One of Us Must Know
One of Us Must Know © 2014 by Rowan McBride. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without author's permission.
- Two -
I frowned. Primary? Secondary? What the hell did that mean?
My frown deepened. Looks, clothes, and personality. What else was there?
The frown turned into a full-blown scowl.
Well, that cleared it right up.
Bobby and me had been best friends for most of our lives. That counted as a close personal relationship, didn't it? So why didn't he want me? Why didn't he see me as a romantic possibility? Was it my status? What was my status?
I growled and dropped my forehead onto my desk. It didn't hurt, and truthfully I wish it had, but all I got for my trouble was a crack in the wood, which wasn't nearly as satisfying.
Things were this complicated on the possibility that Bobby was demisexual. They'd only get more complicated if he was a grey-ace, since that seemed to be an umbrella term. Umbrella terms meant less rules and rules in conflict with each other -- a big ol' grey area. Hence the name, probably.
I was screwed if he turned out to be asexual. Or rather, I wasn't getting screwed. Rules were fairly clear on that.
"Okay, Dylan," I said to myself, blowing out a long breath. "This isn't about you."
Bobby was trying to figure his shit out, just like me. And if he was demisexual or grey-asexual or straight-up asexual, he couldn't help that any more than I could help being homosexual.
But oh, God, I was really hoping for demisexual. It was hella selfish, but I figured that him wanting me and only me was my best chance at fucking him.
I winced at my own thoughts. Fucking him? With Bobby, wouldn't it be more like... like making love?
Shit. Was I that deep into him? When did I stop thinking of him as just a friend?
Last year, maybe. When I'd bought a crap flavor of ice-cream and he'd shared his cone with me without a second thought. Sharing that strawberry-chocolate swirl... I remember it had felt, I don't know, intimate. Almost like kissing.
Yeah, that was the day I'd started to fall. Had to be. But at the time it was a comforting, easy feeling. Nothing I thought too closely about. Then my body had started changing and every emotion inside of me ramped up to eleven. Except lust. Lust I felt all the way to a hundred. Sometimes it was hard to think through it. I was tempted to jack-off right now. All because of a little strawberry-chocolate swirl.
I sat up, stared at the crack on my desk. My life was spinning out of control. If I didn't get a handle on it soon, I was going to end up hurting the person I cared about most.
So get a handle on it already.
Pushing myself back from my desk, I got up and walked downstairs to the kitchen. What I needed was practice, and this seemed as good a place as any to start. I opened the fridge, pulled out an egg... and crushed it to smithereens.
I jumped and spun, my egg murdering hand covered in egg murdered guts. "H-Hi, Mom."
She shook her head in bewilderment as she stared at me. "What are you doing?"
Her gaze pointedly dipped to my hand, to the floor, and back to my face.
All at once I understood that I'd defiled Dad's pristine kitchen. "Aw, fuck!" I threw what was left of my egg into the trash and grabbed a paper towel. "Sorry, Mom. I'll clean it right away."
She sighed, her sensible soled shoe tapping against the floor. "Dylan, what have we said about the swearing?"
To knock it the fuck off. I winced, realizing I couldn't keep my thoughts in check even when she was lecturing me. "Sorry. Again."
Her face softened as she glanced at her watch. "I have to get to work." She made a vague gesture to the mess I'd made. "Be sure to disinfect this whole area and wash your hands thoroughly when you're done."
God, she was such a germaphobe. I guess that came part and parcel with being a hospital administrator, though. "Yes, ma'am."
"There are toaster waffles in the freezer. If you insist on 'cooking,' they might be more your speed until your father gets home."
Normally Dad did all the real cooking. At the moment he was in the middle of attending a month-long chef's conference. Or seminar. I wasn't sure what it was, exactly. I'd been distracted and sorta lost in my own little bubble. From what I did catch, I knew that a bunch of the world's top chefs were getting together to share tricks and come up with new ones. He'd seemed really excited and I was happy for him and everything, but being Dad-less meant we'd all been getting by with microwave dinners and take-out for the last couple of weeks. "Waffles sound good. Can we have pizza tonight?"
Not that take-out didn't have its perks. Junk-food was so rare around here that I scarfed it every chance I got. Mark, not so much. He liked to eat healthy. Hence the gigantic football player body.
Mom, though, was all for taking a break now and then. "Oh," she said, smiling. "Yes, let's do that. Usual toppings?"
She checked her watch again and hurried out the door. "Bye, sweetheart. I'll be home by eight!"
As soon as she left, I took a deep breath and tried the egg thing again. This time, I used my fingertips, gingerly lifting one out of its plastic basket. The shell cracked, and I instantly eased up.
That delicate? Really? Maybe I should have started with something more durable, but there was no going back now.
Concentrating, I brought the egg closer to me, focusing on the texture of the shell, paying special attention to any give beneath the pads of my fingers.
Okay. Not so bad. I could do this.
Another crack appeared.
I held it over a skillet on the stove and carefully broke it open. Then I picked up a third egg, and a fourth. Fifth, sixth. Seventh.
By the eighth egg, though, something changed.
At first I held it gingerly, like the others. But this time my awareness of what I held in my hand both expanded and sharpened. I got a sense of the shell -- its texture, its delicacy. And suddenly I didn't have to try so hard anymore. I just...held it.
The change seemed fundamental. As if I were playing a game, and I'd leveled up to +1 Control.
Curious, I shifted the egg to my clumsier left hand. No problems there, either. I started to apply a little pressure, and some inner sense told me exactly when to stop.
"Cool," I murmured.
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and glanced up. "Hey, bro. Want some breakfast?"
He looked me over, then thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Nah, I'm good."
I'd never seen that expression on his face before. I'd never seen that expression on anyone's face before, not when looking at me.
My big brother, star football player at Alabama State, was intimidated as fuck.
And I'd done it to him.
It shouldn't have felt good, but it really, really did.
"Come on," I said, grinning now. "Have a plate of eggs with me."
His jaw ticked. I'm guessing that was his pride telling him he couldn't run away from his little brother.
"Fine," he muttered, pulling a stool from the island counter and taking a seat. "Put some ham in my omelet."
I snorted. "Omelet? Me? Best I can do is scrambled."
He rolled his eyes and looked so done in the way only he could. "Whatever. Just throw some ham in it."
Ham I could handle. Just a matter of chopping some up and throwing it in and...
Oh. Turning on the stove.
There. Not so hard.
The skillet started sizzling and I looked around for a spatula. The eggs seemed to be cooking fast so I gave them a good stir.
Everything under control.
Smoke started pouring out of the skillet.
Still under control.
No matter how quick I stirred, anything that touched the bottom of the pan burned.
At first I thought my speed was gonna turn eggs into cream, but with the moisture evaporating so fast I was ending up with egg pellets and brown ham.
Shit shit shit! This is why I didn't fuck around with Dad's cookware!
"Dude," said Mark, his voice curious and weirdly calm considering the impending disaster. "I think they're done."
Bereft of better ideas, I grabbed the skillet's iron handle and lifted it off the stove. The eggs kept sizzling and I frantically looked around for plates, knowing they were my only salvation. Except I hadn't thought to get them out before I started cooking and now my hands were full of skillet and spatula.
"Isn't that pan hot?"
I stared at him like a deer caught in the headlights. It should have been. It should have been scalding. And I had nothing as far as explaining that away. "No," I said, my voice dangerously close to cracking.
Mark sighed and got up, retrieving a pair of plates and glasses from a cabinet and setting them on the counter.
"Thanks," I said gratefully, dumping half the eggs on his plate and half on mine.
He grabbed a couple of forks and a carton of orange juice before going back to his seat. "Don't forget to turn off the stove."
Right. Right. I did as told and sat across from him.
Mark poked at his breakfast a few times before taking a bite.
Suddenly I was seven years old again, desperate for approval from my big brother. "So?"
His eyes squinted as he chewed and forced himself to swallow. "Man," he said, grabbing salt and pepper from the lazy susan to his right. "I'll be glad when Dad gets home."
Yeah, Dad probably would have added seasonings of some sort.
I took my own bite of dry, rubbery eggs and burnt ham. "Oh God." I said after choking it down. "You don't have to eat this. Really."
He shrugged. "It's food. Barely."
I watched him eat and the last of my newfound superiority slipped away. "I'm sorry about getting physical with you last night. I didn't bruise you or anything, did I?"
He spared me a short glance before going back to his meal. "Like you could ever bruise me."
Maybe I hadn't hurt him after all. Or maybe he just wanted me to think I hadn't. Either way, I let it slide, because he was eating the God-awful breakfast I'd made.
We ate the rest of it in silence. Every once in a while, I'd sneak a peek at his big arms, at the rounded biceps pulling his short sleeves tight. They were so much bigger than mine, but...
As I studied them a little more, I noticed he didn't have my definition. That my muscles, though smaller, looked a helluva lot harder.
They were stronger, too, even if Mark did want to pretend last night never happened.
We finished the "food" at about the same time. Mark washed his last bite down with a whole glass of orange juice, then got up to leave.
"Hey!" I hopped up from my stool. "Where do you think you're going?"
His broad back tensed before he turned back to me. "None of your business."
But... But... "What about these dishes?"
He cocked an eyebrow. "What about them?"
Our ritual! One year away at Alabama State and he'd totally forgotten! When I was finally able to take him on. "We have to decide who's gonna do them."
Mark gestured to our empty plates. "You made the disaster. You clean the disaster."
"Uh-uh. That's not how it works and you know it." I propped my elbow on the counter and raised my hand. "Arm wrestle."
He shoved his hands into his pockets and glared. I could see that pride gnawing at him again, ticking at his jaw. Then he muttered something under his breath and came back to the counter.
I grasped his hand carefully at first, then with increasing confidence as I realized I could sense his limits the way I could sense the fragility of that last egg. This was good. This could be fun.
Mark was seven inches taller than me, so that definitely gave him the advantage of leverage. I was curious to see if it would matter. "Ready?" I asked, and he nodded. "Okay then. Set. Go!"
Nope. Didn't matter at all.
In fact, I could barely feel him trying. I probably wouldn't even have noticed if I hadn't seen his biceps pop out to full size, pushing the sleeve of his t-shirt up to his shoulder.
I watched him a few seconds. Like he was an alien and not my brother. "Maybe you should use both hands."
Mark's gaze shot to mine, his eyes wide and disbelieving. Slowly, his left hand trembling, he placed it over his right and tried to push/pull me down.
My own biceps twitched, so that made things a little more interesting.
But only a little.
"C'mon, bro. That can't be all you've got, can it?"
He frowned, and soon not only were his arms swollen big and tight, his chest was tensed with the effort as well.
Another twitch in my biceps, but it was no trouble holding our hands upright.
I wonder if I can get that vein to pop out on his forehead?
"Stand up," I said, a grin pulling at my mouth. "Put your whole body into it."
Mark scowled and tried to pull away. I kept my fingers closed around his hand, though, so he was good and stuck.
Gritting his teeth, he got up from the stool and dug in.
The leverage of Mark's entire body was a totally different beast than the leverage of two arms. I'd gotten cocky, thinking I could easily take anything he threw at me. But he took me by surprise, sending my hand rocketing toward the countertop. I barely stopped him in time -- the back of my hand was an inch from losing.
My arm struggled against his body, and it felt... it felt good. I hadn't realized how little I'd worked my muscles all summer, and as the burn from my biceps spread over my arm and through the rest of my body, I couldn't help smiling.
So this was what Mark got out of hitting the weights so hard. The challenge, the burn, it bordered on ecstasy. I definitely had to set up some sort of routine later.
But first I had to win this game.
I'd managed to bring Mark to a full stop, but having over two hundred pounds of muscle bearing down on you is no joke.
Now I was the one gritting my teeth. I was tempted to grab the edge of the counter for help, but me and Mark had strict rules about that and I didn't want to win my first match by cheating, so I fought his weight and strength, keeping my body straight, determined to use just my arm. I could feel my biceps and triceps tightening, the cords in my forearm straining, but I couldn't budge from my almost-pinned position.
Then something really strange happened.
Every muscle in my body... I don't know what to call it. Pulsed. Over and over. And every time they felt...denser maybe? More solid, definitely. Each pulse ramped up in intensity, signaling something big was coming. For a second I zoned out, focusing on my body. Then Mark took another quarter inch from me and my attention ratcheted back to our arms. I should have been worried, but I knew his advantage wouldn't last long. I knew it even before the surge of strength actually came. But when it did... Oh wow. Power. Pure. Undiluted.
No longer struggling to hold my position, I lifted my head to look at Mark's face. A fresh grin curved my mouth as slowly, deliberately, I lifted my hand and pushed back Mark's body.
His eyes rounded. That vein on his forehead finally appeared.
My grin pulled wider. Don't get me wrong -- it wasn't easy. I still had to put hella effort into getting us back into an upright position. But the fact that he couldn't stop my progress, the fact that winning was now a foregone conclusion...
Well, who wouldn't smile.
When I started to inch us to the other side of the counter, Mark wedged his shoulder against my hand to try and stop my progress. Even though we'd never actually banned that move, considering that I automatically lost if I grabbed the table I was pretty sure it went against the spirit of our rules. Still, I figured I could afford to be generous.
His sneakers squeaked against the floor as I kept pushing him back. His head shot up, his eyes big with astonishment, but he kept fighting against the smooth, controlled movement of my arm.
I held his gaze, entranced by his expression as one of his elbows hit the counter, as his shoulder slipped from my hand, as I gently pinned both of his to the countertop.
"I win." It was the first time in my life I'd said those words to my brother.
Mark pulled away from me and this time I let him go. He stumbled backward and raised his hand, his whole arm shaking as he pointed a finger at me. I couldn't tell whether the shaking came from exhaustion or fear.
It kinda scared me that I liked either possibility.
"What," Mark dragged in a deep breath of air, "the hell is going on with you?"
"Dunno," I answered honestly. "Got a little stronger over the summer."
"A little?" His back straightened as he dropped his hand. "What the fuck have you been taking, Dylan?"
I frowned. "Taking?"
"I know it's not steroids because even steroids don't do," he looked me up and down, "this. And it can't be any of the other stupid shit some of the guys on my team use because none of them are stronger than me."
I tilted my head to the side. "Are you on drugs, Mark? Is that how you made first string your freshman year at A.S.U.?"
"No, dipshit. After all the horror stories Mom's told us, I grew up smarter than that. I thought you did too."
"Yes. Dipshit." His fist clenched at his side. "Tell me you weren't stupid enough to try something new or experimental or something some crackpot cooked up in their garage."
"Tell me. What you. Took."
I blinked. Mark still thought he had some shred of authority over me. He hadn't realized yet that his days of bossing me around were over. Understandable, I guess. I'd just come to that epiphany a few seconds ago. "I'm not on anything," I said, humoring him. "It just sorta happened."
"Sorta happened." His expression cooled as he pulled out his phone. "Okay."
I straightened in my seat. "Who are you calling?"
Oh God. "What! Why?"
"Tests, little brother. Lots and lots of tests to see just how badly you've wrecked your body."
Mark might not have authority over me anymore, but Mom still scared the shit out of me. "Wait!" I shot off the stool and in a flash I was on his side of the room, snatching the phone from his hand. I was so panicked that I squeezed too hard and cracked the screen. "Fuck."
He glanced at the phone, then met my gaze, his own dropping colder by the second. "How far are you willing to take this, Dyl?"
Something wasn't right. His voice was calm, but I hadn't missed the step back he'd taken when I grabbed his phone. And right now his body wasn't just stiff, it was locked down, like he was using all the strength he had left to keep himself from trembling.
Suddenly seeing him scared of me didn't feel so good.
"Mark, I'm sorry about your phone." I gave it back to him. "It was an accident. I'll pay for it." Shit. I was broke. Like always. "If you can wait till December, I'll give you all the cash Mom and Dad put in my stocking. Grandpa and Grandma too."
Some of the frost warmed from his eyes.
I rambled on, rubbing the back of my neck. "And I'm not taking any drugs. I swear."
He crossed his arms over his chest, but his voice was lower, gentler, in a way it hadn't been to me in years. "That's even more reason to see a doctor, don't you think?"
"I saw Dr. Kirkpatrick at the beginning of summer. He said it was just puberty."
"Obviously you need a second opinion."
I reached for him, stopped short when it looked like he might go into lockdown again. "Please, Mark. I don't think I can deal with anyone else knowing. Not yet. Just you and me, okay? Just until I figure some things out. I'm begging you."
He raised an eyebrow. "What about the little..." He shut his eyes, opened them again. "What about Bobby? Doesn't he know?"
I shook my head.
"Moron," he muttered.
I opened my mouth to ask what he meant by that, but he cut me off.
"Don't. We need to deal with the mountain of problems in front of us before I even touch on your dysfunctional relationship with Bobby."
Relationship? That was a weird way to put it, wasn't it?
Dysfunctional? Why did he think Bobby and I were dysfunctional? And since when did my brother even use words like dysfunctional?
Mark pinched the bridge of his nose and blew out a slow, measured breath. "Dylan. We need to tell Mom. And we need to get you checked out before you have a heart attack or something."
The heart in question skipped a beat. "Heart attack?"
His hand fell away from his face as disbelief skittered across his features. "Has it occurred to you that your brain might be pumping way more hormones into you than your skinny little body can handle?"
No, actually. Frankly I was surprised it had occurred to him. Who was this and what had he done to my dumb jock brother? "I..." Well shit. Now I was worried. "My yearly physical's next week," I offered. "They'll be able to tell if I'm sick, right? Then we can take it from there. And if they don't find anything, no one has to know about the strength part."
"Uh-huh," said Mark, unimpressed. "How fast can you run now?"
The question took me off guard. "I-I'm not sure."
He lowered his head. "Fast enough to, say, break a treadmill during a routine stress-test?"
Oh. Yeah. That could be a problem. "I'll hold back."
He held up his phone.
"I told you that was an accident!"
"Not helping your case."
"I'll get a handle on it," I promised. "I was practically there before you--" I snapped my mouth shut, but it was too late.
"Oh, now the eggs make sense. That wasn't a breakfast -- that was a god-damned science experiment."
I fought the urge to cringe. "I'll do the dishes. You're off the hook."
Mark sighed. "I suppose if you do break the treadmill or anything else during your physical, that'll be all Mom needs to drill some sense into you."
I wasn't used to my brother being this nice. Not since we were little kids. I liked it. I liked it a hell of a lot more than I liked him being scared of me. "Thanks, Mark."
"Not so fast. I've got conditions."
Damn. Well, it couldn't have lasted. "What do I have to do? Keep your room clean until you go back to university? Wash your truck? Do your chores? All of the above?"
He smacked my forehead with the heel of his hand. It didn't hurt -- less than an hour ago I'd cracked my desk with the same forehead, and I was stronger now. But given the way he rolled his wrist, the impact must have jarred him pretty badly. "Hey," I said, suddenly offended. "How hard did you just hit me?"
"Not hard enough to knock any sense into you," he snapped. Then he slid his hands into his pockets and visibly forced himself calm. "Condition one: the second you feel pain in any part of your body, you run straight to Mom and tell her everything."
Any anger I'd been building toward crumbled away. "Wait, you're not going to--"
"Condition two: If you feel uncomfortable in any way, run straight to Mom and tell her everything."
I frowned. "Uncomfortable?"
"Headaches, insomnia, palpitations in your chest, a sense that your heart is racing, rashes, dizziness, indigestion. Basically any side-effect you've ever heard from every pharmaceutical commercial you've ever seen. Got it?"
"Got it," I said in an almost-whisper. Mark honest-to-God cared about me. I had to keep my voice soft because I was afraid I'd get choked up and break the moment.
"Condition three: Don't throw a fit when I talk to Greg. Which I promise you will be today."
"Greg?" A confused sort of horror turned up the volume on my voice. "Bobby's Greg? Why?"
"You are one of the least self-aware people I know, so asking you is useless. I'm going to ask Greg to find out from Bobby if you've been acting stranger than usual this summer. Risky behavior, bursts of aggression, mood swings. Things like that." He caught the look on my face and added, "Don't worry. I'm not counting last night as a burst of aggression."
But I was already in full panic mode. "You can't just up and talk to Greg about this. You... You just can't!"
"I won't get into specifics, and Greg knows how to be subtle. Trust me, Bobby won't catch on."
The world felt like it was spinning under my feet. Did this count as a dizzy spell? "How do you even know Greg well enough to know that?"
Mark shrugged. "Our little brothers are best friends. You don't think we touch base with each other?"
No. No I did not think that! Not once! "But you're... I mean, Greg's really smart," Mark smirked at my backhanded insult, "and you're..." my voice dipped as I delivered a more straightforward insult, "well you're kinda racist."
Hurt flickered in his eyes. "Look, I've never used that word in front of Greg. I know this because he's the type of guy who'd set me straight and I'm the type who'd listen."
"You never listen to me," I muttered.
"Because you're a fucking brat," he said without hesitation. He shook his head. "I had no idea the word was a slur. I only used it because he's been nipping at your heels since you were toddlers. I never meant to hurt his feelings, and I'd appreciate it if you'd pass along my apologies."
I don't know why, but the more grown up he sounded the more petty I felt. "You should tell him yourself."
"I should, but from what Greg has told me, Bobby's developed a...phobia of guys like me, and I'd rather not add to his anxiety." Mark actually took a step forward and lowered his mouth to my ear. "I know I said I'd leave your relationship alone, but you really should tell him what's going on with you before you also become a guy like me."
I snapped my head back, but my shock must have been plain on my face because Mark didn't flinch. In fact, there was none of the fear I'd seen in him a few seconds ago. Proof of how dead serious he was.
"Last two conditions: This conversation is over for now, and," he turned and walked toward the front door, "you can't stop me from leaving the house."
He shot me a look that had the word "Mom" written all over it, and I watched him leave without another word.
| 1 | 2 |
This chapter is weirdly on point considering it's the last day of Asexual Awareness Week. I did not plan it that way. I swear. It was just a happy accident. :)
So. First. Yes yes, I know Dylan has some pretty severe misunderstandings about sexual and romantic orientations. But he doesn't know that yet. We all start at the bottom of the learning curve, and Dyl's no different.
Regarding the quotes from AVENwiki -- Years ago when I discovered Demisexuality was a thing, it was due entirely to AVENwiki. Back then, the first and second excerpts were all there were, but there's a lot more information now, which is great, even if the extra info did cross it off as an identification for me. I chose to use the earlier version of the page because frankly it fit the story better. I also took some creative license with how some of the other information is organized. AVENwiki is a great site, and you do not need nearly as many clicks as Dylan used to get the information he found. But again, story. I encourage you to visit the site. It rocks pretty hard and will always have a warm cuddly place in the squishy bit of my heart. It's a wonderful thing to (a) discover there are options you would never have imagined for yourself and (b) realize you're not alone, or ill, or screwed up. So thanks to them for giving me all those things.
Huh. Did I just come out as a grey-ace?
Wow. Well okay then. There's that.
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