Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Outcome of Vulnerability"

This poem is from the July 19, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] eseme, [personal profile] redsixwing, and [personal profile] heartsinger. It also fills the "cuddling" square in my 7-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by starcat_jewel. It belongs to the Antimatter and Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features homework about intimate relationships, extreme embarrassment, inconvenient-but-not-inappropriate erections, Lawrence suggesting that Stan is demisexual, Stan flibbering some more, Lawrence calling Mr. Marshall to rearrange the assignment a bit, Lawrence talking with Stuart about privacy issues, Stuart is a mensch but Stan is really about to die of embarrassment now, intimate discussions, Stan is right this is pr0n for demis, reference to animal death, reference to death in the family, painful discussion of finances, Stan's sense of self-worth has a big chink there, offstage masturbation, Lawrence is bemused by Stuart again, but Stuart is such a mensch, and other challenging stuff. But it is mostly a great big ball of gay fluff. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The Outcome of Vulnerability"

Stan and Lawrence sat
on the bed in Stan's bedroom,
doing their homework, or trying to.

Lawrence wasn't expecting for
their homework to get so complicated,
but something about it was clearly
tying Stan into knots.

"Hey ... what's up?" he asked,
bumping Stan's knee with his own.
"I can see something's bothering you."

"We're supposed to -- I can't --"
Stan floundered, as a blush spread
from his cheeks down past the open collar
of his shirt. "This is porn!"

Lawrence looked down at his copy of
the "50 Questions for Couples" worksheet.
"You're not comfortable discussing any
of these with me? We only need seven."

Stan grabbed a pillow from his bed
and hugged it. "That's not it!" he said.
"Of course I want to do it with you. It
just makes me feel so ... so ... naked.
And you're really hot. And I don't want
to share that in an assignment for class.
It would be like unzipping in school."

Lawrence refrained from mentioning
that there were more than a few people who
got a kick out of fooling around at school.
Plainly Stan was not one of them.

Then he looked at how Stan was
holding the pillow, and the penny dropped.

"Oh! Okay, so you like the content,
but not the context," Lawrence said.
"This seems really intimate to you,
as much or more than physical stuff?"

"Yes," Stan said licking his lips.

Now Lawrence was getting
all heated up too. "And it takes you
a long time to realize how you feel about
someone, whether it's purely friendship
or has a romantic aspect to it?"

"Well, yeah, you know that," Stan said.
"It took us, what, two years to stop
knocking each other around and
make friends? Angelica and I
teased each other for about
a year before we got together."

"I think you're demisexual,"
Lawrence said. "I have been
wondering about that for a while."

"What's that mean?" Stan said.
"Do I really need another name
for my orientation? I'm still getting
used to the whole bi thing."

"Demisexual just means you need
a close emotional tie before you
start feeling erotic attraction,"
Lawrence explained. "It's not
a new thing, just a new word."

"I thought everyone ... no wait,
that's why they seem to make out
at the drop of a hat!" Stan said, shaking
his head. "It just turns on at random?"

"Pretty much," Lawrence said. "I can
look at a guy and think, wow that's hot.
But I don't usually say anything about it,
because most of them are straight.
Besides, now I'm with you."

"Weird," Stan said. "I mean,
not that it's bad or anything, just ...
different and hard to understand."

"You'll get the hang of it," Lawrence said.

"Not if I flunk this assignment," Stan grumbled.
"Getting to know each other should be special,
not a floor show in front of a teacher."

"Do you want me to call Mr. Marshall
and ask about alternative options?
He always has a few of those,"
Lawrence offered.

"Yeah, just don't ... mention what
a basket case I am right now," Stan said.

So Lawrence called Mr. Marshall and
explained the problem. "I think that
this assignment is really constructive,
but Stan doesn't feel comfortable
sharing much of it," he finished.

"How upset is he?" Mr. Marshall asked.

Lawrence put the phone against
his shoulder and said, "Can I tell
Mr. Marshall one personal detail?"

"Go ahead," Stan said.

"He's sitting here with a pillow
in his lap," Lawrence told their teacher.

Mr. Marshall chuckled. "Young love,"
he said fondly. "You're both excused from
the standard written response. Go over
the questions together, and then you write
a summary by yourself. I just need enough
to know that you did the work."

"Okay, thanks," Lawrence said.
After ending the call, he told Stan,
"We just do the assignment together
and then I'll summarize it, and I won't
say anything too personal in it."

"Whew," Stan said, and then
looked at the half-open door.

They could close it, but usually
they didn't, because Stan's family
was big and busy and you never
knew when his sisters or parents
would come bouncing along wanting
to do something right now.

"Why don't I have a word with
your father before we really
dig into this," Lawrence said.

He went downstairs, where
he found Stuart in the office
behind the study room.

"I wanted to let you know that
Stan and I need some privacy,"
Lawrence said. "We're going
to do some homework together
and it's personal enough that I
think he'd feel more comfortable
with the bedroom door closed."

Stuart's eyebrows went up.
"What kind of homework?"

Lawrence hesitated. He liked
Stan's father, but sometimes
Stuart still made him nervous.

"It's a healthy relationship worksheet,"
Lawrence said, sliding the page over
Stuart's desk. "We're doing it together,
and Mr. Marshall says it's okay for me
to write a summary without blabbing
a lot of personal details in it."

Stuart looked at the page, then said,
"I hope you realize that this is
going to mean a lot to Stan."

"Yeah, I figured that out when I saw
how he was reacting," Lawrence said.
"I got him settled, but I do not want
to risk one of the girls walking in on us."

"Understood," Stuart said. He passed back
the paper, with a packet on top. "Shut
the door and put out the hanger."

"Yes, sir," Lawrence said,
sweeping up everything.

They all had little foam signs
with a whiteboard for messages,
meant to hang over doorknobs.
Stan had a football on his hanger,
his sisters had flowers with a crown,
and his parents had a stop sign.

Lawrence scribbled, "Homework --
Do Not Disturb" on Stan's and hung it,
then went inside and locked the door.

"Is Dad okay with that?" Stan said.

"I'm going to go with yes," Lawrence said,
tossing the strip of condoms onto the bed.

Stan buried his face in his hands.
"I may actually die of embarrassment."

"Pretty sure that condition is not fatal,"
Lawrence said, climbing onto the bed.
"Look on the bright side: your family
approves of our relationship, definitely
will not interrupt us, and we now have
practice materials of better quality than
the dispensers in the school bathroom."

"Practice with who?" Stan sputtered.
"I'm not -- we aren't -- that's just --"

Lawrence calmly tore the strip
in half, handing three of the six
to Stan and pocketing the rest.

"Well, I was planning to practice
on myself, or perhaps with
a friendly cucumber," he said.
"What you do is up to you."

"Maybe we could just forget
the whole thing," Stan said.

"Stan?" said Lawrence, and
waited for him to look up.
"Trust me, you do not want
your very first experience with
a condom to have an audience."

"Point," Stan muttered, and
shoved his strip into the drawer
of the nightstand beside his bed.

"If we're going to do this, then
let's do it right," Lawrence said,
tugging gently on the pillow.
"Sit up and look at me like
you really want to be here."

Stan scrambled out of his slouch,
surrendering the pillow. "I do."

Lawrence crossed his legs
so that their knees just touched.
Even through their jeans, he was
acutely aware of Stan's body heat.

He took Stan's hands in his own,
making an effort to keep his gaze on
Stan's face and not let it drift any lower.

"What was the first thing that attracted
you about me?" Lawrence asked.

"Your grace," Stan said. "Even when
you were being kind of a jerk, you moved --
it was like watching a willow tree in the wind.
Compared to you, I'm a lunk." He took
a slow, fluttering breath. "Your turn."

"It was the way everyone turns to you, like
sunflowers following the sun," Lawrence said.
"I couldn't resist it either, even when you
made me want to knock you down
and rub the shiny off you."

Stan fumbled for the page of questions,
then read aloud, "What do you feel is
your greatest accomplishment in your life?"

Lawrence thought about it for a minute.
"Almost making a universe in a bottle,"
he said. "It doesn't matter that I failed
to do what I intended. That moment --
that sense of infinite possibility -- it's
the most amazing thing I've ever done."

"Maybe you succeeded after all," Stan said,
lifting a hand to toy with Lawrence's hair.
"You just sort of ... swallowed it."

Lawrence laughed. "You would say that,"
he said, gently pulling the radiant strands
from Stan's grasp so that homework didn't
devolve into making out. "What's yours?"

"When I got this," Stan said. His fingers went
to his fetish. "Not, you know, what everyone
thinks, saving my scout troop. That's important
too, but this is how I did it. When I found it, I
could feel -- I don't know, like it was weighing
me or something. Then suddenly I knew how
to make it work, and I could call for help."

He took it off and tucked it into Lawrence's hand.

Lawrence shivered. Seeing Stan without
the fetish that held his superpowers always
gave him goosebumps. It was such a gesture of
intimacy and vulnerability, especially after Lawrence
had stolen it so many times. It made him feel
like Stan was more naked than naked.

"Wow," Lawrence said softly.
"I didn't know that part."

"I don't talk about it much," Stan said.
"Everybody knows the public parts because
it was in all the news, and the other scouts
who were there know more but ...
the rest of it is private."

It still made Lawrence feel
strange, realizing how much
Stan had come to trust him.

He grabbed a question that fit the mood.

"If your friend was cheating on their emfriend,
do you think you should tell the other person?"
Lawrence said. "And it doesn't say this
on the page, but why or why not?"

Stan shook his head. "That's not phrased
very well," he complained. "It puts you
between people in the wrong way. I'd
talk it over with my friend, try to get them
to own up to it instead of me doing it. But if
they wouldn't, then I'd ask both friends out
somewhere quiet, and say you tell or I will.
It's too much of a burden to carry for long."

"Did you ever have to?" Lawrence asked,
because Stan looked so unhappy, he
knew there was a story behind it.

"Yeah, and it sucked, they were both
mad at me for months," Stan said.
"I just couldn't abide lying for someone,
though. That was a dealbreaker for me."

"That's just you being you," Lawrence said.
"If it was me, I wouldn't say anything. It's not
my business, and what's more, I don't know
what other people's arrangements are --
which promises they did or didn't make.
They might have an open relationship."

Stan stared at him. "I never thought of that."

"Does it change anything, now that
you have?" Lawrence wondered.

"Yeah, now that I know, I'd ask if what
I saw was just how they do things," Stan said.
"It feels weird to me, but it's not my place
to tell people how to date each other."

He looked at the page again and said,
"Who was the first person who died
in your life and how did you feel?"

Lawrence felt his stomach drop.
"Does it have to be a person?" he said.
"I still have all of my grandparents,
such as they are. We're not close."

"You're thinking of someone, though,"
Stan said gently. "I can see it in your face.
No, it doesn't have to be a person, just
the first death you found meaningful."

"There was this cat," Lawrence said,
the memory rising up to make a lump in
his throat. "She wasn't really ours, but I
fed her and played with her all the time.
She got hit by a car. It was raining so hard
that I don't think the driver even saw her."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Stan said, his thumb
tracing little circles over Lawrence's wrist.

"My dad ... this was before everything
went to hell, you know?" Lawrence said.
"He went out with me, in the storm, to find
her kittens. We raised them with bottles
and found homes for all four of them
when they got big enough to leave."

"Did you keep pictures?" Stan asked.

"I don't think so," Lawrence said.
Then he cleared his throat. "What
was your first significant death?"

"My great-grandmother," Stan said. "I was
so little, it's hard to remember much about her,
except that I loved her and I cried myself sick
when she died. Nobody else wanted to let me go
to the funeral, but Mom said I had a right to say
goodbye. She was pregnant with Stephanie at
the time, so they didn't want to argue with her."

"That's really sad," Lawrence said.

"Not all of it." Stan smiled, and wiped
his face with the back of his hand. "It was
this beautiful spring day, and a butterfly
landed on me. I told Mom that it was
Nanna Kay coming to kiss me bye-bye.
Dad snapped a picture of it and Mom
keeps it on her dresser in a silver frame."

"You say the most amazing things,"
Lawrence said. "Okay, what is
the most important thing that
money can do for you?"

"Make people happy," Stan said.
"What does it do for you?"

Lawrence sighed. "It keeps me alive,"
he said. "Everything costs money, Stan,
it's not just about toys and soda. Food,
housing, utilities, clothes, taxes -- if you
don't want to steal things to survive,
then you need a steady income."

Stan's face fell. "Is that ... is that
a dealbreaker for you?" he whispered.
"Because I can't really do that. I've tried.
Every job I get, I lose it sooner or later.
More sooner than later, if I'm honest."

"I need enough money to live on,"
Lawrence said. "I hate living on the edge,
and I do not want to do that as an adult."
He gave Stan a gentle nudge. "I guess that
just means I'd have to be the breadwinner."

"That might be a good idea," Stan said,
looking more thoughtful than crushed now.
"If I don't get any better at supporting myself,
then I'll have to find someone else who can.
So if you're open to that idea ... it's really nice."

Lawrence gave that some serious thought,
then nodded. "As long as there's enough
to go around, I'm comfortable sharing," he said.

"Oh, thank goodness," Stan said. "What
are a couple of things you appreciate
about our relationship, and why do
these things seem significant?"

"Your patience," Lawrence said at once.
That one was easy. "No matter how much
I screw up, you're always there for me,
even when I'm being a bitch about it."

"You're worth it," Stan said stoutly.

The next one was harder, but there was
no point in doing this exercise if they weren't
going to be honest with each other.

"Your trust," Lawrence said, fingering
the fetish that he still held. "I still find it
hard to believe that you actually trust me,
after all the times that I've hurt you."

"Everyone in your life hurts you, whether
they mean it or not," Stan said. "Love is
all about finding the ones who are worth it."
He squeezed Lawrence's hand, with fingers
that could sometimes bend steel, or hold
an egg without breaking it. "You're worth it."

Lawrence shivered a little. He could see
that Stan meant it, and what's more,
was really getting into this, pupils
wide enough to change the color of
his eyes from hazel to midnight.

"You're the first person who's ever
looked at me that way, like I'm worth it,"
Lawrence said. "That's why you matter
so much to me. You make me want
to be that for you, to be a better person."

"It's the same for me, or rather, it's
the opposite," Stan said with a wry smile.
"I love that you let me just ... reach in and
dig around for the person I know you can be.
Most folks don't like me trying to find their best self."

Well, it hurt sometimes, that was why.
Lawrence didn't mention that part out loud,
just made an encouraging noise for Stan.

"The other thing is you teach me about
myself," Stan went on. "You helped me
figure out about being bi, and you spotted
this demisexual thing too. I hadn't known
about any of this, and you haven't made
fun of me. You just explain it."

"Well yeah," Lawrence said. "That's
just what you do. I didn't spend years
studying this stuff so I could waste it."

Stan smiled at him, warm and sweet
like honey sitting in sunlight. "That's why
I love you, and why I love myself more
when I'm with you," he said.

Lawrence had spent a lot more time
studying himself than he had studying
other people, except in the abstract.

The more they talked, though, the more
it was growing on him, this feeling of
seeing through each other, reaching in
to touch the hidden places, things they
hadn't shared with anyone else.

No wonder Stan got off on it.

"Last question," Lawrence said.
"How do you see yourself in the future?"

"With ... people," Stan said. "I was going
to say, with you, but that's a little fast and not
really complete either. I'm a people person.
I see myself with a family, with a community,
using my skills to keep people safe and
happy. I don't know quite how I'll get there
from here, but I hope you'll come along
for the ride. What about your future?"

Lawrence's future was sitting there
making puppy eyes at him, if he had
anything to say about it ... but Stan was
right, it probably wasn't a good idea
to push that too far, too fast.

"I haven't thought about my future much,"
he admitted. "It wasn't very good, until
recently. You've gotten me thinking ahead
more than I used to, trying to figure out
how to make up for some shortcomings."

"Like what?" Stan asked. "You know
that I'll help you with that, if I can."

"Basically, my life, and you are,"
Lawrence said. "It's everything
from my family to being broke
to having crappy people skills."

Stan twined their fingers together.
"Okay," he said. "So what do
you want from a future?"

"To have one," Lawrence said simply.
"I want a chance to grow up and
do something with my life, not
get killed doing something stupid
or wind up in a dead-end job where
nobody cares if I live or die."

"I care," Stan said, and that was
the thing. He cared about Lawrence.
He cared about everyone. He made
the world a better place, just by being in it.
"I guess you could say, that's part of my future,
too. I want to make a difference, to be a hero --
not like people mean it when they want attention.
I want to help people when they need it."

"You're my hero," Lawrence reminded him.

"Then I guess we're on the same page, and
finished with this one," Stan said, flicking
the paper. For all his earlier anxiety,
he sounded a bit disappointed.

"Did you get what you wanted
out of this?" Lawrence asked,
leaning forward to cuddle him
more than just the little touches
of knees and hands that they had
been doing through the exercise.

"The intention and outcome of
vulnerability is trust, intimacy and
connection," Stan said, sounding like
he was quoting something. He was
warm and snuggly, the way their bodies
pressed together at the seams. "So yeah."

"How do you feel about it?" Lawrence asked
as he handed the fetish back to Stan.

"Like I really, really need to use the bathroom,"
Stan said, blushing. "For about ten minutes."

Lawrence reached up and kissed him
on the cheek. "I love you too," he said.
"I'm going downstairs to write up
the summary for Mr. Marshall."

Of course, after he went downstairs,
Lawrence headed right for the powder room
to splash some cold water on his face.

He wasn't aroused enough to need
a quick finish (but oh god, the thought
of Stan upstairs taking himself in hand
was shower fodder for a month) and not
about to do it in a friend's home anyhow,
so he just willed it away as fast as he could.

Lawrence was typing up his summary
of the homework for Mr. Marshall
when Stuart came out of the office --
drawn by the sound of running water,
Lawrence realized with embarrassment.

Stuart looked over his shoulder.
"You really did talk it all out, didn't you?"
he said. "I'm proud of you for that."

"Yeah, the assignment went pretty well
for us ... um ... Stan is going to be
a few more minutes," Lawrence said.
He still wasn't sure what to make
of anyone praising him.

"You know how some parents
are always saying that nobody is
good enough for their son?" Stuart said,
giving Lawrence's shoulder a warm squeeze.

"Yeah, I guess?" Lawrence said,
suddenly worrying that he was about
to get kicked out of the house after all.

"I respectfully disagree."

Lawrence was left staring at
Stuart's back as the older man left,
wondering what just happened.

* * *


"The intention and outcome of vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection."
-- Brene Brown

Here is Stan's house. See the exterior, main floor, and upper floor. When Stan is 16, his sisters are 11, 9, and 7. The three girls share the master bedroom, which has its own big bathroom, which makes for less competition. Stan has the bedroom next to that, and his parents have the one on the opposite side of the hall.

Terramagne-America provides plenty of teen relationship education on topics such as healthy relationships and the skills to build them. Here's a manual on life planning and relationships. Coaching Boys into Men has cards and a handbook. This is a guide to a healthy relationship.

The classes usually hand out worksheets, some for singles, some for couples. Here's one on what makes a relationship work. This site offers worksheets on what you want to do (page 1 and page 2), what turns you on, sexy talk, fantasies, boundaries, and intersections. They also come in PDF format.

In this scene, Stan and Lawrence are doing intellectual foreplay. For typically sexual folks, this may be uninteresting to pretty exciting. For orientations that run based more on the mind than the body -- like demisexual and asexual -- it can be smokin' hot stuff. Really. There are people who feel about this the way most young men feel about XXX videos, and Stan is one of them. Lawrence is coming along for the ride. (He has a sapiosexual streak.) You can practice intellectual foreplay with your partner using these questions.

Demisexuality is an orientation in which people don't experience sexual attraction until after a close relationship develops. Many demisexual people are also demisensual, preferring slow deep friendships to fast casual ones. Here are some signs of being demisexual. Another one that I've noticed: demisexuals who have tried casual sex often describe as a disappointing waste of time and can't understand why anyone enjoys it.

Door hangers are helpful in communicating among a busy household. Stan has a football, the girls have a princess motif, and their parents have a stop sign.

Sitting together can be an intimate experience. Lawrence is borrowing some poses from couples yoga. Watch a video about yoga for partners.

Eye gazing is another exercise for couples meditation. It has many benefits, such as increased bonding, but people who are unprepared or uncomfortable with intimacy may find it overwhelming.

Emfriend is a gender-neutral term for someone you're dating, the equivalent of boyfriend or girlfriend. This is related to a gender-neutral pronoun set (ey, em, emself, eirs), sometimes called Spivak pronouns.

See little!Stan with the butterfly.

Being your best self is important. Take steps to become your best self and bring that to your relationships. A healthy relationship should bring out the best in each other. As Stan and Lawrence are discovering, this is a rewarding process, but it is not always comfortable.

It is possible to get rid of an unwanted erection. Lawrence had a few intensely unpleasant experiences as a young teenager, and damn well practiced until he could gain control of his dick.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, romance, weblit, writing
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