HOW I MET MY TUTOR
“PORTER!” COACH McCarty barked at me while we were changing after practice. “My office. Now!”
“Oh man,” Riley said. “Someone’s in trouble with McCarty.” He laughed and snapped his towel on my back. “What’d you do now?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
DeShawn smiled at me. He was the biggest guy on our team, and his smile was big too, but take it from me, you never wanted to see him mad. “You must’ve done something.” DeShawn had this habit of flexing his chest around me, because I was the only other guy on the team who could match him in the gym. I rolled my eyes at him. “Seriously, dude,” he said, “you get someone pregnant or something?” DeShawn wiped water from his bald head. He was African-American and the best dresser not only on the team but in the whole school. Even his workout clothes made him look like he’d stepped off some Instagram model’s page.
“DeShawn!” Jonny yelled from across the room. “Don’t be gross.” Jonny was the smartest guy on the team. He was tall and lanky and one of the fastest runners I’d ever seen. He ran track during the spring season, and I had no idea how the hell he managed to get good grades, work a job, letter in two sports, and date almost every cheerleader. I have no time-management skills and think I’m lucky if I can get through all my homework if there’s a Walking Dead marathon on the TV.
Riley barked a laugh and slapped Jonny’s ass. “It’s only gross because you’re a homo. You overcompensate with all the girls because you’re afraid the rest of us will figure it out. Well, too late, dude. We already did!”
“Porter! I’m waiting!” Coach yelled from his office.
My shoulders dropped toward the floor, and I shuffled across the locker room. I stood in Coach’s doorway, and he sat behind his desk, arms across his chest. He stared at me. At least I think he stared at me. I was too busy looking at the floor to check. “We’ve had three games this season, Porter. We have a great team that works together. We have a group of kids that, frankly, make me proud. I was smiling this morning, Porter. I actually smiled.” He paused. Jeez, this was going to get worse, and I wasn’t even sure what I’d done. Okay, there was one thing. But Coach didn’t know about that. No one did. And no one would. Not for a long, long time. At least another two years. Maybe three, if I could time it right. “And then, guess what happened, Porter? Mr. Simons came to me and showed me something. And after I saw it, do you know what I did, Porter? I stopped smiling. And have I smiled since then? Do I look like I’m still smiling, Porter? Does this look like a happy face?”
I was pretty sure this was a trap. If I said something, he’d be pissed. But, maybe if I didn’t say anything, he’d be pissed at me for not talking. He kept lecturing, though, and saved me from having to figure it out.
“Do you know what I’m not happy about, Porter? Can you guess what Mr. Simons showed me?”
Crap. Another question.
“I’m not happy because you got a D on your trig exam. Do you know what that means, Porter? That means that because you got a C on your last test and a D on this one, if you don’t get an A on the next one, you won’t be allowed to play football for the rest of the season. Do you know what will happen if I tell you to study harder and do it on your own?” He took a deep breath and by this point, I was almost totally positive I wasn’t supposed to say anything. “We’ll never know, Porter, because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you do this on your own.” He stood up and came around the desk, handing me a piece of paper. “I already spoke with your dad. You’re getting tutored by Tommy Peterson. He’ll be working with you on both your trig classes and your English classes. You’ll be working with him every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. He’ll meet you in the school library at five, starting today. That’s twenty minutes from now.” He turned around and sat back down. “Don’t screw this up, Porter.”
Damn. I really, really wanted to watch TV this weekend. I ran through the shower because I was sweaty and hot and smelled gross. Even though it was late September and technically fall, the summer heat was still hanging on, and everyone was still in T-shirts and shorts most of the time.
The first time I saw him, I was sitting in the library reading a magazine. I think it was Sports Illustrated, but I can’t remember. The only thing I remember is that this guy, who was maybe, like, four inches shorter and sixty pounds lighter than me, dropped his books on the table and looked at me through the dark hair that’d fallen in front of his eyes. He half smiled, like he was a little afraid of me.
“Dylan?” He hesitated when I didn’t answer right away. “You’re Dylan Porter, right? I’m Tommy Peterson?” Everything he said sounded like a question. “Coach McCarty said your dad and he had set it up with you that I’d be tutoring you in trigonometry for the rest of the season? That’s football season, I guess?” He pushed his hair back, almost over his forehead so we could look at each other.
I didn’t answer because all I could see was the first thing I noticed about him. There were two things, actually, but I noticed them both at the same time. Tommy Peterson’s half smile and his eyes. His eyes were the most amazing brown I’ve ever seen. They were light. Almost like the color of sand down at the beach. His hair was long and half flopped down over his forehead, kind of hiding his eyes from me. I had to actually stop myself from reaching across the table and pushing it out of his face because I wanted to stare at his eyes. But then he smiled, and his smile was all shy and he had this really, really small dimple on his right cheek.
The next thing I noticed was his clothes. His jeans were baggy, and his shirt was too big for him, and that made him look even skinnier than he really was. I’m not really sure what I was thinking he’d look like, but he was really cute. Really, really cute.
“Sorry, dude. Yeah, I’m Dylan.” I held out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Tommy looked at my hand for a second before he decided I wasn’t going to crush it. His hand was dry and didn’t have any of the calluses my friends and I had from the weight room.
“So, why don’t you show me where you guys are in class, and we’ll see where you are and go from there.”
He looked at me and his eyebrows kind of lifted. “Oh, right,” I said. “Sorry. Got a little distracted.” I pulled my trig book and notebook out of my backpack and passed them to Tommy.
“I only need your textbook.” He took it from me and put it down on the table in front of him. He flipped through the book staring at each page for a second and then put it down. “So, this should be easy enough to catch up on.”
“Good. They told you I have a test in a couple of weeks, right?” Okay, so I didn’t want his first impression of me to be that I was an idiot. Too late.
He paused for a second and looked at me, like he was waiting for me to say something. “Yes. Let’s get started. I’m pretty certain we can get you an A on the test.”
“Yeah?” I smiled at him. “Are you going to take the test for me?”
“What?” His head snapped up from looking at the table and his hair flew out of eyes for a second and then came back down. “I can’t do that! You can get your friends to beat me up if you want but—”
I held up my hands as Tommy started to grab his books. “Dude, I’m kidding! I swear, I’m just kidding! I don’t want you to take my test. I wouldn’t be able to get into college!” I realized that we were in the library, and even though there wasn’t anyone else there, I lowered my voice. “Tommy, I promise, I wouldn’t even think about asking you to do that. Okay? I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. It was just a joke.”
Tommy looked at me, trying to figure out if I really was joking, or if I was really trying to make a joke out of something I was serious about. I guess he must have seen something in my face because he sat back down. “You shouldn’t joke about things like that.”
“Seriously. Sorry. Seriously sorry.” I figured there was no real way I could hit my head on the table without him knowing. I had to remember to do that once I got home. “I won’t do it again.”
“Guys like you have tried to do that to me before. It’s not funny.” He looked really angry. “It’s not funny.”
“I’m sorry, Tommy. You’re right. It’s not funny.” I felt awful. And, honestly, I felt really angry. How could anyone do that to a nice guy like Tommy? I realized that I’d have to look out for him myself. If anyone picked on him, they’d have to deal with me.
He sighed and pulled a pack of gum out of his right front pocket. He unwrapped a piece of gum and finally pushed his hair out of his face. Popping the gum in his mouth, he leaned over and, totally without looking at me, by the way, started explaining sine and cosine, and where my last trig test had gone wrong. Which, according to the corrections on my test, was just about everywhere.
You’ve probably figured it out, but in case you didn’t, I’m gay. I’m pretty okay with it. I mean, it’s not something I’ve told anyone about. If I was going to tell anyone, it’d be Riley. He’s my best friend; he’s been my best friend since third grade. Now, here’s the thing, Riley’s a jock. He’s loud and sometimes obnoxious, but he’s not a bully. Seriously. I swear to God. I’ve never seen him pick on anybody or anything like that. But he loves using the fag word, hence—awesome word I read in The Scarlet Letter; my teacher explained what it meant—why I haven’t come out to Riley. I’ve never seen him hate on gay guys, and he used to watch Will & Grace and laugh, so I think it’d be okay. Mostly.
To be totally honest, I didn’t think I’d need to come out anytime soon. I figured I’d have until, at least, my sophomore year in college to come out. By that time, Riley would be in college and everyone says you grow up a lot when you go away to school, and I wouldn’t have to worry because odds would be that he’d have met someone gay by then, right? I wouldn’t need to gamble on Riley being cool with his best friend being gay. And my dad, he’d miss me by then, so he probably wouldn’t be mad at me. Maybe he’d finally ask me some real questions about my life. Maybe he’d actually talk to me. I don’t want you to think our house is silent or anything, but we’re not super close. And that’s why I figured I could make it through high school without having to deal with any of this crap.
I’ve seen a lot of videos online about people my age having to deal with so much crap when they came out. I knew there were a lot of people who had it way worse than I’d ever have it, but that doesn’t make it a whole lot easier. I knew that was selfish of me, and I felt guilty that all I could think of was what might happen to me. I figured it’d just be easier when I was older. People always seem to not ask as many questions when you’re older. They just figure by that time you know who you are. I guess, at least when it came to this, I figured myself out really early.
I wish I could remember what the hell we talked about, Tommy and me, but I have no idea. Because for an hour, all I could think about was the color of his eyes, but I couldn’t deal with that. Sure, his dimple was cute, but I had a plan. A plan I wasn’t going to deviate from, not even for a dimple and hair that kept flopping over a pair of pretty eyes.
“HEY!” RILEY snapped his fingers. “Earth to Dylan.”
“Sorry, dude.” It actually took me a minute to stop staring at Tommy while he was across the cafeteria. Who was that girl he was sitting with? Was she his girlfriend? Maybe she was a girl who was only a friend? And why the hell did I care? I just wanted to stay on the team. Getting good enough grades to stay on the team was the only reason I cared about Tommy Peterson, right? All I wanted was to win as many games as we could, hopefully get to the championships, and end my high school football career on a high note. Once the season was over, I’d go back to my part-time job at Mr. Rosenberg’s hardware store and coast until college. Who was that girl? She was reading. She must be smart too. Damn. I turned to Riley and Jonny. “What’s up?”
“Just figuring out what we’re doing on Saturday night. No game this week so we can do whatever we want and have a little fun.”
“Why don’t you come over and we’ll hang out?”
Riley grinned like a kid on Christmas morning. He did that when he wanted me to do something he knew I wouldn’t want to do. “Hannah’s having a party, I think. More of a get together.” Riley kept smiling at me, like he was trying to convince me to do something I shouldn’t do. Like the time he told me it would be a good idea that after his dad had fallen asleep on the couch to pour water on his dad’s face to wake him up so we could watch cartoons. “It’ll be funny, Dylan,” Riley said. Now, yeah, it seemed kind of funny, but at the time funny was the last word I would have used to describe what happened after the water pouring.
It’s kind of hard for me to describe Riley. He was a good-looking guy, I guess. He’s my best friend, so I can’t think of him as anything but my brother. He’s got a buzz cut, like his dad who used to be in the Army. Riley’s hair is only blond when he lets it grow out, and his eyes are the opposite of mine—they’re bright, bright blue. He’s not quite as tall and not quite as big as me, but Riley’s what a lot of the girls would call a teddy bear. He’s a big guy who belches and farts and says really crude things, but he’s the best guy I know. He’s always been there for me. He’s the first guy to stick up for his friends, and I’ve never met anyone who smiles as much as Riley does. Sure, he uses the F-word—both of them—but, in his defense, he doesn’t know his best friend is gay. I rolled my eyes. “I’ll think about it.”
“Dude,” he said. “It’s Hannah!”
Jonny waved at someone across the cafeteria. “Count me out. I have a date with Emily on Saturday.”
“I’ll think about it,” I repeated and stood, grabbing my lunch tray to throw the trash away.
“Jonny,” Riley said, “convince this man he needs to get out of the house once in a while.”
Jonny gulped the rest of his milk and then wiped a dribble off his chin. “Get out of the house once in a while.”
“Not helpful,” Riley said, tossing a quick punch into Jonny’s shoulder. Riley laughed as Jonny took a light swing back. Riley grabbed his stuff and followed me out.
The rest of the day went by quickly, and I ran to the locker room to suit up for practice. I wished we could practice all day, every day. It was the only time everything in my brain clicked. I wasn’t living in my head with all these insane thoughts that I couldn’t even figure out where they were even coming from. I had a plan. I knew where everything would be going. Graduate high school. Get a partial football scholarship. Go to school and figure out a major. Sophomore year, I’d start coming out by talking to my dad first and then Riley. They’d know, and then I’d see what I wanted to do and who I wanted to tell next. That was the plan. And then they started coming, the thoughts that made me shiver. I almost told Dad last night during dinner. I could feel the words literally on the tip of my tongue, and then a million things started bouncing around inside my brain. Here were all my thoughts in order: I’m going to tell Dad I’m gay. If I’m gay, then why don’t I have any artistic abilities? I’ve never heard of a gay accountant. Is it genetic that I’m bad at math? If I didn’t pass trig, I wouldn’t play football anymore. Why can’t I focus during trig? Why couldn’t I focus when Tommy was tutoring me? Why did I want him to smile at me? I really like his dimple. I wish I had a dimple. Why do I want a dimple? I don’t really want a dimple. I like staring at Tommy. Why do I like staring at Tommy? Who was that girl he was hanging out with in the cafeteria? Why couldn’t I remember her name? Why can I remember every single play without any problem, but I can’t remember that girl’s name? Why can’t everything be as simple as football is? When I’m on the field everything falls into place and the world is easy and focused and clear. Why am I rambling? If there is a group of gay accountants out there, maybe one of them can teach me trig? Will I ever use trig in my real life?
After practice I went to the library and tried to chill while I waited for Tommy, but my leg wouldn’t stop bouncing up and down. When he walked in, I stood and smashed my knee on the edge of the table.
“Hey,” I said, rubbing my knee. “How are you?”
“Hi,” Tommy replied. He pulled out a chair and sat down. “Did you finish all those practice equations?”
“I’m great, thanks,” I said with a smile. “And I’m glad to hear your day went good. Well. Went well.”
He looked at me from across the table and blinked. “Sorry. How are you?”
“I’m making a joke, Tommy.” My knee was still hurting from banging it against the table, and I had to put my hand on top of my leg to stop it from bouncing and banging my knee again. “Just because we have to study doesn’t mean we can’t get to know each other better.”
“We should probably get caught up on everything. You have a trig test in two weeks, and you have a vocabulary quiz this Friday, right? We can take five minutes at the end and go over any questions you might have about your vocabulary.”
“How’d you know that?” Was he looking at my class schedule? Was he checking up on me with my teachers, making sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing?
“You told me about it. Remember?”
“Oh, right. I forgot. So we can study first and then talk after, okay?”
“Let’s start with the practice problems and see how you did.” He held out his hand, ignoring me, and I sighed when I passed him my sheet.
It took him only a minute before he found a mistake. He leaned in a little closer to me and suddenly I could smell him. It was really nice. I couldn’t figure out what I was smelling. It didn’t smell like regular soap. It was definitely something like a candle. Like the beach, maybe?
“Okay, Dylan,” he said, “you have to take the angles of the two measurements and—” He kept talking and I leaned a little closer and watched his hands fiddling with the paper in front of us. I swear, I actually was paying attention to him. I wasn’t completely distracted by the way his hair kept falling into his face.
“Dylan? Do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah. It makes sense.” I scratched my head. “Tommy, can we take five minutes? My head hurts a little.”
He sighed. “Sure, Dylan. Five minutes.” He leaned back and pulled a small pack of gum out of his front right shirt pocket. “Gum?”
“No thanks. I’m good. Sorry, I just have a little headache.”
“It’s fine. Sometimes math does that.” He laughed a little bit, and I realized he’d made a joke. I wanted to laugh but thought it might be too late to actually join in without seeming like an idiot, so instead I smiled and hoped that’d be enough.
I was quiet for a minute. “How was school today?”
He shrugged. “Fine. It’s always fine. The usual stuff, you know.”
“Well, I know my usual stuff, but I don’t know yours. What’s usual for you?”
He looked uncomfortable and started playing with the end of his pencil. “The usual. You know. Study, study, study.”
I laughed a little bit. “C’mon, Tommy. You must have had some fun. Hang out with your friends maybe? Like that girl you were with today during lunch.” That last part came flying out of my mouth without me planning it, and I had to stop myself from biting my lip. Actually, I probably could’ve gotten away with biting my lip. I had to stop myself from punching my own head.
“Allie?” Tommy looked at me like I just said something stupid. And I had, so I couldn’t really blame him for looking at me like that. “We don’t really hang out the way you and your friends do, Dylan?” He was back to making everything a question. I could tell that he only did that when he got nervous. I hated that he was nervous around me. Did I really come across like that much of a jerk that he’d be scared around me? I made a note that when I got home today, after I did my homework, I’d take a few minutes and think back to see if I’d ever really bullied anyone. I knew I could be a jerk to my friends, but I couldn’t remember being a jerk to a total stranger. But, then again, I’d have to take a few minutes and think about it. Tommy started talking again. “Not at school, anyway?”
I took a second to think about everything that I said and make sure it wasn’t rude or mean before I asked him a question. “Why not?”
“We can’t just hang out in the cafeteria and make a lot of noise.”
“Why not?” Now I was proving that I was the idiot. I sounded like a parrot, repeating everything over and over. “Are we that noisy? I can ask the guys to keep it down if you need it quieter to study or whatever.”
“It’s not the noise, Dylan.” He sighed, like my mom used to do when she was trying to explain something to me that was super obvious to her. “Dylan, when my friends and I draw attention to ourselves, you and your friends make life difficult.”
“What?” I was anxious and angry all at once and I had to stop myself from raising my voice. “Is anyone from the football team bothering you?”
“No. The football team usually ignores us. I think your friend Jonny is in my physics class.”
“Then who’s picking on you?”
“Your buddies.” He shrugged while I waited for him to say something. “I think it’s mostly the baseball team.”
“I’m not friends with the baseball team.” I was kind of incredulous (vocab word from last week) that he thought all the jocks in school hung out together. I guess we kind of did. I mean, I hung out with a few guys from the baseball team once in a while. “I mean, I know some of them, but mostly I just hang out with the football team.”
“Sure. Whatever.” Tommy looked at me like we were about to have a teachable moment. “Don’t you guys all hang out together? All the guys on the teams hang out and work out and go to bonfires on the beach so they can make out with the cheerleaders?”
“Tommy, where are you getting these ideas?” I shook my head and kind of smirked at him. “Seriously. Who goes to bonfires and where is there even a beach around here?”
“I don’t know,” he almost smiled back at me and shrugged. “Movies, I guess. Maybe TV. You’re right. There isn’t a beach around here.”
“You know that’s not really how it works, right?” I rested my chin in my hand. “Here it’s pretty much each team on its own. Sure, now and then we hang out or see each other, but it’s not like we’re friends. Not really.”
“Maybe I’m watching the wrong movies.”
“Yeah. I think so. Hey.” I reached out and tapped the table with my finger. “If anybody bothers you it doesn’t matter what team they’re on. Just let me know, and I’ll take care of it.” I flattened my hand for one second, and then for some reason, I made it into a fist. I kept it on the table, but I made sure Tommy could see both my fist and how serious I was. “You tell me, and I’ll take care of you. It. I’ll take care of it. I promise.”
“Sure. Whatever.” His voice was flat. “Five minutes is over. We have to get back to studying.”