It’s August of 1970, and the friends of 21-year-old Oliver Duncan are having a blast at his bachelor party. Except Ned Surwicki. He isn’t an Ivy Leaguer. He doesn’t appreciate female strippers. And although he’s been Oliver’s best friend since they were 14, Ned isn’t much inclined to celebrate his pal’s impending marriage. Ned is gay, something he’s known since he kissed a boy and got the melty tingles. He’s also in love with the groom-to-be.
Ned is miserable.
On the night before his wedding, Oliver realizes he’s miserable too. And he has only one person to turn to.
Thus begins a romance that spans forty years, requires one coming-out after another, and survives a broken engagement, a menage with War and Pees, world travel, an ill-advised marriage, scores of fuck buddies, a father who thinks his son is destined to be a clone of Liberace, parents who reject their son, and, worst of all, the failure of two misguided men to pursue their fondest dream.
The most important coming-out for Ned and Oliver is summed up in a declaration they spend too many years trying futilely to forget: “I love you. That’s never going to change.”
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Oliver’s current room at the Pfister was two floors down from where his bachelor extravaganza had been held, which was also one of the suites in which the wedding party was to gather in the morning. The out-of-town guests were staying in the hotel’s 1965 Tower addition—a hideously dissonant piece of architecture that reminded me of a stack of butter cookies or coffee filters—I couldn’t decide which. Oliver made me identify myself before he opened the door, and then he yanked me inside.
“What’s going on?” I asked as he locked the door at my back. I went to the closet and hung up my tux, then set down my bag. “How come you’re not staying upstairs?” By upstairs I meant one of the two suites the Duncans had reserved for the wedding.
Oliver stood with his hands on his hips, stared at the floor, and nibbled at the inside of his cheek. He wore a Hang Ten T-shirt and a matching pair of Adidas shorts, and all I wanted to do was tackle him and drop him onto one of the room’s two double beds.
When he looked up, I noticed the shadows beneath his eyes. He was on his way to being a mess, both physically and mentally, but he was beautiful to me.
“I’m all fucked up, Ned.”
Oliver’s face contorted, and he suddenly bolted into the bathroom. The sounds of retching were unmistakable.
I sprinted to his aid just as the toilet flushed. Kneeling beside him, I laid one hand on his back and curled the other over his forehead.
“Your hand feels good,” he mumbled to the swirling water. “Cool. Soothing” After a moment, he tentatively sat back on his heels and caught his breath.
Christ, he was a wreck. I got up and wet a washcloth at the sink then poured a glass of water. When I sat beside Oliver again, he took some water into his mouth, swished it around, and spat it into the toilet. Then he took a drink. I tilted his head toward me and gently swabbed the perspiration from his face. The delicate spears of dark lashes on his lowered eyelids made him look young and vulnerable.
Well, hell, he was young. We both were. Oliver was twenty-one. I was still twenty.
“That’s like the fourth time I’ve thrown up today,” he said.
“Have you been drinking?” He didn’t smell like it.
“No. Maybe I should start.”
“What’s wrong? Tell me.”
He dolefully shook his head. “Tomorrow… I’m not up to it.”
“You feel that bad?” Late August was a strange time of year to get the flu, but it was possible. Or maybe he had food poisoning.
“I only feel bad when I think about walking into that church. Just sitting here with you, I feel fine.” Oliver briefly put a hand over mine. His felt clammy. “Thank you for coming.”
“I had to show up sooner or later. I’m your best man.”
I laughed nervously. “What, you’re firing me?”
Oliver’s smile was so wan, he looked like an invalid. He rose from the tiles and shambled out of the bathroom. I followed. When he sat on the edge of one bed, I sat on the other, facing him.
K. Z. Snow spent her formative years in Milwaukee bars—not because her parents were drunks, but because they were neighborhood tavern keepers. And, ja, a good life it was! She learned her first words off a Wurlitzer jukebox and could play poker as well as dance a mean polka by the time she was five. Too much has happened since then to recount. She now lives a quiet life with two rescue dogs in rural Wisconsin, where a crazy-ass crop duster pilot provides the area’s only excitement. Except when someone digs up an obscenely shaped potato. Or the Packers win.