18.  Beached

Throughout the spring semester, we saw each other once a week or so.  We worked hard on keeping it fun and keeping our mouths shut.  We'd enacted a conspiracy for the new year, and we both did what we could to keep it going. 

It was a fucked-up mess.

His part in the conspiracy was to let me think that everything had been all his fault, to pretend he was now changing his ways so we'd get through the rest of the year without too much pain.  My part was to pretend that I actually believed that he still wanted to be my friend.

I tried to act happy.  This was, after all, what I'd asked for.

The year shot by.  NCAA signing day came; I accepted athletic and academic scholarships.  I'd be playing soccer at a well-respected but small liberal arts college a few hours away from Dallas.  I'd gotten some looks from universities back east for my academics, but I didn't want to go far from home, and I wanted to play soccer.  The college I chose fit both criteria. 

Matt had also been given a significant scholarship to play football for a university up north that had been looking at him since the previous year.  When we signed on the dotted line, another piece of the past let go, and we pointed ourselves toward the next chapter of our lives.

As the semester went on, Matt chose the year's new Posse members.  I knew that when spring got here, so would the Posse beach trips.  I had already decided I wouldn't have time for the beach anymore.

The last weekend in February, I was over at Angie's studying. She was sitting at her desk, and I was stretched out on her floor with my books and papers.  Her parents had gone to a concert at Bass Hall in Fort Worth.  Over the past month or so, we'd been talking together about our impending graduation; it seemed to me that all the seniors, in ways distinctive to each of them, were gradually disengaging from this place that had dominated their lives for so many years.

At one point in the evening, she looked up from her homework and said out of nowhere, "Andy, I think we need to talk."

I took a deep breath, sat up, and said, "Okay."

She closed her book.  "It's coming down fast, isn't it?"


"Graduation.  Leaving.  Starting over somewhere else."

"Oh," I said.  "Yeah, I guess it is."

She looked at me sadly, and said, "I love you, Andy."

I went over to her, pulled her into me, and kissed her for a long time. Then, pulling away, I said,  "I love you too, Angie."

She sighed.  A tear fell.  "High school romances..."

"I love you more than that," I said firmly.

"Maybe," she said.  "But what do we know?  We're going off to different schools.  It might as well be different planets.  You know that's true."

"Yeah, it is," I said softly.

"Andy, I've been thinking about this," she said.  "It's gonna hurt no matter what and no matter when.  God, I don't want us to just leave things like they are, like we're this great happily-ever-after couple, and then we go off to college and gradually the whole thing just dies.  That would kill me."  

She began crying softly.

I held her in my arms.  "What are you saying?"

"I think we need to break up," she said.  "I think we need to do it now, and put some distance between us."

I didn't know what to say.  It wasn't as though I hadn't been thinking along those lines myself.

"I don't know what's going to happen in my life," she said.  "I know what I want to do; and I...I wish I could...could have you with me forever," she sobbed.  "But with everything so different next year..."

My heart was in my throat.  "Angie, you don't have to tell me," I said. "I think you're right."  

Silence hung in the air between us.  Then I leaned in and kissed her.  We kissed for several minutes; desperation pulled us together tightly.

Finally, pulling away from me, she sat down on her bed.  "I think I could love you forever," she said.  "How would we know, though?  Let's make a clean break now, while we still can.  I...maybe someday we'll find our way back to each other if it's meant to be."

Battling for composure, I said, "I fuckin' hate this."

"I do too," she said.

She began to unhook the chain from her neck that held the promise ring I'd given her. "Take this."

"No, Angie," I said, stricken.  "God, no.  Keep it.  Take it off your neck, okay, but please...keep it."

She nodded, crying.  Then she stood up and walked over to her closet, and put the ring in her jewelry box.

I had to summon the will power to hang tough, because part of me was reeling, wondering how many more things I'd have to lose before my senior year was over.

I took her in my arms and began kissing her again.  My hands moved up her back, and down to her hips.  Tomorrow would be what it had to be; tonight I needed her.

"Angie," I said, "I want to make love to you one last time."

She smiled through her tears, and caressed my back and my butt as she held me close.  Then she began unbuttoning my shirt.  "I haven't ever loved anybody this much," she told me.  "Always remember that."

We undressed each other slowly, tenderly.

She pulled me into her bed, and we made love.

The sex was bittersweet; I'd never experienced it like that before.

After it was over, lying next to her, I said, "I'll always love you."

She put her hand in my hair and stroked my head, then moved lower to my neck and back, and then down to my butt.  As she caressed me, she kissed me on the chest and said, "Don't forget me next year."

I swallowed hard.  "I'll never forget you.  Ever."

Too soon, the clock downstairs struck midnight.  It was time to go.  I got up and began getting dressed.  "How are we gonna do this at school?" I asked.  "How can we be around each other without..."

"I don't know," she said.  "We're in so many of the same things.  Andy, we can't just shut each other out.  It's not like I want to avoid you or never think about you.  I just have to dial it all down, you know?  And so do you.  Let's keep it friendly at school.  And we can be together when our friends do stuff together.  But don't come over any more, okay?  And don't call." She wiped her eyes with her hands.

Blinking back the wetness in my own eyes, I said, "God, Angie, I can't believe how fuckin' hard this is."

"I know," she answered.  "But you know it's right."

"Yeah."  I put my shoes on and stood up to leave.  She walked me to the front door, and before I opened it and walked away, I pulled her to me one last time and kissed her; it was long, and passionate, and so sweet.

She broke the kiss and pulled away from me, crying softly. "Andy, go now; please. I can't take any more of this.  I'll see you in school Monday, okay?"

"Okay," I said.

And with that I opened her front door, walked through it, and closed it behind me for the final time.


Breaking up with Angie accelerated the process of disengaging myself from the world as I knew it and getting ready for a new life.  From that point on, I began walking through my current life as if it was something of a ghost town.  Things began to seem less real.

During the final months of the school year I watched myself from a distance, going through the motions of my last days of high school.  I hung out with Matt once in a while, in a hopeless attempt to make the most out of the time that we had left together.  I gave spring soccer season everything I had, and threw myself into my studies. I went to parties, spent time with my young Varsity Bro, and did my part to organize the Posse beach trips--trips I'd decided I wouldn't be taking.  But there was an odd, detached quality to all my efforts. In everything I did, a numbness had settled in on me.  

I came to appreciate that quality, and I cultivated it.

Late in April, Matt came over to the house one Thursday afternoon.  I was playing a video game; my door was open and he walked right in.  "Hey," I said.

He came in and sat on my bed, watching me play.

When I finished, I powered down the machine and turned to look at him.  He nodded, wordlessly.


"I came to talk to you about something," he said tentatively.

"What is it?"

"I want to ask you something," he said.  "I'm gonna cut to the chase, bro.  I want to know if it's okay if I ask Angie out."

The surprise must have shown on my face, because he quickly added, "I'm not talking anything serious.  I mean...well, that's not right, exactly. I don't mean I'd be just playing around.  She's a nice girl."

I nodded, staring at my hands as he continued.  "We talked about the two of you.  I want to get to know her better.  And she and I--we have something in common."

I looked up at him.  Something blazed in his eyes, something that was daring me to take him on over that line.

But the fight, the passion, had drained out of me over the past few months.

"We're not together anymore," I said coldly.  "I got no say over who she dates.  I got no say over who you date either."  I turned back to my video game.

"You fuckin' do," he said, bitterness flaring up suddenly in his voice.

I ignored it.  "You want my blessing?  Fine.  You have it.  Go ahead and ask her out," I said.

He scowled at me. "Look, asshole--"

"Give it a rest," I said, dismissing him as I pressed the "power" button on my game machine. "I'm not interested.  Go ahead and ask her out."

He sighed deeply.  "Andy, why, why, why do you keep"—

I turned back, ready for a fight. Why do I keep calling you on your attitude?  Well, fuck that.  I threw it back at him: "What the hell are you talking about?"

He saw the look in my eyes and shrugged his shoulders.  "Nothing," he said.  

After a moment, he continued. "Okay, then, I'm taking that as a 'yes' from you.  Just remember I asked."

"You asked," I replied, summoning all the indifference I could.  "I said it was fine.  What's the problem?"

 "Like you don't know," he said, as he walked out.


In May, a number of our classmates threw senior parties.  I'd just as soon have been left alone, but it seemed rude to crawl into a hole and ignore these people I'd spent ten years with.  So invariably I'd find myself at places where Matt and Angie had come with each other.  

I can't say I was jealous or angry.  I can't say I felt much of anything.  I was past grief.  Miles past it, on into something else I didn't even know how to define.

Matt and Angie dated for a while, but a couple of weeks before graduation time they stopped seeing each other.  At a party right before graduation, I asked Angie about it once when we had a moment together.

"He's nice," she said.  "But we don't have much in common.  Not much, anyway."

She paused.

"We could never be alone together.  Even when we were alone.  There was always someone else there with us.  Haunting us both."

I looked up at her.

"Andy, what are you doing?" she asked quietly.

"I'm doing what I thought we both decided on," I said.

"I'm not talking about with me," she said.

She turned her head slightly; I followed her eyes as they stopped, momentarily, on Matt.  He was laughing and joking with a small crowd across the room.  She turned back to look at me, her face a silent accusation.

I stared into her eyes.  "Sometimes things happen you can't fix," I said.  "I got no control over the way people think about me."

"You're wrong," she said quietly.  "You're wrong about so much."

"What do you know about it?" I said, glaring at her.

"More than you do," she said, glaring right back at me.  "A hell of a lot more, apparently."

"Yeah, well, you're free to think what you want," I said.  "I know what I know."

About that time Jessica Hanson came up and started talking her usual drivel, rescuing me.  I listened politely for awhile then walked off to talk to somebody else.


Graduation weekend came.  At the baccalaureate ceremony, Matt gave the class president's address.  He hadn't even asked me to help him with it.  He hadn't needed to.  It was warm and sincere, and it said what it was supposed to say.  Angie gave the salutatory address.  She did a fine job, as always. I was proud of both of them.

The graduation ceremony was held the next day in the big stadium at SMU.  I don't remember much about it.  I smiled when Matt and Angie crossed the stage; we'd made it to the end.  

I went to a graduation party that night.  I spent the entire evening by myself, drinking Jack-and-Coke.  People came up to me to talk all night.  Over and over again.  Rehashing ten years.  Reminiscing, laughing at old times, old times that would have ripped into me like a knife in the gut if I hadn't developed a real talent lately for going numb.  So I endured all that, along with everyone asking me endlessly about where I was headed, about where Matt was headed.  I said enough to be polite, and kept pouring the booze down. Matt and I made eye contact across the room several times.  A nod, a smile, a thumbs-up sign.

My best friend that evening was Jack Daniel's.  It didn't talk back; it didn't stare at me or accost me with silent accusations; and its only desire was to float me above the pain.

I don't remember driving home.  

The next morning I was awakened by Danny.  "Move, asshole," he said, kicking me.

I was lying in the hall upstairs outside the bathroom door.

"God, how much did you have to drink?  I can smell it all over you," he said.  "Get the fuck up and go to bed; I don't want to have to hear Dad come up here and rag on your sorry ass."

I forced myself off the floor, and dragged myself back toward my room.  Danny called out, "Andy."

"What?" I muttered.

"You been walking around like a fuckin' zombie for weeks, and now you just lay there drunk on your goddam ass, blocking the door to the bathroom.  What the fuck is wrong with you, anyway?"

I thought back on Danny waking me from my nightmare last September.  "I already told you," I mumbled.  I fell into my bed and slept.

The clock radio came on at noon.

I know all there is to know about the crying game;
I've had my share of the crying game.
First there are kisses,
Then there are sighs,
And then before
You know where you are,
You're saying good-bye...
Don't want no more of the crying game.

I slammed the radio off, and, steeling myself, climbed out of bed.  I walked to the bathroom and threw down a couple of aspirin to dull the ache in my head.


Max Miller was the head soccer coach of the team I'd be playing for in the fall.  The Monday morning after graduation he called me on the phone.

"Congratulations on your graduation, Andy," he said.  You ready to play college soccer?"

"Absolutely, sir."

"Excellent," he said.  "I'm calling all the incoming freshman just to let all of you know what we expect from you for the summer."

"Okay," I said.

"Soccer season begins early, and I'll need you boys in shape when you hit campus," he explained.  "I'm mailing you a workout regimen.  It's mostly cardio, but I want you to do some weight training at a gym this summer.  Can you still work out in your high school's weight room?"

"Yes, I can," I replied.

"Good," he said.  "Now about the cardio.  If you'll do what the sheet says you'll be in good shape.  If you don't, the first month of practice is going to be pure hell.  I think you'll find college-level soccer a step up from your high school play."

"That won't take much," I joked.

Max laughed.  "Good point," he said.  "Never mind the high school team.  I know you've had good coaching in club soccer.  The main difference from club is that the game is going to be faster and you'll need to be in top cardio shape from the moment you hit the field come August.  Every year I have freshmen who don't believe me, and they don't make it through August workouts.  Can I trust you to believe me?"

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Good.  I need you here on campus the first Sunday in August.  Classes won't start until the end of the month, but I'm going to assemble the team for an afternoon orientation meeting that first Sunday afternoon, and attendance is mandatory."

"I'll be there, Coach," I said. "And I'll be in shape."

"All right then," he said.

I hung up the phone.  Things are finished here, I thought; my new world just called.  

It was a relief to have one coming.

I spent as much time as I could outdoors that summer.  When I wasn't conditioning, I was doing landscaping and lawn-maintenance work, making a wad of money to set aside for my first year in college.  The heat was oppressive, and there was no coastline in sight; Dallas was landlocked, and I was beached.

That suited me fine.  

I worked on my body and worked at my job; I got up early, went hard at it, and rolled into my bed early at night.  I dated a few girls, and had a little sex. Mainly I tried to focus on the future.

But I couldn't shut the past out completely.  Things kept coming up to remind me that it still claimed me.

Years before, Matt and I had planned to throw the Mother of All Graduation Parties on the beach on July 4 after our senior year.  In fact, we'd pledged to each other that after we'd gone our separate ways we'd come back every summer and make it a yearly blow-out, inviting all our friends from the old days.  For this first one, we'd already been told by Ruben's parents that we could use their condo; we'd rent several adjacent condos for guests.

Both of us had planned and saved for this party for a couple of years now.  We'd been putting money into a savings account for the occasion, and our parents had even been helping out with some significant contributions.

It wasn't something I could walk away from.  The past was like that; it seemed easy--inevitable--to walk toward something new, but not nearly so easy to shrug off all that had come before.

So throughout April, May, and June, we stumbled and sputtered through making arrangements, setting things up, deciding on who was coming, and all the other deadly details that required us to be together, think together, talk together. And somehow we got the thing planned.  

Finally, the day came.  I'd agreed to go down with Matt a day ahead.  Ruben would be coming up the next morning.  

We drove down in his van with a whole load of supplies.  The conversation was light and not too strained, though dotted with our now-characteristic stops and starts.

As we crossed over onto the island, I could feel my chest tightening.  The dread increased as we got closer, and as we parked at the condo and began to unload, I couldn't say a word.  

Matt was also uncharacteristically silent.

We made our way to the third floor and walked down the corridor to the condo.  I put the key in the lock and opened the door.

When I looked into the condo, September sledgehammered back into me.  The wind left me, and a moan escaped my lips.  

Nervously, I looked back at Matt.  Our eyes locked for a moment.

I turned back toward the condo and moved further in; my eyes went toward the sliding glass door to the balcony.

I could see beyond the balcony.

I could see the beach.  

Just about the time it became too much to deal with, the familiar numbness descended on me, and from that point through nearly the whole rest of our stay, I didn't feel much of anything.

We got the place set up.  Matt took the front bedroom and I took the back. Then we threw on some beachwear and walked down to the ocean.  We swam a little, and then we walked along the beach, talking quietly.  Never about anything of consequence:  Summer jobs; starting college; what we thought of our new coaches; communication we'd had with them; what they'd asked of us during the summer months;  who we'd been out with during the summer.

It was almost scripted, and it barely scratched the surface.  I could have done it in my sleep.

As evening fell, we went inside and played a little poker, watched a little TV, drank a couple of beers.  I went to bed around midnight; about thirty minutes later, I saw the rest of the lights go out as Matt turned in for the evening.

The next day drifted along for me in the same anesthetized haze.  Ruben showed up around eleven.  And as the guests arrived late that afternoon, I pressed some internal "party mode" button and went through the motions of smiling, laughing, welcoming, joking, drinking.

Angie came with Justin; it barely registered with me.

The party was a big success and everybody had a great time.  And why not?  The Dynamic Duo knew how to throw a fuckin' party.

Only once did my facade falter.

Toward the end of the evening, after the party had started to mellow, we were all sitting around a campfire on the beach.  Matt had his acoustic guitar out and was entertaining the crowd with a sing-along, pulling songs from his famous punk setlist.  The group was drunk enough to participate in the singing.  Somebody called out, "Do one by yourself, Price."  The rest of the crowd shouted and clapped in agreement.

Matt thought for a minute, then said, "Okay, I'll do one, but not by myself."  He looked over at me.  "Andy, get your ass over here." 

He motioned with his head for me to come over and join him.  As the group cheered, I squirmed.  I had no intention of doing it. 

I walked over to him, sat down next to him, and said under my breath, "This is your gig and you're on your own here.  I'm not singin' with you."

"Yeah, you are; it's a duet," he said.   "You'll know it."

I didn't want to make a scene over it.  As I shrugged in acquiescence, he turned back to the group, and said, "This one goes kinda high, so it'll show you what a woman I am."  Everybody laughed.

He took his guitar in hand, and began plucking out a plaintive intro that jolted me out of my numbed state:  It was a ballad--"More Than Words"--from the Extreme CD he'd gotten me for Christmas.  

"Take the low part," he whispered, as he segued toward the opening lines.

Saying "I love you"
Is not the words I want to hear from you.
It's not that I want you not to say;
But if you only knew
How easy it would be
To show me how you feel!

My heart was racing.  What the fuck?  The tender melody was battering the door of months' worth of my defenses. 

The low part was coming up, so I tried to get a grip.  I took a breath and joined him for on the next lines:

More than words
Is all you have to do to make it real;
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me,
'Cause I'd already know.

I stopped singing as he took the over the solo.  Turmoil churned inside me.
He kept looking at me as he sang.  Goddammit, why was he always fuckin' looking at me?

What would you do if my heart was torn in two?
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real.

What would you say if I took those words away?
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying "I love you."

Wracked with pain, I still sang my part where I needed to.  I knew the harmony and the lyrics by heart.  But every line came at me as an assault, as his eyes seemed to search the depths of mine. 

I turned my head away from him and toward the crowd as the next verse started.

Now that I've tried to talk to you and make you understand,
All you have to do is close your eyes,
And just reach out your hand,
And touch me--
Hold me close; don't ever let me go.
More than words
Is all I ever needed you to show;
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me,
'Cause I'd already know.

The lyrics went into recap, and the song wound down.  Matt's final guitar licks were note-perfect, and his tenor voice was plaintive and true.  

After we'd finished, there was an awed silence.  Then the group went nuts, cheering and clapping.  He looked at me and smiled.  

God, it was an anguished smile--a smile that held a thousand accusations, a thousand pardons, a thousand hurt questions...and utter incomprehension.

It felt like I'd been punched in the gut.  And I felt naked and exposed.  A tear went down my cheek and I quickly wiped it away, hoping nobody noticed.  Hoping above all that he hadn't noticed.  Nobody did; they were too busy cheering. And he was too busy acknowledging his crowd.

But though I could shake the urge to cry, I couldn't shake the impact.

A lightning bolt ripped through my brain: Could I have been wrong all this time?

Before I could carry myself off with that question, a part of me I knew and nurtured well stepped in and spoke up with force.

Get a grip, goddammit.  Whatever it is you're imagining about him, you need to forget it.  You know what he thinks of you.

From somewhere else in my head, another opinion tried to push its way out:  But did you see how he looked at you? And what about the song?  Why did he...

I sighed.  I had to stop living in the past.  Matt and I were history, and none of it was my fault.  I wasn't ashamed of who I was and how I felt about him, and it wasn't my problem that he couldn't deal with it. The numbness washed back over me.  I wasn't going to let him hurt me with my love for him.  I'd wrapped that love up and pushed it away from the soft center of me months ago.  

I smiled my perfect lie of a smile back at him, and shook hands with him in a perfect betrayal of the "secret handshake" we'd always used with each other.  Then I got up and walked away.  

I walked back to the condo, went into my bedroom, closed the door, climbed into bed, and turned off the light.


We wound the trip down without incident.  The next day came, and we cleaned things up, said goodbye to our guests and saw them off, then packed up and began the drive home.

Conversation on the way back was much the way it had been on the way down.  I drove most of the way home this time.  When he dropped me off at my house, he got out with me and helped me unload my stuff onto the front porch.  After we'd finished I walked with him back to his van.

Climbing into the driver's seat, he grinned at me and said, "Wow, bro; we did it.  It was a great time, don't you think?"

"I think everybody had a blast, Matt," I said softly.

"Man.  Our senior party.  All those years when we'd talked about it.  Seemed like it would never happen, right?" His words were questions.  Requests.  But I didn't know what it was he was asking.

"Yeah, I guess so," I said, looking down at the pavement.

A leaden silence threatened to intervene.  I stepped in to fill it.  Looking up at him, I said, "I guess we gotta start saving for next year, right?"

He smiled again.  "Yeah.  Man, we'll have lots of new stuff to catch each other up on.  It'll be even better than this one, because..."

He paused and cleared his throat.  "Anyway.  I'm headin' home.  Talk to you later."

"Later," I said.  

As I walked to the porch, I shook the beach sand off.


July came to an end.  I was due at college for training camp the next week.  Matt was due at his university for training camp a week before that.

The night before he was scheduled to leave, he called me up.  It had been two weeks since we'd last spoken.

"Hey, Andy."

"Hi, Matt."

"Well, tomorrow's the day, I guess," he said.

"Yeah, I know," I said slowly.

Neither of us seemed to be able to continue.

Finally he said, "My mom's out of town with her job and she won't be back for a week.  She's gonna fly up and see me when I've gotten settled in for a week or so.  We've already said our goodbyes and there's nobody here to..."

He paused.

"Look, I'm mostly loaded up, just a few final things.  I'm probably gonna leave around ten tomorrow morning.  Do you think you could--I mean, would you come by early and spend a couple of hours with me, you know, help me pack the last stuff, and just...I don't know...just...just kind of be here when I leave?"

"Of course," I said quietly.

"I know it's early, but I..."

He fell silent again.

I said, "I'll come around eight, okay?"

"I'd like that," he said.

Another silence.


"Matt," I said, jumping in before he'd had a chance to say more, "I know what you feel and I've already dealt with it.  Let's leave it alone, bro. It doesn't matter.  We're movin' on.  You don't owe me any explanation or any words or anything, and it wouldn't change much anyway."

"I don't owe you?" he said.  I heard him take in a sharp breath.

After another suffocating pause, he said, "I'm glad you're coming tomorrow."

"I'll see you then," I said, and hung up.


We talked friendly and laughed a lot that next morning;  there were dim echoes of the old days.  But as I walked the final few items out to Matt's van, and as I watched his room transform from a dwelling-place to a museum, a dark cloud of regret descended on me. With every step I took, with every item picked up and loaded into his van, with every trivial word exchanged between us, I wanted to beg him to forgive me--forgive me for loving him, forgive me for being someone who made him uncomfortable.

But it was too late.  And it was all a moot point.  We were leaving the road we'd walked together and were heading out on new--and separate--ones.

And anyway, I couldn't fix the bad feelings he had about me just by wishing he didn't have them.

Over and over again during those two hours, I tightened and tensed and held myself in check, in control.  I would not--could not--lose it in front of Matt.

Finally the van was packed and the hour had come.  We closed his front door behind us and walked toward his van.

As we stood by the van, he shuffled his feet, stared at the ground, jingled the keys in his pocket. Then, looking up at me, he said, "Well,..."  

And suddenly, I knew, in a horrible flash of insight, that I had been wrong.  

All the conflict, all the pain, all the waste; all the hatred for "not being like him": it had never come from him; it had always come from me.

And, looking at him, I began to have some comprehension of how he must have felt over the past year.

Ten years collapsed in ten seconds, and as I stood there, looking at him, the scene merged with one from a different time and place:

I looked up at his face; his steel-blue eyes locked onto mine and held us both there, frozen. There was no sound, no movement, for what must have been forty-five seconds, as his piercing eyes both took in my compassion and silently expressed his own deep devastation.

We moved toward each other at the same time and embraced stiffly, awkwardly.  He slapped me on the back, held the embrace for a bit, and then pulled away.  He smiled, wiped the corner of his left eye with a finger, and said, "I'll e-mail you.  You got my cell number.  Or I'll catch you on IM; you know, make sure you're studying.'"

"You know it," I said, blinking back tears and laughing a little, "but I think it'll be the other way around."

We smiled at each other awkwardly.  "I'll always be your friend, Andy," he said, looking me in the eyes.

I couldn't meet his stare for long.  I looked down at the ground and said quietly, "I know."

And for the first time since September, I believed it.

Which made it worse.

He climbed into the van and rolled down the window.  "Good-bye, Andy," he said.

"'Bye, Matt," I said.  I held my hand out to him; he gripped it tightly.  Desperately.

I made myself let him go.

I stood in his driveway as he backed out of it.  Then I stepped out into the street and watched as his van seemed to get smaller and smaller.  Finally, it disappeared from view altogether.

I walked slowly toward the front door of his house and tried the handle.  He'd forgotten to lock it.

I stepped in and slowly made my way up to his room.

I stood in the doorway, staring in, for a long time.

Then I walked in, went over to his bed, and picked up the pillow he'd left behind.  I pulled it tightly against me, burying my face in it, breathing in his scent.

I took it with me as I turned and walked away.

That night, lying on his pillow, I dreamed of two young boys playing together.

Copyright 2005 by Adam Phillips

Well, here we are.  This is the place I stopped writing last year.  Long-time readers know that Cross-Currents has undergone some revision over the last couple of months.  It's time for me to start writing a new chapter, and this year I'll try to get new chapters out a lot faster than I have in the past.

It's been a long, strange trip, and I thank new and long-time readers alike for years of email support, and in some cases, ongoing online friendships.

College looms ahead for Andy.  I hope to have a new chapter ready for you soon.  You can email me at aaptx28@yahoo.com, and I'll do my best to reply.