Taking Off the Mask
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without
and know we cannot live within.  -James Baldwin
Chapter 6
On Monday during second period, Mr. Marshall called me to the office. I had not gotten
into any trouble since the incident with Mrs. Horner; so I had no idea why he wanted to
see me.

When I entered the office, the secretary pointed to his office. He was sitting at his desk
talking on the phone. He motioned for me to have a seat. I waited several minutes while
he talked to an angry parent. From what I gathered from the one sided conversation,
their daughter had been suspended for fighting on the bus after school on Friday.

“Parents,” Mr. Marshall remarked after hanging up. “This would be an ideal job if I didn’t
have to deal with angry parents all the time. Everyone things their child can do nothing
wrong.” He looked at me as I sat staring with a blank expression on my face.

“Mr. Hoskins,” he said. “I have a favor to ask you.” He looked at me expectantly. I
didn’t know what to say since he hadn’t yet told me what he wanted.

“Yes, well,” he smiled. “I guess you want to know what it is. The young man who was
manager for the boy’s basketball team is doing poorly in school, and his mother has
insisted that he give up that position. Coach McIntosh needs someone else to
volunteer. I highly recommended you.”

He sat and studied my face awaiting an answer. Inwardly, I was doing cartwheels.
Basketball manager! Handing out towels to naked, sweaty basketball players! Seeing
Donovan Michaels naked ever day! It was a gay boy’s dream come true!

“Do you need time to think about it?” asked Mr. Marshall.

“No, Sir,” I managed to stammer out. “I’d like to do it.” I tried to sound noncommittal,
but I’m not sure I was able to adequately hide my enthusiasm.

“Excellent,” he said. “I’ll tell Coach McIntosh. You can see him after school. He’ll explain
your responsibilities. Thank you, James. I’m sure you’ll do a good job.”

“I’ll do my best, Sir.” I left his office and my first impulse was to do somersaults down
the hall. I knew being team manager would be a dirty job. I’d have to pick up wet
towels off the floor where the guys had thrown them after drying themselves off. There
would probably be a few sweat-stained jock straps to pick up as well. I had to stop by
the boy’s restroom and go into a stall before I reported back to my class.

“You’re going to be the manager of the team?” squealed Jackie when I told her at lunch.
“Do you want me to help you?”

“I don’t think girls are allowed into the locker room,” I grinned. “You know, the guys do
walk around naked in there.” Her eyes widened as I continued to say, “Donovan may
not like a girl looking at his enormous cock when he struts around with no clothes on.”

“You bitch,” she whispered under her breath. “I do hate you, you know that?”

“No you don’t,” I giggled. “You love me.”

“You’d better take pictures,” she insisted,” and send them to me every night.”

I held out my hand and started rubbing my fingers. “Just how much is it worth to you?”

“Bitch,” she sulked. She looked up with pleading eyes. “Just one itty, bitty picture is all
I want.”

“I’ll consider it; but I‘ll tell you now, it won‘t be itty bitty.” Jackie squealed and squeezed
my hand. I knew I’d never give her a picture, but at least it quieted her for the moment.
Besides, if I did take a picture of Donovan naked, I’d probably make it my desktop
background so I could stare at it everyday.

As we were finishing our lunch, I noticed a crowd beginning to gather in the middle of
the cafeteria. It usually signaled that there was going to be a fight. As I looked closer,
I noticed Dion in the center of the crowd.

“What’s going on?” asked Jackie. “Who’s getting ready to fight?”

“I’m not sure, but isn’t that Dion?” Jackie looked over and grabbed my arm.

“Yes, and it looks like Raymond is standing in front of him.” Raymond Saunders is the
school’s bad ass. Everyone avoids him because his life evolves around making other
students’ lives miserable. He started messing with me in the eighth grade until I gave
him ten dollars to stop tormenting me. Everyone has a price, and I was able to find his.

“Let’s see what’s going on.” Jackie pulled me to my feet and we fought our way to the
front of the crowd. I was standing behind Raymond, and I could see the humiliation in
Dion’s face.

“I said eat the sandwich, Thief.” Raymond was trying to thrust a cold sandwich from the
cafeteria into Dion’s hand. “You wanted one last week bad enough to steal it.” Dion
attempted to maneuver his way around Raymond.

“I said eat it.” He shoved the sandwich into Dion’s chest.

“Leave him alone!” I heard the words, and then realized they had come from my mouth.
Raymond turned and looked angrily at me.

“You got a problem, Hoskins?” He stood before me with his fists balled up, ready to
swing at me.

“Do you, Punk Ass?” Suddenly, Donovan’s body tall body moved up beside me.
Raymond took a step back and looked up into Donovan’s eyes. He made an attempt to
stare him down, but he looked off to the side and took another step back. Without
saying anything else, he turned and pushed his way through the crowd as everyone
laughed at him.

Donovan patted me on my back and then walked away. Jackie ran up, grabbed my arm
and squealed, “Oh my God!  Donovan just saved your ass from a beating by Raymond.”

“Shut up, Jackie,” I exclaimed. I looked around for Dion, but he had disappeared.

We walked back to our table and sat down. “He likes you, James. I just know it.
Donovan came to your rescue.”

“No he didn’t,” I insisted. “He’d have done it for anyone.”

“No he wouldn’t,” she replied. “He didn’t go help Dion when Raymond was messing with
him. He only jumped in when Raymond acted like he was going to hit you. I tell you,
James, he likes you.” I looked over at the table where Donovan was sitting with his
friends. He nodded his head at me.

“See,” remarked Jackie. “I told you.”  

The bell rang and we headed to our next class. As I walked, I was wondering if what
Jackie had said was true. Did Donovan come to my rescue? And was it possible he really
does like me?

I looked for Dion during the class breaks, but I didn’t see him. I passed his locker after
school, but he wasn’t there, either.

When I went to my locker to put my books away, Jackie ran up and grabbed my arm.
“You going to the gym now?” she asked excitedly.

“Yeah, why?” I asked.

“I just thought I’d walk with you, is all,” she replied innocently. I looked at her and saw
a devilish look in her eye.

“No, you can’t go in the locker room with me,” I insisted.

“That’s not what I wanted.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out her cell phone.

“Here.” She thrust the phone at me. “Just one picture,” she pleaded. “That’s all I’m
asking.”

I handed the phone back to her. “I can’t do that, Jackie. I could go to jail if anyone saw
me do that.”

“Then be careful,” she responded playfully.

“No.” I said sternly. “I can’t do that. It’s against the law.”

“It’s also against the law for a sixteen year old to download porn on the internet,” she
remarked, “but it doesn’t keep you from doing that.”

“Jackie!” I shouted, and then looked around to see if anyone had been listening to our
conversation. “I don’t do that.”

“Yeah, right,” she replied. “When you went to the bathroom last week, I checked the
window you had minimized.” My face began to redden. I remembered walking out of my
bedroom last week. Jackie was sitting at my computer when I returned.

“Let me see.” She put her hand on her chin. “What was the name of that site? Oh,
yeah. cutegayboys dot com.”

“I’m still not taking the picture,” I insisted. My cheeks were still burning brightly. I
recalled the picture that I had last looked at when Jackie came in the room.

“I wonder what your mom would say if she knew you had figured out a way to bypass
Net Nanny?” she threatened.

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“You know I wouldn’t,” she pouted. “Come on. Please, James. Just one picture.” She
tried to hand the phone back to me. I shook my head and walked away.

“I hate you!” she shouted behind me. I raised my hand over my head and flipped her
off.

I inhaled deeply when I walked into the locker room. It smelled like... how do you
describe it?... boys... naked, sweaty boys!  I could hear the basketball team already
getting dressed for practice. I forced myself not to look in as I made my way to Coach
McIntosh’s office.

He was extremely pleased that I had volunteered to help out. The first thing he asked
me was how good my grades were. He smiled when I told him I had a 3.2 GPA.

He handed me a list of duties I was expected to perform. He left me sitting in his office
looking it over. I scanned it to see if one of the things I would have to do is pick up
sweaty jock straps after the team left. Unfortunately, that hadn’t made the list.

Most of the practice duties were fairly simple. I was expected to make sure that water
bottles were filled and fresh towels were available. At the end of practice I was to collect
all the balls, place them on the ball rack and safely store them away. Then, after the
players had finished dressing, I was to inspect the locker room, collect all the dirty
towels and uniforms and place them in a bin for cleaning. Simple enough.

Did I say simple enough? How can twelve guys be so demanding? I ran my butt off
trying to get them things they needed. And Donovan was the worst one. He had me
run to his locker several times to get something out of it he needed. Once, it was a
clean pair of socks. Another time, it was a head band he had forgotten to put on. I
rolled my eyes when he told me to go get his sinus spray out of his pants pocket. He
was acting as if I were his personal servant.

I received my reward after practice, however, when I was in the supply room handing
out towels and he walked towards me completely naked. Before reaching for the towel,
he lowered his hand and stroked his cock a couple of times. I felt the blood rush to my
face, and I thought I was going to pass out. He took the towel and winked.

“Thanks, James,” he said sexily. “I’m glad you’re the team manager. Now we can see
more of each other.”  He looked down and raised his eyebrows when he saw the tent in
the front of my shorts. “I definitely want to see more of you.” He winked again and
walked off. My eyes were glued to his smooth, muscular ass.

“Nice, isn’t it?” I looked up and saw Harold Garver, one of second string forwards,
grinning at me. I don’t think I could have been any more embarrassed. I handed him a
towel and disappeared into the supply room to regain my composure before I outed
myself before the entire basketball team.

The team showered, dressed, and slowing drifted out of the locker room. The noise
level was dwindling to a low murmur. I went in and began picking up the wet towels and
sweaty uniforms off the floor. I looked up and saw Donovan approaching me.

“Did you enjoy your first day?” he asked with a broad smile.

“Yeah,” I stammered nervously. “I had a good time.”

“Good.” He stood looking down at me as I fidgeted before him. His presence was
making me extremely nervous. I could lie in my bed and think of a thousand things I
wanted to say to him; but when he was actually before me, I could hardly utter a
coherent sentence.

“There’s a party at Sylvia’s house Saturday night,” he said. “Would you like to go
with me?” My eyes widened as he grinned at me. I guess he noticed my nervousness.
“I won’t bite,” he laughed. I was speechless. Donovan Michaels had just asked me out!

“James?” He waved his hand in front of my face. “You in there?” He started laughing.

“Um, yeah,” I stammered. “Sure. I’d love to go.” Oh, no. I didn’t just say love. You
don’t tell another guy you’d love to go somewhere with him. How gay is that?

“Good,” he replied. “I’ll pick you up at your house at nine.”

“Okay.” I stood staring into his brown eyes, unable to think of anything else to say. He
patted me on my shoulder, smiled and walked away.

My legs began to weaken, so I sat down on the bench. Donovan Michaels had asked me
out! Just wait until Jackie hears about this! And he wants me to go to a party at Sylvia
Patterson’s. Only the ‘in’ crowd is ever invited to Sylvia’s parties. I’d been hearing
about them for several years, but I never thought I would ever be able to attend one.

I was an emotional wreck the rest of the week. Jackie was hurt at first, but then she
quickly assumed the task of ‘preparing’ me for my first date. We spent Thursday night
trying to decide what I should wear to the party. Not only was I going to one of Sylvia’s
parties, I was going with Donovan. She said I had to look perfect.

She had me put on about twelve different combinations. By the time we had chosen a
suitable outfit, every article of clothing I had hanging in my closet was piled on my bed.
She finally decided that green was my best color, so I was going to wear a pair of beige
khaki  shorts and a A&F light green polo shirt. I told her I thought it was a little tight on
me, but Jackie said that it showed my nipples. She thought it might be a turn-on for
Donovan. She also dug out a pair of sandals I had bought last summer. I was waiting
to wear them to a special occasion. I guess this was it.

“You have sexy toes,” she giggled as I walked around the room trying on the sandals.

“Toes are not sexy,” I insisted.

“Yours are,” she laughed. “They look so tiny and cute.”

“Damn, Jackie!” I shouted. “That’s just gross.” However, I did look down and wonder if
Donovan would find them as sexy as Jackie did.

With all the excitement of the party, I almost forgot I had to go to St. Andrew’s
Saturday morning. I considered sleeping in and resting up, but I had promised my
mother I would go.

I had asked her Thursday night, before Jackie arrived, if I could go to the party on
Saturday. It was the first time I’d ever gone out, except for a few school dances. She
had a lot of questions which I really couldn’t answer. Were Sylvia’s parents going to
chaperone the party? Was alcohol or drugs going to be present?  Would older students
be there? What did I know about Donovan? What time did the party end?

I tried to fake most of it- in other words, lie. It was well-known around school that
Sylvia’s parties were usually not chaperoned, and underage drinking was rampant. It
was one of the reasons they were so popular.

“Donovan is the star basketball player at school,” I assured my mother. “I’m sure he
won’t be doing any drinking. I should be home by one.”

“Midnight,” she said sternly.

“Aw, Mom,” I whined. “I’m not Cinderella. Please. One o’clock?” I put on the best pouty
face I could muster up. She continued to look at me sternly, until I started whining like
a puppy. I saw a slow curl form on her lips. I knew she was breaking down.

“Alright,” she finally relented. “One o’clock; but you still go to St. Andrew’s Saturday
morning.”

“Bet!” I shouted and ran from the room before she had time to change her mind.

When I arrived Saturday at 7:00 in the morning, Nurse Dorothy was standing at the
nurses’ station humming a song. She looked up and smiled when she saw me
approaching.

“Good morning, Dear,” she sang out in her usual sweet voice.

“Good morning,” I responded with a little less enthusiasm. It was early on Saturday
morning, after all.

“Would you run down to the supply room and get me a box of tissues?” she asked.
“Then check each patient’s room and see if they need any.”

“Sure thing,” I said. As I walked down the hallway, I kept looking for Dion. When I
finished my rounds, I returned to the nurses’ station.

“Where’s Dion?” I asked. “I haven’t seen him this morning.”

“He’s been sick most of the week,” she informed me. “That’s why he hasn’t been in
school.” I hadn’t seen him at school since the incident, but that wasn’t unusual. Since
we shared no classes this year, I hardly ever saw him. I was wondering if he had stayed
home because of the incident with Raymond. I was also wondering just how much his
mother knew what was going on. Surely, she knew he had been given detention for
stealing the sandwich from the cafeteria; but had he told her about Raymond
embarrassing him in front of the entire school.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.

“I don’t really know,” she replied worriedly. “He came home after school the other day
and went to bed, saying he was sick. He doesn’t have a fever, and he appears to be all
right; but I just don’t know. I considered telling her why he was ditching school, but I
decided it was something he should discuss with her, not me.

“Now go to Mr. Wilbur’s room,” she ordered. “He’s been waiting for you.”

Again, his face lit up when I came walking into his room. He had the table set with the
checkers game. He had even laid out a bag of potato chips and a dish of French onion
dip.

We sat playing for about ten minutes. I kept thinking about Dion, and I felt sorry
because he had to fake being ill just so he wouldn’t have to go to school and face
Raymond again.

“What do you know about Dion?” I asked Mr. Wilbur.

“Why do you ask?” I then told him what had happened at school, and how Dion had
stayed home sick.

“He’s been through a lot,” he said. “I really don’t think it’s my place to say anything.”

“What do you mean, a lot?” I insisted. He sat and thought for a minute before
answering. I could tell he was trying to decide if he should tell me more.

“His father left his mother when he was about six,” he began. “She tries to raise seven
children on a nurse’s salary.” That explained why his clothes always looked a little worn.
It also could have been the reason he stole the sandwich that day.

“Four years ago, when he twelve, he went with his older brother to the corner store
where they live.” He stopped and studied me carefully. I could tell he was still trying to
decide if he should continue.

“Two men came in and robbed the store,” he said quietly. “They shot and killed his
brother right in front of him. Shot him in the head.” Both of us looked down at the
checker board. I didn’t know what to say, and I could tell that Mr. Wilbur was on the
verge of crying.

“I wasn’t here then, but Nurse Dorothy has given me bits and pieces over the past
couple of years,” he continued. “I guess it tore the whole family apart. Dion took it
really hard since he was there when it happened. She said he’s never been quite the
same.”

“Wow,” I responded. “I had no idea.”

“He’s not going to talk about it, to you or anyone else,” he remarked. “He’s never
mentioned it since that day. Remember last week when I told you about people wearing
masks?”  

I nodded my head.

“Dion’s so far hidden behind his, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to remove it,” he
said sadly.

I felt so ashamed of myself. All this time I had just figured Dion to be a rude, unfriendly
boy. I had no idea that he had suffered so much. No wonder he hardly ever smiled.

We spent the next few hours playing checkers and Sorry. We tried to have a good
time, but there was a cloud of sadness hanging over the room. I kept picturing Dion
lying in his bed with the covers pulled up over his head, trying to keep the world out.

“Guess what?” I tried to sound excited.

“I give, what?” responded Mr. Wilbur.

“I’m going on a date tonight.”  

“Really? With whom?”

“Donovan Michaels!” He grimaced when I said Donovan’s name.

“You don’t like him very much, do you?” I asked.

“I don’t know him personally,” he stated, “but I’ve known guys like him all my life.
Because they are tall, good looking and athletic, they think they can have anything they
want.”

“Donovan’s not like that,” I insisted.

“Are you sure?” he asked sarcastically. “How well do you know him?”

I sat mum, not knowing what to say since I didn’t know much about him.

“Where does he live?” Silence.

“What does his father do for a living?”  Silence.

“Is he an only child, or does he have brothers and sisters?” Silence.

“All right, here’s and easy one.” He looked at me with a smirk on his face. “What kind of
music does he like to listen to?” Again silence. Mr. Wilbur was making his point. I had
been so enamored by Donovan’s good looks, that I actually knew nothing else about
him.

“So how can you tell me he’s not like that?” He sat back in his chair and looked at me,
while I looked blankly down at the Sorry board.

“Just be careful, James,” he warned. “Donovan is out of your league. You’re just
beginning to discover who you are, and a guy like Donovan will take advantage of you.”

I nodded, but my heart wasn’t into playing any more games. Mr. Wilbur suggested that
I go ahead and leave and get ready for my party. I gave him a hug before I left.

“Have fun, Tiger,” he said. “And I want details next week.” I smiled politely and left the
room.

It was two o’clock. Donovan would be picking me up in seven hours.


Chapter 7                                   Return to TMJ