The ride back on the bus was rowdy. Everyone was excited about the win, except me. I was excited about the win; I just wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. I kept thinking about the hurt look on Austin’s face when I told him I couldn’t keep our date.
Why should I care how he felt, anyway? It’s not like we’re close friends or anything. When Adrian asked me to join him, how could I possibly refuse? It was obvious what he wanted. He did keep looking down at my crotch and he did get hard. Maybe, just maybe, this was my chance. Maybe he had changed his mind. Maybe Latoya was just a brief experiment to see if he could be straight. Maybe now he was ready to come out. Maybe he was my Door Number Three after all.
So how could I say no when so much was at risk?
And why do I feel like a piece of shit?
“Hey!” Justin sat down beside me and nudged me in my side. “How does it feel to be Numero Uno?” He took the gold medal hanging around my neck and held it up for me to see.
“It was just another race,” I answered unenthusiastically.
“Another race!” he said excitedly. “Jesus, Zac. You almost beat the state record!”
“Whatever.” I laid my head on the back of the seat and closed my eyes. A minute later Justin got up and I could hear him and the other members talking excitedly behind me. They were already making plans on how we would celebrate when we win the state championship.
I opened my eyes when someone sat down beside me. I turned to see Marty staring intently at me. “You don’t seem like someone who just ran the best race of his life.”
“It was just another race,” I responded as I closed my eyes once again.
“Oh, oh,” he replied. “Another Zac mood change. What is it this time?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“Bullshit, Zac,” he said softly into my ear. “I know you too well. This should be the happiest day of your life and you’re acting like your grandmother just died.”
“Maybe I don’t feel like celebrating,” I responded with a tone of anger.
“Does it have something to do with Austin?”
I sat up and looked over at him. “What?”
“Austin,” he replied. “You know, the kid who’s been following you around all week worshipping the ground you run on.”
I laid my head back and closed my eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Come on, Zac,” pleaded Marty. “What happened between you and Austin? He’s been asking me questions about you all week. He should be sitting here beside you right now, but he didn’t even get on the bus.” He paused a few minutes, waiting for me to say something. When I didn’t respond, he asked, “Want to tell me why he’s not on the bus?”
I could feel tears starting to emerge in my eyes. I rolled my head toward the window so Marty wouldn’t see me cry. He grabbed my arm and squeezed it. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
How could I tell him I had dumped Austin to have sex with Adrian in some secluded area? He’d never understand. He sat for a moment before finally getting up and walking to the back of the bus and joining my teammates in their loud reverie. I stared blankly out the window watching the oncoming cars speeding by.
When we pulled up in front of the school, I rushed to get off the bus. I didn’t even bother to go to the locker room to shower. I headed straight for my truck and drove home.
When I arrived home, everyone was as excited as those on the bus. As soon as I walked in the door, Mom pulled me outside onto the deck. It was filled with people who started applauding as soon as I stepped outside the door.
Dad approached and gave me a hug. “I’m proud of you, Son,” he whispered into my ear.
I was surprised to see Mrs. Jarvis standing nearby with a drink in her hand. She held it up to me and smiled when she saw me look over. Jimmy and Tamara were over to the side talking to a couple of our neighbors.
I walked around trying to socialize. Since it was obvious Mom and Dad had gone to a lot of trouble trying to show me how happy they were, the least I could do was be friendly. I turned when I heard a voice behind me.
“So that’s what you do when you’re not walking around the mall.” It was Irene. She reached out and gave me a big hug. “Omari wanted me to congratulate you. He wanted to come today, but he couldn’t find anyone to replace him.”
“Thanks,” I replied as I hugged her back. “Tell him I appreciate it.”
I stopped and gave my father a quick glance when Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher appeared on the deck. My father walked over and shook their hands. He then led them over to me.
“Sorry we couldn’t be at the meet,” said Kenny’s father as he shook my hand. “We were at Kenny’s baseball game.” His smile quickly turned to a sad expression.
“I’m sorry, Sir.” He shook his head.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” he stated sadly. “Kenny just wasn’t in his game today.” He patted me on my back. “I’m glad one of you was.” He turned and walked over to my mother.
I knew something was up when I saw Billy and Lonnie approaching with smug looks on their faces. Before I could react, each grabbed an arm, dragged me to the side of the pool and pushed me in. When I came up out of the water, everyone was laughing uproariously. Billy grabbed Lonnie’s arm in an attempt to push him in. As he fell, he grabbed Billy and they both went into the water.
We played around in the water for a few minutes. Josh and Brenda joined us. In a way I was relieved because I wasn’t in the mood to talk to people. I kept watching the clock on the wall. It was almost five-thirty. Shortly, I’d be meeting Adrian.
I climbed out of the water, and after thanking everyone for coming, I headed to my bedroom. I took out some clean clothes and laid them on the bed. After stripping down, I went into the bathroom to take a hot shower.
When I returned, Jimmy was sitting on the edge of my bed. He watched as I dressed. I walked over and sat down beside him so I could put on my shoes. I looked over at him as he stared at me.
“What’s wrong with you, Zac?” I quickly laced up my shoes and walked over to the mirror.
“Why does everyone keep asking me what is wrong?” I picked up a couple of bottles of cologne, trying to decide which one Adrian might like.
“I watched you outside,” he said. “This should have been a big day for you. Instead, you acted like you couldn’t wait to get away from everyone.”
I turned and said angrily, “Maybe I just didn’t feel like celebrating.”
“Maybe you’re an asshole,” he muttered almost inaudibly.
I walked over and looked down at him. “What did you call me?”
He stood and faced me. “I called you an asshole,” he said angrily. “Mom and Dad spent a lot of money today to show you how much they care about you.”
“I didn’t tell them to,” responded sharply as I turned back to my dresser.
Jimmy grabbed my arm and squeezed it. “You selfish prick.”
I pulled away and shouted, “Fuck you!” He walked over and closed the bedroom door. He then grabbed my arm and pushed me down on the bed.
“What is wrong with you?” He sat down beside me. “We’ve never argued like this.”
I let out a deep sigh. “I don’t know. I’m going through some shit right now.” I looked across the room and tried to blink the tears from my eyes.
Jimmy put his arm around my waist. “What shit?”
“I don’t know,” I said as I brought my hand to my face and wiped away some tears falling down my cheek. “I feel like I’m standing in front of some doors and I don’t know which one to choose.”
Jimmy gave me a puzzled look. “What are you talking about?”
I wiped a few more tears away and then faced my brother. “Marty, you know my trainer?” Jimmy nodded his head. “Well, he told me that life is like Let’s Make a Deal.”
Jimmy started laughing. “Let’s Make a Deal?” He stopped when he realized I was being serious.
“Yeah,” I continued. “And if I chose the right door, Door Number Three, then my life will be happy.”
“Okay,” he said thoughtfully, “I think I’m following you.”
I sat back and said, “So I got to choose a door, and I don’t know which one to choose.”
He looked over at me. “So which door do you want to choose?”
“Door Number Three,” I responded quickly.
“And who is behind that door?”
“That’s just it,” I said. “I don’t know.”
Jimmy looked around the room, and then walked over to my desk. He picked up three pens, brought them back to the bed and placed them beside me.
“Okay,” he said as he arranged the pens neatly. “These are the three doors.” I nodded my head.
He pointed to the first pen. “This is the first one. Now think of someone who represents this door, but don’t tell me his name.” I nodded and thought of Omari.
He pointed to the second pen. I nodded and thought of Adrian. He pointed to the third pen and I thought of Austin.
I reached out and picked up the first pen and placed it away from the other two. “I think we can forget about this one.” Jimmy nodded his head.
“So we are down to two pens.” He suddenly caught himself, “I mean two doors.”
I studied the pens imagining them to be Adrian and Austin. “Okay,” said Jimmy as he clapped his hands together. “Zac Barnes. This is your life and we are going to play Let’s Make a Deal.”
I looked at him and smiled. “Chose the right door and your life will be happily ever after.” He started grinning. “Your Mister Right is going to come riding up on a white horse and carry you away.”
I fell back on the bed and started laughing. “You’re an idiot.”
He pointed to the second pen. “Behind this door is Mr. Right on a white horse Number Two.” He pointed to the third. “Behind this door is Mr. Right on a white horse Number Three.” I started laughing when he picked up the first pen and held it to his face. “Sorry, Guy, but it seems like you’re Mr. Wrong Number One.”
He stared into my face. “Now to play this game, you have to forget about sex.” My face started to redden. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “sex is great. But if it’s the only thing you’re looking for, then the relationship will never work out. It doesn’t matter what door you pick, the choice will be wrong.” I thought for a moment about what he said and then nodded my head.
He clapped his hands again and said, “Let’s play.” I laughed and nodded my head. He spoke as if he were an announcer on a game show.
“Study the pens, oops, I mean doors. Don’t say anything as I ask you the following questions. Just select a door and keep it to yourself.” I looked up at him and nodded.
“Behind which door is the person who makes you laugh more?” I gave him a puzzled look and then down at the third pen.
“Behind which door do you find the person more interesting and fun to be with?” Again, I looked at the third pen.
“Behind which door do you feel more comfortable being around? You feel you can tell them anything and they won‘t judge you.” I looked at the third pen.
“When you’re with your friends, which one would fit in and you don’t have to worry about them saying or doing the wrong thing?” Tears started to well up in my eyes when I thought about how easily Austin had been accepted by my teammates.
Jimmy spoke a little softer. “Behind which door do you feel the person truly loves you and accepts you just as you are?” I looked up tearfully at Jimmy.
“And finally,” he asked softly, “Which one of these would want you most to be their Door Number Three?”
I fell forward and embraced him. He had helped me make my decision. I now knew who my Door Number Three was.
“Thanks, Jimmy.“ I squeezed him tightly.
He pushed me away and smiled into my face. “I want to meet your Door Number Three someday. He must be someone very special.”
“He is,” I responded. “I just hope it’s not too late.”
“It’s not,” he assured me as he hugged me once more. I looked over at the clock. It was almost a quarter to seven. I stood, walked over to the mirror and wiped my face dry.
I turned back to Jimmy. “I’ve got to go see Door Number Two.”
Jimmy looked up and gave me a thumb’s up. “Good Luck.” I turned and headed downstairs.
I had to wait about ten minutes on the corner until Adrian finally came out. He was dressed in street clothes and carrying a gym bag. I thought he had changed his mind about running with me.
“Hey,” he said as he walked up to me. “Not here.” I followed him down the street until we came to an alley. He went behind a dumpster and removed his shirt and pants. He had his running clothes on underneath. He then removed his dress shoes and laced up his running shoes.
“I had to tell my dad I was going to Latoya’s to study,” he stated as he hid the bag beneath the dumpster so no one would find it. He looked up and smiled. He then reached down and tugged on his cock. “Ready?”
He took off running in the direction of the wooded area. I followed behind with my eyes focused on his rounded ass inside his thin running shorts. “Damn,” I said to myself. “This may be harder than I thought.” My cock was becoming erect.
“You okay?” Adrian asked as he slowed down to run beside me. He looked down and saw my cock straining to get free. He stared at it for a few seconds before looking up and grinning broadly.
After ten minutes of running, we came to the wooded area. I led the way up the hill knowing that Adrian was probably staring at my ass. When we reached the clearing at the top, he tackled me from behind. We both fell to the ground. He climbed on top of me and began thrusting his hard cock against my ass.
“God, Zac,” he moaned as he rubbed his body against mine. “I’ve missed you so much.” He rolled me over and started kissing me passionately as he rubbed his body against mine. I felt for a moment I was going to cum inside my shorts.
He sat back and placed his thumbs inside my waistband and started to pull them down. I grabbed them and sat up. “Don’t,” I insisted. He moved away from me and gave me a puzzled look.
“I thought that’s what you wanted?” He reached down and took my hard cock in his hand. “I know it’s what I’ve been wanting.”
I stood up and walked a few feet away. “And then what?” I turned and looked down at him. “We wait until you get horny again and then come up here and meet?”
“Sure,” he responded. “Why not? At least we can be together.” He got up, walked over and tried to embrace me, but I pulled away.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked angrily. “I’ve been thinking about this all week. I’ve even thought about you when...” He stopped and walked to another part of the clearing. I followed behind him.
“What, Adrian?” I said as I stepped in front of him. “Thought about me when you’re fucking Latoya?” His eyes widened, and then he looked down at the ground. I shook my head and walked a few steps away.
He came up behind me, wrapped his arms around me and began planting gentle kisses on my neck. “Come on, Zac,” he said softly as he kissed my ear. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. At least this way we can see each other from time to time.”
I stepped away and looked angrily at him. “Is this how you expect me to live my life? Do you really think I want to sneak around behind everyone’s back?”
He started to get upset. “You would if you love me as much as you say you do?”
“What!” I balled my fist, wanting to hit him. I shook my head and stepped away.
“If you love me as much as you say you do,” I said angrily, “then you’d come out.”
“You know I can never do that.” At that moment, I heard a door slam shut.
“Yeah,” I shook my head sadly. “I know.”
He stepped toward me and tried to embrace me, but I shoved him away. “Zac,” he pleaded. “Don’t do this. We can work this out. Please?”
“You work it out, Adrian,” I spat angrily. I turned and started running down the hill. In the distance I could hear Adrian crying out my name.
So I ran. And ran. I needed to clear my head. I knew Adrian would never be my Door Number Three. He couldn’t be what I wanted him to be. If I continued to see him, then it would always be like this- secret meetings just so he could satisfy his desires. One thing was now sure, I couldn’t be what he wanted me to be-just someone who was convenient. I don’t think I had ever been any more than that to him.
Convenient Zac. I think I was beginning to see that. When he first saw me that day in the bleachers, he must have sensed that I was gay. How, I don’t know. But maybe being as closeted as he was, he recognized it when he saw it in another guy. Perhaps, that was it. All along he wanted me to stay closeted, too. Then we could have had our secret meet-ups without anyone knowing.
However, Kenny blew that for us when he outed me. Adrian tried to push me out of his life, but he does love me, that I am sure. I know when he kisses me, I can feel it. But I can’t live my life as Convenient Zac. I’d rather run away now before I fall too deeply in love with Adrian.
My little game with Jimmy showed who my real Door Number Three was. Before Austin, I might have been willing to play along with Adrian. But now, I realized I had been slowly falling in love with Austin. I’m not even sure how it happened. He started out interviewing me, but then he became a friend. Now he was becoming more than a friend.
As I ran toward home, I thought about heading to Austin’s house. However, I knew he didn’t want to see me, not after what I’d done to him. I had hurt him, hurt him deeply. If I was falling in love with him, then perhaps he was falling in love with me. He seemed excited that I’d asked him out. He also seemed devastated when I broke our date.
I needed to apologize to him, but I needed a plan. Austin is the kind of guy who would accept my apology, but he would probably never trust me again. I needed to gain back that trust. I needed him to know I would never make him feel like he was just someone I was stringing along until something better entered my life. I needed him to know he was my Door Number Three.
When I got home, the house was empty. Dad had left me a note telling me that my family had gone to dinner at a steak house across town, and if I got home early enough, I was to join them. I went upstairs and quickly changed into something suitable for dining out.
As I was backing out of the driveway, I jumped when there was a banging on the passenger’s window. I looked over as Kenny pointed down at the lock and motioned for me to unlock the door. I hesitated a moment before leaning over and unlocking the door.
He jumped in and closed the door, “Thanks,” he muttered softly. I looked over as he leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes.
“Do you need me to take you somewhere?” I was completely puzzled why he had jumped into my car without saying anything.
“Naw,” he sighed deeply. “Just drive around.” I backed the car out of the driveway and headed down the street. I kept looking over at him, but he was motionless as he rested his head.
I should have stopped the car and asked him to get out, but I couldn’t. He looked hurt. I remembered his dad saying that everyone had turned against him. For some odd reason, as I looked over at his expressionless body, I had a feeling he was returning to the only place he felt safe. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt him like he had hurt me.
So we drove around without saying anything. Once I heard him sniffing and I looked over as he wiped some tears from his eyes. “Are you all right?” My voice cracked as I tried to hold my own tears back.
“Yeah,” he muttered as he turned his head toward the window so I wouldn’t see him wipe away more tears. My cell phone rang. It was Dad. I told him I wasn’t going to be able to join them for dinner because something had come up. I knew he’d be upset if I told him I was with Kenny.
Kenny sat up and looked over at me. “Why don’t you just take me home, Zac.” He let out a deep sigh. “This was a bad idea, anyway.”
I wanted to tell him it wasn’t. It felt good having him driving with me in the car. It felt like old times once again. But I wasn’t sure what he was feeling. He did say it was a bad idea. Perhaps after seeing me, he realized he did still hate me. I also knew Kenny well enough that he’d never open up and tell me what he was feeling. He had shown more emotion in the last fifteen minutes than he’d shown the past twelve years. I couldn’t simply take him home and forget that this had never happened.
As we continued to drive around, I saw the bowling alley marquee ahead. When we were sixteen, and before he started dating Alise, Kenny and I used to love to spend Saturday nights bowling. When I pulled into the parking lot, Kenny looked over at me.
“Why are you stopping here?”
I opened the door and go out. I leaned down and said, “Remember the last time we were here?” He shook his head. “Well, I do. I had to pay you five bucks because you beat me by fifteen points. When I got home, I added the scores again, and you cheated.”
“I did not,” he grinned as he got out of the car.
“You did, too,” I replied. “You gave yourself twenty five extra points.”
He started laughing, “I can’t help it if I can’t add.”
“Well,” I responded. “I’m keeping score this time.”
“And I’ll still kick your ass,” he laughed as he followed me into the building.
The place was crowded on a Saturday night, so we were told we’d have to wait about a half hour for a lane. Kenny bought us some Cokes and we sat at a table and watched others bowl until we were called.
We’d been sitting silently for about five minutes when Kenny looked over at me. It was the first time all evening he actually tried to initiate a conversation. “How’s everything going? I heard you did real good today.”
I wanted to get excited and tell him about my winning time as I would have in the past. But this wasn’t the past. It was now and I still wasn’t sure how I felt about him anymore.
“Yeah,” I said unemotionally. “I did all right.”
He seemed disappointed that I wouldn’t talk. We sat silently for a few more minutes until he reached across the table and gripped my arm. “I’m sorry, Zac.” His voice started to crack with emotion. “If I could take everything back, I would.”
I looked across the table at him as his eyes started to tear up. “It’s okay,” I replied, but he gripped my arm tighter.
“No, it isn’t,” he insisted emotionally. “You were my best friend. I should have given you a chance to explain things to me.” More tears welled up in his eyes. “I should have been a best friend.”
I started to tell him again it was okay, but the PA system blared, “Ferguson, Lane 16.” We got up, grabbed our shoes and bowling balls and headed to the lane. There were three teenage girls bowling beside us. They went to our school because I remembered seeing them in the hallway. Kenny immediately sat down and started flirting with a red-headed girl. She was cute. She had pretty blue eyes and freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks.
“Hey, Pretty Ladies,” he sang out as he sat down at the scorer’s chair. They looked at us and started giggling. Kenny looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I think for a minute he thought that things were like they had been months ago when I probably would have played along with him. When he realized that I wasn’t interested, he mouthed the words, “Sorry.” He then got up and sat down beside me.
I looked over and smiled. “It’s okay,” I insisted. I looked over at the red head. “She is pretty.”
“Yeah,” his eyes lit up, “she is.” He got up and sat back down in the seat beside her.
“Hey,” he said cheerfully, “I’m Kenny.” He pointed to me. “That bozo is Zac.” I looked at him and smiled. Good old Kenny. Some things never change.
I had more fun than I expected. After the third game, Kenny and I were acting like old times again. He even arranged it so that he and Bridget, the red head, played on one lane against Randi, Laura and me.
Halfway through the fourth game, Randi kept giving me a puzzled look. Finally, she exclaimed, “I know who you are! Aren’t you Zac Barnes?”
“Yeah,” I replied, expecting her to say something about my track meet earlier in the day.
“My brother is in your class, Jamie Davenport.” I nodded my head. He had been in many of my classes over the years. Even though we weren’t friends, we did talk occasionally.
Her eyes narrowed. “He says you’re a fag.” Bridget and Laura let out a slight gasp.
Laura got up and grabbed Randi’s arm. “I think we need to go to the little girl’s room.”
“But I don’t have to go,” insisted Randi as she continued to stare at me.
“Yes, you do,” Laura responded emphatically as she pulled her away.
I looked over at Kenny. I think he was more hurt by Randi’s comment than I was. I knew it was something I would have to deal with the rest of my life from ignorant people. He felt bad because he knew that he was the reason I had been outed at school.
Bridget walked over and held my arm. “Sorry, Zac,” she said. “Randi shouldn’t have said that.”
Kenny walked up and stood before me. “God, Zac,” he apologized. “I’m really sorry.”
I shrugged my shoulders, grabbed my bowling ball and forced a smile. “I thought we were supposed to be bowling.” I then turned and bowled a strike.
Randi and Laura returned a few minutes later. Randi quickly apologized and we continued to have fun. Nothing more was said about Randi’s rude comment. I did learn something from the experience, though. For the first time since our friendship began, Kenny cared about my feelings. In the past, he probably would have laughed and made some crude comment himself. Today he was hurt when he thought I was hurt. It was a side of him I’d never seen before.
He threw his arm around me on the way on the way out of the bowling alley. He smiled and held up a small piece of paper. “Bridget gave me her number.”
“Great,” I said sarcastically. “Another girl with no taste in men.”
“Hey!” He laughed as he hit me in my arm. “She’s a nice girl.”
“Then why is she going out with you?” He hit me again.
“I may ask her out to see a movie next weekend,” he stated as we got into the truck. “Why don’t you get a date and we can double date.”
“What!” I gave him an astonished look.
“Sure,” he said. “It will be fun. Why don’t you ask that Austin guy?”
“What!” I shouted. I couldn’t believe what Kenny was saying.
“Oh, come on, Zac,” he smiled as he punched me in my arm. “Half the school knows about the two of you.”
He laughed and laid his head on the headrest. “Start the truck, Jackass.” As I was pulling out of the parking lot he asked, “So, are we going to double date next Saturday or not?”
“I don’t know,” I said worriedly.
I was afraid Austin might never want to see me again.