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?
After dinner Todd and I went to Heather’s house. Her father opened the door when we arrived.
“Todd, it’s nice to see you. And this must be Tony, your famous twin cousin.”
“Nice to see you, Mr. Miller,” Todd said.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“Heather is in her room. I’ll call her.”
A few minutes later Heather walked up to where we were standing. “We’re going to meet in my room. And, according to my mom, ‘The door will remain open at all times.’ So let’s get started.”
We followed Heather to her room. Like my room, she kept hers very neat. It wasn’t all girly like I’d expected. She had a double bed, a desk, two book cases, and in one corner a small round table with four chairs. Against one wall she had a small couch and across from it on the other wall a huge LCD TV. I guessed that it must be a 55 or 60 inch model. She had one thing girly: one of those Surface tablets that connects to a keyboard to become a Windows laptop. It had a bright pink keyboard and case. That made me smile, but I made sure I didn’t laugh out loud.
“Okay, let’s sit down at my table and start reciting your speeches. Now, even though you’ll be standing in your homeroom facing the kids there, I suggest that you read your speech instead of trying to memorize it. But that’s up to you. It depends on how accurately you can memorize something. I have a micro tape recorder, and we’ll record your speech and play it back so you can hear what you sound like. Okay? Any questions?”
Todd and I both shook our heads as a ‘no’ and we sat down at the table.
“Todd, since you’re running for freshman class president, how about you start?”
“Okay.” He pulled out his speech and read it. I thought his pacing was great.
“That was very good,” Heather said, and grinned. “I’ll play it back now.”
She did that and we listened.
After it finished playing Todd said, “I heard a few places where I want to emphasize a different word. How about we do it again?”
“Fine. Go ahead. By the way, a redo of your speech won’t overwrite the prior versions. That way you can go back and listen to any or all versions of how you said your speech.”
It seemed to take forever to go over each of our speeches again and again. Finally I realized that I didn’t have to read mine any more. I had said it so often that I had it memorized. I looked at Heather and grinned. She watched me turn my copy of the speech so it was face-down on her table.
“I won’t need that any more,” I told her. “How about you, Todd? Do you have your speech memorized?”
He sat thinking for about a minute. “Yes, I realize that I have it memorized.”
Heather clapped. “Perfect. My job is done. Now it’s my parents’ turn.”
“Your parents?” Todd asked. “Please explain.”
“My parents have agreed to listen to your speeches. So we’ll go to the family room and Todd will give his speech, then Tony will give his. Just one time each. Okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “Should we leave our printed copy here or take it with us?”
“Take them. Let’s make it the same as it will be tomorrow morning.”
So we did.
Todd’s speech came across very professionally, like he might be ten years older than his thirteen years of age.
Then I had to give my speech. I took a deep breath, and sang the few lines of ‘Master of the House’ from Les Misérables to myself, and I relaxed. Then I gave my speech from memory.
When I finished Heather jumped up and applauded while she shouted “Bravo!” Her parents were more subdued and they just applauded.
“Guys, that was so good!” she enthused. “Your delivery is different, which is great. Todd sounds very presidential, just like he should. Tony sounds friendly and relaxed, just like he should. If the speeches mean anything, you guys are in like Flynn.” She turned to her parents. “What do you think?”
Mr. Miller grinned. “I can’t believe I’m listening to a couple of high school freshmen. You guys come across as honest, reliable, trustworthy, and all business. I’d vote for you if I attended Wilson High.”
“Well, I thought they sounded very professional,” Mrs. Miller said. “Their speeches made me feel like they know what their jobs will be and what they want to accomplish. That’s something most teenagers can’t project when they speak. Of course, they’d have my vote.”
“You know that Heather wrote our speeches, don’t you?” I asked them.
“No, I didn’t,” Mrs. Miller said. “Is that true, Heather?”
Heather seemed embarrassed. “Yes, I wrote the speeches. But Todd and Tony worked with me to edit and fine tune what they will say tomorrow morning. The other thing is, the words aren’t as important as the delivery. These two have the delivery down cold. Now all they have to do is give their speeches tomorrow, vote, and we’ll wait for the results.”
As we walked home Todd bumped my shoulder.
“You owe me something, Tony.”
“Huh? What do I owe you?”
“You said I could read your poems after weight training. Now it’s a long time after weight training. So when we get into the house the first thing you’re going to do is give me your poems so I can read them.”
“Okay. But you have to promise not to laugh or groan or say anything negative about them. Okay?”
“Okay. You know I wouldn’t do anything to embarrass you.”
“Yeah, I know. But something like a poem can be sort of… personal.”
We got to Todd’s house and walked in.
“You want something to drink?” I asked. “I’m thirsty.”
“Sure. You want something to eat, too?”
“Yeah, maybe a peanut butter sandwich. I need the protein after being on the football field most of the afternoon.”
“Sounds good. I’ll make the sandwiches, you get the drinks. I’ll have a ginger ale.”
Todd made two peanut butter sandwiches and I got two cans of ginger ale out of the refrigerator.
We went to my room and I pulled out the printout of my poems. I sat at my desk eating my sandwich and Todd sat on my bed reading both versions of my poem ‘I Like Boys.’
“Damn, they’re good, Tony. In the long one I liked the way you used the same line in each… what is it a paragraph in a poem called?”
“Okay. I liked the way you reused the same lines from one stanza to the next. It’s real clever”
“That’s how the poem form I used is designed. It’s called a pantoum. You repeat the second and fourth lines of each stanza as the first and third lines of the next stanza. It’s okay to change them a little. At the beginning of the poem it’s the protagonist who’s hoping the other guys in the mall are gay, and at the end he assumes they are and he’s hoping they think he’s gay. You can see how I changed the point of view around in the lines.”
“Yeah, I see that. I don’t think that the other is very poetic. What’s with that?”
“We had to write two poems using two different forms with the same subject. I used prose form for it. It’s more like writing plain text, but with similar tempo from line to line.”
“So if I take the Creative Writing class I’ll have to write poems too?”
“’Fraid so. That’s part of creative writing.”
“How many poems will you have to write?”
“According to the class syllabus Ms. Porzio handed out at the start of the semester, we’ll have two weeks of poetry. It’s not all writing our own poems. A lot of it will be reading poems and commenting on them.”
“I guess that’s not too bad.”
“You thinking about taking Creative Writing?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m more interested in writing stories, though.”
“You can write poems that are actually short stories. My poem, the pantoum, is a very short story. You could write a much longer poem in an easier form. Or a shorter one, as long as it has the minimum number of stanzas that your teacher assigns.
“You know, you could go to Sand Hills CC and take a college level Creative Writing class, assuming they’re offering it next summer.”
“Could I get high school credit for it?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask your counselor. And check the Sand Hills’ website when they have summer classes listed online.”
“When will they do that?”
“You could ask my dad, but I’d guess it’d be around February or March.”
“Whoa, that’s a long time to wait.”
“Not really. You won’t be signing up for your sophomore year classes until around April.”
“Oh. I guess I can wait.”
“Another thing we could do is ask my dad to find out if they’ll offer Creative Writing this summer.”
Todd grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”
Friday morning it seemed that every freshman arrived early at their homerooms. We were on assembly schedule; all of the classes, freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior, were having their elections. We all stayed in our homerooms instead of going to the auditorium — which we would have done following homeroom if this had been an actual assembly.
In the freshman homerooms the teachers handed out the ballots, explained the process, and the speeches started. There were three offices: Secretary, Vice President, and President. The speeches were given in that order, then the candidates for each office in alphabetic order by last name.
The candidates for secretary were Bailey Branston, Jaymin Dodge, Gayle Levy, and Taylor Witten. All four of them were in one or more of my classes. I liked Jaymin because she smiled all the time and in her speech she outlined the duties of the office and how she’d do as good a job handling each of the duties as she could. I voted for her.
The candidates for vice president were Loren Ellerbe, Tony McKinley (of course, that’s me), and Jeffrey Stotomis.
Loren went first; she wasn’t in any of my classes. She gushed about how just fantastic it would be if everyone voted for her and she became vice president of the whole student body. I guess no one told her this election was for the freshman class, and almost everyone in my homeroom laughed at her. I didn’t; I thought it was sad. I noticed Jeffrey didn’t laugh either.
I was next. I started by saying, “Hi. I’m Tony McKinley, and I’m running for freshman class vice president. Now, why should you vote for me?
”First, you might not know me. I went to Carver Middle School. Coming to Wilson I learned what a great school it is, and I’ve met many new friends, and I know that I’ve found a home here.
“Second, I’m on the Wilson freshman football team. You might say, ‘Oh, he’s just one of those jocks.’ I’m not a ‘jock’ I’m just a regular guy. I never played football before I tried out for the freshman team here. Our team has a great bunch of guys, they’re all just regular guys. We’re having a lot of fun learning the game and representing Wilson High and the freshman class. Come and see our next home game at Garrison Field. It’ll be right after school at three thirty on October tenth, and we’re playing Los Osos.
“Okay, I guess that’s the end of the commercial. Oh, yeah, there is one other thing about being on the football team. It’s something Coach Kavanaugh told us the first day we met: ‘Team and teamwork are two terms that are going to be emphasized over and over because you have to work together with your teammates at all times.’ I think that helped prepare me so I can be effective as freshman class vice president and represent all of you.
“Most of the freshman vice president’s duties are behind the scenes. For example, attend student council meetings; step in for the freshman class president or secretary if needed; help plan pep rallies with the sophomore, junior, and senior class officers; help freshman activity leaders; help freshman students whenever they have a need that’s not being met elsewhere; and create a blog on the Wilson High website where we can report student council decisions that are important for the freshman class and get your feedback.
“I also have some specific goals that I’d like to achieve this year. First, make sure we have adequate funding for freshman activities, clubs, and organizations. Second, arrange fundraisers for freshman and Wilson High activities. Third, in addition to supporting varsity teams, increase support of freshman football and basketball teams. Fourth, you’ve all seen the Adopt-a-Highway signs on freeways, right? I think that would be a great program for the freshman class, adopting an area of our campus where we’d remove litter. Fifth, provide a Helping Hand Team for current students and newbies. Sixth, find freshmen to provide support for Wilson High and community activities, like ushers for school concerts, ticket takers for sports events, and crosswalk guards for intersections near Wilson High School and Miller Elementary School.
“Thanks for your attention this morning. I’m eager to provide a voice for you, the members of the Wilson High School freshman class. I would appreciate your vote for Tony McKinley for freshman class vice president. Thank you!”
I sat down and voted for myself. I couldn’t believe that I’d said the entire speech without referring to my script. I hoped that I hadn’t left anything out. I knew that Heather would be quick to let me know if I had!
Jeffrey Stotomis gave his speech for vice president of the freshman class. He’s in my homeroom, so I saw that he read his speech. He seemed nervous, mumbled some of his words, and mispronounced other words. He repeated one entire section in the middle of his speech. Maybe he lost track of where he was on the page. Despite all that what he talked about in his speech was good. But — if you don’t have the delivery down cold the content won’t get across to the audience.
The candidates for President were Todd Anderson, Moore McLane, Raymond Petrie, and Gail Riddick.
Todd was first. I listened to his speech, and he sounded relaxed and confident. He outlined each task that was a responsibility of the class president and how he’d handle that task. He also talked about how the members of the freshman class were members of the Wilson High School student body, and then he detailed what he would like to see the freshman class accomplish that that would benefit everyone at Wilson High. Then he asked for everyone’s vote. That’s one of the things that Heather considered a very important part of our speeches: ask for the freshmen to vote for us. Of course, Todd got my vote.
Moore McLane was a girl in two of my classes, but I didn’t know her except when her name would be called for roll or to answer the teacher’s question. Her speech was professional sounding, but she didn’t say much about what she’d do as President. I think she read it because I could hear pages being turned.
I didn’t know Raymond Petrie by name, but I recognized him from my World Geography class. He seemed to be very quiet in class. Kind of a ghost student. His speech focused on responsibilities and tasks he’d have as president, and not much about things he’d like to accomplish. It sounded like he read his speech; again I could hear pages being turned.
The last candidate, Gail Riddick, wasn’t in any of my classes. She outlined a series of goals she’d work to accomplish if she was elected. Her goals were good but sounded way beyond what the freshman class president could actually achieve, like change the start time for classes from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. She didn’t talk about the responsibilities of the office.
Everyone finished voting and Mrs. Kellerman, our Homeroom teacher, walked around the room and collected the ballots and put them in a large envelope and wrote the number of ballots on the outside. She sealed the envelope and a few minutes later Mrs. Brownlee, my counselor, came and picked up the envelope to deliver to the office. Mrs. Kellerman reminded us that the votes would be counted and we’d find out the results of the election on Monday. After that we sat around and talked or studied until the bell sounded ending the special assembly period; then everyone headed to their first period classes.
I looked forward to lunch because I’d finally see Scott. He’d been going to ‘Basketball Camp’ where all of the kids who were trying out for the varsity boys and girls basketball teams were having drills and being evaluated to see if they qualified. These drills were worse than the football practices we had at the beginning of the semester. They started last Saturday and they’d been held every day before school during period zero, during eighth period, and after school. Scott had told me this had interfered with his study time, so he decided to eat his lunch in one of the PE classrooms each day. As a result, our schedules didn’t mesh at all. Yesterday was the last day of Basketball Camp, so we’d finally see each other at lunch.
On my way to the cafeteria Heather ran up and grabbed and hugged me, almost knocking me down. She pulled back and kept her hands on my shoulders, and grinned.
“You two were perfect, you didn’t miss one word in your speeches, Tony.”
I grinned. “Thanks. I assumed you voted for us, right?”
She popped me on my left bicep. “Ouch! now I know what Todd means when he says you have knuckles of steel. And what was that for?”
“You thought that I didn’t vote for you? Shame on you!” She started to laugh.
“I was just joking. I knew you’d vote for us. You coming to lunch?”
“No. Mr. Benhoff wants to have a meeting about the balloting so we’ll know it’s all on the up-and-up. I’ll get my lunch as soon as his stupid meeting is over. He promised it wouldn’t last more than fifteen minutes. I’ll see you later.”
“Okay, see you later.”
I wanted to know if Scott made the varsity team, but I decided to let him tell me the answer without my asking. When I got to the cafeteria I saw him sitting with a bunch of guys. Because most of them were tall I assumed they were on the basketball teams.
I walked over and sat down across from him. He had a sheet of paper with the outline of a basketball court, and he made X’s and O’s like Coach Kavanaugh used when he diagramed one of our offensive or defensive plays. He sat talking to a guy next to him who looked to be a junior or senior. Scott was so engrossed in his conversation that he didn’t notice me.
“Hey!” I said.
Scott looked across the table and saw me. “Tony! Man, it’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you, boyfriend!”
The guy sitting next to Scott just smiled. I assumed Scott had told the team that he was gay and had a boyfriend. The guy looked at me and grinned. He didn’t seem to care that Scott and I were gay. I felt good about that. It confirmed that kids at Wilson, most of them, didn’t care if you were gay or straight.
“I voted for you and Todd,” he said. “By the way, I’m Sean Curry.”
“I’m Tony McKinley. Thanks for your vote, Sean.” I grinned. “I know you must get this question all the time, but are you related to Steph Curry of the Warriors?”
He grinned. “I wish. But no, just the same last name and we both play basketball. I did meet him at one of the games last year. He’s a nice guy.”
I turned and looked at Scott. “How did you like your basketball camp?” I asked.
“Ugh! I’d go home just in time to have dinner, then crash. I’d fall asleep for a couple hours, then Mom would wake me so I could do my homework, then I’d be in bed by ten-thirty. I’d guess your football practices must have been about the same.”
“So was it worth it?”
Scott grinned. Sean had been listening to our conversation and he bumped his shoulder into Scott’s.
“Tony, meet the only other freshman to make the varsity basketball team.” Then he pointed to Scott.
“Congratulations! Man, I couldn’t be happier for you. What position will you play?”
“Guard, but sometimes I’ll be moved to play as a forward.”
“Sean, I assume you made the team too. What position do you play?” I asked.
“Center. I’m tall enough for that position, six-foot seven.”
“Whoa! That’s what a shorty like me would call really tall. I’m tall enough for football, but obviously not for basketball. Have you ever thought about going out for football?”
“Not me. I don’t want to play a sport where my chances of having an injury are high enough to scare the shit out of me.”
“I’d guess you’re not a freshman,” I said.
“No. I am a freshman.”
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen. My birthday was yesterday.”
“Hey, happy birthday, Sean.”
“Thanks. How old are you, Tony?”
“Thirteen. Todd and I will be fourteen on the eleventh of November.”
“That’s easy to remember, eleven-eleven. That was cool a few years ago in 2011 when the date was eleven-eleven-eleven. Hey, did you have your eleventh birthday in 2011?”
“No, we were twelve that year. But I thought it was cool being eleven years old for most of 2011.”
“Scott’s been telling us about the great season you guys on the freshman football team are having this year. He told us that you’d never played football before you came to Wilson. Is that true?”
“Yup, it is. Coach Kavanaugh talked me into trying out and I love it.” I grinned. “I like getting past guys who are trying to slam me into the turf. How about you, Scott? You’ve never said anything about trying out for football.”
“Nope, not for me. We had to play football in PE in the eighth grade, and I hated it. All those huge guys chasing me trying to slam me in the turf. I know you like it, but it’s just not for me.”
“And it’s not for any of the other guys on the varsity basketball team,” Sean added. “One of the problems is the seasons overlap so it’s hard for a guy on the football team to also be on the basketball team. He’d have to decide to drop football so he could start practices with the basketball team.”
“When do they start selecting guys to be on the freshman basketball team?” I asked. “I’m curious because Todd tried out and he looked real good, especially his three-point shooting.”
“They’re having their official tryouts starting on Tuesday,” Scott said.
“Don’t tell him,” Sean said, “but I heard Coach Reynolds, the freshman coach, telling our coach that he’s going to tell Todd on Monday that he’s made the team.”
“Without having to go through the tryouts? Or to the Basketball Camp?” I asked.
“Uh huh, but he’ll still have to show that he has the other fundamentals down cold. Dribbling, passing, defending, being able to remember position and action in plays, and being able to react to changes that are made based on what the defense is doing,” Scott said.
“Hey, Tony, aren’t you going to eat?” he asked.
“Yeah. I guess I’d better go and get my lunch now. Nice talking with you, Sean. Scott, will I see you after school?”
“Yeah, we’ll ride the bus home together.”
“I won’t take the bus… uh, today,” I said. “I’m going to Todd’s house. Why don’t you meet me out front after school and come to Todd’s house with me. We’re just going to hang and maybe play some games. I’m sure his mom will drive you home.”
“That sounds good. I’ll check with my mom, but I’m sure it’ll be okay.”
I had to remember to be careful with what I said around people other than Todd and Scott. If they learned that I lived with Todd, Aunt Nora, and Uncle Dennis instead of with my folks there’d be tons of rumors. And tons of questions, none of which I wanted to answer.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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