Ben wanted so badly to kiss his best friend.
His best friend since elementary school.
The guy who stopped him from going off the rails with other kids, and helped him consistently with his hot headed self righteousness... who got him to see things in a grounded, level and down to earth kind of way.
Who spoke with him of philosophy, music, of life and of God. He got him to think of things in ways that no one could.
He had met Josh when he moved into their small town in Spokane, Washington, when they were nine years old.
Josh was very popular, Ben was not.
Immediately it seemed, Josh had made more friends in a few weeks of being at Ben’s school then Ben had his entire life.
But, that one day Ben had almost fought Josh’s brother over a misunderstanding and Josh had stepped in to help them both resolve it peacefully, their relationship had never been the same since.
They didn’t always talk, but when they did, they laughed a lot. They had intense talks about life. About God.
Ben was very religious. So was his family.
Josh was not. His family was agnostic. Josh’s mother, who had passed away many years ago, had only taught her children philosophy.
Despite the glaring differences between them, they became very close.
Ben was in band, and played the double bass, often playing for his younger brother, Al, and also for Josh.
His favorite was Claire De Lune.
He loved it especially because whenever he played it for Josh, it made him happy and smile a lot.
Ben knew about the sadness that was hiding deep within his friend.
Josh was actually very poor, and his father was a drunk, and the reason Josh’s brother was so angry all the time was because their home life was turbulent, crazy, and their father, though loving and kind, was depressed and unmotivated.
Ben remembered the day that Josh told him he was going to be in Idaho for the summer in high school Freshman year, and before, he told Ben something about his life that had really changed the way he saw everything. The way they saw each other, too.
“Ben, I know this sucks. I wanted to be with you this summer,” Josh said with a sigh. He handed Ben a wrapped package. “I got this for you, Mr. Musician.”
Ben grinned and took the rectangular wrapped package.
Unwrapping it, it looked like a very nice black notebook.
“It’s a notebook for you to write down your melodies and your songs. It’s Moleskin. The pages are ivory paper and it has the left page blank and the pentagram on the right so you can organize everything the way you need to. I don’t know much about this stuff but I had someone help me,” Josh laughed softly, a light blush on his cheeks. “And I got you a fountain pen. It’ll work well with the pages.”
Ben was overwhelmed. He immediately looked through the notebook and then at Josh.
He leaned forward and hugged Josh, tightly. “This is so thoughtful. Why do you get more thoughtful gifts for me than even my own mother does?” Ben whispered, his whole face feeling hot.
They both laughed.
“I don’t know. Don’t make it all weird,” Josh said as they got out of their embrace.
“So, you all are visiting your grandma?” Ben asked.
Josh nodded. “Dad sprung it on me. Not to mention he has a summer gig out there. He has loads of construction stuff he does on the side.”
Ben nodded. “I know. I can play a song for you before you go.”
“I like Claire De Lune and all, but I’m starting to think that’s all you know how to play!” Josh teased.
Ben rolled his eyes. “Okay, I get it. I’m boring.”
Josh chuckled. “No. You aren’t. You are just a little bit... unrelieved.”
Ben looked at him unimpressed. “The heck does that mean? You some kind of scholar?”
Josh laughed. “Get a dictionary!”
“Okay, anyway... I decided that I will play for you one piece called Csárdás. It’s by Monti. It’s one of my favorite songs.”
Josh nodded. “Sounds great. So do you like the notebook?”
“It’s fantastic. My father would never buy something like this for me. He thinks music and musicians are fruity,” Ben said softly with a shrug.
Josh scoffed dramatically. “You do have a lemon scent to you!”
Ben laughed, shoving Josh playfully.
They both looked at each other quietly for a moment, feeling incredibly at peace, but it was more than that. These moments, when they were both together, they felt completely at home.
Ben looked away, his cheeks bright red. He realized with a slow and deep rush of feelings that he was in love with Josh.
The culmination of all of their dreams, laughs, conversations, excursions and the way they both grew and shared everything with each other—Ben knew it something deeper than friendship.
“Remember that day in elementary school when we talked about meaning? About God?” Josh said.
Ben blew out a sigh of relief. He knew how impulsive he was and at that moment he was going to blurt out exactly what his heart was begging him to say.
Thankfully, Josh changed the subject.
“What about it?” Ben asked. He was staring at Josh’s clear blue eyes. Mainly it was a stray piece of blonde hair that was near Josh’s eye that was distracting Ben, and he thought for a moment that his hand had a mind of it’s own. He saw his hand almost reaching toward Josh’s face to move his hair away gently.
But, he didn’t.
Josh was stoic, always cool and very funny, and because of that, he had so many friends, but really, he only considered Ben to be his true friend.
Josh also noticed Ben. His dark brown eyes, and the way he was always flustered and blushing. The way Ben got heated up about everything, especially if he thought someone was being mistreated, or if there was some perceived injustice going on. The way he threw his head back when he laughed. And the crazy way his light brown hair never seemed to stay in one place.
Josh sighed, his heart feeling tired and heavy. “You know that for the longest time I believed that life only had meaning if you assigned meaning to it. My mom kind of instilled this into me before she passed away. Also that... you have to take responsibility for your happiness. Happiness is a paradox to me. I don’t know what that truly means in a world full of suffering, Ben. But, during the worst times of my life... I felt like life was nothing. My life was nothing.”
Ben looked solemnly at Josh.
“I know... before you tell me that my life isn’t nothing... I know,” Josh said quietly, and they both stared at each other softly. There was an unspoken understanding of trust between them, and Josh continued. “I know you believe in God. But, I have to live my truths.”
Ben looked at him curiously, “What truth is that?”
Josh put his hand next to Ben’s.
Ben took Josh’s hand.
Josh looked surprised but didn’t move away.
“When my mother died, my dad stopped trying. He would work for a few weeks, then just stop. For months. We’d move around a lot. We’d live in motels. We’d live with family. Friends. One time, my dad used our last five bucks and bought a lotto ticket.” He laughed mirthlessly “And...” Josh paused a moment, biting his lip, as if trying to stop the words from coming out.
Ben nodded, “Yeah, Josh?”
“He won twenty thousand dollars.”
Ben gasped a bit, his eyes wide, “What?”
“Yeah. I know... I’m sorry I never told you this. It’s too shameful.”
Ben looked at him questioningly. “Shameful?”
“He drank it all up. He gambled it. He hit rock bottom. That’s why he doesn’t drink anymore. That’s why we finally settled here in Washington. Thank goodness, cause it led me to you.” Josh said and when he realized he said what was really on his mind, he looked away, feeling very embarrassed. “All that money. It didn’t do anything for anyone. It just caused all of us more pain. More emptiness.”
“Oh, God, Josh. I’m so sorry.” Ben said, but inside, his heart was beating so fast he couldn’t breathe.
They were still holding hands.
“Ben... I’m not supposed to feel so empty all the time, right? Is there something else out there that can change the way you see life? I mean... actually change it? Give it meaning? Real meaning?”
Josh started to tear up and Ben squeezed his hand.
“Crap... Josh, I am so bad at this...” Ben said with a self deprecating humor. “I can barely help myself from falling apart some days...”
Josh laughed, a few tears falling from his eyes. “Ben, you kill me.”
“You are the best person I know. You must see that life has meaning... all the good in the world. All the love we have... the love that people have I mean,” Ben said with a flustered smile, and Josh laughed again.
“Ben... you are the best person I know. And you... you have given me meaning. I think that’s how it works. How life works. Art can give some people meaning. So can a good days work for some. Or a perfectly cooked meal. Or love.” Josh sighed. “But, to me,” Josh looked at him, leaning in closer, “In a nothing world, you became everything to me. You gave me hope that life wasn’t meaningless.”
Ben leaned in closer and they didn’t have any other words. His whole body felt on fire.
Josh was breathless, his chest feeling tight, and he didn’t understand what he wanted, or what he was feeling.
Ben knew exactly what he wanted, and what he was feeling, but he didn’t want to take advantage of his best friend.
He let go of Josh’s hand and said, “I will play you anything you want.”
“What about that one song you were talking about?” Josh asked, taking a short, nervous breath. They moved away from each other a bit.
“I don’t feel like playing that. I wanna play that song when you come back from Idaho. When I see you again.”
Josh nodded with a subtle smile. “You are corny.”
Ben shrugged. “I don’t care. That’s what I feel. I won’t do it right now.”
“And you’re obstinate! Your dad is right!” Josh teased, hitting Ben playfully.
“Your Speed Racer shirt is dumb,” Ben teased back, looking away.
Josh laughed loudly, “You like it!”
“You are a nerd for that show! Hah. Anyway... I’ll play you something else.”
Josh nodded. “Gymnopédie number one?”
Ben looked surprised. “You know Satie?”
“I looked up composers in the library. I did... well, ever since you have talked to me of one day becoming a professional musician, I kinda took up a polite interest in it.”
Ben grinned. “More than a polite interest, man!”
Ben took out his double bass and started to tune it.
“Oh, man, that day you taught me to play the double bass!” Josh laughed. “That was very irresponsible of you! If I had actually wanted to play, can you imagine the noise complaints the neighborhood would have here!”
Ben laughed. “You would be in jail.”
Josh laughed harder.
Once Ben was done tuning the instrument, he started playing some notes.
“Mr. Musician is skillfully hitting the notes on key!” Josh said with a wry grin.
Ben wanted so badly to kiss his best friend.
Right then and there.
Just go up to him, touch his cheek, and kiss him hard right on that sarcastic mouth.
Instead, he played the song Josh requested, closing his eyes, dreaming of their lives together. A dream life, together.
He played so slowly, so gently, and Josh was watching Ben play so carefully, so intently.
What Josh didn’t say was that he had listened to Gymnopédie number one many times, and every single time, he thought of Ben. His face, his laugh lines, his crazy brown hair and his cheeky, childish grin.
They both wanted this moment to last forever.
Once the song was over, the echo of the strings echoed in Ben’s bedroom.
The world couldn’t handle how he felt about his friend, Ben decided. They’d always get dirty looks.
It was only the late 1960’s and no one ever dared to discuss this kind of situation out loud without reproach.
Josh didn’t care, however.
He finally saw Ben, really saw him, and he had no one in his life to tell him that how he felt was wrong.
“You played so wonderfully,” Josh said finally. “Thank you.” He stood up and touched Ben’s hand again.
Ben looked away. “No problem.”
“Did you understand what I meant earlier, Ben?”
Ben looked at him, confused, “Huh?”
Josh chuckled softly. “What I meant. When I said you are everything to me.”
Ben shrugged, strumming at his double bass idly.
“It means...” Josh put his hands on Ben’s shoulders, and they both stared at each other.
Ben looked at him with wide eyes.
Josh became breathy, and leaned in close.
“Wh-what are you doing?” Ben whispered.
“It means, Ben, that I love you.” Josh said passionately. “I love you so much.”
Ben blushed, and was shocked by Josh’s speech. Josh never acted like this. It was always Ben who was impulsive.
But, Ben knew he loved him back. More than he could ever express.
But, he didn’t say it back.
But he did something even more shocking.
He leaned in, closed the gap, and kissed Josh hard right on his sarcastic mouth.
And Josh kissed back.
And nothing felt better to them as they were in each other’s arms, as they knew they were everything to each other.
Nothing is guaranteed in this world, not money, not time, not happiness, but with each other, they found meaning.
Ben gently pushed away that small strand of stray blonde hair away from Josh’s eyes, and they kissed softly.
Josh’s heart wasn’t pounding anymore.
It was free.
Ben kissed his tears away.
After Josh came back from Idaho, Ben played Csárdás for him, and they looked through the black music notebook.
Ben had written many songs during summer, and one especially for Josh. Ben played it for him, too.
“It’s about our new story. One day we will play it, and they will listen with new ears. Hopefully, one day, everyone will be able to hear it. And not judge our music so harshly,” Josh said decidedly, after listening to the original piece of music Ben had created.
Ben smiled, but with a bit of sadness. “I hope so.”
They embraced, feeling incredibly unsure of the future and of the course they set ahead, yet as they were in each other’s arms again, the safety and meaning of the home they built together in their trust and loyalty was made on sturdy foundations.
They both started joking again with one another, laughing, and held hands.
Another gentle kiss, and Ben felt whole.
Sometimes, you can find meaning in nothing.
It just takes the right person.