After his mom left, Joey and his dad hardly ever fought. His dad clung to Joey as the one who would never leave him and maybe Joey clung back just as tight. But last night they fought. They fought about his grades, his girlfriend, and football. They fought over Casey.
Casey started tutoring Joey about a month back, in math mostly. At first, Joey had felt so stupid being tutored by a sophomore, especially one who was young even for his grade. But Casey somehow took the sting of humiliation out of the situation. Casey was just so nice. He never tried to make Joey feel stupid and he cared, actually cared, about his problems.
And so Joey and his dad fought about Casey. His dad said he was spending too much time with Casey. Elle, Joey's girlfriend, has broken up with him the week before for the very same reason, but he didn't tell his dad that. His dad said Casey was bad for his reputation. His dad was just so proud of his big, football playing son. He was more worried about Joey's reputation than Joey was.
Joey told his dad to fuck off.
He then stormed out of the house. It was a six hour drive to his sister's university. He stretched the drive to ten. He had a lot to think about.
It was barely after nine o'clock in the morning when Joey pulled into the little restaurant where his sister worked. The place was sort of geared to the college crowd, with its mix matched furniture and its mostly vegetarian menu. It smelled good, warm and spicy and a little like weed. He felt out of place with his broad shoulders and high school football jersey.
He saw his sister before she saw him. She was joking with one of her co-workers behind the counter. A guy named Danny that Joey had met the year before when he was staying at his sister's apartment for a while. It was when his parents were divorcing and he stayed there a lot.
Danny noticed him first. Spinning around Tanya made her way towards him. The skirt that would not have been fashionable anywhere else but in a college diner flowed behind her. Tanya fit in anywhere.
"Joey, what's wrong."
He thought of making a joke about something needing to be wrong to come visit his only sister, but he was too tired. "Dad and I fought."
She stared hard for a second before nodding.
"I get off in a half hour. Do you want an omelet or something?"
"Got anything with meat?"
She shook her head, an almost smile tugging on her lips.
"Then get out of my face, you friggin' commie. I'm fine."
One of the reasons Joey loved her so much was the way she kept her cool. There was never any drama with Tanya. No matter how crazy things got with their family, and in their family things were always crazy, Tanya was calm.
She was done in just over twenty minutes and they headed back to her apartment. He was sitting on the couch drinking some fruity tea that his sister's roommate made. It wasn't bad.
He liked his sister's roommate. She was blonde and loud with tattoos up both arms. They were thrown together their freshmen year and fought constantly. Once a week or more, Tanya would call their mother complaining about the newest exploit of her crazy roommate. But they decided to stay together. Joey asked Tanya about it one day. She looked thoughtful and answered, "You know how you can't choose your family? Well, sometimes you can't choose you roommate either."
This didn't make any sense to Joey, but he liked it. They drove each other nuts, even still, but they loved each other. They would do anything for each other. Despite what his sister said, they chose this. He didn't know why that meant so much more.
Tanya sat on the coffee table in front of him. Laura was nowhere in sight.
"So, what's up?"
'Dad and I fought," he repeated. There was no more prompting there didn't need to be. He was spilling his guts, talking so fast he couldn't keep his words straight. He started with Elle breaking up wit him, Dad on his case, Mom never calling. He felt alone. His only friends were football buddies in small town America. They smelled emotional weakness and attacked. He talked about Casey, who was so involved in everything. Casey encouraging him to go to college and focus on something other than sports. Casey, who understood. Or at least cared enough to try. He wanted to tell her he thought he might be falling in love with his tutor, his male tutor. The thought scared him. He had never admitted it, even to himself. He couldn't tell her. He didn't fear judgment. But his realization was too new, too raw, to put into words. He didn't want to be gay.
"I'm just so stupid," he finished lamely with his fears that he just wasn't smart enough to go to college.
"You're not stupid, Joey," he was surprised that she was now next to him on the couch. "You understand things a lot better than you give yourself credit for. As ridiculous as it sounds you're growing up. It's not as easy as the movies make it seem, you know."
He was gay, this wasn't a phase. This thing with Casey was how he was going to be for the rest of his life. He felt sick, trapped. He didn't choose this.
"I have to go."
"Joey," Tanya sounded cautious. "Just stay here. It's a six hour drive. Call dad and just stay the night."
He was shaking his head, breathing harder. "I have plans with the guys, I have to go."
She was in front of him between him and the door. There was an almost four year age difference between them. She was bigger than him for most of his life. But now he was over six feet tall, 230 pounds of pure muscle. She was little by anyone's standards, but next to him she was tiny. It made him feel like he lost something.
"Joey, I can't let you leave like this."
"Get out of my way."
It struck him suddenly that she couldn't physically keep him here. But she could still talk him into anything. If he stayed she would know.
"Just go for a walk with me. Fifteen minutes. Please, Joey. Please."
She was begging. She lost the calm she was so well known for. When he was twelve, he would have given anything to make her lose her cool. Now he felt like everything he had ever taken for granted was being chipped away.
"Joey, you're shaking."
She wasn't moving.
"You don't have to talk to me, I promise."
He went for the walk.
Coming back Joey made the drive in barely more than five hours. He was exhausted. Almost dead on his feet. But he really did have standing plans with his football team and he had something to prove. He just didn't know to whom.
They were drunk. They were drunk and talking about Casey.
"Isn't he weird, Joe?"
He was more comfortable with this question. It didn't feel so much like betrayal when he answered yes. Casey was weird, with his too pale skin and bug eyes. With his geeky obsession with Star Wars and computers.
Joey froze, suddenly hyperaware of how he sounded when talking about Casey. He felt warm and sappy when talking about Casey. What if they could tell? What if they could see it on his face?
He went for nonchalant when he said, "The kid is such a spaz, and he has no interest at all in sports. Just his stupid, girly camera."
That wasn't too bad. It was true, but he didn't feel the disdain that his voice carried.
"God, what a faggot."
Stan and Gabe, the only two sophomores on the team, laughed the loudest. They always tried the hardest to fit in. He could no longer say how pathetic that was without being a hypocrite.
"You know, I bet he is a faggot. I have gym with him and I swear I've seem him looking at me when I undress," Stan said.
David Gorecki looked disapproving. He was another senior, and more mature than the others. He was a good friend and his only friend that Tanya could actually stand. He didn't want to think about Tanya right now.
"I thought you said he was pretty okay, Joe?" David interrupted the crude locker room banter.
Joey knew he needed to defend Casey and David had just given him the perfect opportunity. But he was feeling chaotic and lost. He has just come to terms that day with his sexuality. He couldn't take it if his friends, his dad, his town found out he was the faggot for little Casey Connor.
"That was before I found out he liked it up the ass." He almost choked on the words. He felt like crying, but the lump in his throat made his voice sound deep and dangerous.
David looked shocked as the other boys laughed. "Yeah, well, we'll get him on Monday. Don't worry, Joe, we got your back," someone said.
They would attack him because he was new, because he was different, because Joe Augustini said it was okay. Casey would never live this down and Joey knew he would do nothing to stop it.
He would get his reputation back, probably Elle, too. His dad would get off his case. But Joey still knew he would regret this conversation for the rest of his life. He lost something else.