Dancing on a Star
“But, Mom…” I moaned. I turned to flee the kitchen, but she promptly stopped me.
“Jack!” she shouted. “If you walk out that door, you’re grounded for a week!”
I stopped in my tracks. I knew she meant it. My mother isn’t one to make idle threats. If she said a week, it might be a month.
“Why?” I whined. “Can’t you do it?”
“I don’t have time,” she insisted. “I have to take your sister to her piano lesson.”
“You can do it when you get home,” I suggested. She gave me ‘that stare,’ and then she thrust the Tupperware container into my chest. Reluctantly, I grabbed it.
“I still don’t know why I have to do it,” I mumbled as I headed for the door.
My mother shouted out, “Tell them I’ll be by tomorrow to introduce myself and get the container.
I grumbled as I closed the door and headed down the steps, “I don’t know why she can’t do it tomorrow.”
Two days earlier, new neighbors were moving in across the street. The license plate on their van read ‘North Dakota, the Peace Garden State.” Since I hadn’t paid much attention in geography, I wasn’t sure where North Dakota was. I knew it had to be pretty far away from where we live in Ohio.
Since they had moved in, I had been watching to see who our new neighbors were. I have a basketball rim on the side of the garage, and I had spent a few hours each day shooting hoops and looking across the street. So far, I had only seen a man who waved to me once when he got in the van and pulled away.
Dad said he thinks he saw them when they looked at the house when it was for sale. He’s pretty sure one couple was driving a gray van like the one parked now in the driveway. If it is them, then dad says he thinks they have two children. One, a girl about my sister Karen’s age. The other was a boy he thought was about my age. So far, though, I hadn’t seen anyone but the father.
I made my way across the street as slowly as I could. I was still mad at Mom for making me take cookies to the new neighbors. She spent the past hour baking them, and the bottom of the pan was still warm. For a brief second, I thought of reaching in and taking one out to eat, but I was afraid Mom might be watching out the window to make sure I did what she was telling me to do.
As I approached the house, I noticed that it still looked empty. There were no curtains on the windows or furniture on the front patio. Most people in the neighborhood spend a lot of time on their front porches, so it was common to see rocking chairs or wood benches that greeted visitors as they approached the front door. They only thing on the new neighbor’s porch was an empty Snickers wrapper.
I rang the doorbell and then stepped back to wait for someone to open the door. I was nervous, but I really didn’t know why. I guess I was afraid that I might be interrupting them in case they were emptying moving boxes.
I waited a minute, and no one answered the door. I considered leaving, but I looked over and saw Mom looking out the kitchen window. I approached the door and knocked, just in case the doorbell didn’t ring. A few seconds later, a man appeared and opened the door. I stepped back because I wasn’t expecting him to be so tall. My Dad is tall, maybe about six -foot-two inches, but this guy beat him by several inches.
He looked down, smiled and asked, “Can I help you?”
I thrust out the container to him. “My Mom made you some cookies.” I turned and pointed to our house. “We live across the street.”
“Well,” he smiled widely, “that was a neighborly thing to do.”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied nervously. I still hadn’t gotten used to his tall stature. “I suppose it is.”
He extended his hand toward me to shake. “I’m Mr. Craft. And you are?”
I cautiously extended my hand to him. At sixteen, I hadn’t shaken many men’s hands. Most of the time, I fist bumped my friends when we greeted each other. “I’m Jaxson, Sir,” I replied. I then added, “But most people call me Jack.”
He shook my hand again and replied, “Well, Jack. It’s nice to meet you. And you can call me Stan.”
I grinned and responded, “Okay, Mr. Craft.”
He stepped back and laughed, “You’re a wise one. I think you and my son will hit it off just fine. I can’t wait for you to meet him.”
I gave him a puzzled look and asked, “Your son?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Tracy.” He scanned my body and added, “He’s about your age and build.”
“Is he here, Mr. Craft?”
“No,” he said. “My wife hasn’t arrived yet from North Dakota. They should be here in three days.” He turned and looked inside the house. “In the meantime, I’m roughing it until the movers arrive.”
I gave him a puzzled look and asked, “Roughing it?”
He laughed again. “I’m sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag.” He put his hands on his sides and stretched. “I can’t wait to sleep in my bed.”
I smiled and replied, “Yes, Sir.”
“Well, Mr. Jack,” he looked down, smiled and held up the box. “Tell your mother she is very kind for baking me these cookies.” He laughed and said, “Unfortunately, they’ll all be eaten by the time the rest of my family arrives.”
“Yes, Sir,” I responded politely. I gave him a wave, hurried down the steps and headed for home. Fortunately, my mother had left to take Karen to her piano lesson.
“Would you sit down!” I shouted. My best friend, Jimmy Taylor, kept walking over to the window, pulling back the curtain and looking over across the street.
“Why do you keep looking over there?”
Jimmy asked, “Ain’t you interested in the new neighbor?”
“Ain’t?” I tried to correct him. “You sound like a moron.”
He looked over at me and responded, “Aren’t. There, are you satisfied?”
I giggled and replied, “I’m satisfied my best friend isn’t a moron.”
Jimmy sat down on the bed beside me. “Didn’t you say his father said they should be here by now?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “He said three days, but that was four days ago. Why does it matter to you?”
Jimmy rose, walked over to the window and pulled the curtain back. “You know our basketball team is going to suck this year if we don’t get a center. If this new kid is as tall as you say his dad is, then he might be the person we’re looking for.”
I glanced over at Jimmy. He was the point guard for our dismal team. As a sophomore last year, the team had a losing season of 2-20. Jimmy was hoping for some new blood to help improve the team’s record this year.
Jimmy is a typical high school basketball player. He is athletic and six-foot tall. He struggles in most of his classes to maintain grades to keep him eligible to play. He has a personality that could charm a smile out of anyone. He lives a block away, and we’ve grown up together since we were in diapers.
Our freshman year, he tried to get me to go out for basketball, but I suck at the game. Even though I have a basketball rim in the driveway, my dad put it there more for Jimmy than me. I’m 5’7” tall, and on a good day, I may weigh 125 pounds. Not exactly basketball material. But for years, I’ve played one-on-one games with Jimmy to help him improve his game. Besides, he’s not that good a player, which is evident in our record last season.
We live in a suburban area and walk ten minutes to school each day. Most of our neighbors are older, and their children are now grown. There are a couple of classmates who also live nearby.
Jimmy is starting to date, but since he doesn’t have his driver’s license, he doesn’t go out too often. Girls usually turn him down when he says he will have to have his father drive him to their house to pick them up. He is trying to get me to find a girlfriend, so we can double-date, but I don’t have my license either. Besides, I’m really not interested in finding a girlfriend, so it is a convenient excuse.
I don’t have any problem with girls, other than I don’t really want to date one. They might get the wrong idea and want to go steady. In high school, going steady usually means kissing and sometimes heavy petting. Then heavy petting leads to something more serious. I guess you get the picture.
So, if you’re wondering if I don’t want to date because I’m gay, then you might be right. Only I’m not out- to anyone. Not even Jimmy knows. I thought about coming out when I was in the seventh grade, but around that time, Jeff Munson decided to tell his best friend, Jason, that he thought he was gay.
It took about three hours for Jason to tell everyone in our class what Jeff had said. I knew for a while that I might be gay, but I didn’t know what that really meant. I really hadn’t thought about it in terms of sex. All I knew was that I was attracted more to guys than girls. I would much rather have spent my day shooting hoops with Jimmy than going to a movie with a girl.
But when Jason told everyone that Jeff was a fag, his word not mine, I quickly learned what being gay really meant to others. The other guys used words and described sex acts that two guys do. I was embarrassed by some of the things they said, so I know Jeff was horrified. He missed school for a week. When he did return, he was a different kid than we had known all our lives. He went into a shell, and he didn’t talk to anyone. And the cruel thing was that no one made any attempt to talk to him anymore. I felt really sorry for him. I also felt guilty because I knew I should have said something to him, to let him know he was still my friend, but peer pressure has a way of stopping you. I knew if I still talked to him, I would be branded gay. And I just wasn’t ready to do that. I saw what it did to Jeff.
He’s still in our class, and a few girls talk to him, but the guys don’t. I guess by now most of us have kind of accepted it. Occasionally, a guy will say something to get a laugh, but most of the time we just leave him alone.
Jimmy walked over to the bed and looked down at me. The bed was strewn with papers from a homework assignment I was working on for English Lit. “I think I’m going to go,” he announced. He reached down and examined one of the papers I was working on. “Hey, cool,” he grinned. “You’ve saved me a lot of time. I’ll just copy this on the bus in the morning.”
“I’m not going to let you copy my paper,” I protested.
He gave me a mischievous grin and said, “Yes, you will, Jack. You always do.” He then left the room.
That is my best bud, Jimmy.
* * * * * *
My mother was pacing around the kitchen preparing breakfast when I got up. School had just started a month earlier, but I was already tired. I heard last year that our junior year will be the most difficult. Teachers try to cram as much work on us as they can before we become seniors and senioritis hits. I was getting tired of spending two hours a night on chemistry, geometry, government and literature assignments. I was also taking French III which gives me a lot of trouble. If I can get a passing grade, I am satisfied. Besides, I have no intention of ever going to France. After watching all the terrorist attacks in Europe on the news, I have decided I won’t leave the United States. However, some shootings here lately don’t exactly make me feel secure.
My mother walked over and set a plate of waffles in front of me. “Wow,” I exclaimed as I picked up a waffle with my fork and examined it. “You sure it wasn’t a problem making these.” I laughed when she swatted me with the dish towel.
“Just be glad for toaster ovens,” she replied. “Surely you don’t expect me to make you waffles from scratch.”
I got hit again when I responded with a laugh, “You would if you loved me.”
“You would if you loved me,” she replied, “make me breakfast. After all, I’m the one who has to go to work in the morning.”
“You’re a secretary,” I giggled. “Now going to school, that’s real work.”
“Oh, Jack,” she pretended to swoon. “You, poor boy. Just to think you’ll have to graduate some day and live an easy life.”
Just then my father entered the kitchen, followed by my sister, Karen. He asked, “What are you two going on about?”
My mother walked over and put her hand on my back. “Our son was just telling me how easy we have it while he has to go to school and work hard.”
“Let me call my crew and give them the day off,” my father responded. “I’m sure they will appreciate that.” Dad owns a landscaping business and has thirty employees. I know most of them since I have worked odd jobs with my father during the past two summers. I hate it because the work is hard and we are outside in the sun during the hot summer months.
I grinned and said, “That’s a good idea, Dad. Maybe I can drop out of school, you know, since it is so hard, and take it easy and work with you.”
I could tell by the look on his face he was getting ready to say something smart, but he was interrupted by my mother. “Oh, look! The new neighbors have arrived.”
My sister and I jumped from the table to look out the window. A large moving van had pulled up out front, followed by a blue car. A woman was driving, and a young boy was in the passenger’s seat. A younger girl was removing her seat belt and getting out of the back seat.
“Oh, good!” squealed Karen. “She looks like she’s my age. Maybe we can be friends.”
I watched as the woman exited the car. She appeared to be about my mother’s age. I was pretty sure my mother was thinking the same thing that Karen was. Maybe she was going to have a new friend.
I then watched the boy get out and stand beside his mother. I thought, ‘Jimmy’s going to be disappointed.’ He was shorter than his mother- and me.
I was sitting at lunch with Jimmy and a couple other friends. The cafeteria was buzzing with excitement. It was Friday, and the football cheerleaders were leading everyone in a cheer. Tonight, we were playing a game against our archrival. Everyone knew we didn’t have a chance, but we still liked to celebrate.
When the noise died down, I looked over at Jimmy and grinned. I loved being the bearer of bad news. “I saw our new neighbor this morning.”
Jimmy stopped eating and asked excitedly, “And? Basketball team material?”
“Nope,” I laughed. “More like chess team.”
“Damn,” moaned Jimmy.
From the brief look this morning, the new kid didn’t look very big. I think his father said his name was Tracy. I couldn’t remember. From a distance, he looked not much taller than me. Of course, that didn’t mean he couldn’t play basketball. After all, not everyone is over six foot tall. He did look athletic, though.
One thing I noticed, and I didn’t want to say anything to Jimmy, was how graceful he walked when he left the car and approached the house. I don’t know, he seemed to almost float. Even my mother mentioned how ‘pretty’ he walked. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that.
Jimmy looked over and said, “Maybe he can be a guard, as long as he doesn’t want to be a point guard.”
Brian Michaels, who was sitting beside Jimmy started laughing. “I hope so. We could use a good point guard. Ooomph,” he groaned when Jimmy elbowed him in the stomach.
“I’m not that bad,” protested Jimmy.
Tyler Caldwell, who was sitting beside me, added, “You’re not all that good either. Just look at our record last year.”
“Well,” grumbled Jimmy. “We need a center.”
Brian laughed and responded, “We need a center, a guard, a couple of forwards. Oomph,” he groaned again as Jimmy elbowed him again in the stomach.
Just then, the bell rang ending the lunch period. As I was walking out of the cafeteria, Jimmy ran up beside me, wrapped his arm around my shoulder and asked, “What do you say we go meet this new kid after school? Maybe we can talk him into going to the football game tonight.”
“I guess,” I replied. Since he would probably be starting school with us on Monday, we might as well meet him and introduce him to some of our friends.
* * * * * * *
Jimmy kept walking over and peeking out the window as our neighbors removed boxes from the moving van. Two men who had driven the truck up, was taking out the heavy furniture.
It appeared as if they still had half the van to unload. I walked to the window and looked over as the new kid was removing a ten-speed bike.
“Hey, cool,” remarked Jimmy. “Nice bike. I wonder if he’ll let me ride it?”
“You already have a bike,” I reminded him.
“Yeah,” Jimmy replied as he watched the kid place the bike on the front porch. “His looks better than mine, though.”
“That’s because you’ve had yours since your twelfth birthday,” I said.
Jimmy turned and asked, “You wanna go help them unload?”
I looked over at the clock. “Don’t you have to head home so you can go to the game?” It was after five, and the game started at seven. Even though he didn’t play football, Jimmy still liked to go early to support the team as they practiced on the field.
“Then why don’t you go over,” suggested Jimmy, “and see if he wants to come to the game tonight?”
“I’ll think about it,” I replied as he flipped me off and left the room. I returned to the window to see what was going on across the street. Jimmy headed down the sidewalk to his house, looked up at my window, laughed and flipped me off again.
I watched the family as they unloaded the moving van. It appeared that most of the furniture had been unloaded, and now all that remained were boxes. I froze when the boy came out of the back, stopped and looked up at me. Our eyes met briefly before I pulled the curtain closed.
“Damn,” I muttered to myself. “He probably thinks I’m a weirdo for watching them.” I cautiously pulled back the curtain. The two moving guys were carrying a heavy box into the house.
I debated whether I should do what Jimmy suggested and go across the street, introduce myself to the new kid and invite him to the football game. If I was a little braver, I would have. However, I’m not as outgoing as Jimmy. I can talk when people talk to me, but it is hard for me to start a conversation. I don’t know why. No one else in my family has trouble having a conversation with a stranger. In fact, my mother could go into the grocery and have a conversation with anyone. Once, she talked to a woman so long in the dairy department that the ice cream in our grocery cart melted onto the floor.
Suddenly, I noticed my father walk off the porch and head across the street. He shook hands with Mr. Craft, and they talked for several minutes. My father kept pointing to our house, so I was pretty sure he was inviting him to visit us sometime.
My father walked away and headed toward our house. A minute later, I heard him holler up the stairs. “Jack!” he shouted. “Can you come downstairs?”
I rushed over to the mirror to check my hair. I don’t know why, but I did. I figured my father probably wanted me to go across the street, and I wanted to make sure I looked presentable. I sniffed my underarms to make sure I didn’t smell. I hadn’t changed shirts since coming home, and I had been sweating most of the day.
I hurried down the stairs, stopped at the bottom and asked Dad, “What do you want?”
He smiled and replied, “I want you to go with me over to the Craft house and help them move a big cabinet in the kitchen.”
“Why can’t the movers do it?” I asked.
“They can’t,” he informed me. “Something about it not being in the contract. They can’t move furniture that they didn’t bring into the house.”
“That’s stupid,” I said. “It wouldn’t hurt them to move it.”
My father placed his hand on my back and pushed me out the door. “It won’t hurt you to help Mr. Craft move it.”
The house was cluttered when we entered. I had been in it many times before the Richmonds sold it. Mrs. Richmond was one of my mother’s best friends. She was heartbroken when they moved away.
When we entered, my father hollered out, “Stan?”
A man in the dining room yelled out, “In here, Jerry!”
I followed my father into the next room. Mr. Craft and his son were standing looking at a large cabinet. Mr. Craft turned and smiled when he saw me beside my father.
“Jack,” he said as he extended his hand for me to shake. “Nice to see you again.” He turned, grabbed his son’s arm and pulled him toward me.
“I want you to meet my son, Tracy.”
I threw up my hand and waved, “Hey.” I wasn’t sure if I shook shake his hand. It just wasn’t something my friends and I did. Usually we would fist bump or just nod our heads when we met.
“Hi, Jack.” He looked down at the ground, and then lifted his head and stared into my face.
“Damn,” I thought. “Green eyes!”