Bear is dead asleep (as most sane people are) when I awake at four in the morning. He doesn't snore. That's good to know.

I take my glasses from off his bedside table, put them on, and get out of his bed as quietly as I can, grabbing my phone from out of the pocket of the jeans I tossed on the floor. I should text Alex and let him know where I am before he starts freaking out - if he isn't already.

It's easy enough to find Bear's bathroom. He's aware of my odd sleeping habits, and he said he'd leave the light on for me, in case I woke up in the middle of the night. Walking around someone's house naked is strange, and I'm sore, but I can feel the smile on my face. It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that, after so long, I'm no longer a virgin. I can only imagine what Alex's reaction to this is going to be. With him, it could go either way - he'll either be really happy for me, or really upset with me. There likely won't be much of an in between.

To be honest, I always thought I'd lose my virginity to Alex, best friend or not. It was just what seemed right. But after the incident on my twenty-first birthday, we never again brought up the idea of sleeping together. I realize now that that was a good thing. I loved Alex, and I still do, but if we had let sex ruin our friendship, I never would have forgiven myself, and I don't think he would have, either.

I've tried to ask him before whether he regretted not sleeping with me, wanting to get everything out in the open, but he's never given me a real answer, no matter how many times I've asked. I know now that he's a little jealous of what I have with Bear, and I'm scared of the idea that my having had sex with him will make that jealousy worse. It's my life, yes, and my decision, but the idea of hurting Alex, or pushing him away, is too much for me to bear. We've been there for each other through everything, and I don't want to lose him now.

I close the bathroom door behind me and look at myself in the mirror. My hair is a mess, I have a couple wicked-looking hickies on my neck, (those will be fun to explain to Alex in the morning), and all my piercings are still in. I almost never take the nipple piercings out, not wanting to run the risk of the holes closing up, since getting them done hurt like hell, but I have a little dish in my bedroom where I keep both my lip rings and my bellybutton ring when they aren't in.

Bear seemed to really like the bellybutton ring - more so than any of my other piercings. He kept playing with it, flicking his tongue through the round metal hole over and over again, and sucking on it.

Piercing my bellybutton was actually the result of a dare I had with Alex - something I don't often tell people, for fear of sounding like an idiot. It was after the hair dying, the tattoo, the lip rings, and the nipple rings, and it was where I officially decided I was done in terms of body modification.

The dare itself was simple enough. We were both more than a little buzzed from several bottles of beer, and Alex drunkenly dared me to get my bellybutton pierced. If I didn't, I would have to run around the neighborhood naked. It was mid January, and that didn't sound at all appealing, so I agreed, downed another beer, and we walked to the tattoo parlor.

I knew the place pretty well, and the job was done by the same guy who had done my snakebites. (The nipple piercings were done by someone else.) I didn't know his real name, but everyone called him "Tippy". I had no idea why.

Tippy was a large, dark-skinned man, with a barely-visible tattoo of some reptile on his heavily-muscled forearm, and a shaved head. His leg was almost bigger than my entire body, and it seemed like he could easily crush me to dust if I pissed him off. Lucky for me, I'm not usually a mouthy drunk.

Alex stayed in the front of the tattoo parlor, waiting to see if I would really go through with it. He kept reminding me that, if I screamed, he would hear me.

Tippy was nice enough, considering his occupation, and he tried to make conversation, until he realized I was drunk, and he was wasting his time. I recall him mumbling,

"You probably ain't gonna remember this in the morning" before the needle went into my skin. The next thing I knew, I was back home, lying on top of the comforter on my bed with Alex beside me, a sharp pain in the vicinity of my stomach. Alex had only the vaguest recollection of our dare, and if he hadn't been hungover, I think he would have laughed himself into an early grave. As it was, however, he just chuckled, said something about me being an idiot, put the pillow he was using over his face to block out the sunlight, and went back to sleep.

I take a seat on the toilet lid and start typing out a text to Alex, but I change my mind halfway through, and call him, instead.

"Hello?" His voice on the line is tired and soft.

"Hey, Al," I say, talking quietly.

"D?" He sounds confused, and there's a muffled noise of him shifting in bed before he comes back on the line. "Where are you?"

"Bear's house," I respond, dreading what he'll have to say to that.

"Bear's house?" he repeats. "It's really late. What are you doing at. . ." He stops, suddenly getting it. "Oh. Damn, D." It sounds like he's on the verge of laughter. That's a good sign.

"Yeah. . ." I'm not sure what else to say.

"Where are you calling from?"

"The bathroom."

I can almost hear the knowing smile on my friend's face.

"Got up early, huh?" he says, audibly more awake now. "Even after the first time you have sex, you still can't sleep past four. You're the eighth world wonder, man, I swear."

"I'm like the Army, baby," I tease. "I get more done before five AM than most people get done all day."

"So, was it, you know. . ." Alex pauses for a moment. "Good?"

"Honestly? It was pretty incredible."

"I'm glad." He doesn't say anything else.

After a long silence, I speak up.

"You're okay with this, Al, aren't you?"

"Of course I am." It sounds like he's telling the truth, but I think I can hear a little bit of sadness in his voice. Before I can call him on it, he says, "I hope you know you'll be telling me all about it later."

"Obviously."

"You should get back to bed, but I doubt that'll be happening," Alex says. "I bet you're planning on going through his books, finding something to read, and sitting down in his living room until he wakes up, aren't you?"

That's exactly what I was going to do, but I can't give him the satisfaction of knowing he's right, so I say,

"Go to sleep." I can hear him laughing as I hang up.

I leave the bathroom and walk quietly back to Bear's bedroom, knowing that's where his bookshelves are. I pull on my underwear and jeans, not wanting to be sitting in his living room naked, (especially on a leather couch), then move over to his books.

Considering his dyslexia, I figure the choices will be sparse, but he proves me wrong. There are math books, science books, English books. He has at least thirty fiction novels, and two different versions of the Bible bookend one shelve. I guess he wasn't kidding about being a Christian.

I grab a book at random, and come up with something titled The Oath. It's a surprisingly thick novel, and there's a bookmark about a quarter of the way through. The authors' name on the cover reads "Frank Peretti" - someone I've never heard of before.

I hold the book under my arm and turn to look at Bear. He's still fast asleep, breathing quietly. He shifts just slightly, and makes a little moaning noise in his throat. In the moonlight, I can see that his chest is uncovered. He must have kicked the blankets off at some point. I pull them back up before I walk into the living room.

I turn on the same light he had when we first came into his house, hoping it won't be enough to wake him up. The soreness starts nagging at me again as I sit down, but it's nothing I can't deal with.

I lift my feet up onto the couch, tucking my legs under me, and push my glasses up on my nose. The book begins with an introduction, and I start reading, soon finding myself lost in the story - 'Sin is the monster we love to deny'. . .


"How long have you been up?"

Bear's voice breaks my concentration, and I look up from the book. I'm almost three-hundred pages in. It's much more interesting than I assumed it would be. The sun is still new, just barely coming in through the windows.

"I woke up at four," I answer. "I borrowed one of your books. I hope that's okay."

He smiles.

"It's fine. What are you reading?"

"The Oath."

He perks up at that.

"Oh, that's a good one," he says.

I close the book and put it on the arm rest closest to me.

"It's not bad," I say, "but maybe you can explain something to me - this dragon, is it supposed to be made of sin?"

Bear nods.

"That's the gist of it, yeah."

"Alright. And how exactly does that work?" I ask, genuinely confused.

He chuckles.

"It's kind of a metaphor put into practice. It would make more sense if you knew the Bible. You want some breakfast?"

I'm suddenly aware once more of the hickies on my neck.

"Can I put my shirt on first?"

Bear lets out a more sincere laugh.

"Be my guest."


Breakfast consists of chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs. Bear puts tomato in them, and I'm reminded of the breakfast Alex and I shared with him. I try to help him with the food, but he won't let me, telling me to sit down. That's just as well, since I can't really make (good) food, anyway. I'm surprised by the meal, after he said previously that he didn't cook. Was that just a lie to make me feel better about my own inadequacy?

We spend most of breakfast in silence, but my mind is going a million miles a minute, so it doesn't bother me. What does our sleeping together mean? Does it mean anything? We were both virgins, so it would have to mean something, wouldn't it? Or am I just reading too much into it?

Did he enjoy it as much as I did?

Instead of asking this question, I say,

"Didn't you say you don't cook?"

"I don't, really," is his response. "There are a few things I know how to make, and pancakes and eggs are on that very short list."

"What else do you make?"

He thinks about it for a moment, then counts off the answers on his fingers as he speaks,

"Mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and chicken Parmesan."

That last one catches me off guard.

"Chicken Parmesan?"

"I got really into the Food Network a little while after I first moved in here, and it was a recipe I learned and wanted to try. It was filled with mozzarella cheese. Not bad. I put it with sausage Alfredo and a salad."

"What in the world is sausage Alfredo?" I ask.

"Like chicken Alfredo, but more. . . sausage-y." He gives a little chuckle. "I didn't want too much chicken with the meal. I knew I'd have leftovers, and it would have gotten boring too quickly. I've only made it the one time, so you can imagine how it turned out."

"Any way I could get you to make that chicken Parmesan for me one night?" I tease, hoping it sounds flirtatious.

"How about this - I'll come over to your place next Saturday, and I'll make it for you and Alex."

I wasn't expecting him to actually go for it, but I try to keep the surprise from showing on my face.

"Okay," I say. "Maybe I can talk Alex into showing me how to make a Greek salad. I know that might sound racist, but seriously, he makes a really good Greek salad."

"It's a date."

We've already slept together, so hearing him say that shouldn't still make me happy, but it does.

I help him clean up the kitchen before I get dressed and start to head out. I should let Alex know about the dinner, and he's probably wondering why I'm not back yet. Bear grabs the clover out of his truck and hands it to me before I can leave.

"Don't forget this," he says.

"Thanks again for getting it for me. I'll pay you back."

"Unnecessary. Just think of it like a gift."

"Really, Bear," I begin, "I would feel better if-"

Before I can finish, he kisses me. It's sweeter than I would have imagined, considering what we did last night, and where our mouths have been.

"Don't forget about Saturday," he says when he pulls away.

"I won't."

I get in to the house without having to use my key. Alex must have left the door unlocked for me. I expect my friend to still be sleeping, but he's wide awake, wearing a black tank top and sweats, doing yoga on his blue mat. He used to practice yoga almost every day, but I haven't seen him do it in quite a while.

As I close the door behind me and set the clover on the shelf that holds our DVDs, Alex says,

"You're back, huh? How was your morning?"

I sit down on the couch - wincing just slightly at the soreness I'm still feeling - while he stands up and lifts one leg high in the air. I forgot how flexible he could be. I doubt I could even begin to stretch my leg out that much - at least, not without pulling something.

"It was fine," I answer. "Bear asked if he could come over here and make dinner for us next Saturday, if that's okay with you."

He slowly lowers his leg.

"I'm not one to complain about free food."

"That being said, do you think you could make your Greek salad?"

Alex brings his hands together and looks straight at me.

"Racist," he says, a teasing smile on his lips. "I'll do it, but you're helping me."

"What do I need to do?"

He thinks about it.

"You'll be juicing the lemon."

"Alright."

He lifts his other leg up, saying as he does,

"We have known each other many years, but this is the first time you've come to me for counsel or for help."

"Shut up," I say, but Alex keeps on.

"What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?"

"You really need to stop watching The Godfather, Al." I stand up from the couch. "I'm gonna go take a shower."

As I leave, Alex calls out,

"Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me."

"I'm closing the door!" I yell to him, and I can hear his laughter until the sound of the shower drowns it out.