Going for the Gold

by Cole Parker

Chapter 8

For the next couple of days, I brooded over that date. In class I didn't even look over at Evan, not once. Instead of crushing on him, I stayed inside myself. At home, I'd lie on my bed and simply think, think about what I wanted. I felt I needed to consider whether I'd been used by Evan and think about what to do about it. I knew it was mostly my fault for being in too much of a rush, not getting to know someone, being too concerned about them finding out I was gay.

Not too many years ago, that could have been a major problem, but that really wasn't true any longer. Even though there were only a few out gay kids at school, the ones that were out were fine. No one picked on them. The school didn't permit it.

Still, I brooded. I was hurt by what happened. I finally realized that lying on my bed all alone wasn't helping any, and I was wasting a perfectly good Saturday doing just that. I needed to talk to someone, someone who'd listen but be on my side. Ronnie was perfect for that, but he'd gone out of town for the weekend. That only left one possibility, and just the thought of it made me nervous.

I knew I could talk to Dan about it. Even though we'd spent very little time together, it had been good time. It felt like I'd developed some chemistry with him, more chemistry than I'd never had with Evan.

But could I talk to Dan about having sex with Evan? Dan was straight, and, well, it seemed awkward as hell. But the more I brooded, the more I knew I had to get what I was feeling out in the open, discuss it with someone and get their perspective, just share my feelings so I wouldn't be brooding about them with no perspective about it but my own. I might be hurting, but that would pass, too. I needed to get on with my life. I needed not to be alone.

So, even though it made me really nervous, I called Dan. He wasn't home. Wouldn't you know it? But his mother, whom I'd warmed to immediately when I'd met her, probably heard the disappointment in my voice, and she told me he'd gone to the park with his brother, that they often did that on Saturdays, and I could find him there.

Fuck it, I muttered, not really saying it out loud, even though I was alone in the house. I'd always prided myself on not swearing, a personal pledge I'd made that was a byproduct of those time I'd spent on the couch with my dad listening to him swear at the TV. I hadn't been entirely faithful to that pledge since Susan had died, but I still restrained myself. But I said 'fuck' then, said it internally. What I was going to do felt really awkward, like I was taking advantage of Dan being a nice guy, one who took things in stride and had shown some compassion for me, but I was going to do it, going to go meet up with him. I was going to see if he'd take the time to listen to me pour out my woes. No reason that he should, except I didn't feel any doubt. I was pretty sure that he'd listen.

I left the house and headed for the park. It was a beautiful, warm fall day, and just being outside and moving helped my attitude a great deal. Brooding alone in a darkened room wasn't any way to behave, I decided. It couldn't be good for anyone. This was much better.

It was about a twenty-minute walk to the largest park in town, the one where Dan's mother had said the two boys spent time on Saturdays, hoping to catch on with a pickup football game. I hoped they hadn't done that; I wanted to have some one-on-one time with Dan. Maybe Tyler would have Andrew with him and I could find some way to separate the brothers.

I expected to find the park busy on such a fine day, and I was right. It was a day off from work for most people, and many of them were spending some of it at the park. Many—most of them adults with kids—were gathered in the area where there were picnic tables and BBQ stations. Kids were using the swings and slides and other playground equipment, too. Happy sounds came from there, and I couldn't help but smile. Smiling was something I'd done little of since my time with Evan. Since Susan, really.

The park had a lot of wide open lawn space and some pickup, unsupervised games of soccer were being played by teenagers. I moved around, watching. I knew many of the kids playing.

Then I found what I was looking for. I spotted Dan, along with Tyler and Andrew. Dan had a football, and he was having the two boys go out for passes. They'd take turns, one running a pattern and the other trying to defend it, and Dan was throwing the ball.

I walked over to watch them, and Dan saw me. "Hey, Jess! Perfect! Now we can play two on two!"

I loved the fact he was pleased to see me. I hadn't been wrong about him, and coming to talk to him didn't feel quite so awkward now.

"I'll be with Jess," Tyler said, rushing over to join me, grinning like he'd found a long-lost friend. I couldn't help but grin back. How could anyone be sad when a cute younger boy looks like you've just made his day by showing up?

"You're voluntarily choosing to be on the losing team?" Dan scowled at him, his eyes, however, twinkling. "I always knew you were a couple of brain cells short of qualifying for an IQ score."

"You wish," Tyler responded. "You guys are going to get your ass kicked."

"Un, Tyler," I broke in. "I'm horrible at sports. Uncoordinated. Can't catch. Can't throw. Slow. All the things you can't be if you want to play sports."

Tyler wrinkled his nose in disgust. I thought it was disgust with my shortcomings, but I would find after getting to know him a little better it was with my defeatist attitude. He pulled me aside, away from the other two, and spoke softly. "Hey, Jess, this is for fun. No one cares how good or bad anyone is. We're just having fun, OK?" Then, before I could answer, he said, "I'm faster than Andrew, and they'll be expecting us to pass on every play, just like they'll be doing. Andrew will guard me, and Dan will take you. When you go back to pass, he'll come at you with his arms raised. That's how it always works, every play. So what we'll do instead is, I'll run the ball and you'll block. That means you block Dan, and I'll just dodge around Andrew. Piece of cake. Easy pickin's. All you have to do is keep Dan off me. You can block, can't you?"

"I don't know. I've never tried."

"Hey, we playing football sometime today, or is this an old-ladies social club? You guys discussing whether it'll be chamomile or rose hips today? Jeez, gimme a break!" That was Andrew. Dan high-fived him, and Tyler gave them both the finger. Then he said, "OK, we're coming. Just having a strategy meeting. I told him we needed to take it easy on you guys because we don't have enough hankies for you to cry into when you lose. All right then. You guys kick off."

We set up the field, using our four shirts to mark the field and show the goal lines and sideline boundaries. Then Dan punted from his goal line. The ball was coming directly to me. While it was in the air, Tyler called over to me, "Catch it, toss it back to me, and then block Dan."

I tried, I really did, but hand-eye coordination was something either the good Lord or genetics had denied me. The ball went right through my arms, hit me in the stomach, bounced off, hit my hands which were trying to catch it, and fell at my feet. I picked it up, tossed it to Tyler standing a few feet behind me, then looked up to see the other two racing toward us.

Tyler took the ball and ran toward me. "Move upfield and block," he cried, staying right behind me, pushing me forward with one hand.

Dan and Andrew were closing in on us. I'd seen enough football on TV to know how blocking was done even if I'd never done it. As Dan reached us, I crossed my arms over my chest, hands formed into fists, lowered my head, and banged my shoulder into his chest.

"Oof!" he said and stumbled backwards. Behind me, Tyler took a step forward to our left, then pirouetted, spinning all the way around and heading back to the right. Andrew was caught off balance. We were playing two-hand touch football, and there was no way Andrew could even get one hand on him. Tyler flew past him, hooting and hollering, holding the ball high with one hand as he raced up field and crossed the goal line.

"Great game, guys," he yelled back to us. "We'll have to play again sometime."

"Screw you," Dan yelled back at him. "Our turn now."

Tyler was laughing too hard to reply. I jogged to him. He handed me the ball and told me to kick it as far as I could.

We played for probably a half hour, maybe longer. I wasn't an athlete, but this wasn't about that. This was just about having fun with three other kids. For me, it was about being a kid, something that I hadn't been in a long time. It was about laughing when I couldn't catch someone or tripping over my own feet. It was about them doing the same. Dan could have outclassed all of us easily, but he didn't. He stayed within our own limitations; somehow, Tyler had known he would. Dan allowed me to block him. I was sure he could have avoided me easily had he wanted to. I was big and strong; he was too, but he was also nimble. But what he obviously wanted was for this to be more than just competitive—he wanted it to be fun for all of us. And that's what it was.

What we did a lot of was trash-talk, and Tyler and Andrew both excelled at it. I'd never in my life tried that before, but the mood of the game almost demanded it, and I did get off a couple of good shots. The others roared when I did, and I was surprised with just how great that made me feel.

When we were all done, tired out and happy, we lay on the grass and just recovered. Tyler and Andrew were still trash-talking a little. They were so cute together and I loved listening to them. Dan and I were silent. But, even in silence, I felt a camaraderie with him that had built from the fun we'd just had together. I wondered if he felt the same with me.

We just lay there for a few minutes till Tyler said, "I'm hot and sweaty. You know what would feel great now? Swimming! Let's all go home and use our pool. You swim don't you, Jess?"

"Sure," I said, loving the idea of spending more time with these guys and loving the tact Tyler had used to ensure I was included in the invite. The idea that they'd soon be leaving and I'd be alone again had started percolating as I'd been cooling off from the game.

We spent the next couple of hours swimming in the Haskett's pool. It was large but still only took up a small portion of their back yard. Dan had several suits, and I borrowed one. Tyler and Andrew were so good together, so cute. I often thought boys that age who were that close were simply beautiful, no matter how good-looking they actually were or weren't. Watching these two, I could understand where the expression 'like two peas in a pod' came from. I liked spending the time with Dan, too. If Tyler looked fantastic in a bathing suit, water beading on his chest as he climbed out of the pool, Dan did too, though in a much different way. Tyler was beautiful, as most young boys are. Dan was sexy, a different kind of beautiful. It was exciting, looking at him. In any case, while he was solid, he also looked sleek and hard and like he'd put on even more muscle in the next few years. He didn't look fully formed at 15. But how he did look was nigh onto perfect. Where he had me beat by a mile was in cuteness. I was ordinary. He also was so relaxed, so into whatever he was doing. I tended to be too introspective, too moody, too sensitive, too cautious. He was the opposite of all that. I could only admire him and wish I could be like him.

When it was finally time, I went home. Mom was there by then, and we had dinner. Hardly spoke, but that was us now. My mood, however, wasn't dark like it had been that morning. It had been a long, long time since I'd felt as good as I did when I went to bed that night.

I didn't fall asleep right away, though. I thought about the day I'd just had, about the best day I could remember having for a long, long time. For years. That game of football was just the best, and then the swimming was just as good. Being with those guys was like magic.

It was strange, but I'd gone to the park to talk to Dan about Evan, to get him and what we'd done out of my mind. And I hadn't done that. None of that had seemed to matter once I'd been with those boys. Once I'd been with Dan, really. My broody nature had simply disappeared then, vanished completely.

I'd loved being with all three of them, but what were really special were the times it was just Dan and I, when we'd talk about nothing serious, just the two of us being together and relaxed and, well, just us.

OK, maybe being with Dan was magic. We certainly had an easy chemistry between us. And lying in bed, thinking about him, I realized he was so many of the things I wanted.

That's when it really hit me. He was what I wanted. Not someone just like him. Him. With his personality, his confidence, his demeanor. I loved how he related to his younger brother with love and compassion and support. I loved how he could take up with a complete stranger, me, and try his best to help him while simultaneously becoming friends with him. That's what we were now. There was no question about that. We weren't strangers or just-met acquaintances any longer. We were friends.

But he felt like more than that to me. I was falling for him. Not like I had for Evan. That crush had burned brilliantly, a star-like incandescence. What I felt for Dan was a warmth coming from inside and growing outward. The more I thought of him in this context, the more I realized what this was. I had been falling for him and not even been aware of it.

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