Before the Kiss - Part 2

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After Liam punched Raphael, the jerk didn't mess with me again. But I suppose the incident got my mom and Liam's parents rethinking about what would be best for us.

"What do you think of going to a public not Catholic school instead of a Catholic one?" my mom asked at the end of grade 5. My immediate impulse was to reject the idea since I did not want to be separated from my best friend. But as my mom continued, I calmed down. "I was talking to Liam's parents, and we think it might be better. You two can have a different environment. Maybe make more friends. Some exciting changes are coming to the Santos' lives too. Being in a public school will take off some burden."

I didn't understand what my mom was talking about but didn't mind changing schools as long as I could stay with Liam. It was right before grade 6 that I learned the "exciting change" was Liam's mom being pregnant. Liam spent more time at my house while his parents prepared for his baby sister. My mom came to check on the two of us often. Clueless little me didn't know why she was suddenly making a rule to keep my door open when Liam was there.

I didn't want Liam to have to keep defending me from bullies who teased me about my "girly" speech and gestures. It wasn't fair to him if I was his only friend. So when we moved up to middle school, I decided to act and talk more masculine. Liam had to have noticed, but he never said anything. He was probably also glad to be able to make more friends. We were a close group of four: Liam Santos, Alex Camejo, Jeremy Turner, and Kareem Shawar. "Man," "bro," and "dude" became a regular part of my vocabulary.

After starting middle school, it didn't take long for me to realize I was in fact gay. No, it wasn't seeing all my male peers changing for P.E. in the locker rooms. Please, those boys were nothing impressive. No, it wasn't realizing that I did, in fact, want Liam to touch my tamale. And, no, it was not having a homoerotic wet dream.

It was noticing that I had spent 30 minutes Googling pictures of Ryan Gosling shirtless and three DracoxHarry fanfics deep that I realized, "Okay, yep. I am very gay."

I cried for about three days. My Catholic Venezuelan family would bug me even more if they knew, the older generation definitely gossiping about how "Alejandro" was gay and we've known it all along and we must save him from the fiery pits of Hell. I looked online and saw horror stories of kids being sent to counselors and conversion camps and entire churches praying over them. It was terrifying. However, I also saw a lot of hope. People (including Christians) saying I wasn't doomed to Hell and that it gets better. After a week, my spirits were back up. But was I going to come out? God no. I kept up the bro act in front of my peers and everything was good.

But then fucking Raphael.

Fuckboy Raphael.

In late Autumn of grade 7, Bethany Brittany, The Girl with Two First Names, developed a crush on me. And Raphael was crushing on Bethany. Cue Raphael spreading the rumor that I was gay. "Trust the source," he's "known me since elementary school." Liam was not included in that rumor, probably because Phuckboy Raphael didn't want to push it too far lest he get another bloody nose.

We had all entered the locker room at the beginning of gym when some douchebag walked up beside my locker. "Hey, can you go change in the bathroom?"

"What?"

He frowned. "I don't feel comfortable changing with you here. None of us do."

Kareem turned to him, brown chest bare. "What are you talking about, man?"

"We heard Alex is gay."

My eyes went big.

"Bullshit," Kareem said. "Does he look gay to you?"

Another boy stepped up behind us and lifted his chin. "He's a fake. We heard he was a huge fag in elementary school."

"From Raphael?" I blurted. They all looked at me. "Raphael's a fucking liar. My best friend, Liam Santos, punched him once, so he probably just wants revenge," I explained nonchalantly, turning back to entering the combination of my locker. What could I say that would drive it home without sounding forced? "Besides, probably everyone knows I like Wilhelmina," I lied.

An unsettling silence spread across the locker room.

"Wilhemina?" a voice behind me said. "Double-D STD Wilhelmina?" I turned back to see the first boy raising his eyebrows.

"They're Cs at most," Kareem said. Everyone turned to him and he shrugged. "I have older sisters, okay?"

"STD?" I asked, eyes wide in horror. I had picked the wrong girl. All I knew was that every other boy considered her hot and... that she seemed like a nice person in science class?

"You didn't know? There's a rumor she got STDs from a guy in grade 10 last summer."

Speechless, I turned around to my locker. "Uh, okay, nevermind Wilhemina then." The poor girl might've been the victim of some exaggerated rumors, but I had to keep up my act. I forced a small laugh. "She's still hot, though."

A few boys cheered in agreement and I held back a sigh of relief. "Sorry about that, dude," the second guy apologized.

"Yeah, should've known," the other grumbled. "Raphael is a douche."

"No worries," I muttered to the metal of my still-closed locker door.

*

I later told Kareem not to tell Liam what had happened, but when Liam and I walked home together from the bus stop, I found out he already knew. He'd already tracked down the root of the rumor, and he told me about Bethany and Raphael. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah!" I told him. "I've been dealing with this crap since I was a kid. You know that. You also know I'm not gay, right?"

Liam blinked. "Yeah... I know." He rolled his eyes and continued, "Like, I've never gotten the feeling that you like guys. It's just because of the way you used to talk, but... since your voice got deeper it's not as... Anyway, that's just a stereotype, anyway. It's dumb to judge people on that stuff." He glanced at me with eyes that were gauging my response.

"Yeah!" I said, rolling my eyes as well. "Like, I don't have a problem with gay people and I think it's good for them gay marriage was legalized. Even though I'm straight." With the last word, my voice became small. Somehow calling myself "straight" felt like a betrayal much larger than saying I was "not gay." I slapped Liam on the upper arm as we came to the corner where we usually split up at our respective streets. "Hey, man, I'll see ya."

"See ya," Liam said, and to me, he looked convinced. I figured I'd done a good job that day. I was still safely in the closet.

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