Going for the Gold

by Cole Parker

Chapter 5

I stopped, needing to get control of my anger. Dan could see how emotional I'd become, fighting to hold back tears when talking about Susan, then angry and resolute when it came to why I'd done what I'd done. He didn't know what to say—that was apparent. His face showed consternation and uncertainty.

He opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the warning bell. All the kids started standing and collecting their things.

"We need to talk more," Dan said, and he got up, too. I followed, putting my debris on my tray and then standing. "Like how I should respond to Evan's text. We don't have time now," he continued, "but can after school. Can you come to my house? I have no idea where you live, but I walk to school. We need to finish this. So, can you come?"

"I guess," I said. "I walk, too, so we can't live all that far apart. I can walk home after." I was looking him in the face, our eyes meeting. "Dan, I, I—" I wanted to thank him for not doing all the things he could have been doing, but didn't quite know how to say them.

He smiled. "Later. Meet me by the door near the library after last bell."

He lived in a great house. Ours was very middle class. My dad had worked a blue-collar job, and Mom, since Susan's death, hadn't worked at all. I didn't know how the family finances worked but figured Mom had always helped with the rent payments every month while Dad was still there. I did know we rented the house rather than carry a mortgage on it.

Dan's house was in a better neighborhood, and it was really nice. It was in a newer subdivision than ours, and I could see the builders or city designers or whoever had left some natural features. There appeared to be lots of trees behind the house, like some woods had survived the building. But I was most interested in what I could see when we first arrived, the large and professionally landscaped front lawn.

The lawn was beautiful, a dark green with neatly mown grass, tidily trimmed bushes, colorful flower beds and spreading trees. I remarked on how stately it looked as we were walking up the driveway.

"Thank you," he said, sounding proud and grinning. "That's my job, mowing and maintenance. Although I do get help. I split the job with my brother. One of us mows, the other trims the bushes and weeds around them. We trade off every other week. We both rake leaves in the fall."

"You've got a brother?" I don't know why I was asking. I really had no need to get to know Dan, know anything about his family. I was only here to defuse the problem that started from my using his phone. The thing was, Dan was very relaxed and easygoing and, while being defensive and shut off was part of who I was, somehow the way he was made my normal attitude seem unfriendly and awkward. Speaking to him was simply more comfortable than being silent. Silence felt rude.

"Yeah. You'll probably meet him. He's 12 and his name is Tyler. And when you do, I can almost guarantee you'll meet his friend Andrew. Andres's like a shadow, although he's still there when the sun's gone. He's always here."

He laughed at that, but I could sense somehow, maybe from his tone of voice, that Dan and his brother had a much different relationship than Ronnie and Scott had.

He didn't ask me about brothers or sisters. He knew about Susan and how my family had fallen apart. Anything about my family was difficult for me to discuss, or maybe he was polite or sensitive enough to know it would make me uncomfortable if he brought it up.

Dan's house wasn't anything like mine. We were middle class all the way. Dan's family had to be much more, maybe all the way into upper class. I didn't know how long they'd lived in this neighborhood, this house, but let myself imagine Dan as a little kid. It must have been fun to have a woods right behind his house to explore and build forts in, and maybe there was a creek where he could look for crawdads and build dams. What a great place for hide and seek. My imagination was running wild. It had been ages since that had happened.

We went inside and I met Dan's mother, a very no-nonsense but warm woman whom I liked instantly. She smiled at me and made me feel very welcome without being too invasive with her questions. I met her in the kitchen where Dan had said we had to go first because he was starving and without a snack would certainly be going into spasms from low blood sugar in another ten minutes. His mother had been fixing snacks when we walked in, and she hadn't been alone. There were two boys watching her work as well.

One was Dan's brother, Tyler. It was quickly apparent that he and Dan were very close. What made it apparent was how they sniped at each other, throwing insults back and forth and each laughing and complimenting the insults, never meaning them and never offended by what the other said. Playful teasing was just a regular thing with them. They were night and day different from how Ronnie and Scott interacted. Seeing them together made me wish I had a brother to be that close to. I was now an only child, and watching them made me see what I was missing.

As Dan had said, meeting Tyler meant meeting Andrew. Andrew was a towheaded kid who wasn't as upbeat as Tyler. Tyler was a really good-looking kid, very much a younger version of Dan. I'd been so worried about how Dan would handle knowing I was gay and interested in Evan that I hadn't really thought much about what he looked like. He was just a guy I had to deal with. Now, looking at him, I saw what a handsome dude he was. Amazing that I hadn't even noticed.

Dan's comment about Andrew being Tyler's shadow was a good description because whatever Tyler did, Andrew seemed to copy. Except Tyler was bubbly, and Andrew was pretty quiet. I was going to find out that Dan had spoken the truth: whenever I saw Tyler, Andrew was always around. I guess when you're 12, that's kinda standard for the course. Many boys that age, if they're lucky, have a second half that hangs with them constantly.

After Tyler and Andrew were introduced to me and me to them, Tyler looked at the snack his mom had put in front of the two of us, which we'd begun devouring, and then told her, "Looks like he's doing it again. See? I told you. He's eating us out of house and home. We really need to get a restraining order on him that keeps him out of the kitchen. Best if it could limit him to only the garage."

Mrs. Haskett laughed and said, "I'm whipping up something for you and Andrew. Almost ready."

"Just keep it guarded till Dan leaves," Tyler said, glaring at Dan. Then the glare turned into a laugh, matching Dan's.

That was Tyler. While I liked Dan's mother immediately, I really liked Tyler. Twelve-year-olds with confidence, personality and starch in their shorts were OK in my book.

After our snack, we went up to Dan's room. He didn't take me on a tour around the house or his property. It wasn't that kind of a visit, and we weren't friends. I was just a kid trying to get a favor from him. He was in the driver's seat and had to know it, yet he never acted that way.

Dan's room was much nicer than mine. Bigger everything: bed, desk, computer, bookcases, closet, everything. It had wall-to-wall carpeting, too, plush, which had to be nice to step on right out of bed in the morning.

"So, let's talk about Evan," Dan said. He sat on his bed, looking like he didn't have a care in the world. I nervously perched on the edge of his desk chair after moving it closer to the bed.

"I want to ask something first," I countered. "I don't understand why you're acting like you are; it's confusing."

I expected him to frown, so was even more discombobulated when he smiled instead. "I think I get what's bothering you. I'm a jock, a football player. You're gay and closeted. Why am I so accepting of that when you know for a fact others on the team aren't? And why do I seem to be trying to help you with Evan?"

"Yeah, that," I said. I probably looked like I was pouting; I was sure I sounded like it.

He laughed at that. Probably at my very defensive and somewhat petulant tone. So excuse me if I get that way when I'm feeling a little anxious and not sure what's what!

"All right, I'll set your mind at ease. I'm not playing you. I wouldn't have invited you here if that was it. I just find your situation a little funny. Maybe I have a quirky sense of humor. See, I don't have anything against gay kids. Never have. Never quite understood why some guys do unless they're simply uncertain about their own sexuality. But I feel for kids who are gay and suffer from it. Not suffering from being gay exactly, but from how they feel they have to act differently because of it.

"Take you for instance. I can see how hard it is. You find Evan attractive. If he were a girl, you'd summon up all the courage you have—and it does take courage even when it's a boy letting a girl know he's attracted to her—and you'd go talk to her, feel her out, maybe ask if she'd like to go to a movie with you, that sort of thing. But you can't do that with a boy if you're in the closet. He maybe is, too. You don't know. And you're dealing with the same urges, the same hormones, the same needs as I am if you're 15, as I assume you are. So, it's hard. But, if you want some unsolicited advice, it's this. Go after what you want. Forget all the reasons not to. Push them aside, stand up for who you are and what you want, and go for the gold."

I didn't respond, just dropped my head. He was probably right, I should approach Evan and get to know him, tell him I was gay and ask him out, but I couldn't. He could obviously see that. So I stayed silent and waited. This was his show. I knew he had more to say.

"Anyway, that's why I'm trying to help you. I'm empathetic, and you got me involved by using my phone. Now, you'd probably like to see what he said, answering your questions." He pulled out his phone, looked at the screen, and laughed. Then he turned to me and said, "You're not going to like it."

He handed me the phone. With my heart speeding up, I read Evan's answer: Let's meet and talk about it.

I read it three times. Didn't take long as it was only six words, but after the third reading, I handed him back the phone and said, "Damn!"

"Right," Dan agreed. "Doesn't tell you a thing. He's being cagey. But, if you think about it, it at least means he's willing to talk to you, that he isn't just cutting you dead."

It was my turn to grin at him. "Well, not really. It means he's willing to talk to you."

Dan laughed. He was finding the entire situation much funnier than I was.

"But I don't know if he's gay and can't find out without compromising myself," I said, my frustration leaking into my voice, "and that was the whole point of my using your phone. I can't meet him because it definitely means I'm gay. Right now, he could interpret my asking that question because I wanted to screw him over if he was gay, just like perhaps he might be trying to do with me."

"It's more complicated than that, though, isn't it?" Dan said, more serious now. "Because you've brought me into the mix. It's not you he's thinking might be gay: it's me. And I still have to answer his message. How should I do that? You should figure that out. You're the one who created this mess. You need to decide what to do here."

I just stared at him for a minute, and then, rather miraculously I thought, I smiled back. "I know how," I said, probably a little smugly. "I just figured it out. Both things. How you can answer his message and how to find out if he's gay!"

I was in Ronnie's bedroom. He'd kicked Scott out when I'd told him we needed to talk and so were alone. "I need you to do something for me," I told him.

He looked up from his pre-calc book, put his pencil down and turned to look at me. I was on his bed. Ronnie had a great mother. She picked up his room every day, made his bed; everything was neat and tidy and put away. Didn't look like mine at all. Mine looked like a teenage boy's room—what one should look like.

I told him what I'd discussed with Dan and what the text Evan had sent him had said. "We answered the text—well, I figured out what to write and Dan sent it from his phone—but I still need to know if Evan's gay. He could be trying to sabotage me. And I figured out how to find out. I want you to hit on him."


I had expected that and the look he gave me. It was an effort not to laugh, but I managed not to. "Yeah. Look, it'll be easy enough. He probably doesn't know you from Adam. So you pretend to be gay and simply ask him out. Bat your eyelashes a bit. Simper. Tell him you're enthralled by him. Captivated. Beguiled."

Ronnie gave me a funny look. "You know, you use strange words at times."

"Don't mean to," I said, a little defensively. "I've been alone a lot. I spend time in the basement on weights, but a lot in my room reading, too. You pick up vocabulary doing that if you're not too lazy to use a dictionary.

"I spend time alone in my room, too, with the door locked, but it doesn't have anything to do with using a dictionary," Ronnie said.

I ignored him. "So, use any words you want, but the idea is to tell him you're attracted to him."

Ronnie didn't like that suggestion either. "But what if he does know me from Adam? I've been hanging more and more with Juliette. He may have seen that. I'd look like an idiot if he knows I've been hitting on her and then ask him out. With or without the batting."

I shook my head. "No, you have no worries. So you're friendly with Juliette. Say he does know that—though it's a giant supposition—and slaps you over the head with it. All you have to do is claim you're just friends with her, but you're romantically interested in boys. Or tell him you're confused. You think maybe you're bi and want to find out, and the way to find out is to get with a gay guy, have sex with him, see what that's like, and compare. It'll work whether he knows about Juliette or not. If he agrees to a, a what? An assignation? A tryst—"

"You read too much," he interrupted with a snort. "I didn't know you read romance novels."

"Whatever. Stay focused here. You're going to tell him you think he's cute, he turns you on, you've heard he fools around with guys, and you want to see what that's like."

"And what if he tells me to go to hell? Or punches me in the nose? Then what?"

"That's great! Then we can guess he's not gay. But come on. He doesn't look like he'd punch anyone in the nose. He looks kinda soft."

"But what if he is gay, but not promiscuous? Gay doesn't mean promiscuous. He might be gay but a one-man, serious-relationship sort of guy. Me coming on to him just for sex? That might be a turn off for him."

"He's sort of flirty. Which makes me think he's into sex. And not one guy sex. But it really doesn't matter. What you're doing is feeling him out, and any sort of discussion you have with him should be revealing. Don't lose sight of our objective here. It isn't to get you a boy date. It's to learn if he's gay. That's our goal. That's where your discussion with him needs to lead. Now, if it goes further than that and you end up being invited into his bed, well, it's up to you what happens then." I batted my eyelashes at him and grinned.

What happened then was he threw his book at me, and I was lucky to be quick enough to dodge it. "You haven't said what I'm to do if he agrees to a date."

"I'll let you figure that out. That's easy."

When I was leaving, he stopped me to ask, "Just out of curiosity, how did you have Dan answer his text?"

I laughed. "I had him tell Evan that he was wondering about why Evan was continually looking over at him flirtatiously. That explained why he'd ask both about Evan being gay and looking for a boyfriend and without compromising Dan at all. It left Evan in the quandary of whether or not to explain he wasn't looking at Dan but at me. I'm a genius."

Ronnie snorted.

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