Of all the four letter words, this is the most potentially disastrous because it promises so much, but wants you to walk a tightrope to achieve it, plus the love you think you are working for isn’t always the love you get in the end. Take Nick for example, sitting here watching a movie with me and cuddled next to me. I love Nick. I love him dearly, and never want to cause him pain. But won’t I do just that if I tell him where my heart truly lies? How stupid am I being because my heart left and went to San Diego some eight months ago?
“Jake? Something bothering you?” Nick asked as the credits rolled on the screen. I shook my head and yawned in reply.
“Oh, okay then, I’m going to head home. Mom will kill me if I don’t get the trash out before her shift ends” he said while giving me a small peck and moving out the door. Nick’s mom was a nurse at the independent hospital in town, and this week she was working the three to eleven shift, and so Nick had until that time to get the trash out, and naturally he waited ‘til the last minute.
I, too, headed for bed and wondered to myself what I should do with myself. Nick was sweet, funny, gentle and true. He loved me deeply and I never questioned that, but more and more he knew something was on my mind, but I couldn’t tell him it was Greg. I couldn’t tell him how much I still missed his touch, his scent, everything that was Greg.
The truth is I was afraid, afraid of losing Nick irrevocably, causing so much damage to our relationship that I would lose him completely. I wasn’t prepared to do that either. I sighed deeply as I pulled the covers up over my body and tried to think, but no matter where I went in my head, it always came back to losing Nick.
Saturday morning dawned with small droplets of rain spattering the window, and my arm ached where the break had so recently healed. My father knocked on the door before opening it and poking his head in.
“Hey, breakfast is on the table sleepy-head, hurry up and try this out. It’s a new recipe!” he smiled and ducked out the door. I groaned into my pillow and stalled until he knocked on the door again, urging me downstairs. Dad had not lost his interest in cooking anything and everything with his George Forman grill, and he was experimenting more these days than ever. A shrill tone sounded from downstairs meaning Dad was making smoke again.
I got up and pulled on some sweat pants and a tee shirt before going to survey the damage. You would think, after a certain amount of time, a person would improve with these things, and learn that you can’t make some things with a grill. Or maybe learn that they can’t cook worth a hill of beans.
“I was trying this thing, it’s called Huevos Rancheros. Means Ranch Eggs in Spanish. You just add some salsa and make like they are scrambled, but I figured if you put the salsa in and put the eggs on top it’d work,” my father was saying as he opened the back door and I opened a window in order to clear out the smoke, “who knew salsa made so much smoke?” my father asked to no one.
“Burn baby, burn,” I replied.
“Okay, well, how about Denny’s then?” he asked and I nodded. I headed upstairs to take a shower first and left my father to fix his latest disaster. Maybe one day he’ll find something else to buy and become fascinated with. I hope it has nothing to do with food.
A half an hour later I was cleaned up and ready to go. We headed downtown and I saw a crew outside Caspian cleaning off the stones and workmen redoing the landscaping out front. Again Greg intruded on my thoughts and I wondered about him, what he was doing, what he was feeling.
Wondering if he missed me.
I pointed to the item on the menu I wanted, the Super Bird, and Dad ordered a stack of pancakes. I sipped my hot chocolate while my father talked about money. You may remember that Dad worked for Caspian, and as such he still got some royalties from the Micro Secure Corporation for his input on the new encoding software.
Things were looking a little weird right now though, what with the potential breakup of the merger and the uncertainty of where the new technology would end up. We were comfortable, he said to me, but maybe we should be looking at some options.
“So, how are things with you and Nick, huh?” he asked wiggling his eyebrows.
“Things are okay with me these days,” I said quietly.
“Sounds like your heart isn’t in it, Jake,” he replied.
“If I could turn back time, if I could find a way,” I said before trailing off in frustration at my inability to express my thoughts fully.
“Still miss him, don’t you?” he said quietly while looking into my eyes.
My reply was cut off by your friend and mine, Becky Collins. She sneered at me as she walked past, maybe on her way to the bathroom, and it stopped me cold.
“Friend from school?” my dad asked as he tilted his head at the diminishing form of Becky’s backside, “she’s pretty, why don’t you ask her over?”
“She’s a maniac,” I replied, “Been a whole lot happier without her face around.”
“Oh, she’s not too nice huh? Face of an angel,” my dad commented.
“Heart of stone,” I replied.
“She doesn’t play nice?” dad asked with a bemused expression.
“Oh, she’s a bitch, a bitch, oh, the bitch is back, stone cold sober as a matter of fact,” I replied happy to have purchased that live Elton John tape.
“Yeah, that so often happens. So you didn’t answer my question, you still miss Greg?” he asked quietly.
“These dreams go on when I close my eyes, every second of the night, I live another life,” I replied in a near whisper while looking down into my cup.
“What are you going to do about Nick?” he asked.
“Breaking up is hard to do,” I replied.
“It’s the right thing, though, it’s not fair to play with him,” my dad responded.
“And in the end, nobody wins when love begins to fall apart. It’s the innocent who pay when broken dreams get in the way.”
My father stood and headed for the restroom, which left me with my thoughts, and wondering how to accomplish this nightmare of an errand. I drank the last of my not- so-hot-anymore chocolate, and suddenly dropped the cup, which shattered on the tiles as my arm was jostled from behind.
“Oh, does your limp wrist make it hard to hold heavy things?” Becky asked. My blood began to boil as I met her eyes.
“Screw you, I ain’t got nothing to lose,” I replied.
“Oh, that must be an obscure lyric, Jake, I don’t know that one. Did a fag write it?” she asked.
“Rebecca, what’s going on?” asked an older man who I presumed to be her father.
“Cross-eyed Mary,” I shook my head at her, “she’ll do it for a song. Gets no kicks from little boys, would rather make it with a letching gray” I replied, looking at him. It had its intended effect.
“You…You’re that little faggot,” he said the last word like it was oily and distasteful on his mouth.
“You can still say homo and everybody’ll laugh, but the jokes on you. You had a scent for the scandal. Well, here’s my middle finger,” I replied to him as I gave him the one-finger salute.
“Jacob! What’s going on here?” my father thundered as he approached, eyes leveled at Becky and her father.
“You’re son is a blight in our town, and I certainly won’t eat in the same room as a homosexual!” her father blurted out. My father, to his credit, remained calm.
The manager stepped up and spoke, “I’m sorry, I really can’t have all this yelling, sir, I’ll have to ask you to leave,” he said to my father.
“Me? You want me to leave?” my father said calmly. The manger nodded his head and Becky’s father took on a smug look. My father picked up his coffee and took a swig, as though in consideration.
“Okay, we’ll go. But mister, if you ever need to get that stain out of your shirt, I have some stuff for you.” He said evenly.
“What stain?” Mr. Collins asked, baffled by the sudden change in direction.
“Coffee. It’s hard to get it out of white,” he said while splashing the remains of his coffee on Mr. Collins shirt, “a little Perox Clean will do it, though, and make it look like new!”
“This is ridiculous, do something!” Mr. Collins yelled at the manger. My father tugged me out of the booth and as we left he called out to the restaurant in general.
“I’ll go to IHOP. They don’t let rats in at least,” and we were out the door. My dad did that! I was so proud of him. That was totally solid!
We got in the car, and as we did so we saw a very angry Mr. Collins and Becky being shown the door of the restaurant, the manager waving them out as they went, Mr. Collins puffing out his chest and wagging his finger at the manager.
IHOP had better food anyway.
After we got home I was lounging upstairs, listening to some Jethro Tull just ‘cause I was in that sort of mood, when there came a knock on my door. I lowered the music and Nick entered.
“Hey,” he said softly, “I heard breakfast was fun, huh?”
“I thank the Lord for the people I have found,” I replied.
“Dad spilled coffee on them, huh?” I nodded in reply. Nick wandered around the room and looked around, almost anywhere but at me.
“Jakey, I need to talk to you, but I don’t know how to say this,” he stated in a wavering voice.
I remained silent, not knowing what to say. Nick pulled out the chair from my computer desk and sat down to face me. His eyes were rimmed with red, as though he had been crying, and I stood, placing my hands to either side of his face, studying it. It was then I knew it was over. It was then I knew that he knew it was over and he was ready to admit it to me. I embraced him as he cried in the chair, small sniffles turning into great, racking sobs, and once more trailing into sniffles.
“I got your shirt wet,” he apologized.
“Let it rain down,” I said, for my own eyes were no longer dry.
“Jake,” he sighed deeply, wiping his eyes with one hand, “I love you Jakey, I really, really do,” he looked into my face, “I love you so much I know I have to let you go, I have to let you get Greg out of your system. Do you understand me, Jake?” I nodded to him, and pulled him closer to me, and held him close while he gripped me tightly to him.
“I just want you to promise me, Jake, that I can always be a part of your life. I still love you, and I think I always will.” He pulled away and looked at me in the eyes again. “You were my first love, Jakey. Can you promise me that? Can we always be the closest of people, like two halves of the same person? Can we?”
“Amigos para siempre”means you’ll always be my friend, 'amigos para siempre”means a love that never ends.” I held him close to me and whispered in his ear, “friends for life. Not just a summer or a spring, amigos para siempre.”
“I hope that doesn’t mean “no” in, like, pig Latin or something, cause it sounded really nice,” he said softly. Then he giggled, and I giggled with him and then it turned into one of those things that you have no real description for. It just was.
And it was good.
School continued to drag on, and I continued to plod my way through school. The reddish rainbow that was fall had surrendered long ago to the harsh embrace of winter. We all were athletes of a sort, and whatever season was in, well, that season would find some of us engaged in one form or another of sport. Basketball was in full swing, and naturally we had to go and support our friends on the teams. Nick was the team’s point guard, which means he did most of the ball handling, a fact I found most appropriate. Tommy was the shooting guard, and the bastard could definitely shoot. Tonight’s opponent was someone up north. I could never remember the names, but what did it matter? Wasn’t like I could say they sucked.
The game didn’t mean anything on the one hand, because we had gone undefeated. With that said our spot in the playoffs was assured, and the league title was securely in our pocket. On the other hand, as the song goes, our pride was on the line and the opportunity to go undefeated a whole season was in our grasp. This is remarkable for one huge reason. This was the school’s first winning season. Last year had been close. We finished eight and nine, not quite .500, but better than previous seasons.
So, on the one hand, the game was meaningless, out of conference, and merely an end of the season tune up for the real deal. But there was that golden ring that was luring the guys, indeed the school, the magical idea of not losing, and so, there we were.
“Who are these guys? They any good?” Rich asked as he took a seat next to me, Mark taking up the opposite flank.
“From parts unknown, taking on a team that never had been beat,” I said, indicating I had no clue who the opponents were, but that we hadn’t lost yet this year. The buzzer sounded and the teams trotted to the benches and huddled for the last time with their coaches before game time. A few minutes later all hell broke loose as the teams played a very physical basketball game, one that macho folks like to call ‘letting them play’ which roughly translates to ‘someone will need surgery’.
The game was a see-saw affair, one team scoring and the other answering, one missing and the other capitalizing for a short-lived lead. Nick distributed the ball pretty well, and committed very few errors.
Unfortunately, this team seemed to make you pay for whatever errors you made. With time winding down the score was knotted at 53 all. Our team held together defensively for the most part, but one of the opposing forwards got bumped a little too hard and then Hollywooded the rest, drawing the foul.
We all screamed our lungs out to distract the kid, but he seemed undisturbed by our noises and sank both free throws, putting us down by two with fifteen seconds on the clock. Nick brought the ball forward and was fouled in the backcourt when the opposing team applied just a little too much pressure playing the full court press. They passed it in from mid court, and the other team was on them like glue. Nick waited patiently with time ticking down and Tommy rounded a pick with a defender hot on his heels. Nick bounce passed in front of Tommy, who met the ball and leapt up for his shot.
The ball took flight and landed on the back iron, bouncing straight up…and off to the side, the buzzer sounding and the game ended. We had lost, no longer were we undefeated. Our team showed their abject disappointment, the first taste of a loss all year had them in shock as little whoever-they-were from up north partied on our court.
Nick was little bummed afterward, as you can imagine, and it was my duty to cheer him up. We walked in the brisk night when I suddenly burst out in tune.
“This is your action news reporter covering the disturbance at the basketball playoff,” I turned to Nick and put my fist near his mouth as if it held a microphone, “Pardon me sir, did you see what happened?” I dropped my voice into a slow drawl, just like the recording of course, and hitched up my pants like some hayseed.
“Yeah, I did. I was down getting Ethel a snow cone, when there he come, right out from the cheap seats! Grandstanding in front of the home team, didn’t have nothin’ on but his Keds. I hollered up and said ‘Don’t look Ethel!’ but it was too late, she’d already gotten a free shot.”
By this time Nick was in stitches as I tried to finish the song with out laughing, but the more he laughed the harder it became to continue until I just gave up. We leaned against one another and laughed till tears began to form in our eyes and we sat down, right there on the sidewalk until we could breathe again.
“You know what? I think you’re just about the best damn thing that’s ever happened to me, you know that?” Nick said with a grin.
“I second that emotion,” I replied with a smug grin.
“You’re modest too,” he said sarcastically, “I like that in a person.”
I giggled and he shoved my arm playfully as we sat outside in the brisk air. A wind picked up and whistled through the trees, making the bare branches sway, and the first snowflakes began to drift to the ground.
“We better go, I don’t feel like singing Frosty the Snowman out here with you,” Nick said as he helped me to my feet.
“Frosty the Snowman was a jolly, happy soul,” I began before he slugged me. Life was good.
“So, um, you call Greg yet?” Nick asked hesitantly.
“Baby hello, oh no, goodbye,” I replied as I shook my head.
“Well, let’s give it a try. I think he’ll be pretty shocked if you were to call him, huh?” Nick pressured.
“Oh no, not again,” I responded. Nick had been on me lately to call Greg, to try and find whatever it was I needed to have from him. I guess to settle it once and for all, but the truth was I was having fun right now, and I was trying to avoid thinking about Greg.
Only, he always came to my thoughts as I settled in for the night, always smiling and wishing me a goodnight in my head.
“Come on, Jakey, just give him a holler, what could it hurt?” Nick asked. He really was right, what could it hurt? I guess I was afraid of more pain. What if he was dating someone now? What if the person he was with earlier was a full time thing now? I wasn’t sure I was prepared for that. But then I had Nick, my best friend, and I was definitely causing him some anxiety with all of this going on at the moment. What the hell?
We got to my house, the snow swirling about on little tides of air, and walked into the house. As soon as we got in you could smell the smoke. I groaned internally as I wondered what my father had tried this time. I could hear him as he descended the stairs to meet us, face showing a few traces of soot.
“Jake! Oh, I’m sorry, I tried to make this casserole in the grill, but it must have been defective. Would you believe it caught fire?” he asked as he shook his head and went by us.
Nick leaned in and whispered in my ear, “My vote is it committed suicide.” This set us both to giggling which we had to master quickly before my father heard us.
“Oh, and I got this new recipe from this TV cooking show last night, about two o’clock. This guy does this recipe, and, you know what? It’s good! I don’t know why they don’t put this kind of stuff on earlier in the day. But, if you stay up, the best stuff is on the TV then,” he spoke loudly to us from the kitchen. “The lobster and strawberry soup sounds awful, but it was surprisingly good!” he called out to us.
Nick and I looked at one another before making a beeline for my room. Lobster and Strawberries? Who would ever THINK of putting those two together? Yuck!
We reached my room and Nick picked up the phone, placing it in my palm, along with my scrap of paper with Greg’s number. The one I had never dialed. Dad had brought it up and pinned it to my lampshade, just in case I needed it. I looked up at him, apprehensive now that the time was actually here. I actually thought the Lobster and Strawberry soup might need tasting right about then.
“Talking won’t kill you, you already saw that some import/export place moved into Caspian’s offices. No need to think Greg will be here next week or something.” I simply sat down on the bed and regarded the phone, fear of rejection and loneliness stabbing directly into my heart as I looked at what this moment represented. Was the feeling I had for Greg love? Or was I simply twisted for trying to keep this alive? I looked to Nick for help on this one.
“Operator, well could you help me place this call? Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me,” I looked up at him with tears welling in my eyes. I knew it hurt him to have me call almost as much as I feared making the call, “There’s something in my eyes, you know it happens every time I think about the love that I thought would save me.”
“Some things you have to do, Jakey, no one can do them for you. But you know I’m here. I’m always here.”
I nodded and inhaled a ragged breath before wiping my eyes and dialing the long-distance number. I screwed up the first time, my hands were shaking so badly, then finally I got the numbers in, after what felt like an eternity. It was busy!
“Long distance telephone keeps ringing out engaged, wonder who you’re talking with tonight,” I sighed. I heard my father coming up the stairs and I quickly lifted the receiver and hit redial as he entered.
“Two bowls, get it while it’s hot!” he said as he sat them on my computer desk. Nick smiled weakly and my handset began to ring in my ear.
“Hello?” Came Mrs. Caspian’s voice.
“Hello, I said hello,” I said unsteadily.
“Who is this?” she asked cautiously.
“Captain Fantastic, raised and regimented, hardly a hero. Just someone his mother might know,” I replied.
“It’s about time you called me, you know I have missed you too, Jacob Tull! How are you?” she admonished and my cheeks went red.
“If you ask how I am, then I’ll just say inspired,” I replied, my mouth on autopilot. My father was looking at me curiously while Nick edged away from the Lobster and Strawberry soup.
“Inspired is a good way to be, but I guess you want to speak to Greg, don’t you?” she asked It was nice to hear your voice anyway. Hold on,” she said while putting the handset down. I could hear her calling Greg to the phone in the background, and the sound of her heels clacking on what sounded like a tile floor.
“Is Jake actually making a phone call?” my dad asked Nick in a stage whisper.
“Yeah, I think he’s in love,” Nick smiled encouragingly at me. What did I do to deserve him, huh?
“Hello?” Greg’s voice made my throat lock up and I suddenly felt very small.
“Hello? This isn’t funny,” he said in a frustrated voice before allowing a moment of silence, a pregnant pause as it were, before speaking again in an unsure tone, “Jake? Are you there? Is it you?”
“Well, I know it’s kind of late, I hope I didn’t wake you,” I replied.
“Jake? Oh god, it’s so good to hear your voice! How are you baby?” he asked, and the obvious emotion in his voice was almost more than I could bear.
“I…Miss…You,” I replied.
“I miss you too, Jake. I’m sorry about the last time,” he hesitated, “you know, the last time we talked. I wanted to call you a million times but I just didn’t think you’d talk to me.”
“What I’ve got to say can’t wait,” I blurted.
“Okay, I’m listening baby,” Greg said from the other side of the country.
“Every time I try to tell you, the words just came out wrong, so I’ll have to say I love you in a song,” I said to him, seeing him in my mind’s eye.
“Jake, thank you. I love you so much I,” he seemed to choke on his words, “I just want to be with you.”
“Through the hour glass I saw you, then you slipped away, only for today. I am unafraid, take my breath away.”
“Jesus, you trying to kill me here?” he chuckled, “I need to see you, Jake,” he said in all seriousness. My father watched me, fascinated that this conversation was happening. Nick beamed with happiness for me And I think then I was smacked once more in the forehead with what a great person he really is.
“I would walk five thousand miles, and I would walk five thousand more,” I grinned foolishly, “I can see a new horizon, underneath a blazing sky, I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher. Gonna be your man in motion. All I need’s just a pair of wheels, I’ll be where my future’s lyin’,” I told him firmly and handed the phone to Nick who began to bubble to Greg about anything under the sun while I sat my father down in my computer chair.
“Your soup,” dad pointed at the rapidly cooling concoction and I took his face in my hands.
“Give me a ticket for an Aero Plane, ain’t got time to take a fast train,” I pleaded to him, “Big old jet airliner, carry to my home,” I said.
“Well, don’t you think we should at least ask his parents first?” my father asked, shaking his head, he reached out and held my face with his hands, “you’ve had so much pain, Jacob, don’t you know all you had to do was ask?”
“I don’t want to leave you lonely,” I replied as I looked into my fathers loving expression.
“Well, it’s not like you’ll be gone forever, right? I am sure Nick will come over and let me feed him once in a while.”