Chapter 3 - Cutie-Pie

"Hey guys - I think I found one!" Jennette yelled from her recliner in Darrin's living room. The whole group was there, each on their cell-phones with a notepad in front of them, calling around trying to find a boyfriend for Caleb. Darrin's father was offshore and would be for the next month. His mother was playing bingo at the church, and would be for the next four hours. Darrin's house was one of the larger ones amongst the circle, plus it was approximately centered between them all and the school, so it made a natural meeting place. Caleb was playing baseball somewhere. One doesn't become a star player by hanging out with their friends.

"Report!" Darrin demanded. Treating the affair like a military operation was a running joke now.

Jeanette ran down the known facts: "17 years old, and single just like all the others. His sister says he's cute, never had a boyfriend, and he sounds pretty decent, at least according to her. Might be worth a field-trip?"

"Where's he live?"

"Raceland."

"Whoa, that's almost forty miles away. Kind of at the end of our range. What was the sister like?"

"Enthusiastic. Actually… bizarrely enthusiastic, to tell the truth. She's a year younger than him. Oh, and his name's 'Josh'."

"See what else you can find out about him. We've had enough surprises and blind alleys over the last three days, I don't want to waste the gas on another one."

"Roger that, sir!"

Raceland, Louisiana, the next day:

"Okay! - Jesus Becky, what the hell is it you - Wait. Who are all these people?" Josh asked, after being dragged against his will out the front door. The Golden Meadow team was arranged in irregular battle-formation on the circular driveway in front of Josh's house.

Becky didn't bother saying anything, she just wanted to observe the transaction, not take part in it. She pointed to Jeanette, signaling you're on!

"Hi, uh… oh! Hi Josh", Jeanette greeted him from the front of the group of seven people. She'd been delegated to be the spokeswoman, the thinking being that a woman would seem least threatening in this situation. But she was having a little trouble thinking straight because Josh was, as promised, really cute. REALLY cute. As in god-damn, man. Cuter than his sister, even, and the sister was a fox in her own right.

"I'm Jeanette, I talked with your sister yesterday. So, uh, look, there's no way to say this that doesn't sound suspicious and creepy and maybe even crazy, but… we're here to check you out and see if you're potential boyfriend material for a friend of ours."

Josh had to let it sink in for awhile - but really, it wasn't all that crazy. He was well aware how difficult it was to find a gay boyfriend in the wetlands of southern Louisiana.

"This 'friend' is a guy, right?" He asked just to make sure.

"Yep. Freshman, sixteen years old.", Jennette replied, and then just couldn't help herself, and added, under her breath, "Ohmygod you're so pretty…" Under her breath perhaps, but still audible.

Truth is, she was only saying what the rest of the group was thinking. Some of them were standing there with their mouths hanging open in awe. They'd never seen a boy who was prettier than most girls - and yet still obviously a boy - before. Chestnut-brown hair done in an emo-slice but without gel, perfect light chestnut skin, cheek-bones, luscious bow-shaped lips, seriously bright green eyes... the entire Photoshop enhancement toolbox, it was all there. He even had noticeable hips. It was giving the boys some complicated feelings.

Josh paid no attention - he'd been hearing about how pretty he was all his life. But this… This was an unusual situation, sure, although still not quite beyond belief. Besides, over the years Josh had become used to unusual situations. While visiting New Orleans with his parents as a child, the family had been approached by a modeling agency scout. He'd been ten years old at the time. And he'd been a full-time male model - as much as was possible for an underage schoolboy - ever since. Which was nice and all, but because of that he'd become jaded about being pursued for his looks. The business-end of beauty is vicious and brutal, and it had left its mark on him. Not to mention being hit upon by a seemingly endless parade of middle-aged men who also worked in the industry. He'd never accepted an invitation (he thought they were gross), nor had he ever been actually molested, but the opportunity was always there, and he just became accustomed to it.

"Okay, I get what's happening. Or at least what you want me to think is happening. But I don't recognize any of you. Where're ya from?"

"Golden Meadow."

"Wow…", replied Josh, actually impressed.

"Yeah, a long way off, we know, the radius keeps expanding. But now I'm thinking 'jackpot'!" Jeanette beamed at him.

Josh folded his hands together and rested his chin on them while standing there - his habitual "thinking pose". While these kid's story might be real, they also might just be looking for something to post on youTube. "Okay, so what's your next step, then?"

"Well, I guess we set you two up to meet, right? Maybe at -" Jeanette began, only to be cut off by Darrin.

"We need you to see if he's your 'type'. We already KNOW that you're his - we've all known him for a long time - but it's gotta go both ways. Right?"

That sounded reasonable, but still not above suspicion. "Okay, so is he cute?" To teenage boys, gay or straight, this was of paramount importance, even if it wasn't something they were necessarily proud of.

"Uhm… well…" Darrin hesitated. He didn't realize that the word "cute" has many meanings, depending on the preferences of the person saying it. What a gay boy calls "cute" might be vastly different from what a straight one does. Darrin simply couldn't imagine any circumstance under which Caleb could be called "cute".

Darrin's unwillingness to answer that question caught Josh's interest. Because at 16, most boys were still "cute" as in "girly" - and "girly" wasn't Josh's thing. At all. Even Josh thought that it was incredibly ironic, since he himself was about as "girly" as a boy could get without makeup.

"I see…" Josh said contemplatively. "You, girl. Is he cute? And what's his name?" Josh had been thinking about the complications of "cute" for longer than anyone else there, including his sister.

"I'm Jeanette. And yes, he is, I guess just not in a way a straight boy would think, though. Name's Caleb."

"Aaaand… Caleb likes cute boys? Cute like me, I mean?" Josh was painfully aware that most gay men didn't go for girly-boys, at least not once they were out of high-school. He'd been shot down many times (every time, actually) by older men. Apparently it was something people - girls as well as gay boys - just kind of grew out of. He figured that there must always be exceptions, but he'd never run into one so far. Hold on… but Caleb wasn't an adult, according to these people. So what… what exactly was Josh hoping for? He abandoned that train of thought because it was going into scary territory.

Again, Jeanette answered, "Oh yeah. Totally."

"Who's got a picture of him?" Josh asked the group.

"Oh, I do", Darrin answered and swiped at his phone a few times, then held it out towards Josh, simultaneously walking up within arm's reach. "It's from a trip to N'awlins last fall, to see the Aquarium of the Americas."

"Hmm. This guy's really 16? If you say so, but I'm going to need something shirtless. Anyone?", Josh asked as Darrin resumed his place in formation.

"Oh, me!" Jeanette cried, "From the waterpark. Yeah, this should be what you're looking for." She too held out her phone.

On it Caleb sparkled wetly in all his muscled, hairy glory, although Josh would have preferred Speedos instead of the basketball-style swim trunks he had on. But daaaaayum, man...

Josh actually lost his cool - and his cool was very important to him. "Oh, fuck me", he whispered. Only Jeanette could hear him though. She had to grin. Jackpot indeed.

After clearing his throat in an attempt to regain some composure, Josh said, "Okay - I'm in. Probably. Now tell me what's wrong with him." Because Caleb was just a little too perfect. Were these people trying to set him up for a prank? Or was there some other problem… maybe he was a delinquent of some kind, or in a gang, or a stoner? There had to be something, just to preserve the balance of the universe. It didn't occur to Josh that most people thought the very same thing about his own beauty.

"What?", Darrin asked, mildly insulted, "No… no, there's nothing wrong with him! He's my best friend since grade school. Well… okay, he hates crayfish. There. For a Cajun, that's pretty 'wrong'. But that's it."

Josh's ears perked up. "He's Cajun?"

"Yeah. So? I am too. We're from Golden Meadow… most people there are." The term 'Cajun' doesn't usually carry any negative connotation, but Darrin knew that there were people who thought it equated to a marsh-land version of 'hillbilly'.

"Don't get all defensive - it's a plus. I know a lot of Cajuns. They're totally loyal to their family and friends. And they don't play tricks on people. So you're his best friend, huh? And you're straight?"

"Uh… yeah…" The fact that his best-friend was gay while he himself was straight had never even seemed odd to Darrin, so he couldn't imagine what difference it would make to anyone else.

But to Josh, it was just another green light. It meant that these strangers were probably okay, and maybe even cool. "Okay then. I'm in. Let's all go inside and talk about what we're going to do next. It's hot out here."

Josh's sister Becky finally spoke up, "Yay!" she said, applauding.

"So what's he into?" Josh asked, once lemonade and RC Cola had been distributed.

"Sports", all the Golden Meadow group said at the same time.

Josh sighed, "Of course." With muscles like that, it was almost inevitable. "Playing them or watching them on tv?"

"Both" they all said again, not quite in unison this time.

"Well… fuck", Josh sighed again with even more dejection, wondering if he'd actually be able to put up with that. "Seriously - nothing else?"

"He doesn't have time for much else", Adam offered. Everyone nodded. "What about you?"

"I'm about half otaku and half movie nerd."

His sister corrected him, "Actually, he's ninety percent otaku and maybe ten percent movie nerd. Most of his favorite movies are all anime."

"This could be a problem" Darrin said, "Caleb hates anime. I've tried to show him some."

"You're otaku?"

"Not really, but I know what it means, anyway."

"What did you show him?"

"Dragon Ball Z and Gundam. He said they were both stupid."

Josh brightened, "Ah ha. Well okay then, I think so too. All hope is not lost. Maybe I can get him into a sports anime…"

"There's sports anime?"

"Yeah, and I happen to really like them, in fact. Let me guess - you think it's all about Pokemon. My Dad used to think it was all like Speed Racer. You people only know what you see on American tv. Anyway, good. How's he feel about Lord of the Rings?"

"I don't think he's ever seen it. Any of them."

"The Matrix?"

"Now that one he liked. A lot."

"Alrighty then. Hopefully we can find some common ground, anyway. Oh - this is important: does he dance?"

Jeanette took over, "Sure, country two-step, Zydeco, pretty much any line dance…"

"How about waltz or tango?"

"Well, he can waltz, sure. Don't think he's ever even had a chance to tango..."

"That's okay - waltz is enough for starters. Because, just FYI, I'm into ballroom."

At the time, none of them could have guessed what a bombshell that last statement was.

(to be continued)