IT’S funny how you can know someone your entire life and think you have them all figured out, but then all of a sudden realize that you don’t. All of a sudden, nothing’s the way you thought it was or how you thought it’d be. And you’re standing there, feeling like an asshole with his pants down and his dick blowing in the wind, trying to get a handle on what the fuck is going on.
That’s what happened when I first got an inkling that maybe there was more between Josh Segal and me than friendship. At about that same instant, I started the process of screwing it up every which way to Sunday. And by the time I understood what I wanted, it seemed like it’d take a miracle to get there. But, hey, I’m nothing if not persistent, so no way was I willing to wave the white flag. Nope. I clung to the guardrail of the ship and prayed for a miracle as it was going down.
As luck would it have it, it was the right season for that kind of thing.
The First Day
“MACCABE, we’re leaving in thirty minutes. Are you ready?” my mother called out the front door. That meant I had at least an hour left to play ball with my friends.
“Yeah,” I yelled back, thinking it was a silly question. Getting ready would consist of putting away my glove and ball. It’s not like dinner at the Segals’ house was a formal affair, even if it was the first night of Hanukah. I mean, we ate at their place a couple of times a month, and they did the same at ours. We’d just be adding a menorah and some dreidels to the mix.
“Ready means a shower, Maccabe.”
I was up to bat, so I decided to ignore her and focus on my friend, who was standing on our makeshift pitcher’s mound.
I didn’t respond and instead got into my batting stance.
“Let’s go, Bilbrey,” I said to the pitcher.
He was just standing there, not making any move to throw the ball. “Where’re you going?” he asked.
“Dinner at Josh Segal’s house. Come on.”
I rolled my eyes. “What’re you, one of my sisters? Quit yapping and throw the fucking ball, Bilbrey.”
I had two older sisters and, as far as I could tell, their favorite pastime was talking.
“Geez, Maccabe, chill. It’s just a pick-up game. It doesn’t mean anything,” he said, and, maddeningly, still didn’t make any move to pitch the ball.
That attitude was why he’d never make the starting lineup. I stayed in my batting stance and waited, hoping he’d get as bored of the conversation as I already was. But he didn’t let up.
“So why’re you going to that band geek’s house for dinner?”
“Jesus Christ!” I stood up and glared at him. “We’re going for the first night of Hanukah. We’ll probably eat roast chicken and latkes and sing some songs and shit. Is there anything else you need to know before we can move on with this game?”
“You sing songs?”
We were playing three-on-three, which meant I was joined by four other voices when I told him to shut up and throw the fucking ball. But it seemed the cosmos was conspiring against my ability to finish the game because that’s when my dad came outside.
“Maccabe, time to come inside.”
No way had an hour passed, not even the half hour my mom told me I had left before we had to leave. But if my mother was bringing in reinforcements by sending my father out, my time was up. I grunted good-bye to my friends, grabbed my gear, and ran to my house and up the front steps. My parents were in the kitchen.
“We’re going already?” I asked them.
“Not quite, but you need to get in the shower,” my mom said.
“I already showered today,” I protested automatically.
She threw her hands in the air and sighed. “I never had to fight with your sisters to get clean.”
“That’s because they were never seventeen-year-old boys.” My father chuckled. He’d always wanted a son, and after two girls, he’d almost given up hope. I was a last-ditch effort. He ruffled my hair fondly, which wasn’t as easy now that I’d outgrown him. I scowled and pushed his hand away. His smile didn’t falter. “You’ve been running around, sweating all day, and you stink. Go get in the shower before you give your mother a coronary.”
“Whatever.” I could see that any argument would be fruitless, so there was no point in bothering, but at least I could make sure they knew I wasn’t happy about it.
WE’D barely rung the bell before the door swung open, and Josh Segal stood on the other side.
“Hi!” he said. His cheeks were flushed, and he was a little out of breath, like he’d run to get the door as soon as he’d heard us pull up.
“Hi, Josh.” My mother leaned over and kissed his cheek, which was awkward around the dishes she was cradling, before hustling off to the kitchen.
“Are the girls here yet?” my father asked him.
Josh’s sister, Jill, was driving up to Portland with my sisters. Jill was in medical school at the University of Washington with my oldest sister, Miri. My other sister, Nina, was still an undergrad, but she planned on going to medical school too. Our parents were all in the health care field, which explained the universal career choice. My mom was a nurse, Mrs. Segal was a physical therapist, and our fathers were partners in a nephrology practice. Dinner conversations, when our families got together, usually vacillated anywhere from nod-off boring to I-think-I-just-lost-my-appetite disgusting.
“Not yet,” Josh said. “But they called before they left, and that was more than two hours ago, so I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
My father nodded and followed my mother to the kitchen with bags containing our gifts for the Segal family in tow.
“What’s up?” I said as I closed the door behind me and stepped inside, bringing me right next to Josh.
His eyes darted to the ground, and he moved the toe of his shoe back and forth, but he didn’t step back to make more room between us. “Uh, not much, I guess,” he answered quietly. He’d gotten a haircut, and his ears sort of stuck out in a cute way. I had an inexplicable desire to touch them. He glanced up at me and pushed his glasses up his nose. “How are you?”
I shrugged. “Pretty good. Baseball season starts soon, so I’m just getting ready.”
He smiled shyly. “I saw you playing the other day. You’re even better than last year.”
We hadn’t had any games yet, and practice wasn’t going to start until the following month.
“You saw me playing? When?”
He looked back at the ground, and his ears turned bright red. “Oh. Uh, I had band after school, and then I had to wait a while for my parents to come get me, so I was walking around and, uh, I happened to see you out on the field.”
I liked hearing that he had watched me play. I smiled at Josh and slung my arm over his narrow shoulders. “You should’ve told me you were there. I could’ve driven you home.”
Driving himself wasn’t an option after Josh ran into two poles, one curb, and a parked car. All within a month of getting his license.
We started walking toward his bedroom, our usual haunt when my family had dinner at his house. It was the only respite from our parents and sisters.
“Oh no, I couldn’t. I mean, you were with your friends, and I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Come on, Freckles, you could never be a bother.” I moved my hand up to the back of his head and tugged on his auburn hair. He had brown eyes almost the same color, and freckles all over his face and body to match. I’d given him that nickname when we were knee high, and it stuck. Well, it stuck between us. He freaked out the one time his sister tried to use it. “If you’re at school late after band from now on, come find me. Once practice starts, I’ll be there, too, and I can give you a lift.”
He shook his head. “Yeah? But your friends—”
I wasn’t sure why he was fixating on my friends. We didn’t run in the same circles, so he hardly knew them.
“Don’t worry about my friends; I’ve known you longer than any of them, so you come first.”
Which was kind of weird, I realized. I mean, Josh and I didn’t have much in common. He was into school and band and theatre. And I was pretty much a one-trick pony—all baseball, all day. But despite those differences, I meant what I said. He had always meant more to me than any other friend. I felt a sort of connection to Josh that nobody else could match. I chalked it up to the fact that our families had been close before either of us was born, so we’d known each other our entire lives and had spent tons of time together: family vacations, our fathers’ work events, holidays, dinners, all that stuff. Aside from all that, I just plain liked him. He was a super nice guy, had a kick-ass sense of humor, and was fun to be around.
“Do you want to play some Play Station until dinner?” he asked as soon as we walked into his room.
He had asked for the Play Station two months earlier for his birthday, but whenever we’d played, he hadn’t really advanced from the time before. And I’d never known him to be into video games, so I didn’t understand why he had asked for that gift.
“Are you sure you wanna play?” I said as I walked to his desk, picked up one of the snow globes sitting on the shelf above it, and flipped it upside down. My handwritten date on the bottom reminded me that I’d given Josh that snow globe eight years prior. It was our little Hanukah tradition—every year I’d give him a snow globe.
It had started when we were nine, and Josh saw one in a tourist trap while we were on a family vacation. He was completely enamored with the silver confetti inside, and he’d begged his father up and down for it. The thing cost less than ten bucks, but his father had resolutely refused, offering to buy Josh a football or basketball instead. Josh threw a fit, his father dragged him out of the store, and I was left there with my dad, who looked dismayed at the entire scene.
“Yeah?” he said tentatively, probably wondering if I was going to ask him to explain what had just happened between Josh and his father.
“Bubby gave me money to buy myself something on this trip, right?”
“Yes, she did.” He smiled broadly, clearly relieved at the change in conversation. “What do you want?” He looked around the store.
I snatched the snow globe Josh had been eyeing. “I want this.”
“You do?” he asked in surprise.
I nodded. “Yes. Let’s have them gift wrap it.”
My father squatted down and looked in my eyes. “Maccabe, that’s a nice gesture, but Josh’s father said he couldn’t have the snow globe, and it’s not right to interfere. You can’t buy this and give it to him.”
I frowned and thought about it. “Well, I’ll hold onto it, and I’ll give it to him for Hanukah. Dr. Segal can’t think I’m interfering then, right? We always give presents on Hanukah.”
My father relented, and whether Josh’s father got mad or not, I can’t say because I only had eyes for Josh when, months later, he opened my gift and beamed more brightly than the menorah. I decided right then and there that if snow globes put that kind of smile on Josh’s face, I’d make sure he had plenty of them.
“We can do something else,” I said, coming back to the present. “I know you’re not crazy about video games.”
“I don’t mind them,” he said as he flopped down on the bed. “Besides, you like them, and there’s nothing else to do.”
“Sure there is.” I looked around his room. There was a chess set sitting on his dresser and a shelf running around the perimeter of the room holding all sorts of intricate Lego creations. “We could play chess.”
“You don’t know how to play chess,” he reminded me.
“True, but you can teach me.”
Josh snorted. “The last however many times we tried that you zoned out within two minutes. I can’t even get you to focus on checkers.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Sorry, I try to pay attention, but I don’t really get the fascination. Well, we can build one of your Lego things.”
Little red circles formed on the apples of his cheeks, and he sat up and blinked quickly. “Oh, I don’t really, um…,” he said, pausing midsentence, presumably remembering that I’d been in his room a couple of times a month since forever, so telling me he wasn’t into Legos anymore wouldn’t fly. It’s not like I didn’t know some of the buildings on the shelves were new. “You don’t want to build Legos. That’s for kids.”
“Are you joking?” I waved my hand around his room, pointing to the incredible buildings and animals he had laid out on his shelves. “You think a kid could build a replica of the Statue of Liberty? I’m older than you, and there’s no way I could do it. Come on, bring out your Legos, and show me how you make this stuff. I’ll be like your sidekick or helper or whatever.”
“Okay, okay,” Josh laughed. “It’s not like I can pass up the chance to have Maccabe Fried as my sidekick—especially since you’re so much older than me.”
“Three weeks counts as older, Freckles, deal with it.”
He flipped me off, climbed down from the bed, and folded the bedspread up, then bent down and started pulling out bins full of Legos. I froze. Josh was a really skinny guy, almost as tall as me but all bones. His baggy clothes always drowned his frame, but in his current position—on all fours, knees spread, shoulders lowered to the ground—his pants hugged his ass, and I was surprised to see that it was nicely filled out, like a round apple.
I shook my head to clear the weird thought and adjusted myself, feeling suddenly uncomfortable in my jock. My mind was distracted from my friend’s backside when I saw something slip out from between his mattress and box spring and flutter to the floor. I squatted down and picked it up.
We had gone to the San Juan Islands with the Segals for the Fourth of July the previous summer. Our parents snapped a bunch of pictures, but I had never seen that one. I was standing in front of the ocean, turned to the side, with the surf lapping at my toes. My wetsuit was stripped off my chest, hanging down, and I was holding onto my surfboard with one hand while the other was pressed against my forehead, blocking the sun from my eyes. Though it couldn’t have been more than five months old, the edges of the picture were soft and curled, like it’d been handled frequently.
Why would Josh have a picture of me stuffed under his mattress? Why would Josh be handling a picture of me that he had stuffed under his mattress? My eyes darted over to Josh, who was pulling out what had to be the last bin. He didn’t know I’d seen the picture, and I wanted to keep it that way, so I quickly shoved it back beneath the mattress and picked up one of the bins.
“I’ll just move these so we have more room,” I said, not sure if the sentence made any sense.
Of course, at that point, the sentence would have to get in line with all the other things that suddenly made no sense. Like my picture under Josh’s mattress. And the erection I sprang when I noticed his ass. I clenched my eyes shut and groaned. Dear God, had I actually checked out Josh’s ass?