Aaron Minyard knew there were many, many things wrong with him. He didn’t try to list out his issues, because he would rather ignore them, thank you very much, but if he had he knew it would span several pages. Really, it was a good thing he had Andrew. His brother was so openly violent and misanthropic, so clearly broken, that everyone thought of Aaron as the normal one, conveniently overlooking the fact that Aaron could mirror every one of Andrew’s shards with one of his own.
Aaron wanted to be the normal one. He wanted to walk in the world unscrutinized. He wanted to be allowed to exist without being followed by whispers, speculation, and rumors about all of the things he was trying to leave behind. And, okay, maybe sometimes he wanted people to like him. It wasn’t a crime, no matter what Andrew thought. But, in general, other normal people preferred people like themselves. No one wanted to be friends with the messed up screwup. Aaron had learned that lesson well, and he had taken it to heart.
Aaron had lots of rules for Being Normal. Normal people didn’t flinch when someone grabbed them. Normal people went out on the weekends and got drunk with their friends. Normal people had friends in the first place. Aaron had gotten pretty good at those ones. Sometimes he thought about it, about the obviously neurotic mess that he used to be and how much less obvious it was now, and he felt vaguely proud of himself. There were other rules that were harder, though. Normal men dated women. Normal men had sex with the women they dated.
That was the hardest one.
He just didn’t understand it. Everyone else always talked about sex like it was not only fun, but necessary to live. Left and right, people moaned about their blue balls and made themselves look completely ridiculous just for the chance to have someone close to their genitals. To Aaron, it all just seemed kind of gross and exhausting and vaguely embarrassing. When other people talked about it, when Nicky waxed rhapsodic about this or that act or this or that body part of Erik’s, it made Aaron’s skin tingle, and not in a good way. He knew he reacted badly. He knew he had said some things he shouldn’t have, some cruel, hurtful things, and he knew how it made him look. The problem really wasn’t that Nicky was gay, though. That was just another fact about him, like his exuberance or his terrible fashion sense. The problem was the sex.
Aaron tried not to think about it too much. Maybe it was an acquired taste, like beer. Maybe it was something you just understood once you’d done it. Maybe that was why people talked about virginity the way they did; you just had to fuck someone once and then it unlocked something in your brain and you wanted to do it again.
That was stupid. There was probably just something wrong with him.
The thing about Andrew and Neil was that Andrew should have known better. In the back of his mind, Aaron had sort of thought that maybe Andrew felt the same way he did. On his most sentimental days, he had thought that it was something that connected them, somewhere their broken pieces lined up. Then came Thanksgiving, and Aaron understood too much. After that, he didn’t think they were the same, but he had thought that Andrew might still be the only other person unaffected by the whole stupid frenzy. When you knew how bad it could be, surely you were too smart to play the game. And then came Baltimore, and everything came out, and Aaron felt… betrayed. It had to be Josten’s fault. He had to be playing some sick game. But Aaron couldn’t control Andrew, he couldn’t protect him, he never could, and as time went on he had to admit that Andrew seemed happy. He seemed like he wanted this. And so Aaron was alone, just like he’d been alone the whole time, because he really was a freak with something broken in his brain.
But somewhere in there, Katelyn happened. Katelyn was the first person Aaron looked at and thought, For her, it might be worth it. He still didn’t understand or particularly want to have sex, with her or anyone, but Aaron knew from the first time he met Katelyn that he would do anything to make her happy. He wanted her in his life. He wanted her to be his girlfriend, and normal men had sex with their girlfriends. In high school, Aaron had gotten out of it by playing the gentleman, but in college, there was no excuse. Men in their twenties had sex with their girlfriends, and they did so enthusiastically, and then they talked about it with other men and made self-satisfied faces about it. So when Aaron asked Katelyn out, he knew it was an eventuality. He knew it the first time they studied together at the library. He knew it as they snuck around behind his brother’s back, and he knew it when Neil decided to get nosy and forced them out into the open. Honestly, he was surprised she hadn’t said anything about it. They had kissed, they had even done some light making out, and they had snuggled in her dorm bed, but Aaron never moved to take things further and Katelyn never pushed the issue.
Obviously, that couldn’t last.
It was a Wednesday, and they were in her dorm bed again. They were supposed to be studying; Aaron had brought all of his textbooks and everything. He thought he had heard one hit the floor ten minutes ago. He hoped the pages didn’t get too wrinkled.
They were kissing, gentle and soft, and Aaron was feeling as close to content with the world as he ever got, when Katelyn moved her hand from his waist and down. He couldn’t help it- he tensed up. Stupid. She noticed, of course, because Katelyn did crazy things like pay attention to him and care whether he was comfortable. She pulled back, her brows starting to furrow in concern, and Aaron panicked. Fucking idiot, you’ve fucked it all up. He grabbed her hand before she could move it.
“No, it’s fine! It’s fine, keep going.” He forced himself to relax and smile.
“Are you sure?” She looked unconvinced.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure. Keep going. I want you to.” Aaron tried his best to look happy and turned on rather than sweaty and slightly manic.
Apparently, he failed. Katelyn pulled her hand away and sat back, pushing at his shoulders until he was sitting up against the wall next to her. “You look like you’re going to barf. Don’t lie to me. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I’m in bed with the most beautiful girl in the world. Everything’s perfect.” Aaron put on his most charming smile, the one that was just for Katelyn, the one that always made her blush and grin back. This was it. This was the test, and he had to pass.
Sure enough, she giggled and smacked his shoulder, then kissed it, but then she pulled back again, the worry still on her face. Not enough. Be more convincing. Aaron leaned to pull her back into a kiss, but Katelyn stopped him with a hand on his chest.
“Aaron, stop it. We need to talk about this. I put my hand near your dick and you tensed up like I slapped you. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. You can do whatever you want. You can put your hand on my dick if you want.” Shit. Now he was babbling. You’re blowing this.
To his surprise, though, Katelyn’s face cleared like she had come to a realization. “I can… uh, do you want me to put my hand on your dick?”
“Yes! Obviously! Why wouldn’t I want that?”
“I don’t know. Why wouldn’t you?”
“Yes!” Their voices had been rising in pitch and volume. You’re going to yell at her? This is how you lose her. Aaron forced himself to stop and take several deep breaths. He stared at his hands, clenched tight together in his lap. In a more even voice, he repeated, “Yes. I want that. I want to make you happy. I’ll do whatever you want to do.”
Katelyn was silent for a moment. Aaron knew it wasn’t enough. He waited for the inevitable. You can’t give me what I need. This won’t work. You’re too fucked in the head after all.
He felt Katelyn’s hand on his shoulder.
“Baby,” she said softly, punctuating it with a kiss to his cheek. “Baby, look at me.”
He looked up.
“You know that you don’t have to want that, right?” The afternoon light from the window caught and gilded the messy strands of Katelyn’s dark hair and pooled in her deep brown eyes. She didn’t look like she thought he was fucked up. She looked like she loved him. She looked like she finally understood something about him, something important.
“You don’t have to want to have sex with me, or anyone. Some people don’t. I want to if you do, but if you don’t, that’s fine.”
“But you want it.” This didn’t make sense. It couldn’t just be fine. “You do want it, and I want to take care of you.”
“I mean, yeah, sometimes, but I want you more.” She tilted her head. “I want you, the honest you. I don’t want you to fake anything about yourself. And like… why would I want to have sex with someone who doesn’t even want to? That’s creepy.”
“But it’s… what people do! It’s like… a thing, or whatever. You can’t date someone and not want to fuck them.” Aaron felt slightly delirious. Was he hallucinating? He could be hallucinating. It couldn’t be ruled out as a possibility.
Katelyn laughed. She actually laughed, and the dimples in her cheeks showed, and Aaron melted a little bit like he always did. “Yes, you definitely can, first of all. But, like, seriously. Do you think I’m dating you for your dick?” She shook her head. “I like you. You’re smart, and you think I’m funny, and you care about me. That doesn’t change, no matter what else we do or don’t do. It’s fine, Aaron. I promise.”
“PINKY promise.” She looked him in the eye very seriously and held out her pinky. Aaron couldn’t help it. He lost it. He was laughing, falling over sideways on the bed, and Katelyn was laughing, too, and then maybe he was crying a little bit and she was petting his hair and kissing his cheek and it was okay, it was going to be okay. Maybe this wasn’t something broken about him. Maybe it was just another fact about him, like his love for science and his hatred of flavored vodka. Katelyn said it was fine, and she was better than normal. She was good. And she liked him, and she wanted him, and she saw the truth of him and wanted that, too.
Maybe with her, Aaron could better than normal, too.