I was hesitant to go to school the next day. I was nervous as I got out of bed and dressed. I placed my ‘new’ clothes over a chair the night before. I had decided on a plaid shirt and a pair of worn jeans. When I looked at myself in the mirror on the door, I didn’t even recognize the boy staring back. It was as if overnight I had transformed from Jacob into Bobby. Jacob was the boy who dressed in a white shirt, black pants, white socks and black loafers. Bobby was…Bobby. I had to admit that I liked my new look, even though he didn’t seem like me. For the first time in my life, I looked in a mirror and liked what I saw. My blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the plaid shirt.
Mrs. Oliver even made a comment when I went downstairs for breakfast. “Would you look at you!” she exclaimed as I sat down to my bowl of cereal. She laughed and added, “Who is this young boy who has replaced Jacob?” My face began to blush because of her amusing comments.
I began eating, and she continued to shuffle around the kitchen. Occasionally, she would look over at me and smile. My heart started to race when I asked her to sit down. She grabbed her coffee off the counter and sat before me.
She looked over worriedly and asked, “Is something wrong, Dear?”
I took a deep breath and asked, “Would you start calling me Bobby?”
I had considered it all night, and the feeling only reinforced itself when I looked at myself in the mirror. I no longer wanted people to call me Jacob. Jacob was the name my father had given me. Since it was obvious he now hated me, I didn’t want to be known by the name he had given me. If I was going to be free from his domination, then I wanted to make a new start. Changing my name to Bobby would be a start. Besides, I had been signing my letters to God for a couple of years as Bobby. It wasn’t something I had come up with overnight.
She gave me a puzzled look. “Why on earth do you want me to call you Bobby?” she asked.
I replied, “I don’t want to be Jacob anymore.”
Mrs. Oliver studied me for a moment before answering, “If you want to be Bobby, then Bobby it is.” I think she understood why I wanted to change my name.
She reached across and patted my hand. “But you’ll have to forgive me if I forget,” she smiled. “After all, I keep calling Sammy, Sammy.” Her eyes opened wide as she laughed. “See what I mean. I meant to say Tiffany.”
She rose from the table and shook her head as she headed toward the counter. She muttered softly, “I’m glad I was born in an earlier age.”
Since it was Friday, the school halls were loud and rowdy when I entered. I held my head down and stared at the floor as I made my way to my first period. I was sure that students would stare and snicker at my new appearance. Although, they had seen me the day before wearing the green polo shirt. A few students seemed to have noticed. A couple of my classmates had joked about my mother forgetting to do the laundry, but other than that, no one seemed to care.
When I took my seat in Mrs. Hawthorne’s English class, Jennifer Mays, the girl who sits beside me, looked over and giggled.
“Good morning, Jacob,” she said with a smile. “How are you today?” I wasn’t sure, but it appeared that she was flirting with me. It was something I had never experienced before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what her intentions were.
I smiled back and said, “I’m okay.”
She scanned my body and then replied, “You look nice today.” She then coyly winked at me. My face began to redden, and I quickly looked away.
At the end of the period when the bell rang, Jennifer stood and walked beside me on the way out. She giggled and asked, “What class do you have next?”
“American history,” I replied.
“Oh, Darn,” she replied with a hint of sadness in her voice. “I have geometry.” She then reached out and held my arm. “I’ll see you later. Okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said as I started to walk away. Just then, two other girls joined Jennifer. I looked back and saw them staring at me.
The same thing happened in a couple of my morning classes. It seemed that for the first time since the first grade, girls were noticing me. Before, I was treated like I had leprosy. If a girl talked to me, it wouldn’t take long for other girls to tease her. Now, it seemed like they wanted my attention. I couldn’t believe that changing my clothes could make such a difference.
When the bell rang for lunch, I was torn as to what I wanted to do. I was hungry, and I did want to eat. However, that meant that I was certain to run into Colton. After my rudeness to him the day before, I wasn’t sure he would want to talk to me again. I considered going to the library to study, but instead, decided that my stomach was winning the battle.
A couple of girls stared and giggled at me when I walked through the cafeteria to get something to eat. Even the cashier gave me a funny look when I paid for my meal. I think she thought I was a new student.
Cathy started to laugh when I approached the table. She slowly let out a whistle and then said excitedly, “Would you look at you!” When I sat down, she smiled and said, “Hi, Handsome.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed, “Just shut up, Cathy.”
She giggled again and said, “If you could see how the girls were looking at you when you came out of the lunch line.” She laughed and said, “Too bad you’re gay. You could get laid tonight if you wanted.”
My eyes widened as I looked around to see if anyone had heard her. “Would you shut up!” I lowered my voice and insisted, “Besides, I’m not gay.”
She smiled and responded sarcastically, “Whatever you say, Jacob.”
I frowned and then asked, “Could you start calling me Bobby?”
She almost fell out of her chair as she laughed. “Bobby?” she shrieked. “Why do you want me to call you Bobby?”
“Shhh,” I said as I again looked around at the nearby tables. “I’m changing my name. I want people to start calling me Bobby.”
“I can’t do that,” she laughed. “You’ve been Jacob since the first grade.”
“But I don’t like that name,” I frowned. She stopped laughing when she saw how upset I was becoming. “I want to be called Bobby.”
She leaned forward with a worried look and asked, “What is going on, Jacob?” When I frowned she said, “Bobby.”
I shrugged my shoulders and then tried to explain. “Jacob is my Christian name. It’s the name my father gave me. I now want people to call me Bobby.”
“So, does that mean you’re no longer a Christian?”
“No,” I insisted. “It’s not like that. Since I’m not living with my father anymore, then I don’t think I should be called Jacob.”
She gave me a puzzled look. “You’re not living with your father?” Suddenly, I remembered that I had told no one about my father kicking me out of my house. “Is that why you’re dressing different, and you want people to call you Bobby?”
Tears started to well up in my eyes, but I fought to hold them back. I nodded and said, “I don’t want to talk about it. Okay?”
She gave me a worried look, patted my hand and assured me if I needed someone to talk to, I could trust her. Since we had only been talking for a few days, I wasn’t comfortable in confiding my problems with her. However, I felt I could trust her. She had already assumed I was gay, and she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. Well, at least as far as I could tell.
We were eating when Cathy looked across the room and started smiling. “Don’t look now, but your boyfriend is approaching.”
My heart started racing as I took another bite of the dry cheeseburger. I didn’t look up when Colton sat down beside me. He looked over and asked, “How’s it going, Guys?”
“Bobby?” asked Cathy. “Didn’t you hear Colton?”
I could hear the confused tone in Colton’s voice when he asked, “Who’s Bobby?”
I started to stop Cathy before she began to explain my sudden name change to him. I was testing Cathy to see if I really wanted to change my name. Now, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea when I heard Colton utter it. I took another bite of my sandwich as Cathy giggled and explained why I wanted to be called Bobby.
When Colton reached out and touched my arm, I quickly pulled it away. “I think it’s a good idea,” he responded as he looked into my eyes. He laughed slightly and added, “Besides, Jacob sounds like an old man from the Bible.”
When I didn’t respond, he muttered softly, “Sorry. I hope I didn’t offend you.”
“It’s okay,” I replied as I looked over at Cathy. I’m sure she was puzzled by my cold attitude towards Colton. Just the day before, we had been bantering back and forth like old friends.
I took a last bite from my cheeseburger, grabbed my book bag and stood. I looked down and apologized, “Sorry, but I have to go to the library.” I then turned and hurried towards the door.
Before getting there, I heard Colton behind me. “Hey, wait up,” he pleaded as he grabbed my arm.
I looked down and pulled his arm away. “Just leave me alone,” I turned and rushed out the door. I expected him to follow, but he didn’t. I knew what I was doing was wrong. Colton only wanted to be a friend, but I couldn’t bear the temptation when he was around me. I knew that if I let him into my protected world, then sooner or later I would do something I would regret. I had to be careful.
Something startling happened at the end of the day. Minutes before the final bell, a student came to the door and handed Ms. Summers some papers. She scanned the top one before turning and distributing one to each student.
She appeared apprehensive when she handed me one. When I began reading it, other students turned and started to stare at me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. There was to be an emergency meeting of the school board Monday tonight. It appears my father had requested the meeting at the request of a few of his church members.
The subject of the meeting: The sexual perversion and voyeurism occurring in the girls’ restroom by a male member of our school.
The flyer was attempting to encourage other parents to participate. I immediately knew what had happened. I was afraid it would when I saw Tiffany enter the girls’ restroom. I knew it wouldn’t be long before some girls would object to her presence there. It also made sense that my father would lead the charge against such a travesty. Looking around the room as other students read the flier, I could only think that our community might never be the same after the meeting.
On Sundays, my father preached to several hundred members of our community. After Monday evening, his wrath would be spread throughout it. I knew him well enough to know that he was powerful and persuasive. As I looked over at Tiffany, I began to fear that her life may be in more danger after my father addressed the board meeting.
When the bell rang, she grabbed her book bag and quickly headed for the door. As I entered the hall, once again Darryl Standifer had her cornered against the wall.
“Well, well, well,” he sneered. “The little school pervert has finally been exposed.” Students began to gather as he talked louder.
He looked at his friends and started laughing. “You know,” he stated smugly, “Little Miss Thing has something here. Maybe if I dress up like a girl, I can go into the girls’ restroom and scope all the pussy I want.” He looked at Sheila Hicks and winked. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” As her face turned red as everyone laughed, she turned and made her way through the throng of students.
Tiffany attempted to move around Darryl. “Let me go catch the bus,” she pleaded softly as she clutched her book bag tightly.
Darryl grabbed her arm and tried to pull her down the hall toward the girls’ restroom. “Maybe you want to go see some pussy,” he laughed. Just then, he reached down and grabbed Tiffany’s crotch. He quickly pulled his hand away.
“Damn!” he shouted as he held up his hand. “Dude is packing down there!”
Tiffany looked horrified. She had been sexually assaulted in the hallway filled with laughing students. Suddenly, someone from the back shouted out, “Leave her alone, you Mother Fucker!”
I didn’t even have to turn to see who had threatened Darryl. It was Colton. Students began to push me aside as Colton made his way through the mass of students. I felt ashamed because I had watched things unfold in the hallway without jumping to help Tiffany. Before, I had stood up to Darryl on a couple of occasions. This time I was too stunned to react.
Darryl laughed and stated jokingly, “Here comes Wilder to protect his bitch again.”
The look on Colton’s face was filled with rage. He didn’t say anything as he lifted his fist and hit Darryl in his left temple. Darryl stumbled back and fell against the locker.
Colton quickly reached down and grabbed Tiffany’s hand. “Come on,” he said as he pulled her through the crowded hall. I pushed students aside as I attempted to catch up with them.
Once outside, Colton started shaking his right hand. “Damn,” he moaned as he closely inspected it. “I think I busted it.”
We continued to walk at a steady pace. Occasionally, I would look back to see if Darryl and his friends were following. When we were a block from school, I reached out and stopped Colton. He continued to hold his right hand.
“Let me see,” I insisted as I reached out and inspected his hurt hand. It was red and quickly swelling.
Tiffany stepped up beside me, looked down and asked worriedly, “Is he okay?”
I touched his hand, and Colton pulled it back quickly. “Ouch,” he screamed. “That hurts like hell.”
“We’d better get you home,” I suggested. “You may need to go to the hospital.”
“I can’t,” he said as he looked at his watch. “Mom and Dad won’t be home for a few hours. Besides,” he continued, “my little brothers and sisters will be home soon. They’ll want to know what happened.”
Tiffany gave me a quick glance. “Maybe we should take him to Nana’s,” she suggested. “She’ll know what to do.”
When he asked who Nana was, Tiffany explained to Colton that she was her grandmother. He nodded his head. I had told him the day before that I was now living with Tiffany’s grandmother.
Mrs. Oliver was digging up dead plants from her garden. Since summer was over, many of the plants were now withered and dead. She stood and stared when the three of us entered the back gate. She studied us carefully before asking, “Is anything wrong?” I guess she couldn’t figure out why I was coming home with Tiffany and another boy.
Tiffany grabbed Colton by the arm and pulled him toward his grandmother. She lifted his hurt hand for her to examine. “He thinks he broke his hand,” she informed her.
Mrs. Oliver turned it as she examined it. “Oh, my,” she muttered as she looked into Colton’s face. “It doesn't appear to be broken. You may have bruised it badly, though. How did you do this, Dear?”
Tiffany blurted out excitedly, “He hit a boy in the face at school.”
“Oh, Dear,” she exclaimed as she put her arm around Colton’s back and led him toward the back door. “You’d better tell me about this.”
She had Colton sit down as she went to the refrigerator, took out a tray of ice and poured it into a dish towel. She then took his hand and gently placed the ice on it. He winced as she said, “This should help with the swelling until you can get to the hospital. You should have it checked out.”
“I can’t go to the hospital,” he lamented. “My dad will kill me.”
Tiffany and I sat down and looked worriedly at Colton. It was obvious he didn’t want his father to find out he had been in a fight at school. Mrs. Oliver looked over at Tiffany and asked, “Would you tell me what happened?”
Tiffany looked over at Colton to see what his reaction was. He nodded slightly to let her know she could tell her grandmother. Tiffany reached into her book bag and pulled out the flyer we had been given at school. Mrs. Oliver took a minute to read over it.
When she finished, she looked worriedly at Tiffany and asked, “Are you okay, Sweetheart?” She nodded, and then her grandmother looked at Colton.
His face reddened when she asked, “Does this have anything to do with your hand?”
He muttered softly, “Kind of.”
I sat quietly and listened as Tiffany explained the encounter with Darryl after school. She explained how Colton had stopped him from harassing her by hitting him in the side of the face. When she finished, Mrs. Oliver was visibly upset. She didn’t say anything as she rose from the table and left the room. A minute later, she returned with her coat on.
“Where are you going?” asked Tiffany as she watched her grandmother button up her coat.
She stated angrily, “To your school to talk to Mrs. Edwards.”
Tiffany rose to stop her from leaving. “You’ll only make things worse,” she pleaded.
Mrs. Oliver reached up and rubbed Tiffany’s left cheek. “It can’t get much worse, Sweetheart,” she said as she turned and headed out the door.
Colton looked at Tiffany and asked worriedly, “What is your grandmother going to do?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I haven’t been around her much. We just moved here a couple of weeks ago.” She looked at me, “How about you? Do you know her very well?”
“She goes to my Dad’s church,” I explained. “I’ve known her since I was little. She can stir up some trouble when she wants, I guess. She’s argued with my father a few times, and she doesn’t back down.”
I remembered the time that she and my father got into a heated argument when I was around ten. A restaurant in town had announced that they were going to provide free meals on Thanksgiving Day to the homeless. My father preached the Sunday before against such an action. He warned that it would only encourage more vagrants into our town. He suggested that many of them had criminal records and were known degenerates.
Mrs. Oliver challenged him later that he wasn’t exhibiting a very Christ-like attitude. She insisted that Jesus never turned away people in need. When my father got in her face and yelled at her, she had hit him in his shin with her cane. Some members still reminisce about my father limping from the building in a fit of rage.
Only recently she had informed me that she was thinking of leaving the church and taking many members with her. She appeared ready for a fight with my father. I only wish that I had half the courage she possessed when standing up to my father.
I stood and walked over to the refrigerator, took out a gallon of milk and placed it on the table. I then removed three glasses from the cupboard. As I looked for snacks, Tiffany filled the glasses with milk.
“Ta dum,” I exclaimed proudly as I discovered a bag of sugar cookies. For the next few minutes we chatted as we ate.
I looked down at Colton’s hand. He was still pressing the ice to it. I asked, “How come you don’t want your dad to know you hurt your hand?”
“It’s not that I don’t want him to know,” he explained. “I just don’t want him to know how I hurt it. He’ll be mad I got in a fight at school. I’m the older brother, and I’m supposed to set an example for my younger brothers and sisters.”
He shook his head sorrowfully and added, “I’ll really get my ass put through the grinder if I get suspended from school for fighting.”
“I don’t think any teacher saw it,” I remarked. “And I doubt Darryl will say anything.”
“Oh, he’ll say plenty,” lamented Colton. “As soon as I walk in the building tomorrow.”
For the first time Tiffany spoke. “You didn’t have to defend me anyway,” she said. “I can take care of myself.”
“Look,” Colton replied as he scanned Tiffany’s body. “I don’t know much about you,” he said, “but you don’t appear to be very strong.”
Tiffany huffed, “I’m used to it. I can take care of myself.”
“Well,” he shot back, “You’re not doing a very good job of it. You just let people pick on you and you don’t do anything.”
Tears started to well up in Tiffany’s eyes. “Do you think it’s easy? Huh? Do you realize how much strength it takes me to just get through each day?”
We watched as tears started to fall down Tiffany’s cheek. Colton quickly apologized. “I’m sorry, Okay? I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“It’s okay,” she replied as she wiped tears from her eyes with her sleeve. “My mascara’s running,” she giggled as she jumped from the table. “I’ll be right back.”
When she left, I looked down at Colton’s swollen hand. I reached out and gingerly examined it. When I did, Colton rested his hand over mine. I quickly jumped up from the table, grabbed the empty glasses and rushed over to the kitchen sink.
“You’re doing it again,” he growled as he frowned at me.
“Doing what?” I questioned as I looked down at him.
“Pushing yourself away from me,” he replied. “Every time I try to get close to you, you push me away.”
I turned back to the sink, rinsed the cups and insisted, “I’m not pushing you away.”
“Yes, you are,” he said as he stepped up behind me and put his left hand on my waist.
Before I realized what I was doing, I stepped back and pushed him away. We stared at each other before we began to a laugh. “I guess I am pushing you away,” I giggled.
“Yes, you are,” he smiled as he took a step closer to me. He held up his hands and said, “I promise I’m not going to do anything.” Before I knew what he was doing, he leaned in and kissed me quickly on the lips.
I stepped back as my eyes widened. “Okay,” he apologized with a laugh, “I lied.”
Just then, we turned when we realized that Tiffany had entered the room, and she had seen what had just happened.