"This your first time in the city?" Tom asked, handing Brendan a glass.
"No, I came once with my dad when I was nine. We live in Missouri." Jesus! he thought. Could he say anything dorkier?
"Yeah, you mentioned that in your e-mail," Tom said. "Here, let's go in the other room." He led Brendan through and took a seat on the red couch. An armchair was on the other side of the coffee table. Brendan froze, not knowing where to go. Tom looked up at him and patted the couch with his hand. "Come over here." Feeling the shaking again, he perched on the opposite end of the sofa.
Since steeling his courage that evening two months ago to send Tom an e-mail asking for a date, he'd wondered again and again if his horny loneliness had driven him temporarily insane. Going to New York City and paying a guy to have sex? What the fuck was he doing? I think it's gutsy, Tanya had said in the cafeteria the day he told her. You're a freak, of course, but it's gutsy. The subway map and condoms she'd bought him as a going-away gift were tucked in the inside pocket of his jacket. Just don't let him murder you, okay?
He took another swallow of his drink.
"So … have you ever been with a guy?" Tom asked.
He'd rehearsed an answer for this and, not looking up, managed to get it out without his voice breaking. "A couple times," he lied. "No serious boyfriend right now."
"It's cool either way. I've had guys come for their first time. I think it's hot."
He slid closer to Brendan and put an arm over his shoulders. "Come here," he said. "Give me a hug." Brendan put down his drink and leaned into him, his head over Tom's shoulder, Tom's arms coming around his back.
He'd never in his life been held like this before.
The sensation made him suddenly woozy. He thought he was going to pass out, but then the months of waiting burst inside and he had to scrunch his eyes closed and clench the muscles deep in his groin to prevent himself from coming in his jeans.
"This is, like, your exam period, right?" he whispered.
"How do you mean?" Tom asked softly in his ear.
They sat back from their hug, close together still, facing each other.
"On the Columbia Web site. It said you guys had your exams next week."
Tom put a hand on Brendan's bouncing knee. "You're cute," he said.
Tom nodded. Brendan could feel his cheeks burning, and he bowed his head. "It must be really hard to remember all the laws. My friend Tanya's stepdad's a lawyer, and he says they change all the time." Tom's hand touched the back of Brendan's neck, fingers brushing through his hair, pressing gently on his scalp.
"Is it all right," Brendan whispered even more quietly now, "is it all right if we don't go all the way?"
"Of course. Only what you want. Go ahead and finish up your drink."
Brendan drained the rest of his glass and looked back into Tom's face, which seemed more serious now, his lips closed in a flat line. "You go in there," he said, nodding toward the bedroom. "Take off your jacket and shoes. I'll be in in a minute."