A High School Valentine
“Hey boy, what do you think I should wear today?” I said softly as I scratched my dog, Ace, behind the ear while looking at the rather plain clothes I had tossed onto my bed. My dad and I got him a few years ago on my birthday when he was still a little puppy. We kind of grew up together from the time I got him and, when at home and alone, he was there – someone for me to talk to, and someone for me to remain silent with. A companion and a friend. Perhaps my only friend. And I had needed him most when my Dad passed away two years ago.
One of my favourite memories had been captured in a picture that I had framed and put on my desk. Mom took it when Dad and I had got Ace to stop jumping in the piles of Autumn leaves at the park we drove to during Thanksgiving morning some years ago. It was me and Dad, his arm slung over my shoulder as I held onto Ace when he had been a little smaller. He was a Great Dane mix, and black all over. Mom never did really like him. She tolerated him, but most days she just ignored him, going about with her business as if he wasn’t there. I’m not sure Ace liked her very much either.
After Dad passed away, she wanted us to get rid of him. There was no way that was happening. I wouldn’t lose him. We had a nasty argument and I was in tears. She wasn’t going to spend a dime on him, so I resolved to find myself a job to get a bit of money.
We lived outside the city in a small town. She became a single mom with a kid to look after, and I was a kid looking after the dog, though most days I felt like it was Ace who looked after me. She didn’t make much, and soon we found ourselves living from paycheck to paycheck. I started working at a used book store run by a very quiet but pleasant old man. His name was Mr. Jefferson. And it wasn’t just an old and used bookstore. There was also a section of antiques. It was a rather large place, and it was cluttered when I first started working there. To my surprise, we had a lot of customers most days. We rarely spoke other than when I had to ask him something, although on some days when fewer customers than usual came, he found himself talking to me, picking up a book and telling me some of the stories, weighing an item in his hand and telling me what it was as he tried to spin a story about who it once belonged to. I worked a few hours after school, and some more on the weekends.
I later learned that Mr. Jefferson had a grandson a year older than me and a junior who went to my school. He was one of the few boys I had found myself constantly glancing at, knowing that I had to be careful not to get caught. But instinctively I knew he was also the kind of guy I didn’t ever want to mess with. He was a tough guy with a band of other guys consisting of both juniors and seniors just like him, and although they didn’t look like the kind to cause trouble or bully other kids, if you were a quiet and shy nobody like me, you know to stay out of the way of popular kids like him. His name was Cody, and he was one of the more well-known guys on the basketball team. This afternoon at school we were going to have a home game with another school team.
Ace rubbed his paw against my foot and nudged me in the butt, and I laughed a little. “Fine, fine. Must I do everything myself?” I mumbled still feeling slightly groggy. Hey, who could blame me for being sleepy at this ungodly hour in the morning? I hated waking up early in the cold season when it was still dark outside, and being a teenager I was sure I needed about nine to ten hours of sleep every night, at least!
After changing into proper and warm clothing, I made my way into our rather barren kitchen where I met my mom sipping her morning coffee by the table as her eyes slowly skimmed the newspaper.
“Hi Momma,” I said to her as I entered.
“Mmm…” she said in a breathy tone without looking up. With Ace following closely behind me, I put out some breakfast for him. I made myself some toast and when they were ready, I spread a little jam on them from the small plastic packets my mom brought home from her job at the diner in the neighbourhood. Ace sat down and ate his food by my feet as I bit through mine with a glass of milk on the side.
“I can’t believe what I’m reading these days. All of these homosexuals spreading their influences over this country. For all we know, there are gays lurking in the government, bribing and coercing, somehow getting along with the politicians. They’re getting married from state to state, with their speeches and indecent parades claiming for ‘marriage equality’. What garbage,” she said, putting as much loathe and disgust into that last word. Garbage.
I hated it whenever she talked like that. I had started realizing that I was different from all of the other boys at my school, and it was confusing to me. I didn’t know why I had these feelings towards other boys. I didn’t know anyone in my school that was like me. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, to share this secret with. Some days I felt so alone, so confused, so scared. Whenever she spoke about ‘those’ kinds of people to me, all I felt were fear, sadness, and hurt. I didn’t know if what I was feeling now would continue on for the rest of my life, if I was going to be this way forever. I didn’t know what these feelings meant. But I did know that I was unhappy with my situation and that I had to keep it a secret.
“And just because it’s Valentine’s Day today, they think they can include themselves in it? Only real love exists between a man and a woman. I don’t want or need to see a picture of two men or two women together. It’s indecent and disgusting. All of this equality garbage is going too far.
“And then there’s this!” she hissed as she continued skimming across the paper. “They’ve even got the power to go into schools and pervert children! Does your school have this group? The gay-straight-alliance?” she flicked her eyes at me, demanding an answer.
My heart pounded in my chest. I blinked several times, hesitating, not knowing how to respond. I knew there was one in my school, but that no one was a part of it. It was a dying group, and the only one or two kids I ever saw in it I knew for certain were straight. I had sneaked a few peeks into the classroom that held the meetings a few times, but I had never dared to step foot in one. It would be a dead give-away, even if there were only a few people in the room. But they were kids my age, and in my school; kids who see me in the hallways and knew who I was. And in high school, rumours traveled like wild fire.
“Wha…what?” I stuttered, appearing flustered. I try to zone out whenever she speaks to me about these things, retreating into my head, trying to block out her voice. But it isn’t good to live inside your head. It makes you feel even more isolated and withdrawn, shutting everyone else out and locking yourself in. The days drag slowly and the nights crawl by with loneliness.
“Does that school you go to have this…this GSA group?” she said in a lower voice, sounding slightly annoyed at what appeared to be my inattentiveness.
“Uh…yeah…yes we do…”
“We? You’re not a part of it, are you?”
“Nuh-no! No, why would I be?”
“Hmm…” she narrowed her eyes at me and then slowly leaned back. “Have any of those kids tried to get you to join? Have they tried to talk to you?”
“No. Mom…Momma, can we please not talk about this?”
“Those people are sick. I want you to stay away from them.”
“Momma, please!” I said, louder than I had intended. She was annoying and hurting me, and I guess my tone of voice caught her attention.
She stopped abruptly and her nostrils thinned as she breathed in deeply, her eyes piercing into my soul, trying to read my mind. “Ryan…what I say bothers you. Why?” she said suspiciously, her voice soft and quiet, yet eerie and almost threatening, testing me.
“It’s nothing Momma…” I said nervously, feeling cornered. I felt Ace move to sit up straight, his body stiff and ears perked.
“Then why did you tell me to stop. What I said bothers you. Why?” She paused, waiting for me to respond. I didn’t. “You need to tell me. I have a right to know. I’m your mother,” she continued, her voice still of the same foreboding quality, but slowly hardening, becoming more commanding.
“I just don’t like talking about this stuff,” I said irritably as I fumbled with the last bit of the jam sandwich, trying to shove it down and feeling like my mouth and throat had turned into the desert. I quickly got up, put my plate in the sink and made my way out of the kitchen. I wanted her to just stop. I needed to get away.
“Ryan, where are you going?” she stood up, her voice hardening.
“I have to get to school.”
“The bus isn’t arriving until fifteen more minutes. What’s the hurry?” She started following me out of the kitchen. “You have to wait for it anyway. You’re just trying to avoid me. What are you trying to hide from me?”
I was starting to feel exasperated. “I’m not trying to hide anything from you! It’s nothing,” I grumbled with frustration.
“Young man, you do not speak to me in that tone of voice! You are lying to me,” she grabbed my arm, pulling me back to turn and face her. “What is going on with you? You’ve been acting very strange for quite some time now, and I’m losing my patience. At first I thought it was because of him passing away, but I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t like it when you hide things from me. I’m your mother, you will listen to me, and you will answer me,” she said through clenched teeth, menacingly. I have never seen her have an outburst before, as her approach is more cold, calm, and threatening, with just the hint of something dangerous bubbling beneath the surface.
“Mom, I’m not hiding anything! Stop it, you’re hurting me!” I winced as she tightened her grip, digging her fingers in. I was panicking now and I started to regret having said or done what I did. I should’ve just stayed there and sat listening to her impersonally rather than appearing upset and unsettled. It’s not like voicing my opinion or showing my defiance could make a change, anyway. At least not one in my favour. But I was getting really tired of hearing her talk like that all the time. I was tired of feeling hurt and having people like me, with my feelings, spat on. I was tired of the hate.
I pulled my arm from her grasp when Ace entered the room and started barking and growling. She tried to hush him, shooing him away before she turned back to me. But he wouldn’t stop. “Ryan, I am not done with you! We are not finished!” She spoke in a louder tone, her face twitching to keep herself from shouting.
I ignored her statements as I snatched my knapsack and put on my jacket at the front door. I was frustrated, I was angry, and I tried to let those emotions take center stage by focussing on them so I wouldn’t be scared and tired.
When I stepped outside of my house, I noticed that the ground was wet from last night’s cold rainfall and a distance on the road ahead of me, to the left I spotted a car that had swerved and collided into a lamp post. The police were there and the people were cleaning up the scene. A tow truck was attached onto the car, and as they slowly cleared the area and started going on their way, I spotted the distinct yellow school bus coming towards me.
I stepped back as it came to a stop and opened the doors to let me on, and as I said good morning to the bus driver, taking the steps up one by one, I looked down the small aisle and took my usual seat in the middle by the window. I was always the first to get on in the mornings, and the last to get off in the afternoons.
“Are you sure you don’t want to? C’mon Ryan, just one kiss on the cheek and you’ve got your free chocolate,” a girl in my history class, Tracy, whined at me. She had gone around asking a bunch of the guys to give her kisses on the cheek, and she was now on her second bag of chocolates. She was a pretty girl, and she was known around the school because her brother was both the president of the student council and the captain of our school’s senior boys’ basketball team.
“Uh…haha! I’m…I’m good thanks,” I said sheepishly, slightly embarrassed at being asked to kiss another girl on the cheek. First of all, I wasn’t interested in girls, and second of all…can you imagine? Me? Kissing another…person?! I’m too shy for that.
Tracy let out an exaggerated sigh. “Okay,” she said, but then smiled to let me know it really was just fun and games. “But I’ll give you a chocolate just ‘cause you look so cute blushing.”
“What? No! I’m not blushing!” I exclaimed in horror, and to my horror, I noticed my cheeks starting to get hot. Some of the kids around me snickered.
“Yes you are!” she said teasingly as she plopped a heart shaped chocolate in front of me on my desk before skipping off to find another boy to give away her chocolates to. Or rather, to get kisses from.
“Ms. Tracy Morgan,” our history teacher, Mr. McMillan started with feigned exasperation. He had a yellow-brown blazer on and greying hair, but he was well and alive, and among one of the ‘veteran’ teachers, having taught here for decades and had always been a favourite among both students and teachers. “If you continue chasing boys like this all day, you’ll be losing more than just chocolates. I am currently marking your tests, remember?” he didn’t hesitate to remind her and the class. “Now maybe if you could find your seat we could get started with our class? I have a few things to go over before we all head down to the library for you guys to find books and use the computers for your essay due in three weeks’ time.”
We took out our books and pens, settling ourselves into our seats. Mr. McMillan started handing out sheets to our class, and when he got back to the front of the room and prepared to speak, there was a knock on the door and a group of kids peeked in.
“Or not…” he let a puff of air out, letting his lips flap together noisily as his pupils slid to the corner of his eyes lazily. “Come one in…” he said with a bored drawl.
“Hey Sir!” the group of three kids – two girls and one boy – slowly walked in with sheepish smiles, knowing they were interrupting a class.
“Uh-huh, get on with it,” he said with mock boredom, pushing his glasses up. But you could tell that his eyes were smiling and he was trying to hold back the one that wanted to form on his lips. He was always a nice teacher and a funny guy. I liked him. Heck, everybody liked him.
“Sorry Sir,” one of the girls said with a goofy grin on her face.
I sat there quietly as they announced that they were here to give out Valentine candy-grams – Hershey’s Kisses and heart shaped chocolates that had a little message from the person who had sent it. Some were from secret admirers, but most were from friends.
As they started, a fourth boy entered the classroom, and he was welcomed with an eruption of delighted squeals from the girls and cheers from the boys. He had in one hand a small bouquet of red roses, many four or five, and in the crook of the other arm he held a giant teddy bear. With a slightly flushed face and a crooked smile he walked his way over to a girl at the far end of the room. And then he asked her, “Will you come with me to the dance?”
Of course, she was blushing and embarrassed, and of course, she said yes. And of course the class whooped and cheered as she stood up to hug him and receive his gifts.
Once all of the commotion was over, the three kids at the front of the class continued to pass out the candy-grams. A lot more people ended up getting them than I had thought, though I just sort of attributed it to friends having fun with each other. That or they wanted to help out with the fundraising. Even our teacher got a few.
I sort of aimlessly flipped through my books and class notes, not really having much go through my mind.
Then, one of the girls walked by my desk and put down a candy-gram in front of me. I straightened up and looked at her curiously. She smiled and shrugged one of her shoulders. “I think it’s someone special,” she said.
I looked at it, and then looked at everyone else’s, and I noticed that mine was different. Whereas everyone who had gotten one had a chocolate or two attached to a little slip of paper with some writing, mine had about four or five chocolates tied up inside a red net that was attached by a ribbon to a single red rose. Also attached to the two items was a Valentine card.
But who? Who would give this to me? Some girl who had been watching me in secret and I didn’t even know? But…I’m barely noticed. By anyone. How could this be? Maybe it was a mistake. What if it was a boy? No, that’s way too hopeful. That’s wishful thinking. Yet I started to realize that my heart was beating faster and harder. It had to be a secret admirer or something, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten the rose and the extra batch of chocolates. Maybe this was a mistake.
I tried to rack my brain to come up with a list of possible people who would give me something like this. I looked at the bottom of the card before opening it, and right there, written in someone’s handwriting that I didn’t recognize, was my name and home form.
This was meant for me. For me!
Okay, okay, I needed to calm down. Maybe I’m just making a big deal out of it. It’s just silly high school stuff, right? But…it’s high school! Not like how it was back in the 3rd grade in Mrs. Marshall’s class, where it was all about getting as many cool cards and chocolates as possible. In high school – well, also in middle school too – this stuff starts getting…important! It’s…it’s a big deal. Or is it? No, it is, and if it’s some girl, then I…I don’t know what to do! How am I going to get out of this if she wants to, you know, go steady with me or something? Uh-oh, that would not be good.
But here I am, sitting here, getting all worked up with possibilities. Not reality. I hadn’t even opened the card yet, for the love of Pete!
I mentally slapped my forehead and slowly started to tear the heart shaped sticker keeping the edges of the card stuck together. When it was finally open, I read it through quickly. Way too quick. I slowly down and I read it again, and the slower I read, the faster and harder my heart pounded. I felt out of breath. I read it and then looked at the front to see my name. This really wasn’t a mistake. This was meant for me. And it read:
Happy Valentine’s Day Ryan!
Will you be mine, and will you go to the dance with me?
I was dumbfounded.
There were only two possible explanations. The first was that he somehow knew and meant what he wrote. That must mean that I hadn’t been careful, and that I had somehow given myself away, looked at him for too long too many times. He was a year older than me, so he wasn’t in any of my classes. But I did find my eyes gravitate to him all the time whenever he was around me, whether it be in the halls or in the cafeteria. And thinking back, I did notice that he had caught me on multiple occasions. All of which I’d dart my eyes away as fast as I could, gulping and looking flustered as I mentally berated myself for being so careless.
But a few days ago during one of their practices in the afternoons at lunch hour, I found myself on the balcony that was the upper running track among a mass of other students watching the basketball practice. I sometimes looked at the other boys, but I was most entranced by Cody. They were the only times I ever got to see his skin. He was in basketball uniform, an athletic tank top and shorts. The colours were white and red. But that didn’t matter. What got my heart pumping more than usual was that I got to see his skin; his strong, sinewy arms gleaming with sweat; his slender calves defined from running. I would feel myself going weak whenever he moved in such a way that his tank top would reveal a little bit of the part between his underarm and his chest, that bit a little below the shoulder; the way he ran and moved on the shiny wooden gym floor.
And after the coach had blown the whistle, after the guys slowed to a walk, clapping backs and shaking hands; after the crowds from the bleachers and the upper running track had calmed down from their cheering and started dissipating, leaving the area, I found Cody had looked up and caught me, once again. I looked away, my eyes wandering around the spacious athletic arena, moving from player to player. But he didn’t waver, didn’t take his eyes off of me. I looked back at him.
The look in his eyes…it wasn’t a threat, a challenge. Instead, to my astonishment, as he huffed and puffed from the demands of the activity, he gave me a small smile. Just a small one. And then he waved. And I waved back, my hand feeling like it didn’t belong to me, surprised that I even managed to do it. But then his boys surrounded him, put their arms around him, shaking his hand. One of the guys, the captain of the team, looked up and saw me. He clapped Cody on the back to get his attention and nodded up at me. I panicked and had turned away.
I went home so happy that day, with a skip in my feet. I was floating.
And then the second explanation was that this was all a joke, or worse some sort of prank to fool and hurt me, to make fun of me. But still…
…I was dumbfounded. And I felt more alive, happy, and terrified then I ever had.
Because of the fact that we had a home game today – a basketball game against another school team in the afternoon – they decided that if everyone bought a ticket, the afternoon classes would all be cancelled and that almost everyone in our school would show up to support our team. Of course, there was also the issue that today was Valentine ’s Day and that there was a dance that had to happen, so it was to happen after the game was over.
It was the beginning of lunch hour and I was looking for a few books to use for my history essay. I had bought a ticket to the game but wasn’t planning on staying. Instead, as soon as I had grabbed my books I planned to go home. There was no way I could find Cody to know if this was all real. In fact, it still didn’t feel real to me. It was too good, too good to be true. He was probably getting ready with his teammates for the game, and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to go anywhere near the gym or locker room just to find him. I resolved to go home and think about this. I needed to think through what I was going to do.
After finding about three books that proved promising, I started making my way over to the school librarian’s desk. As soon as I had laid my books down, the door opened and Cody stepped in. He looked around and when he saw me, his eyes lit up and a broad, elated smile emerged.
“Hey Ryan!” he said as he jogged his way over to me.
“Not too loud Mr. Jefferson,” the lady behind the counter said.
“Oh, sorry,” he whispered back to her, looking kind of goofy.
“Um, h-hi Cody,” I managed to stutter. It was really him, standing right before me. Of course I was going to stutter!
“Hey Ryan,” he said again, his smile looking a little shyer now. “Did you get my, uhh, the thing I sent you, the card?” he said nervously, scratching the back of his head.
“Y-yeah, yeah I did,” I replied, my heart rate spiking once again.
“Could I, uh, maybe talk to you? Are you free right now? Are you busy?”
“N-no. I mean, y-yeah, sure. We…we can maybe move down to the bookshelves or…or the tables at the, um, the far end.”
“Yeah, yeah that’d be great,” he said. He started leading the way to the bookshelves, and soon we walked deep into the back where it was secluded.
I nervously shifted my feet as I chewed on my lip, my eyes moving between his face and back down. He looked kinda nervous too.
He reached out to gently touch my hand, to reassure me. I think that was all I needed to know that this wasn’t a joke, because I had never been more excited. I was shaking all over. And the comforting thing was he was shaking too.
“So…will you go to the dance with me?” he asked, his voice shaking like he was almost scared. He must have been terrified.
“Yes!” I gasped, my throat hoarse and dry.
“Okay. That’s…that’s really great!” he said, his face glowing now.
“Oh, but…” I started, having suddenly realized that I didn’t know how I was going to get from home to school, not unless I walked all the way here, which would take a while. It would be a really long walk, I knew that. I knew there was no way my mom would agree to driving me here. She would demand to know everything, why I was going, what I’ll be doing, and a million other questions.
“But?” he asked, his face suddenly went back to looking scared and nervous.
“I…I’m not sure how I can get back to school. I mean, I could walk...”
“Do you live kinda far?” he asked.
“Y-yeah,” I said, feeling embarrassed.
“Oh, that’s okay,” a look of relief went over him. He thought I was going to say something bad! “I’ll give you a ride here and back. Where’s your place?”
I gave him my address and directions, and he was familiar with the area. After that, he said he had to go and get ready for the game. I wished him good luck and he gave me his thanks.
“How did you find me here?” I asked.
“Tracy,” he said. “a sister of one of my friends. Well, alright, I’ll see you this afternoon? At around six?”
“Y-yeah. Yeah that’d be great,” I smiled.
“Okay, I’ll see you then,” he said, looking all shy. I sort of giggled, and he sort of skipped out of the library.
“No running, Mr. Jefferson!” the librarian said as he passed by her. I laughed softly, my body still quivering with excitement.
“Sorry Mrs. Smith!” he whispered back.
“C’mon Ace, now I really need your help to choose what I should wear,” I lamented as I stood in front of the long mirror in my bedroom holding a pair of khaki pants and a white collared shirt in front of me. Ace was happy to see me, and he was wagging his tail and panting, looking me over.
“What do you think boy? Do you think he’s gonna like it? I still can’t believe it. Cody, of all people…he asked me to the dance, to be his Valentine. But…wait, what? Oh no…no no no,” I said, my mood suddenly dropping down into the pit of my stomach. A sudden realization had just hit me, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t realized it sooner.
I would be outing myself.
With the clothes in my hands I sat myself slowly on my bed and tried to think this through. I didn’t know how I felt about it. I couldn’t say I knew of any bullying of gay kids in my school, but that’s because there really weren’t any, or rather, there wasn’t anything that gave them away, as I now realized. There wasn’t anything you could really pin on Cody, for example. Sometimes kids used homophobic slurs, but that wasn’t the norm, not at this school. I guess that was a good thing. I guess I was…lucky. I’d heard so many stories of kids getting bullied and harassed verbally and physically. It really was awful. I guess I’m pretty lucky I ended up choosing this school, even though it was farther away than I would have liked. But even though I wasn’t picked on, I was lonely, and had been for a long time now.
But maybe today…tonight, things will change. Maybe…maybe this is all real. Maybe this wasn’t wishful thinking. Maybe things are starting to look up.
Cody did ask if I wanted to go with him. But maybe I shouldn’t have been so excited; maybe I should have thought it through, to see if I was really ready, ready to let other people know. It was still a scary thing to acknowledge and accept to myself, let alone the entire school.
Maybe…maybe it won’t be all romantic and lovey dovey. Maybe it’ll just appear to be two guys hanging out. I really didn’t know, but I had already given my word and…sigh…I really did want to go with him. It’s now or never.
Ace gave me a little yelp and put his two front paws on my knees. I looked down and smiled at him.
“Well, it’s now or never, I guess.” I stood up again and looked in the mirror. God, I was nervous. I let out a shaky breath and looked at myself and the clothes I held out in front of me. Jeez, it’s not like I’m going to Prom or anything. I don’t need to look all formal or anything. Do I? I put the clothes down and opened my closet to look through my clothing. No, I didn’t have much else to wear, at least, not much else that was nice to wear to a dance or anything. Eventually I settled with a very simple attire of black pants and a white dress shirt. I then made sure I looked decent in the bathroom mirror, and then headed downstairs.
While waiting for Cody to come by, I prepared Ace’s meal. Since this was last minute, there had been no way for me to contact my mom and tell her, or perhaps ask her. I was thinking of writing a note to leave on the kitchen table, but before I had the chance to, I heard the keys and the click at the lock, and the front door was open.
“Hi Momma,” I said, standing up from petting Ace and scratching him behind the ear. She wore a yellow prim dress that came down to her knees. Her brown hair looked dry, thin, and frail, and her face was lined and tired with a long day’s worth of work and dealing with petty customers at the diner.
“Ryan,” she started, but stopped in surprise, giving me a careful look over. “Where do you think you’re going, dressed up like that?” she said suspiciously, taking slow steps towards me. I guess I didn’t have the option of asking her if I could go to the dance with another boy. And a very handsome boy too. A boy who appears to like me very much.
“I…” I straightened up and forced a smile. “I’m going to the school dance,” I said as calm and pleasant as I could. I tried to make it sound simple. I tried to make her believe it, and I tried to make myself believe it.
“A school dance? Just like that? Suddenly you can just…‘decide’ you can leave the house without letting me know beforehand. And a dance of all things, too.” She was clearly not happy.
“Momma, I…I would have told you sooner, but…some of my friends wanted me to come, and I said I would.” I knew it wasn’t exactly the truth, but it was close to it. I didn’t like being dishonest, and it wasn’t helping that she was asking me questions and eyeing me that way, challenging me. I was already feeling guilty. It wasn’t a good feeling.
She nodded her head with a protruding chin. “Ah. So you just…just said yes, right? How many kids? And what kind of dance is this?” she said, continuing her walk towards me. She let her handbag slide from her shoulder, and it landed with a thud against the floor. I instinctively took a step back.
“J-just, you know, just friends from school,” I said nervously, not knowing how to get around this situation.
She stopped. “This is a dance for Valentine’s day, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah…?” I said, dragging my voice to make it sound like a question to her, a question of ‘And so your point is?’
“Oh? You make it sound so…” she dragged the word as she appeared to mull over the next word, “simple.” Raising one corner of her lips, she gave a half smile. “And exactly who–”
That was when the doorbell rang, and my heart stopped. I grew pale. Oh no…it’s Cody. Not now. She too stopped, and she flicked her head toward the front door.
“And who might that be?” she said, more so to scare me than anything else. She started walking towards it and panicking, I tried to run past her.
“Momma, it’s just my friend! Stop it! Let me answer the door!” I cried, my eyes wide with fear. I couldn’t let her see Cody. It would ruin everything.
“Oh? So it’s just a friend, now? Why can’t I see who it is?” she shot back, her voice rising with every word now. She put her arm between us in an attempt to push me back, and I grabbed onto it and pushed it away from me so I could reach the door first.
“Ryan, just what are you hiding from me?! Who are you hiding from me?!”
“Why are you so–so concerned? I said it’s just a friend!”
“But I don’t know what kind of friend it is!”
By now she had reached the front door. She peeked through the glass behind the little curtain. I was yanking on her arm, but was now mortified. She turned around and forcefully pulled her arm back. Her face was pale, her eyes wide, and her lower lip quivered.
She looked straight at me with an expression of horror and defeat. I didn’t get the chance to see Cody out there, but she had, and I wasn’t sure I knew what she saw. But I felt it was over now. Now she knew, and she wouldn’t let me go. How was I supposed to fight back against her? Why was she so paranoid? What was it that made her so suspicious and, in a suffocating way, protective? Why can’t I go? Why can’t I be happy? Why won’t she let me be me?
Then, a look of determination came over her, and she steeled herself in between me and the door.
“Ryan…” she began softly, “go back to your room and change out of those clothes. I want you to sit in your room and think about what you did wrong, and then you will come down and help me with dinner.”
I shook my head, my voice cracking, feeling heavy and thick. “No mom.” I shook my head adamantly, emphasizing my decision and that she couldn’t change it. I was going to state it clearly without hiding anything, and there was no going back. It was for her to hear as much as it was for me. “I won’t. I’m going with Cody to the dance. He’s a good boy, and he’ll bring me home after. I’ll come back home by nine.”
She blinked several times in astonishment at my defiance. “So. He has a name,” she said curtly, approaching me dangerously. The doorbell rang again, and I heard Ace’s low growl as he came from the side toward my mom. She ignored him.
“He’s waiting for me, and I’m going to go with him,” I said with finality, trying to remain calm as my voice strained from buckling under my control. I proceeded to walk past her.
“You are going nowhere, young man!” she hissed coldly as her arm shot out, snatching onto my arm. I tugged against it, hard, and when she turned to fully face me, with me now at the door and her behind me, Ace moved to bite and pull on the bottom of her dress. She yelped and tried to hit him, but he moved before she could. She stumbled and landed on the floor, quickly trying to scamper back up. Ace turned back and gave me an encouraging yelp before facing her again, baring his teeth. She looked back and forth between me and him, her face pale and almost desperate. I felt awful, like I had let her down, like I had hurt her. Humiliated her.
“You can still turn back, Ryan,” she said, sounding as if she was giving me one more chance. She clenched her hands into her dress. I looked at her, a sad expression on my face. I took a breath, made my way to the door, and stepped out.
I was immediately greeted by a handsomely and smartly dressed Cody. He stood on the porch, smiling brightly as he took a few steps toward me. His blonde hair, usually a bit spiked, was now combed back. He had a navy blue blazer on, a white dress shirt underneath, and dark pants. His hands, which had been tucked behind him, now moved to the front, presenting a single rose. He looked excited and nervous at the same time, and I think we both thought it was a silly, cheesy, and wonderfully sweet thing that we, still high school kids, were doing. I suddenly found myself getting really shy, and just seeing him there, so handsome, so sweet, trying to remain so serious and doing something so…so formal and adult almost, not to anyone but to me, made me blush all over. I looked at him, and his ears were red hot. My breath quickened. My heartbeat skipped.
Yet I found my mind almost fractured, almost in a polarity, and one not clear cut. I had just fought to get out the house, feeling hurt, fear, anger, and guilt, and now the scene had just flipped entirely with the door closed behind me. The two complexes of feelings tried to swallow each other, and it was unsettling. I felt uneasy, weak, confused, tired. But then as I took the rose he gave me, as he then reached out to take my hand in his – the feel of his strong and soft fingers and palms in mine – as he told me I looked amazing and asked if I was ready to dance the night away; as I blushed and tried to keep myself from giggling like a little schoolgirl, he walked me to his car – a old truck he must have used for trips down the dirt roads – and I realized that there was only going forward and that it would be a night different from all others, and one I wouldn’t forget. There was no turning back.
“Just last time someone peeked behind the curtain. Was that your mom?” he asked as he opened the front seat for me.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah it was.” He must have seen a brief change in my expression, because his too changed. Changed into one of concern.
“Are you okay Ryan? Should I go introduce myself–”
“No!” That came out a little too abrupt, to panicked! Now that must have really given it away. So I softened my tone and continued as he led me to take a seat in the car. “No, I told her I where I was going and that I would be back home by nine.”
“Okay,” he said, still not entirely convinced everything was alright. “Are you sure I shouldn’t go in and speak to her? I’ll tell her that we’re…” he paused for a moment, taking in a breath as his face sort of lost its gleam, “…just friends, and that I’m just…giving you a ride to the dance or something.”
“No. No, I’m sure,” I said with my best attempt to look certain and sure of myself. I reached out and held his hand tightly, reassuringly, trying to tell him that it was alright and that I was so happy right now with him. I smiled, and eventually he did too. Then he closed the door and walked to get in to the driver’s seat. We started on our way to the school.
We talked some, getting to know each other. I think we were both really nervous and had our hearts in our throats, and that made for a lot of nervous silences broken intermittently with a few shaky giggles and stealing glances at each other, and of course, the chatting. It was so amazing, having such a beautiful boy next to me, actually liking me maybe as much as I did; to have him wanting to spend time with me, actually being interested in getting to know me, wanting me to be his valentine. Suddenly you forget your loneliness and you are swept off of your feet. And it was breathtaking. Eventually, all of those awful feelings I just had took a back seat.
It was during this time that I learned I had been working for his grandfather in the used book/antique store, and that he works at a ranch with horses, which was something that I thought was really awesome. He said if I ever wanted to work there with him, he could and would do more than put in a good word for me. It was something for me to mull over.
I learned that his team had won the game that afternoon, and that they would be having another home game next week. With my face burning hot, I let it slip that I really liked watching him play, that I always liked watching him. I felt so embarrassed after having said that. He was at a loss for words, and I could tell that that made him feel incredible. He smiled nervously, and then gently rested his hand on my thigh. I felt fluttery, I was short of breath, and that stirring that begins in my loins stirred fast, and I was hard. He kept his hand there, and it felt like I was getting harder and harder. And when he rubbed my thigh just a little, I felt hard enough that I could bust. It didn’t take long for me to feel a small dampness down there either.
As we neared the school, he took his hand off my leg and it allowed me time to recover. Or rather, only half recover, as I found myself excited for a long time. He parked his car in the school parking lot and we slowly made our way to the doors of the school and into the gymnasium, which was where the dance was at.
I never could forget the first thing he did. He turned to me and gave me a reassuring smile, and then put his hand against the small of my back, walking me to a few of his teammates and best buddies standing together in a room full of other kids, the music filling and chatter filling the atmosphere. My eyes widened as I realized where he was leading me, and my eyes flicked around nervously towards other people. What happened next took me by surprise.
“Finally! Bubba!” One of the guys shouted energetically as he clapped Cody on the shoulder and then looked at me. Cody had a crooked grin plastered on his face, and two of his other teammates standing together close by came up to us, each with a knowing smile.
“Uh, guys, this is Ryan, my date. Ryan, these are my friends,” he said proudly, with just a bit of blush in his cheeks.
“No shit this is your date!” the first guy said offering his hand to me. I shook it. He had a strong and firm grip. He was just a little taller than the rest of the group, and he had tanned skin and dark hair. I knew who he was. He was the president of the student council at our school, and he was also Tracey’s brother, who was in my history class. “My name’s Drew. Nice to finally meet you. Cody here has been wanting to ask you out for some time now, but he was too shy,” he said teasingly. If my eyes could go any wider, they did.
“Ah, shut up, Drew!” Cody said. “Anyway, that’s Drew, and this is–”
“We got this,” said one of the two, winking. He had a strong, bulky frame on him and had curly brown hair. “I’m Jordan. Nice to meet you Ryan.”
“Nice to meet you too,” I said, smiling nervously. And again with the handshake.
“And I’m Jake,” the guy beside Jordan said. He was the smallest of them, but he stood his own. He also looked like the kindest and gentlest of them. “Don’t mind these goofballs. It’s what happens when they get smacked around one too many times on the playing field. They get goofy.”
“Or court,” Drew added. “And we call these two the Double J’s,” he said, trying to sound smart.
I was overwhelmed. I got to talk and be with these guys, and it was nothing short of incredible. I learned that Jordan and Jake had been dating each other ever since the start of high school – two guys who no one would have suspected. Jordan played on our school’s football team, while Jake was part of the debate and drama club, and was also in my year. Both Cody and Drew were on the basketball team, and Jordan kept teasing them on how basketball wasn’t a ‘real’ sport. Not like football.
“You got a date, Drew?” Cody asked.
“Nah, not this time around,” he laughed, shaking his head. “But at least you do, ‘this time around’. And I’m impressed too,” he teased.
“Wanna go?” Cody turned to him with mock threat.
“Yeah, how about here, me and you, on the dance floor?” Drew retorted.
I laughed a little. “I thought that was for me and Cody,” I mumbled. That caused Cody to grin bashfully and Drew to swing his arm onto my shoulder. “You’re gonna fit just right in, Ryan,” said Drew. That caused Jordan to chuckle and Jake to groan.
“You’re trying too hard Drew. Quit making a fool out of yourself. You’re embarrassing all of us,” Jake said.
“What?” Drew said, trying to look all confused and innocent.
The evening continued with a few jokes and jibes going back and forth between them. I was starting to loosen up and feel comfortable around them. Sometimes they went off to dance to an upbeat song, but I insisted on staying off to the side, occasionally going to the punch bowl to grab myself some juice.
Eventually a slow song came on, and of course, I got nervous, shaking all over again as Cody asked me to have this dance with him, offering his hand. With that now familiar flutter in my chest, I tentatively put mine in his and walked with him to the dance floor, his other hand in an escorting manner. At that moment, I felt like it was just me and him under the blue tinted lights, with white specks of lights sparkling around us like the stars under the night sky. As he held my right hand in his left, his right hand on my upper back, and my left hand on his shoulder, I seemed to forget that we were surrounded by others. At that moment, it was just me and him, and if anyone in this room, on the dance floor, who happened to be looking at us weird, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. I just didn’t care. Because I was with Cody, the most beautiful and sweet boy I had ever seen, and he liked me. And I was happy.
I soon got into the rhythm of it and soon we were slow dancing, with him leading me. I found myself looking into his eyes, only to get a little nervous and shy so that I would look down, only to peek back up and find myself lost in his eyes again. We smiled at each other every now and then.
“How are you feeling,” he whispered to me.
“I’m feeling great. Really great,” I whispered back almost breathlessly.
“Yeah. Me too,” he said. “Me too.”
And then, ever so slowly, he moved his arm so that his hand that once rested on my upper back was now hugging me around the waist. I instinctively moved my hand that was on his shoulder to hug around his upper back, and we found our bodies now touching each other with my face right next to his. My breath became shallow as I felt the warmth of his body against me, both hard and soft. He rested his head on my right shoulder, and from sheer nervousness and excitement I began tensing up tremendously. He rubbed my hip affectionately, reassuringly. I tried to take deep breaths, tried to calm down. I tried to move my attention down to the slow shuffling and stepping of my feet. Anything to calm down. I was so close to him, only separated by thin pieces of clothing.
But it was like swimming. Upon submerging yourself it can be a bit of a shock. But then, slowly, you find yourself immersed in it. And ever so slowly, so was I.
The song slowly came to an end, and we stepped back and looked at each other.
“Thank you,” he said, “for the dance.”
I bit my lower lip, nearly giggling. “I should be the one thanking you.”
He then took my hand and, having not expecting it, he kissed the back side of it. I felt my ears and cheeks get really hot, and then he proceeded to escort me off from the center of the gym floor. Beside us I noticed that both Jordan and Jake, hand in hand, were doing the same. Drew had just finished a dance with another girl, and he made his way back to join us with a big, goofy grin on his face.
The dance was coming to a close, but Cody had to get a head start to get me home. So we said our goodbyes to the other guys and made our way to the doors. It had gotten chilly by now, and it was raining as well. I would have followed him, but Cody made me stay put under a bit of cover as he ran to his truck to grab an umbrella and come back for me. It really was unnecessary, but he was being sweet and he wanted to play the part well, I suppose, to have everything done proper for me and because it was Valentine’s Day, after all. Right before he left to run off for the umbrella, we shared a gentle moment where we hugged and leaned into each other, talking softly in each other’s ears, saying how much we liked each other, thanking one another for the night.
So I stood there, finally having the chance to giggle to myself with joy and excitement. I still couldn’t believe it. Cody, of all people, was just like me. I wasn’t alone. And better yet, he liked me too. He really did. Things were finally starting to look up. I hugged myself and bounced back and forth on my feet, watching him as he made his way to the truck.
“Ryan, come with me. Now.”
I jumped with a start and turned around to see my own mother glaring at me. And just like that, the scene changed and my insides seemed to flip and turn in on themselves. The bubbling excitement had been sucked right out of me. Fear was what replaced it. I was petrified.
“Mom! Momma, what are you doing here?!” I hiccoughed, my throat tight and constricted.
“I’ve been watching you,” she said, her entire body shaking with anger. “And so this is what you go and do to me, after all I’ve done for you, after all I’ve told you, warned you.”
“Momma, it’s not like that. It’s not what you think,” I said, shaking my head. “He’s a good boy.”
“That’s what he wants you to think, but he has tricked you. You were too dumb to know it, and too deaf to listen to me. Too stubborn. We’ll talk about this on the way home, and you’re coming with me. Now!”
I stepped back and once again defied her command. “No Momma. I won’t. I already said that I was going to be driven home by Cody. You shouldn’t have come here.” I tried, but it was really difficult to keep my voice from trembling with emotion.
“You,” she pointed angrily at my face, “you are not getting away with that again, young man!” And with that, she grabbed onto my arm, her nails digging into me as she yanked and dragged me to her car nearby. This was perhaps the third time she has grabbed my arm like that today. I tried to pry her hand off, tried to pull away, but the harder I tried the deeper she dug in. I turned back and saw that Cody had now noticed and was starting to run after me. He called out my name, and I called out his. He realized what was going on and tried to pick up his speed, but by then she had already shoved me into the car. With one final effort I tried to get out, but she struck my cheek hard. Her bubbling temper beneath the surface was now churning violently. I seemed to have gotten a shock from it. She got into her side of the car and started the engine, backing out of the parking lot. Cody stopped running after me when he saw that he couldn’t chase after a moving car. He screamed my name once more, and then turned back and sprinted back to his truck. I started choking up.
“I’m going to have you transferred to a different school. You are not to see that boy ever again, never to speak to him, and you are only to go to leave the house only to go to school and come back home right away. I don’t think I can trust you leaving the house to go to work. You might use it as an excuse to leave the house and meet that boy, or worse, other boys like him who are trying to drag you into that depraved and sick lifestyle.”
“Mom, you can’t do that! You can’t control my life like that! Why are you doing this to me?” I cried, angry and bitter tears running freshly down in rivulets.
“Yes I can! You broke my trust, Ryan. You broke it! I am your mother! I know better, know more about people and this world than you do. You know nothing! If your father had known how to raise you better, you wouldn’t have turned out to be so naïve and stubborn!”
“Don’t bring Dad into this!” I yelled back. It was met with a hard slap across the face. We were now heading down the road towards the direction of our house, and the rain starting pelleting heavy over the roof and screen of the car, blurring the road ahead of us.
“You will not talk back to your own mother like that. You have a lot of work and changing to do, young man, and you will start by listening to me. I saw how you were like with that boy, and that was disgusting. That was wrong. And that will change from now on.”
I hiccoughed over the lump in my throat, still weeping, still hurting. “Mom, it’s not wrong. It’s the most right thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life. It’s who I am.”
“That is NOT who you are! You’ve been seduced into thinking you are! You are not that way! I won’t have it.”
“Yes I am Mom! I am, and I’ve known it for a long time. I–argh!” My current state was making it extremely difficult to speak. It was barely even possible now. I had to force every word out with so much force and determination. “I…Am…Gay.”
“No. No you are not,” she hissed quietly. Her hands started shaking on the steering wheel.
“Y-yes I a-am, Mom-mm. I d-didn’t–” I had to take in a deep breath. I was now extremely frustrated at how difficult it had become to speak. “I didn’t want to be. But I am, and I’ve k-known…known for a long time,” and another deep breath, “and now I’ve just found someone who likes me. I’m n-not alone anymore.”
“No, you are not…you are not gay!” she said a little louder, having immense difficulty with saying that last three letter word.
“Momma…I need you to try to understand. To accept m-me,” I cried, pleaded.
“You are not gay! I raised you right!” she yelled, hitting the steering wheel with anger.
“And you did! Please Mom! I know it’s not e-easy, b-but,” and another deep breath along with a frustrated growl at my near inability to speak, “we can work through this. I am gay, Momma. But I’m Ryan, and I’m your son. I always will be.”
“No…no you are not my son!” she glared at me. My eyes widened with horror at those words she had uttered. “You have become this…this thing, and you’ve taken my son away! I want him back, and I want him back now!”
“Mom…Momma…Mom it’s me, Ryan,” I whimpered weakly, losing my resolve and energy, my strength to fight, to try, to keep going forward.
She snatched my ear and yanked it. “I do not and will not have a gay son. I will not have a weak and girly boy doing filthy things with other boys.” She started to lower her voice to an icy, manipulative tone. “And you will change that, if you really are my son, the boy I’ve raised. You will turn around and leave that lifestyle behind you, and you will never speak of it again. If you want to be my son, you will listen to me, because I know what’s best for you, and because I’m older and I know more. If you don’t, then you will lose everything. You broke my trust, but you can fix it. You can, and you can fix yourself. After all I’ve done and sacrificed for you, now it’s your turn to do your part. You’re doing this for yourself and for me.”
“Ow, Mom, let me go, you’re hurting me!” I cried.
“Not until you make this decision. I’m letting you make a choice, because that’s how you would want it, wouldn’t you? You want your say, you want it to be fair, and you want your choice to be recognized. So there, if you make the wrong choice, then my choice will also be made clear.”
I clenched my teeth and sobbed. “N-no M-Momma…this isn’t…this isn’t fair. It’s not a choice I want to make, it’s a choice you’re forcing me to make.”
With that, she twisted my ear and shoved me back. I cried out and winced. “You are forcing me to do this! Now tell me, what’s more important to you? Me, your own mother, or being gay?!”
I bowed down and sobbed into my hands.
“Stop your crying. It’s pathetic. Weak. Boys shouldn’t cry. Toughen up, man up. And answer me!”
“Momma…puh-please…please stop this!”
“Pick one! Your mother, or being gay.”
“I can’t! I won’t! You-you can’t do this to me! You can’t make me!” And then I looked up.
“You have to!”
“Answer me! Me, or them?!”
“No, Momma, stop! Stop the car!”
“ME, OR HIM?!”
“STOP THE CAR!”
By the time she whipped her head to look back at the road, it was too late. She turned the steering wheel harshly to avoid the car coming in the opposite direction, and with the slippery road and wet rain, we headed straight into a roadway street light. She went hard on the brakes. The crash was sudden, and the collision sent me jerking forward into, thankfully, the air bag that had now jumped out to cushion me. The damage was mostly on my side of the car, and within a split second, the wooden beam holding up the lamp cracked and snapped, falling on top of the hood of the car. The part above my leg was crushed, and I soon felt the immense weight of it on my leg. I screamed.
“Ahh! I’m stuck!” I cried. Suddenly everything that had just happened escaped my mind, and I was frantic and desperate to free myself. I tried to pull my leg out, but each move sent a painful shock through my entire body. I tried to push my hands against the dashboard, to push my butt against the seat to hopefully give me room to squirm my way out. But I just couldn’t seem to free myself.
“Oh no! Ryan, Ryan hang on!” I heard my mom saying to me. She was panicking now. With some difficulty she managed to get herself out but when she got to my side, the car door had somehow gotten stuck. I reached for the lock and pulled it up, then tried to push against the door as she tried frantically to yank it open. She was hysterical now, screaming.
And that was when Cody showed up beside her and tried to pull against the door.
“Let me try, M’am!” Then he turned to me, his face going through different emotions. He was relieved to see me, but was also in shock and panic knowing what had just happened and seeing me here trapped inside. Seeing him, however, gave me hope, and I felt a burst of strength and determination to fight, to get out and reach him.
“Ryan, I need you to try and see if you can push against the door!” he said. And so I tried again, and with renewed strength. With his hand on the door handle, he put one foot against the car, the other behind him, and he tried to open the door by pushing with his leg and pulling with his back and arms. I put my arms and shoulder against the inside of the car and with my free leg – my left leg – I bent and lifted it up to push off against whatever side opposite of the door I could position myself onto. With sweating, grunting, and yelling, the door eventually gave.
“Ryan, how are you holding up?” Cody yelled.
“My leg is stuck!” I cried back. I noticed my mother had her hands covering her mouth in shock, not knowing what to do.
“Okay, let me get you out of there,” he yelled.
“Holy shit!” I heard a third voice. “What the hell happened here?!”
“Quit your yappin’ Drew! Let’s see how we can help. Jake, call the police and ambulance.” That second voice must have been Jordan. How did those guys get here?
Cody got the door wide open and proceeded to try and get me out. Jordan kicked and pushed the wooden beam off of the hood, and I felt the pressure on top of my leg lighten. Drew went to see if my mom was okay, and Jake ran over to Cody to see how he could help. Jake tried to get his hand under me and pull on the switch to move my seat back. With some difficulty, he was able to. With that, Cody was able to carefully move my leg out and then lift and carry me out of the car. The others came and surrounded me, with my mother crying hysterically as she stood nearby, not knowing what to do. Soon the sirens started wailing around us with red and blue lights spinning and flashing around. The rain continued pouring down on us, and I was shaking, feeling cold all over. Cody hugged me tightly, and I shook and hyperventilated into his chest.
“You’re gonna be okay now, Ryan. I’ve got you.” His voice was wavering, shaking and breaking under the emotions of relief and sorrow.
With my crutches in my hand, I was seated on the bleachers near the front watching Cody, along with his teammates that included Drew, playing their next basketball game on the court. And from the looks of it, our school was in the lead. Seated next to me were Jordan and Jake.
I had gotten a cast around my leg. It was painful, but it was slowly getting better. Bit by bit. After what happened last Friday, my mom kept to herself, barely saying a word to me. I didn’t know how long she would keep it up, but things had become very quiet at home. There was now an awkwardness around the house when we were in the same room. She barely even looked at me. Ace spent most of his time hanging around me, keeping me company. I got to see Cody and his friend – now my friends – everyday at school. We ate together in the cafeteria, and it was really great to have and be around happy, funny people who liked and accepted me, who I was comfortable around. And they saved me, in more ways than one.
Every night Cody would call me and I would talk quietly on the phone with him in my room with Ace lying down next to me on my bed. It really was amazing, talking to him. Getting to know him, sharing intimate secrets with him, and having him do the same. He made me feel so happy, so alive.
But of course, the only downside since all of this happened would have to my mom. She was still here, but it felt like she had…like she had died, almost. Like she had gone. And it hurt, it really did. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I had a strong adult in my life to take care of me, to support me and encourage me, to pick me up when I fell down. Sometimes, it was during these moments that I missed my Dad the most. And it was in these moments that Ace would comfort me. The pain never goes away. It might get easier to manage, but it never goes away.
The crowd starting chanting as the timer counted down, and in the last few seconds, Drew took a shot but missed. Quickly, Cody had the ball and took the shot, and it was met with a loud cheer as the ball went in. His teammates picked him up and paraded him as the coaches blew their whistles, and the three of us stood up to cheer him. Cody was eventually put down and, after shaking hands with the opposing team, he made his way to us, closely followed by Drew, as we got down from the bleachers. He was met with a big hug and claps on the back from Jordan, and then a gentler hug from Jake. And then he got to me.
“You did great!” I exclaimed.
“Maybe, but that was ‘cause I knew you were watching,” he grinned, trying to catch his breath.
“I always do. Ever since I first saw you,” I smiled. He laughed, bowed his head as he tried to catch his breath, and looked back up.
“Me too,” said. Unexpectedly, he leaned in and gave me a kiss on the cheek, his hand on my neck. Drew whistled at us, and when Cody pulled his head back, be gave me a wink and dashed off to the locker room. I was left there relying on my crutches to keep me upright as my knees grew weak, to keep me from falling over as the butterflies fluttered in my stomach, and as my heart thumped just as fast and just as hard as when I first got that Valentine’s Day card asking, ‘Will you be mine…?”