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"Come dance with me."
I looked up, the gym lights blinding me momentarily. My eyes took a few seconds to adjust but when they were used to the light, I realized who was standing there, asking me to dance. It was him, the boy I came to know in July, the boy I loved in secret.
"Are you talking to me?" I asked thinking that he just couldn't see well because of the sparse gym lighting used to create an "atmosphere" for the homecoming dance.
Full disclosure, I wanted nothing more than to take his hand and hold onto him like he was the last thread keeping me together but, that just wasn't how it could be... He's not like me; he's not gay.
"Come on, don't keep me waiting for forever," he said moving closer to me, without hesitation. Maybe he was dared? I wouldn't hold that against him, I'm used to the stunts students pull around here. In fact, I'd prefer it be him pranking me because I know he wouldn't be as cruel. But nothing about him made me think for a second that he wasn't serious.
He took my hand and pulled me to the center of the dance floor, like he wanted everyone to watch and marvel at how different we were. I was still waiting for him to whisper to me that this was all a joke so that I could go back to not caring. He now had both my hands intertwined with his and, conveniently, a slow song started playing. Naturally, he started dancing and I went with it, swaying back and forth to some melodramatic tune. Though I was panicking as we started dancing in front of the student body that cared less about me than they cared about their homework, I was almost happy to make them watch as the boy and I moved across the dance floor. Fear and joy were battling each other for dominance in this moment and all I could do was giggle about it.
"What are you laughing at?" he asked smiling that beautiful smile of his. "I know I'm not the best dancer but give me some credit."
"This whole situation that's going on right now... I just can't even believe it." Even if I ended up humiliated at the end of the night, being close to him, seeing him smile again, makes it all worth it.
When the music drowned out my thoughts of disbelief and the buzzing of confused whispers faded, I realized something. I was smiling. Even with this uneasy feeling in my stomach, he managed to make me smile. In that moment, my body was lighter, as if dancing on air, and I stood little taller.
A warm feeling was growing in our hands as we continued to dance. It was such a different sensation than I was used to experiencing, I started to believe the other students could feel it too. Maybe seeing us dance together showed them that I wasn't so different and maybe that was the boy's real goal tonight. I looked around the gym hoping to see expressions of empathy from the other students but, I only saw the disapproving looks and snide snickering I was accustomed to. My thoughts of disbelief returned much more sour than before.
“Standing up here in front of everyone doesn't make you normal."
Beads of sweat ran down my neck and my heart began beating faster as if I was running from something. Thoughts began popping into my head slowly chipping away at the grin I had across my face.
"No one here accepts you for who you are."
"You know it's too good to be true, right? He just feels bad for you. Even if he is gay, you'd never be good enough for him."
"Just disappear already."
The people who were watching us felt like shadowy figures lurking, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. It all felt like too much, all of the eyes on us and the sinister smirks they all shared sent me spiraling back into my lonely place. I didn’t want to listen to the thoughts racing through my head but, deep inside of me, I felt like they were right. Who was I kidding? The gay kid, an outcast in this city, and the boy who everyone knew and praised ending up together was nothing but a fantasy.
I couldn't handle being on display like some circus animal; my breathing was heavy and my toes and fingers began tingling as I noticed more students staring at us. I untangled our hands and stepped back from him; goosebumps spread across my arms. I lowered my gaze so I didn't have to see the amused expressions of the other students and so that I didn't have to look at the boy. Escaping was the only thing I wanted to do now.
He walked over to me and placed his hands gently on my shoulders, “hey, hey, is everything okay?" My legs started buckling, unable to bare the weight of the thoughts invading my mind. "Whatever it is, you can tell me.” I couldn't look up at him because I knew I'd see his handsome face, disappointed in me. Disappointment doesn't suit a face like his. I tried to talk to him, but every word was so weak from fear that I just couldn't get anything to come out.
Instead, I turned and ran.
I pushed through the crowd of classmates and out the gym doors faster than I think is even possible. I felt the pressure surrounding me evaporate as I ran outside and even though some of my fear faded away, the world around me remained blurry.
Despite escaping the gym, I knew those thoughts still existed as do the people who thought them and there was no escaping that.
“Hey!... Stop…” a voice exclaimed as I cleared the parking lot. I stopped immediately, as if my feet had been glued to the ground, and turned around to see who came after me. It was the boy, there to surprise me again. Seeing him standing there reminded me of the summer afternoons we spent together running around wildly in that empty field. He was chasing after me then, too.
Why would he come after me? I couldn't make sense of it but, there he was, huffing and wheezing like he just finished his first marathon. But, he didn’t just run a marathon, he ran after me.
“God, for someone who doesn’t do any sports, you sure can run fast,” he struggled to say as his breathing returned to normal. “Why'd you run away? It looked like you were having fun but if I did something then, I’m sorry, I didn't mean to freak you out.” He took a step forward, reaching his hand out for mine, again.
“I don't understand why you're doing all of this. Why did you ask me to dance, why did you come running after me? I just... people will talk and they wont treat you the same if they see you with me and I know you know that so why would you do all of this?" I didn't actually want an answer, I'd rather just never know, but I had to hear him tell me this was some nightmare, the universe playing me, reminding me of what can never be.
"Maybe next time, if there is a next time, I'll avoid surprising you in front of everyone... I asked you to dance with me tonight because, I wanted to tell you, face to face... that I'm gay too," he told me as a small, nervous grin stretched across his face.
I had no words. None. I couldn't believe what I just heard. Did he just come out to me, or was I hearing things now? I noticed his hands gripping onto his pants, he was trembling. It was clear to me, this wasn't fake or something that I made up in my head. The boy I shared my summer nights with really was gay.
“You've been so strong being the only gay guy in town and taking so much crap for it. Doing that by yourself... I realized how weak I am cause without you, I wouldn't even be standing here, telling you all of this. But, I'm okay with being weak as long as you're here to make me strong." His hands stopped trembling as he focused his eyes on me.
"But, I'm still scared. I'm scared of what my family will think, I'm scared of getting weird looks in the locker room or having my teammates turn their backs on me. I'm afraid that maybe I ruined this night for you.”
He moved closer to me, gently placing one hand under my chin, returning warmth to my face. He lifted my head up to look at him. My heart was racing, unlike before; instead it was beating with excitement feeling him so close to me.
"Being with you, none of that matters. I realize now that I'd rather lose all of that and still be myself than continue pretending to be someone I'm not and lose you." There were tears welling up in his eyes; for the first time I saw it, the pain he'd experienced while hiding himself from the world. That pain felt too familiar, I could feel the memory of it tapping me on the shoulder. We wrapped our arms around each other and stood there for a moment. I didn't see it, so I can't say for certain, but I felt a smile of relief form on his face.
As the fall breeze blew past us, the warm sensation grew between us, leaving us unaffected by the chill night.
"Heaven Is a Place On Earth" played faintly from the gym; the universe's way of reminding us about our first night together I guess. We looked at each other, “can I have this dance?” he asked me as if I wanted anything else. He kept me close with his hands on my waist, and I laid my ear against his chest. The sound of his heart beat added a new harmony to the song, creating a melody shared only between us.
“It’s not going to be easy, you know?”
“I know, but we’ve got each other so let’s just dance tonight and tomorrow, we'll face whatever comes our way, together.” We held onto each other, dancing in the middle of the road all night, unapologetic to those who saw us. And finally, stripped of all my worries, I could revel in the fact that my fantasy had come true.