I was invited to a party on New Year's Eve. It was going to be the first time I'd ever been to one of those. I'd been to other parties, of course, but not one on New Year's Eve. At 14, I was surprised my parents were letting me go, but it was just down the street at my best friend Caleb's house, and I was going to stay the night after the party, so I didn't get much static from the old folks about going.
Caleb's parents were sort of laid back. He could get away with murder. I'd talked to him about it, not about this party but just in general, about not screwing that up. I was always telling him not to push things, to play it cool, and he had it made, with parents like his. Caleb, being Caleb, couldn't help but test them now and then, and sometimes when he went too far they really let him have it. Really put the screws to him. Yeah, right! They, get this, they made him stay in his room for an hour! That was it! He could shave the cat or fill his dad's car with whipped cream or pour 27 boxes of Jello into the swimming pool, and he'd have to sit in his room for an hour to think about it. To think about it! I'd be away at Military School for the rest of my natural life, probably peeling potatoes and being used as a tackling dummy by the gung-ho jocks on the football team who all weighed 240 pounds and had bad attitudes if I did half the shit he did. Hey, we don't all win in the parents sweepstakes. Mine thought being strict was a good thing.
Caleb's parents had said he could have people over for a New Year's Eve party. Caleb had asked how many he could have, and they'd asked how many he wanted to invite, and he'd said he'd think about it. And that was the last they'd talked about how many, so he'd invited about three-quarters our class, I think. I wasn't sure because every time I asked him, a few more had been invited.
Being Caleb, I mean, being crazy like he was, he was popular at school. Everyone knew Caleb. And I think everyone he knew was coming to the party.
We'd never held a party before, so weren't sure what to do. Caleb wanted to have beer. He thought that would be cool. I had reservations. I'm not as crazy as he is. I worry about things. Even if one ignored the small issue of illegality, get fifty or sixty young teenagers together and give them beer, things are going to be wild. Not even Caleb's parents would go along with that.
And they didn't. So, no beer. But lots of soft drinks, pretzels, chips and dips, Christmas cookies, pizzas, cake, donuts and other healthy teen snacks. The dining room table was full of this stuff when the party started, and it had to be refilled several times through the night as we grazed. In my American History class I heard about a horde of locusts or crickets, I'm not sure which, in Montana or Idaho or somewhere - or was it seagulls? I don't remember and maybe I was dreaming because what would seagulls be doing in Montana? Or was it Utah? Maybe it was crows, that makes more sense, and they do grow lots of corn in Montana, don't they? I mostly sleep in that class - but I don't think locusts descending on the table could have done a better job of cleaning off those serving plates than we did.
The house was pretty full of kids. It was a big house, and the kids sort of separated themselves into groups. In the basement Caleb's parents have a finished family room with a tiled floor that is perfect for dancing. A CD player was hooked into amps and speakers and a lot of the kids that were couples, or wanna-be couples, or just kids who liked the idea of mingling with each other in that atmosphere or wanted to see who was dancing with whom were down there, on the dance floor or hanging out. The music was loud enough that you couldn't talk to anyone unless you shouted, and the lights were dim, so it was a good place to dance or listen to music but not much else. The main problem with the basement was it was a long way from the food.
This was 2006, and we live in fairly upscale community in California, part of the Silicon Valley, one of those places where most of the men and some of the women work in one high tech industry or another. The high school we attend is a very good one and has a very progressive principal. He has policies against bullying, against any sort of discrimination, and kids get expelled if they show intolerance toward other kids because of differences in race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality - hell, I even think against hair color. Robert Martinez got a week's detention for telling a dumb blonde joke that Missy Wooleridge overheard and told the vice-principal about. It was funny, too!
What this meant was, being gay wasn't the same here as in some places. It seemed to be accepted, at least among most of the kids if not their parents. It just wasn't a big deal any more, to us. I think if you're not taught to hate someone, you're less likely to do so. Anyway, what I'm leading up to here is, some of the couples dancing together in Caleb's basement, not many but a few, were two girls or two boys. No one had a problem with it.
That might not happen in some fucked up parts of the country and maybe not even most parts, but it does in California.
Fourteen is an age where kids are starting to pair off, but there are also a good number of us who aren't quite ready or bold enough to do so, so upstairs there were lots of girls in one room and boys in another, with flanking movements between the two groups, sort of like Indian or Army scout raids, I think I heard about this - maybe I shouldn't doze so much in that history class, but it's my first class of the day; what do they think a kid's going to do, that early in the morning when he should still be in bed for another three hours - where someone would cautiously scope out enemy territory, see how hostile it was, and report back to the group.
The girls were mostly talking. And of course giggling, as they do, which I HATE. I always think they're looking just at me and laughing just at me which makes me feel something like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of someone's shoe. I sometimes get the idea they know that, and it's why they do it. My mom tells me I'm paranoid. Just go talk to a girl, she says, they want to be talked to by handsome boys like me. Hah! I'm not handsome, my nose is too long and I don't like my ears, the way they sit against the sides of my head, and my eyes are a funny bluish green color and they'd look better if they were brown, I wish they were brown, dark brown, and I think one of them is set a little higher than the other, just a little but it looks that way to me, and if they want me to talk to them, why do they laugh at me and make me wonder what flavor I was before one of them chewed me, spat me out and stepped on me?
Some of the guys - well, quite a few of the guys - were playing video games or watching other guys play video games and making rude comments. Very safe, doing that, not being with the girls, being part of a group of like-minded boys. Safe. Caleb was wandering around, visiting the basement, then the girls, then the boys, and making an effort to see everyone was happy and enjoying themselves. I bumped into him as I was making my fourth survey of the dining room table, just making sure they hadn't restocked the chocolate chip cookie supply yet. When they did, you had to be quick. If you were down in the basement at the time, you didn't stand a chance. These were homemade chocolate chip cookies, Mrs. Dockerty was cooking them in batches while the kids were partying so they were being served warm, and they were the kind that are real sweet and soft and doughy and almost fall apart in your mouth.
Caleb stopped to talk to me, and I had something to say to him. More a complaint, really. Sort of a scared, nervous complaint.
"Hey, Tory Grainer's here. You didn't tell me you'd invited him. What did you do that for?"
"Don't get your panties twisted, Dave. I had to invite him. No one has a problem with him but you, he's a popular guy, we talk some, I like him, and it would have looked funny not to have asked him when most of our class is here."
"But what if we, like, bump into each other? You should have told me!"
"Don't panic. Maybe you will bump into each other. That might be good, really. You could even do it accidentally on purpose."
"Caleb! I've told you. You know. I get all screwed up with him. I can't say anything to him, and if I try it all comes out sounding like I belong in a remedial talking class, or should be taking anti-stuttering lessons. And if I try to block that all out and say something funny or smart, I just sound like an idiot and usually end up not even finishing my sentence because my brain stops working about halfway through. I feel like a doofus. And then comes the worst part. I blush. I blush just when I see him, and trying to talk to him, I'm blushing so hard, he must think there's something wrong with me. Maybe high blood pressure."
"Well, maybe you should just tell him you have a crush on him. Maybe then you'd be able to talk to him and all this crap would disappear."
"Caleb! Are you out of your mind !? Don't even think that! I'd die if he knew! I'm worried he might have suspicions already. I mean, with my blushing and then avoiding him all the time, walking away if he joins any group I'm with, that sort of thing, he probably thinks I hate him or something. That's better than figuring out that I like him. That would be awful!"
"Well, if he has figured it out, he doesn't seem to have a problem with it. He hasn't challenged you about it, has he? He hasn't come up and asked you, has he? Maybe he likes you, too."
"No way, man! He likes Jessica. They're downstairs dancing. I was down there for a few minutes, checking out who was there, and I spotted him. He was with Jessica."
"Well, he doesn't hate you or anything, I'm sure. He knows, he must know, that you and I are best friends and he's never said anything to me. He's real friendly with everyone. Just be cool, Dave. You probably won't even bump into him tonight, but if you do, just be cool. You might even get to chat with him a little if you want to. You can do it. Just try not to think about anything but what you're talking about. Don't think about crushing on him. If you meet, talk about whatever he's doing or you're doing or someone close by is doing. Like, for instance, let's say he's carrying a plate of food. Look at what's on it and say, 'That pizza's great isn't it?' or 'you like pepperoni? I prefer Canadian bacon myself' or something like that. Just sound casual and don't sound like a dweeb when you do it. Act natural."
"Easy for you to say. You're the same way when Eileen is around. I don't see you talking to her."
"I'm going to. I promised myself. Before the night's out, I'm going to talk to her. And maybe more."
"What do you mean?"
We were standing in the archway between the living room and the dining room. I looked up, and hanging above us was a greenish, weedy, sort of sickly looking thing, stuck to the arch with scotch tape.
"Mistletoe, you dope! If I play it right, I can meet Eileen when she's got a plate of food, right here, and show her the mistletoe and then kiss her while she's got her hands full and can't push me away or, more important, hit me. That's my plan. Only she hasn't left the living room yet. I've been watching."
"You're really going to kiss her?!"
"That's my plan. I've been telling myself not to chicken out all night. Hey, I've got to walk around some more. See ya later."
See what I mean? Crazy!
Caleb walked into the living room. He didn't seem to mind the girls giggling as much as I did. But he was crazy and I was a worrier, so maybe he could do this better than I could. He just walked up to Cathy and Elizabeth and began chatting with them. Incredible. Or in my case, impossible.
I joined the boys playing video games and watched for a while. There was a lot of blood and gore on the screen, and whenever someone's man got blown up or decapitated or had a limb chopped off with accompanying arterial splatter, everyone cheered and had something funny to say about it. Someone else would take over the controller at that point, and the one who'd been replaced would scurry to the food table to scope it out before rejoining the group.
I'd been glancing into the living room occasionally and then been surprised to see Jessica there the last time I'd looked. Then, almost immediately after that, I heard a voice next to me. Tory. I looked up quickly, afraid he was speaking to me, but he was speaking to Drew instead. But he was standing next to me. I could feel the blood rising to my face. As unnoticeably as possible, I began sliding back into the group behind me.
At that point, Caleb came into the room and announced a bunch of the girls wanted to play Twister, but would only do so if the boys joined in. He was looking for volunteers. One or two boys said they'd play. The rest of us sort of looked at each other and then at anything other than Caleb. We all kept quiet. Caleb was up to the occasion. He began volunteering us at random so he'd have enough players. I think there's a devious bone in his body somewhere. He volunteered me. And Tory, too.
I don't know if I should describe Twister. Everyone knows that game, don't they? I'm going to assume they do. Anyone that doesn't is too old to be reading this anyway.
He had the game mat laid out on the living room floor. The first round, I got to watch. Tory played, and ended up all tangled up with two girls. It was hot. I wasn't blushing, but it was hot watching him and I could feel the excitement elsewhere. Maybe that's why I wasn't blushing. Maybe there wasn't enough blood left for my face. Then a horrible thought crossed my mind. What if that happened when I was playing? Oh my god, I couldn't do this!
My sudden fear tamed the beast, and about then the game was over, Susan had fallen, taking out about half the other players with her, and they were unscrambling themselves amid the laughter. I was turning to flee when Caleb grabbed my shoulder and announced who was in the next round, calling my name first. I guess he'd seen the look in my eyes and knew I was about to make a run for it.
He named Tory too, so I knew he was doing this on purpose. At least I didn't have to talk to Tory. All I had to do was stay as far away from him as possible.
Which really isn't something you can control in Twister. We'd been playing for a few turns and I had a foot on red and a hand on blue and another hand on green when Caleb called yellow and suddenly Tory and I both had a hand on the same yellow circle and we were looking into each other's faces. From a distance of about two inches.
And I began to blush.
I couldn't help it. I always do that when I'm with him, and it embarrasses the hell out of me. I start to blush and my heart begins pitty-patting like I was running the 100-yard dash. Doing it with Tory two inches away, looking right at me, I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and ask for help piling the dirt back in on top of me. The redder my face got, the more embarrassed I became, and it just felt like if the end of the world could have come right then, it would have been a tremendous relief.
Tory simply looked at me, then smiled. "Hot in here, isn't it?" he asked.
Did he mean that, or was he being nice, giving me an excuse for blushing? I didn't know, but both thoughts immediately occurred to me. I wished I knew which it was. The thought of him being nice, however, caused me to know I had plenty of blood in me for more than just blushing.
"Red," Caleb announced, and Tory moved before I did, reaching with his leg between mine toward the red circle just behind me. I saw what he was doing, knew where his eyes must be looking to find that circle, and knew that if I simply remained as I was, contorted with my legs spread out and hands on yellow and blue circles, that when his leg reached the red circle, it would be pressed into my crotch, and any secrets I'd been keeping would be lost forever.
Part of me wished for that. Part of me wanted it really badly. I'd been thinking about Tory for months. Didn't have the nerve to talk to him, almost always blushed when we'd accidentally meet, but I'd been thinking about him, fantasizing about him, and now, here we were.
But I couldn't. I just couldn't. So what could I do? I chickened out, is what I did. I just fell over, pretending to reach for a different red circle I couldn't reach, fell away from Tory, crashed into Katlyn, knocked her down and ending the round. Hey, I never said I was brave! And this would have been disaster!
We all got up laughing, Caleb called names for the next round, and I managed to disappear. I moved off, hoping no one was watching me, and headed for the bathroom. It was occupied and two kids were waiting, so I climbed the stairs to Caleb's room. All the lights were off upstairs so kids wouldn't go up there, but I'd left my things in his room for the sleepover and so had an excuse for being there. All I did was sit on the bed for a few minutes, calming down and berating myself. Why did I have to be me, anyway? Other kids just went after what they wanted. Why couldn't I do that? Why was I so self-conscious? Why couldn't I at least talk to Tory? Just talk? Jeeeze!
After about five minutes, I went back down. They were still playing Twister, and in fact the crowd had grown. Only three boys were still playing video games; the rest were now gathered around watching and laughing as their friends got into contorted pretzels with each other on the mat, some in compromising positions that evoked suggestive comments and riotous laughter from the onlookers. I went into the dining room and yes! Fresh cookies! I grabbed one and started to walk back to the living room.
I was in the doorway when a hand grabbed me. I stopped and turned to look. Tory had me by the arm. He looked into my eyes, and I almost melted. I hadn't realized his eyes were as dark as they were. He stared for just a moment. A long moment. Certainly it was no longer than a month or so. It didn't feel any longer than that. My heart was doing its race-horse imitation. His eyes finally left mine to look up, and I did too. Then he moved towards me, and kissed me. On the lips. In Caleb's living room with all our classmates nearby.
Well, it wasn't really in the living room. We were under the archway leading into the living room. Still, I was shocked. And scared. And excited. And I loved it. I kissed him back. I didn't know what to do with my hands, and my body was twisted a little, but I kissed him back!
When we separated, he looked a question into my eyes. I answered it with mine, I guess, because then, not saying a word, he took my hand in his, and he led me to the stairs and we went down into the basement. By now, there were only a few couples still dancing, the music was being played much softer, and it was a slow song. Tory took me into his arms, and I took him in mine, and we danced. I didn't know how to dance, had never done so before, but we danced. And it was wonderful.
Later, everyone was leaving, and I said goodbye to him. We didn't kiss again. There wasn't any mistletoe by the front door. He left with a whole bunch of other kids, and finally the party was over. We told Caleb's parents we'd clean everything up in the morning. They were Caleb's parents. They said that was fine.
Caleb and I went up to bed. We always both slept in his bed. It was a double, not a queen or king, but it was plenty big enough for us. Neither of us cared if we were up against the other when we slept, or woke up. We'd been doing this for years.
We talked. Man did we talk. He was down and I was up, so I did most of the talking. He'd chickened out. Eileen had grabbed a plate of food, then walked to the archway and stopped, looking for a place to sit down. At least Caleb thought that's why she stopped. I suggested it might have been because he was standing close by, and she was hoping. He said that was impossible, but I could tell by his tone of voice he wasn't sure. Anyway, she'd stopped, but he just couldn't do it. He may be crazy, but I guess even crazy has its limits.
I told him about Tory kissing me, and then us dancing together. That was the best. He'd held me, I'd held him. I didn't need to get embarrassed about getting hard because I felt him get hard, too. We couldn't do anything but hold on to each other, there were other kids there, but we danced, and we could feel each other now and then as we did so, and I kissed him, too, so I could tell myself he wasn't the only one who had taken the initiative. I've never felt so great in all my life.
Funny. I'd got together with Tory, and we'd agreed we were going to get together a lot more after this. We were now friends, and I was hoping to add a prefix to that word, one beginning with "b", and I don't mean "best." Caleb had chickened out, but was even now working out what he could say to Eileen the next time he saw her. He had hope, and hope was a wonderful thing.
As our long day caught up with us and the talking grew less and less, when I felt myself drifting off, I remembered something important I had to say.
There was a pause, and I repeated myself. "Caleb?"
A sleepy, half-awake answer came. "Yeah?"
"You were a really good friend tonight, Caleb. Because of you, Tory and I. . . well, thanks, Caleb."
I heard a yawn, and then, "That's okay, Dave. Maybe you'll do the same for me, with Eileen."
I was thinking about how I might do that when I fell asleep.
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