Tyler's Dance

Chapter 6

By Bryan Centers

The day seemed to drag by for everyone, even worse than the last day of school would. That night, at about 7 pm, the only undefeated football team in the area would face the only other undefeated football team in the opposing area. The winner would go on to the state playoffs, an event that had not occurred for Pete's school in a long time. Expectations were high, and the tension and nervousness among the football players and students was thick enough to be cut with a knife. In the halls in between classes, speculation concerning the outcome of the game even replaced the usual school gossip, a momentous feat indeed. The only subject that even came close, as noon turned into afternoon, was who was going to be with whom at the victory dance after the game.

Pete sat staring out the window of sixth period Algebra class. It wasn't that math was his least favorite subject, which it was, that contributed to his lack of attention that afternoon. Nor was it the group of freshman guys and girls that he could see decorating the inside of the gym for the dance that night. No, it was something else.

He was afraid.

Kurt's remarks at lunch still rang through his mind. "Disgusting, isn't it?" He could still see the smirk on Kurt's face as he said it. And the way he talked about how the new kid had probably deserved it was like he would have liked to have been the one doing the beating himself. It didn't matter to Kurt what had started it or who was at fault; just the fact that one of them was supposed to be gay was enough to warrant a beating.

Supposed to be gay? Rumored to be gay, supposed to be gay, it all meant the same thing to him. In his mind he was gay, end of story.

And it wasn't just Kurt who felt that way. Pete turned his gaze from the window to the front desk in the row closest to the wall. There sat the Myers kid, the new kid, with several black puffy areas on his face. No one sat behind, in front of, or across from him.

The look on his face told of a hurt that was deep inside, but one that carried more pain than the marks on his face.


Pete knew the feeling well.

And for what? Because he lost a fight? Because something had happened at a previous school, or better yet that something was rumored to have happened at a previous school?

Because he was gay?

Pete could still barely even use the word in his mind without getting a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. For some reason the word didn't seem to match what he felt inside. Gay. Didn't that mean happy, carefree, joyful? None of those words seemed to go along with the feelings that he associated with the word. Hurt, loneliness, rejection; those seemed like better synonyms to him.

Pete remembered that time in the third grade, when he first realized that he was different. After recess one day, the teacher had all of the students change clothes for play practice that afternoon. Pete was to be a four-leaf clover in the schools celebration of St. Patrick's Day. As he watched his best friend, Kevin, change into his leprechaun outfit, a feeling that Pete had never experienced before came gushing from somewhere in his abdomen.

"What are you staring at?" he could remember Kevin asking.

Then, in the fifth grade, that time that he was at one of his friend's house. It was a party, and all of the guys had gathered along the wall, trying to figure out who had the courage to ask Lori, the most popular girl in school, to dance. "Go ahead Pete", he could remember one of the boys taunting, "Go over there and ask her. Or are you a fag or something?" The other boys all giggled in unison.

Fag? Pete had no idea what it meant.

Or, in the seventh grade, when Pete learned that after gym all boys have to shower. There were times when he didn't think he would be able to make it, that he was sure to be caught staring, in spite of his best efforts not to.

Sometimes he would go home and cry, and other times he would get so angry and frustrated that it seemed he would lose his mind. After a while anger would turn to numbness, and numbness would lead to isolation. The worst part was that no one really noticed. His little brother had just started to school, and he was the darling of the family anyway. His dad always seemed to be more concerned about his patients than his family, often bringing his work home with him in the form of long hours spent secluded in his office. His mother had her community activities and projects, all in an effort to run from her own sense of frustration with a husband who was never around.

And his friends? It didn't take long for Pete to realize that the worst thing he could do was to talk about what he was feeling with his friends. He had heard enough comments at the lunchroom table about "fags", "queers", and other assorted epithets to convince him that whatever it was to be one, he certainly didn't want to be known as one.

So why did he feel that way anyway? "Why me?" he would sometimes ask out loud as he looked up at the nighttime sky, hoping that Someone would hear. "I didn't ask to feel this way you know!"

And, as time went on, he learned to hide how he felt, so much so that even he had forgotten about it for the most part. Except for those times when he would be caught by surprise at the mall or after a movie with friends, when those feelings would suddenly come rushing back to his mind at the sight of someone in the distance. But then, after a while, with enough denial, he was even able to convince himself that the feelings weren't even there.

And that's how it went for the last two years, until he moved.

Until he met Tyler.

Pete looked over at Tyler's empty desk beside him. The coach had asked the teachers to excuse the players during the last two periods of school, so that he could spend more time going over plays with them for the all important game that night. He had even declared his players "off limits" after school to both friends and girlfriends, so that there would be no distractions to get in the way of their concentration. So, it would be after the game when he next saw Tyler. On most any occasion when Pete started to feel himself getting down or worried, he could look over at Tyler, who would always have some kind of goofy face to look back at him with, and somehow it made everything ok.

But this time Tyler's desk was empty, and for the first time in a long while he felt alone.

And isolated.

He glanced back up at the Myers kid. He knew exactly how he felt.

"See you later too, Pete." What exactly did Kurt mean by that? A big lump of fear positioned itself in Pete's stomach, and in the back of his throat he could taste the familiar aftermath of being afraid.

"Maybe he didn't mean anything," Pete tried to reassure himself. "It's probably just me."

Outside the room the dance committee was finishing the final details of the gym decoration. Across the yard, Pete could see the streamers draping from the ceiling.

He found himself hoping that the team would lose tonight, so that he would have a good excuse not to have to go to the dance. He could see it now; there he'd be, trying to pretend that everything was fine as he watched Tyler dance with some girl. He'd act like he didn't know how to dance, which he didn't, so that no one would wonder why he wasn't dancing with someone. He'd join all of the others "wallflowers", those who either couldn't get a date, or were not popular enough to be asked to dance, or belonged to the wrong "group" in the first place.

But the worst part would be when he got home. "Did you have a good time honey?" his mother would ask. "A great time," he would say, as he smiled from ear to ear.

It was what she wanted to hear.

Pete looked at the clock on the front wall. It was five minutes to the bell, then English class, then the walk home alone, for the first time in a long while, followed by an endless round of questions from Ryan concerning who he was going to the dance with. If he were lucky, Ryan would be at one of his friend's houses.

"English class?" Pete suddenly remembered that he had planned on showing Mrs. Stanton some of his writing that afternoon. He reached down under his desk where he kept his books, and felt for the familiar spiral binding of his journal. Not finding it, he leaned over and looked under his chair.

There was no blue notebook there!

Frantically, Pete flipped through all of his books, almost falling out of his chair into the floor. "Oh shit!" he said out loud, unaware of his volume.

Students to his right and in front of him turned around to see what was happening. Fortunately, the teacher was so involved in his lecture that he didn't hear. Pete tried to smile as best he could, like nothing was wrong. Eventually everyone turned back around.


Immediately after the bell rang for class change, every student jumped from their chairs, raced toward the door and out into the hall.

Everyone except for Pete.

He continued looking under his desk, in the floor, anywhere, hoping against hope that he would find his notebook.

"If anyone finds that notebook…" A sickening feeling filled his mind and stomach, worse than the one he had earlier. In fact, he almost deposited his lunch in the math teachers floor.

"Anything wrong Pete?" the teacher called from behind his desk.

Pete picked up his books. Trying to hide the fear he felt inside, he did his best to alter the look of terror that was rapidly taking over inside him. "No, nothing at all," he said.

Once he had gotten outside into hall, Pete tried to reason to himself. "Ok," he thought, "where did I have it last?" He maneuvered his way through the crowd in the hall towards his locker. Opening it as quickly as he could, he rummaged through its contents, looking for a blue cover. There was every textbook, a couple of spare notebooks, and a few unopened bags of chips, but no blue notebook.

Pete almost fainted. "If someone finds that notebook…" he thought again to himself.

As the halls began to clear, it became apparent to Pete that his journal was missing. But where? As he gathered his books for his next class, he mentally backtracked his day. Where did he have it last?

The lunchroom, that was it. He was writing in it just before that fight broke out.

The fight! Pete stopped in his step. Someone must have gotten it while he was watching the fight!

The last class of the day seemed to drag on forever to Pete. Normally he was very attentive in Mrs. Stanton's English class, but today he didn't hear a word. He looked around at the faces of the other students, looking for an expression that would betray the one that had taken it. But he saw nothing, only expressions of anticipation for the game, and how much they were glad it was Friday.

All kinds of "ifs" went through Pete's mind. "IF I hadn't of brought it today, IF I had stayed sitting down at lunch like I wanted to, IF I had not written down all of that stuff…"

"I really need to talk to Tyler," he thought to himself. But if would be after the game before he would see Tyler again.

Finally the bell rang, and everyone jumped to their feet, almost running towards the door. Everyone, that is, except Pete. It was all he could do to get up from his chair. He felt physically sick inside, and it showed on his face. As he walked by Mrs. Stanton's desk, she looked up to see him passing, zombie-like, in a daze towards the door.

"Pete, you all right?" she asked.

Pete didn't answer. In fact, he didn't even hear her.

During the walk home, it was all Pete could do to remain calm. He had lost his journal, his record of his most private thoughts. Now someone else had it, and when they read it…

He replayed the lunchroom scene in his mind a hundred times. Who was closest? Who was there? "There were a hundred people there!" Pete thought to himself. "Anyone of them could have taken it!"

One thing was for sure; if the one who took it opened it up and started reading it, which he was sure that they would, it wouldn't be long before he would know exactly who had it.

Pete rounded the corner towards his driveway. Instead of the usual empty garage there were two vehicles. And there was Ryan in the front yard, playing with two of his friends, one of whom Pete remembered from the other day.

"The one day that I want everyone to be gone…" Pete said to himself as he approached the driveway.

Ryan was the first to notice Pete coming up the drive, followed by his two friends. He grabbed the football he was playing with and threw it towards him. "Catch!" he yelled, as the football headed towards Pete.

Pete looked up just in time to see the football coming straight towards his face. Instinctively, he raised his hands to block it, but it was too late. The football glanced off of his face.

Ryan arrived about that time. "Man, you're a lousy catcher!" he teased, grinning mischievously.

Pete could feel himself starting to boil inside, as the left side of his face burned from the football glazing across it. It had been one of the worst afternoons Pete could remember, and this was not something he needed. He looked down at Ryan, who was a full foot shorter than he was, and still grinning from ear to ear. He could feel himself starting to clench his fist…

"Come on Ryan, throw it over here!" one of his friends called from the other side of the yard.

Ryan reached down and picked up the football. His grin was replaced with a look of confusion as he studied Pete's face. He'd never seen that look before on his brother. "Sorry," he said half heartedly, as he got ready to throw the ball to his friends.

Pete just stood still for a minute. He'd never come that close to hitting his little brother before.

As he walked in the front door Pete could hear his mother on the phone. The TV was on, and from the back of the house he could hear water running from the shower. All Pete wanted to do was make it back to his room without being seen by anyone.

He walked through the living room towards the hall, trying not to be noticed by his mother, who was in the kitchen on the phone. He rounded the wall and headed down the hall way.

"Pete," he heard his mother say. "Pete, come here a minute."

He pretended not to hear. His mother took the phone away from her face. This time louder she said, "Pete."

He tried to gather himself as best he could. He made the corners of his mouth turn up as he turned around. "Yeah?" he said, in his best "I'm-in-a-hurry-what-do-you-want?" voice. He hoped he could pull it off. He didn't want any questions. Not now.

"Are you going to the dance tonight after the game?" she asked, holding the phone in her hand just below her face.

"I don't know," Pete said. "Why?"

His mother put the phone back to her mouth and said a few words, and then she pulled it down again. "Mrs. Adler wants to know, so that she'll know how many people are going to be there."

"Mrs. Adler?" Pete thought to himself "Wasn't that Kurt's mom?"

"Probably, I guess so," Pete said, as he turned around and headed for his room.

His mother placed the phone back to her mouth, said a few words, and then hung up the receiver.

Pete shut the door behind him as he entered his room. He went over and lay down on his bed, trying not to throw up. The bed seemed to spin as he recounted the afternoon's events in his mind. Someone had his journal, and it was his own fault.

"If I'm lucky they'll just throw it away," he thought to himself. It wasn't long before he was asleep.

When he woke up the house was quiet. At first he hoped that the whole thing had been a dream, that somehow it didn't actually happen. But soon reality crashed in.

He got up and walked over to his bedroom door. Opening it, he walked up the hallway towards the living room. No one was there.

Everything was quiet.

Pete saw a note sitting on the kitchen table. He walked over and picked it up. "Gone to the game," he read. "Ryan and his friends are with us. We'll see you there." It was signed "Mom and Dad."

Pete stood looking at the note. "Mom and Dad?" he said out loud. His dad had yet to go to a football game all season.

Except for tonight.

"Could it get any worse?" Pete thought to himself, as he headed down the hall to take a shower, and to get ready to go to the game.

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