When I went down to the kitchen, everyone was sitting at the table eating breakfast. My mother grabbed my arm and had me sit down. “Have some breakfast, Zac,” she sang cheerfully.
Josh looked up and started giggling. “Where’d you get the black...?” He stopped when Billy reached under the table and smacked him on his leg. He started to say something else, but stopped when my father shook his head and gave him a stare that only a parent possesses. He shyly dropped his head and took another bite of bacon.
I was surprised to see my older brother, Jimmy, sitting at the table next to Billy. He looked up and nodded at me when I sat down. I think it was the first time since he left home to live with his girlfriend that he had stopped by so early in the morning.
“Just coffee and a bagel,” I hollered out as she disappeared through the kitchen door.
I looked over at Jimmy. He had gained a few pounds and his beard was thicker than the last time I saw him. He had always been muscular, but now his body was showing the first signs of flabbiness. He was an auto mechanic at a local Ford dealership, so he was dressed in a blue shirt with brown overalls. Dad and Mom were disappointed that he didn’t go to college, but instead attended a community college.
Jimmy and I had been close until he left. He shared with me a lot of the problems he faced in high school. He enjoyed playing on the football team, and I think that’s the reason he didn’t drop out. He hated class work. In fact, he paid me to do his homework assignments at night. That was one of the reasons I didn’t have a problem with my classes because I was familiar with much of the work we did since I’d done it for him a couple of years earlier.
Dad and Mom pressured him to go to college. I heard them arguing a lot in the family room about it. They believed that education was the key to a successful life. He, though, thought if he did something he enjoyed, like repairing cars, then it didn’t matter how much money he made. When he left, he told me the main reason he was moving in with Tamara was because she understood him and didn’t try to get him to do something he didn’t feel like doing.
We’d talked a few times since he left and he did appear happy with his life. He was an apprentice, so he didn’t make a lot of money, but it was enough to provide him and Tamara with a two bedroom apartment and a car he bought with his employee’s discount. They had decided to not have children for a few years until he was making a higher salary.
My mother was able to get Tamara a job at the grocery store working in the deli department. For a while she tried to get Tamara to talk Jimmy into attending college; but when she realized that Tamara strongly supported Jimmy’s decision, she gave up. Since then, Jimmy and Tamara have been showing up at our house more frequently.
I moaned when Mom came out of the kitchen and placed a plate before me. It was piled with three fried eggs, six pieces of bacon and four slices of toast. I looked down at the food and exclaimed, “I can’t eat this. I’m in training right now.”
“You need your strength.” She clicked her tongue several times as she placed a large glass of orange juice in front of me. My father leaned back in his chair and laughed when I turned up my nose.
Jimmy reached for my plate, but Billy grabbed it first. “Hey!” Jimmy shouted. “I was going to eat that.”
“Too bad,” Billy grinned. “First come, first served.” When Jimmy reached for the plate again, Billy leaned down and licked the bacon.
“Jesus!” hissed Jimmy. “That’s disgusting.”
My father continued to laugh. “If I remember right,” he said looking over at Jimmy, “you once spit on an ice cream cone so Marilou wouldn’t eat it.”
“Yeah,” protested Jimmy, “but it was strawberry ice cream.”
My mother came out of the kitchen with another plate and sat it down in front of Jimmy. “There’s plenty more,” she exclaimed. “I’ll go get you more, Zac.”
“No!” I shouted. She turned and frowned. “I appreciate it, but how about just my usual cup of coffee and a bagel?” She shook her head and entered the kitchen. A minute later she reappeared with my coffee and bagel. She then sat down and we began to eat.
It felt like old times with Jimmy at the table. It would have been complete if Marilou were with us. I looked around the table and realized how blessed I was to have a big, happy family. I was also lucky to have supportive parents and siblings who loved me.
“How’s track going?” Jimmy asked as he looked across the table and smiled.
“Not sure,” I informed him. “I ran into a little trouble at school.” He looked over at Dad and then back towards me.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I heard about it. You going to be okay?”
I felt tears rush to my eyes. I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was obvious Dad had told him about me being gay and the incident at school. When he said, “You going to be okay,” it was as if he was asking me how I felt after a fall. He didn’t seem upset or disappointed. He seemed just like Jimmy, the older brother I’d always loved and admired.
After eating breakfast, Billy, Josh and Brenda left to go to school. Billy complained because he wasn’t riding with me. He tried to talk Mom into taking him, but she threw his book bag onto the porch when he started whining. He turned and flipped me off when he left; but not before making sure Mom or Dad didn’t see him.
Jimmy followed me to my room as I prepared to get dressed for my meeting with Principal Jarvis. I decided I should wear something other than my usual athletic shorts and tee shirt. He plopped down on Billy’s bed and lay back as I rummaged through my closet.
“So, is what Dad told me true?” he asked as he sat up and rested on his elbow. I came out of the closet and looked down at him.
“Depends on what he said,” I replied.
“You know,” he said nervously. “That thing about you being gay.” He scooted over and made way for me to sit down beside him.
“I guess,” I sighed.
“You guess?” He got up and sat beside me.
I stared into his face. There was no use denying it since Dad had already told him. “Yeah, I’m sure.” I started to get up, but he held my arm.
“It’s cool with me,” he assured me. “Tamara’s older brother is gay. Hell, he practically lives at our place now. His boyfriend is a good cook.” He laughed as he patted his rounded stomach. “How do you think I got this?”
“Well, I’m glad you’re all right with it,” I said sarcastically as I got up and walked back to the closet. I turned back toward him. “Everyone is all right with it. You, Mom, Dad, Billy.” I could feel the emotion building up inside me. “If it’s so all right then, dammit, why do I feel so fucking bad?” I entered the closet and started idly rummaging through my clothes as tears appeared in my eyes.
Jimmy walked to the door. “You okay, Zac?” I turned and replied tearfully.
“Yeah, Jimmy.” I wiped tears from my eyes. “Everything’s just fine. I’ve lost my girl friend and my best friend. The entire school knows I’m gay. I’m going to get suspended in a few hours. I may get kicked off the track team and could lose my scholarship. The guy I thought I liked is so far into the closet that he’ll never come out.” I walked out of the closet with a handful of clothes.
“Yeah, Jimmy,” I replied sarcastically. “That just about sums it up. I’m feeling fucking
A-okay with my life.” I tossed the clothes on the bed. Jimmy walked over and held up an ugly striped shirt my grandmother had given me for my birthday a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I had never worn it.
“You could wear this?” Jimmy said with a grin as he held the shirt up.
I tried not to laugh, but my mouth started to curl at the ends. “You could wear it,” I smiled. He pulled off his work shirt and put it on. When he modeled it for me, I started laughing.
“Come here,” he said as he opened his arms to me. I walked over and embraced him. “It’s going to be okay, Zac.” Tears started to fall again as I nodded into his shoulder. I pulled away, wiped the tears from my eyes and began laughing.
“You really should wear that shirt,” I chuckled.
“All right, I will.” He said. “It will be fun to see Old Lady Jarvis’s face when I walk into her office wearing this.” He held out the shirt and examined it.
“You’re going with me today?” I had figured after talking to Dad, he had stopped by to have breakfast and let me know he was okay with me being gay.
“Sure,” he smiled. “When Dad told me you got in a fight with Kenny and had a suspension hearing, I told him I wanted to go along.”
“I’ve always hated that asshole,” he said angrily. “I don’t know why you and him were friends.”
“I’ve been asking myself that for the past week,” I replied.
“Anyway,” he said, “You know how I’ve always intimidated the shit out of him?” I nodded. Kenny was always afraid of Jimmy, even when we were little. I think that’s one of the reasons Kenny and I never fought in the past. He was afraid Jimmy would find out if we did and would come after him.
“If I show up today,” he continued, “then he’ll know I know you’re gay.” I jumped when he hit his right fist harshly into his left hand. “He’ll also know that if he fucks with you again, then he’s going to have to come through me first. I’d love to fuck his face up like he did yours.” I instinctively reached up and felt the side of my face. It seemed swollen but it wasn’t as painful as the day before.
“Then you’ll go to jail,” I reminded my brother. He hit his fist into his hand again.
“It will be worth it,” he said. “Just let me know if he gives you any more trouble.” I nodded my head, but I knew I’d never tell him if Kenny did approach me. Jimmy loved a good fight and I knew it would probably result in him going to jail for assault.
We started to leave when Jimmy pulled me back inside the room and shut the door. I gave him a puzzled look. “Can I ask you something?”
“If it’s about having sex with a guy…” I started to say before he stopped me.
“No, no,” he assured me. “Nothing like that.” He looked over at Billy’s bed before turning back to me.
“Do you think Billy’s gay, too?” My eyes widened and my face reddened.
“Why do you ask that?” I managed to stammer out.
“So he is?” Jimmy asked as he stared me directly into my face.
“I didn’t say that.” I insisted.
“No,” Jimmy replied as he threw his arm around my shoulder. “But you didn’t say he wasn’t.” He squeezed my shoulder. “Besides, I kind of figured it out anyway. He and that Lonnie kid always seem too touchy-feely with each other.”
I looked worriedly at him. “You won’t say anything to Mom and Dad? He isn’t out yet.”
I gave him a puzzled look when he started laughing. “I don’t think he has too. If I’ve picked it up and I’m as dumb as a rock when it comes to these things, then I’m sure they have by now. You have to tell them to be more careful.”
“I have,” I assured him.
“Good.” He wrapped his arm around me and squeezed my shoulder. “Now let’s go see if I can make Kenny shit his pants.” He laughed as we exited the room.
Since my suspension hearing was at nine, the halls were empty when Dad, Jimmy and I arrived. Mom was going to take the morning off from work, but I convinced her that there was really nothing she could do. “Call me as soon as you get out,” she said as she headed for the door in her blue uniform.
Because I had been involved in a fight with Kenny, his hearing was to be held the same time as mine. I think she wanted to hear both our sides before meting out her punishment. I already knew what mine would be- ten days. The initiator of the fight automatically received a ten day suspension. Kenny would probably walk away from the meeting with no suspension. He’ll merely claim he was defending himself. I’m sure by now Coach Brunswick had already talked to Mrs. Jarvis. He couldn’t have his star pitcher miss any games because he was on suspension.
Kenny and his Mr. Fletcher had already arrived when we walked into the office. Kenny looked up and scowled at me until Jimmy stepped up beside me. He quickly turned his head.
My father and Mr. Fletcher sat down and talked quietly while we waited. Most of their conversation involved a golf game on Saturday afternoon. Jimmy and I sat across the waiting area and watched the secretary as she made phone calls to parents about their child’s absence from school. That was one of the main reasons I never played hooky. What Mrs. Jarvis was about to do to me would be mild compared to what Dad would have done if he had received a phone call. Jimmy tried skipping school during his sophomore year. After a verbal lashing, he was grounded for a month. As a result, he lost a girlfriend he’d been dating at the time.
The phone rang and the secretary picked it up, nodded and then walked over toward us. “Mrs. Jarvis will see you now.” We stood and walked into her office. I felt like a man walking the plank on a ship. I would have turned around and fled, but Jimmy had his hand firmly planted on my back.
Two chairs were placed in front of her desk. She indicated that Kenny and I were to sit there. He scooted his seat about three feet away from mine before sitting. My father and Mr. Fletcher sat to my right while my brother sat on a small table to my left. From where he was sitting, he was about two feet away from Kenny. I wanted to laugh when I saw him intentionally swing his foot and hit the side of Kenny’s chair, causing him to jump slightly.
Mrs. Jarvis walked over and shook my father and Mr. Fletcher’s hands. She was a rather large woman. She got along well with the students and could be seen at most extracurricular events. She even attends the chess team events! She was dressed in a floral pattern dress which made her look like she was in a garden.
She already knew my father because she had spoken with him many times at my meets. In fact, she had sat beside my mother and father and cheered me on at the state finals last year.
When she sat down, she looked at me and sighed. I dropped my head because I knew she was disappointed in me. She had been an ardent fan and I’m sure she didn’t feel comfortable doing what she knew she must. I looked back up when she started leafing through some papers on her desk. She stopped and looked at us.
“Gentlemen,” she said in a stern voice. “Fighting in the locker room yesterday afternoon.”
Kenny blurted out, “I didn’t do nothing, Mrs. Jarvis!” He looked at me angrily. “I was just defending myself.”
“We’ll get to that in a moment, Kenny,” she replied abruptly. “I have a pretty good idea what occurred. I’ve spent the morning interviewing some of the students who were present.”
“Then you know I didn’t do nothing,” Kenny insisted.
I wanted to laugh when Mr. Fletcher told Kenny, “Shut up!” Mrs. Jarvis looked down, shuffled the papers in front of her and attempted to stifle a grin. She then lifted her head and stared at me.
“One of the hardest things a principal has to do is punish a student for an offense when you know they don’t deserve it.” She looked sadly at me. “But rules can’t be broken just because I happen to like and admire the student who has broken them.” Kenny looked over at me and glared. He jumped when Jimmy kicked the leg on his seat.
She read a couple of papers before continuing. She looked over at me. “One thing is clear and substantiated by everyone who witnessed the exchange,” she said, “You threw the first punch.”
“Yeah,” interrupted Kenny, “He did. I told you I didn’t do nothing.”
She gave Kenny a glaring look. “That’s not quite true, Kenny. Someone can instigate a fight without hitting someone.”
“What!” Kenny stood and shouted. “I didn’t do nothing!”
“Shut up and sit down!” I looked over as Kenny’s father stood before him. “This woman has a job to do. Stop interrupting her.” Kenny dropped back into his chair.
“I was going to deal with Zac first,” Mrs. Jarvis said, “but since you seem so sure you didn’t do anything, let’s deal with that now.” She shuffled angrily through the papers before pulling out one and scanning it. She looked up at Kenny and scowled.
“Did you refer to Zac as a ...” she looked down at the paper before looking up, “fag and homo?”
“Well…” stammered Kenny.
She looked down at the paper again. “And did you invite him to suck your dick?” Her eyes narrowed as she looked disgustingly at him.
“No...” he said nervously. “I didn’t say those things. Honest.” She held up four sheets of paper.
“So these students are all lying about what they heard?”
“Yeah,” he responded excitedly as he looked over at me. “They’re probably all track jocks who are telling lies on me to keep him from getting in trouble.”
She shook her head and held up two of the papers. “These are signed statements from your teammates. Are you calling them liars too?”
He stood and pointed down at me. Jimmy jumped from the table. “They’re probably homos like him.” I had to step in front of Jimmy to prevent him from reaching for Kenny.
“You’d better sit your ass down,” shouted Kenny’s father as he pushed him back into his chair. “If you say one more word, I’m going to put a knot in your head right here in front of everyone.”
Mrs. Jarvis leaned across her desk and stared angrily into Kenny’s face. “And did you refer to one of the students here at Northview as a nigger?” I watched as Kenny slunk down in his seat and looked away from her angry gaze.
She slapped her hand down forcefully on her desk. Everyone in the room jumped. “Well?” She shouted. “Did you?”
Kenny looked down at his hands as he mumbled softly, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Jesus,” Mr. Fletcher hissed. “Wait until I get you home.” My father gently patted his leg as he tried to calm him. I think if we hadn’t been present, he would have been throwing Kenny all over the room. I’d seen him angry many times, but I don’t think I’d ever seen his as upset as he was now. Kenny looked down at his hands, pushing back the cuticles on his left hand.
Mrs. Jarvis leaned back in her chair and sighed. She looked over at me and said, “Zac, do you have anything you’d like to say?” I quickly glanced over at Kenny before responding.
“No, Ma’am,” I replied.
“Okay, then.” She leaned forward toward me. “This is the part of being a principal I find uncomfortable.” She looked me directly in my eyes. “You know that I have to suspend you for fighting?” I nodded my head and looked down.
She sat back and reread some of the statements others had made. The room was deadly silent for a minute. I almost broke out in laughter when Jimmy’s stomach began to growl. He quickly grabbed it and muttered an apology.
When she finished, she laid the papers down and looked at me directly. “Normally engaging in a fight on school grounds would warrant a ten day suspension.” I looked at her and nodded my head. “But, however, I think that the circumstances here allow me to be lenient since the fight seems to have been provoked by Kenny.” Kenny’s head shot up and he stared at her in disbelief.
“I didn’t…” He started to object before his father told him rather forcefully to once again, “Shut up!”
Mrs. Jarvis looked at him and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Fletcher. I know someone in my position should never tell a young person to shut up, but in this case I’m tempted to do so.” Kenny’s father smiled and nodded his head.
“You have my permission,” he laughed. She then turned her attention back to me.
“Zac,” she continued. “I’m going to suspend you for three days.” I let out a small gasp I’d been holding inside. I could tell Kenny wanted to protest, but he bit his lip after a stern look from his father.
I was relieved it was for only three days. I had figured I’d be suspended for the entire ten days. If I had, then my spot on the track team would be greatly jeopardized. But then I thought, what spot? After Kenny had outed me to my team mates, I was quite sure they’d never welcome me back on the team.
Mrs. Jarvis leaned forward and sternly looked at Kenny. “Kenneth Fletcher.” Kenny held his head up and looked at her. I heard a gulping sound come from his throat. She glared at him as she spoke. “I will never condone a student using the derogatory and gutter language you displayed in the locker room.” Kenny dropped his head.
“I‘m going to assign you to four weeks of Saturday detention.”
“What?” I looked over as Kenny began to tremble from anger. “You can’t do that to me! Baseball season is starting and I’ll miss the first three games.” Tears started to flow down his cheeks. “We won’t win the state title this year.” I watched as he sat back down in his seat and broke down in tears.
Tears formed in my eyes as I watched the dreams of my former best friend shatter. We’d waited years for this moment, and now it was being deprived from him because of me. I know he was to blame for his actions, but I still felt guilty because I was the one to end his hopes for a state championship. As his shoulders quaked from crying, I wanted to reach over and hold him. Maybe he didn’t value our friendship anymore, but I just couldn’t throw away a twelve year bond we had formed.
I looked tearfully at Mrs. Jarvis. “Do you have to give him Saturday detentions?” She looked at me as her expression softened seeing the tears in my eyes. “Can’t you find an alternative?” Kenny raised his head and looked over at me. I could tell by the expression on his face he couldn’t believe I was trying to help him after what he’d done to me.
Mrs. Jarvis sat back in her seat and studied us. She’d look at Kenny and then back at me.
She got up and walked over to a file cabinet. After rummaging through it for a minute, she pulled out a brochure and sat back down. She then pushed it across her desk toward Kenny. He reluctantly took it and opened it.
“I have a friend who is the director of the YWCA downtown. She conducts a Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity Training seminar each Wednesday night. I’ve taken the program and it is excellent.” She looked at Kenny as he scanned the brochure. “I will give you the option of taking this seminar or Saturday detention.” She looked over at me and smiled. I nodded my head in appreciation.
Kenny held up the brochure. “But it says it’s a two month class.” He dropped his head when she glared angrily at him. He fidgeted in his chair as he thought of his options. I was relieved when he finally looked up and muttered, “all right.”
“Very good choice, Kenny,” she said. She looked over at my father and Mr. Fletcher. “Unless you have an objection, then I guess our business here is completed.” Our fathers looked at each other and shook their heads.
She stood and walked around and shook their hands. She then approached me. “Today is Tuesday. I’ll see you back in school on Friday.” She held out her hand for me to shake. She then walked over to my brother.
“James,” she said as she extended her hand. He hesitantly shook it. “It’s good to see you again. How is the job at the auto shop working out?”
“Fine,” he replied as he gave me a puzzled look. Mrs. Jarvis chuckled.
“My husband brings his truck in for service,” she said. “He always asks for you to work on it.”
“Jarvis?” Jimmy said thoughtfully. Then he looked like a light had just gone off in his head. “Claude Jarvis? He’s your husband?”
“Yes,” she smiled as she patted Jimmy on his arm. “Keep up the good work.” She started to walk away, but turned and grinned at my brother. “Nice shirt.”
Kenny and his father left the office first. As we trailed behind them, we could hear his father admonishing him. From some of the things we heard, it sounded like Kenny may be grounded until he was thirty. He seemed mostly upset because he had not been truthful in telling his father details of the fight, particularly some of the language he had used.
As we headed to the car, my father threw his arm around my shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Son,” he said. “It took a real man to do what you did, standing up for Kenny.”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy as he shoved me with his hip. “He’s a piece of shit, but that was nice what you did. If it had been me, I would have been asking Jarvis to give him more detention days.”
“It’s kind of ironic,” I replied thoughtfully. “He ruins my life, but I try to save his.”
My father squeezed my shoulder. “It’s called friendship, Zac. You showed today what that really is. You didn’t turn your back on someone who you shared so much of your life with.”
“Yeah,” I said sadly. “Kenny was a good friend.” I looked over at Jimmy and laughed. “Even if he was an asshole.”
So I only got a three day suspension. In a way I was relieved that I didn’t have to go back to school and confront people. It would also give me time to adjust to the fact that I’d probably no longer be running track. My dream for a state title was shattered. That was over when Kenny outed me to my teammates.
I still couldn’t quite understand why I’d fought for Kenny. He had turned his back on me and did everything he could to make my life miserable. But when I saw him crying in Mrs. Jarvis’s office, I could feel what he was experiencing. In the twelve years I’d known him, Kenny had never cried. Not once. And even though my hopes had been dashed, I realized that I could still save his.
I didn’t regret it. Like my father had said, I felt proud of what I had done. I couldn’t just discard our friendship like it had never existed. Kenny would never be my friend again, but at least I still cherished the bond we had formed. It wasn’t that easy to let go.