By Julien Gregg
Fire With Fire
The next morning Dr. Rizetti told me that I could go home, but he wanted Steve to stay another night for observation. After all Steve had been in some sort of coma. I couldn't argue, and even though I wanted him to come home with me I understood that they wanted to be sure that he was all right. I even had to agree that it was probably a good idea that they watch him for at least one more night. I wasn't about to leave the hospital for long, though. I let Shirley drive me back to my house so I could take a real shower and put on clean clothes, but then I drove Steve's car right back to the hospital. I did notice that my car had been towed back to the house, though. I supposed I'd have to call someone to fix the damage the zealots had done.
" BUD !" Steve cried when I came into his room once I returned to the hospital.
"Hey, sexy," I said, smiling at him as I walked over and gave him a kiss. "I was worried."
"So was I," he replied. "They wouldn't let me come down the hall. Wait, you're in regular clothes."
"I was released this morning," I explained as I kicked Vince out of the recliner beside Steve's bed, hugging him when he stood.
"That's great!" Steve cried. "Maybe I'm next."
"Tomorrow," Dr. Rizetti said as he walked into the room. "Tommy, I thought I sent you home."
"Yes, Sir," I laughed. "I'm just not leaving without my partner."
"Understood," he said with a smile. "Steve, you're doing great, but we want you to stay with us one more night for observation. You can probably go home in the morning. I'm sure the nurses will be sad to see both of you leave, but the entire floor will be a little happy to see the football team go home."
"Yeah, we're popular that way," laughed Steve.
"We're getting even more popular," I said, handing him the newspaper that had been sitting on the front porch. Our pictures were on the front page along with Reverend Hartman's and a few others from his congregation. "There's a full story about the 'stoning' and the cow's blood that ends on page four."
"Sweet," he said. "Now the whole city gets to gawk at you."
"Stowe it," I laughed. "I'm more worried about the reaction from other churches."
"I'm glad you're feeling better, Tommy," said Vince as Steve opened the paper. "We were really worried about both of you."
"I'm just glad that no one else got hurt," I replied, smiling at him. "And thanks for getting the windows fixed."
"No worries," he replied. "They didn't even charge us. I wouldn't be so worried about reactions, Tommy. A lot of people are outraged by what happened. Churches have already gone on record to say that what Reverend Hartman did was unspeakable."
"There's my boys," said Meg's voice as she came into the room. She walked over and hugged me tight before going over to kiss Steve's forehead. "You two sure know how to scare a woman to death."
"Awe," said Steve, blushing. "We're both fine, Meg. How are the boys?"
"Philip and Dustin have been parked in the waiting room since you guys got here. I've had to make them both go home to eat and change a few times. Karl and Jason are both pulling for you, too."
"Thanks," we said at the same time.
"That preacher is all over the news," she said. "He's talking to as many reporters as he can, and I hear the story is going national."
That made me groan. It was one thing to be out in the city I lived in, but to have the world know me as Tommy Porter: The Homosexual wasn't something I looked forward to. I wished there was a way to make it all just go away. I knew there wasn't, though. This was life, and I had no choice in how the events caused by other people played out. I just had to sit back and go along for the ride. Thinking about that got me to thinking about how easily I'd let them push me out of school. I didn't like that one bit, and I wondered if it was possible to change my mind about it. Shirley had already signed the paper letting me graduate early, but what if I wanted to remain in school for the rest of the year?
They brought Steve his lunch tray then, and I kissed him and followed Meg and Vince out of the room. We went to the waiting room where we met up with Dustin and Phillip. Ben and Wendy were there, too. Wendy came over and hugged me tight when I walked into the room. Then Ben nearly tackled me and told me how worried he'd been. I hugged him back and insisted that I was fine. I had stitches and bandages, but I wasn't dead.
"Shirley and I were talking last night, Tommy," Meg said as I sat down at one of the tables in the room. Everyone sat around me. "Shirley says that the detective handling your case told her that you and Steve can get a restraining order against the church. I should probably tell you that every one of them are out on bail."
"I figured that," I replied, thinking about Reverend Hartman on television. "I think the restraining order is probably the best idea. I need to talk to Shirley about something else, too."
"Well, here I am, Tommy," said Shirley as she came into the waiting room. "I figured you'd come right back here, so I didn't even bother to check the house."
"Shirley, I don't want to graduate now," I said quickly. "I want to go back to school."
"Are you sure about that, Tommy?" she asked. "You were pretty clear that you didn't feel safe there."
"Well if we put a restraining order against the church, I should feel better," I replied. "Besides, I don't like that I let them push me out of my high school."
"I'm sure Mitch will let you come back," she said after a moment.
"Oh he will," assured Wendy. "He said he hadn't handed the paperwork in yet. He's been hoping Tommy would change his mind. He said he knows the others will change theirs the moment Tommy changes his."
"Well then we'll talk to him about that in the morning," she said. "So you've decided to go ahead with the restraining order?"
"I have," I replied. "I also want to talk to one of those reporters. If the story is going national, I want them to report something from our side. It may as well be me."
"You can take your pick," laughed Ben. "They'll all be around soon. I just saw something about this on CNN."
"Great," I said, trying to at least pretend to be happy about it. If the world was going to hear about me, they might as well hear from me.
I noticed Shirley watching me closely for a second. I wasn't sure if she was just worried that the doctor had released me too soon or if she wasn't happy with my decisions to seek out a reporter to talk to. If it was the former I decided that Dr. Rizetti knew what he was doing, and he'd released me. If it was the latter I decided that I'd made up my mind, and no one was going to change it. At that moment, though I wanted to be with my lover.
I sat with Steve for the rest of the day. Andy showed up with food for me and Vince around five, and I told them what I'd decided while we ate. They'd brought Steve's supper tray, so he wasn't left out. I was surprised when Vince told me that he thought it was the right idea to get my story out there instead of waiting for the news to just report what they thought. Andy was even in agreement. I looked at Steve and found him studying me closely.
"It isn't the reporters that I'm worried about, Tommy," he said after a moment. "You said you want to go back to school. Tommy, they haven't found out who bombed the lockers. That person is still out there."
"I know that," I said firmly. "But I'm not going to be afraid all of the time. I deserve my education, Steve. So do you. I won't let a church and a mad man stop me from getting it. Will you?"
"I didn't say I didn't understand why you wanted to go back to school," he said. "I want to go back, too. I didn't want to quit to begin with. I just want to make sure that you don't think it's all over just because of a restraining order."
"Steve, I know that a restraining order is just a piece of paper," I said. "I don't feel even a bit more safe knowing that I'll have a piece of paper that stands between me and the flock, but I won't let them win. I'm going to talk to the reporters, and I'm going to try and make sure that things change. I don't know exactly how I'm going to do that yet, but I will do it."
"Talking to the reporter is a good start," said Andy. "Just make sure that you get a chance to tell the world the truth. Make them understand what it was like when your locker blew up. Tell them all about it. That way Reverend Hartman can't paint you as a cold freak. Make them see the teenager who you are, Tommy."
We talked about which reporter to seek out, but none of us really knew who was out there so far. CNN had the story, and Andy told me that he'd seen something about the reverend on NBC's "Today Show". That meant the story was in fact going national, but it didn't mean that any of the national network reporters had made their way to Storyville. It would probably be a few more days before anyone really started to seek us out for interviews, and I didn't want to give ten when I could give one or two and tell the world exactly what was going on.
Andy and Vince both left a little while later. Ben and Wendy came in to say goodnight to us and then left as well, and we were alone. We talked about going back to school and what we would have to do to make sure that no one got to us. He told me that he was still a little scared, but I assured him that with the football team walking around the school no one would get too carried away. I wasn't exactly sure about that, but I was trying to convince him that going back to school wasn't as dangerous as he thought. I hated that I didn't really believe what I was saying.
Around eleven that night I kissed Steve goodnight and stretched out in the recliner. Knowing I was safe in the hospital with Steve right there with me let me fall asleep fairly quickly. Surprisingly I slept peacefully and didn't wake up until a nurse came in to take Steve's vitals. She smiled at me as she took his pulse.
"Hey," said Steve when the nurse left.
"Morning, sexy," I said, stretching and yawning.
"I get sprung today," he said, smiling at me.
"Yeah, I have to take you home," I said, feigning sullenness.
"Oh, you want me to stay here?" he laughed.
"Just for a while," I said, teasing. "This really hasn't been a long enough break, you know."
"You need a break, huh?"
"Oh, yeah," I said. "It's no big deal. I mean I just need another day."
"Shuddup," he chuckled.
We laughed as they brought in Steve's breakfast tray. I excused myself to use the bathroom before heading down to the cafeteria to buy breakfast for myself, promising Steve I wouldn't be long. When I got to the cafeteria I found Shirley and Meg having coffee. I got myself a tray that was very similar to what they'd brought Steve and sat down with them.
"Morning, you," said Meg as I sat down at their table.
"Good morning," I replied. "You guys are here early."
"Well Steve's getting released, and Vince has classes all day," said Shirley.
"I can drive him home," I said, remembering that I'd driven his car back to the hospital the day before when I was released.
"You have Steve's car," she said. "I forgot about that. We need to talk about getting your car fixed, too."
"I'll make some calls when we get home," I said. "I still need to talk to Mitch, too."
"He called this morning," informed Shirley. "Wendy told him that you'd changed your mind. He said for you to call him and set up a time to come in and talk."
"Sounds good," I replied.
"As soon as Steve is released we're having the detective come by the house," said Meg. "We need to get that restraining order."
"We'll have to go to court for that," said Shirley. "Vince will have to be there on Steve's behalf."
"We need our guardians to file?" I asked as I opened my milk carton.
"Sure do," replied Meg. "Shirley called the court house this morning before we came to the hospital. Then she called the detective. He's going to come and talk to you and Steve about what to expect after the judge signs the order."
"Well I understand that essentially it's only a piece of paper that won't literally stop anyone from doing anything," I said, choosing my words carefully to make them understand that I really was thinking it through. "It may make the reverend think before he decides to cast stones again, but it won't stop whoever put bombs in our lockers. I don't believe that Ella Tull had anything to do with that, and I don't believe that either of you believe that either. That person is still out there, and until they find him or her there's going to be an element of danger that a piece of paper just can't erase. I'm still going to look over my shoulder until all of this is settled, if ever."
"It sounds like you've really thought about this, Tommy," said Shirley. "I'm sorry that things got this far, and I wish that I could make it all stop. I think you have the right attitude about the situation, though."
"Let's get upstairs before you lover thinks you've abandoned him," said Meg.
I'd eaten just about everything on my tray, so I took it to the dish line before joining them again and walking out of the cafeteria. We talked about my decision to give an interview as we made our way back to Steve's room. Shirley actually approved of the idea which surprised me. I'd expected her to be against it and try to talk me out of giving the interview. I was happy that I didn't have to argue with her about it. She and Meg even suggested that I give the interview at home so the reporter could see that we were really a normal family.
"There you are," said Steve as we came in. Dr. Rizetti was already in the room, and he smiled at us as we came in.
"I met these two in the cafeteria," I explained.
"Well I was just telling Steve that a nurse will be along shortly with his release papers and follow up instructions," said Dr. Rizetti. "I'd like both of you to try and make sure that you stay healthy and unharmed. I've been watching the news, so I know what's going on. I'm really sorry about it."
"It's hard," said Steve, looking at me while he spoke. "You never know what's going to happen from one moment to the next."
"Well we won't have to worry about anything at the house anymore," said Shirley. "The police are going to be driving by every hour, if not more, to make sure there are no crowds in front of the house or suspicious people hanging around the area."
She hadn't told me that part while we were in the cafeteria, but it did make me feel a little safer. I just wished that it wasn't necessary. The whole thing was enough to make me paranoid of everyone and everything. I thought about how I was so upset because everyone was worrying about me hurting myself and almost chuckled out loud. They didn't have to worry about me hurting myself. There were plenty of people waiting to do it for me.
"Hey, look, the dirty preacher is on television," said Steve, reaching over and turning up the volume.
"Storyville High School has sank into a pit of abomination in the eyes of our Lord," said Reverend Hartman on the television. "I suffer no guilt for protesting against the immorality that is allowed to fester within its walls. I do have a vested interest. My two grandsons are students there, and I'm frightened by the thought of my two upstanding, Christian grandsons being influenced by specific students who have no moral fiber and lack spiritual guidance."
"Your grandsons were attending Compton High School until this year. Is that correct?" asked the reporter as soon as the reverend stopped talking.
"Yes they did, but after several problems inside that scholastic institution our family decided that it wasn't in the boys' spiritual best interest to remain there," he replied. "We made the decision to change schools as a family, but had we known what was being allowed to fester in Storyville High School, we'd have made another decision."
"What about your arrest over the attack on Tommy Porter and Steve Sutton?" the reporter asked. "Do you think that's setting a good example for your grandchildren?"
"I didn't attack Mr. Porter and Mr. Sutton," replied the reverend calmly. "What I did was lead a biblical response to their sacrilegious lifestyle."
"You call their lifestyle sacrilegious," said the reporter. "Some say that you have no right to judge anyone. What do you believe gives you the right to throw stones at two teenagers just because of their lifestyle?"
"I am a man of God," replied the reverend, showing anger for the first time. "If the men and women who are right with God do nothing to stop the decline of civilization then we aren't being true Christians."
"Turn that off, Steve," said Meg with a grimace. "I don't think I can stomach much more of his bullshit."
Steve turned off the television just as the door opened. We all turned to see who it was, and everyone got real quiet. Leo Hartman stood in the open door with an uncertain look in his eyes. He looked at me for a long moment before coming into the room. I could feel Meg and Shirley, who were both now standing on either side of me, stiffen when they realized who it was they were looking at.
"I just wanted to come and tell you that I'm sorry that this happened," Leo said quietly. "If I had known that they were planning to do this, I would have warned you, Tommy."
"Nobody blames you, Leo," I said, though I wasn't sure if everyone agreed with me. I certainly didn't blame him. We'd had our troubles, but he seemed to be changing in ways that I couldn't figure out. I just didn't see him letting his grandfather and his church attack us that way without at least saying something to warn me that it was coming.
"You have to understand, though," he said a little louder. "It isn't over, Tommy. He's got so many things planned that he hopes will make you guys leave town. He used to rant about making you change, but now he says there's no chance for you. He says he wants you to leave Storyville all together."
"You've got to tell the police," said Shirley quickly and shrilly. "This can't be allowed to keep happening to Tommy and Steve. Something has to be done."
"I'll tell the police everything I know," said Leo. "Like I said, I didn't want any of this to happen."
"Will Leonardo Hartman please come to the fifth floor nurse's station?" said through the speaker on Steve's remote. "Leonardo Hartman, please come to the fifth floor nurse's station."
"Oh God," he said with a look of pure fear on his face. "They know I'm here. I told them I would be at the library. They must have followed me or something."
"Leo, if you're scared to go home you should call the police right now," said Meg, walking over and putting her arm around him.
"But what if they're at the nurse's station?" he asked, and I felt sorry for him. He really did look terrified. I wondered just what kind of people Leo's parents were. I also wondered about Noah.
"Let's just sit down for a second," said Meg, sitting Leo in the recliner while she sat on the arm. "Tommy, will you get him some water?"
"He can have mine," said Steve. "I haven't touched it."
Steve handed Leo his styrofoam cup of ice water as the phone startled everyone. He reached over and picked it up, and I could hear the yelling from across the room. Shirley walked over to the bed and took the phone from Steve and began to say something but stopped. Whoever was on the phone was screaming so loudly that she had to pull the phone away from her ear for a second.
"Now you listen to me," she said when the screaming stopped. "This is a hospital extension, and you have no right to call this room screaming. I don't care who you are or what you called about. I'm hanging up now, and then I'm going to call the switchboard and let them know that we'll not be accepting anymore calls. Good day to you."
"That was my dad," said Leo as Shirley did exactly what she'd promised she would do. "He's going to hurt me again."
"Honey, if your father is hurting you, you have to say something to the police," said Meg quickly, looking at him with sympathetic outrage on her face. "You can't let it continue."
"There isn't just me to think about, though," he said. "My little brother is home right now. I don't know what they're doing to him, but he gets the worst of it."
"Leo, are you afraid to go home?" Shirley asked when she got off the phone with the switchboard.
"I'm more afraid for Noah," he said, and I could see the fear in his eyes.
That's when I understood what it was that always bugged me about Leo Hartman. It wasn't what he'd said to me in the past, though that was bad enough. I realized that the look in his eyes that I was seeing in that moment was always there. What had been so different about him lately was that it wasn't there all of the time. Something was happening in his home, and now that I knew that I felt bad for every bad thought I ever had about him.
"Leo, I really do think you should talk to Detective Fuller," said Shirley. "When we take Steve home today, he'll be at the house to talk to Tommy and Steve about a restraining order and any charges that they want to file against . . . your grandfather and his church."
"But what about Noah?" he asked, and he was looking more and more agitated with each second that passed.
"Do you think that Noah is in trouble?" Meg asked.
"I don't know," he said. "He's home with them, and they're mad because I'm here. I don't know what they're doing to him."
"I think we should call Detective Fuller now," said Meg.
Without even asking Leo if that's what he wanted to do, Shirley picked up the telephone and started dialing. Soon it wouldn't matter much to the press what Reverend Hartman said about or had done to me and Steve. Soon they'd have a whole new story to tell, and I felt sorry for Leo and Noah. They were about to find out what it felt like to be on the other end of the media frenzy. As for what would happen to the Reverend and his son and daughter-in law, I felt like that was just fighting fire with fire.
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