WHEN WE COULD walk, we cleaned up. Then all three of us went back to lie on the bed and recover a little. I ended up in the middle, as I did most of the time. Jason said, You are so uncomfortable with sex, Anita, but once you decide to do it, you give yourself over so completely. Its amazing.

Youre pretty good at it yourself, I said, and my voice still sounded breathy.

He laughed, and that one sound made it all worth it. Even if the sex hadnt been incredible, hearing him sound like himself again made it even better.

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My dad thinks Im gay.

Nathaniel and I looked at him. Why? I finally asked.

My friends in high school were mostly girls, and my best guy friend was, and is, gay. I also didnt want to play sports. I stayed in dance from elementary school to senior year.

The lone guy in a room full of girls, I said.

He nodded, grinning. I was the only one who could do the lifts, and tote and fetch the girls. It was fun. I was the male lead in most of the musicals in school.

I didnt know you could sing.

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He laughed. I dance better than I sing, but I can act, and I can sing, and I can dance. The combination is sort of rare in a small private high school, especially among the guys.

This was a side of Jason I hadnt known anything about. I thought you were going to college for a business degree when I met you, not theatre.

My parents wouldnt pay for a theatre degree. They would pay for a business degree.

If you didnt have to pay for college, why get a job as a stripper?

Bugging the hell out of my parents was some of the charm. But it was a way of performing that I could do on the weekends, which meant I could go to college full time.

Does the rest of your family think youre gay? I asked.

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My oldest sister does. I dont know about the rest. Probably. Im a stripper and I live with Jean-Claude.

They think youre doing him just like Perdy did, Nathaniel said.

Yeah, Jason said.

I stroked my hand along Jasons stomachnot sexual, just trying to be comforting. Her issues must have reminded you of your family.

Yeah, bad fucking timing, huh?

Nathaniel went up on his elbow, his hand resting on my hip. What can you do?

Short of getting the kind of job that my dad thinks is a manly job, getting married, and starting a family, not a damn thing. He cuddled down in the pillows, putting his arm across my stomach, his face against my shoulder. Youll never believe what my mother wanted me to do.

What? Nathaniel and I asked at the same time.

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I felt Jason smile against my shoulder. She wanted me to bring my girlfriend home to prove to my dad Im straight. So he can die in peace.

Bad timing for you and Perdy to break up, I said.

I couldnt have taken her home, Anita. You have no idea how bad the jealousy had gotten. Shed flip out when the first old girlfriend said hi on the street.

Like crazy jealous, I said.

He nodded, snuggling closer, as if I were his life-size teddy bear. I told her that Perdy and I broke up. She said, Pick a friend, I know you have other friends. Bring a girl home and make your father happy.

What did she mean about the I know you have other friends comment? I asked.

I was a slut in high school and college. I slept with any girl that would have me. The entire town thought my best friend and I were a couple. At best, they thought I was bisexual, and to most people there aint no such thing.

Youre either gay or straight, Nathaniel said, and something in the way he said it made me look at him.

You have trouble with people thinking otherwise? I asked.

Nathaniel shrugged. I did; now I know what and who I am, and Im okay with it. But when youre young, its harder.

Youre twenty-one, thats not exactly ancient.

He smiled and kissed me. I had a long, hard childhood; it makes me older.

Hed been out on the streets before he was ten. Hed been a child prostitute not long after. By thirteen hed been addicted to drugs. Hed been clean since he was seventeen, but saying Nathaniel had had a hard childhood always sounded like calling the Titanic a boating accident.

I touched his face, drew him down for a more thorough kiss. He drew back, laughing. Even I need more recoup time than this, Anita.

I blushed, I couldnt help it. I didnt mean that.

Jason looked up with his body still tight against mine. Blushing, thats so cute.

Stop it, both of you.

Sorry, Jason said.

Nathaniel just smiled at me. Do you want to take a girl home to meet your dad?

Jason frowned at him. Id love to rub my dads face in the fact that I like girls. I wouldnt mind if I were gay, but having him not believe me is jusTHE laid his head facedown on the pillow.

Frustrating, Nathaniel said.

Infuriating, I said.

Jason rose up enough to say, Both, more. We never got along, him and me. Im his only son after two daughters. I was his only chance for someone to be a chip off the ol block. He went through college on a football scholarship.

I take it hes taller than you are, I said.

Hes over six feet. Im closer to my mothers height.

Bad luck, I said.

I dont mind being short, but my dad hated it. If he hadnt pushed so much I might have tried harder at sports, but it really wasnt my thing.

Why dont you take Anita? Nathaniel said.

Take Anita where? Jason asked.

Home to meet your dad.

We both stared at him. We stared long enough and hard enough for him to look uncomfortable. What? he asked.

What do you mean, what? I asked.

Im with Anita on this one, Nathaniel. I mean that would be too sitcom. Taking home a girl who happens to be a friend, but isnt my girlfriend, to prove to my dad Im not gay. Thats just too sweeps week.

Nathaniel sat up, the sheet pooling in his lap, barely covering. You and Anita are friends, right?

Jason and I looked at each other. Yeah, I said.

Yes, Jason said.

You and she are lovers, right?

We both said a slow yes.

You hang out with us. We watch movie marathons, and go out to eat. You arent with us the way Micah is, but you spend a lot of time with us, right?

Yeah, but, Jason said.

Why but? Nathaniel said. Shes your friend, shes a girl, you really are lovers. Its not a lie.

Jason and I looked at each other. He shrugged. I turned back to Nathaniel. I dont think a fuck buddy is what his mom had in mind, Nathaniel.

Youre more than fuck buddies, Anita, even I know that.

I didnt know what to say to that. I was speechless, not out of distraction, but because I just couldnt think my way past it all. I knew there was a reason not to do this, a good one; Id think of it in a second.

I cant take Anita home to meet my family; it would imply things that arent true, Jason said.

There, hed said it. Yeah, I said.

But you arent going to say youre engaged or anything. Your mom wants you to bring home a girlfriend, so bring one home. If you dont care what your dad thinks, then screw it, but if it matters to you, then why not take Anita with you?

Jason looked at me, and I did not like the look on his face. Oh, no, I said.

You dont have to do this, Anita; its too big a favor to ask of anyone.

You really think taking me home would help ease your fathers passing? I tried not to sound sarcastic or too harsh, but probably failed.

Hes a cruel bastard. He wouldnt even let my mom tell me he was sick. He said if I didnt care enough to see him when he was well, he didnt want pity.

But, I said.

But the doctors say he has only weeks. He wont make another Christmas.

How long has it been since youve seen him?

Three years.

I looked at Nathaniel. I cant feed the ardeur off just Jason for long.

You know you have more control over it now. Jean-Claude can divide the ardeur up among us. I know last time it worked because youd fed off the crowd at Guilty Pleasuresbut we can try to feed you for a few days, just like we do when youre in the middle of a police investigation.

Jason looked at me. Youre not seriously thinking about saying yes to this, are you?

Are you seriously thinking its a good idea?

He grinned. Probably a really bad one, but watching you and my father go head-to-head might be worth it.

Hes dying, I would think youd want me to be nice to him.

Be nice to him if hes nice to you, but dont let him push you around. Hes a bully.

You really dont like him, do you?

Jason shook his head. No.

Did he abuse you physically? Nathaniel asked.

Jason looked at him, with a strange, almost empty expression on his face. He was always hurting me by accident, trying to toughen me up. Hed try to teach me a sport and Id come home bruised and bloody. He broke my arm finally trying to teach me football, and Mom wouldnt let him take me out by ourselves again. He was always careful that it wasnt abuse. Nothing you could call him on, buTHE was always too rough, too harsh for my age, my size. I started therapy in my teens because the school counselor encouraged it. Therapy taught me that my dad was abusing me. He wanted to hurt me.

I touched his face. Jason, Im sorry.

His face was very solemn. Me, too.

You dont want to go home by yourself, do you? Nathaniel asked.

No. Id ask you to go with me, but if I show up with you itll just confirm what my dad and most of the town thinks. He grinned suddenly. Well, anyone who didnt have a teenage girl about my age. The fathers hated me.

I would think that your being promiscuous with the girls would make your dad happy, I said.

Youd think, buTHE seemed to hate me for that, too.

If someone wants to hate you, you cant stop them, Nathaniel said.

Jason nodded. Yeah, my dad has hated me for as long as I can remember.

Youre my best friend; if you want me to go with you for moral support, Ill go, Nathaniel said.

Jason smiled, then shook his head. Nothing personal, Nathaniel, but you are not going to help me convince my dad Im straight.

Nathaniels straight, I said.

BuTHE doesnt look like my dads idea of a straight guy. And its all about appearances with him.

I took a deep breath, let it out. How long would you need to be there?

I dont know, a couple of days at least.

I cant believe Im saying this, but Ill go, if you want me to.

Jason looked at me, startled. Youre joking, right?

Do I look like Im joking?

No, he said, and he sat up, kneeling in the bed. The sheet was behind him, so he was very not clothed. Even though wed just finished having sex, I found myself fighting to give him eye contact. Sometimes my hang-ups puzzle even me. This is like the biggest favor ever.

You would owe me for the rest of your life, thats true.

A look passed over his face that I couldnt read. He looked down at me with so much emotion in his eyes that it was uncomfortable to see. I fought to look into those eyes.

Youd really do this for me? Something this stupid and this sitcom? Youd really do it?

I finally had to look away from the intensity of his eyes. Yes, Jason, Id really do it.

You realize well have to fly.

Shit, I said, you will like owe me extra for getting me on a plane.

But youll still do it, even though youre terrified of flying?

I crossed my arms underneath my breasts and sulked, but said, I said Id do it, didnt I? How long is the flight?

He bounced down beside me, and the look of joy on his face made it all seem far less stupid. I know you dont love me the way you love Nathaniel or anyone else. But you really do care for me, dont you?

I looked into that face. A face that had been my friend for years and more than just a friend for about a year. I said the only thing I could say: Yes.

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