LUCAS had a quarter-life crisis on his twenty-fifth birthday. Three days into a truly epic couch-sitting marathon that had involved Bridget Jones, Jason Bourne, and a frightening amount of cheese curls, his then-boyfriend Brad—who was deceptively strong for someone who looked like a five-foot five-inch drinking straw with head and appendages attached—had dragged him out to a club. Instead of dancing, Lucas had cornered strangers to ask if they thought he looked old.
Fast forward to the present and Sean, his boyfriend of six months and friend of many years, newly turned twenty-five. In contrast to Lucas’s “my life is over because I still haven’t sung a duet with Madonna” reaction, all through breakfast Sean crowed about his twenty-fifth year as if he’d won thirty million dollars in the lottery. Lucas had to kiss him just to shut him up. And then he’d had to kiss him again, just because. Sean already had his arms around Lucas’s neck and Lucas wouldn’t make Sean go onto his tiptoes for no good reason.
Once that was done, Lucas was pretty sure he needed to pull Sean over to the kitchen table and into his lap and kiss him some more. There was no saving the cereal from sogginess after that, so when Sean pushed his hand up Lucas’s shirt and pressed into his soft stomach—he had a knack for finding the spots that needed work because he “liked those the best”—what could Lucas do but sweep his tongue into Sean’s mouth and drag it out slowly? If not for the day’s schedule, Lucas would have had Sean over the table with his pants down. Better safe than sorry, though, since they didn’t know just when Sean’s friend Mags was planning to turn up, and she never knocked.
This was Sean’s first birthday since they’d moved in together. For most couples, that would be enough of a reason to pull out all the stops. The first birthday together was when you set the standard for all the birthdays to follow. There were expectations. But there was more to this birthday. This birthday was Sean’s first since the doctors told him he wouldn’t have another. His first since Lucas’s dad helped him close his affairs because the cancer was “aggressive.” His first since Lucas begged him not to die (doctors didn’t know everything). His first since he beat the odds and lived.
There was nothing like battling a terminal illness to flip the perspective on aging.
Nothing like watching your friend almost die to make you realize you maybe kind of actually really no question about it loved him. Lucas cursed the disease when it was ravaging Sean, making his already short body look slight and weak as he lay wrapped in the hospital’s bedclothes, his pale, gray face peeking out from the glaring white expanse. Until the flowers came in from family and friends, Sean’s brown hair was the only color in the room, but it had lost its luster and laid limp on his forehead from the chemo.
But Lucas cursed himself even more than the cancer. Lucas was filled with “if only’s” that would have led him to realizing his feelings sooner if he’d just done one thing or thought another. Then he might have clued in to the way he loved being around Sean, the way Sean made him laugh, even when he didn’t want to. If he’d done that, he and Sean could have had more time together. Lucas could have climbed into bed with him and not felt a guardrail against his back. He could have given him chocolate openly instead of sneaking it to him. Then Sean wouldn’t have vomited the chocolate up and cried about it while Lucas held him and told him there was plenty more chocolate in the world, so he shouldn’t be upset about that little bit.
Now, though, Lucas thanked God for making Sean ill. Sean was better now so the only conclusion, since the doctors were stumped, was that it was divine intervention. Someone was telling them they were supposed to be together and pulling out all the stops to make it happen. If not for that, they never would have figured out how they felt about each other. Lucas could play “if only” all he wanted, but all those decisions were in the past; all those roads were ones he hadn’t taken. It wasn’t until Sean got sick that Lucas pulled the stick out of his eye and saw him. It had kicked Sean’s awareness into action, too. “I feel so stupid. I should have seen you,” he’d said as Lucas nestled him carefully against his chest, fitting his stockier arms around Sean’s diminished body as if he were embracing a sparrow. “Me too,” Lucas had replied. Lucas hadn’t imagined that Sean getting cancer could be the best thing that ever happened to him, but it was, so he said thank you to whoever was listening when he was alone every fucking day.
So, yeah, this birthday was special and the gift needed to reflect that. Lucas wouldn’t say that he was nervous about the plans he’d made—mainly because no one had asked—and it was hot enough that he could tell himself that his palms were sweating because of the heat. When Lucas had thought it up, it seemed perfect. But then Mags gave Sean a day of mini-golf and ice cream, and Sean loved it and, well, Lucas’s present was a little more serious than that, and maybe Sean didn’t want serious on his birthday.