I thought Joel was beautiful from the moment I met him. He was a lot more outgoing than me. He had a large group of friends and brought our home Tennis team to the championship two years in a row. His life seemed picture-perfect then and I never thought he’d ever go for me. Girls were falling over him but he rejected all the “Will you go to prom with me?” offers. This was when I think he noticed me in his classes and watching from the stands at the tennis matches. I was there to learn and watch my younger brother play at the time but soon I was going for him, too. My parents noticed my interest in him, they joked and teased me about it and I think he caught them doing it a few times and would smile at us.
I think he was wishing his family would do that when he showed interest in someone. I think he was also wishing they’d come to his matches. I later learned they’d wanted him to be a football, soccer, hockey, or basketball player. Not that he planned on professionally playing for any teams in the future anyway.
I was leaving a game when he spotted me on his way to the locker room. His wavy, brown hair was wet with sweat but he smelt strongly of cologne, he had his tennis racket over one shoulder and his other hand in his sports uniform pocket. I looked away embarrassed.
“Hey, Luka, right?” he asked.
I turned back shocked he knew my name. Sure, we shared classes but once you get to high school, that means nothing, I barely knew half the people in my classes by name.
“Uhh…Yeah,” I reply.
“Wanna go out sometime?” he asked.
Was he just trying to be friendly?
“Unless my impression is wrong and you’re not into that?” he replied losing a slight bit of his confidence edge.
It was the first I saw of any of his vulnerability.
“No, I’ll go,” I answered quickly.
He smiled, brightly and happily. I’d never seen him smile like that, even around his friends. What was it about me that made him smile like that?
“Let me go shower and change,” he replied quickly.
I was lost as he walked away towards the locker room. Was this really happening? Was it a prank someone had dared him to do? I nervously waited at the end of the hall, I fiddled around on my phone so it didn’t look like I was waiting.
If this was real, I realized what it meant. Joel liked me. The Tennis Star, who had girls asking him for prom dates left and right, liked a boy and not some popular boy from another sports team, he liked me, captain of the chess club, a math tutor, and a geek. This had to be some joke on me. I thought about leaving, but if this was serious, that would be both rude and give him a first bad impression of me.
I stuck around and waited for him. He emerged from the locker room twenty minutes later with his duffel bag and freshly showered hair. He smelt of scented shampoo now and had on more casual clothes, black jeans, a gray t-shirt, and a navy sweater.
“Come on,” he called, he led me to his car, a silver four-door Toyota Camry sedan, that he later told me his parents had bought him so he could drive himself home from Tennis matches. They’d made him get a job to maintain the gas and insurance though.
We went to a diner and ordered a late dinner since it was 7:30 pm. I was nervous. I was still waiting for it to all turn out to be a prank. There were other students from the school at the diner and I could feel them staring at us. I could hear them whispering to each other.
Joel must have seen and heard them, too.
“Can we get this to go?” he asked the waiter pointing to our food.
“Of course,” he replied.
The waiter came back with the containers and the check. Joel paid, I was too stunned to complain. I followed him out to his sedan and he drove us to an abandoned parking lot to eat. We ate in peace by the light of the car’s overhead light.
He started talking about his family, more basic information rather, he didn’t bad mouth them like I thought he should have after I found out what they were really like.
“Is this real?” I asked.
He looked up from his take-out, confused.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Do you like me?” I asked nervously.
I was waiting for the façade to crack and the joke to come out. He sighed, and seem to lose interest in his food.
“Luka,” he started quietly. “Yes, why else would I be here?”
He seemed a little irritated.
“As a prank, or joke. Isn’t that a popular kid’s idea of fun? Prank the gay kid into going on date with him?” I reply.
I think he realized how this sounded and maybe a little bit of the status he had around the school.
“I can’t really control how people think of me,” he replied.
It was true.
“I know, I’m just telling you,” I continue.
“Do you like me?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I replied, embarrassed.
He set his take-out down and picked up his phone, he opened up his contacts. He showed me a number.
“Are you giving me your number?” I question.
“Yeah, I’m not that bad of a date, am I?” he asks.
“No, no,” I laugh. “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
“Isn’t that what people who are dating do? Give each other their numbers?” he questions.
“Yeah, it is,” I answer timidly.
I got my phone out and opened a new contact and typed in his number. I went to text message and texted him so he’d have mine.
“Cool, now I can text you instead of running after you after games or class,” he jokes.
I smiled shyly at that.
“Do you want to go to a movie next time?” he asks.
“Sure,” I answer.
“What kinds of movies do you like?” he asks.
“Lots, thrillers, romance, horror, anything really,” I answer.
“Is there anything you want to see then?” he asks.
I was afraid whatever I suggested he wouldn’t be interested in seeing.
“You pick,” I reply picking through my take-out.
“Luka, I want to know what you want to see,” he says honestly.
I bite my lip nervously and look down at my take-out. I didn’t go to movies a lot, side effects of being a geek, Joel being my first date and not having a steady part-time job.
“I don’t know,” I answered quietly losing interest in my food.
I closed the take-out and set it aside. Joel watched me.
“Let’s look up recent trailers and watch them, we’ll find something we both like, okay?” he replies.
“Okay,” I answer nervously.
“I’m not going to judge your movie tastes, either okay?” he reminds me.
“Right,” I reply.
He goes to YouTube on his phone and looks up recent movie trailers. We watch a few. Our foreheads are millimetres from each other, our bangs almost touching. I didn’t really care about the trailers, being this close to him was intoxicating. I was barely watching the movie trailers; my eyes were focused on his.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I realized what I was doing and sat back embarrassed. I could feel the heat in my cheeks spread.
“I still don’t know honestly,” I replied, hiding behind my bangs that were too short to hide much.
“Well, you can text me when you figure out which movies you’d like to see, okay?” he continues.
“Yeah,” I reply.
“Do you have to be home soon?” he asked gesturing towards the clock.
I look at it. It was 8:30 pm, and curfew was at 9:00 pm.
“In half an hour,” I answer.
“Are we a thing?” he asks.
“By thing do you mean out in the open or behind closed doors?” I asked.
“I like you, it’s hard to hide that. I think I’ll just be honest with my parents and everyone. If they don’t like me it’s their problem,” he answers honestly.
“Sure, so you drive me home now, I guess?” I reply.
“Yeah, I guess so, and you’ll text me with a movie and a time that works for you, it should be easy since you come to my games anyway so that’s not going to collide with it,” he continues.
“Yeah, I will,” I reply smiling.
“Good,” he replies, with his own smile.
He starts his car up and backs out of the parking spot. We drive out of the parking lot and down the street lit by yellow street lights. The moon was bright and full above us.
“Joel, are you really okay with losing friends?” I ask.
“They’re not really my friends if they don’t support me, right?” he replies.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I reply.
I didn’t realize how much foreshadowing this would have.
Joel pulled up in front of my house.
“See you at school,” he says.
“Yeah, see you,” I reply.
I got out of the car and closed the door behind me. I walked up to my house but turned back and waved to him before opening the door. I wanted to stay in the moment with him longer and I wish I could have.
“Who’s your boyfriend?” Sean comments once I entered the house.
My mother was sitting beside him waiting for the scoop, too.
“Joel,” I answered, not that they’d believed me.
“Joel’s gay?” Sean asks.
“Sean!” my mother exclaims.
“What? It’s a question,” he replies.
“It was a date, calm down,” I reply.
“You’re not going to tell us about it?” my mom asks.
“It’s my date, I came home on time, why do you need to know everything?” I question.
At the time, I was tired but I wish I had told them because Joel’s parents never wanted to hear about it. But at the time it didn’t seem important, it was a date, a high school date at that and I had no idea that years later I’d be engaged to the same guy or that I might not get to marry him.