W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement

(2nd edition)

Chapter Twenty - Plan B

by Jeff Wilson


“What do you mean Brett has a date to the prom?!?!” I asked a little too loudly after Emily told me the news at lunch.

“I’m just telling you what I heard,” Em replied. “He’s signed up for himself and a guest.”

“Who’s the guest?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It just says him and a guest.”

“Hey did you hear Reilly has a date to the prom?” Dustin asked as he sat down next to me with his lunch.

“Yeah, you have any idea who it is?” I asked.

“Nope. Just that it’s a girl who doesn’t go to school here. He didn’t say who it was. Does he have a cousin or something?”

“I don’t think so. I know he has an aunt who lives in New York. Who could it be?”

“I don’t know, but if you don’t want to go stag to this thing you better get your stuff together. Time is running out and so are the girls,” Dustin said.

“Okay, first of all, I don’t want to go to the stupid dance. Second of all, if I did want to go the only person I would want to go with currently hates me and already has a date. And even if that weren’t the case, I couldn’t go with him anyway because of the stupid school board.”

Dustin sighed. “Dude, are you ever going to stop bitching about everything and grow some balls soon? All you’ve done is whine and complain about how bad your life sucks since Brett broke up with you, and you weren’t the most cheerful dude even before that.”

“Look, Dustin. I have… Problems… Okay? I have problems relating to people like a normal person. I really am working on it and trying to be better. I’m trying not to let what’s wrong with me overpower what’s good. I just need some time to process. Okay?”

“Process away,” Dustin said. He turned to Emily, “I swear it’s like talking to a rock sometimes.”

With the prom a little more than a week away, it was going to be difficult to find someone who wanted to go with me. April was over, and the prom was on the fourteenth of May! I was still trying to process everything that had happened since that dreadful day when Brett had flipped my life upside down. Now that I’d had time to think about it, I felt even worse than I did before! Then mom went and told me I was autistic or something… How was I supposed to take that? I mean, I knew there was always something different about me, like I just couldn’t connect with people like other people did. It was always a chore for me to talk to people. But I just thought I was an introvert or something. It was just weird.

I wasn’t embarrassed about it. Not really. It wasn’t something I was ashamed of. I just thought differently, that’s all. Mom was more than willing to talk about it. She just didn’t want other people to label me or think of me differently. People already thought I was a dork, so there really wasn’t anywhere for me to go on the social ladder anyway. Not that I cared.

If Brett had moved on and found himself a girl to go to the prom with, that was fine. Just that everything I’d done and planned to do in my life revolved around him. I mean, why should I want to fight for marriage rights for gay people if the person I wanted to get married to hated me? No, I decided to change my career path again to something less challenging and more predictable – accounting. The idea of slaving away in an office all day surrounded by books and books of numbers made me happy. And that meant I didn’t need Jack’s stupid internship. I didn’t particularly want his money anyway.

So after school that day, mom let me borrow the car and I drove myself to Jack’s law office. The receptionist wasn’t nearly as nice as the one at Mr. Bryant’s office. She didn’t offer me any coffee, she just told me to wait in the lobby until Mr. McKenzie was finished with a client. I sat there minding my own business for a few minutes until the door to Jack’s conference room opened. To my surprise, Mr. Taylor and Pastor Carl emerged from the room, along with Jack. They were all laughing and joking as they made their way toward the place where I was seated.

“Well there’s the future of our society right there!” Jack said. “Billy! We were just talking about some of the things going on at school.”

“This is the Billy Roberts?” Mr. Taylor asked. He offered me his hand and I stood up to shake it. “Well I’m impressed! I’ve heard a lot about you, young man. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Billy’s mother is one of the members at my church,” Pastor Carl said. “Of course, we’re still working on Billy.”

“So what brings you to my office today?” Jack asked.

“Your son,” I replied.

Suddenly, Jack didn’t look quite as cheerful. “Well you should come into my office and we’ll talk,” he said.

Before I went with Jack though, I stopped and turned to face Carl and Mr. Taylor. “One more thing, gentlemen.”

“Oh?” Mr. Taylor asked.

“Yeah… Gay people aren’t evil. You think I’m a monster because of who I love, but I think you guys are the monsters because of who you hate.”

“I don’t hate anyone, Billy,” Pastor Carl replied. “Especially you.”

“Didn’t you used to have a son named Nate?” I asked. “How’s he doing?”

Carl turned a shade of red I didn’t think human flesh could become. “Listen here you little…”

“Carl,” Mr. Taylor said, putting his hand on Carl’s shoulder. “Let it go. You did the right thing.”

“Could be worse. He could have slept with his wife’s best friend and hid his illegitimate son for eighteen years.”

Carl and Mr. Taylor just looked at each other on that one, obviously confused about what I was talking about. But Jack put his arm around my shoulders.

“Let’s just wrap up this little meeting,” Jack said. “John, we’re still on for five o’clock? Mon Valley Country Club?”

Mr. Taylor just nodded, looking at me like he wanted to rip my head of and spit down my neck. He and Carl made their way to the parking lot, Jack asked his receptionist to hold his calls and steered me forcefully into his office.

“What was that about, you stupid little shit?” he asked as soon as the door was closed.

“What’s the matter Jack? You’re not afraid of a stupid little shit’s stupid little mouth are you?”

“I thought I made it clear…”

“Didn’t your sons tell you? The secret is out. They know. They both know. I’m just surprised they haven’t told you.”

“What do you mean, they know?”

“Joey and Brett. They know they’re brothers. They’ve known for a while now, actually.”

Jack didn’t turn red. He turned white. “That’s… That’s an unexpected turn of events.”

“Yeah. So I just came here to tell you to take your stupid internship and shove it. But instead, I have a better idea. Why don’t you give it to somebody who really wants it?”

“And who would that be?”

“Joey,” I replied.

“Joey wants to be an intern?” Jack asked.

“No, Joey wants to be your intern! The poor kid actually wants to spend time with you, for reasons that escape me. Seems to me that neither one of your sons had much of a father in their life. You keep putting Joey in rehab to solve a problem that you created! He loves you. Don’t ask me why because you certainly haven’t earned it! But you’re so wrapped up in your own life that you’ve forgotten why you work so hard. Look, I appreciate the offer you made, but I don’t want the internship. I never did. I certainly don’t want any money from you for school. And since your secret is out I guess there’s no reason for you to do it anyway. I just came here to tell you that. I’m surprised they didn’t already tell you.”

Jack sighed. He ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m glad Brett knows,” he said. “I’ve wanted him to know for years now. I encouraged Jen to move here years ago when her parents died so I could be near him. You have no idea what this has done to my life, to my family… Everything I’ve done, I did to protect my family. You must believe that.”

“There’s a lot of that going around,” I said.

“The tighter I tried to hold on to Joey, the more he slipped away from me. I know the heroin and the cocaine are my fault. Brett always seemed the one that got away, the son I should have had. For years, my family has just been three people living in the same house, but living three separate lives. We’re all miserable. I’m going to tell Heather the truth. Jen’s not going to be too happy about it, but I can’t continue to live like this. Thank you, Billy.”

“What did I do?” I asked.

“You helped me to see something that I’ve been blind to. If there’s anything left of my law office after word gets out, I will offer that internship to Joey, if he still wants it. And if you want, I’m still willing to help you out with college.”

“No. Give your money to Joey. More than that, give your time to him. Joey’s a mess, but beneath it is a kid who just wants you to love him. It’s not too late. I’d give anything for one more day with my dad. Brett, though? You can try, but I doubt he’ll want anything to do with you after eighteen years of lies. I don’t think you’ll win that battle. Like you once told me, McKenzie boys are notorious for holding grudges and their tempers.”

I felt better than I had in months as I left that office. I didn’t know what I was going to do to pay for school, but it didn’t matter at that moment. I just knew that I couldn’t go on being someone who couldn’t look himself in the eyes when he looked into the mirror.

The next day at school, Joey found me before lunch and pulled me aside to a hallway where we had a bit of privacy.

“Hey, I know what you did,” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re…”

“Look man, you didn’t have to say anything to my dad but I’m glad you did. Brett’s been trying to figure out how to say what you did to my dad for two weeks now. He doesn’t want to blow things up any more than he already did. When he first figured it all out and he was stuck at home with that stupid cast on his leg he wanted to destroy everybody. But I think since he’s seen how bad he felt after that trip to Buffalo, and how horrible you feel, he’s trying to figure out how to do this without feeling miserable and taking down everybody involved. He just wants people to be honest with him.”

“I understand,” I said.

“Good. Anyway, when dad came home last night he had a really long talk with my mom, I mean, like two hours in their bedroom. I guess he told her the truth. The good news is there was no screaming or anything like that, but mom slept in the guest room last night. Neither of them know what’s going to happen next, but at least they’re talking. So I’m guessing that soon enough Brett’s mom is going to find out my mom knows. I don’t foresee that conversation going very well.”

“How’s Brett handling all this?”

“Not very well. You know Brett. He gets a big idea in his head of how he’s going to do something but then when it actually happens he feels bad about it. All he’s talked about for two weeks now is how he should have just told you he knew instead of dragging you up to Buffalo. He had a picture of how that was going to go that didn’t end up like he thought it would. I don’t know... He’s too impulsive sometimes. He gets an idea in his head and just runs with it without thinking it through. Anyway, I’m on the prom committee and everyday he asks me if you’re going to go. I think he really wants you to go, but he’s afraid to talk to you right now.”

“I really don’t want to go. I don’t want to see a bunch of assholes I hate having a good time when I can’t be with him.”

“You don’t think Brett feels the same way? Look, Billy. I know we’ve never really been the best of friends. We both have our reasons. I know what I did to you was unforgivable. I am sorry. All I know is he’s my brother. I love him. And he’s miserable without you. Yes, he’s angry with you. Can you blame him? You lied to him for two years. But he still loves you. I think if you would just reach out to him and show him you’re sorry… Show him that he means more to you than anything else in your life… I think he’d come around. I know you kept everything about my dad a secret because you wanted to protect him. No one knows better than me how intimidating my dad can be. I think now that Brett has calmed down he’ll be more willing to talk than he was before.”

“I never wanted to hurt him,” I said.

“I know. I think he knows that too. It just turned into such a clusterfuck in the end. Find some way to show him what’s in your heart, because words just aren’t going to cut it with him.”

I thought a lot about what Joey had said to me. I wondered what I was going to do. There was a deadline at the end of school Friday to sign up to go to the prom, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. Should I sign up to go solo? God, that would be humiliating! I guess it’s what I deserved, but I didn’t want to become even more of a loser than I already was. If I was going to go, I definitely needed a date. But who? There was seriously no one left to ask. Even Dougie had found some girl to go with. I heard it was his cousin. Well I didn’t have any female cousins! I barely knew any girls at all.

I sat there at lunch with Dustin and Emily. They didn’t have to worry, they were going together! Dustin was sitting there talking about how some pro baseball scout had talked to him after our last game and I sat there barely paying attention to him.

“I think they were from the northeast from the way they talked. You know how Brett used to talk when he first got here? That’s how they talked. I can’t believe they were actually interested in me! Could you imagine if I actually got drafted?”

I really couldn’t have cared any less about what Dustin was rambling on about. I had problems of my own. But then, I suddenly snapped to attention. “That’s it!”

“What?” Dustin asked.

But I didn’t even answer. I hopped out of my seat and walked determined across the cafeteria and found Mary Caldwell seated by herself. I sat down across from her. Mary had Down Syndrome and while she had been a part of our school forever, it was like I was seeing her for the first time.

“It’s rude to just sit down with someone without asking,” Mary said.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s just… I was wondering if anyone had asked you to go to the prom?”

“Are you joking?” she replied.

“No, I’m serious. If you don’t have a date, would you want to go with me?”

Mary looked at me as if I had grown an extra head. “I thought you were gay,” she said.

“I am,” I replied.

“So why would you want to go to a dance with me?”

“I’m going to be completely honest, Mary. I am gay. I like boys, well, one boy in particular. But I can’t go with him because of the rules. What I really want to do is show the people in charge that they shouldn’t discriminate people just because of who they like. You’re one of the nicest girls in school, and the fact that no one has asked you to the prom sucks. If you want, I’d like to take you. Your ticket is already paid for. All you’d need is a dress.”

Mary thought about it for a minute. “Isn’t Brett Reilly your boyfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“I like him. He’s in some of my classes. He always makes me laugh. Okay, I’ll go with you.”

“Awesome!” I replied. “So pick you up about six or so on Saturday?”

“Four,” Mary replied. “If you’re taking me to this thing you’re taking me out to dinner too.”

I laughed. “Boy, you drive a hard bargain! Okay, four o’clock it is!”

I turned to return to my table, but then I stopped. “You know, you don’t have to sit here by yourself if you don’t want to. My friends and I would be happy if you would sit with us.”

“You wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen with me?” she asked.

“No way! We’d be honored to be seen with you. Seriously. Come sit with us on Monday. Okay?”

“Okay,” she replied.

I walked back to my seat next to Dustin and Em.

“What was that about?” Dustin asked.

“You still on the prom committee?” I asked Emily.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Good,” I said. I pulled out the two tickets my mom had given me from my pocket and handed them to her. “Put me down for myself and a date.”

Emily looked across the cafeteria to Mary and then back to me. She smiled. “Mary Caldwell?” she asked. I just nodded. Em leaned across the table and kissed me on the forehead. “You’re a good man, Billy Roberts,” she said.


Thanks for reading. If you have comments you can reach me at jkwsquirrel@yahoo.com

Next time: Prom Night!