“Okay, so if x is 15, than y is... wait, that's not right.” The need for so many math credits for an arts degree continued to befuddle Jack, even into the early days of his second semester. Then again, the university had recommended, nay, insisted that he take them, and without a clue what he wanted to minor in, it made sense to roll with it and see if maybe the subject appealed to him. So far though, no dice. “Oh, right, negative numbers cubed stay negative. There's the problem.”
“A college math book? And here I thought I was smart.” Jack's eyes sprang from the page, dragging his head along with them. Before him sat someone familiar, a person he knew from a simpler time.
“Oh my god, Maria?” A smile sprang to his face as his old schoolmate took the seat across from him at the table.
Maria smiled back at him. “It's good to see you too, Jack.” Resting her arms on the table, she looked right into his eyes. “It's been a while, hasn't it?”
“About two years now,” he answered, memories slowly streaming back in. The unfortunate reality was that said memories weren't all good ones, as his expression soon communicated. “Not since you transferred.”
“You can blame my folks for that. And my brother.” Maria smirked a bit. “Mostly my parents.”
Jack closed the book in front of him, leaving his assignment to hold his place. Homework could wait. Maria could not. “Yeah, I think you said something about getting sent to St Hallvard before you left?”
“My parents' brilliant plan to cure Rudy of being gay. And keep me from becoming gay.”
Jack snickered a bit at that. “Fat lot of good that did. I mean, you already went down that road with that Emily girl, right?” The sudden change to Maria's continence provided a subtle clue that maybe he'd stepped on a raw nerve by accident. “Sorry, I... I didn't think you were still kinda... you know what, I'll shut up about it.”
“No, it's fine. Although you're lucky I'm alone today, because only one of my other friends even knows about that,” Maria replied, although she then seemed to remember something else. “Or, wait, actually two, but only one of them knows it was Emily specifically.”
“Ooh-kaaay then,” Jack commented, somewhat puzzled by that comment. “So, I imagine you're not getting much action at a Catholic school then? Romantically, I mean.”
“Actually, I did find a girlfriend there.”
Jack had chosen the wrong time to take a quick drink, and soon found himself struggling momentarily for air. “Wait, seriously? Are you out now or something?”
“Uh, yeah. Funny story about that.” Maria smiled proudly as she recounted the tale. “It all kinda started with this really cute transfer student and my inability to handle crushes very well. To make a long story short, I declared myself, quote, 'a flaming dyke,' in the school cafeteria one day.”
Managing to avoid drowning on his soda yet again, Jack replied with a somewhat raspy, “You go, girlfriend!”
The dark-haired girl's smile darkened slightly, but remained on her face. “Well, it's not all great news. My dad is getting desperate to 'cure' his gay children.”
Jack's face darkened further and faster. “Tell me he's not...”
“You guessed it. He's looking into one of those ex-gay camp things.”
For a moment, everything stopped. Jack sat, dumbfounded, face blank, lost in his head. The things that were flying around in there may not have seemed so terrible from the outside. But that's the thing about emotions: The connections that each emotion has to any given event is unique to each person. And sometimes, it can take a bit of effort to get to the point of maintaining one's composure when a painful emotion comes creeping in unexpectedly. Two years. Two years later and it still screwed with his head.
“Jack, are you alright?” The voice of the girl sitting across from him reached through the fog.
Shaking his head hard from side to side, Jack snapped out of it. “Yeah, sorry, just... yeah.”
“I'd heard some things, but, I didn't realize...”
Looking off into space, Jack explained. “It's really the message behind it. It's like they're saying, 'You're broken, you're worthless, you're monsters, beasts, animals, sub-human because of how you feel.' But honestly, I was lucky.” Jack turned back to Maria and sighed. “The transgender kids had the worst of it.”
Maria swallowed hard. “I can imagine that being true.”
“In any case, I made it through, I dropped out of school, got my GED, lied my way to my 18th birthday, and sold some stuff I didn't really need to build up some savings.” Jack continued. “Sure enough, that was a good plan, since everything left that I owned was sitting on the doorstep about a month after my birthday. Must have seen those messages from Kelly.”
“I assume that Kelly is the current man in your life?” Maria mused.
Jack laughed a bit. “You know, I usually have to explain to people that Kelly is a gender neutral name.”
Maria smiled slyly at that. “Well, I don't have that problem at least. Chanel is pretty much exclusively a girl name.”
“Chanel, huh? Sounds a bit high class, but my guess is she's more the cute, feminine, down to earth type.”
Maria blushed just a little at Jack's assessment of her taste in women. “Anyway, what's your plan for the near future, Jack?”
Looking toward the ceiling, Jack laid out a vision of his immediate future. “I would love to do theater in the future. That's what I'm working toward, anyway.” Closing his eyes, the images of the stage and the crowd in the darkened void of the theater came to his mind. “I guess I'm still a dreamer at heart, Maria. I want to show the world what I see in the characters I play, and maybe even write a story of my own someday.” Looking back toward Maria, seeing her smile sweetly at the image he'd painted, he continued on to the end. “Beyond all of that, I want to prove to the people I've known that I can be myself AND be happy. I want to keep pushing forward as far as I can go, and live MY life, honestly. No matter what.”
Maria sighed and turned her gaze to the side, her eyes following the people who passed by. “Living honestly, huh? That's pretty noble of you.” She sighed again. “I wonder if I'll be strong enough to do that...”
“I'm sure you will, Maria. I'm sure you will.”
“Hey, you two, you live around here?” Jack and Maria quickly turned their eyes toward the voice. The owner of said voice was an unfamiliar guy with dark, short hair and olive skin.
“Um, yeah?” Jack replied.
The guy smiled a bit. “Great! Can you point me toward the bookstore? I'm kinda lost and I need to find my girlfriend and get back on the road.”
Maria, clearly a bit confused by the random request for assistance, pointed in the general direction of the book store. “That way, right side. Look for the cardboard standee of Kaminari.”
“The what now?”
Jack just sighed a bit. “Just look for the books, duh.”
The man seemed to take a moment to organize the information in his head. “Oh, right, of course. Sorry to trouble you!” He began to trot off toward his destination.
“Wait,” Maria called after him, causing him to nearly trip on his feet as he stopped and turned. “We never got your name.”
“Oh. It's Ian,” he replied.