Excerpt from We Don’t Say Gay at Tranquility Bay
Penny grinned at Nick. “You know,” she said, “people are going to think we’re a couple.”
“Who’s going to think that?” Nick laughed incredulously. “No one we know has seen us tonight. No one knows we’ve been out on a date.”
“Well, they will if you want them to.” Penny handed over her cell phone. She’d been snapping pictures of him all night long and without his noticing got a girl sitting a few rows down at the game to take pictures of the two of them together. On impulse she jumped up and returned to the order counter.
“Will you take a picture of me and my new boyfriend, Pop?” she asked with a winning smile.
“Sure, you betcha.” He came around the counter and took the cell phone from Penny. She showed him which button to push, then ran back to the table and positioned herself strategically. Nick smirked into the flash, more than a little embarrassed, as Penny sat next to him at their table holding a piece of pizza in her hand as if she were feeding him.
“Say ‘cheese pizza’,” chuckled Pop, so they did and laughed with him. He handed back Penny’s cell phone and went back behind the counter to start taking orders. The kids from the game started to arrive.
“There, you see.” Penny showed him the photo. “This will let everyone know that you, Nick Clements, went out on a date with me, Penny Papadopoulos. I can upload the photos to my LookSpace page. All of my ‘pals’ will see them, and that’s pretty much everyone in our class.”
Nick’s frank stare unnerved her. It wasn’t the response she expected. “Why not? It shows you’re heterosexual, right? That should shut them up and make Julian Cain eat his words.”
“Yeah, maybe it will, but that’s not what I’m asking,” Nick fixed his focus on her. “Why help me? Why care one way or the other?” There was an edge of bitterness creeping into his voice. “What makes you think I’m worth it when nobody else does?”
Penny sat back and considered him, her lips pursed sideways. “Stop that,” she snapped. It startled him, made him curious. Good.
“Okay, let’s get a few things straight right here, right now.” Penny glared in mock ferocity and started ticking off her fingers. “One, I am your friend whether you like it or not, believe it or not, or even if you ‘allow it’ or not.” She made the quote sign around the word to show he had no choice. “Two, my likes and dislikes are my own. Three, I choose my friends, not you.” She scowled at the handsome, despairing boy sitting next to her, then relaxed into a smile.
“I’m serious, Nick. I’m here for you. Don’t ask me why. Don’t ask me when. But somewhere along the line my heart tied a string to yours. Don’t you feel it?”
He squinted at her. “No,” he said shortly. “I don’t feel a thing.”
“I’m not talking about romance, dummy. I’m talking about friendship, the do or die kind.” Why is that so hard for him to accept?
“Oh, right, because that’s just impossible to imagine, huh? A romance with me? What a crazy idea.”
Of all the nerve. “I don’t deserve sarcasm.” Penny, aware of the football crowd trickling in, lowered her voice but upped her intensity. “I’m not being mean, so don’t you start.”
Nick widened his eyes, refocused on her, then swallowed and smiled. “I’m sorry. You’re right.” He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “You’ve been nothing but kind to me, Penny, and I appreciate it. I just wonder if, when something new and shiny comes along to capture your attention, if you’ll drop me like that!” He snapped his fingers, making several people turn to look.
He said what? Penny scowled. Oh, no he did not.
“So what, now I’m fickle, using you like a plaything?” Her eyebrows arched sarcastically. “Get over yourself buddy, but fast.”
She ate a whole slice of pizza without saying a word. People came and went and each time the door opened a piercing cold draft reminded those inside of what awaited them outside; the advancing winds of winter.
Penny wiped her mouth then turned to Nick. “Listen, do you want my help or not? People at school will assume I’m your girlfriend when they see these photos of us together having fun, just another couple on a date. Isn’t that what you want, for people to think you’re straight?” She crossed her arms and stared him down.
“Think I’m straight?” He grimaced as he repeated her words. “Like, I’m not straight so I’m pretending?”
“Well?” Penny got right back in his face. “Are you gay, or aren’t you?”
There. She’d asked. The million-dollar question lay on the table and they both sat there staring at it.
WE DON’T SAY GAY AT TRANQUILITY BAY
Expected Publication Date: June 1, 2022