It wasn’t weird for Ashely to ask Jack to get coffee with her. She was his girlfriend, after all - they did that all the time. They’d been dating for six months, which was longer than any of Jack’s previous relationships, but things had been seeming good. She didn’t mind that he liked to stay in and watch The X-Files but she drew the line at listening to him talk about cryptids.
She was quiet when they sat down, though.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked, suddenly worried that she was sick or something was wrong.
“I’m fine,” Ashley said quickly, folding her napkin over in her hands. “There was something I wanted to talk to you about. Jack… do you know that you’re gay?”
Jack stopped with his coffee at his mouth and stared at her. “What?”
“It’s just - I thought you probably knew, because your sister’s gay, but then I got to wondering why you’d date me if you knew ,” she continued. “That would be a pretty shitty thing to do, and I want to think that you’re a nice guy, Jack.”
“I’m not gay,” Jack replied automatically. She was right - he would know. His sister and his best friend were gay, so if he was he’d just… know.
Ashley gave him a tight smile. “Sure.”
“I’m -” Jack looked down at his hands helplessly, like there’d be some answer written on the insides of his palms, a cheat sheet he didn’t ever remember writing. “I’m just not.”
“I don’t wanna argue with you, Jack, but you should maybe think about this,” she suggested gently, reaching out across the table to pat the side of his hand. “In the meantime, I don’t think we should be together anymore. Given - that.”
Jack nodded reluctantly. “That’s understandable.”
Ashley stood up from her seat and Jack made a useless gesture with his hand, making her pause. “Why do you think that?” he asked quietly.
She smiled down at him and patted his shoulder. “There’s a lot of things. I think you just need to think about it, seriously, for a little bit.”
Jack nodded again, looking down at the fake wood countertop of the off-campus coffee shop, and when she walked away this time he let her.
Ashley broke up with me , Jack sent Lily as he finally walked out of the coffee shop, a courtesy three minutes after Ashley.
He was half way back to campus when she texted back. Damn. Come up to my office.
Lily’s ‘office’ was basically a broom closet in the sub-basement of the student center down the hall from the student radio station. Jack knocked once before opening the door and dropping himself into the second desk chair next to her. “Do you want coffee?” she asked, holding out a mug towards him.
He took it gratefully, even though he’d already had a cup at the coffee shop while he’d waited for Ashley. He immediately pulled a face as he gulped down a big sip. “Does this have alcohol in it?”
Lily shrugged. “Vodka. Seemed like you might need it.”
“I still have to go to another class after this,” Jack stated, but he drank the rest of it down quickly. “Lily, I have a question, and it’s gonna be kinda weird but I need you to be honest with me. Am I gay?”
“Yeah,” Lily answered, far too quickly and with too much certainty for Jack’s liking. “Why do you ask?”
Jack sighed and leaned back in the chair dramatically. “Ashley broke up with me because she said that I’m gay, but I don’t think I am. Why do you think I am, too?”
Lily stared at him, blinking. “Because… you are.”
“That’s not helpful,” Jack muttered. “How did you know you were gay?”
Lily sighed loudly in his direction. “Go to class, Jack.”
“It’s an honest question! She told me to think about it, so I’m thinking about it.”
Lily took her mug back and put it on her desk, patting his arm. “Go to class.”
Sammy isn’t home when Jack gets back to their apartment, so Jack sets out his homework on the shitty dining room table. One of the legs was shorter than all the others, but they never bothered to put even rolled up newspaper under it even after having it for over six months. He couldn’t focus on his essay, though.
Jack wasn’t sure if Lily was fucking with him or not, but Ashley had seemed pretty serious, so maybe it was worth some thought. He’d had two serious girlfriends back in high school, but ‘serious’ was kind of broad. Only a few months of being ‘official’ with either of them, which is meaningless looking back on it as an adult. He’d liked them, though. He was sure that he’d liked them.
He had a lot of friends on the football team, though. Some he’d consider good friends, maybe even best friends before he’d met Sammy and realized what it was like to have a best friend. He never looked at the other guys in the showers, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything - that just wasn’t done.
He’d been closest to David in high school, another guy on the football team. They’d hung out sometimes and played video games. Sometimes he’d have dreams where he was playing football and David was there, watching him, but that wasn’t anything. Sometimes when they played video games on the couch Jack would have to move away because there was a feeling that was just… too much. He’d never thought about it back then, and even now he couldn’t grasp what that feeling was.
His train of thought was cut off as the door to the apartment opened and Sammy walked in. “Hey,” Sammy said, dropping his bag and falling over onto the couch.
“Ashley broke up with me.”
Sammy sat up quickly, giving him a concerned look. “Are you okay? I thought you really liked her. You were all excited about your six month anniversary.”
Jack sighed and rocked back in his chair, lifting the two front legs up off the ground. “I mean. Maybe? I don’t know anymore.”
“Is it a good thing, then?”
Jack shrugged. “Probably. She told me I was gay. Not like that! Like… she actually thinks I am and that I just don’t know it. Then Lily agreed with her. But - I mean, am I?”
Sammy looked away quickly. “I couldn’t tell you.”
“How did you know you were gay?” Jack asked, dropping his chair back down and turning to look at Sammy.
Sammy stood up. “That’s not really - I have to go work on an essay. Sorry about Ashley.” He grabbed his bag and disappeared into his room, leaving Jack frowning at his back.
They’d met in first year, and had become roommates the next year. Jack had never become so close to someone so fast - he just clicked with Sammy. Sammy watched The X-Files with him and even watched horror movies that Jack liked even though Sammy was the first to admit that they scared him. If Jack was gay, then Sammy would be the perfect guy for him. He knew that - he was pretty sure he’d said as much to Sammy once when they got drunk at a party together.
But Sammy was his best friend.
“Sammy’s been avoiding me,” Jack complained, letting himself into Lily’s office after knocking.
Lily rolled her eyes as Jack leaned back against the door, crossing his arms. “Nic, meet my idiot brother Jack. Jack, meet Nic.”
The girl in the other desk chair looked up from her computer to wave and then immediately bowed her head again, tapping away at something on a spreadsheet.
“Hi,” Jack muttered weakly.
“Now do you wanna whine about this here?” Lily questioned, leaning back in her desk chair.
Jack licked his lips awkwardly. “I mean - I don’t wanna bother -”
“Be my guest, I’d love to hear all your drama,” Nic said dryly, not looking up from her spreadsheet. “I don’t have to have this budget in to John by eight or anything.”
Jack started to back out and Lily rolled her eyes and stood up, ushering him out but following him into the hallway. “You don’t give a shit about bothering me but then you’re such a gentleman when another woman complains. Maybe you are straight after all.”
Jack scowled at her. “I don’t wanna talk about that right now. I’ve been - well, I haven’t made a lot of progress thinking about that, to be honest, because I brought it up to Sammy the day Ashley broke up with me and he hasn’t spoken more than ten words to me since.”
“That was only three days ago,” Lily pointed out. “Maybe he’s just been busy. He’s probably got projects or something.”
“I thought about that, but we share three out of five classes, so I know most of his schedule and I don’t think he should be this busy,” Jack explained. He crossed his arms again as someone walked down the hallway behind him, trying to make himself look nonchalant and not like he was freaking out a little bit. Sammy was gay - he wouldn’t care if Jack was… thinking about things, right? That didn’t make sense, so obviously Jack either did something else that was wrong or something bad was going on with Sammy that he didn’t want to talk about.
“Did you talk to him about what happened with Ashley at all?” she asked.
Jack shrugged. “Obviously. I asked him about it and then just said he had to do homework and left.”
“Jack. Did you also ask him how he knew he was gay?” Lily asked with a sigh. “Because you have to know that’s not cool to ask, especially someone like Sammy who already doesn’t like to talk about it.”
“Oh.Yeah I did,” Jack admitted. “I should… I’ll apologize. I feel like an idiot, it’s so obvious that I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”
Lily patted him on the arm condescendingly. “He’ll forgive you. I think you’re being an idiot about it but it’s good you’re actually thinking about this now.”
Jack put a hand to his chest dramatically. “Was that an endorsement of something I’m doing? You must love me.”
“Don’t let it go to your head.” Lily rolled her eyes and opened the door to the office again. “Just go talk to Sammy and leave me alone.”
Jack spent his entire walk back to his and Sammy’s apartment psyching himself up to apologize and maybe explain himself, so he was glad that Sammy was already there - he knew that he couldn’t have kept up the momentum if he’d had to wait for Sammy to get back.
“Sammy!” Jack said excitedly, voice slightly too loud, and he cringed at himself. He knew he sounded over the top, so he tried to tone it down. “Can we talk for a sec? I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“We live together,” Sammy pointed out, looking up from his notebook. “I saw you this morning.”
Jack was already regretting his. Of course they saw each other all the time - it was all just in his head, obviously. Sammy hadn’t been thinking about this as much as Jack had, hadn’t missed him. It had only been three days. Jack sat on the couch anyway. “I actually wanted to apologize. For the other day, I shouldn’t have asked you for private stuff like that - it’s not my business, this is something I have to deal with on my own.”
“No, it’s - it’s fine, Jack,” Sammy replied, putting his pen down. “I shouldn’t have run away like that. It wasn’t fair to you. I know you were just trying to ask to try and figure yourself out and not to pry or anything.”
Jack reached out and put his hand on Sammy’s shoulder. “Thanks. I’m sorry, though. I’ve just… never thought about it. I thought I had to be straight because Lily wasn’t so I just had to be. And now two people who know me pretty well have said that I’m not and… I don’t know. I don’t know how I’d know.”
“I wish I could help you,” Sammy admitted. “I’ve always known I didn’t like girls and it didn’t take me long to figure out I was gay.”
“You don’t owe me anything, I should be able to figure it out myself. I don’t know why I just - can’t,” Jack said. He realized suddenly that his hand was still on Sammy’s shoulder and he took it back. “It’s like if I think about it too hard my brain shuts down and it’s just like no, you’re not, don’t worry about it , and I kind of feel like that is a ‘normal straight person’ thought.”
“Have you ever had a crush on anyone?” Sammy asked. “What made you start dating your ex-girlfriends?”
Jack thought about. Lily had pointed Ashley out a party and said it was a shame she was straight because she was so hot, so Jack had gone for it, and she’d been nice. She’d asked for Jack’s number and then asked him out. His first girlfriend in high school had asked him to a Sadie Hawkins and he couldn’t say no, and then they just… were dating. Only for two months though. He’d dated another girl after that, she’d been on the cheerleading team and had come up to him at a party. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “They were nice? I liked spending time with them.”
“Okay. I hope that you can hear that that’s not much of a ringing endorsement,” Sammy said. “Was there anyone you wanted to spend time with more ?”
“You,” Jack said immediately. His face felt hot and he saw that Sammy was blushing, too, even if he turned his face away from Jack. “I mean - I had a friend in high school, too, that I hung out with more than either of my girlfriends back then. And then Ashley complained once that I spent more time with you than her. So I guess that means… that at least I probably didn’t like them that much.”
“Probably,” Sammy muttered. “Did you have a crush on that high school friend?”
Jack thought about David again, thought about sitting with him on the couch. One time in the summer they went to a public swimming pool with some of the other football guys and they’d almost gotten kicked out for roughhousing, but Jack just remembers wanting to - reach out and touch. He thought about Ashley, about the first time she’d invited him up to her apartment after a date, how he didn’t reach out - he just did what was expected. “I don’t know,” Jack groans, tipping his head back against the wall.
Sammy didn’t say anything right away. He tapped his ringers against his knee and Jack wanted him to stop, wanted to grab his wrist and make his hand lay flat. Finally, Sammy looked up and tried to look Jack in the eye. Jack lowered his head back to normal so that he could. “Do you have a crush on me ?” Sammy asked, voice carefully measured.
Jack tried to think about it. He did. He could picture Sammy shirtless, had seen him walk between the bathroom and his bedroom more than enough times to know what that looked like. He thought about how it felt when Sammy hugged him - they were almost the same height, a comfortable height for hugs. He could hold these facts in his mind but when he went further it was just - darkness. The big do not enter sign. “I don’t know,” he admitted softly, dropping his eyes from Sammy’s like that was some kind of confession. It wasn’t - it was nothing. The absence of a confession. “I think I’m gonna go to bed,” Jack said weakly. He could feel Sammy’s eyes still on him, watching him as he stood up and went into his bedroom.
Sometimes Jack dreams about Sammy.
Jack’s dreams are often odd and disjointed, like a play that switches genres every scene. Sammy shows up often enough, because Jack sees a lot of him. But sometimes he dreams about Sammy - just Sammy. It’s not always the same - sometimes they’re in the kitchen, in the school library, in Jack’s freshman dorm room.
In this dream they’re on the couch in their living room and Jack hasn’t taken his hand off of Sammy’s shoulder. Sammy leans towards him and for one moment Jack in the dream is terrified that Dream-Sammy is going to kiss him, but Sammy just leans his head on Jack’s shoulder. Something drops in Jack’s stomach when he realizes that he wasn’t feeling fear , just as Sammy puts his hand on Jack’s knee.
Jack wakes up sweating and goes to take a cold shower immediately.
Jack had rugby practices on Friday evenings. All the guys on the team were fit and athletic - broad shouldered and a bit stocky was the common build. He knew that he shouldn’t, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt to just - try to look. See if it sparked anything in him and answered all his questions.
“Are you checking out the goods there, Wright?” Greeney said almost as soon as Jack’s eyes dropped even a little bit, so they immediately snapped up to the locker in front of him.
“No way, man,” Jack answered quickly. “I just zoned out, but I guess that explains what your girlfriend was telling me last night.”
Greeney rolled his eyes. “Weak, dude. Could’ve just gone with a your mom and it would’ve been stronger. Did you not get enough sleep last night or something? You were acting off during practice.”
Jack dipped his head and pulled his jeans on. “Uh. Ashley broke up with me on Monday,” he admitted. “I’ve been kinda in my head about it.”
“Damn, man, that sucks.” Greeney clapped him on the shoulder. “We could take you out to a bar tonight, get you laid no problem.”
Jack shook his head. “Thanks, I appreciate it, but I actually have plans with my roommate. Rain check, though, I’ll let you know.”
Greeney nodded. “Yeah, of course, gotta get yourself sorted, I respect that. Anytime, bro.”
He didn’t have any plans of actually cashing in that check. It was a failed experiment, anyway - he hadn’t felt anything.
Jack dropped his rugby bag in the hallway when he got back to the apartment and Sammy wrinkled his nose up at him. “You’re gonna stink up the whole living room.”
Jack ignored his complaints and threw himself on the sofa, right on top of Sammy so that his feet were in Sammy’s lap. “If I was gonna find a guy hot, it would be like… one of the rugby players, right? Like, as a starting point. To sort of… break the ice of figuring out what I’m actually attracted to. They’re athletic and that’s a thing, right? Most people find that objectively attractive?”
Sammy shrugged, scowling down at his notebook. “Maybe. Not everyone is into that, though.”
Jack let out a frustrated sigh. “What are you into? God, wait, sorry, don’t answer that, that’s too personal again.” Jack went to kick his feet off of Sammy’s lap and leave but Sammy grabbed his ankle.
“No, it’s fine. I, uh… I like the athletic thing,” Sammy admitted. His face was bright red and he was still staring resolutely down at his notebook. “But not everyone does. When you - I mean. What did you feel looking at Ashley?”
Nothing , Jack wanted to say. But it felt rude to her, like he owed her more than that even if it was the truth. He thought about her laying in bed next to him and felt nothing. “I don’t know,” he lied, and Sammy looked over at him sharply.
“Jack, I don’t think you’re gonna do yourself any favours if you lie.” Sammy patted his ankle and let go and Jack mourned the loss of contact. “There’s this guy I like. It’s not - you don’t know him. It’s not important, but I know I like him. He makes me laugh, and when he looks at me it’s like I’m under a microscope but - I want him to keep looking. I just feel warm inside, like his attention is the only thing I need. I like to just listen to him talk, and whenever he listens to me I desperately want to impress him but I also don’t ever feel like he’ll judge me. When he touches me I never want him to stop touching me, but I also kind of want to run away from it. Thinking about him makes me happy but - it hurts, too, because I know he doesn’t feel that way. I just want to spend time with him, and make him feel as happy as he makes me feel, even if it’s not like that .” Sammy cleared his throat awkwardly. “Have you ever felt like that?”
While Sammy had talked about the guy, Jack had felt something dark churn in his gut. He didn’t like it. He wasn’t sure what it was. “I don’t -”
“Think about it,” Sammy urged. He put his hand back on Jack’s ankle and squeezed lightly, reassuring. And suddenly Jack knew.
“Yes,” he answered. He felt breathless, like he’d just run here after practice and not like it had been a full two hours since then. “I - yeah. I’ve felt like that before. Sammy, I think I’m gay.”
Sammy laughed. “Welcome to the team then. I’m sure Lily will be delighted.”
“Don’t you wanna know who I’m thinking about?” Jack asked. It was so clear in his mind that this was true - and that he needed to say it. Right now.
Sammy’s smile was tight. “That’s your business, Jack. I’m not gonna ask.”
“You. Sammy, I’m thinking about you,” Jack said, pulling his feet out of Sammy’s lap so he could sit up. “I think I’ve been a little bit in love with you - this entire time. And I didn’t know it because it just wasn’t an option. I thought that’s just what you felt when you were best friends with someone, I didn’t even realize there was a lack of… any of that with the people I was dating. I didn’t want them to be around me all the time, I didn’t want them to be touching me, I didn’t want to… make them happy. And that sounds awful now that I’m saying it out loud but - I didn’t know. I thought that I felt all the right things and that was just - a void. Indifference. I didn’t hate it so I must like it. But - I like you, Sammy. I really do. I want all that with you. I feel everything you just said about you .”
Jack took a deep breath and sat back a little bit. Sammy was staring at him, eyes wide. He hadn’t moved since Jack had started speaking. “But you said all that just now about a guy. So I know you don’t - I know it’s not me. And just because I’m figuring this all out and am - new to this, I guess, doesn’t mean I expect anything from you. I don’t expect anything from you. Your friendship is and always has been enough for me. I mean - I didn’t even realize until now that I’ve felt anything else.” Jack realized he was rambling and stopped himself abruptly. “I’ll go stay with Lily tonight if you don’t wanna be around me right now.”
Sammy reached out and grabbed his wrist. “Jack… there isn’t another guy. It was just you. I’ve been in love with you for longer than I wish was true, and I couldn’t stand it if you said all this, and we started something, and then you took it back. If we started something that would just be it for me, I think. You’d ruin me for anyone else, if you haven’t already.”
“I’m serious,” Jack promised. “I’m sure that I like you, that I want to be with you. That right now all I want to do is kiss you.”
“You’re killing me,” Sammy muttered. He clasped both of Jack’s hands between his, tangling them all up together. He let go and put a hand on the side of Jack’s face and Jack leaned into it. Sammy leaned forward but stopped right in front of Jack’s face, their noses nearly touching.
Jack stared into his eyes and couldn’t help but smile, which Sammy mirrored nervously. Jack leaned forwards and pressed his mouth against Sammy’s, letting his eyes shut as Sammy kissed him back. Sammy moved his hand to Jack’s hair the brush of his nails against Jack’s scalp made him gasp enough that Sammy pulled back just a little bit.
“Yeah, I’m definitely gay,” Jack said with a breathless laugh, and Sammy joined in. It was hard to kiss him again when they were both trying so hard not to laugh, but they made it work.