I'm laying alone at the city park on an orange comforter, wearing only my running shorts on a warm Saturday afternoon. My horn rimmed glasses are pushed deep in my shoes and the nerdy shirt my mom loves so much is stuffed under the comforter for a pillow. It is normal for me to be alone because I have no real friends. The kids at school think I'm a nerd, odd, and gay. All of which are true. Maybe it's the horn rimmed glasses and my curly blond hair. I don't think I'm bad looking. My body is thin, but not skinny. I'm not ashamed to lay in the sun at any of the city parks where there are no bullies and no one knows me. I love the feeling of the sun on my skin and the tan I develop by the beginning of summer, but I'm still alone. My mom and dad always tell me I'm handsome and blessed to have golden hair and steely blue-gray eyes. My usual response is, "A lot of good that does."
Parents, well most parents, always think the best of their children. But no matter how much they love them, they have no idea what's going on in their kid's head. They try their best, but there's a lot going on in there, and so much we just don't tell them. They wanted me to have friends so they encouraged me to join a club or go out for a sport, but I was afraid and too locked up inside. It was like being a prisoner in my own body. So during the winter, I sit in my room building models, sketching, painting, and reading. Then from late spring through September I go to the park to lay in the sun and watch what I call the normal people.
The park people are my make-believe friends. Every day is different. Today I sit watching a couple leaning against a tree. My imagination puts me there with them as we talk about our classes, sports, and friends. Guys my age are throwing a Frisbee, and I am there throwing it with them. An old couple strolls along the path holding hands. It makes me smile and then feel sad, knowing that I might never experience such love, a love that lasts a lifetime.
I soon grew tired of playing make-believe, so laid on my back, closed my eyes, and was relishing the warmth of the sun when someone says, "Mind if I join you?"
I shade my eyes with my hand and recognize him as one of the Frisbee players. He has brown hair and is beautiful to look at.
"It's a free country," I said as if I didn't care.
I expected him to react negatively, but instead, he says, " Thanks," as he sits on the grass at the edge of my ugly orange comforter. "I always see you laying out here by yourself, so when we took a break, I decided to come over and meet you. My name's Jim and I go to St. Vincent's. How about you?
"I'm Austin and go to Roosevelt."
"How come you're always alone?"
I wanted to say, none of your damn business, but instead say, "Uh, uh, I like coming alone for the solitude."
"I wish I could do that," he said. "But my parents and friends have so many expectations of me that I have no time for myself.
It is hard for me to feel sorry for this guy, but I say. "It can be that way sometimes," as if I knew.
"How do you manage to get away from everybody, Austin, I never can. I wish everyone would just leave me alone. My friends are always coming by my house, calling me, texting me, and when I tell them I just want to be alone, tell me I'm weird, and then I end up going with them. How do you manage to tell your friends and family no? Maybe you can help me," he says with a smile. "The grass is damp. Do you mind if I sit on the blanket?"
"No, feel free."
I notice his brown eyes when he sits down on the comforter beside me. Jim slips his t-shirt over his head and exposes an upper body that is a marvel to look at. At first I didn't look, but shit, I had nothing to lose so ran my eyes from one end of his body to the other and said. "You have a nice build." I was going to say nice body but thought he might take it in the wrong way or possibly the right way, depending on how you look at it.
He said, "You have a nice build too. I wish I had your blond hair and beautiful eyes. I've always been envious of guys with eyes like yours."
I blushed. "Thanks." It's sure different when someone your age and not your mom and dad compliments you. I felt a bit of confidence stir inside me.
He crossed his legs in a semi-lotus position. "My looks and build are part of the problem. My parents and coaches looked at me when I was younger and thought this kid is going to be a great athlete. It started when I was in middle school. Next thing I know I'm playing football, basketball, and baseball in addition to being student body president. There's never any time for me, just me." He paused and looked at me. "Do you have the same problem?
"Sometimes," I said, as if I had. "The secret is to just say NO."
"You're right, Austin, but no one ever takes no for an answer."
"That's because you always give in. They need to understand that no means no." I couldn't help but laugh inside at my unpracticed wisdom.
"I think you're right," he said as he punched the fist of his right hand into the palm of his left. "I'm going to start right now. Let those guys do whatever they want without me. Do you mind if I lay down beside you and enjoy the rays? I promise not to talk. I don't want to interrupt your solitude."
He laid down beside me and closed his eyes. I leaned on an elbow, looked him up and down, and was tempted to put my hand on his chest and gently kiss him. Instead, I rolled on my back with a big smile spread across my face as we laid there together enjoying the rays of the sun.
This story is part of the 2016 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: May I Help You?". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 18 October to 8 November 2016 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the competition home page.
The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:
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