Authors: E. Lockhart
“Give some over,” pleads Shane, in that way he has that lets him say something extremely bossy while still sounding sweet.
“Oh, yeah, me too,” says Adrian, hopping toward Titus with only one shoe on.
Titus gives them each a rubbery red stick. “Buy your own, you bottom-feeders,” he laughs.
“I'm no bottom-feeder,” says Shane, making a mock muscle that still shows off his real ones. “I'm all man.”
“Yeah, me neither,” adds Adrian, chewing.
“You half-wit,” says Titus. “A bottom-feeder is a fish. Like a fish that lives off particles that other fish drop.”
Adrian laughs. “Not in my book.”
“A bottom-feeder,” says Shane, “is a species of animal most often found in Chelsea wearing leather and a dog collar. It's called a bottom-feeder because …” He pauses.
“What?” asks Brat.
“It's too disgusting to describe if you don't know what it is already.” Shane shakes his head.
“No, it's too faggy,” says Shane. “I'll lose my lunch.”
I'm sure he's making this up on the spot. There's no gay-sex-thing bottom-feeder. But just like with the gherkin letter, Adrian falls right in with Shane's joke: “Trust me, you innocents. You don't want to know.”
“I know the bottom is a subject of great interest to you, personally,” Shane says, affecting a kind and explanatory manner and putting his hand on Brat's shoulder like a teacher.
“Fuck off, it is
,” says Brat, shoving Shane away and starting to get into his gym clothes.
“But the feeding part,” Shane continues, his face cracking into a smile, “is a metaphor! Or a simile, or whatever.” He collapses in giggles. “Go down to Chelsea and figure it out.”
“I just asked a question,” says Brat. “Crap.”
“Oh, sorry, you're a gherkin man,” laughs Shane. “I should have remembered. Then we'll have to hook you up with some bottom-feeders, if you know what I mean.” More laughter. “Oops, you
know what I mean!”
The bell rings. They're late.
All of them throw on their gym clothes hastily. Brat is looking down at the floor, his mouth tight like he's trying not to cry, and Shane lopes over and elbows him gently in the side. “Just messing with you, little guy. Don't take it hard,” he says, and Brat smiles weakly.
Titus grabs his shoes from his minilocker and runs into the gym carrying them, sliding the last yard before the door in his sock feet, taking advantage of the slick tile.
I love that you skid in your socks.
And for forty-five minutes, hockey pucks slam against the rubberized gym walls.
After class, Titus is the first guy in. He's out of his shorts and in the shower before the next person gets there, and in seconds he's shaking the water out of his hair, turning off the faucet and wrapping a towel around himself.
As always, he's like a raw nerve without his clothes on. Like he's only comfortable in his head, not his body. Like the bright fluorescent light of the locker room physically hurts him—the way it invites scrutiny, the way it glints off the other guys' broad shoulders and muscular legs.
Once he gets his jeans and shirt on, he's usually back to normal—but this time, he still looks nervous. He sits on a bench by the lockers, staring into space and ignoring the chaos around him. Like he's gearing up for something.
And he is.
When Shane and Adrian are nearly dressed, Titus says to Adrian in a low voice, “That was so uncool, what you and Shane were doing.”
“Earlier, that whole bottom-feeder crap.”
“Me?” says Adrian. “I hardly said anything.”
“Not to Brat, maybe, but you're always saying that shit.”
“Get off. That's between Shane and Brat. He just gives him a hard time 'cause he's such a junior fag about everything. Talk to Shane if you're pissed, but believe me, Brat's okay. He can take it.”
“I don't want to talk to Shane,” says Titus, although Shane is right there and can hear every word. “I'm talking to you.”
Brat is sitting still now, on the other side of the bank of lockers, just out of view. Listening. They obviously think he's gone.
“All right then,” sighs Adrian. “Spill.”
Titus is silent for a moment. Then he says, “What did you mean just now, ‘junior fag’?”
Adrian looks surprised. “Nothing.”
“Are you saying Brat's gay?”
“I'm not saying anything about who he likes, or whatever.
He's just a wimp: he never stands up for himself.”
“Okay, then. That's my point,” says Titus.
“Brat's—whatever. I'm not talking about Brat, really, at all.”
“Then what the hell are you talking about?” asks Adrian. Malachy is listening now too.
“You're always saying this homophobic crap,” Titus bursts out. “Like ‘Meadows is a faggot’ for giving us homework, or ‘Titus was so gay in hockey,’ or ‘Don't be faggy, loan me a dollar.’ Hell, Ip, you wouldn't take it for a second if someone called you a Chink, and I know you beat up that guy who said ‘bucket head’—
so why are you talking about gay people like being queer is the worst shit anyone could ever be?”
“I'm not talking about gay people,” says Adrian defensively. “It's a way of talking. It's just how I talk, okay? It doesn't mean anything.”
“But it does.”
“What, Titus, are you gay?” Shane breaks in.
“No, I'm not fucking gay. But you don't know who is, or who isn't, and you're saying ‘fag this’ and ‘fag that’—all the time, where anyone can hear you.”
“Oh, come on,” says Shane. “You can tell when someone is gay.”
“No. You can't,” barks Titus. And then, lower-key: “Ip, you're my friend, right?”
“Yeah.” Adrian looks surprised to hear this, in the middle of being yelled at.
“Why do you think I don't have you at my house, huh? Why, when I live five blocks from school and you're always trying to invite yourself over?”
“Crap, I don't know,” says Adrian.
“Because my dad's boyfriend is there when I get off school, that's why,” says Titus. “Matt. Matt Levine. He teaches at NYU, so he's home a lot. And you tools would make stupid-ass gay jokes, and talk about your gherkins and how Matt shouldn't look at them—like he'd even want to—and then my dad would get home and they'd hug or something and you'd say some crap about it that would be so stupid and offensive I wouldn't be able to be friends with you anymore.” Titus stops and draws a shaky
breath. “So I fucking
have you over, and I leave the whole thing in the closet, and everything's fine except you have to run your stinking mouth off about faggots all the time until I can't fucking stand it anymore. Because I live in the faggot house. All right? All my dad's friends are gay, except for a couple people he knows from the hospital. We've got gay books, and gay pictures on our fridge, and it's all too freakin'
for you, Adrian, and I don't want you over at my house talking your crap about my family.”
“Hey, Titus,” says Shane. “Chill out. Nobody meant anything.”
“Don't get me started on
,” barks Titus, turning on Shane. “You're way the hell worse than he is”—gesturing at Adrian.
Shane holds his hands up as if in surrender. “Whoa. I was just kidding around.”
“Don't get so mad,” says Adrian. “No one meant anything.”
Malachy is silent. Brat is still hidden behind the lockers on the other side, unmoving.
Titus doesn't say anything. He grabs his jacket out of his locker and stuffs it in his backpack. Just to have something to do with his hands.
Adrian tries again. “Titus. Hey. I really never thought about it that way.”
Titus is silent.
“I'm sorry, all right? I get what you're saying.”
“Come on, answer me. You're making me feel like crap.”
“Shane's gherkin is sorry, too,” says Adrian. “It wants to send you a letter of apology.”
“You know how it likes to write letters. It's writing a whole freakin' opus already, it's so sorry.”
gherkin is sorry, and it didn't talk shit about anybody,” persists Adrian.
The edge of Titus's mouth quivers in laughter.
“Listen to this: how 'bout I promise to watch my goddamn motherfucking big-ass mouth?” says Adrian. “From here on out.”
Titus cracks a smile.
“I won't say any shit that's fucking offensive. You can drag me around by my balls if I do.” Adrian's giggling a bit now, but I can tell he means it.
“All right,” says Titus. “What the fuck.”
“I'll be a fucking politically correct choirboy, you'll see.” Adrian reaches over and socks him on the arm. “Then maybe you'll have me over to watch the TiVo.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Titus laughs. “You still gonna vacuum?”
And it seems like things are okay.
Adrian looks at his watch. “I have to work at four. I'm gonna scoot. We all right?”
Titus sighs. “We're all right.”
Adrian jerks his head at Shane. “You taking the train?”
Shane nods and throws his pack over his shoulder. “Catch
you later,” he says to Titus—and it's hard to tell if he's mad, or sorry, or what.
Malachy follows them out, and Titus slumps down on the bench with his elbows on his knees. After a minute, Brat starts bustling around in the back of the room, running some water and pulling his wet hands through his hair.
“Hey,” says Titus, like he knew Brat was there all along. “Hey yourself.”
“What a drama.”
“Ain't life without it,” says Brat, flicking the water off his hands and walking toward Titus.
Brat sits down. They are quiet for a minute. “You know I like boys.”
“I kinda figured,” says Titus.
“Even when I went out with Sallie?”
Brat picks at his fingernails. “You're the first person I told.”
Titus sighs. “Well, Shane probably has a clue.”
“God, all he thinks about is his gherkin,” complains Brat. “I mean, I'm queer and I don't think about gherkins nearly as much as him.”
“Nobody could,” laughs Titus. “He's obsessed. He's like a gherkin maniac, that guy.”
“Queer. I never said that before,” says Brat.
“We're here, we're queer, get used to it.”
“It's a thing they chant at marches,” explains Titus. “Or at the gay pride parade, or whatever.”
“You go to gay pride parades?”
“It's like the family religion. I get unbelievable crap from my dad if I don't go.”
Brat stands again. “We're here, we're queer, get used to it. Well, that was excellent, what you said before.”
Titus looks away like he doesn't want to deal. “It's done.”
he after-school sports guys filter in and out again. I am trying to resign myself to the weekend as a fly with nothing to do and no one to even watch, much less talk to, when Malachy bangs through the door. He throws his pack on the ground and goes quickly into one of the toilet stalls.
Normally I don't look at the boys in there. I mean, there's nothing to see anyhow (no one has flogged the gherkin at school or anything like that), and I figure that even the worst voyeur, which I fully admit that I am, can grant them their privacy in the stalls. But Malachy isn't on the john. He's standing in there crying. I hear the snuffling, and buzz over to see him clutching a wad of toilet paper with his hands over his face.
I've never seen a guy cry. Not even my dad.
Eventually, he comes out and splashes some water on his face. Then he pulls a notepad out of his pack and starts to write.
“About today, you need to stop making other people your priority and—”
He rips the page out of the book and crumples it up next to him.
“Katya, think about it again—”
This one he crosses out with a dark slash, and turns the page.
“I've thought about it and however you want things to be is how they'll be. Will you—”
He crosses this one out too, and sits looking at a fresh page, fiddling with his pen.
God, I want my body back. Want to stop being this someone else, this fly, and be Gretchen Yee again.
Not just for the obvious reasons, like
I want to kiss Titus and
eat tofu with black bean sauce and
I remember how good it feels to have a soft charcoal drawing pencil in my hand and
I want to take hot showers in the morning and
read a big stack of new comic books and
listen to my dad laugh and
breathe the smells of New York City as I walk down the street
but also because I could fix this for Malachy. If Katya's broken up with him because of what she thinks I'll say, I can tell her that I know about the two of them. I can be happy for her.
She was right, I think, about what I would have done if I had found out earlier. I would have been mad and freaked out about all the boys who don't like me back
and what might happen to our friendship.
I would have felt like she'd betrayed me
already did feel like it, actually, from her not being there all the time and hiding something from me—
but I don't feel that way anymore.
Katya's got a boyfriend. A nice one, who hangs with Brat when everyone else is ignoring him, who writes her notes, who cries over her and wants to take her out to places and hold her hand in public.
She shouldn't lose him over me.
I will never save the world. And I will never be a superhero. But I could do something to make at least two people happier than they are right now, if only I were Gretchen Yee, back in my life where I belong.
fter a night of no dreams at all, I wake up in my bed.
My bed! A big double bed containing several comic books, a copy of “The Metamorphosis,” a dirty T-shirt, way too many baby dolls, some cookie crumbs and me. A human girl wearing pajama bottoms and a cotton camisole.