It was the third day of teacher in-service when I first ran into Tom. And because I'm a clumsy jerk, I really did run into him. Just outside my classroom, I opened the door and bumped right into him, like an idiot, which made the stack of papers I was carrying swoosh across the hallway floor in a flurry of white. God, I'm such a klutz. It's like I'm perpetually in seventh grade and physical coordination just forever eludes me. So naturally, I ran into Tom. What the hell else would I do?
I knelt down to gather up the papers, mumbling my usual stupid apologies. As if all the other teachers didn't know enough to stay out of my way by now. I should have a disaster area sign over my classroom door…or maybe floating over my head. He was nice enough, though, he got down on one knee to help me retrieve everything. He even apologized! As if it were his fault somehow that I'm so stupid. I started to object, to explain about me just so he'd know since he was new and obviously nobody'd bothered to warn him.
And that's when really I saw Tom for the first time. I nearly dropped the papers again.
My brain immediately hit red alert, screaming `Gorgeous! Gorgeous!' but you know, I don't think that's really the right word. His face was handsome but surely in a pretty ordinary way, his hair wasn't perfect and he didn't have the body of a Greek god. The thing was, he was smiling when I looked up and, damn, if that didn't just shut down my synapses. His smile was electric and his eyes were ice blue. It sounds stupid but those eyes of his sparkled. I know, I know, I read too much romantic fiction for my own good. `His eyes sparkled'…what kind of dork thinks things like that anyway? Me, obviously. And his smile was fantastic. Not perfect, though, there was a gap between his front teeth that caught my attention, I don't know why. Maybe I like noticing flaws, especially on other men. I mean, it wasn't as if I liked him or anything. He helped me stack the papers up again, though the meticulous order I'd had them in was lost and I'd now have to spend my lunch period reorganizing them.
He apologized again. Someone should tell him that's not really necessary with me. Its not like this kind of thing doesn't happen to me on a regular basis. If something's neatly stacked, I'm the guy to knock it over. If something's expensive, I'm sure to break it. It's like a law of physics or something. While he was handing papers to me, I saw his hands, which probably is why I dropped the stack a second time. Broad hands with those long fingers that carefully plucked up papers and rapidly restacked them. He smelled good, too. God, I must need a cigarette break or something. This teacher prep stuff was really getting to me, obviously. I shouldn't be noticing the way other teachers smelled, for God's sake. It wasn't like I didn't know better, the worst thing that could happen at a school was for word to get around that you're gay. Teaching drama, I had to be extra careful. I mean, everyone knows all male drama teachers are gay just like all women P.E. teachers are lesbians. So if you were, and I'm not saying most weren't, you really had to watch yourself at work.
So I ignored my stupid brain and accepted the rest of the papers without looking at him. And I really didn't look when he walked away down the hall. Honest.
I ran into him twice more that day and pretty much gave up on trying to get the plays organized and stapled together. The kids could do that on the first day, I guess. They were used to me by now. Never really prepared. Tom didn't seem annoyed, which was nice of him, but it irked me that his first impressions were of some dork scrambling to pick things up and apologize. It was starting to get on my nerves how much I was apologizing. I mean, why didn't he know to stay out of my way by now? You'd think he'd find another hall to walk down, wouldn't you? I mean, really.
The next day, the day before the kids returned, he sat down next to me at lunch. I don't know why I ate in the lunchroom that day, I usually just scarf a sandwich at my desk or else wait and pig out at home. As he sat down, I surreptitiously checked to make sure nothing spill-able was in a danger zone near him. That's all I needed, to spill coke and crushed ice all over the new teacher. Why couldn't I be coordinated like a normal person?
As we ate the whatever from the trays, he talked about his old school and why he'd moved to Miami and all that type of stuff. I really wasn't paying attention. I kept watching his eyes and his hands. His blue eyes were amazing, they just sparkled and twinkled when he talked and I wondered if anyone had ever told him he should model. He wasn't perfect or anything and I really didn't have a crush on him but someone should have told the guy he looked good. He sure didn't seem to know it. He kept blushing when he talked, showing dimples, and seemed a little nervous. Not that I blame him, sitting next to the school klutz. It was asking for trouble, really, to get this close to me. God only knows what I'd do next.
What I was thinking of doing, while we talked, was kissing him, of course. I'm predicable that way. Get some cute guy who can't possibly like me, in a situation where I can't possibly act like myself, and my brain wants me to do stupid things like that. I watched his hands as he picked at the food with a white plastic spork. He didn't seem to have much of an appetite but I couldn't blame him. You sort of had to get used to the food here, tune it out visually in order to eat it. I'm sure it was technically good for you and all. It's just that your higher brain was hard to convince if it was allowed to decide by outward appearances. You had to learn to eat without looking too hard at what you put in your mouth.
I would think of mouths. Tom's mouth. Those crooked teeth. Those dimples when he blushes. I wonder if drama teachers get discounts on lobotomies. God knows, I wouldn't miss my so-called higher functions. Its not like I'm a rocket scientist or anything.
He noticed the pin on my lapel. Well, I say `lapel' but I wasn't wearing a jacket. Our school wasn't that strict and, besides, the kids weren't even back yet. That day, I just had on a button up cotton shirt that I'd managed to leave unbuttoned somehow and some faded jeans with sneakers. He seemed to be staring at my undone buttons. God, what a jerk I must seem like with my shirt open like that. It wasn't as if the kids were back though and it just felt more comfortable that way. I wasn't exactly embarrassed about my chest, I had a nice amount of chest hair, not too much but just enough to sort of look…oh, I dunno. Okay, I guess. But of course, he noticed. He was dressed more like a real teacher, he even had a tie on. He probably thought I was a slob. Not that I wasn't; I just hated for it to be so obvious.
What had he said about the pin? Damn, I would be wearing a rainbow pride kitty cat pin today. Geez, what an idiot I am. Sometimes I really do forget. I mean, its not like I'm in the closet or anything but you do have to be careful when you're teaching. Teachers who'd been here awhile kind of just knew about me, I guess, but I didn't flaunt it or anything. Why look for trouble? But the new guy, well, now he'd know. Or maybe he wouldn't. People sometimes only saw what they wanted to see, I'd noticed that ages ago. It definitely made life easier in some ways but always left you wondering what this or that person was really thinking. Not that I'm obvious or anything but, hell, I do teach drama and all. I really should be more careful.
He didn't seem fazed by the pin. I guess he was one of those types who just don't notice. Its like straight people just ignore ninety percent of the gay stuff a gay person does. And anyway, the pin could, I guess, just seem like something any cat lover would wear. A laminated row of cats, each a different color of the rainbow pride flag. He just probably thought I liked cats. Which I do, of course, I have two of them and they are the real bosses of my little apartment, but that wasn't the point of wearing the pin. Which Tom had overlooked, of course, thank God. That's all I needed, the cute new teacher to think I'm a klutz and a fag.
I don't know what the thing is about gay men and cats anyway. It's like, practically as common as liking show tunes or Barbara Streisand. Not that all gay guys like those things, I mean, just because my friends and I do doesn't mean it's like a rule or anything. You don't have to know any lyrics to get your all-access pass. Anyway, I liked show tunes long before I was gay, honest. I mean, I didn't really know I was gay until Antonio Smith and I fooled around a little in the eighth grade. Before that, it was pure speculation on my part.
Not that David Ketchum kissing me in first grade shouldn't have been a clue, though. But back then, we just thought we were annoying the teacher. I didn't realize it meant I'd made a major life choice or anything. I mean, we were just teasing the teacher, right? We kissed, full on the lips just like in the movies, right in front of her on the playground. She was a pretty smart lady, though, and didn't make a fuss or anything. So we never bothered to do it again. Like I said, she was a smart lady. Hell, I didn't even think David was cute. He was just always following me around is all and he'd get some fun ideas. Like making out in front of the teacher at recess.
I remember that what I'd really wanted in first grade was for that hot Italian boy to think of things like that. He never did but he always loaned me his Italian-English dictionary that his mom had made him promise never to loan out. He kept correcting my first grade attempts at Italian in that cute little accent of his. I always wondered if he liked me. Even back then, I could never tell. You have to hit me with a brick, just about; I'm that dense. He never did kiss me in front of the teacher, which was a shame. Only David Ketchum did and he was kind of a goose. Sweet, though, but a goose just the same.
What was Tom saying? Oh, yeah, something about the teacher meeting in the morning. God, I hate those things. Getting to school early just so you could have some lame assistant principal read to you from a boring pile of handouts. Some people just had no sense of presentation. I mean, can't we all read for ourselves? Most of us are fairly literate, its not like absolute morons were given teaching licenses in Florida. Well, if you don't count the athletic coaches. But I digress. Tom was talking.
God, the poor guy must wish he knew some of the other teachers, some of the less flagrantly stupid ones, so he could sit next to someone with half a brain. I mean, he only knew me from trying to avoid my walking disaster area, right? I should have blinking lights on me like those huge trailers when they take to the highways. Like, `watch out for excess loads' and `driver can't see you from here'. It was a good thing it didn't take a license to walk the high school hallways. God knows, I'd never be issued one if they did. I'm such a space cadet. NASA should recruit me for the shuttle program.
What was that? I could have sworn Tom said something about breakfast tomorrow. God, he couldn't mean the stuff they called breakfast here in the cafeteria. I should warn him. Honey buns and boxed cereal. Cartons of milk, choice of white or chocolate. And Sunny D if you were lucky. Not really my idea of breakfast. Not that I usually had breakfast on weekdays; stopping somewhere for a big cup of vanilla hazelnut coffee and chain-smoking were how I usually broke my fast on a school day morning.
In theory, though, I adore breakfast but it just seems like the only times I ever actually eat it is at night somewhere at one of those restaurants that always serve it. I'll happily eat it then; just kind of pretending it was morning. You almost have to, with breakfast, even if you were eating it at midnight. Eggs and bacon and stuff just seem to scream morning, even if it's not. Like everything else in my life, I was always doing it at the wrong time. I wonder how long it'll take Tom to figure out I'm hopeless and start finding another hallway to his classroom. Or eating with someone else in the cafeteria.
Wait, no, what now? He's asking for my phone number. Something about breakfast again. I really need to explain our cafeteria to him so he doesn't end up with indigestion on his first day of class. I mean, that'd really make a great impression on his students.
Wait, what? He wants us to have breakfast somewhere else. God, he'll think I'm such a moron, not even listening when he talks even though I'm looking right at him. I always tell my students that good listening skills are just as important as good speaking skills and here I am zoning out totally. Can I help it, though, if his eyes are distracting me? If he'd just stop that sparkling or whatever it is he does with them when he's talking, I swear I could pay better attention. Probably not a good thing to actually suggest, though. Probably not a good idea to mention his eyes at all.
I'll have to be careful, though, I never know just what will come stupidly out of my mouth at just the wrong time. Anyway, it isn't his fault I think he's cute and he'd probably have a heart attack if he found out. He tries to find someone to talk to at his new school and the guy acts all funny and everything. I really needed to concentrate on acting, well, normal. Just `us guys' and all that. So he wanted my number, so what? Its not like he asked for my address or anything, right? Not even my email. He just wanted a little company for breakfast and some pointers on his first day and all. And here I was with a bulge in my jeans and no clue what he was saying. God, I'm such a…
Wait, what was that? I could have sworn he said something. Did he have to have dimples like that and that damned cute gap in his teeth? I have no idea what he just said, in fact, I can't take my eyes off his face. He'll think I'm so stupid for asking him to repeat himself. Oh, well, like that'll be a newsflash.
What? Oh my God, he's picking up my folders for me. Does he think I'm so clumsy I'll drop them right here? Not that I wouldn't, or anything, it just irks me to be so obviously incompetent. Damn, I have to stand up right now, they're closing the lunchroom. Talk about feeling like I'm in junior high again, I've still got a, um, you know, a problem. And, like an idiot, I wore my tighter pair of jeans today. Just my luck. Punched out by the new guy for drooling over him and, um, showing excessive interest. What a great start to the school year. Oh well, he probably won't notice. I mean, what straight guy looks at another guy there?
Okay, walking down the empty hall with him to our classrooms. Tomorrow it would be really crowded, so its always kind of nice right before the kids come back to have the school to ourselves. God, Tom's tall! Like way over six feet. I had no idea, I'd always seen him kneeling down to pick up whatever mess I'd just made or seated just now in the lunchroom. He's tall and slender like a swimmer. I always like feeling smaller next to cute guys, it makes me feel kind of…okay, seriously, I need to stop that whole line of thought right now, its not helping. I need to think of something else, anything else. He's not helping, though, still smiling and sparkling and talking in that low, soft voice. What was he saying? Jesus, I have no idea. I hope he keeps talking, though, his voice is like a rough purr from a big cat. Cold showers, think of cold showers. And don't look so much. Try looking at the stupid school posters on the walls as we pass or the flicker-y florescent lights in rows down the hall ceilings. Look at anything else but him.
Okay, my classroom door. He's so cute; he's taking my stuff in to my desk for me. Or else, he thinks I'm so hopeless that I'd just drop them if he let me have it all back. He probably thinks I need a keeper or a nursemaid or something. I'm so out there on my best days and right now, with him this close, I'm really batting a thousand. Not even a single clue what he's saying. He could have solved five world problems just now and told me and I'd have had no clue. Good thing the world didn't depend on my brain to keep spinning.
He's looking around at my room. I'm glad I put up all the theater posters yesterday, it doesn't look quite so bare and boring. I guess all the candles and knick knacks do look kind of kitschy though. Hey, not all gay guys can decorate worth crap, okay? That's a stereotype. Just like the one about drama teachers. God, it's so quiet in here, maybe I should say something? I can't think of a single thing, though, I'm just watching his face and his hands and listening to that low, growly voice of his. He can really stop sparkling anytime now; its making my brain shut down. Not that there's a whole lot to shut down, really, but still…I'm coming off like an idiot. Not that he seems annoyed or anything. I guess he's just a nice, patient guy. Probably knows dozens of mindless idiots and has had tons of practice being polite to them.
He said something… what was it? He's got my little Gone with the Wind snowglobe in his hand. His nails are smooth and they just seem to make his hands seem longer, more elegant. I wonder if he plays tennis? He sort of seems like he'd look natural in tennis whites and bounding out onto a court for a game. I wish he wouldn't stand so close, its making it really, uh, hard for me to concentrate. Not that I was doing a great job when he was across the room. He has the cutest butt. And those long, long legs. God, I need to get a grip here.
He's smiling again, showing those crooked white teeth, he must think I'm such a looney tune standing here with a blank look on my face. God knows what my expression is, I hope I'm not drooling. Please, God, strike me with lightning so I'll stop feeling so stupid. Sure, I'll be fried but at least I'll be delivered from my own idiocy. This just isn't the place for these thoughts and this just isn't the guy. He's just a nice man who has no one else to talk to yet. Can I be forgiven for hoping he doesn't find someone else to talk to for awhile? Maybe for a week or two? Or the whole rest of the school year?
I loved him sitting beside me at lunch today. For him, I'd eat in there every day and swallow that cafeteria food. Lunch after lunch of indigestible crap just so I could watch him sparkle like that and hear him purr. Jesus, I'm such a…
He's laughing at me, I know it. He's standing right here in front of me with that bright white smile and that gorgeous gap between his teeth and those killer dimples and he's got to be laughing at me. I must look ridiculous; I can't think where to put my hands or my feet. And I thought I'd graduated junior high years ago. Not me, no, I never did learn to be suave and collected. Well, especially not with him so close like this.
Don't straight guys know to keep three feet between themselves and other men? I mean, hell, otherwise you send the wrong signals, right? Like now, with my poor brain trying to argue with my body that's yelling, `He's close! He's cute!' like a klaxon in my head. What if he can tell what I'm thinking? Maybe that's why he's smiling at me like that. God, I'm such a hopeless case. I better tell him I need to finish working, that I've got stacks of plays and lesson plans and, well, stuff to do. Tons of really interesting stuff to do that is way more important than watching him sparkle. Really.
Is he laughing at me? God, I hope not. Maybe he just thought of a joke he heard last week and suddenly got it. I do that all the time; I'm famously dense. God, he's awfully close right now. I'm pretty sure I know the name of that cologne but I just can't think of it right now. I can't think of anything right now. All I can think of is his face, so close to mine.
Tom kissed me.
He touched me, his actual lips touched mine just now in an actual, real, lip-to-lip kiss just like with David Ketchum in first grade only this time no one's watching. And thank God for that, this is school for God's sake.
Yeah, this is school. And the cute new teacher is gay.
And he likes me.
I guess God does watch over idiots and small children after all.