Paradigm Shift

by Sarah Andrews

High school, the two words which can strike fear into the heart of every teenager to walk the halls lined with sneering faces. Too fat, too thin, dumb, know it all, queer; you can never be perfect enough. I never fit in with any of the groups. Not the popular jocks and their perfect girlfriends, not even the nerds or art freaks. I was outcast, alone.

The faces blur into one, marked by the same chilly gaze. Even the bell ringing for class echoes and fades into the white noise. Biology is one of the only classes where I can't escape from group assignments, despite my aptitude and love of the science. I love the tangled webs that bind life together as one. If only one species were to become extinct, even just the fish which eat larvae, the entire world could be affected.

Professor Maylin insists that I pair up with Josh, the captain of the basketball team. He's not completely hopeless; he just can't seem to help teasing me instead of paying attention. Comments like: "Hey there loser face, what little children have you scared today?", or "What's the difference between Luke, and a baboon? The baboon is meant to look like that." are normal from him. Nobody defends me, not even myself.

I should have anticipated that Professor Maylin would ask me to tutor Josh when his grades fell. I was, after all, his lab partner and top of the class. Who better to tutor him? I could see that this was going to be a long month.

We'd been struggling over the last question on the Biology revision sheet for the past half hour, and Josh was getting steadily snippier. His elder brother finally intervened before it came to blows. "Look guys, you obviously aren't getting anywhere with that, so maybe I should just take Luke home now, and you can finish it off tomorrow."

I gladly agreed; William wasn't a thing like his brother. Sure he had the same good looks and athletic build, but he had grown up while Josh was still stuck in puberty. We always had plenty to talk about on the long drive back to my place. It was refreshing to be in the company of someone who looked past the surface and listened to what I said. He didn't mind that I wasn't attractive, or athletic or popular; he was friendly regardless. He was my only true friend, closer even than my sister, the only member of my family whom I truly loved.

It was only a few weeks into tutoring Josh that I realised that I liked Will. He was nice, and he listened to me without laughing. Hard on the heels of this realisation came the epiphany; I was gay. I told my parents later that week over the dinner table. Instead of the indifference or even acceptance that I expected, they exploded. My mother screamed obscenities at me, calling me a freak of nature, blasphemous. My father punched me and told me to leave, and stay away until I'd been cured of my 'unnatural urges'. It felt like my heart had been scooped from my chest with a rusty spoon, and then trod upon by those I loved best. Only my sister accepted me, but she couldn't go against our parents, so she called the only person she thought could help.

She called Will.

Will didn't complain about being called away from dinner, or that I was asking to stay with him. He just picked me up and drove to the nearest McDonalds. Over Big Macs and chocolate fudge sundaes he managed to coax me into telling him what had happened.

"I…I…told my family that I was gay. They really didn't like it. I don't think that I can go back for awhile." I finally sobbed through a mouthful of ice cream. "I know that no one could like me, hell I don't even think there's anyone else I know who likes boys. But I couldn't not tell them, they're family, you know?" I smiled sadly up at him.

He looked pensive for a moment, "Yeah I know, I came out to my family last year. They thankfully don't have a problem at all with it. Josh even got into a couple of fights with his friends when they tried to make fun of me; he's not all that bad."

I couldn't resist the chuckle that slipped from my lips, "Josh. being decent? I think the world just stopped."

He shoved me gently, still smiling. "And what do you mean, you're not attractive? Just cause you aren't Brad Pitt doesn't mean you don't have a certain appeal. Haven't you ever read Shakespeare's sonnets? His women aren't always Aphrodite incarnate, but he loves them anyway. Sonnet 130 says 'I grant I never saw a goddess go/ My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground;' "

Thoughts whirled through my mind. Will didn't mind that I was gay because he was too? He thought I was attractive? God, was he even quoting Shakespeare to me? Could he mean, could he possibly be, might he like me too?

I gathered my scattered courage and took a deep breath. "Will, why are you telling me this? I mean, it's not that I don't like it, 'because I do, I just don't know why."

He smiled gently at me, hand cupping my cheek. "Luke, I like you. I thought the Shakespeare would be a dead giveaway."

I knew I sounded like a schoolgirl even as I said it, but I just couldn't hold back. "I, you're the reason I even realised I was gay will. I just didn't want to misinterpret because I like you."

He just laughed, "There's nothing to misinterpret, around you I don't have to pretend."

"That's good, because neither do I." I smiled as I said it. Finally it wouldn't just be me against every body else. I had someone to share my solitude, my sadness, my happiness with. I had Will to share everything with, just as he'd share with me.