How To Be Straight

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Hand Warmer

I didn’t know what it was with Jamie and books. She was hugging it to her chest like a two year old hugs a stuffed elephant. Except it was a book.

I looked back at her, meeting her gaze. Her lips were pursed in the way she did when she was nervous or surprised. What? I mouthed.

She raised an eyebrow and then turned back to Grace, so I did as well.

I glared at the redhead from across the grove. I wished she wasn’t so pretty and innocent looking, with her dark red hair pulled back and tiny lips forming the perfect words, captivating an audience. I remembered when I had wanted her in our group, had wanted to spite off my mom by becoming her friend, had wanted to use her to show Jamie that…

“Any questions?” Grace looked around the unorganized blob of people, and her gaze settled on me. Her eyebrows creased into what could only be interpreted as a glare before she moved on. When no one raised a hand (Her speech had been much too thorough to create confusion), she nodded and said. “Okay. That’s all, I guess. We will need a little bit of money, if you can give some, that would be great. Okay, thanks. Um, class dismissed!” She said the last part in a joking manner, but underneath there was a little bit of seriousness, of I give you my permission to go. But I didn’t press. For Jamie I wouldn’t press. It felt like I was doing a lot for Jamie these days.

“Hey.” I turned to face the source of the . Speak of the devil.

I glanced at my (ex?) friend. “Hey.”

“I thought you weren’t coming. Thought we were all too gay for you.”

I laughed. A little. “No one will know.”

She shrugged and nodded. “Thanks.”

I shook my head. “For nothing. I’m just ‘making our school a better place.’”

She laughed and we started walking together through the forest. “Remember,” Grace called out, “complete secret!”

“Jesus,” I muttered sarcastically. “I had forgotten. Thank goodness you reminded me!”

Jamie laughed. “She means well.”

“She’s kind of annoying.”

“No. She’s not.” Jamie’s voice turned defensive of her friend.

I furrowed my brow slightly at that, but then remembered that I was in public, and switched to a more neutral expression.

“If you say so,” I shrugged, pretending away the hurt. Jamie had never defended me like that. She had always just been scared of me. She wasn’t scared of Grace.

She tucked the book into one of her jacket’s deep pockets and nodded firmly. “I say so.”

We walked in silence for a minute. “Let’s go somewhere.”

She whispered something under her breath. I caught the word baby.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, sorry. Just… nothing. It’s nothing. Where do you want to go?”

I hesitated for half a second before deciding on a place. “Al’s.”

She shrugged. “Okay.”

“Cool.”

We walked in silence for a few minutes, but where most other people turned right at the end of the path, we turned left, heading towards the business part of town. I glanced back and saw Grace staring at us, wearing a kicked puppy look. When she saw me looking she quickly composed her face. Very elegant. Very swift. But I caught the hurt before the curtains closed. I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue at her.

Jamie and I walked along, chatting about this and that. Just catching up like old friends do. “How’s Vicky?” She asked.

“She’s okay I think. Derik asked her out. Over the moon about that.”

Jamie laughed. “God.”

“He came over to our table and confessed his undying love for me. I turned him down because,” I gestured to myself. “Well, you know. Then he turned right around and gave the same speech to her. Word for word. She didn’t even seem to notice. Has been floating around in a cloud for a couple of days.”

Jamie laughed again. The sound reminded me of the cool clear May lake. Just a little too cold to swim in, but still beautiful and wonderful. I had the sudden urge to put my arm around her, but I bit my lip to remind myself that we were just friends, going to the local diner to get a snack. In 30 degree weather. I hadn’t been cold, I was wearing thermal exercise clothes which I had taken from my gym locker under my hoodie, because my mom and I had had an argument about whether or not I needed a coat, and I had been too stubborn to admit to being wrong. But now I was cold. Jamie looked me up and down. “You’re freezing.” It wasn’t a question.

“It’s manageable.”

“Normal Person Manageable, or Miss Queen of BeingToo Stubborn to Ever Admit to Being Wrong Manageable?”

“I’m fine.”

Jamie reached back into her backpack and took out something, which she held out to me. I didn’t take it. “What is that?”

“Hand warmer. Shake it around and then keep it in the pocket of your hoodie. It’s weird and artificial and you won’t freeze your ass off.”

I shook my head. It was my second rule for life. Never accept charity from anyone. Ever. No matter what.

Even if I was a little cold, I wasn’t going to die of hyperthermia any time soon. We turned and started to cut across the lawn of the school towards main street. “Take the goddamn hand warmer, Shay.”

I shook my head. “I’m not c-cold.”

“Your teeth are chattering.”

“Jamie. I’m-”

“Don’t finish that sentence. You are going to take the fucking handwarmer, and you are going to not freeze to death.”

Never accept charity. “You take it.”

“I’ll take it if you take my coat.”

“Then you’ll freeze to death. How is that helpful?”

“So you’re freezing to death?”

Ever. “No.”

“You just told me you were.”

No matter what. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

She thrust her hands up in the air. “Take the hand warmer Shay. We are not stopping this conversation until you do.”

“You are so annoying!”

You are entirely too stubborn to admit when you need something!”

I sighed. It wasn’t her incessant whining so much as the cold that wore me out. I would never admit to that though. “Fine. Just to make you shut up!” I said dramatically.

I took the thing from her hands and shook it around as instructed, and then shoved it into the front pouch of my too big hoodie.

And it was warm. It didn’t make up for not having a coat, but it helped. A lot. “Thanks,” I muttered after a minute of silence.

Seemingly pleased by this, Jamie answered with an annoying peppiness. “You’re welcome!”

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