Seven Minutes

Close-up of door handle


Cole Parker

I thought it would be a good idea to make a record of my fifteenth birthday party for posterity because it was, uh, well, damn! My vocabulary is still a work in progress like with most teenagers. Even if I get an A in English, which I usually do, that doesn’t mean the right word jumps onto my tongue just when I need it. Or, in this case, onto my fingertips. But there is a word for that party, and, well, let me look it up. Our English teacher last year showed us a thesaurus. What a neat book! I’ll use it when writing this, I’m sure. Anyway, the word. Ah, got it. My birthday party was momentous.

I’m in this group, see. There are eight of us, four girls, four boys. We’ve been together since the second grade. It would be the first grade, but Dylan didn’t come along till the second. Grade. Second grade! Try to keep up. I might forget to add a word here and there. I’m pretty good in math, suck at English. Well, those A’s might make a liar out of me, but who can’t get an A in English in middle school and freshman high school? All you have to do is try.

But after saying that, you might wonder why I’m not asking one of the other seven to write this if it needs writing at all. I have a good answer. It’s because I know more about it than any of the others, even if they were all there with me. I know the ins and outs, the tiny details that were important, and maybe they still don’t. That’s why.

I need to introduce us. The eight of us are Susan, Josh, Harper, Lucas, Tracy, Anthony, Beth and Dylan. Guess which one I am.

Bet you didn’t. But a one-in-eight chance makes it unlikely you’d be able to ferret it out. Hey, good word, right? The thesaurus guy—our English teacher—had us read a book that had that verb in it and I always wanted to use it. Now I have.

Lucas. Bet you guessed Anthony or Harper. I would have. But no, I’m Lucas. Not Luke. Never Luke. Lucas.

You should know something about each of us. Several things are what make us into a tight group instead of just being eight random kids. One, we’re all smart. Maybe that’s why we’re so comfortable with each other. Two, our parents are affluent. Not rich. Affluent, as in comfortable. We’re all middle class, too. Well, upper middle class, but high school kids don’t make that distinction.

We’re kids who reflect the times we’re in. There are black and gay and Mexican and Arab and Jewish and Asian kids at our school, and every one of them is just a simple part of the whole. No discrimination. Can’t say the same for the adults in our community, but it’s true in school. Which means Anthony and Susan are both one of the eight. Anthony is black and Susan is Jewish. But we don’t even think of them as being any different from the rest of us. Except in personality. They have their own personalities just as the rest of us do.

All of our personalities are different. Of course they are. No two people on earth have the same exact personality. Get real! How could they? I could go on about the reasons for that, but it has nothing to do with my birthday party, so skip it. I’m going to.

I am going to discuss the specifics of our separate personalities because you’ll enjoy this more if you know who we are. I’ll go through them in no specific order; I'll just take them as they occur to me. But it might make it easier to keep you from being confused if I can think up an adjective for each one that fits them and that begins with the first letter of their names. I never thought of doing this before, so we’ll see if I can. Anyway, here we go with Susan, Josh, Harper, Lucas, Tracy, Dylan, Beth and Anthony.

Susan is the opposite of shy. She’s like a force of nature but a controlled one. She’s not loud and brassy. She does have strong opinions and will tell you about them, but in a way that she’s trying to convince, not browbeat. She’ll voice them strongly enough that that force-of-nature label fits. She might be the smartest of all of us, but maybe not, too. Speaking her mind at the drop of a hat makes her intelligence stand out for all to see and admire. But as I said at the beginning, we’re all smart, and who’s really to say who’s the smartest?

Susan is pretty. Not cute, but pretty. Long dark hair, long face, too, and dark eyes. But she smiles a lot, has a good, slightly olive-hued complexion, and is our freshman class vice-president. She wears nice clothes, never jeans, but almost never a dress. Girls at our school don’t wear dresses much. Oh, and a word to describe her. How about ‘strong’? Certainly fits her personality. She takes the backseat to no one.

Josh is a typical fourteen-year-old boy. I should say, we’re all freshmen in our high school so fourteen and fifteen are our ages. Josh is our youngest, but only by a month. Among us eight, there are only four months separating our ages.

Josh is a bit scatter-brained. He doesn’t focus on one thing very well. His mind goes in different directions, much like that dog in the movie Up. The one who is distracted by anything and everything. I guess I should own up to being that way just a little, too, but not as much as Josh.

Josh is cute: brown hair and eyes, delightful smile; he’s the one mothers would like to cuddle. He’s the cutest one of us boys in the group, and maybe the shyest, too. Why does it work that way? Cute should be outgoing to take advantage of the opportunities being cute brings. But I’ve known several cute kids like Josh who are shy.

Josh likes video games. He’s small for his age and not a bit athletic. He likes to be in the background, maybe because of the shyness, and that’s easy in our group because several of us like being in the foreground. I guess his outstanding feature and what endears him to us is his sense of humor. He’s always smiling and laughing and joking. Hey, that’s a good first-letter descriptive for him: ‘jokester’. He’s fun, and we don’t care if he jumps from one thing to another so easily. Just being with him is interesting, seeing where a thought will lead him, and he is always up and funny.

He sports khakis and black sneakers and white socks. I always wonder about that as he’d be able to hide more effectively in high school in jeans and black socks.

Harper does wear jeans. Jeans and a T-shirt. She dresses the sloppiest of all of us. And at the same time, she probably has the wealthiest parents. He’s president of one of the three banks in town. I always think Harper goes to extremes to separate herself from the starched-shirt, buttoned-down-collar image she thinks people expect of a banker’s progeny. She has opinions like Susan does, but she can be loud and abrasive when voicing them. No shrinking violet, our Harper. You know who she is and what she thinks within a minute of meeting her.

She doesn’t fit in with the rest of us as neatly as the other seven because of her dominant personality; she’s one of the ones who is out front and likes to be heard, wants to be noticed. But she’s been with us all along, and she rescued Josh a couple of times in second grade from older kids on the playground. She is one of us. Solidly. An adjective? How about ‘headstrong’?

Lucas. That’s me, and who, at just fifteen, can really describe himself very honestly? I think of myself as in the middle. Maybe that’s why I unconsciously put my name in the middle of the names when listing us. I’m moderately good looking, but certainly not the best of us boys. We don’t have a worst. All of us vary from cute or handsome to normal. I’m on the normal side.

If I have one thing that separates me from the others, and it might be only in my imagination, it’s that almost any group will have a leader. That’s my role, even if just saying it makes it more than it is in reality. But the others do look up to me for reasons I don’t understand. They follow my suggestions more frequently than those from anyone else.

I’m of average height. My hair is a lighter brown than Josh’s, almost blond but not quite. I have blue eyes, and some girls have told me they’re gorgeous. I’m sure I blushed when they said that. I’m not sure how to react when girls come on to me. I guess in another year I’ll have figured that out. I might be fifteen now, but just, and I still feel like 13 and in many ways.

I don’t really have strong opinions like Susan and Harper. I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Which makes me an odd sort for a leader and is why that label seems wrong; maybe it isn’t true and just a feeling I have. Maybe they pay attention to me because I’m down to earth and logical and never throw my weight around. Hey, I don’t have much of that to throw around. I’m average height but also skinny. My dad keeps telling me to start lifting weights if I want to fill out and get stronger. I do want those things, just not enough to do any lifting.

Okay, I agree, that’s not really telling you who I am to any great extent, but then, I don’t know who I am. I’m just fifteen. I can talk more about the many things I’m not rather than what I am. I’m moderately athletic, moderately smart, friendly and outgoing but not a social all-star, not shy but not out there, either. You can see why I say I’m in the middle. I am. With most everything. I do get all A’s, but then, we all do.

I find it much easier to characterize my friends with a letter-appropriate adjective than myself. But I said I’d do it, so this is the best I can do: ‘lite’. Like a beer called lite. Lacking ambition, lacking much substance. That’s me, Lucas.

Tracy is the All-American girl. She is out there. Very popular, pretty with bobbed blond hair, cuter than a button; but buttons don’t have much character and Tracy does. She’s a cheerleader in the fall and a gymnast in the winter. Loquacious and engaging, I sometime wonder that she doesn’t find the other seven of us missing a step. But she doesn’t. She helps pull all of us together with her spirit and tenacious energy. The word to best describe her would be ‘terrific’.

She should be the leader of our group; she’s that vivacious. I wonder if the other girls are a bit put off by her, but I’ve never seen that, and you can always tell. No, she fits in with us even while being in a number of other cliques at the school. If it comes to a time conflict with several things happening at the same time and she needs to decide what to do, who to go with, she always chooses us. Go figure.

Dylan is, well, Dylan. Difficult to define him. With only one exception, I know everyone in the group better than I do Dylan. He’s a little quiet, but that could be said for several of us. He thinks about things more than the rest of us do. He’s just there most of the time, there considering, chewing over, deliberating. He our tallest and perhaps our plainest looking. I have the sneaking suspicion that of all of us, he’s the one who’ll go farthest in the world.

His hair is reddish gold, if you can imagine that. He is athletic and played on the JV football team back in the fall. He was a cornerback. If you don’t know football, and I barely do, it means someone who’s supposed to stop the other team’s offense from completing passes. You have to be fast and rugged and athletic to do that. Dylan doesn’t look tough, more like a string bean, really, but I’ve seen the looks some of the other football players give him. I see their respect.

With all that comes a good sense of humor when he cares to share that with us, and a rapier wit; he has the ability to defuse the sarcastic putdowns that are so common in high school. People who don’t know Dylan tend to overlook and underestimate him. It’s easier to come up with a descriptive for Dylan than any of the others: ‘deep’.

This leaves Beth and Anthony. Beth is a girly girl. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I mean you’d never guess smart when you see her. You’d see the fashion sense—she dresses better than any of us—and her carefully applied makeup and the assumed coyness and all the things high school girls do to attract boys. There is more to Beth than just that, though, even if it isn’t apparent from a casual glance. She’d never have fit into our group if that was all she was. She does like boys, though. You can just tell by whom she spends time looking at.

She’s dead smart, though. Top of our class. Which means top of our group, too. Yeah, I know I said Susan was smartest. Maybe they both are. I don’t think either has ever not gotten anything other than an A in their classes. But all-A’s doesn’t really relate directly to smartness. You can be a hard worker and get all A’s while not being the smartest, and you can be the smartest and not work hard and still get all A’s. Now I’m getting confused what all this has to do with which of the girls is smarter, and the thing is, they each show it in different ways. Smart is an adjective that simply fits Susan and doesn’t fit Beth as well. What fits here are words like flirtatious and beguiling and sexy. As one of them starts with a B, I could use it, but I won’t. There’s more to Beth than that.

I started this exposé saying she was a girly girl. She is small and delicate with auburn hair that hangs down to her shoulders, and she swings it around a lot, probably to catch the attention of male eyes. She has a button nose and lipsticked lips.

I often wonder what will happen if she does catch some boy’s attention, his serious attention. I am pretty sure none of us has gone very far in the making-out department. I think I’d be able to tell; I think that person would carry him or herself differently. Beth is the one to wonder about more than the rest of us. She has this winking-eyelashes business and the come-hither smile guile down pat. But how would she react to any serious-attention boy? I don’t know. And that mystery is one reason for the b-adjective I’m giving her. It’s ‘bewitching’.

Hormones obviously affect us all. Perhaps, though, they affect Beth more than the rest of us. It sure seems that way.

Anthony. Anthony is practically invisible. That’s how I’d best describe him. Which has to be ridiculous on the face of it, because Anthony’s face is probably the most handsome among us boys. Josh is the cutest, Anthony the most handsome. I need to say, just for the record, that Anthony is black, but don’t need to stress it. Susan is Jewish, and Anthony is black, but we don’t define either by those things. What Anthony is, is really, really handsome with a coffee-with-heavy-cream complexion and neat hair not cut really short but nowhere near an Afro, and a captivating, irresistible smile. So how could he possibly be invisible? Black and handsome in a school that was mostly white? Impossible, you say, impossible to be invisible.

I don’t know how he pulls it off. He just stays in the background, somewhat like Josh but Josh stays there because he is more comfortable there and because he is small and could be lost in the crowd, and because he’s the timid sort. Anthony doesn’t say much and keeps his eyes from meeting anyone else’s and is able to avoid attention by seeming to stay out of focus. I already said I don’t know how he manages that. Well, I don’t.

Okay, that isn’t very specific, but nothing about Anthony is specific. He is very good at not taking a position on anything. In a group with Susan and Harper, not agreeing with them or disagreeing is terribly hard to do; they force their will on you and make you support them or express a damn good reason why you don’t. Anthony does neither, somehow, without riling either of them. I’ve studied him doing this, and it’s just damned clever. He supports ideas that they both espouse. Now some of those ideas contradict each other, yet he gets away with it. Maybe because he smiles when opining.

We’ve all gotten to know each other very well with all the time we spend together. I could tell you each of their favorite songs, movies, books and teachers. I know what their plans are after high school if they have any. I know how many brothers and/or sisters they have, and their names and ages. I know what their parents do.

I don’t know any of this about Anthony. Well, I do know his dad owns a Toyota dealership in town. But the rest? No idea. And I don’t know why I don’t know. He’s around with us as much as any of us. He’s not a silent partner. He does speak. But he doesn’t make much of an impact. He simply manages to be with us and not with us at the same time.

Invisible. That’s Anthony.

If his name began with E, he’d be easy. Enigma would fit him superbly well. B, too: baffling. But his name begins with an A, so I can’t use those. I have to go with ‘ambiguous’, which also fits him very well. Pinning him down is not easy to do. Among us, he’s the quietest, quieter even than Dylan.

I just realized something that hadn’t struck me before. Writing this out made it clear: the girls in the group have much stronger, more prominent personalities. We boys are quieter. Okay, so I should say we’re more reflective. We take our time with things. We’re not really shy, except for Josh a little, but we let the girls make the noise. Easier that way.

Okay, so there you have it. Our group of eight. Time to get to my birthday bash. Which, after all, is the point of all this.


We make a big deal out of all our birthdays. Since second grade, we’d all been at each other’s birthday parties. Now it was my fifteenth, and that meant I was now in my 16th year on this earth, having lived fifteen of them already. I spoke briefly, almost negligibly, about hormones earlier. Well, now, mine were kicking in with a vengeance. I had to imagine that was true with the other seven, too.

I wanted to do something about that. Not for them; for me. That, of course, would be scary as hell, but when it’s fear versus hormones and you’re fifteen, fear usually takes a hike. I was ready. I was going to go for the brass ring. I was!

I said before that none of our group had seriously dated. I hadn’t dated at all. Some of us are more adventurous than others. I wasn’t. I also had my group for companionship, and that had been enough. We went to the movies together, for pizza together, to the mall together. I guess that was sufficient socializing and that meant I hadn’t felt the need to date. That was enough before. It wasn’t any longer. Hormones.

The thing was, I’d had crushes throughout my life, just like everyone does. And lately those had been getting more urgent. I’d decided finally to do something about it. It was about time. I was going to do it at my party. I’d figured out how, after a lot of thought. The thing was, my crush was on someone in my group. That should be no surprise as most of my free time was spent with them. I knew them better than I knew anyone else. And I had it bad for one of them.

So I was going to make my move at my party. I’d figured out how. Underhandedly. I wasn’t brave. This could be a disaster. But I was going to do it anyway. Fifteen and never been kissed. That would end at my party. Unless my crush said no way. See? Scary. Possibly heartbreaking.

I’d done a lot of thinking. Paramount in that, the basis of what I ended up planning, was the realization of how typical I was. I was a typical boy of fifteen, and I was sure that what feelings I had, what urges and emotions, had to be what others felt, too. No way was I any different.

What that meant was that it was quite possible others in the group had crushes, too. What a thought—and what ideas if evoked.

I was going to let my crush know how I felt. And while doing it, I was going to try to give the others that opportunity to express and share their feelings, too!

The problem, of course, was I had no idea who might like whom. But I did know these kids. I did know who I felt would go well with whom.

I was going to risk it. No big deal if none of this worked out. Only to me, who stood a good chance of getting my heart ripped from my body and stomped on. You think about that at fifteen.

Figuring out the details was tricky. I went though many thoughts considering how I might reach my goal. Most of my plans would be too hokey. And if I wasn’t devious enough, I might get caught doing what I was going to do, and if that happened early on, it would be disastrous.

In the end, after deciding six reasons why several plans wouldn’t work, I figured out one that might work, and I went with it. Desperation played a part in that.


Saturday night. We had the basement to ourselves. We’d had a cake that my mom had made, and now we were by ourselves in our finished basement where we often hung out. Dad had had the basement set up with a game room for kids with a TV and pool table and a ping pong table and a stereo system and a tiled floor for dancing if anyone wanted to. There was a video game set up there that Josh liked to use when he was hanging with us. There was also another room, this one for adults—a lounge with sofas, a bar, a card table, stocked bookshelves and another TV.

All eight of us were there. Just us. That was tradition since the sixth grade. Together. I was just hoping the other seven were as horny as I was. They had to be, didn’t they?

I took the floor. Well, it was my floor, so why not? Anyway, I was accustomed to speaking to the group, they were accustomed to me bouncing ideas off them, and this was just more of that.

“Guys, thanks for the gifts. I’ll use them all. Well, maybe not the artificial vagina Josh got at that sleazy porn shop downtown, but the rest of them.”

“The vagina, too,” said Josh. “Who do you think you’re kidding?”

Everyone laughed. So far, so good. I had to respond. “I just hope you didn’t break it in first.” That got him turning red, and wow, did they laugh then.

“Anyway, moving on,” I said after the laughter had dimmed some. I wanted to prevent any more thoughts forthcoming along that line. “I figured out what I want to do for my birthday. I want us to do something we’ve never done. I’ve been thinking about this. Don’t all groan. You have to have the same feelings I’ve been having, and this might just be fun. What I want to do is play Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

They didn’t groan. They looked shocked.

I smiled at them. “I have names in a box. Everyone’s. I’ll pull two out, and those two will be together for seven minutes. Seven private minutes in the lounge. This is like Las Vegas: what happens in the lounge stays in the lounge.”

I was expecting Harper to say something, very possibly something untoward. This hadn’t been her idea, so she’d be skeptical right from the get-go. She was. “What if we don’t like the name that’s drawn with ours? Huh? Huh?”

“Then I’d expect you’d be very rude if you said that. Who in this room do you want to say that to? Would you really rather embarrass the hell out of any of us than spend a short time alone with them?”

She actually blushed. A rare occurrence. I knew she’d been asking more rhetorically than thinking it through. Now she saw the error of her ways. She couldn’t possibly object. No one could. That was part of my genius. Uh, strike that: part of my plan.

Beth was next. I knew what her question would be and that it’d take a clever answer to assuage her and the rest, but I’d already figured out both the question and my answer when I’d planned all this. I did know my friends very well.

She didn’t disappoint me. “Why not two boxes? One for the girls, one of the boys?”

“Luck of the draw,” I said, and laughed, trying hard to make it a compelling one. It seemed to work. The others laughed too. Well, six of them did. Beth didn’t think it funny at all.

“Okay, everyone in? I’ll pull two names. Those two can go into the lounge. I’ll be in charge of the timing until I pull my name.”

I reached in the box, stirred it around some, and pulled out two pieces of folded paper. I read them and grinned, then put them in my pocket. Very important, that.

“Josh,” I said, paused for effect, and said, “and Beth.”

Josh looked shocked, Beth looked animated. I’d thought long and hard about who should be the first group. It had nothing to do with what the slips of paper said. I had all eight names written down, but what they said and what I said were completely different.

Beth was on her feet as soon as her name was called. I was watching Josh. He’d looked shocked, but now was smiling, and he had a look in his eyes that was lascivious, if I knew what that meant, which I did.

Beth didn’t head for the lounge. She headed for Josh. Josh was now blushing a little, and I thought Beth might be, too, but her back was to me, so I couldn’t really tell. Beth took Josh’s hand and led him through the door to the lounge, then shut it behind them solidly.

I didn’t forget. I set the clock.

Another genius idea I’d had. My dad had been intrigued by photography when he was a kid. Back then, of course, photography meant cameras and film and if you wanted to go whole hog—my dad was a whole-hog sort of man, and I guess he was as a boy, too—then you wanted to develop and print your own pictures. He’d set up a darkroom, bought a small enlarger, and he was in business.

Part of developing and printing was a time element. He had a clock that could be set for minutes up to an hour and seconds, too. It had a setting on it so when the time was up, a buzzer would go off. It was loud, maybe so if you fell asleep in the pitch blackness of the darkroom, it would take care of that expeditiously.

I liked it because it was loud enough to let the kids in the lounge know their time was up and they could expect inquisitive teenagers visiting rather soon, so any articles of apparel they’d managed to strew should be reattached anon.

To my surprise, we were a silent bunch, out in our room. We were mostly looking at each other. Probably wondering. If anyone did have a crush on anyone else, the wondering could be what if both their names were drawn together? Then what?

Or maybe they were thinking, gosh if I’m drawn with so and so, will they want me to do things, sex things, with them? Can I say no without hurting their feelings? Or should I put out?

Lots to think about.

As the minutes passed, I thought about the next pair. Should I announce it now? I thought it better to wait. I didn’t want them to think up reasons not to go together to the lounge. Springing it on them, they’d have less opportunity to come up with a reason not to go. Besides, I wanted the whole group together to react to each selection I’d made. Not that they had any idea all the selections would be pre-considered and preapproved by moi.

The buzzer buzzed. Surprisingly, Dylan was the one to quickly open the door. Was he hoping to catch them in flagrante delicto?

Of all of us, Dylan was the one I’d wondered most about when it concerned sexual appetites. I thought if anyone wasn’t feeling terribly sexual at this point in his life, it would be him. Maybe I’d been wrong about that. Maybe in this way, he was more typical than I’d thought: more like me!

Evidently both Beth and Josh were still dressed because I saw disappointment flash in Dylan’s eyes.

It wasn’t flashing in either of the other two’s eyes. Josh was blushing like crazy, and Beth was looking very satisfied. Something had surely gone on in there. I took a quick peek at Josh’s pants. Yep, a noticeable bulge.

Everyone started asking questions. Josh and Beth looked at each other. Beth grinned and said, “I have a boyfriend now.” Then, to my surprise, she said, “Thanks, Lucas.”

Time for my next pairing. I got their attention away from the two lovebirds and drew two more slips of folded paper from the box. I scanned them, then pocketed them and said, “This is interesting: Tracy and Harper!” I grinned, trying my hardest to create the fiction that this was indeed just the luck of the draw.

The pairing brought some oohs and aahs, some unreadable looks from Harper, and a huge smile, an unexpected one, from Tracy.

Tracy bounced up. Harper looked undecided. Harper always wanted to discuss, to argue, and Tracy was having none of that. She grabbed Harper by the hand and almost dragged her into the lounge.

I’d thought long and hard about those two. I’d spent a lot of time with all these people, and I did a lot of watching. I’d seen both of them spending more time than seemed just pure chance throwing looks at each other. Never was there a meeting of eyes, though. The looks happened separately and when the other was looking away. And they each did that. So, was there interest there? I thought there was a good chance there was. I also thought that never in a hundred years would either have the gumption or courage to approach the other with romantic overtures. I thought they’d be even more afraid of rejection than I was.

The waiting began again, and I realized suddenly that the next pair I called would also seal my fate. I was going to go last. But when the next pair was announced, it would be clear at that point who the last pair would be: me and the only other one who hadn’t been called yet.

I was going to have to be very careful with my face then. Because my upcoming partner would then know I’d be in that room. With him. Yeah, him. And what he felt about that might well be obvious.

My thoughts might be all over my face, too. Should I stare or avoid staring. Avoiding would be weird, wouldn’t it? I mean, it was obvious who my lounge partner would be, and I’d be curious what he thought. So I should look. And I should control my face. What should my face show? I couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t be looking right at me, reading me.

Could I keep my face neutral if I saw disappointment, if I saw unhappiness, if I saw squirming or . . . or any kind of displeasure or distaste. How would I react? This was so important to me. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to act normally. If I saw him wince, how could I keep the heartbreak from my eyes?

I did have a thought just then. I needed to remember that going into the lounge wasn’t a statement that you were going to make out with whoever you went it with. I didn’t know that for a fact with the two girls. If they came out just smiling, or looking upset, it could mean they’d just furthered their friendship or had an argument. There didn’t have to be a sexual connotation at all.

So maybe I shouldn’t be worried about my face. My partner might be wondering about sex, or he might be wanting to talk about the book we were reading in English: Moby Dick.

Moby wasn’t the dick I was most interested in. No, scratch that! Way too juvenile!

Josh and Beth were being questioned. Not only about being boy/girl friends now, but what they did in the lounge. And Beth was eager to tell and Josh was shushing her, and it was funny as hell.

“. . . had my hand down his . . .” Beth couldn’t finish because Josh stopped her the only way he could: he kissed her. And did that ever bring hoots and hollers. None of us had ever seen any of us kissing before. And for Josh—probably the meekest of us all—to do it, well, it was spectacular.

The buzzer went off again, and I was suddenly feeling more than just a little bit nervous. I was about to find out from his expression if I had a chance. But only if he interpreted our lounge time that way. He might, but maybe not. But it made reading his face less important now, and that would make it easier to control mine.

The door opened and the two girls stepped out. And we all knew right away what had happened. How? Because they were holding hands and had the widest smiles on their faces I’d ever seen. They were joyously happy.

There, I hoped, is where I’d be soon.

There was an uproar in the room. No one had had any idea, I guess, other than what had seemed possible to me. Now there were questions and pats on the back and all sorts of excitement.

I was the only one holding back. I was very happy for them, too, but I was getting more and more nervous. Any second now . . .

Finally they quieted, and three of them stared at me. The other two couples were now paired off and away from the clamor of the rest of us. They were pulling even farther away so they could talk in their own pairs.

The three looking at me seemed eager. Well, Susan was. She was now going to be paired with one of three boys. I wondered which one she wanted, if any. I hope she wanted one of us. And I hoped the one she wanted wasn’t the one I wanted. Just like I hoped she didn’t want me.

I thought it would be good if I had the same expression on my face the other two boys did. They both looked about the same: apprehensive. That was easy for me to ape.

No point in putting it off longer. Someone back in time had said at some point ‘the die is cast’. Or was it dye, a vat of dye? No, probably die, though how you’d cast that seemed vague at best. And isn’t it a verb? As to cease to be? But then, cast is a verb as well. You cast a play. Not dye. I don’t know why he said it, either. Maybe he was simple-minded. Oh well, something to think on later.

I pulled out two more names, read the paper and grinned. That was me faking I was enjoying the partnership I’d just read. “Susan,” I said, then paused for effect. It was a short pause because I didn’t want to get killed. “And Dylan.”

I was looking at both of them. Dylan’s eyebrows rose a bit. What did that mean? But then he smiled, and I breathed again. Susan looked happy, too.

I was consciously not looking at Anthony. I’d have plenty time for that for the next seven minutes. I did take a quick, quick peek. He was showing nothing. I hoped I was, too.

This time the seven minutes seemed longer than ever before. The others in the room were looking at me and Anthony. They knew it was coming as well as we did. They were grinning. I wasn’t grinning. I was working on not looking at Anthony. He seemed to be doing the same thing because whenever I failed in my effort not to look, he wasn’t looking at me, either.

Josh said, “Aha.” I hoped no one would ask why he said it. Josh makes jokes out of nothing, and this wasn’t something I wanted him to joke about. But I also didn’t want anyone else asking what he meant and doing so in an inviting tone. So I did it.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, and didn’t ask it as something he should really answer.

He looked at me, caught my eyes, and shut up. Were my eyes giving me away? Well, if they were, they seemed to be giving away that I wasn’t really happy with the state of affairs and didn’t want it bantered over. Maybe that was good.

Or not. Who could tell?”

Time passed. Agonizingly slowly.


Now my nerves were jangling like no one’s business. Beth opened the door. Susan and Dylan were kissing. Beth said, “Time’s up!” and laughed. Both of them looked a little sheepish as they came out.

I didn’t dawdle. I took out the last two slips, put them in my pocket without reading them, and said, “After you, sir,” to Anthony. I smiled cordially. Well, that was my intent. What that smile actually looked like, I have to idea. Ever try to smile with a four-ton elephant sitting on your chest? That’s what my nerves felt like.

Anthony walked into the room. I followed and closed the door.

I’d been telling myself all along that I was going to do this. Now, in the room, with Anthony looking at me, I realized I really didn’t have to. I could talk about Moby’s dick if I wanted.

But no, I wanted to say what I wanted to say. That was the reason of all this subterfuge. Be a man, Lucas! Be a man.

“Anthony,” I said, my voice sounding very strangled.

“Lucas,” he answered, and I’d swear, a cockeyed grin slowly appeared on his face when he said it. Was he laughing a me? Really?

Well, whether he was or wasn’t, this was the time and I wasn’t going to fail. If it evoked laughter, so be it. Though this wasn’t a very promising start.

“I set the pairings,” I said, prepared for an outburst of anger.

He laughed. Laughed! I was scared to death, and he laughed! “I considered that possibility,” he said.

“You did? I didn’t think anyone . . .”

“Seems like you did a splendid job, too.”

“I thought I’d be okay with it. I do watch everyone. The only two I wasn’t pretty sure of were you and Dylan.”

“Oh, so you thought you might have had a better chance with Dylan? Or that I had my hopes up about him?”

“NO! I thought he might not like Susan. But I really had no idea about you. I’ve had a crush on you for forever. At least fifth grade. But you don’t show anything about what you feel. Ever. So I didn’t know if you, well, if maybe you might like me a little. Boyfriend-like I mean. There, I said it. Been afraid to say it for years. But it’s my birthday, so you have to cut me some slack. Let me down easy.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Let me down easy? I think you have to. There have to be some privileges that come with a birthday.”

He grinned. My god, did he ever have the best grin in the world. “For years, huh? Same here.”

“What? You’ve . . . for years?”

“Yeah. Surprised you never caught on.”

This was wonderful, and annoying, too. We’d wasted all this time? Why? That was a good question for him!

“Why didn’t you say something?”

He grinned. “I can answer that. Let’s talk psychology.”


“Psychology. Okay, let’s start with Harper and Tracy. Why you put them together.”

“Screw them. I want to know why you didn’t tell me!”

“I am. Just building up to it. Those two girls. What was your process of selection?”

I gritted my teeth, then took a deep breath. Pushing him wasn’t going to work. He was too self-controlled, too feet-firmly-on-the-ground for that. “I saw how they looked at each other. I considered how each was such a strong girl, almost feminist-strength, and I sorta didn’t believe either of them was as adamant about everything they said as they seemed. That confidence was in their words, but not in their eyes. I thought there was some dithering inside each of them. Maybe about who they were and what they wanted. And with the glances they kept throwing, I thought perhaps another of the things they were uncertain of was whether the other one had the same feelings they had. I made a guess, but it seemed a good one, almost probable. Their personalities matched; maybe their love interests did, too.”

“So you looked at their psychological makeups and thought they fit.”

I started to respond but he kept talking.

“You do that. You use a great deal of logic in your thought making, and you look at the psychology of the people you’re thinking about. Now look at you and me.” He stopped to laugh. “You look at me a lot, so that should be easy, but it isn’t for you because you don’t look at yourself much at all. If you did, you’d understand.”

“Understand what?”

“Try to keep up here, Lucas! Understand why I didn’t say anything.”

“You still haven’t told me.” I had to keep my growing frustration out of my voice.

“I’m getting there. Now, let’s take a look at this from a different direction. Let’s pretend I’m a painter. Not the artistic type, the home improvement type. I’m painting the top of a wall, and I need a ladder for that. Leaning out to the side of the ladder to reach as far as I can before climbing down and moving it is a professional hazard. So what do I do? I have my fledgling assistant come hold the ladder for me so it won’t tumble over when I’m reaching. So, got that picture in your head?”

He was having a great time; I could read him like a book. He wasn’t even trying to hide his grin. I couldn’t help myself; I wasn’t able to keep the sarcasm from him when I said, “Yes, I can certainly picture that, you leaning out to your right and left with a paint brush in your hand, the ladder being held below.”

“All right. Think about that greenhorn assistant a little more to have the complete picture in mind. Now, how does this sound to your logical mind, taking into account the psychology of the players: the rookie assistant calls up to the painter, ‘Try to the keep the brush strokes going in the same direction as much as you can so there are no changes in the how it looks when it dries.’”

I frowned. Was he serious? I wouldn’t know, I guessed, until I played his game to completion. “No, he wouldn’t do that.”

“Okay then. You now understand why I didn’t say anything?”

“The hell I do!”

“Yes you do, but I’ll spell it out if you need me to. Lucas, you’re the head of our group. Everyone acknowledges that. You’re the top dog. Why did everyone agree to this game we’re playing tonight? Even the girls who won’t agree to most anything anyone proposes with beefing about it? Easy. It’s because you suggested it, and we all go along with your leadership. You call the shots for us.

“So, you get it now? You’re the one up on the ladder. I’m the one down below holding it. There’s no way I’m going to call up and tell you what’s what, that we like each other, that we should be together. That was your job. Yeah, I thought you liked me, and maybe you did. But telling you I felt the same way? Not in a million years. That was a conversation for you to initiate. And I have to say, mister, I was getting a little impatient waiting.”

I knew what to do then. I wanted to argue, tell him we were equals, there was no leader and followers when it was the two of us, but there was something else to do that was more urgent: I was going to kiss him. He was grinning at me, and I was actually getting a little aroused. This was one of those times I was more 13 than 15; I had little control of what I was feeling, and I was high with excitement and possibilities. Kissing him was at the very top of my to-do agenda. I took a step in his direction and

The damn buzzer went off!


The door opened. They were all there, fighting for a look at us. Anthony was still grinning, and he turned and walked out. I came along behind him, hoping my incipient arousal wasn’t noticeable.

In the lounge, I opened my mouth, then realized as I was doing it, everyone was looking at me. It dawned on me to a greater extent than ever before that these guys really did look at me as their leader. I’d known that but underplayed it. I hadn’t thought it was of much importance, had much merit.

I shook my head. Well, if it was true, and it seemed to be, for once I was going to take advantage of it.

“Guys, this has been a big night for all of us. I think you all want to be alone with what you discovered tonight, just like I do. So, why don’t we call it a night? And guys, I love all of you!”

That did it. They all were into the idea of being alone with their new partner, and within five minutes, they’d all gone. Well, all but one. He’d agreed this was a perfect night for our first sleepover.


Damn he was beautiful. Have I already mentioned that? No, I don’t think so. I said he was handsome. But that was speaking about him wearing clothes. Without them, he was beautiful. Full-bodied beautiful. We’d never seen each other naked before. Hell, I couldn’t remember if I’d ever even touched him.

We were both a little shy. Also, as my parents had no I idea I was gay—I was still getting used to the idea myself, but being with Anthony was certainly making it a convincing certainty—we needed to be very quiet.

Being shy made that easier because we weren’t all that adventurous. Nor patient. Hey, fifteen is fifteen, and I was still feeling that thirteen feeling where everything is new and super-exciting. We got in bed naked, we hugged and kissed and rubbed skin and touched, and oh, that touching was superior. Then Anthony rolled on top of me, and perhaps nature took over, because he began a gentle rocking, thrusting movement, and I copied him the best I could with his weight on me, and significant parts of us were in contact, and, well, it took no time at all.

I got a towel and we cleaned up, and by then the emotions of the day took over. I ended up spooning him and sleep was upon us. I don’t think we moved till morning, which was an interesting event in itself, what with boners to manage and all. Somehow, we did.


Photo by Henry & Co. at Pexels.