By Isiah - firstname.lastname@example.org February 21 2005
I left the locker room and headed outside to where I knew Meric and Justin would be eating lunch. They both jumped up as I came out, Justin running over to make sure I was all right. I smiled at both of them, quickly telling them everything that happened.
"So what are you going to do," asked Meric after I had finished talking.
"Iíve got to get the football team on my side," I said. "If theyíre with me, the rest of the school will fall in. Problem is, I have no idea how to go about doing that."
"Just tell them the truth," said Justin.
"Do what?" Justin, advocating coming out to the football team? I glanced at him, making sure it actually was Justin.
"Iím sick of hiding. Whatever happens, I just want, for once, to be who I really am." I nodded slowly. If Justin had the strength to do something like that, why couldnít I?
"All right, Iíll tell them at practice today," I said.
We finished lunch in a stony silence. I could tell Meric and Justin knew I was gathering my strength and left me to my thoughts.
The rest of the day was mostly a blur, as I was lost in thought throughout my classes. I saw Bryce in the halls a couple times, and he nodded to me. Not many other people did. They didnít seem overly hostile, either. Almost like they were waiting for the popular clique to tell them what to think. I saw Jack a couple times, and he seemed angrier than ever. I knew for sure that he would try again to hurt me, and it would be worse than before.
Finally, practice arrived. I purposely came late, and must have stood outside the locker room doors for 10 minutes, just staring at the handle. I could hear the guys inside talking and joking around as they got changed into pads and uniforms. Taking a deep breath, I reached out and opened the door.
As I stepped into the locker room, it was like a scene from a bad sitcom. Everyone stopped talking and turned to look in my direction. I saw coach in his office, watching. I knew he wouldnít interfere. This was my task, and my responsibility. They were all still staring at me, obviously expecting something. I cleared my throat. A few people came around the corner from the back of the room. Most just leaned against their lockers, looking at me.
"Well, I uhÖ" I faltered. I really didnít know what to say in a situation like this. In movies, the guy always has this great speech to give. I didnít. Hey, that actually sounded like a good start.
"I really donít know what to say in a situation like this. In movies, the guy always has this great speech to give. I donít. What I do have to say is that my responsibility on that field is to lead this team to victory. I canít do it alone, though. Iím sorry that you had to find out about this the way you did. Iíd much rather have told you personally. But Iím not sorry for being the way I am. Coach has obviously seen something in the way I throw the ball that he believes will lead us to winning, and if you canít see beyond the label people are placing on me, I feel sorry for you. Give me the chance and we will win out there. Iím going to get changed and go down to the field. If you want to play on this team with me, practice starts in five minutes."
Phew, so much for not making a big dramatic speech. Everyone was still staring at me, their expressions hard to read. I walked to my locker and changed, the locker room still in complete silence. At least no one had outright walked out. I grabbed my helmet and headed down to the field. Bryce followed me immediately, and it felt good knowing that at least he was on my side.
Down on the field, I threw a couple passes to Bryce, warming up the arm. The throwing movement felt less and less stiff with each passing day. Good. A few minutes passed, and I began to feel like no one would come out that door from the locker room. And then, finally, the door opened, and the team poured out. They werenít jubilant, but they were coming. Good enough for me.
I caught the ball one last time from Bryce, and held it. I watched them head down to the practice field. I did a quick estimate Ė it seemed like the whole team was there. As they reached the field, Mark, the captain of the defense and Antoine, the starting running back, came over and stood in front of me. I stared back at them. Mark seemed to be looking for something in my eyes. After a minute, he nodded, seeming to have found it. Antoine walked over to me and stuck out his hand. I reached out and shook it, firmly.
"Theyíre not all completely behind you, but theyíll play," he said. "Make sure you win, or theyíll lynch you sure as shit." I grinned. I saw Coach Thomas the rest of the coaching staff coming down behind the last of the team.
"What the hell are you all doing standing around? Itís time to RUN! To the far sideline, boys!"
Very tired, I finished changing in the locker room after practice. I opted not to take a shower there, as that would probably push things a bit too far. Mr. Kinney was waiting with the 4Runner in the parking lot for me as I walked out. Meric was in the passenger seat. As soon as he saw me, he jumped out and ran over to me.
"Well?" he asked. "Did you talk to them?" I nodded.
"It was great," I said, smiling. "I donít think theyíre all 100 percent behind me, but if I win, I think theyíll come around. If I were anyone other than the only quarterback they have left, it might have gone differently. Hopefully the rest of the school will follow suit. We definitely canít lose, though."
Meric grinned and patted me on the back as we got to the 4Runner.
"Justin wants you to call him as soon as you get home," he said as we pulled out of the parking lot.
At the house, Mrs. Kinney was making dinner in the kitchen when we got home. I went in and told her the news and she gave me a quick hug, before sending me off to get washed up for dinner. I only had a couple minutes, but I knew Justin was probably camped out in front of the phone, waiting for my call. I dialed the number and he picked up before it even rang once on my end. Just as I thought.
"Well?" he said into the receiver.
"Is that how you always answer the phone?" I jokingly asked. "What if it was your grandmother?"
"I knew it was you. How did it go?"
"It went all right. I gave this whole dramatic speech, and it either worked or coach came out after I left the room and yelled at them. Either way, I think theyíll let me play for them. I had better win, though."
"Thatís really great. I need to talk to you. Do you think you could come over tonight after dinner?"
"Iíll have to ask the Kinneys, but I donít think itíll be a problem. I have to go eat dinner, but Iíll call you the second Iím done. Bye."
"Bye!" I could tell he was excited to hear from me that everything had gone well. I took a quick shower and headed downstairs to eat dinner with my family.
"Justin asked if I could come over for a little while tonight," I said as I helped clear the table after we finished eating. We had spent most of dinner going over exactly what I had said to the team, and what all the Kinneys thought of their reaction. They all seemed to agree with my win or be lynched assessment. I had a feeling I needed to play this Friday, regardless of whether the doctor said I was 100 percent.
"I donít think thatíll be a problem," said Mr. Kinney. "Just get your homework done first, and Iíll drive you over."
"Thanks!" I hurried upstairs and sat down to a math worksheet that was about as exciting as watching paint dry. It didnít take long to finish. I ended up spending almost twice as long in front of the mirror trying to make myself look good. My hair was being weird today, not really wanting to stay where I wanted it. Oh well, hopefully Justin wouldnít mind.
Mr. Kinney was watching TV in the living room when I came out.
"All set?" he asked.
"Sure am," I answered. I waved goodbye to Mrs. Kinney and Meric, who winked suggestively at me with a giggle. I just shook my head and gave Striker a goodbye pat before following Mr. Kinney out to the car.
"Oh!" I said as we stepped out of the house. "I forgot to call Justin back."
"Just use my cell from the car," said Mr. Kinney.
The line actually rung a couple times before a female voice answered.
"Hi, Mrs. Benton. Itís Brandon. Is Justin there?"
"Oh hi Brandon! Justinís in his room. Iíll get him for you. Oh wait here he is." Iím sure he came running as soon as the phone rang.
"Hey," he said as he took the phone from his mother.
"Hey," I said. "Sorry I didnít call you. I got absorbed in math homework."
"Itís all right. Are you coming over?"
"Yep, on the way there now. Shouldnít be long."
"Great, I really do need to talk to you."
"Iíll see you in a bit." I smiled as I ended the call and handed the phone back to Mr. Kinney.
"So, what does Justin want?" he asked.
"Iím not sure," I said. "Just that he wants to talk to me about something. He seemed like a totally different person earlier today. So much stronger."
"He seems very nice. I hope everything works out for you two. You deserve a lot more than youíve been given so far in this life." I could feel myself tearing up as he finished talking. With everything that had been happening these past few weeks, I almost felt like I was forgetting everything the Kinneys were doing for me.
"I know Iíve said it before, but I canít thank you all enough for everything youíve done for me."
"Well, neither Susan nor I had very good parents, and we always told each other that we wanted to help out someone who didnít have good parents. We love Meric, and we think weíve done a pretty good job raising him. But we were doing well with our careers and were talking about helping another child who was having a rough time of it. I have a friend that works for child services in Greenville and he called me when he heard about what had happened to you. It took us all of five seconds to come to a decision. And youíve done nothing but validate our choice. Youíre a great kid, Brandon."
"Wow." I was speechless. I had wondered exactly how I had come to end up at the Kinneys. What a weird coincidence that such great and giving people had a friend back in my hometown.
Mr. Kinney reached over and patted me on the shoulder. I smiled at him and we rode the rest of the way in silence.
As we pulled into Justinís driveway, Mr. Kinney looked over at me.
"All right, itís about 8:30 now," he said. "Iíll come back at 10:00 to pick you back up. Youíve got school tomorrow. Give me a call if you need to come back sooner." I nodded and thanked him again.
I walked up the drive to Justinís front door and knocked as Mr. Kinney pulled out of the driveway. After a moment, Justinís mom answered the door.
"Oh hi Brandon," she said with a big smile. "You got here awfully fast. Come on in." I entered the Benton household for only the second time ever. Mrs. Benton led me to the dining room table. "Justinís in the shower. I donít think he expected you to get here so soon. Can I get you something to drink while you wait?"
"Oh no, Iím fine. I wondered, thoughÖcould I ask you a couple questions about Justin?" She seemed a bit surprised, but nodded and gestured to the table. We sat down and I crossed my arms on the table. It was a bit sneaky to go to Justinís mother to learn more about him, but there were so many questions I had, some of which Iím not sure Iíd feel comfortable asking Justin himself. I took a moment to gather my thoughts before looking up at Mrs. Benton and smiling slightly.
"Has Justin always been like this?" I asked. Might as well get right to the point.
"What do you mean by Ďlike thisí?" she asked. I definitely didnít want to offend her, so I had to be careful.
"Well, at school heís always very dark and moody, and doesnít seem to like to talk to people. Well, he likes to talk to me, but before I came here, Meric told me he was very quiet."
"I see. NoÖJustin has not always been like that. There was a time, not that long ago I suppose, that Justin was quite popular in school. He had lots of friends and, actually enjoyed going to school. This was in 8th grade, I think."
"Well," she said. "Iím not really sure. It wasnít a sudden change. Definitely a more gradual one. But it was pretty clear. Because of the way the school zones are drawn, he went to a different high school than most of his middle school friends. But I donít think that could be the only reason. He never had problems finding friends. He justÖshut himself off from everyone, including me to an extent."
"Wow." I took a moment to process this new information. "Well, he definitely seems to be coming out of his shell recently." Mrs. Benton beamed.
"I know! And it looks like I have you to thank, Brandon." I blushed.
"Well, I donít know about that. Justinís a good guy and he looked like he needed a friend."
"What are you guys talking about?" asked Justin as he walked into the room, his hair still damp from the shower.
"Football," said Mrs. Benton. I nodded in agreement, hating to lie to him. Justin only nodded, and I could tell he didnít really believe us.
"Want to come to my room, Brandon?" Justin asked. I nodded.
"Iíll talk to you later, Mrs. Benton." She smiled and got up from the table and went into the kitchen.
"So what were you really talking about?" Justin asked, closing the door behind us as we entered his room.
"Donít be mad," I started. "I just wanted to know what you were like growing up." Justin nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Remember how I said there was something about you that caught my eye that first day I saw you?" I nodded, also sitting down and giving him my full attention. "I had a lot of friends in middle school. I guess it was easier to make friends back then or something. In seventh grade, most of my guy friends really started to talk about girls all the time, but I never really had this interest that they did. You know how it was, Iím sure."
I nodded. I definitely did. Looking back, middle school was this really awkward time. Everything changing, and relationships you had with people were shifting as well. A whole new slew of different feelings. Being different from everyone else, especially in a way that other people constantly made fun of, was definitely not easy. Canít talk to your parents and you donít have common experiences with friends to share that help you figure things out. Yeah, I knew exactly what it was like.
"Well, I still had these friends, and we got along pretty well. I never told them I was gay - once I figured out that was what I was. And then I had to go to Jefferson, while all the rest of them went to a different school. It was really hard to find new friends. It seemed all anyone cared about was trying to get into girlsí pants and drinking. I had a few small friendships, but nothing lasted. We just didnít have much in common, and I guess they got bored hanging out with me. So I just shut everyone out, including my mom."
I put my hand on his back, trying to comfort him. He looked over at me, smiling slightly.
"But since I met you, itís like I finally have someone to talk to, someone that understands what Iím going through. And you have no idea how much that means to me. It was like there was this dark cloud keeping me from being happy about who I was. As corny as it sounds, I feel like the cloud is clearing."
"That really is corny," I said, grinning. He frowned. "But I think I understand what you mean all the same."
"So, anything else you want to know? Or should I just let you go talk to my mom some more?" I grimaced. I really shouldnít have done that.
"Iím sorry," I said. "I wonít go behind your back anymore to ask your mom questions about you." He nodded, but I could tell his mind was on something else. "So, why did you want me to come over tonight?"
"Well, I need your help with something."
"Whatís that?" I was curious, to be sure.
"I want to tell my mom that Iím gay."
"Wow," I said. "Are you sure?" He nodded.
"Yes, Iím very sure. Iíve thought about it for a long time now. I just never had the courage, I guess. But ever since I saw how the Kinneys treated - what it was like to be able to be open about who I really am - the urge to tell someone has been growing. I feel that if I just tell that one person, this huge weight will be lifted off my shoulders."
"How do you think sheíll take it?" He sighed and half-shrugged his shoulders.
"Iím really not sure. I know she loves me, but sheís pretty conservative."
"Well, Iím glad you had me come over for this," I said. "But donít you think it might be a bit of a shock to come out to her and introduce her to your boyfriend all at the same time?"
"WellÖyou know what I mean," I said. "I wasnít trying to imply anything."
"NoÖI like the way it sounds." He smiled and leaned in, giving me a gentle kiss on the lips. He pulled his head back and just sat there for a minute, staring right into my eyes before smiling again and nodding. "Come on, letís go."
Standing up, he grabbed my hand and pulled me with him out of his room and into the hallway.
"Mom!" he yelled. "Where are you?"
"Iím in the living room, dear," she replied. He let go of my hand and we headed into the living room. Mrs. Benton was sitting on the couch watching TV. She looked up when we walked in.
"Is something wrong boys?" she asked.
"I want to talk to you about something, mom," Justin said. She glanced at me once and then back to Justin. After a minute, she picked up the remote and clicked off the TV. She pointed to the loveseat before sitting up.
Justin and I sat down on the loveseat, careful not to sit too close together. I wanted Justin to tell her how he wanted to and not have it given away because we were sitting on top of each other. I diverted my eyes to the ground, knowing on one hand that Justin wanted me there, but on the other, wanting to give them some privacy. I realized after a short while that no one had said anything. I looked up and saw that Justin seemed on the verge of tears. Maybe this wasnít such a good idea after all. I started to reach out to squeeze his shoulder for support when he suddenly started talking.
"Mom, thereís something Iíve been wanting to tell you for a long time now," he began. "I never had the courage before now, but things have changed." I looked over at Mrs. Benton, who had a slightly confused look on her face. "MomÖIím gay."
And there it was Ė out in the open. I could feel how tense Justinís muscles were and I was sitting about a foot away from him. He was like a deer that had picked up a strange scent and was getting ready to bolt.
"I see," said Mrs. Benton. I looked over at her, trying to judge her reaction. Her face wasnít giving away any insight into what she was thinking or feeling, though. "HowÖHow long have you known?"
"Iíve known asÖas long as I can remember. Look, MomÖI know that you donít really approve, bu-" Mrs. Benton held up her hand.
"Stop, Justin. Know this before anything else. Iíll always love you, no matter what. Iím not thrilled about this, but youíre still my little baby, and Iím sorry that, for whatever reason, you felt you couldnít come to me with this before now. Itíll just take me a little getting used to." I could feel the Justinís tension easing away as she spoke, and when she finished, he literally jumped up from where he was sitting and rushed over to his mom, giving her a huge hug, knocking her over in the process.
"I love you so much mom," he said, tears rolling down his face as he buried it in her shoulder. "Iím so sorry for everything these past couple years." I felt an awful lot like I was intruding on their moment, but Mrs. Benton looked up at me over Justinís shoulder, tears also streaming down her face. She mouthed "thank you" to me and smiled before going back to resting her head against her son. Iím not sure how she knew that I was, at least in part, responsible for Justinís strength. Motherís intuition I guess.
After a bit, Justin pulled away from his mother, wiping the tears off his face. He turned around with a look that said he had forgotten I was in the room. Standing up, he walked over to me. I stood up to meet him and he wrapped his arms around me in a hug. I could feel the love emanating from Justin, different but just as strong as the love I knew he felt for his mother. Patting him on the back, I looked over his shoulder to his mother who was chuckling softly and nodding.
As we stood there in the Bentonís living room, I heard a car pull into the driveway. Wow, was it 10:00 already? Time flies when youíre coming out of the closet, I guess. I pulled away from Justin and looked into his eyes.
"Iím so proud of you," I whispered. His face lit up in the brightest smile I had seen on it yet. "Iíve got to go, but Iíll see you soon." He nodded, and let me go.
As I got into the 4Runner next to Mr. Kinney, I looked over to see Justin and Mrs. Benton standing side by side on their doorstep waving to me.
Chapter 8! And itís only been two months. Much better than my usual writing time. Hope you enjoyed it. As always, send comments to email@example.com! I love to hear from readers! Until next time!