Stuck With You
Stuck With You
I glanced forward and saw the back of Cute Guy’s head again. “What are you going to do if Cute Guy turns out to be interested?” I said.
“What?” Caleb looked startled.
“You were doing some first-class flirting up there,” I said. I put my arm behind my head and rubbed my neck, which didn’t make me feel all cool or bashful in the slightest. I hammed it up a bit.
“Dude, stop,” Caleb said, cringing. “Did I really look like that?”
“No.” I snorted. “Of course, you didn’t.” Caleb looked great. Like he always did. “I’m sure he thought you were great.”
“You think?” Caleb said, and his voice had a little hitch.
“Wait.” I stared at him. What was happening? “Do you want him to think you were great?”
“Maybe?” Caleb said. “I mean, I’m not opposed to it.” He was blushing. Caleb Khoury was blushing. He shrugged. “It would be okay, yeah.”
The word thunderstruck did not cover what was happening in my brain right now. “Wait. Are you saying you’re…” I said.
He lifted one shoulder. “Yeah.”
Stop the damn train. Caleb Khoury was into guys?
“Oh,” I said. I kind of squirmed, too. “Sorry. I didn’t know. Really. I wasn’t making fun, I promise.”
He laughed. “It’s okay, I don’t really tell a lot of people. I mean, some of my friends know I’m bi, kinda.”
“Kinda?” I said.
“Kinda,” he said.
Okay. Well, that cleared nothing up.
“Thank you for telling me.” That was something we practiced at the Rainbow Club. Thanking people who trusted us enough to tell us about their queerness.
“And don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
He nodded, but I couldn’t tell if he’d been worried I would tell people or not.
We stared at each other. Then, because I didn’t have the slightest clue what else to say, I said, “Was that the first time you ever flirted with a guy?”
“Maybe?” he said, and he squinted. “Yes. I guess. IT was weird. It was different. What was it different?
Caleb scowled like he was so used to being so cool around girls that not being cool around boys offended him somehow. “It shouldn’t be different.”
“Of course, it’s different,” I said. “All the rules are gone.”
“Open the door. Pull out the chair. The father gives away the bride.” I shrugged. “There are so many rules for straight people, telling them what to do. It’s different for us.”
Us. I’d just used the word us to describe myself and Caleb Khoury. How was this my life? What was even happening right now?
“I didn’t propose, Benny,” he said, with a little snort. “I said he had a nice pin.”
Ben Ross is returning from his “required” trip to visit his father in Toronto. He doesn’t look forward to these visits because he feels that his accountant father doesn’t really have time for him, and Ben looks forward to the day that he doesn’t have to go anymore. And this trip was even harder because, just before he left school, the very popular Caleb Khoury hit his cellphone with a basketball and broke it. Ben couldn’t even text his good friend Raj, and they always know what to say to calm Ben down. However, he’s trying to stay positive and enjoy the train ride back to Ottawa. Ben feels that things are finally going his way as the seat beside him remains empty as the train car fills with people. Just when Ben thinks he’s in the clear, Caleb Khoury sits down right beside him!
Caleb tries to spark up conversation with Ben, but Ben is still angry about the phone, and he doesn’t respect Caleb or his friend group. But Caleb keeps trying and even apologizes for breaking Ben’s phone. Against Ben’s better judgment, he has to admit that Caleb is cute! Ben is part of the Rainbow Club at school but is pretty sure that Caleb is straight because he’s dating Emma. On the train ride, however, Caleb lets Ben know that Emma broke up with him and they aren’t going to prom together either. Ben tells Caleb that he had plans to go to prom with all of his friends in the Rainbow Club, but recently Lin and Jasmine, who are in the club, parted ways, and Jasmine was now dating Roy. The Club wanted to exclude Jasmine because of the change, but Ben wants the group to be more inclusive and shares these details with Caleb. To Ben’s surprise, Caleb doesn’t even flinch and seems supportive towards Ben’s predicament in getting the Rainbow Club back on a more positive track.
While Ben and Caleb continue to chat, Ben learns that Caleb likes Miyazaki movies and is actually interested in dating boys, which is totally unexpected. While talking, they notice Cute Guy, who is wearing a rainbow pin on his jacket. Ben is too afraid to speak to him, but Caleb walks over and compliments him on his pin then returns to his seat. Ben is in awe as he learns more about Caleb and how he is more like Ben than different.
When they finally arrive in Ottawa, Ben and Caleb are getting along well. Ben’s stepdad is able to give Caleb a ride home from the station, and, once Ben and his stepdad are alone, he tells Ben that Caleb is interested in him. Ben missed all the signs and is surprised, but his stepdad encourages Ben to ask Caleb out on a date.
Back at school, Caleb and Ben meet up once again. In front of his friends, Caleb asks Ben to go to prom with him. Caleb’s friends are surprisingly supportive and apparently already know that Caleb has been interested in Ben for some time. Ben agrees, and they kiss right there in the hall amongst all of Caleb and Ben’s friends. This is all new territory for both Ben and Caleb, but it feels right and they look forward to exploring the future together.
Stuck With You, part of the “Real Love” series, is a well-written and believable narrative that addresses the many struggles people who identify as LGBTQ+ may face. Although most of the story takes place within the confines of two seats on a train, Burgoine does a solid job of using that singular setting to introduce more complex issues including gender fluidity, not knowing what to do after high school graduation, navigating changing friendships and relationships, and the difficulties of dealing with shared custody. The text does deal with weighty issues, but they are presented in a way that would be accessible to most readers because they are not dramatically highlighted but are simply there.
Penta Ledger is a teacher-librarian at Gravenhurst High School in Gravenhurst, Ontario.