Just Breathe Part 4
By S. Lynne
Stunned silence. This happens a lot after that part.
Damn is right. No matter how many times I’ve told this story, it still hurts a little bit each time I tell it. I close my eyes for a second to get my balance back.
“So… this guy pushed you into that locker?”
“And you didn’t tell anyone about it?”
“Why didn’t you just hit him back or something?”
There’s a murmur of agreement from most of the class. I look up and catch the teacher’s eye, shaking my head slightly to stop her from interjecting.
“I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that this guy was a lot bigger than me and that he had hurt me. And I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t do it again.”
“Did he? Hurt you again, I mean?”
”I didn’t see him again after that.”
“Wow. That really sucks.”
“Yeah. You could say that.”
Quiet once again. Another hand goes up.
“But, I still don’t get it, why didn’t you just tell someone? I mean, that guy, he shoulda had his ass beat or been expelled or something.”
“I agree. But at the time, I was too scared to tell anyone anything. Especially after this. I mean, c’mon. If this is what happened to people who were only thought to be gay, then what would happen if people new I really was gay? The possibility was to damn scary.”
“Well, what about Amy? I mean, she sounds like she was pretty cool. Why couldn’t you tell her?”
A small smile graces my lips.
“She was pretty cool. But she was the girl I had the big crush on, y’know? I could barely talk to her at school or when we were playing together that year.”
“So who was the first person you told, y’know, besides yourself?”
“My best friend, Rachel.”
“How’d she take it? Were you scared? Did she not wanna be your friend no more?”
“Whoa!” I laugh. “One question at a time, Ok? Let me give you a little back story first. I told Rachel at the end of my junior year in high school…”
“Kyle-Lynne! Get down here and have some breakfast!”
I was rushing around my room, grabbing the notes I had scattered all over the floor from geology class. It was the last day of finals and as my luck always managed to turn out I had the hardest final that day. It didn’t help that I hated science and had a really hard time paying attention in that class. The last few weeks of school were the worst. The weather had turned warm and the smell of the lab had gotten particularly strong.
“Kyle-Lynne! You have three seconds to get your butt down here!”
I grabbed the last of my papers and put on my flip-flops before racing down the stairs. My mom stood at the bottom, arms crossed. As I reached the bottom step she looked me up and down, taking in my flip-flops, shorts and t-shirt with an ever growing frown.
“Finally,” she said, turning and going into the kitchen.
“Sorry,” I muttered, following her.
“Just sit down at the table and eat your oatmeal,” she said without turning around. I sat down at the table and groaned internally. I hated oatmeal. My mom said that eating something hearty before any big event was helpful. I guess she thought finals were a big event because every finals week I ate oatmeal for breakfast every morning. The only way I survived was to use as much brown sugar and milk as I could to drown out the bland taste of the oatmeal.
“So, are you ready for the test today?” my mom asked while pouring herself what was probably her second cup of coffee.
“Yeah, I think so,” I replied, shoveling another bite of oatmeal into my mouth.
“You just think so?” she asked, looking at me over her coffee cup.
“Umm, it’s my hardest class. I stayed up studying late last night, so I should be ok,” I answered, not looking her in the eye.
“Well, you better do well. Your grades slipped during basketball season this year, so you better hope you do well this time around otherwise there will be no season next year.”
“Doesn’t matter that we were division champs and made the state tournament for the second year in a row,” I muttered into my bowl of oatmeal.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Nothing mom,” I answered.
“Kyle-Lynne, don’t think you – “ she started, but before she could go into full rant mode, there was a loud honk from outside.
“Oh, that’ll be Rachel, Mom. I gotta run!” I put my spoon down in my bowl and grabbed my bag off the floor and was out the door before she could say another word. I ran down the driveway towards Rachel’s truck. Rachel’s parents had surprised her on her seventeenth birthday with the little red Toyota truck. My parents had surprised me with a trip to Hawaii that turned out to be a business trip for my mother and golfing for my father. I had stayed in the hotel for the most part, and the one time I had ventured out to take a surfing lesson my mother had been furious with me for not telling her I was leaving the hotel room. It was a great trip. Really.
“Hurry up, Green!” Rachel yelled through the open window. After all my complaining for over a year, she had finally stopped calling me the Jolly Green Giant and simply shortened it to Green. I let it slide because I figured it was better than being constantly called a giant.
“Hey short stack,” I said after jumping into the truck.
“Shaddup,” she laughed, putting the truck in gear, “here, I know how you hate that oatmeal.”
She tossed me a warm strawberry Pop-Tart.
“Mm, thanks!” I said, taking a bite.
“So, you ready for this?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, “I hate science. What’s the point of taking it if I’m never going to use it?”
“I feel that way about English. I mean, who needs to know all that shit about grammar, right? That’s what spell check is for.”
“How bout we switch finals then? You take my geology final, and I’ll take your English final,” I suggested.
“Yeah, sure, they’ll never be able tell the difference,” she said, glancing at me wryly.
“What, I’ll just hunch over and we’ll stop and get you some platform shoes. That should do it, right?”
“Right… and while we’re at it, I’ll get a blonde wig and you can get a red one.”
“Sounds good to me,” I sighed. I fidgeted a little in my seat, trying to get my long legs into a position that was comfortable.
“Quit moving around,” Rachel complained, “you’re gonna knock me out of gear again.”
“I’m sorry, there’s just no space for my legs.”
“Why don’t you just stick them out the window then,” she suggested, turning into the school parking lot.
“Huh, I’ll have to try that next time,” I replied as she pulled into a parking space. As it was still pretty early, there weren’t very many cars in the lot. We learned real fast that if you plan on driving to school and you don’t want to walk a mile to get to class, getting there a little bit earlier than every one else wasn’t a huge sacrifice. Rachel turned off the engine and we sat there for a moment in silence. Today was the last day of our junior year and soon we would be seniors. The top of the school. I couldn’t wait. It meant we were all that much closer to getting out of this school. Ever since what I had dubbed The Locker Room Incident, I couldn’t stand being here, let alone in the locker room. I refused to be in there alone, ever. This entire year and the one before I hadn’t had detention once and was always one of the first people out of the locker room and out on the court for practice and games.
But another year of silence had really taken its toll on me. Everyday I walked through the halls of school, sat and listened to my mother ask why I wasn’t dating, all the while knowing that no one knew the real me. The worst was Amy. Ever since that practice our freshman year, she’d looked at me a little different. It’s not that she wasn’t nice to me or didn’t acknowledge me, if anything she was nicer and went out of her way to say hi to me in the halls. No, it was the way that when we would talk, her eyes would eventually land on the scar on my cheek. She would look at it, and then look me in the eyes, asking me silently to tell her the truth about what happened that day. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t risk it. But I also realized that I couldn’t stay silent anymore. And that’s when I had made up my mind. I needed to tell someone besides myself. I couldn’t tell my family. So that left Rachel.
“Hey, Green, let’s get out of here and get this crap over with, huh?”
“Yeah,” I replied, getting out of the truck. I screwed up my courage and looked across the hood of the truck to where Rachel was putting away her keys in her backpack, “hey, Rach?”
“Umm,” I swallowed, “umm… remind me I have something to talk to you about after school, OK?”
Rachel looked up at me.
“Can’t you just tell me now?” she asked.
“No,” I said, looking away. She came around to my side of the truck and leaned against the hood with her arms crossed.
“How ‘bout a little hint, huh?” she asked.
“I…umm, no, I can’t give you one,” I said, walking away from her truck and towards the school.
“Whoa there tiger! You can’t just say that and not even give me a hint!” she yelled, chasing after me, “C’mon, Kyle! That’s not fair!”
“I’m sorry, I just can’t tell you right now, I’ve gotta get to my final,” I said, moving a little faster.
“Fine,” she yelled after me, “but don’t think I’m going to forget!”
“I know you won’t,” I muttered to myself.
I frantically filled in the final answer on my geology exam as the bell rang, indicating the end of the two hour testing session.
“Ok, put down your pens and pass your tests to the front of the class!” Ms. Murray stated from her desk.
I put down my pen and took a quick glance over the last question, hoping I’d explained all of the different layers of rock in the picture correctly.
“C’mon y’all, the faster we get these tests up here, the sooner you are out of here for the summer!”
I put my test on the stack that was handed to me from behind and passed them all forward. I took a deep breath and looked out the window of the lab, ready to break free.
“Can we go now, Ms. Murray?” someone asked from the front of the class.
“Do I have all the tests?” she asked.
“Yes!” everyone replied.
“Well then, what are you all still doing here? Get going!”
With that said, people began rushing out of the class and shouting. I put my pen away and grabbed my bag, then followed the other students out of the class. On one hand, I was glad it was over. Another year done, another year closer to being out of there. On the other hand, I knew Rachel would be waiting for me. What was I thinking? I can’t tell her now! I’m not ready. I silently berated myself, not noticing someone was calling my name.
No. No, no, no. This is not happening. Not now!
“Hey, Kyle, wait up!”
I stopped and turned.
“Hey,” she said, looking up at me. Where I had grown another two inches and was 5’11” now, Amy still hadn’t surpassed 5’6”. “So we’re done, huh?”
“Yup,” I replied.
“Seniors now, can you believe it?” she asked.
“Yeah, crazy, huh?”
“Doing anything good this summer?”
“Just the basketball camp,” I said. We both started walking towards the parking lot.
“Yeah, that should be fun,” she replied, “I’m looking forward to teaching the younger kids this year.”
We walked in silence for a bit. I had no idea what to say to her. She still took my breath away. As we neared the parking lot I could see Rachel leaning against her truck with her arms crossed, a frown planted on her face.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you around camp this summer, then?” Amy said, stopping.
“Yeah,” was all I could manage. She looked up at me again, her eyes first landing on my scar, then my eyes. She looked like she wanted to ask me something.
“Amy! Let’s get going, huh?”
I looked away and saw Maryanne waiting in her car not to far from where Amy and I were standing. I looked back at Amy and she smiled.
“I’ll see you later, Kyle,” she said, then wrapped her arms around me in a hug. I had grown accustomed to Amy hugging me, so I brought my arms up and hugged her back.
“Yeah, see ya later,” I said as she pulled away. She waved quickly and ran off to join Maryanne in her car. I turned and started walking towards Rachel, fear settling deeper and deeper into my gut with each step I took.
As I neared the truck, Rachel jumped in the driver’s side. She leaned across the seat and unlocked the passenger door so I could get in. As we pulled out of the parking lot Rachel began tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. That was never a good sign.
“So, umm,” I started, “how’d your final go?”
“How’d my final go? How’d it go?! It went great if you don’t count the fact that I was so distracted thinking about what you had to tell me I could barely concentrate. You better hope that I’m graded on creativity instead of grammatical correctness or whatever!”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, looking down at my lap.
“Ugh!” Rachel sighed, pulling her truck over so quickly I had to grab the door to keep myself from flying over to the driver’s side. As soon as we were stopped, she threw the truck into park and killed the engine.
“OK, so I’m being a little over dramatic, I know,” she said, turning to face me, “I’m sure I did fine on the final. But you can’t just say something like that and walk off!”
“I know,” I said, looking anywhere but at her.
“So what’s this big thing you have to tell me?” she asked, crossing her arms.
“I…” I didn’t know what to say, “I…er, never mind.”
“Oh no you don’t!” she shouted, pointing her finger at me, “you’re going to tell me what you have to tell me or… or… or else!”
I laughed a little. I couldn’t help it. Rachel’s threats were always empty ones. I looked at her and I could tell she was trying not to smile, which made me relax a little bit.
“I don’t know Rachel,” I finally said, heaving a big sigh, “I’m… I’m afraid.”
“Kyle, you’re kind of scaring me here,” she said, reaching across the seats to put a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“I know, I’m sorry. I just…” I couldn’t continue. The words were there, right there on the tip of my tongue, but something was holding me back.
“C’mon, Green, we’re best friends, you can tell me anything.”
I looked over at her then and there was so much compassion in her eyes I had to look away. You can tell her! She’s your best friend; she’ll still be there for you, I told myself. But what if she’s not? Will she hurt me like he did? So many different things were swirling through my mind.
“Kyle, just tell me,” Rachel pleaded.
“I can’t,” I replied.
“Kyle, tell me!” Rachel shouted.
“I can’t!” I shouted back. I looked over at her and she looked super angry.
“Just tell me already, it can’t be that bad!” she shouted again
“Yes it can,” I replied, just as loud.
“Tell me!” she practically screamed.
Of all the ways I had pictured telling someone, yelling it to them was not one. I couldn’t believe I had said it. I could feel my whole body shaking. I put my face in my hands, afraid.
“Huh, is that all?”
I looked up and turned to Rachel. She was just sitting there with her arms across her chest, staring at me.
“What?” I whispered, not sure I’d heard her right.
“I said, is that all? That’s what you were freaking out about?”
“Um, yes?” I said, still not sure what was going on.
“Oh Kyle, I kinda already figured that,” she replied, smiling.
“Are you… I mean, you… how’d you know?” I asked, tears beginning to well up in my eyes.
“A couple of ways, I mean, I’ve seen you watching Amy every now and then,” she started. I felt the blood drain from my face.
“Really?” I whispered.
“Well, yeah, but I don’t think she’s noticed or anything,” she was quick to reassure me.
I closed my eyes.
“And, well, I mean, you also never really dated guys and you never talk about them, so I thought it might be a possibility,” she replied nonchalantly.
“And you’re,” my voice caught, “you’re OK with that?”
“Well duh!” she laughed.
“I was so scared you wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore,” I said, the tears starting to fall.
“Oh Kyle,” she said softly, pulling me across the seat into a fierce hug, “of course I still want to be your friend. That stuff doesn’t matter to me.”
I cried for a while on her shoulder, just letting out some of that pent up anxiety and emotion pour out of me. After a while, I had calmed down a bit and pulled away from Rachel. I noticed a small wet spot on her shirt.
“Sorry bout your shirt,” I said through my sniffles.
“Eh, whatever, that’s what washing machines are for,” she said, restarting her car. She pulled back out onto the road, “you wanna go get something to eat? I’m starving.”
“You’re always starving,” I replied, smiling.
Continued in Part 5
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