Chapter 24

"It hit me too."

I think those four words threw me harder than Drew's story had. They didn't say anything clearly. But of all the possible things Brian could have written to me, of all the possible things I feared he'd say--along with the possibility that he wouldn't reply at all--those four words were beyond all my hopes.

Still, I didn't know how to respond to his e-mail, so at first I didn't.

Of course, the words themselves were ambiguous. Even given that I had something of an understanding of Brian from back in the day, and remembered how he'd seemed to think of me when we were best friends, it still wasn't completely possible to figure out what he was trying to tell me.

But it was enough. He clearly wasn't trying to tell me, "Go away." And he clearly felt at least a version of the sledgehammer effect I'd experienced reading Drew's story.

That was enough for now. I'd figure out the next step eventually.

* * * * * * * * *

I got an e-mail from Drew the next week.  He mentioned that he was getting too many e-mails about Rip Current to answer them all individually, so he was starting a Yahoo! group.  Through the group, he could let readers know when a new chapter was coming out, and there would be a forum where they could "talk" to him and to each other. His e-mails had showed him that people's individual journeys were incredibly varied, but he'd also seen that there were things those journeys had in common. He thought the group might be a good experience in bringing his readers together with each other. He gave me the URL and invited me to join.

I'd never gone near a Yahoo! group of any kind, so I had no idea what to expect. I was intrigued, though. It had never occurred to me that I might not be the only reader who'd had his head messed up by Rip Current.  I clicked on his hyperlink and signed up as a member of "Drew's Domain," as he called it.


* * * * * * * * *

The conversation there was amazing; the group was amazing. It was an odd experience for me, unlike any I'd had before. Before I knew it, I was connecting with a bunch of incredibly intelligent strangers, strangers who talked about things I just didn't talk about in my regular life. It struck me that it would feel great to get some of that stuff off my chest. I also realized that I wouldn't have to look any of these people in the eye, and because of that, I'd be able to keep it primarily intellectual rather than emotional. I couldn't have dealt with any of it on an emotional level; I thought it might feel safe, though, to talk about things I needed to get off my chest if I could view it as some sort of academic exercise.

Personalities began to emerge from the posts. The first and most obvious was Drew's. As the moderator, he was the most frequent poster, and anyway, the whole group sort of came together around his story, so it figures that he'd be the central player. What intrigued me about him, though, was that he was interested in so many things, and seemed to be able to say something worthwhile about all of them. As a result, he seemed to attract members who liked doing the same kind of thing. I'd never been a member of a Yahoo! group before, but I wondered if there were groups that had as many smart people as this one appeared to. 

Many of the guys were married; some of those were gay; a couple were even straight; a good number were bisexual. That surprised me--were there actually that many people whose sexuality lay in that cloudy area between gay and straight? Some had managed to work out reasonable resolutions for themselves; some were still troubled, hiding from the world, from their spouses; some had good marriages, some had bad. Some weren't married. A good number of Drew's members were merely "lurking," along for the ride. But the ones who participated in the discussions all had incredibly insightful things to say about their situations; they all had things to say that I needed to hear.

There was a guy from Texas named Duane, a wisecracking goofball. Married and gay and closeted, he had a Barbra Streisand fetish and a corny way of throwing out oddball Yiddish expressions just for the hell of it. I thought that was weird, because his background was Irish. He seemed to have appointed himself the group's resident comedian. His dumb sense of humor annoyed me sometimes, but his personality was strangely endearing. Late-thirtysomething, he was a white-collar professional from a Houston suburb, and he seemed to be struggling to figure out who he was and how to make his way through life as a married gay man. He talked like a life-of-the-party guy, but I could see the pain leaking through the wisecracks. Man; the things we do to ourselves. The things the world does to us.

There was Tony; he was a married guy with a couple of decades on me. He lived in the UK and was also a successful businessman. Tony was smart and opinionated. He was deeply wounded, too, I could tell; but he had a compassionate heart, maybe because he was deeply wounded; who knows? And he had this astounding way of just dumping things out there on the table that I'd have died before I admitted if I'd been in his shoes. He openly discussed his vulnerabilities, his pains, his ambivalences, the stupid things he'd done in his life, the utterly savage things that had been done to him in his youth, his feelings of alienation from other people who shared his gender, conflicts with his it, and Tony was willing to talk about it. It was somehow vastly freeing to experience someone like that. I wondered how it must feel to be able to do that. I couldn't imagine. But I found it attractive. As time went by, we became pretty good e-friends, but at this point I was just enjoying reading his posts.

There was a member from Indiana named Tom who taught Classical Studies at a small liberal arts college. He was one of the older guys there, but I think I came to cherish his e-friendship above most of the rest. That was odd, in a way, because he didn't post as much as some, but every time he did, his words radiated intelligence, patience, and compassion. Long before I ever had the guts to email him, it was his posts more than any of the others that kept me coming back. I was in awe of him.

Zach was a member I didn't know well at first, but he became very important to me. Farther down the line, I discovered that he had a past and a family that were both far too much like mine, and he understood as no one else could the ways in which that made a person crazy. As time went by, his ability to understand that part of me would become critically important to me. But at this stage I wasn't aware of any of that yet.

These guys, and many others, came together to form an alternate universe for me. Drew's Domain became an escape from my "offline" difficulties and a place where I could open up some, in the company people who understood a little.

* * * * * * * * *

Things weren't getting any better in my real-world entanglements, though. Neal was ever-present, and his behavior was beginning to get more bizarre and unpredictable. I was starting to get scared for Chris's safety, and Jonah's, and mine.

And then there was Jonah. He was screwing around with anyone he could, and everyone knew it, and I knew they knew it. I could navigate this as long as we could all pretend, as long as it didn't become a topic of conversation in my presence; one day, though, Jonah's master's advisor came into my office.

"Sam," he said as he poked his head through my doorway, "got a minute?"

"Sure, Doug," I said. "Have a seat. What's up?"

Doug took a chair. Blushing a little, his eyes shifted nervously from mine, to random spots around the room, to the floor, and back to me, before he said, "I need to tell you some things about Jonah."

I sighed. So much for floating down Denial. Here it comes, I thought, as a flood of sadness washed through me.

"I don't know how to say this, but it's become a talking point around here, and I..."

"You didn't want me to be the last to know," I said.

His eyes widened. "You sound like you know what I'm gonna say."

I sighed again. "I guess I won't know for certain until you say what it is you're going to say. So go ahead and say it."

He shifted in his chair and cracked his knuckles. "I know Jonah is...important in your life." He frowned, and said, "Damn. That sounds so totally lame. I know what you are...uh, what you've each other."

He took a deep breath and said, "I guess you're aware that he's...well, that he's cheating on you, right?"

I nodded, staring down at my desk.

"It's bad, Sam," he said. "It's really bad. I don't know what's up. But it's not like he's 'seeing someone else.' He's...well, shit, man, he's...he's having sex with just about anyone he can find to have sex with. Man or woman, doesn't matter. And there are a lot of people here really mad at him for doing that to you, but none of us have had the balls to tell you; you know, we didn't wanna get involved, and it's not our business, and maybe you already knew, and yada yada yada. But I always felt, what if you didn't know? What if Jonah was playing you? What kind of friend would I be if I didn't say something?

"And anyway," he began, looking more uncomfortable than ever, "It's not just..."

"It has professional implications, all the talk," I interrupted. "Disrupting the academic environment with scandal."

"Yeah," he mumbled, staring at his knees.

I listened to my desk clock tick away fifteen seconds. Finally I summoned my courage, looked at him and said, "I already knew it, Doug. I've been trying to ignore it. You took a chance coming in here, and I appreciate it. You're a good friend."

"I just kept thinking about how I'd feel if it were me," he said. "I'd hate it, and I'd hate my friends for not telling me."

"Exactly," I said. "You don't have to say anything more about this. I was on the verge of taking care of it anyway. Maybe it was good you came in here to give me the final shove."

He smiled weakly. "I don't know what's up, Sam, but no one deserves to be played like that."

"It's not all him," I said. "I had my part in creating this."

He flashed me a look of indignation. "I don't think so. What, you're fooling around too?"

"No, I'd never do that. But..."

"That's my point," he said.

"It's more complicated than that," I said at about the time I realized I was trying to defend Jonah for breaking his covenant with me. "Still," I backpedaled, "You're right. And that's why I'm going to deal with it." I stood up; reflexively, he did the same.

"I hope I haven't made things worse," he said, as I walked him to the door.

"No," I replied. "If anything, you forced my hand. That's a good thing."

"Okay," he said. "I like Jonah just fine, you know. And he's a decent grad student. But something's up with him."

"You're right," I said. "Don't let this be your problem. You don't have to dislike him to be loyal to me. I don't dislike him, and I've known about this for a while."

I sat back down. That was the most embarrassing conversation I'd had in my entire life. And Jonah had been responsible for it. Now I was angry. This had gone far enough.

* * * * * * * * *

When I got home, after I'd put Chris to bed, I logged on to Drew's Domain. If I was hoping to escape melodrama by retreating to my online world, however, I soon found out that hope was going to be frustrated. There were soap operas brewing there, in the posts and in the back-chatter, and I got sucked in, primarily through Tony.

Tony was the first guy from the group besides Drew that I'd actually had the courage to e-mail, and that was only because I was concerned that I might have offended him.

It came about like this: He'd been sharing freely with the group about some of his personal difficulties, and a member from Texas had been pretty pointed--though not mean--in his reply to Tony. As I read through this particular thread and thought back on some of Tony's other threads, it seemed to me that sometimes he created his own difficulties by doing things that were so manifestly dumb it was hard to believe he was as smart as he was. I wanted to soften what the guy from Texas had said, so I added my own two cents' worth to the discussion. Tony added a public reply to my post, beginning by saying, "Well, since you decided to air this in public, I'll reply here too." That irked me a little; he was the one who'd aired the thing in public, but whatever. I was a little confused, though; had I said too much?  I didn't know all the "rules" for these online groups, and I was worried that I might have been inappropriate in my reply to him. So I sent him an e-mail saying I was sorry if I had overstepped my bounds.

He replied that I hadn't, and the next thing I knew, we'd struck up an extended e-mail conversation and a pretty significant e-friendship. I offered to listen if he needed to vent; I'm not entirely certain why, because I'm usually ridiculously shy. I think I just needed to connect with someone so desperately, someone not in the middle of the mess that was my life. And it's always been much easier for me to be the listener than the one doing the talking. That made the match pretty much perfect; Tony didn't have much trouble talking about his problems.

However, at some point, the question of why I was in the group came up between us. I was uncomfortable saying much, but Tony had been so open and forthright with me, I felt I owed it to him at least to make the effort to explain. I gave him the brief and heavily-edited version, telling him that I had had a friendship very much like the one Drew had described in Rip Current, and mentioning that things had gone awry with that friendship.  As the weeks went by, Tony and I talked a lot about me and Brian, in e-mails and then later via instant message chats. I told Tony that I'd had contact with Brian over the years after high school, particularly at important points in my life and his. I also mentioned that I'd e-mailed Brian recently and that he'd sent a short reply. But somehow Tony got it in his head that Brian and I were completely out of touch, and he began to urge me to re-connect. It was a little frustrating to me that Tony was taking what I gave him and making his own version of my story in his head, but I valued his e-friendship nonetheless; before we'd connected I'd had far too much time on my hands to brood about the mess my life had become: Jonah was never home and Chris always conked out early, meaning that I had a lot of time alone during which I didn't need to be sitting around stewing. All the paper-grading on the planet couldn't have filled those hours, so my friendship with Tony filled a void.

* * * * * * * * *

A couple of nights after Doug had come to me with his "news" about Jonah, I decided it was time for us to face things. After we'd put Chris to bed for the evening, I asked Jonah to sit down with me over a cup of coffee so we could talk.

It took me a while to find the words, and he wasn't any help. We stared at each other, at the floor, talked about the weather for a little bit, about our academic work, listened to the coffee brew. We both knew what was coming.

The coffee was finished. I grabbed two cups, sat down with the carafe, and poured us each a cupful.

"Jonah," I began, "there's no way you can think I don't know what you've been doing. It's time for us to talk about where we go from here."

His face crumpled, and he completely lost it, bursting into tears.

"I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I'm so, so sorry. I love you so much, please...can't you love me again like when we started out? I don't know what I did to make you stop loving me. I know I shouldn't have played around but it hurt so bad and I was so lonely."

I stared at him. Of all the things I'd expected to hear from him, I was totally unprepared for this, totally clueless. I knew that pulling away from him had caused him to pull away from me, but I thought he'd gotten tired of the whole thing and wanted out, and was only hesitating because of Chris and because he hadn't had the courage to tell me he was leaving.

"Jonah," I stammered in disbelief, "I made a life-commitment to you. After what you've done, I assumed you wanted out."

That started him crying even harder. "You pulled away from me. You never talked to me, you freeze up whenever I touch you; you can't even stand to be in the same room with me most of the time. What was I supposed to think?"

I looked at him, tears filling my eyes. "I still love you, Jonah. I've never stopped."

His eyes widened."You do?"


He took a few sharp, shallow breaths. "If you still love me, please, please don't leave me; can't we try to work it out? I thought you didn't love me anymore."

I was disgusted with myself. I'd been so wrapped up in my own problems I hadn't bothered to notice how badly Jonah had been hurting. Just the way I'd been with Brian, pushing him away with my issues, oblivious to what I'd done to him. 

I couldn't go on being that kind of person. To either of them. What kind of narcissistic jerk does that to the people who care for him?

I knew I had to try to explain things to him. To both of them, a voice inside my head added.

I wiped the tears from my eyes, then put my hand on his and said, "Jonah, I need to tell you some things." I looked away for a second, shuddered, and faced him again. "This is...this is so hard for me to talk about. Look--I never stopped loving you. It's just I've been struggling real hard and you got the raw end of the deal."

He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and set it back on the table, on top of my own hand.

I said, "When I pull away from you it's not you I'm pulling away from."

After a few false starts, I finally managed to stutter out the bare bones of what was going on with me. No details, just that Neal had been very abusive in my past and that when he returned, I'd had something of a walking breakdown. I tried to let him know that he wasn't the one I'd been reacting to. I talked to him a little about my flashbacks, explained how that made it impossible for me to stay "in the now" during intimacy sometimes.

Jonah was fascinated. He'd known a little about Neal, but not nearly enough. His eyes widened in horror as it began to register with him just how deranged Neal was and what I must have been through. I spared him the details as I tried to explain, but he was too smart not to be able to piece some of it together.

After I'd talked for a while, I was drained. Jonah had never completely stopped crying the whole time, but when I was finished talking he got himself together and said, "I've ruined everything. I've done the total opposite of what I should have done."

"I'm not going to pretend I'm not devastated," I told him. "But I made a promise to you. And I still love you. Did you mean it when you asked me not to leave you?"

"Of course," he said. "Can you give me another chance?"

"I made a promise to you," I repeated. "It's been a horrible, disastrous misunderstanding and you're not the only one at fault. Let's work on fixing it."

I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He stood up, and I stood up with him. He reached for me, and before we had a chance to second-guess, we were in each other's arms.

We made love that night for the first time in forever. It was good, and for the most part I was happy. Maybe we had a chance to put this thing back together.

* * * * * * * * *

After a couple of weeks of trying to figure out what next to say to Brian, I decided I didn't need to say anything in particular. I just needed to show him that I wanted to keep in touch with him. So I began sending him short e-mails talking about things that were interesting but not too threatening in my life. He responded in kind, telling me about where he was and what he was seeing. Sometimes we e-mailed back and forth a little bit about Rip Current, reflecting on some things from our past; but there was always a level of detachment there, as if we were talking about two people we'd known from high school. I appreciated that, though; it was safe.

We talked about other things too, all safe things. It seemed clear that both of us wanted this new connection sustained.

I told him a little bit about "Drew's Domain" and described why I was finding myself drawn there. I told him a little bit about Tony and a little bit about Tom and a little bit about Duane, and I talked to him about my e-mail conversations with Drew. He expressed interest and asked a few questions. That surprised me a little; I hadn't thought it would be something he'd be particularly interested in. I had assumed that Brian would probably just as soon not hear too much of the "gay stuff."

I noticed one day, as I was perusing Drew's membership list, that Brian had joined. Not long after that Tony mentioned to me that Brian had e-mailed him.

I was shocked. I had no idea what that was about. But since Brian hadn't brought it up, I decided I wouldn't either. He and I had just begun to repair a friendship that we both wanted, and it seemed a little fragile at this point for me to cloud things over with any controversy. Still, I wasn't sure what Brian was doing e-mailing Tony. It freaked me out a little. Eventually he said some things to me that suggested he didn't really trust Tony and wanted me to be careful there.

I didn't get it and the whole thing felt odd, but I let Brian have his say without coming back at him. Still, it was strange. And though I loved that Brian and I were reconnecting, I wasn't on that account going to do something just because he told me to. Tony had his quirks, but he didn't scare me; he hadn't hurt me in any way, and Brian didn't get to tell me who I could talk to and who I couldn't. I was sorry that they hadn't gotten along, but I intended to be friends with both of them anyway. They'd just have to deal with it.

* * * * * * * * *

Drew continued to post new chapters of Rip Currents. That winter, in one agonizing but heartfelt chapter, he narrated a fall weekend beach trip that the two main characters had taken at the beginning of their last year in high school.  In that chapter Matt admits to Drew that he knows Drew loves him as more than a best friend. This brings Drew's barely-submerged awareness of his "gay attractions" into explicit consciousness, and he's terrified. Matt, though straight, seeks to demonstrate his love and acceptance of his best friend by letting Drew make love to him. Drew, emotionally and physically overcome, can't say no, in spite of his fear and his misgivings.

Once again Drew's writing stirred up all kinds of suppressed emotions back into intensity for me. I knew what it was like to have your best friend call you out on your love for him. Of course, I'd never made love to Brian, so on the one hand I found myself deeply envious of Drew. On the other hand, evidently it wasn't all a walk in the park for him either. The chapter portrayed that he had some trouble handling both his own attraction to his best friend and his best friend's knowledge of that attraction. He seemed torn between his love for Matt and the fear and shame that he'd crossed a line that would ruin things between the two of them. Boy, I knew that kind of ambivalence like the back of my hand.

The response to that chapter in Drew's Yahoo! group was very powerful. Many of the members were deeply moved by it, and Drew mentioned getting many e-mails from non-group-members who were similarly affected. After a few days, however, Drew posted a piece in "Drew's Domain" about a reader having written him saying that it was not believable that Drew hadn't recognized his feelings for his best friend until that beach weekend. Reflecting on that e-mail, Drew asked the group if it was really that strange, or if his opacity was understandable to the group members.

It was time for me to speak up with a personal truth of my own, finally. I posted a reply saying that I had had a similar experience, only without the sex. My post was well-received, and the guys generally conceded that a person could go for a long time not explicitly aware of same-sex attractions, or at least trying subconsciously to distance from them, especially if he were also attracted to the opposite sex.

Drew responded in a private e-mail. He said he'd like to hear more about that part of my story.

He'd said to me before that he thought I had a story of my own to tell, and at the time I'd gotten it in my head that he was right. I felt a lot of gratitude to him, because his story in many ways had gotten me unstuck. So I sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote, and finally sent him a piece of writing that in the future would become Chapter Ten of a story I would come to call It Started With Brian. He wrote back with gratitude and appreciation for what I'd sent him, saying, "Man, you really do have a story to tell."

In that moment it came to me what I should do next with Brian: I shouldn't waste the story on just Drew; I needed to try to tell Brian how I had felt back in my high school days and beyond, and to tell him how much he had meant to me. Maybe that way I could explain myself to him and apologize for all the years of betrayal and rejection. I had destroyed our friendship. Yet he seemed to be willing to forgive and move beyond all that, if our current regular e-mail conversations were any indication. In light of that, the very least I could do to make amends would be to tell him how I'd really been feeling and thinking.

I copied the stuff I'd written Drew and pasted it into a new Word document. With that material, I already had some writing to use in my project. I sat down at the computer and started at the beginning.

* * * * * * * * *

I wrote a lot. If it were a book it would have amounted to four chapters. I looked over what I had written and considered the prospect of sending it to Brian. I was scared to death. Could I be that honest with him? I wanted to, but I was filled with the usual self-doubts. To get some additional perspective on the thing, I decided to e-mail Tony about it. He, of course, got ten kinds of excited about it. As a run-up to sending any of it to Brian, I sent some chapters to Tony, and he promptly misconstrued some of it, concluding from some of the material that I might be currently or recently suicidal.


I came to realize this whole Internet-friendship thing was complicated, and prone to foster misunderstandings and miscommunication. Still, it was doing me good to be "among" people who could relate in at least partial ways to some of the things I'd been wrestling with for years. Now, in hindsight, I wish I'd taken more seriously just how easy it is to be misunderstood by Internet friends; I might have avoided some of the bumps I encountered along the way. But at the time I didn't see those bumps ahead, and it was helping me a great deal to have people online to talk to.

I let the four chapters of my story sit on my computer. I wanted time to consider whether sending them to Brian was the right thing to do. There wasn't any rush. In any case, it had been incredibly therapeutic to get some of that story put into words.

As time went on I discovered that Duane, the resident wiseguy of Drew's group, had also written some stories and posted them to the Internet. These were mostly fiction, although he admitted that he drew a couple of characters and situations from his real past. He'd started his own Yahoo! group for his readers.

Duane was a strange guy. At first, I wasn't sure I liked him. From his posts, he seemed to be a comedian with a completely goofy sense of humor, but he was also kind of abrupt and prickly. I enjoyed reading his stories, though. After I'd been reading his stuff for a while, we exchanged a handful of e-mails, mostly something to the effect of "nice chapter" and "gee, thanks".  I had gotten into a few political discussions with him at his group--he was a hardcore Libertarian--but nothing major.

* * * * * * * * *

One day that winter I logged onto Yahoo groups, and discovered that Drew's Domain was gone.

Without a word of warning. Without any opportunity for me to prepare mentally.

After the initial shock, I shrugged. Stuff happens. You never know what people are really about on the Internet. These weren't really friendships; not in the conventional sense anyway, I tried to tell myself. No big deal. But as the days went by, I discovered I missed it more than I'd expected I would. It had been the perfect escape in many ways.

Drew's former members were all abuzz in e-mails with each other, speculating about what might have happened. The few I'd been e-mailing with shifted their online discussions over to Duane's group. It wasn't quite the same, but at least I had a chance to continue talking to some of these guys.

Drew had also deleted his Yahoo email account. I couldn't even get in touch with him. It was all very mysterious to me. I missed him; but since I didn't know what to make of it, I didn't spend much time dwelling on it. I had my own things to deal with.

* * * * * * * * *

Around the time Drew and his site vanished, Duane got an e-mail from a suicidal reader.  He wrote Tony shortly after and told him about this e-mail, telling Tony that he'd replied to the guy to stop being a douchebag, and to get over himself and stop being a coward. Tony was aghast, and when he told me, so was I. 

Tony was ready to rip Duane's head off. I suggested not doing that because I'd noticed that Duane often ran off at the mouth in some kneejerk reaction without realizing the destruction he was leaving behind him. I suggested that Tony write him and tell him--gently--that his response had probably not been the best way to reply to someone who was suicidal and trying to reach out. 

Tony wrote him; unfortunately, though, he dragged me into his reply, telling his version of my early suicide attempts in an effort to illustrate to Duane that he was being a prick. For some reason Tony sent me copy of this e-mail. I wasn't happy to have had my history or my sentiments inaccurately represented, so  I wrote back to Duane, setting the record straight and suggesting that I'd be happy to talk to his distraught, suicidal reader, if he just needed someone to vent to, because it sounded to me as though Duane wasn't up to it. I'd had to do that kind of thing in previous jobs and it didn't bother me.

The whole mess rattled Duane, though he never heard from that reader again.  He and I started e-mailing more frequently.  I was pretty peeved with Tony in the aftermath of all that. His misrepresentation of the facts was disturbing.  I didn't stop talking to him, but I stopped telling him anything personal.  He already knew enough. I reflected on the fact that this kind of foulup could only happen--at least the way it had come down--on the Internet. But there were so many advantages to this medium, it didn't sour me on the thing. And I began to develop a real appreciation of Duane through our e-mail conversations.

I missed Drew's group, though, and I missed Drew. Things had not been quite as "soapy" over at his group, and I just missed the tone of the place.

* * * * * * * * *

A few months went by. Brian and I had been e-mailing each other with increasing regularity.

I remained firm in my determination to say things to Brian that I'd wanted to say ever since we were teenagers. I wanted to let him know how important he was to me. I wanted us to go back to being the best friends we'd been so long ago. I knew I could never have what I longed for with him, but that no longer tortured me. If we could find a way back to each other as best friends, that would be like a dream come true.

After I had written down part of our story months earlier, I'd needed a breather. The story sat dormant while I waited to see how things would go in my e-mail contacts with Brian. Now I felt it was time for me to send him what I'd written. Once I'd said those things to him, I'd be able to move along in my friendship with him. I really needed a best friend right now, someone I could tell my deepest personal stuff to. I needed support in dealing with Neal; and I needed a good strong shoulder to cry on as I tried to get over the damage Jonah and I had done to each other. It would be so good to have my best friend in my corner for moral support.

I'd first gotten the idea of writing my story down because I'd realized the only way I could tell Brian what he'd meant to me was by writing something to him; I'd never have the courage to say those things to his face, and anyway, he was far away.

I sat down at the computer and pulled up what I'd written. I looked it all over one more time, and then stared at the computer for the longest time. Finally I fired up my e-mail program and started a new e-mail addressed to Brian. I wrote him a short note and attached the chapters I'd written about us. Then I closed my eyes tight and pressed "Send."

I got a reply from him the very next day. Short, a little ambiguous, and one hundred percent Brian:  "I'll be home in January. I'll see you when I get back to the States." 

My heart jumped into my throat.

* * * * * * * * *

Jonah nearly turned himself inside out trying to make it work in the days and weeks that followed our talk.  I tried to follow his example. I felt better than I'd felt in months. But I couldn't seem to let him into the deepest places in my heart. I considered from time to time that maybe I'd been damaged too much. But I decided that time would take care of it; and at least now he understood that I hadn't been trying to push him away.

Brian and I had been e-mailing each other almost daily by then. Things were going well. It was just e-mail, but my heart and hopes were soaring; I was getting my friend back. Things seemed better between us than they'd been since...well, since high school.  

He came back to the United States in December, a month earlier than he'd said. He spent Christmas with his family. Then the new year came, and as planned, Brian came down for a visit.

The day he was scheduled to arrive, I was nervous and fidgety. Jonah laughed at me and tried to match my enthusiasm. I understood, though, what Brian's visit must be doing to his psyche, especially after the last several months of disaster between us. He knew what Brian had been in my life.

Finally we heard knock on the door. I opened it, and there he stood.

God help me, he was so beautiful. Even after all these years.

My heart flooded with old feelings that I was completely powerless to hold at bay.

He smiled, and I was lost in his smile. "Sammy," he said warmly, tenderly even, as he reached toward me and pulled me into a hug.

Deep in the recesses of my brain, a part of me--a lost part of me--was rejoicing. Something felt so right, as right as things had felt in years. I held on for dear life, as I heard him say "I've missed you."

I wasn't sure I could let go.

I managed to pull myself away, though, and invited him in. Jonah greeted him warmly. He tried, anyway, and Brian tried to be cordial in return.

When Chris woke up from his nap, Brian went in to say hi. Chris remembered him, and I watched as the two of them renewed their acquaintance. They seemed to sort of "click" together, and that made me happy.

Brian stayed for several days. The whole time, he and I were careful around each other--a little guarded--but things were as close to "right" between us as they'd been since before I found out that Brian knew how I felt about him. And that, I reminded myself, was a long, long time ago.

During the days he was visiting, I never told him how bad things had been with Jonah. I knew he'd fly off the handle if I told him all that had happened. In the previous months I had come to realize that he'd joined Drew's group and written to Tony because he was concerned about me and wanted to make sure nobody was taking advantage of me. Brian had always been fiercely protective of me until I'd made it clear to him that I wanted him out of my life; as we'd reconnected, he seemed to step into that role again. So as much as I needed to, I didn't dare tell him the extent of Jonah's infidelities; I knew he'd lose his temper if he'd known everything that had happened.

In spite of my silence, though, there was still a low-grade tension between him and Jonah the entire visit, covered over by genuine attempts from both of them to be civil. Brian had never liked Jonah. They had met a handful of times before our commitment ceremony, and had always ended up sort of quietly snarling at each other. It never escalated beyond that, and neither of them had ever said it in so many words, but I knew they didn't like each other, which always puzzled me, since I knew that they were both great guys.

During Brian's visit, Jonah bent over backwards to be warm and friendly, to show me that he could accept my best friend. But I knew Jonah well enough to know that he was jealous and insecure; he knew how much Brian had meant to me. What I didn't understand, though, was why Brian had such animosity towards Jonah, who'd never done him any harm at all. I'd told Brian in an e-mail that Jonah and I were having some problems, and that Jonah had cheated on me, but Brian had disliked Jonah long before that, and things clearly hadn't changed. It didn't make any sense to me. He bristled every time Jonah came into the room during his visit. He tried to hide it, but I could see it, and I'm sure Jonah could too.

There was another factor during that visit which kept me from opening up to Brian: My idiot pride had reasserted itself. I knew I needed Brian, and I knew that I needed to confide in him about my troubles, but I couldn't get over myself enough to tell him how bad it had really been, how shaken I was from dealing with Neal and with Jonah.

In spite of those things, though, it's impossible for me to put into words how healing it was to see Brian again. He only stayed a few days, but his stay was life-transforming for me. It was the first time since we were kids that it hadn't hurt to see him.

I realized something in the aftermath of his visit: I still loved him. In fact, I was still deeply in love with him.

But I no longer needed him so desperately. I had finally found some way to bracket being in love with him, and to appreciate his friendship. 

After he left, we continued to talk a lot more as the days went by, on the phone and in e-mails. Things still felt a little fragile, but the relationship was becoming stronger. Beyond that, the horrible tension I'd felt for years--loving him and yet needing to be away from him--had finally left. 

We planned for him to visit again during my spring break in March.

I had my best friend back.