Cole’s best friend, Samantha, spotted him in the hallway. “Cole! Hey, Cole, wait up!” She ran up, almost out of breath. “Hey, idiot. I wanted to catch up to you before you got to class. What are you doing New Year’s Eve? Got a date yet?”
“No, Samantha, you know damn well I don’t. Who should I ask? This school is so close-minded it isn’t even funny. I don’t think this town realizes it’s 2018 and not 1950!” Cole ran a hand through his longish jet-black hair and focused his dark brown eyes on his friend. “I wish I could go up to anyone here and ask them out without being afraid of getting beaten up, but you know how this place is, Sammie.”
“I know, sweetie. And I also know you wish you could ask out Zac Simpson. I think it might go better than you expect. I don’t have proof, but I think he plays for your team.”
“If there’s a God, he does. I gotta go, Sammie. I’ll see you at lunch.” He ran off down the hall.
Next up for Cole was algebra, his favorite class of the day. Not that he loved math, but Zac sat directly in between Cole and the blackboard. He could spend the entire class pretending to pay attention but all the while staring at Zac. The short blonde hair, the piercing blue eyes, the hot jock body. Yeah, Cole could stare at Zac for hours. After his conversation with Sammie, Cole decided to do something bold. He spent the entire class sketching Zac, he even wrote a poem and added it at the bottom of the picture. Cole wasn’t sure if he’d be brave enough to give it to Zac, but he drew it anyway.
Cole slid into the seat next to Samantha at lunch. No one else was at the table yet. Sammie looked up. “Hey, Cole. You ask him yet?” She smirked and nodded towards Zac, who was sitting with the other members of the lacrosse team and a few cheerleaders.
“No. Of course not. He’s probably going out with one of those cheerleaders anyway.” Cole blushed. “I did doodle a sketch of him and write a poem.”
“Aww! Let me see.” Sammie reached for Cole’s backpack.
“Cole Kendrick, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! The art and the poem are both fantastic! You have to give it to him!” Sammie nearly squealed, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.
“Oh, look the little fag has a girlfriend. How sweet.” Cole glanced up and recognized Danny, one of Zac’s friends on the lacrosse team.
“Screw you, Danny.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, fag?” Danny reached over and flipped Cole’s lunch tray up, the food and milk splattering all over Cole’s clothes.
Cole stood up quick and started brushing off his clothes. “No, Danny, I wouldn’t let you touch me even if you paid me. I’ve heard how small your dick is.”
Danny raised his fist, but someone pulled him backward, and he landed on the floor. Zac stood over Danny, looking directly at Cole. “I’m sorry my friend is a jerk, Cole. I’m sure he’s sorry. Aren’t you, Danny?”
Danny looked up at Zac. “No. Why would you defend that little faggot?” Danny started to stand back up.
Zac lifted one foot, put it right in the center of Danny’s chest, and pushed him back to the floor. “Stay on the floor if you can’t be nice.” A crowd was starting to form around the boys. “What he did wasn’t cool. Let me get you a new lunch.” Zac smiled the smile that made Cole fall for him in the first place.
Cole looked down and blushed and then took a deep breath and looked back up at Zac. “Why are you so nice to me. You’re a popular jock like he is. Don’t you feel the same way about me?”
“Not all jocks are bigoted jerks.”
“Hold that thought,” Cole reached into his backpack. “Here. This is for you. I better give it to you now before I lose my nerve. If you decide to punch me, I understand.” Cole handed Zac the sketch.
Zac looked at the picture and read the poem, expression blank. He glanced around the table at all his friends. He peered down at Danny. He reread the poem and then stared directly at Cole. “Thank Goodness! I was starting to think there weren’t any other gay guys in the entire school. Especially none that are both smoking hot and smart, too.”
Danny stared up at him incredulously. “You’re a faggot?”
Zac pressed down harder with his foot. “Yeah, Danny. Do you have a problem with me being on the team now?” Zac directed the question at Danny, but he glanced at each of his friends that were standing around watching the drama unfold.
“No, Zac. Whatever, dude. Just get off me.”
Zac removed his foot from Danny’s chest, and the other boy got up and stormed out of the cafeteria. Zac scanned the group of his other friends. None of them made eye contact. He focused his attention back onto Cole.
“Now that that drama is out of the way, do you have any plans for New Year’s Eve, Cole? My parents always have this huge party, and I’m usually bored out of my mind. Please say you’ll go with me. I’d owe you a huge favor.”
Cole nearly melted into a puddle on the floor. He stuttered and stammered, “I… uh… I think…” He glanced helplessly at Samantha.
“No. No. No. We definitely do not have plans.” She put an arm around Cole. “He’s my best friend in the whole world, and I love him to pieces, but his tongue sometimes gets in its own way. What this boy is trying to say is that he’d love to go out with you on Monday night.”
“I am capable of speaking for myself, thank you very much. Yes, Zac, I’d love to go.”
Zac reached out his hand. “Phone, please.”
Cole handed over his phone. Zac put his contact info in then sent himself a text from Cole’s phone. “Now you have my number, too. The party is formal. Do you own a tux?”
“No. I have a suit if that works?”
“I’ll have a tux sent to you. You look like you are about the same size as me, but text me your sizes just in case. I’ll make sure the tux is delivered by four, and I’ll be over to pick you up Monday at six. Okay?”
“You don’t have to go through that trouble, but yeah it sounds great,”
“No trouble at all. As I said, you’ll be doing me a huge favor. I’ll see you on Monday night.”
Cole turned to Samantha. “Oh my God! Did that just happen?”
“I know right! Damn, boy, you’re not just going on a date with your crush, you’re going to the biggest party of the year!”
“I hated that we were the only school open between Christmas and New Year’s, but I guess it was fate. If I hadn’t been at school today, Zac would have never asked me out!”
“I know! All the snow days we’ve had killed our Christmas break, but now it’s all worth it.”
“Should I call him this weekend or wait until Monday?”
“He said Monday. He’s got your number. If it were me, I’d wait for him to call.”
“You’re right. We better go. The bell rang two minutes ago.” They both hurried out of the cafeteria.
Cole spent Friday night and the entire weekend driving himself and everyone around him completely insane. He was so distracted by the thought of going out with Zac on Monday night that he could barely focus on anything else. Finally, Monday afternoon, Samantha arrived at his house to keep him occupied until the tux came. They were watching their second movie of the afternoon, “Love, Simon.”
“I am so glad that I came out on my own terms. If I had been outed like Simon was, I don’t know how I would have handled it.”
Sammie leaned in and hugged her best friend. “I would have been right here helping you deal with it and kicking the ass of whoever outed you.”
“You’re the best, Sammie.” Cole kissed her cheek. Then the doorbell rang. Cole leaped off the couch and ran to the door. He came walking back into the living room, carrying a garment bag and smiling from ear to ear. “It’s here. This is really happening.”
“Of course, it’s happening, now go get dressed.”
Cole stopped and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “It’s him. He asked if the tux got here and if everything was ok.” Cole quickly typed a reply text. “Alright, I’m gonna go change. Are you leaving?”
Sammie scoffed. “I’ll be right to take pictures of your skinny ass in that tux. Now hurry up. You don’t want to make your boy wait.”
Cole laughed and ran off to his bedroom to change. A little while later, he walked back into the room, straightening the cummerbund and adjusting the bowtie. “Does all this look right? I’ve never worn a tuxedo before.”
“Oh, Cole. You look so handsome.” She hugged him. “I don’t know how you have stayed single this long. You are going to knock his socks off. You’re gorgeous, Cole. The tuxedo is perfect, too.”
“Aww, you’re making me blush. Thank you so much. You’re my best friend. I love you.”
“I love you, too, sweetie.” The doorbell rang for the second time that evening. Cole looked at the clock. Five fifty-seven. Zac said he’d be here at six. He started to walk out of the room, but Sammie stopped him.
“Wait here. I’ll go answer the door.”
Samantha walked back into the room, followed closely by Zac. Zac stopped and stared at Cole. “Wow. You look incredible.”
“Thanks. So do you.”
“Seriously. You’re stunning. Dressing up suits you. You should do it more often.”
“Give me a reason to, handsome.” Cole tried to sound sexy but, with the amount of blushing he was doing, only managed to pull off shy and innocent.
“I might do that. You ready to go?”
“Yes. Let’s get this party started.” Cole grinned, and the two boys walked out the door. Sammie yelled after them, “You guys have fun tonight. Cole, text me when you get home.”
“I will, Sammie. Thanks for everything.” Cole waved to Samantha and then got into the limo.
The limousine pulled up in front of the biggest house that Cole had ever seen. “Wow. You live here?”
“Yeah, I do. Home sweet home.”
Cole’s eyes were darting everywhere, trying to take everything in at once. “Looks likes there’s a lot of people here already. Has the party started?”
Zac shook his head. “No. These are all the decorators and caterers and delivery people. The guests will start arriving around eight.”
Cole followed Zac into the house, weaving around various trucks and vans and avoiding all the workers. He glanced at all the party streamers and growing tables of food as Zac led him up the stairs.
Zac pointed to a closed door as they passed, “That’s my bedroom. I can show you that later, but there’s another room I thought you might be interested in first.” Zac led him a little further down the hallway. They entered a room, and Cole’s jaw nearly fell to the floor. He felt like he was in “Beauty and the Beast.” The room was as big as four rooms in his own house. There was floor to ceiling bookshelves taking up most of the walls. There were gorgeous paintings between the bookshelves and sculptures on pedestals throughout the room. There was even a suit of armor standing in the far corner. Cole didn’t know what to look at first.
“This room is mind-blowing, Zac. I could spend the whole night in here looking at everything and be happy.”
“I’m glad you like it. I figured you would. Your poem was fantastic, and the drawing was beyond extraordinary.”
Cole walked all around the room and stopped to take a closer look at a section of books that were leather-bound gold embossed editions. “Can I pick them up?”
“Go ahead. My mom loves for people to read them. These aren’t just showpieces.”
“This is my all-time favorite book, and it’s even signed by Orson Scott Card. I would kill to own this copy of “Ender’s Game,”
Zac raised both his hands up. “Please don’t kill me. I haven’t even had a chance to kiss you yet.”
Cole’s head snapped up, and he looked right at Zac. “Hm. Ok, you get to live a while longer. I’ll just kill Danny instead.”
Zac laughed. “Nah. He was a total jerk, but let’s give him until I show up for practice Wednesday. If he’s still a dick at practice, you can kill him.”
“Dammit. I guess I can wait.”
Zac’s phone beeped, and he slipped it out of his pocket to check the notification. “Text from mom. Time to head downstairs. The guests are starting to arrive. You ready for this?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be. I mean I’m more than ready for a date with you, but I’m kind of nervous about the whole town being on our first date with us.”
“Don’t let them get to you.” Then Zac leaned in close. “And you can be sure that I’ll take you on a date with only the two of us very soon.”
“In that case, I’m ready to go downstairs.”
Zac and Cole walked down the staircase together, slowly weaving their way through the growing crowd. Party guests stopped Zac every few feet to talk with him. Cole recognized a face here or there, but he didn’t know most of them. His family and Cole’s traveled in different circles. While Zac made small talk, Cole spent the time looking around the room. He bet that the chandelier cost more than his parent’s entire house. The whole place felt like a fairy tale setting with the waiters and drink tables and decorations, and everyone dressed up so fancy. He looked down at himself and remembered that he too, was in a tuxedo.
Zac touched his arm. “Something wrong with the tux?”
“Not at all. I can’t believe this night is happening. The party is wonderful, Zac. It’s like a Disney movie.”
“Then I guess we should dance.”
Cole took Zac’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled in close, and they started dancing. They drew some stares, some nods of approval, and even a few winks. Then Zac’s mother stepped between them. “Zachary Simpson, what do you think you are doing?” She was flushed and looked beyond angry.
Zac looked confused. “I’m dancing. What do you mean?”
“With,” She waved absently toward Cole. “This boy? Dozens of girls are simply waiting for you to ask them to dance, and you dance with some boy?”
Now Zac was a little flushed. “Mom, I won’t have you talking about Cole like that. I told you over a year ago that I’m gay. Why would I dance with a girl when I can dance with him?”
Isabella Simpson got a look on her face like she had smelled the worst smell in the world. “Saying you might like boys and actually dancing with one at my New Year’s Party are two totally different things. I will not have you embarrass this family in front of the entire city.”
“You are the one causing the embarrassment, mom. Not me. Look at them.” He waved his hand toward the growing crowd of guests. “I think more of them care that you are a bigot towards your own son than care about me dancing with Cole.”
“Don’t be crude, Zachary.” His mother scoffed. “And you, boy, get out of my house.” She glared at Cole.
One of the party guests, Dr. Emily Baxter, spoke up. “Isabella, I can’t tell you what to do in your own house, but if you make this boy leave, I will leave, too.” Other guests started speaking up. Over half the guests committed to leaving if she made Cole go.
Isabella was shocked. She waved a hand toward Cole and Zac. “Do whatever you want. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.” She stormed off into another room.
Cole looked at Zac. “It’s your decision. Do you want me to leave so you can go talk to her?”
“You’re not going anywhere except back out on that dance floor. I’ll deal with my mom tomorrow. Tonight, my focus is on you.” He swept Cole back into his arms and started dancing again.
The next few hours went by in a blur. Cole was aware of the other guests, but it felt as if the world had shrunk down to him and Zac. They danced, they talked, they drank punch, Cole was happier than he had ever been. Then all the tv screens switched to the ball drop in Times Square. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and everyone shouted Happy New Years!! Amid the yelling and streamers and noisemakers, Cole, for the first time in his life, reached out and took what he wanted. He made the first move for the first time ever. He pulled Zac close, put a hand on each side of his face, and kissed him. Zac wrapped his arms around Cole’s waist and pulled him even closer. It was their first kiss, but they kissed like it was the last thing they would ever do. When they came up for air, they realized that most of the people in the room were throwing confetti in their direction. They looked around and saw much more approval than disgust. Then Zac saw his mother walking toward them, and he braced for another confrontation.
Isabella handed a bottle of champagne to her son. “For you and Cole. I know I forbad you from drinking in my house until you were of age, but I’ll make this one exception. Take it as a peace offering. I’m still not one hundred percent on-board with this, but I won’t stand in your way either.” She hugged Zac and walked back upstairs.
Zac peered over at Cole, both boys with astonished expressions. “I’ll call that a win. Let’s go drink this champagne.”
Cole smiled the biggest smile of his life. “Maybe it will be a Happy New Year.” He pulled Zac into another kiss then they walked off hand in hand to enjoy the rest of the New Year’s Ball.