“But what do you think he’d want?” Cyrus asked, hunched in front of his computer. On the other end of the Skype call, Will shrugged.
“I told you, I think he’d like anything you gave him.”
“That’s not helpful,” Cyrus complained. “It’s his eighteenth birthday; I feel like it should be special.”
“So you waited until two days before to find something?” Will shook his head in amused disapproval. “That’s cutting it a little close, don’t you think?”
“That’s what rush shipping is for,” Cyrus defended himself. “I’ve been distracted; it slipped my mind.”
“Well, all I can say is that it doesn’t have to be something you buy, anyway. Hayden’s more sentimental than he might seem; as long as it means something, he’ll love it. Just don’t, like, buy him a tie or something, you know?”
“Right,” Cyrus said, nodding. “Okay. I’ll think of something. Thanks, Will.”
“Sure! See you, Cyrus,” Will said.
“Bye,” he replied as the call disconnected.
Something meaningful. Right. What could he do in two days? Cursing himself for waiting so long, he glanced around the bedroom looking for inspiration. There was always music, but he didn’t want that to become a fall-back gift, especially since he had given Hayden the record player for Christmas. There wasn’t time for Hayden to visit home again before graduation, and he got the feeling that it would be difficult to get permission for Will to come up to Sharpe’s.
Cyrus’s eyes landed on the smartphone on his dresser, and he briefly considered the pictures on it. After purchasing it on break, the administration hadn’t found out, and, therefore, hadn’t confiscated it. Even though the school was in a dead zone, Lee had found it a few days earlier and gone on a picture-taking spree. Cyrus hadn’t gotten the chance to look at them all yet, but perhaps there was something that would look good printed up and framed.
Opening the pictures folder, Cyrus began swiping through the photos. Some were close-ups of Lee’s face, or blurs of color as he and Hayden wrestled with the phone. There was one of Cyrus in the middle of rolling his eyes, and another of a random tree on campus. It wasn’t until Cyrus had gone through almost all the pictures that he found one that was truly beautiful.
The last picture was of a moment that Cyrus hoped he would remember for the rest of his life. Tired after a long evening filled with just as much good-natured fighting as laughter, the three friends ended up outside at sunset. Cyrus and Hayden had perched on a low stone wall in front of a gorgeous dogwood tree, facing the sunset. Their hands were intertwined on the stone, and a red-orange glow outlined their silhouettes. Lee must have taken the picture without them noticing, and Cyrus was grateful.
Even though the picture was perfect, Cyrus was hesitant to just print it out and stick it in a frame. Something about that seemed like a cop-out, or impersonal. Plus, he and Hayden had agreed that they weren’t the cliche type. After another few minutes of thought, Cyrus had an idea that had him shoving the phone in his pocket and hurrying from the room.
In the lounge, Lee was draped across a leather sofa with his feet propped up on an end-table. He was reading a book and looked up, startled, when Cyrus clapped him on the shoulder. Since he was in a bit of a hurry, Cyrus was already backing away as he pointed at Lee and said, “You are awesome.”
“Uh…thanks?” came the confused response, but Cyrus was already headed down the stairs.
Painting. He hadn’t considered it before, but he was decent at watercolor; good enough at least for a sunset and some silhouettes. Moreover, Cyrus was completely sure that Hayden would love it. He hoped that Hayden would be okay with his absence for a few nights, because he had work to do.
It seemed to take an eternity. When at last Cyrus finished filling in the last bit of crimson sky, he took a step back from his watercolor canvas to survey his work. Modesty aside, it was beautiful. The colors of the sunset blended together, from yellow, to orange, to red, and the silhouettes of himself and Hayden were starkly contrasted in black. A gorgeous blooming tree loomed over them, and Cyrus was glad that the hours he had spent on the stones of the wall had paid off in a stunning effect.
It was as close as it was going to get to perfect, and when Cyrus checked the time, he balked. He only had twenty minutes to get back to the dorm, or it would no longer be Hayden’s birthday. Tucking the canvas under his arm, but carefully avoiding the still-wet part, Cyrus dashed out of the room. He was in a building that stayed open until two in the morning for those wishing to study late-night, and he was glad that no one had complained about him taking an entire room to sprawl with his paint supplies.
Cyrus hurried back to his dorm, taking the stairs two by two. The second part of Hayden’s gift - ordered the day before on one-day rush shipping - was already wrapped and sitting in the corner of his drawer. Cyrus just hoped that Hayden hadn’t gone to bed early in his absence; it would be less than ideal if Cyrus had to wake him up.
Bursting into the dorm room, Cyrus found Hayden in the midst of changing shirts, looking ready for bed. He froze, t-shirt in hand, and looked at Cyrus with wide eyes. “Uh… You okay?” he asked, his tone short and hard.
“Yeah,” Cyrus said, catching his breath.
“Okay,” Hayden replied, pulling the shirt over his head. “Nice of you to show up,” he added in a dry tone, not meeting Cyrus's eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Cyrus apologized. “I was just working on your birthday present.”
Hayden’s face immediately softened. “Oh. I thought you’d forgotten.”
Shaking his head, Cyrus lifted the canvas from where it rested at his side and showed it to Hayden. He waited for his boyfriend’s reaction, but it didn’t come. Hayden was simply staring at it. Uncertain, Cyrus explained,“It’s, uh, it’s from a picture Lee took of us the other day. Do you… do you like it?”
Blinking, Hayden finally replied, “My God, Cy, it’s freaking beautiful. You painted this?”
It was obvious that he had, but Cyrus answered the question anyway. “Yeah. Just finished it a few minutes ago, actually. So it’s, uh, still a little wet.”
Hayden’s eyes looked suspiciously wet as well when he stepped forward and took the painting from Cyrus’s hands, not taking his eyes off of it. Slowly, he set it aside, propped up against the wall. Cyrus’s eyes were glued to Hayden as he turned his back. Then, before he knew it, he was enveloped in a tight embrace, Hayden hooking his chin over Cyrus's shoulder. Before Cyrus could even hug back, Hayden's lips were pressed against his. Cyrus returned the kiss, bringing a hand up to cup Hayden’s neck, threading his fingers through his boyfriend's hair.
After a minute, though, he broke away. Not that he was in a hurry, but he wasn’t finished with Hayden’s gifts yet.
“Did that explain how much I like the painting?” Hayden asked, grinning.
Cyrus smiled back at him. “I’m not sure; I still might be a little hazy on that subject.” Before Hayden could move in again, Cyrus gently pushed him away. “But that can wait,” he said. Moving to the drawer, he withdrew a little rectangular package and offered it to Hayden.
Hayden made short work of the wrapping and revealed a box for a smartphone underneath. “A phone?”
“Yeah,” Cyrus said, shifting his weight. “So we can keep in touch.”
“Why would we need…” Hayden trailed off, frowning.
Cyrus gave a quiet sigh. “I really don’t want to ruin the mood,” he said, “but I think you should know… My mom called yesterday. She, uh, had a few things to say.” He rubbed the back of his neck, tense and nervous.
Hayden’s shoulders fell. “What kind of things?”
“Well, first of all, you got the scholarship,” Cyrus said with a faint smile. “It was a really quick turn around, but I guess that’s what comes if the person in charge likes you.”
“That’s great!” Hayden said, though his smile was brief. “But why do I feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming?”
“Because there is,” Cyrus said, wincing. “She thinks that if we’re roommates there, I’ll be distracted from my studies. She’s not going to let me room with you. I tried to argue, but she reminded me that she hadn’t sent in the deposit yet and that I could still go to Princeton…” He frowned.
Hayden took a moment, then gave a solemn nod. “I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. We won’t be far away from each other, though. We’ll still see each other all the time. Hopefully I won’t even need to use this,” Hayden said, gesturing to the phone.
Cyrus flinched. “That’s, uh, not… It gets worse. She told me that she enrolled me in a summer program at Princeton. She wants to be able to say I went to Princeton, or whatever. I think she’s still hoping I’ll change my mind,” he sighed. “I’ll be gone all summer.” Cyrus watched Hayden’s face fall, and hated himself for having to be the one to deliver this news.
There was a long, tense silence. “All summer, huh?” Hayden said eventually.
They lapsed into silence again. “I’m sorry,” Cyrus offered.
“It’s not your fault,” Hayden said, sitting down on the bed. By unspoken consent, Cyrus went to sit next to him. “We’ll make it work, don’t worry,” he said. “It’s only a couple of months.”
“I’ll text you all the time. We’ll call and Skype and everything,” Cyrus promised.
“Of course,” Hayden replied, as if it was only to be expected. He hesitated. “When do you leave?”
“The day after graduation.”
“Wow. That soon?”
“Unfortunately,” Cyrus replied. “I’m sorry.”
“You already said that,” Hayden chastised. “And I already told you it’s not your fault.”
“No, I’m sorry for ruining your night. It’s your birthday after all. How’s that for a happy birthday?” Cyrus muttered.
Hayden took Cyrus’s hand in his. “Hey, I’m glad you told me.” Cyrus looked up at him. “I’m glad you told me, because now it makes it even more precious when I do this.” He placed his hands on both sides of Cyrus's face and pulled him in for a kiss. “And thank you for the painting. It’s a lot like you.”
Hayden’s grin was cheesy. “Gorgeous.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Cyrus managed, blushing more than a bit.
“I love it,” Hayden corrected. “It’s definitely going in my dorm room.”
“Won’t that raise some flags with your roommate?” Cyrus asked, scowling.
Hayden didn’t seem concerned. “Oh, he won’t have to worry about me.”
Grinning back at Cyrus, Hayden responded, “Because I’m one hundred percent taken.”
Cyrus felt a warm flutter in his chest at Hayden’s words. The sensation was born of affection but also of hope. Looking at his friend now, Cyrus felt optimistic. Maybe they could make this work. Scratch that; they would make this work. After all, a few months apart sure beat a whole year, and Cyrus wasn’t about to give up on them that easily.