Chapter 1- Surprise
We come to a building with bright lights and a gaudy sign. This is... a gay club. At least, that’s what the sign says.
Well, this is definitely a surprise...
“Ta-dah!” Ray proclaims happily at first, but then he notices my confusion. I must look startled because he hurriedly approaches me and asks with genuine concern, “What’s the matter?”
“You mean what?”
“Um...” Now I understand even less than while I was walking here. And then I did not understand a thing!
“I don’t really like clubs, and I thought you knew,” I say in a calm voice, still hoping it’s a joke.
“Well, one time won’t hurt you!”
Okay, maybe he just doesn’t know?..
“But... this is a gay club. Is there something I don’t know about you?” I say; Ray’s eyes change. He looks at me like I’m on a deathbed...
“Well, yes, this is a gay club!” he affirms and looks at me expectantly. What does he want from me?
“And what are we doing here?” I ask. Ray exhales tired and annoyed.
“Well, I was hoping it would help you finally get out of the closet,” he explains.
“I know you’re gay, ok? And I wanted to show you that I’m fine with it!”
Well, now is the time to shout: “Surprise!” Baffled, I stare at Ray mutely. I can’t say that I’m excited, scared, or nervous. It’s just... not what I wanted on my birthday...
And in general, I wasn’t going to tell Ray about my sexuality until... um, how old am I now?... Twenty-three. Ok, then till I’m dead!
“How did you know?” I ask unemotionally.
“Well... your... uh, obviously, ex came the other day. You were not at home. I didn’t believe him at first, and... well, it doesn’t matter! What matters is that I know now, and I thought...”
“That if I’m gay, I’d want to go to a gay club?” I finish for him irritably.
“Well, that’s why they are called gay clubs, right? I’m trying to show you that I accept you for who you are. Why are you mad at me? I don’t understand. I meant well!”
I look at his confused face, and I understand that he really meant well, but...
“Let’s get out of here,” I say and turn my back on him.
I stop and turn around. I can’t even understand who I am angry with - him or myself?
“Well, first of all, thank you very much,” my voice sounds sarcastic. “That you let me be me, even though I didn’t think I would need your permission, or worse, that I should worry whether you accept me or not, approve or not. And secondly... I’m going home.”
“Sam! Come on! Sam!”
But I quicken my pace. Ray catches up with me, pouting.
“What the heck? I did it for you!”
“I don’t know why you did it!” I groan. “To humiliate me?”
“Why humiliate?! Is it a humiliation for a gay man to come to a gay club? Or is it because you are with a straight?!”
“With a jerk!” I shout out desperately.
I don’t wait for Ray and hurry up.
At home, in our apartment, which we have been renting for three years, I slam the door to my room. Ray does too.
What a moron! Great present, son of a bitch! I, he said, have prepared a surprise for you. Surprise, my ass!
But today is my birthday. I thought I’d have some fun. The last couple of weeks has been rough.
I work at my brother’s pet shop. My elder brother is an accountant. He handles all the financial statements, and I am a shop assistant. I like the job. I do love animals. Just not chinchillas... for some reason, they scare me shitless. Their eyes are too intelligent, like they are onto something... brrr...
Now, we have a change of providers, and there are supply disruptions... So last week I was busier than usual. I thought I’d have a rest on my birthday! But nooooo! This asshole had the itch to surprise me! Couldn’t he have brought in beer and chips like he always did? He has been sticking to this since high school! And it worked just fine for both of us!
It was... fun... I don’t know where he got the beer back there. But we found a place to hide and pretended that we were hammered...
Such fools we were...
Ah, damn it... Okay, this dork really meant no harm. He’s just a fool, and that’s it.
I leave the apartment, buy beer and chips at the store downstairs, go back to the apartment, and knock on the door to Ray’s room.
“It’s open,” he says muffled. I walk in and see him lying on the bed with a guitar. This creepy device can infuriate me in mere seconds. Ray plucks the strings. He is not playing! He’s fucking abusing the instrument! And never - ever! - he tried to tune it!
I don’t say I have a perfect pitch, but even I know that this guitar must be shot to be put out of its misery.
“Are you lying and sulking at me?” I ask and toss a bag of chips to him. Ray puts his guitar aside and sits down. I sit next to him and hand him a bottle of beer.
“Happy birthday to me,” I say, tapping his bottle with mine and taking a long sip.
“Look, Sam, I...” Ray starts guiltily.
“Don’t, okay? Enough. I lashed out. I just wasn’t ready, but let’s not talk about it.”
“Why?” Ray sounds indignant.
“What why?” I ask clueless.
“Why did you hide it from me?! You and I have been friends forever! Since elementary school! We have been living here for three years! Why haven’t you ever told me?”
“Are you crazy? What would it look like? My dear friend Ray, hey, I’m gay!” I singsong jokingly and bat my eyelashes at him. “You’d freak out! I know you! You’d even think that I was going to confess to you or something!”
“Fuck you! And what’s wrong with that? Am I unlovable?!”
I snort, “Come on! It’s so cliche. Falling in love with a straight childhood friend,” I laugh, shake my head, and take a sip again.
“Cliche or not, you haven’t answered! Am I ugly?” His tone is ridiculously serious, and I start to laugh out loud.
“Fuck you!” Ray takes offense.
“Come on! I just didn’t think about it,” I say placatingly, calming down. “And... about my sexuality... It’s not that I was hiding it from you... I just didn’t flaunt it. It’s kind of my own business. For example, I never met any of the girls you dated.”
“I’m not so lucky with girls...” Ray puffs. “But if I were lucky, I would’ve introduced them for sure!”
“Listen, okay. I am gay. Here, I officially confessed to you. You feel better now?”
“Does your mom know? Your brother?”
“Maybe I should hang a banner at the entrance?! My sexuality is nobody’s business!”
“Do you go to pride parades?”
“Well, they look fun...”
“Ray, are you alright?!”
I look at him and can’t hold back a smile. He’s been like that since childhood. He always tries to support me.
When we were kids, I was thin and tall, and Ray was plump and stocky. And we always were that comic duo... Ray was there for any mischiefs I plotted. He always backed me up, no matter how stupid it might seem. For example, I was allergic to chocolate when I was a kid. And Ray said that he was too and stopped eating chocolate. But then it turned out he never had an allergy! And when I asked him why he’d lied, he said he’d not wanted me to feel left out. This is how Ray is... And he is my closest friend. I didn’t even make new friends in college! Just a couple of short-lasting romances with sad endings.
“Why did you break up with that guy?” Ray asks, still pouting.
“He cheated on me,” I answer simply.
“Does it matter? He thought I’d be ok with that. He wanted us to be open.”
“And I think he should have said it clearly and not wasted my time.”
“How... do you feel? Aren’t you upset?” Ray stares at me.
“Oh, come on. It’s barely been a couple of weeks. It’s not like he broke my heart or anything,” I chuckle.
Ray muses over my words. I don’t like his thoughtfulness. Who knows what can get into his head? Maybe he’ll convince himself that now I need his support too...
“You know, Sam,” Ray says finally after the long silence. His voice is strangely serious. “I think I’m gay too.”
I spit out the beer and cough with laughter. As I said, his thoughtfulness is not good.
I can’t stop laughing, “So what kind of guys do you like then?”
“Well ...” Ray ponders. “You know...”
“With muscles and... with hair...”
“Where?” I already have tears flowing from laughter.
“Everywhere!” Ray shouts out angrily. “Fuck you!” And he covers himself with a blanket over his head. I wipe my tears and try to calm down.
“Hey, Ray-gay,” I pock him through the blanket, but he kicks away from me. “Okay, okay, come on... I am grateful to you... that you accepted me,” I honestly try to find it in me. “But I’m fine. I accepted who I was a long time ago. And now you know everything about me. It’s good. And it’s good that your attitude towards me has not changed. You don’t have to change anything, ok? I’m fine with myself and with you.”
But Ray seemed to take great offense. I sigh. Well, not my day, obviously. I leave Ray, finish my beer, and go to bed.