Jake and I used to play chess at the little library on the edge of town after school. We had about an hour before my baseball practice. It was my favorite time of day.
Jake would sit across from me at a small table against high windows. He always sat with perfect posture, perched on the edge of his chair. It was because he played piano, and he sat like that for endless hours on the bench. He wasn’t any good at sports, but he excelled at art and music. He did enjoy fishing, though. It was during one of our frequent Sunday fishing trips that he told me his biggest secret.
My dad had driven us to the lake that day, and was sleeping in a chair further down the shore, getting a nice burn in the afternoon sun. We were sitting on a couple of rocks, our lines cast out, bobbers dipping up and down in the small waves. Neither of us had said anything for a while. Bags of chips, Cheeto’s and cookies lay nestled around us.
Jake had been sitting very still for the longest time. His slender, suntanned neck was bent forward, and a red ball-cap was pulled low over his brow, shading his face. His beautiful, shapely hands clasped his knees; his fishing pole leaned neglected at his side. It was the wrong time of day for fishing anyway.
I was just getting to the good part in a fantasy involving my buxom English teacher, Ms. Parker, when Jake spoke.
“Hey Dan. What do you think of gay people?”
At first I thought this was the lead-in to a joke. I started to laugh, but stopped. I couldn’t see his eyes under the shade of his cap, but I could see that the corners of his mouth were tugged down in a little frown. I noticed that there was orange Cheeto's dust around his lips. “Uh— I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I guess they’re okay? Like, I don’t hate them or anything. Why?”
Jake still didn’t move, but the corners of his mouth pulled down a little further. “I think I’m gay,” he said.
My throat closed up. I really couldn’t think of anything to say, but I knew I had to say something. “Dude…. That…. Are you sure?” I asked.
He looked up at me. He was glaring. Poor Jake — he looked cute even when his eyes were all red and he was glaring and there was Cheeto’s dust all over his face. I couldn’t help laughing.
Jake stood up angrily. “No, no!” I reached out my hand. “Dude, it’s fine! I’m cool with that. It’s just—your face was too funny right now.”
I pulled out my pocketknife and flicked it open. “See—look.” I held it out so he could see his reflection on the blade.
“Shit. I’m so uncool.” He knelt by the water and splashed his face, wiping it dry on his shirt. Then he looked at me. I could tell he was still nervous.
“So, like, are you gonna buy a tiny dog and start loving show tunes?” I joked.
He picked up some sand and threw it at me. I splashed him with water. The next thing we knew, we were both rolling around in the shallow water, laughing and pretending to drown each other. Finally exhausted, we staggered breathlessly back onshore. Jake clapped a hand on my shoulder.
“Thanks, dude.” He hugged me.
This was a little different. Maybe it was because of what he had just told me, but I was suddenly hyper-aware of the feel of his warm body through our thin, wet clothes. I could feel his narrow chest rise and fall against mine. He let me go.
“If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you.”
“Dude, I’m not a total bastard,” I said.
The rest of the day was an idyllic mix of sunshine, swimming, and hot-dogs grilled by my dad. On the ride home, Jake fell asleep. He rested his head on my shoulder.
I didn’t mind at all.
I was thinking of that day one afternoon while we played chess. Jake was sitting upright, one hand stroking an imaginary beard as he contemplating his next move. I watched his eyes dart over the board. I played for the hell of it, but Jake took every move seriously. The collar of his T-shirt was stretched loose, so I could see the bones of his thin shoulders as they shifted under his smooth skin. I realized I was staring, and turned my attention back to the game. I saw that my queen was in peril, but I didn’t really care. Maybe the direction of my gaze gave away my weakness, because just then Jake let out an excited “Ah hah!” sort of noise and moved in for the kill. My queen fell to his knight. I sighed. It looked like was going to lose — again.
I jumped as my phone chimed loudly, telling me I had a text. An old lady browsing the shelves nearby glared at me as though I had just shouted profanities in church. I checked the message. “Shit. Those guys are early.” My baseball friends were waiting for me outside. The library was between the school and the field, so they always stopped by to pick me up on their way.
Jake looked at the clock on the wall. “Man! It’s only been half an hour," he moaned.
“Sorry, dude. I guess I forfeit.”
“No—wait!” Jake pulled out his own phone and snapped a picture of the chessboard. “Now we can finish later,” he said.
“Cool.” I gathered up my pack and left.
Outside, six other boys were laughing and talking loudly. They were rough and vulgar, not at all like Jake. I’m like that too, I thought, when I’m with them. I liked myself better when I was with Jake.
“Yo, dude!” Shouted a boy named Logan, hitting me with a high five.
“Hey man,” said Bobby, a wiry boy with widely spaced teeth. “You been playin’ chess with girly boy again? Careful that shit don’t rub off on ya!”
“No shit!” Added Zach. “That kid is so gay!”
When he said “gay,” I knew what he meant: lame, dumb, uncool. I felt like a traitor, but with those guys it was hard not to slip into total jerk mode. “Dude,” I said. “You should see him try to throw a ball.” I mimicked a completely retarded throwing motion. They all laughed.
“Oh, dude! Shit!” Bobby pointed behind me, stifling giggles. I felt a chill down my spine. Reluctantly, I turned.
Jake was standing there, my water bottle held tight in his hand. I had forgotten it in the library. It felt like I’d swallowed a baseball-sized ball of lead.
“Here.” He threw me my water bottle — not angrily, just a gentle toss. Like the way you would toss someone’s ashes. He had look on his face like that too. Like someone had died.
“Jake!” I stepped towards him.
“Don’t!” he yelled, and took off running. He ran across the road and up the steep embankment to the train tracks. I followed at full tilt.
He must have known that there was no way he would be able to outrun me, which is why he did it. There was a train coming. Jake ran parallel to the track towards it. I kept calling for him to stop. Just as it roared past, he leapt across the tracks.
“Jake!!!” I screamed, my voice high-pitched and ragged with fear. I threw myself to the ground, looking through the churning underbelly of the train. My heart nearly stopped with relief as I saw him running along the other side. I rolled over and lay panting, staring at the sky.
Finally, the last carriage rumbled past. On the other side of the tracks, there was no sign of Jake.
I searched for him the rest of the afternoon. To hell with baseball, is what I had told my other friends, and to hell with you guys, is what I thought.
Just as it was getting dark, I found him. He was huddled in the alley behind his house. It wasn’t really an alley — just a three-foot gap between his house and the neighbor’s. It was dirty and dry — a place to park old bicycles or other crap. He was crouched against the dirt-spattered wall of his house. His face was pale and streaked with tears. He glanced up when he heard the crunch of my footsteps on the dry ground.
I took a few faltering steps, then rushed to him. I hugged him tightly.
Struggling, he pushed me away.
“Dan! What the hell!?”
It was my turn to cry. “God, Jake! I’m so sorry! I’m such a jerk, I could die!”
He held me at arm’s length. “Did you tell them?” he asked.
“What!? Of course not! They don’t know anything. They were just being douches. M—me too,” I added. I looked at him sheepishly. There was something firm and resolved in his face. He looked more mature.
“It’s okay, anyway,” he said. “I’ve decided to come out at school.”
I gaped. God, he was so brave, and so beautiful. All of a sudden I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed hold of the arms that had pushed me away and leaned in. I kissed him. His lips were soft and salty with tears, and probably snot, but I didn’t care. I kissed him roughly — an awkward, heartfelt kiss. When I drew back he was staring at me in shock.
“I really, really like you, Jake” I said shakily. “I don’t know if I’m gay or bi or what, and— I’m not as brave as you — but I want to be with you — please.” I searched his eyes frantically.
“Are you… for real?” he asked.
“Pffft!” he laughed into his hands.
“What? What’s funny?”
“Do you know how I figured out I was gay?” he asked.
“It’s ‘cause I had a crush on you.”
I felt a smile breaking out on my face. “S-seriously?”
He nodded. It was his turn to kiss me, softly, exploringly*.
We stayed there, holding hands, until the sun went down. The day was over — but for us, things had just begun.
*Note: Dictionary.com says that “exploringly” is a word. I didn’t think it was, actually.
I feel like this story could be better – the ending especially – but I don’t want to waste time on it, so this is the final form. But feel free to suggest improvements, if you like d(~_?)
© Copyright 2017 Radial X. All rights reserved.
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