“We don’t have to figure it out right now.” He looked around at the cars driving past us and the kids who were walking ahead of us. “I’m not asking you out yet because you don’t trust me yet. I’m going to have to show you that I’m serious about this.”
I didn’t deny that I didn’t totally trust him. I was glad he seemed to understand why.
“Why now?” I asked. “You’ve seen and heard stuff since you moved here. I know you have. You’re always around the team, and they’re some of the worst bullies in our school. You never said anything about it before now. So why now?”
“I was chickenshit,” he said. “Moving to a new place isn’t easy. You ever moved?”
“Fourth grade when my parents split up,” I said. “We used to live in Newton. My mom grew up here, so she knew lots of people.” And I’d had Holly backing up my attempts to make friends. When Holly told you to be friends with someone, you became friends with them.
“Right. So it’s easier in elementary school anyway, plus you had an in here.” He looked around again. “I’ve only ever lived in Brooklyn. I know Boston’s right next door, but this place ain’t Boston. It’s a small town. You wouldn’t even know the city’s right there just to walk around this place. It’s hard as hell to fit in somewhere like this. I was lucky I had sports to help, even though I couldn’t join any of the teams last spring. I didn’t want to stick out any more than I already did just by being the new guy.”
“So why now?” I asked for the I-didn’t-know-how-many-eth time.
“I’m not the new guy anymore. I’m the star running back on the football team, and people respect me.” He shrugged. “Yeah. I care what other people think. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do. So even though I’m not so worried about sticking out anymore, I’m still worried about them finding out I’m gay. You understand, right? I mean, it can’t be easy for you having everyone know. Not that I don’t admire you for being yourself. I told you I do.”
I didn’t answer. I needed to sort out everything he’d said. He admired me for being the target of bullies and bigots, and he didn’t want to end up like me. That was one possible interpretation. Or maybe he meant he admired me for being myself but didn’t have the guts to do the same.
It was hard to tell. And I was getting a little frustrated with the conversation.
“Let’s just say we’re friends,” I said. “Maybe that’ll be easier for both of us.”
“For now.” He glanced around yet again, then took my hand for just a fraction of a second. Long enough to let me know he meant it, but not long enough for anyone else to see. “Sometimes friendships develop like I hope ours will.”
We turned the final corner onto my street. My house was about halfway down, a white former Cape-style house that had been expanded into a two-family apartment building. Moe just stood next to me while I unlocked the door. Talk about awkward. I didn’t know whether I wanted to invite him inside, or whether he wanted me to. Usually the only person who came to my house was Holly. Sometimes some of my other friends. I’d never had a guy follow me home like this.
“I have a lot of homework,” he said. “Otherwise I’d ask if I could hang out here for a little while.”
That answered my question. And now I didn’t actually want him to leave. But it was probably better if he did, because if he went inside with me there would just be a whole lot more awkwardness and not knowing what to say to each other. “Yeah, me too with the homework. Thanks for walking with me. See you at school tomorrow.”
“And after school?” He looked at me as though he was afraid I’d say I didn’t want to see him outside school. My heart melted a little more, especially when he added, “I’d like to hang out after school. After practice, I mean. We should be done around six, I think.”
“Um, sure.” I wasn’t about to argue with an evening of not having to watch game shows with Mom. Mom wouldn’t mind. She never gave me a hard time about hanging out with my friends on school nights as long as I came home before nine. “I guess, like, text me when you’re done with practice and we can meet somewhere or something.”
“Yeah. We can talk about it more tomorrow.” He smiled, and for the first time I noticed a tiny little dimple just under the right corner of his mouth. I wanted to touch it but managed to keep my hands to myself. “Have a good afternoon, Evan.”
“Yeah, you too.”
He walked away. I went inside, closed the door, and leaned against it to catch my breath. The conversation had confused me so much I didn’t know if I had a new friend or a boyfriend or what, but I was looking forward to finding out.