My breakup with Jessica created a problem for Mike. We were like brothers, but Maryann and Jessica were close, too, and Mike had been a big part of the breakup. He’d supported me, and his support couldn’t be overlooked by that pair. Jessica wouldn’t allow it to be.
He was conflicted. He and I had been together much longer than he’d been with Maryann. But she provided him with benefits I couldn’t match. I wasn’t considering giving him a blowjob, for just one thing.
She was upset with him and, at first, stood by Jessica. His reaction to that was that she should grow up. Luckily, he told me that, not her. What I told him was, he had to talk to her. Not shut her out. He had to be persistent, constant, and not let her only hear Jessica’s side.
Maryann was smart. She knew high school romances rarely lasted long, especially not when it was sophomores who were the ones dating. Kids like that broke up all the time. Both boys and girls broke things off. I wanted Mike to emphasize that to her. I wasn’t the bad guy; I was just a guy who thought the relationship wasn’t what I wanted and one that Jessica would have soon tired of as well. Mike was my friend, and he supported me. That was how things worked, and Maryann shouldn’t be dumping him because of it, not if she really liked him.
“Tell her how I could have just phoned Jessica but didn’t,” I told him. “Tell her I didn’t send her a text but sat down with her face-to-face and tried my hardest to break it gently. Tell her how nicely I put it to Jessica and how she was the one who went all Freddy Krueger on me.”
For once, he followed my advice. It was rough going. Maryann was in a tough spot. I told Mike he had to keep after her if he wanted to hang onto her. He had to spend time with her, being the steady-Eddie he was, talking about their relationship and how Jessica would move on and be with someone else soon, and how tragic it would be if he and Maryann were no longer together at that point. He followed my advice and started spending a lot of time with her.
This, of course, meant Jordan and I were a twosome instead of our former threesome that included Mike. Jeff went away to summer camp. He had been to the same camp the year before and had begged to go back. He’d made friends who’d be there again. I think he hated leaving while Jordan was still at our house, but he was with a pack of kids his age and probably only missed Jordan for the first ten minutes of the bus ride to the camp. After that he’d be too busy singing about John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and 99 bottles of beer on the wall.
Jordan had told me he didn’t want to go back home till he had to. His dad was still in and out of the house and would be until the court’s decision came down. That meant there was a lot of tension at home and a lot of each side trying to recruit both kids to favor them. He didn’t want any part of it. It was bad enough the family was falling apart. He didn’t want any involvement in the nitty-gritty of that.
I was happy Jordan was still with me. He was sleeping on Mike’s mattress next to my bed. He could have used Jeff’s bed, but he said he preferred to stay where he’d been. That was fine with me. It did limit certain nighttime activities, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and we both showered day and night, so that wasn’t really a problem for either of us. Well, I assumed he’d have the same problem I did and use his shower time for the same purpose.
We had a lot of time to talk after going to bed. We got to know each other that way. I’d never known a gay kid before. I don’t know why I was surprised, but he wasn’t much different from me. Many of the same likes and dislikes and the same concerns, too. I don’t call them fears. Boys our age aren’t supposed to be afraid of things. Concerns sounds better.
We played soccer almost every day. He was a lot better than I first thought. To me, it looked like he should be playing a wing, a forward. He was really clever with the ball, but not that great a passer. I guessed where he played, the wings weren’t able to get open, which was why he’d mastered keeping the ball and not passing.
One of his concerns, of course, was his shyness. I thought he’d be reluctant to talk about it, but he wasn’t.
“I haven’t always been shy like I am,” he said when I’d just confessed how I thought I was dorky-looking, a little homely, and that that was one of the reasons I’d thought Jessica was too good for me. Which was why I was more comfortable with boys and playing soccer than dating girls like Jessica who’d always be comparing me to other, cuter boys; he’d assured me I looked just fine, but of course he had to say that.
“When did it start, being shy? Did something cause it?”
He was quiet then, thinking about that. His voice was different when he finally answered. Softer, more contemplative. “I know when it happened. I was 11. I was noticing all the boys at school, which ones were good-looking, which ones I was attracted to in a way I hadn’t been before. Also, the feelings I got looking at them; I’d never felt those when I was younger. Not as strong as now, at least. Not as focused. I realized I liked looking at them much more than at the girls. Girls didn’t give me the same feelings.”
He sat up on the mattress and leaned his back against the bed. He was facing away from me. I wondered if he was doing that to shield himself or it was just the only comfortable position when he was sitting up on the mattress.
“It wasn’t long before I realized what was what. I liked and wanted boys, not girls. I was gay. It was difficult for me to come to terms with that. All the boys in school were in the process of showing how masculine they were becoming. One way to do that was to put down less-masculine boys. Gay boys for sure, even if the ones they were picking out just weren’t as masculine as they were. Boys who actually were gay weren’t coming out, admitting they were gay. They were pretending they weren’t and gay bashing—along with everyone else. Not everyone did that. Some were just quiet when it came to that kind of talk. I became one of those. I didn’t want to be the only gay boy around. I’d lose all my friends and get ignored at best and teased and bullied at worst. So, I was scared to death to admit what I was and scared, too, that it would show.”
He stopped, obviously remembering those times. They hadn’t been good times for him.
“I didn’t have a problem with the boys who already knew me,” he continued. “It was new kids, new people I had to be careful with.”
“Ah,” I said, getting it. “Strangers.”
“Right. I started avoiding strangers as much as possible, sticking with kids I knew, and the more I did that, the more phobic I became. But it seemed reasonable to me to be leery of people I didn’t know who’d be forming opinions of me. It became ingrained, and it’s hard to break the habit now.
“I still don’t want anyone to know I’m gay, including both parents. My dad probably wouldn’t react as badly as Mom, but still—I’m fifteen. I’m probably going to go to college after high school. That’s where I’ll come out. That’s when it should be safe if I pick the right school.”
“I don’t think anyone here would ever think you were gay,” I said, trying to be reassuring. “Nothing about you says you’re gay. Maybe you should practice trying to get over the shyness. It holds you back, restricts you, even isolates you.”
He nodded. “I’d love to do that and would if I were living here. Everyone here is a stranger except the few kids I’ve met. I think I could do it here. But not back home. I still have to be careful there.”
“Well, we’re friends,” I said. “And we’ve been keeping busy doing stuff together; I’m not gay and no one thinks I am; I can be a—what’s the word—beard? Not as convincing as a girl, but still. I can introduce you to more kids if you want. In any event, doing things together with a straight kid—me—will protect your secret. Is there anything else other than soccer you’d like to be doing?”
He was silent then for long enough I wondered if I’d upset him, if he thought I was somehow disparaging his gaynesss. He was still leaning against my bed, so I knew he hadn’t fallen asleep. Finally, he spoke.
“I kind of like the way the days have been going. There is one thing I like to do, though, but maybe you wouldn’t. It was something I began doing when I was figuring out who I was.”
“Hiking. Our town, really a village, is very small, so it’s only a short walk from our house out into the countryside. I especially like woods and hills. Just being out by myself, no one else around—what’s the phrase, communing with nature? That’s what I like. But if you wanted to do that with me, that might even be better. Having someone to share it with.”
“Hey, I’d love that. Yeah, let’s do it. I know some places you’d like.”
“Want to go tomorrow?” he asked.
“I promised Keith and Randy we’d be at the park for a game with kids our age and older tomorrow in the afternoon. It wouldn’t be much of a hike unless we left at dawn, and I need my beauty sleep. Maybe the day after?”
He chuckled. “I’d make a crack about your beauty sleep not working, but you told me how you feel about that, so it wouldn’t be funny. Wouldn’t be true, either. You don’t have a standard, every-other-boy-in-the-world look, but there’s nothing wrong with being unique, and you’re both unique and cute. You don’t have to believe it, but it’s true. Oh, and the day after tomorrow is fine.”
We got to the park early on Wednesday. We sat on the sidelines watching the game being played. Jordan seemed a little nervous.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“You’re going to be introducing me to a bunch of kids our age, at least the ones on our team. I don’t do well with that.”
I felt for him. Yeah, this would be difficult for him. I thought the best way to handle it would be to be positive, though. Just validating his fears wouldn’t help him at all. “Look, there are four things you need to do, and none of them should be impossible for you. When I introduce you to just one guy, you need to meet his eyes, say hi, smile, and answer anything he says with more than one word. All of that will happen in about five seconds. You can do five seconds, can’t you?”
“I guess I can at least try. Knowing it won’t be for long will help.”
“Sure you can. When I introduce you to several kids at once, just smile, say hi, and let your eyes scan over them. Don’t drop them. Scan. Simple. You’ll do fine. If someone says something that requires a reply, say something clever. You’re really smart; it should be easy for you. I’ll be right here to pick you up if needed. Stop worrying.”
“Easy for you!”
“And for you if you work on it. You recognize the problem. That’s the first step toward solving it.”
The guys for our game started showing up. It would be a group of sophomores-to-be, my group, playing a bunch of juniors-to-be. We were mostly 15, they mostly 16. We were all much the same size and were friendly. Jordan got through the introductions. I suggested he play left wing forward. Brian Baxter, who normally played wing for us, was away for the summer. I was happy about that. Bax was an asshole.
It became obvious right away that Jordan was better than Bax. Bax was fast, but that was about his only claim to fame. Jordan was just as fast and much more adept with the ball. That was apparent early in the game. I’d brought the ball upfield past the center line, then passed to Jordan on the left. He brought the ball farther upfield, then cut past his defender with an impressive deke, drove across the field toward the center of the goalmouth, about 20 yards out. I’d moved forward, too, along with most of the boys. There was a lot of traffic in front of the goal. Jordan kept moving to his right, and I saw suddenly there was an open shot through all the milling congestion. I was sure he’d take it. He didn’t. Instead, he waited just a moment for their team to collapse on him, and he kicked a heel pass backwards—to me! I was shocked, but not enough to stop me from simply kicking the ball into the open net with the keeper far to the right where he’d expected Jordan’s shot to go.
I almost never scored. I was a passer, a facilitator. Not a scorer. If I took even one shot on goal in a game, it was unusual.
My teammates all ran over and touched me and briefly celebrated. I looked over to where Jordan was still standing, looking at me and smiling. And just that quickly, I felt something. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt, and I didn’t know what it was; it felt like bonding, but of a sort that was new to me. Different from my bond with Mike. Jordan was grinning, and that grin . . . I’d have to figure all this out later. It was probably just the feeling guys have in competition when they work so closely with one another and come together in a common effort. Something works out successfully and you both are feeling exactly the same emotions at the same time, and you both recognize it. It does make you very close while it’s happening. You get accustomed to that in athletics. This felt a lot like that. But it was different, too.
We played for over an hour, then quit when another group wanted the field. We’d won 5 to 2, and Jordan had scored two goals. I’d had one. Incredible.
Walking home, Jordan started the strangest conversation I think I’d ever been in.
“That was great, David. So, tell me. Who were the cutest boys on the field?”
“Huh? Why would you ask me that?”
“Why not? I know who cute girls are even though I’m not attracted to them that way. But you have to be the same with boys. You know who’s cute. I’m not saying they turn you on. But recognizing who’s good-looking, that’s just human. So, which ones?”
“But we were playing soccer. Running around, bumping into each other, trash-talking, concentrating on playing; there was no looking to see who’s cute!”
“That’s ridiculous. You can be grocery shopping, say, and trying to find the perfect apple, the freshest asparagus, but there are other shoppers, and you can’t help but notice who’s good-looking and who’s normal, and if you see someone that turns you on a little, well, that’s just how things go. There’s no way you just played a game with 19 other boys and didn’t see which ones were attractive and which ones weren’t.”
“Attractive? That’s worse than cute! It implies more.”
“You’re saying you’ve never found another boy’s looks appealed to you? What, you’re kind of dead and moldy inside? We all have sexy thoughts about the people we see. I’m not asking what boy you imagine going to bed with, which one you’d enjoy playing naked Twister with. I’m just saying, you have to find some boys more attractive than others. So, which ones?”
I was about to argue that this was a gay thing and I wasn’t gay and we needed to talk about something else when I took a glance at him and held my tongue. I saw his face. I’d thought he was mostly teasing, asking me this, but he wasn’t. Not only was he dead serious, but what I read on his face was vulnerability. This mattered to him. How I responded mattered to him.
So, I decided to play along. Wouldn’t hurt me at all, and maybe this was important to him. Maybe he’d be hurt if I just dismissed this. Maybe our friendship would be changed.
“Well, okay, this is all hypothetical, of course, but just to go along with your thesis, I have noticed that Tony and Brett are both kind of cute. Tony’s dark hair and the way he sweeps it to the side to keep it out of his eyes, and Brett’s smile and eyes that seem to be on fire when he’s excited—I’ve noticed those things. Can’t help but. Doesn’t mean anything.”
Jordan’s face showed me I’d done the right thing. He looked, well, he looked a number of things all at once, too many to read, really, but happy was predominant. But his voice sounded a little husky when he spoke again. “What about Benjamin? I thought he was cute as hell—and those shorts he was wearing! I don’t think there was anything under them but his, uh, his, uh . . .”
“Yeah, I’ve seen his uh in the showers at school. He definitely has a significant uh. I think he likes people to see it, too. Oh, incidentally, I saw him looking at you, too.”
“Yeah, way. I don’t think he’s gay; he just likes to show off, likes to see people with their eyes glued to him. He’s a proponent of the ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ school of behavior. He’s the first to strip off after gym and the last to pull his boxers on after showering. He’s definitely got some exhibitionist in him. His shorts are the first thing he takes off in the locker room. Then his shoes and all, but his shorts and jock first. He likes people to look. He’ll often find a need to scratch an itch on it, too. Makes sure he stands and sits where nothing’s hidden.”
Jordan turned to me, and his eyes looked devilish. “And that means you’ve been looking, too. You seem to have spent a lot of time checking him out. So, you like looking at a kid showing off his stuff?”
I wasn’t going to be intimidated or even sink so low as to respond to that. I ignored the implication. “Everyone watches him. He puts on a show, and we watch.”
Jordan was starting to imagine what I was picturing for him, and I could see he was finding it stimulating. So, why not continue?
“Once I saw him approach a smaller kid and ask if he could borrow some antiperspirant because he’d run out, and he stood right over the kid so when he turned away from his locker with the spray, his hand rubbed right across Benjamin’s dick. The kid was embarrassed and blushed. What I found intriguing was: Benjamin never moved. Think about it. Someone accidentally touches your dick, you react. You jerk back. You might even drop your hands to cover it. Benjamin didn’t do any of that; he just smiled. And I’d swear he plumped up a little.”
Jordan took a deep breath. “So why don’t you think he’s gay? It sounds like he could be.”
“He talks about his girlfriend a lot and about how he’s screwing her. Says she likes it that he’s big. Likes touching it. Likes playing with it. So, I guess he might be lying, but it just doesn’t sound like it, and then, too, his girlfriend has a rep.”
“Damn!” Jordan said, and I laughed.
Then I changed the subject. “You know, Jordan, it’s more to the point for you to tell me what boys you admired out there. You’re the one who should have been ogling that male flesh today; in fact, you probably were. I was concentrating on the game. I wasn’t looking for cute; I was looking for openings for passes and other opportunities. The people on the field could have been robots for all I was noticing their looks. So which boys did you find cute?”
He paused, remembering the game, then said, “Both their wings were cute. Didn’t you see that? And their keeper. Now he’s one I’d like to fool around with, see what he’s like in bed. Would you kick him out of bed?”
“Jordan! For crying out loud!”
He laughed. He was enjoying this! “Okay, okay, I was just yanking your chain. I won’t press the point, other than to say I can tell when a girl is good-looking. Are you trying to tell me you can’t do that with a boy? And I don’t mean hypothetically.”
“Well, sure. But not today, not on the field playing soccer. At school, when I have time to notice the other kids, yeah, I guess, sure, I can tell.”
“So, who’s the cutest boy in school?”
He laughed again. His laugh was almost as captivating as his grin.
We were up early the next day, Thursday. I was excited about the hike. It had been a couple of years since I’d gone on one. Mike hated hiking, and I didn’t much like just going by myself. Jeff would have wanted to tag along, too, but watching out for him, being responsible for him, would have made the hike a chore rather than a joy.
“You ready?” I asked. Jordan was as eager to get going as I was. We were carrying stuff in our backpacks for lunch, along with water, binoculars, a small first-aid kit, and a plastic ground cloth to sit on while eating; that was about it. We both were slathered with sunscreen and mosquito repellent. I had a brimmed cap and sunglasses, and Jordan had borrowed the same.
“Yeah, let’s get on the road.” He grinned. That grin wasn’t getting old at all; I still found it startling when he flashed it.
We rode bikes—Jordan using Jeff’s—a couple of miles to the edge of town. There was a wooded section where we pulled up. We took the bikes into the trees where they couldn’t be seen, and I chained them to a tree. We lived in a town with very little crime, so I wasn’t really worried, but there was no harm in being extra safe.
We walked through the small woods and out into open countryside. I told Jordan we should head north, that there were hills there we could climb. I didn’t tell him about the lake we could see from the top of one of the hills. I was going to let that be a surprise.
We walked through fields of wild grasses, green in the early summer sun, full of life, the dew having burned off by the time we were there. The sun overhead was in and out of the billowy clouds moving slowly as the unfelt, high breezes played with them. As the clouds moved, their shadows flickered across the fields drawing a changing chiaroscuro on the landscape. Colorful vireos and warblers were feasting on tiny flying insects hovering above the grasses, occasionally chirping their high-pitched cheeps. The day was warm enough that only tee shirts and shorts were needed, and Jordan and I were very comfortable setting a medium pace, not hurrying toward or away from anything. There was a great sense of freedom, of connection to the land and each other.
The hills in the distance grew taller as we neared, and we climbed after reaching them. At the top of the one I’d been aiming for there was a flat plateau, and the grasses there were soft and beckoning. I spread the ground cloth and sat down; Jordan plopped down next to me.
We ate lunch and scanned the panorama surrounding us. The lake wasn’t far off; we would walk there after eating. I was wondering if Jordan would be up for some skinny-dipping. But right then was a time for rest after the long walk and shorter but more arduous climb.
We hadn’t spoken much during the hike. It wasn’t that we had nothing to say but more that we were taken by the feelings we were experiencing to be at one with the natural beauty surrounding us. Silence did feel golden right then; talking would have disturbed our sense of that. Now, eating and enjoying our view that stretched out to the horizon, that restraint was gone. Yet for some reason, I was feeling a little of the shyness Jordan had evinced when we’d first met. Maybe it was because we were so very alone together. Maybe it was something else. Whatever, I felt it, and I stayed mute.
Eventually, Jordan spoke. “This is wonderful, David. Just what I needed.”
I smiled. “This feels good to me, too. All this space around us, no noise, no problems, just sitting here enjoying the air and sun and being fifteen.”
He chuckled. “Well, that’s true, but it’s not what I meant at all. No, it’s something else. It’ll probably embarrass you, but I’m going to say it anyway.”
I wished he wouldn’t. I was enjoying the day and thinking about getting to the lake later, which was something to look forward to. I was wishing Jordan wasn’t going to hit me with anything heavy. From the look on Jordan’s face, I didn’t think I would get my wish.