Sympathetic Eyes (by Grant Bentley)

Sympathetic Eyes

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

Lonnie has accepted being bullied as a regular part of life. That is until he meets Jeremy.

I stood there in front of my mirror staring at the image before me...that of a skinny five foot six, hundred and twenty pound sixteen year old, with brown hair, brown eyes, glasses, wearing his brother’s hand-me-downs. The nerd of nerds…the loser of losers. I glared into the eyes glaring back at me and with as much contempt as I could come up with; I uttered the word, “Faggot.”

Why me? Didn’t I have enough working against me?

Apparently not, as I would be arriving at my new school within the next hour or so…a school full of jocks and their worshippers…a school with a sports program second to none…a school which is home to the provincial hockey champions, the city basketball champions, the western football champions, the city track and field champions, provincial volleyball champions, and the national lacrosse runners-up. What better place for a five foot nothing nerdy faggot to start his junior year?

Mom had breakfast ready as I made my way to the kitchen. She greeted me with a smile and a hug. Then she tried to convince me, or herself, that things would be better here. Obviously I didn’t believe her. After I finished breakfast, grabbed my backpack and headed for the door, I wondered, ‘How many times will I get my ass kicked today?’ So far, from my last school, the record is five times. Although I don’t know if that record counts, since it wasn’t a full day. I was sent to the hospital with a concussion at the end of lunch break. Boys will be boys, you know.

A half hour after leaving the house, I was walking up the front steps of the school. I think the smallest guy I saw standing around was six feet tall, two hundred pounds, and drop dead gorgeous.

‘Don’t stare,’ I reminded myself.

Just as I was about to open the front door, some asshole announced, “Hey kid, the Middle School is down the block,” and the laughter started…I hadn’t even entered the building yet.

I opened the door and quickly stepped inside. Thankfully, I saw the office door about ten feet down the hall. I actually made it there without being pushed or slammed into the wall. Once inside the office, a very nice lady greeted me. When I told her my mom had registered me the day before, she looked up my name, then bustled around behind the counter and came up with my timetable and books. She then introduced me to Jordy who was sitting on a chair by the door when I came in. Jordy had the unfortunate job of showing me to my locker and around the school. I’m sure he probably wished he were at the dentist’s instead.

About ten feet from the office, some kid flicked the back of my head with his finger, which really hurt by the way, and asked Jordy who the new faggot was. Jordy just looked at him and replied, “Why don’t you ask him. I’m not his fuckin’ nanny.”

And so the day went. By 3:30 I was so glad to hear the final bell I could have cried. I don’t think I could have lasted another minute and it was only day one. I stayed in the classroom until it sounded like most of the kids were gone and then headed for my locker. I almost made it too. I would have if the football team hadn’t just come out of a quick meeting and been on their way to their dressing room.

Ten minutes later, I was still lying on the floor trying to decide if it was worth getting up. ‘Should I even bother gathering up my books and going to my locker to get my homework,’ I contemplated, ‘or should I just say fuck it and leave?’ There was no way I was coming back tomorrow anyway. If I had to, I would spend the rest of the year hiding under the deck in our back yard everyday until school got out. Mom would kill me but, what the hell, either way I was dead.

As I finally sat up, leaned against the wall and started to stand, I felt a hand gently grab my arm to help me to my feet. When I looked up, I was looking into the most sympathetic eyes I have ever seen. Actually, the first sympathetic eyes I have ever seen.

“You okay?” he asked, once I was standing.

“No,” I replied as a tear escaped my right eye.

“I didn’t think so,” he responded as he wiped the tear away with his thumb.

“Jeremy,” he said holding out his hand and smiling.

“Lonnie,” I said as I shook his hand and tried to return his smile.

“Let’s get your stuff together and then I think you need a nice strong coffee and at least one seriously sugar-coated doughnut,” he said with a grin.

“Thanks, but I should be getting home,” I replied.

“It’ll only take twenty minutes and it’s on your way home anyway,” he said still grinning.

“How do you know where I live?” I asked as he handed me the books he had gathered up off the floor.

“That’s easy, I live next door to you. I watched you move in on Saturday,” he replied.

“Oh,” was all I could think of to say in response.

“So? Coffee and a doughnut?” he asked.

“I don’t know, I…” I started.

“Come on, it’s on me,” he said grinning again.

“Okay, thanks,” I said hesitantly.

“Good. You need anything from your locker?” he asked.

“I need my math homework,” I replied.

“Okay, let’s get it and then we can get out of here,” he said.

As we were walking to my locker, I finally took the time to look at him, without being obvious of course…at least I hoped not. He was about five foot nine, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds, and had longish brown hair. I had already seen his eyes. They were the coolest shade of blue. He was wearing a tight t-shirt that really showed off his physique…and he had a physique that was definitely worth showing off. I couldn’t help but wonder why someone as hot and athletic as he obviously was, would even talk to me. No one like him ever had before. Well, except to ridicule me.

Once we got to my locker, I put away the books I didn’t need, grabbed my math books and we started for the front doors. As we approached the doors, a guy who looked like he should be on the football team, caught up to us.

“Hey Jeremy, taking your dog for a walk?” he asked with a sneer.

“No, but if you go get your collar and leash like a good boy, I’ll take you for your walk,” Jeremy remarked sarcastically.

“Yeah, right. Fuck you,” the guy said as he reached out towards me.

Jeremy grabbed his wrist and the guy was flat on his back on the floor before I had time to blink.

“You having a bad day or something, Arny? You know better than to pull that shit with me,” Jeremy said in a warning tone.

The guy, Arny I guess, just lay there holding his head. He didn’t even try to respond as we walked away.

“Thanks,” I said, still a little stunned by what I had just seen, “Look, I should probably just go home. I don’t want you putting yourself out there and getting in trouble with the other guys because of me.”

“Don’t sweat it,” he responded, “I’ve been going to school with these assholes all my life. Those with functioning brain cells, which obviously leaves Arny out, know better than to mess with any one of us.”

“Us?” I questioned.

“Yeah us. My friends and I,” he replied.

Most of the guys I had seen and been pushed around by today were at least four to six inches taller than Jeremy and at least twenty pounds heavier. Unless his friends were much bigger than he was, why would guys be afraid to mess with them or Jeremy? Well, okay, the fact that Arny was flat on his back on the floor in less that a second might have had something to do with it. I didn’t say I was the brightest light on the tree.

“Why?” I asked, out of curiosity.

“We’re all third degree black belts,” he answered with a grin, “You’ll meet them in a few minutes. They’re waiting at Tim Horton’s.”

“Third degree black belts?” I queried.

“Karate,” he replied, “We’ve all been in Karate since we were five.”

“Oh, wow,” I said.

“Usually nobody fucks with any of us,” he stated, “They know better.”

“But what if there was a bunch of them against you?” I asked.

“Well first, we get along great with most of the guys. Many of them are good friends. But there’s a mutual respect between us and the other guys we don’t get along with. They don’t mess with us and we don’t mess with them,” he replied, “Last year, five guys cornered Takeo. I guess they felt a need to prove something, I don’t know. They didn’t last three minutes. If they didn’t know to leave us alone before, they did after that. Two of them actually transferred out they were so humiliated. So now that they know what will happen if they piss one of us off, they sure as hell don’t want to piss all of us off.”

“So what Arny did is kinda unusual?” I asked.

“Yeah, very. He was probably having a bad day and was already all pissed off. He knows he crossed the line though. Tomorrow he’ll say ‘hi’ to me and act like nothing happened,” he said laughing.

“I wish I had a third degree black belt,” I said with conviction, “I’ve spent half my life on the floor or getting slammed into lockers. Just once I would like to be able to fight back.”

“Maybe you won’t have to. I think you might find things are going to change around here for you,” he said with a smile, “Once they know you are one of us, they’ll leave you alone.”

“One of you?” I said laughing, “I couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag,”

“You don’t have to,” he said, “Bullies will only pick on you when they know they can get away with it. If they know you are my friend, which also makes you my friends’ friend, they’ll leave you alone. Arny will see to it that everyone knows by this time tomorrow.”

“So why are you being nice to me?” I finally asked with a curious smile.

“Several reasons. You’re my next-door neighbour, you seem like a nice guy, you don’t deserve to get bullied…and I think we could become good friends. You can never have enough good friends.” he replied.

“You mean that?” I asked as a tingle shot through me.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I don’t say things I don’t mean.”

“Thanks,” I said as a big smile took over my face.

“We’re here,” he said smiling back at me.

I looked up, and we were indeed standing in front of Tim Horton’s. Jeremy opened the door and we walked in. A couple of minutes later, I was sitting with him at a group of tables with seven other guys. I was quickly introduced to Neil, Josh, Kaito, Robb, Takeo, Lee, and Kevin. Lee was more like me, five foot nothing and very slim. The others were more like Jeremy and I figured likely had third degree black belts like he did. Especially judging by their physiques.

It was one of the best afternoons of my life. I was with a bunch of guys. I was being included, being talked to, and being treated like I belonged. That hadn’t happened to me since elementary school. After about an hour or so, we collectively decided we had better start for home. It would be dinnertime soon and we all had homework.

“So what do you think of the guys?” Jeremy asked me as we walked towards home.

“I think they’re great,” I replied grinning, “I haven’t had such a great time in, like…forever.”

“You really haven’t had a good time these last few years, have you?” he asked.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“I could tell you were really nervous with the guys at first,” he responded, “Kinda closed up. Then when we got going, you opened up and like blossomed or something.”

“Seriously?” I asked, “Like I actually changed?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “You really did, your expressions, your eyes, your body language, everything. It was kinda cool actually.”

“I definitely feel happier and more relaxed than I have in years,” I stated.

“What are you doing after dinner?” he asked.

I held up my books, grinned, and replied, “Math.”

“After that,” he said.

“I don’t know, nothing probably,” I said.

“When you get your math done, you wanna come over?” he asked.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yeah seriously. Like I said before, I don’t say things I don’t mean,” he replied, “and you really gotta quit acting surprised all the time.”

“Sorry,” I responded with a grin, “Yeah I’d like to come over later.”

“Great, see you in a bit,” he said returning my grin.

“Okay,” I said as he turned up the walk to his place.

When I walked in the house and announced, “Hi Mom, I’m home,” I was met with silence. After I dropped my books on the side table and walked into the kitchen, Mom was just standing there staring at me.

Finally, as she was looking at me kinda funny, she said, “I was starting to really worry about you, you’re more than an hour late.”

“Sorry, I stopped at Tim Horton’s with a bunch of the guys,” I said, unable to keep from smiling.

“With a bunch of the guys?” she questioned.

“Yeah, I walked home with Jeremy from next door and we stopped for a coffee with some of his friends,” I replied. “That was okay, wasn’t it?” I quickly asked.

“Oh…yes…of course…very okay,” she replied as she began to smile as well, “I take it you had a good day at school then.”

“Not really,” I responded, “I didn’t meet Jeremy till after last class. He stopped to help me up after some football player sent me flying.”

“Oh Sweetie,” she said, “I hoped things would be better for you here.”

“They will be,” I said with a big grin, “Let’s eat and I’ll explain.

I then explained the events that had occurred after landing on my ass in the hallway. Mom listened intently with a huge smile on her face. As we were finishing up the dishes, she pulled me into a big hug, and then just stood back with her hands on my shoulders and grinned at me.

“I can’t believe the change,” she said, “You’ve been like a different person all evening. I’m so happy for you. Finally.”

It didn’t take me long to do my math homework. When I told Mom I was going over to Jeremy’s she just grinned and asked me to be home by 10:30 as there was school tomorrow. I promised I would and was on my way to Jeremy’s.

When I rang the doorbell, Jeremy’s mom answered the door. “Hi, you must be Lonnie. It’s nice to meet you,” she said, “I’m Lorna, Jeremy’s mom. Come in, please.”

“Hi, yes I’m Lonnie,” I replied as I stepped in the door, “It’s nice to meet you too.”

“Jeremy’s downstairs,” she said, “Just go on down.”

“Thanks,” I said as I followed in the direction she had pointed and found the basement stairs.

When I got down there, it was amazing. There was a pool table, a foosball table, a ping-pong table and an entertainment system to die for. I didn’t see Jeremy anywhere but there was an open door to my left. I figured it must be his room, so I walked over. When I looked inside, I saw the workout room of my dreams. Jeremy was just finishing doing reps on the weight bench. Robb was spotting for him. They were both wearing nothing but running shorts…short running shorts. I almost had to take a second to put my eyes back in their sockets. I also had to say a quick prayer to prevent any unwelcome change in the direction of my blood flow. Perfection would have been an understatement. Oh My God…

Robb noticed me first and said, “Hi, we’re just about done.”

Jeremy gave me a big grin and said, “Hey, pick a spot and sit. We’ll be three more minutes.”

Robb then took Jeremy’s place and did about fifty reps as Jeremy spotted for him.

They each took a quick shower and we spent the next hour or so playing pool, something I was actually fairly good at since Mom worked in a restaurant-bar that had a pool table. I would play pool a couple of hours every night after school until she got off work at 6:00. We just sat around and talked after that and, before I knew it, it was 10:30 and I had to head home.

“So we gonna meet up tomorrow and walk to school together?” Jeremy asked.

“For sure,” I replied, “What time do you leave?”

“About 8:15,” he replied.

“I’ll be ready. Good night guys.” I said.

“Good night,” they responded.

The next morning, Jeremy was waiting for me as I stepped out the front door and we walked to school together. When we got about halfway, Robb, Takeo, and Lee joined us. As we walked up and into the school I was in awe. No one and I do mean no one came near me. Several people said ‘hi’ to us and I was introduced to them. For the first time in years, I made it to my first class without a comment, a push, a shove or a punch thrown my way. I made it to second class, to third class, and even to the cafeteria unscathed. It was like I had entered a different universe. I lined up, got my lunch and again, no one touched me, or my tray of food. As soon as Jeremy saw me, he waved me over to their table.

“I can’t believe the day I’m having,” I exclaimed, “Nobody has touched me or said a word.”

“You can thank Arny for that,” Jeremy said with a grin, “I told you he wouldn’t waste any time telling everyone to back off.”

“Yeah, besides being a bully, Arny’s a bigger gossip than any of the girls,” Neil stated with a grin and got a quick jab from one of the girls sitting with us. I was then introduced to Karla, Suzy, Wendy, Shelly, Marcia, and Chris. I said, “Hi,” to them as they were introduced. I was afraid they might have considered me to be just a little bit weird, as I couldn’t keep the stupid grin off my face, but they didn’t. They included me in their conversations as if I had been sitting with them for years. It was like a dream, sitting there having lunch with a dozen people and knowing I was welcome and part of the group.

The afternoon went just as smoothly as the morning. When I got to my locker, Jeremy and Robb were waiting for me. It was decided that Tim Horton’s was in order once again.

As were walking out of the school, we passed Arny and some other guy. They both said, “Hi,” as we passed them so we all replied, “Hi,” back.

“See, I told you,” Jeremy said grinning.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” I said, “I keep thinking it’s a dream and I’ll wake up and find myself dealing with the same shit all over again.”

“Isn’t gonna happen,” Robb stated, “You might run into one or two guys who haven’t got the message yet, but I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I so hoped that was true, but I knew better. They didn’t know ‘everything’ about me yet. Once they did, I was pretty sure I would fall off their protected list real fast. But for now, I was going to enjoy every minute of it. If I was careful, which wasn’t going to be easy around guys who looked like they did, I would be okay. I just had to last one more year after this and I would be home free. I would be in university where I could be myself…short, nerdy, and gay.

Nothing could be done about the short, or the gay, but the nerdy…maybe. If nothing else, I could at least try to look less nerdy. I talked to Mom one evening when the guys were at Karate. Since Mom’s new job was a managerial position, she was making considerably more money than before. She also was part of a family health care plan that included prescription lenses. Within a week, I had new up-to-date clothes like a pair of properly fitted and appropriately worn-looking boot-cut jeans and a pair of skinny red jeans, a pair of skinny blue jeans, new Adidas, new t-shirts and a couple a fitted shirts…well they would have been fitted if I weren’t so skinny. I also had new contacts. Put together with my new outlook on life and what I saw in the mirror was a new me…a totally new me…and I liked who I saw looking back at me.

I got a couple of whistles when Jeremy and I walked up to the school the next Monday. I don’t think they were both from girls either. I was living the life I had dreamed about for years. I was happy and relaxed. I had friends. I wasn’t bullied or tormented. I was still short, and still nerdy, but I was fashionably short and nerdy. Outside of trying to keep my one tiny little secret, life couldn’t have been better.

That evening, Robb, Jeremy, Lee, and I were sitting around Jeremy’s basement listening to music and discussing the shallowness of high school life and relationships. Lee had commented that he thought that at least fifty percent of high school relationships were spiritually meaningless. He said that many high school couples knew absolutely nothing meaningful about each other. Everything was external and appearance driven.

Robb agreed with him adding that it wasn’t just in ‘couple’ relationships but all relationships. Too many High school kids seldom ever looked beyond appearance. That’s why high school kids are the most cruel, harsh, critical people on earth. They will hate you and torment you for anything that makes you the tiniest bit different from their view of ‘what is’. You’re too short, too fat, too poor, too feminine, too masculine, have acne, glasses, or a disability, anything.

“Or happen to be gay, or transgender or something like that.” Jeremy added.

I must have turned several shades of white when he said that. I could actually feel the blood drain from my face. I quickly excused myself and ran to the bathroom. Once in there, I leaned against the wall and took several deep breaths. I quickly wiped my eyes as tears had started to form. After a few minutes, I felt I had myself enough under control to return to the conversation. When I did, I noticed Robb give me a concerned glance. Thankfully the topic had totally changed. We were now discussing the merits of the arcade games at the mall versus Xbox or SP3.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I found myself alone with Robb for the first time. Jeremy and Takeo had gone to Pizza Hut to pick up three large pizzas. After a few minutes of silence, Robb asked me a question about a topic I never wanted to ever discus with anyone in high school...ever.

“Can I ask you something?” he started with.

“Sure,” I replied, “You can ask me anything.”

“Okay,” he said, “What do you think of gays?”

‘Not now, please not now. My life is finally worth living. This can’t be happening,’ I thought. I literally had to bite my lip to keep myself focused and to keep from tearing up.

“Why?” I finally managed to ask.

“Would you have a problem if you found out a friend of yours was gay?” he asked.

“No of course not,” I replied as I began to feel the fear begin to subside. He wasn’t talking about me. Good.

“Neither would I,” he then said, looking right into my eyes.

He knew. I knew he knew, and the fear reappeared instantly. He was talking about me. This time I did tear up.

“It’s cool,” he said as he moved over and put his arm around my shoulders.

I almost lost it when he did that, but just then, Jeremy and Takeo returned and I just stared at them as a tear escaped my left eye and rolled down my cheek.

Jeremy smiled and simply said, “You’re safe with us man.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We kinda figured it out the other day,” he replied, “When you went all ghostly white on us. That’s why Robb stayed with you when we went for the pizzas. He’s the best guy to talk to…about anything.”

“And that tear just now,” Takeo added, “Kinda said it all.”

“You’re a good guy Lonnie. And being gay or straight has nothing to do with who you are or how we see you,” Jeremy said with conviction, “You’re our friend and always will be…period.”

“So you’re not upset ‘cause I’m…” was all I could get out.

“Just say it,” Robb told me.

“Yeah, the first time is the hardest,” Takeo said, “But you know we’ll understand, so who better to say it to your first time?”

I just continued to stare at them for another minute or so. I saw nothing but caring in their eyes and smiles on their faces. I finally took a deep breath and said, “Guys, I’m gay.”

That immediately caused their smiles to turn into grins as Jeremy said, “See, that wasn’t so bad now was it?”

“No, I guess not,” I replied meekly.

I still wasn’t anywhere near feeling relaxed yet though. There was still Neil, Josh, Kaito, Lee, and Kevin to worry about, that is, if they hadn’t already figured me out too. If Robb, Jeremy, and Takeo knew, it would be just a matter of time before the other guys did. Then again if these guys were okay with it, maybe the other guys would be too.

“What about the other guys?” I finally asked.

“You have nothing to worry about,” Robb stated.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Let me ask you something,” Takeo said with a grin, “Have you ever seen Neil by himself?”

I thought about it for a minute before it hit me. “No, Josh is always with him,” I said, as a smile began to reappear on my face.

“Yes he is,” Jeremy said also grinning.

“Oh my God,” I said, “How did I not see that before?”

“Maybe because you were so busy hiding it yourself, you couldn’t see it in others,” Robb said.

“Of course, even though they’re out, they don’t exactly flaunt it either,” Takeo pointed out.

“Just casually watch them tomorrow at lunch,” Jeremy said, “You’ll see.”

We sort of returned to our discussion of high school again. We spent the next hour talking about my fears, their fears, high school fears in general. I was surprised they even had fears. I mean they were gorgeous, athletic, had black belts in Karate, what the hell did they have to fear? But they all had something that made them insecure or uncomfortable. I just had to look in the mirror to see why I felt insecure, but looking at them, I couldn’t imagine it. I really had my eyes opened as we talked.

Finally as we were getting ready to head for home, Takeo grinned at me and said, “Oh…yeah…I’ve got someone you really gotta meet. He’s been in Toronto for the last two weeks for his great grandpa’s funeral but he’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Oh no,” I said returning his grin, “Forget it.”

He just kept on grinning and shrugged his shoulders.

The next day at lunch, I took their advice and, as casually as possible, watched Neil and Josh. Sure enough the way they exchanged certain looks or shared stuff off their plates, even the way they spoke to each other, you could tell they were more than just friends. You had to be looking for it, but if you were, it was obvious.

Oh yeah, when we got to the cafeteria there was a new face in the crowd. As Jeremy and I sat down, I was introduced to Ayden. Remember before when I said Jeremy’s eyes were the coolest shade of blue. Well they were until now…now I was definitely staring into the most incredibly blue eyes I had ever seen.

It took a jab from Jeremy to bring me back to the real world, in which, I suddenly realized, Ayden was reaching out to shake my hand.

“Hi…it’s nice to meet you,” I said as I quickly reached out and shook his hand.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Ayden responded.

At this point the other guys were turning red trying desperately not to burst out laughing. Thankfully Robb quickly stepped in and got a conversation going about plans for the weekend. The Diversity teen club was having a dance Friday night. It had been decided that we were all going to get together and go. Since I wasn’t part of the group when the decision was made, they were quick to ask me if I wanted to go with them. I was, of course, more than interested in going with them. It was hard to imagine a teen club where diversity was not only accepted, but was the norm and I thought it sounded totally cool.

Of course, Tim Horton’s was in order on our way home. And, of course the only empty chair after everyone quickly sat down was right next to Ayden. I got a chance to talk to him some more and we seemed to hit it off. As we were getting ready to leave, we decided we would all meet at Jeremy’s later and walk the two blocks to the club together. Once we all got to Jeremy’s, of course, our couples were together…Lee and Shelly, Kevin and Marcia, Kaito and Suzy, and Neil and Josh. The others appeared to have paired off as well…Jeremy was with Karla, Robb with Wendy, and Takeo was with Chris. That left Ayden and me as the only two without dates. It was becoming increasingly obvious that we were being set up, and not just by Takeo. But since I already liked Ayden, and it seemed he liked me, we went along with their little scheme.

I should mention one other thing that I didn’t mention before. Actually, it didn’t seem significant before. Chris was not Chris as in short for Christine or Christina, Chris was Chris as in short for Christopher. Apparently, Neil, Josh, Ayden, and I weren’t the only gay boys in the group.

When we got to the club, there were lots of people there already and the music was blasting. Guys were dancing with girls, girls were dancing with girls, and guys were dancing with guys. I was surprised. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Everyone there was totally accepting. Ayden and I were quite quickly left on our own as everyone else stepped out onto the dance floor. We went over and got a glass of punch and five minutes later we were also on the dance floor. Spending half my waking hours watching and practising along with dance videos paid off. I think I caught everyone by surprise when Ayden and I began to burn up the dance floor.

When a slow dance came up, Ayden placed his hands on my waist and pulled me close. I slipped my arms across his shoulders so my hands were linked behind his neck. As we danced, he looked into my eyes and smiled. A few seconds later, his lips made contact with mine. It was short and sweet, but if I didn’t think my life could get any better, I was wrong. It had just moved one giant step closer to perfect.

After the dance, we all got together and walked over to Dairy Queen for ice cream or a shake. Since they were almost ready to close when we got there, we got everything to go and walked over to the park. After some careful searching, we found a spot that wasn’t covered in goose poop and sat on the riverbank. Everyone cuddled up with their date and we sat listening to the water and quietly chatting…about the evening…about life…about anything that came up, including how cute they thought Ayden and I looked together.

It was the most unbelievable night of my life. Not only had I been out with a group of friends…friends…God, a few weeks ago I could never have imagined having friends. But now I not only had friends, but…I think…I just might actually be in the process of gaining…a boyfriend. I was pretty sure I was…that is, if the good-night kiss he gave me after he walked me home was any indication.

At about eleven Saturday morning, Mom was knocking at my door with the phone in her hand. When I finally found the energy to tell her to come in, she announced it was a wonderfully polite boy named Ayden on the phone. Suddenly I had lots of energy, sat up, and reached for the phone. Mom was grinning from ear to ear when she handed it to me. I looked at her for a second or two and, still grinning, she left my room and closed the door.

“Hi,” I said into the phone.

“Hi,” he replied before asking, “You awake?”

“I am now,” I responded.

“Good, ‘cause we’re all heading over to Solar Café for brunch and I’m missing a date,” he said laughing.

“Well we can’t have that now, can we?” I said.

“Nope. So meet you at Jeremy’s in about twenty minutes?” he asked.

“Yep, I can do that,” I replied.

“Kay, I’ll be waiting,” he said.

“See you there.” I responded.

I turned the phone off, ran to the bathroom, took care of business, jumped in the shower, brushed my teeth, put on some deodorant, put in my contacts, and in ten minutes I was sparkly clean and ready to go. Well almost. I ran back to my room, put on a clean pair of boxers and socks, put on my skinny blue jeans and my favourite purple shirt. Now I was ready to go. I grabbed the phone and headed for the kitchen to say bye to Mom.

“So, who’s Ayden?” Mom asked with a grin, “You haven’t mentioned him before.”

“Later. Okay?” I replied with a grin, “We’re going for brunch at Solar Café, and I don’t want to be late.”

“Okay later,” Mom replied as she stood up, gave me a hug and said, “It’s so good to see you so happy.”

“It is good,” I responded as I gave her a kiss on the cheek, turned, and dashed for the door. When I turned to give her a quick little wave, I saw a tear roll down her cheek…a tear combined with a huge smile. It was good to see Mom happy again too. A minute later, I was on Jeremy’s front step with all the guys, getting a kiss from my favourite guy, and some good-natured teasing from everyone else.

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning and when we got to the restaurant, we decided to eat on the patio. We were greeted by a very cute waiter who asked us what we wanted to drink as he handed us each a menu. We all ordered coffee and within three minutes I was enjoying my first morning hit of caffeine. After we placed our orders, we got into chatting about this that and everything. We even touched on such mundane things as classes, teachers, and clubs at school.

The GSA came up and we were all excited about the first meeting which would be Monday after school. One of the things the guys mentioned that impressed me, was the number of straight kids, both girls and guys, who were not only members, but were on the executive committee and hugely into promoting the GSA. After my first day at school, before meeting Jeremy, I was sure the school was homophobe central. I was obviously wrong. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the first people I had contact with were the losers and the bullies. Like all bigots, and homophobes, bullies have to go out of their way to be seen and heard in an attempt to compensate for their own pathetic, insecure, meaningless little lives. How better to do that than pick on the new, short, probably gay, nerdy kid. Of course that was a quick fleeting thought as the guys drew me back into the conversation and we got into sharing ideas about what we could do with the GSA this year…dances, information seminars, tolerance and understanding week, equality promotions, posters, and…

As we were chatting, the topic changed to karate and the big competition in a month. I also discovered that Ayden went to the same karate classes as the other guys and had a brown belt which is one step below a black belt. He had been going with them for the last four years. He suggested that I should join them and everyone else immediately agreed with him. I wasn’t sure at first but they convinced me that gay guys, and especially small gay guys, need be able to defend themselves. Although the number of hate crimes against gays were few and far between in Calgary, it only has to happen once and knowing Karate might one day save my life. I really couldn’t argue with their logic and about a week later, I found myself walking into Osuna Karate Dojo, being introduced to Sensei Kito, and about to find out about Shotokan Karate-do.

As we walked in, I noticed the words, " Karate ni sente nashi," written above the door and I asked Ayden what it meant.

“There is no first attack in Karate,” he replied, before adding, “Karate is for self-defence never for offence.”

It soon became very clear that Karate is, as he said, about self-defence. I also discovered that it focuses on the philosophy of perseverance and discipline and soon discovered that learning perseverance and discipline was not all that easy. But, I did persevere and with a lot of hard work, within a few months, I was actually able to perform, what I thought, were some pretty intricate moves. Also, during the next several months, I spent a lot of time with Jeremy, and usually Robb and Ayden, working out in Jeremy’s basement…and it showed. My favourite, loose-fitting purple shirt was rapidly becoming my favourite, tight-fitting purple shirt. I also worked my ass off in karate, and even competed in some local competitions.  

Even at school, guys who wouldn’t normally have given me the time of day, were noticing the changes and were actually talking to me. Proof once more that it often isn’t who you are as a person that matters in junior high and high school but how you look. The skinny, hand-me-downs little nerd with glasses wasn’t acceptable. The more muscular, fashionable little nerd with contacts was. Unfortunately, I had spent years caught up in that shallowness; caught up in a self-perpetuating cycle. For half my school life I had been alone, picked on and isolated. Because of that, I had learned to hate myself. Oh, I fantasized about being athletic, muscular, and popular, but that’s as far as it ever went. I had felt helpless and hopeless and because of that, could never find the motivation to actually try to do something about it. I had resigned myself to the fact that that was to be my lot in life.

Then Jeremy came along and the helplessness and hopelessness was gone. I had friends, who cared about me, and who motivated me. I had a boyfriend, who cared about me and who motivated me. I was living my fantasy. It was nice to look in the mirror and like what I saw. It was nice to look at the guys and like what I saw. It was especially nice to look at Ayden and like what I saw. However, thanks to Ayden and the guys, my fantasy life was far from a shallow one. I may have liked what I saw, but our lives, our friendships, our love for one another went so much deeper than that. As Takeo remarked one day, we connected on a spiritual level. Of course we also loved Xbox, parties, dancing, and sugar loaded goodies from Tim Horton’s. But hey, we were still kids.

Ayden and I continued to become closer. I had often dreamed about what it would be like to be in love but my dreams didn’t even come close to the reality. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did tell Mom all about him that evening after brunch at Solar Café. It was a few days after that that Mom got to meet him and she fell in love with him as quickly as I did. I got to meet Ayden’s family soon after. His mom and dad were amazing and his little sister was a total sweetheart. It wasn’t long before Mom and I were enjoying dinner or a bar-b-que at Ayden’s or Ayden’s family were doing the same at our place. We quickly became a single extended family. Even my brother Jerry thought Ayden was amazing the first time he met him.

Speaking of Jerry, even before he met Ayden and the guys, he couldn’t believe the change in me. The first time he was home for a weekend, he asked Mom if she had left me behind when she moved…and who the hell was this strange happy kid she had running around the house. He also blew me away when he let me know that he had known my ‘secret’ since I was in junior high…and it didn’t make any difference to him. I was his little brother and he loved me and was proud of me just the way I was. When he left that weekend to fly back to Vancouver, he hugged me for at least two minutes and told me how happy he was for me. I think he even had a tear in his eye. I know I did.

The guys had been active in the GSA in their freshman and sophomore years and that continued into their junior year. I also became very active in the GSA with them. I also started wearing a rainbow pendant that Ayden had bought me…everywhere. Can you believe it? Nerd boy, who was afraid of his own shadow and who was terrified of having his secret found out, proudly wore a highly visible rainbow pendant. If that wasn’t surprising enough, Jeremy, Ross, Ayden, and I even took part in a televised debate on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the school’s bullying policy. It involved the GSA and Youth for the Family, an evangelical group from several local churches. They, of course, tried to change the focus of the debate to the ‘gay agenda’ and ‘gay anti-Christian movement’. It didn’t work. I don’t think Pastor Wilcox and his Youth for the Family were very happy when it was all over.

To close our part of the debate, I used one of my favourite quotes. It’s a quote of Mahatma Ghandi. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

All they could manage was some lame misinterpreted verse in Leviticus which actually caused most of the audience to burst out laughing.

As we stepped off the stage, Ayden made a point of giving me a big hug and a kiss right in front of them. Two of the guys ran into each other and nearly fell down, staring us. It was too funny…a little mean, but too funny.

About a week later, Ayden, Jeremy, Robb, Takeo, and I ran into one of the guys from the debate in the hallway after school. He smiled and said, “Hi,” which we definitely weren’t expecting.

We all said, “Hi,” back to him.

Then he surprised us again when he stopped and asked, “You guys got a minute?”

“Yeah, for sure,” I replied.

“Look, I’m sorry for most of the crap I said during the debate,” he said while he seemed to be intent on analyzing the lacing patterns of our shoes.

“Hey, don’t sweat it,” I responded, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

“That’s just it,” he said as he raised his eyes to look at me, “None of what I said was my opinion. I’m Adam Wilcox. I’m not allowed to have my own opinions.”

Jeremy smiled at him and responded with, “But you do don’t you?”

He smiled back and replied, “Yeah, I do. And I need you to know that most Christians are not like my dad, or his congregation, or Youth for the Family. They’re just the vocal, bigoted minority who in no way, shape, or form, express the true Christian ideology. Jesus taught us to love and accept one another. Hate is not a part of true Christianity.”  

“I guess my Ghandi quote was a little too inclusive then. I was aiming it at the haters.” I responded, “Sorry about that.” 

“Thanks,” he replied with a smile, “‘Cause we’re not all bad.”

“I realize that,” I responded, “But it’s too bad the Christian majority stay quiet and don’t stand up and shut down the vocal minority. Cause when they don’t, we all lose.”

“Yeah I know,” he said, “Unfortunately, like everyone else, when it doesn’t affect you personally, you tend to stay quiet. Or like me, you don’t dare.”

“Well I’m glad you at least spoke to us,” Takeo said, “We really do appreciate it.”

“Thanks,” he replied. Then looking at Ayden and me he said, “If you repeat this to anyone, I’ll deny I ever said it on a stack of Bibles, but you guys are totally cute together.” He then grinned and walked on down the hall.

“Okay, I REALLY wasn’t expecting that,” Ayden remarked.

“Uh…yeah…no kidding.” Robb said as he watched Adam disappear around the corner.

“You think…maybe…he was reaching out to us?” Ayden questioned.

“I think he was simply letting us know he’s okay with gays,” Takeo remarked.

“Maybe,” I responded.

Ten minutes later, we were all sitting around a table sipping on a coffee and eating one delightful sugary treat or another when we brought up our little chat with Adam to the other guys.

“Holy shit,” Chris exclaimed, “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Ayden said, “It’s good to know he’s not ‘the enemy’ we always though he was.”

“And it’s good to know that not every church is full of haters planning a way to get rid of us,” Josh remarked.

We all agreed with Ayden and Josh before our conversation moved on to other things. Of course one of the other things was speculation about Adam’s orientation. However, it wasn’t long before we had our fill of doughnuts, pastries, and coffee, and it was time to head home for dinner.

After dinner and a thrilling evening of math and English homework, Ayden came over and the two of us wandered over to Jeremy’s to work out with him and Robb. An hour or so later, we were stretched out on his back deck drinking some kind of heath food drink that his mom had created. As we were sitting there relaxing and chatting about the GSA’s ‘Equality Week’ that was coming up, who should we see walking down the alley…Adam. It might not have seemed all that unusual if we had ever seen him in our neighbourhood before, if he lived within twenty five blocks of us, or if he was walking down the street not the alley. This was definitely unusual.

He was trying to appear nonchalant as if he were simply walking by, but he kept glancing our way and was slowing down as he passed. Finally he stopped and just stood there looking at us. When he did that, Jeremy got up and walked over to him. After a quick exchange, Jeremy opened the gate and he and Adam walked over to the rest of us.

“Hi,” he said rather sheepishly.

We all responded with our own, “Hi.”

“Want a glass of juice?” Jeremy asked.

“Yes, please,” he replied.

“How’s it going?” Robb asked.

“Not very good,” he replied.

“Oh?” I questioned.

“I’m sorry guys,” he responded, “I shouldn’t even be here. You guys don’t need to hear about my crappy life. I just don’t know who else to talk to and I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this alone.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I told him, “Everyone needs to have someone they can confide in. Someone to lean on.”

Jeremy returned with a big glass of his mom’s concoction and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” he said to Jeremy as he smiled.

As he turned back to us, a single tear rolled down his cheek.

“We’re here for you man, you need to know that,” Ayden said.

“Yeah…I know,” he responded, “I just don’t know where to start.”.

“Just tell us what’s happening…like where you’re at…how you feel…whatever you want us to know…how we can help….stuff like that,” Robb said.

“You’ve probably already figured out I’m like you guys,” he said quietly. “Well not all of you. I know you’re not all gay,” he added looking a Jeremy and then Robb and smiling.

“Yeah, some of us kinda wondered,” Ayden said.

“You okay with that?” Jeremy asked.

“Yeah, I’m okay with it,” he replied, “But no one else I know is. My family will totally disown me if they even think it. My mom and dad are both convinced that it’s the ultimate abomination in God’s eyes. It’s like worse than murder, child abuse, rape…everything. My brother is the homophobe of homophobes. He honestly thinks all gays should be executed. I mean, I couldn’t be in a worse place if I searched for one…except maybe someplace like Iran.”

“I can’t even imagine what you’re dealing with,” Robb said.

“It’s awful. I’m scared all the time,” he responded, “I’m so afraid I’ll say something wrong one day, look at a guy too long, whatever, I don’t know. I was even scared to come here talk to you guys. Not that there’s much chance, but I was afraid if someone I know saw me and said anything to my folks or to my brother I’d be dead meat for bringing disgrace upon the family.”

“Does your brother believe it’s an abomination like your mom and dad?” Ayden asked.

“No, he’s just a hateful, bigoted, asshole,” he replied.

“You want to go inside then?” Jeremy asked, “In case someone walks by.”

“No, that’s okay,” he replied, “You want to hear about paranoia, I looked up your addresses and the addresses of everyone I know and everyone in our congregation to make sure no one lives anywhere near here. One of our families lives near Neil so I made a note to stay away from his place.”

“Wow,” I said.

“Yeah, I came by here first because you and Jeremy live the farthest away from anyone,” he said, “And, I lucked out…you guys were here.”

“Well, I don’t know how much help we can be,” Jeremy said, “But however we can help, we will.”

“I really don’t know what I expect,” he remarked, “I don’t know that I need help. I guess I just need to have someone I can talk to and be myself with. Someone I can be around without being scared.”

“So how come you thought of us?” Robb asked.

“Actually, I don’t know why I didn’t think of you guys sooner,” he responded, “But listening to you at the debate made me realize that I could come to you, and you’d be accepting and above all respect my circumstances.”

“Well, anytime you want, you’re welcome to come over,” Jeremy told him.

“Yeah, for sure,” I replied, “And this is usually where you’ll find us.”

“Thanks guys,” he responded with a big smile.

Adam hung out with us for the next couple of hours before he decided he better get home. He got right into our conversation about the GSA’s ‘Equality Week’ which would be our last big event of the year. In fact he was more excited and into it than we were. Of course his big regret was that talking about the GSA with us was as close as he would ever get to being a part of it. It was so cool to see his excitement though and to know that we were giving him the only opportunity he had to be himself.

He very quickly became a fixture at Jeremy’s place or my place. Jeremy’s mom and my mom were aware of his situation and would fuss over him every chance they got. A few times he showed up at Robb’s or Ayden’s if we weren’t at Jeremy’s. One day, a few weeks after he started coming over, he remarked that his mom and dad had taken him aside and commented on his new demeanour. They were delighted with the change in him. He was like a new boy, happy, contented, and a joy to be around.

“If they only knew the reason why,” he said with a grin.

“So you going to tell them why you’re a changed man?” Ayden asked him laughing.

“Not any time soon,” he replied with a chuckle, “But once I’m not living at home and I’m on my own I’m going to.”

“Aren’t you afraid of losing them?” Robb asked.

“Not really,” he answered, “We’ve never been remotely close as a family. We’re more like four strangers living in the same house. What little communication there is revolves around my being told what to think and how to behave so I’m not an embarrassment to them.”

“Sorry man,” Robb responded, “That’s so got to suck.”

“Yeah, kinda,” he replied, “But, I’m used to my life at home, and now I have you guys, I couldn’t care less anymore. I used to think it was normal and that all families were like ours until I watched you guys interact with your families.”

“We’re all really lucky I guess,” I said, “All of us have caring, accepting families.”

“Yes you do,” he responded with a smile, “I’ve received more love and attention from your parents in a few weeks than I’ve received from mine in a lifetime. I’m loving every minute I’m with you guys and your families. I feel like I matter when I’m here. It’s so totally cool.”

“Well you do matter,” I told him.

“I know,” he said with a grin.

Our conversation moved on at that point and we began discussing final exams which were coming up in a couple of weeks. All of us had been maintaining averages of 80% and higher so now was the time to step it up a notch and bring our averages up. Since several scholarships were based on our averages throughout high school, every year’s final average counted. Of course that topic didn’t last very long. No group of high school boys, no matter how success oriented they are, will find talking about studying and grades a hot topic.

We were very quickly on to a discussion of the upcoming summer and how we were going to constructively waste two months of free time. We did discuss getting jobs and maybe saving some money. It was quickly decided that first, the pathetic minimum wage jobs available to us would give us spending money, but we would be getting the crappy late shifts and wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or do anything with that money anyway. And second, this was our last summer before we would be facing the ‘real’ world, and it should be enjoyed to its fullest. I know that doesn’t sound very mature, but we are only sixteen and seventeen. This time next year, we would be high school graduates and considered adults entering the adult world. Therefore, this was our last chance to be kids, to actually have two months of vacation time, to do whatever we wanted…rollerblade, hike in the mountains, go boating, go fishing, no wait that’s as much fun as watching grass grow, go water skiing, and be maybe be a little immature and get away with it. We did almost all of those things and more and I had the best summer ever.

In our senior year, I felt I needed to focus on my studies. Mom was doing well financially at this point, but I didn’t want to burden her with the expense of paying for my tuition and books. Even though she made it very clear that seeing me get my university degree and being able to help me do that would have made her happy, she was finally able to do things and go places that she had only been able to dream about before. She was enjoying life and I had no intention of taking any of that away from her. A scholarship or two were vital.

My marks had always been good, but being able to focus on my studies without a lot of extracurricular activities, allowed me to I take them up a notch and by graduation time, I was our class valedictorian with a 97.5% or 3.90GPA. I won my scholarship…full tuition and expenses paid for all four years leading up to a combined BSc—BCom degree. I also won a twenty five hundred dollar scholarship from the company Mom worked for and a five thousand dollar scholarship from the corporation Dad had worked for. I was a very happy camper.

I decided I wanted to become a psychologist. I hoped that with a business degree on the side, I would be better equipped to run my own clinic. Adam had also won a full tuition and expenses paid scholarship and had decided on a degree in psychology as well. His focus was on child psychology. Our goal was to set up a practice together so we would be able to help kids like him and me and their families. Ayden won a full tuition scholarship and decided on a degree in computing science. Jeremy had decided on going for a BSc—BEd combined degree in biology and hopefully to be able to teach in our local high school. The rest of the guys were in every faculty from Engineering to Fine Arts. Kaito was the only one in the group who chose not to go on to university. Instead, he joined Sensei Kito as an instructor at Osuna Karate Dojo and became Sensei Kaito.

Those of us who were involved in karate continued to go to Osuna Karate Dojo and continued to enter competitions. As often as possible, we would all get together at Tim Horton’s for coffee as well. Adam had chosen to move out of home and live in the dorms. Within the first month of university, he had come out to his parents, been disowned, told his brother to go fuck himself…and couldn’t have been happier. He was finally free to be himself and he took full advantage of it. I will never forget the grin on his face the first day Ayden and I ran into him as he walked towards us hand-in-hand with Ryan James. When he introduced us to Ryan, he was almost ready to explode he was so happy. Ryan turned out to be a total sweetheart…exactly the kind of guy Adam deserved. It wasn’t long before Ryan also became an integral part of our group.

Life changed little during the next few years. I’d like to say a ton of exciting, life-changing things happened. Unfortunately, the university grind became ‘same shit, different day’…lectures, exams, term papers, research papers, lectures, exams, term papers…well you get it. Our schedules were no longer identical and our coffee group varied from week to week. We tried to make a point of all getting together at least once on the weekends and for lunch at the cafeteria in the Student’s Union Building once a week. Even Kaito made a point of driving across town to have lunch with us.

I guess we did have a few life-changing events. We attended a couple of weddings. Kevin and Marcia got married during our second year, and Neil and Josh got married during our third year. Takeo and Chris went from being friends to being boyfriends. Everyone else seemed to be happy dating whoever or in some cases whatever. Robb met Carol and the two of them quickly seemed to be well on their way to matrimonial bliss. It wasn’t long before we seldom saw Robb except for coffee and lunch occasionally and he was always alone. Then, after several months, their relationship came to an abrupt end when Robb decided he was tired of being manipulated and controlled. Apparently, among other things, she had a problem with ‘fags’, which was why she was never with him when we got together. When she decided Robb shouldn’t even meet up with us on his own for coffee or lunch anymore it was ‘goodbye bitch’. Three weeks later, he was dating Elise who turned out to be a great girl. She had no hang-ups about anything or anyone and regularly came with him for coffee and lunch.

I guess time flies when you’re having fun, or not, and before we new it, Ayden and I were walking hand in hand into the university’s conference hall to receive our degrees, I was the proudest and happiest I think I have ever been. The last six years had been close to perfect. When Jeremy and the guys stepped up beside us, Jeremy pulled me into a one-armed hug and gave me that patented grin of his. I couldn’t help but grin and return his hug. Then, when I looked into his eyes, I had to do it. I leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek as I thought back to the day that he and those beautiful blue, sympathetic eyes changed my life.

Thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.