By Julien Gregg
© Copyright 2005 - 2007 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.
I stood there, looking at the front entrance of the school and wondered what to expect. It was strange to even think about spending a day in the school without Steve. Once that thought entered my head I mentally screamed at myself to stop thinking about him. He'd made his choice. It was really over. He wasn't coming back. He wasn't even returning to Storyville High. There were no talks between us after the night he left. He just cut off contact.
Vince had finally got him to talk to him. They'd spent a day together two days after Christmas, and Vince had found an apartment later that day. He told me and Andy that he had to move with Steve. He looked sad, but I told him that I understood. It seemed that Steve didn't even want to come to the house when I wasn't there. That was fine with me. I loved him, but I wasn't going to fall apart because he didn't want me anymore.
It took exactly three days for Vince to pack and move all of their belongings out of my house. I told Andy that he might as well move upstairs to Vince's room, and the night that Vince moved out, Andy moved into his room. We even took everything out of my old bedroom and placed it in one of the rooms in the basement. The door to my room would remain closed until I decided otherwise.
In the days that followed, all of my friends came to see me. Peter spent the night the day after Vince moved his and Steve's things out of the house. We played video games and watched movies, but I refused to discuss Steve with him or any of my other friends. What surprised me was the fact that Nick and Jeremy were at the house almost every single day. I found out later that Steve had done his best to alienate all of them.
I returned to work on the thirtieth of December. There was a huge party that night, and I made pretty good tips. Everyone was happy to see me come back, and I felt really good when I got off work. I even stayed late to have a bite to eat with a few coworkers. That was something I'd never done before. I'd always gone straight home to have something to eat with Steve. Andy was working nights now, so there was no one to eat with at home. Staying for a bite to eat actually made me feel better for a bit.
Now here I was about to head into my first day back at Storyville High School alone. Steve was supposedly over at Compton High School. Nick and Jeremy stood with me. We were waiting in line to get into the building. Nick had warned me that in addition to the metal detectors, they would be doing random bag searches on the first three days back after the holiday. I didn't mind, though. It delayed the awkward feeling I knew would come when I walked through the door.
I was to report to Mitch's office first thing. He wanted to talk to me about something. I was sure I knew what he wanted to say. All of the security was in place, so I should feel safe in school. The problem was that I didn't care about safety at school anymore. I wasn't as worried about it all now. I was still feeling a little numb after all that had happened. I just wanted to get the rest of the school year over with and go on to college. Then I could really start to put all of this behind me.
"Our turn," Nick said, hoisting his backpack over his shoulder.
"Here we go," said Jeremy as we followed Nick through the metal detector, pausing to pass our bags to the officers standing off to the side.
"Student ID?" asked a dark haired officer as he opened Jeremy's bag, completely bypassing mine and Nick's. He looked up at me as he spoke those words.
"I'm to report to Mr. Benson's office this morning. My ID hasn't been re-issued," I replied, accepting my backpack from another officer.
"Sign here," said a female officer who was seated at the table. Until she'd spoken I actually hadn't even noticed her. She pushed a clipboard at me with a pen trapped under the clip.
I signed my name, showed my driver's license and waited while she wrote my driver's license number next to my name and the date and time of my "visit" to Storyville High School. When she looked at my license, her gold gray eyes traveled up my body to my face. She looked at me for only a moment, but in that moment I could almost read her thoughts. She'd been one of the officers at the courthouse during the trial. No doubt she was surprised to see me back in school.
"Have a nice day, Mr. Porter," she said, handing me my license. The corners of her rust colored lips turned up slightly in a smile that I returned just as hesitantly.
"Tommy, you want me to wait for you?" Nick asked as we walked toward the Dean's office.
"No you go ahead," I replied, stopping for a second. "I don't know if my schedule will be the same, and I don't want you to be late. Who knows how long I'll be in there. If I get out before the bell I'll find you guys in the quad."
"Later then," he said, bumping his fist against mine before he and Jeremy headed for their lockers.
"Welcome back, Tommy," called John Henning, the quarterback. He flashed me a thumbs up before heading off down the hall with his girlfriend, Missy Moore.
I headed on into the office after nodding to him. Inside I found that Mitch had a new secretary. She was an older woman with graying dark hair and smart looking gold-rimmed glasses that framed her large dark eyes. She smiled at me when I came in and asked me to have a seat. Then she buzzed Mitch to tell him that I was there. How she knew my name I wasn't certain at first, but then I thought about all of the news coverage of the trial and the interviews I'd given.
"Just have a seat, Mr. Porter," she said, smiling at me. "Mr. Benson will be with you as soon as he gets off the telephone."
"Thank you," I replied, perching on the edge of the middle chair in the row of three in front of her long mahogany desk.
She went back to filing her paperwork, and I continued to wonder what was waiting for me in the classrooms in the school building. I didn't expect much in the way of problems. My homework was all caught up and ready to be handed to my teachers. All that was left now was to get my ID and a pass to my first class. I just hoped that all of my classes would be the same.
"Tommy, sorry to have kept you waiting," said Mitch as he stepped out of his inner office. "Come on in. I've got all of your paperwork ready."
I got up and followed him inside his office. He had a stack of papers I had to sign. They were the same ones I'd filled out on my first day in the school. I knew why I was filling them out, so he didn't have to explain. He had a new ID for me as well as my original class schedule. After he gave me a short speech about the new rules in the school and welcomed me back, he patted me on the back and sent me off to my first class. I stopped by his secretary's desk to gain a hall pass.
Mr. Branch was happy to see me. He informed me that he hadn't replaced me as his class assistant. Things got underway, and I was surprised to find Leo Hartman sitting at the table I'd shared with him all year long. He smiled at me and scooted his chair over a bit to give me a little room.
All of my classes were like that. Miss Nilen, the new Literature teacher that was hired after Ms. Tull was fired and arrested was a warm woman and a pleasure. Even gym was great that day. I sat at my usual table at lunch with the football team fanned out at tables surrounding my group, and at the end of the day I drove Nick and Jeremy home.
We did our homework together like we always did, and not long after we were finished it was time for me to go to work. My days settled into a pattern after I went back to school. I thought about Steve a lot, but it was getting easier. Valentine's day was especially hard on me, but I just stayed in my room when I wasn't at school. I had the night off at work, so I had a little movie fest. Nothing but horror films with popcorn and soda.
Mid-term grades were posted and I was happy to find myself at the top of the class. My guidance councilor talked to me about Valedictorian, and I happily accepted. There was only one other student in the running, but I had such a lead over him that it was really no contest. It was announced that I would be the class Valedictorian in early April.
As we got closer and closer to my birthday, Wendy and Ben decided to start planning the party. I made them swear that it would be a small party, and I wanted to hold it at my house. I had a pool, and there was plenty of room as long as the party wasn't huge. I laughed at my friends as they all started to whisper to each other and disappear in groups of two and three to go shopping for the party as well as presents.
The day before my birthday I got my acceptance letters from Storyville University as well as the Universities of Illinois and Iowa. There was really no thought required about which school I would attend. I wasn't leaving Storyville. I filled out my college forms for Storyville University just a few hours after I got the acceptance letter. Surprisingly, I sat right next to Leo Hartman to fill out the forms in the admissions office of the school just before classes let out. We'd both been excused from classes at Storyville High to head over to the university to fill out our paperwork. We even had lunch after we were finished.
"If anyone had told me that you and I would be sitting here having lunch together, I would have demanded that they seek psychological help," laughed Leo as soon as the waitress left our table with out orders.
"Never say never," I replied with a genuine smile. Leo and I had been getting to be friends since I'd returned to school. My friends were completely happy about that, but they kept their opinions to themselves and were even civil to Leo when he encountered them.
"You'll probably live in your house next fall, right?" he asked, stirring his tea with his straw.
"You know, I've actually been thinking about the dorms," I admitted. "I haven't talked to anyone about it yet, though."
"Why would you want to live in the dorm when you have a house?" he asked, crinkling his brow and looking at me like I was crazy.
"Memories," I said softly, picking up my napkin and putting it back down. "I think the less I have to remind me of specific things the better."
"Sorry," he said, looking down at the table.
"No problem," I replied. "What about you?"
"I have no choice," he said. "Foster homes don't keep you past eighteen."
"And when do you turn eighteen?" I asked him.
"Two days before classes start in the fall," he replied with a smile. "I don't have to worry about it all summer long. I'll probably move into the dorm the week before my birthday. I read in the paperwork that we can move in two weeks before classes start."
"I read that, too," I said. "Who knows, maybe I'll do the same thing."
Our food arrived and we were both quiet as we ate. We discussed high school and how happy both of us were to be graduating. He had his reasons that weren't completely different from mine. Like me, Leo Hartman was haunted by memories. His memories were probably even more powerful than mine. That made me think about the fact that Leo and I weren't all that different. We were just two teenagers trying to deal with the events in our lives. Sure I was gay and he was straight, but what difference did that really make? Sexuality doesn't define a person. It's only part of the whole person just like a blade of grass is only a part of nature. When it was all on the line we were both human with the same hopes and fears. Our dreams might have been different, but they were the same thing at the same time. The important thing is that we both had dreams.
"You want to come to a party?" I asked him after I'd been silent for a minute.
* * *
"I still can't believe you invited him, Tommy," Nick said when we were getting things ready for the party.
The grill was being manned by Andy while Tom and Shirley relaxed by the pool. Jeremy was keeping Thomas occupied while they watched Ben, Doug, Peter and Noah Hartman play a game of touch football. Leo had been surrounded by Wendy and Marcie as soon as Nick pulled me into the house. I was using the time inside to gather plates and more cups. There were still other guests coming. The football teem was on it's way, so we'd need all of the extras we had.
"Nick, Leo isn't a threat," I said for the fiftieth time that day. "He's proven that over and over again. Why can't you see that?"
"All I see is that you're hanging out with Leo Hartman instead of trying to help Steve deal with . . ."
"Wait just a minute," I said, holing up my hands and closing my eyes. "Steve left, Nick. He packed his things and left. He's not coming back. I tried to talk to him while he was packing, but he wouldn't budge on his decision. No matter what brought him to that decision, it was his to make. He made it. I can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. My being friends with Leo has nothing to do with Steve. Hell, my life has nothing to do with Steve now. I just want to get through what's left of high school and the summer without pining for a guy who clearly doesn't love me anymore."
"This isn't right, Tommy, you've got to . . ."
"He's got to do what's right for him," said Vince as he and Maria came into the house. "Leave him alone about this."
I was shocked to see them. I was happy that they came, but I hadn't expected them to. I hadn't heard a word out of Vince since he'd moved out. My first thought was to ask him why he hadn't come around, but I decided that his being here was as good as anything he could have done. I just smiled at them.
"Thanks for coming, guys," I said. "Everyone's out back."
"Mark and Rick went straight back there," said Maria. "We came in to see if there was anything we could do to help."
"Everything's all set," I said, looking around the kitchen. "I think I've got everything covered. Andy's got all kinds of food out there."
"Come on, Nick," said Maria, taking the cups and plates out of my hands and nudging Nick toward the dining room. "Let's get these to Andy."
"Thanks," I said, meaning to thank her for taking the cups and plates.
"Take your time," she said with a smile as she all but pushed Nick out of the kitchen and out the side door.
"Happy birthday, Tommy," said Vince once the door was shut and Nick and Maria were safely outside.
"Thank you, Vince," I said, accepting a hug from him. "I'm glad you came."
"Tom called me," he explained, letting go of me and stepping back. "You look good."
"So do you," I said, wondering just what was happening. I was sure he had something to tell me about Steve. I just wasn't sure I wanted to hear it. I was doing good with not having him in my life. It wasn't perfect, but it was getting better.
"Look, I'm sorry for not coming over before now," he said. "Things have been a little touchy around the apartment."
"I think I understand," I replied, smiling at him. "The important thing is that you're here now. It really wouldn't feel right without you here. You're family."
"I'm glad you still feel that way," he said, hugging me again.
"Why wouldn't I?" I asked.
"Well I thought after Steve . . ."
"Let's not talk about him," I sighed. "Let's just get out there and party."
"All right," he said, smiling at me again.
He followed me outside and was instantly surrounded by people. I left him to his hugs and kisses to sit with Jeremy and Thomas. They were paying extra attention to a puzzle that Thomas had spread out on the folding table we'd set up for just this event. I tried to sneak in and sit without disturbing them, but Thomas caught me.
"Happy birthday!" he cried, clapping his hands. His smile was so big that it lit up his entire face. It was nice to see someone who was so openly happy.
"Thank you, Thomas," I said, smiling back at him. "What are you working on?"
"I got a present for your birthday!" he giggled. "Jeremy bought me a puzzle. It's doggies."
"What kind of doggies?" I asked, smiling again. Thomas had a way of making me smile. He was so open and honest that it just didn't seem right not to smile at him.
"Dalmatians," he said. "They're really cute with all of their spots!"
"They sure are," I agreed, glancing at the half finished puzzle on the table. The picture on the box Jeremy was holding had three dalmatian puppies in a basket with red bows around their necks. The pieces were jumbo sized, so Thomas was having little trouble snapping them into place.
"I see Vince is here," said Jeremy, looking over my shoulder at the gathering by the pool. "Than's nice."
"It is," I agreed, keeping my eyes on Thomas and his puzzle.
"He's not here?"
"Nope," I sighed. "And I'm happy about that."
Jeremy looked at me hard for a minute before nodding his head and turning back to Thomas. Having Vince there was great, but it was bringing back memories that I really didn't want to think about. I was trying to focus on the puzzle and how Thomas selected his pieces and then randomly tried to snap them into place. I noticed that he only tried the wrong space once before finding the right one. Thomas may have been years behind everyone his age in maturity, but he was really smart.
"Hey, Tuff Guy," said Doug, sitting down beside me and nudging me with his elbow. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks, Muscles," I replied with a chuckle. These nicknames were kind of fun. He'd called me Tuff Guy since the time I'd nearly run myself to death after my mother died. I started calling him muscles when he started working out with me after Steve left. Doug was getting pretty big. His workouts were a lot more intense than mine, but he could slow it down for me when I needed him to.
"Cool party," he said, producing a bowl of chips that I hadn't seen him carrying. "Chip?"
"Without dip?" I asked, feigning shock.
"Well, I didn't get that far up the table," he laughed. "Andy's guarding it like a watch dog."
"How'd you get the chips?"
"Snuck," he whispered, looking over his shoulder at Andy.
"I see," I said turning to look at Ben and Noah. They were talking by themselves. "So I noticed that Noah played a bit of ball with you. How'd that go?"
"Pretty cool," he said with a shrug. "The kid can play."
"Thanks for giving him a shot," I said.
"Hey," he said, turning to look at me. "Whatever went on between you and those boys had nothing to do with me. I give everyone a fair shot."
"One of the things I like about you, Muscles," I said honestly.
By Julien Gregg
The party went off without a hitch. I continued to feel less than whole without Steve there, but I tried my very best to have a good time. The football teem showed up, and everyone had a blast in the pool. They started a kind of weird water football game or something that everyone got involved in. I even took a shot. By the end of the game it was time to eat.
I got presents from everyone at the party, and I thanked them for them all. Vince gave me a new wallet. He looked at me like he was waiting for something when I thanked him, but I didn't figure out what symbolism his gift was supposed to have. I got a lot of cool computer games and software that would be fun and keep me busy when I wasn't working over the summer. Tom and Shirley got me something completely unexpected. The envelope they handed me had two plane tickets to Florida. They explained that the second ticket was actually for Ben. We were booked on a flight two weeks after graduation. Shirley explained that the trip was set up to give us a week in Florida to connect with old friends and have fun. I thanked them both with tight hugs and then excitedly bantered back and forth with Ben about the trip.
It was time to get ready for graduation next. I had already written my speech, so all I had to do was remind myself that I'd spoken to reporters in front of at least fifty cameras. Standing in front of the entire graduating class of Storyville High School and giving a speech about the future shouldn't be too hard.
I took Nick and Jeremy to school on our last day. We turned in books and basically sat in the quad to sign yearbooks and talk with friends. This was the last day of high school, and that meant that very soon a lot of the people we'd gone to school with would be gone. Nick would be gone in the fall. He was heading for the University of Iowa along with Mark and Rick. Jeremy would be staying in Storyville to be close to Thomas. Wendy and Ben had both been accepted to the University of Illinois, and they'd be leaving in the fall well. Peter and Marcie were both heading off to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. That left me, Jeremy and Leo Hartman. Of course Doug was already a Storyville University student, so we'd see a lot of him. Dustin, Phillip, Charlie and Keith were also at Storyville University, so I wouldn't be without friends.
On graduation day I was a little nervous. My hands shook a little and my voice was shaky. Andy assured me that I would be fine, and after a tight hug from him I actually felt better. My hands stopped shaking, and my voice was steady as I thanked him for being there for me. I was excited to be leaving high school life behind me, but at the same time I thought about my mother and a sadness tried to overtake me. I pushed it away, knowing that my mother was watching and she was proud of me.
I drove to the ceremony alone. I thought about Steve for a moment and wondered how he was handling this day. I hadn't spoken to Vince about what Steve was doing. I had made it clear each time he'd called or stopped by that Steve was off limits in our conversations. He wasn't happy about it, but this was the way it had to be. I was breaking free of hurting over Steve's decision to end our relationship, and any reminder would hinder my success.
I started to get nervous again as we all lined up alphabetically just outside of the school. In complete silence, we walked to the football field. We'd rehearsed this three times to make sure that everyone knew where to sit and what to do. I took my place in the lines of chairs at the front of the audience as parents and friends took pictures and applauded.
The principal of the school gave a speech that he directed at us about how proud he was to be standing before us on this day. We all paid special attention as the names of three students who had died during the school year were called and a moment of silence was observed for them. Then it was time for my speech. My classmates applauded as I made my way out of my row and down the center isle to the platform.
Mitch was there to shake my hand and pat me on the back along with the principal and a few teachers. I shook hands with Mr. Branch before stepping up to the podium and taking a deep breath. Before me were friends and fellow students. All of whom were nervous and excited. None of them were half as nervous as I was.
"Today marks the end of one chapter of our lives," I said, looking out at the sea of faces and trying hard not to let my voice quake. "We've had our share of good times as well as bad times here at Storyville High School. There were a few times this year that I thought I wouldn't make it to this day. Here I am. Here we all are.
"We came here today as high school seniors, ready to accept our diplomas and face the world as graduates. We'll leave here today to embark on the next chapter of our lives. Some of us will be heading off to college next year while others of us will be heading straight into the world to begin our adult lives. No matter which fork of the road our journey takes us on I am confident that we can all make a difference in the world. It's time to leave our mark. Thank you fellow students, faculty, family and friends. Let me be the first to say congratulations Seniors!"
I shook hands with everyone on the platform again as I made my way back to my seat to wait for my name to be called as the audience applauded. My ordeal was over, so my nerves began to settle as I took my seat between Dean Poquette and Alice Potter. I didn't really know either of them very well, but I knew that they were just as excited as I was about getting their diplomas and leaving high school behind.
When my name was called I walked back down the isle and up to the platform. I shook hands with everyone again and posed for a picture with the principal as he handed me my diploma. I could see Tom, Shirley and Andy smiling at me. Tom took pictures while Shirley wiped tears from her eyes.
We went to dinner at The Plaza, and my manager congratulated us and declared the meal on the house. Shirley cried a little more as she talked about how it seemed that just yesterday Ben had started kindergarten. Then she said that it seemed the same amount of time had passed since the first time Ben had brought me home with him from school. She got up and hugged us both before sitting back down beside Tom.
I ran into Steve while I was out with Ben, Wendy, Peter, Marcie and Jeremy two days before Ben and I were to leave for Florida. He didn't even speak to us, though Wendy and Peter said hello to him. He did look at me for a minute before putting his head down and walking away. I was surprised that I didn't feel anything when he looked at me. It was like I was numb, and I believed that it was proof that I had gotten over him. I was wrong, though. An hour after we got back to the house I started to think about him and it hurt just like it did the day he left.
Wendy and Andy came to the airport with Tom and Shirley when they dropped us off the day of our trip to Florida. We hugged each other and said goodbye. We both promised to bring back gifts for Wendy and Andy. Then we were all smiles as we waived to them one last time before heading through the gate and onto our plane.
We spent two weeks in Florida, visiting with old friends. Our friends that were still there were happy to see us, and we hung out in all of the old places. It seemed strange to be there, and I didn't remember it being so humid when I lived there. By the time we were waiting for our flight to return to Storyville I was ready to go home again.
On the plane I thought about everything that had happened to me since the day I moved from Florida to Storyville. I thought about the day I met Nick and how fast we became friends. I remembered our first big fight when he'd snooped on my computer and discovered my secret, and then I thought about the first time I saw Steve Sutton. This time when I thought of him it didn't hurt. I even thought about the day he'd come to live with me and my mother. I thought about how happy we were together and all of the times we'd argued about silly things.
I thought about the day my mother died and how I reacted to the news. Of course I thought about my destructive period of mourning as well. I thought about coming out at school and how terrified I'd been. Everything went through my mind from Jason Cox to the bombs in the lockers. I thought about the trial and the stoning. Then I thought about the trip we'd just taken and I laughed a little bit.
Most of all I remembered that there were good times and bad times. I remembered that though I was alone again I had loved Steve with all of my heart, and I believed that he had loved me back. All of this showed me that life was precious. It showed me that sometimes we are down, but we are not out. We may at times be broken, but we are not destroyed. Life isn't always easy and fun, but the pain and the suffering are always infused with love and joy. That makes life beautiful.
That concludes Storyville 2. I hope you enjoyed the story. I want to thank all of you who've sent encouragement and praise for the story as well as those who sent constructive criticisms. Storyville 2 became very hard to write after a while for reasons that I'm sure are already known to most of you, but I finished the story just as I promised I would. I had planned a Storyville 3, but I'm not so sure that I'll write it now. If I do it won't have much of anything to do with Steve. His character was based on my real life partner, Jordan, and without the inspiration for his character I'd likely just be unjustly cruel to the character. We'll see, though. Storyville 3 may or may not be coming soon.
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