Hey everyone. I've decided to change back to uploading every Monday and Thursday, so mark your calendars for the future. Hope you like Chapter 3 of 'Could I Be...?' As always, emails and comments and appreciated.
For the past few weeks, the thoughts of Zane haven't stopped. No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I want to think of something else, Zane's always there. I've managed to act normally around him, keeping my demeanor the same and the way I talk to him consistent. But the thoughts are getting stronger.
I want to talk to someone so badly that it's killing me. But I don't have anyone to talk to. Oh wait...Josh! I can talk to him! Thankfully it's Saturday and Josh has the day off from practice (which has been kicking his ass even after three straight wins with the team). After getting some lunch, I rush back to the room and find the door open. I walk in and find Josh sitting on his bed, strumming his guitar (he got it back two weeks ago).
He hears me walk in and looks up. "Hey, Eric," he says.
"Hey, Josh. Listen, I need to talk to you about some stuff."
Josh sits up and puts his guitar back in its stand. "Is something wrong?"
I walk over to my bed and take a seat. "I...really don't know. All I do know is that I need some help."
"Well, I'm here to listen. What's up?"
I stare at the floor for a minute, trying to get my thoughts in order. "Since the start of September, I've been having these...weird feelings..."
"They're...about another guy. Like I want to be closer to him. I feel like I want to be as close to him as possible. I've been pulling my hair out for a few weeks now and I've been getting nowhere with this. Do you know what's going on?"
Josh thinks about it for a second before smiling. "I know exactly what you're going through, Eric."
I jerk my head up at him in surprise. "You do?"
"Yeah. You're feeling the exact same way I was feeling a year ago, before Leo and I got together, before I realized I was gay."
Fear races through me. "I-I'm not gay!" I yell.
"I never said you were," Josh calmly replies. "But you and I were in the same situation last September."
"A year ago, I thought I was completely straight. But then I had no interest in dating any girls. On the first day of my senior year, I met Leo, and he became the only thing that was on my mind. His hair, his smile, his body, everything about him I couldn't stop thinking about."
It's exactly like me with Zane...
"So I went to the library and did a little research," he continues. "I found that a lot of boys start thinking about the same sex during their teenage years. For me, the thoughts haven't disappeared and I realized I was gay about two months after I met Leo."
"S-So...I'm gay?" I shakily ask.
"Not necessarily. For a lot of boys, the thoughts eventually disappear without a trace. But Eric, you need to know that these thoughts are perfectly normal."
"Absolutely. So, you don't need to worry so much. The thoughts may go away for you, and they might not. But the only thing you need to know is that whether or not the thoughts disappear, it's okay."
I look back at the floor and feel my fists clench. "I'm just...really scared, Josh. Something like this has never happened to me before and I don't know what to do..."
Josh gets up from his bed, crosses the room, and takes a seat next to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders as his sits. "I know it's really scary, Eric. It was for me too. But if I can tell you one thing, it's this: it will get better. I promise you that."
I sigh to myself. "Thanks Josh. You've really helped me with this."
Josh smiles and lifts his arm off my shoulders. "So...Zane, huh?"
Panic sets in and I turn to Josh, feeling my face starting to get warm. "W-What?! It's not...!"
"Oh, don't try and lie to me, Eric. I've seen the looks you give him when he isn't looking." I shift back at the floor, pure embarrassment coursing through my veins. "Hey, it's okay. I completely understand where you're coming from."
"Completely. Zane's an incredibly handsome guy. What about him can you not stop thinking about?"
"Um...h-his hair, his tattoos, his piercings, his eyes, everything..."
"You've got it rough, don't you?"
"You have no fucking idea..."
Josh gives me a pat on the back. "If you ever need to talk about anything, I'll always be there for you. Remember that."
I smile to myself. "Thanks, Josh."
Josh stands up and walks over to his bed. He bends down and grabs a football. "I'm about to go out and throw the ball with Leo and a few guys from the team. You want to come?"
"I've never really thrown a football much before," I admit. "It's pretty much always been me and a baseball."
"Well, why don't you go ahead and bring a ball and a glove and teach me and some of the guys how to throw a baseball? I'm sure they'd like to learn."
I shrug and bend underneath my bed and grab my mitt and one of the baseballs I brought with me. Josh tosses the ball a few times and we head out.
Josh and I walk onto the quad where a few dozen students are already hanging out with their friends. As soon as we get there, the guys are easy to find because of their significantly larger size. Along with them are Leo and...Zane?! "What the hell is Zane doing here?" I whisper to Josh as we get closer.
"Leo must've invited him," he replies. We get to the guys, who see us coming up. "Hey, guys."
They all get up from the ground, except Zane, who's still sitting on the grass with a sketchpad, his tattoos extending all the way up both arms, which are exposed to the sun thanks to the tank top he's wearing. As I'm distracted, I feel something fall into my arms: the football. "You wanted to learn how to throw, right?" Josh asks.
"Sure," I say. I set down my mitt and my ball and secure the football in my hand. Pressing my fingers against the laces, I wind back and throw the ball to Kelvin, a perfect spiral, and he catches it. Josh looks at me confused. "I said I've never really thrown a ball much before. I never said I've never thrown a football."
Josh shrugs and reacts in time to catch the ball returned by Kelvin. Within a minute, we're all throwing the ball around in the warm mid-afternoon sun. Except for Zane, who's moved to underneath a tree on the edge of the quad and has produced a pencil for his sketchbook.
We throw the ball for a while until Casey speaks up. "Hey, Eric!" he calls. "You're a pitcher, right?"
"Yeah?" I call back.
"Show us a pitch!"
The other guys egg me on and I roll my eyes. I grab my mitt and my ball and toss my mitt to Nick. "Here," I say.
"What am I doing with this?" he asks.
"Just hold it up in front of your chest and don't move an inch. I'm throwing the ball to you and I don't want to see a hand or something else break."
Nick suddenly looks terrified and I start walking a distance away. I look back and see Nick's about 90 feet away, the perfect distance. The guys are standing off to the side, watching. "Ready?" I call to Nick.
"NO!" he yells.
I get into position and hold my fingers over the seams for a four-seam fastball. With a deep breath, I pick up my leg, cock my arm back, lean into the pitch and throw. The ball screams across the quad and careens directly into the glove. Nick goes flying and lands right on his back.
We all run over to him. Michael and Diego help Nick back to his feet. The ball's still in the glove and Nick tosses it back to me. He slowly takes off the mitt and I see his hand is a dark red. "Holy fucking shit, that hurt," he says.
"You okay?" I ask.
"I will be. Just need to rest my hand a bit."
The guys are all suddenly looking at me, eyes wide. "That was a pitch?" asks Diego.
"Looked more like a bullet to me," says Ian.
"My average fastball is about 96 miles per hour, as opposed to the national average of about 85."
"What's the fastest?" asks Leo.
I think about it for a second. "I'm pretty sure it was 101." The guys stare at me in complete awe for a second. "So who wants to learn how to throw a pitch?"
All hands are up within a second. I teach the guys how to throw a basic four-seam fastball, which all of them can't seem to get above 70 miles per hour. I'm not surprised. It took me years before I got my pitch even up to 90 miles per hour.
As the guys are throwing the ball, I look over at Zane, who's still sketching away underneath his tree. I walk over to him and look down at him. "What're you up to?" I ask.
He looks up at me, staring at me with his black and blue eyes for a second. "Just sketching some stuff," he says.
"You want to take a break and come and throw a bit with the guys?"
Zane averts his gaze to the grass. "No thanks," he says. "I'm not the biggest fan of baseball."
"Why? Is it too slow for you?"
He looks to his lap, trying to avoid looking at me. "No...it's because my bullies back in school were baseball players. I've come to not like the sport because of it."
I kneel down next to him. "I'm sorry to hear that," I say. "But baseball really is a fun sport, and I think they guys would like to play with you a bit. I'll teach you how to throw a curveball."
Zane looks over at me. "I appreciate the offer, but I really want to sketch a bit more."
He reopens his sketchbook and touches his pencil tip to the paper. I look at the paper and see...me. Zane sketching an action shot of me mid-pitch. He has every detail about me right, from the muscles in my arm, to my hair underneath my cap, even the sweat on my neck is correct. "You did that?" I ask.
Zane jerks and snaps his sketchbook shut, turning a little red. "Y-Yeah..." he admits.
"Can I see it again?" It takes him a second, but he slowly opens his sketchbook back to the drawing of me. "How did you do this?"
"I was...watching you when you threw that first pitch and that image has been stuck in my mind for the past forty minutes. It's all I've thought about and I just...drew it. Please don't be mad at me..."
"Why would I be mad at you? This is amazing..."
His bicolored eyes look back at me with surprise. "Really?"
"Of course. This is even better than a photograph. It's incredible how you're able to capture life so perfectly just by seeing something once. I only wish I could do something this awesome."
Zane smiles shyly. "Thanks..."
"Now, c'mon. Let's get you into the sun."
I scoop Zane up underneath his legs and back and carry him to the guys, him squirming the whole time. "Let me down!" he yells.
"Yeah...no. You need some sun on those tattoos and what skin doesn't have ink on it."
"I get plenty of sun, thank you!"
"Then how about getting some muscle?"
"Do you not feel the muscle I do have?"
I give Zane's leg a squeeze and feel very firm muscle underneath his jeans and press my hand into his back and feel taught skin. "Okay, not muscle," I say. "Then how about human interaction?"
I don't give him time to answer as I set him back down. While the guys are tossing around the football, I grab my ball and mitt and give the ball to Zane. "You know how to throw?" I ask.
"Somewhat," he says. "I haven't thrown a ball for a while."
"I'll help you get your form right. I'll teach you how to throw a fastball."
"I remember how to throw one, I just don't remember the grip."
I walk over to Zane's side and take his wrist in my hand. "Here, place your index and middle finger over the two seams and rest your finger tips on the top seam." Zane follow my directions and places his fingers over the seams. "Oops, the ball's backward. You see the horseshoe shape on the ball?"
"Face it away from your body." Zane spins the ball around and places his fingers back on the seams. I take the backside of his hand and grab his thumb. "Lastly, place your thumb on the underside of the ball and there you go. I'm going to walk over there and you'll throw the ball at me."
"What if I miss?"
"Then pray it doesn't hit someone." I smile and walk a good distance away from Zane, put on my mitt, and look back at him. "Whenever you're ready!"
Zane turns to his side a bit and actually looks like a pitcher. He picks up his leg, brings his arm behind him, and throws. The next thing I know, something crashes into my mitt and a sharp shockwave shoots up my arm. Zane got the ball into my glove without me even moving my arm.
I look back at Zane, who's walking over to me, in complete amazement. "How was that?" he asks.
"Y-You've thrown a baseball before, haven't you?" I ask.
"I had this small setup in the wooded area behind my house back in Texas that not even my parents knew about. I practiced throwing a baseball in secret for a while and got pretty good."
"Were you on the baseball team in your high school?"
Zane looks down at the grass. "No, I chose not to join. Before anyone knew I was gay, I was still thought of as a freak. The baseball team was full of jerks and I didn't want to be part of that."
"But with an arm like that, you could've proved them wrong."
"Doesn't matter," Zane says, spite filling his voice. "All baseball players are the same: bigoted jackasses who only care about themselves. I hate every single one of them."
Hearing that come from Zane is a shot through the heart, and it feels like my heart rips in two. I sigh to myself, grab my ball, and take off my glove. "I need to go," I say. "I have some assignments I need to take care of. Tell the guys I went back to Josh's and my dorm room."
I turn and start to walk away. "Eric, wait!" Zane calls after me. "I didn't mean that about you!"
But I don't stop. As much as I want to look back at Zane, I know it'll just hurt to see the hate in his eyes. I get back to the dorm a few minutes later and go straight to my room. Once I'm in, I drop my ball and mitt on the floor and fall into bed, pressing my face into my pillow.
Why did hearing what Zane said hurt so much? Why do I care so much about him when I've only known him for about a month? Why does it matter so much to me what he thinks of me? Why have I never reacted this way before? Why...why am I crying?
Tears are flowing freely from my eyes as I press my face into my pillow, quickly soaking the soft fabric. Zane appears in my mind's eye, and seeing him only makes me cry even harder into my pillow. What's going on with me?
I fall asleep after a few minutes of crying. I wake up a couple hours later and find that it's dark outside. "Have a good nap?"
Josh is sitting in his bed, the same book as earlier in his hands. "Hey..." I say, starting to sit up.
"You been crying?" he asks.
I look over at him. "What makes you think I've been crying?"
"Because your eyes are bloodshot and I didn't smell weed when I came into the room an hour ago."
I move to the edge of the bed and look over at him. "Yeah, I was a little."
Josh closes his book and sits on the edge of his bed as well. "Did something happen between you and Zane?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Because after you left, Zane looked like his pet dog died. Did you say anything to upset him?"
I look down at my feet. "I didn't say anything. Zane did."
"What was it he said?"
My stomach starts to hurt at the memory of it. "He said...that all baseball players are bigoted jackasses that only care about themselves and that he hates every single one of them." I feel the tears at the backs of my eyes, but I manage to blink them away. "I know he directed that toward his old bullies, but it...really hurt when he said it..."
Josh gets up from his bed and takes his usual place next to me on mine. "I don't know what's going on, Josh," I say. "I've never reacted this way when someone's said something that hurt me before."
"Maybe...your feelings about Zane are stronger than you think?" Josh suggests.
The realization feels like a freight train crashing into me. "W-What if the are?" I ask. "What if...I really do like Zane? Oh God...I like Zane..."
My arms and legs start trembling and the tears fall again before I can try to stop them. Josh wraps his arm around my shoulder, just like earlier. "I know it's really scary to come to grips with it..." Josh starts.
"But I'm not supposed to be gay!" I interrupt. "I'm a fucking pitcher for God's sake! I've dated girls since I was 14!"
"But did you have feelings for any of the girls you dated? Or did you just date them to show that you were as straight as you thought you were?"
I think back and remember all the girls I've gone out with. Every single one of them I've only dated because they asked me out and I accepted all of them. But...I never had feelings for any of them. Have I been lying to myself for all these years?
I suddenly feel like I'm going to vomit and I press my eyes tightly shut, feeling more tears slide down my cheeks. Josh's hand presses against my back. "Eric, it's okay," he says. "Being gay doesn't make you any less of a person."
"B-But I don't even know what being gay means..."
"Eric, being gay just means you like the same sex. It doesn't mean you need to change anything about yourself. You can stay the same person you are now."
"B-But...I'm so fucking scared, Josh..."
Two strong arms pull me into a tight hug. "Eric," Josh says, "you have every right to be scared. You're afraid of being rejected by your friends, your peers, even your family. You're scared of the people that think it's wrong to be gay. You're even scared of yourself because you're just finding out you're gay. But it'll be okay..."
"How do you know?" I ask as I sob into Josh's shoulder.
"Because I'm here for you. If you have any questions, any concerns, anything you want to talk about, I'll always be there for you because you're my friend."
My arms press against Josh's back and I sink my face even closer to his shoulder, wetting his shirt with every tear. I calm down after a little while and talk to Josh a little more about being gay, which really helps me understand what I'm going through a bit more. But when I ask about sex, Josh seems to light up.
He talks for a solid ten minutes on sex, which both disgusts and fascinates me. How could getting someone else's dick up your ass feel good? Josh only answers that with 'you'll find out when you do it with a guy the first time.'
When I'm out of questions, I tell Josh I'm going to go take a shower. I strip down to my underwear, wrap a towel around my waist and lose my underwear as well. Slipping into my shoes and grabbing my stuff, I walk across the hall into the bathroom. And standing in front of a mirror in all his tattooed glory is Zane.
He's finishing up shaving the very few hairs he has on his face and is splashing the shaving foam off his face, a few droplets of water sliding down his neck, to his torso and stopping at the towel he's wearing. "Um...hey," I say.
Zane looks over and sees me. "Hey..." he quietly replies.
I walk over to the sink next to him and set my stuff down and look down at him. "I...kind of need to talk to you."
He puts his razor on the edge of the sink and looks up at me. "Me too. Can I go first?"
Zane looks at the tiled floor for a second before looking back at me. "Eric, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I was...really angry with my old bullies and I accidently sounded like I included you in the mix. But I really didn't direct it toward you."
"Zane, I understand. I know what it's like to be angry at people that bullied you in the past."
"Yeah. While I may have been playing baseball since I was a kid, I didn't get any recognition until my sophomore year of high school. Before then, I was tormented like nobody's business because I was the smallest kid on my middle school and high school teams."
"But you're a freaking giant now!"
I smile a bit. "That was before I had my growth spurt. Before then, I was barely 5 foot 2 and didn't have a single muscle on me. When I was on the baseball team, I was constantly mocked and ridiculed because of my size and was labeled as a fag. It made me feel like I was less of a person because of it.
"I grew about a foot and gained about fifty pounds of muscle over three years, but the memories stayed with me ever since. So I can understand where you were coming from when you said what you said earlier. And it looks like you and I are more similar than we first thought."
"Based on our pasts, yeah. But you and I are still really different. Your skin doesn't have a flaw to it. Mine is covered in ink and is full of holes. Your body is hard and packed with muscle. My body's thin and lifeless. Your hair is always perfect. Mine has been dyed so many times I've lost count. Your eyes sparkle in the light. My eyes will never be that way. Your face practically shines. Mine says 'stay away from me.'"
"That's not true at all!" My heart suddenly starts racing. "Your skin is amazing. The tattoos and piercings help to set you apart from everyone else and they're all fantastic. Your body is perfect the way it is. You may be a bit thin, but your arms, legs, chest and stomach have a lot of muscle definition.
"There's nothing wrong with your hair. The dark blue color is awesome, the black and white highlights add appeal, and the shaved sides look great. Your eyes are full of life. You may not notice it, but they make me feel terrific whenever I look into them. And your face is..."
My words stop short and my face starts to feel like it's burning. I take a deep breath and look into Zane's eyes. "Your face is...beautiful..."
Zane's eyes go wide and he sucks in a breath. He looks to be at a complete loss for words. "W-What?"
I can feel my whole body starting to break out in sweat. "Zane...I think you're beautiful. Ever since I talked to you the first time we were in here, I've had constant thoughts about you. I was in denial at first, but...fuck it. I'm just going to say it. Zane. I...like you. I really like you."
Zane looks to be frozen in time. He isn't blinking and his breaths are so shallow it's almost as if he isn't breathing. "Zane? A-Are you okay?"
I try to reach out to him, but he suddenly takes a step back. "I-I need to get back to my room..."
Zane moves faster than I can react and by the time I turn around, Zane's out of sight. And now, I'm completely alone in the bathroom, my heart feeling like it's been stepped on. I walk over to a shower and turn the water on. I strip off my towel and step underneath the spray of water.
Closing the curtain behind me, I lean against the cool tile wall, letting the water run over me, mixing with the tears I'm shedding.