Middle School

3 – Before and After School

I felt like a new me. Walking to school Monday morning, I was almost skipping, I felt so free and happy and full of life. Nothing like I usually felt, walking to school. It had been a chore, before, and I’d walked slowly, not wanting to get there. School had been like that, too, something that wasn’t fun at all and nothing to look forward to. I didn’t have any real close friends and I was trying to make myself believe I wasn’t really gay, and I wasn’t sure but maybe I was and I was trying to hide it from the world. I was a brain in school and small to boot and that’s not a good combination unless you liked being picked on and bumped around, which I didn’t, and I had an enemy now in Marv Turner. But I’d spent most of Saturday on the phone with Chad Wilkinson and I might have a good friend now. A friend who I thought might be the best looking and nicest kid I’d ever met. He’d complimented me once in the locker room, he’d saved me from having my shoulder torn apart in gym class, and he’d even sat by me at lunch one time.

I got to school early. I guess I’d left home early, wanting to get a head start; that’s how good I felt. It seemed weird, walking in the doors of the school and not having a bunch of kids there. The hallways were empty. I went to my locker and was getting the books I needed for my first two classes when someone spoke, making me jump a little. I stood up and turned around.

“Oh, sorry,” he said. It was Mr. Bingely, my advanced algebra teacher. He was smiling at me. “Did you have a good weekend, Marc?”

“A great one, Mr. Bingely!” I answered, probably showing too much enthusiasm. You’re supposed to be reserved and sort of mopey and not say anything much to teachers. I wasn’t really like that, though. Some of the kids accused me of being a suck-up because of that. But I liked most of my teachers, and Mr. Bingely especially. He seemed to care about the kids in school. Some of the teachers, you can tell they don’t care at all.

He laughed. “That’s good. Hey, I was in the mall Saturday night and saw you going into the multiplex with Brittany Sawyer. Way to go, man!” He held up his hand, wanting a high five. I grinned at him, then leaped in the air and slapped it. I’m 5’ 3, he’s about 6’ 4. We both laughed, and I said, “She’s just a friend.”

He looked at me, wiggled his eyebrows, then said, “Sure thing, kiddo. Just friends. That’s what they all say,” and walked off towards his classroom laughing.

I sorted out the stuff I needed from my locker and stuffed everything else back in. Some kids are really neat. They’ve got everything organized in their lockers. When they want to find something, they know right where it is. Then, there are the rest of us. I was one of those. One of those ‘the rest of us’, not one of those organized ones. When I finished at my locker and turned around, the empty corridor stared back at me. Weird. I walked back to the school door that led out into the courtyard behind the building where everyone congregated, both for lunch if they weren’t eating in the caf and also before and after school. There were a few kids around now, just hanging.

I looked around, and there was Chad! He was with three other guys, leaning against the wall of the gym. There was a huge logo of a cartoon cat with claws and fangs rampant—that’s what we were told it was, that was the word they used, and I thought it sounded kind of neat—painted on the side of it in our school colors, green and black, with ‘Warcats’ painted under it in some fancy graphic script. Last year, when we’d lost a game to our rivals from across town, someone had spray painted some graffiti on the wall during that night, saying, “Here, kitty, kitty, nice kitty kitty.” It had been cleaned and painted over, but you could still see where it had been.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I still felt the glow from talking to Chad Saturday night, but now, seeing him with his friends, he looked so comfortable with them, and his popularity stuck out all over him. He was one of the beautiful people, and I was me. He was just super friendly with everyone. Maybe that’s all he was being with me, spending that time on the phone. Maybe he was just being nice. I was probably just another kid to him.

I’d already taken three or four steps in his direction when I thought this and stopped, and he half turned and saw me. I saw a smile cross his face. Should I keep going? I knew the kids he was talking to, knew them because I’d been in middle school with them for the past two years and the beginning of this one. But I didn’t know know them.

Would I embarrass him if I went over?

The decision was taken out of my hands. As I stood there, indecisively trying to think what I should do, my self-confidence at a low-water mark, I heard, “Hi, Marc!”

I turned, and there was Brittany.

She was walking up to me with a smile on her face bigger than the one Chad had. I thought she’d just stop, but she didn’t. She came up to me and hugged me. Me, right there in the school courtyard with kids all over the place. And then it was worse, because she kissed me on the cheek!

“Hey, Brittany.” I almost said, ‘How’re they hangin’?’ but didn’t. A lot of boys said that to each other, I said it too because I tried to fit in and thought it was funny, and as I thought of Brittany as one of the guys, I almost said it to her. I didn’t, but blushed, thinking of how embarrassed I’d have been if I had.

I think she misinterpreted the blush, because her smile got even bigger, and she hugged me again.

I looked at Chad as I stood there, being hugged and blushing. I was suddenly worried. What if he thought I liked her. Well, I’d told him on the phone I only liked her as a friend, but still … I didn’t want him getting the wrong idea, that I had a girlfriend. But I couldn’t push her off. That would be icky. I might not be cool, I might not have what my mom calls social graces, but at least I knew better than that.

“Marc, I had a lot of fun Saturday night. Did you enjoy it, too?”

I turned away from looking at Chad and faced her. “Yeah, Brittany, it was great. Thanks for asking me.”

“Well, I knew you liked me and were shy, so thought I better go ahead. But now that we like each other, you don’t have to be afraid any more. You can ask me next time.”

Next time? Next time?! Darn, she wasn’t getting ideas was she? She wasn’t starting to think that, uh, we were like, boyfriend and girlfriend, was she? OMG! Maybe both she and Chad thought that.

I had to slow her down. But not hurt her feelings, either. Darn! I didn’t think this being 13 stuff was supposed to be so hard!

“OK, Brittany. I’ll be the one to ask, next time. Hey, I’d better get inside. I need to talk to Mr. Bingely about something.”

“OK, Marc. See you later.” She flashed her eyes at me, then went to find her friends. I watched. She started talking to them very animatedly, then turned, saw me, and waved. I waved back, much less enthusiastically.

I needed to go talk to Chad. I didn’t want him thinking Brittany and I were together. Then I realized, so what? Boys could still be friends even if one had a girlfriend. That’s the way most boys were. They hung with boys who were friends and they had girlfriends. So why did I care if he thought I had a girlfriend? I had no notion at all he was gay, like I might be. It would just be wishful thinking on my part to think he was. So, it probably made no difference at all if he thought I liked Brittany. Yet it seemed the most important thing in the world to remind him, right then and there, that she was only a friend.

I made up my mind to go talk to him. I’d have to find a way to get him away from the guys he was with, and I didn’t know how I’d do that, but I had to try. So I took a step toward him, and then remembered Brittany watching me, and remembered I’d told her I was going inside. Darn again! I turned and walked back toward the school. Now I had to think up something to talk to Mr. Bingely about!

oo))((oo

I opened the door and stepped inside, and almost ran into Marv Turner coming out. I sort of softly bumped him with my shoulder.

“Hey, fartface. Watch it. Oh, it’s you. I’m going to get you.”

“Me? Why me?” My voice was normally high, but now it was kind of squeaking. “I didn’t do anything to you.” I stepped backwards, hit the crash bar on the door with my butt and was now outside again. He followed. We were standing right outside the doors.

“You got me in trouble.”

“No I didn’t. I just lay there on the mats and you almost broke my shoulder. That’s all I did.”

“You got me in trouble and you’re going to pay for it. I’ll catch you without all these people around and I’ll pay you back.”

“But I didn’t DO anything?”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that and maybe you’ll believe it. You got it coming, and you’re going to get it.”

He glared menacingly at me and shoved me hard on the shoulder as he shoved past me. I almost fell down. Great. Now I had the school bully on my bottom. Ass. On my ass. I had to start saying these things right. It isn’t cool to call your ass your bottom. It isn’t cool to say ‘darn’ when you’re supposed to say ‘damn,’ either, and I kept forgetting. But when you’d never used those words before, it wasn’t always easy to remember, either. And then you had to remember not to say them the way you were supposed to say them in front of your mother, either. Just one more thing to worry about.

I stepped back inside in case Brittany was still watching. Did she see Marv push me? Hey, maybe that would be good! Maybe she’d see I was a coward and dump me.

But what if Chad saw? Oh, that’s right. He already knew, didn’t he? So that was OK. It seemed maybe he liked me anyway.

Man, that was strange. No. Wait a sec. Damn, that was strange … yeah, that was better. Damn, that was strange, that he’d like me even though he knew I was a coward. Weird.

The bell rang when I was thinking about that. First period, I had French. Without Chad. I was getting an A in that class without having to take the book home. Mr. Mordelle called on me a couple of times. I told him le crayon est sur la table even though I was holding it between my fingers, and he said my pronunciation needed work. Well, of course it did. I lived in Anaheim, not Arles or Avignon.

At lunch, Chad came in when there was still room at the table where he usually sat. I saw him look at it, then glance around the room and catch my eyes, then look back at his table. He hesitated, then went and sat where he usually did. Oh well. I tried to keep my face expressionless.

I spent the time talking with everyone else there, except Brittany seemed much livelier than usual and kept monopolizing the conversation, then asking me what I thought about each opinion she voiced and making strange faces with her eyes. I started disagreeing with her every thought, just because my mood was bad. It had gotten markedly worse since Chad had sat down. She didn’t seem to notice.

I was glad when the final bell of the day rang as I’d gotten less and less happy as the afternoon had gone by. I grabbed the two books I needed for homework, math and English, and slammed my locker door shut and walked out of the building, not paying any attention to anything but my mood.

I’d gone a block from school, walking and sulking, my mood as black as the ants I was stepping on, when I heard a voice calling my name. I stopped and turned around. Chad was jogging down the sidewalk, coming my way.

“Hey,” he said when he’d caught up with me, “what’s the rush? You took off out of school so fast I hardly caught a glimpse of you. We never even got to talk at all today.”

“Oh.” My face started getting red. I’d almost convinced myself he’d been avoiding me, that our phone call had never happened. Or that he hadn’t meant what he’d said. The friendliness, the happiness in his voice when we were talking, none of the stuff I was imagining was real.

“So why’d you take off so fast? Why didn’t you wait for me?”

I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know him that well. The wonderful feelings I’d had on the phone with him had evaporated in the harsh reality of the day. Also, he seemed to be kinda forcing me to tell him something I didn’t want to tell him. I wasn’t sure what to say.

I looked down at my feet; I was starting to feel a little numb. I’d been so happy this morning, so sure the boy I thought was the hottest kid in school was now my friend. Now, I wasn’t sure of anything, but I was pretty sure Chad and I weren’t going to be friends. I was too nerdy for him. Why would he bother being friends with someone like me?

The pause grew, and then when I was about to say something because I just had to, not sure what it would be but something, he spoke again. His voice was softer, less aggressive.

“Marc? Are you OK?”

“Yeah. No. I don’t know.” My voice was shaky.

He stopped walking, and took my arm so I’d stop, too. We were on a residential street with houses along each side. He took a couple of steps off the sidewalk and was at the curb. He sat down, and sort of tugged on my arm. I sat down next to him.

He looked over at me, and it was really hard, but I forced myself to look back at him. I don’t know what he saw in my face, but he reached and put his arm around my shoulders. When he spoke, it was very soft.

“Saturday night, when we talked, I really liked that. When you hung up, I think I smiled myself to sleep. I was looking forward to talking to you again today. I’m sorry it didn’t work out that way. Did I hurt your feelings? Are you mad because I didn’t talk to you?”

“Oh, no, Chad. It wasn’t that at all. I thought, well, I thought maybe I’d imagined everything about that phone call, that what I thought wasn’t real. You’ve already got a lot of friends. You don’t need me.”

“Marc! You can never have too many friends. And besides which, you’re different from any of my other friends. You’re smart, you look at things the way I do and nobody else seems to, and we seem to like to laugh at the same things. I really want to be friends.”

“So do I,” I said, forgetting for a minute that it was dangerous to show too much enthusiasm. I was maybe, probably, possibly gay, and I really, really wanted to be his friend, and I couldn’t help but think about being a special friend, the kind that did things regular friends didn’t do. I wasn’t real sure what those things were, but just being with him made me feel different, not like when I was with anyone else. Thinking about being alone with him, and maybe him wanting to do those things too, was almost too much to dream about.

“I’m sorry about today, Marc,” he said. “When I saw you before school, I should have come over to you. I was with my friends, and I can see now that maybe that made you uncomfortable, that it may have been hard for you to come up to me with those guys there. I should have realized that. I’m sorry. I should have been paying more attention.”

It was then I realized how silly I’d been today. I should have walked up to him and talked to him. Then I’d have known whether that phone call was what I thought it had been, and I wouldn’t have spent almost the entire day feeling sorry for myself.

I looked in his eyes, and slowly, slowly, a smile started creeping over my face.

He smiled back.

Then we stood up, and began walking the rest of the way home. On the way, I invited him to come to my house, but he couldn’t. He had to go shopping with his mom. To buy him some clothes. When he was done complaining about that, I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Really hurt. He said she treated him like he was still eight. He said he had to lock the dressing room door to keep her from barging in on him when he was changing, and then had to go out and model the clothes, and listen to her discuss with the sales lady about how the pants fit on his butt. When he talked about them wanting to check the fit by rubbing his butt and feeling how much room there was in the crotch, I fell down on the lawn we were walking past, I was laughing so hard. Well, it wasn’t only my laughter that was hard, and falling down seemed the most prudent thing to do.

He fell down too, and sort of a little on top of me, also laughing, and I had to roll over on my stomach, just to be safe.

We were friends. We were friends!