Over the past few weeks, Scout has become a constant in my life. Why he took a sudden interest in me, I’ll never know. I’m a pretty boring bloke. I told him this—that I’m not a very exciting person and he’d be better off making a friend elsewhere—but he just laughed.
Every night at seven p.m. on the dot, just like clockwork, I hear those three knocks on my camper door. Scout never misses a day and he’s never late. I don’t know why he insists on being so punctual; when I asked him about it, he shrugged and said he just likes doing things a certain way. I suppose I can respect that.
But why me? And why all of a sudden? We’ve been working together for years, so why would he want to get to know me now? It wasn’t like we hated each other before, but we didn’t talk much. Just said hello in passing, exchanged a few lines of meaningless small talk, things like that.
Now he’s in my camper every single night. Seven p.m. on the dot. No exceptions.
And yes, it occurred to me that Scout might see me as a challenge. Befriend the unfriendable, you know. He’s made nice with everyone else on the base. I’m the only one he’s not close to.
I can’t bring myself to ask him about it. Truth be told, he’s become somewhat of a comfort to me.
I hate to admit that, I absolutely hate it. I’ve been alone my whole life. Never had friends growing up, never had any serious romantic relationships, never had a real career until Miss Pauling helped me sign on with RED. I don’t depend on other folks very much, and I certainly don’t need a friend.
Or, at least, I didn’t think I needed a friend.
Then along came Scout.
He loves to talk. He has a very thick Bostonian accent, which is interesting to listen to. If you watch his mouth when he speaks, you can catch glimpses of his buck teeth. They really suit him. Those teeth, combined with how fast he can run, how high he can jump, and how he’s always bouncing all over the place, make me think of a rabbit.
Maybe he’s lonesome. Maybe I’m the only one with enough patience to tolerate him for hours at a time. Maybe he comes over here every night because he feels sorry for me. (Oh god, that’s probably it, he probably just feels sorry for me.) Maybe it’s a combination of all those things.
Tonight, he’s acting a bit strange. More fidgety than normal, I’d say.
The tele’s on and we’re watching the enthralling saga that is Let’s Make a Deal. Turns out, Scout and I have a shared passion for tacky television shows, so we spend an unhealthy amount of time watching them. Game shows, sitcoms, public access television, all that wonderful garbage.
As my eyes are on the screen, I feel a sudden, foreign warmth. I look down and I see that Scout has clasped his hand over mine.
Why’s he done that, I wonder?
It’s not entirely unpleasant, but…
He sees me looking and I feel his hand twitch, like he might move it, but it stays put. He gives me a funny look and I’m not sure what any of this is supposed to mean.
“I gotta ask, mate,” I say, glancing down at our hands again before looking back up at him. “Is this something folks do nowadays, or is this as strange as I think it is?”
Scout tightens his hand over mine, his fingers curling into my palm. I don’t return the gesture.
“Well, I, uh,” Scout stammers, “I thought this would be a kinda good way to break the ice, y’know?”
“Break the ice?” I ask him. I know what break the ice means, I’m not that much of a recluse. It doesn’t make sense in this context.
“Yeah,” Scout says. “To see if you were, uh…interested.”
Right, now I’m angry at myself. I know I should understand what he’s implying, but I don’t. Not exactly, anyway.
So I suppose I’ll have to ask.
“Interested in what?” I say.
“Aw, c’mon, Snipes,” Scout says with an uncomfortable grin, “don’t make me say it.”
I raise my brows at him.
He gives me a defeated sort of look and lets an almost imperceptible sigh slip through his nostrils.
“Y’know,” he says, his fingers flexing around my hand. “Interested in…interested in me?”
Ah. So there it is.
That’s what I thought the whole hand-holding bit was leading up to, because why else would he’ve done that? Unless he just…wanted to hold someone’s hand, I suppose, which would’ve been odd.
A blush has crept to his face, all blotchy and red. He’s holding onto my hand for dear life. And now I feel awful because I honestly don’t know what to say to him.
I could tell him the simple truth. I think I may have to, since he’s looking at me with those wild eyes of his, waiting on me to say something.
Since words are failing me, it might be nice for me to squeeze his hand in response. I try to do just that, but the muscles in my own hand won’t cooperate. It can’t be done. Suddenly, I’m frozen. I’m trying to think of what to say, or do, but nothing’s coming to mind. I believe I’m mildly horrified.
In the end, I decide to take a page from Scout’s book and say the first thing that comes to my mind.
“You like blokes?” I ask him.
Now his whole face is flushed. “I mean, I think so,” he said. “I ain’t ever been with…a, a guy…before, but you don’t gotta actually be with somebody to know if ya like ‘em, right? It’s just, I…“
He sighs. “Can I be honest with ya for a second?”
I gnaw on the inside of my cheek, which is just one of my many exciting nervous tics. Have you been lying to me the entire time before this? is what I want to say, but I won’t.
“Yeah, ‘course,” I say, deciding to leave it at that.
“Awright,” Scout says, shifting in his seat, drawing himself even closer to me. “I dated a few girls when I was in high school. And when I moved here, down to New Mexico, I’ve had a couple girlfriends here and there.”
He grimaces. “It just…doesn’t really feel right. Girls are great, don’t get me wrong, but lately I’m thinkin’ I might…” Another shrug.
It’s strange to see Scout at a loss for words. I try to help him out.
“Like blokes?” I offer.
“I dunno,” he says, shoulders sagging. “At first I thought I might like girls and dudes, but after awhile, I started wondering if that’s really the way I am. I keep thinking about what it might be like. Y’know.” He lowers his voice to a murmur. “To be with a guy.”
For a moment I sit there, confused, watching the TV out of the corner of my eye as a distraction. And then, all at once, it finally hits me.
The constant nightly visits. The hand-holding. The (more-or-less) admission that he’s bi-curious.
I keep thinking about what it might be like to be with a guy.
It’s like there’s ice in my veins. My fight-or-flight response is kicking in, telling me to run as fast as my too-long legs can carry me, to scurry off and find a nice, comfortable hole to hide in. Has he been flirting with me this entire time, and I’ve just been too dense to recognize it? I’d like to think I’m not quite that stupid, but it seems the metaphorical deck is stacked against me in that regard.
This is so, so strange.
“Ah,” I say, more to break the silence than anything else. What to say, what to say?
Nothing comes to mind. So I just start talking.
“I don’t, er, have a lot of experience with this sort of thing,” I admit. Scout’s palm grows sweaty against the back of my hand. I’d like to pull my hand away, but I don’t want to be rude.
“With guys, ya mean?” Scout asks.
“With anyone,” I say. The inside of my mouth is like the Sahara desert. My tongue’s sticking to the roof of my mouth. “I’ve had a few…relationships in the past, but nothing serious.”
Scout nods. “You, uh…been with a guy, though? Ever?”
I can tell by the suggestive look on his face that he’s asking if I’ve ever been intimate with a man. The “trained assassin” portion of my brain wants to withhold all unnecessary information from everyone, Scout included. I know he’s trustworthy, but I’m still hesitant to divulge something so personal about myself.
“Well, yes,” I say, my face growing hot with embarrassment.
I’d kill a man for a glass of water right now. “Yeah. Couple times.”
If I’m not mistaken, Scout looks a bit hopeful now.
“So, uh. You’re open to it, then?” he asks me.
“Open to what, exactly?”
“Y’know. Bein’ with a guy.”
This conversation just keeps getting worse and worse. “Honestly, I don’t think I’m cut out for being wiv anybody, bloke or no.”
Maybe that was the wrong thing to say, maybe that was a bit much. Scout’s face falls. At the sight of it, I feel my stomach clench. I didn’t mean to make him sad, I was just trying to be truthful. And he was firing so many questions at me all at once, I didn’t have time to think things through.
I shouldn’t have said what I said. Too late for that now.
“Then you’re not interested in me at all,” he mutters, nodding sadly. He looks defeated.
I hate to see him this way. As far as people go, I’d venture to say that Scout is my favorite. Mum and Dad were my favorites, but they’ve been dead for two years. I reckon Scout’s the only living human that I actually care for, which makes it all the harder to see him upset.
“It’s not that,” I say. I’m finally able to force my hand to close around his fingers. “You’re—you’re very nice. And we get on great. And you’re definitely—“ I clear my throat. “Attractive.”
He squeezes my hand in response. That’s a good thing, I think.
“The thing is, I’ve spent my whole life alone,” I say. “I’ve tried it all. Dating. Sex. All that. And I was rubbish at it. I don't think I’m cut out for…people. At all.”
Scout lets go of my hand. Rests his hands in his lap. Stares down at them. I don’t like seeing him all meek and small; he’s always so fast and loud. It doesn’t suit him at all and knowing I’m the reason he’s upset makes my stomach clench again.
“I get it,” he mutters. “I ain’t gonna push you into something you don’t wanna do.” He chews on the inside of his cheek—look at that, we’ve got the same terrible habit—before he speaks again. “Do you think you could do me a favor, though?”
That’s a vague question if there ever was one. “What’s that?” I ask.
“Okay,” Scout breathes, “you can tell me no if you really don’t wanna do this, just bear that in mind.”
“Fair,” I say, nodding slightly.
“Can you—or, would you—“
He lets out a frustrated sigh.
“Can I kiss you?”
For a moment I can only sit there, dumbfounded. Maybe I didn’t hear him correctly.
“Kiss me?” I repeat.
“Yeah, you’re right, it’s a stupid idea,” Scout says. I can see a sheen of sweat gathering at his brow. “You know what, just forget I said that. I think I’ve done enough damage for one day, so I’m just gonna see myself out—”
He motions to get up, but I catch him by the shirtsleeve before he can stand.
“Hang on a tic,” I say, motioning for him to stay.
Slowly, he sinks back into his seat on the couch. He eyes me warily, still looking like he could leap up and run off at any second.
“If you did kiss me,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “would that help you figure out if you’re, er…interested? Not in me, specifically, just men in the general sense?”
“I think it would, yeah.”
“I’m not a very good kisser, though,” I warn him. “I’m a bit out of practice.” A bit out of practice is the understatement of a decade, which is about how long it’s been since I’ve kissed anyone. Y’might be better off asking someone who knows what the hell they’re doing.”
“You don’t gotta do it, Snipes, it’s awright,” Scout says, a hint of sadness in his voice.
“N-no, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s—“
Scout’s eyes widen. “So you do want to?”
If my cheeks get any hotter, they’ll burst into flame.
“I—well I wouldn’t mind it,” I manage to say. “If you think it might help you, but I don’t think it will, since I’m n—“
My words are cut short as a pair of lips crash into mine. Scout’s got ahold of either side of my face, holding my head while he works his lips against mine. Scout’s mouth is cracked and wind-chapped, but the feeling of it’s so very him that it’s actually quite pleasant.
His tongue slips into my mouth and I taste strawberry—must be the strawberry bubblegum he’s always chewing. My own tongue prods its way into his mouth, to return the favor. The texture of his teeth feels nice against my tongue.
Since this was Scout’s idea to begin with, I decide to let him be the one to break the kiss, to pull away. Till then, I’ll try my best to keep up with him. I’m relieved to find that Scout’s kissing is slow and unhurried, which is the exact opposite of what I’d expect from him. If I don’t think too much about the fact that we’re literally exchanging saliva between each other’s mouths and using our tongues to do it, it’s almost relaxing.
And somewhere in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think that it’s nice to have someone—a real, actual person—that’s attracted to me enough to want to kiss me. That’s such a wild concept to me. I don’t know why he likes me, but I’m truly humbled by it.
Scout’s hands have left my face, and now his left hand’s on the back of my neck and his right hand’s all tangled up in my hair. It makes me very aware of what my own hands are doing, which is nothing. Maybe I ought to touch him, too, but I don’t think I can. It occurs to me that it’s probably rude not to put my hands on him somewhere, but I can’t think of a good spot to place them. Hope he won’t mind.
His lips pull away from mine with a wet smack and I fight the urge to wipe my mouth on the back of my hand. The kissing was nice, but I don’t want his spit all over my face, thanks very much. When Scout pulls back enough for me to see the details of his face, his eyes are out-of-focus and his lips are red and damp. Again, there’s a tiny, barely-there thought forming at the back of my mind, telling me that he looks right cute, sitting there in a daze like that.
I’m choosing to ignore that thought for now.
After a respectable silence, I clear my throat.
“Did that help?” I ask.
It seems like that was the wrong thing to say. Scout blinks his eyes a few times, bringing them back into focus. He leaps to his feet, like he can’t stand being next to me for another second.
“I gotta go, Snipes,” Scout says, stumbling his way to the door. “I gotta, uh—I just gotta go, man. See ya tomorrow.”
He scurries from the camper, slamming the door shut behind him.
For awhile I just sit there on the couch, at a loss for what to think about this whole situation. At first, I wonder if I may’ve done something wrong, but I don’t think that’s it. I’m sure he’s got a lot to think about, and it’s hit him all at once, and he’d like to be alone immediately. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but I’ve suffered from it many a time. Believe me, I get it.
Maybe he’ll go back to his room, give it a think, and have some of it worked out by tomorrow.