They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
When I got home Mom said the usual: “Hi, Tony. How are you? How was school today? Do you have a lot of homework? Are you hungry? Would you like a snack?” She should just record it and then she could press a button when I walk in and play it instead of exercising her vocal cords the exact same way every day when I come home from school.
Of course, I’m just as bad. I answer her questions with the usual: “I’m fine. School was good. I finished part of my homework at school today, and I’ll get the rest done before dinner. I’d like a snack, thanks. What is there?” I could record that and press a button to reply to her questions. But today I decided a couple surprises would be appropriate, so after saying my usual litany, I continued with everything new that happened today. But first I wanted to ask her about her day. My mom works the midnight to eight a.m. shift at Redwood Hospital Tuesdays through Fridays, and eight a.m. to four-thirty p.m on Mondays. It’s a weird schedule, but she likes it.
“Was it busy at the hospital last night?”
“Busy, but nothing extraordinary happened. The E.R. was quiet. I had a few patients that needed followup. Two were taken to surgery then checked into rooms after they came out of post-op.”
“That sounds sort of busy.”
“What made it quiet was there were no incoming injuries from traffic accidents, no shootings, no drug overdoses, no one had a heart attack. No one had any of those problems and had to be brought into emergency for that. I actually got my paperwork caught up. So, enough about the hospital. Tell me about your second day in high school. I assume the teachers actually started teaching in your classes. How were your classes?”
“Going to high school is really great. It’s a lot better than middle school. Like today in English the teacher, Ms. Holbrook, gave us a grammar quiz. She did it like a quiz show, and we all participated. It was a lot of fun, and I learned some things about English grammar that I didn’t know. I met a new friend, too. Frank Candler. He’s in my homeroom and English class, and we have the same lunch period. His family lives about three blocks from here. They moved here a few months ago, he told me but I don’t remember exactly when. I’d like to invite him to come over some day after school and we can work together on our homework.
“Then I went to World Geography. I assumed it would be a really dry, boring class, like history classes were at Carver. Mr. Ryan made it interesting by getting us involved in a discussion of the colonists and the Indians, and how we thought they’d react to each other. My homework is to research it online and read about it in our textbook and we’re going to talk about it more tomorrow in class.
“In Chorus we got together to decide what songs we’ll perform at the Christmas Choral Performance. I didn’t know how many Christmas carols and songs there are, but Mr. Emmonds said there are many thousands. The list he gave us to select from only had a small percentage of them.”
“When is it going to be held?”
“I’m not sure of the dates, but there will be four performances just before Christmas break.”
“Your father and I will certainly want to attend.”
I grinned. “Maybe I can get you a deal on tickets.”
“You’d make your poor old mother and father actually pay for tickets? I’d think you’d be able to comp us.”
“What’s that mean, for me to comp you?”
“Comp stands for complimentary tickets. Will you get any free tickets that you can give to relatives?” I could see that Mom tried hard to not smile, but she isn’t that good an actress.
“I don’t think so. The school needs your money. Sorry about that!”
“Huh! Well, we’ll want to go anyway.” She smiled. “So, what songs did you pick for the performance?”
“We’re going to review the list with Mr. Emmonds tomorrow. There’s one thing that’s a little strange about him. He wants us to call him by his first name, which I’ve already forgotten. I can’t figure out why he’d want us to do that.”
“Maybe it’s because Chorus isn’t a typical class with books and quizzes and lots of paper. You’re going to be working with him pulling your singing together so your performances will be the best they can be.”
“I met another new friend today, He’s in Chorus his name is David Andrews. He’s a sophomore, and he has a fantastic voice. He’s real friendly. So far it’s not hard to find friends at Wilson.”
Mom grinned. “Are any of these friends boyfriend candidates?”
“Mom! I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I’m just looking for friends. Because all the friends I had at Carver went to Lehman, and none came to Wilson, I need to make a lot of new friends. One of those new friends might become a boyfriend, but I don’t even know if there are any other gay kids at Wilson. If there are they’re probably stuck in the closet, just like I am, and that’s where I’m going to stay.”
“I agree that it’s best to be reticent about being gay. Things are a lot better for adults now, and for kids too, though I think less so. So let’s get back on track. You were telling me about your classes. What was your next class?”
“Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. Except we havent’t gotten to the Trigonometry part yet.”
“Is it a difficult class?”
“Nah. Algebra’s easy for me.”
“Okay, what’s next?”
“Spanish 3. We had to stand up and read a story that’s written in Spanish, then reading again but in English while we translated it from the Spanish. I liked that a lot, and while it’s hard to translate into English while I’m standing there looking at the Spanish words, I think it’s going to make my understanding of Spanish a lot better. I’m not just memorizing vocabulary lists and grammar rules like I did in Spanish 2 at Carver. Instead I’m actually translating and reading stories.
“In Biology today Mrs. Weil gave us the class syllabus. The big thing on the syllabus is our first semester Biology project. Todd and I decided that we’ll be partners, and now we have to come up with what we’re going to do and turn it in next week, explaining the subject and why we picked it.
“In my Creative Writing class Ms. Porzio returned the stories we wrote yesterday. I got an A on mine. I’ll have to read it to the class tomorrow.” I cleverly ignored telling Mom how I’d be reading excerpts from my story, not the whole story.
“That’s excellent, Tony. Congratulations. Will we get to read your stories this year, or will you read them to us out loud?”
“I’ll let you read them. I’ll print your own copies so you can keep them in my scrapbook. Ms. Porzio gave us another writing assignment. Tonight I have to write a short-short story, one page max, 100 to 200 words, about my first day at Wilson High, and turn it in tomorrow. I’m going to write about me and Todd and how we discovered that we’re doppelgangers.”
“Are you going to write about how you tried to give your poor mothers heart attacks by fooling us?”
“No, there isn’t enough room in a one-page story to tell anything more than how Todd and me first met in the cafeteria.”
“You should say ‘Todd and I’ not ‘Todd and me.’ An easy way to figure out the case of a personal pronoun is to throw out the other words that go with that pronoun, the ‘Todd and’ in this case. When you do that you can see that you wouldn’t say, ‘tell about how me first met,’ you’d say, ‘tell about how I first met.’ Add the ‘Todd and’ part back in and you have it.”
“Okay, how’s this. I’ll write a one-page story about how Todd and I met each other.” My mom started out as an English major before she switched to medicine and became a doctor, so she’s always picking on my grammar, which is a good thing because she’s alway right and explains it so I understand.
“There’s one more class I need to tell you about, and that’s PE. Mr. Kavanaugh, the freshman football coach, talked to me during PE today. He wants me to try out for the freshman football team. He thinks I’d mostly play in the backfield on offense.”
Mom leaned back, squinted her eyes, and stared at me for about five seconds. Then she stood, stepped up to me, and put her palm on my forehead.
“No,” she said as she moved her hand away, “you don’t seem to have a fever. Did you fall and bump your head? Maybe you have amnesia. Or maybe you’re Todd. It has to be something like that, because the only Tony McKinley I know wouldn’t even begin to think about going out for a sport, much less the football team. So what happened to you and why have you decided to do this?”
“May I have my snack, and I’ll answer your questions while I eat something.”
“Okay, what would you like?”
“How about one of those little frozen chimichangas? And a Coke, please.”
“You get the Coke, I’ll heat your chimichanga.”
“Thanks, Mom. Would you like a Coke?”
“No thank you, Tony. I’ll finish my cup of coffee.”
When my chimichanga finished heating she gave it to me, put the jar of salsa and a spoon on the table, and sat across from me. I spooned some salsa on one end of my chimichanga and carefully took a bite. When they come out of the microwave the insides are always very hot.
“So tell me, what is this going out for the football team thing all about?” she asked.
“Okay, it’s sort of a long story. A couple things happened at school. Yesterday I decided that I want to take the Weight Training class so I can exercise every day and improve my strength and stamina. I found out that you can’t take the class until you’re a sophomore. I was bummed about that. Then today I had a problem with a kid at school. You remember I told you about Kiernan Mach, he’s the kid that bullied me and my friends and a bunch of other kids at Carver?”
“Yes, I recall that name. What happened, is he at Wilson and bullying you again? And what would that have to do with you trying out for the football team?”
“It’s the freshman football team. Anyway, he is at Wilson, and this morning before school he tried to slam me into my locker when I wasn’t looking. But I sensed him coming and moved out of the way. He ended up slamming himself into my locker door and the locker next to mine.”
Mom suddenly looked concerned, so before she could interrupt me and start asking questions, I quickly continued, “I didn’t get in trouble for what happened, it was Kiernan who tried to hurt me. Coach Kavanaugh saw the whole thing and vouched for me with Vice Principal Garrison.
“So, where this connects with going out for football is this. Coach Kavanaugh asked me to see him today during PE. When I went to his office he asked me to try out for the freshman football team. The reason is he saw how I was able to move out of Kiernan’s way so he ended up on the floor bleeding instead of me.
“I was surprised. You said that’s not something I’d try for on my own, and it isn’t. Coach Kavanaugh talked me into it. He explained how I’ll be in an advanced version of the Weight Training class. Tomorrow I’ll go to the freshman football class. It’s like a regular class and learn about plays and assignments and all the things you have to know about, and know how to do, to be on the freshman football team, and we’ll have quizzes and tests. Then on Thursday I’ll do the exercises along with the other guys who’ve signed up to try out for the team. On Friday I’ll be measured for my pads, uniform, helmet, and shoes. Until I bring in the sign up and approval forms, signed by you and Dad, they won’t buy me or assign me any equipment. The school supplies all the equipment at no cost.
“I’m seriously thinking about going out for the team. I’m sort of excited. I’ve never been into sports, and it’s cool being asked by the freshman football coach himself to try out for the team. So I’ll go to the class, and the training, and get measured. I’ll talk about it with you and dad, and to Todd and my other friends, before making a decision. You have to agree, then there are the forms you and Dad have to sign before I could try out for the team.”
“What happens if you try out and don’t make the team?”
“It’ll be okay. I can stay on the practice squad, or go back to my regular PE class. He said it’s my choice. But if I don’t make the team and stay on the practice squad I’ll still be able to use the weight training room and equipment. That’s what I’m really interested in.”
“Does that mean that you would purposefully not make the team just to be on the practice squad so you can use that exercise equipment?”
“No, Mom! That would be cheating. I’d never do that. Actually, I’m starting to think being on the freshman football team would be fun. I plan to do my best to make the team.”
“What if you’re injured? It’s all over the TV how kids are injured playing sports, especially football. There was a show on 60 Minutes about concussions, and it’s not just professional players but injuries are happening to football players in college, and in high school and middle school too. It described how dangerous concussions can be.”
“I suppose that could happen. I could be injured lots of other ways too, even if I didn’t play football. Like in PE when we’re playing soccer or basketball or running around the track. Or the school bus could get in an accident when I’m going to school or coming home. Or I could trip on the curb when I’m bringing in the trash cans after they’ve been picked up. Besides, when I’d be in a football game I’d have my uniform and pads and helmet to help protect me.”
“Is that enough? I don’t know anything about what’s involved in having a son go out for football. I have a lot of learning to do, and so does your dad.”
“Coach Kavanaugh gave me a brochure on high school sports and information about what’s involved for guys going out for freshman football. He also gave me information about eligibility requirements and the forms you’ll have to sign. I’m going to read it then give it to you and dad to read. I’ll also need a physical exam that the school pays for. Coach Kavanaugh said it’s a more intensive exam than the one I had to be able to go to Wilson High.”
“When will you give us this material to read?”
“After dinner. I haven’t had time to read it yet. I’m going to finish my homework first, then read it myself before dinner.”
“Good. Homework always comes ahead of sports, including reading about playing football. So why don’t you get to your homework now that you’ve finished your snack.”
“Okay, will do.”
I got up, put my plate, spoon, and glass in the dishwasher, put the jar of salsa back in the refrigerator, and went upstairs to my room. I could tell that Mom had lots of worries about me playing football, especially about getting hurt. What with all the stuff in the sports section about concussions and other injuries, I couldn’t blame her. I worried about it too. But like I told her, there were lots of ways I could get hurt even if I didn’t play football.
It didn’t take very long to finish my homework, about an hour. Instead of reading the information about freshman football that Coach Kavanaugh gave me, I grabbed my cell and called Todd.
“Hey, Tony,” he said when he answered my call. “What’s new?”
“Just finished my homework and decided to bother you. I suppose you’ve finished yours too.”
“Nope, haven’t even started.”
“You’re kidding, aren’t you?”
“So when do you plan on doing it?”
“After we eat. My mom decided that I had a lot of chores to finish while it’s still light. Numero uno, collect all of the trash and recyclables and put them in the appropriate cans, then take all three cans out to the curb. Numbero dos, take the dog for a walk, pick up her poop, and feed her.”
“First, your Spanish is terrible. It’s ‘numero’ not ‘numbero’ and second, you have a dog? How come I didn’t see it when I was at your house yesterday?”
“You didn’t see it because it wasn’t here yet. It arrived today, unbidden by yours truly. It’s my grandma’s dog. Grandma’s going on a trip to visit her sister in Idaho and I get to take care of the little bitch.” Todd giggled. I knew what he meant.
“What’s her name?”
“Who, my grandma or the dog?”
“The dog, dufus. The one you called a bitch. I assume based on that nasty comment that she’s a girl dog.”
“Yeah, but she’s been fixed.”
“You mean she’s been broken, don’t you?”
Todd laughed, and so did I. “Yeah, I guess that would be a better term for it. Anyway, she can’t have puppies. Never could. Never will.”
“What kind of dog is she?”
“A shootzee or cockapoo or something. I don’t remember and don’t really care. Anyway, she’s small, mostly curly white fur with some black and tan patches here and there, mostly on her face and her rump.
“Did you ever have your own dog?” I asked.
“Nah. I’ve never been interested in having a dog or cat or anything like that. I had a goldfish once. They don’t live very long. At least mine didn’t. So sad saying goodbye to Thumper.”
“Your fish was named Thumper? That is way weird. Thumper is a rabbit’s name, so why did you give that name to your fish?”
“Because when my folks gave him to me, and we put him in the fish tank, he kept thumping his side against the glass walls of the tank. Thus, Thumper. My folks gave up on trying to talk me into something else, and that was my first and last pet.
“Well, back to the dog. What’s her name? Not Thumper, I hope.”
“No, that would be a silly name for a dog. Her name is Spot ‘cause she has a big black spot around one eye.”
“I suppose that makes sense. Thing is, when I think about a dog named Spot I think it’s a boy dog, not a girl dog.”
“Spot’s a neutered dog. She’s actually an ‘it’ dog so ‘it’ can have any kind of name my grandma wanted to call it. But I still call her a ‘she’ since that’s how she was born.”
“So you don’t believe in people who are trans… uh… I don’t remember the word, but I’ll call them transformed. You know, when a guy is turned into a girl or vice-versa. Anyway, what would you call them once they were transformed?”
“It’s called transgendered. They’re not being neutered, like a dog, where their sex organs are removed. Someone who’s trangendered is being changed from one sex to the other. So as far as I’m concerned a boy who becomes a girl is a girl after that. And vice-versa.”
“Cool. I agree. Are you okay with kids who are gay? Boys and girls?”
“Sure. Why not? I know some kids who were at Edison and came out and they’re at Wilson now and it’s fine with me. It’s the same as if they’re black, or Asian, or whatever, or left-handed, or have red hair, what’s the difference? It depends on whether they’re nice and friendly and cool about who they are. What’s your opinion about gay kids?”
“That’s exactly the way I feel about it too. Gay guys and gay girls are fine with me. I knew some at Carver, but they went to Lehman so I don’t know any at Wilson, yet. Since we’re talking about how you feel about people who are different, how do you feel about guys who go out for the freshman football team?”
“Jeez, I don’t know about that one. I mean, that’s way weird. Totally off planet, in my opinion. That kind of guy would be pretty strange. I’d recommend you keep away from him.”
I could tell Todd tried to keep from laughing, but then he laughed out loud, and I did too.
“So, what did your mom think about your plan to go out for the freshman football team?”
“Let’s just say she seemed to be a bit tentative about it. That’s one of the things my grandmother says, being ‘a bit tentative’ when she’s not sure about something. Anyway, my mom said the things I expected, like my getting injured or a concussion, why am I doing it, what happens if I don’t make the team, all the normal Mom things. She said we’ll talk to my dad about it after dinner. Coach Kavanaugh gave me some information about high school sports and going out for the freshman football team, and a bunch of forms that have to be filled out and signed by me and my folks. I haven’t read any of it yet, but I will before dinner, then I’ll give it to my folks to read when we have the talk about my wanting to play football.”
“Hey, since you mentioned ‘the talk’ that reminds me about the sessions we’re having next week about sex. If you’re going out for the freshman football team you’ll miss those sessions, won’t you?”
“No, because all the guys going out for freshman football have to go to the sex education classes during PE on Mondays just like everyone else in the freshman class.”
“Good. I want you there so you and I can talk about what they teach us.”
“That ‘oh…kay’ makes it sound like you’re a bit tentative about it, to use your grandmother’s saying. Does it mean you don’t want to talk about the sex education stuff with me?”
“No it doesn’t. I do want to talk about the sex education stuff with you. I’m just a bit surprised because you didn’t say anything about it before. I think it’s a great idea. It’s one of the things that brothers can do, and we can talk about it during our Tuesday and Thursday studying sleepovers. It makes it even more important that on Friday night we get our folks to agree that we can do that starting next week.”
“Okay, first, I didn’t say anything about it before because we haven’t had much time to talk when we’re by ourselves. It’s something I didn’t want to talk about where there were a lot of other kids around. Second, about getting our folks to agree, I have a plan to get my folks on our side so they agree to let us do it. You can try it on your folks too. What I’m doing is starting to complain about how hard it is to work on my homework by myself. My mom actually suggested I should have a friend come over so we could do our homework together. So I don’t see a problem getting them to agree. The problem I see is when you have after school practice for the football team and we can’t get together.”
“That’s not a problem, the after school practices for the freshman team are on Mondays and Wednesdays. And Chorus isn’t a problem either. I asked Mr. Emmonds about our rehearsals and he said they’d be during our regular third period class times until two or three weeks before the Christmas Concert starts. Then we’ll also practice on Mondays and Wednesdays after school. I said that’s good because I have a conflict, the one with you, on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. Our public concerts start the weekend before Christmas, and the football season will be over about a month before that, so my after school football practices won’t interfere with Chorus and vice versa.”
“Okay, that’s a big relief. You mentioned that your mom wondered what would happen if you didn’t make the team. I’m curious about that too, since you said one of the big reasons for going out for the team was then you could use the weight training room. If you didn’t make the team, would you have to come back to our regular PE class?”
“Coach Kavanaugh said I could either go back to the regular PE class or I could stay on the practice squad. Being on the practice squad means I’d have to use the weight training room because I’d be in the practice sessions playing against the guys who are on the team. But I could use it even if I wasn’t on the practice squad.”
“By practice squad you mean you’d be one of the guys that pretend that you’re the opposing team. Sort of like you’ll be blocking dummies.” Todd laughed.
“I guess. I could always go back to my regular PE class if it got to be too much. But I don’t think it’ll be that bad. I’d be wearing pads and a uniform and a helmet same as the guys on the team. Besides, if I did go back to regular PE I’d a quitter, and I’m not a quitter.”
“That’s another thing where we’re the same. I always need to finish anything I start. That reminds me, I forgot to tell you that Heather agreed to be our campaign manager. She’s really excited about me and you running for President and Vice President together.”
“That is great. Can she come to that meeting next Monday?”
“I don’t know. I’ll find out tomorrow. Or she’ll find out. She’s already plotting what she wants to do for the campaign. She talked about a banner that reads, ‘Vote for Todd for Freshman Class President and Tony for Freshman Class Vice President’ but I told her they might not allow banners, and we’ll find out Monday. I’ll bet she shows up even if I don’t talk to her about getting out of Homeroom.
“Hey, Heather told me something interesting. She has Algebra eighth period, and she said a kid a couple seats away from her was talking about that Kiernan Mach guy. She didn’t hear much because the teacher told the class to quiet down. But remember what I told you about how gossip will spread at Wilson? I think we’ll find out what happened to him, probably tomorrow.”
“Good. That’s something that I want to know. Something else I want to do is figure out how to make sure he doesn’t attack me or you.”
“That sounds like a good idea. Let’s get together with Vice Principal Garrison and talk to him about Kiernan Mach and the problems he caused you at Carver, and how we’d like to come up with ways to make sure it doesn’t happen to you and me. Kiernan Mach knows you, and he’s either stupid enough or mean enough to confuse the two of us since we look like twins, so we both need to be protected.”
“You know, I really like being your twin, Todd. I’ve always wanted a brother, and here I got a really smart twin brother which is even better. I just wish we lived closer together.”
“I think it’s great being your twin too, Tony. I don’t think living a long way apart will be a huge problem. We’ll see each other at school every day, we’ll actually live together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we’ll spend most weekends together. After school you’d be going to football practice on Mondays and Wednesdays and games on Fridays so we wouldn’t be together those days. That’s what would happen anyway if we were twin brothers living together.”
“Sounds like a plan! Well, I’d better read the stuff Coach Kavanaugh gave me today so I can discuss it intelligently with my folks after dinner.”
“Okay, bye until tomorrow, Tony.”
“Bye, Todd. See you at lunch tomorrow.”
I ended the call and pulled out the material Coach Kavanaugh gave me and started reading.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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