I forgot to mention that Jason had returned my t-shirt and slipped his wet shirt back on before we left the bathroom. The idea of either of us leaving the bathroom with our shirts off, scared the shit out of both of us. Once Mr. Evans was finished with us, he sent me back to class and had Dax take Jason to the nurse.
Jason's mother parked and ran into the school, only slowing after she was through the door. She stopped at the front desk. "Where's my son, Jason Settles?"
"Are you his mother?
"Yes, now where is he?"
The secretary went to the counter. "Can I see some ID?
"I don't have time for all this. Just tell me where my son Jason is."
She secretary placed the sign in sheet in front of her. "Please sign in and show me your identification. It's for your good and the good of your son."
"Okay," she grumbled as she signed the sheet and then fumbled through her purse to find her wallet. She flashed it at the secretary.
"Thank you. He's in the nurse's office."
"Where's the nurse's office?"
The secretary grabbed a map of the school and drew a line to the nurse's office. Mrs. Settles grabbed it and rushed to find Jason. Jason was lying on a bed with a blanket over him. She saw his wet shirt on a hanger. "Why is his shirt off?"
"It was wet. I hung it to dry," replied the nurse.
"How'd it get wet?" she snapped.
"I don't know. You'll have to ask Jason."
She sat on the bed next to Jason. "What happened?"
He pulled the covers up tighter. "Can't we talk about this later?"
"I want to know before I leave this school. If someone did something to you, I want to know about it."
"It was nothing, Mom. I passed out in the bathroom."
She put her hand on his forehead and shoved the hair out of her way. "My poor baby. Didn't you eat lunch?"
"Yes, Mom. I'll be fine."
his hand. "How'd your shirt get wet?"
Jason didn't answer at first. "Someone threw water on me to wake me up."
"And got your whole shirt wet. What did he use, a bucket? Who was it?"
Jason sat up holding the blanket next to his chest. "I need something to wear."
"Principal Evans called and told me to bring you a shirt." She pulled it out of a brown paper bag she'd set on the floor next to the bed. "You must be cold. Put this on."
Jason let the blanket drop from his chest and put the shirt on, buttoning it up before throwing off the blanket and standing up.
His mother stood as he got up. She walked over to look at the shirt that hung alone on a coat rack. "Half of the buttons are missing. Where are the buttons?"
"Mom, let's just go home. We can talk about it in the car."
His mother glanced at the nurse. "Is there something I should know?"
"All I know is what Jason told you."
Jason's mother hugged him, placing her head against the bruise on the side of his head. Jason flinched. She grabbed his shoulders held him at arm's length. "What's wrong?"
"I hit my head when I fell."
She stepped back from him and examined his head. "Oh, my poor baby. I had no idea. Who'd you say helped you?"
"Let's go, Mom. We can talk in the car."
She grabbed the wet shirt and the two of them walked to his locker to get his coat and then headed to the car.
Jason laid his head against the passenger window. His mom rubbed his shoulder before starting the car. "My poor baby. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, Mom. I'm okay. Can we just get home?"
She started her interrogation at soon as they left the parking lot. "Who was the boy who threw water all over you?"
"Why does it matter?" he asked irritably.
know. It just seems odd. What did he use to throw the water on you?"
"I don't know. Mom. I was passed out. He called for help."
"What was his name? He's a hero. He saved my boy."
"Mom, I'm fine."
"Why don't you want to tell me?"
"It's not important."
She kept at him until he finally gave in. "It was Andy Gibson."
Her eyes widened and she asked, "Isn't that the gay boy that started the GSA and was in the news a while back?"
"Yes, but what of it? He helped me. Isn't that all that counts?"
She looked straight ahead until they came to a stop light. "Did he do something to you? Is that why the buttons are off your shirt?"
"No. He didn't do anything to me. This is why I didn't want to tell you. I knew you'd act like this."
The light turned green as she continued her questioning. "You can't blame me. Something isn't right, and I get the impression you're not telling me everything."
"Mom, I passed out. Andy came in to use the bathroom before lunch ended and found me on the floor. That's it."
"So why are buttons missing off your shirt?"
Jason had the feeling that his mother was going to keep at it until she found out he'd lied. His fears mounted as she continued with her interrogation.
"Come on. I'm waiting."
He lightly banged his head against the window.
"Stop that, you're going to hurt your head."
"I have a bad headache. This makes it feel better. Maybe I have a concussion."
That slowed her a bit. "Did they check you for a concussion?"
"Yes. They said I was fine, but I don't feel well."
"I'm sorry about questioning you like this, but you're my baby, and all I want is to know what happened."
Frustrated, he said, "I already told you."
"Well, I'll let it go for now, but I'm going to get to the bottom of this as soon as you feel better."
Jason began to hope he'd never feel better.
Jason took a long shower, standing there letting the hot water take the chill out of him. The mirror was frosted with steam when he got out, and he stood naked in front of it. He wiped the mirror and stared at his reflection. Inside his head he said, I'm gay. They knew just by looking at me. Of course thinking you look gay and actually looking gay are not the same. But, as we all know, our mind can play tricks on us when we're paranoid and stressed. Jason was thin and shy. But that didn't make him gay or look gay except in the minds of those who stereotype people. The guys in the bathroom just said it to piss Andy and Jason off, and they'd succeeded. Andy only cared because he was concerned about Jason, and Jason was worried because he was concerned about himself too.
Jason punched the mirror and broke it. Blood flowed from his knuckles. He looked at the pieces of broken glass and thought about grabbing one of them and stabbing himself. Instead, he began to clean up the mess. His mother came rushing into the bathroom. "What happened?"
He calmly said, "I was angry and hit the mirror with my hand."
She grabbed his hand. "You're bleeding. What's the matter with you? Thing's must be worse than you're letting on."
Jason thought if he'd have just killed himself, it would all be over, and he wouldn't have to keep dealing with his mother's interrogation or the consequences of that day. But he wasn't prepared to go that far, at least right then.
"Mom, it was stupid. I was just upset about passing out in the bathroom. Why couldn't I have passed out in class or something? Then you'd believe me. I just want you to leave it alone. Can you do that?" His assertiveness surprised him. "I'm tired, Mom. I'm going to bed."
"We have to take care of your hand."
"Oh, sorry. I almost forgot."
The cuts were superficial, and his mom washed his hand with soap and water, wrapped gauze around his fingers, secured it with tape, and wrapped an Ace bandage over it. Her touch was gentle, and it caused him to smile.
"Thanks, Mom. I love you."
She kissed him on the forehead. "I love you too."
You wouldn't if you found out I'm gay.
She hugged him, turned him toward the door, and patted his butt. "Have a good sleep. We'll talk more when you're rested."
That's that last thing he wanted. Plus, his dad would be home by then. He went to his room and climbed into bed after slipping into his pajamas. Why couldn't I be normal like everybody else, he asked himself as he rolled himself in the covers and sobbed into the pillow. The pain in his hand intensified, and all he could manage was to lay there and worry about what would happen next.
Our school had six periods, three in the morning and three in the afternoon. Everything seemed normal when I got to my fourth period class. My fifth period class was the same, but all hell broke loose at the end of fifth period. Oliver was the first to run up to me in the hall. "I heard you and this kid Jason Settles got caught having sex in the bathroom."
"For fuck sakes, Ollie, you know me better than that."
"That's what I thought, but it's all over the school."
"Well, if anyone says anything to you, tell them it's bullshit."
Quite a few kids walked by and gave me strange looks. Emily was the next one to come up to me. "Please tell me that what I heard isn't true."
"Are you sure? You've been known to do some pretty stupid things."
"I agree, Emily, but sex at school. Come on!"
"Okay, I'll give you that one. But it's all over the school. Who's this kid Jason anyway?"
"A kid that wanted to talk. I'd been trying to get him to join the GSA, but he didn't want to. We were supposed to meet at lunch, but he never showed, so I went looking for him. I found him crying in the bathroom."
Emily gave me a concerned look. "What was he crying about?"
"I don't know. We never had a chance to talk."
I gave her the run-down, and just as I finished, Alan, Ernie, Colt, Thomas, and Sonia came by. Other students started to form a circle around us. I didn't want to go into detail because of the gathering crowd, so I just said, "I went to the bathroom, and this other kid was using the bathroom too. Mel, Tim and a couple of other guys came into the bathroom and harassed us. That's it. Ignore the rumors. Nothing was going on. I'll talk about it more at the GSA meeting on Monday." I raised my voice so the other students could hear. "If you want to know more, come to the GSA meeting on Monday."
The bell rang, and everyone headed to class. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning. When I got some strange looks from a few students and a lot of questions from the others, I gave them the same line I used down the hall. It was one thing for Emily, Ollie, and the rest of our group) to know what happened but quite another for everyone else. I had no idea what I was going to say at the GSA meeting on Monday.
I got a send slip from Mr. Evans telling me to report to his office after school. Oh, shit. What now? I'd like to say it was nothing, but he told me that Mel, Tim, and the two others guys are going to be attending the next three GSA meetings.
"Mr. Evans, I respect you and all, but you should have talked to me first."
He glanced out the window for a second and then back to me. "I know, Andy. But they were here, and it seemed like such a good idea at the time. I'm a bit sorry now, but I thought it might help if they were put in a situation where they could better understand how Jason felt. If they give you any trouble, just let me know. In fact, I'll have a talk with them on Monday and lay out some ground rules for them. What do you think?"
I shook my head as I sat down. "I think you shouldn't have done it, but you have, so we'll live with it. You might consider coming to the meeting. That would help."
"I'm pretty busy during lunch, but under the circumstances, I'll do that for you."
"Thanks, Mr. Evans. I know you have a tough job. I'm just glad you believed us and not them."
He shuffled some papers on his desk and then looked at me. "Well, I'm afraid I might be criticized for not taking more time on this, but I knew they were guilty because of their cocky attitudes. Plus they told me they'd already talked to a few kids about the incident. I guess they figured I was going to find out anyway. I told them to quell the rumor, and of course they agreed. But I'm sure it's too late now."
"It is too late. My best friends and a huge group of students gathered around me after fifth period and at the beginning of sixth period. I think their curiosity was killing them. I told them I'd gone to the restroom, and Jason was using the bathroom too. The majority believed me. The thing is, I can handle this stuff, but I'm not sure about Jason."
He gave me a serious look. "There's one thing I don't know."
I looked him directly in the eye. "What's that?"
"Is Jason gay or not?"
"Why is that important?"
"Well, if what I think is true, Jason's biggest fear is that someone think he's gay. I don't know if he is or not, but if he is, I have a feeling he believes he was outed today, and unlike you, when he returns to school, he won't be able to deal with it. I'm afraid of what he might do. So it's important that I have some idea what I'm dealing with."
I knew Mr. Evans could be trusted. He'd proven it many times over the years, and I thought he made a logical argument. "If I tell you, you need to promise not to say anything to anyone else about it."
"I'm not sure I can do that, Andy," he said, looking me straight in the eye. "I should at least talk to Mr. Lynch, your GSA advisor. Anyone else, I can just tell them that because of the incident today, I'd like them to keep an eye on Jason and make sure he's doing okay. Do you understand?"
"Yeah. Everyone around here has already heard the rumors, so what difference does it make? Some people believe this stuff no matter what. I'll tell you what I know."
He smiled. "I appreciate that."
I pulled my chair up close to the front of Mr. Evans' desk and leaned my forearms on it. "Okay, Mr. Evans, this is the way it is." I paused to think about it some and lowered my voice as if someone might be listening. "Jason is gay, and that's what we were going to talk about. He didn't want to be seen with me because he figured other kids would think he's gay too. So we agreed to meet at the baseball dugout, but he didn't show. That's when I searched for him and found crying in the bathroom. Having Mel and his goons walk in on us while we were talking was probably the worst thing that could have happened. He's concerned about students finding out about him, but his biggest fear is that his parents will find out. From what he told me, they're pretty homophobic. So God only knows what happened when he left here this afternoon."
Mr. Evans' frowned. He stared at the ceiling for a couple of beats and then at me. "This could be serious."
Mr. Evans stood. "I think that's enough for now. Thanks for helping. I'm going to talk to Mr. Lynch, and we'll try to work something out. Sorry to make you late for football practice," he said as he wrote a note to Coach Gilbert.
"That's all right. I understand." I had no idea what he was going to do, but I had a feeling that he would be doing it quickly.
Andy came late to football practice. I'd heard the rumors about him and Jason Settles A lot of guys came up to me to ask if it was true. I just told them I hadn't talked to Andy, and they should wait to talk to him. It was obvious most of the guys figured it was bullshit, but of course there was Jackass Barnes II and his cohorts, who were the first to stir up some shit. I never met Barnes' parents, but I figured they were probably worse than both their kids.
His opening salvo began with, "Matt, we heard Andy was fooling around with some skinny gay kid in the bathroom during lunch."
I smiled. "Must have been you, Jackass."
"I told you not to call me Jackass."
Thomas and Colt were only sophomores, but when they saw Barnes they came right over.
"I see your gang of gay guys has come over to help you."
"Look, Barnes. You stir this shit up all the time. When are you going to grow up and realize that there is room for all kinds of people in this world? Take you for example. You're both a jackass and an asshole, and Coach Gilbert allows you to play on the football team. See, we're full of tolerance around here. Maybe it's time you become more tolerant."
Barnes balled up his fists. "You've gotten as bad as your gay buddy Andy. He has a smart mouth too, and you know what happened to him."
"Is that a threat, Barnes? I have two witnesses here." I pointed at Colt and Thomas. "If anything happens to me, you will be the primary suspect."
Alan and Ernie must have heard us, because they came over and lined up behind me.
"Ah, more fags," Jackass said.
Ernie, who now weighed around 220, pushed past me. "Listen, Barnes, I don't like to hear people use that kind of language around nice boys like us. Why don't you take your asshole friends back to your lockers, or should I say cages? I think we're done here."
Barnes didn't want to fight with me, never mind Ernie, so in order to save face, he said, "This isn't the end, trust me."
"You better hope that it is," Ernie said, pointing at Barnes. "If not, you and I will need to spend a little more time together."
"I don't hang with gorillas," Jackass said.
Ernie remained cool. He smiled at them. "Bye, boys. See you on the field."
They walked off like dogs with their tails between their legs.
Practice had already started when Andy showed up. The manager let him in the locker room to get dressed, and by time he got on the field we were deep into drills, which prevented us from talking.
The thing is, I had other things on my mind. I wanted my job back and had spent some time going through the playbook again, practicing drops backs, and throwing passes in my head. Coach Gilbert told me that practicing in your head is almost as effective as practicing on the field. I told him, "Good, I guess I won't need to come to practice anymore."
He smiled and patted me on the back. "Lots of luck.")
Coach let me quarterback the scout team when we ran our next opponents offense against our defense. My practice paid off. Yeah, we weren't running our own stuff, but I managed to make our starting defense look bad. Coach loved it because it showed the weaknesses in our defense. I looked at him a few times, and he gave me a big smile. That wasn't quite the same as him telling me I was going to start, but it did help build my confidence.
That was on Wednesday, and we would be in shorts and helmets on Thursday, so it was going to take another week before I'd have another a chance to get my job back. That was unless Greg got hurt or Coach let me in for a few plays so I could show my stuff at the game on Friday. Yeah, I said my job. Coach was right about me earning it, but I believed that if I continued to think of it as my job, I was more likely to get it back.
Andy explained everything after practice. I felt sorry for Jason. While I wasn't there to see it all, I knew that a short time ago I'd have been just like Jason. Well, not exactly, but as long as I had been in the closet, I was scared. This isn't to say that coming out is the right thing for everyone. After all, I didn't really choose to come out. My personal belief is that sex is a private thing, and our sexual preference should remain private unless there's a good reason to tell someone or tell everyone. A lot depends on the school and the situation you're in. Andy, Thomas, and the rest of us were lucky that we had the support of Mr. Evans and Mr. Lynch. But if we hadn't had that, I'd hate to think how things might have turned out.
We had taken some risks with our lives. We'd tied some knots that forced us to come out. I'm not sure what I would have done if there had never been a Dillon Burke or if I never had sex with Andy when I thought he was going to kill himself. Regrets are terrible things. I had a lot of them, but I began to realize little by little, that I couldn't let my regrets hold me back. I needed to look to the future and do my best not to look back. I think I mentioned this quote before: "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." Well, whoever said that was talking about history, but each of us has our own history, and if we don't learn from our own past, we're doomed to repeat it.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. -- George Santayana
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I think fearless is having fears but jumping anyway. -- Taylor Swift
If you like this story, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I answer all emails.
I'd like to thank Lisa for taking the time to edit Knots 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. As the author, I take final responsibility for all parts of the story, including any errors.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales, is purely coincidental and no slanderous intent is implied.