This is Part 13.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Nowhere Man -- Part 12.
Features Justin Taylor, Dylan Burke, Jennifer Taylor, Craig Taylor, Molly Taylor, Daphne Chanders, the Coach, Stella Ward, Others.
Rated G for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin Taylor comes to an understanding. Summer 1995.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Pittsburgh, The Summer of 1995:
Justin Taylor realized that he was different from the other boys when he was about twelve years old.
He was on his Little League team, the Murphy's Bar and Grill Indians, standing in right field -- which was his usual position, being the place where the ball was least likely to go -- and watching the boy on First Base. Dylan Burke. He was the tallest kid on the team. Shaggy brown hair and greenish eyes. Beautiful eyes. But Justin couldn't see his eyes from where he was standing. Justin was looking at his rear end.
He'd been watching it most of the summer. Justin had a lot of time to look at Dylan's rear end, as well as the butts of the other boys, because Justin stood around a lot. A lot. It was relaxing out in right field. The weather that summer was beautiful. The sky was blue, the grass was green -- and the ball never came anywhere near Justin. So he never had to worry about catching it. Which was a good thing. Because every time the ball came anywhere near him, he threw down his glove, threw up his hands to cover his face, and ducked.
Justin had good hand/eye coordination. He was an fine artist and could draw almost anything. But he was also slightly ambidextrous and although he couldn't write or draw very well with his left hand, when it came to catching and throwing balls, he would get confused as to which hand to use. He'd have his right hand all ready -- but his left hand would get in the way. It was the same when he tried out for soccer. He couldn't figure out which foot to kick with and he ended up tripping over both feet.
Coach had tried to work with him over the summer. Practicing throwing the ball at Justin and having him catch it in his glove, first close up, then from farther and farther away. And Justin did okay. He actually started catching the ball.
The coach told him that the most important thing -- the thing he should never, ever forget -- was never to take his eye off the ball. Justin should look and be aware. Then he would know when to run for the ball. When to catch it. And when to throw and where. That was the essence of the game. Watch what Dylan does, Coach had said. See how he knows where the ball is at all times, instinctively. How he's always right there when the ball is there. Eye on the ball, Taylor. Right? Then reach up -- and catch it.
And Justin had nodded that he understood. Eye on the ball. Reach up and catch it. Right.
But when he was on the field, in the actual game -- if the ball came toward him, he ducked. It was a natural instinct. He could picture the ball coming down on top of him. And hitting him right in the face. Feel it smacking him right in the nose. And that's when he ducked. Every time.
So he was happy out in right field, in his little corner of grass. He could watch the others boys standing and scratching themselves, or running around the bases, or jumping up to catch the ball in other parts of the field. Justin began to realize that the part of baseball he enjoyed most was watching the other players. Maybe he was just born to be a spectator.
He also enjoyed the uniform. He liked putting it on and looking at himself in the mirror wearing it. It was too baggy, however. He was small and the uniform was really too big on him. And he would have liked it tighter, anyway. Much tighter. He would have liked all the boys' uniforms to have been tighter. Justin thought they would all look much cuter that way. But he was also aware, vaguely, that such an opinion shouldn't be spoken out loud.
Dylan Burke would especially look good in a tighter uniform, Justin thought. He was tall and skinny, but he had a nice butt. Justin could picture the tighter uniform pants stretching over that butt, giving it better definition. Justin wished he had his sketchbook. He thought he could draw Dylan if he really tried.
He hadn't tried drawing that many people -- they wouldn't sit still long enough. So he mainly drew trees and flowers. Animals, sometimes. Or he copied photographs from books. At least they didn't move. He was especially good at drawing horses. A lot of the girls in his class were horse crazy and they were always bugging him to draw a picture of a horse for them. One girl, Stella Ward, brought him a photo of her horse, Ricochet, and he drew the horse and colored it in with the pastels in the art kit that he got for Christmas. Stella was so pleased that she gave him a big kiss.
Some of the guys said that kiss made Stella his girlfriend, but Justin didn't think so. He really didn't want a girlfriend, although a lot of the boys talked about girls and had 'girlfriends' -- so they said. But Justin was in no hurry. He had a best friend who was a girl -- Daphne Chanders -- but she wasn't a 'girlfriend,' not at all. That was something entirely different. And Justin was content to wait for that to happen -- he wasn't about to push himself until he really felt something. And, so far, he hadn't felt it.
But Justin thought he might make a nice drawing of the back of Dylan Burke. He'd been watching Dylan long enough -- all summer -- that he could probably do it from memory. And if he drew him from the back he wouldn't have to do the hands in detail The hands were hard to do. He always messed them up somehow. But Justin thought there must be a way to do the hands better. Maybe if he took a class he could learn the trick of it.
Bodies were much easier to draw. Especially from behind. The back of heads, with the hair all rough. And rear ends -- they were all curvy lines. He liked the way the lines moved from the top of a head right down to the ground, all sweeping, like one movement.
Justin thought that he would have liked to have taken a class in drawing or something over the summer, but his dad wanted him to do Little League. All the guys did Little League. Justin didn't have the heart to tell Craig Taylor that baseball bored him. And he wanted to please his dad. Craig put a lot of stock in Justin doing things the other kids did. Guy things. Not that Justin did that many guy things with his dad -- he didn't. Craig was a very busy man. But it was the idea of doing things with his father that Justin liked. Even if it didn't actually happen very often.
Justin was much closer to his mother, Jennifer, although she didn't have quite as much time for him since his sister, Molly, had been born. But he still liked going shopping with her. Or sitting in the kitchen with her, watching her cook or simply talking to her. Or going to the art gallery. He enjoyed looking at the paintings with her, having her explain what they meant, where they were from, and how the artist did what he did. Sometimes he watched the art students who came to the gallery to copy the paintings. Justin looked over their shoulders and watched how they drew on the blank sheets until what they had in their pads looked exactly like the painting. That always amazed Justin. He wanted to be able to do that. To see what they saw and then transfer it from their eyes to a empty, white page, filling it with a perfect image.
So Justin was thinking about other things -- and watching Dylan Burke -- when he should have been looking at the ball. Looking in the air. Because suddenly everyone was yelling and the ball was coming down, straight at him. He thought that he should catch it. Or at least try to catch it. At least put his hand up so it looked like he knew he was supposed to catch it. But when he saw it coming right at him, he panicked. He did what he always did -- he dropped the glove on the ground and ducked.
After the game was over, Justin only wanted to go home. His team won anyway, despite his gaffe, because Dylan Burke hit three home runs. But Justin didn't feel like going with the rest of the guys to the Cream Dream Frozen Custard Stand and getting a cone, the way they did after every game, win or lose. Because Justin knew that he'd played his final Little League game. He'd have to give up his uniform and looking at Dylan Burke's rear end, but it was for the best. His career as a baseball player was at an end.
Because Justin was tired of even pretending that he was interested in what was happening on the field. Tired of pretending that he was interested in what the other boys were interested in. Or what Craig Taylor wanted him to be interested in. He would much rather spend the time he wasted at baseball practice going shopping at the mall with Daphne or drawing in his room or playing games on his computer.
Or even playing with his sister, Molly. Justin enjoyed that. Now that she could walk around and talk and bug him, she was annoying sometimes, but he generally got along well with his little sister and didn't mind having her around. He had especially liked it when she was a small baby, feeding her and changing her and dressing her up. He'd always wanted a doll to play with. Not a G.I. Joe -- he had a couple of those -- but a real doll, like a baby doll. But whenever he had asked for one his dad had gotten mad. After a while he stopped asking. Later Justin understood that he wasn't supposed to want a doll or even want to play with one. So when Molly was born, she was the next best thing.
So, as the other guys were patting each other on the back and getting themselves ready to go and get ice cream, Justin lagged behind. His mom was waiting with Molly to drive him home. Craig had missed the game again -- he was busy -- but that was actually a good thing. Justin was glad his dad hadn't seen him duck, seen the ball bounce right next to him and roll away. The other parents had screamed abuse at him, but the boys on the team just shrugged. They knew Justin and they were ready for the moment when the ball would come to him. Dylan Burke was beside him in seconds, picking up the ball and throwing it with incredible force. He got the guy out as he was trying to slide into Home. The Indians won the game. Justin's error didn't matter in the end. To anyone but Justin.
"What are you waiting for, Taylor? Aren't you coming with us to get ice cream?"
It was Dylan Burke, standing next to him. At twelve, Dylan seemed almost as tall as a grown man, and looking up at him made Justin feel about five years old.
"I don't think so. See, it's like this...." Justin looked around. The other boys were heading for the cars with their parents. Jennifer was waiting patiently for him, standing and holding Molly by the hand. "I... I'm quitting the team. I think it won't matter, really. Then you guys won't have to cover for me anymore."
The other boy stared at him, raising one eyebrow. "You can't quit!" said Dylan. "The season isn't over! You can't quit now!" He actually seemed angry with Justin.
"No one will even notice that I'm gone, Dylan," the smaller boy said, softly. "You guys will play better if you don't have to worry about whether or not I'm going to make a mistake."
"What mistake? You just got a little confused," said Dylan. "Besides, I was right there. I got the ball. I got the guy out." Dylan reached over and put his hand on Justin's shoulder and squeezed it. Justin felt a little shock go through him, like electricity. He stared up at Dylan, to see if he felt it, too, but the other boy's face was impassive. He just looked at Justin with those greenish eyes. And those beautiful eyes went right through Justin.
"I... don't know," said Justin, completely confused. He couldn't look away from those eyes.
"You can't quit now! We're going to Kennywood at the end of the season and go on all the rides! You don't want to miss THAT, do you?"
Justin finally looked down. He DID want to go to the amusement park and ride on the rides, especially the roller coaster. Maybe he could ride in the same car as Dylan and sit next to him.
"Beside, all the guys would miss you if you quit," Dylan added. "I would miss you."
"You would? Really?" Justin found that awfully hard to believe. But Dylan had said it.
"Sure. So do you really want to quit?"
Justin looked up at the other boy. He knew that he wanted to be near him, but he didn't understand why. And if he quit the team, then he would have no reason to be near him. No reason to stand in right field and watch Dylan Burke, ever again. "I guess not. Not really."
"Good," said Dylan. "Don't give up. Never give up, Justin." Now the other boy's voice was soft, persuading. The kind of voice that could make you do anything. Feel anything. "Maybe you're not so good right now, but you could get better."
Justin didn't want to say out loud that there was little hope of that.
"If you want something bad enough, you'll get it. You'll be able to do it. But you can't just give up! Then where would you be? Huh?" Dylan still had his hand on Justin's shoulder. It felt to Justin as if it had always been there and always would be.
"Nowhere, I guess." Justin was even more confused than he had been before -- and it had nothing to do with baseball.
"Right. Now come to the stand with the team and we'll all get frozen custard!" Dylan took his hand away and Justin's shoulder -- Justin's heart -- seemed suddenly very empty. "I'm going to get the twist -- chocolate AND vanilla!" And Dylan walked over toward the cars.
Justin joined his mom and sister and they drove to the frozen custard stand. And Justin got a twist cone -- chocolate AND vanilla.
Justin didn't quit the team. He finished out the season -- the last for Little League -- and the ball never came anywhere near him again.
And when the season ended the boys all went to Kennywood and rode on all the rides and ate hot dogs. They wore their team tee shirts, white with 'Indians' in red and blue lettering, and their baseball caps. Justin thought Dylan looked like a real baseball star and there was something about him that seemed to be incandescent in the late summer light. Justin couldn't imagine why no one else seemed to see it.
When they rode the big coaster, Dylan stood back, instead of pushing to be the first one on, to get into the very front car. He was waiting, it seemed, for Justin to come up and get into a car with him. Neither boy said a word, but Dylan pulled the bar across their laps and put his hands on top, gripping tightly. And Justin did the same, right next to him. And on the roller coaster it's okay to scream, it's okay to hide your face against someone else's chest when the coaster goes over the first big hill, it's okay to touch someone else's hand -- even if it's only for three minutes.
The next year Justin didn't go out for any sports at all, even though his father encouraged him to. He took an art class instead. Baseball, football, soccer -- all those things weren't for him. He understood that now. He understood a LOT of things now. Things that had nothing whatsoever to do with sports and everything to do with the rest of his life.
Dylan Burke's family moved about a year later. To somewhere near Newcastle, Pennsylvania. But Justin still thought about him. All the time. About his hand, squeezing Justin's shoulder. About the roller coaster. And about other things that Justin didn't talk about, but only thought about when he was by himself.
And those eyes. Those greenish eyes, looking right at him. And right into him. Telling Justin everything he needed to know.
Continue on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 14.
©Gaedhal, November 2002
Posted November 10, 2002