Gareth realized, he had left his jacket in his locker and re-entered the school building. When he walked through the canteen, he spotted Mrs. Fetcher and Mrs. Thompson. He passed their table and overheard them talking.
“It’s important to use her pronouns correctly,” Mrs. Fetcher insisted.
“But ‘she’ was born a boy. Isn’t that just a phase until it’s not fun or cool anymore or however kids call that today?”
“Doctors considered her a boy because of her genitals.”
“But isn’t that what makes a boy?”
“It’s not that easy, my dear. But I can tell you, trans people are very real. They are not doing that for attention. Being misgendered and deadnamed hurts them and some people give them a hard time, let alone a lot of them commit suicide—so this decision to come out is everything but easy. It's brave. She wouldn’t have done that if she wasn’t sure about that.”
“So you say, it’s right for us teachers to call students whatever they like to be called?”
“And if every one wants to have a different name and pronoun every lesson? That would go too far, let alone it’s time-consuming and I couldn’t remember that anyway.”
“I don’t say, it’s easy, but we mostly know our class clowns, don’t we?”
When he got home, the phone rang. He answered it.
“This is detective Curtis speaking. Are you Gareth? Okay. I’m calling you because of your accident. The progression of events and the medical records from your stay at the hospital raised doubts if it was an accident. It could still have been one but some of your wounds are hard to explain with a car crash. Do you remember anything you haven’t told us yet?”
“I’m sorry, officer, but unfortunately I still can’t remember what happened that day.”
“It’s ‘detective’. Okay, thank you. We’re looking into that a little further. If you have any other information, please don’t hesitate to call me or my colleagues.
The next day, Stella refused to talk to him. She just replied: “With friends like you, who needs enemies?”
They met at Chase’s house to practice. Chase started reciting the scene on the bench in the rain on the class trip and Gareth joined in where Russel’s dialogue was. Then, there was the line where Russel and Kevin kissed.
“Should we …,” Chase groped for words. “… practice that? I mean, we could wait until we make our appearance? But what if it doesn’t look good—or too good, you know? We don’t have to if you don’t want to be I’d be more comfortable if …”
“Okay,” Gareth agreed after some hesitation. “Let’s do it.”
Slowly their faces got closer and when their lips touched, Gareth panicked and had to prevent himself from pulling back. Even though he tried to hide it, Chase noticed it. He pulled back just enough so that their lips didn’t touch anymore but without stopping to stare at him.
“Are you okay? We don’t have to …”
“It’s okay,” he reassured Chase after swallowing.
“Don’t worry. Everything is gonna be fine,” Chase whispered while he put a Hand on Gareth's thighs and started pressing his lips on Gareth's. The green eyes! That were the eyes, he had seen when he was in coma after his accident. Before he fully understood what was happening to him, he had a funny feeling in his stomach and followed his sudden desire to french kiss Chase. Chase joined in to kiss Gareth passionately until Gareth pulled back with a sudden.
“I have a girlfriend!” he gasped with a start.
“If you say so,” Chase commented. “I’m sorry. Sorry that you didn’t feel okay with that, but I don’t feel sorry for kissing you. I have to admit that you are a good kisser. I never met a girl whose kisses were that beautiful. Oh, maybe I shouldn’t talk …”
Gareth didn’t know how to react. He felt ashamed. So he mumbled he felt the beginning of a headache and left, yet they both knew it was a lie.
Back at home, he laid on the bed confused. He wanted to call Nathalie and apologize to her but then again he was afraid of her reaction. Dylan was right. A lot of boys would have been proud to have her as a girlfriend—but he carelessly destroyed everything.
After school the next day, he sat on the school wall, thinking about how he messed up and how he could fix things. While thinking, he didn’t notice that Stella sat down a bit apart from him.
After a while, she cleared her throat and began: “Bad day, hm? You know what? Everybody deserves a second chance. We all make mistakes. Maybe I overreacted—I don’t know. But that was tough, I felt so helpless and …”
“It’s okay …,” Gareth rejoined with a dray throat while both just looked into the distance in front of them. “I was a bad friend, a jerk. I let you down. I messed up so bad, an apology can’t fix that.”
“I decided, I don’t hate you,” she disclosed to him. “Looks like not everything is destroyed beyond repair.” She smiled and ended with: “If you still want to be a girl’s friend.”
He smiled back. “Actually, I do. I’d love to.”
Stella jumped from the wall and told him, she had one more class that day.
During his walk home, memories returned. He saw the green-eye memory again in his mind’s eye. But it was longer now. Chase and Gareth had actually known each other. With the memory also the feelings from that scene returned.
Back at home, he called Nathalie.
“Have you missed me?” she asked.
“Since when do you know I am gay?” he replied out of the blue instead of an actual answer.
“I … how … you remember … I’m sorry, Gareth, honestly.”
“Honestly? You lied to me! And I was such a fool to … scratch that. I didn’t know for sure, but you delivered the missing certainty. So our whole relationship was just a charade—a stupid charade! We even had … I don’t believe it …”
“I … I’m sorry”
“You are my best friend! Or I’m frankly not sure about that anymore. Just … why?”
“They caused the accident?” Gareth was speechless.
“No, but they took advantage of it.”
“So who caused it?”
“I don’t know. But what I know is that your parents didn’t like it when they found out that you are gay”
“And you supported them?”
“I would never have had the chance to visit that particular college without your father's recommendation.”
“So you threw me to the wolves,” Gareth concluded.
After that, both didn’t know what to say so Gareth eventually hung up.
The next day at school, Dylan approached him.
“Hey, have you seen the latest Corey memes?”
“Leave me alone with that shit,” he retorted.
“Woah, why are you so pissed today?”
“And it’s ‘Stella’. It’s about Nathalie. And no, I don’t wanna talk about it yet.”
“Okay, okay, I'm leaving already.”
Then, Gareth had his presentation with Josephine. It didn’t go perfectly but well enough to save his grades.
At lunch break, he texted Nathalie: “Don’t tell my parents just yet. Silver lining: You can stay at your freaking college for now.”
Next, he sent Chase a message that he wanted to meet again to practice. A couple of minutes later, Chase texted his agreement.
“You didn't come to practice,” Chase noticed and Gareth wasn’t sure if that was a question or a statement.
“After your accident,” Chase groped for words. “I first didn’t know about it. We wanted to meet, you didn’t show up. It was already complicated, so I thought, you didn't want to do that anymore.”
“You could have texted me. I would have seen it.”
“No, you” Then, it sank in, “I hope, that’s not true.”
“No, no, not that. It is even worse than I thought. They really took care, I didn’t find out.”
“What? Who?” He couldn't quite follow.
“My parents. They must have deleted my messages.”
Even though he already realized a minute ago, it felt terrible to speak to the truth.
“So you were out of their way and so was I. I was so stupid. You told me, your parents wouldn’t approve of this … us. But I never would have imagined they’d go so far.”
“They didn’t cause the accident, Chase. They just used it to their benefit. Speaking of which: Why did you leave?”
“I got that opportunity to go to that other High school for the rest of the year and I didn’t have to see my ex every day.” He lifted his arms in defense. “That’s what I thought.”
“It would be more likely that you’d end this without notice since you have been the one who wanted to keep it a secret no matter what,” Gareth joked.
“Chase nodded. “I’m happy, we worked it out nonetheless.”
When Gareth came home from school the next day, the phone rang. He was just a tiny bit faster than his mother to answer the phone.
“Detective Curtis speaking. I wanted to give you an update on the case. We have reason to believe that this accident was caused after you’ve been beaten up. That would explain your wounds.”
“I assume, you still don’t remember. But we have an eyewitness. She couldn’t figure out what happened exactly because she was too far away, but we concluded that you might have been the target. Do you have any idea who might have done that and why?”
“I’m sorry. It’s still all fuzzy.”
“Okay. We call you when there are any further updates on the case.”
He texted Chase. “If my parents knew is it possible that someone else knew as well we haven’t thought of? Maybe Logan?” He made some implications …”
“That’s possible,” Chase replied. “But wouldn’t he have outed you already?”
“Maybe not,” Gareth responded. “Maybe he wants to hide something himself.”
Gareth had an idea on how to end this whole charade, but he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to do this. After hours of consideration, he finally decided to execute his plan.
The next day at school, Dylan headed towards him.
“Your video was dope, man! Strong message.”
When he entered the school building, he saw Stella standing alone in a corner. So he joined her and said: “I guess, now I understand being an ally way better.”
“No, you don’t”, she replied calm but repelling. “Actually you only care for yourself. You always want to occupy center stage and if there’s trouble you save yourself first.”