Miss Cadburn inspected each of us. We had to stand in a long line and move forward, and she frowned if there was too much talking. She sat in her chair rather than walk past us, which I thought odd because she wasn’t so old as to need one. She was old, certainly, but plenty mobile. But she sat, and we moved, inching along as the line crept forward. Eventually each of us stood in front of her. She looked us up and down, down and up, with thorough attention to detail. Her perspective was odd, I thought, as she couldn’t see the tops of our heads. She was looking up at our faces and could see how our hair hung across our foreheads and around the sides of our heads, across our ears and down our backs, of course, when she had us slowly turn all the way around, but not our tip tops.
Our shoes had to be shined to a high polish and the bows tied in perfect loops, the ends having to be of the same lengths. Our trousers had to hang straight without wrinkles or lint, the crease sharp in front of each leg. Our formal jackets had to be centered on our frame, not hanging lower on one side than the other; she wanted us to stand tall and square-shouldered. What she could see of our shirts under the jackets had to be pressed and brilliant white with no tattered collars, no frays on the cuffs, fitting perfectly with no gaps around the neck. Our ties—bow ties with our tuxedos, of course—had to be just so.
She made Marberry go back to his room and do his habiliment, as she called it, again. That was no surprise, of course. Marberry got sent off many days for many reasons, and this day was special.
She was a short woman, and she sat so her face was just above our waist level. She frankly stared where our own eyes by custom were forbidden to go with the other boys. What she was looking for I didn’t know. But I tended to be preoccupied with sexual thoughts as I’d heard was not uncommon with 14-year-olds, and I wondered what would happen if one of us was ever unfortunate enough to spring an erection during one of these inspections. Her bearing, of course, made that unlikely to occur, but at our age spontaneous erections were an all too frequent chagrin.
This inspection was more thorough than most, as it was being done just ahead of one of our major social enterprises: this was our spring formal. Many of the boys looked forward to this—forward to seeing the girls from St. Ann’s, forward to the possibility of more than casual flirting. The girls would come in their best form, too, in dresses fresh and flowery, with hair as it was never a quotidian reality, and wearing scent and vestiges of cosmetics. With all that, it was the sparkle in their eyes and eagerness that most arrested us. The St. Ann girls were thrilled and anticipatory, giggly and regal, juvenile and proud. Though some of us were showing the same eagerness, many were not. After all, these were girls, and we were 13 and 14.
My turn came and went under Miss Cadburn’s eyes. It was easy to see the sternness in her gaze. She studied my attire and grooming; I studied her. I guessed her to be in her late forties because she seemed very much of the same mode and manner as Mother. The same lines were forming; the same threads of gray above her temples were appearing. She stared at me rather longer than needed, and when she caught my eyes studying her, she frowned and cleared her throat menacingly, and I looked away.
She checked my lower half as she had with the others, as was her habit, studying what she saw just below the waist. That was totally unnecessary. I wouldn’t have been able to get hard if all the girls in the next room were naked or if she herself had been. Of course, that didn’t bear thinking of.
She made the quick nod of her head which meant I was released, and I stepped aside to allow the next fellow to be ogled. When we were approved, we stepped away from the line and gathered near the door at the end of the room. I moved in that direction, but then looked back at the line still formed behind me, at the boys waiting their turn with the gorgon. When I did, my eyes drifted down the line of boys and fell on Trip.
Trip was always lovely. He had darkish-blond hair that was cut longer than the school permitted. Somehow he got away with it. I wondered how. One could become a favorite of Miss Cadburn if one wished, I’d heard. Rumors about the woman abounded. She was available for private conversations in her rooms. I’d heard the rumors—unbelievable ones, boyish ones—of what went on during these private tête-à-têtes to curry her favor. I’d heard of how she disciplined some boys and that she spanked the 13-year-olds on their bare bottoms when she felt it was warranted. I wanted no part of any of that or especially any time alone with her, if the talk was true. I didn’t know if Trip would ever do things like what I’d heard, even if doing so resulted in his ability to wear longer hair. I didn’t know because I’d never spoken to him.
But that didn’t mean he didn’t occupy my thoughts more often than I would ever admit. The fact was, I had a crush on him and had had one for the entire year since I’d first seen him at the beginning of fall term. It was now spring. We were about to enjoy our spring dance which came shortly before school recessed for the Easter break. We boys were in formal gear. Tuxedos were standard dress for formal dances. The boys who attended this school came from families which could afford the expense of a tuxedo, even though it would be rarely used during the short period of time during which it would fit. The girls, of course, sported their spring frocks.
Trip looked amazing in his tuxedo. His long hair, thick and soft-looking, gleamed in the overhead lights. This inspection room, an anteroom adjacent to the dance hall itself, was quite bright. I expected the dance chamber would be lit in a much softer glow and imagined how his hair would be three shades darker then.
His form was slim, his size about that of mine, though I guessed he might have been slightly taller. I’d seen him in his sports attire; I’d made a point to see him in his sports attire. He was quite slender with just the suggestion of musculature beginning to show on his thin arms.
I’d seen him in the showers, too. They were mandatory, as the rules were applied at St. Andrew. We all showered after sports, showered in house groupings, and we all were naked when we did so. I’d heard of boys in city high schools who showered in their underwear. St. Andrew’s boys were not allowed such modesty; we were to become men, and men disdained anile prudery. Trip looked just as fetching without raiment as with. Was he more beautiful than the others? I thought so, without question. My view of him as he walked out of the shower room, towel in hand, glowing after the heat and steam he just endured, chatting with a friend, was much the nourishment of my nightly dreams and fantasies.
Even with all that, his eyes were what captivated me. They were a deep blue in some lights, paler in other, but they were always alive, revealing a quick intelligence and a quicker sense of humor. If the devil had a son and imbued him with his own spirit, he could have been Trip. I was attracted to his spirit, his sense of daring, because I was a cautious lad, always weighing consequences with whatever I did, and he was one of those who rushed in where angels feared to tread. Oh, those eyes—twinkling, merry, daring, full of life and adventure.
I knew his eyes because I’d found ways to come close to him on the sports fields. Nowhere else, but there I could manage it. Close enough to see his shape and size and especially those eyes. Not close enough to speak, though I’m sure I could have if I’d been that forward sort of boy.
There was another reason, too, of course, a more practical one. I hadn’t spoken to him because he roomed and boarded in another house. The school somehow dissuaded cross-pollination; we didn’t have much occasion to talk to someone from another house, and so by habit we began to think of them as competition, and for some, as enemies.
I didn’t think of Trip as an enemy. I also didn’t know if he knew I was alive. He had no reason to. We had no classes together. The only time we really were together was for sports, and with over one hundred other boys on the same fields, each house rather sticking together, mingling wasn’t the order of the day. Thus, the reason we’d never spoken. But I’d looked a lot.
As noted, after sports, we showered by houses, too, waiting our turn for the limited number of shower heads, so I’d only seen him coming and going. Fleeting glances could be very exciting, especially where one couldn’t—simply couldn’t—be caught looking.
Now I was seeing him in his tuxedo, as fancy as he’d ever be at this school. He was marvelous. Delightful. Dreamy. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t surrounded by other boys, each wanting a part of him, to touch him, to listen to whatever he had to say, to encourage his smile. He had an incredible smile.
I paused. I was supposed to walk to the other end of the room where the already inspected and approved boys were standing and waiting so we could all make our grand entrance together. But seeing Trip arrested my movement, and I suddenly realized I was standing and staring, and that would never do. I couldn’t let anyone know of my fascination with Trip. I’d never live it down.
Boys were attracted to other boys, of course, and everyone knew that. But you didn’t admit it. You didn’t let on. Just like playing with yourself. We all did. Some of us even openly admitted it, as if it was nothing at all to be ashamed of. But most of us didn’t. Even though it had been thoroughly discussed in sex ed.
We had sex-ed classes at St. Andrew. These classes were fairly new; things didn’t change rapidly at St. Andrew. Keeping up with the times took a backseat to methods tried and true. Like calling everyone but close friends by their last names. We were encouraged to follow the English traditions in this as in many things, such as boys in different houses remaining insular, even though we were in America. Did they teach sex ed in England? I guessed they probably did, although I’d been led to believe from some of the stories I’d read online that English boys didn’t need any formal education about sex; they already knew all about it from practical experience.
But some of our parents had made requests, probably so they could avoid the burden of talking about such things with their sons, and the administration of the school did listen to the people who paid for the privilege of having their sons in one of the finest educational facilities in the country. Money indeed does speak.
As there were no girls at St. Andrew, the sex ed lessons were perhaps a little more straightforward than if there’d been a mixed-gender audience. The subject was taught in the fall term for students who were 14. It was given by Mr. Hargroves, an older man who must have been speaking from memory; I couldn’t imagine he was still active in the area about which he was teaching. He was older still than Miss Cadburn. He had a dry delivery and did his best to make the subject matter as desiccated as he was. But we were 14, randy and not shy. We asked questions. Some probably would have made a younger man blush. Mr. Hargroves simply answered. No blushing at all. Perhaps he no longer had the blood pressure required to redden his face.
I was shocked the first time it happened, but then got used to it: occasionally, Miss Cadburn would attend our sex-ed discussions. That would put a damper on our questions; the sessions were much less exciting when she came into the room. She sat in the back, stiffly and upright in her chair, and didn’t say a word. She let her eyes roam the room, and we felt them.
The only time I saw her fidget was when Marberry—the class clown and a boy who laughed off embarrassment if indeed he’d ever felt any—saw his chance and took it. I thought he did it simply because he knew Miss Cadburn was in attendance that day. Mr. Hargroves’ lecture became even more stiff and sere when Miss Cadburn was in the room. None of us liked that discomfort. Marberry always was one to stir things up, to push things to the edge.
When there was a pause in the day’s lecture about methods that were used to prevent conception, Marberry’s hand went up. I thought to myself, uh oh, because he’d glanced at the back of the room before raising it. Mr. Hargroves called on him.
“Sir, I realize this is off-topic, but I’ve been thinking about this, wondering really, and as you’ve said that if we have questions, we’re to ask. So, here goes. You’ve told us about masturbation, it being natural and all that, but you didn’t cover the frequency of occurrence in the adolescent male. Have studies been done on this? What is the average number of times this is done by, oh, say, 14-year-olds? Weekly, or monthly. Or even daily, but of course that number would be much lower than one, would it not? I’d certainly think so, at least at this school! But we all want to know what’s normal or if we ourselves are normal.”
Every person in the room other than the two adults was 14. And all seemed to have stopped breathing.
Mr. Hargroves was old, but he wasn’t addled or dull-witted. He looked over his glasses at Marberry. The whole room had gone completely pin-drop silent. Marberry was staring at his teacher with avid intensity, his eyes alive with sincerity. Mr. Hargroves was hesitating. We were anticipating.
And then: “Mr. Marberry.”
“That is an excellent question, and I’m glad to see you are taking such an interest in the specifics and details of this course. I’m sure considerable research into what you’ve asked has been done. I don’t have it readily available for you, however, and I’d hate to discuss studies without being able to cite authors and research-paper titles. So, I would like you to spend some time looking into this matter yourself so you can enlighten the class. I’d like you to research masturbation in the adolescent male. I’m sure others here would be as interested as you in discovering what is considered normal behavior and frequency for boys your age. Now, moving on, let us consider the female condom.”
Shortly after, Miss Cadburn got up and left. She kept her eyes on Marberry the entire time it took her to reach the door and exit.
When she was gone, it seemed everyone in the room took a deep breath and released it. Even Mr. Hargroves. He looked a bit amused. Then he said, “Mr. Marberry, just as a thought, you have a roomful of subjects you could ask your question of as they are all of the age you specified. But I must give you a caution: all research of this sort, due to its nature, is very subjective. It must be done by asking questions rather than observation; there is no other acceptable way to gather this information. And, unfortunately, it has been discovered that many 14-year-old boys when asked about things in the sexual arena, tend to exaggerate. So, if you do pursue this with your classmates, the results would have to be considered at least somewhat inflated. You might consider that whenever boys your age discuss anything sexual, inflation is always to be suspected.” Then he grinned and winked at Marberry. It was the first and last time I ever witnessed Mr. Hargroves grinning.
The room was dimly lit, as I’d expected. It wasn’t a gymnasium cum dancehall. Not at St. Andrew. It was a distinct dancehall that served the exclusive purpose of hosting school dances. I’d never been inside it before. The floor was waxed, gleaming hardwood in a medium-light shade. The walls were of some embroidered, silken fabric that looked rich and beautiful with red and gold piping on a robin’s-egg-blue background. Divans and chairs were set in groupings around the edges, and refreshment tables stood in each of the four corners of the room. There were four large chandeliers overhead, festooned with small, decorative bulbs, shining brightly but without brilliance, lighting the room softly. I knew as the evening progressed they would be dimmed.
I’d heard some of the older boys talking about the spring dance when they’d been part of it. This would be my first. They’d said there would be excitement in the air, expectations, and that the girls would be as eager to flirt as the boys were, maybe even more so. The boys telling me this said they’d been eager and as reckless as they could get away with while still being able to hide their enthusiasm from the chaperones. The girls, they said, had been the same. How much fun we had would be decided by the extent of our own courage. I knew how he was defining the word fun.
I would not be thinking of that sort of fun with the girls. I would be enjoying the sight of the boys I’d had my eye on all year, now resplendent in their formal attire; I’d especially be watching Trip. What I hadn’t counted on was that maybe some of these girls would be interested in me.
“What’s your name?” she asked. I had to admit, she was really cute. Her dark hair shone, curled and layered in some fancy way atop her head. She wore just a tinge of lip gloss, or else her lips were naturally becomingly red. She was the sort of girl you’d stop and watch if you saw her passing by. Why had she picked me? I was ordinary-looking. She could have picked anyone. She could have picked Trip! He was standing with two friends. I’d thought he’d be one of the first chosen or one of the first to do the choosing. He well could have picked this one. They’d have made a dazzling couple.
I knew we boys were supposed to approach the girls. Most of us were a little reluctant and a little intimidated at the thought of being rejected. The girls seemed to feel that if they weren’t aggressive, they might not get to dance, and they’d come to dance! Flirt, too, of course, and practice their wiles, and be leered at and admired, but dancing with boys was at the top of each of their lists.
This dance was for 13- and 14-year-olds. The older boys had their own dance. The school had found that girls tended to go after older boys, and the younger boys ended up not dancing much at all if the entire school attended an all-school dance. So now there were age-limited dances to encourage full participation. What the staff hadn’t taken into account was that well over half the boys would be shy about picking partners. We hadn’t had that much contact with girls. Some of us didn’t really want any.
“I’m Dennis,” I said. “Frost.”
“I’m Amanda Petrie. Do you dance?”
Well, of course I danced. I had been brought up to be a gentleman by a mother who still believed in the accoutrements and embellishments of high society, and I had had my fill of dance instructions. There had been classes beginning when I was young, and they’d continued on. With girls! I’d hated it, but I’d learned. It had been embarrassing at first, but then the little girls had been just as awkward as I was and often as reluctant. As I’d grown older, the lessons had continued, but the girls had changed. They’d become simpering romantics. I’d stayed the same as always. They’d misinterpreted that aloofness, seeing everything through their own distortions, and they’d thought I’d been playing coy; it had become a competition between them to see who could get me to chase them.
Well, that hadn’t worked, but I’d ended up enjoying seeing how hard they would work to beguile me, what strategies they would employ. Amanda would simply be one more of these, doing the same things, futilely.
So we danced. I was pretty good at it—at the mechanical parts of it. I found it funny that the boys who were good at sports, the one who were light and lithe on the soccer field, often seemed to have two left legs on the dance floor, while I, and boys like me who didn’t stand out at all playing rough and rugged games on the pitch, could often come into our own when dancing.
Amanda and I swept around the floor. She was animated, chatting me up and looking me in the face. I suppose she may have been batting her eyelashes at me tantalizingly, too, but I was paying more attention to where Trip was than her chatter. But I was trying to listen just enough so I could provide what responses were needed.
Trip had finally been selected by one of the girls, another pretty one. I hated her. She was talking to him as they danced. I so wanted to talk to him. So wanted contact with him, but of course neither was possible. He wasn’t talking much; he seemed distracted. He didn’t dance very well, or maybe it was her. I kept watching; even if he looked awkward, he looked stunning. I had to be careful. If I looked too hard, there would be a hormonal response, and Amanda may well have thought it was because of her. It didn’t happen, but could have.
I didn’t realize it, but Amanda had stopped talking, and we were simply moving to the music. The music stopped, and so did we, and she stood still, looking at me. I looked back. She was pretty. Even when she was frowning.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She took my arm and walked me from the middle of the dance floor. Another song began, and others started dancing again. She walked us to where we’d be alone. She stopped and looked at me. She didn’t have to look up. We were the same height.
“That’s what I want to know,” she said.
“You dance very well, Dennis. You’ve danced before. I have, too. I’ve been to lots of dances and took lessons when I was younger. I’ve danced with lots of boys. I know when they’re paying attention to me and when they’re not. So, why weren’t you? I know I’m pretty. Most boys like dancing with me, looking at me. Some of them are quite aggressive and rub up against me so I can feel how, um, interested they are. They find reasons to touch me, touch my chest, to see what they can feel. You didn’t do any of that, and in fact weren’t even listening to me most of the time. You kept looking over my shoulder. So, who were you looking at?”
I didn’t know how to answer. No one knew I was gay. I’d probably be kicked out of school if anyone found out and told. This was a very exclusive school with a reputation to maintain. But even if that didn’t happen, I’d become a laughing stock and the subject of endless teasing, and while I had a pretty well-developed sense of myself, that sort of thing was hard to live with. There was no way I could confide in this girl, respond truthfully to her. She was a complete stranger! It would make no sense. So I hesitated, and then said, “There was a girl I spied I thought I knew, and I wanted to see if it was her, but it wasn’t.”
She was watching me. I wasn’t a very good liar. Some boys are; some aren’t. It’s a liability, not being good at prevarication. I knew my eyes shifted when I said that, and maybe I even blushed.
She shook her head. “No, who was it, really? I’m sure it was a boy. If you were interested in girls, you’d have paid attention to me. Most boys do. I’m not stuck up, but I am used to boys being interested. If they’re not, well, there’s one easy guess why. So, who was it?”
“Why do you want to know?” I asked, not giving anything away, I hoped.
“Because I like getting couples together. And you seem nice, if a little socially awkward, and if you’re too shy to talk to this boy, well, maybe I can help.”
I noticed her demeanor then. She was assertive, but didn’t look unkind. She seemed sincere.
“I’m not shy,” I said, sounding, I’m sure, rather defensive.
“You must be. You’re afraid to tell me who you were looking at. Is he handsome? Does he know you like him? I’ll bet you haven’t seen him all dressed up before and you couldn’t take your eyes off him.”
“Why are you being so persistent about this?” I asked, getting frustrated. I’d heard about girls who were very forward, but this was the first one I’d ever met. I wondered how I could ditch her. I’d heard one of the boys use that expression, ditching someone.
“You look like you need help, like you’re uncomfortable, maybe, or nervous, and I like to help. You like this boy and I’ll bet you’re afraid to talk to him. That must hurt. Maybe you just need a little nudge. Maybe he does, too.”
“No!” What an awful idea!
“Why not? I can be subtle. You probably don’t even know if he’s gay or not, not that it matters much at your age. Even if he’s straight, he’d probably still be willing to fool around. All boys like to fool around.”
Arrrgh! My god! This was awful. “Uh, you are cognizant, are you not, that they have rules here. And you’re making assumptions and making me very nervous. I can’t talk about this with you. They expel boys if they’re homosexual.”
“What? I don’t believe it! Who told you that? Maybe a decade or so ago they did that, but not now. They have anti-discrimination laws now. You could sue them if they did that and make a lot of money and get the headmaster fired. Did they really say that? Is it in their handbook?”
I looked at her hard, hoping to intimidate her. She stared back just as hard. I wondered if I could just walk away, but what if she yelled at me about being a chicken, or ever worse, yelled that we weren’t done talking about me being gay? I didn’t think she would, but she sure was going on about stuff I never thought anyone would talk about. I couldn’t take the chance she might make a scene. She seemed to me very much the type who’d think nothing at all of making a scene. She might even enjoy it.
“Maybe you’re right,” I conceded, just to try to take some of the building tension out of this. “What they actually said is we couldn’t do gay stuff. With other people.”
“Aha! See, you’re allowed to be gay. You’re allowed to have crushes on other boys. You’re allowed to have fantasies about them.”
Miss Cadburn had spoken to us about crushes. It was in the first week of the first term. She came to each house individually and had the boys who were 13 and 14 and those of us who had not attended this school before gather in the common room. I was a first-year boy at 14. I attended.
She was dressed very plainly, as we would find was her custom. No skin showed below her neck or above her ankles. Her hair was pulled back severely, and she wore a combination of gray and black.
“Boys,” she started when we were quiet. When we were in her presence, we quieted much more rapidly than usual. “You’ve read and signed the school rulebook, agreeing to abide by the governance it promotes. What I wish to speak to you about was covered there, but it is wise to talk about it so there are no misconceptions. As we have no girls here and as you are at an age where common sense can be overwhelmed by hormones, it is best to set things on the table and make sure you all understand the position of the school.
“As you are probably aware from past experience, some of you will be attracted to other boys. These are silly, meaningless crushes, and you must learn to ignore them. They will go away on their own. Do not think they have any substance. They are simply reminders that your bodies are changing.”
She stopped and scanned the room, meeting the eyes of everyone. Most boys, I noticed, quickly dropped their eyes. I didn’t do that, so she stared at me longer than most. Eventually, she moved on.
“To be very clear,” she continued, “no one is to act upon the feelings these crushes evoke. Anyone who does will be immediately removed from this school. Sexual activity with other students is strictly prohibited. This rule is enforced without equivocation, and your parents will be informed of what you have done.
“We have had boys in the past who thought they could get away with things that are frankly disgusting. They tried. They were caught and excommunicated. By that I mean thrown out on their ears. That will hopefully not happen with any of you, but if you give in to your primal urges, you may be sure it will.
“Are there any questions or comments?”
Marberry was new here, like me, and this was the first time he let us all know who he was. He had an opportunity to do so right then and couldn’t pass it up. So he spoke up.
“Yes, Miss Cadburn. What aren’t we allowed to do? I mean, we wouldn’t be expelled for holding hands, would we? That would be silly. The school would look silly. Or a chaste kiss on the cheek? Is there a list somewhere of specific things that are forbidden? We don’t want to be expelled for looking at someone fondly.”
I heard some snickering, but Miss Cadburn quickly looked around the room and it stopped.
She looked back at Marberry, drilled him with her eyes. He was the only boy who seemed impervious to her air of dread and malevolence.
“You will see me in my office when this meeting is over, Mr. Marberry, isn’t it? I’ve heard about you. If this is what we can expect from you, we won’t have to put up with it for long.” She finally moved her gaze from him to the rest of us. “Are there any other comments?”
She waited about two seconds, then said, “I thought not.” Then she left, grabbing and holding Marberry by the arm as she did. He had the audacity to wink at us over his shoulder as he was pulled from the room.
I thought about what Miss Cadburn had said later when I was alone. She didn’t say we weren’t to entertain crushes. She said we weren’t to act on them. And, so far, I hadn’t. I hadn’t had the nerve to speak to Trip, either. But I had had the nerve to be crushing on him seriously. Not that I could have helped it even if I’d lacked the nerve. Just the sight of him, the way he looked and moved, almost made me dizzy with desire.
That desire had had me looking over Amanda’s shoulders while we’d been dancing. “Well, they’d have a hard time squelching fantasies,” I answered her. I laughed, still trying to calm things down. Not that she seemed anything but calm. I was the one seeking composure.
She studied me for a moment, then said, “You use funny words.”
I blushed and dropped my head. I’d hoped she hadn’t noticed.
I’d grown up on an estate in Massachusetts. My parents were very rich and my mother an important and influential member at the very top end of high society. I was home-schooled and had little contact with other children, whom Mother thought were riffraff and below my station. I was entirely schooled in ways my mother thought proper for someone of my status. What I read was selected for me. How I spoke was coached and corrected.
This year at school was my first experience surrounded by my age peers. I knew I didn’t speak like other kids. I knew I didn’t always behave as they did when in groups. I’d had little to no experience with kids my age. It made me awkward, and unsure how to fit it. It made me totally unable to know what to do about my feelings for Trip.
My speech was just one of the things about me that was embarrassing. I was aware of my speech patterns and how odd they must sound to others, especially kids, and I was trying to adapt, but when I was the least bit nervous, my old behaviors returned tenfold. My language became much more formal and old-fashioned at times like this. That was because I would revert to using words I’d heard the adults in my life using, words I’d been taught to use when I was much younger. It was horrible.
I think Amanda took pity on me, seeing the look on my face. She put a gentle hand on my arm. Then, not wanting to belabor what she’d just said, returned to her former theme, softly murmuring, “Point him out to me.”
“I’m not gay,” I said. Hoping I wouldn't blush again. But I needed to make that clear to her. Even though it was false.
“So what if you are. I don’t mind. This is now, not yesterday. So you’re gay. So what?”
“You sound like you’re six. ‘I am not!’ Well, OK, you’re not, but you weren’t looking at a girl. I know you weren’t because I noticed where you were looking and sometimes it was just a small group of boys. I could guess which one you like. But you shouldn’t be too shy to point him out. Why be shy with me? I’m on your side. And stop denying you’re shy! If you weren’t shy, and if you weren’t gay, you’d talk to him, but instead you just follow him with your eyes, probably seeing who he’s talking to, and worried it’ll be a girl.”
“Hey! You’re just imagining all this!”
“Yeah, right! You didn’t pay any attention to me at all when we were dancing. A straight boy would have. You kept watching that boy you have a crush on.”
I didn’t know how to get out of this conversation. So I did the only thing I could think to do.
“Let’s dance again.”
“OK.” But she stood still when I started to move out onto the dance floor.
“Come on,” I said, and she shook her head.
“Because I want to know who he is. Point him out, and I’ll join you.”
I just stood there. The other dancers moved around me. She was back near the wall, and I was just onto the floor among the kids who were dancing on the edge of the crowd.
She just stood where she was.
I walked back to her and surreptitiously pointed at Trip. Somehow, even with the conversation I’d been having with her, I’d been able to keep track of him. She saw who I was pointing to. She smiled and nodded. “Cute,” she said. “A little, I guess.”
I danced with her again. She could see I was upset. “Don’t worry. I won’t do anything to give you away. You’re worried and shouldn’t be.”
I didn’t reply. Dancing was automatic, but not much fun this time. I did manage to locate Trip. He was standing with friends on the sidelines. When the song was over, we walked off the floor. I got us both some punch. It wasn’t very good. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it.
When I got back to where she’d been, taking her the cup of punch, she wasn’t there. My heart began racing, and I quickly scanned the floor and found her. Dancing with Trip.
When I’d been at my dance academy, taking the lessons my mother had insisted upon, it became normal for one boy and one girl to pair up, week after week. The girl I danced with, who became my regular partner, was fidgety. She never liked to look at me. She’d look around and over my shoulder and at our feet. She’d only speak when she needed to respond to something I said. When we weren’t dancing, she’d leave immediately, only returning when we were told to partner up again.
I hadn’t known how to feel about this. I knew then I didn’t care much about girls. I mean, they didn’t excite me the way boys did. Boys made me feel things inside that I really enjoyed feeling. Even though I was very insulated at home, there were occasions when I’d see boys, and there were TV shows and movies, of course. I had seen boys. I knew what they made me feel.
There were two boys in that dance class that I liked looking at. One of them began to look back at me quite often when I was looking at him. After that, I didn’t spend much time looking at the other boy.
Her name—my partner—was Dahlia. I thought that was silly when I found out what it meant. It seemed pretentious, though I didn’t know that word then. But I knew hoity-toity because I’d heard my mother use it when talking to some of her high-society friends about other women in their circle.
Even though I didn’t like Dahlia much, it still bothered me that she wouldn’t look at me. After a while, I screwed up my courage and told the teacher, a stern woman named Mrs. Pendini who didn’t seem to like children much and so it took some courage on my part to talk to her, that I wanted to change partners.
“Why? You and Dahlia look fine together. You’re the same size, you dance well with each other, and she likes you.”
“What? I mean…” I wasn’t sure how to continue. She didn’t give me time anyway.
“Oh, yes. Haven’t you noticed how she reacts to you? She’s embarrassed to look at you or talk to you. She thinks you’re the cutest boy in class. She’s just a little shy with you.”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe it.
“Yes. Now you just go on dancing with her, and don’t tell her what I told you. She’d never forgive me.”
The next time we danced, I asked her what her last name was. She didn’t even look at me when she answered, but I heard her. It was Pendini.
I remembered all that while watching Amanda and Trip dance. She was talking away, just as she’d been with me. I had no idea what she was saying. But Trip was dancing, awkwardly I must say, and looking at her and talking back. Did that mean he liked her? Did that mean he liked girls? Or, did it mean the opposite? Dahlia hadn’t looked at me or spoken to me, but she’d liked me. Trip was looking at and speaking to Amanda, so did that mean he didn’t much like her?
Or was Trip impressed with Amanda’s beauty and charm? He didn’t seem embarrassed about being with one of the prettiest girls in the room. I hadn’t been, either, but then I was gay. So, was he? I watched the two of them dance and realized I could make nothing at all of what I was seeing.
I realized I was driving myself crazy. I wanted him so badly. But there was nothing I could do about it. If I approached him, a boy from another house, and was friendly, he’d certainly be suspicious and probably wonder about it and quite likely see something in my eyes and realize I was hitting on him. If he wasn’t gay, that could prove to be a disaster.
I felt my heart drop. That sounds silly, but I felt it. Standing there in that crowd of boys and girls in the dance hall, watching Trip, I suddenly realized I would never have him. This was just going to be one of those crushes that came to nothing. It hadn’t felt that way. I’d had those before. They were very strong at first, but as time passed, other crushes started up, and the old ones, no matter how strong, faded away.
My feelings for Trip hadn’t faded. I’d seen him during the first week of first term, and now we were late in the second term, and I wanted him more than ever. He was what I thought of when I woke, what I thought about when falling asleep. It seemed more than a crush. But I didn’t see how it could ever become more than what it was now. I’d never have him. I could see that. There was no way it could happen. Seeing him dance with Amanda, seeing them talk, both looking happy, both looking right together, I just knew this is what would be, Trip and a girl, any girl. That’s how things were.
I had to stop the yearning, the obsession. I had to give up.
I would have to spend the next several years seeing him from afar and feeling the pain that would cause each time I saw him. He’d be laughing with his friends. I could see myself, alone, watching as his life unfolded in front of me, without me.
I decided I’d had enough of this dance. It had a long time to go yet, but I fervently wanted to retreat to my room and bed. I made my way around the dance floor and when I came to the first available door, pushed through it. It took me outside but away from the houses, back across the broad lawn toward the main campus buildings. The night was dark, and the moon hung low in the sky like a small crescent-shaped slice of orange. No one was around; I had the school grounds to myself.
I just wandered toward the gloomy shapes of the buildings. I knew I had to give up my hopes for Trip, but it hurt too much to think about that. The more I tried, the darker my thoughts became. The night was surprisingly warm, and I had on my tuxedo jacket, but I still shivered now and then. My head felt fuzzy.
I came to the chapel. Rising high above me was the bell tower. It tolled the morning for us and called us to evening prayers. I looked up at it, up at the stars above. Just on an impulse, I reached out and tried the door to the stairs leading to the top, and I was surprised to find it unlocked.
I walked in and started climbing. It was a long, steep, winding climb. The top of the tower stood regally above everything else on the campus. I climbed and climbed. I came to the two massive bells, passed them, continued up and then was on the roof.
I walked to the edge where a four-foot high balustrade guarded against falls. Looking out and down at the tops of everything colored by the orange moonglow, all perspectives foreshortened and strange, shadows and lit spaces all providing confusing patterns, the turmoil I’d felt earlier, the fuzziness, the anguish, all came back.
I looked straight down and saw mostly darkness. It seemed to rise toward me, to invade my heart and head. Trip. He had been my world for only the past several months, though it seemed I had wanted him forever. I’d been longing for him, dreaming of him, watching him, seeing us together in my head. The two of us happy. Delerious even when we came together and found how we fit, how it was to be in love and have the boy I loved love me in return. But I now saw it for what it was, an unrealistic, never-to-be fantasy. It was about a boy who didn’t fit in and would never have the boy he wanted, never have the only boy who could make him happy, and it was a joke.
I put my hands on the balustrade. It was wooden and old, the balusters lathed spindles four inches apart. I tried to move the railing just to see how strong it was. It didn’t move. It would easily support my weight. I wondered what it would feel like, standing high on that railing, nothing in front of me, darkness below.
To climb up on it would be difficult. There was nothing above it to hold onto. It would require putting one foot on it and jumping with the other. Jumping up while balancing on the one foot.
I was distracted. I saw something moving in the dim light far below. I wasn’t sure because it was so far from me and I was looking almost straight down at it, but what I’d seen seemed to have been over by the building from which I’d emerged a few minutes ago. How long had that been? I wasn’t sure.
I glanced at my watch and could barely see the hands, but it was later than I’d imagined. The dance had another hour to run, rather than the two I’d thought there would be. It had taken me some time to get to where I was.
I saw movement again and thought it looked like a person—a person now standing mostly still, but turning slowly, looking around. Then I heard a faint sound. A sound that resembled the word Dennis.
I didn’t know why, but that brought back a memory. Not one from long ago, but from just a few months prior. My name had been called then, too, and it too had brought me out of a fog. A much different fog than the one I was in just then.
This school concentrated on academics and was one of the highest-rated schools in the country in that respect. However, the school’s creed was that the entire boy was nourished, not just his intellectual prowess. That was why we had sports, though many of us weren’t very good at or enthusiastic about them. It was why we had a band and an orchestra. For those, girls from St. Ann were allowed to participate if they were capable enough. Both boys and girls were auditioned and the most capable selected.
We also had journalism classes, equestrian classes, photography classes and art and art-appreciation classes. I had chosen art because I’d never done it before. In our first term, we were given instructions in sketching and painting, and I loved it. It was a small class of boys. We each were shown basics, then furnished with artist’s easels and pads along with pencils, charcoal, and pastels. We had the usual materials given to beginners to use as subjects: the standard urn, the unoriginal bowl of fruit, the overripe pear, the darkening banana.
And then, unexpectedly, at one class we were told that today we were to paint a nude, and our best, most mature behavior was required. Anyone not conforming to that standard would be removed from both the session and the class.
I was anticipating a middle-aged woman. My reasoning was that even though the school was located in the countryside, we weren’t far from a major city, a city which, like all other large metropolises, had bar girls, strippers and whores plying their trades. It wouldn’t be difficult for the school to find from among them someone willing to pose sans vêtements. What we got instead was a boy about our age.
I was stunned, and when he removed his robe, felt the stirrings of arousal. I dared not look at the other boys in the class, and I doubt they were looking around, either. The model didn’t seem to be affected. He sat on a low, padded divan which had been placed on a raised platform. On being told, he sprawled back with his hands clasped behind his head, his legs crossed below his knees. Everything he had was on display.
Our instructor, Mrs. Marlowe, told us this was the pose Eugene Delacroix had used for his famous Female Nude Reclining on a Divan. She’d spoken early on about famous artists, so I’d already heard that Delacroix had been an important French romantic painter who lived during the early 19th century. With the boy arranging himself on the divan, she told us she’d have preferred providing us with the same of type model Delacroix had used but that our age precluded her from using a nude female as our subject. She said this boy was from the nearby village, and he didn’t mind being naked with other boys and was eager to earn the fee she was paying him.
We were to do him in pastels, but I was much better sketching with black pencil than pastels. We’d just begun working with the latter, and I’d found them quite difficult to master. I was very excited to be reproducing what was displayed in front of me and wanted it to be my very best work. I’d have used charcoal had there been any handy. We’d worked with it already, and I had been surprised how well I did with it, even though it took some real concentration and practice. I’d enjoyed it. But all I had available then were the pastels and a soft-lead pencil. The pencil was enough. If the teacher complained that this was supposed to be a piece in pastels, I could easily say I wasn’t good enough with pastels to do the subject justice. She might realize what I meant by that, but she was an artist herself; surely, she wouldn’t object. If she did, I was going to be adamant. I wanted this to be a masterpiece. I planned to keep it.
This was my first undraped human form. We’d had boys from the class pose for us, but of course there’d been no undressing. I’d taken my turn. I could see how bored the other boys had been while modeling, so when it was my turn, I’d taken a book with me and read it while posing, eliciting a chuckle from Mrs. Marlowe.
The studies I’d drawn of the boys hadn’t been all that good. Their clothing masked their shapes, and I hadn’t done well with them. With this nude boy, I found it much easier to get the curve of his shoulder right, the width and length of his neck proper, the curve of his thigh lifelike and natural. His torso was skinny, and I could detect the bulges in the skin rising from his ribs. I drew them thus. The light falling across his chest made the ribs on his side closest to the light stand out more, and I was able to shade his far side using a light touch with the side of my pencil to darken it. His nipples and areolas were small, and it took me some time to capture them accurately.
His face was tricky, and on consideration, his hair was not what I thought it should be. It was cut too short and not a bit styled. I thought perhaps I could do better at that point by ignoring the model and continuing on using what inspiration came to me from within.
I drew his legs, the protruding knees, the bend of his toes, the angle his calves created as they crossed. I’d left a vacant spot where his legs joined at the top. When I was ready, I kept looking there and back at the paper, back and forth. I found as I drew I began looking at him less frequently and then eventually not at all.
When I was finished, I dropped the cover sheet over my work, then just stood and looked at the boy. Now I wasn’t seeing him as an artist would; I was seeing him as a naked, live boy on display. I felt my arousal return. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was lying, exposed in front of all of us, totally indifferent. I stared and stared, and imagined what it would be like if I were up there as he was. My arousal grew.
“Dennis… Dennis… Dennis…”
I suddenly was aware that Mrs. Marlowe was standing next to me, talking to me. I’d been so deeply into myself, I’d been totally away from our temporal world.
“Let’s see what you’ve done,” Mrs. Marlowe said.
“I made a pencil sketch instead of a pastel. I want to keep it, and I would have been very disappointed had I used the pastels.”
She smiled. “Let’s see.”
I flipped over the cover sheet. She scanned the sketch. I did, too, and then gulped. The sketch was very lifelike, well done from my artistic perspective, but there were two incongruities. One, the head on the boy wasn’t the model’s; I’d drawn dark-blond hair, longish, which swept around the head in a way that wasn’t matched by the dark head of closely cropped hair that was posed in front of me, and the face in my drawing had the features of Trip.
And the genitals. Somehow, I’d managed to make them larger than the model’s, and while the model was intact, my drawing wasn’t. My drawing wasn’t obscene or pornographic, wasn’t even out of the range of normality for a boy my age, but it was quite obviously not what I had physically observed as I drew.
I held my breath. Mrs. Marlowe was studying the work. Then she turned to me. “Two of an artist’s most important assets are an active imagination and the creativity he draws from it. This is the most advanced thing you’ve done, Dennis, and shows some burgeoning talent. I see why you want to keep it.”
I blushed, and when she walked away, quickly put the cover back over it. She might not be
aware that the boy I’d just drawn walked this campus, but fellow classmates certainly
It had been entirely unconscious, what I’d done. The upturned nose in my drawing didn’t match the longer one on the boy model. I’d known the hair I was drawing was different from what I was seeing, but I’d simply drawn what I thought might look better without a thought where the idea was coming from.
At least the genitals weren’t taken from Trip. His were the same size as mine, and neither of us had what my drawing had. I grinned at the thought.
I made it down the bell tower stairs, remembering all of that, and then I emerged out into the night. There, I found Amanda, standing, occasionally calling my name. She looked at me, then up at the tower, then back at me.
“Why did you leave? I asked around, and someone said they saw you go out that door. I came looking for you. You were up there?”
“I wanted to see what the campus looked like from there at night.” It was dark so she couldn’t see me blush. Damn my give-away blush, anyway.
“Why did you leave?” She wasn’t fooled at all.
That was the question I didn’t want to answer. Tell her what I’d been thinking up on the tower? How I knew I had no chance with Trip, and how that made me feel? I hardly knew this girl. So I ignored the question and asked my own.
“What did you say to Trip?”
The pale light of the moon, a moon which was now higher in the sky and more silver and remote than earlier, cast little light. But I caught a faint gleam on her white teeth as she smiled.
“I was wrong. I didn’t think he was all that cute, but when I was near him, well…” She laughed, then, and said, “He really is. He’s beautiful. And so much fun. He’s very alive, very much a boy. I see why you’re attracted to him. I’d think any gay boy would be.”
“Would you stop saying I’m gay,” I said with some exasperation.
“You won’t even admit it to yourself. How are you going to admit it to Trip when you hook up with him?”
Another question I should ignore. I did. “You didn’t answer my question. What did you talk to him about?”
She sighed. “I asked him if he knew who I’d been dancing with. He said no. I asked him why he hadn’t been dancing. Remember, you’d told me he hadn’t much. He said he didn’t really like it, wasn’t much good at it. So I asked him if he liked girls.”
“What?! You can’t ask a boy that. I mean, you did ask me…but… Do you go around asking all boys that?”
“Stop getting all upset. I’d swear, you’re worse than a girl. Any little thing and you go flying off in a tantrum.”
“You’re just outrageous, is all. So, what did he say?”
“Aha! That’s what I thought. You want to know as much as I did, probably much more. You’d never in a hundred years have asked him.”
I felt like growling, but thought anger or pleading might not be the best way to get her to talk. But what would be?
Indifference, I decided. But could I pull it off? Playacting was not my forte! Yet I felt the darkness returning to my soul.
“OK,” I said, “you win. But I’m tired. It’s been an emotional night, I’m done, and I’m going back to my house. You’d better go back inside or you’ll be missing when they take final roll. Can’t say it was fun meeting you. I was happier before the dance than I am now. Goodnight.”
I turned and started away, and almost immediately her hand was on my arm, stopping me.
“Don’t you want to know what he said when I asked him about girls?”
“I told you I did, but you wanted to play games, and I’m not in the mood,” I replied with asperity, some of my emotions slipping out. “I’ve lost all chance with him, I figured that out by myself, and I need to be alone now.”
She gripped my arm tighter. “No, you have to hear what we said.”
“Then tell me,” I said angrily.
She was quiet for a moment, but didn’t let go of my arm. If she had, I’d have walked away. This conversation was just making me more and more cross as it continued. I was hurting badly, and she was having fun at my expense. I think finally she had recognized that.
When she spoke, it was more softly, and her cockiness was entirely gone. “It wasn’t like I said. I did ask him that, but the whole conversation was, well, when I asked him to dance, I did it in a very flirty way. All the time we danced, we were flirting, but doing it like it was all fake, all put on, all a game we were playing. I asked if he knew who I’d been dancing with, as though it was a big joke, as though I wanted to know if he’d had his eye on me the entire time. I was acting as if I knew he wanted me badly. That’s how it all went.
“He was talking back just the same way, as if I’d been after him the whole time, too, and that I had fallen for him hard. It was fun. Neither of us meant what we were saying, and we each were aware of it. It was as though we could say anything.
“He’s lots of fun, Dennis. His eyes were sparkling, he laughed a couple of times, he was wonderful, and I could easily have fallen for him myself. That was until I asked that final question: whether he liked girls. I asked it and batted my eyes and made sure he saw I was talking about me, asking whether he liked me.”
She stopped and let go of my arm and turned slightly. I became very aware of the darkness around us, of the time, of how we two were alone. Of how important what she was going to say next was. How much it mattered.
“He didn’t answer right away, and the smile he’d been wearing slowly disappeared. Then he looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You’re really great, Amanda. This is fun. But I can’t lie to you. I like dancing with you and talking like this, but no, I don’t like girls the way you mean. I can’t let you get the wrong idea. You’re too nice for that.’”
“He said that?” I said, gasping in surprise. “He really did?”
She nodded. I was close enough to her to see it. Then she said, “I told him about you then.”
“What?!” I yelled. Well, it wasn’t really a yell, but as we’d been talking very softly, it sounded like one. I’d been shocked into speaking full voice.
Her tone returned to the cocky one she’d sported all evening. “Oh, calm down. I didn’t give you away. Entirely. I just told him that the boy I’d been dancing with earlier seemed not able to unglue his eyes from you, and so I’d come to dance with him to see why. And that now that I’d met him, I could see why, and if he didn’t already have a boyfriend, I knew someone who’d like to be.”
My God! This girl would be the end of me. “So you asked him if he had a boyfriend? That’s as bad as asking him if he liked girls!”
“Which you’d never have asked in the first place—or about a boyfriend in the second place. Aren’t you glad I came along to facilitate things?”
“Then you don’t want me to tell you what he said.”
“Will you stop with the games? You don’t seem to understand. This isn’t a game with me. This is important. Really important.”
I think she heard the stress in my voice—or maybe the pain. She put her hand back on my arm, not to grip it this time, but just to have contact. She didn’t beat around the bush, either.
“He said he didn’t have one, that there weren’t any gay boys at St. Andrew.”
I took a deep breath, then another one.
“So now you know. Do you want me to push things along, or can you take it from here?”
She paused, then laughed, really laughed, and I couldn’t help myself. There had been so much pressure, and now there wasn’t. I laughed, too, and we walked back inside together.
The dance was in its wrap-up stages. The lights had been dimmed; I didn’t know when that had happened. A slow song was being played, and the couples on the floor were clinging a little closer together than they had earlier. Amanda took my hand and pulled me onto the floor, and then she was in my arms, moving against my body in a way I didn’t think the chaperones would like, but we were just one of many couples dancing the last dance fitting themselves together like that.
We moved slowly with the music, and she didn’t talk this time, just let me lead. We swayed and moved, and I had time to decompress. I liked the feel of her, moving with me, responding to me. Had I been straight, I’m sure I’d have responded to her the way straight boys do. But I wasn’t straight.
Which thought made me start looking around. We were in the middle of a large crowd so it was difficult to see much. I saw all the boys around us dancing, but didn’t see Trip. I began to move from the center of the crowd more to the edge. I still couldn’t locate Trip. Perhaps he’d left?
I kept surveying the dancers, but he wasn’t there. I then started looking at the few boys on the sides of the room. There weren’t many. Most boys not dancing the last dance had already left. I thought he probably had, too. But then I spotted him, near the punch table, all by himself. He was looking at the couples on the floor, his eyes moving steadily around.
I suddenly realized what he was doing. He was looking for Amanda. He was looking for who she was dancing with.
I tried to turn so my back was to him, but I was just too late. He saw Amanda and then saw me. I saw his eyes open wide, and then, then, I saw him begin to smile.
I’ll never forget that smile.
The next day, I was in the art room, which Mrs. Marlowe called her studio, alone. Mrs. Marlowe had given me a key and told me that as her best student, I should have all the time I needed to practice and create. I was working on my drawing of the nude boy. A little shading here, some thickening of a line there, improving the line of the hip…
The door opened and Trip entered. My heart started beating like someone playing paradiddles on a snare drum. I wasn’t ready for this. I’d hardly slept, thinking of consequences. I froze.
He looked at me and grinned. He walked toward me, and it was all I could do to remember where I was, what I had been doing, and move quickly enough to cover the drawing before he saw it.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” I managed to say back, as nervous as I’d ever been in my life.
He looked at me, and all I saw in his eyes, his beautiful, soul-baring eyes, was the light of excited anticipation.
“It was you, wasn’t it? Who Amanda said liked me. I… I hoped it was you.”
“You hoped it was?” I repeated, feeling way out of my element. He didn’t really say that, did he?
“I’ve been watching you all year,” he said. “I’m surprised you never caught me at it.”
He wanted me to say something. I could see that. I could see some of his hope, some of his confidence, begin to fade as I stood looking at him, silent. That was the last thing I ever wanted. I had to say something, even if I was going beyond myself doing so.
“I’ve been watching you even more,” I said, feeling awfully scared and bold at the same time. But he’d started it. I never could have said that otherwise. If he could say what he did, I could, too, I decided on the spot.
He looked surprised. “You have?”
I blushed and looked down, but then raised my eyes to his and said what I’d been thinking, hiding, all year. “You’re the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen.”
It was his turn to blush. But he kept on grinning. I loved that grin.
“Why didn’t you say something?” he asked.
“For the same reason you didn’t, I guess. I was too afraid.”
He nodded. “Me too. You were too perfect. I never thought I had a chance.”
“With me? That’s crazy. I’m nothing much.”
“You’re everything I think about. But I didn’t think you were gay.”
“Me neither, with you. And then, there was Miss Cadburn, and all her lectures about crushes and stuff. She’s scary. Hey, how come she never got on you for your hair. I’ve always wondered about that. I love your hair!”
“She’s not so bad if you talk to her alone.”
“But the rumors! I’ve heard some of the things that she does with boys who go see her alone. About naked spankings, and then things that happen when boys go to her for a favor. And of course how she is all the time, scowling and looking severe. She’s scary as hell.”
He was shaking his head as I rambled on, his grin still in place. When I finished, he said, “She’s the one who started the rumors. Her job as school disciplinarian requires her to act the martinet. That really isn’t her, but she puts on a show. She cares about all of us.”
I wasn’t convinced. “But you see how she looks at us, don’t you? And what’s with that staring at our crotches? You’ve noticed that, haven’t you? That’s just weird.”
He laughed. I loved his laugh more than his grin. “Yeah, I’ve seen that. But you know why she does it?”
“I always thought she was checking if any of us had an erection.”
“An erection?” Then he laughed so hard he doubled over. I couldn’t help it; it was contagious, and I laughed too, feeling just a little silly, but still on a high brought on just by his presence. I was talking to him! I really was!
He finally stopped and wheezed out, “She’s checking to see if anyone forgot to zip up.”
“Huh? How’d you know that?”
“For the same reason I can get away with wearing my hair too long. Because she’s my aunt.”
I must have looked shocked because he began laughing again. This time it was brief, though, and when he stopped, he just looked at me, and I don’t know where I got the courage but I looked at him back. God, he was handsome.
Finally, he looked away, and I found I could breathe again. He glanced around the studio, then saw my pad on the easel in front of me.
“Can I look?” he said, and before I could stop him, he’d flipped the cover sheet up and over the top of the pad, and the drawing I’d been working on was right there in front of him.
He looked, he gasped, he blushed and then looked at me with a much different look in his eyes.
“I don’t look like that, down there,” he whispered.
“I know,” I said, just as softly. “I’ve seen you.” I blushed, saying that, but then rushed on. “I got a little carried away. We had a model. He didn’t look like that either.”
I paused, then said, “Artistic license.”
It was awhile before we both were able to stop laughing. I’d never felt so alive.
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