Chapter One: Living in the Shadows
Even at sixteen, I was always acutely intuitive, even borderline psychic about some things, and I remember knowing literally from the exact second I laid eyes on Chad Sterling that the world as I knew it was no longer. Everything all at once felt surreal, as though I were living out some movie and from that moment forward it was like my spirit or my soul or something hovered above me, directing each line of my dialogue, choosing my costars and watching the actions unfold as I predicted they would. Stirring within me was something more emotional than I?d ever felt up to that point when my eyes first met his, something more true maybe, and it whispered bitter-sweetly that he would change my life forever and that I would return the favor -- but I hadn?t the slightest idea how. Only psychic about some things, I said.
I did know that this was no high school crush. I?d fallen victim before to the butterflies flapping their incessant wings inside my belly, but this was distinctly different. It wasn?t a nervous energy and I wasn?t in the least bit frightened, which was highly unusual for me around straight boys my age. It was as though every time he opened his mouth to speak, a lightning bolt went through my body and heightened each of my senses so that I was some kind of wildly talented animal; I could smell things I?d never been able to, I could hear everything more clearly, the slightest touch of breeze would give me goose bumps and I could see past bullshit for miles.
?Princess Leia was the first girl I ever had a crush on,? he said with such raging teenage testosterone he may as well have concluded by grabbing his crotch.
?Really? Me too,? I laughed. He looked at me confused. ?Oh, who am I kidding? I was more into Luke.?
He threw his head back and laughed genuinely. ?Cool,? he said.
Cool? Was it really? Growing up in the small, conservative town of Columbus, Indiana, population 31,000, my bisexuality wasn?t ?cool? with anyone I knew. In fact, I think that brief remark was the first form of acceptance I?d ever received from a member of the male species. And in that split second of recognition, my heart began to break a little. For not only was Chad Sterling, star pitcher of my high school?s baseball team, 100% hetero, he was also on a date with my best friend, Lorelei.
?We just stopped in to get some ice cream,? she said with a mouthful of Rocky Road. ?Well, what I really wanted was to show off the guy you?ve been hearing so much about. See, I told you he wasn?t like the rest.?
?He?s alright, I guess,? I said, my eyes never leaving his, ?if you dig that whole drop dead gorgeous thing. You?re certainly better than the usual day old meat this cat drags in for me to sign off on. Lorelei, my dear, you might have actually grown some taste. Has he seen what you look like first thing in the morning yet??
?Stop it!? she laughed, spitting chocolate out her nose.
?That?s classy,? I quipped, ?and so attractive.?
Chad responded, his face flushing, ?No, I haven?t actually,?
?Well then I?m one up on you,? I said smugly, ?and everything is explained.?
I left them laughing, that was my way then, and stood to put my Freshie?s Yogurt apron back on. Break time was over and soon my shift would be with it. Where most sixteen year olds could go home after work to aimlessly daydream upon their beds, my life was far more adult. There would be no dreaming when I got home, only the harsh reality of dodging my stepfather?s inebriated fist and making sure my mother kept the blade away from her wrist, both of which were nightly battles that more often than not proved futile. Both my parents were alcoholics, both violent in totally different ways -- one masculine and one more feminine, I suppose.
It?s probably all too ?woe is me? to say that I often felt beaten at the game of life, but it is how I felt. I wasn?t a very attractive kid; I had, what seemed at the time, chronic acne and I was scrawny with what I was told was an annoyingly effeminate voice. The main thing though that rendered me helpless in the social ladder of high school was that I obviously liked guys more than girls, despite my own self proclaimed label of being bi. Whether it was my voice or the way I walked or the fact that I got hard in the locker room every time Jamie Harris tore off his football jersey and soaped up in the shower, it was always pretty painfully obvious. After dealing with an evening of abuse at home, the next day I could always count on finding more of the same at school and that hurt more. They were sober.
Lorelei had been my savior since elementary school. After ten years of being best friends, I was nearing the end of my Sophomore year and she her Senior. She wasn?t particularly well liked either, but for whatever reason people at least pretended to like her to her face, whereas mine they?d spit on in the halls. Lo, as I called her, was born to one of the wealthiest families in town with a silver spoon in her mouth that neither mommy or daddy seemed interested in removing for a moment. She was pretty enough, had a great sense for fashion (could certainly afford it) and she had the kind of home life I dreamed of, living in her pretty pink room with her own pretty pink phone line that she?d talk to all the hottest boys on from her pretty pink bed. And when I was with her, I felt pretty and pink too. So I never left her side.
Lo and I became more than best friends, we became one person. It may not have been healthy, but it was how we liked it. It surpassed spending all our time attached at the hip and became a sort of phenomenon where we could finish each other?s sentences or know exactly what the other was feeling from across town. We were like twins. She, as a Senior, helped my social status immensely, especially by getting the guys who wanted to date her to stop beating the shit out of me. I helped her by being a veritable personal assistant, doing every odd job from carrying her books and doing her homework to cleaning her room when she didn?t feel like it. More importantly though, we looked out for each other. She?d push the crowd off of me and take me to the nurse?s office after a gay bashing. I?d come hold her and let her cry in my arms when her latest obsession decided he no longer wanted to date her. Both happened often and a lot of the time when I?d hold her, whatever she was crying over, I would want to kiss away the tears instead of handing her a tissue and making some joke. She was the only person who didn?t cringe to be around me. She didn?t judge me. She loved me for who I was. I guess it?s no wonder why I romanticized her. I?d tried for years to get her to go on a date with me, but she always said she felt like she?d be dating her brother, probably the most polite way of declining that she could conjure.
So that?s the way it was. Lo and I were best friends for life. Strictly platonic. Nothing more. Most of the time I was able to take my heart and put it on a shelf around her, as I?d become quite adept at compartmentalizing my feelings, something that served me well in the drama club. But now and then it would creep up on me and the older we became, the more I yearned for a first kiss.
I was happy for Lo when she brought Chad to see me that day, but I was also a little jealous. She dated a new guy each week and I hadn?t ever. Sure, there were other closeted gay boys my age at school, but they were just as awkward as I and too afraid of what would happen if they said their secret aloud. Still, we could all spot each other. Being gay in such a town as Columbus, Indiana was like some unspoken curse and when one of us would see another in the hallways, we?d turn away and not make eye contact for fear that someone else would see us locking eyes and then they?d know for sure, then they?d have no doubt, they?d see the sinful lust right before their very eyes! It?s funny how kids think.
If Chad were being played in a movie, he?d be played by a young Christian Slater. Put him in a baseball uniform and that was Chad all over. He had shoulder-length blonde hair and squinty blue eyes with a slim athletic body and a smile for days. He was younger than Lo, my age and a Sophomore. But the most amazing thing about him was his kindness. He was one of the few guys in school who probably would?ve said, ?Hey, knock it off, fellas,? if he ever saw them picking on me. He was a good Christian boy who was new to our high school having just moved from Indianapolis where he?d previously attended a religious academy. He wore a gold chain around his neck with a cross at the end of it and I don?t think I ever saw him without it. He said it was his good luck charm and that with it around his neck, he knew Jesus would always be with him.
?Isn?t he just the kind of boy my parents would love?? swooned Lo as the two walked hand in hand out the door.
Yes. They were the perfect pair. The pretty pink princess, heir to a fortune, and the knight high up on the white horse wielding his morals and manners.
And I, a pawn who was in love with them both.