Mike is a freshman at Edison High. He’s being pressured by his friends and his family to go to the Homecoming Dance. That’s fine except he will have to ask a girl to be his date. And Mike is gay.
Mike looked at the poster and tried to will it to go away. But it didn’t go away. The poster announced the Homecoming Dance. Everyone was planning on going to the dance, and the few who didn’t go, unless they were at home sick, were the school’s losers. Mike had learned this from his friends and from overhearing kids talking about who they thought the losers might be. Mike absolutely didn’t want to be one of the losers, and if he didn’t go to the dance it wouldn’t do his reputation any good. In fact, it would be very bad. He’d be on the cusp of loserdom and his social life at Edison High School would end up in the toilet and might remain there until he graduated. Four years of loserdom. It made Mike feel sick to his stomach.
Mike worried about going to the Homecoming Dance because he knew he’d have to ask a girl to be his date. He’d never been on a date. He didn’t know how to ask a girl to go to the dance. He didn’t know anything about dances or girls. What should he say to a girl when they were on a date? It was easy to talk to girls at school, the topic of conversation usually related to school things or movies or music or TV shows. What would he say to a girl on a date? Going to the dance and going home from the dance would be a problem. Would he have to ask his dad to pick up the girl and drive them to Edison and pick them up and drive them home? Or would the girl’s father do that? He overheard some boys talk about taking their dates to have a burger after the dance. But they were juniors or seniors and probably had cars. It would be totally uncool to have his dad drop them off and pick them up if he took his date out for a burger. His biggest worry was what to do when he said goodnight to the girl. Every boy talked about kissing after a date. He’d never kissed a girl. He didn’t know how to kiss a girl.
There was an even more important reason Mike worried about asking a girl to go to the Homecoming Dance. He was gay. He was comfortable about being gay, but he was not out. He was tightly ensconced in the closet, wanted to remain there, and worried about a girl figuring out he was gay and outing him. He worried about it because he’d read on some websites that straight girls had better gaydar than gay boys. That would be the worst possible way to be outed. If some girl outed him and it got back to his parents he’d be in a ton of trouble. His folks were probably homophobic. He thought that because he’d overhear them talking about “those gays” when they were watching a TV show or the news about gays.
Now Mike had a headache thinking about these things. Why did life have to be so fucking complicated?
Cathy sat at lunch with some of her friends. They were at their usual table at the back corner next to the windows. None of the girls were A-list but they were close because they were cute and smart and friendly and liked by most of the other kids. The boys were smart and friendly too, and because they were good looking they didn’t have to end up sitting with the nerds and geeks.
She looked around the cafeteria. The Homecoming Dance was coming up, the first dance of the school year, and the posters were everywhere she looked. She knew that she absolutely had to go to this dance, and for two very big reasons. There were also two very big reasons not to go.
The first reason to go? All of her friends were getting dates to go to the dance, and if she didn’t go it would severely damage her chances of ever reaching the top of the popular girl pinnacle.
The second reason to go? Her parents, especially her mother, expected her to go.
The first reason not to go? She was waiting for a boy she was good friends with to ask her to the dance. She had been asked by two boys, but she only knew them casually. She’d let each of them down easily, smiling and thanking them for asking her and telling them that she expected one of her other friends to ask her. Unfortunately, there were only a few boys who she could call her good friends.
The second reason not to go? She was afraid that she might be outed. She had known since the seventh grade that she was gay. That was gay, not lesbian. She hated the term lesbian. To her, it sounded demeaning. If girls were gay the way boys were gay, that would be something you were born with like hair color or height, something that you didn’t have a choice about. But girls were still called lesbians at Edison High, and it might be wrong but being lesbian was considered a choice, not something that you were born with. Gay boys were accepted by most kids at Edison, but lesbian girls were not. So why should ‘gay’ be limited to boys? A gay boy, a gay girl. Something you were born with, and you were accepted by most other kids. That made complete sense to her.
Because Cathy worried about being outed she tried to avoid situations where it might happen, like the Homecoming Dance. She worried about a boy figuring out she was gay and outing her. Being outed would relegate her to the lesbian outcast group. Her life in high school would become a living hell. Her parents were very religious and very homophobic, especially her mom. If someone from school told them that she was gay then her life at home would become a living hell. Her folks might even send her to one of those Ex-Gay camps.
It was a very hot September day so most kids decided it made more sense to sit inside the air conditioned cafeteria than in the blazing sun outside. By the time Mike got his lunch almost all the seats were taken. He saw some empty seats but they were at tables where he wouldn’t want to sit or wouldn’t be welcome. Then he noticed a few empty seats at a table in the back near the windows. He saw a few kids sitting there who he knew because they were in some of his classes, so he headed to that table.
“Hi, Eric. Is it okay if I sit here?”
“Sure. Let me introduce you to the rest of our usual lunch group. Guys, this is Mike. Mike, these peeps are,” and Eric pointed to each of the others in turn; “I think you know Diane and Cathy, the other girls are Heather, Maya, Barbara, Suzie, and Kristi. These other guys are Dale, Todd, and Peter.”
Mike sat down and grinned. “Nice to meet all of you. I have a terrible memory for names so I’ll probably forget most of yours before the end of lunch. Please don’t take it personally.”
Diane looked at Eric and frowned, “I told you we should have name tags!” Then she started to laugh. The others chimed in with, “Yeah, where are our name tags, Eric?”
Mike was confused, and Eric looked at him and grinned. “We had the same problem remembering names when we started eating lunch together. One person whose name starts with a ‘D’ is the worst offender. She still can’t remember my name. Keeps calling me Dufus and that obviously isn’t correct. Thus her request for name tags.”
“So why, Mr. Chung, did you keep calling me Denise instead of Diane?”
“You look like a Denise. Is it my fault that your parents picked the wrong name for you? I call ‘em as I see ‘em.”
“And you look like a Dufus. I call ‘em as I see ‘em too.”
Eric turned to Mike. “See what it’s like, Mike? It’s like this every day.”
Mike just grinned. “I think I’d better just eat my lunch. That’ll be safest.”
“That sounds like a good idea. Mystery meat tacos aren’t good cold,” Todd commented.
“They aren’t good, period,” Mike added, after taking a bite of one of his tacos.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Cathy glanced across the table at Mike whenever she thought he wouldn’t see her. She was wrong, however. Mike did notice and wondered what that was about. He recognized Cathy from his History and Algebra classes. She was cute, for a girl. He liked to look at her curly, reddish-blonde hair and her smile. He wondered if she’d been asked to the dance yet.
But Mike liked to look at Eric even more. Eric’s Chinese features intrigued Mike. He liked Eric’s light tan complexion, his slightly puffy lips and constant smile, his small broad nose, his slanted Asian eyes that looked like they were smiling, his short spiked black hair, and especially his personality; he seemed to always be smiling and happy. Mike didn’t realize it, but he had the start of a major crush on Eric. He knew he wanted to know him better, but he also knew that the chances that Eric would be gay were slim to none.
Mike’s glances at Eric were being reciprocated, even though Mike never noticed when Eric was looking at him. Mike had wavy light brown hair and brown eyes, both of which Eric liked. Looking at Mike made him smile. He wanted to get to know Mike better, a lot better. Eric had to be very careful so he wouldn’t be outed. He didn’t want his homophobic older brother Jeff, a junior at Edison, to hear about his deepest secret.
Cathy noticed the boys glancing at each other. To add to what Mike had read about straight girls having better gaydar than gay boys, gay girls had even better gaydar. At least that’s what Cathy believed, based on her own experience. She grinned when Mike looked at her then dropped his gaze. He was cute. She also liked Mike’s grin when he glanced at Eric and how Eric blushed when he looked away. Oh, yes. She felt certain that both Mike and Eric were gay.
She decided that she wanted to go to the Homecoming Dance with Mike, assuming he hadn’t asked anyone else. Eric had asked Diane. Todd, Dale, and Peter had dates, as did all the girls at her table. She knew lots of other girls would be interested in Mike, so she had to do something fast. But what could she do? Of course, she could walk up to him and ask him to the dance. That would be sort of inappropriate, though. Boys were supposed to ask girls to the Homecoming Dance. It wasn’t like the Sadie Hawkins dances in middle school where the girls asked the boys. They both had Algebra fifth period. She’d walk to class with him and chat him up. She could hint around and maybe, just maybe, he’d be bright enough to catch on and invite her. But being gay, would he even want to go to the dance? She’d find out.
They heard the bell announcing the end of lunch period and all got up ready to drop off their lunch trays and go to their fifth period classes. Cathy made sure she was next to Mike as they put their trays on the conveyor belt.
“I’m glad you decided to eat with us today, Mike. It’s nice having someone new join us. I hope you’ll be a regular.”
Mike turned to Cathy and smiled. “Thanks, Cathy. It’s nice meeting new people. I think I will become a regular at your table.”
They left the cafeteria and walked outside to the 400 building and their Algebra class.
“You ready for the pop quiz?” Cathy asked Mike.
“We’re having a pop quiz? Really?”
“Uh huh. Barbara has Mr. McIntosh third period and she told me. It’s on quadratic equations.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay then.” Mike looked at Cathy. “Umm... are you ready?”
She grinned. “Yes, I am.”
They continued to walk, this time in silence. As they crossed the quad Mike turned to Cathy. He was almost shaking he was so nervous, and his palms were sweating. He took a big breath and stood tall.
“Uh, Cathy? Can I ask you something?”
“Would you go to the Homecoming Dance with me?”
Cathy was surprised, and elated, and just about the happiest girl on the Edison campus at that moment.
“Yes, I would love to go to the Homecoming Dance with you, Mike. I’d hoped you’d ask me. You’re the one I wanted to go with.” She was surprised at her revelation, but Mike’s delighted smile told her that it was the perfect thing to say.
“Thank you. I think we’ll have a great time. Uh, this is the first school dance for me, so I’m a little nervous.”
“It’s my first school dance too. We can be nervous together.” She smiled.
“Would you like to stop at Smokey’s for a snack and a coke after school and we can talk about what to do? I really don’t know much about dances,” Mike admitted.
“I’m not sure I know much more, but that sounds like a good idea. Where do you want to meet?”
“My last class is English in room 203. Where’s your’s?”
“I have Spanish in room 219,” she replied. “Why don’t we meet outside at your end of the building?”
“Okay! Now for Mr. McIntosh’s non-surprise pop quiz. Did I ever tell you that I hate pop quizzes?” Mike asked.
“No, but that’s something I can easily understand.”
They entered their Algebra classroom and took seats next to each other.
Mike thought the rest of the day would crawl by slowly, but it didn’t. After his seventh period English class ended he walked outside and stood in shade of a tree. After a few minutes he saw Cathy come out of the building and walked over to join her.
“Hi! Do you need to go to your locker?”
“Hi, Mike. No, I have all the books I’ll need in my book bag. You?”
“Same, I have all of my books in my backpack, all seventy five pounds of ’em.” Cathy grinned at Mike’s little joke, but he wasn’t joking. He did have all of his textbooks in his backpack. “We’d better get to Smokey’s before it gets crowded.”
They chatted as they walked off the campus.
“How were the rest of your classes today?” Cathy asked.
“Same as, same as. No, that’s not accurate. Spanish was a complete bore. We’re learning vocabulary. That’s not a fun thing to have to sit through during seventh period.”
“I agree with that. You’re taking Spanish 1?”
“Yes. Are you taking Spanish?”
“Yeah. I took two years of Spanish in middle school, so I’m taking Spanish 3. I have it first period.” Mike chuckled. “I’m not sure that first period is any better than seventh for Spanish. Most of the kids in my class are still half asleep.”
“Are there any other freshman in your class?”
“Yeah, one, Doris Manningham. Most are sophomores and juniors and a few seniors.”
“Doris is in my English class. She’s a little... uh... snooty.”
“You’re not kidding. She thinks she’s better than anyone else in Spanish 3. She isn’t. Her pronunciation is terrible, and she makes lots of mistakes when she’s doing verbal translations. I can’t believe that she’d get the A that she claims she’s getting in the class.”
“That describes her perfectly. Tell me a little about yourself, Mike.”
“Hmm. Well, I have a mother and father, no brothers or sisters. My mom is a dental hygienist, my dad works for Google. We’ve lived in the same house here in Summit Ridge since I was born. Most of our relatives are down in Southern California. I like to go hiking, fishing, skiing, anything in the mountains. I love riding roller coasters, too. Uh, let’s see. I like to read, science fiction is my favorite but I like most everything. Well, except westerns and vampire and zombie stories. I have an Android smartphone and I’m learning to write apps. I like to work on my computer. I built it myself, with my dad’s help. He’s a computer geek. You oughta see the setup he has in his home office. Well, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. How about you?”
“Well, let’s see. I have a mother and a father. My mom doesn’t work, my dad works for a publishing company. I have two older sisters and one older brother. My brother lives in San Francisco and goes to San Francisco State. One sister lives in Chicago and the other in Tampa, Florida. Neither is married yet, much to my parents’ disappointment. My folks are very religious. For fun I like to go shopping,” she laughed. “What girl doesn’t? I play tennis and like to swim. We have a pool at home. I like to read. I got one of those new Kindle Fires for my birthday and now I’m doing most of my reading on that. I wish we had all of our textbooks on the Kindle or the internet. I surf the web a lot, and read stories on the web. That’s about it.”
“I forgot about reading on the web. I read stories on the web, too.”
Cathy decided to take a chance. “Gay stories?”
Mike stopped walking. Cathy turned around and came back to where he stood. He didn’t know what to say. She seemed to be trying to out him.
“I do,” she said.
Mike tried to compute what she’d just said. ‘I do,’ what did that mean? ‘Oh, my god!’ he thought, ‘did she just out herself to me? I think she did. Okay, what the heck.’
“Yes. So you’re...?”
“Yes. Oh, my god. This is amazing. I don’t believe it.”
“Believe it.” Cathy grinned. “We’re going to be each other’s safety date.”
Mike started to laugh. Partly because he’d never heard the term ‘safety date’ and it sounded funny, partly because he and Cathy had just outed themselves, partly because this whole thing was so unbelievably amazingly bizarre, and partly because all of this made him a little nervous.
When he finally stopped laughing he asked, “So, what’s a safety date?”
“It’s usually when a straight girl dates a gay guy so no one guesses that he’s gay. And vice versa. They can go out and have fun, and the girl doesn’t worry about the guy trying to um... you know, mess around with her. Since we’re both gay that means I’m your safety date and you’re my safety date and we’re both safe.”
“Safety dates. That’s great.” Mike took a deep breath and relaxed. He couldn’t have imagined things turning out so perfectly.
“I assume you’re not out to your folks?” Cathy asked.
“No, anytime there’s anything on TV about gays I hear my folks talking about ‘those gays’ so I assume they aren’t gay-friendly. I’m too young to try coming out to them. How about you? You said that your folks are very religious. Does that mean they’re homophobic?”
“Majorly. Each of my sisters moved away from home after they graduated from college. They both went to U.C. Santa Barbara. My folks weren’t pleased when they found out that my sisters both changed to a different church. According to my mother, my sisters’ new church is disregarding God’s law because it ordained several gay clergy, and a gay woman was appointed as a Bishop. My brother moved out when he stopped going to church. My folks told him that if that’s the way he wanted it then he could pay his own way through college. That’s what he’s doing. He got a job at Zinga, an online game company in San Francisco. It pays enough to cover his school expenses and his apartment and stuff.
“I still go to church with my folks, but I don’t believe in that church. But at fourteen I can’t do what my sisters and brother did. They have no reason to, but my folks watch me like a pair of hawks. Before you can take me to the dance I’m sure they’re going to want to meet you and talk to your parents. Do you go to church?”
“Yes, but not every Sunday. We’re Catholic. Is that okay with your folks?”
“They don’t like Catholics very much, but it’s better than if you didn’t go to church or went to one of the liberal Protestant churches. They think the Catholic Church is as anti-gay as they are, and I guess that’s true.”
“I guess we’ll have to fib about me going to church, then.”
“Which Catholic Church do you go to?”
“St. Mary’s. Say, if you’re folks are so religious, how come you’re not going to Brandon Christian High?”
“My sisters and brother did go to Brandon Christian. Because of the way they turned out my folks think the school was responsible. It wasn’t, of course, but try to convince my folks of that. The Proctor came to visit one evening and couldn’t convince them. They decided it would be better if I went to public school because I wouldn’t be taught any false religion — I guess they think not being taught any religion at all is best.”
Mike and Cathy arrived at Smokey’s, a favorite hangout for Edison students. They’d left early enough that it wasn’t too crowded and they sat at a two person table next to the window that was by itself and more private than most. They checked the menu which was on a blackboard above the counter.
“What would you like, Cathy? I’m going to have a burger and fries and a shake. My treat since this is our first date.” Mike grinned.
Cathy laughed. “I like that, our first date. I’ll have a grilled chicken sandwich and a coke, please.”
“Okay. I’ll go put in our order.”
Mike went up to the counter and returned after a few minutes with their drinks and his fries.
“It’ll be ready in a couple minutes. Here, I’ll share my fries with you.”
“Thanks. So, Mike, do you know how to dance?”
“Not really. Well, I can dance to rock music like we learned in seventh grade PE, but regular dancing, that’s a no. I guess you know how to dance.”
“My mom doesn’t believe in ballroom dancing. It’s like, how horrible it would be if the guy touched and held me. But I learned how to dance to rock music the same as you, and she’s okay with that.”
“Then I guess we’ll be good to go. How are we supposed to dress for this dance? I mean, because it’s homecoming and all.”
Cathy thought for a couple seconds. “It’s dressy casual. That means you can’t just wear jeans and a T-shirt. Dressy casual means khakis and a shirt with buttons. Since it’s hot I don’t know if you’d have to wear long sleeves or if short sleeves would be okay. I’ll probably wear a skirt and top. My mom will have a big impact on what I’ll be able to pick out of my closet.”
“Sounds okay to me. I have some khakis, tan, black, and a blue. I have short and long sleeve shirts, so picking one would be easy. No tie, right?”
“No tie. It’s not semi-formal.” Cathy saw Mike’s blank expression. “You know, dress-up, like going to church on Christmas or to a funeral or a wedding.”
“Okay, I understand and there’s no tie. So it could be a more casual shirt too, right? I have a long sleeve shirt with a stitched design across the front. It’s kind of a light grayish-purple color with dark purple stitching. I could wear that with my black khakis and a pair of black Skechers. Will that be okay?”
Cathy grinned. “That sounds fantastic.” Then she leaned against Mike’s cheek and whispered in his ear, ‘I knew you were gay!’
Mike started laughing. Between his chuckles he was able to tell Cathy, “It’s the purple thing, isn’t it.”
She was laughing as well, so all she could do is nod her head.
Their food arrived, and they started to eat.
“Mike, can I ask you a question?”
He had just taken a bite of his burger, so he nodded.
“You really, really like Eric, don’t you.”
Mikes eyes got big and he choked as he swallowed too fast. After he finished coughing he said, “What?”
“I think that you really, really like Eric. Am I right?”
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He responded in a soft tone of voice, “I guess if I’m coming out I might as well come out all the way. Yes, I like Eric. I really, really like Eric. But he’s straight, so...”
Cathy interrupted him. “Mike, I think Eric is gay and that he really, really likes you too. You should say hi to him tomorrow and ask him.”
“Shit, I can’t ask him that. If he isn’t and he gets pissed then he’ll blab it all over school and it’ll get to my folks and my life as I know it will be totally over.”
“What if I ask him? He won’t know that you’re involved, and he won’t think I’m gay, I’ll just ask him if he’s gay.”
“You think he’ll answer you truthfully?”
“I don’t know. You did when I asked you.”
“But Cathy, you had just outed yourself to me.”
She sat and thought for a few seconds, then nodded. “Uh huh.”
Now Mike sat staring at Cathy for a few seconds.
“No! No, no. You can’t do that. What if he’s not gay? He could spread it around school that you’re gay, and it could get back to your parents. That’s way too risky. Don’t do it, please.”
“Let me think about it. I can find a way to ask without outing myself. I could talk about my cousin who’s gay. I can make up some sort of story, a happy story, about how he finally found a boyfriend. Before you object, some of it’s a true story. I’ll leave out the parts where his dad threw him out of the house and he’s moved in with my brother and is looking for a job so he can go back to high school.”
“How old is he?”
“Sixteen? His dad can’t throw him out. Child Protective Services will make his family support him until he’s eighteen. They’ll find a foster home for him if he can’t stay where he is.”
“He doesn’t want to live in a foster home. He’s happy staying with my brother, and my brother likes him and it’s okay with him if he stays. If he goes to CPS he’ll be put into the foster system.”
“Not if he’s sixteen and where he’s living is acceptable, like with your brother.”
“How do you know so much about being a foster kid, Mike?”
“I did a report on the foster system last year for Social Studies. I got an A on it, too. I researched everything I wrote about foster kids.”
“Wow. That’s impressive. Anyway, we’re talking about Eric who has a crush on you.”
“Eric has a crush on me? How to you know?”
“Because he looks at you all moony-eyed the same as you get all moony-eyed when you look at him.”
“Moony eyed? I look at him moony eyed? You’re kidding... really?”
“Yes. That’s why I’m pretty sure he really, really likes you.”
Mike grinned. “Wow. Eric. You know, I’ve known Eric for years and... oh my god, he’s so cute!” Mike thought for a couple seconds. “I guess I do have a crush on him.”
Mike’s smile got broader and his eyes glistened. Smiles are contagious, so Cathy smiled too. She could see that Mike had it bad for Eric. Actually, that should be that Mike had it good for Eric, she thought, in fact very, very good. They deserved to be together, and she’d get them together. She let out a laugh, which got Mike’s attention as he munched on a fry. She picked a fry out of his bag and popped it into her mouth and looked at him. Yes, she’d get them together, just like that matchmaker in an old movie she saw on TV a while back.
“I’m going to do it. Eric and I have World History first period. I’ll talk to him before class tomorrow morning, and I’ll see you after that during break.”
Mike was edgy during his morning classes the next day at school. He kept watching the clock in each room, wishing it to move faster. That not only didn’t work, it made time seem to pass more slowly. During first period his Spanish 3 teacher noticed that he kept turning his head looking at the clock which, in that classroom, was on the side wall.
“Mike Noonan, do you find this class boring?”
“No, Mr. Rodriquez.”
“Then please stop looking at the clock and pay attention.”
There were giggles from some of the girls in the class, and Mike blushed with embarrassment. It was difficult, but he avoided turning to look at the clock.
It was easier to watch the clock in his second period Computer Technology class. The Windows clock was sitting right there, on the screen, at the lower right corner, distracting him with its slow march from minute to minute. Despite that distraction, he got his coding assignment finished ahead of schedule. Mr. Dennison checked his work and congratulated him for having a working program. There were still twenty minutes before class would be dismissed, so he read the next assignment in the textbook and finished coding that program as well.
As soon as the bell rang Mike was ready to leave the classroom. Break was only fifteen minutes so he pushed his way through the mass of kids in the hall and rushed to meet Cathy. When he got to the quad Cathy saw him and waved. As he crossed the quad he saw that Eric was standing next to her and was looking at Mike and grinning. Mike almost ran the rest of the way.
“Hi, Mike.” Cathy was smiling and started to laugh. “You almost knocked down two kids rushing over here. Are you in a hurry for some reason?”
Mike ignored her and looked at Eric. “Hi, Eric.”
“So, did Cathy talk to you?”
“Yup. She talks to me all the time.”
“Well what, Mike?” Eric grinned.
“Well, did Cathy talk to you this morning?”
Mike grabbed Eric’s shoulders and shook him. “About us!” then he grinned.
Eric giggled. “Yup. It’s all good. You and I are on the same page. We need to get together and have a conversation. How about today after school?”
“Awesome! Where do you want to go?”
“How about Peet’s? We can sit outside and it’ll be easier to talk privately.”
Mike turned to Cathy. “Thanks for figuring things out and getting me and Eric together, Cathy.”
“Ditto that for me,” Eric added.
“You’re welcome, guys.”
“I was just thinking. Cathy, you outed all three of us. First yourself, then me, then Eric. That was pretty gutsy of you. If it hadn’t been for you, Eric and I would still be clueless about each other. And about you, too. It’s like you were a pitcher in a baseball game. One, two, three, and we’re out.”
The three gay friends laughed, then stood looking at each other and smiling. They all had the same thought: ‘Life is better when you’re out.’
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing One Two Three We’re Out.
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