The next day, Teek was avoiding me. Or that's what I thought anyway, because when I saw her and waved, she grabbed her books from her locker and hurried around the corner. Maybe she hadn't seen me. I hoped she wasn't mad at me; I didn't think I'd done anything wrong, but if she was acting weird, it was probably because I had. I went over our phone call last night, trying to figure out if it was something I said.
I hadn't told her anything about what Adam said about Jacob, how he was only a starter for the team because his Dad donated money. Well... I had told her that he'd only play for the first part of the game, I guess. But I was only repeating Adam, trying to make a point. I wasn't the person to ask about who was a good soccer player and who wasn't. Everyone should have known that.
So Teek ran off like she hadn't seen me, but I shrugged it off. I was in a pretty good mood. Contemplating Adam's homecoming plans, I headed for my locker.
When I reached it, I noticed a piece of folded paper sticking out of one of the vents. A note someone couldn't be bothered to push through? I plucked it out of the locker and started to unfold it; it looked like a sheet of notebook paper that had been folded several times over into a tiny triangle, almost like those paper footballs people make to flick back and forth across their desks.
I'd just started unfolding this piece of paper when these loud voices started coming around the corner and I had to press myself against the locker bank to avoid getting trampled by most of the soccer team, an army of blue and yellow, in the midst of some loud conversation about how they were going to kick Casa Roble's collective ass tonight.
Then, while they were passing by, I heard it: this voice in my ear, the kind of whisper that doesn't sound enough like the speaker's voice to identify.
This voice, it said,
And I wasn't even sure if I'd heard it right. And if I had, was it even talking to me?
Yeah, okay, there was no one else around. I wasn't sure why I was so quick to give them all the benefit of the doubt. I guess because they were all guys I'd talked to at one point or another, sat next to during class, or seen in the locker room. You know, it was a small school. And I was obviously laboring under the delusion that everyone more or less tolerated me. I looked at the disappearing soccer mob; no one was looking back. No way to know who said it.
Then I remembered the note. I almost knew what it was, what it would say before I got it open, but it was still a surprise to see it, written out in someone's big-block marker letters:
LASKOWSKI IS A FAG
I was mostly shocked that someone had spelled my name right. No, I wasn't. But I wanted to be. I really, really wanted to not care. As I was flipping it over to check the back, I noticed Jenny, one of my three comrades from the not-GSA, has came over to her locker and was staring.
"Love note?" she said, with a half smile.
I looked down; I was definitely holding the note so she could see it.
"Yeah," I said, cause what else was I supposed to say. These words, they were just things people said behind your back, thinking you didn't know, but you did. I crumpled up the note and chucked it blindly at the trash cans.
Jenny looked sympathetic now.
"It's just a joke," I told her, fumbling my combination lock open. I could tell she didn't believe me, but she nodded. I hid my burning face behind my locker door until she was gone.
That was really the first time I could remember regretting that the bus got to me to school almost twenty minutes early. I grabbed some binders and books without looking at them and slammed my locker shut. I closed my eyes and rested my forehead against the cool metal. Why not just write it on my locker door? They could have, if they'd had a big permanent marker like that. Were the soccer jocks (it had to be one of them, right?) so concerned about school property that it didn't even occur to them?
The stupid part was that the note was almost worse somehow, a kick in the shins under the table that no one else can see. The kind of thing that makes you feel very alone.
A hand came up and clapped me on the shoulder and I jumped about a mile.
"Dude, what's wrong?" asked Adam. "You look like a ghost."
I tried to recover. "You mean, I look like I've seen a ghost?"
"I mean, you're all pale."
"You just surprised me," I said, a half truth. "What's up?"
"I am making us the coolest Homecoming plans," Adam said. "Are you free after school today?"
I had a history test coming up that I was supposed to study for. "I'm always free," I told him.
"Great," said Adam. "Meet me here then?”
"Okay." I didn't even ask what was up, where we were going. My brain needed the distraction, something else to wonder about. "See you then."
Adam half-smiled and waved. I didn't wave back, but he wasn't expecting it. He started to walk around the corner when he was nearly run over three or four soccer guys, who must have circled back around. Probably to harass me some more.
Adam tried to get out of their way, but he wasn't quick enough and I saw him get an elbow in the stomach.
"Watch it, BJ," Chris Neiman, another starter, said.
"Fuck off," Adam muttered, pressing a hand over his ribs.
"Language, Gozmen,” said Andrew Russell. They were trying to sound like they were joking, but it clearly wasn’t amicable. I pressed myself between the wall and my locker. They were too busy ribbing Adam to notice me. They passed right by.
"Uh, aren't you friends with those guys?" I asked Adam when they were out of earshot.
Adam managed to stand up straight, but he grimaced. "I was a little too vocal about how we're gonna lose the game. Just a hunch, but...yeah."
I almost laughed. "You told them that?"
"No, but...word gets around." Adam shrugged. "Guess I can be kind of loud. Oh well, fuck 'em. I'm quitting the team anyway."
"You're quitting soccer?"
"Yeah, I suck now." Adam rubbed his side absent-mindedly. "I suck. There's no point. I hated it anyway."
That had to be a lie, but I just shrugged. "Well, whatever."
"Whatever," Adam agreed. "Gotta get to class now. See ya."
"Bye," I said. I still had that gross feeling of dread from the note, from watching the soccer guys run over Adam. Don't think about them, I told myself. Think about Adam's homecoming plans. But it wasn't that easy.
I couldn't find Teek at lunch, which wasn't a huge surprise. When I was about to give up the search and eat lunch alone in the grass, I saw Casey waving me over. She was sitting at a picnic table with one of the Amys, looping an oily strand of hair around her finger. Casey was a pretty girl who tried to look tough by not washing her hair and wearing weird-colored lipsticks. It made a lot of sense to me that she and Adam had dated.
When I got closer, I saw what she was holding in her waving hand: a crumpled piece of paper.
"You see this?" she asked, and of course, yeah, it was that great note from this morning. I inwardly groaned; did I really not throw that away? Or was Casey going through the trash?
"I found it by the lockers by the library," Casey said.
Amy was smirking at me, but she didn't say anything.
"Yeah, I saw," I said. I let Casey hand it back to me for some reason.
"Well, I think the gay-straight alliance stuff you're doing is pretty cool. You should keep doing it."
"It's not the gay-straight alliance," I said, automatically, "It's—"
"Whatever." Casey waved it away "I don't care. I was just saying." She looked at Amy and they shared a private smile. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to leave now. I half-turned away and Casey's head snapped back up towards me.
"So did Adam join or what?" she asked.
I looked at her, confused. First of all, no one ever joined. Second of all, it didn't really seem like Adam's thing. I guess my expression answered her question, because she said, "I just thought cause, like, I saw you guys hanging out."
"Yeah, we're friends," I said, about a second before I realized what she was implying. I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Uh, didn't you and Adam go out?"
Casey looked at Amy, who smirked again. I really wished she'd stop making that face; it was driving me nuts.
"Yeah, we went out," said Casey. "So what?"
"So nothing," I said.
"You know what the soccer guys call him?" That was Amy, out of nowhere. Casey made a face at her, but I couldn't tell what it meant.
"What?" I asked.
"Blow Job," said Amy, giggling. Right, BJ. It was what I'd heard this morning.
"Chris is Hand Job, Andrew is Finger Bang, and Ryan is Socks." Casey ticked them off on her fingers. "Because he has sex with his socks on. I mean, apparently." She laughed almost nervously here. "They are so immature, right?"
"Uh..." I tried to think of a good way to ask this, but there wasn't one. "So why do they call Adam...?"
"Blow Job?" Casey pressed her lips together. "Well, one time he was at this party and he got really drunk. And the guys were talking about getting head from their girlfriends. And Adam started ranting about how girls couldn't ever give great head because they didn't have the same equipment. So someone asked Adam if he could give a good blowjob then, since he was also a guy. And Adam was like, hell yeah!” Casey looked at me. "So that's why they started calling him that."
I was suddenly grateful I never got invited to these kinds of parties.
"And don't get any weird ideas about me," Casey said. "We only kissed. Me and Adam, I mean."
"So I'm just saying," said Casey, "If Adam turned out to be a huge closet case, I wouldn't be all that surprised."
"Oh," I said.
"Seriously though." Casey leaned forward a little. "Does he set off your gaydar?"
Amy busted up laughing, and Casey's purple-lipsticked mouth twisted up like she was trying very hard not to crack up too.
I didn’t answer; I wasn’t supposed to. She was making fun of me and I hadn't even realized it. I lifted my hand up to cover my face and realized I was still holding that stupid, fucking note. I wanted to throw it back on the ground and stomp on it, but then someone else would just find it and wave it in my face. I wanted to light it on fire, but I didn't have a lighter. I crammed it into my pocket instead; I'd tear it up later, put the pieces in different trash cans so this couldn’t happen again. I turned my back to Casey and Amy to find somewhere to eat my lunch. But I wasn't hungry anymore. My stomach had tied itself into a weird knot, worse than this morning.
Before, when I felt like this I would just leave. Skip out on my afternoon classes. Before before, I would go to the library and study. Studying was such an easy thing to lose myself in, back when I cared about school. At least I could feel like I was doing something productive. Now it just felt fake. What was the point? Who cared if I did well on the history exam? I knew I wouldn't fail. You had to be basically an idiot to half-truth. So why bother to study? College, Mom would say, but what the hell did she know? All her nursing school had turned out to be a big old waste of time. All those years of school, thrown away on one stupid mistake. All those years she could have been doing something else.
Studying, getting As, making the damn honor roll... Those things had been comforting to me at one time. Now, it didn't matter. I didn't even have that.
"Good, you're still here," Adam said, when he came by my locker after school. "You ready to go?"
I could not have been any more ready. We took off for the parking lot.
I could tell Adam about the note, about what I heard at my locker, about what Casey said. But all I said was, "Today sucked."
"Yeah," Adam agreed. And that was it.
Up next week, Chapter Nineteen: Stacey's House.