Adam's Eyes

April 9, 2011
Everyone “knew” Adam Bronze-Hemlock from the hallway if not from the heart-to-heart conversations that teachers were always staking their “you’ll make friends” bets on. Adam didn’t talk all that much, but it wasn’t as if the rest of us- his classmates- thought something was missing. His larger-than-life stature more than made up for his clasped lips.

Adam was a big kid. There’s just no getting around that point. It’s not good or bad. It just is. Adam was a big kid.

Through his ungainly-tight jeans, the bulges of his sculpted calves were monstrous, standing out sharply in the rigid cocoon of the pant legs. His massive feet were always adorned in tennis shoes worn so thin that the black threads of his socks were visible between the broken seams of side and sole. Adam always wore the same black, cotton jacket which sported his name, Bronze-Hemlock, capitalized in red thread across his back. The zipper was never employed; instead, Adam chose the open jacket self-confident air of nonchalance which he wore slung over himself like yet another jacket or backpack full of miscellaneous broken pencils and half-finished school assignments too late to be turned in for any credit. His t-shirts differed, but never that black jacket.

He never strung more than four words together at a time, unless his signature grunting constituted as conversation. On any given day, I might catch Adam watching me from across the noisy study hall, sitting hunched over in dead silence, the nape of his neck streaked with the thin curls of too-long hair, and move over to speak to him. Something simple like, “Hey, how’s it going, man?”

On good days, Adam might contemplate responding, shuffle his shoulders unhurriedly a time or two, and mumble from the smallest possible gap in the corner of his mouth, “It’s going.”

“Oh. Well, are you doing stuff today? After school?”

“Nuh.” It came out garbled, a hybrid cross between the country drawl, naw, and the white collar schoolboy, no.

“Oh. Do you have the homework done?”


I always strove to be nice, respectful, patient. So I’d hover. Another minute. Ten seconds. Adam would busy himself with his math things, face burning crimson as if I was bothering him. And then I’d walk away.

What happened next varied day to day, but whether two minutes later or ten, in the midst of finally puzzling out the latest math problem, I’d feel the burn of Adam’s eyes lighting on my back once more. It was always a struggle to ignore that piercing gaze. Adam Bronze-Hemlock was a big fellow and he cut a wide berth, but even though he commanded our respect, it was only for the sheer size of him.

He sure was no looker. Not to anyone. He had flaming, rusty-iron hair, the locks of which he never bothered to brush. His buttery, off-white teeth were barricaded by the fake steel of too-tight braces. But his eyes were something else.

That must have been the one good gene donated to him by the grace of God- ‘cause those eyes sure didn’t come from the mundane old people who called themselves, “Mr. and Missus Bronze-Hemlock, if you please.”

Well I pleased. To ask them how the h*ll Adam got those eyes. They were some eyes. They were a deep, dark mahogany, like roiling wine. When they darkened to a near navy blue, almost black, Adam was angry. Abominably infuriated to no end. And when he was at peace with his existence- a rare occurrence, the eyes softened to a gentle wooden brown. And when Adam Bronze-Hemlock just was, the eyes simply balanced out to that deep mahogany wine. Those eyes were glossy puddles splattered into perfect ovals on either side of the bridge of his nose. They were gorgeous and hideous at once, acid and base, blended into a steady ph of haunting mystery.

Those eyes, when they peered unabashedly from the white pallor of a face that never seemed to see the sun, ensnared me in their power, sucking me in.

Adam Bronze-Hemlock was ugly and ungainly and isolated, but he was strong and sturdy, a formidable presence, invulnerable to pain and suffering, and I was in love with him.

You think it’s a love story, right? Of course you do. We have the guy, big and mysterious. We have the love- if teenage love can be considered real love, rather than simple infatuation, or- worse: engineered “love” designed to be the ticket into one of the more tight-knit “cliques” at school. And then we have me. And that’s the first difference between me and Adam and all those other love stories.

My name is Troy Tomlin. That isn’t short for anything. It isn’t some creative nickname. My name is Troy Tomlin. Does that clear things up?

I was never “different.” I played soccer well enough to start on a respected team. I’d gotten my share of goals, executed a number of sophisticated maneuvering tactics to the awe of the audience. My schoolwork was decent. And then suddenly one day, about sixth grade, I noticed Max Calvin. Nothing happened, but that was when it all changed. Because I thought he was hot. Not like, wow, he has good looks- I wish I had them. No. Rather, it vaguely resembled: oh my god, that kid is hot. And I was a guy.

It was a guarded secret, my guarded secret, and I never told another soul. Not my sisters, not my parents, and especially not any of my friends. Max Calvin disappeared the summer after seventh grade, but my strange infatuation with guys never did.

So it was no surprise to me when I fell for Adam Bronze-Hemlock and his multicolored eyes.

The surprise was that Adam had the same genetic- not problem, I don’t like to say that- the same genetic alteration that I had, and that the person he fell for was- me.

At our high school, study hall and physical education alternated days for the same class hour. So, because Adam and I shared Mrs. Strikley’s study hall, we shared the same gym hour as well.

I don’t remember when I fell in love with Adam, but I remember where. Gym class as a freshman.

Adam was ferocious. While not exactly athletic, he wielded an uncontested power. He had speed ingrained in the essence of his bones, and strength in his muscles. When we ran on our campus track, hot sun sending streaming rivulets of liquid salt down the indents of our backbones, bangs clinging wetly to the perspiration of our foreheads, too damp to have form, feet thudding briskly- and often heavily- down on the smooth black surface, Adam always led the pack.

In his flapping black jacket and calf-length, baby blue shorts, Adam Bronze-Hemlock never even seemed to break a sweat, much less start gasping for air as the rest of us did, panting along like dogs. Not once did Adam so much as succumb to the heat and pause for a quick reprieve next to the conveniently-positioned fan located in the dead center of the hallway alongside the locker rooms.

No. Never.

His brute strength was astounding too. He could lift weights that most of us purposely bypassed by pretending to be too busy or just, well, too cool. He could stand clutching those weights in his nonchalant position for ages, shoulders sloping downward, back neatly tucked together so that he stood hunched over without appearing to do so when you looked at him straight on, feet only slightly apart, his entire weight balanced between the balls of his feet and the wall on which he leaned. As with his behavior in study hall and track, he conformed to his character by way of a thick silence and dry skin.

When he came to me that day preceding her death, Adam was different. He wasn’t Adam. It sounds strange to claim that, but even now, years later, I have to. Maybe it sounds wrong to say it. Of course he was Adam. He wasn’t a different person. This is no science fiction story. It was Adam. Bt it wasn’t.

For one thing, he wasn’t attired in his usual black jacket. Instead he had it bunched up in his hands. Those hands were clenched so tightly around that fabric that they gleamed unnaturally white.

His skin was burning. I didn’t literally feel it and he wasn’t flushed. More like invisible steam. You’re close enough to feel the heat but far enough away to not be scalded. He was a volcano just itching to erupt. The steam wafted off him.

“Can-I-talk…” he grunted with an effort, leaving the sentence half complete. Looking back, maybe I imagined the words were directed at me- and they probably were- but I simply assumed it was so at the time.

“Of course, Adam, sure.” I moved to widen the gap between myself and one of my friends whom I’d been standing with.

He rocked back on his feet, massive calves bulging muscle. “Alone- Troy.” There he definitely directed the word at me.

I looked around at my friends, as if to evaluate the validity of the request. As if there was any question about it. This was Adam Bronze-Hemlock asking to speak to me alone while I had fallen for him decades before. There was no if, and, or but about it.

“Yeah, sure,” I nodded decidedly, motioning for Adam to lead.

The silence was a gulf separating us as we sat mere feet apart, leaning against the far wall of the gymnasium. The silence twisted and squirmed, a living, real thing that took up space.

I was seized by a sudden, griping fear. What if I…? What if I kissed him? I’d wondered about that. How much different it would be to caress a chin branded by a whiskery stubble of hair, rather than a smooth one, or how it would make for a different environment to smell a generic aftershave rather than a sickly-sweet perfume that’s been concentrated in one small area of skin. I desired to know, to experience, another male.

I could kiss him, I thought. I could. I could lean over… my torso would turn just so… my shoulders would twist… my neck would elongate to reach Adam’s respectable height…

I couldn’t hold back. Wild consequences flashed through the neurons of my brain. I would kiss him and he would turn to embrace me. His callused hands would frame my face, the rugged nails would engrave their uniqueness into the flesh of my childish cheeks. His breath would be stale and dusty and magical when it lighted on my eyes, nose, mouth. His eyes would flame their deep, ravenous blue-black with a spark of barely-restrained passion lingering just behind the film of self-control. All of that would happen, I was sure.

But they would laugh… my friends would laugh. F****t, they’d say. You f****t. You gay. We don’t hang out with f****ts. You might try to feel us up. You might try… you gay.

Where had my secret found that sliver in the steel to slip through, to see the sunlight that would cast it in a brilliance of white light, and consequently throw me into the hands of a vicious shadow from which there could be no escape?

Abigail Red, one of our few female classmates, ventured toward the nearest corner with her posse of artificial-looking followers. She was a good singer and very popular. In order to save face with the guys, I’d “crushed” on her a time or two. I watched her feminine gait, the way she flung her hips as far to the side as they would go, so that I wouldn’t have to watch Adam and unwillingly reignite those fantasies…

“I like you,” Adam said abruptly.

“Uh…” What? Wait- what? Say that again… “What?”

“I like you,” Adam repeated, almost sheepishly, as if he even possessed the ability to be sheepish.

Snap out of it, Troy. “What?” Idiot. “I mean, I too, I mean, I do too, is what I mean… Adam.” Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. You fool. “I mean, that’s good. I like you too. You’re a really… uh… a really strong person…” No duh, Troy.

I trailed off but it went unnoticed because Adam was determined to make me understand. “Troy, I like you.”

“Oh, are you…?”

Abbey had stopped talking. She inclined her head to listen to one of the girls- but I thought I saw one of her ears twitch subtlety. I’d have to be careful.

Adam cringed at the implied question. He shuffled his feet around the wood. He gazed across the gym. He looked everywhere but at me. A blush swept across his face from one ear to the other and then went farther. His exposed neck flamed crimson. His arms shone with a rosy hue. “Gay?” he whispered. His body shiver infinitesimally, fighting off the word.

Abbey rocked back onto her heels, her attention focused wholeheartedly on the no doubt riveting tale her friend was telling.

Where was Adam, I wondered. When was Adam Bronze-Hemlock planning to join the party? Where was the uncensored masculinity? Where was the impassive gaze? The heart-of-steel detachment? Where was Adam? This kid- this impersonator- he was a marshmallow. He wasn’t Adam. If Adam was gay, Adam would come out and say it. Adam wouldn’t blush. Adam wouldn’t be uncomfortable. Adam would say, yes, Troy, I’m gay and I love you, I adore you, with all my heart and soul and I will never leave your side. We can take the ridicule together. We can be a team. I don’t let those people affect me. You won’t either. We’ll be free. We’ll be happy.

“Yeah,” Adam muttered finally. “Are you?”

Two things happened almost at once. First, I deigned not to answer, just in case. And then Abbey tipped backward and nearly fell over. She regained her balance, looked around contentedly at the expansive gym, and then focused entirely on Adam Bronze-Hemlock.

He knew. He knew the second after I did that Abbey knew. She’d heard the confession. She saw the honest dismay streaking across Adam’s face. It was all over.

He was human, I realized. He was only human. He hated what he was. He hated being different. He’d had that secret too, I understood finally. He’d had it too. He’d guarded it in the prison of his own dark heart, and I had forced the door open and freed it.

I loved Adam Bronze-Hemlock with all my heart and I had killed him.

Abbey waved a hand at her followers and muttered something, and then she strode over to us, as we’d known she would.

“Troy- hello,” she said briskly.

I nodded weakly, trying to keep my own emotion in check. I hadn’t revealed anything. It was all good. Adam was dead- and it was my fault- but I was cool. I’d take a rain check on revealing my innermost identity on this particular occasion.

“Aaaaadaaaaammm,” she sighed sweetly, sidling alongside him and dropping to the ground. “I have to tell you something.” She reached to brush aside a couple locks of his ugly hair. “It’s been just killing me. I have to say it. You are so hot and I am absolutely in love with you. I can’t sleep at night because your face crops up in my dreams…” Right, Abbey. That’ll be about the time you wake up, look around, and think: thank god it was just a nightmare. “Don’t you agree, Troy?”

Oh no you don’t. “What, Abbey? Agree that you think Adam is so hot and you are absolutely in love with him? Sure- if you say so.”

Abbey giggled. “You’re so funny, Troy. Don’t you agree that Adam is hot?”

This is a sick game, Abbey. What are you doing? Did I say I was gay? Did I? When? Tell me when. “I’m a guy, Abbey. What do you want me to say?”

“Fine. How ‘bout this one, boys. I bet Adam agrees with me that Troy is hot, don’t you, Adam?”

Adam looked down at his shoes, eyes blazing that same black-blue that I was imagining earlier in my fantasies.

“He’s a guy too, Abbey, or do you still need to work on differentiating between sexes?” I groaned exasperatedly. Adam shot me a quick glance of thanks. It wasn’t necessarily denying his affirmation but it allowed room to breathe.

“That’s not what Adam was saying earlier,” Abbey crooned.

“As far as I know, Adam has never said that he isn’t a guy,” I corrected immediately. “Now go get back to your friends. They might forget how to breathe while you’re gone and then you’ll be prosecuted for assisted suicide or murder- one of the two.”

Abbey shot me a look as she rose and it sent tingles down my spine. Because it wasn’t hatred or exasperation or glee. It was, well, love. There was adoration reflected in her eyes and the remotest sense of let down. And it was directed at me.

Abbey liked me. “She likes me,” I muttered aloud.

Adam glanced over. “She hates me,” he murmured. His eyes still raged. If he could just settle down we could go back to where we’d been before.

Abbey liked me.

But I liked Adam. And Adam was right here. And Adam was angry. But he was right here and he’d admitted to being gay and liking me.

“Hey-uh, do you, do you want to go get a soda or something? Like, after school? I’ll meet you in the commons by the vending machine and we can maybe talk for a while or something.”

“I’m busy,” he grunted.

“After school?” I pleaded. “Right after school? You’re busy?”


“You’re sure we can’t talk? Do you walk home? I could walk with you or something-”

“I’m busy.”

“No, please, man, I really want to talk. You know, as friends and stuff. Get to know each other.” Fall in love with each other, rather.

“You don’t like me,” he grunted, eyebrows furrowed, eyes still gleaming blackly.

“No, you don’t,” I began. But Adam was already gone.

“She likes me,” I told Harry Anderson yet again the next morning at school.

“I know. You’ve only said that a million times,” he grinned. We approached his locker and he veered away. “But don’t parade it around too much. You don’t have the proof, you know? And with Abbey Red, you need proof.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I waved him away. “I’ll get proof. What kind do I need?”

“You’re not that great, you know. One wrong move, and, poof, there goes Abbey and with it goes your popularity, dickey. Make sure you keep that brain moving. Don’t give in to love.”

“Ha, ha. You know me. When have I ever-” I thought about the close encounter with Adam the previous day, when I’d almost done it. Kissed him.

“What?” Harry grinned suspiciously, dimpling his cheeks.

“Nothing. See you later.”


“STOP!” The word came out as a full-throated roar, stopping the entire hallway dead. Kids fell against the lockers like magnets, intent on nothing but staying out of Adam’s way as he approached down the vacant center stretch.

“Adam?” I muttered quietly, but in the silence, he heard me. He turned around wildly, brandishing a gun. What kind, I couldn’t say. Couldn’t say the model. Purpose: well that was pretty obvious. There’s only so much you can do with a gun. He meant to shoot someone.

He pointed the gun straight at my chest. Behind me, Harry squeaked a gasp. “Oh God,” he whispered frantically. “Oh God. What were you talking about yesterday, Troy? What happened? Oh God.”

Adam turned the gun on Harry. “Shut up.”

Harry shut up.

The gun returned to my chest. My heart thudded against my rib cage, urging my bones to let it free, let it escape.

“Are you gay?” Adam screamed, his freshman voice cracking, reaching a falsetto. He shrugged it off unemotionally like the Adam I remembered. “Are you gay?” The gun shook. I focused on his eyes. They had bypassed black-blue. They were pure black. Midnight black. Inkwell black. Unfathomably black. Not warm. They were dead. Like a corpse. Like all the terrible things in the world rolled up into one ugly color. One terrible color. Dead black.

“Are you gay?” he cried again. I watched the muscles in his jaw twitch. “Are you, Troy?” I felt Harry’s gaze burn me from behind. I felt all eyes on me. Adam stepped forward and the muzzle came nearer.

“You’re not answering,” Adam murmured and his words tingled in my ear as he spoke them lovingly, caressingly, angrily. It was like honeyed venom, a poison hidden beneath the aroma of something sweet. I kept my lips clasped.

Unbidden I found myself once more contemplating kissing Adam. I pictured throwing myself at him, knocking the gun from his hands, locking onto his mouth. I saw myself as the hero of all these other students. They would overlook the gossip - that guy just kissed that guy- focusing instead on: that freshman, Troy Tomlin, just saved the entire student body! If only.

“Fine,” Adam groaned. “Fine.” His eyes flickered in rapid succession and I knew that he was holding back tears. “Just tell me where she is and you can go.” His nostrils inflated and then deflated again. Once. Twice. “Tell-me-” he ground. “Now.”

“I don’t know, Adam,” I whispered. I looked away from his dead eyes. My heart was screaming in agony. I loved him! I loved Adam Bronze-Hemlock. I adored him. For his power. For his strength. And for his impassiveness…

He found her even without my help. It was never a question of if. It had always been a question of when. And there she was.

Abigail Red.

She stood near her posse of followers, just in front of her locker. She didn’t run. She didn’t hide. I wanted to scream GO! Go, Abbey! Go far away if you love me! Run! But I valued my life.

“Why?” she muttered after Adam had cleared the space around her with one meaningful swipe of his arm. “Are you going to kill me?”

Adam just shook his head.

“Why?” Abbey breathed hysterically. “You have to tell me why.”

“I think you know.” There it was; yet another one of Adam’s characteristic four word speeches.

As Adam advanced, Abbey’s eyes sought me out of the crowd. I wondered how often they’d done so before. “You hate me, don’t you, Troy?” she asked, blinking back her own tears. She gulped and I watched the air descend through her neck. “You set him up to this, didn’t you? What did I do to you?” She didn’t know. She honestly didn’t know what she’d done. She didn’t know why Adam was going to kill her. She didn’t know that I didn’t hate her.

She yelled the accusation and then she was gone, before I could say No, no, I like you. Really, I like you. But, but I’m gay. She was gone before I could say I’m sorry, Abbey. I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry that I can’t stop Adam from doing this. I’m sorry that I’m gay.

I had no time to say Will you ever forgive me once you’re up there in heaven? Will you ever ask God or Jesus or whoever is out there to pardon me for this one great sin I committed?

And then I was too late to save Adam. Once Abbey lay in a puddle of her own blood at his feet, Adam turned to me. He took off his jacket calmly, as if he wasn’t a psychopath, folded it, and pointed at Harry. “Come here.”

Harry did so.

“Give this to Troy.” Adam held out the jacket as an offering. I thought about shaking my head at Harry, signaling, No. Don’t bring it here. But that would have killed Harry.

He brought it to me and I had no choice but to clasp the fabric. I knew what was coming, the same way you hear an oncoming car before you see it. The hum of that motor was electric in my ears.

“No, Ad-” I said, and then, in one fluid motion, Adam faced me, put the gun to his head and blew out his brains. “Am,” I finished.

I lifted up the jacket and noticed a pocket that had been sewn into the jacket’s interior. A white slip of paper poked out of the opening. I withdrew it.


It’s not your fault. I was scared of being gay. I was scared of who I was. It’s not your fault that I fell for you. It’s not your fault that I’m dead. It’s mine. I’m messed up.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m gay. I hope you understand why I had to do this.


“Oh God,” I whispered, borrowing Harry’s line as I sunk to my knees. “Oh my God.”

“What?” Harry said.

“Nothing.” You messed up, Troy, I thought. You messed up. They’re both dead and it’s your fault. It’s all your fault.

I still see Adam’s penetrating eyes when I sleep at night. I still see his agony and Abbey’s confusion, and I see my freshman self, so concerned with status that I couldn’t stand up for one friend and I couldn’t save a victim from that friend’s wrath. I failed on both counts and I couldn’t even be myself. When I think of those eyes, I’m haunted. And I know Adam’s eyes are the last thing I’ll see before I die.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback