The first time Jeremy says, “I’m happy for you,” he means it. It’s during their first year of college, when Michael comes back to their dorm room early one Sunday morning still wearing the sweater and jeans he wore yesterday, dark marks dotting his neck, sheepish grin adorning his reddened face. Jeremy barks the words teasingly, begs for the more scandalous details, and high-fives Michael before they start a round of Mario Kart.
The second time he says those words, it’s nine months later, when Michael introduces him to Luke. He says the word jokingly, nudging Michael’s side with his elbow when Michael hisses that it’s casual, oh my god, it’s nothing serious, stop it!
But Michael’s repressing a smile when he says it, and Jeremy’s glad to see his best friend happy.
The third time he says the words is a long time later. After a breakup and a fling and a tumultuous short-term relationship that Jeremy could never grant his blessing to, Michael comes back from a second date with this guy he met on a dating app with a hickey and a huge grin. Jeremy’s busy working on an assignment due by midnight, so he just says the words on auto-pilot, sparing time to fist-bump Michael before he refocuses on his laptop. There’s an odd twinge in the pit of his stomach when Michael hums his way to the shower, but he ignores it in favor of cursing at his word doc.
The fourth time is senior year. Michael’s been going on and on about his crush in his Sound Editing class, and Jeremy gets a text during lunch saying that he’s scored a coffee date with the crush.
I’m happy for you, Jeremy texts back. Good luck!
Staring at his phone screen, his half-eaten sandwich forgotten on the table, Jeremy looks at the excited all caps texts from Michael and realizes that he doesn’t mean the words at all.
The fifth time hurts.
Michael is waving goodbye to Alex, his eyes soft with affection and mouth red from kissing that Jeremy pretended not to be bothered by. He turns to Jeremy with his cheeks tinted pink and Jeremy’s heart plummets at the look on his face.
“I think I love him,” Michael says.
Even though his heart breaks at the words, Jeremy doesn’t let his voice crack when he says, “I’m happy for you.”
The fifth time is nothing compared to the sixth.
“He asked me to marry him!” Michael shrieks, eyes bright, smelling of cinnamon and an unfamiliar cologne as he hugs Jeremy tight. Jeremy clutches Michael’s shirt and hugs him back, eyes watering as he swallows a sob.
“I’m happy for you,” he chokes out. It’s a lie. He’s been lying for a long time, now.
The seventh time is the product of a hundred practice runs, of hours spent repeating the same line over and over at a mirror. The words have sanded his heart down to dust until there’s nothing left but an aching empty cavity in Jeremy’s chest.
“I’m happy for you,” he lies to Michael, who’s fidgeting with his tie and his tuxedo jacket. In a few minutes, Michael will walk down the aisle, and Jeremy will stand by him as his best man.
“God, I’m so fucking nervous,” Michael says, laughing.
“You’re gonna be fine,” Jeremy says, dragging Michael’s hands away from his necktie before he ruins the perfect windsor knot.
Michael sighs, then looks at Jeremy with a small smile. “Hey man, I love you.”
“I love you too,” Jeremy says, and he means it. He’ll always mean it. It’s the only part of him that’s not a lie, these days.