WHAT LIES WITHIN: CHAPTER 8
In the face of uncertainty, there is nothing wrong with hope.
--O. Carl Simonton
I was sooo confused.
As I walked down the street towards my house, my mind was still in a daze. I went over and over in my head what had just happened this afternoon. Maybe I was a little dense, but all of Rusty's words had said one thing to me, but at times it seemed like his eyes and his heart were saying something else to me entirely.
One the one hand, I was certainly relieved that he wanted to just pretend that nothing had ever happened. Kinda like the military...don't ask, don't tell. Fine. He didn't seem to have anything against me for being gay, and I wasn't really worried any more about something bad happening to me...like getting beat up or publicly outed or anything. Clearly, he was no gay basher or homophobe.
In fact, he actually seemed to be pretty understanding and sympathetic. But, he certainly did seem worried about protecting his own image first...his precious `rep.' After seeing this totally different side of him today, things started to make a little more sense to me. Even the first time I met him at the park, I had been a little confused by his seemingly dual personalities. Picturing his slight build in my mind, I could imagine that he had probably always been on the small side as a kid. He'd probably spent most of his life fighting off the larger of stature/lower of IQ types that seemed to be a constant just about everywhere you went on this planet. Maybe the hard-ass personality was just his way of coping with the world...his own natural defense mechanism...his way of surviving teenage life. My intuition certainly told me loud and clear that there was a lot more to him than he wanted people to see. Maybe it was just in his yes...when they were boring right inside me, I never felt afraid.
Still, the rejection I heard in his words had definitely hurt. A lot. He made a quite a point of saying he `couldn't be like me' in that way...which I guess meant that he wasn't gay or bisexual, or whatever. So, I guess I'll just have to be content with seeing him in my dreams and jerk-off fantasies. God! I was SOOOO embarrassed when he said that...how did he know I had already jerked off looking at his pictures? Maybe he really could read my mind...
The thing that puzzled me most was the last thing he said before I left. The look in his eyes said to me that he really seemed genuinely worried about me...he really seemed to care. But, when he reached out his hand and touched my shoulder...man, I almost shot my load right there in my pants...and, I wasn't even hard at the time. That simple touch shocked me by how much it seemed to convey. It felt like he had literally reached out and touched my heart. And suddenly, for the first time that whole afternoon, I had no trouble at all getting the words out of my mouth.
It had been really frustrating for me to just sit there, and feel all of the different emotions running through my head, totally knowing that it was hopeless to even try to speak. I had so many things I wanted to say, but my mouth just never seems to work right in those situations. On the other hand, I don't think he really wanted to hear some of what was running through my mind, either. Even when he was breaking my heart, he was still so darn sexy to me it was hard to even think straight (no pun intended...).
Despite my own deeply ingrained fear and cautiousness, I found myself more and more intrigued by the person I had glimpsed inside of him. Sure, I was still attracted to his looks (read WAY attracted LOL...), but that wasn't what was filling my heart at the moment. No, it was a curiosity...a need...to find out who that person was lurking inside him. Suddenly, I felt an empty place inside me that I had never felt before, and some part of me was totally convinced that there was something inside him that could fill it.
Ya, right! Like I'm ever gonna get a chance to really know him now. The last thing he wants is me hanging around him at this point. At least, he made that part pretty clear!
This is all working out really great. I mean, I meet a pretty cool guy who I'm immediately attracted to. Then, I somehow manage to out myself to him accidentally. He seems to be understanding about it and all, but he still wants me to basically just go away and leave him alone...and just pretend I don't even know him or like him or anything. But, now I've signed up to do this photography thing, so I have to see him for that sometimes, I'm sure. And, the more I talk to him, the more I like him...but, now I'm not supposed to talk to him at all! Yup. This is working out just fine. I think I'm beginning understand now why the moth can never manage to resist the attraction of that stupid flame...
Only I could manage to get things this messed up in such a short time. I don't know why I even bother. Somehow, I just need to accept to the idea of being alone forever, because I really don't see any other options.
All my life it's been the same cycle over and over again...I meet some guy who I think I like, then I do something stupid to alienate him or make him think I'm just weird, then I get depressed when I realize what a waste of time and feelings the whole thing was. I know I'm gonna end up alone in the end anyway, so why can't I stop trying? Me, and the stupid moth. We'll never learn, I'm afraid.
I guess some things in life are just more powerful than we are.
Luckily, I made it home just as the phone rang. It was the parents, calling to check up on me. It was already after 4PM, and they would be home soon. Ya, they even work together. `Dad' is a small-town CPA, and `Mom' is his secretary/assistant...at least since I was old enough to go to elementary school. Really, she's always had time to work; even if it was at home...I've always been a low-maintenance kid.
Oh boy...yet another in a painfully tedious tradition of `family dinners.'
I have to say, the parents have been pretty easy to deal with most of my life. They don't hassle me too much, or burden me with all kinds of silly rules. Like, why would they? I've never really done anything to get into any kind trouble...heck; I've never really done anything.
Sometimes, I think that worries them. Then, they realize just how lucky they are, and keep their mouths shut...
Tonight, the idea of the `family dinner' really doesn't appeal to me...even less than usual. Mostly, because tonight I'm sure there will be lots of nosy questions about how I'm feeling, why I didn't feel well this morning, discussions about whether I should go see the doctor tomorrow...and an endless stream of other meaningless baloney, ad nauseum, etc., etc.
You see, I kinda have this problem...I can't really tell a lie. I mean, of course I can, just not convincingly. Most of the time, I go to great efforts to avoid situations where I would need to avoid telling the truth. There's just something inside me that absolutely hates to lie. So, even when I convince myself to try it, that little part of me totally sabotages the effort. I've learned that it's totally pointless to even try.
It's even hard for me to do the good, old-fashioned lying by omission...you know, not telling an untruth, but just not telling, period. So, you can see that this evening's dinner poses a problem. What am I gonna say, exactly? I can see the whole disastrous conversation in my head...
"Uh, sorry mom & dad...but, uh...well...I wasn't really feeling good enough to go to school today...um...because...well, the cutest boy I've ever met kinda found out accidentally yesterday that I'm gay after he saw a bunch of pictures I took of him...you know, with his shirt off...showing off his totally sexy chest...and, of course, capturing that intriguingly large bulge in the front of his board shorts...so, obviously I was totally freaked, because I really like him and all...and, well...it's kinda ok now...because, um...I went out of the house this afternoon, and we kinda bumped into each other in the park...and we talked about it a little...and, you know...he's not gonna out me in front of the whole school, or anything, but...well, now I'm not really supposed to talk to him, and I'm getting a little depressed about how totally screwed up I've managed to get everything in my life...but, other that that, I'm doing fine. Great. Everything is just okey-dokey."
Yup. That's right. You got it...I think I'm gonna be sick again tonight.
Another day at school almost over, thank god. I'm still emotionally wiped out from yesterday.
But, I knew I had to hurry to make it to the graphics lab before the bell rang for sixth period. I hated to be late for any class; even though I'm sure Mr. B would be cool about it. Everyone always turns and stares at you when you open the door after the bell rings. Most teachers just love to embarrass people when they come in late. I guess you're just such an inviting target, they can't pass it up.
As I rounded the corner, I saw Mr. Brill standing in the hallway having an animated conversation with Rusty. I slowed instantly, and tried to approach more carefully. I wanted to figure out what was going on before I found myself right in the middle of it.
"Come on, Mr. B! Give me a break here. Right now just isn't a good time for me. Maybe next quarter or something. We already got enough idiots on the computers, and you know it," Rusty said with frustration obvious in his voice.
"Mr. Thompson," he replied calmly, "I don't understand what the problem is here. I don't think what I'm asking you to do is unreasonable. Surely you realize that you won't be here forever, and that we always need to have a fresh crop of reserves coming up through the system for when people like you are gone. You know as well as I do that none of the others could possibly handle it, no matter how much you worked with them. It's just not in them. Surely you can see that better than anyone. But this kid has the potential...even I can see that. Who else could teach him better than you, Russell?"
Rusty just glared at him in silence for a minute, with one foot poised on his board, ready for a quick take-off.
"Even if he doesn't turn out to be the right person to replace you when you're gone, it could never hurt for our staff photographer to be able to handle some of his own image editing. It kinda makes sense, doesn't it? Look at it this way; it could mean a lot less work for you by the end of the year; you know, around graduation time?" Mr. B added hopefully.
Shit! They were arguing about me. Uh oh. This isn't good. Only one day after our little talk, and now Mr. B is asking him to work with me? Oh nooooo...
"I still think it's not a good time right now," Rusty emphasized, appearing to control his temper with great effort.
"Look Russell, don't make me pull rank on you here. In case you've forgotten, I am the teacher here. I give you a lot of freedom most of the time, because you're very capable and trustworthy. Maybe it's time for you to show a little trust in me, ok? I want you to at least give it a try my way. If you don't think it's working out, we can re-evaluate the situation in a couple of weeks, alright?" Mr. B asked, his voice beginning to show a little frustration of its own.
As I heard the bell begin to ring, someone crashed into me from behind, apparently in a rush to beat the bell to class. Both Mr. B and Rusty turned around abruptly at the sound of myself and all of my belongings crashing to the ground beside me. I gathered myself up on my knees, and surveyed the damage. I looked up to see both of them looking at me thoughtfully, and I gave them an embarrassed little wave before I proceeded to gather up all my stuff on the ground.
"Mr. Sullivan," Mr. B said happily, "Just the man I wanted to see. Come on inside. Perhaps you haven't had the chance to meet Mr. Thompson here yet, but I think it's time you two got to know each other," he said, as he held the door open and ushered us both inside.
As we walked in, I gave Rusty a questioning glance; but thankfully, he didn't notice. The look of exasperation on his face told me everything I needed to know. We sat down inside Mr. B's office, which was in a smaller room off to the side of the graphics lab.
"So, Ian, this is what I'm thinking," Mr. B began. "With the digital revolution in everything we're doing here with the newspaper and yearbook, I think it would be a really good idea if you got some training in Photoshop, so you can eventually start editing and doing prep work on your own images. Russell here is in charge of all our computer graphics and image editing work, and he knows more than anyone about this stuff. Sometimes he still thinks he's superman, but it's not really fair to expect him to do all the work. And, as I have to keep reminding him, he won't be with us here forever," he chuckled. "At least I hope not, for his sake."
Mr. B looked at me expectantly, and I gave Rusty another brief glance. He gave me a sharp look that warned me to just keep my mouth shut and nod...he certainly knew I was good enough at that. Of course, inwardly I was way too excited at the chance to work with him, and perhaps get to know him a little better, although I dared not show it. I realized that he was anything but happy about this little development. He had already made that fact abundantly clear to both of us. On the other hand, I also realized that this was perhaps a really good opportunity for me...maybe my only opportunity to show him who I really was. I resolved to try my hardest to earn his trust and his respect, if I got the chance.
"Uh, ok Mr. B...whatever you say," I answered tentatively.
"Ok, then," he smiled. "So, Russell Thompson, meet Ian Sullivan, and vice versa. Now, you boys run along and play nice. You know what to do Rusty, I trust."
Rusty immediately rose from his chair, and stalked out of the room. I followed him to what I presume was his `office' or personal workstation. I watched him throw his stuff down on the floor beside his chair in disgust. He sat down, and turned to glare at me.
"Well, what could I do?" I asked defensively. "It wasn't my idea, ya know."
He looked at me more thoughtfully for a moment. "No, I guess you're right," he sighed.
"I don't think it'll be hard for me to learn that stuff. I'm usually pretty good with computers, but I've never used Photoshop before. You don't really need to bother with me, you know...if it's like...a problem for you, or something. Just give me the manual and I'll read it tonight," I offered. "I can probably just teach myself."
He didn't look totally convinced, but he dug out one of those really thick `how to' Photoshop books from his shelf, and handed it to me.
"No, I'll do it. It's ok. He wouldn't be too happy if I just left you on your own with it, I'm sure," he observed dryly.
"Uh...well, ok then...thanks Rusty," I said, and then I wondered to myself. "Ummm, do I call you Rusty? Or Russell? Or maybe just Mr. Thompson?" I asked with a hesitant laugh.
I must have succeeded in breaking down some of his walls a little bit, because he looked at me with that wry grin of his that I was getting to know pretty well. "Wow... Give me a minute here, OK? I'm still getting over the shock that you can actually speak after all. That's the most I've ever heard you say in one day... I was beginning to wonder if you were like, a deaf mute or something," he grinned. "And, most of my friends call me Rusty...you know, it kinda came from `Russ T.' for Thompson, when I was a little kid. But, please don't call me Russell. The teachers all call me that because it's my formal name, but I don't really like it. Mr. B only uses it because teachers aren't really supposed to use nicknames when they talk to students. It's a district policy thing."
"Ok, uh...Rusty. Look," I said softly, "I know you're a little bit pissed about this whole thing, having to deal with me again right after you thought you'd gotten rid of me...but I promise you I won't be a problem. I swear, ok? I know what you must think about me, but just give me another chance ok? That's all I ask. Please?"
He though to himself for a minute, then sighed to himself. "Well, it looks like I haven't really got a choice about this anyway, so I'll give you a fair shot. But, just remember what we talked about ok? Absolutely no fuck-ups," he said, giving me a very serious look.
I nodded solemnly.
He grabbed his backpack and his skateboard, and disappeared out the door.
I realized I had been standing there for a few seconds, still staring at the door that had long since closed behind him as he left...savoring the image of him in my mind, trying to make it last until the next time I saw him. As my thoughts snapped back into the present moment, I looked briefly around the room, and Mr. B caught my eye. He had obviously been watching me for some amount of time, but I couldn't be sure for just how long. I gave him a weak smile, and held up the Photoshop book/doorstop for him to see. I picked out an empty desk, sat down, and dutifully started to read.
Before I knew it, I heard the final bell ringing. I looked at the book, and realized I was about 1/3 of the way through it. I think this will be easy enough...I hadn't seen anything that seemed all that difficult so far. As I was packing my stuff to leave, Mr. B stuck his head out of his office.
"Mr. Sullivan, I'd like to see you for a second before you go, if that's ok."
I shrugged my shoulders, and headed for his door. I didn't particularly have anywhere to go. I usually don't. He pointed to a seat in front of his desk, and leaned back in his chair, folding his hands across his lap. He gave me a long, thoughtful look.
"Ian, I don't want you to get the wrong impression about Russell. He's a really great kid, but he just hasn't been himself lately. I'm not sure exactly what's eating him right now, but don't take it personally, ok? I'm sure it's got nothing to do with you. I mean...well, I can tell you're a pretty sensitive kind of guy, and I really mean that in a good way. I don't want you to get off on the wrong foot in here, and lose your confidence. He'll kill me if he finds out I told you this, Ian...but don't let the act fool you, ok? Deep down inside Rusty is a really good kid. He's been hurt somehow in his life--very deeply--but I don't know exactly how. He really just needs someone in his life he can trust again...someone he can open up to. Surprisingly enough, my instincts tell me you two might be a pretty good match to become friends. Just give him some time, and be patient with him. I think you'll like what you find underneath that tough exterior of his."
I tried my best to absorb the full implications of what he was telling me here.
"We have a really great group of kids here, and I think you'll fit in just fine if you give it a chance, ok? We all try real hard to be supportive and encouraging of each other. You'll see. When the other kids see what a fantastic photographer you are, you'll be a hero around here...lets just say that I'm sure you'll be a big improvement over the last one," he said with a grin.
"Uh, well...I'll do my best, Mr. B," I replied. "I think Rusty's a pretty cool guy. I hope we can get along ok...I mean, you know...if he gives me a chance," I said nervously.
He chuckled to himself, and shook his head. "Look son, I've been teaching High School for almost fifteen years. I've seen dozens of kids just like Ian Sullivan come through here before, so I think I know pretty well what it's like for you. Just remember, your High School years are only gonna happen once. Don't miss the chance to break out of your little shell, and make some lasting friendships here. These are the years you'll want to look back on when you're an old geezer like me, and remember all the great times you had, and all of the amazing things you accomplished here. I'm proud of the fact that we always have a pretty close-knit group by the end of every term...a lot of life-long friendships have started right here in this room. Just try and be a part of it, ok? I'm sure you won't regret it."
"Ok. I'll try," I said with a little smile. Mr. B had such a great way of making you feel really good about yourself every time you left his office. I was really starting to like this guy. I think maybe he's been talking to Jack...
As I walked home, it dawned on me that what Mr. B had really done today was to give me an incredible opportunity. A second chance. As soon as I realized that, a sudden sense of panic overcame me.
I immediately realized two things. First, I realized just how important it was to me, all of a sudden, to find a way to keep Rusty in my life, for some reason. Second, I realized I was totally clueless just how to do that. I'd never had any relationships in my life before...not even a really close, best-friend type relationship.
My instincts told me that it couldn't really be all that hard. Just get to know him better. Duh! But man, he sure wasn't an easy guy to read. Mr. B was right about one thing; Rusty definitely held some sort of mystery to me... my intuition kept telling me that there was something more inside him than he wanted people to see. I couldn't help being intensely curious about him...drawn to him in a way I couldn't really explain...even to myself. I'm not sure if it was just my innate curiosity, or something else entirely...but, he seemed to affect me in a way no other person ever had before. For some reason, I felt like a totally different person around him. Maybe it was just the power of his eyes to totally hypnotize me.
I just knew that somehow I needed to find out what it was hiding inside him.
Pondering that idea for a while, I realized that deep down I also kinda wished that he could know me a little better. The real me...not the faggy geek that he surely thought I was. For some reason, it seemed really important to me for him to see who I really was. The real me: the one that almost nobody knows.
Jeez...what am I thinking? Now there's a really scary idea, even if it was actually possible for me to accomplish!
Here I am always afraid to really let anyone get to know me (as if anyone really wanted to anyway...sigh); yet, I barely get to know this skater dude who is two years older than me (and who I can hardly even be around without sportin' wood!), and suddenly I wish he actually knew me better?
Sometimes I have to wonder if my head really is messed up...
Still, I was determined to study that Photoshop book harder than anything I ever have tonight, and make a supreme effort to impress him with my ability to learn this stuff. Heck, that's usually the easy part for me anyway. That seemed like the only way I was gonna have a chance with him...I had to show him we could work together...that I wasn't an unnecessary risk in his life. I just couldn't stand the thought of him worrying I was gonna be a problem for him. No, I wanted him to appreciate me for who I was, and what I was capable of doing, under the right circumstances. I may be hopelessly shy and painfully awkward around other people, but I never doubt my own abilities (other than the social ones...) when it comes to stuff like that. I simply know I can do it...and usually better than most. If I really have to...
What I was really most worried about was trying to figure out how I could avoid confirming his suspicion that I was indeed a complete geek and a total flamer...and a total waste of his time. I mean, sure I like boys...but, it doesn't define my personality in my mind. I don't think my personality would be any different if I liked girls, to be honest. Being gay is not a personality trait is it? Seems to me it's more of a motivation...an inner drive...a hunger in your heart (and somewhere else, at times LOL!)...than anything else. I don't act like a total flamer, do I? I asked myself. Hmmmm...No, I decided.
At least I don't think I do. Do I?
I took a quick inventory...no limp wrist, no lisp or risky fashion statements...but ya, I do have an Aaron Carter poster in my bedroom (well, he is cute as heck, even if he can't sing worth a crap...); and yes, I do own a Backstreet Boys CD and a Dream Street CD. I would give anything in the world for one hour alone naked with JTT...so; does any of that qualify me as a hopeless fag?