How I Got Carter

Chapter 5

By Roe St. Alee

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“Mulkins, Willard. Station 9.”

Nizen, our chemistry teacher, has a firm, clear voice, so there’s no mistaking what he said. It’s accepting it that’s the problem. I swallow hard and can practically taste how awful this situation is. Having study hall together is bad enough. Being lab partners in chemistry.

I can’t imagine anything worse.

As I make my way back to the lab table, I think about all the ramifications. Twice a week we’ll need to work together in lab, which amounts to two straight hours of nonstop communication and physical nearness. As if that wasn’t enough, we’ll need to write lab reports and even do presentations, which means additional work together outside of class.

That’s a whole lot of Carter. I’m not sure I can handle it.

A few weeks ago the idea of spending several days per week in the lab with the hottest boy ever to grace the halls of this high school would have been nerve racking but exciting. I’d have to work to keep a grin off of my face every time he laughed or smiled at me, and I’d agonize over the little things I said, whether or not he thought I was cool or funny.

Right now, I would be wondering if he was any good at Chemistry, or if I’d have to help him with all his work. I’d be thanking my lucky stars that we have study hall together, which will make for easy collaboration outside of class. Maybe we’d hang out after school sometimes if we had too much work to do. Essentially, it would have been a dream.

Unfortunately that’s not how things have turned out. Carter hates me. I let things get out of hand at Matt’s party, and now there’s some serious bad blood.

I take my position across the lab table from my new partner and brace myself for the worst.

“Hey Jackson, how’s it going?”

Carter beams at me with his usual, heart melting smile. That ruthless son of a bitch.

“Fine.”

I can’t help but flick my eyes back down to my lab instructions instantly. Looking Carter in the eyes is highly dangerous in the best of times, but right now I feel like a fly in a spider’s web. Waiting for the inevitable death stroke.

“How was the rest of your summer?” he asks innocently. “I haven’t seen you around.”

“Uh…”

I’ve never been especially articulate around this boy, but I seem to be doing exceptionally poorly today. I risk a look at Carter and he’s still grinning right back at me like usual. I instantly feel my face start to heat up and I return my eyes to my paper. I couldn’t detect even a hint of malice in his expression. He’s probably just luring me in to make it sting even more when he drops the hammer.

“It was good,” I finally manage to reply.

What does he want me to say? ‘Oh, ever since that night we made out and I ripped your pants off things have been pretty same old same old.’ Not likely.

“Good? That’s… good to hear.”

He chuckles a little bit and I’m sure my face turns even redder. He pauses for a few seconds and I can feel his eyes boring into me. He must be enjoying this so much. The gay boy with a crush on him squirming under pressure.

“Did you do anything fun?”

He can’t be serious.

He’s toying with me. Just shout it to the heavens, already! Out me to everyone, and tell them how I’m in love with you. Then maybe you can get me in trouble for trying to put moves on you. Just do it and get it over with.

Still nothing. He’s just staring at me like I’m some kind of amusing lunatic. Damn him.

I may have lost some pride over our incident in the woods, but I am not going to be toyed with. I will not let him soften me up only to lash out and really hurt me. I better just get it over with, right here and right now.

”I’m sorry,” I finally blurt out.

In return, I receive a blank stare, but at least he’s dropped the smile. If anything I’ve managed to wipe away the facade.

After a few seconds, however, it doesn’t look like anything else is going to happen. I try to think of the right facial expression to convey what I mean without actually having to say it, but before I can channel ‘contrite and pitiful, sorry we made out but don’t tell everyone I’m gay’ Carter finally decides to comment.

“Oh, shit,” he says quietly. “From the party.” He purses his lips, clearly very displeased.

“I said I’m sorry, Carter. I don’t know what-”

“Jackson, stop.” He cuts me off before I have the chance to really make an ass of myself, although I’ve certainly given it a hell of a go. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I guess I just…” He looks almost sheepish as he searches for the words. “I guess I’m kind of a dick when I wake up in the morning.”

I’m not sure what to say. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Before I can full wrap my brain around it, Carter continues.

“I didn’t mean anything by it. I was like, super hungover, and I’m…” After a thoughtful second he breaks into a grin and finishes his sentence. “I’m not really a morning person I guess.”

His grin is infectious as ever, and coupled with my apparent exoneration I’m feeling surprisingly ok.

“Yeah,” I say, “you’re kind of scary.”

“Dude, I just thought that...” he laughs and shakes his head. “The last thing I remember, Trish was stalking me like I was a baby wildebeest, and she made it very clear that she was ready to pounce. I kind of remember heading into the woods. Next thing I knew I woke up in a tent with no pants on.”

My smile only gets wider at that thought, although probably not for the reason Carter thinks.

“Yeah, she was basically trying to have you for dinner.”

He sighs. “I was on thin ice with Beth, so if anything had happened with Trish, that would have been it.”

“Don’t worry,” I say, “you were in good hands.”

If I’m not the villain, I can be the hero, right? “You asked me to sneak you back to the tent to get away from her.”

“Ok, yeah,” he says, nodding, “I remember that, too.”

He looks comforted by his ability to stitch a little more of the night together. I guess he still had some doubt, and it must be good to hear he’s in the clear. Hopefully the rest of the evening can stay lost to the alcohol forever.

“Well, don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you’re not pissed off or anything,” I say. While I’m not being entirely forthcoming, I can at least admit to a little bit of my fear and doubt.

“Of course not,” he says, “I know you had my back out there.”

He reaches across the table and hits my arm. I expect it to be a punch, but instead he kind of squeezes my arm a little as he does it. It’s strangely intimate, and a lot more than I expected him to show in this situation.

I’m not sure what to say, short of some kind of delighted squeal, so I bury my face in my lab notebook until my blush subsides.

“We should probably get to work,” I say.

The lab doesn’t actually seem too hard, but we’ll need to get a lot done in the next hour. More importantly it will give me some time to focus on something other than the emotional roller coaster of the last

ten minutes before my brain explodes.

We split up the first couple of sections and get working. My part involves a lot of tedious measuring, so my body sort of gets into autopilot and I have a little time to decompress from our conversation.

Obviously I am relieved that Carter isn’t mad. Not only does he not remember our little happening in the woods to the tune of us stripping each other and making out, but he actually thinks I was protecting him. Did I dodge a bullet on that one.

Granted, it’s a double edged sword.

He doesn't hate me, which is a relief. We can just go on being like we always were. I'll lust after him, always keeping a safe, respectful distance, and he can be himself. His ridiculously hot, regrettably straight self. In the day to day sense, I feel very okay with that. It will sure make being lab partners a lot less awkward.

But on the other hand, it's almost like it never even happened. Sure, Jackson Willard remembers everything at Matt's party, but who believes what he says anyway? I could have just dreamed it all up. And even if it did happen, it doesn't mean a thing to half the people involved.

I had felt such an overwhelming sense of destiny as our lips met. I felt the night would live forever in my heart as the single most exciting night of my life. I suppose it still will, but it’s surreal in every way. From the inherent haziness brought on by the gin, to the pure impossibility of what almost went down, it’s always going to feel a little bit like a dream…

“Earth to Jackson… Can you hear me? Over.”

I look up to see Carter using a pair of calipers like a microphone, trying to hail me through my reverie.

“Sorry, I was thinking about something. What’s up?”

“Yeah, I could see the smoke coming out of your ears.” He sticks his tongue out at me before continuing. What a flirt... “Are you doing the fourth part or am I?”

“Hmmm…” I skim through the last part of our lab and it looks pretty involved. Even if we manage to get all the data recorded during lab, there are a lot of formulas to look up and a couple of graphs we’ll have to make. “I’m almost done with what I’m doing, so I’ll start on it in a few minutes. Are you still working on yours?”

“Yeah,” Carter replies, “I’ll be done soon. I bet we can get the last part done pretty fast if we do it together.”

“That sounds…”

I look past Carter to the front of the room and see Nizen talking to someone, a boy about our age, maybe a little younger. “Who’s that?” I ask, more or less to myself.

Carter turns to look, shrugs, and gets back into the lab. I start working too, but first give the new kid a quick eyeball. I can’t help it. He’s cute.

I'd put him at maybe 5'6” with a slight build and boyish features. His reddish brown hair is in a stylish sort of crew cut, and he’s put together pretty well. Dark slim jeans and a dark gray v-neck. Definitely better dressed than most, and better looking to boot. He's no Carter, but he has my attention. I wonder who this kid is.

I strain my ears to try and try to make out what he and Nizen are talking about, but I only catch one word: Jackson. They're talking about me for some reason. Now my interest is definitely piqued.

“Willard!” Nizen finally raises his voice to an audible level. “Come on up here, please.”

I make my way to the front of the room and stand at attention. Nizen’s told us that grew up in a military family, so he likes it when you stand at attention. For most of us, it's already second nature in his class.

“Willard, this is Goldsman. Sam Goldman. Sam, this is Jackson Willard.”

We shake hands and smile tentatively at each other. Sam has very nice teeth, and a winsome smile. He's even cuter up close, with a little spray of freckles on each of his cheeks.. I can't say what it is, but I feel a little twinge of something in my gut when we shake hands, like this meeting is important for me somehow.

Destiny? Or maybe he's just cute.

Either way, I'm ok with it and it sort of makes my stomach hurt.

“Goldman is new,” Nizen explains. “He just started this week. He's a grade below you. He plays soccer, just like you. Please escort him from tenth period to the locker room so he can get started with the team this afternoon.”

Nizen could write a minute biography on the most interesting man in the world. That is, he doesn’t beat around the bush. Sam and I both stand in front of him waiting for more instruction, but he's already opening a folder and grading another class's homework. I guess we're on our own.

“Um, do you want us to head out now, or wait until the end of the class, sir?”

Nizen looks up from his grading for a second and nods in affirmation. An unspoken “Dismissed!” sounds in my head. I guess we’re supposed to go now.

“Can you hang on one sec?” I ask Sam.

He nods, and I head back to Carter, who has just started to fourth part of the lab. Which, sadly, he’ll be finishing by himself.

“Dude, I gotta go,” I tell him. “I’m supposed to take this new kid to the field for soccer. Can you get the lab done without me?”

Carter wrinkles his nose is an obscenely cute way, which means he’s thinking hard about something. “I think so, but I can’t finish the lab report this period if I’m working alone.”

“If you get all the data we can write the report tomorrow in study hall,” I suggest.

As wary as I was about having study hall with Carter earlier today, it looks like it’s going to be pretty convenient.

“Sounds good, man,” he says, nodding, “I’ll catch you later.”

After all that it seems weird to leave on such a casual note. Half an hour ago I thought Carter would hate me forever, but it seems like it’s business as usual. I decide to chalk it up to my constant need to overthink everything, and I remind myself not to do it so much in the future.

I leave Carter to it and gather my books. A minute later I head out the door with Sam in tow. He’s a little quiet at first, but proves to be friendly once I get him talking.

Sam is fifteen, and, as Nizen said, he’s a sophomore this year. He transferred from Segman, a private school about an hour away. His dad is a doctor and got a new job in town at the beginning of summer, but the move took longer than expected, and he didn’t even get into his new house until yesterday, which would explain why no one’s seen him around. There’s only about 200 people in a class here, so everybody pretty much knows everybody.

Sam plays soccer, but his real passion is archery. I guess Segman must have a team for that, but not us. This is a public school, after all. If you so much as think about a weapon, you get expelled. God forbid we let a bunch of kids run around Hunger Games style with bows and arrows.

Sam, however, is undaunted by our lack of a team, and thinks he might try to get one started.

“That’s actually the only thing I’ve unpacked at our house,” he tells me. “I have a mattress on the floor and an archery range in the backyard.”

Call me a teenage boy, because that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Our walk eventually takes us through the gym, which is a awash with confused looking freshmen hitting volleyballs in every conceivable direction, and finally we enter the locker room.

“This is it,” I say, gesturing out to the lockers and benches. “It’s probably not much compared to Segman, but it works.”

Sam smiles at that, revealing cute little dimples on his cheeks.

“I didn’t always go to a private school,” he says. “So I’ve seen plenty of grimey locker rooms,” he adds with a smile.

He’s been to a couple different schools. Maybe his parents move around a lot. I make a mental note to ask him about it later.

For now, I throw down my bag onto a bench and Sam does the same a few spots over. I look at the clock and there are only a few minutes until the final bell rings.

”We should probably just get changed now and head out to the field. That way you can meet coach before everybody else comes in,” I suggest.

“Yeah, good idea,” he replies as he starts pulling gear out of his bag. We're getting along great, but Sam still seems a little nervous. It is his first day and all. It must be hard to be the new kid. I’m sure the soccer guys will help loosen him up. We’re a pretty inclusive group, and if Sam can play soccer, we’ll be happy to have him.

I bend down to pull my gear out of my bag, and when I look up I see Sam has turned his back to me and is pulling off his shirt. I always try to play it cool in the locker room, so I make sure to turn away and give him some privacy. I don't watch him changing at all. Not one bit.

Who am I kidding? I totally check him out. I rustle through my bag absentmindedly, just in case anyone happens to walk in, but I keep my eyes fixed firmly on my new friend.

Sam is, to put it simply, super cute. Where Carter is a bit more jocular in his build, Sam is slight and boyish. While he’s certainly not muscular, he’s not frail either, and you can see a little hint of strength show in his back.

It's not polite to stare, but Sam's back is to me and he's in his own little world as he starts undoing his fly. I wouldn't do it if the locker room was full of people, but since it’s not, I keep watching. He pulls off his jeans and underwear in one motion, bending down to reveal a small, tight ass and lithe, hairless legs. As if that wasn't enough, he stays bent over for a few extra seconds as he pulls off his socks. I can’t deny it, he has a great little butt too.

I pray he can’t feel my eyes on him as he digs in his bag for his soccer clothes. What’s it going to be, Sam? Briefs or boxer briefs? I wouldn’t say it’s a fetish or anything, but I think a cute guy in cute underwear is pretty much the hottest thing ever. Sam finally pulls out a pair of stylish blue compression shorts and slips them on. It’s more than I could have asked for.

Sam bends over again as he reaches into his bag, giving me one final, glorious look at his behind, now firmly encased in blue spandex. The final school bell rings, so I take a mental snapshot and get myself changed as fast as I can. I do not need anyone coming in to notice me sporting half a stock while the new kid changes. Talk about awkward.

The first couple of football players come in just as I finish adjusting myself inside my shorts, and I turn around to see that Sam is fully clothed and ready for practice.

“Ready to meet the team?” I ask, smiling.

Sam grins back.

“Let's do it!” he says, before he joins me walking out the door towards the soccer field.

It's nice to see him smile, considering how nervous he must be on his first day at a new school with a new team. He's got me smiling too, and not just because of his fine behind. I don’t want to speak too soon, but maybe I’ve got a new friend in the works.

Practice goes well for me, for the team, and for Sam. Everyone warms up to him right away, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how good he is, considering soccer isn’t even his primary sport. Being new means he still needs to learn our system and get comfortable with our players, but if today is any indication of his skill level, I think he'll get a lot of playing time this season. Which is great considering he's only a sophomore.

It helps that our team is made up of a good group of guys. I don't hang out with them a lot outside of practice (besides Ko, of course), but we spend a ton of time together during the season, and everyone gets along. There's a few kind of jocular guys, some nerdier kids, a couple preppy dudes, and even Jake, a goth who just so happens to be a 1st Team All-State sweeper for the last two years. Once you put on the uniform, who cares what lunch table you sit at?

That being said, the crux of our bonding is that we are not football players. Yes, there are plenty of very friendly guys who play pigskin. Carter and Matt are on the team, and a few other guys I know from class or swimming. But there are also a good number of outspoken, aggressive, mongoloid assholes.

Our practice usually ends about thirty minutes before theirs, but sometimes we go late or they go short, and, inevitably, worlds collide among a bunch of muscular, sweaty, possibly naked dudes.

In theory, one might argue that's my idea of a good time. Worlds colliding with naked dudes and all that. But things can get nasty, and us soccer kids are outmatched in size, number, and general aggression. I’d put our standardized test scores against theirs any day of the week, but that doesn’t do you much good when someone is flicking you with a towel and calling you a pussy.

As luck would have it - bad luck, that is - today just so happens to be one of those days when we’ll be sharing the locker room. I see the football team coming up the hill behind the track as we enter, which means they’ll only be about a minute behind us. Normally I would use my head start to get changed and out as fast as I can, but with Sam in tow I figure I should stick around at least until he’s finished.

I’m just getting into my locker when I hear him: Troy.

Remember how I was saying that most of the football players are decent guys? Of the ones who aren’t, the rottenest of all the bad apples would have to be Troy. At 6’5” and about 260, he’s roughly the size of a refrigerator, but not quite as bright. What he lacks in brains, however, he makes up for in his ability to be a huge asshole.

Some days he can get off on simply swaggering through the locker room, misinterpreting our resentment and loathing as respect and fear. Other days he’ll berate someone who looks especially helpless, and on rare occasion he might even get physical. Never enough to hurt anyone or force you to get the administration involved, but enough to be humiliating for his victim, and thus apparently reassuring for himself. I certainly don’t respect the guy, but I try to avoid being his target.

Troy’s malevolence generally correlates to his volume, so I know it’s a bad sign when I hear him before I see him. I should expect no less. It’s the first day of school and he’ll want to assert himself for any new kids as the King Douche.

As he steps into view, I can see that he has somehow become even larger during the summer break. I’ll at least give him credit for that. He’s muscular as hell. To remind us of this, he’s already peeled his shirt off, revealing his admittedly incredible, ripped body. Barring the shit personality, he could almost be attractive.

Troy looks out over the locker room as a lord would survey his fiefdom. Who has a bad haircut? Whose parents got divorced over the summer? Who looks especially weak and victimizable today?

Troy’s eyes stop when they hit Sam, and a big, nasty grin plasters itself on his face. That’s not good.

“Look who it is,” he says mockingly, jutting his chin up at Sam in a sort of mongoloid challenge. “Looks like the soccer team is recruiting more queers to join up.”

At that, I see a bunch of my teammates roll their eyes, but no one says anything. As much as we don’t like Troy, it’s best to just keep your mouth shut and let it roll off your back. Most of Troy’s shit talk is just to bait you into reacting. He rarely takes things beyond verbal abuse if you don’t engage him.

I don’t want to step in, but I start steeling myself to get Sam’s back if things get serious. Sam, for his part, keeps his eyes down and starts packing up his gear bag as though he hasn’t heard. He’s changed his clothes, so he should be good to go in the next thirty seconds. He’s sharp. The best move is definitely just to get out of there as soon as possible without fanning the flames.

“Hey!” says Troy.

No response. So far so good.

“Hey, faggot!”

That word. I know he just uses it to get a rise out of us, but I hate that fucking word.

Still nothing from Sam. He has more guts than I expected. Troy seems keen on escalating the situation, but I’m still holding out a little bit of hope that he’ll let it go. I also wish a meteorite would crash through the roof and incinerate him, but we can’t have everything we want.

“I know who you are,” says Troy.

Sam stops packing his bag, and even though he doesn’t look up Troy knows he’s onto something.

“That’s right,” he continues, raising his voice so all can hear, “I know who you are, and I know why you got kicked out of Segman.”

What?

Sam got kicked out? He definitely did not mention that on our walk to practice. He implied he had been to a bunch of different schools. Did he get kicked out of all of them? I make a mental note to ask him about it later. This probably isn’t the best time.

Now that Troy has everyone’s attention - including my own, admittedly - he starts slowly walking toward Sam, grinning maniacally.

“That’s right, faggot,” he says, “my cousin told me all about what happened.”

At this Sam starts to move again, and he quickly stuffs his shirt in his bag and zips it closed. I think he’s going to take off and run out before Troy can get to him, but instead he does the unthinkable. Just as Troy enters melee range, Sam drops his bag on the floor and looks him dead in the eyes. Troy probably towers almost a foot over him and outweighs him by maybe a hundred pounds,, but Sam meets his gaze unflinchingly. A direct, obvious challenge. Forget having guts, this kid is solid steel to the core.

“Who’s your cousin?” Sam asks, completely unfazed by or maybe just not aware of his impending death. He is absolutely, perfectly calm. Almost smiling, actually. “Do I know him?”

He puts the emphasis on the word “know,” and even though I don’t know what he means by it, he makes it sound like a threat. And Troy is not pleased.

“What did you say?” he asks. He grabs Sam by the collar and pulls his face in until they’re only an inch away. Troy is flustered, but a flustered Troy is an angry Troy, and an angry Troy is very, very dangerous.

“If you want to start something,” he growls, “now’s your chance.” He gestures at the locker room with his free hand, as though to show Sam how many people think he’s about to get his face smashed in. “Did you have something to say to me?”

The question hangs palpably in the air. The locker room is dead silent.

Mind you, Sam doesn’t look scared, but he certainly isn’t smirking anymore. Whatever was fueling his insolence before, the threat of physical violence seems to have taken him down a notch.

“No,” Sam says quietly. “Nothing at all.”

Victorious, Troy glowers down at Sam for another second before pushing him away. Sam loses his balances and stumbles down to the floor on his back. It doesn’t seem like it hurt, but it gives Troy a chance to walk off towards the showers, laughing and high fiving with his friends, before anyone can instigate anything further.

The second Troy is out of sight Sam springs up, grabs his bag, and hightails it out of the locker room. No one has any time to react, but I scoop up my gear and follow as quickly as I can, just a few seconds behind.

Even so, he’s all the way out of the gym and approaching the main doors of the school by the time I manage to catch up with him.

“Sam,” I call after him as he blows out the front door, “Wait up!”

He keeps walking away from me and doesn’t slow down a bit. I have to jog a little bit to get within striking distance. I grab his arm and at least get him to stop walking.

“What, Jackson?” he asks quietly.

He still hasn’t turned around and I suddenly realize that he’s posing a great question. What do I even want to say? I want to congratulate him for giving Troy lip and coming out alive. Or maybe I should see if he needs his head examined. Or did I want to apologize for not coming to his aid? And while we’re at it, why did he get kicked out of Segman?

“Are you ok?” I finally manage to spit out.

Sam sighs slowly and then turns around to face me. He doesn’t look hurt or scared, or really anything.

“Yeah,” he says, and shrugs. “I’m fine.”

On second thought, he actually looks a little bit pissed off. Not like he’s fuming from the fight, but maybe he’s annoyed.

“Don’t worry about Troy,” I say “he’s mostly bark and no bite. He’ll talk shit all day, but you don’t have to-”

Sam cuts me off with a wave of his hand and a stern look.

“Jackson, I don’t give a shit about Troy,” he says.

He sighs, pauses, and looks embarrassed. It’s obvious he needs to tell me something but can’t bring himself to do it.

“Sam, what?” I finally ask.

“It’s true,” he says, dropping his head. “It’s not a secret or anything, but you should probably know before you…” He still isn’t ready to say it, because he trails off and bites his lower lip thoughtfully. “You seem cool. And maybe you might want to be my friend, but...”

This is not going in the direction I thought it would. I had really good vibes from Sam, and he seemed nice. But maybe he already has other friends or prefers to be alone. He’s obviously a little confrontational sometimes, so I guess he just doesn’t like people that much, and he doesn’t want me to get the wrong idea. It’s an awkward spot for us to be in right now, but it’s better to have this conversation so I don’t make a total ass of myself later.

“I get it,” I say, not fully able to keep the disappointment out of my voice. “If you don’t want to be friends, it’s cool.”

He recoils at my words and shakes his head.

“No, Jackson, that’s not what I mean,” he says.

If that’s not it, I’m not sure what he’s getting at. I wait for him to continue.

“I’m gay.”

What?

“That’s what I meant,” Sam continues. “Troy didn’t make that up, when he said I was… a fag.”

He lets the word hang in the air, as though it should be all the excuse I need to beat him up or something like that.

Instead I do something that must come off as about a hundred times weirder. I start laughing. I can’t help it, it’s just so ridiculous. This new kid shamefully outing himself to me. Oh, the irony.

“Sam, it’s cool,” I say.

Without really thinking, I grab him and give him a hug. It’s what I would want if I was him. In a moment like this, you have to know that you’re being accepted without reservation. He tenses up at first, but once he gets the idea his whole body seems to relax in my embrace.

“In fact, I should probably make a confession of my own.”

So I tell him, as concisely as possible, where everything stands. I am gay. I am one hundred percent sure about that. I’ve never been interested in girls, but I haven’t really done anything with guys, either. Because of that, there hasn’t been much reason for me to come out to the general public. My close friends and my family know, but I don’t come off as particularly gay to people, so no one ever suspects enough to ask. I’m not in the closet, but I’m not exactly broadcasting.

For the record, I don’t tell him about Carter, or about our night in the woods. I mean, I don’t have to spill all my guts, right?

Now it’s Sam’s turn to hug me, and I can tell implicitly that I’ve struck a chord. how deeply I’ve touched him. As we break the embrace I think about the people in my life who have stood up for me and how important it’s been. My family, Ko, and Katy have been nothing but supportive, and if I ever have the opportunity to pay that support forward, I’ll do it.

We stand looking at each other for a few seconds both trying to think of what else to say. I can’t come up with anything, and apparently neither can he. We both just smile at each other and laugh, happy to have found someone who understands.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I finally say.

“Later, Jackson!”

Sam starts walking in the direction of his house, which is only a few minutes from school. I watch him go for a few seconds before heading off in the opposite direction.

I have a little bit of time to think as I walk to Ko’s car at the far end of the student parking lot. Sam and I are almost definitely going to be friends, my classes seem like they’ll be good, soccer is starting again, and Carter doesn’t hate me.

I have a good feeling about this school year. A very good feeling.

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