Trials and Tribulations
Chapter 1: A New Year, New Beginnings
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see Gary giving me a questioning look. I just shrugged, and looked back at that blond who had captured my curiosity. I was now on high alert. I knew his name finally, Joseph Matthew Adams. But beside his name, the fact that he was new, and had blond hair, I knew nothing else. Well, I also knew he was in my homeroom too.
Without ever seeing his face, or knowing any other detail about him, I found myself obsessing over him. My mind was racing with all the possibilities, where he was from, why had he moved here, what did he looked like, what were his likes and dislikes, would he like me? Whoa! Where did that come from?
I have got to stop this madness, before it goes too far. I know I have to be careful and not having everyone in town calling me names, and wanting to hurt me. I need to keep my secret, a secret. Not only would I get hurt, but with my father so well known, would he be blamed and hurt for having a gay son. Not good, not good at all!
I really did have a love/hate relationship with this town. I mean when people were hurting, generally everyone rallied behind them with all kinds of help. But, if you cross some moralistic line, holy hell would descend upon you from every direction, and from everyone. I had no intentions of crossing that line, publicly.
I felt a poke in the ribs from somewhere and jumped a little, then looked to my right to see Gary’s eyes looking at me, and then darting towards the front of the room. Turning my head forward I saw Mr. Ison staring at me with a grin on his face. I raised my eye brows.
“Mr. Collins, are you with us today?” He asked.
With everyone turning to look at me, I felt time stop, as I saw the face of an angel. Joseph was looking at me. I felt a blush coloring my face bright red. Tearing my eyes quickly from his face, I looked back at Mr. Ison.
“Yes sir.” I answered meekly.
I could hear Gary suppressing a laugh, and I quickly shot him a look which helped with the suppression. I smirked at him; but, I could hear the giggles from others, as they turned back to the front. Yet, one face was still looking at me I noticed. As our eyes met, I truly felt butterflies in my stomach.
At that point, I went into full blush mode. I looked down at my government book to look away, but I quickly looked back up, saw a smile spread across that angelic face, and I flashed him my million watt smile.
Our attention was drawn back to Mr. Ison, and we both broke eye contact to hear him go on about today’s announcements. Drifting back to my daydreams, I finally had a face to go with the name. Wow! What a face! Wait! Oh my God! Did I just out myself to Joseph? No, what have I done? And I did it on the first day of school no less. I dropped my head to my desk trying to hide my shame.
I heard my name being whispered, “Collins?”
I turned my head to see Gary trying to get my attention.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing” I replied. “I’m just feeling out of it is all.”
He shook his head, and I turned mine back to hide my eyes. I could feel this was not going to be a good day. I already had Timmy frowning at me, Gary wondering what’s up with me, and I think I outed myself to a new boy that I would at least be seeing once every single day in homeroom. If I don’t get a grip soon, I’m going to be in major trouble, or headed to the mental hospital in Danville.
The bell rung ending homeroom, and I could hear all the desks moving as everyone, but me, was getting up to leave. Gary lightly punched me in the shoulder telling me he’d see me later. I looked up, and gave him my best smile.
“See you at lunch, Gary.” I told him.
As I watched him walk towards the door, I noticed Joseph stand up, and started walking towards me. Quickly looking around, I observed it was only Mr. Ison, Joseph, and me left in the room. Mr. Ison was busy getting ready for government class, and by the time I turned my attention back to Joseph, he was in front of me reaching out his hand.
“Hi,” he smiled, “everyone calls me Joey.”
I stood, and shook his hand as I looked into his eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you, Joey. I’m Andy.” I replied, smiling back.
Aware I was still holding his hand, I quickly let go. His smile grew with my reaction, showing his perfectly lined teeth, with dazzling whiteness. I could feel the blush rising again, as I chuckled, but I was as nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
“So, you’re new to our little town, uh?” I asked him, despite being nervous, and in full blush mode again.
“Yup, we moved in last week, on Frazier Street, in the Upper Bottom,” he said.
Ok I thought, ‘Katie bar the door, for trouble is about to walk in!’ I was puzzled, because I didn’t remember anyone moving in recently. “Did you say Frazier Street?” I asked.
He nodded, and looked down at his feet, like he was embarrassed over something.
He said, “Yeah, Dad got assigned a new church here in town, and we just moved Thursday night.”
Ah, I thought, a preacher’s kid.
“Which church?” I was curious, since I knew most of the pastors here in town from some of the meetings my dad would drag me to.
“The Holy Word of the Lamb, out past Wal-Mart.” He almost sighed.
I could tell he was uncomfortable talking about it, so I changed the subject.
“How do you like it here so far?” I asked.
“It’s really beautiful here.” He answered, as his face seemed to come back to life. He smiled, and then he continued. “I’m just worried I’m going to get run over by one of those coal trucks that seem to be everywhere.” He chuckled.
That kinda hit too close to home, but I didn’t want him to know it, “You’ll get used to them.” I forced a smile, and then said, “By the way, I live on Frazier Street too. I live in the two storied red brick house with the two big white columns on the front porch. So welcome to the neighborhood, neighbor!” I grinned.
The room was starting to fill up. Joey looked around and then told me he would be right back, as he walked back to his desk, got his stuff, and took a seat to my left. I filled him in on Mr. Ison, and what he expected from us. The rest of the class was a blur. I honestly couldn’t tell you a word Mr. Ison said. The next thing I knew, the bell rung. Joey and I bumped fists, said we would see each other later, and went in opposite directions.
The rest of the morning was boring and without incident. After third period math, I headed toward the lunch room to find my crew. I hadn’t thought to ask Joey about his schedule. So, I had no idea if we had any more classes together, or which lunch group he ate in. I got in line hoping this year’s food was going to be better.
Someone yelled, “Move faggot, get the fuck off me!”
Then I felt something slam into my back, and something wet spreading down my lower back. I thought, ‘What the hell!’
Turning to see who, or what, just hit me in the back, I saw Joey turning quickly away from me, slinging everything left off his tray as he did, right into JT. JT’s face reddened, and gave Joey a look of death. He took a step towards Joey; as he did, Joey brought up his food tray to protect himself. With his left hand, JT knocked the tray out of Joey’s hands, and caught him square on the nose, with a right round house, knocking Joey on his ass, with a thud.
“I told you faggot, to get out of my way. Fairies don’t belong here.” JT growled at him.
That’s the second time JT had called him a faggot in the span of fifteen seconds. I looked down at Joey’s bleeding nose. Then I looked back up at JT. JT opened his mouth to say more, but to this day have no idea what I was thinking, when I saw him open his mouth, if I was thinking at all. Maybe I was thinking damn the consequences, full speed ahead; because, that’s exactly what I did. I closed that son-of-a-bitch’s mouth before he could speak again; with the hardest uppercut I have ever hit anybody with in my life. JT’s eyes rolled back in his head, as he went down. Damn, that hurt, I thought grabbing my hand.
Then I looked down at him, and pointed a finger at him, and said, “JT, if you ever pull that crap again, they’ll be some slow walking, and some sad singing!” (An old fashion funeral procession) I doubt he heard a word I said.
I turned back to Joey, looked down, and offered my hand to him. He looked up at me, with blood running from his nose.
He looked so small and vulnerable. He was bleeding, and had tears in his eyes. Oh my God, what eyes he had. They stopped me cold. They were such a deep blue that they pulled me in. Then I realized I had stopped breathing
“Thanks” Joey said as I pulled him to his feet.
I stammered, “Its… it…was… I mean it… it was nothing.”
God, where had my voice gone? It was like I couldn’t talk anymore.
Joey was looking around at everyone looking at us, and then he looked down at James Thomas McCray III who everyone called JT, still laying on the ground out cold where he folded like a house of cards, after I hit him. Joey looked back at me with a smile that made my heart skip a beat.
I took a hold of his arm, and pulled him through the crowd that had gathered. I heard some positive comments, and a few pats on the back as we past, but I also noticed a few hard stares coming from some of JT’s buddies.
I looked over at Joey as we cleared the crowd and told him I was taking him to the restroom to get him cleaned up.
He nodded, and said, “Thank you.”
Just then Roger caught up with us, and asked, “What the hell was that all about?”
I quickly explained, as we entered the restroom. I turned on the water, grabbed a bunch of paper towels from the dispensary, soaking a couple, and started wiping Joey’s face, as he turned his head upwards.
Roger expressing his concerned for me said, “You know how JT is Andy. He never forgets shit.”
“I know, I know, Roger. But he was about to hurt Joey bad. I couldn’t do nothing and walk away!” I paused getting the last of the blood off Joey’s face. “Besides,” I continued, “Joey is a nice guy, and didn’t deserve that crap from JT or anyone else. JT was just being a bully, like always to the new guy.”
Finished cleaning all the blood off Joey, I patted him on the shoulder telling him, “Good as new, but you might end up with a shiner. Sorry.” I was feeling bad for Joey. He really didn’t deserve this, and I wanted to make him feel welcomed here at Pine Hills High.
I turned to Roger, “Roger, this is Joey, my new friend, and our new neighbor. His family just moved in on our street last week.” Joey lit up as he looked at me, and smiled at the word friend.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Joey said, still smiling as he turned to Roger.
Roger extended his hand towards Joey, which Joey took, and they shook hands.
Roger grinned, and said, “Howdy neighbor!”
That’s so Roger I thought. I smiled at both them, and placed a hand on each of their shoulders.
Suddenly the door flew open, and Timmy stepped in, looking out of breath, as the door closed behind him.
After taking a moment, to catch his breath, he said “The principal wants to see you two in his office” making quotation marks in the air with his fingers, “immediately!” then pointing at Joey and me.
I figured, sooner or later, we would be called to the office, but I didn’t expect it to be within ten minutes. This was one of those consequences I had said damn to. I guess it was time to pay the piper.
I shrugged, threw my arm around Joey’s shoulder, and with more confidence than I really felt, I told Joey, “Let’s go see Mr. Horn and get this over with.”
Turning to Roger and Timmy, “Look, I’ll just tell Mr. Horn exactly what happened and why and everything will be okay. Besides, everybody knows what a jerk JT is. I’ll catch up with you two in fourth period biology.”
Roger looked as concerned as I felt on the inside and Timmy just looked, well he was staring at Joey with a, I don’t know what kind of look. It was like he was an alpha male wolf staring down a challenger for the pack.
“Timmy”, I said to him to get his attention.
He blinked and turned to look at me and said, “What?”
“Be sure to tell Debbie I’m okay and we’ll talk later, okay?” I asked.
He nodded and I led Joey out of the restroom hoping he hadn’t noticed the way Timmy was looking at him. The hall wasn’t too crowded since most students were still in the lunchroom. But there were a few of them around and some were friends of JT’s. I caught a few stares and quickly dropped my arm off of Joey’s shoulder and quickened our pace.
Once we got to the office I could see through the glass in Mr. Horn’s door that he was on the phone. Mrs. Perry, the secretary, looked up and saw who we were.
She asked, “What can I do for you Andy?”
“We were told Mr. Horn wanted to talk to us.” I answered.
“Have a seat, Mr. Horn is on the phone at the moment and when he’s finished, I’ll let him know you are here to see him.” She replied.
I looked at Joey and nodded towards the chairs along the wall and we walked over and sat down. I was wondering if Mr. Horn was going to expel me. I wasn’t worried about Joey, he hadn’t done anything. I on the other hand, did throw a punch, in self-defense mind you. Okay it wasn’t strictly in self-defense; but, it was in defense of someone, Joey. I was still worried because they have a zero tolerance for fighting here at Pine Hills. I was also concerned how Dad was going to react. And then there was Timmy and how he was staring at Joey in the restroom. What was that all about? Then I felt it. Joey’s leg and mine were touching. Every other thought in my head flew right out the window and I was totally focused on that contact. I could feel the heat from the contact racing up my leg to my groin causing little Mikey to inflate. I had even forgotten the back of my shirt was still damp.
As I started to turn my head to look at Joey, Mr. Horn’s office door abruptly opened. There he stood all six foot five, two hundred and fifty pounds of him, looking directly at me. He won the brief staring contest in record time as I quickly looked down at my shoes. Suddenly, I was a bundle of nerves. My leg started shaking against Joey’s and he looked from Mr. Horn to me, placed his hand on my arm.
He leaned in, and whispered, “Everything will be alright.”
Wow I thought, here he was trying to make me feel better. I felt like such a dork. But I didn’t have much time to contemplate it as Mr. Horn cleared his throat.
“Mr. Collins and Mr. Adams, would you be so kind to join me in my office?” He asked, but in a way that left no option to say ‘no thank you, I’ll pass.’
Although, I really did want to take a pass this time; we both stood and walked into his office and took a seat in the two chairs in front of his desk, as he closed the door behind us. He sat at his desk picking up two folders.
Opening one, he looked at Joey and said, “I see this is your first day here Mr. Adams. I want to apologize for what took place here. We have a zero tolerance for fighting and bullying. It appears we had both happen either to you or in front of you on your very first day.”
Okay, I was shocked! I think I just heard Mr. Horn apologize to Joey. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was really happy that he did; because Joey had done nothing wrong and was the victim here. But, I was still shocked.
“Thank you sir, it could have been a lot worse if Andy hadn’t stepped in and defended me. I thought for sure that that guy was going to kill me the way he was looking at me.” Joey replied.
“This brings us to Mr. Collin’s actions today.” Mr. Horn said as he picked up the other folder. He thumbed through it for a minute and placed it on his desk as he looked up at me.
“Would you like to tell me what happened and why you thought you had no other choice but to take the actions you did?” Mr. Horn asked.
I thought about it for a second and decided it was best just to tell it as it happened, leaving out my obsession of Joey, of course. I told him exactly how it happened, Joey being shoved into me, dumping most of his tray on my back, JT calling Joey a fag, not once but twice, JT punching Joey in the nose as hard as he could, and then looking like he was going to go in for the kill.
I looked Mr. Horn square in the eyes and told him, “Mr. Horn, everyone knows JT is a bully and has a crazy temper. I’ve seen him half beat guys to death and laugh at them. And he never gets into trouble over it, because he’s smart about it or people lie for him.”
I swallowed hard and plowed ahead, “I’m not one that goes looking for trouble. I guess that’s my school folder you were looking through and you can see I have never been in a fight at school ever before.” I pointed at the folder on his desk. “I always try to talk things through with people, except today. I just met Joey today and I have no clue if he is gay or not. Frankly, it’s none of my business. If Joey wants to tell me he is gay or not that’s up to him. JT was calling him a fag in a hateful way trying to hurt him and embarrass him in front of everyone in the lunch room. Then without reason or cause he assaulted him. Even then JT wasn’t done; he started towards him in a threatening manner and started to open his mouth to spew more hate.”
I paused taking a big breath and continued, “I wasn’t going to be one of those people that do nothing and just walk away. Even if Joey was gay, no one has the right to treat anyone that way. Everyone has the right to be who they are without people like JT assaulting them. So seeing that words were not going to stop JT, I used what force I thought necessary to prevent further harm to come to Joey. I am sorry it came to that. Now, I am going to have to watch my back; because I know JT or his friends will want to get even with me for what I did. But what else could I have done? Run for help and have JT hurt him bad while help was on the way? I believe I did the right thing. However, if you think I was wrong, I will take my punishment without complaint. But, I still believe I did what I had to and would do it again!”
I think my dad would have been proud of my closing argument. I think I hit every strong point I had going for me and threw myself on the mercy of the court with my apology and acceptance of any punishment. I looked at Joey and seeing him smile at me, made me smile, even considering the circumstances.
“I’ve already talked to several people,” Mr. Horn started “and they all confirm what you have told me. However, with the zero tolerance policy set by the School Board, I have no choice but to punish you for fighting.”
Here it comes I thought, suspension.
“But, I do have some flexibility.” He continued. Okay, here’s some hope for me, I thought.
“You have two options. The first is a three day suspension, starting now. Or you could work your three days off working the concession stand the next three home football games, your choice.”
I thought about it for a nanosecond and told him, “I’d like to work off my punishment at the concession stand.”
Joey spoke up, “I think it’s only fair if I helped him work it off.”
I looked over at him and said, “No way Joey, you didn’t do anything wrong. You were a victim of harassment. You didn’t start anything or even throw a punch.”
“No, but you made sure I wasn’t hurt worse. It’s only fair I repay you by helping you now. Mr. Horn?” he said and looked back at the principal.
“Alright, everything is decided. Both of you report to the stadium this Friday night at six pm ready to do whatever you are asked to do. I’ll be by to check up on you and see that everything is going smoothly. Any questions?” he asked.
We both shook our heads no.
He stood and said, “JT has been suspended for five days for using unacceptable, hateful, insulting, and provocative words and for starting a fight on school grounds that’s in violation of school board policy. He also will not be allowed to take part in Friday night’s football game. Those five days should give him time to cool his heels and to drive home the point. He’ll also have to answer to his coach for missing a week of practice, plus the game. When he comes back next Monday, I suggest you let the past be the past and he better too.”
“Off the record Andy, I’m proud of you. On the record, no more fighting. Both of you have Mrs. Perry write you a pass and head to class.”
I smiled and nodded. I really didn’t know what to say to all of that. I was just glad I wasn’t suspended and have my Dad on my case too.
We stopped and got our pass and headed to class. As it turned out we both had biology together. But our lockers weren’t together, so we bumped fists and headed in different directions to our own locker to grab our books and I got a Red Hot Chili Peppers Asterisk tee shirt out I used for just stuff like this to change out of my wet shirt. When I walked in, I handed Mr. Moore my pass and noticed everyone was looking at me. As I glanced around the room I saw Joey had gotten here ahead of me and was sitting in the back next to an empty seat. I also saw Timmy and Roger were here too. I nodded at them and turned back to Mr. Moore as he finished reading the pass.
“Glad you could join us Andy. Please take a seat.” He said.
I walked back to take the seat next to Joey. As I passed Timmy, he kind of looked at me funny. “What is it with Timmy and his looks today?” I thought.
After passing out his outline for this semester’s class and going over his class rules, Mr. Moore allowed us some free time to talk or whatever as long as we were quiet about it.
I asked Joey, “Are you riding the bus home today?”
He said, “Yeah, I plan to. Why?”
“Well, Roger is coming over after school to hang out and maybe play some video games or something. I was wondering if you would like to come over too since we all live on the same street and all. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. There’s no pressure or anything. I just wanted to let you know it was cool if you wanted to.” I felt all those butterflies returning and knew I was starting to ramble on, so I stopped. I also kinda told a lie, I hadn’t asked Roger yet, but I knew he would.
“I would love, I mean, I’d like that. Yeah, that’s cool of you to ask.” He said starting to blush for using the word love.
I didn’t want to embarrass him more so I said nothing about it, but I was glad I wasn’t the only one that blushed. The rest of the period we talked about our visit to the office and JT being suspended. I really liked this guy. He was so easy to talk to and I loved watching him talk. The way his lips would move as he formed his words was mesmerizing. They were so red and full, so kissable. Oh My God! No I didn’t just think that!!! No!
Joey could tell something was wrong and asked, “Is something wrong? Did I say something?”
“No.” I lied. “I was just thinking about my dad and what he is going to say about me fighting. And I just remembered, I think I slept through our government class. Did he give us any homework?”
“Yeah he did. He wanted us to pick out a current world event and write a five hundred word paper telling him how it affects you by Friday.” he answered.
Sighing, I thought homework on the first day of school should be totally against the law. Then an idea popped into my head and I knew exactly what I was going to write about. Just the other day a friend of mine from Nigeria on the Gay Authors web site told me he was almost robbed and killed. Yes, I’ve talked to others online about being gay and stuff; but, they didn’t really know my private information, like where I lived and my last name and stuff. He said it was just a bunch of guys had robbed a bank and was checking cars or something. But what I had read in the Sunday’s paper yesterday told a different story. At least sixty-seven people were killed by a radical Muslim sect known as Boko Haram who promised to continue its bloody sectarian fight against Nigeria’s weak central government, leaving residents nervously moving through empty streets waiting for the next attack. It looked to me like a civil war was coming between Christians and Muslims. I would make the case that a stronger and more democratic central government like ours was needed there to protect my friend’s human rights; and that perhaps our government should do more to aid my friend’s fellow citizens.
I told Joey thanks as the bell rung and that I would see him at the bus after school since we didn’t have any more classes together. I caught up with Roger and Timmy in the hall and told them what all happened in the office as we walked to our lockers that were next to each others. They both told me they would have my back if anything went down. I knew they would, but it felt good hearing it.
I had French fifth period. Why we had to learn French was beyond me. I mean, who spoke French any more but the French? English was now the diplomatic language and I already knew it, well kind of knew it.
Debbie had this class with me and I had to tell her everything from beginning to end. When I finished, she had this strange look. I raised a questioning eye brow at her.
She said, “Be careful with JT, Andy. And be careful around other people not your friend.”
Okay, I had no clue what she meant by that last statement, unless………
“I’ll keep my eyes open and I’ll be careful too. So I guess we’ll both be working Friday night.” I said, trying to change the subject.
We talked a few more minutes before class ended. I had study hall sixth period since I played baseball and it seemed like it would never end. I mean it was hard sitting there for fifty minutes and not being able to talk just because it was the library. I could have used the time to start on my paper for government class, but I knew already where I was going with it and had until Friday.
Finally the bell rung and since I had brought my backpack with me, I didn’t need to go to my locker. Instead I headed to the bus. Being the first one there, I said hi to Mr. Banks, the bus driver, as I got on and headed to the back. After about five or six people getting on, Roger got on and sat down beside me bumping fists.
I asked him, “Hey you want to come over and hang this afternoon? I invited Joey over and he said he would. We can take turns on the Wii or whatever.”
He smiled nudging my shoulder with his and said, “Sure, it’ll be good to have some competition for a change.”
“Smart ass”, I said, laughing at him.
“Hey guys.” Joey said sitting down in the seat in front of us.
When we got off the bus, Joey pointed down the street to where he lived. While we were walking up to my house, Roger pointed out his house next to mine and told Joey he and I had lived next door to each other since we were born.
I unlocked the door and let them both go in before me. As he entered, Joey looked around and said, “Wow, this is house rocks, Andy!”
“Thanks Joey. It’s just home to me. But, it’s not mine, its Dad’s.” I said.
Roger and I took our shoes off and dropped our backpacks by the door. Joey did likewise and they followed me up to my room. I walked over to turn on the Wii and Roger jumped on my king size water bed grabbing the remote from my night stand to turn on my new Samsung fifty-five inch 3D LED TV I got for my birthday in July. Joey just stood in the door way looking around my room. I had posters of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson, and Rupp Arena.
After looking around a little more, Joey walked over to my bed, sat down and asked, “Are you rich or something?”
I quickly shot Roger a look telling him to keep his mouth shut and turned to Joey hoping he didn’t see it.
“I’m just a spoiled only child of a one parent that loves me very much.” I offered.
I never liked giving too much information about me, as people tend to treat you differently if they knew more than they should. Roger was different of course, but I had just met Joey. I liked him and really wanted to be friends, but I needed to be careful.
I threw in Major League Baseball 2K10 and let Roger and Joey play first. They sat on the end of the bed and I took a seat in my desk chair. It was fun watching Joey being all animated. But my focus kept coming back to his lips. They just seemed perfect to me with his curly blond hair. He had a little button nose that also looked perfect.
From out of nowhere, Joey jumps up with a worried look and said, “I need to use your phone.”
I tossed him the wireless phone off my desk. He quickly dialed in the numbers and waited for someone to answer.
“Hi Mom it’s me. Wait!” he seemed nervous as he waited for whomever. “Hi Dad, No Dad, I’m just down the street at a new friend’s house. Yes Dad, I just forgot. Yes Dad, I would have told you all about it when I got home. Yes Dad, I will Dad.” Hanging up the phone ending the painful conversation, he quickly turned with a scared look
He said, “I got to go, sorry.” I swear I think I saw tears in his eyes for the second time today.
And before I could say anything, he was out the door of my room and down the stairs putting on his shoes as I got to the top of the stairs.
“Call me later!” I called out to him as he was opening the front door and stepping out. I’m sure he didn’t hear me as fast as he took off.
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