I knew I was in trouble when I walked out of the room and Sly and Ernest Shays were waiting outside Mrs. Mason’s room. Ernest had a smug look on his face when he showed me the paint can hidden under his shirt. It was as if he was daring me to tell someone.
I turned and headed the other way, even though it was out of the way and would make me late for my next class. Students continued to look at me as I hurried down the hall. No one said anything to me, but it was still awkward knowing that they were talking behind my back.
Suddenly, a foot came from behind me, tripping me and causing me to fall hard to the ground. I tried to catch my fall, but ended up twisting my wrist. I felt a stabbing pain shoot up my arm to my shoulder. My books and papers scattered all over the hallway. In the background I could hear other students laughing at me.
Still confused, I tried to pull myself up. A booted foot stomped onto my left hand, and I screamed out in pain. Sylvester Shays leaned down and glared into my face. I could smell his rotten breath as he muttered angrily, “We ain’t through with you yet, cocksucker.”
Several male teachers yelled at students to move back so they could get to the center of the trouble. Sly put more pressure on my hand before he finally disappeared into the crowd. Seconds later, two teachers were lifted me to my feet and helped me to the school nurse. I didn’t know either teacher, but I was happy they had arrived when they did.
I felt totally dejected. I hadn’t been in school more than two hours, and already my locker had been spray painted, I’d been called derogatory names, and I had been physically assaulted. The decision to change schools was becoming increasingly easier. There was no more reason for me to remain.
The school nurse determined that I had slightly sprained my wrist in the fall. She kept asking me how my hand had been scrapped and bruised, but I refused to tell her. It wouldn’t have done any good anyways. No one would do anything to Sly if I had told on him. It would only have anger him more.
Because I was injured at school, the nurse had to contact my father. He left work immediately to come to school. Before he arrived, Mrs. Cox came into the nurse’s office and tried to get me to tell her who had tripped me. She had her suspicions, but she couldn’t do anything unless I said something.
While in the nurse’s office, my father arrived. Mrs. Cox left to go meet with him in her office. I waited thirty minutes before they called for me. When I entered her office, my father and mother were sitting with concerned looks on their faces. My mother hugged me before inspecting my taped wrist.
She looked at me pleadingly. “Who did this to you, Taylor?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. I looked down at the ground. I could never look my parents in the face and tell them a lie. They knew this, and they could always tell when I wasn’t being truthful. “I guess I was being clumsy.”
“Taylor,” my father spoke, “Mrs. Cox can’t help you if you won’t try and help yourself.”
“What’s Mrs. Cox supposed to do, Dad?” I asked. “Is she going to follow me around for the next year and a half to make sure someone doesn’t hurt the helpless, gay boy?” I was trying hard not to cry. I knew I was going to have to be tough to get me through this, but I wasn’t sure I had the strength.
“We can’t have you getting assaulted all the time, either,” He said worriedly.
“I’m leaving school,” I said empathically. He started to speak, but I cut him off. “I don’t mean I’m quitting. I just want to go to another school. I’ve decided to leave Easton and go to Wentworth.”
My parents sat quietly for a minute looking at me. I guess they were deciding what to say to my sudden announcement. It was something that had never been mentioned before.
My mother asked, “Are you sure?” I nodded my head.
Mrs. Cox gave my parents the same argument she had given me earlier. She told them that she couldn’t guarantee my safety, but that she would do everything she could to see that I was reasonably safe. She said that transferring schools wouldn’t necessarily mean that I would be safer. Almost all schools have a degree of trouble; it didn’t matter how much the tuition cost.
I could feel the climate change when she told them that she was sure after going over my grades, that I would be inducted into the National Honor Society this year. It might not happen if I transferred to a new school. I knew then that I was doomed to stay at Easton, no matter how difficult things would become.
“We’ll talk about this later, Taylor,” my father said sternly. I could tell by his tone that he had already made up his mind. It was an easy decision for him. I was the one who would have to endure the mental and physical torture for the next two years.
When the meeting was over, I was given a pass by Mrs. Cox and told to report to my third period class. After receiving hugs from my parents, I went to my locker to get my books. As Mrs. Cox had said, it was already restored to its original condition. You could still see small specks of pink paint on it, but overall, it looked like nothing had ever been done.
I stood motionless before my locker after opening it. Someone had poured catsup through the gratings into the inside. Everything was stained red. They must have used a large bottle of the squeeze type, because the catsup had soaked into my books and notebooks. Everything was ruined.
I slammed my locker shut and headed angrily to my third period. When I walked in and handed the note to my teacher, students began to giggle. The teacher stopped and admonished the class for their rude behavior. I looked over at Stephanie. She was sitting with an angry look on her face. It was the first time I had seen her since Friday night.
I had to pass her on the way to my desk. “You’re dead,” she muttered under her breath as I passed by. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when she spoke those ominous words. I was trembling by the time I took my seat.
The boy to the right of me started making kissing noises. When I glanced over, he was rubbing his cock through his pants. Several other guys were watching, and they began laughing at his antics. Feeling my face redden with anger, I put my head down and pretended to fall asleep.
The teacher lectured the rest of the period, and the students remained quiet as they took notes. I listened to what she was saying, but I refused to sit up and let other students humiliate me. When the bell rang, I hurried out of the room. Stephanie was standing with a couple of girls who appeared to be consoling her.
Cynthia met me outside of class. She took my arm and led me to her locker. When we left to go to mine, I told her I didn’t need my books.
“Now what?” she asked sadly. “Did they spray paint your locker again?”
“No,” I responded.
“Something happened,” she insisted. “Why else would you not want to go there?”
“Catsup,” I replied.
“Catsup,” I repeated. “Someone poured catsup into my locker.”
We walked outside to my car. Only seniors are permitted to leave the school grounds for lunch, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I would rather take my chances and leave, than stay around and be tormented.
We went to a fast food chicken place and sat at a table away from others. Several students from school were there, and they kept looking over at us. I could tell Cynthia felt uncomfortable, but she would never have said anything.
“Did you see Chris today?” I asked. I knew he was upset with me after leaving suddenly when I told Mrs. Cox I was going to transfer to Wentworth.
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ll see him fourth period in history.”
I nodded my head as we ate in silence. I looked around the restaurant a few times, but no one was paying us any attention. I guess they had finally finished talking about me.
We were getting ready to leave when I saw Leon Little approaching our table. Leon is a very intimidating character. He is a defensive linesman for the school football team and a wrestler in the heavy weight division.
I have known Leon since third grade. We are good friends. He had more than once saved my ass from getting kicked in elementary school. I seldom saw him any more, though. He usually runs with the jock crowd.
He took a chair, turned it around and straddled it. He looked at Cynthia and smiled. “Hey, Pretty Lady.” I think he’s had a crush on her since about the sixth grade, when he realized that girls existed.
“Taylor.” He looked at me and studied me for a minute. If I hadn’t known him better, I would probably have been ready to bolt from the restaurant from the cold, hard stare he was directing at me.
Suddenly, he extended his hand for me to shake. “Listen, Man,” he said as I reached for his large, stubby hand. I winced when he wrapped his hand tightly around mine.
“We go back a long way,” he said warmly. “You were the first guy to play with me in Mrs. Foster’s class.” He was referring to our third grade teacher. Because he was bigger than most of us, everyone was afraid to approach him. On the first day of school, he was sitting at a table by himself. I got up, walked over and sat down. Soon we were laughing and playing around. Before the day ended, our table was filled with other students. Leon never let me forget what I had done.
“You haven’t done nothing but be my friend,” he continued. “I wouldn’t have been eligible to play football in the ninth grade if you hadn’t tutored me all year in algebra.”
Leon was smart, except when it came to math. He couldn’t work the most basic algebraic equation. He probably would have failed had I not spent an hour after school almost every afternoon helping him. Throughout the year, our little study table had grown considerably with other football players who were also in danger of failing. Later, at their football banquet, the coach even presented me with a plaque for the help I had given his team.
“I don’t know if this shit Stephanie is saying about you is true or not.” He looked me directly in my eyes. “And to tell you the truth, I don’t really give a fuck. You’re my boy and you always will be.” I just sat and stared at him. At the moment, I was at a loss for words.
“I just want you to know, I got your back if you need me.” His lips began to part and soon a large smile emerged.
“Friends?” He put up his fist, waiting for me to hit it.
“Friends.” I tapped his fist and smiled. “Thanks, Leon.”
“You can depend on them, too.” He pointed over at a table filled with other football players. Most I had also tutored in the ninth grade. Leon nodded, and they all waved at me. Overcome with emotion, I had to forcibly hold back the tears.
“Well,” he looked at his watch. “We better head back or we’ll be late. Remember, Taylor. If you need me, all you have to do is call. Bye, pretty lady.” He looked over and smiled shyly at Cynthia.
“Thanks, Leon.” He rose and lumbered back over to his table. He and his friends waved goodbye to us as they left the restaurant.
“That was nice,” responded Cynthia.
“Yeah, it was,” I smiled. I felt better knowing that not everyone in school was upset with me. It also helped that they were the largest members of the football team.
When we returned to school, the warning bell to fourth period was ringing. I kissed Cynthia on her cheek then dashed to chemistry class. My heart was pounding as I approached the doorway. Besides Mrs. Mason’s sixth period class, Jason and I also shared it. It would be the first time I would have to confront him since Friday.
Jason and I were lab partners, and we always sat beside each other. We had also been lab partners our sophomore year for biology. When I walked in, I looked over at our table. He looked up and our eyes met before he turned away and starting speaking to Fred Jacobsen, the boy who was now occupying my seat. I looked around and saw an empty seat beside Marilyn Cabot, a strawberry blond who spent most of the period looking at herself in a mirror and fixing her hair.
“May I sit here?” I asked her. She looked up and shrugged her shoulders before returning to the mirror to check out her lipstick.
I quickly looked over at Jason while I got out a piece of paper to take notes. My regular notebook and chemistry book were inside my locker covered in catsup. I asked Marilyn if she had her chemistry book and she started laughing. “Yeah, right,” she said as she continued to put on eyeliner.
Without any notes or book, I decided it was useless to try and complete the lab experiments. Instead, I pulled out a paperback book I was reading for my literature class. Mr. Donaldson was wandering around the room and observing students as they conducted their experiments. He stopped when he arrived at our table.
“Mr. White and Miss Cabot,” he said sternly. “May I inquire as to just what you are doing?” My face began to redden. I think this was the first time a teacher had singled me out and embarrassed me in class before.
“I’m sorry Mr. Donaldson, but I don’t have my book with me today,” I apologized. I looked over at Marilyn and she just shrugged. I could hear students giggling around the room.
“He probably left his book at Chris’s,” someone on the other side of the room blurted out as the room erupted into laughter. I quickly looked over at Jason and saw his face blushing brightly. He was looking down at his notes and writing. He looked up and our eyes met briefly.
Mr. Donaldson looked apologetically at me before walking over to his desk and returning with the teacher’s edition. There is a rule somewhere etched in stone that a student never touches a teacher’s edition of a text book. He handed it to me and then walked away.
“Must be sucking off the teach, too,” another student mutters softly so that Mr. Donaldson could not hear. The class again erupted into laughter. I tried to ignore them as I got out another piece of paper and tried to catch up on the assignment before the class ended. I looked over at Jason a few times. Each time he would be watching me, but he would turn his head quickly away.
When the bell rang, I returned the book to Mr. Donaldson and thanked him. He told me he would try and have another book for me tomorrow. I guess he assumed that something had happened to mine since it was the first time I had ever come to class without it. He had probably heard about my locker being spray painted and figured it must have been damaged.
Fifth period literature went by without any problems. The teacher had us complete an assignment from a paper, so I didn’t need my book. She did, however, assign four chapters of a story that I needed to read before class tomorrow. I was going to ask Cynthia if I could borrow hers for the night. The only problem, she had the same teacher and would need it herself. I didn’t know how much longer I could go without my books.
When the bell rang, my heart started to pound. The last period of the day was Mrs. Mason’s. It was the class I shared with Jason and Chris. I would have to confront both of them, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I hadn’t seen Chris since he ran out of the room in the morning. Jason didn’t say anything to me during chemistry, but he had made it apparent he didn’t want me as a lab partner anymore.
When I entered class, I took a quick glance around the room. I couldn’t believe that Jason and Chris were sitting close together and talking. They looked up and stopped talking when I walked in. Jason dropped his head as Chris watched me walk to the back of the room and take a seat.
Before the bell rang, Mrs. Mason came to the back and asked me if everything was all right. I nodded, and she assured me that I could come and talk to her if I needed. I looked toward the front of the room and watched as Jason and Chris continued to talk quietly. Occasionally, Chris would turn and glance quickly at me, but his face was expressionless. I was waiting for a frown or a smile, so I could gage his feelings. I had absolutely no idea what was going on inside his head.
As the class progressed, I became increasing paranoid. I was starting to convince myself that they were plotting some kind of plan to repay me for what I had done to Jason. Why else would they be talking to one another? I had known Jason all my life. Like me, I don’t think he had spoken a half dozen words to Chris before Friday.
Fifteen minutes before the end of the period, I was summoned to the office. A student aide brought me a pass indicating that Mrs. Cox wanted to see me. I immediately began to think that something must have happened again. I was trembling so hard that I could hardly walk by the time I reached the office.
The school secretary smiled warmly at me when I entered. She informed me that Mrs. Cox was waiting in her office. The door was opened, so I tapped gently while poking my head into the room.
“Come in, Taylor.” She waved me in and pointed to a chair in front of her desk. I cautiously sat down, waiting for her to give me the bad news.
“How was your day?” she asked. “Any more problems?”
“No, Ma‘am,” I replied with a shaky voice.
“Calm down, Dear,” she laughed. “You’re not in any trouble” I let out the breath I had been holding. She walked to a table behind her desk, lifted a number of new text books and placed them on top of her desk in front of me.
“Here,” She smiled. “I think these are all the books that were damaged in your locker this morning. Let me know if I forgot any.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Cox.” My voice was heavy with emotion. She had replaced all the books that had been damaged by paint and catsup.
“It’s the least I can do,” she replied warmly. “We can’t have your grades falling; not after what I told your parents this morning. I never have seen two parents so proud of their son before.”
I got up and gave her a quick hug before picking up the books and heading back to class. I didn’t know what to do with them, however. I couldn’t place them back in my locker. The Shays brothers would just ruin them again.
Mrs. Mason looked up when I entered the room carrying the armload of books. I placed them wearily on her desk. I looked at the clock on the wall. There was only five minutes remaining until the bell.
“Can I carry these out to my car before the bell rings?” I asked pleadingly.
“Why can’t you put them in your locker?” she asked.
“They’ll only get damaged again,” I replied sadly. She walked over to a file cabinet and removed some papers and folders in a bottom drawer. She then summoned me over.
“You can use this bottom drawer temporarily,” she said. “Bring whatever books you don’t need tonight and put them in here.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Mason,” I said appreciatively. I collected four of the books and placed them inside the drawer. The remaining three I would need to complete my homework assignments.
The bell rang and I watched as Jason and Chris walked out together. Chris looked briefly at me, but again his face was expressionless. Jason glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, but he quickly looked away.
I remained behind for a few minutes talking to Mrs. Mason. I recounted what had happened to my locker. I also told her that Mrs. Cox was being very supportive. She told me that I could trust Mrs. Cox. She also reminded me that I could come to her anytime I needed.
The hallways had emptied out by the time I left. Just before I got to the exit, Sly Shays stepped in front of me, blocking my way. I turned to head back to Mrs. Mason’s class, but just then Ernest Shays stepped out of a classroom door and blocked the hallway.
I was trapped.