Note: This chapter was originally completed around June/July of 2015, but is only now posting due to where it fell chronologically. Because of this, some adjustments had to be made to account for events that have developed since that time. Due to Ryan's passing, I have made those adjustments and will do so for the last few remaining chapters.
“Slow down, I’m dying,” Philip panted.
“Jesus, Philip, it’s been three weeks,” said Griffin as he slowed to a trot.
“No kidding. I thought I’d be better by now.”
“You would be if you listened to me,” Griffin retorted.
“Hey, you’ve been doing this a lot longer than me.”
“Exactly why you should listen when I coach you.”
“I listen,” Philip exclaimed.
“Your lack of oxygen suggests otherwise.” Griffin smiled. “I keep forgetting to ask you, why did you come out for cross-country anyway?”
“Aren’t you the one always telling me I need to do stuff like this so I can put it on my college apps?”
“That’s why you came out?” Griffin raised an eyebrow.
“Well, partly…” Philip trailed off.
“Ok, what’s the other part?”
“I, well, I wanted to spend time with you. You’re my best friend.” Philip blushed.
“Awww, Philip.” Griffin smiled broadly.
“Don’t read too much into it.” Philip grinned. “I don’t have many friends.”
“Ass.” Griffin giggled and bumped Philip with his shoulder. “Alright, well, I wouldn’t be much of a best friend if let you die out here. Let’s get some water.”
“Is there a secret water fountain out here I don’t know about?” asked Philip as he looked around the woods.
“Nope, but I know a shortcut,” said Griffin.
Cross-country is about distance running and Griffin specialized in the 5k; Philip had been struggling to keep up since he joined the team. The team practiced on trails that ran through the woods on the west wide of Columbia High beside the athletic fields. Griffin turned off the trail and led Philip through the woods until they came to the track that ringed the football teams practice field. Griffin saw the boy he was looking for and headed in his direction with Philip panting in his wake.
“Hi, Asher,” said Griffin as he approached the football team manager.
“Hey Griff, hey Philip.” Asher smiled.
“Got any water for a couple of thirsty runners?” asked Griffin.
“Sure, I was just going to take some over to Andy. Wanna gimme a hand?”
“Yeah, no problem,” said Griffin.
Griffin held a tray while Asher filled it with small cups of water. The cups were small because the coaches didn’t want the guys on the team to drink too much and make themselves sick. Andy was always thirsty so Asher always brought him extra. Once the tray was full, Asher led his friends over to Andy, a Downs-syndrome boy and the biggest football fan at Columbia High.
“Hi, Andy,” said Asher as he passed out water to Andy, Griffin and Philip.
“Hi, Asher.” Andy smiled brightly. “Are these your friends?”
“Yeap, this is Griffin and Philip. They’re too scrawny for football,” Asher winked at his friends, “so they run cross-country. It looks like you could all use a drink so I brought them with me.”
“Scrawny.” Andy giggled.
“I’d object but it’s true,” said Griffin, flexing his little bicep. “Pathetic, isn’t it?”
“Pathetic.” Andy giggled.
“Are you enjoying the practice?” asked Asher.
“Yeap, lotta hustle,” said Andy.
“Alright, buddy, I’ve gotta get water ready for the team. Come over and see me if you get thirsty,” said Asher.
“Ok, Asher, bye-bye,” Andy said and waved happily.
“That’s really nice, you do that all the time?” asked Griffin as they returned to the sidelines.
“Yeah, Andy’s Averi’s brother, you know, Sean’s ex-girlfriend?”
“Oh, right,” said Griffin.
“Yeah, well, Andy like’s to watch the team and Averi’s busy with diving, so I told her I’d keep an eye on the big guy while she’s at practice,” Asher explained.
“Asher Ellis, you’re a good man,” said Griffin, clapping him on the back.
“Careful, you’ll give him a big head.” Sean chuckled as he approached the water table with his helmet under his arm. It was a hot day so the team was practicing without their pads, just shorts, t-shirts and helmets. Even still, Sean’s black hair glistened with sweat.
“Oh, shut up,” said Asher, giving his boyfriend a playful shove.
“What are you guy’s up to?” asked Sean as he grabbed a cup of water.
“Taking advantage of the football team’s generosity,” said Griffin as he took another cup of water and passed it to Philip. “Where’s your evil twin?”
“You didn’t hear?” asked Sean. “He got bumped up to varsity!”
“Damn, I knew he was good but I didn’t know he was that good,” said Griffin. “Making varsity as a sophomore, that’s a big deal, right?”
“Yeah, it’s only second string for now but I’m proud of the little fella.” Sean giggled.
“Little? He’s at least an inch taller than you,” said Asher.
“Ah ha, but I’m older, five whole weeks.” Sean grinned.
“Go away.” Asher rolled his eyes. “Get before your coach comes looking for you.”
“Alright, alright,” said Sean, then he leaned in and pecked Asher on the cheek. “See you after practice.”
“He seems happy,” said Griffin as Sean jogged back to his team.
“Yeah, today.” Asher sighed.
“Ash, it’s gotta be hard for him. You just need to give it time.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining,” said Asher. “I’d rather be with him, dealing with his mood swings, instead of being alone.”
“But things are ok, right?” asked Griffin.
“Sure, we really are pretty happy. He’s excited to take me to the homecoming dance; it’s pretty cute.” Asher smiled.
Philip let out an audible sigh. Griffin shot him a look and then turned back to Asher.
“That’s great, Ash. We better get going. We’ve still got another mile to run,” said Griffin.
“Seriously? The locker room’s right over there,” Philip whined.
“No slacking off, I’m determined now. I’ll make a runner out of you or you’ll die trying,” said Griffin.
“Lucky me,” Philip sighed.
“No whining, move your ass,” said Griffin as he slapped Philip on the butt.
“Alright, alright, geez,” said Philip as he trotted off.
“Later, Ash,” Griffin winked as he set off after his friend.
“See you guys!” Asher shouted.
“So what was that all about?” asked Griffin when he caught up to Philip.
“What was what all about?”
“You didn’t say a word while we were with Asher and then you sighed when he talked about the dance.”
“Oh, you noticed that?” asked Philip, looking away from his friend.
“Of course I did. What’s up?”
“Philip, don’t gimme that.”
“God, are you and my mom in sync or what,” Philip said, shaking his head.
“If you mean am I going to call you on your shit like your mom does then yes. Now, spill it, mister.” Griffin grinned.
“It’s nothing, it’s just…I liked Sean first.”
“I’m not so sure about that. The way I understand it, Asher had it bad for Sean for a long time before they became a couple,” said Griffin.
“I wasn’t good enough for him. Robin made that pretty clear.”
“Probably because you didn’t know anything about Sean at the time, you just saw a pretty face and a cute ass and Robin didn’t want you trying to bone his little brother, right?”
“Yeah, that’s fair,” Philip admitted.
“Sean isn’t gay anyway.”
“But he’s with…”
“He’s not homosexual, he’s Asher-sexual. I doubt he’s ever had a serious sexual thought about another boy. Robin says the same thing about himself but he dated a guy before Lucien. I believe it more about Sean, I see it in how he interacts with other guys,” said Griffin.
“You like Asher too, don’t you?”
“He’s the first person that’s always been nice to me,” said Philip.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You didn’t like me when we first met; neither did Austin, Robin or the others.”
“I’m not blaming anyone but myself,” Philip interrupted. “I stole your underwear and left you that shitty note, I tried to take a picture of Austin’s dick then phone stalked him, and last summer I took swimming lessons from Robin’s older brother just so I could feel him up in the pool.”
“I didn’t know about the pool thing.” Griffin snickered.
“The point is everyone has these bad memories of Little Phil. Asher’s the first person I met who only knows Philip. He’s always been nice to me and, well, he’s cute.”
“You’ve gotta let Little Phil go, he was a shit,” said Griffin. “Philip is a fresh start and you know what? People like Philip.”
“I know and that really helps,” said Philip. “You guys, taking me in and being my friends, after all the stuff I did, it means the world to me. But I know in the back of everyone’s mind is this nagging little voice that’s saying, hey, remember what this guy did, be careful.”
“Maybe, but it’s only been a couple of months. You’ve made a lot of progress and I’m proud of you buddy, but you’re going to have to keep proving yourself for a while.”
“Yeah, that’s what Dr. Freeman says.”
“I told you he was good.”
“He is, he’s really helped me a lot. He says I have to own my past and take responsibility for the things I did, and I do…”
“But, I know it’s only been a few months, and I am a different person now. I want someone in my life.”
“You think you’re ready for a boyfriend?”
“Yes and no. I’m still scared that if I met a guy I’d blow it by getting over excited and going all Little Phil on him but at the same time, I see you guys and all your boyfriends when we hang out and I think, gee, I wish I had someone to snuggle with and whisper secrets too.”
“I get it.”
“It’s hard,” Philip sighed.
“Hang in there buddy,” said Griffin, patting him on the back.
“All I can do, right?” asked Philip before breaking into a sprint as they approached the final leg of their run. “So long, sucker!”
“You wish,” Griffin exclaimed as he sprinted after him.
When it came to people Griffin hated, Phil Ashmore, Sr. ranked right up there with Royce McGuire. Philip was a cute kid, nice dark hair, pretty green eyes, he was smart and had a decent sense of humor. He should have had his pick of the boys but his father had driven him to the brink of ruin with his foul attitude. Philip had learned how to objectify people and treat them like nothing but puppets for his sexual amusement from his father’s example. There were different kinds of abuse and in Griffin’s eyes Philip’s father battered his son mentally almost as badly as Royce had battered Griffin.
Griffin was proud of Philip. It took a lot of strength and courage to resist every instinct you had, and Philip had changed over the summer by leaps and bounds. Philip was not only on the right track but he’d gone several miles down the path. As they showered after practice, Griffin watched him. He noticed that Philip kept his eyes downcast, washed as quickly as he could and got out of the shower as if Little Phil would come roaring back if he looked at a dick. The boy had been beating himself up long enough. It was time for Philip to start being comfortable in his new and improved persona and to realize that it was ok for him to like boys again because Philip didn’t think of them the same way Little Phil had. It was time for Philip to take another step down the path; Griffin just wasn’t sure how to help him do it.
“How do you do that?” asked Philip when he left the locker room and found Griffin leaning against his car. Griffin always drove him home after practice.
“What are you talking about?”
“That,” said Philip, gesturing at Griffin’s outfit. Griffin was wearing a light blue button down with the sleeves rolled up, slim fit khakis, brown loafers and a messenger bag over his shoulder. Even his sunglasses were designer. “We just ran five miles and you come out of the locker room looking like a model and I look like a future vagrant.”
“Oh, I just like to dress nice,” Griffin said, blusing.
“Yeah but how do you know how to do that? Like what goes with what?”
“Practice, I guess,” said Griffin.
“Well, you could wear t-shirts that were less…ironic.”
“What do you mean?”
“Philip, your t-shirt reads, ‘Every Great Idea I Have Gets Me in Trouble.”
“Yeah, well, it’s funny.”
“Sure, in a comic,” Griffin retorted. “You’re sixteen, not six.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump on you.”
“No, you’re right. I’m clueless when it comes to clothes. The next time I go shopping would you come with me; help me pick out some things?”
“Why not, I pick out most of Dev’s clothes.” Griffin grinned, thinking of it..
“Really? He doesn’t dress like you.”
“That’s because he’s not me, he has his own style. I just help him pick out nice things in the style he likes.”
“That’s cool.” Philip smiled.
“He’s pretty cute huh?”
“Yeah,” Philip nodded and looked down at his feet.
“Philip, its ok to think someone’s cute. Devyn would be flattered knowing you thought he was cute. Telling someone they’re cute is a long way from telling them, I don’t know, they’ve got a hot ass and you want to tongue kiss their shithole.”
“Ha, yeah,” Philip laughed. “God, hearing you say that, ugh, was I that bad?”
“Yes.” Griffin grinned. “But that guy’s dead, so get in the car and let’s go home.”
No sooner had they gotten in the car than Griffin’s phone buzzed. He finished putting on his seatbelt before picking it up from the console and reading the text message.
“That’s so cute.” Griffin smiled.
“What is it?” asked Philip.
“Text from Dev, check it out,” said Griffin handing the phone over.
The text read: If I get your smile, I don’t need flowers. If I get your voice, I don’t need music. If you speak to me, I don’t need anybody. If you are my love, I don’t need the world. Will you go to the homecoming dance with me?
“Yeah, that’s pretty cute,” said Philip.
Griffin took the phone back and quickly texted:Who else would I go with, you cute little doll!
“Hello, cutie pie,” said Griffin. He greeted Devyn with a hug and a chaste peck on the lips when he arrived at Robin’s for study group. Robin’s lacrosse practice got out at the same time as Devyn’s band practice and they always rode to whichever house they were studying at together.
'Just to confirm your text; that was a yes, right?' Devyn signed.
“Absolutely,” said Griffin. He took Devyn’s hand and led him into the Kirkwood’s dining room where their friends were already setting up. Griffin exchanged greetings with the guys before taking his seat.
“So Griff, did you say yes to this cute little guy?” asked Lucien.
“Of course I did. Did he show you the text he sent me?”
“I was there when he wrote it. We were waiting for Robin to finish showering,” said Lu.
“Keep it up and you guys will be as sappy as these two,” said Austin, nodding at Robin and Lucien.
“Keep it up, Hamster, and we’ll take the wheel out of your cage,” Robin snickered.
“Awwww, don’t threaten my baby,” said Derek as he put his arm around Austin’s shoulders and kissed his cheek.
“Who’s sappy now?” Lucien grinned.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Austin as he kissed Derek back.
Griffin smiled at his friends and dug out his history book. He had an essay due on Friday and was eager to get it out of the way. Lucien had worked hard during his junior year so he could catch up to Robin and graduate with him; that had been the catalyst for the study group in the first place. Now that he was a senior his work load had changed and the guys found themselves finished earlier than usual.
“Hey guys, we’re all going to the homecoming dance, right?” asked Griffin when the work was done. He put his arm around Devyn’s shoulders and drew him close.
“Sure,” said Robin.
“That’s the plan,” said Derek.
“We thought we’d meet here and head over to the dance together in my new bus,” said Lucien. “Unless you had some other idea.”
“No, that’s great, I just, well, would you guys be opposed to bringing Philip with us?”
“Don’t you think he’d be a little uncomfortable?” asked Robin. “The dance is kind of a romantic occasion, we’re all couples, so wouldn’t he feel like a 7th wheel?”
“I don’t know, I just hate to think of him sitting at home by himself while all his friends are out having fun. Also, he opened up a little today at practice,” said Griffin.
“What did he say?” asked Lucien.
“I think he’s lonely.”
“Why?” asked Derek. “We all like hanging out with him and…”
“And he likes hanging out with us,” said Griffin. “But, he sees all of us with our boyfriends and he feels left out.”
“Oh,” said Robin, for the group.
“I know what you’re thinking and it’s not a sex thing,” said Griffin.
“I’m sorry, I know he’s a lot better than he was and I respect the effort he’s putting in but, Griff, he did some really messed up stuff. Do you think he’s ready to date?” asked Robin.
“All I know is what he told me. He said he’s scared to even think about sex with a guy because he’s afraid of getting carried away and bringing Little Phil back. At the same time he wants someone to snuggle with,” Griffin explained.
“Awww, poor guy,” said Derek.
“Yeah so I was thinking, does anyone know anyone who might want to go to the dance with him? Not a boyfriend, just someone he can go with and be part of the group with?” asked Griffin.
“Well, who?” asked Lucien. “Elliot and Colby are obviously going together. I can’t think of anyone else that’s gay other than Sean and Jamie’s friends.”
“What’s this about Sean and Jamie’s friends?” asked Jamie as he came into the dining room.
“Hey Jamie, I ran into your twin brother today, congrats on the bump to varsity,” said Griffin.
“Yes, yes it’s true. I am all that is man.” Jamie grinned and flexed dramatically for the guys. “Thanks though.”
“Where’s Sean?” asked Robin, unfazed by his little brother’s showing off.
“Still at Asher and Scotty’s,” said Jamie. “You know, kiss, kiss, kiss.”
“Isn’t that what you do when you go over to Emily’s?” asked Austin.
“Every chance we get.” Jamie grinned, then said, “So what’s this about my friends?”
“Oh, we were just looking for a gay guy we could set up on a date,” said Lucien.
“Hmmm, all my gay friends are dating each other,” said Jamie. “Who’s the guy?”
“Philip,” said Griffin. “I just want to find someone to take him to the dance so he’s not stuck at home by himself.”
“Oh, why don’t I just take him?” asked Jamie.
“You?” Griffin exclaimed.
“What?” asked Robin.
“Emily can’t go; she’s got a family reunion this weekend. I was just going to hang out here since all my friends are going with their boyfriends and girlfriends so why don’t I take Philip?”
“You too, Jamie? It doesn’t look like your parents are going to get any natural grandchildren.” Austin snickered.
“You wish, Hamster. This is all for the ladies.” Jamie grinned as he ran his hands over his upper body. “Philip’s a cool guy. We can go as friends.”
“I don’t know, Jamie,” said Robin. “I warned you and Sean about Philip before summer started.”
“Robin, he’s a different guy now,” said Griffin, gently.
“I get that, Griff, but he’s my baby brother,” said Robin, nodding at Jamie.
“Hey, I can take care of myself. I’ll tell him we’re going as friends and if he makes a move on me I’ll neuter him quicker than a vet, and a lot less painlessly. But I like Philip, he’s cool to hang out with when he’s here, so what’s the harm?” asked Jamie.
“Dude, Jamie, I’m impressed,” said Derek.
“Because I’d go to a dance with a guy?”
“Not a lot of straight boys would be willing to do that,” said Austin.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going on a platonic date with a guy I consider a friend, so who cares what anyone else thinks?” asked Jamie.
“Robin, I’ll talk to Philip too and make sure he understands it’s just a friend thing. If he puts a toe out of line I’ll help with the neutering.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Robin as he looked to Jamie.
“You know how out of the box I am,” Jamie grinned. “It’ll be fun.”
“Ok then,” Robin agreed. “But you guys are riding with us so I can keep an eye on things, too.”
“Sure, beats getting dropped off by mom,” said Jamie.
“This is so nice of you, Jamie,” said Griffin. “I’ll just text Philip and…
“Whoa, he’s my date, let me ask him myself,” Jamie smirked.
“I am so nervous about this.” Robin shook his head.
The next day at school, Griffin noticed how quiet Philip was. He couldn’t blame him; he was surrounded by happy couples talking excitedly about Saturday’s dance. Knowing what was coming Griffin had a hard time suppressing the smile from his face. He didn’t want to give it away.
“Hey guys,” said Jamie, when he sauntered over to the table.
“'Sup, Jamie?” said Robin, knowing what was about to happen.
“I got something for Philip,” said Jamie.
“Me?” asked Philip, as he looked up at Jamie, suspicion on his face.
“Yeah, here,” said Jamie, handing him an envelope.
Philip looked at Jamie with a raised eyebrow until Griffin nudged him in the ribs. He opened the envelope, pulled out a piece of folded paper and when he finished reading the note, he looked back to Jamie with his eyes bulging out of their sockets.
“What’s it say?” Lucien prompted.
Philip tried to speak but he was so stunned his mouth just flopped open.
“It says,” said Griffin, snatching the note, “You’re gay, I’m straight and we both need a date. Be mine for the homecoming dance?”
“Jamie, that’s cute,” Derek exclaimed.
“My girlfriend can’t go, I heard no one had asked you, it’s just as friends so what do you say, Philip?” asked Jamie.
“I uh, I don’t know,” said Philip, looking down at his plate.
“He says yes,” said Griffin. “Devyn and I will pick him up and meet over at your place with the rest of the guys.”
“Cool, see you later then, Philip.” Jamie flashed a winning smile and trotted confidently back to his friends.
“Why did you do that?” Philip exclaimed when Jamie was out of ear shot.
“Because you wanted to say yes but were beating yourself up about it,” said Griffin.
“I can’t go with him.”
“Why not?” asked Lucien.
“Because he’s…he’s so cute,” Philip gushed.
“That’s a problem?” Derek laughed.
“You’re just going as friends, remember that,” said Robin.
“I know, but what if I say something shitty to him?” Philip sighed.
“Well, this is Jamie we’re talking about,” said Austin. “If it was Sean it might hurt his feelings but Jamie, he’d probably kick you in the balls.”
Philip looked down at his plate and blushed again. Griffin leaned close and whispered, “You told me you were afraid of sex because Little Phil might come out. This is a no pressure situation. Jamie’s straight, you’re not getting any sex out of this, you’re just going to have fun, ok?”
“I-I don’t have anything to wear,” said Philip.
“No problem, I’ll get you set up.” Griffin grinned from ear to ear.
“Hey Griffin, hey Dev…oh, hey Derek, where’s Devyn?” asked Philip when he hopped into the back of Griffin’s Prius that evening.
“Devyn hates shopping,” said Griffin “But Derek needs to pick up something in Binghamton so he’s coming with us.”
“I wanna get something sexy for my Hamster.” Derek grinned.
“Like he needs it.” Philip sighed. “He makes everything sexy.”
“What’s that?” asked Griffin as he and Derek turned in their seats to look at Philip.
“I just mean he’s cute,” said Philip as he lowered his head and starred at his hands.
“Yeah he is.” Derek smiled. “This is something for me. I wanna get a pair of bikini briefs for after the dance.”
Griffin and Philip both studied Derek for a moment before Griffin said, “Der, Philip doesn’t want to hear about your skanky man panties.”
“They aren’t skanky,” said Derek, his face a mask of mock hurt. “Austin mentioned he thought they’d be hot so, we’ll see.”
“Just so long as your ghetto booty doesn’t pop out of them.” Griffin laughed.
“You wish, tiny tot! I know my ass is fine. Chloe told me so.”
“Oh God, your sister is the queen of inappropriate,” Griffin laughed harder.
“No kidding, she said it in front of dad.” Derek chortled.
“Anyway,” said Griffin when he stopped laughing and turned back to Philip, “How much do you have to spend?”
“Well, my mom gave me this,” said Philip, pulling a wad of hundreds from his pocket.
“Dude, how much is that?” Griffin exclaimed.
“About $900 bucks,” said Philip.
“God damn,” said Derek. “She knows we’re just looking for something nice for the dance, right?”
“Well, she got a big bonus this summer and gave me and Gavin a thousand bucks each for school clothes,” Philip explained.
“Wow, that was nice of her,” said Derek.
“Yeah, it was, but, well, I didn’t really find anything I liked, so I only bought a few t-shirts.”
“Ok, we’re on a mission now,” said Griffin. “We’ll address formal wear first and then you’re getting a new wardrobe and a haircut.”
“Really?” Philip smiled.
“You asked for it, and with that kind of money, you’re getting a makeover,” said Griffin as he put the car in gear and backed out of Philip’s driveway.
“Yeah,” Derek agreed, “We’ll be Queer Eye for the…Queer Guy.”
“Ok.” Philip continued to grin.
An hour later Griffin parked the Prius in front of the Men’s Warehouse on Vestal Parkway. He led the guys inside and they were instantly greeted by an associate with a cloth measuring tape around his neck. Philip crossed his arms over his chest and tried to hide behind Griffin which was foolhardy as Griffin was shorter.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen, my name is Fritz, can I help you?”
“Yes you can,” said Griffin, as he reached back for Philip’s wrist and pulled him front and center. “My friends and I have our homecoming dance this weekend and this guy needs something to wear.”
“Of course, we have a large selection of formal wear for any occasion. Would you like to come with me sir?”
“Go on,” said Griffin, as he pushed Philip toward Fritz. “We’ll be right here when you have something to show us.”
“Ok,” said Philip as Fritz led him away.
“That’s so cute,” said Derek.
“You’re so sweet with him, like he’s your little brother.”
“I love the kid.” Griffin sighed. “I love him as much as I love all of you guys. He’s had such a shitty time with his dad and all his bullshit. I’m proud of the work he’s doing and I just want him to gain a little confidence in himself.”
“Like I said, very sweet.” Derek smiled. “So what are we going to do while we wait for Philip?”
“You’re going to help me find a pink bow tie,” said Griffin.
“Hmmm, you in pink, I can see that.”
“It’s for Devyn,” said Griffin. “I mean the tie is for me, but I’m wearing it for Dev.”
“Oh, this after giving me shit for wanting to get some sexy undies for Austin?” Derek teased.
“Well, ok, so Dev, he’s got these pink Nike socks he wears sometimes and they’re so cute on his little feet…”
“That is kind of adorable.”
“Especially when that’s all he wears,” Griffin grinned wickedly.
“Ok, perv,” Derek snorted.
“Anyway, I’m always telling him how cute he is in pink so he bought a pink necktie for the dance…”
“Wow, that’s going to look hot with those blue eyes of his.”
“Yeah, so, I wanted to get a pink bow tie so that we match but don’t match, you know?”
“I get it,” said Derek, “I think ties are over here. Not sure they have pink, though.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Fritz when he approached Griffin twenty minutes later.
“The young…gentleman, has something he’d like to show you.”
Griffin traded a look with Derek. Something about the way Fritz said gentleman had Griffin worried. They followed the sales associate to the dressing room where he knocked on one of the doors.
“Sir, your friends are here,” said Fritz.
“Be right out,” said Philip.
“He picked it, not me,” said Fritz as he wandered away.
Griffin and Derek traded another look.
“Philip, you ok in there?” asked Griffin.
“Yeah, close your eyes, I’m coming out.”
Derek and Griffin closed their eyes each curious for the big reveal.
“Ok, look,” said Philip.
“Ha,” Derek snorted and hid his face in his hands when he saw Philip’s…outfit.
“Oh, Philip, no, no, no.” Griffin face-palmed.
“What’s wrong with it?” asked Philip. He was wearing a lime green tuxedo, a frilly shirt and a huge clip-on yellow bow tie.
“Lime green, seriously?” asked Griffin.
“It’s funny,” said Philip.
“Exactly, but we go to high school, not clown college,” said Griffin.
“Oh,” said Philip, looking down at his feet.
“Ok, look, I’m going to tell you something and I don’t want it going to your head,” said Griffin.
“Philip, you’re cute.”
“Seriously cute, that rich brown hair, those big green eyes, you’re a knock out, right Derek?”
“Totally, eight or nine out of ten,” Derek agreed.
“Thanks,” Philip blushed.
“But,” Griffin added, “No one is going to notice how good you look if you dress like a dork.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” said Philip.
“Your mom gave you a lot of money, why don’t we get you some nice things, ok?”
“I’d like that.” Philip smiled.
“Great! First things first though, take off that green monstrosity. None of us is wearing a tux, its homecoming, not prom,” said Griffin. “Wait in the dressing room and I’ll bring you some things to try on.”
Griffin shopped around the store for a few minutes and returned to the changing area. Philip opened the door in his boxers and Griffin passed him the outfit.
Griffin paced outside the door, much to Derek's amusement. The sounds of rustling cloth could be heard, but Griffin was far too eager to see Philip in the new clothes.
“Come on Philip, hurry up,” said Griffin. “You're taking forever to try the clothes on!”
“It's been, like, three minutes!” Derek said, snorting.
“I can’t tie the tie,” said Philip.
“Just come out here and I’ll tie it for you,” said Griffin.
“Well?” asked Philip when he stepped shyly from the dressing room.
“Wow, Philip, dude, you clean up nice,” said Derek.
“Really?” Philip smiled.
“God damn, I have good taste.” Griffin snickered, then stepped forward and tied Philip’s necktie for him and rolled up his sleeves. “You look great, how do you feel?”
Philip looked in the mirror and smiled. He hardly recognized himself in the gray shirt, subdued green necktie, black trousers and matching vest that Griffin had picked for him.
“I like it,” said Philip.
“Are you sure? We can try a couple other things,” said Griffin.
“Nope, this is perfect,” said Philip. “Thanks.”
“Great, awesome,” Griffin exclaimed. “Now, change and go pay for that, then we’re getting that haircut and heading to the mall.”
Two hours later Philip felt like he’d tried on everything the mall had to offer. He didn’t complain though. Griffin was an expert shopper and Philip was happy to have the help. By the time they finished shopping he was loaded down with bags containing new shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, the works. At the last store, Griffin put together an outfit for him and had him wear it out.
“There, done. You look great!” said Griffin, as they left the store.
“Yeah, but why am I wearing this stuff now?” asked Philip. “We’re just going home.”
“It’s for your mom, to show her what her hard earned money bought,” said Griffin.
“Do you think she’ll like it?” asked Philip earnestly.
“Of course, you look like a new man.”
“Thanks again,” said Philip, smiling from ear to ear.
“One more stop,” said Derek.
“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot.” Griffin rolled his eyes.
“It’ll be fun,” said Derek as he led his friends to Macy’s.
“Ok, what about this pair?” asked Derek, holding up a pair of black Calvin Klein bikini briefs against his body.
“Awfully skimpy,” said Griffin.
Philip blushed and looked away.
“I’ll take them; skimpy is what I was going for.” Derek grinned.
“You know, Philip, we should get you some underwear while we’re here,” said Griffin.
“Why, I thought he didn’t have to worry about Jamie seeing them,” Derek teased and playfully punched Philip in the shoulder.
“They aren’t for Jamie, they’re for Philip,” said Griffin, putting his hand protectively on Philip’s shoulders.
“What’s wrong with my boxers?” asked Philip.
“Nothing but, well, you’ve been running cross-country for about three weeks now…”
“So have you noticed your balls kind of ache at the end of the day?”
“Well, yeah…because of my boxers?”
“Your fellas don’t like all that flopping around,” Griffin snickered. “You should switch to briefs or boxer-briefs; they’ll hold everything in place and you’ll feel better.”
“You really do know everything, don’t you?” Philip teased.
“I do, and now that you know you can just do everything I say. Save yourself the trouble of making decisions.”
“Whatever,” Philip laughed.
Philip picked out a few packages each of briefs and boxer-briefs. He and Derek paid for their purchases and then they began the long drive home. It was almost 10 o’clock when they dropped Philip at home.
“Philly, is that you?” asked Mrs. Ashmore when she heard him come in the door.
“Yeah, hi mom,” said Philip as he came into the living room laden down with bags.
“Oh, Philly,” Mrs. Ashmore gasped and put her hand to her mouth.
“You don’t like it?” asked Philip. He was wearing the outfit Griffin picked out, jeans, a green form fitting long sleeve tee that really made his eyes stand out, and a matching pair of green Converse sneakers.
“No, sweetie, I love it,” said Mrs. Ashmore as she ran her fingers through his freshly cut hair. “You look so handsome, Philly.”
“Thanks, I’ll have to tell Griffin, he helped me pick all this stuff out,” said Philip, holding up his myriad bags.
“He’s been a really good friend to you,” said Mrs. Ashmore.
“Yeah, he really has.” Philip smiled.
“Look dad, coach is putting Jamie in,” said Sean, pointing at his brother.
It was Friday night and the whole town of Sanitaria Springs seemed to have turned out for the homecoming game against the Port Crane Patriots. The JV game had been brutal and Sean worried about his brother going up against the varsity. It looked like Jamie wasn’t even going to get into the game but as the fourth quarter wound down to a tie, Kyle Bishop, Columbia’s star receiver, sprained his ankle and Jamie was taking his place.
“He looks so small compared to the other boys,” said Mrs. Kirkwood, nervously.
“The coaches wouldn’t have moved him up if he couldn’t take it. It’s the last play of the game, he’ll be alright,” said Judge Kirkwood as he put his arm around his wife. They were surrounded by their sons and their son’s friends.
“Ugh, I can’t look,” said Robin, putting his hands over his eyes.
“He’ll be fine,” said Lucien, patting his boyfriend's back.
“You can do it Jamie, wahoo,” shouted a voice a few rows back.
Philip looked over his shoulder and smiled at Andy, the Downs-syndrome boy who took so much joy from watching the team play. Philip was there to support the team but took special pride in rooting for Jamie that night. Sure, Jamie was straight, they were only going to the dance as friends, but for that one night Jamie would be his man and Philip wanted him to do well.
“Come on Jamie, wahoo,” Philip shouted and clapped his hands.
“Yeah, let’s go number 34,” Robin shouted.
It grew from there. What began with Andy spread to Philip and from Philip to Robin. From there it was carried on by Lucien and Austin, Derek and Asher, Sean, and Jamie’s parents. It continued to grow until the entire Columbia side of the stadium was shouting their support for the sophomore substitute.
The center snapped the ball to the quarterback and instantly the Patriot’s defense went to work. The quarterback was on the move looking for an opening when he spotted Jamie dancing uncovered down field. The Patriot’s didn’t think the little receiver was worth their attention until the quarterback threw him a Hail Mary pass. Jamie never took his eyes off the ball; it seemed to fall into his hands as if drawn by gravity. He charged down the field, dodged a late-converging cornerback and scored. The final whistle blew and the game ended with Jamie Kirkwood scoring the tie breaking touchdown.
The home team bleachers exploded and as the team hoisted Jamie up on their shoulders the crowd screamed and cheered.
“He’ll be insufferable now,” Robin shouted to be heard.
“He was awesome,” Sean exclaimed.
“Looks like your date is the town hero,” Griffin whispered in Philip’s ear.
The dance was Saturday night and everyone was excited. School dances were always something to look forward too, a way to break the monotony that came with tests, quizzes and homework. The fact that Columbia High had won the homecoming game only heightened the excitement. Jamie was a bonafide hero to his classmates but cocky as he was, he found the honor to be strangely humbling. Still, as he got dressed for the dance he wished Emily was there to share the moment with him. There was nothing he could do about that though, as she had to be with her family, and he was happy to be going to the dance with Philip. It was something new, something no one expected, and that was almost as exciting as winning the big game.
“Wow, Jamie, looking good,” said Griffin. Jamie came down the stairs just as Robin opened the door for Griffin and Devyn.
“Thanks,” said Jamie. He was dressed in a crisp white dress shirt, navy blue slacks and a bright blue bow tie. Bow tie’s seemed to be the in thing; almost everyone was wearing one. “I raided Kale’s closet.”
“If he finds out you borrowed one of his ties, you know he’ll kill you, right?” asked Robin.
“Robbie, Robbie, Robbie, Kale’s out of the house now, you realize there are some things he doesn’t need to know, right?” Jamie winked.
“I’m not saying I’m going to rat you out…” Robin began.
“Just that if you stain that thing you’ll have to see if dad can get you into the witness protection program before Kale and Chase come home for Thanksgiving,” Sean finished.
“Whatever.” Jamie laughed. “Where’s my date?”
“He ran back to the car, forgot his phone,” said Griffin, as there was a knock on the door. “And there he is.”
Robin opened the door and Philip stepped in wearing the outfit Griffin picked out for him, gray shirt, green tie, black trousers and vest. He’d worn some of his new jeans and a new shirt to the game, but no one but Griffin and Derek had ever seen him dressed up before. As he walked into the Kirkwood’s foyer, everyone was impressed with his makeover.
“Wow,” said Robin.
“You look really nice, Philip.” Lucien smiled.
“Derek was right, you clean up good,” said Austin.
“I think I may have picked the wrong guy,” Asher teased.
“Oh, shut up.” Sean slapped his boyfriend’s shoulder and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.
“Thanks.” Philip blushed.
“Don’t let these guys embarrass you,” said Jamie, as he cut through the crowd and gave Philip a friendly hug. “You do look nice though.”
“Thanks, I figured if I was going to the dance with the town hero I better dress the part,” Philip joked. He surprised himself with how comfortable he was making the remark.
“Good thinking,” said Jamie as he tugged on Philip’s tie. “This tie will go great with my cape.”
Philip smiled and Mrs. Kirkwood shouted, “Ok everyone, say cheese!”
The group turned toward her voice and was collectively blinded by the flash.
“Jesus, Mom,” Robin exclaimed as he rubbed his eyes. “I think that burned my retinas. Where did you get that thing?”
“Kale’s closet,” said Mrs. Kirkwood.
“See, I’m not the only one who shops there,” Jamie snorted.
“What’s he doing with that thing, taking x-rays?” asked Sean.
“Honey, it’s adjustable, you need to turn it down,” said Judge Kirkwood.
“Oops,” said Evelyn as she made the adjustment. “Alright, let’s try that again.”
Mrs. Kirkwood took a few more group shots, then got pictures of the individual couples. Jamie and Philip were the last couple to get their picture taken and as they started out the door to join the guys in Lu’s van, Evelyn held her son back.
“Yeah, mom?” asked Jamie.
“I’m very proud of you,” said Evelyn, as she kissed Jamie’s cheek.
“Awwww mom, it was just a football game,” Jamie blushed.
“I was talking about taking Philip to the dance. I always knew my sweet boy was hiding behind that mouth,” said Evelyn as she jokingly pinched his cheeks.
“It’s just a date, which you’re making me late for.” Jamie blushed.
“Have fun tonight,” said Evelyn as she sent him on his way with another kiss on the cheek.
Lu and Robin sat up front as it was Lu’s bus and he was driving. The rest of the couples crammed into the back and snuggled close. They were whispering to each other and there was some kissing. Philip watched Griffin and Devyn kiss for a moment before turning away. It was so sweet and that thought surprised him, that he was able to see it for the romantic gesture it was, with not a hint of baser desires. Maybe I really am making progress, he thought to himself.
Jamie saw the kissing too and took Philip’s hand, holding it in his own. Philip looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s all you get, we’re not making out,” Jamie said with a wink.
“Deal,” Philip said, laughing happily.
“Awww, isn’t that Bromantic?” Sean giggled.
“Shut up and kiss your boyfriend,” said Jamie, giving his brother a shove.
When they arrived at the dance, everyone pounced on Jamie and Philip— well, on Jamie anyway, and Philip was right there with him. The whole school seemed to want to congratulate him on the game and Jamie started to feel uneasy with all the attention. Philip started to wonder if coming to the dance with Jamie had been the right choice, with all the attention his date was getting, Philip felt like he was just another face in the crowd.
“Thanks,” said Jamie, to the latest stranger to come up and shake his hand. “But I should really dance with my date.”
Jamie had to look around the crowd to find him but when he eventually spotted Philip. He took his hand and led him out on the dance floor.
“Jamie, I appreciate you bringing me as your date but if you want to talk to everyone else, I’m ok with it,” said Philip.
“I’m not,” said Jamie. “I invited you to the dance and my feelings will be hurt if you don’t dance with me.”
“Really?” asked Philip with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes. You're my date, I asked you so it's up to me to be a good date, don't you think? Besides,” he said, shrugging, “I was getting tired of all that crap. It was just a football game.”
“You were great,” said Philip.
“Thanks.” Jamie smiled as a slow song began to play. He put his hands on Philip's hips and started swaying to the music.
It was a great night, and after all the initial hero worship, the crowd left Jamie alone and he and his date were able to enjoy the time with their friends. They danced and had a really good time just talking to each other. In fact, Philip kicked himself for being so shallow about Jamie in the past; here he was being a friend and a gentleman.
As the dance started to wind down, Jamie caught sight of his friend, Sterling 'Boomer' Bennett, sitting by himself looking miserable and alone. They’d been friends at summer football camp. Boomer had been playing for the local Catholic school but Jamie talked him into transferring to Columbia high. It really didn’t take much convincing; being openly gay at a Catholic school was about as much fun as jock itch. Boomer was an incredible football player; he was the only sophomore besides Jamie who'd been moved up to the varsity team.
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” asked Jamie.
“Sure, I could use a break,” said Philip.
Philip went to join Griffin and Devyn at their table while Jamie cut across the dance floor to Boomer.
“Hey,” said Boomer, when Jamie took the seat next to him.
“Ok, what’s up?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re sitting here like you’re at a funeral, not a dance. What’s up?”
“Oh, uh.” Boomer rubbed the back of his neck and said, “Out in the hall.”
“Sure,” said Jamie. He followed Boomer out into a deserted hall but when they got there, Boomer just paced back and forth.
Jamie frowned. “Dude, you’re worrying me here, are you ok? Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“Sort of. Does being in love count as trouble?”
“You’re in love?”
“Yeah, I mean, I think I am, ugh, it’s so frustrating.”
“Dude, that’s awesome,” Jamie exclaimed. “But why do you look like someone shit in your Cheerios?”
“Because, the guy I like is here with another guy.” Boomer replied, sighing.
“Shit, that sucks,” said Jamie. “Who?”
“Not you, I’m not interested in you.” Boomer chuckled at the absurdity of the thought. “I like Phil Ashmore, like, a lot.”
“He’s cute and he seems nice…” Boomer hesitated before plunging on, “I don't really know him but he's always seemed really sweet.”
“Yeah, Philip’s a really cool guy. Why didn’t you ask him out?”
Boomer shrugged. “Same old reason: I was scared. They don’t issue you a rainbow flag and a ton of self-confidence just for coming out. I’ve never asked a guy out before and before I got up the courage to do it, I heard he was coming to the dance with you,” Boomer explained.
“You should have mentioned it to me. You know Emily’s my girlfriend. If I’d known you were into Philip I could have hooked that up,” said Jamie.
“That’s exactly why I didn’t tell you!” Boomer said, laughing. “I don’t want help with my love life, Jamie. Some thing’s a guy has to do himself. Besides, who knows what you'd say to him!”
“Boomer, that’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said.” Jamie rolled his eyes.
“Nope, it’s dumb. I’m your friend and you like someone I know and could have at least introduced you two. You really think the smart move was to hold it all in and then let someone, even someone as bad ass as me, steal him out from under you?” asked Jamie with a glint in his eye and a smirk on his face.
“Well, when you put it that way…” Boomer sighed.
Jamie took a moment to examine Boomer. Jamie didn't identify as gay but his summer experience with Asher taught him something about appreciating a nice looking guy, and Boomer was certainly that. He was really tall and broad shouldered, and sports conditioning had toned his body and given him a nice build. His green eyes were nicely set against his dark chestnut hair. Yes, Boomer was good looking but he was also a genuinely nice guy. Since he'd had time to hang out with him after his transfer, Jamie was convinced that pursuing a friendship with Boomer had been the absolute best course of action. As Jamie took in his friend he knew what he had to do. “The dance is almost over. The next slow song, meet me on the dance floor.”
“Because, we’re going to set things right.”
“Nope, you tried things your way, now we’re going to do them my way, ok?” Jamie placed a hand on Boomer's shoulder. “Let me do this for you.”
“Alright, alright, fine.”
Jamie walked back into the gym and joined Philip at the table. He patted his date on the shoulder and, when a slow song started to play, he took Philip's hand and led him out onto the dance floor.
“Jamie, I don't think I've told you how much I appreciate you asking me to the dance,” Philip said. “It means a lot that you did this.”
“You're my friend,” Jamie replied simply. Philip flashed a lop sided smile and nodded. A few seconds later, Boomer showed up and tapped Jamie on the shoulder.
“Ah, right on time,” said Jamie.
“What’s going on?” asked Philip.
“Philip, this is my friend, Sterling Bennett, and he’d really like to dance with you.”
“Oh,” said Philip as he looked up at the big, tall sophomore. “Really? Um, ok.”
“Really?” Boomer smiled.
“Yeah, sure.” Philip smiled back.
“Right, I’ll just leave you guys to it,” said Jamie, and then he leaned in and whispered in Boomer’s ear, “Remember, he likes to be called Philip.”
Boomer nodded his understanding and Jamie walked back to the table grinning like the cat that caught the canary.
“Did Jamie put you up to this?” asked Philip, moving awkwardly.
“No, no way.” Boomer shook his head quickly. “I told him I’d wanted to ask you to the dance but he beat me to it.”
“Hmmm,” said Philip. “You’re on the football team with him, the one they call Boomer, right?”
“Yeah.” He blushed.
“Is it ok if I call you Sterling? It’s, I don’t know...I like the way it sounds.” Then it was Philips turn to blush .
“Ok,” Sterling smiled. Philip felt small and fragile in his arms and Sterling felt clumsy, like he’d break him if he wasn’t careful.
“Cool,” said Philip as he rested his head tentatively against the football player’s shoulder.
“What are you smiling at?” asked Griffin as Jamie took a seat.
“That,” said Jamie, nodding at the dance floor.
All Griffin saw was the back of a large football player—that is until the guy turned around. Boomer held Philip gently in his arms and as they swayed to the music, Griffin caught a glimpse of Philip snuggled up against him. His eyes were closed but the smile on his face said it all; he was happy.
“Wow, and I thought I was Philip’s fairy godfather,” said Griffin.