Matt Garetty had invited twelve other kids to his tenth birthday party, but he was only looking forward to seeing one. He had worn his best play clothes, which happened to be a blue Spider-Man shirt and knee-length khakis with light up shoes. To say that he was excited would be an understatement, truly, as he stood on a stool and looked into the bathroom mirror, brushing his teeth and practicing smiles. It had been two weeks since he saw his very best friend, Andrew Detmer, and he could barely contain his joy. There was nothing better than being with his partner in crime, ‘Drew.
Matt didn’t care about the cake or the presents. All he wanted was to climb into his treehouse with his cousin and talk about Space Invaders. So much so that when the other kids started to arrive at his house, he stayed up in his room, ignoring his mother’s pleas for him to come down and entertain his guests. He just stood in front of the window, waiting for the sight of Richard Detmer’s old car. He was twiddling with his thumbs; a particular happiness welling up inside of him. He could hear the people downstairs talking and laughing, but he didn’t care. All he could do was smile and standstill, waiting.
And then, sending Matt’s heartbeat through the roof, the gray car pulled into the gravel driveway. It took half a second for it to register in his brain before he was turning and sprinting down the stairs, pushing past the groups of people with butterflies erupting in his stomach. He struggled to open the front door, but that didn’t stop him for a long, as he was already out the door and skipping down the porch steps two by two. He saw Karen and Richard opening their car doors, but he didn’t care. He made it to the car in seconds, pulling open the only door that mattered. Andrew Detmer’s door.
It swung open, and there he was, giving Matt a look of shock. He quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and slid out of the seat, embracing his older cousin with a tight hold. Matt’s little arms snaked around him and squeezed as tightly as they could. He breathed Andrew in, smelling fruit punch bubble bath and hints of maple syrup. ‘’I see someone missed Andrew,’’ Karen said, smiling down at her son and nephew. Embarrassed, Matt reluctantly pulled away to look at her. He smiled sheepishly, nodding.
‘’I-I’ve been waiting all day,’’ he said, his voice small.
Karen looked fond, ‘’He’s been waiting for you, too.’’
Matt glanced back at his cousin, who was bright red. He held out his hand, ‘’Let’s go, Drew.’’
Andrew took it, only able to blink twice before Matt whisked him off into the backyard.
Three hours and two plates of cake later, the party was over but Matt wasn’t about to let his fun end. He had gotten his mother’s attention, pulling her down to whisper in her ear. ‘’Can Andrew stay over?’’
She stood up straight when he was done, and then nodded, ‘’Ask Karen, Matt.’’
Matt’s attention was directed to the woman sipping coffee and talking to his father. ‘’Mrs. Detmer?’’
Karen turned her head towards him, and suddenly, everyone was looking at him. ‘’Yes?’’
‘’Can Andrew stay the night?’’ he asked quietly, pulling off his best puppy dog eyes.
Andrew piped up, ‘’Please, mom?’’
‘’Of course,’’ Karen said, smiling sweetly.
Matt and Andrew interlocked hands, jumping excitedly. ‘’Yes!’’ they said, before running off.
After Karen and Richard left, Matt’s mother ran a bath. She poured his favorite bubble bath in and let the hot water rise as they stripped down. ‘’Alright, boys… I think you’re ready. I’ll be in the study, so call me when you’re ready for pajamas,’’ she said, making her way out of the tiled bathroom.
Andrew got in first, easing into the warm water as Matt followed him, taking a seat beside him. They were covered in dirt, icing, and now bubbles. Admittedly, they were a little too old to be taking baths together but neither noticed it, really. It was all about the pirate ships in the bubbly water and the rubber duck that was attacking them. It was hard to think about getting older when he was so young. Matt didn’t believe in the future. Only the present. And in that moment, he was freshly ten and full of excitement and drowsiness. The presence of his best friend was a comforting, sweetened one.
Matt thought Andrew Detmer, commander and chief of The Space Kingdom, had the sun in his chest. There was nothing more to the thought. Only that warmth must have lived in-between his ribs. Happiness must have buried itself underneath the strings of his heart. Adoration slithered through his veins, sweet and innocent and giddy. Matt thought the world of Andrew, even when he splashed soapy water into his eyes and laughed as his older cousin wheezed in pain and pressed his palms to his eyelids.
‘’Are you okay?’’ Andrew asked in the midst of his giggling, unable to stop the mocking laughter.
Matt groaned, scrunching his nose up on his face. ‘’No!’’
‘’When I get hurt, my mom does this thing…’’ Andrew said, scooting closer to his temporarily blind friend in the water. Suddenly, a bony hand rested on his softly angular face and Matt struggled not to act surprised. He held his breath as lips ghosted around his eyes, placing one careful kiss on each lid. The smaller cousin pulled away, suddenly without laughter. Andrew sounded genuine as he spoke, ‘’She says that kisses make everything better… Grandma said it, too, y’know…’’
Matt peeked from beneath his eyelashes, ‘’You’re weird.’’
Andrew flustered, splashing him again, ‘’Shut up, Matt.’’
Tucked in bed in fresh pajamas, Andrew and Matt were tired. They were snuggled in the center of the bed, tangled up and talking about tomorrow. The door to the bedroom was cracked, allowing fresh rays of light from the hallway to bleed into the dark room. There were glow-in-the-dark stars in the ceiling and walls, glittering in the pitch of night. Usually, Matt would turn on his nightlight, but he was ten now. He was bigger. And, of course, he had to impress his cousin. According to Matt’s brother, Aidan, it wasn’t very cool to sleep with a light on. So, they laid in the humming dark, sleepy.
‘’Tomorrow, we should-we should get up super early and have a meeting in the fort,’’ Andrew suggested, shifting his feet underneath the cool sheets. Distantly, they could hear Matt’s parents speaking, but it droned out after a while. ‘’That way, we can take over your backyard from the toads by noon… I don’t want t-to pick them up with my hands. That’s gross. Like-like really gross.’’
Matt laughed quietly, careful not to attract his mother. ‘’Remember when I dared you to lick one?’’
Andrew’s arms surged upwards dramatically as he dealt with the memory. ‘’That was HORRIBLE.’’
‘’You didn’t even do it!’’ Matt retorted, turning onto his side to face his cousin better.
Andrew rolled his big, blue eyes and stuck out his tongue in disgust. ‘’No, but you did.’’
‘’Frogs are tasty! My dad says so,’’ Matt mumbled, smiling at Andrew with an unmistakable fondness.
The smaller boy shook his head violently, ‘’Nu uh!! He doesn’t even eat chicken, much less frogs.’’
Matt groaned playfully, turning fully to bury his face in his pillow. He tugged the blankets up over his head, and slowly, in-between spontaneous bouts of laughter and seeing who could win at thumb wrestling, they fell asleep. They were tangled together, keeping each other warm in the winter cold.
Matt woke up to the sound of crying beside him, blinking quickly to banish the sleep from his eyes. He acted before he could really think about it. He grazed Andrew’s back with his hand and beckoned him closer to his side of the bed, drawing in the trembling body of his cousin. Nerves aflame, Andrew curled into Matt’s chest and closed his eyes. It was too dark. Too quiet. Matt didn’t know where to put his hands, or what to do with himself, but he just allowed him to lie there in his embrace, breathing labored and panicked with every passing moment. ‘’Matt,’’ Andrew croaked, reaching out for him.
A small, shaking hand met Matt’s own and carefully intertwined their fingers. ‘’Bad dream?’’ Matt mumbled, his eyes hooded and scanning the shadowed face of his best friend. Andrew nodded, pulling his legs up towards his chest to seem as small as possible. ‘’It’s okay… It’s just the toad, uh, prince. He’s very angry at us… We destroyed his base, poured dye into his pond…’’
Andrew huffed a laugh, shaking his head with tears draining down his face. ‘’The dye made it better.’’
‘’He has no taste,’’ Matt joked, pulling the cover up and over his friend. ‘’But it’s okay, ‘Drew, really. Nothing can hurt you while I’m around, okay? Nothing will ever separate us…’’
Andrew mumbled something incoherent into the pillow, and then, just like that, they were back to sleep.