by Julien Gregg
Edited By David
Copyright 2006 Julien Gregg
All rights reserved.
No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author. This story is almost all fiction. Almost all of the characters depicted in this story exist exclusively in the imagination of the author. Any resemblance to an actual person, living or dead, is, sometimes purely coincidental.
Things happened very fast after that. The police arrived, and Ms. Tull was arrested. The police asked us a few questions about the way Ms. Tull treated all of us, but it was more formality than anything. Mitch taught our Literature class that day, telling us that a permanent teacher would be in the classroom soon. Of course by the end of fifth hour, the entire school knew that Ms. Tull had been arrested. Even I wa shocked when she was charged with the bombing. I just couldn't believe she'd done that. In a way, I still thought that the culprit was still at large.
After that class, the students were all very excited in the halls. Everyone was rushing back and forth from one group to another to discuss the arrest of Ms. Tull and what they thought about it. Surprisingly, everyone paid little, if any attention to me as I made my way to the computer lab. However, one student walked right behind me. I made it a point not to turn my head or acknowledge Leo's presence at all, though. He didn't say anything at all, and having him walk behind me didn't bother me really. I wasn't afraid of Leo Hartman. I was just surprised that he was following me after a day of completely ignoring my existence. That in itself was strange, and I supposed it wasn't all that strange that he was walking behind me when we shared the last two classes of the day. Naturally he'd have most likely taken the same route to the computer lab from Ms. Tull's Literature class as I do.
What was really strange was the he didn't give me one of his usual comments as we walked into the lab and took our seats at the station we shared. He glanced at me for a second before getting his notebook and manual arranged as he wanted them, but he didn't say anything. It was really strange. I decided not to dwell on it, though. Mr. Branch came in and closed the door to start the class right then, and I got up to pass back the tests that we'd taken the day before the locker bombings.
"I'm very impressed with the knowledge that some of you possess," said Mr. Branch as I handed back the tests. "Mr. Hartman, you seem to grasp everything really well. Mr. Lockland, you seem to really understand the material that I asked you not to read through in the manual, but at least you've shown me that you can memorize what you read."
"Why thank you, Mr. Branch," replied Jim Lockland, making the class snicker.
I noticed that Leo didn't even smile when Mr. Branch complimented him. Something was starting to gnaw at me about the way Leo was acting, but I tried very hard not to think about it. When I sat down beside him, he moved his test paper over slightly to give me room to look over my own test (mine was completely different from the rest in the class, though). He was being almost cordial, and I didn't understand that at all.
I was half way to my locker when Leo stopped me. At first I was ready to slug him again, but the look on his face stopped me. It wasn't malice I saw in his eyes this time. What I saw in his eyes this time was fear, and I didn't like that. I never wanted anyone to fear me. Whatever I was, I didn't want to be the type of person that anyone was afraid of. I sighed and unclenched my fists, having only discovered that I'd clenched them when I let go.
"Tommy, I just want you to know that I would have never put anything in your locker that would have hurt you," he said softly. "We don't get along, and I know that's my fault. I wouldn't hurt anyone, though. I didn't write anything on your locker, either. That's not what I'm about."
I was stunned. I mean he usually only said something about my life being filled with sin when he actually spoke directly to me. To hear him say that he wasn't behind the messages and bombs in the lockers was a bit surprising. I didn't believe he had been the one to bomb the lockers, but I had harbored a suspicion that he'd been behind the messages.
"I know you didn't bomb the lockers," I replied. "I won't lie and say that you weren't the first person I thought of when the messages appeared on my locker, but I don't believe you did that either."
"I'm more of a verbal person," he said, smiling softly. I noticed that when he smiled, Leo was actually kind of cute. Then I mentally kicked myself for that thought. This was Leo Hartman, after all. "I didn't know that Ms. Tull was doing it, either. I don't think she's the one who put the bombs in the lockers, though. I don't know who did, but I don't really believe that she'd take things that far."
"Have you talked to the police about this?" I asked, thinking that if he'd told them this, the investigation would continue. I didn't think Tull had bombed the lockers, either.
"I told them exactly what I've just told you," he replied. "Look, I know that we're not friends, and we probably never really will be. I just want you to know that I'm not going to say anything bad about you or your friends anymore. The bombs scared me, Tommy. I realized that whoever did that wanted you dead. You have to believe me when I say that I never wished any of you hurt."
"Relax, Leo," I sighed. "I believe you. And thank you for talking to me. You're right, though. We aren't friends. I don't want to consider you an enemy, though. If we can find a common ground and work from there maybe we can at least be friendly."
"I'll do my best," he said, offering me his hand as Steve and Noah approached us from different directions.
"And so will I," I said as I shook his hand. He smiled again, but he let go quickly as he saw Steve come up to stand beside me. "I'd better get out front."
"Later, Leo," I said, smiling myself.
I watched him walk away, and I did notice that Noah smiled at us for a second before he turned and followed his older brother down the hall toward the front of the school. I was still a bit stunned by the conversation, but it gave me a lot to think about. For one thing, Leo Hartman wasn't the asshole I believed him to be. That was enough to keep me locked in my own thoughts for months.
"What was that all about?" Steve asked as I turned and headed for our locker.
"Leo wanted to make sure that I understood that he didn't plant anything, or write anything on our lockers," I replied. "He was worried that we'd think he wanted us dead. He says he won't say anything negative about us anymore. Something is up with that guy."
"He's not our problem, Bud," said Steve as we got to our defaced locker and began to exchange books to take home what we needed for homework.
"No, he isn't," I agreed as I followed my lover back to the computer lab for the GSA meeting.
Almost an hour later, we were all headed to the parking lot to leave. That was when I saw the first group of people across the street from the school. They didn't do anything but stand there and look at us, so I dismissed them as soon as I saw them. Steve and I got into his car, and we drove out of the lot, passing the group and headed home.
At work that night, I was swamped. The restaurant was slammed, and we were short one busboy. That meant more tips for me, but it also meant a lot more work. I was dragging by the time I punched out and headed home. I wasn't surprised to see Steve's car already in the driveway. He usually got home before me when we both worked unless my restaurant was dead.
"Hey, Bud," he said as I came in through the side door. "Long night?"
"You don't know the half of it," I replied, sitting down at the table. "I didn't even get a chance to eat anything. Mario called in sick, and we had no empty tables. With two busboys, it was Hell. The waitresses were only half nice to us to top that off. Then we had to clean up the entire dining room before we left."
He smiled at me and then got up to stand behind me and rub my shoulders. Two seconds of that and I was ready to do anything he wanted. It was nice to say the least, and I couldn't get enough of it. It occurred to me then that I hadn't asked him about his night. We usually made it a point to ask each other about our time spent at work as soon as we saw each other. This time, I'd just ranted.
"I had an interesting night myself," he said as he continued to knead my shoulders.
"What happened?" I asked, still enjoying his ministrations.
"Well, apparently there was a big church deal at South Baptist," he said. "Like the entire congregation came to the restaurant to have coffee and discuss something. What was strange was that Leo insisted that I stay away from that section and even gave me part of his tips just so I'd agree to letting him have the section. It was really strange. He was actually nice about it, but he looked worried."
"That is strange," I agreed. "But he did say that he wasn't going to go out of his way to be rude to us anymore."
"Yeah, but he didn't say that he was going to go out of his way to be nice either," countered Steve. "It was just strange. I liked that he was nice to me, but it was just strange. Then there was the fact that the church people glared at me any time I came near them."
"Well, luckily we aren't baptists," I replied, shrugging out from under his expert touch. He'd have had me falling asleep if I hadn't stopped him. "I need a shower, and then we can eat something and talk more."
Twenty minutes later, I was showered and dressed. When I got back downstairs, Steve already had a sandwich waiting for me. I kissed his cheek before sitting across from him at the table and picking up the sandwich. I loved him more and more every day for the way he treated me.
"What do you think about Ms. Tull getting fired?" he asked as I took a bite of the sandwich.
"I'm happy that she's gone," I said after swallowing. "But, Steve, she isn't the one who put bombs in our lockers."
"I don't think she is, either," replied Steve. "We're still going to have to look over our shoulders for a while."
"Until they catch the person, or people who did it, I'm going to be leery of the locker," I admitted.
"I feel the same way," he said softly. "Then there's the dork that threw the brick through our window."
"That's kind of easy to get over," I replied after a moment of thought. "It actually could have been other kids that just chose that time to let us know that we aren't as universally loved as we thought."
"I don't think so, Tommy," he said. "I don't think any of the kids at school really want to hurt us or anything. Even the ones who do have a problem with our sexuality just steer clear of us most of the time. They never get in our faces when they can't stay away from us, either."
"You have a point," I said. "But that doesn't mean that once they thought we were distracted . . ."
"I hear you," he said, cutting me off. "It just doesn't make me feel any better."
"Me either," I admitted. "Its just something we're going to have to live with until everyone is caught and punished."
"Will it stop there?" he asked, looking at me hard. "I mean, we thought it was over, Tommy. Then all of this. Who's to say that if they actually catch the people who bombed the lockers and threw bricks through our windows that it will be the end of it all?"
"We can't live our lives constantly worrying about who is driving down our street, Steve," I said. "Think about that. Would you ever be able to breath easy if you were constantly worried about something bad happening every time you were happy for even ten minutes?"
"It's just going to take me a while to not think about this, Tommy," he said, and I instantly wanted to take him in my arms and promise that everything would be fine. It hurt that I couldn't do it and mean it.
As we snuggled close on the couch to watch a little television before bed, I thought about our situation. I tried not to let it get me upset, but I don't know how successful I was. Ms. Tull getting fired would make one hour of the day a bit better, but it didn't solve the main problem. Steve was right. Ms. Tull didn't bomb our lockers. Even Leo, who's change of attitude still made me a bit nervous, had said that she wasn't the type to go that far. Then who was that type of person? Who wanted us dead so badly that they were willing to risk hurting others? Who did I know that was crazy enough to do that?
Only one name came to mind, and I knew it was impossible. Jason Cox was still in jail. He couldn't have planted bombs in the lockers at Storyville High while he was locked up. Yet his name was the only name I could come up with. He'd actually tried to kill me once already, so I guess it was natural that I would think of him first when my life was being threatened again. I almost wished it was Jason. At least then there wouldn't be this nameless person out there, biding their time until they could strike again. When they did strike again how many people would be hurt?
I was still thinking about it when we went up to bed. I stood beside Steve in the bathroom and brushed my teeth. We took turns using the toilet and washing our hands. Then we walked into the bedroom to strip down to our shorts and crawl in bed. His arms wrapped around me automatically, but I still thought about the person or people that wanted us dead. I don't know when I found sleep, but it must have been waiting patiently.
The next morning, Steve was quiet. I knew that exactly what was still on my mind was also on his. There were no words that could make it better. We both knew that we'd stand together against whatever came our way, but that didn't make us feel any safer. If I had known that coming out would ultimately lead to what was going on I think I'd have thought about it a lot harder than I had. I think I would have just stayed in the closet where it was safe.
No running that morning, so we were just finishing with breakfast when Nick and Jeremy arrived. I think they could both tell that something was bothering both of us, because we all stayed almost completely silent all the way to school. When we got to school, words failed all of us anyway. There was some kind of disturbance at the main entrance, and for a moment I thought parents were demanding their children again. I even wondered what could have happened to cause them to do it all over again as we got out of the car and silently headed toward the large crowd of people.
When we got closer, I got a little scared actually. I heard words like fornicator, sinner and deviant being shouted by the group of people, and I knew that this wasn't a crowd of angry parents. This was something else. When I spotted Reverend Hartman near the front of the crowd, I knew what it was. I was both shocked and angry. Hearing the police sirens is what made me turn around. Then I saw squad cars and two news vans heading into the parking lot. I wanted to hide, but I was rooted to my place. What moved me was the last thing I expected.
"Tommy, come on," said Leo Hartman, grabbing my arm and tugging me away as Steve, Jeremy and Nick followed us. "They're only at the front entrance. They won't see you if we get around the building fast enough. Let's go."
I didn't argue for a bit. I followed him around the building and through the throng of students who'd come back outside to watch. Once we were inside I started to think about what was happening a little better, though. For one thing, why was Leo so worried about us? Why was he trying to help us? Those thoughts, along with a lot of others, swam through my head as we stood in the nearly deserted quad.
"Aren't you afraid to be seen with us?" Nick's voice said as I stared at Leo. "I mean, those are your people, right?"
"First of all," he said, finally looking away from me. "I don't have people. That's my grandfather's congregation. I tried to call you and warn you about this last night, Tommy, but your number's been changed."
"Why are you helping us?" I finally asked him. I suppose I could have been a little more accepting of his help, but he wasn't exactly our friend.
"Because what my grandfather is doing is just as wrong as what Ms. Tull did," he said simply, looking me in the eye.
"I don't get it, Leo," I said, holding tight to my suspicion of him. "Last week you were doing everything in your power to stay away from us, and when you did come across us you had very vile things to say about how we were immoral and sinners. What changed your mind?"
"I was wrong, all right?" he replied, looking worried. "I had a chance to think about things, Tommy. I had a real chance to see what my grandfather is really all about. I didn't like the man I saw, and I don't want to be anything like him . . ."
"So to rebel against your grandfather, you've decided to help the heathens?" Steve asked, and I was almost proud of him.
"Its not like that," protested Leo, but his protest was weakly delivered. I supposed he could see where Steve was coming from. God knew that I could.
"So explain it in words that I can understand," suggested Steve, and I put a hand on his arm to calm him down.
"Well for one thing, I know that you guys aren't really bad people," he said. "I've watched you very closely since the beginning of the school year."
"You have, have you?" Steve said through clenched teeth, and I tightened my grip on his arm.
"Please don't think I'm being rude," sighed Leo. "Working with you is one of the ways that I got over my stupidity, Steve. You actually help people, and you don't act like you're better than anyone or try to . . ."
"Try to way, exactly?" Steve asked. His teeth were no longer clenched, but his tone was still far from friendly. I had the distinct feeling that this was about to get really ugly if Leo said something Steve didn't like. I wasn't sure that I even had the power to stop him from doing anything if he chose to.
"Try to make people believe things that you do," Leo said quietly. After a few minutes of silence and Steve just looking at him blankly, he went on. "I mean, I was always taught that homosexuals tried to convert people or something."
"It doesn't work that way," Jeremy said, shocking me. "You don't become gay, Leo. Homosexuals are born that way."
"Look, I've done my research, and I know that argument," replied Leo. "I know what the research indicates, and I'm not stupid. At least I don't think I am anymore. I'm sorry for the way I acted. I really am. I know we'll never be friends, but I don't want to be your enemy, either."
"Are we having a problem here, boys?" Mitch asked as he came up to us.
Leo looked worried for a moment as he looked from me to Steve and back. The fact was, though, Leo wasn't being a problem. He'd actually tried to help. That was what I couldn't get my mind around. I understood what he was trying to say, but I didn't get why he'd gone to the trouble of trying to figure us out at all, much less trying to be nice to us in any fashion.
"No, Mit . . . Mr. Benson," I stammered. "We're not having a problem at all."
"Well I suggest you boys head to your first class," he said with a slight smile at my slip. "It might be a good idea for you to stay out of the quad until we can get things settled outside."
"Yes, Mr. Benson," replied Leo before any of us could say anything.
I walked away from them with my head full of conflicting thoughts. I couldn't believe that I was thankful to Leo Hartman for keeping me from being spotted by the congregation and his own grandfather. The fact that his act alone had defied his grandfather shocked me, but to help me in any way was something I couldn't even wrap my mind around. I wasn't used to people who hated me for being gay changing their minds and deciding to broaden their horizons and learn something. This was new for me.
All through Analysis I thought about Leo Hartman. Even Wendy couldn't get more than a word out of me. It was crazy for me to be thinking about Leo so much. I didn't want to think about Leo. I almost wished he'd never said a word to us that day. Then I wouldn't be stuck in Analysis class with thoughts of him floating through my already turbulent brain.
I thought about Leo all through Psychology, too. In fact, I paid very little attention to the lecture. It was a good thing that Psychology was one of the classes that I practically only had to show up to pass. Mr. Tolston wasn't one of my favorite teachers, any way. He and Ms. Tull were of the same mind, but fortunately Mitch had a tight reign on Mr. Tolston. So he was only a minor irritation in my day. Nick and Jeremy were quiet in that class, too. That wasn't abnormal, though. In Psychology class we were always quiet. Any reason we gave Tolston to come down on us was one more than we wanted.
I made it through Study Hall pretty easily. Leo kept to himself as usual, and Nick and Jeremy kept my mind on the congregation at the entrance for most of the period. They were still there, and I learned from Nick that the press was all over the place. Police were there, too, and even the officers stationed inside the school were outside trying to get Reverend Hartman and his flock to leave. Thankfully, the security guards were still inside the school.
By the time I met up with Mark on my way to Gym, I was pretty clear headed. I mentally thanked Jeremy for that. He always had a way of getting me to think about anything other than what was on my mind while I was with him. That was one of the reasons that I was so close with him. The fact that his life had been perhaps harder than mine was another reason. I saw a strength in him that I hoped I had even the slightest shred of. For him to have endured the abuse that he'd been subjected to and still come out with far less emotional scars than he actually had said something about him. Whether he knew it or not, my friend Jeremy was cool.
Steve and I were relatively relaxed all through Gym. We were both in the weight room with Mark, and that was something we were serious about. It left no room for thinking about anything other than the potential danger of the machines we were using. Respect for the equipment kept people safe, and we were all about safety. It did occur to me while we were in the weight room that I wasn't being watched as heavily, though. Perhaps I just had more distractions from it, but I didn't think that was the case. Vince and Andy were still worried about me, but now they were also worried about Steve as well. That had shifted most of the heavy protection off of me.
"What are you thinking about?" Steve asked as we got dressed after our showers. "You've been quiet all hour."
"Nothing too heavy," I promised with a genuine smile. "Let's get to the cafeteria. I'm hungry."
"I hear that," he chuckled as we walked out of the locker room together.
Our comfortable mood didn't last long, though. We made it to our locker without paying any attention to the flyers that had been taped to the walls here and there. Nothing was printed on our locker that day, and we were both thankful for that. We exchanged books for our last two classes of the day and headed off toward the cafeteria when I noticed a flyer for the first time. Ordinarily I wouldn't have paid much attention. If it wasn't about the GSA then I never bothered myself with what a flyer said. After all, the GSA was now the only after school club or event that I took part in. What caught my attention on this particular flyer was the large golden cross that was the background for the printed words. Steve saw that I was headed toward one of them and followed me, and I heard him hiss in a breath as he read the same words I was reading.
The flyers had our names on them, mine, Steve's, Rick's and Mark's. We'd been singled out, and the author of the flyer called us fornicators and branded us homosexuals. It was what was written at the bottom of the flyer that pissed me off more than anything else. It said that in the bible, such people were stoned publicly for these crimes. It was calling for our public stoning. To say that I was angry was just an understatement. I saw red, and I wanted to go outside and have it out with the flock, but especially the good Reverend Hartman. If Mitch hadn't come along, ripping flyers off the wall as he headed toward us I probably would have.
"Tommy, Steve, shouldn't you boys be in the cafeteria?" Mitch asked, pretending to ignore what we were looking at.
"Mitch," I said through clenched teeth as I turned to face him. "First our lockers, and now flyers all over the school? Who did this?"
"We don't know, Tommy," he replied quickly. "They're all placed in places where the cameras can't see, and none of them are near any of the offices or classrooms."
That's when I noticed Leo coming from the other direction. He was pulling the flyers down just as Mitch had been. When he saw us, he stopped in his tracks and looked worried again. I sighed. He had every reason to fear me. I'd already used force against him once, but I wasn't going to do it again. I'd never get angry with him for taking down flyers that called for my own public stoning. Here again he was doing something completely out of character for him, and I wondered why. I didn't dwell on it, though. The fact that at least all of the rest of the student body of Storyville High had seen the flyers was what was heavy on my mind.
We didn't say a word to Leo as we walked away from Mitch and headed into the cafeteria. I half expected the entire cafeteria to get deadly silent when we walked in, but everyone continued to talk like there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. I noticed Mark and Rick at our usual table, and then I saw the football team sitting in every available spot around it. I had flash backs of our last two years at Storyville High as I watched the football players pass food back and forth and generally have a good time. We were still friendly with more than half of the team, but they'd stopped sitting with us after last year. Now that we were nearly half way through another year and they were back told me just how serious they'd taken the flyers on the walls.
We made it through lunch, although we were unusually quiet throughout the entire half hour. My last two classes were completely unmemorable other than the fact that Mitch was teaching our Literature class until a replacement could be found for Ms. Tull. Then there was the fact that Leo watched me out of the corner of his eye the entire time we sat in the computer lab side by side.
The flock shouted at us as we left the school building after the last bell. We'd even come out a different exit than the main one where they were standing. When they saw us heading for the parking lot, they moved as a group, following us. They shouted that we were immoral and indecent. They shouted that we were fornicators and vile homosexuals who refused to repent our ways. I tried to ignore them, but as we got to my car I saw that all of my windows were broken and my tires were flat.
Then there were reporters all around asking me questions that I kept refusing to answer. I looked at Steve who was looking back at me with fear in his eyes. I wanted it all to just go away. That's when a different kind of shouting started. I turned to look and was almost ready to cry with joy when I saw the football team strutting toward the group of church members, shouting that they weren't welcome at Storyville High and a number of other things. That was also when it started to snow.
I'd like to invite all of you to join my yahoo group. Chapters will now appear there before they are posted ANYWHERE. To join, click here. I hope you liked this chapter. Chapter 12 will be along soon. Email is always appreciated.