It was good, but it just wasn’t doing it for me. I grabbed some tissues and wiped the lotion off my hand. None of these thumbnails looked interesting: a chick with busty tits getting banged from behind. No. Two chicks making out with a random guy standing beside them. Nope. A guy and a girl getting frisky by a pool…interesting.
I clicked on the link, and, after wading through many unavoidable ads, I started lotioning back up. It was hot as they bathed in the sun by the pool, and then as they made out. But soon she was bent over a beach chair taking it from behind, and I was left with a shot of just her jiggling boobs and an obviously fake expression. My eyes worked their way down to a GIF at the bottom corner of the screen of a man with an enormous dick masturbating, and I kept going.
But after a minute or two, I ripped my headphones off, letting them land on my keyboard. I was just jerking off to a dude! I thought. What the fuck?..but it was working…I clicked on the man to see his video, but his link just led me through a series of unending ads that couldn’t be closed, so I had to turn off my computer. While waiting for it to restart, I decided I needed to go for a walk to think about things, so I got dressed and left.
It only took a few days until I was jerking it to dudes exclusively. It became clear that this was not the first time I felt attracted to another man, or the first time my eyes were drawn to a man in a porno, but rather it had been the first time I acknowledged it. A whole history of relationships in the past all started making sense, like why I had a girlfriend for most of 7th grade but we had never kissed, and I had barely noticed.
I installed Grindr and browsed the selection of nearby gays. I didn’t see anyone I knew, but most of the men on here were older than I was. Unlike nearly all the other profiles on the app, mine didn’t have a picture, which I was reminded of when the messages I sent were returned with, “pic?” I wanted to send one, but I didn’t want to be recognized. Still, I looked at the other gays often. I had a non-ugly selfie saved on my phone for when I finally decided to send it.
After school, I walked straight to my cashier job at Giant. I had worked there as a bagger for about a year before they promoted me on my 16th birthday. There weren’t many customers today. I rested over my register with my chin on my arms. Some coworkers were chatting from the only other register open, about three lanes down, but I was zoned out. It wasn’t until I heard Jake say, “I’m bisexual!” to our floor manager, Ashley, with a laugh that I sprung up and looked over, which caught his attention. I didn’t know what to do, so I just smiled, and he smiled back. He whispered something to Ashley and they both giggled, before he walked over to my register.
“Are you bi?” he asked.
My heart skipped a beat. There was no one else around except Ashley who could definitely still hear us. Jake was a few years older than me, his hair was reddish brown, his eyes blue, and his freckles cute. “Uh…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” he said, still as loud as his normal, loud tone.
I looked around again to see who else could hear our conversation: nobody but Ashley, who was now pretending to be busy cleaning, and possibly an old man browsing cereals. “I haven’t really come out,” I said.
“But you are bi?” Jake pulled out his flip phone and started doing something on it.
“Probably more gay than bi,” I said. Jake was chewing gum, and he had a tongue piercing that I’d never noticed before. I’d always wanted an earring and a tattoo, but I was too afraid of attempting to pull off an earring and too young to get a tattoo.
“When do you get off work?” he asked.
“I’m done at 7:30. Would you want to hang out after work?”
“Yeah, sure!” I said, too excited for my own taste, but I couldn’t help it. This hot, real guy had just asked me out!
Jake gave me his number by asking for mine and texting me a “Hey” with a smiley face. We talked and blushed and smiled for few minutes, but then the customers starting flooding back into our lanes again, so we texted each other instead.
I stayed in the break room after my shift until his ended. My walk home from work was only a few streets, and my mom noticed that I hadn’t come home. She texted me, but I continued replying to Jake instead. His house wasn’t far away so we walked there from work. I never knew that he smoked cigarettes. He mentioned that he moved here not long ago, and that he lived with his aunt. I mentioned that my favorite show was American Idol, and he told me that he had auditioned for American Idol, and although he didn’t make it, he still got to meet Simon Cowell, his favorite judge (mine was Randy Jackson). I asked him when he auditioned and he said last summer, which I thought was weird, since I thought Simon had left the show a couple years ago. I asked him what city he auditioned in, but he didn’t remember.
When we arrived at his place he invited me up to his room. The house was a twin and very narrow. His aunt was in the kitchen, but she barely noticed either of us. His room was on the top floor, and it looked like an attic converted into a bedroom. It wasn’t much more than a bed and a couple dressers, but at least his mattress was a queen, and his blanket felt soft.
He changed out of his work clothes in front of me and apologized for it, but we both knew he wasn’t sorry, and I wasn’t upset. I watched coyly as he took off his shirt and stepped out of his jeans, but I wanted to stare. I wanted to run my hands down his arms and his legs. Down his smooth back. Had I brought a change of clothes with me, I would have changed in front of him too.
Jake joined me on his bed. My phone buzzed as my mom texted me again and again. I scanned her messages but silenced my phone. I could tell Jake was wondering what I was doing, but I didn’t want to tell him about my mom and ruin the mood, so I showed him the cool, free Time Crisis game I had recently installed. Despite playing on a flip phone, it was actually a lot of fun. He told me he had played it on his phone too, although he recently uninstalled it to free up space.
“Have you ever been with a guy before?” he asked.
“No,” I said, dipping my head in embarrassment.
“Then how do you know you like guys?”
“Porn.” We both laughed.
“Would you want to kiss, and see if you’re really gay?” He shifted closer and put his hand on me.
We kissed, and then we kissed again, and then we started making out. It was hard to kiss him because I couldn’t stop smiling. After about 10 minutes, we concluded that I was, in fact, gay. I checked my phone to see my mom was now calling me endlessly. I couldn’t stay any longer. Jake offered to walk me home and meet my parents, but I turned him down. I needed time to think about my first gay kiss, and time to come up with good cover-up story before I had to answer to my mom when I got home.
I was bummed my next shift at work when I saw that Jake wasn’t on the schedule. I clocked in, but before I could log on to my register for the day, a group of coworkers called me over to talk by the customer service desk. It hit me that they must have heard about me being gay, because I never talked to any of these people expect for something work related, or possibly a passing hey. They looked at each other, and after an awkward laugh one of them asked, “Is it true that you’re gay?” I still felt unprepared to answer.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said, although I almost didn’t. The girls woo’d and cheered with flamboyant enthusiasm, and I sighed with relief. In between hugs I asked, “Did Ashley tell you guys?”
“No, Jake texted me. He told me you two hung out at his place yesterday.” When I admitted to Jake that I was gay, I assumed that word would spread, but not by him. Did he assume that I was out now?
Still, my cheeks must have been flushed because my face felt hot. “Yeah we did. It was fun,” I said. They all giggled.
Mike, the store manager, power-walked over to us from his office in just a few steps. He told everyone to get back to work, reminding them all of each task they had been ignoring. “Tony, come to my office,” he said. I worried that I was in trouble for being gay, or for going out with a coworker, or for going out with Jake who was four years older than me when I was just 16.
Mike’ office was tiny and cramped. I sat in an uncomfortable chair that was way too close to his desk at an awkward angle. He shut the door and sat down. “Is it true that you went out with Jake?” he asked, looking directly at me through the thick, round lenses of his plain glasses.
I couldn’t hold his eye contact. “Yeah, yesterday. We just made out.”
Mike interlaced his fingers together and dropped his head down for a moment. “Jake is here at Giant as part of a program. The store gets money for hiring him.”
“What’d he do?” I asked. I knew from watching The Office that this mean Jake had done time for something.
“I can’t tell you that,” Mike responded robotically. He fidgeted with his fingers on his desk, pulling his keyboard towards him and pushing it back out again. “But you should also know that Ricky has a restraining order against him. That’s why they’re never scheduled to work at the same time.”
“Why does Ricky have a restraining order against him?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you that, but you should talk to him, and I advise you not to go out with Jake again.”
He told me to go back to my register and start my shift. As customers came to my lane to have their items check out, I had trouble noticing them. It seemed like my eyes had turned off to give my brain more energy to decipher the stream of unending suspicions that attacked my subconscious. Jake texted me, “Hey,” with a winky face, but I didn’t respond. When there was a lull, I got Ricky’s number off the schedule started writing and rewriting a text to him, trying to figure out a way to ask him why he had a restraining order against Jake.
As I pecked at my phone, a friend at work, Colin, came up to my register holding a dustpan and broom in his hands. I was expecting to hear one of his bad jokes, a story about some bullshit that happened during one of his Call of Duty matches last night, or another complaint about how he still hadn’t been promoted after working at the store for over four years. He looked over his shoulder before he asked, “Is it true that you’re gay?” I should have seen it coming.
“Uh, yeah. Maybe bisexual. I’m not really sure,” I said.
“Why did you tell people?”
What did he mean? “Uh, what? I don’t know. I actually didn’t mean to come out at work. It sort of just happened.”
“You should go back into the closet,” he said, almost in a whisper. He looked to his left and I followed. A customer started unpacking their groceries on my belt, and Colin left to continue his sweeping. The belt started moving the groceries down, and the customer looked at me expectantly.
I smothered all the thoughts in my mind against the ground with my feet. “Hi, how’s it going? Do you have a Giant Bonus Card?” The customer wanted his groceries bagged in plastic, so I shifted his items down the belt and into the bags listlessly. After he, and the line of other the customers that followed him, had gone, I turned off my light and hid in the bathroom stall to finish composing the text.
Ricky answered me later that night. He didn’t know what Jake had done before he got hired either. He and Ricky had hooked up a few times, and after Ricky didn’t want to see him anymore, Jake refused to stop texting him, calling him, messaging him on Facebook, finding him on Grindr, and continually showing up at his house, waiting for him to arrive home from school and work. I decided not to return any more of Jake’s messages.
I showed up for my next shift at work and Jake was there. He greeted me and waved when he saw me. I acknowledged him, but I didn’t go over to talk to him like it felt like I should have. I didn’t want to deal with him at all today. I didn’t know what to say to him — how to cut things off between us. But I was assigned bagging duty, which meant that eventually I would have to do my job and help him bag. And then what would I say to him? I tried to avoid him by keeping myself as busy as possible with side tasks, like bringing the carts back to the front of the store, cleaning the dust off of the registers that weren’t near Jake’s, cleaning the dust off of the candy near the registers that weren’t near Jake’s, and cleaning the dust off of anything I could find that had dust on it that wasn’t near Jake.
Eventually I ran out of things to do and I had to help bag, so I went to Cody’s register instead. Although it was the lane right behind Jake’s, the store was busy, so, at least for right now, we couldn’t even talk to each other if we wanted to.
Cody was a classmate I knew from marching band. We didn’t talk much at school, or at work, but he was also friends with Colin. So we would hang out and talk when all three of us were working. Today, however, he couldn’t stop looking over his shoulder at me, like I was an officer with a drug dog, and he was packing crack.
“Faggot,” I heard him mumble, but I wasn’t certain I heard him right. He seemed normal, scanning items, like the customer who seemed normal, watching the price of his items stack up on the monitor, so I continued to bag. “Faggot,” I heard again, and then another time. He must have heard that I was gay too. I stopped bagging and glared at him. I wanted him to say it again to my face. I wanted to let myself get angrier, but I knew that Cody had Tourette’s. It didn’t seem like he was in control of himself.
I decided to fake diarrhea and leave for the day.
Jake texted me after I left, “Are you avoiding me?” I didn’t answer him. I put my phone aside and forgot about the day for as long as I could. But he kept texting, and later that night he texted me, “Why won’t you talk to me? I thought you liked me.” I wanted to shake him, but I didn’t want to tell him that I knew about Ricky’s restraining order against him, because I didn’t want him to have any more reasons to be upset with Ricky. But I also didn’t know what to tell him. And he deserved to be told something. So I told him what I’d learned, and also that I didn’t want us to talk anymore.
He tried to call me. And then he tried to call me again and again and again, so I picked up. He was crying. “Why are you doing this to me? You’re just like everybody else!”
I didn’t want to take his call in my room, because I have thin walls that I share with my brothers, so I answered it in the back corner of the basement. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“I pulled over. I’m on the side of the road crying! Why won’t you just give me a chance?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.
“I was going to kill myself! But then I met you. You don’t know how much I like you!”
“Don’t kill yourself,” I said, and he just cried. “I think you should talk to someone.”
“You! I can talk to you. If you’d talk to me!”
“No, not me. Someone else,” I said.
“I have nobody else to talk to!”
“Call a suicide hotline, like the Trevor Project.”
“I don’t want to call a hotline!” he said.
“I’m sorry. I’m gonna hang up.”
“No! Don’t hang up! Don’t do this to me!’
“I’m sorry. Don’t kill yourself,” I said. I hung up the phone and blocked his number. I sat on the floor in my basement for a while, listening to the silence.
The next day I had work after school, but I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go back to work at all anymore, but my parents had an inflexible rule: if I didn’t have a job, I had to join a sport, and I had finally been able to quit playing sports after being forced to do them nearly my entire life. Until I found another job, I was stuck. If I explained my situation to them, I think they would have understood, but that would have meant telling them that I was gay, and that was something that I had no idea how to even begin to do.
So, after school, I walked to work. Jake was on the schedule, but someone else was covering his shift. After clocking in, I went to Mike’s office to tell him about the conversation Jake and I had last night. I was worried for him, but Mike assured me that Jake was okay, that he had called out of work this morning himself. But there was a problem, he said. Apparently Jake had been caught stealing from the store, and this was his final strike, which I was relieved to hear.
I opened up my register and started my shift. A woman with two full carts came into my lane and started unpacking her items. A few lanes down Colin was bagging for Courtney. He hated her (we all did), but I didn’t think he would come over to help me since I hadn’t gone back into the closet. I decided that I didn’t want him to help me anyway. He was just a homophobic jerk. I was bagging the order by myself when Andrew came back from break. My favorite dude! He never failed to liven up my boring work day. He came to my lane and started helping me bag seemingly without a second thought, still eating an apple.
After we finished bagging the woman’s items, and the items of other customers for about an hour, I stretched and sighed, and leaned against my register, and looked at the wall.
“So you’re gay,” Andrew said with a snicker. I should have guessed he had heard.
“Yeah,” I said dispassionately.
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the lane. I thought about telling him about Ricky’ restraining order against Jake, or the phone call I had with Jake last night, but I thought it would just start gossip, and I wanted the drama to be over.
“Would you fuck me?” he asked, grinning. I was too startled to respond right away. “My girlfriend broke up with me, because I don’t work out. What the fuck is that?” I definitely would have fucked Andrew, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. He was definitely straight, and we were friends. “Come, on. I’m hot.” He stood up and gestured towards his body, flexing for me.
“You might want to start working out,” I said, waiting for him to get offended before I laughed. He flipped me off as he walked outside to go do carts.
I texted Ricky to tell him that Jake was going to be fired for stealing, and he texted me back before I could put my phone in my pocket, “YESSSSSS!” I laughed. He asked me if I wanted to go to the upcoming pride parade with him. He was going to be wearing 8” heels that he made himself inspired by Lady Gaga, and he wanted someone close by to grab on to when he lost his balance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tony Caro is a senior at Temple University studying English with a concentration in creative writing. Currently living in West Philadelphia, Tony enjoys SCUBA diving and hanging out with his pet rabbit, Loaf.