Sometimes the kids don’t like a teacher.
Sometimes a teacher doesn’t like the kids.
That could be. . . awkward.
I was about to say something, but Brad interrupted me. He still had more to say, more to get off his chest.
“I was feeling frustrated that my feelings for you were growing and I didn’t know what it meant about me and I couldn’t do anything about it. When I get frustrated, sometimes it makes me mad. That day in math class, everything went wrong. Mrs. Graedon was being a bitch, and even though I knew it wasn’t your fault, I had these mixed up feelings, I wanted to be close to you, I wanted you to like me, I wanted to tell you I liked you, but none of those things were happening, I couldn’t see them ever happening and I sort of snapped when Mrs. Graedon started sniping at me. I came out of math with her almost laughing at me, being snide and sarcastic, making me even madder, and then I saw you. I was frustrated with you, although in fact really at me, and furious at her, and I just went up and grabbed you. I think I might really have hit you, but when you closed your eyes, my feelings seemed to explode. I suddenly fell even harder for you. I don’t think you have any idea how cute you are, and when you look all vulnerable, well. . . . Then, to make things even worse, when I was walking away, feeling utterly defeated and not having a clue in the world what to do about it all, here you come, trying to help me. You, helping me! I’d just told you I was going to kill you, yelled at you, scared the shit out of you, practically slugged you, and you were trying to help me! Trying to make me feel better!
“And how were you going to help me? Just in the one way that would solve a huge problem and make my life almost totally better. How did you know? Well, you didn’t really know but you’d seen what I needed, you were concerned about me. That was just you. You help people, you figure it out and help them. I’d seen you do that all year long. And afterwards, you’d walk away. I wasn’t going to let that happen. This was my opportunity to get to know you, and I just knew you’d try to back off when you were done teaching me math. And what did you do? Exactly that. Exactly what I’d expected.
“But Danny, I’d actually talked to you. I’d spent time in detention with you, and it was just too good. I had to continue being with you. I had to. I couldn’t let you just back away from me. That crush that had started out just a crush and then had grown, well, I think that being together in detention sort of acted like some high-powered fertilizer for it. At that point, I simply had to find a way to continue to be with you, and so I said what I did to you after dinner the other night, not knowing how you’d react. And I still don’t know how you feel about me. Or even what I want you to feel for me. I’m confused and frightened and horny and, and . . . .”
He stopped. And then he squeezed me even tighter and shuddered. I squeezed him back.
“Brad, I have to tell you something, too. Listen to me. I’m so happy to be with you like this you can’t even begin to imagine it. I didn’t know how lonely I was until you and I got together. You wanting to be my friend is an unbelievable thing for me. Now you say your feelings are even stronger than that, and you don’t know how to feel about that. Well, let me tell you how I feel.
“I might be gay, Brad. I don’t know. I’ve been wondering for a while now. But as we’ve spent time together, my feelings for you have grown and grown. I’m not even sure ‘crush’ is a strong enough word. ’Love’ sounds silly because we’re 13 and haven’t even been friends for more than a few days, but whatever word you want to use, the feelings I have for you and so powerful, I can’t even start to describe them. Anything I say seems less than what I feel. They’re just words, and these feelings are real and so big they don’t seem to fit in my body. If you feel anything like that too, that’s wonderful, and I hope you can be happy about it, not confused and hurting. What I feel is the best thing I’ve ever felt, and what’s happened is the best thing that’s ever happened. I’m so happy I can hardly keep from shouting, and I want to smile all the time. I hope you’re that happy too.”
I stopped then. I found I had to breathe. I think he could see that I had more to say because he didn’t speak, just continued to look at me with his huge, blue eyes. So I took another breath and then rushed on.
“This is all brand new, and sure, we’re both a little uncertain. But one thing you don’t have to worry about is that I might not like you that way. I want to be with you as much or more than you want to be with me. Remember, you’re attracted to a loner-nobody-dork. I’m attracted to the greatest, handsomest, most athletic, most popular kid in school. Maybe the nicest guy in school, too. If either of us should be afraid of losing the other, who do you think it should be?”
Brad didn’t say anything for a minute, but he did squeeze me tight when I said that about maybe loving him. When he resumed, he just ignored my question and started in again on what he was worrying most about, although most of the worry had left his voice.
“Do you think I’m gay? You say you’re not sure about yourself. Why aren’t you sure? You, you’re about all I think about now. When I’m alone up here in my room and I think about you, I almost always get hard. Does that mean I’m gay? Do you get hard when you think about me?”
“Brad, I get hard when I think about Chewbacca. I think that’s what being 13 is all about. Of course I get hard thinking about you. I was hard all the time we were in both detentions. But I don’t have answers about being gay. I do know from some reading I’ve done that kids our age are still changing, still growing, still developing. My dad says it’s normal to be attracted to someone today, someone else tomorrow, and often their gender doesn’t have anything to do with it. You can beat yourself up over this, or you can go with the flow. Ignore it. Whether you’re happy about it or not, it seems your body is just going to react the way it reacts, and there isn’t much you can do about it.”
I smiled at him. He looked so serious, and I was anything but. I was happy and suddenly feeling loose and energetic! I reached out and touched him, then said, “Brad, I like you, and you like me. You liking me seems to have disturbed you, given you some real grief. I can understand that, but I want you to know, don’t let my feelings cause you any worry. You’re beyond what I ever hoped for, but if you decide you don’t want to spend time with me, can’t put up with feelings like you now have because they’re for a boy, I can accept that. I never expected anyone as wonderful as you to even notice me in the first place. I’ll find a way to get over it. You have to do what makes you feel good, what’s right for you.”
Brad almost yelled, “See, there you go again! You’re so dead set on helping someone else, being supportive and all that shit, you’d give up what you want, what you just said was the greatest thing in your life, just so that other person didn’t have to worry! Danny, Danny, don’t do that. You’ll destroy yourself. You were lonely. You admit it. You were hurting because you kept giving and giving and denying yourself anything in return. Well, start fighting a little for what you want. Think about what you want and don’t just give it up. Don’t just give up what you want to help someone else.”
“OK,” I said. I grinned. “I’ll tell you what I want. I can’t forget a word you used a few minutes ago, it’s got me all crazy, and I want to tell you what that word was.”
Brad sounded confused. “What word did I use?” he asked.
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