“I can’t stand that woman,” my friend Carrie snorted in disgust as she took another sip of her milkshake. She was referring to Angelina Jolie, who was currently on the television’s screen kicking Gerard Butler’s ass.
“Nice hips, though,” I said, as though that justified everything.
Carrie eyeballed me oddly. “Yeah, don’t I just wish that I had them.”
Carrie had the nicest hips of anyone I knew, but I wasn’t about to say it. I shoved some fries into my mouth to keep back the retort.
A commercial made its untimely arrival – the only downside to watching movies on television. Tomb Raider had taken us two hours already, and who knew when it would actually end.
The commercial was brief. It showed a wedding scene, in which a pair of guys and a pair of women kissed. Corny pop began to play, and words flashed across the screen. “Get married – come to Canada!”
“Well, I know where I’m going.” I joked. She shot me an odd look.
“And you wonder why the kids at school accuse you of being a lesbian,” she said flatly.
I shrugged guiltily. “Doesn’t bother me,”
Carrie sighed and muted the TV. “Kate?”
“Do you have anything to tell me?” she poked me in the arm with the wet end of her straw, leaving a tiny chocolate circle.
“N-No,” I stammered, clearly embarrassed.
“Sure,” she poked me again. “So are you?”
“Am I what?” I could feel my cheeks burning.
“Gay,” she said, bluntly.
“No,” I said quickly, then sighed. “Yes, well, maybe, yeah.” I peered at her, awaiting admonishment. “Does that bother you?”
“No. Should it?” she licked her straw in a satisfied manner and smirked. “I knew it.”
“What?” I yelped defensively.
“Sweetie, it was obvious from a mile away.” She said dryly.
“No, it wasn’t,” she lifted one eyebrow. “’Angelina Jolie has nice hips’?”
“She does,” I muttered. “All of America knows that.”
“Yes, but most women want to be her, not tap her.” She pointed out.
“You suck,” I threw a fry at her.
“I do,” she purred, sipping the last of her milkshake and plucking the cherry from the bottom of the cup. “So, who do you like?”
“I beg pardon?”
“Who do you like?” she rolled the cherry around in her mouth, pushing it into her cheek. “Anyone?”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said softly. “Hope.”
“Hope…Hope…” Carrie chewed on the name as she did the juicy red fruit in her mouth. “Oh! I know her. She’s that nerd.”
“The cute one,” I confirmed.
“Are you going to tell her?” she looked at me with those big brown eyes.
“What? No!” I exclaimed. “God’s thumbs, my parents don’t even know.”
“Are you going to tell them?” she nudged.
“No, they’ll throw me out of the house.” My parents weren’t crazy Bible thumpers, but they were extreme republicans and that was almost as bad.
“And why not tell Hope you like her?”
“Because – she – I mean –“ I faltered. Carrie cocked an eyebrow at me and waited. “She’s … not gay.” I finished lamely.
“Oh, yes she is.” Carrie rolled her eyes expressively.
“No, she’s not,” I insisted.
“Well, ask her out anyway.” Carrie said and shot her empty paper cup into the trash can.
“I can’t!” I cried. “She won’t ever speak to me again!”
“Why not?” she insisted.
“She’d say, ‘no’, and it would be awkward.”
“Whatever,” Carrie picked up the remote and turned the sound to the TV back on. Tomb Raider was back, but I wasn’t paying attention. I turned the idea over in my head, my heart and my mind conflicted. On one hand, my heart said, “What if she said yes?”
And then my mind would pipe up with, “And what about when she says no?”
“Hope?” I asked. I had spent the entire weekend and half of Monday morning working up the courage to talk to her, and now I was liable to drop my lunch tray.
Hope looked up. She always packed her lunch, so she was already eating. She gave me her usual smile and gestured for me to sit next to her. “Hey, Katie!” she greeted cheerfully.
“Hi,” I sat down. I felt so stupid. Luckily, we were the only people at that section of the table.
“What’s up?” she bit into her sandwich.
“I wanted to talk to you,” I said. “Kind of in private, but I couldn’t wait.”
“Want to head to the bathroom?” she offered nobly, setting down her sandwich. I shook my head. That was even less romantic than the cafeteria.
I blurt it all out before I completely lost my nerve. “I like you,” I said hurriedly.
Confusion flickered across emerald green eyes, but she smiled anyway. “I should hope so,” she said lightly. “We’re best friends.”
Forget the flowery speech I had prepared. I was quickly losing my nerve. My stomach was knotting itself into fists. “No, I mean, I like-like you – I love you.” There, I said it. She sat dumbfounded.
“I like you a lot,” I rushed on, my tongue tripping over itself. “I have for a long time. I was – well, what I mean – will you go out with me?”
She looked away.
“No one has to know,” I tried to amend. “We can be as secret or as open as you like. I don’t care, I just want a chance.” I was begging, groveling. Pleading silently to God that she would let me down easy.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, still not looking at me. “I’ve got nothing against gay people. You know that. But this-“ she paused. “It makes me uncomfortable. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel the same way. I’m sorry.” She repeated. Almost immediately she took up her lunch and moved away – dragging my heart with her.
I sat for a long time just staring at my tray. The tears coursed down my cheeks and my nose ran. Finally, angrily, I stood and dashed my sleeve across my nose. With a silent sob, I fled the cafeteria, dumping my tray on the way out. I doubted I could ever eat again.
I picked at my food that night. I couldn’t eat, even though my stomach was growling with hunger and mom had made my favorite desert.
I finally looked up. My parents were on the other end of the table, eating in total silence.
“Mom, dad,” I said, speaking for the first time in hours.
They both looked up.
“Yes, kitten?” dad asked. My name was Katherine, but father refused to abbreviate it to “Kat”, saying I wasn’t grown up yet. So even at 17 I was ‘kitten’. The corny logic was crippling.
“What would you do if someone in the family was gay?” I asked timidly as watched as they exchanged looks.
“Well,” mom said slowly. “We would still love them, of course…”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Dad interjected. Mom nodded in agreement.
“Things wouldn’t be quite the same, but it would be fun as long as we didn’t have to – know about it.” She said.
“But we would still love them,” dad added.
“I see,” I pushed a few peas around the plate with my fork. “So what if I was gay?”
Silence descended, neither said a word. Feeling my stomach knot again, I forced a smile.
“I’m not,” I lied. “You know John Gibbs is too cute.”
They both gave the most fake, worried smiles I had ever seen.
“Of course, we would still love you.” They chimed together in eerie chorus.
I nodded, and pushed back my chair so that it squeaked in protest.
“I’m going to do my homework,” I muttered, and dashed upstairs.