Things are starting to return to normal- a little. I’ve been back to school for about three weeks. It isn’t as bad as I thought. Most people just leave me alone. A few students stare at me as I walk down the hall, and I can hear a few of their remarks as they pass, but I just ignore them. If it wasn’t me they are talking about, it would just be someone else.
Trying to catch up on the work I’ve missed has been a bitch. My counselor summoned me to the office last week and told me that there was a chance that I might not pass this year if I didn’t start applying myself better. How can I ‘apply’ myself with all the shit I’ve been through? But they don’t care. All they focus on is your GPA. There should be some way of factoring in a person’s personal problems. It shouldn’t be based just on class work and test scores. Shouldn’t a student who is going through their own personal hell be evaluated differently than the nerdy boy who has nothing to do at night but stay holed up in his room studying all the time?
I’ve come to realize over the past few years that life isn’t fair. Actually, when you come right down to it, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. There isn’t any continuity to it. You can go along one day and everything is fine. Then bam. You go to a doctor and he tells you that you have the Big C. Like my mother.
Or you can go out to dinner and have the best meal of your life. Then anticipate going back and losing your virginity to someone who you’re falling in love with. Then bam. You get broadsided by a car and he’s dead in an instant. Like Wade.
I’ve learned that life offers one guarantee- there is no guarantee for life. It can leave your body slowly or it can leave in a split second. But one this is guaranteed- it will leave. I’m fifteen and I already know that. I’ve watched it happen twice.
Gabe wants me to join him and the other basketball players for lunch, but I don’t have the time. I come to the library each day to try and catch up on some work. It’s quiet and I don’t have to deal with anyone.
That’s something else I’m finding myself doing more and more- withdrawing from people. I don’t think I’m depressed or anything, I just want to be left alone. I’m working shit out in my mind and people just get in the way.
Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ray are beginning to realize that. For a couple of weeks, they tried to get me to do things with them, but I’d always refuse. They would sit at the dinner table at night and look worriedly at me. One night I just opened up and talked to them.
“I’m all right,” I assured them. “I’m not going to do anything to myself. I just need some time to be alone.”
“Perhaps we should find you a counselor,” Aunt Barbara suggested. “Your father has agreed to find you someone.”
I bristled at first when they mentioned his name, but I didn’t say anything. I knew he was worried about me. Why, I don’t know. But sometimes I can hear Uncle Ray talking to him on the phone late at night. For some reason, it seems like he is attempting to get me to come back home. But that is something I am determined that I will never do.
Even though I miss Andrew and Melinda terribly, I do get to see them almost every Sunday. He drops them off in the early afternoon and they stay until after dinner. Many times Aunt Barbara will take us some place, and I spend the afternoon with just them.
Last week we went roller skating at a nearby roller rink. I don’t think I’ve had so much fun in such a long time. Andrew couldn’t stand upright on the skates. Every time he would start to wobble away from me, he’d fall down. He’d pout and I’d roar with laugher. Finally, I held him in front of me while we skated around the rink. By the time we left, he was doing it by himself if he was holding my hand.
Then after dinner, I return to my quiet room. I’m doing a little writing. I find that it helps if I put down my feelings on paper. They only problem is, most of the time I don’t know what my feelings are. At times I feel sad. Then the sadness turns to anger, and the anger turns to rage. Then I get mad because I’m angry, and then the sadness returns. I feel like a hamster running around inside a wheel. Everything is going in circles, but I’m running to nowhere.
Gabe’s a good friend. The best anyone could have. He rides his bike over almost every night to spend time with me. Sometimes we play video games, but most of the time we just sit around and say nothing.
He’s also about the only person who can make me laugh. One night last week, we sat around watching television. Neither of us had said anything for almost fifteen minutes. He looked over worriedly at me and asked, “Would you like me to kiss you again?”
I sat up and looked surprisingly at him. “What!” I shrieked.
He gave me a goofy grin. “Well,” he responded, “the last time I did it, it made you feel happy. I just want to see you laugh again.”
I started grinning. “Thanks, Gabe,” I replied. “You’re a good friend.” He smiled. Then I started laughing and said, “But you’re a lousy kisser.” We started laughing and he pushed me back on the bed.
“Am not,” he grinned as he leaned in toward me. “I’ll prove it.” When his lips reached mine, I stuck my wet tongue into his mouth.
“Ewww!” He screamed as he raised his sleeve and wiped my slobber from his mouth. “You’re fucking gross!”
I lay back on the bed and roared. “I told you that you were a lousy kisser.”
“Fucker!” He mumbled as he rushed over to my bathroom and wiped his mouth out with water. I then heard him gargling. I was still laughing when he returned. He sat down beside me and started laughing. “At least you’re happier,” he smiled.
“And you’re still a lousy kisser,” I laughed.
Good old Gabe. The best friend anyone could have.
I looked over when someone sat down beside me at the library table.
“Can I sit here?” It was Earl Buckman, the student who had passed me the note when Stephen had spread the news that I was gay.
“Free world,” I replied as I pushed by book bag away so that he could have room to work.
He fumbled around his book bag before pulling out a notebook and his literature book. He kept looking over at me and smiling as he opened the book and started to read.
He turned and looked at me. “Did you do the assignment today?”
“Not yet,” I replied. I had been trying to catch up with my algebra assignment. I was going to do Mrs. Livingstone’s assignment when I got home.
He read a few more minutes before scooting over towards me. He pushed his leg against mine as he looked over at me. “Do you know what this word means?” When I scooted away so that our legs weren’t touching, a disappointed look appeared on his face.
“It means you’re not sincere.” I said as I leaned over and looked at the word he was pointing to.
“Disingenuous,” I said. He looked down at the book. “It means insincere.”
“Oh, yeah,” he replied as he wrote down the definition. He looked back and stared into my eyes. “Thanks.”
Earl is a cute guy, but he is rather effeminate. Wade had long blonde hair, and he was always brushing it back, but he didn’t look like a girl when he did it.
Earl has a habit of brushing his brown hair back as if he is waving at someone. Students sit in class and mock him. Many times I hear a student tell someone that they are “so gay.” The person would act insulted and brush aside their hair in the same manner that Earl would and then reply with a lisp, “I am not.” It usually ends with a round of laughter.
I had found myself many times feeling sorry for him over the years. It was obvious when we entered middle school that he was different from the rest of the boys. He instantly became the butt of many jokes. Around that time, I was beginning to question if I too was like Earl. That was one of the reasons I had hidden my sexuality for so long. I didn’t want to become like Earl Buckman. I didn’t want other students to tease and ridicule me the way they did him.
Earl is actually a great guy. Besides being cute, he is kind and generous. He is usually the first to volunteer for projects that involved helping other students, especially around the holiday season. He organizes a ‘giving tree’ each year to buy unfortunate students presents for Christmas. Unfortunately, his participation often discourages other male students from becoming involved. Guys are particularly hesitant to participate because they don’t want other students thinking they are involved because they want to be closer to Earl. That is the reason that Earl is usually surrounded by girls. They find him funny and charming, and they feel safe being with him.
I could tell he was looking at me, so I turned toward him. He frowned and said, “You never called me, Richie.”
“Look, Earl,” I started, but he stopped me.
“It’s okay,” he replied sadly. “I really didn’t expect you to. It’s just that you’re a really nice guy. I’ve had a crush on you since the fifth grade.” His face started to redden as he brushed the hair from his eyes.
He started gathering his books and quickly stuffed them into his book bag. “I’m sorry, Richie,” he said softly. “I don’t know what made me think...” He got up and looked down sadly at me. “Bye, Richie.”
I watched as he walked slowly from the library, pushing his book bag onto his shoulders. I called out his name. “Earl!” He turned and looked at me.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t.” He gave me a big grin and then waved. I waved back as he turned and left the library.
“You did what?” Gabe shrieked when I told him about the incident with Earl. We were heading to his house after school. He needed help with a chemistry assignment. Help usually means do it for him while he watches a rerun of a football game on television.
“Well he looked so sad,” I replied. “If you could have seen the look on his face.”
“But Jesus, Richie,” Gabe said as he looked over at me. “You told him you would go out with him.”
I stopped and turned toward him. “What’s wrong with going out with Earl? I don’t plan to have sex with him. Besides, he’s the only other gay boy I know.”
“But Jesus,” Gabe stammered. “He’s so..so..you know.”
“So what?” I asked angrily. “Gay?”
“Well, yeah,” he replied. “Duh!”
I turned and started walking down the street. Gabe ran up and grabbed my arm. “Come on, Richie. You know what I’m talking about. I don’t mind you dating a guy.” He gave me a worried look. “But Earl?”
“I’m starting to get bored sitting around the house all the time,” I insisted. “I need to go out.”
“You got me,” Gabe responded. “Don’t we have a good time together?”
“When you’re around,” I said. “But now that you’re dating Teresa, I hardly ever see you anymore.”
“I’ve told you,” he reminded me, “that you can go with us.”
“Oh, yeah,” I rolled my eyes. “That would be fun, watching you two swap spit all night.”
“We don’t swap spit,” he laughed. “Well, maybe.” His face reddened. “When I drop her off at night.”
I started off down the street. He ran to catch up with me. “We’re going to the movies this weekend. Why don’t you come with us?”
I turned and grinned. “Can I call Earl and ask him to go?” Gabe’s eyes widened. I knew I’d caught him off guard. It was fun watching him try to come up with some excuse why he couldn’t go with us. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders.
“Okay,” he said apprehensively. “I’ll tell Teresa tomorrow. I don’t know how she’ll react, though.”
I threw my hand around Gabe’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Gabe.” I laughed. “I was just teasing you. I wanted to see what you’d say.”
He gave me a look of relief. “So, you’re not going to ask Earl out on a date?”
“Naw,” I said as I started to walk away. “Not this Saturday, anyway.”
“Wait, Richie!” Gabe said excitedly as he ran to catch up with me. “What does that mean?” I started laughing.
“You seem in a happy mood.” My aunt was sitting across from the table smiling at me.
I shrugged my shoulders and ate a big scoop of cereal. “Why do you say that?”
She frowned. “Don’t speak with your mouth full.” She threw the newspaper at me when I opened my mouth and showed her the contents of half eaten cereal. I started choking when I started to laugh.
“Serves you right,” she said as she got up from the table, poured herself another cup of coffee and sat back down.
I was feeling in a good mood. In fact, I hadn’t felt so good in a long time. Since it was a Saturday, he was bringing Andrew over. Gabe and I were going to take him to a nearby amusement park. I hadn’t been there since my mother got sick, and I was looking forward to going.
When Gabe had suggested it, I asked him if Andrew could go along. He said he would like that, so I had asked Aunt Barbara to ask him if he could go with us. After talking to him on the phone, she said that he had readily agreed. He thought it was a good idea that I wanted to spend time with my little brother. When she said he even volunteered to take us, I told her I wouldn’t go if he did. After discussing it with him, he agreed to let her take us.
The phone rang and Aunt Barbara got up to answer it. She returned and handed the receiver to me. “Hello?”
“Richie!” It was Andrew. He sounded excited. “I know you won’t like it, but can Harley go with us? He’s sitting in our room crying because he can’t go with us. Can he go, huh? Please?”
I looked over at my aunt who was staring at me. I think Andrew had probably said something to her and she had decided to let me make the decision. I had really hoped that Andrew and I could spend the day together, but he wouldn’t have fun if he knew Harley was sitting at home alone and sad.
“Sure,” I answered reluctantly. I looked over and saw my aunt smile. “He can go.”
“He can?” I held the phone from my ear when Andrew squealed excitedly. “Thanks, Richie!” I started to hang up when he stopped me.
I could hear Harley talking to him in the background. Finally, he came back on the phone. “Harley wants to know if Freddy can come with us?”
I didn’t mind Harley going, but I was skeptical about Freddy joining us. I still didn’t feel comfortable around him. He and Gabe had become good friends, and Gabe was always trying to get me to talk to him. So far though, I had been able to avoid him. I knew that he wasn’t involved in the decision of moving into my room. However, he was there, and I wasn’t. That was enough for me not to like him.
“I don’t think there’s enough room in the car,” I said. Again, I heard Andrew and Harley talking.
“Harley says he can sit in my lap,” Andrew suggested. “He don’t mind.”
I looked over at my aunt. Even though she couldn’t hear Andrew’s question, I was pretty sure she knew what he had asked me. “Hold on,” I told my little brother. I covered the receiver with my hand.
“He wants Harley and Freddy to join us,” I informed her. “Tell him the car won’t hold all of us.” I tried to hand her the phone.
“He knows better than that,” she replied. “Besides, what’s the harm of them going?”
“I don’t want Freddy to go.”
“Why?” she asked. “I don’t see anything wrong with him joining you boys.”
“Fine,” I said angrily. “Tell Andrew that they can go. I’ll just stay home.” I pushed myself away from the table and stormed to my room.
I pulled out my literature book and started to work on a homework assignment. I was upset because I had wanted to spend the day with my little brother. We hadn’t seen each other for a week, and then we went out with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ray to the video arcade in the mall. Harley went with us then, and Andrew spent most of his time playing games with him.
There was a knock on the door, and then Gabe entered. He sat down on the bed and looked over at me. “Barb said you don’t want to go with us.”
I pretended to write and didn’t look up at him. “I got too much work to do.”
“But you were excited about going yesterday.”
“Well,” I huffed, “I’m not excited now.” I turned and faced him. “Go and have a good time,” I said sarcastically.
“Ohhh,” he grinned. “Someone’s in a shitty mood.”
“Fuck you, Gabe!” I turned and pretended to write something down in my notebook.
Just then Andrew came running into the room and jumped in my lap. “You ready to go, Richie? Me and Harley want to ride on the roller coaster.”
“He’s not going,” remarked Gabe as he gave me a snide look. He knew I couldn’t tell Andrew no to anything.
“Why?” Andrew looked sadly at me. “I thought we were going to have a good time together.”
I pulled him from my lap and stood him on the floor. “You got Harley.”
“But he ain’t you, Richie.” Tears started to form in his eyes. “Please go with us. It won’t be any fun if you don’t go.”
I looked over at Gabe. “You still got Gabe, Harley and...” my voice turned to a tone of anger, “and Freddy.”
I heard Gabe mutter, “So that’s it.” He stood up and walked over to Andrew. He gently led him to the door.
“Why don’t you go in the family room and wait for us.” He turned to me with an angry expression on his face. “I’ll try to talk this hard-headed brother of yours into going.” Andrew timidly waved at me before leaving. Gabe slammed the door shut.
“Don’t start on me!” I said angrily. “I’m not in the mood.”
Gabe walked over and looked down at me. “You’re going to miss having a good time with your brother just because Freddy is going?”
“That’s not the reason I don’t want to go,” I insisted as I turned and picked up my pencil. He snatched it from my hand.
“When are you going to grow up, Richie?” His expression was more hurt than anger. “Freddy hasn’t done anything to you. He doesn’t like the situation any more than you do. He told me he’d love to leave, but he has nowhere else to go.”
“He could live with you,” I replied sarcastically, “since you two are such good friends anymore."
“Fuck you, Richie!” He balled up his fist, but then he walked over to the window and let out an exasperated sigh. “Freddy has done everything he can to be your friend, and you treat him like a piece of shit.”
“Maybe he is a piece of shit,” I responded.
Gabe walked back over and stood before me once again. “You know better than that. If you would give him a chance, you’d find out he’s a really great guy.”
I turned and started writing in my notebook. Gabe watched for a minute before turning and heading for the door. He stopped before leaving.
“I hope you get your assignments done,” he stated sadly. “I just hope it’s worth missing out having fun with Andrew today. He’s been looking forward to this all week.” I jumped when he left and slammed the door behind him.
I didn’t know what to do. I had also been looking forward all week to spending time with Andrew- alone. Sure, Gabe was going, but he understood that I needed to spend time alone with my little brother.
Things just didn’t fit anymore. I missed my home, and I missed my room. I missed eating breakfast with Andrew and Melinda in the morning. I missed wrestling with Andrew in the family room as we watched television at night. I missed helping Melinda with her math homework after school. Most of all, I missed tucking them into bed at night and kissing them on their forehead.
Now, two strangers had taken my place. Now it was Harley wrestling on the floor with Andrew. Freddy was helping Melinda with her math. He was putting them to bed and kissing them goodnight on their forehead.
Tears appeared when I thought about all the times he had put me to bed when I was Andrew’s age. “Read me a story, Daddy,” I would beg, “Please?”
He’d ruffle my hair and smile. “Sure, Sport. What story?” I would then get out of bed and grab the book he had been reading for the past few days. Harry Potter had been one of my favorites.
“Here, Daddy,” I would say as I jumped back into bed and pulled the covers over me. He would turn the book to where he had inserted the marker, lean back on the headboard and start reading. I would listen for a while before my eyelids would become heavy. After reading a few more pages, he’d close the book, kiss me on my forehead and then turn out the light.
“I love you, Son,” would be the last words I’d hear before sleep overtook me.
“Damn it!” I sighed as I wiped the tears from my eyes with my sleeve. Just then the door opened, and Andrew entered. After noticing I had been crying, he walked over and climbed into my lap.
“It’s going to be okay, Richie.” He too started to cry. “I promise.” I held him tightly for a minute before removing him from my lap. I reached up and wiped his tears away with my finger.
He leaned in and hugged me again. “You’re the best brother in the whole world,” he stated proudly.
“You are too,” I replied as I kissed his forehead. I stood and took his hand. “Let’s go. You and Harley have a roller coaster to ride.”