Door Number Three

Chapter 18

I got little sleep during the night. I kept tossing and turning wondering if Adrian was all right. Just when it appeared that things may be getting better, something happened to turn things around. I’d spent one of the most wonderful moments of my life with him in the dense copse where we had sex. It may not have been one of the most romantic places to lose my virginity, but I didn’t care. I’d finally had Adrian. It surprised me that he wanted me just as much.

But now what?

I knew from past experiences that when trouble appeared, Adrian’s reaction was to run from it- hide himself in his safe closet. I knew there was no way he would stand up to his father and admit that he was gay. His father wasn’t as understanding as mine. His father was, after all, a minister. To him I was a sinner, destined to hell. He was sure to protect his son to prevent him from the same fate. To him I was the predator trying to tempt Adrian into a world of lust and debauchery. In his world love didn’t occur between two men. In his world I was an abomination to God.

Billy came into the room around nine and fell tiredly onto his bed. “Rough night?” I laughed.

He looked at me with a mischievous grin. “No, more like a hard night.”

“Jesus, Billy,” I laughed as I threw my pillow at him. He took it and put it on top of his. A few minutes later I could hear him snoring lightly.

I went onto the deck and lay down in one of the loungers. The warm sun hitting my body felt soothing. It had been a long week and my body ached from the intense after school practices and the other ‘upset’ runs I’d made. I decided that I was going to spend the day relaxing.

Did I say relaxing? Yeah, right. I’d been on the deck about fifteen minutes before Josh came running around the side of the house with four of his neighborhood friends. He immediately did a cannonball, soaking me with water. Naturally, I had to jump from my chair and retaliate. I had forgotten I was in my shorts and tee shirt. We had a small changing area on the deck, so after changing into a pair of Speedos, I joined Josh and his friends in the pool. We played a game of water volleyball. To make the game fair, it was me and one of his smaller friends against Josh and his other three friends. We still managed to beat them.

After getting out of the pool, I went back to my room. Billy was still curled up under his covers. He and Lonnie must have been up all night and he was now catching up on sleep.

I sat against the headboard and read a novel for my lit class, Wuthering Heights. After the first chapter, my eyes began to get heavy. I was almost asleep when my cell phone rang. I looked to see who was calling- it was Valerie. “Would you answer it and quit looking at it?” Billy moaned sleepily as he lifted himself on his elbow and looked across the room.

“Hello?” I said softly into the phone.

“Have you seen Adrian?” She hollered nervously into my ear.

“No, why?” I sat up in bed. The urgency in her voice frightened me.

“He walked out of the church service this morning,” she informed me. “His dad started preaching about homosexuals going to hell when he got up and left. I’ve been calling his phone but he won’t answer.”

“He didn’t call me,” I replied. I silently cursed his father. I couldn’t understand how a man who called himself a Christian could be so intolerant.

“If you hear from him, let me know.” She then hung up. I dialed Adrian’s phone, but it rang without him answering it. I wondered where he could have gone. He had a lot of friends on the football and baseball teams, but I didn’t think he’d run to one of them. Besides Valerie, I was the only person who knew he was gay. If he wasn’t with her, then I had no idea where he could be.

I got off the bed and put on my shoes. I decided I was going to drive around and perhaps find him running. If I liked to run when things were cluttered in my head, then perhaps he did too. I looked over at Billy. He had rolled over with his back to me, still buried under his blankets.

I got in my car and decided to head out of town into the country in hopes that Adrian might be jogging along some isolated road.  I suddenly stopped when I passed the spot where we had been the night before. I trudged up the hill until I came to the opening. Adrian was sitting on the fallen log with his head buried in his hands. He looked up at me when he heard me step on some branches, but then dropped his head back into his hands.

I walked over to him and sat down. I was afraid to say anything. Suddenly, I remembered Marty’s words when he comforted me on the field a few weeks ago. “Pass it on.” I reached over and pulled Adrian’s head into my chest. I rubbed his back as he started to cry.

My heart sunk when I heard him mutter as he cried, “I can’t do it, Zac. I just can’t do it.” I held him and continued to rub his back, afraid that I was going to lose him.

After a minute, he pulled away and sadly looked into my eyes. “I can’t do it. I’ve tried to imagine living my life gay, and I can’t. I’ll lose everything. My whole family thinks it’s a sin. My Dad hates gay people. He’s been preaching against it for as long as I can remember. If he knows I’m gay, he’ll disown me. If he does that, then I can’t go to school next year. He already threatened to keep me home when he found out you‘ll be going to the same college.” He dropped his head and wouldn’t look at me. “He thinks you’re a bad influence on me. I promised him I wouldn’t talk to you anymore.”

I tried to hold him, but he pulled away. He stood and looked down sadly at me. “I’m sorry.” He didn’t attempt to wipe away the tears falling down his face. “I meant it when I said I loved you.” His voice quivered as he said it. He then shook his head, turned and walked away. I sat numbly as his footsteps broke the branches under his feet on his way down the hill. I considered getting up and running to him, but what good would it have done? It was apparent he had made up his mind before I even arrived. He had walked out of my life and I was helpless to do anything about it.

By the time I arrived for track practice the next day, I had made a decision. I was going to devote myself to running. I was tired of the drama involving Adrian. I’d spent the previous day thinking about all the ‘what might have beens.’ However, those might have beens were useless unless there was a ‘had been’ to begin with. With Adrian there wasn’t one.  We’d made love and confessed to each other how we felt, but what good did it do me? If I couldn’t hold on to his love, then was it really worth the effort?

I was becoming an emotional wreck. I couldn’t live with the roller coaster rides Adrian was taking me on. Somewhere surely another Door Number Three existed that I would open one day and find the fulfillment of all my dreams. If not, then a safe Door Number Two was also a possibility.

“How’s it going?” Marty asked when I walked up as he was getting prepared to watch four guys race in a 200m hurdle. He handed me a stop watch. “Time Hendricks,” he said as he shot off the starter’s gun. After they finished, he grabbed the stop watch, looked the time and remarked, “Not bad.” I followed him as we walked away so no one could hear us.

“Our first meet is this weekend,” he said. “Are you ready for it?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Are you sure?” he asked worriedly. “You’ve been through a lot of shit lately.”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m focused.” I walked away and headed for the starters’ blocks. He hollered out for three other guys to join me. I watched as he set the stop watch and lifted the starting gun. I nodded, planted my feet and waited for the gun.

When it went off, I rose and tore off down the track. “Focus,” I kept telling myself. “Focus.” When I crossed the finish line I was alone. The nearest runner was about six feet behind me. I turned and watched as Coach Templeton walked over to Marty and looked at the stop watch. Rory peeked over Marty’s shoulder at my time, turned and ran over to me.

“Jesus Christ, Zac,” he said excitedly. “You ran a 10.8, that’s faster than the state record.” Several other guys ran up and patted me on my back.

By the end of practice everyone on the team had heard of my time. Marty kept looking over at me and shaking his head. Coach Templeton had me run again after about twenty minutes. My time wasn’t as good, but it was still one of my personal bests.

I felt it. There’s a certain feeling you get when you know you’ve done something good. I also felt that what I’d done today wasn’t by accident. I felt that I’d finally reached my peak, perhaps even surpassed it. Everyone had been telling me that I was fast and that I could win the state championship. For the first time, I believed it myself. I had the confidence that I needed to win.

“Stay focused.” That became like a mantra to me. I’d walk away from the guys and pace around in circles. “Stay focused, Zac,” I told myself repeatedly. I didn’t want to be fast to win. I wanted to win to prove to myself that I had control over my live. I wasn’t going to win because of fate. I was going to win because I believed I could win. 

The shower room was filled with excitement as we entered. Popping towels could be heard throughout the shower stalls. I think my times had given everyone a new hope that we would do well this year. Guys were looking at me once again with respect and admiration. To them, I wasn’t gay Zac. I was a fellow teammate, leader and role model. I noticed that younger members of the team looked at me with awe. Guys who had been too shy to speak to me were now trying to hit me with a wet towel. I’d jump away and laugh, only encouraging them to try and hit me again.

The playfulness ended when the baseball team entered. For some reason they were somber and appeared moody. As I dressed, I watched Kenny throw his baseball cap angrily across the locker room. His teammates stared at him, and none seemed to have the nerve to approach him. When he was undressed and headed to the shower, he looked over at me.

I’d known Kenny for years. I had been his best friend and confidante since we were six. In that time we had an uncanny ability to understand what the other was feeling without even saying a word. That was one of the things that had bothered me when he discovered I was gay. He knew it would hurt me if he outed me. He understood how I would feel. Yet it seemed he didn’t care. And that hurt.

Looking at him as he peered into my eyes as he walked away, I could tell that he was now hurt. Something or someone had hurt him. If we were still friends, I would have been the first person he would have confided in about whatever was bothering him. Now I could only feel his sadness as he walked away.

When I was walking to my car, Justin Stevens ran up and asked me for a ride home. “Sure,” I replied as he jumped into my truck.

As we were pulling out of the parking lot, he asked, “Did you hear what happened during baseball practice?”

“No,” I replied as I looked over at him. It was probably the reason Kenny looked so upset.

“Adrian Lewis quit the team,” he said excitedly. “Kenny kept throwing him low balls. One hit him square in the nuts. He rushed the pitcher’s mound and was going to kick Kenny’s ass, but the first baseman stepped between them before they threw any punches.”

“Damn!” I now knew why Kenny’s teammates tried to avoid him. When Kenny was angry, the best thing to do was keep your distance.

“The guys are blaming Kenny,” Justin said. “They said he did it on purpose just to piss off Adrian. He’s done that with other catchers.” I nodded my head.  Kenny used to joke how he’d make someone look bad that he didn’t want as his catcher. For some reason, he must have turned against Adrian. It seemed strange with the season just starting.

“I heard two other guys say they were going to also quit the team,” he informed me. “They said they are tired of Kenny’s bullshit.”

I thought it was ironic that on the day that I ran my fastest time and could see my dreams coming true, Kenny’s dreams seemed to have fallen apart. I should have felt that there was some justice served for what he had done to me, but instead I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach.

I kept thinking back to all the times we’d spent together talking about our futures. In the past he would have been the first person I ran to jumping and screaming for the time I’d turned in today. He would have shared my excitement. I could hear him yelling, “I told you, Zac, you crazy piece of shit. I knew you could do!” Then we’d probably have jumped into my car to head for the local Dairy Queen to celebrate with a banana split.

So today my dream seemed a little closer and his seemed to be falling apart. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. Many athletes with big egos always assume that the world is theirs. Then one day they wake up and find out that they weren’t as big as they thought they were. People love winners. They just like winners who deserve the praise bestowed on them. Guys like Kenny eventually drift into anonymity and then are soon forgotten.

“Zac!” I quickly looked over at Justin. “You drove right past my street.” He started laughing. “Man, I don’t know if I want to ride with you again.” My face reddened as I turned around in a driveway and headed back.

When I got home, Mom told me that the rest of the family had already eaten and that mine was in the refrigerator. I had to warm it in the microwave. “Thanks, a lot,” I said sarcastically. “Your number one son, and I have to eat alone.”

She walked over and patted me on my cheek. “You poor thing,” she laughed. “Who on earth ever told you that you were number one?” She laughed again when I frowned and put my food in the microwave.

She sat down and drank a cup of coffee while I ate. When I told her my time on the track earlier, she hollered for my father to come into the kitchen. They acted like children who were told that Santa was on his way down the chimney.

“I just know it,” said my father excitedly. “This is your year. We should have waited before you committed to State,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get offers from Stanford, UCLA or Florida.”

“I wish I’d waited, too,” I sadly replied. Kenny was the only reason I’d chosen State. We had planned on rooming together after our freshman year. Now that he and I were no longer friends, it didn’t matter where I attended college.

I told my parents what Justin had said in the car. “Carl told me Kenny’s been having a rough time lately,” replied my father. “It seems he and Alise broke up. Then he told me that a lot of the students at your school won’t talk to him after the way he treated you. I guess everything backfired on him.”

“Yeah.” I shook my head. “I kind of feel sorry for him.”

“Well, don’t,” said Dad. “He made his bed, now he has to lie in it.”

“I guess,” I replied as I got up from the table and headed to my room.

When I entered, my room looked like a tornado had swept through it. Billy, Lonnie and a young black guy I didn’t recognize were sitting on the floor amid fish tanks, incandescent lamps, rubber hoses and bags of soil.

“What in the hell!” I stood at the door looking at the mess on the floor.

Billy stood and rushed over to me. “You gotta help us, Zac!” He looked anxiously at me.
“You took biology, right?”

“Yeah,” I said hesitantly, “And?”

“Ms. Conrad gave us me, Lonnie and Dwayne a project to do.” He pointed at the boy sitting beside Lonnie. “This is my friend, Dwayne.” He timidly held up his hand and waved. Lonnie handed Billy a piece of paper.

“We gotta do something on...” He looked down and read from the paper, “Carbon dioxide and global warming.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You’re smart,” he grinned. “Can you do it for us? We’ve been sitting here for an hour and we don’t even know where to begin. Dwayne’s mom bought us everything we need, but we can’t figure it out. Half our grade this quarter is going to depend on this project.”

“Isn’t it cheating if I do it for you?”

“Well, yeah,” he replied as he looked down at Lonnie and Dwayne. “But you don’t want us to fail, do you?” I had to laugh when Lonnie made a sad face and pretended like he was going to cry.

“But you won’t learn anything if I do it for you,” I replied as I walked over to my computer and turned it on.

“Damn,” sighed Billy. “You sound just like Dad when I asked him to do it.”

I listened to them struggling with the assignment as I answered a few emails. I was tempted to sit down and help them, but I knew as soon as I did they would expect me to complete it for them. Kenny and I had spent two weeks designing a volcanic mountain. We almost failed when Kenny pushed the wrong button on the control and spewed ash out onto Ms. Conrad. It was the only time I saw Kenny get down on his knees and beg for someone’s forgiveness. After initialing acting like she was upset, she ended up laughing with the class at the black dress she was wearing that day covered in gray soot.

A few hours later, I fell asleep listening to Billy begging me from his bed to help them. “You don’t want me to fail, do you?” were the last words I heard from under the covers I had pulled tightly over my head.

I was walking to my second period class when I passed Adrian in the hall. I hardly recognized him. Usually Adrian’s appearance is flawless. His short hair is meticulously brushed and he usually looks like he spends an hour ironing is clothes so that he can get the pleat in the middle of his pants leg just right. He could do a photo shoot for A & F without even preparing for it.

However, today he looked... I don’t know... unkempt. He looked like he hadn’t slept all night and the clothes he was wearing appeared like he might have been wearing them for several days. He just didn’t look like the Adrian I knew.

I tried to make eye contact with him, but he walked with his head down toward the ground. He even bumped into a girl and kept walking. Any other time he would have apologized profusely and probably ended up walking her to class.

All through class I couldn’t erase his sad countenance and appearance from my mind. I’m glad the teacher was absent and we had a substitute. After handing out the daily assignment I was able to think about what had happened recently.

I thought about the first time I saw Adrian. It triggered something inside me that I never knew was there before. I came to realize by staring into his eyes that I felt something special. It wasn’t a bad thing, though. At least it didn’t seem to be. Bad things happened as a result, but none of those were by my doing, except that mistake with Rachel.

But now, thinking back, what I felt for Adrian wasn’t bad. My feelings for him were honest. It took me a week to finally sort things out, but not once did I feel that my feelings for him were wrong. The more I began to accept that I was gay, the more honest I became in accepting those feelings. Even the experience with Omari was a positive step. I knew that I liked Adrian and I wasn’t interested in anyone else.

However, as I sat in class, a light bulb went off inside my head. Adrian’s meeting with me produced the same feelings in him. According to Valerie, though, he had already come to the realization that he was gay. He had confided that to her.

But as my experience involved moving in a positive direction to the discovery of who I was, Adrian’s produced just the opposite. He could admit he was gay, but when it came to actually living as a gay man, he couldn’t do it. As I was beginning to accept life as a gay man, he was rejecting the idea.

So now what? My situation was easy. I had family and friends who supported me. It was easy to be me. I could say I was gay and not feel that I was a freak, or some kind of abomination. But Adrian couldn’t do that. He had opened his Door Number Three, seen inside, and slammed it shut.

Seeing him this morning upset me. I felt helpless. I could only watch from the sidelines as he attempted to piece his life back together. While I was rebuilding mine, his was falling apart. If he would only let me help him, but I knew that wasn’t a possibility. His father had made it clear that there would be serious repercussions if he associated with me.

But I can’t just sit on the sidelines and watch him fall. I have to help catch him. It no longer involves sex. I was now feeling some emotion inside me that I can’t even explain. It was a greater force than I’d ever experienced. Somehow I had to try and get through to him.

As thrilling as yesterday’s track practice was, today’s was a disaster. Twice I jumped the gun. If it had been a real meet, I would have been disqualified. I felt edgy. I kept telling myself to focus as I did the day before, but my mind wasn’t getting it. I couldn’t get Adrian from my thoughts.

Marty called out to me when Coach Templeton told us to hit the showers. He put his hand on my back as we walked around the track. “What’s wrong?” He ran his hand across my back several times. “And don’t tell me nothing.”

I turned and faced him. “What do you do when you know you have to do something, but you know you can’t, but you really feel that something bad is going to happen if you don’t do something?”

He looked blankly at me and blinked his eyes. “What the hell did you just say?”

“Okay, look,” I replied as we continued to walk. I then explained to him about Adrian’s behavior towards me. I even told him about the sex we’d had, and how he had walked away from me the next day. I told him what Valerie had said about his father and my fears for him if his father did find out he was gay.

“Jesus!” he hissed when I finished. “I thought you were confused when I first met you a couple of weeks ago.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“We?” He started laughing. “Unless you have a mouse in your pocket, we are not going to do anything. I don’t even know this Adrian.”

“But you’ve been there,” I said. “And besides, you’ve helped me get through this. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here.”

“What can I do?” He threw his hands up. “I’ve never met him. I can’t exactly walk up to him and say, ‘Hi, I’m here to help you come out.’”

“Sure you can,” I said hopefully. “You did it with me.”

“But do I have to remind you that you do run track,” he replied, “and I’m your trainer. I had a reason for talking to you.”

“But if I try to help him, his father will find out and it will only make it worse,” I said. “Besides, he won’t talk to me, anyway.”

“You say his cousin knows he’s gay?” I nodded my head. “Why don’t you talk to her and find out what’s happening. Perhaps she can give you some advice.”

“Yeah,” I responded as I walked dejectedly away. “Thanks for listening.” Marty made no attempt to catch up with me. I think he felt bad because he couldn’t help me with Adrian. He was right. He didn’t know Adrian. I guess it was wrong to try to burden him with what I was feeling.

Most of the track team had already showered and left when I entered. As I showered, I could hear the baseball team arriving in the locker room. They didn’t seem as boisterous as they usually were.

After drying off and leaving the shower area, I saw Kenny approaching. He was naked. When he saw me, he started to cover himself with his towel, but instead threw it over his shoulder. I didn’t dare look down because I was sure he’d then make some remark about the ‘homo checking me out.’ As he walked by, our eyes met and he nodded his head slightly.

“What the hell?” I thought. He seemed almost... normal.

The talk in the locker room was subdued. It appeared that the baseball team had another bad practice. Instead of talk about a victory for Saturday’s upcoming game, most seemed skeptical they could pull off a win. They were facing an opponent who had a good record the past four years.

“If that fucker don’t get his shit together,” I heard the boy next to me say to another, “I’m going to be like Donaldson, Bremer and Lewis, I’m walking.” The other boy nodded his head. “I’ve got a scholarship to think about. I’m not going to let Fletch ruin it for me. He needs to get his head out of his ass.” He quickly wrapped his towel around him when he realized I’d heard what he had said about Kenny and headed for the shower.

As I dressed, I thought about the encounter a few weeks ago on the baseball field when Kenny first introduced me to Adrian. I don’t know if fate was involved, but each of our lives had all been changed by that chance meeting.

All three of our lives converged for a moment at the bleacher, and then diverged as we took a separate path to face our own future.