"Same-sex relationships with anyone when you are young entail extreme vulnerability. The first experience most of us have of devastating personal rejection is not with someone we want to date but with someone we want to befriend." -- Izzy.
It's high school and his name is Mark.
Izzy waves, hopelessly, and then trudges to catch the public bus downtown. There's no way, no way. Mark is going to the party at Derek Pryce's house tonight. He doesn't care about his English literature grade anyway. Izzy doesn't care about Mark's English literature grade either, but they could have got together with some people after and seen a movie. Rented a movie. Drank beer in the park and stumbled home.
Mark's busy tonight. Izzy is not.
They have to go swimming for gym.
Izzy hates swimming. The chlorine makes him feel ill, the change-rooms smell like bleach and slippery tile, and when people aren't yelling instructions over the splashing, they're eying your bathing suit and your legs and your tan and everything else. Swimming is exposure in an artificial setting. When you're trying really hard, your arms splash and water seeps into your ears and everything is muffled.
"Oh, come on," Rick says, rolling his eyes and pulling his car keys out. "Don't skip. You'll fail gym. I'll even give you a ride home afterwards."
Izzy gets in the car. "You need an air-freshener," he says, kicking his shoes off immediately and leaning his head out the window to yell goodbye at Mark. Mark smiles at him fine, and waves, but that's all.
"I don't care if I fail gym," Izzy says, watching the buildings going past. the pool is in the middle of the city, and people are always around, even during school events.
"yes you do," Rick says, "because they'll make you take it again."
"Gym shouldn't be mandatory," Izzy answers. "I'm in good shape, I don't pant running up the stairs." He claps his hands together. "Why do I have to parade around wet in front of the rest of the junior class?"
"To get a girlfriend," Rick answers absently, and pulls into a parking place.
Izzy stares up at the pool. It's brick, like everything else downtown, and three stories, and he's frightened of it only because it's an unknown quantity. Life is full of rules, little waves and patterns and shorelines, boundaries. It's hard enough to keep the normal boundaries apart. "Can't we just go watch a movie?" he says to Rick.
"Don't you want a well-rounded education?"
"Only if it's well rounded in short-shorts."
Rick opens the door for him, and courteously steps aside for Izzy to pass in front of him. He does so, self-consciously. Rick asks, "are you doing anything later?"
The tile is wet, even slippery, even out here by the front door. Water has seeped in everywhere. His shoes squeak, and he tries to tread lightly, failing miserably. Squeak squeak squeak, announcing his presence.
Rick says, "are you just going home after this?"
There's an English Literature quiz tomorrow. Mark has his phone number. Izzy says, "probably." Then, rashly, "I'm trying to tutor Mark."
"You want to be friends with Mark?" Rick asks. Izzy steps in a puddle, and water seeps into his shoes.
"Listen," and Mark looks genuinely embarrassed. "I have practice tonight. I mean, I didn't want people to know, but my parents are really strict about it, they really want me to keep it up--"
Izzy nods as if he knows, even though his parents weren't strict about anything except him being who he was. Mark's parents want him to play the violin. Already, Izzy is grateful that English Literature is over, so they won't share any more classes. Mark is an unknown quantity, someone whose voice is muffled and indistinct.
"I'll see you over Christmas break," Mark says, but already Izzy is moving away. He won't see Mark over Christmas Break.
"When I was five," Izzy says to Rick, "I used to play over at this girl's house." He swings back and forth, holding the lit joint between two fingers. Rick leans over and clumsily steals it from his grasp. "We used to do shit like put a laundry basket over the cat."
"That's mean," Rick says.
"He liked it," Iz answers. His voice sounds far away, and the air is moving gently, swirling all around his head like currents of water. He's underwater, sinking, the sky so far away he'll never make it to the surface. "I used to play at Candace's house," he says. Candace is a bitch at school.
Rick is laying on his back, staring up at the stars. "I can't stand Candace."
"You know?" Izzy says. "No one makes any sense."
Rick is looking at his watch. "We'd better get home," he says, "or I'm gonna be grounded."
Izzy shrugs. "No you won't."
"Iz," Rick says. Christmas break is boring, Izzy decides. boring and full of bullshit.
"I hate the pool," Izzy says, finally, a little alarmed for no good reason. Rick's going to be home late. There are lots of stars. The air is still swirling around his head, his cheeks are cold.
"I know," Rick says. "I don't really get it."
"Do you remember when I was best friends with Sam in ninth grade?" Izzy says. It's just because it has nothing to do with anything that he says it; it has nothing to do with the stars or the swing or the cool air around him or Rick still playing with the joint, though Izzy knows he won't try it, refusing to be in the same place Izzy is.
"I liked Sam," Rick says, absently. Izzy can remember suddenly realizing one day that he hadn't talked to Sam for two months outside school. Nothing happened, nothing ended, except everything is ending all of the time.
He says, "Yeah."
Rick says, "Izzy."
"Rick," he answers. The grass looks dark and distant all around him. He used to be allergic, years and years ago.
"I don't know how to ask the right things," Rick says, absently. He's still staring up at the sky. Izzy wonders if maybe he can actually see the surface. "Like, what's the right way to say stuff?"
Izzy falls off the swing, gently plopping onto the grass. The entire park is dark, ish, and traffic swirls all around. The only way he could ever traverse this boundary, find his way out from shore, is to get high. Izzy is a coward, and knows it. "Just blurt it out," he says.
Rick asks him, "are you ever coming out?"
Mark calls once or twice.
Izzy doesn't call Rick.
At school in January, they're still in the same gym class. Rick stops Izzy in the hallway after class, one day, car keys swinging nervously from one finger. "It's like this," Rick says. "You have to at least try."