I didn’t see Gene for several days. I was beginning to wonder if he had changed schools. With his family’s money, he could have easily enrolled in a private school. Star said she went over to his house several times, but he was always in his room. His mother would avoid any questions she asked.
When I did see him, he was walking down the hall talking to a member of the football team. He didn’t look as dejected as he had the last time he was at school. Our eyes met on one occasion, but he looked blankly at me and continued walking.
“I see Gene is back,” I remarked to Star during lunch.
“Things seemed to have settled down,” she said. “I haven’t heard his name mentioned once today.”
“I heard someone call him a fag in the hall,” Ticker said. “He ignored them and just kept on walking.”
“You can’t respond every time says something to you,” I replied. “Believe me, I know. I’ve been on the receiving end for a long time.”
I scanned the cafeteria looking for him. He was sitting off to the side at a table with a couple of other guys. They were on the football team, but they were second string linesman. I guess the popular players were still not talking to him.
I looked at the jock table in the middle of the cafeteria. As usual, Barry was trying to be the center of attention. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it was obvious he was making some kind of joke about Gene. He would look over at his table and say something. The other players would then erupt into laughter.
During my afternoon classes, I began to feel nervous. It seemed like there was a big secret everyone was sharing. Students would stop talking whenever I approached in the hallway. Once I passed them, they’d point at me and continue their conversation.
By the end of the day, I was feeling as if there was an approaching storm. As I walked down the hallway at the end of school, students would part and let me move between them. It was as if all eyes were on me, and it made me nervous.
When I left the building, there was a large group of students following me. Other students were standing idly around. It was as if they were waiting for some main event to occur. I’d seen it several times over the years. Usually, it indicated that a fight was going to occur. Since I hadn’t heard any comments during the day, I didn’t know who was going to be involved. I really didn’t care. Watching two students pummel each other wasn’t my idea of fun.
As I walked down the sidewalk, a group of students blocked my way. They were members of the football team. Suddenly, they parted and Barry came walking from behind them. He stood in front of me while they circled behind. Within seconds, I was in the middle of a throng of students.
Now I knew why everyone had been following me and standing idly around. They wanted to witness a fight between me and Barry.
“Me and you got some unfinished business,” spat Barry. He was rubbing his right hand with his left. “I fucked Gene up, now it’s your turn, Fag.”
“I don’t want to fight you,” I insisted nervously. Since Barry was much larger than me, and he had the support of his friends, the odds weighed heavily against me. Even if it were just the two of us, I would still have been no match for him.
“I hate fags,” he hissed as he approached me. “I still get sick when I think of that faggot kissing you.”
“You’ve got it wrong,” I stammered. He stopped and stared angrily at me. “Gene didn’t do anything. I kissed him.”
“You’re lying, you fucker! I know what I saw.”
“Gene’s not gay,” I shouted. “He was trying to pull away from me. You’ve been lying to everyone.” I looked around at the confused faces. “He was too drunk to know what was happening.”
“Liar!” Suddenly, I fell to the ground from the blow Barry threw to the left side of my face. I was disoriented as I tried to lift myself up off the ground. Before I could get to my feet, Barry kicked me violently in my side, sending me reeling to the ground again. I looked up to see Barry lift his foot to smash it into my face.
“Stop!” I could barely make out several of his friends grab Barry and push him away from me.
“I’m going to kill the fucker!” He screamed. They fought to keep him from attacking me. Just then, Mr. Walters and two security guards pushed their way through the massive wall of students. The guards grabbed Barry and handcuffed him. Mr. Walters knelt down beside me.
“Are you hurt, Joey?” I winced when he tried to pull me to my feet. A couple students walked over and helped him. My head was pounding, and I was having trouble breathing as they helped me back into the school. Ahead of us, the guards were struggling with Barry. He was trying to fight them and break free.
“Take him to my office and call the sheriff!” Mr. Walters yelled to the security guards. “I want him arrested for assault.”
I was carried to the nurse’s office. Once there, they laid me on a table while Mrs. Scowfield, the school nurse, examined my face and side. She determined that my injuries were serious enough that I needed to go to the hospital. I begged her not to call an ambulance, but she insisted that I needed medical attention. Ten minutes later, I was lifted onto a gurney and taken to an awaiting ambulance. There was still a large assembly of students milling about. It surprised me when I noticed several girls crying as they loaded me onto the ambulance.
“It looks worse than it is,” a nurse remarked as I sat on the hospital bed looking at my face in the mirror. The same eye that had been blackened earlier by Barry was again dark and swollen shut. I winced when she applied an ice pack to my face.
“Here.” She took my hand and pressed it against the cold compress. “Hold this here until I come back.” As she walked out, Dr. Langford, one of the hospital residents, came back in. He had talked to me earlier and informed me that my injuries were not serious. Other than some major bruising, Barry hadn’t broken any ribs when he kicked me in my side.
He handed me a small bag containing medication. “You’re going to be sore for a few days.” He pulled out a white bottle and held it up to my good eye. “Take one of these when you need it. Follow the directions on the bottles for the two other medications.”
“Thanks, Doc,” I replied appreciatively.
“I’m releasing you to Mr. Wendelmeirer,” he said. “I understand he’s your legal guardian.”
“Yes, Sir.” I stood and followed him out of the examining room. Before he opened the door to the waiting area, he turned and said, “Now don’t be too surprised. You’ve got a lot of support.”
He held the door opened, and I walked out. I stopped suddenly when I saw the large number of people waiting for me. Allen and Star were the first to rush over to me and hug me. When I stepped back, I looked around the room. Mr. and Mrs. Wendelmeirer approached me and hugged me. Ticker was behind them with tears running down his face.
“Come here you big lug.” I held out my arms and he walked over and gave me a bear hug. I started screaming from the pain in my sides.
“Damn,” he apologized. “I’m so sorry, Joey.”
“It’s okay,” I managed to smile. “No more noogies for a while.”
I looked around the room and noticed Mr. Walters and Dr. Hatfield, the principal of our school. I’d never met him before, and I’d only seen him during assemblies. They rose from their chairs and approached me.
Mr. Walters held out his out. “I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured, Joey.” Dr. Hatfield reached out and put his hand on my shoulder.
“I want you to know that this matter has been dealt with expeditiously. Barry Morgan has been arrested; and after due process, he will be expelled from Southwestern. This was his fourth assault on a student in the past two years. We want to assure you that when you return to school, we will do our utmost to provide for your safety.” He then reached his hand out and shook mine.
“Stop by my office in the morning,” said Mr. Walters. I nodded and shook his hand again before he and Dr. Hatfield turned and walked away.
“Did he say that Barry was getting expelled?” Ticker asked as he and Star walked up and stood beside me. I looked over at Star and nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Joey,” she replied sadly. “That’s what he gets for being an asshole. I talked to my dad a little while ago, and he’s refused to go bail him out after he talked to Dr. Hatfield. He says he got what he deserved.”
Suddenly, I felt a pair of arms wrap around my waist. Allen kissed me gently on the back of my neck. I turned and wanted to kiss him, but there were too many people around. Tears welled up in his eyes, so I took his hand and held it.
“I’m all right, Allen.” I tried to feign a smile. “I’ve been through worse than this.”
“I know,” he said. Tears were beginning to run down his cheek. “But in the past couple of days, you’ve been shot and now beaten up.” He buried his head in my chest. I looked over his head and noticed Mrs. Albright and Gene sitting on a couch. Gene was crying, and his mother was trying to comfort him.
I turned to Ticker and asked, “Will you take us home?”
“Sure,” he replied. “Mom and Dad left a few minutes ago. Mom’s preparing a late dinner.”
“No,” I blushed. “I meant will you drop me and Allen off at his place?” Allen reached for my hand and squeezed it.
“Haven’t you been through enough today?” Star asked. “Perhaps you should go back to Ticker’s house and rest.”
“Allen will take care of me.” I looked into his face, and he nodded. Ticker thought for a minute and then grabbed Star’s hand. “Let’s go,” he said. Before leaving, I looked over at Gene and his mother.
“Wait a minute,” I said. I then walked over to them. Mrs. Albright stood as I approached. Gene put his head down and didn’t look up. His mother put out her arms and embraced me.
“I’m going home with Allen tonight,” I informed her.
“Will you be okay, Honey?” She reached out and gingerly touched my swollen eye.
“I’ll be fine,” I insisted. “The doctor gave me pills to take away the pain.” I looked down at Gene. He was still looking down at the floor.
“I’ll stop by in the morning,” she said. She again hugged me.
“Bye.” I started to walk away but stopped.
“Bye, Gene.” He looked up with tearful eyes and nodded.
“Bye, Joey.” I turned and walked back to an awaiting Allen.
“Mmmm,” I purred. “That feels good.”
I was lying on my stomach on the bed in Allen’s apartment, and he was straddling me and rubbing my back. He was being careful to avoid the large, dark bruise on my side.
“You’re so tense,” he murmured as he continued to gently knead his hands into my back.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I laughed. “You think so?”
He lay down beside me, and I rolled over so that our faces were inches apart. I watched his eyes as he studied my face.
“Why did you do it?” he asked.
“Cover for Gene?”
I rolled over on my back and looked up at the ceiling. It had been something I’d been asking myself all night. When Barry called Gene a fag, my first instinct was to protect him. Allen reached out and made circling motions on my arm, waiting for me to respond.
Finally, I rolled back and faced him once again.
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “You didn’t see him in the hay loft at Billy Joe’s farm. He looked so frightened. I understood what he was feeling. He’d lost everything, and I felt sorry for him.”
“But he treated you like shit,” Allen reminded me.
“Not really,” I responded. “I think he was just trying to cover up his feelings.”
Allen asked, “His feelings for you?”
“Maybe, but probably not,” I said. “I’m just the only gay guy he knows. Guys like Gene don’t fall for guys like me.”
“Don’t say that.” Allen leaned in and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. “I fell for you.”
“You were easy,” I laughed as I returned his kiss.
“So what do you think will happen now?” A worried look appeared on his face.
“It’s up to Gene, I guess.” I responded. “I gave him a way out. He can go back to school and pretend he’s straight, or he can admit to everyone he’s gay. It’s his decision.”
“Yeah, but you got your ass kicked doing it.”
“Barry was going to kick my ass anyway,” I said. “At least something good may have come out of it.”
He leaned in and kissed me again. “You know you’re really special?”
“Of course,” I smiled. “I have you, don’t I?” We kissed again, and then Allen turned off the lamp beside the bed. I rolled on my side and he scooted into me until we were spooned comfortably together. As he kissed the back of my neck, I feel into a peaceful sleep.
We were awakened in the morning by a light knocking on the door. I nudged Allen, trying to get him up, but he grunted, rolled over and snuggled into the blanket. After three more knocks, I decided to get up and answer the door. I found my pants and put them on.
“Good morning, Joey.” Mrs. Albright brushed past me and walked over to the kitchenette. She was carrying a large bag from McDonalds. I watched as she pulled several breakfast sandwiches, hash browns and three coffees from it.
“Are you hungry?” I nodded. I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the day before. Allen and I had gone straight to bed after getting back from the hospital. Actually, I hadn’t even realized I was famished until I smelled the food on the small table.
Allen yawned from the bed and then sat up. “Good morning, Mother.” He pulled back the blanket and slowly got out of bed. I watched as he walked sleepily to the bathroom. A few minutes later, we heard him taking a shower.
I sat down and Mrs. Albright handed me two sandwiches and a cup of coffee. “Thank you,” I said politely.
She reached across the table and patted my hand. “Thank you, Joey.” I looked into her face and saw tears emerging. “Star came over last night and told me what happened. That was very brave of you to protect Gene the way you did.”
“Is he all right?”
She smiled warmly. “Here you are with bruises all over your body, and you’re asking me if he’s all right.” She reached up and caressed my cheek. “You’re such a wonderful boy.” I felt my face begin to blush.
“Why did you do it?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t really know. I guess I felt sorry for him. Besides, he’s Allen’s brother.”
“You care a lot for Allen, don’t you, Dear?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied.
“You know he’s in love with you?” She studied me as she awaited my answer. I don’t think she realized that Allen and I had confessed our feelings for each other.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied. “I’m in love with him too.” She took a handkerchief out of her pocketbook and wiped tears from her eyes.
“What happened with Gene didn’t cause a problem between you?” I think she thought that since Gene had kissed me, Allen would feel threatened.
“No, Ma’am.” I assured her. “Gene was drunk that night. I don’t think he meant it.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” she replied. “He’s just extremely confused right now. His father has been so hard on him. I guess he kept a lot of his feelings bottled up. He’s getting the help he needs now.”
“Does Mr. Albright know?” I remember Star saying that he was in Kuwait, but I didn’t know if he knew about the events of the past few days.
“Oh, no!” she gasped. “He’ll be gone for two more weeks. I hope we can get this resolved before he returns. I can’t lose a second son.” I looked into her face and could see the hurt behind her eyes. It was sad to realize that Allen’s family lived in fear of such a spiteful man.
Allen emerged from the bathroom wearing a green robe. He scooted me over in my chair and sat down. Mrs. Albright laughed when she watched me struggling to stay seated.
“I’m hungry,” announced Allen. He grabbed a couple of sandwiches and a hash brown and began gobbling them down. I looked over and watched him eating greedily. I remembered just a few weeks earlier when he refused to eat anything. Since then, it appeared he may have put on about ten pounds.
There was another soft knock at the door. Star entered with Ticker behind her. She walked over to Mrs. Albright and gave her a hug. While I wasn’t paying attention, Allen took advantage of the situation and scooted over, knocking me onto the floor. My face turned red when everyone starting laughing at me.
I got off the floor and picked my clothing off the floor beside the bed. “Give me a minute and I’ll be ready.” I disappeared into the bathroom, removed my pants and jumped into a hot shower.
Twenty minutes later, after saying goodbye to Allen and his mother, we headed down the stairs to get into Ticker’s car. I stopped suddenly when I saw a familiar red corvette parked behind Ticker’s.
“What does he want?” Star asked angrily. Gene got out of his car and walked toward us. Ticker and Star stepped in front of me. I guess they were going to protect me in case Gene decided he wanted to fight.
He approached nervously. He lifted his head and looked around Ticker and Star. Our eyes met.
“Can we talk?” It was almost a plea. It was obvious he was nervous.
Ticker asked, “What do you want?” His actions were as a mother hen. He was standing defensively in front of Gene, trying to appear intimidating. I pushed past him and stood before Gene.
“It’s all right, Ticker.” Again, Gene looked into my eyes. “We do need to talk.”
Gene turned, walked back to his car and got in. “You sure you should do this?” Star asked worriedly.
“We’ve got to talk sometime,” I answered.
“I guess you’re right,” she said. “You want me to go with you?”
“No,” I replied. “We should probably be alone.” I turned and headed to Gene’s car. I looked up at Allen’s window and saw Mrs. Albright looking down. She nodded slightly just before I got into the passenger’s seat.
I should have been afraid, but for some reason I wasn’t. I felt safe with Gene. We’d been through so much over the past week, and we had shared so many experiences that I felt some kind of a kinship with him.
He didn’t say anything as we drove through town. I looked over several times, but he kept his face forward. His beautiful features were marred by the dark bruises on his face where Barry had hit him. They were beginning to fade, but his eye was still swollen slightly.
I wasn’t sure where we were going until he pulled into the development where he lived. He turned onto the long lane leading up to his house. He pulled the car into the garage, and then he got out. He turned and looked at me before heading into the house. I followed and found him sitting at the kitchen table.
“You want a cup of coffee?” I nodded, and he walked over and poured two cups. He got some milk out of the refrigerator and then sat down.
“I don’t know how you like yours,” he said. He placed the milk in front of me, and then pushed the sugar over.
“Black is fine,” I answered. We sat for several minutes before he said anything.
“I don’t know where to start,” he finally spoke. I looked into his face and was overwhelmed with the sadness behind his eyes.
“I’m really sorry about Saturday night,” he began. “I had too much to drink. I should never have kissed you.”
“It’s all right, Gene,” I replied. “I understand.”
“No,” he sounded upset. “You don’t understand. You have no idea what I’m going through.”
I began to laugh. However, my laughter seemed to upset him. “I’m really sorry, Gene, but I do understand. I’ve been going through shit for the past five years.”
He stated sadly, “My dad would kill me, Joey.”
“Listen to me.” His eyes were beginning to become moist with tears. “My old man put me out of the house and made me sleep in the garage when I was sixteen. A couple of weeks ago, he threw my clothes out on the lawn. I’ve been staying at Ticker’s since then. So don’t tell me I don’t understand.”
I realized that he knew nothing about me since I had never told anyone at school about my family situation. I’m sure he had probably heard rumors, but my life story was virtually unknown to him.
“My uncle molested me when I was eleven.” He took a sip of his coffee, never removing his eyes from mine. “My dad caught us on the couch a year later. He disowned me after that. I’ve had to survive on the streets until just recently. A couple of weeks ago I tried to kill myself. If it hadn’t been for Allen, I’d probably be dead now.”
Feeling tears welling up in my eyes, I got up, walked over to the kitchen door and looked out onto the back lawn. After a minute, I walked back to the table and sat down. Gene was staring blankly at the clock on the wall.
“I don’t know what to do, Joey.” The expression on his face was of absolute despair. “Mom has me going to counseling, but they just keep telling me I should accept who I am, but I can’t. I saw how Dad reacted when he found out Allen was gay. I don’t think I could survive if he rejected me like he did him.” He put his head on the table and cried softly.
After a minute, he lifted his head and said, “I’m not strong, Joey. I’m not like you and Allen.”
“So what are you going to do?” I asked. I was afraid he was talking about suicide again.
“People were calling me all day yesterday,” he said. “They told me what happened and what you said. I think I can make it until I graduate high school and go off to college.”
I looked into his eyes, and I knew the decision he had made. He was going back to school and pretend that what had happened was my fault. He would pretend that he was straight, and that I had taken advantage of his drunken state. I had intentionally given him an alibi, and he was going to take it.
“I’m sorry, Joey,” he replied sadly. “I don’t have a choice.”
“Can I ask you a question?” It was something that I’d been thinking about for a week. He nodded his head. “Why did you kiss me?”
He blushed and then put his head down. He waited a minute before answering. “I’ve had a crush on you since the seventh grade.” He raised his head and looked into my eyes. “I know you don’t remember, but you helped me with a math problem in Mrs. Turner’s class. We were sitting really close and I could smell the shampoo in your hair. I think it was at that time I realized I might be gay. I went home that night and...” His eyes lit up, and he started laughing. “Well, you get the picture.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I was going to,” he replied, “but then Dad found out Allen was gay. He said some really horrible things about boys liking other boys that way. When he kicked Allen out, I knew I couldn’t feel like that- ever. I also saw how the guys at school talked about you, so I had to keep my distance.
“Then that night when you were sitting alone on the porch, I remembered how I felt about you, and well, I just wanted to kiss you.” He blushed and looked down at the table.
I asked, “Are you sure you can live a lie?”
“I have to,” he replied sadly. “I know it’s wrong, but I think I can convince people at school I’m not gay. You helped me there. Besides, the people I care about know. Mom, Star and Allen know.” He looked at me and smiled. “And you know.”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I know.”
We sat for a few minutes without saying anything. He walked over to the kitchen cabinet and placed a box of doughnuts on the table. He ate three while I hungrily devoured two.
He looked across the table and asked, “So tell me about you and Allen. Are you guys serious?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “Allen’s really been there for me. I guess I’ve been there for him too.”
“Do you love him?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I do.” He smiled and nodded.
I looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s after ten,” I said. “We should get to school.” We got up and stood awkwardly before each other.
I walked over and held out my arms. “Friends?”
He approached and embraced me. “Friends.”