Tim had given me an idea, and I thought about it the rest of the night. Why not ask Susan or Becky? I knew Susan hadn't been asked and so was available. She was a friend, so less likely to be upset if it didn't work out romantically because she knew I wasn't a bad guy. She could accept things better than someone who didn't know me much at all if things didn't go the way they hoped.
That seemed a good solution. I wouldn't be that nervous asking Susan, and I knew she wouldn't laugh at me.
I went to school the next day with my mind made up. I was going to ask Susan. I was going to ask her just before lunch. I could get her alone at that time. Yep, that's what I was going to do.
I was nervous as hell.
The day moved forward. Classes started and ended. Then, lunch was next period. I left class after the bell rang and started towards the cafeteria, thinking motivating thoughts to myself. Okay, this is it. I've made up my mind, and I'm going to do it. I am only asking her to the Prom. That's all I'm doing. Girls are supposed to want you to ask them to the Prom, for God's sake. They're supposed to be thinking about how good they'll look in their dresses, how everyone will be there and see them there and they won't be left out of one of the most important social events of the school year. They'll be important enough and pretty enough and popular enough and liked enough that someone asked them. So I'm making her feel good. I’m doing her a favor. What's wrong with that? Nothing! Nothing's wrong with that! She should be honored I'm asking her. We are already friends. No reason to feel nervous about this. No reason at all.
All right, I'd talked myself up and was ready to go. And here came Susan, right on time, walking down the hall toward the cafeteria. Right toward where I was standing, waiting. My friend Susan. My lunch eating buddy Susan. No trouble here at all. And I knew she hadn't been asked by anyone else yet because she would have told everyone right away.
Susan was pretty and had a bubbly personality. She had long shiny dark hair, almost black, and a cute nose. Everyone liked Susan. She wasn't with the popular crowd because if she was she wouldn't be eating with us, we weren't the popular kids, we were just kids. We were just like everyone else that wasn't a popular kid. There were more of us than there were of them.
I caught her in the hall before she could enter the cafeteria. We weren't alone, which was one of Tim's prerequisites for this, but the other kids were all streaming past us towards lunch, talking with each other and not paying us any attention, so it was pretty much like being alone.
"Hey, Susan, I need to ask you something," I said, not beating around the bush. I was still nervous as hell, despite my pep talk.
"Sure, Greg, what's going on?"
I swallowed. "Well, I'd like to go to the Prom with you. I'd like you to go with me. Would you like to do that, go to the Prom with me?" I stopped. OK, that was every bit as hard as thought it would be, even after my self-encouraging motivational speech to myself, but I got it out. I didn't fumble with the words, too much, or blush or anything. Of course, this pause while she thought about what I’d said, and thought some more, was a little hard.
"Uhhhhh, Greg," she said, looking at my shoulder rather than at my eyes. "Greg, I was sort of hoping Gary would ask me. Marcy told me he was going to, but he was absent yesterday and I haven't seen him today. I was kinda hoping he'd ask me, and if he's going to, well, I was kinda hoping, you know. . . ." Her voice rose, making me feel she was really, really hoping Gary would ask her.
That wasn't the response I was looking for, the one I'd planned out in my head when thinking how this was going to go. I’d only considered two choices, her saying yes or her saying no. Her not saying either wasn’t something I was prepared for. But, I could deal with it. "Well, OK, I'm good with that. I hope he asks you. Good luck." I started to walk away, then stopped and asked, "You coming to lunch?"
Magnanimous. I'd learned that word in English last week. Magnanimous. That was me. Maybe steadfast, too.
"Yeah, I'm coming," she said, and we joined the parade and walked into the cafeteria together. When we got into the serving line and grabbed our trays, she said, "Greg, if Gary doesn't ask, then, well, I mean, if Gary or Christopher don't ask, then sure, I'd love to go with you."
Uh oh, I thought. This was something Tim hadn't mentioned: if you ask a friend to the Prom, they can be much more frank with their answer, they don't have to be reluctant at all to say what they're thinking. They don't have to be as careful with your feelings as someone you don't know as well. And, this could be a problem. This could be tricky. "Susan. Uh, when's he going to ask you? Or, I mean, when are they going to ask you. Or not ask you? I mean, like, when are you going to know? What I’m really asking, I mean, is, well, when am I going to know? 'Cause I don't want to wait till everyone's got a date."
"Well, I don't know," she answered, looking just very slightly put out, like maybe she thought I should be willing to wait if maybe I'd end up with her in the end. Like maybe, me not getting a date wasn't as important as me maybe getting a date with her. Perhaps that wasn't what she was thinking at all. But it sort of came to my mind that maybe she was. And it sort of came to my mind that I wasn't very happy if that's what she was thinking. It occurred to me that there wasn't any real easy way out of this situation. I was already starting to get a little pissed, and it would be the easiest thing in the world to hurt her feelings if I wasn't careful. But, I was truly stuck here. I needed a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, not a ‘let's wait and see if anyone better than you comes along’ answer that worked well for her but left me swinging in the breeze over a deep river filled with crocodiles.
The hell with that, I thought. I liked Susan well enough as a friend, but I needed an answer, and even thought it seemed diplomacy was what was required here, well, fuck diplomacy.
"Susan," I said, screwing up my resolve, "I'm sorry, but I need a yes or a no here, not a ‘Well, I'll put you at number 3 on my list and get back to you sometime.’ I'd like to go with you, but if you're waiting for Gary, and after that for Christopher, I understand. It would have been fun, but maybe some other time. OK? No hard feelings, all right?"
Susan looked a little miffed for a moment. She obviously had been hoping to be in control here. She obviously wanted to go to the Prom too, and maybe was losing the chance for a date by not seizing the bird in hand. She'd wanted that burden to be on me, not her, and it wasn't working out that way. Here she had a great backup position dropped in her lap, but it wasn't remaining there, it was wriggling free as we spoke. So now she had to make a choice. I could see all this in her eyes. I could also see that she really was hoping for Gary. Or, perhaps, Christopher.
"Sure, Greg, no hard feelings," she said, and smiled at me.
Good. That was straightened out, and no harm done. The only problem was, I still didn't have a date. And was still facing the problem of getting one.
- - - - - -
I had an empty hour after lunch. I was supposed to go to study hall, but if we had a project to do we could go to the library instead if we signed in there. So, I always went to the library. I liked the atmosphere better, and of course the freedom. There were a handful of kids scattered around the room, and Mrs. Ogilvie, of course. She was always there, sitting at her slightly raised desk, glaring down at everyone over the top of her half glasses. I looked around to see if there was anyone I wanted to sit with. Sitting in one of the easy chairs which were placed in a group by the rack of magazines and newspapers was Dale Groppler. I looked away quickly, not wanting to make eye contact. Dale and I weren't friends. Dale was typical of a breed of guys that inhabits all schools. He enjoyed making kids uncomfortable, or miserable if he could. He was crude and liked to play jokes that were over the line, no longer funny but humiliating, degrading or damaging. He did things like dropping something disgusting in your food in the cafeteria, but secretly so you'd take a bite of it before noticing, or spilling some indelible ink on someone's favorite jacket, supposedly accidentally but with a smirk on his face, or letting the air out of someone's bicycle tires so he was stuck and couldn't ride home.
Dale had been like that for a few years, but now was becoming even worse than that. Recently, some of his pranks had become more vicious, some of his victims had got hurt. The rumor was, even with kids getting hurt, that didn’t seem to affect Dale at all, that in fact he seemed to like it even better that way. His acts generally seemed to be the result of seeing someone happy about something. If he caught sight of someone happy or proud or pleased, he’d go out of his way to make that person a target. And being a target of Dale Groppler was getting to be a scary thing.
What he'd done to me a couple of weeks ago was get into my locker and tear up some sheet music I needed at my singing lesson after school that afternoon. It was music I’d just bought that I was enthusiastically looking forward to working on. I’d been happily showing it to Tim, talking about it, and had then stowed it in my locker. I guess Dale had seen me showing it to Tim and had seen an opportunity to do something mean. I knew he was the one who’d done it because he'd let me spot him at the corner of the hall when I looked around after finding the music. He was there, saw my angry look, smirked and turned the corner. He got away with these activities because he made sure there were no witnesses he couldn't intimidate and he was bigger than everyone he picked as a victim and was one of those guys who enjoyed fighting. Most of us didn't. I sure didn't. And since he was experienced at it and I wasn't and I was outweighed by about 45 pounds, fighting with him was not only stupid, it was suicidal, and it was just what Dale wanted. He’d had several fights in the past before people started avoiding them. He’d put one kid in the hospital. He was vicious when he fought, and liked it. So, I didn't want to look at him because he might see it. His small brain sometimes equated someone looking at him with someone challenging him. The best course of action with Dale Groppler was, out of sight, out of mind.
I kept looking around and spotted Adam sitting at a table alone, so went over and laid my book bag down and pulled back a chair across from him.
I should probably describe Adam. He was also 15, and I'd known him since fifth grade. We were friends, sort of, the type of friends where you know someone, you're friendly, but you're not really close, you know? Sort of like you are with probably 100 kids at school. You'd talk with them most everyday, but never say anything important, just a few words in passing. You'd smile at them in the hall and they'd smile back. They were just a daily part of your life, but not an important, close, vital part of it. A little more than casual friends, that's what they were. Kids that you're comfortable talking to.
Except. Adam was very cute. I found him almost irresistibly attractive. And, I sort of liked him. That way. He was one of the several guys I liked looking at, one of the ones I had to be careful not to let my eyes linger on too long. Since I was keeping my secret, no one could catch me doing this, especially not Adam. But I thought he was cute and I also liked his personality. He was sort of cool and outgoing and funny. And I did occasionally sit with him in the library, and when we got picked on the same team in gym we always got on well. I was pretty competitive and so was he. We both had a dry sense of humor. We fit well together in a number of ways.
"Hey," I said, sitting down.
Adam looked up from the magazine he was reading and smiled his slightly bashful smile. He always gave the impression, with his smile and body language, that he was shy, but he really wasn't, as far as I could tell. But the smile, of course, made him all that much cuter. He had light brown, straight hair cut long enough to fall so it framed his face. The very ends of it had a sort of slight curl. It always looked very clean with a shine to it that made it very attractive. His medium blue eyes were deep and expressive. He was slender, like a lot of us at 15, and medium height, maybe an inch shorter than I was. He wore the same clothes the rest of us did, but somehow they seemed to fit him better. There wasn't anything terribly special about him, but the entire package just appealed to me for some reason, appealed to me more than most.
"Hey, Greg," he responded. "How's it going?" He spoke softly, not wanting to attract The Ogilvie's attention. He had a somewhat higher voice than you'd expect, and it was sort of scratchy.
"No problemo." I answered. I pulled a book out of my bag. "You going to the Prom?"
He looked embarrassed. "Aaaah, I don't know. I'd like to. But I hate going alone, you know?"
"So why don't you ask someone? I've heard Katy thinks you're cute?"
He fidgeted when I said that, and looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, one of her friends told me that. I don't know. I suppose I could ask her. But I don't really want to. She's OK, I guess. But if I ask her, she'll get the wrong idea. I don't like her that much. Not enough to ask her to the Prom, and if I do ask her, that's not what she'll think. She'll be sure I like her."
"Damn, that's exactly what I'm worrying about!" I told him. "I want to go bad, but I don't want to give some girl the wrong idea, you know? I talked to Tim about it and he said I shouldn't worry about that, it's silly, but even after listening to him, I'm still concerned. It's amazing that you're thinking the same thing."
Adam thought about this for a while. I thought about it too, and I also thought about Adam. I couldn't help it. But it didn't worry me. I'm sure Adam was thinking I was thinking about giving girls the wrong idea, not about me thinking about him.
Eventually, he said, "I'd hate to miss the Prom. You haven't asked anyone either, huh?"
“Well, I did ask Susan."
"Oh? She didn't say yes?"
"No, she said I was number three on her list. I told her to fuck off with that."
Adam looked at me with a shocked expression, then giggled. "You didn't!"
"Well, no, not in so many words. I told her thanks but no thanks. So, I'm still without a date. I thought she'd jump at the chance to go to the Prom, but she's hoping someone else will ask her. I don't know that I've got the guts to go through that again with another girl. And that's not even considering the 'he likes me!, he likes me!' thing."
"Boy, this sucks," said Adam. "Too bad boys can't ask other boys. That'd be so much easier, you know? Boys are easier to understand, they don't get their feelings hurt so easy, and you know where you stand with them. You know what they're feeling because you're feeling the same way."
I sat there stunned, in shock for second. What was he saying? Was he saying he would like to ask a boy to the Prom? Could he mean that? Could he mean he liked boys and wanted to take one to the Prom? But then he went on, and I saw what he meant.
"It would be so much simpler if we didn't have to ask girls, if we could just go to the Prom and then dance with them. Dancing with them is fine, asking them isn’t. All this asking and being their date is pretty hard. You got to worry about being rejected by them, actually being humiliated by them, and then you have to worry what they think about you. It's almost too much. But what other choice is there?"
I looked at him trying to keep my astonishment under control. "You know, you're thinking exactly what I've been thinking, what I've been worrying over! I feel exactly the same as you do about this," I agreed, my voice raised in surprise. I had no idea anyone else would feel like I did. "It would be easier to ask boys," I added. "Guys should ask guys and girls ask girls. No worry about being rejected. I'd come up to you and say, 'Adam, you want to go to the Prom with me and hang?' And you'd say, 'Sure, Greg.' That'd be all there was to it. We'd hang at the Prom, dance with the girls we wanted to dance with, then go home at the end. Very clean and simple."
Adam looked at me for a second. I could see mischief sparkling in his eyes. "Wait a sec," he said. "How do you know I'd say 'yes' to going with you? Maybe I'd be waiting for someone else to ask me."
I grinned at him. "Yeah, but then I could tell you to go fuck yourself. You can't hardly do that with a girl."
"Good point," Adam grinned, his eyes looking into mine.
After that, we were quiet for a few minutes. He didn't go back to his magazine, he just sort of stared into space. I didn't read my book either. I was thinking. Earlier, I'd been trying to think of a plan. I now was sort of coming up with one.
Before I could speak, however, Adam broke into my thoughts.
"Greg?," he asked. He sounded nervous. I looked up at him. His hands were on the table and his fingers were sort of drumming on the wood. "I think I've got an idea."
"Well, it sounds a little crazy, but, what if we really did that? What if you and I went as a couple? It would solve the problems we're both having. We could dance with whoever we wanted to, but we wouldn't have to worry about some girl thinking we liked her when we didn't and then hurting her feelings, and we wouldn't have to go through all the nonsense of figuring out how to ask a girl out who might reject us at best and laugh at us as worst. What do you think?"
I thought it was a wonderful idea, going to the Prom with Adam, I absolutely, positively loved it! But, there was a serious problem. People would think we were gay. How could they think anything else? And I didn't want people thinking that. I was scared to death over the possibility of people thinking that.
I didn't see any point in beating around the bush here. "But Adam, people would think we were gay, wouldn't they?" Nothing like not hiding my thoughts, getting them out in the open.
He didn't seem upset at that at all. "Hey, I'm not gay. Are you?" Not getting any answer––I was too shocked at the question to reply––he hurried on. "Of course not. So why worry about it? It solves all our worries. It's perfect!"
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