In the cafeteria about a week later, Becky asked if I’d got a Prom date yet. I tried to look pained, being careful not to overdo it.
“It’s so hard. And it’s getting late. A lot of the good ones are taken. I’m left with the dregs.”
“Greg!” said both Becky and Susan in shocked unison. Bobby started laughing and Kevin joined in. Tim looked amused.
“Well, it’s true. I don’t know what to do.” I said, trying to sound exasperated and fed up with it all. “I don’t want to ask just anyone. This going out with girls stuff is hard if you haven’t done it. You two are both booked up, and neither of you have arranged anything for me. The only people I know who don’t have dates are all guys. Maybe I should just ask one of them. At least they wouldn’t put me number three on their list.”
Susan had the grace to look a little embarrassed, and Tim said, “You could probably find some guy to go with you. Just be careful you don’t pick anyone who’s gay. You wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea. Who are you thinking of?”
“I haven’t been. I just thought of it right now. But I don’t know anyone who’s gay, so I don’t know whom to avoid. I’ll have to think about it some. You think I really could ask a guy?” I asked the table in general, wanting to know how people thought about this radical idea I’d just had.
Bobby spoke up, as eager and enthusiastic as ever. “Hey, way to go, man. That rocks. Do it. Show the girls that if they don’t shape up, they miss out. Cool, dude. I love it.”
Kevin seemed a little cooler to the idea, a little more cautious. “I guess you could do that, but make sure you ask the right guy. Tim’s right. You don’t want people thinking you’re a gay couple. I don’t think they will, knowing you, and especially not if you pick another straight guy who people know hasn’t got a date. Sure. Why not try it if you want to?”
That seemed the consensus opinion, to my vast relief. Which I didn’t show. I just pondered their response a while, then said, “I really want to go to the Prom. This might be an option. I’ll actually think about it. You know, it was just a frustrated thought when I said it. That gay stuff still worries me, though.”
I met Adam in the library after lunch as usual. A quick glance showed Dale lurking in his usual chair. He didn’t see me look at him.
“Hey guy,” I said as I sat down. It suddenly occurred to me I had completely forgotten about his comment that these meetings were the highlight of his day. I’d have to think that one through. I wasn’t sure what it meant.
“Hey, Greg. How’s our excuse coming? Anything new?”
I told him about what had just happened in the cafeteria and his eyes lit up. “That’s great. I’ll try the same thing with my lunch group. Then, it would be neat if someone could sort of put those two groups together somehow. If someone knew both of us were looking for some straight kid to ask, maybe they’d suggest one of us could ask the other. Hey, you know what, maybe you could get Tim to bump into Steve and talk about that. I don’t know how they’d get to that subject, but if Steve knew what you’d said, the idea might get things moving.”
“Good thought. And I’m sure I can get Tim to do it. Let me think about the best way to pull it off. We have to do it right, but it might work. In fact, I’ve got an idea. Good old Dale might be useful in this. A sort of plan is kicking it’s way though my head. Tell me, does Steve ever come over to your house?”
“Not often, but yeah, I’ve had him over before. We shoot baskets or play video games. In the summer he came over to swim once or twice, but I usually go the city pool where there’s more people around.”
“OK, why don’t you ask him over? Then ask Tim and me over too. When we’re together, we can talk about Dale, and what we might do about him. That can be the reason we’re all there. Then, I’ll have Tim set up to talk to Steve, Steve will have heard from you at lunch that you’d like to ask a boy to the Prom, and, as my French teacher is always saying, ‘voila.’ If it works, we’ll be home free.”
“I love it! Let me see when Steve can come over, and we’ll do it. In the meantime, we still on for practice this afternoon after school?”
We’d been practicing our “act” every couple days the last week. We were set to do it again today. “Sure, I’ll come home with you after school as usual.”
After that, we just talked for the rest of the period. We did this every day, and doing it, sitting together, talking about whatever came to mind, was something I’d got to look forward to. I was wondering why Adam looked forward to it, but I now did the same thing. It was special, just sitting talking to him. Knowing he looked forward to it also make it even better. It was great.
The next day a rumor was flying around school. When I got to our table at lunch, it was the main topic of conversation.
As I sat down, Kevin was saying, “. . . to the hospital. He’s supposed to have a broken arm.”
“I heard he got shoved from behind on the stairs.” This was Susan’s contribution.
I broke in. “Guys, what’s all this?”
Tim filled me in. “Riley Jameson fell down the stairs going down to the gym. The rumor is, he was pushed. The paramedics came and hauled him off. Supposedly, he broke his arm, but this is all talk right now. No one seems to know anything for sure.”
Just then Becky showed up and sat down. “Hey, you guys heard about Riley?”
“About his arm? Yeah, we were just discussing it,” said Susan.
“Well,” said Becky, “they’re now saying he also has a concussion.”
“What’s this about being pushed?” I asked.
Kevin answered. “That’s the word going around. Some people are saying Dale Groppler was right behind him, and after Riley fell, he had a smile on his face and he turned around from going downstairs and walked back up. So people are saying he pushed Riley.”
“I don’t want to sound stupid, guys, but who’s Riley Jameson?” I asked. “You all seem to know the guy, but I’ve never even heard of him.”
Becky answered. “He’s this cute little freshman, spiked red hair, short and thin, always wears bright colored T-shirts. You’ve probably seen him in the halls.”
“Oh yeah, I think I know who you mean. Freckles and short?”
Tim spoke up. “You know, I think it’s time somebody did something about Dale. This has gone on long enough. I don’t know what’s wrong with the guy, but he keeps picking on guys that can’t fight back, and what he does keeps getting worse. He could have killed Riley if he’d fallen wrong.”
Kevin nodded, then asked, “Yeah, but what can we do? I agree with you, he needs an ass kicking bad, but if we pick a fight with him, we’ll get expelled. And he has those other guys that hang with him. I’m all for teaching the guy a lesson, but don’t know how to go about it. You got any ideas?”
I answered for Tim. “Maybe I do. But I need to talk to Tim about it privately. This has to be handled delicately, not in front of a lot of people who could get in trouble as co-conspirators if we got in trouble. I turned to Tim, and told him to meet me at the bike rack I always used after school.
In the library, I told Adam about our lunch conversation and told him the time was perfect for our meeting with Tim and Steve.
“Do you think you could get Steve to come over to your house today? I know I can get Tim to come, and the timing is perfect because there’s a very valid reason to get together, to talk about Dale and Riley.”
“I don’t know for sure, but I have my next class with him and I’ll ask him. I know he usually doesn’t have anything going on after school. I’ll let you know at the bike rack. If he can, we’ll all head to my house. If not, we can just plan it another day.”
After my last class, I got the books I needed for homework, stuck them in my book bag and headed for my bike. Outside, the usual bedlam of kids getting away from school as quickly as they could was occurring. I made my way through the crowd to the bicycles and found Tim and Adam there talking to each other. I guessed they’d introduced themselves. I didn’t see Steve anywhere.
“Steve couldn’t make it?” I asked disappointedly.
“No, he’s coming, he just had to ask one of his teachers something after school. He should be here any minute,” replied Adam.
- - - - - -
When Steve and Tim had been introduced and we’d arrived at Adam’s house, we decided to play some basketball before doing anything else, sort of to let us unwind from school and get to know each other better. It was decided we’d try some two on two with Adam, the shortest, and Steve, the tallest, taking on Tim and me. It seemed to me that Steve, who was probably 4” taller than any of the rest of us, should be able to dominate, but Tim was very athletic and had played a lot of basketball. He knew how to block Steve off the boards, and my small height and weight advantage over Adam allowed me to control him better than he could control me. The game turned out to be pretty even. And spirited and fun. When the score had reached 20 to 20, I asked if anyone wanted to take a break, and everyone seemed to like the idea.
“Why don’t I go in and get some drinks? Cokes OK with everyone?” Adam asked.
Getting agreement, he went into the house, and the three of us began a game of Horse while waiting.
I’d been eliminated by the time Adam returned a few minutes later. I was watching Tim and Steve battle it out when Adam handed each of us a can of Coke. We all sat on the lawn and rested while drinking, trash talking with each other about our respective basketball prowess.
I had planned this with Tim and Adam and it was going perfectly. Now, Tim took a couple sips, then asked Steve if he wanted to finish the Horse game while Adam and I rested. Steve got back up and the two went back to shooting baskets. I asked Adam if I could look at the pool, and he said he’d show it to me.
When we’d left, Tim started talking to Steve.
“You going to the Prom?”
“Yeah, I’m taking Angela Simmons. You?”
“Yeah. Ashley Roberson and I are going. I wish Greg would get a date. He asked someone and got shot down, and now he’s worried about asking someone else. Funny, he’s desperate and wants to go so bad, he even said at lunch the other day he ought to ask a boy! Now that’s desperation.”
“Really? He said that? That’s, well. . . . You know, Adam has the same problem and said the same thing to me. You think. . . . should I tell Adam that Greg said that? I mean, it’s nuts, but, they could go together!”
“I love it! Yeah, tell him. I don’t know if Greg would have the nerve to ask Adam even if he knew that, but Adam could ask Greg. He doesn’t seem as shy at that sort of thing. Greg worries about things too much.”
Steve paused for a moment, thinking about his next shot, and tried a reverse left handed hook, which missed. Then he said, “When Adam first told me he wouldn’t mind asking a boy, I told him people would think he’s gay, but he just laughed. I know he isn’t gay, but I wonder what people will think.”
“That’s one of the things Greg would worry about. But both those guys are straight. I don’t think it’d be a problem. Anyway, I’ve got Greg’s back and you’ve got Adam’s. It’ll be all right, I’m pretty sure of that.”
Steve had to make Tim’s two handed set shot from the side of basket and did. While Tim was deciding what to shoot next, Steve said, “I think I’ll talk to Adam after you guys leave. I shouldn’t talk about this in front of Greg because what if Adam doesn’t want to ask him? But I’ll bet Adam goes for it. And it’ll be great, because they’ll both get to go to the Prom.”
At that point, Adam and I returned. We watched as they finished their game, which Tim won by making a two handed underhanded backwards over-his-head swish that Steve just laughed at and missed badly. Then we went inside the house and up to Adam’s room. Tim’s eyes almost bugged out of his head as we walked through the house. Adam told him he’d show him around some other time, that we needed to talk about Dale and what should be done about him.
We talked for quite a while. We had to decide what we wanted to accomplish. Did we want vengeance or just to get him to stop doing what he’d been doing? Did we want to get adults involved or handle it ourselves? Did we want just the four of us doing something or should the kids Dale had tormented be included? We had a lot of decisions to make, a lot of talking to do.
An hour later, we had a plan. Details still had to be arranged, problems worked out, but a battle plan was firmly established.
Tim and I told Adam we had to go. Steve said he was going to stick around for a few minutes. Adam asked Tim if he wanted to look at the house, but Tim said he had to get going but would love to do so next time. On that note, we left.
When we were riding our bikes home, I asked Tim how his talk alone with Steve had gone and he gave me pretty much a word by word description of it. When he was finished, he said, “Steve’s talking to Adam right now, convincing him to ask you to the Prom. It’s all set up. Adam’s friends know he’s thinking of asking a boy for the same reasons your friends know you’re thinking of doing the same thing. Now one of his friends is telling him to ask you. If he does so publicly, you’re going to be able to accept his offer and no one will wonder about either of you being gay.”
Don’t you love it when a strategy all comes together and works out just the way you planned it?
Comments are always appreciated. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org