I got good comments on my short story, so I’ll publish it here. The photo showed two gay teens in a store, one kneeling in front of the other putting a ring on his partner’s finger. They looked to be around 16 or 17, not much older than that.
And here’s my story:
As I was paying at the cash for my new T-shirt, I heard giggling behind me. I looked up and the cashier was looking over my shoulder with a smile on her face. I turned around and saw the two guys I had seen earlier in the store, one on his knees putting a ring on the other’s hand. The look of utter joy on the ring recipient’s face was so honest and happy it tugged at my heart. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the love they were sharing was blasting from them.
“Here you go, have a nice day”. I turned back to the cash to see the girl behind the counter handing me my bag.
“Thanks” I said, grabbing the bag and making for the exit.
Outside, on the street, with the wind whipping at my face, I couldn’t contain my sadness any longer. A sob escaped me, and my eyes stung. From the wind, I told myself. Yeah, right.
A loving scene like that would never happen for me and Kevin. I hadn’t heard from him since that night, two months ago. If only I could take it back. If only I hadn’t said it.
I started walking back home, my new T-shirt suddenly not so exciting anymore.
When I got home, the smell of roast chicken greeted me. At least supper would be good.
“Hi honey. Did you find something to wear?” my mom asked as I walked in the kitchen.
“Yeah. I found a T-shirt” I said.
“Great! Show me” my mom said, turning around towards me. Her face fell. Mine must have been saying something. “What’s wrong, Chase?”
“Nothing. Just tired I guess” I said, more to the floor than to her. “Here it is”. I pulled out the shirt from the bag to show it to her. My mom’s hand came down on the T-shirt, pulling it away. She looked straight at me, the T-shirt forgotten.
“What happened, Chase? Tell me” she insisted.
“I’m fine. Nothing happened. Really.” She knew I was lying and she knew I knew it too. I sighed.
“I just miss Kevin, that’s all” I said. My mom came around and hugged me. Her warmth made me want to cry all over again. I patted her back and pulled away before I lost it. “You guys will work it out, you’ll see” she said.
“Chicken smells good. How much time do I have?” I asked.
“Twenty minutes or so. Do you want to talk about it?” my mom asked.
“No. I’m fine. I’ll be back in twenty” I said. I went up to my room, leaving my bag and the T-shirt in the kitchen, not caring anymore.
I wasn’t sure I’d go to the dance. I thought I was better. Obviously, just one romantic scene with guys obviously so into each other and not caring about the world seeing it was enough for me to step back to two months ago, heartache included.
My phone buzzed. When r u picking me up?
Oh yeah. I was supposed to pick up Maxine. We had planned to go to the dance together, supporting each other. I was gonna suck it up and face seeing Kevin and she was gonna suck it up and face seeing Declin with his new girlfriend Mona. When we had talked about it, it seemed like a good idea. Now, not so much.
I don’t think I’ll go I texted back.
What?? No way, u’r coming. U promised!
I don’t feel so well.
My phone rang. Maxine. What a surprise.
“What do you mean you don’t feel so well? Are you sick? Or are you chickening out on me?” She sounded pissed, not much concerned about my health.
“I just don’t feel like going anymore” I said. “I had a bad day. Please don’t be pissed.”
“Oh come on Chase. We decided. It’s for the best. Then we can both move on. And who knows, maybe we’ll talk to new people and have fun.”
“Easy for you. You’re not in the closet about anything. Now all the guys know you’re available again and you’ll dance all night and I’ll be stuck standing against the wall wishing I was dead.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t even think it. It’s not funny.”
I hadn’t meant to worry her.
“Okay. Whatever. I’ll give you a ride and go in with you, but if you can’t find me later, text me. If it gets too much I’ll wait for you in the car to take you home.” I was hoping she’d go for it.
“Hmm. Okay. ‘Round eight?”
“Yup” I disconnected. Looks like I’m going to a dance, I thought.
After a nice dinner of roast chicken and peas, my favourite, I got ready, put on my new T-shirt and left to get Maxine.
Once in the car, Maxine turned to look at me. “Okay, so why the change of heart? I thought you were ready for this. Is it too soon?”
“Two months isn’t a long time to get over screwing up a five-year friendship, Max. Kev’s my best friend. Was my best friend. I still don’t understand how you picked up right away how I felt about him after only a few weeks and he never noticed anything after five years. Maybe not such a best friend after all.” Thinking about it just made me feel like turning the car around. Max could find her own way to the dance.
“Don’t be silly” she said. “It didn’t jump out at me. I just noticed how you looked at him when he wasn’t aware. I’m sorry I pushed you to tell him how you felt. I was so sure he felt the same way…”
“It’s over and done with. Let’s stop talking about you. You don’t have to apologize again. I did what I did because I wanted to. And in a way, I don’t have to wonder anymore if there could be something between Kev and I, so I just have to get used to not seeing him all the time anymore and that’s what’s the hardest.” I had already told her all this. Repeating it might convince me someday.
Maxine just put her hand on my leg and squeezed. She turned towards the window.
“Do you think Mona is prettier than me?”
“Where did that come from?” I asked.
“Well, I know I broke up with Dec, but I didn’t think it’d be so hard seeing him with another girl, that it would bother me so much.”
Now it was my turn to squeeze her arm. “I don’t think it has anything to do with Mona being prettier than you, Max. It’s probably normal. It just confirms your relationship is really over.” She sighed heavily, still looking out the window. “Come on. You’re supposed to be all excited about going dancing and seeing your friends. Rebecca will be there, right? And Sarah?”
“Yeah, they’re coming.”
I never thought Maxine and I would become such close friends. Five months ago, she started going out with Declin who plays on the same basketball team as Kevin. I don’t play myself but I was welcome to hang with them, being Kevin’s friend. It seemed so long ago now. Maxine and I would chat when the guys were talking about the last game or goofing off like the jocks they were, and we developed a friendship that now was so important to me. She was the only one who knew I was gay and how I felt about Kevin. She’s the one who convinced me to tell him how I felt instead of torturing myself slowly wondering if.
Again, the regret I felt about telling Kevin started burning in my stomach. If I could only take it back.
We were in the basement at Kevin’s house. Declin, Maxine and the other guys had just left. Maxine had winked at me, encouraging me, before she left. Kevin and I were sitting on the couch, the movie had just finished.
“I think things are going south between Dec and Max. Did you notice?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah, I kinda noticed they’re not so touchy-feely as they used to be.”
“That’s why I stay away from girls. Too much trouble.”
There’s my chance, I thought. We never talked about girls when we were alone together. It’s something Kevin did with the guys when we were with them, but he and I didn’t really get into that. I thought it was a good sign, perhaps a point in my favour.
“I always thought it might have something to do with, you know…” My throat dried up. I didn’t know how to continue.
“To do with what?” Kevin asked, looking up at me from the bowl of chips he was finishing. “What, Chase?”
Uh oh. I didn’t want him to be on the defensive. Bad move.
“Just, you know… you not being interested in girls…” I mumbled.
“Who says I’m not interested? What are you getting at?” Kevin started to sound annoyed. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.
“Well, the last time you dated someone was Sally in freshman year. And that only lasted three weeks” I was fumbling. I didn’t know how to get back to what I wanted to say. This was not it.
“So because I choose not to get into the hassle of having a girlfriend all of a sudden I’m not interested in girls? What are you getting at, Chase? You think I’m gay??”
Oh shit. Fuck. I messed it up. He was pissed.
“Well, it wouldn’t matter if you were, Kev. Relax, man, I didn’t mean anything.” I had to get out of here. Now. “Anyway, I’m gonna go” I said, getting up from the couch.
Kevin shot up and blocked me.
“No way, you’re not leaving after dropping this bomb. You think I’m gay? Why?” I could see fear in his eyes. And anger. And… something else. Not sure what.
“Listen, it’s okay whatever you are. I was just wondering, you know…” I didn’t know what to say. I really wanted to leave. “What’s wrong with being gay?” I asked.
“Nothing’s wrong with being gay. What’s happening with you? Where did all this come from, Chase?”
“Would it matter to you if you found out I was gay?” There. I said it. My heart was pumping in my throat, I could hear it in my ears. Kevin’s face was frozen, his eyes just staring into me.
“Are you saying you are?” He looked shocked. I didn’t know if I should turn it into a joke or admit it. It seemed like hours passed, but actually it was probably a few seconds.
“Yeah, Kev. I’m gay. And I was sort of hoping you were too.” My heart didn’t slow down, but my chest felt like it was caught in a giant grip. Air wasn’t coming out.
Kevin’s face was still frozen. He was standing a foot from me. His hand came up and slapped his forehead. He squeezed his eyes shut. He turned around, away from me, and took two steps to separate us.
“Jesus, Chase.” He turned towards me, staring, wild-eyed. The anger had gone from his eyes, but the fear was still there, and that something else. Disappointment? Outrage? I wasn’t sure what. “Shit. Fuck.” Kevin kept spewing out swear words.
I didn’t know what to say. I just turned and left, running up the stairs, not even saying goodbye to his parents.
When I was backing up the car from his driveway, Kevin opened the door. I could see him mouthing something. I didn’t stop. I put the car in drive and took off. Everything changed from that moment on. Kevin didn’t call or text the following day. Then Monday came and I couldn’t face him so I sat with the guys from my chess club at lunch and changed my routine so I wouldn’t have to run in to Kevin. Only Maxine knew what was going on. She felt bad. No one else commented on my absence from the basketball gang. Two weeks later Maxine broke up with Declin and we started eating lunch together and hanging out more often. It was the perfect excuse not to be with the guys from the team. I would catch Kevin looking at me sometimes from across the cafeteria. I couldn’t forget the look in his eyes when I suggested he might be gay. It cut right through me. So I usually looked away, not wanting to see that again. Ever. I just hoped he didn’t tell anybody about me, but so far our common friends didn’t react differently to me, still said Hi and everything.
As I sat there in my car with Maxine, parked in the school lot, everything washing over me again, I felt like I was back to that night when I got home and thought my world had just ended.
“Come on, Chase. Let’s go.” Maxine got out of the car and waited for me.
I got out and we walked together to the dance, neither of us saying anything.
Inside the gym, the music was blaring, the lights were low, and lots of people were dancing. I spotted Declin and Mona dancing together. I looked over at Max and saw she had spotted them too. I grabbed her arm.
“Come on, let’s get a drink”. I steered us towards the refreshment table. Cutting through people standing and talking, I stopped in my tracks. “What?” asked Maxine, until she got a good view of the refreshment table.
Kevin was standing by the table with a couple of the guys. I just froze. He turned to look towards us and Max just grabbed my hand and kept going. Reluctantly, I followed her. My heart started thumping. I knew my hand was getting clammy in Maxine’s but it didn’t seem to bother her.
“Hey guys” Max said when we reached the guys.
They all turned to said hello and Maxine started talking to them. Kevin just looked at me. I could feel his eyes on me. He hadn’t answered Max’s greeting.
I looked up and saw him right next to me. He must’ve moved. He was standing close.
Say something. Anything. This is why you’re here. To move on.
“Hey Kevin. How’s it going” I said, and congratulated myself for keeping my eyes level with his.
“Fine.” Wow. After five years of hanging out, countless sleepovers and comfortable silences, we were reduced to this.
“So…” Kevin said. You could cut the tension with a knife.
I took a big gulp of air. I just remembered I needed to breathe.
“Yeah… So…. Good going on the last game. Heard you guys won.” Great. Stick to sports. That’ll work. I looked out at the dance floor.
“Thanks.” After a few seconds, he said “You didn’t come.” He sounded disappointed. Or did he? Maybe I was reading too much into those words. He wasn’t asking. He was accusing.
“Oh, yeah, I couldn’t make it” I said.
“I think it’s the first time you weren’t there. I looked for you.”
Wait. What was that? He looked for me?
“I really didn’t think you’d notice one way or another…” I said.
“Of course I noticed. We’ve been friends for ever and it’s the first time you didn’t see me play.” He almost sounded hurt.
“Well we haven’t been talking much lately. I didn’t think you’d want me there” I said.
Maxine was chatting with two guys, holding a cup. At least she got something to drink. My throat was so dry, I could use some liquid. My heart was thumping. Kevin and I were looking out at the people dancing while we talked.
“Why would you think that? I’m not the one who ran off after dropping a fucking bomb” Kevin said. He sounded angry. I turned to look at him. He was still watching people dance, but his face didn’t express anger. He looked hurt.
I didn’t know what to say. The music was too loud. There were too many people. Maxine looked like she was fine.
“I’m sorry Kevin. I wish I hadn’t said anything.” I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to tell him that I missed him, and that I wanted us to be like before. I wanted him to walk in the front door of my house without knocking, yelling “Hi Mister and Missus Tyler” and running up to my room. I wanted him to tell me about basketball plays I had no interest in, just so I could watch the excitement on his face. I wanted to go to the movies with him and not worry about our hands touching in the popcorn tub. I wanted my friend back.
I didn’t say any of those things. I walked away. I stormed out of school and ran to my car. I texted Maxine to tell her I’d be waiting to take her home, to have fun.
This day sucked. The image of the guys in the store today came crashing back, one on his knees in front of his beloved, putting a ring on his finger and him glowing with happiness. How I wish I could have done something like that with Kevin. The heaviness in my chest was still there, but at least I was breathing normally. I laid my head back on the seat and closed my eyes.
My car door being opened made me jump. I hit my left hand on the steering wheel. “Ouch”.
Kevin was standing there, looking half-mad.
“Get out” he said.
After a second, my limbs were working again and I got out of the car slowly. I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little afraid he’d hit me.
I stood next to my car door. Kevin took a step toward me. I flinched. His face fell, and he took a step back.
“What the fuck, Chase? You think I’m gonna hurt you?” he asked, his face paling.
“Why are you here?” I managed to ask.
“You don’t get to run away from me again. You can’t keep doing that.” He was staring at me, that look of fear and hurt again in his eyes.
“I said I was sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I wish we could go back to being friends like before. Just stop looking at me like that.” I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore. I couldn’t stand it, knowing I ruined everything.
“I’m sorry too. I’m sorry you caught me off guard. I wish I could go back to that night and get a chance to talk to you. I’m sorry I reacted like that. I should have called you.” He sounded so sincere.
“Chase. Look at me.” He put his hand on my arm, warm and gentle. I looked up into his eyes. The fear was gone. “You surprised me. I wasn’t brave like you. I wasn’t ready to tell you. I was afraid you’d judge me or push me away. When you ran off, I thought I blew it.”
I was stunned. What was he saying?
Kevin said: “Look, I know I might be too late and you probably hate me for being a coward and not running after you, but can we start over?”
“Start what over?” I had no idea where he was going with this. Start a new friendship? Could we? After this? And what was that about being a coward? I realized I was trembling a little. Could he feel it? His hand was still on my arm.
“If you hadn’t left, I was going to work up the nerve to tell you that it was okay for you to be gay, that I was hoping you were too and that maybe we could…” He let go of my arm, looked away. “I understand if I’m too late. You’re hurt that I didn’t contact you. I’m sorry.”
A tiny flicker of hope lit up in my stomach.
“I’m not sure I understand” I said. I so did not want to screw this up more.
“I’m saying I’ve been into you for a couple of years now but never had the guts to say anything and when you did, I was too stunned to do anything about it. I’m saying I want to kiss you so bad I don’t know what’s stopping me.”
And he did. Kevin kissed me. It was a small, quick kiss, his eyes open, looking at my reaction.
“That all you got?” I grabbed his head with my left hand, my right going around his waist, pulling him to me. Our lips met, hard this time. The top of my head felt like it was going to pop right off. Kevin kissed me back. Our lips were moving together, crushing against each other. Kevin’s tongue reached out, and I opened my mouth to him. Our tongues touched and it was hot and amazing and I wanted to kiss him forever. Kevin had moved his arms around me and was holding me close. I could smell him, a familiar scent but made more potent by our nearness. It was bliss and joy and when Kevin broke the kiss, he hugged me to him and whispered in my ear “I got a lot more for you. Will you let me show you?”
I didn’t think it could feel like this. My heart was bursting out of my chest, my throat was swollen, my ears were pulsating.
“I’d love it” I said, nuzzling his neck.
My phone buzzed. Rick said he’d take me home. U can leave if u want 2. R u ok?
I texted back I’m great. With K. Talk 2 u l8er.
Maxine answered with a smiley face. She would be full of questions the next day.
Kevin still had one arm around me. “You wanna go to my house?” he asked.
“Sure. Let’s go.” We got in my car. Before I put it in drive, Kevin reached over and put his hand on my neck. “Thanks for giving me another chance.”
“Are you kidding? I’m just glad you feel the same way!” Glad was putting it mildly.
Kevin pulled me toward him, placing another kiss on my mouth, this time more gently. We stayed like that, our lips just touching, nipping, exploring for what seemed like too short a time.
“Let’s go. We have some catching up to do.”
Yes we did.
I thought of the store guys. I was wondering if they were as happy as I was tonight. Probably not. No one could be happier.