I’m Doug Harris. I met Greg Harris, not related, a long time ago. I can’t remember when or where. He was just there and we got along. We did things together and had a good time. I don’t know, I guess I thought we were friends. He has a wonderful sense of humor and makes me laugh. I wish I were like him in that respect. I can’t tell a joke to save my soul. My Aunt Edna was like that but everyone laughed because they knew she would screw it up somehow and she never disappointed them. I don’t particularly like being laughed at – for the wrong reasons.
I don’t drink. Gregg does, probably more than he should, but I’ve never said anything about it. It’s his business. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve hauled his drunk ass home, undressed him, tucked him into bed and went home. Friends do that … don’t they? When I think about it, I guess I care about him. Probably more than I should. I have four brothers but Greg is more of a brother to me than they are. That’s the best way I can explain it.
Last week I went to the mortuary and picked up the urn with my wife’s ashes. It wasn’t a sad occasion. It was almost a relief. Emma Jean had been sick most of her life. I think I married her to take care of her. I cared about her but I don’t think I loved her. I’m not certain what love is. People talk about it but what does it mean? I suppose if it ever happens to me I’ll know. For now, I was free of an entanglement.
I was not prepared for what happened a few days later when Gregg asked me something that knocked me for a loop. My reply was, “Will I do what?”
He repeated himself, “Doug, will you marry me?”
“Are you crazy? I’m not gay.”
“I know. But, will you marry me?”
I told him to go to hell and walked out. When I realized I had walked out of my own apartment, I went back in and told him to get the hell out. I wasn’t very nice about it. He left and I haven’t seen him since.
I feel like shit. I began to realize Greg was my friend, probably my best friend and possibly my only friend. I have lots of family but no friends in the true sense of the word. I hurt Greg – of that I’m certain – and I don’t know what to do about it. I began to wonder if I might be gay and didn’t know it. I guess you would call it bi since I enjoy intimacy with women. Except for Emma Jean, I never found one I wanted to marry, but that’s not unusual I suppose.
I missed being with Greg more than I realized, now that he wasn’t there. After a month went by I decided to call him and see if I could salvage our friendship. I called but he didn’t answer. I apologized to his answering machine for being such an asshole and asked that he call me so we could talk. He didn’t. I called several more times and left messages. He still did not return my calls. I figured that was it and I needed to move on.
I knew he wasn’t eating well because he doesn’t know how to cook. I did all the cooking. My Italian mother insisted that all of her kids learn to cook. We hated it but are glad now. I also have two sisters. Being Catholic, birth control was not an option. Fortunately, my father was a successful surgeon, so we lived well. Greg on the other came from a broken home. He has no siblings so when his mom died he was on his own.
Perhaps he fantasized our friendship into more than it was. His absence was noticed at family gatherings. I dismissed their inquiries with – he had other plans. The looks I got told me they didn’t believe me. I wondered if they knew something I wasn’t aware of.
I thought my friendship with Greg was over until one summer Saturday afternoon about six months later, my doorbell rang. I buzzed whoever it was in and left the door ajar. I was in the kitchen preparing Panzenella, the Italian bread salad, when I heard a soft knock on the door.
“Come on in.” I heard the door close. When I saw someone move into the kitchen doorway and stop, I looked up, “Greg! Oh my God.” I wiped my hands and rushed to my friend and threw my arms around him. “I’m so sorry about everything. Please forgive me.”
“Forgive you for what? Telling me the truth.”
“No, for treating you the way I did.”
He gently pushed me away. “Is that Panzenella you’re making?”
He walked to the table, looked at me and smiled, “Can I have some?”
“Yes, of course. It won’t be ready for a few hours. I want it to blend first.”
“Yes, I remember. What kind of bread are you using? Sourdough I hope.”
“You wanted to talk?”
“Sure. But that was months ago.”
“I had to think about it.”
I laughed. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Are you?” He was eyeing the Panzenella.
“Yes, of course, I am. I hope we’re still friends.”
He just smiled and popped a tomato cutting into his mouth. “I stopped drinking.” He popped a cucumber cutting into his mouth.
I was so surprised, all I could say was, “I’m glad.”
“I figured you would be. I got arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct a few months ago. Figured it was time to stop since I had no one to take care of me when I drank too much.”
“How have you been, Greg?”
“Miserable,” he continued sampling the ingredients of the salad.
“Me too.” I smiled at him.
“Yes, really. I realized too late what a good friend you were and felt like shit for treating you so badly.”
“I probably should never have said what I did.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“You are?” Greg stopped nibbling and stared at me.
“I decided it was your way of saying you cared about me. I see that now. It made me realize how I felt about you.”
“There isn’t anyone else on the face of the earth I enjoy being with more than you. If it weren’t for the sex part I think marriage to you would be a wonderful thing.”
“Jesus Christ, I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Well, it’s the truth. We’ve never lied to one another. At least I haven’t.”
“Neither have I, come to think of it. But a relationship without intimacy for me would be like having a lollipop with no licking privileges. It would be torture for me.”
“Yeah, I suppose so. If I let you lick, but didn’t lick back, would that be acceptable?”
“You mean to tell me you’d do that?”
“Yes, I would. I’ve thought about it. I decided if you ever came back into my life I would be willing to do that. I don’t want to lose you again.”
He sat down on a kitchen chair with a thump, obviously dumbfounded.
I stood across from him and finished preparing the Panzenella. I placed a kitchen towel over the bowel when I was finished and set it aside. “It’ll be ready in about an hour. Will you still be here?”
He smiled that devilish smile of his, “Yes, I’ll still be here. And no, I won’t let you sacrifice yourself like that. I can live without the intimacy but I don’t want to live without you as my friend.”
“My family will be glad to see you.”
“Because you weren’t with me on the last two get-togethers. They asked about you. I said you had other plans.”
“I don’t think they believed me.”
“You’re looking better than I’ve ever seen you before.”
“No booze.” We laughed.
“I’m thinking this is going to be tough on me.”
“I don’t know. I’ll be wondering each time I catch you looking at me what you’re thinking … you know.”
“Doug, for Christ’s sake. How long have I known you? I’ve been looking at you all these years and wondering what it would be like. Did I do anything?”
“No, but I didn’t realize then what was going on in your head.”
“Well, don’t worry about it. I’ve licked your entire body a million times in my mind. It’s familiar territory and I doubt I’ll be doing it again. You’re blushing. Did that embarrass you?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
“Well, get over it. You’re not that good looking just in case you’re wondering. It’s what’s between your ears that turns me on and the chances of fucking that are pretty minimal.”
I began laughing and could not stop. The expression on Gregg’s face was more than I could handle.
“What the fuck are you laughing at?”
“You, just you. You’re back and I’m so glad. You could use a haircut. Want me to do it?”
“Yeah, please. I hate going to these la de da hair stylists that charge you an arm and a leg and can’t cut it the way you do.”
“Ok, after we eat. You want something more than the bread salad?”
“No, that’ll do. Got any ice cream?”
“Ever known me to be without?”
“No. Hope it’s not tutti frutti. Hate that stuff.”
“No. I have Neapolitan, chocolate, or vanilla with chocolate syrup on the side.”
“Ever have chocolate syrup licked out of your navel?”
“No, I haven’t. Are you suggesting …?”
“No, just wondered. I had it done once. I thought doing the licking would be more fun than having it licked, if you know what I mean.”
“Hum, I think I know what you mean. We’ll stick with Neapolitan tonight. I am curious about one thing.”
“Why did you propose after all the years we’ve know each other?”
“I don’t know. Emma Jean was gone, you were alone. I’ve always been afraid of dying alone and never having loved anyone. I’m not like you. Self-confident; nothing ever seems to worry you.”
“That’s not true. How could I have missed who you really are after all the time we’ve spent together?”
“That’s easy. I know how to hide.”
“Well, you certainly weren’t hiding when you popped the question.”
“No, I guess I wasn’t. Is your answer still no?”
“I don’t remember answering one way or the other.” Greg looked at me with such a hopeful expression I almost cried. “I don’t know what to say or how to answer you. One side of me says no way will that ever happen.”
“And the other side?”
“The other side says ‘Yes, I’ll marry you and become so much a part of your life that people won’t be able to tell us apart. I love you, Greg, but I don’t know what that means. I honestly don’t know. You see, you were wrong. I’m not all that self-confident.” I laughed, “We’re rewriting the book on marriage. I hope you can see that’.”
“I do, I do.”
“It would be terribly unfair of me to say yes and then never crawl into bed with you to make love.”
“How the hell do you know that? That’s one of the things that has always annoyed me about you.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Just what I said. You always assume things about other people without discussing it with them.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yes it is. You’ve been doing it ever since I met you. Maybe not to me specifically, but you have an opinion about everyone. You can be very bossy.”
“I’m not bossy. I just know what they should be doing.”
“How the hell do you know?”
“I guess you’re right. I’m an awful person.”
Greg began laughing, “Don’t pull that self-pity crap on me. Remember who you’re talking to.”
“All right, I’m not an awful person, but you’re still right. I just can’t help myself.” After a pause, “Why me, Greg? The little that I know about gay life is that guys are looking for buff good looking guys to bed down with. That I am not and never will be. So, what is it?”
“There’s no one I can talk to except you. No one wants to talk. All they want to do is fuck.”
“We talk. If memory serves me, we have always talked our heads off, especially you. You’re the talker.”
“It’s more than just talking. It’s what we talk about. I’m not afraid to talk to you about anything. Even if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, you are always there listening and trying to understand. It’s what’s between your ears that I’m in love with. Not what’s between your legs.”
“Well, that’s a relief to know. So, lust after my beautiful body has nothing to do with it.”
“Your body is not beautiful, but it’s attached to your head where all the beauty is located. Don’t you get it? If I could, I would love to fuck your mind. No, that’s not what I mean.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I want to make love to your mind. That probably doesn’t make any sense either, but that’s the way I feel. And I’m not sure how to do it even if you were willing.”
“You are fucking my mind right now with what you’re telling me. And I don’t understand.”
“You understand my pain without sympathy – except when you told me to get the hell out of your life.”
“Yeah, well, that was a knee-jerk reaction for which I am more than sorry. You have no idea the nights I spent wishing I could take those words back.”
“It’s okay. We’re here. There are no hard feelings. I was at fault.”
“No, you weren’t.”
“Yes, I was. I should never have proposed to you. It’s just that for the longest time I wanted more out of our friendship and didn’t know how to ask.”
“Well, that was a hell of a way for starters.”
“Yeah, I know but I was desperate.
“Desperate for what?”
“Desperate to let my guard down. I wanted to talk about the loneliness I was living with.”
Greg put his hand forward with the intent to touch me. I sat up.
“Can’t I even touch you?”
“To connect with you. I need to connect with you.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Then why not.”
“Because I know when you withdraw your touch I’ll feel the pain of being alone, left behind and I don’t want that. I don’t deserve that.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking of you. I am sorry. You’re right.”
“No, I’m not. I don’t know who I am when you’re around.”
“I should go.”
“Yes, and never come back.
“Unless you return to stay and live with me, and love me, and grow old with me.
“Can I have some Panzenella first?”
“No … yes.”