By Martin Clement
Unless otherwise noted, this story is Copyright 2006 by Martin Clement for Clement & Boule Associates. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, published, distributed, displayed, performed, copied or stored for public or private use in any information retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any mechanical, photographic or electronic process, including electronically or digitally on the Internet or World Wide Web, or over any network, or local area network, without written permission of the author.
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As we got out of the elevator, Mike gave me the key of my new way of transportation in the school. But as we travelled through the crowd to my classroom, seemed to appear from nowhere my literature teacher, Mrs. Campbell.
"You can leave it to me, Michael." she said, pointing to my backpack. "Lucas is in my class."
Mike looked at me, his whole face asking if it was okay with me.
"It's alright, Michael." I simply answered. So Mike gave my teacher my bag and left after telling me he would join me at the end of the course.
"I see you finally made a friend, Lucas." she said, in a matter of fact tone, not implying anything in her statement, as we started walking to our classroom. "You know, I always felt quite sad to see you always alone. I know it might be difficult, being shy, to make friends, but I always thought you'd have met some people to hang out with."
"I don't want to talk about it." I simply said, quite embarrassed some stranger would try to include themselves in my personal and private life. Hell! I was not a six years old kid who needed to be told everybody's damn mind about my own business. I was sixteen, damn it! That conversation was embarrassing.
"Excuse me, Lucas. I shouldn't have brought this subject. But still, I'm glad. Michael Walsh is a very nice young man. It was very brave of you, what you did last week... saving Matthew Harris as you did. He hasn't been the nicest person to you in class."
She didn't know half about it. And I didn't want to tell her anything at all. Sure, she was nice. She was a very nice and gentle person. Jeez! she was my favourite teacher in this whole school. But it doesn't mean I had to tell her anything other than about what needed to be done in her course. She was no friend of mine to bring up that kind of subjects. And talking about that with her, well, it felt to me as doing it with Dr. Kelly. Nobody would ever force me again on any private subject I didn't want to talk about anymore. Not even my friends. Not even Mike. I had my secret garden and nobody would ever have the right to trespass unless I gave them the key. Federico never pushed the advices. He sometimes told me what he thought, but I was the one who asked for it. If I wanted everybody to know everything about me, I would sign up for one of these stupid reality shows that craps the TV. So if she wanted to stay my favourite teacher, jeez! she just needed to leave me alone.
As we approached the door to the classroom, I could hear the regular laughter and racket I was accustomed to, but when we entered the room, it became so silent suddenly we could have heard a fly. It felt weird, since Mrs. Campbell was pretty liberal in her classes even if she was strict over her rules. She always said discussing about the books we were reading was the best way to know the whole meanings of their words.
I loved her way of teaching. I might have liked these discussions, these seminars as she called them, if I hadn't been so shy speaking at all in school. I always knew she forbade the use of derogatory words in her class. But she could do nothing against the way people used to look at me every time I was speaking my mind about something, as the way Meursault in The Stranger always keeps his emotions to himself, even when he has to face a trial for murdering this man in Algeria, and it shows in the form, the way Albert Camus chose his words, not only in the action. It was as if I was some kind of idiot to even try to bring it, and I always felt humiliated, even if very few of them could pass first degree of reading. Most of them didn't like to read at all.
So this silence was strange. And heavy. And all the stares coming from most of the students felt as if I had been reduced to the size of a pen. I made my way to my desk as fast as my crutch would let me and sat in silence until the end of the class. Mike showed up about two minutes after the bell rang to help me get to my next class.
At lunch, the tension was at full blast when we entered the cafeteria, Mike and me. As we went through the room to get in line, it seemed as every table went quiet as soon as I neared them before the people sitting there went back to their conversations after I was far enough. Jeez! were they afraid I would listen to what they were saying? Mike took my lunch on his tray and we crossed the cafeteria to his regular table. Now I was scared. When I thought about eating with him before, I always assumed we would just go and eat at my own little table with the noisy vents, in my secluded spot. I didn't think Mike would want to put me on the spot by making me go and eat with his friends. Mike was no lonely person. He was quite popular in the school and I should have just assumed he would want to be around his friends at lunch time, since it was the only time of the day they could enjoy being together. As I saw his friends look our way and waving at Mike, I started to turn to walk away. Mike must have sensed it since he put a hand on my shoulder.
"Where are you going?" he asked, a genuine smile on his lips. "I thought we were eating together."
"I think I'll just go back to my place."
"What?" he asked, a frown on his face. "You want to ditch me for going back to that noisy place where you used to eat?"
"I'm not comfortable, Michael." I stated. "And your friends... they don't want me there."
"You don't know that, Lucas."
"Michael... they are your friends... not mine."
"So?" Mike asked. "You are my friend also."
"You just don't understand." I mumbled, brushing his hand off my shoulder. I grabbed my sandwich and carton of milk and juggled with them with my cast arm to my regular spot. As I had predicted, Michael went to his friends. I was alone... again. I was used to eat at that table. It shouldn't have affected me this way to sit alone. But I was shaking as I pulled the chair and sat down. I couldn't look at the crowd in the cafeteria. I knew they everybody was intently looking my way. Jeez! they probably were very glad I was back to my own little loneliness, where I belonged. My eyes couldn't face the stares as I felt my cheeks boiling and my heart try its way out of my ribcage. I unwrapped the sandwich and I was trying to open the carton of milk to no avail with my valid arm when I saw a shadow cover the table.
"Let me help you with this." I heard a feminine voice that was foreign to my ears as the carton was lightly taken from my hand. I couldn't lift my eyes off the table as my cheeks were burning and my ears were probably as red as a fireman's truck. Then I heard a soft noise as a tray was put on the table in front of my food. I simply mumbled an almost inaudible thank you when the carton was back on the table close to my hand. "I'm Megan. Can I sit here?" I knew her. But what was she doing here?
Now how comes somebody other than me wanted to sit there with all the noise coming from the ventilation system? How comes anybody in this school wanted to sit here? There were still some tables, even in this area, so what was it with her to want to sit right in front of me? Was it out of pity for me? The poor guy with a cast...
"Can I?" she asked again. I simply nodded, leaving my eyes on my sandwich.
"Hey!" I heard a masculine voice saying. Bad. Things were really going bad. I recognized the voice of Brian Johnson... her boyfriend. Had they been in a fight and she wanted to find refuge far away from him? Were they trying to trick me? "Hey!" his voice repeated. "I'm Brian. Can I sit here?" he politely asked. But he didn't wait for my response and sat down beside Megan.
"Hello, Lucas. My name is Cassandra. Can I sit here?" Now things were really getting weird.
"I'm Samantha. Is this place taken?"
"I'm Karl, dude. Can I sit there?
"Me, it's Dennis. I take it that this seat is for me, isn't it?"
And so people went on presenting themselves and taking seats at my noisy table. I lost count of them and I wouldn't remember all of their names in only one day. And I wouldn't try because I was sure that the day after, they would go back to their own table. Were all these people going nuts? What in hell made them want to sit with me? Me! The little worthless piece of shit of the school! The faggot! The nothing of a man! To say I was nervous would have been one heel of an understatement. My whole face was crimson and I could feel shivers running down my spine. I slowly lifted my eyes from the table and when they crossed Megan's, I could see she was smiling. She was smiling at me. So were everyone, as I tried to evaluate the situation at hand by running a quick glance over the table.
"Hey!" I heard again, this time from my side. "My name is Michael. Is this place free?"
I froze right there. My mouth opened to try and say something, but nothing could come out of it. A shiver went through all of my body. My eyes were cast down on the table and I couldn't greet Mike properly.
"Sure it is!" I heard Cassandra say. "Isn't it, Lucas?"
My took his seat next to me and started eating, as if nothing at all had happened at my table.
"As Mohamed was not going to the mountain, it is the mountain that went to Mohamed." Dennis simply stated. And everybody started speaking to each other, as if everything was very normal.
"This table is awfully noisy, though!" Brian said casually, leaning over the table to talk to me. My eyes tentatively found his a moment and their was a smile on his lips. "I think tomorrow we should all go sit at our table, don't you think, Lucas?"
I looked all around the table where everybody seemed quite interested in hearing my response to this question, the sandwich almost hanging from my mouth. When my eyes met Mike's, it seemed as they were sparkling while his mouth was smiling so wide I thought it might split his face.
"Hey!" came Karl's voice from the other side of the table. "Walsh, don't take all the credit! Lucas!" I turned my head to face Karl. "It was my idea to come here." he said with a faint pout.
"No way!" It was Cassandra. "It was mine, okay?"
"I don't agree with you at all! It was my idea, you fools!" came one of the guys I couldn't remember the name.
I must say I was a little bit shy to talk to all of Mike's friends for the first time. I have to say they were all very nice people. I could tell by the way they were speaking to each other that they all had their own distinct personalities, and all this mixture was waking in me a sentiment I had buried so long ago. I didn't feel alone anymore. These people had never really tormented me before. They never really talked to me either. But how could they? We had never been anywhere near friendship together. I barely knew them. I couldn't quite ask them where they were when I needed friends. They didn't know me. I never tried to approach them for fear of being bashed. They were Mike's friends... the one I used to hate. Mrs. Campbell came back in my mind with full force. I didn't like the way she tried her way in my private life and would never like it. But she was right. For the past years, I had never let anybody close. I had never tried to make anymore friends. Well, how could I be blamed for that? I was hurt. The lonely idea of being rejected again was a knife turned inside an open wound.
I started slowly coming out of my shell, but mostly I kept talking to Mike.
"So! Lucas... when's the wedding?" I heard Dennis chuckle. I looked at him with a confused look. Yeah, sure, they all knew about me, but what was he saying? "Jeez! Lucas, don't look at me that way!" he said with a grin. "We're in the twenty-first century, jeez!"
"They know about me, Lucas." Mike said. "I told them last week while you were at the hospital."
"You did what?" I whispered.
"It wasn't necessarily a feat!" Dennis said. "I was the first to come out of the closet a month ago."
Now this was interesting. Things started to clear themselves. Mike had told his father he was gay, then come back to talk to me, after Dennis had come out to him and his other friends.
"I had been gauging the field for quite a while before I was able to tell them." he continued. "I thought I could live my life without ever telling my friends about me. But there comes a time when it becomes too much to handle alone and you want the people who you are close to knowing this part of you. I just wanted to be free. Now I am."
"Nobody knew?" I asked.
"It's not written on his face, Lucas." Cassandra said.
"What about that thing, the gaydar, I guess?"
"Oh my God!" she chuckled. "There are no such thing, Lucas. Do you see any antenna on his head or mine? All these things they say about gaydar are as irrational esoteric lies as your horoscope in the newspapers."
"You know, it was only a matter of time before I would tell them. But it was not as easy as saying I wanted to become an architect! It was a part of a kind of long process to me." Dennis said. "Last year, my sister, who is in college, came home with one of her friends who studies with her. He was gay and perfectly comfortable with it. I could see my parents liked him very much, so I risked myself with them during summer break. It was not very easy in the beginning, since first I didn't know how to brush the subject with them, and I thought it might have been a not in my garden thing to them. I first told my mother who cried. I took it as a hint for me to leave, but she never let me go. She made sure I wouldn't misunderstand her and feel guilty for telling her something that was so intimate to me. My father, well, it was another story when I told him. He left for a few hours, but not before he made sure I understood he simply needed some fresh air to digest the whole thing and that my mother wouldn't be far away from me." He took some time to breathe as his eyes went misty. "Then last month, it was making me so nervous that I couldn't think about anything but tell my close friends. As I told myself that if they didn't accept me the way I was, they were not my friends at all, I finally told them. I was scared to death because we all heard about you being outed." I could feel Mike's face go red in a fraction of a second even though I couldn't see him and his eyes cast down. "But nothing like that happened."
"We are in the twenty-first century, you said it." Megan said.
"So, when is the wedding?" Dennis asked again.
"We're not there, Dennis." Mike said, frowning. "I told you."
"Oh jeez! Mike!"
"I said we're not there, Dennis. That's it, okay?"
"So!" Brian interrupted. "Are you going to come and sit with us from now on or are we going to have to come and sit here in this awful noise every day?"
I simply nodded to the question and then everybody started to talk again about one thing or another, and the subject of homosexuality never came back to the table. Hell! Dennis was a soccer player, was on the student council, had been volunteering for Amnesty International for some years and worked as a waiter in a little truck stop just out of town. So being gay was not the only topic he wanted to talk about. So being gay was not who he was but a single part of the whole Dennis Hutchkins. Megan and I found out we both liked to read, well she already knew since she told me she and her sister, who was in Literature Studies, had seen me at Federico's Books once in the summer. It was very fun to be finally able to talk about Henry James' Watch and Ward novel, Kafka's The Trial or Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. Who am I fooling? This is the worst of all the understatement! I was overwhelmed that somebody seemed really interested in the matter of me telling my point of view on these incredible works of the world's literature.
We were not friends yet. But still, having these acquaintances looking out for me to be accepted in their group was slowly changing my of perceiving people. It's strange how things can change after only one event happened. I know, had it happened another way, the car that hit me could have killed me or Matthew Harris, or both of us at the same time. But still, I was alive, even if my movements were not at their best for a while. When we left school in the afternoon, Mike and me, I think my cheeks were still red from the day and what happened since I walked in the school in the morning. I'm pretty sure if my leg hadn't been in a cast, I would have been skipping to Mike's car as a four years old kid.
To be continued...
We're now at the end of Chapter 11 of Hate. I received a lot of comments on Chapter 8 and the whole story so far. As this story is almost at the end, the main request from my readers is that I continue writing it even after the actual topic is done. I'm sorry, my friends, but I can't do it. The reason for it is quite simple. This story is based on one event which is Lucas' healing, his hopes, the changes in his way to see the world and forgiveness. I think that dragging the story by inserting other topics would fool the way the readers see the story, and I don't want to do that. I rather let the story come to an end with people really remembering where I wanted to lead them to from the beginning than letting them forget about it and jump to another topic. So I'll stop the story. There is still one more chapter, and also an epilogue, to come. I'm preparing another story that should be posted to Nifty, if they want it to appear on their pages, using a new topic and brand new characters. I'll give the title of it and the most possible locations where you'll be able to read it in my comment at the end of the epilogue.
Thank you all, dear readers, for your very nice and constructive comments, and up until I post Chapter 12: The Symbol, well, stay tuned!