FIGURING IT OUT by Shawn Lane
Gay, dramatic, and flamboyant, Avery Jennings first fell in love with Joe Gunderson back in their sophomore year of high school when Joe asked Avery to tutor him for an English Lit class.
Avery didn't think he stood a chance with straight Joe and therefore hid his attraction to the handsome football player. When the tutoring ended, so did Avery's time with Joe.
The years pass and both men go off to college. When Avery's boss at the diner introduces him to his new co-worker, he's shocked to come face-to-face with Joe.
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One day, however, I was surprised when as I was leaving drama class I spotted Joe leaning against a wall directly next to the path I had to take to leave campus and head home. He was alone, which was at least one good thing for me because I hated the idea he would have his friends gang up on me.
I half wanted to run back into the class and ask friends to walk out with me, but part of me was also curious as to why Joe was there. I supposed he might be there for some reason other than me, of course. But I didn’t think so. Deep down in my gut, I knew he was there to see me.
My heart beat so hard I was surprised I couldn’t see it pulsing from my chest like some cartoon character. I had slowed my pace, taking small little steps, delaying the confrontation as long as possible. Finally, when I got almost to the point where Joe leaned against the wall, he straightened and stepped into the path right in front of me.
“Uh, hi.” I backed up a step.
He didn’t smile. “Avery, right?”
I had a little geeky moment where I thought, ‘he knows my name’, but I squelched it and nodded, perhaps a little reluctantly.
Joe glanced toward the drama class. “Are you part of that school production of Cats?”
“You’re into that, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said again. I really wished I could get out more than one word, but I was still unsure just what he wanted with me. I gripped my book bag tight, like that was some sort of protection if he decided to pummel me.
He stared intently at me. He had the bluest eyes. I’d always wanted blond hair and blue eyes but damn it all I had been born with brown hair and brown eyes. Just like most of the population.
Great, I thought. He really was here to smash my face in. But I wasn’t going to lie. I could hardly hide it anyway. I was a little on the femme side and my book bag had rainbow symbols all over it.
He nodded. “That’s cool.”
I eyed him cautiously. “Is it?”
Joe shrugged. “Sure. Listen, I wanted a favor.”
I couldn’t imagine what he wanted from me so I said nothing. Probably he wondered if I was a moron or something. I waited for him to continue.
“You’re a brainiac or something, right?”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Sure you are. You get A’s I bet.”
It was true, I did. I’d always been good at school.
“Anyway,” Joe continued. “I was hoping you could help me out with English Lit. I pretty much suck.”
Ah, now it made sense. He wanted me to do his homework or some such thing. Or he’d beat the crap out of me. He wouldn’t be the first tough guy who tried to bully me into doing his schoolwork. But I never gave in.
“I’m sure you aren’t as bad as you think,” I said. “But the truth is, I don’t do other students work for them. Sorry.”
Joe did smile then and showed the most freaking adorable dimples I had ever seen. He didn’t smile nearly enough. “Avery, I’m not asking you to do my work.”
“I want you to tutor me. Help me get my grade up.”
“Oh? Oh.” I nodded. “That I can do.”
And so I did. The rest of that semester I met with Joe twice a week after school in the library to help him with English Lit. It turned out to be beneficial to both of us because I helped him pass the class with a B and he kept his buddies from picking on the gay kid. We didn’t really spend much time getting to know each other. Joe was there strictly to learn, he didn’t seem to want to be friends, so I had to accept that.
Oddly enough, though, the night we performed Cats I saw him in the audience.
After that I saw Joe around school each semester but we never really talked. We didn’t even have any more classes together. In my senior year I started seeing another gay student named Brett. And because of that I stopped watching for Joe so I saw even less of him.
Brett and I lasted the whole year and into the summer after graduation. We were each other’s first, but then Brett had decided to go to college back east and we both knew a long distance relationship wasn’t going to work.
I had decided to go to a local state university mostly to keep costs down. I had earned scholarships and with my grades could have gone to some great schools, but my parents, who’d had me later in life, had been in ill health for years and I didn’t want to leave them to fend for themselves. I took a job at the local diner just a few blocks from my house and the owner was a family friend so I could pretty much work whatever hours I wanted around my school schedule.
And it was to my surprise that shortly after the fall semester began, my boss, Hank, came to me one morning as I was making a fresh pot of coffee.
“Hey, Avery, I hired another guy.” Hank was a short, skinny older guy who’d spent most of his life as a short order cook at the restaurant. A few years back when the previous owner had decided to retire, Hank bought the place from him.
“Oh, yeah? Good. We can always use the help. When does he start?”
The bell above the door jangled and Hank glanced toward it. “Right now.”
I turned to greet the new employee and was stunned into standing there with my mouth hanging open to catch flies.
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