I was going to mow the lawn, Monday morning, and was sitting on the front steps waiting for the dew to dry, when Paul’s car pulled into my drive. Paul was another of Jeremy’s friends from Jr. High. I’d given him the benefit of the doubt before I met him. I didn’t want to prejudge him like I had TJ. I needn’t have bothered. I didn’t like him a bit. I thought he was untrustworthy and slimy. I tolerated him because he was Jeremy and TJ’s friend, but tolerate was as far as I was willing to go. He felt the same about me, but didn’t bother trying as hard to hide his dislike. “Where’s TJ?” he asked, not bothering to say hi or anything.
“How would I know?”
“He wanted me to meet him here this morning, because he wanted to talk to you and me.”
“I don’t know anything about it. No one said anything to me.”
“Just great! I have things I could be doing and I’m stuck here with a little kid, waiting for his ass to show up.”
“Don’t worry about hanging around with the little kid. He’d be just as happy being here alone. You can always leave, if you don’t like the company.”
He just glared at me, but before he could say anything else, TJ’s mom dropped him off in front of my house. “Hi, guys,” he said as he walked up to where we were. “Sorry I’m late, Paul; that piece of crap car of mine wouldn’t start and I had to wait for Mom to drop me off.”
“No problem, TJ, me and the squirt were just hanging out until you got here.”
“What’s up, TJ?” I asked, ignoring Paul.
He came over and sat down next to me. “I’ll get to that in a minute. How are you handling all this, Tony?”
“It’s not easy, but I’m doing okay, I guess. Some days are good and some are bad. The main thing, for me anyway, is to make things as good as possible for Jeremy and make this as easy on him as possible.”
“Yeah, I agree, and that’s what I want to talk to you guys about this morning. After I talked to Paul yesterday and filled him in on everything, I got to thinking. He told me his only regret was that he was going to die without ever having sex. I think we should solve that problem for him.”
“WHAT?” Paul and I said at the same time.
“No way!” Paul said. “I wasn’t very happy when you told me he was gay, but maybe I could live with that. But there’s no way in Hell I’m going to have sex with him or any guy!”
“That’s not what I meant, Paul. I don’t think I could either. I thought we could find another gay guy to do it or even go into the city and find one of those gay hustlers and pay him to do it.”
I was quiet while they argued, and all I could think of was my dad’s words a few days ago. “You have to love him enough to do whatever it takes to make him happy.”
“No, guys. That’s no good.”
“You don’t think it’s a good idea either?” TJ asked me.
“Only if it’s done right. Jeremy deserves more than for his first, and probably only, time to be with some stranger. Especially with some stranger we pick up off the street and have to pay to do it. No guys, if we do this, it has to be with someone he knows and loves...someone who loves him enough to do it for him.”
“Well, I’m not doing it and want no part of this!” Paul said.
“I don’t think I can either, Tony. The only way is to find someone willing or to pay someone.”
“I’ll do it,” I heard myself say, shocking me as much as them.
“I always thought you were a little pervert! I’m out of here!”
“Well, there goes my ride.” TJ said.
“Sorry.” I said.
“For what? It’s not your fault Paul’s a dickhead. Did you mean it, Tony? You’ll really do it?”
“Yeah, I meant it.”
“But Jeremy says you’re straight.”
“Then why? I thought about it, but just can’t.”
“Because he’s my best friend, my brother, and he’s going to die soon. I love him enough to do whatever he needs to try and make his last days as happy as possible.”
“Jeremy is right. He always says you’re special. I see what he means now, and I think I agree with him.”
Jeremy’s eighteenth birthday was the following Friday. His parents told him he could have about ten friends over for a small party. Jeremy had decided on who he’d invite and, surprisingly, had settled for just six people. I asked why so few, since he had a lot of friends, and I thought it would have been hard to decide on just ten people. “Yeah, I know,” he’d said. “I know a lot of people and quite a few of them I’d call friends, but there’s not that many who’re good enough friends that I want to share the last birthday I’ll ever have with them.”
With so few coming, there wasn’t much planning to do. It would mostly be just a bunch of guys hanging out for the evening, so takeout pizza and sodas would be all that would be needed. I, on the other hand, had lots of preparations to make and planning to do. I’ll admit, I was nervous and tense about what I’d decided to do for Jeremy, but I was determined to carry it through.
I’d decided the best time to do it would be the night of his eighteenth birthday. My problem was, I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do or how to go about it. My mom had gone through a romance novel stage a few years back, so I dug through some boxes of books in the garage, and found several of those old novels in them. I spent the next few days skimming through them. It was a cram course in the art of seduction. I finally figured I had the basics down and planned out how I was going to apply them. I’d talk to Jeremy, just the two of us, about spending the night in the tree house, the night of his party. I’d make sure everything that could be done early was ready during the day, and then leave the party a little early to do the final things that needed to be done and to get myself ready.
As the day of the party got closer, I became more and more anxious. I sat around a lot lost in thought. I was firm in my decision but uneasy about the actual deed. I felt sure in my heart that I was doing the right thing, but I was having trouble accepting the reality of what I planned to do. Several times that week, my mom and dad asked if something was bothering me. I wished I could have told them and gotten their advice, but how do you explain to your parents that their straight son was planning to seduce his dying best friend, so that friend would get to have sex once before he died?
By the time of the party Friday evening, I was a nervous wreck, but I did my best to appear normal around Jeremy. I wasn’t going to allow anything to ruin this day for him.
It didn’t really seem like much of a party. It was just some friends hanging out, eating pizza, drinking sodas, and scratching their balls. I smiled as I remembered the day Jeremy was wondering why, when a bunch of guys get together, there’s so much ball scratching. Personally, I’d never noticed, but after he mentioned it, I noticed that it was true. Now, whenever I was in a group of guys and the ball scratching starts, I have a hard time not laughing. Jeremy and I had finally come to the conclusion that it was like yawning. If someone yawns, soon the people around him begin to yawn. If some guy scratches, the guys around him start to itch too. It was contagious.
I mostly just wandered around from group to group at the party. Jeremy and TJ were the only ones there I knew well. The other six guys were all seniors and guys Jeremy had played football with or hung around with at school. I’d met them all, but that old grade hierarchy had meant I never really got to hang around with them all that much.
Towards the end of the evening, I was in the kitchen leaning on the room divider that separates the family room from the kitchen. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. The thought of what would be happening later that night had pretty much shut my brain down. TJ came in and joined me. “Hey,” he said.
“Nothing has gotten broken and everyone seems to be having a good time, so I guess the party is a success.”
“Yeah,” I laughed.
“Jeremy told me you guys were going to stay in the tree house tonight and asked if I wanted to too. Sounds like fun.”
“No, you can’t.” He gave me a confused look and asked why not. “Remember what we talked about on Monday?”
He still looked confused, but then I saw realization hit him. “Oh,” he said and looked down at the floor. We stood there for awhile, me staring out into nothing and him staring at the floor. “You don’t have to go through with this, Tony. You and I are the only ones who know what you’re planning and there’s no way I’d hold it against you for not doing what I can’t do myself. You can change your mind if you want to.”
“No, I can’t. I have to do this for Jeremy. Doing this is nothing, compared to what he’s going through and will be going through. I’d have to live the rest of my life knowing I’d not done something I was able to do for my dying best friend. Nothing can make his last days happy, but this might just make them a little more bearable. After tonight, this will be over and done for me. It’s not something that’s going to scar me for the rest of my life, but it is something, a good memory, that Jeremy will have for the rest of his.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said sadly. “I’ll tell him my mom has some early errands for me tomorrow. You’re a good friend, Tony. Let’s not drift apart after...” he stopped talking momentarily, as if searching for words. “After...well, you know.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’d like that. Hey, do me a favor?”
“Tell Jeremy I spilled soda all over myself and I have to go clean up and I’ll meet him in the tree house when everyone’s gone.”
“Okay....” he stopped but I could tell he wanted to say something else.
“What?” I asked.
“I don’t know what to say. I know this won’t be fun for you so I won’t say have fun. Good luck doesn’t seem right either. I guess the only thing that fits is, thanks for what you’re doing.” Then he left to give my message to Jeremy.
I went back to my house and showered. I decided to wear the pair of Sponge Bob boxers Jeremy had given me as a gag gift the previous Christmas. I figured when he saw them, he’d feel nostalgic and it would make things a little easier. I grabbed my backpack I’d loaded with things I thought I’d need, and went out to the tree house.
I climbed the ladder, lit the lantern, and double checked the arrangements I’d made earlier that day. I’d gotten Mom and Dad’s two person air mattress out of the garage, aired it up, and spread the two sleeping bags that I’d zipped together to make a bag large enough to sleep two on it. I’d scrubbed down the inside of the tree house. It was the only time it had ever been cleaned.
Satisfied that all was as it should be, I started to unpack my back pack. I took out a bottle of wine I’d stolen from my parents’ wine box, opened it, and set it and two glasses on one of the old milk crates we had up there to sit on. Next, I took the five scented candles I’d bought and placed them around the room. There was still one more thing to unpack, but I just couldn’t do it now. It had been a late addition that I had thought of at the last minute. Just the thought of that small jar of Vaseline in my bag made my heart pound and the sweat pop out on my forehead.
I was a nervous wreck. The closer the time came, the worse it got. I thought some of the wine would help, so I poured myself a glass and watched out of the window for Jeremy. I went over to turn the old radio that we kept up there to a soft rock station, and noticed my glass was empty, so I poured myself another. I could feel myself relaxing, so the wine was working.
I went outside to the little balcony thing we had along the front of the tree house. I smiled as I remembered the fight over it. Jeremy and I wanted one and our dads agreed, but it was vetoed by our moms. Eventually, the women gave in to the pleadings of us four guys, but only on the condition our dads built an extra strong railing so we wouldn’t fall off.
That fall, our school was visited by the fire department during our first week back. We got the standard fire safety talk, and then we were all allowed out to look over the fire truck. Jeremy and I came home that afternoon, convinced, as were most of the other kids, that we were just meant to be fire fighters. We each had one of those home fire safety sheets that you use to check your home for fire hazards. We checked both of our homes and were upset that we couldn’t find anything unsafe.
Since we spent so much time in our tree house, we decided we’d better check it too and were delightedly shocked to find a serious problem. We had no secondary escape route. We thought a rope tied to the top rail would be just what we needed. After we had it tied in place, Jeremy decided we should test it. “I’ll go first because I’m the oldest,” he’d said. He slid about halfway down the rope before the friction was too much, so he let go, thinking he could just drop the rest of the way. It would have worked okay, if he hadn’t rolled when he hit the ground. He got his arm twisted under him and broke it. We were grounded from the tree house until his cast came off, and told no more additions to the tree house without our dad’s help.
I looked at my watch. I’d been here almost an hour. I wondered what was keeping Jeremy. I looked over at their house and the only car in the driveway was theirs. He’d be here soon, so I got up and lit the candles and refilled my glass while I was up.
I walked back out onto the balcony and saw Jeremy coming across their lawn. He looked up and saw me and waved. “Ahoy there, Captain,” he shouted. “Permission to come aboard?”
“Permission granted,” I laughed. I went back inside, grabbed the other glass for him, and handed it to him after he climbed in.
He took the glass and looked around. “Wow!” he said. “What’s all this?”
“It’s a special night for my best friend, so I decided to spruce the place up some.”
He held up his glass. “What’s this for?”
“A birthday toast.”
“Shouldn’t there be something in the glass to drink, if I’m going to drink a toast?”
I looked at him in confusion. “Oh, crap! I forgot to pour you some! I’ll get it for you.” I started to turn around but stumbled a little.
“Whoa there, big guy!” he said, grabbing my arm and steadying me. “You just stand there and I’ll get it.” He poured some wine in his glass and came back over to me and held up his glass, but it only had a couple inches of wine in it. “What’s the toast?” he asked.
“To my best friend, Jeremy Palmer. Tonight, he becomes a man.”
“And to my best friend, Tony the Wino Taylor. May the fun he’s having tonight be worth the pain he’ll be in tomorrow.”
We clicked our glasses together and emptied them. “You didn’t have much wine, Jeremy. This is good stuff, do you want some more?”
“I probably would, if there was any more. The bottle’s empty.”
“It can’t be,” I said in disbelief. “I’ve only had three glasses.”
Jeremy laughed and said, “These aren’t wine glasses, Tony. You’ve drunk almost a whole bottle. You’re stinko, Bro, drunk on your ass!”
“I am not! I just drank enough to calm my nerves.”
“Well, your nerves are pretty calm right now, but you’re going to have the shakes in the morning.” He laughed.
A slow ballad came on the radio. “Let’s dance,” I said, holding out my arms to him.
“You shouldn’t be moving around, Tony. You need to lie down before you fall.”
“Well, if you won’t dance with me, I’ll dance for you.”
I began moving to the music, but even I could tell I wasn’t keeping with the beat. My dance turned into a strip tease on an impulse. I pulled my tee over my head and waved it around in the air over my head a few times, before tossing it to him. He caught it and laughed. “You are sooooo wasted!” I continued my dance until I was wearing only my boxers. I turned my back to him and hooked my thumbs in my waistband, and slowly began pulling the back down, until I’d given him a full moon. I pulled them back up and leaned against the wall as the music ended.
He applauded and then said, “Nice undies. I thought you were going to save them for a special night?”
“This is a special night,” I said, as I leaned against the wall, trying to look sexy, but mostly to hold myself up.
Jeremy looked at me, lifted one eyebrow, and smiled. “Why, Miss Scarlet, wine, candles, and fancy silk undergarments. Would you, by chance, be trying to seduce me?” I just shrugged and gave him what I thought was a sexy smile. His eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped open in surprise. “Oh my God, Tony! You are trying to seduce me!” He stared in shock at me for a few moments and then started laughing! Not just laughing, but big guffaws followed by snorts, as he tried catching his breath. “This is so rich!” he laughed. “ You’re straight. Whatever made you decide to seduce me?”
“It was Dad.”
He looked stunned. “Your dad told you to seduce me?”
The wine was messing with my mind, and I was having a hard time arranging my thoughts and, when I thought I’d done it, the words wouldn’t come out the way I was thinking them. “No, he told me I had to love you enough to do whatever you needed. The sex was TJ’s idea.”
“This is getting better and better.” He began laughing again. “So it was TJ that thought you should have sex with me?”
I was feeling woozy and wobbly, both physically and emotionally, and I was beginning to become angry. Angry at myself for not being able to say things right, and angry at Jeremy for laughing at me. “No, damn it! You told TJ that your only regret was not having ever had sex, and that would make you happy and you could die with no regrets. He thought we should find another gay guy to have sex with you, and if we couldn’t, then we should pay someone to do it. I told him that wasn’t right, and you deserved more than having sex with a stranger. I thought it should be someone you love, or at least know, if we were going to do that. I said it should be one of us, but they didn’t want to do it, so I said I would.”
“I get it now,” he said, laughing even harder. “It was all my idea for you to seduce me.”
The dam broke in me and I exploded in drunken anger. “Shut up, you asshole!” I shouted – and then started blubbering. “Okay, so you think it’s a stupid idea, but I worked hard to make this night perfect for you. I wanted to do something special for you. I wanted your eighteenth birthday to be the best you ever had. I planned everything and even read all those stupid romance novels to make sure I was doing everything right. I got the candles and the wine, I even shaved and wore these stupid Sponge Bob boxers you gave me for Christmas last year.” I was crying so hard now that I bet he had a hard time even understanding me. “I’ve been waiting up here for you and you didn’t come. I was nervous, so I drank a little of the wine and waited longer, but you still didn’t show; so I drank more wine, and before I knew it, had drunk half the bottle. Now I’m drunk and have screwed everything up. You’re right, it was a stupid idea, but only because I should have known that you wouldn’t want anything to do with me, any more than the girls at school.”
Jeremy had quit laughing and was staring at me. “Tony?” he said trying to interrupt me.
“I’m not finished! Why should you settle for the geek with braces, glasses, and a big head? You’d rather have someone like TJ. He was probably right, we should have just picked up some good looking boy prostitute and set you up with him. I bet you wouldn’t have laughed at him!”
I was getting dizzy and was looking for a place to sit down before I fell down. I aimed for the milk crate but missed, and hit the edge of it, turning it over and knocking over the wine bottle and one of the candles. I probably should have moved the candle and wine before I tried sitting, but in my state of mind, that never occurred to me. Jeremy jumped up and made sure the candle didn’t set the tree house on fire, set the wine bottle back up, and then squatted in front of me. “Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?”
“I’m fine! Not that you care anyway!”
He looked at me with a sad expression. “I do care, Tony, I care a lot.” He reached and took hold of one of my hands and stood up. “Come on, Bro,” he said, pulling me to my feet. “Let’s get you onto the sleeping bags before you do hurt yourself.” He helped me across to the pallet I’d made earlier, and got me sitting down, propped up against the wall. It wasn’t easy. I was pretty unstable and kept trying to pull my hand away from him. I was angry and didn’t want him touching me, but he never let go. He stepped across my legs and sat next to me. He put his arm around me, but I kept trying to throw it off. “You might as well give up,” he said. “I’m not letting go.” I turned and glared at him, but he just smiled at me. I turned my head away from him, but did stop struggling.
“You’re right, Tony. I shouldn’t have laughed at you, and I’m sorry. I’m not going to say it wasn’t funny though. Fifteen or so years from now, when you’re telling your kids about their Uncle Jeremy, this probably won’t be one of the stories you tell them. I’d be willing to bet, though, that when you see or smell something that reminds you of tonight, it’ll bring a smile to your face too.”
“When I told TJ that, about wanting to have sex, I was trying to seduce him. It was wrong for me to do that when I knew he was straight.”
“But you did try to seduce him, but you never did me. What’s wrong with me?”
He gave a soft chuckle. “That’s not true. I tried twice to get you to fool around and you shot me down both times.”
“Bullshit! I’d remember something like that.”
“Not if you never knew what was going on. The first time, I was spending the night at your house, and after we went to bed, I told you I wasn’t sleepy and asked if you wanted to fool around some. I almost crapped my pants when you said ‘sure’ but, by the time I got turned over and started to reach for you, you’d sat up and turned on the light. You looked at me with those big, innocent eyes and asked what I wanted to do, play video games, watch a movie, or surf the net for awhile. I didn’t have the heart to tell you what I really meant, so I picked video games.”
“I don’t remember that at all.”
“The second time was right after I started the new school. You were staying at my house that night, and I made up this story about a kid I met at school. I told you he liked it when his cousin stayed over, because his cousin liked to give blow jobs. You asked if two boys really did that. You looked skeptical, so I said, yeah. All you said was ‘ewwww’. I thought I might have gone too far, too fast, and told you that lots of girls liked to do that too. You asked if girls really did that for guys, and it wasn’t just bullshit from the older guys, so I told you that it was true. That’s when you shot me down the second time. You said, ‘WOW!’ It wasn’t so much that you said wow, as it was the way you said it. It came out more as, ‘WOOOOWEEEE!’ That’s when I knew for sure you were straight, and never tried anything again.”
It was my turn to give a soft laugh. “I do remember that night, but had no idea what you were trying to do. All I could think of was some girl doing that for me. I got so hard, I was afraid to roll over, because it would probably snap right off. As soon as you were asleep, I sneaked into the bathroom to take care of the problem.”
Jeremy looked at me in feigned shock. “Why, you nasty boy, you! I thought you didn’t do things like that. You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“Shows what you know. I’m not dumb enough to ignore a perfectly good toy.”
We both laughed and then were quiet for a minute or two. “Tony?”
“I’m glad we never messed around.”
“Yeah. If we had, as we got older and you got more interested in girls, you’d have begun feeling guilty about doing it, and I’d have been feeling guilty about still wanting to do it with you. We might not still be friends now, if that had happened.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You may be right, but I’d like to think the two of us could survive anything.”
“Can I ask you something, Tony?”
“You were really going to go through with this, even though you didn’t want to?”
“But I do want to do it.”
“You do? You want to have gay sex?”
I thought a minute before I answered. “Let me see if I can explain it. If you knew I wanted something for my birthday and it was really expensive, but you had the money to pay for it, would you get it for me?”
“Even if it left you broke?”
“Yeah, it wouldn’t matter how much it cost. If I could get it for you, I would.”
“See? That’s how I feel. You’re looking at it as if the sex would be the gift, but it’s not. The gift is a little bit of happiness in your life right now. The sex is just the cost of the gift. You said the cost didn’t matter for my gift; that if you could get it for me, you would. That’s the same way I feel...the sex isn’t important. I have what it takes to pay, so I want to get that gift for you.”
He looked into my eyes for a long time, and I noticed tears running down his cheeks. “You’re an amazing guy, Tony,” he finally said.
He started leaning towards me, bringing our faces closer together. ‘Oh my God! He’s going to kiss me! We’re actually going to do it!’ I thought to myself. I tensed up, but immediately relaxed.
“I love you, Anthony Taylor.”
“I love you too, Jeremy Palmer.” I closed my eyes, and just as I felt his lips touch the tip of my nose, I was engulfed in a wave of dizziness.