Chapter 1 - Everybody Knows?
Darrin punched through his character options mechanically, not really caring about his choices. His best friend since grade school, Caleb, was droning on about how he was thinking of asking Cindy Schendel out to the freshman school dance, and it was pissing Darrin off because he knew why Caleb was saying it. He was always talking about some girl he was taking somewhere, and it was never the same girl twice, and Darrin knew exactly why.
So he was finally going to tell his best friend something he'd been wanting to say since sixth grade, but he already knew that it would be more like "confront" than just "tell". There were reasons he should, and reasons he shouldn't. It was the right thing to do. Or maybe it would be the wrong thing to do, too. It could even end their almost decade-old friendship, although he didn't think that was really likely. But Caleb, next to him on the couch and also punching in his options, was just getting worse and worse with his "problem", and doing so faster and faster as the years went by. Darrin was starting to get embarrassed for him. It was making everyone else in the entire town uneasy if not quite sad - but they weren't going to say anything either. So it was all up to Darrin and he knew that.
The aforementioned town was Golden Meadow, Louisiana, on the last bit of dry land in the Mississippi delta before it all turned into marsh and swamp. It was most famous for its speed trap, the source of almost all the town's money, but the locals seldom even gave that a thought. It's entire population was just a little over two thousand. Big enough for a Wal-Mart, but not a Super Walmart.
Over the years Darrin had imagined a million scenarios about how he was going to start this, but as usual, nothing seemed right. Well, to hell with it then, it was time to start anyway. He punched the game console's power button, turning the screen black.
"Dude - what the hell?", Caleb stared at him. He looked angry; and an angry look on Caleb's face could be a scary thing, even for his best friend. He was a tough looking boy, an effect he purposefully added to with his high-and-tight military haircut. His muscles also made it plain that he could back up that look with action, if he wanted to. Finally, he was already, at 16 years old , getting facial hair. He looked quite a bit older than he was, sort of like a very young Special Forces soldier. But Darrin was used to all that - and besides, it wasn't like Darrin was a pretty-boy either. People always compared him to a bulldog.
"You don't want to ask Cindy to the dance."
"Is that so... and why the hell not? Oh - you wanted to ask her? Is that it?"
"No, I don't. I'll be taking Rebecca as usual. Because she's my girlfriend. But you don't have a girlfriend. You don't even want one. Uh... look, Caleb... we… we need to talk..."
"So you just turn off the game? Seriously, what the hell?" Caleb had no idea what was coming, so he was still mad about that. Plus, all this talk of "girlfriends" was making him nervous, so he needed to change the subject fast.
Darrin wasn't going to take the bait. "You only want to ask Cindy for cover. Because..." Here Darrin sighed, working up the courage to continue with the Big Reveal: "... because you're gay, Caleb. You're as gay as a three-dollar bill. You need to come out, dude." There, I said it. Christ!
Caleb's mouth hung open as he panicked, but only for a little while. After all, he, too, had a plan for how to handle this should it ever happen. It's just that he'd come to think that it never would, so he couldn't remember all the possibilities he'd scripted. Knowing he couldn't wait too long, he grasped at a straw and responded with a simple but plausible -
Darrin looked over at him with a mixture of sadness and frustration - he'd really hoped that Caleb would just admit it once confronted. Since he didn't, Darrin knew that this was going to go on for awhile.
"You're gay, Caleb. Are you really going to make me go through all this?"
"Go through all what? And no, I am not. And also - fuck you." A stalling tactic. Caleb was still panicking.
Darrin's frustration gained the lead in his head. "What the hell are you even afraid of, man? It's not like anyone's going to make fun of you, or bully you, or anything! Of all people, and all places, it should be easier for you than... than it would be for anyone else! You're the town's STAR dude! You're the most popular person in school! Maybe in Golden Meadow!"
That was true, Caleb was about as close as a sixteen year old boy could get to being a celebrity in Golden Meadow. He was the Top Jock, excelled in every sport he played, cheered on by absolutely everybody in town, at every game, of any kind. And he was only a freshman, which just added to his celebrity. Everyone expected great things of him. Even if he was gay. Being a star athlete overrides a lot of things in a small town - social standards, civil codes, sometimes even criminal law.
"I'm not afraid of anything! And... why do you even think I'm... gay?"
Darrin caught that little pause before the word "gay" and it gave him some heart. It meant that Caleb knew that Darrin knew, and ought to make this a lot easier.
"Okay dude... you're not going to want to hear this, but I can't think of a better way to say it. I've tried, for years actually, but I can't." Darrin paused to take a breath, "It's your eyes, man. Every time you see a good-looking guy, your eyes go right to his crotch. And stay there. And the bigger the bulge, the longer they stay there. You've been doing that since fifth grade."
"Fuck you - I do not! I'm just -"
"Caleb... you even do it to ME! And I'm not nearly your type! Not to mention that you know that I'm straight... I mean... god man... You need to come out so you can get a boyfriend and mmaaaaybeee start enjoying life! You're bring everybody down the way you are now! EVERYbody!"
"Fuck would you know about 'my type'...", Caleb replied sarcastically, not making any connection with his friend's use of the word 'everybody'.
Darrin sighed and stared at the black tv screen, "Pretty face, long hair, big cock."
With that, Caleb knew that he was defeated - those were his top three likes. For Darrin to know that much meant it would be stupid for Caleb to keep denying it. Caleb let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding and sunk back on the couch in resignation. He remained quiet a long moment, just letting it sink in. This was bad. This was going to change everything. There was one ray of hope - maybe only Darrin knew. He could handle that, probably.
"I didn't think anyone ever noticed..." he said dejectedly, "Why didn't you ever say something? You just let me go on making a fool of myself for...what? Years?" Trying to put blame onto Darrin was a desperate tactic, and even as he was doing it Caleb felt ashamed.
Bingo, Darrin thought, at least he admits it now. "I wanted to - but then I thought 'It's none of my business'. And I always just figured you'd tell me eventually, that you'd come out eventually... but you never did. And now you're getting so bad about it... dude, everyone notices."
He heard it that time - "Everyone? You mean everyone knows?! But no one ever says anything?"
"We all know that you don't want us to know, alright? But yeah, 'everyone'. Sorry, man."
"Is... are they all making fun of me?", a whole slew of new and fearsome thoughts now flooded Caleb's mind.
"No, no one is making fun of you, swear to God. No one even mentions it. Seriously - it's like the whole town's Big Secret. Everyone knows that you don't want them to know, so they keep quiet, even with each other. People are starting to feel sorry for you, man, and I hate that, so I know you must hate it even more."
Caleb could handle Darrin knowing, but the thought that EVERYONE knew hit him hard. Wait a sec -
"Do...do my parents know?"
"Your mom asked me if there was some way I could help you to come out in -"
"Is that why you're bringing this up now? Because my MOM asked you to!" Caleb cried in horror.
"In seventh grade, Caleb. Your mom asked me that when we were in seventh grade."
After a full minute of stunned silence, all Caleb could say was, "Oh my god..."
"Yeah. Dude, I know this is embarrassing but-"
"You don't know shit!"
"Okay, then I can imagine this is embarrassing, but really - I'm serious - everyone's going to be perfectly cool with it. I guarantee. You've got nothing to be embarrassed about. Well, other than that you thought it was a secret. Which is another reason to end it."
"Dude… fuck you. Oh god… I've had nightmares like this. Fuck. Fuck fuck FUCK!"
"Look, Caleb. Maybe you're too scared to understand -"
"I'm NOT scared!"
"You're scared what people will think of you when they find out you're gay. That they'll treat you different. That they'll think it's weird."
"Well… yeah - after all, I'm the only one. That's pretty different."
"Yes it is. Then again, in our little circle, Phan's the only Asian, and Chester is the only black. For that matter, Jeanette is the only girl. Are they weird?"
"Fine, it's different. What you're not getting is that they ALREADY know, dude! Some of them have known since Junior High! If they were going to think you were weird, they'd have done it by now, don't cha think?"
Darrin was right - Caleb hadn't thought it through, because yes, he was scared. Damn though. Caleb's forehead wrinkled as he thought about that. He was already out, he just hadn't known it. And his friends were still his friends. Weren't they?
"So… you don't think it's weird that I like boys?", he asked, honestly wondering. Caleb himself thought it was weird, so surely, he thought, everyone else must too.
"No. No, I don't think it's weird that you like boys. I don't, but I get that you do. No biggie. Frankly, what's weird about you is that you won't eat crayfish."
"That's what's weird about me?"
"Your last name is Thibodeaux. You're full-blood Cajun, coonass to the core. But you won't eat crayfish. Yeah, man… that's really weird."
"They eat shit. They literally eat shit on the bottom of the swamp."
"And oysters filter shit out of the water, but you like those just fine. You even eat their stomachs, full of that shit. And you eat them raw and alive, when you get the chance."
"... fuck you."
"A veritable fountain of eloquence you are. As well as a master debater."
"So Caleb, now that we've settled that, any idea how you're going to come out to everyone else?"
"I figured I'd just leave it to you to spread it around… I'm sure it won't take long", Caleb replied. And the kids would tell their parents, and by the next day the whole town would be aware, he figured. Simple.
"I could do that, sure. And then everyone will think that you only came out to ME, and you're still ashamed of being gay. Not a good idea, dude."
"Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do? Stand in front of the school with a Gay Pride flag?"
"That would be better, but it's just not you, too in-your-face. I have a better idea. Hold on a minute", Darrin said, getting up and padding away to his bedroom, leaving Caleb dumbfounded. Darrin was certainly being awfully… helpful. It was weird. Just how long had he been planning for this? And how thoroughly?
Darrin came back with a plain white bag with shipping stickers on it. It was from Amazon. He threw it to Caleb and plopped back down on the couch.
"Think of it as a present," he said. "I got it a long time ago - hope it still fits."
It was a shirt. A synthetic Under Armour polo, in white, but with the iconic spectrum of the Pride Flag slashing diagonally from shoulder to waist, front and back.
Caleb's first thought was, I can't wear this!, but then he suddenly realized that indeed he could. Given the circumstances, he was probably the only kid in the school who could. "Subtle", he murmured sarcastically.
"Well, not all that subtle, I know, but not nearly 'shoving it down their throats' either. It's actually pretty classy, I think. I agonized over a bunch of them for a long time. Should it be loud? Should it have words on it? Should it be simple or fancy… there were a lot to choose from. This one just looked perfect from the get-go though. Whaddaya think?"
"So you expect me to wear this to school tomorrow, then…"
"Yup. Oh, and don't tell anyone that you told me first, okay? They'll think it was all my idea, and that you wish you were still in the closet. We don't want that. We want you to be an out and proud gay man, all caps!"
Caleb looked askance at his friend, "How long have you been working on this?"
"You have no idea. So you'll do it, right?"
"I guess I'd might as well", Caleb sighed, "From what you're telling me, no one's going to be surprised or anything anyway."
"Right on! This is going to be great!"
"Why does all this make you so happy?"
"Because it's going to make you happy, you idiot. Oh, I know you're not happy about it all right now - maybe you're not 'scared', but you're at least nervous. Later on though, probably by tomorrow afternoon, I'm betting, you will be happy, though. Truly happy, for the first time in a long time."
Caleb wasn't so sure about that, but he'd learned a long time ago that Darrin was usually right about things like this. "If I'm wearing this, then you're driving me to school tomorrow. I won't get on the bus with this on."
"Because I don't want to have to go through it twice, okay? Three times, actually - the bus stop, the bus itself, and then the school. So you can just drive me."
"Why don't you just ride your motorcycle?"
"Because I want you with me, okay? Now wipe that smirk off your face before I do it for you, and turn the console back on. We're done with this conversation."
"I can't wait 'til you meet the yaoi fangirls…"
"What's a yaoi fangirl?"
The yaoi fangirls turned out to not be a problem. They like cute pretty-boys, and they like them in couples. A single, hairy, masculine-looking gay boy who looked like a man didn't punch their buttons. Darrin was disappointed.
In fact, the whole thing was a non-event. Other than a smattering of "Congratulations" from friends and teammates, no one said anything at all, even the teachers. Caleb was half-expecting to be told that his shirt was "inappropriate" and to change clothes - it had happened before, to other kids, for other reasons - but that didn't happen. By lunchtime, he'd forgotten he even had it on.
He was reminded once he sat down at the lunch table though. His circle of friends always sat at the same table. This had been going on so long that they each had unwritten but assigned seats. Caleb had to endure several more congratulations and a few back-slaps, and over-heard many mumbled "'bout time"s and "finally"s.
People ate and exchanged small-talk; the weather, bitching about tests, the baseball team. Darrin ate quickly so that his mouth wouldn't be full once he got down to business. The son of an offshore platform manager, he ran the lunch table like a committee meeting:
"All right guys - and Jeanette - we've got work to do now. We're going to have to find Caleb a boyfriend", he said, matter-of-factly.
Caleb was taken aback, "What?" But the rest of the gathering merely nodded and grunted in agreement. It seemed obvious to them. Still, Caleb felt that he ought to be incensed, although he wasn't sure why. "I can find my own boyfriends, thank you very much!"
"Dude… no you can't. *I* couldn't, and I've tried everything I can think of. The nearest Gay/Straight Alliance is in New Orleans - even Lafayette doesn't have one. Same deal with PFLAG. So we basically aren't going to get any help, it's up to us."
"Fuck do you mean 'you couldn't'? Have… have you been scouting for a guy for me?" This was turning embarrassing. Caleb didn't know what PFLAG was and had never heard of the Gay/Straight Alliance, but he let that go.
"Yeah. And it's not easy man… we already know there's not another gay boy in our school. Not even one who's suspicious. I've asked my family members in other towns who have teenage kids, and the kids themselves, but no one knows anyone, from Cut Off to Fourchon.'
"You've been TELLING everyone about me?"
"Give me some credit man, of course not. I made sure you weren't even a suspect by making up an imaginary classmate. Calm down."
The rest of the circle ignored Caleb's outburst, "I have relatives in Grand Isle and La Rose", one offered. "I can handle highway 90 all the way to Morgan City", said another.
Caleb was starting to feel left out of his own party, "God people, come on. There HAVE to be more gays around than that! It's not like we're all THAT rare!"
"Oh, there are - but consider this. He'll have to be within two years of your age, older better than younger. If you were thirty years old, even ten years wouldn't matter, but at your… our age, two years is about as far as we can go. And then, of course, he'll need to be 'your type' or you won't be interested. You'll have to be his type, too. So the field narrows down pretty quickly."
"This is ridiculous. My type. The fuck would y'all even know about…" he glanced at Darrin half in fear.
The whole table (except Darrin) said in unison, "Pretty face, long hair, big cock."
Now Caleb's fear turned into anger, "You said you weren't going to tell anyone! It was YOUR idea to make it look like I came out on my own!" he said accusingly.
Darrin face-palmed. "Dude, I didn't. But you just did."
"Then how the fuck does everyone know-"
Phan, the representative from Southeast Asia spoke up, "It was pretty obvious, man. Remember that trip to Six Flags? The staffer at the Titan roller-coaster? You were drooling so hard."
"Or those two lifeguards at the SPAR waterpark?", chimed in Chester, "Your tongue was almost hanging out."
"Well to be fair, those guys were sporting quite the packages", said Jeanette, the only other fan of "packages" at the table.
"Jesus fucking Christ…" Caleb moaned.
"Hey - even I thought some of those guys were cute, Caleb", said Dustin, the sole A student of the group, "Not as cute as you did, for sure. I mean… it showed, man. Don't feel bad."
Caleb glanced at Dustin just to see if "it showed" meant what he thought it might. The look on Dustin's face made clear that it did.
"OKAY" Caleb shouted, hoping it would put an end to what he thought of as harassment, "I get it. I'm obvious. God!"
"None of us can help liking what we like, dude. Chester over here can't stop staring at boobs, for instance", Darrin offered.
Jeanette agreed, "It's true. He really can't." As proof, she created extra cleavage by squeezing her arms against her breasts. Chester noticed immediately.
"And Dustin is well known for his butt fetish", Darrin added.
"And you like feet, you weirdo" Caleb said by way of payback. Darrin only nodded in slight embarrassment. "Fine then, you guys find me a boyfriend. And get it right - it's 'pretty face, big cock, long hair'.
Everyone chuckled. "Wow, we were WAY off", said Jeanette.
Darrin clapped his hands together, "Right then - we'll meet after school at my house to divvy up the area and assign tasks. Meeting adjourned."