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The tiny white lights that ran along the thin tree braches illuminated the midnight sky. The outer walls were lined with small tables covered with white linens and white, wooden slatted chairs sat beside them. Sheer, silver taffeta bows hung on the backs of the chairs blowing in the breeze that floated across the crisp night air. It brought the scent of vanilla as small glowing candles lined the path I took following the melodic sound I almost felt instead of heard.
As I walked on and the trees parted, I came upon the source of the hypnotic melody I felt such a need to follow. The deep, walnut dance floor appearing before me seemed to invite mystery. There, in the moonlight underneath the sea of twinkling stars, I took in every detail of the masquerade ball.
The girls were all dressed in fancy, old style dresses with full skirts and lace, feathers swept up in their hair. Like me, the boys wore white, button down shirts with black vests in the same old style the girls had chosen. Their masks covered their features enough to allow the creation of mystery and excitement.
Tonight would be a magical evening, I could feel it, with my whole being, and I let my mind wander and take in all the possibilities as my eyes came to settle on something that intrigued me. It more than intrigued me. It was captivating all of my senses, my ability to think clearly, which is probably why I allowed myself to look longer than I ever should have.
As they were dancing, each with their own partners, I could only see him. While he was dressed like everyone else, there was something about him that captured my attention. I didn’t even know who he was since his face was hidden by the black mask he wore. I stood there frozen taking in the sight of this mystery boy.
I don’t know how long I actually was standing there watching him as he danced with some girl, but I was suddenly snapped back to reality as I was almost forced into a line by the crowd of dancers. The music had changed and everyone had lined up into two lines. “Come on everyone! Let’s do The Stroll,” I heard come over the speakers.
I was worried. More than that, I was seriously panicking. I didn’t know how to do The Stroll. I didn’t want to mess this up, I couldn’t. I would never hear the end of it. As the line moved slowly forward I had time to watch as each pair of dancers made their way up the middle. This didn’t seem too hard, I could do this, I thought to myself.
I continued to watch the others dance until it was my turn to make the walk up the middle, but when I looked up to see who my partner would be, there he stood before me. With his intense blue eyes looking at me, almost challenging me, my mystery boy stood waiting for me to start moving. It was as if I had no control over my body anymore. I was just standing there staring into his eyes, trying to learn as much about him as I could, when he finally said, “C’mon Stephen, are we gonna do this?”
I’m not sure why, but my cheeks blushed and I finally nodded my consent. As we made our way between the two lines of dancers all I could think about was finding out who this boy was. It didn’t even occur to me at the time that I was basically dancing with another boy in front of the whole school. It didn’t surprise me that he knew who I was, since everyone knew who I was.
I was the guy everyone knew of, and everyone wanted to have as their friend. I was the senior class president and I was the starting pitcher for the varsity baseball team. I always tried to be nice to everyone, I had to set the example as the class president, but as many people as I knew, no one knew the ‘real me’, only the person I had allowed them to know.
We finally made our way back to the end of the line and the rest of the couples made their way too, but I never saw it happen because our eyes were locked together. I was searching my memory, trying to figure out who this boy was when the music ended and the voice over the speaker returned saying, “We will now crown our Homecoming King and Queen”.
Everyone gathered in front of the small stage to hear who would be winning this year’s popularity contest. As they called my name and the people were cheering, I made my way up onto the small stage to accept my victory. As tradition goes, I danced with Julianne, my Queen, for the King and Queen dance.
We danced together, slowly swaying back and forth, close to each other. She seemed so excited, I couldn’t tell if it was because she had won or because she was dancing with me. All I knew was I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Jules was a nice girl, a long time friend, since we were kids, and while I had figured out recently that she had a crush on me, I tried to act like I didn’t notice.
As beautiful as she was with her long brown curls and deep green eyes, she just wasn’t my type. I have watched her turn into this amazing person, and I loved her, but it would never be in the way she wanted me to love her. We always had danced around the situation and her feelings for me but I just couldn’t have that talk with her.
That could only lead to trouble. I didn’t want to hurt her or lead her on, and I didn’t want anyone to find out my true feelings. I needed to keep those secret, but I was so lost in my fascination with this mystery boy. I needed to know more, and I wanted to know now.
I had to stay at the dance until it was over and help clean up. I looked for him for the rest of the evening but he seemed to have disappeared after our dance together. I had lost him with all the King and Queen commotion going on and couldn’t seem to find him after that.
It had been a long night and it was nagging me in the back of my mind as I drove up to my house that night that I still didn’t know who my mystery dance partner had been. When I got out of the car, there he was, sitting on the top step of the porch that ran the entire length of my house. Was he waiting for me? That much seemed obvious but why was he here?
He still wore his mask, as did I. I guess that it had become so comfortable that I didn’t even realize that I still had it on. As I walked toward him he stood and met me half way down the walk. “Uh, I just wanted to say thanks for being so cool back there tonight,” he simply stated before he moved past me to leave. I was shocked to say the least.
What was the big deal? Why did he feel like he had to come here just to thank me? I mean it was just a group dance, and it’s not like we chose to dance with each other, it just worked out that way.
I took off my mask in hopes that he would follow my lead, but no such luck. I mean, he already knew who I was so what did I have to lose, right? So I did the only thing I could think to do at the time. “No problem, man,” I replied and I walked into the house.
As I drifted off to sleep that night I was determined to find out who this guy was on Monday at school. I needed to know. I needed to know who he was and why I was so drawn to him, except that I already knew why, but I didn’t know how to deal with all that now.
I had always been surrounded by girls so there was never any question about my sexuality. I never had to deal with the comments or the crap that most guys had to, besides Jules and I were almost always together. She lived two houses down from me ever since we moved here when I was four.
We were in the same kindergarten class and every year after. Our dads were the best friends that any two men could be and Jules’ mom Linda had pretty much adopted us as family since my mom died when I was seven. I was sad for a long time after Mom died, but Linda really helped me to see that life went on no matter if I was happy or sad, so I might as well enjoy it, so I did.
Dad had done the best he could for us throughout the past ten years and we were really close. He always took the time to tell me how proud he was of me. He came to every one of my games, he never missed one… ever. He was a great dad and I knew that he loved me, but He only knew a part of me.
Since he was a single parent, Jules’ mom watched me after school until I was old enough to be home alone. Even then, I spent most afternoons at the Maclean House instead of in our big, empty house. To me, Jules was the sister I never had, and for a long while, until about two years ago, I was pretty sure she felt the same way.
Only, things had been changing between us. I was busier with baseball practice and student council and we didn’t get to see each other as much. It was then that I started to notice a change in how she acted around me. She would always touch me, a lot, and when we walked somewhere together she would hook her arm through mine. She laughed at all my dumb jokes and was always giggling. It just made me so… uncomfortable.
There was no nice way to tell her that I didn’t, no, couldn’t see her that way. I would give anything not to hurt her, to give her what she wanted from me. But the more time that we spent together, the more clear it became to me that she just wasn’t the one for me, or any girl for that matter.
I had known this about myself since the ninth grade. I never acted on it, not once, and I could never tell anyone, especially not Jules. I mean, she was my best friend, my closest friend really. She knew all my secrets. She knew that I rubbed the back of my head when I was nervous. She knew that when I fidgeted it meant that I needed some space, some time to work things out in my head.
I knew her secrets too. I knew her smile, the way the corners of her mouth curled up when she was nervous, and the one that she saved just for me. She only used it when she was worried about me, but it was mine, my smile.
I spent the weekend doing lots of things; homework, chores, and Jules and I went to a movie, but the whole time I could only remember those eyes. As we sat next to each other in the darkened theatre, watching whatever chick flick Jules picked out, all I did was think of was every detail from that night, I remembered him looking up at me from under his long eyelashes.
After the movie ended, I drove to Joey’s. It was the place we always went to hang out and they made the best pizza. The team came here after every game, there were arcade games and music, and they had big TVs with all the sports games on. It was Sunday night so not too many people were out, but we sat around and talked about the dance and ate some pizza.
I was laughing at Jules. She had just asked me if you get seven points for scoring a run in baseball, she could be such a girl sometimes. I was trying to explain it to her, again, when Bobby and Sean walked up and shoved us both over in our seats. I guess there was room for two more in our booth, whether we liked it or not. I did like it though, something to take the pressure off of me.
Bobby was on the baseball team with me, and he played third base. All the guys always gave him a hard time, saying that he could never get to home base with a girl, that he was always stuck on third. I found that to be hilarious, since of all of the guys on the team, Bobby had the most girlfriends. He was just a bit shorter than me and had sandy blond hair, not that you could tell because he always wore his baseball cap.
Next to Jules sat Sean. He had always had a thing for her, and seemed to find a way to be wherever we were. He was pretty quiet, just sort of tagged along with Bobby everywhere, but if you really took the time to get to know him, you would have the most loyal friend. He was more reserved, I think, because he was smaller than most of the guys our age, but he really was great to look at. She always said that he would never measure up to me.
That was a fact, because I stood at 6’2” and he was only 5’9”. But beyond our height difference, there were so many other things that were different about us. Sean was more academic I guess, he was on the school newspaper and the yearbook. He was the sports editor so he always had an excuse to be around me, ‘getting his story’, he would always say. I really liked him though, if I had to pick someone who was good enough for Jules to date, it would be him.
That night after I dropped Jules off and then drove the two houses up the street to my house, I was wishing that he would be sitting there again waiting for me, but he wasn’t. After searching every memory I had from that night, I still had no idea who this boy was. The need to know, to find him, was taking me over. How would I find him, and once I did, what then? What would I do then? Nothing. That’s what, because I couldn’t.
This secret I have, that I carry around with me, never really seemed to be a burden before, I mean, sure, I’ve looked in the locker room after practice, who hasn’t? I have been able to see lots of great looking, half naked, or all naked guys, and that always seemed to be enough, so why now, has this boy changed my ability to just walk away?
I didn’t know the answer to that question, but the one thing I did know was those eyes. I would know them anywhere. I hoped that as he looked into mine, as we danced together, that he hadn’t seen into my soul, to my most private place. I hoped that he hadn’t figured out my secret.
He knew who I was, he had used my name at the dance, and he knew where I lived. I hoped he didn’t know everything now, since I had allowed myself to be captured by those eyes, to be seen from behind those eyes.
I was scared, nervous, as I got ready for school Monday morning. All of a sudden deciding what to wear was a huge task and I just couldn’t get my hair to do anything that looked right. I was on my fifth outfit when Jules walked into my room.
“Hey hot stuff,” she said. “Looking good today.” “Same as every other day right?,” I joked. She giggled… again. I don’t know how she does it. I mean the way she seems to be able to just be entertained by being near me. It is something that I would never understand, how could anyone be so easily amused? I don’t think I’d ever act that way, it seems so… fake, and dumb.
“Ready yet? Come on, I don’t want to be late today,” she asked me. “Alright, I guess I can’t get any better looking by standing here staring at myself in the mirror, can I,” I asked in return. She looked at me through her pretty green eyes and after a thoughtful pause she said, “That would be impossible”. Well, if something was gonna get me moving, that was it. The uncomfortable pause. The one where I am supposed to finally figure it out, make my move. Well that was just not going to happen today, or ever.
I grabbed my backpack and headed out the door without another word to her on the matter. She followed along behind me out to my truck. I had a maroon colored Chevy pickup. It came in handy when I had to transport baseball equipment and stuff for pep rallies, and it was big. I mean what kind of gay guy drives a big truck? Me, that’s what kind, but no one knew that.
I opened the door for her and she
climbed in while I waited for her to get seated and comfortable so I could
shut the door. My dad had taught me manners and what a gentleman should do.
Hold the door, stand at the table when a lady arrives or leaves, and to open
the car door. I think it was engraved into my brain now.
When we pulled up at school she was telling me some story about the sleepover the girls had had after the dance on Friday night. It was at Rachel’s house. Peppy, funny, and way too full of energy sometimes, that was Rachel. She was Jules best girlfriend, and they were inseparable usually, except for when it came to me.
We climbed out of my truck and walked into school. John F. Kennedy High School, the stage for the greatest act of my life. I walked Jules to her first class and then after I dropped her off saying that I would see her at lunch I made my way to the main office. As the student council president it was my job to deliver the daily announcements to the student body each morning reminding them of important dates and club meetings, etc.
It was on my walk to the office as students were rushing to get to class before they were late that I started looking around. I wasn’t sure what it was exactly I was looking for, or who, but I kept trying to make eye contact with everyone I passed. His eyes were the only thing I would recognize about him, and I was sure I would, when I finally did see them again.
Government and English had dragged on forever and now I was sitting in my third period math class and I couldn’t even begin to concentrate on what Mr. Peters was trying to teach us. All I could think about was finding him, looking into his eyes again. I was beginning to think that I would never find him. I mean, what were the chances, really?
Here, in this school with fifteen hundred kids, he was out there somewhere, and I was stuck here learning about angles. Antsy, that is what I felt like. I couldn’t sit still, I kept shaking my feet. The girl in front of me had just turned around, again, since I accidentally kicked her seat… again.
I needed to get it together. I was being a total spaz. Why couldn’t I just chill out and make it to lunch? That would give me an opportunity to look for him. I would feel like I was making some progress at least. I guess the fact that I knew he was a boy cut out half of the school population, but I couldn’t just go around staring at every guy in school, that wouldn’t be a good idea.
The bell finally rang releasing me from the torture of geometry. Normally I loved math, but today I didn’t want to be confined to a classroom. I had already sat through three periods looking at every guy in each of my classes trying to find him with no luck, but I did get some weird looks in return. I would have to be more careful.
Fourth period was student council, so at least I would have that to occupy my attention for the next hour until lunch. We discussed the pep rally we would have that Friday for the next football game, the upcoming blood drive, and the new tutoring program I had started after school in the library.
I had thought it would be a good way to get students some extra help and bring them together. So far, however, it had only succeeded in bringing me to the library after school everyday. At least I had a quiet place to get my homework done before practice started. It was only the start of the second week, I would have to give it some time I thought, to make it successful.
Finally it was lunch time. Here was my chance, I was going to make good use of this time. I found Jules sitting at our table outside in the courtyard. The courtyard was just outside the school cafeteria and had lots of tables and benches outlined by green shade trees.
She was with Rachel and some other girls and they were all giggling about something when I walked up. “Hello ladies,” I said, and they all laughed again. “Umm, Jules, could I talk to you for a sec?” “Sure babe,” she replied showing off for the girls. She got up and walked with me, hooking her arm in mine as though we were a couple. I just walked next to her hoping to get this over with as soon as possible, I knew she would be pissed.
“So, what’s up?” she asked me. “I just wanted to remind you that I can’t take you home again today because I have this tutoring thing before practice,” I replied. “Oh, come on Stephen, no one even came last week,” she whined. “I know Jules, but this is important to me, I’m sorry,” I said hoping she would understand. I was gonna give this idea a chance if it killed me.
I walked a very unhappy Jules back to our table. I sat down with the girls for a few minutes to put in an appearance before making some excuse about going to the bathroom and then I went off in search of my mystery boy. Where would I even start looking for him? I spent the entire rest of the lunch period wandering around looking at guys and trying to be totally inconspicuous, which is really hard to do when trying to get a good look at someone’s eyes.
The bell rang and I was frustrated. I had no luck finding him. I walked off to my next class. Hopefully this one would be easier to get through since Bobby was in the class with me there was some hope. He was always a good distraction since he was surrounded by girls all the time he always knew the latest gossip.
We had art fifth period so we would be able to talk a little. Our art teacher was pretty cool that way. She would just give us the assignment and then leave us to get it done. She would be around if we needed her help, but this was advanced drawing so we all were pretty good at it by now.
I was sketching a picture of my house, the way it looked that night when I drove up and he was sitting there waiting for me. Who was he? I was sure that it would be impossible to find him. I think I must have looked at half the guys in the school already and I still hadn’t found him. This totally sucked.
“Hey man, what’s going on with you today?” Bobby asked as he shoved my shoulder a bit to get my attention. “Huh?” I asked. “I’ve been telling you this story about Rachel trying to hint around again that Jules likes you, and you haven’t heard a word I’ve said. What’s up with you today?” he said. “Shit. I don’t know man, I just have some stuff on my mind I guess,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t ask me what.
“Alright man, tell me, who is she?” he asked me after a few minutes. “What are you talking about?” I asked in return. “You have been off on a totally different planet like all period, so who is she?” he pushed wanting an answer. What was I supposed to say? That I was going crazy looking for some guy I was probably never gonna find anyway. Nope, I don’t think so.
“C’mon Bobby, you know if there was someone I would tell you, but there isn’t so just forget it,” I stated firmly hoping he would believe it and that this would be the end of this line of questioning. “Okay man, if you say so,” he said and went on talking about some cheerleader he was supposed to be going out with on Friday night after the pep rally.
When class was over we headed our separate ways bumping fists. “Later Man,” I said. “Yeah, see you at practice,” he threw over his shoulder as he walked off to his next class.
I walked to the library to begin the second week of the tutoring program I had started. It was really a nice day outside. The sun was shining warmly and there was a cool fall breeze blowing through the trees whose leaves were all shades of bright reds and oranges.
Our library was on the side of the school near the parking lot and the gym which was good for me since I would have to hurry to get dressed for practice after I was done tutoring at four-thirty. Practice started at five but I had to warm up first since I had to pitch.
I walked into the library and instantly appreciated the quiet and the solitude. I needed to think, to get some things sorted out in my head. I said hello to the librarian, Mrs. Shoemaker, and let her know that I would be at my usual table in the back corner in case anybody showed up for tutoring.
The library was like most. Books, tables and chairs, and quiet. I went and sat in my usual spot and laid my head down on the table. I needed to clear my head, to focus. I had homework to do at the minimum and hopefully someone would actually show up for some tutoring.
Now that I had regrouped, collected my thoughts, and was ready to concentrate, I pulled out my books and started on my homework. I had pretty much wasted my day daydreaming about finding him so I had a lot to catch up on.
I had been working for about an hour when someone walked up to my table. My head was buried in my math book trying to figure out what Mr. Peters had explained earlier, but I didn’t pay attention to, so I didn’t look up immediately.
I heard a voice say, ”Is this where the tutoring is? I mean, umm, are you the only guy tutoring?” Not looking up from the angle I was working on drawing I said, “Yeah, so far. Take a seat and I’ll be finished here in a second and then we can get started on getting you some help.”
He had made no move to sit down and when I finally looked up he had his back to me leafing through some book he had picked up off the shelf. “You ready?” I asked him as I bent down to grab my backpack and started packing up my stuff.
He had finally decided to sit down and when I looked up at him he was pulling his book from his backpack. I recognized him. It was Jesse Green. I kind of glanced around, trying to be nonchalant about it, to see if anybody else was near us in the library, but we were alone.
I guess that appealed to me at the moment because I had a couple issues I needed to deal with. One was that Jesse was this openly out gay guy and I was sitting with him, alone, in the back of the library and the other was that he was HOT!
I had watched Jesse from a safe distance several times before, never getting too close. I didn’t know what I would do, how I would handle it, if someone decided to say anything to me about being gay, so I stayed away from him.
He was almost my height, about 6 feet tall and he wasn’t quite as built as me, but he definitely wasn’t some skinny kid either. He had blond hair that he wore a little longer on the top and it kind of hung down over his eyes.
He had the best smile, the kind that would make you immediately forget your problems, or your own name. I had seen him before, laughing with his friends. He seemed so carefree, like he didn’t care about what anybody thought about him. He just seemed to be happy and secure with himself.
That amazed me totally because I couldn’t even imagine telling anyone my secret, ever. I don’t know what I was thinking exactly. I mean I had fully accepted the fact that I was gay, but giving anyone else the chance to do that seemed crazy to me. He was so at ease with the whole thing, like he was just proud to be who he was. I wished I knew how he did it.
I looked down at my watch as he was pulling out his homework and noticed that time was almost up. I would have to be getting to practice soon. “So, I only have about fifteen minutes left today. I have practice, but I’ll do my best to help you, If you can get here earlier tomorrow, we’ll have more time together,” I managed to get out. Did I sound nervous? Would he think I wanted him to come back, that I wanted to spend more time together?
What was I thinking? I needed to stop worrying. He was just here to get some help with his homework, easy enough to explain that to someone if I had to. He looked up at me, frowning a little, and said, ”Oh okay, sorry, I guess I’ll just try to figure it out on my own then.”
I had looked up from my watch and seen the expression on his face. He looked like someone had just told him his dog died. You know that sad, disappointed, look like you are really hurt, but for everyone else’s sake you will just act like you’re fine. I’m sure he thought I was just making up some excuse so I wouldn’t have to be seen with him.
But then I saw his eyes, those eyes, the ones I had looked into on that first night, and I suddenly felt like I had to fix this, and fix it now! “No!” I must have said a little louder than I meant to because he kind of jumped in his seat. “I mean, uh, well…,” I trailed off. Holy shit! It was him, HIM! How could it be him? How could Jesse, gay Jesse, be my mystery boy?
“What?” he asked. I didn’t know what to say to him. Here was my chance and I couldn’t even speak. I just sat there staring at him. I was petrified. Finally he sighed and said, ”Look, if this is gonna be a problem I’ll just go.” He reached for his backpack and continued, “I mean I just thought you were cool with it. I guess I was wrong.”
Okay, how could I let him think that I had a problem with him being gay? I mean I didn’t have a problem with it, really. I just didn’t know what to do. He was shoving his books into his backpack and the beautiful smile that he usually had was replaced by a look of genuine pain and heartbreak. It was the first time I had ever seen him look like that.
I was responsible for that look, I caused it. He was standing up to leave and I grabbed his arm to stop him. “No, look, I was just surprised. I mean, it’s not a problem, really,” I said, hoping he would recognize the truth in my voice.
He stopped and looked up at me from under his long eyelashes and I thought I saw a tiny glimmer of hope flash through his eyes. “Can you meet me after practice? I’m done at six-thirty,” I asked him.
After a moment he asked me, “Why?” searching my eyes for the truth. “Well you came here for some help, and I want to help you,” I said hoping he would believe me. “I mean, I feel bad that I have to leave and you haven’t even gotten any help yet.”
What I really wanted to say was that I wanted to see him again, to just be near him, but I couldn’t. I hoped that my answer would be enough. He looked down for a minute at my hand holding onto his arm and then, searching my eyes again said, “Yeah, okay. Where do you want to meet?”
Now this was something I hadn’t thought about. It’s not like I could just show up at Joey’s. With all the people that hung out there someone was bound to see us. I thought for a minute and said, “How about your house?” I figured it would be safe there. No one I knew would be around and Jules wouldn’t just show up like she did at my house.
“Are you sure?” he asked me hesitantly. “Yeah, is seven okay?” I said, trying to sound like I meant it. He nodded and gave me directions to his house. We parted ways at the library door, me heading to practice and him heading home. He probably thought I wouldn’t show, but I had every intention of going.
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