The school fair was in full swing and most of the seniors have decided to go together in groups. It’s much safer, they thought. Also easier for their parents to agree that they stay out late!
Cairo didn’t want to go out that night. He had been doubtful of the idea, and would much rather prefer to stay at home, probably live stream. But the girls pleaded and whined. “It’s a typical high school experience we couldn’t miss out!” they argued to him, “and we can’t just go without you, baby boy! We have to go together.”
It didn’t take too much convincing though. Cairo was soft for his girls. Alex, with her upbeat and quirky style, almost concealing a quick, sharp mind. Pearl, all bubbly, never running out of energy. At first, people assume she’s flighty, but she’s the steadiest, most loyal, and level-headed in their circle.
So here he was, moving with his friends among the crowd, laughing and joking, judging the rest of the student body, and generally reveling in each other’s company.
For a while, Cairo soon forgot about his apprehension at going to a school event at night, where all the kids are permitted to go half-crazy, running around wild. Even though the smell of fried food wafted through the air, as some overly cheerful music provided the musical background, he found that he didn’t mind it at all. He was genuinely having fun. He finally conceded and admitted it to the girls. Instead of I-told-you-so’s, Alex and Pearl just smiled and both gave him a crushing hug.
It was a bit childish but he thoroughly enjoyed riding the old carousel with garish lights along with his friends. Wesley was riding his horse suggestively, getting a couple of laughs and rolled eyes from the rest of the group. It baffles him how they stayed friends since childhood. It’s probably more because of Wesley’s persistence at befriending Cairo, than Cairo’s ability as a friend himself.
At that moment, Cairo was never more thankful that he found these friends. Friends who understand that he likes his space and quiet sometimes, but also push him to try new things. They can sometimes be annoying or too loud, but they were family to him.
However as the night wore on, their group started to break into pairs, albeit still moving along the path together. Cairo felt a pang in his heart, when he saw Wesley and Alex try to win Terrence and Pearl stuffed toys at the shooting booths. He had long accepted that he would have to wait until he gets to UP, before he can finally have his chance at romance. It still stung, nevertheless.
“Ferris Wheel! Let’s all go!” It was Pearl who turned and alerted the rest of them, pointing at the big circle of carriages and lights. She was already dragging Alex towards it, and the rest of the group ran after her excitedly.
Cairo sighed and reluctantly followed suit. Terrence noticed that he hung back a bit and slowed down his pace to get Cai to catch up with him. They all agreed to make sure no one gets left alone, just in case there are bullies around that might get to them.
“Are you ok? You were having fun awhile ago” Terrence had a worried look on his face as he patted Cai’s shoulder. Terrence was the newest in the crew, by way of dating Wes. And Cai was slow to warm up to him. There was the brief, weird confusion of jealousy, but it sorted itself later in his mind, especially when he got to know Terrence a bit better. Now he can appreciate Terrence as a friend, and not just as an extension of Wesley.
“Oh, I’m fine. Just... the carriages in the Ferris Wheel are for two people, and I just know you guys are gonna get paired off and I...”
“Well, maybe Paris can sit with you...”
“Eww noo! I’m not riding the Ferris Wheel with my younger brother?!”
“That’s like social suicide!” he exclaimed. “Besides, I bet he’ll just wrangle some random sophomore girl to join him. He’s shameless that way” Cairo scoffed as they moved forward along the line, waiting for their turn to get seated.
“I’m sorry, Cai. I’d sit with you but Wes...”
“No, it’s all right, Terrence. You deserve to have a fun date with him. Don’t deprive yourself.”
“If you’re sure...” In all fairness to Terrence, he looked apologetic at least as he slowly moved on to the line to find Wesley.
“Go! I’ll be fine!” Cairo waved him off with a weak smile.
“We can squeeze you in with us, baby boy. I’ll just sit on Pearl’s lap and you can take my seat, ” Alex shouted, jumping up to offer, after having heard the last of his conversation with Terrence. Pearl just nodded alongside her.
“I highly doubt the operator of the Ferris Wheel would let you do that. It’s not safe,” he replied with furrowed brows.
”Plus, I don’t think I’d enjoy being the third wheel while you guys make out beside me the whole ride,” he jokingly added, with a soft smile.
Alex and Pearl both look embarrassed because that’s exactly what’s gonna happen. Pearl just muttered a soft “Sorry” as they were directed to their carriage by one of the operators.
Then it was finally Cairo’s turn. He stepped up to the platform and sat on the carriage indicated for him. As he expected, the operator shouted out, “One more!”
Cairo was mortified because he just knew most of the people lining up for the ride were couples, or didn’t want to be seated with the senior high’s resident gaymer. He was having his mental freak-out so he didn’t notice that someone actually got up the platform. It was only when he turned his head to look at the person now sitting beside him, that he realized it was their English Lit teacher, Mr. Alarcon.
“Hi,” Mr. Alarcon offered with a small wave and a charming smile. It was too much for Cairo! The dazzling pearly whites, the dimples and the cute turned up nose!
Cai just nodded in reply, paralyzed with awe. He turned his head to the other side to hide the undoubtedly red cheeks. Damn his complexion. It figured his luck would turn for the worse just when he thought he was having a fun night.
Getting saddled with his gorgeous teacher in a cramped carriage on a Ferris Wheel is pure torture. It was bad enough the man was the object of many a sad night, lying on the floor of his bedroom as he listened to his vinyl records. Of late he’s been partial to one Miss Ella Fitzgerald, because of a certain curly haired teacher.
Now he has this excruciatingly painful experience as fodder for his secret pining. He feared he’d be too obvious upon close inspection. That Mr. Alarcon could sense how infatuated he was and would then stop talking to him in that easy charming manner of his. Cairo started foreseeing awkward conversations over his assignments and essays while his teacher would refuse to make eye contact with him. It’s all too much!
He was shaken out of his reverie when one of his Neanderthal schoolmates shouted some insult at them. Cairo just rolled his eyes. It was all water off a duck’s back for him now. They were repetitive and unimaginative. So really, why would he even care to be affected by those not his equal?
Mr. Alarcon must have seen him roll his eyes because he rolled his eyes, too and said, “Boys,” trying to commiserate with Cai.
“I don’t want to sound cliché Cai, but it really does get better when you grow older. You’ll get out of here and be someone great and amazing, and they’ll all just be stuck here,” he gestured to the jocks below them, “still wallowing in their own small-mindedness.”
“I know that,” Cairo replied quietly. “Or at least, I hope that’s what’s in store for me in UP. Just one more year and I’ll be done with this homophobic town forever.” He looked at the clasped hands on his lap, refusing to look at his teacher because the confession was too personal as it is and he couldn’t let him see the magnitude of that hope and wishful thinking reflected in his own eyes.
“I have no doubt you can do it, Cai.” Mr. Alarcon then chuckles softly, causing Cairo to peek at him sideways. “In fact, I just know... Guys will be lining up the block for you in college.”
Cairo frowned in confusion at the statement.
Mr. Alarcon then gestured in explanation, “I meant that you’re already amazing, you’re really smart and talented, and uhmm... actually quite gorgeous.” The last part was said in a whisper. And Cairo could see spots of color on his cheeks.
Cairo suddenly felt like there was a balloon inside him that’s slowly growing and growing, making his chest feel a little too tight, robbing him of breath.
“You... you had to say that because you’re my teacher,” he replied quietly. He internally berated himself for sounding breathless.
“No, I shouldn’t have said that. Because I’m your teacher.” Mr. Alarcon turns pensively, his head bowed.
They were both quiet then, just taking in the sights and sounds of the fair around them. After a while, Mr. Alarcon turned and asked about his classes, moving to safer subjects. Cairo responded good-naturedly, and it was as if that moment hadn’t happened at all.
He could still feel the after-effects on his skin, the pleasant buzz and tingle, but the normalcy of their ensuing conversation had grounded him, so that he felt he was able to behave more like himself when he was around the gorgeous teacher.
He could laugh and squeal about it later, turn the whole encounter over in his head, analyze it, over-analyze it, and question what it all meant, later in the night when he was inside the safety and privacy of his room. But for now, he could just enjoy the feeling of riding on a Ferris Wheel, beside a gorgeous man, whom he not only appreciates, but also appreciates and respects him in turn.