Cole Parker

Chapter 1

    Our Prom was coming up in a month. I really wanted to go. This year, its theme was 'A Night in the 50's.' They were going to play music that was popular in the '50's, and the dress along with the standard tuxes and gowns that many would wear was optionally bobby-sox, saddle shoes, poodle skirts and bright fluffy sweaters. There would be girls sporting ponytails, some of the boys would let their hair and sideburns grow long, style it ala Elvis and wear loose-legged trousers. I loved the teen movies that were made during that era and the music that was popular then. This was going to be a great night featuring a culture I loved with kids having a great time.

    I really, really wanted to go to the Prom. There was just one thing, however. I needed a date. Only losers went to the Prom stag. But that was tough for me. You see, I didn't much like girls. At least not that way, if you know what I mean. So asking one for a date to the Prom was difficult. She would probably get the wrong idea. She'd think I liked her. And it's pretty tough to say, "Hey, Lindsay, you want to go to the prom with me? We'll have a great time, and I'd really like you to be my date, even though I don't like you that way." No, that wouldn't work too well.

    In any case, I wasn't much into dating. Well, that may be overstating it just a wee bit. The truth of the matter was, I had never asked a girl out. I mean, that's like terrifying. Whether you do or don't like her that way. What if she said no? What if she laughed and said no? More to the point, what if she didn't even bother to say no, just ran to a group of her friends, pointed at me, spoke to them with her hand partially covering her mouth so I couldn't see her lips, and then they all started laughing, and not just laughing but shrieking? Shrieking hysterically with laughter while looking at me. Maybe Lindsay, maybe all of them, pointing at me. At me, who would be oozing into a puddle like that wet witch in The Wizard of Oz.

    Or, I suppose I could ask a boy. That's what I'd really like to be able to do, I'd love to be able to take another boy to the Prom. But that would be worse than asking a girl. Because dying of embarrassment is one thing. Dying if he said 'no' and my heart felt it had been yanked out and stomped on is something entirely different. The embarrassment ooze could be sopped up with a large sponge, then squeezed back out into a Greg-mold and I'd probably be back to being myself in the morning. You yank a guy's heart out, you stomp on it real hard, how's he supposed to survive that?

    The risk of asking a boy was much worse than asking a girl. Because I cared more. I would really care if he said no. It would hurt. But that wasn't an option anyway because no one knew I'd rather ask a boy. That was a secret. My deepest, no-one-would-ever-know secret. So it was safer to ask a girl and risk the shame of being rejected. But you're supposed to suffer that anxiety, the anxiety of knowing you can be rejected, aren't you? And then, you're supposed to have the courage and take the risk. After all, isn't that what all boys who are 15 do?

    Don't they ask somebody out, lay their souls on the line, bare and defenseless for all to see, and risk whatever happens?

    Man, the courage that takes. Where does it come from? How are you supposed to have that at 15. At 15 you're just a kid, and your main hope is to be just like every other 15-year-old, but you want to be yourself, too, and at the same time you want to be different, to stand out from the crowd as something really special, maybe be famous or idolized, but still be exactly the same as everyone else. That's all you want. That's what I wanted. That, and of course that other thing. The other thing which was, I wanted to go to the Prom.

    Which meant, practically, I had to ask a girl. So, how was I going to do that and not have her think I liked her? Because, as much trouble as this was giving me, I wasn't about to hurt someone's feelings like that. So, I had to come up with a plan.

    I was eating lunch with my friends while thinking about all this. And trying to think up a good plan that would get me to the Prom. With a date.

    "Greg's in one of his trances again," laughed Bobby. "Hey, Greg, whatcha dreaming about this time?"

    I sort of have this thing, and kids, even my mom, are always on me about it. I'll be part of a conversation or a discussion or something, maybe I'll be watching a TV show with the family, whatever, and then I'll sort of drift off, thinking about something that was just said, or something that popped into my mind, mulling it over in my head. I can be out of it for several minutes at a time unless something or someone snaps me out of it. People will talk to me, ask a question, make a comment, and I'll be entirely oblivious. My mom is a little worried about this but it doesn't bother me. In fact, I sort of enjoy these private mental journeys when I go off on them. It doesn't seem like anything to worry about to me.

    Bobby's voice broke my spell. The background clatter of dishes being set on tables, kids voices chattering throughout the large and brightly lighted room, chairs and trays being scraped against floors and tables, the slightly vegetable-like aroma of cafeteria cooking, all came back into focus. I looked up. "I was just thinking about how sad it is that you're so ugly that no girl in her right mind will go to the Prom with you," I responded.

    Bobby was the class clown type, always joking, always happy. He didn't take much of anything seriously, especially himself. Everyone liked being around Bobby, and neither of us had a problem with him teasing me or vice versa. Bobby had curly brown hair that sat like a mop on top of this friendly, freckle-spattered face, a face that was usually brightened by an infectious grin. He didn't have a mean bone in his body.

    He also was hardly ever serious about much of anything. He was fun to hang with, though not much use if you wanted to have a meaningful discussion about something that was bothering you, or get some solid advice.

    Bobby grinned back at me. "I've already asked Traci and we're going together. How about you, stud? I'll bet you haven't asked anyone."

    Along with Bobby, I was sitting with Susan, Kevin, Becky and next to Tim. We always ate together. We were all good friends and sort of a group. Tim was my best friend. He spoke up at that point. "Naah, Greg probably won't ask anyone. He's too chicken. He'll want to go stag with me so he won't have to ask a girl." To show me there was no malice in what he said he reached over under the table and squeezed my arm for a second. I grinned at him.

    Susan entered the conversation with, "I'm still waiting for someone to ask me. But I think I'll be asked. Not everyone is as chicken as Greg," she said with a smile.

    "See what you started?" I complained to Tim.

    "Then I guess you'll just have to ask someone to show I'm wrong. Anyway, I'm going to ask Ashley, so don't count on going stag with me."

    "I heard she likes you," Kevin said to Tim. Tim smiled at him and winked.

    "Sounds like Tim's all set then," Bobby said to me, "and anyway, you've got to go with someone to the Prom. Don't dork out on us. Only losers go without dates. So pick someone out and ask her. Who do you like?"

    That got everyone at the table looking at me. We'd never discussed this before. We'd discussed who was attractive and who wasn't. We'd never got this specific on whom I liked. It put me on the spot. I had to wriggle off before people started thinking. This wasn't something I wanted them thinking about.

    "I've got someone in mind," I replied loftily, "but I'm not going tell you guys. I don't want it getting out before I've had the chance to ask."

    Both Becky and Susan immediately started prying, wanting to know who it was. This was the pinnacle of typical high school gossip, and they wanted to be the first to be able to start spreading it around. But I held firm, fending off their questions with a supercilious air that suggested this was all beneath me and they were being children. Eventually lunch hour was over.

--- ---

    That afternoon after school Tim was in my room with me. The TV was on VH-1 and videos were playing but we weren't paying attention. He was sitting on the edge of my bed, one leg hanging off, one folded on the bed, looking at me. I was lying on it on my back, my elbow covering my eyes. We were continuing the lunchtime discussion.

    "Tim, I don't know whom to ask," I complained. "I don't want to ask someone and have her start thinking I'm in love with her or something. What do I do?"

    Tim was sympathetic. It was one reason why I liked him so much. Teasing and kidding around is great, but there are times you need to be able to talk seriously about things that matter to you or problems you're having. Tim knew when to be serious, he read my moods better than anyone, and when he got serious he really got involved in trying to be helpful and supportive and solving whatever the problem was. Now, he thought for a minute before responding to my question.

    "Greg, I don't know much more about all this stuff than you do, but I know you're being silly. If you ask a girl you've only been friendly with, not one you've already been dating or talking to on the phone for hours every night, just someone you find attractive and maybe smile at once in a while, she'll be excited that someone's interested in her, but she won't be expecting you to be in love with her. You'll both be using the date to get better acquainted, and you'll both know that going in. This isn't something you should be worrying about. I know how nice a guy you are, and how you always consider other peoples' feelings, but you're concerned over nothing this time. If there's someone you find attractive that you'd like to ask to go to the Prom, just ask her. You'll get to know her better at the dance, and decide then if your want to get to be even better friends or not, become romantic or not. It might work out great. If it doesn't, no harm done, and you were able to go to the Prom and enjoy yourself at the dance. You don't have to be in love with her. She won't expect you to be. So, just bite the bullet and ask someone you kinda like."

    I took my arm off my eyes and looked at him. "Well, that's part of my trouble. There really isn't anyone that I'm all that attracted to. And then there's another problem. You can't tell anyone, but, see, I'm just scared anyone I ask will laugh at me. I've never asked a girl out, and these thoughts keep running through my head that she'll laugh at me and make me feel like an idiot in front of everyone. I know I'm not that attractive, I'm not an athlete, I don't have much to offer. Why would any girl want me to ask her out?"

    Tim grinned at me. "Welcome to the club. The first time's the hardest. But we all go through it. It takes courage and self-confidence. You just have to screw yourself up to it, then ask. And these doubts you have? All of us feel that way. We look in the mirror and we see an unattractive dork. But, guess what, Greg? You, my man, are no dork. I'm not supposed to say things like I'm going to say, but friends are supposed to be able to speak the truth to each other, right? That's their job, to say what's true when everyone else just skates around the truth. So I'm going to tell you the truth. Afterwards, after I say this, you've got to forget I said it. We never had this discussion, OK? Now, no embarrassment, just listen."

    He paused to take a breath. "You, Greg, are one seriously good looking dude. Besides the way you look, which is very good, maybe even handsome, you keep your hair looking real good, you get it styled, and the dark brown color shines and really fits your complexion. I've even heard girls say you're cute, if anyone could ever believe that! Your body could be more muscular if you like that look, but you're slender and just right, you wear nice clothes and aren't sloppy, you just look good. You carry yourself well. It all fits together, you know? You often have a smile on your face when meeting and talking to people which makes you look even better. I've heard a couple girls say you're hot. Now, I don't thing think you're hot, I think you're ugly as a pile of steaming dog turds, but what do I know? I've also heard it said that there are several girls that are hoping you'll ask them to the Prom, girls who seriously have the hots for you. Stephanie and Marty, for two. I know for a fact you've got a great personality. Now, I've said it. Forget what I just said. But also forget this feeling you have that you don't have anything going for you. It's just not true.

    "I know you don't see all this when you look in the mirror. But believe me, you've got much, much more going for you than the average guy. The mirror is tricky. When I look in it, I see an ugly kid with too big a nose and eyes that I wish were blue instead of brown, hair I wish was straight and blond instead of wavy and black, and so I'm always disappointed, but, for a fact, I know I'm twice as good looking a stud as you are, and you're not so bad. So, you just can't go by what you see in the mirror."

    He paused as I grinned at him and he grinned back, then continued. "Now, as to how you ask someone out. Here's how. Get her alone. Having people around watching would make it just that much harder. Plan out when you're going to do it. Then, just do it! Even if she says no, you'll feel good about yourself because you had this horrible doubt about actually asking someone, and you overcame that."

    "But I don't know whom to ask!"

    He paused to think again. Then he said, "Greg, we eat with Becky and Susan every day, they're your friends. Ask one of them. That shouldn't be too hard. In a way it's sort of wimping out, but for a first time, that's fair. And, you know they won't laugh at you, and that's one of your worries. But you can ask anyone. No one will laugh. We all worry about that, but girls our age know better than to laugh. A couple, three years ago, maybe, but not now. Whoever you ask will be happy, even proud, whether she says 'yes' or 'no'."

    I put my elbow back over my eyes and sighed. He made it sound so simple. He made it sound reasonable, asking a girl to a Prom, as if it was just something you did when you were 15. And I guess it was, for most guys. But I was still terrified. It wasn't just the possibility of embarrassment.

    There was more to it than I could discuss with Tim, even though I wanted to badly. It was also not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, which might happen if the relationship went nowhere or if she expected more than I was prepared to give her. Yeah, I could agree it wouldn't hurt her if she just decided she didn't like me that much or I didn't like her enough to pursue her any further, but it might hurt her if she discovered, after I went with her to the Prom, that I was gay.

    How would that make her feel? Would she or other people think somehow she was a part of that? That I'd tried dating a girl and the experience with her was so bad that I decided I'd be better off with boys? It would be awful for her to have to deal with that. It wouldn't be fair of me. And what about if at the Prom she discovered she liked me a lot? Then later, when she found out I was gay and not interested it her, she might feel Iíd fooled her, and maybe used her. I didnít want anyone feeling that way about me.

    I couldn't tell Tim I was thinking this. I couldn't tell anyone.

    So, what was I to do? I really wanted to go to this Prom.

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