The Price of Friendship

Chapter 14

“Is it still okay for me to come around tonight?” Drew asked as we headed to the car park to wait for Mum to pick us up.

“Yeah, sure. Mum and Dad only banned you from the house for the two days. I think it would’ve been longer if I hadn’t explained about James coming around tonight.” As I saw it, the extra punishment for surfing porn sites was just a token, with the implied threat that if I did it again I could expect worse. Since they were the two days that Drew had his after-school job at the supermarket, the impact was minor. Even so, I did find myself missing his company.

“I’m still not happy about that, but I know you want to be friends with him. Just don’t expect me to be civil.” Drew scowled for a moment and then gave me a wry grin. “I suppose I should be on my best behaviour, though, or I might get banned from your place again.”

“Don’t worry about it. Mum and Dad have both said they think you’re great.”

Drew gave me a knowing look. “How many caveats did your mum put on that statement?”

I pulled a face. “None verbal, but yeah, she’s still got reservations.”

“That reminds me. My mum is going to invite your mum out next Tuesday night. Your dad will be invited, too, but she thought it would be more important that your mum went.”

“Why? And where?”

“There’s a PFLAG meeting in Toorak. Mum thinks it may help your mum accept things.”

“PFLAG? What’s that?” Drew seemed to think it was important, but I had no idea what he was talking about.

He gave me a strange look. “PFLAG. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. You’ve never heard of it?”

“Nope. What do they do?”

“It’s mainly parents who have gay kids, though there are some others as well. They do a lot of good, especially helping parents accept that there’s nothing wrong with their child being gay. Mum and Dad went a few times early on, but they haven’t been for quite a while. Mum seems to think it’ll help if your mum sees she’s not the only one.” He paused and then smiled. “I don’t think there are any groups in Victoria outside of Melbourne, so that’s probably why you haven’t heard of them.”

“Sounds good!” I wondered, sarcastically, if the group had any experience with parents of kids who were pretending to be gay, but then told myself off. Mum was coping, but if PFLAG could help her deal with things better, I was in favour.

“And if your Dad goes, you can show me those web sites that got you in trouble.” Drew winked.

“No way! I promised him I wouldn’t, and I’m not breaking that promise.”

“You don’t have to look at them. I’ll look, and I’ll tell you what I see. Then, when we’re both hot and bothered, we can turn the computer off and do other things.” Drew gave me one of his innocent smiles. He wasn’t fooling anyone.

“Do you want to be banned from my house for a month?”

Drew looked uneasy. “They wouldn’t do that, would they? Anyway, how would they know what we looked at while they weren’t in the house?”

“I’m not willing to risk it. Are you?”

He sighed. “No, not really.” He grinned. “We can just act it out! Leave the computer off and you can show me what you saw.”

“Drew, will you be serious for a second? You know I’m not ready.”

Some of my frustration with him must have showed, because he quickly backpedaled. “I know, Rick, and I’m only teasing. No, that’s not quite right. I’d love to have sex with you, but it’s not my top priority. Being with you and making you happy are my top priorities. Of course, if it takes sex to make you happy, I think I can oblige…” He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

I couldn’t stay angry. I laughed. “I know you think of other things, but I’m convinced you think of sex at least half the time.”

“Three quarters,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. He glanced around and then pulled me into an embrace. After giving me a long kiss, he added, “But that’s only since I met you. It’s not my fault — you do things to me that I can’t control!”

I didn’t say anything, but I suspected Drew could feel the tension in my body, because he gave me a reassuring squeeze. It was an open secret throughout the school that Drew and I were a couple. I’d had enough people make comments, almost all positive, over the previous two days that I knew there was no point doing anything about it. Drew had taken the news as permission to engage in more public displays of affection, such as the kiss he had just taken, though he was thoughtful enough to check to see who could observe, first.

I forced myself to rest my head on Drew’s shoulder, and then found myself enjoying the feeling of being held. That confused me. After looking at gay porn I was convinced I wasn’t gay, but I liked being held by another guy. I didn’t understand why. My best guess was that, after two years of being starved of emotional contact with others of my own age, I was happy to take what I could get, but I felt that that answer was too simplistic. Rather than think about it, I just let myself relax into a safe, content state.

“Damn! Why couldn’t she be late? I was enjoying this,” Drew muttered.

I looked up to see my mum’s car entering the car park. I didn’t jump away — that would have been a recipe for falling off my crutches — but I quickly let go of Drew. He let go, though not as fast. He caught my eye. “There’s no need to jump, Rick. We weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said gently.

“I know, but…” I couldn’t work out how to complete that sentence.

Drew smiled, lifted a hand to his mouth, kissed his fingers, and then touched them to my mouth. “It’s okay. I know it’s all new to you, and I’m guilty of pushing you along, but I told you that making you happy is my top priority. You can’t be happy if you’re feeling guilty about doing something that most of the kids in school have done — holding and kissing someone they care for. Tell me if I push too hard, but I’m not going to stop showing how much I love you.”

I wished he wouldn’t use the L word, but I knew I couldn’t stop him. While I could end the charade quickly and easily if I was willing to hurt him, the way he cared so much about me made that impossible. I also couldn’t say that I wasn’t getting anything out of the relationship. It was just that what I got out of it was different to what he got.

While we were in the car, Drew asked my mum if his mum had called about PFLAG.

“She spoke to me this morning about it.” Mum glanced in the rearview mirror at me before returning her attention to the road. “It sounds interesting.”

“I think it’ll be great. Mum and Dad both went after I came out and they said it made a big difference.” Drew showed a lot of enthusiasm, but I had a strong suspicion that he was trying to make sure I would be home alone the following Tuesday night.

“Your mum said the same thing. It’s a pity Ian won’t be able to make it. I spoke to him about it earlier, but he’s got meetings that won’t finish until six that night, so Rachel and I will be going by ourselves.”

I had gotten to know Drew well enough to see the mental ‘damn’ that flashed across his mind. I couldn’t stop myself from chuckling softly. He threw me a dirty look, and then grinned. “Maybe he can go next month.”

“We’ll see,” was Mum’s noncommittal response. She looked at me again in the mirror.

I didn’t know what to think. I was putting her through a level of misery in order to avoid doing the same to Drew. I bowed my head and spent the rest of the trip home in silence. I heard Drew ask me a question, but I just shook my head without looking up. I hated what I was doing, but anything I did hurt someone. The best approach seemed to be to continue the way I had been going. Why can’t life be simple?

When the car stopped, I looked up to see two concerned faces. “What?” I snapped, instantly regretting taking out my frustration on Drew and Mum. “I’m sorry,” I said in a milder tone, “I…” I shook my head. I didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling.

“Would you like me to ring James and ask him not to come tonight?” Drew asked. He sounded worried, which made me even more angry with myself. No matter what I did, I couldn’t do things right.

“No, I’ll be fine.” I forced myself to smile. “Aren’t you trying to arrange James as a blind date for someone?”

Drew grinned. “I haven’t forgotten.” His expression became more serious. “But if you’re not okay, we can put that off.”

“I said, I’m fine.” I glanced at Mum. “I’m fine, okay?”

“Okay, dear, if you say so.” Mum got out of the car and headed towards the house. She glanced back once before she reached the front door, but then left Drew and me alone.

Drew seemed uncertain, but he didn’t say anything as he collected my crutches and both of our bags and then waited for me to clamber out of the car. Without a word spoken, he walked with me into the house and on to my room.

I dropped onto my bed. “Drew…” I stopped because I didn’t know what to say next.

Surprisingly, he didn’t say anything. He just waited and stared at me sympathetically, and that gave me time to think.

“Drew, you know I care for you. It’s just that Mum’s hurting because of that, and that’s hurting me. Pushing you away would hurt you…” I caught his shocked look, “… but keeping you close hurts Mum. Sometimes I don’t know what to do.”

Drew smiled, sat down next to me, and put an arm around my shoulders. He pulled gently until I was leaning against him. “Hey, I understand, but you have to recognise what’s in your control and what’s not. Your mum is going through a tough time, though I think she’s doing great, but she has to learn to accept the truth. You can’t take that away from her unless you suddenly come out and tell her that you’re not really gay!” he said, and then laughed.

I stiffened, because, by his logic, I should be telling him the truth so he could learn to accept it. I just didn’t want to do that. I was too much of a coward.

Drew slipped off the bed and squatted in front of me. “It’s going to be all right, Rick. Trust me. Your parents are great people and they love you. Nothing else matters. I had some rocky times with my parents, but I’ve never once thought they didn’t love me. You’re one hundred percent better than me — there’s no way your parents won’t be there for you when you need them. Don’t stress about what’s happening now. Just believe in the future and have faith.”

He moved up and used his body to push me gently back onto the bed. He then proceeded to kiss me, long and slow.

He needed a shave, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.

* * *

James glanced around as he came through the front door. “You’ve got a nice place, Rick.”

“Thanks, but it’s not that much. With all our moves, we don’t have lots of stuff.”

James grinned at me. “Sparse is good. The place is clean and well lit. What more do you really want? Too much clutter isn’t always a good thing.”

“You mean, like my room?” Drew asked in a flat tone.

James’s grin slipped as he gazed past me to where Drew was waiting. “G’day, Drew.”

“James.” Drew’s crossed arms and frosty attitude made his feelings clear.

“Your room is fine. It has a lived-in feeling — it’s not sterile like some places,” James said.

Drew’s expression softened slightly. “Things haven’t changed at your place, then.”

James shook his head. “Mum’s still on the never-ending war against dust and dirt.”

There was still a lot of tension between the two, so I cleared my throat. “How about we go into the living room. James, would you like something to drink? Orange juice for you, Drew?”

“I’ll have OJ, too, if that’s all right,” James said.

“Fruit juice is okay, now? I thought if it didn’t give you a sugar or caffeine rush, it wasn’t worth drinking.” Drew sneered.

“Drew, will you get the drinks for me?” I asked, hoping to prevent an all-in brawl in the hallway. Mum wasn’t home because we had run out of something she wanted for dinner, and I was sure she wouldn’t appreciate coming back to a war zone. “I’ll have orange juice, too, please.” I caught and held his eye to reinforce the message that I wanted him to calm down.

Drew scowled for a moment, and then an evil grin appeared on his face. “Three OJs, coming up!”

James sighed as soon as Drew was out of sight. He glanced at me. “Did Drew ever tell you what he did to one of Phil’s beers last year?”

My mouth dropped open. “He wouldn’t!”

James chuckled, though he didn’t sound cheerful. “Obviously, he did. Oh, well. It’s not like it’s something I haven’t tasted before.” He did a double take. “I’m sorry, Rick. That was tactless. Drew and I are through and you’re his boyfriend now.”

I waved him towards the living room. “Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable? Then we’ll see what Drew’s done.”

When we were settled, James in a chair and me on the couch, he smiled at me. “I really appreciate you inviting me around. I can’t help wondering why, though, because all of Drew’s friends think I’m the scum of the earth.”

“There’s a reason for that,” Drew said, as he entered the room carrying three full glasses. “It’s because you are.”

“Drew…” I narrowed at my eyes at him.

Drew sighed, smiled at me, and then turned to James. “Rick is just an all round nice guy. He hasn’t gotten to know what a complete and utter bastard you are, so he wants to give you a chance. If you blow it, then Brandon, Peter and I will fight over who gets to tear you apart.” He put one glass on the side table next to James. “Here’s your juice.” He handed me a glass and then sat down next me.

James lifted his drink. “Cheers.”

“Wait!” I wasn’t sure that Drew had done something, but I didn’t want to take the chance. “James, that glass looks like it has a chip in it. Why don’t you take mine, and I’ll have that one.”

James frowned at the glass and then flicked a glance at Drew. “I don’t mind.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that glass,” Drew said, a little too defensively for my peace of mind. “Drink up, James.”

“Drew, did you spit in that glass?” I asked, deciding to get the issue out in the open.

He had the cheek to look offended. “Absolutely not! Drink up, James.”

“James, give me that glass. You can have mine.” I smiled at Drew, hoping to relieve some of the tension. “If I faint, Drew can give me mouth-to-mouth.”

Drew scowled as James slowly rose to swap drinks with me. “Okay, you win, Rick. Don’t drink that, not unless you like Tabasco sauce.”

James laughed. “How much did you put in?” He sniffed the drink and then took a sip. The shudder that went through his body told me it wasn’t a drop or two.

Drew shrugged. “I stopped when it started to change the colour of the juice. I would have used more if I thought I’d’ve gotten away with it.”

“James, take my drink and Drew can get me another one,” I said.

“No, it’s okay. Drew made this one for me, so I’ll keep it.” James returned to his seat and took another sip. “But I think it’s going to be an acquired taste.”

“You don’t have to–”

James shook his head. “Rick, you don’t really understand what I did to Drew. This is pretty mild compared to what he probably wished he could get away with.”

“I don’t think you have any idea what you did to me, either,” Drew said, almost spitting the words out.

James stared at the floor. “I know, Drew. Maybe not all the fine detail, but I know what I did.” He looked up. “I can’t take it back, no matter how much I wish I could, so I’ve just got to accept that I threw away someone and something that was very important to me.”

“Do you think it’s that easy? Do you think you can just–” Drew stopped when I put a hand on his arm.

“Drew, let it go. It’s over. James isn’t your boyfriend anymore, and he knows it. Anyway, weren’t you going to ask for a favour? Attacking him isn’t going to get him to agree.”

James looked surprised. “A favour?”

Drew crossed his arms and glared at him. “I’m not sure if it’s a good idea anymore.”

“Drew, it’s been over twelve months. James told me that he’s only now come to terms with losing you and it’s time for him to move on. When are you going to let him go, and move on?”

Drew’s mouth opened as he turned to stare at me, but nothing came out. I held his gaze for several seconds before continuing as gently as I could. “We talked the other night about how much being betrayed by someone we’ve let into our hearts can hurt. But the wounds won’t heal if you keep picking at them. Let the past go, Drew. I don’t have a history with James, and the only future I’m looking to have with him is as a friend. If you’re afraid I’m going to fall head over heels for him, forget it. That’s not going to happen. You don’t have to worry about that at all. Please… trust me.”

“Look, if I’m going to cause problems between you two, I’ll just go.” James stood up.

“No, wait.” Drew ran a hand through his hair. “Rick’s right. What’s past is past. I’m not going to forget what you did, and I still don’t trust you, but, for Rick’s sake, I’m willing to give you a chance to prove that you’ve changed.”

The two held a staring contest for several seconds before James nodded and sat back down. “Thanks, Drew.” He grinned. “Now that that’s over, what’s the favour you wanted?”

Drew glanced at me. He seemed uncertain, but I wasn’t sure what I could do to help.

“You don’t have to go through with it, if you’re having second thoughts.”

He shook his head. “That’s not it. I think it’s a great idea, but I’m not sure if James is a good choice. There’s a lot of history that may spill over.”

“A good choice for what?” James asked as his gaze flicked between Drew and me.

Drew made a face and then took a deep breath. “James, you’ve probably seen that Brandon and Sharon have started going out.”

James nodded but stayed silent. His focus was on Drew, even though Drew was staring at the floor.

“Angus set Brandon up, and didn’t even tell him that he would be on a date. Brandon and Peter have decided that some payback is in order, and intend to set Angus up on a date.”

James’s eyes widened and he sat up straight.

“Angus keeps telling us he doesn’t want a girlfriend, so we’re thinking we’ll set him up with a boyfriend. That’s where you come in.”

“You’re expecting me to date Angus? As far as I know, he’s straight!”

Is that supposed to make him ineligible? I kept my sarcasm to myself as I reminded myself that even though I’m straight, I still cared for Drew, and cared enough that I was confused as to how far I could take our relationship.

“It’ll just be one date, and it’ll be a surprise for him. Peter and Brandon think you’d be great for the job. And you never know, he may end up liking it.”

James narrowed his eyes. “And what’s your opinion?”

Drew looked up. He seemed troubled. “I don’t know. You can be a fun guy to be with, but you can’t be trusted. I don’t know if Angus is gay – I don’t think so — but, and I hate to say this, there are worse guys out there than you. If you and Angus hit it off, I’ll stay out of it.”

James shook his head. “That wasn’t what I was asking. I wanted to know your opinion of me getting involved in the group again. This wouldn’t be a one-on-one thing. I know Peter and Brandon well enough that they’d want to tag along to make sure Angus went through with the date. They’d be milking it for all the laughs they could get. I expect you’d be there too, wouldn’t you, for the same reason?”

Drew’s flush told me not only that James was right, but also that Drew wasn’t his normal self. If I had asked the same question, Drew would have given me one of his innocent looks.

James continued without waiting for Drew to speak. “You’re setting up Angus for a joke. I don’t have a problem with that, but you’re just using me as a tool. You don’t care what I think, or how I feel. You want me there so you can poke fun at Angus, and probably at me, too.” James crossed his arms and leant back in the chair. “The answer’s no.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun.” Drew grinned. “It’ll be just like the time we got Peter at the school camp.”

James chuckled. “That was fun. Even Peter admitted that, eventually. But the answer’s still no.” James paused and caught Drew’s eye. “If Angus was still a friend of mine, it’d be different. But he’s not, and neither are Brandon and Peter. You’re not either, though I appreciate that you’re making an effort. I’m happy to play along with a harmless joke on Angus, if you like, but what you’re asking is wrong, and I won’t do it.”

I wondered what they had done to Peter, and then realised that the two of them had a long history of things to talk about that I wouldn’t understand. For a moment I felt a spark of jealousy, and then calmed down. It was going to take some time, but I would end up with that sort of history with my new friends, too. That was something that could never have happened back at my old home. A chill ran through me as I added the caveat that it would happen as long as I didn’t alienate everyone by hurting Drew.

Drew turned to me. “Rick, help me.”

I shook my head. “Sorry, Drew, but I agree with James. He’s right — if he and Angus were mates, it would be a friendly joke. As it is, it’s almost cruel. The only saving grace would be the possibility that Angus is gay, and that’s not definite.”

“Fine!” Drew stood up and yanked his phone out of his back pocket. “I’ll let Peter know.”

James and I watched as Drew strode out of the room. James then looked at me. “Thanks, Rick, but I thought you’d be on Drew’s side.”

I shrugged. “When he’s right, I will be, but in this case I think you’re right. It’s like being made to go on a date with someone you hate — that’s just cruel.”

James winced. “You don’t need to remind me of what those guys think. I’m honestly surprised that Brandon and Peter would even consider the idea. You’ve seen how Peter reacts.”

I gave a nervous chuckle. “That may have been my fault. Remember when you told Peter that if he ever wants to change sides, to let you know? That wasn’t long after he realised that Sharon wasn’t interested in him, so I pointed out that he’s still attractive to at least one person: you. After making me promise to never tell anyone you had said that, he had the idea of setting you and Angus up on a date.”

James laughed. “I can just imagine how Peter must have reacted.” He sighed. “It’s a pity that Angus isn’t gay, because otherwise I’d seriously consider dating him. My only reservation would be that I’m sure he hates my guts.”

“Are you sure that he’s not gay? Claire thinks he is.”

“I know about Claire’s theory. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty confident he’s straight. The real killer to the idea is to come up with a reasonable excuse for him to be gay and not to tell anyone. He knows that all his friends will support him.” James shook his head. “No, if Angus were gay, I would expect he’d say so. Hell, he’s not stupid. If he’d come out anytime in the last year, he could’ve been dating Drew, and Drew’s a guy worth catching.”

I smiled, but stayed quiet. Anything I said would have made me feel like a hypocrite.

“Rick, can I ask a personal question?” James was uneasy and was making it clear that it would be okay to say no.

“Ask, and I’ll answer if I can.”

“I asked before, but Drew interrupted. Why are you doing this? I mean with me being here. I told you that you’ve a good thing going with Drew, and you’re risking that by trying to be friends with his ex — the guy who broke his trust. I’m grateful — don’t get me wrong — but I don’t understand it. And I believed you when you told Drew that you’re not interested in me sexually. I’ve seen the way you look at me, and you don’t look at me that way.”

He caught me by surprise. It was a question that I felt I should try to answer, even though I wasn’t sure I could explain it properly, at least without saying too much.

“I’ve been in the situation of not having friends, so I suppose I’m sensitive to others who don’t have them. I’m not completely sure why I’m doing this, but I’d like to see if we can be friends because I think you want friends. I’m also hoping that it’ll help Drew let go. The way he reacts when your name is mentioned tells me that he’s holding onto the pain.” I glared at the ceiling. “I don’t really understand what I’m doing or why, but I think it’ll help Drew. How, I don’t know, but he means a lot to me and I don’t like seeing him hurting.” Especially since I’m the one who’s likely to hurt him next.

“My turn for a personal question. I thought you would have gone along with what Drew wanted. I had the impression that if there was a way you could get back together, you’d jump at it, and doing him a favour would be a step in that direction.”

James laughed. “You’ve got me there. Yeah, I would do practically anything for Drew, but not this. If I thought there was a chance, I’d do it, but you two are solid — I can see that — and even if he was single I probably would’ve refused. He was trying to use me, not to be friends with me. I know I can’t have Drew the way I want, but I’ll take him as a friend if he offers. He wasn’t offering.”

Drew stepped into the room at that point. I suspected he’d been listening from around the corner.

“I can’t offer to be friends, but I’ll do what Rick’s asking and try to give you a chance.” He put his fists on his hips. I noticed he still had his phone in his right hand. “If we invited you to a party, would you agree to flirt with Angus? You wouldn’t have to take it further than that, but we want Angus to squirm. Oh, and this was Peter’s idea, not mine, so there’d be at least three of us at the party who’d talk to you without yelling. How about it?”

James’s head jerked up and down. “Okay.” I could see he had reservations, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.

Drew lifted the phone to his ear. “Did you hear that, Peter? Good, we’re on, then. We just need to make sure Angus shows up, and that he doesn’t find out James is coming. See you tomorrow!” Drew hung up and strolled over to sit next to me. He grinned and draped an arm across my shoulders. “This is going to be fun.”

“Are we talking about the housewarming?” I asked, wondering if it would be a good idea to have James flirting with Angus in front of my parents.

“Nah, this is for next weekend. Peter’s going to organise a party at his place. He said he’s got an idea that’ll work out nicely and that we’ll find out about it tomorrow. He then clammed up and wouldn’t say anything more. Just keep that Saturday night free.”

Drew had his innocent expression on, so I immediately started to worry. I wondered what he and Peter had cooked up.

* * *

I stared at the invitation that Peter gave me when we gathered before school the next morning, and at its dress code instruction. “Red? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Brandon looked up from his invitation. “Yours says red? Mine says sports.”

Drew grinned. “Mine says red, too. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Bring some extra spending money tonight, because we may need to buy something. We can go with matching red tops, if we can find what I’m looking for.”

Sharon laughed. “I can see what you’ve done, Peter. My invite says sports, the same as Brandon’s. We’ll have to find something appropriate so we can go as a matching couple.” She glanced around at the others who had gathered before school. “What have the rest of you got?”

I noticed that Peter didn’t look at Sharon when she spoke, but merely flicked his eyes in her direction. He seemed okay, but he wasn’t comfortable in her presence.

Claire glared at Peter. “Beachwear? Have you noticed that it’s not exactly summer at the moment?”

Peter shrugged. “The house is heated. Wear something warm over the top, if you’re worried.” He grinned as he spotted Keith approaching. “Think of it as a challenge. Wouldn’t you like to see Keith in a pair of nice tight Speedos?”

Claire glanced at the approaching guy, who grinned and waved when he noticed her looking. She waved back and then turned to Peter. “You’re evil, did you know that? Now that I’ve got that picture in my mind, I’m going to have to see what I can do to get him to go along with it.” She narrowed her eyes. “What’ll you be wearing?”

I agreed with Claire — Peter was evil. He wasn’t supposed to be encouraging Claire to go out with Keith. Though, if it meant a chance of seeing Claire in a bikini, I wasn’t going to object too strongly. It would have been better if he wasn’t inviting Keith, but I could always hope that Keith would be busy and couldn’t make it.

Peter shrugged. “I’ve given myself a dress code of formal. I didn’t think anyone else would like to go to the trouble, and I’ve still got the suit that Mum and Dad bought me for my cousin’s wedding.” He greeted Keith as he joined us, handed him an invitation, and then raised his voice. “Yvonne, Mike! Over here!”

The couple came over and Peter handed them invitations. Yvonne smiled when she read hers. “Thanks, Peter. That’s really sweet.”

“What did you get?” Claire asked.

“What do you mean?”

“What dress code? Peter gave me, and I suspect Keith, beachwear.” Keith nodded to indicate she was right. “Drew and Rick got red, Brandon and Sharon got sports. What did you two get?”

Yvonne glanced at the piece of paper again and then stared quizzically at Peter. “It says dress code French. What does that mean?”

Peter grinned. “I don’t know. I’m just the party organiser. Working out what it means is your problem.”

Yvonne raised an eyebrow at her boyfriend. “What do you think?”

Mike looked thoughtful. “I’ve got some ideas.”

Yvonne whispered something into his ear, and Mike grinned. “That sounds even better! French dressing it is!”

Peter laughed. “Thanks, guys. It’s going to be a fun night.”

“You’re being very quiet, Angus. What did you get on your invite?” Drew asked.

Angus frowned. “I’m trying to work out what game Peter’s playing. He’s given me country and western, and he knows I hate that stuff.”

Drew and Brandon exchanged looks and then Brandon grinned. “That should be easy. You can go as a cowboy — that’s country and western. Just wear jeans, a check shirt, and boots. If you don’t have a cowboy hat, I’ve got an Akubra you can borrow.”

It finally dawned on me what Peter had planned. Angus and James would both be showing up as cowboys. I had a strong suspicion that Brokeback Mountain would be playing on the TV. It was going to be an interesting party.

* * *

We hadn’t been at the shopping centre very long when Drew took me away from the others. “Come on, we’ve got some shopping to do.”

I hopped up and followed Drew to the nearest department store. “What are we looking for?”

“Red skivvies for next weekend’s party.”

I grimaced. “I hate skivvies! Why not just some normal red shirts? I’ve got one at home that would be fine.”

Drew smiled. “Because once we’ve got them, we’ll take them to my mum who’ll sew on some Star Trek logos I’ve got. We’ll be going as a pair of Trekkies. I know you’ve got black jeans, so we’ll be all set.

I grinned. Drew had found the one way to make me wear the long sleeve top with the high collar that I hated. “If we can find some long-sleeve T-shirts, they’ll be better.”

“I know, but they’re not easy to find. If we see them and they’re not too expensive, we’ll go with that option, but a plain red skivvy is going to be simple.”

“You know that it’s always the guy in the red top that dies.”

“Of course! But we’re going to have a lot of fun before that happens.” Drew winked. “Just keep in mind that you don’t really want to die a virgin. Let me know if you want my help with that.”

I rolled my eyes. There were certain things Drew could be relied upon to mention.

“What do you think Peter will ask Sue and Joe to wear?” I asked.

“No idea. We’ll find out when we get back. He said he was going to be late tonight as he had some things he had to organise.”

“He’s certainly made it interesting with the different invitations. Has he done this before?”

“Peter doesn’t have a lot of parties at his place, but when he does they usually stand out from the crowd. I’ve been to five since I’ve known him, and each has been unique. There was one on a Japanese theme that was a lot of fun and another where he filled the back yard with balloons. And when I say filled, I mean filled. There had to have been over a thousand, and they were piled up waist deep in some places.”

“Peter’s family’s fairly well off, then.”

“Not really, but he does get spoilt at times. Comes from being an only child, I suspect. He doesn’t ask a lot of his parents, so they indulge him when he does. The balloon party was probably the most extravagant he’s put on, but, as he said, balloons are cheap and he used compressed air, not helium, to fill them.”

The comment about being an only child hit home, though I didn’t think Drew realised. At least Peter had friends to share his time with. That was something I had missed.

We headed towards the menswear section. Before we got there, Drew slowed down. “There’s one more thing.”

“What is it?”

“I didn’t think you’d mind, but I’ve asked James to join the group later tonight. I heard what you said last night, and it wouldn’t be fair on James for him to show up at the party while most people still hated his guts. He won’t stay long, but we have to try to make it look like we’re friends again.” Drew glanced at me nervously.

I smiled. “That’s a great idea! I should’ve thought of it myself. Thanks, Drew.”

He looked relieved. “Thanks, Rick. I was afraid you’d be angry.”

“Angry? Why?”

“Because I was speaking to him behind your back.”

I laughed. “Don’t be stupid. I don’t have a problem with you talking to James, so don’t worry about it.”

“I still find him attractive.” Drew’s confession was in a very quiet voice.

I paused while I tried to work out how to respond. When Drew gave me a worried look, I knew I was taking too long.

“Drew, James is an attractive guy. You’ve got eyes in your head, so of course you’ll keep on noticing that. I’m not jealous, if that’s what you think. I was trying to work out how to say that I don’t mind. You and James have shared things that we haven’t.” I caught Drew’s lecherous grin and quickly added, “And I don’t mean that. You two had a year together. If I’m right, that was a year of happy memories. Don’t throw that away just because the ending stunk. Don’t forget what he did, but don’t forget the good times, either. I’m hoping we’ll have lots of good times, too — and keep your mind clean if you can. I enjoy your company. I like being with you. But I’m not going to insist that you spend all your time with me. You’ve got other friends, and James may end up being one of them. I trust you, Drew. You don’t have to be ashamed that you’ve still got feelings for James. I’d be worried if you didn’t.”

“As long as my feelings for you are stronger, right?” Drew didn’t wait for my response, which was just as well because I wasn’t comfortable with reciprocating that statement. “Thanks, Rick. You’re one in a million.”

* * *

“What does it say to wear?” Claire asked Sue and Joe, once Peter had arrived and handed them their invitations.

Joe grinned and threw out his chest. “Superhero! I’m glad to see Peter’s recognised our true colours.”

“Superhero?” Angus asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means I get to wear my underpants on the outside of my clothes,” Joe said. He glanced at Drew and me. “It’s just as well those two didn’t get that one. You never know whose underwear they’ll be showing to the world.”

“Rick’s are in the wash, so I’m wearing my own tonight,” Drew said.

Joe looked surprised. “You wash them? I’m surprised.”

Sue rolled her eyes and then elbowed her boyfriend. “Cut it out. I don’t feel like throwing up, which is what’s going to happen if you keep up this conversation.”

Drew grinned. “It’s okay, Sue. Yes, Joe, I do wash them. After wearing Rick’s underpants for a week, they start to get a bit ripe.”

“Drew!” He and Joe seemed to enjoy their little joke, but it was getting annoying. The fact that Keith was sitting next to Claire and the two of them were having a quiet chat didn’t help my temper. I was trying to think of a way I could separate them, but I wasn’t having a lot of success.

Sue glared at Joe. “Enough! It’s time to get something to eat. You and Drew can go get some pizzas so the rest of us don’t have to listen to what you’re talking about.”

Joe gave her a kiss. “Anything you say.” He grinned across the table. “Let’s go, Drew.

As Drew and Joe left, I took the opportunity to interrupt Claire and Keith. My topic wasn’t the best one I could’ve chosen, but at least it would make Claire look at me and not him. “Keith, did you have any ideas on what you’ll be wearing to the party?”

Keith grinned at Claire before looking back at me. “I’ve been given a suggestion, but I’m not sure I’ll go through with it. I was thinking board shorts and a T-shirt. I’ve got a surfing one that I think would be appropriate. What about you?”

“Drew’s got an idea, but I’m not sure I should say anything without checking with him. He may want it as a surprise.”

Keith nodded. “Fair enough.” He turned to Sharon. “What about you and Brandon?”

“I’m trying to convince him to wear his rugby uniform, but, for some reason, he’s resisting. I’ve got a week, so I think I can wear him down. As for me, I’m thinking of borrowing my sister’s netball uniform. What about you, Angus?”

“I’ll probably go dressed as a cowboy. I can’t think of anything else that would fit a country and western theme.” Angus sounded glum, and the glance he flicked at Peter was full of suspicion.

“You’re not sounding particularly excited,” Sharon said.

“That’s because I keep having this idea at the back of my head that it’ll be a bad idea to go. Peter’s up to something, but I don’t know what.” Angus challenged Peter with his gaze. “Well? How come you sprung this party at such short notice? You usually give us a few weeks, not one.”

Peter grinned. “I didn’t want it to conflict with Rick’s housewarming party. It was either make it next week or wait until after the school holidays. I decided I wanted a party sooner rather than later, so that’s why.”

Angus grunted. He was still suspicious, but I was sure he didn’t have any idea of how he was being set up. He was still looking at having a blind date with a girl.

The conversation shifted to school when Joe and Drew returned with the food. We chatted the whole time about the trivia that makes up the normal school week.

We had just finished off the pizzas when Drew stood up and waved. “Hey, James!”

Sue was horrified when she realised who was walking towards us. “Drew, what are you doing?”

Joe glared. “I was going to ask the same thing, but with a few expletives thrown in.”

Drew glanced at me and I smiled. We had agreed during our shopping that Drew had to be the one who was seen to invite James to join us. I had offered, but he was right when he said that it wouldn’t have much of an impact unless he was the one who made the first move.

“I’m saying hello to someone who was a friend, and who may, possibly, become one again.” Drew stood up. “I won’t be long.”

Sue watched as Drew intercepted James, and then she spun around and glared at me. “Spill it, Rick. What’s going on?”

I looked around the group. “I could say it’s none of your business, but you’re all Drew’s friends, so here’s what you need to know. Drew’s been hurting for the last year — you all know that.” I knew Keith and Sharon weren’t really included in that statement, but it was easier to lump them in. “I’ve only known him for a short time, but even I can tell he’s still hurting. He’s dumped a lot on you, Sue, but he hasn’t really moved on. He’s not going to, either, until he clears up in his own mind what he feels. I’ve told him I’m comfortable with him talking to James, and he’s comfortable with me talking to James, too. I’m hoping that by getting to know James again, he’ll finally let the past stay in the past.

“And I’m asking that all of you give him that chance. If you start raising their history, you’re not going to help Drew. To be blunt, expect to see more of James, and if you really care for Drew, you’ll be doing what I’ll be doing and giving him the support he needs.”

Peter was the first to respond. “You can count on me, Rick. I still think he’s a bastard, but I can tolerate him if that’s what you and Drew want.”

Sue looked angry, but Joe’s expression was thoughtful.

“If you think I’m going to sit still while he’s around, then you’ve got another think coming, buster. I told you before I’m not going to stand by and let Drew get hurt again, so–” Sue broke off when Joe put a hand on her arm.

“Leave it alone, Sue,” Joe said quietly. “Drew’s not a little boy. He’s capable of making decisions on his own, and it’s Rick who’s his main support now, not you. I’m not the smartest guy around, but even I’ve noticed how much Rick cares for Drew. Drew might get hurt, but Rick’s going to be there for him. Rick’s already making a difference for Drew. I say let him continue. Drew trusts him. That’s enough for me.”

“But, James?

Joe smiled and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I don’t know if Rick is right about Drew still hurting about what happened, but it fits with what I know. Talking to James may help. If it doesn’t…” he shrugged, “we can always resurrect the castration and dismemberment plan. That’ll cheer him up.”

Angus laughed. “That goes back a long way. I’m in favour of that one.” He must have seen the shock on my face. “That is, if talking to James doesn’t work. You can count on me, Rick. I’ll keep my opinions to myself while the bastard is around. I don’t know what Brando will think, though. He’s likely to remove limbs first and ask questions later.”

“Leave Brandon to me,” I said in a flat tone. I was sure Brandon would play along, at least until Peter’s party, and hopefully by then he would see that there was nothing to worry about.

A couple of minutes later, James and Drew came up the group.

“I’ve asked James to join us for a bit. I hope no one minds.” Drew seemed tense, as if he was expecting a wave of outrage.

“G’day, James,” Peter said, rising to his feet and holding out a hand. “It’s been a while.”

James shook hands and smiled. “It has, Peter, it has.”

“Hi, James.” Angus made no move to approach James, but his tone was neutral, not hostile.

“G’day, Angus. How’s the soccer going?”

“We’re third on the ladder, so there’s a reasonable chance we’ll make the grand final.”

“Good luck!”

Joe surprised me by standing up and giving James a hug. I think he surprised James, too. “Welcome back, James.”

“Thanks, Joe. I really appreciate it.”

Joe fixed him with a stern gaze. “I’m still not kissing you, though. You’ll have to find someone else to do that to.”

James laughed. “Okay, no kissing. Anyway, I wouldn’t kiss you if you were the only other guy on the planet.”

Joe’s eyebrows shot up. “Why not? Am I that bad looking?”

James shook his head and grinned. “Nope, but I have a healthy respect for Sue. There’s no way I’d try to take her guy away. Trying’s just a quick way to get killed.” He looked down at the girl in question. “G’day, Sue.”

Sue’s expression made her distaste clear. She crossed her arms to make it even clearer. “Don’t expect me to ever forget or forgive, James. I don’t know what’s going on, but as far as I’m concerned you’re still the cheating bastard who almost drove my best friend to kill himself. To me, that makes you just this side of being a murderer. Don’t expect me to ever like you again.”

James’s shoulders slumped momentarily. He then gave a faint, pained smile. “I understand. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I’m never going to hurt Drew again.”

“Oh, I believe you, because I’m not going to let you have the chance. If you even look like getting close to him again, I’m going to rip your balls off.”

“Sue…” Drew sounded uncertain.

I jumped in. “Sue, look at me.” She didn’t react, so I raised my voice. “Look at me!” She turned to face me, her expression still sour. “Did you listen to Joe, before? Making sure Drew doesn’t get hurt isn’t your job. You’re his friend, not his mother. If you can’t trust Drew to do the right thing, then you should back off, because you’re not helping. I trust Drew. His heart’s in the right place and I trust him to do the right thing. If you’re worried about Drew getting hurt again, then direct your concern at me, not James, because at the moment I’ve got a hold of a lot more of Drew’s heart than James has. Just remember that the only way he’ll never get hurt again is if he never takes a chance on falling in love. If that’s what you want for him, say it now. Otherwise, back off and let Drew live his own life.”

Sue’s mouth dropped open. I think she would have said something if it wasn’t for Joe and Drew.

Joe went first. He put a hand to Sue’s chin and turned her head to face him. “Give them a chance.”

Drew followed it up by walking around to me and putting his arm across my shoulders. “Everyone, this is my boyfriend, Rick. Now you know why I think so much of him.”

God, I wish I really was gay.

Copyright Notice — Copyright © March 2009 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

A special thank you to Ray, Kel, C James and Shadowgod, and also to everyone at The Mail Crew. The help they have given me with this story has been fantastic. Special kudos go to Aaron and Rain of The Mail Crew for doing a brilliant job of editing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.