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Cannonballs and Basketball

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It’s late on a Saturday night in the middle of August. Jake and Gina are hanging out in her bedroom, as they have been almost every night this summer. The window is open wide, letting in the hot Brooklyn air. Jake sits in the floor, leaning against the bed where Gina is sitting and painting her nails. A repeat of SNL is on the TV and Jake is paying close attention to each sketch, laughing obnoxiously loud at the jokes while Gina rolls her eyes and focuses on painting her nails.

During the commercial breaks, Jake flips aimlessly through the girly teen magazines that are strewn across Gina’s floor. Every so often, he stops to stare at some actress or singer he finds attractive. As he continues to peruse the magazines, he finds himself drawn into a photo of Jonathon Taylor Thomas and he feels butterflies in his stomach. He doesn’t notice Gina crawling across her bed until she’s right behind him.

“JTT, what a hottie,” she exclaims.

Jake jumps, startled by the sudden presence of Gina right behind him.  “What?” he shrieks.  

“I was just commenting on how hot JTT is,” Gina explains.

Jake thinks he agrees with Gina, but he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t even know what this means. Is he gay? Does being attracted to one guy make him gay? Are there maybe other guys he finds attractive too? He thinks about all the girls he’s had, or has, crushes on. What does it mean to find guys and girls attractive?

He realizes he’s been silent a little too long. “Hmm, alright, not really my type but, whatever,” he says, filling the silence.

“Sure,” Gina replies.

SNL comes back from commercial break and the host is saying goodnight as the credits begin to roll.  

“Can we watch Dirty Dancing now?” Gina asks, though she clearly doesn’t care about Jake’s answer as she’s already climbing off the bed, grabbing the movie and putting into the VHS player.

The next day, Jake and Gina plan to escape the summer heat by heading to the public pool. They try to avoid the pool, as most of their classmates hang out there, and they don’t really get along with the rest of their classmates. But, the heat has become so unbearable that they feel like it’s their only option if they want to stay cool.

They arrive at the pool early and claim two lounge chairs under an umbrella. Gina takes her time setting up her spot. Jake, however, wastes no time getting into the pool. He tosses his bag onto the chair, pulls off his t-shirt and runs over to the diving board, anxious to take advantage of the lack of a line. He climbs to the top, runs, and sloppily jumps off, making a huge splash as he enters the water. When he swims up to the surface, he is very aware of a pair of eyes watching him. He turns slightly and sees Matt Evans, the quarterback of the football team, sitting on the edge of the pool. Matt is laughing and Jake becomes self-conscious. 

“Nice cannonball,” Matt yells.

Jake has had a few classes with Matt throughout high school. Last year, they sat next to each other in biology. They occasionally talked about an assignment, though for the most part, Matt ignored Jake and Jake kept to himself.

Jake can’t tell if Matt is making fun of him or not and decides to just ignore him as he swims to the other side of the pool. He reaches the far end and hangs onto the side as he takes in the view. The pool has filled up with his classmates by this point. He spots Gina, still meticulously arranging her spot under her umbrella. He continues looking around and spots Matt again. Matt is looking at Jake. Jake feels his cheeks heat up and his stomach fill up with butterflies and quickly looks away. He dares to take another peak at Matt. They lock eyes and Matt smiles and winks at Jake. Feeling flustered, Jake pops under the water and then makes his way back across the pool. As he reaches Gina, he pushes himself up and out of the pool, silently making his way back to his chair. He grabs his towel and throws himself onto the chair, face-down so he can avoid having to look at anyone.

He lays face-down on the chair for several minutes, feeling confused. What is Matt doing? Is this some sick game? Is Matt making fun of Jake? Or is he flirting? Or just being nice?

“Hey Gina,” Jake hears and slowly turns over onto his back. There’s Matt, standing next to Gina’s chair.

“Hey Matt,” Gina replies.

“Jake…” Matt says softly.

“Sup,” Jake whispers.

Matt looks down at his feet. “Hey, a group of us are going to play basketball over at the court,” he says, gesturing to the basketball courts next to the pool “We need one more. You down?”

Jake hesitates, looking over at Gina whose eyebrows are raised. Gina offers no help to Jake other than a shrug. “Sure,” Jake finally responds.

Jake walks over to the courts with Matt, neither of them saying anything. They eventually reach the court where a few other members of the football team are waiting for Matt.

“Jake’s said he’ll join us,” Matt tells his teammates.

“Cool, now we have enough for 3-on-3,” says Luke, the running-back.

“Shirts v. skins?” suggests Todd, one of the linemen.

“Cool with me,” says Matt. “Me, Todd and Jake are skins, the rest of you are shirts.”

Jake already is shirtless, and watches as Matt pulls his shirt off. He’s intoxicated by Matt’s perfect abs and lean physique. He realizes he’s staring and quickly turns away, blushing.

They guys play a friendly game. Jake is slow to make a basket, doing better at playing defense. Eventually, he scores a three-pointer. Matt congratulates him by slapping him on the ass, which causes Jake to blush and feel those butterflies again.

When the game is over, Matt invites Jake to grab lunch with him and the guys.

“Thanks,” says Jake, “but I’ve left Gina alone all day, I should probably hang out with her for at least a little bit.”

Jake feels a surge of disappointment. He’s been enjoying hanging out with Matt and isn’t ready to stop.

“Yeah of course,” Matt says. Jake thinks he hears a tone of displeasure in Matt’s voice, but ultimately decides he just imagined it.

Jake begins to walk away as he feels Matt grab his arm. To Jake, the touch feels like electricity, and the butterflies in his stomach flutter harder and faster. Jake turns slightly to look Matt in the eyes. “Why doesn’t Gina join us?” Matt asks.

“Great idea,” Jake says, relieved, not yet ready to leave Matt for the day.

“I’ll save you guys a spot,” Matt says, smiling and winking.

Jake runs over to Gina and quickly explains that Matt and his friends on the football team have invited them to join them for lunch. Jake pleads with Gina to join them, though she already seems eager to join the guys.

They head over to the snack shack where the guys have already grabbed a table 

“Jake, over here,” Matt yells once Jake and Gina have gotten close. Jake’s heart jumps hearing Matt say his name. He barely hears Gina say that she’ll grab them a couple burgers; he’s already on his way to Matt’s table.

Jake takes a seat next to Matt. Matt’s deep in a conversation about the football team’s first game against their rival, a conversation which Jake has nothing to add to, so he just sits there silently, waiting for Gina to join them with their lunch. He’s half-listening to the guys talk football when he realizes that Matt has shifted closer to Jake on the bench. Their legs are now touching and Jake’s heart is beating 100-miles an hour, the butterflies in his stomach thrusting against his skin, begging to be released. He can’t help but smile. He looks down, not wanting everyone else at the table to see him smiling.

It’s not long before Gina joins the table with her and Jake’s lunches. She takes the spot across from Jake. Jake bites his lip to stop himself from smiling, an act that will definitely give something away to Gina.

Jake enjoys having lunch with Matt and his friends, but especially Matt. The way that their legs touch under the table, the way that Matt occasionally grazes his hand against Jake’s thigh, it’s like a secret between Jake and Matt. Gina is actively a part of the guys’ conversation, though she sporadically shoots Jake a look of suspicion. He wonders if she has any clue about what’s going on under the table. But how could she? How could she possibly know what Jake is feeling right now?

Jake is still sitting next to Matt, their legs touching under the table, when he spots Nicole, the Head Cheerleader.

“Matty!” Nicole yells. She runs over to the table as Matt slides away from Jake.

“Babe,” Matt replies, standing up and embracing her, kissing her on the lips. Jake watches their encounter and feels his heart drop through his stomach. He feels devastated about this new revelation about Matt. He blinks back tears in his eyes, avoiding looking at everyone, especially Matt and Gina.  

Without saying anything to anyone, Jake walks away from the guys, heading back to his lounge chair. He grabs his shirt and thrusts in on over his head. He grabs his towel and shoves it into is bag.

“Jake,” Gina says, running over to Jake.

“I want to go home,” Jake says, fighting back tears. 

“Yeah, let’s go,” Gina says, quickly gathering up her things and shoving them into her bag.

Jake and Gina walk back to Jake’s home in silence. He feels so stupid. This whole time, he thought that Matt was flirting with him. How could he be so wrong?

They reach Jake’s home and he stomps his way indoors and up the stairs to his room. He tries to slam his bedroom door behind him, but he’s stopped by Gina who has followed him home and into his room. Ignoring Gina, he throws himself onto his bed, now unable to hold back the tears. He silently cries into his pillow and feels his bed sink as Gina sits beside him. She strokes his hair not saying anything.

The tears eventually stop and Jake turns onto his side to look at Gina.

“I think I have a crush on Matt Evans,” he confesses.

“Girl, don’t I know it,” Gina says.

“I think I like boys,” Jake continues.

“Oh honey, I know,” Gina says calmly.

“But, I like girls too,” Jake confusedly admits.

“Yeah, hon, you’re bi.”

Jake looks at Gina confused. 

“You’re attracted to both guys and girls,” she explains. “I’ve known for a while. All summer, you’ve been looking at my magazines, just as intrigued by the men as the women.”

“How come you knew but I didn’t?” Jake asks.

“You’ve always known it, you just haven’t been able to admit it to yourself until now,” Gina clarifies for Jake. “And about Matt, he’s gay and totally into you. But, the pressures of high school and the heteronormative society that we live in will forever prohibit him from ever actually acting on those feelings.”

Jake says nothing as Gina embraces him. He nuzzles his head into her neck, grateful to have such an intelligent, observant friend.

“Just wait until you’re in college bro,” Gina says. “You’ll be getting so much D.”

Jake laughs and breaks away from Gina. “Thanks for being the best, best friend ever.”

“I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet,” Gina exclaims. “Now we can have so much boy talk. That’s really the only reason why I care that you’re bi.”

Jake rolls his eyes and laughs, thankful that Gina is his best friend.