The final eight weeks of my senior year at Princeton were accompanied by a reality somewhat harsher than I had prepared myself for. I had been beyond studious, gathering enough research data for my thesis as well as spending countless hours analyzing and rechecking the outcome of my work. The chore of pulling everything together seemed monumental and the deadline was hanging heavily over my head, looming and taunting me.
I had willingly allowed myself to be distracted by Duo, never once turning down the opportunities afforded to spend time with him. I had to wonder how he had all of this available time; given it was the close of his school year as well. Granted, it wasn't his final year, but there had to be several large projects he should have been devoting his time to. I was perplexed by it and so I had asked him about it, receiving the answer I had pretty much surmised: that things came easy to Duo. He was one of those students who rarely seemed to struggle. The type that those of us who were forced to live on three hours sleep and Zantac were fittingly envious of.
Fortunately, he had the good sense to make himself rather scarce the last three weeks, probably clued into to my current state of distress by my behavior, since I had not complained or mentioned the deadline I was facing to him. I was most likely overreacting. My mentor had come right out and said this to me on several occasions, but I had dismissed his comments. The project would be done when I deemed it finished. I was not remotely interested in living up to anyone's standards other than my own.
I had not contemplated inviting Duo to my graduation ceremony, though we had spoken briefly about the event. The two tickets made available were intended for my parents and they were the sole reason I had agreed to participating in the ritual in the first place. Had they been willing to take no for an answer, I would have been more than happy to circumvent the whole spectacle. If my relationship with Duo had been more… conventional; that is to say had Duo been female, my parents would most likely have been aware of it. They would have insisted on his presence, acquiring the additional ticket necessary by whatever means possible.
I honestly wasn't sure how I felt about the revelation. I wasn't even sure if Duo would have agreed to come had everything been out in the open and he'd been invited. I did not think I would have been comfortable with introducing my significant other to my parents and spending so many hours together, regardless of gender.
After the three-hour ceremony had ended, I exited the backstage area of the auditorium and was surprised to find Duo leaning casually against the far wall of the hallway. My surprise stemmed mainly from the fact he'd not been invited, and in part because the area was supposed to be off limits to anyone other than graduating students. He grinned at me and pushed off of the white tile at his back to approach me.
It had been weeks since I had seen him and the fact that he was what I consider dressed up were partially responsible for the smile I found myself offering him. I could not recall ever seeing him in dress shoes, not even when he'd dressed for his parent's anniversary party.
"I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"Just cause I wasn't invited?"
I smiled again. "Something like that."
"Congrats," he said. I knew what was coming next. I quickly surveyed the immediate area, for what I'm not sure, and then leaned forward to let him kiss me. His lips were eager and hot against my own and I welcomed the quick slip of his tongue inside my mouth. Duo stepped back and ended the kiss far too soon for my liking. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he felt the same way.
"Doing the dinner thing with my folks this afternoon." I told him.
"I figured. Come into the city tonight?"
His invitation surprised me, though it probably shouldn't have. I shifted the large manila envelope that contained my diploma from my right hand to my left. "Sure."
"We can do dinner or something," he said hesitantly as he looked me up and down. "Make sure you change out of those clothes first."
I looked up to find him grinning. It never would have occurred to me to show up at his door in a suit. "I'm not opposed to a second dinner," I told him. "…or whatever 'something' you have in mind," I added, watching his expression carefully as I spoke. His face did not reveal anything, but I was accustomed to that. I wondered if he had been at the ceremony or if he had driven all the way here just to ask me over. In either case, I was pleased.
"Your parents are probably looking for you."
"Yeah." I said. "I should go."
I didn't want to. I didn't think he wanted me to. I would much rather have spent the day with him. I felt bad leaving him standing there as I headed off in search of my parents. Hopefully whatever they had planned wouldn't take too long. I looked down at my watch. 1 p.m. If all went well, I would be in Manhattan by 8 o'clock.
It was fortunate that my mother chose to make reservations at one of the local restaurants here in Princeton. They were both unusually talkative during the meal and a large part of what we discussed were about my plans for the immediate future, which included my continued search for employment and the evacuation of my apartment in Princeton. Had it not been for the fact that Duo was going to be working for my parents again this summer, I probably would have stayed there until I found work. I had had several decent offers already, but I was in no hurry to enter the work force. It would be there waiting for me in September and it seemed prudent to weigh all of the options open to me before coming to any kind of decision.
We ended up back at my apartment after the meal. I had presumed that my parents were going to just drop me off and head back home, but they had instead, pulled into the underground parking area below the complex and followed me upstairs.
I was somewhat embarrassed by the state of my typically clean living space and apologized as I worked to clear an area on the sofa for them to sit. I had spent much of the last two days catching up on lost sleep and had left all of my research materials and partially eaten meals scattered around the living room. They seemed to understand and once they seated themselves, I excused myself to get changed.
They managed to stay for hours, miraculously keeping the conversation going, though about what, I couldn't exactly say. I was distracted, sneaking glances down at my watch at regular intervals and hoping they wouldn't notice. It was nearly 8 pm when they finally left and I waited by the living room window to watch their car pull out onto the street before heading downstairs to my car.
It was a little before 10pm when I arrived in Manhattan and I again dismissed the urge I had to call Duo on my cell to let him know that I would be there in twenty minutes. We had not set a definite time and I doubt he would have fallen asleep. Since he had not called me either, I figured there was no rush.
Rather than wasting the time driving around trying to find on-street parking, I pulled into the garage at the very end of Duo's block. I was unsure what to tell the attendant when he asked how long I'd be, but finally answered him with a hopeful guesstimate of 'overnight'.
I rang Duo's bell and waited for the answering buzz for a full minute before beginning to panic a bit and ringing it a second time. He appeared at the door shortly thereafter, smiling as he stepped out into the foyer.
"You're late." he asserted with a grin, not giving me a chance to reply before leaning in to kiss me. I wasn't sure how he could consider me late when we hadn't set a time, but I let it go and followed him down the steps and out onto the street.
"I tried to call," he said, looking at me.
I reached down to my pocket, feeling my phone through it and then paused. "I turned it off earlier." I explained. I had completely forgotten. I wasn't sure whom I expected to call, but sure I didn't want to speak with whoever it was while I was with my parents.
We stopped at the corner and waited for the light to change, allowing us to cross.
"Where are we off to?" I asked.
"I thought we'd just walk around the village a bit. That okay with you?"
I nodded. It sounded like a good idea.
The traffic light changed and I stepped off the sidewalk, turning toward Duo in surprise as he reached out and took my hand in his.
"It's cool." he assured me.
I did not doubt his words. It was his turf and I had no reason to believe otherwise. He had a lot more at risk being seen like this than I did and the chances of him seeing someone he knew was far greater. I relaxed my hand a little, allowing his fingers to fully slip their way between my own. His hand felt good against mine, solid and warm and slightly damp with sweat, which I soon ascertained was in all probability my own. He smiled at me. I hoped he wasn't going to say anything about the embarrassing physical manifestation of my nervousness.
"Just my hands." I told him.
He laughed, alleviating a bit of the tension I was feeling. I smiled back at him.
"I could go for a cup of coffee."
I answered with a nod since he was looking directly at me when he said it.
"Maybe something sweet to go with it."
"Have a place in mind?" I asked, fairly certain that he did even before he answered.
He motioned with his head to the left to indicate where we were headed. "Block or two that way." he confirmed.
The streets were crowded as were the sidewalks. There were a dozen or so people around us as we waited for the light to change. I was overdressed in my white button down shirt and khaki's. Duo was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of baggy jeans that have seen better days and his combat boots. His hair was in a loose ponytail. I felt like I was standing out, but no one seemed to notice. There was a strong temptation to duck into any one of the numerous stores we walked past and buy at least a new shirt... something that would make me feel like I blended in a little more. I told myself that I was being ridiculous.
"You should have told me to dress down." I found myself saying.
He looked me up and down. "Much better than that suit." he said through a chuckle.
I growled and said his name.
He let go of my hand and put his arm around me, pulling me close to him and kissed me on the mouth. "You look fine," he told me.
I replied with a nod, still not convinced, but not wanting to prolong the conversation.
He was silent as we crossed the street. He kept his arm where it was and my left arm was left hanging awkwardly between us. I slowly raised it, careful not to jab him with my elbow and snaked it behind his hand to tuck my thumb into one of the belt loops on the waistband of his jeans and slipped my hand into his pocket. I was a bit overwhelmed. All of this was so new to me and the feeling that I was doing it all wrong stayed with me despite the attempts I was making to suppress the sensation. At least Duo wasn't privy to the thoughts running around in my head. He didn't appear to be nervous at all. I attributed his composure to the fact that he had done this before.
"If you're that uncomfortable, we can skip the coffee and head back to my place."
Part of me wanted to scream 'YES!' The wiser, currently calmer and thankfully more in control part of my brain advised me that if I didn't do this now, that I would only be postponing it and its not as if I was actually adverse to the idea. On the contrary, I enjoyed having him this close to me. This is what couples did, right? I let that train of thought go.
"I'm okay." I informed him.
Whether he believed me or not, he accepted my words and steered us toward a small well-lit restaurant. I removed my hand from his pocket and he let go of my shoulder as we walked toward the back of the café in search of an unoccupied table. He sat and I sat across from him, looking around the space we were in before turning to face him. He was already reading over the menu and I looked down to find one on the table in front of me. I had totally missed seeing anyone bring them to us.
"No caffeine for you." he told me with a smirk.
I nodded somewhat unintelligently in response.