The early light coming through the fabric of my tent bathes everything in a soothing green glow as I open my eyes. It looks like it's only a little after sunrise, and I realize it was probably the birds that woke me up, as they chirp noisily in the woods around me. I’m comfortable and heavy, lying on my side, and I try my hardest to stay relaxed and fall back asleep.
After a few minutes in peace, I stir, and am suddenly struck with two realizations. For one, my head is fucking killing me. For two, someone is sleeping with me.
I slog through the muck inside my aching head and try to remember what happened last night. I only vaguely remember actually going to bed, and a quick flick of my tongue through my mouth makes me think I didn't brush my teeth. Nothing else immediately preceding bedtime is coming into focus.
Instead of working backward, I try to move forward from the last thing I remember and walk through the rest of the night. I remember playing Spin the Bottle, but that was early. After that I talked to a few friends from swimming, played a game or two of beer pong, then sat by the fire. Robert was telling some crazy story, but then...
It all comes back to me in a surge. Carter was getting harassed by Trish and asked to sleep in my tent. We walked back into the woods and drank. A lot. Which would explain both my headache, and what happened next.
The details are fuzzy, but I took off his pants. He fell on top on me with his pants down and we made out. His pants. They were down. We made out. Then we stopped because someone kind of saw us. Did I mention I took off his pants and we made out?
It takes my poor, addled brain about ten seconds to complete the next logical step in the progression: The warm body spooned close up against me is Carter's.
Admittedly it’s not a full spoon, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome to be here right now. His arm isn't wrapped around me, but his fingertips are resting lightly on my hip. I'm wearing tight, red boxer briefs, and, as I personally removed his pants, I know Carter is wearing a simple but sexy pair of dark colored briefs. There are only a scant few millimeters of fabric separating us down there, and I can feel a certain part of myself stirring at the thought.
I breath a deep sigh and wish it could be like this forever. I had an amazing night last night and the morning has been a perfect one so far. At least in terms of waking up nestled into Carter's light embrace. Not so much the pounding headache.
I close my eyes and spend the next couple of minutes trying to commit every bit of what's happened to me in the last twelve hours to memory. From the first taste of Carter's lips, to the exquisite moment of pulse-pounding indecision before I peeled off his jeans, and finally this last moment of us lying together.
It's overwhelming, but I savor it all, as much as I can.
Sadly, wanting something doesn't make it true. The happy illusion will shatter as soon as Carter wakes up. Oh sure, everything that happened really did happen. But the indiscretions of the night are best ignored and forgotten in the sober truth of daylight. Carter is not gay, he is not in love with me, and we will probably never speak to each other again – certainly not about what happened last night.
After a few precious, final minutes together, I feel Carter stir behind me. Just like I thought, the terrible moment comes, as he fully regains consciousness and realizes the situation he's in. I feel him tense up behind me and then back away so our bodies are no longer touching.
In my defense, he was the big spoon, so I can't be blamed for the current situation. To further defend myself from what is sure to come in the very near future, I go one step further into innocence and pretend to be asleep.
“Jackson, wake up!”
I pretend to wipe the sleep from my eyes and turn over slowly to face him. “What’s going on?” I ask, extra groggily.
“Jackson, what the fuck happened last night?” I was expecting him to react, but this might be even worse than I thought.
I try to play the incredulous card, still hoping against hope we might be able to avoid this conversation altogether.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
He sits up and grabs my shoulders, pushing me into the ground. “Jackson, don't fuck with me! What happened when we got back here last night?”
Between the dehydration headache and more than a little bit of panic, my brain is too clogged to think of anything to say that might get me out of the situation. I open my eyes wide and shake my head, trying to shrug off his questions.
He doesn't like that answer. Carter gets on top of me, straddling my waist. At any other moment, Carter straddling me in this state of undress would be great, but I don't think he's about to put some moves on me. When I look at his face, and see the rage blazing in his eyes, it occurs to me that he might actually punch me in the face.
“What the fuck did you do to me last night?!” he yells.
But it isn't just anger I see. I see fear, and confusion as well. Somewhere beneath his hackles, there's a little boy in there who doesn't know how he should be feeling about letting himself be seduced. And if we really go by the history books on this one, it wasn't all me last night on the offensive.
Even so, if anyone knows about internal conflict and struggle with one's personal desires, it's me – I didn't always know I was gay, and it was not always the easiest thing to swallow. And I don't even think Carter’s gay. I can hope against hope, but the easiest way out of this situation is obvious.
“Nothing,” I say, my lie effectively rewriting a night I wouldn't trade for the world. I hate that I'm saying it, but I was ready for this to happen. I'm ready to have a real conversation about this, but I know Carter isn’t. I'll help spare him.
“We walked back here, you got drunk and I had to drag you into the tent. I don't even know what you're so freaked out about.”
He glares down at me, willing himself to believe what I said. “You're sure nothing happened?” he asks.
I look him dead in the eyes and fib as hard as I can. “Nothing.”
His eyes narrow as the fear and confusion in them subside. He swallows up my lie and digests it. He looks down at me one more time, and now only the anger remains. “Good.” He leans down about halfway to my face and whispers, “Don't ever talk about this.”
I nod slowly as he gets off of me and gathers his things. I can feel tears welling in the corners of my eyes, but I will myself not to cry them. At least not until Carter leaves the tent. I hear the fly open, he clambers out, and I'm left by myself.
I stay in the tent a long time after he goes. The tears come and go, and then come again. They don't help, but they need to get out. My headache is dulled only by the new found ache in my stomach and my heart. It hurts, but if I’m being honest with myself, it was everything I expected.
The next few weeks go by outside the constraints of normal time. Sometimes the days seem to drag on forever, but honestly I can't remember much about them, so in memory they almost seem like a blur. I can tell you for sure that I'm not very happy.
Prior to this, I never would have thought of my feelings for Carter as an “obsession,” but I never had to look at them under the lens of rejection. In the past, I always admired from a safe distance, and even though I only got little bits and pieces of Carter at a time, I never had to do without. They were always strong feeling, to be sure, but they were safe and comfortable.
My hope that everything would work out was ludicrous, but I never actually had to worry about it. I never had to face failure because there wasn't even a goal. I just slowly, carefully got as close to Carter as I could. It wasn't very close, but I made progress, a little bit at a time.
Then the party happened.
It's funny that a little bit of success is what made it so bad. Things at the party went farther than I ever imagined them going, and I should be happy they went there, but sitting on the other side of things is devastating. I guess maybe Carter never had to face his feelings before, and once he did they scared him. Or maybe I just caught him on one very strange night.
Either way, everything is completely fucked.
Since then, I've been avoiding Carter like the plague. Matt's party was kind of the big “end of the summer” thing for everyone, so thankfully I don't have any social obligations to fulfill where we might have to interact. I keep things cordial at swim practice and try not to get into any situations where we might be one-on-one. He doesn't seem to want to talk to me, and I'm more than happy to put up a wall between us.
It's a blessing and a curse that no one knows about it. Obviously he can't tell anyone else what happened, so he can't convey to all his friends that I'm on the shit list. He’d have to tell them why, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to go that route. But at the same time, without witnesses, rumors, or retellings, the night starts to seem less and less real, even to me.
And so the summer ends: Poorly.
I spend the last few chunks of my free time bumming at Ko's house while he does his thing. I try to fill my mind with anything and everything but Carter. We play video games, watch movies, and shoot the shit. It helps a lot, but I can't quite say that I'm happy.
As a sixteen year old boy it seems crazy to say it, but I'm almost excited for school to start up again, which it finally does in the last week of August. At least judging by my class schedule and what I've heard about all my teachers, I figure it's going to be a pretty good year. Or at the very least a welcome distraction.
The first day of school starts like all of mine have for the last twelve years. My mom packs me an “extra special” lunch, hangs a backpack on me like it's a fashion accessory, and takes a picture. I hated it when I was little, but now the whole thing is so corny and ridiculous that this year I can't help but smile for real in the picture.
I get to school and head to my homeroom for the usual locker assignments, passing out of schedules, and catching up with friends I haven't seen for the last few months. Honestly, by the time the bell rings and we head to first period, I'm already feeling a lot better about the indiscretions of the summer. No one is looking at me funny or asking pointed questions, which means that Carter hasn't told anyone about our night in the woods. I didn't think he would, but somewhere in the back of my mind there was fear that the whole school might somehow know and think it's all my fault...
First period Pre-calculus looks like it will be a decent class. I've always been good at math, which is probably why I like the subject.
My second period study hall, however, is more of a mixed bag.
On the positive side, my Aunt Kathy is in charge of the study hall, which our school puts in the lunchroom when it's not being used. My mom's older sister, Kathy, teaches French, so while I've never had a class with her, I've spent many free periods hanging out in her room or helping her with classes. It'll be great to get to see her every day.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that I will also be sharing second period study hall with Carter. Obviously, neither of us had any exact control over our schedules, but I still want to blame him for inevitably bothering me with his presence for the next nine months of school. I unfortunately saw that he’ll be in my chemistry class in the afternoon, too. Hopefully I can grab a seat on the other side of the room to increase the chances that we never speak to each other again.
Look at him over there across the cafeteria. Joking around with his friends, eating a snack, stretching his muscular arms. How can the most mundane motions affect such a sexual reaction in me? No matter where he goes or what he does I feel like there’s a huge spotlight was shining on him.
Suffice to say, I devote the first few minutes of the period to sulking while Aunt Kathy calls roll.
I'm actually last on the list, all the way down at “Willard, Jackson,” and once we're situated and the rules are explained, I catch up with my aunt a little bit. She just got back from two weeks in Europe, so she has plenty to tell me about the latest happenings in Paris and Rome. She's in the middle of a long, hunger-inducing story about how good the gelato is when she looks up past me and stops.
“Mr. Nakamura, nice of you to join us,” she says as disapprovingly as possible.
She starts laughing as I turn around and slap hands with Ko. My aunt knows Ko pretty well, and she always tries to act extra strict with him, but it’s impossible. He’s just that sort of guy. It’s hard to keep a straight face when he’s around.
“Do I even want to know why you're twenty minutes late to my study hall?”
Ko looks at her gravely.
“No,” he says, before taking a seat next to me at the front table.
We all sit in silence for a second before Ko laughs and pulls out a pass from the guidance department.
“What sort of guidance did you need?” I ask him while Aunt Kathy makes some notes in her attendance book.
“Oh, just moving a few things around here and there on my schedule,” Ko answers. “Take a look.”
He slides his freshly crumpled class schedule over and I read through it. Pretty much all his classes are ones for seniors, and he somehow managed to finagle two different art classes into the afternoon. In the middle of the page I see one class, , that looks familiar.
“Dude, we have World History together!” I say, loudly enough for my aunt to tut at us from across the table.
“I got them to move a thing or two around so we could have a class together. Then my study hall got switched too, so now I'm here.” He smiles broadly. “I know who to talk to around here.”
I roll my eyes but can’t keep the grin off my face. However he managed to pull it off, I’m just relieved that I'll have someone with me to distract from you know who sitting across the cafeteria
We chat the rest of the period, and then I head off to Drama, which I know I’ll have with Katy. Along with my two classes with Ko, that makes almost half the day I'll be spending with one of my best friends. What did I say? This year is going to be alright.
Excited by all my new classes and seeing all my old friends, I buckle down and enjoy the comforting rhythm of classes, soccer practice, and studying. Ninety nine percent of the first week of school goes by without a hitch. I don't see Carter except twice a day, and neither of our shared classes necessitate any communication between us whatsoever.
My schedule is good, classes are good, and I’m genuinely happy to be back. Everything seems like it’s looking up for my junior year.
And then, the unthinkable happens.
Chemistry. Joe Nizen's class. Ninth period. Friday. Our first lab.
Rather than letting us select our lab partners, Nizen decides to assign them randomly.
As soon as he announces his plan I know exactly what’s going to happen. I feel my heart beating harder, and it’s suddenly hard to breathe.
He calls out group after group, and as the number of eligible partners dwindles, it gets clearer and clearer: Fate is about to be a serious bitch.
“Mulkins, Willard. Station 9.”Previous Chapter