I didn't want to talk to Mr. Staff after class. I felt ashamed, low, embarrassed- not that I had fallen asleep, mind you, but that he had caught me. I felt like his opinion of me had somehow lessened, and that was painful indeed because, as far as I knew, he was the only person on this planet who had even bothered to form one.
I hadn't even gotten a chance to get up from my desk when Mr. Staff made his way over to me. He perched casually on the far edge of the table, hitching his chinos up so they didn't stretch enticingly across his thighs. My eyes caught the gesture and lingered for a moment before they fearfully traveled their way up to his face. I didn't want to see the disappointment I knew I would see there.
I was wrong. When I finally looked at him, he didn't seem disappointed at all. His face was pleasant, a teasing grin edging his lips, making him look even more beautiful than before. I knew I was staring like some star-struck woman, and swallowed predictably. If anything, his smile widened.
"So, Thurston," he began, his tone awfully casual, "are my assignments really that boring now?"
I shook my head like an idiot because I couldn't seem to form words. My own dark brown ponytail swung with me, slapping the back of neck softly.
Mr. Staff's expression changed, looking perfectly concerned. He looked way younger than his thirty-six years. "Are you getting enough sleep, then, Thurston? I notice you don't say much in class. You don't feel overwhlemed by the coursework, do you?"
The coursework was ridiculously easy, so I had no idea how he had gotten that impression. I shook my head again, berating myself mentally. If I was going to say anything during this conversation, I decided I would have to stop looking so intently at him.
Shoving my gaze down to the tabletop, I stared at my hands as they clutched at my grey messenger bag like it would save me from something horrible. What, I didn't know. "No, sir," I tried, speaking slowly, and found actual, intelligible words could come out of my mouth. Would wonders never cease. "I'm okay, just... drifted off. I'm kind of tired today. It won't happen again, I promise." I hoped the promise would get him to leave me alone. I wanted out of there as fast as possible, before I had a heart attack or something.
No such luck. "You know, Thurston," Mr. Staff said with that casual tone to his voice again, "that's probably the most words I've ever heard you string together." He smiled and slapped his hand on the table before sliding effortlessly off of it, like he hung around perched on tabletops all the time. Who knows; maybe he did. "Because of that, I'll let you off the hook." He stood before me, still with the same, easy smile like he could stand there like that forever, no problem. I said nothing, just looked at him.
"You and I should have these little talks more often, Thurston," he said, something edging his voice. If I was at all sure of myself, I would have sworn he was laughing at me.
I got up after he turned away to sort through some papers on his desk, and had just reached the door when I heard his voice again. "Don't forget about the new project, Thurston." I glanced back at him, and he looked up, that damn smile in place. "I'm expecting top marks from you." Then he was back to his sorting, and I walked blankly out of the classroom.
The thing was, I still had no idea what the project was about.
I arrived home that afternoon and immediately started up my computer. I was lucky, it was mine wholly and it resided in my room, which meant my parents never checked it. I had tons of gay porn downloaded onto it, and dozens of html files full of my illicit chat conversations with other guys over the internet. Some of them were really hot, while others were just silly. A lot of them made me laugh when I wasn't 'in the mood.'
I signed onto my messenger and let my list load up. Only one name flashed on the screen: 8mmJAKE. It was Jakob, a guy I had met online over a year ago and had become surprisingly good friends with, or as close as two people can get when they've never met face-to-face.
TeenageLobotomy: what's up, jakob?
Jakob was hands-down beautiful, if the many pics he sent of himself were anything to go by. I knew it was really him, too, because I had once viewed him on webcam. Jakob was eighteen, two and half years older than me, and had just recently started his career as an online webcam 'whore,' as he called it. He said it was like having sex with hundreds of men a day, yet still remaining a virgin. I still didn't believe him when he said he'd never had sex before.
8mmJAKE: I'm doin good, man. Got any pictures for me yet?
One thing about myself that Jake has always found annoying is my inability to let go of my inhibitions, even on the anonymous internet. I had never once showed him a picture of myself, frankly because he had this odd notion in his head that I was gorgeous and I didn't want to screw up his fantasy.
TeenageLobotomy: no. you know how i feel about that.
8mmJAKE: Thurs, man, you gotta stop with this shite. I bet you're a fuckin knockout.
I laughed and shook my head and typed a few inane smilies to distract him. It did the trick, and soon we were recounting our days since the last time we had spoken.
8mmJAKE: Dude! You won't believe this.
8mmJAKE: This dude, one of my generous benefactors, sent me a gift out of the blue. Tix to see motherfuckin RADIOHEAD, man. Two of them. And its near you.
TeenageLobotomy: are you f-in shitting me? that's awesome!
8mmJAKE: Yeah, I know. It's gonna be a crazy show. Fuckin Radiohead. It doesn't get any cooler than that.
One of the passions Jakob and I share is music. We have exactly the same tastes, and Radiohead is both our favorite band of all time. When Jakob and I initially hooked up in some gay chatroom, what was supposed to have been a quickie cyber turned into a four-hour conversation about which album was better, OK Computer or Kid A. We still haven't reached a compromise, though we both agreed Pablo Honey was retched. It was pure kismet when we found out we lived barely two hours away from each other.
I knew the idea was stupid, but I was beginning to get my hopes up that Jakob would ask me to the concert with him. He was always going on about how awesome a friend I was and how we 'needed' to hang out. I was both berating myself for thinking anything like that was even possible and then berating myself for doubting that it couldn't happen. I mean, all the signs pointed to him asking me. It was true, Radiohead were scheduled to put on a show about a month from now in my own city, something that rarely ever happened in the relatively small metropolis I lived in. The tickets had sold out within the hour they were available. Even if I could have afforded a ticket, I wouldn't have had a chance.
However, here was an opportunity, sitting right in front of me, if only I could take it. I liked Jakob a lot, and I knew more about him than perhaps anyone he talked to in real life. I was the one who helped him work through all his insecurities about his sexuality and identity. Not one of his 'actual' friends knew about his online 'hobby,' so explaining the tickets away would probably raise a suspicion or two. My chances were as high as they could possibly be, so I decided to go ahead and risk it. I typed:
TeenageLobotomy: so have you asked anyone to go with you yet?
The response was almost instant.
8mmJAKE: Yeah, I already asked my buddy Joe and said he'd be interested.
I hated the feeling of disappointment that seemed to slide hotly down the inside of my face and settle somewhere in my stomach. I didn't respond for a long time, and when I did my fingers were shaking. I ignored the hurt I felt, telling him I hoped he had an awesome time and how lucky I thought he was. He had no idea how I felt. I was, at the very least, glad of that. The last thing I wanted was for him to figure out how much I had invested into our friendship.
I signed off pretty quickly after that, willing my disappointment to go away. I had known, somewhere inside me, that the idea was ridiculous. Why I thought he would think of me when he received the good news, when he's a popular, beautiful guy who could ask anyone to go along with him. I knew I was undeserving, so I became pissed at myself, and took it out on my pillow. I also refused to let myself eat the rest of the day as an act of penance. I had thought outside my boundaries, and I had gotten hurt. It was my one cardinal rule: never have any expectations. That way you never get hurt.