I was only nineteen, you were twenty-nine
‘Nothing Left To Lose’ – The Pretty Reckless
It’s just ten years, but it’s such a long time
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a ten-year age gap. I was sixteen, you were… a couple of years older.
But that summer, sat beside you in the driver seat while you leaned back, one hand lazed across the steering wheel, the other lent out the window… the distance between us felt immeasurable, far more than a couple of years of age and a gearbox.
The fact you were chaperoning me around from football training alone made me feel like a child. I mean… I was a child; but no sixteen year old really sees themselves as a child. To you, I was probably just a little tick on your to-do list for the day.
It was smitten schoolgirl stuff. Sometimes, sat in your car, I felt like my feet might swing freely, unable to touch the McDonald’s cups and gum wrappers that littered the footwells. I tried to compensate for these invasive thoughts by making a point of pulling the seat back to ‘give myself more leg room’ that I didn’t need. I was always small for my age – I still am now. I made a further point of rolling my shorts up to show my calves, assuming this would show that I was sexy… refused to shave the fluff around my face in the days building up to seeing you so you could see I was growing into a man.
But even now, there’s something that feels incredibly emasculating about being driven around by someone you like, or a boyfriend. Society has well and truly done its job in ingraining the notion that ‘men don’t sit in the passenger seat’.
You were the only gay boy I knew. I mean, there were some obvious signs. The rainbow flag bumper sticker, for one. The badges you wore on your bag with bold proclamations such as “I’d Fuck Me” and “Sassy Bitch”. But you had been open from the start, joking how when it came to football… gay boys like you only knew who David Beckham was because of his underwear ads. You were so up front about it, owned it, in ways I could only dream of. So effortlessly cool, and I was gagging to prove to you that I was cool too, even though I wasn’t.
Ironically it was my dad who put us in touch. The dad who even now, seems to experience a moment of lag or seizure whenever I even remotely intimate something gay. He put me in touch with the first boy I ever kissed. That alone would probably give him a real life seizure; blame himself for allowing this ‘older boy’ to corrupt me and lead me from the holy light of tits and vaginas. You were going to college round the corner from the academy where I did my youth training after school. Your dad knew my dad, and he gave you money to give me a lift home, even though I’d just signed a contract that meant I could afford an Uber home every night and then some if I wanted, if only Uber had existed back in 2012.
You were that perfect mix of alternative skater boy yet thoughtfully dressed. I think that was what enticed me at the time. Here was someone wearing a cashmere V-neck sweater over a crisp open-button shirt, yet your hair was dyed black, your ear pierced, and you added just a tinge of smoke around your eyes. I’ve seen pictures of you these days and you… erm… certainly peaked early but… ooft that summer you were looking good.
You’d probably rolled your eyes when you’d heard about the sweaty football lad you had been charged with collecting from practice like a soccer mom; probably pictured me with a buzzcut and a screensaver of Kate Upton. Instead, you’d nodded approvingly when I knew the words to the greatest hits of Blink-182 and told you that I wrote for my high school magazine.
“Not a complete airhead, then.” You smirked with teeth that chewed nonchalantly on gum, eyes on the road and not a second glance at the reddish tinge that burned in my cheeks. It was barely a compliment yet I held onto it like a winning lottery ticket.
This was about our fourth week of driving together. I knew term was almost ended for you, and then we would have no reason to spend time together anymore, which saddened me more than it should have. I had no idea that this was anything more to you than a lucrative errand on your way home…
“So, do you have a nice girlfriend, Cal?” You smirked. We’d been talking about Pretty Little Liars, and how like all TV shows, the relationships in it were all kinds of messed up.
“Errm…” I’d stammered, reverting back to my schoolgirl persona. “Actually, no… not really…”
You raised an eyebrow, before flicking your gaze back into the rear view mirror. “Not really? Just a couple of side hoes, then?”
The way you toyed with me showed you saw me as a child. Easily melded between your fingers. I can laugh about it now.
“No. No side hoes.” I uttered a laugh that sounded horrendously similar to a pig’s snort. “I’m not really erm… into that.”
“What?” You didn’t miss a beat. “Into what? Fucking, or just girls in general?”
My ears were going pink and I was intensely grateful that you kept your eyes on the road. “I guess… errm… both, really.”
The car swung into a patch of asphalt behind a pub. At first I thought you were pausing to get something out of your pocket or to take a phone call, but instead, you flicked your gum out the window, fixed your eyes on me, and then fixed your tongue into my mouth.
I relaxed into the kiss, fighting off the initial “OH MY GOD, FUCK THIS IS HAPPENING” to caress your tongue with mine, too shy to take any kind of lead role in what was happening. You pulled away just as suddenly as you rushed in, but your eyes were glittering, triumphant.
“Not bad, Cal.”
I stopped to catch my breath, my heart still pulsing away under my ribs.
“How-how did you know I was…”
You scoffed, like you were explaining something to a child. Which I was. But I didn’t think I was at the time. “The signs were there. And whenever I even leaned the conversation towards girls, you jammed right up, like someone stuffed a rod up your arse.”
I could only stare at you. How aloof you looked. How beautiful you looked. “I mean… no one likes football that much, Cal. You’re cute as fuck, and not one mention of a girl.”
Again, I was too busy revelling in the adulation of being called ‘cute as fuck’ and not reading the subtext here. You’d given me my first kiss, and two weeks later, you were dumping me out the car at my parents’ house one final time… ‘by the way, I’m off to Uni in a couple of weeks.’ No promise to keep in touch, just a few more kisses and bit of fumbling around in the backseats when we were a safe distance away from my parents’ house.
I remember when my Dad started picking me up from practice again, and I’d sit in the passenger seat, and my dad would frown at how far the seat had been pushed back, and I’d listen to the dad songs he’d play at a sensible volume, and every time a new track came on I would wait for a second just in case it was blink-182.
I’d get home, and scroll through my blackberry phone contacts, waiting for a text about what Uni was like. But you had probably met boys your own age now. Boys who knew how to kiss and fuck and drive a car and all that grown up stuff. You kissed me because you could. Because who else was going to give me a drive home if I hadn’t liked the kiss? But I had liked it. And you knew I would.
I saw you once again, a few years later. I was sat in a shopping centre with Justin, sat across the table from one another having coffee, like platonic mates. Your eyes lingered on me for a second, and I wondered if you knew who I was by then, that I was semi-famous at this point. I saw your eyes flash to Justin and then back to me, and I knew. That you were the only person in that shopping centre, in the world really, who knew that the man sat across from me was not a platonic friend. The sighting of you unearthed a very squirmy can of worms in me. The memory of where I started out… and who I was now. The differences between me at sixteen… but also the similarities. The painful similarities. Like the way certain emo lyrics and Blink 182 songs still resonate with you, even though it’s horrible to admit. That summer, I had hoped you were going to whisk me off my feet after you kissed me. My first kiss. I probably would have given my body to you first too, if you’d asked for it.
And that no doubt would have fucked me up worse when you disappeared off to Uni without a trace.