This is, it turns out, a story about fear and cowardice. Standard disclaimers would apply if there were any actual sex in this but, as it turns out, there isn't. So, if relationship stories freak you out, or you're looking to get your keyboard sticky, now would be a good time to run away. No, really. Probably the best time, thinking about it.
Many thanks to Ashken, Ender, and Kitty, intrepid editors.
* * *
Lunch had gotten to be a pleasant habit. Trevor, Paul and I would eat together, and so would Rick on the days he wasn't working out. Melanie would join us if Rick did, otherwise she ate with Rob and the jock crowd. It was kind of strange to watch, knowing what was going on with Rob, and between Melanie and Rick. Today it was just Trevor and I, since Paul was doing something with the school electrician and stage lights.
The cafeteria was as busy and unappealing as ever, bright lights bouncing off light blue cinderblock walls, giving any food, and a lot of the people, an unhealthy look. The smell of something vaguely edible permeated everything, and the place was just... loud. I hadn't bothered bringing lunch from home today, and I didn't have the guts to try the special, so I was stuck with a hamburger and greasy fries to eat. Could've been worse, I think -- at least I recognized what I'd gotten to eat. Trevor had opted for a salad, and despite how wilted it was looking, I was beginning to think he'd made the better choice.
"So," I asked Trevor over my burger, "how'd things go? They post the results yet?"
Tryouts had been yesterday, and it had been for West Side Story as threatened. I'd tried out, like I'd promised. My dancing was fine, my accent was really good, my acting was wooden, and my singing... well, I tried, but they stopped me after two bars. I figured I'd gotten a spot as an extra. I could dance and maybe say a line or two, and pretend to sing. There were only twelve other guys who tried out, so it's not like we wouldn't all get parts.
"You haven't checked?"
"Nah," I said. "I figured I'd end up as an extra." I shrugged and ate some French fries.
"Um, not exactly," Trevor said, while he was picking at his salad.
"Blew it completely?" That was surprising. I'd figured I'd at least be a body on stage. No big deal, though, I could always haul things around or something. That might be better, actually, since I wouldn't have to be on stage, though the thought of being just another face in a crowd wasn't bothering me.
"No," said Trevor. "You're Tony."
"Oh, OK. Um... Who's he?" I looked at lunch and decided that ketchup couldn't make things any worse, so I started squirting dots of it on the fries.
Trevor gave me a look like I was insane. "Didn't you read the script?"
"Nah," I said, shrugging. "I didn't. Figured I wasn't getting a part so there wasn't any reason." I hadn't paid enough attention when dotting the ketchup, and I'd ended up gridding my fries. Since some ketchup seemed good, I thought more would be better so I'd started connecting the dots.
"Uh... Tony's the male lead."
I think I gave Trevor a stupid stare. "What?" I figured I must've misheard him. There was no way I'd be getting the lead in the play, not with how I did in tryouts. It was a musical and my singing sucked. Well, OK, my acting sucked. My singing was worse.
"Oh, I get it," I said, when it hit me what he was doing. "This is a joke, right?" I started to laugh. "You got me good. Lead. Yeah, right."
He sighed and shook his head. "No, this isn't a joke. You got the lead part, Justin."
"Me? I thought you'd get it. You're a lot better than I am." He was, too. Trevor could sing, he could dance, and he could hit the back of the auditorium with his voice. His accent wasn't too bad either, since he'd been prodding me to help him prepare for the part. It wasn't great, but it was definitely better than anyone else's who tried out. Hearing "y'all" with a half-Bronx accent was definitely weird, though.
Trevor slumped down in his seat, crossed his arms, and let his head fall on them. He mumbled something that I couldn't make out, so I nudged him.
"Couldn't understand that," I said.
He lifted his head just enough to let his eyes show. "The Griff says I don't look the part. I don't have the hard edge."
That was fair enough. I liked Trevor, and he was really good, but he was a nice guy and it showed. The only time I'd ever seen him at all aggressive was in the self-defense class, and even then he couldn't manage for too long.
Even if he wasn't it, that left eleven other guys who had to be better. "So why me?"
Trevor snorted. "Because you always look like you're a half-second away from killing someone, Justin. You can even see it from the back row." Now I slumped. That was just great -- I'd been trying hard all year to lose that, and now Trevor said it was there for everyone to see. Swell.
"Plus," Trevor continued, not stopping for my slump, "you can dance just fine, and your accent's killer."
"Yeah, but what about the singing? I think my singing was kind of bad."
"Erm , Justin? The Griff wanted me to talk to you about that..." Trevor wasn't looking at me when he said that.
"What? It was OK?" I didn't think so, but I could've been wrong. If it was good enough, I figured they'd have had me sing longer during tryouts.
"No... No, you really suck as a singer, Justin." He took a breath, then blurted out, "Griff wanted to know if you'd take the part if someone else did the singing."
"Someone else?" I didn't figure how that could work.
"Yeah. We're all up on stage, nobody can really see us up close, and there are microphones and all, so if you just kind of... mouthed the words and had someone else sing, it'd be OK. You wouldn't even need to be exact, the audience can't tell."
I hadn't thought about that. Standing up on stage, the seats did look a little small, and so did the people. "Like a stunt voice or something?" Trevor's explanation sort of made sense. I could see it working.
"Something like that," he replied.
That sounded good to me. Someone who could actually sing would sing, and I'd do the dancing and moving parts, and maybe nobody'd notice I couldn't act. With a thick enough accent I'd bet nobody'd even be able to tell what I was saying. "Sure," I said, shrugging. "Who?"
"Um..." Trevor wouldn't look at me, and that made me a little suspicious. Usually it was me not looking at him when we talked.
"C'mon, Trevor," I said, prodding him. "Who?"
"Me," he said. His voice was so quiet I could barely hear him.
"You?" I sat back. "Cool!" I liked that.
"You don't mind?" Trevor looked puzzled.
"Mind? Why? I can't sing. You sing really well. Are you sure you don't want the part? I mean, I can go tell Mrs. Griffin that I don't want it." Trevor was looking really down, and I'd only tried out because I said I would.
"No," he said quickly. "That's OK, Justin. I mean, thanks, but I think she's right. You're better for the part than I would be. If I were up there it'd just look stupid." He didn't look happy.
"Oh. Well, if everyone's OK with it, that's fine with me. So, what do we do now? I mean, should we practice or something?" I admit, I was kind of eager to get started. This was all new to me, but it was kind of cool that someone thought I was good enough to actually take the lead in something. I was sort of glad he didn't want it, and that kind of surprised me.
"Yeah, I think so. Rehearsals officially start after Christmas break, but everyone'll be hanging out in the auditorium anyway until then, getting ready. You want to work there?"
I thought about how well I didn't sing, how bad my acting was, and how bad Trevor's accent was. I didn't think I wanted to look that stupid in public for a while yet.
"Can we maybe go somewhere else? Some place private maybe? I think... I think I'm really going to suck at this for a long time. I don't want anyone else to see."
"Ah, you'll be OK, Justin. It's only a high school musical. Besides, if we can get me an accent, we can make you an actor. Well," he added, giving me a grin and a funny look, "at least enough of one to get by. Don't worry, Justin, this is all for fun."
"Fun. Right." That's when it started to sink in -- I was going to be up on stage in front of everyone. "Y'know, I think I may start to panic now," I said.
"C'mon, Justin, it'll be fun. Besides, you know pretty much everyone in the cast. Melanie got the female lead, I'll be there, Rick runs backstage, and I bet Paul'll kill the lights for you if things get too bad. It'll be fine, really."
"Promise?" I asked. I was trying to get a handle on my rising panic, without too much success.
"Really, Justin, it's OK." He looked at me. "Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, you were the best that tried out, but you don't look so good right now. Most people wait until they're going on stage to get stage fright."
Trevor had no idea. And he didn't, I realized, since I'd never told him. Thinking that was enough of a distraction to get myself back under control. I took a deep breath. I could do this -- I managed for a couple of months doing my act with Rob, so maybe I could do it up on stage. Maybe. God, I hoped so.
"I think I'll be OK." I tried a smile and I think I mostly managed it. "As long as nobody minds me puking before the show."
"There's a long and glorious tradition of that," Trevor said. "Just don't eat nachos before a show." He shuddered. "I speak from experience. Anyway, my parents should be out so why don't we head over to my house after school and get started?"
"Sure," I said, trying to not think of recycled nachos. My stomach was upset enough, thinking about being on stage. "Sounds good to me."
* * *
I never thought you could spend twenty minutes trying to get the pronunciation of 'youse guys' right, and I definitely never thought it could take longer than that. Trevor had been trying that one phrase the whole trip from school to his house and still hadn't gotten it. He was getting closer, but still there was way too much Georgia in his voice and he hadn't made it to the Bronx yet. We'd maybe hit Pennsylvania by the time I was pulling up to his place.
"Uh, Justin? Can we go over to your house instead?" Trevor was staring at his driveway and the green minivan in it. His house was one of those generic two story ranch houses with a two-car garage. So was mine, come to think of it, but at least mine wasn't painted a bright green.
There was enough room on the pavement that I could park next to the minivan without a problem. "Why?" I asked as I pulled in.
"It's just..." Out of the corner of my eye I could see Trevor's white knuckles on the dashboard. A high-pitched voice interrupted him.
"Boys, come in!"
I turned to look, and saw a middle-aged woman standing in the doorway to the house. She looked a lot like Trevor, so I figured it was his mother. While it might've been strange, it struck me that her dress matched the door she stood in front of. Noticing the match wasn't the strange part so much as the fact that someone'd wear a dress that matched an eggplant purple door.
I looked at Trevor, since I wasn't sure whether we should go in or leave. He looked uncomfortable. Hell, he looked like the only reason he wasn't bolting was that the car door was closed, and I wasn't sure he could let go of the car.
"So," I asked, not sure what was going on, "should we go in, or go to my house?" It suddenly hit me that maybe he was getting beat on at home or something. I couldn't think of another reason to not want to go in, since his mom seemed harmless enough.
He sighed. "Go in," he said. All the tension in him let go at once, and he kind of... deflated. He got out of the car and headed up the steps. I grabbed my bag out of the back seat and followed.
"Hi, Mom," he said, as he gave the woman in the doorway a kiss.
"And who is this?" she asked, as she looked over his shoulder at me.
"This is Justin, Mom. He's from New York. He's helping me with my accent for the play."
I wasn't sure where Trevor had gotten that idea from. I was pretty sure I'd told him I was from Boston.
"Huh? I'm..." I stopped when Trevor kicked back and caught me in the knee. His mom had the same look on her face as some of the people I sparred with did -- the ones who didn't like me. That made me a little uncomfortable, and I was definitely wondering if Trevor was getting beat on or something.
I tried to think fast. Unfortunately that wasn't something I was good at. If Trevor didn't want me correcting him, then he must want his mom to think I was from somewhere I wasn't. He knew his mom best, and since she looked like she was about to attack, I figured I'd better play along.
"Hi. Justin Payne. Pleased ta meet 'ya," I said, layering the Bronx on thick and extending my hand to shake.
"It's so nice to meet you," said Trevor's mom. She gave me a sort of sickly smile. I wasn't sure what to make of it, and I couldn't tell if she'd noticed the long pause between Trevor's introduction and me saying hello.
"Mom, we gotta practice," he said. "Justin has to be home for dinner."
"Trevor, I..." This time he stomped on my foot, and I got the idea that maybe I should just shut up.
"Six o'clock, right Justin?" he said, turning and glaring at me.
I managed to remember to leave the accent on. "Yeah, six. That's not a problem?"
"No, no, Trevor's friends are always welcome here." I swear, there was something in her voice that made me a little ill. Maybe it was the fake cheerful sounds -- I knew that if I could tell, it had to be pretty bad.
"We'll just go to my room, Mom," Trevor said.
"That's fine. If you want a snack, there's coke and moon pies in the kitchen." Trevor had grabbed my wrist and started pulling me down the hall before she finished. A hallway, I noticed as we got yanked through it, that had been painted a robin's egg blue. I was beginning to wonder if his parents were colorblind.
"Oh, and boys? Make sure you leave the door open," she called after us. I saw Trevor shudder.
"What was that all about?" I asked as we got to his room. Trevor shut the door almost all the way, leaving it open just a crack.
While the rest of the house was a color disaster, Trevor's room wasn't. The walls were a dark brick red with dark wood wainscoting, and covered with posters for Broadway plays and old French mimes. The floor was wood and had a braided rag throw rug covering most of it. There was a dark green quilt on the bed, and the desk and shelves were stained to match the wainscoting. It was really nice, and comfortable. It was also almost unnaturally clean.
"Don't ask," he said.
Too late for that. "Um, I already did."
Trevor threw himself onto his bed and looked unhappy. "She wants the door left open so nothing untoward will happen."
That didn't help, at least not without a dictionary. "Which means?"
"Which means she doesn't want us screwing." He pitched his pillow at the wall as he said that.
"Jeez," I said. "Does she really think I'm going to rape you or something? That's so..." I was starting to get worked up.
"Not you, Justin," Trevor said, shutting me right down. " She doesn't know you're gay. She means me."
Now I was confused. This one was a new one on me. "She thinks you're going to jump me? Why?"
"Why do you think, Justin?" I could hear the scorn in his voice.
It took me a second, but I got there. "Wow," I said. "Even your mother thinks you're gay?"
"Yeah," he replied, sounding glum.
"Wow. That sucks. Still, it's kind of cool of her and all, y'know, trying to be OK with it." Or maybe she wasn't. I'd never seen any bruises or anything on him, but from the way she sounded and the way Trevor was acting in the car, maybe she wasn't OK with it. That wasn't a happy thought, and I frowned as I thought it.
"Justin," he said, shooting me a look, "I'm not gay!"
"Well, yeah," I said. "I know that. Still..."
"Still nothing," he said, cutting me off. He rolled off the bed and started stomping around. I sat down in his desk chair to get out of the way before he ran me over. "I hate it. Nobody believes me! She thinks every guy I bring over is someone I'm trying to have sex with. Yeah, they're OK with me being gay. 'It's just the way you are, sweetie'," he said, in a good falsetto. He sounded a lot like his mother.
"They hate it, but they try to be 'tolerant' and 'supportive'. God, she dragged me out to a PFLAG meeting in Atlanta last month! Fuck, everybody thinks I'm gay, dammit!" He smacked the wall with his fist. The impact knocked one of the posters off the wall.
I thought about it for a second. He was right, as far as I could tell. The other guys in drama were pretty cool about it and all, but I think they all thought he was just saying it to dodge the crap, and I don't think anyone actually believed him. Heck, watching him move as he stormed around his bedroom, I didn't believe him.
"Well," I started, "you do kinda swish and all..."
"I'm just saying, that's all," I said, getting a little defensive.
"It's not like I don't know that. I can't help it. It doesn't mean I'm gay. You should know that."
"Well, sure," I replied. "I do." That was actually the funny part. Trevor swished like hell, but was one of the straightest guys I knew. Probably one of the most frustrated, too, to hear him complain at lunch. "Have you considered, y'know, asking someone out?"
Trevor shot me a look. "What do you think?"
I thought I was hoping for an answer to the question. Since he didn't give one, I guess the answer was no. "No luck there?"
"Not even close," Trevor said. "Everyone thinks I'm trying to cover, and I just get laughed at. I've sort of given up."
I sat and thought. I didn't know too many people around school, and I still had no idea how the whole dating thing was handled. Certainly wasn't like I was doing any this year myself, and last year the situation was very different.
That left asking other people for help. I thought about asking Melanie -- she seemed to know just about everyone, and she probably would be able to find someone. I wasn't sure how well that'd work out, though. Most of the people she usually hung out with were in sports or academics. Maybe there'd be some geek girl or something.
That's when it hit me. I knew at least one person who we could ask.
"Trevor," I said, "how about Steph?"
I realized I had no idea what Steph's last name was. The last name didn't match her looks, but that didn't always mean anything. "Um, maybe. Short redhead, feisty, does art and costumes?"
"That's her," Trevor said. "Why would she go out with me?"
"Because she's the biggest pervert I know, and she's got a mouth that'd make the football team blush. I'm pretty sure she'd be more than happy to get caught with you on the couch and your clothes in the driveway or something."
Trevor frowned at me. "So I should ask her for a mercy fuck?"
"What, you mean you wouldn't take one?"
"Hell, no, I'd take it in a second!"
"Then maybe we should talk to her. See what she'd be up for. What's the worst thing that could happen?" After I said that it struck me that maybe the worst could be pretty bad, but no matter what Steph might do, she wasn't cruel. I think.
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