I swear, I hate Deanna sometimes. Since the fifth grade, she marked me as her territory and has become jealous anytime anyone tried to get close to me. We’ve never gone out on a date. She’s joined Dean and me a few times when we went to the movies or skating, but I’ve never given her any reason to believe that I want anything from her other than her friendship.
However, I’ve never really pushed her aside either, because she has been a barrier protecting me from the girls who would have wanted to date me. I never had to explain to them why I didn’t want to go out with them. They always assumed that Deanna and I were a couple because she was always hanging around me.
But today was the last straw. That bitch had no reason to treat TJ the way she did. She actually stepped between us like she was trying to stop him from talking to me. He was great, though. She has this stare that intimidates most people. But TJ stared her down. She blinked first. I’ve never seen that happen before. I couldn’t help but laugh when she sighed and walked away. I was really proud of my boy. I think he’s going to be a good friend.
I don’t know what it is about him. When we walked down the hall and I put my hand on his back, I just thought it felt right. I wanted to put my arm around him and let the whole school know I liked him. But he kind of freaked on me. He stepped ahead of me, making me lose contact with him. I guess any hopes of a relationship with him isn’t meant to be. For a few seconds in the cafeteria I thought we had made some kind of a connection. Guess not.
We went into Mrs. Jones first period class and took seats in the back of the room. I thought he was going to cry when I asked him to sit with me and be my partner. I can’t figure out what’s going on inside his head. One minute I don’t think I have a chance with him, then the next minute he does something so damn cute that I can imagine spending the rest of my life with him.
“All right, class. Settle down, “Mrs. Jones hollered above the raucous noise. Everyone immediately took their seats while she took attendance. Students seemed to stare at TJ when she called his name. A few students on the other side of the room snickered. I couldn’t imagine what they found so funny.
TJ is very attractive. I noticed several girls looking at him when we walked down the hall together. Even as we sat in class, several girls were turning in their desks trying to make eye contact with him. He just kept his head down, running his hand over his schedule.
I looked over and watched him out of the corner of my eye. I suddenly noticed something that I had not seen before. He appeared extremely sad. You know how some people’s eyes shine, and just looking at them makes you smile?
TJ was just the opposite. You look into his face and see emptiness. It was a strange combination. He had the looks of a model, but his countenance was as sad as a circus clown. It looked like he had a frown painted on his face. His old and worn out clothing seemed to fit his personality perfectly.
“For today’s assignment,” Mrs. Jones announced as she began handing out the assignment, “I want you to find a partner and fill out the sheet I’m giving you.” Loud groans filled the room. I was excited. The first day of class and I was already going to be working with TJ.
“I want to you to interview your partner and write a brief biography about them. You will read it to the rest of the class tomorrow. You may need to work outside of class.” She finished handing out the rest of the papers and asked, “Any questions?”
“What if we don’t want to do it?” My head turned to TJ who had just angrily asked the question. The entire room became silent and stared at him. No one, as long as I could remember, had every questioned Mrs. Jones on an assignment.
“Do you have a problem with the assignment, Mr...?” She sounded just as angry as TJ as she fumbled around with papers on her desk.
“TJ. My name’s TJ,“ he replied.
“All right, Mr. Somerset,” Mrs. Jones responded authoritatively after looking down at her student list. “If you have a problem with the assignment, then come out into the hallway and discuss it with me.”
TJ rose from his desk and stormed out of the room. All eyes were watching him as he walked past Mrs. Jones. She stiffened when he approached her. I think she thought he was going to hit her. I wanted to get up and join him in the hall, but I knew Mrs. Jones would not let me.
Her reaction to his question is why Mrs. Jones is my favorite teachers. Another teacher would have used TJ as an example to show other students that they would not tolerate disrespect in the classroom. He or she would have embarrassed him, and he probably would have said or done something that would end in a suspension. Mrs. Jones handled it professionally by asking him to discuss it privately.
I could see them talking quietly in the hall. Neither of them seemed upset. TJ kept his head down looking at the floor most of the time. A couple of times he looked up, and I could tell his eyes were misty. After a few minutes, she reached out and held his arm. He nodded his head and then walked away.
“Mr. Lawrence. May I see you a minute?” She had walked to the doorway and summoned me. Everyone looked at me as I shrugged my shoulders and walked out of the classroom.
“Yes, Mrs. Jones?”
“Randy, I want you to do something for me. Your friend, TJ, doesn’t want to do this assignment, so I’m going to excuse him from it. I know he’s your partner, and I don’t want you both to receive a failing grade.” I nodded my head.
“We have reached a compromise.” She looked at me and touched my arm. “He’s agreed to interview you, but he doesn’t want you asking him any questions. He’ll write the biography and you both will receive the same grade. Is that agreeable with you?”
“Yes, Mrs. Jones.” I was stunned. TJ was becoming more a mystery every minute. Why did he not want me to interview him? They were just a few innocent questions. I wasn’t going to ask him anything very personal- like the size of his dick. Although, that is a question I would love to ask!
“Very good. You’re a wonderful student and I hope you can help him. He needs a good friend.” Our eyes met and she smiled.
“I excused him to go to the restroom. Why don’t you go check on him.” She left and walked into the classroom. I headed down the hallway to the boys’ room. When I entered, I didn’t see any sign of him. I thought he might have gone to another one. Suddenly, I heard sniffling coming from inside one of the stalls.
“TJ?” I asked softly.
“Go away!” He pleaded.
“TJ. Open the door and let me in.” I walked over to the stall and rapped gently on the door. The door swung open, and TJ was sitting on the toilet with his head buried in his hands. It was obvious he was crying.
“What’s wrong, Man?” I asked. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do. It was just a silly writing assignment. Why was he so upset about it?
“You wouldn’t understand.” He looked up at me with tears in his eyes. He grabbed some tissue from the roll, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. At that moment my heart felt like it was going to break. I don’t think I had ever seen someone more forlorn than the sad figure before me.
“Come on. Get out of this toilet. It smells like shit in here.” We both started smiling. He got up and brushed past me on his way out. I reached out and pulled him into me. He stood there for a minute and let me hold him. Then he tensed up and pushed me away. I thought he was going to hit me or call me a fag, but he stepped back wide- eyed and stared at me.
“Sorry,” I said apologetically.
“It’s all right. Really,“ he replied with a faint smile.
“You ready to go back to class? Mrs. Jones already talked to me. You get to hear all about my boring life.” I began to laugh as he stood smiling at me.
“Yeah, let’s go.” We walked out of the restroom and headed back to class. I hesitated before placing my hand on his back. He didn’t step away. Surprisingly, he moved in closer to me.
* * * * * * * *
I don’t know why I even fool myself into believing things will ever be all right. They never have been, so why should I ever expect more? Just when I thought Randy and I had a possibility of being friends, she had to go ruin things.
She is Mrs. Jones. I’m used to teachers beginning the first day with students introducing themselves to the rest of the class. I usually put my head down and pretend to be asleep. Most teachers just pass me by, thinking I’m just going to be another problem student.
Mrs. Jones, however, had to assign partners. We were to interview each other and write a short bio. Okay. I didn’t have a problem with that. I’m a good writer, so writing a biography would be a breeze. But she had to take it a step further and tell us we were to read it out loud the next day. Randy was going to interview me and read my life history to the rest of the class.
Born to an alcoholic mother and a runaway dad. Lives a sad and lonely life. Drinks to forget his problems, but he usually ends up crying himself to sleep. That was my bio. Not much more to say.
For the first time I can ever remember, I spoke out in class. There was no way I was going to do the assignment and pour out my sad life to a guy I was hoping could be a friend. Friend. Yeah, right. Like he would want to be friends with me.
“What if we don’t want to do it?” It was a simple question. But the look on Mrs. Jones face told me I had asked the wrong question. The room got deadly silent as everyone looked at me.
She told me if I had a problem with the assignment, then I should speak with her in the hall. That surprised me. I thought for sure she would start yelling at me in class. However, she didn’t. As I got up from my seat, I could feel everyone staring at me. I was going to hate school. Already on the first day, I was being branded a troublemaker. Actually, that’s the exact opposite of who I am. I try not to draw attention to myself. However, the assignment had really bothered me.
“Why don’t you want to do the assignment, TJ?” Mrs. Jones asked me in a very concerned voice. My first impression of her had been a mistake. She seemed to be a very caring person. I felt I could trust her.
“I’m sorry for interrupting your class,” I apologized. “But I’m not like these kids. I don’t fit in.”
“I don’t understand,” she replied caringly.
“Look at me. Look at my clothes.” I started to get emotional. I hung my head in shame. “I don’t have much of a life to share.” I felt that any moment I was going to burst out crying.
“It’s all right, Dear.” She sounded very motherly, or at least I imagined this is what a good mother would sound like. “Don’t ever be embarrassed of what you have. Be proud of who you are.”
“That’s just it Mrs. Jones, I’m not.” I had never felt as depressed as I did at that moment. All at once it seemed that reality came sweeping down upon me. To hear myself share my inner feelings with someone else was overwhelming. I think even Mrs. Jones realized that it was an issue that couldn’t be easily resolved at the time. She did have a roomful of students waiting for her to return.
“Is your partner Randy Lawrence?” she asked, gently holding my arm.
“Randy’s a good student. Can you at least interview him and I’ll excuse him from interviewing you,” she suggested. “You’ll both receive the same grade.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” I couldn’t take anymore. She was being so kind to me, holding my arm. Tears began to well up in my eyes.
“Good. I’ll talk to him. You go to the boys’ room and get yourself together before coming back in the room,” she said softly.
“I want you to promise me one thing, though,” she said, holding me back. “If you ever need someone to talk to, you’ll come see me.”
I couldn’t take her generosity any longer. I turned and hurried toward the boys’ room. I didn’t want her to see me break down completely. I went in and found an empty stall. I tried to lock the door, but the lock was broken. I sat down, buried my head in my hands and cried.
It was the first time I had ever cried anywhere but in my lonely bedroom at night. After a few drinks, my walls would come crashing down, and reality would rear her ugly head. Usually after a good indulgence of self-pity, I would lie down on my bed and fall asleep. I didn’t know how to handle a break down at school.
After several minutes, the door opened and someone entered. I held my breath, hoping that no one would notice me.
“TJ?” I recognized the voice. It was Randy.
“Go away,” I cried out. He pushed the door to the stall open and looked down at me sitting on the toilet. What a pathetic sight I must have looked. My eyes were red and my nose was running. He looked like he wanted to cry, also.
“What’s wrong, Man?” he asked softly.
“You wouldn’t understand,” I responded. How could a guy like Randy ever understand what my life was like. I watched him as he walked down the hallway on the way to class. Everyone liked Randy. Girls, guys, teachers. Everyone. He stopped and talked to each person he met. And he didn’t talk at them, he talked to them.
He looked down at me and sized up the situation. The nice thing about it, he didn’t ask me anything else. He could have stood there and forced me to answer a dozen embarrassing questions, but he didn’t. He only jokingly asked me to leave the stall.
When I got up to leave, I brushed up against him He reached out, pulled me into him and held me. Not since I was a little boy had anyone taken me tenderly into their arms. I felt his warmth and I wanted to stay there forever.
But then I panicked again, and drew back, instantly missing his embrace. He looked at me and apologized. Apologized. His carrying gesture had been one of the most tender moments of my life and he said he was sorry. If only he knew how special he made me feel at that moment when he held me.
“It’s all right. Really.” I tried to sound reassuring. I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable around me. I was beginning to love his touch, even if it was just a friendly gesture. I knew we would be all right when we walked back to class and he put his hand on my back. I didn’t move away. I leaned into him, pretending he was my boyfriend.
The students were talking loudly when we walked back into Mrs. Jones’s class. I don’t know if they were doing the interviews or just catching up on gossip after a summer’s break. Everyone stopped talking when we walked through the door. Mrs. Jones gave us a smile when we walked past her to our seats. I think I was going to like her. I might even have that talk with her someday. Maybe.
“Ok, Dude. Let’s do this,” Randy said as we sat down. He pulled out the interview sheet and a pencil and handed them to me.
“Fire away,” he smiled. I returned the smile, then looked down at the sheet Mrs. Jones had prepared for us to use as a model for writing our interview.
“Randolph Jeremiah Lawrence.”
“Ouch. Your parents must have hated you,” I began to laugh. He looked at me and grinned widely, staring deeply into my eyes.
“What?” I asked
“You should laugh more often. You’re really cute when you laugh.” He looked at me and a stunned looked came over his face. His face began to redden. His blush even spread to his ears.
“Sorry, Dude,” he said nervously. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” He looked down at the desk, rubbing a pencil smudge off.
Cute! Did he just call me cute? The cutest guy in the whole school. No, take that back. The cutest guy in the whole world calls me cute! And look how red he is. Another guy doesn’t call another guy cute unless he’s. No. Impossible. No way is this cute, red-faced boy sitting across from me gay.
“Cute, huh?” I giggled. His embarrassed face rose to meet mine. Our eyes instantly locked, like they had the first time we saw each other earlier that morning in the cafeteria.
“Yeah, very cute,” he whispered back, only this time a little bolder. A smile crept across his face when he saw me grinning back.
“All right, class. It’s almost time for the bell. I want you to get with your partner sometime before class tomorrow and finish the assignment. Be prepared to read your biography in class.” Mrs. Jones yelled out above all the noise. Just as she finished, the bell rang.
“When do you want to finish this?” Randy asked as we got up out of our seats. My eyes immediately went to his crotch to see if he was showing anything. When I looked back up he was grinning. He’d caught me.
“I don’t know,” I stammered. It was now my turn to blush. He dropped his gaze to my crotch and unashamedly checked me out. If there was any doubt in my mind about his sexual preference, it was answered in that one gaze. He looked back up into my eyes. “Nice. Very nice,” he grinned.
I looked quickly around the room to see if anyone had seen our exchange. He then asked, “What are you doing after school? We could go back to my place and finish what we started.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
I didn’t know what to say. The past couple of minutes had overwhelmed me. We had just admitted we were attracted to each other. We didn’t even have to say it. It was like we instinctively knew that we were going to take this new friendship to another level. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that.
“I don’t know. I have to go right home after school.” He looked at me and frowned.
“Pwease? Pwetty Pwease?” He began to laugh. “Seriously, we need this for a grade. Okay, don’t give me an answer right now. Meet me at lunch. I sit with my friends. I’ll watch for you when you come in.”
I was trapped. I hadn’t intended on going into the cafeteria for lunch. I had no money, and I didn’t want him to see me using the free lunch card that I had been given when I received my schedule.
“I don’t eat lunch,” I answered quickly.
“Then I’ll join you. What do you do during lunch?”
Trapped again. I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know how to respond.
“All right. I’ll look for you in the cafeteria.” I said hesitantly. A huge grinned swept over his face.
“Good. I can introduce you to my friends,” he proudly stated. He laughed when I rolled my eyes.
We started heading for the door. We were walking shoulder to shoulder. Mrs. Jones looked up from her desk and smiled warmly at us. Randy walked me quickly to my next class. He reached out and rubbed me gently on my back before taking off, running down the hall to his next class.
‘Now all I have to do is get past lunch,’ I thought.