Sometimes your shoes can be filled with garbage, and you don’t even know it. I understand that now. That it can take a long time to get your stuck-up nose down to where it belongs, down to where you can smell your own stink.

           The first time I ever laid eyes on Alan was late last May, in gym class.
It was during the warm up, and we were all running laps around the red rubber track circling the athletic field.

           I was pushing myself to keep pace with Rodney Bishop and James Godfrey, two speedy wide receivers on the football team with me. We were coming up quick on Alan from behind, as his blond hair bounced against his boney shoulder blades. He must have heard our footsteps coming, because he cut from the inside lane onto the grass to let us go past.

           “Oh shit! Did you see that fag?” asked Bishop, real loud. “I swear, I thought that new kid was gonna be a chick from behind.”

           “Yeah, you were about to holler at that homo and ask him out,” cracked Godfrey.
I looked back over my shoulder and saw that Alan had stopped.

           I knew he’d heard Bishop, and I thought that expression on his face—somewhere between being really pissed off and ready to cry, was funny as hell.

           “Nah, I knew that was a faggot all along,” Bishop defended himself. “How ‘bout you, Adonis? Did you know?”

           “Are you kidding?” I said, as we leaned into the turn, three abreast. “I knew from fifty yards back. That’s why he runs so slow. His butt hurts.”

           “That why you’ve been getting slower?” Godfrey cackled at Bishop. “Your butt hurts, too?”

           “That’s you. I’ll show you slow,” Bishop said, turning on the jets and pulling away.

           Godfrey sprinted after him.

            I tried to go with them. But a big offensive lineman like me couldn’t keep up, and they just left me in their dust.

            Alan had just transferred into Central High, and I’d have called it a rough beginning. I remember some of the other guys taking jabs at Alan, making comments about his tight-ass pants, asking him if he’d transferred from a high school in San Francisco, or calling him a fag to his face.

            I had run my mouth at him a few times, too, even though he never did anything to me or anybody else I knew.

           Other than that one time on the running track, I never saw Alan let a nasty remark go.

           He’d usually come right back at you with a sharp tongue, waving his finger around and saying things like, “If you want to be judge and jury, you should stand in front of the mirror more. That way you can talk to the source of your problem.”

           He even called a cafeteria table full of football players I was sitting at “pigs,” when one of us whistled at him as a joke.

           That kind of insult was almost funny coming from him, like he had the right to put himself over anybody. 

           After that, whenever guys on the team saw Alan, we’d scrunch up our snouts like pigs and snort at him. Then the teachers and deans couldn’t get on us for using “inappropriate” language.

           I was convinced all that hostility between Alan and football team was all Alan’s fault.

           He could be gay if he wanted. There were probably some other kids at our school who were that way, too, or leaning there.

           But they didn’t make a show out of it, like Alan did. So nobody really cared.

           He didn’t have to flit around the hallways drawing attention to himself, swinging his hips and arms like a raging fem.

           And whatever shit Alan took on account of it, I figured he deserved.

           Alan didn’t have problems with most of the girls at school. I guess that’s because he was almost one of them. He’d usually be hanging around with a group of females, even good-looking ones. That got a lot of real guys even more annoyed, feeling like they couldn’t go over and make a move on one of them with him there. It would be too weird.

            When school broke for the summer, at the end of June, I didn’t see Alan again for a couple of months.

           I didn’t know what dudes like him did with their vacations. Maybe he was sitting in the library all day. Maybe he got a summer job serving cappuccino in a coffee house, or was at home plucking his eyebrows. Or maybe he hung around some men’s room in a public park waiting to hook up with another queer.

           I just knew wherever Alan was, I wasn’t.   

            And that was perfect with me.

 

Chapter One

           I didn’t see Alan again until early September. It was the Tuesday after Labor Day, on the first day of our senior year.

           He was in my English and gym classes, first and last period, every day.

           I made sure to sit on the other side of the room from him in English. And in gym, I was safe because I change my clothes in the section of lockers reserved for varsity athletes, where I’d been changing for two years already, and where Alan was nowhere in sight.

           I never figured on Alan jumping up into my life past being in those two classes.   But he did.

           It was just after one o’clock, on the first day of school. We’d had a half-day, with twenty-minute classes to get our program cards signed. I was walking across the athletic field with some of my teammates, heading towards the weight room—a beat-up trailer that used to store textbooks before it got converted into something useful. We were going to pump some serious iron and get ready for our first football game of the season the following week, after putting in a month of practices in the heat of August.

           “Spy what’s up on the bleachers,” Bishop said. “It’s chick city. Just look at all those lovelies. There must be forty of them.”

“Is that some kind of meeting they’re having?” asked Ethan, our quarterback and team captain. “I don’t remember them asking my permission. It’s never good when that many girls get together. All they do is compare notes and bitch about us.”

           Ethan was six-foot two, the same height as me. Only he had the kind of body I was lifting weights to get. His shoulders were as wide as mine, but his waist was probably seven inches smaller and his muscles were really cut.

           Almost every girl I ever heard pass a comment about him use the word “hot,” even if they did call him a “prick,” too.

            And that’s what I wanted.

           “They’re probably deciding how far to go on a first date,” said Godfrey.

           “Send ‘em a memo from me—it’s either all the way or the highway,” said Ethan, pounding a football between his huge paws. “I got a no tease policy.”

           “Yeah, put out or get out of the car and walk home,” echoed Godfrey. ‘No middle ground on that.”
Right away, my eyes settled on Melody Singer, a senior, who was sitting in the second row. I’d been out with her a few times over the summer.

            The first time was on a group date, with my sister Jeannie and their friends, to some lightweight intellectual kegger. I was the only jock in the crowd, so I knew I’d stood out. Hardly anybody there, except for me, had more than two small cups of beer. And no one puked or got loud.

           I spent the whole night zeroed-in on Melody, paying attention to what she said about a bunch of books I’d never read and the kind of movies I hadn’t seen.

           I’d wanted to get next to Melody for a long time. But she usually had more guys falling over her than I could count. So the competition was always stiff.

           Besides, I’d heard her say around school, “Football players and wrestlers are basically pinheads. I don’t like guys whose attitudes are bigger than their brains.”

           But I knew that Jeannie had put in a good word for me, and I made sure to agree with everything Melody said that night about those books and movies, even though I had to fake it.

           It all paid off for me a few days later, when Melody pulled into the service station where I had a summer job. She’d just got her license and her parents had bought her a used Chevy Cavalier.

           “It has a few little hiccups,” Melody told me. “The previous owner said something about plugs and belts needing to be changed soon. Only I’m not exactly sure which ones. I’m lost with anything that takes a screwdriver or a wrench.”

           Listen, don’t fall into that stereotype about women, especially good-looking ones, not knowing anything about their rides,” I pitched her through the open driver’s window, as I gassed up her tank. “It’s not about being a grease monkey. It’s all high-tech now. Car mechanics are a science. If you want, I could come by your place and teach you some of the basics.” 

           I didn’t know how much of that rap I really believed. But it got me an afternoon alone with Melody in her driveway. Then a couple of movie dates after that, where I first slipped my arm around her, tasted those sweet lips, and took a walk with my hands as far as she’d let me.
           
           Suddenly, every one of those girls on the bleachers began clapping over something.

           “Thank you, ladies! Thank you!” yelled Bishop, without missing a beat. “I appreciate your worship!”

           There were a few laughs from the bleachers, and even a sarcastic, “You’re not welcome!”
Just then those girls started getting up to leave.

           That’s when Melody saw me, and began waving.

           I bolted across the field towards her with the smell of the fresh cut grass filling my lungs.

           “Adonis, look up!” Ethan shouted, a second before he zipped me a pass.

           I caught that pigskin in full stride and ran up to Melody with it tucked away beneath my left arm.

           So what’s been going on here?” I asked her.

           “First meeting of the fashion club,” Melody answered. “Big doings, we just elected officers.”

           “Oh, that’s great,” I said, trying to sound interested. “You know, lots of guys are into fashion, too. I know some of the most famous designers in the world are men.”

           “That’s right. They’re some of my favorites—Ralph Lauren and Yves Saint Laurent. I’m glad you think that way. I want you to meet someone then,” Melody said excitedly, reaching out to spin somebody around by the shoulder to face me. “Adonis, this is our new fashion club president, Alan.”

           Everything inside me tensed up as my eyes locked onto his. That shrimp was almost a foot shorter than I was. And even standing on the bottom row of the bleachers, Alan was only eye-level with me.

           “Oh, yes. Hello,” he said, flipping the tail end of a long scarf around his neck, like he was Snoopy that big-nosed dog from the Peanuts comics, ready to duel the Red Barron. “Adonis, you’re in two of my classes, aren’t you?”

           It freaked me out that Alan knew that, like maybe he’d been watching my ass. Or even worse, he had some kind of man crush on me. But with Melody there, I was fighting back every instinct I had to snort at him.

           “I’m not exactly sure,” I answered.

           “Well, it’s a pleasure to formally meet you, Adonis,” he said, extending his small pale hand. “Any friend of Melody’s.”

           I normally would have left a loser like him hanging out there. But I couldn’t now. His grip felt so limp and clammy, I would have sworn I’d shoved my hand into a bowl of warm chowder.

           “That’s a very unusual name, ‘Adonis,’” Alan said. “It comes from Greek mythology, doesn’t it?”

            I wasn’t about to discuss anything Greek with Alan in public.

           “Yeah, how did you get that name?” Melody asked.

           "It was my mother’s idea. She studied art, and there’s some statue of a naked God with a perfect body named Adonis,” I said, watching Melody look me over from head to toe. “My father liked it, too, because of his favorite wrestler growing up—Adorable Adrian Adonis, who was the tag team champ.” 

            That’s when I heard a familiar voice call my name, and footsteps coming down the bleachers towards me.

           “I believe you already know our vice president,” Melody said.

           I looked up and it was my sister Jeannie, who’d just become a junior.

           Since when do you care about fashion?” Jeannie asked, smirking from ear to ear. “I mean, besides what the cheerleaders are wearing?”

           “I’ve got lots of interests you don’t know about,” I answered, with some attitude.

           “Adonis, aren’t you going to congratulate your sister?” Melody asked, nudging my elbow. “Vice president’s a big honor, and I nominated her.”

           “Sure I am,” I said. “Congratulations, Jeannie.”

           “Oh, she’s a sweetheart, this one. She’ll do a great job,” Alan said.

           Then he kissed Jeannie on the cheek, with a long mmmmm-waa, and that was enough for me.

           “Hey, I gotta go. We’re weight training today,” I said, and turned my back to a chorus of goodbyes.

            The guys were all standing at the door to the trailer, grinning at me. And I could feel my face getting redder and redder on the walk over.

           “You were pretty friendly with gay boy there,” said Bishop, with the rest of them already laughing. “What he want from you?”

           “Nothing. He wants a date with you after we’re finished,” I answered, tossing him the football. “I told him you’d definitely be into it.”

           That night, Mom had to call Jeannie down to dinner twice. The second time, she used that reverse-psychology crap on her.

           “I don’t care, stay on the phone!” Mom yelled upstairs, like she was playing the class of third-grade kids she taught. “Barclay’s begging to trade his dog food for your pepper steak! I hope you like Alpo!”

           The steam rose off the plate in front of me, and my stomach was rumbling to join my nostrils in that feast. But me and Dad both knew Mom would have pitched a fit if either one of us lifted a fork before we were all seated at the table.

           “Jeannie, now!” Dad demanded. “Shake it, or lose it!”

            Dad was only home three nights a week from his job as a firefighter, and his number-one rule was six-thirty dinner together.

           “I grew up the youngest of seven kids. I barely knew my older brothers and sisters by the time they were out of the house,” Dad had told me a hundred times over. “Your grandfather, God rest his soul, was a laborer. He came home exhausted every night, and never wanted to hear a word out of us while he was eating. So he was half-a-stranger to me, too. That’s not going to happen in this family. I promise. I’m going to hear you. And you’re going to know what I’m thinking.”

           “Call me back later then,” Jeannie said, snapping her cell phone shut and stuffing it down into a pocket as she slid into her seat. “Sorry, fashion club business.”

           “Are they paying you?” Dad asked her.

           “No. Why?” said Jeannie, sounding confused.

           “Then it’s not business and we’re still your only bosses,” Dad said, pointing back and forth between Mom and himself with the dull edge of a knife.

           “Your daughter was elected vice president,” said Mom.

           “Hey, that’s wonderful,” Dad said. “I see all of that clothes shopping finally got you somewhere.”
“Very funny, ha-ha,” said Jeannie.

           “I’m just kidding,” Dad added, under a glare from Mom. “That’s great news.” 

           “Dad, now get this, the president’s the one dude in the club,” I said, chewing on a piece of meat. “And he’s gay.”

           “Well, who did you expect him to be, Tarzan of the Apes?” said Dad.

           “You don’t know for sure Alan’s gay,” Jeannie said.

           “Why? Did he come on to you?” I asked her.

           “No. Did he come on to you?” she rifled back.

           “Oh, I forgot, macho man kissed you on the cheek,” I said.

           “Let it go, the two of you,” Mom said. “I’ll have you know your father kissed me on the cheek at the end of our first date.”

           “Yeah, but I was just reeling you in slow,” said Dad. “Anyway, I have to trust my son on this one. I taught him to know the difference.”

           “Really?” said Jeannie. “And what kind of sick, homophobic lesson was that?” 

           “Is he, Adonis?” Dad asked, brushing off Jeannie’s question and getting under her skin.
I just let my wrist go limp in response.

           “Do you believe them?” Jeannie asked Mom.

           “This is how most men work out their fears,” Mom answered. “It’s almost like they never leave high school. Or is it junior high. I don’t encourage it inside this house. But believe me, it’s better than them doing it in public.”

           “Funny how Adonis had an interest in the fashion club when he was talking to Melody Singer,” said Jeannie.

           “Of course. He’s a dog just like his old man,” said Dad, with a wide grin.

            I liked hearing that so much I sneaked Barclay a strip of steak beneath the table.
“Are there any openly gay students in your school?” Mom asked.

           “How should I know?” I answered.

           “You seem to be keeping track,” Jeannie said, with her eyes on mine. “Not that I know of, Mom. I’m sure there are, though. They just don’t advertise it.”

           “All right, that’s enough gay talk,” said Dad. “What exactly goes on in this fashion club, Jeannie? I know you’re too old to play dress up.”

           “I’m thinking I might want to be a fashion designer,” she said. “But other girls have different goals. Some want to be models. Others girls just want to celebrate their sense of style.

           “See, you said it, ‘girls,’ I sniped. “There are no guys in your club.”

           “Enough of that, Adonis,” Mom said, stern.

           “How did your classes go?” asked Dad. “You know, the real reason you go to school, besides fashion and football.”

           Jeannie and me said “fine,” almost in harmony, like we were part of the glee club.

           “And how was your first day at school, Mom?” asked Jeannie.

           “My students are all lovely, thirty-five little attention seekers who can’t spot talking.”

           I thought how I could never be a teacher, and have a first day of school every year for the rest of my life.

           Towards the end of dinner, Jeannie’s phone rang.

           She pulled it from her pocket and looked at the display.

           “It’s Alan,” she said. “Mom, it’s important. We need to come up with an agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.”

           “Take it into the living room,” Mom told her.

            As Jeannie left the table, Dad called after her, “Let me talk to this Alan. I’ve got a question for him.”

           “No!” Jeannie hollered back.

           “I just want to ask why he’s calling during dinner hour,” said Dad. “Doesn’t his family share this time? ‘Cause he’s sure as hell interfering with ours.”

 



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