I found a new sense of conviction. This was going to be my year to find someone worthy of holding on to my heart. Young and naive, with seemingly nothing to lose, I had come out of the closet to family and friends. And even though I did end up losing a few people from my life, I knew that the ones who honestly cared about me, stood by me and either tried to understand or just shrugged their shoulders and accepted me.
It had been more than three years since I last saw Freckles. Fall classes were beginning in a couple weeks and some of the college students had already started moving into the area. Vale Tech was a popular trades school and students, mostly young men, traveled from surrounding areas to rent apartments in town or dorms on campus to attend full time.
At this point you could say that I was still slightly obsessed with Freckles. This guy who I only saw one time, three springs ago in a Subway restaurant for like thirty minutes. It was crazy and obsessive, but that moment with him (even if it was only a moment for me) was my hope and in my life I needed something to believe in, something to give me an alternative perspective on life.
Seeing the students return to town made me think a lot about Freckles. It was because of that school that I had the chance to see him. Or at least I think, I didn’t know for sure that he was a student, but I was convinced he was. He had all the trademarks of a Vale Tech guy.
One Sunday, I decided that I’d drive out to the fairgrounds to just walk around a bit, the county fair was currently underway and this was going to be the last day to attend. I hadn’t gone yet, wasn’t really feeling all that social during that time in my life. However, with all the guys there, maybe I’d catch a break and meet someone. Although, I wasn’t sure what I’d say to anyone if I did happen to stumble into a social situation, it’s always awkward talking to guys. You don’t know what gender they are into and you’re afraid to flirt, but at the same time you want to.
If you’re wrong, you could get laughed at, yelled at or worse into a fight.
Like a love struck puppy, if a guy would have come up to me and started flirting with me, I would have followed him anywhere, wagging my tail with my tongue hanging out, just begging for his attention. A pat on the head, a scratch under the chin, a belly rub, I would have surrendered any independence I had and become his loyal companion in a heartbeat. I was desperate like that. Loneliness does that to a guy, makes him vulnerable too.
Once I had arrived at the fairgrounds and parked my car, I made my way through the parking lot towards a central location between the majority of points of interest, I figured that it would be a high traffic area and so increase my chances of meeting someone.
There were lots of young people there, young guys between eighteen and twenty-five years of age. I guess a lot of the college students had decided to check out the fair on the last day as well. A sausage fest if ever I had seen one, every fifth word out of every mouth was “Dude,” “Man,” or “Bro.” The testosterone was thick in the air and so was the scent of men’s deodorant. In the middle of August, the summer sun was baking everything in sight, the thermometer at the house said it was ninety-four degrees when I left.
By the time that I had found a good centrally located position, I had worked up a sweat. I lifted my arms with as little obviousness as I could to check for wet pits, yep sure enough my shirt was wet. That was going to make a great first impression, sweating from the nervousness of social anxiety and sweating from the heat, I was going to look like someone dumped a bucket of water on me within an hour.
I looked around at the faces coming and going, the groups of guys in different places, but I didn’t see anyone familiar or that really grabbed at my attention among them. Over towards the soccer field at the edge of the fairgrounds, a large group of guys were passing around water balloons. I thought for a bit and then decided to head over that direction, it looked like it might be fun and if I were to be hit it would hide the fact that I was sweating like a pig.
When I got there, one of the guys was dividing up the rest into two teams. He saw me arrive and said, “You’re with them,” gesturing towards the group to my right, I moved myself over with the others.
“Damien, give that guy a balloon, he’s on your team.” The guy continued to instruct.
“Hey man, here take this,” a familiar voice from behind me approached, tapping me on the shoulder.
I turned around and nearly fainted. Not because I turned around too fast, but because standing there before me was Freckles. Everything around me froze, just like you see in movies during a critical moment, everything just stopped. My heart skipped a beat and I felt light headed, like I was going to pass out. My knees became weak and if my face hadn’t already been red from the heat, it most assuredly would have turned beet red from embarrassment.
I wanted so badly to say something but I couldn’t, I couldn’t so much as make a sound, my throat tightened at every attempt I made, all I could manage to do was take the balloon from his hand. Thankfully the guy in charge quickly announced that we all needed to take up our positions at opposite sides of the field, so there wasn’t enough time for my silence to come off as awkward. The water balloon battle was about to begin and so was the war for Freckles heart.
My group headed to the far end of the field, Freckles or who I now knew was a guy named Damien, was up in front of me, he seemed to be the captain of our team, trying to give out a quick battle plan. For the life of me I had no idea what he was talking about, I was more fixated on just the sound of his voice. It was exactly as I had remembered it. It was like listening to your favorite song after not having heard it in three years. It put me into a trance.
He mostly looked the same. It was amazing to see him again and to be so close to him, to have him speak directly to me, to have touched finger tips with him when he gave me that water balloon, to look right into his beautiful aqua eyes again. It felt incredible. Maybe it didn’t mean anything to him, but that moment of first physical contact, electrified me.
Watching him walk in front of me with his red basketball shorts and white sleeveless t-shirt, he was still so short, but his stride was so commanding, so confident and cocky. Still had that poofy amber-colored hair on his head and that patch of hair on his chin.
Where had he been these past few years? Was he ever a student at Vale Tech like I suspected, what did he get a degree in, was he working somewhere locally, was that why he was still in town, was he just visiting? I had so many questions, but none as important as the hardest question I could ask him… was he into guys?
We arrived at the edge of the field and Damien pointed over at me and said, “Quiet guy, come over here a sec!” What? Really? He was talking to me again! Like the nerdy kid at school who was just acknowledged by the coolest kid on the playground, I felt like the most important person in the world. Freckles wanted to talk to me!
“Yeah man, what’s up? Oh by the way, my name is Dominic.” I tried to play it as cool as I possibly could, but my heart really was racing as I approached him. He may have been barely past five and a half feet tall, but he had an intimidating presence. As fit as ever, his biceps and triceps looked great in that sleeveless muscle shirt.
“I need you to watch my back dude, can you do that, you up to it?” Damien asked.
“Sure man, no problem, I’ll do everything I can to keep you safe.” I replied with a level of my own cockiness. I wanted him to believe in me, but it was all true, I would have jumped through rings of fire if Damien needed me to. Keeping him safe was the best responsibility I could have hoped for.
I still felt a little light headed, this was all like a dream come true. Never had I actually thought that I would see Freckles here, just completely blew my mind. I smirked at the thought of his nickname I gave him three years ago. He knows nothing about it. We were standing side by side, I looked over at his face and then at his arms, yep same old freckles just as I had remembered them. Covering most of his face and the outer and upper parts of his arms. I wondered to myself how much of his body has freckles and then nearly laughed out loud when I wondered if it’s possible he has freckles on his butt. Unbelievably adorable if he did.
I shook my head and reminded myself that I needed to get into the game, I have a job to do and I need to focus, I have to protect Damien, he’s counting on me.
“BEGIN!” The bossy guy from earlier yelled out from across the soccer field, he was apparently captain of the other team.
I guess every guy gets one balloon at a time, there were more in tubs behind us, I had never played this before, but I figured the first team to have all members get hit lose the match? Or maybe we were just playing for the hell of it and there really was no score keeping? Damien didn’t want to get hit though, so maybe captains are the important ones and the first team to have their captain hit loses? Ha, I realized I should have been paying attention to Damien’s strategy earlier.
“It’s go time!” Damien shouted and we all rushed forwards to meet the other team in the center of the field.
He looked over at me at his side saying, “Dude don’t get hit, I need your help.”
“Got it, no worries.” I said hoping he trusted that I would do everything to make him proud to have me on his team.
“Remember, once you use your balloon, you have to run back to the home base and get another, you have to help keep me from getting hit or we lose, so don’t get hit and make sure you take smart shots and watch my back for me bro.” Damien reaffirmed my purpose in the game.
This was probably both the coolest and nerdiest thing I had done in a while. An epic water balloon fight with a bunch of guys I didn’t know who all took it pretty seriously from the sound of it. Of course, I was having a blast just hanging out with Damien. Right before my eyes, my understanding of Freckles was growing and I still hadn’t asked him a single question.
We charged ahead and met the other team in the middle, balloons were flying through the air, guys were yelling insults at each other, some were grunting as they chucked balloons at their enemies, others belted profanity as they got hit. I stayed close to Damien, as we dodged our way through the chaos of guys and balloons. I still held onto mine, saving it for the moment I needed to protect Damien from attack.
Both teams seemed to know who the two captains were, so there was a combination of wanting to attack them, but also to protect their own captain from members of the other team. Kind of felt like a huge game of chess or checkers or something. Offense or defense, which is the more important move, who sacrifices and who evades? A lot more to think about than just throwing a water balloon at a guy.
Keeping an eye on Damien and trying to survive the fight myself, I realized that he was going right for the other team’s captain, clearly trying to end the fight quickly. In this game, physical contact was acceptable, I saw guys push and trip each other all over the place, you’re only out when a balloon explodes on you. Damien zig-zagged, faked out the guys in his way, jerking his body in different positions to dodge balloons and guys’ attempts to knock him down. For a little guy he was a fighter, determined to win.
I followed him into the chaos for as long as I could, by the time half of all the guys were hit and out of the game, it became more difficult to stay in, but I refused to use my balloon wastefully because it was a long way back to our end of the field for another and who knows what could happen to Damien in that amount of time.
Damien saw a chance to chuck his balloon at the other captain and so he stopped to bring back his arm for the throw. A guy from the enemy team spotted Damien.
He pulled his arm back to throw his balloon at Damien just as Damien threw his at the enemy captain. I rushed forwards and jumped into the crossfire, catching the enemy’s balloon on my chest. Damien’s balloon sailed through the air, but missed its target. The enemy captain was not hit.
Still holding my unbroken balloon I yelled up at Damien, “Here take mine,” reaching out my hand and passing it to Damien, he took it and chucked it at the other captain. Direct hit.
The other team shouted, “Cheater! That’s not fair!”
Damien shouted back, “There’s no rule against that, no one’s ever taken a hit willingly and still had an unbroken balloon! Innovation isn’t cheating and neither is sacrifice! We won fair and square!”
After a bit more bickering, the other team conceded that it wasn’t against the rules. Apparently they’ve played this a few times before. There’s no reward for winning, just bragging rights I guess. It felt good to be the reason we won, I didn’t let Damien down.
Despite being hit with a balloon of water, I was pretty hot and the running made me exhausted in the heat, I headed over to the benches along the field to cool down under the trees that lined them. Guys from both teams dispersed off into different directions, some alone, some in groups.
Damien followed me over to the benches and sat down next to me.
“Thanks for sacrificing yourself back there, you’re the reason we won.” Damien seemed amused at my actions.
“I haven’t seen a guy do that in the times I’ve played. You showed loyalty, I can respect that dude. Are you that loyal off the field too?” He asked.
“I’d like to think so.” I answered.
“I never introduced myself to you, my name is Damien Finley.” He said with the cutest smirk I’ve probably ever seen.
“I’m Dominic, Dominic Fitzgerald, it’s nice to meet you man.” I said, as though it was the first time I’ve ever encountered him. I reached out my hand to shake his, he obliged and for the first time I felt full on contact with Freckles. I didn’t want it to end.
Click here to read more chapters from this novel.