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This story is a fantasy. It does not intend to imply anything about the sexualities of the celebrities whom the characters may resemble.


"Would you like to start?"

The game was simple. The boys called it "tell my tall tale." Somebody starts a story--a setting, a character, a mood--and just as a semblance of a plot emerges, he stops. The next person picks up the narrative, builds it up, and then passes it on to the next player, and so on: a renga. The fun, of course, was that one never knew how the story would go. Shane, for instance, was always turning the plot into something for a cheap skin flick: peep holes, glory holes, a*sholes, p***yholes. Mark, the sentimental one, was inclined to add volatile confrontations (slap! slap!), overheard conversations, tearful good-byes (at airports or train stops, preferably, with much looking out of windows), sacrifices-melodrama, or stuff you pick up from love songs and soap operas. Nicky, who thought everything was caused by aliens, was always inserting Fox Mulder into the plot "as a guest"


Always the problem was how to come up with the ending, a task which usually fell upon the player who had had enough. How to pull all the threads together and tie them up into a knot tight, neat, and inextricable? A story must have unity, all the boys knew from their English classes, but with all the convenient accidents, sudden deaths, mistaken identities, fortuitous discoveries, alien invasions, mislaid letters (or missent email) thrown in, the labor was Herculean. How could one end a story logically and artistically? Or even to every boy's satisfaction? Mikey, the eldest, wanted "ethical" endings, but then the other boys had always thought him to be a bit of a wet blanket. He was worried that the boys were going to the bad.


"And you're going to the bald!"

-Keith, on Mikey's anxious personality

"And you're going to the bald!" Keith would tease him.

The endings, then, were usually hilarious. With so many boys steering the ship it usually just capsized-- and then the boys would tumble underwater with it, laughing as they sank. 

"And the little guy with the big eyes,... yes, Stephen, he sounds like a rodent having an orgasm"

-the potbellied agent on Stephen


But the mood tonight was not so light. There were just the two of them: Ronan and Stephen. Usually there would be five players, ten if the whole gang was there, and when Eloy, their Dutch friend, would be in town, they'd make a rowdy group, indeed.  

Ronan was leaving the next day. He was going to try his luck in N--. He and four of the boys had been singing at clubs around town, with adequate though not inordinate success. They had been making enough to pay the bills, to have a round of drinks on weekends, and to maintain modest money placements and savings. But two weeks ago, just as the air changed from mild to balmy, somebody made Ronan an offer, a potbellied talent agent who had not had a hit client in years. He heard the boys, but he wanted only Ronan. "The others don't sing, anyway," he said. "And the little guy with the big eyes... yes, Stephen, he sounds like a rodent having an orgasm."


Who knows how long Ronan would stay in N--? The business was unpredictable. He might perform in a club for a month or so, catch the press' attention, cut a record, make an album, and if that proved a hit, tour the rest of the country, which should at least last three months. He could soar to number one in the charts... or he could land on his face in a week-- all depending on what the fickle market wanted. Whatever the outcome, he wouldn't be alone. His wife Yvonne was going with him, as well as his one-year-old son Jack. But the rest of the boys were staying where they were. They took the news rather well. Nobody raised a fuss, probably because none of them thought that they had gotten anywhere in the two years that they had been singing, and they were all eager to try other things. Besides, Jack was growing up fast. Ronan would need more money, and while Yvonne's earnings as an occasional model could have easily helped defray the household expenses, Ronan would have nothing of it. He was determined to be the man of the house.

Mikey volunteered to host the farewell party. Everyone then kept raising a glass to Ronan, and "Please God" was all Ronan could say each time.

It was then that Stephen suggested they play the game one last time, just the two of them, at a little beach house that the boys had rented as a surprise for Ronan to spend his last summer in with them. "A farewell game... for luck," Stephen said, although how the game related to luck he had no clue.


"...As thick as blood..."

-Keith, describing Eloy and Stephen

So here he was, Ronan, seated across from Stephen at a small dinner table, a few candles burning and boxes of half-eaten Chinese waiting to be disposed. Yvonne and Jack were already in bed. Eloy, who had been particularly mindful of Stephen of late, would come to fetch Stephen in an hour's time. Ronan was a little anxious about his flight the next day, and was wondering why he had agreed to this. But Stephen had always managed to get him to do things. It must be because they had been friends for so long-- ten years? twelve? Even before they started the band-- when they were selling shoes at C's, reading English in school, or shelving books at the corner library-- they had been good friends. They were "as thick as blood" --that's how Keith, ever the one with a way of mixing clichés, once described them.


-Ronan, how he had suspected Stephen to be


And blood, literally, was part of their friendship. Stephen-- short, frail-looking, feminine, whiny-voiced Stephen-- was easily a target of the neighborhood bullies, the type that equates masculinity with brutality. Ronan took it upon himself to be Stephen's protector, and he let the blood flow when necessary. Although he himself wasn't big, he traded blows remorselessly and relentlessly. In his own way, he was brutal, but he was not a brute. He thought his role was apropos, for his name, he had found out, meant "warrior," and Stephen's, as every boy in the Catholic school Ronan and Stephen had gone to knew, was that of the first Christian martyr.


It wasn't as though their friendship was perfect. In many respects, they differed. Stephen's fondness for "unmanly" things-- the show tunes, the teddy bears, the jewelry, the moisturizers and creams, the soap operas, the fashion magazines, the rococo in art, the sentimental in literature, the maudlin in music-- Ronan usually regarded these with casual amusement, but sometimes they tried his patience. Such things, he knew, were what made Stephen Stephen-- the bright, refined, sentimental boy that he was-- but at those occasional trying times, they were plain "sissy stuff." Stephen, for instance, once insisted on their wearing matching outfits-- and not just on stage-- a suggestion too tacky, or camp, as he had thought then, for his more Spartan taste. Sometimes, in his less guarded moments, when Stephen's idiosyncrasies were just too much for him to take, Ronan suspected that Stephen might be what he and the other boys called, not without mockery, "queer."


It made him feel guilty to think that way of Stephen. For Stephen was also sensitive and thoughtful to a degree that astounded and-- this he had to admit-- delighted him. Stephen noticed everything. He had a way of drawing things out of Ronan the way none of the other boys could: it was Stephen who got him to admit that yes, he was in love with Yvonne, and it was to Stephen that he first revealed, over the phone, that he had married her, secretly, at a simple ceremony in the Town Hall with two strangers as witnesses. Stephen was speechless when he heard the news-- and who wouldn't be?-- but he recovered quickly and congratulated Ronan.

No, Stephen was his best friend. Why should the boy's little habits, admittedly odd, annoy him? Still, Ronan couldn't help thinking that Stephen enjoyed getting hurt if it would get his, Ronan's, attention-- a kind of unconscious, self-fulfilling, death wish. It was a horrid thought, and it made Ronan uneasy. At those times, he felt like hugging Stephen tight. He never did, however, for as quickly as the feeling came, he brushed it aside. Besides, what would Stephen think of him?


After all, he was a husband and a father now, and a family man like him observes "family time."

-Ronan, on why he might have started to  drift away from Stephen

Of late, he noticed that Stephen had grown a little distant-- just a tad so little that nobody else but he noticed it. Stephen seemed more reticent, especially when Yvonne and Jack were the topic of the conversation, as often was the case. Often Stephen just talked shop: which part to sing high, where to harmonize, how many numbers to rehearse. Ronan missed the more leisurely times he had used to share with Stephen at the beach. (The beach house reminded him of those times.) But Ronan also thought that it was probably he who was drifting away from Stephen. After all, he was a husband and a father now, and a family man like him observes "family time." He wasn't one of those "Bernard Shaw types" who thought themselves too high for the domestic life.

He wasn't one of those "Bernard Shaw types" who thought themselves too high for the domestic life.

-Ronan, describing himself over as a husband and a father


But here he was with Stephen at the beach house where he could hear the rumble of the waves in the distance. Stephen deserved better, he thought. So what if he had made an odd request? Tonight he was going to be Stephen's best friend again-- who knows how long they both would have to wait to see each other again and play the game?

"Would you like to start?" Ronan asked again.

Stephen began: "Let's start with the characters. There were two friends: Brian and Nick. They grew up together, lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same school, took the same part-time jobs, made the same friends-- and enemies...

"Now the setting. The beach was their favorite place. They'd go there as often as they got a chance. To swim, of course. They were very good swimmers. Eat hotdogs. Watch the sunset. Take long walks. Watch people. Rescue the drowning ones... But what was so special about the beach? Every time they looked at it, miles and miles of it, endless, they thought it all must lead somewhere. There was something beyond the sand and the water and the sky. The beach was their haunt, with its breezes and smells..."


"'A mile of warm sea-scented beach.'"

"Yes. That's Browning, isn't it?" Stephen recited the rest of the poem: 

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears.
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And a blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each.


"Funny, I was just reading it in Palgrave before you arrived," Ronan remarked.

"Well, there's a meeting here, too, only it doesn't happen at night. One day, Nick gets a letter from a distant cousin he hasn't met in years-- strange thing, really, because they weren't ever really close. It was a letter asking for a meeting. And it read..."

Ronan took the cue. "It read:


Dear Cousin Nick, 

I know I haven't written you in years-- in fact, I've never written you at all-- but our family is moving out of S-- (the value has crashed so badly!), and while we're looking for a permanent place, I've decided to deposit myself in town with cousin Kevin and Aunt Delia. (We're nearly demented; prices have gone up so steeply! This IS the Age of Property.) I happened to hear from our dear cousin that you live in the neighborhood, and would you be so kind to let me pay you a visit?'"


Ronan had put on a girlish whine, and he could see that Stephen was suppressing a titter. 

"Mind: she was oddly brought up-- convent school, free masons, Restoration societies, cable TV, MTV, BBC, CNN, costume dramas, finishing school: all the things, in short, that make the world the rummy thing it is. She had rum notions of courtesy. And can you blame her? No? I thought not." Resuming a falsetto, Ronan continued: 




"...Convent school, free masons, Restoration societies, cable TV, MTV, BBC, CNN, costume dramas, finishing school...

-Ronan, on how Leighanne was brought up

...would you be so kind to let me play you a visit? We can make up for all the lost years. I hope that you please indulge your once distant but now nearby cousin, who is 

Yours most affectionately,

"One can forgive anybody after a good dinner, even one's relations."

-According to a good Irishman, as quoted by Ronan


"Now, Nick had just had a good dinner, and as a good Irishman once said, 'One can forgive anybody after a good dinner, even one's relations.' So he wrote her a nice invitation to meet his friend Brian. His plan, of course, was to shift the burden of entertaining his long lost and evidently odd cousin..."

"A bit of a rotter!"

"Quite. But listen here. When the time came, she surprised them both. True, she had odd notions-- I am thinking of Madeline Bassett-- but she was evidently amiable and charming. She was, in addition, quite ravishing. She was gracefully slender and tall. She had a fine figure... a model figure. Blonde hair stylishly trimmed, two rows of perfect teeth..."


Stephen realized that Ronan was describing his wife. Stephen had introduced Ronan to Yvonne after one of their gigs. Although she was a model, she preferred shopping for cheap shoes at the store where Stephen was working in at that time. ("They're much easier to run in than the stilettos they make me wear.") The two easily struck a friendship; they had a common interest in fashion. When she ended a bad relationship with a foul-mouthed biker, she came to the club where the boys were performing to distract herself. It was then that Stephen introduced her to the rest of the boys. Immediately, she and Ronan took a liking to each other. It didn't take long for the word to spread that they were in love, and soon after, they got married, secretly, because their haste, they thought, might shock their friends, which it did.

"...and Brian was besotted! He confided in Nick, but unsure how she would receive him, he told Nick to keep it a secret until he was sure of how she felt. The job of ascertaining Leighanne's feelings, of course, fell upon Nick's shoulders. And when he found out that she was feeling the same way, he was ecstatic. The man had fallen in love."

"Just like that?"

"Just so." 

"It seems implausibly swift."

"He fell in love. You know what that's like."

Stephen looked away and his cheeks colored lightly.

With a puckish smile, Ronan said, "Is there something you're not telling me, Mr. Stephen Gately? Me, your best mate?"


"Is there something you're not telling me, Mr. Stephen Gately? Me, your best mate?"

-Ronan, teasing Stephen

Stephen merely took a swig of his beer. Ronan heard the crash of a wave and realized that he had made his friend uncomfortable. The mood had suddenly shifted. He had only meant to tease, but he had touched a nerve instead. It bothered him to know that there were things he and Stephen didn't share, or that Stephen wouldn't share with him now. In the past, a remark such as Ronan's would have been an invitation, a cue, for Stephen to tell him a sob love story. Ronan had seen that same flushed expression on Stephen's face before-- when he chanced upon Stephen and Yvonne arguing, an occurrence that surprised him, as he had always thought that his best mate and his wife were thick. They seemed to him to share a world where he was the outsider, a language of looks and gestures that he could not decipher. It was Stephen, after all, who had introduced her to him. When Ronan happened to step in, Stephen apparently caught himself in mid-sentence, blushed, and left. When Ronan asked Yvonne what was wrong, she merely gave him a kiss and said, "All's well."

"All's well."

-Yvonne, when Ronan asked her if something is wrong.


Conscious that he might have hurt Stephen, Ronan tried to sound casual. "Well, if explanations are required to make the story more plausible, let me think of one... Here's something serious. Or melodramatic, if you want. No, I'm not Mark, but mark you this. (There, he's brightening up a little.) You see, Brian's mother had passed away. Everybody loves their mothers, of course; boys, specially. But Brian had never had a father, or a good one, anyhow. His father, you see, was a drunk and a wastrel. He couldn't keep a job because he couldn't spend five minutes sober. He took whatever money Brian's mother earned from keeping a dress shop. Sometimes, he'd come home very drunk and he would beat her... though I can't really explain why. He was a bas..."


Ronan paused and bit his lip.

"Don't be too hard on him, Ro," Stephen said. Suddenly, it was Ronan who needed stroking. "Yes, he was a bastard. There, I said the word for you. But you see, deep down, he was really ashamed of himself because he couldn't land a job and couldn't support the family. What kind of a man was he, he thought, if he couldn't even feed his wife and kid? Which made him drink some more and made her work harder to bring in more money, which made him feel worse. He felt emasculated. That hurts bad, right? I mean, for a man... He couldn't face her-- or himself-- so he just beat her... and sometimes Brian. I guess, that's the only language he knew to express his frustration at himself and at his rotten luck..."


Ronan listened attentively, and when Stephen stopped, he looked wistful for a moment. Then he resumed: "I see. I guess that's motivation enough. Maybe he wasn't such a beast... Well, one day he left the house and didn't come back... not a word, not a note. Maybe the pressure was too much. Or maybe he just realized that there just wouldn't be money for the pint. Not for one more drop. So Brian was left with his mum, whom he began to love even more, because he thought he had to protect her. He was, after all and in effect, the man of the house now. What he didn't know was that she was dying. She had acquired some degenerative disease, I don't know how or what. She thought the news would devastate him, so she kept it from him for a long time. But of course, he found out eventually. We all find out eventually. You can't hide pain, not for long."


"...You can't hide pain, not for long."


"No, you can't." And Stephen blushed again.

"S-s-so, she passed away eventually, and Brian naturally broke down. (What did I say wrong this time?) He was at work when the news came-- oh, he served drinks at a pub to help pay the bills-- and when he heard the news he broke down. He sobbed and sobbed and couldn't stop sobbing. He couldn't stop. It was as if he had an ocean of tears inside him... an ocean that was fathoms and fathoms deep. An immense ocean fathoms deep. 'Full fathom five thy father lies...'"

"She made him feel that she understood.  Things fell into their proper places again all of a sudden.  He fell in love.

-Ronan, on how Leighanne made Brian feel


Ronan's eyes, Stephen noticed, had reddened a little as he talked, and Stephen stopped himself from asking if it was the same ocean Ronan had felt when his mother died. The boys were playing at the club when his brother Gary came with the news. Ronan started quivering and told the boys to leave him. It pained Stephen a little, even now, two years later, to remember it. He had felt rebuffed, and he realized again, while Ronan was building the narrative, the selfishness of grief. Self-fish, he thought, a fish of a self, swimming in an immense ocean fathoms and fathoms deep.

"How sad," he remarked instead. "Cannot his friends console him?"


And Stephen again thought of the lone fish swimming in an immense ocean. 

After a cough, Ronan resumed more lightly: "So this cousin of Nick's, Leighanne, yes, she was odd, but she was what Brian needed. She was... like a breath of fresh air, as they say, a 'mile of warm sea-scented beach.' She made him laugh, because she was rummy. It wasn't just because she was beautiful, but she made him feel complete again. She made him feel that she understood. Things fell into their proper places all of a sudden. He fell in love." Ronan's face was brightening up. He was obviously playing the minstrel of romance tonight-- and was enjoying the part-- but sensing Stephen's skepticism, he added: "You remember those lines from Shakespeare we used to memorize in Miss Marmelstien's class--


She loved me for the dangers I had passed, 
And I loved her, that she did pity them.

That's what happened to them. Do you understand?"


"Of course, of course." But Stephen understood, too, how tragically that Shakespeare ended-- in jealously, murder, and suicide, as many plays do where love is the theme.

"And there's something else, too. Something mystical. Let me do a Nicky here, although I'll spare us the aliens. The connection between them goes deeper. As little kids, they had met. He was at a candy store where Leighanne's father once inspected-- he was into consultancy, which explains why he traveled a lot-- and he happened to take her with him on this trip. She was a gangly girl then, too tall for her age. She saw this somewhat dwarfish blond boy reaching for the candy. She said she'd get it for him if he kissed her. Boys at Brian's age hate girls, so he stuck his tongue out at her. Oh, he was cruel. And now, ten years later, he's begging her to kiss him. It's Fate. That's why it was so easy for them to fall in love. They had to fall in love with each other."


"...That's why it was so easy for them to fall in love. They had to fall in love with each other."


Ronan's dreamy grin revealed a crooked row of teeth. He had just described Yvonne again.

"Your turn, Steo.""They fell in love, yes, but there was trouble ahead. For what's a story without conflict? You see, Leighanne was very possessive. And she loved showing her boyfriends off, and she had had plenty. Hardly an innocent girl, this Leighanne. She had a model figure, after all, as you said. Brian wasn't exactly the perfect catch, but he was handsome, energetic, funny, promising-- and of course, there were the Fates doing their job. Surely the Fates that brought them together won't leave them miserable, she thought. (Presumptuous girl!) If Brian hadn't much to show for now, Leighanne was sure the time would come when he would. And then she could pat herself in the back for her foresight. No, I don't like that Leighanne character at all, and I'm determined to make her a villain. Now don't smirk. There's the incident of the beach..."

"...It's Mercutio versus Juliet all over again, or was it Rosalind?..."



"Again, the beach."

"It's a recurring motif. You can never have that when there are too many of us playing. 'Too many birds spoil the...' Anyway, Leighanne never got along with anyone, not even her cousin Nick, because she was so possessive of Brian. It's as though she had copyright over him. One day, to her horror, Brian disappeared. He was not in his flat, not at his office, and certainly not in her place. She looked frantically for him everywhere. Finally, she barged into Nick's place and demanded that Nick produce her 'darling Brian boy.' For all her model figure, she looked absolutely demented and desperate, like Ophelia before drowning. 


"'Search the house,' Nick told her. 'But he isn't here.'


"She was livid with rage, and Nick felt too assaulted to say anything. She was practically accusing him of stealing her boyfriend. It's Mercutio versus Juliet all over again, or is it Rosalind? Anyway, it turned out that Brian had been at the beach. He had promised to help another mate of his, Howie, at the charity volleyball tourney. He arrived in Nick's place, just as Leighanne was about to storm off. The reconciliation was soap operatic. Brian was so sorry, and Leighanne so intransigent at first. He was like a little boy being scolded by mommy, which is maybe what she was-- a substitute mommy for Brian. But then came Leighanne's turn. She started blubbering about how afraid she was of losing him. Then they exchanged kisses. All this in front of Nick, who thought the whole scene bordered on the psychotic. It was, at the very least, bad taste..."


"Jack? What a common name!"

-the other Boyzone members, on the name of Ronan's son, Jack Keating

"But they've forgiven each other," Ronan interposed. "That's the point, isn't it? And they are happier together after it, stronger."

"Do you think that's true of all relations? I mean, when a lover offends..."

"Our story.  Sweet plots turn sour sometimes... as do friendships."



"If both survive the crisis. But now to the happy ending, for it's getting late and I've a plane to catch tomorrow. One day, Brian gets a letter which read, 'Dear Mr. Brian... er..."

Ronan was never good at names. ("Jack? What a common name!" the boys had remarked when the time for his baby's christening came.)

"Try Littrel. It has an alliterative feel to it... like alliterative."



Dear Mr. Brian Littrel: Your old eccentric Aunt Agatha died yesterday and left you a tremendous fortune in trust. You will be worth 100,000 pounds a year until your 21st year, after which time the full sum of 500 million pounds will be left to you at your disposal.


Brian couldn't believe it. I can't believe it. All his life he had been living modestly, though not shabbily-- life without the fat, as it were, and it was not all the blander for that. For he had Leighanne, after all. But now this letter was to change his life..."


"But here's the catch. Brian wouldn't be given the money unless he moved to L-- and got himself a wife. He's also obligated to go to college and work in his aunt's firm, which job he hated."

Ronan groaned. "You're spoiling my story, Steo."

"Our story. Sweet plots turn sour sometimes... as do friendships."

"They don't have to." Ronan was startled by the suddenness of his own retort. It sounded almost defensive. It was his turn to pause and take an evasive swig of beer. He recalled the look on Stephen's face when he caught him and his wife apparently in a row. How swiftly that friendship soured, although the cause was still obscure to him.

"Well, what's a character without a dilemma?" Stephen continued. "Here's Brian's: to go or not to go?"


"Well, what's a character without a dilemma?... Here's Brian's: to go or not to go?"

-Stephen, giving his own rendition of Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

"Go," Ronan said. "At first it was difficult, having to adjust to the new place, the new lifestyle, and having to make new friends. Marriage-- that was not as fun as an engagement, he found out soon enough. But eventually he got used to it-- waking up beside the same woman every morning, having to put up with Leighanne's bad habits, her temper, her jealousy, buying a pair of everything... No, it wasn't a bad life. And of course, Brian became very successful. And when the money finally came, he raised a large happy family with Leighanne. The End."

"Nick deserves a better ending, something that develops his character."



"But what about Nick? You can't end the story without Nick. It would lack closure."

"Nick stays where he is and is happy. He takes the usual walk at the beach, and he stays Brian's best friend. They write, they call, Brian pays him an occasional visit. They even save some people from drowning. The End."

"No, it can't end there." Stephen's voice suddenly sounded strangely thick. "Nick deserves a better ending, something that develops his character."

"Supply it."

Stephen took a breath first before saying, "Nick is heartbroken when Brian tells him he's leaving. You see, he's in love."


"Ever the culprit, love!"

"He's in love... with Brian."


Stephen shot Ronan a look, then as quickly averted his eyes. He didn't see Ronan freezing of a sudden. "Ye-e-es, he's in love with Brian. I said they were good friends, yes, but you know how sometimes... things fall into place, as you said... rightly or wrongly."

"'It's tragic mixing friendship with romance'," Ronan remarked, trying to sound nonchalant. "Oscar Wilde."

"Oh, bother Wilde!"

"Bugger Wilde, you mean."


"He's in love... with Brian."


Stephen blushed but brushed aside the pointed witticism. "It was a muddle, you see. Nick didn't know at first that he loved Brian-- not until the threat came, the threat of losing him, that is. He didn't even know that he was that way, you know, queer. I mean, he felt much affection for Brian--those long walks in beaches, the sleepovers... and... and Leighanne was right. Women are always right when it comes to these things. She sensed that Nick loved Brian even though Brian didn't. That's why she barged into Nick's pad. She suspected that he... Brian's like most men, you see. He's rather dense..."

"...Because maybe it's not too late. Because maybe Brian will understand. Do you understand?"



Stephen rattled on incoherently, but Ronan had stopped listening. The image of Yvonne and Stephen arguing flashed before him, and suddenly he heard himself disrupting Stephen's prattling, ask in a voice louder than he had intended, "But how could I..." Then, more calmly, "I mean, how could Brian have known?"

The steel in the voice cut Stephen, but he recovered quickly and resumed, almost frantically, as though he had not heard the question. "But Nick was a bit of an idiot, too. I mean, all those years and all the time unaware... How blind he had been! And now it's too late. The man had fallen in love with someone-- and it was he who had brought them together. He felt he had to tell Brian how he feels... before Brian leaves."

"But why bring it up all of a sudden? Why mess things up?"


"Because... because..." Stephen faltered, but suddenly he blurted out, "Because he loves Brian. Because if he was going to lose Brian, he was not going to lose him without a fight. Because if he was going to live with himself, he had to be honest about his feelings. Because if he had only one chance at happiness and Brian was it, he wasn't going to let it chance pass him by. Because maybe it's not too late. Because maybe Brian will understand... Do you understand?"

To Ronan it was as though Stephen was pleading. The boy was flushing and his chest was heaving and falling. Only the dryness in his throat made Ronan realize that he had breathing heavily too.

"But why couldn't Nick have told Brian sooner? Why just then?"

Ronan's voice was calm, but Stephen sensed a hint of reproach beneath it.

"How could he, when it was to him that Brian had confided his love for Leighanne? How could he when he had brought them together? How could he when they were both his friends?"


"No, you. It's your story... I mean, you started it."

-Ronan, on ending the story.

"Still, it wasn't impossible for Nick..."

"...It was impossible. Brian made it impossible."

"...He can't tell Brian. How can he? Not when Brian is so happy starting a new life with Leighanne..."



After a long pause, Ronan remarked, "There's a crisis all right. How does it end?"

"That's up to you."

"No, you. It's your story... I mean, you started it."

"Nick phones Brian, tells him that he would like to see him one more time: there's something very important he has to tell Brian. Brian is clueless, maybe a little bothered, but tells Nick to meet him at his pad. When Nick gets there he finds Brian and Leighanne packing like the couple that they are, you know, giving each other light pecks on the cheeks and lips now and then. Brian goes up to Nick, and before Nick could say anything, he surprises him. He shows him a ring: he and Leighanne are going to get married in a fortnight. In a fortnight! But it isn't because of his aunt's will. He loves Leighanne, a hundred thousand pounds or no. He really wants to marry her."


Stephen looked straight at Ronan, who cradled the now empty beer bottle in his arms like a baby. He could tell that Ronan, looking straight back at him, was tense. He was chewing the inside of his cheeks, which gave him little dimples.


"He really wants to marry her. And... and his resolves fails. He can't tell Brian. He can't tell Brian. Not when Brian is so happy starting a new life with Leighanne. Not when Brian's getting married in a fortnight. Not when Brian's blubbering about how happy he is, where he and Leighanne will stay, how many babies they're planning to have. Not when Brian's obviously so very much in love with Leighanne. Not when Leighanne's looking at him with those pleading eyes. They were telling him, 'No, don't spoil this for me. Can't you see we're happy?' You see, Nick understands: she's a lover, just like him. They're the same. She just happens to be in love with the same stupid, obtuse, beautiful, lovable man he's in love with...

"So Brian flies to her aunt's without knowing Nick's secret... or Leighanne's. Nick still goes to the beach, but alone. When he looks out at the sea, he imagines Brian on the other side. He's a sentimental fool to the end. An ocean divides them that is fathoms and fathoms deep."

Ronan took a long, slow swig of beer. "Is that the end?"

Stephen nodded.

Ronan sat silent for a moment, looking away, the beer bottle like a baby in his arms. He could hear the waves crashing against the shore again, relentlessly. "Who was it who said that in fiction anyway two men can fall in love and be happy for the ever and ever that fiction affords?"


"Who was it who said that in fiction anyway two men can fall in love and be happy for the ever and ever that fiction affords?"


"Can't remember." Stephen got up and took his jacket. He, too, heard the crash of the waves and thought he must be getting home. Just then the boys heard Eloy's car honking. 

"Good night,..."

-Ronan, his farewell to Stephen


"I guess I must go. Have a happy trip, Ro."

"Thanks." Ronan showed him to the door, but before opening it, hugged him. It startled Stephen as much as it surprised Ronan. He had never hugged Stephen that tightly before, and he almost buried his face in Stephen's hair.

"Good night," he whispered in Stephen's ear.


"Good night, Ro."


He watched Stephen walk to the car. Eloy waved a halloo from the driver's seat. Then, the car sped away and the dark swallowed it. Ronan opened a window to let in the sea breeze. In it wafted, bringing the smell of summer and the sound of the perpetual waves. Alone, Ronan felt perturbed but inarticulate. He felt that an opportunity had just slipped pass him, yet tomorrow he was flying to N-- with wife and son. And wasn't that his dream? 


"Good night, Ro..."

-Stephen, as he left Ronan

The tick-tock of the clock reminded him that he must turn in. He had a mid-morning flight to catch. After clearing the table, he took up the book he had been reading before Stephen arrived. Turning to the page he had marked, he came upon the sequel to the poem that Stephen had recited.

Round the cape of the sudden came the sea,
And the sun looked over the mountain's rim:
And straight was the path of gold for him,
And the need of a world of men for me.



          T h e   E n d          




The author thanks Jonathan Andrew Ybanez for converting the story to the present format.

The story is partly inspired by "The Summer Knows," a song composed by Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman, and interpreted by Barbra Streisand. For the lyrics, please visit: www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/SongUnid/FFCE94238D3EB577482568690028A978

The two poems are "Meeting at Night" and "Parting at Morning," both by Robert Browning.  The full texts can be found at www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/browning.html#poems.

Comments are welcome.  Please send them to keating101@yahoo.com.


jonathan andrew ybanez