A Secret for a Secret

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“The truth is, Callum,” I took a deep breath as if oxygen could neutralize the fear and anxiety boiling in the pit of my stomach. “I’m gay.”

Callum rubbed his face with his right hand, the muscles in his forearm stood out in the yellow light of the hall. He dropped his hand and exhaled, sighing.

“I was wondering when you were going to tell me,” he said, fixing me with his turquoise stare. “You know, I’ve been hearing things about you. It’s all starting to make sense.” His fingers dug into the brown-striped arms of the cushioned chair he was sitting in. I could tell he was deep in thought and his next words were going to be well thought out and carefully picked. He stood. His gaze left my face and drifted to the maroon carpet on the floor as he turned, half-facing me and half-facing the window that looked out into the darkening sky. “I’ve never had a friend come out to me before. So I hope I don’t come off like someone who doesn’t care. Because I do care, you’re a good friend to me.”

I nodded, knowing that he would never understand the desires that I harbored in my mind, my yearning for him, thoughts that I considered forbidden in the insecurity-inducing and sometimes hostile environment of high school. Especially since we were both adolescent boys who ran in different social circles, I knew he would never reciprocate. He, an acoustic guitar playing, athletic god, and me, a boy too concerned with watching performance poetry.

“I’m happy for you. I’m glad you’ve decided to come out of the closet. Listen, you’ve told me a secret. Now I’ll tell you one of mine.” He gave me a faint smile. “You know that lady you saw me with the other day? Margaret, you remember her? She teaches philosophy and English at Cremwood. Well, she’s…,” here he paused, his right hand reached behind him to his neck, digging through his tousled hair. He bared his teeth to me in an awe-inspiring grin. “She’s more than a friend. Margaret and I, we spend a lot of time together.”

There was little I could do but stare in shock. Sherman High’s most popular jock, accomplished athlete, and coveted ladies’ man was tongue-deep in an affair with a Cremwood University professor. Was she married? Did she have children? Was Callum on the threshold of ruining a family that was picture-perfect on the surface? Callum continued to smile at me, it was clear that his mind was elsewhere. Maybe he was remembering how he and Margaret rendezvoused at her expensive mansion that only a bestselling author and professor at a highly ranked university could afford. Maybe he was remembering how it felt to roll around underneath her silk bed sheets with Margaret in lacy lingerie. Of course the thought didn’t fail to make my insides twist in envy. Hopefully it didn’t show on my face.

“It’s not like that, Ray. She doesn’t have a husband. She’s divorced. Margaret’s been a divorcee since long before I met her.” Callum seemed to read my mind.

“I wasn’t thinking that. I’m happy for you too, I mean…,” and here my awkwardness almost killed me, “I’m glad you’ve found someone who makes you happy.” If only that someone could be me. If only you and I, if only we could be possible. The possibility of Callum and me, it was killing me as he crossed the small amount of space between us and clapped me on the shoulder before gripping me firmly, the hair curling from the top of his head almost touched my eyebrows and I could feel the warmth of his breath.

“There. A secret for a secret. Now we’re even.” His turquoise eyes burned themselves into my mind. Something glinted in them like an unspoken agreement. Something like bonfire smoke in the backyard and the beer-stained lips of teenagers when their parents weren’t home as an introverted loner tries to find his way among the discarded red plastic cups and tangled, laughing bodies. Something like a shiny glass pipe passed between friends in the woods where the only witnesses are birds perched overhead. Something a little like love and something a lot like unrequited infatuation and my heart pounding away, deep inside my chest.

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