By Jenna Teacake
Every afternoon, I go to the commons where Jess hangs out after school. I don’t go there to see Jess. I go there to buy blue Gatorade and white cheddar Cheez-Its from the vending machines before cheer practice.
But Jess is always there. She’s always sitting casually at the table by the window. Always sipping a bottle of water. Always wearing those baggy jeans with the chains on the side.
When I show up today with my quarters jingling in my purse, she smirks and says, “’Sup.”
I chuckle and reply, “’Sup to you too.”
This is how our fifteen minutes of playful banter begins. It’s our afternoon ritual, as predictable to me as the plot of Grease: my favorite movie of all time.
Jess is a freshman like me, which is surprising because she has the aura of someone much older and more confident. It’s something about the way she talks. She’ll make these snarky comments about my cheer outfits, and if anyone else were to sarcastically call my massive white hairbow “adorable,” I’d probably want to punch them in the face. However, the way Jess says it in her low, raspy voice…with her twisted little grin…well, it’s kind of exciting.
I guess it’s just nice to go back and forth with someone. I don’t have witty repartees with any of the cheerleaders, after all. They don’t talk to me much.
That’s why it’s so weird when our team captain, Megan, approaches me when I join the rest of the girls at our practice space in the hallway.
“Hey,” I mutter, setting my purse against the wall.
“Hey…” Megan looks me up and down and smiles, her eyes wide. It makes me uneasy.
“Are you friends with that Jess girl?” she blurts.
I’m not sure where this question is coming from. “Not really. Kind of. I don’t know.”
Megan glances to the side. When I follow her gaze, I see that she is looking at Jess. Jess is heading for the school’s exit, chains clinking, cello case in hand.
“You know that she’s… gay… right?” Megan whispers the word “gay” and giggles. It reminds me of how I used to say cuss words when I was in seventh grade.
Jess catches my eye then and gives me a quick wave. Something twitches in my chest. I make myself look away.
“Yeah,” I try to say lightly. “I know.”
A knowing smirk tugs at the corners of Megan’s mouth. I must be blinking too much—I always do that when I get nervous. I sit on the tile floor and begin to stretch, touching my toes so I can hide my face in my knees. I hope that Megan will leave me alone.
Unfortunately, she plops down next to me.
For a while, there is a restless sort of silence.
“So…” she finally starts.
I sigh. “So what?”
“Are you gay then?”
My pulse quickens. “Uh, no.”
She peers at me quizzically. “Are you sure?”
“I can’t be. I have a boyfriend.”
And it’s true. I adore Michael. We’ve been together for over a year now. He’s tall and dynamic with dark curly hair and a fiery kiss that I’ve written poems about at three o’clock in the morning.
And yet, my heart feels heavy.
“Oh, right! Sorry,” she says, looking flustered. Or relieved, perhaps.
“You guys are…cute together.”
She doesn’t mean this. She probably doesn’t even know who Michael is.
“Thanks.” I force a smile.
At last, Megan goes to talk to somebody else. I take a deep breath, unsure how to process what just happened.
No one has ever thought I could be gay like Jess. I should probably feel offended that someone would lump me together with her.
But when I think about Jess—her buzzcut, big boots, and blue eyes—I don’t feel offended by the comparison at all.
Jess is the only gay person I’ve ever met in real life. Before her, I thought gay people only existed in the fanfiction I sometimes stumbled upon in the dark corners of LiveJournal. Now that I know Jess—a girl who openly talks about pride parades and ex-girlfriends, a badass who cuts her hair short and takes up space—I’ve definitely learned more about the world. Maybe that’s why I like to talk to her so much. She expands my mind.
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to discover that you’re gay. Obviously, I’ll never know, since I’m attracted to boys. Maybe I should ask Jess how she found out. It would be interesting to learn about, anyway.
My thoughts are interrupted when our coach announces that it’s time to start the warm-up, which involves running laps throughout the school’s halls. I reluctantly oblige, standing up and starting to jog toward the social studies wing.
After a few seconds, I’m bored, so I create a movie scene in my mind.
I picture Jess walking through the hall in slow motion, holding another girl’s hand. I imagine that the girl holding her hand is a cheerleader, and she has long hair in a ponytail, like me. The two girls look so bizarre together because they’re total opposites, but somehow it just works. They’re just like Danny and Sandy from Grease… you know, in a universe where Dannyis a brash, black-clothed girl, and Sandy never abandons her preppy attire for a catsuit. As they walk by, other students stare at them, but Jess and her nameless, faceless lover do not care. They just smile and keep holding hands.
I don’t know why, but that image makes me happy.
Jenna Teacake is a bi educator and influencer. They are passionate about spreading bi positivity, reading, drawing, doing makeup, and snuggling with cats.