My story, like all good stories, is about a radio.
Wait, no, that's not right. I mean my story is about a radio, sort of, but all good stories aren't about radios. Let's try this again.
My story, like all good stories, is about love.
Well, that isn't true either. Again, my story is about love, even more than it's about the radio, I think, but not all good stories are about love and all stories about love are sure as hell not good. Just look at Pearl Harbor. That movie was about love and it sucked more than a hooker in debt.
Like I said though, my story was about love and radio. Maybe I could start a whole new category? Maybe it'll take off and in a hundred years someone will be sitting down about to tell their story and start it off with "My story, like all good stories, is about love and a radio."
Still, that's how my story is going to start off. Well, I guess it already started with the radio line if you wanna get technical. Actually, if you wanna get really technical, none of this is part of my story because my story sure as hell didn't start off with love or a radio.
It started off with me getting yelled at.
"Andrew Allen Baxter V you get your ass down here right now!" my dad screamed from the living room.
Yep. That, unfortunately, is me. Andrew Allen Baxter V. For those of you who don't know anything about Roman numerals, that's pronounced Andrew Allen Baxter the fifth. Not Andrew Allen Baxter Vee or Andrew Allen Baxterv. Not that I care, really. I make everyone call me Andy anyway. No one but my parents or teachers ever calls me Andrew and no one but my dad ever uses my full name and he only does that when he's angry or giving me a lecture about the importance of carrying on the family name.
We'll get into that more later.
I sighed. I'd been expecting this. I'd actually been waiting up in my room all day since I got home from school wondering when it was going to happen. Five minutes ago the phone rang and five minutes after that my very pissed dad yelled at me to get downstairs.
So I did.
I could tell my dad was more pissed than usual because he wasn't sitting in his deep, leather armchair smoking one of the large cigars he liked to tell his friends was Cuban but was really bought from a tobacco shop in the next town over. No, he was standing in the middle of the living room with his hands on his hips, his face flushed and my mom standing next to him glaring at me.
It might have been funny if I wasn't so worried.
I know I said I'd been expecting this for hours but I didn't think "the incident" called for this much anger. Unless they knew WHY "the incident" happened. If they knew that then I was pretty much screwed. Like, boarding school screwed. Well, actually maybe not. If they knew why, boarding school is probably the last place they'd wanna send me. Maybe military school?
The thought almost made me chuckle.
Again, it would have been funny if I wasn't so worried.
They didn't say anything at first. They just stared. I knew what they were doing though and it had stopped working on me before I even got to high school. They were trying to get me worried or guilty enough to blurt something out and that made me relax just a bit.
If they knew the whole story they wouldn't need me to fill in any blanks would they?
I just stood there returning their stare. I was very careful not to let any of my worry or my relief or really any emotion cross my face. If I did they'd see and, most likely, take it as me being a "damned disrespectful teenager" or something dumb like that and make whatever punishment they had in mind for me twice as bad. After about a minute of staring it became pretty clear that I wasn't going to say anything.
"Andrew," my mother said coldly. "Your father just got off the phone with Mr Erickson." Mr Erickson was the principal at my school. "He told us what happened today."
"Dammit! You should know better! You weren't raised to start fights like some gangbanger hooligan!" my dad cut in.
I almost shouted out that I didn't start the fight, which was true, but if I said that I'd have to explain why someone started a fight with me and I didn't have a good lie ready so I bit my tongue and kept quiet. Something I kinda wished my dad would do.
"Every single time you do something like this it's like spitting on our family name." my dad growled at me.
Aw, hell. Now I knew why he was so pissed. I was happy that he didn't know the whole story about "the incident" but if he thought I was "dragging the family name through the mud" -yeah, he's actually said that before- there was no telling what kind of grounding I was gonna get.
Now, just so you don't start getting the wrong idea, I think I should explain something about my family.
We're not rich. We never were. We don't come from old money and none of us were ever part of any noble bloodline. We're not poor either. I guess I'd say we're comfortably middle class. My dad works for an import/export company and his position is somewhere between middle management and Vice President. My mom writes for the local newspaper and is a part time girls volleyball coach at the middle school in our town. I don't think I'd ever been more glad that she wasn't the coach at my high school. If she was she would have heard at least some of the gossip about what happened today.
So, anyway, the reason my dad was obsessed with the "family name" wasn't because we had some long, noble history to uphold. Actually it was because of the exact opposite. For five generations the first male child in our family was given the name Andrew Allen Baxter and for almost three generations every single Andrew Allen Baxter lived and died in near poverty.
My grandpa, my dads father, was the first to make something out of himself and all of my dad's bedtime stories were of the horrors of growing up poor and how important it is to Be Something. And of course to never do anything that would cause anyone to think less of the family as a whole.
It was really stupid when you thought about it. You had a guy who overcame poorness and poverty and all that to make a good life for his family and the first thing he teaches his son is how to be a stuck up, arrogant asshole. All because of some dumb tradition of naming their sons the same damn thing.
My dad took it to heart though and even though he wasn't really that bad of a person normally, he was involved with charities and was pretty easygoing even with people he could have easily wrote off as "beneath him", whenever something happened that he thought threatened "our good name" he flew off the handle.
Like he was doing now.
I was used to his rants so I just stood there and listened impassively as he went on about how "a Baxter should only fight to defend himself or others" and how "a Baxter should never do anything to make people think he was a common thug" and on and on. As mad as my mom was at me for "starting" a fight, she still gave me a look of sympathy and understanding after about ten minutes of listening to my dad.
"And another thing! If you're going to get into a fight you could at least have the decency to not do it in in the locker room! I can't even imagine how undignified you looked rolling around half clothed on the floor! A Baxter doesn't do those things and you know that!" he yelled. His face was really red now so I knew he'd probably be winding down soon.
The problem was my face was red too, but for a completely different reason. I didn't expect the principal to go into that much detail. He wasn't even the one who broke the fight up but I guess Coach Williams didn't leave anything out when he told him about it.
My dad took paused and took a deep breath. "I'm very disappointed in you. We both are." Despite her earlier looks of sympathy my mom nodded at this. I wasn't surprised. She always took my dads side. "You're grounded for three weeks. No TV, no internet and no going anywhere except school. Are we clear?"
"Yes." I said sadly. Well, I hoped I sounded sad anyway. I almost never watch TV, I could live without the internet and after today the last thing I wanted to do was be seen in public so it really wasn't much of a punishment. If they knew that though I'd just get more things taken away and eventually they'd get to something I actually liked so I tried to act like this was a terrible thing. Maybe I should have thrown a tantrum or something to really sell it but I just wanted to get out of there.
My dad took one last look at me, shook his head and stormed out of the room. It was all for show, like so many things he did. He just went into the kitchen and I knew the second I went up to my room he'd come back in, sit in his chair, light up a cigar and watch the news.
"Go up to your room Andrew." my mom said. "I'll bring you dinner later but eating as a family is a privilege and you're going to have to earn that back." She didn't make a dramatic exit, just stared at me with angry eyes. I nodded, tried to look sorry and went up to my room.
The second I had my door closed a small, relieved smile crept across my lips. That went pretty much the way I expected it to. One thing about my parents, they're predictable if nothing else. My smile faded as my eyes fell on my cell phone. I sighed. I had one more thing to do before I could try to put today behind me and I might as well get it over with.
I picked up my phone and went through my small list of contacts. Mom's cell, Dad's cell, home phone, Cheryl. How pathetic is that? I couldn't even fill up a Fav Five plan if I had it. I highlighted Cheryl, my best friend pretty much since I was born, and punched send.
She answered before the first ring stopped.
"Andy! What happened?" she asked breathlessly. I didn't answer at first. Even after fifteen years of knowing each other I still couldn't get used to how abrupt she could be. I mean, would it kill her to say "Hello" just once?
"Pretty much what I thought would happen." I answered finally. "My parents yelled at me and took away the TV and the internet. Oh and I'm not allowed to leave the house."
"Seriously?" she exclaimed. "All that just for getting in a fight?"
I sighed. "No. All that for bringing shame to the great Baxter name." I said with a pretty heavy dose of sarcasm. If I wasn't holding a phone there might have even been air quotes.
"Ugh, really?" she asked disgustedly. "You're dad's really gonna need to get over that 'passing on the family name' crap really soon."
I sighed again but this time much quieter and with a hint of sadness behind it. "Yeah, I know." I said softly.
I knew Cheryl almost as well as I knew myself so I knew that the instant the words were out of my mouth she regretted brushing up against a pretty sore subject.
"Sorry." she said. "I didn't mean-"
"I know." I cut her off, but gently. She knew me as well as I knew her, so I knew she understood the implied forgiveness in my tone, but she also knew that this wasn't something I wanted to talk about right then.
"So," she said, changing the subject in the way that only teenage girls, or best friends, seem to be able to pull off. "Are you gonna tell me exactly what happened today? Or should I just believe the rumors?"
I groaned. Not because she asked but because "rumors" kinda makes it sound like there are more than one version of what happened going around. I seriously didn't wanna know, but I needed to know what to expect tomorrow in school so instead of answering, I asked "What are people saying?"
"Well, the one I heard the most was that you tried to suck Jarred Walters dick in the locker room and he kicked your ass for it." she said matter of factly.
"WHAT?!" I screamed. I jumped as my voice echoed off the walls of my room. I really should keep it down so I didn't draw up any concerned or angry parents but I couldn't help it. "That is such bullshit! That's not even close to what happened!"
She giggled. "I didn't think so. So are you gonna tell me what really happened?"
I didn't even hear her. "He was...everyone else was.....Ahhhhh! What the hell?! This is such crap!" I didn't know what the hell to feel. Anger at what had happened, worry about what that stupid rumor might cause to happen, confusion over, well, a lot of different things. It was all swirling around in my head and I had to fight to hold back a sob even as I was trying to figure out why the hell I wanted so badly just to cry.
"Hey," Cheryl said softly, all trace of amusement gone from her voice. "It'll be ok. No matter what anyone says I'll be here for you. And if anyone says anything in front of me I'll kick their ass." I could just picture the grin on her face as she said that and despite myself I let out a small chuckle. She could totally do it too. Even though she was three inches shorter than my 5'7" no one in school, guy or girl, wanted to mess with her. She'd been heavy into martial arts since she was 10 and now at 15 she had a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and more corded, compact muscle in her tiny frame than even a lot of seniors had, so she could definitely kick pretty much anyone's ass.
Even though it made me feel like such a weak little wuss to need protection from a girl, I still loved that she would offer.
"Thanks." I said gratefully.
"No problem." she said. "So, what really happened?"
The last thing I wanted to do was talk about the "incident" but not only did she deserve an explanation, she was probably the only person in school who would actually listen to my side of the story. It might even feel good to talk about it with her. I doubted it though.
Once I opened my mouth it all came pouring out of me. "First of all I didn't even do anything. It was all that asshole Jarred. He was showering after gym and talking to his stupid friends and he just starts....playing with himself right there in front of everyone!" In my mind I was back there again, half changed, hair still wet from my own brief shower, watching along with everyone else as one of the most popular guys in school groped himself right there in the open. "I wasn't even the only one looking! I mean, the guy's practically masturbating in public for Christ's sake who wouldn't look? But the second he sees me looking he gets all pissed off, walks over and punches me right in the stomach! He starts calling me a fag and saying that I was 'staring at his junk' and....I dunno I just snapped. I got up and punched him in the face and the next thing I know we're on the ground with him on top of me, still naked, hitting me and Coach Williams is pulling us apart and I'M the one who gets sent to the office. I don't know if he didn't see Jarred punch me first or if that asshole didn't wanna risk his precious little quarterback getting in trouble but he must have told the principal that I started it because I'm the only one getting detention for the rest of the week!"
I was out of breath by the time I stopped speaking. I don't know why but once I started speaking I couldn't stop until I had it all out. Well, most of it out anyway. I didn't tell her about the righteous anger I felt sitting in the office waiting to be called into see the principal and I didn't tell her how quickly that anger turned to disbelief when he didn't even ask me for my side of the story he just gave me detention and sent me back to class and I didn't tell her how I was filled with a different, more helpless anger when my dad said that the principal told him it was ME that started the damn fight.
Now on top of all that some idiot started rumors that I was trying to suck off that asshole? Didn't anyone who was there stick up for me? No, of course not, but you would think that at least one of them would have said "No, that's not what happened, the little fag was just watching him shower" or something! Maybe they did and people just ignored it because the rumor was more interesting? Grrrrrr!
I hate high school.
"That's such bullshit!" Cheryl was saying. "I can't believe no one said anything! The guy attacked you and you just defended yourself, sort of. I hate Coach Williams. That guy is a creep. I swear he watches the girls way too much during gym class. Fucking perv."
Once again, despite myself, I giggled. Our last two gym teachers had gotten fired, not to mention sent to jail, for having sexual relations with female students and it was a running joke at school that the only reason that they hired fat, bald and hairy Coach Williams was that none of the girls would ever wanna have sex with him. It was also very quickly becoming a running joke that the only reason mean, bitter, kid hating Coach Williams took the job was because he thought he might get some.
"Or," Cheryl said slyly after hearing my giggle. "Maybe him and Jarred have got something going on and Jarred just couldn't help touching himself at the thought of being so close to his hairy whale of love."
I laughed again. This time it was a full on laugh that I couldn't contain even if I wanted to. After trying to hold in my anger and frustration all day it felt so good just to let something out. I laughed until there were tears streaming down my face and my stomach was in knots. I ended up dropping my phone at some point but I could hear Cheryl's tinny laughter coming out of it and that just set me off again.
After a few minutes I pulled myself back together and picked up the phone.
"Thanks." I said sincerely. "I needed that."
"That's what I'm here for." she said simply. I smiled to myself. There was a few seconds of comfortable silence before she spoke again. "So, what are you gonna do?"
"About what?" I asked even though I had a pretty good idea what she meant. It was the exact same thing that had been on my mind all day.
She sighed. "Look, after today you know everyone at school already thinks your gay right?"
"Yeah..." I said quietly.
"So why don't you just-"
"I really don't wanna talk about this right now ok?" I cut her off.
She sighed again but dropped it. "Alright. Just....think about it ok?"
There was another few seconds of silence, these slightly less comfortable than the last ones. "Look I'm just gonna go." I said finally. "If my parents come up and catch me on the phone they might take that away too."
I could tell she knew that wasn't the whole reason I wanted to get off the phone, but because she is who she is she didn't say anything. "Alright. I'll see you tomorrow ok?"
"And cheer up. Things will suck for a while but eventually some cheerleader will get knocked up or Red Means Go Joe will total another car and everyone will stop talking about what happened today."
I snorted. I doubted that was true but I didn't wanna start a conversation about it when I was trying to get off the phone so all I said was "Yeah, maybe. Night Cher."
"Grrr how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that, Dandy Andy?"
"About as many as I have to tell you to stop calling me that." I laughed softly.
"Whatever. I'll see you tomorrow." she said trying to sound annoyed but I could hear the smile in her voice.
"See you tomorrow. Bye."
I hung up.
I tossed my phone down on the nightstand and lay down on my bed. I flipped on my clock radio, closed my eyes and listened to the music.
I was never into to TV or video games the way most kids are. Sure there are a few TV shows that I'll watch if someone else is watching them and I have fun at arcades like most kids and of course I'll go to the movies sometimes but none of those are ever my first choice. If I had a choice I'd either escape into a book or listen to the radio.
I loved the radio. It fascinated me. It's the oldest form of electronic entertainment in the world, a perfect blend of music and pure conversational talent. You never knew what you were going to get. Yeah, if you had an iPod you could hit shuffle and get a random playlist, but you already know in advance what songs will play, just not the order. With a radio it's always a surprise. You knew the genre and if you listened enough you could probably guess a few songs that'll be played, but you still didn't know what was next. You could hear anything from the worst, ear rupturing garbage to the most beautiful, soul uplifting melody. I even loved the radio shows that didn't play any music. The amount of talent it takes to hold people's interest for three or four hours every day just by talking to them is seriously underrated these days. Especially when you consider that, for the most part, it's all done live with no second takes or editing. I would rather listen to a radio show than watch the latest superhero movie or mindless teen comedy any day of the week.
Just another thing that separates me from everyone else.
As the music played my mind drifted back over the events of the day. I wasn't being completely honest with Cheryl. I knew exactly why Jarred got so pissed at me for looking and not anybody else. And, if I'm being honest here, she knew too. It really shouldn't have surprised me since it was something I'd been putting up with for years. I'd never been popular and when fifth grade rolled around and everyone that I'd gone to school with since kindergarten was exposed to the words and mannerisms of the "big kids" in middle school any chance I had of making any friends flew out the window as I became knows as "that fag who's friends with the dyke."
It wasn't that I acted gay or hit on guys or wore hot pink baby tees or anything like that. I was just a normal guy, who acted normal and dressed normal. My problem was that I LOOKED like I should be gay and my only friend was the biggest tomboy in the school district.
Not that I in any way blamed Cheryl. People would have started calling me a fag whether we were friends or not. With my slender body, delicate features, less than manly voice, girl soft skin, long black hair, the fact that up until a few years ago I had a lisp, -not a gay lisp but a legitimate speech problem that I'd been dealing with since I was five fucking years old- and my complete inability to do anything that required even the smallest bit of upper body strength, I was never going to be Mr Stud the Manly Man.
Before today though, I don't think anyone actually really thought I was gay. It was just how people referred to me. If I was fat they would have called me lard ass, if I wore glasses and tucked in my shirt they would have called me a nerd and if I had crooked teeth and an accent they'd have called me white trash. As it was I was just "that girly fag" or "the little sissy that can't even do one pull up" or any one of a hundred names that insecure assholes called me in order to make themselves feel superior. My sexuality wasn't something anyone had seriously thought about.
Whether or not everyone else had been doing it, I'd been "caught looking" so as far as anyone was concerned I'd "outed" myself today. I'd finally proved what they'd been saying all along and that, more than anything, is what would bring them down on me.
But do you wanna know what the real kicker is? After all the taunts and insults, after all the lewd remarks and mockingly suggestive comments, after trying for years to escape the "fag" stigma, I actually turn out to BE gay. It's like God's telling a joke and my life is the punchline.
I honestly don't know why I'm gay. Was I born this way? Is it the result of years of people calling me a fag? Was it because my only friend for my entire life was a girl who was more masculine on her worst day that I was on my best? Was it because that friend, despite the "dyke" comments, which by the way mostly stopped pretty quickly after she started taking up martial arts, was completely straight and I spent the beginning of puberty listening to her talk about how hot this guy or that guy was? Does it even matter?
That last one I can answer. No, it doesn't matter. If I could have ever changed how I am that ship has long since sailed, been sacked by pirates and burned to the waterline.
That wasn't my problem. My problem, the one that Cheryl tried to get me to talk about but that I didn't want to face, was what do I do now? Do I "come out" and tell the world that, yes, I'm gay or do I try to tell my version of the "incident" and hope that it, plus my passionate denial of being gay, would eventually put me back in the "who gives a shit" category.
It's not as simple as it sounds. On one hand there are some openly gay kids at school, hell we even had a GSA. I could hope that if I came out they'd offer their friendship and comfort, that maybe I could finally feel like I belonged SOMEWHERE. Maybe I could even get a boyfriend out of it, doubtful but at least it would be more likely than it is now.
On the other hand no one has EVER stood up for me or offered me friendship. The gay kids never said anything if they overheard me being called a fag or saw me being shoved into a row of lockers so why would they bother with me now? I could go through with it only to end up right where I am now except looking more ridiculous for thinking that not being ashamed of myself would make any difference at all.
Then there were my parents.
As things were, if they found out the full story of what happened I could maybe get them to believe that I at least wasn't some gay pervert who stared at boys in the locker room if I denied it enough. If I went around telling everyone I was gay though and THAT got back to them, then I didn't think there was any way I could talk my way out of that one. If my dad found out I was gay he'd either have a heart attack or kill me.
It's not that he has anything against gays. One of his best friends is gay and he's been over at our house dozens of times. No, my dad would kill me because you can't reproduce and pass on the family name unless you have sex with a woman. And don't even TRY to mention surrogates or anything like that unless you want a thirty minute rant about the "right" way to make a kid.
It's kind of ironic in a way. Most closeted kids would love to know without a shadow of a doubt that their parents were accepting of gays but it didn't matter in my case because there is no way he'd be accepting of me being the last of the Andrew Allen Baxter's.
It's the punchline within the punchline that is my life.
Even after thinking all that through I wasn't any closer to a decision. I thought that maybe I could deal with whatever my dad did to me -since, yeah, the murder thing is probably an exaggeration- if I had support, more support than Cheryl I mean, but I couldn't be sure I'd get it. I could end up ruining my life unnecessarily. But then what if I did have support and still couldn't deal with whatever my dad did?
Grrrr this was all too confusing! Thankfully I was saved from further melting my brain by a knock at my door.
"Come in." I said and sat up in bed.
My mom opened the door and walked in carrying a plate of chicken with mashed potatoes. If this was like every other time I'd had the "privilege" of family dining taken away it'd be ice cold from sitting around while they ate.
"Here's your dinner." my mom said as she handed it to me. She turned to leave but then stopped and turned back to face me with what almost looked like a sympathetic frown. "Andrew, you know how your father is, I don't know why you keep doing things that upset him like this. You really should know better by now."
"Mom, I-" But what could I say? She was right in a way. I knew what my dad expected, he told me often enough, but how could I explain without telling her things I didn't want her to know? "Never mind."
My mom let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, please try not to do things like this anymore ok? If not for your father, than for me. Please?"
Dammit! I hate the guilt thing! Hate it! I don't even have anything to feel guilty about and here I am thinking about apologizing. Well, that sure as hell isn't gonna happen. I'm gonna stand firm this time.
"I'm sorry, mom." the words were out of my mouth before I even realized I was saying them. "I'll try."
She smiled slightly. "Thank you." Then she turned and left. At least she closed the door behind her.
Damn her. I can deal with anything they throw at me except the guilt. I picked at my food. Cold. Of course.
I sighed. At least it broke me out of my thoughts. I propped up some pillows and leaned back against my headboard and started to eat. Even cold it wasn't that bad. My mom was a good cook.
As I ate I got sick of listening to the top 40 countdown show I had on so I played around with the tuner a bit trying to find something interesting. Sadly, with this being early evening on a weekday, almost all the stations were doing either some kind of countdown or a talk show and I really wanted to listen to some music. I tried searching around in the lower stations, the 80's and the low 90's. You know, the ones that usually have college radio and the "godlessness is the root of all the worlds problems" talk shows.
I finally gave up searching for something listenable and decided to put on the school's radio station. Yeah, my school has it's own radio station. Don't ask how that happened because I have no idea. I was actually pretty excited when I heard about it but it became clear pretty quickly that high school radio is a lot like high school itself. Stupid, pointless and almost impossible to sit through. Still, it was good for a laugh sometimes, especially when the incompetent kids they got to volunteer spent five minutes fumbling through trying to get a song to play. I figured I could use some laughter after today and if it was at the expense of the same kids who would be giving me hell tomorrow then all the better.
I was surprised however to find that not only was there actual music playing but it was a pretty popular modern rock song too. Usually the kids that volunteer try to play really obscure bands to prove that they're really into music or something. I dunno. The last time I was listening to this station there was some god awful blend of polka and punk that literally gave me a headache for like an hour.
This was pretty good though. The next best thing to laughing at idiots from my school really. Especially when the song ended and the next one that played was one of my favorite songs. I smiled slightly as I finished eating. This was a good find, and on such a terrible day too.
Everything changed after the song ended though. Instead of a new song, a voice came through my radio. "This next song was requested by Rebecca and dedicated to 'someone special'. It's 'High' by James Blunt."
After that the song started playing but I didn't hear it. I didn't taste the last piece of half chewed chicken in my mouth. I didn't feel the pillows behind my head. I suddenly forgot what day of the week it was. Actually, I'm pretty sure if you asked me, I wouldn't even have been able to explain the concept of a 'week' to you.
All that I could focus on was that voice.
It was the smoothest, most velvety voice I'd ever heard. Not deep, definitely the voice of someone my age but it was more sensual than any teenager's voice had any right to be, with just a little bit of a mischievousness to it. Like it was sharing a naughty secret with you every time it spoke. It had the slightest of rasps and tended to rise and fall ever so slightly during words with more than one syllable. I'd never heard anything like it in all my life.
For those first few seconds I didn't even think of the person behind the voice, there was just the voice. It was so.....so.....perfect. Just two short sentences and I was hooked. I needed to hear more. I was brought out of my thoughts by a sudden pain in my crotch. I looked down and saw that I had an erection pressing painfully against the zipper of my pants.
I got hard from a VOICE! Holy hell! That's just.......well I would have said 'not possible' but the evidence in front of me showed me the painful truth. And painful it was. I winced as I reached down to adjust myself.
That was a mistake.
The second my hand came into contact with my erection I literally shuddered and turned to jelly. God it was so SENSITIVE! I'd never been this sensitive in my entire life. And it was all over a voice!
It was then that I started thinking of the person that voice might belong to.
What kind of boy could have a voice like that? He had to be beautiful. There is just no way someone hideous could have a voice like that. Not that it mattered to me. I'd listen to him all day even if he had three arms and half a face. He was probably older than me, but not too much older, maybe 17? He seemed too confident to be my age, too....sensual. Taller than me of course, strong but not overbearing, with arms that you can feel secure in, like nothing could ever touch you......
I shook myself out of my thoughts, swallowed my food and blinked rapidly.
This....is so not me.
You have to understand, I'm the absolute LAST person that gets like this. I don't buy into that 'love at first sight' mushy stuff. I know it doesn't exist. All there is in the world is good looks and popularity attracting more good looks and popularity. I've never looked for that and I've never expected it. Were there guys I thought were hot? Sure. Did I want a boyfriend? Of course. But that's all I ever expected. Someone to be a friend and maybe eventually fool around with a bit and for me even that was pushing the limits of reality. I certainly wouldn't find that until I was off at college at the very least. I never had fantasies about finding that one perfect love that all the love stories and Jennifer Aniston movies seem to talk about and I certainly never obsessed over any of my super rare crushes. Not like this.
I'm not saying I fell instantly head over heels in love with that voice on the radio. Don't think that. I still didn't really believe in that type of thing. That voice though.....it made me WANT to believe. It made me hope, just for a second, that maybe it wasn't all bullshit after all.
I had to laugh at myself. Here I was, Andy, the outcast, the faggot, the weak little boy that couldn't make a friend if he had a gun to his head suddenly thinking "what if" about some nameless voice over the radio. It was stupid. Even IF the person on the other side was the perfect person for me and even IF I somehow found out who he was and even IF after finding out I somehow got the courage to actually talk to him and even IF he was gay and looking for someone, he wouldn't want anything to do with me.
And that isn't self pity talking, it's cold hard experience.
I've never been able to make friends and I've never had anyone come up to me and try to talk to me. The only reason Cheryl is my friend is because my mom and hers have been best friends since they were little and we spent our entire childhood at each others houses. Even back in kindergarten and the early grades before kids knew what "undesirables" and "social outcasts" were, nobody wanted anything to do with me. If it wasn't for Cheryl I might have gone through my entire 15 years of life without saying more than ten words to anyone other than my parents or teachers. I was that pathetic.
Great, now I'm getting even more mopey and pitiful. At least before all I was depressed about was what happened at school but now I was thinking about how horrible my social life has been since I first started having a social life! And all because of two sentences spoken by an angel. A totally and completely untouchable angel. I sighed. I think it's time to turn the radio off and have a good, long sulk.
I was actually reaching over to turn it off when the song that was playing ended and the voice spoke again.
"Welcome back to the all request hour on WJHS. Just a quick reminder, if you wanna hear one of your favorite songs all you need to do is call in at" he gave the number "and tell me your request. Right now we've got a request from Sean for 'Walk' by Pantera."
Once again I completely froze as the song started to play. Not so much because of the voice, although that alone might have been enough to send me into another swoonfest, but because of what it said. Not the part about it being a request show. Or even the part where he gave out the number. Nope, the part that made my body lock up was when he said "tell me your request". Tell ME your request. That means that anyone who calls in gets to speak to HIM.
That means if I call in, I get to speak to him.
Now I had a serious problem. Well, two problems really.
My first problem was that I was cripplingly shy. Like, so shy that I can't even look waiters in the eye while mumbling out my order at a restaurant. So, as you can imagine, actually starting a conversation with someone was impossible for me. It really sucked because once I got comfortable around people I thought I could be a pretty good guy to talk to. Cheryl seemed to spend most of our conversations laughing and having fun. Nobody ever got to see that side of me though, they just wrote me off as the freak when I didn't walk up to them with witty conversation spewing out of my smiling mouth. I was a bit quicker to open up online where I didn't have to actually SEE the person I was talking to so naturally you'd think phone conversations would be easier for me. This brings me to my second problem.
I'm afraid of making phone calls.
Yeah, I'm serious. I don't even think there's a NAME for that but if there is then I have it. Again, if I know the person really well and I'm 100% sure that they're the one that's going to answer the phone I can do it, like I did earlier with Cheryl, but I've never been able to force myself to call anyone I didn't know. Ever.
See what I mean about problems?
The very thought of reaching over to my phone and dialing the number that I couldn't get out of my head was enough to send me into a near anxiety attack. Yet the thought of not calling was like a weight on my chest, no INSIDE my chest, that just kept getting heavier and heavier as the seconds ticked by without hearing that voice and if I didn't call I had no idea if this pressure would break or if it would break me.
Twice my hand started to slide over to the phone and twice I snatched it back. Why was I even doing this to myself? I didn't seriously expect to call and have him confess his undying love for me or even for him to ask me to meet up somewhere for a quick screw in the back of his no doubt incredibly sexy car. I didn't even expect a conversation. Was I really putting myself through all this inner turmoil, on TODAY of all days, just to have this guy talk to me?
I thought back to everything the voice, the boy, said and I suddenly realized what I wanted. " This next song was requested by Rebecca....." " Right now we've got a request from Sean....."
I wanted to hear him say my name.
God, how sad is that?
What's even sadder is that the second I realized this I immediately started thinking, no, daydreaming, no, dammit Andy at least be honest with yourself, FANTASIZING about just how he'd say it.
'Next up is a request from Andy.'
No, too brief. Realistic I guess but if I'm going to admit that I'm fantasizing I might as well have fun with it.
'This next song is one of my favorites and was requested by a very special boy named Andy. I'm touching myself thinking about him right now. Mmmmm yeah. Oh Andy I wish this was you touching me. Ohhhhhh.'
Ok, so, maybe that was a little too overboard for this fantasy but I'll be filing that away for later "use".
'Our next song was requested by my new favorite listener, Andy. I hope you call back soon.'
Hm, not bad. Shows that he likes me but isn't too pornographic. Suggests a possible interest in becoming more than just a radio host and his fan. I like it. Of course, now that I've got that down I need to start thinking about just HOW he'll say my name.
A-What the fuck am I doing?
This really isn't me. I know I already said that but this really REALLY isn't me. I laugh at people who do things like this. No, actually that's a lie. I've never heard of anyone getting all sappy and lo-like struck over a voice. I laugh at the people who get this way over a picture or a glance in the hall. If I ever heard of anyone obsessing over just hearing somebody say less than 8 sentences I probably never would have believed it and laughed at the person who told me about it for making up such a lame story. So, I think I've established that this whole thing is completely ridiculous for a whole slew of reasons, right? No need to pursue this anymore. Just laugh at myself, forget about it and start planning how I'm going to deal with school tomorrow, yeah?
Then why am I dialing my phone?
I actually completely froze when I realized that not only was my phone somehow in my hand but that I had more than half the numbers for the show already punched in. I didn't remember any of that. It's not that I didn't reach for my phone before, I did, but I barely touched it before pulling my hand back like I'd just reached into a pit of smoldering coals. Now here I was seconds away from completing a call.
A PHONE CALL. To a STRANGER. That I was OBSESSING over.
My body must have betrayed me. Or maybe my mind was the thing that betrayed me and my body was just trying to help me out? Maybe I'm just a neurotic nutcase that's finally losing his grip on reality. God this was hopeless! That's it. I'm putting the phone down and turning off the radio. I'm going to go to bed five hours early, forget this ever happened and hopefully come down with the ebola virus during the night so I can stay home from school tomorrow.
I finished dialing the number and hit 'send'.
Oh shit! I called! I CALLED! I called the show! And it's RINGING. Oh god, oh crap, oh fuck. I've never done this before! I'm calling someone I don't know! No! Even worse, I'm calling Mr Sexy Radio Voice! What the hell!?
It's STILL RINGING! Shit. Hang up Andy! Do it now. Oh my God I'm gonna throw up any second. Andrew Allen Baxter you hang up this phone right now before he-
"Hello, thanks for calling the WJHS request line, what song would you like to request?" said the sexy voice.
Can a person melt?
Like, literally melt? I really hope not because if that's possible then I'm definitely melting right now and I really wouldn't wanna have to clean that up before going to bed. That's how it feels anyway. My body, which was so damn tense and rigid not even a second ago, completely relaxed when I heard that voice coming through the speaker on my phone. Well, that's not entirely true. Most of my body relaxed but there was one part that had the exact opposite reaction. Do I even need to spell it out?
That isn't to say my mind wasn't still in total panic mode. It was. I had the voice coming through my PHONE and all I wanted to do was scream, throw it out my window and crawl under my bed. Or maybe say....something. Either option sounded good but since my window was closed and I didn't wanna explain to my parents why I broke it with my phone, option two was starting to sound more and more like option only. The only problem was I COULDN'T FUCKING SAY ANYTHING! Damn this stupid fear of calling people! You would think it would go away after I actually made the call but apparently fucking not. I thought about hanging up, I kinda wanted to hang up, but my body wouldn't let me. I can't talk, I can't hang up and I can't throw my phone through my window.
If there is a hell it's going to be exactly like this.
"Hello?" the mystery boy asked. His voice seemed for the very first time to lack some of that easy confidence that had always been present. There might have even been a hint of disappointment. "Dammit." he muttered.
I could see it in my head like I was watching it happen. His shoulders would droop slightly as he realized the person on the other end had either hung up or wouldn't say anything. His mouth with be set in a small frown as he reached his hand to hit the button that would disconnect the call and take him out of my life forever. Afterward, he'd completely forget about the stupid kid who called but didn't say anything, my whole involvement in his life forgotten within five minutes while I hyperventilated myself to sleep. Just one more bit of proof that Andy the fag boy was just as pathetic as everyone was always saying. Look at him, he can't even force himself to talk to a call in radio show host.
"Wait!" I heard someone yell. I jumped in surprise and looked around my room to see who the hell had snuck in and started screaming. No one was there. It took me a few seconds to realize that the high pitched screech that I heard had actually come from my throat. I'm not sure which shocked me more, the fact that I actually spoke or that I sounded like a goddamn ten year old. Is that how I always sound or was it the fact that I was seconds away from having an asthma, heart and diabetes attack despite not having any of those problems?
"Hello?" he said tentatively.
My heart was pounding and I was pretty sure the sweat on my forehead was starting to sweat. Why did I yell? Why couldn't my stupid brain just let him hang up on me so I could stay up all night hating myself and then let school distract me from how pathetic I am? I should hang up. I'm going to hang up. I'm hanging up.
I didn't hang up.
At first I wasn't sure why I stayed on the phone. My body didn't lock up and I wasn't suddenly overcome with anything that even resembled confidence. I was still the same nervous, sad little boy that I've always been but I just couldn't hang up the phone on this guy. I think in the end it all came back to his voice. Not it's velvety, soul weakening sexiness or even what it was saying, but the tone. It, he, seemed for the first time to be unsure, but hopeful. The thought that, just maybe, I had some small part in turning his earlier disappointment into cautious hope was enough for me to push past my fears and doubts and insecurities just long enough to do something I never would have thought myself capable of wanting to do, much less actually doing.
"H-hi." I squeaked.
"Oh thank god!" he said with obvious relief. "I thought you were another hang up."
I blushed thinking of how badly I wanted to be "another hang up" not even a minute ago. Dammit, now we're blushing? Jesus Andy why don't you just cut your junk off and make it official? I covered my face with the crook of my arm and tried furiously to get rid of the embarrassing redness on my cheeks all the while knowing how incredibly stupid it was to hide when there was no way he could see me over the phone.
"Are you there?" he said, concern evident in his voice. Whether it was concern that I hung up or concern that he might have a crazy calling I couldn't tell though.
"Y-y-yeah. I'm here." I managed. I was still squeaking and my heart was pounding faster than John Henry on speed but I was able to get a sentence out without stuttering. I decided to take that as a sign that I was improving. Maybe if I was lucky I'll be able to actually express a thought or two by the time this phone call was over.
"Are you ok? You sound a bit sick." Oh god he DOES think I'm crazy! What do I say? If I tell him I'm not crazy he'll just think I'm saying that because I AM crazy. What if I agree with him? Maybe he'll take it as a joke? But I don't think I can pull off a joke right now. I can barely remember how to say hi. Ok, ok Andy get it together! Calm down now, take a deep breath. No! Not that deep he'll think you're a pervert phone breather or something! Ok, try again, deep, SLOW breath. Ok, there we go. Now think. Did you give him any reason to think you're crazy? Ok dumb question. But don't you also sound like you might be sick sick? Like flu sick? See? Don't jump to conclusions. You don't know what he's thinking. Right now let's just go with the less horrible of those two options and answer him accordingly ok? You can do it.
"Um, I-I'm fine." Still squeaking. I cleared my throat and tried again. "I'm ok, um, good." A little better. Baby steps Andy, baby steps.
He let out a small sigh of relief. "Ok, good. I wouldn't want my first caller ever to keel over on me." he said with hint of mischief in his voice and followed it up with a beautiful laugh.
I didn't think people actually went weak in the knees but once again my body was proving me wrong. I was so glad that I was laying down because crashing to the floor right then would have been too embarrassing for my already strained nerves to take. But even through my nerves and my, god I can't believe I'm saying this, swooning, one thing nagged at the back of my mind. Don't ask how I ever managed to get this out because if I live to be a hundred years old and do nothing but think about this moment for the rest of my life I'll never figure it out.
"I-I'm your first?" Oh god you did NOT just say that! "First caller! I mean...." I take back the thing about falling. THIS is too embarrassing for my already strained nerves to take.
If he noticed what I said, or my discomfort, he never mentioned it and that alone was enough to make me want to fall in love with him, disbelief in the emotion notwithstanding.
"Yep." he said simply. "The first one that didn't hang up anyway."
"But w-what about Rebecca and Sean?" I asked. Ok, ok this was getting easier. As long as he didn't do anything like laugh or say anything even REMOTELY suggestive or complimentary I could probably get through this without having a heart attack or making a complete fool out of myself.
"Oh, I made them up." he said like it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Why?" Yes! He said something, I responded without stuttering or stammering. This conversation thing might not be so hard after all.
"I kinda figured if I made it seem like lots of people were calling in people wouldn't be so shy about calling in for real. It didn't really work, until you anyway."
Dammit that was way too close to a compliment. I can FEEL the social awkwardness building up in my throat. Ok, let's just focus on the irony in what he said. Me, being the first person not shy enough to call in? Ha! Maybe I should say that. No! Then I'll have to tell him WHY I called and I'm not even sure other than it has something to do with this weird obsession I have with his voice and there is no way I can just come out with that. He'll hang up. But isn't that what I want? Strangely enough the answer to that is no. In fact the last thing I want is for this awkward, stressful, taking-years-off-my-life conversation to end.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Crap, it's my turn to say something isn't it?
"Hang on, the song is ending. I need to play something else." he said. "Don't hang up, ok?"
"O-ok." He didn't want me to hang up? He didn't want me to hang up! That's good right? That means.....I have no idea what that means. I don't even know what I want it to mean. He's probably just excited about his first call. That's it. Nothing more. And do I want it to be more? I think I do, which is stupid. This whole thing is stupid. I should just hang up. I'm going to hang up. But he hasn't said my name yet.....ok, I'll get him to say my name and then hang up.
I'm such a sad little boy.
"Coming up next is a request from Will, it's "Rockstar" by Everclear." his voice came from my radio. Which means he'll be coming back soon. Which means I need to think of something to say.
"Alright, I'm back." he said a few moments later. Then, after a few seconds of silence. "You still there?"
"Y-yeah." Say something more! "I'm here."
"Good. I thought you might have hung up on me before you got your request out." God, that mischievous little lilt in his voice was driving me crazy! Wait, request? Damn! He can't say my name if I don't have a song to request, can he? I gotta think of something.
"Um, 'Mine' by Taylor Swift?"
Oh. Fucking. Hell.
I don't know what's worse, that I just totally outed myself as a teenage boy that doesn't exactly hate Taylor Swift or that the song kind of fits this situation. At least in my head. Not like it matters. He's gonna make fun of me. He's gonna laugh and ridicule me and the worst part is I'm not even gonna get to hear him say my name first. All this stress and panicking and this stupid fucking phone call has been for nothing.
"One of my favorites."
What was that now? Oh, so he's gonna wait for me to get my hopes up and say something like "really?" before laughing and saying "no, what do you think I am a loser like you?". I've been on the wrong end of that more times that I can count....which is why I'm kinda noticing that he doesn't have the usual slightly mocking tone that people usually have when going for that. It almost sounded like he was being serious. I'd fallen for that before too but there was a part of me that wanted so badly to believe that this was going to be different, that this guy wasn't going to take the little bit of vulnerability that I accidentally showed and use it to stab me in the soul like so many others.
I blame that part of me for the following.
"Really?" I asked. I didn't even bother to yell at myself for asking. I just closed my eyes and waited for the first stab.
"Yep. I usually don't admit this to people but I actually kinda like Taylor Swift." he lowered his voice and whispered conspiratorially. "Avril Lavigne too, shh, don't tell anyone." Then he laughed. Not at me. But at himself. I think the surprise was the only thing that kept me from crying like a little girl at the sudden emotion I felt. No one had ever not used any weakness, real or imagined, of mine against me and then turned around and presented me with their own vulnerability. It was.....nice, and I found myself laughing along with him. Not at him. With him. I returned his kindness. And the best part? I didn't have to taint my kindness with a lie.
"Me too." I said softly after the laughter stopped. He didn't acknowledge it. There was no "really? Wow." or "cool" followed by an awkward silence where we both tried to think of a way to bring a dead conversation back on track. He just accepted it and moved on.
"So, what's your name? I don't have to say it on the air, I could say you wanna be anonymous." he said it almost offhandedly but to me that was another kindness, an invitation to protect the vulnerability that I showed him. I was reading way too much into it but it felt like he was doing it just to protect me. That's a stupid thought, I know, but what harm could it do to pretend just a little bit?
"A-andy. And you can s-say it." That was hard to get out. It went against all my natural instincts but I really wanted to hear him say my name. Pathetic but true.
"Andy, huh? It's nice to meet you Andy, I'm Owen."
Ohhhhhhh. He said my name. Twice! And he said it differently each time. The first time was kinda thoughtful, like he was trying it out, with a long 'A'. Kinda like 'Aaandy'. The second time was a bit playful, like he was about to tell me a secret. I barely believed I'd get him to say it once, but he said it twice! And then he told me HIS name! Owen. O-wen. Ow-EN. Ooooowen. Wow. Perfection. It didn't even occur to me to be annoyed that I didn't have to have my name said on the radio to hear him say it. All I was thinking was 'he's gonna say it a THIRD time!'
"I-it was nice to meet you too." Say it. Say it. You know you wanna say it out loud, do it now so you're not doing it later into your pillow like some stupid girl with a Tiger Beat magazine. "Owen." Wow. Nothing I say from now until the day I die will feel half this good.
"Thank you for your request Andy." He said it with such a playful formality that I couldn't help but giggle. I was long past the point where a simple giggle was the most pathetic thing I've done today so I just ignored it. Besides he said my name AGAIN so when he says it over the radio that'll be the FOURTH time. "I'm not supposed to keep the line tied up this long, so I'm gonna have to say goodbye." Was that just me or did he sound regretful? Probably just me. It didn't matter. I knew I wasn't gonna talk to him again after today and I'd already gotten more out of this than I thought I would. I didn't need him to want to keep talking to me. In fact, it was probably best that this ended on such a high note before something happened to screw it up. I deserved at least one wholly good memory in my life that didn't involve my parents or Cheryl. "Thanks for calling though. Really."
"You're welcome." I said softly.
"Goodbye." he said in the same soft tone.
"Bye." I hung up.
I turned up the radio and lay back on my propped up pillows. My eyes closed and I tried to block out everything except the sound of the radio as I waited for the song to end.
"We've got a request from a new listener, 'Mine' by Taylor Swift. This is for you Andy."
I allowed myself a single sigh. It was better than I expected. The song was for me. Yeah, it was probably because I was the first person to actually call up and request something but I didn't care. I got a special little dedication from Owen and that's all that mattered. It was more than I expected and it was more than enough to keep today from being the worst day of my life.
Don't get me wrong, this didn't suddenly make everything all better. Tomorrow would very quickly take the Worst Day Ever crown. But I was going to hold onto this feeling until I fell asleep tonight. I was going to let this one thing fill me and push aside all the worry and doubts and self criticism for just one day. I knew this would never go anywhere. It was just a stupid infatuation...ok fine, a crush, but that was ok. It's already done more for me than anyone else, including Cheryl, ever did and even though tomorrow I'd beat myself up for being such a stupid little girl about this I could enjoy it tonight. I let myself have another sigh as I softly sang along with the song.
Yeah, today wasn't even close to being the worst day of my life.
I listened to Owen's show for the rest of the hour until it ended and then shut off my radio. I lay there in bed for the next few hours with a small smile on my face going over everything he said to me and everything he said on the radio. The smile never left my face for the rest of the night and before I fell asleep I whispered his name, once, into the darkness. Then I did something I never thought I'd be able to do after everything that happened today.
I slept peacefully.