It was a slow walk to school. The weather was getting cooler. The sky was dark and dreary, just like my mood. It had been almost a week since I had been to school. The incident happened on Friday, and it was now the following Thursday. Images of what had been said about me in my absence were messing with my mind. It could not be good.
I entered the double doors of the high school and cautiously walked down the hall to my locker. I had traveled the journey hundreds of times, but today I was not that invisible soul marching quietly along unnoticed by loud, rambunctious students.
Other students stared at me as I walked along with my head down. I could feel them staring even though I dared not meet their eyes. I could hear them abruptly end their conversations, and I could feel their eyes follow me as I walked quickly past them.
When I arrived at my locker, Todd was waiting for me. For the first time this morning, I felt good. Just seeing him standing there made me feel safe. But my happiness was short-lived as Shaun walked by me.
His locker was next to mine. We had been neighbors throughout our three years of high school. I always enjoyed seeing him every morning. We usually bantered back and forth, starting our day with a laugh. My exchange with Shaun usually set the tone for a fun day.
This morning was different. He didn’t say anything hateful to me like the last time I saw him. He glanced a couple of times at me and Todd. I guess he was trying to decide if we were together. When he slammed his locker shut, I jumped. I guess I thought he was going to hit me or something.
Todd was carefully watching me. I knew he had my back in case Shaun wanted to start something. However, he didn’t say anything. He just looked at me sadly and walked away.
I retrieved the books I needed for my morning classes and closed my locker. I turned to Todd and asked, “You ready?”
“Ready,” he replied.
As we started to walk away, I noticed trouble coming our way. Billy Hanson and Robert Clayton were approaching. They were the two guys who had held me in the restroom while Josh hit me. They were members of the football team and friends of Todd’s brother. By the scowls on their faces, it didn’t look good.
“Hey faggot, how’s the arm?” They both started laughing as they circled me, pushing Todd roughly out of the way.
Everyone in the hallway stopped walking. They could sense a fight. I could see students running towards us in all directions, hungry for some early morning excitement.
“Leave me alone guys. I haven’t done anything to you.” I was scared. I could feel my body shaking. I had to put up a brave appearance if I was going to survive. I didn’t want the reputation as a wimpy sissy to follow me around the rest of my high school years.
“Yes, you did, Fag. You perved on us,” said Billy as they laughed and moved in closer to me. I flinched, waiting for their fists to make contact with my body. I was still sore from my earlier beating. It was going to hurt like hell.
“Leave him the fuck alone!” Someone shouted from outside the crowd. I could sense movement as someone was pushing students out of the way to get to us.
“Touch him, Mother Fuckers, and you’re dead!” Suddenly, Josh emerged from the crowd. He had his fists balled tightly and was red-faced with anger. He was prepared for a fight.
Billy and Robert took a step back from me, but they didn’t back down from Josh. They stared angrily at each other. “What’s the matter Joshie, getting soft on us?” Robert spat. “You turning into one of them, too.”
“Shut the fuck up, Clayton. I’ll take you out right here.” As he spoke to Robert, he was slowly stepping between me and his two friends. I couldn’t believe Josh Mathews was protecting me.
“Yeah,” sneered Billy. “You and whose army? The way I see it, there are two of us and only one of you.” He began to approach Josh.
“You don’t count too good, Shithead!” A voice shouted from the crowd. Carl Hobson then stepped forward and put his arm over my shoulder. Carl was the center on the basketball team. We had played together for the past two years. He was a star player, and it was rumored that several colleges would be scouting him this year.
Robert and Billy looked back and forth between Josh and Carl. Josh had an imposing body, but Carl was tall- really tall. He towered over me as he kept his arm protectively around me.
“Yeah, Fuckers! You need to go back to basic math.” Next, Bobby Watson emerged from the throng of students and stood next to Josh. Bobby was also a member of the basketball team. He sat on the bench a lot, like I did, but he usually got a lot more playing time. He reached out and pulled Todd in close to him.
“You got anything else to say, Mother Fuckers?” Josh got up in Billy’s face and poked his finger into his chest. “You come anywhere near Carson or my little brother again, and I’ll kick your ass so hard they’ll have to have a cleaning crew come in here and wipe your shit off the walls,” Josh spat angrily. Several students started giggling.
“Whatever, Fucker,” replied Billy. He was trying to act cool and put on a brave front, but you could see the fear in his eyes. He tried to stare Josh down, but he quickly averted his eyes.
“Come on, Clayton,” he muttered. “This piece of shit ain’t worth it.” He angrily looked at me, then he and Robert broke through the crowd and stormed away.
Students began to disperse. They were disappointed that they hadn’t seen a fight. The tardy bell rang, and students began running in all directions. I knew that the confrontation would be the talk of the school for the rest of the morning.
“Todd, you get to class. Carson you come with me,” Josh ordered while grabbing my arm and pulling me with him down the hall. Todd stood for a minute wanting to follow, but Josh hollered back, “Now!” He turned and headed off to class.
He let go of the grasp he had on my arm and threw an arm around my shoulder. “We’ve got to talk.” That was the only thing he said as he led me in the direction of the gym. We entered, and he took me into a side room. It was the weight room where we came to work out after school.
“Sit down, Gary.” He pointed to one of the weight benches. I walked over and took a seat. Josh paced back and forth. He suddenly stopped and knelt in front of me.
“Look, Little Bro. I really don’t know what to say here. There isn’t anything I can say to make up to you for what I did. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened.”
Tears were beginning to form in his eyes. I knew he was opening up his heart to me. He was very vulnerable, and he was exposing all his feelings for me to see. Before me was one of the strongest and most athletic guys in the school completely devastated.
“I couldn’t believe it when your mother came by the other night and talked me out of going to Mr. Snow. I still don’t understand. I beat the shit out of you, and you don’t want revenge?” I looked into his face and watched more tears forming in his eyes. I wanted to reach up and wipe them away like I did to his brother, but I knew better than to do that.
“It wasn’t all your fault,” I responded. “I provoked you.”
“Maybe you did, but I still shouldn’t have done what I did. Billy and Robert were there, and I guess I didn’t want to look weak in front of them. When you jumped me, things just got out of hand.” He hung his head and wiped away some falling tears.
“Look what I did to you. You’ve got your arm in a cast, and Todd said I broke two of your ribs. Oh, God!” He lost all composure. I looked at his dejected body and my heart was breaking. I reached for his arm and held it.
“I forgive you,” I whispered.
“I said I forgive you.” This time a little louder.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Yes, it is. I forgive you. Sometimes it can be just that simple.” He looked up at me, and our eyes met. Man, he’s got those penetrating blue eyes just like his brother, I thought.
“I know you’re sorry, and you regret what you did to me. Getting you suspended and ruining your future wouldn’t make me feel any happier,” I told him. “Maybe we can’t change what happened, but I can forgive you.”
“Little Bro, you’re a very special guy,” he said as a smile appeared. “It takes a big man to do what you’re doing. If someone had done to Todd what I did to you, I’m not too sure I could forgive them.”
I was really beginning to feel close to Josh. He kept calling me Little Bro. It made me feel good. I had grown up as an only child, and I had always wanted a brother. I always thought I would like to have been the older brother; however, being Josh’s younger brother was fine with me.
I didn’t know what else to say to him. I did feel good about the decision I made. Josh really was a good guy. He just made a mistake. Unfortunately, I had been on the opposite side of his fist when he made it.
“I still have to make it up to you, somehow,” he insisted.
“Just keep calling me, Little Bro,” I replied with smile. “I like that.”
We both stood at the same time. He threw his arms around me and we embraced. We stood there for a minute rocking back and forth. It was nothing sexual, just a bonding of friendship. Josh was the brother I always wanted.
Josh was the first to speak. “We better get to class.” He let go of me and wiped the remaining tears from his face. My eyes were a little misty, also.
“Yeah. I guess we better,” I said. “We’re going to be in a shitload of trouble. I’ve missed half of my physiology class.”
“You think that’s bad,” he frowned. “I’ve missed most of your mother’s calculus class. I’m kinda at the top of her shit list right now.”
“Maybe I can help,” I replied. “I have inside connections.”
“I doubt it,” he added worriedly.
I reached out and touched his arm. “Thanks for what you did earlier.”
“Hey, you’re my Little Bro now. I gotta protect you,” he beamed proudly.
“I may have to take you up on that sometime.” My smile quickly left my face. “I guess I’m the school fag now.”
“No one is going to mess with you or Todd while I’m around. Don’t worry,” Josh said reassuringly. “You’ve also got Carl and Bobby watching your back. You have more friends than you think. Not everyone in this school is as narrow-minded as Hanson and Clayton.”
“I hope so,” I said apprehensively.
He asked, “Are you coming over to see Todd later?”
“Yeah, we’re going to work on our homework together.”
“He likes you a lot, you know?”
“I know. I like him a lot, too.” Here come the red cheeks again.
Josh pulled me into him and placed his arm around my shoulder. We walked out of the gym and down the hall together.
It felt nice to have a big brother.