by David McLeod
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Gary muttered to himself as he rode home from the LGBT Alliance meeting. He peddled faster. The wind whipped his words away, but left his stomach tumbling and his breath smoldering. "He wanted to talk to you. You know you felt something. You know he did, too. But you were too stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" Gary yelled the last two words into the darkness of an autumn night, and pulled into the driveway of his home.
"What's stupid?" The lights mounted on the garage, triggered by Gary's motion, snapped on to reveal Gary's brother.
"Are you out here smoking?" Gary countered. "Mom can smell it, you know."
"Not these–they're clove cigarettes. And, what's 'stupid'?"
"Oh, just something . . . I missed a test question . . . I just remembered . . . ." Gary wheeled his bicycle into the garage. "You comin' in?"
Toby field-stripped his cigarette, flicked the butt into the hedge, and followed his brother into the garage. "What test? We didn't have a test, today."
"Who are you? Sherlock Holmes?"
Toby grabbed Gary and rubbed his knuckles across the top of Gary's head. "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition," he parroted.
"Cut it out!" Gary said. His voice broke.
"Hey! I didn't rub that hard . . . ." Toby paused. "What's the matter, bro?" He saw the tears that were pooling in Gary's eyes. "It's not some test, is it?"
Not trusting his voice, Gary shook his head. Tears, dislodged, flowed down his cheeks.
"Did something happen at that meeting? Did somebody say something to you? Did somebody hurt you? I'll kill him!"
"No, nothing like that. I'll be okay." Gary turned and walked toward the kitchen door.
Toby grabbed his arm and hissed, "Shoutin' stupid so loud the neighbors could 'a heard it? Cryin'? That ain't like you, bro. You gotta tell me." Toby reverted to the patois of their Mississippi childhood. "What happened? Please? We promised we'd always trust . . . ."
Gary sucked a deep breath through his nose, and then coughed. He'd sucked tears and phlegm down his throat. Toby slapped him on the back. "Now that, that was stupid." He grinned.
Gary managed a weak smile. "Okay, bro. Let's go inside, and I'll tell you."
The boys stood side by side and pissed into the toilet. "Lotta girls gonna be disappointed that a guy with a pecker as big as yours was born gay," Toby said.
"No guy born as ugly as you ever is ever gonna get a girlfriend," Gary retorted.
"Ugly? You forget, my esteemed bro, we're eye-dentical twins." Toby drew out 'eye–dentical' in imitation of an Alabama district attorney in their favorite movie. Toby had a crush on the lawyer's girlfriend; Gary had a crush on the young, male lead. They watched the movie at least once a month.
The familiar banter, the normalcy, made it easier for Gary. When they were in their room, he opened up. "I met a guy at the meeting. He's about our age. He wanted to talk to me, but I was afraid! It was his first meeting. He might not ever come back. I don't know his name, just 'Tyler' and I'm pretty sure he doesn't go to Central. I'll never see him again, 'cause I'm stupid!" Gary's voice was level and calm when he began. Toward the end, his mouth curled into a sneer, and his voice became rough.
"Never see him?" Toby said. "Now you are being stupid. Did you think to ask if anyone else knew him? If he's our age, and doesn't go to Central, then he must be home schooled. Don't worry, bro, we'll find him."
"Yeah? What are we going to do? Go door-to-door and ask people if they have a home-schooled son who's gay? If he's home-schooled, his parents are so religious he's probably so far in the closet . . . ."
"No, but that might be fun," Toby said. "Can you imagine Mrs. Wilkin's face if we asked her about Calvin? No. Think, my elder-by-five-minutes brother. Where are all the home-schoolers on Thursday afternoon?"
"Huh? At the soccer field." Gary's voice trailed off. "You don't think?"
"I think it will be a lot easier than knocking on doors," Toby said.
Two days later, Gary and Toby were at the city soccer fields. They wore jackets emblazoned with the name of the Central High School team. "It'll give us a reason to be there," Toby said. He adopted a heavy Russian accent, "Besides, Natasha, they shoot spies who wear civilian clothes." He laughed at his own joke. Gary didn't.
"I don't see him," Gary said.
"This is just the first field. They're using all three," Toby replied. "Come on."
They found him on the second field. Gary pointed him out. "Damn, he's good," Toby said. "When he's your boyfriend, talk him into coming to Central and playin' for the Flash!"
Gary was silent. At first, he just stared at Tyler: long legs propelling him down the field as he maneuvered the ball; nylon shorts hugging his buttocks; thin shirt whipping around his V-shaped torso; golden hair flying about his face. Tyler's voice rang from the field; he gestured, and cajoled his teammates. Gary felt a warmth in his stomach. Suddenly, it was gone, to be replaced with an icy chill. Gary was feeling the same . . . fear? Whatever it was, that he had felt before.
"Game's over," Toby said. "Come on, before he leaves: the game is afoot!"
"I can't!" Gary said. "I just can't!"
"Damn it, Gary," Toby said. His voice was louder than he had intended, and earned stern looks from a couple of adults. Toby grabbed Gary's arm and dragged him behind the bleachers. Toby was angry; Gary was crying; the conversation was futile. Toby stomped off, leaving Gary alone, under the bleachers.
"Hey, you're really good," Toby said.
"Uh, thanks," the boy said. "Oh!" he added when he saw Toby's face. He looked at the Central Flash jacket. "I didn't know you played soccer."
"Yeah," Toby said. I'm on the Central High team. I'd hate to play against you, though. You're really fast."
"Um, too fast, maybe, at the, uh, meeting the other night," the boy said. "I guess I, uh, kinda pushed too hard, huh?"
"Didn't bother me," Toby said. "I thought about it a lot, though, later that night. Trying to figure out who you were, besides 'Tyler,' I mean, and where we . . . uh, I could find you."
"I've forgotten your name." Tyler said.
"The name you're looking for is Gary," Toby said.
"Gary," Tyler said. "Look, I'm almost finished, here. Can we talk? At the coffee house? In a half hour? I can meet you there." Each sentence required a separate breath.
Toby smiled. Then he grinned. "Sure, you bet. It's a date." He turned and walked away.
Tyler's eyes widened. "It's a date," he whispered to Toby's retreating back.
"Hey, bro." Toby found Gary by their bicycles. "I'm cold. How about you buy me a hot chocolate? Come on, the coffee house is on the way home."
Toby scanned the coffee house when they arrived. Good, he's not here, yet. He ordered hot chocolates, and then joined Gary at the table. Shortly after the chocolate came, he excused himself. "Gotta use the restroom. I shouldn't have had that chili for lunch."
Chili? We didn't have chili. The thought fled Gary's mind as Tyler came into the coffee house. Tyler's eyes widened. So did Gary's. Both boys smiled.
Without being asked, Tyler sat at the table. "I was afraid I'd never see you, again," he said.
"Uh, at the game, just now, you said this was a date. Did you mean that?" Tyler asked.
Game? Date? What the hell!
Gary was rescued–sort of–when Toby returned to the table. "Hey, Gary, is this the guy you dragged me to the soccer game to see? You gonna introduce me?"
The introductions were brief, and then: "Hey, Paul just came in. Larry won't be far behind. They're in the flying club," Toby explained to Tyler. "I'm gonna go. Nice meetin' you, Tyler." And Toby was gone..
For a while, the boys talked about soccer. That was safe. Then: "You two are identical," Tyler said. "Are you the same in everything?"
"Well," Gary said, deliberately avoiding what he knew was Tyler's real question. "We both like soccer and broccoli, but I like liquorish, and Toby doesn't. Toby likes flying, but not baseball, and I like baseball."
"You know what I mean," Tyler said. "Uh, are you both gay?"
Gary blushed furiously, and then said, "Nah. Toby and I sort of . . . fooled around when we were little. We were about 11, maybe 12, when we figured out I liked it and he didn't. Well, we're not stupid, and it wasn't hard to figure out I was gay and he wasn't."
"So, he knows?"
"Yeah, and he's cool with it."
"You were at the meeting. Are you, uh, out?"
"Yeah. Uh, you?"
"My folks know, and a couple of friends back in Cheyenne."
"But you're home-schooled. Aren't you, like, Pentecostal or Evangelical, or something like that?"
"Nah. We're Anglican. My little brother, Benji? The polio vaccine didn't work. That's why we moved here–the children's hospital. He's on a respirator. Home schooled, of course. Mom needs my help takin' care of him, so when we moved here, she started home schoolin' me, too."
Lucy, who was subbing for the barista, appeared. "Café Americano–decaf. Toby said to." She put the drinks on the table and winked at Gary.
Gary waved his thanks to Toby. He's sitting between Paul and Larry, the two most out guys in Jacksonville. They're working on some map–probably planning another cross-country flight, or talking about the last one. He's shared motel rooms with them when they go flying. Right now, he's got his arm around Larry's shoulder. I know he's straight. He doesn't seem to care that people know Paul and Larry are his friends. Is that because he knows he's straight? Because he's so sure of who he is? Do I care? Is it all that important? Why do I care? Gary's thoughts were confused, inchoate. He realized that there were a lot of things he'd have to think about, someday. But, there was something important that he needed to take care of right now.
"Tyler, I gotta tell you something, and you gotta promise you won't hate me when I do."
"Just promise, please?"
"Okay–as long as you don't tell me this has been a joke or something." Tyler lowered his eyes, and then looked up, staring hard at Gary.
"Um, I didn't ask you here tonight. It was Toby. He did it because I was afraid, just like I was afraid at the meeting, Tuesday."
Tyler was silent for so long that Gary thought he'd fallen asleep or something. Then he laughed. "I'm glad you told me. Friendship between two gay boys . . . that's gonna be hard enough. But a friendship based on a lie? It isn't going anywhere.
"You want to hang out Saturday afternoon?" Tyler added.
"I got a game 'till about four. After that?" Gary said.
"Sure. Meet you at the game?"
"Sure. Uh, is it a date?"
"Do you want it to be?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"So, you found him and set me up," Gary said. The light on the table between their beds was still on. Toby was reading.
"Yep. You know my methods, Watson. Figured if I could push you two together, you'd get over…whatever it was."
"I love you, bro."
"Ewwww . . ."
"Damn it, Toby, I mean it."
"I know, bro. I love you, too."
The Central High Flash were leading Red Rock 1-to-0 when a Red Rock player headed the ball past the goalie's outstretched fingertips and into the net. Three minutes left to play. No way, thought the coach. Two minutes left to play. No way, thought Brenda, but she kept shaking her pom-poms and yelling encouragement. One minute left to play. No way, thought the announcer for KJVL, as he reached to switch off the live feed. Ten seconds left to play. Yes, way! thought Gary, as he dodged an opponent and kicked the ball toward the upper corner of the net. He watched the winning goal appear on the scoreboard, and then turned to look for Tyler's golden hair in the stands. His disappointment at not finding his friend was not entirely driven away by his teammates' pummeling him in celebration.
Tyler wasn't waiting at the bike rack, either. He promised, was Gary's first thought. Something's wrong! was his second. "Hey, bro, something's wrong. Ride to Tyler's with me?"
"And miss free pizza–" Toby said. He saw the look on his twin's face. "You sure?"
"Gotta be. He's never broken a promise."
Two blocks from Tyler's house, headlights shone in their faces. The boys hugged the bike lane as a long, black, closed vehicle passed. A hearse. "Oh, no!" Gary pleaded, and stood on the pedals of his bike.
All the lights were on at Tyler's house. Despite the chill of the evening, the front door was open. People stood on the lawn and on the front walk. Toby and Gary wheeled their bicycles up the driveway and threw them on the grass. Gary nearly collapsed with relief when he saw a familiar figure topped with yellow hair running toward him. The boys collided, and hugged tightly. "What?" Gary gasped.
"Benji," Tyler said. "Cardiac arrest . . . ." His voice choked to silence.
Gary froze. They only moved here 'cause of Benji and the Children's Hospital! He could not complete the thought, but squeezed Tyler more tightly.
"Guys?" Toby tapped Tyler on the shoulder. "Your mom wants us inside." Gary and Tyler looked around. They were the only ones still outside. The cars that had been parked on the street were gone. The porch light was out.
"Uh, maybe we should go," Gary said.
Tyler grabbed his hand. "No, please?"
"I called Mom," Toby said. "She said whatever."
Whatever. Family code for 'do what's best and keep in touch,' Gary thought. He held onto Tyler's hand. "Sure."
Tyler's home-schooled teammates were conspicuously absent from Benji's funeral. The little coffin didn't need but four pallbearers; Toby and Gary joined Tyler and his father. The next day, one of Tyler's teammates, one who had a shred of humanity the others lacked, called.
"The night Benji died? Mrs. Snodgrass saw you and Gary in front of your house. She started talking, and people started thinking. Everybody knows that Gary's gay and Toby isn't, and it wasn't hard to figure out which one you were hugging. They're going to kick you off the team. Please don't tell anybody I called." The boy hung up without waiting for an answer.
Sunday afternoon was for pick-up soccer at the YMCA. Toby and Gary were there, as well as about half of the members of the high school team. Toby stood on the sidelines with one of his teammates.
"That your brother's boyfriend?" Bobby asked, pointing to Tyler.
"Yeah?" Toby drew out the word, turning it into a question.
Bobby snorted. "Nothin, man. You know I'm okay with that. It's just . . . do you know who he is?" Without waiting for an answer, Bobby continued. "He used to play for Cheyenne, and righteously kicked Wind River's ass last year. What's he doin' here?"
"Maybe playin' for the Flash," Toby said.