“Why didn’t you just tell me that?” Though the words were nearly whisper-soft, I could tell that Jay was angry. I looked around to see if we were alone, and thankfully, we were. I’d seen him around a long time, but this junior year art class was the first we had shared--and the first where I had dared speak to the blond boy. I was nearly eight inches taller than him, and a good twenty pounds heavier, but he was the more outgoing and popular one with many friends and a confidence I could only envy. I pushed my thick glasses farther up on my nose, and mumbled, “I’m sorry….”
The school parking lot was rapidly emptying of cars, since art was our last period, and I realized that once again, I’d missed my bus. Shit--nothing was going right today! Our school held about 700 students, but only because it served the three local elementary districts in our mostly farm-oriented county. A forty minute ride would see me home, thanks to the long routes, but to walk was still going to be more than six miles. By rights, I should have a car...but fate had decreed that my vision wasn’t good enough to get a license...and that put the final nail in the coffin of what ought to have been my social life. That, and the fact that I wasn’t into sports despite my height, and I liked to read.
I turned to start the walk home, the afternoon hot despite it being mid-April, and resigned myself to once again being alone; Jay had been open and friendly from the first day in Miss Jones’ class, and I had drunk up that attention like a man in a desert finding a water-hole--only to lose him thanks to my cowardice. He traded good-natured jibes with everyone, and after a few days, I found myself hesitantly giving back those same school boy lines: What’s up? Why don’t you grab it and see!...Bite me, dickhead! You wish!...and the one that had started this mess yesterday...Blow me!...and my automatic rejoinder: Right--name the time and place! Jay had laughed back, as was high-school custom since this was all in fun--but I had missed the change which came into his vivid cornflower blue eyes.
As we left class, he had handed me a note: Meet me at the bridge by the cemetery east of town at 10!--Jay. I hadn’t read the note until I was on the bus...and I was in a panic! Was he serious?! Was it a trick?...but he had never, as far as I knew, played mean tricks on people...Did he really expect me to be there? Oh god--what if someone found out my secret! While I wasn’t popular, and only had to suffer the occasional knocking of books from my hands, if it got out in this town where everyone knew of you--if not actually knew you, that I was gay...then what life I had would become a living hell. I couldn’t risk it, much as I wanted to!I walked closer to the berm as I heard the crunch of gravel and the hiss of tires on tarred country lanes behind me. A rusty dark blue Ford pickup probably thirty years old stopped next to me. “Get in, asshole--you want to walk all the way home?” came Jay’s voice from the dim interior. I debated for a second--walk in the unusual heat, or be the object of ridicule by my former friend? If I got in, was there a chance I could salvage our friendship? I already felt pretty damn low, so it couldn’t get much worse…and climbed up onto the running board to open the door.
For a few minutes, we rode in silence, then I noticed we weren’t headed to my house...we were headed up a narrow dirt road toward the edge of a little wood east of our small town, closer to his house than mine, since I lived a mile west of the corporation limits. Jay stopped with a faint squeal of brakes and shut off the engine. He pulled a bottle from behind the seat and used an opener to remove the metal cap. I stared at the glass bottle with the brown frothy liquid inside. “Choc-ola?”
He laughed, “Dry town, remember? And my dad would kill me if I drank and got pulled over!...Now--talk! And I don’t want the Bicentennial Minute version!” I laughed at the reference to the history segments on CBS, which had aired nightly for over a year to celebrate the country’s anniversary extravaganza. The laughter died when I looked into his eyes--so earnest that I couldn’t lie to him. “Tell you that my mom wouldn’t let me out alone late at night after watching that damn Helter Skelter movie the other night? That I’m a chicken-shit coward, and that you’re wasting your time with a friend like me….” I had no pride left, but still, I turned my head to look out the open window, letting the tears flow quietly.
“Mikey…” the soft voice again, only this time accompanied by a hand rubbing the back of my neck, trying to ease the tension there. Mikey--he called me that after the boy in the cereal commercial, since no one could think of a nickname for Miles--”Mikey, why didn’t you at least call last night?” Was that pain in his voice? I risked turning toward him, and I thought I could see a hint of wetness in his eyes, but I couldn’t be sure through my own watery browns. “I waited for over an hour...and you didn’t show!”
I couldn’t believe what my ears were reporting! “You...were...there?” I sniffled like a little kid, and hung my head so he wouldn’t see me like that. He was serious? He wanted...or at least hoped...for the same thing I did? “Jay….”
The blond’s next move nearly made me cry harder: he removed my glasses, and wiped the tears away with his thumbs, then with a Kleenex from his pocket! “Let me guess--you were scared? Well, so was I…” he paused and took a deep breath, letting it out in one ragged burst. “You could have shown someone the note, or told someone I’d hit on you...but I had to hope that you might feel like me.”
“But, you have so many friends--why me?” I was so confused, but my heart felt lighter than it had in years as he spoke again, pushing my dark hair back as he put my glasses back in place. “Mikey, stop putting yourself down--you are a nice guy--honest, caring and I think you’re cute!” He laughed when my face colored up like a fire engine! “What, so you think I can walk up to one of my other friends and say ‘I wanna suck ya’, and get away with my life? Fat chance!”
Jay took my hand in his and gave me a searching, almost pleading, once-over. “Mikey...I want to be real close friends with you! Later, I want to try all those things we joke about--when it feels right. If you want that too, then just say ‘Yes’, and I’ll be over to take you out for pizza on Friday! How about it?” There was no way I could resist those blue eyes….
“Yes, anytime you want, Jay!”