Happy F*cking Birthday
It was just before noon on New Year's Day when Gage wandered over to the familiar house across the street, the house that had been a second home to him since childhood. He felt an odd pang as it occurred to him he was closer to his erstwhile best buddy's parents than to their son nowadays.
The front door was unlocked, as it usually was when anyone was home, and Gage walked in without knocking or ringing as he'd done since he was old enough to cross the street by himself. He kicked off his winter boots, and hung his coat on one of the hooks on the wall.
The house was quiet. Gage peeked into the living room, and found Danny's little sister curled up in an armchair with a book in her lap. She looked up and grinned. "Hey Gage! We missed you last night!"
"Hey...!" Gage returned the smile, and groped for some excuse for his absence, but before he could manufacture one she'd set her book down and bounded over to hug him.
"Happy birthday," she whispered.
"Thanks," he replied, slightly uncomfortable. The whisper was a bit odd, and so was the hug. Karen had always been "the little sister" to Gage, and although she was nearly sixteen now, he would have have a hard time thinking of her any other way even if he were straight. For the first time, it occurred to him that Karen might have a crush on him. Gage couldn't help lamenting his ever worsening luck. It was bad enough being hopelessly in love with the friend who had slipped away from him in recent years, but to have the wrong sibling fall for him was an extra helping of salt in his wounds.
He disengaged himself from the girl's embrace. "Is anyone else around?"
Karen combed her long hair back with her fingers, tossing it in that way only a teenage girl could. "Mom and dad are out. I think Danny's home, but probably he'll be asleep." She rolled her eyes and corrected herself: "I mean, 'Dan'. Suddenly no one's allowed to call him 'Danny' anymore. He's such a douche!"
Gage chuckled and shifted awkwardly. "Um... hey," he said after a few moments of internal conflict. "What do you think of his girlfriend?"
"Natalie? Ugh! She's a snotbag! I hope he dumps her, and soon. But he probably only cares that she's hot. Oh, hey—we've got something for you! C'mon!"
She grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him into the kitchen. There was an envelope sitting on the table with "GAGE" written on it, which she picked up and handed to him with a grin. "My mom forgot to send this along with your folks last night. It's just a birthday card. I was going to run it over to you later, but since you're here...."
The ringing of Karen's cell phone interrupted her sentence. She grabbed it out of her pocket and checked the screen. "Oh god, sorry! I'll catch you later, Gage." She answered the call and scampered off up the stairs, chatting excitedly to one of her friends.
Left alone, Gage sat down at the table and opened the envelope. The card featured a picture of a cute puppy in a party hat and sunglasses wishing him a happy birthday. Inside, Danny's mom had written a lengthy, heartfelt message about how he was part of their family and how much they appreciated him and wished him the best. She and her husband had both signed, and Karen had added her name as well, with a little heart. Danny's name was at the bottom, but in his mother's writing.
Approaching footsteps caused Gage to look up. His old friend was staggering into the kitchen in nothing but boxers, looking like death, his chestnut hair disheveled, with dark bags beneath his bloodshot eyes. He had a dark shadow of beard stubble across his jaw. Gage wasn't even shaving yet.
Danny didn't notice Gage at first. He checked the mostly-empty coffee pot, found it cold, and dumped the dregs before fumbling with slow, clumsy hands to start a new pot.
"Must've been a hell of a party," Gage remarked.
Danny looked over, freezing up and squinting at the other boy as if he were shining a bright light at him. "The fuck...?" he grunted, rubbing his eyes. "What are you doing here?"
Gage fought back the temptation to feel immediately wounded. "I... I just came by to thank your folks for the birthday present."
Gage watched him as he turned back to making coffee. It was hard for him not to drool over Danny, as lousy a friend as he'd been. It had been a few years since Gage had seen him in this state of undress, and despite the obvious hangover, Danny looked so good he was literally breathless. His brain and lungs refused to function for several long moments as his eyes raked over the magnificent landscape of Danny's broad back, the delectable round globes of his ass, and the godlike muscled pillars of his thighs and calves. He idly wondered when the boy he'd grown up with had become a man. Even the way Danny operated the coffee machine as if he'd been doing it for years was hot. Gage couldn't even handle coffee yet. Although they were both eighteen now, he felt like a gawky thirteen-year-old.
"What present?" Danny repeated.
Gage finally managed to pull in a breath and force his tongue to speak: "Computer. They chipped in with my parents to get me a new computer."
"Nice," he replied noncommittally. The coffee started, Danny went to the fridge and stood evaluating its contents for a few minutes, while Gage continued to admire the view he provided. Finally, Danny pulled out a half-empty tray of assorted appetizers that must have been leftover from last night's party, and settled with it at the table, two chairs away from Gage.
"Is that for me?" Danny asked, noticing the birthday card.
Gage didn't want to be angry with him. He loved Danny too much. But he was dismayed to find that there was also a growing hate there. Danny hadn't even acknowledged that it was his birthday too.
"No," Gage replied bluntly. "It's for me. From your family."
Danny's brow furrowed at his irritated tone. "Whatever, dude." He shoved a tiny triangular sandwich into his mouth and looked out the window.
Gage sagged in his chair. He felt like crying now, wondering if Danny was completely oblivious to his feelings, or if he simply didn't care anymore. Mom had told him yesterday that he needed to be a little more confident. Perhaps there was some truth in that.
"You never replied to my text," Gage stated.
"I texted you 'happy birthday'." Before Danny could reply, Gage charged onward heedlessly: "Seriously, what happened to us? We used to celebrate our birthdays together every single year. Now you barely even seem to acknowledge I'm alive!"
Danny squinted at him again for nearly half a minute before snatching the card out of his hand and grabbing a nearby pen. He didn't read it or even open it, but scrawled on the back of it in big block letters:
"HAPPY FUCKING BIRTHDAY GAGE! -DAN"
He carelessly flicked the card back in Gage's direction like a frisbee. Gage looked down at what he'd done to the card, his mouth hanging open. Even Danny's writing managed to look sarcastic.
Gage looked up at him, uncomprehending, his mouth working to form syllables that never came as his vision blurred with the onset of tears. Danny continued to glare out the window as if determined to ignore him. After a few moments, he seemed to grow agitated by Gage's eyes on him.
"What's your goddamn problem?" he hissed.
Gage almost shot the same question back at him. Danny was his goddamn problem, and he would have liked to know what Danny's was. He'd never done anything to hurt his old friend, never said anything against him, and Danny was acting like he was a great big thorn in his side.
Stopping himself short of responding out of hurt, Gage remembered more of his mom's wise words. Maybe Danny was lonely or insecure, and just didn't know how to express himself. Sometimes people pushed others away when they needed them the most.
Gage shifted one chair closer to him. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly. "I mean, really okay? Couldn't we still be friends? I know a lot has changed, but not everything has to. I miss you, Danny. Don't you ever miss the way things used to be?"
"It's 'Dan'," he corrected, and propped an elbow on the table, letting his face fall into his open palm. After a few moments more, he mumbled against his hand: "Things change. You need to grow up. Like... cut the fucking cord. You need to find other friends. I have a life."
Gage looked down at his card again. Happy fucking birthday. What else could he say? He slid the card back into its envelope so he wouldn't have to keep looking at Dan's scathingly insincere birthday wish. The boy Gage had loved his whole life had ruined what had been a really nice card that he'd wanted to keep for a long time, because it reminded me how much Danny's family cared. Now all he could see was how little Danny did.
He stood up from the table and quietly left.