(Names have been changed to protect privacy)
We had recently moved into the residence hall, and I was unable to find any in the mini mountains of personal items that I had dumped onto the larger of the two beds.
“I know I have some!” I said while searching frantically, making the mountains into plains.
A few doors down, my partner in crime, Marc, was forcing James to stall in an attempt to give me enough time to make everything perfect. Not too perfect. If it were too perfect, James would realize it was a setup.
His knock came minutes earlier than I’d expected. I had only been able to find one, so I tossed it to the floor. It landed in plain view, between the king size bed and the dresser.
“Come in!” I shouted. James entered, leaving the door slightly ajar.
“What are you up to?” he asked casually, though I detected nervousness in his gut. He made a clean spot for himself on the edge of my cluttered king bed. He reclined at an angle, allowing some of his 6’7, pale body to hang over the bedside. We had met only two days before, so I was glad he felt comfortable enough to lie across my bed without my permission. This will go well, I thought…until I eyed it again and realized the product placement seemed too obvious.
Years later, when I told him the truth–and apologized–he said he had no clue that it had all been arranged.
“Looking through old stuff,” I mumbled. “You know how you forget what you have until you move someplace else?”
He nodded. We both chuckled the way strangers do the first time they’re alone together.
I was sitting on the floor, in between the king and the twin, using the smaller bed as a back support. In my hands were old letters from a high school friend and poems I had written as a child, when I thought I’d be the next Nikki Giovanni.
“How come you dumped everything over here?” he asked. “You shoulda dumped it all on that bed so you can sleep on this one.”
“Oh, ya know….”. I trailed off, pretending I was more interested in the papers than conversation. If I’m going to do this, I told myself, then I should let him lead the way.
My body didn’t listen.
I dropped the papers, pushed forward onto my knees, and feigned shock as I picked up what he hadn’t noticed.
“I forgot I had this!” I said as I returned it to its pile. He glanced at it, then looked away, embarrassed.
“You know, I wanted to tell you something,” he said, almost to himself.
I picked up random doodads from the bed, inspected them, put them back.
“What?” I wondered if my response came too quickly. Does he know? I asked myself.
“You seem like the kind of person who’d understand.”
I sat down again, leaning against the twin. “Understand what?”
He twisted in the other direction as if he were losing his nerve and wanted to leave. But the words overtook him, and he blurted,
“See…the thing is…I’m gay.”
“You interrupted me just to tell me that?”
He read my face before releasing a laugh tempered with relief.
“I already knew!”
“Marc told you, didn’t he?”
“You know how Marc is. But I knew before he told me.”
His smile collapsed.
“I only knew because…I just know these things. I always have. My gaydar is 97.8% this summer. Believe me: the guys see you as nothing more than competition, and all the girls want to know is whether you have a girlfriend.”
“You think so?” he said with a coy smile.
I gave him a look. At age 19, he was the youngest summer staff member, but was certainly old enough to know—to have been told, at least—just how desirable he was.
I pushed myself onto my knees again and scooted toward the king bed. I picked it out of the pile and handed it to him.
“If you wear this, the girls’ll get the hint.”
He eyed the gay pride ribbon, but didn’t take it. “I’m not that out yet!”
“I’ll wear it, then!” I searched the piles for a safety pin.
“And he’s hot!” He was pointing at a picture of the well-muscled actor Vin Diesel, which I had taped to my mirror days before.
The picture was not part of the setup, but part of my short-lived attempt to decorate my room.
“I can say that now–now that you know.”