Jeremy couldn’t really help himself. He was glad he was in middle school now because if he’d still been in elementary school, his problem would have been much worse. In elementary school, everyone was in their own single classroom all day long. Now, the kids moved from room to room during the day according to their class schedules.
That made it easier for Jeremy to contend with his problem, the very same problem that was about to confront him again as he walked to his next class. History, with Mrs. Parks. He both loved and hated this class. And both for the same reason.
That reason was Xander Scott. When he was around, Jeremy couldn’t help himself. Oh, he tried. He tried hard. But there was no hope for him. His eyes seemed to have a mind of their own, and they kept betraying him. Kept moving on their own, till they were once again focused on Xander. That was Jeremy’s problem: he could not for the life of him stop staring at Xander when the boy was within eyesight.
Jeremy had a crush on Xander that was stronger than any he’d had on any other boy. These crushes didn’t bother him. Jeremy liked the crushes he’d had. They made him feel alive and excited, and he loved those feelings. He didn’t worry that they were all on boys. It was just what it was, and there was nothing he could do about it, so he didn’t let it bother him. What did bother him was that he was so compelled to stare at Xander all the time. Xander was bound to notice at some point. Had to. And then what would happen?
He was thinking about this after finding his seat. Mrs. Parks had a seating chart, and you had to sit in the same place every day, which was too bad, Jeremy thought. If it had been open seating, he could simply grab a chair up front every day and Xander would be behind him someplace; problem solved. But that wasn’t how it worked here. Xander was in the next row in front of him, three seats over. It seemed he must be magnetic and Jeremy’s eyes made of iron, because that was where his eyes kept drifting.
And then it happened, as Jeremy had known it would. Xander, reaching for a pencil from his backpack, happened to glance in Jeremy’s direction, and his eyes hit on Jeremy’s. Jeremy quickly looked away, but knew he’d been caught. If the quick look-away wasn’t bad enough, he felt himself beginning to blush. Damn!
The next time he glanced at Xander, which was only about thirty seconds later, Xander was looking at him. Rats, Jeremy though: the jig was up. That’s what the police said in the old fashioned detective novel he was reading. He wasn’t sure what a jig was, or why it was up, but it was just in situations like this that the author used the phrase.
Jeremy tried, tried really hard, to stop looking at Xander, but it was impossible. The boy was perfect. He had dark brown hair that was curly and unruly and always a mess, but what a mess! Perfect. His dark brown eyes were flecked with glints of gold and were bright and lively, just like the boy was himself. Perfect. Some boys were starting to show blemishes on their skin, but Xander’s was smooth and creamy-looking, and was slightly pinkish on his cheeks, suggesting good health. Perfect.
And cute. At least Jeremy thought so. Really, really cute. He sighed. And his eyes found Xander again.
What would Xander do, Jeremy wondered, when class was over? Would he confront him? Make a scene? Embarrass him? He hoped not. That would be awful. But Xander might be mad.
Class ended, and Jeremy watched, not getting up, as the rest of the kids grabbed their backpacks and left. Xander got up with the rest of them, then turned to look at Jeremy, who unfortunately was again staring at him. Xander stared back for a moment, then left the room.
Is he waiting outside in the hall for me? Jeremy gave it some thought, but then heard Mrs. Parks harrumphing, looked up to see her looking at him, and he knew he had to go, no matter what was outside the door.
What he found was just the usual horde moving in different directions. No Xander lurking in the shadows. That was another thing that the ‘jig-is-up’ author liked to write about, villains lurking in the shadows.
Jeremy made his way to his locker and got rid of his history and math books, replacing them in his backpack with English and Modern Life books. What he saw when he was about to close the door was a folded piece of paper sticking through the vents on the back side of the locker door. It had been pushed through, but not far enough to fall inside the locker.
Jeremy opened it; it read: Why are you staring at me? X
Jeremy smiled. No confrontation then. And perhaps something great. Maybe Xander liked it that Jeremy was staring at him and wanted to see if Jeremy liked him. Maybe Xander was pleased by that.
Well, of course, there were other explanations for Xander’s question. The thing was, Jeremy had to be careful, because what if Xander didn’t like him in a crushy sort of way? What if he got pissed if he discovered Jeremy had a crush on him? No, Jeremy had to be careful. He could hope, but only cautiously.
However, one thing was obvious: Jeremy had to answer Xander’s question. And it was obvious the easiest way to do that was with a note of his own.
He still had time right then. This was one of the two times during the day the break between classes was ten minutes, long enough for kids to hit the johns if they needed to, or even eat a snack. Jeremy used the extra time to tear off an empty page from one of his notebooks, tear the page in half, then in half again as he realized what he was going to say wasn’t very long. He wrote: Staring? Who, me? J
He knew where Xander’s locker was; from his watching the boy all the time, he knew a lot about him. He took his note, folded it, then walked to the locker, made sure Xander wasn’t around, and stuck it in the vents, pushing it in far enough that it couldn’t be pulled out again from the front but wouldn’t drop inside, just as Xander’s note had been.
He had Xander in two other classes that day. He tried very hard not to stare at him. Very hard. And he was pretty successful; Xander only caught him four times.
When he was at his locker after the last bell had rung and they were all going home, he found another note: Don’t play games. You know you are. Why? X
Jeremy had to think a little longer this time. Then he wrote: You must be staring at me to think I’m staring at you. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t know I was staring at you. So, why are you staring at me? J
The next morning, Jeremy was hoping for a note in his locker, but there wasn’t one. That set him worrying again. Had he made Xander mad? He’d sort of written his note trying to be funny, but thinking about it, he realized the humor might not have been apparent. The note could have been taken as angry. Jeremy hoped Xander wouldn’t think that. It was indeed something to worry about though.
In first period Math, a Xander-less class, Jeremy tried to pay attention, but was distracted, thinking about Xander and what he might be thinking, and so he got an answer wrong on a quiz, forgetting to change a minus to a plus when he moved it to the other side of his equation. He realized that as he was leaving the room and going over the problem again in his head. Damn it, he had to focus. His dad was always, always telling him that.
Instead of going directly to his history class, he stopped at his locker as he passed it and looked at the vents. He could see the corner of something there. He opened the locker and pulled out the note.
Now you’re being silly. You know you’re staring at me, and I know it, too. Are you afraid to tell me why? X
Well, thought Jeremy. Well. How was he supposed to answer this one? He’d have to think about it. The only thing this note told him that seemed pretty clear was that Xander wasn’t angry, either with the last note he got or with Jeremy staring at him. I seemed more like the notes passing back and forth were simply a conversation. He didn’t feel any anger in Xander’s replies.
In history, Jeremy again tried to minimize his staring at Xander and was somewhat successful. Xander only caught him three times. Jeremy spent most of the class listening to an explanation of the politics in Washington just prior to the Civil war, and some of it thinking how to answer Xander’s note. He decided being careful was still necessary, but maybe he could say something, well, provocative. No, he shouldn’t to that! Too risky. But still … He found a blank page in his notebook and wrote: That must be a new shirt. I haven’t seen it before. J
Was that too risky? Maybe. It more or less admitted that yes, he was staring at him. And it suggested he did it not because he was angry at him or found him ugly. So what other reason could there be but that he found Xander someone he wanted to stare at? That was giving things away, wasn’t it? At least a little?
But then, Xander had to have known all along that maybe that was why Jeremy had been staring, and if Jeremy liked staring at him, didn’t it imply he liked Xander, too? Would more or less confirming it be so bad?. Because it seemed as if Xander didn’t really mind the staring. What if this note moved things along? Would it be possible then that the things Jeremy really hoped would happen might really happen?
He thought about himself and Xander together a lot—all the time, really. He thought of them doing all sorts of things, and not all of them were even bedroom things. He thought of those things, too, but tried not to do so in school as that could get too embarrassing. He had gym class with Xander and that was when he really had to not look at him or think about him, especially the bedroom thoughts, because that would have been truly embarrassing.
At least they didn’t have to shower after gym, though it was encouraged. About half of them did. Xander did, and just the thought of him in that room—naked and wet and rubbing soap on himself—was too much for Jeremy. He always had to turn to face his locker when he thought of that and get his jeans on as quickly as he could. If he really did see a wet Xander, rather than imagining it, every boy in that room would know his secret and he’d be a laughingstock or worse. He wished he could see Xander in there, but knew he couldn’t.
After writing the note and looking at it and missing entirely what Mr. Avery was saying for five straight minutes, he tore the note out and folded it. Then he glanced at Xander and saw that he’d seen what Jeremy was doing. Somehow, that was embarrassing, like he’d been caught doing something naughty. That was silly. They both knew they were writing the notes. Still, somehow, there’d been a sort of anonymity about it, a fake one, maybe, but it still sort of felt that way. So being caught was embarrassing.
He put the note in Xander’s locker and just hoped for the best.
There was a note in his locker when he was leaving school that day. It read: You know my clothes? That’s weird! Are you a stalker? X
That wasn’t what Jeremy had expected at all! The thought occurred to him that maybe Xander was making fun of all this. Maybe he was enjoying it. Well, maybe Jeremy was, too, though it was really scary as well. But now he had another note to answer. He thought about it. Xander might just be having fun, but it was much more than just that for Jeremy. He wanted Xander to be his boyfriend! How could he write a note that would make that more likely to happen without really, truly giving away that he liked Xander? Obviously, talking about his shirt hadn’t done that.
I’m not a stalker. I do like looking at you. J Jeremy studied that. Could he send it? It would take a huge amount of courage. What if Xander showed that note to other kids? Or, oh my God!, what if he’d been showing all the notes to other kids?
Jeremy shuddered and didn’t look at Xander. He didn’t want anyone to know he had a crush on Xander. Girls talked to other girls about the boys they had crushes on. Boys didn’t talk nearly as much about crushes they had on girls; only the really confident boys did that, and none of the boys talked about crushes on boys.
No, he couldn’t send that note. He just couldn’t. Still, he didn’t want to throw it away. Instead, he just closed the notebook. He’d figure out what to write later. Right now, he needed to let his heart slow down a little.
In gym that day, he was on the other side from Xander for the dodgeball game they played. Jeremy felt really nervous. He tried to stay hidden behind some of the other boys, and that worked pretty well until it was down to just a few boys on each side. Now there were no more boys to hide behind. He and three others were facing five boys on the other side. One was Xander.
Jeremy had a ball in his hand and so did Xander. The way the boys were all spread out, it was obvious the two of them were in a private battle. Jeremy’s head was kind of spacey, looking at Xander in his gym shorts and tee shirt, looking oh so cool as he always did, now with light sweat bedewing his forehead, bouncing on his feet to make a moving target. It was difficult for Jeremy to focus on him as a dodgeball target and not a personal target.
He was just aware enough to see Xander heave his ball at him. Jeremy used his own ball to block and knock away Xander’s shot, then threw a strike at the fleeing Xander, nicking his leg. Xander stopped, raised his arms, and said, “Nice one,” to Jeremy and smiled. Jeremy blushed and felt lightheaded.
Xander walked by Jeremy’s gym locker on the way to the shower. Instead of his towel wrapped around him, he was carrying it in his hand. His eyes were focused on Jeremy. It was the hardest thing Jeremy had ever done, but he looked at his locker instead of Xander. He didn’t even get a peek, except at the very first when he’d caught the briefest glimpse of him walking in Jeremy’s direction, and then at the end when he turned just in time to catch a momentary view of Xander’s naked bottom as he entered the shower room. He did wonder if Xander had come this way intentionally. It was the first time he’d taken this route to the showers. Why had he done that?
But then he had a thought that made bearable the agony of not being able to look at what had been available for him to see. While Xander was showering, Jeremy was writing: Why did you walk by me naked? J
It wasn’t answering Xander’s questions, but he realized he didn’t have to. And this was a perfect note! He couldn’t wait to drop it in Xander’s locker.
The note he got back wasn’t what he expected. He thought he’d get something that would further his quest for getting with Xander. Instead, he got: I was talking to Nathan at his locker, then went to the shower from there. Why did you think I walked by you? And why don’t you shower? X
Damn, Xander was putting him on the defensive again, and just after he thought he’d put Xander there! But the good thing was, he’d already learned he didn’t have to respond to questions he didn’t wish to answer. That made it easier.
Sorry to knock you out of the game. And, because I’m allergic to water. J
He had a note back the next time he looked: No you’re not. But you are weird. I like weird. X
What! Jeremy read that over and over, and his heart pounded. He likes me, Jeremy thought. He must. He just wrote it!
OK, so Xander liked him and was brave enough to write it. So he’d have to be just as brave this time. If Xander could be, so could he. He do what Xander did. It was out in the open now. Well, it was open just between them. No one else could know. That hadn’t changed at all.
I like you too. That’s why I stare at you. J
Jeremy couldn’t wait to get to his locker the next day. He could see there was a note before opening the door, just like usual. He was so nervous, yet excited, that he had to dial the combination three times before he could open the door. He grabbed the note and opened it. It was the longest note he’d got. It read: Oh, Jeremy, I’m sorry. I meant I liked weirdness. And I like you, too, but not the way you meant. Just as a friend, or someone I’d like to be friends with. But you meant a different kind of like. And I’m not that way. I get crushes on girls. If I was like you, you’d be easy for me to crush on. You’re very cute and have a great personality. But I have a crush on Cyndy and one on Carly. I don’t crush on boys. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. And if you want to talk to me and be friends, I’d like that. You’re cool. X
Jeremy’s heart sank. He’d been so sure. Now this.
He read the note several times. One thing was clear: Xander was a very nice boy. Much nicer than most, Jeremy thought. But he couldn’t talk to him. It would be way too embarrassing. Maybe sometime, but not now. Not soon.
Jeremy couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for himself, but tried not to show it. School just became school again. He found himself not staring at Xander any longer. It hurt too much to do so. He still liked Xander’s looks, but didn’t find them drawing his eyes to him now.
It was three days later when he opened his locker and found a note. Curious, he opened it.
Why don’t you write any notes to Xander anymore? Why doesn’t he write any to you? S
What was this? Who knew about the notes? And why write him a note that he could answer? There was no name on it! Sure, there was an initial, but that could belong to half a dozen or more kids he knew. It could even belong to a girl!
He took the note with him to his next class, and while the teacher droned on about how society was different today from twenty years earlier, he read it a couple of more times. Then, he got a strange feeling. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. It was, well, it was like someone was looking at him.
Trying not to be too obvious, he started looking around the room. He didn’t see anything unusual at all until he looked over his shoulder to his left. A boy there was staring at him. Staring hard. And not looking away when he saw he was caught. A boy named Steven. A good looking boy he didn’t know well; he did know his name, however: Steven.
Jeremy looked away. Then he got out his notebook and tore off a small piece of paper and, grinning, wrote: Why are you staring at me? J