“I wasn't talking about that,” Alec said. “I was talking about gay people.” He reached out and shook Luis's hand. “I'm Alec Stark. I wanna be a writer.”
Luis smiled. “I'm Luis Fortune. It's nice to meet you. You're very bright.”
Alec ignored the compliment. “Are you gay?”
At first, Luis wasn't sure what to say. He'd been openly gay for so long it felt devious to lie about it. But he didn't want people gossiping about Jase spending time with a gay man, so he smiled and said, “I'm open to all experiences. I don't like labels.”
Alec smiled. “Cool, man. I feel the same way.” He looked at his watch. “I'm going to be late for class. Maybe we can get together and talk more. You're different from everyone else around here.”
“Ah well,” Luis said. He felt a lump in his throat. He didn't want to reject Alec; he was so damn sexy. But he didn't want to be unfaithful to Jase either. “We'll see,” he said. “I'm not sure how long I'll be around. I'm only passing through town this summer.”
“I have to go, man,” Alec said. “We'll figure something out.”
Luis shrugged and smiled. “Okay, sounds good.”
The rest of the day was spent tackling a thick wall of vines that were starting to take over the east wall of the school. At five o'clock, Luis walked back to the parking lot to meet Jase. He was already there when Luis arrived. He was leaning against the passenger door of the Grand National with his feet and arms crossed. As Luis approached, Jase glared at him and said, “You're late.”
Luis had enjoyed his day so much he'd almost forgotten about their argument. He smiled and said, “I'm sorry. I had to clean up before I left. My hands were filthy from working outside all way.”
Jase made a face. He bit the inside of his mouth. “I see your shirt is still clean.”
Luis shrugged. “I figured I'd take it off so it wouldn't get dirty. Actually, I was wondering if I could borrow something of yours tomorrow. Just something old that I can do dirty work in. This shirt is the only one I have and I don't want to ruin it.”
“I think that's a good idea,” Jase said.
“Why?” Luis didn't understand the sharp tone in Jase's voice.
“Because half the school is talking about the hot half-naked guy outside trimming bushes, that's why. You shouldn't be walking around that way. It's not respectable.”
Luis tilted his head back. “I was only working,” he said. “I can't help what other people say. And why would you care about what they say. You seemed to be having way too much fun with good old Betsy Melchiorri today.”
“I don't care,” Jase said. “I figured I'd let you know what they are saying.”
Luis knew Jase was a little jealous ... even if Jase didn't know it himself. So he didn't press the matter. He smiled and said, “Okay. I won't go shirtless anymore.”
Jase uncrossed his feet and opened the passenger door. “Get in,” he said. “You must be tired. You worked hard today.”
Though Jase wasn't the young prince charming Luis had dreamed about, he found it comforting to know Jase cared about how hard he'd worked all day. “I'm okay,” he said, as he walked to the car.
Jase waited until he got inside and he closed the door for him. Then he walked around the back of the car and opened the driver's door. When he was sitting behind the steering wheel, he shut his door and hesitated for a moment. Before he started the car, he turned to Luis and said, “I saw you talking with that weird guy, Alec.”
“He's very bright guy,” Luis said. “We were talking about how one day there might be an African American President. I don't think Alec is weird. I think he's smart and nice looking.”
Jase rolled his eyes. “Alec seemed more interested in the way you looked than what you were saying. Shit, I thought he was going to pull your pants down. There have been rumors he's gay or bi-sexual. I figured you should know in case he tries anything with you. It's the innocent guys like you who usually get taken advantage of. I know it's none of my business, and I don't really care what you do. But I figured I'd say something anyway.”
Luis knew Jase too well. This was Jase's way of saying he cared. “He seems like a nice guy. But I'll remember what you said.”
“Am I what?”
“Are you gay?”
Luis knew his answer could change things between them. Jase wasn't ready to admit he was gay. He had a lot to go through before he would admit he was gay and there was nothing Luis could do to change that. So he told Jase the same thing he told Alec: “I'm open to all kinds of things. And I don't like labels.” This, Luis had learned, was the best cop out excuse any gay man could use when he didn't want to admit his sexuality.
After dinner, Jase and Luis went into the family room with Judah and Isabelle. Millie and Mollie had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace. They all watched a brand new episode of Cosby and Luis almost gave himself away when he laughed and let out a spoiler. He'd seen the same show in reruns for the past twenty years. When Isabelle asked how Luis knew what would happen, he just smiled and shrugged. He told her he'd only guessed and he'd been lucky. Then he sat back and shut his mouth.
Jase sat on the floor in front of the coffee table with his legs crossed. He had a big math test the next day and he was studying a few things so he'd be prepared. He'd already been accepted into the college of his choice and he'd taken his SAT tests. But Jase had always been a straight A student and wouldn't settle for less. Luis noticed when he did his homework he was as intent as he would be as an adult and he was reading a book or working on one of his inventions. He stared down at the math book, ignored everything around him, and concentrated on what he was doing without acknowledging any of the distractions around him.
It was hard not to acknowledge the distractions that night. After Cosby, they watched one of those trashy prime time soaps that were so popular back in the eighties. Isabelle loved the camp. She laughed and poked Luis in the ribs more than once.
During a commercial, Isabelle said, “I saw how neat and clean your room was this morning, Jase. I'm proud of you. I'm glad you finally cleaned that mess up.” She rubbed Luis's arm and smiled. “I think having Luis around has been a good influence on you.”
Jase looked up from his book and he sent his grandmother a blank stare. “Ah well, Luis kind of helped me out. I didn't do it all alone.”
Luis almost fell sideways laughing. He'd cleaned the entire room himself. Jase hadn't lifted a finger. But he didn't want to make Jase look bad so he didn't say a word.