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Crossroads: Tales from the Heartland - 3. Standing Up for Myself

“What are you doing staring at the faggot, Carlos?” my best friend, Juan, asked me. Fuck, I’d been caught! I’d let my guard down and I’d been caught staring at another boy, and not just any boy either. No, I was a Mexican American boy and I’d been caught by my best friend staring at an African American boy - a boy who was pretty much known to be gay. What the fuck was I gonna do?

And then I had a thought - what did I have to lose? Why not go for broke, so I answered, “What if I were?”

“Yeah, right,” Juan answered. I’d dodged a bullet, but probably not for long. Someday soon I’d have to tell my best friend the truth. Just not today - I was nowhere near ready to come out, particularly to my best friend.

Yeah, little did Juan know that his best friend was gay - that his best friend was pining after an effeminate gay black boy, no less. If I ever succeeded in getting Jerome to notice me, everyone would know I’m gay. It would be the scandal of the William A. Bell Magnet School.

The problem was, how the hell was I gonna get Jerry to notice me without making it obvious I was gay? I wasn’t even sure what it was about Jerry that attracted me to him. I mean, he was black and I was a Latino. He was small for our age and I was one of the tallest boys in the class. He was so effeminate, a lot of kids thought he was a girl when they first met him. Me, I was the star center forward on my Youth League soccer team. We had nothing in common.

Yet, I couldn’t deny what I felt. I got hard just looking at him. He was cute, he was nice, and he was smart. Boy was he smart. He was a year younger than me, yet we were in the same grade. I guess he skipped kindergarten or something. Kindergarten! How the fuck you can skip kindergarten, I wasn’t sure. I guess he was already reading at the age of five.

The thing was, although I tried to keep it to myself, I was pretty smart too. We were both attending a magnet K-8 Montessori school for gifted kids. I was typical - a thirteen-year-old eighth grader, but I was already reading tenth grade literature. So was Jerry, but he was only twelve. Twelve! We were both voracious readers and I think that’s what drew me to him. Sadly, to Jerry I was just an acquaintance but, to me, he was the perfect boyfriend. I had no doubt he was gay but, no matter what I tried, he just didn’t seem interested in me.

One of the really cool things I recently discovered about him is that he has two dads! Whoa. I guess maybe his parents rejected him, ’cause he’s the way he is, so he was adopted by two gay men - young men who were themselves in college at Butler University. How cool was that? I saw them picking Jerry up from school one day. One of his dads is black like him, and the other one is white like me. It gave me hope that maybe I could find a way to get Jerry interested in me.

“Man, would you look at Theresa!” Juan said as he punched me in the shoulder. “Now that is one hot babe,” he continued. Theresa was every straight boy’s wet dream to be sure. She had shoulder-length, auburn hair and a flawless complexion. The fact that her breasts were the size of grapefruits prolly also had something to do with the attraction other boys saw in her, not that I really noticed or cared.

Then, punching my shoulder again, he said, “Hey, you see that girl she’s talkin’ to? That’s that new girl, Clarissa. She’s not half bad lookin’ herself. How about we try talkin’ to them. Maybe we could get them to go out on a double date with us.”

Warning bells started going off in my head as I had visions of being forced to make out with a girl and ended up getting outed when she told the world I couldn’t perform. How the fuck was I gonna get outta this one?

“Fuck the bullet,” I said under my breath as I started trembling.

“Huh?” Juan said as he turned to look at me, and then he said, “What’s the matter? You’re shakin’ man.”

Summoning courage I didn’t even know that I had, I turned and looked my best friend in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry, man, but I can’t go out with Clarissa.”

“Why the fuck not?” he asked me with obvious confusion in his eyes. “Ain’t she pretty enough for you?”

“She’s pretty all right,” I agreed, “but she’s not my type.”

“Not your type?” he asked. “What do you mean she’s not your type? She’s gorgeous, man. And besides, Theresa’s more likely to go out with me if it’s on a double date with one of her friends. It’s not like I’m askin’ you to marry her, man. It’s just to go out for a good time.

“If Clarissa’s not your type, what the fuck is your type, man?”

This was it. “Juan, none of the girls are my type, man.”

“Huh?” he asked, obviously not getting my meaning.

“Juan,” I said so quietly that I wasn’t sure he could hear me, “none of the girls are my type… because I’m gay.”

Oh, he heard me all right. The look of shock on his face was like none I’d ever seen on my best friend, or perhaps former best friend. Fearing the worst, I quickly added, “Please don’t out me.”

With a continuing look of disbelief on his face as he looked down at the ground, he said just under his breath, “Fuck, I don’t believe it. I fuckin’ don’t believe it. You really were starin’ at the faggot.”

I cringed at hearing him call Jerry that, even though almost all the kids called him that - all except me. This time it was different, though. This time he was saying it knowing it also applied to me.

“Are you callin’ me a faggot, Juan?” I asked.

Looking back up at me, he smiled and said, “No way, man. It’s gonna take a while for me to get used to my best friend bein’ gay, but you’re nothing like the faggot.” Then, after a brief pause, he continued, “Guess I better stop callin’ him that, ’specially if he becomes your boyfriend.”

Then he punched me on the shoulder as his smile grew into a grin. Relief washed over me and I grinned in return. We were gonna be OK.

As the school year ground on, I kept trying to find ways to get Jerry to look at me. I made it a point to undress in gym class where he could see me and, if I could arrange it, made sure he saw me naked. I even made it a point to try and take the shower nozzle next to his whenever I could without it being too obvious. Whenever I did, he spent the whole time in the shower with his back to me, so I started trying to make conversation with him, forcing him to look my way. I talked about the books I was reading, knowing how much he liked to read.

No matter how hard I tried, however, he avoided looking at me any more than he had to. A part of me thought, actually hoped, that maybe he was avoiding me because he liked me, but then reason took over and I decided he just wasn’t interested.

Before I knew it, it was almost Christmas and the school was holding a holiday dance for all the sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Because it wasn’t high school, I could still get away with going without taking a date, but there was no way to avoid dancing with the girls. It was good practice I guess, but it was too bad I couldn’t dance with the boys without outing myself. I kept looking for Jerry nevertheless, even though I knew I couldn’t dance with him but, apparently, he didn’t attend. I guess he knew no girl would take him seriously if he asked them to dance and, like me, there was no way he could dance with a boy. It wasn’t that he had to worry about outing himself. In his case it was more a matter of the boy he asked punching him in the face. But man, I just wanted to talk to him - to get to know him better.

For winter break my family visited my Aunt and Uncle in San Diego, right by the ocean. Man, that was nice. I missed seein’ Jerry, but we had a lot of fun. Winter break was all too short and, before long, it was back home to Indianapolis and back to school.

It was around the second week in January when I noticed that Jerry was absent one day, and I got worried about him. When I didn’t see him all day, I asked one of the teachers if she knew why he was absent, and she said the only thing she knew was that his parents had called in sick for him. I felt terrible for the poor guy. Not to mention I had a major crush on him and, if he felt sick, I felt sick.

Suddenly, I had a thought and I asked if maybe I could take his homework and assignments to him. The teacher pointed out that he could get his assignments by logging in to the school website. It was a Montessori school, after all, where students learned at their own pace. Still, there had been some interesting discussions in class that day and I thought that maybe I could help him to catch up, and so I suggested it to the teacher.

She told me I could if I wanted to, but I needed to talk to the principal first. Little did I know what that entailed.

After my last class of the day, I headed to the school’s administrative office and asked the secretary if I could speak to the principal. Unfortunately, she was in a meeting and I would need to wait an hour to see her. My parents were bound to wonder why I stayed late, which would only open up questions I wasn’t ready to answer. However, I was committed, the consequences be damned.

Finally, I was told the principal was ready to see me and I went into her office. “Hello Carlos, what can I do for you?” she asked, and I was impressed that she knew who I was, but, then, I realized the secretary prolly gave her my name.

“Ms. Walters,” I began. “A friend of mine, Jerome Cassidy, was out sick today. I was just hoping I could take him his missed assignments and maybe catch him up on some of what he missed today.”

“You are aware that he can get the assignments on-line?” she replied.

“Yes, I know that,” I started to explain, “but it’s not the same as being there. I can tell him about what happened in the classroom… stuff he can’t get on-line,” I added as convincingly as I could.

“Nor is your telling him what he missed the same as being there, either,” she pointed out. Then smiling a little bit - just a tiny bit - she went on to say, “Carlos, I understand what you’re trying to do, but you need to think these things through. As educators, we’re trained to recognize teens with special needs. The fact that you’ve been trying to get close to Jerry has not gone unnoticed by some of the teachers.”

Was she really saying what I thought she was saying.

“Carlos,” she continued as she seemed to look at me with compassionate eyes, “The school board has implemented policies to help identify teens at risk for suicide. One of the largest groups of teens at risk are LGBT teens. I hate to make it sound like Big Brother, but some of your teachers have been worried about you and we’ve been monitoring you as a teen at risk.”

“Are you saying you think I’m gay?” I asked incredulously. Sure I was gay, but I was incensed that my teachers had identified me as gay, even though I wasn’t out.

“Are you saying you’re not?” she replied, turning the tables on me.

After considering lying to her for only a brief moment, I answered, “No, but no one else knows… no one beside my best friend, anyway.”

“I’m glad to hear that Juan knows about you,” the principal replied. “Actually, it’s quite a relief that you’re out to him and I’m guessing he’s OK with it?”

Rather than answer directly, I simply nodded my head.

“That you felt comfortable enough with your sexuality and had enough faith in the strength of your friendship tells me a lot about you, particularly that you’re comfortable enough with yourself to confide in someone you trust, but I’m sure you want more than just a best friend to confide in, don’t you? Just as most boys need a girl in their life, you need a special boy in yours…

“And you’re trying to get closer to Jerry,” she added.

“I suppose,” I replied.

“But you don’t live anywhere near him,” she countered.

“No, I don’t,” I admitted.

“It’s pretty obvious what you’re trying to do,” she responded.

“I guess,” I replied, “but he doesn’t even seem to notice me, no matter how hard I try.” Then I smiled and added, “Pretty dumb, huh?”

“Perhaps, but maybe I can help you out a bit.” Reaching into her desk, she pulled out a couple of copies of a book. I immediately recognized the author as a well-known gay author, and the book was one I’d been wanting to read, but was afraid to keep in the house because of the gay-themed content.

“We don’t usually cover this book as part of the regular curriculum. It’s controversial as I’m sure you can imagine, particularly here in the Midwest. Occasionally we have a student who wants to read it for whatever reason. Of course it falls outside the regular curriculum, but it’s an outstanding work of literature and we award credit for it just as we would for any other book.

“Perhaps in assigning this book for the two of you to read, it might provide some cover for you to approach your burgeoning interest in each other. And I think the two of you would like writing a report on this book… a report you would write together.”

“What would I tell my parents?” I asked.

“I think you ought to seriously consider coming out but, short of that, just tell them that you were asked to pick a controversial book on which to do a report, and you chose this one from a list. They can call me if they have any questions.”

“I guess that would work,” I answered, but it still made me a bit nervous. I was even more nervous at the thought of presenting it to Jerry than at the thought of coming out to my parents. What if he didn’t want to do a book report with me - a report on a gay-themed book? I would be crushed if that happened. On the other hand, maybe this was just the thing I needed to get past whatever it was that was keeping us from being friends.

“Thank you, Ms. Walters,” I finally responded. “I appreciate this.”

“You’re very welcome, Carlos,” she responded as she handed me the books with Jerry’s address. However, just as I was about to reach for the doorknob to let myself out, she added, “And, Carlos?” Turning back around to look at her, she continued, “Jerry does notice you. He notices you a lot. Without saying anything more, suffice it to say that when you’re not looking at him, he’s spending just as much time looking at you. Just remember that, like you, he’s scared to death of being discovered… and of rejection.”

I started to open my mouth to say something but then thought better of it. What could I say to that? Was Jerry really as interested in me as I was in him? Shaking my head, I realized that Ms. Walters was just trying to be nice and to give me hope… prolly false hope. Still, she did figure out that I was gay… Turning back around, I reached for the doorknob and let myself out the door, closing it behind me.

After leaving the principal’s office, I phoned my mom and explained I would prolly be late, ’cause I was dropping off a book with a friend who was absent today - a friend who didn’t live near us. When she asked why I was the one dropping it off, I explained that we were collaborating on a book report, which seemed to satisfy her for the time being.

Jerry lived just a little over a mile from the school, right up Illinois Street, so I simply walked rather than waiting for a city bus. It was cold, but clear and an enjoyable walk. When I rang the bell, it was answered by a tall black man, whom I assumed to be one of Jerry’s dads. I explained why I was there and the man introduced himself to me as Ty, short for Tyler, and he introduced me to his partner, Ricky.

Because Jerry was upstairs and in the shower, the three of us sat down and I asked how Jerry was feeling.

“He’s fine,” Ty explained. “A little tired, but fine. We had a couple of unexpected visitors show up last night,” he went on, “a couple of teenage boys that had problems at home and for reasons that are a bit complicated to explain, ended up on our doorstep. It was quite late when we got finished with them and, even afterwards, it seems that Jerry stayed up with them most of the night. We couldn’t rouse him this morning, so we called him in sick for the day. He should be back at school on Monday.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” I said in obvious relief. Then summoning up all my courage, I asked, “You guys are gay, right?”

“Well yeah,” Ty responded, “We’ve never tried to hide it.”

“So am I,” I blurted out. “Anyway,” I went on without giving them a chance to respond, “I really, really like Jerry, but he won’t give me the time of day. I mean everyone knows he’s gay… he is, isn’t he?”

Smiling, Ty answered, “That’s a question you’ll have to ask him.” Fuck!

“Well, it was worth a try,” I continued. “So if nothing else, I’d at least like to be his friend. Sure, I’d like it even better if he would be my boyfriend, but having him as my friend is the most important thing of all. We both like to read and we read a lot of the same types of books. I’ve tried bringing up some of the books I’ve read, hoping we could discuss them, but he just seems to shut me down. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“Part of it may be that he’s not sure of your motives,” Ricky pointed out. “He’s been bullied a lot all his life and, although he thinks you’re a nice guy, he just can’t be sure this isn’t some sort of cruel joke meant to hurt him.”

“Shit, I hadn’t thought of that,” I responded, somehow knowing that as young as Ty and Ricky were, they wouldn’t have a problem with my language. Then, finally realizing what I’d heard, asked, “Jerry thinks I’m a nice guy? You mean he talks about me?”

“All the time,” Ty answered.

“YES!” I practically shouted as I pumped my fist into the air.

“Could I ask you something?” Ricky began, “Are you out to your parents?”

With what I was sure was a nervous look, I looked down at the floor and said, “No, I’m scared shitless to tell them. I think they’ll be OK with it, but you read stories about what sometimes happens…”

“Everyone’s scared shitless,” Ty said. “Most parents don’t have a clue. Ricky and I both lost our parents over it…”

“Fuck,” I said quietly, then added, “oops, sorry,” thinkin’ maybe I’d gone too far.

“Fuck is right,” Ricky agreed. “My parents eventually came around, but not until after I’d lived apart from them for more than two years, by which time I was sixteen and chose to continue living with my boyfriend.”

“And my father ended up going on a drinking binge and then driving the wrong way on Interstate 65, killing himself and another driver in the process.”

“Fuck, fuck fuck!” I responded.

“That’s what I said at the time,” Ty replied. “Anyway, ours was pretty much a worst case scenario. Chances are good that your parents will be OK with it.

“Seriously, we’d be happy to help you with coming out to your parents, and to talk to them if they’d like, but if the shit really does hit the fan, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you like.”

Just then I heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs and turned just in time to see Jerry in the lead, followed by a couple of white boys, one who looked to be around sixteen and the other who looked to be my age. They prolly didn’t notice that I noticed, but when they first started coming down the stairs, they were holding hands. I already suspected that the trouble they were having at home was ’cause they’re gay, and now I knew it.

“Carlos!” Jerry practically shouted. “What are you doing here?”

“I brought you your assignments from today, man,” I replied. “I missed seeing you in school, but I guess you had an eventful evening and night last night.”

“Yeah, we did,” Jerry answered, and then motioning the boys behind him to come forward, he added, “By the way, this is Kevin,” he said as he pointed to the older boy, “and this is Lance,” he said as he pointed to the younger one.

Shaking their hands, I said, “Nice to meet you guys,” and then I added, “you make a really cute couple.”

“Dads!” Jerry shouted, “You TOLD Carlos about Kevin and Lance? You OUTED them without their permission?”

“You should know better, Jerry,” Ty replied. “We’d never do that.”

“Sorry if it was forward of me,” I responded. “I just figured that if they were having trouble at home and they were here, they prolly were gay. After all, that’s why you’re here, Jer, isn’t it?”

“Well yeah, but it’s not like I advertise it, Carlos,” Jerry answered.

“It’s all cool,” I responded. “We’re all family here.”

“You’re gay?” Jerry asked in surprise.

“I thought you knew,” I replied. “I mean, I’ve been dropping hints all over the place that I liked you, but you never responded, so I thought maybe you weren’t interested.”

“This the boy you were talking about, Jerry?” Kevin asked. Whoa! Jerry had been talking about me to these kids. Maybe he really did like me.

The intense blush that was evident, even on Jerry’s black skin, made the answer pretty obvious. Turning to face me, Jerry looked right into my eyes and said, “I guess I’m pretty dense sometimes. All this time I was scared shitless that you’d punch me or something for coming on to you, and you’ve been coming on to me. I didn’t have a clue.”

“You serious?” I asked, and then added, “And you seriously thought I’d punch you out?”

“I didn’t think you would,” Jerry answered. “You’re one of the nicest guys I know, but some guys take offense, you know, when you hint that you think of them that way.”

“Yeah, but I’m not some guys,” I responded as I placed my hands on Jerry’s shoulders, looking down into his eyes. “So would you like to go out with me this weekend? Perhaps tomorrow? Maybe go out to dinner and take in a movie?” I asked. Then looking over Jerry’s shoulder, I motioned toward Lance and Kevin and added, “We could even double date if you want.”

“O God yes,” Jerry answered as he pulled me into a tight hug, looked up into my eyes and planted a quick peck on my lips.

I responded with a kiss of my own that was not nearly so quick, and then I said, “I could definitely get used to this.” I was in heaven, I’d just experienced my first kiss with a boy and my first ever kiss on the lips, and it was with the boy I’d kind of been in love with all year.

“Sorry to interrupt, guys,” Ricky broke in, “but we need to get over to dinner with Barbara and Rick.” Looking over at me, he added, “Carlos, I’d invite you to join us, but we’re gonna be discussing some private things related to Kevin and Lance’s home situation.

“If you have any more questions about coming out to your parents, please don’t hesitate to call us and, if worse comes to worst, you know you’re welcome to stay with us as long as necessary.”

Just as I was turning to leave, I remembered why I was supposed to be there and pulled the book out of my backpack. Handing it to Jerry, I explained, “I volunteered us to do a book report together on this book.”

When he saw what it was, his eyes lit up and he said, “Cool. I read this last year and I liked it a lot.” When he saw my face start to fall, he added, “But I’d love to read it again. It’s a really great book and I know you’ll enjoy it. I think we’ll both enjoy discussing it and writing the report together.”

“Writing being the operative word,” Ty added, causing me to color up furiously. No doubt I was looking forward to spending the time with Jerry, and not all of it writing!

I practically floated home from Jerry’s, even though it was a bit of a walk. My parents, my brother, my two sisters and I lived in a modest development that was nestled between the Central Canal and the White River. The houses, although small, were new and nice, and we could afford one. We could have had a lot more house for the money in the surrounding neighborhood of older homes, but we didn’t need a larger house. We had three bedrooms, one for the boys, one for the girls and one for our parents. That was plenty.

To get home from Jerry’s, I walked west, through the Butler University campus, until I came to the Central Canal. From there I took the Canal Trail south, past the Indianapolis Museum of Art and past the Woodstock Country Club, then under Interstate 65, and I was home. It was a lovely walk in the spring and fall - one I looked forward to taking hand-in-hand with the boy I loved. Today, however, my mind wasn’t on the trail or the scenery around me. I was oblivious to the cold, blustery weather. No, my mind kept going back to the moment Jerry’s lips met mine.

I wasn’t even aware I’d arrived home until I was walking in the door to the kitchen, where my Mom was busy getting dinner ready.

“Buenas tardes, mamá. ¿Cómo estás?” [Good afternoon Mom. How are you?”] I said, as I kissed her on the cheek.

“Estoy bien, Carlos,” [“I’m fine Carlos,”] she replied. “Por fin estás en casa.” [Finally, you’re home.”]

“Momma, like I told you, I had to take an assignment to a friend,” I reiterated, slipping into English.

“I still don’t see why you had to be the one,” she responded, also sliding into English.

“I already told you,” I replied in exasperation. “We’re gonna be working on a book report together. I had to give him his copy of the book so he could get started on it.”

“And that couldn’t have waited until Monday?” she asked.

“No, it had to be tonight, so he could have it for the weekend.” I answered.

“So what is this book?” she asked.

Getting my copy out of my backpack, I handed it to her. She wiped her hands on her apron and took it from me, looking at it briefly before handing it back to me.

“I do not know this book,” she challenged. “I will need to take a look at it to be sure it’s suitable.”

Knowing she prolly wouldn’t think it suitable, I decided I’d better head her off at the pass and said, “Just so you know, the principal gave us the assignment and… the author’s gay, Momma, and there are gay characters in the book…”

“They let thirteen-year-old boys read such a book?” she asked in astonishment.

Nodding my head, I replied, “Jerry, the boy who’s gonna be writing the report with me is only twelve. We had to choose a book that’s controversial from a short list of books. We chose that one because we heard it’s good. You know the kind of books I like to read.”

Sighing, she responded, “You’ve always liked the more adult books, even when you were just learning to read.” Obviously, she meant I liked to read books at an adult level - not books with adult content - although I was starting to develop an interest in that kind of book too!

“I can see where that kind of book would appeal to you,” she continued. “Sadly, you are going to meet a lot of people with different values than our own. Some of them with different morals…”

“What do you mean by ‘different morals’?” I asked, feeling like I was on the defensive. “What’s different about the morals of gay people?”

She started to open her mouth, but then closed it, seeming to think better of it. After a few minutes of silence, she continued, “You’re more American than Mexican now, but that’s probably a good thing. I was raised to think a certain way. Much of my thinking as a child was shaped by the Church. I meet many different people every day now as I drive my bus. It’s not up to us to judge them.”

“Hey Momma,” my brother Esteban said as he entered the kitchen. Esteban was the oldest at sixteen. He went to school at Arsenal Technical High School and was planning to graduate as an auto mechanic in a couple of years. He already had an after-school job in the parts department at a nearby Ford dealership. Kissing our mother on the cheek, he turned to me and said, “Carlos, my little man. ¿Cómo te va?” [How you doing?”]

Recognizing the double meaning of my brother’s question, I answered, “Se está haciendo más grande todo el tiempo,” [“It’s getting bigger all the time.”] leaving our poor momma puzzled as to why I’d answered my brother’s question about how it was going with something about me getting bigger all the time.

Shaking her head and getting an amused look on her face - she did know - she said, “Se lavan a los niños. La cena estará lista en cinco minutos.” [“Wash children. Dinner will be ready in five minutes.”]

“Ci mamá,” Esteban answered. “We’ll wash up for dinner.”

A few minutes later, we were seated at the table with my sisters, Maria, who was fifteen, and Estelle, who was twelve, as well as our mother and father. After giving our thanks to God, we started passing serving dishes around as the conversation centered around what everyone had done that day. I was doing my best to remain quiet, when my mother mentioned, “Carlos went over to see a friend today after school. The friend was out sick and he dropped off a book they’re going to be reading.”

“Oh, what is the name of the book?” my father asked.

When I answered, it was my older sister that responded, “Isn’t that a book about queers?”

Shocked, I just sat there and it was my brother that answered, “Actually it’s supposed to be a good book and it won several awards. The author is gay and several of the characters are gay, but it’s not a book about gays. It’s a book about people.

“Why would you want to read a book about queers?” Maria asked, still focusing on what she perceived that Esteban had said.

“Maria,” our father said, “if he got the book at school, then it can’t be a bad book. We have to trust Carlos’s teachers.”

“Who’s the boy you’re gonna be doin’ the report with?” Estelle asked, probably hoping it was someone she liked, anxious to have a boy coming around here. If only she knew!

“His name’s Jerry,” I replied, hoping that would be the end of it, but I was wrong.

“Jerry,” she replied. “I don’t think I know anyone in your class named Jerry.”

“Actually, his name is Jerome, and he’s African American,” I explained, hoping again she would let the matter drop. She didn’t

“Wait a minute,” Estelle began, “Isn’t that that gay kid?” Oh God, she knew who I was talking about. “It is, isn’t it?” she went on. “Is that why you two are reading that particular book?”

“We chose that book because we heard it’s a very good book, because we had to pick something controversial, and we were given a list of books from which to choose,” I countered.

“But if you do a report with a gay boy about a gay book, aren’t you worried everyone will think you’re gay too?” Estelle asked.

“Maybe Carlos is gay,” Maria suggested. “Maybe Jerry is his boyfriend. Maybe that’s why they’re doin’ a book report together and why they chose to do it about a gay book.” FUCK! This was not how I intended to come out to my family!

“Maria, enough!” my poppy shouted. “Carlos is your brother. You shouldn’t be accusing him of such things.”

I just wanted the whole thing dropped, but Esteban wouldn’t let it go. “Bein’ gay isn’t a crime, Poppy. You wouldn’t accuse someone of bein’ short, so why would you accuse them of bein’ gay?”

“Because being gay is wrong, Esteban,” our father responded. “It’s a choice… a choice to turn your back on God.”

Before I had a chance to think it through, my mouth engaged and I found myself shouting in rage, “Being gay is NOT a choice! Do you think I would choose this? I didn’t choose to be gay. It was God that made me this way!”

Suddenly realizing what I’d done, I ran from the table, tears streaming down my face, slammed the door shut behind me and threw myself onto my bed. In the background I could hear arguing going on outside my door, but I wasn’t listening to a word. My life as I knew it was over. I wondered if a bottle of Tylenol would be enough to end it but, then, I remembered what Ms. Walters said about LGBT teens and suicide and I wasn’t about to become another statistic. Somehow I was gonna hafta find the courage to deal with it. These were my parents and my siblings and they were gonna hafta deal with me too, ’cause I was gay and that was one thing that would never change.

A while later - perhaps it had been a half-hour - the bedroom door opened and Esteban walked inside. I felt my bed sink from the weight of his body sitting next to me.

“I’m sorry, Carlos,” he began. “I should have never brought it up. I should have just let the matter drop as I knew you wanted me to do, but I couldn’t let Maria talk about you that way.”

The gravity of what Esteban was saying slowly sank in and I raised my face to look into his eyes and ask the obvious question, “You knew?”

Nodding his head, he answered, “Bro, we’ve shared the same bedroom since you were born. More importantly, we share the same computer. Remind me sometime to show you how to clear the browser cache. Erasing your history is not enough.”

“Fuck”, I said under my breath as I thought of all the on-line porn I’d viewed on our computer over the past couple of years.

“A very appropriate choice of words,” Esteban responded with a grin on his face, and then getting a more serious look, he continued, “You’re my bro and you’ll always be my bro, and I love you. It doesn’t matter to me that you’re gay. Family is family and nothing is more important. Nothing. So you have a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend. It’s no fucking big deal. And you’re right… you didn’t choose this. God did make you this way.

“You gave our parents quite a shock,” Esteban continued. “Dad and Maria said things they shouldn’t have said, and I made it clear to everyone how I feel. I also pointed out their hypocrisy. You ever wonder why there are only four of us?”

When I didn’t say anything, he continued, “We’re Catholic, so there should be at least twice as many children, if not more. I mean, it’s not like Momma and Poppy are celibate.”

I didn’t even want to think about our parents having sex, but Esteban continued anyway. “The Church says it’s wrong to use birth control, but if our parents hadn’t, we could have never gotten by with this house. We would have ended up in a larger house in a bad neighborhood. Momma and Poppy made a conscious choice to ignore the Pope and use birth control, so that the children they had would have a brighter future. I pointed that out to them this evening and I think I struck a raw nerve.

“The bottom line is that the Pope doesn’t have to raise a family. Our parents do. The Pope doesn’t have a gay son. Our parents do, and I have a gay brother whom I love very much. The Church isn’t always right about things. They’re wrong about birth control, and they’re wrong about homosexuality.

Throwing my arms around my older brother, I hugged him for all I was worth as tears streamed down both our faces.

“Sooo… you and Jerry?” Esteban asked.

I could feel myself coloring up as I answered, “God, I hope so. I’ve been trying to get him to notice me all year and it turns out he’s been interested all along. He was just afraid that I might beat him up if he came on to me and I turned out to be straight. What a couple of fools we are.”

“It’s called being a member of the human race,” Esteban tried to explain, but I wasn’t havin’ it.

“Getting punched in the face is just about the last thing you need to worry about when you ask a girl out on a date,” I countered. “If I asked the wrong guy out, I could well end up with my teeth on the ground… or worse. It’s hard when you’re gay.”

“Fuck, I hadn’t thought of it like that before,” Esteban apologized. “I hope things work out for you and Jerry.”

“Me too,” I replied. “I really like him a lot… no, it’s more than that if I’m gonna be honest. I’m in love with the little guy.” Then staring off into space, prolly with a dreamy or goofy look on my face, I continued, “We’re going out on our first date tomorrow. I guess maybe I’ll take him to the Circle Centre Mall, then maybe out for dinner and a movie.

“God, what should I wear? Can I kiss him and make out during the movie? Should we hold hands while walking through the mall? Should I get him something first… maybe flowers, or candy, or a card? What if he asks me back to his place for the night? Should I take him up on it, or would it be better to wait until the second date? What will I tell Momma and Poppy?”

“Man, you got it bad, bro.”

“Should I get something for his dads?” I thought to myself aloud.

“His dads?” Esteban asked with his eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, he was adopted by a couple of gay guys, prolly because he was thrown out of the house by his own parents for bein’ gay.”

“Poor guy,” Esteban responded, and then added, “At least that’s one thing you don’t need to worry about.”

“I don’t?” I asked.

“It may take a while for them to come around, but Momma and Poppy will never turn their backs on you. That’s something you can bank on.

“So let’s talk about going out on your very first date… ”

And that’s exactly what we did, long into the night before we finally turned out the lights.

I woke up on Saturday morning at the ridiculous hour of 6:30. I was just sooo anxious to see Jerry, but it was too early to call. Way too early. I was so excited that I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up, threw on a pair of jeans over my boxers, and tiptoed out of the bedroom, leaving my loudly snoring brother behind.

Entering the kitchen, I was startled to see my father sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee.

“Buenos días, Carlos,” [“Good morning Carlos,”] he greeted me as he motioned me to sit down across from him, then poured another mug of coffee and slid it toward me. It was a symbolic gesture, as my parents never let me have coffee before, even though I sometimes complained bitterly that a lot of my friends drank coffee.

“You’re growing up, son,” he said as I took my first sip, then practically spat it out. It was bitter!

Laughing at me, he slid a carton of milk and a bowl of sugar toward me and said, “I like it black, but most people can’t stand coffee unless it’s loaded up with a lot of this stuff.

Tentatively, I poured in a bunch of milk and added a few teaspoons of sugar, then stirred them in. Taking another sip, I was surprised at the difference it made. “This is really, really good,” I said in surprise.

“Coffee is one of life’s pleasures,” my Poppy replied, then added, “that and snuggling up with a beautiful woman, or in your case a handsome young man.

“This is going to take some getting used to but, above all else, never doubt that your mother and I love you very much. I think I understand now that this is not something you chose… that it’s part of who you are… a very small part. More than anything, I want you to be happy.”

“Thanks, Poppy,” I replied as I took another sip of my coffee.

“When did you grow a mustache?” he asked.

Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “I didn’t really set out to grow one, but when I started getting hair on my lip and my face, Esteban told me he thought I’d look good if I didn’t shave it off. He showed me how to shave my face, but I left the mustache alone.”

“It looks good on you, Carlos,” Poppy said. “You’re already tall for thirteen and with the mustache, you could easily pass for fifteen.”

I couldn’t help but smile at that.

“You’re a good-looking boy,” Poppy continued. “Much more handsome than I ever was. I bet you could have your pick of the boys,” he added, which made me blush. “So this Jerry of yours must be someone really special.”

“You have no idea just how special he is, Poppy.” Once I got started, I couldn’t stop talking about Jerry, about how intelligent he is, that he’s a voracious reader, and even about how endearing I found his girlish mannerisms.

“You mentioned that he’s black?” Dad asked.

“That bother you?” I asked back in return.

“Perhaps more than that you’re gay,” Poppy admitted, “but I trust your judgement. If I can get used to you being gay, I can get used to you dating an African American young man.

“Would you like more coffee?” my father then asked. When did I finish my coffee? How could I have been so oblivious?

Shaking my head, I replied, “I was hyper even before the coffee. The last thing I need is more caffeine.”

“So, when can we meet your little boyfriend?” Dad asked.

At a near panic, I responded, “NO! Not yet anyway. We haven’t even gone out on a date! Let him get to know me a little better first and maybe then we can have him over. I’m afraid Maria and Estelle would rip him to shreds.”

Chuckling, Poppy said, “I see your point. Maybe in a few weeks, but not yet.

“So are you planning to go out soon?”

“Later today if all goes well,” I replied. “We haven’t set a time, but he agreed to go to a movie and for dinner. I also invited some friends of his, but I don’t know if they can come. I thought maybe we could go to the Circle Centre Mall and browse the shops, maybe walk along the canal for a while.”

“Do you need a ride?” Poppy asked. “I could drive you over, or maybe you’d rather Esteban would,” he added.

Shaking my head, I replied, “It looks like it’s gonna be a nice day for winter. I can walk over to his place and then we can take the bus. Tonight, when it’s dark we could use a ride, but not when it’s light out.

“You just want to be alone with your boy,” Poppy chided me with a laugh.

“You got that right,” I agreed.

As we continued talking about my boyfriend to be, or so I hoped, the message ring tone on my phone sounded. Opening the phone, I saw that it was from Jerry! It simply said, “Call me when you get up.” It wasn’t even eight yet, so I guessed he couldn’t sleep either.

Dialing him back, he immediately answered, “Hey Babe, I didn’t expect you to be up so early.”

“Normally I wouldn’t be, but I couldn’t sleep thinking about our date today. I’ve been up for more than an hour, talking to my Poppy about you!”

“You came out to your parents?” Jerry asked in surprise.

“Yeah, I did it at dinner last night. My brother already knew,” I related. “I guess I’d neglected to clear my browser cache…”

Jerry laughed hysterically. “That’s a sure way to get caught all right. So I take it he’s OK with you?”

“Esteban has been great,” I agreed. “He really stood up for me last night, particularly with some of the things that were said around the table about gays before I came out. That’s actually the main reason I came out last night. I got so angry at the stuff my sisters and parents were saying, I just blew up and blurted it out.”

“Fuck!” Jerry replied.

“Fuck was right,” I agreed.

“Carlos?” Poppy admonished me.

“Sorry Poppy,” I apologized.

“So how are things with your family now?” Jerry asked.

“The only one I’ve seen since last night is my father, and he’s been wonderful. He said he’d like to meet you, but I told him it’s prolly too soon. We haven’t even gone out yet.”

“I wouldn’t mind meeting him,” Jerry replied. “Actually I’d kinda like to meet your whole family. I was hoping we could go somewhere for breakfast. I’m standing right outside your front door.”

“You’re here?” I practically shouted.

“Like you said, I couldn’t sleep so, after a few hours of tossing and turning, I got up, took a shower, got dressed and left my dads a note.”

“How did you know where I live?” I asked.

“You can find anything on the Internet these days,” Jerry answered. “First I looked you up to get your address, then I used Google maps to locate the best route here. I didn’t realize you’re right on the Central Canal. I live right near Butler, and you’re right on the Canal path. It’s an easy walk.”

“Yeah it is,” I agreed.

“So can I come in?” he asked.

Looking up at my Poppy, I said, “Jerry’s standing outside our front door. He’d like to meet you. Is that OK?”

Laughing, my father replied, “If you don’t mind him seeing me in my robe, I’m game.”

Jumping up, I said, “You always look good, Poppy, no matter what you wear.”

“That was the right answer,” I heard him say as I ran out of the kitchen and threw open the front door.

The cold outdoor air came as a shock as it hit my bare chest, but I hardly noticed it. Jerry looked absolutely adorable, standing there all bundled up in his heavy winter coat. We made quite a contrast, Jerry at four-and-a-half feet, give or take, bundled up to the max and me at just under six feet and dressed only in jeans.

“Get in here!” I smiled as I swept him into my arms, looked down into his face and pressed my lips to his. The exterior of his coat may have been ice cold against my bare skin, but I was on fire. The kiss seemed to go on forever as our lips parted and our tongues entwined for the very first time. I was insanely hard.

Finally breaking the kiss, I said, “Let me take your coat for you, and then you can meet my father.”

“I’m right here, boys,” Poppy said from just in front of the kitchen door, embarrassing me to no end. I colored up furiously thinking of how he’d seen us kiss.

Giggling, Jerry said, “The look on your face is so priceless. I saw your dad come in just after you opened the door, but then you started making out with me and there was no way to warn you while you had your tongue down my throat.” That revelation only caused me to blush more deeply.

Walking over to us, Poppy approached Jerry and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Jerry. Carlos has told me so much about you, but I have to say you’re even cuter in person than I could have imagined.”

Now it was Jerry’s turn to blush as my Poppy shook his hand.

“You saw us kiss?” I asked, kinda stating the obvious.

Rolling his eyes, Poppy responded, “Yes, I saw you kiss. Maybe you thought I’d be grossed out seeing two boys kiss, but I wasn’t. It just looked so… natural for you to kiss. It seemed right.

“Now if you boys wouldn’t mind excusing me, I think we’d all feel more comfortable if I took a shower and got dressed. Help yourselves to the coffee and I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. Maybe by then some of the others will be up and we can get started making breakfast for our guest.”

As I watched my dad disappear around the corner and into the bedroom hallway, I said, “Damn, fifteen minutes doesn’t leave us any time to do anything.”

“Why don’t you go take your shower too?” Jerry suggested, “and while you’re in the shower, I’ll get started on breakfast.”

“I musta looked at him like he had two heads or something, ’cause he giggled and said, “What? You don’t think I can make breakfast?”

“Let’s just say I’m skeptical is all,” I replied. “I mean, I can scramble eggs, or make oatmeal, but that’s about it for my cooking skills.”

“Well I’ll have you know that my dads are incredible gourmet cooks,” Jerry replied, but then getting a look of worry, asked, “You did tell your dad about my dads, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did,” I replied.

“Anyway,” Jerry continued, “my dads taught me all about cooking, so I can cook up a mean breakfast. Give me a chance to show you.”

“You really can make breakfast?” I asked.

“I’d stake my life on it,” he replied.

“Then have at it,” I responded.

Jerry made fast work of surveying the kitchen and figuring out what ingredients he could use. I had no idea what he intended to make as he raided the refrigerator and got out eggs, bacon, sausage, strawberries and milk. From the cupboard he got out bread, flour, cinnamon and powdered sugar.

In the meantime, I headed down the bedroom hallway and quietly made my way to the main bathroom, which I shared with my brother and my two sisters. I was careful to avoid making noise that might wake someone up. Closing and locking the bathroom door behind me, I turned on the water in the shower and adjusted the temperature, then dropped my jeans and boxers and stepped inside.

I was still hard from kissing Jerry and ended up relieving the stress while I was in there. After shampooing my hair and washing my body, I turned the water off and dried myself off. After applying deodorant and cologne and cleaning up my face a bit with a razor, I brushed my teeth, but then I realized I didn’t have a clean pair of boxers with me. I therefore decided to go commando until I could get into my room.

Throwing on my jeans, I emerged from the bathroom at the same time that Poppy emerged from his own shower. “Something sure smells good,” he said as we walked to the kitchen. When we stepped inside, there Jerry was, at the stove, with three skillets going at the same time - one with frying bacon, one with frying sausage links and, in the largest of the three, he’d placed slices of bread, dipped in the egg and milk batter.

“I’m impressed!” Poppy exclaimed as Jerry loaded up individual plates and put them in the oven to keep warm. Within twenty minutes from start to finish, he had seven plates loaded with French toast, covered in cinnamon sugar and strawberries, as well as bacon and sausage. He also had a pot of coffee on the table, which was set with seven place settings. It was a breakfast feast.

With the smells of French toast, bacon and coffee filling the whole house, it wasn’t long before family members started to magically appear. First to show up was my brother, who was dressed similarly to the way I was in just a pair of jeans.

“Who made breakfast?” he asked as he entered the kitchen. “It smells awesome!”

“My boyfriend did,” I proudly announced. Finally, Esteban noticed Jerry’s presence in the kitchen.

“You’re Jerry?” he asked, noting the obvious.

“The one and only,” Jerry answered.

“Wow, my brother said you were cute, but I never imagined just how cute you are, and he never said anything about you bein’ able to cook.” And then as an afterthought, he extended his hand and said, “By the way, I’m Esteban.”

“Esteban means Steven, right?” Jerry asked.

“I guess so,” Esteban acknowledged.

As the two of them shook hands, Jerry said, “Carlos never mentioned how handsome his brother is.”

Shrugging my bare shoulders, I responded, “To me he’s just my brother.”

“Yeah, but your brother’s smokin’ hot.”

“Obviously a man of good taste,” Esteban threw in. “You’re welcome here anytime, Jerry.”

“The food’s in the oven if you want to help yourself, Esteban,” Jerry added. “Just be careful… the plates are hot.”

Esteban wasted no time in grabbing one of the plates out of the oven with his bare hands, and then he ran to the table and practically dropped the plate onto it, saying, “Fuck, that’s hot!” Jerry rolled his eyes at me and I couldn’t help but laugh.

As Esteban started to dig in, voicing how good the food was with every few bites, Maria walked into the kitchen, her hair a mess and wearing an old T-shirt and shorts that only accentuated the excess weight she carried. Noticing that we had a guest, she started to turn around, but then thought better of it and looked right at Jerry, saying, “You the black faggot my brother’s shakin’ up with?”

I was about to tell her to go to hell when my father beat me to it. “Maria, this young man is our guest and he was gracious enough to make breakfast for us. You apologize this instant or I will be feeding your plate to the neighbor’s dog.”

“Go ahead and feed it to the dog,” she replied. “I wouldn’t eat that shit anyway. He probably jerked off into it.”

“Maria, get me your cell phone right now.” Poppy demanded.

“No! Why should I have to put up with my fudgepacking brother and his black whore?”

“Maria, just because you’re fifteen doesn’t mean you’re too old for a major whipping. I’ve never hit you before but if you continue, don’t be so sure I won’t now. At the least you will be grounded for a week without cell phone or Internet access. Keep this up and you won’t have a cell phone for the rest of your days under this roof. And forget about getting your driver’s license… I won’t sign for it. You had damn well better apologize or you will be grounded until you’re eighteen!”

“Poppy, let me,” Esteban admonished our father as he grabbed ahold of Maria’s arm and guided her to the living room. Even though we could still see them, my brother spoke so quietly that we couldn’t hear a word, yet whatever it was that he was saying was evidently having an impact as my sister’s face went through every contortion imaginable. Finally they returned to the kitchen and Maria apologized - apologized - to both Jerry and me. I’d have to ask my brother later but, whatever it was he said to Maria, it worked!

Moments later, Estelle walked into the kitchen looking considerably cheerier than her older sister. She immediately noticed Jerry and said, “You look too pretty to be a boy. I can see why Carlos fell for you. You’re really cute!”

“Estelle, this is my boyfriend, Jerry,” I said, making the introductions. “Jerry, my better sister, Estelle.” Maria gave me the evil eye when I said that, but it was hard for her to argue the point.

“Jerry made some breakfast for us,” Poppy added as he removed a plate from the oven and set it in front of Estelle. Maria, for her part, was still sitting there with her arms crossed, too proud to ask for her own plate, or to go get herself one.

“This is great, Jerry,” Estelle said as she dug in. “We usually don’t have anything more than cereal, so this is a real treat. Thanks so much!”

“You’re very welcome,” Jerry replied, just as my mamma walked in. I had a mild feeling of dread in my stomach, worried sick my mother would reject my boyfriend.

To kind of head things off, I said, “Jerry made us some breakfast, Mamma.”

“Yes, I see he did,” she replied, and then she took us all by surprise by pulling him into her arms, hugging him tightly and saying, “Mi niño, eres tan adorable!” [“My child, you are so adorable!”] Then pulling away slightly and looking right into his eyes, she added, “Don’t you ever, ever hurt my Carlos. Do you understand?”

“I could never hurt Carlos,” Jerry answered. “I’ve been in love with him for a very long time.”

By the time we finished breakfast, it was still too early to go to the Circle Centre Mall and downtown is pretty much dead on a Saturday morning. Instead, we walked back along the canal path until we came to the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. We figured it was too early for the museum to be open and discovered it didn’t open until eleven, so we just walked around the grounds for a while, hand-in-hand, enjoying being with each other and talking about each other.

I learned that Jerry had far more depth than I ever imagined. He liked a wide variety of different kinds of music, but I was astonished to find that his favorite was classical music. He spoke with reverence about Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous composers of all time, about how he led a tortured life because he was gay and forced by society to stay in the closet. He spoke of Tchaikovsky’s brief failed marriage - a marriage that was doomed from the start ’cause his true love interest was his wife’s son. In the end, he died when he was in his thirties from cholera, but Jerry related that many scholars believe Tchaikovsky deliberately drank tainted water, taking his own life rather than having to face being outed.

I’d always loved classical music myself and thought the Overture to Romeo and Juliet was one of the most romantic pieces ever written, but I never knew of the terrible struggle Tchaikovsky faced as a gay man. Jerry knew it all, and so much more. He was exceptionally well-read. He was a true genius - a genius rejected by his own parents simply because he liked to wear his mother’s dresses.

Because it was still early and it would be more than an hour before the museum opened, we decided to walk up to the Butler University campus and to continue our conversation, walking the paths of the Holden Arboretum. As we walked, I learned that, although Jerry lived within the boundaries of the Broad Ripple High School area, he wasn’t particularly interested in their emphasis on the arts and humanities. To be sure, there were a lot of gay kids that went to school there and they had the largest GSA in the city, but it wasn’t the place for him.

It turned out that Jerry was most interested in public service. He wanted to become a politician in the footsteps of Barak Obama, but figured the nation wasn’t near ready for openly gay politicians yet, particularly ones that liked to dress in drag. He thought he might enjoy being a teacher even more than going into politics, but I told him that as wonderful a teacher as I thought he’d be, he shouldn’t sell himself short. I told him I thought he should pursue a law degree, as it would give him the most options.

Jerry agreed. He’d been thinking much the same thing and had already decided to go to Shortridge High School, which was a magnet school for Law and Public Policy. That way, he’d have a solid foundation, regardless of whether he chose to go into the Law or into Education. When he said that, the hugest, goofiest grin took over my face as I told him I wanted to become a lawyer and that I’d already decided to go to Shortridge, which happened to be my local school. The kiss we shared was long and passionate, right up until we heard the footsteps of a couple of college guys passing by.

Fearing the worst, I prepared to defend us, but the guys just smiled and one of them gave us a thumbs-up as he and his boyfriend joined hands. I gave them a smile and a thumbs-up in return.

From the arboretum and the Butler campus, we continued on up the canal path, ending up in Broad Ripple, where the numerous shops had already started to open. Broad Ripple is a funky area with a lot of artsy shops and an active night scene. Of course Jerry and I were way too young to be admitted to any of the clubs - even the ones catering to teens - but it was still nice to be able to browse the shops and enjoy walking in a place where holding each other’s hand didn’t result in us getting our heads bashed in.

After eating lunch in Broad Ripple Village, we turned onto the Monon Trail and headed back toward downtown along the old railroad right-of-way. I asked Jerry whatever happened to Kevin and Lance, the boys I’d invited to join us. Jerry explained a bit about what was going on with them and how they’d been up late two nights in a row. I couldn’t believe how Kevin had escaped his parents, who were hell-bent on sending him to one of those places where they torture kids to try to make them go straight. And Lance was forced out by his mother, practically at gunpoint! Whoa!

The real surprise was that they managed to find Lance’s father, who fled the coop when Lance was just a little kid. It turned out that Lance’s dad had been forced out at gunpoint himself for the very same reason as Lance - because he was gay. What an amazing story!

When we reached 52nd Street, realizing we still had a six-mile walk to the Circle Centre Mall and seeing an IndyGo bus stop sign nearby, we decided we’d done enough walking for the day. Fortunately, there was a number 19 bus arriving in ten minutes, as the next one after that wouldn’t come for another two hours! We were very lucky - although we could have walked to another bus stop, the number 19 took us right where we wanted to go.

The Mall was buzzing with activity as might be expected on a Saturday afternoon. Kids of all ages were everywhere, including a lot of kids around our age. The suburban kids could have their Casselton Square, their Greenwood and their Washington Square malls. We city kids had not only the Circle Centre Mall, but all of downtown too. What was particularly cool about the Circle Centre Mall was that they preserved the original architecture of the department stores that formed the core of the mall, creating an elevated glass-enclosed backbone that crossed all the downtown streets. Inside, everything was as modern as any suburban mall.

“Carlos, amigo mío. ¿Cómo estás?” [“Carlos, my friend. How are you?”] I heard from behind us.

Jerry and I turned around to see my best friend, Juan, as well as Larry, John, Sammy and Billy, all friends from school. I did my usual slap-tap handshake with Juan, followed by a half-hug as we always did. I then greeted each of the others. It was as we stood there that I realized that while these guys were my friends, they weren’t Jerry’s friends. I wasn’t sure how they all would react to seeing me there with Jerry, an outwardly effeminate boy. Before, my biggest fear would have been being outed and, while that was still a concern, I was far more fearful that they’d do something to hurt Jerry. That was something that I could not allow.

“So have you guys been here long?” Juan asked, obviously trying to diffuse our friends’ curiosity at Jerry and me being together by taking it as a fact.

Shaking my head, I replied, “Nah, we just got here. We walked up the canal from my house all the way to Broad Ripple, had lunch there and browsed the shops, then we caught the bus down here. Thought we might grab something to eat and catch a movie,” I replied.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” Larry asked. “I mean it would be a nice walk to take with a girl on a spring day, maybe, but what the fuck was there for you guys to do in the dead of winter?"

“Actually, it was a nice day for a walk,” I replied. “Jerry came over this morning and made breakfast for my family, which was awesome, and then we thought we’d come here, but it was too early and nothing would have been open,” I responded honestly, just leaving out the part about us becoming boyfriends. “We had a lot of time to kill, man, and it gave us the time to talk and get to know each other better. It turns out Jerry’s a really nice guy.”

“What in hell was he doin’ makin’ breakfast for your family?” John asked. Then looking directly at Jerry, he went on, “Were you tryin’ to seduce our friend here. Were you tryin’ to make him your boyfriend, fag?”

Mouthing off to me was one thing, but verbally abusing my boyfriend was another. I’d had enough and so, for the second time in less than 24 hours, I outed myself and, once again, did it explosively.

“What the fuck do you mean by that?” I practically shouted. “Jerry didn’t need to seduce me. He didn’t need to make me his boyfriend. He is my boyfriend. That’s right, I’m gay. You can hurl all the insults you want at me but, so help me God, if you ever do or say anything to hurt my boyfriend, I’ll make you regret if for the rest of your pathetic life!”

I completed my temper tantrum by turning away from my friends, grabbing Jerry and storming away. I’d scarcely gotten more than a few feet when Juan called out, “Carlos, wait!” but I wasn’t listening, not even to my best friend. When I continued walking away at a brisk pace - as brisk as I could go with Jerry, that is - he called out even louder, “Wait up, man!” but I wasn’t stopping for anything or anyone.

Running in front of us and getting in my face, I tried to push him out of the way, but he just pushed me right back and stated forcefully, but only just loud enough so that Jerry and I could hear, “The guys are just bein’ jerks, Carlos. You know them and how they can be. You gave them one hell of a shock, but you know they’ll still be there for you just as I have been.”

“You knew about Carlos?” Jerry asked my best friend.

Laughing, Juan answered, “I caught him gawkin’ at you near the start of the year.”

“You were staring at me?” Jerry asked.

“I couldn’t help it, Jer,” I replied. “You were just so beautiful. You are so beautiful. I couldn’t help but stare.”

“That’s so sweet,” Jerry said as he gave me a chaste peck on the cheek. I wanted to kiss him back, but doing even what he did would have been risky.

“So give the guys some time, Carlos,” Juan again admonished me. “You know they’ll eventually come around.”

“I wish I could be so sure,” I replied.

“No matter what happens, I’ll stand up for you,” Juan added. It might not have sounded like a lot, but it was enough for me and so we turned around and headed back to the guys.

“What the fuck, Carlos?” Larry said before we were even close. “Tell us it ain’t true.”

“But it is true, Larry. I’ve known I’m gay for a while now. All year I’ve been trying to get this guy to notice me, and I guess all year he’s been trying to get me to notice him. Shows how dense we were that we were so busy tryin’ to get the other to notice us that we didn’t notice we were bein’ noticed… or somethin’ like that.”

“So you really are a fag?” John responded.

“No!” I replied, “I’m not a fag, any more than I’m a spic. Jerry and I are two teenagers who happen to be gay. Juan and I are Hispanic. Jerry and John are African American. Sammy’s Jewish and Billy’s part Native American. We all have our differences, but those differences are minor compared to what we have in common. We’re all teenagers, growin’ up in the Midwest, trying to learn how to be adults, and to find love.”

“And to find sex,” Larry added. “Raw, toe-curling, skin-on-skin, earth-shattering sex!” I couldn’t help but notice how Jerry’s face colored up when Larry said that and, from the way my face felt, I guessed that mine did too. Beyond a doubt I was lookin’ forward to a little mind-blowing, toe-curling sex with my baby - if I could find a way to get Esteban to sleep on the living room couch. Or maybe I could have a sleepover at Jerry’s place. Thinking about that gave me a boner the size of Texas, which didn’t go unnoticed by Juan, who winked at me.

I would like to say that it was all cool after that, but it wasn’t. Although we stayed together as a group, some of the guys, if not most of them, still felt uneasy being around Jerry and me, or perhaps it was more they didn’t want to be seen with Jerry and me.

When it came time for the movie, Juan told us he and the other guys would be sitting near the front. At first I thought he was slammin’ us, but then I realized what he was sayin’. He was giving us a little privacy, and so Jerry and I sat in the back row. Although we didn’t spend the whole time making out like crazy - we were way too nervous for that - we did hold hands most of the time, we shared a humongous bucket of popcorn and a large Coke, and we snuck in an occasional kiss or two. OK, there was some tongue-on-tongue action, but only a little, ’cause we were so nervous.

Oh, we did feel each other up a bit. It started when my hand accidently landed on his thigh when he pushed the popcorn bucket toward me at the same time I was reaching for where it had been the moment before. Even through his jeans, the feeling of touching his thigh was electric and I couldn’t help myself - I rubbed my hand up and down his thigh before removing my hand. Jerry of course reciprocated, only he rubbed his hand up a bit higher, nearly all the way to my groin. We called a truce when it got to the point that we were practically jerking each other off - definitely not something we wanted to be caught in the act of doing. We settled for holding hands for the rest of the movie. That was the best thing of all.

It was a memorable day and a memorable weekend. Going back to school that Monday, however, brought new and unexpected challenges as a rumor spread like wildfire throughout the school that Jerry and I had been seen at the Circle Centre Mall making out. I seriously doubted that one of my friends outed us, no matter how they might have felt about us, so it seemed likely that someone else from school was there and had seen us.

With rumors, conjecture and a lot of exaggeration swirling all around us, Jerry and I decided to put an end to those rumors once and for all. Of course it meant serving detention after school for our little public display of affection, but the looks on the faces of our classmates after Jerry and I shared an intimate kiss in the Cafeteria was well worth it. Jerry and I fell deeply in love with each other and we remained a couple throughout high school and college.

I moved in with Jerry when we started our studies at Butler University. We continued to live with Ty and Ricky during my years in Law school at IUPUI, the local campus of Indiana and Purdue Universities. Much to my chagrin, at least initially, Jerry decided to become a teacher, getting his Masters degree at Butler before being hired by Park Tudor, an elite private school nearby.

Once I passed the Indiana Bar exam, we started looking for a place nearby where we could make a life for ourselves… a life for ourselves together.

Copyright © 2021 Altimexis; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments

This is a sweet series of stories.

You're posting a chapter every other day, Altimexis, so how come the series is flagged as "Long-Term Hold"?

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I read all three stories back-to-back and enjoyed each one! I liked the way the stories overlapped, but each one could easily stand alone. Your characters were very likeable and their dialog was good. I hope there are more stories to follow. I look forward to reading them if there are! Thanks. 

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I hope that Jerry finally gains a little height. 😉

A wonderful, feel-good story--a lovely counterpoint to those of the troubled teens seeking Aunt Alice's/Barbara and Rick's help.

"Standing up for myself"? Carlos learns that the best motivator for standing up for yourself is when you're standing up for a loved one as well!

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I've really enjoyed reading this series of stories, showing the different issues gay teens can face. It's always amazed me that people can assume being gay is a choice. 
I particularly liked this story for the way that Carlos's family and the school had already figured it out and we’re just waiting for him to be true to himself and the way he was so determined to stand up for Jerry.

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I also read all three stories back-to-back and thoroughly enjoyed each one.  I also have to agree with Mawgrim it's unbelievable there still is -to this day- a fair amount of people who believe being gay is a choice, my father being one of them!

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