Jeff turned out to be a Stage 5 clinger.
I had my suspicions he knew something of my true feelings beyond friendship toward Navy boy, but he wasn't letting on. He wasn't giving in either. He turned up the heat and turned up the emotion. And if I'm a sucker for anything...it's heat and passion. Together the two bought Jeff a little more time. Being fellow Leos worked well for us in those moments. They were some of the best I shared with him. A specific afternoon spent letting the shower water run cold comes to mind....... It was in the aftermath of such a day that left me with a hickey high on my neck, hair barely hiding it. Marked territory or not, I had a date with Navy boy. An official date. He asked, picked me up, and everything.
So I used my make up to it's best advantage and covered the love bite. All night, sitting in that comedy club I was more preoccupied with keeping my long hair swept forward over my shoulder to shield his eyes from my disgrace. I chose my seat based on this. I postured my body to his disadvantage. All night the panic of him discovering that tell-tale hickey kept me from enjoying my long awaited, little deserved night with him. As we walked around the downtown sidewalk, under the glow of the streetlamps he reached for my hand. And that, even that - a simple, gentle affirmation of his affection towards me - was tainted with the stink of betrayal. If things were going anywhere with Navy boy - and I desperately wanted them to - then I needed to close my legs, harden my heart, and open my mouth and speak the words that we all knew were inevitable.
I finally made good on my promise to Navy boy and ended things with Jeff. There, in his driveway (lest I be suckered into anything inside his house) I stood my ground. I watched the confusion in his expression, the disbelief, then the hurt. He paced circles below the basketball hoop, frantically running his hands through his sandy blond hair attempting to change my mind. When he realized the futility of those actions, he built up a head of steam, then began shouting at me, demanding to know "why". I don't know what I told him as I stoically watched, I only know what I refused to tell him. I would admit in no way that it was because he was less than what I wanted, less than what I ever wanted, less than Navy boy. I suppose I grasped the "it's not you, it's me" excuse and pathetically offered it. It fit. Jeff never was the problem. He didn't lack the proper boyfriend material. He was perfect in every regard - just not perfect for me. And I was definitely not what he needed. The tears shining in his eyes were proof. They slid down his face as his back slid down the garage door, and he sat there, crouched low on the cool concrete of his shaded driveway and failed to look at me for quite some time.
Struck with the awkwardness of his unexpected display of emotion, I watched in mild horror. I took in the sight of him one last time, knowing there was no way to undo the damage I'd caused, made a final apology, and I left him - frozen in that same crumpled position, refusing to meet my eyes.
It took a day or two to manage the fall out from our combined friends. The ex even made his feelings known on the subject. He was not surprised. He knew me better than anyone, and experienced my betrayal of Jeff firsthand. We discussed the irony in how easy it was for us to separate time and time again with simple words, because the knowledge that we'd get back together was always present. But with Jeff, the disentanglement of emotions was like a sticky spider web (of my own weaving, of course) and when one limb was free I'd find another one snared again. Yet overall, it was my relationship with Jeff that I took most casually, and affected me the least. By the end of our talk, my guilt over hurting Jeff was soothed, and the relief of being finally free kicked in. It's shocking how quickly the consciences of teenagers are cleared.
It was with nothing but joy and a feeling of success when Navy boy held onto my face with Those Hands, long fingers curling ever so gently around my flawlessly skinned neck and he kissed me for the first time. Our dinner date ended on his front porch, and we talked for hours that night. Hours and hours of nothing but us. He expressed some concern over the short time we had left to spend together. I stated my lack of concern over the matter - now was a time to relish and enjoy. Nothing more. I knew we had a shelf life. Short one, at that. Strangely, I was okay with the fact. I'd envisioned myself with him for so long, our romance being played out in fantasy over and over again and I'd struggled for so long, and in such unnecessary ways to bring us together that I was content in the act of just being. And so we were.
For the remainder of the summer I lived for the stolen time when he was not working. There was a fragmentation to my social life. Nights when he worked, I partied half-heartedly with my friends, but my days were spent with him, wandering the shore of a nearby lake, revisiting the art museum, taking in movies at the Indie theater, and sitting, talking on his front porch. Sometimes we took it inside to the coolness of his basement. Our shoulders rubbed together side by side, my legs crossed over on his lap, and we held hands when we walked. A few times we found ourselves lounging on the couch with hands wandering. I was determined not to make the same mistakes with Navy boy that I'd made with Jeff. I'd allowed my hormones to make decisions instead of my head. And on a hot summer day, when we escaped the outside heat in his basement only to create some indoor heat of our own, and somehow found ourselves walking the two sets of stairs to his room, Navy boy voiced his concerns. My hormones double checked with my head, and even consulted with my heart. All three gave the green light. I followed Navy boy into his room and shut the door behind me.