by Vincent Berg
Copyright 2016, Vincent Berg
Taylor was standing with Boomer and John Brooks, another football player, by their lockers. It was only a few minutes until the next period, when a small freshman walked by. He was focused on his schedule—marking him as a new kid—and wasn't paying attention. He passed the three guys, crossing closer than most students did. Boomer grinned, pointing him out to his teammates. When he was directly in front of them, he stuck his foot out.
The boy tumbled, his schedule flying as he tried to halt his fall. John helped by shoving him as he fell. He'd have fallen on his face, but instead he sprawled across the hallway, his backpack opening and his papers fluttering around him.
Boomer and John laughed, and after a moment, Taylor joined in. When the kid, Phillip Chen, recovered, his eyes went wide and he scrambled to get back on his feet. "I didn't mean any trouble. I'm just …"
"Go back to China, freak!" Boomer's voice did as it always did, echoing down the hallway. He stepped forward, reaching for the kid, when one of the papers caught his eye. It was a magazine, open to a spread with half-naked guys wearing nothing but speedos.
"Whoa. I didn't know China allowed gays. What do you think of gay Chinamen, John?"
"I think it means he gets a double beat down," John suggested with a smirk.
Phillip gathered his papers, hoping to flee before things escalated. He reached for the magazine, instead of his schedule or books. John nudged Taylor, nodding his head towards the kid.
Taylor glanced down the hall, looking for an easy out. Seeing none, he advanced and stepped on Phillip's hand, which was clutching his magazine, holding him in place.
"We don't like no chinks taking our jobs and screwing the grading curve," Boomer thundered. "But we really dislike deviants!" Taking a step, he kicked Phillip hard, knocking him over again, but Taylor's foot held him in place.
The hallways took on a different feel at that point. A group of older students surged forward to see what happened, while the younger ones, or those who stood out, scattered.
When Phillip looked up, his eyes wide, tears streaming down his face, still gasping from the kick, Boomer raised his foot. "Let me see if I can knock some common sense into you."
He raised his boot, clearly intending to stomp on his head, when the next period's bell rang. Everyone watched, to see whether the attack would continue, but Boomer hesitated.
Seeing his chance, Phillip yanked his hand back. With Taylor distracted, he lost his grip and Phillip slid a short distance, just as Boomer's foot descended.
"Think you can get away that easily?" Boomer yelled, pulling his foot back and kicking him in the chest.
Taylor pulled on his arm. "Come on. If we're late, the teachers will start asking questions. We can always pay him a return visit."
Glaring at Phillip, who scooted away clutching his breast, Boomer shrugged. "You're likely to bleed on my boots. We'll come back after I scotch guard them." Turning, the three stalked off, laughing, as Phillip scrambled to his feet, his homework, schedule and books remaining where they were.
Taylor was dropping off books in his locker when Jacob marched up, clearly pissed. Rather than keeping their distance, Jacob zeroed in on him.
Without saying anything, Jacob grabbed Taylor's arm, leading him down the hall. Not wanting to expose anything, Taylor shrugged him off, which only drew more attention. Sensing a confrontation, the kids surrounding them stopped what they were doing and watched.
"We need to talk," Jacob whispered, pointing down the hall. Rather than waiting, Jacob led the way. Shrugging, and rolling his eyes for the gawkers, Taylor followed. Jacob entered the men's room several doors down. Taylor blushed, but went in as well, imagining what those thinking would make of a bathroom liaison.
Inside, Jacob knelt, counting the feet under the stalls. "Everyone out! We need privacy to hash something out." When his order produced no immediate response, he glanced at Taylor, raising his eyebrow.
Taylor took a more direct approach, pounding on the metal wall of the toilet. "OUTSIDE, NOW!"
That approach had the desired effect as two kids left, still zipping up. "Don't worry, this won't take long." Jacob waited until they left. When they did, he walked to the far end of the room and turned towards Taylor.
"What the fuck were you thinking?"
Taylor didn't need to be told what he'd done wrong. "I couldn't help it. If I didn't participate, they'd turn on me."
Jacob planted his hands on his hips. "And their casting aspersions is worse than being pummeled by an opposing team? Let me paint a picture for you. Gays don't abuse gays. Standing up doesn't label you as gay, it means you've got your own mind and don't follow the crowd."
"It's not so easy," Taylor mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Okay, not a clear picture yet? Let me draw you another. Who gets ripped apart in the news? The football star who stands up for the little guy, or the lowlife who attacks gays while sneaking quickies in public parks?"
"The guys expect certain behavior from me."
"All right, one final picture. You either stop picking on other gays, or I'm publicly outing you. You got it? Seems to me I've got some physical evidence at home on my jeans which almost brought down a president. Now if I can only find a CSI team to check it for me. If they don't, every gay kid at this school will back me up. We don't pick on our own. We're all persecuted. We'll only survive if we stop battling each other and stand up for ourselves."
Taylor pulled his hands from his pocket, balling them into fists. "Are you threatening me?"
"Only because you're forcing my hand. I don't care whether you live in the closet the rest of your life, but I refuse to accept homophobic behavior from fellow gays."
Taylor glared at him, and then arched one eyebrow. "If I do, will you hand over your evidence? After all, I don't want this hanging over my head indefinitely."
"I'll tell you what, I'll hold onto it until graduation. It'll be your graduation present. At the moment, I'm not sure I can trust you not to revert to your previous behavior."
Taylor tossed his head, placing one hand over his chest. "Be still my beating heart."
"Look, I didn't plan this, and I've got no plans to embarrass you, but this is … beyond the pale. If you think your friends are applying pressure now, wait until you're publicly exposed."
Taylor considered it before running his hand through his close-cropped hair. "Okay. I knew it was a mistake, but there wasn't time to plan an appropriate response."
"How about 'doing the right thing', or basic human decency?"
"Fine! I agree. You don't have to keep beating a dead horse."
"Good." Jacob walked past him, heading out. "I'll spread the word that I took you to task, but I'll keep the details private. Again, I wouldn't normally out someone, but I've got no compunction about standing up to bullies."
"Noted," Taylor answered, watching him walk out. He waited for a minute, and exited just as the bell rang. There were still a couple kids hanging around, so he shrugged once again. "The kid took me to task. I respect bravery, in whatever color it's dressed in, even in a hot-pink skirt."
Taylor and Jacob entered Jacob's bedroom, each bearing one of Ruth's cookies.
"You're mom actually bakes these? I mean, like every day?"
"She's quite the baker, and loves to experiment. When she's trying something new, she'll bake rack after rack of cookies, each a little different. And she experiments often, offering something unique for every new business client."
"Yet you remain rail thin. I'd ask what your secret is, but we both suffer from the same problem, it's more difficult putting on weight than losing it."
"It's our high metabolism," Jacob said, waving his hand over his torso.
"Still, my mother only bakes for Thanksgiving." Taylor sat on the bed, savoring the taste of the cookie with small bites to make it last. "The best I get is store bought, of which there are a lot. However, they tend to sit around until they get hard. They're never toasty warm like this unless I shove them in the microwave."
"Did I get you in trouble with your friends? I can't imagine they'd take you being browbeaten by a 'fag' well."
"It wasn't so bad. I said it was a 'strategic decision'. That you had a valid point, and if my actions assaulting gays were exposed, I'd lose my scholarships. That they can understand. They want me to achieve what they can't. It may not change how they behave, but you actually gave me an out."
Jacob laughed, dusting his hands clean of cookie crumbs. "Glad I could help. I've got to admit, my standing went through the roof by telling off the star jock."
"Be careful no one tries to even the score on my account. You might have volunteered to be the school's lightning rod, attracting danger wherever you go."
"I'll watch myself, but I'm not so helpless. While your friends are big and bulky, I'm quick and have plenty of friends—especially among your friend's girlfriends."
As much as Taylor tried to milk his one cookie—even though they had plenty downstairs—he finally polished it off. "I imagine the latter is a more effective deterrent than the former." Putting his hands on his knees, he leaned forward, facing his new friend.
"Okay, you took me to task and I'm changing my behavior because it makes sense, but I think turnaround is justified. You really need to butch it up."
"And how do you suggest I do that? This is who I am. I can't control how high my voice is, or how excited I get."
"That's exactly my point. You may have been born that way, but part of it is modeled behavior." Taylor sat back, considering how to phrase his objection. "You're right, the flamers led the gay movement back when no one wanted to acknowledge they were gay, but times change. We now have gays in a wide variety of TV shows. Unfortunately, they're all the same character, the flamboyant, happy-go-lucky klutz. If we're to move forward, we've got to show the public a different face. We need to step away from the queens in tight, rainbow-colored hot pants, and show a broader range or acceptable behaviors. If we step back from the fairies, we make room for everyone's brother, cousin or nephew.
"While it's exciting to lead the parade, sometimes you need to pass the torch to those who can achieve the most good."
Jacob sat back, crossing his arms. "Meaning I should shut up and move to the back of the bus?"
Seeing the discussion going in the wrong direction, Taylor tried again. "It's not so simple. Do you even realize you speak gay?"
Jacob tilted his head. "How does one 'speak gay'? It's not a language."
"No, but it's a way of speaking which marks you as gay. I've been watching you, from a distance. When you're around your friends, or even around girls, your voice rises in pitch and your words run together like you're running a race. In short, you're announcing to the world `I'm here and I'm queer, come pick on me and stereotype me'. You may not have noticed, but when we're together, you speak slower and your voice deepens. It's not a lot, but it shows you're making a conscious choice to appeal to your audience. I'm only asking you to modulate a little more."
"Hmm. I'll consider it. I've never noticed it in myself, but I recognize it in my friends. We also rush our speech when we're together."
"There's more to it. You also speak with an inflection at the end of every statement, almost as if you're asking a question. "Am I gay enough?"
Jacob rubbed his chin. "My father has mentioned that, saying that people will consider my ideas more if I don't state them that way."
"I'm not telling you to quit being who you are, or even how you talk to your friends. But you need to consider who you're talking to, and who might be listening. Most of all, I'm suggesting you tone it down and let some of the quieter gays step forward."
Jacob grinned, raising an eyebrow. "You mean the people who, like you, won't come out of the closet until they're dragged out kicking and screaming?"
Taylor considered that for a few moments. "That's fair. We can't lead if our heads are buried in the sand. But there are plenty of us who are out who could represent the `everyman' straights can relate to. If they see the boy next door, or gay cops and firemen in the next gay pride parade, I think it'll change more minds than fairies dancing in the street. It's just … not an ideal role model."
"No, an ideal role model is the gay football star who shows children they can be whatever they want to be. A role you refuse to play. At least I'm leading, even if it's the wrong people."
"All right, I deserve that. But still, if I can modify my behavior, surely you can tone down your gay speech whenever you're in a mixed crowd. Many people have effeminate relatives, but because of behaviors like yours, they now think everyone like that is gay."
Jacob laughed. "Case in point, Phillip Chen isn't gay."
Taylor pulled back, watching his friend. "All that business about protecting each other, and you're saying he's not even one of us?"
Jacob smiled, nodding his head. "Yeah, I realize I was lying by omission, but it isn't who's gay and who isn't, as much as the image. If you're seen persecuting gays, you'll be targeted once people learn you're gay yourself. It's not who's guilty, but your hypocrisy in piling on."
"How do you know he's not? Did he say so?"
"The `gay' magazine you saw him reading was a bodybuilding article. He's emulating you, not me. He's been exercising, trying to bulk up so he won't be seen as a push over. An effort you've effectively wiped away in one fell swoop."
Taylor ran his hand through his hair. "Damn, I felt bad enough before, but now I feel terrible. Maybe I can talk to him, explain that someone told me of his interest and help guide him in his attempts."
"Who would have told you if the two of us hadn't spoken?"
"This is going to take some thought."
Jacob smiled, stood and crossed to the bed, speaking in a deeper voice, which sounded comical coming from him. "That's enough agonizing for one day. I can smell the burning wood in your brain." He leaned in, kissing him. "Now it's time to sooth the savage beast. You can figure out the specifics later. But I don't mind feeling a real man's muscles under me."
Taylor pulled him down on the bed. "I love it when you get all alpha-male on me."
Jacob kissed him again before adding one last thought. "I love my friends, but if I have to hold one more out-of-shape, rail-thin boy/man, I think I'll scream!"
To Be Continued ...
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