Rainbow Boys and other novels
about love and friendship - for teens and adults
by Alex Sanchez
An Excerpt from Rainbow Boys:
Jason Carrillo walked around the block a third time, working up his courage to go into the brownstone. When he finally stepped off the curb to cross the street, a car swerved past him, blaring its horn. Jason leapt back and caught his breath. Shit. All he needed was to get hit and end up in the emergency room. His parents would discover he'd lied about going to the park to shoot baskets.
He shielded his eyes from the warm afternoon sun and watched a group of teenagers enter the building. He glanced at his watch. If he walked in late, maybe nobody would notice him. Then again, everyone might notice him. Maybe he shouldn't go in at all.
He'd read about the group for teens in his school newspaper the previous spring. He'd torn out the phone number and carried it in his wallet for weeks. Every so often he would unfold it, stare at the numbers, then fold it up again -- until one evening, when his parents and sister were out and he was home alone, he uncreased the scrap of paper and dialed the number.
A man answered: "Rainbow Youth Hot Line."
Jason slammed the receiver back into its cradle and jumped up. He couldn't believe he was actually going through with this.
After a while, his breathing slowed and he called again. This time he stayed on the phone.
The voice on the other end of the line was friendly and warm, not at all what he expected.
"Are you gay?" Jason asked, just to be sure.
The man laughed. "Of course."
Jason never imagined that someone could be gay and laugh about it.
He asked questions for more than an hour and phoned the hot line three more times during the summer, speaking with different men and women. Each of them invited him to a Saturday meeting. No way, he thought. He wasn't about to sit in a room full of queers.
He pictured them all looking like the school fag, Nelson Glassman -- or Nelly, as everyone called him. Even though a lot of people liked him, Jason couldn't stand the freak -- his million earrings, his snapping fingers, his weird haircuts. Why didn't he just announce he was a homo over the school loudspeaker?
No, Jason was not like Nelson. That was for sure. He had a girlfriend. They'd gone out for two years, since they were sophomores. He loved Debra. He'd given her a ring. They had sex. How could he possibly be gay?
He remembered the first night he borrowed his best friend Corey's van and he and Debra drove to the secluded lane by the golf course. A little shy at first, they awkwardly clambered in back and lay side by side. The sweat poured off him as he wondered: Will I be able to go through with it?
When Debra slid her hand beneath the elastic of his underwear, he panicked. "Are you sure you want to do this?" his voice squeaked. "I mean, what if you get pregnant?"
From her jeans pocket she pulled a condom. His heart raced, as much from fear as from excitement. Excitement won out. That night he made it with her -- a girl. Homos couldn't do that. Ergo, he couldn't be a homo.
Ever since, he and Debra had been inseparable. Every day at school they ate lunch together. At basketball practice, she watched him from the bleachers, twirling the ring he gave her on her necklace. Each evening they talked on the phone. Weekends they went to movies. Sometimes they borrowed Corey's van, other times they made love in her parents' basement rec room.
So why'd he continue to have those dreams of naked men -- dreams so intense they woke him in a sweat and left him terrified his dad might find out?
On those nights he lay awake, trying to make sense of his feelings. Maybe it had to do with what happened that time with Tommy and how his dad had caught them. But that had been years ago, when he was ten.
He'd turn eighteen in a few months. He needed to concentrate on his future -- bring his math grade up, finish senior year, get that basketball scholarship, and go to college. He didn't have time for some stupid Rainbow Youth meeting.
Yet now, on this September Saturday, after six months of carrying the yellowing ad for the group hidden in his wallet, here he was.
He crossed the street toward the brownstone and stopped to look at himself in a car window. He tried to smooth his hair, but the curls wouldn't cooperate. Shit. Why did he care? After all, it was only a group of queers.
Twenty or more teenagers packed the sweltering fourth-floor room. Some sat on metal folding chairs, fanning themselves. Others lay draped across threadbare couches, grumbling about the heat. A few sat cross-legged on a stained, well-worn rug.
Jason scanned the room for an empty seat. There weren't any. He was thinking he should leave, when suddenly his eyes met those of another boy. Smiling across the crowd was Nelson Glassman.
Jason froze. How could he have been so stupid? That little faggot would spread this all over Whitman.
Nelson fingered a wave, like they were best buds, then leaned toward a boy in a baseball cap and whispered something. The boy looked up, his eyes widening in surprise.
Jason blinked. Kyle Meeks? What was he doing here?
"Let's begin, please." A stoop-shouldered man standing in the middle of the room clapped his hands. "Would everyone find a seat? Yes, I know it's hot. Tam and Carla went to get fans. Find a seat, please."
Jason turned to leave, but at that moment Kyle came toward him, extending a hand.
Jason offered a sweaty palm. "Wha's up? I think I'm in the wrong place."
"Can you boys find a seat?" the man shouted over the noise of the group.
"Here," Kyle whispered, and grabbed a folding chair from the stack that leaned against the wall. Without warning, the entire stack started to slide. Jason reached out to stop them, but it was too late. The chairs hit the floor. Crash. Then, silence. All eyes turned to stare at him and Kyle. A couple of boys on the rug burst into applause. The rest of the group followed with hoots and whistles. Jason wanted to crawl under the rug and die.
"All right, all right." The facilitator waved his hands, signaling the group to settle down. "Boys, please take a seat."
Kyle turned to Jason, his face red from embarrassment. "I'm sorry." He turned to pick up the fallen chairs.
"Let me do it," Jason said. The last thing he wanted was for Kyle to knock over the rest.
Nelson came over to help. "Way to go, Kyle."
Jason opened chairs for Kyle and himself, then sat down, avoiding Nelson's gaze.
Nelson unfolded a third chair and wedged himself between them. "Well hello, Jason. Imagine seeing you here."
Jason had never spoken to Nelson during their three years at Whitman. He wasn't about to start now.
But Nelson was relentless. "Of course, I always suspected -- "
That was too much. Jason turned to him, but the facilitator clapped his hands again, and Nelson looked away, smiling, letting his words hang.
"My name's Archie. I'm today's facilitator. Let's go around the room and introduce ourselves by first name." As he spoke an older girl sitting beside him interpreted his words into sign language for two deaf guys sitting by the radiator. "If this is your first time here," the facilitator continued, "let us know, so we can welcome you. Kyle, you start, and we'll move clockwise."
Jason slid down in his chair, furious. The phone volunteers hadn't mentioned introductions. Kyle introduced himself. Jason still couldn't believe seeing him here. He hung with Nelson at school, but he looked so...normal -- the shy swimmer kid with glasses who always wore a baseball cap. Everyone kidded him about it, but he just laughed along with that goofy grin of gleaming braces. He's okay, Jason thought, in spite of knocking over the chairs and embarrassing the shit out of me.
The circle of introductions continued. It was a pretty diverse-looking group. Only a few of the guys looked as faggy as Nelson. There were some geeks. One college-aged guy named Blake could've been a fashion model. A group of blond preppies, wearing khakis and loafers, monopolized the cooler side of the room.
There were a lot of girls. When a girl with boxy glasses introduced herself, Jason could've sworn he'd seen her before. Then he remembered her picture from the Post. She was one of six high school seniors nationwide to score perfect SATs. When the paper interviewed her, she'd come out as a lesbian.
Across the room, a black girl and a white girl, Caitlin and Shea, sat on a love seat. Earlier Shea had exchanged glances with Nelson. At first Jason thought her gestures were about him, but he wasn't sure. Now the two girls were all over each other. Both were pretty -- not his idea of dykes. It was hard to believe they couldn't find guys to like them. He should get Shea's phone number, he thought. She was probably just confused, like him. Maybe they could help each other.
Then it was Jason's turn to introduce himself. He sat up straight in his chair and felt the tension in his shoulders. "My name's Jason. It's my first time here, but...I'm not..." His throat felt parched. "I mean, I'm just here to see what it's like. I'm not...you know..." Everyone stared at him while he tried to finish.
Archie rescued him with, "Welcome, Jason," and moved on.
Jason slid down into his chair again.
Nelson bounced up in his seat. "My name's Nelson, and it's my first time queer -- I mean, here." Everyone laughed, and he continued: "In my case there is no doubt that I most definitely am" -- He turned and grinned at Jason -- "you know..."
Jason wanted to deck him right then and there.
"Seriously," Nelson said, grabbing his backpack, "I want to announce that I have queer visibility buttons, courtesy of my mom and PFLAG." He turned to Jason again. "That's Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. My mom is vice president." He pulled the buttons from his backpack. "Lovely pink triangles, Gertrude Stein pins, and a variety of slogans. Here's one: 'My parents are straight and all I got is this lousy button.'"
The group laughed.
"Et cetera, et cetera. If you want one, see me at the break."
"Okay, everyone," Archie said. "Today we're going to talk about 'coming out.' What do we mean by that?"
Caitlin's hand went up. "It's when you stop hiding that you're queer -- or bisexual, or whatever."
A boy raised his hand. "I thought coming out meant the first time you do it -- you know -- with someone your own sex."
"That's when you come," Nelson said. "Not come out."
The group hissed, and the boy threw a pillow at Nelson.
Archie smiled. "Let's keep it clean." He motioned for the group to settle down. "Some people don't come out until after they've had sex for years. Others come out before they've had sex with anyone."
"Coming out means you're no longer ashamed to tell people," said Shea. "It's a question of liking yourself and feeling good about being gay."
One of the blond preppies crossed his arms. "I'm not ready to come out."
"No one says you have to," the facilitator reassured him. "Most people do it gradually. Take your own time, it's up to you."
Nelson turned to Jason and winked. "I've been thinking about starting a group like this at school, to help people who haven't come out yet."
Jason averted his gaze. The thought of a gay group at school was beyond belief.
"I think coming out is hardest with parents," said Blake.
Jason thought about his own mom. She already had enough to handle with his dad. And his dad would surely finish what he'd once started -- if he knew where his son was.
Blake continued: "My dad couldn't understand how I'd gone out with girls and then suddenly told him I liked guys. I think it's even harder if you're bi."
Jason stopped jiggling his leg. Bisexual? Maybe that's what he was. Maybe he didn't have to stop going out with Debra. Maybe she would understand. But...? His mind spun with questions.
Before anyone else could speak, two adults stepped into the room carrying fans. Everyone cheered and applauded. Over the roar Archie shouted, "Let's take a break and set up the fans."
Jason sprang to his feet, his chair scraping the floorboards. "I better go," he told Kyle.
Jason heard the disappointment in Kyle's voice and was about to answer, when Nelson broke in. "Don't leave yet. After the meeting we go to Burger Queen." He batted his eyelashes and smiled. "Just us girls."
Jason winced. He saw Kyle jab Nelson in the ribs.
Jason's fingers curled into a fist. He had to get out of there before he punched someone. "I need to go."
Nelson reached into his backpack. "At least take a button." He grinned. "It's a gift."
Jason shook his head, but Nelson shoved the button at him anyway. Kyle started to speak. Jason turned and raced for the door. He bounded down the four flights of stairs and burst from the building, cursing himself.
He'd have to brace himself for Monday. Nelson would no doubt shoot off his queer mouth at school. And if people at school found out...
Jason opened his hand and looked at the button the little fag had given him. It read: NOBODY KNOWS I'M GAY.
Kyle stared at the empty doorway. "I can't believe I was such a spaz, knocking the damn chairs over." He turned to Nelson. "And you! Giving him that stupid button. Why'd you do that?"
Nelson gave a contrite shrug. "I guess I screwed up, didn't I?"
Kyle glanced toward the door. "Maybe I can catch up with him."
In an instant, he raced through the door and down the four flights. When he reached the front stoop, he looked down one end of the street, then the other. Had the man of his dreams really shown up at the meeting? He searched every block around the neighborhood. Only after he was completely convinced Jason was nowhere to be found did he grudgingly board the Metro toward the suburbs. Crestfallen, he cursed Nelson all the way home.
* * *
"Kyle? Honey, are you okay?"
Deep in thought, Kyle had failed to see his mom kneeling by the front-lawn flower bed.
She grabbed a handful of tulip bulbs. "You look a little troubled."
Kyle watched her plant the bulbs in the newly dug earth, wishing he could tell her about Jason. Of course, first he'd have to tell her he was gay. She'd get upset and tell his dad. He'd make a federal case out of it. Guaranteed.
Kyle handed her some bulbs. "I'm fine. Is there anything to eat?"
"Cookies, in the kitchen. Be careful, I just waxed the floor. By the way, Dad has a surprise for you." She called after him. "Remember to wipe your feet!"
Kyle kicked his shoes off inside the front door and set them on the shelf for shoes. His mom was pretty obsessive about cleanliness. His dad sat in his recliner watching a football game. Kyle grabbed a couple of cookies. "Mom said you have a surprise for me."
His dad reached into his shirt pocket and with a flourish whipped out an envelope. "Ta-dah! Guess. Come on."
Kyle hated when his dad treated him like a kid. He was seventeen now. "I don't want to guess." He bit into a cookie.
His dad's mouth drooped. "You used to love to guess." He sighed and opened the envelope, revealing the contents like he was at the Academy Awards or something. "Tickets to the Redskins, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Just you and me."
Kyle said, "Great." But his mind was still on Jason.
His dad frowned. "Don't look so excited."
Kyle shrugged and started up the stairs. Didn't his dad realize there were more important things in life than tickets to the Redskins?
He sat down on his bed and took his cap off. He opened his nightstand drawer and pulled out his yearbook. He turned the dog-eared pages to his favorite picture: Jason, number seventy-seven, was racing down the court, intensity on his face, curls flying, muscles taut, sheer power in motion. The crowd was cheering in the background. The digital clock showed six seconds before the final buzzer. His shot had led the team to the state championships.
Kyle had met Jason on his first day of high school as he jostled through the crowded halls, searching for his homeroom.
"Hey, wha's up?" called a voice behind him. "You dropped your schedule."
When Kyle turned, the cutest boy he'd ever seen handed him his schedule and asked, "Know where room one twenty-eight is?"
Kyle's heart wedged in his throat, but he managed to cough up an answer. "I think it's this way." He led the boy down the hall and discovered that their lockers faced each other.
For the rest of his freshman year Kyle arrived at school early enough to greet Jason. His olive-skinned Adonis always waved a friendly "Wha's up?" but Kyle felt too shy to respond with anything beyond, "Okay, how about you?" He contented himself with stealing glimpses in the halls. Before long he'd memorized Jason's schedule, knowing the exact instant when he would turn the corner and pass by.
Since Kyle was little, he'd known he was different, though he couldn't explain exactly how. When other boys began to talk about girls, he never felt interested. But it was another story when they bragged about their erections and first ejaculations.
And while he laughed with classmates at fag and AIDS jokes, on the inside he felt ashamed and frightened. His one source of hope was the nightly news, where he saw images of gay people different from the caricatures of jokes. Gay soldiers battled in court for the right to serve in the military. Lesbian moms fought to keep their children. Protesters picketed Congress for AIDS funding. Even the grown men in high heels and elaborate costumes who laughed and paraded on Pride Day seemed anything but despicable.
Then in eighth grade he got braces. That made him feel even more like an alien. His mom tried to cheer him up. "Don't worry, handsome. Once you get your braces off, you'll have to fight off the girls." Whoopee. The image failed to comfort him.
Meanwhile, his dad nagged him to go out for sports. Kyle couldn't throw a ball to save his life, but he liked watching the Olympic swimmers on TV. So he joined the swim team, where he hid among laps in the pool and stole underwater glances.
He was just getting used to being called Metal Mouth Meeks when disaster struck again. The school nurse said he needed glasses. He came home from the optometrist's with wire frames sliding down his nose, retreated to his bedroom, and stared in the mirror. Between braces and glasses, he felt like the ugliest, most lonely boy in the universe.
Then he met Nelson. From the moment he first saw him in art class, Kyle knew Nelson was different. But when Ms. MacTraugh paired them up to draw each other's portraits, Kyle panicked and asked to be excused to the infirmary.
After school, Nelson tracked him down. "Let's get this out. You know I'm queer, I know you're queer. Get over it." He turned and started to walk away.
Kyle felt a rush, like he'd burst from the water after a high dive. He was no longer alone. "Hey!" he shouted.
Nelson turned back toward him. Kyle wasn't sure what to say. He'd called out on impulse, without thinking. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and tugged on his cap, stalling. "Uh, you draw really well. I mean it."
Nelson stared at him. "Thanks. My mom's a graphic designer. She taught me. It's not that hard, really."
Kyle stepped closer, even though he still felt a little nervous. "Really?"
"Yeah." Nelson smiled. "I'll show you."
Soon Kyle was spending every afternoon at Nelson's. They wrestled without dumb rules and did mud facials together. With Nelson, Kyle didn't have to pretend to be anything other than himself.
And Nelson seemed to know everything about being gay. He told Kyle about Alexander the Great, Oscar Wilde, and Michelangelo. He explained the Stonewall Riots and defined words like cruising and drag. He told Kyle about gay youth Web sites and introduced him to out music groups like Size Queen and Indigo Girls.
The most amazing thing was how Nelson talked about all this stuff in front of his own mom. She even subscribed to XY magazine for him.
"How did you ever tell her?" Kyle wanted to know.
Nelson lit a cigarette. "You kidding? She knew before I did. I'm her fucking cause."
Kyle thought about it. "And your dad?"
Nelson's face darkened behind a puff of smoke. "Never mind him."
When the subject changed to boys, Kyle confided he had a crush on a boy at school. He even admitted that he kissed his pillow at night pretending it was him.
Nelson took a drag on his cigarette. "What's his name?"
"Promise you won't tell?" Kyle hesitated. "Jason Carrillo."
Nelson burst out coughing. "Carrillo? Ding-ding-ding! Gay-dar! Gay-dar! Closet case. Big time. At least bi."
Kyle felt as if Nelson had just smacked him. "Shut up. He is not. How do you know?"
Nelson grinned. "The same way I knew about you."
Now Kyle thought back on it. Maybe Nelson had been right about Jason. But everyone knew Jason had a girlfriend. Last year they'd been voted Cutest Couple. This year Debra was running for homecoming queen.
Jason couldn't be gay. But then why had he shown up at the Rainbow Youth meeting? Maybe he was bi. But even if he was, Jason would never be interested in him. He'd probably walked in by mistake, like he said. But Kyle hoped he hadn't.
His mom tapped on the doorway of his bedroom, smiling. "Honey, are you sure you're feeling all right?" She raised her eyebrows. "I've called you to dinner three times already."
The high point of the meal was a phone call from Nelson. Kyle's dad picked up his knife and cut into his beef. "Doesn't he know not to call at dinnertime?"
His mom extended the receiver to Kyle. Without even saying hello, Nelson started talking. "Where did you go?"
Kyle turned away from his parents. "None of your business."
"Stop being such a drama diva! Come on. What do you want to do tonight?"
Kyle pondered for a moment. "Slit my wrists."
Nelson sighed into the phone. "Yeah, and after that?"
"I don't know," Kyle said. "I. Don't. Know." He slammed the receiver down and returned to the table.
"Sounds like you two had a fight," his mom said.
Kyle nodded tentatively and sat down.
His dad stabbed a piece of meat with his fork. "Why does he have to call you every five minutes? Doesn't he have a life?" His dad waved his wrist in the air. "Maybe you should develop some friends that are less, you know, that are more..." His hand took a nosedive and thudded onto the table. "Athletic!"
Kyle's mom glared at his dad and tugged on her ear. Kyle had figured out years ago that this was a signal for his dad to lay off. It usually took his dad a while to catch on, and tonight Kyle didn't feel like waiting. He grabbed his cap from the back of his chair. "Can I be excused?"
Back in his bedroom Kyle tried some homework, then scanned Jason's yearbook photo into his computer. He turned off his light and rolled over in bed. His mind drifted to images of Jason in the locker room of tenth-grade gym class -- his biceps bulging against his T-shirt sleeves, his butt framed by his jockstrap. Kyle wrapped his arm around his pillow and, smiling, fell asleep.
"I made you a tape of the new Pansy Division." Nelson held out a cassette. "Truly gorgeous."
"Thanks." Kyle slipped the tape into his pocket, hoping Nelson would leave before Jason showed up.
Nelson's face brightened. "You going to lunch?"
"Not hungry. You go ahead."
But Nelson didn't budge. He stuck a finger into his blond hair and scratched. "You still upset about Saturday?"
"No," Kyle lied. "Look, just leave me alone."
"I'm sorry, for the thousandth fucking time."
Kyle turned away.
"Fine," Nelson said. "If you're going to be a dick about it." He strode off.
Kyle didn't see Jason at lunch -- or for the rest of the afternoon. When the last bell rang, he sulked toward his locker. Maybe Jason was sick or, more likely, too embarrassed to come to school. Kyle tossed his books into his locker, then closed the door.
There stood Jason, clutching his red backpack across his shoulder. "Wha's up?"
Startled, Kyle pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Uh, hi."
Jason twisted his backpack strap in his hand and looked over his shoulder, taking a sweeping glance of the thinning crowd of students. "I kept stopping by here looking for you today." He cocked his head -- a caring look. "I thought maybe you were sick."
Kyle melted beneath Jason's brown eyes. "I'm sorry," he said, though he wasn't certain why he was apologizing. "That's what I thought. I mean..." He didn't know what he was saying, only that he was making a fool of himself. He shut his mouth and forced a smile.
"Listen." Jason swallowed and his Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. He looked left, then right, then straight at Kyle. "About last Saturday...I wasn't sure what kind of meeting it was."
Kyle knew it was a lie but nodded politely. What else could he do?
Jason continued, his voice low. "You haven't told anyone, have you? I mean, that you saw me there?"
Kyle saw the fear and shame in Jason's face. "Of course not. I wouldn't tell anyone."
Jason let out a sigh but then added, "You don't think Nelly -- I mean, Nelson -- will tell anyone, do you?"
Kyle didn't think so, but Jason's worry made him worry too. Abruptly Jason drew back, gazing behind Kyle. Kyle turned and saw Debra Wyler, Jason's girlfriend.
"Hi, Kyle." She gave him a sweet smile, and Kyle said hi back.
But Jason looked scared senseless. Kyle realized he'd better leave. "Well, I'll see you later."
"Later," Jason said, and smiled a forced, worried smile.
Kyle stepped down the hall, picking up his pace. He had to find Nelson and make sure he didn't tell anyone about Jason. He hoped it wasn't too late.
Copyright (c) 2001 by Alex Sanchez