My name is Ian Ferri. Ian Wolfgang Ferri, to be exact.
What a name.
How I got it is mildly interesting. My dad is the son of Italian immigrants, and a first-generation American, born here after his parents moved from southern Italy. His family - mine too, I suppose - is thoroughly Italian, right down to the core. Hence the last name. But my mother is a proud - and beautiful - German woman, and also a first-generation American. She wasn’t about to let her only son get by without at least something German in his name. Hence, the ‘Wolfgang’. I never asked why my first name was so non-ethnic. I suppose it’s because they wanted to make sure I didn’t sound too foreign. I dunno.. Whatever.
Anyway, moving on.
I’ve always liked being an Italian-German American.. I can’t deny that some of that pride stems from the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio is also Italian-German.
It’s a shallow thing to feel prideful about.
And I don’t care.
God, talking about yourself is hard.
I should just start.
Let’s just say it all started on August 11, fourteen days after my seventeenth birthday, and the first day of my Senior year at Halverton High School.
Oh, right. I didn’t mention where I live. Halverton is a suburban high school in Austin, Texas, just north of downtown.
Now for fuck’s sake lets begin.
Nothing actually interesting happened on the 11th of August, if I’m honest. No fucking clue why I threw that date out there. I have learned over my brief time on this flying-rock-in-outer-space-we-call-earth that sometimes it’s important to sound like you are sure of something, even if you aren’t. People seem to respect confidence and precision more than they respect honesty. I know that much already.
The point I’m trying to make here is that I have to start somewhere, and I’m not exactly marking every day of my life in a calendar.
So we’re going with the fucking 11th of fucking August people… Ok? That’s the fucking ‘start’.
It all began with an unenthused, and entirely unsurprising question.
“Adams?” Mrs. Jefferson croaked, never taking her eyes off the roll-call. Wide, Eighties era spectacles barely hung from the tip of her impossibly large, downward-sloping nose. She seemed entirely bored. She had probably done this a thousand times from the look of her. Enthusiasm for this part of her job had clearly died many, many eons ago.
A boy at the front lazily raised his hand, muttering out something that passed for “Here.”
Homeroom… A pointless and masochistic way of welcoming students to the start of any school year, which I was convinced existed for the sole purpose of draining any possible enthusiasm from anyone foolish enough to feel any excitement for the start of the new semester.
Her monochromatic questions went on and on, as she slowly - and I mean very, very slowly - worked her way down the alphabetized list.
“Fairy?” she belched out. “Ian Fairy?”
A few scattered chuckles bathed the classroom. Along with amused smirks.
Why did I inherit a last name that no one can pronounce? Every. Fucking. Time.
“It’s Ferd-dee!” I said, doing my best to pronounce my name phonetically.
Her eyes never left the paper. “Ok, Mr. Fairy-dee.” She pelted out.
More giggles erupted.
I wasn’t surprised she got it wrong again. Most Americans just can’t pronounce my last name. I had grown to expect it. The only time it was correctly pronounced is if I was talking to either an Italian-American or an Hispanic-American. But despite knowing full-well that my name would be mispronounced a majority of the day, somehow getting called a “Fairy” in class always set me on edge.
I had managed to survive the first 2 periods of the day, without too many more difficulties, and was indifferently poking away at a dried-out, yet somehow extremely greasy, slice of our school’s specialty: cardboard pizza.
“Ian!” Someone shouted.
Startled, I looked around to see who was calling me halfway across the cafeteria. I focused in on a hand waving erratically, and saw that it was Devan motioning for me to come over to his table.
Devan was a longtime neighbor/friend. We had known each other since the second grade, and we were inseparable most of our lives, until he started becoming interested in girls every second of the day. Girls distracted him more and more lately. I wouldn’t say he’s a fair-weather friend, but for the past few years he has maintained a cycle, of sorts. When he’s single, all he wants to do is hangout with me and his buddies. When he finds some new girlfriend to fawn over, I rarely see him for up to a week at a time. It has caused some resentment to fester in me over the last few years, but at this point I have become somewhat used to it.
I lazily got up and started off to his table, noticing a few familiar faces of people sitting around him.
“Bro, why were you sitting by yourself?” Devan asked incredulously. It was difficult to make out all his words, as his mouth was stuffed with enough mashed potatoes to feed a starving child in Africa for a day.
“I didn’t even know who had this lunch period.” I muttered, as I took a seat next to Sara, a life-long friend and neighbor who is by far and away the most interesting person I’ve ever known.
Sara finished her bite of food and then started in on us, “Ok guys… We didn’t get nearly fucked up enough over the summer… Chad is having a back-to-school party and we are all going.”
Devan rolled his eyes at me and smiled, as I glanced skeptically at Sara, “Oh really? And who are you ogling this week?” I asked only somewhat sarcastically.
No one can feign being offended like Sara. She raised her hand to her chest giving me a pseudo-incredulous look, mouth agape with just a hint of amusement in her face, her eyes smiling despite herself.
“For your information I’m asexual as of last week.” She said flatly, right as Devan took a swig of his chocolate milk, which he then promptly spit all over the table.
Long story short, Sara dated a hot hispanic guy named Hector for about 4 months. They broke up last week; he was cheating on her. And as with all things, Sara tends to get a little carried away in her reactions to… Well, pretty much everything.
“Give it a week.” I said, without looking up from my meal.
Rolling her eyes, Sara started in again, “I can’t help it that all men are trash. Maybe I should become a Lesbian.”
“Not sure that’s how it works baby girl.” I said with a smirk.
After lunch the rest of the day droned on. In fact, the whole rest of that week went by pretty unspectacularly: Get up. Go to school. Come home. Shit out something resembling that days assignment. Go to sleep. Repeat.
I had been thinking a lot lately about being gay. I had stopped trying to convince myself otherwise around a year or two ago. Perhaps it was after many hours spent watching one lesbian porno after another, frantically jerking my dick as if I was putting out a fire, while still getting nowhere near aroused enough to feel like I had accomplished anything.
I knew after so many failed attempts to feel anything for girls that it was a wasted effort. But I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Like, sure there were a lot of hot guys at school; even the not-so-hot guys became a lot hotter as soon as they started adjusting their junk in front of me. The problem was that I didn’t have the slightest idea how I would ever approach any of them.
God, what a shitshow. Straight guys just get to walk around like donkeys on a farm, approaching any female they see, trying their luck with one after another. The worst thing that happens to them is getting told ‘No’.
And they are still too pussy to handle that much of the time. I wish they could walk in my shoes for a day or two. See what it’s like. Then tell me about how hard ‘rejection’ is to deal with.
They have it easy. If I could take a pill and instantly become straight, I’d have done it without batting an eye. It was so much fucking easier. And I was bitter about that.
Thinking these thoughts always put a snarl on my face. I noticed it yet again as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, while brooding over this unpleasant realization.
That glimpse I caught of myself started the usual chain reaction.
Am I attractive?
It’s subconscious. It happens more frequently now. When I look in the mirror it’s the first thought in my head. I have all the trademarks of a good looking guy. Golden brown hair, not too long on top, that sort of whooshes up at the front, and close-cut sides. My mom says this is the new style: longer on top, short on the sides. I guess it’s ok. I like how clean cut it looks. Although, it does mean going to the barber more frequently. And, thanks to my southern Italian heritage, I have a very golden complexion. My dad is darker and somewhat browner than me. But I guess the German in me balanced out the brownness, leaving me more golden. I do like my perpetual tan.
I’m not so tall or so short. I’m 5’8 and 129 pounds. For 17 that’s not terrible, I suppose. My best feature - or, so I’m told - is my bright green eyes. My mom says they are ‘emerald green’. Whatever that means.
Probably the strangest thing about me are my eyebrows. They are - for whatever reason - several shades darker than the hair on my head, a much darker, chocolate brown. And they are slightly thick, making them more pronounced against my face. They stand out. My mom calls it ‘accenting’, claiming it’s a desirable trait… She tells me it is ‘striking’.
If I had no eyebrows whatsoever she’d claim they were a waste of hair anyway. It’s hard to trust a mother’s opinion when it comes to her son’s looks.
So, I guess I am pretty. Girls notice me. More than I’d like, to be frank. Regardless, getting noticed by girls does feel good. God, why can’t I be straight? I would walk my ass up to the hottest girl in the school and shamelessly ask her out. No worry of being called a fag. The worst-case scenario would be rejection. That. Is. Nothing. Nothing compared to being ridiculed by every dumbfuck jock in the school for being gay.
I hated everything.
Later that day I was doing what every teenage boy does; I was browsing Instagram. I was half heartedly scrolling through profiles of various people I was aquatinted with, when it happened.
It was just a picture. A picture that my friend Devan had commented on. A picture of mostly nerdy kids. A few were holding trophies. It was captioned “2018 Halverton High School Chess Club Championship.”
Chess club? We have that? Who fucking plays chess in high school? Seriously, how many cool points can one afford to lose? It takes a lot to be able to live that down. Fucking dorks.
But it wasn’t the picture. Well, yes it was. No, it wasn’t. Not really. It was who was in it. Yeah, that’s what it was.
Standing all the way to the left was a boy I had never seen before. And the moment I saw him my heart started failing me. Yeah, I was dying. This is what death felt like. I was sure. Hearts weren’t supposed to beat that fast. Not while sitting in a fucking chair! And since I knew I didn’t have much time left, I figured I might as well spend the last few moments of my life looking at that face. That beautiful, gorgeous face.
Fuck, was he beautiful.
He was tall. Well, not tall. Taller than me, probably. He was maybe 5’10, with a very light, smooth complexion. He had almost no tan at all, actually. He was just naturally very fair-skinned. There was not a blemish anywhere on his beautiful face, with just a touch of pink on his cheeks. His hair was medium brown, along with his eyes. His hair was full. Luscious. Stylish, even. His smile sent chills down my spine… And maybe other places too? Yeah, definitely other places too. He was special. But what was SO remarkable about him? It had to be the smile.
I hadn’t felt so strongly about such a fair-skinned boy before that day. I was used to eyeing tanned blondes/brunettes and lots and lots of hispanic boys. Really, having some kind of color on the skin was always a necessary condition if I were to feel any noticeable attraction towards another boy. To be perfectly honest, white boys with really fair-skin always looked somewhat plain to me. They could be cute, not hot. I was all about the tan. But this guy… This guy didn’t need one. It wouldn’t work on him. He was too… Pure. Yeah, that was it. Too perfect.
That smile. That damn smile was eating away at my soul. As I looked at him in the picture, I couldn’t help but feel something eerie.. I wondered why. Recognition - that’s what it was. I recognized him somehow. But how could that be? I had never seen him before. I began to delve deeper into contemplation - or perhaps, madness.
I have seen him somewhere before, I thought. No, that’s isn’t it… Do I know him? No, no. He looks like someone… That’s it.
GODDAMMIT, WHO DOES HE LOOK LIKE?
He looks like the guy in that movie I was gushing over a few months ago. The guy in that movie with the woods and the sticks and shit. That guy!
The one with the fucking sticks in the woods! They were pounding them on that big pipe thingy!
The pipe thingy?
In the woods. There were three of them. They were dancing around like donkeys, while one of them pounded out a shitty beat on the big pipe thingy. He looks like the guy who is dancing around during the beat. That guy that melted me the first time I saw him - and every time subsequently.
RIGHT, BUT WHO? Which movie?
Is ‘woods’ in the title? Cabin in the Woods? No. Not that one.
It starts with something. It has to start with something. Something. Sommmmmmmmething. Sommmmmmm… Summer!
Summer Kings! King Summer! King’s Summers!
I rumbled more variations of those words around for a few more seconds, when the bulb finally flickered. It was Kings of Summer. That was the movie.
I immediately went to iMDB in an attempt to locate that movie, wanting to find the name of the actor who played in it.
Nick… Nick Robinson!
“That’s who he looks like!” I said aloud to myself. The resemblance was uncanny.
That took way longer than it should have, I’ll be the first to admit. I went back to the championship picture. I wondered why I hadn’t seen him around. He looked my age. That smile.Jesus. I had to figure out a way to meet him.
As luck would have it, he wasn’t tagged. I didn’t even know his name. How was I going to figure out a way into his heart if I didn’t know who he was? I knew for sure I didn’t have any classes with him. I wasn’t into sports, so I wouldn’t know if he were active or not. I wondered why someone like him was playing in the chess club. Like, he was way too hot for that shit. He needed spectacles and greasy unkempt hair flailing in all directions to be in that club. Those are the type of people in chess club. At least, I would have thought so.
I thought and thought. I had never been as infatuated with another boy as I was with him. Sure, I had had pangs in my nether regions when spotting a cute boy. And seeing Devan naked a few times in my life had always resulted in a feeling akin to lightening striking my dick. But I was never gushy. Shit, I was acting like a 12 year old girl with a backstage pass to a Justin Bieber concert.
It didn’t make sense. Why was he affecting me this much? I mean, yeah, he was gorgeous. But, was I really going to try and get him to like me?
I knew I had lost it.
I have always loved math. I love the precision. The definitiveness of it. Writing an English paper is a winding road to hell. Everything is more or less gobbledygook. English and the arts are all about subjectivity. Math is precise. Definitive. And being good with math meant I needed to know the probability of him being gay.
Google, that’s the ticket!
Yeah, I watch a lot of Top Gear, so completely random British phrases escape me every so often. I don’t feel bad about that… Top Gear is love. Well, except after Season 23, then it’s shite.
I frantically typed in statistics for gay males. I found varying estimates. Some said it was 2%, while others said 5% of the general population. After reading several different sources, I settled on 5%. That number seemed to be the most consistent across sources and, not to mention, gave me better chances - I know what I did there. All studies noted that these were ‘low-end estimates’. It made sense. Some guys may have lied about their homosexual inclinations for fear of it coming out. So maybe it was higher?
I decided to go with 5%. That meant there is probability 0.05 that he was gay. Not exactly encouraging. But what was the probability that he was both gay and he liked me? Fuck, I couldn’t calculate that. That wasn’t quantifiable. But it was certainly lower than 0.05. There was no way that, even if he were gay, his liking me would be a forgone conclusion. Not by miles. I sat depressed at this thought. I knew what I wanted to do, but the odds were so low. I didn’t know if it was worth the effort.
Wait. The probability of him being my friend had to be higher than 0.05, right? I mean, I’m like-able. I just needed to find a way to become friends with him. Maybe then I could test the waters and see how he responds. The ole ‘bait ’n switch’.
I couldn’t just walk up to him and tell him we should be friends. THAT definitely wouldn’t work. I needed a plan. A plan. A plan is what I needed… But what? How would I find him, without even knowing his name? I couldn’t ask Devan. That would be weird. ‘Hey who is this random guy on the side of this picture?’ That wouldn’t fly. It would raise too many questions. No, I needed to find this out myself. Regardless, I doubted Devan even knew anyone on the team. It was Mr. Mills who his comment mentioned. Apparently Mr. Mills runs the club. Maybe I could ask him, instead? Hell no.
A plan. I need a plan.
It dawned on me. I didn’t want it to. It just did. I had to join the chess club. It was my only chance to meet him without seeming weird. But I had no fucking clue how to play chess. Wasn’t it like, hard?
The last thing I needed was to ruin my chances of wooing him by waltzing into the chess club looking like a complete fool, not even knowing how the pieces moved.
I need to know what I’m doing. I needed to impress him.
Just as I was starting to make progress, the spawn of Satan decided to make his presence known.
“Ian! Dinner! Now!” My dad blasted out of his lungs from somewhere downstairs. I would return to this. I will learn this whacky-ass game if it’s the last fucking thing I do.
Dinner was relatively uneventful. Lots of ‘uh-huh’s and yep’s. The usual teenage responses. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was thinking about my mission. My quest, as it were.
“Ian, you seem distracted today.” My mom asked quizzically. “Anything on your mind?”
Yes, in fact there is.
“Nope.” I responded, followed by lots of chewing.
You can’t talk with your mouth full. That would be rude. So I kept stuffing food in there, refusing to swallow. I needed to think. I didn’t have time for pleasantries. So I chewed and I thought.
Then something more terrifying than chess occurred to me. I haven’t really made new friends on my own since elementary school. I wondered if I had forgotten how to do it. I was always a very strong-willed person. Never willing to submit to anyone I perceived as ‘alpha’. As a result I didn’t mesh too well into typical popular circles. I was too strong minded. Some might say - Mom might say - I was ‘opinionated’. But I’m not opinionated. I simply state my opinion. I know that sounds like a distinction without a difference, but it isn’t. I never gave my thoughts on an issue expecting everyone to agree. In fact, I hoped for a dissenting voice whenever I took a stand on something. I thrived on that shit. I was always more than happy to debate someone. That, of course, didn’t mean that I thought I was always right. That’s where people sometimes got me confused for an arrogant asshole.
There’s a difference between not being able to change your mind and attempting to make a case for why you feel a certain way. Does someone think I’m wrong? Then tell me why! I will listen. I will consider what the person is saying. But one thing I’ve discovered - at least with people my age - is that they avoid arguing with people who speak emphatically and forcefully during argument. It makes people feel uncomfortable. That is why I’ve always felt more comfortable around adults. They can handle strong-minded individuals with more poise than teenagers. My few close friends could handle it. But when meeting new people, it came off as pretentious. I would have to watch that.
This is why I didn’t like sports. Well, I didn’t like participating in organizedsports. I don’t like the chanting. I don’t like running around screaming, or the hype culture. I don’t worship athletes. I think they are good at one, really fucking random, activity. And while it’s admirable, and surely something to be proud of, I’m not going to kiss the feet of a guy who kicks everyone’s ass at football or soccer or whatever else.
Sports don’t count as real accomplishments. Not to me. They are activities. Sure, at the professional level they require tremendous skill, but less than one tenth of one percent of people fall into that category.
Athletes don’t push society forward. Great scientists/mathematicians/scholars push society forward. Those are the people I idolize. Those are the people that are most remembered. This may be why that kid in the chess club picture stood out. Maybe it wasn’t just his looks, but perhaps because he was like me? Perhaps he valued knowledge as much as I did? Chess is, after all, a game of logic and strategy. I knew that much without even learning it. I knew that it was a profound intellectual pursuit. Separating the brilliant from the mediocre. The great from the good. And that’s the part that scared me.
What if he was brilliant? What if, as smart as I think I am, he just views me as pretty, but dull? I won’t know until I meet him.
I didn’t know how serious I should be about the game. I knew I needed to come across as though I was passionate about it. But could I fake that convincingly? Sure, I could know what the rules were on my first meeting. But I would need to be at least mildly competitive with him in order for it to be interesting. I needed to do that in order to simply get a chance to sit down and play with him, using our ‘game’ as an excuse to get to know him.
If I sucked, and he was good, he wouldn’t bother playing chess with me, at least not after the first time.
That was the scariest thought yet. I couldn’t just know the game. I had to be good enough to at least make playing with me worth his time. That is a much harder challenge. After all, other than chess, there would be no binding feature to bring us together. Even if I showed up and just made small talk, it wouldn’t be the same unless I really shared his interest.
As I mulled everything over, slowly chomping down a piece of broccoli, I realized that chess actually sounded pretty cool. I loved math and physics. Chess is raw logic and strategy. Planning. Tactics. It’s a war of minds. I could be good at this. I just might make that guy love me, and enjoy this newfound skill in the process. Even if it didn’t work out with him, learning chess, and finding the limits of my intellect, seemed like at least a decent consolation prize. I’d get something out of it.
I finished up dinner and, once back to my room, powered up the trusty old MacBook and went to the best learning resource on the internet: YouTube.
Here goes nothing!
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