Tak, tak, tak. the wooden steps creak angrily as I mount them with hurried steps. The cheap teal paint was torn and shredded across the deck, like cuts from all the abuse I've given it over the years every time I climb up. It wasn't a fancy house but it was one of my favorite places in the world. I should probably help them repaint and varnish the patio. Maybe something dark and red rather than a color that doesn't match anything else. Still though, I have many a good memory sitting here, drinking, and talking openly. I think I'll pick up some teal paint. “You spent way too much on his gift,” Sonia said as she reached the bottom of the steps. She was frowning, giving me a weary look as if she was tired already when the party hadn't even started. She was pretty when she smiled; she'd shake her hair, show her big white teeth, and do her best to turn her hearty laughter into something more girlish. But when she was mad, she got more wrinkly than a mole rat. “You never spend more than sixty, even on me. That's like five hundred.” She pointed by flicking her finger in the direction of the box I was holding. It was small as my hand, tightly and flawlessly wrapped in red and blue gift paper. I lifted it to my head and shook it, felt and heard the rattle. I grinned excitedly. “He is going to love this!” I couldn't wait to give it to him. I am terrible at finding good gifts and stand firm on the point that a gift, no matter the occasion, aught to be practical and useful rather than something that will collect dust in an attic for five years before the next garage sale. “Besides,” I shrug before turning back toward the door and pull my phone out, “This is my tenth year anniversary with him.” “Friends don't have anniversaries!” She groaned so loud I could hear her eyes roll. I don't know where the jealousy comes from. But, sometimes, I do choose to believe it's all in her head. I really am the worst. “We do,” I answer, already busy texting him that we've arrived. Dude! We're are here! I ring the doorbell right after I hit send and hear the familiar custom whoop whoop alert that he sent me a reply. He must have been looking at his phone to answer so quick. As long as you are here once. Are are is too much, man. Ahah! Very funny. I didn't even notice. Or did you not not even? I'm taking the gift back -.- No, I'm sorry! Too late, turning around– “Oh my god, you can talk together when he opens the door!” Sonia was fuming behind me, she was atop the steps now looking angrily at the phone in my hand. Apparently, she wasn't seeing how funny this was. Just as I go to ring the bell again, I heard him moving inside, taking long heavy strides as he probably pushed a few pairs of shoes away from the door, maybe a bag or two and then go really quiet. I always wondered what he did for that quiet moment. Maybe combing his hair with his fingers. Vanity can be a problem with him. Or that he's overly self-conscious. I never did pick only one to tease him with. Snap. Click. The door swings open and my first instinct is to attack. “Evy!” I tackle him into a tight hug that causes us to teeter and hold on for dear life or risk meeting the hard wooden floor. “Happy birthday!” I press the side of my face against his and nuzzle him a little. “Oh, hey, Ryan.” God, I want to kill him when he hides his excitement with neutral terms and his usual just-woke-up voice. It's all groggy, bordering on sounding like he smoked up, but it was soothing and with a hint of emotion just dancing at the edges. Some laughter escapes after a few seconds of intense hugging and we pull apart but still his hand lingers on my forearm. “Thanks for coming, man. This is gonna be great!” He peeks over my shoulder. “Hey, Sonia. Come in.” “How are you, Evan?” She gives him a little wave and steps inside. “Is Shelley around?” “I think she's in the kitchen. I've been setting up the living room.” He looks down at me. “Come see.” At that, we make our way down to the living room. He asks how I've been, I answer I've been good and how was he which he answers much the same. We always start with pleasantries, out of habit mostly but partly because we're so damn awkward. I point up and say, “Nice banner.” It was a huge green thing with rainbow writing and glitter. It was an eyesore but he smiled when he saw it. Everything was different today. The brown fuzzy couch was on the far side of the wall and the TV turned to face it. Two tables were put side by side with a red table cloth to make room for all the food and snacks and a huge white cooler beside them probably filled with beer. “There's vodka there if you want some. I got some just for ya.” It's as if he had watched me stare at the cooler for a second longer than I should have. I immediately felt a little guilty. I do love to drink. “Seriously? Thanks man, you shouldn't have.” “Eh, it's no problem. I thought you might want some and if anyone else does they can have some too.” He shrugs as if its nothing. But even little things mean a lot. I open the cooler to see what he got for me and I feel my heart sink. “Evy! This is expensive!” I pull out the bison grass vodka, an easy forty or more dollars per bottle. “Yeah, it's so good, though. I know you like it.” He points out his forefinger as if he was instructing me on something new. I was the one who got him into it in the first place. I grab two red plastic cubs and spin the top off. I pour a healthy amount, which is about half the cup, of the best vodka in the world and pass the first to him. “Oh, man. I gotta drink?” He gives his best puppy face but I know the difference between sad puppy and excited puppy. It's a slight enlargement of the eye and a twitch in the corner of his lips that threatens to break into a smile. He knew I was going to give him some right away. “Friends don't let friends drink alone, mate.” A rule that makes life more enjoyable, in my opinion. We clink the cups, well it makes a plastic tok sound, and take a drink. He sips, I open wide. I let the smooth burn was over me and nod happily. “I really upgraded you from eight dollar wines, eh?” He nods. “This is pretty decent.” Oh, he is trying to rile me up. It always works. “Decent? This is good, Evy!” “Yeah.” He gives a half smile. “Decent.” “I'm going to hurt you,” It was an empty threat to an empty argument we had a thousand times over the years. “You two drinking in there already?” Shelley's voice rings out from the kitchen and both of us instantly get that got-caught smile. “No,” he calls out and upends his drinks followed by a pained look. He exhales harshly. “We're just finishing setting up.” “Put on some music,” Sonia calls out. Evan gives me a strange grin and heads over to the stereo system, a big black box with more switches and nuzzles then he understands the functions of. “I was going through some tunes on my playlists and found this.” Instantly the first notes of the Lambada fly through the air and I can't help but get excited. “Oh my God! I haven't heard this in forever!” Even if it was just a little bit of vodka, I already feel the moves demanding to be busted out and forget all appearances. “Yeah, you showed it to me, remember?” I did remember. It was ten years ago to the day on his twenty-second birthday. His old, even then it was old, stereo died and I got appointed somehow to solve the problem. I hooked up my music player to one of those cheap portable speakers I found lying around and the first song that came on was the lambada. Everyone got into it and Evan came to thank me for the music. If I didn't believe in love at first sight, I would have started then. “Love at first sight, man.” I pour myself a bit more liquor and tip it back. “Yeah, wild...” Evan got a long look on his face that meant he was thinking too hard. “I'm gonna go see if Shelley needs any help.” Left alone, I drink my vodka and pretend I was not bored and lonely suddenly. I could hear them talking in the kitchen but it was a too quiet to make anything out over the music. I'm normally not needy. I gulp down the rest of my drink and put the cup down. I suddenly realize the gift I have been holding had disappeared. It was on top of the cooler, where I had forgotten it in my excitement for good booze. As soon as I pick it up, I hear behind me, “Need some water or anything?” Evan was checking up on me. “Oh, is that what you got me?” “Are are you sure want it?” I ask without even thinking and present it forward. He smirks, itching to answer but knowing better than that. It's the packaging that excites him more than anything; it could be anything so long as it remained surprise. Like Schrodinger's cat except less depressing half the time. He half tears, half carefully gets the wrapping off, giving out a little hum as he gets closer to finding out what the gift is. “Dude.” His face sinks the moment he realizes what it is. “How did you get this? I couldn't find this anywhere!” “I know a guy who knows a guy who knows about cars and guys who own them.” Evan slips the box out of the wrapping paper and marvels at it. He's been looking for parts to recreate the Nautilus from the movie 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. It sounds insane and impractical but he loves it. Due to the size and odd dimensions of the car, only specific pieces could be used to make sure it all fits and gives it enough thrust to actually move and not feel like you're in a carriage pulled by a narcoleptic horse. Without even opening the box, he gives me a big hug. The kind that's almost awkward and embarrassed but he presses hard and rocks me back and forth a little. I can tell he's beyond ecstatic but I'm not done yet. “Open it.” He pulls back. “Yeah, let's check this out.” He fiddles with the tab. “This is so great man. I can't believe–“ The tab slides out and he pauses, confusion painting itself across his smile. Gingerly, he reaches in and pulls out the tickets I had hidden in the box. “I never found the part man, sorry. I tried but I think you want this more than it anyway.” “I can't accept this,” he says dryly, his eyes never leaving the round trip tickets to Ireland to visit his ailing mother. “Sure you can. There's one for Shelley too and pretty sure you have vacation hours saved up so no reason not to go.” “Dude, this must have cost nearly three thousand dollars.” He looks me in the eye, almost angry, entirely happy, and guilty for wanting to accept it. “Somewhere in that ballpark.” I shrug, making it appear as if it were but a trifle to spend that kind of cash. “But I know you needed this and I know you were stressing over how to make it work. So, I figured I'd help you out. Did you really think I wasn't going to after all the talks we have about this?” I enjoy being an ass. How dare he think I'm not secretly planning to help him? “Man...” He takes me into another hug but this time it was quick and hard, like it was a forever goodbye. I hug him back, hoping he won't feel bad for accepting the tickets even though I know he will apologize half a dozen times for it and fret he doesn't show his appreciation enough. Every moment he thinks of me and feels like he needs to do more is thanks enough because that worry and desire is what appreciation is. It's why I never hold back with him. “Can't leave you two alone in a room for a minute.” Sonia comes into the living room, popping a grape into her mouth. Evan pulls away. “Yeah, it's just...” He sighs. “Shelley!” He shows the tickets the moment she comes into view. Her eyes go wide too as she realizes what they are and just how generous it is. But for Evan, it's not generosity. I needed to do it. “You can't accept these.” She takes them into her hands and looks at them as if expecting it to be like those fake million dollar scratch tickets you buy as a joke gift. “They're under your name, so I can't even take them back if I wanted to.” I wave the notion off. “Besides, you were going either way. I just made it easier.” “I thought you got him a car thing.” Sonia was squinting, her lines creasing up again. “I tried to. Couldn't get it,” I say with a big smile. “This is better, I think.” “How much did that cost you?” The question was pointed and instantly I knew there was going to be a fight. Not now. I did a good thing. “Does it matter? I had some savings just for something like this.” It was a lie, I never save money. But I had some extra and with a bit of effort it became enough. “You told me you spent half a grand on it.” That had been the plan but I never updated her on that matter. “It's my money. And what does it matter?” “Because you never buy me anything like that!” She snaps, her disgust apparent. The word greedy came instantly to my mind. “All you ever do is talk about Evan this and Evan that. You spend more time with him than you do with me and now you're spending all your money on him too!” I fold my arms, a frown on my own face. “I've been friends with him for ten years and you for less than one. Sorry if that inconveniences you but I've always spent money on Evan.” “You don't get it, do you?” She takes a step forward, one hand at her hip the other pointing at me. “I feel more like someone you're with when you're not with Evan. You two are more of a couple than we are. Hell, even Shelley sees it!” She looks at Shelley with a desperate look to collaborate her story. “Sonia, they've been good friends for a long time. They're just close. I know it can be frustrating at times but–“ “I don't believe this.” Sonia pinches her nose. “These two are a stone-throw away from just fucking each other.” “I like girls.” I lift my hand up innocently. “Although, I'd do you in a heartbeat man.” It was a stupid joke. Probably entirely true but we didn't need to be physical with one another. I don't think we ever felt that way for each other. Yet, Sonia was right. Me and Evan; we are a couple in our own fashion. “Gee, thanks.” He laughs awkwardly; genuinely amused but knowing this is going to get worse. “This is what I'm talking about!” Sonia was clearly losing it and I knew the relationship was over. It didn't bother me but I felt rather guilty for it. Instead of saying anything right, I calmly say, “Sonia, chill. We're here to celebrate his birthday. Let's talk about this later.” “Yeah, HIS birthday. It's always about him.” She turns on her heels. “I'm leaving. I'm done with this bullshit.” All three of us stand still as we listen to her furiously stomping out the door. It was a good half minute before anyone even moved. The air was thick with tension but I think everyone just feels sorry for someone else. I felt sorry for me. Evan for me. Shelley for Sonia. Maybe for me too. I clap my hands suddenly, surprising everyone and myself. “Well, that was something.” I give a grin, feeling relieved I won't have to deal with the fight anymore. Sonia's gone. Nothing left to say. “Can I help with anything in the kitchen?” I ask, already filing Sonia away as another failed relationship. “I am so sorry, Ryan.” Shelley comes over to me with a big hug. I accept it. “It's no big deal. I didn't think we were going to go very far.” “Man, that sucks.” Evan was looking at the ground, obviously uncomfortable and as always sucking hard at dealing with awkward situations. “It's all good.” I pull away from the hug and shrug. “As long as I got you, I've got all the love and company I need.” “Aw...” He scratches his nose, giving a quick smile and entirely pleased. “But you know...” “I know.” This was just another time where he and I both know I lost my girlfriend because I pick him over them every time and we're both too awkward and vulnerable to admit that we probably love one another too much. We both know if we begin talking about it, it will turn into one of those Anne Frank conversations. No matter what, we'll both walk away hurt. I pick him over anyone but would he pick me over Shelley? I know he wouldn't. She makes him happy; probably more than I do and that makes me happy and miserable. That's why we never talk about it. She's his future but I'm just a part of it. I know we were both thinking the same thoughts, awkwardly and alone in silence. The doorbell rings. “Ding dong!” I mime the sound and head for the door without hesitation. We're all moving along even if we have more than enough reason to stop. Another year down, another failed relationship. But as long as Evan and I are friends, I won't need more than that. In that way I'm happy and totally too fucked up to find happiness anywhere else. People think bromance is cute but it is insanely deep and I think I'm drowning. Until I do, I'll celebrate another year with Evan.