How To Be Straight

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Straight People 101

I never liked attention. Never treasured it. Always saw it as someone trying to take away my secret, and hang it by their fingertips for all of the world to see. But I had to stand here, wearing suspenders and too-big loafers, in front of almost the entire school, and smile. While my picture was taken. To be put all over Instagram. Fun. I waved at everyone, one arm around Shay, and remained as such for a minute or two, then we moved on.

The first dance was slow. Great. Now I would have to stand by the sidelines and look stupid. Unless I-

“Wanna dance?” It was Shay.

“Uh, sure.”

“I mean, we have been married for thirty years.” When I didn’t laugh, she added, “Plus, neither of us has dates so… I mean, if you don’t want to…” Why was she being like this?

“Shay. I said yes. I want to dance.”

She nodded slowly and wiped her hands on her grandma’s dress. “Okay. Sorry. I don’t know why I’m so nervous, it’s just…” I nodded encouragingly. Shay never shared her feelings. “It’s just,” she repeated, “I… I… never mind.”

I nodded.“Shall we?” I held out my arm.

“We shall.”


Only a few people from our school have ever danced with Shay. I know that she attends the local dance school, but I had never bothered to go to a recital or class. The second that we stepped into a free spot in the center of the gym, her whole composure shifted dramatically. Her face became serious, as it was when she was doing a really hard math problem. (Not that I had ever stared at her during a math exam or anything.) Her limbs relaxed, wrapped around my waist. I put mine awkwardly on her shoulders, and pulled her close, and, to my surprise, she lay her head on my shoulder.

At first our dances were simple, like everyone else. We basically spun in a slow circle, until that began to bore her. She carefully removed her hands from my waist, and I felt a strange sense of disappointment that our dance was over-- except it wasn’t, because then her hands were on mine, and she was removing them from her shoulders.

She was an expert dancer, obviously not accustomed to dancing with people like me. Decent, but uneducated, who didn’t know where to put their feet. At first, I was terrible, and after I stumbled for the second time, she pulled me up and whispered in my ear, “You’re trying too hard. Slow down. Calm down. You don’t need to do anything. OK?”

I nodded, not oblivious to the humor around grandma leading grandpa.

She took my hands once again, and twirled me. My face boiled, but it worked. I learned quickly to follow her lead, to not think. I felt that if she had led me to a burning bridge, I would have let her dance me across. But she might have, and I would not have known. I forgot myself. I forgot The Secret. I forgot what it felt like to carry your own weight, and to have your feet touch solid ground. I forgot that I liked girls, because it didn’t matter there. There, I stood out. There I wanted to stand out, and secrets like that seemed to fade away, irrelevant in those moments. She knew the song, and it showed in her movements. You could tell that while it was not a preplanned routine, each move was practiced to a point of perfection.

How did I not know she danced? I mean, I knew that she had taken a few classes, but not this full on, expert type dancing. I had never seen her like this. Normally at the dances, she bopped around with her hands in the air like every other kid on the planet. But I should have known by now that she was not every other kid on the planet. Not by a long shot. I wished I could tell her that, but I really didn’t want to stop to think long enough to form words. Then the song ended, and so did our dance. We were hot, and our hands white from holding the other one, and the whole school was staring at us. I could hear their thoughts. They were louder than the sound of my beating heart.

Shay never dances.

Who is that girl?

Jay?

June?

Jamie!

Jamie something.

Shay’s friend.

Why would Shay dance with her?

Why not a boy?

“Nope!” I wanted to scream. “She chose me! Over Derik and Dunkin, Liam and Lyle. Me! I was chosen!” But I figured The Secret had priority over bragging rights, so I kept that to myself.

“I’m gonna get some punch,” Shay said, dropping my hand. “You wanna come?”

I shook my head, suddenly feeling as if I needed to be apart from Shay for a minute, not one with her. “Nah. I’d better meengle vith zee commoners,” I switched to a strange accent half way through.

She laughed, and headed off, and I realized, too late, that I was standing, by myself, in the middle of the dance floor, with a hundred pairs of eyes on me. I took a breath, fighting the urge to bite my nails. If I followed Shay to the refreshments, I’d look like an obedient puppy; if I stood here, I’d look like a lost puppy.

What to do…

John saved me.

He walked over, and took my hand. “Care to dance?”

I didn’t really want to, but I didn’t have another choice. “As friends?” I asked, seeing no point in breaking his heart later.

His face fell a little, but he kept his pride. “As friends,” he agreed.

He wasn’t a great dancer, but he could hold his own, and putting my feet in the right places was a wonderful distraction from what had happened.

I had danced with Shay.

Shay. Shay who smiled and laughed and looked like a princess. Shay who was tall, and popular, and had more influence in our school than all of the teachers combined.

Shay.

When I finished the song, I left John to go and get some food.

I loaded my plate with cookies and chips, and then walked back to the gym, where I sat on the bleachers, appreciating the moment. Couples danced and danced, so the floor was never empty, and I watched. Three boys approached Shay, one at a time of course, and I watched them as they asked her to dance (though I could not hear them over the music, I was so accustomed to the scene that I felt like I could see their thoughts.

“Hey babe.” They would say.

She would turn back to them, glance them up and down, then return to what she had been doing before, without saying a word.

“Did you hear me?”

This time she wouldn’t look. “Mhm.”

There would be an awkward silence as they would lose steam, their pint sized brains beginning to question the wisdom of approaching the Goddess of New Redmen High. Some would walk away then, but none of tonight’s brave souls.

“So…” They would begin. They would often pause a second to see if she was going to acknowledge their existence, and then, when she didn’t, finally ask, “do you wanna…” Often they would trail off at first, and then, when she didn’t grant them the mercy of finishing their sentence for them, they would start again, and say, “Would you, I mean- do you- I mean would you like- I mean could we-I mean… Would you…” Then came the last words, often so faint I had to strain to hear, even if I was beside them. “Care to dance with me?... Maybe?”

Then, she would look back up at them, giant blue eyes peeping out from behind long lashes, shyly laugh, curl a bit of snow-white hair around her finger once, twice, smile, and then lean forward just a little. I had seen it so many times before, I knew she had it down to a science. Finally, she would straighten up, turn around so fast that her waist length hair would snap them in the face, and say, “No,” with no form of explanation or apology.

Toight, her hair was up in a bun, tucked into a wig, but she pulled off the other parts of it without hesitation. It was always amusing to see the hope glittering in the boys’ eyes, how they would often lean in a little bit too, too lost in her charm to anticipate what was coming. I laughed, from my place on the bleachers, and ate, feeling content, until Shay approached me again.

Wow. She seems very… attached to me tonight.

“Hey. You seem very popular with the men tonight,” I flash her a smile. And then-

Oh my god.

I have never seen Shay cry.

But her eyes were wet.

Seriously. This is the girl who once broke her leg and got up, hopping to her phone to call her mom, all without shedding a single tear. I know because I was there, and I did cry, when I saw the blood. She thus deemed me incompetent, and got the phone herself. I’m not kidding.

For the count of six, she said nothing, and neither did I, I didn’t even know where to start. Finally, “Um, are you...okay?”

She took a breath, and shrugged.

“Wanna get out of here?”

She nodded, and offered me her hand, I left my plate where it was, for someone else to deal with, and wrapped my hand around her waist, and led her out of the gym.


We sat in my truck. I didn’t know what to do. I sat in the driver’s seat, not going anywhere. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

I was expecting her to shake her head, and gather herself before simply suggesting we go home. But she shook her head. “You know Amelia?”

I nodded. She was one of the gossipiest girls in the school, the Shay of the grade below us, possibly even more famous than Shay herself.

“She’s gonna ruin my life.”

I didn’t say anything.

“She has that gossip blog?” Shay added.

“Yeah?”

“She’s gonna say I’m…”

I had, like, no idea where this was going. Like, none. “What did you say?” I asked quietly.

“I told Gigi she looked hot.”

I laughed, suddenly understanding. “Dude!” I exclaimed. “That’s like, interacting with straight people 101!”

What.

On.

Earth.

Did.

I.

Just.

Say?

For seven years, I have been hiding.

And watching,

And dreaming about a day when I could say something like that.

But I never did.

Seven years of secrecy.

Seven years of hiding.

Seven years.

All done.

All gone.

I can’t believe I actually said that. I can’t believe-

After a half second of pause, during which all of this was flying through my head, I tried to correct myself. “I mean- I just meant that- I mean, I’m not- It’s just-”

Shay put a finger to my lips. “Don’t waste your breath, J. You’re really bad at hiding it.”

I blinked. “I...am?”

Shay shook her head. “Shhhhh. Don’t worry about that now.”

And then she leaned forward, and the next thing I knew, we were kissing.

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