the other side, head resting on my hand, feet on the floor, trying desperately to pretend I wasn’t incredibly conscious of just how close we were.

Then, in a moment of weakness, I readjusted. I brought my legs up on the couch, curled beneath me just like Connor. I shifted my weight onto my hip, covering up the fact that I was actually moving a bit more toward the center of the couch, and I brought a pillow under my arm for comfort, making my position a mirror of Connor’s. Now the soles of our feet are touching.

My breath caught when they first met. He’s wearing socks. I’m not. I can feel the warmth of his foot through the thin layer of fabric. My eyes are glued to the screen, but to be honest I’ve got no idea what’s going on in this episode because my mind is entirely on Connor and the fact that we’re touching.

He looked at me, when I first brought my foot up. I’m pretty sure he did. I kept my eyes on the screen because I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that I’d brought my foot into contact with his on purpose, to him or myself. I saw his head shift a bit, just at the periphery of my vision.

I still don’t. I mean, it feels nice. It’s not supposed to, but it does. I’ve never really touched another guy before. Not in such a private way. I mean, I’ve given my dad a hug, and my grandpa, and I’ve shaken hands with guys before. This is something different. It feels nice.

It’s not supposed to. Connor is a guy. I’m a guy. It’s not supposed to feel this kind of nice to touch him, but it does. I mean, secretly, I know why it does. It’s a secret I try to keep even from myself, but it is there. It’s why when I first saw Connor, I thought, Oh, he’s cute. It’s why when he came over today, I took a deep, involuntary breath and though Oh, he smells good.
No, no. I don’t have those thoughts. I don’t… Well, I do, I do. I do have those thoughts but I crush them down. I squash them because they’re not the right thing to think. What would my dad say? Or even my mom? What would they say if they knew that Connor was gay? They wouldn’t have let him come over today. Certainly my mom wouldn’t have left us alone while she went grocery shopping.

I like the way the freckles dance across his nose, and how they make his eyes seem even brighter than they are, and the way his hair has a slight wave to it in the front when he lets it grow out a little bit. But I’ve never told him any of that. I can’t let him know, even though I think he’d want to. I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t even want to know I think those things.

Connor pushes against my foot with his, applying subtle pressure. The first time, I stop breathing for a second, wondering if he’s done it on accident or on purpose. My whole body tunes itself to that one small point of contact, and I forget everything else — the anime, the couch, the fact that I don’t know for sure when my mom is returning. All that matters is the place where Connor’s foot is touching my own.

I don’t respond. I freeze, barely able to restart my breathing. It’s like one of those dreams where something terrifying is looking over you, about to devour you, but you can’t bring yourself to run. You’re convinced that if you move even a muscle, it will see you, and it’ll lean down and snatch you up in its jaws.

Then the pressure from his foot increases again, just barely enough to be noticeable. I’m sure now that it’s on purpose. Maybe he’s trying to send me a signal that he likes that our feet are touching. Maybe he’s trying to determine whether I’m aware of it, which I’m still pretending not to be. I refuse to do otherwise.

The thoughts I don’t want say, unbidden, come: Oh! He’s touching me.

I try to push them down and away and think about the show we’re watching, but I can’t focus on it. I try to blank my mind, at the very least, and not think about anything or at least not think about Connor, but that doesn’t work. That doesn’t work at all. Oh my gosh. What am I supposed to do next?

We watch a full episode like that, feet touching, neither of pulling away or acknowledging it out loud. When the music for the credits starts to play, Connor excuses himself to go to the bathroom. I barely even register his words because I’m resisting the temptation to turn my head at watch him walk away, afraid that he’ll see, somehow, how much I appreciate the way he looks from behind.

I’m oddly sad with him not there. I immediately miss his presence. I feel like something wonderful has ended, and like I might never find it again, because I know I’m not going to admit to him or to myself.

He comes back before the intro sequence is over, which is good, because I was so distracted that I didn’t remember to pause the show. I glance up at him as he approaches the couch, and he smiles. I smile back, which makes my heart thud with fear. Oh shit what if he thinks I’m smiling at him because he’s cute —
But I am. That is what I’m doing. Connor’s smile is adorable, and every time I see it I can’t help by smile myself. I tell myself I smile at everyone, but I’ve never smiled at anyone like I smile at Connor.

Connor takes his place on the couch, adjusting the pillows as he sits down so that he’s in the same position as before. The exact same position, in fact, down to his foot touching mine. He places it there in a way that’s somehow both nonchalant and careful, as though he’s doing it casually and naturally, but, like me, he’s afraid of the consequences.

I notice immediately that Connor took off his socks while he was in the bathroom. Now it’s his skin, smooth and dry, against my skin. I’m not into feet. I find them weird to look at and not at all attractive. I don’t get it when people on internet sexualize them. None of that matters, though, because it’s not about Connor’s foot, it’s about the fact that the foot is Connor’s and it’s touching mine and it’s his real skin and my skin —

My breathing is heavier than it needs to be, for the fact that we’re just sitting on the couch, watching anime. I hope Connor doesn’t notice. I hope that he’s actually just watching the show and that he’s not really paying any attention to me or the effect he’s having on me. I doubt it. I suspect he’s every bit as focused on me as I am on him.

I don’t want this. I don’t want to be feeling this way or thinking these thoughts. I want to pull my foot away and cross my arms and pretend this was all an accident, or even that I never noticed that our feet were touching at all. I can’t, though. I want this moment to continue forever.

It ends, I think, too soon. Connor moves his foot away from mine, and the contact ends. I have just enough time to think, fearfully, Did he think I didn’t want that? Should I have done something more? Then I realize that he moved his foot so that he could slip it closer toward me. His foot passes mine, and now our ankles are crossed, touching in a way that neither of us could mistake for accidental. It’s almost like we’re holding hands with our feet.

He looks at me. I know he does, because I can see his head turn just at the edge of my vision. I keep my eyes on the television. I don’t want him to see that I want this. If he sees that I want it then I have to admit it to myself, too. If I keep focused on the anime then maybe he’ll think I’m just being cool and accepting, or that I’m just secure enough not to be bothered by contact with another guy.

He leaves his foot like that for a while, ankle crossed with mine. I leave mine, too, afraid to move any part of my body and disturb whatever it is that’s happening. As much as I fear it I also want it so, so bad. I want someone to look at me and see the things that I think and show them to me and tell me that they’re okay.

Oh my gosh.
Connor moves again, ostensibly just trying to find a way to be comfortable, but what he’s really doing is inviting me. He pulls his foot out from under mine — oh no — but it’s fine, he’s putting his feet back on the floor and shifting his hips more toward the center of the couch and now it’s not his foot pressed against mine, but his thigh. He’s wearing shorts, and the fabric is smooth and sort of thin, and the cut is high enough that though most of my foot is pressed against his shorts, my toes are touching his skin.

He wants me to sit up and move closer to him. I know it, or at least I think I do. I’m afraid, though, because it will mean admitting something. If I just stay here, one foot pressed against him, knowing that he wants more — I could be happy with that. It would keep this memory as it is, with me so sure of what he wants and with my fear not being of rejection, but of revelation.

What if I’m wrong, though, and he really is just getting comfortable? What if I’ve just read every single one of his actions the wrong way, and he’s not interested in me at all? What if Connor’s not even gay? I guess I’ve just sort of assumed he is. We’ve never even really talked about it, even though he’s probably my best friend. It’s just a thing that we’ve accepted between us, a conclusion I’ve arrived at that he’s never felt the need to spell out.

The episode ends, and I save myself from a decision — and from confronting the compulsions I’m feeling — by excusing myself to go to the bathroom. I wonder, while I’m there, whether Connor feels as empty and regretful as I did when he left. I wonder if he misses me, and if he’s worried about how I’ll sit when I get back.

How will I sit? I consider sitting in the chair, rather than the couch. That would make it clear I’m not interested in… in whatever we were doing. I wouldn’t have to think about whether I wanted to be touching him or not. I wouldn’t have to wonder about whether he was really gay or whether I was — I was —

I would still worry about it, tonight, as I’m getting into bed. However today goes I know I’ll replay it over and over, wondering how it could have gone better or differently, either regretting that I didn’t do something or disgusted that I did. That’s just how my mind works. I’ll never forget about today, even if nothing more happens, because if I don’t let anything happen, I’ll wonder about what might have happened if I’d done things differently. Better.

I can’t meet Connor’s eyes as I walk back to the couch because I don’t want to admit, even tacitly, that I’m about to do what I plan to do. I’m shaking. I wonder if Connor can see it. It feels like I’m vibrating, honestly. Beyond whether he can see it, I’m worried that he’ll feel it.

I sit down next to Connor. Really next to him, I mean, not just sharing the couch with him. He’s on one cushion, and I’m on the next, but all there is between us is the divide between those cushions and maybe, for an instant, an inch of air. Then, to my horror, that disappears as I sit down, erased by gravity and the give of the soft couch.

I stiffen, tense, as our shoulders and thighs and knees touch. This was a mistake, I think. This was such a huge mistake. There’s no way I didn’t do this on purpose. At the same time, though, there’s another whole line of thought talking over that one. He’s so warm. He smells good. This feels nice. I hope he thinks it feels nice too.

My arms are lying parallel along my legs. My shoulders are stiff and a bit hunched, because years of training are fighting to make me pull away from Connor and act like I ended up like this was all a mistake born of clumsiness, because men don’t touch. Right? Straight men don’t sit this close together, and I’m straight. I’m supposed to be straight. My parents expect me to be straight.

I am very aware of Connor right now. I’m more aware of him than I’ve ever been aware of another person. I can smell his deodorant. It’s sweet, but not like a girl’s. It’s still manly somehow. For some reason, that matters. It excites me. I can feel him breathing. I didn’t know that was possible. I’ve never thought about it before.

He moves his arm, and then his forearm is touching mine, right down the whole length. His hand is still on his own leg. It feels like he’s saying “It’s okay, I want this too,” but also like he’s asking a question: “Is this okay?”

It’s not. I’m not really okay with it. I’m still denying everything that’s happening, on one level. We’re just two guys sitting next to each other on a couch. We’re good friends, so we’re comfortable with the fact that we’re touching. There’s nothing gay about it. We’ve known each other for years.

I’m not okay with it, but I still want it. I don’t pull away.

Connor shift his hand, and now our hands are touching. Maybe I move mine in reponse, closer to his. If I do, I don’t even think about it. My hand was about at the midline of my thigh but now it’s closer to the edge. Closer to Connor’s. I must have moved it without noticing it. I silently reprimand myself, but it doesn’t matter because of what Connor does next.

It feels like a leap. It’s something I could never do. I would feel like I was jumping into a huge dark chasm, hoping that there was a soft landing awaiting me far away in the depths where I couldn’t possibly see it or know it was there. Connor must be braver than I am, because it’s not just touching: his hands travels over mine, covering it. Holding it.

Connor is holding my hand. I’m holding hands with another boy. My heart feels so light in my chest it’s like it’s been replaced with a helium balloon. My internal monologue has stopped and there’s nothing but us and our presence here on this couch.

I turn my head toward him. The movement is jerky and uneven, because even now part of my is trying to resist it — now that’s the part that I’m trying to silence: the one that says I’m not gay and that I don’t like guys and that none of this is me. Then I’m looking into Connor’s eyes, because he’s turned his head toward me, too. They are so green.

“Hey,” he says, like we’re just meeting. In a way, we are. His breath smells like cinnamon. His voice is breathy. He’s anxious, just like me.

“I’m not —” I start to say. The voice, the one that’s denying me, leaking out. I stop myself. I close my eyes. The image of Connor’s lips, soft and rounded, stays with me in the dark. I find myself leaning forward, just a little bit.

Connor comes the rest of the way to me, and then it’s not the image of his lips occupying me, but the feeling of them pressed against mine. This is my first kiss. It’s not just my first time kissing a boy, it’s my first time kissing anyone like this. I thought it would be awkward or weird or just not comfortable, but it’s not any of those things. It’s amazing. I find myself wishing it could go on forever.

It can’t, though, because I hear my mother’s keyes jangling as she approaches the door. It’s not locked, but she always gets her keys out anyway and tries to unlock it. That, and the fact you can’t see the couch from the front door, is all that saves me.

I jump up, face flushed with excitement and embarrassment. Another part of me is excited, too, which makes me blush even harder. I hope Connor doesn’t notice. I hope my MOM doesn’t notice. I imagine my whole face and neck are red. I hope she doesn’t notice that, either.

I scamper to the door. Connar stands up quickly, awkwardly, and I shoot a glance behind me as I round the corner. He gives me a shy half-smile, and I smile back, no longer caring about how embarrassed I am. Then I’m opening the door, and I’m taking some groceries from mom as she forces the bags into my hand, and she’s too busy huffing about how heavy they are to even pay attention to me.

Connor helps carry the groceries in. Mom calls him a sweet boy and thanks him, but when we’re done, he says he has to go. I had thought he might stay longer, even for dinner. As he rides away on his bike, my heart aches because I worry that we’ve ruined our friendship. I spend hours thinking this, afraid to text him and make things worse. Then he texts me.

Hey. Want to watch more episodes tomorrow?

Yes. Yes, I do.

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