3) Shared Interests

The Nature of the Game

3) Shared Interests

 

Jacob lay against the headboard while Taylor sat on the edge of the bed, studying the room.

“You’re sure into Star Wars, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m a bit of a fan boy. Go ahead and mock me. I’m used to it. I get plenty of it already.”

“Actually, I’m into it too.”

“Really? Tell me, what do you think the proper order to watch the films is?”

Taylor laughed. “Personally, I’d avoid the prequel trilogy entirely. Not only is Jar-Jar … jarring, but it introduces an incredible amount of confusion into the series.”

“I prefer watching it chronologically, though I’m not sure I’d have followed the series if I started in that order. How about Star Trek? Do you like the original, the later series, or the more reboot movies?”

“I like Star Trek: the Next Generation, but then I prefer hard science fiction. The original Star Trek dealt with interesting issues, but it was all speculation with no basis in science. Next Generation tried to interject a semblance of reality into the series. While Star Wars was a space opera, the original Star Trek series was more science fantasy.”

“Hard sci-fi?”

“Science fiction based on real physics. I like challenges, considering different scenarios.”

Jacob slid his hands behind his head, surveying the same objects. “I’m concerned with the story telling, how it’s written and how the tale unfolds.”

Taylor laughed. “In other words, you’re a literary nerd while I’m a science geek.”

Jacob chuckled too. “It’s funny, we come from different directions, but end up at the same place. Are you interested in other sci-fi stories?”

“I loved ‘The Martian’. It told a realistic story, and draws you into the challenges which can only be solved with the underlying math.”

“I liked the movie, but never read the book,” Jacob said.

“I read a lot of books, both science and science-fiction, but spending all day practicing cuts into my spare time.”

“I’m in the similar situation with band, glee club and musicals.”

Taylor rolled his eyes. “Yeah, they’re the same.”

“Hey, music is hard work, and involves constant practice, training and dedication, just like your football. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” Jacob paused a moment before switching the conversation back.

Taylor stood and examined Jacob’s bookshelf. He shifted some books, examining the ones hidden behind the front shelf. “I see you’re also into fantasy?”

“Sort of. I’m not into Dungeons and Dragons, but I’m heavy into the ‘young adult’ romance stories, as well as Fantasy like the “Percy Jackson” and “Harry Potter” series.”

“You mean where hunky vampires in perfect makeup and nicely-dressed werewolves fight over the pretty girls?”

“Hey, there are few decent gay sci-fi books. It’s easy enough to imagine myself as the lead heroine.”

Taylor chuckled. “Sorry, but that’s where my skepticism draws a line in the sand. I’m not able to suspend my disbelief that long. I prefer seeing the young women get eaten while the surviving men wrestle in the nude.”

“Yet, I’m guessing you don’t own a single ‘gay story’.”

“You’re right, just as I don’t keep any pornography where my family might discover it.”

“I’ll tell you what, any time you want, come here and enjoy some of mine.”

Taylor laughed, turning around and leaning against the bookcase. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. I’m not about to get involved with anyone yet. Don’t forget, this is a one-time thing.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re the tough loner. I get it. You don’t need to beat the topic to death. I was the same. I couldn’t imagine us having anything in common, but I’m coming around. I always assumed you were like most jocks: bullheaded and not terribly bright. Granted, you’re still bullheaded, but you’re not obnoxious about it.”

“As much as your statement rankles me, I can also appreciate it. You’re right. Many of my friends—my straight jock friends, at least—fit into that category.”

“What about outside influences? Is there anyone you can open up to?”

“What, you mean admit I’m gay to? Hell no! I’m not giving someone the power to torpedo my career. There’s too much riding on my future to squander it.”

“I understand you’re not into relationships, but having someone to work through issues can help. I’m not suggesting a romance, but stopping by to talk isn’t risking much.”

“Except that you’re the recognized school fairy! If anyone sees us together, they’ll ask questions.”

Jacob frowned, brushing imaginary spots from his pants. “Well, I’m done with the ‘under the bleachers’ nonsense. I still have gravel burns on my knees from yesterday.”

Taylor chuckled. “A few love stains never hurt anyone. What about you? Are you into anything physical? Do you exercise, jog, walk, sky dive?”

Jacob blushed. “I manage getting plenty of physical exertion, but besides band practice, I don’t walk around in circles much. There’s a lot of marching with band, but it’s not what you’re discussing. I play tennis occasionally, but I’m only a social player. I compete to spend time with people. I walk, or rather, hike, but that’s to let my mind wander. I don’t power walk for exercise.”

“Well, I can’t complain too much. Although working out is a major part of my life, if people didn’t sit on their couches, cheering for the athletes on the screen, there wouldn’t be any football scholarships.” He cocked his head. “You don’t smoke weed, do you?”

“Nah. I tried it, but there are too many associations. I’m not into the druggie crowd.”

“Good, I’m a bit paranoid about failing drug tests by proxy—getting too close to others and inhaling enough to get me dropped.”

Jacob grinned as he stood, pulling on his shirt and pants. “Despite your protests, you sound like you’re grilling me for a ‘friendship’ position.”

“No, I’m ensuring spending an hour with you won’t hurt me.”

Jacob turned, putting on his socks. “There are plenty of ways to get bruised, and physical injury is only one.”

“Yeah, and the biggest pain is watching my future get flushed down the drain by taking needless risks.” Taylor glanced around, as if searching for something. “I should take off.”

Jacob walked up with only one sock and grasped Taylor’s shoulder. “Don’t panic. My parents are expecting you for dinner. It won’t kill you and you won’t need to discuss being gay with them.”

“Terrific, they’ll only debate how I fit into your life!”


 

“Taylor, we’re glad you could join us.” Ruth stood, drawing a spare chair out and offering it to him. “I’m serving Jacob’s favorite, spaghetti. I custom-make it by hand and flavor it the traditional Italian way.”

He hesitated, standing by the door. “You don’t have to go out of your way. I can grab dinner on the way home.”

“Oh, no, it’s nothing. Everyone likes leftovers, so I cooked up a bunch. Besides, we all want to get to know you.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a wonderful idea,” he mumbled.

Jacob’s father, Rudolf, cupped his ear. “What’s that?”

“He’s self-conscious,” Ruth said, patting her husband’s shoulder.

“Nothing to feel nervous about, we’re family, friendly and curious.”

Taylor glanced down, stepping into the room. “It does smell delicious, and pasta is good for bulking up, but … what happens if Jacob and I don’t … work out?”

She laughed. “You’re in high school. You’re supposed to experiment. You’ll fall madly in love, get your heart broken, and get back on your feet and try again. Believe me, you’ll think it’s the greatest thing since fire—since both burn so intensely—but you’ll tumble in and out of love.”

Rudolf got up and approached Taylor, guiding him to the seat Ruth prepared. “Part of relationships is balancing outside influences. You don’t date one person. You get involved with everything in their lives: their family, friends, interests, issues and pet peeves. Besides, we’re a very interactive family.”

“Well, if you insist. I need the carbs. I burn so many calories on the field I’ve got to pig out just to maintain my weight. During the off season, I need to radically change my eating habits.”

As he sat, Ruth ladled a huge amount of spaghetti on his plate while Jacob passed the garlic bread. He grinned, enjoying Taylor’s discomfort. “Could you train Jacob how to eat? While you lose weight rapidly, our son needs to add another twenty pounds. I’m afraid if I let him out on the street, he might blow away.”

Taylor tasted his bread as Rudolf poured a healthy portion of tomato sauce over his pasta. “Are you European?”

“Good eye. We’re Swiss, from Zurich. We summer in Naples. If you need help with languages, ask Jacob, he speaks five.”

Taylor studied the couple. He wasn’t prepared for this. These people, virtual strangers, were more welcoming than his own family. His father, Andrew Barnes, was a conservative business man. There was an unspoken rule in his house: you never touch another man unless he’s on fire. He knew his parents loved him, but he’d have a hard time proving it to anyone.

“What brought you to the States?”

“I work for Credit Suisse, a Swiss bank,” Rudolf explained. “They have a branch in the city and rotate their employees through to give them more international experience. I train the other transfers, so we’ve been here for several years. Ruth is a lawyer and is comfortable anywhere you can sue people.”

She giggled. “I’m actually in financial law. I’m better at examining money trails and protecting assets than civil cases.”

“That makes it easier. Lawyers make me nervous. They always add trick clauses to contracts.”

She waved her hand. “Believe me, if you get into trouble, facing huge fines and loss of income, you’ll welcome the expertise. Learning how to read a contract will allow you to avoid the traps.”

“I might take an elective in college, but I doubt I’ll take it any further than that.”

“You’ll do better learning how to read legalese. We have a way of phrasing things which can be difficult for most people to comprehend. If you can understand a contract, you can avoid a lot of problems.”

“Maybe you can give me some pointers. I’m getting several offers from universities. I’d love to be able to evaluate them, rather than trusting our family lawyer.” Jacob covered his face, trying not to openly smirk.

“Not a bad idea,” Rudolf said, pausing to pour more wine. “You need to keep on top of lawyers. If they get too comfortable, they’re more likely to try something underhanded.”

“He’s right,” Ruth said. “If they realize you read each contract, they’ll be more circumspect, watching their language.”

Jacob laughed. “The only downside is you end up spending hours reading the terms of service every time you upgrade you phone! But let’s move the discussion along before it gets too heavy. So far, Taylor’s skittish about his future, relationships, family and contractual law. Pretty soon, he’ll give up on pasta too!”

Rudolf chuckled. “We could discuss football, if you understood it.”

Jacob’s cheeks grew red. “I’ll admit; we favor European football. I know the basics of American football, but that’s about it.”

“I’ll tell you what, your mom can teach me to review contracts, and I’ll coach you about football. Even if we don’t go any farther, your next boyfriend will likely be a fan. It’s fairly popular here.”

Jacob’s brow rose. “My next boyfriend? Are you admitting you’re leaning in that direction?”

“Look, he’s caught Jacob’s blush,” Rudolf said, pointing at Taylor’s red cheeks as he shoveled food in his mouth. “There’s definitely something passing between the two of them!”

“I’ll admit, if nothing else, I could get used to your family. My father’s only focus is football. I prefer expanding my knowledge, rather than limiting my future options.” Taylor turned to Ruth. “Could you prepare a pre-nup, giving me access to my new adopted parents in case of an amicable breakup?”

She giggled. “I think we can arrange something, and it will allow me to give you a crash course in parsing contracts. The next time you come by, schedule some time for me and we’ll review something. Despite your reluctance, I think you’re fitting in quite well. I don’t think the two of you have anything to fear.”

 

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