Second Chance

by Kim Chee (沈菜)
illustrated by vsentyabre

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/182926.html)

“You’re just going to leave me out here? Just like that?”

Anthony rubbed his temples, leaning against the gate of his Queens apartment building.

“Sonovabitch!”

Something metal grazed Anthony’s shoulder and clattered to the ground. It was an empty soda can. “Hey,” he said, frowning, too worn out to retaliate. “Don’t push it. We only agreed to fool around at my place—I didn’t say you could stay.”

He waited for the retort, but heard only a strangled sob and the patter of running feet against pavement. The silhouette grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared around the corner.

Anthony sighed and started to head back in, but stopped again. “Wait!” he called, dashing after the figure. “Hey, the train station’s that way!”

His target couldn’t run very fast, and Anthony soon caught up. The figured stopped as he approached.

“Train station’s behind you,” repeated Anthony.

The figure turned around and stepped closer to him, under the dim street lamp. He was a slender young man, not more than twenty-five years old, with sandy brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses. He would have been quite attractive, if it weren’t for the red splotches on his face from crying. “Now you feel sorry for me?” he snarled. “Is that it? Well, fuck you!”

“Come on, I’ll walk you to the station.”

“No!”

But despite his refusal, the young man followed Anthony in the other direction. They walked in silence, Anthony in front and the man behind him, their shadows shifting and spinning to the positions of the lamps overhead. Most of the windows in the neighborhood were still lit, but there was no one else walking outside. Anthony had almost begun to feel guilty for leaving the poor guy to walk back all by himself, until he heard the familiar nasally voice behind him again.

“So who’s Yale? Your ex?”

Anthony shrugged. “Just someone I know.”

“What a pretentious-ass name. Do I look like him?”

“Kinda. He’s taller than you and better-looking.”

One corner of the young man’s lips twitched into a smirk. “So you think I’m a creep for liking black guys, but you like white boys?”

“I like him,” said Anthony firmly, indicating that it was the end of the conversation.

He shook his head as he realized that was the first time he ever told anyone. When they reached the subway station, the young man realized he didn’t have enough change left for a MetroCard. Anthony groaned inwardly and bought him a pass at the machine.

“I still think you’re beautiful.”

“Fuck off,” Anthony muttered. He felt slightly sick, more at himself than what the man had said.

“Thanks for walking me over.” The young man waited until after he passed through the turnstile to turn around and blow Anthony a kiss. “You’re a sweet guy at heart, you know that?” Then he quickly descended the stairs and disappeared.

– – –

“You have a wife, Mr. Turner?”

All the previous questions were so inevitably leading up to this one that Anthony wasn’t even shocked to hear a student ask him such a personal question. He took a short breath and paused, raising an eyebrow to indicate that the question was not appropriate, but he would nevertheless answer it. “No.”

Several other girls looked up from their homework and giggled, but Denise ignored them and continued the ruthless interrogation. “A girlfriend?”

Anthony had to admit he felt particularly talkative that day and was enjoying all the attention. “No, I don’t have a wife or girlfriend. You guys ask Mr. Landau this kind of stuff too?”

“Naw, he wouldn’t like it. He don’t have any friends. That’s why he’s a teacher.”

“Hey, watch it,” said Anthony, pointing a finger at her. “I’m his friend. Besides, how do you know anything about him?”

“‘Cause I know,” said Denise, drawing out her words. She stared fiercely at Anthony, as if challenging him, then her face relaxed into a smug smile. “He’s shy.”

Anthony decided he liked that word. Shhhy. Like the rustling of leaves after a little bird had flown away. “Write your essay,” he told Denise before moving onto the younger group of boys at the next table, who welcomed him enthusiastically.

It was hard to believe that Anthony had only been volunteering at Abraham Lincoln High School for a month and only two or three times a week, and even harder to believe that he got his GED only a week before that and was starting to apply to college. He had officially finished his high school education, ten years after he’d dropped out of high school in tenth grade at the age of eighteen. Now he was teaching high school kids, or so he liked to think. His real job was still moving boxes and furniture, but whenever he had time off in the afternoons, he visited the school to help out the kids with spelling and grammar, and to “bounce ideas.” He wasn’t even sure what that meant.

There were only about thirty kids out of the hundreds attending the high school that showed up regularly to the afterschool, and Anthony was usually responsible for the twelve of them who had some trouble with writing. Most of the time, they just read aloud their essays to him, which often mentioned violence or drug use or both. Although these brought back painful memories, Anthony always listened attentively.

“It’s four, Mr. Turner,” one student reminded him. “Can we leave yet?”

Anthony shrugged. “Sure, you can leave anytime.”

They started to pack their bags and trickle out in pairs, although a more studious few lingered to finish their assignments. Anthony gathered them together at one table and sat down with them. When Yale’s cheerful face appeared at the door window, Anthony’s heart rate must have doubled, but he casually waved and motioned for Yale to come inside.

Yale slipped through the door, holding with both hands a large poster board neatly covered in colorful envelopes. “How’s it going in here?”

“Pretty good.”

“Hi, Mr. Landau,” greeted Denise, who was waiting for Anthony to finish reading her essay. “Is that another Jeopardy board?”

Yale explained that it was a new kind of Jeopardy board, and that they could reuse it as many times as they wanted because the envelope contents and category names could be easily changed. When the kids asked to see, he flipped open one of the envelopes marked VERBS for $100 to reveal a laminated question card that had been sized perfectly. Anthony drew the card out and noticed it was still warm from the lamination. Written in Yale’s small narrow handwriting on one side was the word marvel, and on the other side was the definition. They all agreed that the board was very pretty.

“It’s for you to use here,” said Yale. Anthony noticed his ears had turned pink. “I just hope it’s useful. Anyway, Anthony, I’ll be upstairs in my office. Give me a call before you leave.”

He propped the board against a cabinet, said goodbye to the students, and was gone as quickly as he came.

– – –

Although he came off as somewhat of a pushover and was hopelessly awkward at times, Yale Landau was really something. While he taught science and worked as a counselor at Abraham Lincoln High School during the day, he was also teaching math and science at a government-sponsored night school for adults. For almost a year, twice a week, Anthony sat at the back of his class, taking copious notes on the various properties of whole numbers and the interconversion of decimals and fractions, among other subjects. The man clearly knew how to teach a crowd of old disillusioned high school dropouts. He also knew how to make them listen—almost everyone who took his class passed the math and science tests on the GED. That was how Anthony heard about the night school in the first place. In addition, Anthony very recently discovered that despite his namesake, Yale had gone to Harvard.

To Anthony, that meant Yale could be making millions, while instead he was doing this.

This was technically just an unofficial afterschool program that consisted of the Math & Science room and the Humanities room—they put up printed signs on the doors every afternoon—where the kids could ask questions and do homework together. The rooms didn’t even have desks—they were two abandoned art rooms in the basement with large tables. But to Yale, it was a chance to get kids excited about learning. He and Anthony had spent weeks the past summer cleaning out the room and setting it up to look like a mixture of a classroom and a fun hangout place.

When Anthony arrived in Yale’s office, he found Yale hard at work as usual, rearranging more of those Jeopardy cards between two clear sheets. Anthony watched in silence as he nimbly inserted one end of the sandwich into a device shaped like a loaf of bread, which churned out one perfectly laminated sheet.

“Pretty cool, isn’t it?” asked Yale, as he noticed Anthony at the doorway. “I saw it on sale at the office supply store.”

“Yeah,” said Anthony, licking his lips, barely looking at the machine.

“Are you in a hurry to leave?”

“No.”

“Are you okay? You seem a little different today.”

Anthony shrugged, not taking his eyes off Yale for a moment. “Yeah, I’m okay. Still me. How are you?”

Yale reached around his desk and drew the empty chair closer so that it was next to his own. “Sit.”

Anthony complied. When Yale didn’t say anything, he began to talk nervously about everything that had happened in the last hour, including the part about how some girls had started asking questions about his personal life. He stopped when he remembered what Denise had said last, then decided to tell Yale that the community college recently received his scholarship recommendation letter.

“Great,” said Yale. “I think you have a good chance.”

“Can I read the letter?”

Yale raised his eyebrows in surprise, then pursed his lips and shook his head.

“That isn’t fair.” Anthony crossed his arms in case his armpits were sweating visibly, feigning nonchalance. “How do I know you didn’t write something bad about me?”

“I wrote wonderful things about you. Wonderful, true things.”

“Yeah? What kind of ‘wonderful, true things’?”

Yale paused and looked away. “I can’t tell you,” he said quietly, turning red. He picked up a pair of scissors and began to cut out the newly-laminated cards, taking particular care to round the corners. “So I just want to let you know that the next time you’re here, you can play Vocab Jeopardy with the kids if they get restless after half an hour. Divide them into teams however you want; just don’t let them pick their own. Also—Wait, I wasn’t done with that one.”

Anthony examined the card he just picked up. Indeed, one of the corners was still sharp. “Am-a-tor-y. What does that mean?”

Yale frowned and held out his hand for the card. His ears were so red that they were almost as dark as his hair.

Anthony grew bolder as he observed Yale’s blush. He turned the card over. Expressing romantic love. He grinned, pressing the card into Yale’s palm so that their hands touched. A little shiver snuck up his spine as he noticed Yale’s expression didn’t change.

“Are you teasing me?” whispered Yale. His nostrils flared as he dropped the card back in the pile without bothering to fix the corner.

“What?”

Anthony’s breath caught in his throat as he felt someone’s hand slide cozily into his own. He looked up and found Yale watching him with those sad serious eyes, realizing with a thrill that it was his teacher, Yale—and not him, Anthony—who was making the first move. He could feel the slight tremor in Yale’s hand, the moisture in Yale’s palm, reminding him of those childhood days when he had to hold hands with another boy, pretending to wipe his hands on his shirt while secretly looking forward to the warm comfort of being so close to another.

illustrated by vsentyabre

“Isn’t this kinda inappropriate?” he said stiffly, resisting the urge to close his fingers around Yale’s.

“We’re adults,” said Yale. His expression softened and he smiled, giving Anthony’s hand a light squeeze. “And I’m not your teacher anymore.”

Anthony raised an eyebrow. “Look, Yale, I wasn’t asking for this,” he said, enunciating each word. “We’re just friends, okay? I don’t like you that way.” It surprised and pleased him how calmly he could say it, how reasonable he could make those words sound, how Yale was wrong for once and he was—

“Right,” Yale murmured, abruptly withdrawing his hand. When he began to collect the cards on his desk without looking up, Anthony thought for the first time that his own heart might break. “Anyway, keep these extra cards with you and pick out your favorites if they want to keep playing. Also, I know you’re busy, but if you get the chance…”

Anthony barely heard the rest of what Yale was saying. His palm now felt empty, even after Yale had dropped the stack of cards into his hand. The memory of last night passed briefly through his mind. What happened? He had been so desperate to take out his frustration on someone, but now that the real man he wanted was offering a small sign of affection, he couldn’t even return the gesture.

– – –

The idea had been just as crazy to him back then as it was in retrospect now, but he was either going to never see Mr. Landau again, or ask him to a movie and then never seen him again. He never actually expected Yale to end up watching the movie with him, not to mention three more movies after that. Then when he asked Yale if there was a possibility that he could help out at the afterschool program, Yale put him in charge of an entire class.

He knew he had no reason to be frustrated with his new friendship with his ex-teacher, except that he was ruining it by turning it into an obsession. This was most apparent when he flipped opened his phone, only to find a list of outgoing calls to Mr. Landau (he never bothered to change the contact entry to Yale’s first name) but no incoming calls, which led him to conclude that although Yale cared about him as he seemed to care for all human beings, he didn’t consider Anthony to be anyone special.

For the weekend following the awkward incident, Anthony waited, although he wasn’t quite sure what he was waiting for. Perhaps he was expecting Yale to call him to apologize, or even just to make sure they were still on good terms, but a call never came. The following week at the afterschool, Anthony sensed with a sinking heart that not only was Yale never going to call, but he was avoiding Anthony.

Only when Yale refused to see another movie with him did it finally dawn on Anthony that he had done something wrong.

“No, I’m busy,” was Yale’s reason. He even didn’t bother to follow it up with a “maybe next time” or “thanks for asking.”

I like you, Anthony wanted to say. I really really like you, but I fucked up. Will you forgive me? But he couldn’t find the right moment to say it.

One afternoon, exactly a week after the incident, something completely unexpected happened. A large bespectacled man dressed in a blue suit walked into the humanities room while they were playing a game of Vocab Jeopardy, without so much as a knock or a word of greeting. Anthony had just been about to read a word out loud, but he paused, waiting for the man to leave or introduce himself.

There were eleven students in the classroom that day, all but a few of them younger students who were already rather disciplined and attended the afterschool regularly. A dead silence suddenly settled over the classroom as they noticed the man’s presence. The man, however, took no note of this and strode over to their Jeopardy board, examining it with one hand tucked under his chin.

Anthony frowned, stepping aside as the man elbow came close to jabbing him in the arm. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Actually, yes,” said the man, giving the delicate game board a few hard raps with his knuckles. “What, exactly, is this?”

“It’s Vocab Jeopardy.”

“Interesting.” He at last turned to Anthony. “And who are you?”

“Anthony Turner. Who are you?”

“I’m Mr. Bradley, the principal of this school. Are you a teacher here, Mr. Turner?”

Anthony swallowed. “No, sir.”

“Are you a teacher at all?”

“No, but—”

“Then please leave.”

“Wait, what?” Anthony glanced around at the students. They were all watching him anxiously. “You can’t do that—I’m working here.”

Mr. Bradley raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “I can’t? Please leave, Mr. Turner, before I call security.”

It had been a long time since someone so explicitly gave him an order in the form of a threat. Anthony clenched his teeth and took a deep breath, remembering what he had been taught about controlling his anger. He knew he should have walked out right then, but something told him that would have been letting the kids down, that they needed to see someone older stand up to this authority figure.

“I know the security guard,” he retorted. “We’re buddies.” He realized only afterwards—despite the students’ muffled laughter—how ridiculously juvenile this must have sounded to the principal, although Mr. Bradley did not appear the slightest bit amused.

“Would you like me to call the police instead? I’m sure you’re familiar with them too.”

Anthony stared at him in disbelief. “Are you suggesting something?” he whispered, feeling that it was okay—even appropriate—to be angry at this point. “Look, Mr. Landau asked me to come here and help out, okay? So just calm yourself.”

In the past, Anthony had been jeered at and insulted, beaten up and humiliated, but he still wasn’t prepared for what came next.

“I don’t know how Mr. Landau defines ‘helping out’ at this school, but he is and has always been a little out of his mind. These kids—” Mr. Bradley make a sweeping motion with his arm. “—they need a role model who will lead them in the proper direction. That means someone who works hard, has a good track record and a good education. If you know anything about this school—which I’m sure you don’t—you would know that our students’ test scores have seen the third highest percent increase over a five year period in all of New York City, and we are known for hiring some of the best teachers. Just any old street thug, I’m afraid, isn’t going to cut it.”

Anthony didn’t respond. Perhaps it was because he had grown accustomed to kindness from strangers, or that he had become soft from living an ordinary working-class life for more than four years, but it took longer than usual for Mr. Bradley’s words to register in his mind. He came through in the end, didn’t he? He wasn’t Yale Landau, but he worked hard and followed the law nowadays. How many of the teachers at Abraham Lincoln High School could go through what he did and still become a teacher?

Mr. Bradley could go fuck himself.

Finally, someone spoke. “Excuse me, Mr. Bradley.” It was Denise. “Did I just hear you call Mr. Turner a ‘street thug’?”

“Zip your mouth, young lady,” Mr. Bradley warned, giving her a sideways glance. “You’re already this close to being suspended.”

“Mr. Turner ain’t hurtin’ anyone,” one of the younger boys offered. “What difference it make to you?”

“These students’ parents didn’t send them to our school to be taught by you,” said Mr. Bradley, as if Anthony had asked the question. “It is my responsibility to give these children the best education possible, and to make sure they don’t learn the wrong things while they’re here.”

“You don’t know anything about me!”

“You think I haven’t seen your kind before?”

“No, you haven’t,” said Anthony, wondering what was wrong with this man. “Don’t think I’m just gonna let you say all this shit about me and the students because you’re the principal of this school. Even if we just forget me for a second, I don’t care if this school is as good as you say it is—these kids just want some extra time after class to do homework together, and you’re not gonna give it to them?”

Mr. Bradley snorted. “I’m afraid you don’t understand the point. I’m not asking them to leave; I’m asking you to get out. All you have to do is walk out and this discussion is over. Otherwise, I can stay here and listen to you argue all day. I do this all the time—Oh, here comes Mr. Landau.”

Yale had just walked in. He looked at Anthony, then Mr. Bradley, turning pink as everyone turned their attention to him, expecting him to speak. “Is there a problem?”

“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” said Mr. Bradley. “This man here claims that you invited him into the school.”

“Yes, he’s been volunteering here for over a month,” said Yale. He spoke in hushed voice and his face grew pale again. Anthony had a wild urge to run over and catch him. “I told you about him.”

“You told me you found a teacher to work with you.”

“Anthony is a teacher. The students here will tell you that he can teach. He’s also been immensely helpful. On the days he isn’t here, everyone ends up over in the other room and it gets a little crowded. Plus, I can’t teach math and English at once.”

Mr. Bradley hit the Jeopardy board with his knuckles again. “And you call this teaching?”

Yale was trembling visibly now. He kept looking at the kids, but they were more helpless than he was. Anthony wished he could make Yale disappear, or make himself disappear, or better yet, make Mr. Bradley disappear forever. Don’t cry, he thought, although he wasn’t sure why. He had never seen Yale cry before.

But Yale wasn’t about to cry. He explained in the same calm voice that he felt the kids should do something fun, especially after a day of regular classes.

Suddenly, Mr. Bradley laughed. It was a strange and frightening sound, like a croak followed by the ticking of a bomb. “Fun?” He laughed again and several of the kids winced. “Do you seriously think fooling around is going to make these kids want to learn?”

“It make me wanna learn,” said Denise, hitting the desk with her fist so that it rattled even louder than the game board.

Mr. Bradley turned to her, almost with a snarl. “Oh, really? Why don’t we face the facts here? It’s no secret to anyone that you’ve gotten pregnant twice in the past two years. Now, from what I can tell, Mr. Turner can be a rather charming young man—”

“You shut your fucking mouth!” screamed Denise. “Shut your fucking white mouth!”

“Young lady, I told you that was your last chance. You’re facing about a month of suspension right now.”

“No!” said Anthony, so loudly that he shocked himself. Yale also looked at him in surprise. “You said all I had to do was walk out, right? Well, I’m leaving now. Please don’t suspend her.”

He took one last look at Mr. Bradley’s hateful face and walked out of the classroom, brushing past Yale as he left.

Just as he had come out of the stairs and was about to exit the school, he heard the stairwell door open again behind him. Someone grabbed his arm. “Wait, Anthony—”

There was no one else at the exit. The entire school felt cold and empty, except for the man standing next to him. He wasn’t sure what made him do what he did next, but Anthony spun around and took Yale by the shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and kissed Yale on the mouth. Then, with some difficulty, he tore himself away and without glancing at Yale’s shocked expression, left the building.

He walked aimlessly for half a block before breaking into a run, bumping into a few people before he reached the intersection. Cars screeched to a stop and honked at him, but he kept going. He ran faster and faster, until he felt as if he were leaping entire city blocks.

Suddenly, he found himself on a road where there were no honking cars. A family of four on a bike with three wheels passed him and a group of calling birds circled overhead. Where was he? The air smelled familiar but distant, like an old memory. He slowed to a walk as he crossed the road of bikers and runners and found himself facing the Hudson River.

It was the same river, but it didn’t look anything like the way Anthony remembered it. There were people sitting on the grass and kids playing, and the new road with its brightly-colored markings was now where untended weeds and garbage used to collect. An old couple asked Anthony to take a picture of them. After they left, he leaned against the railing and closed his eyes, breathing in the smell of the old river, which hadn’t changed.

He hadn’t changed either, except now he was in love with Yale, in love with Denise, in love with everyone and everything in his new life… in love with the world.

– – –

Two days later, he was making pasta when he heard someone knock on his door. Just from the sound, he already knew who it was.

“Hey, come in,” he said, opening the door.

“It’s okay. I just came to say sorry.”

“You came all the way to Queens at this hour to apologize? For what?”

“For… getting you into this.” Yale stared at the open door, then at the hand that was holding it open.

“Into what? I’m glad I got to know the kids for a month. What’s there to be sorry about?”

“We’ll miss you.”

Anthony swallowed a lump in his throat. “Come in,” he said again. He stepped aside and opened the door wider to make his point, closing it gently after Yale. “I’m just making some dinner. Make yourself at home. You can watch TV or read the papers if you want.”

Yale sat down on the couch, looking at everything in the small studio apartment except the flickering TV screen and the newspapers on the table, from the third-grade photo on the modest bookshelf to Anthony’s socks on the floor.

“You can change the channel if you want,” said Anthony, draining the pasta in the sink. “Did you have dinner yet?”

“No—it’s all right, Anthony. I’ll leave soon.”

Anthony put half the pasta in his own plate and the other half in a bright plastic bowl. He split the sauce evenly and topped both servings with two microwavable meatballs and a large broccoli.
Yale accepted his bowl with a helpless smile as Anthony held it in front of him. “Thanks.”

They ate mostly in silence. Occasionally, Anthony glanced at Yale to watch him twirl the pasta onto his fork. He would twirl until there were no loose spaghetti ends, take a bite so that the remaining pasta would unravel, and start twirling again as he chewed. By the time Anthony was done with his plate, Yale had barely finished half his dinner. It was funny, Anthony thought, how he never noticed the deliberate way in which Yale did everything—like the way he always stood or sat with both feet flat on the floor, the way he wrote on the board in his narrow scrawl as if there were imaginary gridlines, or the way he listened and spoke to people, taking them more seriously than they could ever take themselves.

Anthony got up and washed his plate and the pot, then poured a glass of apple juice for each of them.

Less than thirty minutes later, they were sitting side-by-side on the couch, playing Super Mario Kart on Anthony’s old Nintendo GameCube. And to Anthony’s feigned embarrassment, his teacher was actually beating him at a video game. When he called for a rematch, claiming he went easy on Yale because he didn’t think Yale knew how to play video games, he lost again.

“Now I need a break,” said Anthony, shaking his head. “You better watch out next time.” He switched off the TV and propped his head against Yale’s shoulder.

illustrated by vsentyabre

They grew quiet again. Anthony could feel the rise and fall of Yale’s chest, like the waves of an ocean washing up to shore.

“So how did you decide to go back to school?” asked Yale, after a few minutes.

Anthony shrugged. “Once I started getting my act together, I kinda just realized I was meant to do more.” He closed his eyes. “There was also this nurse I met in rehab… she always knew exactly what everyone wanted when they wanted it. Anyway, she said something real nice about empathy and how everyone has all this love to give. Kind of made me realize how lucky I was that they put me in rehab instead of leaving me out to die. Everyone there was smiling all the time like they really meant it. I just didn’t wanna let them down.”

He felt Yale take a deep breath.

“I was a good student once,” Anthony continued, without any reason in particular, sighing as he recalled the memory. “In first grade, I was the fastest reader in my class. I read loads of kiddie books.”

Yale had stopped moving.

Anthony sat up, watching him. “You okay?”

Yale turned the game controller over and over in his hand. “I feel awful about what happened on Friday.”

“Why are you being so hard on yourself?”

“Mr. Bradley says I need to stop the afterschool program.”

“What? Is he crazy?”

For a split second, Yale looked up, then lowered his eyes again. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I mean, I could fight for it, but he’d just fire me because I’m not tenured yet.” To Anthony’s surprise, he chuckled. “Maybe this is the best I can do. Maybe I’m trying too hard.”

Anthony stared at him. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I was supposed to make a difference,” said Yale. He shrugged, dropping the game controller on the table. “So many people have put their hopes in me—parents, teachers, students—but look at me. I’m too scared to speak at meetings; I can barely have a conversation. This is all I can do, and I’m already pushing it.” He pursed his lips, shaking his head and looking away. “I still get nervous before going into class. It makes me feel like a terrible person because I don’t know if I really love what I do. Sometimes I think—” He make a helpless gesture with his hands. “—I think I’d rather die than go in there.”

Anthony settled back into his seat, feeling slightly uneasy. His first reaction was to be angry at Yale for seeing his job as nothing more than a duty, or worse, a way to gain respect. But he suddenly remembered something Denise had told him.

“You’re just shy,” he said, reaching over and clapping Yale’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”

Yale turned onto his side so that he was facing Anthony on the couch, resting his head against the cushion. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For understanding that.”

“Actually, one of the girls in your class told me.”

Yale smiled. “I think I underestimate them sometimes.”

“I think you underestimate yourself.” Anthony slid closer to him, brushing his fingers against Yale’s chin, watching as that familiar blush spread from Yale’s cheeks to his ears. He touched one ear with the back of his fingers and found that it was warm, then buried his hand in Yale’s hair, bringing his face closer.

Their lips met, just touching at first, until Anthony deepened the kiss, pushing Yale back into the couch. He felt Yale’s arms encircling him, drawing him in, pressing their bodies together. As he leaned in for more, his tongue slid into Yale’s mouth and he sighed, arching his back so that they both shuddered. Reluctantly, Anthony broke the kiss and sat up, taking off his shirt, gasping as Yale ran his fingers from Anthony’s belly button to the middle of his chest, then back down again. He began to undo the buttons on Yale’s shirt, tugging it open easily and sliding it back from Yale’s shoulders.

“You gonna tell me when to stop?” Anthony murmured in Yale’s ear, letting his tongue graze the tip of Yale’s earlobe. Everything was moving so fast that he wasn’t sure if it was all a dream. He stretched out his torso so that it covered Yale’s completely, listening as Yale’s breathing grew more labored with each movement of their bodies.

He thought he heard Yale whisper, “I doubt it,” but he couldn’t be sure.

“Hang on a second,” said Anthony. He left a trail of kisses down the middle of Yale’s chest—eliciting a few delicious whimpers—then turned his head and rested his cheek against Yale’s tummy. As Yale caressed the back of his head, Anthony reached between two cushions and felt around, pulling out a small tube of lubricant and a crushed boxed of condoms. “Do you know what these are for?”

When he looked up again, Yale was laughing.

Anthony muffled his laughter with another kiss, tugging playfully at Yale’s belt. Only when Yale’s pants had fallen away, revealing his half-erect penis nestled in a soft mass of brown hair, did it dawn on Anthony what they were doing—what they were about to do. He took Yale into his hand, gripping just hard enough to make Yale squirm and gasp, truly feeling the intimacy of the act for the first time.

Their eyes met. “Can I see you?” asked Yale, eyeing the waistband of Anthony’s sweatpants. His entire body was flushed pink.

Anthony fingered the drawstring with his free hand before loosening it, sensing Yale’s embarrassment as he realized how ridiculously nervous he was about being naked in front of ex-teacher. He hesitated, taking a few breaths, before pushing his pants down below his hip.

“What do you think?” he said, but he didn’t need to ask. Yale was already stroking him with a wanton deliberateness that made Anthony want to burst.

Anthony reached for a condom in the box, but his fingers were shaking too hard to even hold the wrapper still. “Yale…” he panted, trying to remove Yale’s delightful hands from his cock. “Help me open this thing.”

Yale took it from him and ripped the package open with one try. Anthony stared at him, mesmerized, as Yale drew out the condom and skillfully rolled it over Anthony’s erection. Then, without being asked, he took the container of lube and dropped a generous amount into his palm, giving Anthony a few solid pumps.

“Shit!” Anthony gasped, squeezing his eyes shut and opening them again. “Should I even ask how many times you did this before?”

Yale looked at him with pleading eyes.

Anthony straddled Yale, lifted his hips, and entered him, grabbing Yale’s cock to retaliate and feeling slightly less ashamed of his own lack of control as he felt Yale twitch in his hand. He paused to allow time for Yale to relax, and partly to suppress his need to come so soon, but Yale tilted his hips forward to encourage him and Anthony gave in.

With a few quick thrusts, Yale was already coming all over Anthony’s hand. A drawn-out moan escaped his mouth and he choked back a second cry, apparently ashamed of the first sound he had made, his hands trembling as they searched for something to hold on to. They finally found Anthony’s arms, curling under them to grasp his shoulders from behind, pulling him closer.

Anthony came only seconds after, but they remained stuck together on the couch in each other’s arms for a long while. He could feel Yale’s heart beating next to his own, and he waited for it to slow to a steady rhythm before heading for the bathroom.

When he came out with a small wet towel, Yale appeared to be asleep, the cushions of the couch conforming to the curve of his naked body. His hair was tousled and his lips slightly parted. He looked so warm and peaceful that Anthony didn’t want to wake him up, watching him until the towel grew cold. Then he went back into the bathroom to soak the towel in warm water again.

This time when Anthony returned, Yale’s eyes were open and he was staring blankly into space. He smiled a little as Anthony approached.

“You look beautiful,” said Anthony. He sat down at the edge of the couch and wiped the semen from Yale’s stomach, rubbing in large circles.

Yale gave him a sleepy look. To Anthony’s surprise, he didn’t blush. “So do you.”

Anthony tossed the towel onto the table and joined him on the couch again, resting his head in the crook of Yale’s neck and inhaling deeply. Yale smelled like sweat, Dove soap, and chalk dust.

“That was my first time,” he heard Yale say.

“What?” Anthony propped himself up on his elbows so that they could see each other’s faces. “No way.”

“It’s true,” said Yale with a shrug.

“Did it hurt?”

“Not much.” He reached up, laying a hand on Anthony’s chest. “I thought you didn’t like me this way.”

Anthony took his hand gently, wondering how such a small gesture could have seemed so difficult only a week ago. “I lied.”

“I know. I was angry at you.”

“Then why didn’t you say something?”

“I didn’t know what to say.”

“You coulda punched me and told me I was being a prick.”

Yale bit back a smile. “No, actually, I don’t think I could’ve done that.” He lifted his head from the armrest and kissed Anthony, taking his time, sucking on Anthony’s lower lip.

Anthony returned the kiss. Something inside him ached in a good way. “I love you,” he whispered. It was his first time saying it to anyone, but the words felt right in his mouth.

Yale cupped his face in both hands, stroking Anthony’s cheek with his thumb. They gazed at each other for at least a minute before Yale blushed and looked away first.

“I love you too,” he mumbled into Anthony’s shoulder, his warm breath tickling Anthony’s skin. He fell silent, but his lips continued to move for a long time. It was only after Anthony awoke almost an hour later, when he felt something wet on his shoulder, that it suddenly occurred to him Yale was mouthing the same thing over and over again:

I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you…

– – –

They saw each other three more times over the next week, and each time, Yale came to visit late in the evening without any prior notice. So when Anthony received a phone call from “Mr. Landau” on Thursday afternoon while he was on his moving job, he quickly explained to his customers and coworkers that the call was important and excused himself.

“Hey, Yale?” he said. “I’m at work. What’s up?”

For a good five seconds, the other end was silent. Then he heard Yale’s voice, higher-pitched than usual, coming through the receiver. “Hi, Anthony. It’s Yale.”

“Yeah, I know that,” said Anthony, frowning. “Are you okay?”

“I’m… fine.” Yale laughed nervously. “Sorry, I’m really awkward when I call people.”

Anthony raised his eyebrows, leaning against the empty doorframe of the apartment entrance. He could hear the other movers going back to work without him. “Gee, I can’t tell,” he said. “That explains why I never got a single call from you. This must be important.”

Yale laughed again, but this time he sounded considerably less uptight. “Yes, it is, actually.” He paused. “Um… listen, Anthony, a few of the students told me after class today that they kind of miss having those little afterschool sessions. They want to start meeting again.”

“I thought you said Mr. Who’s-it says you can’t have those anymore.”

“He did, but that only means we can’t have it in the school. The students had this great idea that we can meet in the public library, or even the park. It could work, since we’re a pretty small group.”

Anthony glanced into the apartment to see if his colleagues were angry at him yet. When he didn’t see them coming for him, he stepped outside again. “I don’t know. Isn’t it kinda inappropriate, now that we’re having sex and all?”

“Anthony…”

“Just kidding,” said Anthony. He grinned. “So when’s the first meeting?”

“Tomorrow at three. Meet us outside the school if you can make it.”

Anthony closed his eyes, and for a moment he recalled what happened the other day with Mr. Bradley, then the moment afterwards—the calling seagulls, the old couple taking pictures by the shore, the smell of seawater.

“Anthony?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”

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