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Basketball players, when they make the state championships.
Maybe people in the marching band?
I’m trying to make a list of people who actually enjoy pep rallies while I’m getting ready for school. It seems like a limited portion of the population. Because let me tell you, as someone who’s always sitting in the bleachers during pep rallies, they are probably the most boring things on the face of the planet. I’d rather watch golf.
I definitely never feel the proper level of pep while I sit there. It’s just people hopping around on the gym floor. I don’t even know what they’re doing, or what it’s supposed to look like. It really just seems like everyone is bouncing up and down and trying to get me to bounce up and down.
I have zero desire to bounce.
I also dislike clapping. What are we, trained seals?
I have far better things to do with my life than deal with any of this. But apparently having certain aspirations does not preclude me from having to attend another pep rally. My request to use the wasteful pep rally time to study SAT vocabulary was quickly shot down by the vice principal. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to have a pile of flash cards in my pocket. The administration can’t stop me from becoming more than my monosyllabic classmates could ever imagine.
For the record, I’m self-aware enough to realize my biggest issue with pep rallies is that they bring into harsh focus what a complete nerd I am. But I don’t need to spread that around to anyone.
As I walk into the kitchen, my mother’s pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“Pour me one, too,” I say.
“For starters, please or thank you goes a long way. And since when do you drink coffee?” She continues preparing her own cup with plenty of cream and sugar.
“Since forever,” I say, getting out my own mug, since she’s obviously not going to be any help in this matter.
She leans a hip on the counter and stares me down. “You need a haircut.”
“My hair is fine, Ma.” I put a piece of bread in the toaster.
“And coffee stunts your growth.”
“Thank you for bringing the topic of my height up at 7:07 in the morning. It’s never too early to remind me that I’m Lilliputian.” I pour some coffee from the carafe and drink it black, as if trying to prove my virility and manliness via coffee preferences.
“I’m not trying to make you feel bad!” she insists. “I’m your mother. I know you want to be tall. You want to be at least as tall as Ezra.”
“Ezra’s only five-ten,” I point out, gesturing toward her with my mug and then taking a sip, wincing a bit and giving in to the call of cream and sugar.
“And how tall are you these days?” she asks, eyeing me up.
“Five-seven,” I say. “Almost.”
“Just think how much taller you would be if you didn’t drink coffee.”
“I really don’t think it works like that.”
“But what if it does, Gideon? What if it really does and you’re harming yourself?”
I roll my eyes and sigh deeply. I chug the rest of my coffee and shove toast in my mouth while she nags me for a few more minutes, then put my mug in the dishwasher and run back upstairs to brush my teeth.
“Gideon,” she calls after me.
“Can’t now, Ma, Kyle’s gonna be ready to go any second.”
As soon as I say his name, I start thinking again about the pep rally. I need to find out if he actually likes them. Maybe Kyle is the key to the mystery of pep rallies.
He plays center for the varsity basketball team. My mom always says that Kyle’s like a puppy that’s still growing into his paws. Which is probably true but a weird thing to agree with your mom about in terms of your best friend.
I should have pointed out to her that Kyle drinks coffee sometimes and he’s six-three.
Because of his height, he spends a lot of time hunched over and brushing his hair away from his ears, trying to hear what all the tiny peasants around him are saying.
I just can’t imagine that he really enjoys this clichéd high school ritual. I can already see him standing in the middle of the basketball court, trying not to call too much attention to himself, while the cheerleaders and the rest of the team draw everyone’s focus.
Kyle definitely prefers the simpler things in life. Sports, video games, Lord of the Rings, even though I keep telling him he can’t be a true Tolkien fan without reading the books. He pretends he can’t hear me when I say stuff like that.
I think he’s one of those guys who is really lucky because he’s quiet, but instead of people thinking that he’s an aloof weirdo, people find him sort of charming. He’s not as quiet as he used to be. When I first met him when we were five, he was so quiet I didn’t know his name until his mom told me.
As I head back downstairs to leave, my mom’s gathering up her stuff by the front door to leave for a meeting.
“You know,” I say, “Kyle’s six-three and he drinks coffee.”
“Maybe Kyle comes from a stronger gene pool.”
“Do you just stay up all night thinking about ways to make me feel bad?” I ask.
“Don’t be a smart aleck. I love you,” she says, then kisses me on the forehead, leaving a lipstick stain for sure. I dart out of the way before she decides to do something gross like lick her thumb and clean off my forehead.
“Be a good boy, Gideon.”
“See you later, Ma,” I say, closing the door and rubbing at the lipstick with my own spitless thumb.
I’m definitely running late.
Up until I was about ten, I firmly believed there were little elves that came into my room every night and rearranged all my stuff. At seventeen, I realize that’s not how it works, but it doesn’t keep me from wishing that there really were little elves, because it’d be nice to have someone else to blame. The reality is that I’m extremely disorganized and forgetful.
Finding all the stuff I need for school every morning takes up a solid half hour of time. I have no idea why. I try to do better and yet here I am, running around the house looking for my basketball jersey that I need for this afternoon’s pep rally.
I don’t even like pep rallies.
Too many people looking at me.
I check all the usual places for my jersey: my bedroom, the downstairs bathroom, the upstairs bathroom, the linen closet, just in case. I systematically check all of my dresser drawers. But nothing. My mom set up all these cubbies and color-coded systems and foolproof ways to keep everything I need exactly where I leave it. Unfortunately, I am a fool.
I’m an especially tired fool because I kept myself up half the night worrying about coming out as bi to my girlfriend. But that’s a whole other circle of thoughts that I don’t have time to get into at the moment.
I need my damn basketball jersey.
“Mom!” I yell, finally giving in.
“Mom!” I call again as I run down the stairs. I check the clock on the cable box as I breeze through the living room. It’s already 7:17. I have three minutes until Gideon’s going to be standing outside, waiting for me. Gideon is never late. Gideon never loses anything. Ever.
I guess that’s just what his parents expect from him. Although I’ve known the Berkos since I was five, and they’ve never struck me as the kind of parents who would force their kid to be something he’s not, and yet Gideon is a model son.
But you should see Gideon’s older brother, Ezra. He’s got the raddest freaking tattoos all over his body, and instead of going to college, he decided to move to California and become a professional surfer. I honestly can’t think of anything cooler than that. Or any one human being more opposite to Gideon.
And on top of that, the Berkos were totally cool about it. And actually supportive. I feel like if I proposed that to my parents, they would basically lock me in my room for the next four years and force me to get an online degree. After the online degree, they would probably let me do whatever I wanted, but they’re super into going to college. I think because they didn’t go themselves.
“Mom!” I yell again. “Mom! Mom!”
“What, what, what?” she asks, coming up from the basement with my basketball jersey in hand.
“I was looking for that!” I say, grabbing it from her.
“I washed it for you. I told you I was washing it for you.”
“Now eat something before you’re late.”
I look over at the breakfast table, where my sisters are eating bowls of cereal and being complete opposites as usual. Julie is typing furiously on her phone while Emma looks about half-asleep.
“And you two need to get out to the bus,” she adds, staring them down.
My mom works in an office that she loves doing a job that she hates, but she doesn’t have to be there until nine, so she’s still wandering around the house in her pajamas, yelling at us. It’s not until my sisters leave for the bus to the middle school that she goes upstairs to get ready herself and I’m left in peace and quiet for the ninety seconds it takes me to eat a Pop-Tart, brush my teeth, and grab the rest of my stuff.
“See you later, Mom!” I yell up the stairs. I get a muffled reply as I turn to walk out the door, but a second later she’s at the top of the stairs.
“Hold on,” she says.
I freeze, trying to remember what I’m in trouble for.
“Gideon’s gonna kill me if I’m late,” I say, glancing toward the living room again, but I can’t see the digital clock on the cable box anymore.
“Are you going to be home for dinner?” she asks.
“I’m supposed to hang out with Ruby after basketball practice.”
She sighs that kind of put-upon mom sigh that I know too well. I haven’t been home for dinner much lately.
“But for you, Mom, I’ll make an exception.”
She rolls her eyes but smiles. “All right, get out of here before Gideon calls in the SWAT team.”
When I get outside, Gideon’s leaning on my car, checking his watch like it holds the secrets of the universe.
I’m about to apologize when he starts talking.
“Do you like pep rallies?” he asks.
“I can’t stand them,” I tell him honestly, shuddering a little at the very thought.
“Awesome,” he says, climbing into the passenger side.
“You have lipstick on your forehead.”
“Damn it,” Gideon says, pulling down the visor and checking himself in the mirror.
“Should be a napkin in the glove compartment,” I say.
He roots around in there while I pull out of the driveway and head in the direction of the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through.
“So, what’s up?” he asks.
“Why were you running late?”
“No, really, you seem weird,” he says, side-eying me. “You’re all twitchy.”
“Um, well. I think I’m going to come out to Ruby.”
“What? Seriously? Why?”
“Well, um…” I can’t find my train of thought, and I have no idea why I’m so nervous.
“I mean, like, why now? What changed?”
“It kind of feels like I’m lying to her.”
“But you like girls. Like, how relevant is this? What guys do you even like?”
“Chris Evans,” I say.
He rolls his eyes. “Barring the unlikely event that you happen to run into Chris Evans, how big of a role does being bisexual really play in your everyday life?”
“Why are you acting like this?”
“Like what?” he asks.
“Like I’m on trial for wanting to come out to my girlfriend.”
His jaw drops as he realizes that’s exactly how he’s acting.
“Is it because you’re one of those people who don’t believe bisexuality exists or something?” I ask.
“I don’t know, it’s one of those things where I know I’m acting weird but I can’t get myself to stop. I’ll do better. I promise.”
“So how do you think she’ll take it?” he asks, holding on to the “oh shit” handle for dear life as I take a curve a little too fast.
“Hopefully she’ll be cool about it. I don’t think she’ll assume it means we should have a threesome or something.”
“Who did you come out to that asked you to have a threesome?”
“No one. But think about it. It’s got to happen all the time. ‘Oh, you swing both ways? Let’s invite a second dude into our ménage.’”
“Exactly how much porn have you been watching lately, Kyle?” he asks, his face mock serious.
“There is nothing wrong with porn,” I say, wrenching the steering wheel in the other direction.
“I didn’t say there was, just that you might be watching too much of it.”
I roll my eyes.
“Just so I’m up on all of this, who knows you’re bi?”
“Pretty much my whole family except for my great-aunt Alba, but that’s just because she’s senile, you, your parents, your brother, Buster, Sawyer, and Maddie. Why, did you hear something?”
“Nope. But who’s going to gossip about you to me?”
“An excellent point.”
“I guess what I don’t understand is why you seem nervous about coming out to her when so many people already know.”
“Another excellent point.” I chew my lip. “I guess it’s just different with Ruby because, I don’t know, she might not like me as much after she knows. Or something.”
“If that’s the case, then she’s basically just an asshole.”
I make a sharp left into the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and gun the engine toward the drive-through.
“You could warn a guy,” Gideon says, rubbing his throat where the seat belt cut into his neck.
“Hey, Gideon, we’re going to Dunkin’ Donuts,” I say.
“Thanks for the heads-up,” he says.
“I had a Lord of the Rings marathon last night,” I tell him after I place our order.
“Is that why you were actually running late?”
“Um, maybe,” I say.
“You watched without me? I thought we were saving it for spring break.”
“Well, we were, but I don’t know, I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking too much about coming out to Ruby. I only watched the first two and not the extended editions!”
“Oh,” he says, his voice quiet.
“Anyway, I was thinking—”
“We’re not having the conversation about the eagles again. We’re not going down that road. Our friendship cannot withstand that debate.”
“I’m not talking about that,” I say, trying to get him to listen.
“Good. I’m not prepared for that debate at 7:32 in the morning.”
“I’m mostly just wondering what would happen if someone swallowed the ring,” I say when I finally park the car on the side street next to the high school.
“Why would anyone swallow the ring?” he asks.
“I don’t know. But hypothetically, what do you think would happen?”
Gideon shakes his head and continues walking toward the front doors.
“No, but really, Gid, come on. I thought we could have a nice conversation about this!” I call after him.
“It’s not going to end well,” he says over his shoulder as I catch up.
“But just think about it.”
He rolls his eyes, but I can tell he’s going to think about it. This is how it is, was, and always will be between Gideon and me.
Copyright © 2016 by Sandy Hall