“You know how to put one of these on, right?” my dad had just finished asking me, referring to the small square package he was holding in his hand. I was sure he didn’t mean that how it sounded. He couldn’t have.
My head was still a confused mess and hearing those words echo through my head is what caused me to break every promise I had made myself in the short time it took to get from Jesse’s house to mine. I had decided that the best way to make this whole thing as painless as possible would be to not ask any questions and just nod, simply respond by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and by doing that, hopefully reduce the amount of time I would have to endure this horrifying experience that was currently taking place in my bedroom.
“Maybe I should show you,” he suggested. That was all it took. Words no teenage boy ever wants to hear from his dad… ever.
“Dad, NO!” I shouted. I’m sure I wasn’t thinking clearly at the moment, and who would blame me. The last thirty-five minutes were a blur of things I never imagined ever discussing with my dad. I don’t know what was worse, the way he had actually taken the time to look up information on gay sex or the fact that he expected me to openly discuss it with him. He was so calm, collected, and I was freaking out, internally of course.
I knew he was getting a little frustrated with my muted answers and my total lack of interest in even looking at any of the things he had taken the time to look up, but I just couldn’t, not with him. I did have some questions, concerns I guess, but I would deal with those in my own way, when I was ready, and not any sooner. Definitely not in my bedroom as I sat on the end of my bed as he paced back and forth in front of me on the ecru colored carpet.
I understood his need to make sure I was… informed, and to make sure I knew how to be safe. I even understood, in some strange place in the back of my mind, why he wanted to know if I had had sex yet, was having sex, or planned to any time soon, but this was too much.
Jesse and I talked about it some on our walk earlier that night, before we got… distracted. Being in love with each other made things much clearer for us in some ways, and much more complicated in others. Still, we had decided that we wanted to wait, and when and if, we were ready or one of us wanted to move forward, we would tell the other. I’m pretty sure telling my dad wasn’t part of that agreement we had made when I was walking next to him as his hand slipped into the back pocket of the jeans I was wearing.
“Look Dad,” I blurted out almost hostilely, “I’m just not ready for that yet okay.” Well that got his attention. He was quiet and I was more than glad for the minute or two I had to get my thoughts together. I know my brain and my mouth were appreciative of the time and used it to get reacquainted with each other before I said anything else stupid.
So far, there had been more questions and answers than I wanted to share with anyone, in a whole year, in the past half hour, but I had to remain focused here. My goal was to make sure my dad was clear on the fact that Jesse and I were no where near ready to have sex yet so there really was nothing for him to worry about. It seemed simple enough in my head, but getting my mouth to make that comprehensible and coherent statement come out in a recognizable form was apparently harder than I had first imagined it would be.
“What I mean is…,” I trailed off trying to figure out how to say that to him without having to tell him how we came to that conclusion already.
“Oh,” was what he eloquently offered in response to my abrupt statement.
“I need a minute,” I said trying to justify my inability to speak and form clear and complete sentences. He nodded in agreement.
Damn this was difficult. I guess I needed to just say it, get it out there, so we could deal with it. You know how people always say, ‘if you want to be treated like an adult then act like one’, maybe that was the key to this whole thing. Then again, this was my dad… and sex, in the same conversation.
I took a minute to evaluate what had happened so far. My dad hadn’t said that Jesse couldn’t come over if he wasn’t home, he hadn’t said not to have sex, he hadn’t demanded to know what we had tried together so far, and he wasn’t asking me what my intentions were, so I guess, it seemed that he really just wanted me to know how to protect myself and keep myself safe. It occurred to me that I could deal with that as he took a seat next to me on my bed.
“I love him you know,” I told him softly as I stared at the spot on the carpet that was beginning to fray as my sock covered foot ran back and forth over it. “I’m sorry that I’m making this difficult,” I added, although I still couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye.
“I know this is… embarrassing,” he said searching for the word he wanted, “but I need to know that you know this stuff, okay.” I nodded. “I know what it’s like to be seventeen and a guy, believe me. I’m just trying to do what’s right, and I need to know that nothing’s going to happen to you,” he explained.
Now this was something that hadn’t occurred to me as I sat there and listened to his speech. I’m all he has left. Besides that, he does love me, and of course he wants me to be happy and stay safe, so I could definitely understand where he was coming from. Thankfully he had avoided all ridiculous car analogies like ‘putting the car cover on before you park it’ or anything that involved a ‘tune up’, a ‘lube job’, or ‘anything being rotated’.
I didn’t know if I could handle all that, but I did realize slowly, that he was trying to do a good thing here, no matter how awkwardly it was going, and it was awkward to say the least. I smiled a little, to myself of course, knowing that he must be feeling at least a little bit of the discomfort I was, and then I did it. I apologized.
“Dad,” I said, and he looked at me. “I’m sorry for making this so difficult. I know you’re just trying to help.”
He nodded before asking, “You really love him?” My blushing cheeks answered for me, as he stood up from where he had been seated next to me. His strong hand fell on my shoulder where he squeezed gently before he said, “I guess we’re done here, provided you know that I expect you to come to me of you have a question you need answered or if you’re concerned about something.”
He didn’t walk away though and the way he was holding onto my shoulder still, like he had no intention of letting go until I agreed to his stipulations made me look up at him, and when I looked him in the eyes finally, I nodded in agreement even though I was sure I had absolutely no intention of taking him up on that offer. I did, however, realize that I was grateful he cared enough to put himself through all of this, including all the research he had done.
“Thanks Dad,” I offered, as I looked up at him, grateful that this was over and that I stopped him when I did.
He stopped in the doorway, looked back in my direction, his face showing the amount of anxiety and stress he had experienced during our recent conversation and said, “Goodnight Son.”
I decided I better call Jesse like I promised him I would, if I survived ‘the talk’, which apparently, it seemed, I did, although it felt like only marginally. It was a strained conversation though, with Jesse, because I was still trying to get over what had just occurred, but we did manage to agree that he better come eat lunch with me again tomorrow at school.
I wanted to talk to him about Jules and Sean. I wanted to tell Jules about Jesse and I being together. Is that selfish of me? I guess I can admit that somewhere in the back of my mind I have this little fantasy that nothing will come between us and the friendship we have, but this is a pretty big ‘something’. I know that Sean and Jesse get along, and I don’t just mean because they have to work together on the paper, but because I’ve watched them together. I know that Sean genuinely likes Jesse, I can see it when they are talking or laughing together. Sean is about the most transparent person I know, he’s real, honest, and if he’s feeling something, you know it.
I guess that was a talk for another time though because we got sidetracked talking about baseball, what else? I had just enjoyed one of the most memorable afternoons with the guy I loved in a place that meant more to me than almost anywhere else and I wouldn’t be forgetting what happened there, ever. Tomorrow afternoon, I’d be back in another place that was important to me, the ball field.
I explained to Jesse that I had practice all week and a game on Saturday afternoon. It was a big game, and it would be a good indicator of how far our team had come, how much stronger we have gotten over the last few months. I was excited though, I knew we were good, and I loved to win, I mean, doesn’t everyone? Jesse laughed when I said that though, like that was obvious about me. I’d have to ask him about that later though because instead, I felt like inviting him to my game, not that he needed an official invitation, but he deserved one.
I informed him that his attendance, as my dad’s competition for my number one fan, was expected and he laughed saying that he wouldn’t miss a chance to see my ass in my uniform. I blushed, even over the phone. Damn he was good at getting me to do that, without even trying. It wasn’t helping either, when he started to explain how each time I lifted my left leg up before I threw the ball, that my pants hugged my ass cheeks so tightly that he could see the outline of my jock.
This was our last game for a couple months and then the practices would ease up a little because of the upcoming holidays and the weather. That was fine though, because between my birthday that was coming up soon and the job I worked every winter break, I needed the extra time. Besides… now I had a boyfriend and I was… in love.
This whole ‘I love you’ thing is funny, there must be a rule book out there somewhere, or if not, there should be. When is it okay to say it, to whom, in front of whom, how many times, who should say it first… there were so many stipulations it seemed, until… I realized I didn’t care anymore. I loved Jesse, and I told him so, right before I said goodnight to him and hung up.
My phone rang again right away and I assumed it was Jesse again, maybe he forgot to tell me something, maybe he just wanted to hear my voice again, I didn’t know but I answered it hoping to find out.
“I love you too,” I joked as I answered the phone.
“Well, I am the prettiest girl in school,” Jules countered, “and I did win Homecoming Queen. I guess that counts for something after all.”
Oh shit. “Umm, hey Jules,” I said finally catching up with the conversation that had already taken place.
“Expecting someone else?” she questioned, picking up on my momentary confusion.
“Uh, no,” I lied. “What’s up?”
“I missed you at lunch today,” she pouted. Even over the phone she was persuasive. Her voice, when she wanted it to, had just the right amount of whine to it to make me feel guilty, like I did right now.
“I’m sorry. I went to visit my mom,” I said hoping to explain my absence.
“You did?” she asked, and I could almost imagine her face as she tried to figure out what was going on. “How come? Are you alright? What happened?” she asked faster than I could answer.
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” I offered hoping she would relax a little and try breathing in between sentences. I could hear, even through the silence over the phone, the thoughts racing around in her head as she decided whether or not I was being honest, but I really was fine.
“Okay,” she finally said accepting my word as the truth. “How come Jesse was with you then?” Shit again. Things would just be so much easier, better, if I could just tell her. I know Jesse wouldn’t care, but I’m just… worried, scared, afraid, I could go on here.
“Oh, well, we were just getting something to eat,” I answered vaguely hoping she wouldn’t press me for answers.
“That seemed pretty clear since we saw you guys at Henry’s,” she countered. Damn, what was I gonna say now?
“Oh yeah, right,” I agreed.
“Well how did Jesse end up with you if you left school to go visit your mom?” she asked, clearly trying to figure out the missing piece here.
I needed to tell her. For me, for Jesse, because she’s my best friend and I know she cares about me, even if I haven’t been completely honest with her lately. Jesse deserved it, my ability to be totally honest and shout to the world that I loved him, and I wanted to be able to give him everything he deserved and more.
More than that though, I deserved it. I wanted to be able to share my life with the people I cared about and who loved me, totally and honestly and when I felt like it. I was tired of having to come up with some story, some excuse, some lie all the time. I hated it, and it was only going to more complicated the longer I let it continue. I knew if I didn’t tell her soon, and then when she did find out and realized I had been lying to her all this time, well let’s just say that it wouldn’t be pretty.
I could just tell her that Jesse and I were just friends, but that somehow seemed wrong. Almost worse than lying, like not only could I not be honest, but that sounded almost like I was ashamed of myself, of who and what I am. I wasn’t going to do that to myself or to Jesse. I know the amount of guilt I felt that night just telling her we were ‘studying’, and that would be nothing compared to what I would feel if I told her we were just friends. That was something I was unwilling to do.
“Hey, hang on a sec okay?” I asked her in an attempt to get out of answering the question.
“Okay,” she said sounding impervious.
I needed to think about this some more before I went making any major proclamations to her so I did the thing any normal teenager would do, I distracted her until I could make my escape. I know that sounds bad, she’s supposed to be my best friend, but I really just needed some tine to get my thoughts together before I tried to explain it all to her. Besides, this was definitely not a conversation I wanted to have with her over the phone.
“Hey, okay, I’m back, sorry,” I said hoping to start a new topic of conversation. “So how are things going with Sean?” I asked.
“Fine, things are good,” she answered, “and don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do Stephen,” she added.
“Are you coming to my game on Saturday with him?” I continued as though I didn’t hear her last statement.
“I don’t know, but if not, I might come with your dad,” she answered.
“Cool, hey, I have to go, but I’ll see you in the morning right?” I asked, even though she rode to school with me every day since I could drive myself. I’m sure it was more than obvious to her that I was being evasive, but that was just too bad.
“I’ll be there,” she confirmed, “and we are gonna talk sometime,” she reminded me, like I could think about anything else right now.
“Okay, bye,” I agreed quickly, mostly because I knew it wouldn’t do any good to tell her to back off a little. This was Jules after all.
“Bye Stephen,” she said and hung up.
As tired and emotionally exhausted as I was after the day I just had, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep right then. I grabbed my sketchbook and my pencils, my escape from all thought for a while, and went to work. By the time I had finished, an hour had passed, and I had a picture of Jules and I on the beach next to the sand castle we had spent hours building. That was five summers ago when our families went on vacation together.
It was the summer before seventh grade. We were on this beach, close enough to the water, where the sand is moist, but not wet yet, and we had worked so long on this castle, all the while my dad trying his hardest not to jump in and fix our structural mistakes. That was quite a challenge for him though, by the third time the left side had crumbled and fallen. She looked beautiful in her new purple bathing suit with the white and lavender hibiscus flowers on it. I was just trying not to get sunburned.
The breeze that blows when you’re next to the ocean is distinct. It smells fresh, but there’s something else behind it, something relaxing. It has the ability to make you carefree and provokes you to have fun and enjoy the sun. Her brown curls were pulled up into a high ponytail in her attempt to look as much like a twelve year old soon-to-be teenager, than a kid who just finished elementary school. She had always been ‘my friend Jules’, even when other guys in school started telling me how cute she was or how they liked her and wondered what it would feel like to kiss her or if she would hold their hand, I just saw my friend.
Back then she was almost taller than me since girls grow earlier than boys usually and she was no exception, but now I was at least a half a foot taller than her, maybe more. There was no tension, no teenage gossip to come between us or force a change in our relationship, it was simple then; before boyfriends and girlfriends, real crushes instead of innocent ones, no expectations except loyalty and honesty, no pressures, just companionship and exploration.
Even after all this time, I guess things haven’t really changed all that much, now that I think about it. We are still just two really close friends exploring our options, experiencing life and all it challenges us with, and in the end we have each other to talk to and share things with. I still have guys talking to me about her, but now she isn’t so cute anymore, she’s beautiful. They still wonder what it would feel like to kiss her, but that almost doesn’t seem like enough for them anymore. I still just see my friend.
Beside us on the beach there was a place, likely where some previous visitors’ kids dug a big hole in the sand, that had collected some seaweed that the tide brought in, and it had dried into a crispy, deep green color. You’d think it was black if you didn’t know that it was seaweed, and further up the beach was the whitewashed wooden tower with the lifeguard standing on it.
I remember noticing him, the way the red shorts he wore clung to his bottom half, as he leaned against the railing watching the kids playing in the white foam where the waves broke along the sand and the surfers further out where the water was a darker shade of blue. He had these brown curls that blew gently in the breeze and tumbled down around the sunglasses he wore. His tan was even and deep everywhere, except where his shorts were sitting very low on his hips, and I could see the lighter skin peeking out the top as he stretched his arms way out above his head.
Even the seagulls that had been there, walking around us looking for crumbs that someone left behind, managed to end up in the drawing as I tried to remember every detail I could. It wasn’t hard though, because all I had to do to remember was close my eyes, and it was like I could see the whole thing again clearly. The sun hung low in the sky as the afternoon wore on, and the occasional cloud blew over head, until the pinks and purples appeared against the blue sky and created the most stunning sunset.
There was this little girl, maybe about six or seven years old, who had been walking around collecting sea shells when she spotted the one that Jules had found earlier. We were walking in from the water when she looked down and saw it. It wasn’t totally visible though when she first saw it, just the tip was sticking up through the sand as the tide sucked the waves back into the ocean. The sand sucked up the water each wave brought it gladly, and then waited for more.
Jules dug out the shell and washed off the mud that it was encased in before declaring it the decoration for the top of our castle. That was fine with me because it was a pretty neat looking shell anyway. I made no arguments about it, but when that little girl came by and Jules saw how her eyes lit up almost brighter than her smile, it was a done deal. I knew Jules and I knew that she would give the little girl the shell, even if she did pretend to pout a little about it. What I’ll never forget though, was the way she looked over at me to make sure it was okay with me before giving it away, like it wasn’t her shell, but ours.
She had always been considerate of my feelings, my opinion, and even now, I knew she was wondering what was going on with me, why I had suddenly all but disappeared from her life recently. Even though some of her thoughts were on Sean and their new relationship, I knew she was thinking of me too. I knew she wasn’t going to let me off the hook without explaining a few things to her, like why every time she saw me lately I was with Jesse, or how come giving her an answer to that simple question was so seemingly difficult.
I woke up the next morning to the horrific sound my alarm clock was making, but worse than that, I realized as I painfully tried to reach the small box making the offensive noise, that I had fallen asleep propped halfway up against the headboard while I was drawing. The sharp pain I felt in my neck as I tried to turn my head in the direction of my alarm clock was evidence that I hadn’t slept well, adding to the fact that I clearly remember the last time I looked at the clock it read three-thirty seven a.m.
Damn I was tired, but I knew I had to get up, and I figured the hot water in the shower might help to relax the stiffness I was currently feeling in my neck. It would be hell to pitch like this so I figured it couldn’t hurt the situation any. After my shower I felt a little better, but I realized then, that I was also feeling a lot of tension, anxiety over telling Jules. I knew I had to tell her something, and anything other than the truth seemed like it wasn’t an option. It certainly wasn’t anything I was comfortable with, not that I was at all comfortable now.
Jules arrived at my house at seven-fifteen, like every other morning, and she seemed surprised that I was actually ready today, instead of her having to wait around for me. I was just packing up my pencils from their use the previous night when she walked in.
“Morning,” she threw out there casually.
“Hey Jules,” I greeted her. “I’m ready,” I announced, as she surveyed my room in a way that told me she wasn’t sure what exactly she was looking for, but she was looking.
“I see that,” she responded. Okay so this was awkward. She didn’t seem mad, but she wasn’t really saying much either, and I didn’t like that.
“Look, I know you want to talk,” I started, and that got her attention, “but we need to go or we’ll be late,” I said glancing at the clock for effect. “Are you busy tonight or can you come over when I get home from practice? We can talk then,” I offered.
She seemed to think this over, as if she had other options, but then said, “Yeah, okay, but we will talk,” she stated clearly emphasizing her intent to hold me to my word, and that was the last thing she said about it all day.
We got to school, and like every day since that night in Jesse’s room when he kissed me for the first time, he walked past my truck as I pulled into my space to park and smiled at me. I realized that I looked for him, for that smile at the start of my day now, and I loved the security it gave me to know that he had waited for me, just to give me the opportunity to see him. I kind of waved at him as he walked by this morning, I knew that Jules was watching, but I figured she’d know soon enough what was going on so I might as well wave to the guy I love.
I walked her to class and went about my day, excited about lunch. Jesse would be eating with us again, and I couldn’t wait. I wondered if I should try and find a way to warn him about Jules, it felt like she was on to us, but he would probably just tell me not to worry and that she loves me. That was of course all true, but that didn’t really make it any less scary, and by the time that lunchtime had rolled around I was a nervous wreck.
Yesterday Sean had brought Jesse over to eat with us. In fact, he did everything but pick him up and carry him over to the table, but today would be different. Today Jesse would be on his own, and I hoped that everything would go as smoothly as it had the day before. Standing in line in the cafeteria, trying to decide what I wanted to eat was a daily ritual for me, and the fact that Jesse was just a few places ahead of me in line with his friends was quite distracting.
He had his back turned in the direction the line was moving which ultimately meant that he was facing me. I’m sure that was so he could talk to his friends, and I think I spotted him before he spotted me, because I was watching him. His animated smile and expressions, the happiness behind his eyes, and when those same eyes came across me, I got to watch the smile change, only briefly, into the one that was for me, before someone asked him something and his attention turned back to his friends.
I was openly staring at him, and he knew it because he would glance over in my direction every once in a while and just for a second our eyes would meet. I would smile and he would blush a little. At one point one of his friends even turned around to see what he kept looking at, and then when he saw me standing there, I was pretty sure I heard him mention my name as he turned back around, Jesse was trying hard not to blush. I wondered what was being said about me, if they suspected anything. At some point I managed to get his attention and he was waiting for me outside the door.
“Hi, what’s up?” he asked, remaining casual since there were plenty of people around who could hear what was being said.
“Nothing,” I replied just as casually and started walking assuming he’d figure out I wanted him to follow me. He did, and as soon as we were somewhere much less populated, I said, “I just wanted to walk with you if you’re still gonna eat with us,”
“Oh, okay,” he said smiling as we headed toward the usual table I always sat at.
“I think Jules knows,” I blurted out and he looked in my direction cautiously. “In fact, I’m almost positive.”
After a minute of thought he simply asked, “So what are we going to do about that?”
The way he said ‘we’ didn’t go by unnoticed as I was reminded that we were in this together, and I smiled knowing he would stand by me in whatever decision I made, so I told him. “I think I have to tell her… tonight.”
“Tonight?” he questioned, perhaps wondering why it had to be tonight.
I nodded saying, “Yeah, she’s coming over tonight… to talk.”
His eyes grew wide for a moment considering the meaning of what I had just said before asking, “Do you want to tell her together?”
I loved that he would do just about anything to make this easier for me, but the truth was I needed to do it. I needed to tell her myself, for a couple reasons. First of all, I owed her that much. I had to trust that she was still the same Jules that defended me when Billy took my car all those years ago, and secondly because I needed to show her I was proud of who I was. Besides, if Jesse was there she would probably feel like we were ganging up on her and she would automatically get defensive. I didn’t want her to feel like she needed to defend herself if she decided it wasn’t something she was ready to deal with.
I looked around before I whispered, “I love you for offering Jess, but I want to do this myself.”
“Okay baby,” he whispered before he laughed at our predicament.
We arrived at the lunch table and sat down, Jesse across from Sean, and Jules across from me. We were exchanging hellos when Bobby showed up and slid in on my other side, probably wondering what the hell had happened to me yesterday. I guess he had a right to wonder since, not only did I miss practice, but I missed lunch and fifth period art.
My thoughts were confirmed when he said, “Hey stranger, do I know you?” I looked at him and tried very hard not to roll my eyes at his previous statement when he said, “You kinda look like this guy we used to have on our team.”
Ouch. Okay so I know I was flaking out yesterday, and I know they needed me but… damn! I was trying to think of how to reply, how to explain my absence, when Jules said, “He was busy Bobby, so back off alright. Besides, you’ll have your precious pitcher back this afternoon.”
He looked a bit shocked that she was involving herself in something she usually tried really hard to stay out of, but it was nothing compared to the shock I was feeling. She knew where I was and who I was with, but still she protected me. I looked at her, silently thanking her for saving me, and I knew that I would have some explaining to do tonight.