On The Outside

Chapter 30

Lunch was extremely awkward that day. Partially because I knew that my best friends had a shit load of questions for me that they were afraid to ask. And I had didn’t know if I had the answers to give them. Or any answers that I was willing to be open about in public. We just sort of sat there...pretending that everything was ok. Like we could just slip back into our normal routine as if nothing had changed.

But let’s be honest, right? A lot had changed. And just in the past few minutes alone.

I kept wondering if maybe I should be the one to offer up the chance to talk more about me and Drew being in love with each other...or if that might make things worse. Then again, having to sit there and wait for one of them to say something first was creating enough pressure to squash my heart until there was no longer any room for it to beat normally anymore. It was a standoff. That’s what it was. With both sides not wanting to be the ‘bad guy’ in all this, but being well aware of the fact that we were going to have to address the rabid tiger in the room eventually before it tore us all to pieces.

You know...I spent so much time thinking that my friends would either brush off my confession as though it was no big deal at all...or that they’d simply turn on me and hate me for who I am, never speaking to me again. What I wasn’t prepared for was this strange middle ground where the pendulum didn’t seem to want to sway in one direction or the other. An emotional limbo between two extremes that left me feeling lost and alone. No questions...no answers. Just this embarrassingly cumbersome lack of conversation...and the anxiety of knowing that things might never be the same between us again if we don’t tackle this problem head on at some point in the near future. So weird. I really could have done without this extra tension today.

By the time the bell rand and our lunch break was over, I could barely look anybody in the eye or raise my voice much higher than a whisper, or maybe a soft mumble. We took our trays to the garbage to toss out our trash and then put them back on the stacks for the staff to wash for tomorrow, I guess. And then we left the cafeteria together in a group. Billy and Joey were both going a different way, but they forced themselves to stick around for a few extra seconds...with Billy being the first to speak up and say, “It was good to have you back at the table with us, dude. I mean that.” And he gave me a hug. Like...an actual hug. Billy’s not a hugger. Not at all. Not even when he thought I was straight. It was a bit strange for me to have him do that all of a sudden.

Then Joey said, “Don’t let any of this bullshit get you down. K? We’ve got your back, Ethan. Always.” And he gave me a hug too.

Okaaaay….so, this is different. I don’t know if I like this or not. It feels good, but...ugh! It’s WEIRD, ok??? Just weird.

“We’ll catch up with you guys later.” Jermaine said, hoisting his backpack strap further up on his shoulder. “Come on, I’ll walk with you. Let’s go.”

“Are you sure?” I don’t know why I asked, but I felt like I should.

Jermaine gave me a bewildered look. “Am I sure? What the fuck are you talking about? Don’t be a geek. C’mon.” He said, and started walking down the hall, knowing that I was guaranteed to follow. And as we navigated our way down the hallway, with nobody paying us much attention at all...he asked me, “Did you really think that I was going to tell Billy and Joey about...you know? You and Drew?”

Feeling a bit ashamed, I blushed and said, “To be honest...I don’t know what I think anymore. I’m like...paranoid and insecure and I feel like I have to juggle everything that I know about my life right now while trying not to let any parts of who I am hit the floor. And I don’t think I’m too good at it.”

Jermaine looked over at me, and he asked, “So...Drew, huh? Does he, like...I mean he feels the same way? About you two being together?”

“Yeah.” I told him, but not before looking around us to see if anybody might be eavesdropping in on our conversation. It SUCKS that I even have to factor the feelings and judgements of the rest of the world around me before admitting that I’m totally in love with a true angel who loves me back. I wish it didn’t have to be like that. But I guess that’s too much to ask for.

I just don’t understand why people can’t simply gather up some self awareness and control instead of trying to warp the rest of reality around their narrow minded ideas of what they think life should be. Running and hiding from anything they don’t understand or makes them feel even slightly uncomfortable. Think about it. How sad is that, you know?

“For what it’s worth...you two seem really cool together.” Jermaine said, taking me by surprise.

“You don’t have to say that...” I told him, but he insisted that it was true.

“No way. I can totally see it. I’m not gonna lie, Ethan...there have been times that I’ve seen you and Drew in the halls...and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you more satisfied. With life in general.” He said. “Anybody that could possibly make you just...glow like that without even trying? That’s a keeper, dude. I’m kinda proud of you, if I had to be honest.”

I almost didn’t want to accept the compliment. I half expected some harsh teasing at least from having Jermaine find out that his best friend was gay for the first time. But as I peeked over at him a few more times...I could see that the sentiment was about as genuine as it gets. He really meant it, didn’t he? Wow. Not only did he not care...but he was actually willing to cheer me on. To say that this was an unexpected turn of events would be a severe understatement.

“Thanks, Jermaine.” I told him, and he patted me affectionately on the back. “Listen...if Drew knew about this...I mean, he’s pretty fragile about, you know...having people know about us. So, if you could do me a solid and just, like...not...”

“Don’t worry, Ethan. I’m not gonna run around school snitching about your new boyfriend. Pinky swear. K?”

“Cool.” I said with a sigh of relief. “I mean, it’s not like I’m ASHAMED or anything!”

“Of course not.” He smirked.

“We’re just...trying to figure things out. You know how it goes.”

“Ummm, no. No I don’t.” He giggled and slapped the back of his hand against my chest. “Just know that I’m here when you need me. K? That’s all that matters.”

Feeling bad, I looked down at the floor and mumbled, “I should have come to you guys from the very beginning. I just...I didn’t know what to do, you know? And I didn’t want Drew to freak out, because he’s so worried that he’s gonna put some kind of ‘curse’ on me simply because I’m associated with him. He keeps trying to tell me that I’m going to regret ever getting involved with him in the first place, and I just can’t get him to relax long enough to make him believe that I don’t care about any of that stuff. I mean...I know he gets bullied and stuff, and I probably will end up catching hell for this too...” I started to get a little chocked up, but I looked at Jermaine with misty eyes, and I said, “...But he’s so worth it, Jermaine. You have no idea how amazing he makes me feel when we’re together. I just wish I could protect him from this foolishness. But I don’t know how. I can’t even protect myself anymore.”

Just as I said the words out loud, I noticed that we were both approaching my locker...and Jermaine could clearly see that whoever was torturing me had come back to write the word ‘FAGGOT’ on my locker three of four times, practically covering the whole door. And it hurt. It really did. I felt my head drop until my chin was basically resting on my chest in shame...knowing that my secret was on display in front of the whole school to point and laugh at. They just can’t leave me alone. They keep coming back to remind me that I’m supposed to be a piece of shit. What do they want from me? Are they trying to get me to kill myself? Is that what they want? Because...honestly, if it wasn’t for Drew’s love...that option wouldn’t be off the table for me.

Looking at my locker, Jermaine just turned towards me and said, “Hey...you know, I’ve got plenty of room in my locker down the hall, right? Why don’t you just put your stuff in there. I’ll write down the combination for the lock, and you’ll be all set.”

“This is so fucked up.” I said sadly.

“It’s not a problem. It’ll be cool to have a ‘roommate’ for a change.” He tried to get me to smile, but I couldn’t manage it. Not even for his sake.

“The idea that this is the kind of thing that Drew has had to go through every day of his life for years now...it’s heartbreaking. How am I supposed to fight this? I don’t even have somebody’s ass to kick. It’s so unfair.”

With a serious tone, Jermaine turned me to look him in the eye. “Don’t you DARE give these assholes the upper hand by letting them eat away at your pride, dude. Don’t you dare.” He said. “Whoever is doing this...he’s a goddamn COWARD! You hear me? He’s too chicken to talk to you face to face. He’s just a sad sack of shit who gets off on hurting other people because he has no other way to get attention or feel good about himself. There’s NOTHING lovable about him at all, and he knows that. Nobody is ever ever EVER going to see anything of value in him ever. He hates his own reflection, and he takes it out on other people to keep from dwelling on the fact that he’s utter garbage. A loathsome subhuman waste of oxygen who’s too afraid to deal with the hatred he feels inside so he tries to push it off on you. And Drew. And the cashier at the fast food joint. And anybody else who is willing to be bothered and frustrated enough by him to justify his very existence on this fucking planet. Don’t be one of those people, Ethan. You’re better than that.”

“I don’t know, Jermaine. They’re just trying sooooo hard to ruin me, and I don’t know why.”

“There IS no why! They suck! Period!” He demanded. “Look on the bright side...you are living in their heads, rent free, twenty four hours a day. Every time they think about how much they hate you...you win. Every time they waste the kind of time and energy that it takes to destroy your reputation, or bump your shoulder in the hallway, or write the word ‘faggot’ on your locker...that’s their total submission to the idea that you’re a better person than they’ll EVER be. Every single minute that they take out of their own lives to try to wreck yours? It’s a testament to how weak and pathetic they are. And you should probably take pride in that. Because, at the end of the day...you’re going to win anyway. And that’s only going to piss them off even more, because they’ll never have that. Never.”

I sniffled a bit, still looking over my shoulder and checking for any of the other students walking past us to catch a random part of our conversation and vomit it out on the high school rumor mill the first chance they get. But, strangely enough, I don’t think anybody cared. Maybe I’m not on their radar at all. Hehehe! It was the perfect time to appreciate being unimportant and slightly unpopular in their eyes.

Heh...you have a way of making me feel like the king of the world sometimes, you know that?” I told him.

“I didn’t make you do shit! Be a king! Fuck these petty little rodents, dude!” He said, puffing his chest out and slugging me in the arm. “Let them deal with their own shit on their own time. I’m so sick of people acting like they’re entitled to be seen as better than anyone else without actually having something of value to offer the world. They’re total TRASH, Ethan. You need to realize that. And you need to start ignoring their attempts to pretend that they’ll ever be anything more than that. The whole ‘fake it til you make it’ ideology is dead. We have the ability to see who these people really are, inside and out, in this day and age. And if they have nothing to offer? Fuck ‘em. Seriously. FUCK ‘EM!!! Spread love and wisdom and display your talent to have a positive impact on the world...or get the hell out of the way. Writing a hateful, homophobic slur on somebody’s locker when they’re not looking doesn’t take any talent. Pretending to be a FAKE person online and trying to trick somebody doesn’t make you special. Let these people fucking drown in their self hatred. Who’s gonna miss them? They never had anything to offer anybody anyway. They know it. And now we know it too. So kick back and keep haunting their worst nightmares by being awesome and letting the rest of the world see it. K? Let them stand in a corner all alone, frustrated and mad, while everybody else circles up to enjoy your genius and beauty without the lies and bullshit. It’s what they deserve.”

I didn’t want to get too emotional from Jermaine’s motivational speech, even though I could feel the back of my throat closing up as tears welled up in my eyes. I didn’t dare let them fall though. I just told my best friend that I was gay today. I didn’t want to make a sissy out of myself. Not that crying was all that ‘sissyish’...but you know...I still have some brainwashing that I have to work to shake off before I can claim to be on hundred percent comfortable with this whole thing.

“Hehehe, you must really want a locker roommate.” I said, trying to laugh it off as my heart began to buzz with appreciation for Jermaine’s friendship in that moment.

“I’ll be charging you rent.” He grinned. “But your fee does come with a rather extensive ‘anti-faggot’ graffiti insurance policy. Just so you know.”

“Seems like that might come in handy, considering...” I smiled.

“Well, grab your stuff. Let’s go. I ain’t got all day.” He joked.

But before walking over to my locker...labeled with that awful word, a feeble attempt to break me made by a coward who can’t seem to stop thinking about me day and night...so TERRIFIED that I might be able to still be awesome, no matter what he did to try and stop it...I turned to give Jermaine a tight hug around his neck and hold him as the emotions within me caused me to tremble visibly as I allowed a few sanctioned tears to roll down my cheeks over his shoulder. “Thank you, Jermaine. Seriously. Just...thanks for being a friend.”

I heard him sniffle a bit himself this time, but he tried to ‘man up’ shortly afterwards. “You’re not gonna grab my ass or anything, are you?”

“Hehehe, don’t flatter yourself. You don’t have much of an ass to grab, dude.” I said, letting him go and wiping my eyes.

“What the…?” He looked over his shoulder, doing a full spin right there in front of me. “I’ll have you know that I have a fabulous ass, thank you very much.”

I shook my head. “No. Not really. It could use some work, dude.” I snickered. “Now Drew? Drew has a fabulous ass. An INCREDIBLE ass!”

Jermaine’s eyes widened, “And how would we know about THIS, Sir???” He gasped.

“Did you hear that? I think that was the bell. Time to go to class!” I giggled.

“No no no no no! Don’t you do that to me! Ethan….dude, are you getting laid? Wait! Ethan!”

“I’ll catch up with you later, Jermaine!” I said, walking away with my blush deepening beyond my ability to hide it.

“I’m not gonna just let you...don’t you fucking DARE just...Ethan!” He called after me. “ETHAN!!!! I’m not going to let you leave me hanging like this! What the fuck, dude! ETHAN!!! Don’t you walk away from me, Ethan! Don’t you...ETHAN!!!

It made me laugh to have him practically throwing a tantrum behind me, but once he ran to catch up to me, he decided to let it go. At least for now. Not that he didn’t give me a few sinister looks over me being such a brat about the details. Hehehe, I would have thought that he’d be grossed out by the kinds of things that Drew and I have gotten up to since we first became boyfriends. The conversations that Billy and Joey had at the cafeteria table in the past, I was pretty convinced that the whole idea of two boys kissing each other was a taboo that was never ever meant to be discussed, no matter how close we were. I had been brainwashed to think that being gay...or hell, just being different in any way at all...was an abomination of the worst kind. A blasphemy that was certain to bring your life crumbling down into a state of utter destruction and ruin that no man could ever recover from. Instead...

...It was just a matter of my best friends making a five minute adjustment in how they thought of me...and then it was done. Just...like...done.

Wow...who could have seen that coming?