I reached out and pressed Jessie’s doorbell, trying to ignore the butterflies that were trying to stage a prison break in my stomach. He had never made me feel quite like this before. But, today at lunch, everything changed.
As I sat doing my best not to wonder what mystery meat my hotdog was made of, I jerked into awareness when I heard Nelson mention “that theater freak.” Now there are any number of theater kids at my school but only one rated that level of scorn in Nelson’s voice: Jessie.
“D’ya hear? That theater freak’s a fag.” Nelson told everyone at the table, with a sneer plastered on his face.
“Yah?” replied someone else at the table. Nelson responded by recounting how Jessie had told everyone during his speech on Gay rights during Public Speaking class that morning. But after I realized what he was saying was probably true and not just another way for Nelson to torment Jessie, everything went a little fuzzy. A rushing sound filled my ears and my vision tunneled. I think my heart even stopped beating for a second from pure unadulterated hope.
Then reality smacked back into place and I broke out in a sweat, fearing someone had noticed my reaction. No one at my table appeared to be paying attention to me. But as I looked up, I saw Jessie staring at me from one table over. Before I could react, he got up and stormed out of the cafeteria.
And now I was knocking on his door, like I did every Tuesday and Thursday for our tutoring sessions, as if nothing had happened. I held my breath as I waited for him to let me in. Or not.
The door swung open and I was met with Jessie’s angry stare. His dark red curls were sticking out at all angles and his blue eyes were hard with the effort of not showing he’d been crying. But I could see the tear tracks he had missed when wiping off his cheeks. He practically vibrated with his emotion. God, he was beautiful.
“What do you want, Clay?” he finally asked.
I shook myself free of his glare and asked if I could come inside. For a moment I thought he would say no, but eventually he just stood aside and held the door open. He led me into the house and into the living room, where we normally had our tutoring sessions, and then abruptly turned to face me.
“So? What are you doing here?”
I gathered my thoughts and tried to figure out what I wanted to say. I finally settled on, “I’m sorry.” That just seemed to make him angrier.
“Sorry?” he replied in a disbelieving voice. “What are you sorry for? For listening to Nelson call me a fag? For not standing up for me? I thought we were at least friends by now. You just sat there and didn’t say anything. Why were you even sitting with them?”
Wait, that I could answer. “I had no choice. Coach says we have to sit together to foster team bonding or some such,” I interrupted.
If anything, his stare gets even more incredulous. “That’s what you decide to answer? You don’t have any other thoughts?”
“What, no….” I struggled. “I, I….” …am your friend. I...I’m gay too. I…think you’re beautiful. I…I’ve been in love with you for months. It all got blocked up in my head and only the stuttering came out of my mouth.
When nothing more seemed forthcoming, Jessie gave an exasperated sigh and turned to go upstairs. I panicked and grabbed his arm to stop him from going. Time slowed down. Just that touch on his wrist made my skin tingle and feel too tight. My heart raced so quickly, it’s beat was all I could hear. Before I knew what I was doing I leaned forward to kiss him. It felt like every molecule in my body was reaching out for him. But, before our lips met, his hand on my shoulder stopped me from moving any closer.
“No.” He declared, implacably, with ice in his voice.
My heart broke.
My one chance and I had blown it.
I eventually realized he was still talking. “…don’t get to come in here and kiss me. I won’t be anyone’s dirty little secret. If you can’t even stand up for me in the cafeteria, you don’t get to kiss me. I deserve better than that.”
I was so stunned that I barely noticed when he turned and ran up the stairs. I turned to leave and felt a grin spreading on my face. I had a plan now.
It had seemed like a brilliant plan when I thought it up last night, safely not at school in front of hundreds of students. Now I was breaking out into a nervous sweat just thinking about it. I sat down at lunch, across from Nelson, like I do every day. And I waited. I picked at my mystery meat chili until I finally saw Jessie walk into the cafeteria. The butterflies were trying to make a break for it again and my heart was beating out the time for them.
Jessie started to pass by my table, resolutely not looking at me. I stood up in front of him, blocking his way. He lifted his eyes to glare at me with a look of hurt and fear. Before he could make a move to get past me, I grabbed his head by the ears so he couldn’t escape and leaned in. The edge of his lunch tray dug into my stomach just before my lips touched his.
For one eternal moment, he was completely still. Then, as the crash of his lunch tray on the floor registered, his arms wrapped around me and pulled me closer. The wild staccato beat of his heart against my chest and the warmth of his mouth pulled me in. Twin grins pulled at our lips as we continued to kiss in the middle of the cafeteria, with Nelson and the rest of the team yelling names and some girls making catcalls and food flying at us from all directions.
Nothing registered until finally Mrs. Butler, the lunch proctor, pulled us apart and started blabbering on about public displays of affection and detention. As we followed her out of the cafeteria, Jessie grabbed my hand and we strode together to meet our fate, grins still wide on our faces.