The following story is for adults and contains descriptions of sexual contact between teenage males. If you are a minor it is illegal for you to read, or you find the subject objectionable, read no further. All the characters, events and settings are the product of my over-active imagination. I hope you like it. Mail me or if literary analysis interests you visit Eliot's Space.
The Swamp, Thursday September 9th
After the first week of school Daniel was mystified why anyone on staff at the school could still believe the mentorship program had any value. Riverview High was a ninth grader's nightmare of crowded halls, towering students buffeting the smaller students about, endless corridors doubling back on each other, stairways leading off in mysterious directions, new rules and expectations, all meant to be dealt with on the run. The school was huge. Daniel eventually started carrying everything with him in one large zip binder. He would swing by his locker at noon to exchange text books. There was five minutes to get from class to class and the teachers locked you out if you were late. The seniors who might have helped were mostly indifferent, except for the ones you ran from screaming. Most of the ninth grade teachers seemed oblivious to their new charges bewilderment. They were available for the period, but if the bell rang before a problem was solved they simply referred the students to their mentors. It was supposed to be handled during the 25-minute resource time he spent with Denver mid-morning. If you saw your teachers again that day it was probably at the other end of a sea of students in the hallway.
The teachers were not all bad. Ms. Canon was the best. Seniors quickly got the message that freshies were not to be pulled from her English class for silly reasons. Mr. Martel was the worst. He was the shop teacher and when Denver looked over his time table he had advised Daniel to watch his back. Mr. Martel liked to touch the boys. Daniel got his first taste of this when he was bent over a drafting table practicing lettering and the teacher had come up behind him and laid a hand on his shoulder. Daniel had had a number of teachers who had patted students for encouragement but the guy's hand on his shoulder creeped him out. Mr. Martel was the only teacher to acknowledge the hazing the boys and girls experienced. One red-faced girl fumed in shop class, sharing the humiliation of groveling at her older sister's feet. Martel had laughed and reassured the listening fourteen-year-olds that they only had to put up with the nonsense until the week was capped with the Friday night Freshie Dance. After the long and eventful summer, the news that it would all end in a few days was a great relief to Daniel. He had scanned the classroom and noticed he was not the only one who showed signs of relief.
Gym was an adolescent nightmare for the boys. The school was re-evaluating its uniform policy and it didn't seem to know what it wanted to do about swim suites and gym clothes. Daniel's first rotation was in the pool and the ninth graders were expected to swim nude. Only twenty-six cowed freshmen struggling to fit into the confusing expectations of a massive institution would stand mutely naked before a forty-three-year old ex-marine trying not to cover their crotches for fear someone would think they were playing with themselves. Daniel found it humiliating and the class lived each moment terrified that some female staff member would come in. Daniel had reflected that at least the terror would keep him from getting an erection. Daniel loved the water and naked as he was he welcomed the chlorinated comfort of the pool's shimmering surface. The horrific experience kept his mind off of Mandy but not, inevitably, off the boys around him. Daniel had marked the day his swimming rotation would end carefully in his Riverview-supplied student agenda.
There were places to avoid in the dangerous labyrinth of Riverview High. Daniel had left the school by the secluded west side exit on Monday hoping to catch Mandy at the bike racks. As he walked through the door he had been jumped by three scruffy ninth graders. They had grabbed his bag and while he reached down to retrieve it one of them kicked him in the groin. The pain was intense and he dropped to the ground. As other students skirted the scene carefully averting their gaze the three boys kicked at him a few more times and then checked his wallet for money. They had taken twenty dollars and then they had turned away to rejoin some seniors standing against the wall. He had gathered his things and staggered away. On Wednesday Daniel had slipped into a washroom and froze when he was met with hostility by a group of dangerous gangsters draped around the white tiled room. Daniel backed out quickly and took his urgent need elsewhere. Later over the phone Denver explained that that exit belonged to one of the gangs in school. It seemed Riverview High gangs controlled turf within the school. It was a new thing for Daniel and he was bewildered by yet another problem to factor into his day. Denver pointed out a couple of other places to avoid in the future. Gangs had only been a small part of Daniel's elementary school life. They were a playground problem the supervisors kept mostly under control and as Daniel wandered the city streets of his neighborhood he had learned to avoid the kids' gangs as he would the rushing traffic.
As Daniel rode the bus on his first day surrounded by the familiar faces of the older students headed back to school he had thought things through. If Daniel had to be a freshie he would adopted a strategy that he hoped would minimize the harassment. He would dodge and run when he could, but when he got caught; he would do what was asked of him with as much humor as he could. So far he hadn't been asked to do anything so bad he wouldn't do it. Still, he remembered the summer parties and knew the time would come when he might have to stand his ground. He really wanted to get along with the seniors and show he could be a good sport. They had done this too and he didn't want to be a little cry baby now that he was in high school. It even seemed to work a little. Once he was let off the hook when someone recognized him from a party or remembered he had cheerfully done something for them.
In the end the most difficult part of being a freshie turned out to be remembering he actually was a freshie. Traveling with Denver during the summer had left Daniel with the impression that he would face intense freshie-hazing throughout the school day. In fact Daniel was too busy trying to keep his head above water and getting to his classes on time. By lunch on Thursday he had been blind-sided only five times. Apparently his wits were not sharp enough, as evidenced by his stroll into the gang ambush. The predators were lost in an endless ocean of towering bodies and indifferent faces. Daniel could be walking alone or in a group of ninth graders intent on the same destination and he would find himself quickly pushed into a corner or room. What followed would vary. Like Daniel, the seniors were busy, so his service would usually be brief. He had kissed a foot, carried books once and delivered two messages. It had all seemed random and anonymous to Daniel until Wednesday when some girls dragged him into a bathroom and stripped his pants off. The giggling girls had thrown the pants into the hallway and screamed with laughter as Daniel desperately dived out into the traffic to retrieve them before some wag walked away with them. Daniel had sat gratefully on the hallway floor dragging his pants on ignoring the jibes of students passing by. Two of the girls handed him his book bag and ruffled his hair before they left him in peace. One said "you're cute Daniel" and Daniel wondered how she knew his name.
Daniel missed the hours spent with Denver. The 25-minute resource period was too brief and too public. It was too brief to allow them to work up to what they might say to each other and it was too public for the growing intimacy between them. Daniel liked the closeness between them. When they were together he liked to lay his head or feet on Denver. He liked it when Denver wrestled with him. The short moments together in school where they inevitably sat across from each other only reminded him of all that. On Monday Daniel had probed around with his foot under the table until he made contact with Denver. They locked eyes briefly before resuming their work. Tuesday it had been Denver's calf that made first contact. Daniel had smiled softly. He had been anxious about school. Denver was a busy senior and Daniel worried he would be abandoned. You won't see me at school most of the time, Denver had said that first summer day by his pool while Denver tried to prepare him for the Freshie Party. After a few days Daniel realized it was true. They did not even have the same lunch time. As much as he dreaded the last party he looked forward to a night where he would have Denver to himself again.
Daniel missed his close circle of friends. He had one English period with Mandy and Simon, and another period with Arlo. He counted on their smiles when he entered the room. The first few days he surprised his friends with his shyness. He was not Daniel Murrell, envied eighth grade star. Instead he was Daniel number two because Daniel Clark came before him in the register; only Daniel Clark was Danny and Daniel was Dan because Danielle Fowler and he were often confused. He kept to himself and listened carefully to the conversations around him. There was, much to his consternation, little mention of the summer hazing. His misery at the summer parties had been poorly repaid when he sat on the school's front steps with Mandy and watched Arlo and more than a hundred other ninth graders sentenced to a Wednesday afternoon cleaning up the surrounding neighborhood. Troops of ninth graders armed with black garbage bags on two hours of detention watched casually by bored teachers and self-important seniors chatting idly on their cell phones. For all the parties he had attended with Quinton, Arlo and his senior had failed to make one freshie party. Daniel and Mandy had watched it again on the news later in the Cole's living room. The local community was deeply impressed by the civic attitude generated by the mentorship program. Arlo achieved his three seconds of fame picking up bottles from around a filthy dumpster. They never saw Quinton. Daniel had kept his feelings to himself, but he thought picking garbage for an hour would not have been so bad.
Perhaps the summer hazing might have been avoided, but the first week of school could not. Seniors often delayed the ninth graders and the classroom doorways would have their share of disheveled boys and girls huddled together praying for the teacher to let them in before their Learning Community vice principal, or worse, another bored senior encountered them. By the third day Daniel was one late away from a detention after school. Daniel had never faced a detention in his life and he was wild to avoid this because he felt his first freshmen football practices had gone fairly well. Outside of a classroom, the football field was the only place he had found where the seniors backed off the freshies. If he missed a practice for a detention he was certain he wouldn't be considered seriously by the coaches even if they let him stay on the team. Duncan had been on the field with the assistant coaches. They hadn't acknowledged each other, but Daniel thought Duncan might have engineered it so that a coach noticed Daniel's speed. Later when Daniel was able to beat the pass protection and snag a ball Duncan slapped his helmet playfully.
The varsity team practiced early every morning. Daniel came to watch Denver and Duncan a few times that first week. On the first practice Duncan had pointed Daniel out to Denver and they had paused in the field to exchange a few comments. Duncan had glanced back at Daniel before going back to the practice. Duncan was very fast and he had good hands. He watched Duncan play against the familiar figure of Denver. Duncan was a little bit better Daniel was forced to admit. Denver could just barely match the other player's speed. The powerful receiver would usually pull a pace ahead of Denver and catch the ball, but if the ball was not perfectly placed Denver could sometimes bat it down or pick it off. Daniel kept a mental score and cheered for Denver when he bested Duncan. The early morning practices attracted few fans. Daniel decided most of them were girl friends though he did recognize a few of his team mates. The other boys likely shared his curiosity. The girls made entertaining comments about the boys on the field. During one resource period Daniel had asked Denver if Mark ever watched the practices. Denver had laughed loudly drawing the attention of the people around them. Daniel disapproved. He thought of the times he had watched Mandy's drama and choral practices and the times she had come to his. He thought Mark should have made more of an effort. Denver looked really good in his practice uniform.
Mirror, Thursday noon
Laine scanned the lunch room idly with no real interest in the conversation behind him. The first two days of school had gone very well for Laine. His classmates from elementary school were scattered across the learning communities and he seemed to be free of Troy and Abdullah. Anthony had made it into his community and they shared a few classes while carefully ignoring each other. They were both uncertain in the new surroundings. This was high school, Laine reassured himself, and people were more mature about differences. Tony would see that and maybe as the year went on he might be willing to talk. High school was perving heaven Laine reflected to himself. It was a smorgasbord of eye candy: tall dusky basketball players, solid linebackers, and compact Asians, each with their own assets; nice. Unfortunately some of his seat-mates at lunch shared his interest and did so in uncomfortably loud voices. There were a vast number of cute men to survey. The seniors were hot with their light beards, sideburns and chiseled faces. After eying the crowds for four days Laine realized he was looking for someone. After a while he had admitted to himself he was looking for the blond-haired boy from the summer. Summer-boy and Moon-boy, Laine smiled to himself. Late at night when he had slipped silently into the bathroom's privacy he had melded the two boys into a single convenient fantasy. A blond boy his own age with dark streaks in his gelled hair caught Laine's attention. He was sitting with some friends. He seemed Summer-boy-worthy. Well it was mid-day and not the time for late night jerk-off fantasies. Laine noticed a boy from his class watching him with a small smile from near the other; his name... was Arlo. Laine missed the moment when the first boy glanced briefly in his direction before turning his attention to someone further up Laine's table.
Riding his bike to school the first day Laine had resolved to keep his sexuality to himself. This was high school and things should be different now, but Greg's rejection in the mall had cut him. He needed a chance to prove himself before he was defined by his sexuality. Besides, along with the babes he was admiring there were some huge guys Laine thought needed no encouragement. If Laine had to be a freshie he would adopted a strategy that he hoped would minimize the harassment. He would face the older boys and girls with as much humor as he could. In the first three days he hadn't been asked to do anything too humiliating. He did not want to draw attention to himself. He hoped to be just like everyone else.
The most difficult part of being a freshie turned out to be remembering he actually was a freshie. Laine was totally confused by the high school routines. He was worn out from running back and forth to his locker and tired of sorting through binders. Laine had no time to think of being a freshie. He was too busy being a freshman. By lunch on Thursday he had only been bothered once. Apparently his hair was too long. Wednesday three boys told him he had greasy hair and shoved his head into the toilet. The boys had left Laine gagging in the bathroom desperately trying to keep his shirt clean while he dried his hair with paper towel before some other students saw him. Laine had promised he would remember the two boys who had kept watch at the door. It was the third one Laine had fought with; the one whose crotch had pressed against Laine obscenely as he forced his face into the reeking water. Laine had a score to settle with that one. Laine had admitted defeat though and that night he had let his mother crop the hair back to a more acceptable length. Laine did not recognize himself now. Laine felt like Sampson shorn of his strength.
Laine smiled back at Arlo. Not a Summer-boy, but a real boy who had noticed him more than one brief moment on the street. Arlo had looks... dark and shy... tall, Laine could like the look. Their eyes met across the room. Arlo attracted him. Laine listened to the people behind him. The day before a poster for the Riverview Gay-Straight Alliance had caught his eye. He had paused outside his classroom to look at it. Not Laine's thing and the large cartoon (with its huge torpedo being thrust up a crude heart-shaped ass) hastily scrawled across it was not very encouraging. He had an impulse to rip the poster down, but realized he would only draw attention to himself. Besides some teacher would have it down soon enough. Laine had apparently already drawn attention anyway because two older boys had approached him. Carlos made introductions as Victor carefully added a condom to the large torpedo. "Safe sex" Victor leered at Laine. Laine had to laugh and in that way he must have outted himself to the two boys. Carlos and Victor seemed fearless and they both reminded Laine suddenly of the accented gay men on Seinfeld: Cedric and Bob, Who? Who does not want to wear the ribbon? Despite his dreams Carlos and Victor's frank appraisal of him made Laine skittish. He did accept their invitation to join them for lunch. Their boldness had been infectious, and Laine had felt a flush of pride and finally some acceptance.
It was a mixed crowd of straights and gays and Laine thought that was cool. He did not have to out himself to the whole school if he sat with them but Carlos and Victor's friends were something of a disappointment. They were consumed with high school drama and music. Laine quickly lost interest in them. Laine shifted uncomfortably beside Carlos and eyed Arlo again. Carlos might be gay, but Arlo and Greg were more his type. Duncan was his type too. He had only earned a few points with Duncan when his senior had found out he liked track and field. They got along well enough during the short 25 minute resource periods but Duncan did not seem interested in hanging out with him or introducing him to the twelfth grade student's friends. Laine felt pretty much on his own. He was still searching for his own crowd. Looking around the crowded cafeteria Laine felt discouraged; everywhere he looked people seemed to have found a place to be. Laine wondered how do you find your own crowd when the straight guys you feel comfortable with run from you and the gay guys are either so deep in denial you don't see them, or worse, act so gay you want to run from them?
Laine felt a little foolish playing tag with Arlo's eyes so he turned back to the table and tried to show some interest in the conversation. After meeting Carlos and Victor in the hallway he had gone into the classroom with a lighter heart. He had not been on his guard and during class he had made some innocent comment; he couldn't even remember what he said. One of the guys sitting beside him had asked him if he was gay. Without giving it much thought he had quipped back "What if I am?" The conversation had dried up and when he had come to class the next morning nobody would sit with him except Arlo. Arlo had smiled at him as he passed down the row and whispered hello. Laine had sat at the back and watched Arlo. In a room full of boys who ignored you Arlo had been the exception. Maybe he was just more tolerant. Laine had not had the courage to talk to him yet. He had watched the boy from the back of the room. He would get hard looking at Arlo's broad shoulders and tight ass. Laine thought if Arlo had been gay it would have been perfect; he never came across like it though. Laine drifted away as he listened to the boys and girls around him argue about auditions and band pieces. He doodled Arlo's exotic name in his agenda and dreamed Arlo was his lover.
Small fry, Thursday noon
The French Fries tasted like ashes. Daniel mechanically popped fries into his mouth and ignored what his friends were saying. He was intent on the older boy hitting on Mandy two tables away. She dressed like a moth, but for him the butterfly always came through anyway and he couldn't believe other boys didn't see through her silly costumes and make-up. Daniel had measured himself against each of the boys at the table. His eyes had lingered on a boy his own age with tough dark hair that fell into his eye on one side. If he was Mandy he would have noticed that one for sure. Daniel watched as the older guy slipped her a piece of paper. "Throw it away Mandy". He willed her to send him away. She slipped the paper into a textbook. She's almost a year older than me, Daniel stressed to himself. That guy is going to be driving soon and I just turned fourteen. Even with Greg on the side lines Daniel felt the odds were stacked against him. He was just Mandy's little friend from elementary school. The summer night at the movie holding hands seemed to fade in importance. It had been three girls just having fun together with that nice, safe (gay) Daniel along for the ride.
"Hey skunk-boy wake up." Daniel frowned as he eyed the table full of chattering people. Mark had stopped by the table to greet a few of the people. Daniel hoped they were all gay too, but from the attention Mandy was receiving Daniel did not hold out much hope. Mark had talked him into the new hair style. It would be a good start for the year he had said. Daniel had been ready to go back to Beth and get the streaks removed, except Mandy had complemented him the first time she saw it.
Daniel got up abruptly and grabbed his tray. He thought about what he was doing: the impulse to clean up. Angry with himself he slammed the tray back down on the table and stamped out of the lunch room.
His friends watched him stalk away in surprise. "What's eating him?" asked Simon. The others shrugged and grabbed the left over fries and split the burger.
Mandy caught Daniel's exit. Conrad was still encouraging her to try out for a part in the fall drama festival. She was having a hard time breaking away. She decided she would catch up to Daniel in English. It was the only class they shared and Cole was across the room from Murrell on Ms. Canon's seating chart. Worse, she sat in the front and he was toward the back. The only time she saw him was during class discussions. At least they had made it into the same Learning Community.
She knew the signs, Conrad was attracted to her. She put him off and headed out the way Daniel had gone. She didn't get far before Claire called her over. She couldn't get away and became tangled in plans for the freshie dance.
Daniel moved through the halls quickly, consciously avoiding older students who looked like they might be bored seniors ready for som fresh entertainment. He finally found his way to the Science Department Library and faded into a corner study carol with a magazine he had snagged from a shelf. He hunched down in his chair hoping to avoid notice. Denver would laugh thought Daniel. Outside of the football field the only safe place Daniel could find was the school library. He hung out there till classes started. Mandy, he thought bitterly, hung out with so many grade ten boys the seniors must think she was one of them. He felt a twinge of guilt that he might resent her avoiding the grief he got. Still, it bothered him when he saw how friendly she was with the older boys.
Give me a break, Thursday afternoon
Daniel spent last period in the hallway again thanks to a senior with a message for the office. Daniel listened to the bell ring as he was trying to get the secretary's attention. The message was a joke and the secretary refused to give him a pass into class. She ignored his frown and the way he pushed himself angrily through the office door. John Cobb overheard the exchange and suggested she could have taken the time to help the kid. "I don't have time to waste on every ninth grader whose too stupid to figure out he's being had. Maybe he'll know better next time."
Daniel sat with his head down trying to hear the lesson through the door. Daniel knew the drill now. If he did not have the assigned work done by the end of the period he would likely get a detention from the stern English teacher. It was his one chance with Mandy during the day and he'd lost it. John Cobb saw him as he was patrolling the quiet old hallways listening to the buzz from the classrooms and scouting for misplaced students. He stopped a distance away and frowned at the boy. "He's sleeping in the hallway." he thought then he noticed the boy cock his head closer to door. "Is he trying to listen to the class?" he wondered. The boy had crossed his legs and his ear was up to the door jam. He watched the boy reach for his book bag and pull out an English textbook and open it. He kept listening through the door and trying to find something in his book. "This is intolerable" the school was not going to kill a student's interest in learning and spoil his willingness to cooperate with the teachers by keeping him in a hallway. John Cobb walked up to the boy quietly. He asked the obvious to break the ice. "Ms. Cannon won't let you in?"
"No sir" the boy looked up at him with wary eyes. The boy was attractive. John was drawn to his open trusting look. He looked like he thought he was in trouble. I'm frightening him, John realized.
The teacher sat down next to him on the floor and leaned against the lockers. Daniel closed the book and held it in his lap with his hand holding the page he thought the class was working on. The teacher had a radio in his hand and the security badge with his picture said he was a vice principal. Daniel shrunk against the door. "Did you knock on the door?"
"Yes, but Ms. Cannon doesn't let us in without a pass." He didn't know what the assignment was and he knew this would put him on detention, and that would spoil his chance to get on the team. He felt frazzled and shaky. It was stupid. He had handled worse things during the summer.
The kid looked upset. "What's your name?" he asked quietly. You had to be patient and listen before you reacted.
"Daniel Murrell" Daniel took a deep breath and tried to shake off the frustration.
"Well I'm John Cobb. You know Daniel you don't have to always run silly errands for the twelfth graders. If it's going to get you into trouble with your teachers, just tell them you can't do it." Daniel wondered what planet the vice principal was living on. John thought the young ninth grader must be shy. "Are you settling into high school? Getting things figured out? I know it must seem like a whole new world to you." Daniel didn't know how to respond to this so he mumbled that things were fine. "Just remember that your teachers want to help you." More teacher babble thought Daniel. "Do you get along with your mentor?" Two high school boy's walked by studiously ignoring the Vice principal. Daniel glanced at the boy's wishing he was walking away with them. He answered automatically.
"Yes we get along." Daniel would have said the same thing if Troy or Arlo's senior was his senior. John was pleased to get a positive response. He had already had to deal with a line of irate parents critical of the program. "Who's your mentor?" John told himself that if he knew the guy it was probably a bad sign. He never got to sit and talk with sweet kids like this one very often. He averaged five suspensions each day and had already recommended one expulsion.
"Denver Hawk" the kid said this as if he expected John to know him. It didn't ring any bells, but John filed both names away for further reference.
"Getting involved in any school activities? It's a great way to meet people." and stay out of trouble.
"I'm trying out for football." If I don't get cut for missing practices, thought Daniel sadly. The vice principal patted him on the shoulder. Another teacher who thought a quick touch helped.
"That's good to hear." The man got up and dusted himself off. "Gather your books and let's see about getting you back in class." He knocked on the classroom door while Daniel stood holding his things. Ms. Cannon came to the door with a frown that melted when she saw the vice principal. "Ms. Cannon, I think Daniel is ready to join your class now." She almost frowned at Daniel before replying.
"He has been late for class three times this week. Daniel, you may sit down." Daniel slipped between the two adults and sat down. He busied himself picking up the day's work from the student beside him. He glanced over at Mandy. She had turned around and smiled.
"Karen, you know the first week of school is hard on the freshmen. It's a big school and they get confused. Boys like Daniel get distracted by the glamour of being noticed by the senior students. They want to fit in so they go along with the gags."
"Mr. Cobb, you know I don't approve of all the time wasted on freshie activities during school. It's a silly distraction from the mentorship. Did you know one of the grade nines was seen running naked in the hallway Wednesday?"
"It's just a right of passage. It helps the ninth graders fit in." he glanced at the boy head down in the assignment. "What kind of a student is he?" Karen Cannon wasn't ready to answer that question yet. She knew the boy's name because she had already recorded him late three times. When he was in class he blended into the sea of faces. Perhaps he did answer questions quickly with a polite raise of his hand. His How I spent my summer vacation essay had been the longest in class. She hadn't read it yet.
"He's well behaved in class. He works hard."
"I can believe that. He was trying to do your assignment in the hallway." He'd kept her too long, the class was getting restless. "I'm sorry to disturb you. See you at eight." They smiled at each other.
Karen Cobb kept an eye on Daniel for what was left of the period. Now that her attention had been drawn to him she noticed he did work hard. She walked down the row and paused to look at his notebook. She approved. It was a generally good group for twenty six young adolescent boys and girls. She liked the age group. When she positioned herself at the back of the room she started jotting notes on the period in her hand held: who was independent, who needed extra supervision and encouragement. She was drawn back to Daniel. When he stopped to think he would suck at his pen and stare at a couple of girls in the front corner. Boys she thought; then she thought of John: men. The boy didn't talk much. But she noticed the boy sitting in front of him turned around from time to time to whisper about the assignment. She had already tagged that one as needing extra help. She looked at the clock and decided it was time to shut the class down.
When the bell rang she made the boy stay behind. He slumped in his desk like a condemned prisoner. One of the girls, Mandy according to her seating chart, gave him a hastily scribbled note before she left. The boy read it, and then crumpled it in his palm. She usually ignored notes. Young people needed their privacy, but she was suddenly curious about who this boy was. "What's in the note?" he flipped the little ball onto his desk, offering it up to her.
"She wants me to phone her." He sounded sullen and defeated. It was a tone she hadn't expected from him.
"Do you think it is wrong for me to make you stay after school for being late to class?"
"I'm going to miss football practice!" His outburst was a surprise. He crossed his arms and slumped down even further. Karen perched on the corner of her desk and looked at him.
"Is football more important than my class?" She felt stupid as soon as she said it. He was an adolescent boy. Of course it was more important. She noticed he didn't respond to the question. "Why are you always late for my class?"
Because there is no way to avoid running into seniors on the way here, Daniel thought to himself. "Because the seniors always make me do stuff for them." How could she not know this?
"So don't let then distract you. It's not worth getting in trouble with your teacher or missing your football practice. Your school work should come before extra curricular sports or playing freshie games with the seniors." Daniel stared at her for a second. He was tired of the whole thing.
"No disrespect Ms. Cannon, but I don't think you know what goes on here."
Karen was offended by his words. A chill silence descended between them as she paused to consider her reply. Karen realized his blunt statement had not sounded disrespectful. It had been offered with an earnest desperation. It wasn't a put down or a challenge.
"So what am I missing?" But the moment had passed. She could see he thought he had said too much already. She knew kids. Maybe he would talk more another time. The boy took her off guard with a sudden question.
"Will you be at the Freshie Dance tomorrow night?" She picked up an edge in his voice.
"I wasn't planning to." After five days of school she just needed to unwind, not patrol a teenage-infested school dance.
"You should come; and keep your eyes open." He seemed so serious she was tempted to go. There was something old about his eyes and voice when he said this. It reminded her of some of the girls who spent too much time on the streets.
"What happens if you miss the practice?" He looked so sad to her.
"I'll probably loose my chance to be on the team." The world would end. The world was always ending at his age. She studied him for a moment.
"Are you going to be late tomorrow?" She expected a quick promise from him, he wouldn't be late, and he would try hard. Promises came quickly to young people facing authority.
"I don't know Ms. Cannon. I've been trying, but the truth is I'll probably be late." There was something here that was really beginning to bother her.
"Oh, go to your practice."
"Thank you Ms. Cannon." She was glad she had said it. The boy gave her a look of gratitude. There was always a risk in giving in like this, but she sensed she'd gained points this time.
She packed her things early and did something she had never done before; she went to a football practice. She sat on the bleachers along the side lines and felt the September heat and sunlight wash away the staleness of the artificial classroom lights and the smell of chalk. She watched the slender boys moving through the drills, most intensely focused on the coaches. They were cute in the tight spandex pants and over-sized shoulder pads smashing into each other and running conditioning drills. She was touched by the number of boys who trotted over to the side lines to say hello, pleased that she was watching them. So many names she still needed to learn.
Then there was little 83, pushing himself, listening so attentively with an excited nod of his helmet, running patterns on the field, catching passes then bouncing up from the turf after being buried under a pair of bigger boys. Once 83 broke free and ran swiftly down the field. She watched him slam the ball into the end zone and smiled at his silly little victory strut. He stopped and pointed into the stands before rejoining the practice. She thought he had pointed at her, but the direction was a little off and she realized it was a tall lanky twelfth grader sitting farther down the field that had Daniel's attention. The senior sketched a lazy wave back and seemed to immerse himself in a binder. She felt a little sad until moments later 83 stopped bouncing on his toes at the end of a line of boys, shyly waved at her then quickly turned away. He's a heart breaker she thought. It doesn't take much to keep a teacher going.
She noticed older high school boys on the sidelines laying like alligators on the bank watching their pray, or perhaps sharks circling waiting for a victim. When 83 caught the ball again some seniors pointed at him. He didn't seem to notice their attention, but the lanky twelfth grader did. She watched him mark the sharks down with a turn of his head. Daniel was making her see things differently. She watched the boys playing in the sunshine. Perhaps she would stand out in the hall tomorrow.
Marking territory, Friday September 10th
Thursday had ended happily for Daniel. Denver had driven him home and they had spent a few minutes looking over Daniel's school work before they dropped companionably on the couch. Daniel had tried to demonstrate a game while Denver interfered. Finally, exasperated with the tickling Daniel had jumped on the larger boy. The desperate struggle had been brief and an aroused Daniel had been left panting heavily pinned securely under his senior. The pair had giggled softy together. Denver held him patiently waiting until Daniel's next twitch signaled a fresh move to escape. A flurry of straining muscles would follow and Daniel would find himself twisted into a new position. At one point Daniel had almost squirmed loose. He had clawed his way out from under Denver's heavy weight only to find his pants dragging free. When he paused for a break Denver's lips had kissed the soft skin rising below his waist. The kiss had turned to a hard sucking and Daniel resumed his futile struggle as Denver gave him a hickey on the butt. When he had finished Denver had flipped Daniel over smiled. No escape he had whispered to Daniel and Daniel had finally nodded his head in agreement.
He had a long shower after Denver left and a great conversation with Mandy after supper. He'd sat on the balcony enjoying the September evening listening to her voice. She'd spoken of her frustration when the girls had joined them at the movies. They agreed to try it again on the week end. She didn't talk about the grade tens she had begun to hang out with. Daniel figured that was okay. As long as she gave him a chance he didn't mind competing. He talked about football tryouts and worried about his chances. They had consoled each other about the next day's dance at the school but the truth was Daniel's mind was on Denver. Daniel's mind was on the special moments they seemed to share after each freshie activity.
Daniel thought about Denver on the bus ride to school. The bus driver was a no nonsense sort of guy, who shut most of the games down cold. He didn't stop it all though. Sometimes a grade nine girl would be pushed to the back and only the bus driver's gruff "sit up in your seats" and the security camera at the front stopped some senior from doing anything too serious. The first day a senior had slid into the bench Daniel was occupying and grabbed his crotch until he gave up the money in his wallet. Denver had warned him about theft, so most of his cash was elsewhere. Getting a grade ten or eleven to sit between him and the isle usually kept him out of trouble; seniors were too lazy to move someone to get at him. Bus rides home could be worse because a ninth grader might be pushed off the bus at the wrong stop. This hadn't happened to Daniel yet. Daniel reflected Friday was going to be a rough day to get through and it would likely end in horror at the Freshie Dance. If he could make it through the dance he would have the time with Denver and Saturday night with Mandy to look forward to.
Daniel ate lunch with Mandy. He had to share her with the grade ten he had seen the day before. It troubled him that the guy had an edge with the drama thing. He had no interest in theatre and she loved it. It was like his sports, she listened to his enthusiasm and he listened to hers. He listened to hear her talk. Maybe she did the same thing for him. But he knew she would like it if he shared her interest.
Mandy looked at Daniel and smiled. She knew he was feeling left out of her conversation with Conrad. He was such a jock. She liked him because he respected her interests and didn't joke about them. She watched him tense up when Conrad asked her if she was free Saturday. She declined politely.
"So Daniel, are you interested in drama?" Conrad turned to the younger boy trying to figure his relationship with Mandy.
"I'm a little shy." Mandy snorted violently and both boys threw her a puzzled look. Mandy guessed Daniel thought he was being honest. She'd seen him go wild in art class and Daniel and Arlo had their party routines. Daniel didn't do anything by halves. "I admire people who do though."
"So what are you into then?"
"Daniel is trying out for the freshman football team right now." A jock; Daniel's type pranced around in tight pants with their crotches all padded up like ballet dancers. They patted each other's asses and stuck their hands between each other's legs. After tackling each other they all took a shower together and painted the rookies balls or something. Then they called Conrad a fag for acting on stage. Conrad knew who the fags were.
"I guess this is pretty boring to you then. No contact with the guys. Do you wrestle too?" Daniel got the message. The reason for the hostility was pretty clear to him.
"Really?" Tight bodies in Speedos "Well, good luck with that." Maybe the kid would be so busy helping his team mates shave their body hair that he wouldn't have time for Mandy.
"Daniel finds out today if he got on the team." Mandy offered. She was a little put out by the reek of testosterone at the table.
"I guess that drama doesn't seem very important."
"It is to Mandy." Daniel tried to take it down a notch. "So when are your try-outs? What play are you doing?"
" Diary " Conrad said. "It's not funny." Nobody gets hit by a board.
"Really? Do you play the guitar?" Mandy smiled to herself. Daniel never went to a play unless she dragged him there. She'd made him go to this drama festival when Greg bailed on her. One of the plays had been Diary. She had thought he had slept through it.
Conrad was caught off balance by the question and his ignorance slipped through. "What guitar?" Mandy wouldn't give Daniel the satisfaction of driving the last nail in.
"The boy plays a song." She tried to shift the topic to neutral ground. It didn't work well; neither boy would give ground until lunch was over.
Pulled down deep, Friday afternoon
Ms. Cobb was chatting with a student in the hallway when the grade nines started straggling down the hall in the direction of her classroom. Glancing back and forth she realized she was between Mr. Marsh's senior history class and Ms. Farber's German class. Her students had to run a gauntlet of mostly boys on both sides. The nines squeezed through the centre of the hallway. She watched a couple of twelve's call one of the boys over. Was it Sam? One of the football players from yesterday she decided. Sam knelt in front of the boys, listened to some instructions. One of the twelfth graders hauled Sam up to his feet and Karen thought he might hit the boy. The twelve noticed Karen watching the scene, smiled at her and whispered something to Sam. Sam handed his books to a girl walking by and ran down the hall. Karen got the picture. She moved back to her room. She left the door open. When Sam hesitated at the door five minutes later she waved him in. It might have been wishful thinking but she thought the he worked harder for her that period.
Daniel wasn't in his desk. She let it rest for a while, and then couldn't resist the impulse to ask the class. "Does anyone know where Daniel is?" After a brief silence Kemal, the boy Daniel was helping the day before spoke up.
"I think he's in the bathroom by the science library, Ms. Cannon." The others were silent, buried in their seat work. Karen looked around at her class and realized Kemal's answer had more significance for some of her students. Perhaps some were bigger targets than others.
She moved down the silent rows trying to help students and keep her mind on the anecdotal notes she was taking. She kept passing the empty desk and the apprehension grew. Halfway through the class the skinny little blond who liked to make smart comments and looked like David Spade raised his hand. "May I go to the washroom, Ms. Cannon?"
"Yes you may." She counted the minutes until he returned. She was preparing the board when he came back. She glanced at him, but didn't want to ask the question on her mind. Simon glanced at her then looked at the girl Mandy nodding his head ever so slightly. He sat down ignoring the other faces glancing questions at him. Karen turned back to the board feeling helpless. In the quiet she heard a pencil snap. Turning around she saw Simon slumped in his desk. He was staring at his papers with a look of concentrated anger. Her eyes drifted down to the front where the girl Mandy, pretty without the ugly glasses and distracting sweater was pushing tears out of her eyes while she doggedly continued working on the questions. My God, Karen had a sudden insight, she's in disguise! She's wearing a god damned costume. Why does she need a costume? Karen turned back to the board. Am I the only teacher who sees this?
Daniel never came to class on Friday. As most of the class left the room, chattering and excited that the weekend had come, she motioned for Simon to wait. He came up to her with the inevitable caution in his eyes. "Is he okay?" Simon looked at her unsure of what to say. Simon did not have much use for teachers, but she seemed to be paying a little more attention, so he decided to be honest.
"No he isn't. But there isn't anything you could do." Daniel was such a teacher's pet, but he would not want her to know what had happened.
"Was it his mentor?" she thought of the lanky senior.
"No, he's cool, but Denver can't be there all the time." Simon turned away. "I got to go check the board. Daniel wants to know if he made the team." That made Karen sad. She put the image of 83 dancing in the sun beside a shadowy image of a boy hurt and lost in the shadows some where around the school. She wanted to know more about Daniel. As Simon walked to the door she called after him.
"Simon is Mandy Daniel's girl friend?"
He turned back with a twisted smile. "Yeh, she is, but the dumb jerk hasn't figured it out yet." The tough little guy turned to swagger out of the room. She stopped him at the door a second time.
"Thanks for checking on him. You're a good friend." He left without another word.
Karen worked the pile of papers at her desk. She read through the summer essays, including Daniel's description of his passion for canoeing. It was almost supper time when she packed her bag. At 6:00 pm the hallways were finally quiet. She stopped by John's office but he was gone. She'd have to catch up with him later and tell him she would help supervise the dance that night. She wandered down to the gym offices. The hall was humid and smelled slightly rank with the odor of old gym clothes. It took her a while to find what she was looking for. In the silent hall she ran her finger down the list: Murrell, Daniel - Wide Receiver, No. 83. He'd made it. She put her hand to her mouth. For some reason it had been important to know.
(to be continued)
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