My body had never hurt so much as I drudgingly walked up the sidewalk to my home. I opened the door and almost fell inside the foyer. My father was coming from the kitchen to the family room. When he saw me, he rushed over and helped me to the sofa.
“Are you all right?” he asked worriedly. “Did you get into another fight?”
My mother rushed into the room and bent down before me. “Dear God,” she cried. “Not again.” I smiled and raised myself on my elbows.
“I’m all right,” I assured them. “I’ve been out running.” Just then Billy looked into the room. When he saw me, he rushed over and sat down beside me.
“Where have you been?” he shouted excitedly. “I’ve been worried sick.” I took him in my arms and hugged him.
“I love you,” I said as I planted a kiss on his cheek. I then reached out and hugged my mother and father. “I love all of you.” Tears started to well up in my eyes. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” Josh walked in and I told him to come to me. He gave Dad a puzzled look when I hugged him and kissed his forehead.
I looked around the room. “Where’s Brenda?”
“She’s in her room,” my mother said. I got up and went to her room. She was lying on her bed doing homework. She looked up when I walked in.
“Whatcha doing?” I sat down and looked at the math book she had opened.
“I can’t work this problem,” she whined. I lay down beside her and we spent the next ten minutes going over some problems she’d been struggling with. It had been months since I’d spent time with my little sister. I felt good when she edged her body nearer to mine and put her arm around my back.
Dad came into the room and smiled when he saw us. “How about we go out for dinner?” Brenda quickly closed her book and jumped from the bed.
“Where are we going?” she asked excitedly.
“Where would you like to go?” He looked at me and winked. “We’ll let you decide.”
“How about Olive Garden?” When she looked over at me, I nodded.
“Olive Garden, it is,” my father said cheerfully. “Be downstairs in ten minutes.” After hugging Brenda, I went to my bedroom.
“We’re going to Olive Garden for dinner,” I informed Billy as I walked to my closet to change into my street clothes.
“I know,” he replied. “Dad already told me.” He walked over and stood before me and stared into my face. “What’s going on with you? You’re acting different.”
“I am, Little Brother,” I said as I grabbed him into a big hug. He giggled and pulled away.
“What’s wrong with you?” he laughed. “You’re acting goofy.”
“Goofy!” I grabbed him by his waist and pulled him over to the bed. I threw him down on it and started tickling him. “I’ll show you goofy.” He wormed around on the bed squealing with laughter.
“Stop!” he screamed. “You’re going to make me pee!” When I got off him, he grabbed his dick and ran out of the room to the bathroom. I lay back on the bed and roared with laughter.
I felt good. Until I fell through the doorway and my father rushed to me, I didn’t realize how much I loved my family. When they surrounded me with concerned looks on their faces, I knew I was loved. Throughout everything I’d experienced the past week, not once did I really question their support. I knew they’d be disappointed, but I also knew they’d accept me as I was.
We all crammed into Mom’s sedan to go to the restaurant. Josh sat in my lap and, like I had with Billy, I tickled him all the way. Dad began to get irritated with him squealing behind him, but I think he was happy the family was together. It had been almost a year since the last time we had eaten out as a family.
Dinner was lively. We talked about everything. It was as if I was becoming reunited once again with my family. I’d been so busy with school and track, that I’d missed watching Josh and Brenda grow up. I also noticed how mature Billy was becoming. Seeing him everyday I never paid attention the little things, like the small, sparse mustache over his lip. He was turning into a man before my eyes and I’d never noticed. It’s amazing how sometimes we don’t appreciate the little things around us. Sometimes it is those things that give our life meaning.
I also noticed that Mom and Dad were growing older. Dad’s hair was beginning to thin, and Mom was forming wrinkles on her face. Both were beginning to get gray hair. They had also changed and I’d never noticed.
On the way home from the restaurant, we sang a spirited round of ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’ I hadn’t sung it since I was Josh’s age. The only thing missing was Jimmy and Marilou. I missed the farting contests Jimmy and I used to have in the backseat of the car. Most ended with Dad rolling down all the windows in the car until the odor went away.
After pulling the car into the garage, I got out and noticed Kenny and his father walking across the street.
“Edward.” Mr. Fletcher called out to my father. “Can I see you a minute? You too, Zac.” My mother gave my father a puzzled look as she gently guided Billy, Josh and Brenda inside. My father walked down to the street and they talked briefly before my father signaled for me to join them.
“Zac,” Mr. Fletcher announced, “Kenny has something he wants to say to you.” He looked angrily at Kenny. “Don’t you, Son?”
“Sorry,” Kenny mumbled as he looked down the street.
“What did I tell you?” His father admonished him.
Kenny looked up at me and said clearly, “I’m sorry I called you all those names.” He then quickly diverted his eyes away from me.
“It’s okay,” I replied apathetically. I then looked over at my father. “Can I go inside now?” He nodded his head and I turned and walked away.
I didn’t need Kenny anymore. He was now my past. I was changed and Kenny would never be anything more than what he already was- bigoted and hateful. Remaining friends with him would mean once again trailing behind him like a loyal dog laughing at his crude jokes and boorish antics. I now realized I was better than that.
Everyone was gone when I got up the next morning. Billy woke me up when he got ready for school. He tried to dress in the dark so he wouldn’t awaken me, but he did anyway when he stubbed his toe on his bed. I buried my head into my pillow and laughed when he tried to stifle a few ‘dammits’ as he danced around the room holding his foot.
After eating a light breakfast, I considered taking a run; but my body still ached from the night before. I was concerned that I may have injured myself and Marty would be upset with me. However, after being up for a while, the pain began to subside considerably.
Morning television is boring. Most of the cable movies I had seen with Rachel at the theater. Those stupid judge shows didn’t interest me, and I couldn’t bear to insult my intelligence by watching ‘Girls who love guys who love to dress in their girlfriend’s clothes’ on Jerry Springer. I don’t have a problem what people do, you know- whatever floats your boat. However, some things should be kept private and not televised for the entertainment of others.
I always thought it would be cool to stay home from school. I had only missed three days the past four years, and that was because I caught the flu my sophomore year. However, I hate to admit that it was kind of boring. I can’t understand why someone would rather be bored to tears at home rather than being bored to tears at school. At least at school you don’t suffer alone. There are eight hundred other miserable teens sharing your misery.
After unsuccessfully trying to find something interesting to do, I decided to go to the mall, walk around and get something for lunch. Since most people my age would be in school, I felt I could enjoy a day out without running into someone I knew. I now wasn’t afraid to confront others, but I just wanted to spend some time alone and enjoy the day. Being by myself was something I was going to have to get used to. It would seem strange to go someplace without tailing behind Kenny or having Rachel’s arm wrapped around mine.
The mall was rather empty when I entered. I was used to coming on Saturday when the place was crowded with roaming teenagers and mothers pushing their children around in strollers. Even the cell phone kiosk was empty. I think it was the first time I could walk up and look at the latest phones without having to push my way past a group of giggling, preadolescent girls.
The guy behind the counter was really cute. I’d seen him before but I never noticed how striking his features were. He had a tanned complexion, and he was tall with jet black hair. His eyes were a shining brown with long black eyelashes. When he smiled, his teeth were white like people who appear in a toothpaste commercial. I thought he might be from the Middle East.
“May I help you, Sir?” He smiled as he stood before me. He looked down at the phone I was holding in my hand. “That’s the latest technology.” His smile was infectious as he let out a little laugh. “It does everything but make coffee.”
I returned his smile as I put the phone back onto the counter. “I don’t think I want it,” I laughed. “I was really looking for one that makes coffee.”
“Too bad,” he smiled. “I was hoping to make a sale.”
I gave him a flirtatious wink. “I’m sure you were.” He smiled and nodded as I walked away. When I turned, he waved. I couldn’t believe that I’d actually flirted openly with another guy- a really hot guy. I thought that when things settle down a little, I might come back and look at some more phones. Maybe I’ll find one with his number on it.
I walked around looking in store windows. I went into Foot Locker and checked out the latest running shoes. The school provided the ones we used in meets, but I needed a new pair when I ran at home. I saw a pair I really liked, but I couldn’t afford them. The cheaper ones didn’t have the support I needed.
As I was walking to the food court to get something to eat, I walked past a jewelry kiosk. There was an attractive girl working behind it. She smiled when I walked up and looked at some of the gold necklaces.
“May I show you something from the case?” she asked cheerfully. She started to reach under the glass for the case, but I stopped her.
“I’m really not interested in buying anything,” I said. “I’m just browsing.”
“Surely there must be a girlfriend,” she replied. “A cute guy like you always has a girl he likes to keep happy.”
I looked into her pretty face and started laughing. “I hardly think so.” She raised an eyebrow and gave me a knowing smile.
“Really?” She walked from behind the counter and stood before me. “Then how about buying something nice for yourself?” She took my arm and led me around the counter as we looked into the display cases. “How about a bracelet?” She pointed to a beautiful herringbone which I would love to wear. Unfortunately, the price tag said $325.
She walked around to the other side of the counter, reached in and took out a small pendant. “How about this?” I looked at the contents of the box and then back into her smiling face. “What do you think? Is it you?”
I picked up the small rainbow pendant and turned it over in my hand. On the back was engraved in small letters the word, “proud.” “How much?” I asked.
“Normally, it’s $80.” She grabbed my hand when I tried to give it back to her. “But we’re having a fifty percent off sale this week on rainbow pendants.” She looked at me and grinned.
“How come I don’t believe that?” I looked around the kiosk for a sale sign. She took my hand and pressed the pendant into it.
“Okay,” she replied. “I’m lying. I just want you to have this. I’ll even throw in a small gold chain for another twenty five dollars.”
“Why?” She reached into her blouse and pulled out a gold chain around her neck. On it was the same small rainbow pendant.
“Then I guess I’ll have to take it.”
“Good.” She took out a gold chain and placed the pendant on it. She then had me turn around as she placed it around my neck. When she finished, I turned and she looked at it. “It looks good on your smooth chest.” After paying for it with my credit card, we talked casually for about twenty minutes. She told me she was twenty three and she’d been out for about four years. She had a girlfriend in college and they could only see each other during breaks and on holidays.
“It sucks having a long distance romance,” she said sadly. “But I love her.” She looked questioningly at me. “Now you. We’ve talked about me, how about you? Are you out?”
I started laughing. “Oh, yeah,” I chuckled. “I’m definitely out.” I laughed even louder when she gave me a puzzled look. I then told her how I’d just recently been outed by my best friend and I was in the mall because I had been suspended from school for fighting with him.
“Some friend,” she said angrily. We talked for several more minutes about school. She seemed particularly interested in the fact that I was a track star. “Maybe I’ll come to one of your meets and watch you.”
“I’ll be looking for you.” I then started laughing. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Irene,” she said as she extended her hand.
“Zac,” I replied. “Zac Barnes.”
We exchanged phone numbers and promised each other we’d stay in touch. She said that Saturday nights were lonely without her partner, Sarah. Before leaving, she reached into a bag and handed me a CD. “What’s this?” I asked as I examined it. It was a group I’d never heard of before.
“It’s a club mix,” she informed me. “Sarah bought it for me, but I already have it. This has one of the hottest dance numbers in the gay clubs right now. I think you’ll like it.”
“I’ll listen to it when I get home.” I said. As I walked away, I turned and waved. Irene was the first person I had openly told I was gay without feeling guilty or ashamed.
After leaving, I went to the food court to get something to eat. As I walked, I kept watching people’s faces to see if they noticed the pendant around my neck. I was disappointed when no one seemed to pay it any attention. I was finally showing people that I was gay and no one seemed to notice.
Since I wouldn’t be at track practice for a couple of days, I decided to break my diet and ordered a taco salad from Taco Bell. The food court was sparsely populated. A few tables away two elderly women argued about walking back to their car. One was tired and wanted the other to get the car and pull it up to the front of the mall while she waited on a bench. I had to stifle a laugh when the other woman told her to “take a flying leap” and then flipped her off before walking angrily away.
I was cleaning my table and getting ready to leave when I looked up and saw the handsome guy from the cell phone kiosk approaching. He was smiling broadly as he walked up and sat down.
“Hey,” he said cheerfully. “I figured you would have been gone by now.” He let his eyes roam unashamedly over my body before noticing my rainbow pendant. He then looked into my eyes and smiled knowingly.
“I was just getting ready to leave,” I responded as I looked at my watch. For some odd reason I was becoming uncomfortable because I felt he was interested in me and might ask me out. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take that step yet. Except for Adrian, I’d never really thought about being with anyone else.
“My name is Omari,” he said quickly as his eyes once again scanned my body. He held out his hand for me to shake. He squeezed it tightly and held it longer than a normal handshake.
“I’m Zac,” I replied nervously as I pulled my hand away. I placed my leftover trash on the tray and stood. “I really should be going, Omari. It was nice to meet you.”
He reached into his shirt pocket and handed me a business card. It had his name, phone number and email address on it. There was also a very nice photograph of him with his beautiful smile and dark complexion. “Call me sometime,” he said almost pleadingly. He looked once again at my pendant. “I think we have a lot in common.”
“I will,” I said as I picked up my tray. My heart was pounding as I walked away. When I looked back before leaving the food court, he winked and waved goodbye.
‘What an interesting morning,’ I thought as I drove my truck home. I’d met two gay people at the mall within an hour. I felt that Irene could be a good friend. In the short time we’d been together, we seemed to click. I was sure I’d be hearing from her soon.
Omari was an enigma. I found him extremely handsome and I was flattered that he seemed to like me. As I drove, I continued to look at his picture on the card. Then I began to feel guilty because I felt I was cheating on Adrian. Adrian, after all, was my first love. I wanted him more now than ever, but I felt we could never be together.
Perhaps someday I could get over my desire for him. Until then, I’d never feel comfortable dating another guy. No. People like Omari would have to wait. I placed his card in my pocket and drove home.
Mom was home when I walked into the kitchen. “Hello, Dear,” she said cheerfully as I sat down at the island counter. She opened the refrigerator, got out a bottled water and sat it before me. “Where have you been?”
“At the mall,” I informed her. She noticed the pendant around my neck, walked over and examined it.
“This is pretty,” she said as she twirled it in her fingers. “Did you just buy this?”
“Yes,” I replied as I got up and headed to my bedroom. I was afraid that if she knew what the symbol meant, she would ask me to take it off. She didn’t mind me being gay, but I didn’t think she’d be comfortable with me going around advertising it.
I sat for a while checking my email. Surprisingly, three guys on the track team had emailed me and asked me if I was okay. One member of the girls’ track team had even sent me an ecard with some bears on it. They were holding a sign saying, ‘Hurry back, Hunny.’ I signed off and then spent the next hour playing a video game.
I looked over at the clock when I heard the doorbell ring. It was after five o’clock. I was afraid Valerie had returned to repair the damage she had done the day before. I was beginning to accept the fact that Adrian and I would probably never be together. It would be hard to do if she kept trying to make things better.
I heard a light tap on the door and then my mother looked in. “Zac,” she smiled, “there’s some people to see you out on the back deck?”
She smiled again. “You’ll just have to go find out.” She closed the door and left. I put on my shoes and headed down the hall. My mother grinned when I walked into the kitchen and looked out onto the deck. There were about eight members of the track team sitting around.
I gave my mother a puzzled look. “What’s going on?”
She walked over and gave me a gentle push toward the door. “Go out and see what they want.” She opened the door and shoved me out onto the deck. The guys rose when they saw me.
“Hey, Zac.” Justin Stevens was the first to speak. I looked around as the others waved. Rory Baker and Tommy Zimmers were standing together and smiled when I looked at them. Carson Jeters and William Austin, two members of the 400m relay team waved. Paul Taylor, a high jumper, walked over and shook my hand. There were two other guys that I didn’t recognize. I figured they must be new members of the team.
“Hey, Guys,” I said timidly as my eyes darted around the smiling faces before me. I couldn’t understand what they were doing at my home. I had figured I’d be the last person they would want to see.
Rory Baker, the junior runner who I had taken the locker next to at school, came forward and extended his hand. I reluctantly reached out and shook it.
“I know you’re wondering what we’re doing here?” I looked around the group without replying. “After practice we had a meeting in the locker room.” He looked at the guys as they nodded their heads. “It doesn’t matter to us what happened between you and Kenny. We just want you to know that we support you.” I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. “We don’t care if you are gay. You’re an important member of the team and we’re not going to turn our backs on you.”
I’d heard of group hugs before, and I’d even made a few jokes about them in the past. But do you know how wonderful they feel when a group of guys surround you and pull you into a hug? I was trying not to let the guys see me cry, but I couldn’t control the tears falling down my cheek. Several guys reached up and playfully rubbed my scalp.
I turned when I heard the sliding patio door open. My mother and Josh appeared. Mom had a tray with an assortment of sodas on it. Josh was cautiously carrying a tray with snacks. It contained cookies, chips, cheese and fruit. There were even a couple cups of yogurt. I think my mother had cleaned out the cupboard and refrigerator of any snack item she could find. When she placed them down, she walked over and kissed me on the cheek before she and Josh went back inside.
We sat around for about ten minutes talking about the first track meet of the season next Saturday. Justin said that Coach Templeton was really pleased with the team and he was sure we’d win the meet. The relay teams had impressive times during practice. Paul had one of his highest jumps that afternoon, and everyone was expecting me to do well, even though I’d missed several practice sessions.
At one point Carson mentioned that he’d seen a basketball rim on the garage, so we went out front to play for a while. Billy and Lonnie came home asked to join us. I refused because, well, Billy is my brother. It just wouldn’t be cool. But the guys insisted that they be allowed to play. I carefully watched Lonnie to make sure that he didn’t try to feel up any of my friends.
The guys began to disperse after about an hour. A few lived in the neighborhood and could walk home. Some had ridden with Rory. As I walked them to his car and was saying goodbye, I glanced across the street and saw Kenny closely watching us from his garage. I couldn’t make out the look on his face, but I was sure he was wondering why my team members had decided to visit me.
Dinner was on the table when I went inside. My mother and father had a million questions about the guys showing up this afternoon. They were pleased when I told them what they had said about me.
“Not everyone in the world is like Kenny,” stated my father. “The world has changed a lot since I was a boy. People are more tolerant today.”
“Yeah,” I replied sarcastically as I thought of Adrian’s father. “A lot more tolerant.”
I was sitting at my computer completing an assignment for lit, when I noticed the CD Irene had given me earlier in the day. I took it out of the case, walked over to my stereo and put it in. Suddenly, the room was filled with a sound I’d never heard before. It was fast and lively. I could understand why Irene said it was popular in the dance clubs.
I almost fell out of my chair with laughter when my mother came dancing into the room with Brenda. They were jumping around the room and my mother would occasionally hold my little sister‘s hand and twirl her. My mother walked over, held out her hand to me and then pulled me from my seat. The three of us were enjoying ourselves when Billy and Lonnie came running into the room.
Billy threw up his arms and let out a loud, “Hey!” Lonnie mimicked him and the two of them began to dance. Soon the five of us were dancing wildly around the room. Suddenly, my mother stopped with an astonished look on her face. It quickly turned to anger. I looked over to where she was looking. Billy was standing with his arms up toward the ceiling while Lonnie had his hands firmly around Billy’s waist. He had pulled Billy’s shirt up and he was licking his tongue down his chest.
“Billy!” His eyes widened as he looked astonishingly at our mother. She then grabbed Brenda’s arm and pushed her out the door. I hurried over and turned the music off as she walked over and stood before the two very embarrassed boys. “What in the world were you two doing?” Billy looked pleadingly at me. There was really nothing I could say or do. Our mother had witnessed the sexual playfulness between them, and they had unwittingly outed themselves to her.
She pointed angrily toward Billy’s bed. “Sit down!” Lonnie’s eyes widened in fear when she shouted. I could see tears starting to appear in his eyes. She then turned to me.
“Zac,” she said angrily. “Go get your father.” I looked sadly at Billy and Lonnie as I headed out the door.