It All Started At Schwartz

By Jeff


To Dave, Your site has been a great area for people to read literature with substance, I thank you for letting me be part of this community.
To Ed, For his dedication and persistence in reading all my rough drafts, I could not do it without him.
To the hundreds of wonderful readers, who inspire me to write
Without further ado, let us move onward with the story…

May 2002

Hey, it's Colin. I'm not in, so leave your message after the beep

"Dude, it's Tom. Where the fuck are you, Colin? I've waited for you for an hour, I gotta get back to work. We're still on for tonight, right?"

Hey, it's Colin. I'm not in, so leave your message after the beep

"Hey, it's Peter. It's one p.m., and I'm in the frozen foods aisle. What's more festive--frozen corn or peas? Don't forget about tonight."

Hey, it's Colin. I'm not in, so leave your message after the beep

"Ok, it's Kevin. I'm stalking that new UPS guy in our building and man, he's--oh crap, he's looking my way. Gotta jet, remember that we're on for tonight."

Those are my eccentric friends: Tom, Peter, and Kevin. You would think they could have a little more faith in me, they all think I have a memory span of a goldfish--WHICH is not completely true. Wait...what is going on, they know me better than I thought. We were an odd bunch. To sum us all up with one word, I'd say that Tom was cynical, Peter was rather shy, Kevin was the shameless one, and then there's me--the overanalytical one. You might wonder what on earth could have gotten us into one room...and no, we didn't come from the same high school or town...some say coincidence, I say it was pure fate...

May 2001

"I hate you!" this strange guy screamed into his cell phone as he entered Schwartz, this quaint corner cafe on Castro in San Francisco.

I looked up from my magazine and gawked at him strangely, as if he was a new species of some kind.

"I'm sorry," he said to me. "I just broke up with my boyfriend."

"I'm so sorry." I guess it was my turn to be apologetic. I don't know why, I mean, I just met the guy...well, not even.

"It was bound to happen," he said sadly. "He left me for some dancer, can you believe that? A dancer, who is going to make it big on Broadway. Says he's real flexible, well, if he's into that type of kinky shit, then I'm out!"

My mouth came open somewhere in his monologue, so I decided to shut it as inconspicuously as possible. "Again, I'm sorry. It happens to the best of us."

He just gave an angry huff. "I'm Tom, by the way, and I'm through with love."

"Uh...I'm Colin, and I'm not quite there."

We shook hands.

"Sorry," he said (again). "I'm not myself today, I'm usually more cheery."

"Well, you just got your heart ripped out and smashed into a million pieces," I said too bluntly. "I'm not expecting you to get up and do a dance number."

He just gaped at me, and I soon realized I had bluntly stated his misfortunes.

"Oh god," I said, covering my mouth. "I'm terribly--"

"It's ok," he said quickly. "Let's just stop talking about it."

He went to order a cup of coffee while I continued to read my magazine.

"Heads up!" someone yells.

I looked up to see a football land into the opening of my coffee and splash it all over my khaki pants and the cover of my magazine.

"Geez, sir," a quiet fellow said. "I'm so sorry, I was just playing catch with my roommate and I sort of missed the throw. Let me get you another cup of coffee."

"It's all right," I said, wiping my pants and magazine with some excess napkins. "The coffee was getting cold anyhow."

"I'm Peter," the guy said shyly. "This is my roommate, Kevin."

"Hi," the guy said, holding his hand. "I'm Kevin, gay, single, and a Capricorn who enjoys long walks on the beach."

"Kevin!" Peter yelled. "Sorry (to me), you're going to have to excuse his blabbermouth. It's got a mind of its own sometimes."

"And Peter here is horny and desperate," Kevin retorted, then quickly added, "But shy."

I just lost it there and started to laugh at poor Peter's expense; Peter was turning a few various shades of red.

"What's so damn funny?" Tom said, returning with a chocolate chip muffin in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

"Hey, I remember you," Kevin said, staring at Tom. "You were at this one guy's party on New Year's Eve."

"This 'one guy's'," Tom repeated. "Real descriptive. If you're referring to Dale Masterson's bash, then yes, I was there."

"With that one guy...really annoying voice," Kevin said, trying hard to recover the name.

"Richard?" Tom answered irritably.

"Yeah, Richie Rich," Kevin said. "Yeah, he kept yapping about his yacht...I mean, c'mon, who gives a shit about a damn two still together?"

"I don't think it's any of your business," Tom repeated hotly. "But I would prefer if you didn't talk about my ex in front of me."

"Ex, huh?" Kevin replied. "How long did this one last?"

"Um," I said, checking my watch. "Until about five minutes ago."

"Wow," Peter piped up.

"That long, huh?" Kevin said.

"Geez, you're blunt," I commented.

"No, just honest," he said. "It's so hard to find honest people out there nowadays."

"And you’re just doing your civic duty by being that one honest person?" Tom retorted coolly.

"Exactly," he replied. "I'm glad we're on the same page."

"Do yourself a favor and don't ever place you and me on the same level of anything," Tom said.

‘Ouch,’ I thought to myself.

"Well, sir..." Peter began.

"Cut it out with the sir crap," I said. "My name's Colin."

"Yeah, the sir crap bugs me too," Kevin piped up. "But it's part of the higher class, upsy-daisy society."

"He's certainly got the daisy part down," Tom said bitterly.

"Whoa, enough!" I said, almost whistling to ref this weird interaction. "Let's start over, Peter, Kevin...sit!"

Peter and Kevin sat next to me on this couch, while Tom lounged on an armchair.

"Now let's start over," I suggested.

We exchanged names and we started to talk about various topics. An hour into an enjoyable conversation, Kevin spoke up.

"Tom, I really am sorry about your breakup with Richard. Even if he was monotonous, he was still a nice guy."

"Thanks, Kevin," Tom replied rather sadly.

The door opened and in walked a guy with sandy blond hair, he walked past us and our eyes followed him and his butt to the counter. Yes, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This was how four different people met on this fateful day: one nasty breakup, one bored afternoon, and one bad interception.

June 2001

I walked into Schwartz, and I found Peter talking to this cute guy in a booth in the back. I gave him a quick wave to acknowledge his presence, he paused his conversation to smile and wave back. I pulled out my calculus homework and began solving the first problem.

"What do you think?" Peter asked, sliding into my booth.

"What, the guy?" I asked, confused.

"No, about global warming, of course the guy!"

"He's cute," I commented. "I don't know anything else to judge. Where did you meet him? Here?"

"No, in the supermarket," he replied quietly.

I laughed, "You picked up cutie at the supermarket? Where, in the produce aisle? Did you use the melon and zucchini line?"

"Shut up!" he hissed, giving me a small grin. "I feel stupid enough without you having to cake it on."

"Well, I think so far it looks good," I commented. "Get back there before someone else grabs him up."

"Thanks," he said, giving my hand a quick squeeze. "I'll catch ya later."

He disappeared and Kevin appeared.

"Hey, where did Petey run off to?" he asked.

"With his date over there," I gestured.

Kevin peered over, "Where did he find him, the library?"


"No," Kevin gasped. "Petey picked up some dude from the grocery store?"

"Yeah," I said and added evilly. "And it was in the produce aisle."

"I sure hope he didn't use the melon and zucchini line," Kevin said quietly.

Kevin and I looked at each other and giggled, again at Peter's expense.

July 2001

"Let's get out of here," Tom suggested.

"Go where?" I replied, fanning myself with a piece of paper.

"I don't know, maybe up to Oregon or maybe up to the vineyards."

As you could've guessed, it was about 90 degrees and Schwartz was a human oven.

"Like Napa?" Peter suggested.

"Exactly," Kevin agreed. "We could do a little wine sampling here...a little schmoozing there..."

"I didn't say anything about schmoozing," Tom said, grinning. "But I guess alcohol would do that to a person."

"When would we get away?" I asked.

"How about day after tomorrow?" Tom suggested. "Fourth of July weekend, we can get a cabin or something."

"I'm going away with Brandon," Peter said.

"Brandon?" I inquired, giving him a look.

"Grocery store dude," Kevin added quickly.

"Oh..." I said. "So produce guy does have a name."

"Shut up!" Peter said defensively.

"Hi, how about we fill in ol' Tom here?" Tom said, a little confused.

"Peter picked up Brandon at the supermarket," I answered. "I guess they're going away this weekend, where to?"

"He has a cabin up in Tahoe, so we're going to the lake tomorrow," Peter answered.

"Why didn't you tell us you were going away?" Kevin asked.

"Because I didn't want to make a big deal or rather, have you guys make a big deal over it."

"US?" I asked, mocking a shocked look. "We would NEVER embarrass you!"

"Never," Tom echoed evilly.

"Oh no," Peter said, his face contorted with fear.

"What EVER are you going to wear?" Kevin said, in his most feminine voice. "We're going to have to pick out ALL his clothes, girls!"

Tom faked an effeminate giggle.

"We're going to have to do hair, nails, and makeup to get you all ready for the big night," I continued with my version of a very flamboyant homosexual.

"All right!" Peter said. "I've had enough of this, I'm leaving!"

"Awww, come back," I pleaded (while laughing).

"No," he said stubbornly. "I'll come back when you've matured!"

"This should be a while," Tom commented.

"Say hi to produce boy for me!" Kevin screamed after Peter.

"His name is Brandon!" Peter retorted as he left Schwartz.

"I like the sound of produce boy better," I said after a moment of silence.

"Yeah," Tom and Kevin mumbled in agreement.

Peter came back in and said, "You guys are hopeless."

Tom took a sip of his coffee, and Kevin just nodded with this stupid grin on his face. Yup, we were definitely hopeless.

August 2001

Tom and I took a drive down to Santa Cruz during the first weekend in August, and we went to the Boardwalk to ride some rollercoasters.

"This is no Napa," Tom commented while eating his Dippin' Dots. "But this will do."

"Yeah, it will," I said, taking a bite of my cotton candy.

"Let's go on the Giant Dipper again!" Tom exclaimed.

"Oh, good lord," I said. "We've gone on that thing like fifty times, I'm sick of it!"

"That's why we got these tacky bracelets," Tom reminded me by holding up his wrist and shaking the white band. "Plus, you've got like five rides to choose from, so you're bound to ride some of them twice or maybe more in our case."

"Fine, one last time," I agreed after tossing my cotton candy bag in the trash.

We went on it, I was seriously feeling the cotton candy in my stomach as we went through all the dips and turns. I sighed with relief as our cart pulled up to the platform.

"You alright?" Tom asked. "You look a little green."

"I feel like I'm going to hurl," I commented.

"Just as long as you puke the other way, you're fine."

"Thanks," I said, sarcastically.

"Hey, let's go down to the beach!" Tom shouted.

"Fine," I said, still clutching onto my stomach.

My nausea slowly faded away as I walked along the ocean with Tom, I found the walk to be quite soothing. Tom and I sat down in the middle of the beach and stared outward towards the sunset.

"You miss Richard?" I asked, automatically.

"Yeah," he whispered. "I do."

He leaned on my shoulder and I placed my arm around Tom.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever find love again," he stated.

"Love will find you," I replied.

"It sure does, look how happy Petey is with produce guy," Tom commented.

"Yeah, he sure is happy," I agreed.

"I dedicate this beautiful sunset to him for finding a great guy," Tom said. "To Petey."

"To Petey."

Tom and I watched as the sun calmly set itself against the red-orange sky.

September 2001

School was in session again and I found myself at Schwartz more and more for a caffeine pep. Tom got a job at Schwartz as a coffee boy to pay for tuition, and Peter moved in with produce guy, and I took Peter's place as Kevin's roommate. I was in the middle of learning about the World War II when I ran out of coffee.

"Hey, coffee boy," I said teasingly. "How about a refill here?"

"Shut up," Tom replied. "You'll get your coffee when I'm done making it."

"My, my," I said. "Do you treat ALL your customers this way, or do I get the royalty treatment?"

"You're not a customer, you're an inhabitant of Schwartz," Tom replied.

"Good point," I said as I returned to my history text.

The door opened and Peter came walking in arm in arm with produce guy.

"Hey, guys," Peter said. "This is Brandon. Brandon, this is Colin, and that's Tom back behind the counter."

"If you're here for caffeine," Tom started. "You're going to have to wait because we had a shortage of coffee."

"Which should be illegal," I added.

"What, wanting caffeine?" Peter asked.

"No, the shortage on coffee," I answered.

Brandon chuckled politely.

"So pro--I mean, Brandon," I said. "What do you do?"

"I'm in advertising," he answered. "I work for that firm right up the street."

"Oh, I've seen the place," I replied with mock interest.

"I like the place," Peter said. "It's beautiful."

"No, you're beautiful," produce guy said cornily.

"No, you are," Peter replied.

"And you two better get a room before one of you creams your pants," I stated. "I'm going to go check on Tom's progress with the coffee."

I walked away from the lovebirds and toward the counter.

"Two words," I said to Tom. "Need caffeine!"

"Two more words," he responded. "Fuck off!"

"All right," I said. "I'll just wait for coffee here while Peter and Brandon reenact a scene from one of those Danielle Steele novels."

"Look at them," Tom said. "They look so happy, just like Richard and me. Well, until he dumped me for Fred Astaire."

The coffee was finally done and Tom poured me a generous cup of joe.

"Thank you, caffeine god," I said, almost inhaling my coffee.

"Stop being such a drama queen," Tom said, pouring me another cup.

The door opened again and a few customers wandered in with Kevin following in the rear.

"Traffic was atrocious!" he exclaimed.

"Kevin, you don't drive," I said.

"Pedestrian traffic, smarty," he replied.

"Hey, Kevin," Peter piped up from the couch. "This is Brandon."

"Oh, produce guy," Kevin said, freeing his hands from the strap of his shoulder-bag. "It's nice to meet you."

Produce guy shook his hand, "Produce guy?"

"It's a long story," Peter said. "And you don't want to hear it. Why don't we go before they open their mouths..."

"All right," Brandon agreed. "It was nice meeting all of you."

"Yeah, likewise," Tom said.

"I'll call you guys later," Peter said as he headed for the door. "Maybe we can go grab dinner and a movie."

"Sounds good," I said.

Peter left with Brandon and I was left with Tom and Kevin. Peter never called any of us that night, and after a while, we started seeing less and less of Peter. It was toward the middle of September when Tom brought up the same observation.

"Dude, has anyone talked to Peter lately?"

"I tried calling his place," I answered. "But I got the machine, again."

"Yeah," Kevin replied. "I keep getting the machine too."

"I can honestly say that I'm on the borderline of stalking and pestering," I stated.

"How about another cup of coffee, on the house, to discuss our Peter's disappearing issue?" Tom suggested.

"Fill it up," Kevin said, placing his cup in front of Tom.

November (Thanksgiving Day) 2001-

You've reached Brandon and Peter, we're obviously not in right now, so feel free to leave a message after the sound of the tone

"Hi, Peter and Brandon, it's me, Colin, again, I was wondering if you guys are still planning on spending Thanksgiving with us. Dinner is in an hour or so, so give us a call at the apartment."

I hung up the phone discouragedly, Tom and Kevin gave me hopeful looks, but I just shook my head glumly.

"Well, I've had enough of this charade," Tom said, angrily. "My turkey is done and we have all our side dishes, let's just eat."

"Yeah," Kevin agreed reluctantly. "Let's eat!"

We began to dig into our big feast of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce when the doorbell rang. I jumped up from my table and ran toward the door. I opened it and there stood Peter.

"I brought the---the--yams," Peter spat out and broke into tears.

"Aw, come in, sweetheart," I said, letting Peter cry on my shoulder.

We entered and I shut the door behind us. Tom and Kevin rushed to comfort Peter and soon we found ourselves gathered in our small living room.

"He---he---he---" Peter stuttered.

"Shhh," I said, comforting him. "Breathe first, breathe."

Peter took a large breath, and he slowly gained back his articulation.

"He--he broke up with me," Peter started. "He said that it was weird for me to be hanging around you guys all the time...and I told---told him that you were the only friends I've ever had...and he made me--made me--choose between you guys or him."

"What a jerk!" Tom spat out angrily.

"That son of a bitch," Kevin responded.

"So I said, 'Brandon, that's really unfair'."

"It is," I agreed.

"He said 'If you love me, you'd choose'."

"Here," Tom said, handing a mug of hot tea to Peter.

"Thanks," Peter said between sniffles. "So I said, ‘Well, I guess I pick them’."

"Good for you," Kevin said. "I always knew you were a fighter."

I glared at Kevin, but Kevin just shrugged.

"So Brandon got all mad and he kicked me out of his apartment and he told me that it was all over," Peter finished.

"I could just go over there and punch the lights out of him," Kevin said, his temper rising.

"I feel like such a jerk," Peter said, punching the pillow he was clutching. "At the first sign of love, I just dumped you guys like yesterday's garbage and--"

"HEY!" I interrupted. "Watch it there!"

"Sorry," Peter said sheepishly. "I mean, I just left you guys and fled off with some...some..."

"Produce trash," Tom replied slowly.

"Well, no more!" Peter said sternly. "I'm never setting my foot in a supermarket again!"

"You have to shop for groceries sometime," I reminded Peter.

"I'll do it online via WebVan," he replied seriously.

"Listen," Kevin started. "Why don't you crash on the couch tonight and we'll go over tomorrow and pick up your stuff?"

"I wouldn't want to intrude---"

"Nonsense," I said. "What are friends for, right?"

"God, I'm so thankful to have friends like you."

I gave Peter a quick squeeze, and Tom and Kevin joined in for a tight group hug. There was a moment of silence, which I took the liberty of breaking.

"You never did tell us this, Peter, but where DID you and Brandon meet in the supermarket?"

"Yeah," Kevin said. "I never bothered to ask."

Peter looked at us for a brief second and then held his breath. "The...(something mumbled)"

"What?" Tom said. "I couldn't hear you. Speak up!"

"The produce aisle," Peter responded.

"Between the melon and the zucchinis?" Kevin asked, grinning.

"No, tomatoes and cantaloupes."

"I really can't believe that you met him at the produce aisle," Tom said.

"Me neither," Peter said, giving a small chuckle.

We all broke out into a fit of laughs and giggles, meanwhile, the turkey and side dishes were getting cold.

December (Christmas Eve) 2001

"You didn't have to get me anything," Peter said as I handed him a present.

Peter opened it and it was the scarf that he had been eying at Macy's.

"Oh, my god!" he exclaimed and pulled me into a hug. "Thank you!"

"You're--choking--me," I said, struggling to release myself from his strong grasp.

"Oh, sorry," he said, letting go of me.

"Kevin and I chipped in to get you this," Tom said, handing him two small packages.

One was a pair of gloves to go with my scarf and the other package was a picture frame.

"I figure the frame could hold something really memorable for you," Kevin added sentimentally.

In case you are wondering why we were focusing on Peter so much, it was because in addition to Christmas Eve, it was also his birthday. Peter reached in his backpack and fished out three packages.

"I got you guys something too for being such great friends," he explained.

I got four tickets to see a play which I've been wanting to see.

"You got tickets!" I screamed. "God, I could kiss you!"

And I did, I kissed him hard on the cheek. I was THAT excited, and it was obvious who I was taking to go see the show with me. Tom got a chrome colored fountain pen and pencil set and Kevin got an alarm clock.

"I've been needing one of these," Kevin commented.

"We know," Peter said. "So now, we don't have to play 'who gets to wake up Kevin', although I'll miss it. It was entertaining."

"Thanks, buddy," Tom said, giving Peter a hug and a peck on the cheek.

"You guys," he said. "You're making me blush."

A week later, we were at Dale Masterson's New Year Bash. Tom was a little reluctant to accept the invitation because he was afraid of running into Richard. We convinced him that he was over him and the only way to prove it was to see him face to face. Tom agreed and we were on our way to one of the most popular New Year's Eve parties.

"I can't believe I let you guys talk me into coming," Tom said grouchily.

Tom had been jumpy all night but we were being patient.

"It's good to get out," Kevin replied. "Especially on New Year’s Eve."

"Come on," I said. "I think someone is about to strip off the last piece of clothing over there at strip poker."

We never made it to the strip poker table because Tom got stopped by Richard.

"Tom," Richard said. "I didn't expect to see you here."

"Richard," Tom began. "I didn't expect to see you here either."

"How have you been?"

"All right."

Awkward silence. Then those six dreadful words:

"I want you to meet somebody..."

Tom gulped hard, probably to fight back any anger or resentment.

"Tom, this is my fiancé, Eddie."


"Yeah, Eddie and I have been together for five months now," Richard continued.

Geez, rubbing it in, that bastard.

"Will you excuse me?" Tom said, almost choking out the words.

He ran into one of the unoccupied bedrooms and shut the door. Kevin, Peter, and I just stood there glaring at Richard and his fiance, Eddie.

"I have two words to describe you," I said to Richard.

"What is it?" Richard asked, fearfully.

"Satan's spawn."

The three of us walked off, leaving Richard and Eddie a bit flabbergasted. We knocked on the door to check on Tom's progress. There was no reply, so I checked the door, it was unlocked. The room was well lit so I could easily find Tom sitting on the bed, his back facing towards us.

"Tom," I started.

"Don't start, Colin."

"But, Tom..."

"But nothing, Colin," he said gruffly. "I want you guys to leave me alone."

"We're not leaving," I stated. "Why don't you just come out and say what you feel?"

"Fine," he said, his eyes shooting daggers at me. "YOU just had to get in my face about facing my fears."

"ME?" I said, a bit speechless. "You can't possibly be pinning this one on ME."

"I'm doing it now, aren't I?"

"We should settle this calmly," Peter piped up.

"Stay out of this!" Tom and I yelled.

"I'm just trying to help!" I said defensively.

"Well, you've helped plenty. What was I thinking, taking advice from someone like you?"

"And JUST what do you mean by that?"

"I mean clearly you wouldn't know what it's like to be in a relationship," he said. "I mean when was the last time you even showed a remote interest in a long term relationship?"

"Well, at least I don't hang on to old memories and let THAT be the reason why I'm still single!" I retorted.

"This is getting out of hand," Kevin commented. "I think we should just shut up and chill out for a bit."

"That's a good idea," Tom replied sarcastically. "Let's just all avoid our problems like Kevin here, THAT seems like a good way to solve all our life's worries."

"Hey, don't take your failures out on me!" Kevin screamed.

"At least I HAVE failures!" Tom yelled. "At least I'm willing to dive in and experience life but you would rather just use your shameless tactics to weasel yourself in and out of anything that might show a hint of human emotion."

"Are you saying that I'm incapable of showing love?"

"No, I'm saying you have a real problem expressing anything CLOSE to love," Tom said. "You run away from human emotion, every time love or anything comes near you, you run away in fear but brush it off by flirting or sleeping with the numerous of god knows how many men!"

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Peter yelled frustratedly and assertively.

The party was pretty loud, so I guess this whole argument was inaudible to the people outside.

"Stay out of this, pipsqueak!" Tom yelled.

"Don't talk to him like that," I said.

"Don't defend me!" Peter replied back. "I'm quite capable of defending myself."

"Doesn't seem like it," Kevin spoke up.

"Who asked you?" Peter asked daringly. "Butt out."

"Don't tell me what to do!" Kevin cried back.

"I understand you're upset at seeing Richard..." I started somewhat calmly.

"Upset? Damn straight I'm upset," he said.

"It doesn't mean you have the right to take it out on me or any of us."

Some doofus outside started to yell, "Ten, nine (and the rest of the crowd joined in)...

"If you didn't drag me here in the first place, we wouldn't be in this mess."


"I am so sick and tired of you pinning all your life's problems on everyone else instead of yourself," Peter said seriously.

"Yeah, just because you've BEEN in a damn serious relationship, it doesn't make you some guru of homosexual relationships," Kevin added.


"I can't believe we're risking our friendship over this," I said quietly.


"Is it worth it?" Kevin asked rhetorically.

" NEW YEAR!!!!"

We stood awkwardly by as "Auld Lang Syne" was being sung out at the party. One by one we left that room of truth, I was definitely the first to leave in silence.

January 2002

It had been two weeks since the huge fight broke out between the four of us. If it was one trait that we all shared, it was definitely our stubbornness (and pride). I walked down the ice cream aisle and picked out a pint of Dreyer's Rocky Road. I placed the carton inside my basket and continued to do my shopping. Kevin and I definitely did our share of avoiding each other at the apartment, and Peter took the liberty of getting an apartment the day after we fought. I haven't even bothered to stop in at Schwartz for coffee, because I knew Tom would be there. The thing was...Tom was right. I haven't looked for a serious relationship...I saw how Tom reacted to Richard, then Peter with Brandon...I didn't want to feel that pain. I thumbed thoughtlessly at the magazine, waiting for my turn to pay for my groceries.

"Paper or plastic?" a voice asked me.

"Uh pla--" I stopped short when I saw the face.

It was Produce Boy, I mean Brandon.

"Oh, hey, Brandon," I said. "Just plastic will be fine. I didn't know you work here."

"My parents didn't want to spoil me, so they made me get a job here. That's how I really met Peter, I was starting my job at produce."

"No offense," I said. "But you look like shit."

"That obvious, huh?" he said, chuckling. "I FEEL like shit, I miss him so much."

"He misses you too," I said.

"It was so wrong of me to make him to choose, I guess I was jealous of something," he said sadly. "And I chased away the only one good in my life."

"Give him a ring," I said, handing him money. "And you don't have to worry about us hanging around."

"Why's that?" he asked, confused as he handed me my receipt.

"We had a huge brawl," I said. "And we're not on speaking terms nor do I think we'll ever be again."

"This is such bullshit," he said. "You obviously miss them, so just suck it up and apologize to them."

"Easier said than done," I said.

"Well, it's a shame," he said. "Not only was I jealous of you guys taking away of Peter, but I was jealous of that incredible bond that you guys had. I think a lot of people could use a close niche of friends for support, but hey, who am I to say?"

I thought momentarily on Produce Guy's words, "Hey, Brandon, thanks for the advice. And my advice on Peter: Call him and apologize."

I grabbed my groceries and I headed out the door. I rushed toward Schwartz, I was on a mission. I found Peter walking idly by the grocery store, but he quickly averted his attention to something else.

"Peter," I said. "Don't ask any questions, just follow me."


Before Peter could object, I was walking quickly again. Peter followed quietly behind me. I found Kevin standing hesitantly outside of Schwartz.

"Perfect," I said. "Kevin, follow Peter and me. I'll explain all this when we're inside."

I opened the door, dropped my groceries on a nearby table and marched up to the empty counter where Tom stood. He looked up and was taken aback by the three of us standing there.

"Can I help you?" he asked tiredly.

"Ask him," Kevin said. "He dragged me in here."

"Me too," Peter added.

Before I could say anything, Tom opened his mouth to speak.

"Listen," Tom started. "I want to apologize profusely for my behavior the other night. You were right, Colin, I saw Richard and I flipped. I took my anger out on you guys, and it was unfair. So I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry for pushing you into doing something that you thought you weren't ready for," I said. "I just wanted you to be happy, even if it meant getting yelled at."

Tom smiled and I couldn't help but smile back.

"You're right, Tom," Kevin said. "I am afraid to show love because I don't want to go through what I saw you or Petey had gone through."

"I think that's why I've been flying solo for a while too," I agreed.

"It's been MORE than a while," Tom said jokingly.

"SHUT it!" I said, smiling.

"And I will stop being so damn shy and defend myself more often," Peter said. "I even signed up for some kickboxing classes."

"Kickboxing?" I said, raising an eyebrow. "I might join up with you in that class."

"Count me in," Kevin said.

"Me too," Tom said.

"Really?" Peter said, relieved. "I was scared I wouldn't know anybody there."

"We'll go sign up after the shift," Tom suggested.

"Good idea."

"I can't believe we've missed two weeks of hanging out because of our stupid stubbornness," I said, laughing.

"Yeah, you could be pretty stubborn," Peter said.

"Hey, you're pretty stubborn yourself," Kevin said.

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

And this went on for all afternoon, until Tom ended his shift at Schwartz. We left to go sign up for kickboxing classes down at the Y.

February 2002

The four of us slung our gym bags over our shoulders as we entered the Y. We rolled out our mats and within seconds we were warming up our bodies.

"I think---yoga---was a good choice," Kevin said assuringly, as he stretched his thigh.

"Yeah, yoga's good," Peter said, stretching his arms.

"I still can't believe those hags in front of us filled up kickboxing," said Tom.

"Eh...they'll drop soon," I added bitterly.

"Guess who I bumped into a few weeks ago?" I said.

The other three just looked at me.

"Produce boy."

"Oh really?" said Peter, feigning a nonchalant tone.

"He looks like a mess."


"Like he hasn't shaved or eaten in days," I added.


"Maybe weeks."

"All right!"

"He looks miserable," I said.

"How miserable?" inquired Peter.

"Defatigably miserable."


"Borderline?" I said, adding a hopeful tint to my voice.

Peter was satisfied with my answers and we continued to stretch for a few more minutes.

A few days later, I decided to move out of the apartment. I realized that Kevin made a great friend but a lousy roommate, and I didn't want to start a fight over his messy habits or have him fight with me over my meticulous manners. I found an apartment in the same building but two more flights up. I fumbled my keys in the hole, and then I realized I was not alone. I turned to find a guy staring at me as he fumbled his keys a few doors away. I smiled politely and he smiled back.

"I'm Elliot," he said. "Guess we'll be neighbors."

"I'm Colin," I replied. "I guess this makes us neighbors."

"Later," he said as he entered his apartment.

"Yeah," I sighed disappointedly.

The day we had dreaded had arrived---Valentine's Day. Although I had a feeling that this Valentine's Day wasn't going to be too bad. That morning, I went to Schwartz and found Tom, Kevin, and Peter conversing deeply in their plans for that night over coffee.

"Hey, Colin," Tom said, then added to the other two, "I see Sleeping Beauty decided to join us."

"It just so happens I was talking with this cute guy that lives a few doors down, and I've got a date with him tonight! I have a DATE on Valentine's Day!"

"Congrats," Peter said. "Well, Brandon showed up early this morning with roses and a song he made up. He can't sing worth beans but it was still cute. I promised him I would have dinner with him tonight. I mean, it IS Valentine's Day."

"Nice," Tom said. "Well, I'm going out with Dale Masterson."

We all looked at him oddly.

"What? I figure if I was going to go to his parties I might as well date him."

"What about you, Kevin?" asked Peter. "You got a hot date plan for Valentine's Day?"

"Indeed I do," he replied. "I have a date with this guy Josh."

"How did you meet him?" asked Tom.

"He came to check out the apartment, but he ended up checking me out!"

"Gee, I wonder who's going to get the spot in the apartment," I said, winking at Kevin.

"I don't know yet, if things work out between us, and that's a big would be awkward...well, maybe different."

"This is great !" I said enthusiastically. "It's Valentine's Day and we all have dates."

"Hot dates, if I might add," Kevin said.

We all laughed, then we all went into details about what we were going to wear that night. Hey, gay or straight, guys want to look good for dates.

May 2002

I stopped and flipped through the numerous pages I've filled out writing about our friendship, it definitely would make a good bestseller. I looked at the clock, it was a quarter to seven. Crap, I thought to myself. I rushed to the bathroom and washed my face and brushed my teeth. I rummaged for something casual yet stylish to wear for tonight, and within ten minutes, I was out the door. I ran halfway to the elevator when I realized I left the bottle of wine on the counter. I ran back to get the bottle and made my way to the elevator. The elevator opened, and I pressed the lobby button. I rushed off the elevator and ran briskly to Schwartz, and there they were: Tom, Kevin, and Peter waiting for me.

"It's about time," Tom said. "We thought you'd forget."

"How can I when all three of you called to remind me," I stated matter of factly.

"You brought the wine?" Kevin asked.

"Of course."

"For a second there I thought you forgot it," Peter said.

They laughed.

I laughed politely, "How can I forget the booze?"

I thought to myself, geez, they know me TOO well.

"How did you get this place to yourself tonight?" Kevin asked.

"After working for almost a year, I deserve some benefit," Tom replied. "I just pulled a few strings, kissed a few managers' asses..."

"Ok, as long as you didn't have to do anything you didn't enjoy," Peter said slyly.

Tom threw a pillow and it hit squarely on Peter's face.

We laughed like a bunch of teenage girls at a slumber party, but we soon calmed down. Tom lowered the lights when Kevin brought out a large cake.

"Courtesy of Schwartz," Tom added.

The cake read: One Year of Friendship, May There Be Many More

"That's sweet," Peter said after reading the message.

"There's a candle for each of us to blow out," Tom said. "Make a wish."

We thought for a second but I think we anonymously wished for long term relationships and a long-lasting friendship. We blew out our candles, but I think we had spat all over the cake.

"Get the lights," instructed Tom.

Peter went and turned on the lights. I opened the cork to the wine and poured into four wine glasses. We each took a wine glass, and I said, "I want to make a toast."

The other three just looked expectantly at me.

"I want to toast to what a whole year of friendship has brought us," I began.

They mumbled in agreement.

"A toast to Colin and Elliot, two months and going," Peter said.

"Knock on wood," I said, knocking at my own head.

"Peter and Produce Guy," added Tom, lifting his glass.

"Brandon!" Peter yelled frustratedly. "Guess the name is stuck on him forever."

We laughed.

"What happened to you and Josh?" I asked Kevin.

"Josh was into threesomes, and it just wasn't my cup of tea," Kevin explained. "So I called it off, BUT...I am going on a date with the UPS guy I met today. His name is Mark, and he's studying to be a lawyer. He's really cute and he's got a good sense of humor."

"Well, to Kevin and Mark...and a good date," I said.

"Here, here!"

"And of course Tom and Dale," Kevin said.

"How is THAT going?" I inquired.

"You know, Dale is so calm the other 364 days in the year," Tom said. "And he looks way different without that ridiculous cheese hat on him."

"Well, to Tom and Dale!" I said, raising my glass.

"Here, here!"

We cheered like a bunch of idiots and clunked our glasses numerous times to celebrate.

"Oooh, I almost forgot," Tom said, after taking a sip of his wine.

Tom took out a camera from his bag.

"Oh!" Peter said. "I want a copy so I can finally put a picture in that frame you guys gave me for my birthday. I've been saving it for a really memorable moment, well, here it is."

"Ok," Tom said, after setting the camera on automatic.

We crowded around each other and posed for our picture--a document of our celebration over our whole year of friendship.

"Let's say cheese," Peter suggested.

"What are we, in the kindergarten?" Kevin said dejectedly. "How about...."

"...Produce!" I piped up.

"NO!" Peter said.

"We don't have a lot of time," Tom reminded us.

"I GOT it!" Kevin said. "It's where it all started, and it's constantly in our lives..."

We looked at him blankly.

"Schwartz!" he replied excitedly.

"Well, here goes," I said. "One, two...."

"Schwartz!" we all said, grinning like hyenas at the camera.

Well, how the picture turns out is a whole other story. But hey, a picture is a worth a thousand words. And this picture is definitely worth it.

T H E   E N D

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