When I returned home, Billy and Lonnie were waiting for me in our bedroom. As soon as I entered, Billy ran over and shut the door. I sat down on my bed and stared across the room at my brother and his small friend.
“Lonnie can’t believe you’re gay,” Billy informed me. Lonnie nodded his head. I got up, went over, and sat down between them.
“Lonnie.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I’ve really got to trust you with this.” He looked at me and nodded without saying anything. “I just told Billy the other day and made him promise he wouldn’t say anything.” I looked at my brother and smiled. “I’m glad he kept his promise.”
I looked back into Lonnie’s questioning face. “I wanted to tell my family before I told other people, but I guess it’s too late for that now.” I squeezed his shoulder tighter. “You’re like a little brother to me.” He looked at me and grinned. “And brothers protect brothers, no matter what.” He nodded his head again.
I looked at him intently. “Lonnie, you must promise me that you won’t tell anyone about what you saw, you understand?”
“I won’t, I promise,” he swore.
“Adrian isn’t out,” I explained, “and it could do a lot of harm to him if anyone knew. So, I want both of you to promise you won’t tell anyone about what went on tonight. Promise?” Billy nodded his head, pretended to spit into his hand and held it up. Lonnie watched him and then repeated his actions.
I reached out and pulled them both into a hug. “We have to take care of each other.” They gave me a huge hug and pulled away. Lonnie looked up and grinned.
“So, you’re like us?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I guess I am. Are you all right with that?”
“Sure,” he smiled. “I kind of wondered the other day why you didn’t get mad at me and Billy when we told you we were.” He started grinning. “So you and Adrian are boyfriends?”
I looked down at him and frowned. “No,” I said. “We’re just good friends.”
He looked over at my brother. “Like me and Billy?”
“I guess you could say that,” I answered. Since I wasn’t sure how to define Adrian and my relationship, I thought it best not to explain it to them. I got up from the bed and headed toward the door.
“When I come back,” I grinned, “I won’t forget the knock twice rule.” Billy’s face reddened as I closed the door behind me.
Billy was waiting in the kitchen the next morning when I walked in for my usual coffee and bagel. His book bag was sitting beside him on the floor.
“No!” I shouted. Billy started grinning.
My mother turned suddenly from the range where she was making my father’s eggs. “What’s wrong, Dear?”
“You and Lonnie are not riding with me to school today,” I insisted.
“Why?” He said as he glanced over at my mother. “Kenny’s not riding with you.” I gave him an angry look as my mother walked over to the window and looked out.
“Why isn’t he riding with you anymore?” she asked.
I ignored her as I picked my bagel off the counter and stormed out the door with Billy close behind. I turned and said angrily, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
“Do what?” he asked innocently as he got in the car. We pulled out of the driveway just as Ed Hammett came up the street and stopped outside Kenny’s house. Kenny frowned at me when he came out his front door. I pulled away quickly and sped down the street.
“Kenny’s really being a prick about this, isn’t he?” Billy asked as he looked back. “What’s with him anyway? He shouldn’t turn against you just because you’re gay.”
I looked over at him worriedly. “Billy,” I said. “Some people are filled with hate. If someone isn’t like them, then they become a threat.”
“Is that what is wrong with Kenny?” he asked. “He’s filled with hate.”
I thought back over the years to many of the comments he had made and I laughed off. He was always making comments about the black players in sports. At the time, I thought it was funny. Now I realized how much racism and prejudice was behind his jokes.
His view of women wasn’t much better. He hated women athletes, especially those who tried to compete in what he thought was a male sport. He once read about a female racecar driver who tried to compete in the Indianapolis 500. “She should wreck,” he said angrily. “That would teach them they can’t compete with men.” Now I felt bad because I had nodded my head without disagreeing. However, that was how Kenny was. He made his hateful statements and expected others to go along with them.
And I did go along with them. I laughed each time he called what he thought was a gay student a derogatory name. I laughed with the other guys in the locker room when he talked about fudge packers, butt pirates or shit stabbers. Then he would stroll across the locker room swinging his hips and acting as if he was carrying a purse. He would then walk up to some guy and pinch his cheeks and say in a lisp, “You’re cute.” We would laugh until tears appeared. Now his actions aren’t so funny.
No one was safe from his insults. He would make derogatory comments about students who were Jewish, Hispanic or Asian. Girls he thought were lesbians received his harshest comments. “Give me one hour with them,” he would say as he grabbed his crotch, “and they won’t be carpet munchers any more.”
Now, thinking back, I wondered what I saw in him. Why had he become my best friend? Was he a cover for what I had been hiding? Guys saw Kenny as a man‘s man. He was handsome, strong and athletic. No one would ever question his sexuality. He was the guy all the other guys turned to for advice, especially when it came to women. After all, he had been giving me advice on how to get Rachel in bed for two years.
And I failed him. I was now the lowest scum on earth in his book. I had betrayed our friendship. I had followed closely in his footsteps, emulating the characteristics I thought would make me appear more manly. Being with Kenny, no one ever questioned my sexuality. I now realized that Kenny was a cover, just as Rachel had been.
What worried me now was that he knew it too, and I didn’t know what he would do with that knowledge.
School can be a lonely place when you’re trying to avoid everyone. I was going to my classes, but I wasn’t talking to anyone. A few track members stopped me in the hallway and tried to engage me in a conversation, but I would find a reason to walk away.
I kept scanning people’s faces to see if they knew, particularly the athletes. I wanted to know if Kenny was outing me to them in the locker room. No one seemed any different, but I figured it was just a matter of time.
I spent the lunch hour in the library, hiding in a cubicle in the back. I managed to duck in before Valerie or anyone else saw me enter. I figured she would be looking for me so she could get me to join her and Adrian for lunch. After the way he acted the night before, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend time with him.
I knew he had to be careful; however, it was not my intent to out either of us. That’s why Kenny figured so importantly in all this. If he kept his mouth shut, then I could get by the remainder of the school year without anyone finding out. However, I realized that might not be possible.
Track season was beginning and people were turning their attention to me. Since I had done so well last year, sports reporters were contacting Coach Templeton to see if they could interview me. Once track began and I did do well, then it would be extremely hard to stay out of the limelight. I knew that from the media attention, I had received last year when we went to the state finals and I placed second.
Marty volunteering to train me and a few other track members wasn’t helping either. One local television station had already contacted Coach about doing a human-interest story. They wanted to focus on a failed Olympic hopeful training a future Olympic star- me.
Another thing that worried me was that track was a much more important sport than baseball as far as media coverage. Occasionally, there would be a passing mention of the baseball team’s performance. Even when they won the state tournament last year, it didn’t receive half the coverage the track team did.
This could prove dangerous to me. If Kenny watched from the sidelines as I got all the attention while he got very little, would his massive ego want to hurt me? Could he let others laud praise on me without telling them what he knew about me?
It seemed like the questioning never ended. What if? Would he? What about? They never ceased. An athlete has to be focused on his sport. He cannot let anything else enter into his mind except what he’s doing. When I knelt down at the starter’s block, I had to erase everything from my mind but one thing- the finish line. Were there too many distractions going on in my life to be successful? Was I going go end up like Marty?
The day ended as it began. I was alone. Since I was no longer sharing a locker with Kenny, I needed to find another to store my books. I remembered seeing an empty locker next to Rory Baker, another runner, when I was talking to him a few days earlier. He was a junior and most of the students who had lockers in the area were underclassmen, but it was better than having to run into Kenny, Rachel or Alise. I placed the books I wouldn’t need for the evening in it and then headed quickly for the exit.
I hurried to the gym and changed into my running shorts. Marty was already on the track when I arrived. Coach Templeton was there, as were about a dozen other runners. Since track season was to begin in one week, more and more guys were showing up after school.
Coach had us sit on the ground while he introduced Marty to those who hadn’t met him. I watched as he paraded in front of us, encouraging us to give 110%. What struck me most was the fact that he didn’t look gay. From all appearances, he could have been married with four children. He had none of the characteristics that one stereotypes with someone who is gay. He even wore a wedding band, but I was the only one who knew it was a commitment ring. I looked around and wondered what the guys sitting around me would say if they knew the muscular man before them was gay.
As I watched him before us, I wondered if I had what some would call gay characteristics. I had never been called a fag by someone who meant it. I had been best friends with Kenny since I was six, and not once had he ever questioned my sexuality until recently.
Watching Marty gave me confidence that I could perhaps mask my sexuality at least until I graduated high school. Even if Kenny did try to out me, perhaps I could laugh it off as being ridiculous and every one would believe me. Adrian could also do the same thing. He was more masculine than Marty. I’m sure no one would ever believe he was gay. I was becoming hopeful that we could be friends and no one would ever suspect anything else.
When Coach and Marty finished, we broke up into smaller groups. Coach Templeton took the long jumpers and distance runners with him. Marty stayed to work with the sprinters and hurdlers. There were eight of us.
I thought he would have us run, but he had us walk back and forth on the track. We thought it was stupid when he had us lie down and stretch out on the track.
“Close your eyes,” he said softly as he walked around us. “Feel the track.” I moved my arms around on the asphalt ground below me. “This is your world,” he said.
“Now see yourself at the blocks,” he said as he continued to pace around us. “Listen to the crowd as your name is announced. Look at the runner next to you. See his sweat? He’s as pumped up as you are. Now look down the track. See the end? That is your goal.”
I lay with my eyes closed with nothing on my mind but running. I could feel my feet begin to twitch as I waited for the starter’s gun to go off. I could feel my heart pumping with excitement as I positioned my hands at the line.
“The gun goes off,” Marty said softly. “and you are running. Running faster than you have ever run in your life. Those of you jumping hurdles are jumping higher and farther than you’ve ever. Look to the left of you. Now to the right. You are alone as you run toward the finish line.”
He started running around each of us, shouting down at us. “Can you feel it?” He shouted.
“Yes!” we shouted back.
“Can you see it?”
“Yes!” we shouted louder.
“What are you going to do?” he shouted as he ran around us.
“Win!” We screamed in unison. We then jumped to our feet and started high fiving each other. I don’t think I had ever been so pumped up to run in my life. If I had been at a meet, I’m sure I would have come in first place. I was psyched and Marty smiled at us as we jumped and paced around on the track.
“Now go give me ten laps,” he ordered. We tore off down the track. None of us complained once.
As I was completing my eighth lap, Marty ran up beside me. “How’s it going, Zac?”
“Okay, I guess,” I replied. I knew he wasn’t talking about track. He wanted me to get the clutter out of my personal life so I could focus more on running.
“How did Door Number Three go?” He turned and started running backwards, bringing a smile to my face.
“I think I got it slammed in my face,” I said as his smile quickly turned to a frown.
“So you talked to Adrian?” He turned back around and looked into my face as we continued to run.
“Yeah,” I replied as I looked straight ahead.
“And?” I stopped running and turned toward him.
“Is there a manual somewhere that tells how these things are supposed to work?” He started grinning. “Because if not, I think I’m going to fuck this whole thing up.”
He put his hand on my shoulder as we continued to walk along the track. “I wish there was,” he said. “I could have used it myself a few years ago. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” I was trying hard to fight back tears. He stopped and faced me.
“I can’t tell you, Zac,” he said. “Each of us has to fight our battles in our own way. You just have to dig down deep and find the strength.”
“I’ve got the strength,” I replied, “but it’s the outside factors I can’t handle. How can I deal with something I have no control over?” I was thinking of Kenny and Adrian.
“It’s like running a race,” he said as I gave him a puzzled look. “You have prepared all your life, but when you step up to the blocks and look at the guys around you, you don’t know how hard they’ve trained. They are the outside forces that may prevent you from winning.”
He put his arm around my shoulder as we started heading for the gym. “But what you do is apply everything you’ve ever learned. You remember every lap you’ve ever ran. You feel every ache you’ve ever experienced. You recall every step you’ve made to the finish line.”
He squeezed my shoulder tighter. “And you run the best fucking race you’ve ever run. You give it every thing you have. And when you cross that line, win or lose, you’ll be proud you ran the race.”
“Thanks, Marty,” I said as I reached out and hugged him. He looked around to see if anyone was watching before returning my embrace. He then stepped away and looked into my eyes.
“It will be all right, Zac,” he said reassuringly. “Sometimes the race may not turn out the way we wanted, but there’s always a next one.”
“I guess,” I sighed. “I just get tired of running sometimes.” I was surprised when he started laughing.
“You’re what, nineteen?” I nodded my head. “Boy, you haven’t even begun to run your races.” He patted me on my back as I moaned.
“Now go shower,” he said as he gave me a light shove toward the gym, “before I decide to make you run some more laps.”
As I headed toward the locker room, I could hear loud talking and shouting. Since track members tended to be quieter in the locker room, I feared that baseball practice was over and the team was in there. I was right. When I entered, I saw several guys taking off their baseball uniforms. From the shouting going on inside the showers, it appeared most of them were already in there.
I walked over and took off my running shorts. I was preparing to put on my street clothes and leave without anyone seeing me. I was afraid if I showered, I might run into Kenny or Adrian. I could hear Kenny’s laughter coming from the shower room.
I was standing naked, reaching into my locker to get my shorts when Andrew Allen walked up with a towel wrapped around him. “Grab your towel and let’s take a shower,” he said. In the past, I never hesitated to join a guy in the shower and talk. Now looking over Andrew’s naked body, I felt embarrassed.
“I thought I’d shower when I get home,” I said as I started to pull my underwear on.
“Shit, Zac,” he muttered. “That’s just plain nasty. You can’t go home all sweaty and stuff.” He picked up my towel and tossed it to me. “Come on.”
I hesitated before following him toward the shower. As soon as I entered, I saw Adrian walking toward me drying his hair. When he saw me, he lowered his towel and wrapped it around his waist.
“Hey,” I said as I walked past him.
“Hey,” he responded. It seemed like we were two strangers speaking; not like two guys who had shared a passionate kiss the night before.
I stood beside Andrew as we turned on the shower. I looked at over his muscular body. Since he was a hurdler, his legs were strong and well defined. I glanced at his enormous cock hanging between his legs. He grabbed his soap and started lathering his body.
I turned my back to him and began lathering my body under the hot water. I was rubbing the soap over my face with my eyes closed when I heard Kenny’s voice.
“Better not drop the soap and bend over, Allen,” he snarled. “Barnes may try to stick his dick up your poop chute.” I rinsed the soap out of my face and looked angrily at him.
“Oh,” he laughed as several guys stood beside him and laughed. “I forgot. Maybe Barnes will drop his soap and want you to give it to him.” I glanced at Andrew. He was standing with his hands covering his cock. I’m sure he was surprised to hear Kenny talking about me the way he was.
“Shut up, Kenny,” I said angrily.
“Or what?” He took a menacing step toward me.
“Nothing,” I said as I turned and faced the wall. The last thing I wanted was to confront Kenny on his territory.
He stepped up beside me. “Or what, Fag?” His eyes were filled with anger. I guess he had chosen his moment to finally say something to me. I looked around the shower room as guys stopped to watch what was going on.
I reached out and turned the shower off. I wrapped my towel around me and attempted to leave, but Kenny blocked my path. “Wanna suck my dick?” He said loudly as he looked at his baseball friends standing nearby. “Maybe they want their dicks sucked too.”
“Why are you doing this?” I looked pleadingly into his eyes.
“Doing what?” he smirked. “I’m only offering to let you suck my cock. You’ve probably wanted to do it for years.” He reached down and squeezed it through his towel. Everyone in the room moved closer to listen to our exchange. I tried to walk past him, but again he stepped in front of me.
“What?” he asked sarcastically. “A homo refusing to get down on his knees for some dick.” His friends started laughing.
“Fuck you, Kenny!” I shouted as I attempted to push him away.
He grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Oh, I forgot.” His eyes were filled with hatred as he stared angrily at me. “I’ve been watching you. You want some of that nigger dick.”
Before I realized what I was doing, I balled my fist and hit Kenny square in his jaw, sending him reeling backwards. His friends caught him before he fell to the wet floor. He rubbed his jaw, and I watched as his eyes narrowed and he jumped toward me. I could feel my stomach wrap around his fist as I gasped for air.
“Fight!” I heard someone shout. “Kenny is going to kick Zac’s ass!” I flung myself at Kenny and attempted to hit him again, but he reached out and grabbed me around my waist as we tumbled naked to the ground. He sat on my chest as he pummeled me with his fists. Occasionally, I was able to reach up and hit him.
I felt I was about to lose consciousness when I felt his weight lifted from me. I removed my hands from my face to see Coach Brunswick and Mr. Lofton, the tennis coach, pull Kenny off me.
Kenny jumped away from him and started shouting, “He hit me first, Coach. Honest. I was just defending myself.” He looked at his friends who nodded in agreement.
“Go get dressed!” the Coach shouted angrily as he pointed to the locker room. “In my office in five minutes.” Kenny put his arms around his friends and strutted from the shower room.
“Barnes!” the Coach hollered as I was attempting to stand. “Get dressed. I want you in my office. Five minutes.” He turned to Coach Lofton. “Go into the locker room and watch him. I don’t want anymore fighting.” A wave of naked bodies parted as I left the shower room. When I entered the locker room, Adrian was standing off to the right dressed in his street clothes. Our eyes met, but he quickly turned away.
Kenny was standing about four feet away from him. I heard him tell Adrian, “You won’t have to worry about that homo anymore. I took care of him for you.” Adrian left the room, pretending as if he didn’t hear him.
Coach Lofton stood a few feet away while I quickly dressed. I could see Kenny dressing with several of his friends around him. He looked over once and smirked. I still couldn’t understand why he would do something like he did to someone who had been his best friend for so many years. I guess hatred sometimes runs deep.
After dressing, I walked out of the locker room with Lofton tailing behind me. Besides coaching tennis, he was also a science teacher. I had had him my sophomore year for biology. When I passed a trophy case, I looked in at the mirrored wall behind it. My face was red and my left eye was about halfway swollen shut. I knew it would be bruised badly within the next hour.
I entered Brunswick office. He was talking on the phone and motioned for me to sit. “That’s right, Nancy. Zac Barnes. He started a fight in the shower room with Kenny Fletcher, one of my baseball players.” He looked up and glared at me. “He’s here right now. I’ll tell him.” He listened to the other person for another minute before hanging up. I knew who he was talking to- Nancy Jarvis. She was the principal of Northview.
I looked up briefly when Kenny walked in and took a seat next to his coach. His eye was also red and puffy from my first hit. Other than that, it didn’t appear any of my other punches had landed.
Coach Brunswick looked worriedly at Kenny. He touched the side of his face and examined Kenny’s eye. “Are you all right, Son?”
“Yeah, Coach,” he answered as he looked over glaringly at me. “I’ll be fine.”
His coach looked back at me. “I’ve talked to Principal Jarvis,” he stated. “She has scheduled a meeting for nine o’clock tomorrow in her office.” He glared at me. “Attacking a member of the baseball team will have serious consequences.”
“But...” I started to explain, but he stopped me.”
“I don’t want to hear it, Barnes,” he said abruptly. He then turned back to Kenny. “I’ve spoken briefly with a couple of players on my way out of the locker room. It appears you were merely defending yourself. I don‘t think your pitching position is in any danger.” Kenny looked at me and smirked.
I could see what was happening. I was being set up. Sure, I had been the first to throw a punch, but Kenny provoked me. However, at Northview that didn’t matter. I knew I would probably be suspended for ten days while Kenny walked away unscathed. His friends on the baseball team would be his witnesses that I had charged him and hit him first. He was merely defending himself.
Coach Brunswick looked at me and said, “Barnes, I want you to go straight home. If you hang around and try to start any more trouble, I’ll see that you get expelled.”
I stood and glared at Kenny. “Barnes!” Coach Brunswick shouted. “You’d better leave. Principal Jarvis has probably called your parents by now and told them of your behavior. I think it would be best if you’d leave now before getting yourself in further trouble.”
I turned and headed for the door. I glanced back a final time before slamming it shut. Several of my teammates were waiting around in the hallway. They tried to stop me, but I pushed past them and hurried to my car.
I sat inside my car for about five minutes trying to calm down. My hands were still shaking with anger. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” I screamed out. Pandora’s Box and all her evils had escaped and were now invading my life. Kenny had outed me to my friends on the track team and the entire baseball team. Before evening, the entire student body would know that Zachary Barnes is a fag.
As I started up my car I thought, “Now I have to go home and face Mom and Dad.”
Pandora’s Box can be a real son of a bitch.