Can a high school crush become a happily ever after?
Twenty years ago, Paxton Marshall realized he liked boys, in particular his brother's best friend, Brad. In the intervening years, Pax accepted his sexuality and followed his dream of becoming a professional artist, but he's never found anyone who stirs his heart the way Brad did. Now Brad is back in their hometown for his twentieth reunion. He surprises Pax with the news that he's gay. When he asks Pax to the mock prom his reunion committee is hosting, Pax decides to see if opening up to the past will lead to love or heartbreak.
This story is also available in Mixed Tape Series Volume #3 .
I leaned against the ragged couch in our basement rec room, pretending to read a comic. What I was actually doing was listening to my brother, Rob, and his best friend, Brad. Brad was tall, with broad shoulders and a smile that had girls ready to do anything for a chance to be seen with him. Not that I noticed such things. It wasn't like I was a girl or anything. But Brad was a football star, and he made straight As. Who wouldn't notice him? When he came over, I couldn't resist following him and Rob around. I was drawn to Brad in a way I didn't understand. Hero worship, that must explain it. Most guys at Ames Bridge High envied him so why shouldn't I?
In the complex social ordering of our high school world, Rob fell somewhere below the upper echelon of sports stars and cheerleaders, but nowhere near as far down as I did. While the star of the senior class might not typically hang around with a regular guy like my brother, Rob and Brad had been friends since Brad's family moved to our little town in central North Carolina when they were in second grade. Their teacher asked Rob to help Brad find his way around. After all these years, they still hung out every weekend.
"Look what Julie gave me." I glanced up to see my brother hand Brad a cassette tape.
Brad grinned. "She made you a mix tape, huh? What's on it?"
Rob shrugged. "I don't know. She pushed it into my hand as I was running to practice."
Brad looked down at the tape. "Rob's Mix. She even wrote it in bubble letters with a little pink heart above the i. How precious."
Rob flipped Brad off, and Brad chuckled.
The deep, resonating sound made my heart beat faster. Embarrassment. That explained my reaction. I was embarrassed that Rob and Brad were talking about girls.
Brad pulled out the insert Julie had made and looked at the list of songs. "Ooh. 'Open Your Heart.' She must really like you."
Rob sighed. "Yeah. She was with Danielle when she gave it to me, and I thought they were going to explode their faces were so fucking red."
Brad laughed again. "I can just hear them." He did a high-pitched imitation of Julie's giggle.
I failed to hold in a snicker.
"Shut up, Pax!" Rob kicked at me. "What are you doing in here, anyway?"
"Leave him alone," Brad said. "Any time now, the kid will be getting tapes of his own from girls. I can see it now, Pax's Mix, all decorated with hearts and flowers."
"Yuck!" I said, unable to think of a better response. Brad's defense of me made my tummy feel strange. I was hot and cold at the same time. Am I getting sick?
"So you going to ask her out?" Brad directed the comment at Rob.
"I don't know. She's only a sophomore, but she is kinda hot."
"Is she?" Brad asked.
"You don't think so? I mean those tits." He cupped his hands in front of his chest to indicate Julie's large boobs.
Brad shrugged. "I hadn't really noticed."
Rob rolled his eyes. "For someone so smart, you can be a real space cadet."
Brad opened the case and took out the tape.
"What are you doing?" Rob asked.
"I want to hear it."
Brad looked at him like he was crazy. "'Open Your Heart' is like my favorite song."
"Seriously? Do your football buddies know that?"
Brad scowled in mock anger. "Don't knock Madonna."
Rob shook his head. "Sometimes I just don't get you."
Brad stuck the tape into the boom box we kept in the basement. He fast-forwarded it, stopping occasionally, and shaking his head when he hadn't gone far enough. Finally, he found the right spot, and Madonna's voice blared out from the speaker.
Brad sang right along with it. I turned and watched him, and I knew in that moment what I felt for Brad wasn't hero worship. Unlike my brother, I wasn't ever going to go after a girl for her big tits. I wasn't going to go after a girl at all.