Fallen-Leaf Blues

Walking back from the library, I see the boys practicing soccer under the floodlights. It's the senior soccer team. I try not to stare or anything, because they'll just hassle me tomorrow if they catch me. But the way they all move underneath those bright unnatural lights… it's like water in a creek-bed, or a school of fish all turning at once. Sure, I can gloss up teen male hormones however I want, but it's pretty special. They all seem to cut their hair the same way, really short. Running, kicking, sweating against the cool night. I really want to avoid looking. I feel shitty when I look at them, because I think, what could I do? Even if one of them was gay, would I just ask him out? It brings up feelings I'm not fond of thinking about.

I've got these fallen leaf blues, this harvest moon mood. I'm always like this in October. The smell of things dying in the air. I don't mind it at all, really, I actually like to feel sad. Well, certain kinds of sad.

I light up a cigarette. Mom doesn't know I smoke, so I only do it out of the house. When I finish I stamp it out under my heel. Once I get inside the door I feel how numb my fingers are. I guess I should buy gloves eventually. Mom's out, somewhere. She didn't leave a note. I put on the kettle and stick my feet next to the heater. In my backpack I've got some novels I got from the library. This occupies my time for a while.

I wake up in the middle of the night to stare at the ceiling.

Mornings are pretty annoying. I would avoid them if I could. Could I? I think I would miss them actually. I'm drinking a cup of tea watching the pre-dawn sky through the window.

I've got an admittedly stupid looking track suit under my sweater. I head to the race track in the park near my school to run around a few times. I guess I'm kind of a closeted athlete. I wouldn't do it if I thought I would see someone I know; that's why I use this race track and not the one at the school. I take off my sweater and leave it on the bleachers. My skin is getting all goose-bumpey from the cold. The air almost seems colder than it did last night.

If I had an mp3 player I would use it, but I don't. I just run. The wind feels really good against me, cold as it is. I feel alive. This is why I run. My hair is getting blown out of my face, and I'm starting to sweat. The sun has just barely made it over the horizon. It couldn't be later than 6:30.

There are only a few people on the track. A couple of middle aged women run in sync. A few old people are just walking. I'm not really contemplating all this; my eye just absorbs it automatically.

After a lap I notice someone running almost behind me. He's gaining on me. Just as he starts to draw level I recognize him. It's Daniel. He's on the soccer team actually. Everyone was surprised when he made it on the team, though. (Everyone? I'm probably the only one who pays attention to these things.) Well, with that in mind, I'm kind of upset that he's gaining on me. And he's on the outside ring, too, so he's actually running farther.

So I speed up. I'm not going to get shown up by the runt. Well, he's not small or anything, but figuratively. He's like the pig from Charlotte's Web.

He seems to have noticed my speeding up, because he speeds up too. Is this guy just going to outright sprint until he collapses? That's silly. I pity him. Almost. I speed up.

Of course he's gorgeous. Not that they all are, on the soccer team. But he is. His eyes are so focused now, I actually believe he may not even be aware I'm right here. He blinks as sweat tries to trickle into his eyes. He's Asian, like most of the kids at my school. I don't know where from… Hong Kong? I'm sorry if I'm a racist, I didn't mean to be.

Well, now I'm drawing ahead, so I swerve so I'm in the same lane he is, but in front. See if he's aware of me now! Yes, I'm childish. The pace we've got is starting to get to me though. It would suck spending the whole day exhausted because of this tacit competition.

Pretty soon I slow down; it's not worth keeping the pace up. By the time I've made it to the bleachers again (fourth lap? I stopped counting once I thought I was in a race), Daniel is standing nearby, bent from the waist. He's drenched in sweat, but it almost looks like he's crying. His face is all red and his nose is kind of runny.

I follow my first instinct and see if he's okay.

"Daniel?" I say. I'm being tentative – I don't think we've spoken a word to each other before.

He's not saying anything, but I'm sure he's crying. Little sobs wrack his body. I reach out a hand to his arm.

He starts when I make contact. Yeah, I guess he hadn't heard me. He immediately looks really ashamed. I hope I haven't embarrassed him.

"Daniel, are you okay?" I ask again. I'm not sure what I'll do if he is upset. I've never really comforted people before.

He doesn't say anything, and turns away. But he doesn't walk or anything.

"I've got some water," I say. I step to where my sweater is at the bleachers, and pull out the water bottle I keep in my pocket. He takes it from me.

I sit down on the first step of the bleachers, feeling the burn from that weird run. Daniel drinks from the bottle, taking his time. He sits down not far from me.

"I'm sorry," he says. He wipes his nose with his arm and hands me back the bottle.

"It's cool," I say. I'm feeling pretty bad for this guy. "Don't apologize if you're upset. I mean, I'm sure you've got your reasons."

Reasons that I implied would remain his own. Well, that's what I hoped.

"Coach says he might cut me from the team if I don't shape up." He's staring into the distance, his head resting in his hands. "The soccer team," he adds, with a sideward glance. I try and act like this is new information. His gaze drops to the stunted grass, which he kicks with his shoe.

"Harsh realm."

He laughs. Now he's leaning back against the bleachers. He's wearing a sleeveless jersey and a pair of sporty shorts. I can see the curves of his lean muscle – in his calves, ankles, on his arm, his shoulders…

His skin is flushed and olive. His cheekbones are very sharp, and his chin is narrow. The bridge of his nose almost seems to recede into his face, but the tip sticks out sharply. His eyes seem to be puzzling something. He turns his head to me.

"Who are you anyway?"

Now it's my turn to laugh. Really? He doesn't recognize me?

"Jared? I'm in your English class? You sit one over from me. I can't believe you don't even know…" I trail off because I really can believe that someone doesn't know my name. I'm not laughing anymore.

"I'm sorry." He sounds even more apologetic than he looks.

I get going soon because I need a shower – obviously. I have a cigarette in the school's smoke pit before school starts, and joke with my friends there. I see Daniel in English class. He smiles at me. That's nice. I'm not lying when I say that I don't have any friends in English class. You know how that is? Like, all your friends just happened to end up in a different English class? I think it's because I'm taking Photo. None of my friends are. It explains everything.

The seating is pretty voluntary, so I move one over and sit next to Daniel. The girl who usually sits there didn't even show up till halfway through the class. She looked pretty high. Why even come if you've already missed half? It's not like they're even taking attendance for the second block.

It's after school. I kick dead leaves off the sidewalk. Elm? Maple? Chestnut? The weak autumn sun is shining on my face. At least it's not raining.

Daniel's walking with me. I can't even explain how this happened. I was in the smoke-pit with my friends, and then he stopped while he was on his way out. Then, when everybody left, he just… didn't. I'm not saying anything, but the silence is pretty awkward. At least on my end. Is he going to follow me all the way home?

"So…" I start. Daniel looks at me, genuinely interested in what I have to say. "No offense, but why are you following me?"

He looks down. I can't interpret his face. "Uhhh…"

I look at him quizzically while we walk.

"You're gay right?" he blurts out.

I stop in my tracks. His face is all honesty and vulnerability. I just stare at him. Then I remember that he asked me a question.

"Uh, yeah. Is that a problem?" Nobody's given me shit for it before, but you never know.

"Well, um, do you want to…" he mumbles. Looking everywhere except at me. Then I get it. Obviously.

"Are you asking me out?" I demand, maybe a little too loudly. This is feeling borderline surreal.

He puts on the most nervous smile I've ever seen. "Yeah?" he confirms.

I furrow my brow. How to deal with this development. My eyes have become hyper focused on his chest. Not on purpose. I'm actually just thinking, but sometimes 'staring off into space' becomes 'staring off into someone's chest.'

After a minute I start walking again. I get practically half a block away before I turn and see that he's still standing where I'd stopped earlier.

"Well?" I shout, "are you coming?"

#

The senior soccer team runs around the field, floodlit by the powerful lights. Like water, like gazelles… The coach blows the whistle. All the guys circle up around the coach. He's talking about something, but I'm too far away to hear. It just sounds like 'wabba wabba wabba.' After that they all give a cheer and disperse.

Daniel runs up to where I am on the bleachers. He pulls me in for a quick kiss. I huddle into him, trying to get warm after sitting for an hour in the cold. He wraps his arms around me, and we stay like that for a minute.

"My Mom's picking me up," he says. "She said she could take us to get something to eat. Is that alright?" I grunt in assent. We have to wait only about fifteen minutes for his Mom to show up.

"Thanks Mrs. Lau," I say. Daniel and I sit in the back, but we don't hold hands or anything. His Mom is still pretty uncomfortable about PDA's. I stare out my window at the glowing city lights while listening to the low hum of the motor. When I turn I see that Daniel is watching me, and smiling. I suddenly get this bubbling happy feeling, overpowering me. I almost want to cry. I just feel so good, sitting here, with my boyfriend looking at me like I'm the greatest thing. Yeah, I guess I enjoy feeling sad sometimes. But hell if I don't love feeling happy.