Neil was pacing around his room as Sammy sat on his bed and watched. She asked, “What’s so bad about your mom dating Mr. Collins? He’s a nice guy. Everyone at school likes him.”
Neil stopped, put his hand on his hips and replied angrily, “Because she’s my mother!”
Sammy rolled her eyes and said, “So what? She’s been cooped up in this house babysitting you, Brett and Emily ever since your father left.” She puffed out her chest and added, “I think it’s wonderful she’s dating.”
Neil’s face reddened as he hollered, “But she’s dating Mr. Collins!” He looked up at the clock on the wall. It was after nine. He became more emotional as he asked Sammy, “What if they are...what if they are...like doing it right now?”
He sat on the side of the bed and groaned, “I don’t even want to think about it.”
Sammy giggled and responded laughingly, “They’re not doing it. This is only their first date. Maybe they’ll do it next time.”
“Oh, God,” moaned Neil as he buried his head in his hands. “Just shut up. Okay?” He stood and started pacing around the room.
He stopped and asked Sammy, “What do I say when I see him at school?”
“How about, Hello Mr. Collins?” giggled Sammy. “Is my mother a good kisser?”
Neil sat down beside her on the bed. “Haha,” he replied. “You can be a real bitch sometimes.”
“I must be slipping,” laughed Sammy. “I want to be a bitch all the time.”
Just then, the doorbell rang. Sammy’s face lit up as she said, “That must be him?”
“Who?” asked Neil. “Mr. Collins?”
“No, Stupid,” giggled Sammy. “Alex.”
Neil rose from his bed and shouted, “Alex!” He walked over to the door, closed it and asked, “What’s Alex doing here?”
Sammy stood and headed toward the door. “He came to see you, Silly,” she replied as she exited the room. Neil paced briefly around the room, and then he looked at himself in the mirror to make sure his hair was in place. He subconsciously held his hand to his mouth and blew into it to make sure his breath didn’t smell. He turned when he heard someone enter the room.
It was Sammy. Alex followed her. Neil looked like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. He stared at Alex, but words couldn’t come out of his mouth.
Alex looked around and said, “Nice room.” He then turned and looked at the door behind him. He briefly disappeared from the room, but returned holding the hand of his little brother.
“I hope you don’t mind,” he explained, “if I brought Gerry with me?” Gerry stood timidly looking down at the floor.
“No,” assured Neil. “It’s okay.”
“Good,” replied Alex as he walked around the room. He picked up a brown teddy bear and laughed as he pointed it at Neil and asked, “Yours?”
Neil’s face reddened as he responded, “No. It belongs to my little brother.” He glanced over at Gerry who was still standing motionless by the door. He had his hands in his pockets, and the expression on his face said he would rather be anywhere but where he was.
Neil glanced at Sammy and mouthed, “What is he doing here?”
Sammy laughed and replied, “I invited Alex over so we could discuss the Student Ambassador Program.”
“Yeah,” said Alex as he walked over and plopped down on the bed beside Neil. “I can’t wait to get started. Ms. Shelton has everyone stoked about it.”
Neil gave them a puzzled look and asked, “What do I have to do with it?”
“Everything,” replied Alex. “You’re going to be my first project.” He looked over at his brother.
“Would you sit down somewhere,” he ordered his brother. “You looked like a spaz just standing there.” Gerry glanced quickly over at Neil before sitting on a chair in the corner of the room.
Neil asked excitedly, “What do you mean I’m your first project?”
Sammy explained, “Ms. Shelton assigns a certain ambassador to a student who requests help with dealing with a problem.”
Neil said, “But I haven’t asked for help.” He glanced quickly over at Alex.
“You don’t need to,” explained Sammy. “Mr. Collins requested it.”
“Just great,” moaned Neil. “First my mom goes out on a date with Mr. Collins. Now he’s going to be my watchdog at school.”
Alex’s eyes widened and he asked, “Mr. Collins is boning your mom?”
Neil jumped from the bed and shrieked, “Mr. Collins is not boning my mom!”
Sammy giggled and explained to Alex, “Mrs. Michaels went out on a date with Mr. Collins earlier this evening, and Neil is upset about it.”
“He should be,” replied Alex. “I know I would be upset if Mr. Collins was boning my mom.”
“He’s not boning my mom!” shouted Neil.
“All right,” said Sammy as she patted Neil on the hand and gave Alex an angry look. “Let’s get back to why we’re here.”
“He’s not boning my mom,” muttered Neil under his breath.
“Anyway,” said Alex. “Mr. Collins assigned me to be your student ambassador.”
Neil gave him a puzzled look. “What’s that mean?”
Alex explained how he would act as a mediator in case Neil had a problem with Lucas or any other student. He was to come to him first and not try to resolve the problem through inappropriate actions like he had before.”
“What if Lucas doesn’t do what you tell him to do?” asked Neil.
“Then I go to Collins and he’ll deal with it,” replied Alex. “As a mediator, I’m supposed to get the two parties together to resolve any differences they have. If I can’t do it, then it will become a situation where the administration has to act.”
“I don’t know,” replied a skeptical Neil. “Lucas won’t listen to you or anyone else. Trust me. I’ve known him my whole life.” He looked worriedly at Alex. “He’ll hurt you if you try to talk to him.”
Alex puffed out his chest. “I can handle myself.” He looked over at Gerry. “We come from a pretty tough neighborhood. It was either be the hunter or the hunted. Guys learned pretty quickly not to fuck around with me.”
He looked worriedly at his little brother. “Gerry was the hunted. But word got out pretty quickly that if you messed around with him, then you had to fuck with me later. Most guys chose not to go that route.”
Gerry mumbled, “I can take care of myself.”
Neil looked at the frightened boy sitting in the corner alone. It was the first words he had spoken since he came into the room. His small stature appeared as if it would make him an easy prey for a bully. He wondered if that might have been the reason Alex and his family had moved to Farmersville.
“I know you can,” replied Alex. “It’s just that you are small. Bullies go for guys like you.”
“Sorry,” said Gerry angrily. “We can’t all be studs like you.”
“Oh, Come on,” responded Alex as he tried to calm his little brother. Sammy and Neil cast each other a confused glance. They had no idea what was going on between the brothers. “We’ve been through this before.”
“Yeah, I know,” replied Gerry as he stood and faced his brother. “I’m gay. Guys like to beat up on guys like me. You’ve told me that a million times.”
Neil’s mouth dropped as he looked over at Sammy. She had the same surprised look on her face. They couldn’t believe that Gerry had outed himself to them without any hesitation. He didn’t even look at them to see their reaction. He continued to stare angrily at his brother.
Alex stood and approached his brother. Gerry coiled back away from him. “I’m just trying to protect you, is all.”
Gerry shouted, “I don’t need you to fight all my fights! You’re doing the same shit you did at the old school.” He turned and headed for the door.
Alex asked, “Where you going?”
“Home,” replied Gerry. He turned and added sarcastically, “Maybe I can make it without some gay basher beating the shit out of me.” He turned and stormed out the door.
Sammy rose from the bed and said to Alex, “I’ll go see if I can talk to him.” Alex and Neil watched as she hurried from the room.
The two boys sat in awkward silence for a minute. Neil didn’t know what to say. He was still stunned by the angry exchange between the brothers. Finally, Alex sighed deeply and let out a little laugh.
“That didn’t go very well,” he said jokingly, “Did it?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I guess not.”
Alex pulled his knee onto the bed and turned toward Neil. “I guess I should explain some things to you.”
Neil responded shyly, “If you want to.”
Alex spent the next few minutes telling Neil about the situation between his brother and Andre. When they first met, they tried to keep their relationship secret. The neighborhood they lived in was rather rough, and gay boys weren’t welcomed. Guys were expected to know how to survive on the street. Alex learned it young.
“I fought constantly,” he laughed as he looked at Neil. “At first I got my ass whooped a lot. As I got older and started playing football, I got tougher. Guys started leaving me alone.”
Neil asked, “What about Gerry?”
“Guys didn’t mess with him,” he explained, “They knew they would have to deal with me.” He shook his head sadly. “Then one day when he was thirteen, he hooked up with this guy across the street. His name was Andre.”
Alex related the story about how they at first seemed to be just friends. They were constant companions, and Gerry spent a lot of time at Andre’s house. He said he didn’t think anything about it. He just assumed they were best friends.
“Then this girl at school borrowed Andre’s phone,” explained Alex. “She read some of his text messages from Gerry.”
“What was so bad about that?” asked Neil.
Alex shook his head and replied, “They weren’t just messages. They were more like love letters. Gerry and Andre were texting how much they loved each other.” He looked sadly at Neil and said, “She stole Andre’s phone. By that night everyone in school had heard about the text messages.”
“Shit,” hissed Neil. “That must have been embarrassing.”
“More than that,” replied Alex. “Gerry and Andre became targets. You see how small Gerry is, don’t you?” Neil shook his head. “Well, Andre wasn’t much bigger. Gerry was always coming home with bruises.”
Neil frowned and asked, “What did you do?”
Tears started to form in Alex’s eyes. “I tried to protect him, but I couldn’t be with him 24/7. Finally, we had to tell Mom and Dad what was going on.”
Neil asked, “Is that what brought you to Farmersville?”
Alex nodded his head and explained that his father is a postal carrier. He asked for a transfer, hoping to relocate to a city not too far from where they lived. His mother and father didn’t want to uproot and leave all their friends. However, there were few options with the recent problems with the postal service. Farmersville was the nearest available opening, and it was still two hundreds miles away.
“Dad took it,” said Alex. “We knew we’d be moving to a much different environment, but at least Gerry might be safe.”
Neil asked, “Is he?”
Alex shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno. He doesn’t talk too much anymore. I think he really misses Andre.”
“Does he get a chance to see him?”
“Naw,” replied Alex. “Andre has moved on. He won’t even answer Gerry’s text messages. I think he’s worried he’ll get caught again.”
“Wow!” said Neil as he shook his head. “Poor guy. It must be hard on him.”
“It is,” replied Alex. “That’s why I got involved in this student ambassador thing. I’m trying to talk Gerry into getting involved.” He frowned and added, “But so far he refuses to get help.”
He said sadly, “You saw him tonight. He thinks he can take care of himself.” Tears welled up once again in his eyes as he thought about the struggles his little brother was going through.
He finally stood and told Neil, “I better go. I don’t want Sammy and Gerry out on the streets alone.”
Neil smiled and assured him, “Farmersville isn’t like the big cities.”
“No,” frowned Alex, “But you still have your share of assholes. What about that shithead Lucas?”
“Right,” replied Neil as he stood and accompanied Alex to the front door. After saying goodbye, Neil watched as Alex pulled his jacket around his neck and hurried off down the sidewalk.
* * * * *
“I’m tired of the way Alex treats me,” cried Gerry as he wiped tears from his eyes with his jacket sleeve. “He thinks I’m a baby.”
Sammy walked slowly beside him was they headed home. “He only does it because he cares about you.”
“But I’m only a year younger than him,” stated Gerry. “I’m not some little kid.”
Sammy wanted to remind Gerry that he was much smaller than Alex, but she knew that would upset him even more. Besides, she had only met him for the first time in Neil’s bedroom. Even then, he had said very little. She still couldn’t believe that he was gay.
She looked over and asked, “Why does he think he has to protect you anyway?”
Gerry was silent for a minute as they walked. Finally, he replied, “I had some trouble back at my old school.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Were you bullied?” Since Gerry seemed open about being gay, then Sammy thought he might have been bullied because of it.”
“Kind of,” he replied softly.
Sammy grabbed Gerry’s arm and stopped him. “I have a great idea,” she said excitedly.
Gerry gave her a puzzled look and asked, “What?”
“I can be your student ambassador,” she suggested. “You heard us telling Neil about it, didn’t you?”
“Just great,” mumbled Gerry. “Now a girl wants to protect me.”
“That’s not what the program is about,” she said. She explained to him that she would only act as an intermediary if someone bullied him at school.
“That’s why we were at Neil’s house tonight,” she said. “Alex is going to be Neil’s student ambassador.”
Gerry gave Sammy a puzzled look. “Why does Neil need someone? Is he gay?”
“Um,” stammered Sammy. She didn’t want to out Neil to Gerry. Since he wasn’t in their class, it was possible he hadn’t heard the rumors. Freshmen were usually out of the loop when it came to gossip. She knew as a freshman the year before, rumors never trickled down to the bottom.
“Um,” she hesitated. “He’s having trouble at school. There’s some guys who are giving him a hard time.”
Sammy giggled nervously. “You sure do ask a lot of questions.”
Gerry replied sarcastically, “You sure do dodge a lot of questions.”
“Listen,” replied Sammy. She attempted to smile. “It’s not really my place to say. If you have any questions, you’ll have to ask Neil himself.”
Gerry shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Alex already told me he was gay.”
Sammy looked at him and said sarcastically, “You’re deceitful.”
Gerry grinned and replied, “It’s one of my better traits.”
They continued to walk in silence. The streets of Farmersville were dark and not as well lit as the streets in his old city. Gerry still hadn’t adjusted to rural living. He missed hearing children playing in the streets late at night and the wailing of sirens in the distance.
As they passed an old warehouse, they noticed a figure in the shadows. Sammy suddenly reached over and gripped Gerry’s hand tightly as the figure stepped into the light.
“Well, well, well,” said Lucas as he walked closer toward them. “What do we have here?”
Sammy attempted to sound threatening as she ordered, “Stay away from us, Lucas.”
Lucas approached and warned, “Don’t you tell me what to do, Samantha.”
Sammy gripped Gerry’s hand tighter.
* * * * * *
Neil was asleep on the couch when someone coming through the front door awakened him. He looked at the clock on the wall. It was almost 1:30.
He sat up, scowled at his mother and said, “It’s about time you got home.”
His mother smiled and asked, “Did you wait up for me.” She walked over and kissed Neil on the forehead. “That is so sweet.”
Neil wiped the kiss off his forehead and asked angrily, “Where have you been?” He pointed to the clock. “Do you know what time it is?”
Brenda laughed and said, “It’s time for you to be in bed.”
Neil folded his arms defiantly and responded, “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what is going on.”
Brenda sat down beside her angry son. She laughed and asked, “Isn’t this a conversation I’m supposed to be having with you?”
“It’s not funny, Mom.”
“Of course not, Dear,” she replied as she reached over and patted his hand. Neil snorted and pulled his hand away.
Neil looked his mother in the face and asked, “Why are you going out on a date? Aren’t you supposed to be home taking care of Brett and Emily?”
Brenda replied, “You’re sixteen now. You are old enough to take care of them.”
“So now I’m a babysitter,” he asked angrily, “while you are going out on dates?”
“And what is wrong with me going out on a date?” Brenda was starting to get upset with Neil. She felt he was overreacting to her going out for the evening. “Aren’t you setting a double standard?”
“No,” insisted Neil. He then gave his mother a puzzled look and asked, “What’s a double standard?”
“Do you object to your father living with Dwight?”
“Of course not,” replied Neil. “I like Dwight.”
“So your father can have someone in his life, but I can’t?”
Neil replied, “But you have me, Brett and Emily.”
Brenda took Neil’s hand and held it. “Of course I do,” she said. “But sometimes mothers need more in their life than just their children.”
Neil smiled innocently and asked, “But can’t you wait until I go off to college?”
Brenda frowned and asked, “Is that really fair to me? Isn’t that being a little selfish?”
Neil hung his head. He understood what his mother was saying, but he still wasn’t ready for her to bring another man into the house. He also felt guilty because he didn’t feel the same way when he was at his father’s house that he shared with Dwight. He happily accepted their relationship.
“But Mom,” whined Neil. “Do you have to date Mr. Collins?”
She smiled and assured him, “He’s a wonderful man. I’ve known him for over ten years. His wife and I were good friends.”
Neil stood and shouted, “His wife? You’re dating a married man?”
Brenda laughed and patted the sofa. She waited until Neil was seated before speaking. “His wife passed away four years ago. Daniel has been asking me out for the past year. I finally said yes.”
“But Mom,” whined Neil again. “He’s the assistant principal of the school. What will my friends say if you’re dating Mr. Collins?”
Brenda smiled and kissed Neil on the forehead. “Don’t tell them,” she laughed.
“No more, but Moms,” admonished Brenda. She looked at the clock. “It’s late and I have to be in the office in the morning. You should get some sleep too. You start back to school in one day.”
Neil rose as Brenda turned off the table lamp. They walked down the hallway to Neil’s room. She gripped Neil’s arm before he went inside.
“You better remember this conversation tonight,” she said.
“Because sometime in the future, you’re going to be coming home late from a date.”
“Maybe,” replied Neil as he headed into the room. “But at least it won’t be with Mr. Collins.”
Brenda walked away with a smile on her face as Neil slammed his door shut.