Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Book Worms

Chapter 1

I loved sports; any sport, though I liked running and swimming more than team sports such as football or basketball. Oh, I liked those as well, but I was a born runner, and I loved swimming. I did well at them, and, when you do well at a sport, you tend to like it.

I did play football, basketball, and baseball. Hell, back then – early seventies – in a town the size of Seguin, Texas, our school teams needed every athlete they could get. And after all, it was Texas; everybody played high school football. All my buddies did.

There was the chick factor, of course. Girls liked football players, and as that summer after my freshman year ended, my hopes were high that this would be the year I got laid.

Back then, ‘getting laid’ wasn’t quite as easy as it is for kids these days. I didn’t know many ‘bad girls’. Hell, I wouldn’t even have known what a ‘bad girl’ was. I thought they were all like my mom… intimidating.

Speaking of which, I’d broken my wrist playing football as a freshman, and that same year, a boy playing football in another town was paralyzed by a hit. My mom talked like she wasn’t going to sign a waiver for me to play again, but I knew I could sweet talk her into it, or get my dad to sign the waiver. My parents were divorced, and I didn’t see my dad often – he worked in the oil fields and had graduated to rigs in the Gulf. I figured I could track him down if I needed to.

Three days before we were supposed to turn our waivers in to the coach, I made a last try.

“No,” she said, and then she read my mind. “And, your dad won’t sign either. Last time we talked, I told him that if he signed one of those things for you to play football, he could kiss his visitation rights goodbye.”

I eyed her narrowly.

“Don’t give me that look,” she said, getting up from the dinner table. “You can play plenty of other sports. You don’t need to play football. You’re younger than most of those boys, and I don’t want you getting hurt again.”

“They need me,” I said, prepared to run, one last time, down my full list of arguments. “I’m their best receiver.” That was stretching the truth, but I was darn good. Mom was right, I was younger even than most of my classmates. I wouldn’t turn fifteen until three weeks after school started. But I was still good enough that I hoped to make varsity.

“No.” She put her dishes in the sink and ran water over them.

“But all my friends are playing.”

“We’ve been over all this before, Adrian. No.”

I inherited a lot of things from my mom, and stubbornness was one of them, maybe because we are both redheaded; curly redheaded. She left the room, but the fight was far from over.

On the day the waivers were due, I forged her signature. I figured once I was playing, I’d present her with a fait accompli. (I actually did know that term and concept, ‘fait accompli’. I was a bookworm; another thing I got from my mom.)

My buddies came by on their bicycles that morning, and we peddled over to the gym. It was like a reunion; all of us football players back for the new season. As we sat outside, waiting for the coach, we talked over positions, who was going to try out for what, what the schedule was like, who might make varsity, and so on.

When we filed in, I was almost at the front of the line.

Coach looked at my waiver and handed it back. “Your mom called, son,” he said, without looking up. “She warned me you might try to forge her signature. Why don’t you just take that with you and we’ll pretend I never saw it.”

There was silence, all down the line. My face burned. My eyes started to water. It wasn’t just the humiliation. My world had honestly come to an abrupt end. Or rather, the world my buddies belonged to was about to go on without me.

I wept on the way home, alone on my bicycle, while my friends were getting their uniforms, lockers, and pads. They’d probably all go somewhere afterwards. I thought about riding my bike in front of a car. That would teach my mom.

I almost did ride my bike in front of a car; I couldn’t see with tears in my eyes.

I composed myself long enough to try calling my dad. He was out on a rig, and unreachable for the moment. I left a message.

It was a miserable morning.

There were three guys I hung out with. Able, Michael, and Chuy. They stopped by that afternoon, and tried to cheer me up. We rode to the public pool and swam, and talked about chicks; not football.

Coach called that evening, and spoke with my mom. Then she called me to the phone.

“Ahdy,” Coach said – my nickname, pronounced ah-dee, because my young cousin couldn’t say ‘Adrian’ and her shorter rendition stuck – “I’d like you to consider being a trainer for the team. I talked to your mom, and she said that would be alright.”

Water boy? That was worse than not playing at all. My throat constricted. I struggled to speak. “No, thanks, coach,” I managed, and hung up.

I went to my room and slammed the door.

Two-a-day workouts began, and I no longer saw my friends. I retreated to books. I loved to read. That’s what I was doing that Friday when the doorbell rang.

I opened the front door to find Miss Gutierrez, our high school librarian. We all thought she was a little spacey. In her mid-thirties, she was a little frumpy… Latino style.

“Hi, Miss Gutierrez,” I said. “Are you lost?”

She giggled and waved her hand dismissively as she stepped past me into our house. “No, Ahdy,” she said. “I came to see you.”

I led her into the living room, where she sat down in my mom’s chair, uninvited. (Teachers feel like they’re in charge, even when their in a student’s home; if it’s just them and the student.) I sat down on the couch.

“I heard about you not playing football this year,” she said, “and I have a proposition for you?”

I cocked my head, suspiciously.

“You see,” she said, “I’d like more boys to consider library science as something fun to get into, because it is, you see.” She rushed on, almost like she was giving me a sales pitch. “I know you love books, and all the kids in your class look up to you; I mean, you’ve got one of the highest grade averages in the class. Last year, you were your class president… ”

“Vice-President,” I corrected.

She waved her hand dismissively and continued.

“You play sports,” she held up her palm to forestall my protest, “other than football. And since you aren’t playing football, I thought I’d invite you to take library science this fall.”

I frowned.

“You’re in the library all the time anyway,” she said with a hopeful smile. “And you know, there are lots of girls in the class. And this year, we’ll be making trips to two high school librarian conferences; one this fall in Dallas, and one in the spring in Houston. I guarantee you’ll get to go.”

My mind was working on the girl angle. Yeah, chicks were into librarian stuff. And Dallas and Houston? Well, everybody knew about big-city girls.

“What do I have to do?” I asked.

She smiled sweetly. “The things you love. You’ll work with books, cataloging new books – you’ll see them before anyone else – filing and arranging, rebinding books, working the periodicals section, handling the media resources… whatever you’d like.”

“Are any other guys going to be doing it?” I asked.

She smiled sadly. “That’s why I want you. I’d like to get a real boy’s boy ‘on the team’.” She made a right cross with her fist. Then she leaned closer. “And don’t forget… cute girls.”

We showed up at the library, two days before classes began, and I knew immediately that I’d been betrayed. It was like the chub and mouse club for girls. One upper class girl was pretty, but she had a boyfriend. The only other, half-way interesting girl there was Claudia Rodriquez, but she was interesting in a weird way.

Claudia was goth before there was goth. She was strange. That probably had something to do with her mom killing her dad. That is, Claudia’s dad was a drunk. Her mom got a restraining order against him. But one night, he showed up drunk out of his mind, pounding on their front door, threatening to beat her mom to a pulp if she made him break the door down. It was a cheap, hollow-core door, and he went at it with a knife. When Claudia’s mom saw the blade thrust right through the door, she fired both barrels of a twelve-gauge back at him. That was when Claudia was like, about eight.

By our sophomore year, kids called her ‘Morticia’ behind her back, like off The Addams Family.

She wore large, dark-rimmed glasses. Even so, she was an attractive girl. If she hadn’t been so strange, guys would have been interested in her. She was slender, with long, black hair, and dark eyes. It wasn’t until later that I realized how much she had in common with Rafael.

Rafael Hinojosa was the only other boy to show up for the class, and that made the disaster, unmitigated. Rafael, you see, was the class gay.

Oh, he wasn’t out, officially, but everybody figured him for it. He didn’t lisp, but he was very quiet, and when he spoke, it was quietly. He talked with his hands… elegant hands, with long fingers. His walk was light and graceful. The way it all came together, the ‘package’ seemed… effeminate. The same height as Claudia, his black hair was longer and sleeker than hers, parted in the middle. His dark eyes were larger, his lashes longer, his lips fuller. Actually, he was quite pretty, and perhaps that, as much as anything, made him suspect – he was a pretty boy.

Unfortunately, I had this thing for pretty boys. It wasn’t anything very conscious. It was partly that I had the normal, ambivalent feelings that most boys of fourteen have toward other boys. In swimming, it was difficult to not look at other boys in speedos. And because I was at that ‘awkward stage’ where I bumped into door jams with my suddenly wider shoulders or bumped my knees because my legs had suddenly gotten longer, I envied graceful boys. Because I thought I was normal looking, I envied boys who I considered cute.

Rafael was disturbingly pretty… at least he disturbed me. And not just because of his face. I’d never admit it, but I thought his slender body was attractive, and the way he moved made me very conscious of it. Even worse, guys’ pants back then were specially cut to show off their packages, and Rafael appeared to have a good one.

I groaned inwardly when I saw him. I was so going to hear about this from the other guys.

And then, to make matters worse, that first day, after Miss Gutierrez gave us assignments, Claudia caught me looking at Rafael’s butt.

It was one of those things. He bent over a counter, reaching for books, and I noticed that he had a nice butt for a guy. A bubble butt, they call it these days. My eyes lingered only a moment, but when I looked up and saw Claudia watching me, she smiled, knowingly.

I frowned. She knew nothing!

Claudia started hanging around me. Wherever I worked, she seemed to work close by, often, on the same things. She smiled at me and chatted, though I rarely answered.

She did the same to Rafael, but he was as quiet as me. The few times I worked with him, he smiled, but said little.

Another thing about small town schools is you wind up in classes with the same people. Since Rafael, Claudia, and I were all ‘brains’, we were in a lot of the same classes. History was one of them. It was in history class, three days later, that Jacob Hornsby was an asshole.

“Hey, Ahdy,” Jacob Hornsby called out from the back of history class as we took our seats, “you and Morticia having fun in the back of the library?” His eyes drifted to Rafael, who always sat at the front of the class. “Or maybe you and Ra-fa-el are having a gay time among the books.”

Of course, Hornsby was always an asshole. I flashed him the finger, and felt embarrassed for Rafael and Claudia. Claudia had to know that ‘Morticia’ was her.

I couldn’t bring myself to go to the first football game. I figured I’d be the only one in the stands weeping. And though I hung with my friends at school, and they came by at night to get help with homework, I found myself increasingly alienated from them. Invariably, they talked football; about practices, the last game, the next game. They talked about other things as well, of course, but anything about football was an instant bummer.

I began to enjoy being in the library. In its quiet interior, I pictured myself, almost like a monk; silently serving, tending the archives, reclusive. I began to feel a certain affinity with my fellow monks, and strangely, with Claudia and Rafael in particular.

At first it was simply because I didn’t care that much for the other girls, and Claudia, Rafael and I were the same ages and in so many classes together. And then there was this little game of me trying not to look at Rafael’s butt when his back was turned and Claudia trying to catch me at it.

“He looks at you, too,” she whispered once. “Same way.”

I tried not to think about that.

Things changed surprisingly quickly between the three of us, about the third week of school.

“I’ve been thinking of reading this,” Claudia said, examining a copy of The Heart of Darkness, which someone had just returned. She and I were working the front counter. (Miss Gutierrez liked to showcase me; I worked front counter often.)

“It’s good,” I said, “but Conrad’s descriptions can go on and on.”

“Have you read Lord Jim?” Rafael asked from behind us. He had paused, carrying a load of books to the back.

“Yeah,” I said. “I liked it.”

“So what’s too descriptive?” Claudia asked. “I like lots of description.”

I shook my head. “Too much description can slow things down. I like the action to keep moving forward.”

“And dialog,” Rafael said. “Good dialog is important.”

“I write stories… well, mainly poetry,” Claudia said. “Maybe you guys could read them and give me suggestions.”

“I write, too,” Rafael said, quietly.

“No shit? Me, too,” I murmured in surprise.

Rafael grinned. Our eyes met, and I saw in his eyes what he probably saw in mine; a sudden interest, a finding of common ground, the potential to… like each other.

“Ooh,” Claudia simpered. “We could have like a writer’s group, exchange stories, talk about our writing, and stuff.”

I shrugged, suddenly remembering that it was Claudia and Rafael that I was about to get sucked into a relationship with.

“I’m not sure,” Rafael said. “Some of my writing is weird.”

Claudia laughed. “You should see mine.”

They glanced at me.

“Dumb stuff,” I said. “I try to write science fiction.”

Again, that flash of interest in Rafael’s eyes. “I love science fiction,” he said, in that soft, sweet voice of his. “I’d love to see one of your stories.”

“Me, too,” Claudia agreed.

I shook my head. “They aren’t very good.”

“Please,” Rafael said, laying his long fingers on my forearm in a light, almost feminine way.

I looked down at my arm, surprised at the sensation of another boy touching me that way. And then I remembered that we were at the front desk of the library and I pulled my arm away, smiling nervously.

“Okay. Maybe I’ll bring one in,” I said. Only my mom had seen one of my stories, and she definitely wasn’t into sci-fi. It was scary to think about someone else reading one, but at the same time, I wrote stories hoping someone would read them.

“You guys have to bring yours, too,” I said.

The next day, Claudia pulled Rafael and me into the returns room. “Did you bring them?” she asked. “Your stories?”

I glanced at Rafael and nodded. He nodded, too.

“Good,” she said. “Give them to me, and I’ll Xerox them along with mine so we can each have a copy. That way, we can read them, and then get together to discuss them.”

Rafael and I retrieved our stories, and gave them to Claudia. “When shall we get together?” she asked.

I thought about being seen at school with the two of them, and didn’t like the idea. But being seen around town was problematic as well. There was, however, one time when I knew other people wouldn’t be around. “How about Friday night?” I asked.

Rafael and Claudia glanced at me in surprise.

“Aren’t you going to the game?” Claudia asked.

I shook my head. “Nah. It’s too much of a downer; not being able to play and having to watch.”

They nodded sympathetically.

“Where?” Rafael asked.

“My house,” Claudia said, growing excited. “You can come to my house. My mom will order us pizza or something.”

I glanced at Rafael. We nodded.

Claudia’s story was flighty, but amusing; not a ‘chick’ story by any means. It was about a boy and a stray dog that everyone else tries to chase off, but the boy ends up adopting the dog. There was one very funny scene where everyone chases the dog, and though the writing wasn’t at all polished, I liked the story.

Rafael’s story was about a boy our age, thinking of becoming a priest. It had a couple of deep ideas; things I’d never thought of, and the writing was excellent.

Before Friday night, they told me that they liked my story as much as I liked theirs.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Claudia’s home, of her mom, or of our meeting. But her home was nice. It was a small house, but with a yard and porch full of plants. Her mom was a small, quiet lady – it was hard to picture her shoving a twelve gauge through her front door.

We sat around their kitchen table eating pizza, sipping soda, and talking about writing. I loved it.

Suddenly my old friends seemed rather one-dimensional; well two dimensional – girls and sports. But with this strange boy and girl I shared a love of books and music which ran across the board.

Rafael had a good smile, when he was happy. I’d say that I began to relax around him as we laughed and talked, but there was an undercurrent to our discourse.

Rafael’s eyes, from time to time, when he thought I wasn’t looking, dropped to my body. His femininity, and his subtle adoration of my body, excited me, and I didn’t know why. My eyes, at times, lingered on the way his thick hair came so low down on his temples, or on his incredibly long lashes, or the absolutely smooth skin of his arms. It was unsettling that my eyes were drawn that way.

Claudia took it all in. I saw her catch my looks or Rafael’s from the corners of her eyes, and I saw the little smiles that flitted across her mouth.

Work in the library became more fun. Claudia, Rafael and I worked together more, and talked, and joked, and discussed the books we were carrying or sorting.

Wednesday was my birthday. I didn’t know how Claudia found out, but she did. That morning, she brought a small cake for me. She and Rafael each gave me a book as a gift, and a card. None of my other friends knew it was my birthday.

My mom fixed me a special supper and gave me a new wallet with fifty dollars in it, which was a big amount back then. It was a bribe of sorts, but it didn’t work. I was still pissed at her. I figured I’d be pissed at her for life.

The following Friday night, we met at Claudia’s again. I wore one of those sleeveless, body-fitting shirts we used to call tank tops but now, I think they call muscle shirts. I wore it because, though I didn’t let myself dwell on it, I liked Rafael looking at my body.

I certainly didn’t think of myself as gay. Except in my dreams at night, which I couldn’t control, I didn’t let myself think about doing anything sexual with Rafael or any other boy. And yet, his pleasure, around me, gave me pleasure.

Rafael and I arrived at almost the same time, and the three of us stood for a moment, just inside the front door. Right away, Claudia commented on my shirt, or rather, on me.

“That’s sexy, Ahdy,” she said. She wasn’t a shy girl, and she pressed her hand on my pecs. “You’ve got muscles,” she said, simpering the way she sometimes did. She squeezed my bicep. “Ooh, hard muscles.”

Squeezing my arm, she glanced at Rafael. “Feel his muscles, Rahfy. Isn’t he strong?”

Rafael demurred, but I actually wanted him to “feel” my muscles. I think he saw that. Tentatively, he came closer. Claudia took her hand from my arm, and Rafael closed his long fingers on my bicep instead. I tightened my muscle. He squeezed, gazing at it.

“Strong, isn’t he?” Claudia asked him, grinning at me.

Rafael nodded.

“Feel his chest muscles,” she encouraged.

Rafael glanced up at me, and quickly away. He laid a hand on my chest and squeezed my pecs with his fingertips.

I sprang a boner about as fast as I’d ever done in my life. I hoped it didn’t show. I hoped that Rafael didn’t accidently bump it.

“See how hard his muscles are?” Claudia asked.

I wanted to say, ‘That’s not all that’s hard.’

Rafael nodded. Glanced up at me, smiled shyly, and glanced down, dropping his hand from my chest.

“I bet you have strong back muscles,” Claudia said. “Turn around. Let us feel your back.”

I turned.

I felt Claudia’s hand right away, on the backs of my shoulders. Then a second hand, I knew to be Rafael’s. They felt over the backs of my shoulders.

“Damn,” Claudia murmured. “He really is strong.”

Their fingers dropped down my spine.

“I’ve gotta feel his butt,” Claudia said, her hand dropping there. “Oh, my, that’s a firm butt!” She squeezed. “Feel it Rahfy.”

Another hand joined hers on my bottom. Rafael caressed more than squeezed.

Claudia’s hand dropped to the back of my thigh. “Good legs, too,” she said.

Rafael’s hand dropped to the back of my other thigh.

“Turn around, Ahdy. Let’s check your quadriceps,” Claudia said.

If they did that, feeling my thighs, they’d notice my boner for sure. I dodged back. “Damn, Claudia. I’m not a race horse.”

She grinned. “Yes you are.” She glanced from me to Rafael, and her look grew mischievous. “Check out Rafael, Ahdy” she said. “How do you like his hair?”

I’d noticed his hair, right away. It had always looked like something off a shampoo commercial; thick, black, straight, pulled back behind his ears, it dropped to his shoulders. That night, he had taken two tiny braids of hair from his temples and drew them back around his head, the way guys sometimes did back then. He tied them in back with beads.

Claudia stroked its sleek length. “Such beautiful hair,” she said. “Ahdy, feel this.”

I wanted to. It was beautiful hair. Rafael’s eyes dropped. I stepped closer to him and ran my fingers down its length. We were only inches apart. My eyes dropped between us. My boner was less obvious than his, but we were definitely standing closer down there than elsewhere. My hand froze a moment. We all stood motionless.

No one else was in the room. It was just us.

“Kiss him, Ahdy,” Claudia whispered.

We remained, frozen, my hand on Rafael’s hair, our eyes down between us.

I wanted to, but I didn’t. Kissing another boy?

Just then, the tiniest of trembles ran through Rafael’s body, and that stirred something in me; something tender, something protective.

I almost did it; I almost kissed him. But just then, Claudia’s youngest brother burst through the front door and ran past us. I stepped back, and the moment passed.

Rafael and I were quiet that night. That is, until Claudia made the pronouncement that the Godfather movie sucked compared to the book.

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