Michael and Andy separated themselves, being startled by her abrupt demand. They followed Ms. Peckum down the hall towards her office.
"It may interest you to know that this time you have gone too far and in front of someone from the superintendant's office, too. He is the one who requested to see you both at once. It's high time something was done about you and your kind. Your kind don't belong mixing with normal kids."
"Doesn't" Andy said, calmly.
"Doesn't, what?" she said, coming to a full stop and rounding on him.
"I'm sorry Ms Peckum. I thought you said, "Your kind don't belong mixing with normal kids. I was going to correct you by saying, it should be 'doesn't' but then I realized that an educated woman of your stature, position and education would never say anything so stupid. Sorry, I must have been mistaken." He strode by her and into the office waiting room. Michael cowered and stared at the floor, getting as close to Andy as he could.
Ms Peckum was so mad she was almost trembling as she followed into the waiting area and turned to the boys, "Wait here." And she stepped inside to the waiting gentlemen. He had assumed her chair behind her desk. They were speaking and he seemed really irritated at something. Andy could just see him a little. He was a younger man in his late twenties. His build, from what could be seen, was slight and he had dark hair. He was obviously quite miffed as well. The door opened and Ms Peckum stepped out.
"You may come in." She looked like she had swallowed a bitter something, or perhaps she caught a whiff of something fecal. She stood with her elbows bent and her hands clasped together at her waist. It was not a relaxed stance. She looked angrier than Andy had ever seen her.
Andy still had Michael by the hand and stepped forward, but Michael didn't move. He was frozen in place. Andy stopped and turned around quickly. Michael had a look of terror on his face. He began to tremble and look as if he was going to collapse right there. Andy saw his knees start to bend and grabbed him and held him. He kissed him and walked him backward towards a chair.
"Oh please, enough of your theatrics. I insist that you come in and take seats this instant."
Michael just shook and started to cry, looking at Andy. "I can't do this."
"Shush, it's OK. You don't have too. It's alright. They can't do anything to you or me for being who we are. Let the old bag get upset," he whispered. He kissed Michael gently and pulled him into his arms.
"Now, if you don't mind." She said more sternly.
"Stuff it! We're done here. Call my Mom. Now." Andy said, angrily.
Ms Peckum's jaw dropped, "Well, I never!"
"Yeah well, I'm with you on that one. If you had, at least once in your life, you probably wouldn't be such a b . . ."
"Ms Peckum, that's enough. Why don't you go have a cup of coffee or something. I think you've done quite enough here for now. I'll send for you when I want you." He said, advancing on the boys. Michael saw him coming and winced, burying his face in Andy's neck. He held a death grip around Andy. Andy tried to calm him.
"Hi boys, I'm Josh. You must be Andy and you then, must be Michael. Michael, look at me, please." His voice was calm and ever so gentle. "You're not in any trouble. You are alright. I would just like to talk to you a bit. I think you boys can help me and a lot of other people. Shush now, you're alright." He said, placing a hand on Andy's shoulder and lightly rubbing Michael's back. "There, there now. No need to be upset." Josh looked at Andy, “Will he be alright? I'm so sorry she upset him. I didn't know she was that way towards you or I never would have asked her to get you so we could speak.”
"So, you didn't really tell her that we were about to get what was coming to us?" Andy said, looking at him.
"She said that?"
"Yeah, and a lot more. She said kids like us shouldn't be permitted to mix with 'normal' kids and that you were going to see to it."
Josh breathed in and exhaled deeply. "Andy, she is mistaken. I didn't say anything like that. I would love to talk to you but I really wanted it to be more private than out here in the waiting area. I wanted to have a bit more privacy than this, but if you would prefer, I'll be happy to talk to you where ever you are comfortable."
"Then we really aren't in any trouble?" Andy asked looking into Josh's soft kind smiling eyes.
"None what so ever." He placed his hand on Michael's shoulder and gave him a little squeeze.
Andy looked at Josh. "Could you give us a minute, please?"
"Sure, as much as you need." he said stepping away.
Andy turned his head down and sweetly kissed Michael on his neck. He winced because it tickled. Andy repeated it, only delivering a few kisses until Michael's head came up and his eyes met his. He kissed him on the mouth. "You ok?"
"Yeah, I guess I am," he whispered, nose to nose.
Andy gave him a little smooch on the tip of his nose and gently guided him into a firm embrace. "Let's go hear what he has to say, ok? I mean, at the very least, it will piss off the old battle axe won't it?"
"Yeah, sure. I'm with you." Michael said meekly.
"Come on then." Andy said, standing up and pulling him to his feet.
"Let's try that again, shall we? I'm Josh Andrews in charge of special programs with the Superintendants office. Come on, let's go have a seat and talk a bit."
They went in to Ms Peckum's office and closed the door behind them. Josh didn't sit behind the desk. He took a chair from the corner and pulled it in next to the other two in front of the desk.
"Andy, you and Michael were very brave in your speech in there. Can I ask what made you decide, then and there, to do it? I'm really just curious. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"No, it's alright. I don't mind telling you. You heard all that I said, right?"
"Yes I did. I am so sorry for your loss. Both of you. You have both been through a lot."
"Well, when we sat down to eat, a boy came by and made a comment that it didn't take me long to get over Tad. I realized that they didn't know Michael and if he said it, then a lot of others were thinking it and just kept to themselves. I didn't want to allow the misunderstanding to damage the memory of Tad and I didn't want them to think that Tad meant less to me. I think it was important for them to know that Michael and I are together because we draw strength from each other. I mean, I love Michael and he loves me. But it is a different kind of love than what I had for Tad. And I think probably different than Michael had for Terry." He said, leaning down and looking at the gentle continence of his wounded bird. Michael nodded gently and leaned in to Andy's shoulder.
"Andy, how many gay kids do you think are here in this school?"
"I don't know. I have wondered about that myself. I know there are some. Why?"
"I have an idea and I want to run it by you. I think there are a lot more than you or I know. I want to bring them together so that they have a safe place that is free of bigotry to talk. I think it would be good to try and bring their straight friends into it to help make the border between straight and gay a little harder to define. Hopefully, it will keep the idiots from knowing who to pick on. What do you think?"
"You mean like a club or something?"
"I mean that exactly."
"Let me get this straight. You are asking me if I want to start a gay sex club here in the high school. Right under Ms. Peckums nose?"
"Uh, no Andy, don't be silly. Of course we are not talking about a sex club. We are talking about a preference club where people are free to express certain limited rights with each other openly and freely. Christ! Could you imagine it? You guys are having your first meeting and Pickyass Peckum sticks her nose in the door to find a full blown orgy underway. She would probably grab her chest and fall dead on the spot."
Andy and Michael looked slack jawed at Josh and then at each other, then back to Josh. "Did you just call Ms Peckum, Pickyass Peckum?"
"Yeah, don't you guys still call her that? I know we did when I went here. God, she was a total bitch then too. I want so bad to call her that to her face but I can't. I can beat her, but I have to play by the rules."
"Rules? What do you mean? It's not like she can give you detention or something."
"No, but I have rules. We all have rules. When you turn into an adult they just give you a new set. Some are silent rules you just have to learn. Like, if I want the Superintendant to know that Ms Peckum needs to go then I have to show him she is such a pain that he has the idea to get rid of her. It's a lot like playing charades. I have to get them to look at her and say 'What a bitch’ without using the words."
"Sounds complicated. Why not just say she is a bitch and needs to be replaced?"
"She has been around a long time. She knows how to play the game too. If I say that, then they will think it is just because I'm younger and maybe I had problems with her when I was here. No, I have to make it their idea."
"So do you think she is going to let you make a club that is designed to mix ‘Those kids’ with her ‘Normal Kids’? Sounds to me like you're asking me to step into a daily blender. Maybe you aren't aware of it, but it is tough enough to be gay without rubbing Ms Peckum's nose in it every time she sees me."
"Well, you're probably right there. But hopefully, we can change her mind or change her job. Look, the idea here, at least my goal is, to create an opportunity for others like . . . like you and to maybe educate some straights about the reality of being gay. I want to change the way people look at it. And perhaps make it easier and safer for the few still in the closet to be who they are. Freely. You might be surprised how many support you even if they aren't gay themselves."
"It doesn't matter!" Michael said, getting to his feet. "The ones supporting us are not the ones we have to worry about. Terry was killed by two guys with half a brain between them. And a gun. Do you know they killed them both with just one bullet!" Michael was leaning in and getting close to Josh's face. He almost spit with is words and the ferocity in which he said them. "And you want to parade us out there? Tell me Josh, do we get T-shirts with this club? Why not just get them with targets on them so we are easier to pick out of the crowd. Well, I can't do this. I won't do this." He turned to Andy, "You can't do this either. I won't lose you too. I've gone along with you without being asked, but not this. You can't do this."
Andy took Michael into his arms. "Shush. Relax Michael, it's not like that here. Buster was the most vocal opponent we had here and I have kicked his ass myself several times."
He felt Michael tense up and lock his arms around Andy tightly. "But maybe we need to wait a while anyways and think about it." He turned to Josh. "I think we better call my mom and have her come and get us. I don't know if this was too early for Michael to come to school, or if it was Ms Peckum's treatment of us, or just all of it, but I think we need to go home for today. It's just been too much."
"Why don't I give her a call and tell her you are coming home and then take you there myself?"
"Thanks, that would be much faster and I think the faster we get out of here the better."
Josh stood and placed a hand on Michael's shoulder. "I'm so sorry Michael." He walked over to door and opened it. "Would you mind calling Mrs. Harter for me and put it through here, please?" The secretary mumbled something and Josh responded, closing the door with, "Thank you."
"Hi Ms. Harter, I'm Josh," he said, holding the door open so Andy could usher Michael in. Andy headed to the kitchen and sat Michael down as he went to the sink and drew a glass of water. He reached into the cupboard next to the sink and mechanically pulled a bottle out and removing the cap dumped a pill into his hand. Josh wandered into the doorway with Becky on his shoulder.
She whispered, "Sometimes it's the other way around. They both still have bad days. But I think Andy has more good days when he goes at it with a purpose."
Josh lean his head ever so slightly to the left and without taking his eyes off the two boys going through their ritual for a shitty day, said plainly, "Who doesn't."
"Cup of coffee or something? You didn't drive them out here to watch one care for the other."
"I would love a cup of anything, please. You are quite right. But first, I must apologize. I didn't know about their condition being so fragile. In fact, from the display this morning, I thought I had found my warriors. Now I feel totally awful."
"Warriors? I think you need to have a seat," she said, stepping by him and putting a tea kettle on the stove.
"I'll be right back, but I may be a minute or two." Andy said as he helped Michael up the stairs.
Josh related the events of the morning, including Ms. Peckum’s contributions. "So that is why I brought them home."
"She's an old bat that should not be in her position. A letter to the Super, I think. But you said something about them being your warriors. What did you mean?"
"A letter to the Super will certainly help. You see, I am trying to softly and subtly ease gay programs into a very old system. We need to open up opportunities to gay kids and to start to desensitize kids to other lifestyles. Gay suicides still rank highest on the list and as you can see by Michael's example, that there are still a lot of idiots out there."
"You mean this is to cure stupidity?" Andy piped up as he rejoined the conversation.
"Kind of, yeah. For some, there is no cure. How's Michael?" Josh asked, extending his open hand towards Andy.
"He's asleep. He'll be ok. It was just a really bad morning for him. Most of it my fault. I jump into things sometimes without thinking them through completely. Sometimes I just miss stuff when I do."
"Andy you're still very young. . ."
Andy cut him short, "I'm old enough to have loved and lost. I'm old enough to feel the pain of a lost lover, someone who I planned to be with for the rest of my life."
"Yes Andy I know, that's not what I meant. Andy, those things usually occur much later in life. You are exceptional in the love department. But you are expecting your abilities to analyze the many variables of life occurrences for a life you have not yet lived. It's like not knowing that others would think you were cheating on Tad. Why should you see that possibility? You yourself would not think such a thing and you have no example to draw your conclusions from. But you are upset for not having seen it."
"I see what you mean. I never looked at it that way. I want so badly to protect Michael and myself of course. But how do you get the experience without going through it, and who wants to go through it to know?"
"Well that's a great question. The answer is books, and school. You have a doctor, right? Not a doctor for your medical stuff but a doctor that helps you sort stuff out right?"
"Yes, Dr. Raburn."
"Well, Doctor Raburn has gone to college to learn about tragedies in people's lives and how to help them. You see, people keep records of what happens in different kinds of horrible situations and how different people deal with their pain. Then, people who do what he does, try different things to see what helps and then share it with other doctors when he sees what really works best."
"It just so happens that Dr. Raburn was my doctor too."
"You needed stuff sorted out too?"
"Yes, I had a lover that died too. He didn't know to look for help and the pressure got to be more than he could bear. He took a lot of pills and . . . well, he never knew that I loved him. We were afraid to talk about it. We were afraid to let others know we were gay."
Andy dove in his arms, sobbing. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
"Shush," Josh said. "It's alright, it's been a lot of years now. It never stops hurting completely but it gets a lot easier. But you see, that's why it is so important to me to get these programs started. If we had been more comfortable, maybe he could have known I loved him, and he would have known that he wasn't alone."
"So tell me what you want from us." Andy said, wiping his wet eyes on his sleeve and scooting into the chair.
"Nothing if you're not ready. And I really think you need to talk to Dr. Raburn before you commit to doing anything. But what I want is for a social club to be formed. Straights and gays together doing things together, learning that they can live together."
"What kind of things? You want us to try and convince them to do gay stuff together?"
Josh smiled, chuckling. "No, of course not. But there are things you have in common that you could work at. Cleaning up the neighborhood. Helping old people. Working in soup kitchens. What you do would be up to the group. Bake sales, clothing drives. Whatever. The important thing is that you do them together. You and Michael working hand in hand with straights. Imagine walking down the street hand in hand and not getting a negative reaction from people on the street."
"Yeah, but you can't expect that to occur from a club at high school. Most of the kids at school are ok, except for a few. It's their parents and older kids that are fu. . screwed up."
"Andy, it may not make a difference today or tomorrow, that's why I am looking for strong spirits to lead this war on ignorance. It won't always be easy. See, straight kids are going to stray away because they don't want to be painted with the same brush. Here's how I see it happening. A group that is for gay kids and friends of gay kids is set up. Of course, only gay kids will sign up for the most part. So, you pick out a need for the community or a charity and then as a group, ask another school group to work a joint effort towards that goal. The borders of the groups blend for a while as you all work to make it happen. From that, you will gain new members as they find out what gay kids are really like. Peer pressure can change the face of a school quickly. That spreads through the community and these kids grow up and have families. The effect is not immediate but it is long lasting. And maybe, when you are grown up, then your kids won't have to go through all this."
"Haha, Josh, I'm gay. I'm not likely to have kids."
"That may be true for you and it may not. For one thing, lots of kids aren't as sure as you are at this age. They may still be trying to figure out who they are. But even if they are gay, it would be great if society saw gays as great parent possibilities. There are a lot of kids who would love to have two moms or two dads as opposed to none. But if society continues to view gays and lesbians as immoral child molesters, then we will remain a wasted resource. And lots of kids won't have the loving homes that they otherwise could have."
"But, I'm only one kid. You make it sound like I can change the world from some backwoods high school."
"Listen, tell me if you know any of these names:
John F. Kennedy
Martin Luther King
Know any of them?"
"Yeah, know them all. Most of them were from rich families. And Adolph Hitler isn't the best example. What do you want me to do, exterminate all the straight idiots?"
"Of course not! And do you know what he was before he was a murdering idiot? He was a house painter. He did great things, none of them good, but he did change the world. A simple house painter. He was a tremendous communicator. Imagine if he had used those skills for good instead of evil."
"Wow, I never thought of it that way."
"Let me ask you something. If someone had done this ten years ago, do you think Michael's Terry would have been shot?"
"I don't know. But chances are, they would not have had to meet in that park."
"Then it could have saved my Terry? And my brother?"
"Michael, I thought you were asleep." Andy said, pulling him into a hug.
"I rolled over and you were gone." he said, looking softly into Andy's eyes, then turning his attention to Josh. "Well? Could it save my Terry?"
Andy turned Michael to look him eye to eye. "Michael, nothing can bring Terry back, you know that."
"I guess I said it wrong. Could this save someone else from . . . you know?"
"Maybe Michael, but Andy can tell you the whole story before you decide to do anything, and I really think you need to talk to Dr. Raburn. You're still pretty fragile, I think."
"I just had a bad go of it today. I'm going to have more. But I'm going backwards if I let each break push me back to the beginning. I'll be alright. And having an Andy of my very own helps me when I'm weak. But even if I didn't have an Andy, I would still have to keep going forward. I didn't realize that until today. Andy was ready to go on without me. I couldn't understand how he could even think about it without me. Then I realized. I understood about the trees."
"The trees?" Josh asked
"Dr. Raburn told us when we were getting ready to come home that he wasn't sure if I was ready. I move on things a bit slower because I didn't have a Tad. But Dr Raburn said he wanted us to be the right kind of relationship. He said it was like two trees next to each other. One grows a little taller and provides the shade for the other one to grow. Then that one grows for a while and shades the first. Both growing strong alone and yet together. I never understood it until today. Andy knows that if something were to happen to me, he would have to keep going. I never even considered it. But I have to or I'm setting myself up for a fall." He looked at Andy. "But you're still not allowed to do anything without me."
Andy smiled and tussled his hair. Then turning to Josh, "Looks like you just got your first two warriors. So what do we have to do first?"
Josh smiled ear to ear, "You're sure about this? Becky, are you ok with this?"
"I'm ok for now, but I'm expecting you to protect my boys. I'm not as much worried about the students as I am about certain members of the staff."
"I'll do my best, but officially, I can't start a club like this. I can certainly help once it is established but I will have to remain hands off until it is applied for and either granted permission or denied, in which case I can override it and grant permission. Then I am in and can make a difference. But officially, I'm not here and this isn't my idea." He looked at Andy and Michael. "So this is all your idea right? I can help you word the application right. Unofficially, of course."
Andy smiled and looked at Michael, who grinned conspiratorially. "Peckyass Peckum is going to shit."
Becky cleared her throat in her motherly manner. As she stood to leave, she clearly said, "Won't she though. I don't think I want to know these details, I'll start dinner."
"OK, here's how it has to go. In order to start a club you have to have at least six people who want to start it. Can you come up with four others?"
"Do they have to be gay?" Andy asked
"Absolutely not! This club is for alternative lifestyles. That could be people who only eat Miracle whip on peanut butter sandwiches for all the school cares. Remember, this is not a sex club. It's about being free to be different or even being different by being the same!"
"Ok, I think we can do that part. What else?"
"Well a manifesto of sorts."
"We have to write what the club is about. It has to have a benefit to the members and an organized purpose. Without that you are just a clump of people."
"Ok, so how would that look, exactly?" Michael asked, smiling.
"Oh, you're going to be good at this. You learn fast. And since we are at this point, I have one thing to say and this is important. You can defend yourself from Ol' pickyass easily if you use your heads. Think before you speak. She is a master at turning your words around, so make as few statements as you can. Answer her statements or her questions with a question. Even if it is said improperly, you can get away with most anything if you say it like you are trying to gain information."
"What?" Andy said, wincing like he was stung.
Josh looked at Andy, "What, what? Are you stupid?"
"No! I'm not stupid. You just aren't making sense."
"What don't you understand? Didn't I explain it all so you could understand it?"
"Well obviously not or I would have understood it."
"Well, could you tell me the part that you understand and then perhaps we can discover what you don't know."
Andy looked at him like he was speaking a foreign language. Michael started to giggle. Andy turned towards Michael like he was clueless as to what could possibly be so funny. Michael looked over at Josh who was now smiling.
Michael couldn't contain himself and burst into laughter, almost in tears, "Oh pickyass Peckum is going to really hate this." He just managed to get out.
Becky came running, "What's going on?"
Andy looked at her, "I think they've both gone over the edge."
"Andy, why would you think that?" Michael asked, grinning.
"Because you are laughing and there hasn't been anything funny said."
"You didn't hear anything funny?"
"Were you listening?" Michael was enjoying himself.
"Yes, what did he say that was funny?"
"Why don't you tell me what you remember him saying and then perhaps we can learn what you missed."
Andy just stared at him for a minute. Michael was trying with all his might not to laugh. He was to the point of holding his breath. He saw the light come on in Andy.
"Oh my God, I get it!"
Becky looked at them like she had just watched Andy lose his mind, too.
"What?" She asked.
"Did you miss it?" Andy said to her.
"Did I miss what?"
"Did you miss the part that was funny?"
"Then, perhaps you can tell me what you didn't hear that we found so funny and we can all laugh again?"
Michael squealed in laughter as he grabbed Andy's arm and tried to hold himself up. Looking at Josh he said, "We'll. . . We'll have to work on that a bit." Josh laughed so hard he was coughing trying to get his breath.
Becky picked up the glass Andy was drinking from and took a sip, testing for a little contamination with some recipe. Not finding any, she raised one eyebrow and retreated to the kitchen. Andy laughed so hard he snorted and that set them off again.
Just as they were beginning to recover, Michael pointed at Andy and snorted intentionally and they were at it again.
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