Monday morning I was up early. I'd packed my things the night before, and my mom had been her usual headcase self, questioning why I was going all of a sudden and saying that I just wanted to be around Bry with his shirt off – a bonus, no doubt – and I needed to get my room cleaned up before college started. I reminded her that college was a few months away, but she told me it'd take me that long to clean it. She may have had a point.
“Look,” I said, “his dad is trying to make things right. You know he's been a jerk to me for a while. He said some stuff, and Bry and his mom both let him have it.” I pressed my lips together. “Bry told him it didn't matter if I was interested in him – he's straight, and I'm his best friend, and that's that. That's not nothing.”
“Said what stuff?” she asked, eyes narrowing. “Don't get evasive.”
“Does it matter? You'll just get pissed.”
“It's my right as your mother. I reserve the right to hang his balls from the tow hitch of his truck, not that anyone would see those marbles,” she said without a hint of humor.
I shook my head and sighed. “Just the usual, like, I'm going to take advantage of Bry while he's vulnerable and do gay things to him and make him gay.”
“If it was that easy, you'd have turned him gay years ago,” she replied with a snort. Then she sighed. “I'm sorry he's saying these things, and you're a bigger person than I am. I'd have hit him, and it wouldn't matter if I'd lose the fight – he'd remember and never say those things again.”
“I know, Mom.” I paused. “But he's still Bry's dad. And Bry stood up for me without me being there, and I think that's probably better.”
She grunted. “How's you get so smart?”
“Years of hiding shit from you,” I said, laughing and sticking my tongue out as she playfully swiped at me.
I didn't want to aggravate his dad right away, so I was out front of my house at 6:45 with my bag and way more sunscreen than any one human could use. As I waited on my porch, I thought about the last time I'd gone with them. Bry and I shared a room, and we'd stay up late like it was a sleepover, then get tossed out of the house by around ten to go swimming and play on the beach. I guess anything starts to lose its shine after enough time, but man, being on the beach, smelling the ocean air? It's really my idea of heaven. Bry and I would walk into town and spend hours on the main tourist street, looking at all the stuff for sale in the tourist shops and going down to the docks to see if any seals or sea lions showed up. We got to do a whale watch the last year I was there, and they got so close to the boat you could see the bumps on their skin – it was really amazing.
We'd stop and buy overpriced ice cream and talk about stupid stuff, meaningless stuff, all afternoon. We'd get all worn out and go back to the house, but then late at night we'd all sneak out for a night swim – the last year I went, Jim convinced us to go skinny dipping. I was just on the edge of seeing the world through a sexual lens. I knew Bry was cute and I liked being with him, even though I'd never have said so. Seeing him naked that night – or Jim – wasn't really what stuck in my head. I mean, the idea of skinny dipping still sends a charge through me, but really it was more about the physicality of it.
My mom talks – a lot. I guess it's where I get my rambling thoughts from, but I'll stop myself there. One thing she brought up is love languages, and mine – besides food – was physical touch. So when I said things to Bry like I was going to cuddle him, it was more like a warning, because at some point I'd wake up and I'd deliberately cuddle him. I didn't get hard off it or anything – mostly – but I felt so much better.
Being out in the moving air is pretty good, but being naked in the water...feeling the ocean move around me, practically caressing every part of my body at once, is what really sticks with me. Yeah, we splashed and threw seaweed at each other, even throwing each other, though that was a risky proposition. But in the end, it was the sea sliding under my arms, around my thighs, between my toes and around my balls. I'm not sure sex can really get to that point of bodily bliss for me – I sure as hell have been left disappointed the few times I've gotten that far.
I was startled by a dog barking at me as someone walked by. I guess the dog didn't like my scent or something. I glanced at my phone and was surprised to see it was getting close to eight. Wow, not only was I lost in thought, but where the heck were Bry and his family? I debated a few minutes before I started texting Bry.
Hey, where are you guys?
My finger hovered over the button to send the message. I bit my lip, remembering he wasn't supposed to know. I backed the message up and sent it to Jim. I waited, getting a sinking feeling. I was ready to text Bry a few minutes later when my phone started to ring – Jim.
“Hey,” I said. I could hear the noise in the background common to someone driving.
“Hey, bro. What do you mean, where are we? Didn't Bry tell you were were going on our annual trip?”
I swallowed. “Yeah. Um, your dad invited me. Said not to tell Bry, because it would be a surprise.”
“He what?” Jim sounded shocked. “Call you right back.”
The pressure that had been building in my chest suddenly burst, and a wave of unhappiness swept over me – I'd gotten played. I’d stood there and actually thought his dad had listened to his family and decided to treat me like I wasn't shit on his shoes. Instead, he'd lied – dangled one of the few things I really, really wanted, which was to be included with my best friend again. Of course...I'd jumped at the chance. A return to some kind of normalcy, where maybe I didn't have to be uncomfortable or so careful in their house.
All that...hope, or whatever it was, was gone. He'd deliberately screwed with my emotions and probably thought he was so damn funny. Angrily, I grabbed my bag and went back inside, pressure building behind my eyes, and my nose starting to plug up. Damn it, I was going to ugly cry, and I didn't think I even wanted to try and stop it.
“Rion?” my mom asked as I went by, but I just threw my hands in the air, dropping my bag as I did, and went down the hall into my room. I closed the door, not quite slamming it, and sat down awkwardly on my bed. The pressure remained, but the tears didn't come. I sniffled and opened my mouth – I have no idea why. Maybe I wanted to scream, but some part of me wasn't sure, so the order got short circuited. My eyes felt hot, and I rubbed them with the heels of my hands, wincing when I pressed too hard.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
That was what did it. My mother's voice from somewhere in the house. She'd put it together and had probably called Bry's mom. Now she'd lose her shit, and that finally let the first tear out. Usually that would mean the rest of the deluge in my head would let loose, but no...just the one. My brain felt like it was trying to pop out of my skull like a Xenomorph. I sniffled again, just not sure what to do besides sit there and let my head burst.
My phone buzzed, then started to ring. I glanced at it – Bry. Last person I wanted to talk to right now, but I answered anyway.
“Bro,” he said. I could hear his mother losing her mind, probably on his dad. “I'm texting you the address. Mom says she'll give you the gas money – she's putting it in your cash app right now.”
Two fat tears rolled down, and my mom opened the door.
“I don't know, man. This is some next level shit. I don't know if I want to be around him,” I said. My mom sat down beside me, but made no move to interrupt or touch me.
“Bro!” he said again. “This is our last time. High school is over. College is around the corner. We should get one last chance, no matter who tries to hold us back. Get in your car, and come hang with me on the beach.”
I looked at my mom, and something about her expression sent my tears running down my face. I sniffed hard and told Bry I'd call him back in a minute.
“Bryson?” my mom asked. I nodded, tears rolling heavily. She put an arm around me and rubbed my shoulder. “His father is a complete piece of shit.”
I tried to agree, but merely hiccuped.
“And now he's given you the hiccups. What a douche.”
I chuckled a little. “He totally fooled me.”
“Assholes rarely stop stinking,” she said, continuing to rub my shoulder. “I didn't want to think he'd do anything like this. I really don't know why some people are just such tremendous douches.”
I hiccuped again. “Probably have to stick with what they're good at.”
My phone started to ring again. Bry. I looked at my mom.
“I can't think of a better way to get even with that dickhead than to make him pay for your vacation,” my mother said. “And if I'm honest, Bryson is right. Whatever else he is to you, you're each other's best friend in the world. His dad has been keeping you guys from important memories for a long time, and this might be your last chance before adult life starts to pull you apart.”
I nodded slowly and answered the phone.
“You'd better be getting in your car,” he said. I hiccuped. “You asshole! You made him cry! Jesus! You happy now, Dad?”
Of course Bry knew crying gave me the hiccups. It's one reason I hate to cry.
“Bro. Car. Mom says we're hitting that seafood place you love for dinner.” I smiled a little, knowing which place he meant – and how expensive it was.
“Okay,” I said quietly.
“Don't get a ticket,” he said and hung up.
My mother sighed and stood up. “If life were fair, he'd be gay. You guys would be great together, but, Rion...you guys are great together, without anything else between you. Don't lose sight of that.”
I nodded at her. “I know. I mean, I think I'm kind of getting used to the idea we won't be a thing. I can't say I'm, you know, totally over him, but....”
“Yeah. Things take time. Let me get you the triple A card, just in case.” She patted my shoulder and stood up, leaving the room and letting me collect myself. My tears had stopped, and my hiccups soon went with them. I sighed and went to the bathroom to wash my face and then headed back down the hall to grab my bag.
“Here. Make sure I get a souvenir out of this before you blow it all,” my mom said, handing me some cash with a triple A card on top of it.
“Please. Let's not do this dance where you try to say no and I insist. I want you to have it, and I want you to have fun, and I want my damn souvenir.”
I smiled and took the gift. “Thank you.”
She rubbed my shoulder briefly. “Have fun.”
The ride out to the coast was a special kind of boring. I like trees and nature, but I also like to see something other than trees. They grew them tall along the highway, blocking out everything except the sky above, and it made for a complete lack of visual input. I kept my ears occupied by streaming some music, but I kept it low, just to break up the sound of the wind through the windows. The day was going to be a hot one, perfect for hitting the ocean and sitting out on the beach getting a tan. The farther I got, the more I was looking forward to hanging out with Bry and making those kinds of summer memories you're supposed to have with a best friend. For the first time in years, I wouldn't miss him while he was gone.
I stopped to get gas along the way, and besides a bathroom break, it was nothing but steady driving. I used my GPS to guide me over the highways and through the small towns on my way to the cottage. The air changed noticeably when I got closer to the town – something about the ocean air mixing in with the kind of scents I was used to.
I was a little surprised when I pulled up to something that looked more like a motel than the cottage they used to rent. I glanced at the address Bry'd texted me, and it looked right on the GPS screen. I texted him that I was there, and he replied right away to come to unit 6. Huh. I guessed there wouldn't be a cottage. I grabbed my bag and headed toward the building. It had two stories and looked sort of like a small apartment complex done in a seaside cottage motif – wooden slats covered the walls, plastic decking running in front of the doorways. As I neared unit 6, the door opened, and Bry waved me in – already just in his regular beach uniform of swim trunks.
“Come on in. Take your underwear off and stay a while,” he said with a snicker.
The space reminded me of a hotel room – bathroom to the left as you came in, a short hall with a tiny kitchen on the left, high table with four bar chairs, dresser with a TV over it, and an armoire with two full beds on the right wall. The far wall featured a sliding glass door with the beach and ocean beyond.
“Kim, this is my bestie,” Bry said, and then I registered that Jim and a girl were in the room – Kim, I guess, who must be Jim's girlfriend.
“Hey,” she said with a little smile.
“Hi. Sorry I'm late,” I said, trying to make light of things.
“Liz pushed things too far with my mom, so she's with our cousins in Maine for the vacation. Saves me from the horror of sleeping with my sister,” Bry said, sitting on the edge of one of the beds.
“I wasn't even in the car with Mom and Dad, but I'm going to be walking funny from the explosion up there,” Jim said. “I'm pretty sure Mom mentioned the word ‘divorce’ to Dad.”
I stared. “You can't be serious.”
“She did,” Bry confirmed. “She said it was bad enough he was being such trash to you, but if he's really that much of a bigot, then what is she doing with him? I'm telling you, I wouldn't want to be in the room with them right now.”
“Shit,” I said, figuring I was responsible.
“They've been fighting more the last few years,” Jim said. “Dad's been listening to these talk shows and podcasts, getting all kinds of weird ideas. Most of the time a little Google search can show you how he's wrong, but he keeps up with the crazy.”
“I'm with your mom,” Kim said. “If you go off the deep end, I'm dumping your ass.”
“Oh yeah?” Jim said, and just like that they were tickling and laughing. I dropped my bag by the dresser and looked at Bry.
“Sorry for the trouble,” I said.
“Pft,” he said and waved a hand. “Trust me, you didn't cause this. It's been brewing. Get changed – let's hit the water.”
I did as he said, and shortly we were both out in the ocean, taste of salt water on our lips, flinging seaweed at each other as if we were twelve again. We fought and wrestled, called each other names and generally had a great time. I wasn't thinking about his parents or how shitty I'd felt; even the guilt I'd felt about his parents fighting had slipped away.
Best friends have this ability. It's like a super power. It's not so much that the rest of the world goes away or that you forget things. It's that nothing else matters when you and your bestie are doing stuff together. I think it has to do with being on the same wavelength – a best friend is someone you can have a real connection to mentally that has nothing to do with sexuality or romance, or even time and place. It has more to do with being in the moment with them and a particular kind of peace that others can't duplicate. I think maybe it's why I fell for Bry in the first place – the way he makes me feel. I figured if I do that for him, then he must be the guy for me. But I guess those things don't really have to go together, no matter how much I'd like them to.
We were floating in the water, just our feet on the sandy bottom, letting the waves come in and push us around. I inhaled deeply, pulling in the cool scent of the ocean and the beach and thrilling at the water pushing past my ribs and between my legs and lapping at my neck.
“Jim was trying to tell me not to come into the room if he puts a sock on the door, but I told him I want to see Kim naked, so I was opening the damn door,” Bry said and laughed. I joined him.
“You'd see your brother too, then,” I pointed out.
“Eh. I mean there's naked guys in porn, too. Just not my focus, you know?”
I nodded. “Can't believe she did that to you, though. Like, she could have been here on the beach with you.”
He ran a hand up his forehead and through his wet hair. “Yeah. I was going to get busy with her, too. Gotten so close over the years, but something always cock blocks me.” He paused. “You get with someone yet?”
I glanced at him. This was kind of new. We don't usually talk about this kind of stuff. “Yeah. Not easy, but yeah.”
He shook his head. “Every time it's like the universe is conspiring against me. I get alone with a girl, things are going the right way, and someone will walk in, come home early, condom tears coming out of the package – something. I swear it's like God doesn't want me to get laid.” I grinned at him, and he smiled. “No.”
“Would be easy,” I teased.
“Bro,” he said seriously and then laughed. “I just don't swing like that. I mean honest, I've never even wondered about being with a guy.”
I fluttered my eyelids. “I'd do butt stuff with you.”
“The fuck you will, perv,” he said, laughing, and I swamped him. We struggled a little in the water, but eventually returned to our previous, relaxed posture. I looked on the beach and saw a big family had come out – several adults, a few little ones and a young guy. Someone close to our age. He was nice looking, shorts up higher on his thigh and showing some nice skin. Dark hair with some curly hairs flopped from around the edge of his ballcap, which he wore backward.
“That your kind of dude? Sporty?” He paused. “Wait, did you get with someone from school?”
I looked back to him. “Nah. I mean there were a couple I liked. But nah, mostly a hook-up app.”
He looked at me with a thoughtful expression. “Was it, like, good?”
I sighed and brushed hair off my forehead. “At first some of it was. But, like, not enough of it is.”
He lowered his voice. “Did you let some guy, like, poke you in the ass?”
I looked at him, and he was grinning at me. “Jerk. I'm not telling you shit!” He started to tease me, and I teased him back, then it was splashing and dunking, and I guess...that's what it is about best friends. Eventually you tell them everything important. It's not this situation where you sit down and have these big talks, maybe. It's little moments where you learn things, and you make them okay. Like...sure I'd had sex, but the details – the who – didn't matter so much. Instead it was just more fodder in the endless discovery process that was friendship of the closest kind.
My attention was drawn back to the young guy on the beach, who'd shed his sweatshirt and was heading to the water with an older man. Trailing behind were a pair of women who had younger children with them, but I took a good look at the guy instead. He was really cute, his hair kind of still holding the shape of the hat he'd worn. His tan ran down to his ankles and then abruptly changed to paler skin. He looked like he moved a lot, but he didn't have abs – in fact he looked like maybe he had some baby fat yet on his chest and stomach. He was pretty cute.
Bry splashed me and told me not to get hard in the ocean – it was gross. We tussled a bit and then headed in when Jim came down to the water's edge to tell us we were going out to dinner. As we left the water, a middle-aged woman and two teens were walking down the side of the beach toward the picnic tables. The guy had his shirt off and was lean, muscles on his chest and a firm set of abs. The girl looked like him, and I guessed them to be related. He had poofy hair that covered his neck, sunglasses that were too big for his face, and a white hat pulled down tightly on his head.
Bry and I headed up to the room and got changed into shorts and tee shirts. Once we had shoes, we gathered out front and took two cars into town. His dad wasn't really looking at me, but his mom was nice, saying how nice it was to see me and she was glad I'd made it okay. We went into town, to the seafood restaurant I'd loved when we were there together years before. Dinner chatter was lively, with the exception of his dad. I couldn't help but feel kind of tense, but I tried to ignore it and enjoy my Seafood Orecchiette.
After dinner we walked the touristy main street, looking at shops with keepsakes and little booths with random treats like ice cream and cotton candy. Back at the room we changed back into beach wear and sat out on the Adirondack chairs around a gas fire, made s'mores, and talked with Jim and Kim. The large family from before was around another gas fireplace, and I noted the presence of the curly-haired boy, but I couldn't see him well and was kind of occupied with our chatter anyway.
Finally we went to bed, Bry grumbling at me not to take all the covers.
Tuesday came with the smell of the ocean breeze through the open sliding door and the morning sun spilling into our room. I got up and used the bathroom, then grabbed a cup of coffee from the pot on the kitchen counter and went out onto the beach, joining Jim, Kim and Bry around the unlit fireplace.
“There he is,” Kim said with a little smile. “Isn't this amazing? I could live here full time.”
“Me too,” I agreed and sipped my coffee.
Moments later Bry's mom walked over to us, coffee cup in her hand. “First full day – I say we take advantage and call this a beach day,” she said. “Supposed to rain tomorrow, so let's enjoy this while we can.”
We murmured in agreement and took our cups back inside. Bry and I grabbed some fruit for breakfast and then wandered down to the water. Neither of us felt like swimming yet, so we just started walking along the water's edge.
“So when you hit up this hook-up app thing,” Bry said suddenly. “Was it, like, what you expected? Like, were you just wanting to hook up?”
I frowned a little as I considered my answer. “I think I thought a hookup would lead to more, but it really was just a hookup and moving on. Like...a bro job. It was just to get off, nothing else attached to it.”
“I don't get that,” he said with a shake of his head. “The bro job part, I mean. I don't think I could enjoy it, because in my head, I'd know I'm not into the person on my dick, you know? It’d be like some chick I'm not into trying that. That make sense?”
I nodded. “There is such thing as bad sex.”
“This has to be good. Come on. Tell me,” he said with a grin.
I laughed lightly. “Why you want to know about my gay sex life?”
“Eh. Something Kim said yesterday before you got here. She was in the car with Jim and heard him call Mom to tell her what Dad did to you. She turned around and was texting me about you, asking how come I never said my bestie was gay. Saying things like, you probably had stuff to say about your life I wasn't hearing, like I'd tell you about my dates or something. Made me think a little, even though she kind of pissed me off.”
“She doesn't really talk to you that much, does she? I mean, like to know who your friends are?”
“You wouldn't think,” he said, nodding. “But she's actually really into our family. I mean, I think she loves Jim – even though their names together sound stupid. Jim Kim. It's like an off-brand beef jerky.”
We laughed, and the water rushed up, covering our feet and splashing as we walked.
“Anyway, yeah, she's talked to me. She's nice, seems to take the time to get to know us, and Jim said it's because they have something serious.” Bry shrugged. “I guess she likes me okay. But yeah, she obviously knew we were bros, but I never mentioned the gay part.”
“I've heard people complain about being introduced as the gay friend,” I said.
“It wasn't that, really,” he said with a shrug. “I mean...you were always just you. Gay is like a detail, sort of like hair color or something. I don't know – just didn't seem like it was something to say.”
“Yeah,” I said, not really knowing what to say.
“I guess it's good we're friends, though, since we can't seem to get into relationships, huh?” he asked, a smile curling the corner of his mouth.
“You're just looking in the wrong places,” I said with confidence.
“I guess you were, too, huh?” he teased, bumping my shoulder.
I shook my head. “Yeah. It's been...disappointing, mostly.”
“Like,” I said, trailing off as I felt a flush hit my cheeks. “Like my first time. It was...weird. The whole thing was just weird, and then uncomfortable, and I got kind of emotional after, and that made the guy uncomfortable. Tried talking to the next couple guys, but they really were just there for hooking up or trying to get someone to make an OnlyFans with them. Just...not what I wanted.”
Bry cleared his throat. “Was my dad right about you, like, being into me?”
I swallowed. “Yeah. But only that. I'd never do things to you like he said.”
“Pft, I know that,” he said with a dismissive wave. “But I got to wonder. Do you think I miss signs from people? Like...I didn't know you were into me at all. I figured when someone would say that, it was just because you were gay and people gotta talk shit. But you never made a move, either.”
I shrugged. “It's the only bad thing about you – you're hopelessly straight.”
He laughed aloud. “Sounds like a medical condition. I'm sorry, Mrs. Jones, but your son is...hopelessly straight.”
I laughed with him, but I couldn't help but ask. “Doesn't weird you out? Me being into you?”
“I mean, what am I supposed to do about it? You know the score. I won't say it doesn't matter, because, like, they're your feelings. I just don't want that to be a problem for us or anything. We've got the best vibe between us, you know?”
“Yeah," I said sincerely. “I do know.”
He shook his head. “I don't know how you'll ever find a gay version of me though. I guess you're doomed to being single.”
“You, too.” I paused and glanced at him. “Oh, too soon?” I asked with a grin.
“Dick,” he said with a grin.