The next ten days were hell for me. I tried my best, I really did, but nothing I did seemed to make Jeremy happy. The more I did for him the angrier he became; nothing pleased him. It all came to a head one Saturday morning when I went next door to see what plans Jeremy had for the day. I walked into his room and he was sitting in a chair looking out the window. Although it was nearly eleven, he was still in his boxers. “Hey,” I said, walking over and sitting on his bed. “What’s going on?”
“What do you want to do today?”
“Nothing. I just want to lay around the house and hang out today,” he answered without looking at me.
I felt some concern, “Are you feeling okay?”
He looked up angrily, “Yeah! I feel fine! Can’t I just feel like spending a day doing nothing?”
“Okay, okay, you don’t have to bite my head off.” I kicked off my shoes and laid back on his bed. I propped my head on my hand and looked towards Jeremy. He had his stereo tuned to a light rock station and it played softly in the background. Several times, I started to say something but held back. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I said lately angered Jeremy. Occasionally, he would glance up at me and quickly look away. He, too, looked as if he was going to say something but, like me, would change his mind.
“Screw this!” he said, getting up and starting to dress.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’m going boarding for awhile.”
“Cool. I’ll go grab my stuff.”
“No. I’d rather be alone.”
“You don’t want me to go along?” I asked in near shock.
“Tony, when have you ever wanted to go boarding? From the time we both got boards that Christmas, you’ve hated it. I’m on my fourth board and you still have the same one we got that year. It still looks almost brand new. Now, since I got sick, you think boarding’s cool?”
“I just want you to have fun. Is there something wrong with that?”
“Yes...no. It’s not just the boarding, Tony. It’s everything. You try to do everything for me now. I’m almost afraid to go take crap when you’re around. You’d probably be standing there, with a roll of toilet paper, so you could wipe my ass so I wouldn’t have to. Whatever I want to do is fine. When do we do what you want? When do you say no, that you don’t want to do something and then come up with something we both want to do?”
Jeremy was looking frustrated but was on a roll and continued, “Eleven years, Tony. For eleven years you complained about having to sit in a pig pen when we were hanging out in my room. You even gave me a can of air freshener for my birthday, one year. When did you ever clean it for me? Never, that’s when. Not once in those eleven years. My room was a joke between us. A couple days ago, when I got home from the doctor’s, you’d cleaned my room...you even washed the windows and had washed my laundry, for God’s sake! You’re suffocating me, Tony”
I started to speak, but he wouldn’t let me. “I know,” he said. “I know it’s out of kindness, but it’s still suffocating me. I don’t know you. I have no idea who you are anymore. I miss my friend, Tony. I don’t know where he’s gone; when, or even if, he’s coming back. I only know I miss him.” He grabbed his board and left me sitting on his bed, speechless. I walked to the window and watched as he walked across their lawn to the sidewalk. He stopped and started to put on his helmet, looked at it, suddenly threw it back towards the house, climbed on his board and skated up the street.
I put my shoes back on and headed home. While cutting across their front yard to our driveway, I saw his helmet. I started to pick it up and put it on their front porch but, instead, just kicked it in anger. I wasn’t picking it up; he left it there, so let him pick it up. I didn’t know what to think. I was all confused inside. It was a mixture of anger, sadness and hurt, and they took turns telling me how to feel.
When I reached our driveway, I saw that the garage door was open and Dad was messing around inside. I walked up to see what he was doing. “Hey.” I said as I walked in. “What are you working on?”
He turned and looked at me. “Hi, I thought you were were going to Jeremy’s?”
“I did but I came home.”
He must have heard something in the tone of my voice. He stopped what he was doing and turned to face me. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “I’d rather not talk about it, okay?”
“Okay. I’ve been promising your mom for months that I’d get the garage straightened up. I ran out of excuses for putting it off this morning, so here I am. You want to give me a hand?”
“Sure, Dad.” We spent the next two hours cleaning the garage and, even though I’d said I didn’t want to talk about it, I soon found myself telling him everything. Sometimes, I’d be throwing things around in anger and sometimes working through tears. But I got it all out. Dad never said much, he just would ask a question once in a while.
When we’d finished the garage he suggested we go get cleaned up and then have some iced tea on the patio. “We can finish our talk then in the shade.”
“I’ve already told you everything, Dad.”
“Yeah, but now comes the Dad part.” he said laughing.
When he came out to the patio, later, I was standing looking at the tree house. He walked over and put his arm around my shoulders. “A lot of good memories in that old fort aren’t there?”
He was quiet for a few moments and then asked, “Do you love him, Son?”
I didn’t even have to think about the answer. I looked at Dad and he was looking at me. “Yes,” I said holding his gaze.
He nodded. “How much do you love him?”
I rankled at his question. “I’m not gay, Dad, and we’re not boyfriends, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
He looked thoughtful, like he was considering his words before he answered me. “Someone could do a lot worse than having Jeremy for a boyfriend,” he said. I noticed the beginning of tears in his eyes. “I’m not going to lie to you,Tony. I’m relieved to hear that you aren’t gay but only because it’s not easy. Maybe someday, things will be different and people won’t hate so easily. That’s not what I was asking, anyway. My question is, how much do you love him?”
I remembered the day that Jeremy told me he was gay. We were in his back yard cooking ants with a magnifying glass and the sun’s rays. I don’t know what led up to it, but Jeremy said he didn’t like girls. “Why not?” I asked him.
“Because, I like boys instead. I’m gay.”
“Oh.” I’d replied. “I think I’ll be gay too, then.”
“You can’t just decide to be gay, dork. You either are or you’re not.”
“Is it fun being gay?”
“No. It might be when I’m older though.”
“Well, if it’s not fun, I don’t want to be gay.”
“Me either,” he said softly and sadly.
“Are you going to answer my question? How much do you love him?” my dad’s voice brought me back.
I wasn’t sure what he was getting at and didn’t know how to answer. “A lot,” is all I could come up with.
“What we’re all going through, with Jeremy’s illness, is hard on all of us. I know how hard it is on your mom and I, but can only guess how Jeremy’s parents are feeling, by imagining it was you and not Jeremy, and it rips my heart out. This must be how they feel right now. What all of us have to remember is that no matter how hard it is on us, it’s the hardest on Jeremy.
Right now, Jeremy’s coping by playing a game of pretend. Do you feel better when you do those things for Jeremy?”
“Are you doing them to make him happy?”
“Are you sure?”
“But it’s not making him happy is it?”
“No, he just gets mad at me.”
“Jeremy needs things to be as much like they were as possible right now. That keeps his illness in the background and allows him to pretend things are normal. There’ll come a time, sooner than any of us want, where we’ll all have to be doing things for him that he can’t do for himself any longer. Jeremy’s strong, and when that time comes, he’ll handle it just fine. What all of of have to do now is to make things as normal-seeming as possible for as long as possible, for him. Maybe you need to back off a little and play the pretend game with him while he needs it. Let it come from your heart, Tony, and do what Jeremy needs. I think you’ll feel just as good about things, because you’ll see your friend happy for awhile. You have to decide whether you can put your feelings on hold for a while and love him enough to do whatever it takes to make him happy. Maybe you should sit out here and think about that for awhile.”
“Yeah, I will, Dad. Dad?” I said, as he started back into the house, “I love you.”
He came back over and hugged me tightly. “I love you too, Son.”
I’d been sitting on the patio step for about ten minutes when I heard the Palmer’s rear door open and shut. I looked over there and Jeremy was standing there looking at me. He looked as sad as I felt. “Hi,” he said. “Can you come over for awhile?”
“I need to sit out here and think about what an ass I’ve been to my best friend and how I’m going to try my best to never let it happen again.”
“I was just coming out to think about the same thing and how I was going to try to never let it happen again, either.”
“Thinking is hard.” I said.
“Yeah, especially when you have to do it alone. Maybe I could come over there and we could think together?”
I nodded and scooted over to make room for him. Now, here we were, eleven years later and sitting on those steps again with our elbows on our knees and chins in our hands. “I’m sorry, Tony. I shouldn’t have blown up at you like that.”
“I’m sorry too. Next time, don’t let me get away with it without saying something. I thought I was helping you.”
“I guess we both just let things get to us too much.”
“Want to run down to the sports shop with me after dinner?”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“A new helmet. I left mine in the front yard this morning when I left and when I came home, it was gone. I guess someone saw it laying there and took it.”
“It’s in the Spencer’s yard,” I said, barely holding back a smirk.
“How did it get over there? I know it was in our yard.”
“When I came out of your house this morning, I stubbed my toe on it.”
“So, you got pissed and threw it across the street into their yard? You can just go get it then.”
“I didn’t throw it anywhere and I’m not about to go get it.”
“You stubbed your toe on it and that’s all?”
“Yeah, I stubbed my toe on it really, really hard.”
“Hard enough it went all the way across the road into the Spencer’s yard. You better go get it!”
“I’ll make you.”
“I’ll make you.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“You’ll be sorry if you don’t go get it.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that either.”
Just then, Dad stuck his head out the door. “Your mom just called, Jeremy, she wants you to come eat now.”
“Okay, thanks Mr. Taylor.”
When dad went back inside, Jeremy turned to me. “You are going to go get it you will be sorry.”
“There you go betting again.” I said with a smirk.
He glared at me and turned to go home. After just a few steps, he turned and came back to where I was standing. He wasn’t glaring anymore but had a huge grin on his face. He grabbed me in a huge hug and with tear-filled eyes, said, “Welcome back, Tony, I’ve missed you the last couple weeks.”
“I’m glad to be back. I’ve missed you too,” I told him as I returned his hug.
He left again and as he was getting ready to go in their house, I yelled, “But I’m still not going to go get the helmet!”
“Yeah, I figured.” he shouted back, laughing. “You’ve always been a stubborn little shit!”
After dinner, I was sitting in my room listening to some tunes when my door opened. “Hey,” I heard.
“How did you know it was me?”
“You’re the only one that comes in my room without knocking. Even Silvy knocks since that time, a couple years ago, she walked in and I was naked. One of these days, you’re going to walk in and catch me naked or worse, doing something embarrassing.”
“Ha! I wish! I don’t think you ever do anything embarrassing. I’ve been walking in your room for eleven years, trying to catch you doing something embarrassing. You’re not normal, Tony. And besides that, you’re being impolite to God.”
“Okay, this has to be good. So how am I being impolite to God?”
“If someone gives you a toy to play with, you should at least try it out. God went to a lot of trouble, giving boys a nice toy. It would only be the polite thing to do to play with it once in a while. Who knows? You may find out you like it and play with it more often.”
I just laughed. “Very funny, you perv. So what’s up? Did you just come over to give me a hard time or what?”
“TJ’s home. He just called and is coming over in a little bit.”
Jeremy met TJ when he started the seventh grade at the new Jr. High. I was already upset at the fact of a four year separation in our schools, and when he came over a few days after school had started, and kept going on about this amazing kid named TJ he’d met, I was heartbroken. I was sure this was the beginning of the end for us. It was my worst fear coming true. Jeremy had already found a new friend to take my place. Just the mere mention of his name was enough to throw me into a simmering rage. I would spend hours dreaming up tortures for this TJ guy. This went on for several months until one weekend when TJ was going to come over to Jeremy’s.
Jeremy came over to my house that Saturday and told me TJ was coming over that afternoon and told me he wanted me to meet him. This kid was my mortal enemy and there was no way I wanted anything to do with him, except maybe to light the pile of wood if he were tied to a stake. Jeremy knew how I felt about TJ and had been trying to convince me to meet TJ, so I could see what a great guy he really was.
“Why would I want to meet the guy that’s trying to steal my best friend?” I asked. “For three months, all I’ve heard is how great TJ is, how smart TJ is, how friendly he is, and how I should give him a chance and not judge him without at least meeting him. No thanks, you and your new friend have fun and I’ll find something else to do.”
It was Jeremy’s turn to go ballistic. “What the hell’s wrong with you two? You both are acting like babies! I finally get him to agree to come meet you and you refuse. I should just give up on both of you and go find a new friend and a different blood brother.”
“He doesn’t want to meet me? What’s wrong with me? He think he’s too good for me?”
“No, he doesn’t want to meet you and there’s nothing wrong with you, just like there’s nothing wrong with him, but both of you think you’re not as good as the other. Neither of you think you can compete with the other for my friendship.”
“That’s not true!” I said indignantly, but knowing inside that that was exactly how I felt.
“Yes, it is. When we’re together, I talk about him, and when he and I are together, I talk about you. It’s my fault for thinking my two best friends would like to hear about each other. Tony, I know the two of you would like each other if you both just gave the other a chance. He’s kind, friendly, smart and really cute.”
“Did you just say he was cute?”
“No,” he said, starting to blush.
“Yes, you did! I heard you!”
“You’re hearing things,” he said, his blush deepening.
You like TJ, don’t you?”
“Of course. He’s my friend.”
“No, I mean really like him...as in ‘like like’ him.”
“Maybe,” he said, looking at the floor. He looked up at me. “Please give him a chance, Tony. For me?”
“Okay, but I’m not making any promises.”
He gave me a big grin. “Thanks, Tony. He’s going to be there about one, so why don’t you come over about noon?”
“See you then,” he said and started to leave.
“What?” he asked turning back to face me.
“Did you tell him I was cute?”
“Hell no! I’m trying to impress this guy. As soon as he saw you, he’d know I’d lied to him. I don’t think that would make a very good impression.”
I threw a pair of dirty socks at him as he left, laughing.
I’ll admit, I went into this expecting to keep right on hating TJ. The more we all talked and just hung out that afternoon, the more I could see why Jeremy liked him. As much as I hated to admit it, he seemed to be a really nice guy, and the fact he was two years older than me never seemed to bother him at all. By the time it was time for him to go home, I’d decided that maybe we could be friends, but what he said before he left convinced me we could.
The three of us were in Jeremy’s front yard waiting for TJ’s mom to pick him up. “Do you guys want to come to my house next Saturday morning, and we can hang out all day together?”
“Me too?” I asked in disbelief.
“Sure, it’ll be fun,” he answered.
“I guess I could,” I answered and could see Jeremy beaming.
TJ’s mom pulled up and honked. “I’ll check to see if it’s okay,” he said, running to their car. He opened the car door and talked to his mom for a few seconds, then turned around and yelled back to us, “It’s okay with Mom. I’ll see you in school tomorrow, Jeremy, and I’ll see you next Saturday, Tony.”
I watched as they drove away, and, when I turned around, Jeremy was standing there with an evil grin on his face. “Don’t say it,” I warned him.
“Don’t say what?” he asked innocently.
“I told you so.”
“Why would I do that...even though I did tell you so?”
“Because you always do, when you think you were right about something.”
“He’s everything I said, isn’t he?”
“He seems okay.”
“And I was right, he is cute. Come on, admit it.”
“I’m not the best person to judge another guy’s looks, but I’ll admit no mirrors broke when he walked by them.”
“You want to go back to my room and play some video?”
“Nah, it’s been a long day. I think I’m going to shower and get some sleep.”
“Okay, see you in the morning.”
“Yeah,” I said and started towards our house.
“What?” I said, not turning around and still walking.
“I told you so!”
I just flipped him the bird behind my back but couldn’t help smiling since he couldn’t see the smile.
By the time the weather had warmed up and things were all green again, TJ and I had become good friends. I even counted him as one of my best friends. There was still that nagging little bit of doubt in my mind, though. I was still fearful that Jeremy and my relationship was less than before.
He and I were sitting in the tree house, one Friday afternoon, waiting for TJ to get there. We were all going to spend the night in the tree house. “I like TJ,” I said.
“You better not like, like him. I saw him first!” Jeremy laughed.
“Don’t worry,” I said, laughing too. “Unless he’s secretly a she, he’s not my type. I’ve been thinking, though. Since we’re all good friends, do you think we should ask him if he wants to be a blood brother too?”
“No,” Jeremy answered immediately. “That’s just for us. It shows we’re special for each other.”
“Cool,” I said. I knew then that Jeremy and I were special for each other and, even though other friends might come and go in our lives, we’d always be special to each other.
“Did he have fun at football camp?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t talk long. Tony?”
“Would it be okay if you waited to see him and it’s just he and I tonight?”
He looked almost scared, as he waited for me to answer. “Sure,” I said, “but why?”
“I’m going to tell him tonight.”
“About being sick?”
“Yeah, but not just that. I want to tell him everything. I’m going to tell him I’m gay and how I feel about him.”
“Are you sure? What if he doesn’t take it well?”
“It’s a chance I have to take. It’ll be better knowing than dying without knowing. Besides, the way I see it, one of three things will happen. He’ll run screaming out of my room and I’ll never see him again, or he’ll just say it’s okay, that he’s cool with it, or my personal pick.”
“He’ll tell me he’s gay too and we’ll rip each other’s clothes off and have some loud, obnoxious sex for the rest of the night.”
“Yeah...you know, lots of slurping and squishy noises.”
“I know,” he said smiling. “It sounds like a night in Heaven doesn’t it?”
I couldn’t help laughing, but turned serious. “Well, I hope, for your sake, it’s number three too, Bro.”
“Thanks, Tony. I’ll open my window, and you should too.”
“Because if it is number three, all the slurping and squishy noises might get you back on God’s good side by giving you an idea what to do with that toy he gave you.”
“Go home, Jeremy!”
“I’m out of here,” he said, laughing like an idiot.
After he left, I made sure my window was closed. Slurpy and squishy noises from two guys just didn’t do anything for me. I stood watching as he crossed the driveway on his way back to his own house. “Whatever rocks your boat,” I thought to myself. “Good luck, Bro.” and I meant it from my heart.
It was almost time for bed and I’d just showered and was lying on my bed reading, when he burst into my room again. “Five years, Tony! For five freaking years, I’ve been wishing and dreaming he was gay. Almost every night for those five years, we showered together. Sometimes he’d even visit me in the middle of the night or bright and early in the morning. Fantasies, that’s all they were. But they gave me hope. I’m such an idiot!”
“I take it, it wasn’t option three?”
“No, but at least it wasn’t option one.”
“I told him everything, just like I said I would.”
“What did he say?”
“He hugged me and told me he loved me too!”
“And that was a bad thing?”
“Yeah, it was, because of what he said. He said he loved me okay, but that he was sorry, because he didn’t love me the same way I loved him.”
“I’m sorry, Bro. Are you going to be okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m just disgusted with myself for wasting five years of hope on a straight guy.”
“Are you and him okay...friend–wise, I mean?”
“Oh yeah, we’re still friends. My fantasies had nothing to do with our friendship. He’s coming over Monday when I get home from my doctor’s appointment, so we can all hang out together.”
“Cool, it’ll be good to see him again.”
“Yeah. Can I sleep here tonight, Tony? I just don’t feel like being alone tonight.”
“Of course, but you better call your mom so she’ll know.”
“I told her I’d probably stay over when I told her I was coming over to talk to you.”
Later, when we were lying in bed, I had a thought. “Hey, are you asleep yet?”
“I’ve been thinking. What are fantasies, anyway?”
I felt the bed moving, and in the dim light coming in through the window, I saw him turn onto his side, so he was facing me, and prop his head up on his elbow. “You have to be kidding!” he said. “A fantasy is when you’re feeling all sexy and horny in the shower or wherever, and it’s what goes through your mind while you’re....”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I know that, doofus. I meant that fantasies aren’t real. They may be about something we wish was real but they don’t have to be. Did you, uh, enjoy your fantasy showers and other things with TJ?”
He was quiet for a minute before he answered. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“If you enjoyed it and it was fun, then it wasn’t a waste of time was it?”
He was silent for a longer period, this time. “You’re right. Thanks, Tony.”
“Can I ask you something now, Jeremy?”
“Sure, do you want me to describe some of those fantasies?”
“No,” I laughed. “This is a serious question, so behave, okay?”
“Okay, I promise. What’s your question?”
“Why did you want to tell TJ about your illness, but had mom and dad tell me instead of you doing it?”
“I couldn’t tell your mom and dad either. My mom and dad had to.”
He turned back onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “Your mom and dad are like second parents to me, and you’re not just my best friend but my brother too. I just couldn’t be the one to hurt you guys.”
“It’s not your fault you got sick.”
“I know that, but If I was the one telling you, it would feel like I was the one hurting you. I’d never do anything to hurt any of you, so I just couldn’t tell you.”
“Yeah, I understand now.”
“So, do you want to hear those fantasies now?”
“Shut up and go to sleep!”
He was laughing as he turned onto his other side, so he was facing the wall. “Good night, Tony,” he said, when he’d stopped laughing.
“Good night, Jeremy.” I said aloud. “Good night, my brother,” I thought to myself, as the tears silently flowed down my cheeks.