The next day was Sunday, and I went to church with my parents. On the way, I asked if Mr. or Mrs. McAndrew had mentioned anything about David's family. My Mom said they hadn't talked about them. I was very disappointed. To distract myself, I thought about Ben for the rest of the drive.
During the church service, I tried to pay attention to the sermon, but I was still thinking about Ben. I almost couldn't believe that we had kissed and talked about going away together for a weekend. But, as I sat in the pew, hearing snippets of the sermon on truth and honesty, I was confused. Were my thoughts about Ben okay because they reflected my true feelings for him? Or, was I being dishonest and deceitful because I was hiding what I felt and what I wanted to do? Or maybe, I was nothing but an unrepentant sinner.
I decided feeling conflicted wouldn't help anyone. I tuned out the sermon and thought about kissing Ben again.
I enjoyed rehearsal the next day. Ben and I didn't talk much, nor did we sit together in the auditorium. But, there was a connection and a few 'knowing' looks between us. I found that having a secret relationship with Ben was exciting.
The play was starting to come together. And, during the final weeks before dress rehearsals, the cast members began enjoying the show. Corey had learned all of his lines, and Heather was becoming quite the flirt.
The week before dress rehearsals was what Ben called 'tech week.' He brought in the light and sound crews, as well as a stage manager from DCOPA. Jerry seemed like a great guy, and I think everyone liked him. Our sound crew knew what they were doing, and they made a huge difference in transitioning from one scene to the next. The light crew, however, was a big problem. Because there were no flats for scenery, Ben had designed an elaborate lighting plan that he said would make the stage come alive. But, it wasn't working. Ben tried to coach the light crew, but they just couldn't seem to pick up on their cues fast enough. And even when they did, they fumbled with the control panel.
On the Wednesday of 'tech week,' I got to rehearsal early. Ben was the only one there, and he was writing on a pad of paper. He looked frustrated.
"Hey, Ben," I said. "You okay?"
"Yea," he said. "I'm just trying to do some writing I promised I'd do."
"Can I help?" I asked.
"No, but thanks," Ben said. "It has nothing to do with the play. I got myself into a stupid bet with my friends down at the Locker. Now, I have to write a poem."
"The Locker?" I asked. "Is that a bar or part of a gym?"
Ben looked at me like I had asked a naïve question. "My friends and I usually go to the Locker for a few drinks on Friday nights, you know, just to relax. There was an announcement of a poetry contest on the tables. My friends bet me I couldn't win one of the prizes. There's $100 on the line, and now, I can't afford not to enter."
"How's it coming along?" I asked.
Ben looked discouraged. "Let's just say that, today, I don't seem to be the sharpest tool in the shed."
"Maybe I can help you," I said. "I like writing poetry. What's your topic?"
"I'm embarrassed to tell you," he said.
"We've talked about some very personal things. Why don't you just tell me?" I said.
"It's a gay poetry contest," Ben said. "I have to write a humorous verse for a gay greeting card."
"A gay greeting card?" I questioned. "I've never seen such a thing."
Ben's facial expression let me know that I was continuing to be naïve. "How many gay bookstores have you hung around?" he asked.
"Ah," I said. "Got it."
"Could you really help me, Joel?" Ben asked. "It has to be done by the end of the week."
"Sure. Why not?" I said.
Ben explained that the greeting card could be for any occasion, but he was leaning toward a birthday card. "Maybe from one old geezer to another; that might be really funny!" he said.
"I'll have it for you on Friday - before rehearsal starts," I said.
"Thanks, Joel," Ben said. "Maybe I can repay you - after the show closes."
That night, after rehearsal, I went home and began working on the poem. I was glad it was for a greeting card. That meant it could be short. As soon as I figured out the perspective from which to write, it fell together very quickly. I made enough progress that night so I knew I could have a final draft to Ben on Friday.
Since we were one week away from opening night, we had a Friday night rehearsal. When Friday came around, I was looking forward to giving the poem to Ben. I really wanted him to like it. But when I arrived at the auditorium, Ben was busy working on the lights. "Just slip it in my case," he said. "And thanks, Joel. You're terrific!"
Rehearsal that night was the best it had been – except for the light crew. Their mistakes were very frustrating, not only to Ben, but for the actors as well. Ben didn't exactly yell at the crew, but his tone became very impatient. The members of the light crew were getting upset, too. And, one of them walked out, yelling that he was quitting the show. At that point, Ben called for a ten-minute break. When we all came back, Ben announced that one of his friends from the Detroit College of Performing Arts would be heading up the light crew starting on Monday.
At the end of the night, Ben looked exhausted, but he gave us a pep talk. "It's almost show time," he said. "Dress rehearsals will start on Tuesday, and we open on Friday. You are all doing great! I know you can do this. Get lots of rest this weekend. And, don't be nervous. Everything will be fine!"
It sounded to me as if he was mostly trying to convince himself that everything would be okay.
I waited around until everyone else had left so that I could talk to Ben alone. He was sitting on the edge of the stage looking at a diagram of the lighting plan. I sat down on the stage with him. "We're all glad you're bringing in someone from DCOPA to take over the lights," I said. That was an excellent idea; it should help a lot."
"Thanks, Joel," Ben said.
"You look so tired, Ben," I said. "Are you okay?"
"Just overwhelmed," he said. "I've got a paper due on Monday, and finals to prepare for. And now, I'm going to have to come back here over the weekend and show Chris how to work that outdated piece of garbage this school calls a light board."
"How can I help," I asked.
Ben turned his head toward me. "What would really help is something we've already agreed has to wait."
There was an awkward silence while we both considered the possibilities.
"I've given that a lot of thought," I said to Ben. "And, I might have a different way of looking at things."
"I'm listening," Ben said.
"Well, when you were at my house a few weeks ago, you said that we couldn't let - any display of affection between us - become a trend," I said. "And then, in Math class last week, Mr. Zeleznik talked about graphing data and looking for trends. He said that if you only have two data points, you can't determine a trend. It takes at least three data points to identify a possible trend."
"I don't get it," Ben said.
I gave him a naughty grin. "We've only had one kiss, Ben. And, a second kiss couldn't be called a trend - at least according to our school's math department."
"There you go again," Ben said. "You're playing with words to get what you want."
"Ben, you're the one who said you wanted something that you couldn't have. I was just trying to figure out a way that you could at least get some of what you want," I said.
"Sometimes, I think you're too smart for my own good," Ben said. "But, if we are going to have one more kiss, I'm going to make it count."
I slid closer to him. "That sounds good to me," I said.
Ben smiled at me. "You know I think you're adorably cute, don't you?"
I smiled back. "I hope so because I find you - irresistibly handsome."
Ben and I brought our faces close together and looked into each other's eyes before having our one kiss. When I did put my lips on his, Ben opened his mouth and wrapped his arms around me. It quickly became a passionate kiss.
Before the kiss was over, we both heard a noise behind us. Ben pulled away from me and looked upstage left. I noticed his facial expression. He looked startled.
I turned around to see what was going on, and there was Corey Anderson - staring at us. He didn't move as he narrowed his eyes and glared at me. I have never seen anyone look at me with such anger and hatred. Then, Corey turned and ran out of the backstage door.
Ben just sat there, so I got up and ran after Corey. When I got into the hall, I couldn't see him. And, I wasn't sure in which direction he had run. I stopped and listened for any sound that might tell me which way I should go. When I heard sounds of running to my left, toward the parking lot exit, I took off.
I wasn't sure what I would say when I caught up with Corey. But, I had to try to talk him into keeping quiet about what he had seen. By the time I got to the door that led to the student parking lot, however, I saw Corey driving away – like the proverbial bat out of Hell.
I looked out of the window, and I felt sick. I had a huge knot in my stomach. I thought back to the sermon at church a few weeks ago. "And now you know," I thought to myself. "You're just a deceitful sinner who deserves whatever he gets."
I headed back toward the auditorium, hoping that Ben would know what to do. When I got there, I saw Ben packing up his papers. "Did you talk to Corey?" he asked. He seemed almost unconcerned.
I told Ben that Corey had driven off before I could catch him.
"Well, I wouldn't worry about it," Ben said. "You can call him over the weekend. I'm sure you guys can come to an understanding." Ben turned off the auditorium lights. "Time to go, Joel. My friends are waiting for me at the Locker."
We put on our coats, and I followed him out to the parking lot. Although spring was just a few days away, the weather in Detroit was still cold and snowy. Ben started to brush the snow off of his car.
"Ben, aren't we going to talk about this?" I asked.
"It's no big deal, Joel," he answered. "It was just one kiss. You can talk with Corey tomorrow and persuade him not to say anything. You're good at persuasion, Joel. You are the state champion, aren't you?"
With that, Ben opened the door of his car. "See you Monday!" he said. "And Joel, can you work with Corey on the introduction to Act 3. It was a little choppy tonight."
I stood and watched as Ben backed out of his parking space and drove off. When I got into my car, I sat for several minutes thinking about what had just happened. I felt abandoned. Ben had dumped this whole problem on me, and then he had left me alone - in the cold. I didn't know what to do.
When my fingers became numb from the cold, I started the car and managed to drive home. My parents were already asleep, so I turned out the lights and went upstairs to get ready for bed. A few minutes after crawling between the sheets, I broke down in tears. Instead of anger at Ben, I was starting to feel guilty about what I had done. I had foolishly talked Ben into kissing me again, and I deserved the look of hatred on Corey's face when he saw us. And, since the whole thing was my fault, Ben had every right to dump the problem on me to fix.
I knew I'd never fall asleep if I didn't shake off the feelings of guilt, buck up and decide on a plan. First, I decided that I'd consider repenting - later. Then, I came up with a few ideas to try to solve the problem. I would call Corey in the morning and ask him to meet me somewhere. I decided that there was no need to plan out in detail what to say. I needed to find out what he was thinking first. Maybe, he wasn't planning to say anything. Maybe, if I apologized, it would all blow over.
The next morning, I tried to reach Corey on the phone, but there was no answer. So, I drove by his house. It was totally dark, and it appeared that no one was home. I thought maybe Corey and his family had gone away for the weekend.
That afternoon, Sara called and asked if I wanted to catch a movie. So after dinner, I met her at the mall. There was still about 20 minutes before the movie started. We sat down on a bench near the fountain in the center of the mall. Sara immediately picked up on how upset I was.
"Joel," she said. "What's going on? I can tell something is bothering you."
I knew I could trust Sara, and she was the only person I could talk to about the situation. "I've messed up, Sara," I said. "Big time."
I told her about breakfast and shopping with Ben a few weeks before. I was surprised at how shocked Sara looked when I told her about going back to my house and Ben kissing me.
"Joel!" she said. "What were you thinking?!? Don't you know how that could blow up on you?"
"Yea, I know," I said. "It blew up last night."
And then, I told her the rest of it - Corey telling me about his crush on Ben; Ben and me kissing after last night's rehearsal; and how Corey had caught us. And, I told her about Ben dumping the problem on me to fix.
Sara looked at me and shook her head. "Do you know what I don't understand, Joel? How can someone as smart as you be so stupid? Ben is using you!"
"I'm his assistant," I said. "I'm supposed to help him when he needs it. It's my job."
"You're an idiot!" Sara said. "Doing your job is one thing. But letting Ben dump everything he doesn't want to do on you is another. And, he treats you terribly! The whole cast sees it."
Then, Sara said the words that really hurt. "And you follow him around like a lost puppy dog, jumping for joy every time he throws you a little scrap of attention!"
"I don't think he does it on purpose," I said. "He's just got a lot of responsibility on his shoulders right now. And, I know he likes me. He even asked me if I'd do him the honor of being his friend."
"That sounds a little overly dramatic, don't you think?" Sara asked.
I couldn't help but smile. "Well, he was down on one knee," I said.
Sara rolled her eyes. "We're skipping the movie," she said. "I'm taking you back to my house, and we're putting the real Joel Young back together!"
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