February 1, 2008

David Sebastian Has A Secret

Actually, as chief gossipmonger at Beaumonde Academy, David Sebastian has a lot of secrets, but some of them are more important than others. Here’s a silly one: David thinks that nobody knows he’s gay until he tells them.

Which is just ridiculous, because David—with his soft voice, his slow flirty smile, and his large wet eyes—makes the overdressed and faggy Alexander look like a virile lumberjack.

Oh, and speaking of, let’s clear something up right now: Alexander is not, in fact, gay. He is undeniably a dandy, he has a personal style that’s elegant to the point of being almost womanly, and he may even occasionally be a “vicious little queen,” as Mr. Parker once described him in the Faculty Lounge. (Mr. Parker, himself a homosexual, was upset because Alexander had made fun of his socks.)

But he isn’t gay. In fact, ever since puberty, Alexander has shown a precocious affinity for heterosexuality. In seventh grade, he was caught making out with the daughter of a successful local entrepreneur who was a close associate of City Councilman Budd. To make matters worse, Alexander hooked up with the girl at her family’s own Christmas party.

The two were discovered in a Alexanderly dramatic fashion: the hostess of the party had told the other adults about a family heirloom she recovered during a recent trip back home, and led them into the supposedly empty guest bedroom where they found...oh, snap.

(Lillian, who was supposed to be on look-out for adults, decided in one of her periodic bursts of sadism to not warn the other two teenagers. This made Alexander angrier with his sister than he’d ever been, and he refused to speak to her for almost three hours.)

When the family got home that evening, their father was too upset (also: drunk) to do anything other than go upstairs to bed. But Anita Monroe-Budd kept Alexander up in the family room so she could glare at him a while.

His mother walked over to the couch, where Alexander had artfully flung his wool peacoat and scarf across the back. She fished through the pockets of the coat until she found a silver monogrammed case. At 13, Alexander didn’t smoke yet, but he always carried a pack of foreign-made cloves cigarette to offer adults.

Anita Monroe-Budd lit up and watched her son as she inhaled. This wasn’t the first time that Alexander had gotten caught being inappropriately straight.

“You know what? I wish, I really wish that what everyone said about you were true,” she said. When she didn’t get a reply beyond a cocked eyebrow, she exhaled slowly. “I really think my life would be a lot easier if you actually were gay.”

David Sebastian’s parents never tell him that they wish he were gay. His father calls David ‘champ’ and ‘stud’ and tries not to think about his brother-in-law, a bachelor who works in the publishing industry in Chicago and who has lived with the same roommate for 16 years. After all, sometimes this stuff skips a generation.

David’s mother, in an almost-heroic attempt to ignore the, like, totally obvious, tries to introduce him to the daughters of the women she goes to lunch with. Then, when things don’t work out, she tells these same women that David is just shy and a late bloomer.

In fact, David is neither of these things. From an early age, he suspected that he wasn’t like other guys. During seventh grade’s Christmas break—the same time Alexander was corrupting innocent girls in guest bedrooms—David used his natural lack of shyness to confirm matters once and for all. He wasn’t like the other guys.

The boy’s name was Eric Horton. They had met on a New Year’s Day movie trip for the children of his father’s employees and clients. Since there were kids of all ages on the trip, the law firm had rented out a theater playing a cartoon about a young English girl who follows a well-dressed but tardy rabbit into a fantastical world.

Only about half of the adult chaperones had actually shown up, and the ones who had were too hungover to care about much. So the older teenagers, bored by the kid’s movie, snuck outside to smoke pot or made out in the back rows.

David met Eric Horton in the lobby before the movie, and they had talked about skateboards and Ferraris while glancing at each other, smiling, and quickly looking away. When they went into the movie, Eric Horton ignored David and didn’t sit with him, so David spent the beginning of the movie staring at the back of Eric Horton’s head and clutching his own stomach. He curled his toes and released them. He was terribly thirsty.

All he wanted was for Eric Horton to turn around and smile at him. Then, a second later, he would pray that this didn’t happen. Finally, after twenty minutes of agony, Eric Horton got up and walked up the aisle with a slow sidelong look at David.

David breathed through his mouth and counted to a hundred. He started to get up, but he just couldn’t do it. He counted to seventy-five, then to a hundred again, and finally made it out of the theater.

Eric Horton was waiting for him in the men’s bathroom. David instinctively knew that’s where he would be, even though they could have gone anywhere else, like outside or the back of another theater. To David, a closeted 13-year-old Catholic virgin, it made sense: when you wanted to do something private, something dirty, something you didn’t want other people to find out about, you went to the bathroom.

They kissed for almost ten minutes. David held Eric Horton’s hair and his back and tried to think about what he was doing—this is happening...this is actually happening—but he was dizzy and nervous and all he could think about was that Eric Horton’s lips weren’t greasy from popcorn butter. In the books David had read, whenever teenagers kissed at the movies, their lips were always greasy from popcorn butter.

When they broke apart, Eric Horton leaned back on the edge of the sink and smiled at David. He took a tube of Chapstick out of his back pocket and slowly slid it around his mouth. David, who was thinking about how the phrase ‘weak in the knees’ is literally true, absent-mindedly held out his hand to take the tube. Eric Horton made a face.

“Ew, gross...I don’t share my lip balm.”

On the ride home, David showed his dad that he’d gotten a girl’s phone number. For a few weeks, he tried calling Eric Horton, but the other boy could never talk for long. During this time, David imagined a future world in which he would meet up with Eric Horton at one of the big malls outside of town, and they would kiss in the parking lot and then walk around the mall holding hands and then kiss in the food court with greasy pizza lips and finally Eric Horton would shyly ask David if he wanted to exchange class rings.

Finally, one day in mid-January, Eric Horton answered the phone and said, “Look, I don’t want you calling here anymore. I don’t like you and I’m not queer and if you keep stalking me I’m gonna call the police.”

David hung up the phone slowly and bowed his head. He bit his tongue and then hugged himself as the tears dropped off his chin and into his lap. The phone rang, and David grabbed at it like a life preserver.


“You’re a faggot!” Eric Horton yelled.

“Okay, now that’s just childish...” David started to say, but the line was already dead.

The next boy was named Billy Hayden. He was visiting his grandmother for two weeks and when he went back to Connecticut he never answered any of David’s email.

So began the endless pattern of David’s dating life:

1. Flirt with a boy.

2. Daydream about fun and romantic things they would one day do together and how when other people saw them together these other people would feel warm and maybe a little lonely because the two of them were Just. So. Perfect.

3. Get crushed.

4. Mourn.

5. Flirt with a boy.

He never has much trouble finding a new boy interested in destroying him. As you no doubt know, not all effeminate guys are gay and not all gay guys are effeminate, but in David’s case the musty sterotype fits. He might not be the most handsome guy in school, but he is certainly the prettiest.

David had been repeating this cycle for almost three years, and he still remembered each of their names: Eric Horton. Billy Hayden. Aaron Jenkins. Paul Barry. And so on.

But none of them—not even Patrick Weldon, whom David met when his family visited his Uncle last winter—have come close to hurting him like the love of his life: Alexander Budd . . . overdressed, faggy, totally straight.

When they were freshmen, an ascendant Alexander took David under his wing. He stopped people from making fun of his precise diction and dramatic expressions. He convinced David’s parents that David had a crush on his sister Lillian...and his sister might like him back. He tried to set David up with one of Beaumonde Academy’s other gay students, a junior who edited the yearbook. (It didn’t work out; see above.)

And Alexander would flirt with him! Lingering gazes, seemingly innocent touches...David was sure that Alexander had feelings for him beyond friendship that he was too nervous to express. David would stay up at night thinking about being Alexander’s boyfriend and how all it would take was a little initiative on David’s part, and then...

...and then...

...and then Alexander would act horrified and pull away and tell David to keep his hands to himself and later make sly jokes in front of The Gang that would make David feel like he was about to die.

(Then, a few days later, the flirting—and the pattern of David’s life—would start up again.)

The rest of The Gang love David because he’s a good friend who’s never doing anything so important that he can’t talk on the phone for three hours. He can always be counted on to tell them exactly what he thinks, too, because as we know he isn’t shy. Also, he makes excellent and fun mix CDs that aren’t nearly as obscure as Andre’s. And his house has the biggest pool of the bunch, and his parents are always more than happy to have The Gang—well, the girls, anyway—over for the entire afternoon.

No one in The Gang cares about David being gay. It’s mostly a non-issue, as David’s dad would say to a colleague. But for some reason that he can’t quite put his finger on, he feels that it sets him apart from his friends. This is David’s real secret: deep down, he knows that he’s different from the rest of The Gang.

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