… Makes the World Go Round
Breakfast over, Jake somehow found his way home. He was in a daze. If he hadn’t heard it for himself, he never would have believed his good fortune. Dylan was gay? But that’s what he said in front of all of them, and it was like manna from heaven. It was a chance, a real chance where one had not existed before. There would be no repeat of high school senior year. He was free to love this man, knowing no physical pain would be involved. And from the looks that Dylan was giving him, he was already half there.
Marcus couldn’t help but grin widely at Jake as they walked into the house. “What?” Jake contorted his features in fun, hoping to divert what was probably coming.
”You and I have to talk, dude,” Marc chortled, his dark brown hair flopping into his eyes.
“About?” As if he didn’t know.
“Honestly, Jake, like your feelings for Dylan weren’t all over your face? Admit it, you’re into him. You’ve been into him all this time and never said a thing. I’m not blind or stupid.”
Jake took a big breath and dared to look at his cousin, but he saw no anger or condemnation in his face. Maybe a little pity mixed with disbelief. If he hadn’t been so excited at Dylan’s revelation, he might have been angry. Suddenly the will to fight what they both knew as truth left him like a punctured balloon.
“So? Is it going to be a problem?” he asked sullenly.
Marcus sobered just as quickly. “I hope not. I love you like a brother, Jake, and Dylan is one of my best friends. I want to tell you to go for it if you think the two of you have a chance at that happily-ever-after shit, but…”
Jake nodded. “Yeah, what if it doesn’t work out and things get ugly? The last thing I’d ever want is to come between you and your friends, Marc. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work out for the two of us, I guarantee the last place I’d want to be is hanging around your crew with him.”
He seemed to hit a mid-point in his thoughts. “But just because I like Dylan and he’s gay doesn’t mean he likes me. That’s one way we’re like you straight guys. It isn’t just about who is handy. It’s about attraction. He might not be into me at all.”
Marcus slapped Jake on the back. “I don’t think you have to worry about that, bro. My guess is that, knowing Dylan, the only reason he told us he was gay is because he wanted you to know. He likes you; I’m positive of it.
Jake felt a little bubble inside and then let it burst. He was not going to let himself get his expectations up over nothing. “I hope you’re right,” he said aloud.
Noah arrived home just as a text message came in from his girlfriend. Instead of texting her back, he called her on her cell. “Hey beautiful!”
Sage didn’t waste any time. “Spencer arrived home from breakfast all googly-eyed and saying off-the-wall shit about Jake and Dylan. What the hell is going on?”
“Did you get the part where Dylan announced he was gay?”
“So it’s true?” Sage smiled. Ever since her junior year she had wondered about Dylan and his strange behavior and why he never had a long-term girlfriend. Now the puzzle was beginning to fit together.
“Awe-inspiring, I’d say.”
Sage was about to answer when she heard the doorbell peel. Walking towards the front door she listened as Noah gave her the details about their meal at Denny’s. She already knew who the person outside would be and opened up for Kelsey to enter. Sage wasn’t even thinking about hostile ears as she continued to speak about the recent events.
“So let me see if I have this straight. Dylan confided in you which is unexpected enough, but you, Spencer and Marcus all notice Jake at the same time, and he’s into Dylan. Honestly into him?”
“A truck could’ve run through the front of the building, Sage, and he never would have noticed it, that’s how gone he was.”
Sage began to laugh. She loved matchmaking, and this was a match that had it all. “Does Dylan know?”
Noah had to dial it back. “I don’t know. But he and Jake work together at that day camp. If he doesn’t, he will soon.”
On the other side of the room Kelsey picked up on one salient fact. Gay Jake thought he was in love with Dylan. She wondered how the older boy would take to that. I mean, if there was a way to cause trouble between Jake and Dylan and it could be done in a manner that looked totally innocent, she’d be happy to set it up. Maybe Dylan would be affronted enough with Jake that he’d never speak to him again. Put up barriers between Jake and Dylan, and they’d all fall into line except Marcus Walker, and he was of no account. However she had to work it, Jake would be history.
By the evening Jake had convinced his cousin to let him deal with Dylan and their feelings his way. As the day had passed, Jake wasn’t sure what he’d seen in Dylan’s eyes, but they had lots of time to find out. There was no sense in battering about and making mistakes. He also had no intention of parading his feelings for him in front of everyone. He asked Marcus to convey to Noah and any other speculating party to please back away for the time being.
It was shortly after five, and Marcus was hanging on Jake’s door. “Noah texted, and his parents are out of town. He suggested a movie night at his house. He asked if we could pick up a pizza and said to arrive around 6:30. Your boyfriend will be there. S’okay?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Jake grit out. “Seriously, cuz, please don’t start on me.”
“Alright, sorry, but do you want to go to Noah’s?” Marcus could tell Jake was serious.
“Sure.” It would give Jake a chance to hang with Dylan and see what was brewing.
It was getting on towards eleven that night. Dylan, Jake, Marcus and Noah were comfortably seated on the O’Brien’s patio drinking beer. It was a warm night but not enough for air conditioning, although the house felt closed in. They put away three pizzas from one of the downtown shops that put the national chains to shame; one with pepperoni, one extra cheese and one combo. The movie Noah had ordered from Net Flix, Don’t Go In The Woods, had turned out to be a dud, and they spent the whole night making fun of the tacky CG effects and overdone horror. Even Jake was mellow and loose, and they had managed to stay away from the elephant in the room- his and Dylan’s budding romance.
Jake was in his zen spot. Dylan stepping out of the closet meant so many possibilities but he had no intention of rushing into a relationship with him until he knew it was welcome. That would require careful planning, and to be honest, Jake wasn’t sure what to do. He had only fallen in love one other time, and that didn’t go well. Once burned, twice shy.
He leaned back against the patio chair and hooked his elbow over the top, feeling a little buzzed as he stared at the inch of golden liquid left in his bottle. “I’m done here,” he said, draining it, his second beer. “One of you can have my last one.”
Marcus pulled a face. “Hey, weren’t you going to tell me the secret behind why you don’t drink anymore?”
“Not that I remember. And, as I told you, I do drink.” Jake clunked his empty bottle noisily down on the table. “See, this is me drinking.”
“Drink… get trashed, whatever! You were going on about some wrong road you walked down and said ‘never again’. I’m enough of a perv that I bet it involves hot, steamy sex. So spill it.”
By this time the other two men were hooting it up and calling for the telling too. It was only because Dylan was staring at him with something akin to keen fascination and he wanted to please him that Jake finally relented. Or maybe help Dylan to understand him better. He took a deep breath and smiled.
“Okay, okay, fine.” Jake glanced around at their avid faces. For several moments he was silent, starting and stopping, before hitching up his eyebrow, trying to decide how to begin “Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I should say anything. You guys don’t know the first thing about the ins and outs of what to do and not to do when you’re gay and inexperienced…”
“Ins and outs?” Noah cracked up, thrusting his groin lewdly up in the air. “You did not just say that, Jake.”
Marcus dropped his head against his wrist, breaking into laughter. “Oh, god,” he gasped. “I knew this was going to be good, but I had no idea.”
“Very funny.” But Noah and Marcus were off in spasms of intoxicated giggles, leaving Jake squirming uncomfortably while they queried him about sexual positions and the like.
Dylan had grinned tipsily and would’ve laughed along with the other two except he was watching Jake turn deep red and felt sorry for his unfortunate choice of phrasing. “Marcus… Noah… shhhh!”
For several minutes Marcus and Noah continued to laugh helplessly, wiping at their eyes. “If the story is half as funny as the opening,” Marcus chortled, “I can’t wait to hear it.”
“I don’t have to sit here and take this,” Jake warned tightly. He felt ashamed of his gaffe, especially in front of Dylan, knowing it made him look childish and unsure of himself.
“Sorry bro,” Marcus replied and then was off again, clutching his stomach.
“Can we get on with this?” Jake prodded them, beginning to feel frustrated when they wouldn’t settle down.
“Yeah,” Dylan added. “I want to hear this.” He smiled when Jake shot him a grateful glance.
Slowly the duo quieted but it took a few minutes to tease Jake out of his pout. He finally faced them, placing his feet flat on the concrete and sighed. “I guess I should start at the beginning.”
Marcus, Noah and Dylan stared at him expectantly. He blew out a loud breath.
“Marc,” he said, shooting a naughty glance at his cousin. “You should remember the only girl I ever felt up?”
Jake and Marcus said the name at almost the same time. Marcus let loose with a loud snort.
“The Rebecca Ash?” Dylan asked, a grin playing around his mouth.
Noah’s eyes went wide, recognizing the local girl who had something of a promiscuous reputation. “Fuck, Jake, that would’ve been… uh, years ago. What did you do, get her at pre-‘ho stage?”
He snickered. “No, it was early-‘ho. I think pre-‘ho for Rebecca would’ve been when she was… like, eleven.”
The other three erupted in raucous laughter.
“So you haven’t always been gay,” Dylan speculated, remembering his own traveled road to self-discovery.
Jake winced at the generalization. “It’s more like I was gay and didn’t know it.” It was important to him to make Dylan really see him. Accepting him as a gay man was one thing; building a rapport based on the similarities was altogether different.
“I kissed a few girls starting when I was thirteen. It’s a rite of passage, you know? Being grown up enough to want it and like it and getting a girl to want it too. After all the buildup, I was like… meh! What’s the big deal? And the same thing happened with Rebecca. I finally get to touch her underneath her clothes, and it creeped me out more than anything.”
He looked around and the other three were hanging on his every word. Dylan was nodding like it made sense and he continued. “I had already begun to wonder if I liked boys, but there’s such a stigma associated with checking out anyone who is male, even on the sly. So I didn’t and was really careful about how I looked at anyone. It wasn’t until I moved to Madera and met this dude that was like taking the blinders off my eyes. He was beautiful, at least to me, and I fell in love with him. That’s when I knew absolutely. I was done with girls, and I was gay.”
“So what happened?” Dylan asked, taking a long pull off his bottle. He was completely intrigued.
Like looking at himself from above, Jake suddenly felt pathetic. He had never shared this bitter story with anyone before, and now he was about to tell his cousin, a best friend from back in the day before he even knew what he wanted and the man who would be his boyfriend. “Nah, I’m not sure you really want to know.” He shook his head, preparing to pull back.
All three clamored for his attention, demanding that he not stop now and begging to hear.
“Come on,” Marcus exclaimed. “You can’t just drop it now.”
Jake smiled wryly. “I know you guys drink, sometimes drink a lot. Damn, Marc, you’ve gotten so shit-faced sometimes I’ve had to put you to bed.”
Marcus lifted his beer to his mouth and took a deep pull, his eyes locked on his cousin’s face. “And your point?”
“My point is that maybe you’ve only known the fun part that leaves you with a hangover the next morning, but you’ve never been so out of it that you put your life in danger.”
Noah snorted. “Hah, like every time your idiot cousin gets behind the wheel after a party. It’s one of the reasons why I’m glad you came along. I don’t need to worry about him getting home at night. But what’s with the lecture, Mom?”
“Not that kind of danger, Noah. I’m talking about being so blitzed you can’t even walk, with nobody there to help you out and relying on your own stupidity. Doing and saying shit that you know is going to get you in trouble. Picking a fight with the school quarterback- that kind of thing. But if I tell you, don’t say I didn’t warn you. It isn’t pretty.”
But they all hollered for the tale, and finally Jake gave in.
He was silent for a minute, staring out into the yard, dredging up the bad memories. “One of the worst nights of my life,” he began with a shudder, “was the night I got hammered and tried to kiss Tony Holcomb, the guy I was crushing on in high school.”
Dylan stared at him, his eyes wide. “What happened?”
“I found out he wasn’t gay.”
When Jake and his parents moved to Madera the summer he was fifteen, he couldn’t help but feel abandoned and scared. Marcus was not only his cousin but his best friend. The Walker home had been a refuge against his overly demanding father who relied heavily on corporal punishment to get his point across. Even his older brothers ditched him to attend college in southern California, and, with the exception of his mom, he lost everyone he cared about in one fell swoop.
To make matters worse, Jake had begun to suspect he was gay. He knew his life would be worth less than nothing if George found out.
With trepidation, Jake began his sophomore year at West Madera High. It wasn’t as bad as expected, eased along by the fact that he wasn’t the only new student there, and it was a brand new term. Jake might not be a certifiable hunk, but with his wide smile, curly brown hair and big green eyes, he was definitely on the girls’ radar. His cute looks drew them in, and his sweet personality and wicked sense of humor was a natural inducement towards becoming friends. Wisely he kept his mouth shut about liking boys and tried to play off being shy as an excuse not to date.
Still, mountainous Madera was as different as night and day from Aleppo Park, and because it wasn’t home, living there was a huge negative from the get-go. He was so unhappy at first, but it was like this fellow-sophomore, Tony Holcomb, saved him. He just walked up to Jake the very first week of school in the cafeteria and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Tony Holcolm, and you’re new here.” Tony became his first friend when they sat next to each other in algebra class. They shared U.S. History and English classes too and a love for post-grunge music and chili-dogs with cheese, hold the onion. Both wrestled and played JV Baseball for the Wildcats and wanted to count for something at West Madera High.
Tony towered over Jake at six-foot-three and had soulful hazel eyes, spiky black hair in an asymmetrical skater cut and a muscled physique. He was a risk-taker and irreverent with a love for dirty jokes. Jake listened and laughed in the right places, trying to fit in. Tony also had a braying whinny when he found something excessively funny and an odd sense of humor that would only sting Jake later, but for now seemed harmless enough. Although only an above-average student and a mediocre athlete, nothing would thwart his dreams of wrestling in the Olympics or going into the Major Leagues. Jake never ever considered dashing his hopes with reality.
The spring of that tenth grade year was also when Jake finally acknowledged his sexuality. All it took was falling in love with his new best friend. At first it didn’t even matter that he was straight; Jake was that naïve. And then later, with as close of friends as they became, at least on his part, he started wondering if Tony was gay too. Or maybe he talked himself into it because that was the fantasy, and he was still raw enough to think dreams came true. All of Jake’s hopes centered upon Tony accepting him and wanting a relationship with him.
Jake managed to keep his feelings under wraps for two years. In that time he’d become fairly popular. Still on the quiet, shy side, he was nice to almost everyone, and most of his classmates liked him. The girls swooned over his dimple and beautiful eyes, but nobody considered him a threat to steal their girl since he didn’t go out with anyone. An honor student with an A- average, Jake didn’t draw attention to himself, so he wasn’t labeled a nerd. He decided to quit wrestling and dropped off the squad to focus on baseball, and it paid off.
Jake had been particularly happy because he was one of only a handful of juniors on the varsity team the previous year who didn’t spend most of his time on the bench. He played shortstop, and their starter had pulled a hamstring the second week of the season. The team trainer was cautious but the injury was more severe than first reckoned and the boy never returned, meaning Jake got called up and put in a lot of playing time. He had good stats too, including a game-winning triple against the strongest team in the league. It was one of the proudest moments of his life.
What Jake didn’t notice was the change in his friendship with Tony as they passed through high school. He thought he was being a good friend. Tony talked about the college education that would be the springboard necessary for his sports career to take off and while he struggled, Jake made it look effortless. He helped him study for tests and showed him how to find answers for their homework; he proofread his term papers and suggested classes to take that would both raise his GPA and meet the entrance criteria for the state universities. They discussed attending college together on baseball scholarships, but Jake was the only one of the pair who was offered one.
Jake excelled; Tony fell behind… in almost every important way. In sports, Jake abandoned him in wrestling and stood out in baseball. Jake was just as inexperienced with girls as the bigger guy, but since he never tried to date, nobody knew how inept he was, while Tony was notorious for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He knew he wasn’t as well-liked as Jake, and many of his invitations to parties were an afterthought because he was Jake Nielsen’s best friend. The shortstop was maybe a level and a half higher up in social strata, but oh, how important that small leap looked to him. The more Tony tried and failed, the more bitter he became and the more he made it Jake’s fault. Jake didn’t see how Tony had become morose and withdrawn, eaten from the inside out with envy. He never said a word and Jake thought they were good.
The end of the dream began with a celebratory party the spring of their senior year. The varsity baseball team was going to the CIF best-out-of-three finals. Jake had been instrumental in the league championship win, leaping for an astounding catch of a fly ball that certainly would’ve been a three-run homer, making two other tags on players forced at second base and hitting a double and two singles. He was game MVP, and Tony, who hadn’t set foot on the field all afternoon except to shake the other team’s hands after the win, seethed in jealousy. As far as Jake was concerned, it was a team effort. Everyone deserved the kudos.
The team captain’s home was at the other end of the block from the Nielsen’s, and Jake walked. It had been a mild, cloudless May evening, and everything was right with his world. This party was unofficial; non-school sanctioned, and Jake knew before even stepping foot inside the house that alcohol would be served. But he was eighteen and tired of being treated like a child by his overprotective mother. Tonight he had gotten lucky because his folks were out of town at a business function for the weekend.
Besides, Tony Holcomb was going. With the flirtatious eyes and the way Tony always wanted to spend time with him, Jake halfway believed Tony must be secretly in love with him. If the stars aligned properly, maybe they could get lucky together.
Up to a point, Jake had been having a good time. The keg flowed freely, and four hours flew by before he knew it. Players and their dates had shown up, imbibed and sought out more private locales to hook up. Eleven-thirty found the patio dark and empty where Jake now rested heavily on a double-wide lounger, his head spinning. A voice in a far corner of his brain reminded him that, having no experience with beer, he probably should’ve stopped on the second cup. Definitely by the third. He sucked at beer pong. But it was too late now, and all he could do was lie there in misery and hope that walking upright became an option soon. How embarrassing to have to ask to spend the night because he was such a lightweight.
He heard the patio door open and close. “Oh, there you are.” Tony’s voice, slightly slurred. “What are you doing out here?”
“Weeeellll,” Jake drawled out with a hiccup, “If the sky would stop winking at me, I’d be able to tell you.”
“Winking at you?” Tony crawled up the end of the lounge and collapsed next to Jake.
“Yeah,” Jake whispered, suddenly ecstatic despite the chill night air and his wooziness. Tony was here, and that made it all better. Good enough to entice a confession out of himself. “I think I drank too much.”
Tony suddenly looked alarmed. “Are you going to be sick?”
Jake tried to shake his head ‘no’ and groaned when it felt like his eyes were rolling around in his head. “No, just dizzy.” He giggled.
“What… what’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” Jake had suddenly felt just the fleeting tail of a desire skitter across his brain. Tony was right beside him, talking intimately, their thighs almost touching, and Jake wanted to kiss him. He needed to feel those warm lips on his own in the worst way, but what if he was wrong about Tony? About everything? He wished he had the guts to find out.
“No,” Tony corrected, lifting his finger like a scolding schoolteacher. “You’re laughing so something is funny.”
“I shouldn… shou… I can’t tell you.” Jake hugged his arms tight against his body to stop his trembling. “It’s a secret.”
“But I’m your best friend, Jake,” Tony whined. “You tell me everything.”
“Not this. You’ll laugh at me.” In his drunken state, it never occurred to Jake that Tony might get mad.
“Please, please, please?” Tony began to tickle Jake on his sides, knowing he was very sensitive there and it usually made him give in. “You have to tell me.”
“Okay, stop, I’ll tell you,” Jake yelled. “But you have to promise you won’t laugh.”
Tony calmed down and held very still. “I promise.”
Jake lay in silence next to him for about thirty seconds, wondering what to do. Here he was opening himself up to the biggest secret in his life to the boy he’d wanted for the past two years. But he wouldn’t find out anything by keeping his thoughts to himself.
“I want to kiss you, Tony.”
“Huh?” The taller boy wasn’t sure he heard right.
“I said, I want to kiss you.”
For some reason, Tony thought Jake was telling a joke. Or making something up on the spur of the moment because he didn’t want to share his real secret. Anyway you cut it, he certainly wasn’t serious about wanting a kiss. Tony wasn’t a fag and neither was his best friend. So he chose to prove to Jake that he could kid with the best of them.
“I dare you, Jake Nielsen. If you’re serious, I dare you to kiss me.”
“Really?” Jake sounded squeaky. For the first time since the bigger boy had walked out on to the patio, he was unsure of himself. Something in Tony’s voice was a little off, and if he had been sober he would have paid attention to the issued challenge instead of reading mistaken love and romance into it. But no matter. Jake heard him say he wanted that kiss, so he leaned over and softly brushed his lips across Tony’s.
Tony was drunk too, and he was horny. All night long, he had watched the party girls in their next-to-nothing tops and tight shorts and jeans come and go. Flirting with them and getting nowhere, being rebuffed when he suggested a quiet place in an unoccupied bedroom, only to have them leave with somebody else. It had hurt his feelings and made him feel unwanted and insecure, and now, here was Jake gently kissing him. It felt good; at least someone cared.
After the first quick graze he leaned over a bit nearer to Jake and stared right into his green eyes, now dark with need. The second kiss was less fleeting, more tantalizing, and Tony heard Jake moan when they connected. Just a few seconds worth of lips in passing, and Jake’s mouth was back with a firmer touch. This time they didn’t drift, they locked with his, and Tony moaned back. Jake opened his mouth, and Tony’s tongue slipped inside to slide and tango together.
Jake brought his hand up and cupped Tony’s cheek, his fingers gently padding over the light stubble on his jaw.
It must have been that touch that succeeded in breaking Tony’s restraint. Coming to his senses, he suddenly felt himself being kissed by a man. By Jake. With an infuriated roar, he shoved him roughly aside, and Jake slid across the lounger to the far edge. Tony jumped to his feet, and the imbalance and momentum caused the chair to topple. Jake was dumped to the ground in an unceremonious heap, vaguely trying to figure out what happened to the kiss.
“You fucking fag,” Tony screamed at Jake. “I’m going to kill you.”
Tony literally saw red, he was so blitzed and out of control. Picking up the patio chair to get it out of the way, he encountered Jake’s crumpled body on the flagstones and gave him three hard kicks. The stunned young man could not react quick enough to the brutality and curled into himself as Tony’s boots connected painfully with his abdomen and ribs. Jake thought he was going to vomit but managed to hold it in. Hateful words rained down on him about ‘teaching him a lesson’ and Jake tried to protect the vulnerable parts of his body as best he could.
Tony hauled Jake up by the arm like he weighed nothing and punched him in the face, sending him flying. The blow crunched sickeningly against his right eye and the bridge of his nose, and blood spurted through broken skin and dripped down his face. Jake landed heavily against the stucco wall, leaving skin on it as he stumbled and fell. Dizzy and sick, he felt like he was going to die. Apart from Tony’s curses, he heard new noise coming from the house, and suddenly twelve people were popping through the sliding glass door leading into the dining room- members of his baseball team and a few odd girlfriends.
“What the fuck is going on out here?” the team captain asked, surveying the mess Tony was making of his patio. The boy said nothing by way of an answer but again went after Jake and yanked him up by the front of his shirt. His fist connected with Jake’s stomach, bending him in half and sending him flying backwards. Jake gasped in agony as the breath was knocked out of him. Falling on his hands and feet, uncaring of the cuts and scrapes on his palms, Jake crab-walked backwards as fast as he could to get away from his former friend as Tony approached him again.
“Perverted asshole came on to me,” he hissed. “Cocksucking bastard.”
Tony’s final kick was a glancing blow against his jaw that opened up a wide gash and added to the bright red splotches soaking his shirt. Jake’s head snapped backwards against the patio table. Nearly senseless, he lay there weakly, afraid to move. Several of the boys’ team members grabbed Tony and held him back from Jake while two others knelt down beside the beaten and traumatized teenager. “Damn it, you fuckwad,” the captain raged at Tony, “what the hell. Now I’m going to have to explain to my mom and dad why there’s blood everywhere out here.”
“He’s a goddamned fag,” Tony screamed, pointing at Jake and trying to fight off the boys who held him. His face was a dark cloud of fury, but the only parts of his body that showed any sign of injury were some lightly-skinned knuckles from hitting Jake who was in no shape to fight back. “He kissed me.”
The players looked in silence from him to Jake, sprawled on the patio and twisted around his injured core. Tears streamed down his face and he breathed harshly through the blood. Already his eye was turning dark in a bruise and swelling shut.
The team captain indicated the two boys closest to him and told them to help Jake by escorting him inside and getting him cleaned up. They lifted him to a hunched-over position, but once on his feet he pulled away from the supporting hands. Glaring angrily at Tony, he announced he was going home.
“Jake, let them assist you,” one of the girls advised. “You’re in no shape to drive anywhere.”
“I’m not driving,” he huffed through cut lips and a swollen nose. “I live at the other end of the block. I can walk.”
They tried remonstrating with him, but Jake refused to listen. He was totally humiliated by the beating and frightened over how fast his best friend had turned on him, and all he wanted was the safety of home. He could feel the eyes on his back like daggers in the silence as he made slow progress to the front door. Limping painfully home and wheezing with each step, he left behind him a dozen students with questions.
And no clear answers. All hell broke loose once he was gone. At first many didn't believe Tony’s story because… Jake Nielsen gay? But barraged by Tony’s side of the story where nobody was allowed to believe he’d participated willingly in that kiss for one second, the teenagers gossiped, bitched and passed pseudo-facts around until they were convinced that he was telling the truth. I mean, had anyone ever seen Jake with a girlfriend? Besides, it was scandalous, and every teenager loved a good story to share with friends.
As for the rest of the weekend, Carolyn and George were shocked to return and find their youngest son collapsed in bed, obviously beaten. Jake lied, saying he fell down after getting drunk. Because drinking was a so-called manly pursuit and boys will be boys, after all, George didn’t scold too much. Carolyn had grave doubts about the truth, but seeing as how Jake shut her out and would not explain why he spent most of his time at home crying in his bedroom, there was little she could do.
“By Monday, it was all over school,” Jake told his three friends. “I was terrified Dad would find out from a classmate’s parents, and it was safer to let them believe whatever they wanted if the story died down faster. The nice ones snickered behind their hands, but for the next three weeks until graduation, I was called all sorts of lewd names in the hall and worse.
“Obviously, whatever love I felt for Tony came to a dead stop,” he laughed hollowly. “He had the kids at school angry at him too, but for different reasons. We went into the baseball tournament, and I was too badly beaten up to play. Not that I’m any kind of superstar, but it affected the team’s morale. The squad split in half taking sides, and we lost in the first round.
“I kept my head down the rest of the year. I just wanted school to end. Someone reported the fight to the vice-principal, and I was called into the office. He learned it was a team party, and I guess he thought it was his business but I kept my mouth shut. Nobody got reprimanded, so it must have counted for something. It had mostly blown over by the time we graduated, but I never wanted out of some place so badly in my life. I’m never going back to that town.”
“Oh my god, Jake,” Dylan intoned, staring at Jake’s stricken face. Even thirteen months later it was very plain that the boy wasn’t over the embarrassment and emotional trauma of his beating. “How could kids you went to school with for three years believe that of you?”
“Because it was the truth. I did kiss Tony, but he kissed me back equally. He was just afraid to admit it.”
“What happened to him?” Noah asked quietly.
Jake shook his head. “I don’t know. We didn’t exactly part as friends. After that night he wouldn’t be caught dead speaking to me except to call me names and make sure everyone knew what I’d done. I never saw him again after graduation.”
Marcus snaked his arm around Jake’s shoulder. “Dude, I will never, ever tease you about your drinking again.”
His cousin laughed, a real laugh that rumbled up from deep inside him. “Yes you will. But that’s okay. I’m not going to break, and I’d rather you treat me like you usually do. You know what they say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Dylan laughed and bumped his fist. “You’re pretty chill, Jake. No matter what, you have friends here.”
Noah caught his eye and nodded firmly. “That’s solid, homey.”
Jake smiled brightly at Marc, Noah and Dylan. It was kind of cool that they had heard the worst about him and it didn’t faze them in the least. He knew they meant their promises of friendship and he would be okay. All-in-all, with Dylan’s confession that he was gay, and even with his own admission of gross stupidity; it had been a wonderful day.
(To be continued...)