Not nearly as long of a delay this time. Though I can't promise that again. I have an art show coming up that will take up all of my free time for the next several weeks. Sorry. I love hearing from people reading my story so feel free to contact me at email@example.com
Things Are Different
Even though Labor Day made it a short week, a routine was quickly established. It was a little embarrassing, but I think I was the only sophomore that got a ride to and from school every day from his grandmother. I would usually meet up with Scott and sometimes Devon before the first class. Scott was back to being more outgoing and relaxed than he did when we went to Powell's, but no one is as outgoing as Devon. We always sat with together at lunch.
I didn't usually see Scott or Devon after school, mostly because my grandmother was there waiting for me. I knew Devon left with Dani most of the time and I assumed that Scott was with Vanessa. Except for Scott, Devon and Dani I didn't really know anyone else and that was more than fine with me.
On Friday the History teacher assigned a buddy project. Fortunately he allowed us to choose our own partner. I could not image having to do a project with anybody except Scott. After all he was the only person in class I had even talked to other than the teacher and I avoided talking to the teacher as much as possible. Being Mr. Dig's favorite was enough of a burden already. In any case I didn't want to do it with anyone else. He seemed genuinely pleased when I asked if I could be his partner.
"Um, do you want to get together after school to work on the project?" I couldn't believe I asked that.
"Yeah, why not." Scott did not seem too enthusiastic about it. It seemed I wanted to spend time with him more than he wanted to spend it with me. Not that I expected or even wanted anything to happen.
"If you have plans, that's fine . . . It is Friday after all." I back pedaled. "We can always work on it during lunch and the like."
"No, no plans tonight."
"What about Vanessa?"
"Nah, we are hanging out tomorrow."
"Did you want to come over to my place? My grandmother will be picking me up after school." What was I doing? Why was I doing it?
"Sure, that works. Devon says you have a great place."
"Well, my Grandma's house is certainly different than any place I've ever lived before." Now, just don't ask me where I lived before. Please. "I'll just let her know that you are coming over."
I met Scott at his locker after the last bell.
"My Grandma said she would provide pizza if you wanted to stay for dinner." Was I trying so hard to get Scott to come over and hang out? I wasn't even sure why. It was not like we were going to spend the afternoon making out or anything. Oh, but the thought of doing just that was almost too much. I could feel my face flush as he called his parents. I had to calm down. Even if he did want too, I don't think I could go through with it.
It's so easy to misconstrue what is being conveyed when you can only hear one side of a conversation.
"Can I stay for dinner at Jay's?"
"I told you about him."
"Yeah, that one."
"I don't know."
"I'm not going to either."
"Working on a school a project."
"Okay, that's taken care of. It's off to your place." I snapped out of my reverie as Scott addressed me.
"Great! My Grandma should be here soon." Did I say that with too much enthusiasm?
Scott was quiet when he came across the walkway and into the house, but I saw his eyes widen. I felt a little embarrassed by my friend's reactions. In the past, one of reasons I never had friends was because I never wanted them to see the motel rooms or trailers or even cars that I was living in. Now I didn't want to come across as too well off, though I could not think of this as anything more than a temporary situation that could change in a heartbeat.
"Show Scott around and you can work on your project in your room. I'll call you when dinner is ready." Grandma told us when we came in and sent us on our way.
I took my time showing him around. Devon only saw what you can see from the foyer, but that is a lot because of the open floor plan. I gave Scott the five dollar tour before lastly ending up at my room.
"And this is where I stay."
"Wow! This is your room?"
"Well, technically it is the guest room I guess, but I am staying in it for now."
"Yeah, you're from Texas, right?"
"That's just the last place I lived before this."
"Your parents still there?"
There it was; the question that I was hoping to avoid. What do I say? How much do I dare tell him?
"Not anymore." I looked down at my feet, comfortable in their new Nike's.
"Oh," the single syllable hung in the still air.
I looked into the dark pools of his eyes. I was unable to discern any malice in those eyes.
"My Dad died when I was nine." Scott didn't say anything, "My Mom died recently." I didn't really feel anything when I said the words. I was afraid that I might breakdown or something. Maybe I had pushed those feelings down far enough that I did not have to worry about them surfacing. Besides, the most prominent emotion associated with either of them anymore seemed to be anger. There were the stones that I was carrying around in my gut, but I can live with that.
"I'm so sorry." Near as I could tell there was true sympathy in his voice. "I don't know what I would do if that happened to me. It's a good thing you have your grandmother."
"Yeah." I did not say anything else. That was enough.
"This is a really sweet room." Scott changed the subject. "It just needs some of your personality added to it; like a SpongeBob poster."
I just stared at him in shock. He burst out with a laugh that rang like bells.
"Man you should see your face. Maybe I should have suggested some Playboy pinups." At that I am sure my face turned beet red. Scott gave me a playful nudge.
"I saw SpongeBob peeking out from the collar of your shirt on the first day of school."
My heart started beating again.
"Don't worry I won't tell anyone that you're a closet SpongeBob fan. Besides . . .
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea
Absorbent and yellow and porous is he
Scott sang the first verse.
If nautical nonsense be something you wish
Then drop on the deck and flop like a fish
And in chorus we finished:
and fell on the bed laughing.
With the ice broken by a mutual love of nautical nonsense we were able to relax around each other a bit more. We got deeply into a discussion of our favorite episodes as we sat on my bed. A respectful 'straight' distance was kept between us. My favorite episode is the one where SpongeBob forgets how to tie his shoes and Gary comes to the rescue in the end, mostly because I am a big fan of Gary. Scott's favorite episode is where Squidward has to have everyone perform in a band to impress an old rival. We both agreed that `everyone loves pie!' After talking about our favorite episodes for way too long we finally settled down to work on the project. I didn't even think about ripping his clothes off, too much. It felt good, unusual, but good to just hang out with someone. We had to present a mock news story and editorial presentation on an important current topic. When Grandma called us for dinner we hadn't even decided on a topic yet.
We were both surprised to see two extra-large homemade pizzas sitting on the counter.
"Delivery guys can never find this house. Besides, I like having an excuse to cook." Grandma explained when she saw our salivating faces. We sat down to the pizzas and soda.
"Wow! This is amazing and delicious. I don't think I have ever had homemade pizza before. Thanks Mrs. Westwood." Scott enthused.
"Please, just call me Sue."
"Yes, ma'am. I mean Sue." That made me wonder about how I address her. I always referred to her as 'my Grandma' or 'my Grandmother.' I wondered if it would be alright to just call her Sue as well. Unfortunately I did not know how to broach the subject.
"So you two are in a class together?" She asked.
"Three actually." I responded.
"A.P. English, Math and History." Scott explained.
"Which class is the project for?"
"History." I answered again.
"So what do your parents do Scott?" She turned her attention fully to Scott.
"They are both research psychologist at PSU."
"Really? Maybe I know them. I was a professor there until my retirement. What are their names?"
"Anita and Phillip Ford."
"The names are familiar, but I was in the Biology Department after all, not in the Psychology Department."
We made small talk about school the rest of meal until we had completely decimated the pizzas. The only awkward moment came when Scott was talking about swimming.
"Yeah, I swim almost every day. I invited Jay, but he hasn't taken me up on it yet."
"You like to swim Jayson?" She asked me.
"I used to swim all the time when we lived in Hawai'i." I answered and I immediately knew I said more than I wanted.
"I didn't know you lived in Hawai'i." My grandmother stated.
"It was a few years ago." I explained. Scott gave me, then my grandmother a strange look. It appeared as if he wanted to say something, but changed his mind.
I don't know if she picked up on something or not, but she changed the subject. "When do you have to be home Scott?"
"Not too late, I have a busy day tomorrow."
"Do you need a ride home?"
"Damn, I didn't think of that. I can call my parents and see if they can come and get me." Scott looked honestly chagrinned.
"Nonsense. You have your license, don't you Jayson?"
"Do you want to take Scott home?"
"Really!?" I couldn't believe she was going to let me drive her car.
"Of course. You can't have your grandmother driving you everywhere all the time."
I think I positively beamed with excitement. I was going to drive her SUV. She was letting me drive!
We didn't work that much more on trying to decide the topic and we were no closer to a decision than before, probably because I was too keyed up about my chance to drive. The SUV was also much bigger than Mr. Chang's aging Honda and I was driving in unfamiliar territory. Scott gave me careful turn by turn directions, but I rode the brake a bit too much on the steep parts down the hill.
Scott's house was just south of downtown and I didn't think I would have any trouble finding my way back.
"Thanks for the ride. I can't wait until December when I get my license." Scott said as he got out of the car.
"I just got my license last week and this is the first time I've actually driven anywhere by myself. It's also the first time I've driven this car." I had to laugh to myself at that realization. I wonder if my grandmother knew this was my first time driving without Mr. Chang or a driving instructor.
"Your grandma seems pretty great."
"Yeah." This made me pause to contemplate certain things I had not thought about before. She stepped up and seemed to trust me without even really knowing me. "Yeah, I guess she is."
"Um, Jay . . ." Scott became pensive, reserved like he had been earlier in the week. Something about him in that moment made him appear vulnerable. I wanted to reach out and comfort him.
"Never mind. I'll see you on Monday." He hurried to the door.
"Yeah, okay . . . see you." I said to somebody that was no longer there.
The drive home was filled with not erotic thoughts, but romantic images of Scott. I had often fantasized about sex with guys, including both Devon and Scott, but this was different. It was shades of my dream. It was just spending time close together, even walking on a beach hand in hand like some horrid homosexual Hallmark card. Of course, that lead me to thinking about the impossibility of it all and I was thoroughly depressed by the time I got home.
My introspective mood carried over into Saturday and I found myself moping around the living room idly flipping through channels to distract myself when the doorbell rang. Because of the location and hidden nature of the front door a random doorbell ring is a very unusual event. It must be some very determined Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Who could that be?" My grandmother went to the door.
"Oh Jayson, I think it is for you." I heard a moment later.
For me? Who? Scott?
"Hi, I hope you don't mind my stopping by." I hoped that Devon did not see my spirits deflate ever so slightly.
"Oh, hey Devon. What's up?"
"I would have called, but I didn't have your number." He said. "I was just wondering if you were busy and wanted to hang out?"
"Um, sure, I guess. Why not?" Devon seemed more reserved than usual, similar to the last time he was at my house.
"Come on, let's go." He urged me.
"Is it okay if I go with Devon?" I felt obligated to ask for permission.
"Of course, have fun."
I didn't even ask where we were going or what we were going to do.
"I hope you don't mind, but I thought we might just head to a mall. Maybe see what is playing at the movies." Devon told me as he drove through downtown and across the Willamette River.
"Okay, sounds good."
This was a very different mall than the one I had been in previously. It lacked the fancier stores like A&F, but it did have an ice skating rink in the middle of it. While taking a leisurely circuit of the mall Devon greeted at least a couple jocks out with their girlfriends hanging on them.
"Where is Dani today?' I figured he would rather spend time with her than me. Why would he want to spend time with me anyway?
"She's got a family thing, but we're meeting up later."
There was nothing interesting playing at the mall cinema so we ended up just watching people ice skate.
"Do you know how to ice skate?" Devon asked.
"Nope. Never tried it. You?"
"A little. I used to play some intramural hockey."
"Why did you stop?"
"I started to get involved in student government and the like. I decided that I liked that better than getting knocked around by bigger guys."
"I can't see you getting knocked around much. You're pretty built." Was that okay to say? Did it sound like I was lusting after him?
"Ha! Those guys take it too seriously. It's just a game."
"I'm surprised you don't play any sports or even captain a team. When I first saw you I was sure you were some sort of football jock."
Devon laughed. "The truth is I can't through a ball worth shit. My Dad was happy when I showed an interest in student politics. I think he wants me to president one day."
"He must be really proud of you." The ever present weight in my stomach suddenly felt like a bowling ball.
"Sometimes. I think. He is very opinionated and you don't want to go up against him. He is also very conservative. There is a lot about me he doesn't know and I am sure he doesn't want to know. As long as I play the part he expects of me, everything is cool."
I didn't know what to say.
"What about your dad?" I should have known that the conversation would make that turn.
"He died." I stared at the skaters.
Skating away on the thin ice of the New Day.
And as you cross the circle line, the ice-wall creaks behind ---
you're a rabbit on the run.
And the silver splinters fly in the corner of your eye ---
shining in the setting sun.
Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story's
too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that everybody's on the stage, and it seems like
you're the only person sitting in the audience?
Skating away on the thin ice of the New Day.
I remembered how my dad loved Jethro Tull as the music skittered and slid though my mind.
"Shit. I'm sorry. Is that why you're living with your grandmother now?"
"No." I could have just left it at that, but I didn't. "He died when I was nine. I'm here because my mom died on my birthday. Last week I didn't even know I had a grandmother. The social services people found her and here I am."
Despite the cacophony of the Saturday throngs in the mall we were standing in our own little oasis of silence. I never took my eyes off of the skaters. You are supposed to feel better after unburdening yourself. If anything the rocks that knocked around in my stomach felt like they coalesced into a bunch of boulders. It was also true that I left a lot out of what I had just divulged to Devon. After I moment I felt his arm around my shoulder. It was a common enough occurrence with him that I barely flinched.
"Do you know what we need?" He asked.
I don't drink, nor will I ever drink. I never even wanted to risk going down the same route I had seen others travel.
"I don't think so." I think my voice may have carried a tone that I hoped would forever put that to rest.
"Okay, barring beer, let's go ice skating.""
"I don't know how." And I didn't want to make an ass of myself in the middle of a crowded mall.
"No time like the present to learn. Come on. Or are you chicken?" Devon had to make the taunt so that there was no way for me to say no.
Devon procured skates and tied them on my feet.
"I'm warning you I have never had skates on in my life."
"Here take my hands and just relax. I promise I will never let you go." I grasped on to his hands. "Ow, take it easy on the death grip. I won't let you fall."
I tried to relax a little as Devon gently, but firmly held my hands as he skated backwards and basically pulled me along.
"Okay, I don't like this. I'm going to fall."
"No you're not."
"Yes I am."
"Here let me show you."
He deftly changed positions and held me at the waist from behind as he carefully guided my movements. It was a little reminiscent of how my dad taught me to ride a bike. My dad held on to the handlebars with one hand, the other was on my shoulder and he ran beside me the first time the training wheels were off. I didn't even know I still had that memory. Or was it just something I had seen on TV and wished had happened?
"Don't you dare let go." I tried to move my feet a little, to actually skate.
"Never." Devon assured me.
"Crap!" I yelled as my feet went out from under me and I went down pulling Devon down with me. Luckily for me, but bad for him, he cushioned my fall.
"See I didn't let go." He laughed.
"Ugh. I'm sorry. That must have hurt."
"Nah. You want to try that again."
"Um . . ." I really did not know if I wanted to or not.
Getting up off the ice is infinitely harder than just not falling. I pulled Devon down three more times before we gave up in a heap of laughter. I finally crawled to the nearest exit. That was enough skating for me. Devon followed right behind me.
"Almost as good as beer." Devon commented jokingly as we got ready to leave.
"Better." I said. I had to admit I was feeling a lot better and I didn't even realize just how down I had been feeling.
My phone buzzed, showing Scott's number.
"Hey, what's up?" He asked when I answered it.
"Just hanging out with Devon." I would never have thought I would be in a situation where I was hanging out with a hot jock (non-jock?) at a mall ice skating and talking on my phone with another hot guy. Too bad they were both straight. But fantasies are free and uncomplicated.
"Oh . . ." there was silence from the phone.
"Soooo . . . what's up?" I asked.
"Um, I was just reading something online and I had a great idea for our project topic."
"This is something I think is really important. We can do something else if you really object though." There was an edge to Scott's voice I had not heard before. It almost sounded as if he had been crying.
"What is it?"
"Gay teen suicide." I stopped in my tracks. I was dumb struck and I thought my mind would shatter into a million tiny pieces. Devon looked back at me with a quizzical look on his face. I didn't know what to say.
"I understand if you don't want to do this topic. I just think it is really important, no one else will have the balls to do it and it will really knock the teacher's socks off if we do it right. In any case I sent you some links. Please check them out before you say no, okay?" Scott spoke in a quick tumble of words, as if he was afraid that if he paused to breath he would not be able to get the words out.
"Uh, okay." What else could I say?
I stood staring at my phone. My good mood evaporated like the water on pavement in the sun after a Texas summer shower. It came on fast and intense and was over with only a vague memory remaining.
"What was that about? You look like somebody told you they just murdered a puppy."
I blinked a couple of times at him before I could even register who was talking to me. "Nothing." I mumbled.
"You sure, dude?"
"Yeah, it's just this school project I am doing with Scott."
"Scott's a good dude. I haven't really known him that long, but he seems like a really nice guy. Besides after what he has been through he probably deserves to be cut some slack."
"What do you me mean?"
"Uh, he should be the one to tell you if he wants. I only know things second and third hand, so I don't know how reliable it is. Not that it doesn't sound like you had rough time too. Just give him a chance."
"Yeah, I suppose. I should be getting home anyway now." What was he talking about? What happened to Scott? I don't pry into other people's affairs because I don't want them prying into mine.
"Okay. It's been fun even if you can't skate worth shit."
"I think that will be the first and last time I get on skates." We laughed and my mood lifted just a little.
When Devon dropped me off it almost felt like the end to a first date. Once again I felt like I should lean over and kiss him. I really wanted to, but it was just a couple of guys hanging out, nothing more than that.
What do regular (straight) guys do at the end of a day hanging out together?
Of course I couldn't kiss him, no matter how much it felt like the thing to do. Other than being too weird and potentially damaging to one of the only friendships I have ever fostered it could also make my life way too complicated if he kissed me back. Things were complicated enough and I really had no idea what I was doing with my life anymore.
So I left Devon in his car at the gate.
I did not see my grandmother when I came in so I just went to my room to check the links that Scott sent me.
I had not cried for my mother, but as I went from story to clip, silent tears clouded my eyes and streaked my cheeks. Sometimes I could not understand why they did it. To me they seemed to have great families where I had nothing of the sort. Strangely enough, I thought, I never considered suicide, no matter how bad things were. I often fantasized about walking off into the horizon and leaving my mother and everything behind and creating a new and exciting life. Of course I didn't have a realistic notion of what that life would be. In my fantasies I would always become the stoic Clint Eastwood loner character riding into and out of the lives of others, but never touched by them again. Isolated western towns needing lone riding gunslingers with a mysterious past are pretty rare outside of the celluloid desert.
I wondered why Scott wanted to do this topic. Admittedly it was a hot topic and most kids would avoid it for the same reason I wanted to avoid it. I never experienced any bullying, at least not for being gay, but that was because I made sure nobody knew. What would happen if we did this? And wasn't Scott worried about the same things?
As it is so easy online, I lost track of time until I heard my grandmother at the door.
I wiped my eyes, "Yeah?"
"You have visitors again."
"Hey dude, I'm back and I brought company." Devon came in followed by Dani. She bounced in and wrapped her arms around my neck and even kissed me on the cheek. It is an outdated word, but I could only describe myself at this point as "flummoxed." I am sure it showed on my face.
"Hey, cutie." She said inches from my nose.
"Devon said you were feeling a bit low." She peered intently at me. I hoped my eyes did not look like I had been crying. "You look like you need a party."
I just stared blankly at her.
"Beer." Devon said.
"Shush Devon!" Dani hissed.
"Tequila." Devon whispered.
"Ignore him." She commanded. "There is a party tonight and we are taking you."
"Um." I mumbled.
"An unsupervised party." Devon whispered again. Fortunately my grandmother had retreated right after they entered the room.
"I don't think so." I don't know why, but I have always been terrified of getting in any sort of trouble. I guess getting in trouble runs counter to remaining invisible. Nothing breeds trouble like a melee of unsupervised teens with alcohol.
"Ignore him. And you are coming." She paused before continuing, "Scott's going to be there too." It was the wrong thing to say. I was not ready to see Scott and have to talk to him about his chosen topic.
"Thanks and all, but I really don't think so."
"You've given me no choice . . . Devon!" Dani motioned Devon forward and he did a very convincing job of flexing his biceps and cracking his knuckles.
"What are you going to do? Kidnap me?" It was a little exciting to imagine Devon hauling me over his shoulder and taking off with me.
"Nope." He said and dropped to his knees in front of me, "I'm going to beg." He clasped his hands in a prayerful pose . . . "Please, if you don't come she will make my life miserable. You have no idea what she can be like." Dani was behind him nodding her head. "And not just me, but you too. You don't want to be on her bad side, trust me."
"What he said." Dani intoned ominously. Devon even tried putting his hands on my knees and giving me puppy dog eyes.
I had fantasies about being on my knees in front of Devon, but this was good too, just different. I had to bust out laughing; big buff Devon on his knees begging me for something. It was just too weird.
"I'll have to see if it's okay with my grandmother." This was my last chance to get out of it.
Dani jumped up and did a little fist pump with a "Yes!" Devon remained on the floor, his hands on my knees.
"It's okay!" A voice came from the hallway. With that I figured I was going to my first party. I would say I was excited, but I was too nervous.
"Thanks Dr. Westwood." Devon said to my grandmother on the way out.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do. No, strike that. Exercise better judgment than I did at your age." She called to us as we went out the door. I was still trying to decide if I had the coolest grandmother in the world, but that made me wonder why my mother, her daughter, was such a fuck up.
It turned out the house was not that far away and Devon drove us there. The sun had set and the party was in full swing with every light ablaze and kids everywhere. The Music was so loud the windows vibrated. All I could think was how much I hated crowds, loud music and parties. I was dreading my decision to relent and come along.
As soon we arrived Devon went into full power social/politician personality. I had seen a different side of him earlier today, but this was the Devon I think everyone saw. Of course everyone knew Devon and he knew everyone else. Dani was just as social running up to a group of girls and doing the whole jumping up and down, squealing routine that girls, particularly teenage girls, do. This left me in the foyer adrift in a sea of beer drinking adolescents, not something I really wanted. I could not feel more out of place. This was truthfully my first party and I had no idea what to do. It appeared that I would be that awkward loner wondering from room to room, hugging the walls, not talking to anyone.
I tiptoed around the straight couples making out and the chugging football players trying to find a quiet, out of way corner to wait until I could escape home. I still carried my money from Texas in my shoe and I figured I would be able to call a cab at some point. I figured Devon and Dani would completely forget about me.
I inched my way towards the back of the house and the kitchen where the beer was. There was a lot more than beer. The counter was covered with every conceivable type of alcohol available. It looked a little like some of the places I had grown up in, until my mom discovered stronger things booze.
"There you are! I've been looking all over for you." Dani put her arm around my waist.
"Um," was all I could muster. I suppose it beat, "Thanks for bring me to this catastrophe and abandoning me within two minutes of arriving." Why can't I just blurt things out like that?
"Went looking for the good stuff, huh?" She was searching through the assorted bottles.
"No." I responded, probably a bit harshly, but I don't think she noticed.
"Here try this." She tried to hand me cup she had just filled with I don't know what.
"I don't drink." I had to practically yell to be heard over a sudden rise in the decibel of the music.
"I respect that." Dani took a swallow from the cup, "Sometimes I wish Devon wouldn't."
I could only imagine Devon being one of those completely charming drunks that just becomes more friendly and outgoing than he already is.
"Here." She produced a cold bottle of water from somewhere.
"Come with me. I want to show you something." Dani led me out to the backyard. There were still a lot of people around, but the groups were quieter and more sedate. There was also the unmistakable skunky smell of high quality marijuana hanging in the air. A contact high would not be out of the question. The yard was large and bordered by trees and we moved away from the house lights towards what looked like a small campfire.
Rocks had been arranged in a circle and a little fire was dancing in the night even though there was no chill in the air. A handful of people were sitting on the ground and on a couple of chairs sat a guy I did not recognize playing the guitar and next to him sat Scott playing the banjo. Vanessa stood between them, her hand on Scott's shoulders singing.
I've been down like a sparrow on the ground
I've been lost on a river that won't flow
I've been hurt, I've been weeping sad and lonely
For some loving arms to hold me
I've been down . . . but not that low
I lost my home and I have no pillow
I make my bed under the willow
An old wool coat hung o'er my shoulder
The nights are long and getting colder
Oh I've been down, I've been down
You tell jokes and you have dinner
But so does every poor born sinner
You have fame and you have money
Enough to buy you sugar and honey
Lay your money down, lay your money down*
(*music and lyrics copyright of "Mean Mary" James)
"Pretty cool, huh?" Dani said beside me.
"Uh-huh," I nodded, "I didn't know Scott played the banjo."
"I didn't either until I ran into Vanessa."
I was mesmerized by the music and especially by Scott. His fingers flew across the strings in an effortless manner. Vanessa's voice was clear and strong. It has always been easy for me to lose myself in music. In fact it was my most cherished escape route.
The song ended and Vanessa gave Scott a quick peck on the cheek. Scott put his banjo down while Vanessa and the guitarist wandered towards the house, empty cups in their hands. As she walked past me she gave me what could only be described as a withering look. I could not figure out what I did to piss her off.
I was standing outside the ring of firelight, so I don't think that Scott saw me. That is until Dani pushed be towards the fire and Scott. I looked back at her, but she was retreating towards the house. Several others that had been seated at the fire also got up to refill their drinks leaving me pretty much alone with Scott. I edged my way towards the fire and sat down on the ground a few feet from Scott.
"Hey." For once I initiated a conversation.
"Hey." He said, sipping from a bottle of water. I followed suit. My mouth was suddenly dry and my tongue too thick.
"I didn't know you played Banjo."
"There's probably a lot you don't know about me."
I was taken a back a bit by the harshness of his comment and just stared at him. I think he may have been a little surprised by his tone as well.
"I'm sorry. That didn't come out right. I mean, you're new here and all so you don't really know anyone, I guess. Except Devon, of course."
"I can't really say I know Devon that well either. He talks a lot, but not about himself."
"Kind of like you, except that you just don't talk. But you do scowl a lot."
"I don't scowl."
Scott laughed and moved from the chair to the ground near me. "You're doing it now."
"I am not." I traced my eyebrows and mouth with my fingers. I couldn't tell if I was frowning or not.
"Am I?" I made a concerted effort to relax my features, probably having the exact opposite of the desired effect.
Scott let out another barking laugh.
"Don't worry, it's not a criticism, just an observation." I examined Scott's face; it always seemed so open and, well, not necessarily happy, but welcoming, despite the dark pools of his eyes.
I think I scowled again, or still, because Scott let out with a chuckle and shook his head. My efforts not to frown were so obvious it produced more light laughter and I couldn't help myself and joined him, though my laughter is much more reserved and is probably not much more than a loud smile.
"I didn't know you were going to be here." Scott stated.
"I didn't either. Dani and Devon kidnapped me. This is the first time I have been to a party like this."
"I don't really go to parties anymore, but Vanessa dragged me here. She said it was a good chance to perform again." He pulled at the grass as he spoke.
"You perform a lot?"
"Not so much lately. There are not many people listening here, that makes it more enjoyable."
"It was awesome. Your playing is great, right up there with Bela Fleck . . . and Vanessa has a great voice."
"I'm nowhere near Bela Fleck. I'm surprised you know him. I mean, I know he is famous, but most guys our age are better aquainted with Lady GaGa."
"I used to listen to my Dad's CD collection a lot and he had some in there."
"Your Dad sounds like he had good taste in music."
"He had all sorts of music; from Metallica to Judy Garland. I think he was a musician." As soon as I said it, I knew I had revealed too much again.
"I didn't really see him much and lots of the time when he was there, well he wasn't really there . . . But sometimes we had great times and those times almost always involved music. I guess I got a real appreciation for music from him. It's just . . ."
"I know what you mean, music always to make me feel . . . I don't know if 'better' is the right word, but you know . . . it just. . ." Scott trailed off like me.
"Yeah." I did know what he meant. If I didn't find the answers in a song at least it could give voice to what I could not in any other way.
"Yeah." Scott nodded, shredding the grass he had plucked.
"Um, about the project . . ." I didn't even know what I wanted to say. Something needed to be said.
"Look, I totally understand if you are uncomfortable and don't want to do the topic. It's just that you seemed so relaxed and nonjudgmental around me I thought you might be cool with it."
"I looked at what you sent and . . . Wait, what do you mean?" Scott looked at me; a confused expression that I am sure mirrored my face. He groaned and put his hands to his face.
"What?" I asked in my continued confusion.
"I thought you knew. I mean I know you are new, but I was sure somebody would have told you."
"Told me what?"
"Um, last year . . . those kids you saw online -- that was me." He looked me straight in the eye, maybe gauging my reaction. Averting his gaze he went back to mutilating blades of grass.
"You tried to commit suicide?" My brain would not work properly. It was being required to wrap itself around information it had no basis for processing. Was Scott telling me that he was . . .?
"Uh-huh," he nodded "but I didn't do a very good job of it . . . as you can see."
"I wasn't bullied like those kids." So he is not gay I thought. "I guess I'm straight enough acting that nobody knew I was gay." Oh my god! He is gay! "For now, let's just say I did something I was very ashamed of."
Holy fuck what do I do? What do I say? The boulders that resided in my stomach had hatched into a clutch of fire breathing dragon. What do I do? I am good at hiding my emotions, of controlling myself. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
"I thought Vanessa was your girlfriend, the way she kisses you and the like." I followed the gentle curve of his lips as he spoke.
"Vanessa would be my girlfriend if I swung that way. She is my musical soul mate. She really helped me out during the last year."
"I don't think she likes me." I started plucking at the grass too so that I would not be drawn into his eyes and something I did not want to say.
"She just doesn't know you yet and she is probably a little over protective of me"
"Oh . . ."
"I lost a lot of people I thought were friends, I'm kind of an outsider now."
"I'm a suicidal gay banjo playing fifteen year old -- You don't get much more on the fringes of teen society than that." Scott let out a bitter laugh and threw the shredded grass into the air. It fell like a verdant rain over us. "Pardon my gallows humor, as it were." His face got serious, the corners of his mouth dropping, "I will understand if you don't want to hang out or want another project partner." He did not turn away from me when he said it.
I didn't know what to say. Yes I did -- I AM GAY TOO. That's what I should say. I wanted to kiss him. But that is not what I did.
"My dad didn't just die." Why did I say that? Scott just looked at me. I stared down at the blades I was tearing to pieces. "He committed suicide."
"Oh, dude, I didn't mean . . ."
"What I mean, I guess . . . what I'm trying to say is," I AM GAY TOO, "that I will still be your friend and we will do the project the way you want to." What the hell is wrong with me? I thought to myself. My heart was pounding so hard that I was sure he could hear it. It seriously crossed my mind to grab a bottle from the kitchen and empty it until I passed out.
I had to look up when I felt his arms around me giving me a squeeze. If I wasn't so nervous I would have sprung a boner.
"Sorry," he said releasing me, "I can act a little impulsively sometimes. Anyway, thanks." I just shrugged my shoulders. I didn't know what to do next. Fortunately I was saved from further immediate conversation by the return of Vanessa and the guitarist. Before they got close, Scott jumped up and ran over to Vanessa giving her a big hug. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I was certain they were whispering about me. That was made even clearer by the stern glare that Vanessa delivered in my direction. She was quite the opposite of Scott, who seemed more animated and upbeat than ever.
I wondered what was wrong with me. This could be perfect. He was so attractive and nice and talented and hot! And those eyes! But what if he didn't see me the same way? What if he did, but found somebody less fucked up than me? Or what if I had to move away again? What if my grandmother found out? What if? What if? What if? My mind was spinning in on itself and I could feel myself being sucked down into a dark whirlpool of doubt and self-loathing.
The sound of music pulled my attention back to the surface. Despite my mental turmoil it immediately improved my mood.
I got a girl and she loves me
She's as sweet as she can be
She got eyes of baby blue
Makes my gun shoot straight and true
Goin' up Cripple Creek
Goin' on a run
Goin' up Cripple Creek
to have a little fun
Goin' in a whirl,
Goin' up Cripple Creek
To see my girl
Cripple Creek's wide and Cripple Creek's deep
I'll wade old Cripple Creek before I sleep
Roll my britches up to my knees,
I'll wade old Cripple Creek when I please
The traditional upbeat tune lifted my spirits, though in my head I wondered what it would be like if the pronouns were different. I got a boy and he loves me.
Thanks for reading. More to come. I Promise.