They met in preschool, at the age of three.

He was playing with blocks on the outskirts of the boy group—they were clearly defined by gender, because three year olds are the most naturally and kindly prejudiced people in the world—when a bright eyed boy came toddling over to him.

"Hi, I'm Gene! We should be best friends!"

"'Kay," he said casually, not thinking much of it, "my name's Jonathan."

Gene, he soon learned, was short for Wallace Eugene, which the boy understandably hated. He badgered him for seven years until he finally told him where he got his name—his parents had met at a seminar on William Wallace and their first date was to see a play by Eugene O'Neil. Being as they were at this point ten year old boys, they were both rather disgusted.

For his part, he told his friend that the reason why he was Jonathan, never John or Johnny, was that his least favorite aunt called him Johnnycake as she pinched his cheeks and told him how much he'd grown. That made Wallace Eugene feel a little better. Not a lot better, but a little better. At least it gave him some ammunition with which to tease his friend for the next few years, even if that friend had much more.

They were one of those pairs that just stays. They were the type to win "Best Friends" in the yearbook. You couldn't think of Gene without thinking of Jonathan, or know something about Jonathan that Gene didn't know. They just were that way, and he kinda loved it.

He'd never admit it, but he was terrified at the beginning of high school. It wasn't the workload that scared him so much, it was the thought of losing Gene. He saw it happening all around him—kids who had been best friends all through elementary school just sort of drifted. If he and Gene drifted that way…he didn't know what he'd do. He just didn't know.

They had already, to a certain extent, started drifting. They'd been in each other's lives for almost four times the time they hadn't. They had never had any secrets. Gene had recently started to withdraw, to hide something. Secrecy was incredibly far out of Gene's nature. It was wrong for him to hide.

He knew what it was, of course. You don't love someone for eleven years and not know.

When Gene finally stammered out the truth—that he was gay—he was relieved, really. He'd dealt with whatever odd feelings he'd had about it when he figured it out, which was when they were about twelve—earlier, in fact, than Gene had figured it out himself—so that when Gene admitted it, which was when they were about fifteen, he was only happy that Gene felt comfortable enough to tell him.

After that, they were closer than ever. It made sense; he was the only one who knew—well, the only one Gene wanted to know, and that really mattered more. And when Gene started acting differently around him, that made sense too. They had always acted differently around each other, comfortable in that way that only old friends are. They had nothing to hide from each other, and Gene had something huge to hide from everybody else. If Gene didn't act differently around him, he would have thought something was wrong.

Eventually, he had to admit that there was indeed something wrong. Maybe it was the blushing or the stuttering or the staring that finally forced him to accept what he'd known all along, he wasn't sure. Gene had a thing for him. He had a crush on him, he like liked him…the whole deal.

And he didn't like it. He didn't like it at all.

It wasn't out of some bizarre masculine pride thing—he'd long since decided that masculine pride was stupid and given it up. It wasn't because he was afraid that Gene would try to force him or whatever—it was Gene, he would never do that. It wasn't because he thought that having a gay guy like him would turn him gay—not only was that a ridiculous idea, it was a silly thing to be afraid of. Rather, it was the opposite; he hated the fact that having a gay guy like him wouldn't turn him gay.

In the beginning of the school year, his English teacher asked the class what true love was, as a way of introducing a book that they were going to read. After all the stupid comments you expect to get out of a class of high school juniors asked about true love, a girl named Carol said that true love was when you weren't the most important thing in your life.

He truly loved Gene.

He'd never admit it—maybe he had more masculine pride than he'd thought—but he needed Gene. He didn't know what to do or how to function without him. The idea of hurting his best friend was repellant to him, but he didn't know how to stop. He was straight. He would never return Gene's interest. He loved him, but he could never be in love with him.

It was then that he truly realized that sexual orientation is by no means a choice. He had kind of thought of it as one before; he didn't have a problem with people choosing to be gay, but he figured that you did make the choice. He knew then that he was wrong; if you could choose to be gay, he would have.

He didn't feel any particular attachment to heterosexuality. He'd never had a serious girlfriend, or even serious feelings for a girl. He liked kids and supposed that he'd want some eventually, but didn't really see the importance of having biological kids as opposed to adopting. He was a New Haven boy who planned to live in Boston; prejudice wasn't really an issue, nor was marriage when it came down to it. His parents wouldn't really care; they'd be surprised and maybe a bit disappointed for a while, but they'd get over it and be supportive. The religion thing really didn't worry him at all. He shaved and wore poly cotton blends; if following the exact word of Leviticus was the only way to salvation, he was damned anyway. If he were gay, though, he'd be able to give Gene what he wanted. He wanted to make Gene happy, wanted to want him, but he couldn't. All he could do was hurt him more.

He was weak, he knew. If he were stronger, he wouldn't go along with Gene's shy flirtations. He would tell him calmly, gently, but firmly that he wasn't interested and never would be. But every time he made up his mind to do this, the image of Gene's sad, embarrassed face flickered through his mind and he decided against it. If Gene ever said anything, it would be different, but if not, he reasoned, why bring it up?

Because all you're doing is making it worse, his mind whispered. He ignored it.

Then one night Gene drove to his house in a panic, and he smelled Gene's breath and went into a panic too.

"Jonathan, please, help me, I don't know what to do," Gene slurred, fingers trembling, eyes wild, cheeks wet.

"Damn it man, nothing's this important! You could have hurt yourself!" he snapped, more scared than he could ever remember being. Gene didn't get drunk; he was too afraid of lowering his inhibitions and inadvertently outing himself, and Gene didn't cry; he didn't see the point in it. A drunk, crying Gene who'd been driving was not a good omen, and yelling at him wasn't a good idea. He knew he'd screwed up when he saw his friend flinch. Trying for a softer tone, he said, "Come on, I'm not mad, I'm just worried. Tell me what's wrong?" Gene could be so fragile sometimes, especially around him.

Gene sniffled a bit and sat next to him on his bed, pressing lightly against his side; Jonathan went a bit tense, but he didn't seem to notice. "My mom knows and she's going to tell Dad and Tess and you know my sister, she can't keep her own secrets, she's going to tell everyone, and they're all going to hate me. You're all I have left," he choked out, eyes shining with tears he was trying to keep from shedding.

"Come on, that's not true," Jonathan said, trying to be soothing. "This is New England, not the Bible Belt. It'll all be okay." He instinctively wrapped an arm around him.

Gene hiccupped as he said, "No, it won't be! It's just...I'm so..." He hiccupped again, leaning back so far that he was practically in Jonathan's lap. "I'm so scared," he finished in a whisper before pulling himself up and pressing his mouth against Jonathan's.

He tensed, brought his hands down to Gene's chest to push him away. "Gene...don't. Please don't. I don't...can't..."

Gene just pressed closer. "Please just let me do this. It's all I need. Please."

"Gene..." Jonathan tried again. Gene just kissed him harder. He could taste tears dripping into his mouth, mixing with the alcohol that was still strong on Gene's breath. It tasted bitter. Maybe that was just Gene.

Jonathan gave up trying to push him away; he didn't kiss back, but he didn't push him away. Gene was so distressed...surely it wasn't wrong to give him what he wanted, just once.

It really wasn't so bad, kissing Gene. He preferred kissing girls, but it wasn't awful to kiss a boy. He didn't feel any attraction or excitement, but...he could live with it. He could date Gene, pretend to be interested in him. He could do it. It wouldn't be too hard.

But he couldn't. He loved Gene more than anything, but he couldn't give up his life for him. He couldn't give himself. He couldn't sacrifice his happiness for Gene's. He couldn't. He just couldn't. It wouldn't be fair to either of them. He just...didn't know what to do.

He still doesn't. He should figure it out soon; Gene is sleeping, but he'll wake up soon enough. Maybe he'll sleep longer than usual; he doesn't get drunk often, and after such an outpouring of emotion, culminating in such devastating kisses—devastating to both of them, but for different reasons—Jonathan kind of expects him to sleep more. He guesses it's a good thing. He'll have that much more time to figure out the perfect way to break his best friend's heart.

He wishes there could be another way.


A/N: This is actually really personal for me, so I have no idea if it's worthy for anyone else to see. Let me know.

Random tidbit about this: Jonathan's least favorite aunt is actually really cool, which he realizes as he gets older. The whole "annoying aunt" routine was done as a sort of irony thing. Yeah. Just throwing that one out there because I doubt that anyone will notice it themselves.

Also, vote for me at the Looking at the Stars Awards. I'm still not sure how or why I was nominated (twice!) but...hey, it's good for me. Delete the spaces because FP is weird. You know the drill. http:// latsawards . webs . com/