“I can assure you, Mrs. Caldwell,” remarked Dr. Carville, the Superintendent of Center City Schools, “that safety is our first concern.” He looked over at Kyle and continued, “We’ll do everything we can to make sure that your son is not harmed.”
Mrs. Thornton, the principal of Center City High School, shuffled some papers on her desk, cleared her throat and said, “I’ve emailed Kyle’s teachers and informed them of the situation.” She looked over at Kyle and remarked, “There may be some initial problems. These things happen with teens. But after a few days, life, I’m sure, will return to normal.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Kyle’s mother glanced over worriedly at her son. “Then what?”
Dr Carville spoke very authoritatively, “We are quite prepared to handle the situation. Center City Schools has zero tolerance when it comes to bullying of any kind. All our students are aware of the consequences if they cross the line.”
Mrs. Thornton looked worriedly at Kyle and asked, “What about the other matter?”
“What other matter?” asked Mrs. Caldwell.
“Well,” replied the principal as her face reddened slightly. “What about Kyle’s homosexual proclivities?”
Kyle watched as his mother rose from her chair and looked angrily at Mrs. Thornton. “Proclivities?” she said loudly. “You make it sound like my son is some kind of a deviant.”
Dr. Carville rose from his chair and stood in front of the principal’s desk. “I’m sure she didn’t mean it to sound that way.” He glanced down at Mrs. Thornton. “All children at Center City High are treated with the same respect as normal students.”
“Normal students!” screamed Mrs. Caldwell. She glanced down at Kyle. “My son IS normal! You're assuming because of some photoshopped picture that Kyle is gay. I came here today to discuss his safety, not his sexuality."
“Now, now,” replied Dr. Carville in a soothing manner as he pointed to a chair. “Please have a seat, Mrs. Caldwell.”
“I’m not sitting!” Kyle’s mother spat angrily. “If any harm comes to my son while in school- or out,” she warned as she glared at the superintendent and principal, “I’ll sue this school district into oblivion.” She grabbed Kyle’s hand and pulled him to his feet. Before leaving, she turned and said, “And I’ll be sure that both of you will be standing in an unemployment line the next day.”
After escorting his mother to the main entrance, he returned to get a pass to class. When he entered his second period history class, Mr. Peterson had already divided the class into several groups. He explained to Kyle that each group was writing a short play about the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. He looked around the room, and he told Kyle to join the third group. He walked over and took a seat beside Buddy. Buddy had his head down on the desk and appeared to be asleep.
“Oh, it’s you,” snidely remarked Lizzy Taylor when he sat down. Lizzy was the student everyone hated because she was always asking questions in class. She would often take up so much class time that the teacher would have to assign additional homework. Lizzy appeared to be leading the group assignment. “I’ve already assigned the roles, so you can just sit and watch.” She glanced over at Buddy and remarked, “Or you can go to sleep.” Kyle snickered when Buddy, without lifting his head, raised his hand and flipped her off.
Buddy sat up when their group went to the front of the class to present their play. He looked over and noticed Kyle still sitting beside him. He asked, “You taking an ‘F’ too?”
Kyle smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “Looks like it,” he said, “since I wasn’t given a part.”
“I’m failing this class anyway,” remarked Buddy. “Peterson gives too many assignments that has to be done on the computer.”
Kyle asked, “You don’t have a computer?”
“Nope,” replied Buddy as he put his head back down on the desk and pulled his hood over his head. It was the first time he had ever really talked to Kyle, and he didn’t want him to know how impoverished his living conditions were.
Kyle completed an assignment for biology as the members of his group worked on their presentation. He was glad he wasn’t asked to participate because they were going to act out a five-minute play. He would have to get up in front of his classmates, and he knew that everyone would be thinking about the picture of Brad and him as they watched. So far, no one had said anything. However, he did see a few girls look at him and giggle.
When his group performed, Kyle looked over and laughed when Buddy started to snore rather loudly. A couple of students sitting nearby laughed. Kyle scooted his chair nearer to Buddy, and then he lightly elbowed him in his side.
Buddy slowly lifted his head from his desk. “What?” he asked as he pulled the hoodie from his face.
Kyle stared into his hazel eyes and smiled. “You were snoring,” he giggled. He had seen Buddy in the past, and he always found him cute. But looking into his face, he noticed how handsome his features were. His strawberry blond hair flowed just beyond his earlobe. His eyebrows were a shade darker, and there was a hint of a thin blond mustache that was beginning to form on his upper lip. His cheeks were rosy, and he still had a few boyish freckles dotting his nose.
Their eyes met for several seconds until Buddy looked away. Kyle noticed as his face began to redden slightly. “Was I?” he asked as he wiped the sleep from his eyes.
Kyle giggled again. “Yeah,” he replied, “I was afraid the teacher was going to come back and say something.”
“Thanks,” remarked Buddy appreciatively, “for looking out.” Again, their eyes met.
“It was nothing,” replied Kyle as he looked at the school clock on the wall. His group had finished their play, and they were returning to the table. Kyle gathered his books and placed them inside his book bag. When the bell rang, he rose from his seat. He waited briefly for Buddy. He hoped they could walk down the hall and talk. However, Buddy got up and walked to the teacher’s desk to speak to Mr. Peterson. He tried to hear what he was saying, but they were talking quietly.
As Kyle walked down the hallway to his third period class, he saw Brad approaching. He was flanked by several members of the football team. Brad stopped when he saw Kyle. He looked over menacingly as his eyes narrowed in anger.
He walked over, grabbed Kyle’s jacket and slammed him against the wall. Several of his friends pleaded with him to stop, and they tried to pull Brad away from Kyle. He batted away their hands as he tightened his grip on Kyle.
“We gotta talk, you little fag,” he spat angrily.
Kyle pleaded, “I had nothing to do with that picture. Honest, Brad.” His voice trembled with fear as he looked into Brad’s angry face. He could sense students starting to gather around them and watch as Brad had him pinned to the locker.
Kyle turned when he heard a voice say, “Leave him alone.” Brad slammed him again into the locker, and then loosened his grip. He had to steady his legs so he wouldn’t fall to the floor.
“What are you doing?” Brad asked angrily as he faced Buddy. “Protecting your boyfriend?”
“Why don’t you shut the fuck up!” spat Buddy as he stood defiantly before Brad. “You fucking moron!”
Brad’s friends held him back as he balled his fist and tried to hit Buddy. Buddy took a step back, and he positioned himself for a fight. “I’ll fucking kill you!” screamed Brad. “You’re responsible for all this anyway!” he shouted. Brad had always assumed that Buddy had told either Kyle or Melissa that he saw Joy and him under the stairwell having sex.
They stepped away from each other when they heard several teachers shouting for students to move so they could break up the fight. One was Coach Abernathy, Brad’s football coach. He grabbed Brad by the nape of the neck and quickly pulled him away from the crowd. As he did, Brad looked back and threatened, “This ain’t over with.” The coach slammed him against the wall and started hollering at him to get his ‘act together,’ or he was going to kick him off the team.
Kyle was still shaking as he watched the coach drag Brad down the hallway. Students started to disperse and hurry to class. When he looked over to where Buddy was standing, he had disappeared into the crowd.
* * * * * *
“I just can’t do this anymore,” lamented Buddy as he lay on Andre’s bed with his head in Andre’s lap. Andre was gently running his hand through his hair.
“It will be okay, Baby,” assured Andre as he leaned down and kissed Buddy’s forehead. Though they hadn’t been sexually active for over a year, he still felt a deep affection and loyalty for the boy who had been his first love.
Buddy looked up into Andre’s eyes. “He’s going to kill me,” he said nervously. “I could tell it in his eyes. He thinks I’m the reason for Kyle’s sister breaking up with him. He also thinks I have something to do with that picture.”
“Maybe you should talk to Kyle,” suggested Andre, “and tell him to have a talk with Brad.”
“Not likely,” responded Buddy. “He was going to kick Kyle’s ass before I stopped him.”
“Aww,” giggled Andre. “You saved your boyfriend.”
Buddy rolled his eyes. “That’s what Brad said. Half the school heard him.”
“I still think you should ask him out,” suggested Andre as he ran his hand through Buddy’s hair. “You said you picked up some vibes in class. You shouldn’t have ditched school and gone to your afternoon class to see if he would talk to you again.”
Buddy sat up and leaned against the wall. He turned to Andre as tears appeared in his eyes. “We can’t keep kidding ourselves,” he replied as tears fell down his cheek. “Guys like Kyle aren’t meant for guys like us.”
Andre reached over, took his hand and squeezed it. “How do you know if you don’t try?”
“And do what?” asked Buddy. “Get hurt?” He laughed nervously. “No thanks. I’ve got enough problems as it is. I don’t need to add rejection to the list.”
Andre turned toward Buddy. “What if he really does like you? What if you miss your chance?”
Buddy fell back on the bed and laughed. “You really do believe what you’re saying, don’t you?”
Andre nodded his head as tears welled up in his eyes. “I gotta believe it, Buddy. If I don’t, I’ll feel as miserable as you.”
He jumped off the bed, went over to his CD player and hit play. Suddenly, Madonna’s Vogue blared throughout the room. Andre reached down and grabbed Buddy’s hand and pulled him to his feet.
“I thought I broke that fucking thing,” spat Buddy.
Andre laughed and said, “I stole another one at Kmart.” He tried to spin Buddy’s body. “Come on, Baby,” he pleaded. “Dance with me. Believe with me.”
Andre fell on the bed and cried when Buddy hurried from the room.
* * * * *
Kyle was exiting school at the end of the day, when someone grabbed him from behind and dragged him into a doorway. When he turned, Brad and a couple of his friends were surrounding him and blocking him from leaving.
Kyle asked nervously, “What do you want?”
“You know what I want,” spat Brad angrily. “I want to know why you and that other fag sent out that picture.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” pleaded Kyle. “You have to believe me.”
Brad grabbed Kyle’s jacket and lifted him off the ground. “Then why did he try to protect you this morning? I know he told you what he saw last week, and then you told Melissa.”
Kyle’s voice trembled as he asked, “What are you talking about? I don’t even know him. Honest.”
“Then who sent out that picture of us?”
“I don’t know,” replied Kyle. “It must have been Melissa.”
“How did she find out about Joy? I know your boyfriend told her,” spat Brad.
Tears appeared in Kyle’s eyes as he pleaded, “Please let me go. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Brad pulled him closer as his friends stepped nearer. “I’m warning you, Fag,” he remarked angrily. “You’ve got everyone in this school thinking I was fucking around with you.” He tightened his grip on Kyle’s jacket. “You better tell them the truth, or next time I’ll kick your faggot ass.” He lifted Kyle off the ground and stared angrily into this face. “Got it?”
“Yeah,” mumbled Kyle.
Brad let go of his jacket, and Kyle fell to the ground like a rag doll. Brad kicked him lightly and warned, “Tell your boyfriend I’m coming for his ass. All this is his fault.” He turned and stormed down the hallway with his friends trailing behind him. Kyle lay on the cold floor for a minute before finally pulling himself to his feet. He peeked out the door and scanned the deserted hallway before leaving.
“How was school, Dear?” His mother sang out from the kitchen when he entered the front door. He tossed his book bag on the floor and went into the room and sat at the island counter.
A glass of milk and a plate of cookies were on the table in front of him. He smiled when he nibbled on one of the macadamia cookies. They were still hot from the oven. It had been several years since his mother had made fresh cookies.
As she took another tray of cookies from the oven, she turned and asked, “Did anyone give you any trouble at school?”
He took another bite and hesitated before answering. He knew his mother well enough to know that she would become upset if she thought Brad was threatening him.
She turned and stood before him. “Well,” she asked with a smile. “Would the defendant answer the question.”
“Well, maybe,” he responded timidly.
She sat beside him and placed her hand over his. “Tell me what happened.” Reluctantly, he told her about the incident after school. She listened patiently without interrupting him.
“So, you think Brad intends to harm this other boy?” Kyle nodded his head.
He shook his head when she asked, “Do you know how to contact him?”
“I don’t even know him,” he replied. “I don’t understand how he’s involved in all of this.”
“Perhaps your sister does,” she said as she got up from her seat and left the kitchen. Kyle continued to nibble on his cookies and wonder why Brad seemed so upset with the boy in his history class.
He didn’t know him. He had sat with him in history in the morning while other students prepared their presentation. Then, he had slept with his hoodie over his head. He had also sat beside him in literature, but they hadn’t spoken. He was also confused why he had attempted to stop Brad in the hallway after class. It was apparent he was willing to get his ass kicked just to protect him. But why?
He looked up when his mother reentered the room. “She doesn’t know him, either,” she said with a sigh. “She swears no one talked to her about Brad except her friend, Laurie.”
Kyle asked, “Is she the one who made the picture?”
“Yes,” replied his mother angrily. “I called her mother last night, and she won’t be doing that again.”
Kyle took another bite of his cookie, then he asked, “So what should we do? What if Brad hurts him?”
“He won’t,” she replied as she left the kitchen. Kyle followed her into the foyer while she put on her coat. “I’m going to pay Mrs. Chambers a visit.” She looked at her watch. “I think she should still be working at the boutique.” She kissed him on the cheek and then left the house.
When he went upstairs to his bedroom, he passed by his sister’s room. The door was slightly ajar, and he could hear her talking to someone on her cell phone. He was surprised because he had thought his mother had taken it from her.
He was going to go to his room, but suddenly stopped when he heard his sister say, “I want Brad’s reputation ruined. The picture was a start. Now tomorrow, circulate the rumor that he was having sex with Kyle. Tell them that’s why I broke up with him.”
Kyle opened the door and stared down at his sister who lay on her bed. “What!” he screamed. “Why are you doing this?”
His sister jumped from the bed and yelled, “Get the fuck out! If you don’t, I’m going to call the police again!” Kyle yanked the phone from her hand and threw it across the room.
“You Dweeb!” his sister hollered as she threw her arms around him and attempted to scratch his eyes out. He fell back and pinned her down on the bed. She continued to wrestle with him as she clawed at his face. He could feel her nails digging deeply into his skin.
His sister hollered as she fought him, “I’ll get even with you!”
As he struggled to restrain her, he asked, “Why are you doing this to me?”
“Because I hate you!” she hollered. “You always wanted Brad. I saw the way you looked at him.”
“What?” Kyle looked down into his sister’s reddened face. “I never wanted Brad.”
“You did, too,” she started to cry. “Everyone wants Brad.” She stopped struggling and began to sob uncontrollably. She pounded on Kyle’s chest and yelled, “Get off me!”
Hesitantly, Kyle rose from his sister and stood before her. She pulled the covers over her face and continued to cry. She looked up angrily and yelled, “Get out of my room!”
Kyle looked down defiantly and warned, “You better not start any rumors about me and Brad. I’ll tell Mom.”
“Do you really think I care?” she asked tearfully. “My life is already ruined.”
“Well, you better not,” he warned.
She pointed to the door and yelled, “Get out!”
He turned and slammed the door on his way out. He then went to the bathroom across the hall. He looked in the mirror at his face. It was covered with deep and bloody cuts and scratches.