A Run to Christmas

I saw him the first day I started high school, which was in ninth grade where we lived. I was a nervous Freshman; on the shy side to begin with, and I didn’t know very many people because my two closest friends had opted to go to trade school.

My first period after homeroom was English, and the teacher introduced herself as Mrs. Williams. She was tall and straight-backed, but her voice was gentle and she had an easy smile, so I figured I’d like her. After introducing herself, she picked up a paper and took attendance.

As usual, she called “Allen Alderson,” first, and that’s me.

I raised my hand and said, “Here.” Then she called off names in alphabetical order.

“Jamey? Am I saying that correctly? Jamey Metevier?”

A boy I had noticed in the hall, and again when he came into the classroom responded. “It’s pronounced Zhem,” he said politely.

“French?” Mrs. Williams asked.

“Very,” Jaime said cheerily, and I snickered along with the rest of the room.

I had noticed Jaime Metevier already because, although not a big guy by any means, he stood out just by his confident manner and his good looks, not to mention his somewhat unusual attire. He wasn’t dressed wildly, but rather in tight fitting, pegged-bottom pants, a white shirt with a larger-than-normal collar, and he had a kerchief tied around his neck; not a boy scout one, but more like Hell’s Angels would wear. His hair was jet black, straight and on the long side. His skin was dark, as were his eyes, and very red lips framed his brilliant white teeth.

I was about to learn that I was queer. Jaime was a knockout.

He was also an easy to know guy, an athlete and a scholar. Jaime liked everybody, and we all fawned over Jaime, and I never once heard a jealous word about him.

I was envious, of course, because he had everything I lacked, especially a sense of style. Then again, it was 1959, and he was the only stylish person I ever heard of who wasn’t from Hollywood.

We had our English class together, and we both did well in that, and he was in my gym class as well, where I excelled at absolutely nothing. It was there, though, in November of that first year, where we became friends. It was a basketball day, one more thing that Jaime excelled at, but he asked to run the track instead, and Mr. Beall told him to go ahead.

They were starting to choose up sides when Jaime tapped my shoulder and said, “Come run with me, Allen. It’s no fun alone.”

“Me?” I asked in surprise. “I, um … okay, I guess. I’m not much of a runner.”

“Come on,” he said, and I followed him out into the cold. We trotted down the hill to the track, and he stopped at the bottom. He looked at me and said, “It’s your first time, so don’t kill yourself. We’ll just do a trot, and when you’re tired walk for awhile.  Run again when you’re ready.” He looked me up and down, all skinny in my blue shorts and white tee-shirt, and he said, “You’re built to run. You’ll see.”

With that we trotted off, and I surprised myself. It was a quarter-mile track, and Jaime was huffing and puffing before I was, so I stopped to walk with him after three laps. “Keep going,” he said. “I’ll be right there.”

I did, and when I came around the track again he picked up beside me. He was fresh by then, and I was running out of steam. Then something happened, and it came from the blue. It’s called runner’s high, but I didn’t know it then. Suddenly I felt the fresh air in my lungs, new strength in my legs, a sense of euphoria, and I felt I could just run for the next hundred years.

When we heard the warning bell, it was Jaime who looked beat, and I could have kept going. Instead, we trudged up the hill to the gym and parted company. I said, “Thanks, Jaime. That was fun.”

He gave me a quick smile and said, “You’re a runner. Use it.”

He turned and left, and I smiled after him. “I will,” I thought. “I will.”

I did.

After that day, I asked to run the track every gym day that wasn’t raining or snowing, and just before Christmas break Mr. Beall pulled me aside. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you go out for track, Allen? You’re  a natural.”

I was stunned, and gaped at him before I managed to squeak, “Me?”

He nodded. “I’ve done some timings. You’re no sprinter, but you could compete in four-forty and eight-eighty, maybe even the mile.” He smiled, “Think about it, okay? Track is competitive, but not head-to-head like football.” His look sobered, “Just think about it.”

“I will,” I stammered, and when I went into the locker room I practically attacked Jaime, crying, “Beall wants me to go out for track!”

Jaime grinned and held his hand out to shake. “I told you! You’re built to run. Go for it!”

All I could do was smile, and after my shower Jaime asked me if I could come to his house on Christmas afternoon.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I like you,” Jaime said. “After all the presents, after all the food, I like to spend time without noise.” His smile was gentle and genuine, “You’re the quietest person I know, so please come by and spend that time with me.”

“Okay,” I said without hesitation. We’d walked home together many times by then, and Jaime didn’t live far from me. I liked his company and I liked him, and I figured that if I could ever behave myself it would be on Christmas. By then, my feelings for Jaime ran deep, and I kept them hidden.

I didn’t know what to make of my feelings, anyhow. Queer was this really abstract thing that I knew nothing about, and I had no source of reference. My friends who were in trade school used the term liberally, but couldn’t explain themselves very well. I liked girls, too, and many were the objects of my fantasies, but I never had the nerve to ask one out.

I took dancing lessons weekly at Miss Penelope’s School of Dance, which was held at the Elk’s Club, and I favored a girl named Pam there. She was cute and perky; friendly, and kind of a girl version of Jaime. As much as I wanted to advance on her, I didn’t know how, so I didn’t. One time after a dance, she kissed my cheek. I blushed for a week.

I was a basket full of insecurity, but I made friends anyhow. I was invited to parties, and when my birthday came up, everyone I asked to come, came.

That word  …came, come … took on new meaning on Christmas. My family opened presents, then my father cooked a big breakfast. I went to play with my new things, and my parents started on dinner. Relatives came, and I tossed a football around the back yard with my cousin Ron, who is okay. Neither of us could play football, but we had fun because we got along. Then it was time for dinner, and it was a good one. We had ham at Thanksgiving and prime rib for Christmas, and it was wonderful that year. My dad got it just right; nice and red in the middle, and the fat on the outside just screamed of onions and garlic.

When the relatives left, I did too, to go see Jaime. The walk took ten minutes.  Jaime lived on the bottom floor of a two-family house, and it was a nice one.

He led me right-away to the front room, which had a bay window on the street, and their tree was set up in the middle of it. The tree was really pretty, and I found myself staring at it. Jaime, being polite, introduced me to his older sister and her husband, and his younger sister, who I already knew. I’d met his parents several times by then, and they were always nice to me.

Jaime scooped some candies out of a bowl, and led me down a hall to his bedroom.

He closed the door behind him and looked at me, and his familiar smile appeared immediately.

“Alone,” he said. “Alone and quiet.”

I only nodded, and Jaime gently led me to his bed, where we sat, side by side.  We were both facing forward, but Jaime’s voice sounded in my ear as if he was whispering into it. “Allen,” he said softly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really like you. Really like you.”

I smiled to myself and asked, “How could I take that the wrong way? I like you too. A whole lot.”

His voice was soothing. “I don’t think you know what I’m saying. I’m trying to tell you … trying to say …” He stiffened beside me, and I could feel it.

“What?” I asked, becoming confused.

“I like you, Allen,” he said, then he gulped. “I like you the way a man likes a woman.”

If I reacted, I don’t remember, but I did sit there trying to think it out, and it eventually came to me what Jaime was talking about.   It frightened me too, because it could only lead to uncharted territory. I wasn’t ready to say it, but I did anyhow. I kind of stammered out, “I like you that way, too, I think.”

That’s when Jaime turned to me, grinned, and pulled me down on his bed.

There were a lot of firsts for both of us that Christmas afternoon; each one frightening at first, yet each was a gift in the end.

Very French, indeed.