It’s raining on Wednesday, and I try to enjoy it a little. Mom has this syndrome or whatever where cloudy skies and rain almost always depress her. I hate to see that in her.
But it’s like a whole ‘nother world for me. Jogging through the drizzle now, heading to Government from a doctor’s appointment, I smile and feel relief. The drying harsh sun is nowhere to be seen, and even the earth seems emotionally refreshed. I feel simple peace for just a little while.
Mr. Doas is by the door when I enter class. He glances over his shoulder at me, and I humbly make my way to my desk. I just accept the class’s eyes on me.
It takes me a while to start grasping today’s lecture, because I am way too embarrassed to even look in Eddie’s general direction. Because, after nights of blank, empty sleep, I finally had a dream last night – about him.
Jesus Lord almighty, what the hell is my mind doing?
Well, in the dream I was in the old library for a graduation picture of some kind. I was standing on a huge black cloth backdrop that was silk, I think; I was seeing everything through the camera lens. I was in casual cloths, a black shirt and jeans, and there was a cameraman, who I couldn’t see, fussing with me and telling me to do this, straighten that, sit up, those kinds of things. It was ridiculous but I was fidgeting and really freaking out, as if the whole school was watching. And suddenly, Eddie came into view.
Mr. Doas keeps talking. I keep piecing the details back together.
So I had been standing there on that black sheet draped down the wall and onto the floor, without a diploma in hand or a sitting block or anything. Then Eddie just strides into the camera’s view. Completely naked.
My expression was just totally cool and laid-back, as if he were a friend or something with clothes on. The nakedness meant nothing other than purity. Eddie came up to me and stood by my side, grabbing my shoulder and posing casually with his other hand on his bare hip. He had on one of his free and easy smiles. As embarrassing as it sounds, it was beautiful.
After a little while he leaned over and whispered something to the me of my dreams, and his grin widened. The me of my dreams was happy. But as the camera, all I did was watch, without a conscious thought and without any say so.
And that was fine.
Then at the very end, the cameraman called to the two of us: “On the count of three. You guys ready to be persecuted? Ready to be gay? Ready for the world?”
Eddie nodded like it was nothing, and I think the physical me found courage in that. His assuredness and his bareness. I nodded firmly too.
“Good. Okay, smile guys! One, two –”
We smiled, two mile-wide and flawless grins.
And I woke up before the camera flashed.
Sitting here now, still yearning, still confused, I see how meaningful that dream was. I want to cry. But I don’t. I don’t want to let it out… I don’t love a single soul here, and not a single soul loves me.
About half an hour into the block, Mr. Doas stops to pass out our quizzes from Monday. I turn around and look at Mark, my close friend. He looks at me, wary but more tired than anything else.
“What’s up,” he mumbles. I shrug and grin.
“Not much.” He nods, closing his eyes before opening them wide and blinking several times.
I decided to push my luck. “So, does knowing change your, uh, perspective on this class?”
Mark looks at me almost sourly. “Uh, yeah.”
I nod and smile a little. “I’m glad.” And really, I am. I told him about my dream this morning, before school. I mean, there’s trust between us. But it’s hard for him to understand, and he doesn’t want to hear about my deeper feelings about my own sexuality. He can’t help me out when I’m still just trying to find some sense of confidence.
Mr. Doas reaches our aisle and passes the quizzes down. I got a fourteen out of twenty. Meh.
After class, Mark and I walk towards the science hall, the drizzle now pretty much gone. I decide not to talk anymore about the dream. I don’t wanna put him through that.
“So what’d you get on the quiz?” I ask.
“A nine,” he grumbles. I laugh.
“Damn. You’ll pick it up next time.
He looks straight at me.
“You know he has a girlfriend, right?”
I nod. “Yeah.”
“She’s pretty hot too,” he adds, his smile shaky. I laugh. We pass under a tree with wide branches and a thick top of leaves.
“I just…wish I could tell him,” I say, “just have him hear me out, y’know? Dreams mean a lot sometimes.”
“Ha.” Mark shakes his head and gives me a dubious look. “I know what he’d probably say: ‘What the hell? You faggot.’”
“Then he’d punch me, right?” I ask sadly.
“Ho-oh, he’d beat the shit out of you.”
I nod in understanding. Or maybe defeat. “Yeah man. All that hate…even if I’m not gay.”
“You sure about that?” Mark asks me skeptically. I stay quiet.
I really have nowhere else to go from here, this isolation devoid of chance or lady luck.
In our silence I decide to switch topics before we split at the sidewalk junction. “Well hey, Rebecca’s kinda cute.”
Mark looks at me with a lightning fast ‘are you for real?’ glance. I’m referring to a girl in Government. And really, she is. But in a completely different way from the other girl I hurt.
A way of hope, maybe.
“Yeah dude,” Mark agrees, elated. “I can hook you guys up on a date, if you want.” He adds some hand gestures to emphasize his approval of her. I grin and kick a stone.
“Yeah, maybe. I mean, she’s single, right?”
“Totally. She has been for awhile. But I can definitely see you with her, man.”
See you with her. I think about that. The kind of love you can see. Can I see it?
“Give me a little time,” I tell him, feeling so far off as others rush around us, trying to get to their classes too. Then I offer Mark my fist. He taps it dutifully and says, “Later man. Just stay cool. Things’ll work out.”
“I hope so, man,” I say somberly, and we’re split, me heading my way to speech.
I think about Rebecca most of the way, just a little dreamily. But my thoughts are overshadowed by one truth: I’m not going back to that same world, not without some kind of change.
Things are different now at lunch too.
I sit with a new group of all guys, and I think it helps. I only know two of them, but it’s not awkward or anything. They talk about soccer – fútbol – mostly, and I can’t say much because I never watch it.
But I listen and learn.
Hector Solis is the guy who helped me get here. As my buddy in Calculus, he invited me one day to sit with them. I wasn’t feeling very good at the usual spot, especially with my ex-girlfriend there, so I agreed. He introduced me all around the table, and things settled in. We joke sometimes, and I’m not too quiet to make small talk. No biggie, y’know.
The best part of it all comes after we’ve thrown away our trays and empty chip bags, once we’re outside. Felipe, the other guy I sorta know, will bring a bright blue pull string bag with a soccer ball in it. When we get out to our spot beneath the big tree past the science building, Felipe pulls out the ball and everyone goes. Usually Octavio, the leanest and slickest-looking guy, starts us off, taking the ball with his feet like most people could only do with their hands. He keeps it up, kicking with the cleft of his feet, back and forth for the longest time. Hector and the others “oooh” and “aww” in admiration. The whole time Octavio grins, knowing he’s good.
“Ah shit,” he says, desperately kicking and losing the ball, Hector chasing after it playfully. The ball bounces back to him, and Octavio stalls it with the side of his foot. He balances the ball atop the same foot, points his right finger at the ground, and pops the ball up, circling his foot around it before catching it back. Around the world. We cheer and hoot.
“That’s right,” he says, smirking and passing the ball to Gavino.
With these guys I’m no pro for sure. I haven’t even played soccer on a team since, like, before elementary. I reflect on that as the sun’s rays seep through the misshapen spaces in the leaves up above. But the ball comes my way fast, and I let my reflexes fly and send it back successfully with a side kick. I smile. Not too rusty after all.
“Hey Hector,” Gavino calls, beaming as only a smug bastard can and nodding in the direction behind us, “here she comes, dude.”
Hector passes the ball to Felipe, who takes it calmly, and glances back coolly. I don’t see the girl, but I can tell he does; his eyes reflect that internal small, knowing and sad smile of his. He wrings his hands a couple of times.
So he does like this girl.
“Dude,” Octavio grins, juggling the ball again to try and beat his last record, “you gonna ask her out or what, man?”
Hector smiles faintly and shakes his head like he’s tired, hands in his pockets. After a while he gets his head back in the game, his lovesick look wiped out of existence. He says no more about her.
When the bell rings, I tap fists and say later to Hector and Felipe. Walking to my truck in the growing spring heat, I start to wonder what Hector is gonna do. I feel a little empathy for my buddy, but also happy that I’ve gotten to see that small miracle again. Finally.
The miracle of one guy’s newborn crush pitted against the high school world.
The next day I say to hell with my heartache and to hell with even thinking of asking Eddie for help.
In Government, we have to go up with our group and present our topics for the final research paper. When me and Andrew, the only one else actually here to represent our group, go up, I have no problem standing in front of the class and talking about stagflation. I mention the first occurrence in the ‘70s and the ongoing housing recession. Words just sail out of my mouth.
Even with Eddie looking at me from time to time. It makes no difference. I ignore him.
Once we’re done, I sit and just chill as the other groups go up and present. I tell Andrew he did a good job and face the front again. As time passes, Mr. Doas looks more and more irate as other groups mostly bullshit their way through textbook terms and runaround data, snapping out questions that drill whomever is speaking.
“It’s almost time to go, right?” Eddie asks me, the right side of his face red from sleep. I check my phone.
“9:27, dude.” I hardly look at him.
“Yes!” He grins, punching an arm out. “We don’t have enough time to go. Hell yeah!”
“Bummer,” I say, almost laughing. He’s like a little kid, full of his own reckless energy.
Group number 4,” Doas yells, “You’re up. John Puente, Marco Quintanilla, Edwardo Garcia.”
I open my eyes a little wider. Garcia?
Marco shrugs and gets up with J.P., but Eddie groans and shifts in his seat.
So it is Garcia?
“Motherfucker,” he swears under his breath, getting up grudgingly. He sidles uncooperatively to the front and joins his group, looking like this is just something else to blow off.
“Um,” Marco glances at their report, foreign in his hands, “our topic is on the fuel economy.”
“More specifically?” Doas asks.
“Of America,” Marco continues, not missing a beat. “We’re gonna be talking about the rising prices of gas, price per barrel of oil, imports and exports of oil…and how it plays a major role in political policy…um.” He pauses to flip the page, looking like he’s not sure what to read, and J.P. leans over to have a look.
I peek at Eddie and catch him leaning against the chalkboard, half-grinning and nonchalant.
And it hits me. He’s who I’m not.
Sitting in my desk, I feel something like a hole has opened up inside of me. I’m reverting now that I get it.
Eddie is strong, and I am not.
He knows how to have a good time, and I’m always struggling to find just one.
And the pinnacle of our differences: Eddie has a girlfriend, and I don’t.
I feel something, that hole, clench me, capturing me. Watching Eddie now, unable to look away, I can see the brightest spark in him as he takes the paper and starts reading, laughing a little and not really caring.
I want to not really care, too.
Just be secure, supported, and saved. But from what?
I look over at Rebecca, at her round, beautiful eyes, at her gentle and enjoyable smile as she listens to Eddie wing it. And I see that she can’t save me.
I remember April 26, next Saturday. Prom night.
Eddie laughs again, at something Marco’s said to Mr. Doas. It’s the same for Eddie; laughing so much because he feels so much ecstasy, an uncontrollable passion for good feelings.
He can laugh because he has no idea of me, of what I want to stand for. I’m never gonna dance with Rebecca, or my ex-girlfriend, at prom. It’s too late…too little, too late. I let time pass me by, trying to be a friend to everyone, letting her go even when she started pushing me away. That’s what I wanted, after all.
But that’s how I failed her, too.