Being Gay Sucks

by Ruthless

Being gay sucks. It’s not as bad as say, waking up to discover you have leukemia, but I think it ranks up there with being told you’re a diabetic. My Dad is a doctor so I tend to think of disasters in medical metaphors.

Being a diabetic means you have to look forward to not being able to eat where and when and maybe anything you like. You can’t go to parties because you can’t drink. And you are maybe going to go blind or have your legs cut off.

Being gay is gonna be just as bad. You can’t go to parties because nobody wants you. Boom. The instant anybody finds out, you’re right to the bottom of the cool pile along with the spastic kids from special education. Your best buds get nervous around you. Less than a week later they won’t want to hang out with you anymore. Uh, not this afternoon, Michael. I gotta do my homework. Right. The only homework Terry has ever done is copying from me or phoning me up wailing so I’ll read him my answers over the phone in the morning before school. But I could already picture it.

Maybe nobody’s going to tell you they have to cut your legs off because you’re gay, but what about getting AIDS, huh? I think I could live as a cripple, if I really, really had to. Nobody survives getting AIDS. When I was in elementary school there was a girl in our school who had it. She was a creepy little thing, a grade younger than me with a permanently runny nose. And every time anybody spoke to her or about her, their voices changed, into a sad little coo, kind of a murmur. The same thing is going to happen when people talk to me. Their voices will change, kind of laughing, embarrassed just to talk to me. And when I ’m not there, Wheee! The voices are going to go up, sing song like kids: Na-na-na-na-NAH-na. Michael’s-got-a-BOY-friend. She died. So I’m not gonna die of this. I don’t have to get AIDS. But at least they were trying to be nice to her.

Alright. I’d rather be alive and gay than dead. But it still sucks. I’ve got a terminal condition. I can’t fool myself. I’m going to be gay until the day I die.

I think gay guys had it easier in the fifties. I mean, back then you didn’t have to believe a thing like that about yourself. So I looked at Stewie Coburn and got a hard-on. So what? Musta been my tight pants. I mean, I’m still going to marry my high school date and have kids. I don’t got no other choice about it. At least they could pretend it wasn’t true, it wasn’t them. It just wasn’t so in those days. There was no Gay Rights movement.

But now you know, they still say. “It could be a phase…” But they smile pityingly. They don’t believe a word of it. It’s just the word they use to mean, get used to it slowly. Phase. Fuck that. Nope, It’s not a phase. I looked at Judy Whitemarsh’s tits, and all I could think of was how pink the nipples were. Looked like they were irritated or chapped raw. I wanted to say; don’t you want to put Vaseline on them, or something? And I looked at Stewie Coburn when he was standing in front of his locker, with his eyes almost gummed shut because it was just eight o’clock in the morning and his mouth hanging slightly open, goofy. And he reached down because he wasn’t awake enough to know where he was and he scratched his nuts. Boom. It wasn’t even like I could see what he had in there. Or that you could call Stewie Coburn remotely cute. He was wearing baggy grey sweats, he coulda been a eunuch, but it was enough anyway, knowing it was his balls he was scratching. My jeans get a swollen fly. Joy.

It was never going to be worth getting out of bed in the morning again. Ever. But it was Saturday. At least I could lie there and think about how my life was wrecked. I didn’t have to get up and rush off to school and slam right into faking normal. I punched my pillow.

Faking it, yeah. My life stretched out in front of me dolefully. Faking it. No way I was going to let anybody find out, make the big admission while I was still in high school. To thine own self be true, they say. Right, well to mine own self, being true was to cover it up so I didn’t become the butt of every joke in the school. The butt. That was a joke, got that?

So I’d just keep slogging along and I’d get a girl and I’d do the big thing with her, to prove it wasn’t so, just in case anybody ever got any suspicions about me. I hadn’t been intending to score with a girl. I hadn’t been in any hurry about it. But I’d better get around to it now. That was the plan. Fake it, pretend to be kewl instead of being a total loser, and then, as soon as I was old enough, blast out of here to some big city where I could lose myself in promiscuous gay sex in dirty public washrooms.

Yuck. What a life plan. I sat straight up in bed. No doubt about it. The idea set up a tiny tight frisson of interest in my lower belly. Lose myself in promiscuous gay sex in… As if I’d want to! But my body reacted to it all the same.

I pulled my jeans on. Then I took them off. I padded into my Dad’s bedroom in my Joe Boxers and borrowed a pair of his sweats. My jeans were snug. No telling who or what was going to give me a hard-on now. I’d take a leaf from Stewie’s book and wear my pants so loose that I could hide a football in the folds of cloth, much less a hard-on. Now I knew what short-term project I had in mind. I had to go out and buy myself the biggest, coolest baggiest pants I could find in the mall. Short term: buy a pair of pants I could hide in. Long term: find a girl and fuck her.

I went to the bottom of the stairs. “Mo-om!” There was no answer. I wandered in the direction of the kitchen. “Mom!”

My Dad was sitting at the table eating cereal. “She’s already gone out.” He looked tired. He always looked tired. I told you my Dad was a doctor. Well it was his fault I’m gay. He’s never around. He’s always getting up at the middle of the night to go in to work. Yeah. I’m gay because I have no kind of a father figure and I got raised by my mother.

And there goes my chances of convincing seventy bucks out of her to go shopping for pants. “Where has she gone?”

I must have sounded forlorn. My Dad looked up.

“I don’t know, Mike. She didn’t say.”

I eyed him, wondering how much money he had in his wallet. My Mom does all the bills. He’s always at the hospital. She has to do the finances or they’d never get paid in time.

“Morning, Mike.” He made an effort to look alive.

I took the cereal box. “You going in to work again today?”

“Not until one.” He smiled slightly for me. I sat down opposite to him and poured the cereal. Cheerios. No fat, no sugar, no preservatives. We eat healthily at our house. They taste good, though.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t try to make conversation, so we sat there and looked at each other and ate cereal. Maybe he noticed that I was looking at him instead of reading the cereal box. He was starting to look surprised.

“Dad,” I said. “What if I’m gay?”

A look of intense pain came over his face, like as if I’d just told him that I’d been booted out of Science class for the rest of the term for being caught cheating. He just looked at me.

“I mean, I think,” I clarified. I couldn’t believe I’d said it. Here I had planned on telling nobody. This was the kind of thing I didn’t want to tell anybody. Not unless I was much older. And I’d gone and told my Dad of all people.

“What makes you think you’re gay?” he said.

“I like guys.”

He ate his cereal at crawling speed. Maybe he’d forgotten to stop eating. He was moving in slow mo. The expression of stomach cramps still hadn’t left his face.

“Maybe you’re bisexual?” he said. “I mean, you can like guys and still like girls. You don’t have to commit to a lifestyle. You could still be both.” He started to look earnest instead of in pain. “You don’t have to think that because you had some feelings for guys that you won’t ever have feelings for girls. It’s possible to be both.”

“I was kinda thinking that,” I lied.

“They’re… er, strong feelings?”

I looked at the table. My Dad was embarrassed. I made it easier for him by not meeting his eyes. I doodled with the point of my spoon on the vinyl tablecloth. “Sometimes.”

I looked up again. My dad was looking very tired. I mean, very, very, really tired. I thought he might keel over and fall asleep in his cereal, just in order to get away from this conversation. He was sagging at the shoulders. That’s why I don’t talk to my dad much. He’s too tired to raise a son. But who else could I have told? It’s sex. It’s not supposed to be moms who talk to their boys about sex. It’s supposed to be the dad, who tells his son the facts of life. So I didn’t have to feel guilty that I had gone and told him when he was too tired to cope with it. We were just having a man-to-man talk. A man to girl talk, that is.

“I don’t think you have to make any conclusions about your sexuality,” my dad was saying carefully. “If you think you’re gay, you probably are. But this is a big…” He stopped. He was going to say decision. I know he was. He thought I had decided to be gay to get some attention. “…conclusion. You can give yourself some time, Son, to decide how much it means to you.”

“Don’t I get thrown out of the house?” I asked.

I scored. I made another look of pain cross his face. “You know… Your mother and I… Michael, you will always have a place here whether you are gay or not.”

I knew damn well he was going to say something like that, but I softened anyway when I heard it. “I don’t mean to be a bug, Dad.”

“You’re not. This is important.”

I looked down. “I don’t want anyone finding out.”

He said nothing. He looked grave.

“I figure I gotta hide it. Until I’m out of high school.”

He nodded. He was thinking that was a smart choice. To thine own self be true didn’t seem to carry much weight with him either.

I gave a sigh. “I don’t like this,” I said.

“You’re quite sure?”

“The diagnosis fits the symptoms a hundred percent,” I said glumly

He shrugged sympathetically. Then he started slowly. “You know Michael, if and when you decide to experiment there are certain risks associated with a gay lifestyle that are more pronounced than with boy and girl activities…”

Bingo, I thought sourly. AIDS. As soon as I admit I’m gay that’s the first thing anyone thinks about. Predictable. No wonder my buds are going to shun me like the plague. They’re going to think I DO have the plague.

“Any activity that involves genital contact…” he started.

“Yeah. I know.” I cut him off. “Exchange of bodily fluids. By mouth or by… Yeah. Use a condom. I know all that.”

“There’s, er, dental dams if you want to…” He trailed off.

“Want to what?”

There was a silence. He was too embarrassed to describe it. I was too embarrassed to ask. Shades of the possible, in a context that included my Dad, however peripherally, were inconceivable.

But he’s a doctor. He’s used to saying the un-sayable. “Oral-anal contact can be…”


Dad stopped short. I held my lips puffed like I was holding a mouthful of barf. “I am not going to experiment with that!”

“That’s good. But you know how to do it safely. A latex barrier.”

I stuck my tongue out like a gargoyle and grimaced with disgust. “I think I’m going to stay a virgin until I’m eighteen. At least! I don’t have to actually do anything with a guy, even if I want to in some funny way. There isn’t a single other gay guy at my high school so I won’t be able to find a…” My voice dropped on the dirty word. “…boyfriend, even if I wanted to.”

My Dad had managed to finish his cereal. I don’t know how. “Don’t tell Mom, okay?” I said. “I want to be the one to tell her.”

“I won’t,” he promised.

My cereal had congealed into a glutinous mass. I ate it anyway. My Dad got up and put his bowl in the dishwasher. “I’m going back to work,” he said.

“I thought you were going to have a lie down for a couple of hours,” I said.

“Somehow I don’t think I’d be able to get to sleep.” He went upstairs to take a shower.

I went mooching down to Guy’s house. I didn’t have to avoid my buds as long as they didn’t know about it yet. I really should have been hunting up a girl but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t have any girl’s phone number.

Stewie and Guy were shooting baskets in the drive. I bounced in and intercepted Stewie’s ball. “Hey, guys!” I tossed it at the hoop and Guy failed to intercept it. They were both just shambling. I stopped short. A surge of terror ran through me. Oh God, they got suspicions and they don’t want to hang out with me already!

“What’s amatter?” I said.

“Nothin’” said Guy.

“What?” I repeated. They weren’t trying to avoid my eyes, just looking worried and puzzled. They were preoccupied, that was it. I caught the ball again and held it, and nobody called a foul.

“Ain’t nothin’,” Guy said.

“That asshole, Wayne says he’s going to off himself tomorrow,” Stewie said.

“He is?” We stood there in the driveway, forgetting to play.

“Why?” I said.

“I dunno.” Stewie rubbed his nose with the heel of his palm.

“He’s got to have some reason,” I said.

Wayne was Guy’s best bud. He lived in the house next door to Guy’s. He was probably looking out of his bedroom window at us just at this moment. With a major effort I kept my head from turning so that I didn’t look up at the glass.

“He’s really going to do it,” Guy said. He was staring without looking at anything, introspective.

“Why tomorrow?”

“It’s Sunday. He says maybe he won’t go to hell if he does it on a Sunday.”

“If he really wanted to do it, wouldn’t he do it now?” I said. I let the ball go.

Neither guy said anything. I looked at one of them and then the other. Nobody seemed to have any enthusiasm for throwing baskets.

“Wanna go down to the pool?” Stewie suggested vaguely.

“Where is he?” I asked.

Guy gestured his head sideways towards the windows above us.

“He asleep? If he’s not… If a guy is suicidal you’re not supposed to leave him alone. You’re supposed to keep somebody with him,” I said.

We followed Guy into Wayne’s back door. Wayne’s mother was there and she shot us a dirty look. She didn’t like the noise we made. Stewie in particular was like a thousand elephants going up the stairs with his air walkers flapping.

I was feeling kinda pleased. I didn’t want nothing to happen to Wayne but a crisis like this was good for me. It meant nobody would be looking at me and being suspicious. It meant I didn’t have to think about you-know-what for a while.

Wayne was in bed with the covers pulled up over his knees and a magazine in his lap. Stewie and Guy stood by the wall, but Guy closed the door carefully. I sat down on the foot of the bed. Wayne looked sullen.

“The guys tell me you aren’t going to live no more,” I said.

He didn’t say yes or no.

“You really mean to do this?” I said.

He nodded.

“You made a plan?”

He nodded again. This time more strongly. “My life is the shits. Everybody would be better off if I just got the hell out of here.”

“Why?” I said.

He mumbled dolefully, but it wasn’t an explanation, just a dirty word.

“How you going to do it, then?”

“I’m going to shoot my head off,” he said. “I can get the key to my brother’s gun cabinet. He just keeps the ammunition in a drawer. One bullet. Then it won’t matter anymore.”

I didn’t know what to say. I knew Wayne was flunking school, but so was Stewie. If he had a plan like that he was most likely serious. If a guy wants to use a gun to knock himself off, he really means to do it. Other stuff like drowning or taking pills he means to change his mind at the last second. But I had the idea from his plan that Wayne really meant to be dead by the end of tomorrow.

“I think we better tell your Mom,” I said.

Nobody said anything.

“He’s going to do it in the church,” Guy spoke up at last. “So he can pray first. They keep the church open after services so he can take the gun and go in there.”

“I’ve already given my stuff to Guy,” Wayne said. “I’m going to make my peace with God and then die.”

It didn’t seem to me that it would please God very much if Wayne went in the church and blew his brains out all over the altar. “Why are you going to do it?” I said again.

“I hate life.”

“Is there anything we can do, man?” I asked.

“Yeah, Bud?” said Stewie.

“I don’t need nothing,” Wayne said. He was calm. He had a resigned despair about him.

I patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. “We’d do anything, if we could,” I said.

He didn’t seem to need us there much, so I got up again and we went downstairs. We sat down on Guy’s back step where Wayne couldn’t see us.

“It’s true, he gave you all his stuff?” I asked.

Guy nodded. “His CD’s and his PS2 and all the cartridges and his books. I haven’t taken them yet. He said they were mine.”

“Why’s he going to do it?” I said.

“I dunno. He don’t want to hang out so much anymore. He just lies in there and he listens, you know?”

“Wanting to kill yourself, that’s a mental illness,” I said. “Like your brain chemicals are all out of whack. It can be treated with medication.”

“I don’t think he’s in the mood for trying Prozac,” Guy said.

“Is he really going to do it?” Stewie asked.

We looked at Stewie. “I think,” I said. I didn’t have much experience with suicidal people. I mean, except for the time that Shirley Blackett nearly got herself killed. She got so mad at Kyle Colbert for mashing her Mae West cake into her Spanish book. He’s the biggest guy on the football team and he’s on probation for aggravated assault. He did it on purpose to piss her off. She was screaming, “I’ll kill you!!” She was really going to take him on. He would have killed her so we hadda hold her back.

“There’s gotta be a reason, though,” I said. ”If we could figure out the reason maybe we could help him. Somehow we could fix it.”

“He might be mad at Francine,” Stewie said.

“Who’s Francine?” I asked.

“The girl he used to go out with.”

“How long ago was this?” I probed.

“Last winter.”

“He got dumped hard?”

“I don’t think he got dumped hard,” Guy said. “He only took her out twice. He was kinda sore about it at the time, but he doesn’t talk about her.”

“Is it his grades?”

Stewie looked at me as if I was crazy. “Wayne don’t care about his grades.”

“His parents?”

“They’re the same as they ever used to be. I mean, his parents are the shits. I wouldn’t like to have them, but they don’t seem to be acting any different than usual.”

We sat in a circle, knees nearly touching in a perplexed knot. Guy was bugged pretty badly. He was leaning his elbows on his knees and he had a bleak look on him. We all thought about it. Wayne just coasted along, never really trying or seeming to care very much about anything. And now today, he suddenly started caring, caring so much that he wanted to get away from it real bad. There was no visible reason for it. Wayne had never let on he had any particular problem about anything. He never let anyone anywhere but the surface before.

“Something’s gotta be the matter,” I said. “Something maybe’s going on and he’s not telling about it. He’s keeping it secret. He won’t tell us what the reason is.”

“How do we find it out?” said Guy sharply. He sounded real harassed now more than scared.

“I dunno,” I said.

“Maybe it’s a drug thing,” said Stewie. “I heard that, guys that lost control over the booze or the drugs, they can’t face reality, you know. So then they kill themselves. Is he, like, doing crack or something secretly?”

“I don’t think Wayne does drugs, does he?” I looked at Guy.

“He doesn’t,” said Guy shortly.

“That what is it?” Stewie demanded. “What kind of a big secret would make a guy want to kill himself?”

There was a long pause. I thought of something and didn’t say it. We looked at each other and we all got the same kind of uneasy looks on our faces. It was Stewie that found the words. “Do you think he could be a fag?”

“We don’t know that!” I said shrilly.

“No way,” Guy said. “No way in hell. Not possible. He couldn’t be. No. Certainly not. Oh God, I hope not.”

“Yeah. He did go out with Francine. And before that, the year before, with Angel,” Stewie pointed out. “Wayne goes out with girls.”

“That was six months ago,” Guy said. “I mean he does go out with girls, but not very often. Not very long…”

We looked at the house behind us, because somewhere behind that house was the house that Wayne was in.

“He never told me anything about he might be gay,” Guy said uncomfortably. “But then he wouldn’t tell. I don’t think he would.”

I looked at Guy. I had never really quite looked at him that way before. I’d been trying not to. I looked at him trying to evaluate if another guy could get a crush on him. Guy was slender, graceful, all sleek muscle… and he had a chin with a dimple in it. Yeah, plenty of girls got a crush on him. Could Wayne get a crush on his best bud?

“If he’s gay we can’t cure him,” Stewie said. “That’s true isn’t it? If a guy is gay, he’s stuck with it?”

Guy got a new, alarmed look in his brown eyes. “Oh fuck, I hope he’s not gay,” he said. His thoughts had probably been going where mine were. “I mean, he always liked to fool around. We’d punch one another and fall on the ground and all that. But he hasn’t been doing it the last few months. He’s been doing it less and less. Maybe he started to get nervous about it, like he would, I guess?”

Terry came around the corner just then. He jumped off his bike and it fell to the driveway with a crash that set the wheels spinning. He stood and waited for us to say Hi. I saw the expression on his face go from happy and expectant to startled-looking and then to hurt, and then to blank all because all we did was sit and stare at him. He sauntered over, hands wedged into his pockets. “Hey guys,” he said coolly. He propped himself against the wall of the garage.

“Fuck,” Guy mumbled.

“Shit,” said Stewie.

“Piss,” I said, keeping up.

Terry raised an eyebrow. “Pretty bummed out today?” he commented.

“Wayne’s going to off himself,” I reported.

Terry lost the cool look and dropped into a squat beside us right away. “What!?” he exclaimed.

“It’s true,” Stewie said dolefully. “We don’t know why. Guy thinks Wayne is really a faggot. He thinks that’s the reason. But we don’t know. Wayne won’t tell us.”

“Wayne’s a fruit?” Terry said. He goggled at us. “What do you mean he’s going to off himself? For real? How do you know this? How can you know this?”

“Wayne says it,” Guy said. “He says he’s going to kill himself tomorrow. He made a plan. He’s got a gun to do it with.” Guy sounded tired. “He gave me all his stuff. He says he wants me to have it.”

“Oh, man,” Terry said. “He’s going to do it because he’s gay? Oh man, you mean his parents found out?”

“Wait a minute,” I said uncomfortably, “We don’t know he’s gay. We’re just guessing. It doesn’t mean he’s gay, just because he’s going to kill himself.”

“Yeah?” said Stewie. “My dad works with Wayne’s dad. Let me tell you. I’ve heard what he says about fags. I know. When Wayne’s dad finds out Wayne is a faggot, Pow!” Stewie smacked his palm with his fist. “Wayne is going to find himself on the street so fast the only thing he’ll get to pack and bring along is a couple of black eyes. If he doesn’t kill himself he’s going to wish he were dead.”

“Oh, man,” said Terry.

“It’s not his fault if he’s gay,” Guy said miserably. “You guys have got to realise that. It’s not like Wayne has made a choice to be like that. Maybe he got molested or something when he was a kid. I don’t know what makes a person get bent like that. But it’s not his fault. He can’t help the way he is.”

Terry’s eyes were round. “His parents don’t know yet?”

“Nope.” Guy shook his head.

“Thank God!” said Terry. “We got a chance yet. What are we going to do?” he demanded.

“We don’t know what to do,” I said. “We’re trying to figure that out. We’re not going to let him just go and off himself. We’re going to try and do something. We just don’t know what yet.”

“We’re going to come up with a way to help him, right?” Guy asked hopefully. “You guys, and me, we’re going to find some way?”

“Yeah,” I said. Stewie nodded vigorously. Terry echoed the nod.

“Oh, man,” said Terry. “I had this idea, I mean I knew he was getting fed up with things. He stopped coming to his detentions. I knew he was feeling bad about stuff. But, wow! He’s really got a gun to off himself with?”

“It’s his brother’s gun,” Stewie said.

“Right,” I said. “Look. That gun is the danger point, right? We can’t let Wayne take that gun into the church. We got to make sure he doesn’t do that. Okay?”

The guys all nodded at me, but I was deep in thought. “And we gotta have somebody stay with him tonight. We can’t leave him alone overnight either. We really oughta have somebody with him now.” I looked up at the house worriedly. “The main thing is, like, we got to intervene before he can do it. Whatever it takes, we don’t let him pick up that gun. I mean, even if we have to tell the police or something.”

“So who’s going to sleep over with him tonight?” Stewie said.

“I will,” Guy said immediately. “We used to do that a lot, couple of times a week when we were in junior high. I can do that.”

“You’re going to crash with a fag?” Terry demanded.

“Fuck off!” Guy rejoined fiercely.

“Hey,” I said, “Wayne has been Guy’s bud since forever. It’s not like that.”

“I’m going to bring my sleeping bag and sleep on the floor,” Guy said.

“Okay, but how do we keep him from offing himself when we’re not there?” Terry asked.

“We got to take the gun away from him,” I said.

“What’s to stop him from getting another one?” Terry said. “I mean, if a guy wants to do it, Mike, there’s lots of ways he can do it. He can throw himself under a bus. He can make a noose and hang himself. If Wayne wants to bump himself off he can find another way to do it, even if we do swipe his gun.”

“That’s why we got to stay with him,” I exclaimed.

“We got to babysit him?” Terry said. “But how long? I mean, how is that gonna help?”

“You think of something then!” I said.

Terry didn’t come up with any suggestions. “My uncle killed himself. Well, really he was my great uncle. He did it in his truck. He had cancer and he didn’t want to live anymore so he did that, put his truck off the road, on purpose and it made my Mom cry. But he was old. He must have been nearly fifty so it doesn’t count.”

Most of the time hearing something like this would have made me interested. I get curious about gruesome stuff like that. But this wasn’t the time. I was trying to stretch my brain and think of what we could do for Wayne. I didn’t want to hear about anybody who had succeeded in committing suicide.

I don’t think Guy wanted to hear it either. “How do we make the guy want to live again?” he asked thickly. “That’s what we got to find out. How do we make the guy wanta live again?”

“We can get him a girl and cure him of being a fag,” Terry said.

“You’re a dumb shit, Terry,” Guy exclaimed. “That doesn’t work. They can’t cure you of being gay. If you’re bent that way you’re bent.”

“Yeah, right,” said Terry. He stood up and leaned over lopsided and dropped his wrist. He walked funny on purpose, mincing. “I’m a born faggot. I’m really bent,” he chanted. “Anybody want to kiss me, cause I’m feeling oh so down…”

I thought about leaping up and belting Terry to make him shut up, but all I did was stiffen up and then freeze with my butt a half inch off the step. I started a lunge towards Terry and then stopped. I couldn’t go defending faggots or the guys might think I was as big a fag as Wayne. It was Guy that cut him off short. “You gonna do that cakewalk at his funeral too, Terry?”

Terry stopped and just stood there. Terry had an oops look on his face. Then he came quietly and sat down, nearer to me than to Guy. We just sat there. I put my chin on my fists and Stewie looked at the toes of his sneakers and Guy scowled into space. He was eying his Mom’s rhododendron like he wanted to chop it down.

We were sitting there when Nikolas came around the corner. “Hey!” he said, brightening up visibly at the sight of us. “Anyone catch the new Survivor on TV last night?” He chortled. “When she took her bikini top off I just died…!” His expression faded, the smirk dropping away. He put his hands in his pockets staying at the other end of the drive and staring at us bleakly. None of us said anything.

“But I thought you guys liked Survivor,” said Nikolas plaintively.

“Wayne’s in trouble, Nik,” I said.

Nikolas brightened up instantly. “Ooh, poor prick! Did he get kicked outta school or something?”

I shook my head.

“You gotta understand,” Guy said slowly. “None of this is Wayne’s fault. None of this is anything he can control. Like, it’s the genes you’re born with, right? And the depression, suicide stuff, it’s the same way. It’s brain chemicals. Right, Mike?”

“Right,” I said.

“Wayne is dead!!” Nikolas lost his cheerful look. His eyes went round and full of pain. “Aw, no! Suicide??!”

“Not yet,” said Stewie. “But he’s gonna, because he’s gay and thinks everybody hates him.”

“Tomorrow,” added Guy.

“Do something!!” Nik yelped. “Mike! Do something! Whaddya do to stop a suicide? You’re the doctor’s kid. You should know!”

“I dunno,” I said. “We’re trying to think of something.”

“Go up there and tell him we don’t hate him! I don’t care if he’s gay!” Nik exclaimed. “You can’t fucking let him kill himself because he’s gay. He can get himself cured or something, or go into the ministry. You don’t let him just kill himself!”

“You think we don’t care, Nik?” said Guy bitterly.

But Nik had stopped short, eyes going round again. “Ooh, no wonder he hides out in the gym lockers when he’s cutting a class. Omigawd, the year before last we hadda share a locker! You know how many times I been naked around him? Ooh my fuck! All those times he must have been looking at me.”

He sat down heavily. The shock was so bad that his eyes stayed round while he stared at us.

“Yeah, why don’t we just tell him we don’t blame him for being gay?” Terry said. “We could tell him we don’t mind it and we’ll still be his buds and he doesn’t have to hide it no more. If we all go up there in a group and we say it together…”

“Right,” said Guy. He gave a hard nod.

“Don’t say you don’t blame him for being gay,” I said. “That sounds like you do think it’s his fault.”

Terry gave a worried grimace.

“We tell him we love him, he’s our bud, he’s just like the rest of us. He’s our amigo, right? No matter what,” said Guy.

“I’m not telling Wayne I love him,” Nik said. “I’ll tell him he can be gay if he wants to, but just not at me. He already has a thing for my ass. If I tell him I love him he’s gonna think I have a thing for his ass. I can’t say I love you to a faggot!”

“You don’t have to tell him you love him,” Guy said sharply. “You don’t have to be in this at all.”

“I don’t want Wayne dead,” Nik protested. “I just don’t want him after my ass.”

“What? You think Wayne being gay means he’s after your ass?” Guy said. “You don’t know nothing. You didn’t even suspect he was gay, or know he meant to kill himself until we told you. He’s not after your ass.”

“He’s after your ass?” Nik said. “Omigawd, Guy! Are you going to let him?”

“Of course I’m not going to let him!” Guy glared at Nik.

“We got to quit talking and go back up there,” I said. “Guys? I mean, it’s a shock and all that, but come on, can we get to the plan? You wanna just sit here talking about it and meanwhile he’s all alone there, feeling alone there, maybe he’ll do it early? This is no bullshit argument we’re having. We are trying to save a life.”

“Yeah,” said Terry. “Let’s go back there, tell Wayne he don’t have to kill himself, it’s not so bad that he’s gay. We can tell him we don’t mind having a gay in our gang at all.”

“Don’t tell him you don’t mind,” I said.

“Okay, we’ll tell him we don’t care,” said Terry.

“You want to go tell a suicidal guy that you don’t care??!” Guy’s voice went up. “You dumb turkey! Terry, you don’t say anything! You’re such a dumb shit! You can come with us. You can nod. But if you open your mouth, I personally am going to put my fist so far down your throat I’ll get your tonsils stuck in my knuckles!”

He was so forceful that we didn’t say anything. Guy had stood up. “Right,” he said. “What are we saying? Let’s get this straight. What are we saying and who is saying it?” He looked around.

“We tell him he can’t have our asses but he can still hang out with us,” said Nik.

Terry gave a nod, but he was speaking slow and looking at Guy cautiously. “Yeah, we say we won’t let anyone know, we’ll keep it a secret, just the bunch of us. Tell him we won’t tell nobody about his problem.”

“Don’t tell him he has a problem,” I said.

“So now it’s such a big bad guilty secret we got to tell him he shouldn’t admit to it?” Guy was looking bad. His voice was wobbling and it sounded like it wasn’t just anger. “We got to tell him he should be ashamed? It’s guys like you…” He trailed off. He couldn’t talk.

We had all stood up. Terry moved behind me. “Umm… Mike?” said Terry.

I pulled a big breath in. “Ahh… Stew? Why don’t you go up there, right now and sit with him. But don’t say nothing about what we’re planning. You just want to stay with him, no matter where he goes, like if he goes out, you go along with him. ’Cause he can’t be alone.” I picked Stewie because out of the lot of us he was the one who ran off at the mouth the least. I figured he’d have the best chance of not saying anything that would make Wayne fall right over the edge.

“And Nik? Can you go hunt down Wayne’s brother and ask him can you borrow his gun? You don’t say nothing about Wayne being suicidal; you just see if Miller’ll let you have it, and then we can hide it, make sure Wayne doesn’t get it.”

“Okay,” said Nik.

“And Terry, you can look in the phone book and see if there’s some suicide crisis line. You call them and tell them about Wayne. That way we can ask an expert and make it anonymous so we don’t get Wayne in trouble, right?”

“Cool,” said Terry, with a nod. “I’ll tell them I’m gay and I’m suicidal and that way they won’t suspect a thing.”

“What do we do, Mike?” said Guy.

“I’m going to get some more information, too,” I said. “You can come with me. And we’ll all meet here in an hour, all of us except Stewie, ’cause you got to stay with Wayne.”

“Right.” We were guys on a mission. There were hard serious nods all around.

As Terry turned around I heard him speak with a sob in his voice. “I… I think I’m gay and I just want to die!”

Guy glared at Terry, as Terry went off practicing his lines.

“Uvula,” I said.

“What?” said Guy.

“Uvula. Not his tonsils. You’d get an uvula stuck in your fist.” I’m a doctor’s kid. I know the right words and it bugs me when someone gets them wrong.

Guy gave me a withering look. “Can’t you think about something other than girls at a time like this?”

Guy didn’t want to come in with me when I got home, so he sat down on our front step and I ran in. I met my dad on the stairs as he was coming down.

He stopped me and spoke seriously. “Are you okay, Mike?”

“Sure, Dad,” I said. “Do you have any good books on suicide?”

He didn’t say anything for a moment, mouth kind of frozen while he thought about his books. “There’s a yellow one on the bottom shelf with a chapter about psychiatric crisis,” he said carefully. “Why do you want to know?”

“No reason,” I lied, and ran up the stairs to look for the book.

Terry was the last one of us to get back to Guy’s back step. He was out of breath. “Anything helpful?” I looked up.

“Nope. They told me where I could get some pamphlets,” Terry said bitterly. “And I’m grounded. My Mom caught me on the phone telling the guy that I was gay and now I’m not allowed out of the house all week.”

He looked at the bunch of us. “You find out about any new cutting-edge treatment that can cure a gay guy, Mike?”

“Being gay is not a sick medical condition, Terry,” I told him. “It’s like being white or African American. It’s not something you’d cure.”

“Didn’t find nothin’, huh?” Terry turned to Nik. “How about you? Any luck?”

Nik shook his head. “I think maybe Miller suspects something,” he said. “I didn’t say what I wanted the gun for but he got annoyed. He started asking me all kinds of questions, like why I wanted to borrow the fuckin’ thing, and what did I want to borrow it for and did I even know how to use a gun like that.”

“What did you tell him?” I said.

“I didn’t say anything,” Nik said. “I just told him I had to have it, it was real important. And he told me I couldn’t borrow his gun, and if I had some kind of an important problem, then I definitely couldn’t borrow it. I don’t know what he thought, but he looked at me suspicious and he didn’t let me even look at it. I think he took the key away.”

“That’s not good,” I said.

“What did he think I was going to use his gun for?” Nik complained.

Terry sat down glumly. “Wayne is toast. And I hate funerals. I can’t go to his funeral. I’ll cry. I’m such a pussy if I have to go to Wayne’s funeral I’m going to cry like a baby or something.”

I thought Guy would say something rough to Terry about being too quick to give up. But he was just sitting there staring. He had a lost look on his face. I put my hand on Guy’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

“You’d think Miller was afraid to loan me his gun,” Nik complained. “I know the guy hardly knows who I am, but I wasn’t going to lose it. A gun like that is a big thing. I wouldn’t just put it down somewhere and forget it.”

“Mike?” said Guy.

“Yeah?” I said.

“I think Wayne is feeling really, really alone. Like he’s had too much to carry in life. And nobody to help him carry it.” Guy didn’t look at me. “And I think he felt that way a long time. I can tell him I’m going to be there for him. I can tell him over and over, but that’s not the same as being there for him.”

“I think it helps if you’re willing to care,” I said helplessly. “Even if you can’t really do anything. I think it helps if you tell him you care.”

“Guns are solid. They’re made out of metal. It wasn’t like I was going to break it,” Nik said. “Terry, do I look to you like the kind of guy who would borrow another guy’s gun and then break it?”

“You break everything you borrow,” said Terry. “You broke my Game Boy.”

“I think we really have to do something.” Guy turned around and looked at me.

“We’re already trying, Guy,” I said.

“I just got grounded for him. Grounded to the end of this week,” Terry offered

“It’s Saturday, Terry,” I said. “This is the end of this week.”

“I’m a neighbor,” said Nik. “It’s not like I’m a stranger. Miller knows me. My Dad loans our lawnmower to everyone in the neighborhood.”

“The thing is,” said Guy, “no matter how we say it, it’s just words. And some asshole…” — he glared at Terry — “…is going to say something that makes it sound like we’re snickering at him and that we don’t care. We have to do something really, really meaningful.”

“Like give him a card?” I said.

“I think one of us has to sleep with him,” said Guy.

“But you’re already sleeping over with him tonight,” said Terry in a voice that squeaked. “I mean, you’re talking about sleeping, right? Just sleeping?”

Guy turned to look at him again and his face said it all. “I mean one of us has to have sex with Wayne.”

“Oh, my Gawd,” said Nik.

Terry’s mouth hung open.

“Uh-uh, no way. I can’t. I can’t do that. I can’t. I can’t. You can forget it. It’s not going to be me. I, like, I really care about Wayne. No. I’d rather he did a suicide pact and took me with him. Uh-uh. There’s no way, guys. Can’t do that!” said Nik. His words tumbled out in a rush. “I really care about Wayne, but I’d have to commit suicide if I did that. You want me to donate a kidney? Okay. I’ll donate a kidney. But not my… not my ass!”

Terry goggled. “We got to all turn gay too??”

“We can’t tell him in words,” Guy said. “We tried to think of what we could say. I’ve said everything I could think of to him already. It’s not enough. It has to be more than words.”

“Who fucks with Wayne?” I said.

“Not me!” said Nik.

“Are you volunteering, Guy?” I said slowly.

Guy looked down. He brought his hand up to the back of his neck. He shook his head very softly. “Yeah. If that’s what it takes for Wayne to know I care about him, no matter what.”

All I could think was that Wayne was a lucky, lucky bastard… and not because Guy was such a true friend. I kept staring at Guy.

He looked up at me blinking. “It’s life or death, Mike.”

I nodded.

“It’s contagious!” said Nik.

“I’d do anything to keep Wayne from killing himself,” said Guy. “I’ve never felt gay for him. I’ve never felt gay for anybody. Wayne is my bud. He’s my best bud. He’s been my bud for eleven years, two months and nine days. I’ll do whatever I have to. I don’t want to have gay sex with him. But to keep Wayne alive I’d even go to the school and blow Mr. Dinkweilder!”

“Eww.” The thought of our chemistry teacher sent a collective shudder through the lot of us. Nik turned a little bit green.

“I don’t think Wayne’ll be half as bad as that,” I said.

“If it were Wayne or the Dink, I’d go for Wayne myself,” said Terry loudly. He was having trouble breathing, though.

“You guys think it’ll work?” said Guy.

“It’d work for me,” I said.

“I want him back the way he used to be,” said Guy.

“You’re putting your money where your mouth is, amigo,” I said.

“That’s not the only place he’s gonna be putting his mouth,” said Terry. “What are you gonna do when he cums, Guy? Spit or swallow?”

Instead of belting Terry, Guy clenched up his eyes. It was my turn to glare at Terry. “You don’t need to know, Terry,” I said.

“You think if I swallow I’ll taste it less?” said Guy faintly.

“Uh, you gotta use a condom. That’s like a rule with gay sex,” I said. “That’s how you’re protecting him. Neither of you do nothing without a condom, until after you both gets the AIDS test and it comes back negative.”

I thought that was going to reassure Guy but he gave me a sickly look. “You think I’m going to have to keep doing it to make a difference?”

“It’ll help,” I said. “I’m sure it’ll help. However often. I mean, he can’t doubt you accept him after that. He’s got to know you accept him.”

“But what if I…?” Guy couldn’t get it out.

“What if you…?” He was looking bad, so I prompted him.

“What if I flinch?” said Guy, in agony. “What if I clutch and he sees it? What’s Wayne going to think if I he wants to kiss or something and then I jerk away? Oh my God, what if I try to do it and I can’t?”

“Oh, Gawd!” Nik echoed.

“I’d do anything for him but I don’t know if I can. I never wanted to do something gay. How do I keep from fucking up and giving him the wrong idea altogether?”

“Well, do it with the lights off,” said Terry. “Then he won’t see you flinch. And then you won’t see him so maybe you can kind of pretend you’re with a girl.”

“If I get grossed out and can’t hide it Wayne could end up feeling worse than ever!” Guy said.

“Oh, Guy!’ Nik said. “You gonna kill him if you puke!”

“I’m not going to puke!” Guy glared at Nik. “I’m scared I’m going to flinch! That’s not the same as puking. There’s no reason why I’d puke.”

“You might when it hits the back of your throat,” said Terry.

Guy went frozen again. I figured I better intervene. “Hey, at least Guy has come up with something practical he can do. It’s not like you’re trying to help, Terry.”

Terry turned a hurt look on me. “I am trying to help. I care about Wayne, too, you know! But Guy’s got to realize what he’s getting into. He needs to be prepared.”

“What?” I said. “You think it’s such a big deal? It’s not such a big deal. Like we’ve all seen each other naked down at the lockers. We’ve all wrestled around, touched each other. Suddenly it’s a big deal because they’re going to go a little bit farther? It’s just like a medical exam, like some doctor has to finger your balls and check you don’t have any lumps. Nothing’s going to happen Guy can’t handle. As long as he’s got condoms, Guy is going to be prepared.”

“Yeah?” said Terry. “You mean Wayne hasn’t had a thing for Guy, last couple of years, and been keeping it secret, holding it back? Let me tell you, when he gets a chance at Guy’s ass, it’s gonna be like sitting down on a volcano. He’s gonna blow so hard Guy won’t be able to sit down for a week.”

“He is not!” I said.

“Ohh boy, I’m so glad it’s not gonna be me,” said Nik in a faint voice.

Terry shook his head. “Wayne’s got a feeling for Guy, Mike. He’s hung out with him since forever. You don’t think Wayne has feelings for Guy? You don’t know much about your friends.”

“Yes, I think Wayne has feelings for Guy,” I said. “But we don’t know for sure he has a gay crush on Guy. And even if he does have a gay crush on Guy, don’t you think he cares enough he won’t go exploding? You think he’s going to rape Guy? Come on, fuck, remember these two are buddies. It’s not like Guy is going to turn himself ass up for a bunch of hairy horny hung biker dudes. It’s just Wayne for Crissake.”

“You’re cooler than I am,” said Terry.

I looked at Guy. “You alright, man?”

He gave a silent nod.

“Okay,” I said. “Who’s got a condom?”

I got no answer. Guy was looking at the toes of his sneakers. He shook his head. Terry gave a mobile shrug that brought his hands up to either side of his ears.

“Right,” I said. “Then who’s got money?”

There was a general rummaging. I had five dollars, Terry had a lot of silver and Nik had twelve cents. Guy didn’t have any money on him at all.

“There’s a vending machine down at the mall,” Terry said, frowning at his quarters. “I think we could get one with this.”

“We need two,” I said.

“Two?” Nik looked up sharply. “Whaddya need two for? Guy’s gonna let Wayne do him twice?”

“One each,” I said.

“Oh.” Nik hunched down a bit. “Well you wanna pick ’em up at the drugstore anyway. Sometimes they turn out to be all crunchy, if you get ’em out of the vending machine. They’ve been in there too long, way past their best before date.”

“Okay. Let’s go.” We gave a last look up at the building we couldn’t see behind Guy’s house and headed for the mall. At the drugstore Nik led the way directly to the back corner near the pharmacist’s counter. There was a rack full of brightly colored boxes with suggestive names.

“Wow,” said Terry, half crouching. “There’s a lot of them. Sheik, Excita… Dong Thong? Ew! I don’t guess we need a box of twenty-four Dong Thongs.”

“What’s that type?” Guy pointed.

“They’re the same ones, only purple,” Terry reported. “Sheesh… these things are expensive.”

“Get a six pack,” Nik advised. “That’s the fewest they sell in a box.”

“Super-sensitiva…” Terry read out loud. But I was looking at Nik sideways. “Cherry Picker Extra with spermicide… flavored lubricant.”

“Hurry up,” Guy said. “Pick something willya? We’re taking up the whole aisle. They’re gonna come and kick us out.”

“What do they got little rubber hairs on them for?” Terry asked.

“You don’t need that kind. Just get ’em plain,” Nik said. “That lubricated stuff is gross. It tastes awful, even the flavored kind.”

Guy turned his head too. The pair of us were staring at Nik.

“Orgasmo-Stud, twelve super-strong latex condoms with two freebies for the same price… Endura… What’s this? They make ’em out of lambskin? Natural membrane? Yah mean these things are made out of a sheep’s insides?” Overwhelmed, Terry let his hands drop to both sides. “I can’t believe it. Organic condoms! Everything comes in organic nowadays.”

“Forget it!” Nik said. “They’re not strong enough, and those ones are way more expensive. Just grab one of those red boxes, down in the corner. That’s the cheapest kind, and they’re plenty strong.”

“What brand?” said Terry. “How do you know so much about rubbers anyway?”

“I never noticed what brand name they are. They’re just the kind in the red box low down,” Nik said. Now it was Terry’s turn to rotate his head. We were all staring at Nik. He met our eyes with his own going wide. His secret was out. Nobody said anything while we stared, digesting his expertise.

We all collapsed in disgust. “Aw Nik!” I said. “Are you still buying ’em to make water balloons? You’re not still in Junior High!”

He hung his head.

“Pick some!” Guy hissed.

Terry grabbed the red box from low down.

“And the K-Y,” I said. Grimacing, Terry grabbed a tube of the lubricant as well. “It’s four dollars!” he reported. “We going to have enough money if it’s four dollars?” There was a hasty pooling of coins, and counting.

“If you don’t hurry up we’re going to be thrown out,” Guy said. He was clutching his ears. I counted as fast as I could.

“Six dollars, thirty-five cents… sixty cents, eighty-five cents… We got enough,” I reported. When we turned around we were facing the pharmacist. He was a wrinkled old man and he had been watching us from his counter. He gave us a thumbs-up. Terry turned beet red. Nik turned the color of tomatoes. I turned the color of the condom box and Guy blanched. We hurried to the cashier.

Guy was really not looking so good as we came back from the mall. I was looking at him anxiously, getting worried. He didn’t have the right color to him, staying kind of pale, and he looked spaced out, like his eyes were going out of focus from time to time. He’d just about stopped talking. We came to a halt behind his house again.

“Right,” I said. “Now we better make sure Wayne hasn’t gone somewhere, and make sure he’s alright. We… I guess we better get Stewie to come down and we’ll tell him what we’ve decided. And then, you know, whenever you’re ready. Is that alright, Guy?”

There was a pause and then I got a nod.

“Shall I go up?” I said. “We can’t all go up.”

I slunk to Wayne’s back door. His mother was in the kitchen, blowing smoke. Her eyes flickered as I sidled in, but she didn’t change the expression on her face. I tried not to clomp going upstairs.


Stewie was sitting on one end of Wayne’s bed with a magazine in his hands and Wayne was still sitting up against his headboard with another magazine. They both looked up. Stewie stood.

“You okay, bro?” I said to Wayne.

He just looked at me.

“Take care,” I said. “We’ll be back.”

We went downstairs. Stewie said not a word as he followed me to the back step of Guy’s house. The guys were all on their feet, ranging around on the grass looking ill at ease. Stewie looked at the bunch of us one after another.

“You tell him?” Terry said.

“Nope.” I turned to Stewie.

Terry beat me to the punch. “We’re gonna prove to Wayne that we don’t mind he’s gay. One of us has got to have sex with him,” he announced.

Very slowly Stewie nodded. “Cool,” he said, almost absent-mindedly. “Which one of us?”

“Uh…” I looked at Guy. He had turned pale again.

“Mike?” said Guy quietly.

I got him on the step before he toppled, sitting with his head between his knees. “Breath deep,” I advised. “Another deep breath. Deeper.”

It was a few minutes before Guy could get his head up again. By then the guys had formed a ring around him. “He’s not gonna be able to do it,” Nik said. “Ya see? He’s not gonna be able to do it. Ya just not up to it, Guy.”

“Then who is going to do it?” Stewie said. “We gonna draw straws?”

“Oh no!” said Nik. “No way! I’m not drawing no straw. I’d throw myself in front of a train for Wayne but I am not gonna turn my ass up. Uh-uh. You can forget it. I just cannot do it. You don’t need to look at me! I can’t do it. Guys, please. You got to find someone else. No way. I can’t let Wayne have my ass. It’s the only ass I got. He can’t. Sorry. No can do.” He was backing across the grass.

“You were going to do it, Guy?” Stewie said.

“Yeah,” said Guy. “I am. I just don’t know why I feel weird like this. Too much coffee this morning maybe. And I’ve been, like, not breathing quite right since Wayne told me.” He gave me a shaky grin.

“You’re hyperventilating, man,” I said.

“He can’t do it,” said Stewie.

“I’m really sorry, Mike,” said Guy. “I really want to make myself do it. But if I hurt Wayne more than I already have… I can’t live with myself if he dies.”

Terry and Stewie and I met eyes over Guy’s head. “I guess we gotta draw straws,” I said.

“I’m goin’ home!” Nik announced loudly from halfway across the yard.

“Shut up, Nik!” I called. “Nobody is making you draw straws. This is on a volunteer basis only. You hear?” I looked around at the guys. “The only ones of us have to be in on this are the ones that volunteer to. You think you can’t do this, for whatever reason, that’s fine. We’re not going to ask your reason. You don’t have to do this.”

“What are we doing here exactly?” Stewie asked.

“We’re gonna draw straws,” I said. “And the one of us draws the short straw, he goes back upstairs to Wayne and he…”

“He lets Wayne fuck his ass to prove we still love him, even if he is a queer nutcase with a suicidal streak,” Terry completed.

Guy got up so suddenly the top of his head nearly hit me in the chin. “Terry! You are not going to draw one of the straws!” Terry backed away from his clenched fists. “I’ll kill ya! You are not going to go near Wayne!”

“But I’d let him fuck me,” Terry protested. “He’s one of my friends too. I care about him even if he is gone homo and gone mental at the same time.” He had both his hands up. Guy followed him grimly.

Stewie and I looked at each other.

“Guy! Don’t hit him in the face!” Nik yelped. “Wayne might not like it if he’s all bruised up!”

“Would Wayne want to fuck me?” Stewie said slowly. I didn’t answer that. I couldn’t think why not. I mean, Stewie has a face that kinda looks like a vanilla pudding that got left out too long, fat and flabby and a couple of cracks in it, with a nose that looks like it shrunk because it’s too small for the rest of his features. And we have asked all of the girls at school including all the freshmen to see if we could set up a date for Stewie and they told us, not always very nicely, that it was not going to happen. Which is kind of unfair, because Stewie can’t help his face, and he is not the brightest idiot in the village either, but if any girl would ever go out with him I’m sure he would treat her right. And below the neck he’s not too bad. I don’t think girls ever look below a guy’s neck, but I do, and if Wayne did he’d know that Stewie has these round smooth muscles, kinda tight on his frame, and there was nothing wrong with his dick, he had a great long one. But I couldn’t go telling Stewie that. Apart from it being too long to explain to him I couldn’t say to him, gee yeah, I’ve looked at your body lots of times and you’ve got a great body.

So I said, “I don’t know, Stew.”

He gave a shrug. “We can draw straws,” he said.

“Do you wanna?” I asked.

“I don’t wanna,” he said, and he shrugged again. “But you guys think it’ll help, I’ll do it.”

Terry and Guy had completed their circuit around the yard. Terry was standing behind me again, and Guy was facing me, with his fists still cocked, trying to look through me at Terry.

“We need some straws, Guy.” I interrupted. “You want to go inside and break some offa your mother’s broom? We got to get some straws so we can draw.”

“Terry, I’m gonna break your boobs, if you go for one of those straws! You hear me? You are not going to tell Wayne you love him!” Guy waved a fist beside my ear. He was too mad to realize his threat was physiologically impossible.

“But I do love Wayne,” Terry bleated, “even if he is disgusting. He’s not trying to be disgusting. It’s just natural for him to be disgusting.”

“The straws, Guy.” I kept myself between the pair of them.

When Guy brought back the straws they were pink and only about two inches long. His mother had a nylon broom. We had to send him back for a pair of scissors so we could trim them to a different size. Stewie stood stolid while Guy did the clipping.

I looked at Stewie. He could stand there impassive but I couldn’t. It had occurred to me that it was going to be him or me and those were pretty small odds. A tiny voice in my head had started up. This is it. You’re going to get laid. You got a fifty percent chance of getting laid in the next few minutes. I kept the expression off my face with an effort, but I could feel my eyes were getting bigger than was really cool.

“Only two straws,” said Guy. “I am not letting that dinkus be part of this.” He was still glaring at Terry.

“Terry doesn’t have boobs, Guy,” I said mechanically. “Only girls have boobs.”

I managed to pry his irritated eyes off Terry. His head turned again slowly to look at me. He was wearing an expression of disbelief. “Can’t you think about anything other than girls and sex, Mike?”

I met him with a glazed look. I wasn’t thinking about girls, although I was thinking about sex. It might be me. Me, not Stewie. Me. Please let it be me. Guy raised his chin and his fist. He held the two pink fibers up. It looked like just one pink fiber. Stewie and I both hesitated with outstretched hands. I had to take the two broom straws between finger and thumb and rub them apart before they separated. I left one in Guy’s fist. Stewie held it up, his big-knuckled hand curiously delicate. His straw looked pretty short, but then so did mine.

“Who got it?” Nik asked breathlessly.

“I did,” I said. I had cheated. It wasn’t that I wanted to win so much, but Stewie had said he didn’t want to do it. And I was pretty sure I was cuter than Stewie because practically anybody was cuter than Stew. Wayne might not think it was much of gesture if we threw the ugliest guy in our group at him, like a half-hearted consolation prize.

They all looked at me. “You know, it’s not that big a deal,” I said. “Bodies… body cavities. All I have to do is remember to keep it safe sex.” My voice wasn’t perfectly even, however.

“Can you do it, Mike?” Guy asked simply.

“Uh-huh,” I said. I gave a nod. My nod was steady at least. I turned around. “You got the condoms still, Terry?”

“Yeah.” He passed them over.

“I’m going to owe you for forever,” Guy said. “Remember that, Mike. I would have done it, if I could have. I just couldn’t risk fucking him up somehow. You treat him right — Don’t do anything you can’t, but treat him right.”

I smiled crookedly. I put the K-Y and the condom box into my jacket.

“I’ll see ya,” I said.

“He’s sacrificing his own body to save his friend!” said Nik.

“He’s going to be walking bowlegged when we see him next!” said Terry.

The ground seemed curiously far away as I walked around Guy’s house. The last thing I heard was Terry. “Fuck me!” he said. “It’s five o’clock and my mother’s probably been back from the grocery store for an hour and I’d been grounded…!”

I’m doing this for Wayne, I thought. Whatever he needs me to do, I’m going to do it. I was ready. The sun had started going down. Somehow the morning and afternoon had trailed pretty much away. My shadow was long, walking in front of me. When I opened the kitchen door there were old cooking smells in the house and it was dark on the back stairs.

And then, on the stairs I remembered there was no evidence at all that Wayne was gay. Yeah, he had said he was suicidal, but he had never remotely suggested he had the hots for Guy or for any one of us. He had said his life was shit, and we were the ones that had decided he had to have some reason and some secret. I had no proof that he really was gay. It was all in our heads, an intense string of wild guesses put together out of our own fear and alarm and frantic search for a reason. Suppose he wasn’t gay at all?

Oh my God, I thought. When I tell him what I’m doing he’s going to laugh at me.

But I couldn’t not do it. He might be gay. He might need me. And I couldn’t go back down the stairs and back around to the guys and tell them, “You know what? I’ve decided Wayne isn’t gay after all.” Even if I could do that, I couldn’t go on leaving Wayne alone. It must have taken half an hour to draw the straws what with Guy chasing Terry all around the yard.

I pushed open the door. The room was dim with the sun below the trees but I could see Wayne clearly. He was lying on his side, not even reading anymore in the dark.

“Hi there,” I said.

“Hi, Michael.”

“We’re scared for you,” I said. “And we care. We don’t want you killing yourself. We’ve been talking, all day, trying to think of some way to make things work out for you, to fix whatever’s gone wrong.” I sat down on the bed, near his knees.

Wayne gave a sigh. He was looking at me, head sideways listening, but he didn’t say anything.

“We were wondering if you had a secret, bro. If there was something going on we didn’t know about.” I reached out. His hand was limp and warm. I took it. “Is there any secret, anything we can help you with?” I said.

Wayne shook his head.

“We…” I tried and had to start again. “We talked if maybe you were doing drugs and they’d gone wrong for you. But Guy says that couldn’t be it. And then we talked and we thought maybe you were gay, bro, and that was it. And we thought you wouldn’t have told us if you are, so we’ve sent me up here. We drew straws. Because if you are gay and you’re feeling alone then I’ll be here for you, and I’ll have sex with you, whatever you want. I’ll hold you or I’ll suck you or fuck you. I’ll get you feeling good, however you like it. You matter too much for us to let you…”

Wayne had started making a noise now, kind of gasping so I broke off. He couldn’t catch his breath. For a moment I thought he was laughing, because I was expecting it. “I’m not gay!” He said. And then he said, “For real, you drew straws to come to me?”

“Yeah, I won,” I said. And then I realized he was crying, so I got over on the bed and held him, like I would have if he had told me he was gay and he wanted me to hold him. I sat there holding him while he bawled.

“You guys would do that for me?” he said. “You’d do that for me?”

“It’s the least we could do,” I said. Wayne didn’t seem to find it funny at all. He just cried his eyes out.

So I got him to promise he wouldn’t kill himself and then when he was mostly over the crying I got him to put his sneakers on and come downstairs with me. The guys were still gathered behind Guy’s house, even Terry. They stood up when we came down. I was holding Wayne’s arm. The guys all had the big eyes on them, like they had expected me to be dead, maybe fucked to death.

“He’s not gay,” I said. “He’s just… It’s got to be a brain chemical thing, that’s all.”

“We got to get you on Prozac,” I said to Wayne. “It’s not the answer. Maybe it won’t even help at all, but we got to try anything that could help. You got to talk to someone about this.” I sent Guy back into his house, to swipe his Mom’s cell phone.

So then I called the emergency number at the hospital, and I told them it was our friend, needed some help from Psychiatric. But they said, they couldn’t give him any Prozac, he couldn’t see a doctor, not until Monday. They could only admit him until then, keep him under observation and sedation if he needed it, because it was Saturday.

“He don’t need to be in a hospital,” I said. “He needs help.”

I talked for quite awhile and Wayne talked too. They asked him a bunch of questions. But they said if we would stay with him and if he would promise not to kill himself, it was alright for him not to come in. The woman I talked to was businesslike about it, like my dad. She said he could get an appointment Monday, she just didn’t know what time on Monday.

But then Guy said I had to give him the cell phone back, because his mom was going to need it, she goes out in the evening. So I had to leave a number for the woman, she was going to call me back. Guy was sitting right close to Wayne on the step. They were touching, knees side by side and shoulders tight together.

“You don’t go anywhere near the gun, okay Wayne?” Nik said. “You don’t touch the gun. You don’t think about it.”

“I won’t,” said Wayne. He was a bit short, because Nik was shrill and that was annoying.

“I’ll be over at Wayne’s house,” Guy said, “If you wanta call, tell us what time the appointment is.”

“Whose gonna go to the appointment with him?” Terry pointed out. “It’s gonna be during school hours.”

“I’ll go.” Stewie rumbled. “I like to cut my morning classes anyway.”

“I’ll go,” said Guy. “I never cut a class before. You’re working on detentions all through April, Stew. I can cut my classes and I probably won’t even be asked to stay in.”

“You sure you’re okay for now?” Terry said. He was standing, rubbing his shoulders for some reason as if he was cold. “Is he okay, for overnight?”

I smiled. “Yeah. I think he’s okay, overnight.”

“That’s good,” said Terry, “because I’m gonna be grounded to the end of the month now, I know it. I wasn’t supposed to be out this afternoon after my Mom caught me on the phone. I may not be able to see you for a long, long, long while unless you come to school.”

So he went, and we all dispersed, Guy staying with Wayne. I headed home. It was long past time for supper but maybe my mother had kept me something.

My mom was in the kitchen. “Where’s Dad?” I asked.

“He’s at work,” She said. “Did you want to call him?”

“No, I’m okay.” I slid into a chair at the kitchen table. She had saved me something. It was broccoli stir-fry, and she put it into the microwave.

“Your Dad called me.” She told me. “He said you might be going through a bit of a hard time right now, I should check in on you, in case you wanted to talk. Is everything going okay, Mike?”

“Uh-huh.” I nodded. I could smell the stir-fry starting to heat up and it smelled pretty good. But she was holding my eyes.

“Yeah, Mom,” I said. “I promise you, everything is a-okay, nothing is going on and I am happy with life. Alright?”

“Good.” She smiled. My mom looks pretty nice when she smiles. And then the phone rang, so while she went to get it, I hauled the broccoli stir-fry out of the microwave. There were red peppers in it, and almonds and things. I don’t know why, healthy or not it just about had me drooling. She was only on the phone listening for about two minutes. Then she held it out to me.

“It’s the Suicide Prevention Clinic nurse,” said my mom. “She says the earliest emergency appointment they can get you is this Monday, the thirty-first, at nine-ten a.m. And she wants to know can you wait that long?”