Once Greg left to continue his cleaning duties, conversation felt a little awkward, as if I had to watch what I said to Jay with Dennis there. That was strange because I wouldn't have said anything too revealing in such a public place, and Dennis seemed like a cool guy, if a bit shy...and we did have some musical tastes in common. After a few minutes, I thought it was due to the fact that I'd been ready to talk about what my dad said this morning, and now I couldn't. Really, I had no idea what was going on at home, and thinking it might be a divorce was just the first thing that popped into my head—without more information, there wasn't any solid basis to talk about it...but that didn't stop me from worrying anyway. Years of practice, remember?
The other thing I was curious about, was why Jay sent me the veiled message that Dennis was wearing cool green underwear; I wore mine because they made me feel more like an adult, that I had grown beyond the age to need 'mom-underwear'...and I bought them for Jay because I wanted him to look his best...I was about to give up on this puzzle when a question popped into my head: who did I want Jay to look his best for? I'd be the only person who saw him in them that would care, so the answer was—for me—and the reason was because he looked hot in them. Had I caught Jay's hidden meaning, that we liked the purple underwear because it was sexy—because we were gay and liked seeing hot boys? Could it be he was telling me without saying it, that Dennis was gay too?
In an effort to study Dennis more closely, I asked him about the school in Maine—hoping that something might slip out, or some action would give the game away; I was eager to find out because it would mean there was someone else Jay and I could talk to, but direct questioning was not even remotely possible right now. I was beginning to get an idea of the frustration Kurt had in trying to find others like us—how do you do it without giving your own secret away? I looked to Jay, but he was listening to Dennis talk about his old school, and I realized I'd missed the first part of his answer to my question.
"...so isolated, that if the wind was right, and I spit over the wall around the property, I'd be hitting some Canadian squirrel or something. The nearest town was fifteen miles away, and we got to go once a week to shop—with one of the instructors along as a chaperone." The disgust was very clear in his tone, and I gathered that the place was practically run like a military base only without the drills those schools used. They even had uniforms—long or short gray trousers depending on the weather, white shirts with black ties and dark navy blazers. The only concession to 1976 was that hair had to be off the collar and ears. For just a moment, the vision of Jay in shorts had me fully occupied, but then I heard my boyfriend ask about sports or any other form of social activity they'd had. Even though I'd seen Jay in nothing at all, I deeply regretted not having gym class with him just then.
Dennis looked at us in turn, and his grin was rueful at best. "Usual sports: soccer, wrestling, basketball and football...then there was archery, swimming, track and field. When I started, I was too small for anything but track, soccer and swimming. There was a coach who took some boys out to play golf, but I'd rather watch grass grow than do that!"
Jay, ever the more active one, sounded enthused by the offerings there. "You didn't mention baseball—didn't they have it too?" I shook my head sadly at that question, Jay raised his eyebrow, and I mouthed 'Later!' When I was about ten or eleven, we'd been playing softball in our front yard for a couple summers, my family joining in with the neighbor kids, and one of the games was where someone hit the ball, shouted 'Look out!', and I turned just in time to be hit in the head by the ball. I remember the pain and dizziness, but nothing was broken though my nose was bleeding pretty badly. I was lucky my dad hadn't hit it—our front yard was half an acre, and across the street was nothing but fields, and more than once he'd hit the ball so hard it broke the bat and the ball wound vanish into the fields in the distance. After that day, I decided to kick the soccer ball around a bit, but my coördination wasn't good enough to play for real.
"The school didn't think the space needed for a baseball diamond was worth it, so there was just a large grassy area used for football, softball and the track and field area. The rest of the property had a stream, small lake, some woods...and an area given over to fields for biology classes. During the winter, there was some informal skating and hockey on the lake, but no teams for it. After trying most of the sports, I found I liked running the most, so I spent a lot of time on the track, and later, on the trails which wound through the woods as training for cross-country."
Listening to him talk, I began to warm up to this new guy...he felt like a kindred spirit, preferring to be a bit apart from other guys rather than needing to be surrounded by them all the time. I got the feeling that he hadn't had too many friends at that school, and I wondered why since he appeared to be a really nice guy. Maybe because I was different due to my glasses, I didn't see that his ears would make a difference—I thought they were kinda cute—yes, they were a bit larger than normal, but not much—what made them more obvious was that they stuck out more than most people's. Certainly, there was nothing wrong with his light brown hair or gray eyes. "What about movies and stuff? Did you get to do any of that?"
I caught a funny look passing between Dennis and Jay, and under the table, I felt Jay's foot rub against mine for just a moment, then it was his turn to silently utter 'Later.' With that, I thought Dennis wouldn't answer, but he did, if a bit stilted and low-voiced. "Only junior and senior boys got to go into town for movies, with one of the seniors acting as prefect to keep the rest in line. Usually it was only five to ten at a time...and I only went once this past semester, and swore I'd never go again—excuse me, guys." The distress in his voice was evident, and I regretted asking the question, not knowing it would hurt him this way. When he stood up and headed for the door, I wanted to go after him, but I had no clue what the problem was—from the warning Jay had tried to give me, I thought he might have some clue, so I said "Jay—go after him—see that he's not alone, and tell him I'm sorry."
Jay whispered, "That's why I love you, elskede..." and left to catch Dennis in the hall before he could get out of sight. I looked at my tray and saw that about a third of my meal was left, but I didn't feel hungry anymore, knowing I'd caused a friend to feel hurt, even if I didn't know why. Greg came over and looked at the two unfinished trays. "What happened Miles? Are they coming back?" The clock showed about ten minutes left, but I didn't know what to tell him...if it was really bad, then I didn't think either of them would be back.
"I don't know Greg, we were talking about his old school, and when I asked if they ever went to movies, Dennis got upset and left...Jay went after him to see what he could do." Greg shook his head and looked around the room, more students were still here than normal, so he'd gathered what trays he could until the bell rang, so he sat down in the seat he'd occupied before.
"Seems to be the day for upsets..." he motioned to where Bob Thomas and several other jocks were sitting, one of them Timmy Zane." Thomas and Zane were getting a bit riled at each other over something, but I don't know what—all I could get was that it was in gym." Before I could say anything, not that I really knew much, Greg stood and busied himself emptying the three trays on my table, then began going around the other tables to clear those that people were done with. Hearing footsteps approach, I turned my head to see Linda bearing down on me. Shit, what did I do? No wonder Greg left! The look on her face was a mix of curiosity and displeasure. Without asking permission, she pulled out Jay's chair and sat facing me, her brown eyes trying to drill holes into my skull.
"Where did Jay take off to? Who's that other guy?" Okay, curiosity, not accusations. I met her eyes steadily and told her what little I knew about Dennis Watson, adding that Jay had introduced him as a new friend from gym class. "We were talking, things seemed okay, then he got upset about something and I asked Jay to look after him until he calmed down."
"You guys didn't know him before today? Isn't that a bit weird?"
I tried a smile when I shrugged. "It's Jay—he's your brother. All I know other than what I just told you is that Zane was looking for a new patsy in gym, and Jay stood up for him and told me he needed some friends..." I stopped dead at that point, seeing the dark look which came into her eyes, and her lips set in a grim line. The bell rang ending 5th period as she stood, and I barely heard her last words: "Tak, Mikey—I know who to talk to now."
* * * * * * * * * *
"Denny—wait up!" I caught up with our new friend at the door to the parking lot at the northern end of the hall just outside the cafeteria. I reached for his shoulder, but held off until I saw he was heading for the second row of parked student cars. When he looked at me, there were tears starting down his cheeks, so I just walked beside him until he stopped at a maroon Corvair Corsa convertible, presumably his. I could occasionally hear distant voices from the wood-and-metal bleachers by the football field visible west of the school, but no one was closer to us. The smokers tended to congregate by the exits on the west side of the school, near the industrial and vocational classrooms.
Dennis opened the passenger door, and sat on the floor between the tan vinyl seat and the slightly darker tan dash. He sort of huddled there looking miserable as all hell, sniffling and wiping his eyes with the back of one hand. I tried perching on the door sill, but it wasn't quite deep enough, so I took the edge of the bucket seat, my legs hanging out the door to rest on the ground next to Denny's. I put my left hand on his right shoulder, rubbed and squeezed it in a gentle massage like my far did when I needed some comforting; I thought he might pull away, but all he did was glance up at me with red eyes. Thank god for Kleenexes—I pulled one out of my pocket and used my right hand to wipe at his eyes. As he got himself together a bit, I moved my hand from his shoulder to the back of his neck and started kneading the muscles there, causing him to let out a ragged breath—and he leaned into the touch. "Denny-is, we didn't mean to upset you...we'd never do that to one of our friends...Mikey told me to stay with you 'til you felt better, and to tell you he was sorry. We both are."
Unbelieving grey eyes looked up at me, and he shook his head from side-to-side quickly. "It wasn't your fault, either of you—I'm just so fucked up..." I handed him the tissue and he wiped at his eyes again and sniffled into it before putting it in his car's ashtray. He swallowed several times, trying to form words, and I moved my hand down to rub circles on his back between his shoulders, trying to ease the tension in his chest. Finally, he spoke, his voice a raspy whisper. "Jay...I want to ask you something before I go any further? I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but...well...it's real important to me—are you and Mikey...a couple?"
Looking into those tortured eyes, I saw a desperate need for some hope to hang onto, and not the slightest hint that he'd betray my trust...even so, I had to stop and think what Mikey might want me to do. We'd barely talked about telling Kurt, but he was a special case—the one who'd gotten us together in a weird way—while Dennis was an unknown quantity to us. He'd told me he was gay—well, pretty much anyway, so could I trust him any less? Having just gone through Mikey's insecurities over the weekend, I knew he'd want me to help others to avoid similar or worse ones, so I moved my hands to either side of Dennis' face, and tilted his head a bit higher so that I could lean in and quickly press my lips to his forehead. "Yes...just last week we had our first date, and we both already know that it's right, and so far as we can, we've pledged our futures together as one."
Dennis sat quietly for a moment, letting that news sink in, then he finally managed a small smile for me. "Thank you, Jay...I won't betray your trust in me..." I stopped him by ruffling his sandy hair. "I know you won't, and anything you tell me goes no further—not even to Mikey."
Hesitantly, he held up his left hand, giving me the chance to take it in mine or not. I took it between both mine, and rubbed it gently, giving him enough reässurance to go on. "That time I told you about, last spring when my room-mate made me blow him...I was 16—it was my first time, Jay—it should have been an act saved for the boy I'd chosen to love, but it was stolen by some drunken asshole, and turned into something I've tried to forget." He gripped my hand even tighter, but went on anyway.
"That was only the first time...a couple more times that semester, he'd made me do it again, until school let out and everybody went home for the summer. I was hoping that when Fall Semester started, it'd be all over. When Miles asked about movies, that brought back what happened to me last September, less than two months before my 17th birthday—I'd seen Jaws over the summer, so when some guys asked if I wanted to see it again, I said 'Yes'. That was a mistake. The prefect—a senior in charge if no teachers were with us—turned out to be a friend of my room-mate, and when the four of us got to the theater, after about half an hour I had to use the bathroom. He had to escort me, and when I'd finished, he forced me into one of the stalls and made me suck him off...I tried to fight it, but he was on the wrestling team, so all I got were painful bruises to my arms for my wasted efforts. He must have said something before we left for town, because just as he was wiping his dick on my face, one of the other boys took his place in the stall and made me blow him too. My room-mate's friend was still standing outside the stall, and when this kid had shot on my face, the last one came in. When we got back to school later that evening, I went straight to the showers, then to bed and buried myself under the covers. I stayed there through classes the next day, trying to find a way to escape. My grades went to hell; I was so desperate to get out of there I figured that was the only way—to flunk out.
"I guess I was lucky, in a way...they were all 'straight', so blow-jobs were all they wanted from me...Jay, that's why I needed to know—to have some hope that I could find someone who might love me and not just use me to get off. Knowing how you and Mikey are...maybe someday I can find that special one I should have had in the first place." His last words set me off, and I slid down onto the door-sill so I could wrap him in my arms. I pulled him in tight, and we just sat there for a while; I didn't need his rear-view mirror to see that my face was a blotchy mess from my tears...I could see it mirrored in his own features. I held him until he relaxed, letting all his pent-up tension out, whispering into his ear that he'd find that guy, and that he had real friends now who would see that nothing like that would ever happen again. Just before we let go of each other, he placed a soft kiss on my cheek. "Mikey is so very lucky to have you."
I looked at my watch as we shut the door to his car, and I was amazed to see it was after 1:00PM...I'd missed almost all of my Vo-Ag class! I didn't have any things due, so I didn't worry about it—Dennis' welfare was more important. As we headed back toward the side door of the school, he brushed my shoulder. "Jay, you and Mikey...call me Denny if you want—from real friends, it's fine. Just one thing...I'll let you decide what to tell Mikey...but please don't say anything to Greg—I don't want any new friends to treat me differently from other guys."
I gave him his first dose of my 'evil grin' as Mikey calls it, and said, "Sure thing, Dennis!" Hearing him laugh after what we'd just experienced was music to my ears, and we parted company to head to our last classes...
* * * * * * * * * *
Getting out of Mr. Maddox' Problems of Democracy class was a relief since he always treated us girls in a condescending way...I was also well aware of the way our government worked, and how subtle even this class was in trying to mold us into little patriots. The real name of the class was American Government, but no one called it that since the name of the text was far catchier, and could be shortened to P.O.D. I also recognized that there were many people who preferred not to think at all when it came time to vote, and just followed the Party line they signed up for during the primaries...a lot of my classmates chose the same affiliation their parents had. For most, the catch-phrase going around the school—'Eisenstadt is where it's at!'—accompanied by high-fives and a laugh, was all the political thinking they'd do...me, I'd look at the issues and decide for myself who had the better position, regardless of Party. I was also a thorn in Maddox' side because I asked intelligent questions, and could back up my assertions with facts rather than just gut reactions like other kids in my class.
This was the first year I'd be able to vote, and I was watching the Presidential race very carefully. Even from what readings I'd done and following the news, I dismissed the Republicans as the runner-up party this time around. Gerald Ford had made a huge mistake letting Nixon off the hook for Watergate, and Reagan was too conservative for most Americans. To my mind, the Democrats would win this year, and I was badly torn between two of their candidates: Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown, the governor of California. On a purely physical level, Brown was by far the cutest candidate in either Party, and while I liked a lot of what he said, I felt he started his campaign too late in the primaries...nevertheless, I'd keep an eye on him right up until the convention. That left Carter, the 'peanut farmer from Georgia'...it was said he had a degree in Nuclear Physics, which I counted a plus, and he was certainly shrewd playing the part of a Washington outsider...if this was based solely on issues, he'd be fine. I had my doubts.
Stopping at my locker after lunch, I looked in the small mirror taped to the inside; I kept my hair just slightly past shoulder-length, and was pleased that it had a natural wave to it. Mor had taught me that make-up was something best applied sparingly, so I generally wore only a little subtly colored lipstick—I wasn't one to boast, but I was glad that my natural coloring worked to my advantage when it came to boys. I put my Trig book in my bag, and the notes for my other classes, then closed the metal door with a twist to the combination lock. I was still annoyed with Bobby from lunch—he'd spent most of the period with his friends, and he seemed to be in a very heavy discussion with Timmy Zane. That was the only strike I'd found so far against Bobby, he either didn't see—or ignored—the flaws of his supposed best friend. I'd talked with some of my other friends, and nodded across the room at Miles—all right, if I had to admit it—he wasn't as bad as I thought he was at first...he'd stuck by Jay when I put pressure on him, and that counted for something with me. I was also willing to admit to being slightly jealous that my 'little brother' had found someone suited to him on his first foray onto the dating market...and it was stupid to hold that fact against Miles. I didn't have to sleep with him.
When I saw Jay get up and follow the other guy out of the lunch-room, I was surprised to see Miles stay behind. That wasn't what I expected after their near-inseparability over the last few days...so I went over to find out what was going on. I was quietly pleased when Jay's boyfriend looked me in the eye and gave me the truth as he knew it...but hearing Timmy Zane linked to Jay and this other boy in gym was enough to set my teeth on edge. There were reasons why I didn't like that guy, and the fact that he was an asshole was the least of them—I was friends with several girls who'd gone out with him—and his cousin Jenny was like the sister I'd always wanted. Girls talked about their dates—but boys didn't seem to get that. There were things I knew about Zane—and I was the one who went with Jenny to the doctor's office over Thanksgiving break for her abortion. She let me drive her there in her car, and I brought her home with me for the weekend to recover. It was the only time I lied to mor and far, telling them her family had gone out of town, but she was too sick to go and I volunteered to look after her.
I had planned to tell Bobby he could spend the night with me Saturday, but since he was otherwise occupied at lunch, I didn't have the chance. Now with the knowledge that Zane had somehow gotten entangled with my brother, I needed to find out whether Bobby had been involved, and if so, how. I didn't see us as some Grand Romance, but with both of us planning on going to OSU; I had begun to think we could date over the summer, and then see what was on offer at college. We'd agreed that, if we still felt the same after our first year, it might turn into something more permanent. Bobby Thomas had much to recommend him: looks, a rather good head on his shoulders when he decided to use it, and a certain cachet of class: not due to any wealth or social rank, but from the way he carried himself and treated others with courtesy and thoughtfulness. And now, once again, the fly in the ointment—Timmy Zane—had reared its ugly head.
After the final bell rang at 2:13, I left the classroom and made my way through the other kids on my way to my locker to pick up my jacket and stow away my Trig and POD books—I could do those classes' work in my sleep, so they could wait for study hall during 2nd period tomorrow. I picked up my notebooks for Advanced Composition and Physics then set off on the long walk to the parking lot. I guess when this school was built in the mid-5os it was good, but then they added the junior high around ten years later and screwed things up. Junior High—sure that's where all the 7th and 8th Graders' classes were...and the high school grades 9-12 were all supposed to be in the original building—only now, over a decade later, they weren't. You couldn't even say that subjects stuck to one building; some sections of a class were in the old building, others by a different teacher were in the newer junior high despite their grade level. Maddox' POD was a senior class, but I had it in the new building, farthest away from the parking lot, and my locker was next to the Chemistry Lab half-way between the ends of my final route for the day. In the past four years, I'd had AP Composition, POD, Art, Biology and Typing in the junior high—all of those were 9+ grade levels and should have been in the old building. I couldn't even blame it on electives—if there was any rhyme or reason for the correlation of rooms to subjects, I couldn't find it. Regardless, it meant a long walk for me from my last period POD class. I was hoping to see Jay before Bobby so I could get his view on the events during gym, but it wasn't to be—I heard Bobby's voice call for me to wait. I hated going into a situation without all the facts!
Despite my misgivings, I really had nothing to go on, so I let him slip his arm around my waist and pull me into a short kiss. Bobby was good at that—among other things—so I let myself enjoy it before looking into his eyes. "That blouse looks great on you; the color goes nicely with your hair." I'd worn a lilac peasant blouse and jeans today, nothing special but it made me glad that he liked it. His green eyes roved up and down my body before coming back to join his easy smile aimed at my own. When I told mor that I had sex only three times, and only enjoyed it the third time, I didn't mention that Bobby was the one who made that happen. He had all the qualities I wanted in a boyfriend: caring, considerate in and out of bed, taking his time to see that we both got pleasure out of our lovemaking—even if we'd only gone all the way that one time. Saturday night was to bring that score up a notch or two, if I heard the right things now. "Bobby, what happened in gym today with Jay and Zane?"
Bobby looked puzzled at the change of subject, but he answered anyway, dropping his arm as we started for the distant exit to the parking lot. We had to pass the Office and cross the main corridor that separated the classrooms from the gym and cafeteria before getting outside. "Nothing much...Timmy pushed Jay out from under the hoop during basketball today, and I told him to knock it off." Was he being deliberately evasive? The slamming of locker doors and chatter of kids heading out to the busses distracted me, so I couldn't say for certain. My tone wasn't the warmest when I clarified, "I meant between Jay, Zane and the new guy..."
Bobby turned to look at me and stopped. We were in front of the trophy case in the cross-corridor heading to the gym—several pennants and trophies were inside, collected in the past year by the school's Wildcats teams, First or Second Places in Track, Discus, Basketball, and even one for football from last year. "That? Tim made a joke about the new kid wearing his sister's panties, and Jay went ape-shit on him...he said some pretty mean things..."
This wasn't helping—it looked like he was trying to cover for his friend yet again. I had been trying to get a word in for more specifics, when I finally gave up. "Bobby—what did Zane say—exactly?" The halls were clearer now, with most kids outside getting into their busses for the ride home, and others heading for their cars in the north lot. The look of confusion on his face deepened. "He said 'Look at the fa—' Shit, Lin! I didn't think..."
"Now do you see why Zane is bad news? He doesn't care about people—not even you—his best friend, unless he can get something out of it, like power, or the satisfaction of making other kids miserable. You know how easy rumors start, and that one, even as a joke, can lead to getting him picked on or even beaten up. It's time you wised up, Bobby—some people just aren't nice, you could even say they look for ways to be mean, like Zane does."
"Lin, he didn't used to be this way..." I saw the struggle within him, and I really did feel for him, but he couldn't keep making excuses for his friend. Bobby didn't know about Jenny, but that had been the thing that put an end to any sympathy I'd ever had for Timmy Zane. "Wake up Bobby—it's the way he is now—and it's only been getting worse the last four yea..."
Just then, the growing commotion from outside became louder as the exit door flew open and one of Bobby's basketball friends ran in and grabbed my boyfriend's arm to get his attention. He looked scared, and hissed his words under his breath in case a teacher might overhear. This didn't bode well...
"You gotta get Zane—he just decked some kid in the parking lot!"
We made our way out the door and across the parking lot as fast as we could; we saw a bunch of kids—mostly juniors and seniors with cars who drove to school—milling around, concentrating on what was going on in the center of their group. No one was chanting 'Fight!' yet, but no one had stepped in to help either as far as I could see through the riveted audience. My trepidation rose rapidly when I saw they were near Jay's truck. I wasn't sure what I'd see when we got through the crowd—Jay on the ground bleeding, or maybe that new kid, either way I knew it would be bad. Thank god, Jay'd parked in the second row a bit toward the west side of the lot rather than closer to the front where a teacher might come out pretty quick. Maybe there'd be time to get it all cleared up before it was reported. Despite that, my thoughts kept coming back to one thing the closer we got: If that asshole hurt Jay...then the National Guard couldn't save his ass from me.
Shoving through the spectators, I spotted one of my exes, and motioned for him to join us—he was a wrestler, big, strong, but a very nice guy out on a date. "Ben...I'm gonna need your help, okay?" The wide grin on his face was scary—Zane had dated his sister, so there was no love lost between them. Another three or four steps, and the three of us got the full view of the scene—and I was frozen in my tracks for just a second before my anger-fuelled adrenaline took hold and propelled me forward like I had a jetpack on.
In that moment, I saw it all, even if I didn't know the events, which had brought it about. Mikey was lying on the ground, his breathing labored with one hand to his stomach, and the other trying to lever himself up. Jay was pushed against the side of his truck by Zane, eyes blazing above a torn shirt, with a trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth...on seeing that I almost went incandescent with fury—but I couldn't rush in to take a shot at Zane as the new kid was clinging to his back, one arm around his throat and the other trying to rain punches on the bastard's head!
"What the fuck are you doing, Tim? Let go right now!" Bobby grabbed his friend's fist, which was trying to slam into Jay's face, and managed to hold it back despite Zane's straining muscles. The footballer was strong, and his punch would manage to connect if something didn't change. Thank god, I had the tools to fix that! "Benny, take care of Zane—he doesn't go anywhere or talk to anyone but Bobby until I say so, okay?" Without waiting for his answer—I knew he'd be only too glad to do it—I went over and knelt next to Mikey.
Unfortunately, it looked like another side effect of the punch had been for him to lose his lunch. I tried to ease him to his feet, but he let out a hiss and so I helped him lean back against the rear bumper of Jay's truck. He was pale and a little sweaty, and his breath was coming in shallow amounts. "You okay, Mikey—does anything feel broken?" I very gently probed at his ribs and stomach, eliciting several gasps of pain and winces, but his pulse was falling and his breathing was easing slowly. As I finished my amateurish examination—it'd been a few years since I earned my First Aid badge in the Girl Scouts, a shadow fell on us, and I looked up to see the new kid squatting on his heels next to us. At least he seemed unhurt, except for a couple scraped knuckles. "Thanks for trying to help Jay...I don't know your name, but you're okay in my book."
"Denny Watson, it's what friends are for—and I owe him more than I could ever pay." A light went off in my head, maybe a false signal, but this had to be the kid from gym Bobby had mentioned—and if that was so, he might share more than a class with Jay. I knew you couldn't tell from looking at people, but you sometimes could from their actions. With everything so weird at the moment, I couldn't tell, and that made me worry—especially when Jay sat himself on the ground next to Mikey and started to pull him into a tender hug.
"Jay!" I stood up and pulled him aside, with a lot of protesting. "Let me look at you..." Under the half-pretext of examining his wounds—nothing more serious than bruising on his arms, one which would be a beaut on his jaw, and the split lip—I got him to focus on me and what I was saying under my breath. "Mikey's fine, Jay—he just needs to catch his breath—I got my merit badge in First Aid, remember? Take some deep breaths...it's all over! Can you hear me, Jay...it's over!"
Very slowly, I saw the glare of anger fade from his eyes, to be replaced by worry and fear, so I repeated that it was over—and that Mikey would be fine in a few minutes. Before he could run off to Mikey, I added softly, "Bror—keep it cool—until we get home, he's just a good friend..." I saw the protest rising in the flash of his eyes, so I put a hand to his cheek and rubbed at the blood that was slowly drying on his chin. "I know it's hard, but you guys have a whole year left in this joint...think of Mikey now—we don't want either of you to be hurt by the hundehovede drenge around here." He nodded and went to crouch down next to his boyfriend, putting a hand on his shoulder and looking into his eyes—I could tell the depth of the unspoken thoughts passing between them, but I didn't think anyone else would spot it.
I glared at where Zane was being held by Ben, with Bobby trying to get through to him, but I had to take care of my family first. "Mikey...are you okay to stand? We need to get you home so mor can look at you." He wanted to stand, but I held up my hand first. "Jay, give me your keys—I'm driving the truck." I really hoped the new kid had a car, because we couldn't all fit in the truck's cab. "You—Denny—do you have a car?" I gave a sigh of relief when he nodded. "Jay'll give you directions...will you take them home? And be prepared to stay a while—I need to talk to you, okay?" I smiled as the two helped Mikey to his feet, but he gave me a last look before they started off.
"My book bag broke; can you gather my junk for me? It wasn't made to hit someone in the back of the head with..." He managed a grin at my shocked expression, and I gave him a thumbs-up before he was led away. A few minutes later, I had his papers and notebooks and things picked up and wrapped in the torn bag. I put it in the truck and turned to where the hard part was waiting for me. This had to be second priority, not just because family came first, but also because I didn't want Jay to see this.
Timmy Zane was trying to get out of Ben's gripping hands, but it just got him more pain. Ben Ross wasn't one of our best wrestlers for nothing, and I was the only one who knew just how gentle he truly was. Bobby was still frantically trying to talk sense into him right up until I stood in front of them. It didn't seem to be working, though I didn't know why. I looked at Bobby sadly and he shut up, not meeting my eyes. "You see now, Bob? You saw what happened in gym, not me...but do you think him going after Jay was right?"
Inside my chest, my heart was pounding pretty heavily, afraid of what his answer would be...our future relationship depended on what he said now, and we both knew that. For me, he was the closest I'd ever come to being in love...next to Benny. I thought Bobby felt the same way, but his loyalty to his friends ran deep—a trait I admired, except that it was misapplied in this case. Timmy Zane would always bring him nothing but trouble. It would hurt a lot to lose him, but I was only eighteen and off to college in the fall. I'd survive.
Bobby looked at me; his eyes were moistening as he answered. "It wasn't right, Lin...but he's been my best friend forever since first grade..." Zane's look of smug triumph pissed me off, and I didn't understand it at first...it was almost as if he wanted me and Bobby to break up. I knew he'd resented me for a while, but this was a surprise. It didn't matter though.
"It's okay Bobby...I know you aren't a bigot, but I don't hang out with people who are deliberately mean and hateful to anybody—or their friends. Have a nice summer, but don't call or anything until you get rid of Zane, here. Once you do that, we can talk." I gave him a last kiss on his cheek, and pushed him toward his car. "You'd better wait over there, I have a few words to say to your friend before he joins you...bye, Bobby." Once I saw he was by his car, out of earshot, I turned back to the root of today's troubles, and my voice dropped lower, and I swear it felt like an arctic wind was coming out carrying my words.
"Zane, you're an åndssvagt pokkers røvhul!* I won't translate that for Ben's sake, but it's very bad. You have two choices in front of you now: the first one is, you stay away from me, my brother and all his friends from this moment forward—you don't speak to them, talk about them to anyone, or even look at them wrong—do that, and you finish out the last two months of school with all your body parts intact..."
Zane's sneer was almost comical in its clichéd appearance. If he had a long black moustache, he'd be twirling the ends like a villain in all those old movies. "There's no way you can make me do that!" He winced when Benny's hands exerted a tiny bit more pressure on his biceps. The big guy's muscles weren't even straining to keep Timmy in place. I wasn't sure if Timmy got the message he was sending, so I spelled it out for him.
"That's where you're wrong, dickhead. I'm not nice like Jay—you hurt my family or friends, and I don't turn the other cheek—I get even. I have lots of friends in this school, all of them athletes and popular girls...and every single one of them would be eager to tell me the second you stepped over your new boundaries...and if you don't think the guys I know wouldn't be more than happy to break you in two, just ask Ben, here."
Zane looked back to see the wrestler's face, and the smile he saw there must have convinced him, at least a little. Benny's eyes were just pleading Try something, please! Timmy Zane let his glaring gaze fall from mine, but he didn't surrender.
"I shoulda known you'd be a fag-lover too," he snarled. "Everybody thought your brother was one!" Now he really grimaced at the tightened grip on his arms. I just stared at him blankly...I couldn't put his words into anything sensible. Jay had never acted or done anything to make people suspicious—hell, even we didn't know for sure until Saturday...something wasn't right here.
"What the hell are you talking about? Jay stood up for what was right when you called that new kid that...word." I couldn't say it, afraid he'd draw some strength from it if I did. His smirk was growing crueler now at my hesitation.
"See—I was right! You can't even say the word because Jerry's a dirty queer—my sister said that's why he left town right after Graduation!"
"You are so...so...I can't even think of something strong enough! Jerry's been dating a girl for more than a year now—not that it matters to a shit like you." I poked my finger into his chest several times to emphasize my next words. "You heard your choices—what's it gonna be? Behave and leave everybody alone, or have an 'accident'?"
He was wavering, he was basically a coward, like all bullies, but he was fairly sure there'd be a way around my restrictions on him. I knew there wasn't because of the number of friends I had, and the number of enemies he'd made in the last four years. "And what happens if I don't do what you say? I can take getting beaten up." Typical bully, false bravado and all.
I looked at Benny—he wouldn't repeat this next bit to anyone if I asked him not to. "You don't hear this part, Ben." He nodded, and his face went blank.
"Nothing to say, bitch?"
Icicles could have sprouted from my words in August at this point, they were so cold. I held his gaze and there was no doubt in his eyes at all that he saw the sincerity of my promise. He licked his lips nervously, and went white as a sheet when he heard what I said next.
"Then I'll tell Jenny's dad about her abortion, and that her cousin Timmy was the father."
Timmy Zane lowered his eyes and slumped in Ben's arms. "You win—I won't cause any trouble for anybody." I almost felt sorry for him...but bigots deserved whatever punishment they could get, and with his promise, he was getting off very easy...there were only two months left until we graduated.
It also helped that Jenny's dad was with the Highway Patrol.
* åndssvagt pokkers røvhul = stupid, dumb asshole
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