Thank you for being patient, I know this has been a long time coming, I hope it is worth the wait. Once again I am going to promise to post more often. Thank you to all my faithful readers and as always if you want to say anything to me you can contact me at email@example.com
Things Are Different - Chapter 12
The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth turn in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command my love
That was there at my command╣
Things were becoming way too complicated for me. Every time I closed my eyes Scott's face would appear inches from my own. His midnight eyes reflected my own face like the waters of a deep and still lake on a moon lit summer's eve. Unfortunately the image was always accompanied by confusion on my part. It made me feel good, but there was always this underlying current of fear that contorted any good mood I had into something just a little malignant.
Every day I would meet Scott out in front of the school with a casual hello, usually followed shortly by a typically exuberant Devon throwing an arm around my shoulder. Dani usually arrived next and sidled up to Devon, snaking an arm around him and pulling him away from me. At times like this I couldn't even look directly at Scott and would revert to my shoe gazing head tilt.
At lunch I was always waiting for Dani to slip up and say or do something that would betray us. As I was keeping an eye on her, I was keeping an eye on myself, afraid that I would do or say something that would broadcast an unintentional signal to our surroundings when I was around Scott, just as we had done with Dani. At the same time I was trying to read how Scott was handling it, but he didn't reveal anything in public. I could only image that he would become frustrated with me at some point and yell at me and tell me to take a hike.
Despite all of my anxieties, they mostly faded to the background when we were in private. The looming deadline for our project was the perfect excuse for us to spend time together after school at Scott's house. Dani was also there, because of her technical expertise, but she did not mind waiting a few minutes for us to settle down.
"I would tell the two of you to get a room, but we are already there," Dani interrupted us when she decided we had been at it long enough. We were in Scott's room, Dani sat on the floor with her laptop as we sat on his bed, our legs intertwined in an impossible knot as our lips and tongues fought a battle that neither wanted to win.
"I think you enjoy watching us," Scott told her as we semi-separated. Somehow I always forgot she was there and when she spoke my natural shyness returned and I immediately hid my face in my hands. "See how you embarrass Jay."
Click! I dropped my hands when I heard the familiar click of Dani's phone camera.
"Will you stop that!" I nearly shrieked.
"I can't help it if you are guys are too cute together."
"I swear to god nobody better see those pictures you keep taking," I was admittedly worried about somebody (mostly Devon) accidently stumbling upon the pictures on her phone. Prior to this week the only pictures of me were school photos and I didn't have any of those because we could never afford to buy the packages.
"Nobody has seen them," she paused, "yet. I found this website with nothing but hot couples like kissing and such. It is so hot . . . and cute. You guys belong on it."
"I know that site," Scott said.
"Okay, enough of that, maybe we can finish this project finally?" I desperately wanted to move on to some other topic.
"I think we are done," Dani said.
"How is everyone doing in here?" Anita stuck her head in the room. In an inexplicable panic I tried to disentangle my legs from Scott's, producing a smile from his mom and a giggle from Dani. My blood rushed to my face and to make things worse Scott planted a quick kiss on my cheek. I wanted to scream, but at myself, not at them. Of course, since his mom was home that also meant that Cassie was too and she came in right behind her planting herself in the now narrow space between Scott and me.
"Did we interrupt anything?" Cassie asked. I don't think she is as innocent as she should be.
"No," we both answered, again getting a giggle out of Dani.
"Hey boys!" out of nowhere Vanessa appeared behind Anita, "and girls!" Vanessa raised her eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion. I looked at Scott with something that I hoped conveyed: Where did she come from?
"Oh, she never knocks or anything," Scott took my cue, "though something tells me that I am going to have to teach her how."
"Like that is going to happen, especially now that I can catch you up to something," Vanessa has kind of an evil grin.
"Um, I think we are going to have to start hanging out at my house," I said.
"Awesome you have a queen sized bed," Scott said.
"Scott!" both his mom and Vanessa chorused. One was a shocked sound the other was almost a cheer. I felt my face get hot and buried it in my palms again.
"So what's going on here? I didn't think I would ever see this many girls in Scott's bedroom," Vanessa asked.
"Scott and Jay are boyfriends and they are working on a school project together," Cassie spoke up. I realized that I wouldn't be able to be out in public with Cassie anytime soon.
"Oh, is that a fact?" Vanessa was enjoying this.
"Yep, I think they make a really cute couple and Jay is really good at telling stories and Scott smiles a lot more now, but sometimes he looks a little retarded he does it so much," it was my turn to smile when she said that.
"Oh yeah?" Scott turned to her, "we'll see who smiles like a retard." He turned on her and started to tickle her. She shrieked and started to laugh hysterically.
"Jay! Save me!" she leapt into my lap bowling me over.
"He can't save you!" Scott said and started tickling me. Okay, I don't know remember the last time I was tickled and if you asked me I would probably have said I was not ticklish, but Scott apparently touched me in the right spot and I let out a shriek higher than Cassie's. That caused everyone to pause and they all got the same evil Vanessa grin. Within moments I was being accosted by Scott and three girls. Anita did not join in, but she did watch from the doorway. I don't know how long it was, but I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe, I had to pee and I thought I was going to pass out.
"I have to piss!" I finally gasped out, which had the desired effect and they immediately backed off. I quickly stood up and escaped to the bathroom as fast as I could. After draining myself I paused in front of the mirror. My face was flushed, my hair was a mess and my shirt was completely unbuttoned. I fixed my shirt, ran my fingers through my hair and splashed some water on my face. As I looked at my reflection I started to wonder how Scott, as well as others saw me.
I don't know where it came from, but an unbidden sob escaped my lips and tears threatened to overrun my eyes yet again. What the hell was wrong with me?
"You are an asshole loser," I said to myself. How can anybody see anything but that? Nice? Normal? None of the above. I threw water on my face again and returned to Scott's room.
When I returned Anita and Cassie were gone and Scott was picking on his banjo as Vanessa was singing softly;
I wish I knew, I wish I knew
What makes me, me, and what makes you, you.
It's just another point of view, ooo.
A state of mind I'm going through, yes.
So what I see is never true, ahhh."
Dani was sitting on the floor watching the mini-concert. Despite myself I was jealous of how Scott and Vanessa interacted so seamlessly. I loved music, but I also knew I have a tin ear and could never share music with him the way Vanessa did. Looking up, Scott saw me in the doorway and immediately put down his banjo and came over to me.
"Are you okay?" there was true concern in his voice and face as he gently took hold of my hands.
"Oh yeah, sure," I said, though I don't know that it was that convincing. I even tried a smile. He wasn't buying it.
"I'm, we're sorry. I know you are not really into being touched a lot and I think, you know, with Cassie we got a little over . . . crap. You know what I'm trying to say?"
"Yeah, it's okay. I guess I just didn't know I was ticklish."
"Really? You didn't know you were ticklish?"
"Never had anyone tickle me before that I know of," I was hoping we were talking softly enough that Vanessa and Dani didn't hear or that they were at least ignoring us.
"I feel like an asshat."
I ran my hands up his arms, squeezing his biceps, "Funny, you don't feel like an asshat to me."
"You told me you didn't know how to be funny," he said smiling.
"That was not funny. That was lame."
"Did you ask him asshat?" Vanessa called out to him in her none too subtle way of also saying she heard everything we said.
"Stop being a bitch," he responded.
"Ask me what?'
"We are playing at the Farmer's Market on Saturday, did you want to come by and be our audience?'
"Well since I was planning on spending Saturday with you anyway, I might as well do it at a farmer's market. Besides I am making perfume and I need some cruciferous vegetables," did I just say all that? I have got to be the clingiest, lamest fag in the world.
"Yeah, we got to work on your sense of humor," Scott was smiling and shaking his head.
Now came the hard part.
"I better get going. I want to be well rested for our presentation tomorrow," I said.
"Uh, okay. Your grandma coming to pick you up?" Scott asked.
"I'm meeting her over at the university."
"Okay, I will see you tomorrow morning," he said after a pause, cocking his head to one side.
We leaned into kiss. Not a passionate tongue kiss, just a chaste brushing of lips.
"See you tomorrow Jay," Dani called out.
"Laters JW," Vanessa waved at me.
Scott walked me to the door, where we kissed quickly again and I headed out to a sun that would soon disappear behind the West Hills. My grandmother's house would already be in shadow.
I started walking towards downtown from what I now knew was Lair Hill. Within minutes I would be near the university, not that there was really any reason for me to be going there, it was just convenient.
I almost jumped out of my skin when I felt the hand on my shoulder.
"Crap! I'm sorry 'bout that."
"Vanessa? What are you doing here?" I asked.
"Honestly?" she asked. I just stared at her, my hands thrust deep in my pockets. I didn't know how to respond.
"I'm following you."
I gave her the same head cock that Scott had given me.
"First for being jealous of you, no wait let me continue," she interrupted herself when she saw my mouth move, "Yes, jealous. I have been used to having Scott to myself and all of sudden he wasn't there. He always talked to me and told me everything and then he wasn't. He had you and I was less important. I still don't like it, but I know I need to be mature about it. Which brings me to my second apology; for threatening you. That wasn't right."
"It's all okay," I said.
"Damn, Dani was right. Stop being so nice."
"It's easier than fighting."
"But not nearly as much fun."
I shrugged my shoulders and continued walking. She fell in beside me.
"Oh, and I'm sorry about the whole tickling and touching thing. I didn't know it made you that uncomfortable. I saw you with Cassie and you didn't seem to mind that and . . . who ever heard of somebody not knowing if they are ticklish. Sorry, that came out wrong. I don't know anything about where you are coming from," her hands mimicked mine, shoved into the pockets of her tight fitting black jeans and she easily kept up with me despite the knee high black combat style boots she was wearing.
"Scott didn't tell you about me?"
"Just that you are living with your grandmother because both of your parents are de-- passed on and that you had a pretty rough time even before that." I noticed how she was trying to be, I guess, gentle with me. I could tell it was not her usual manner and this whole conversation was as much outside of her comfort zone as it was mine.
"Yeah, that is pretty much true I guess. I am pretty much out of my element here, but that is probably a good thing. It is just taking a lot of getting used to."
"Hard to trust people huh?"
"Yeah, I still keep my money in my shoe, just in case."
"So you're not really meeting your grandma at the university are you?
"I just ask because we've already walked past it."
"Um..." I was caught, "I guess I just needed some private time."
"Sorry, I interfered with it."
"I'm kinda glad you did."
"You need a ride home?"
"You have a car?"
"I am a senior after all."
"I didn't know that, I thought you were a sophomore too."
"Nope, this is my last year. Why do think I don't have any classes with either of you, besides the fact that you are both nerds taking honors classes" she laughed, a sound like summer rain. "So about that ride, it's back at Scott's."
"Come on, the walk will be good for us."
We walked back, mostly silently.
"Do you know how Scott and I met?" she asked.
"I assumed it had something to with music." I answered.
"We actually travelled in completely different musical circles. No we met somewhere else," she rolled up her sleeves, revealing a tracery of parallel scars all the way up her arm. I realized I had never seen her in short sleeves. Her arms were always covered to the wrist. She was a cutter. Holding her arms up, she said, "Therapy."
"Scott called you musical soul mates."
"In a funny way we are. He introduced me to Patty Griffin, Doc Watson and Kitty Wells. I introduced him to Toyah, Patty Smith and Henry Rollins."
"I know all of those artists."
"I thought you might from what I hear from Scott . . . and others. The point to me telling you this is that Scott and I share a lot. We never lie to each other and that is kind of why I was upset with you before when I threatened you and all that. What I am trying to say is please don't lie to Scott, he doesn't deserve that."
"You're right," what I didn't say out loud is I didn't deserve Scott.
Fortunately she did not make me go back into see Scott right then and there. Instead she just dropped me off at home. I think we must have talked ourselves out and little was said on the short drive, aside from directions.
I woke up with a queasy stomach again, something with which I, unfortunately, was all too familiar. Skipping breakfast was not an option without raising suspicions with my grandma. It was becoming obvious that little got by her.
My stomach only got worse when I got to school. I quickly ran around the side of the building, avoiding where we usually all meet at the front. I went in a side entrance and found a restroom. After emptying my breakfast into the bowl I hid in the stall until the first bell rang. Right before first period started, I got a text from Scott asking me where I was. Moments later I slid into the seat next to him.
"Sorry," I said. I couldn't look at him.
"Running a little late?" he asked.
"Something the matter?" I could hear the concern in his voice. It made my heart ache.
"Just really nervous," that was certainly no lie.
"Don't worry about it. We've got the presentation down."
"It's not that. Well it is that, partly. I'm not good in front of people," I fidgeted with my pen and notebook.
"What is it?"
"I want to apologize," I looked him in the eye, "to you."
"What for?" I could see the hint of fear creep into the typically calm pools of his eyes.
"I didn't really leave to meet my grandma," I paused to take a deep breath, "I think I just got a little overwhelmed with the tickling and all and I needed some time alone, even though it didn't end up that way. Vanessa followed me."
"I'm sorry, we - I just got carried away. It's my fault. I should have known better."
"Don't you apologize!"
"Signore Westwood!?" my head snapped towards the front of the classroom where Mr. Dig had been trying to teach for some time.
"Yes, Sir?" I responded sheepishly.
"Perhaps you would like to join the lesson with some special insight?"
"A love poem Signore, a love poem. We are discussing poetry of the heart."
"Do you know one, perhaps?"
"Care to share, or is your conversation with Signore Porter more important?"
I wanted to say yes, it is more important. Instead I racked my brain for a poem to show him up, but only one would come to mind. It was one of the only ones that I felt captured the feelings with which I had only recently become familiar. I doubted he would approve of it, but I started anyway:
There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you
let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills
let the storm wash the plates"
"An interesting choice. You are proving to be a teenager of surprising depth. I must say I am pleased you did not choose some Elisabeth Barret Brown or Emily Dickenson. Though we will look at those too. Turn to page one sixty-seven and we will look at some other examples, specifically the Shakespearean sonnets."
Of course we had to pay attention to the rest of class. The unfortunate outcome of the class was an assignment to right a love poem. All the males in the class let out a collective groan when he delivered that bit of news. I was just glad to be out that class and onto the next one. It was also good that Scott and I did not get a chance to continue trading I'm sorrys. I wanted to say I was sorry for lying and leave it at that.
Because we all ate lunch together, that meant that the conversation couldn't continue there either.
Dani and Devon were seated in their usual place, practically in each other's laps. Scott and I sat across from them, close, but not touching. Occasionally I would catch, what I thought was a look of pity from Dani. I concentrated on my food. It must have been one of those times that I was staring at my lasagna that she came up to me.
"Um, Jay?" Devon made a throat clearing sound.
"What?" I jerked my head up, with a nod of his head Devon drew my attention to a girl standing next to me. She was very attractive with blond hair that flowed in a flaxen wave about her shoulders and an ample bosom.
"You're Jay right?" she asked.
"Uh yeah," why was this girl talking to me?
"We have first period English with Mr. Dig."
"Oh, yeah," we did? We probably did, after Scott sat next to me that first day I can honestly say I didn't notice anybody else in the class. Can you blame me?
"That poem you recited this morning was amazing. Who was it?"
"Um, Edwin Morgan. He's Scottish, or he was, he died recently, but he was pretty old," okay, now I'm rambling and that is not right. Why doesn't Scott or Devon or somebody else say something? A glance at Devon just showed him smiling and Dani was hiding her mouth behind her hand. I didn't dare look towards Scott.
"Did he write other poems?"
"Yeah, lots." Why can't I just tell her to go away?
"Um, I was wondering, it's Friday and I was wondering if you were doing anything tonight? Like maybe, if not, you would like to go a movie . . . or something?"
When I heard that I think a small nuclear explosion went off in my head. My ears started to ring and my vision was washed with an amber haze. What the fuck do I do? This time I looked at Scott. Just a quick glance and I thought of Vanessa.
"Edwin Morgan was gay," I mumbled as I stared at my sneakers, "he didn't come out until he was in his eighties."
I don't know if she heard me or not, it didn't matter, I wasn't talking for her benefit anyway. "He wrote a lot of beautiful love poems and they were all gay, but nobody ever knew that."
"Okay?" she drew the word out; oo-kaaay.
"I don't want to be like him," it was barely a whisper.
I looked up at her, gathering my courage, "but you see I am like him," my voice was still barely above a whisper, lost in the din of the lunch room, "I'm gay."
"What?" Did she say that because she didn't hear me?
I don't know what possessed me, maybe I was just finally tired of hiding, of being unsure, and of lying; I stood up, but that was not enough, I climbed up on my chair and flung my arms out and said loudly, no shouted -- "I'm gay!" Without waiting for a response, I dropped back to sit on my chair and planted a kiss on the lips of a very shocked Scott. Hoping at least that part was over I returned to my lunch and shoved a forkful into my mouth.
There was an immediate silence in the arena of food that was broken by the unmistakable clatter of a lunch tray falling to the ground. Plastic dishes and metal flatware struck the linoleum floor with a flat clang that drew all eyes from me to the source. Keith was the center of attention momentarily until he bolted from the room and everyone turned to me. I went back to my thoroughly unappetizing meal.
"Uh, okay," the girl said and wandered off, within minutes the cacophony of conversation continued, though I imagine that the topic had changed.
"Whoa, Jay, that was . . . I don't know . . . intense," Dani said, "glad to see, but, like whoa!"
"Dude, I think you just disappointed a few girls," I heard Devon say.
I stared at my plate, shoveling food into my mouth. What the fuck had I just done? What was Scott thinking? What the hell was I thinking?
Scott brushed my cheek with his lips. I looked at him and I could not keep the blush from coloring my cheeks.
"Dani is right, that was like -- whoa!" he said.
He lightly smacked the back of my head, "Quit saying that!"
"Sor-" and saved by the bell signaling the end of lunch before Scott could land another tap to my head. I made a strategic retreat to the next class.
We only had a few minutes to talk again before class and our presentation.
"Still worried about the presentation?" Scott asked.
"More worried about getting my ass kicked after what I did at lunch. What the hell was I thinking?" I actually knew exactly what I was thinking.
"Nobody is going to kick your ass; this is Portland, Oregon for Christ's sake. Bullying of any sort is out of the question. Even our mayor is gay."
"As a three dollar bill. He is kind of cute for an older guy, but he's gotten a little heavy recently."
"You're perving on the mayor?"
"No, I'm just saying -- if I was like twenty years older you know . . . Anyway, what were you thinking? I think it is great that you are out now, but that was kind of extreme, especially for you. You usually aren't one for being the center of attention."
"Honestly?" I don't know why I asked that, because that was really the only choice.
"Vanessa made me do it," Scott's eyes got wide, "not like that. She didn't threaten me again, but she did make me promise not to lie to you and as long as we were not being open about our relationship, then I was lying. That and, even though for a long time it was the only way I thought it could be, I didn't want to be like Edwin Morgan. Nobody knew that his love poems were written to or about other men until he came out when he was eighty, right before he died." I took a deep breath.
Scott took my hand gently, tracing the tendons on the back of it with his thumb. "Writing a love poem is going to be the easiest thing in the world," he said. I was already composing one in my head.
After the "incident" at lunch, delivering the presentation was almost anti-climatic.
When we got called up for our turn, our preparations garnered more than one curious look from the teacher. There were some odd glances from students as well, but I think that had to do with word, that I was sure was already circulating, that Scott and I were a couple. I hooked up the pocket projector and speakers that Dani provided. She must have every twidgety piece of technology available. Of course the most work that anybody had put into their presentation consisted of some pictures glued to a cardboard presentation board, so it did seem we were probably going a little overboard. I was gradually realizing that was part of Scott's personality and that it might be rubbing off on me: If something is worth doing, it is worth over-doing.
The unmistakable opening bars of Patty Griffin's Tony came from the speakers, but before she started to sing the music faded and looped into the background.
"36.5 % of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth in grades nine through twelve have attempted suicide." Scott spoke clearly and forcefully.
"Gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual young people." I had to fight to keep my voice from quavering.
Images on the screen scrolled through photos of young men and women, each accompanied with a birth date and another date, sometimes little more than a decade later.
Patty Griffin's voice joined ours as we cycled through our statistics.
Hey Tony, what's so good about dying
He said I think I might do a little dying today
He looked in the mirror and saw
A little faggot starin' back at him⁴
The last image on the screen was Scott, taken when he was still in the hospital. His neck was in a brace and there was a cast on his arm. Those dark orbs that normally reflected the billion stars of the night were dull and purple bruising encircled them. It took every trick I had of pushing my emotions down deep into a bottomless well to keep me from crying out at the image.
"We can be, we have to be better than the statistics and we are stronger than all the haters, even when they are the ones called family," he finished with a somber tone, but forceful tone.
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away
There was dead silence as the music faded. It seemed like a long time before the teacher got up and turned the lights back up. I could see tears in the eyes of several of the girls and it looked like a couple of guys were hiding behind sunglasses. One guy got up without a word and left.
"Well that was a very impressive and passionate presentation. Next up is Kelly and Steve," the teacher took back control of the classroom and we hurriedly scooped up our stuff.
I breathed a sigh of relief. At least that was over and I would never have to do it again.
"So tell me, how did it go?" Dani accosted us as we stood waiting for my grandmother to pick me up. One thing that was different was that Scott stood next to me with his arm around my waist. I kept looking at others as they went by, gauging their reaction, rating how safe I felt.
I had to kick myself and remind myself; what was the worse that they could do to me? Nothing that I had not already experienced. Besides, fuck it, who cares what others think? I am happy!
"I don't care anymore, it's over." I answered.
"Ah come on, you were great and we nailed it. Even some of the jocks looked teary eyed." Scott said.
"I think this day calls for a celebration. It's Friday after all." Devon suggested, an arm encircling Dani. I snaked my arm around Scott's waist.
╣The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Ewan MacColl, 1957
"I Wish I Wish, Cat Stevens, 1970
""Strawberries", Edwin Morgan
⁴Tony, Patty Griffin, 1998