If it were anyone else but Trey asking, I would never have agreed.
The phone woke me from the middle of a dream, one where I was wading in the surf at a deserted beach when a bronzed god of a man rode up—bareback, of course—on a spectacular white stallion. He had just offered me his hand to lift me up behind him when a warble shattered the image. Since at this point in my life, dreams were about the most action I was getting, I wasn’t especially happy to be disturbed from one that seemed to have the potential to be really hot.
“Whoever this is, you better have a damn good reason for calling at—” I squinted at the large red numbers on the bedside clock, blurred since I’d already taken out my contacts, “at nearly two in the morning. On a Saturday,” I added grumpily.
“She said yes!” Trey’s distinctive deep voice was shaking with emotion as he shouted into the phone. I held the receiver a good six inches away from my ear and could still hear him clearly over the background noise of wherever he was calling from. “Jay-Jay, she said yes!”
Since I never thought there’d be any doubt once he worked up the nerve to actually ask Sherrie to marry him, Trey’s announcement didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. Besides being my best friend since we grew up next door to each other in cookie-cutter bungalows in Back of the Yards, Michael Francis Fitzgerald III—Trey to everyone who knew him—was a handsome guy with dark “black Irish” coloring, green eyes, and a tall, muscular build. Following a three-generation family tradition in the Chicago Fire Department, he was an EMT at the 76th and Pulaski station house. His girlfriend, now fiancée, Sherrie was an ER nurse at Holy Cross; they’d met when Trey brought in a guy they’d cut out of a four-car wreck on the Stevenson. The two of them hit it off immediately and had been dating for almost a year now. I was actually more surprised to hear him using my childhood nickname; I’d been Jack to everyone but my grandmother since I was old enough to write. Trey must have needed quite a bit of liquid courage to pop the question if he’d regressed to calling me Jay-Jay.
“That’s great, Trey. Where are you?” I asked when another wave of noise burst from the phone.
“O’Shaughnessy’s. Want to join us?”
Not that I had anything against O’Shaughnessy’s, but trying to make small talk at a crowded singles bar with a couple who’d just gotten engaged wasn’t worth dragging myself out of bed in the middle of the night. Especially when the bar in question didn’t cater to my kind of singles. Not that I’d be hanging out at a gay bar either, of course. I teach high school science, and while I don’t keep my sexual preference a secret, there’s a level of professional discretion I was careful never to overstep. Which was at least partly the reason the hottest action I’d seen lately was in my dreams. “Think I’ll take a rain check, but congratulations. Give Sherrie a kiss for me.”
“You’ve gotta be my best man, Jay-Jay. Best friends, always there for each other, right?”
“Right, Trey,” I answered, even if it was an honor I could honestly have done without. Over the past two years I’d stood up for six of my friends’ and relatives’ weddings. We were all getting to that age, late twenties/early thirties, where the desire to hop into bed with any warm body was maturing into a need for stability and commitment. I didn’t begrudge any of the couples whose weddings I took part in one bit of their happiness. I was just starting to wonder if I’d ever find that same happiness myself. Of course in Illinois, marriage wasn’t an option for two men anyway, but it wasn’t the ceremony that was important, it was the permanence behind it. I knew fewer than one marriage in two lasted a lifetime any more, but I was a romantic at heart. Both my Byrne and O’Connell grandparents had celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversaries—Nana and Pop O’Connell were close to their seventieth—and I had no doubt that if my dad were still alive, my parents would be planning their own thirty-year anniversary celebration next summer. I wanted to be able to make that same commitment. I’d just never met a man I wanted to make it with.
“It won’t be a big wedding, Jay-Jay,” Trey promised. “We both want a quiet little ceremony, just close friends and family.”
When the bride and groom are both South Side Irish? That could work out to a couple hundred on each side, easily. And Trey had lots of friends. Every fireman who wasn’t on duty would be there, along with half the cops in the city. At least I could look forward to lots of men in uniform. The eye candy factor would be high, even if I’d never hit on any of them. “So how many other guys will be standing up with me?”
“I mean it, it’s not gonna be some huge circus of a ceremony,” Trey insisted. “Just you and me and Sherrie and her attendant—a friend of hers from college. It’ll be great.”
Far be it from me to disillusion the happy groom-to-be. He’d find out soon enough how quickly a “quiet little wedding” could balloon once both sides started making their lists of people they absolutely had to invite. “I’m sure it will, Trey,” I assured him.
“Sure you don’t want to help us celebrate?”
I flipped up a slat in the blinds on my bedroom window. It had started to snow again, the pristine white blanket temporarily transforming the city street into an arctic wonderland. By morning the salt plows would have turned it to mounds of dirty grey slush. “I love you, Trey, but not enough to shovel my car out in the middle of the night. You’re not driving, are you?”
I really didn’t have to ask; Trey and Sherrie both had dealt with enough DUIs to know better. “No way. We’ll catch a cab home.”
“Then give Sherrie a kiss for me, and we’ll get together for dinner the next night you’re both off, okay?” I could hear Sherrie’s laughing protest that I was on my second kiss already and was Trey sure I didn’t like girls just a little? “Only you, sweetheart,” I assured her, hoping the maid of honor at this wedding wouldn’t take my lack of interest in her as either an insult or a challenge. “All the kisses from now on are pure Trey.” After congratulating them both again, I set the phone back on the nightstand and slid under the covers again. My apartment felt very quiet after the joyful chaos of the call, and it took me a long time to fall back asleep.