Riley dreaded today. As with most men turning forty, it isn’t something he looked forward to. Being thirty-something suited him just fine, but forty felt like he was on the verge of being old.

Being single wasn’t helping Riley with his birthday humdrum. He wanted love and to be in a relationship, but he had come to accept that he most likely wasn’t ever going to find anyone.

Everyone referred to him as “a catch,” but online dating wasn’t his thing either, nor were casual hook-ups. Riley did everything he could to retain his strong, attractive looks by working out, getting stylish haircuts, and keeping up with current fashions.

He’d only been in love once in his life. That was in college. It was with his best friend, Cole. He ended the friendship after turning down an invitation to be Cole’s best man and declining to attend the wedding. Riley was fond of Cole’s bride, Sally—she was as beautiful as she was sweet. He desperately wanted to be in their lives, but he just couldn’t do it. The happier the two of them were together, the more Riley’s heart ached over Cole. He eventually decided that he need to opt out of their friendship for self-preservation.

Cole was everything Riley wanted in a partner. He was smart, funny, caring as well as ridiculously attractive and well-built with a long, lean muscular torso and the ideal smattering of body hair. Cole was a true sportsman and because of him, Riley ended up surfing, skiing and partaking in every outdoor activity imaginable.

***

Today’s birthday started like every other: texts, calls and cards from family and a few close friends. Showered and dressed, he contemplated what to do with his special day. As he settled in front of his computer to work, his phone rang with an unknown number.

Probably a spam call, but I’d hate to be rude to someone who remembered my birthday.

Riley cautiously answered the phone, “Hello…?” “Riley?,” the voice asked as if unsure if he called the correct person. “It’s me, Cole… I wanted to wish you a happy birthday.” Riley sat motionless. He couldn’t believe Cole was calling.

Riley hesitantly replied, “Thanks… Cole.” An excited, “Wow. I can’t believe I got you!” followed by, “So great to hear your voice. I couldn’t let you turn forty without wishing you a happy birthday!”

Riley wasn’t sure what to say or even where to begin. Perhaps it was best to just be polite and excuse himself from the call quickly.

“So great to hear from you. Thanks for the well-wishes. I appreciate you remembering, but I really must get to work!”

“Oh, sure, silly me,” Cole replied. “Before you go, do you have plans for dinner? I live in the next town over I’d love it if you came here and we could celebrate.” Riley didn’t miss a beat before replying, “Ah, sorry – already have something lined up for tonight, but thank you.”

“Well, if you change your mind, please call. I’m a good cook. I’d love to help you celebrate your big day.”

Riley was resolve in his decision to get off the call. “Very kind of you. I appreciate you remembering my birthday. Talk soon.” But before he could hang up, Cole again extended his invitation, “If you change your mind – please call!”

Riley hung up and sat for a moment as a flood of old emotions came over him.

That deep sexy voice. That sweet demeanor. I guess I never did get over him!

 ***

The day passed; much of it thinking about Cole. Riley remembered their night in the park drinking beers and talking about their futures. Cole would always say how he and Riley would be best friends forever, as he promised that they’d be the kind of buddies that would never let a woman get between them. Ironically Riley thought, that’s exactly what ended up happening.

Curiosity plagued Riley. What was Cole up to? If he’s been in a town nearby all this time, how has he never run into him? Is he still married? Is he still hot? Employed? Riley’s imagination wouldn’t relent.

***

Riley couldn’t concentrate on making dinner or settling in to watch TV. Instead, he decided to look online to see what he could find out about Cole’s life. Search how he may, Cole didn’t seem to have any social media presence.

Who doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram account now-a-days?

 Riley’s search revealed a home address.

I’d love to see his house, where he lives. Heck, it’s only 6:00. It’s early. I may as well just drive by. It’s only thirty minutes away. A nice night for a casual drive.

 As Riley drove, his mind kept wondering: Am I nuts to go over there? What am I doing? Whatever happens, I’m not ringing the bell to say hello. I’ll just drive by quickly to see what kind of life he’s made for himself.

Riley pulled up to the address on the phone. It was a modest, quaint home with a fresh coat of paint and an antique porch swing.  The kind of home that houses a happy family.

 Good for him, Riley thought.

He fought the urge, but ultimately couldn’t resist. Riley needed to get out of the car and take a closer look inside.

Okay, I know this is wrong and I’m a peeping Tom, I’ll just stand on the porch and look in. If anyone catches me, I’ll just say I was about to ring the bell. I need know what’s going on inside!

Riley stood on the porch. As luck would have it, he could easily see into the kitchen from the window near the front door. Cole could be seen with his wife and kids sitting around a birthday cake singing.

Damn, he hasn’t aged in twenty years. Still an athlete, still has a great body and full head of hair. The least he could have done is be bald and out of shape!

Riley’s heart raced. Butterflies flooded his stomach.

How do still have feelings for this guy!?

Riley could see Cole’s family gathered around a large frosted cake. He figured it must be one of Cole’s kid’s birthdays today, too. Riley could feel himself sinking into the same petty jealousy that cost them their friendship so many years ago.

“Hi, you here for the cake?” asked an innocent looking teenage boy no more than 100 pounds with bright red hair.

Riley turned in surprise. He knew he was busted. Time to think quick. “No, ah, no. Just realizing I’m at the wrong house. I thought this was 1239 not 1236. My mistake.”

Riley readied himself to retreat.

The teen replied in a high-pitched voice, “I do that shit all the time,” as he rang the doorbell.

Riley panicked. How could he quickly make his escape? He rapidly retreated to his car praying he had the time to slip away before anyone answered the door and discover him.

“RILEY IS THAT YOU?” Cole called out from the porch.

Riley knew that he wasn’t going to get away. DAMN IT! Best to man up.

He turned and weakly smiled.

“Hey Cole. Just in the neighborhood and thought I’d drive by.” Riley cringed as he said the words fully aware of how ridiculous he sounded.

 Cole rushed over and before Riley could extend his hand for a shake, he was caught in a bear hug. “So glad you stopped in! You have no idea how happy I am to see you. You look amazing. Certainly, nowhere near our age.”

Riley chuckled to himself; same old charmer.  He knows how to say all the right things. But if we’re both being honest here, Cole looked freaking amazing!

Riley decided that it was best to be honest—just state his position and excuse myself from the situation as swiftly as possible. “Cole, I appreciated the call this morning, and the invitation, truly I do. I’ll be honest that I was curious as to how you were and what you were up to, so I drove by. But since I’m here, I have to admit that I’m not sure if I’m really up for a social visit at this time.”

Cole smiled with the same big blue, sweet eyes that Riley remembered from high school. Just like when they were kids, Cole would look and Riley and his heart would melt.

Cole put his hand on Riley’s shoulder. “Riley, I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just say it… I know why you ran away from me when we were young, and I really don’t know what I’d do if you did it again. Every day I regret letting it happened – for not coming after you. When we were young, I knew what you were doing and why you were doing it, I just didn’t know how to deal with it. My intention was never to cause you so much pain that you’d not want to see me.”

Riley stopped Cole. He didn’t want to hear anymore. He couldn’t hear anymore. “Water under the bridge. A young gay boy who fell in love with his straight buddy. It’s a gay cliché.”

Riley tried to free himself from Cole’s hand on his shoulder but couldn’t. Cole remained with his hand steadying him.

“Can I please explain myself before you run away again? I just would appreciate two minutes of your time to let you know why I called you today.”

Riley removed Cole’s hand from his shoulder. “Sure. Go ahead.”

“Sally and I are still together, but just as friends. It’s been that way for 15 years now. We still love each other but not the way you think. It was my kids that insisted I call you today. They’re tired of listening to me talk about you.” Cole laughed at himself. “They can’t take it anymore. They found you on Facebook. You see, I came out of the closet a while ago. When we were friends, I was afraid of being a gay man. I’m not anymore. Riley, you made my heart sing and my life complete back then. I was hoping we could get to know each other again, see if we could fix a mistake, a mistake that I think we both made years ago. What do you think? Can you come in and meet everyone? Let us sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and have a piece of cake?”

Riley fought his emotions as he choked out the question. “Whose birthday is it anyway?”

Cole smiled as he pulled Riley towards him into another hug. He whispered, “It’s yours. I baked that cake hoping you’d come by tonight and celebrate with us.”

Riley’s butterflies subsided and his heart filled with a warmth he hadn’t felt in many years. Riley suddenly wanted nothing more in the world to stay and to celebrate. Birthday cake sounded like the most perfect thing right now. “I’d really like that,” Riley replied.

Cole sweetly took his hand and lead him to the house to introduce him to his kids and to sing him “Happy Birthday” and give him a slice of cake.