James was in love with his best friend, and he hated himself for it. Mostly due to the fact that his best friend, Dakota, was very straight and very taken with a very much girl-friend.
Dakota was more of the outdoor adventure type, and his girlfriend would often join him and his family on their camping trips. It always stung, because before her, James would get to go on those trips. He was the one who was there for Dakota when no one else was.
But now he was nothing, just a “good friend” who had been left aside while Dakota’s new focus was the girl.
James liked her, she was really nice and a good fit for Dakota. But it just felt wrong.
* * *
“James!! Hey man how you been?”
Dakota shouted down the hall, and the other boy grimaced to himself before turning around and plastering on a smile.
“Hey, how are you?”
The taken boy approached, and James visibly relaxed seeing that he was alone.
“I’m fine man, what are you up to?”
“Oh not much, we’re going up for the annual trip and Becca can’t make it. I was wondering if you wanted to come with us. Be like old times yeah?”
James’ heart was pounding, his head begging him to say no and make an excuse. He wanted to run and hide, not see Dakota or Becca or anyone. And yet…
“Sure why not? Sounds like a good time.”
* * *
James wanted someone to just end him there in the tightly packed van. Dakota was squished next to him and his younger sister on the far side of the row of seats. He had his earbuds in but wasn’t listening to any music. He was far too distracted by Dakota.
The taken boy had fallen asleep, his head on James’ shoulder and his hand in the single boy’s lap. James had taken this opportunity to look at the natural beauty of his best friend.
His hair was tousled and he had a light dusting of freckles across his cheeks. He had bright green eyes which always reminded James of his love of the outdoors. He was well built, and could be just as successful in sports as James was.
Overall a masterful human example.
* * *
Arriving at the campground, Dakota slowly got off of James and grinned at his best friend.
“You’re really comfy, haven’t slept in the van that well for a while.”
James just nodded with a small smile. He was exhausted, having not slept during the ride due to his constant paranoia and absentmindedness.
The whole family gathered their gear from the car, and James stood awkwardly to the side. It had been a long time since he had been on one of these trips, and something wasn’t sitting right.
Having a secret made everything worse. He just hoped things would settle so no one became suspicious.
They began their hike from the parking lot, and while Dakota chattered aimlessly James just walked slowly behind, throwing in a comment or two whenever his friend stopped to look at the other boy.
His mental and physical exhaustion were both catching up to him, and he just wanted to forget everything and sleep. Once they reached the campground, he sat quietly to the side trying to contain his yawns.
Eventually Dakota’s mother went over to check on him, and he tried to straighten up and look awake.
“It’s okay James, I know you didn’t sleep in the car.” She sat next to him and put a hand on his thigh, running her thumb slowly up and down. “Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you hon?”
James shrugged, his eyes hazing over as he tried to comprehend what she was saying.
“It’s alright, just kinda tired I think.”
“James I’ve known you since you were a little kid, this is more than your tired brain.” Dakota’s mom paused for a moment, and a small tremor of fear went through James. “Is it girl trouble honey? Did someone get to you?”
James let out a small sigh of relief. Live the lie, all the way through.
“Yeah, just kinda missing her you know?”
“Of course I know sweetie, you take your time coming over to us, we can set everything up without you it’s okay.”
The teen nodded and gave a half smile to her as she walked away. Covered that one…
* * *
Nighttime fell upon the campsite, and just the two boys were sitting at the fire, chatting about school and roasting marshmallows.
“Wanna see something cool?” Dakota asked, already standing and not leaving James with much of a choice.
“Sure, I guess…” he muttered, getting up and walking behind the taller boy.
The boys walked together, cutting through the trees until they reached a small clearing where Dakota stopped.
“Come look up, it’s real nice.”
James stood next to Dakota and looked up at the dark sky. Stars glittered there, twinkling and lighting up the dark ocean of night. Then a brighter light flashed and danced across the sky.
The two boys huddled together under the starry sky, their breaths held quietly as they watched flashes of light dance across the darkness. It was a moment of peace in their stormy lives.
“Not as beautiful as you.”
“Nothing, just agreeing with you.”
* * *
The next morning, James woke up with a bad feeling in his stomach. He rolled over in his sleeping bag and found Dakota sitting up, gazing down at him.
“You okay? You passed out last night, we didn’t get to talk much.”
James sat up slowly, readjusting his position to wipe the sleep from his eyes. Dakota seemed intent on talking at that very moment and James just wanted a minute to mentally prepare.
“Sorry, feel kinda sick but I’m good.”
“Oh, sorry man.”
“It’s fine. What did you want to talk about?”
Dakota straightened his posture and looked at his hands.
“I just…feel like we’ve been really distant ever since I got together with Becca. I wanted to know if it’s just, do you like her? Do you not like me anymore or what?”
James could feel his stomach drop. This was not the conversation he wanted to have right now.
“No man…nothing like that. She’s cool.”
“I get that she’s cool, but do you want me to break if off or something?”
“You want her huh?”
“Well then why?”
“BECAUSE I’M FUCKING GAY THAT’S WHY!”
James froze as the words left his lips, he could feel his composure breaking as he saw the look in Dakota’s eyes.
“Sorry…just you got with her, and you stopped inviting me to stuff…so like I started being more distant…and you didn’t know and I didn’t want you to know. I just wanted time, to figure things out and I just-“
Dakota moved to leave the tent, and James felt a few spare tears escape his eyes.
* * *
The next two days of the trip were awkward, James spent more of his time with Dakota’s younger sister than with his supposed best friend.
The drive back home started in complete silence, and James had his fists clenched in his lap as he sat there looking out the window.
“I don’t care that you’re gay.”
James turned and looked at his friend.
“I don’t care about that…just wish you’d told me sooner,” Dakota paused, avoiding eye contact still, “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have accused you like that. I should have tried to spend more time with you and Becca, I know you two get along I just….honestly I was worried someone would try and take her away. She means a lot to me.”
“I know Dakota, you always made that really clear.”
Another moment of silence, then the question James dreaded.
“Did you…like me?”
“No, haven’t found anyone I really like yet.”
Lies, but it’s for the best.
“Oh okay cool. Sorry man I just…”
“It’s fine I get it.”
“I support you. If you find yourself someone that makes you happy then I’m all for it.”
James nodded to himself with a small smile. It would be a bit of a struggle to get over Dakota, but he knew it was better not to tell.
The boys settled into a more comfortable silence and the rest of the drive remained smooth.