Going for the Gold

by Cole Parker

Chapter 3

I still was cautious at school. People were finally starting to ignore me there, even with the football team losing its next two games. I think it's difficult to maintain a frosty facade for very long; it takes some real effort, and kids have other things to think about. They'd accepted a lousy football team and moved on. A few began to nod at me in greeting, returning my nod. There was still distance with most, but it wasn't as conspicuous as it had been. It was still bad, of course, with the jocks. They felt I'd screwed them, and I doubted they'd ever feel differently. The football team sucked, and to them, that was a constant reminder of who I was and what I'd done.

With the rest of the kids at school, week by week it was getting better. I remained cautious, though. It was my personality as much as it was my reaction to the way I'd been treated. That was why, when I finally found the boy who I wanted for my boyfriend, I did what I did.

He was a kid in my English class. I hadn't noticed him before, possibly because until recently I'd been keeping my eyes to myself, not looking around at others, not wanting to see their hatred. Now that I was more aware of the kids around me, my eyes sort of attached themselves to this kid. He was beautiful, he smiled a lot and, well, wow!

Was he gay? I had no idea but did know I liked looking at him. I liked it a lot.

It started out like these high school attractions do, I guess. You find someone attractive and then spend a lot of time looking at them. You might even start crushing on them. That's what I did with this kid. What started with glancing at him occasionally became staring at him. When he started intruding on my thoughts throughout the day even when he wasn't around, I realized I'd kind of fallen for him. Eventually, I couldn't get him out of my mind, day and night. While eating breakfast in the morning. While sitting in History class. While trying to fall asleep at night. I'd go to English class thinking I was about to see him, and when I was in class, I had a hard time doing anything but look at him.

He was dead cute. Shorter than I was, of course, but with a confidence I could only wish I had. Very outgoing. He dressed well, too—better than most kids but still like we all did. Maybe the clothes just looked better on him. He had medium-long, blond hair, sort of golden as there was brown mixed with the blond, and it was unkempt in a way that made me want to run my fingers through it to neaten it up some. Or maybe just to feel it with my fingers.

When he smiled, his eyes seemed to twinkle. Blue eyes, medium dark. A rosy complexion. I didn't know what his personality was like. The assumption I'd made about his confidence stemmed from the way he carried himself and the way he spoke up in class when called upon.

I'd been crushing on him from afar when things started to change. That was when I found that my staring at him must have caught his attention, because suddenly, when I would be staring at him, he took to staring back. He did so wearing a bright, inquisitive expression often accompanied by laughing eyes. He could have frowned. You see someone, someone rather large and maybe intimidating, someone who might be mistaken for a thug staring at you, you might be inclined to frown. But he didn't do that. He'd frown, wouldn't he, if my staring bothered him? Not only didn't he frown, but once or twice his bright eyes had sort of flashed at me, and he'd not bothered to hide a small smile before turning away.

As I said—twice now already—I was feeling cautious. With good reason! What would happen if the kid everyone had hated and still wasn't exactly liked turned out to be gay? If I'd thought things were bad before, what kind of derision would this bring? I wasn't going to take that chance.

With things slowly returning to normal on the social front, I didn't want to tempt fate. Telling him I was gay and asking him if he was? Telling him how attracted to him I was? Telling him I wanted us to date? Telling him I liked him and wanted us to be boyfriends? No way, Jose! I simply couldn't do that. Way too risky.

I knew what I had to do before talking to him. I had to learn if he was gay. If he was, I might have a chance with him, and that could lead to telling him I was gay, too. If he wasn't, I would know there was no possibility of a relationship, and I could move on. I could make a clean break with him without anyone being the wiser.

So, how to find out without giving myself away? That was the question. I thought about it long and hard, but days were passing and I wasn't getting closer to finding out. Damn. I really liked his looks. The attraction I felt was strong and real. I watched him all the time, so much so that I realized I knew what his next gesture and wiggle and shrug would be from seeing what went just before. Yeah, just his looks were almost overwhelming me. I'd had crushes before; this one was massive. I wanted to be with him in the worst way. So it wasn't surprising my frustration was growing with my infatuation. I didn't know him at all, but that didn't stop me from dreaming about him during the day—and at night. I just had to find out if he was gay; that had to be my first step.

Desperation often leads to impulsive, poorly thought-out actions, and that's what ended up happening. I'd been dwelling more and more on ways to find out if he were gay without letting him or anyone else know I was gay. And when I saw an opportunity, I grabbed it. Was it smart? Of course not. Had I had time to consider it and all its ramifications, would I have done it? Not on your life. But I wasn't being smart, wasn't considering; I was acting. Doing something to get off the dime, to alleviate my frustrations. And what I did was as spur of the moment as anything could possibly be.

I was at my desk, waiting for Mr. McDonald, our English teacher, to get through talking to his aide, waiting for the lesson to begin. I was also doing what most of us did in that class: looking at Evan. Evan Blake. Evan was the boy I was fixated on. My future boyfriend. He just didn't know it yet.

Fixated—that's what I was. The fixation had grown to the point I'd learned all I could about him. His address (I just happened to be riding my bike one day, and he'd been up ahead of me on his way home from school, and I'd seen where we went), his cellphone number (the two of us were in a group project together with two other kids last year in History, and we all shared phone numbers), his Facebook page (I looked him up), his class schedule (I went to the office to get a copy of mine, and the lady there left the card file that had everyone's schedule on the counter when she was called away for a moment). I was as sure as anything that like many sophs, he wasn't dating anyone. I'd learned everything I had sneakily, undercover and surreptitiously, but I'd done it. I knew as much as possible about the kid, everything but whether he was gay.

My yearning was stronger than ever because that day he was wearing something other than the ubiquitous jeans-and-a-tee-shirt-and-sneakers teen uniform. He must have had something going on after school because he was wearing khakis—pressed khakis—a deep-blue, button-up shirt that for once was tucked in and had a slight sheen to it, like it was silk or rayon or some such fabric, and polished leather shoes. He looked like a beacon, drawing every eye in the classroom to him.

Well, maybe not. He should have drawn every eye, but a few quick glances showed me I'd been wrong: everyone was chatting away with each other, and no one was really looking at Evan. Other than me. How could they not be focused on him? He was amazing!

And, as seemed to be his wont recently, he was looking at me, looking away, looking back, and I was going crazy. I had to find out if this boy was gay. Did I have a chance with him? I had to know. Had to. So, when I saw my chance, I took it. Was it dumb? Sure. Was it ill-thought-out? Of course. But to understand it, you have to have felt the desperation I was feeling. Desperate. That was me.

Dan Haskett was sitting next to me and chatting with Linda Everstone, his girlfriend. I knew that because you simply know things about the other kids in high school with you. I didn't know Dan at all. But I did know his name, that he was one of the few kids in school who was my size, that he sat with the jocks at lunch, and that he was dating Linda. He had to be a sophomore like me because of the class we were in—sophomore English. But all that was superficial stuff; I didn't know him at all, and besides, that wasn't what mattered right then. What mattered was his cellphone. It was lying on his desk. Dan was turned as much as he could be in his seat. Turned toward Linda. No way he could see his phone. Linda couldn't see it, either because her eyes were on Dan's. That phone was just sitting there. Almost begging me to pick it up.

After checking that Evan's eyes were elsewhere at the moment and not on me, quick as a lightning flash, with no thought at all of consequences, I slid Dan's phone from his desk to mine. Quick as a snake, I tapped out a text message. Quick as cat, I hit SEND. The message was succinct, terse and to the point: 'Are you gay? Do you have a boyfriend?' Then, with aplomb I didn't feel and a casual indifference that was entirely faked, I set Dan's phone back onto the edge of his desk, right where I could read what Evan sent back in reply. Perfect. Dan didn't notice at all, being totally enthralled by Linda as he was.

Now all I had to do was watch. Would Evan grimace or frown when he saw the message? Or would he smile? That's what I wanted to see: a smile! That and his typing in an answer to the message. I wanted him to reply to it, and I wanted to be able to read that answer! I wanted that message to be yes then no. Come on, Evan! Answer it. Now!

I watched as Evan reached into his pocket. I was sure he'd felt his phone vibrating. Yep, his hand came out with the phone in it. He checked the screen and read the message, my message. I couldn't have been staring at him harder than if he was an exploding nuclear blast of light.

What I saw then wasn't what I wanted to see. No smile. No frown, either, which was good, but no smile. Damn! He was just staring at his phone, reading the message over again, I guessed, with no expression at all. Then he looked up. For a moment I thought he was looking straight at me, and I was about to look away but then saw I wasn't where his eyes were focused. He eyes were pointed right next to where I was, right at Dan.

That's when it suddenly occurred to me what I should have known right off. That message would clearly reveal its sender. I'd somehow supposed it would be anonymous, but of course, that wasn't the way these things worked. Evan was now staring at Dan. Dan's name was right there on the message, larger than life.

Dan was oblivious. He was still wrapped up in his chat with Linda. A quick glance back at Evan showed his eyes were on his phone again, and then I saw him start to type. He was answering Dan's message!

What was he saying? I'd know in just a second or two. I'd read it on Dan's screen. With any luck at all, I'd know if he were gay.

I saw Evan hit SEND and look up at Dan again, and then, right then of all possible times, Mr. McDonald said, "OK, guys, phones away. Let's get started."

I saw that Dan's phone was vibrating. He picked it up, gave it a quick look-see—probably only looking at who was sending him a message without bothering to read it—frowned quizzically, and put it in his pocket. That was that. I'd had no chance at all to see what Evan had sent him.

Man, oh man! This was terrible. I needed to know what Evan had written! Dan and I were strangers. There was no way to just blithely say to him, "Hey, Dan, you don't know me, but, well, I'm Jess, and could you show me that message you just got from Evan and then delete it without reading it yourself?" Yeah, sure, I could do that. It would work like a charm!

Then it occurred to me that things could be even worse, much worse. What if Dan went over and spoke to Evan, asking what that message was all about, and together they looked at the time stamp on the first message and saw when it'd been sent. I could imagine how that would go. Just like the old vaudeville skit: slooowly they turned. Except they'd be slowly turning to look at me, because I was the only one sitting right next to the desk where Dan's phone had been.

This was awful! I had to sit through that whole class, knowing disaster was at the other end of it, just waiting for me.

About halfway through class, I stopped imagining my upcoming humiliation and started thinking. I sure hoped Mr. McDonald wasn't teaching anything I had to know for a test because I hadn't been listening to him at all. I'd just been thinking, and they were not pleasant thoughts to be sure.

I knew I had to do something, a sort of triage operation to save my life. Well, to save something. Losing my life seemed a little over the top, but seeing myself the object of abject humiliation was certainly a possibility.

So I continued ignoring Mr. McDonald and started thinking of what to do to prevent my incipient downfall. I went over my options in my head and found none of them were any good at all. Except for one—only one. That one had the possibility of saving my ass. Not entirely, of course. Because that one would be to accost Dan, knock him out without anyone, including Dan, seeing who'd done it, and then stealing his phone. As that was an entirely unrealistic solution to my problem—and as it would only delay the inevitable because Evan still would have both messages on his phone—I jettisoned the idea. I did have one real possibility, and, out of panicked need when class ended, bad as it was, I took it.

Kids left the classroom as usual when class was over, waiting impatiently for their turn through the doorway, bunched up and, mostly, looking at their phones to see who'd messaged them in the 45 minutes they'd been out of contact with their world.

I caught Dan while he was still in his seat. I laid a hand on his arm, then quickly removed it when he turned to look at me.

"Hey," I said, trying my best and gentlest smile on him, friendliness seeping from my pores. I hoped that's what was happening and what was seeping. What actually was issuing from my pores was more likely a cold, nervous sweat than anything else. "I'm Jess Chambers. You probably know that, just as I know you're Dan Haskett. You probably know something more about me because, well, everyone seems to know about me. And what I did last year. But you probably don't know why I did it."

Damn, this was hard, awkward and embarrassing. I added the last bit because it might make him curious. Curious was good if it kept him from leaving. But then I had to come to the point quickly. I needed him not to just get up and leave. So I rushed on. "This is going to sound really odd, really-really odd, and I can't help that because it is really odd. I hope you stay a sec to hear me out, so I can explain the weirdness."

He was staring at me without much expression. What was there was puzzled curiosity more than anything else. He wasn't standing up, though, so there was that. One point for Jess.

"Look, this is really difficult. But here goes. You got a message on your phone just before class started. You may not've even read it yet, but it looked like you at least checked to see who sent it to you. It was Evan Blake. How do I know that? Well, that's part of this."

I stopped just long enough to make sure I still had his attention. I did. "When you read what he texted, you're going to have no idea what's going on, especially when you see you sent him a message and he was replying to it. That's what I need to talk to you about, and we don't have time for that now; we need to get to our next class. So I need to ask you for a favor. A huge favor. Could you please, please—and I'm pleading here—let me explain before you talk to Evan or even answer his message? I know I have no right to ask this, but it's important. Please?"

He stood up, and so I did, too. Without saying a word, he took a couple of steps toward the classroom door. I was a couple of steps behind him, sure I was totally fucked—yeah, I used that word to myself right then even though I never do—when he stopped and turned. Then he did something I hadn't even thought he might do. He pulled out his phone and read the two messages. Then he raised his eyes to mine.

I didn't know what to expect, certainly not what he actually did. He said, "Cafeteria. Lunchtime. Sit at a table for two. I'll join you." His voice was colorless, and he hesitated just a moment after speaking. Then he was moving and out the door, and I just stood there a moment, taking a deep breath and wondering with all my soul why he was being so accommodating. Although, come to think of it, maybe he wasn't. So then I had that to worry about.

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