And The Fox Declared to the Hound…
Monday, September 16th
Monday, September 16th
Breakfast is always an interesting affair these days. When we first came to Eden Academy, the Ducks all sat together, wary of attacks by the Varsity. Then when that calmed down, we broke into little clusters. Julie, Kenny, Russ, Luis, and Dwayne sat together at one table. Dean and Fulton usually didn’t come to breakfast. Charlie, Averman, Goldberg, and Adam still lived at home. Connie did, too, but she always came to school early and ate with me. I hadn’t expected things to change much with the start of this year, but they did. All of the Ducks live on campus now—Goldberg’s parents finally moved to Philadelphia, Charlie was never really comfortable living at home once his mom remarried, and I guess Averman and Adam just didn’t want to be left out. With the four of them here, the seating arrangements changed. Kenny joined Averman and Goldberg at their table and Russ joined Charlie and Linda at theirs. Luis often ate with his cheerleader, Julie started eating with Scooter, and Connie stopped coming in early to eat with me. Now she comes in to eat with Dwayne. Once she started that, I stopped going to breakfast altogether. I don’t know who Adam normally sits with at breakfast, though at every other meal he usually sits with me.
Why is all of this important? That’s a good question. It’s important because for the first time in two weeks, I’m going to go eat breakfast in the cafeteria. I have as much of a right to eat there as anyone and I’m tired of having to steal food at dinner to avoid going to class hungry the next day. I don’t know why I suddenly decided to do this, but I think it had something to do with talking to Julie Saturday night. I guess it made me realize that the only reason that I’m always alone is because I’m isolating myself. Like Adam said, the others are only trying to give me the space that I asked for. If I want them to stop, I’ll have to go to them. So… breakfast.
I push open the cafeteria doors and get in line. I don’t know where everyone’s sitting, but I’ll have time to figure that out once I get my food. Unsurprisingly, the food hasn’t improved any in my absence. Oh well, cafeteria food is cafeteria food, I guess. Once my tray is full I turn around and scan the crowd. I see Connie and Dwayne right away—then again, my eyes are always drawn to Connie first whenever I walk into a room. I turn away from them and look for any other familiar faces that might be in the crowd. Ah! Julie. She’s sitting with Scooter… and is that Adam? Well, one mystery solved.
Just as I spot them, Julie raises her eyes and notices me. She stands up and waves me over, a sunny smile on her face. Just as it did the other night, that smile warms the cold place inside of me. I’m glad I came. I needed this. Seeing Julie get up, Adam turns around and spots me, too. A smaller, but equally glad, smile breaks across his face. I guess he’s glad to see me, too. I raise one hand in greeting and start making my way towards them. Someone slaps me on the back on the way past and I look down to see Charlie smiling at me. I smile and say “Good morning” as I walk past and he turns back to his food. I’m a bit surprised. Truthfully, I hadn’t even realized that I’d been missed…
Adam has already pulled out a chair for me by the time I reach the table and I sink gratefully into it. Nothing is as exhausting as trying to wade your way through a cafeteria meal crowd. Julie beams a smile at me, “Glad you could make it! We were beginning to wonder if we were ever going to see you at breakfast again.”
Only a small blush in response to that, “Talking about me behind my back, huh? I guess I’ll have to find a way to reciprocate…” I slip Scooter a wink with that statement. He looks startled, but pleased. Happy to be included, I guess.
Julie’s blush is more impressive and she has to clear her throat once or twice before speaking, “Oh… I don’t think that’s really necessary, Guy. Really.”
I just smile into my orange juice. I never realized how much fun it could be to be teased, or to tease someone else for that matter. Connie never took it all that well. I don’t think she realized that teasing could be meant in any way other than maliciously. Julie just takes it all in stride. She knows I don’t mean it that way and I know she doesn’t either. It’s between friends and it’s all in fun, so that makes it OK.
As I listen to the light banter and conversation going on around me, the cold place warms a little more. I never realized what I was missing out on by only hanging out with Connie. For all that I loved her, and for all that we had fun together, it was never this easy-going between us. Everything always seemed more intense, more serious. I never really noticed before. Julie pokes me with her fork trying to draw me out of my musing and back into the conversation. Maybe it’s time I stopped dwelling on Connie. Whether I want it to be or not, that part of my life is over. Connie has Dwayne now. I look around at the smiling faces sharing the table with me and smile. I guess this will have to be enough for me. For the first time… that doesn’t seem like a bad thing. I pick up my own fork and raise it to clash with Julie’s. She looks surprised, then a slightly feral grin breaks out across her face and she starts to fence with me in earnest. Adam and Scooter shake their heads and pointedly ignore us. It takes a little work, but I finally manage to disarm Julie and send her fork tumbling off the table onto the floor. While she bends over to grab it, I claim my prize—her last tater tot. She squawks indignantly as she sits back up and reaches over to steal one of mine. I let her. After all, what are friends for?
Adam clears his throat, “Are you children done? We should get going if we want to make it to class.”
Julie and I turned equally innocent eyes to him. My mouth stretches into a wide smile, “Sure you don’t want to join us?”
Adam’s expression turns into a long-suffering one, but I can see a smile lurking just at the edges of it. Julie spares him from having to reply by standing up. She slings her bookbag over one shoulder and lifts the tray with her off hand, “Adam’s right, Guy. We do have to get to class. But I want a rematch tomorrow. Clear?” Her eyes are bright and sunny as they meet mine.
I just laugh and bow my head in response. She and Scooter then take off. Probably want some quiet time before the school day starts—we aren’t exactly running short on time. It’ll be another ten minutes before the bell rings. Adam smiles at me and lifts an eyebrow, “Walk you to class?”
I let out a short chuckle as we get up to dump our trays, “We’ve got to get you a girlfriend, Adam. With all this attention you’ve been lavishing on me lately, what’s everyone going to think?”
Something about Adam’s reaction—or lack thereof—makes me turn to look back at him. He’s standing in the aisle, the crowd of students pushing around him, with this completely unreadable expression on his face. It looks a little like surprise, a little like disappointment, a little like amusement, and a little like sadness, but not really like any of those things. I can’t figure it out at all. Just when I’m about to take a step closer and ask if he’s OK, Adam shakes himself out of it with a slightly nervous laugh, “I don’t think we need to be that drastic…” He then pushes past me, deposits his tray and heads for the door.
Now what the hell was that all about? All I said was… Wait. The strangest thought is trying to creep its way into my brain. I ignore all of the jostling going on around me and try to focus enough to let it grow. When was it that he froze up? ~All this attention you’ve been lavishing on me… What’s everyone going to think?~ Oh my God. I’m an idiot. I want to hit myself. I really do. I all but told him that he’s treating me like he would a girlfriend! I let out a quiet moan as I finally drop my tray onto the conveyor belt. What a moron. Just because I’ve been thinking all these insane things about my best friend doesn’t mean I have the right to drag him into it!
I push my way out of the cafeteria to catch up to him. He’s waiting for me just outside, a slightly unsure yet mischievous smile playing around his lips. It occurs to me to wonder just when I got so good at reading his emotions. I don’t have long to wonder. When he sees me his smile turns 100% mischievous and he holds out his arm, crooked at the elbow, “Your escort awaits.”
I gape at him for a few seconds, then smack him with my bookbag. He breaks up into laughter, claps a hand onto my shoulder and starts walking, “Come on, Guy. If we don’t get moving, we really are going to be late.” As we start walking he continues chuckling quietly, “But, man, you should have seen your face! For a second I wasn’t sure if you were going to hit me or accept my offer!”
I turn a sour look on him but keep silent. I certainly can’t tell him that for a second… just one second… I’d been unsure myself. Maybe breakfast wasn’t such a good idea…
The rest of the day was pretty unremarkable. Even the practice that we just finished wasn’t all that exciting. Coach Orion was pretty happy with how we played this weekend—apparently enough of us actually did practice in the off-season this year—so he went fairly easy on us. Adam didn’t do anything else strange, either. Of course that didn’t stop my stomach from tying itself up in knots every time we collided on the ice. If this keeps up much longer I’m going to have to have a talk with Fulton or something. The very thought makes me shudder. It sounds like I almost have myself convinced that Dean and Fulton really are right about me. But if they are… how did I manage not to notice for the eleven years that I was dating Connie?
I hung back after practice to discuss a few things with Coach Orion. In spite of the fact that he was happy with our playing, there are one or two things that I’ve noticed in my own playing that’s starting to get a little sloppy. If I’m going to keep doing this, then I’m damned well going to do it right. He was more than happy to stay and go over a few drills with me—and that gave me the added benefit of not having to share the showers with Dean and Fulton… and Adam. I am such a coward.
I heave a small sigh as I pull my street clothes back on. Just as I’m about to head out, a locker door slams somewhere behind me. I jerk my head around to see who else is there. It’s Dean. Eh-heh… Speak of the Devil, huh? His lips stretch up into an amused smile, then he just shakes his head at me and leaves. What the hell was that about? I quickly check the locker room to see if anyone else is waiting to jump out at me. No one is. With my heart still hammering just a bit too fast, I make my way back to my dorm room. I’ve got to get my homework done if I’m going to go meet Adam, Julie, and Scooter at tonight’s campus movie.
As I enter my room and close the door behind me, my brain finally catches up with that thought. Julie, Scooter, Adam and I are going to a movie together. I’ll repeat that since I clearly didn’t catch it the first few times the thought ran through my head. Julie and Scooter, and Adam and I are going to a movie. Why does that suddenly sound like the roster for a double date?
Damn it! And now my heart is racing. Why the hell is my heart racing? I drop my books onto my bed and drop myself heavily next to them. I don’t know what the hell I’m thinking these days. I really don’t. Adam and I are not dating. I don’t want us to be dating. He doesn’t want us to be dating. There was never even any suggestion that there ever might be dating between us. Why the hell am I still thinking about this?
With a soft groan I let myself fall back against my pillows and throw an arm across my eyes. This is not happening. I am nearly 16 years old and I have never questioned my sexuality before. Now, just because two of my teammates are making rude comments, I start questioning. Why now? Why, after 16 years and after a very successful, very long relationship with a girl, am I suddenly questioning? Is this just curiosity? Am I confused because Adam is the first real friend I’ve had since Connie?
Hmm… that might actually be it. I roll over so that I’m laying on my stomach with my arms under the pillows. If I think about it logically, that makes the most sense. Connie was the only person that I ever could have called my “best friend”. Since she clearly doesn’t want the job anymore, and since Adam clearly does, I must be misinterpreting what I’m feeling. After all this time, I must have gotten friendship and love confused. It’s a little silly, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to accept than the idea that I’m suddenly gay. And damn I wish that little voice would shut up. The one that keeps chirping, “Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s right.”
Ignoring the voice for now I sit back up and pull my bookbag into my lap. Regardless of my mental issues, I need to do my homework so I can go to the movies. Even if this isn’t a double date—and I know it’s not—I still can’t leave Adam alone with the lovebirds. That just wouldn’t be right.
I pull out my history textbook to start reading the chapter… and something falls out of my bag into my lap. I pick it up and examine it. It’s a tube of something… it’s… Oh my God. This is not what I think it is. I drop the little tube like it’s got fangs and just bit me. I think I’m going to kill Portman. He must have planted this in my bookbag—just like he planted these damned thoughts in my head. Only Dean Portman would have the sheer brass to put a tube of… of… damn it, can’t I even think the word? Yes I can. Only Dean Portman would have put a tube of lubricant in my bookbag. Is this his idea of a subtle hint? Subtle as a ton of damn bricks.
OK, now I’m getting hysterical. I have got to calm down. Homework. I will do my homework if it kills me. I will not think about the… the… thing sitting on my bedspread. And then I will go to the movies. And I will not think about the lubricant sitting innocently on my bedspread. It occurs to me that I’ve been sitting here for nearly ten minutes now, thinking about how I will not think about the lube on my bedspread.
I groan quietly and push aside the history text that I haven’t even opened. Apparently, in spite of my best intentions, I am going to think about it. Now the big question, I guess, is what am I going to do with it? Keeping it would be stupid—after all, why the hell would I want to keep it? I will not think about the little voice that just said, “Just in case.” I will not. So, that means I have to throw it away. But I can’t… because someone might see me do it. So I can’t keep it and I can’t throw it away. What the hell am I supposed to do with it? Oh this is really not fair. Maybe I should ask Portman… he’s been so full of suggestions about everything else lately—wait a minute. That… that actually isn’t a half bad idea. Maybe I should ask Portman… or Fulton… about this. About all of it. At least I know they won’t stop being my friends if I bring up the possibility… I can’t believe I’m even considering this.
I throw the lube back into my bookbag along with my books and leave my room before I can change my mind. Portman and Fulton live just down the hall… I’m going to do this before I chicken out. At the very least, I’ve got to ask them to stop teasing me. At the very least. Oh what am I getting myself into?
Damn it, but a door can look imposing. This is my last chance to change my mind and run away. Run away… no. I’m not going to run away. I’m not a coward. I never was. I screw up my courage and slam my fist against the door. One racing heartbeat. Two racing heartbeats. Three, four, five racing heartbeats. No one’s answering. My breath streams out of me in a rush of relief. OK, I’m not a coward and I don’t have to face them. Thank you, God. I turn to go back down the hallway… and walk straight into Dean Portman’s chest. He doesn’t even “oof” like any normal person would have done. He just smiles down at me, a slow smile that makes me feel like a little lamb to his wolf, puts a hand between my shoulder blades and steers me into his and Fulton’s room, “Well, well. If it isn’t Guy Germaine. I somehow thought we might be hearing from you sooner or later. I have to admit, Fulton thought it would be later. Why don’t you come in and we can have a little chat?”
“A little chat. That sounds wonderful. Really. I can’t begin to tell you…”
Fulton looks down at me from Dean’s other side with a small smile, “Don’t worry, Guy. He doesn’t bite.” He and Portman share a smirk as Fulton finishes, “… Much.”
Somehow that last comment is less than reassuring. What on Earth have I gotten myself into?
Once we’re all inside, Portman pushes me to sit down onto one of the beds and pulls the chair up to sit caddy-corner to me. The fact that he’s now between me and the door is not lost on me. Fulton takes the other bed and sits down Indian-style on it. I clear my throat and look down at my knees. Amazingly enough, no bursts of wit or cleverness burst across my tongue. I look up at Fulton with a helpless expression. I got myself down the hall, Dean got me through the door, and now I don’t know what to do. Fortunately, Fulton takes pity on me and starts talking, “I take it you found Dean’s little present?”
I think my deep blush answered the question for me, but I nod anyway. Fulton sighs and shakes his head, a rueful smile on his face, “He always has been a little blunt…”
“A little???” The words explode past my lips before I can stop them. Almost immediately I wish I could take them back. The fact that I’m so clearly upset about it must just confirm their opinions of me.
Fulton chuckles, “Yes, a little. This last stunt was actually very subtle for him… Truthfully, I’ve been surprised by his restraint.”
Dean finally adds his own two cents, “Well I didn’t want to scare him off the idea completely.”
I drop my head into my hands and start rubbing my temples, “Yeah. God forbid he should do that.”
A hand drops onto my knee and softly pats it. When I glance up through my hair, I’m surprised to find that it’s Portman’s. He actually does look somewhat contrite. I’m not sure that I buy it. Fulton lets out a quiet sigh, “OK, Guy. The lube was just a convenient excuse. Why don’t you tell us why you really came here?”
I drop my hands down and press them in between my knees, suddenly feeling very small in the middle of all this, “I don’t know. I just… I’m so confused. I thought… maybe… you guys…”
Fulton’s smile is sad and full of sympathy now. I didn’t know a smile could look so sad. He shakes his head, “… might have all the answers?” At my quiet nod, he shakes his head again, “Sorry, Guy. We don’t. Our answers may not be the ones you’re looking for. They might even make this harder for you. But maybe if you at least got the questions out in the open…?”
He leaves the question hanging. An offer. To get it all off my chest and finally talk about it to someone that I know won’t judge me. But… I just can’t do it. I can’t do it. I jump to my feet and edge towards the door. Portman moves out of my way. Fulton just gives me another sad smile, “I understand. Just remember, the offer still stands for whenever you may want to take me up on it.”
I hardly hear it. I open the door and bolt back down the hall. It isn’t until I’m safely back in my own room with the door locked that I realize that the small, innocuous, evil little tube that started this whole mess is still in my bookbag. I sink to the floor with my knees curled tight to my chest and just start whimpering. Why me?