We call him Weed (Alex)
When the alarm went off on Saturday morning, I groaned and rolled over, rubbing my palm across Dylan’s bare chest, feeling the bunched muscles. I slowly opened my eyes, just in time to see him reaching out with his right hand, which was still bound in a heavy cast, and hit the alarm clock with it. The clock went flying and then cut off.
I lay my face down on his chest. I could hear his heart beating, and his breathing had already gone from the slow, deep breath of sleep to normal respiration. I closed my eyes, and murmured, “Let’s skip running this morning.”
He was wide awake, the bastard. I’d never known someone who just popped their eyes open in the morning, bright and chirpy.
“Can’t do it, babe. I’ve got a not-so-sexy former Marine breathing down my neck. If I don’t run, he’ll find out about it somehow.”
I chuckled. He’d spoken often of Jerry Weinstein, his physical therapist. Usually in disparaging terms. I could tell Dylan really liked the guy.
“You can stay and sleep if you want, hon. I’ll be back soon.”
“No,” I said. “I’m coming.”
I rolled out of his bed, checked to make sure the huge t-shirt of his I was wearing covered everything, then stepped out of the bedroom and into the apartment he shared with two graduate students. A quick run down the hall and back, and I’d brushed my teeth and changed.
By the time I got back to the room, he’d changed into his grey Army tee and shorts. It would be chilly out this morning, but we’d warm up soon enough. Still, I wasn’t crazy enough to go out in November cold in shorts. I wore pink sweats I’d picked up a couple weeks earlier.
It had been two weeks since the night he went to the hospital. Two weeks since we’d slept in each other’s arms for the first time as adults.
To be perfectly honest: they were the two happiest weeks I’d ever had in my life, at least since that trip to Israel junior year of high school. Much to Kelly’s disgust, Dylan and I had spent almost every waking moment together, and I’d slept here in his apartment on the weekend. Three mornings a week we still went running. Now, after eight weeks since he resumed it, he wasn’t kidding around any more. No more three block runs: instead, we went down Broadway to 110th, cut across to Central Park West, then ran the entire length of the park and back. It was about seven miles, and I was in better shape than I’d ever been in my life.
I probably wouldn’t go much further, but I had the feeling that he was just getting started. He’d been talking for the last week about possibly competing in a marathon.
As we tiptoed to the door, trying not to awaken his mysterious roommates, who I had as yet to actually meet, I could see that his right leg was noticeably more fit than it had been our first morning running together two months ago. His legs still didn’t quite match, but they were close. And despite the extensive scarring, they were still sexy as hell.
As always, we started out with warmups, then slowly running. As we hit 110th, he picked up the pace.
“What time does your sister’s … um… um… shit. Can’t remember the word.”
“Yeah. What time does her flight get in?”
“Three. I told her I’d meet her at the airport.”
We ran in silence for a little more. He did that occasionally. Just blanked out on perfectly common words. Dylan said it was a side effect from the traumatic brain injury he’d suffered when the bomb blast killed his best friend. He didn’t talk about it easily, but he was talking about it, and that was progress.
That afternoon, one of my older sisters, Carrie, was flying into New York. She graduated from Columbia two years ago, so this was sort of a homecoming. She said it was just to visit, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that she was being sent to check up on me. Because, well, I have that sort of family.
That’s okay. Even though there was a six year gap in our ages, Carrie and I had always gotten along well. Having five sisters is sometimes a blessing, but often a curse.
She’d freak if she saw me running seven miles in the morning. It was hardly in character, considering my past aversion to sports and anything resembling them. And that cheered me. As crazy as it was, I was getting a rush from the running. We didn’t really talk, just ran side by side, and usually stopped and showered, then went and got breakfast.
Kelly said that Dylan had cursed me. Last year the earliest I ever got up was 10 am.
We got back to his block to the tiny apartment at about 7:30 am. And a guy was sitting on the front step. Crew cut, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, his head was leaning back against the door, mouth hanging open, asleep.
“Holy shit,” Dylan muttered. Then he ran up to the guy. I was astonished at what happened next. Slowly, he reached out and squeezed his nostrils shut, then leaned forward and shouted, “Wake up, Weed!”
The guy jerked to a standing position instantly, saw Dylan, and shouted, “Holy shit! It’s the Studmaster!” then grabbed Dylan in a bear hug. They growled at each other, teeth bared, then Sherman, who was at least five years older and a head taller than Dylan, lifted Dylan off the ground and twirled him around. Like a ballerina, but with growling and laughing.
“Oh, man, what are you doing here?” Dylan said when Sherman put him down.
“Terminal leave, baby! And I’m gonna get so drunk I’ll be blind! Those New York girls better watch out, because: I. Am. Here!”
Dylan shook his head, laughing, then said, “Alex, this is my so-called friend, Ray Sherman. Sherman, this is Alex Thompson.”
I gave him a smile and approached. He eyes widened a little bit, and said in an aside to Dylan, “The Alex?”
Dylan nodded, a smile curling up on one side of his mouth.
He turned to me and said, “Wow. I’m so glad to finally meet you, Alex. Dylan’s been talking about you nonstop for the entire time I’ve known him, but… wow. He actually understated how beautiful you are.”
I smiled a little as my cheeks went red hot from blushing. “It’s nice to meet you too. Dylan’s talked quite a bit about you too.”
He shook his head. “Don’t believe anything this guy says about me. It’s all lies.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” I said.
“Huh. You obviously don’t know Paris as well as you think. I bet he didn’t tell you how awesome and super masculine I am.”
I shrugged and grinned. “He did say you were kinda cute.”
Sherman burst into loud laughter, doubling over. “Oh man, she got both of us, Dylan. I love this girl! Where did you find her again?”
Dylan smiled at me and said, “We ran into each other on an airplane.”
“Man. I gotta fly more. So what’s on the agenda?”
Dylan chuckled. “I wasn’t expecting you this soon. Um… we’re going to pick up Alex’s sister this afternoon, she’s visiting New York for a few days. Alex is dragging me to a party tonight: you should come, so I’ll have someone to talk with. Right now, we’re going to grab a shower and go get some breakfast. You coming?”
“Food! Hell, yeah. Alex, you gonna introduce me to your sister?”
“Of course,” she said.
“Awesome. Let’s get going then.”
“Promise to keep quiet in the apartment,” Dylan said. “My roommates aren’t even alive this early in the morning.”
“What the fuck is quiet?” Sherman asked in a loud voice.
Dylan gave him a look, and Sherman smiled, then mimed locking his lips.
We entered the apartment, and Dylan showed Sherman where he could stow his bags. I went to get a shower first, and Dylan stopped me in the hall and whispered, “Is this okay? I know your sister’s coming, I wasn’t expecting Sherman until next week.”
I kissed him on the cheek. “Of course it’s okay.”
He grinned. “You’ll love Sherman. He’s a great guy.”
“I think I already do.”
Almost an hour later we were eating breakfast in a booth at the back of Tom’s Diner. I sat to Dylan’s right, and Sherman was across from us.
“So,” Sherman said, “If you don’t want to tell me anything, you don’t have to. But after two years of hearing about your story of love and woe, I’m really curious. Last I heard, you two had broken up, and Dylan was busy attaching explosives to his laptop. How’d you get back together?”
“I’ll answer, but you’ll have to tell me why you call him … what was it? Studmaster?” I grinned when I asked the question.
He broke into laughter. “Deal,” he said.
“Oh, no,” Dylan said. “Not going to happen.”
“Too late, dude. I already promised the lady, and I never break a promise.”
Dylan rolled his eyes and drank his coffee.
“Well,” I said. “My second day of classes this year, I was walking down the hall to my work-study assignment, and there was this surly looking guy lurking in the dark. And we ran into each other and the first words he said was something like ‘Don’t touch me.’ And it was Dylan, the love of my life. One thing led to another and here we are.”
“There’s gotta be more to it than that.”
I laughed. “A little bit. I did have to take him to the hospital one night after he punched a wall.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Now that sounds like Dylan.”
I asked, “What was that about his laptop?”
He chuckled. “I don’t know if I should tell this story.”
“You shouldn’t,” Dylan said.
“Now you have to,” I countered.
Sherman put his hands out to his side in a shrug. “Sorry, Paris. I’m powerless before the lady’s requests.” He turned to me and grinned. “Paris here has been known to be a little um, dramatic. The day you guys broke up, he was sitting there calmly on his laptop. After he finished doing whatever it was he was doing, he calmly closed it. Then he stood up, lifted the laptop and slammed it down on the table. I actually almost got a Purple Heart for flying shrapnel from the cracked case.”
“You did not, you idiot,” Dylan said. He was shifting in his seat, clearly uncomfortable.
“So anyway,” Sherman said. “He hadn’t done enough damage yet. So he picks up his laptop in one hand, and his rifle in the other. Then he says, calm as ever, ‘I’m going for a walk, guys.’ Obviously we were pretty curious, so we followed behind him. He goes out to the wire, and leans the laptop against a metal post. Then backs up 20 yards, raises his rifle, and empties a thirty round magazine into the laptop. Of course, shots are being fired, and we’re in the middle of the boonies, so by the time he’s done, the whole base is going nuts. Everybody’s on red alert, running to their emergency stations, getting down in the bunkers, freaking out. And there’s Dylan, blasting away at that laptop like it’s an entire riot of hajis.”
Oh, wow. I found myself wishing Sherman hadn’t told me the story. It might make a good story, but it also made light of the very real pain he’d been in. Pain I’d caused, because I was drunk, and doubting our relationship. I put my hand on his thigh and squeezed. He leaned against me, just slightly, and I think it was okay.
“That’s one story too many, Sherman,” he said.
“But I haven’t heard about the Studmaster,” I said, smiling at him. “I want to know all your secrets.”
Sherman chuckled. “You know this clown and I went through basic training together, right? Well, he had several pictures of you taped up inside his wall locker.”
Oh… I didn’t know that. We’d been very much on the outs when he enlisted in the Army.
“Anyway, one day Drill Sergeant Powers is conducting an inspection, and he looks in the locker, and he says, ‘Paris, is this your girlfriend?’ And Paris here, he responds, ‘She was, Drill Sergeant. I’m gonna get her back. I plan to marry her.’”
I froze in place, suddenly breathing shallow rapid breaths. He told his sergeant he wanted to marry me? Oh. My. God. I don’t know if Sherman noticed my sudden paralysis, because he kept talking, but Dylan sure did, because I accidentally squeezed his leg so hard it probably bruised him.
Sherman went on. “So, Sergeant Powers asks, ‘Have you slept with her yet?’ And Paris says no, that you’re a good Catholic girl, or some bullshit like that.”
I started to giggle, horribly embarrassed. I could definitely feel heat rising to my cheeks.
“Sergeant Powers says, ‘Paris. You don’t buy a car before you take it out for a test drive. You’re not going to marry this girl before you try her on for size. Huh. I saw these pictures of this hot girl, and thought you were some kind of studmaster. But you’re not, you’re a pudmaster. Ever since then, Paris was called the Studmaster.”
I snickered, then started to giggle hard, almost spewing my coffee all over the table. “That’s terrible,” I said.
“You’re in so much trouble,” Dylan said. I wasn’t sure if he meant me or Sherman. But I did know that here we were, years later, and we still hadn’t made love.
And just like that, I decided that I was ready. When the party was over tonight, when we got home, it was going to happen. Tonight. No question. I gave Dylan a secret smile. He didn’t know what it was about but he smiled back. By the time we went to bed, his smile was going to be a whole lot bigger, I was going to see to it.
I tried to divert my thoughts from the carnal direction they’d taken, which was hard, because I was still touching his leg. Well, thigh. Inner thigh. Whatever.
I looked over to Sherman, consciously distracting myself. “So, do you have a nickname too?”
“Of course not,” he said.
“We call him Weed. Because he’s so short.”
I shook my head, a grin forming on my face. Sherman wouldn’t have looked out of place in an NBA lineup. I already liked him, a lot. He was cheerful, outgoing, and obviously cared about Dylan. And that mattered more than anything.
This is first draft material from a new story I’m working on. I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts on the story. You can find the beginning and contents of the story, here.