I didn’t even bother to stop by Kenny’s on the way to school. He had ignored me the day before when he saw me at school, and he hadn’t made any attempt to talk to me. I just couldn’t figure out what his problem was. I wouldn’t think he’d throw away our friendship because of what Rachel had told him. I figured there was a stronger bond between us.
I was on my way to the library after fourth period. I figured I’d ditch lunch like I had the day before. As I walked down the hall, someone walked up and grabbed my arm. When I turned, Valerie smiled and wrapped her arm around mine.
I rolled my eyes. “Not again?” She started giggling as she turned us around and started walking in the direction of the cafeteria.
“I almost starved to death yesterday when I skipped lunch,” she stated. I stopped and smiled at her.
“I’ve got an idea then,” I grinned. “Why don’t you go eat and let me go to the library and get some work done?”
“Then I’ll have to eat alone,” she frowned.
“I thought you ate lunch with Adrian?”
“I normally do,” she responded, “but he had a dentist appointment this morning and isn’t in school.” She started tugging at my arm. “So I need some company.” I relented and we walked arm in arm through the hallway to the cafeteria. I noticed that several students gave us strange stares, but Valerie seemed undaunted by their gazes.
When we entered the cafeteria, I looked over at my usual table. Rachel, Kenny and Alise were eating. Kenny looked up and said something to the two girls. They all looked over but none of them motioned at me. I turned my head away and followed Valerie through the lunch line.
Since I was now in training, greasy hamburgers and fries were no long on my diet. Instead, I got a salad, apple and a bottle of water. I followed Valerie to her table, but made sure I had my back to my former one.
As we ate, she looked over at me and smiled. “So how is everything?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “All right, I guess.”
“Just all right?” she asked worriedly.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Just all right.”
She looked over my shoulder at the table where the others were sitting. “They keep looking over here,” she said. I shrugged my shoulders and kept eating.
“Adrian said the pretty girl in the yellow blouse is your girlfriend.”
“Was.” I stated flatly.
“Did you break up?”
“Something like that,” I replied with irritation in my voice. “Look, Valerie.” I looked up and our eyes met. “Can we just not talk about it?”
“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I’m not snooping. I just thought you might want to talk.”
“Nope,” I said as I looked away and took a bite of my apple.
She smiled. “Adrian told me to tell you ‘hi.” She lifted her hand and waved. “Hi!” I smiled and started laughing.
“You are a nut,” I laughed, “You do know that?”
“I’ve been told that,” she giggled.
We ate in silence for several minutes, but Valerie kept looking over and grinning. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Okay,” I asked, “What?”
“What?” she asked innocently.
“I know that look,” I replied. “I get it from my little brother when he wants to ask me something but he isn’t sure how to do it.”
“Billy Barnes?” she asked. “Is he your brother?” I nodded. “He’s nice. He’s in a couple of my classes.”
“If he’s nice, then it must be a different Billy Barnes.” She covered her mouth and giggled. She stopped laughing and leaned in toward me.
“Okay,” she said with a serious look on her face. “Is now a good time to talk?”
“What do you mean?”
“Yesterday,” she replied. She waited for me to respond, but I just looked blankly at her.
She leaned in so no one could hear our conversation. “When you said you’d talk later about Adrian wanting to kiss you.”
“Oh, that,” I replied as I sat back in my chair. “Maybe later.”
“No!” she shouted loudly, and then looked around to see if anyone had heard her. “I didn’t get any sleep last night wondering what you meant by that.”
I sat forward as she leaned in to hear what I was going to say. “I’m just dealing with some things right now.”
“Is Adrian one of those things?” I looked across the table at Valerie. I needed to make a decision if I could trust her. She seemed concerned about her cousin. She had taken a chance yesterday to protect him. I didn’t feel that she would betray me if I opened up a little to her.
I stared into her expectant eyes. “Yes.” I said and then looked away.
She reached across the table and took my hand. “It’s all right,” she assured me. “I’m not here to play matchmaker or anything. Like I told you yesterday, I don’t want to see Adrian hurt.” She looked over my shoulder where Kenny, Rachel and Alise were sitting. “I don’t want to see you get hurt, either,” She squeezed my hand more firmly.
I pulled my hand away and frowned. “It may be a little too late for that.”
“What do you mean?” she asked worriedly.
“I think Pandora’s Box has been opened,” I replied thinking that she wouldn’t understand. Instead, she studied my face for a few minute. It felt like when Marty had done the same thing the day before. I was beginning to feel like an open book for others to read.
She reached for my hands again and held them. “I think I understand.” She smiled gently.
“I love Greek literature,” she said. “You do know that the box wasn’t a box? It was a jar?” I nodded my head.
“Usually when people say that Pandora’s Box has been opened,” she continued as she held my hands, “it’s because things have happened in their life that they feel they no longer have control over.”
“No, shit,” I frowned and then looked away.
She raised my hands and squeezed them. “It’s going to be all right,” she assured me. “I had this same conversation with Adrian last year.”
“It’s really helped him,” I replied sarcastically. She said he was still dealing with his sexuality, even to the point of denying it like I was.
“Like I told Adrian,” she replied as she gently squeezed my hands again. “Things have a way of working out for the better.”
“In fairy tales,” I quipped. “You know, happily ever after and all that.”
She looked at me and smiled. “Do you remember what Zeus laid in the bottom of the jar he gave Pandora?” I gave her a puzzled look and shook my head.
“Hope,” she said. “He put hope in the bottom of the jar.” For some reason, tears welled up in my eyes.
Just then the bell rang. When I got up, I glanced over at Rachel. A sad expression appeared on her face when Valerie walked up and took my arm. I know she was thinking that I now had a new girlfriend.
As I walked Valerie to her class, Billy came up behind us. As he passed, he turned and gave me the weirdest look. Valerie giggled. “No offense,” she laughed. “But your brother is rather strange.”
I started laughing. “I’ve been telling him that for years.” I noticed she was going into the same class as Billy. After saying goodbye, I had to run to my class. I entered just as the bell was ringing.
When school let out, I headed downstairs to take my books to my car before going to the gym. The past few days I’d gone down another stairwell to avoid Rachel, but I was talking to another runner and I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.
“See you on the track, Zac,” he said with a pat on the back. I nodded. When I turned around I was face to face with Rachel.
“Rachel,” I said timidly. “Um, um, how’s it going?” I managed to stammer out. Thankfully, she was alone. I looked quickly around for Kenny and Alise, but I didn’t see them. Rachel took my arm and led me down the hallway until we were standing alone outside a doorway. She peered around before speaking.
“What is going on?” she asked as tears formed in her eyes. “You haven’t called me or anything.” I didn’t know how to respond since I had figured she was angry at me and didn’t want to talk to me.
“I don’t know,” I replied as I looked at the floor. “I didn’t think you wanted to talk to me.”
“I’m so embarrassed,” she began to cry. “I loved you and gave myself to you…” She started pounding me on my chest. “You made me look like a fool.” She hit me several more times before burying her head in my chest. I started to put my arms around her, but left them at my side. After a minute she looked up tearfully at me.
“Was I that bad?” I felt tears forming in my eyes. There was no way I could tell her the truth, but at the same time I didn’t want her to feel that she was too blame. I lifted my arms and put them around her. She buried her head once again into my chest and cried.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered softly. “It wasn’t your fault. You did nothing wrong.” She looked up at me and wiped tears from her eyes with her hand.
“What was it then?” I shook my head, trying not to let my tears appear.
“It wasn’t you,” I assured her. “It wasn’t you.” She leaned in and held me for another second, before pulling away and looking up into my face.
“Kenny thinks you’re gay,” she said as she waited for me to react. I stood staring down into her eyes, not knowing how to respond. She looked up and muttered almost inaudibly as if she didn’t want to hear the answer. “Are you?”
I looked down sadly at her without responding. “Jesus, Zac,” she said angrily as she reached up and slapped me in my face. “You Fucker!”
I grabbed her hand before she could slap me again. “Damn you, Zac!” she screamed. I looked down the hall to see if anyone was listening to us. “We’ve been dating for two years. I’ve wasted all this time on you?” She hit me in my chest before I could stop her. Tears started streaming down her face. “I was even going to give myself to you.”
I held her hands so she couldn’t strike me again. “Rachel, please!” I begged. I wanted her to stop screaming before someone heard her. She pulled her hands away and stepped back.
“Damn you, Zac!” She cried. “I hate you!” She turned and hurried away. I could still hear her crying as she turned a corner. A couple of students were still in the hallway. They watched her leave and then looked at me, wondering what I’d said to her to make her so upset.
I went to my car and sat in it for about ten minutes. I didn’t know what to do. Rachel now knew the truth and I wasn’t sure how that would change my life. I was sure she’d tell Kenny and Alise. She had probably already talked to Alise. I was hoping that they cared enough about me that they wouldn’t out me to everyone.
Finally, I decided to do what I always do when I needed to think- run. I was supposed to stop by Coach Templeton’s office and meet with Marty, but instead I headed directly to the gym. I changed into my running gear and ran out onto the track.
I began running, completely oblivious to anything around me. Other track members were running laps; but when they spoke to me, I ignored them. I ran until my chest began to hurt and my legs developed painful cramps. I don’t even know how many laps I ran. Everyone had left when I went over to the fence around the track and collapsed. I fell to the ground, rolled into a ball and cried. An overwhelming grief seized my body. I had lost all control and I couldn’t stop the fear and panic surging through my mind. I felt I had run my last lap and I couldn’t go on anymore.
I don’t know how long I lay before I felt a pair of strong arms wrap around me and pull me into a muscled chest. I continued to cry, unable to stop. The person held me tightly as I trembled in his arms. After what seemed like an eternity, I pulled away.
“You all right?” Marty was looking worriedly into my face.
“No,” I cried as I wiped tears from my eyes. “My life is all fucked up!” I cried as I dropped back onto his chest. He rubbed my back soothingly. I cried uncontrollably for about ten minutes before finally feeling that I could gain some semblance of control over my emotions.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said without letting go of me. “It reminded me of myself many years ago.” He pulled me away and looked tearfully into my eyes. “I think you may have beaten me in running laps.” He let his mouth curl into a smile. “In fact, you may have doubled what I ran.”
“I’m tired of running,” I replied.
“We all get to that point,” he said as he sat back on the fence. I scooted over and sat down beside him. “We all reach that point sometime.”
“What did you do?”
“Stopped running,” he responded. “By then it was too late, though.” He looked at me and smiled. “You’re lucky.” I gave him a puzzled look.
“I ran for about two years.” Tears started to fall from his cheeks. “It cost me a chance to go to the Olympics…” He stopped and wiped his eyes with his hand. “It almost cost me my life.”
I looked over at him. “But you’re better now? You got over it?”
He sat back and sighed. “Yeah, I’m over it. I’m happy being me now. I stopped running away and I started to live once again- as the person I was intended to be.”
“Tell me,” I pleaded. I remembered Valerie saying that hope lay at the bottom of Pandora’s Box. I wanted to know how Marty found his.
He looked at me and they rested against the fence, sighing deeply. “I finished school,” he said. “I realized that my dream to run in the Olympics would never happen. So I concentrated on getting my degree and finding a job.”
“What do you do?” I asked.
“I’m a chemical engineer,” he said. He laughed when I rolled my eyes. “I know. Not the most exciting job, but it pays the bills. I own my own business, so I decide what hours I work. It lets me be able to come out here and help you guys.”
I started to grin. “You said your life is happy now. Being a chemical engineer can’t make you all that happy.”
“There’s more to life than work,” he replied.
“So,” I asked, “Do you date?”
“Nope,” he replied.
“Why not?” I was surprised that someone as good looking as Marty didn’t date.
He held up his hand and showed me a wedding ring. “I’m married.”
“What!” I shouted. “I thought you said you were gay?”
He rolled his eyes. “God,” he moaned softly. “I hope all you runners aren’t this dense.” I know my face was burning a bright red.
“My partner’s name is Roger,” he explained. “We had a civil union twelve years ago, but I like to consider us as being married.”
“So you’re really happy?” He laughed from the look on my face. It was hard to believe that someone who had been through what he had would be happy. He shifted and put his arm around my shoulder.
“The world doesn’t end because you’re gay, Zac.” He squeezed my shoulder lightly. “You have to stop running.”
I looked over at him sadly. “What about my family and friends? How do I deal with them?”
He shook his head. “I can’t tell you that,” he replied. “Each family is different and everyone’s friends aren’t the same. If your family loves you, then they’ll support you. If your friends are true friends, then they’ll stick by you.”
I sat back and sighed. “Sounds good when you say it, but just how realistic is it?”
“Can’t tell you,” he responded. “You’ll have to stop running and find out.” I leaned in and gave him a hug, holding him tightly.
“Thanks for being here tonight,” I said as tears appeared in my eyes. “I’m not sure what I would have done.”
He looked at me and smiled. “Just pass it on someday?”
I gave him a puzzled look. “What?”
“A strong shoulder to cry on.” I smiled and nodded my head when I understood what he was saying.
He stood and held out his hand, helping me up. He put his arm around my waist as we walked toward the gym. I had no idea what time it was. The sky was turning dark. We must have been on the track for hours.
He stopped when we got to the gym door. “I have to get home,” he announced. “Roger’s called me about ten times but I haven’t answered my phone.”
“Sorry,” I apologized. I just hoped that I hadn’t presented a problem for him at home.
“It’s okay,” he said as he reached out and tapped me lightly on the shoulder. “Now you go in and change and get your butt home. I’m sure your parents are worried about you.”
“What time is it?” He opened his phone to see the time.
“After seven thirty,” he said.
“Shit!” I shouted. “I’m going to get grounded.”
“You want me to call your house and tell your parents I was working with you?”
“You’d do that?” I asked hopefully. I knew my parents would be upset if I arrived home so late without calling them. A month ago Kenny and I stayed at a friend’s house playing video hockey. Dad was furious.
“I’ve been calling you for an hour!” he shouted. Why didn’t you answer your phone? I thought you were in a car accident.” I reached into my pocket and grabbed my phone. I forgot I’d turned it off when we started playing because I didn’t want Rachel to call me and interrupt our game.
He ranted and raved for a few minutes and threatened that the next time it happened, I’d lose my truck for a week. I gave out a sigh of relief when I heard Marty say, “Consider it done.” He walked away taking out his cell phone. A few seconds later I heard him say, “Mr. Barnes?”
I felt pretty good as I dressed. Marty gave me some hope that things might get better. Maybe Zeus did know what he was doing when he placed it in the jar. People can’t go through constant shit without having hope that it would some day end.
When I got home, Dad called out from the family room. He, Mom and Josh were watching a movie. “Sit down,” he ordered as he pointed to a chair.
“I had a long talk with this Martin Gillespie,” he said. “He really thinks highly of you.” I nodded my head. I wasn’t sure exactly what Marty had told my dad. I knew he would never out me, so that didn’t concern me.
“He even thought that you might be Olympic material if you get the right kind of coaching in college,” Dad said. “He’s volunteered to continue working with you after you leave high school.”
“Olympics?” My little brother squealed. He got up off the floor where he was lying and jumped into my lap. “You’re going to run in the Olympics? Cool!”
I smiled and ruffled his brown hair. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m going to have to get a lot faster than I am right now.”
“You never know,” responded my mother, “what fate has in store for you.”
I wanted to laugh and tell her that fate doesn’t exist, but I held my tongue. “Maybe I’ll just work hard and keep a determined attitude,” I said.
She looked at me and smiled. “That wouldn’t hurt either.” I sat and watched the movie with them for a while. Occasionally, my father would question me about Marty. I don’t know what he said to my father, but Dad sure seemed impressed with him.
Josh laid his head in my lap and fell asleep. Mom asked me to take him to his bedroom and help him get ready for bed. As I was helping him into bed he looked up at me and said, “I sure hope you make it to the Olympics. That would really show up Tyler Scarborough. He’s always bragging because his uncle drove a car in a NASCAR race once. I’d love to see the look on his face when I tell him you’re going to run in the Olympics.”
I smiled down at him, “I’ll do my best, Sport.” I kissed him on his forehead then tiptoed from his room.
“Where have you been?” Billy jumped from his bed when I entered the room.
“Hi to you too,” I laughed as I walked over and sat down on my bed. Billy came over and sat down beside me.
“Why were you with Valerie Lewis today?” he asked excitedly. “I didn’t even know you knew her.”
“You don’t know all my friends,” I smiled.
“She’s your friend?” he asked with a surprised look on his face.
“I guess so,” I said. I couldn’t understand why he was getting so upset after seeing me walking with her in the hallway.
“But you were talking to her?” He gave me a blank look. I waited for him to say more, but he just stared at me.
“So?” I finally asked.
“She’s Valerie Lewis,” he said again. “No one talks to Valerie Lewis!”
I looked at the weird look on his face. It was similar to the one he gave us in the hallway.
“Okay,” I was becoming curious why he was acting so strange about Valerie. “Why doesn’t anyone talk to Valerie?”
“She’s like the smartest kid in our class. She’s like a brainiac,” he replied as if that would answer everything.
“What’s so wrong about being smart?”
“You don’t understand,” he replied excitedly. “She’s like smart smart.” I gave him a puzzled look. “Look,” he explained. “When someone has a question in class, they don’t google it, they just ask Valerie. She knows everything! She knows more than most of our teachers.”
I lay back on the bed and started laughing. “I don’t think you should be afraid to talk to someone because they are smart.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I usually don’t. But she’s Valerie Lewis,” he said excitedly again. “Just talking to her makes you feel stupid. Doesn’t she make you feel stupid?”
“Actually, no,” I replied. “I think she’s pretty cool.”
“You do?” He had a surprised look on his face. “Are you guys like dating or something?”
I fell back on the bed and roared with laughter. “Well, are you? Huh? Cause if you are, I don’t want you bringing her here. I get all creepy when she’s around.”
I sat up and looked at him, but I couldn’t contain my laughter. “No,” I assured him. “We are not dating. In fact, I just met her. Remember Adrian, the guy who came here with Kenny the other day?” He nodded his head. “She’s Adrian’s cousin.”
“Oh,” he replied. “Okay.” He sat for a minute thinking, and then he turned to me. “I still don’t understand why you’re talking to her. I didn’t think you and Adrian were very good friends.”
I sighed. “It’s kind of complicated.” He gave me a puzzled look and nodded his head.
“Hey!” He jumped when I shouted. “Let’s play a video game before we go to sleep.” I wanted to divert his attention away from Adrian and Valerie. It would be difficult to discuss how I knew them without him becoming more suspicious.
“Cool!” He jumped up from the bed, ran over to my computer and downloaded a game. We were having a good time when I got an alert that I had an email from Kenny.
Before I could stop him, Billy minimized the game and opened the email. “Let me mess with him,” he said excitedly. “I’ll write him back and pretend I’m you.”
His mouth fell when he opened the email. He turned with an astonished look. I sat numb as I read the words Kenny had written and Billy had just read.
fagot mother fucker