W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement
Chapter Thirteen - The Kids Aren't Alright
by Jeff Wilson
Brett was in the hospital for about a week. In that week, I helped Dr. Reilly get the living room ready for Brett. She borrowed a hospital bed for him so he could keep his leg up. He wouldn't be allowed to put any weight on it until April. Then he'd be in rehab. The doctors were optimistic that he'd be able to go back to school by mid-April. He'd be on crutches, but he would be able to be there to graduate. At least he'd be home for his birthday. Jen and I didn't talk much about the deal Jack had made. I think we were both humiliated by how far we'd sunk. I was kind of glad that I didn't have to look Brett in the eyes for a while after that day. I felt like such a sleaze bag.
Life at school sucked without Brett. I'd lost my favorite teacher and now my boyfriend in just a few weeks. During the school day, I would gather up Brett's assignments. He would have a lot of catching up to do once he was home. I spent much of the first day at school since the accident explaining to people what had happened to him. I found that Brett was much more popular than I ever realized. There were dozens of people who I'd never even heard of who came up to me and asked about him. Lots of them even told me that they were sorry about what happened, and if I needed anything to let them know what they could do. I found that odd. They didn't even know me, yet they were willing to help me? People are strange.
Dustin hadn't said much when I picked him up on Monday morning in Brett's car. He just got in and sat there like a lump all the way to school. When we met for lunch, he looked even more forlorn than he had before.
"Everybody keeps asking me what happened," Dustin said. "I hate having to tell the story over and over."
"You're not blaming yourself for what happened are you?" I asked.
"No... I mean, it was my dirt bike and he didn't want to ride it."
Emily Barnhart sat down next to us in Brett's usual spot.
"Did I hear you saying that you think it's your fault that Reilly got hurt?" she asked.
"No, I just..."
"Well stop it. Brett's a big boy. If he was dumb enough to get on that stupid thing that's his fault, not yours," she said.
"I know that, but it doesn't make me feel any better."
Emily sighed. "Tell you what. My parents are going out Thursday night. Why don't you stop by and watch a movie with me like we used to?"
Dustin smiled and began to blush. "Really? Well, I'll have Chess club that day, and then baseball practice after school, but I'm free after that. Sure, but I don't have a ride."
"I'll come pick you up," Em said. I wasn't quite sure what I was seeing, but I think two of my best friends just agreed to have a date.
After lunch, the day continued to trudge on with the same boring boredom that had become my school day. I was ready to be done with school. Twelve years of sitting in the same stupid little desks made for right-handed people was starting to get to me. I couldn't wait to be finished and move on with my life. The thought of having to go through the next month of school without Brett was depressing. The class that used to be taught by Miss Winston was once the one I most looked forward to, but now it was the one I most loathed. The substitute the school had found for Miss Winston was so lost it was pathetic. The students knew more than he did about biology, thanks to Miss Winston's teaching. We weren't going to learn anything the rest of the year. I spent more time counting the freckles on the back of Dustin's neck than anything.
On Thursday morning, there was an announcement from the principal that everyone was required to stay in their classrooms. We speculated what was going on, but Joey looked terrified. After about an hour of us all being stuck in our classrooms, the principal showed up at our door and asked to see Joey. Joey looked like he was being marched to the gallows as he was taken away by the principal. He never came back to class that day, or for the next ten days, which was the standard suspension for a drug offense at our school. It turns out that the reason we were all kept in our classrooms was that the school had brought in a drug-sniffing dog to go through the hallways and by the lockers. Joey's locker had been one that the dog found interesting. Turns out that not even having your father serving as the solicitor on the school board can save you when you bring cocaine to school in your jacket pocket. Joey's buddy Andy got busted too, along with about ten other kids for various drug-related infractions. He could have been expelled, since he had a previous suspension on his record for his fight with me, but Jack struck a deal with the board. As part of that deal, Joey had to accept a reduction of his class rank and could not represent the school as valedictorian. Miss Winston's prophecy had come true – Joey had crashed and burned all on his own.
Now it was down to Sarah and me.
Since the Miss Winston incident, Sarah had become much more of a bitch. We had never been friends, and we'd only had about one conversation between us in twelve years. But now, she seemed to be on a mission. I think she knew that there was a lot of animosity from the other kids around the school about what had happened with Miss Winston, and she was determined to prove to everyone who was in charge of that school. With Joey out of the way, I knew it was a matter of time until they came after me. She knew she couldn't beat me fairly.
To be honest, I had never thought too much about valedictorian. I mean really, who cares? I could prove I was the least stupid person in a field of idiots. What was the point? I knew I was smart. My teachers knew I was smart. Why did I need the validation of some stupid title? Screw that! All I wanted to do was just graduate and get the hell out of there and on with my life. I was tempted to just go to the principal's office and tell him to please just give the stupid bitch the title so I could concentrate on more important things.
But that wasn't going to happen.
On Friday afternoon of that crazy week, there was a small barely-noticeable announcement in the bottom left hand corner of the student activities bulletin board:
The student activity known as the LGBTQ Alliance
is hereby disbanded due to lack of sponsor.
-John Taylor, MVSD President
I had to read it twice just to make sure I was reading it correctly. I tracked down Doug Sanders, who was the president of the group and asked him what was up.
"No one on the staff wanted to take over for Miss Winston," Doug told me.
"What? That's bullshit!" I replied.
"Tell me about it. I don't see why they had to cancel the whole club. The cheerleading team's sponsor doesn't even do anything. They have boosters that run it and the board just rubber stamps everything they want to do."
"I can't believe this garbage," I complained.
"I'm surprised you even care, Billy," Doug said. "I mean it's not like you ever came to a meeting."
"It's the principle of the thing, dude. They're only doing this because they want to punish us for not being their stupid little puppets."
"Well, we're obviously not going to let this be the last word. We're planning to meet after school at Janet's diner. You're welcome to come. I know Brett would have wanted to be there."
"I'll think about it," I said. "It's not that I've never wanted to go. I've just got a lot of other things going on after school. When the baseball season starts I'll be at all of their games to do the stats."
"Well, you know where to find us today at least," Doug said.
I stormed down the hall toward my last class, the waste of time known as advanced biology. I couldn't stand to see Sarah sitting there looking so smug. I'd had enough. I walked up to her desk.
"Your father has a lot of nerve cancelling things he has no idea about," I said.
"It was a board decision, not just my father. Just how much power do you think my father has around here, Billy?" she asked.
"I don't know! Maybe we should ask Miss Winston. Oh, that's right, you got her fired!"
"I most certainly did not! She quit on you, Billy. She quit on your stupid club for freaks and losers. Nobody forced her to leave. She did it voluntarily. She was being completely unfair and trying to punish me for being sick! My father was only trying to make things right! I've earned my grades!"
"Sure you did! Just like you earned head cheerleader. I'm sure you put the `head' in that title!"
Sarah slapped me right in the face. Can't say I didn't deserve it. It made me laugh.
"I'm not even going to waste my time going to the principal's office to report that you just assaulted me," I said. "Knowing this place, I'd probably be the one who got suspended."
"I don't need my father to defend me, Billy. Whether you like dick or pussy you boys are all the same. You don't know how to handle a strong independent woman. I've earned everything I've got in this school."
"The only thing you've earned is a trip to my ass!" I replied. I walked to my desk behind Dustin just as the substitute came in apologizing for running behind. Yeah... I don't know what my insult was supposed to mean either, but it sounded tough at the time.
Dustin couldn't stop laughing at me as we walked to Brett's car.
"You just earned a one-way trip to my ass!" Dustin mocked me. "Oh man, I was trying so hard not to laugh! That was so awesome!"
"Come on, dude. I shouldn't have said anything to her. It's not like she's the one who got the gay club cancelled. I just added fuel to the fire losing my temper like that."
"How exactly does one earn a trip to your ass, anyway? I mean, are there tickets you can buy?"
"Dustin please! I've had a bad day."
"I'd buy a ticket if you..."
"Stop! Just... Just tell me how it went with Em last night," I insisted, hoping to change the subject.
Dustin began to blush. "Oh that? It... It was good."
"I can't tell you," Dustin said.
"What? Did you fuck her or something?" I asked.
"No!" Dustin replied. "Dude, no. It was just really nice. We had a good time and we will probably do it again tomorrow night."
"Going to do `it' again, huh?" I teased. "Just admit it! You fucked her."
"No! Billy, get your mind out of the gutter. I'm trying to have something special with her. Did you fuck Brett on your first date?"
"I don't even know what would qualify as our first date. I guess he sucked my dick when we first became boyfriends. Does that count?"
"Ew. Anyway, it was a good time. I've always liked her. I don't want to rush things with her. For once I'd like to have a relationship in my life that isn't ruined by me being stupid."
As we were driving along, my cell phone began to ring. Dustin grabbed it and answered it before I could stop him.
"You need to fuck your boyfriend soon. He's getting bitchy."
"Is that Brett?" I asked.
"No, it's your other boyfriend," Dustin laughed. "Seriously, let me tell you what he did..."
"Dustin, no!" I protested. I reached for my phone, but all I got was the hat Dustin was wearing, so I started to hit him with it.
"Now he's assaulting me!" Dustin laughed uncontrollably. "Ow! Ow!"
"Give me the phone, Dustin!"
"No, yeah, we heard about it... Yeah, it's bullshit. I agree... Janet's... Yeah..."
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He said you shouldn't talk on a cell phone when you're driving his car," Dustin replied.
"Fuck you guys. You're worse now than you were when you were fighting."
"Please, he needs fucked bad. He's all grouchy and lashing out at people. You want me to fuck him for you since you're laid up?"
"Mmm hmm... No, I wouldn't charge. What are friends for?"
"Billy, we're trying to talk business here. Do you mind? So we agree, your boyfriend is a little bitch who couldn't handle my humongous dick. I guess you're out of luck, William."
"Just give me the fucking phone!" I said. I managed to get the phone away from my maniacal best friend and heard my boyfriend laughing more heartily than I'd heard in a long time.
"I'm glad you find my suffering amusing," I said.
"Well, since I'm all banged up I figured you could use a banging yourself," Brett joked. "I've heard from a reliable source he has a big dick."
"Yours is big enough for me," I replied, though my eyes subtly lowered their way to Dustin's lap. My gaze shifted upward to Dustin's face. He smiled knowingly. I looked back to the road.
"So anyway, Dougie filled me in on what happened at school," Brett said. "I miss one week and the whole place falls apart. It's fucking bullshit. I get it though. Any teacher who would have stepped up would have been committing career suicide. We were lucky to have Miss Winston as long as we did."
"So, you going to go to the meeting at Janet's?"
"I wasn't planning on it."
"I think you should. I think it'd be good for you to meet with some people who could support you while I'm not there."
"I don't know. I guess you're feeling better?"
"Yeah, I'm off the pain meds. I'm peeing in a jug now instead of a catheter. I'll be home on Monday."
"You're totally off the pain meds?"
"Yeah. The only thing I'm on now is an antibiotic and a blood thinner."
"What's that for?"
"Well, I've been laying on my ass for a week and they're worried about blood clots. Seriously, I can't wait to get out of here. Even if I have to be on my ass for a month, it'll still be better at home than here. I'm bored out of my skull here."
"Yeah. Well I'm still going to come up tomorrow."
"Cool. Stop by my house and grab my GameBoy will you? It's probably in my room, but who knows."
"Sure thing," I replied.
"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow. I love you."
"I love you more," I replied. "Bye."
"See ya," Brett said.
"Awwww! Does wookie-kins miss his wittle snickle-dums?" Dustin asked.
"Shut up, sweet little Dusty!" I replied.
"Dude, I can't believe I spent all that time hating him. He's like the brother I never had."
"He likes you too. He would never admit it, of course."
"Yeah. Hey, you want to go to that meeting?" Dustin asked.
"I don't know. I won't know anybody without Brett there."
"Okay, first of all, that's bull. Second, you won't be alone. I'll go with you."
"Sure. I've probably fucked more guys than everyone in that club put together. But I just want to support you guys, you and Brett, I mean."
"That's cool, Dustin. You don't have to do that."
"Yes I do. I think we all need to support each other a lot more around here. I don't know all the games that are going on, but I know there's some real trouble brewing. If we all don't support each other, then they'll win. The way people like that win is by dividing everybody. But if we stick together, then we can beat them."
So we went.
Janet was happy to see us and directed us to the back room of her diner. There were a few kids from school hanging out there. I knew their faces at least. They looked so young. I never thought that there would be kids there from lower grades, but sure enough there they were. Doug arrived a little while after us, and he and Dustin chatted. I just sort of sat there and tried to stay out of the way.
"Are you guys ready to start?" Doug asked the assembled kids. There were about ten or so of us there. Doug talked about the situation with Miss Winston resigning and the other teachers at the school not standing up for us. "It looks like we're just going to have to meet in places like this without the school's permission."
"That's bullshit!" one of the kids said. "We all know the reason Miss Winston left was because of what Sarah Taylor's father did! Why don't you just tank a test so the board will leave the rest of us alone, Roberts?"
"Guys, it's not Billy's fault the school board is doing this. He's one of us."
"It took him long enough to show it," the kid replied. "All he's done is hide like a little bitch while the rest of us put our necks on the line."
"Why don't you watch your mouth, Aiden?" Dustin threatened.
"Or what? You going to beat me up, Smith?"
"Guys, stop!" I shouted, standing between Dustin and Aiden. "Don't you see? This is exactly what they want! They want us fighting each other and tearing each other apart. If we can't stand together they've already got us beat. You understand what I'm telling you? Look, what was your name again? Aiden? I understand why you're pissed off at me. You're right. I've spent my whole life in the closet. I've lived in fear of these people. And what did it get me? Nothing. I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of letting everyone else tell me who I should be and who I can love. I'm done with that. I am gay, and that's not something I should have to be ashamed of. I won't go back to the way I was before. I'm proud to be gay, and I'm proud to stand beside you guys and fight for something that's more important than us. We can't let them win. We can't."
"You talk tough now," Aiden replied. "But when the pressure's on and we need you, you'll bail on us just like Miss Winston did. You're all talk and no balls, Roberts. First sign of a real fight you'll run and hide just like she did."
I stood face to face with Aiden. He was a freckle-faced little dork with braces who looked like he was barely a sophomore. I towered over him by about half a foot. And yet, he stood his ground and didn't back down. "You can call me a coward, but don't you dare talk about Miss Winston like that. Miss Winston was willing to put her ass on the line for her principles. She sacrificed herself to stand up to these people. She didn't owe us anything, and yet she gave up her career to stand up for what was right. You may be right about me, but if you ever talk about Miss Winston like that again I'll slap you so hard I'll knock the braces right out of your stupid little mouth."
Aiden gulped, but he didn't back down. "Let's see if you can back up your big mouth with your actions, Roberts. I don't think you will. We'll see if you have the balls to stand with us when it really matters."
I really enjoyed this one. Kind of a breather after the crazy events of the last few chapters. What did you think? Let me know!
You can reach me at email@example.com
Next time: Blame It on the Rain