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Inspirational Teens & Young Adult Gay

"You'll never know unless you try." This coming from your friend Jorge, one of the lucky ones. Ever since he did it, you've quietly observed his metamorphosis from the sidelines: the bright fingernail polish, the rainbow pins decorating his backpack, the braces-bound smile that never takes a day off. He's emerged from his cocoon but forgot to take you with him. "Just look at me."

You yearn to say those words too, breathe them in like your mother's perfume, taste them on your lips like warm horchata on a snowy day. Just look at me. 

No one's looked at you in a while. Not the way you want them to, anyway.

You lie there on your bed and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars blanketing your ceiling, the relics of a bygone childhood. As a kid, you used to close your eyes and vanish under your comforter and wish, on those neon green stars, for impossible things—a pet dog, a nicer sister, the ability to talk about girls the way the other boys in your class did and to really mean what you said. When did things get so complicated?

You inform Jorge that, by the way, he bungled the expression. He's on speaker phone, just in case your parents are eavesdropping, in case they can find out that way, without you having to tell them. You know it won't happen, can hear the television down the hall and the sound of their laughter bouncing off the walls. But you can dream.

With a soft sigh, you correct your friend: "No, I'll never try unless I know."

Because there are so many things you don't yet know. How much your mother will cry, her mascara smudging as the tears flow like a broken fire hydrant on a summer day, or if she'll cry at all. Where your father's hands will go—around your back or by his side or to his belt. Whether your little brother will still ask you to drive him places, and whether your sister will still ignore you.

You have another friend, Martín. He isn't one of the lucky ones. You and Martín and Jorge used to be the three amigos, before Martín took that phrase to heart: "You'll never know unless you try." Now he lives with his uncle on the other side of town and takes two buses to get to school, waking up before the sun does while the barrio slumbers, dreaming of a better future.

Martín's father owns the laundromat you and your mother used to visit every weekend. You stopped accompanying her after he disowned your friend, told her you were going to devote your Saturday mornings to studying. Your voice shook when you said it because you hate lying, and you couldn't look her in the eye, so you gazed at the ceiling and made a wish. But you're a C student, so she simply smiled and told you how proud she was, gathered your unwashed clothes and left. On Saturdays now, you stay at home and launder your own dirty secrets.

Jorge scoffs and says, "Now you're just creating a paradigm." You combat the urge to correct him again, and somehow you manage to keep the word "paradox" to yourself like a little treasure. He speaks with the conviction of an expert, claims that someday he's going to write a book called The Guide to Being Yourself. This coming from a D student.

But you can't find any faults in the title. Because if there's one thing Jorge is now, it's himself.

He's told you his story before. He'll tell anyone who'll listen. How he sat at the dining table two months ago, the beginning of January, and, halfway through the meal, clinked his spoon against his bowl of birria, cleared his throat, and then followed through on his New Year's resolution. His parents blinked with open eyes and closed mouths, silent as sentries. When he finished telling them, it was his older brother who said, mouth half-full of beef stew, "Yeah, and the sky is blue. Now pass the pepper." And when Jorge dropped his spoon and laughed, his parents smiled and embraced him in their arms. You've said it before and you'll say it again: Lucky.

"Thing is, my parents knew," he tells you now. You haven't heard this part of the story before. "They knew the whole time. They were just waiting until I felt comfortable enough to tell them. Until I found myself."

The words are like a snake charmer's song, forcing you to poke your head out of its hiding spot. You wonder if it's possible, if your parents have been watching you with a secret checklist, crossing off boxes when you flick your wrist the wrong way or stand with your hands on your hips or stare at your sister's armada of cosmetics in the bathroom for too long. Part of you thinks maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

Sighing, you close your eyes and try to imagine yourself several years from now. Your mind conjures the image of a bookstore, which you think is a mistake because you haven't been in one of those for years. Still, you wander through a row of novels and comic books and magazines in search of some truth. What you find at the end of the path is a memoir. You recognize the title. You recognize the author's photo and name on the dust jacket in neon green lettering: Jorge Riviera.

And that's when you realize this vision is false.

Because you both know your English grade is higher than Jorge's. And that makes you think: If that book is going to be written, if it's going to make a difference to all the people like you in the world, it might as well be done right. Why shouldn't it be you who does it? After all, you're the one who knows the difference between a paradigm and a paradox.

In the living room, your brother's voice has overshadowed the television. He's recounting something funny that happened during lunch today. Your sister interjects every few seconds to add some missing details. You hear the smile in your mother's voice when she asks, "And what happened next?"

When you open your eyes, you decide to follow through on your vision. Jorge is still yakking, still trying to convince you, unaware that you're already up and walking towards the door. You decide to leave him like that, his voice rising from the nightstand, so you know you'll have something—someone—to return to. Just in case.

With each step forward, you think about Martín.

The doorknob is cold in your fingers. Another burst of laughter erupts when you totter into the hallway. You wonder how long it will last. Hesitantly, you turn off the light and before you close the door, you take one look over your shoulder, at the stars on the ceiling, bright as the future, and make a wish.

March 11, 2022 22:55

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21 comments

Patrick Samuel
16:26 Jul 26, 2022

I usually find 2nd person narratives hard to sit through (which is why I never could make it past the first chapter of "Presumed Innocent". The film version confirmed I didn't miss out on much.) Anway, you pulled that off so seamlessly I didn't even realize I was reading one. When you write from the heart, technique always takes a backseat.

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Zack Powell
17:22 Jul 26, 2022

2nd person is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. Glad to hear this one came across as seamless (I've definitely got a few where that isn't the case, haha). I like that quote a lot: "When you write from the heart, technique always takes a backseat." That's gonna be in the back of my mind going forward in my writing journey.

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17:55 Apr 26, 2022

What a great story! 2nd person is always a tricky POV to master, but it fits perfectly into your story. Thank you for an awesome read!

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Zack Powell
00:49 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks, Ella! Totally agree with you on 2nd POV being fragile, so I'm glad that it worked for you here. Thanks for reading!

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Kelsey H
05:47 Mar 17, 2022

Seriously every time I finish one of your stories and wish there was a chapter 2! Not because they feel incomplete in any way, but because your characters are always so vividly drawn, I get really pulled into their world and want to know what happens to them. It actually took me a minute to realize you had written this is second person, it feels really seamless and natural. I usually find that POV a bit distracting to read, it can feel quite distant, but I didn't get that here. It's hard to pull off for sure but you definitely have. I ...

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Zack Powell
05:55 Mar 18, 2022

Thank you, thank you, Kelsey! "Wish there was a chapter 2" is one of the best compliments for short story writers, so that's lovely to hear. Glad second person POV succeeded here - I liked it a lot and am thinking about using it again in the future. Thank you for your final comment and recognizing what I was going for here, too. You're one of my all-time favorite readers, so I absolutely love getting your thoughts. Cheers!

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Shea West
04:38 Mar 16, 2022

Zack. Damn. Green with envy. I too, chose 2nd POV this week and I'm really taken away at how you maneuvered through this so beautifully. I know the point of 2nd pov is to make the reader be the main character... And you took us there with what felt like total ease. I really have enjoyed watching how quickly your work and narrative voice has shown up here on Reedsy!!! Keep them coming.

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Zack Powell
16:41 Mar 16, 2022

Thank you, Shea! I'm still a newbie at 2nd POV, and I wish I'd read your new story before writing this one, because I would have changed up my narrative structure so much. But hey, I'm definitely rooting for you this week. Makes us 2nd POVers proud!

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Shea West
16:50 Mar 16, 2022

Have you read,“How to Date a Brown Girl (Black girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” by Junot Díaz??? Your story very much reminded me of that style, so I say you executed this very well!!! Not to be cliche, but YOU really nailed it here.

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Zack Powell
17:17 Mar 16, 2022

I have read it actually, though it was waaaay back in 2016, so I'm definitely due for a refresher. Guess I know what I'm grabbing from my bookshelf tonight. Thank you for reminding me how good his short story collections are, and for your lovely comments!

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Wafflez Wasfound
13:36 Mar 15, 2022

This was amazing, like always. I loved the second person POV! Keep up the amazing work!! 😁

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Zack Powell
17:21 Mar 15, 2022

Thanks, Awexis! Always a pleasure to see your comments. Thanks for reading!

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Wafflez Wasfound
13:36 Mar 15, 2022

This was amazing, like always. I loved the second person POV! Keep up the amazing work!! 😁

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Clyde Laffan
22:56 Mar 14, 2022

You nailed second person POV, well done. It can be such an effective tool, especially I find when the character is so vulnerable, as yours is. There are many strands to enjoy here, though one that really stood out to me was the rivalry between the two friends, adding to his confusion and despair. The line that gut-punched me was, "He's emerged from his cocoon but forgot to take you with him. " Ugh, that really hit home and I don't think you could have conveyed it stronger in the first or third person so bravo on the choices you made. Another...

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Zack Powell
02:13 Mar 15, 2022

Thanks, Clyde! Was iffy on using second person POV here, so I'm happy to hear that it was effective. You're a great writer yourself, so this is a lovely comment. Thank you!

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Suma Jayachandar
08:23 Mar 12, 2022

Every child wants to be loved and accepted for what they are by their parents, no matter what the society has to say. Your story is a beautiful portrayal of this vulnerability that is universal. There are so many gut punches in this, but the one that hit me hardest was- 'Where your father's hands will go—around your back or by his side or to his belt.' Thanks for sharing this story, Zack.

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Zack Powell
15:23 Mar 12, 2022

Thank you so much, Suma. You got exactly what I was going for. Special thanks for the gut punch line; it was one of my favorites. I appreciate your time and your thoughts.

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J.C. Lovero
02:02 Mar 12, 2022

Hi Zack, Can I just say, as a gay man, this one hit me from so many directions. The lines you wrote resonate for anyone trying to figure themselves out in the world. Your prose in this one is very vulnerable, and it made me really connect with the narrator. As always, I enjoyed this one, friend! Some of my favorite lines (there were many): How much your mother will cry, her mascara smudging as the tears flow like a broken fire hydrant on a summer day, or if she'll cry at all. (this whole paragraph, really) On Saturdays now, you stay at ...

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Zack Powell
03:40 Mar 12, 2022

Love hearing your thoughts, as always, J.C.! This one was definitely coming from a place of familiarity, so I'm glad you could relate too. It can be a real struggle. "Vulnerable" is such a good adjective for prose. I'm gonna take that one with me moving forward. I like that. Thanks as always for reading. I had a blast with your story! (As you can no doubt tell by the loquacious comment I left.)

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Riel Rosehill
01:34 Mar 12, 2022

Hey Zack, How are you doing, prompt twin? ;) I was looking forward to the weekly story from you, it's always such a treat! If you struggled this week (like I did for sure) it doesn't show. And I am so impressed by how you managed to nail second person POV as well! It really suited the story, and it was SO relatable, the struggle of coming out, the do I tell and if so when and how, or shall I just not because what if? I faced the exact same dilemma for a good chunk of my life, so... Really liked reading it. And the end was perfect! Also I en...

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Zack Powell
03:20 Mar 12, 2022

Hey, hey! Lemme tell you, I struggled BIG TIME this week. This story was literally my fifth or sixth attempt at the prompts, and it came to me last night. Just to give you an idea, here are a few of the failed story openings from this week's prompts: "My son thanks me this time when I post his bail." (Drama, "Give something one more shot.") "The first vision came to Davey, the shortstop, during the bottom of the second inning with the bases loaded." (Speculative, "Write a story on a baseball field.") ""You'll never know unless you try," my h...

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