The last day of school before Christmas break, and I could hardly wait till it was over. I was sitting in my last class of the day, World History, and I was almost dying of boredom and frustration. Freedom was just outside the door, and here I was, stuck in my worst class of any I’d ever had to sit through. I was wishing with all my might that the class would end, wishing for the break to start. All those glorious days ahead with no school, just the anticipation of Christmas.
Mr. Winslow was droning on and on and on about something called the Bohemian Rebellion that occurred in the 1600s and who in the world gave a hoot? I sure didn’t. No one in the class did, that was for sure. I was looking around, trying to find something of interest, anything to change my focus from the worst teacher in the school so my mind wouldn’t burst of boredom, frazzle of frustration. Hmmm. Maybe I could work on my alliterations.
Mr. Winslow was a short, pudgy man who was fastidious in his dress with his tie always snugged up tight to his collar. He wore long-sleeved, starched shirts with cufflinks. Cufflinks! He stood up as straight as a flagpole and combed his thinning hair; he must have used some sort of gel on it that pasted it to his scalp because it never moved, no matter what he did or how the wind was blowing; no matter how hard he tried to cover that pale expanse of skin underneath it, there wasn’t enough hair to do the job.
But it wasn’t his appearance that we hated. It was his manner. He wanted—demanded—complete attention from his classroom audience. Every eye should be on him when they weren’t on the notes we were to be taking. We were to be sitting up straight in our desks, notebooks out, attentive and eager to learn. Yet his lectures were as dry as an Egyptian mummy left out in the sun, and his voice was an irritating tenor that rose to a soprano when he was angry. That was much of the time because we weren’t perfect, and he insisted on perfect deportment in his classroom, and maybe worst of all, he enjoyed screeching at offenders.
The Bohemian Revolt, for god’s sake! Early 1600s. In a different country from ours that I wouldn’t be able to point out on a map. Where was Bohemia? I looked once at a globe and couldn’t find it. On and on Mr. Winslow went about it. I had to find something to do! I couldn’t take much more of this. Ferdinand II, Johann Tserclaes, Ambrogio Spinola. Ambrogio—what boy could ever have a worse name? Did his friends call him Brogey?—and why did we have to know this? Did anyone know this? Could anyone conceivably care? Anyone at all other than Mr. Winslow?
I turned to a blank page in my notebook. Without even giving it any thought, my hand just began doing what it did. First doodling, then, on a new page, I began sketching the boy sitting two rows over and one seat in front of me. Trace. This seating arrangement gave me an awkward perspective, but I knew his face so well that I could draw it from any perspective that I wanted.
Curly blond hair. Enigmatic hint of a smile. Bright eyes that contained intelligence and laughter. Even features, glowing skin, a slight redness on his high cheekbones. A straight nose, thin and neither long nor short, highlighted by just a few light freckles. Light eyebrows, long lashes. Forehead almost covered where his curls fell over it, as they did over his ears. Light blue polo shirt, untucked. Everything below that invisible because of the desks and chairs between us, but I knew what that looked like, too. He was slim, and, oh, did I dream about what came below, even if I’d only ever seen the jeans that usually covered it.
I’d heard of gym classes in previous years where the boys had to shower. We didn’t have to do that these days. Seems the morality police had decided boys should never be forced to be naked with other boys. Nakedness would be just too much. Too upsetting for them to handle, for their fragile psyches to endure, I guessed. I know I’d have loved to have seen all the other boys naked, even if I had no idea how I’d have handled the problem that would have arisen had I been equally naked myself. Arisen! That was pretty clever! But, how had the boys in the past handled it? They must have had the same emotions that I did. Some of them, at least.
These thoughts bounced through my head as I filled in more details of Trace’s sketch. Shading here, a bold line there; this was becoming the best drawing I’d ever made of him. And I’d made lots.
In my dreams, someday I’d show them to him. He’d look and blush, and he’d say something like, “Oh, you must like me a lot to have drawn all these. They’re really good. Better than I really look.” Then he’d blush and look down.
And I’d reply, “Like isn’t a strong enough word for how I feel,” and he’d say, “I like . . . er, more than like you, too,” and—
“Mr. Thomas!” I was pulled out of my reverie by my name being shouted—screamed, really—in a high-pitched, shrill voice coming from right above me. I looked up to see Mr. Winslow standing next to my desk. He wasn’t towering over me because he wasn’t tall enough to do that, but his lack of height meant he was closer to my ears than was good for my auditory well-being.
“What are you doing?” he screamed. “You’re not listening to me at all. You’re doodling!” Then he yanked my notebook off my desk. He looked at it for a moment, then back at me. At the notebook, then at me.
“Stand up when I’m speaking to you! Out of your seat!”
That was another of his rules. We had to stand to speak to him, and if he was addressing us, we also had to be upright.
Feeling a bit sick, fearful for what might come next, I slid out of my seat. I was taller than he was, even though only 14, but I wasn’t a confident, bigger-than-life kid. I was taller than he was but somehow didn’t feel like I was. I was nervous, and right off the bat knew I was in trouble here. Just not as bad as it was going to get.
Mr. Winslow’s face was red, rather startlingly red. His eyes were open too wide, and his anger was over the top.
“What’s this?” He shook my notebook in my face, open to the drawing I’d just made. “It looks like a picture of Mr. Murdock. Is that what you were doing, drawing a picture of Mr. Murdock instead of paying attention to me? I work hard to prepare lessons for you, and you don’t pay attention? You draw a picture of a boy, instead? What, are you one of these perverts we read so much about these days? Huh? You one of those? I’ll bet you are. You look like you’re queer. You never say much in class, just sit back here and ogle the boys, huh? Queers are like that. They lurk, watching boys they can have their way with—planning, scheming, up to no good, dirty and disgusting. That’s what you do, isn’t it? You’re disgusting! I don’t want you in my class. I refuse to share my hard-won knowledge with faggots. Especially disrespectful ones who spend their time dreaming about doing perverted things with other boys.”
With that, he left me standing there, quivering, eyes on the floor, and took the picture over to Trace. “Is this you? See what he drew? He’s hot for you. He has sexual thoughts about you. He gets off thinking about you. You should knock some sense into him. I hope you do. Wait for him outside of school and beat him senseless. He deserves that. People like him are a disgrace to the human race.”
With that, he tore my picture out of the notebook and viciously tore it into pieces, then flung all the pieces up in the air. They scattered as they fell, and he came back to where I was still standing.
“Go pick up that disgusting trash, every piece of it, every single disgusting piece. Then get out of my classroom. I never want to see you again. You’re getting an F for this semester from me.”
The classroom was dead silent. Everyone was looking at me. I wasn’t looking back. It was as if a semi truck had hit me; that’s how I felt. Shaking, cold, unfocused, not myself at all. I somehow began walking up and down the aisles, picking up the pieces of paper, having to get down on my hands and knees to get some of them. To my surprise, some of the kids in the room began reaching down and picking up the paper pieces that were near to make my job easier, less humiliating, until Mr. Winslow saw that and yelled at them to leave the paper shreds where they lay.
Most of them were near Trace’s desk. I couldn’t bear to look at him. I kept my eyes on the floor and eventually had gathered up all the scraps.
I went back to my desk, gathered my things, and walked unsteadily out of the classroom.
I didn’t think I could walk home. I was so shaky; my head was so unsettled; I just felt weak and disoriented. How had this happened? No one had known I was gay. Now everyone knew. Well, a lot of the freshmen class did. It was all freshmen in that class, and it was certain they’d tell their friends, and when break was over and school up and running again, everyone would know. I couldn’t handle that.
Things were different now than a few years ago. Gay kids were pretty much accepted now. But that didn’t mean I could be happy about being outed. I was still figuring it all out, I was kind of a nobody, deep in the closet and happy to be in the background, and now I’d be everyone’s favorite topic of conversation. All eyes would be on me in the halls, in the cafeteria, in gym class.
My parents would hear about it. How would they react? Would they be disappointed? I couldn’t bear it if I saw disappointment on their faces.
The library. That’s where I needed to go. It was off the main hallway. Kids leaving school would have no reason to go anywhere near the library. I could be alone there till I’d settled down a bit, till everyone else had left. School was about over for the day. Until after New Year’s Day, actually.
I managed to walk to the library, only to find it was closed. My legs were feeling quivery. I put my back to the wall next to the library door and slid down so I was sitting on the floor. I pulled my knees up, supported my arms on my knees and dropped my head into my hands. I let the time pass, hearing the bell, the noise of the classrooms emptying, the happy chatter of kids leaving school for the last time this year, making plans to get together during the break. I sat alone, too many thoughts rampaging in my brain, none of them nice.
I don’t know how long I sat there. The school eventually grew silent. Still, I remained where I was. The future, starting now, seemed bleak.
I was aware, suddenly, of someone sliding down the wall next to me, sitting next to me, sitting without saying a word. Just there.
I had to look. I waited for the someone to speak, but only silence kept us company. I had to see who it was. I raised my head out of my hands. I brushed my eyes. They had leaked a little. I turned my head.
He saw me looking and gave me a tentative grin. “It’ll be okay,” he said softy.
I couldn’t believe he was here. I’d never spoken to him before, nor him me. If you’re a somewhat shy, introverted freshman, your crushes are something you keep to yourself. You’d die if the object of them ever found out. That was one of the reasons I was so distraught by what Mr. Winslow had done.
“How did you know where I was?” I asked. He should be on his way home now.
“I asked the guard at the door if anyone had come out early. He said no one had. I figured either you’d left early or were still here. So I started looking around for you in the school. I should have checked the library right off. You spend a lot of time here.”
“How in the world would you know that?” Even as I asked the question, the thought racing through my head was: I was talking to Trace! Talking normally. A conversation with Trace! Unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as the fact he didn’t seem upset with me.
His grin grew larger, and his eyes lost the sympathy they’d been showing and found the twinkle that usually resided there. “I’ve seen you looking at me. I’ve looked at you, too.”
No way. He was making that up to make me feel better. I knew that for sure. If he’d been looking at me, I’d have seen it. And, also, he wasn’t shy like I was. He’d have come up and talked to me. No, this was make-believe stuff so I’d feel better. Trace was really nice. This was something he’d do. He’d seen how much I was hurt and was giving me some of himself to calm me down.
I didn’t know what to say, so I did what I always did. I looked away.
He said, “What Mr. Winslow did was awful. I saw the picture you drew. It was amazing. Will you do something for me? Will you draw another one? Just like that? I know! Draw me one and give it to me as a Christmas present. Okay? And I’ll give you a present, too!”
I somehow found the courage to look at him again. In a very shaky voice, I asked, fearful of the answer, “Aren’t you upset about what Mr. Winslow said about me?”
He shook his head. “The guy’s a jerk. Besides, if you do have a crush on me, well, maybe I have one on you, too. Doesn’t mean anything bad. Just means we both have good taste.”
With that, he began laughing. Laughing! I might have joined him, but I was still feeling the effects of being yelled at and my biggest secret being laid bare to the world.
He saw that and reached over and touched me. He laid his hand on my shoulder. “Hey, let’s go. I’ll walk you home if you want. You don’t live all that far from me.”
“You know where I live?”
He stood up and offered me his hand. I hesitated, then took it. He pulled me to my feet. “Sure. I know a lot about you. I told you—I like looking at you, too.”
“But you can’t mean it! I’m nothing, and you’re, you’re—”
“Don’t say that! You’re something—you’re more than something. I don’t know you well enough to know if what I feel is more than just a crush, but what I do know, I like. We need to get to know each other to find out if what we’re feeling is real and will last. So, let’s spend some time together during the break.”
I couldn’t believe this was happening. And I didn’t want to get my hopes up if there was no chance of this being something. Could I ask him? With everything being so weird right then, well, maybe I could.
“Trace, Mr. Winslow said I was gay. I think maybe I am. I like looking at boys, and not girls. Are, well, I mean, are you . . . ?”
“Maybe. I like looking at boys more than girls, too. I especially like looking at you.”
I blushed. “How can you be brave enough to say that?” I asked. I wished I could be that bold. I couldn’t possibly say something like that.
“That’s one of the things I like about you,” he replied. “You’re quiet, you think about things, and you’re very low-keyed. Most boys our age are loud and silly. I want to know what you think about, how you feel about things. I want to get to know you. I know what you look like.” He grinned again.
We were out of school by then, walking together. I found his liking me, his being able to tell me that, was having a profound effect on me. I was able to say things to him I never imagined I’d be able to. “Have you told your parents you’re maybe gay?”
“No. No reason to till I’m more sure.”
“What if you are and you tell them? Will they be mad? Disappointed?”
I was watching his face as well as I could with us walking next to each other. I saw him grin. Grin! How could he be so carefree?
“No, they won’t be upset at all. Neither of them. Neither of my dads.”
I started to respond to that before the reality of it hit me. It did, and stopped walking. I said, “Really? You have two dads?”
“Yeah. I’m adopted. See, we have a lot of getting to know each other to do.”
We made plans to get together over the break. We arrived at my house; his was still ahead, but he said it wasn’t far. He left me at my house, said goodbye, reached out and touched me, and that was it. But I had his phone number, and he had mine. We were going to get together at his house the next day.
Talk about a roller coaster of feelings: how I’d been devastated one minute and almost on cloud nine the next. I was still worried about going back to school and what I’d face there, but that was in the back of my mind now. I thought it might not be so bad if I had a boyfriend by then, and that seemed to be quite possible now. Being gay and alone would be dreadful for a boy like me. Being gay and having a cute boyfriend to hang with, a popular one, someone to talk to in school, to eat with at lunchtime—well, that was much, much different.
I’d still have to figure out the situation with Mr. Winslow, but Trace had told me not to worry about that. That the guy had been way out of line and I could easily transfer to another history class; I had ample reason. So maybe that would work out, too.
By Christmas, yep, we were boyfriends. I’d gotten to know his dads. They were wonderful, and I saw where Trace got his confidence. They were so supportive of him. Of course, my parents were supportive of me, too, so perhaps it was more something inside of him that made him the way he was. Having the dads he did, though, certainly was a blessing and didn’t detract at all.
It was a wonderful time for me, getting to know Trace, getting to really believe that he liked me as much as I liked him. The only thing that kept me grounded at all was a nagging fear of what I’d face when I returned to school.
Trace wanted me to tell my parents about us, but I hadn’t worked up the nerve yet. So, all the fooling around we did, and so far it hadn’t been all that much, had been at his house. We were just feeling each other out. Hah! What a way to put it!
I’d drawn another picture of him. I’d taken my time for this one, really worked on it, and it was my best ever. I’d had it professionally framed, and I was proud of it. I wrapped it in a gift box, and we exchanged gifts at his house on Christmas Eve. I’d have my Christmas at home on Christmas Day. Trace was pushing hard for me to tell my parents then. Maybe I would.
He opened my present to him and ooohed and aaahed. So did his dads. They offered to pay me to draw one just like it for them. I told them I wouldn’t for money but would just because they were so kind to me.
Trace had a present for me, much smaller than mine to him. It was in a tiny box. I thought it possible it was a friendship ring. Nothing any bigger than that would have fit.
I could see the happy anticipation in his eyes as I opened it. It wasn’t a ring. Instead, it was a note folded up very small. It read:
I hope you like this. I know you’ve been worrying, and you can stop now. Pop knows someone on the school board and he talked to him, told him what happened to you. When we go back, Mr. Winslow won’t be teaching there any longer. He got the axe for what he did.
Also, you know I have a lot of friends there. I called and talked to a lot of them. They’re happy for us. You’ll have all kinds of friends when we return!
I read it three times, and I teared up. He’d done this for me. Now I had nothing to fear. Well, I did have my parents to confront, but I really thought that might be okay. They knew I’d been spending a lot of time with Trace. They’d met and liked him. That was no surprise; everyone who met Trace liked him. I’d seen my mom looking at us when we’d been on the couch watching TV and seen the look in her eyes. It was pensive, but I hadn’t seen any frowns.
Trace came over to my house with his dads for Christmas dinner. My mom of all people had invited them without asking me about it first. I found out Christmas morning after we’d opened our presents. She told me we’d have our standing rib roast at two in the afternoon and I needed to dress for it—meaning to wear good slacks and a dress shirt with a tie—because we were having company. It would be a big, formal Christmas dinner with company, and I had to dress accordingly. When I’d asked who was coming, she said Trace and his dads. I didn’t ask anything else but got a queasy, scared feeling in my stomach. I had no idea what was happening—but maybe I did.
None of the adults had met before, but the dads brought two bottles of champagne and by the time they’d emptied one of them and opened the second, they and my parents seemed to be old friends. Maybe champagne does that; I wouldn’t know in any way other than from watching them because they didn’t let us have any—not even a small sip; but then, Trace and I were already friends.
At dinner, Dad gave a sort of speech, welcoming Trace’s family, talking about how they’d gotten to know Trace and what a great boy he was. Then the older of Trace’s two dads, the one he called Pop, got up and made a sort of similar speech about me that had me blushing all the way up the roots of my hair.
Then my mom got up, and I was thinking the roast would be cold by the time we got around to eating it. My mom knows me better than anyone does. She started to speak, then turned to me and told me roasts are supposed to rest before carving or all the juices will run out, so to hold my horses. Damn! Now I was blushing out of embarrassment while everyone else was laughing.
But her speech was even worse. She said Trace and I weren’t fooling anyone, that she’d seen us together and that it was time for us boys to make a speech. Meaning Trace and me!
I don’t give speeches. I looked at Trace, and evidently he saw the entreaty in my eyes because he smiled, stood, and said, “Cory is my boyfriend, and that’s all I want for Christmas!”
Everyone applauded, and I blushed. Typical.
Then everyone looked at me. Trace reached down and pulled me to my feet. I had to speak. Had to. But then, I suddenly realized that no, I didn’t. So I didn’t speak at all. Instead, being uncharacteristically brave, I leaned over and kissed Trace. It was everything, everything in the world, to hear the grownups continue laughing and applauding, so I kept on kissing. No reason not to, now. Okay, I did blush while kissing him. I was still me.
I wasn’t expecting Christmas to be anything like this, but I’ll tell you what: it was the best Christmas I ever had.
Many thanks to Colin and Linc for their editing help. And many thanks to those who’ve read this and my many stories since I began posting here in 2006, especially if you’ve written me about them; you have the fortitude of saints. And especial thanks for those of you who’ve supported AD with the financial help needed to keep the site up and running. If you haven’t done so yet, and even if you have, please do so now.
Merry Christmas to all.