Note from author: Many thanks for the review, and to those who chose to follow this story. As I mentioned in my bio (above), I'm working on a project (fulltime work) whose deadlines are scary and I've been working long into the early hours night most days, including Saturdays, and will continue to do so until the end of the year. So my progress is extremely slow, because it's hard for me to make a mental switch from the writing topics that pay the bills to this story, whose characters have begged me to tell their stories for ages. However, I will update sporadically and I appreciate your patience in that regard.
Ben phoned his best friend Eric as soon as he got to his room.
"I can meet you at The Raphael for lunch," Eric said.
"No, come on over to my home. I need your advice about something and it's private; I don't want our conversation be overheard."
"What is it? I saw your name in the matric results published in the newspapers. Apparently you got Distinctions in all your subjects. Congratulations, broer!"
"It's not about school. "
"Oh? OK. But I can only get there in two hours or so. My parents want to celebrate my passing, hang out a bit."
"That's fine. I'll tell the security people to expect you."
Two hours later, the two boys were sitting in the livingroom of Ben's suite. Ben outlined the morning's events to his best friend and former classmate.
"Dude, that's fantabulous news," Eric said. "You get to be openly gay, marry a handsome guy whom your family approves of and will soon get regular sex without having to lie to a girl. You are so lucky!"
"But nothing," Eric cut him off, getting annoyed. "Don't make this into a more difficult situation than it warrants. Sure it's a bit weird that your parents are arranging your marriage for you, but Michael is young and handsome and someone you've had a crush on for years. Now you're going to get difficult because your parents got him for you on a silver platter, instead of waiting for you to fumble your way into asking him out? Assuming you can even muster the guts to do so."
"No. But Eric-"
"Shut up, Ben, and count your blessings. Enjoy the fact that you don't have to come out to your parents, and unlike millions of gay men the world over, your parents support you to the extent that they arranged for you to marry the guy you're interested in."
"OK. But can I just say that it feels wrong? That I feel like my parents are forcing me on him and maybe he'll feel trapped and hate me for it?"
"What are you whining about?" Eric asked him in that rough tone good friends use when they think you need a kick on the butt. Ben had escaped to his room soon after his conversation with his father and was lying on his bed with his Blackberry in one ear, chatting to his best friend Eric. Ben met Eric at Stithians Junior Preparatory when they were both in Grade 5, when Eric's family moved to Johannesburg from George. The two became close friends and their friendship was not affected when it emerged that Ben was gay. Eric simply became the custodian of Ben's secrets, mostly listening when his friend became despondent about his situation.
"As far as I can see, you're one lucky bastard. One: you no longer have to worry about coming out because your parents accept that you are gay. Two: it turns out the guy you've had a crush on since you knew you were gay is also attracted to guys. Three: your parents had the good sense to set you up with him. Not just for a date, but for a whole lifetime. So why don't you stop whining about possible problems and start thinking about how you're going to woo him?"
" You know Michael knows I had a crush on him and he used to tease me about it. For a while I even thought he was going to out me."
"So? He was a stupid boy who didn't know how to handle another boy's crush gracefully. You grew up and hopefully, you can stand up for yourself, even if I have to keep kicking you on the shins to remind you. And from what I hear, he grew up and is no longer the mean, snot-nosed bully we loved to despise."
"OK," Ben sighed loudly, trying to wrap his head around the concept. "Put like that, it sounds workable."
"That's where the wooing comes in. He knew you had a crush on him. Build on that. Find out if he could return your feelings. Anyway, it sounds like Michael changed his mind about you because you said his parents already spoke to him about the issue and he told them he was cool with it? "
"Yes, Dad said he agreed. But that doesn't mean he was telling them the truth. Maybe he told them it was OK to get them off his back, and will even go through it. But who knows what he thinks privately?"
"Well, he's not my fucking best friend so you won't find out by phoning me. Phone him, set up a meeting with him and see how that goes."
After hanging up with Eric, Ben stared at his phone. He knew he should call Michael, but the thought of it made him nauseous. God! With friends like Eric, who needed enemies? Stop whining and just call him, the stronger, more assertive part of him insisted. You'll feel better afterward, because you won't be dreading the conversation any more.
To boost his confidence, Ben decided to draft a basic plan of how to approach Michael and what to say at their first meeting. Obviously the first step would be finding out how he feels about the situation. If he was already agreeable about a possible relationship, then they could hang out, get to know each other better, see where that takes them. If Michael was unsure, again, they could get to know each other. But if Michael was still hostile like he was he found out Ben had a crush on him then Ben was going to have to grow a pair and tell him his parents that marriage with Michael was out of question. And Michael would have to do the same with his parents. The big problem would be if Michael planned to go through with the marriage but had no intention of building a relationship with Ben or respecting his marriage vows.
Ben was still procrastinating when his cellphone rang. By the looks of the number displayed on the screen, Michael did not have a problem starting the conversation. "Can you meet me at Mugg & Bean at Sandton City? We need to talk," Michael said in greeting.
"Can you make it in thirty minutes? I have a flat at The Raphael next to Sandton City, so I'm close enough," Michael said.
"Thirty minutes is fine."