Sometimes the kids don’t like a teacher.
Sometimes a teacher doesn’t like the kids.
That could be. . . awkward.
We got to Brad’s house. It was larger than mine and in a better neighborhood, but it wasn’t extravagant and the neighborhood wasn’t all that much better. They obviously weren’t a whole lot richer than we were, which calmed me a bit. I hadn’t realized I was anxious about that, but I had been. This somehow made Brad seem more reachable to me. If he was rich, that, as well as all the other ways in which he was better than I was, would be just one more thing separating us, even if only in my mind.
After grabbing a couple apples, we went up to his room with his mother calling after us, “We’ll have dinner in about an hour, as soon as your father comes home.” Brad’s room was quite a bit larger than mine and looked like what you’d expect for a 13-year-old athlete. He had some sports posters on the wall along with one of Jessica Alba, some sports books in a bookcase and his computer, which was turned on, had a screen saver showing a picture of Michael Jordan and LeBron James standing together. He had a queen-sized bed, and he sat down on it and began to take off his shoes.
“Get comfortable,” he said. “You can take off your shoes. I’m going to change into my sweats. Did you bring anything to change out of your school clothes into?”
I shook my head no.
“I’ve got some extra sweats. Mine might be a little big for you, but I’ve got some older ones that would fit.” He grinned at me. I loved his grin. It made me feel warm.
I told him okay. He went to his closet and pulled out two pairs, one from the back of the closet, tossed me one set and took the other himself. He slipped out of his shirt and dropped his pants, barely turning away from me while doing so. I guess all the showering and changing he did with his teammates every day at school made this a normal activity to him. I just stood there staring at him. He glanced at me, grinned a wicked grin, and asked, “Do you want me to help you?”
I blushed and began unbuttoning my shirt. Just as I’d watched him, he paused in pulling on his sweatpants and watched me. Of course, while he had a great young teen body, I was skinny and barely muscled at all. I dropped my shirt on the floor and unbuckled my belt. I was too bashful to just drop my pants like he did and turned so my back was facing him. I stepped out of my pants, pulled on the sweatpants, and turned to face him, leaning over as I did to pick up the sweatshirt.
He was still standing with his pants half pulled on, staring. When he saw my face, he quickly pulled them up the rest of the way as I pulled on my shirt. The little bit of tension I’d felt in the room disappeared when he asked what video games I liked. We argued over games jokingly and he finally picked Tomb Raider 2. Brad booted up some Hoobastank and The Killers he’d downloaded from KaZaa and we settled down on the floor with the game. We played until we were called for dinner.
When we went downstairs I met his father. He was tall and well-built and I could easily see where Brad’s good looks came from. Just like Brad, his father was friendly and easy to talk to. When I was introduced he stuck out his hand and we shook, not something I usually did. He thanked me for the help I’d been with Brad’s understanding of the math work that had been such a concern to him, and I blushed and passed the praise back to Brad. Then we chatted about this and that and I found myself much more comfortable than I usually am with strangers.
Brad’s mom had fried chicken for dinner and, along with potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, rolls and a tossed salad, we had a very nice dinner with friendly conversation. I realized how much I enjoyed sitting down and eating the evening meal without having to cook it myself, but didn’t say so. It would have sounded strange.
After dinner, Brad’s parents did the dishes together, so Brad and I went back up to his room. We began playing our game again, and were having a great time, leaning against and pushing each other, laughing, insulting each other’s ability, and a couple hours passed. Then, for some reason I couldn’t detect, little by little, Brad began getting quieter and stopped being quite so carefree. I decided maybe he was getting tired and put it out of my mind. Perhaps it was just my imagination. He finally asked if I wanted a snack.
“Do you want something? What do you have,” I asked, not knowing what I was supposed to say.
“Why don’t we make some popcorn and watch a movie? Or would ice cream be better?”
“Popcorn sounds great,” I replied. He told me to pick out a movie from his DVD collection while he went down and microwaved a bag. I found he had Spiderman II and put it in the machine. He came back up with the popcorn and two Cokes and approved of my movie choice.
“Do you want to watch it in bed?” he asked.
Again, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how things were done.
I didn’t want to look like a dork, but what should I say? So I took the easy way out. “What do you want to do?”
“Why don’t we get ready for bed and watch it from there? When it’s over, we can just turn it off and we’ll be all set.”
“That’s OK with me. Where am I going to sleep?” There. That sounded natural enough.
“I thought you’d sleep in bed with me.” He sounded just a wee bit disappointed and a tad nervous, which was surprising because Brad wasn’t ever nervous. “There’s a lot of room. That’s OK, isn’t it?” He must do this a lot with his friends, I thought. Maybe I was making him nervous.
But then I thought of something else, and got nervous myself. “Uh, what do you wear to bed?” I asked as neutrally as possible.
“Well, to tell the truth, I usually sleep naked, but when friends are over, I just wear some boxers. How do you sleep?”
I was immediately distracted by the thought of Brad sleeping naked, but answered anyway. “I always sleep in my boxers. That’s fine with me. I didn’t know how we were going to sleep so I brought a pair of pajamas, but boxers are fine.”
“Great,” he said, and without pause began undressing. I did the same and when we got down to our boxers, he turned the TV and DVD player on, turned out the room light and we both got into bed with the popcorn and drinks and the remote.
As the movie played, we companionably ate the popcorn and watched, leaning against our pillows propped up against his headboard. He was on his side of the bed and me on mine, but to make sharing the popcorn easier, he scrunched his way towards my side. I was very aware of him next to me. With the movie on, we talked occasionally, making comments and frequently chuckling. Our hands kept touching when we grabbed for the popcorn at the same time. It felt very good. The entire situation felt very good. Brad, however, seemed to be getting quieter and more nervous, just like when we were playing the game. Finally, the movie finished. Brad turned it off and put the empty popcorn bowl on the floor. The room was dark and silent. Brad sat without moving for a couple minutes. I did too. This was all new to me.
Finally Brad sighed a deep sigh and said, “Well, I guess it’s time to get some sleep.”
I said, “Okay, and Brad, thanks for having me over. And, well, I probably shouldn’t say anything else.”
“Well, this is a little embarrassing.”
“Danny, don’t be embarrassed. What is it.”
“Okay, but remember, I said it was embarrassing. It just that, well, I can’t begin to tell you how happy you make me, wanting to be my friend. These have been the happiest few days I’ve had in a long, long time. I want to smile all the time and it’s all because of you. I can’t thank you enough.”
Brad didn’t say anything for a moment as he put the extra pillows we’d been using on the floor and lay back on the bed. I did the same thing. Then, Brad finally spoke. “Danny, I have something to tell you, too. It’s driving me crazy. I just can’t keep holding it in. I’ve been nervous all night. I have to tell you.”
“What is it?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. The tone of his voice sounded anguished.
“I need to tell you what I feel, Danny. What I feel about you. About me.”
I couldn’t help but react to the pain I heard in his voice. I rolled over onto my side. He was lying on his back, his head on his pillow. There was some light coming through the window, just enough that I could see his face. I could see the dim light reflecting off tears in his eyes, just beginning to spill down onto his cheeks.
I was stunned, seeing him that way. Without thinking, I reached out and wrapped my arms around him. “Brad, what is it?” I asked, feeling great compassion for him. “What’s the matter? Tell me. Whatever it is, it’s okay.”
He sort of jumped when I hugged him, and then rolled towards me and hugged me back, tightly. I didn’t loosen my grip. He was slightly shaking, so I just held on to him.
“Danny,” he said softly. “Danny, you don’t know this, but I’ve been watching you all year.” He gulped, but now he’d started, and I hoped he was going to keep going till he got it out. The pause wasn’t long. “You were this really smart, really cute kid that seemed not to talk to anyone, not hang around with anyone, who just stayed by yourself. I started wondering why, and I started watching you. Then, one day, I realized I was watching you all the time. I couldn’t stop myself. That worried me. You’re not supposed to do that. So I decided not to do it anymore. But whenever I’d stop thinking about not doing it, I’d find myself looking at you again.”
He paused and a sort of shudder passed through his body. I asked him the question that was in my mind. “Why, Brad?”
“After watching you for a while, I asked myself the same thing. The answer scared me. That’s why I tried to stop. But I couldn’t. Even knowing why I was doing it, I couldn’t stop.”
“But why?” I repeated.
“Danny, I’d developed a crush on you! A boy! I’d never had a crush on a boy before. I didn’t know what that meant. But, I kept watching anyway. I saw you, who you are, what you do. Anyone that had a problem with anything, you’d help them. Anyone that needed a kind word, a hand with something, a question answered, a favor, you’d be there for him. Sometimes, you even saw what someone needed and helped them and they didn’t even know what you’d done. I watched all this, and realized this crush I had on this cute kid I didn’t even know, I’d never talked to, was growing stronger, was getting to be more than just a crush.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! He’d had the same feelings for me I’d had for him? It didn’t seem possible. And now, he was brave enough to tell me. I’d never have had that courage.
“But watching you help people,” he continued, “then fade away from them into the background, how you never got really close with anyone, I thought, if I just went up and tried to make friends with you, you’d do the same thing to me. But I wanted, I needed to get to know you. I had this crush and it seemed to be in control of me. I kept thinking about you all the time. I kept trying to figure out how to get to be friends with this incredible kid, this cute, bright, helpful, just really nice kid, who I knew would gently push me away.
“So I thought I’d keep watching you and figure you out, find out why you had no friends. That didn’t make any sense. So I watched. The trouble was, the more I watched, the more I liked you. The crush was becoming more than just a crush, like I said. It was getting to the point where I just had to talk to you, even if I knew you’d just be nice, and that would be that. I didn’t see how we could get to be friends because I didn’t think you’d allow it to happen.”
He shuddered again, and I pulled him even closer, trying to calm him, trying to soothe his distress. “But I still don’t see why you’re upset, Brad. We did become friends.”
“Danny, I just told you, this crush wasn’t just a crush any more. I was so happy when we got together in detention. I was so happy we had time together at your house. But that’s just not enough. Now I want more. The better I got to know you, the more I knew I wanted more. I want to kiss you. I want to do more than that. Danny, I think I might be falling in love with you. Boys aren’t supposed to do that. I never thought about being gay. I’m not gay; I’m not! I don’t think about other boys that way. And I know you’re probably not like that, and I’m not either, but, but….” He stopped then, but before I could speak he said, “These feelings are just tearing me up.”
“Danny, everyone laughs and jokes and even picks on you or does worse things if you’re like that. But I can’t help it. I look at you and want to be with you. It’s so much more than just wanting to be friends. I want to be with you and do things with you, too. You know what things. The things we’re not supposed to do.”
He hugged me tighter. We were both silent for several minutes, just holding each other. He’d stopped crying, maybe because he’d got rid of so much pressure by saying what he’d said. I was thinking hard about what he’d said. And the thing was, I wasn’t suffering the agony or doubt or confusion that he was. I’d been thinking I might be gay for a while now. He obviously hadn’t considered that about himself. I didn’t have a problem with accepting myself, either if I was gay or if I wasn’t. I had accepted myself before, but my father clearly stating his acceptance of me no matter what took much of the worry and fear out of it. So now Brad was telling me he cared for me as more than a friend. And my reaction wasn’t confusion, it was: Wow! Great! Yes! Yes! Yes!
However, that wasn’t Brad’s reaction at all. He was upset about all this. Was he upset that he liked a boy? Was he upset that maybe I’d not want to be his friend if I knew he liked me that way? Was he upset because he liked me a lot and thought I didn’t have the same feelings for him? Was it only because I was a boy and he couldn’t accept that? I wasn’t sure, but I did know how to find out.
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