I've got a problem. I want to get my best friend something special for Christmas. I mean, really special. I can't tell him how I feel about him, but want him to know. I think maybe a special present might give him a hint. I want so badly for him to know how I feel about him, but I'm scared to death, too. What if knowing how I feel turns him off? What if it creeps him out and he stops wanting to hang with me? I can hardly think about that. I just can't.
His name is Dennis. He's 13 like I am, and isn't adorable looking or anything like that. I'm not either. We're just two ordinary looking boys, but we've been best friends since he moved in across the street when we were both eight. He liked building models, and I did too, and we spent time together doing that when we first got to know each other, and then our mothers signed us up for swimming lessons that summer at the public pool, and it didn't take much more than that and before long we were spending all our time together.
I can't remember a specific time or a specific incident when I fell in love with Dennis. I didn't wake up one morning and say to myself, hey, I love Dennis! I think the feeling just sort of grew during all the time we were together. We did spend a lot of time together. We ate together, we had many sleepovers, we played together, we sat alone and talked, usually in the woods out back of his house where a group of tall trees all standing close together provided a secluded place for us to talk, our secret place, a place where we spent a lot of time while we were growing up. We were together a lot, and over the course of that time, I ended up falling in love with him, little by little.
He wasn't beautiful. He had medium brown hair that was usually kind of messed up, a long face with curious dark brown eyes, ears that stood away from his head and that he said made him look ugly, although I thought they were cute, and a slim build. He said he looked stupid, but he didn't. He looked fine. Not movie star cute, not a boy idol, but fine. I liked the way he looked, myself. He looked like a kid, and acted like one, too. He could run faster than I could, but I was a better wrestler and would usually end up on top, unless he tickled me, which wasn't fair and he knew it, too.
It was his personality I liked best. We just fit, that way, even though we were different more than we were the same. I was a little shy while he was very outgoing. I embarrassed easily, and nothing really seemed to embarrass him. I was quieter than he was. He talked all the time, and this filled in the silences that would have been there if it had been left up to me to do my share of the talking. The place where we weren't opposites was in brains and what we liked. We were both smart, both liked to read, and would hold discussions about the things we'd read, sometimes arguing, sometimes letting our imaginations take off from some point in a story we'd been talking about. That was really fun. We had great imaginations.
If I say we fit, even though our personalities had those differences I just mentioned, it was because of the way Dennis was. I've seen some kids like him, some kids who were outgoing and confident and kind of natural leaders, who were so into themselves or what they were doing or thinking that they didn't pay much attention at all to the kids around them. Dennis wasn't like that. I told you how I embarrass easily and he doesn't. I don't like people drawing attention to me. I'm just not very comfortable in a group with everyone staring at me. When it's like that, I blush a lot, can't think of anything to say, start being clumsy and am likely to blurt out something stupid or inappropriate. I get to thinking in my head about how everyone's looking at me and how stupid I look and I get so I can't think about anything else, and that's when I blush and fidget and wish I was somewhere else. I hate that, and hate being embarrassed.
Dennis could have had fun with that. I know lots of guys who are friends but enjoy embarrassing each other, or even more frequently, one of the friends enjoys embarrassing the other one. Dennis never did that to me. He did the opposite. If he saw I was getting embarrassed, if I was getting that panicky look I get, he'd say something or do something to take the focus off me, and I'd be able to get my thinking back to normal and calm down. Dennis was real good at that. I'd thank him for it when we were alone, sometimes, and he always just grinned and said he was just returning the favor, that I helped him a lot with things, too. Then he'd change the subject.
He didn't seem to ever really want to talk about our friendship. He liked to be together with me as much as I did with him. If I didn't go over to his house in the morning, he came to mine. So, I know he liked me. I just didn't know how much, or if he felt anything at all like I felt, if he had the special sort of feelings I had. We never talked about that.
How do you tell your best friend you love him? I don't know. I wish I did.
I really, really wish I knew how he'd react, whether he'd be disgusted with me or not. I've read some stories where kids who are best friends and one of them is gay and one isn't remain friends after the gay one tells the straight one he loves him. But I've also read about a lot of friendships that end that way. So, I just don't know what would happen if Dennis finds out. Yet, I kind of want him to. And that feeling of me wanting him to know keeps getting stronger, And I wonder if that's because I'm now 13.
I have no idea at all if Dennis loves me back, but sort of doubt it. Why should I be that lucky? I do know he likes me a lot, though. Liking someone as a friend and loving them like I love Dennis, however, those are two different things. I could live with him not loving me back, but am so afraid if he knows I love him, it might scare him away. So afraid that I just can't say anything to him. Yet there's this feeling growing inside of me that makes me want him to know how I feel.
I want to at least hint to him how I feel, and since Christmas is coming up, giving him a present that's special might let me do that.
I said I have a problem. Actually, I have several. I want to get him something special, but I don't know what it is. I want it to suggest to him that I have feelings for him that are more than just two boys being friends, but it can't be too obvious, like a gold bracelet with gold hearts on it or an ID bracelet inscribed with "Dennis" on the front and "From Jay, Forever and Always" on the back. I haven't figured out what to get him yet. Another problem is, how am I going to pay for it? I don't have much money. Dad gives me money to buy him and Mom a present, but it's only about $50, and that isn't enough to buy them something nice and also buy Dennis whatever I decide on. And how am I going to get something that tells him my feelings might be more than mere friendship between two 13-year-old boys but doesn't tell either my or his parents, or the kids at school, the same thing?
--- --- ---
"Mom, I need some money, for Christmas."
"Your father will give you some, like always, Jay. If you need it tonight, ask him. But Christmas is still almost a month away. You're not it that big a hurry, are you?"
"Not really, but I need more than he's going to give me, and so I thought maybe I could do some work around here and you could pay me, so I needed to start early to have enough time to earn a lot."
"How much do you need?"
"I don't know, but the more the better."
She laughed. "Jay, what do you need it for? Neither your father nor I need much, and what you've bought us every year has been perfect. What's different this year?"
"I want to buy Dennis something."
"Oh. Well, you've always managed to do that before with the money we've given you."
"I want to get him something special this year. I haven't decided what yet, but it probably will cost enough that I'll need extra money. So, can I earn some?"
She was cooking me breakfast. It was Saturday and I'd got up much earlier than I usually do on Saturdays just so I could talk to her about this. She was standing at the stove, making pancakes, flipping them and watching that they didn't burn. She thought about my question before answering it.
We have a pretty close family. I'm an only child. My dad works downtown in an insurance office. He doesn't sell insurance; he's some sort of manager in the office. He has a few people reporting to him and they investigate claims to make sure they're legitimate. My mom works part-time as a substitute teacher. Thankfully, she works for a different school system than the one I'm in. Talk about embarrassment! Having your mother in front of the class and all the other kids looking at her, knowing she's my mom, that would be awful. I think I'd die if that happened.
But we're a close family. Since I'm the only kid, they're both interested in what I do and we all talk a lot at the dinner table. At home, with them, I'm not shy. They love me, and I love them, and we talk a lot. I haven't told them I love Dennis. I'm pretty sure they could deal with it. But then they'd ask if I was gay. I don't know the answer to that. I love Dennis, but no one else. I find a lot of boys at school attractive, but I think a lot of the girls are, too. I just don't know about this gay business, but I don't worry about it or anything. Maybe it'll all make more sense next year. I don't worry about it, I'd just rather not talk about it.
I'd been kind of staring out the window, and finally turned back and looked at my mother and she was staring at me. I don't know for how long. I guess I'd been daydreaming. I do that sometimes.
"I guess I could pay you if you want to do some chores around here. The basement could use straightening up. The windows need washing. I don't think I want you putting up the Christmas lights, you could fall off the ladder. Dad can do that. But you can bring all the decorations upstairs from the basement while you're cleaning it. That's something to start with. If you need more things, I'll try to make a list."
"How much are you going to pay me?"
She chuckled. "When I was small I asked my mother to pay me for jobs around the house. I wanted to buy the latest Barbie set. She said she'd pay me fifty cents an hour. I don't suppose that would be enough, would it?"
"Mom! I was thinking $10 an hour."
"Oh, you were, were you? I don't think so. I'll tell you what. I'll pay you $6 an hour if you do a good job so I don't have to do it over again when you're finished. That means you can earn $30 in five hours. That's quite a bit, and probably more than enough for a present for Dennis. How's that sound?"
I didn't really have to think about it. I'd never worked five hours before, but it didn't seem that hard, and $30 was a lot. I just wished I had some idea what to buy. Maybe I'd need more than $30. I simply didn't know.
"Okay. That sounds fine. Can I start today?"
She agreed and asked whether I'd rather clean up the basement or wash the windows. It was really cold today and she wanted them washed on both sides, so I chose the basement.
I was getting ready to start when the phone rang. It was Dennis, telling me his mother had some things for him to do today and so he wouldn't be over until late afternoon if he could come at all. I told him that was good because I was busy, too. We chatted for a couple minutes, and then I was off to the basement.
--- --- ---
Have you ever cleaned a basement? I guess just how nasty a job it is depends on the basement. Ours was where we put things we didn't know what to do with. All three of us in my family have this thing - we don't like to throw anything away. We might need it again. When everyone in a family suffers from this disease, things tend to accumulate. They accumulate in our house in the basement.
We had all kinds of stuff down there and a lot of it was junk, stuff no one would ever use again, but still stuff that somehow was hard to throw away. I found out right away, the hard part of the job I'd accepted wasn't going to be straightening everything up, it was going to be deciding what to toss and what to keep. My mom told me I should decide, but when I was done, the basement had to be neat and tidy, everything organized, and everything that was to be discarded should be gathered together, the stuff that obviously was trash put in trash bags, the stuff that I thought we could get rid of but wasn't sure of put in big cardboard boxes so she could look through it. She said she didn't want to be called every five minutes to decide for me. It was my job to clean the place up and make the decisions.
I got started. There was so much stuff, it was hard to get a space cleared so I could pile anything. After about ten minutes, I'd accomplished almost nothing and was starting to feel discouraged. But then I thought of why I was doing this, gritted my teeth, and started again.
I worked till lunch time, and by then I'd started making progress. I had cleared my way to one wall where there were some shelves, and had even emptied those. After lunch I was going to start putting away the things I wanted to keep on the shelves, arranged by type. One shelf would be for household stuff like light bulbs, extension cords, a space heater, three flashlights, two compact radios that still worked, an oil lantern we had in case of power failures, cans of floor wax, things like that. Another shelf I was thinking of using for gardening supplies, another for games and my old models and modeling kits I hadn't put together yet, another would be for sports gear. I found out I really enjoyed the organizing part of the job.
By the time I stopped working at three o'clock I'd been down there five and a half hours. I'd started at nine but taken a half hour off for lunch. I told mom I should get paid for lunch, office people did, and she'd laughed at me and not bothered to argue, just laughed, and I knew that wasn't going to work. It was worth a try, but I wasn't going to get away with it. But I'd made thirty-three bucks. That was great. There were still a couple hours work to be done down there, and I was eager to do it. The basement looked great, and I felt really good about that. I had three giant trash bags full and two boxes of stuff for Mom to review. I really wanted to get back to it and finish it up, but I had something else to do first. While I'd been doing all the cleaning and organizing and deciding, while my mind had been totally occupied on that, I'd suddenly known what to get for Dennis. It just came to me. But now I had to do some research. I hoped what I had in mind was possible, but just didn't know for sure. I had to find out.
I told Mom I was finished for the day. She walked down to see what I'd done, and her mouth fell open. Then she started praising me, and I started blushing, but I felt really good. I knew it was a good job, but it was still great hearing it from her. I was already proud of the job I'd done, but hearing from her, seeing how pleased she was with what I'd done, that just made it a whole lot better. I told her I'd finish up tomorrow. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, then started going through the boxes. I told her not to make a mess. She looked up at me, and I broke out laughing. I thought it was pretty funny, too. I sort of meant it, though.
I spent an hour on my computer, looking at various websites, finding things out. When I was nearly done, I heard the doorbell ring. I clicked back to my homepage, then went to the door. It was Dennis.
He came back with me to my room, and I was sure glad I'd closed down the site I'd been on. Some people think Christmas is about the gifts. I think it is, too, but to me, the surprise is just as big a deal as the gift. I want to keep what I'm giving people a secret, then see the look in their eyes when they open the present. That's really important to me. I got that from Mom and Dad. They feel that way. To me, it makes Christmas more fun, because everything being a secret creates all this anticipation which builds a lot of excitement. No way did I want Dennis to have any idea what I was getting him.
"Know what I did today?" he asked me after plopping down on my bed. I lay down next to him. It's a double bed, so there was room. We often lay down together like this. It was normal for us. I liked it a lot.
"What?" I asked.
"I figured out what to get you for Christmas. Want me to tell you?"
"NO! I want it to be a surprise."
"Aren't you curious?"
"Of course I'm curious, you moron. I just don't want to spoil the surprise."
"But what if I've chosen something you don't want? If I tell you now, you can tell me you don't want that, and I can get something else."
I had to admit, that kind of made sense. Say he was going to get me a new shirt, for example. Now I hope that's a bad example because if he got me a shirt for Christmas I'd be so pissed I'd probably fall out of love with him. But take that as an example. He could tell me that, I could tell him I'd rather have dog shit than a shirt, and he could buy me something else.
"Well - " I said, and stopped.
"Oh, you want me to tell you then, huh?"
"Well, if you're thinking of buying me, say, a shirt. . . ."
"Hey! How'd you know?"
"You dickhead! You're not buying me a shirt! Are you?"
"I'll tell you if you want me to."
"Yeah, tell me, and it had better not be a shirt."
"I knew I could make you ask! I'm not going to tell you. I want it to be a surprise. But I knew I could make you ask!"
"AAARRRGGGG!" I said, and rolled over on top of him. He raised his arms to fend me off, but I weighed more than he did and always beat him when we did this. I did this time, too. He ended up with his hands flat on the bed up by his ears with my hands on top of them, holding him down. I looked down at him, he looked up and me and stopped struggling, and I quickly rolled off.
He laughed at me. "You're so easy, Jay. Hey, what're you getting me?"
"Like I'd tell you."
"I know, I know. Just giving you the chance to tell me that."
I grinned at him. I couldn't spend too much time that close to him looking into his eyes. I wanted to. I loved to. But I was never sure what he could read in mine, so I had to be careful. I looked away.
We hung out the rest of the afternoon till he had to go home.
The next day, Sunday, I finished the basement. It was a little warmer than Saturday had been, and I screwed up my resolve and told my mother I was going to do the windows today.
"Really? You've already made $45. You're not spending that much on Dennis, are you?"
"If I earn the money, I can spend it any way I want to, can't I?"
"Of course you can, dear, but that's a lot of money."
"I know what I want to get him, and I went on-line yesterday and know about what it'll cost. It's going to cost around $65, which means I have to work another three hours. I'd guess the windows will take that long."
We have a lot of windows, and I'd never washed one before.
She looked at me without speaking for a few moments, then turned back to the sink where she was rinsing out the breakfast dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. "You're working to earn the money, so you can spend it however you want. I think that's a pretty expensive gift, but you're old enough to make that decision, and you've worked hard to earn the money. You want to tell me what it is?"
I didn't want to. I was a little surprised she wasn't arguing with me about the cost of it. If she knew what it was, I didn't know how she'd react, but thought it would be better if I'd already given it to him before she knew. She couldn't say anything then. "I'd rather keep it secret. Christmas, you know."
I could tell by watching her shoulders she didn't much like that, but keeping presents secret was a firm tradition with us. She didn't say anything more.
I washed the windows. Do you know how hard that is? It's one of those jobs where you say, 'Hey, that looks easy. Anyone can do that.' Then you do it and you think you've got it, but when they dry and you see streaks and smudges all over them then you have to go back and do it again, and by the time you're done, really done, you've earned your $20 and you're beat. But the windows sure looked nice.
Now I had to get one of my parents to take me to the mall. I had to go when Dennis wasn't around, which meant a school night because he was almost always around on the weekends and in the afternoons. That took a little persuasion on my part, but on Thursday after dinner my dad agreed to take me. When we got to the mall, I asked Dad if I could do what I wanted to do privately, it being Christmas and all. He said he'd be at Footlocker when I was ready. I thanked him, then went to a jewelry store I knew was there, one that was part of a national chain that I'd been able to look up on the computer. I knew what I wanted, and they had it in stock. They had to call their engraver because this was going to be tricky, but he said he could do it. It was going to cost the $65 I'd already known it would, but then they were going to add tax. I hadn't thought of that. I started to panic, but then thought of Dad, and told them to wait a minute, I'd be right back. I found him and told him I hadn't figured on paying tax and didn't have enough money. I asked if he could help me. He gave me what I needed to make up what I was short. I felt awfully grateful to him, until he told me I could take down the ornaments and lights from the tree after Christmas all by myself to pay him back. Still, when I thought about it, I was happy with that. This way the present would be entirely from me, and I liked that a lot.
It was going to be ready next Tuesday, and I told them I'd pick it up then or a couple days after, it would depend on when I could again finagle a ride to the mall.
The next couple of weeks had me doing a dance with my emotions. I was excited that maybe, just maybe, Dennis could find out how I felt about him. But the more the chance of him finding out I had feelings for him grew, of course the more the fear that he'd hate me when he found out grew, too. I was pretty sure that what I had done was ambiguous enough that I could talk my way out of anything, and so I could feel excited that there was a lot of upside potential here and very little downside, but I knew, even when thinking that, it was wishful thinking. Dennis was smart. As smart as I was. He might be able to see clearly what I was doing. I might not be getting away with anything.
We were in his bedroom one afternoon several days before Christmas. I'd come in after his mother had opened the door for me and told me Dennis was upstairs in his room. His door was open and I walked in and he was just taping a large red bow on a Christmas present wrapped in electric blue paper.
"Hey, Dennis, who's that for?"
"You're not supposed to be nosy right before Christmas you know. Everyone has secrets. You're just supposed to smile and be pleasant and ignore the man behind the curtain wrapping presents."
"Yeah, but you aren't a wizard and I'm not from Kansas. Who's it for?"
"I haven't decided yet. You don't see a nametag on it, do you?"
"Whata you mean, you don't know? You bought it, you wrapped it, you must know who it's for."
"No, I buy lots of junk in the stores, whatever catches my eye and is cheap, wrap it all up, then just sort of decide on a whim who gets what. Draw names out of a hat, some years. I mean, if you buy a long handled ivory tipped shoehorn, anyone would like to get that, right? So you can give it to anyone. It doesn't make any difference, and it makes shopping a lot easier."
"Sure it makes a difference! I wouldn't want to get a shoehorn! I just toe my sneaks off at night and then stick my feet in them in the morning and wriggle around till I'm all the way in, just like everyone else. I don't need no stinkin' shoehorn, man."
"Well, it's a good thing I didn't get you one, then. Anyway, an 18" long shoehorn wouldn't fit in this box."
"Whata you mean?"
"Since this is for you, it can't be a long handled shoehorn."
"That's for me?"
"Yeah. You like it?"
I looked at it. It was a rectangular box, maybe a foot long and four or five inches wide and high. I had no idea what it could be. We hadn't told each other what we wanted. I guess both of us felt the other should know. We knew everything about each other, we were closer than brothers, we should know. And I had no idea what I wanted that would fit in a box that size.
"You like it?" he repeated. I looked at him instead of the box and he had a sort of squirrelly grin on his face. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. Sometimes I could read him like a book. Sometimes I knew exactly, practically word for word, what he was going to say next. This wasn't one of those times.
"How do I know if I like it?" I said, sounding a little whiney. I was so uncertain about what I'd got him, I wavered so much back and forth about it, one moment elated, one scared shitless, I didn't have any idea how to react to seeing him holding something he'd got for me. One thing I was pretty sure. He wasn't agonizing about his gift to me like I was mine to him.
His grin faded a bit. He looked at me, then asked, "You okay, Jay? You've seemed, I don't know, different for a couple weeks now. Like you're stressed out, maybe. What's going on?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. I'm sorry. It must be Christmas coming up. The present looks great. Thanks. I've got yours. I haven't wrapped it yet, but I've got it."
He looked at me without replying, then turned around and started cleaning up his scissors and tape and extra paper. After a bit, while he was still putting things away, he said to me, "Hey, Jay?"
"Uh, when we open our presents, ours for each other, do you think we could do it with just us together? Not in front of the rest of the family? Either yours or mine?"
"Sure, I guess. But why?" After I said that, it suddenly occurred to me, what a wonderful idea that was! I wished I'd thought of it.
He turned to me and grinned, his devilish grin that I loved so much. "Oh, you never know. Maybe I got you some sexy underwear. Or some Playboy mags. Several of them."
"You got me underwear? That's worse than a shirt! And Playboys? You're not old enough to buy them!"
"I didn't say I did. I said maybe. But if you don't want to do that, it's fine. It was just an idea."
"No, no, I like the idea. Let's do it. How about Christmas Eve?"
Both his family and mine always opened all our presents on Christmas Day. At my house, my parents insisted we eat breakfast first, before we opened. This drove me bananas when I was a little kid. I'm used to it now, but it's still hard to hold still and eat breakfast when all those presents are just waiting to be opened. We didn't do much of anything on Christmas Eve, other than my parents teasing me about not being able to wait and me pretending it's no big deal at all, so opening Dennis's present and watching him open mine would work out great.
"That's fine. You want to do it at your house or mine?"
That was easy to decide. If he hated what I was getting him, if he figured out what it meant and hated me, I didn't want him to kick me out of his house. That would be awful. It would be awful, too, if he got up and walked out of mine, but at least then I'd still be in my room. At his house, I would have to walk past his parents and then past mine, bawling my eyes out.
"Mine. Why don't you come over after dinner? We'll do it then."
He looked at me and smiled, then raised his hand and we high-fived each other.
--- --- ---
On Christmas Eve, I began feeling nervous in the afternoon, and by dinnertime, I was a wreck. Why had I ever thought to do this? Yes, I wanted him to know how I felt, but it wasn't worth losing his friendship over. And here I was worrying my guts out and he might never even find out what I wanted him, or hated for him, to find out. I'd been stupid to do this. Really stupid.
Somehow I managed to eat enough dinner to satisfy Mom and Dad. Mom said something about not eating, but I told her I was nervous about Christmas tomorrow, and both she and Dad laughed, grinning at each other and thinking it was funny. What I was feeling was about as funny as being run down by a bus.
About fifteen minutes after we were through, the doorbell rang, and I let Dennis in. He was carrying his present for me.
We went up to my room.
We sat down on the floor, side by side. I handed him my present, a cubical box about 6" on each side, wrapped in shiny red paper with a dark blue ribbon and matching bow on it. I was really nervous. I'd been sure when I'd figured out what to get him it was the perfect gift. Something that told him I cared about him, something that might suggest more than that but was ambiguous enough that he couldn't be sure, and if his own mind didn't run in that direction, it might not occur to him at all what the gift meant. Now, as he was about to open it, I wasn't sure. Maybe it was too obvious. If it was, how would he react? Would he get pissed? Would he just stand up and walk home, not even looking at me? The more I thought of these possibilities as he sat there, holding the wrapped present in his lap and just looking at it, the more frightened I got.
I held his present in my lap, too. It was in a box about the size of a shoebox, but didn't weight much. I shook it and nothing rattled. I wondered if it was maybe a model. Balsa wood and plastic doesn't weigh much. If that's what it was, and I'd got him what I did, would either of us feel foolish, or awkward? I was starting to feel a little stupid. Why hadn't I just got him a game or a book or something?
He looked up at me, and I couldn't tell what he was thinking. His eyes looked darker than usual, and he wasn't smiling. He looked back down, then started unwrapping his present.
"Aren't you going to guess what it is?" I asked. I tried to put a teasing note in my voice, but I'm not sure it came across. I was really nervous now, and my voice sounded strange to me.
He didn't answer, just shook his head and kept unwrapping. I started unwrapping mine, too.
He had his open first. I stopped unwrapping to watch him open the smaller box inside the larger one I'd wrapped. He took out the small box, looked up at me with the same unreadable eyes he's shown me before, then opened the hinged lid and looked inside.
The sterling silver ring I'd bought him glistened up at him. He looked at it a second or two, then lifted it from the blue velvet cushion it was nestled in. I looked at his face, hoping against hope I'd see a smile there. I didn't. What I saw instead looked more like awe than anything else.
He held it closer so he could look at it, then tried it on his ring finger. It slid on perfectly.
He didn't say anything for a moment, then asked in a somewhat shaky voice, "How'd you know the size?"
I smiled, a nervous smile, but a smile nevertheless. "When we were wrestling a couple weeks ago, when I held your hands down, I saw your fingers were just the same as mine. I bought one that fit me."
He smiled then. An actual bright smile.
"Do you like it?" I asked him somewhat timidly. I really hoped he did. I really wanted him to like it.
"You'll never know how much I like this, Jay. Open yours."
I'd forgotten all about his present to me. I continued opening it. It was full of tissue paper. I couldn't believe what I saw inside the paper. I just sat staring at it for a long moment. It was a box that looked very much like the one he'd just opened. I pulled it out and flipped open the lid. Inside was another silver ring, not identical to the one I'd given him, but not that much different, either.
I looked at it and teared up. I couldn't help it. I didn't want him to see, but he was right there looking at me. I pretended to accidentally drop the box, dropped it so it rolled away a little, and in my scramble to retrieve it, managed to wipe my elbow across my eyes. That helped.
I was thinking while doing that, why did he give me a ring? I knew why I'd given him one. Did his mean the same thing? I doubted it, but the thought did occur to me. The other thing I thought was, my gift to him had an inscription inside. It was written so small you needed a strong magnifying glass to read it. With the naked eye, it looked more like little scratches than anything else. I'd decided yesterday not to tell him it was there. I'd chickened out in the past few days, worrying more and more what he'd think, and yesterday had decided to not tell him about the inscription. I guessed maybe some day he'd see it. Maybe some day he'd figure out it was writing and get a strong glass and read it. Until then, I was safe. I myself knew what I'd given him. I knew what he was wearing on his finger. That was as brave as I could be.
"Do you like it?" Now his voice sounded a little strange. I looked up at him. He was looking at me with an intensity I'd never seen from him before.
"I love it, Dennis. It's the best gift I've ever had."
"Try it on."
I pulled it out of the box. It fit exactly right. "How'd you know the size?" I asked curiously.
"I checked you fingers against mine when we were wrestling," he said, then started laughing. I did too. It was so good to break the tension, I think we both laughed harder than the comment called for.
I looked at my ring when we were both under control again, and he looked at his, then we both looked at the ring the other was wearing, appreciating how they looked on each others' fingers. Then we looked at our own again, both of us thinking, neither of us saying anything. I was thinking, and I could see he was too. Then, simultaneously, we both slipped the rings off our fingers, and both looked inside. I could see small scratches there.
"Do you have a magnifying glass?" he asked me.
"I'll get it."
I got up and went to Dad's desk in the study and brought back the glass he had there. I held it in my hand after I sat back down, feeling very nervous again, but excited, too. I asked him, "Who should go first?"
He looked as uncertain as I felt. Then he reached out his hand, and I gave him the glass. He read his ring, then gave the glass to me. I read mine.
Suddenly my heart was pounding. Did this mean what I thought it might? Could he have been feeling exactly what I was when I had the ring inscribed? Did he like me better than just a friend and not know how to tell me? There was no way he loved me. He couldn't. Could he?
And then I wondered what he was thinking. Did I dare look at him? After reading the ring he'd given me, my heart was pounding harder than ever, and my eyes felt moist again. I felt sort of vulnerable, but I had to see what reaction he had to what I'd had inscribed.
I looked over at him. He had taken the glass back and was again looking through the magnifying glass at the inside of the ring. Then he looked up at me. His eyes were wet, too, but they had a look of wonder in them. Astonishment and wonder. When I saw that, I broke out in a smile that was so wide, it almost hurt. A huge smile, and my eyes were running. He wasn't standing up and walking away. He was looking awestruck, and, also, very happy.
What the ring he'd given me had written on the inside band was: Jay - Someone Very Special
What his read was: R - More than friends - J
We'd both been careful. We'd both been scared. But we'd both said what we thought we could safely say, and when the words were put together like they were, and now with us sitting like this, reacting like this, we both knew.
We were sitting next to each other, so I didn't have far to reach. I scooted over a little so I was in front of him, both of us cross-legged with our knees touching. I put my two hands on his shoulders, still staring into his face. He had a smile like mine now, a glowing smile, yet both of us had tears running down our cheeks.
"I didn't know," he said huskily to me. "I didn't know. I was so scared, Jay."
I didn't reply. I leaned over and kissed him. He was tentative for a second, and then his arms were around me, gripping me hard, pulling me into him. This was the first kiss either of us had ever had. It would have lasted longer, but I think we both were too eager to talk, to say what we'd both been holding back so long. We both spoke of fear and love. But mostly of love.
I got lots of great presents that year from my parents, but the best present I got, the most special one, was Dennis.
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