Kayla and I sat down with our trays and settled in at the same table we always use during lunch. She started to eat as I scanned the room, looking for Mark.
“What are you looking for?” Kayla asked, as if she was annoyed.
“My friend Mark. I told him to sit with us today.”
“Oh…yeah. I forgot.”
“Is there something wrong with that?” I quizzed, while measuring her tone of voice.
“Sigh…no. Nothing at all.”
“Are you sure about that? I mean, you don’t seem to happy about it.”
But before she had a chance to answer the question, I spotted Mark and waved to him. He saw me and smiled, as he walked over to our table.
He sat down with a “hey”.
I took it on myself to do the proper introduction, saying “Kayla, this is Mark. Mark. Kayla.”
“Nice to meet you Kayla” Mark said sincerely.
A flat “hi” was all Kayla could come up with.
We spent the next ten minutes talking about nothing important. Kayla was withdrawn and not participating in the conversation at all. I could tell her vibe was making Mark uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable as well. I had never seen Kayla like this before. She was definitely not happy about something.
A minute later, Mark said he needed to go to the office for something. I didn’t believe him, but I understood why he felt the need to get up and leave.
“Nice to meet you Kayla.”
“See you at hockey Danny.”
After Mark was gone, I resumed our chat from earlier.
“Ok. What was that Kayla? What’s the matter?”
“He’s cute…ummm…what? Did you say something?”
“Forget it” I said, as I got up myself, dumped my tray, and walked to the bathroom. I didn’t understand what was going on with Kayla, and I wasn’t too happy about it either.
When I walked into the bathroom, Mark was standing at the sink, washing his hands. I was startled to see him, frozen in my tracks. He caught the frustration on my face.
“Sorry about that dude. Did I interrupt something big back there?”
“No. I don’t know what that was all about. I’m the one who’s sorry.”
“Nah. You didn’t do nothing wrong. I don’t think Kayla likes me too much.”
“I don’t know what her problem is. I’ve never seen her like that before. Weird. And then when I asked her what was up, all she said was that you are cute…”
“What? She said that?”
“Yeah, it was like she was trying to ignore my question and I…I just got up and left. I was pretty pissed off.”
“You didn’t say anything? You just got up and left?”
“Whoa. You guys having some kind of love spat?”
“Dude! I told you she’s not my girlfriend. She’s more like a…I don’t know…just like a good friend or something.”
Mark placed his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye, then he said convincingly “that’s probably the problem. She wants you dude. And she wants you to want her.”
Then he took his phone out of his front pocket, glanced at it and said “I really do need to hurry to the office. See ya tonight.”
I watched as his slender body scurried around the corner, and whispered “she’s not the one I want Mark. You are.”
I stood there a moment with all my thoughts aligned perfectly. I had it bad for Mark. I ached for him. From the moment I first saw him last night. The butterflies. The undeniable urges. It was that moment, standing in the bathroom, that I realized the difficult path that stood before me. The lonely, unnatural kind of love that would plague me with such heartache and loneliness. The need to hide my true self from the masses or face the hatred and cruelty they would enforce. A single tear fell from my eye, as I asked ‘why me? and ‘why this?’ But before I was able to delve too deeply into my private hell, my phone buzzed in my pocket. A text from Kayla, that read: ‘where are you? :(‘
I just couldn’t deal with that right now, so I didn’t reply to her text. I went into one of the bathroom stalls and shut the door. I needed to be alone. To think. I sat on the toilet and drew my legs up into my chest as a rush of kids swarmed into the bathroom before returning to afternoon classes. After a few minutes of high volume chaos, they were gone, and dead silence returned.
I felt this overwhelming need to get away. I had to find a way to get out of school. The walk home is far too long. If I hung out by the school and took the bus home, is have to face Kayla. I can’t deal with her right now. That is not an option.
There is only one person I lean on in times of crisis. My uncle. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and texted him.
“Hey. Are you busy?”
A few minutes later, he replied “about to go to lunch. What’s up bud? Everything ok?”
“Not so much. I really want to leave school. Don’t know how…”
“Did something happen? I can come get you.”
“Idk. Not really. I just can’t be here right now but you’re at work so don’t worry about it. Thanks!”
“Daniel. I’m offering to come get you. Do you want me to or no?”
“If it’s not too much of a problem.”
“Not at all. I’ll call the office. Front door in 10.”
I don’t know what he was going to say, but I was just happy to get away from here and not get in trouble for ditching. I slipped out into the quiet hallway and found the nearest exit at the back if the school. I worked my way to the side of the building and waited until I saw my uncles car pulled.
While I stood there, I tried to calm myself out of the panic I had worked myself into. I’ve always been able to make a bad situation much worse than it is. The real problem, as I saw it, was that this was all my fault. I let somebody get to close. I’ve always been so much better off on my own. I had already made a few decisions in my mind.
First, I cannot allow Mark and I to become friends again. It is just too hard for me to secretly want him. I might slip up or be obvious. It’s also not fair to him for me to live a constant lie around him.
Second, I have to let Kayla know how I really feel. Let her know that all I can be is a friend to her. If what she really wants and really needs, is a boyfriend. She will have to find someone else.
As I was sorting out my plan, my uncles silver Volkswagen pulled up. I jogged across the front lawn of the school and hopped in.
“Hey kiddo! Long time, no see. I’ve missed you. How’ve you been?”
“Hey. Thanks for this.”
As he pulled away, he asked “where to?” Trying to keep the vibe upbeat.
“You can bring me home. If you got to go back to work.”
“I took a half day, but I am kind of hungry. You hungry? If kind of like to hang out a while. If that’s cool?”
His magic was working, as I felt myself relaxing some. He has always been my best medicine.
He drove us to a favorite spot of ours. An old fashioned diner on the river bluffs. We ordered breakfast food and caught up on a bunch of small-talk. After a while he eased into some more personal matters.
“So your mom tells me you’ve been hanging around a girl quite a lot. Is it something serious?”
“Ummm…I don’t know. Not really, but maybe. Does that make sense?”
“well, you’d have to tell me more, if you want my opinion, but that is totally up to you.”
“Well…it’s all kind of confusing. I mean she’s super cool and fun to be around and I think she wants to like…you know, be more serious or whatever…but I don’t really want to.”
“Ok. So why not?”
That is the one question I was most afraid of. I was trying to decide if I could share my biggest secret with my uncle since I first got into his car. I know he would be cool about it and not tell anyone. I can trust him like no other, but I don’t know if I’m ready to tell even him. I would tell him someday, but not today.
“I don’t know…maybe I’m just a little scared. And you know, inexperienced.”
“Ok. Well you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Do you like her that way at all?
“Sometimes yeah…sometimes…she like…does things that…”
“I think I get it. Well here’s what I think. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. You’re still very young. But you do owe her the truth. Don’t lead her on if your hearts not really in it. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah. I was already thinking the same thing…I just haven’t done it yet.”
“Is that why you called me?”
“I wish that was all. Do you remember my friend Mark, from when I was younger?”
“The neighbor kid?”
“How could I not remember him. He practically lived at your house.”
“Yeah. Well he’s back. He moved back.”
“Yeah. I thought so too. But today I tried to introduce him to Kayla and it didn’t go so good.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Well Kayla was a real bitch to him. I felt like an ass and I tried to apologize to Mark, and I tried to ask Kayla why she was so mean to him, but she ignored me. That’s why I called. I don’t want to see her on the bus ride home.”
“Hmmm…well if you ride the same bus, you can’t avoid her forever. Just try again. Find out what’s bugging her. It might be a good time to tell her exactly how you feel too.”
“Yeah, maybe tomorrow. I just can’t today.”
“I understand. Cooler heads prevail. Probably a smart move on your part. Remember, honestly is the best policy Daniel.”
We finished up our meal and headed for my house. We had a long, deep hug and said our customary love you’s. He scolded me for waiting so long to talk to him and see him, and I promised I wouldn’t do it again.
About the time school was getting out, I got another text from Kayla:
“Daniel. Where in the hell are you??? You’ve got me worried now.”
I still wasn’t ready to deal with that. I laid down on my bed and shuffled through my ipod, to try and take my mind off of everything. About a half hour later, I heard the bus pull up. I peaked through the curtains and watched Kayla go past. She stopped in front of my house and looked around some, before she started to walk on to her own house. I felt like a total asshole. I kind of freaked out earlier, and now I felt bad for making her worry about me. I will fix this tomorrow. Now I had to focus on hockey. And Mark. And Derek.