It is summer of 1981. Ned Weeks is an openly gay writer from New York City who travels to Fire Island Pines, New York on Long Island to celebrate the birthday of his friend Craig Donner at a beachhouse. Other friends in attendance include Mickey Marcus and the charismatic Bruce Niles, who has recently begun dating Craig, who is young and appears to be in good health. While walking on the beach, however, Craig feels dizzy and collapses. Later, when blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Craig begins to cough repeatedly.