I Know What Gay Is © 2013 by Foxglove Lee
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design © 2014 Foxglove Lee
Photo Credit Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
First Edition July 2013 by Prizm Books
Second Edition August 2014 by Foxglove Lee
I KNOW WHAT GAY IS
By Foxglove Lee
“I know what gay is.”
Jay choked on his grilled cheese. “Oh, yeah?”
Sarah gave a resolute nod after wiping her milk moustache off on her sleeve. “Gay is when boys marry boys and girls marry girls.”
Jay gulped down his milk. “It sure is.”
How in-depth should he let this discussion go? Sarah’s parents, his next-door neighbours Annie and Wayne, seemed to way overestimate Jay’s experience with little kids. Sure he liked children, he helped out with his younger brother and sister, but babysitting was a job for a twelve-year-old girl, not a guy in high school.
It seemed weird that Annie and Wayne asked specifically for Jay to watch their daughter for the two weeks her regular nanny was on vacation. People usually thought it was weird for guys to spend too much time around kids—especially gay guys, for some stupid reason. Like all gay men were child molesters or something. Ridonculous.
But Annie and Wayne next door obviously didn’t think that way, so that was pretty cool. And he couldn’t complain about the money they were dishing out. Most of the guys at school had picked up Parks jobs for the summer, but Jay was too scrawny for a physical work. And lazy. And who wanted to spend all day outside, toiling away under the hot sun?
“Jay?” Rolling a cherry tomato around her plate, Sarah looked up, looked right into his face, and his stomach clenched. What was this kid going to say next? “I don’t like tomatoes.”
Thank God! Picky eaters he could handle.
“Eat your tomatoes. They’re red like your hat.”
“It’s my brother’s hat.” Sarah popped a tomato in her mouth and chewed without seeming to notice what she’d done. “He went to camp.”
“That’s cool. Why didn’t you go to camp?”
Sarah wrinkled her nose. “I’m not old enough.”
“And they said I’m not a boy.” Her expression went rock hard, little lips pursed in a pout, blond brow furrowed. “They said even when I’m old enough I have to go to girl camp instead. I said I’m a boy too, but they said no, so I’m gonna sneak into the boy camp and say I’m a boy and they’ll believe me because I am one even if dad said I’m not.”
She spoke a mile a minute. It was hard to keep up.
“That’s too bad,” Jay replied, though he hadn’t understood half her little tirade.
“Too bad, so sad.” She ate another tomato.
“Yeah, that totally sucks.” Should he say sucks in front of a kid? It was one of those words his mother never liked, but learned to live with, because you really couldn’t stop kids from saying it. “So what do you want to do this afternoon?”
“So what do you want to do this afternoon?”
“Are you copying me again?” Jay picked his hat up off the table and put it on backwards.
Sarah turned her hat around and grinned. “Are you copying me again?”
“Fine, then. If you’re going to copy me I just won’t say anything.” Jay stood and swigged the last of his milk, then took his plate and glass to the dishwasher.
Gobbling up the last of her tomatoes, Sarah brought her plate to the dishwasher too, going back for her glass. She was small enough that she had to grasp her dishes with both hands. It was actually kind of cute.
“Can we go the park and play soccer?” Sarah asked.
Apparently she’d forgotten her copy-cat game already.
“Sure. Soccer’s my favourite.”
“Mine too!” Her eyes sparkled. “I’m on a team, but there’s all girls on it and they suck.”
Ooh…did Sarah learn that word from him? He’d have to watch what he said around her.
“And they make us wear a pink uniform. It’s so ugly. It’s for girls.”
Jay reached into his pocket to make sure Annie and Wayne’s house key was still on his chain. “Okay, get your soccer ball, kiddo. And try to go pee before we leave.”
Taking his own advice, Jay used the main floor bathroom while Sarah went upstairs. He waited for her in the front hall, but she took a strangely long time and didn’t respond when he called her. When he jumped up the stairs, the first thing he noticed was the bathroom door wide open. He wasn’t a perv and he didn’t mean to look, but his eyes just naturally went there.
Sarah was standing in front of the toilet, facing it, her stiff jeans down around her knees. Her oversized plaid shirt covered her backside. She had the seat up, and was sort of leaning forward against the bowl. He couldn’t see—he wasn’t trying to see—but in the split second he caught a glimpse of her, it seemed like she was trying to pee standing up.
Taking a couple steps downstairs, Jay turned toward the wall and called out, “Everything okay up there?” His heart was racing, and he didn’t know why.
The toilet flushed. Sarah spoke over it, but Jay couldn’t make out the words. When she emerged from the bathroom, he wanted to ask why she was peeing standing like that, but it was too embarrassing. Plus, he didn’t want to get into trouble.
Sarah grabbed her soccer ball, and they took off down the sidewalk. While she babbled about her favourite video game, he couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said at lunch: “I know what gay is.” Maybe that was just the sort of thing kids said, but maybe it was some kind of veiled accusation.
No, kids were never that subtle.
“Hey, let me ask you something.” How to put this? “You know when you said about gay people—boys marrying boys? Where’d you learn that?”
Sarah had been bouncing her soccer ball against the pavement, but she clung to it now, both arms wrapped around the sphere. “I heard Mom say to Nana that maybe I’m gay, and I asked her what gay is and she told me.”
At first, her response was a relief—he’d thought Sarah’s family was maybe talking about him behind his back. But they weren’t. They were just talking about her.
They were talking about her?
But Sarah was barely school-aged. She wouldn’t start Grade One until the fall. How could they know? Though, thinking back, maybe that was a stupid question. Jay’s mom said she’d suspected him from an early age. That was a good thing, according to her, because it gave her time to adjust to the idea. She knew Jay was gay before Jay even knew what gay was.
Now another thought occurred to him: Had Annie and Wayne sought Jay out as temporary babysitter so he could be some kind of gay role model for Sarah? That seemed a little weird. Didn’t they know any lesbians? He could hook them up with his friend Theresa, except she was always saying how much she hated kids.
The park was crowded now that the heat wave had broken and temperatures were bearable. Thank God Sarah didn’t want the playground, because it was packed with little kids all bustling around, pushing and screaming. Sarah had her eye on the soccer field—the big one, not the mini patch. And good thing, too, because when Jay spotted the shirtless guy working over there, his stomach clenched. He felt a little guilty, being so turned on in front of Sarah, but that was Darien! Without a shirt!
“Hey,” he said to Sarah. “See that guy over there? He goes to my school. Wanna see if he’s any good at soccer?”
Sarah beamed. “Yeah, and tell him I’m a boy.”
“Okay…” Jay tried to focus on her, but he kept looking up at Darien, who was tracing new lines around the field with one of those rolling chalk machines. Darien hadn’t noticed him yet.
“Tell him my name is Frank.”
God, the way Darien’s back muscles surged when he pushed that contraption past divots! His T-shirt was shoved in the back of his pants, and it flapped against his butt as he moved. Jay felt dizzy just watching.
“Tell him I’m Frank, okay?”
Sarah tugged on Jay’s top until he snapped out of his daydream.
“Huh? Frank? That’s a funny name.”
“I like it,” Sarah said. “Tell him that’s my name and I’m your friend who’s a boy.”
Something in Sarah’s intense expression told him this was more than just a child’s prank. In the back of his mind, little puzzle pieces started fitting together. He knew he should ask why she wanted to say she was a boy and her name was Frank, but he couldn’t wait even a second longer to call out, “Darien! Hey, Darien!”
Darien looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. A winsome smile crossed his lips as Jay jogged over. Sarah followed, but her legs were shorter so she trailed far behind.
“Hey, man!” Darien pulled his T-shirt from his pants and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead. “You following me all around town or something?”
Yes. Yes he was. Most days. But not today.
“Nah, I’m looking after the neighbour kid.” He glanced back to find her dribbling the soccer ball foot to foot, but always kicking it too hard and having to chase it across the field and try again. “Oh yeah…she wanted me to tell you she’s a boy and her name is Frank.”
Jay chuckled, but Darien cocked his head to watch her. “That kid’s a girl?”
Now that Jay looked at her with fresh eyes, he saw what Darien meant: it wasn’t just her brother’s hand-me-downs or the short hair she’d cut herself, much to her parents’ dismay—it was the movements and the mannerisms too. Sarah looked like a boy head to toe. And then Jay remembered her peeing standing up, and the thought made him feel weird, like a twisting sensation right in his gut. Maybe Sarah was a boy. Maybe…
“Hey, man!” Darien called to Sarah. “Nice moves, there.”
Sarah looked up at him and smiled. “Wanna play with me and Jay? You can be on my team. I’m Frank.”
“Good to meet you, Frank. I’m Darien.” Darien strutted over to Sarah and they bumped fists. “Let’s put Jay in goal and take shots on him, yeah?”
“Awww, goal sucks.” Oops—he said sucks again. Jay ran toward the goal frame. With all this pent-up energy from seeing Darien in the flesh, it felt good to blow off some steam with a little exercise. He sidestepped goal post to goal post, tapping each with his hand. “Fine, you two. Bring it on. Show me what you got.”
Sarah passed the ball to Darien, who dribbled like a pro, but came in too close for comfort. No way Jay could block a shot from way inside the penalty area. He watched Darien’s bare calf as it drew back and then forward. That big foot made contact with the ball, launching it to the left corner. Everything happened in slow motion, and still Jay couldn’t stay on top of the action. He jumped, extending himself, reaching toward the ball, hands cupped tight.
No use. It was a perfect set-up. Jay didn’t have a hope in hell of stopping that thing. The goal was good and, since it wasn’t game time, the nets weren’t up. He had to chase Sarah’s ball half way to the tennis courts.
“Lucky shot!” he called to Darien as he jogged back. “Betcha you couldn’t do that again.”
“Oh, I’ll show you!”
No sooner had Jay launched the soccer ball in Darien’s direction than a loud voice called, “Pass it over here!”
Jay and Darien turned in unison, and Jay’s stomach clenched. “Sarah! What are you doing? Put your top back on.”
If Annie and Wayne found out about this, he’d be fired for sure—and maybe worse!
“My name’s not Sarah, it’s Frank.” Her plaid shirt and T trailed from the back of her jeans. “Me and Darien are skins.”
In truth, Sarah looked just like a boy. It wasn’t as if the parents or nannies or other kids in the park would know this was a girl running topless around the soccer field. Even so, Jay felt really uneasy about her naked chest.
“Fine, okay, Frank.” Jay didn’t know how else to make her listen. “I still want you to put your T-shirt on. We all know who’s on whose team.”
“But we’re skins!” Sarah hollered.
He could feel her rage, but he wondered why she was so mad about something so unimportant.
Thank God for Darien! He pulled his shirt out from his waistband. That thing must have been totally sweat-soaked! He’d been working in the sun all morning, but he put it on anyway and said to Sarah, “Look, Frank! Now we’re shirts and Jay is skins. Okay?”
Sarah reluctantly agreed and put on her T-shirt, tossing the plaid layer off to the sidelines. That was the joy of Darien—nobody could say no to his smile.
“You’re skins, Jay,” Sarah called out as Darien passed her the ball. “Take off your top.”
“Yeah, Jay.” Darien grinned. “Take off your top.”
At least he could face them while he did it. His back had way more pimples than his front. That’s one thing he’d always been jealous of Darien for: pimples weren’t so obvious on darker skin. Darien claimed he had a ton of acne, but Jay could never see it.
Jay tore off his top and Darien cheered, which made him feel like a million bucks. Nobody had ever cheered for his gaunt chest before. The hungry look in Darien’s eyes built his confidence up and he yelled, “Okay, you two. Hit me with your best shot!”
And, man, did they ever! Darien and Sarah double-teamed him again and again. Darien’s shots on goal were unstoppable, and his effort got Jay’s blood pumping. Sarah was giving her all, so Jay let a couple shots slip past the goal line. And she gloated relentlessly because of it.
“Jeeze, you guys, I’m exhausted.” Jay held the stitch in his side, exaggerating his weariness. He just wanted to get a couple minutes alone with Darien before he had to get Sarah home.
“I’m not tired yet.” Sarah stepped on her soccer ball, trying to balance, but tumbling to the side. She picked herself up and tried again.
“Why don’t you ask some of these other kids to play? We’ll be right here.” Jay pointed to the bench between the soccer field and the playground.
Sarah ran off to a small group of boys on the outskirts of the playground while Jay and Darien sat next to each other on the bench. Close, but not too close. Not quite touching, but almost touching. Jay could hardly breathe, and he couldn’t blame the humidity. It wasn’t the air that was thick, it was his blood—thick with lust. In a way, he hoped Darien couldn’t sense it, and in another way he hoped Darien could.
“I gotta get out of this thing, man.” Darien pulled off his T-shirt. “That’s better. I was really sweating out there.”
“Yeah, me too.” Jay gazed at Darien’s chest, down his solid abs, down farther. He tried not to be too obvious. Every time Darien glanced at him he pretended to watch Sarah playing trucks in the sand.
“You’re really good with kids,” Darien said, nodding to the playground.
“No.” Jay stretched his arms across the back of the bench. “You’re good with kids.”
Where was all this confidence coming from?
Darien didn’t argue the point. “Yeah, they’re fun.”
There were so many things Jay wanted to say now that they had a moment to themselves: “You looked damn hot out there” or “I think about you all the time” or even something as innocuous as “Ready for school?” or “How’s the job going?”
Why couldn’t he force the words out?
Darien was just as bad. They just sat there, keeping an eye on Sarah. When another boy threw sand at her and she pushed him in retribution, Jay hollered, “Hey, cut that out. No pushing.” He knew better than to yell at someone else’s child, but the nanny rushed over to have a talk with the sand-thrower. It was all good.
“Neat kid.” Darien nodded in Sarah’s direction. “Reminds me of a cousin I got in Vancouver.”
“Oh, yeah?” Jay was happy to talk about anything. He wanted to know everything about Darien—family stuff, school stuff, future stuff, didn’t matter what.
“My cousin in Vancouver.” Darien leaned back in the bench, and his slick back touched the naked skin of Jay’s arm. Jay swallowed hard, but his throat was dry as cotton. “He’s older—in his twenties. Lived not too far from here until a couple years ago. But he was Cheryl then.”
Jay’s mind struggled to compute. Darien’s blazing body fried his brain. “Who was this, again?”
“My cousin Ethan. Growing up, he was Cheryl. He was a girl, but not really. I mean, he was just like your neighbour, there. Didn’t want nothing to do with other girls, not until he was a teenager—well, he was still she then. In high school, he came out as a lesbian. Family wasn’t happy about that, but am I ever glad someone else came out before I did. Made my job a whole lot easier.”
Jay didn’t know what to say. Should he be like, ‘You’re gay? I’m gay too!’ That would sound so stupid. Darien obviously knew. Everyone knew. There was no such thing as a secret at their school.
“Ethan says a lot of guys who are trans think they’re lesbians when they’re teenagers.”
Jay sat up straight as recognition sparked. “Sarah’s parents think she’s a lesbian. She told me that—she told me she overheard her mom talking to her grandma about it. I thought that was so weird because she’s, like, five years old. How could she be anything yet?”
Darien turned to face him and their knees touched, sending bolts of electricity through Jay’s body. “Maybe she’s trans.”
“Yeah?” Jay felt short of breath, and he wasn’t sure why. Was it being so close to Darien, or was it this topic?
Darien shrugged. “My cousin Ethan always said he was a boy, growing up. When he was a kid no one would listen, but now he’s an adult, so he can live however he wants. He’s even taking hormones and he’s got a beard growing in and everything.”
“Wow.” Jay always thought of himself as so worldly and open-minded, but he didn’t remember ever hearing about girls who changed into guys—only cross-dressers and stuff, guys who dressed like girls. Of course, he didn’t want to admit that to Darien. “So, you don’t think Sarah’s just playing? Maybe Frank is like…I don’t know, her imaginary friend. Or maybe it’s a game about being a boy. You know what kids are like.”
“Yeah.” Darien drew the word out. “Yeah, I do.”
Jay knew what kids were like, too: honest. And sensitive. In a lot of ways, they were much better people than adults. If you want a candid answer, ask a kid.
All too soon, Darien rose from the bench. Jay’s pulse surged into his mouth and he blurted, “You’re not leaving already?”
“The Man is paying me to work.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Gotta get back.”
Darien leaned in—oh God, he’s leaning in!—and Jay knew they were going to kiss. But Darien’s full lips only brushed Jay’s cheek en route to his ear.
“You can watch me work any time you want,” Darien whispered. “In fact, I like it when you watch…”
Darien’s mouth was so close his hot breath warmed Jay from the inside out. And maybe Jay imagined this, but as Darien eased away he was pretty sure those full lips caught his earlobe and gave it a tug. Did that really happen? Right out in public? Jay couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t even move.
“Wait!” he called, but it came out as a squeak.
Darien was half way to the soccer field. Not only did he turn around, but he came back within earshot.
“What do I do?” Jay stood and stepped closer to Darien. He already missed the sharpness of his sweat, the sweetness of his body spray. “What do I do about Sarah? Should I…I don’t know. What would you do?”
Darien’s dark eyes glowed with just an ember of heat, far off in the background. He turned his gaze to Sarah, who was now kicking the soccer ball around in the sand with the same group of boys. “Ask the parents. That’s what I’d do.”
Jay’s guts twisted at the thought. “Ask them what?”
“If they’ve read up on transgender kids.” Darien casually tossed an arm around Jay’s shoulder. He made life look so easy. “You could ask if they know anything about trans people. You could ask if Sarah’s talked about being a boy all her life. Maybe they’ve already had this conversation between themselves. You don’t know until you ask.”
“But what if asking makes them mad? What if they blame me? Or they might tell me it’s none of my business and it has nothing to do with me anyway.” He gasped. “What if they fire me?”
Darien clapped him on the back before stepping away. “Then I guess you spend the rest of your days watching me sweat.”
He broke off in a sprint and, when he got to the middle of the soccer field, leapt into a handspring. That lean body soared, flipping in mid-air, and Jay looked on in awe. After a perfect landing, Darien ran backward to the far sideline, waving all the way.
Jay waved back, in disbelief, until Darien got to work pushing that chalk machine, marking bright white sidelines across freshly cut grass. He didn’t want to go, but he hadn’t remembered to make Sarah put on sunblock like her parents insisted, and judging by her rosy nose and cheeks, she’d had more than enough outdoor fun for one day.
It wasn’t like Jay was best friends with Annie and Wayne or anything, but they seemed like nice people. Not just nice, but open-minded and, more importantly, open-hearted. Darien was right—he should just talk to them, ask what they thought it meant that Sarah insisted she was a boy. Could be that she wanted to be like her big brother. Could also be that the parents knew more about transgender stuff than he did. Jay really didn’t know all that much.
“Okay, Sarah, time to pack it in.”
Jay stood on the wooden ledge where grass gave way to sand. A bunch of moms and nannies looked up at him, but Sarah didn’t. The soccer ball sat motionless. They’d all gone back to the trucks.
“Sarah, grab your soccer ball. Time to go.”
He felt conspicuous, like a cat among the pigeons, when Sarah didn’t answer. Was it just his imagination, or was everybody staring? He couldn’t take his eyes off the kid who wouldn’t acknowledge him, not for a second. She didn’t look up. Until she did.
It took only a split-second for Sarah to convey her distain. She glanced at him, seemingly casual, until Jay met her gaze and spotted fire there. All at once, he understood.
“Frank,” he called. “It’s time to head home. Say bye to your friends.”
Gazing up at Jay with a cheeky but grateful grin, Sarah picked up her soccer ball.
Frank picked up his soccer ball.
And when he said goodbye to his new friends, the kids all waved back with a chorus of, “See ya later, Frank!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Foxglove Lee is a former aspiring Broadway Baby who now writes fiction for young adults. She tries not to be too theatrical, but her characters often take over. Like Rebecca from her debut novel Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye, who’s convinced an evil doll is trying to ruin the summer of 1986. Or Sylvie from Sylvie and the Christmas Ghost, who’s spending the holidays in a haunted house!
Foxglove’s fiction has been called
SPECTACULAR by Rainbow Reviews
UNFORGETTABLE by USA Today!
Also by Foxglove Lee
For Younger Readers:
The Secret of Dreamland
Ghost Turkey and the Pioneer Graveyard
For Young Adult Readers:
Sylvie and the Christmas Ghost
Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye
For New Adult Readers:
Truth and Other Lies
Embarrassing Period Stories
When the couple next door asks Jay to babysit, he can't help wondering… why him? Did they hire Jay as some kind of queer role model because they suspect little Sarah is gay? At the park, when Sarah and Jay run across the guy he's been pseudo-stalking, Sarah insists she’s a boy. Darien’s sheer sexiness makes Jay pretty brain-dead, and he can't think what to talk about except how Sarah wants everyone to call her Frank. The funny kid reminds Darien of his transgender cousin. Could Sarah be trans, too? Should Jay talk to her parents? What if they say it's none of his business? What if they fire him? Well, then he'll just have to spend his summer watching Darien work in the park, sweaty and shirtless...