I set my tray down on a table in the caf. The Peter Jackson Cafeteria was where most students took their meals, but it was a four-day weekend, on account of some teacher workshops, and so the Caf was basically empty. Cobalt was a suitcase campus for the locals. Whenever they could go home, they did. But it was a long drive to Milton, Louisiana, and so I only went home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kris and Morgan were gone for the weekend, at Kris' folk's house, and Frank was spending the weekend in the dorm room of one of his boy toys from the state university.
I was just about to take a bite of my edible-looking macaroni and cheese when someone sat down across from me. I looked up, surprised to see Rafe. There wasn't anyone sitting within four or five tables, but the Caf was still pretty full. Rafe hadn't shunned me in public, but sitting down at a meal with me was a something that hadn't happened since the end of my freshman year. Like I said, the more out I was, the less I saw of Rafe. He didn't want to be gay by association.
I surveyed my old friend for a second. Rafe had classic good looks, with his abundance of blonde hair, green eyes, and perfect smile. He dressed neatly, usually in button-down shirts and cardigans. I knew a lot of girls who had crushes on Rafe, with his clean looks and southern chivalry, but he never dated any of them, not even for show. He knew he was gay, but he pretended to be too busy with schoolwork and clubs for a romantic life. It was probably true to a certain level. Since we'd gotten to college, he'd never dropped below a 4.0.
"How do, Julia?" he asked, smiling broadly at me. I put my surprise aside and nodded at him.
"I'm good, Rafe," I replied. He gave me a charming grin and started into his chicken salad sandwich. "It's good to see you," I told him. I meant it too. I'd grown sort of cold to Rafe, because it was better than being hurt when he didn't associate me. But we'd been really close our freshman year, and I hated to think of losing him.
His eyes twinkled at me. "I've missed you, Julia," he replied. "I've been a real jerk over the last year, and I'm sorry. I never should have let politics get in the way of our friendship."
I blinked at him in surprise. I hadn't expected an apology from him. "It's okay," I excused him flippantly. "Really, Rafe, don't worry about it. I kind of understood."
"I just want you to know, I sure am sorry."
"Thanks, Rafael." I smiled and took a large bite of macaroni. I gave him a jokingly wary look. "You don't need a favor or something, do you?"
"No," he said. "Though my parents are coming into town next week, and you know you're welcome to dinner with us."
"Will I be playing girlfriend?" I asked him seriously.
He looked away bashfully and lowered his voice. "No. I… I told them. Well, I told my mother."
"Rafe!" I said in surprise. I lowered my voice. "You told her you were gay?"
"Yes, ma'am." He smiled slightly. "It took me twenty-one years, but I did it." His smile grew, but his voice was still low. "She just kind of hugged me and said she already knew, and then she told me not to tell my father. I hadn't planned to anyway."
I nodded. I thought it was a good move. Rafe's father was a nice man, and he didn't hate gay people, but he didn't think they should be allowed to get married, or adopt, and he sure didn't like the idea of a gay teacher. Knowing his son was gay might catalyst him into bigotry, and he'd probably disown Rafe. I was ecstatic that Rafe had told his mother though. His mother was the sweetest woman I'd ever met.
I wondered for a second what Frank or Kris or Roz would say if they knew he was gay and wouldn't tell his father. Kris and Frank… well, they both thought closets were for clothes, and Frank at least would think it was his duty to come out. I think in a sick way, Frank liked the idea of martyrdom. I wondered what he would do if we were truly accepted and there wasn't a great fight anymore.
"But uh, Julia…" He looked away and then back at me. "I wanted to talk to you about something."
"Sure, Rafe, what's on your mind?" I asked him, taking another large bite. He sighed, and I knew he didn't want to talk about it, but he felt like he had to.
"I… I know you're seeing that Roz girl." He frowned. "I just… she ain't no good for no one. I don't know if there was ever a more spiteful and manipulative girl on campus."
"Rafe…" I said warily. "She's not that bad. You two just… conflict."
"Yeah, I suppose so," he murmured. "Can't argue with that anyway… we've never gotten along." He shook his head. "She's a handful anyway."
"I like her a lot, Rafe… and if she's not who I think she is than…" I trailed off and shrugged and then spoke again. "Then I guess I'll figure that out on my own. I think I'm okay with that. The finding out on my own."
"I just don't want her to hurt you," he said softly. "She ain't the girl for you, Julia."
"Probably not, but… I don't think there is a girl for me." I smiled sadly. "I think things just happen, and while I think ther'es a reason for everything, I think the reason is never quite what we think it is."
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Rafe drawled, nodding. "I don't expect that I understand Him."
"I don't think I want to understand God," I admitted. "Sometimes I think if I understood God, it'd turn out there's nothing up in the sky but air… Or the second I knew for sure God existed- when it became fact and not faith, I think God would look at me and say, I don't believe in you." I shrugged. "But that's just my lost sheep theological ranting."
"What do you think God thinks about it anyway?" Rafe asked suddenly. His voice lowered. "You know… homosexuality. What do you think Jesus will say to us when we get to Heaven?"
I stopped eating and stared at the noodles on my plate. I had to admit I didn't have an answer. It was a question I think everyone but me had asked… I'd never let myself think on it. "I don't know, Rafe."
And I didn't know. Kris was the one with all the answers, not me. I'd never had any of the answers.
"I don't know either, Julia," he murmured, more to himself than me. "That scares me."
"I'm not afraid," I said boldly. "I stopped being afraid a long time ago. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. But I don't think I'm afraid of things anymore. I just kind of accept them."
"What do you mean, not afraid?"
"I'm not scared of as much as I used to be." I took a bite of the pasta. "I'm not scared of Roz being who you say she is. I'm not afraid of what Jesus is going to say about the way I love. I'm not afraid of this campus. I'm not afraid of things."
"Is there anything you're afraid of?" he challenged.
"Like I said… I'm afraid one day, I'm going to say I don't believe in Him, and then He'll say, I don't believe in you." I cleared my plate and stood up. "But I'm through being scared of the little shit."
I think that was when I realized I wasn't scared anymore—I was petrified. And if I wasn't, I should have been.