The Age of Innocence

Chapter 7

It was obvious to me that Micah wasn’t nearly as uptight as I was. He could joke about things I couldn’t joke about in a month of Sundays. How could he suggest eating lunch together was a date? Looking at him when he said it, I couldn’t see even a hint of mischievousness. He wasn’t flirting, either. He was just having fun. I had the uncomfortable thought that if he was straight, it would be easy to laugh about a date, and the opposite would be true if he were gay.

On a different track, I wished I could meet him halfway in just having fun, but the impact his physical presence was having on me was causing such an effect that having casual, loose fun didn’t seem possible. He and I weren’t on a level playing field. I could get lost just staring at him while he was playing and laughing. At some point, he was sure to notice my goggle-eyed absorption in him. Yeah, wouldn’t that be a hoot! I’d be exposed like a . . . well, like a boy in a shower with a hard-on.

Like right then. He was arranging the plates on his tray as he picked them up from the serving shelf into some sort of symmetrical arrangement and seriously concentrating on it. His tongue tip was protruding just a smidgen from the right corner of his mouth, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Little things like that, and he was doing them all the time; they drove me crazy. Twisting some of the gorgeous mess that was his hair. Scratching his elbow. How could scratching your elbow be sexy? It was with Micah. If he did it, it was sexy. Trust me. It was.

I had to relax. I had to just enjoy his company like any other boy just at the beginning of a friendship. But man, that was hard!

Speaking of which . . . but no, I wasn’t. Just lucky. Could have been. Wasn’t.

“Grab a table, and I’ll join you,” I said, doing the best I could by simply ignoring his dating comment.

I didn’t know how I’d do holding a conversation with him but knew I had to try. So, when I sat down with him, I asked, “What did you do at your old school? On any teams? Any activities?”

He didn’t answer right away. He was studying my lunch selections. I glanced down and saw why. I’d been thinking about how these next few minutes were going to go and hadn’t paid any attention to what I was putting on my tray, just grabbing stuff and moving on, eager to join him. So I saw my lunch consisted of a bowl of plain red jello, a bowl of green jello with slivered carrot pieces in it, a three-bean salad with Italian dressing and a brownie with peanut butter frosting.

“That’s what you get for lunch?” he asked.

Now what? I had to think fast. “What’s wrong with it?” I managed. Go on the offensive; that’s how to get off the hook. “Very healthy, don’t you think? Creative, too!”

“That dessert makes up for all the calories you’re missing by not having the lasagna or the cheeseburger. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess. Lime jello with carrots?” He made an ugh sort of face, then laughed.

Micah certainly had a sense of humor. I liked that. But then, I liked everything about him.

I took a spoonful of green jello, put it in my mouth, winced, then swallowed. I had to swallow as he was staring at me with humorous disbelief dancing in his eyes. “Teams? Activities?” I repeated.

He took a bite of his cheeseburger, chewed, swallowed, and said, “Oh, man, this is great! Good eats here. I’ll probably skip the jello, though. Make sure some’s left for you.” Then he laughed again.

I was going to repeat my question. Hey, it was a good starting point, but asking three times would be too much. Instead, I made a game of cutting the red jello into smaller bite-sized pieces, none of which I ate.

He was about to take another bite, but paused and said, “I’m not into athletics. Not coordinated enough.”

“You looked fine running.” That was my contribution.

“Yeah, but anyone can run. But I was involved in something at my other school. Choir. I liked it. Problem is, my voice will start breaking soon. Not yet, but soon. I’m sure it will. But so far, it hasn’t, and I like singing. I sang high solos at my other school. But for street cred, maybe I should skip doing that here. I think it’s okay when you’re twelve to sing those parts. Starts to get iffy at thirteen.”

Dammit! There was another sort of gay-dissing remark. Or maybe not. Maybe it was just a new kid wanting to fit in remark. And as a matter of fact, I really didn’t think I was gay, either. Simply in heavy, heavy crush mode for a boy. I hadn’t worked out the labels yet.

“Choir, huh. We do have one here, a pretty good one. I’m not in it, but we all were at a performance they gave at an assembly last year. The director’s name is Haliday. Miss Haliday. You should go talk to her. They rehearse after school, just like a club.”

He looked a little uncertain. I knew that look. A lot of us have it now and then. He was perfectly comfortable talking to me. But he hadn’t been with the coach in Gym, and he now looked like talking to a teacher he didn’t know at all wasn’t something he wanted to do.

An opportunity! I wanted to spend time with him. What better way than to join in something he’d be in. Why couldn’t I join the choir? The fact I didn’t sing shouldn’t matter much. She had to have a bunch of openings as all last year’s eighth graders would now be in high school, the ninth grade, and unavailable. She’d probably love us to show up, especially if Micah was a soloist.

Should I tease him about being shy with adults? Not if I wanted him to like me! So I didn’t. “I’ve never sung before, Micah, but if you’d like, I’ll go with you to meet her, and I’ll even join, too, so you’ll know someone there.”

He smiled, happy at the idea but then gave me a quizzical look. “Why would you do that?”

“Why not? It sounds like fun.”

“You’ve never sung? Do you even read music?”

He made that sound like a big deal. “How hard can it be?” I said, mostly serious.

He laughed again. I loved his laugh. Just wished it wasn’t directed at me so much.

≈≈ ≈≈

Miss Haliday was a very attractive young lady. This was her second year of teaching; she’d been brand new last year. A lot of the boys had crushes on her. She had long, blonde hair and a good sense of humor as well as a very pretty face with lively eyes, but she knew how to keep boisterous middle-school students in line, or ‘on task’ as she called it when she was monitoring a study hall.

We went to her room after school the next day and asked her about joining the choir.

“Wonderful!” she said. “What I need is more boys. Either of you have any choir experience?”

I looked at Micah. He seemed more vocal than I was, and as choir was his thing, figured he should go first. Even if he didn’t like talking to stranger adults. I was just support backup. He should do the talking.

“Yes, Miss Haliday. Do you play piano? You probably do.”

“Of course.”

Micah smiled. “Great! Here’s some piano music.” He handed her the music he’d brought to school knowing he was going to audition that afternoon. He’d told me it was the piano part for Gounod’s Ave Maria, that it was an arrangement of a piece from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, and that he was going to sing it with her as an audition. He said to her, “If you play this, I’ll sing with you. It’s best played adagio.”

She glanced at the music, then at him, and her eyes seemed to get bigger. “Sure, I can play this. You can—?” She stopped abruptly, then continued, saying, “You ready? Right now? No warmup or anything?”

“No, I’m all set.”

She moved to the upright piano in her music room and sat down, laying the sheet music on its music rack. She looked at Micah, who moved so he was standing beside the piano and nodded. She began to play. The piece began with a series of single notes repeated in groups of eight, gently rising and then rising again. Even with Micah waiting to come in, the sound was beautiful and made we wonder what was coming, because the notes were very obviously leading to something.

They were leading to Micah’s entrance, and what happened then almost caused me a severe case of lockjaw. That was because my mouth dropped open and stayed that way pretty much forever—at least till the song ended. I was stunned. Flabbergasted. I’d never heard anything so beautiful, so moving, so soulful in my life. I couldn’t imagine such a thing even existing.

Micah appeared to be almost glowing while singing it. His eyes lit up like they were seeing something mystical, something heavenly in the distance that he could almost reach with his hand if he tried. Angelic. That was a word that fit him just then. The mood in the room felt different from what it had been only moments before; Micah’s voice was transforming the schoolroom into a cathedral.

His part covered a huge range of pitches, and when, near the end of the piece, he hit a note I couldn’t imagine him able to sing, a pitch so high I wondered if was reachable by any of the girls in the choir, he not only reached it but sang it perfectly in tune, clear and shining.

Miss Haliday kept glancing at him as she played, back and forth from him to the music to him. She had a look of wonder on her face.

Micah held the last note, sustaining the ‘-men’ part of ‘amen’ and his voice grew softer and softer as it faded away. I had visions of it floating upwards carried by angels. And I’m not a bit religious!

The room was absolutely silent for a few moments. Then Miss Haliday shook her head, stood up, and said, “I’m not supposed to touch students. That’s drummed into us in education classes and hiring interviews. But I’ve never wanted to hug someone so much in my life.”

Micah seemed entirely unchanged by the entire performance. He was still Micah. He grinned at Miss Haliday and said, “That’s okay. Best if you don’t. We don’t want Scottie getting jealous.”

Well, that certainly cured my lockjaw. I snapped my teeth together so hard I was surprised I didn’t chip any of them.

Micah was looking at me and laughed. His patented laugh. “Gotcha!” he said. “The look on your face!” Then he roared. Miss Haliday’s look of wonder turned to something like bewilderment. I guess she was seeing a boy she’d just witnessed singing like an angel now acting his age, looking for all the world like an impish thirteen-year-old, and she was having trouble understanding the rapid transformation.

This was just another time he’d almost flirted, kinda teased about being gay. But not about himself. No, he was teasing that I was gay. Me! And he had zero reason to think that. But then, perhaps he didn’t think that, and so, assuming I was straight, that was where his joking was coming from. Aargggh!

I was so confused! No question about that. However, I was still feeling chills from having heard him sing. Miss Haliday was, too, obviously.

She sort of shook herself, then looked at me. “Can you do what he just did?” she asked, a hopeful note in her voice.

“Not in a hundred years,” I said. “I’ve never sung in a choir before.”

“Well, let’s see how good a listener you are, then. Half of singing in a choir is being able to listen to the voices around you and match them not only in pitch but in character, too. I’ll play a scale on the piano and would like you to match each pitch as I play it. I’ll start on the G below middle C.”

She hit a note. I was supposed to match the pitch. Well, it didn’t cost me anything to try. I’d never done this before. Of course I’d sung in the shower. Who hadn’t? The echoey effect makes it sound like you’re opera-talented. But I hadn’t sung much at all outside my bathroom.

Maybe I should strip down. Yeah, that’d work. Maybe they’d forget to listen to my voice. Maybe she’d call the cops and I wouldn’t have to sing at all.

She hit the note again and looked at me. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, as I heard on a British comedy show on TV. I guess that meant that if I was going to do this, I might as well do it the best I could. What did I have to lose? That’s what my mom said it meant, anyhow.

All I had to lose was a place in the choir with Micah, and putting it that way, it was a big deal for me. So I tried my hardest. I sang a pitch I assumed would be close to hers, and when I heard it was a bit too low, raised it so it matched her note. She nodded and played the next note higher in the scale. That was easier to match as I already had the foundation note and only had to raise the pitch slightly. I did that without much fumbling at all this time.

She continued on up what she said was an octave, and I thought I matched the pitches pretty well. When I was done, she smiled at me. “That was very good for someone who’s never tried that before. You’ll have a lot to learn, but I detect some potential in you. If you want to put in the time and effort, there’s room for you in the choir. Plus, you’ll have lots of fun. I want the choir to sing well, but I want it to be a good social experience for everyone as well.”

A thought came to me, and was gone immediately, but it had been there, and I’d liked it! If Micah could twit me, I could do him right back! Show him I wasn’t a wuss.

“Okay, that’s great, and I’ll be happy to join, Miss Haliday, but I do have one condition. I know he needs lots of work, but I can’t join if you don’t let Micah in, too. He needs me around to take care of him. He’s awfully shy, and I’d worry about him if I wasn’t there to take care of him. So, I’m in if you’ll make a big exception and let him in, too.”

Well, that made just one more time I got to hear Micah laugh, and again, it was directed at me.

≈≈ ≈≈

I was doing homework in her bedroom with Lina. We were in most classes together and so had the same homework. She usually finished each assignment before I did. Originally, she’d then started talking to me, and I’d complained that I couldn’t get mine done if she did that. She’d ignored me as usual until I finally gathered my things and walked out. She said she’d stop, but I left anyway. From then on, she’d left me alone till I was done.

I had to be stronger willed with her than I ever had before with anyone else, more than I liked to be. But she’d take advantage if I wasn’t. I think I was learning something because of that. I needed to stand up for myself, for what I wanted. I hadn’t done much of that before.

I closed my book and worksheet, and she looked up from her phone. “There’s a casting audition for the school play. They’re putting on Romeo and Juliet. I think we should both go. You’d make a great Romeo, and I could be Juliet who you kill yourself over.”

“I’m not going to try out for a play. I hate being seen like that. That’s your thing, not mine. Besides, they have their rehearsals after school, and I’m in the school choir so couldn’t rehearse.”

“You’re in the choir? Since when?”

“Since today when I auditioned. She’s thinking of maybe featuring me as soloist, singing alone without the choir joining in at all so they can’t be messing up the number, stealing my thunder. See that? I’m already learning rhyming. That’s important in songs. Well, it was back a generation or two, anyway.”

She stared at me for a moment, and I managed to keep a straight face. “What about not liking to be seen?”

“Oh, yeah. That. Well, maybe I’ll have to tell her I’d be more comfortable in the background, just one of the group. She’ll be disappointed, probably swear a little, but I am what I am, and she’ll have to accept that.”

She was still eyeing me in a suspicious manner. “What brought this on, joining the choir? I didn’t know you sang. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like you.”

“Well, you know, when you have a talent, you should share it with the world. Only fair to the ungifted people.”

More of that suspicious look followed. I knew I had to tone it down, but it was fun pretending to be someone I definitely wasn’t. Then her face suddenly changed. She smiled, and her eyes flashed.

“He’s in it, isn’t he? Micah. He’s in it, and you joined so you can be with him. I can see it now. You think this’ll improve your chances. I’ll bet you can’t sing a note.”

“Sure I can. Miss Haliday tested me. I’ll have to learn to read music, but that has to be easier than, uh, taking French or Russian. I can do it.”

“Choir, huh. Maybe I’ll join, too. I can monitor your progress that way and give you tips.”


≈≈ ≈≈

I ate lunch with Micah the next day. Funny how that works. Some things become routine without any talk about it. We just sort of automatically ate together now. Of course, I did have to wait for him to come in so we could get in line together. Had to be a little sneaky about that so he didn’t know I’d waited for him. All’s fair in love and lust. Hmm. That didn’t sound quite right, but it did explain it well. Although . . .

“Miss Haliday caught me in the hall after homeroom today,” he said when we were both sitting together at what was now our table. Well, we’d sat here more than once; in middle school, that kinda made it ours. “She asked me if I’d ever had any interest in dance. I told her yeah, I’d had several years at a private studio. My mom took dance all the way through high school and loved it. So she enrolled me, and I only stopped when I got to middle school. Didn’t really have time for both dance and choir.”

While telling me this, he was twirling a lock of his curly hair on one finger. I had a hard time looking away from that. I wanted that to be my finger.

He stopped to take a bite of the Sloppy Joe he’d selected, and I said, “Why’d she ask you that?”

“She’s friends with the dance coach here. That coach needs boys desperately. The best dance teams have both boys and girls. The coach had asked her to help recruit more boys for the team. I’m thinking of joining.”

“You are? You like dancing?” My hopes rose. Masculine boys didn’t dance. Well, that was my uninformed opinion. If Micah liked to dance, perhaps that at least suggested that he might be gay. Gay boys loved to dance. Again, an opinion, but what did I know? It just made sense, didn’t it? Masculine boys played football. Feminine boys joined the cheerleading and dance teams. And, they sang in the choir.

This was good news! “Do you have time to do both choir and dance?” I asked. “Along with all the homework we have? Don’t both groups get together right after school?”

“I asked her about that. The dance team rehearses in the evenings and on the weekends to avoid time conflicts. I can do both easily.”

He ate some more of his Joe, throwing glances at me as he did, looking like he wanted to say something. Finally, I asked, “What?”

“You should join, too. They need more boys, and I’d have a friend there.”

I liked how that sounded but . . . dance? “I can’t dance worth a lick, and besides, why would I be interested in being on the dance team? That’s the last thing I’d ever want to do, dance in front of the public!”

He gave me his patented evil grin. “You haven’t thought this through. Some of the cutest girls in the whole school are on that team, and you get to interact with them, sometimes pick them up, rub against them in some of the routines, really get to know them up close and personal. What boy wouldn’t want to do that?”

Damn again!