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Author's Note

Well, it's finally done. My apologies to everyone for taking as long as I have to finish this final chapter. And thank you to everyone who emailed me about the story.

I agree to the terms above.

…And Dream My Dreams of You

by Jay B.

Chapter 6

I remember this much: I’m looking for something. The hallways of the school are familiar, but configured differently. Things have been rearranged. Empty, wide and very bright, the hallways stretch out before me and there is no sign of an exit.

As I walk, I remember more. I remember that I am looking for a classroom, a teacher…something like that. The end-of-class bell has rung a long time ago and I know that at any minute I will be late, but it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. The halls are empty: no lockers are open, no one is walking around, no doors are opened to me. I try to move faster, but no matter how hard I try, nothing happens. It’s like I’m wading through some sort of invisible goo that slows down my movements. It’s frustrating, but at least now I remember where I am going, what I am there to do. I need to drop a class. I will tell the teacher I can’t take the class anymore. I feel vaguely worried there might be a problem with this, so I begin to rehearse what I’ll say to sound convincing:

“I just don’t have time anymore,” I reason aloud. Some leaves drift across my path, and give off a dry crackle beneath my feet.

“This class just has so much work and it’s taking away from all my other classes, from my whole life, even,” I say. “Besides, I’m not even any good at it. I don’t want to fail…I just can’t”. I wonder if this sounds convincing.

“Sometimes you just fail. It’s okay to repeat it. You worry about your GPA too much,” my dad says, stretching the edge of the cover over the corner of the pool and snapping the clip into the anchor bolt. He sighs as he stands up and admires his handiwork. We’re in the back yard.

“No more swimming for the year. Too cold,” he says. Leaves drift down from the trees and roll across the pool cover in the breeze, roll across the patio and the lawn. There seem to be dead leaves everywhere.

“But if I fail, what about college?” I ask.

My dad holds his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. It’s one of those too-bright autumn days. Everything is arid, crisp and cool

“College will wait,” he says.

“So I shouldn’t drop the class?”

“I can’t tell you that. All I can say is…”

I rolled over and blinked my eyes. The bedside clock came into focus reading 8:50. My room was cold and the bluish morning light made everything look as if it were frozen. In my head, pieces of a dream began to assemble themselves. It seemed basically meaningless, but whenever I thought about the dream, I still felt sad for some reason. Anyway, I couldn’t remember how it ended and at least I wasn’t having those other dreams any more…those dreams about him. In a way, though, there was something depressing about that too.

I threw some clothes on and went down to the kitchen. The house was quiet. By the coffee pot there was a note from Mom saying she and Dad had gone out for a walk. I poured myself a cup and grabbed a doughnut from the kitchen.

In the breakfast nook I sat there and munched absentmindedly on the doughnut and drank the coffee. In the back yard, the maple tree had begun to shake down its wine-colored leaves. The pool was covered over, the lawn dry and brown.

I thought about a conversation I’d had with Phillip a few days ago in the parking lot before school. He had said he was disappointed that Jake didn’t want me near him, but that Jake just refused to talk about it.

“I even told him what you did,” Phil said, “how awesome you were, how you talked to his friends and got them to come around.”

“And what did he say?” I asked.

“He mumbled something…’that’s Paul for you,’ something like that. He wouldn’t repeat it. Just told me to say ‘thank you.’ I mean, what the fuck? Thank you? ‘That doesn’t really cut it,’ I told him and he just said that was all he had. What’s that even mean? ”

We walked in silence for a while.

“God, I don’t get it!” Phil said. “He’s really pissing me off, but his life’s kind of rough right now so I don’t want to push it, you know? I guess his dad’s not really talking to him and isn’t coming to any of his games. Plus plenty of people still act like he’s some freak or something.”

Phil stopped and looked around, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck. He looked at me for a moment, then down at the ground.

“Tim, uh, Tim’s been hanging around with him a lot, though,” he said.

Tim fucking Matthews.

There was a silence Phillip must have been expecting me to fill, and when I didn’t he went on, “I guess that’s good. Kinda. Jake has some company, right? People are talking about Tim too now, but I don’t think he cares much about that.”

I wouldn’t have cared either, I wanted to shout. But I spoke quietly, calmly instead.

“Yeah, glad he’s not alone. Glad…you guys are hanging out with him and all, watching out for him,” I said.

I smiled, but I don’t think I’d wanted to cry like that since I was a freshman or something. And it was then I realized I needed to let go.

But damn it was hard to do that. In the last couple of weeks a kind of loneliness had settled into my life. I still had friends; I still did basically the same things, but it felt like I was just trying to rearrange stuff in my life to cover a gaping hole somewhere. And it wasn’t like I was doing it well. I’d listen to a new CD and think about telling Jake about it before my mind even realized what it was doing. In calculus a few days before-the one class we had together-the teacher said something so unbelievably stupid that my head swiveled around automatically, a smile on my big stupid face, all ready to share a laugh with Jake when I realized what the hell I was doing and caught myself. He was just staring out the window anyway. I wondered if he’d even heard it. And then, to top it all off, I started to worry that he wasn’t paying attention in the one class he sucked at, before I realized it was none of my business anymore.

And what made me sad was that the special something we shared-whatever it was-was gone and I knew it would never come back, that the best that I could hope for was I would just think about what I’d lost less and less as time went on. There was something so fucking unfair about that. And I wondered if maybe this, too, was what being an adult felt like: another change that just made life more complex and more sad somehow. It frustrated me that everything inside me that had to do with him, everything that used to feel so beautiful and hopeful was slipping away. And now when I looked back at all those hours I’d spent hoping that he would tell me he loved me, dreaming up outlandish scenarios-a heartfelt confession he’d make while we drifted in the pool one hot summer afternoon, the sudden kiss he’d give me when we were alone outside under a million stars, the way he’d come on to me in the showers after some lucky soccer practice-God, all of it seemed so stupid and pathetic! Nothing but blind faith in someone, and for what? There was nothing noble or romantic about it asI had always believed.

And Philip was on crack if he thought Jake was in love with me. Phillip telling me about Tim just confirmed what I knew anyway, which was that Tim was hanging around Jake more now, gradually taking my place, I’m sure. That was the biggest, cruelest joke of all. Jake was gay. He just didn’t love me and he had no interest in loving me. And any chance I’d had, even to just keep him as a friend, I ruined with my stupid grudge. It had all been a waste. That’s what I couldn’t get out of my head, what kept me awake at night, what made me not want to hang out with anyone anymore: the amount of time I’d wasted wanting more from Jake than I had, the amount of heartache I’d caused myself, and in the process, how I’d ruined what would probably be the best friendship I would ever have. If I could only…if he would have just…

Hell, I really just didn’t want to think about that anymore. What I needed to do was move on, starting with finishing my damn doughnut and getting showered and dressed. I had promised Liz I would go with her to the mall and she’d be showing up soon. I had also decided I’d tell her everything.

Out in the yard the wind scattered dead leaves around and I sighed thinking about how I’d probably end up getting stuck with the rake this weekend.

“So, let me get this straight,” Liz said. “You talked all his friends into being, well, friends with him again…”

“Yeah, but he didn’t know I did that…” I said, maneuvering the car into an empty space in the mall parking lot .

“Okay, I go that. So then he tells you he hates you now, because you told him you hated him earlier?”

I threw the car in park and switched off the ignition.

“Well, he didn’t exactly say he hated me. He said…I don’t know. I couldn’t quite figure it out. Not wanting me around. Not wanting me to ‘get mixed up’ in something or other. I don’t know. Basically, he told me not to talk to him anymore.”

Silence followed my clarification. Liz’s stared out of the passenger-side window and I jiggled my keys like I always do when I’m nervous.

“So, what do you think about all this?” I asked.

“I’m still trying to get my head around you being gay and all,” she sighed. She unbuckled her seat belt and leaned over.

“And I am pissed, Paul,” she said, smacking me in the shoulder, “that you waited this long to tell me! What kind of a friend do you think I am?”

“I know. I suck. I’m sorry, okay? I’m telling you now, at least. And I am spending my valuable free time to take you to the mall to buy this homecoming dress. That’s got to count for something, right?”

“Oh please. Now that Jake’s gone it’s not like you have anything else to…” she began to say, before bringing a hand to her mouth and scrunching up her face. “Oh, sorry Paul. Shouldn’t have said that.”

“Nah, it’s okay.”

Fuck okay, it’s true, I thought. We wandered into the mall.

“So, you going to ask anyone to homecoming?”

“Heh. Yeah, right,” I snorted

“No, I’m serious,” she said. “Lot’s of girls think you’re hot. Why not ask Kelly? You know she likes you.”

“I’m pretty sure Kelly McGore has better things to do than be some gay guy’s cover for homecoming.”

“Well, ask Phillip then. You said he likes you too.”

I looked at her like she was crazy.

“No, I’m serious, Paul,” she insisted.

“Liz, he’s not out and neither am I. I’m saving that for college. And…and I just don’t think I’m ready for anything serious yet.”

“Who says anything about being serious? Just have a good time, no strings attached.”

“Liz, not all gay guys are like that, okay?”

She was silent for a moment, and I figured I’d shamed her into dropping the conversation.

“You would have been!” she burst out, almost laughing. “You said you would have hooked up with Phillip except you were passed out drunk.”

“See Liz, this is why I don’t tell you anything,” I said.

Crossing the parking lot after school a few days later, I saw Phillip again. He waved and jogged up to me.

“Hey Paul. What’s up?”

“Nothing. Just going home, I guess.”

“Haven’t seen you around much,” he said. There was an accusatory undertone to that and I felt myself getting a little angry, until I realized that I hadbeen kind of avoiding him.

“Yeah, I guess I’ve been busy.”

“Oh. You doing anything this weekend?” he asked.

I raised an eyebrow.

“No, not like a date or anything,” he laughed, “I mean, unless you wanted to…”

That brought me up short. After all, why not? My first reaction when Liz brought it up at the mall had been to say no, but what was I waiting for? Sure, Phillip was kind of difficult to get along with sometimes (mostly because he was so damn bossy) but basically he was a good guy where it counted.

But that would mean moving on and I was still holding out hope, wasn’t I? A little voice in my head still telling me maybe he’ll show up on your doorstep one day and apologize and tell you he loves you and everything will be okay again. Letting go would mean saying goodbye to that hope. Was I ready to do that? Why hadn’t I done that already? Wasn’t I supposed to be doing that? Phillip must have seen the indecision on my face.

“Never mind, forget it. If you’re interested, Paul, you can let me know. I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that.”

“Nah, man. It’s okay. I really appreciate everything you’ve done, Phil. I know I seem like I’m being such a baby about this.”


“Yeah, I am,” I insisted.

“Well, maybe a little,” he allowed. “I just don’t get what you’re waiting for, you know? It seems like Jake’s made his choice. Looking at you, I think it’s totally the wrong choice, but that’s him. None of us can do anything about that. So why wait around for someone that’s not ever gonna show up?”

I tried to explain it as best I could. Not because Phillip was wrong, because he wasn’t, but to try and make him understand why it was so hard.

“Jake…he’s my best friend, you know?” I said slowly. “Or he was. But he was more than that, too. I never knew why, but he always watched out for me. Maybe like a big brother? I’ve never had one, so I don’t know. But it wasn’t just that either. Because he always looks out for everyone, right? But with me it was like…”

“It was different,” Phil guessed.

“It was special. It felt…deeper, and I guess it was. And I took that awesome friendship and I had all these—I don’t know—these fucked-up, crazy dreams that it was more than that. That he might love me. Maybe that’s why I took it so bad when he flipped out, I don’t know.”

We stopped by the edge of the tennis courts. The sky was impossibly blue; a single long ribbon of cloud from a jet cut an oblique line across the horizon. For no reason I remembered Jake liked fall as much as I did, though for different reasons: football for him and…well I didn’t know exactly why I liked it. Just that days like this stirred something inside me.

“He doesn’t though,” I said and sighed. “Love me, I mean. You were wrong about that Phil. I know he doesn’t feel the way I do.”

Phillip nodded.

“So, you still…like, love him?” he asked.

“Yeah, still, I guess. But I know I need to move on and I’m going to. Listen, you’re a nice guy, Phil. And I think I would like to get to know you better. I just…for now…”

“Just friends?”

“I know, I keep saying that. And, if someone better comes along, don’t wait for me. But I…I do want to get to know you better Phillip. But I need to sort some stuff out in my mind first.”

He nodded. We’d stopped in front of the school. I fumbled in my pocket for my keys, figuring I’d better get going.

“Can I ask you something?” he said.


“What’s it like? To feel that way about someone?”

I had to think about this for a while.

“It used to be, I dunno, this wantthat lived inside me and it was always so frustrating, to want what I couldn’t have. But there was also something beautiful about it. It made me want to be better than I was, it made me realize that it was okay to get close to someone. And when Jake was around, everything felt so alive, you know? Seeing him smile at me, it made my insides just twist up with this feeling that was painful, but felt good somehow, too.”

I shook my head.

“I dunno man, I can’t describe it better than that. But now that everything has gone to hell, I can tell you: it’s the worst thing in the world loving someone who doesn’t love you back, knowing they won’t ever love you back.”

Phillip was quiet for a while. It was almost like he was deciding something, because when he looked at me he smiled a little and nodded his head.

“Thanks, man, for telling me that. I know it’s kind of personal. Listen, maybe you need to get your mind off it for a while, you know? What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing, I guess,” I said.

“Cool. I’m having a little get-together, just a couple of the guys. Do a little grilling; drink a couple of beers, you know? Mom and dad are out of town. It’s nothing big, though.”

“I don’t know…”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “Jake’s not gonna be there.”

“I’ll try and come, okay?”

“Awesome. I really hope you do. Anytime after eight, all right?”

“Thanks, Phil.”

“No prob, buddy,” he said. Then he smiled and ruffled my hair. “You’re a good guy Paul, you really are.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

That afternoon I went along with my dad to the Home Depot. Mom had apparently bothered him one too many times about getting the deck fixed. He found a large cart and headed over to the lumber area. I tagged along. We hadn’t said much for a while.

“Oh, by the way. Philip invited me over to his house tonight. I was thinking I might go.”

“Okay,” my dad said. “Just be home by midnight, okay?”

I nodded.

“Here, give me a hand with this, will you, Paul?”

Together we hoisted several two-by-sixes onto the cart.

“You sure don’t wanna have, like, an actual carpenter do this?” I asked.

“I think I’ll manage,” he said and chuckled. In the check-out line, I noticed Mr. Benningfield, Jake’s dad, a couple of registers over. He waited while the clerk scanned some bags of plant food. He noticed me a few seconds later. My back stiffened involuntarily and I stared at him. I don’t know exactly what went through his mind when he saw me—it looked like he had started to smile. But if so, it died on his lips, which froze, then sunk into a frown. I watched him coldly a little bit longer, then turned my back to him without any indication he was someone I’d ever known.

The way out the door led right by him.

“Hello, Ned,” my dad said good-naturedly enough. Ned Benningfield nodded politely and we were out the door. In the bright sunshine of the parking lot, I realized my fists were still clenched. I stretched my fingers out and shoved my hands into my pockets. When we found the SUV, we loaded everything up then got in.

“I noticed you didn’t say anything to Ned,” my father observed. I nodded.

He started the car and looked over at me.

“You have something against him?” he asked.

“Probably,” I muttered.

Of course my dad knew, in a general way, what was going on with Jake so I realized there wasn’t much reason in holding out on him.

“Philip says Mr. B found out about Jake. Now he isn’t talking to him or coming to any of his games.”

Dad didn’t say anything, but he frowned.

“I guess I’m pretty lucky, huh?” I asked.

“Everyone has their own stuff to deal with, Paul,” he said sternly. “But you’re right, Jake has it rough. I feel bad for him.”

“Yeah, me too,” I admitted. “But, I’ve also decided I’m over him.”

“Over him?”

“Yeah,” I said, “As in not waiting around hoping he’ll come around.”

“You don’t think he’ll come around?” dad asked.

“No, I don’t think so. Not anymore.” No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t say that the way I wanted to: calmly, passionlessly, like telling someone what time it was.

The car came to a stop at a red light and my dad looked over at me.

“I’m sorry, Paul, I really am. I was young once, believe it or not, and I remember what it’s like to get your heart broken. But I’m proud of how you’ve handled it.” He reached over and ruffled my hair, just like Philip had earlier.

Speaking of which, I could have killed Phil. In the first place, Jake totally wasthere that night, and in the second place it was going to be hard to avoid him, since there were only six or seven other guys there-team mates or friends of Jake’s who stood by him. Good guys, I guess, but I’d hardly spoken to any of them since everything went to hell. I couldn’t imagine what they thought of me…if they believed the rumors about me. And in the third place, I was pissed that this whole thing made me look bad in the eyes of people I respected, people who were here tonight, while all the homophobes in the school probably thought I was their hero. Although I guessed that last thing was really Jake’s fault, I was kind of mad that Phil had invited me over where he must have known I’d be uncomfortable. My eyes shot daggers at Phil as he led me into the den where everybody was hanging out. He shrugged and gave me a what can I do? look which I didn’t buy for one second.

Some of the guys were hanging out playing Madden on Phil’s Xbox, the rest were playing pool. Most had a can of beer.

“Didn’t think you were coming,” Phil boomed with a forced cheeriness and clapped a hand on my back. The looks I got from everyone else weren’t exactly friendly. Jake, I noticed, just stared intently at the TV, pretending to concentrate on the game except the controller hung slack in his hands. Yeah, really fucking awkward.

“Want a burger?” Phil asked.

“Nah, I’m cool,” I muttered.

“Listen, thanks for coming Paul, I totally appreciate it, ” Phil said quietly enough that we’d be the only ones to hear.

“I hate you Phil,” I said. He smiled.

“C’mon, let’s play some pool.”

Over at the table, I leaned uncomfortably against the wall and checked my watch for what must have been the tenth time. “Just another ten minutes, then I’ll make some excuse to leave,” I promised myself. Philip had just gone up stairs for another beer. At that point, Bill James, one of Jake’s football teammates came over and stood next to me. He was a big hulk of a guy, and had always been a good friend of Jake’s.

“Surprised to see you here, Matheson,” he said.

“Phil invited me.” I replied.

“Yeah, but you actually had the nerve to show up.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

He laughed. “You better be careful, Paul,” was his cryptic response. I didn’t like it one bit. I’m usually the one trying to keep fights from getting started rather than escalating things, but tonight was different. I felt irritable, pissed at Phil more than anyone else, but Phil wasn’t here at the moment. I stood in front of Bill and looked him right in the eye, fully conscious that he was only an inch or two taller than me and a lot heavier.

“Listen, Bill, you got something to say to me, say it. Otherwise, shut your fucking mouth. I have as much right to be here as you.”

Things—as they sometimes do—got ugly quickly.

“You’re a lying piece of shit. I heard what you did to Jake,” Bill said. “And I’ve heard what you’ve said about him,” he said, and shoved me. Not really hard, it was more of a warning. I was too pissed to listen to any warning, though.

“Listen to me, fucker,” I said, getting right in his face. “You don’t know shit. I don’t care what you heard, I have never, ever done anything to Jake or said anything about him and if you say that again, I swear to God I’ll kill you. You think I’m kidding? You think I won’t? Try me, shit head.”

Before things could go any further, someone had pushed their way between us.

“Leave him alone, Bill,” I heard someone say.


“I said drop it, dude. He hasn’t done anything. None of that shit is true, so leave him alone.”

“Okay, man, okay. I just heard…”

“You heard wrong,” Jake said. “Leave him alone.”

“Okay, sorry, man, I was just lookin’ out for ya,” Bill said helplessly.

“It’s okay, Bill. Just…forget about it, okay?”

I looked around. Everyone’s eyes were on us. Phil had come back down stairs.

“Everybody chill, okay?” he piped up nervously. “Nobody here needs to have a problem with anybody else, got it?”

I caught my face in a mirror hanging above a little bar Phillip’s parents had set up next to the pool table. I was white with rage and when I looked down, I could see my hands were shaking. “What was I about to do?” I wondered. I looked up and caught Jake staring at me. He looked away and walked towards the stairs.

“I’m going to go grab a burger. Anyone want one?” he asked.

“I’ll go with you,” a voice called out. It was Tim Matthews. At the same moment I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Phillip’s. I felt lost in a daze.

“Hey uh, Tim, before you do that, can you grab another two cases of beer out of the fridge upstairs and bring ‘em down, man? We’re running kinda low here,” Philip asked.

“Oh yeah, uh, okay,” Tim said, looking a little confused.

“Go,” Phillip whispered.

“Huh?” I asked, uncomprehending.

“Go, dude. He’s out there alone.”

“What? No way man! What are you trying to do?” I blurted.

“Paul, listen to me. Go. Talk. To. Him.”

“What the hell, Phil? First you’re telling me I need to get over him, now this?”

Phillip sighed.

“Listen, just please talk to him, okay? Just trust me here: say what you’ve wanted to say to him. That’s all you have to do. Just hurry and go before Tim comes back.”


“Paul, stop being a pussy. Go”

I went. I was totally confused, but I went. Did Philip know something I didn’t?

Phillip’s house used to be a farm, and he had a back yard that went on forever. From the deck, I could see the lawn slope down into the woods. At the margin, a bonfire was burning. The grill was on the patio by the house but no one was there. However, someone was further down the yard, silhouetted against the fire. I thought I recognized the shadow and with a deep breath, I headed towards it. “What do you think this is going to accomplish?” the little voice in my head warned. Closure, I hoped.

He must not have heard me walking down the path, but he whirled around when a twig snapped beneath my feet. I stepped closer and come into the circle of light cast by the fire.

I wondered if I might see anger on his face, but instead it was that same sorrow as before. Whatever speech I’d rehearsed on the way down the hill vanished in the face of this look of his. Instead, my insides pinched with a familiar feeling and I wanted to hold him in my arms. No matter how much I hated that that urge, I suddenly realized, it was a part of me, impossible and stupid as that was.

I stood at the edge of the fire. Jake watched me for a while, then sat down on one of the logs that were circled around the fire. I took a seat across from him.

“Sorry about what happened back there,” he said. “And thanks too. Phillip told me what you did at lunch the other day…talking to everyone. Thank You.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied. We sat there awkwardly, looking to all the world like two strangers who’d run out of things to say. Only I had a million things to tell him. I just couldn’t think of any of them at the moment.

“Look, Paul. I think I should go home,” he said.

“But…” I tried to interrupt.

“Trust me, it’s what needs to happen.”

Finding my voice, I spoke: “No it’s not, man! You’re wrong.”

“Paul” he sighed, “my life is shit now, okay? So just let me get out of here and be glad you realized I was a fuck-up and got away from me, all right? “

“That’s stupid,” I said simply.

“No it’s not. Trust me. I appreciate what you’ve done, what you’re trying to do. But it’s way past that now. Everything’s just screwed now.”

“Is that what this is about? How is everything screwed, Jake?” I asked.

“Everybody’s talking about me, Paul.”

“So? Let ‘em talk. When did that ever bother you?”

“A bunch of them won’t speak to me any more.”

“Fuck em. You got friends here tonight.”

“And my dad? Fuck him, too? ‘Cause he’s not talking to me either. Now he just looks at me like he’s ashamed of me,” he said, and I heard a raw, unbridled pain in his voice, challenging me: what can you say to this?

“I’m sorry,” I said and knew it was appallingly inadequate. I didn’t know the first thing about what he’d been through. In a certain way, I’d been really lucky.

“I’m sorry too,” he said bitterly. “This is the worst thing I ever did. Well, the second worst…”

He watched the fire burn for a while.

“The worst thing I did, I did to you,” he said quietly.

“Jake, it’ll get better, man. I know it will. Look, if you’re mad at me…”

“It won’t get better. And I’m not fucking mad at you Paul. How could I be?”

Jake laughed bitterly and poked at the bonfire with a stick. A cloud of sparks whirled upwards into the darkness.

“Paul, you just don’t get it. Nobody…nobody sees me now. When people look at me, they don’t see the guy they’ve know for years. They just see some fag. Even the ones tonight. They just feel sorry for me. I don’t want that to happen to you, Paul, and if you keep hanging around me, it’s gonna. I know you’ll say you don’t care if people find out, but you don’t know what it’s like. Trust me, you don’t want to…and I won’t let you,” he said fiercely.

“Then why’d you do it Jake? Why did you try to…with that guy? And why didn’t you deny it, man? Everybody would have believed you.”

Jakes glanced up at me. The flames were reflected in his dark eyes and something else burned there too. It was something familiar, I realized all of a sudden, something that was always there, hidden in plain sight, only I’d never really seen it before.

“I don’t know,” he murmured. “It’s just…I was drunk and so fucked up in the head about it and I still should have known it was a bad idea to hit on that guy. I didn’t even wanna do anything with him. Not ‘cause he wasn’t gay…”

Jake looked at me sheepishly. “I’m pretty sure he was,” he said quickly, “but I guess he was nervous and then his friends overheard us and he had to act all macho and I didn’t know what I was doing and all the sudden I was in the middle of it.”

He threw a twig into the fire and sighed.

“That’s a lie,” he said. “I did know what I was doing.”

He didn’t seem inclined to go further, so I asked, “What were you doing?” “Thinking…about you,” he said.


He nodded.

“I had this dumb idea”, he said, “that if I just stopped pretending I was straight, if everybody knew, maybe you’d realize about me too. Maybe you’d see what I was going through. If I suffered enough…”

“It was so…so stupid,” he went on quickly, “and I kind of knew it was at the time. But ‘what have I got to loose?’ I thought. And the next day, when I was sober…damn, I realized it was even stupider than that.”

Maybe I had been too wrapped up in myself, or too naive—or maybe I just never looked because I never expected to see it—but Jake had done what he did for the same reason he had done so many other things: for me. It was impulsive and stupid, but in that moment he believed it was the right thing. And because he didn’t want to lie anymore, because he hoped it might make me come back to him, because it was a punishment for what he’d done to me, he pushed things with that guy and the guy had freaked out on him and suddenly his deepest secret was there for the world to see.

There was something almost unbearably sad about that. Jake’s fierce loyalty to me had always made him so strong in my eyes, so heroic; but it was a weakness too: all this time he’d been clinging to me as desperately as I’d clung to him.

I remembered that terrible moment in his room weeks ago when he found my secret. I remembered the anger that seethed in his eyes (anger I wrongly believed was meant for me) and I remembered the question he asked, and—in the asking—stripped away all the lies I’d surrounded myself with. And as he had done then, I spoke. Only this time it was as tenderly, as kindly as I could.

“Did you…do you love me, Jake?”

He was silent, his eyes downcast. The silence lengthened as he stared into the flames, but somehow that little voice of doubt that always seemed to be just over my shoulder was silent tonight. So I waited there and listened to the chirping of crickets, the crack and hiss of the flames and the movement of the wind through the trees. And in the enormity of Jake’s silence, all these things sounded distant and indistinct—music being made a whole universe away. Jake looked at me and answered.

“Yes,” he said, “God, yes.”

It was weird, because I knew how I was supposed to be feeling in that moment. I knew I was supposed to be the happiest fucking guy in the universe. And in a quiet way, maybe I was. I had shut my eyes, and when I opened them, it was like seeing him for the first time: A boy with a vulnerable, hopeful expression on his face looked back at me. To be loved that way—so fiercely, so wholly—scared me a little. I stood up and moved next to him. I took his hand in mine, feeling the tips of his fingers pressed against the tips of mine for the first time, and it was a kind of revelation. I put my other arm around his back and then I kissed him, slowly, softly. And he kissed back.

“That’s what matters Jake. You aren’t alone, man. Please don’t ever forget that,” I whispered.

And for a while, time feels like it stops. The feel of the man I love is the only thing I can think about: beneath my fingertips, beneath my lips, pulled tight against me. And when time finally starts moving forward again, I realize that we’re walking up the hill to Philip’s house. The night is spruced up with moonlight and the lawn looks bluish and wet in that marvelous light. A little wind picks up some leaves and tosses them around my feet. Jake’s hand drifts to mine and I take it, and hold it tightly in my own.

Copyright 2006. Email Jay B.

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