Past & Present
by Kevin Quigley
The rest of the class rushed out, a cacophony of squeaking sneakers and squealing chairs. Conversation of what to do after school rose and fell. Logan watched them leave with a mixture of anxiety, regret, and envy. His friends, sure, but there was always that something that set him apart, even from them.
“Logan?” A voice at the head of the class. Mr. McDonough, noticing that Logan dawdled at the back of the class. “Everything all right?”
Normally, he would make a joke. That’s what he was good for. Laugh it up. That’s what all the fat boys do, isn’t it? Treat the world like a joke, because that’s how the world treats you, and don’t think about it too much or you’ll end up going crazy.
Not now. Now, he just hung his head, looked away. “Yeah. Everything’s fine.” His voice came out in mumbles.
“No rush, then?” Mr. McDonough asked, cocking an eyebrow. There it was again, that way Mr. McDonough had of looking into you, of seeming to know what you were thinking.
“Nowhere to go to,” Logan responded, and chuckled. “It’s good to be me.” Yeah, brush it off. That’s what you have to do, isn’t it? Develop that shell, feel it harden around you. Soon enough, you’re cut off from the world.
“What about Melvin?” Mr. McDonough asked. Logan winced. There, right there. The root of the problem. Melvin ... Melvin had a date. I mean, could you believe it? His geeky, glasses-wearing, pocket-protector best friend, had a date. Logan knew that he should feel happy for his friend, and further knew that he should take this as a sign. If Melvin could get someone, then he, of course, could. Right?
But that somehow didn’t seem to matter. Melvin discovering girls didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that Logan was, for the first time, facing the intimations of his adulthood. Eventually, his friends would leave him. He’d leave this class, his protection for the past four years. And he, Logan O’Reilly, would be alone.
“Oh,” said Mr. McDonough. “The date, yes.” Logan watched his teacher. Mr. McDonough had known about Melvin all along, hadn’t he? Then why...?
“Logan, I know what you’re going through,” Mr. McDonough said. Logan looked up, suddenly hopeful. Mr. McDonough always did seem to... But no. No, Mr. McDonough was smart and funny and good-looking, not a tubby nerd like him. No way he could understand.
Mr. McDonough leaned back against the desk nearest him – Melvin’s desk. “You don’t think I could possibly have any idea, do you?”
“Sorry, Mr. McDonough,” Logan said. “But no.”
“What if I were to tell you that when I when I was your age, I stood in the background, watching all my friends leave me, one by one. That I was the odd man out? That when my friends were all noticing and starting to date girls, I’d stay home. In my room, all alone.”
Logan gaped. “That’s very nice of you to say, but I bet you’re just telling me what I need to hear.”
Mr. McDonough stood now, closer. Logan could smell his aftershave. “It’s true, though. I was that guy, Logan. Sometimes, I still think I am.”
Logan watched his teacher. Could he be telling the truth, or was this more platitude to put an easy Band-Aid on a complex, open wound? The thing is, Logan didn’t quite know how he felt half the time, other than alone. His thoughts were so mixed up: if it wasn’t his weight, it was his brain. If not that, his choice in friends. And after that... well, just everything else. Why was his heart speeding up? Was he nervous? Why would he be nervous?
“No,” Logan said, shaking his head in negation. “No, you’re ... well, you’re you.”
Suddenly, Mr. McDonough looked sad. “I’ve been watching you, Logan. In class and out. Pulling away from people. Your friends.”
“No!” Logan said, more sharply than he’d intended. “They’re pulling away from me.”
“That’s what you tell yourself,” Mr. McDonough said, stepping closer. “You blame them. You blame the world. You blame your weight.”
Logan’s heart sped up more; now it jackhammered in his chest.
“Logan,” Mr. McDonough said. “I’ve been watching your weight. I don’t see a problem with it at all.”
And Mr. McDonough stepped even closer, his head leaning in, and all at once, Mr. McDonough’s lips were on his, Logan’s, and all thought was obliterated.
Moments (minutes? hours? eons?) later, Mr. McDonough moved back, a half-step. He was still close enough to smell, that scent of aftershave lingering in the air between them.
“If I’m wrong…,” Mr. McDonough began, in an uncharacteristically soft voice. Logan interrupted him.
“You’re not wrong,” he said, and now all thoughts of Melvin’s date, thoughts of not fitting in, thoughts of those long, long, lonely nights ahead … all of those were gone. “I just didn’t know what right was.”
Now it was his turn. Logan stepped closer, so much closer to his favorite teacher. Oh, that smell was heaven. He parted his lips. Closed his eyes. Tumbled into his second kiss ever, wanting to cry for the fact that there was justice in this world. Mr. McDonough’s hand went to Logan’s belly, his fat belly, and remained there.
I don’t have to be alone anymore, he thought, then wrapped his arms around Mr. McDonough and held him like that for a long, long time.