“What do you want, Lucas?” Sammy moved instinctively in front of Gerry. She knew Lucas wouldn’t hurt her, but she wasn’t sure what he might do to Gerry.
Lucas looked around behind Sammy. He grinned and asked snidely, “What you got there? A new boyfriend? What’s your mom going to say about you dating a nigger?”
Sammy stepped nearer to Lucas and shouted angrily, “Why don’t you shut up, you moron!”
“Why don’t you make me, Samantha,” challenged Lucas. He shoved her aside and looked at the timid boy before him.
“He don’t look like much to me,” remarked Lucas as he towered over Gerry. Gerry appeared frightened as he looked down at the sidewalk. He jumped when Lucas barked, “What’s your name, Boy? Don’t rightly think I’ve seen you before. Didn’t know we had more niggers in this town.”
Sammy walked over and started smacking Lucas’s massive arms. “Leave him alone!”
Lucas laughed and responded, “Aw, don’t worry, Samantha. I’m not going to hurt your nigger boyfriend.” He glanced over at a trembling Gerry. “Wouldn’t be much of a challenge anyway. Hell, I could blow at him and he’d probably fall down.” He roared with laughter when he started to blow puffs of air in Gerry’s face.
Lucas turned when he heard someone shout from down the street. “What’s going on?” Alex was quickly running toward them.
“Shit,” hissed Lucas. “We got two new niggers in town.”
Just then, Alex trotted up and stood challengingly before Lucas. He turned and asked Sammy, “Is everything okay?”
Lucas laughed and said, “Hell, yeah. Why wouldn’t everything be alright?” He crossed his arms defensively and asked, “Why is it any of your business anyway?”
Alex looked back at his little brother. He could see the terror in his eyes. “That’s my little brother,” he threatened as he balled his hand into a fist. “So I’m making it my business.”
Lucas’s eyes narrowed as his face started to redden with anger. “I ain’t scared of you, Nigger.”
When Alex tightened his fist, Sammy grabbed his arm. “Come on, Alex,” she pleaded. She wasn’t sure if Alex could take on Lucas since Lucas outweighed him by about fifty pounds. “Let’s get out of here.”
Alex released his fist, looked back at Gerry and asked, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” replied Gerry nervously.
Alex turned back toward Lucas and threatened, “You ever touch him, and I’ll kill you.”
“Ohhh,” replied Lucas sarcastically, “I’m really scared.”
When Alex balled his fist and started to approach Lucas, Sammy grabbed his hand and pleaded again, “Please, Alex. Let’s just get out of here.”
Alex turned and put his arm around his little brother. He held Sammy’s hand and they started to walk away. When they were about fifteen feet away, Lucas shouted, “This ain’t over yet, Nigger!” Alex started to turn, but Sammy stopped him.
“Don’t,” she pleaded. “Lucas is crazy. He’ll hurt you.”
Alex replied, “I’ve dealt with fuckers like him before. They can push around guys smaller than them, but when they meet someone their size, they back off.”
He looked back to see Lucas lumbering off in the opposite direction. “He’s soft,” said Alex. “If he wanted a piece of me, he would have tried. He’s nothing but a pussy. He didn’t want you to see him get his ass kicked.”
To his side, he heard Gerry mutter, “I don’t like it here. I want to move back home.”
* * * * * *
The Michael’s kitchen was bustling. Brenda was fixing breakfast for her three children, but only Brett was sitting at the counter. She hollered down the hall, “Neil! Hurry up! You’re going to be late.”
She waited but heard no reply. “Emily! Get out here.”
Soon, Emily appeared in the kitchen. She shuffled past her mother and plopped down on a stool. “Why does school start so early?” she moaned as she took a bite of toast.
Brenda laughed and replied, “It’s God’s way of getting back at children for the way they behave.”
“But I’m good,” mumbled Emily. “Why can’t I start later?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” laughed her mother as she placed a plate of eggs and sausage before her.
“Yuck!” exclaimed Emily. “I don’t want this. Where is my cereal?”
“I thought I would make everyone a good breakfast since it is Neil’s first day back to school.” She turned to see if Neil had come into the kitchen. When he hadn’t, she walked over to the door and hollered out his name again.
Brett looked at his older sister’s breakfast in the plate and asked, “You don’t want that?”
“Yuck,” she replied again. “No!”
“Good,” giggled her brother as he took the plate and scooped its contents onto his plate. Just then, Neil came into the room.
Brenda smiled and walked over to him. “Don’t you look handsome?” she said as she straightened out the collar on his shirt.
“Mom,” he pleaded as he stepped away. “Do I have to go to school today?”
He sat beside Brett. After looking at the food on his plate, he turned to him and asked, “You want this?”
Brett didn’t say anything as he stuffed some eggs into his mouth. He then took his fork and scooped Neil’s food onto his plate. “Thanks,” he said with a mouthful of food.
Brenda shook her head and asked to herself, “Why do I even try?”
No one said anything more as she moved around the kitchen cleaning up the mess from breakfast. After quickly placing everything into the dishwasher, she looked up at the clock. “Okay, Kids,” she said. “You better head out to the bus.”
Brett and Emily put on their jackets and rushed out the door. Before leaving, Neil stopped and asked, “I thought you and Dad were going to buy me a car?”
She kissed him on the forehead and replied, “We will, Dear, when you get your driver’s license.”
“That will be a while,” he replied sarcastically. “You haven’t even enrolled me in a driving class yet.” He pulled his book bag over his shoulder and headed out the door.
He looked back to see his mother watching to make sure he got safely on the bus. The night before they had talked about her taking him to school, but he refused. He said other students might make fun of him if she did.
As usual, Brett and Emily’s bus arrived first. Three minutes later, he saw his big yellow monster coming down the street. When the bus pulled to a stop, his heart started pounding. He didn’t know what awaited him. It had been almost two weeks ago since he last went to school. He had enjoyed his time away. At least he didn’t have to deal with Lucas and his other former friends. Sammy tried unsuccessfully to convince him that no one was talking about him anymore. Most had gotten used to the fact that he might be gay. The rumors had died down, and now students had moved on to more recent gossip.
The bus driver gave him a puzzled look when he got on. Since he had only ridden the bus a couple of times, he probably forgot whom he was. However, he didn’t say anything as Neil trudged up the steps. When he turned and faced the aisle, Owen was the first face he saw. He looked down at the bus floor and made his way to the back. He stared out the window to see his mother watching the bus pull away.
He stared out the window until the bus stopped at Sammy’s house. She smiled when she saw him sitting in the last row. “Hey,’ she said happily as she set her book bag between them. “I was wondering if you would be on the bus, or if your mother drove you to school today.”
“I decided to ride the bus,” he replied nervously. Butterflies were still floating around inside his stomach. Actually, it felt like a herd of buffalo was making a wild stampede. It didn’t help that he hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast.
“Relax,” assured Sammy. “It’s going to be okay. You’ll see.”
Neil looked toward the front to see Owen and Ned staring back at him. “I don’t know,” he replied skeptically. “What if Lucas tries to start something?”
Sammy gripped Neil’s arm and excitedly told him about running into Lucas as she and Gerry walked home from his house. She also told him how Alex had stood up to him.
“It’s a wonder Lucas didn’t kick his ass,” remarked Neil.
“Alex doesn’t think he will,” she responded. “She thinks he only picks on smaller guys. He’s afraid of someone who will stand up to him.”
“I don’t know,” said Neil. “I’ve seen him go head to head with some of the guys before.”
“But he knows you guys,” replied Sammy. “He knows you’re all afraid of him.”
“Well,” said Neil. “I don’t want to see Alex get hurt.” Sammy assured him that Alex could take care of himself. Neil found it amusing how she seemed to really admire Alex. If he weren’t so jealous, he would have liked to see Sammy and Alex get together.
They remained quiet for a few minutes as the bus traveled over the bumpy road. It would stop occasionally to pick up other students. Neil watched as Robbie got on. He said something to Owen and Ned, and then he glanced quickly back at him.
Sammy broke the silence when she remarked, “Aren’t you kind of glad you won’t be the only gay boy at school?”
Neil gave her a puzzled look and asked, “What do you mean?”
“Gerry,” replied Sammy. “Remember last night he admitted he was gay?” Neil saw the look in her eye, and he instantly knew where the conversation was going.
“He is cute,” she remarked as she nudged Neil in the side.
Neil turned toward her and grumbled, “Don’t start, Sammy.”
“Oh, come on, Neil,” she giggled. “You have to admit he’s really cute.”
“He’s weird,” stated Neil. “He doesn’t say anything. Besides, he not...” Neil stopped talking and turned to stare out the window.
“He’s not what?” asked Sammy. “He’s not Alex?”
“I didn’t say that,” replied Neil emphatically.
Sammy smiled and said, “No, you didn’t.” They didn’t speak again until the bus pulled up in front of the school.
Alex and Gerry were waiting outside the school. Alex grinned when he saw Neil and Sammy approach. Gerry glanced quickly at Neil, but then he looked down at the sidewalk.
“Hey Guys,” said Alex cheerfully. Just then, Owen, Ned and Robby passed them as they entered school. They all stared at Neil as they walked by.
Alex watched them and asked, “Anyone give you a problem on the bus?”
Sammy responded by assuring Alex that none of their friends would hurt Neil with the exception of Lucas. Alex looked around and asked, “Where is that big goober?” He slapped his right fist into his left hand.
“I got something for him if he fucks with my boy.” He looked at Neil and laughed slightly.
Neil asked sarcastically, “I thought you were a Student Ambassador? Isn’t one of the things you’re supposed to stress is not using violence to solve a problem?”
Alex looked over at Sammy before answering. “It’s supposed to be that way,” he replied, “But sometimes there are people who you just can’t reason with. Lucas is one of those.” He held up his fists and said, “This is the only thing they understand.”
Sammy scowled at Alex and asked, “You sure you want to be in the program? I’m not sure you’re cut for it.”
“Sure I am,” laughed Alex as he put his arm around Sammy’s waist and started leading her into the school. “I’ll prove to you I’m a nice guy.”
Sammy giggled, glanced back at Neil and smiled. Neil heard Gerry mutter beside him, “They need to get a room. That’s all he does is talk about Sammy.” Neil looked at him and attempted a smile, but it just wouldn’t appear on his face.
* * * * * *
Neil made his way to his locker, and he was surprised when Alex walked beside him. Neil asked, “I thought your locker was on the other side of the building?”
“Not any more,” replied Alex as Neil stopped before his locker. He laughed and opened the locker beside him. “We’re neighbors,” he laughed.
“Really?” responded Neil. “Since when?”
Alex explained how he went to Mr. Collins and asked if he could have the locker beside Neil. Alex grinned and said, “And guess what?”
“We’ll also have the same classes,” he said with a grin.
Alex explained how he had talked to their counselor, Mrs. Martindale, into scheduling him to take the same periods as Neil.
Neil attempted to smile. “Don’t you think you’re taking this ambassador thing too far?” He was afraid that others would think that Alex was becoming his bodyguard.
“Nah,” replied Alex. “I just want to share classes with my best friend around here.” He slammed his locker. After Neil got everything out of his locker, Alex put his arm around Neil’s shoulder.
“Let’s get to class,” he said. Neil felt a little uncomfortable. He was afraid everyone would think that he and Alex might be boyfriends. When he tried to pull away, Alex pulled him back toward him.
As if reading Neil’s mind, Alex laughed and said, “Don’t worry what everyone says about us.” He laughed and looked Neil in the face. “Hell, I just might kiss you right here to give them something to really talk about.”
Neil’s eyes widened as he pulled away from Alex. He shrieked, “Don’t you dare.” Alex broke out into a huge roar of laughter.
He wrapped his arm around Neil, smiled and said, “I’m just joking.”
Neil replied, “You better be.” He didn’t object to the idea of Alex kissing him. He just didn’t want it to be in front of the entire school.
* * * * * *
“Get out of that goddamned bed!” Lucas jumped when his grandmother entered his tiny, cramped bedroom and hit him with a broom.
He jumped out of bed and stumbled over his shoes on the floor. “Grannie! Stop it!”
She swung at him again and shouted, “Ain’t you supposed to be going back to school today?”
He thought a minute and replied, “I ain’t too sure. Has it been ten days already?” He pulled on his pants and reached for his shirt. He jumped just in time to avoid being hit with the broom again.
She took a deep breath and sat on the edge of his bed. “You told me you was going back to school when I let you sleep here.” She sat a minute trying to catch her breath. “If you don’t, then I’m going to call Raymond and tell him to come get your sorry ass.”
“No, Grannie!” pleaded Lucas. “I’m going to get on to school right now.” He buttoned up his shirt, put on his shoes and headed for the door.
“Make me some coffee,” ordered the old woman as he left the room.
After pouring his grandmother a cup of coffee and making her a bowl of oats, he poured some cereal into a bowl. He opened the refrigerator, looked inside and slammed the door shut. “There ain’t no damn milk,” he muttered as he sat back down.
“Shut up, Boy,” lamented the old woman. “Go out and git yourself a job and buy it yourself.”
He looked at her angrily. “Don’t the state pay you for me to stay here?”
“Shit,” she mumbled as she took a bite of her oatmeal. “Don’t come near to feeding your fat ass.”
He looked at her and spat, “Fuck you, Old Woman.” He jumped when she tossed her hot coffee on him.
“What the fuck you do that for?”
She pointed toward the door and shouted, “Git your ass out of my house!”
“But Grannie,” he apologized. “I’m sorry.” He took a towel off the table and started to wipe the coffee off his shirt.
“I said git!” she hollered as she threw her coffee cup at him. It hit his chest and crashed onto the floor.
As he threw back his chair and headed for the door, Lucas heard his grandmother shout, “I’m going to call Raymond! He’ll know how to take care of you!”
* * * * * *
Neil felt uncomfortable walking into his first period class. It helped that Alex was beside him, but it didn’t stop his classmates from staring at him. He walked up to Mr. Norris’s desk and gave him the work that had been assigned to him.
Mr. Norris gave him a brief lecture on not fighting in school, and he warned him that he could be facing an expulsion if he did it again. Neil nodded and made his way to the center of the room where Alex had saved him a seat.
When Owen entered, he slowed down as he walked down the aisle to take his seat in the back of the room. He looked down and nodded slightly at Neil, but he didn’t say anything. Neil quickly glanced over at Alex. He gave Owen a warning look, but Owen didn’t appear to have seen him. However, Ned noticed it. Neil turned after they took their seats, and he saw Ned look at him and whisper something to Owen.
Neil’s other morning classes proceeded the same way. Alex escorted Neil to class, and he sat beside him in each. Neil felt a little embarrassed because by third period his classmates were beginning to notice. He heard a few girls snicker and make comments about them. Most appeared to be jealous because of the attention Alex was giving him. He was quickly realizing that Alex was becoming a very popular student.
When he entered Ms. Yarber’s English class, she appeared nervous when he handed his make-up assignments to her. At first, Neil was afraid she was going to refuse to take them. However, she did, but she informed him that he couldn’t make up any missed quizzes. Neil said he understood, and then he took his seat.
Halfway through class, the door opened and Lucas entered the room. He ignored Ms. Yarber as he walked down the aisle to his seat. When he approached Neil, he glared down and brushed against his arm. Neil held his breath because he thought Lucas would confront him again, but he didn’t. He could hear Lucas talking to Robbie and Ned as he took his seat.
Ms. Yarber rose from her seat, walked down the aisle and approached Lucas. She stood before him, put out her hand and asked, “Do you have a late admission slip to class?”
Everyone turned to see how Lucas would react. Like Neil, most students thought that he had simply come to class without a pass. They appeared disappointed when he reached into his pocket, pulled out yellow tardy slip and handed it to her without saying anything. She lectured the rest of the period about a short story that had been assigned for homework. Neil listened attentively so he could pass a pop quiz that Ms. Yarber might have at the end of the period. He was disappointed when she didn’t.
When the bell rang, Alex stood beside Neil so he could block Lucas from brushing past him. Lucas at first stood defiantly in front of Alex. He glared at him as if he was challenging him to fight. Alex didn’t back down and stood his ground. Ned and Rob grabbed Lucas’s arm and pulled him out of the room. As he walked away, Lucas looked back threateningly at Alex and Neil.
“What a douche,” muttered Alex after Lucas and the others left the room.
“I just know something bad is going to happen,” lamented Neil. “I can just feel it.”
“Let him bring it on,” replied Alex angrily as he balled his fists. “I can handle anything he can dish out.”
“Yeah,” responded Neil worriedly, “But I can’t.”
Alex put his arm around Neil and assured him, “I got your back.”
Neil thought to himself, ‘Lucas is going to get me when you’re not around.’
* * * * * *
Neil didn’t get to attend Ms. Shelton’s history class. During fourth period, Mr. Bowers announced an assembly would be held in the auditorium during sixth period. All students were to attend with no exceptions. Any students caught in the hallways or classrooms would receive detention.
Neil looked over at Alex after Mr. Bowers made the announcement. He asked, “I wonder what that is about?”
“That’s right,” replied Alex. “You weren’t here last week. Bowers is going to go over the School Ambassador Program. Sammy and I have to be up on stage.”
Neil didn’t know what to say. His first thoughts were that other students might be angry that the school was going to institute a program after what happened to him. According to what Sammy and Alex had told him, students could be suspended from school if they bullied other students and didn’t cooperate with the student ambassadors. He was worried that they might blame him.
However, he thought that the project might help other students who were being bullied. It gave them a course of action to take rather than appear to be ratting on another student to the principal or a teacher. Most of the student ambassadors were popular students who would have no problem dealing with other students. Nonetheless, Neil worried about students like Lucas. It might just give him another reason to become violent.
As if he could read his mind, Alex slapped Neil on the back. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I got your back.”
Just then, Mr. Bowers came over the PA system and asked all student ambassadors to report to the auditorium. Alex put away his art materials and told Neil he would see him after the assembly.
When the bell rang, Neil left class and headed toward the auditorium to listen to the presentation. As he was walking, he saw Gerry up ahead of him. Suddenly, he noticed Lucas coming toward them in the opposite direction. When he saw Gerry, he crossed the hallway toward him. When he was next to him, he shoved him violently into a locker. Gerry hit it hard, and then he fell to the ground. Lucas looked back and started laughing as he walked away.
Neil rushed over and knelt down beside him. “Are you alright?”
“No,” sniffled Gerry as he fought to hold back tears. Neil helped him to his feet, and then he picked up his book bag and handed it to him.
He angrily told Gerry, “I’m going to tell Alex what happened.”
“No!” insisted Gerry emphatically. “Don’t do that!”
“Why?” asked Neil. “He didn’t have any right to shove you into the locker.”