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High School LGBTQ+ Coming of Age

(Semi-Autobiographical Fiction)


The bell rings, and within moments, students pour out of classroom doors. The hallway fills with the echoing sounds of laughter, shouting and squeaking sneakers. Throngs of students move in every direction, all racing against the nine-minute period break.


I walk through this chaos, down the middle of the hallway. I’ve got my headphones on, listening to the latest album by INXS on my Walkman. Trying to tune out the world. I keep my eyes downward and make myself as invisible as possible. By being unremarkable, with no flashy clothing, weird piercings or punk hairstyles, I blend into the sea of conformity. Just like any other guy. It’s my survival technique.


Next to my locker, two students stand on footstools. They’re fighting against the crowd, trying to tape a banner to a hallway crossbeam.


Class of ‘88 Senior Prom, Saturday, March 26th


The sight of it makes my chest feel heavy. Prom’s not for everybody.


In the corner of my eye, I catch sight of Stacy Wilson. She’s a pretty girl with long brown hair and amber eyes. Her personality is quirky, which keeps her out of the top tier popular crowd. But she’s cute enough that most boys would love to be the subject of her affection.


We’re in the school play together. Oliver the Musical. Last night, we practiced the scene where all the merchants sing about their wares for sale. I play the knife grinder, and she plays the rose merchant. It’s my favorite song in the play, with its beautiful four-part harmony. At practice, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment.


I bury myself behind my open locker door and crank up the volume of my Walkman. Trying to be invisible.


There’s a tap on my shoulder. I stiffen, take off my headphones and turn.


“Hey Gabe.” Stacy hovers behind me, gnawing at her bottom lip, with her hands in the pockets of her acid-washed jeans.


“Stacy—oh, uh—hi.” I meet her gaze for a second, then focus back at the contents of my locker.


“Rehearsal was great last night, huh?”


“Yep.” I nod with tight lips.


“Hey—um—I was thinking.” She inches forward. “I guess—I was wondering—would you want to hang out, like after rehearsal on Friday?”


“No! I mean—sorry, I can’t. I have a thing.”


Really? A thing? That’s the best I can do?


“Oh, okay.” She looks crestfallen. “Maybe another time, then?”


“Sure, sounds great.” I shut my locker. “Gotta run to class.”


I hurry away, avoiding her gaze, not wanting to see her reaction.


I feel sorry for Stacy. I mean, I really do. It must have taken nerve for her to ask me out. And singing in harmony with her is magical. But I’m just not interested, and I’m not good at faking it. Maybe it’s cruel to say no so bluntly, but ultimately it would be crueler to say yes.


I mean, maybe we could be friends. She could be somebody I confide in or have a laugh with. But friendship isn’t what she’s after, and I know it. After all, I’m an expert in unrequited love.


The first awareness of who I really am came in 5th grade. I shared a homeroom desk with Ben Schafer with his puppy dog brown eyes and infectious smile. His goofy sense of humor matched mine perfectly. We both loved old Monty Python movies and would spend hours laughing at the dumb jokes. Every day I would be so excited to see him. Any day he was sick or missed school, I was a wreck.


That affection was unrequited, of course. We were close enough friends, but my intensity made it strange. Any relationship so unbalanced is doomed to failure.


Fast forward seven years, and I find myself in a sadly familiar situation. Fifth period biology. My lab partner is Tom O’Connell. With spiky brown hair, a freckled nose, and those same deep brown eyes that make my stomach do somersaults every time they look my way.


But currently, the seat next to me is empty and the second bell just rang. I keep my eyes pinned to the door, sick to my stomach. David Spencer, a red-haired, loud-mouthed pain in the ass, watches me from across the aisle.


“Whatcha looking for, Gabe?” He has this annoying smirk.


“Nothing.” I tear my eyes away from the door and thumb through my biology textbook.


“Um, hmm.”


God, am I that transparent?


It took me a while to accept that I’m gay. I went through all the stages of denial, but now I’m firmly in the acceptance phase. But of course I haven’t acted on it, or shared it with anybody. Coming out in high school is social suicide.


Last year, Sam Eastman was outed against his will. He was a little effeminate, so even before then, he dealt with a lot of bullying and name-calling. He came out to his best friend under the bleachers at a football game. Somebody overheard, and the news spread like wildfire. The bullying got so bad, he ended up leaving the school. Last I heard, he’s doing homeschooling now.


So yeah, this is a secret I’m keeping to myself.


Tom comes tearing into the room, breathing hard. His backpack is hanging from one arm, and three textbooks are askew in the other. Basically, a big, adorable mess. My whole face lights up.


Red-head David is watching me, and makes a little snorting laugh. He keeps quiet but his eyes clearly say, That’s what I thought.


“Sorry Mr. Jacobs,” Tom says as he blows past the teacher’s desk on his way to the empty seat next to me. He shoots me a sheepish grin, walking up the aisle.


“You get lost on the way to class?” I tease as he scotches behind me to get to his desk.


“Girl problems. You know.”


“Yeah.” I force a laugh. My smile deflates.


“You see that hockey game last night?” Tom asks, as he slides into his chair.


“Yeah man. That goal in the second period?”


“It was sweet.”


I know almost nothing about hockey. But Tom loves it, so I’m trying to learn. The first game I watched, I couldn’t even see where the puck was. A bunch of random skating and slapping of sticks until a siren goes off, and the announcer yelled GOAAAAAL! But I was getting better at watching it.


“Hey, wanna catch a movie on Friday?” I ask. “Beetlejuice is supposed to be funny.” I have a job at the theater, so I get into movies for free. I use this as leverage whenever I can.


“Nah, man, gotta date with Kristy.”


“Oh. Nice.” My heart craters. I guess what goes around comes around.


The lecture is boring. Tom has his head propped up on his arm and he keeps drifting off. It’s so cute that I can’t stop looking at him. My chest is aching. Why can’t I choose who I fall for?


When the bell finally rings, we all get up to head out. Tom stops to chat with some friends and I hover around, hoping to walk with him down the hallway for a bit.


David Spencer walks up to me. “Why are you just standing there?” He’s got this knowing look on his face.


“Why are you so worried about what I’m doing?” I snap back.


David shakes his head and walks off. I’d swear he said queer under his breath. My chest tightens and I hurry out of class, not looking back.


* * *


I’ve got a shift at the theater that night, taking tickets. It’s pretty slow, so my boss lets me go early. As I’m headed out of the break room, I bump into my work friend Johnny Nguyen.


“Hey Gabe, party tonight. You going?” Johnny has a big grin. He’s rocking his punky look, with spiked black hair and a ripped blue jean jacket.


“Sounds fun. Where’s it at?”


“Jessica’s house.” His grin gets even bigger. “You know she’s got a thing for you, right?”


“Oh, yeah?” I force a smile. Jessica works at the theater too, behind the concession stand. And yes, I know she has a thing for me. She’s always sending me smiles and acting flirty.


“Yup. I saw her checking you out earlier. And she asked me if you were single. I told her you were perpetually single.”


“Nice, thanks.” I roll my eyes. “Come to think of it, I got a test I have to study—”


“Na ah. You ain’t getting outta this one. Jessica is fine, and tonight’s your chance.” Johnny shoves me forward. “I’ll drive. You need to get plastered tonight. Liquid courage.”


People always confuse my lack of interest with a lack of confidence. It’s annoying but I can’t exactly correct them. So I use it as my disguise. Sure. I’m the shy one. Only problem is girls seem to dig this more.


We pull up to the house-party. Music is blaring, and teenagers are a running around on the lawn. It’s even crazier inside. Drunken people pack the place. My eyes point downward, hoping to not run into Jessica.


Johnny’s head snaps around. “Damn, you see that?”


“What?”


“You telling me you didn’t see that babe who just walked by? Man, you need to open your eyes!”


“Oh. Dang.” I put on my best disappointed face. “You gotta give me a heads up next time.”


Johnny just shakes his head.


We weave our way through the crowd to the kitchen, where guys in letterman jackets are doing shots off the counter. Johnny grabs a red solo cup, fills it from a keg sitting in an ice bucket, and shoves it toward me. “Drink!”


I take the glass and chug it. If I’m gonna make it through tonight, I’ll need it.


Johnny beams at me. “There’s my man!”


After another beer and two shots of something awful, my head is buzzing, taking the edge off my inhibitions. I head out to the crowd. There’s lots of people from my high school, and quite a few I don’t recognize. And then I see Jessica. She hasn’t seen me yet, so I duck into the next room.


But in here is a different problem. Across the crowded room is David Spencer, the jerk from biology class. He’s chatting with two guys from the football team. David sees me and says something to them. They look my way and laugh. One of them shakes their head with a disgusted look on his face.


Fuck.


I run out of the room, a feeling of panic descending on me, and head downstairs. I just need to get away. But drunken teenagers fill the basement too. Down a hallway, there’s an empty, darkened room. I plop down in an overstuffed chair, hoping that here I can escape all the rumors and expectations.


I sit in the chair and take deep breaths, trying to calm down. David Spencer is such an ass-hole.


But then a female figure stands in the doorway. Jessica.


She heads over, zigzagging a little on her way, then plops down and crams in next to me. The smell of sweet perfume and vodka wafts over.


“Hey you.” She puts a sloppy finger on my chest. “I’ve been looking for you, Gabriel Fisher.”


“Have you?” My heart beats faster again, but not in a sexual way.


“Umm hmm.”


She turns her head toward me and leans it against the chair. Our lips are inches apart. Here before me is the answer to my problems. I could go to prom. Stop the rumors that seem to be spreading. Not have to worry about coming out to my family and friends. I could have it all, and this could be the start.


And all it would cost me is my happiness.


The heat of her breath hits my face. Am I going through with this? To thine own self be false? Her lips just barely touch mine.


Blinding light comes from above, and I shield it with my hand. Three drunken guys stand in the doorway, one with his finger on the light switch. “Oops, sorry.”


“Holy shit! Jessica and Gabe finally hooked up,” another one says.


I turn to Jessica with a sheepish look. But her eyes are shut. She’s passed out. I get up and head out of the room. One guy pats me on the back as I pass. “Nice job, Gabe!”


So glad they’re happy. But I’m sick to my stomach, and there’s a weight baring down on my chest.


I don’t make it any farther than the basement rec room. When it comes to drinking, I’m a bit of a lightweight, and the liquor has gone to my head. I stumble forward and land on an empty couch. I sit there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about what just happened. Maybe being spotted “hooking up” with her will be enough to quiet rumors for a bit. But I’d probably need to date her to make it stick. And if touching her lips felt like that much of a lie. God, I'm so sick of this shit!


Before I can think further, a guy plops on the couch next to me. I recognize his face. And it’s adorable. Messy blond hair. Piercing blue eyes. Button nose. And he’s currently staring right at me, smiling. I’ve seen him a hundred times before. He’s in the play, but we don’t have any scenes together. And he’s not in any of my classes. But I might have a slight crush on him.


“Jason, right? From the play?” I ask with his gaze still locked on me. I can feel my cheeks warming, and I have to avert my eyes.


“Yep. Hi Gabe.”


He knows my name.


I work up the courage to look back at him. How can he just keep staring like that? With those tender eyes and that soft smile.


“So is the rumor true?” he asks.


“I dunno.” I let out a sad laugh. “Guess it depends on which rumor you’re talking about.”


“This one.” And he kisses me. My whole body tingles and feels weightless.


We separate, and I look into his eyes. “Yeah, it’s true.” Then go back for another kiss.


Gasps surround us. And more than one homophobic epithet. But I don’t care. I’m done with the deceit. The thousand lies a day. If you don’t like it, get over it or get out of my way. This is who I am.

December 19, 2022 07:30

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10 comments

Helen A Smith
10:44 Dec 27, 2022

A story with enough twists and turns to make to keep me hooked. A demonstration of how hellish a life of pretence can be. A reminder of how tough school can be and how little things change. Well written and I liked the ending. Thanks.

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18:13 Dec 27, 2022

Thanks for the comments. Yes, writing this certainly brought back some memories. I like to hope that things have gotten better overall for LGBTQ+ but I know the progress has not been even for everybody. And yes, there's a broader message about being true to yourself, no matter what pretense you cling to.

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Viga Boland
16:43 Dec 25, 2022

Brilliant! Way to go. Loved it.

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18:23 Dec 25, 2022

Thanks so much! Of the stories I’ve written, this is my favorite. Glad others like it as well.

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Viga Boland
17:07 Jan 07, 2023

You have a wonderful gift. Make the most of it.

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02:08 Jan 08, 2023

Thank you very much for the encouragement.

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Nickeless Ryan
02:29 Dec 22, 2022

Oh man just when it was getting good… haha. Actually I love the build up and where this ends. Bold punch right at the finish. Be you. It gets better!

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03:10 Dec 22, 2022

Thanks! Yep this was before "it gets better" was even a saying. Writing this makes me reflect on just how much progress we've made since then!

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16:31 Dec 21, 2022

Happy endings rock, and I expecally loved this one. :D

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17:46 Dec 21, 2022

Thanks so much. I'm also a sucker for a happy ending. :)

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