“Happy birthday dear Kyle… Happy birthday to you!” I really was happy. Eleven at last – not yet a teenager, but old enough that people were starting to listen to me rather than treating me like a little kid. Everyone sang as Dad brought out a large sheet cake with eleven candles on it. We were all in our swimsuits and huddled around a patio table next to our enclosed pool. How cool it was to have a pool party in December!
My birthday cake was decorated with the likeness of a vinyl record on it, with a tone arm in place on the record and musical notes on both sides. It was ironic, ’cause I was just about as anti-vinyl as an audiophile could be, but nothing exemplified music more than an image of an old-fashioned record player and so that’s what was on my birthday cake.
Not that I was happy with most digital music either. Not by a long shot. Oh, the songs were OK, but 99.999% of music today was mastered for streaming, which I thought should be classified as a war crime. Although vinyl is phenomenally better than compact discs, which are way better than Spotify or Apple Music, it’s fragile and even the best vinyl degrades with time. That’s why Neil Young was making it his life’s work to save music by digitizing the original multi-track recordings in high resolution, so it could be saved in a format that preserved the full dynamic range of the music and that would last forever. I had a huge collection of high-res music on my computer, and nothing – not even vinyl, could touch it.
Not many eleven-year-olds that I knew of were as passionate about music as I was, but then not many eleven-year-olds that I knew of were in their senior year at Stuyvesant High School, one of New York’s elite public high schools. Not many eleven-year-olds that I knew of were out and proud either, nor did they have a boyfriend like Freck. Freck was another prodigy, but he was a couple years older than I. His birthday was coming up in a couple of weeks, and he’d be turning thirteen. Freck was about to become a teenager.
After I blew out all the candles, my cousin Jason, from California, and my friend, Asher White, broke into singing a rendition of the Beatle’s Birthday Song. Jason, who was thirteen and had won national competitions for the jazz band he formed when he was only nine, was playing his keyboard while both boys sang along. Asher, who was fifteen, was a soloist with the Stuyvesant Men’s Chorus and had a magnificent voice. After singing Birthday Song, Jason started banging on the keys and he and Asher segued into Elton John’s Crocodile Rock, followed by The Who’s Pinball Wizard, Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke, Carole King’s I Feel the Earth Move, The Police’s Every Breath You Take, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and lastly, Billy Joel’s Piano Man. Truthfully, I loved all kinds of music, including classical, jazz, country and even hip-hop, but my absolute favorite music was classic rock. The sixties, seventies and early eighties were a special time when music recording was at its peak, before the digital revolution came along and wrecked everything.
My baby and I danced away until we could dance no more. Only then did I realize that I’d yet to eat my own birthday cake. Although I’d cut way back on my caffeine intake, I still loved the taste of coffee and never missed an opportunity to eat coffee-flavored anything. Dad had searched far and wide for a baker that could make a birthday cake flavored with real Kahlua, and man, was the cake incredible. Served with coffee Häagen-Dazs, it was perfect.
Finally, we got down to the opening of presents. I had a Sony PlayStation gaming system and several of the gifts were new games for it, but I wasn’t what you’d call a hard-core gamer. I enjoyed playing for fun every now and then, but I didn’t play enough to be competitive and so I never got into online gaming. I got some Kindle books, including the latest book from Orson Scott Card that I’d been dying to read. I got a Blu-ray version of the latest season of Star Trek Discovery and although I wasn’t a hardcore Trekie like Asher or Seth, I knew I’d enjoy watching all the special features that weren’t available when streaming from CBS All Access.
Freck gave me a pair of opening day tickets for the new Star Wars movie as part of a package with limited edition Star Wars 3D glasses, a signed limited-edition movie poster and a soon-to-be-released limited-edition steel book 4K-HDR Blu-ray set of all eleven movies. I had to chuckle at the thought of receiving a collection of eleven movies for my eleventh birthday. That was something my boyfriend would enjoy even more than I would, as he was a diehard Star Wars fan. In any case, it would be fun to see the latest Star Wars movie on opening day on the big screen with him.
Because my birthday was so close to Hanukkah, I always got a single present for both from my family every year. It kinda sucked, as my combined present never seemed like as much as the two presents my brother, Roger, got each year. I had a feeling, however, that this year might be different, as it would be my last birthday living at home. I wondered what kind of present I might get this year as my dad handed me a sealed envelope. Last year, I got my A&K portable music player, which cost $1800. I already had one of the latest iPhones, and I’d probably get a new laptop for graduation. I was way too young for a car, but a new bicycle would come in handy if I got into MIT.
Taking the envelope from Dad, I opened it and started to read. The MIT letterhead immediately piqued my interest, but I was totally unprepared for what followed. “Dear Mr. Goldstein, We are prepared to offer you a position as an undergraduate in the class of…” I couldn’t continue reading, as my eyes filled with tears. Finally, I turned to Dad and asked, “How did you get this? Acceptance letters aren’t supposed to be mailed for a couple of months.”
“Let’s just say it helps to know a Nobel laureate in physics,” Dad replied. Dad was referring to Dr. Jeff Franklin, an endowed chair at the American Museum of Natural History and the life partner of my friend Seth’s grandfather. But then I had a critical thought and asked, “But what about Freck?”
“If you read the rest of your acceptance letter,” Dad answered, “you’ll see that they have agreed to your request to share a dorm room with your ‘friend’, François San Angelo. Speaking of which, consider this an early birthday present,” Dad added as he handed a similar envelope to Freck.”
Moments later, Freck let out a whoop as he said repeatedly, “I’m in. I’m in!”
“The joint program in Architecture and Civil Engineering?” I asked my boyfriend.
“Absolutely!” he responded. He was practically jumping up and down, right next to me, but then he got a puzzled look on his face and asked, “Not that I’m not grateful for the news, but how is this a birthday present?”
“Are you kidding?” Dad responded. “Between you and Kyle, the tuition’s over a hundred grand a year, not to mention the cost of room and board.”
“But my parent’s will be paying my share,” Freck countered, “and you’d be paying Kyle’s college expenses regardless, so you still owe him a birthday present.”
“Indeed, I do,” Dad replied as he handed me another envelope. I opened it and immediately noted the logo of the American Museum of Natural History. I’d looked into a number of summer internships in top labs around the world, but of the very few that allowed participants younger than eighteen, none were for anyone as young as me. I’d not encountered anything about an internship at the AMNH – not one that was open to high school students, let alone those younger than eighteen or even sixteen, yet here I was reading a letter of acceptance into such a program. How was this possible?
Before I could even ask the question, Dad answered, “The museum doesn’t even offer summer internships to high school students. Of course, there are learning programs all the time, but they’re geared more toward a basic STEM curriculum. There are a limited number of positions associated with specific research projects and exhibitions, most of them for graduate students. Undergraduate internships are rare and high school internships unheard of. But then they’ve not had a Nobel Laureate in an endowed chairmanship make such a request before.”
“Internships?” Freck asked.
“Yes, you both have internships there this summer,” Dad continued as he handed Freck a letter. “Of course, there could be no quid pro quo involved with the internships. Other than specifying that they be open to graduating high school seniors, regardless of age, the only stipulations were that one required fluency in five or more languages other than English, and the other required completion of advanced courses in vector calculus and complex number theory.”
“Gee, I wonder where they could find applicants still in high school meeting those qualifications?” I asked.
“Believe it or not, there were multiple applications for both positions,” Dad related, “even though they weren’t exactly advertised. You’re not the only exceptional kids out there, you know.”
“That’s a scary thought,” Roger interjected, eliciting laughter from all of our friends.
“I hope you understand that these internships really are a gift, even though they didn’t cost me any money,” Dad added.
“Of course I understand,” I replied and Freck nodded his head.
“I literally spent days making the arrangements, including petitioning the governor and both of our senators. There’s little precedent for allowing eleven- and thirteen-year-olds to participate in advanced internships. However, Seth’s grandfather, is an example of one. He was only thirteen when he attended a summer program at the University of Iowa that was intended for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. Thus Dr. Franklin insisted that there be no minimum age and that age not be a factor in the consideration of applicants. Still, we had to get waivers from state and federal regulations in any case.
“So you’ll both be busy this summer, and although your internships will both be at the AMNH, you’ll be doing entirely different things and may go all day without seeing each other. In many ways, it’ll be a lot like it’ll be at MIT.”
The thought of Freck and I going our separate ways during the day really hit me hard. I’d always known in the hypothetical that things would be different in college, but I hadn’t really given much thought to what that would mean. At Stuyvesant, I was way ahead of Freck in math, but he was way more advanced in his language classes. Still, we had a number of classes in common, and we always ate lunch together with our friends, every day. At most, I might go an hour or two without seeing my baby, but otherwise we were always together.
MIT would be different. Not only would we be functionally at different levels in our math, sciences and humanities, but we’d be in entirely different curricula with perhaps no overlap at all. We might take a creative writing course together or maybe a history course, but that would mean spending perhaps a few hours together in a week, and no more. Maybe if we were lucky, we’d share a computer science class since programming skills were central to both our fields. Otherwise, we’d only see each other at breakfast and at dinnertime, and if we made the effort, at lunchtime. At least we’d share our nights.
But when I thought about it, weren’t our lives gonna be like that from now on? We’d each have our own careers and spend our days apart. With Freck’s career as an architect, he’d probably be away for weeks at a time as he worked on-site on his projects. And wouldn’t the same be true for me in my field? Particle accelerators don’t exactly grow on trees and the most powerful ones aren’t even in the U.S. I might be away for several weeks at a time myself, collecting data from my experiments. It was gonna take a huge effort for Freck and me to have any kind of life together at all. And as much as I’d like to start a family, what kinda life would our kids have, with their daddies always on the road?
I guess I was getting sorta morose, as Freck pulled me aside and said, “My office can be anywhere in the world, Ky. Find yourself a top academic position… maybe even an endowed chairmanship at one of the top places for physics. Wherever you go, I’ll go, and if we have kids, we’ll hire a nanny. It wasn’t bein’ raised by a nanny that fucked me up, Ky. It was bein’ treated as a trophy child by parents who never loved me. That’ll never happen to our kids,” he concluded as he drew me into a hug and hugged me tight. How’d he know what was buggin’ me?
“It won’t be easy, Freck,” I responded. “Governments aren’t investing in particle accelerators anymore, which means making do with upgrades to the ones we already have and improvising a lot for our experiments. Today it’s the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. Tomorrow it could be Fermilab in Illinois. Particle physicists don’t have the luxury of choosing their country, let alone their lab.”
“Maybe that’s a sign that the field’s overcrowded,” Freck suggested. What a cheery thought! “Maybe that’s a sign you should keep your eyes open for the next big thing,” he continued.
“Particles are the fundamental building blocks of the universe,” I explained. “If there are major discoveries to be made, they’ll be made by particle physicists.”
“If that’s so, then what are the particles that make up dark matter?” Freck asked. “What happens to the quarks inside a black hole? What were the particles that gave rise to the big bang?”
“You know those questions don’t have answers,” I responded. “There were no particles when the so-called big bang occurred, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“Is it that the answers haven’t been discovered yet, or that we aren’t asking the right questions?” Freck countered. “Why is it that we still can’t reconcile quantum theory with relativity?”
I was about to respond with what I thought was the obvious answer, when I realized that it wasn’t so obvious. Maybe Freck had a point. I must’ve stopped with my mouth hanging open, as he continued, “The answer’s not so obvious, is it?
“Look, we’ve just reached the point where we can measure gravity waves. It wasn’t long ago that they didn’t even have proof that they existed. It wasn’t that long ago that we only knew of the existence of nine planets in the universe, the status of Pluto notwithstanding. Now, we’ve mapped the existence of thousands of planets, some of them similar to earth.
“I don’t have your background in math… at least not yet, but it seems to me that the greatest discoveries of today aren’t coming from particle accelerators. Chris Nolan made a film called Interstellar. It’s depiction of what a black hole looks like was based on the latest theories, and guess what we saw when we actually got our first glimpse of a real black hole? The astrophysicists nailed it, and not a single particle was destroyed in the making of the movie. It’s a fucking awesome, exciting time.
“Discover the true nature of gravity and you’ll unlock the secrets of the universe. Figure out why mass and momentum are conserved, and you’ll unlock the secret of interstellar spaceflight. And it just so happens we’re gonna be spendin’ the whole summer with two of the greatest astrophysicists in the world.”
It was like an epiphany. I’d been so focused on the great discoveries that underlay the books I’d read when I first became interested in science – discoveries made in the late twentieth century – that I’d ignored the great discoveries that had been made in my lifetime. Freck was absolutely right – if I could discover the true nature of gravity, mass and momentum, I could free humankind from the shackles of Newton’s First Law. As a Chris Nolan put it in Interstellar, humankind has never found a way to go anywhere without leaving something behind. Perhaps I could change that, and what better place to learn about astrophysics than in one of the greatest astrophysics labs in the world?
I was so excited, I grabbed my honey and kissed him deeply, eliciting hoots and hollers from all our friends.
Although we’d celebrated my birthday on Sunday, today was the actual day I turned eleven, but it was Monday and a school day. My boyfriend, Freck, on the other hand, always had his birthday off because it was on the day after Christmas, a time when no one was thinking about anything as mundane as a birthday. Even in our household, we usually celebrate a traditional Jewish Christmas. By that I meant seeing a movie and eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant. In our case, we usually went to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster and had dinner at one of the best restaurants in Chinatown.
This would be the first year that Freck would spend Christmas with our family, which presented us with a dilemma. Although he was one-quarter Jewish, he was raised Roman Catholic. His parents weren’t at all religious, but they’d always celebrated a traditional Roman Catholic Christmas together as a family, and visibly so. They celebrated midnight mass at Saint Patrick’s cathedral as special guests of the Archdiocese of New York, in thanks for their generous donations to the church.
On Christmas morning, there was a formal giving of gifts, always with special clients of theirs in attendance. Freck’s gift was supposed to be a combined Christmas and birthday present, but the day after Christmas, on Freck’s actual birthday, there was nothing… not even a birthday cake.
Well that was certainly something that would be different this year. Freck’s birthday would not be forgotten. But what should we do about Christmas? Freck had taken it upon himself to learn about Judaism and he and I were even studying in preparation for a joint bar mitzvah service next year. He was looking forward to an authentic Hanukkah with us, but I hated to see him ignore his Christian upbringing. Technically I knew that Judaism doesn’t leave room for belief in Christ as the messiah and Freck actually considered himself agnostic, but with so many children of mixed faith who celebrate both of their backgrounds, why couldn’t Freck celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah?
The two holidays happened to coincide this year, so there was still time to formulate a plan, but not that much time. Christmas was just over two weeks away. And then the next day would be his thirteenth birthday. It was not only his first birthday with my family, but a very special birthday too, as Freck was becoming a teenager. As his boyfriend, I needed to be sure we made it particularly special. But what could I get him for a gift? Freck already had everything a boy could want.
Getting time to discuss plans with the dads was proving to be nearly impossible. With their varied schedule and on-call responsibilities, finding them both together at a time when Freck wasn’t around just wasn’t happening, but even finding either one of them alone was difficult. I knew they wanted to do right by Freck, but their workload at the hospital always picked up around the holidays and this year was proving to be no different. My older brother, Roger, was a never-ending font of ideas, most of them totally impractical. My best friends were Asher and Seth, but they were two years behind me in school and the only time I really saw them at school was at lunch… with Freck.
The one window of opportunity to speak to anyone was after school, during basketball practice. Our good friend Carl was one of the leading scorers on the varsity team and his boyfriend, Clarke, always sat in the stands during practice and at most of the games. Because Freck was on the swim team and had his own practices to attend, he wasn’t around for most basketball games or practice. It was thus that I found myself sitting next to Clarke at basketball practice on Tuesday afternoon, the day after I turned eleven.
“Clarke,” I began the conversation, “you come from a family of means and always got what you wanted, right?”
Laughing heartily, Clarke responded, “Oh yeah, I come from a family of means all right. My dad went to college but he started his professional life as a garbage man and worked his way up through the union. Although we never were poor, we lived in a much more modest neighborhood when I was growing up. It might have been called a detached house but in every way, it was a row house with about a foot of space between houses… just enough that I had to take care of what passed for a lawn. The entire back yard was taken up by a pool… an above ground pool built into a wooden deck that was too shallow to dive into and too narrow to swim across. It wasn’t until my dad threw his support behind a dark-horse candidate for mayor and the schmuck actually won that we were able to move into our current place. And then it was more a matter of kickbacks, bribery and embezzlement that made it all possible.
“So now we have a nice house, but it’s on Staten Island… not in Riverdale. I think you’re the one who knows what it’s like to grow up in a family of means, Kyle.”
“Gees, I’m sorry, Clarke,” I replied, feeling a bit sheepish for bringing it up. “I just assumed you always lived in that mansion of a house where you live now. Our house is really small compared to all the teardowns around us. It’s what they call a front-to-back split level. I never really thought of us as being affluent or anything. I mean, know people think all doctors are rich, but my dad’s still paying off his medical school debt, and he didn’t even finish his training until around the time I was born…”
“How much did you say that fancy music player cost that you’re always carryin’ around with you?” Clarke interrupted. “And isn’t your swimming pool indoors?”
“Technically it’s under a terrace that was added on after the house was built,” I answered, “so it’s an outdoor pool that was later enclosed and heated, but yeah, I guess we’re doin’ okay. It’s just that Freck grew up in a freakin’ penthouse apartment in the shadow of the World Trade Center, with billionaire parents, all the toys a boy could hope for and season tickets to the Met…”
“And he was a pothead by the time he was eleven,” Clarke interrupted, “and he tried to kill himself. He was rich beyond measure, yet bankrupt when it came to love. I know something about what that’s like. My dad beat the shit outta me, all the time, and then gave generously to the Church so the nuns all looked the other way. Even when I got to Stuyvesant, he made sure I knew just how worthless I was. That’s why I became a bully, ’cause I learned from my old man that the only way to earn respect was by making others fear you. How fucked up was that?”
“Yeah, but you really turned your life around after meeting Carl,” I pointed out.
“No doubt, that boy saved my life,” Clarke acknowledged as he looked down at his boyfriend in a sweat-soaked tank top, shooting three-pointer after three-pointer. “It seems to me that you saved Freck’s life too, literally,” he added.
Shakin’ my head, I countered, “He had a major relapse over the summer, while we were in Paris. A stupid little argument about Parisian architecture was all it took. He thought he knew better than the Parisians and when I stood up for them, he took it to mean I was repudiating him, and he ran away. It took us three days, 25 thousand euros and a hired investigator to find him, but that was the least of it. The worst was when we had to go to the morgue to identify what the police thought was his body.”
“Fuck,” Clarke responded. “I couldn’t stand it if something like that happened with Carl. Then looking right at me, he continued, “I guess the real difference with me is that with my parents going to prison, I got closure. My wounds were mostly physical, and those wounds healed. With my brother moving back home and my boyfriend and his mother moving in with us, I have more than enough people loving me and showing me I’m not a worthless faggot.
“All of Freck’s wounds are internal,” Clarke continued, “and although he has you and your dads now, he still doesn’t feel secure. There’s no easy fix for it either. It’s gonna take time for him feel worthy of your love.”
“We’re both in counseling,” I responded. “He sees a therapist once a week and we have family counseling every week too. We’ll continue that until we go away to MIT in the fall.”
“Maybe goin’ straight from Stuyvesant to MIT isn’t the best thing for you guys,” Clarke suggested. “There’s no question you’re both ready academically, but the pressure of trying to live up to bein’ adults might be too much. I mean, Freck’ll be thirteen, and you’ll be only eleven, and you’ll be in with kids who are mostly eighteen. At least Freck looks like a teenager and his voice has changed, but he’ll still be a good foot shorter than a lot of his peers. It’ll be even worse for you, but I think Freck’s more fragile and the stuff you just brush off could wound him deeply.”
It was like bein’ struck by a thunderbolt. Here, I’d been worried about what to get Freck for his thirteenth birthday when that was nothing compared to the stress we’d both be facing next fall. We were only months away from graduating from one of the best high school’s in America, and we’d be interning over the summer at one of the premiere astrophysics labs in the world, and then we’d be freshmen at MIT. We’d already been accepted for studies in the fields we wanted and our carrier paths were set, yet we were still children, both legally and emotionally. Freck was just beginning his teens and I was still a pre-teen who’d yet to even need to use deodorant. How could we expect anyone to take us seriously?
Yet if we didn’t go to MIT next fall, what else could we do? Living at home would make it easier, but the stress of competing in an adult world would be no less at Columbia. But if we delayed starting college for a year, what else could an eleven-year-old and a thirteen-year-old do in the interim? It wasn’t like I never heard of taking a gap year, but we weren’t nearly old enough to work and it’s not like we could go traveling the world on our own. I just didn’t see an alternative to going through with our plans to start college at MIT.
“Yeah, I think you guys should think seriously about spending another year or two in high school or maybe even doing something else entirely,” Clarke continued. “I know that it’s not uncommon for some students to take five years to finish high school. There are even some schools that offer five-year programs for students with special needs, and it isn’t because they’re dumb. I don’t think you’re obligated to graduate when you have enough credits, so maybe you can postpone graduation and take another year of classes. You can take courses for dual credit at City University and accumulate credit you can apply at MIT. You might even have enough advance placement and college credit to start as a sophomore or even a junior there.”
Clarke’s idea was a revelation. I’d been thinking that the only alternative to going to MIT next year was to start college somewhere else, but that would solve nothing. However, by extending our time at Stuyvesant, we could take much of our first-year college coursework at City University Community College, which was located right across the street from Stuyvesant and where the students were used to the presence of high school students from Stuyvesant. And we’d have the support of Stuyvesant for another year, including all our friends and our dads and Roger. Freck could even spend another year on the swim team if he wanted. It’d be a chance for us to be kids for another year. It’d be another year for Freck to heal and for our love to grow.
My worries about finding the perfect gift for Freck’s thirteenth birthday were quickly forgotten. No matter what I got him, Freck would probably love it because it was from me, but that was immaterial. The opportunity to spend another year at home with our dads and another year with all our friends would be priceless.
I came close to bringing up my thoughts at dinner that night but decided to wait until I had more information. It was thus that I found myself seated in the counselors’ office the next day. It was the first time I’d actually met with my counselor since beginning at Stuyvesant last year. I went to make an appointment, first thing in the morning, but with the winter break coming up, Mr. Reynolds didn’t have many appointments scheduled in the first place and asked if I’d like to meet with him then. Of course I agreed.
“Mr. Reynolds,” I began, “I don’t know if you remember me…”
“It would be pretty hard to forget you, Kyle,” he interrupted. “As far as I know, you’re the youngest person ever to attend this school, and your attitude is, shall we say, memorable. So what can I do for you today?”
“Well, this is really a question that affects both my boyfriend, François San Angelo, and me…”
“Did Freck finally talk to you?” Mr. Reynolds asked. Huh? I’d no idea what he was talking about. I guess he saw the confusion in my face, ’cause he continued. “I take it he hasn’t, and that’s a shame. You two really need to talk to each other and to your fathers rather than trying to deal with your problems in isolation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
“As you know, what we discuss with our students in private is strictly confidential. You may be aware that Freck has met with me several times this year…”
“He has?” I asked in surprise. “Why didn’t he discuss it with me?”
“That, I’m afraid, is something you’ll have to ask him.” Mr. Reynolds replied, “and of course I’d be happy to meet with the two of you together or to arrange a meeting with your entire family. However, in the interim, what can I do for you today, Kyle?”
“As you may know,” I began, “Freck and I applied for admission to MIT for the coming fall.”
“And you were both accepted,” Mr. Reynolds interjected. “Congratulations to you both.” When he saw the look of shock on my face, however, he added, “Don’t be surprised that I already know about your acceptances. Guidance offices are always contacted and often receive notice, even before the students do.”
“I didn’t know that,” I replied, and then continued, “The reason I asked to meet with you today, however, is because I’m concerned that Freck and I aren’t ready to go away to college. Don’t get me wrong… going to MIT has always been my dream, and the joint program in architecture and civil engineering is tailor made for Freck. I probably don’t need to tell you that Freck has his issues and I’m worried that the pressures of competing with kids five years older than him could send him over the deep end. Not that he isn’t ready academically, but he’s still dealing with issues of rejection by his biologic parents.
“In my case,” I went on, “although I’ve never felt threatened by older kids and adults, I’m concerned that even with my up-front attitude, no one will take me seriously when my voice hasn’t even changed. I’m not worried about the other kids, as I’ve been dealing with older peers all my life, but if the professors and TAs treat me like a little kid, how can I get a fair shake?”
Folding his hands and sitting back in his chair, Mr. Reynolds responded, “You really should talk to your boyfriend about your concerns. Without getting into the specifics of my conversations with him, I will say that he has many of the same concerns as you, with the addition that he’s worried about holding you back…”
“You mean he wants to postpone going to college, but hasn’t even brought it up with me because he doesn’t want to ask me to make the sacrifice for his sake?” I asked.
“Again, I can’t answer that, although I’ll admit you’re most perceptive,” Mr. Reynolds answered.
“But we might both benefit from waiting to go away to college,” I replied.
“That, Kyle, is something with which I heartily agree,” he responded. “Not that you’re not capable of doing the work academically, but you’re not yet even teenagers and have yet to develop the coping skills most college students take for granted, immature though they may yet be. Another year would make a big difference, and another two years could be the difference between sinking or swimming. Learning isn’t a race to see who can finish first. My goal, which should be your goal as well, is to see you both succeed.”
“Another two years for me would mean I’d be a teenager when I start at MIT,” I went on. “I’d have undergone a growth spurt and, given my dad’s height and my brother’s, I’d probably be approaching six feet. My voice will have changed by then and although I won’t have started shaving yet, I’ll at least have broader shoulders and a squarer jaw. I might still be in with kids who are six or seven years older than I, but at least my profs will take me more seriously.”
“That’s especially true at MIT, Kyle,” Mr. Reynolds interjected. “Because MIT is, well, MIT, they can get away with relying more on teaching assistants than almost anyone. I’ve heard tales of students who didn’t even recognize their professors when they passed them in the hall. Just by being tall and having a deeper voice, you’ll be in a much better situation to be taken seriously by the TAs, who are just kids themselves.”
“I think my boyfriend will be much better able to handle college life at fifteen than at thirteen, too,” I continued as Mr. Reynolds nodded his head. “Plus he’d have another two years with my family to build his sense of security. He’d be much better able to cope.
“My first question, Mr. Reynolds, is do we have to graduate this year? I know we’ll both have enough credits, but do we have to graduate Stuyvesant as soon as we meet the requirements?”
Smiling, Mr. Reynolds answered, “That’s a great question, Kyle, and the answer is no, you do not. In fact, by law, we’re obligated to provide you with an education until you reach the age of sixteen, regardless of whether or not you qualify for graduation at an earlier age. Granted, there are limits to the courses we can offer you, but with our university affiliations, you can take a full spectrum of college courses for dual credit at a substantial discount and without the hassle of applying for admission. Of course, you’d still be facing some of the same issues with being taken seriously, so that’s not a panacea.
“However, you might want to consider going to the High School for Math, Science and Engineering,” he suggested. “It’s a much smaller, more individualized school, with only a hundred students per year rather than seven hundred as we have here.” Holy shit! Why hadn’t I thought about that before?
One of New York’s elite specialty high schools was located on the main campus of City College, in Harlem. Freck and I had chosen Stuyvesant over the other specialty high schools because it was top-rated, and we both wanted a broader education than one focused on a STEM curriculum. My first choice had actually been Bronx Science, but I was happy to ‘settle’ for Stuyvesant to be with Freck. But now, maybe we could transfer to HSMSE for an extra year of high school before going to MIT, or perhaps we could avail ourselves of the HSMSE curriculum without actually transferring schools. Indeed, most of our courses would be City University courses anyway, but at City College, Freck could take all of his first-year engineering courses and I could take my physics and science courses in a setting where they were used to having high school students in their midst.
“Another thing you might want to consider is taking a gap year,” Mr. Reynolds continued. “A lot of students these days take a year off between high school and college to get some real-world experience.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like Freck and I could join the Peace Core, or spend a year traveling all over the world,” I pointed out.
“No, but there are a lot of gap-year programs available, right here in New York,” Mr. Reynolds countered. “I understand you’re already planning to spend the summer at AMNH,” he added, much to my surprise. “As with college admissions, the guidance office is often the first point of contact for such programs, so of course I knew about it. There are many such gap-year programs available and although most are only open to adults or at minimum, sixteen-year-olds, exceptions are made. The New York Times, for example, has a gap-semester program that’s an excellent opportunity, and they’re flexible when it comes to taking exceptional kids. Or perhaps you’d like to spend a year at AMNH after completing a fifth year of high school. Regardless, I know we can work something out.
“But you really need to discuss it with Freck and with your dads. The last thing you want is for Freck to think you’re delaying college, just for his sake. You have to convince him this is your idea and not something you picked up from me. If he thinks that, then not even I will be able to reach him.”
It was at dinner that night that I saw a chance to raise the issue of delaying college. Ken, my dad’s husband, had just been talking about his niece, who was a freshman at Princeton University, an Ivy League school. According to her, the TA teaching her English Lit course had asked her out and she worried that by saying ‘no’, it could affect her grade. “Of course, I reminded her that if she did go out with him, she’d be in a very difficult position too,” Ken said. “I told her that the onus really was on her TA to avoid a relationship with a student… that merely asking her out could be seen as sexual harassment. So the next time she saw him, she suggested he read the section of the student handbook dealing with sexual harassment.”
Laughing, Roger said, “At least that’s not something any of us’ll need to worry about… bein’ hit on by a TA, that is.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” Dad countered. “You should read Michael Crichton’s book, Disclosure, or at least watch the movie.”
“Is that about a male student and a female teacher?” Roger asked.
“A male engineer and his female boss,” Dad answered.
“And there’s always the possibility of a gay male TA harassing a male student,” Freck joined in.
“A TA could get in major trouble for doing anything with an underage student,” Ken responded. “In Massachusetts the age of consent’s sixteen, and any sexual contact with someone under that age is considered statutory rape, even if it’s consensual.”
Seeing my opportunity, I interjected, “I’m just worried about not being taken seriously. Being asked out on a date would be a significant improvement over being ignored, which is what I fear will happen.”
“What do you mean, Kyle?” Dad asked.
“Look at me,” I answered. “I’m barely five feet and sound like a little kid. I won’t start my growth spurt or have my voice change for at least another year. Even though the professors and TA’s may know I wouldn’t be in their class unless I belonged there, they’ll still treat me like a little kid. I won’t be taken seriously.”
“You’ve never let that worry you before,” Dad responded. “You’ve always shrugged it off and your attitude has quickly dispelled anyone’s assumptions based on your age.”
“But that’s in casual conversation,” I countered. “It would be different in the classroom. Why pay for an MIT education when I’d be getting less attention than a kid in middle school?”
“But going to MIT has always been your dream,” Dad responded.
“And I’ll still go to MIT, but maybe it’s not such a good idea to go there right after high school,” I explained. “Or maybe it would be better to start my coursework at one of the local colleges and then transfer to MIT in a year or two. Or maybe I should take another year of dual credit courses and postpone graduation by a year, and then take a gap year, so I’d at least be a teenager when I start…”
“This is about me, isn’t it?” Freck interrupted. I’d tried to keep the focus on my worries about me, but I should have realized my boyfriend would see right through my strategy.
Sighing, I responded, “Freck, I’ll admit that my first concern was worry for you, but then I got to thinking about what it would mean for me to go to college at the age of eleven, particularly at a large school like MIT, and I imagined what that might look like and didn’t like what I saw. Already I feel like a freak at Stuyvesant, but with so many small, Asian kids who go there, I don’t stand out that much. Not only that, but I have friends there and I come home every night to a house with loving parents. However at MIT, I’d look like a midget compared to all the eighteen-year-olds. I’d probably be the only pre-teen there. Yes, we’d have each other, but would that be enough?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Freck agreed. “I’ve been talking to my therapist, and to my counselor at school, and trying to figure out a way I could delay going to MIT without holding you back. That’s been the hardest thing… knowing MIT has been your lifelong dream and not wanting to hold you back. But if I go to MIT next year, it would be so easy to fall back into using pot when I’m under pressure, and as soon as I do that, well, I might as well jump off the GW bridge right now, and I couldn’t do that to you. Never again.
“I looked into going to Columbia,” he continued, “’cause we could live at home if we do, but we’d face the same problems when it comes to fitting in with the other students. And although Columbia is still one of the best places for architecture, they don’t have a dual degree with civil engineering and environmental science the way MIT does. It’s not the best place for you either, Kyle. Columbia isn’t known for particle physics and they don’t even have an astrophysics program. MIT is by far your best bet, with Harvard being a close second.
“The interesting thing I discovered is that we don’t have to graduate this year. So like you said, we could remain at Stuyvesant for another year or maybe even two and take college courses for dual credit that would be equivalent to the courses we would’ve taken at MIT. Stuyvesant has relationships with all the City University of New York campuses and not just the community college, and with Brooklyn Tech, but I think the best option might be to go to City College up in Harlem, ’cause they already have a joint program with HSMSE. We wouldn’t be freaks there.
“I’ve been working with Mr. Reynolds, our counselor at Stuyvesant, and I have some ideas for what we could do if we stay here next year. I’ve actually mapped out courses we both could take at City College that would transfer directly to MIT. A year at City College would give both of us enough credits to start as juniors at MIT, but I’d like to suggest we take an extra two years off before going to MIT. You’d be thirteen and a full-fledged teenager by then, and probably close to six feet tall and with a deep voice like Roger’s, and I’d be fifteen and much better able to fit in and to resist the temptation to resort to drugs. We could take three semesters of coursework and participate in extracurricular activities with our friends at Stuyvesant. I could even be on the swim team if I wanted. Then maybe we could enroll in a gap-year program for the final semester, like the one we’re doing this summer.”
“Would it be an option to start at MIT mid-year, two years from now?” Ken asked.
“I considered it,” Freck answered, “but the semesters don’t line up with Stuyvesant’s. MIT’s spring semester begins right after winter break, in early January, whereas New York city schools’ fall semester doesn’t end until late January. Besides, I think the extra time would do me good. It’s not like we’re in a hurry or anything, unless you just want to get rid of us,” Freck added as he smiled at Ken. “I’ve just been reluctant to bring it up because, well, I didn’t want to hold Kyle back.”
“Don’t worry about me, Freck,” I responded. “I think I need the extra time as much as you do. But you took it upon yourself to arrange a course schedule for me at City College for next year?”
Rather than say anything, Freck opened his phone and handed it to me. The phone was open to a spreadsheet showing my coursework for the next three semesters, starting next fall. I couldn’t help but be impressed as he’d mapped out courses that were virtually identical to what I’d planned to sign up for at MIT, with some additional foreign language and humanities courses that were definitely of interest to me. Handing the phone back to him, I replied, “This looks really good, Freck. You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into it, and I like the choices you’re suggesting for me.”
“So you agree we should mooch off your dads for another year?” Freck asked.
“Kyle would be the only one doing the mooching,” Dad pointed out, “since your own parents are paying your way as per the guardianship agreement, but we’d be delighted to have you live with us for another couple of years. Freck, we consider you as another son.”
“By waiting a couple more years to go to college, it’ll give you guys more time to save for my college expenses, so you might even come out ahead,” I suggested to my dad.
“With tuition going up much faster than the rate of inflation, I’m not sure how much that helps us, Kyle,” Dad responded. “However, Ken and I will miss you terribly when you do go away. I really think postponing it is the right decision.”
Now that we’d resolved the issue of deferring our enrollment at MIT, I was back to worrying about what to get my boyfriend for his thirteenth birthday. It needed to be something special. Something unique that he wouldn’t think to get himself. If he were undergoing his bar mitzvah this year, I might get him something related to that, like a custom-made tallit, or prayer shawl. Although he’d need a tallit for his bar mitzvah, a really nice, custom-made one could cost thousands of dollars. Maybe I could talk to the dads about going in together on one for his bar mitzvah. Somehow, that seemed more appropriate.
But there were plenty of other things I could get him that were relevant to his newfound interest in his Jewish roots. Perhaps a sterling silver kiddish cup, or maybe a designer menorah for use during Hanukkah. It was only a thought, but at least I knew he didn’t have these things. There were many places in Riverdale that sell Judaica, including the gift shop at our synagogue, but there was one shop in particular in the East Village that seemed to sell unique things I’d seen nowhere else. I’d noticed it when passing by on the M14A bus with Asher and Seth.
It just so happened that we were double-dating with our friends on Friday night and then staying over, and so I came up with a plan. Asher’s dad insisted that he and Seth take a break from working at the Cajun restaurant, and we were going out to dinner with them, followed by a movie afterwards. We started out by taking a number three train from Chambers to Fourteenth Street and then walking the short distance to the Good Stuff Diner, which Asher insisted was the best diner in New York.
Having grown up with the Riverdale Diner so close to home, I had my doubts, but he was not wrong. I had the salmon burger special, which came with a bowl of lobster bisque that was out of this world. I added a side of sweet potato fries, ’cause no burger’s complete without fries. The salmon burger was the best I’d ever tasted, and the fries were outstanding. Although everything in the dessert case looked incredible, there was no way I could eat anything else.
Freck had something called Chicken San Francisco that consisted of a whole chicken breast and asparagus, smothered with a sort of vodka sauce and served with soup or salad, a vegetable and a potato or rice. At Asher’s recommendation, he choose the lobster bisque, mashed potatoes and string beans. Asher and Seth shared something called the Captain’s Table, which included salmon, crab-stuffed sole, scallops and shrimp, which they ordered with an extra cup of the lobster bisque, sweet potato fries in addition to mashed potatoes, and spinach in addition to the string beans. They barely finished it all.
We still had plenty of time before the movie started at the Regal Theaters at Essex Crossing, so I implemented my plan by saying, “Guys, there’s a shop I want to visit on the way to the movie, over on Avenue A at Third Street. It’s a Judaica shop, so perhaps you’d rather do something else and meet me at the movie.”
“I’m game to go with you,” Freck responded as I figured he would. I was counting on it, ’cause I wanted to see if he liked anything in the shop before getting him something for his birthday. What I hadn’t expected was for Asher and Seth to say they wanted to go too, so why not? We all boarded an M14A-SBS bus and got off at Fifth Street on Avenue A.
“Hey, this is cool,” Asher said as we walked by a large amount of retail space at Fifth Street that was simply labeled “Space for Artists.” Through the windows we could see that the store consisted of one large, open space with partitions dividing it into small areas, each labeled with the name of an artist. Paintings and photos were hung on the partitions, and there were also displays with sculpture, art glass and other decorative objects. “I’ll bet the landlord got tired of seeing his space go vacant and decided to do something useful with it.”
“By giving away the space for free, he probably still gets to take a huge tax deduction,” Seth pointed out. “I wish more landlords did this sort of thing… do you guys wanna go inside?”
“Could we first check out the store I wanted to see?” I asked. I didn’t want to miss out because we had to get to the movie, and so we walked down to the corner and entered a very tiny shop with Judaica in the window. There were Hanukkah menorahs, Seder plates, wine goblets and the like, mostly in contemporary designs made of metal and glass. Everything looked elegant and the prices were about what I would expect for New York, which was to say, not exactly cheap. I also noticed that there were other types of art besides Judaica, as well as a plethora of clocks, water fountains and other decorative objects. In spite of the number of items on display in such a small space, they didn’t appear crowded at all. Everything was tastefully displayed.
Just as I noticed a large display case with jewelry and a ton of watches, an older gentleman entered from the back of the store and asked, “Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?”
“We’re just looking around,” I answered. “We pass this place all the time on the 14A and I couldn’t help but notice your selection of Judaica in the window.”
“It’s a shame that with the Lower East Side and the East Village becoming so trendy, mine is one of the last remaining shops of its kind in the area, and I’m not exactly young anymore. By all rights I should have retired a decade ago, but then what would I do? This shop is my home. It’s my life. I’m Jacob, by the way. Do you boys live around here?” the man asked.
“Seth and I do,” Asher responded. “We live in Co-op Village, by the East River. My parents own an Asian takeout restaurant over on Grand Street, and more recently we opened a Cajun restaurant on Orchard…”
“Wait a minute,” Jacob interrupted. “I read about you in The Times. I’ve eaten at your restaurant. It’s the Ragin’ Cajun, isn’t it?”
Blushing, Asher responded, “When my mom was struck by a kid on an electric bike, my dad had to take her place at the Asian restaurant. He was ready to declare bankruptcy, but I wasn’t about to let it happen. My dad’s Creole and opening an authentic Cajun restaurant was his dream. My boyfriend and I did the best we could until Mom was enough on her feet that Dad could take time away from the Asian place.”
“Yeah, but you are only what? Fourteen or fifteen?” Jacob interjected. “You guys are kind of a legend around here.”
I didn’t think it possible for Asher to blush any more deeply, particularly with his mocha-colored skin, but dammed if he didn’t turn fire engine red. “I’m just glad we were able to help keep my dad’s dream alive until he could get back to it.”
“Yeah, but you still are in charge of the menu,” Seth pointed out, “and you still devise the recipes for everything we serve.”
“Actually, it’s Seth who devises the menu and decides which items are appropriate for the standard buffet and which can command the higher price of the premium buffet,” Asher responded.
“It’s a team effort, guys,” Freck chimed in.
“Any way you look at it, you guys started a phenomenal restaurant in a city that’s brutal when it comes to restaurants,” Jacob responded, “so there is much for you to be proud of.”
“Man, you have an incredible watch selection here!” Freck exclaimed as he peered into the case with wonder in his eyes. In that instant I knew what his birthday and Hanukkah gift would be. Like most of us, he’d never owned a watch. What was the point when we had the exact time on our phones, but I had to admit there was something special about having a tiny piece of technology on one’s wrist. I’d even thought about getting myself a smart watch but I couldn’t really figure out a good reason why I needed one.
My dad, on the other hand, had several really nice watches that he wore regularly – some of them for everyday use and some of them for dress. It wasn’t that he needed to keep track of time, since the time was displayed on clocks all around him at work, but there was something elegant about wearing a fine watch. It was a kind of jewelry, but at the same time an expression of technology. It wasn’t like he wore a Rolex or anything – those cost as much as a car – but his watches were unique and each one reflected his personality. It was time for Freck to have one.
“Not many kids are interested in watches these days,” Jacob lamented. “The miniaturization in a watch hardly seems relevant in an era when an entire computer fits in your pocket.”
“Yeah, but smartphones are nothing more than integrated circuits,” Freck responded. “Any decent computer engineer can design computer on a chip. There’s nothing magical about a smartphone. A watch, on the other hand, truly is a wonder of miniaturization,” he continued. “When you look at the workings of a watch, it’s like looking into another world of tiny mechanical components, perfectly synchronized and accurate. There’s something special about a time piece. I’ve always been fascinated by them, even if my dad was an asshole when it came to the ones he wore.”
“Take a look at this,” Jacob said as he took a watch out of the case and handed it over to Freck. The dial was transparent, and the inner workings of the watch were visible as they seemed to pulsate with activity. “Now turn it over,” Jacob instructed Freck, and he complied.
“Woah!” Freck exclaimed as he saw that the back of the watch case was transparent as well.
“Now shake the watch,” Jacob commanded and Freck did so. There was a metal piece that went around and around as Freck did so, acting as a sort of pendulum. Immediately we could see that this piece, this pendulum, was what wound the watch.
“This is an ‘automatic’ watch,” Jacob explained. It uses a main spring as mechanical watches have used for centuries, but there’s no need to wind it as your own kinetic energy does the work as you move about. And in terms of accuracy, thanks to a Japanese movement with a quartz crystal to regulate the balance wheel, it’s nearly as accurate as any watch you can buy. Not even a Rolex can match its accuracy. The only downside of an automatic watch is that it has to be worn to stay wound. Leave it in a drawer for more than a day and it winds down and needs to be reset. Some people even buy watch winders to keep their automatic watches from winding down.”
“This is so cool,” Freck exclaimed. “How much does something like this cost?”
“That’s one of the pricier models,” Jacob answered. “It has a Japanese movement, three sapphire crystals, and day and date functions. I generally charge $750 for this model, but I’d be willing to let it go for $500 if you want it. Otherwise, I do have some automatic watches for as little as $150, but none as elegant as this one.”
“Do you have it in a black ceramic case with a black ceramic band?” Freck asked. Shit, it sounded like he was gonna buy it for himself. So much for my idea for a gift.
“I’m afraid this manufacture only comes in a stainless-steel case or stainless steel with yellow or rose gold electroplate. The gold version would be a hundred more, with your discount. It’ll cost another hundred to upgrade the band from leather to stainless steel, and $150 from leather to either color of gold.”
“You can’t get it in black stainless?” Freck asked.
“I’m sorry, but they only make it in the three finishes,” Jacob answered.
“Damn,” Freck responded, but then he seemed to get a flash of inspiration and looked up at the man and asked, “Do you have anything that’s designed for swimming? Not just waterproof, but that has functions like a stopwatch and lap counter that could be used for competitive swimming?”
“It sounds like you’re on a swim team,” the man replied.
“Stuyvesant High School,” Freck answered. “We’re all students at Stuyvesant.”
“You look way too young to be in high school,” the man responded.
“I’m gonna be thirteen in a couple of weeks,” Freck answered.
“Yeah, but you’re a senior at Stuyvesant,” Seth interjected. “So’s his boyfriend, Kyle,” he added as he nodded toward me, “and Kyle just turned eleven. They’re gonna be going to MIT next year.”
“Actually, we’ve decided to defer graduation for another year or two and take courses at City College next year,” I explained. “Sorry, but we just decided on it a couple of days ago and we’re still working out the details. We both realized that as young as we look, no one would take us seriously at MIT. And we decided we’re not ready to do our own laundry just yet.”
“That’s utter bullshit,” Asher chided me.
“Actually, it’s mostly about me,” Freck began. Then looking at Jacob, he explained. “My biologic parents are billionaires who only had me as a trophy child. By the time I was ten, I was a total pothead, and when I was eleven, I tried to kill myself. That’s why I now live with my boyfriend up in Riverdale. Even so, I had a relapse over the summer…”
“What?” Seth asked in surprise.
“Yeah, Kyle and I had a minor disagreement that at the time, didn’t seem so minor to me. I ran away and got back into heavy pot use. I lived on the street in a Paris suburb for a few days, and even took up with other street kids. I was completely fucked up.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Asher asked. “I thought we were your best friends.”
“You are, beyond a doubt,” Freck answered, “but this was so horribly fucked up and it’s not something I was proud of.”
“The worst of it was when the police called us to the morgue to identify what they thought was Freck’s body,” I added. “I couldn’t go through that again. We’re in counseling now and Freck has his own therapy sessions. I think that experience over the summer made us realize that neither of us is ready to live on our own just yet. We still plan to go to MIT, but when we’re both a little older. At the least, I need to be a teenager first. No one’s gonna take me seriously when I sound like a little kid.”
“It sounds like you boys have quite a story to tell,” Jacob interjected. “At least the one thing you don’t seem to fear is homophobia… not that it doesn’t still exist, but you all are out and proud, and don’t seem the least bit concerned about what other people think about your sexuality.”
‘Why should we?” I asked. “I mean, I’m not about to walk through a rural Texas town, hand-in-hand with my boyfriend, but here in New York, no one bats an eye at Freck and me when we hold hands. We feel safe here, and we have the full acceptance of our parents. Even my dad’s finally accepted his own sexuality and he and my other dad got married last June.”
“It wasn’t always that way, you know,” Jacob responded. “I wasn’t here when Stonewall happened, but I moved here not long after that and I was involved in the first Pride marches in New York. Did you know that for the first Pride march, we actually had instructions on what to do if we were arrested? Homosexuality was still illegal back then, and demonstrating for the right to break the law was itself considered illegal. Those were tough times and it’s only because of the bravery of those who came before you that you can enjoy your freedom today, but you must never take it for granted. With the recent court appointees, the rights we fought so hard to achieve could still be taken away.”
“Fuck,” I said so softly that I wasn’t sure anyone else heard it.
But then Seth put his hand on my shoulder and said, “As long as my dad’s in Albany, New York will always be a safe place. New York will always be a sanctuary for sanity.”
“So…” Freck interrupted as he turned back to Jacob, “I was asking about watches for swimmers?”
“There are some very good ones,” Jacob replied. “You may have heard about Nixon watches, which were designed by surfers for surfers. The only problem with Nixon watches is that they’re huge and you’re not ready to wear a dinner plate on your wrist.
“I do have something that might interest you, however,” He continued. “The only problem is that it’s one of the most expensive watches I sell.” Jacob then pulled out a very impressive-looking chronograph in black stainless with a copper-colored bezel, but it wasn’t like any stainless steel I’d ever seen. “This is black titanium,” Jacob continued, “and it’s the natural color of the alloy, so it will retain its color, even if scratched deeply. If you lift it, you’ll see that it’s incredibly light weight, and it’s extremely thin, which is why it’s a good swimmer’s watch. Not that you’d want to wear any watch at all during actual competitions, but as thin and light as it is, it won’t affect your times.”
As Freck took the watch from Jacob, he exclaimed, “Shit, this is unbelievable. It hardly weighs anything at all.”
“Let me see that,” I requested and Freck handed it over. He was right – it weighed about as much as maybe a couple of quarters, if that. As I handed it back to Freck, however, I noticed the price tag dangling from it and it read $7,500. Holy Fuck! That was well outta my league.
“The crown is screwed down as it should be in a diving watch,” Jacob continued. “With it in it’s locked position, the watch is safe to a depth of over five hundred meters. Even so, the chronograph features of the watch can still be used without sacrificing water resistance. You’ll also note that the crown and buttons are on the inside margin of the watch, where they’re better protected than on the usual outside margin.
“The most remarkable thing about this watch, however, is that it’s designed in such a way that the case should never need to be opened. There is no battery. The watch is solar powered and when fully charged, can run for four months, even if kept in a drawer. It never needs to be set. It uses the same GPS satellite signals used by your phone to synchronize itself to the correct time, anywhere in the world. Compensating for Daylight Saving Time is done with the push of a button, but that’s the only thing that isn’t automatic on this watch, and that’s only because it can change with the whims of Congress.
“Wow, I love it,” Freck responded. “I love the way it looks too.” I had to agree with him there. It had a copper-colored bezel - I think maybe it was rose gold and it really complemented Freck's red hair - a black dial and black band with copper-colored accents, with the numbers in a copper-color that seemed to glow, and then I noticed that they really did glow. There was an outline behind each hand and digit that literally glowed in the dark. Three small sub-dials complemented the watch nicely, providing chronograph features without making the watch dial overly large. The dials also served a dual function, indicating day, month and year in addition to the standard date window. It was utterly cool, but the price was outrageous! Not like a Rolex, but well beyond what I could afford.
“I hate to ask this,” Freck continued, “but how much does it cost.” Obviously, he hadn’t noticed the price tag dangling from the band.
“Obviously, there’s a huge markup on these watches,” Jacob responded, “and to discourage black market and internet sales, the warranty is only valid if the watch is sold by an authorized dealer.”
“How much?” Freck asked again.
“I’m not supposed to sell this watch for less than list price, which is $7,500.”
“Fuck, that’s way more than I’m willing to spend on a watch,” Freck responded. “I mean, I really want that watch, but I’m not gonna spend that much on a watch. Not even half that much.”
“Guys,” Seth interrupted, “If we don’t leave now, we’ll never get to Essex Crossing in time for the movie.” We were seeing Black Christmas, a creepy new movie about a killer stalking a group of sorority sisters. What an apt movie to see on Friday, the thirteenth.
In a last-ditch effort, I asked Jacob, “Is there any way you’d take less for it?”
Sighing, he replied, “If you pay in cash, I can let it go for half that, and I’ll even absorb the tax, so it would be $3,750.”
“Might as well be 37 thousand ,” Freck replied. “The trouble is, now I don’t want anything else.”
As we walked down Avenue A and crossed over Houston to Essex Street, I couldn’t get my mind off that watch. I knew Freck really wanted it, but I just didn’t have that kind of money. I got a decent allowance, but that had to pay for my phone, my clothes and even my lunches at school. I didn’t need to pay for my own broadband at home or even minutes on my phone, ’cause we had an unlimited family plan, but everything else came out of my allowance. I’d planned to buy a new iPhone next fall and that was something I could easily postpone, but I’d certainly hit a growth spurt within the next year or two and there was no way I could put off buying new clothes. But with my bar mitzvah coming up in a year and all the gifts of cash I’d certainly receive, could I maybe ask Dad for a loan? Was it even worth spending that kind of money on a watch for Freck’s birthday and Hanukkah? Thinking of the way he looked at it and held it in his hand, yes, it was worth it… if I could find a way.
It was later that night, while Freck was in the bathroom taking a dump, that a miracle occurred. It began when Asher said, “Freck really seemed to want that watch.”
“I wish I could afford to get it for him,” I responded. “I went to that store because they seemed to carry higher-end Judaica. I knew Freck was interested in exploring his Jewish roots, so I thought maybe something costing around a few hundred dollars would fit the bill. But when he fell in love with that watch, I knew I had to get it for him. If only I could afford it.”
“If the watch were a thousand less,” Seth asked, “if it were $2,750 instead of $3,750, could you afford to get it for him?”
“You think you can get Jacob to lower the price by another thousand dollars?” I responded. “Are you out of your fuckin’ mind? He’s already knocking off half the cost, which has got to be virtually his entire profit margin. And he’s absorbing the tax or maybe not declaring it. How’s he gonna knock off another thousand, when he's probably giving it to us at cost?”
“He wouldn’t be the one knocking off the thousand,” Seth answered. “Asher and I would.”
“Guys, there’s no way I could ask you to spend that much on my boyfriend for his birthday and Hanukkah,” I protested. “No way.”
“Why not, we spent close to that on you,” Asher related.
“No, you didn’t,” I responded. “Maybe half that, and even that’s too much.”
“But if you add up our birthdays and Christmas, how much are you spending on us?” Seth asked. It didn’t take me long to think about it. I hadn’t spent that kind of money on them. Not five hundred dollars on each of them. Again, it was more like half that.
Looking askance at my friends, Seth admitted, “Alright, I know we’re exaggerating a bit, but you guys are our best friends and we won’t always be together. This is Freck’s thirteenth birthday and Ashe and I would like to help you get him that watch.”
“A year ago, we couldn’t have afforded it,” Asher admitted, “but the restaurant’s doing well. Real well. Seth and I both have fully funded our college education. We have enough for the full cost of Ivy League tuition, books, room and board. We can afford this.”
Just then the toilet flushed and so all conversation had to stop, but with Asher and Seth each paying $500 of the cost of the watch, I’d have enough, but barely. I’d still have to postpone replacing my iPhone an extra year, but then most people were waiting three years or even more to replace their phones, so that was an easy choice. And by doing that, I’d have enough.
Before I proceeded any further, I looked up the watch and verified it was everything Jacob said it was. It was clearly one of the best swimming competition watches money could buy. It had an impressive five-year warranty, but only if purchased from an authorized dealer. When I looked up the list of authorized dealers, Jacob’s store was on the list. And when it came to price, I couldn’t find anyone selling it for close to what Jacob was willing to sell it for. Clearly, he wanted Freck to have the watch, even if he didn’t make any money off the sale.
It was two days later, on the Monday of the final week before the winter break, that I found myself between classes. I didn’t have much time, so I quickly ducked into an unused classroom and dialed the number for Jacob’s shop. When he answered, I replied with, “Jacob, this is Kyle from Friday night. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m the little kid with a boyfriend who drooled over a swimmer’s watch.”
With a chuckle, Jacob answered, “It would be pretty hard to forget you, Kyle. Nothing pains me more than a customer who really appreciates the quality and value of one of my best watches but can’t afford it. I’ll do everything possible to help that kind of person out, but I can’t give the watch away for less than my cost. I wish I could.”
“Listen, I don’t have much time, but would you be willing to throw in the cost of engraving the watch?” I asked. “Regardless, when could you have it ready?”
“Are you sure you can afford it, Kyle,” Jacob asked.
“No, I can’t,” I answered, “but with two of our best friends each chipping in five hundred, I can swing it. Barely. I’ll have to make some sacrifices, most notably postponing my next iPhone by a year, but Freck’s worth far more to me. He’s priceless.”
“I’m happy to engrave the back of the watch with whatever you wish to say,” Jacob responded, “but I’ll need all of the money up front in cash before I engrave it. Once it’s engraved, there’ll be no way to return it. What did you have in mind for the engraving?”
“To François on his 13th, with all our love, Kyle with Asher and Seth,” I replied.
“And I’d need to talk to your father” Jacob continued. “Even if you have the money in cash, I need to be sure your father won’t come after me for accepting such a large sum from a minor.”
Sighing, I replied, “I need to talk to him anyway about this, but it won’t be easy. Oh, I’m sure he’ll allow me to get the watch once I explain it to him, but he’s an ophthalmologist and a retina specialist at New York Presbyterian and finding a time to talk to him without Freck around will be hard. But I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure he calls you.”
“By any chance, is your father Jake Goldstein?” Jacob asked. I was shocked! He knew my dad!
“How’d you know?” I asked.
“Your father and I go way back,” Jacob answered. “Your mother wanted to get him something special when he completed his fellowship, but she couldn’t afford a Rolex. She inquired at a number of better-known jewelers around New York, but they all wanted exorbitant amounts for custom work. However, several of them mentioned a Jewish codger in the East Village who did custom work at a reasonable price. I’ve since sold him several watches, as well as a few pieces of Judaica.”
Just then the bell rang and I said, “I’ve gotta go. I’m late for class, I’ll get back to you in a day or two.”
“There’s no need, Kyle,” Jacob replied. “I’ll contact your dad directly. I have his cell number. One of us’ll get back to you when the watch is ready.”
‘If the watch is ready,’ I said to myself as I hung up my phone and ran to class. Fortunately, the teacher was still talking to another student when I snuck inside.
Friday was the last day of school before the winter break, and yet I still hadn’t heard anything from either Jacob or Dad. If I didn’t hear from him by the end of the school day, I was gonna hafta confront him when he got home. However, later that day I finally got a response from Dad. He sent me an email:
I’m sorry it took me so long to respond to Jacob, but there was much to arrange. I had the item engraved, giftwrapped, boxed and delivered by courier to my office, where it will remain under lock and key until Christmas. I hope you don’t mind that Ken and I coopted part of your gift, but the gift will still be from you and your friends and he’ll still have the internship from Ken and me. There’s no way I can let you spend that much on a gift for Freck. There’s no way I can let Jacob take such a loss either.
Jacob and I go way back and I’ve bought several watches from him. The menorah we light every year at Hanukkah is one I bought from his shop before you were even born. The candlestick holders we use every Friday night and the Seder plate we use at Passover every year are also from his shop. Jacob’s a fantastic jeweler and he designs his own watches. If you look closely, you’ll notice his name engraved on the dials of a few of mine. He always gives his loyal customers a substantial discount, but when you consider his overhead, fifty percent amounts to a loss. He really wanted Freck to have that watch. I’ll make up the difference.
So I’ll take Asher and Seth’s thousand, and I’ll take a thousand from your savings, and Ken and I will cover the rest. Other than yourself, Ken and I, no one will know that you and your friends didn’t pay the full cost of the watch. Consider it our gift to both of you.
Damn! At first I was angry that Dad had taken it upon himself to put a limit on how much I could spend on Freck, but then I realized that I’d have probably felt the same way if I were in his shoes. And he was right too – it really was as much a gift to me as it was a gift to Freck, as I really had intended to pay the full cost myself. Thanks to Dad, I’d be able to get my boyfriend a very special gift for his thirteenth birthday and Freck would get to own the watch he loved. Not only that, but Jacob would still be able to pay the rent.
That night was the premier of the new Star Wars movie, and we had tickets! Star Wars wasn’t really my thing, but Freck was a Star Wars fanatic and just watching his enthusiasm made it all worthwhile. We could’ve gone to see it in a number of theaters, but the official New York premier was held at the AMC Lincoln Square, the largest IMAX theater in the city. We met Asher and Seth there, as they’d also purchased tickets for themselves for the premier. Even I had to admit the movie was awesome, and Freck was in absolute heaven, thrilled to see the concluding episode of his favorite sci-fi series of all time, in 3D on the biggest screen in NYC. We even got to keep the limited-edition 3D glasses and a signed movie poster as keepsakes. How cool was that?
Two nights later was the first night of Hanukkah, but I had something else in mind for that Sunday. After a pleasant Sunday brunch at the Riverdale Diner, our Dads took us up up US Highway 9A to the Taconic State Parkway, a multi-lane divided highway that eventually became a scenic, winding road. Freck got more and more curious as we drove further away from the city, particularly when we left the highway behind, and still we drove on, revealing nothing. Finally, we turned off at a place called Hopewell Junction, just past crossing Interstate 84. We drove a bit further until we came to a sign advertising Christmas trees, and we turned in.
“We’re getting a Christmas tree?” Freck asked. “But we’re Jewish.”
I liked that Freck considered himself Jewish, but that wasn’t the point. “I’m sure we won’t be the only Jewish family in Riverdale with a Christmas tree, Babe, although a lot of them will be called Hanukkah bushes. The point is that you were raised Roman Catholic and even though you’re not religious, you shouldn’t have to give up celebrating Christmas, just because we aren’t Christian,” I explained.”
“The way my parents celebrated…” Freck began, “well, it wasn’t very Christian. Then again, Christmas wasn’t even Jesus’ real birthday.”
“And if you think we celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a menorah for eight nights in a row, because a lamp with only a few drops of oil in it miraculously burned for eight days, you’re more gullible than I thought,” I countered. “We celebrate Hanukkah because the Jews finally fought back against their oppressors and actually managed to defeat the Greek Army. That is the real meaning of Hanukkah.”
“I guess you could say that Christmas represents the beginning of Christianity, for better and for worse,” Freck added, “but it also represents the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire and the victory of faith over a world ruled by paganism and fear.”
“Let’s go pick out a tree,” Jake suggested. “If we place it in the foyer, there’s a good twenty feet from floor to ceiling, so an eighteen-foot tree should fit perfectly.” What a terrific idea! The front entrance overlooked a circular, two-story foyer, which led into the great room. A curved stairway led from the entrance down to the great room, and then continued down to the lower level, and then the rec room, where the pool was located. The tree would be perfect in the space, but it would be a huge one and it would take all of us to lower it down into place.
It didn’t take long for us to spot a great tree, but I knew from watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation that what looked small in the lot wouldn’t be so small in the house. Jake’s Subaru Forrester was a good fifteen feet in length, which still left a few feet of tree sticking off the front and back, once it had been cut down and tied to the car. One thing was for sure – what appeared to be a nice, winding, scenic road on the way up became a much scarier route on the way back home.
On the way back, we stopped at the Lowe’s in Yorktown Heights, where we picked up a large tree stand and everything we would need to trim and decorate the tree. When we got home, I discovered that Dad and Ken had already given a lot of thought to how to lower the tree into place… and how to get it back out. I’d figured we’d lower it down through the front door, but that would’ve involved dropping it some twelve feet to the lower level, and getting it back out wouldn’t have been possible. Instead, we wheeled the tree on a set of dollies around back onto the terrace and through the great room. Using rope and a pully attached to the upper stair railing, we were then able to lower the trunk down and into the tree stand. We then used the same pulley on the upper railing to pull the tree the rest of the way to vertical and to secure it in place. To remove the tree, we could simply reverse the process.
Decorating an eighteen-foot tree turned out to be much more of a challenge than we’d expected, as even with a step ladder, the higher branches were out of reach. It took a fair bit of creativity to get the strings of lights and ornaments in place, but when we finally plugged it all in, the effort was worth it. The star on top of the tree was something I’d have never expected. Dad had somehow managed to find online a lighted six-pointed Star of David to top the tree.
When we were all done, Freck said, “You know, all the years of celebrating Christmas in the condo, my parents always paid professionals to decorate the tree. At least it was a real tree and not an artificial one – an artificial tree would have never satisfied my parents in their quest for perfection, but neither would have a tree decorated by their kids, so they paid professionals to do it. This is the first time in my life that I actually got to decorate a Christmas tree and you know what? It looks a thousand times better than any tree my parents ever had.”
By the time we finished decorating the tree, it was well after sunset and the time we were supposed to light the menorah, but better late than never, so we sang the prayers and lit the first candle of Hanukkah. We were all starved but it was way too late to cook anything ourselves, so we ordered a traditional meal of latkes, or potato pancakes, from the Riverside Diner. There’d be plenty of time for Freck to ‘enjoy’ the experience of making them from scratch during the coming week.
I offered to go with Freck to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, but he was thrilled to have the option of not going for a change. We slept in the following morning, then awoke on Christmas Day to what, at least for me, was merely a day off from school. Both dads were already at work, making rounds at New York Presbyterian Hospital. They’d both volunteered to take call on Christmas as they often did. They’d be home by early afternoon, in time for us to celebrate a Jewish Christmas together.
“Hey, there’s nothing under the tree,” Freck exclaimed as he padded downstairs in his usual weekend attire, which although a day early, was his birthday suit. I was similarly attired and Roger, as usual, wore his day-old boxers with a t-shirt.
“We get our Hanukkah gifts on the last night of Hanukkah,” I pointed out, “and you’ll get your gifts tomorrow for your birthday in any case.”
“You don’t even have any stockings hung by the fireplace with care,” Freck complained.
“We don’t have a fireplace,” I pointed out.
“A mere technicality,” Freck countered.
“Are you guys as hungry as I am?” Roger asked.
“You kidding me? I could eat a pig,” Freck answered.
“Not in this house, you won’t,” Roger responded, “but how about making some authentic Hanukkah latkes?”
“Sounds good to me,” I answered.
“Count me in,” Freck chimed in. Little did he know what was involved.
Holding up a bag of each, Roger asked, “Russet, or sweet potato?”
“Sweet potato!” Freck and I answered simultaneously. Sweet potato might not be traditional for latkes, but sweet potato latkes are so good.
Roger handed us the bag of sweet potatoes and Freck and I started scrubbing and peeling the potatoes while Roger used our food processor to slice and dice a medium onion. He then grated the sweet potatoes using the food processor while Freck mixed a couple large eggs with two tablespoons of flour in a large mixing bowl. Roger drained the onions and the potatoes of all excess water, and we then blended them in with the eggs and flour, and then formed them into patties. Finally, Roger fried the latkes in canola oil in a large skillet while I made the coffee.
I put a tub of low-fat sour cream and a jar of organic apple sauce on the table, and we proceeded to eat our creation. Man, were those potato pancakes good! They were a first for Freck, who couldn’t get enough of them. Afterwards, we showered and dressed, not knowing when the dads would be home.
The dads didn’t get home until a little after three o’clock, which left scant time to get downtown, eat at a Chinese restaurant and catch a movie. Frankly, I wasn’t all that interested in seeing another movie, as we’d just seen the Star Wars premier and there was nothing else that I really wanted to see. The bigger issue was that it was usually Mom who made the dinner reservations and, in her absence, Dad forgot about it. There was no way we could get a reservation for Christmas Dinner at the last minute, so that meant trying our luck as a walk-in.
“Could you get us a reservation at the Ragin’ Cajun?” Ken asked.
Shrugging his shoulders, Freck responded, “I’m sure we can. They keep half the tables for walk-ins, so there should be no problem getting a table as friends of the chef.”
“Would you be disappointed if we went there?” Dad asked.
“Of course not,” I replied. “I’m sure Ashe will have a special menu for Christmas, and his food’s always incredible.” Then thinking about it for a second, I asked, “Have you guys ever been there?”
Shaking his head, Dad answered, “We hardly ever get down to Lower Manhattan anymore.”
Then Roger added, “I go to school in Lower Manhattan, yet I’ve never even been there.”
“Then you guys are in for a treat,” I responded as I pulled out my phone and dialed Asher’s cell.
Asher answered on the fourth ring and immediately said, “I know you know I can’t talk now, so I’m guessing you need a reservation?”
“Right on the money,” I replied.
“Just let the maître d’ know you’re there as my guest when you arrive, and you’ll get the next available table,” he responded, and then hung up.
“Looks like we’re all set,” I told everyone, and then we got ready to head downtown. Even with traffic, the FDR Drive took us right there. The one wrinkle was that we didn’t realize that in exiting at Houston and taking the FDR feeder road down to Delancey, we were forced to turn right at Clinton, because of the Williamsburg bridge entering the roadway at that point. That actually turned out to be a blessing, as by turning left on Rivington, we had much better access the Essex Street parking structure, and the Ragin’ Cajun was just on the next block.
The dads were shocked when they saw the line from the restaurant winding its way around the block. “Is it always like this?” Dad asked.
“Pretty much, even on weekdays,” I answered, then added, “there’s a shorter line in the other direction, just for takeout.”
“Damn,” Roger exclaimed. “Why even go to college?”
“For one thing, Asher must be pretty smart to have gotten into Stuyvesant,” Dad answered.
“He is,” I interjected.
“For another,” Dad continued, “tastes change and there’s no guarantee that the restaurant will always be so popular. Look at the Carnegie Deli. Gone after decades in operation. It’s always good to have an education to fall back on when you’re in the restaurant business. Thirdly, Asher won’t always have Seth to handle the business end of things. Seth’ll want his own career and even if Asher hires someone else to manage the business, he’ll never know if he can trust them unless he knows his way around a spreadsheet. And if he ever decides to go onto bigger and better things, a business degree would empower him to make better decisions.”
“He does plan to expand, once he finishes college,” Freck chimed in. “He’d like to open another buffet on Times Square, strictly for the tourist trade, and maybe an upscale Cajun restaurant uptown.”
“He’ll need good managerial skills to keep three restaurants going,” Dad added.
Opening the door, we went up to the maître d’. Asher and our friend Joel were in the kitchen, busily preparing food for the buffet, and Seth was at the register, weighing and checking out the takeout orders. I waved at them and got smiles from all three. The maître d’ seemed to know who we were and was expecting us. “I’ll have a table for you in five or ten minutes… wait, one just opened up. Just give Tim a minute to buss it and set it up for you, and I’ll seat you shortly.”
Ordinarily there’d be a standard and a premium buffet, but not today. For the holiday there was only a premium dinner buffet, priced at thirty dollars for adults and twenty dollars for kids under twelve. Hah! I could eat as much as any adult, but my dinner would be a third less.
Asher was a phenomenal chef and although we’d just had some of his wonderful Cajun turkey at Thanksgiving, I couldn’t get over the spread of incredible Cajun-Asian fusion dishes. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Today’s Cajun turkey was completely different than what he’d served at Thanksgiving in any case, with a crispy crust more typical of Beijing Duck. There were pumpkin dumplings with cranberries, seafood gumbo over Lo mein noodles, spicy shrimp and scallop creole, string beans with pepper and onion stir fry, blackened lobster with Asian vegetables, and so much more. There were even some dessert items, including pumpkin bread pudding and sweet potato tarts. It was a feast!
We were all groaning by the time we finished. When Dad asked for the check, though, our server informed us that our buffet was on the house. However, Dad insisted that we should pay, especially since it was a holiday, but the server was under strict orders not to take any money from us, so Dad gave her a $100 tip. Normally we’d have given her thirty or forth dollars, so that was really generous.
Since we were already right by Essex Crossing, Dad suggested we see a movie after all. There were several possibilities, including the new movie version of the musical, Cats, and a brand new World War I thriller, 1917, but in the end we chose a new release from Amazon called Seberg, which was the true story of an actress in the sixties who was targeted by the FBI for her support of the civil rights movement. Man, I had no idea that kind of stuff went on back then. Damn!
It was late by the time we got home, and tomorrow was a big day for Freck, but I was determined to see that it was a big night for him too. At the recommendation of his therapist, we had separate bedrooms and slept apart most school nights, but this wasn’t a school night!
We undressed and got into bed together, and then snuggled up with each other after I turned out the lights. We were both excited, as I could feel Freck’s member against my thigh as I’m sure he felt mine. Slowly, I brought my hand to his shoulder and gently caressed it before sliding it under his arm, where I knew he loved to be touched. I slid my hand lightly across his chest and circled his nipple as I brought my lips to his and kissed him deeply. As we broke the kiss, Freck moved his mouth under my arm and kissed and licked me there as I slid my hand down his abdomen, paused to finger his belly button, and then slid my hand down further and grabbed him. I loved the feel of the silky-smooth skin overlying his rigidity.
Ever since Freck’s misadventure over the summer in Paris, Freck had learned the pleasures of our most intimate places – something that had always been erotic to me, so I fondled him and then teased him before pushing inside. Freck took a sharp intake of breath in response. Freck then licked his way down my torso before grabbing and taking me into his mouth as I did the same. He teased my most intimate place before he too pushed inward, and we pushed and prodded as we used our mouths and tongues to satisfy each other, bringing each other to a shuddering release. I loved Feck’s taste and regretted that I could not yet give him a taste of me, but that would come in time.
We were temporarily spent, but we were far from done as I extended my tongue and teased him and then pushing inside. He moaned with pleasure as I intensified my pursuit of his enjoyment. At one time Freck would have never taken an interest in this sort of thing, but now he eagerly mimicked my actions. I was more than ready and so I pulled back and unwrapped a condom. I didn’t think we really needed them, as we were totally committed to each other and Freck had tested negative for HIV and STDs, but Dad would get suspicious if the supply of condoms he gave us went unused. Freck was mostly a top and I was very much a bottom, and so I flipped myself back around and lay on my back as Freck did what he does so well. I’m sure Roger must’ve heard our screams as we came, as he was just in the next room, but we didn’t care.
I disposed of the condom, and then whispered, “Happy birthday, my love,” into my baby’s ear, just before we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Freck was already up when I awoke the next morning, but I was pretty sure I knew where to find him. Freck had become an avid swimmer since moving in with us and he liked to start the day in our indoor pool. It was such a luxury to be able to swim in the middle of winter. After dealing with my full bladder, I padded my way downstairs and, sure enough, found my baby swimming laps. I waited until he was swimming away from me, and then dove in and swam under him, reaching up and grabbing just where I knew he would be. That pretty much put an end to his swimming. Quickly, I took him right into my mouth and managed to bring him to climax before I ran out of air. We then cuddled and made out in one of the lounge chairs, until Dad came down and warned us to shower and dress, as the caterers would be there soon. I didn’t realize Dad had hired caterers for Freck’s thirteenth birthday.
At Roger’s suggestion, even though we weren’t all that hungry, we grabbed some breakfast bars, as it could be quite a while before we’d have access to the kitchen once the caterers arrived. Indeed, it was already close to ten o’clock, and Freck’s party was supposed to begin at noon, so there wasn’t much time.
By the time Freck and I got out of the shower, the caterers had arrived and had already taken over the kitchen, so we quickly put on our swimwear. Freck looked so sexy in his Speedo. When we entered the great room, I discovered that the caterers were Japanese! Woah. A sushi chef had already prepared a shitload of sushi and they were setting up a deep fryer for tempura. They were grilling yakitori and mushroom caps as appetizers, as well as frying spring rolls, and they also had teriyaki on the grill. It was gonna be a feast!
At first Freck was speechless, with his mouth hanging open. Finally, he said, “I can’t believe your family is doing this for me,” once he regained his voice.
“Why wouldn’t we,” I responded. “I’ll admit, I’m amazed we hired a sushi chef, but Japanese is your favorite kind of food, and you’re more than worth it. You only become a teenager once, after all.”
“You know, in a way I feel like I’ve always been a teenager,” Freck countered. “I mean, I’ve always been with kids who are older than me. My parents pretty much left me on my own from the time I was a baby and my nanny stopped paying attention to me when the twins were born.”
“How old are the twins now?” I asked.
“They’re nine… ten in July,” he answered. “So I’ve kind of been without any real supervision for the better part of a decade…”
“Since you were three?” I interrupted.
Nodding his head, he responded, “Three-and-a-half. The twins took all my nanny’s time after they were born. Like you, I could already read by then, and was potty-trained and could dress myself. My nanny did all the cooking, such as it was at first, and we had other people to clean up after us and do the laundry. Even then, it didn’t take me long to realize that I preferred a neat room and the only one who could keep it that way was me. I had to grow up fast.”
“But you got into drinking and smoking pot,” I pointed out.
“Which is why I said I was more like a teenager than an adult,” Freck explained. “My parents were too, for that matter. It took moving here to learn what childhood’s really supposed to be like. That’s part of the reason I wanna wait a couple of years to go to MIT. I need to learn to be a child before I can move onto bein’ an adult. I need to close the chapter on Freck before beginning the one on François.”
“That’s pretty intense,” I responded.
“Yeah,” Freck agreed. Then cocking his head to the side, he asked, “Hey, you wanna go swim until the guests arrive?”
Shaking my head, I replied, “There’ll be plenty of time to swim later. I think I’ll just chill out and watch TV. But don’t let me keep you from swimming! Why don’t you go ahead?”
“Oh, Okay,” he replied. “Just come get me when the first guests arrive. If the party’s supposed to start at noon, you know no one’ll show up before 12:30, and things won’t get underway until 1:00.”
“For sure,” I agreed, and then Freck headed down the stairs to the lower level and the pool. Before I even had a chance to grab the remote control, however, I heard him shout, “Oh wow! There are already a lot of presents here!”
Running to the railing overlooking the foyer, I looked down and saw that, indeed, there were a ton of gift-wrapped boxes under the tree. “I think those are all yours, bud,” I called out over the railing. The Hanukkah gift-giving wouldn’t be for another three days yet, on the final night, just after we light eight candles.
“There are gifts from all your relatives,” Freck exclaimed. “Even from people I’ve never met.”
“You probably met them at the wedding,” I responded, “but some of them even I don’t remember,” I added with a laugh.
“I guess I’d better leave these for later,” Freck stated with a sigh.
“If you don’t want someone to throw you in the pool,” I agreed.
“Someone will probably throw me in the pool anyway,” Freck noted and I had to agree.
After Freck disappeared from my sight, I headed back to the great room and plopped myself down on the sofa next to my brother, where Roger was already mindlessly flipping through channels. After watching him fail to land on anything for more than a second or two, I suggested, “Either watch something like CNN, or pull up a short movie or episode of something you actually like on Netflix or Amazon Prime, why don’t you?”
“Because annoying you is so much more fun,” he replied.
“Likewise,” I agreed, and then I attacked him with a vengeance. The tickling soon turned into an all-out wrestling match as we fell off the sofa to the floor and rolled around, taking care not to knock anything over. It didn’t take long for Roger to have me pinned, but even still, he held my shoulders down with his extended arms, failing to let me up.
“You may be two years ahead of me in school, brother, but I’m still nearly five years older,” he exclaimed. “By the way, how long did it take you to shave today? Oh, that’s right. You’re still hairless… everywhere except for your head, where you wear your hair longer than most girls I know.”
That much was true. I hadn’t cut my hair in nearly a year now, and it was already halfway down my back. I liked my hair long and more importantly, Freck absolutely loved it that way. “Like Sampson, my hair makes me strong,” I told my brother. “Let me up now, or you’ll see what I do to you.”
Of course, taunting him only strengthened his resolve to keep me down, but with his hands holding my shoulders down and his body holding my legs down, that left my hands and arms totally free, and so I resumed tickling his arm pits with furor. That was all it took and we soon ended up sitting on the floor, laughing with each other as only brothers can.
“Boy, the food smells amazing,” Dad said as he entered the great room, with Ken close behind him. They were both barefoot and wearing swim trunks, but also polo shirts. I guess that was so they’d appear parental to any parents dropping off their kids. And maybe to the kids too. As far as I knew, no one we invited was a smoker or used drugs, but one doesn’t always know what their friends from school do in private or when they party, so I could understand the need for the appearance of authority.
“I didn’t know you hired a sushi chef,” I exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could hire Japanese caterers at all, but that was naïve of me. I love sushi. I love anything Japanese, except maybe the Americanized stuff like Benihana.”
“The sushi chef was part of a package deal,” Dad explained, “and the caterers are actually Korean.”
“Korean!” I responded in surprise.
“A lot of Japanese restaurants are owned by Koreans, and a lot of trained sushi chefs are Korean… even the ones working in some of the Japanese-owned restaurants,” Dad went on to explain. “Of course, the Japanese-owned restaurants claim they’re more authentic and generally charge more, but the Koreans, by increasing the supply to meet the demand, have reduced the prices the market will bear. The fact is that during World War II, Japan invaded the Korean peninsula and they trained Korean chefs to prepare food for them. Thus the Japanese trained a generation of Koreans to prepare Japanese food identical to that served in Japan, and now there are Koreans training other Koreans, serving a growing demand all over the world.”
“That’s really cool,” I replied, “at least until the fish run out.”
“That’s a bit pessimistic, don’t you think?” Ken asked.
“Not really,” I replied. “Yesterday’s worst-case scenario is today’s best-case scenario. Scientists have consistently underestimated the speed of climate change. We’re already in the midst of global ecosystem collapse.”
“It’s a shame… they were talking about the greenhouse effect back when I was your age, Kyle,” Dad added.
“Actually, they taught about it in school when your parents were my age,” I responded. “We’ve known about it all this time yet done nothing. We’ve destroyed the Amazon rainforest… the most important carbon sink on the planet. We’ve only accelerated the pace of deforestation as we over-fish, over-graze and over-plant. The pace of species extension is quickening and we’re losing the very buffering systems that have absorbed atmospheric carbon throughout our planet’s history. Not only are we releasing vast stores of fossilized hydrocarbons into the air, but as the tundra thaws, we’re releasing vast amounts of methane. People don’t realize that the ice caps that are melting are themselves an important buffer that regulates temperature. Once the ice is gone, the only remaining buffer will be the boiling point of water. How will life survive when the oceans start to boil?”
“You’re assuming a runaway greenhouse effect,” Freck said as he padded his way up the stairs, his hair still wet from swimming. “We’re a long way from becoming another Venus, mind you. Not that it couldn’t happen,” Freck continued, “and James Hansen would back you up on that, but the earth doesn’t receive nearly as much sunlight, nor does it have an atmosphere that’s entirely carbon dioxide. Yes, the sun’s output will eventually increase enough to boil the oceans, but not for another billion years or so.”
“Well, there’s one way to find out,” I replied. “All we have to do is keep burning fossil fuels and destroying earth’s ecosystem, and we’ll get our answer.”
“The good news, if it can be called that, is that China stands to lose the most from climate change,” Freck countered. “They have a lot of issues with corruption, but when they flood the market with cheap solar panels and wind turbines, not even the protectionist policies of the U.S. will be able to stop the adoption of renewable energy. The biggest problem is that carbon neutrality won’t come nearly fast enough to mitigate against sea level rise, starvation and mass migration. And that’s where I’ll come in, building new cities to absorb the migrants, and vast high-rise urban farms to feed them.”
“And who’s gonna pay for all that?” I asked.
Shrugging his shoulders, Freck answered, “It could just as easily be us as them who are the migrants. It’s cheaper to house and feed climate refugees than to go to war with them, particularly when there are more of them than us.”
Ken chimed in. “Let’s hope we all come to our senses before things get that much worse.”
“Amen to that,” Dad agreed.
“Man, the smell of all that food’s makin’ me starved,” Freck announced, as if we didn’t already know that. Being the most brazen among us, I stepped up to the kitchen island, where a batch of spring rolls was cooling, and grabbed one, popping it into my mouth. I’d figured it would be hot, but not quite so hot. With nothing cold to drink within my reach, I put my hand in front of my mouth and blew repeatedly on the morsel in my mouth until it was cool enough to bite into. Finally, I could tell that it was stuffed with shrimp, and it was delicious.
Being far more sensible, Freck stepped up to a plate of fresh chicken yakitori and grabbed a stick, blowing on it and then sliding it into his mouth, biting down and pulling back. The smile on his face as he chewed showed how much he was enjoying it. Roger grabbed a stuffed mushroom cap and popped it into his mouth, obviously enjoying it as well.
“Boys, you can each have one more appetizer before the guests arrive,” Dad admonished us. This time I grabbed a mushroom cap, Roger ate a stick of beef yakitori and Freck, the devil, took a shrimp spring roll, dipped it into spicy mustard and popped it in his mouth. Perhaps it had already cooled down since my misadventure, as he had no trouble at all.
It was just as I attempted to take another appetizer without being noticed, the doorbell rang. Of course, it rang just as I was trying to get away with sneaking a third appetizer, and so I was caught with chicken yakitori in my mouth.
“What the fuck is someone doing, arriving early,” Freck asked. Actually, it was ten of twelve, which could only mean one thing, and so Freck and I rushed upstairs, just as Dad was opening the door. Sure enough, it was Asher and Seth on the other side. Only our very best friends would be brazen enough to come early.
“You’re early,” I said as they waltzed in.
“No, we’re not,” Asher countered. “It’s rude to be late and given the vagaries of public transportation, you should have expected us any time after 11:30. Everyone else is just late.”
“You just wanted to get here before the best of the food was gone,” Freck countered.
“Damn right, we did,” Seth replied.
“Same place for changing?” Asher asked.
Nodding my head, I replied, “Freck’s and Roger’s rooms for boys, mine and the guest room for girls.”
“Swimsuits optional?” Seth asked with a teasing voice as he unzipped his coat to reveal he was already bare-chested.
“You know better,” I answered. “For one thing, Jessie may have the same equipment, but she’s trans and would be offended to be treated like a boy. Secondly, Freck invited quite a few girls who are friends from school. Thirdly, the caterers aren’t all men and for all we know, some of the men might like boys too. And finally, we don’t need any rumors getting started about an orgy or anything.”
“We aren’t having an orgy?” Asher asked. “What kind of party is this, anyway.” He was having trouble saying it with a straight face however, and then he lost it entirely as he broke out in his trademark Tiger Woods smile.
“Come on in guys,” Freck admonished our guests. “There’s a ton of food and we’re all starving. You’re our best excuse to start eating.”
“In that case, we’ll be right back,” Seth replied as he grabbed his boyfriend’s hand and pulled him in the direction of Freck’s bedroom, which was on the opposite side of the vestibule from mine.
“Oh, you can leave your presents under the tree, on the lower level,” I added.
Stopping dead in their tracks, Asher asked, “You guys have a Christmas tree? But you’re Jewish!”
“Freck was raised Catholic,” I explained, “and even though he’s making the effort to learn about Judaism, we didn’t want to see him lose sight of his roots.”
It seemed we’d just gotten down the stairs when the doorbell rang again. This time it was the Staten Island crowd, which included, Clarke and his boyfriend, Carl, Clarke’s sisters, Connie, Jasmine and Ellen, and his brother Joseph, who drove them to the party. No sooner did we direct them to the bedrooms to change and tell them where to leave their presents, than Joel and Clark arrived. After that, a steady stream of guests started to arrive.
It was quite a while before we were able to get back downstairs, by which time the great room was filled with boisterous teens who were chowing down on sushi and on all kinds of appetizers and Japanese food. Everyone was dressed in swimsuits and there was an indoor pool just waiting for them, but for teens, food is always the first priority. For pre-teens too.
I was starved, so I grabbed a plate and filled it with as large an assortment of sushi as I could carry. I loaded my plate with wasabi and ginger and soy sauce, grabbed a pair of chopsticks and looked for a place where I could sit down. Seeing Freck’s twin sisters sitting off by themselves, I decided to try to get to know them, as I’d barely met them, let alone talked to them before. “May I sit here?” I asked as I approached a corner of the room, where they were sitting on the floor.
“Oh, hi Kyle,” one of the girls said as I sat down, cross-legged across from them.
“I still can’t tell which of you is which,” I noted, not that I even knew their names to begin with. I remembered that their nanny, Freck’s nanny before he’d moved in with us, was René, but she was elsewhere at the moment.
“I’m Lisa,” said the one on my left, “and the dumb one sitting next to me is Debbie.”
“Dumb my ass,” said Debbie, “I’m at the same grade level as you.”
“You’re in, what, the fourth grade?” I asked.
“Sixth grade,” Debbie answered smugly.
“Sixth grade? You girls are in middle school?”
“We would be if we were in the public schools,” Lisa answered, “but we’re in a private Montessori school, which is why it was so easy to work our way up two grade levels.”
“The plan is to finish the eighth grade by the end of next year,” Debbie went on. “We’ll take the New York specialty high school exam next fall and, with any luck, get into Stuyvesant the following year.”
“Shit, that means you’ll be freshmen when you’re ten, just like Freck was,” I related. “Genius must run in the family.”
“Don’t tell your boyfriend,” Lisa continued, “but Freck’s our role model…”
“Academically,” Debbie interrupted. “We know better than to get into alcohol or drug use. I think maybe having each other keeps us grounded. And of course we’re not gay. We like boys.”
“As does Freck,” Lisa said, and then she stuck out her tongue at her sister. Then turning back to me, she said, “You sure seem to like sushi.”
“It’s one of my favorite foods,” I related “Freck’s too, but you probably already knew that. Have you tried the sushi? It’s really good.” Both girls had plates filled with teriyaki and tempura, but I thought that perhaps they’d eaten some sushi earlier.
Scrunching up her face, Debbie, answered, “We hate sushi. We love fish, but only if it’s cooked and not from a can. I’m not a fan of shellfish either, but Lisa likes shrimp and she made me try the shrimp tempura, and it’s growing on me. I even like the asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower tempura, and I never used to like those vegetables at all.”
“Your tastes are growing up,” I replied. “I used to hate asparagus, but now it’s my favorite vegetable.” Then picking up a piece of California roll and reaching toward her, I suggested, “Here, try this.”
Taking it from me, popping it in her mouth, chewing it and swallowing it, Debbie exclaimed, “Hey, this is really good! What is it?”
“It’s a California roll, and it’s made with cucumber, avocado and cooked crab,” I answered. Then holding up another piece, I asked Lisa, “Would your like to try it?”
Taking it from me, she ate it and responded, “Yeah, this is really good.”
“Are you ready to try something more daring?” I asked as I held out a piece of tuna roll.
“That’s really, really red,” Lisa noted. “It looks raw.”
“It’s yellow fin, and it’s delicious,” I responded.
They both scrunched up their noses and Debbie said, “Sorry, Kyle. I know it’s not normal for New Yorkers not to like lox, but we hate it. We just don’t like raw fish. We’ll stick with the cooked food.”
“How long did it take you to grow your hair like that?” Lisa asked. Both of the girls were freckled red heads, like Freck, and they wore their hair teased, but fairly short-cropped.
“I’ve always kept it on the long side,” I responded, “but it was just above my collar when I started growing it this time last year. So it took me a year to grow it this long.”
“It’s such a rich brown,” Lisa continued. “You ever think of getting highlights and maybe braiding it?”
“Man, that would be a lot of work,” I responded, “and Freck likes running his hands through my hair. I don’t know how your brother would take it.”
“Would take what?” Freck asked as he snuck up behind me. “Hey Lisa, Debbie,” he added, nodding at the correct twin with each name.
“How’d you do that,” I asked as I stood up to greet my boyfriend.
“Tell them apart?” Freck asked and I nodded. “I could always tell, as long as I can remember, but I have no idea how I do it. It’s like the way I pick up languages. I’m not even aware of doing it… I just know which twin is which. I can even do it in the dark, so it probably has something to do with how they sound to me. Maybe they breathe differently. I don’t know.”
“That’s amazing,” I responded, “and we were wondering how I’d look in braids, and if you’d like it.”
Shaking his head, Freck responded, “No way. I like your hair, just the way it is now. I like long hair. Long hair’s sexy, but not in braids.”
“How long should I grow it?” I asked.
“Down to your ass at least,” Freck answered. “Maybe your knees. Grow it as long as you can without tripping on it.
“You know I’ll have to cut it eventually,” I replied. “No one’s gonna take Kyle Allen Goldstein, Ph.D., seriously if he has hair as long as Rapunzel’s, right?”
“They will if you save the planet, Ky,” Freck answered. “Besides which, I’m more important to you than everyone else, so if I tell you I don’t want you to cut your hair, then you should let it grow as long as you can.”
“Of course you’re more important,” I agreed, “but sometimes we can’t escape society’s expectations.”
Sighing, Freck added, “Sad, but true.”
“And why didn’t you tell me your sisters are in the sixth grade?” I asked.
“’Cause the last thing I knew, they were in the fifth grade,” Freck replied. “If anything, they’re smarter than I am, so I expect they’ll be in college at the same time we are.”
“Pretty cool,” I agreed.
“Well, as the birthday boy, I need to mingle,” Freck announced, “and I need to get some of that wonderful food before it’s all gone. That sushi looks fantastic.”
“It is,” I responded as I looked down at my nearly empty plate. “Looks like it’s time for me to get some more food too.”
We both headed back to the kitchen island, where all the food was set out, and I grabbed an assortment of the tempura and some of the teriyaki as Freck grabbed a full plate of the sushi. I’d probably have some more sushi myself, after I’d sampled a little of everything else. On the other hand, I knew Dad had gotten a couple of cheesecakes from Junior’s for Freck’s birthday and had them decorated. One was Freck’s favorite – cheese carrot cake, and the other was strawberry cheesecake for those who didn’t like carrot cake. Any depraved soul who didn’t like Junior’s cheesecake was outta luck.
Freck went off to mingle with the guests and so I went in search of someone else to talk to while I ate. There was some opera playing in the background – I think maybe it was Carmen, Freck’s favorite. I headed downstairs, to the rec room, which was the level with the pool.
Our house was unusual because it was built into a hillside as a front-to-back split level. It was actually one of the smaller ones on our street and a lot of people were buying up the older houses like ours, just to tear them down and build brand-new McMansions. As far as we were concerned, ours was perfect the way it was. Built in the early sixties, it originally had four bedrooms at street level, with a den, the laundry and a utility room below. In back, there was an enclosed kitchen, a formal dining room and a living room. A large unfinished basement led to a large, sloping back yard that was too steeply sloped to play in.
At some point, someone put in a concrete patio and in-ground pool, finishing off the basement at the same time to turn it into a family room. The previous owners that sold us the house did a fantastic job of modernizing it, adding the terrace, enclosing the pool, combining the dining room and living room to create a single great room with a vaulted ceiling, enlarging and opening up the kitchen, and building a new master bedroom suite where the den had been.
The entry was on the top level, which included two bedrooms and a bathroom on each side of the entryway. A curved stairway led down to the great room, which had a high, vaulted ceiling and extensive windows that led out to a terrace. A large, open kitchen took up one end of the great room and was separated from it by a large island. A two-car garage led directly into the kitchen. The stairs continued down to the lower level, with the master bedroom suite on one side and the laundry room, utility room and workshop on the other. The curved stairway continued down to the rec room, with a pool table, a ping-pong table and a couple of sitting areas. In addition, there was a wet bar, a home office and a couple of full bathrooms with showers. A wall of glass doors led to the pool room, which was under the terrace.
The base of the Christmas tree was on the lower level, with the tree rising up into the two-story foyer. There were a ton of presents under the tree for Freck’s birthday. I couldn’t wait for him to open mine. No one was in the pool just yet as most everyone was eating, but Clarke, Carl and Jessie were engaged in a game of pool, so I stopped to watch them as I ate my food. Carl was clearly the best player of the three of them, but the other two held their own fairly well. I watched them play a couple of full games before I went back upstairs to grab another plate of food, but ended up deciding I’d already had enough.
People were starting to gravitate to the pool and so, after allowing some time for my food to digest, I headed there myself. The dads set up a net and we got involved in a game of aquatic volleyball. It was a blast!
Before I knew it, it was time for birthday cake. Dad brought out the carrot cheesecake, with thirteen lit candles, as we all sang Happy Birthday. Freck blew out all the candles as everyone clapped. The cake was decorated with what appeared to be the New York skyline, undoubtedly a reference to Freck’s chosen profession as an architect. Above the skyline it said ‘Happy 13’, and below in large letters, it simply said ‘FRECK’. The other cake, which was topped with a strawberry glaze, was decorated with white icing in the form of a Hanukkah menorah. Below the menorah were the words, ‘Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas’, and the requisite number of candles were inserted into the cake at the appropriate positions of the menorah. We lit the candles as we sang the prayers, and then we promptly blew them out so we could eat the cake. I had a slice of the strawberry cheesecake and it was wonderful.
Finally, it was time to open the presents and so we all gathered around the Christmas tree while the dads took turns handing giftwrapped boxes, bags and assorted misshapen objects to the birthday boy. Most of the gifts were simple things like iTunes gift cards, but there were also some classic sci-fi books in hard cover, which Freck loved, and even some DVD Audio discs of newly restored operas, originally recorded in the forties and fifties, that could be ripped and played in high-def on our music players. Freck was thrilled with them. There were 4K-HDR steel book Blu-rays of Battlestar Galactica, all of the Star Trek series and even the older, classic stuff, like the Twilight Zone, which were really cool. I couldn’t wait to watch them all with my baby. Sure, we could have streamed them, but the Blu-rays looked better on our 4K OLED screen, and they came with special features not available on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Most of the stuff the relatives sent consisted of clothes, and those were a mixed bag, pun intended. Some of the items were a bit large on Freck, but he’d probably grow into them. Freck’s own parents gave him an Armani suit, which was a nice touch, since his only suit was definitely too small on him now. My great grand uncle, who’d been rather cool to us at Dad’s wedding last June, sent Freck a really nice leather jacket that would’ve cost over a grand if bought in New York. I guess he was trying to make amends. My great grandfather sent an alligator belt with a silver buckle with ivory inlays that were almost certainly illegal. We suspected the alligator skin was from an endangered species in the Amazon as well. Undoubtedly, he thought Freck would appreciate a gift that was very hard to come by outside of Brazil, not realizing he was a staunch environmentalist. It would be a challenge to come up with a polite way of thanking him for such a thoughtless gift.
Finally, we were down to the last item, which consisted of cubic box, perhaps four inches on each side, and wrapped in an elegant gold leaf wrapping paper with a subtle embossed hexagonal design. On closer inspection, the hexagons formed an endless pattern of six-pointed stars. The attached card, which I’d bought at the Papyrus store in 4 World Trade Center, was considerably larger than the giftbox. The card, which was itself a work of art, was the perfect expression of my love for Freck. It better have been, ’cause it cost more than ten dollars.
Freck read the card and then kissed me on the lips. He carefully peeled away the wrapping paper, taking care not to tear it. I expect that he thought it was far too elegant to be simply torn off. I would’ve done the same. Slowly, an elegant box came into view and Freck’s hands began to shake as he realized what it was. Slowly, he opened the box to reveal the watch he’d admired so recently. He almost didn’t believe what he was seeing, but then he looked right at me and said, “There’s no way I can accept this, Kyle. It’s too much.”
“It’s inscribed,” I replied, “so it can’t be returned. And take a look at the inscription. It’s not just from me.”
Removing the watch from the box, Freck flipped it over and read the inscription, and then said, “Asher, Seth, I really appreciate the thought, but this is too much.” Then looking back at me, he added, “I could’ve bought this watch myself, but I didn’t because it’s more than I wanted to spend on a watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love the watch. I’ve never seen a watch like this and unlike a Rolex, which is all about showing off, this watch is actually worth the price. It’s a marvel of technology, but the price is more than I’m willing to spend.”
“But isn’t that what giving gifts is all about?” I asked. “Isn’t it about giving someone you love something you know they want, but that they’d never spend the money on themselves? A gift should be something special… an extravagance.”
“Gees, you make me feel like a jerk now,” Freck responded. “For your birthday, what did I get you? I got you tickets to the premier of the new Star Wars movie, a limited-edition keepsake and the new Blu-ray steel book Star Wars collection… things that I’d have liked to have for myself. I could’ve spent a lot more but I didn’t want you to feel pressured into spending a lot of money on me, and look what you got me?”
“But this is a special birthday,” I pointed out. “It’s not everyday you become a teenager.”
“Every birthday with you is a special birthday, Kyle,” he replied. “You spent way too much.”
Seeing the way he was brooding, I thought perhaps he should know that I had more than just Asher’s and Seth’s help, and so I asked, “Would it help to know that I had some additional help in buying the watch? Dad didn’t think I should spend that much either, but when I explained how much you wanted it, he offered to pitch in so you could have it. I’d fully intended to buy it myself, and with Asher and Seth’s help, I could have done it if I deferred getting my next iPhone by a year, but Dad wouldn’t let me. He and Ken pitched in the difference and I only let them because they’re the reason I couldn’t do it on my own. As Dad put it, it was a gift from them for both of us, ’cause it let me buy you the watch I wanted to give you, and it let you receive the watch you wanted more than any other gift.”
“Why don’t you put it on, son,” Ken suggested, and Freck opened the clasp and put the watch on his left wrist. It fit him perfectly and really looked great on him.
“Every year, my parents got me something to better show off their trophy kid. The Armani suit’s a perfect example. Much as I needed a new suit, spending a few thousand dollars on something I’ll outgrow in less than a year is more about them than about me. This is the first time that anyone’s spent this kind of money on me, for me. It’s the first time anyone’s gotten me something I really wanted.” Freck related as a few tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Zei Gezunt. Wear it in health, Freck,” Dad responded.
Before we even turned around, we were singing Auld Langsyne, and then it was back to school. Other than in the shower or during swim meets, Freck always wore his watch. As he said, it wasn’t just about wearing an exceptional timepiece. It was a constant reminder of the love it represented. There would be other gifts and other milestones ahead, but we would always remember this thirteenth birthday as the time Freck truly became part of our family.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay preteen and teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.