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?
Heather phoned me, on my cell number, at eight-thirty Sunday morning. I was still three-quarters asleep when I answered her call.
“Uh, hi, who’s this?”
“It’s Heather. Have you seen this morning’s Sunday Times yet?”
“No. I’m still mostly asleep. I’ll call you back after I get up. Maybe in an hour.”
“But the Times has an arti…”
I cut her off. “Heather, I was at a party at Jiago’s yesterday and I’m totally out of it. I’ll call back later.”
I turned off my cell and went back to sleep.
I sort of heard someone come into my room a couple times, and I assumed it was Todd. Finally it appeared that he couldn’t wait any longer. He came in and yanked my blanket and sheet off me. Of course, I had slept commando but I didn’t care, I just rolled over and mumbled, “Go ’way.”
“No. It’s time to get up, Tony. It’s ten thirty. Heather is in the family room. If you don’t get up now she’ll come in and pull your blanket and sheet off you. You want her to see your private parts?”
“I don’ care. Go away. I’m still tired.”
“Okay, you asked for it.” I heard him walk out into the hall and holler, “Heather, come on back.”
That woke me up! I growled, loudly, “Todd, you keep her out’a here or you’ll wish you had!”
I heard him and Heather giggling. I pulled my sheet and blanket back up just in case, but then I heard Todd close my bedroom door.
I put on boxer briefs and a T and went into the bathroom and took a quick shower and brushed my teeth. I got dressed and went into the kitchen. Todd, Heather, and Aunt Nora were sitting at the kitchen table.
Heather grinned. “Hi, Tony.”
“Why’d you have to wake me up so early?”
“Tony,” Aunt Nora replied, “it’s almost eleven o’clock. It’s time to get up and eat some breakfast. Otherwise you’ll be grouchy all day.”
“He’s gonna be grouchy all day anyway,” Todd commented.
“I’m not going to be grouchy all day. I’m still tired. That party at Jiago’s was so long and so much happened. I should’a been able to sleep until noon.”
“See, he’s grouchy already.”
“Todd, stop it,” Aunt Nora said. “Tony, you have a guest who brought a bunch of copies of today’s Times for you. The least you could do is be nice.”
“Okay. I’ll be nice.”
I turned to Heather and gave her a sort of combined snicker and smile with my eyes way wide open like the Sheldon character on the TV comedy Big Bang Theory. She burst out laughing, and so did Todd. Fortunately, Aunt Nora didn’t see my expression.
“Sorry, Heather. I’m still out of it. So what did you bring me?”
“Ten copies of the Sunday Times. I would have picked the only the Sports section, but I couldn’t buy them separately. Here.”
She pushed a stack of the Sunday Times across the table. “Here’s one of the Sports sections. You can read about the award they gave you and your team. Congratulations, Tony.” She smiled, and I felt bad because of the way I’d treated her.
“Thanks, Heather. This is very nice of you.”
The story was on the first page of the Sports section. That surprised me. And the story was about the Wilson football teams, and was written by David Jimenez. The team picture was spread across the page under the headline and was followed by a five-column-wide article about the team. Below that my picture was two columns wide at the left side on the page and the article about me was the three columns to the right of my picture. Both articles were continued on page 6. I read both articles, then reread them.
“I can’t believe it. This is… it’s… I don’t know what….” I didn’t know what to say.
“You should be proud of your team and the contribution you made so they were so successful,” Aunt Nora said.
“It makes me sound like some sort of hero or something. I’m not any of those. I was just one guy on a team of really good guys. We did great, and what I was able to do was because of my teammates.”
“Bullshit!” Todd exclaimed.
“Todd!” Aunt Nora glared at him. “Don’t use that kind of language in this house!”
“Ouch!” That was Todd, after Heather slugged him in his bicep.
He rubbed his arm and continued, “Sorry, but it’s true. Tony is all ‘Oh, it wasn’t me, it was all the other guys,’ and that’s such baloney. Tony scored over sixty percent of Wilson’s points Friday afternoon. Sure, the rest of the team was a major factor in the win, but without Tony on the team they wouldn’t have an eight and zero record. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, ‘The boy doth protest too much, methinks.’ That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.”
“I agree,” Heather said.
“I agree too,” Aunt Nora added. “Tony, one of the things you need to learn is how to accept compliments. That’s part of growing up, part of becoming an adult.”
“But I’m not an adult. I’m only thirteen years old. And besides, it was a lady that Shakespeare was writing about!”
Todd stared at me. “You’re not going to be able to use that line of Bul… uh… of nonsense much longer, mister. Today is the ninth of November. You’re going to be fourteen in two days.”
“And then you’re going to have to give it up. Capisci?” Heather asked.
“I don’t even know what that means!”
“‘Capisci?’ means ‘Do you understand?’ So, do you understand now?”
“Yes, I understand. I need to be able to accept compliments. I’ll try, I really will.”
“Good,” Heather said. “Now, you need to figure out how you’re going to react at school on Monday.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tony, the varsity won all of their games, too. Do you think they might just be a bit jealous of the freshman football team getting the Best Football Team of the Year award and of you getting the Best Football Player of the Year award?”
“Jeez, I hope not.”
Todd looked up from the newspaper he’d been reading and tapped it with his finger. “I just read the entire article. Tony won the Best Freshman Football Player of the Year award. They don’t give a Best Football Player of the Year award that covers freshman, JV, and varsity football teams all combined into one. The awards are given by team. And Wilson swept the Best Football Player of the Year awards. Tony won the freshman award, Don Givens won the JV award, and Randall Spitz won the varsity award. And you know what’s really interesting?”
“No,” I replied.
“The freshman and varsity awards went to kids who are gay and out.”
“That’s wonderful!” Heather said. “It shows that being gay doesn’t mean you can’t be an outstanding athlete.”
Monday morning was just like Heather had predicted. I wore my letterman’s sweater which I guess helped people recognize me. The result was I was sort of mobbed by kids when I got to school. It seemed like they wanted to touch me, on my shoulders and arms and back. I figured they wanted to make some sort of connection to our success as a football team through me. I didn’t mind. Everyone smiled. They were happy. That made me happy, and I smiled too.
Of course, Principal Rodriguez had to make an announcement during homeroom congratulating the guys who’d won Best Player awards. Then she congratulated the freshman football team for receiving the Best Football Team award. So anyone who hadn’t read the article in the Sunday Times learned about the awards.
What Heather had said about the varsity players being upset because the award was won by the freshman team didn’t happen. The varsity players were wearing their letterman’s jackets — yeah, they get jackets and the freshmen get sweaters — and lots of them came up to me and congratulated me and the freshman team. I always congratulated them for being rated the number one varsity football team, even over SRV who we played and De La Salle who we didn’t play. They didn’t win an award, but being rated number one over those other major teams was a huge accomplishment.
The guys from the varsity team all said they were looking forward to seeing me go out for the varsity next year. That made me sad, but I’m sure I didn’t show it. At least I don’t think I showed it.
Except for the congratulations and praise Monday turned out to be exactly like any other Monday. In other words, nothing special.
Of course, that was not entirely true. In Chorus we stopped practicing for our Holiday Concert and switched to Les Miz. Oh my god, that music and the lyrics are so fantastic! Everyone else in my third period Chorus class felt the same way. I knew that because we talked about it in class and during lunch.
Not having Football 1A for my seventh period PE class meant I had to select another PE option. I picked weight training and Rugby because not practicing and playing football meant not having as much exercise as I was used to. So I worked out a deal with Coach Kavanaugh. I’d take weight training on Tuesday and Thursday, and Rugby on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Rugby at Wilson High was an intramural sport where we play against teams made up of guys taking Rugby during seventh period, versus an interscholastic sport that’s played against teams from other schools. We also played with 13-man teams instead of the standard 15-man teams so it wasn’t like watching college or professional rugby on TV. But it was a lot of fun! Rough, but fun.
When I got to Todd’s house my mom was there.
“Hey, you’re here! You’re a day early for our birthday dinner.”
She nodded. “That I am, but it’s because I’m going to be staying here through Thanksgiving week. I’ve been asked to fill in at Redwood Hospital’s ER. One of the ER physicians was in a traffic accident and has a broken leg.”
“So that means you’re going to be in the house all by yourself.”
“Is there a problem with that?”
“No. What about cooking and stuff like that?”
“I’m going to sleep at our house and eat breakfast before I leave for the hospital. When I get off work I’ll go to our house, shower and change out of my scrubs, then come here to Nora’s house and eat dinner with you and Nora’s family.”
“When do you start and what are your hours?”
“I started today. I’ll work Monday thru Friday, and work from six a.m. to three p.m. I’ll be back here at Nora’s house between three-thirty and four o’clock each day to see you and help her with dinner.”
“I’m glad you don’t have to work weekends, especially this Saturday.”
She laughed. “I’m the one who’s glad that I don’t have to work weekends. They have other doctors who are filling in then.”
Of course, Todd and I have the same birthday, November eleventh. Yeah, that’s eleven-eleven. Cool, ‘eh? This year it was on a Tuesday. My Dad drove down from Davis and we went out to dinner with Todd and Uncle Dennis and Aunt Nora. Todd and I had to pick the restaurant. The choice was between Stanford’s for their truly awesome barbequed ribs and Casa Orinda for their truly awesome fried chicken. We flipped a coin and it came up heads which we had decided meant chicken. It was exactly as good as we’d remembered, with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, biscuits, and half a chicken cut-up and fried so it was crispy but not greasy on the outside and juicy and hot on the inside. We spent most of the evening talking about the plans for our birthday party on Saturday. Believe it or not, we were both too full to have dessert.
By Friday I was excited about our birthday party this Saturday and bored with my classes. The teachers were either rushing to get caught up to where we needed to be for our mid-term finals or repeating everything we had already covered so we’d be ready for our mid-term finals. The only classes that weren’t boring were Chorus, PE, Creative Writing, and Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. Yeah, I know that’s over half of my classes, but the other four classes were so boring it made up for the fact there were fewer that were boring. I groused to Mom about my classes.
“Your Algebra 2 and Trigonometry class isn’t boring? A math class isn’t boring? Is this my son or has someone taken over his body?” She grinned and I rolled by eyes.
“You know that I don’t have any problem with math. It’s the only class where we’re right on track and we’re learning something new every day.”
“I know, Tony. I’m just kidding you. I know you must have inherited the math gene from your dad. You certainly didn’t get it from me.”
“Anyway, I’m ready to fall asleep in most of my other classes, even most of them that aren’t boring. It sure wouldn’t be good to fall asleep in class. I’d be the target of jokes from every kid at school, even those who aren’t freshmen.”
“You mentioned that you weren’t bored in your Creative Writing class. What’s with that?”
“It’s good because we’re writing short stories so it’s always something new. She gives us a topic and we use the rest of the period to write a story. It has to be finished and turned in at the end of class. The technique I’m using is to write the intro paragraph that sets the scene for the story, then I write the end of the story, then I fill in what goes in the middle.”
“So that works for you?”
“Sure. For example, today the topic was, ‘A girl is being cyberbullied.’ So that was the basis for my beginning, and my ending was she stops the cyberbullying. What’s in between was how she finds out who the bully is, and what she does to stop it.”
“How long did you have to write this story?”
“Probably forty minutes. Ms. Porzio took five minutes telling us the topic and setting the ground rules for our stories.”
“You were able to actually finish a story in forty minutes?”
“I finished it in thirty minutes and used the extra ten minutes to edit what I’d written. We can use our laptops or tablets for writing our stories in class. I can keyboard a lot faster and neater than I can write by hand which isn’t very legible. When I finished I just uploaded it to Blackboard.”
“You’re very lucky having these tools available and that you’re allowed to use your computer in class.”
I grinned. “Yeah, it’s a lot better than the olden days way back when you were going to school.”
Mom scowled at me. “The olden days? Way back when I was going to school?” She made a ‘humph!’ sound. “Sometimes I think you kids have it too easy these days.”
I grinned. “Methinks you’re jealous. By the way, are you going to do any packing while you’re at the house?”
“Yes. I wanted to talk to you about that. Can you call Mr. Sanderson and ask if we can pick up some of the moving boxes he has? I don’t have his number.”
“Sure. When do you want to pick them up?”
“If it works for him, Sunday morning would be good.”
I pulled out my cell. “ Do you want to talk to him instead of me?”
I looked up the number for the Sanderson house in my contacts, placed the call, and handed Mom my cell.
I got back to the reading assignment for World Geography that was due Monday. It was one of the classes where we were behind, so each day Mr. Ryan was giving us two days of homework.
Mom finished the call. “Here’s your phone, Tony. Everything is set for Sunday morning. We’ll go to his house at ten o’clock and pick up as many boxes as we can put in our SUV. Once we unload and organize them at the house, and if you have time, we’ll start packing the dishes and pots and pans.”
“How do we keep stuff from breaking?”
“We’ll wrap them in newspaper. Nora’s been saving up their daily and Sunday papers for a couple weeks, and that should be enough. The boxes made for packing glasses have dividers so only the ones that are very small or very large will have to be wrapped. Will you be able to finish your homework this afternoon before we go to the house to set up for the party?”
“No, I’ll need time on Sunday to finish my homework for Biology and my Algebra and Trig class. I also have Spanish vocabulary to memorize, and reading to do for English.”
“Okay. You can help me unload all the boxes, then take the glasses and dishes out of the cupboards and stack them on the sink and the kitchen table. That will make it easier for me to pack them.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. You know, if we could go to the house before we pick up the boxes we could pull everything out of the kitchen cabinets. We oughta do the pots and stuff like that because they’re all in cabinets that are low and that means lots of stooping down to get them out. I could do that and put them on the stove and wherever else there’s room.”
“That sounds good, Tony. Thank you. Then I can drive you back here.”
“You won’t need to do that. I’ll put my bike in the back of the SUV. When we get to the house I’ll take it out. We can pull the stuff out of the kitchen cabinets, go pick up the boxes and bring them into the house, and then I’ll ride my bike back here and do my homework while you pack all the kitchen stuff.”
“That sounds like it will work.”
“As soon as I’m finished with my World Geography homework we should go to the house and finish setting things up for our birthday bash tomorrow. I should be done in about fifteen minutes, so maybe you could let Aunt Nora know, and I’ll let Todd know when I’m done.”
She left to tell Aunt Nora, and I finished my reading assignment. I got up from the kitchen table where I’d been doing my homework and took my stuff into my bedroom. Then I walked across the hall and saw Todd lying on his bed.
He looked up and smiled. “We ready to go to your house and finish setting up for the party?”
“Yup. Since it’s not going to rain tomorrow, and while it’s still light, we should set up the ping-pong table in the garage. Then we can make sure everything is set for the video game parlors.” I grinned.
“Video game parlors? I love that name. You finish your homework?”
“Only World Geography. I still have English, Algebra and Trig, Biology, and Spanish 3 to finish.”
“I have all of those to finish, too. Tomorrow’s out, so I guess we have to finish everything on Sunday.”
“Yup. Hey, let’s do our Biology and Spanish 3 homework together. They’re mostly memorization and working together we’ll have them both down cold.”
“Okay, sounds like a plan. Sunday morning I have to go to the house with my mom and I’ll bring my bike. When we get there I’ll take down everything from the kitchen cabinets so she doesn’t have to stand on a ladder. Then we’ll go to the Sanderson’s and pick up more moving boxes, the ones for dishes and glasses. After we unpack the boxes and bring them into the house I’ll ride my bike back here so we can do our homework.”
“Sounds like you’ve got Sunday all planned. Now we need to set up everything for the birthday party.”
“I’ve got everything I need to bring packed in a couple boxes in my room. How about you?”
“Yup. I’ve got my PS4 and the controllers. All we need to do is move my TV.”
“I’ll call Scott and tell him we’re ready to go.”
I made the call.
“Hi, Tony. You guys ready?”
“Yeah, we’ll be leaving in a few minutes. How about you?”
“I have my Wii and all its accessories in two boxes. Josh said he’d help me with my TV and drive me to your house. Why don’t you give me a call as soon as you get there?”
“Okay, will do. Should be maybe ten, fifteen minutes from now.”
“Great. Later, Tony.”
“See you in a few.”
Todd was standing next to his TV with a box in his hands. “If you can take this, I’ll take my TV.”
I took the box from him. “Scott’s ready to go. How about Brian?”
“We’re supposed to pick him up and his stuff on our way.”
“Okay, I’ll see if our moms are ready to go.”
They were, and we took Aunt Nora’s SUV because it was larger than ours. Brian was ready when we got to his house so we added his stuff to Todd’s and mine. It took about five minutes to unload everything, and then I called Scott. He and Josh arrived about five minutes later, and they brought his TV and Wii and all of its accessories into the house, then Josh said ‘bye’ and left.
We began setting up the game system with the TV in my bedroom, and TVs and game systems in the living room and my dad’s office. The problem was the guest bedroom. It was filled with the boxes of clothes and stuff from my bedroom. We needed that room to use as the fourth video game parlor. So we started stacking the boxes in the closet and against the back wall. That made plenty of room.
My bedroom had my TV and Xbox, the guest bedroom had Todd’s TV and PS4, the living room had Scott’s TV and Wii, and my dad’s office had Brian’s TV and his Xbox. Our TV in the family room would be used for the movies and the stereo had my tablet with the music I’d selected.
It’s easy to tell when a party is a success. People are talking, they are laughing, and they are having fun. Our fourteenth birthday party was definitely a success. Everyone we invited came to the party. The video game parlors were hugely popular, so much so that kids were lined up waiting for their turn. The movies were popular too. We showed Gravity and Her, both science fiction. I liked the playlist I created, and others did too. Heather wanted me to send her the list of songs, and I said I would. I was surprised that the ping pong table was so popular. Kids played both singles and doubles, and lots of hangers-on were waiting for their turn.
The pizzas were delicious, and there was one meat lovers’ pizza left for me and Todd to eat on Sunday. We reheated it in the oven and it was delicious!
Instead of a birthday cake and ice cream, our moms decided to get two double-size ice cream cakes from the Creamery. They were fantastic, with layers of cake and layers of ice cream. One had my favorite flavor ice cream, caramel-caramel swirl, and the other had Todd’s favorite flavor, coffee chocolate chip. There wasn’t one bite of ice cream cake left at the end of the party.
There were presents, of course. Both Todd and I got lot of CDs and some DVDs. Greg gave me an Old Navy gift card, and I got a bunch of generic gift cards that I could use anywhere from Heather, Brian, and a bunch of other kids, too. Todd gave me an Amazon gift card loaded with fifty dollars. Fan-tastic! Then he opened my gift to him and burst out laughing. I gave him an Amazon gift card loaded with fifty dollars.
My dad and mom gave me a Wacom Intuos Pro graphics tablet, and Uncle Dennis and Aunt Nora gave the same graphics tablet to Todd. They are really expensive! Todd and I had always drooled over them when we’d see them in the digital arts room at school. We looked at each other and smiled. What a truly excellent gift!
Parker gave me a football from our game with College Park. It was signed by every guy on the team. I started tearing up. It gave me so many conflicting feelings about leaving Wilson High, and only Todd and Scott knew. I would really miss my teammates. I blinked back the tears and kissed the laces, then tossed the football to Parker. He kissed the laces and tossed it back to me. We both sat grinning at each other for a few seconds.
Scott gave me a pendant to wear around my neck. He whispered to me that if I held it in my hand to warm it, then it would show a heart with our initials, SS + AM. I think that was the best gift he could have given me. God, I love him so much.
Yeah, our birthday party was a success.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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