After work the next day, I came home intending to shower and practice. When I got out of the shower, I went to the kitchen to get some water. Gray was at the table eating what I guessed was a late lunch. “Hey,” he said. “Do you want to go to a bonfire tonight? My friend Zeke said I could bring you.”
“Sure,” I said. I couldn’t help thinking Jed had a friend named Zeke.
“We have to leave soon. It’s a little bit of a drive.”
I nodded and gulped down some water. I could skip practicing for a day, right?
When Gray was done eating, we pulled on our shoes and got in his car. “Where’s it at?” I asked.
“Zeke’s friend Isaiah’s.”
Jed had a friend named Isaiah, too. What a coincidence.
Gray handed me his phone as he drove down the driveway. “Put that address in the GPS, will you?”
I looked down at the address. It was no coincidence.
2514 NW Hidden Pointe Drive, Blue Springs, MO, 64015
For a second I couldn’t breathe, and then I opened the navigation and gave it back to Gray. “Does Zeke--?” I couldn’t get it out. My heart was pounding so hard. “Does Zeke have a friend named Jed?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Gray said. “Why?”
“I think I know him.”
Gray glanced at me. “How would you know him?”
“He… You know the house I was at before I came here? Jed was there with me for a while.”
“No way,” Gray said.
“He was,” I said. “And, well, I don’t know. I’m really excited to see him, but also really scared.”
“Why would you be scared? Were you friends?”
“We were friends. But I mean, Gray, I don’t know. Did you know I’m gay?”
“No,” he said. “Why does that matter?”
“Well, I liked Jed. I have a really big crush on him.”
“Oh,” Gray said, glancing at me again. “He didn’t like you?”
“He liked me, as a friend, but no more. But he knows I like him, so I think, I mean, it will probably be really awkward.”
“You know my friend Zeke I mentioned?”
“He and his boyfriend, Israel, will be there.”
“Okay,” I said, “so what?”
“Well, I thought…”
I almost laughed at Gray as he blushed, but I held it in. “Thanks for trying to help. Doesn’t improve the situation with Jed though.”
“Sorry.” he said.
“It’s okay,” I promised. “You can have fun with your friends, and I’ll deal with my problems. Don’t worry about me.”
“At least you’ll know someone there,” Gray said, a smile back on his face.
“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “I won’t have to cling to you the whole time.”
“You didn’t cling yesterday.”
“Well, I wanted to. The other people just didn’t let me.”
“Did you like them?”
“They’re cool,” I said. I wasn’t going to tell him how left out I felt most of the night. “I liked Rocco.”
“He’s cool,” Gray said. “He just doesn’t like what he used to.”
“People change. It’ll be okay. He still likes you guys.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Gray said. “I don’t like losing friends.”
“He’s still your friend.”
“Yeah,” Gray said.
I didn’t know what else to say, so I offered to turn on some music. Gray didn’t sing along to anything, so for a while I resisted singing, but when “Lost in My Mind” came on, I had to sing. Gray didn’t even look at me, so I sang for a few more songs until he said something.
“We’re kind of close,” he said.
“Cool,” I said. “I’ve never been to this town before.”
“I have. We met up at Zeke’s once.”
“That’s cool. I’m glad you get to see your friends.”
“Me too. Really glad.”
I nodded and began singing again.
“You can sing way better than me,” Gray said at the end of the song.
“Thanks,” I said, blushing. “It’s calming to me.”
“Is that why you sing and play piano so much?”
I nodded. “Yeah, but I also want to go to school for it.”
“I want to go to college, I think.” Gray said. “I haven’t told my parents.”
“I’m sure they’ll support you.”
“I don’t know,” Gray said. “I don’t think they… I don’t know.”
“I don’t think they think I want to go to college.”
“Why not?” “Because I’m not smart.”
“Sure you are,” I said. “You can name every species on the trail and you told me stuff I didn’t know about the climate.”
“Well I suck at school. We hardly ever talk about that stuff.”
“That’s why college seems really cool. Because you can just take the classes you’re interested in.”
“Yeah,” Gray said. “It’s just still school, so I’ll probably be really bad at it.”
“You don’t know that.”
Gray shrugged. He turned into a neighborhood, and I turned off the music on my phone. It was getting dark outside, and there were quite a few cars parked on the street. Gray chose a spot, and then we got out and followed the GPS to the house on foot. It smelled like campfire already, and we couldn’t even see it. As we got closer, we could hear all sorts of voices.
“It’s that house,” Gray said, pointing. I squinted at it. I couldn’t tell what color it was, but it was about the size of the Parkers’ house. My heart panged. I looked for any sign of Jed, even though I knew it was silly. I doubted he had a car, and if he did, I wouldn’t recognize it.
We walked up to the front door, but there was a hand-drawn sign there with an arrow pointing to the side of the house. We followed the arrow and there was an open gate. I could see the yellow-orange of the fire reflecting off windows and all of the people in the yard.
“It’s busy,” Gray said.
I nodded. How was I supposed to find Jed?
I followed Gray, who weaved among a bunch of people before shouting, “Amoni!!” and running over to a black guy who was taller than him. They hugged quickly, and then the guy, Amoni, talked animatedly with his hands. Gray responded and then looked around until he saw me. He waved me over, and I walked slowly, unsure about meeting another one of his friends. I probably would have nothing to talk about.
“This the cousin?” Amoni asked.
“Yeah, this is Cameron,” Gray said. “This is my friend from boot camp, Amoni.”
“Best friend,” Amoni said, sticking his hand out to me. I shook it. “Nice to meet you.”
“I heard you met Gray’s other friends.?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“You met that Holly chick? I’ve never met her, but can you believe Gray’s not dating her? Or at least one of those girls?” I laughed, and Gray smiled nervously. “They’re just my friends, Mon, I told you.”
“You and Holly are really close though, aren’t you?” I asked. I looked at Amoni. “It would be cute.”
“Stop,” Gray said, but he was smiling, so I figured he wasn’t actually mad. Amoni smiled and pushed him playfully. “The rest of the guys are here somewhere, but I was going to grab food when you found me.”
“Food sounds good,” I said without thinking.
“Then let’s go, my dude!” Amoni said. Gray and I followed him to a table, where there were hotdogs, chips, and s’mores supplies. “I heard there’s more food inside, but what’s a bonfire if you don’t roast a weenie?” Amoni said. He handed Gray and me a metal skewer. Gray looked at it like he had never seen one before. “I usually just use a stick, but I guess this works.”
“Works way better than a stick,” Amoni said. “It’s a very rich-person thing to have.”
Gray and I laughed. We roasted our hotdogs, then grabbed plates and added condiments and chips. We wandered around as we ate, eventually finding Gray and Amoni’s other friends. I was introduced to Pax, who Amoni shared an apartment with, Kelsey, Ember, Deven, and Zeke and Israel, who were dating.
“We’re all delinquents, so you better be careful hanging around us,” Deven said, and the rest of them laughed. I smiled, unsure what to say, but Ember took the pressure off of me.
“I think I’ve lost my delinquent status, personally.”
The others laughed and agreed that they all had lost it.
“We went to a camp for ‘bad kids,’” Deven explained to me. “Not really because any of us were that bad, except Ember was a hacker, Pax was in a gang, and Amoni and Zeke liked to fight.”
“Quite the resume,” I said. Deven laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. “We’re not too bad, don’t worry.”
“You’re Gray’s friends, so you have to be pretty harmless,” I said, smiling. Deven grinned. I watched Gray socialize with his friends, thinking about how different he seemed here. I wondered, when I saw Jed, if he’d be that different.
After a while, Zeke and Israel went off to talk to other people. I went to get another hotdog. I ended up people watching as I roasted my hotdog, and before I knew it, Gray was next to me. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said.
“Sorry you haven’t seen your friend. We could go ask Zeke about him.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded. “That’s a good idea.”
When our hotdogs were ready, I followed Gray around until we found Zeke and Israel talking to a bunch of guys I didn’t know.
“Hey Gray,” one of them said, beckoning us over.
“Sorry, I can’t remember your name,” Gray said. I couldn’t completely tell, but I thought he was blushing.
“I’m Leo,” the guy said.
“Don’t beat yourself up, Gray, you guys only met once,” Zeke said. Or, at least, I was pretty sure it was Zeke.
“Who’s this?” Leo asked.
“My cousin Cameron.”
Leo and two other guys, Jacoryn and Isaiah, introduced themselves, and then Zeke and Israel reintroduced themselves. As it turned out, I remembered their names correctly. It was so weird meeting Jed’s friends after he described them to me and told me stories about them. I felt like I knew them, but I had always pictured them younger.
We talked for a while, and finally Gray got the chance to say, “Is Jed here?”
“Yeah,” Isaiah said. “I think he’s hiding inside.”
“Cameron says he knows him.”
“I do,” I said. “We were at the, um, house together.”
“The one Jed hid at?” Isaiah asked.
“I can go get him,” Jacoryn offered.
“That would be awesome,” I said, my heart threatening to pound out of my chest.
“Come on,” Jacoryn said, jerking his thumb towards the house. Gray and I followed him for a few steps, and then Jacoryn stopped. “Tell you what, I should just make him come out here. He’s been hiding in there pretty much all evening.”
“Okay,” Gray said. Jacoryn walked away, and my cousin smiled at me. “Excited?”
“Very, very scared,” I said, and then we laughed. Gray stopped laughing easily, but I went on a little longer, finding it hard to control. My hands shook, and I shoved them in my pockets. We waited in silence until I looked up and saw Jed in front of me. Even though I had known he was somewhere around here the whole time, I couldn’t believe he was standing in front of me.
Before I could move, he was running at me, his arms outstretched. I caught him and all the sudden there were tears coming out of my eyes. No one else in the whole world mattered in that moment except him.
“Why are you here?” Jed asked when we finally let go of each other.
“I came with my cousin. He knows Zeke.”
Jed looked at Gray, then back at me, then back at Gray.
“I’m Gray,” Gray said. He thrust his hand at Jed, and Jed shook it, smiling. “I’m Jed.”
We stood in silence for a second, and then I cleared my throat. “Gray, I heard they had hamburgers inside.”
“Do you want one?” Gray asked.
“No, don’t you?”
“Gray,” I said, looking at Jed. “Maybe there’s something else you can get to eat.”
“Okay,” Gray said, eyeing me suspiciously. “I guess I’ll go get something.” He walked away, and I sighed in relief. The guy couldn’t take a hint.
Jed smiled at me. “He seems nice.”
I smiled back. “Yeah, he is.”
We both looked away. I panicked. It was getting weird. Why did it always have to get weird?
“Are you happy?” Jed asked.
I nodded slowly, even though I wasn’t sure how I was feeling these days. “Are you?” I asked.
Jed shrugged with that sad little smile of his. “Getting there.”
I looked at the ground, then out at all the other people at the party, laughing and joking. Jed and I had probably known each other as long, if not longer, than these people had known each other, and yet here we were, struggling to find something to talk about. “I’m sorry,” I said impulsively.
Jed looked at me with those eyes, and I couldn’t stop. “I know I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
He shrugged, but he also kind of nodded. “It’s okay, I promise. It was important to you to tell me. I’m glad you said what you said.”
“I--” my voice faltered. “I don’t know that I am.” I crossed my arms, hugging myself a little. “I think… I don’t know if it was worse to hold it in or if it was worse when I told you.”
“You’ll be okay, I know it.”
I wanted to ask him if we’d ever be okay, but I was afraid of the answer. “Yeah, probably. Plenty of fish in the sea, right?”
Jed smiled at me. “You deserve the best one, Cam.”
I smiled at him. It might have been one of the nicest things he had ever said to me. I stared at the fire, enjoying the warm feeling Jed’s words had given me. “You want a s’more?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Sounds good,” Jed said.
We walked over and grabbed skewers and marshmallows to roast. When we both had one ready, we headed over to the fire. We roasted the first marshmallow in silence, but as we were putting together our s’mores, Jed asked me if I had talked to the Parkers.
“Yeah, I talk to them probably once a week.”
“Better than me,” Jed said, laughing. “I’ve never been a very good son.”
“Well you’re a fine brother.”
“You too. I miss you and Terin a lot.”
“Ditto,” I said lamely. “I miss everyone. I’m just trying to live in the moment and get to know my family, you know? That’s why I came here tonight.”
“I invited my cousins so they wouldn’t be mad at me anymore.”
“I’m sure they won’t be mad for long.”
“Want to meet them?” Jed asked.
Jed introduced me to his cousins Matthew and Martin, who sort of looked like him, but in a more mischievous way, somehow. The rest of the night, we talked to Jed’s friends, and every once in a while they would do something that made me recognize them from Jed’s stories, like Leo and Isaiah making jokes about themselves and about being Mexican. Even though Jed’s friends were cool, I spent more time talking to Israel then I did to Jacoryn, Isaiah, Zeke, and Leo, because he was quiet, and therefore easier to talk to.
“You’re Gray’s cousin?” he asked when I said hello.
“Yeah, I’m Cameron.”
“Nice to finally meet you. Gray was very excited in our group chat when you showed up.”
I smiled. “I was very excited in real life when I showed up. But also very tired.”
Israel smiled, and we ended up talking about how he and Zeke met, and what Gray had been like at the boot camp.
“Gray is so loveable,” Israel said. “I just don’t think he knows it.”
“I think a lot of people are like that,” I said, and I couldn’t help but glance at Jed, who caught me looking at him and smiled.
When I turned back to Israel, he was watching me. “I heard you guys know each other?”
“Yeah, our paths have crossed.” I said, somewhat jokingly.
“He’s my favorite of Zeke’s friends,” Israel said.
“Mine too,” I said, and we both smiled. “I missed him a lot.”
“How long have you guys known each other?”
“Years,” I said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s like a brother to me.”
“I have a friend like that, but he lives in Arizona. It’s kind of complicated.”
“I understand complicated.”
Israel smiled a little and looked away. “I know you do.”
“What do you mean?” I laughed. “We just met.”
“The way you look at him. The way you talk about him. I don’t know. Seems complicated to me.”
I blushed, but I hoped that the flickering light from the fire hid it. “It is. I kinda have feelings for him.” I swallowed and looked around. “And I don’t know why I’m telling you this, because we just met.”
“It’s okay,” Israel promised. “I won’t tell or anything. I was just trying to, I don’t know, be understanding. I’m gay too, if you haven’t figured that out, so it’s not like I’m going to judge you.”
“Thanks,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say, so I smiled at him and walked over to where Jed was talking to Gray.
Most people had left by midnight, but all of Gray’s friends and Jed’s friends were still there. Being with them made me feel closer to my cousin and to Jed, but as the night went on, I couldn’t stand it. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to curl up in my bed and have Terin tell me that everything would be okay. My stomach hurt from eating s’mores and drinking so many sugary drinks, and my eyes hurt from constantly looking at the fire or around the fire at whoever was talking. No one else, except Ember, Israel, and Jed seemed to be tired, so I tried to talk to everyone until I saw Jed get up and slip inside.
I followed him without even thinking. What if he was just going to the bathroom?
He turned around and saw me as he was pulling open the back door, and he smiled at me. I walked faster and joined him inside.
“I needed some quiet,” Jed said. “It’s crazy being here. I feel like I’m always around someone who’s blocking my thoughts, you know? I like my friends, and I like Isaiah’s family, but it’s just never quiet.”
“Yeah, I’m living with my plethora of cousins, so I totally get it.”
Jed laughed. “Guess that’s probably worse.”
“They’re not too bad. I just hide in my room and sing when I need to be alone.”
Jed smiled at me, and I smiled back.
“I think this is the most I’ve smiled in a while,” Jed admitted. “It’s not that, I don’t know. There are just a lot of things and… I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. I wanted to hug him, but I held back.
“I found out some things that I’m not sure I wanted to know.”
“Oh. Sorry.” I said lamely.
“Not your fault, Cam. I just, I haven’t told anyone. Not even Isaiah.”
“You can tell me. I don’t have anyone to tell, anyway.”
“Except Terin and Gray.”
“I wouldn’t tell Gray.”
I smiled. “You got me there.” Then I dropped the smile. “Seriously though, I won’t tell Terin. It’s your story to tell.”
Jed nodded and took a deep breath. “You know how I always said that my family hated me?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, turns out that there’s a real reason. Not even one that I would have guessed.”
“At least you don’t have to wonder about it anymore.”
“Except I still do wonder about it,” Jed said. “Parts of it, anyway. My aunt and uncle are the ones who sat me down and told me, and it still just doesn’t make a ton of sense.”
“Well, what my aunt and uncle told me is that my dad isn’t really my dad. That part makes sense. I guess my mom and his co-worker were doing stuff behind his back, and he suspected it, but he couldn’t confirm his suspicions until she got pregnant. So when my mom admitted that the baby wasn’t his. He gave her an ultimatum. He said it was him, Jessika, and all of his money, or me. So she chose him.”
“It makes sense why he’d hate you. And if Jessika’s a daddy’s girl or something, then that makes sense too.”
“Yeah,” Jed said, “but what about my mom? Why’d she have to hate me?”
“You’re a reminder of her--”
“Mistake. Yeah. You can say it.”
“It’s the truth. I just want to know why she hates me too. The mistake didn’t end up costing her anything.”
“Well, I mean, when your dad said him or you, I think it kind of meant that if she showed that she cared about you, then she was choosing you.”
“Yeah, I guess. I just thought that if she really wanted to not choose me, then she should’ve gotten an abortion or something.”
“I’m glad she didn’t.”
“Jed, don’t say that,” I said, reaching out for his hand. He let me put my hand on top of his, and he used his other hand to wipe his eyes. “I didn’t mean it. I mean, I don’t think I did. I just don’t know why she had to bring me into the world if she wasn’t going to choose me.”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry,” I said, squeezing his hand. Jed moved forward and leaned into me. I put my arms around him. “I love you,” I whispered as he cried.
“I love you too,” he sobbed, and I held him tighter. My back was to the door, so I couldn’t tell if the others could see us, or if they could see us, if they had noticed.
I held Jed until his crying slowed and he pulled himself up. I watched him as he went over to the sink and drank some water. When he was done, he came over and leaned against the counter, looking down at his hands.
“Feel better?” I asked.
“It felt really good to tell someone,” he said, giving me a weak smile.
“I’m glad I could help.”
“Me too.” he yawned and looked at the clock on the microwave. “Holy shit.”
We looked at each other and laughed.
“How far away is your house?” he asked.
“About two hours,” I said.
“Are you guys going home tonight?”
“We didn’t bring anything to stay. I’m just lucky that I don’t have work tomorrow.”
“That would suck. Did I tell you that I have a driver’s permit now?”
“Nice!” I said, giving him a high five.
“Driving is actually all right,” he said.
“Sometimes it still scares the hell out of me,” I admitted.
“Cameron Alexander,” Jed said, cocking his head. “Is that the first time I’ve ever heard you cuss?”
I laughed, and he started laughing too. “I don’t do it very often,” I admitted.
“I don’t either, but I didn’t think you did at all.”
“If you have a good vocabulary, I feel like it’s not as important.”
“Damn straight,” Jed said, and we cracked up again.
That was how everyone walked in on us. Red in the face and fighting for breath. Somehow them being there made it even funnier, and both Jed and I laughed so hard that we cried.
When we finally managed to stop, everyone said their goodbyes. I shook a few hands, and as I was heading to Jed, hoping to get another hug, Israel intercepted me. “I just wanted to say sorry,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“No, I’m sorry for walking away the way I did,” I said. I stuck out my hand, and he shook it.
“See you around?”
“Most likely.” We smiled at each other, and I moved on to Jed.
“You have a cell phone?” he asked.
“Dad got me one a couple weeks ago,” I said, taking it out of my pocket.
Jed and I exchanged numbers. “We have to meet up, okay?”
“Definitely,” I said. “If I went to Minnesota, would you want to come?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Just let me know.”
“Will do,” I promised. I gave him another hug, and then Gray and I made our way to the door.
“You awake enough to drive?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said. “You can sleep if you want.”
“Maybe,” I said.
We got in the car, and Gray started it and pulled out of the driveway.
“Did you have a good time?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “It was hard to say goodbye, though.”