Owen stood in the middle of Ned’s room and yelled, “He did what!”
Ned looked up at Owen and responded, “I tell you,” he warned, “Lucas is friggin’ crazy.”
Mac and Robbie were sitting on the bed beside him. Ned had called the three boys to his house after Lucas fled with his laptop computer. He thought he should warn them about Lucas’s strange behavior in case he showed up at their house.
Ned rose from the bed and paced around the room. “My dad is going to fucking kill me when he finds out I don’t have my laptop.” He looked down worriedly at Mac and Robbie. “He bought it for my birthday so I wouldn’t have to use his for my homework assignments.”
Robbie shook his head and volunteered, “You can use mine for a few days. My sister gave me her old one when she went to college.” He smiled and added, “Hers has more games downloaded on it than mine.”
Ned said appreciatively, “Thanks, Robbie. I hope Dad don’t notice it isn’t the one he got me.”
“It’s okay,” replied Robbie as he grinned mischievously and grabbed his crotch. “You can pay me back later.”
“Fuck you,” spat Ned. “I ain’t sucking your dick for no computer.”
“Come on, Guys,” said Owen as he stepped between them. “Cut out the gay shit. This is what started all this in the first place. If we had stood up to Lucas from jump street, maybe none of this would be happening now.”
“Well, you did it by telling Lucas that Neil sucked your dick,” reminded Ned.
“Okay,” replied Owen. “Let’s forget about all that shit. What we better be talking about is Lucas.”
He looked over at Ned. “From what you said, it sounds like he’s gonna cause more trouble.” He walked over and sat between Mac and Robbie.
Robbie asked anxiously, “What do you think we should do?”
Ned sat on the floor in front of them while they discussed what they should do about Lucas. Since he had only served four days of his ten-day suspension, they knew they would be safe at school from him. However, they were worried that he might come to their homes after school; or worse yet, confront them as they were getting on or off the bus.
“I’m really scared,” confessed Ned. “You should have seen him. He looked like an animal. He said he’s running away from home.”
“Maybe he’s gone by now,” responded Robbie. “Maybe we won’t have to worry about him.”
Owen asked, “Where’s he going to go? He told us he doesn’t have any family except his grandmother.”
“What about his mother?” asked Mac. “Can’t he live with her?”
Robbie looked at the others and asked, “Ain’t she dead? Isn’t that what he told us?”
The boys talked about how little they knew Lucas. They had been friends with him for years; however, none of them had been inside his house. When they knocked on the door, Lucas always came outside to talk. He was a frequent visitor in their bedrooms, but none of them had ever been invited into his.
They also found it strange that they had never met his grandmother. “Come to think of it,” said Mac, “His grandmother has never been to the school.” He looked around at the others, “Has anyone ever seen her?”
“I did,” replied Owen. “She was sitting on the porch once when I went to Lucas’s house.” He added, “I think he has an uncle or something. I’ve seen him getting into a truck a few times.”
Ned asked, “What’s he look like?”
“Kind of scruffy,” replied Owen. “He looks like he drinks a lot.”
“You know, it’s strange,” remarked Ned as he looked at the others. “We’ve known Lucas all our lives, but we don’t really know him.” The others nodded their heads.
Ned responded, “Lucas has never wanted us to know. Maybe that’s why he bullies us around, so we won’t ask any questions.”
“Maybe,” replied Owen. “But we still better have each other’s backs until we find out what’s going on.”
Robbie asked, “What about Neil? Shouldn’t we warn him?”
A serious look appeared on Owen’s face. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe we should.”
He took a deep breath and remarked, “I guess I’ll take care of it.” He looked at the worried faces of the others. “We don’t want him getting hurt.” The others nodded their heads in agreement.
* * * * * *
“Dad,” whined Neil as he sat beside his father in his car. They were on their way to school to talk to Mr. Bowers, the principal. “I don’t see why you have to go talk to Mr. Bowers. You’re just going to make things worse for me when I go back.”
Brian looked over and replied, “I’m not going to have you go back and get hurt. I’m sure there is something the school can, and must, do to make sure no one hurts you.” He added, “I can’t have you getting suspended, either. Dwight told me what your great plan is.”
Neil’s face reddened. He had forgotten that he told Dwight that he planned to be suspended for fighting until he was finally expelled. He knew it wasn’t a good plan. He just felt he had no alternative.
“I’m not going to fight again,” he promised. “Honest.”
“You won’t have much choice if you get picked on again,” responded Brian angrily. “Your mother and I have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Neil looked at the clock on the dashboard. At least school had started, and everyone would be in their second period class. No one should see him enter the building with his father.
Neil hesitated before getting out of the car. Brian stood patiently waiting for him. He could only imagine what was going through his son’s mind. When he was in school, he was the admired athlete. Since he excelled in football and baseball, no one had any clue that he was gay. He had watched his teammates ridicule other students who they thought was gay, but he never participated. Now, he was ashamed that he hadn’t made a bigger attempt to stop them. At the time, he was afraid that if he did, they might begin to question his sexuality.
Finally, Neil got out of the car and started walking toward the building. When his father put his arm around his shoulder, he stepped away. He felt bad for doing it, but he was already embarrassed having his father go to school to protect him. He felt that his father’s arm around him might make him appear even weaker to those who might see.
As they approached the office, Neil was surprised to see Alex walking down the hallway towards them. His face beamed with excitement when he saw Neil. “Hey, Buddy,” he said as he walked up and fisted Neil’s hand. “How are things going? I miss you in art class.”
“Okay, I guess,” replied Neil. He looked at his father and said, “This is my dad.”
“Hi, Mr. Michael’s,” responded Alex as he extended his hand. “I’m Alex Cunningham.”
Brian glanced quickly at Neil. He wondered if the handsome boy in front of him was the person his son admitted he had a crush on. He smiled, shook hands and looked over at Neil’s red face. He smiled again knowing that Alex was his secret crush.
“It’s nice to meet you, Alex,” replied Brian as he shook his hand. “Neil has told me about you.”
Alex looked over and asked, “He has? We hardly know each other.”
“Dad!” moaned Neil when Brian told Alex that he must have made quite an impression on his son.
“Neil’s cool,” responded Alex as he walked over and put his arm around Neil’s shoulder. “I haven’t made too many friends yet, so I got to take care of the few I do have.”
Brian smiled and replied, “I’m glad someone is watching out for him.”
“Dad,” moaned Neil again. “You’re embarrassing me.”
Alex laughed and shook Brian’s hand. “It was nice meeting you Mr. Michaels. I better get to class now.” He fisted Neil again, and then he hurried off down the hall.
“Nice,” muttered Brian as he watched Alex walk away. “Very nice.”
“Dad!” hollered Neil as he turned and headed toward the office.
* * * * * *
Brenda was in her office going over an insurance policy. Her brother, Jack, was sitting on a chair beside her with a surprised look on his face.
He asked his sister, “When did all this happen? I didn’t think you even knew the man.”
“Daniel?” remarked Brenda. “I’ve known him for several years. I insured his house when he built it. He calls me occasionally to ask me out, but I have been politely refusing.”
“What made you change your mind,” asked Jack.
“I don’t know,” responded Brenda. “I guess it began when we were over at Brian’s house the other night. He is so happy with Dwight. It just seems so unfair that I devote all my time to the children and deny myself a little pleasure.” She gave Jack a worried look and asked, “I’m not being selfish, am I?”
“No,” laughed Jack. “I think it’s wonderful you want to date again. I’ve been telling you for years you should.”
“I’m so scared, though,” she admitted. “I haven’t been on a date since Brian courted me in college.”
“You’ll do fine,” encouraged her brother.
Brenda sighed and asked nervously, “Do you think Neil will object?”
Jack asked, “Why would he care?”
“Well,” said Brenda, “Daniel is the assistant principal of his school. He might feel a little awkward.”
Jack laughed and replied, “He’s not the one dating Daniel Collins. You are.” He rose and gave his sister a hug. “You’ll do fine. Don’t sweat it.”
Brenda responded nervously, “I certainly hope so.”
* * * * * *
Neil followed his father into the office waiting room. After announcing their arrival, the secretary told them to have a seat, and that Mr. Bowers would be with them shortly.
Neil was surprised when Ms. Shelton came into the office. She looked down at Neil and smiled. Brian rose to his feet as she introduced herself to him. “Mr. Michaels, I’m Ms. Natalie Shelton. I’m Neil’s history teacher.”
“Very nice to meet you,” he responded as he gently hit Neil on his shoulder. Neil instantly rose to his feet as he nervously faced his teacher.
“Hi, Ms. Shelton,” he said as he gave her a timid wave. “What are you doing here?”
“Mr. Bowers asked me to come to the parent conference,” she informed him. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been okay,” he replied, “But I don’t understand why you’re here.”
She smiled and said, “We’ll discuss that in the meeting.” Just then, Mr. Bowers appeared at the door and asked everyone to join him in his office.
After introductions, Mr. Bowers asked everyone to have a seat around a conference table. Mr. Collins, the assistant principal, also came into the room and sat down.
Mr. Bowers cleared his throat and looked at Brian. “I know you are concerned about the safety of your son, Neil.” He looked at Neil and smiled. “We all are. After the incident that occurred last week, I did some investigating. It appears that Neil was the victim of bullying.” Neil looked down and refused to meet the gaze of Mr. Bowers.
“So what do you plan to do about it?” asked Brian as he looked over at Neil. “I don’t want my son getting hurt.”
Mr. Bowers folded his hands and stated, “That’s why I’ve asked Ms. Shelton to be here today.” Neil lifted his head and looked over at her. “She approached me with an idea I think is excellent for deterring bullying in here in our school.” He nodded his head at her. “I’ll turn the meeting over to her.”
She nervously began her presentation. Her hands shook as she distributed a folder to each person. “When I was in college last year,” she began, “I attended a seminar for a sociology class. The presenters demonstrated how an anti-bullying program was being implemented in elementary schools.”
She continued, “I know this is a high school, but I think we can implement a similar program here at Farmersville.”
Neil looked over the sheets that Ms. Shelton had passed out. One word kept leaping out at him- School Ambassador.
Ms. Shelton then began to discuss her anti-bullying plan to the others. She explained how some students would be trained as school ambassadors to combat bullying. She said the selected students would attend an after school class in which they would be instructed in the various forms of bullying, and how to address it if it occurs. Once they had received the training, they would then become school ambassadors.
She went on to explain how those students would go into classrooms to give presentations to other students on bullying. She said it was important that each sports team, boys and girls, also be given presentations with their coaches present.
Those ambassadors would then act as mediators if a bullying situation occurred. Any victim could feel free to come to them with a complaint. The ambassador would then try to resolve the situation peacefully.
Neil spoke up and asked angrily, “What if they don’t?” He was thinking of Lucas when he said, “Some guys don’t care. They won’t even listen to anyone.”
Mr. Bowers nodded his head in agreement. “That is why I have asked Mr. Collins to be here,” he said. “Once the student body understands that Farmersville will have zero-tolerance for bullying, then it will be his duty to administer harsh penalties for violators.”
His face reddened with anger as he stated, “A student can either let a student ambassador resolve the conflict, or he or she can hit the door.” He looked over at Mr. Collins who nodded his head in agreement.
“This will work,” assured Ms. Shelton. “We just have to give it a chance. I’ve already spoken to a few students who want to be ambassadors.” She smiled and said, “Samantha Tyler and Alex Cunningham have already agreed serve as sophomore ambassadors.
Neil’s eyes widened. “Sammy and Alex?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I am working on recruiting students from the other grades. I would like to have at least four ambassadors from each grade level.”
She smiled at Neil and asked, “So, what do you think? Could you approach either of them if someone bullies you?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I suppose.”
“I think it’s an excellent project,” interrupted Brian. He looked at Bowers and Collins. “Young people often don’t react well to adults. They might be more willing to cooperate with their own peers.”
“That is what I’m hoping,” smiled Ms. Shelton. “It has worked successfully at other schools.”
Brian sat back and laughed. “I came here today to raise holy hell with you,” he said as he looked at Mr. Bowers. “I thought you would give me the run around about how you would try to protect my son, but you wouldn‘t be able to give me any guarantees.”
Mr. Bowers shook his head. “Bullying is a serious problem in every school. We have to come up with different approaches to combat it.”
He looked at Ms. Shelton and smiled. “I was delighted when Ms. Shelton came to me the other day with this idea. I think it may be successful here at Farmersville.”
Mr. Bowers shuffled some papers on his desk, sat back and stared at Neil. “How are you doing on your suspension? Did Sammy give you your assignments?” He laughed and added, “She was quite persuasive when she came to me last week.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Neil. “Thank you.”
Mr. Bowers stared again at Neil and asked, “You understand why I suspended you last week?”
“Yes, Sir,” responded Neil nervously. “I got in a fight in class.”
“You instigated the fight,” insisted Mr. Bowers. “Your actions precipitated the events that later occurred. Do you understand the difference?”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Neil. “I think so.”
“Good,” said Mr. Bowers. He looked over at Ms. Shelton. “One of the things we are going to stress with our students is that they go through the ambassadors to resolve problems. We want them to understand that disputes can be handled without standing up in a class and cursing at another student.” Neil’s face reddened as he looked down at the table.
Mr. Bowers looked around the table. “Does anyone have any questions?” When everyone shook their heads, he called an end to the meeting.
“Thank you all for attending,” he said as he rose from his desk and strolled out of his office with Mr. Collins following behind.
When Neil rose from his seat, Ms. Shelton stood and embraced him. “Give this a chance, okay?”
Neil pulled away and smiled. “I will,” he assured her. For the first time since his suspension, he didn’t feel afraid to return to school.
He particularly felt safer if Sammy and Alex were on his side as school ambassadors. He wasn’t sure about Alex, but he knew that Sammy would serve well in the role. She had been bossing students around since elementary school. Everyone knew she was someone not to be messed with.
Ms. Shelton shook Brian’s hand and told him how glad she was to meet him. Before leaving, she gave him her school phone number and told him to call her anytime if he had a question.
When she left the room, Brian said, “I like that young lady.”
Neil giggled and said, “Me, too.”
Brian threw his arm around Neil as they walked out of the office. Neil didn’t even look around to see if anyone noticed.
* * * * * *
That night Sammy visited Neil again at his father’s house. “Here,” she said as she plopped a couple of books down on his bed. “Mrs. Yarber wants you to read this book and do a report on it.”
Neil picked the book up and examined it. “Moby Dick?” He then started giggling. “Is she having us read porn?”
Sammy rolled her eyes and replied, “You wish, you pervert.” She walked over and picked up the book. “Moby Dick is a whale.”
“Whale,” giggled Neil. “It sounds like porn to me.” Sammy rolled her eyes and sat down on the side of the bed.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “Before I forget, Alex told me to tell you hi.”
“Alex?” Neil was surprised that he even knew Sammy was his friend.
“Yes,” she smiled. “You know, cute black guy. Brown eyes, muscular, dimple on his right cheek.”
Neil lay back on the bed and laughed. Sammy asked, “What’s so funny?”
Neil sat up and looked at her. “You should have seen the dreamy look on your face when you described him.”
Sammy’s face began to redden. “I did not have a dreamy look,” she insisted.
“Did too,” giggled Neil.
They spent the next few minutes arguing whether Sammy liked Alex. She insisted she didn’t, but Neil kept teasing her that she did. He had already convinced himself that Alex probably wasn’t gay, so he knew he had no chance of anything but a friendship. He wasn’t even sure what kind of girls Alex liked. However, it was still fun to tease Sammy about liking him.
Sammy suddenly got very quiet. She stared at Neil and asked, “You don’t think he would really like me, do you?”
Neil asked, “Aren’t you two supposed to be working on that school ambassador thing?”
“You know about that?”
“Yeah, sure,” replied Neil. “Me and Dad were at the school today. Ms. Shelton explained it to us.”
She asked excitedly, “You mean Alex is going to be an ambassador, too?”
“That’s what Ms. Shelton said,” explained Neil. “She said you and Alex both signed up to be ambassadors.”
“Oh, my God,” shrieked Sammy. “I can’t believe Alex and I will be working together.” She fell back on the bed and sighed, “I think I’m going to lay here and just die.”
For just a fleeting moment, Neil felt sad. He wished it were he who was feeling the excitement Sammy was experiencing. He like Alex. He had even admitted it to his father he had a crush on him. However, he knew a guy like Alex would never like a guy like him.
When Sammy noticed Neil’s mood change, she sat up and asked, “You like him, don’t you?”
“Liar,” replied Sammy. “You like Alex. Admit it.”
Neil got off the bed, walked over, and looked out at the pool. “Okay,” he admitted. “Maybe just a little.”
Sammy walked over and gripped Neil’s hand. “Maybe he’s gay,” she offered.
“I doubt it,” replied Neil as he pulled his hand away. He walked outside and plopped down in a lounge chair. Sammy sat down in a chair beside him.
Neil looked over and sadly announced, “I’m never going to find anyone.”