Going for the Gold

by Cole Parker

Chapter 2

I sighed. "Are you sure you want me to tell you about The Incident while we're sitting here?" I asked him. "Everyone really is watching us."

Ronnie looked around the room, met a lot of eyes turned our way. Then he came back to me. "I'd like to know why," he said. He didn't get up. The kid had balls.

"OK, I don't mind telling you. Last year, I made a mistake." I paused, gathering myself. He waited. I didn't know him at all, but he was scoring points with me by just sitting there. He didn't know me, either, but now knew I was persona non grata at the school. He was willing to give me a chance and possibly make his life harder in the process. That took a lot of character. Or maybe he was just oblivious to normal school pressures. I guessed I'd find out.

"The Incident was something I did, and to explain why I did what I did, fully explain, I'd have to go into a lot of details about me, and you don't want to hear all that. I'll just tell you what happened."

I took a deep breath and then looked him in the eye. "You know about the unwritten rule for teenagers. It's a biggie: you don't narc on other kids. Well, I broke that rule. I told the vice principal about something I'd seen. I don't feel bad about doing it. I'd do it again. But the upshot was, the whole school has turned its back on me now. So, if you don't want to sit with a rat, a stoolie, you probably should take off. I won't blame you at all, self-preservation being the law of the land for teenagers."

He didn't move. He was staring at me as intensely as I was at him. After a moment, he said, "Tell me more."

"About The Incident? You want details?"

"Yeah. If I'm going to commit social suicide, I should at least know what I'm basing that decision on. Besides, I'm the sort of person who prefers one really good friend to a whole passel of kinda-friends."

"I like that!" I said. "Me too."

He didn't say anything, just waited for me, so I lost the smile I'd just acquired and continued. "What happened," I said, "was what I call The Incident. I spell it in my head with capital letters because it became such a big deal. It happened a couple of weeks before school let out for the summer last year. I was a freshman then. Back then I was just like I am now—taller than most of the other kids, even some of the seniors. I've never fit in very well because of that, because I was big but not athletic, and maybe some other reasons. Which you'll see if we get to know each other better and actually become friends. Which, by the way, I'd really like to happen."

He opened his eyes a little wider. "You're a sophomore?"

"Yeah. That's why we're in the same math class."

"Huh. I thought maybe you'd flunked it before or were on a slower math track. I figured you for a senior."

I smiled at him. "Yeah, I know. I'm tall and probably look a little imposing."

"A little?" He ran his eyes over what he could see of me above the table.

"Well, I worked out a bit, did a lot of weights over the summer. Every day, sometimes twice. I was pretty sure I'd need to be able to take care of myself this year. I'm six-three-and-a-bit, and with all the working out I did in the summer, I weigh a solid 225 now. I put on 50 pounds over the past three months. I don't look now like I did when The Incident occurred. I was a scarecrow back then."

"So that's why that guy backed off when you looked up at him."

"Yeah, he saw me when I was in my trunks at the community swimming pool at the end of the summer, too. So maybe that was why. Or maybe he knew if he squeezed my shoulder and I reacted, he'd be the one in trouble for making first contact."

"Or maybe it was the look in your eyes." Ronnie was looking into them now. "I saw it. It said, 'Don't fuck with me'. That came across loud and clear, even if it was silent. I saw it, and he had to see it, too. He backed off."

I paused a moment, then said, "But I don't intimidate you at all."

"No. You were polite when you came over here. I didn't figure you for an asshole. And you're looking for a friend, just like I am. No, no intimidation." He grinned.

I liked him already. I didn't see him as boyfriend material; he just wasn't the sort who could turn me on that way. Too short for one thing. I didn't find him a bit attractive the way I wanted a boyfriend to be even though he was a normal-looking kid. I figured he'd have to be something special for me to get excited, and, too, he gave off zero gay vibes. But a kid to hang around with, to talk to, to be a good friend? Yeah, I could see that easily. That depended, of course, on whether he wanted to be friends with a gay kid. School was still out on that.

I still needed to answer his question, and I could see him waiting. So I plunged in. "But anyway, the day of The Incident, I needed to use the restroom right after lunch. And—" I stopped. Should I say this? To a stranger?

In for a penny, I thought, and continued, "And, I have a shy bladder, so I usually try to go when I'll be alone. After lunch a lot of guys want to take a leak before their next class, and the restroom near the cafeteria is usually like an airport bathroom just after two flights have landed. Hard to find a spare urinal and impossible to find one that doesn't have someone right next to you. So, wanting a place where my bladder would cooperate, I went downstairs to where the boys' locker room is. The bathroom in there by all rights should have been empty. No gym classes at lunchtime or right after.

"I walked in and immediately knew something was going on. The place smelled funny, and this kid, Jimmy Boyd, was standing near the door. When he saw me enter, he moved to block my way.

"I needed to piss, so I kept going. 'Hey,' Jimmy said, 'no one's allowed in here.' I told him I was going to take a piss and kept walking. Jimmy was a junior, but a little squirt, the kind of guy who hangs around bigger guys to try to be someone, and there was no way he was going to stop me. He did take a stab at trying. He reached out his hand to grab my arm, but I just shook it off and gave him a look. I had several inches on him, and height always means something to the nervous sort, even if I was, as I said, more or less a living definition of the word scrawny back then. He let me go; he wasn't the sort to make an issue of anything. He let me go and disappeared farther back into the locker room.

"I headed for the bathroom, and when I got there, I found it wasn't deserted as I'd expected it would be. I also found out why the place smelled funny. Four guys from the varsity football team—three juniors and a senior—were there, and with them were four guys from the sophomore class who'd played JV that year. Eight guys, and they all were smoking. What they were smoking wasn't tobacco. I knew what weed smelled like. I hated that smell.

"I stopped when I saw them, and the senior said, 'Hey, what the fuck! No one's allowed in here. Beat it. And you didn't see anything here.'

"I told him I was just taking a leak and asked what the hell was going on. That was kinda brave of me, but that smell had my temper running hot. He said they were initiating the kids from my class who would make varsity next year and that it was none of my business and it had better damn well stay that way.

"I knew it would be impossible for me to pee with eight guys standing there watching me, and they probably wouldn't let me get to the urinals if I tried. The senior's tone of voice told me that. So I simply turned around and left. I could feel their eyes on me as I did. I walked out, found another bathroom and took care of that problem. Then I had to decide what to do about the other one—what I'd seen. The easy answer was to simply forget about it. But that didn't sit right for me. I know it's what probably 99% of the other students here would have done. Not me. It didn't take long for me to do what I had to do. I went and found the vice principal and told him what I'd just seen and the names of the eight guys who were involved. He immediately went to the locker room. Three of the guys were still there. They were all the younger ones, the new initiates. Turns out they'd never had weed before; they were stoned."

I stopped my recital long enough to look out over the kids in the cafeteria. Some were staring at us; most were just going about their business. I knew, though, that all I had to do was stand up and the place would quiet down again. It was mostly the seniors and juniors who hated me, but the rest, lemming-like, would follow their lead.

"All eight guys were expelled," I continued. "The school has a really hard policy on many things, and any kind of drug or controlled-substance use is one of them. We all sign something saying we're aware of that and what the penalties are; you probably signed that today yourself. So all eight guys were history. The senior wasn't allowed to graduate; he hadn't taken finals yet. So that was that. And if you're wondering why that would turn the school against me to the extent it has, here's why. The senior was that year's starting quarterback, a real popular kid—king-of-the-prom popular—and the three juniors included this year's QB-to-be, a running back and a middle linebacker. What I'd done was destroy the football team's chance of any kind of season this year. Football is big at this school. We're usually our league's champ. This year we'll be lucky if we win a game. We've lost the first two we've played, and neither, from the scores, was pretty. I don't know that from personally having witnessed them. I'm not that stupid."

Ronnie sat still, watching me when I finished. I looked back, then said in a softer voice, "Really, you probably should just leave."

He didn't get up. "Fuck that," he said. "I decide that sort of thing for myself. I would like to know why you made that decision, though."

"Do you think it was wrong?" I asked.

He thought for a moment. "Unusual," he said. "Courageous. Weird. Surprising. Suggestive of you having a death wish. But wrong? I can't say that. But, why did you do it?"

"Thanks," I said. "For still being here. For the why I did it, we need more time, and I need to know you better. So, later on that, OK?"

We talked. Ronnie wasn't going anywhere, and we spent the time till the bell rang beginning to get to know each other. To look at him, you wouldn't see the inner strength and conviction this kid had. He was kind of runty, not all that much to look at. He was probably five-four, weighed something short of 130, but I could see he wasn't a bit intimidated by a kid like Bud French, and believe me, that guy was intimidating.

Which made me pose a question. I asked him, "How come you didn't get up and walk away when that guy—his name's Bud, by the way, and he's a football player—told you you should?"

Ronnie smiled at me. "I don't like people telling me what to do. I'm small and have had a lot of that. Never liked it much. But that's only part of it. I was one of the first ones in the cafeteria today. I sat down here, and was sitting alone till you came in. You sat with me. Not one of the others did. This school isn't the friendliest place I've ever been. You took a chance on me; the least I could do was return the favor."

I grinned at him. "Evidently, my looks don't intimidate you, either. This year I've gotten used to being ostracized, but that's not all bad. I'm using my appearance to intimidate kids as well. I haven't minded being alone; I've kept kids away on purpose. I've done it to keep from being hassled, and it's worked."

As I talked with him, I was also being me, which meant being funny or sarcastic, sorta half truthful and half serious; he responded to it. "I'd guess that's how a lot of kids might act around you, but you know, you don't look that way to me. You don't dress like a hard case, you're pleasant to speak to, and you just don't project a scary aura. Well, you did for a second when you looked up at Bud, but that brief moment was the only time I saw it, and it seemed way appropriate then. To me, just sitting here with you, you look friendly."

We kept talking after that. We got through the preliminaries of friendship, and I liked what I saw and heard. I couldn't help but think of how ironic life is. I came to school that day having decided to stop standing on the curb. I'd come having decided to go after two things—a boyfriend and a buddy—and I'd set out to look for the boyfriend as a primary goal; the friend was secondary. But after that sudden revelation when entering the cafeteria of having an opportunity to find a friend by looking for anyone eating alone, I did turn that into a plan to find that friend. It seemed like that ploy had worked out. The other? I had no plan at all on how to find a boyfriend. And at this school, wearing the cloak of a pariah, I couldn't expect that to be anywhere as quick and easy.

Ronnie and I began hanging out. I'd go to his house quite often after school. It was less depressing than being at home with Mom who was so deep into her occult stuff. She wasn't mentally deranged, I didn't think. She was still shopping for us, cooking and doing laundry and all. We didn't really have to worry about money. Dad wasn't supplying any, but Mom had inherited a bundle when her parents had passed on, and the income on the investments they'd had was higher each month than our expenses. That was a good thing; I doubt she could have held down a job, and I didn't want to work during the school year. A lot of kids had to. I was thankful that wasn't the boat I was sailing in.

Ronnie had a traditional family: parents, an 11-year-old brother named Scott and a mixed-breed dog named Tyke. I liked his brother a lot; I'd always wished I'd had a younger brother. Ronnie didn't seem to appreciate his. The two seemed to bring out the worst in each other, always quarreling. But when I was with Scott, just the two of us, I really liked him.

Scott looked up to me, too. Well, most everyone did, but he was over a foot shorter than I was, so with him it was more pronounced, and anyway, that wasn't the kind of looking-up-to I meant. I think my size had worried him when we were introduced, but he soon discovered how tame I was, and after that he just took to me. After the year I'd gone through, I really enjoyed the attention and—can I say it?—the adulation.

After being ostracized all summer by everyone my age I knew, now being around people who were open and friendly made me realize how shut off I'd been. It wasn't long before I opened up to Ronnie about being gay. I felt I had to mainly because of Scott. I couldn't hang around at Ronnie's house with a younger brother there who often was climbing all over me without letting Ronnie know I was gay. So I told him. He accepted it without a wince or a quiver. I was watching to see if he'd pull away, but no, just acceptance. No wince. No frown. One hurdle successfully leapt.

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