Over the next few days, a massive outpouring of grief swept through the city, as crowds filled the weekend funerals for the shooting victims. The mayor of Los Angeles designated the following Monday as a city-wide day of mourning, and all of the county schools were shuttered in memory of the principal, the teacher, and the five students who died during the incident. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, it had been a slow news week, and the 'Chatsworth High Massacre' -- to which the incident was now being referred by the press -- was still being featured as the lead story on every network TV newscast, as well as being endlessly examined, psychoanalyzed, and debated on a bewildering array of prime-time documentaries and talk shows.
Dylan and Kyle left the last memorial service early. As they trudged out of the chapel and down the stone steps that led through the well-manicured grounds of Forest Lawn Cemetery, Dylan glanced up towards the Northern sky, which was grey and foreboding -- typical late November weather for the area. At least it's not raining, he reminded himself. But this place is bad enough even in bright sunlight. The graveyard was curiously beautiful, but still felt odd and unsettling, as if it was trying too desperately to appear uplifting and spiritual.
They walked in silence out to the parking lot, then got into Dylan's BMW.
"Funerals totally suck," quipped Kyle, as he loosened his tie. "If ya ask me, Hank's family did it the right way quick cremation, no service, just gone..." He snapped his fingers. "Gone like that. No muss, no fuss, Gus."
Dylan nodded as he cranked the engine, then drove through the long curving driveway and slowed to make the turn through the exit lane. "Yeah. Y'know, up until this year, I'd only been to two..." He thought for a minute. "...no, make that just one funeral -- for my Grandma back in Connecticut, ten years ago. Let's hope this is the last time I have to do this, at least for awhile."
As they reached the graveyard's dark grey exit gates, there was a loud clunk and the metal rungs slowly swung open. Dylan cursed under his breath when he saw the crowd of reporters and photographers waiting outside. The media had been in a feeding frenzy for the last few days, and if anything, their ferocity seemed to be intensifying, rather than fading away.
"Shit," he muttered. "It's like we're surrounded by piranhas." He stepped on the gas and tore out, just barely missing an LA Times free-lancer, who leaped out of the Roadster's way just in time.
"Whoa!" yelled Kyle, as he turned to catch a glimpse of the reporter in the rearview mirror. Kyle laughed uproariously when he saw the man standing on the sidewalk, yelling and shaking his fist as the car ripped down Forest Lawn Drive. "Dude, you better take it easy, or else you're gonna wind up in another newspaper story!"
"I give one fucking interview, just to help out a nutty gay kid, and look what happens," Dylan lamented, quickly changing gears. "My life is so over."
Kyle sighed. They'd been to three funerals over the past few days -- one for team place-kicker Jason Blake, who'd gotten shot just outside the cafeteria, another for a junior-varsity football player they knew only casually, and today's was for school principal Meyers. The body of their English Lit teacher, Monica Raymond, was being flown back to her family's home in Britain. Neither he nor Dylan knew the other three victims. While the two boys were at the funerals, few classmates would even get near them -- as if they were somehow the shooter's accomplices, instead of the heroes of the day. The publicity from the soon-to-be-released Time cover story had prompted enormous public opinion on Donny Mitchell, raising comparisons to Matthew Shepherd as well debates on gay-bashing in general, but polls showed the country was sharply divided on the issue.
"Donny still in a coma?" asked Kyle, as he turned on the car radio with his one good hand. The speakers momentarily blared with a howling guitar chord, but Kyle quickly turned it down.
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. But at least he's out of critical condition. Looks like he's gonna live after all, but they don't know if he'll ever walk again."
"Jesus," Kyle said, glancing out the window. "Knowing the parents of the kids who got shot, I bet they'll still want to wheel his ass into court for trial no matter what, even if he's as paralyzed as Christopher Reeeve. They want that kid dead, no matter what."
They continued down Forest Lawn Drive, then made the left turn on Barham and up the hill to the freeway on-ramp. Kyle leaned his seat back and idly drummed his fingers in time to the music.
Death, Dylan thought, as he sped through the interchange. It's like I'm surrounded by death and destruction. I saw three people get totally blown away in the cafeteria only five days ago. He relived the moments -- saw the principal's head snap back as the gun erupted, then watched Ms. Raymond's lifeless body fall to the floor, followed by Donny Mitchell's neck and chest exploding in a hail of gunfire. God. It's like we've been through a war.
"You gonna be okay, man?" Kyle asked quietly, then reached over and put his hand on top of Dylan's forearm, then squeezed it gently.
Kyle glanced at his friend quizzically. I know that look, he thought. Something's still buggin' him.
Twenty miles later, they took the 118 freeway exit that led to Dylan's family's Chatsworth estate, but the BMW suddenly turned in a different direction and darted down a side street.
"Where we going?" Kyle said, whipping his head around and glancing in the other direction. "I thought we were goin' back to your place!"
Dylan turned to Kyle. "There's one more funeral I gotta go through," he said quietly. "The last one." He gunned the engine and maneuvered the sports car down the street and into a small enclave of about 150 homes. After rolling through the open gate, he drove down to the very end of the block and finally came to a stop in front of a nondescript tan one-story ranch-style house, then turned off the engine.
Kyle looked out the window at the lonely-looking structure. The lawn was rather straggly, and a half-dozen yellowed newspapers lay in the driveway. The windows were bare, bereft of curtains, blinds, or shutters, and a 20/20 Realty sign was prominently displayed on the front lawn.
He turned back to his friend. Dylan's hands were shaking, and tears were welling up in his eyes. Kyle suddenly understood.
"It's his house, isn't it?" he asked quietly. "Angel's."
Dylan nodded and wiped his eyes. "Yeah. My attorney talked to his mother for about ten seconds before she left town last Tuesday. She took Angel's body..." His voice caught in his throat for a few seconds, then he continued. "...took his body with her, back to Phoenix for burial. She told McBrian to tell me not to ever speak to her again. Like it was somehow my fault the kid died or something."
Kyle shook his head sadly. Angel's father had died several days before, without ever regaining consciousness from his self-inflicted injuries. Kyle doubted Angel's mother would ever want to do anything with Mr. Tortellini's body, except maybe to burn it.
Dylan opened the door, stepped out, then walked around the car and leaned through the passenger window. "Listen, Kyle," he said. "This'll just take me a second. Just stay here until I come back, 'kay?"
Kyle nodded. "Sure. Leave me the keys. I'll just listen to K-Rock or something."
"Thanks. This won't take more than five or ten minutes."
Dylan stepped briskly up the stone steps and over to the front door. He tentatively tried the handle, but it was firmly locked, just as he expected, with one of those goofy real-estate boxes on the handle. He made his way over to the left side of the house, took a quick look around, then climbed over the rickety wooden fence that led to the backyard. He stepped up to the glass-sliding doors. Also locked. He pressed his nose up against the glass but could see very little inside.
"Shit," he muttered out loud. "You always seemed to be able to get into my place with no problem, Angel. Why the fuck is it so hard for me to get into yours?"
Just then, a gust of wind blew up, swirling a cloud of dirt and leaves at his feet. In the distance, he heard what sounded like a wooden door slam.
Dylan felt a sudden wave of panic. Not possible, he thought. He's dead. Even Angel can't pull a trick like that.
He cautiously made his way around to the other side of the house and was surprised to see the side-door partially open. Nearby on the ground were some remnants of yellow plastic tape. He picked up a tattered strand and inspected it: 'Crime Scene -- Do Not Cross.' He shivered.
I wonder if he died right here, he wondered, glancing at the ground. He gently pushed the door open with his toe and stepped inside a dark room. He felt for a light switch, then flipped it. Nothing. Power's already been turned off. He cursed himself for not thinking of bringing along a flashlight, then crept noiselessly through the hallway until he reached the living room.
It was empty, as he expected. Just a few deep grooves and dusty indentations on the wall-to-wall carpeting to indicate where the furniture had been. The only illumination in the house came from the windows, but the gloomy late-afternoon skies did little to allow much light into the room. As his eyes got used to the darkness, he realized the room somehow looked much bigger than it had when it was filled with bookshelves and furniture.
The wind picked up again outside, and he felt a cold breeze ripple through an open window to the right.
Dylan glanced down the dark hall. I have to do this, he said to himself, gripping his fists. He made his way over to the right and slowly edged down the hall, then stopped at the last door at the end.
The door was closed. He slowly inched it open until it bumped against the wall and stopped. Empty.
Dylan took a few tentative steps inside and looked around. It was a little brighter in here, since Angel's room was on the West side of the house, and the setting sun could just barely peek over the trees in the distance and provide a few patches of daylight. There were a few more small scattered pieces of yellow police tape on the carpeted floor.
He turned and stared at where the bed used to be. Momentary images of his past encounters with Angel flashed through his head: loving Angel, kissing him passionately... evil Angel, laughing and tormenting him... smiling Angel, grateful for the gifts and affection Dylan had given him... cruel Angel, degrading him and treating him as if he were just a child's toy to use and throw away.
Suddenly, Dylan became aware of some dampness on the right side of his face. He reached up and felt the tears with his fingertips, then wiped them away. I didn't even know I was crying, he thought with a sudden shock. His lower lip began to shake.
"I really did love you, little dude," he whispered. "I would've done anything for you. Anything."
Another image of Angel appeared in his mind: passionate Angel... caressing his naked body, feeling his warmth, pleasuring him in every way possible.
He thought for a few moments, rewinding through all the memories of the past four months. That's all it's been, he thought, surprised by the short length of time. I only knew you for four months, but you changed my life forever.
"I'm sorry all this happened, Angel," he said quietly. "I hope... I hope somehow you can rest in peace."
There was no answer, except for another powerful gust of the Santa Ana winds that rattled through the back of the house.
After a moment, Dylan sighed, then turned to leave the room. Through the door, in the darkness at the very end of the hallway, he saw what looked like two glowing eyes, shimmering in limbo.
"SHIT!" he screamed.
"DUDE!" cried a voice.
It was Kyle. "Jesus, I'm sorry, man!" the boy apologized, as he stepped past him into Angel's bedroom and turned on a flashlight. "You were gone for almost fifteen minutes, and I was gettin' kinda worried! I figured, Angel's dead, you were kinda freaked-out, and maybe you might -- you know..." He made a helpless gesture, then looked at his friend with a worried expression.
Dylan smiled. "No chance," he said. "I wasn't gonna kill myself or anything. I guess I just kinda wanted to... I dunno, say goodbye or something."
Kyle nodded, then swung his flashlight across the floor. "This is where that kid made you do all that shit?"
Kyle made a wry face. "Sounds pretty fuckin' sick."
Dylan nodded sheepishly. "Yeah. But if you wanna know the truth, I kinda enjoyed some of it. That other kid, K.C. -- man, he was totally well-hung."
Kyle raised an eyebrow. "Bigger than me?"
"Are you kidding?" Dylan replied, holding his hands apart. "Huge! Bigger than even Lionel. And he was only like 14."
His friend chortled. "Inches long, or years old?"
"Years old, you douche!"
Kyle nodded with appreciation. "Too cool. I wouldn't have mind meetin' both of 'em, for a little, ah... get-together."
Dylan smiled sadly. "Angel wanted to do that." His face turned serious. "But trust me -- you're better off not ever having known him."
"Yeah." His friend moved the beam of the flashlight across the floor, then stopped at what looked like a reddish-brown discoloration on the pale white carpeting, just as it met the wall next to the bathroom. "What's that down there?"
Dylan approached the floorboard and stared. "Jesus," he said quietly. He bent down to take a closer look. "I think it's... yeah. It's dried blood." He looked up at Kyle. "Jesus. I bet this is the spot where Angel died."
The other boy shuddered. "Wait a minute. You said he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital!"
"Whatever," Dylan retorted. "But this is where he wound up after his father beat the crap out of him and strangled him." But I'm not gonna think about that right now, he thought. Yolanda had told him earlier to try to concentrate on remembering just the good times, and eventually the bad ones would fade away.
The wind picked up outside the house and began to howl even louder.
"Okay!" said Kyle, lifting Dylan up by the shoulders and scooting him down the hallway. "I've had enough of this Nightmare on Elm Street. Let's get outta here, dude, before Freddy Krueger or some shit grabs us."
They made their way back to the side door, which Dylan carefully closed and locked, then shimmied back over the fence, jumped down and headed back on the path that led to the front door.
"Hey," said Kyle, pointing to the mailbox by the sidewalk. "Looks like the kid got some mail."
"Gotta be junk," said Dylan. After weighing his conscience for a few seconds, he shrugged and reached in and flipped through the envelopes. Direct-mail ads... People magazine... Subway sandwich coupons... wait! There was an envelope labeled 'EZ Photolab of Chatsworth,' addressed to Angel. Dylan took that one and trotted back to the car, Kyle in tow.
"What is it?" Kyle asked, as he hopped in the passenger seat.
"I dunno." Dylan tore open the manila envelope. There were only ten pictures there, along with some original 35mm negatives.
"Who the hell shoots film anymore?" quipped Kyle. "I thought all this stuff was digital now."
"Maybe Angel was a purist." He glanced through the photographs. Two were of handsome teenagers he didn't know -- probably from Angel's school, he thought -- but one was of him, a distant shot at the football game from the month before, and the other was a close-up of Angel, probably taken by his mother a week or two ago. The boy peered out from the snapshot, his handsome face half-obscured in shadow. Though he was smiling, his eyes seemed strange, almost haunted. Dylan touched the face with his fingertips.
I wonder what he was thinking about in the split-second when this picture was taken?, he wondered. He sighed again, then wiped his eyes and looked down, slightly embarrassed. "I don't even have a picture of him to remember him by," Dylan said. "Maybe I'll keep this one for awhile."
Kyle nodded, then reached for the color glossies. "Yeah," he replied, inspecting the photo carefully. "I gotta admit -- Angel really was a great-looking guy."
Dylan started up the engine, then turned to his friend. "I'm gonna try to forget him," he said quietly. "I hope you can help me do that."
The boy grinned. "Damned right I will," he chortled. "Every way I know how. Let's get outta here."
The BMW Roadster's engine revved up, then took off down the street in a cloud of blue smoke.
§ § §
Mike Callahan lay back on the sofa, his feet propped up on the coffee table, and stared unblinkingly into the fireplace. The gas flames flickered upwards, forming a luminous arc of flame that gently lapped against the large glass plate in front of the hearth, filling the room with a warm, luxurious glow. His wife sat just behind him, her hand resting on the back of his head, while she sipped a Vernors Ginger Ale.
"If it's alright, I'll be going now, Mr. Callahan."
The man turned his head towards the black woman standing nearby, who looked at him expectantly. He nodded. "Sure, Ernelle. Thanks. Dinner was great tonight."
She smiled. "Thank you." The maid turned, then paused. "Does Dylan and his friend need anything upstairs?"
"I'm sure they'll be fine, Ernelle," said his wife.
"Alright then," the maid replied. "Yolanda will be back in the morning at 7AM. See you on Thursday." She turned and walked around the indoor pool and disappeared through the kitchen doorway.
Callahan turned back to the flames, watching their hypnotic dance writhe through the glass window. Man has been looking at fire for about ten thousand years, he mused, and we're probably as fascinated with it today as we were back then. "It never changes," he said quietly.
"Fire," he said, nodding towards the fireplace. "Something as raw and elemental as the energy in that fireplace. We still don't really know how fire works, exactly. Pure energy that lights up a room and warms us. I'll bet cavemen from 50,000 years ago knew no more about it than I do." He glanced back to her and shrugged. "Some things never change."
She frowned, then took another sip. "Our son certainly did," she said. She took her hand off his forehead and sat back on the couch.
Callahan rolled his eyes. "Polly... we've been over this a hundred times. We don't even know for sure if Dylan's really gay. Hell, I bet even he doesn't know. And what if he is? It's not like it's the end of the world."
His wife sadly shook her head. "Some families have homosexuals... I know that happens sometimes, despite everyone's best intentions. But everyone will know about Dylan now."
The man reached out and gently squeezed her hand. "It could be a lot worse," he pointed out. "It's not like he's strung-out on pills, or flunking out of school. Dylan's smarter than that. He's a good kid. For that matter, so is Kyle."
She snorted. "And they're up they're right now, doing..."
"...as far as I'm concerned, they're either studying, sleeping, or watching TV," Callahan finished. She started to interrupt, but he gently placed his index finger across her mouth to shush her. "Ah-ah-ah," he reminded. "We agreed on a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy in this house. Look at it this way -- if he does have a friend sleep over, at least Dylan's not having sex with total strangers in one of those wild nightclubs in West Hollywood."
Polly shivered. She'd seen several episodes of Queer as Folk on TV, and while she had to admit that some of the acting and romantic interludes were entertaining, in an odd sort of way, the raunchier side of the show gave her the willies. At last, she slowly nodded. "I guess you're right," she admitted. "And Kyle does come from a nice family."
He smiled, then leaned up to give her a quick peck. "Yes," he said. "He does. Thanks, babe. Just give it time. Remember what Dr. Brinkman said last week: don't try to understand it or approve of it -- just accept Dylan, and hope that he can be happy. Him and whoever he settles down with someday."
She took another sip of ginger ale and nodded. "I'll try." She put the bottle down on the table and gazed at her husband. "Are you?"
"Am I what?"
The man grinned, then pushed up and rolled over until he was on top of her. She giggled, and he kissed her deeply.
"Well, I can tell you how I could be a lot happier," he whispered. "If you've got a few minutes."
She smiled wickedly and leaned up into him for another long kiss, then they snuggled together and basked in the fireplace's warm amber glow.
§ § §
"You sure you wanna do this, man?" whispered Dylan.
Kyle nodded. After several minutes of careful experimentation, the two boys realized this was the only position that wouldn't aggravate Kyle's injured shoulder. Kyle sat up on his knees, carefully poised over Dylan's mid-section, then positioned his naked body over the target and slowly lowered himself down.
"Almost -- ooof -- almost in," he grimaced. "This was always easier on Queer As Folk. You ever see the show?"
"No," Dylan said, shifting his position slightly. "But I'm gonna do some catching up soon." After a moment, he sucked in his breath as a wave of pleasure shot through his body. "God," he murmured. "Oh... this is the best."
Kyle grinned, then put his one good arm across his friend's powerful chest and gave him a playful squeeze. "You're tellin' me," he said, beginning to pant. "This was Kincaid's favorite with me, too."
"I can see why," Dylan replied. He reached forward and gently grasped his friend's groin, and gave it a tentative stroke.
Kyle let out a moan and began to impale his body deeper. Both athletes began to gyrate, and a light patina of sweat appeared on their muscular bodies.
In the background, Lady the dog pawed the bathroom door, and let out a mournful growl. She'd been locked up for more than 15 minutes, and was beginning to fear that she'd been completely forgotten about. She tried a few more tentative scratches, then rested on her haunches and lay her head down -- which was made more difficult by the much-despised plastic cone around her neck that prevented her from reaching her still-healing wounds. Suddenly, she jerked up when she heard some loud moans through the door. Was her master being hurt?
In just a few minutes, both boys had managed to build their rhythm to a frenzy, their bodies effortlessly moving as one, poised on the brink of ecstasy. Dylan's thrusts became more furious, his groin stabbing upwards as if it could penetrate its target deeper with every stroke.
"Oh, fuck!" he groaned. His fist was a blur now, expertly manipulating Kyle's erection faster and faster.
"Jesus!" cried Kyle. "Oh, Christ... I'm comin'!"
"Right behind ya, dude!"
As their bodies bucked together in unison, Kyle suddenly let out a cry and erupted all over Dylan's chest and stomach.
"I'm... I'm almost there," gasped Dylan.
Kyle regained his composure, then leaned forward and began pistoning his hind quarters like a machine. At last, Dylan bellowed out something unintelligible, and spasmed twice... three times... four times... then he fell back on the pillow, thoroughly spent, his powerful chest rising and falling rapidly with the exertion.
After a moment, his friend grinned and leaned forward. "Hey -- gimme a hand here."
Dylan looked up dazedly, then nodded as Kyle slowly extracted himself, then rolled alongside him and lay his left arm across his lover's chest.
"Shit!" Kyle said, laughing. "You're a total mess, dude."
Dylan smiled, then turned and kissed him, long and hard. "Yeah," he replied, as their lips parted. "Sex can be real messy... especially if you're doin' it right. Somebody said that in a movie once."
His friend giggled, then tried to sit up and let out a yelp.
"Shit," Dylan said, as he hopped off the bed and ran around to give Kyle a hand. "Shoulder still that bad?"
"Yeah," Kyle replied through gritted teeth, as he gingerly touched his right shoulder. "The doctors said most of the damage was just through the muscle. It missed my shoulder-blade, but it nicked my collarbone. It's not broken, but it still hurts like a motherfuck."
He allowed Dylan to gently lift him up to his feet. Kyle's right arm was temporarily immobilized in a light blue cloth sling, and a large white waterproof bandage covered the stitches from the police bullet that had ripped through both sides of his shoulder, just six days earlier.
"Need another pain pill?" Dylan asked, looking around the room for the bottle.
"Naaaa," Kyle said. "I'll get by. Maybe we'll save the Vicodins for a rainy day."
"Good idea." The two teens embraced and shared another long kiss.
They turned to make their way around the bed and back to the bathroom, but then froze when there was a sudden loud knock from the bedroom door.
"Dylan?" called his father. "Son, your Mom and I are going to bed. See you two at breakfast."
"Right, Dad," Dylan said, trying not to giggle as Kyle gently nipped at his neck. "G'night."
He pushed his friend towards the bathroom. "You are a total nut, y'know that?" he said, trying not to laugh.
"Hey, how 'bout two," replied Kyle, shaking his groin.
"Already got my own." With that, Dylan opened the bathroom door, and out trotted the Afghan Hound, looking more than a little puzzled and hurt. "Awww... Lady! I'm sorry," he said, then embraced the dog and let her gratefully lick his face.
"Hey, I got somethin' else for her to lick, if you want," said Kyle, leaning towards them.
"Pervert," Dylan retorted, taking his friend by his good arm and leading him into the bathroom, then closed the door behind them. He deftly removed his condom and tossed it into the toilet, then nodded towards the glass door. "Shower. Now. Then we gotta sleep, 'kay?"
Kyle nodded, then winced as he carefully slipped the sling off. "Don't get any water on the bandages, 'kay?"
"I'll use the Shower Massage on you like I did yesterday."
Kyle stepped inside and stood at the back of the stall, then Dylan leaned in and carefully adjusted the spray well away from his friend's injuries, and closed the door. He let the warm water caress their skin for a few moments. The two lovers relaxed and let the hot steam rise up and sooth their bodies with a thick blanket of warmth. In seconds, the glass shower walls misted up with an impenetrable wall of fog.
"Turn around," Dylan ordered.
Kyle obediently moved to his right and felt a warm spray rinse off his back, then move a little lower.
"Mmmmmm," he murmured. "Feels great."
Dylan grinned and fastened the shower head back to the wall fixture, then stepped into the spray and rubbed his groin up against him.
"Wha?" Kyle said, trying to turn his head.
Dylan leaned forward and kissed him. "I forgot to tell you how great that was," he whispered.
"Me, too," Kyle replied.
They stood for a moment and let the warm water ripple down their muscular backs. Dylan gently stroked his lover's chest from behind, feeling the sharply-indented ridge between the boy's pecs with his fingertips, then moved his hands wider, kneading a large chunk of muscle on the uninjured side. He nuzzled Kyle's neck with his nose, then gave him a tender kiss.
"How bad d'ya think it's gonna be?" Kyle asked. "Tomorrow, that is."
Dylan sighed, then hugged him and put his head on the boy's shoulder. "The magazine interview just hit the stands today," he said. "Maybe that'll do some good. But we'll just have to play it by ear."
"The team's gonna freak."
"I know. Look, it'll all be over with in four days. After the game Friday night, nobody's gonna give a shit."
Kyle smiled wanly, then shook his head. "You're assuming we're gonna live 'til Friday."
"We made it through the massacre," Dylan replied, then leaned forward for another kiss. "We can make it through anything."
§ § §
What Dylan didn't prepare for was the opposite the following morning. More than two hundred students and faculty members stood on the curb and applauded when he and Kyle got out of the BMW in the school parking lot, at 8:20AM.
"YO, DYLAN!" cried a voice from the crowd. "YOU TOTALLY ROCK!" A few others whistled and cheered.
"Shit," whispered Kyle. "You know this was gonna happen?"
"No way," retorted Dylan. "These people are insane."
"Sign this!" cried a pretty black girl, who pushed a magazine into his hand. "Please? Make it out to Krista. You saved my friend Darcy's life!"
"Me, too!" echoed another.
Dylan winced. He stared at the Time magazine cover again. Inside the Chatsworth High School Massacre, blared the banner headline, below which was a grainy photograph of Donny Mitchell's face superimposed over an aerial shot of the school, where the flags were at half-staff. Dylan's handsome face was highlighted in a box in the upper right corner, captioned: Gay Hero Saves 135 Lives.
He took the pen and quickly scrawled out his name on a half-dozen copies. Maybe I should change my name to 'Gay Hero Callahan,' he mused. Or maybe something snappier, like 'Gayman.' Or 'Gaydude.'
Kyle looked up and noticed a group of other students leaning against a wall, mostly boys, who scowled back at him. One gave them the finger.
"Let's get outta here, dude," whispered Kyle, eying the boys in the distance as they pushed through the crowd. "They're gonna get bored with this pretty quick."
Or maybe not, thought Dylan an hour later, as he stood behind the mayor of Los Angeles in the school auditorium, which was filled to capacity.
"In recognition of your heroic action during last week's tragedy," the man intoned, "Dylan Callahan, I'd like to present you with the Los Angeles Medal of Freedom. Congratulations!"
The applause was deafening. Most of the students in the auditorium were on their feet. Dylan glanced to the left side of the front row and recognized Sean McIntosh by his spiky red hair and glasses. Sean was grinning ear-to-ear, and tears were streaming down his cheeks. Dylan smiled and gave him a nod.
"Speech!" cried a voice in the distance. "Speech!"
The school principal held up his hands, and the audience reluctantly sat down and waited expectantly.
Dylan stepped up the microphone and cleared his throat. "Look, I'm... I'm not a hero," he began.
The audience began to buzz their dissent.
"No, really," Dylan insisted. "I'm not. I swear to God, I did what I did without even thinking about it. And I bet a lotta you would have, too, if you'd been in the same situation as me. But the thing you just gotta understand... is that there were more than seven victims in the shooting last week. And I don't just mean the other nine people who got wounded."
He paused then looked out at the audience. "Donny Mitchell wasn't a terrorist," he said, remembering what he'd told the Time reporter. "Donny was a victim, too. He suffered from bein' hassled and pushed around by assholes who should've known better. And he did what he did because he'd had enough of being a victim. The police told me that Donny's boyfriend, Jeff Stewart, hung himself here at school a month ago for the same reason."
The audience grew still. A girl on the aisle seat in the front row was quietly sobbing.
Dylan took a deep breath, then continued. "Listen," he said. "Don't think I'm defending him. I'm not. Donny's not a hero, either, and nobody has a right to pick up a gun and use it to get even with somebody. And killing yourself isn't the answer, either. But I just wanted everybody to see... maybe understand what it's like when people hate you just because you're different. Different like Donny... and Jeff. And me."
He glanced around the room. "Nobody gets to choose whether they're tall or short... or black... or Asian... or white."
"What about Michael Jackson?" yelled out a heckler.
The audience laughed, momentarily breaking the tension.
Dylan smiled. "Okay," he said sheepishly. "Maybe he's an exception. But take it from me, we definitely can't choose whether we're straight or gay, either. We just are. It's like... I dunno, it's like being left-handed or right-handed. If we could choose, maybe we'd try to be different than how we're born. But we can't. So we just have to live with it and make the most of it."
"Anyway," he continued, "Donny's fighting for his life in a hospital right now. I hope that maybe instead of hating him, all of you can do what I do and feel pity for him. Because he was a victim, too. And try to have a little more tolerance and understanding for people out there, especially if they're different from you. If that happens, maybe stuff like last week's shooting won't ever have to happen again."
Dylan took a step back and the microphone momentarily howled with a burst of feedback. "Thanks for the award," he said, then turned to the mayor, who seemed to be momentarily stunned, and shook his hand.
The auditorium was silent. Then a familiar voice cried out, "Go Dylan!"
Dylan smiled and nodded. Thanks, Sean, he thought.
There was a smattering of applause, and he stood for a few moments as three newspaper photographers snapped a few flash shots, then Dylan turned to his left and walked awkwardly behind the stage curtain and down the backstage steps to the left. The audience continued to buzz in confusion, as the principal tried to restore order.
"Great speech, dude," said Kyle, who ran up alongside him as the hurried out a side door and down the corridor, away from the auditorium. "You really had 'em rolling in the aisles."
"Yeah, right," Dylan replied, then held up his prize and made a wry face. "But not much of a medal. What'd this thing cost? A buck and a half?"
"If that. Looks like some kinda Cracker Jack souvenir."
They stopped at Kyle's locker, and Dylan reached in to grab the books for their next class. "I'll carry," he said," since you're the crip for the next couple of weeks."
Kyle grinned. "Always nice to have a slave around."
Dylan froze and his smile faded as a memory of Angel came back like a hammer. Take your clothes off, slave -- now!
Kyle stared at him. "Dude -- you okay?"
Dylan blinked and then slowly nodded. "Sorry. Just... you just reminded me of something."
"Shit," Kyle said. "I'm really sorry, dude."
The bell rang, ending the special assembly. Dylan turned to Kyle and managed a weak smile.
"Don't worry about it," he said. Let's just try to make it through the day."
"Yeah," Kyle replied. "I'm not worried about the classes. The big problem is gonna be..."
"...I know, I know," Dylan lamented, as they continued down the hallway. "The team. Coach left a message saying he wanted to talk to me alone, fifteen minutes before practice."
"You want me to come with ya?" asked Kyle. "I mean, I'm still outta commission, but I can still be there for moral support."
Dylan grinned. "You're assuming I have any morals to support!"
They laughed and headed into their History class.
§ § §
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Dylan's right hand was getting tired from autographing magazine covers in the hallway, but aside from that, most of the students treated him like an honored celebrity, and quite a few thanked him for what he did the week before. If I'm lucky, he thought, maybe my fifteen minutes' of fame will be over with by tomorrow.
After he'd dropped Kyle off down the hall, he stood by his open locker and glanced at his watch. 2:47, just three minutes until his last class of the day. There'd be just enough time to put in an appearance in his Physics lab, then go over for his meeting with Coach Highland. And I can just imagine what he wants to talk to me about, he thought ruefully.
Dylan tossed in a book and slammed the locker door, but was startled to find someone standing alongside him. Tracy!
His eyes widened. "Uh... hi, Trace," he said, looking away. "Hope you're doin' okay."
"How could you do this, Dylan?" she asked quietly. "You knew the entire time, and you couldn't even be honest with me?"
He glanced around. A few students stared at him from the distance, but most were hurrying along to their next class.
"It's not like that," Dylan began. "I didn't even understand what was going on with me." But I know now, he thought.
"You lied to me!" she wailed, waving the magazine in his face. "You were never interested in me! Just guys!"
A few students walking by stopped and gawked. The girl turned towards them, her face reddening with anger and embarrassment.
"What the hell are you staring at? Get the fuck out of here, you twits!"
Three students scurried away, while a couple by a nearby water fountain giggled.
"You, too!" she snarled.
Dylan rolled his eyes. "Look -- Trace, what can I say? You want me to say I'm sorry? Fine. I am. But I really did love you." And maybe I still do.
She waved her hands angrily. "But not as much as you love guys," she hissed. "Now, all the other girls are saying it's my fault, as if I had anything to do with it. Like I somehow turned you gay!"
"Jesus," he said with a sigh. "That's totally not true! Look, just tell them it's not about you, Trace. It's about me. This is what I really am -- and... and I'm sorry."
Tracy began to shake, and Dylan could see a strange mixture of anger and regret on her face, and tears were welling up in her eyes. Suddenly, she reached out and slapped his face. "Fuck you, Dylan!"
Five or six students stopped and laughed, then chortled even louder as she stormed away. The laughter continued to echo down the hallway.
Dylan winced and rubbed his cheek. Just another fun-filled day in the life of a hero, he thought, then slung his books under his arm and continued down the hallway. As he approached classroom C12, a tall Hispanic girl stepped into the doorway and pulled him over to the side.
"Hey, Dylan," she purred. "How's my homeboy doin'?"
He was perplexed, and struggled to remember her name. Sonya? Maya? "Oh -- hi, uh..."
"Tanya," she reminded him.
Dylan nodded nervously. "Right, yeah... hi, Tanya. What's up?"
The girl leaned in and took a long red fingernail and gently brushed the smooth side down his face. Her perfume was intoxicating. "I always thought you was hot, Dylee-doo," she said quietly. "I don't care what they're sayin' 'bout you, or any of that shit in the newspapers or on TV. I think you are major hot." And she leaned closer. "I didn't used to think you and me had any potential, 'cause we sorta move in different circles. But I like a challenge." She leaned very close and dropped her voice to her a whisper. "You definitely got flavah -- you know what I'm sayin'?"
Dylan managed a wan smile, and realized to his embarrassment he was getting an involuntary erection.
The girl grinned, then put her other hand on the crotch of his jeans and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Just as I thought," she said, giggling slyly. "I bet you ain't no maticone. You 'n me have definitely got to get together. Tanya's gonna rock your little world."
Dylan flinched as the bell rang. Thank you, God, he thought, immensely grateful for the interruption.
"Right," he said, quickly moving past her to the classroom. "That sounds cool, ah... Tanya. My world definitely needs to be rocked a little. See ya around."
She smiled back. Mmm-mmm-mmm, she thought, running her tongue over her front teeth. That stupid cunt Tracey Anderson don't know what she's missing. I am gonna make this boy straight, if it's the last thing I do.