"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America." -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020
I woke up around five the next morning because I was worried about school. I hadn’t spoken to anyone since school let out the day before. I had ignored my friends’ emails and text messages before my phone was confiscated. Then, yesterday I got a new phone, and I hadn’t called anyone. I was afraid that they might be mad at me.
Mom and Dad were in the kitchen when I entered. Dad was reading the morning newspaper as he always does before going to his office. He looked up when I sat down. “Morning, Son.” He handed me the front page. There was a photo of him speaking outside the school yesterday. “Your old man,” he laughed, “made the front page of the paper.”
“That’s not funny, Dear,” admonished my mother. “There are a lot of people who may not find it amusing.”
“You know, I don’t really care,” he said angrily. “They need to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to realize that things are changing. We’re not living in the 50’s anymore.”
“I still think you should be more careful,” she warned. “This isn’t your fight.”
“Not my fight?” my father replied raising his voice. “Whose fight is it?”
“Yeah, Mom,” I asked. “Whose fight is it?”
“I just think they should handle it themselves.”
“Sheila,” responded my father. “We have never had an argument in our nineteen years of marriage. However, you sound like just about every person in this town.”
“I’m sorry, Dear,” my mother apologized. “I didn’t mean it to come out like it did. I just don’t think it is our place to fight their battle.”
“I’ve heard enough,” shouted my father as he slammed the paper on the table. “I have to get to my office.” He rose and left the kitchen. A few minutes later, we heard him slam the door to the garage.”
“Oh, Dear,” said my mother. “I didn’t mean to upset your father. What did I say wrong anyway?’
I looked surprisingly at her. “You don’t get it, do you, Mom?”
“Mom, this isn’t their fight,” I replied as I stressed the word their. “It is everybody’s fight. If we don’t help, then how will things ever improve?”
“I don’t understand how things are so bad now,” she said as she gave me a questioning look.
I sighed and replied, “Have you paid any attention to what is going on around here?”
“Of course, I have.”
“I was at the game on Saturday night. You weren’t. I saw the incident where the students from my school were calling the players from Rosemont niggers.”
“I didn’t know that,” she said. “All the paper said was that there was some name calling going on.”
“Mom, it was horrible,” I said sadly. “I was so embarrassed to be a part of Somerset High School. People I knew were involved. I don’t know how I can go back to school and still be friends with them again.”
“But still…” she began before I interrupted her.
“You and Dad have been very supportive of me when I came out. How would you feel if they started calling me a fag or queer?”
A shocked look appeared on her face. “Have they done that, Parker.”
“No, Mom,” I replied. “At least not in the way they were calling students of Rosemont names. They were so hateful. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if they think about me the same way.”
“But you’re such a nice person, Parker. Why would they say things like that?”
I was growing madder. “Aren’t the students at Rosemont nice people too, Mom? Why did they have to be treated like they were?”
She rose and began cleaning our dishes from the counter. “All of this is so confusing,” she said. “I’ve never seen people differently. I treat everyone with respect.”
I rose and approached her. “You have to understand that not everyone feels that way. They look down on people who are Black, Asian, Hispanic, and even gay.”
“I realize that,” she said. “I just try to not make a big issue of it.”
“That’s the problem, Mom.” She gave me a puzzled look. “Good people like us turn our heads and let things get worse. I was so proud of Dad yesterday when he spoke to that crowd. He was trying to make a difference. And I’m also going to try.”
“Be careful, Dear,” she said as she pulled me into a hug. “I know this is something you have to do, but I’m still worried.”
“I’ll be careful,” I said reassuringly. I pulled her into a hug and kissed her cheek. I went to my room, gathered my bookbag and headed to the garage.
Another crowd had gathered outside the school. I thought that after three days, they may have left. However, the group seemed larger than the day before. As I drove by, Pastor Moore was speaking. He nodded slightly, and I pulled away.
When I went to my locker, Jeremy and Stephen were standing next to mine. All of us had nearby lockers since the seventh grade. Dan’s locker was next to mine, but I didn’t see him.
“Hey, Parker,” said Jeremy. “Why weren’t you in school yesterday?”
“Because his old man was talking to that group of niggers across the street.” I turned and saw Dan approaching. He had an angry look on his face, and his hands were balled into fists. I tried to ignore him, but he walked up to me and poked his finger in my chest. “Ain’t that right, Parker?”
I slammed my locker shut and said, “Go to hell, Dan.” His face reddened, but he didn’t say anything else. I stormed down the hall. I hadn’t been in school five minutes, and I had already been confronted. And it was by my best friend; or I should say my former best friend. I turned with my fist raised when someone grabbed my arm. I thought it was Dan.
“Relax, Parker,” said Natalie. “I saw what happened back there. Dan is an idiot. He’s been ranting for two days about the fight Saturday. He’s going to get suspended if he doesn’t stop it.”
“He should get suspended,” I replied. “What’s his problem anyway?”
“He’s mad about what happened to his brother.”
“Roger? I asked, “What did Roger do?”
“You know he’s on the basketball team, right?”
“Of course,” I said. “He sits on the bench most of the time.”
“He was involved in that fight in the gym Saturday night,” explained Natalie. “In fact, he was the one who initiated it by calling the Rosemont players the N-word.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I replied. “It seems to be Dan’s favorite word now.”
She continued, “Dan says that his brother may be expelled because of it. His parents are meeting with the superintendent and Nettleman in a few days. I’ve also heard that two more players may get suspended or expelled.”
“Robbie Martin and Jacob Latimer.”
“Jacob!” I said excitedly. “He’s our star player.”
“What I heard was he hit one of the Rosemont players in the face.”
“I saw the fight,” I explained, “but I was on the other side of the gym.”
Natalie replied, “I was sitting behind our bench, and I can tell you it was ugly. I don’t know what happened to our players. Suddenly, everyone in the stands started shouting words I can’t even repeat. Things just got worse from there.”
“What started it?”
“One of Rosemont’s players went up for a ball, and he accidentally hit Robbie in the face. Robbie shoved him and called him a name. Things just out of control after that.”
“I still can’t believe they acted like that,” I said. “Look how many teams we’ve played the past four years. There was always a lot of hard contact and shoving.”
“Yeah,” replied Natalie, “but they were always white schools. Rosemont is the first Black school we’ve played.”
“Why did we play them anyway?”
“I guess they dropped a division, and ended up in ours,” she replied. “From what my father said, they’ve had problems playing other schools this year. Nothing has happened as bad as it did when they played us.”
“It still doesn’t make sense, though. Where did all the hate come from?”
“It’s always been there,” she said. “Somerset is an all-white community. I’ve been to Rosemont, and it is like a whole different world.”
“I’ve been there a few times, too, but I didn’t notice anything different other than a lot more people of color.”
“You have a mother and father who taught you not to notice the color of someone’s skin,” she responded. “I bet Dan’s parents complain all the time about minorities.”
“They do,” I replied. “I’ve been to his house a lot. When I’ve eaten dinner there, his father is always complaining about something. Last week, he was ranting about how many Black people are on welfare.”
“Doesn’t he know that there are just as many whites on welfare as blacks?”
“Not to hear him talk,” I explained. “He thinks all Black families live on welfare.”
She hissed, “You can’t argue with stupid.”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “You can’t argue with stupid.”
She smiled and replied, “That’s why I quit talking to all of them except you.”
“I feel honored,” I laughed as I poked out my chest. She giggled and lightly slapped it.
She wrapped her arm around mine as we headed to the cafeteria before class. We sat at a table away from everyone else. Natalie looked over and said, “I saw your father on the news last night. I thought that was pretty cool what he said.”
“I’m just afraid he’s going to get some stupid shit over it,” I replied sadly. “Everybody knows Dad. It could hurt his practice.”
“I would guess your father doesn’t care,” she replied. “Or else he wouldn’t have done it.”
“That’s what he said,” I laughed. “He’s the only cardiologist around.”
She grinned and said, “The camera also panned the audience. Who was that cute guy pressed next to you?”
“What?” I said loudly. I looked around to make sure no one heard me. “Where did you see that?”
“You didn’t answer my question, Parker,” she giggled. “You two seemed very comfortable together. Spill it, who is he?”
“That’s Darius,” I replied. “He’s the guy who I videoed Andrews beating.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Natalie. “That explains the black eye.” She grinned again and asked, “So, are you two like close now?”
“No,” I said. “I really don’t even know him. I just met him a few minutes before you saw us. I was standing next to him when Dad was talking.”
“It looks like you were standing more than next to him,” she smiled.
“Well,” I replied sadly, “It’s not what you think.”
She reached over and placed her hand on my arm. “Wait a minute,” she said. “You have feelings for this guy. What did you say his name is? Darius?”
“I don’t have feelings for him,” I insisted. “I told you, I hardly know him.”
She giggled and said, “That’s why you’re taking this so seriously. Isn’t it?”
“I’m not taking it seriously,” I replied. “I just think it is wrong.”
“If you say so,” she replied with a smile.
“You’re a bitch,” I huffed. “You know that?”
“I’ve been told,” she giggled. “Now,” she asked as she leaned forward. “Do you feel something for this Darius? I’ve been waiting three years for you to find a boyfriend.”
“He’s not a boyfriend,” I insisted. Natalie raised an eyebrow.
“Okay,” I confessed. I looked around to make sure no one was listening. “You ever just see someone, and you know you want to be friends?”
“Like a boyfriend?”
“No,” I replied. “Not like that. It’s just the first time I saw him speaking on Monday, I’ve been wanting to meet him.”
She giggled and replied, “The way you two were standing together yesterday, it looks like you have already met.”
“No, not really. We didn’t even talk. When Dad was speaking, he was standing next to me. That’s what you saw.”
“He is very cute,” she said. “Maybe you’ll get to know him a little better.”
“I don’t think so,” I replied sadly.
“Why? Because he’s black?”
“Well,” I said. “You know how everyone is around here.”
“When did you start caring about what other people say? You’ve been taking their shit for several years, and you don’t seem to care.”
“The guys don’t really mean most of it,” I insisted. “It’s just fun.”
She reached over and took my hand. “Parker, they’ve been calling you a fag since you came out. You may think they are joking, but they are being cruel. You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to say something, but since you don’t seem to care, I keep my mouth shut.”
“I do care,” I replied. “I just don’t know what to say to them. I don’t want to lose them as friends.”
She asked, “So, you would rather have them tease and torment you all the time.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess. It’s easier that way.”
She removed her hand from my arm. “I feel sorry for you, Parker.”
“Are you going to go through life just accepting that people are going to treat you differently because you’re gay?”
“What should I do?”
“Take a stand, Parker,” she replied adamantly. “Tell them to go fuck themselves.”
“But they won’t be my friends anymore if I do that.”
She stood and looked down angrily at me. “Are they really your friends now?” She turned and stormed from the cafeteria.
I sat confused. I had never really thought about how my friends treated me. However, what Natalie said was true. Were they really my friends? We rarely had a conversation where my sexuality wasn’t mentioned jokingly. But was it done jokingly? When Dan calls me a fag, is he doing it the same as he calls the people across the street niggers?
Everything was fine until I came out a couple of years ago. They began to notice a change in me after Ray left. Pete one day at lunch said I was acting like someone who had lost his lover. It didn’t take them long to realize that Ray had recently moved. Jeremy came right out and asked me if we had been lovers. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I jumped from the table and ran into the bathroom to cry. I spent about a week by myself, but I eventually began to socialize with them again. I always thought they accepted that I am gay, but now I am beginning to doubt it.
Before that happened, my house was usually the center of our summer activities. We have a large pool in the backyard, and the backyard was filled with fun. We would sometimes play water volleyball late into the evening. However, guys rarely show up anymore. When I would ask why they don’t swim anymore, they make excuses that they are too busy. I think they are just afraid of being in a pool with me wearing a speedo. I have never thought of them sexually, although I did occasionally check out a semi-erection poking through their tight swimsuit. Occasionally, someone may show up to play a video game, but they are never alone. I suppose they are afraid I might try to seduce them. I never would because I know they are straight. Besides, after Ray, I’ve never been interested in finding another boyfriend.
The bell rang, and I rushed to my first period class. It is a chemistry class, and I share it with Dan and Jeremy. Neither of them looked at me when I sat down. I hadn’t done anything to them. Sure, I told Dan to go to hell, but he deserved it. Anyway, I don’t care. If they want to act like children, I can too.
The rest of the morning went the same. For some reason, I was being shunned. I’ve never been the most popular student, but people at least talked to me. However, today I felt like a leper. By lunch, I decided that I would leave the building so I could be by myself. Seniors are allowed to leave if they make it back in time for their next class.
When I pulled out of the student parking lot, I noticed that most of the protesters had left. There is usually a large attendance in the morning when we arrive, but I guess they soon begin to leave. Since I hadn’t been in school, I didn’t know if they showed again when school is being dismissed. I headed west toward town. Somerset is a suburban city, so we have our share of fast-food establishments. We have several upscale restaurants, but most are only open for dinner. My family usually eats at the Somerset Steakhouse. I love their porterhouse steaks.
I couldn’t make up my mind if I wanted Panera Bread, Chipotle or Buffalo Wild Wings. If I went to BWW, I was afraid I might run into some of my friends. We often ran out for wings during lunch. We could get our order quickly and get back in time before 4th period. I decided to go to Chipotle and go to the drive-through. I would get a steak burrito and soda and still be back in time.
I had driven four blocks when I noticed someone walking quickly down the sidewalk. He had a black hoodie pulled over his head, so I couldn’t see who it was. I slowed down thinking it might be someone from school I knew. When I got beside him, I noticed it was Darius. I stopped and lowered the passenger window.
“Are you okay?” I asked. He pulled his hoodie off to get a better look.
A smile appeared on his face. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
Nervously, I asked, “Do you need a ride?”
“I have to get back to Rosemont, but that’s too far for you to take me.”
“Get in,” I said.
“You sure it won’t be a problem?”
“It will be,” I laughed. “But screw it.”
He opened the door and climbed in beside me. “Thanks.” He looked around and said, “Nice ride. What is this?”
“A Lexus Rx,” I said. For some reason, I was embarrassed. My father gave it to me when he bought a new Mercedes a few months ago. I knew Darius was sizing me up. He was probably thinking, rich white boy.
“Damn,” he hissed. “Your father must be loaded.” I ignored his statement. I’m not sure how much money Dad has, but he is a cardiologist. One procedure probably paid for the car.
I was extremely nervous around Darius. I had never felt that with another guy. I really wanted him to like me, and I didn’t want him to think I was a spoiled rich kid. Besides, his father is a pastor, so I’m sure he does well also.
“Why are you walking?” I asked. “What happened to your car?”
“The cops towed it away, I should get it back today or tomorrow. I was heading to the bus stop to get back to Rosemont.”
I looked at the bruise on the side of his face. It wasn’t as dark as the day before. I then looked into his beautiful brown eyes. I was mesmerized, and I couldn’t stop staring. “Uh, Dude,” he laughed as he pointed out the window. “You’re coming to a red light.”
I had never been so embarrassed in my life. He had caught me staring at him. If he hadn’t noticed the light, I would have run it, and we would have been involved in a serious accident. How could I have explained it? “Officer, I’m sorry. I was staring into Darius’ eyes, and I couldn’t look away.”
“You okay, Man,” he laughed when I pulled to a stop. “You looked like you zonked out or something.”
I wanted to say, “You shouldn’t be so fucking pretty,” but I didn’t. Instead, I told him nothing was wrong. I looked over and asked, “Are you hungry? I was going somewhere to get something to eat.”
“Does your school have open lunch for seniors?” I nodded. “Ours does too.” He looked at his watch. “I’m already late getting home. If I’m going to get in trouble, I might as well make it worth it.” He laughed and looked out the window.
‘This is going to be hard,’ I thought to myself. Darius made me nervous, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through lunch without making a complete ass of myself. “Where do you want to go?”
He asked, “Have you ever eaten at Charley’s Chicken Shack?”
“Never heard of it,” I admitted.
“It’s between here and Rosemont,” he said. “They have the best wings anywhere around.” He told me to turn north at the intersection, and we headed out of Somerset toward Rosemont.
We drove in silence for about ten minutes. I don’t think either of us knew how to start a conversation. Occasionally, I would glance over at him, and he appeared as nervous as me. He pointed to a building on the left. “Here it is.”
I pulled into the parking lot. There was a patio on the side filled with Black patrons. I looked to see if anyone was white, but there wasn’t.
Suddenly, I felt a knot in my stomach.
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