His mom is going up to the podium to speak. Everyone is so quiet that all I could hear was the piano softly playing "Amazing Grace." I think about him…I still can't believe it. My best friend. Dead. Just yesterday, he told me he was gay.
I couldn't be gay, just like I couldn't have caused his death. When he told me, someone overheard and asked me how I could be his friend anymore and I just couldn't stand the embarrassment. So I said it. I said I couldn't be friends with a fag. I said that right to his face and I walked away.
He left early; someone said he wasn't feeling well. I never thought—he was always so happy, so kind to everyone. And look what happened. Kids took advantage of him and he couldn't handle it. Kids are cruel, my class is cruel…and he was, well, weak.
His mom is beginning to talk. "My son, Jaylen…he was always such a happy-go-lucky kid. He always found a way to make the worst things in the world disappear. He was always so nice to everyone. He stood up for his friends. He never left anyone behind. Jaylen had straight A's. He was president of drama club, co-captain of the swim team. He took a stand for what he believed, and he stuck up for kids he didn't know. He had so many friends. I—I just don't understand.
He never used drugs or cut or anything like that. Jaylen was such a great kid, I just wish I'd t-told him sooner. I'm s-sorry—" And with that, she breaks off with a sob, stepping down to let her husband take her place at the podium.
As this exchange happens, I remember that day. The day when everyone picked on me: the new kid, the freak. Jaylen stood by me. And I hurt him? No, no—he hurt himself, I reminded myself. I fight back tears.
"Jaylen," says his father, "was so many amazing things. He was smart, athletic, outgoing, strong…and he was always so sure of himself. He was probably the most confident fifteen-year-old I've ever met.
"Last month, my son confided in me that he…that he liked other boys. My first response was that no son of mine would ever be gay. But he just looked so relieved to have told his secret, and he was so sure, and at that point I knew he was, and—and—and there was nothing I could do or say to change him…" He begins to cry, but continues. "He just looked at me and said, Dad, I'm happy being me, I just want you to love me—the real me…"
Jaylen's mother leaves the room.
"I looked at him, and I told him I didn't know how to feel about what he'd just told me, but I would always love him. He'd always be my son. And he just stared at me and said, 'I know, Dad.' And then…he explained how much it hurt sometimes to know that he couldn't openly love someone. I just listened. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know that I should have said anything at all.
"I should have stepped up to the plate. I should have helped him find his place in the community, if only so that he could have friends that would understand what he was going through. I'm so sorry, Jaylen. And my wife, my God…I should have told you. We could have prevented this. He was such a strong young man, and I'm—proud—to call him my son."
The podium stands alone as Jaylen's father steps down. I have the note in my hand, the one I found in my locker yesterday. One word: my name. It was from Jaylen; I'd recognize his handwriting anywhere. I stand up. As I walk to the podium, I take a deep breath, my mind completely blank. I don't know what I'm going to say.
I haven't even opened the letter.
"My name is Hunter. I…I'm the boy that Mrs. Riley talked about. Her son stood up for me. We were best friends since fourth grade. Most of my classmates know me as the so-called psychic. I'm the one who always seems to know what will happen before the fact. And it's true that, when I was younger, kids picked on me, specifically because of this. But not Jaylen. He always cared about what I saw and how I felt.
"Yesterday, he told me he was gay. And I completely deserted Jaylen. But if the roles were reversed, he never would have done the same to me. I—I came up here to read the last thing he wrote. I found this note in my locker yesterday. I haven't read it yet, but I wanted to share it with you.
I'm sorry if I hurt you, or scared you, or whatever, but please don't abandon me. The whole school is attacking me. It's third period and I've already taken two punches today. I've been spat on. You don't have to agree with my lifestyle, just be my friend, please. Hunter, I love you so much. You're the only friend I have left. I hope. If you're still my friend, give me a call around lunchtime, all right? If not, I guess this is goodbye. I'm sorry.
All is quiet as the tears pour down my face. If only I hadn't…if only…I could have saved him. It wouldn't be like this. Looking around, all I can see are lives I've ruined with one well-placed hole.
"Hunter, are you okay? You looked like you were having a vision again," Jaylen says, looking worried.
"Actually, no. I'm not okay."
"Oh. Um, did you hear what I was saying?"
"No, but what is it?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
"I just wanted to tell you that, well, I'm gay. Please don't freak out. Can we still be friends?"
A kid had over hears and asks me how I can be his friend anymore, just as I had foreseen. I turn to look at Jaylen. "I'm sorry, but I can't be your best friend anymore…because I'd like to be your boyfriend instead," I say before kissing him. The other kid runs off calling us queers, but I don't care. Jaylen's life is more important to me than what others think of me. I'm glad I know that now.