I had just entered that in-between phase of sleep and wakefulness when my cell phone rang. Normally I shut it off before going to bed because of this very reason but I fell asleep watching a video. Damn near gave me a heart attack because the phone was close to my ear and the ringtone is a voice telling me to answer it. The fact that my best friend is the only one who has that ringtone saved my phone from getting flung across the room. Fully awake, I answered it and tapped on the speaker.
“What’s wrong Luka?”
There was a long pause before he said. “Travis kicked me out. Can I spend the night with you?”
I knew by the sound of his voice that something major must have happened besides his stepdad kicking him out of the house again.
“Yeah, sure. Where are you?”
“Sitting outside Walgreens at 80th street.”
“I’m on my way, should be there in about 15 minutes. You okay?”
“No, I’m not. Just hurry. Please.”
Hanging up I sprang out of bed, crammed my feet into my sneakers, and ran out of the house wearing only my boxers and undershirt. I found Luka sitting on a bus stop bench in front of the store, a duffle bag at his feet. He stood and walked over as I pulled up.
“Thanks, Jason,” he said, plopping down beside me in the passenger’s seat. “I tried to sleep on a bench at Wyatt Park but every sound freaked me out and the bugs wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“You should have called me sooner,” I said, glancing at him. “What happened? Why’d Travis kick you out this time?”
Luka sighed and slouched in his seat. “The short version is he found out I’m gay. Shit hit the fan after that.”
“I need to hear the long version,” I said, keeping a stranglehold on the steering wheel and my temper. “How did he find out?”
“Daniel sent him pictures of us making out. Sent them to his Facebook business page along with a detailed message.”
“Yeah,” Luka ran a hand across his face. “The fucking asshole did it out of revenge because I broke up with him. He knew how much of a bigot Travis is and that he’d lose his shit over this. I tell ya, when he confronted me with the pictures I fully expected to get my ass beat, he was that mad. Told me to get the fuck out and not to come back or else. I’ve been wandering around since 6 trying to figure out what to do.”
“Why the hell didn’t you call me?” I let out a loud sigh as I tried to calm down. “It doesn't matter, you’re here now and you'll stay with me for as long as it takes to get things squared away.”
“You sure? I don’t know how long that’ll be.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, pulling into my driveway. “Let's just deal with one thing at a time and thing #1 is getting your stuff out of that bastard’s house tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Jason. This might sound corny but you saved my life right now,” Luka said, getting out of the car. “When Travis told me to get out I never felt more lost. If there was a bridge around I might have paid it a visit.”
“Get such ideas out of your head. We’re roommates now so let's focus on starting a new life together and think positive,” I opened the front door and flipped on the lights. “You hungry? There’s some pizza in the fridge.”
“Not hungry, my stomach feels like a giant knot. I could use something to drink though.”
“Help yourself to anything in the kitchen,” I went to the living room and opened the futon. “I’ll get you some blankets and a pillow.”
When I returned with the items I found Luka with a beer and raised an eyebrow at him. “Make sure that’s your only one. I don’t want to catch a case for allowing underage drinking because you couldn’t hold your liquor.”
“I’m 19, not 16. I can handle a beer or two.”
"Call me if you need me. Night Luka."
The smell of bacon and burnt toast pulled me from the comfort of sleep and back to the waking world. Opening my eyes I saw a faint haze of smoke in the air. Following it out into the hallway and into the living room I found Luka at the stove cooking, a plate full of bacon and charred toast beside him.
“Are you trying to burn down my house?”
Luka pointed his tongs at the toaster. “It’s that thing’s fault. No matter what setting I put it on, the bread either burned to charcoal or hardly got warm.”
“I’m surprised it works at all since I hardly ever use it,” I said, opening a window. “I live off of frozen meals and takeout,”
“I know, this was the only food I could find that wasn’t stale or expired,” he said, adding a few strips of bacon to the plate. “Travis hated frozen food and was too cheap to order delivery. After mom left I had to learn how to cook or we’d starve. I guess he’ll have to find someone else to be his bitch now that I’m gone.”
“You’re not mine either, you know,” I said while folding his blanket. “Don’t think you need to play housekeeper in order to stay here.”
“I know. I actually like cooking, especially now that I don’t have to worry about getting cussed out if I mess up,” he brought the plate of bacon to the kitchen table and took a seat. “Travis left me a text, telling me to come and get my stuff or he’ll burn it.”
“Did he say when?” I folded up the futon before joining him at the table. “Do we need to bring backup?”
“No, he sent me a picture of my stuff in boxes in front of the house. He doesn't want me in the house.”
“What a prick,” I said, taking a piece of bacon and biting it in half. “We can go whenever you want. Today's my day off and I’ve got nothing planned so I’m all yours.”
Luka smiled. “Oh really? You’re all mine?”
I threw my bacon at him. “Not like that, get your mind out of the gutter.”
“I like it there. Besides, it’s not like we never made out before.”
“One time and I only did it because I forgot to buy you a graduation present.”
“And I thank you for it because that was the best gift I ever got.”
“Good to know. From now on I won’t buy you anything, I’ll just let you have your way with me for a night.”
“Can I have that in writing?”
After breakfast, we headed out to get his things. I fully expected Travis to be waiting for us as I pulled into his driveway. He wasn’t but five large cardboard boxes filled with Luka’s stuff was. It took some creative maneuvering to get all those boxes in my sardine can on wheels but we managed to get everything home in one piece where yet another problem was waiting for us.
“I didn’t realize I had so much stuff,” Luka gestured to my very cluttered garage. “Where are we going to put it all?”
“We’ll find a way to make it all fit,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “Let's start with your clothes. Cleaning out my closet is easier than the garage.”
My closet is basically a crack in the wall and I’m a bit of a clothes hoarder. Thankfully, Luka didn’t have many clothes so I didn’t have to make any painful choices as I carved a section for him. The rest of his things proved harder to find homes for. It took us two hours to rearrange the garage but we managed to squeeze his things among mine without breaking anything. Sweating like horses and covered in filth we went to the backyard to hose ourselves down.
“I never knew I lived in such a shoebox until now,” I said, turning on the garden hose. “Thank you for opening my eyes.”
Stripping out of his sweat-soaked shirt, Luka stretched out on my lounge chair. “What are friends for? Hurry up with the water.”
“You need to find a job fast,” I adjusted the flow to an easy stream before handing it to him. “That way we can find a bigger place.”
“Way to put on the pressure,” he said, angling the hose so that water flowed over his chest and stomach. “What sort of job do you think I should try for? I don’t have experience doing anything.”
“You don’t need experience at your age,” I peeled off my own shirt and tossed it on the ground. “Do you want to work retail or at a restaurant?”
“I don’t know, both seem boring,” He stood up and handed me the hose. “I’ll look online, see what’s out there but right now I want to take a nap. Can I use your bed?”
“Go ahead. I’ll join you after I shower.”
Luka grinned. “In that case, I’ll try to stay awake.”
I flicked the house at him, sending a stream of water at his face. “Maybe you need to take a shower instead.”
“Won’t help,” he said, wiping water from his eyes as he moved past me. “Don’t take too long.”
Shutting off the water I followed him inside. “You need to find yourself a boyfriend. A real one, not a Grinder skank like Daniel.”
“Too much trouble. Flings and flirting are more fun. Besides, why should I find a boyfriend when you’re my friend with benefits?”
“Oh really? What sort of benefits do you think I’ll give you besides room and board?”
“Probably a lot more if you’d come out of the closet.”
I rolled my eyes as we entered the bedroom. “I’m not in the closet because I’m not gay. Making out one time doesn't make me anything.”
“Except it wasn’t just one time.”
I turned. “Excuse me?”
“We’ve kissed a few times since my graduation party,” he said, stripping out of his jeans. “You were usually drunk at the time but it still happened.”
“Well it’s not happening anymore so just get the idea out of your head,” I said, grabbing my sweatpants from the closet. “You’ll just have to settle for me being your best friend.”
“Oh I am but you can’t blame me for hoping for more.”
Shaking my head I made my escape to the bathroom and didn’t leave the shower until the water turned too cold to stand. When I returned to the bedroom I found Luka sprawled out asleep. Careful not to disturb him I stretched out on my side and sighed. I was drifting off to sleep when I felt an arm snake around my waist and Luka snuggle up against my back.
“I’ve seen whores with more shame and self-control than you,” I mumbled, my eyes closing as I surrendered to sleep.