They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
After saying that he had something important to tell me, and it was something that happened to him, Todd didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then I heard him take a deep breath.
“Do you think you’ll ever want to have a boyfriend?” he asked.
I had a good idea what he wanted to talk about, and it made me grin. “Yeah… actually, yes. I would want to have a boyfriend. Why?”
“I’ve been thinking about it. I mean, we’re gay so we’re probably not likely to start dating girls. Uh… you think?”
“Yeah, I think. Boyfriend equals a yes, girlfriend equals a no. For me, that is. How about for you?”
He snickered. “Definitely girlfriend equals a no.” He took a deep breath. “What do you think about us?”
Uh oh! “What do you mean, about us?”
“I mean, what’s our relationship?”
“We’re cousins, and we’re really close. Like you said, Todd, we’re kissing cousins.” I laughed. “And sometime a lot more than just kissing, if you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. So what about us being boyfriends?”
Double uh oh! “It wouldn’t work, now that we know we’re related. Messing around is okay, but it would be a real problem if we moved it up to the next level. Like move it up to where we’re boyfriends.”
“So you think that would be trouble?”
“Yeah, lots of trouble. To start with, our folks wouldn’t be pleased,” I said
“Or our friends, you think?”
“Yeah, I think our friends would think it’s icky. Very, very icky.”
“What if they found out we were messing around when we sleep over?”
“Some might say, ‘So what?’ and others might think that’s also icky.”
“So, Tony, should we stop?”
“Do you want to stop?”
“No. So that’s unanimous. But let’s say one of us had a boyfriend. Me, for example. Should we stop then?”
“That’s the big question, isn’t it.”
“Definitely.” I decided to come right out and ask the question, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, maybe. Is that a problem?
“I want to have a boyfriend and I’m okay with you having a boyfriend. So what happened to you that you want to tell me about, ‘eh?”
“You know that Brian and I have been best friends since I moved here from Chicago, right?”
“Uh huh.” I grinned, guessing what Todd would tell me next.
“Well, we, um, sorta… shit!”
“Don’t swear. Just spit it out. Wait a minute, wait a minute! Don’t spit it out, just say it!”
He looked at me, and I started laughing. Then he started laughing, too.
“You’re going to have to tell me, Todd. So tell me!”
“Dufus! Well, as you probably have guessed since we’re almost identical twins, Brian asked me if… no, that doesn’t sound right.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, Brian and I are boyfriends.”
Now he looked sort of scared, like maybe that wasn’t what I’d guessed, and that I might not be okay with them being boyfriends. So I rolled on top of him, grabbed him in a hug, and kissed him. Then I pulled up so I was kneeling across him and sitting on his thighs.
I stared at him. “I think it’s wonderful! You two are perfect for each other. Congratulations!”
“You’re not jealous? Or something?”
“I’m neither jealous nor something. What I am is happy for you two.”
“But… you and I’ve been, you know….”
“So? Look, Todd, we love each other. But now we know that we’re cousins. In fact, I think what we are is called first cousins. So it’s best that we each have our own boyfriend and cool the messing around.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
I decided to change the subject to something I thought would be more important.
“You’re first to have a boyfriend, and it’s with Brian. You two have been best friends, you live close to each other, it’s perfect. So, when are you going to tell the rest of the crew?”
“We haven’t decided yet. Sooner than later, is what Brian said. Like maybe the end of next week.”
“You realize that if you wait that long people are going to guess.”
“Okay, you and Brian are boyfriends now. That means when you’re sitting at lunch you’re going to be looking at each other more than usual. Don’t shake your head! You are going to be looking at each other, lots more than usual. Because you’re boyfriends it’s going to be a different way of looking at each other than it was before. The people who know you two, especially those who’ve known you when you went to Edison, are going to see how you’re looking at each other and they’ll figure it out. I say tell everyone tomorrow, during lunch. Everyone’s going to be happy for you two.”
“How about guys like Scott and Frank who don’t know me and Brian?”
“Scott’s your friend now, and he’s Brian’s friend, and so is Frank. Unless they’re homophobic assholes they’re going to be happy for the two of you. And the same goes for Kevin, Jamal, David, and the others who’ve joined up with us at lunch. And in my opinion, none of them are homophobic assholes.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to Brian about it in the morning when we get to school. You’re sure, right?”
“I’m sure. More than sure, I’m positive.”
“Uh, sure and positive are the same thing, Tony.”
“How about this. I’m definitely absolutely positively sure and don’t have any doubts that everyone is going to be as happy as I am when you guys tell them that you are boyfriends.”
“Okay, new subject,” Todd said. “I have a suggestion. Since you have to go to football practice Saturday morning, you should spend tomorrow night here. Otherwise you’d have to go home on the bus, then get your dad or mom to drive you to school early Saturday morning.”
“You think your folks would be okay with my being here another night?”
“Okay, let’s go down and ask them. But that reminds me of something else I need to ask you. When are you and Brian going to tell your folks?”
“I’ve decided that I’ll tell my folks tomorrow night at dinner.”
“Good decision. How about telling Brian’s folks?”
“That’s a lot easier. They know he’s gay and are okay with it. They know me and seem to like me. So all he has to do is put one plus one together and he can tell them the two of us are boyfriends.
“Now, would you get off me? Please? I gotta pee something awful.”
I jumped off him and pulled him up off the bed. He rushed into the hall and across to the bathroom and slammed the door closed.
I thought about Scott. It seemed that something, some bit of non-verbal communication, went between the two of us this morning at the bus stop. I wondered if it had been my imagination or if there might be something between the two of us. I smiled. He, in my opinion, would be a great boyfriend.
When Todd returned to his room I told him about Frank and how I suspected that he’d push on the question of cousins messing around.
“I think he’s going to drop it because at lunch he’s going to hear that Brian and I are boyfriends,” Todd said.
“He still might push that question about cousins. He might want to know if we’d continue to mess around. It’s like that question, ‘Are you still beating your wife?’ There’s no way to answer it.”
“So we tell him to can it.”
“Or we ask him, ‘If we were messing around, are you asking to join in?’ — that oughta shut him down. Of course, it leaves the question about whether you and I are going to continue doing anything. If you have a boyfriend I don’t think it would be right. You know, if you’re in a relationship it should be monogamous.”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way. It kind of leaves you without an outlet, other than having your own Mister Right.”
“Having my own who?” I worried that maybe Todd figured out that I liked Scott.
“Your Mister Right, like this,” he said, then made a pumping motion with his right fist.
We busted up laughing. When we calmed down I thought about what Todd had said.
“I think monogamy is best. If I get a boyfriend I wouldn’t want to cheat on him with anyone, even my favorite kissing cousin.” I grinned.
“We can still be kissing cousins, cousin. Let’s limit it to that.”
I changed my expression so I looked sad. “So no foursomes in the future for us.” I looked down and shook my head. I couldn’t hide my grin and Todd saw it.
He popped me on my arm. “That, cousin, is definitely absolutely positively a no.”
“So, tell me more about Brian.”
And he did.
About a half hour later we went downstairs to talk to his folks and ask if it would be okay if I stayed over Friday night. It would sure make it more convenient for me. All I’d have to do is arrange for my folks to pick me up after practice Saturday.
“Of course, Tony. You’re always welcome here,” his mom said.
“Thanks, Aunt Nora. Now I need to call my folks and get their okay.”
I called home and Dad answered. I explained what I wanted to do, and that Aunt Nora said it would be okay. I heard him talk to Mom in the background, and she got on the phone.
“Hi, Tony. Your dad told me what you asked, and as long as it’s okay with Todd’s folks, it’s okay with us. Your dad will pick you up tomorrow after your football practice. Why don’t you call home when you’re about ready to shower. That way you won’t have to wait for him to get there.”
“Okay, but he might have to wait for a few minutes in case I’m not finished showering and getting dressed.”
“That’s alright. Here, he wants to talk to you to find out where to pick you up.”
Dad got on the phone.
“Where is it that I should pick you up?”
“The gym is in back of the Theater building. You can’t miss it.”
“Wherever it is I’ll be able to find it. I’ll see you Saturday afternoon, Tony.”
I ended the call and put my cell in my pocket.
“Okay, thanks for letting me stay over, Aunt Nora. I’m all set for Saturday.”
“Do you have whatever you need for the practice on Saturday?” Uncle Dennis asked me.
“We’re having practice before school and during seventh period tomorrow, so I have all of my equipment in my gym bag.”
“Tony, you can wash it when you come home tomorrow afternoon,” Aunt Nora said.
“Thanks. That’s a great idea.”
“Your teammates will thank you even more,” Todd joked, pinching his nose.
“They’ll stink even more than me. I heard some of the guys say that they aren’t going to wash their practice outfit until after the season is over.”
“Why in the world would they do that?” Aunt Nora asked.
“For luck. I guess they’re superstitious. There’s a lot of that in football.”
“There’s a lot more of it in baseball,” Uncle Dennis said. “Do you have any superstitions, Tony?”
I shook my head. “No. No way. I’m not superstitious at all.” I knocked my knuckles on the coffee table. “Knock on wood.”
That made Uncle Dennis and Todd laugh, and I did too.
Aunt Nora just shook her head. “Males. I’ll never understand them.”
The next morning I got up early, then dressed in my practice uniform without taking a shower. Aunt Nora was already in the kitchen when I walked in. She had a plate of scrambled eggs, a corn muffin, and a glass of milk ready for me.
“This is better than a power bar or a toaster pastry,” she said. “You’ll get protein from the eggs and carbs from the muffin, and both from a glass of milk.”
“It looks great. Thanks, Aunt Nora.”
I ate everything, and finished the glass of milk, too.
When I got to school I put my backpack in my locker, walked to the gym, and put my gym bag with my clothes in my gym locker.
This was our first practice wearing cleats. We spent a lot of time learning how to use them properly so they’d help us on the field. We learned how to keep from catching them in the turf and tripping.
“The biggest danger,” Coach Kavanaugh told us, “is catching your foot as you’re twisting your leg. You can tear your ACL, that’s the anterior cruciate ligament in your knee. An ACL tear can be caused by the way you moved, or it can be caused by being off balance and hit by a blocker or tackler. An ACL injury can end the season for you. You would need to use crutches and to apply ice packs until the swelling and pain have gone, then you’d have to go to PT — that’s physical therapy — on a regular schedule. In some cases you’d need surgery. The recovery time from an ACL tear is typically six months, and can be longer.”
And here I thought the most significant injury was concussions.
“The design of the cleats that we use is the result of a study that found this type of cleat is better than the type most often used by high school football teams in the past. It’s designed to have more cleats at the toe of the shoe than along the sides.
“The other thing that’s important to avoid ACL tears, and other injuries, is exercise. You need to warm up and cool down, to stretch before, during, and after a practice session, and before and after each half of a game. It’s important to get your hamstrings, quadriceps, and muscle-to-tendon attachments flexible. That way they will be able to absorb the shocks that your knees and ankles are subjected to while you’re on the field. The way you get those muscles, tendons, and ligaments flexible is through strength and endurance training. That will be covered in detail in your Weight Training class on Monday. Keep in mind that you guys are young, and your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still forming. The knee braces we issued with your uniform are to be worn on both knees during practices and games from now on.
“In addition, you need to be properly hydrated. The best way to hydrate is to drink water. Sports drinks will be used during games, mixed half-and-half with water. The best time to hydrate is before you start your warmups, about a half hour prior to a practice or a game, then in small quantities as you need it.
“The body is a machine, but like a machine it needs to be maintained and fine-tuned. Information about sports injuries and what they are is important to learn and understand. There’s an excellent site with articles on sports medicine on the web that we recommend that you and your parents read. It’s at www.nationwidechildrens.org/sports-medicine-articles. Jeff is going to hand out a sheet with that link and others that are related to sports injuries and how to avoid them.
“So, it’s time to get going. Time to get hydrated and then start your warmups.”
Coach Kavanaugh also told us that we would be starting more rigorous practice sessions. After a half hour of what I’d call intensive practice we headed in for the showers. The hot water and soap felt great.
Parker stood at the showerhead next to me. I saw him turn and look at me.
“Hey, Tony, would you wash my back? I’m too beat and sore to try to reach around and do it myself.”
“Sure. I’ll do yours if you do mine.”
He looked at me and shook his head. “If I wasn’t so tired I’d kid you about what you just said.” Then he turned away, with his back facing me. I used my washcloth to scrub his back from the neck down to his butt.
“My turn,” I said and turned sideways so my back was facing him. He washed my back the same way. We rinsed off and headed out, grabbing two towels each on our way. We were too tired to bother wrapping our towels around ourselves, but just held them in front until we got to our lockers. We dried off and got dressed.
“I wish I had study hall first period,” Parker said as we walked out of the gym and headed for the Language Arts building.
“What class do you have?” I asked.
“Algebra 2 with Aaronley. That’s a tough class, so I can’t let my mind drift. Even worse would be if I fell asleep.”
“Scott Sanderson is in that class, isn’t he?”
“I think so. He’s that tall basketball player, right?”
“That’s him. He’s a friend of mine.”
“He’s in my homeroom, too. But no other classes. Other than recognizing him, mostly because he’s so tall, I don’t know him.”
“He’s a nice guy,” I said. “Say hi when you get to homeroom and tell him that you and I are friends and are both on the freshman football team. I think you’ll like him. He just moved to this area, so meeting more kids who live near us is good.”
“I didn’t know he lived close to us.”
“Yeah, he lives a few blocks from me.”
“Sweet. I will introduce myself when I see him.”
“And Parker, don’t forget to join us at our table at lunch.”
“Will do. See you then, Tony.”
I almost fell asleep in English, and I didn’t pay attention much in World Geography, and finally woke up during the long walk across campus to the Theater. It was a good thing I did, because Carter, otherwise known as Mr. Emmonds, had us sing our solos for the Christmas Concert and I would have totally blown mine if I hadn’t been with it. You try singing Winter Wonderland, which has a lot of lyrics, when you’re tired and trying to keep from yawning! But I didn’t mess up at all.
I rushed to the cafeteria, got in line and picked the Chinese chicken salad, then walked to our regular table. Everyone else had arrived and were eating their lunches.
Before sitting down I decided to officially introduce Parker. “People, this is Parker Hampson. He’s on the freshman football team. I invited him to join us. He’s a great guy, and I’m sure you’ll like him.” I sat down.
Parker blushed and stood up. “Uh, hi. I’m glad to meet those of you I don’t know yet. I want to thank Tony for inviting me to sit with you guys. I guess that’s about it.” He sat down.
“Oh no it isn’t,” Greg said. “You get to tell us about yourself. No long life history, please, just a brief intro to who Parker Hampson is.”
I heard Parker take a deep breath, then he stood up. He told us about his family, the same that he’d told me at the park. Then he talked about how he loved playing football.
“It starting when I tried out for a Pop Warner team when I was seven, and continued as I played on the intramural team at Parkview and then at Edison. I tried out for the freshman team here at Wilson during the summer, and met Tony at the freshman team practice sessions when school started. We both made the team and we’ve become good friends, and I hope I can become good friends with all of you as well. Now I am finished talking!”
He got a laugh and a round of applause for his brief introduction. I saw the kids sitting near him talking to him and making him feel welcome.
I dug into my salad. After I’d taken a few bites I heard Todd clear his throat. I looked where he and Brian were sitting, and I could see that they both seemed nervous as they stood up.
“Guys, Brian and I have an announcement,” he said.
Brian: “Todd and I have known each other since we met at Edison.”
Todd: “And we’ve been best friends all that time.”
Brian: “So we figured we should notch it up a bit.”
Todd: “And we wanted to let all of you know.”
Brian: “Todd and I are boyfriends.” He and Todd looked at each other and grinned.
It seemed like everyone else started talking simultaneously. There was no point in my joining the cacophony of twenty-some voices shouting their congratulations and saying things like, “I knew it!” or “I never would’ve guessed!” I just sat there, smiling.
I sat across the table from Heather. I noticed she was doing the same, just sitting there and smiling.
She mouthed to me, “You knew?”
I nodded and whispered back, “Yeah, as of last night.”
She nodded, then said, “Cool!” and she grinned.
“Did you know?” I asked.
“Yeah. Brian and I walk to school, and he told me this morning.”
People had gotten up and gathered around where Todd and Brian were sitting. Heather got up and came around and sat next to me.
“You okay with this?” she asked.
“Absolutely. Why not?”
“I sort of thought you and Todd might get together.”
“No way. We’re related, we’re cousins. No way we’d get together as boyfriends.”
“Yeah. It’s just that it would have been so cool for two guys who look like they’re identical twins to be boyfriends.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I guess I’m just a romantic.”
“I have a question. Now that Todd has announced to everyone at school that he’s gay, what are our chances of winning the election for class president and vice-president?”
“I don’t know. My guess is that it’s going to improve your chances. Both Todd and Brian are popular with the kids that came from Edison. They are the majority in the freshman class. So I think it’s all good.”
She turned and stared at me. “That brings up a question. People are going to wonder if you’re gay too.”
“Jeez, you sound like Frank and his ‘twins always mess around’ nonsense.”
“So the answer is, ‘No?’”
“No, the answer is, ‘Yes.’ I’m gay, but I’m not announcing it. Yet.”
“Cool. Do Todd and Brian’s folks know they’re gay and boyfriends?”
“Todd’s going to tell his folks tonight. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Brian. You should ask Brian that question yourself.”
“You think Todd’s folks are going to be okay with him being gay, and having a boyfriend too?”
“I think so, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Are you going to be there tonight when he tells them?”
“Yeah, I am. That might make it easier for them to be accepting when he tells them. They might not ask embarrassing questions with me sitting there. Then again, it might not make any difference at all.”
“When are you going to tell your folks?”
“That’s up to Todd or his folks, not me.”
“No, silly! I mean, when are you going to tell your folks that you’re gay?”
“Probably Saturday night. My mom’s a doctor, so she knows that being gay is genetic. My dad is a professor at Sand Hills Community College, so he sees gay kids at that school all the time.”
“So gay kids in college are more likely to be out than in high school?”
“Oh yeah, they sure are! There are at least four on-campus organizations for LGBT kids at Sand Hills. I took Algebra 2 there during the summer so I wouldn’t have to take it at Wilson and I got both high school and college credit for the course. Anyway, since the class lasted three hours a day five days a week, I saw lots of kids with rainbow bracelets, rainbow flag T’s, rainbow stickers on the back of their laptops and tablets, guys holding hands on campus, girls holding hands too, stuff like that. It was very open and very cool and no one seemed to be offended by it.”
“You were able to take Algebra 2 in Community College so you don’t have to take it in high school? And you got college credit for it too?” Heather seemed incredulous.
“Uh, yeah, that’s what I told you.”
“I wish I’d known that. I’m taking Algebra 2 now, first period.”
“Scott Sanderson and Parker Hampson are in that class, right?”
“Do you have a problem with the class?”
“Well, yeah! It’s first period. That’s way too early for a math class, in my opinion,” she said.
We heard the bell ending fourth period.
“Let’s grab the boyfriends and Greg and go to another delightful fifth period ensnared in declensions, vocabulary, and translations,” Heather said.
So that’s what we did, and the five of us headed for Spanish 3. Of course, Heather and I congratulated Todd and Brian along the way, and they were stopped in the halls by other kids wanting to do the same. Fortunately, we got to our seats just before the final bell.
Seventh period football practice was a guided repeat of this morning’s practice. Coach Kavanaugh had us do calisthenics to warm up. Then he laid rings on the field and we jumped from one to another to help our agility. Next he had us try to move a blocking dummy when four other kids were hanging onto it. Finally we had some ‘light’ contact drills. I enjoyed the contact. It felt good to block other guys, and figure out how to get around them when I had the ball. Now, this was real football!
At dinner I could tell that Todd was wound up tight as a drum. We sat down and got the usual, “Anything interesting at school today?” from his folks.
I talked about the morning football practice, and how we were now had a light contact practice session during seventh period. I even talked about my chorus solo. I finally ran out of things to say.
It was Todd’s turn, and he said, “Brian Case and I told our friends that we’re boyfriends. Is that okay with you two? Mom? Dad?”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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