Up until a few days ago he'd been reasonably popular. He'd hung out with the right crowds. Gone to all the parties. Yet now as he trudged along he realised this former life was one of such bullshit. Everything he and his friends had done and said to eachother were based on some secret moral code of coolness. Being a gay teenager was certainly not within this code.
As he walked along he passed several of his former friends. The bolder ones would laugh at him or yell out "hey fag", or "give us a blow job, queer boy". His closer friends simply chose to not acknowledge his presence. He wondered if maybe they don't actually hate him, but merely ignore so they can maintain their image and not get dragged down with him. Paul couldn't blame this kind of behaviour on them. Up until a few days ago, he probably would have done something similar himself. However it didn't stop him from hurting inside.
In hindsight, maybe he shouldn't have revealed his secret to his then best-friend, David. Hindsight is 20-20. David had seemed to take it reasonably well at first. Once Paul told him, he just kinda went silent. Paul could tell he was in some kind of shock, but figured it was natural. It's hard to hear your best friend tell you he's been keeping a part of his life secret for so long. How was he to know that his best-friend of ten years would hate him with such passion. That he would tell his secret to everyone in the year at school, and would even try to beat the crap out of him. Paul allowed himself a smirk at this point, remembering that it was he who did the beating. At least David was man enough to take him one-on-one. But it didn't make him feel any better.
So it was that he made his way from the oval where all the so-called `cool' people hang out, to the dejected slums that was known as the compound. This was basically the central-most area in school where all the buildings were. Naturally this was devoid of students except for those who were studious, or had a reason to avoid the other students. Paul fit into both of these categories. However, lately the former was beginning to be less true.
Surely, he thought, there must be someone in this school who likes me enough to be friends with me. He headed in the direction of the concrete area around the gym. At least he could sit down and read a book. He was about to do just that when a guy named Brett came up to him. They'd spoken, and gotten on pretty well before.
Brett was almost as tall as Paul, at 5'10". With his short-cut bleached, spiked-hair, and long-sleeve Frenzel Rhomb shirt underneath his summer uniform, Brett came off looking like a skater. But Paul knew he'd never touched a skateboard in his life. The perpetual loner, Brett often wandered from group to group. No group really acknowledged him as being a part of it, but neither did they tell him to piss off. This seemed to be fine with Brett. Paul reasoned that he liked the freedom of being able to talk to whomever he chose at any point in time, without having to be around them all the time.
"Hey Bazza, what ya doin'," he asked in usual talk. Paul loved the way he talked. As they made eye-contact, Paul was locked in. Part of it was seeing the expression in Brett's brown eyes as he talked. And part of it was realising his eyes were telling him a whole different message. He couldn't quite work it out, but Paul couldn't help feeling there was something else with Brett. Something he needed to get to the bottom of.
"Oh... Nothing much," Paul said, trying to remain cool. He knew it was a lost cause. Brett must have heard by now, surely.
Brett paused, apparently considering Paul's answer with some caution. It was evident that he knew exactly what had happened. Of course he did! The only reason why he knew Brett was that from time to time he would come to visit his old group too. Paul just hoped that somehow this didn't matter to Brett. After all he was talking to him now.
Brett mentioned he was on his way to the canteen, and Paul decided to join him. No doubt he'd run into a few of his old `friends'. But if it was only one or two, they'd only give him a few funny looks. They were all cowards at heart, and his recent victory over David was enough to scare them into leaving him alone.
The pair struck up a conversation focused on music.... They both loved Punk. Frenzel Rhomb, a teenage punk band, was probably their favourite at the moment. They were kinda juvenial and fast. Which means it's great to mosh to.
"I really love that song..... Punch in the Face," Paul said in reference to their latest release.
"Oh man.... I love that song," Brett agreed, while going into air-guitar mode. "All you need is, all you need is.... All you need is, all you need is.... All you need is, all you need is.... All you need is.......... A punch in the face!" Paul finished the last line with him, shouting it out. He couldn't help but grin to himself. All David needed was a punch in the face..... And that's all he got too!
At the canteen, Brett bought himself a donut, and offered Paul something. He refused. Strangely none of his ex-friends were in sight. As they left the area, Paul immediately became suspicious of Brett. What was he doing anyway? He had to know about him.... How could anyone not have heard? But here he was being his friend. They'd only ever talked briefly before this day. Why suddenly was he being all friendly? Paul's mind started to race with thoughts at a mile a minute. Maybe he was just in it for a laugh. Yeah, that was it..... Brett just wanted to make friends with Paul, so he could watch him fall further and be a part of the enjoyment that all the other guys had been a part of.
Lost in his thoughts, Paul was oblivious to what Brett was saying. His blind walk forced him to dodge bins and down-pipes at the last minute. When they came to a corner, Brett continued. Paul also continued, but because he wasn't paying attention, he continued walking straight ahead, and up a flight of stairs.. Paul came bounding down straight away, with a cross expression on his face.
"What's up with you," Brett asked, trying to hold back giggles.
"Look Brett...." Paul began, trying to contain his frustration. "What are you up to?" He paused while trying to think of what else to say. Not letting Brett reply yet he continued, "I mean you HAVE to know about me.... It's all over the school!"
Brett was taken aback by Paul's menacing voice. But his reply was very calm and very honest. "I don't give a shit about all that Paul.... Honestly!" He was looking into Paul's eyes as he said this. "I mean look at me! I'm not popular.... And I don't want to be! I like you as a friend because you're not like them...." He added the last comment in a quieter voice, "and I thought you could use a friend.... That's all....."
Well that made Paul feel like shit. How could he treat the only person in the entire world who was willing to be his friend like he did just then. "Look I'm sorry man...." He began but didn't know how to finish.
"It's cool man," Brett pre-empted.... "I probably woulda done the same thing..... You been through a lot of shit today...." Brett's words didn't ease Paul's mind any. He didn't want to do anything to lose what he saw as his only friend in the world. Yet at least his nerves had been calmed. Maybe he'd be able to continue the afternoon without any further suspicions.
"Come on man..." Brett beckoned, while giving Paul a couple of playful punches to the arm. The two made their way along the concrete area to where they could hangout and not be bothered. They found a spot and parked their butts. Paul sat cross-legged opposite Brett. There was a silence as the two thought of something to say. Brett had a lot of questions on his mind, and Paul sensed this.
"Brett man....." Paul started, choosing his words carefully. "Is there anything you wanna ask me?" Brett just stared blankly into Paul's eyes.... thinking. "Cause I mean, if we're gonna be friends I want ya to be comfortable with me. So it's better that you ask now, rather than let it build up and ruin our friendship at a later date." Paul immediately realised that he'd used the word friend. Oh shit, he thought. What if he doesn't think we're friends? Or if he doesn't want to be friends?
"Well.... Arrr.... Yeah I guess I have one or two things I wanna ask....." Brett was looking at the ground as he said this. This immediately made Paul curious, because Brett almost always maintains eye contact. He must really be embarrassed, Paul thought.
"Go ahead man...." Paul was trying to ease Brett's mind, to make it easier for him to ask what he wanted.
"Well.. Ummm.... How do you know that you're gay?," he asked at length. "I mean how can you be sure that it's not just some passing phase or something?"
Paul thought about this for a while. "Well I guess it's just a simple fact for me. I mean it's like the fact that I'm right-handed, or that I have blue eyes. Ya know, I can't change it.... Nor do I want to...." He was trying to think of the right words to use. "I mean every person knows who he or she is, deep down. You can only deny who you are for so long..... Because sooner or later it will become obvious. I guess it's possible that it's a passing phase.... But even if that's true, at least for now I am gay. I mean it's not like I haven't given this a lot of thought...."
Surprisingly Paul was very happy with his answer. As far as questions go this was the sixty four million dollar question. Almost impossible to answer in a way that will make any sense to anyone apart from himself. Yet what he said was quite simply how he felt. No explanation could elaborate further, because there was no explanation, only facts.
"So...... Why did you tell David..... I mean you could have kept it a secret...." Paul could tell that Brett was very concerned for him. This realisation made Paul feel at peace inside. Brett truly was a friend. Why didn't he realise this before now?
"It just got to the point where it hurt to keep it a secret anymore.... You know? Like if I didn't scream it out to someone, I'd just burst...." As Paul spoke this, his emotions got the better of him and his eyes welled up with tears. His first instinct was to brush them away, but instead he just continued looking into Brett's eyes, and willing them away, they sank back into his eyes.
"I was in situations all the time where people were saying things that made me hurt so deeply.... And all I could do was force a smile...." A single tear escaped his left eye as he remembered all the things his friends had said to him in the recent past. "I just got sick of that shit I guess....." Paul's voice had risen in pitch, but with some restraint he was able to stop his occassional tear giving way to full blown crying.
Paul was sure that Brett saw his tear fall, but if he did, he didn't mention it. Surprisingly, Paul felt no shame in crying in front of his knew friend. This seemed strange to him. He'd never allow himself to cry in front of his former friends, or even his family. But for some reason in front of Brett, he felt totally comfortable. Brett too, seemed to be able to take the scene that had unfolded with the right amounts of respect and understanding.
"So....." Paul began, not quite knowing how to word his sentence without sounding too obvious with his intentions. "What do I do now?" He tried to sound rhetorical, but Brett saw through it, and decided to play along.
"I dunno man..... You're one hated guy at the moment!" The smile on Paul's face vanished quickly, and caused Brett to smirk. "Just kidding man!" He said through stifled laughter. "We're buds man...." Brett gave him a playful push again. "You're hangin' out with me!" Paul's smile was back ten-fold. He gave Brett a push back.
As Brett fell onto his side, a pack of cigarettes fell out his left pocket. He immediately took one from the pack, and offered one to Paul. He was about to decline, but then remembered the events of the day, and agreed. He'd smoked before, but never really found it cool or anything.
The two new friends just sat on the ground, smoking their Peter Jackson's in silence. This was a moment of reflection for both of them. Paul thought about the days events. He'd lost a lot. But perhaps he'd gained more. At this point he was content to call it a break-even. Friends like Brett come once in a lifetime. A few weeks ago he thought that David would always be his one true friend. But now that he thought about it, there were other times too, when David just wasn't there for him. Nothing big, but when you add them up, it just meant that he wasn't a true friend after all. This was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
"..... So would that be cool?" Brett had been speaking? All this phasing in and out was something Paul would have to get a hold of sooner or later. "Helloooo? Ground control to Major Paul?" Paul snapped out of his thought pattern to listen to Brett.
Paul's blank stare must have looked extremely comical, because Brett gave a little smirk once he realised Paul had no idea what he was on about. He therefore decided to ask his question again. "I just asked you if ya wanted to skip the last two periods, and go hang out?"
Still somewhat dazed, Paul had to shake himself to get set in his mind what Brett was actually asking him... He wanted to hang out more? Cool! "Yeah man.... That'd be great...." Paul was trying to stay cool... But his mind was racing with the idea of having a new best friend.