I got home Sunday afternoon, and it was a huge relief. My aunt and uncle had wanted to chat about their trip, but I just wanted to go home. I felt a little bad since they gave me an envelope with cash for my house-sitting, but I got over it. I felt happy to see my own house after so many days. My whole extended weekend off from school, and that whole time had been used up by this house-sitting deal. The manager at Burger Joint, where I worked part time, hadn't been thrilled so that had made two of us. On the whole, though, the money was decent, and my encounter with Zack had been cool.
I walked in and was greeted by the craziness of my home life. My little sister, Amanda, had a cape around her neck and a stocking cap on her head as she went charging past me, yelling something unintelligible. My older sister was in the kitchen talking to my mom and my older brother was in the living room, leaning on the arm of the couch with his headphones buried in his ears.
"You're back! How was it?" my mother asked.
"I hated it," I said in as polite a tone as I could muster. "Their house sucks." I opened the fridge and got a nectarine from the drawer.
"What? All the houses up there are nice!" my sister exclaimed.
"Why didn't you go up, then?" I asked as I leaned against the counter.
"Because she was grounded," my mom announced and she and my sister made a face at one another. Turning to face me my mom asked, "What was so wrong with it?"
"Bland. Quiet. No wifi."
"Oh, you poor thing. Did you have to read a book or something?" she asked with a laugh.
"He can't read," my sister teased.
"I choose not to," I said haughtily. "Actually, the cops showed up Friday night to bust up a house party next door."
"I heard about that," my brother Cal said as he entered the room, one headphone dangling. "George Fredricks was telling everyone to come up for a lit party. I heard fourteen kids got appearance tickets, and they were still trying to figure out how the alcohol got there." He opened the fridge for a piece of fruit as well. "I hear their parents are in deep shit."
"Hey!" my mom snapped.
"Sorry," my brother said and looked at me with a grin. "They're just in shit."
"Calvin!" my mother said in her best warning voice and my brother laughed and said he was sorry again before departing. My little sister came charging through, arm in the air like the statue of liberty, with something held aloft as she made her war cry.
"Hey! That's my lipstick!" my sister, Janice, exclaimed as she took off after the littlest member of our family.
My mother shook her head and smiled at me. "Didn't you enjoy a break from all this?"
I laughed at her. "No. I feel like I'm finally back to normal."
I wandered back into the living room and sat down near Cal. He pulled an earphone out and looked at me. "See anyone get arrested?"
"Nah. Hey...do you think I'd have more friends if I weren't gay?"
Cal tilted his head. "Why would you change yourself for other people?"
I frowned. "I wasn't suggesting I try to be straight. I was just wondering if you thought I'd have more friends if I weren't."
He snorted and shook his head. "'Miah, you should know if people can't accept you for who you are, they aren't worth knowing no matter who you are."
"I really hate it when you call me that," I said with a sigh.
"I know," he said with a grin. "What's this about being straight, though? I'm straight, I got like five friends."
I titled my head. "I always thought you were kind of popular."
"Sure, I guess. Popularity doesn't equal friendships. I care what my friends think of me, but screw everyone else."
I thought about that for a moment. My brother had a way with words, sometimes. He was smarter than I think most people realized, but I think I was the only one to really know how deep he was.
"What brought this line of thinking on?"
I shrugged. "I just keep people at arm's length. I was just wondering if that was smart."
"You have reason to," Cal said kindly. "If I were you, I'd probably do the same." He paused. "I don't think you'd have more friends. You're still kind of lame."
I turned and quirked an eyebrow at him. Then again, sometimes he's as deep as a mud puddle.
"Carlos Martinez," Cathy said.
I wrinkled my nose. "He's more fat than muscle," I said, and shifted on the cold metal bleacher. It was Monday and school was over for the day. It felt nice to be back outside after being cooped up all day.
"You think? The uniform looks good on him. Oh," she said and put her hand on my arm. "Ho Park."
I frowned. "Why is it you like all these steroid dudes?"
"They work out! What's wrong with a manly man, anyway? You like those boys that look like they'd break," she said and scoffed.
"You're picking offensive linemen the size of a Silverback - and by the way, they have about the same social skills. Would not shock me if they actually flung poo when they get pissed." Cathy and I had a fundamental difference of opinion on what constituted an attractive guy. She liked guys who were tall and wide and who had suspect vocabularies. I liked the slender guys with pretty faces and bodies I could wrap my arms around. She liked the ones with hair thick enough to look like they were covered in moss. I actually liked to see skin. Cathy was also a big girl. I don't know if that played into her taste for larger guys or not. I guess I looked like the sort of guys I was interested in, though I think my legs are hairier than they have any right to be.
"There. You probably like that one," she said.
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, if he wasn't all diseased from your sister's vag," I said with a snort. Hunter was about the only guy we actually agreed on. In fact, it was Cathy's fault we were hanging out here in the first place. I have zero interest in how football is played nor does she, but she likes watching the players. I sighed. Well, I like some of them. Yes, they are wide receivers, but I won't walk into that joke with her - then it'll be on to references about tight ends.
"Who are your top four?" she asked.
"Yeah. Top four hottest guys in the school. The ones you'd do, no question," she said.
"Four? That's weird. Why four?"
"Because everyone does top ten or top five. It's lame," she said. "Besides, I don't think there are ten guys in this school I'd do."
I grunted. "We talking relationships?"
"No. They can be douches. We're just talking about sex, not love," she said. "Like, I'd totally do Tevon Al'Quar. He's completely stuck up, but hot."
I grunted again. He was right up her alley, including being unobtainable. Well, I guess mine would be, too. "Pete Delacroix," I said.
"He's so skinny. What is it with you and skeletal guys?" she asked and laughed.
"Slender. I don't like beefcake-like guys," I grumbled. "What pile of flesh do you have at number two?"
"Andre Wilson. I would ruin him."
"We're leaving Hunter out, right? Like, he's a no-brainer?"
"Completely. I've seen dogs whimper just wishing they could hump his leg."
I thought for a moment. "Ricky Sandoval. Dude is seriously cute."
"Well, at least he looks like he's eaten this month," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Alan Michaels."
"Seriously? He has no neck!" I said with a laugh. "On the other hand, Gordi Lemson has a super nice neck. I'll bet I could put, like, ten hickey's on one side, no problem."
"Seriously? He looks like one of those African kids from that tribe that uses rings to stretch their necks." She wobbled her head exaggeratedly to demonstrate and I shoved her. Laughing she pushed her hair from her mouth. "I think I could take either of the guys I already said - Carlos or Ho. I think I'd give the edge to Carlos, since he can grow a beard and I'm not sure Ho has any hair anywhere, 'cept his head."
I chuckled. A minus to her was a plus to me. Chattering voices drew our attention as the soccer team walked past the front of the bleachers, maybe ten feet away. They were heading to their bus for a game. I spotted Zack walking next to none other than Brandon Fucking McCall, the only guy that was hotter to me than Hunter, but who still made me spitting mad. If I were honest, a little sad, too.
"Mind get overwhelmed with skinny-boy choices?" she asked and laughed. Zack glanced up at the noise and waved at me hesitantly. Did he hesitate because it was me or because he wasn't sure how I'd react? Don't overthink, it's a wave. I waved back and he smiled as Brandon turned to see who he was waving at. Even at a distance the guy was my wettest dream. He looked at us curiously and turned back toward Zack.
"Zack Rowan? You'd do him?" Cathy asked.
I looked away from the soccer team and toward Cathy. No way was I going to tell her about McCall. The jokes about how I'd already been rejected by him in fourth grade would write themselves. "Yeah, I'd do Zack," I said honestly. Besides, hot though he was, Brandon would be more like a hate-fuck than anything else. Just thinking of his pretty eyes and golden skin had me - no, fuck that.
"I have to go to work. You want a ride home?" I asked as I stood up from the bleachers.
"Yeah. I have had enough of daydreaming," she said.
After dropping Cathy off I headed to The Burger Joint. My shirt was in the back seat so I pulled it on over my tee shirt and went to go clock in. I was pleased to see Seth Kilgallon was working the register - at least I'd have something to look at to pass the time.
When I hit puberty I began to wonder if I was the only one that thought about sex as often as I did. As time has passed I've become reasonably certain I just have an active, healthy libido - unless Cathy is as sex-crazed as I am and we're the outliers. I pondered that as the shift wore on. Monday nights weren't especially busy, but we did get slammed a few times. Seth was really good at the register, so we didn't have many screw-ups when the rushes did come; an added bonus of working a shift with him.
During a lull Seth wandered to the back of his area, which was the front of mine where I prepped the sandwiches.
"Hear about the raid at the party this weekend?" he asked. He brushed back his brown hair and his eyes sparkled with the telling of gossip.
"I heard fourteen kids got appearance tickets," I said, echoing my brother.
"Not just that. The Fredricks? The parents, I mean? I heard they are being charged with supplying the liquor, even though they weren't there. Plus Rob Anderson got alcohol poisoning and ended up at the ER with his folks - who were righteously pissed," he said with a broad smile. I didn't hold it against him. There is always a certain amount of fun in having avoided the stupidity committed by others.
"Damn. I guess it pays not to get invites, huh?" I replied with a shake of my head.
"I wanted to, but I had plans with a couple of friends. They kind of fell through, though," he said, trailing off.
"Oh?" I asked, more from boredom than actual curiosity. Seth talked to me here, but like most other people, we really didn't interact anywhere else. It's my fault. I don't trust people. It's their fault I'm like that, though. Seth was like the majority of people at my school - probably fine up close, but I don't put myself out there to find out. This was safe, though, and I liked Seth well enough in this place where our roles were defined and there could be no judgment for interacting.
"Yeah," he said slowly, almost as if he were unsure he should speak. That piqued my curiosity.
"Everything okay?" I asked to prompt him.
He glanced at me and his expression shifted to something unreadable, at least not by me. "A friend of mine told us he's gay. Took us by surprise. It was..." he hesitated and then looked me dead on. "Was it tough for you to come out to your friends?"
I frowned. "I'm not sure there was ever a doubt. I don't know what it is, but I've never exactly been in a closet. Everyone knows I'm gay," I said with a grumble. Ever since fourth grade. Brandon - why had I thought kissing him would be a good idea? Or maybe the problem was I hadn't thought. I'd been so excited in seventh when James had...further proof not to put yourself out there.
He winced slightly, and flashed an apologetic look. "I guess that wasn't easy. Was it?"
I took a deep breath and thought for just a minute. I'm not sure why this subject is coming up so much now, with Zack this past weekend and now Seth. All of a sudden people care about what being gay feels like. I wasn't sure what to think about that. I guess it's good for them to think, finally. Probably good for their friend. I'm not sure how it affects me, if at all.
"It sucks," I said honestly. "I like me just fine. My family likes me just fine. The kids at school liked to make me a little miserable; but mostly it's quiet and a little lonely." I smiled at him to shake the melancholy feeling stealing over me. "It saves on having to buy anyone birthday presents, since I don't have many friends."
Seth pursed his lips slightly.
"What?" I asked.
He looked at me with a measured expression. "I guess I understand, now, why you always seem mad. I know I don't say much to you because you always look like you're in a bad mood. I mean, the rules are kind of different here, I guess. You're different here."
I thought about that for a moment, but the conversation was interrupted by people coming to the counter. I wasn't flamboyant; I didn't have any of the stereotypical characteristics that marked someone as gay. I had no lisp, limp wrist or whatever; my sexuality was just common knowledge. Even so, I'd known very early that boys looked better, to me. Kissing Brandon McCall on the playground had been spur of the moment, and my parents had talked to me that night. They told me kissing someone who is okay with being kissed is okay, but doing what I'd done wasn't.
"Everyone has the right to decide if someone else can touch them," my dad had said. There was no recrimination about who I'd chosen to impose that kiss on. I'd never been more at home than I was with my family. The same hadn't been true at school. I'd been teased and wondered if what I'd done was wrong, but my parents assured me it wasn't, and that it would take time for others to figure that out.
My mother had said it best. "It's just common for boys to like girls and girls to like boys. It's not right or wrong, and one day most of them will figure that out."
I processed the orders Seth put through quickly. The one question that was burning in my mind was how he had resolved the situation with his friend coming out. It also seemed like too much of a coincidence that Seth and Zack both had a friend come out - it must be the same person. Right? I wrapped the last sandwich and slid it down the chute, then poked my head around the end of my station. Seth was sliding the tray over to the customer, who nodded her thanks and turned to go eat.
Seth turned and lifted an eyebrow at seeing me waiting for him. I leaned against the station and tilted my head to one side.
"So. How did things end up with your...friend."
He glanced behind him and then leaned against the counter. "It was rough. We were all surprised, I think. I'd never wondered if he was gay, or any of my friends. It just...never occurred to me." He shrugged.
I wanted to ask if Zack had been there, but for some reason I was reluctant to give that information up. "So you all worked it out?"
"Not right away," he said and shuffled his feet uncomfortably. "One of us kind of...went off the deep end. He came around the next day, though. He patched things up. It's all good, now."
Hah! It was Zack! "So, you weren't there when they made up?"
"No. We'd stayed over. Gaming all night, you know? I mean, afterward. We just kind of hammered it all out, first. But he didn't come back over until early afternoon the next day. I'd gone home, already."
"Was it all about being surprised?" I asked. "Or was there more of a problem? Religion or something?"
He frowned lightly. "I think...well, the guy that left? I think he was kind of saying some things we were wondering, at the time. Like if our friend was crushing on us or something."
"What did he say to that? Your friend, I mean."
Seth looked down. "He said we were assholes. We kind of argued a while, but we finally figured out he was right. It just took some of us longer than others."
I nodded slowly and saw Seth in a bit of a new light. Admitting to being wrong isn't easy for some people, but doing so in a charged situation is much harder. I could respect that. I cleared my throat. "I'm glad you did the right thing."
He looked up and held my gaze for a moment. "I'm sorry no one did the right thing by you."
I looked down and pursed my lips. There was no real reply I could think of, so I just turned and went back to my station. Minutes later more people arrived and work became a distraction, one I needed. I don't like the feelings of self-pity I indulge in once in a while. After being burned a few times, I preferred to keep people away from me. A safe distance. I don't know if I ever, in some universe, have been considered a popular kid, but I was sure as hell avoiding finding out if I ever could have been in this one.
It's easier to be kind of thorny and convince people to just leave you alone. The problem with that is you miss out on good people. People with potential, like Seth. Like Zack.Next Chapter Previous Chapter