"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America." -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020
I awoke early the next morning. It was Monday, and I hadn’t been in school for several days. I knew Nettleman would be waiting for me to do something again. I had attended school for twelve years, and I had never once been in trouble. Now, Nettleman would be watching me so he could suspend me again. I had to be careful. I would be graduating in a few months, and I had to keep my grades up. I still had my application in at a couple of universities, and I couldn’t risk a bad report on my record.
I was also worried about Dan and the other guys. Jeremy and Stephan had also been at the protest Saturday with Dan. By now, all the guys would know that I had been arrested because I had joined the ‘other side,’ and I had tried to protect Dan from hurting Darius. The last thing I wanted was a confrontation. However, I couldn’t see how I would be able to avoid one. It appeared our school may be becoming more divisive. Natalie said that over a hundred students were willing to join the protesters at the next rally. I could envision a lot of trouble erupting on campus if the two sides confronted each other. I’m sure Dan would be willing to lead the racist group. I was worried that Natalie might try to take a stand and lead those students who supported Rosemont. One thing was for sure, Somerset High School would never be the same.
There was no one in the kitchen when I went downstairs. Mom and Dad sometimes leave early for work, so it isn’t unusual for me to eat breakfast alone. I was drinking orange juice when my phone rang. It was Natalie. She wanted me to stop by and pick her up on the way to school.
“What’s wrong with your car?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she replied. “I just wanted to ride with you today.” I was going to question her more, but I understood what she was doing. After Dan had thrown the brick at my car yesterday, she didn’t want me to arrive at school by myself. It is a shame that I now had to worry about someone who had previously been a good friend. I’m not sure what good Natalie would be if I was assaulted, but at least she would be a witness to anything that happens.
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” I informed her.
She was waiting outside with Becky when I drove up. Natalie jumped into the front seat while Becky said hello and got into the back. Natalie immediately began to talk about what might happen at school. “We’re going to try to recruit more students to join us at the next protest,” she said.
I looked over and gave her a worried look. “You know Nettleman is going to be pissed if you do this?”
“I don’t care about Nettleman,” she replied angrily. “He can kiss my ass.” Becky began to giggle in the back seat.
I said, “Nettleman is going to try and protect the school’s image. He’s already told my Dad that. If you go stirring up trouble, he’s going to suspend you.”
“I wish he would,” replied Natalie. “I have every right to organize students to peacefully protest. If he tries to stop me, I’ll go to the nearest reporter and tell them what is going on.”
I shook my head and replied, “This is getting way out of hand. Can’t things just settle down until we graduate?”
“It’s too late for that,” said Natalie. “We didn’t ask for this fight, but it came to us. If we back away now, Somerset will always be a racist community. We’ve got people who are ready to make a change.”
“But does it have to be now?” I complained.
Traffic was backed up for two blocks from the school. There were police cars everywhere. Many were from nearby neighborhoods. “What’s happened?” asked Becky as she rolled down the window and stuck her head out. She hollered at a girl walking on the sidewalk clutching her book bag. “Carolyn! What’s going on?”
Carolyn walked over to the car. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I heard someone say the school is being locked down.” She opened the door and climbed inside. “Hi, Parker. Can I get a ride?”
I laughed and replied, “Sure, since you’re already inside.”
We slowly approached the school. There was a mass of protesters assembled across the street from the school. They appeared to be peaceful. Most were waving BLM signs. I scanned the group for Darius, but I didn’t see him. As we were pulling into the parking lot, I was stopped by two officers. One leaned down and looked into the car. “Do you have any weapons in the car?” he asked. He held out his hand and asked Carolyn for her bookbag. Carolyn started to protest, but I told her to do what he asked. I knew if she didn’t, they would probably pull her from the car.
“What’s going on?” I asked as he searched her bag. He handed it back to her, and then he told me to pop open the trunk of the car. I did as he requested, and I looked in the mirror as the other officer searched the trunk. I asked again what was happening.
He answered abruptly, “I’m not authorized to tell you. All I want you to do is comply with my orders.” I looked over and gave Natalie a worried look. The officer at the rear of the car closed the trunk and nodded at the officer at the window. He ordered, “You’re free to go.” I slowly pulled off and found a parking place in the student parking.
“What was that all about?” asked Becky. “They were searching for guns. Do you think there’s been a threat made against the school?”
Natalie replied angrily, “After what’s been going on in Somerset the past week, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did make threats.” She gripped my hand as we walked slowly toward the school. We were surprised to see an armed policeman standing guard at the entrance.
The halls were eerily quiet when we entered. By the looks on everyone’s face, they appeared to me as much surprised by what was happening as much as I was. We were used to seeing Anderson patrolling the halls, but we had never been greeted by a policeman carrying an assault rifle.
“They’re just trying to scare us,” said Natalie. “They want us to think that our lives are in danger because of the protesters across the street.”
I replied, “Morgan is probably behind all this. He’ll do anything to take the focus off his department.”
“I heard my father talking last night,” said Becky. “He told our neighbor that he heard that Morgan might be asked to resign.”
“Good,” I responded. “He should resign.”
Just then, Mr. Nettleman came strutting down the hall. “Hurry to class,” he hollered out. “Anyone in the halls after the bells ring will be suspended.” He looked at me and grinned. “Isn’t that right, Parker?” I wanted to flip him off, but Natalie grabbed my hand.
“Don’t, Parker,” she warned. “He would love to have a reason to suspend you again.”
“When they get through with Chief Morgan,” I said, “I hope they get Nettleman’s ass.”
Becky giggled and said, “I hope they do it before we graduate. That would be a great graduation present.” Natalie high-fived her. After a quick goodbye, we headed to our first period class.
Mrs. Gillespie, my Spanish teacher, was waiting at the door and hurrying students into the room. I was a fourth-year student, and I spoke Spanish fluently. It was also one of the few classes I didn’t share with the other guys. Most had dropped out after the required two years of a foreign language. They said they didn’t know why they had to learn to speak Spanish since they would never go to Mexico. It was usually followed by negative comments about Hispanics entering the United States illegally and living off our tax dollars. I once reminded them that they didn’t have jobs and didn’t pay taxes. Dan went on a long rant about how America should only be for Americans. He became more upset when I told him that his family had immigrated generations ago from Ireland, but he said that was different. When I asked him how, he threw a bottle of water at me.
Halfway through class, Mrs. Stewart, the assistant principal, came over the intercom and told us that we were to assemble in the auditorium. She said we would be called by grade level, and that all seniors should immediately report. I looked around the room as everyone rose and started leaving the room.
Anita asked Jill, “What do you think this is about?”
Jill responded, “Those niggers are probably planning to shoot up the building.” I balled my fist, and I was going to hit her. However, I quickly decided that I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day in jail. Morgan would have loved to incarcerate me again.
After twenty minutes, everyone had arrived and taken a seat. Nettleman came onstage and peered out at us. There was an immediate hush throughout the auditorium. Natalie was sitting beside me and prevented me from laughing out loud. She grabbed my hand when Chief Morgan walked on stage. He scanned the front rows where the seniors were sitting. When he saw me, a smirk formed on his lips.
“Asshole,” I muttered softly so only Natalie could hear. She gripped my hand tighter.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” began Nettleman. “I know you’re wondering why I’ve called you here this morning.”
“To cover your ass,” I muttered softly. Natalie started giggling.
He looked over at Morgan and said, “Chief Morgan informed me late last night that there was a serious threat made against Somerset High School.” He paused and looked out into the auditorium. “As you know, there have been protests going on all week across the street. There was even a violent incident last night at a protest event downtown.” He paused and looked down at me. I would have flipped him off, but Natalie held my hand tightly. I looked at the row in front of me where Dan usually sits, but he wasn’t there sitting with the others.
He continued, “Chief Morgan has reason to believe that the threat imposes a danger to our school and students.” There were audible gasps throughout the auditorium. He turned to Morgan and said, “I’ll let Chief Morgan explain.”
Morgan cleared his throat. I wanted to laugh because he was trying to act professionally. He pulled his pants up and tucked his shirt inside. He then gripped his gun as a show of authority.
Natalie leaned over and whispered, “He looks like a country hick.” He looked like a fool as he tried to impress us with his authority. He pulled out a notepad and began reading.
“At eleven twenty-three last night,” he read, “my department received a phone call by an anonymous caller. He said that there would be a shooting today at Somerset High School.” Again, I could hear gasps coming from around the room. “That is why you saw a strong police presence when you arrived this morning.”
He pulled up his pants again and gripped the gun in its holster. “We will be here the rest of the week to provide for your safety. What Mr. Nettleman and I want you to do is be aware of your surroundings. If you see anyone who looks suspicious, immediately tell a teacher or an officer patrolling the building.”
I leaned over and whispered to Natalie, “He means a black person.” She shook her head and frowned.
“When you leave the building this afternoon, go directly to your bus or car. Don’t hang around outside on the sidewalk. It might be dangerous. If you walk to school, my officers will be patrolling the streets to assure your safety.” He looked at Nettleman and nodded.
Nettleman began to speak. “A flyer has been printed, and it will be distributed to you in your last period. It will explain what we have told you. Take it home to your parents so they will be aware of what is going on. In addition, all afterschool activities will be cancelled for the remainder of the week.” I looked around as the senior players on the basketball team let out a loud groan.
“I’m sorry this is happening,” continued Nettleman, “but it is the times we now live in. A few people want to take control by mob rule.” I started to stand and holler at Nettleman, but Natalie held me back.
“Don’t, Parker,” she warned. “He’ll expel you if you say something.” As if he heard her warning, he looked down with a smirk on his face.
“You are dismissed to go to class.” He looked at his watch. “Report immediately to your second period class.”
“Assholes,” I muttered as I stood.
Natalie said, “I would bet my left tit that Dan was the one who made that call.”
I looked at her astonishingly. “I didn’t consider that,” I replied. “He would do it just to provoke more trouble.”
As we were leaving the auditorium, Natalie replied, “If he did, then he got the result he wanted. Now, all the students are going to be scared of a protester shooting up the school.”
“Fucker,” I replied. We hugged and headed to our second period classes.
The rest of the day consisted of rumors about what was happening. By fifth period everyone was convinced that a masked black man would enter the building with an assault rifle and shoot as many students as he could. I was embarrassed by their reactions. If they had half a cell in their brains, they would see how ridiculous they were. I had met Darius and his friends. They had welcomed me into their lives. I sat at a black diner and ate with them. I joined them downtown as they protested, and I sat for a few hours beside Darius in a jail cell. They didn’t present a danger to them. Their own racist behavior did.
I received a text message from Darius sixth period. He asked if I could meet him at Charley’s after school. I asked him why, but he said he would tell me when I get there. When the bell rang, Natalie was waiting for me at my car. I had forgotten that she rode with me to school. I was in a hurry to meet Darius, and I didn’t want to tell her. I knew if I did, she would want to go with me. I was hoping he wanted to meet me for something other than the protest, and I didn’t want her to be in the way.
Police cars were lined along the sidewalk. The protesters had left like they usually do after school begins. I thought it was ridiculous to waste so much manpower over something that didn’t exist. However, they were following Morgan’s orders, and they had to do as they were told. I grew angry when I passed a cruiser with Anderson in it.
“He should have been kicked off the force after your video was posted on Youtube,” said Natalie angrily.
“Dad says it has something to do with due process,” I informed her.
“What’s that mean?”
I laughed and answered with Dad’s response when I asked him, “Cover your ass.” Natalie broke out in laughter.
“They’re going to need a tent to cover Anderson’s ass,” she laughed.
As I drove her home, Natalie looked over and asked, “Why are you so nervous?”
“Why do ask that?”
“You haven’t said a word since we left school,” she replied. “And you’re drumming your fingers on the steering wheel. You only do that when you’re nervous.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I insisted.
She asked excitedly, “Do you want to stop by the mall? I need a new dress for graduation. You can help me pick it out.” She began giggling. “I heard that gay guys have good taste in fashion.”
“Funny,” I replied as I rolled my eyes. Before I realized what I was saying, I added, “Besides, I can’t. I have somewhere else to go.”
“Oh really,” remarked Natalie as she gave me a puzzled look. “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier? Where are you going that helping me pick out a dress is more important.”
“Nowhere special,” I replied. I hoped she would drop the subject, but she became even more interested.
“This must be good,” she laughed. “Your face is turning red.”
“My face isn’t turning red,” I insisted angrily.
“Oh,” she laughed. “And now you’re getting all pissy.” I gave her and angry look. “I got it,” she said as she snapped her fingers. “You’re meeting your lover boy.”
“Just shut up, Natalie,” I said as I gave her a cold look.
She gripped my arm and asked, “Are you meeting Darius? I’m sorry if I upset you.”
I sighed and replied, “He texted me last period, and he wants to meet me.”
“No,” I said. “If I tell you, you’ll want to go.”
She giggled and replied, “I don’t want to go to his bedroom with you.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “I’m not meeting him in his bedroom. We’re going to get a bite to eat at Charley’s.” She asked me where it was, and I explained how they had the best chicken wings I had ever eaten. After a ten-minute argument, I finally convinced Natalie that I wanted to meet Darius alone. She only consented when I promised her that I would take her to Charley’s soon to try the delicious wings.
Since it was early, there weren’t a lot of people in the diner. I looked for Darius’ car when I pulled into the parking lot, but I didn’t see it. I sat in my car waiting for him to pull in when Myles pulled up beside me. He got out with a wide grin on his face.
“Hey, Parker,” he said cheerfully when I got out of the car. I tensed up when he pulled me into a hug. He stepped back and laughed. “Calm down, Dearie,” he said. “It’s just a friendly hug. I’m not going to rape you.”
I laughed, looked at his slim body and replied jokingly, “I don’t think you are man enough.”
“Oh,” he said, “I’m man enough. I just don’t think you are man enough to take it.” He put his arm around my waist and led me into the diner.
Stephanie smiled when she saw us. She led us to a table and handed us a menu. “It’s good to see you again, Paul.”
“Parker,” said Myles as he corrected her.
“Of course,” she giggled. “Parker and Darius.” She winked and walked away.
I asked Myles, “Where is Darius? I’m supposed to meet him here.”
He looked at his watch. “He had a meeting he had to attend with his father and a few other people. He’ll be here soon,” he assured me.
“Is it about the protest?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Darius tries to keep me out of it.” He picked up a knife and pointed it. “He knows how I can be.” He laughed and put the knife on the table.
“Remind me never to mess with you,” I laughed.
“Sweetie,” he replied, “you’ve got nothing to worry about.” He then studied me for a second and added, “Unless…”
“Unless what?” He started to answer me, but Stephanie walked up and took our orders. I ordered six wings and fries. Myles had a chicken sandwich and salad.
After she walked away, I asked Myles. “What were you going to say? Unless what?”
He looked around the restaurant to make sure no one was listening. “Unless you fuck around with Darius’ emotions.”
I asked, “Why do you say that?”
He leaned closer toward me. “What I’m going to tell you, you can’t tell Darius. Understand?” I nodded my head.
He studied me again before speaking. “Darius ain’t never been with a guy.”
I asked, “But isn’t he gay?”
“Of course, he’s gay,” replied Myles. “He’s just never been with a guy before.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because he likes you,” he said. “I’ve never seen him like this over anyone before. You’re all he talks about.”
“Why me?” I knew I liked Darius since the first time I saw him speaking outside the school after the incident in the gym. I had no idea he was feeling the same way.
“It’s crazy,” replied Myles. “He told me he saw you in the crowd one morning, and he knew then that something was different about you.”
“Holy shit,” I responded. Darius felt the same way about me that I felt about him the first time we saw each other.
“Then when he found out you were the one who filmed that beating with the cop, he believes it is fate that brought you together.” I just sat and stared at Myles. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me.
Myles reached over and gripped my arm. “Don’t hurt him,” he begged. “I love Darius like a brother, and I don’t want to see him get hurt.”
“I have no intention of hurting him,” I promised. “Besides, we just met. We hardly know each other.”
He winked and replied, “I think that is about to change. He told me about your kiss.” My face instantly began to redden.
“He told you?”
Myles smiled and said, “He tells me everything.” He gripped my arm again. “This is going to sound weird, but for some reason I believe Darius. When you two are together, it’s like magic.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I replied. I was at a loss for words. I knew that something was special between us, but I just figured it was a friendship that was developing. Myles made it seem like it was something more.
I looked over Mile’s shoulder and saw Darius approaching. Myles saw the look on my face and smiled. He leaned forward and whispered, “This was just between us. Okay?”
I nodded and scooted over so Darius could sit beside me. He smiled and asked, “Were you talking about me?”
“Honey,” replied Myles, “We’ve got more interesting things to talk about than you.”
We laughed when Darius rolled his eyes and said, “Whatever.”