Letters From Shakespeare

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“Are you going to Maryanne’s party Saturday night?” My friend, Larry Beach, was excited about finally being asked to a party. Since the seventh grade, he had tried desperately to fit in with the ‘in’ crowd. I got invitations all the time, so I’m used to them. I guess by being one of the popular kids, I never realized what it was like to be on the outside looking in.

“Yeah,” I said. “Her parties are usually a lot of fun.” He looked at me and grinned broadly. I could see the excitement in his eyes.

“Wow, Garrett,” he beamed. “I can’t wait. What do you think I should wear?”

I looked at him and returned his smile. Larry and I weren’t the best of friends, but we had known each other since the third grade. We were now juniors in high school, and we had shared many classes over the years. This year, his locker was beside mine, so I saw him more than in the past.

I looked over and studied him. He was a nice looking guy, but rather plain in his appearance. He wasn’t the A&F model that would make girls notice him, nor was he athletic looking. He was just...Larry. He was always there when you needed someone; like if you didn’t want to be seen walking alone down the hall, Larry was the kind of guy you’d walk beside and talk to on the way to class. He was also the guy you’d probably ignore if you were with a group of friends.

“I don’t know, Larry,” I responded. “Just wear something cool. You’ll look alright.”

“Thanks, Garrett.” He smiled. “You’re a good friend.” He closed his locker, and then turned and patted me on my back before walking away. For a minute, I thought he was going to start skipping.

I didn’t see him again until third period. We both were in Mrs. Teasdale’s Literature class. He sat in front of me, and I had on more than one occasion looked at his paper when we were taking a test. Literature wasn’t my strongest subject, and Larry was one of the smartest kids in our class.

I mentioned to him early in the year that I had to pass this class to be eligible to run track in the spring. He helped me out in class when I had trouble understanding an assignment. After I failed the first two tests we took, I noticed that he’d always position his test so I could look over his shoulder and see the answers. Neither of us ever said a word, but after that, my test grades began to improve.

“Hi, Garrett.” He greeted me cheerfully as he sat down. His light brown hair flowed down over his eyes, and he brushed it back as he spoke to me. His brown eyes twinkled. I sat staring up into his smiling face. I think for the first time I’d known him, he struck me as cute. I quickly dropped my head before he noticed me staring at him.

I realized when I was in the eighth grade that I was gay, and I had carefully guarded that secret. Being popular—and gay—was not an option. I saw how my friends reacted to students they thought were gay. It was nothing really overt; just crude jokes and an occasional shove in the halls. I didn’t care if I was popular or not, but I sure didn’t want to go through my high school years being treated like a leper, either.

I dated occasionally, just to keep my friends from becoming suspicious. I never went steady, because then I would have to become more involved with a girl than I cared to be. So I jokingly told my buddies that I was a player. I didn’t want to cramp my lifestyle by being tied down to one girl. They thought I was cool. If they only knew that Garrett Hamilton, the Playboy, was actually a lonely, gay boy.

The class moaned when Mrs. Teasdale announced that we would be studying Macbeth for the next three weeks. The more I listened to her introduction, the more depressed I became. I had barely made it through the American short stories we had been reading. From some of the excerpts Mrs. Teasdale had read to gain our interest, I knew I was doomed. It sounded like she was reading a foreign language.

When the bell rang, Larry rose and turned to me. “This is so cool,” he said excitedly. “I love Shakespeare. I’ve read almost everything he’s written.” I looked at him disbelievingly. How could a teenager find this Shakespeare guy cool? If he said something like this at the party Saturday, he was going to be destined to spending the rest of his high school life at home on weekends.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” I said sadly. “I’m sure to fail now.” I rose from my seat and threw my book bag over my shoulder.

“I’ll be glad to help you, Garrett.” Our eyes met, and once again I found myself staring into his.

“Thanks, Larry.” I began to blush, realizing that I’d been holding the gaze too long. “I may have to take you up on that.”

“My pleasure.” He smiled once again, and then turned and walked from the room. For the second time, I stood and watched him walk away.

When I returned to my locker at the end of the day, I noticed a piece of paper shoved into the door. It wasn’t unusual for one of my friends to leave me a note telling me to call them later. I took it out and shoved it in my pocket. I then retrieved the books I’d need for my homework assignments, and then I ran to the catch the bus. I had exactly 7.5 minutes from the time the bell rang until the bus would pull off. If I missed that, one wouldn’t be by for another hour.

As usual, it was crowded. I usually wouldn’t be able to sit down for at least five stops. As I stepped on, I pushed my way to the back, prepared to stand for fifteen minutes. I saw Maryanne sitting alone in a seat. She removed her book bag from the seat beside her when she saw me approach.

“I saved you a seat, Garrett.” She lowered her head and blushed. Maryanne had a huge crush on me. She had been trying since the seventh grade to get me to be her boyfriend. But, like I told my friends, I had to keep up my player image; so I always somehow managed to escape the ‘going steady’ thing.

“Thanks, Maryanne.” I looked over and smiled. I felt sorry for her. Maryanne was a beautiful girl. She was a cheerleader and president of our junior class. Almost every boy in our class had asked her out, but she always politely refused. I think she kept herself available, just in case I’d change my mind and date her.

“Did you get my invitation?” She asked. I remembered the note that had been in my locker door. “Yeah, thanks. I’ll be there.”

We chatted casually as we headed home. She was excited about an upcoming dance the junior class was going to sponsor. I think she was trying to get me to ask her to go with her. I probably would, but I wanted to wait until later before committing myself. Secretly, I was hoping that another guy would ask her to go and she would accept.

I got off two stops before Maryanne did. After telling her goodbye, I bounded off the bus and headed home from spending another day in hell. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a reprieve. As soon as I walked in the house, my mother asked if I had any homework.

“Yes, Mom.” I said.

“Then go do it before dinner,” she insisted. She handed me a glass of milk and an apple. “Now.” She gave me a push towards my room, and then slapped me on my butt.

“Hey,” I laughed. “I’m calling children’s services. You’re abusing me.”

“Good.” She handed me the phone. “Tell them to find you a foster family. Maybe I’ll have some money to buy me something for a change.”

“Nope,” I grinned. “My needs come first.” I quickly ducked when she removed her slipper and tossed it at me.

When I got to my room, I started to undress and change into something more comfortable. As I took off my pants, the note I’d stuffed in the pocket earlier fell out. I opened it to read, expecting it to be Maryanne’s invitation to the party.

My eyes widened when I read it:

I’ll follow you and make a heaven out of hell, and I’ll die by your hand which I love so well.

—William Shakespeare

I sat on the side of my bed and read it several times. Who had put this on my locker? It was typed, so I couldn’t tell by the handwriting. Soon, I was able to convince myself that it was probably a prank by one of my friends. We had joked at lunch about having to read Shakespeare in literature, so someone was probably trying to make me laugh.

I had forgotten about the letter until I arrived at my locker the next morning. There was another jammed into the door. I pulled it out and examined it. I looked out of the corner of my eye and noticed Larry watching me. He quickly turned his head away when I looked over.

“Did you see who put this here?” I held up the note. He looked over nervously.

“No,” he stammered out. “I’ll see you later, Garrett. I’m going to be late to class.” He turned and walked quickly away. I found his reaction strange. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to hang around and talk with me like he had the day before.

I waited until I got to first period before opening up the letter and reading its contents.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

—William Shakespeare

Again, the letter had been typed, so I couldn’t figure out the handwriting. As the history teacher droned on about the Spanish-American War, I began to wonder if this was just a prank by one of my inventive friends, or if someone did actually have a crush on me. And if so, who?

In the first letter, the person had indicated they loved me. Now this one said that our love was meant to be. However, by the end of the period, I had once again determined that it was merely a prank.

During third period, I quickly decided I hated Shakespeare. Mrs. Teasdale assigned us a copy of the play Macbeth, and then had us stand and read parts of it. I had to read the part that said:

  1. The raven himself is hoarse
  2. That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
  3. Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
  4. That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
  5. And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
  6. Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood,
  7. Stop up th’access and passage to remorse,
  8. That no compunctious visitings of nature
  9. Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
  10. Th’ effect and it. Come to my woman’s breasts,
  11. And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,
  12. Wherever in your sightless substances
  13. You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,
  14. And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
  15. That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
  16. Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
  17. To cry ‘Hold, hold!’

I looked like a deer in the headlights, when Mrs. Teasdale asked me explain what I had just read. I began to blush when I looked down and quickly reread it again. Of course, my eyes only focused on three words: unsex and woman’s breasts.

Loud laughter erupted when Brad Wilcox, a good friend, spoke from the back of the room. “Come on, Playboy. Tell us what you think ‘Come to my woman’s breasts’ means.”

“Maybe she wants to unsex him,” laughed Adam Turner, another friend. My face was turning bright red. Larry turned around and looked at me. I saw a look of sympathy on his face. He knew I was humiliated.

“Alright class,” admonished Mrs. Teasdale. “Settle down. You may sit down, Garrett.”

She spent the next ten minutes discussing what the passage meant; but by then, I had no desire to know what Shakespeare was trying to say. All I knew was that his words had embarrassed me.

With about fifteen minutes remaining in class, Mrs. Teasdale gave us a homework assignment. We were to read a section of the play and then answer some questions on a paper she handed out. When she returned to her seat, I approached her and asked to go to the bathroom. She wrote me a pass, and I happily left for a few minutes.

When I returned, the students were talking quietly amongst themselves. Mrs. Teasdale usually let us put away our things and relax before the bell rang. I started to put my copy of Macbeth in my book bag when I noticed a piece of paper sticking out of the book. I took it out, opened it, and read what it said.

One half of me is yours, the other half yours—Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours, and so all yours.

—William Shakespeare

I quickly looked around the room. I was trying to see if anyone was watching my reaction to the letter. Everyone was engaged in conversation, and no one seemed to be paying me any attention. The only person not talking was—Larry.

I looked at the back of his head. He was reading Macbeth, and he had already answered several of the study questions. Was it possible he was the one who had slipped the letter into my book? He did say that he had read almost everything Shakespeare had written, so he would be familiar with the quotes written on the notes.

When the bell rang, he turned and our eyes met once again. He gave me a shy smile, and then he hurried from the room. From his action, I was determined he was the author of the letters. All I had to do now was find a way to approach him.

I had to be careful, however. I didn’t want to make a mistake and accidentally out myself to him, just in case he wasn’t the person sending me the letters.

When I got home, I went straight to my room and got on my computer. I googled Shakespeare, and then I spent the next hour trying to find quotes I could use to respond to Larry’s. If he wanted to make a game of this, then I could play too.

When I got to my locker the next morning, as expected, another note was stuck in my locker. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then I stuck my letter into Larry’s locker. I then opened my locker to get out my books. A minute later, Larry stepped up beside me. He hesitated a minute before taking out the letter and reading it. His eyes widened and he began to blush. I could hardly contain an urge to giggle. He folded the letter and looked over at me.

“Something wrong?” I asked behind a grin I was holding back.

“N..n..no,” he stuttered. He slammed his locker and then fled down the hall to class.

When I arrived in first period, I read the letter that he had written.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.

—William Shakespeare

Larry still looked rattled when he appeared third period. He scanned the room quickly. Like me the day before, I knew he was puzzled who had written him the letter.

Mrs. Teasdale gave us an assignment and told us we could work in pairs, if we wanted.

I scooted my chair beside Larry. “Can you help me?” I pleaded. “I don’t have a clue what any of this means.”

“Sure, Garrett,” he replied with a shy smile. “I’d love to work with you.” I stared at him. He had just said he’d love to work with me. That’s what the letters had spoken of—love. He gave me a puzzled look. I looked down and opened my book. We spent the rest of the period working on the assignment. He started laughing when I messed up the first quote.

“You can’t read Shakespeare like you do the newspaper,” he said. “You have to feel what he is trying to say.” He read the second quote and I stared admiringly into his face.

  1. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
  2. That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
  3. And then is heard no more. It is a tale
  4. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
  5. Signifying nothing.

He read it with such emotion that I had to blink away tears I felt starting to form. It wasn’t what he read, just the way he read it. He was filled with so much passion. I was beginning to feel for him what no girl had ever made me feel. When he finished reading, he looked over at me. Our eyes met, and I couldn’t stop staring. If he had leaned in and kissed me in front of the whole class, I don’t think I would have stopped him.

“I guess we’ve done enough work.” He face was flushed with embarrassment. I knew that I had probably made him uncomfortable by the way I was staring at him. He closed his book and scooted away from me.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered weakly, as I moved back behind him. When the bell rang, he rose and hurried from the room.

I spent the rest of the day worrying that I’d probably gone too far. By the time the bell rang ending the last period, I’d convinced myself that Larry now suspected I was gay, and I was worried he’d out me to the rest of the school.

He didn’t show up at the locker. However, I did find another letter stuck in my locker. I opened it and read,

The course of true love never did run smooth.

—William Shakespeare

Larry avoided me the rest of the week. He must have been going to his locker between classes when I wasn’t there. He was polite in Mrs. Teasdale’s class, but we didn’t get an opportunity to work together again.

I started to miss him. I had never known anyone as sensitive and full of life’s passion. I realized that he possessed all the qualities I’d ever wanted in someone. Unfortunately, I had ruined any chance of developing a friendship with him.

I passed by his locker on the way home and stuffed another letter into his locker. I wanted to somehow apologize to him.

I see your brows are full of discontent, Your hearts of sorrow, and your eyes of tears.

—William Shakespeare.

With my mind on Larry all week, I had almost forgotten about the party at Maryanne’s. I really wasn’t in the mood to party, but I thought that it might do me good and let me put him out of my mind. Then I remembered that he said he had also been invited.

I was going to stay home, but Adam stopped by my house about an hour before the party and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He practically dressed me. By the time we were ready to leave, I had talked myself into going and having a good time. All I had to do was avoid running into Larry.

The party was well underway by the time we arrived. Maryanne’s parents usually chaperoned the party, so there was no drinking or heavy petting. However, there was usually a lot of loud music and dancing. Her mother was a caterer, and there was always delicious food around. Many kids went just to see what she would prepare.

Adam disappeared as soon as we walked in. He was trying to get Laura Evans to date him. I laughed when I saw them dancing on the patio a few minutes later. At least he was having a good time.

I wandered around and spoke to a few people, but I really wasn’t in the mood to socialize. I danced a few fast dances with a couple of girls, but I always pretended I was dancing with the boy beside me. When I finished one dance, I turned and noticed Larry standing by the side of the pool looking at me.

He seemed sad and withdrawn. No one was around him, so I knew he felt out of place. I hesitantly walked over to him, not sure if he would want to talk to me.

“Hey,” I spoke shyly.

“Hi, Garrett,” he responded. “It looks like you’re having a good time.”

“Not really,” I said. He gave me a questioning look. He looked really cute. He had combed his hair back into a ponytail, showing off his handsome facial features. I had never noticed his long eyelashes before.

“How about you?” I asked. “Are you enjoying yourself?” He nodded, but didn’t say anything.

I could tell he was nervous talking to me. I guess he was afraid I was going to hit on him or something. I felt like such a fool for letting my guard down for just a minute and exposing myself to someone I was beginning to care about.

“Look, Larry,” I said nervously. “I’m sorry for writing you those stupid letters.” He appeared shocked by my words.

“It was really dumb. It’s just that someone was writing me letters and I thought it was you.”

His mouth dropped as he listened to me. Finally, he spoke.

“Those were from you?” I could tell by the look on his face he was stunned. He started to say something else, but stopped. Suddenly, he turned and fled through a gate leading out to the driveway. I watched as he walked down the sidewalk. I was going to follow him, but I felt too embarrassed. What was left to be said? I had made a fool of myself, and there was nothing I could do to change things.

Dejectedly, I walked over to a lounge chair and sat down. I laid back and closed my eyes. I opened them when a shadow blocked the sun from my eyes. I peered up and saw Maryanne grinning at me.

“Hi, Garrett,” she said sweetly as she sat down on the side of the chair. “Are you having a good time?”

“Yeah, Maryanne,” I lied. “I’m just resting from dancing earlier.”

“Make sure you save me the last dance,” she said.

“Sure thing,” I responded.

She kept looking at me and grinning. I knew she had something more to say, but was hesitant to say it. I watched as she began to blush.

“Did you get my silly letters?” She giggled.

“The Shakespeare ones?” I asked incredulously. Maryanne had written me the letters, not Larry! Suddenly, I realized how mistaken I had been.

“I got the idea when we started studying Shakespeare in class,” she said. “I asked Larry to put them in your locker and book.”

I just stared at her, lost for words. I had outed myself to Larry because she had written those letters.

She reached down and took my hands in hers. I pulled them away, and then rose from the chair. I didn’t know what to say. A worried look appeared on her face before I turned and walked away. I left through the same gate as Larry had earlier.

Adam called me several times on Sunday, but I refused to answer my phone. He kept leaving a message asking me why I had disappeared so suddenly. He also said the party ended early when Maryanne went to her room and refused to come out.

I spent the entire day trying to think up some excuse to give to Larry. The first letter I had given him was really explicit how I felt about him.

So long as I can breathe or I can see, so long lives your love which gives life to me.

—William Shakespeare

I only hoped that I could speak to him and tell him it had all been a misunderstanding. I was going to tell him I thought he had been playing a prank on me, and I, in return, decided to do the same. It sounded plausible, but I wasn’t quite sure he’d buy it.

When I arrived at my locker Monday morning, Larry wasn’t around. As I approached, I saw a piece of paper shoved in the door. I was afraid to open it because I feared he had written something hateful to me. With trembling hands, I opened the letter and read its contents.

When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.

—William Shakespeare...and Larry Beach