Bart found me in the basement. He came in carrying an acoustic guitar case and set it down carefully next to me before he sat down cross-legged himself.
He pushed his chin at me and I opened the case. I took out a silky-finish classical guitar. The name label inside the sound hole read “H. S. Miller.” The body was thinner than a regular classical guitar, and the strings were bridged so low I barely had to squeeze to get a warm, clear tone. It was like a Martin or a Taylor only even better. “Holy jeezus,” I said. “Where did you get this?”
He shrugged. “Consider it a loaner. I couldn’t believe it either. Does your hand hurt?”
“No. And I can’t fucking believe it.” I couldn’t move fast, not as fast as I was used to, but I could barre the neck and play a clean scale without even a twinge. This was a sweet instrument, sprained thumb or no.
“Ah, you’ll be back to normal in another week or two anyway.” He took the Martin he had strung with bass strings out of its case and scooted across the shag to face me.
I picked out the opening notes of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, and he followed me into it, but it was a song that never went very far and neither of us really knew the words too well. He hit me with the bass riff from “My Sharona” by the Knack and although the guitar part sounded ridiculous on the acoustic, I could play the melody, or whatever I wanted.
We went on that way until my hand really began to tire. I trailed off from a too-long version of “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon and sat looking at him.
“You look like you’re feeling better,” he said.
“I guess. It’s hard to imagine feeling worse than last night.” Cringe-inducing memories were still close to the surface. “Okay, go ahead, hit me with your theory.”
“Come on, Bart. What’s the current grand theory on why I’m so fucked up.”
He looked a little sour but said “Well, I don’t know about generally, but there is a corollary about last night.”
“So, let’s hear it.”
He put the bass down and leaned back on his hands, looking at me. “I stick by what I said before the show. You’re afraid of him.”
“No, that’s not what I’m afraid of.”
“Your father, then.”
He frowned. “Don’t tell me you’ve been reading some bullshit pop psychology book about fear of success.”
“Then what are you afraid of? I always sucked at twenty questions.”
I plucked out the riff to another song, Paul Simon again, “Johnny Ace.” “This is one answer I’ve particularly sucked at giving.”
He sat forward again, interested, cautious.
“You’ll be the third person I’ve told.” In my head I think I was hoping he’d just guess, and I wouldn’t have to tell him. “I mean, that I’ve told like this.”
“I told you I suck at twenty questions,” he warned, as if he knew what I was thinking.
“Promise me you won’t be angry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
“That’s a stupid thing to say, but okay, I promise.”
I missed my cue. That was when I was supposed to just say: I’m gay. Just drop the bomb and then duck, right? In that moment, though, two little words weren’t just two little words, they were the tip of a motherfucking iceberg of secrets and lies that there was no way in hell I should have been keeping from him.
Suddenly it was easier to confess the concrete, incriminating facts than it was to state the generalization: “Ziggy and I slept together in Los Angeles. And it’s… kind of become a thing.”
He let out a little breath like he was relieved. I didn’t feel as dizzy as I did last time.
“Did you know?” I had to know.
He gave a little shrug, looking at me. “I guess I can’t say I’m surprised, given what’s been going on. And… no, I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“And what? You were going to say something else.”
“Daron,” he said, with a bit of a yawn. “I didn’t know know, if that’s what you mean. But if I’d been pressed to guess what was going on…?” He shrugged.
“So, you’re not mad?”
“I promised I wouldn’t be.”
“You’re right, that was a stupid thing for me to ask.”
We sat there in a silent moment until my hands found the notes for “Here Comes the Sun.” But the bright riff sounded falsely cheery.
“So, why did you tell me now?” he wanted to know.
I let the sound die away. “Because stuff is messed up between me and him, obviously, and I just can’t sort it out by myself anymore. Because I felt like you deserved to know. Because,” I kept trying to get more truth into every statement as if that would help make up the loss. “Because I had to. I had to know. You’re my best friend, Bart. What do you think?”
“You want to know my theory?”
He folded his lips under in a thin line then let them out with a “pop.” “My theory is that you wouldn’t have told me if your dad hadn’t showed up.”
“Do you think he knows?”
“Jeezuschrist I hope not.”
“You see?” He pointed a finger at me. “And if it’s going to be a secret, you’re going to need my help to keep it that way. Not that I’m not grateful that you told me. It sounds like it was hard.”
“You’re being so casual about it.”
He kicked my foot with his. “Shouldn’t I be? Daron, your sex life is not as big a deal to me as it is to you.”
“Oh.” I had thought he might be more upset about the fact I was sleeping with our singer, too, but that didn’t seem to be the case either.
“So you want to know the rest of my theory?”
“I also think you’re going to need help with the Z-man.”
“Didn’t I say that already?”
“Shut up, I’m theorizing.” He grinned. “He’s always been a handful. I’m not great on advice for dealing with relationships, but at least I’m on your side.” He hit me on the shoulder. “So you like the Miller?”
“Yeah, yeah I want one, I think.”
“I can fix you up,” he said in what sounded like it might be a mimic of Digger’s voice. “Nooo problemo.”
“Okay, Mr. Answers, try this one on for size. What should we call our next album?”
“Uh, let me get back to you on that one.” He stood up. “Have you eaten yet?”
I laid the guitar gently into the case. “Have you ever known me to feed myself without prompting?”
“Never. I take that as a no.”
We’d had too much of Chinatown lately and ended up at the smokey IHOP on Soldiers Field Road. There was a winter drizzle happening like there often was in Boston, and we drove along the river singing along to a worn out tape of Def Leppard, “Pyromania,” to avoid all the Christmas songs on the radio, and I could almost imagine what it might have been like if I’d had somebody like Bart when I was in high school. Yeah, maybe I’d have some more happy memories. But I couldn’t think how, at this moment, my life could be different.