Trials and Tribulations
When it Rains it Pours
Mr. Horn quickly stepped between JT and me, before any blows could be thrown. Mr. Horn's presence reassured me, but wasn't doing much to ease my anger. Before another word could be spoken, a city cop rushed up, and asked JT and his father to follow him towards the parking lot. The officer made it clear that this wasn't a request; they had to leave or they would be going to jail. As JT was turning to leave, he took one more look at me, with pure hatred in his eyes which made me shiver.
Mr. Horn looked around, and noticed the crowd that had surrounded us during the confrontation. "Okay folks, the show is over. You need to either head back into the game or leave." Everyone could see he meant every word and didn't hang around. I stood beside him, shaking with a combination of anger, and fear; because what had been said, and by what had almost happened. Both Joey and I had been threatened, and unknowingly, he had correctly called Joey my boyfriend. I didn't know how many people were there, or how many might have taken anything JT had said seriously.
I realized with a growing horror that the truth would be coming out soon to everyone. Between Joey's legal situation which would let everyone know he was gay, and JT's ranting, it wouldn't take much for people in this town to put two and two together, come to the conclusion that I was gay, and that we were boyfriends. As that realization struck home I started to shake uncontrollably and feel light headed. I fell back into my chair, resting my elbows on my knees, and I bent over, with my head down, watching my hands shake spastically.
Mr. Horn took one look at me and saw that I was shaking like a leaf in a wind storm. He squatted down in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders. "Andy, are you okay, son?"
I raised my head and looked him in the eyes. I didn't know what to say and I didn't trust my voice. So, I just shook my head no.
When Joey had first gotten to the concession stand, he was asked by Miss Stuart to help bring up the buckets of ice and fill the storage machine for the game. There was another student already turning on the popcorn maker and setting up trays marked Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and water. It didn't take Joey long to fill the machine before he was asked to help the other student finish up with the drinks.
Joey was busy filling paper cups with ice, as a girl filled them with drinks. Joey had noticed her stealing looks at him, when she thought he wouldn't notice, and her actions brought a small smile to his face. Joey noted that she was a very pretty girl, he might be gay, but he wasn't blind. Joey knew she would turn heads. Joey guessed that they were in the same grade and was close to his height. Joey noticed that she appeared to be nervous, because she was consistently overfilling the drinks with her shaky hands.
Once the girl filled all the cups, she turned to Joey. "Hi. I'm Cindy."
Joey took a deep breath, turned to face her and put on his brightest smile. "Hi Cindy, my name is Joey."
"You're new here aren't you?" Cindy smiled shyly as she watched every move Joey made.
"Yup, I just moved here last week." Joey paused, as if he wasn't sure what he was going do, but as Cindy seemed ready to ask another question Joey beat her to it. "Do you work the concession stand every game?"
"Yes, my brother is on the team, and I try to do my part to help."
"Is there a game every week?" Joey put the question to her gently. Cindy smiled widely.
"Nearly every week, yes. But only half of the games are home games. So I only work the concession stand then. At the away games I'm in the stand cheering Paul on. Paul's my brother."
Just then they started getting busy, and neither had time to ask any personal questions, which was just fine with Joey.
Mr. Horn had me put my head between my legs and it seemed to work. In no time, I was feeling a lot better… at least physically. I still had several bad scenarios running through my head concerning Joey and me. With my head between my legs, feeling like I was about to kiss my ass good-bye because of the McCrays, I decided not to say anything to Joey about what happened. I'd deal with this on my own; Joey had enough to worry about already.
"I think I'm better now Mr. Horn." I had been so absorbed in my own thoughts that when I had finally looked up, I found Mr. Horn watching me, looking really worried.
"Are you sure Andy? There's no rush here." I could hear the concern in his voice. I had gotten to know Mr. Horn over the last week and discovered I liked him. He really seemed to care about us, not only as his students, but as real people.
"Yes Sir." I stood to test my legs out and to show him I was better. The shakes were gone and I actually did feel better. "See? I'm good to go now," I grinned.
He patted me on the shoulder, and looked me straight in the eyes as he talked to me. "Good, you're done for the tonight. Go find your friend, and you two can watch the rest of the game." I could tell he was relieved as I was for me to be feeling better.
"Thank you, Sir." I smiled and I started to leave; but I stopped and turn back to him as he started to get the money and ticket stubs together. "I mean it, Mr. Horn, thanks for everything." I added with a real show of respect for the man that stopped my night from becoming a nightmare.
"That's my job Andy, but you ARE welcome." He put the money down for a moment as he smiled at me. He made sure he had my attention, before he continued speaking. "Don't allow what JT's father said get to you. As for JT, he's just parroting his father. You shouldn't allow the bigotry of others to control your own emotions and actions. When you do, you'll be giving hate a place to live." The more he spoke the more passionate he became. "Then it festers inside of you and takes over. You'll end up just like those you hate. There's a lot more support here in Pine Hills than it may seem; just remember to always be true to yourself. You're a fine young man, Andy Collins, and I'm proud to be your principal. Now get out of here, and enjoy the game with your friends."
I didn't know what to say, so I just nodded. I turned and walked through the gate, headed towards the concession stand, with my mind racing. I couldn't help but think of what JT said, and then I realized I had threatened his life, in front of God and everyone. I thought, 'That was so stupid. I could have said a million different things, but no, I had to threaten to kill him.' My mind jumped immediately to what Mr. Horn had just told me. I didn't quite understand what he had meant by support, but I think I understood what he meant by not letting hatred get a toe-hold in my life. Hatred is like a cancer, which will only grow and consume you. It was then I realized how caring Mr. Horn really was. He had avoided the phrase; 'hate is like a cancer,' because of my mother. Yet, he had gotten his point across all the same; I was really starting to like Mr. Horn.
I went to the side door of the concession stand, which was almost always open during football games, and stood there a couple of minutes watching Joey bag up popcorn from the popcorn machine. He had smiled a lot the last couple of days, and I couldn't help but think of all the problems that were, hopefully, now behind him. Naturally, my thoughts didn't stay too pure as I watched him move around, helping the people at the game get their popcorn. The way he filled out his new tight jeans had my heart pumping double-time. I looked up from his amazing bubble butt and realized that I had been caught by my boyfriend while I had been, checking him out. Joey broke into a huge, knowing, grin and was looking right at me. I grinned back with some especially naughty ideas for later tonight after the game. I motioned him over to me.
"Hey Andy, what's up?" He smiled.
I looked into his eyes and had to fight back the urge to kiss him. "Mr. Horn said we were cut loose and could watch the game. But first, get three drinks and popcorn for us and Roger." I said as I handed him a ten dollar bill out of my wallet. As he took the ten he caressed my fingers and smiled at my soft, barely audible, moan.
"No problem. Let me tell Miss Stuart what Mr. Horn said, and then I'll get the refreshments."
When he returned, he handed me the drinks, before grabbing the bags of popcorn. We walked side by side, talking down the sidelines, until we got to the student section. I looked up into the bleachers looking for Roger, who waved to get my attention, before we started the climb up to where he was sitting.
Timmy was sitting with him and they had saved some room for us to sit together.
I handed Roger his drink and he got his popcorn from Joey.
"Sorry Timmy," I began feeling guilty that we hadn't brought anything for him, "I didn't know you were even here."
He laughed, "Yeah, you seemed to be in a daze when you took my ticket stub."
"I swear, I don't remember seeing you."
He playfully hit my arm. "I don't doubt it. I was in line with a bunch of people and you were just taking the tickets and tearing them in two. You were almost robotic, the way you were handing our stubs back, not even looking up." He smiled, "Don't worry about it, you all can share, right?"
"You're right," I smiled and handed my bag of popcorn to him and he took a handful.
I turned my attention back to Joey and asked, "How did everything go in the concession stand?"
"Actually, it was kinda fun, not bad at all." His voice dropped to a whisper as he told me the next bit, his eyes never leaving mine. "Well, except Cindy was trying to flirt with me before it got too busy." He saw my raised eyebrow and snickered before continuing. "Don't worry. Before she could ask me a thousand questions, I started asking her questions, and then we got busy. End of story." He smiled and leaned over to whisper in my ear, "So, there's no reason to be jealous, even though it's cute on you."
I swear, being gay in a backwater town was hard enough, but being gay AND in love in a backwater town was going to be the death of me. It was so unfair that we couldn't show how we felt about each other like any straight couple did. A straight couple could walk down the streets holding hands ,or stop for a quick kiss, without anyone saying anything. But I was afraid that if Joey and I just held hands, we would be tarred and feathered and run out of town with signs around our necks saying fags.
For the second time tonight I was so deeply consumed within my own thoughts that the outside world had ceased to exist for me. Then all of a sudden, everyone jumped up cheering, and yelling. I joined in, but I had no idea why we were cheering.
I turned to Roger, "What happened?"
Roger threw his arm around my shoulders with his other arm pumped into the air. "We scored again!"
I looked at the score board. We were up thirty-four to nothing, and it wasn't even halftime. It seemed we had a good team, even without JT playing. At least I, well, Joey and I, wouldn't have the football team mad at us over JT missing the game.
Roger looked at me, "Do you and Joey wanna leave at halftime since the game is a blowout?"
I turned to Joey, "Would you mind if we left at halftime?"
The light in Joey's eyes seemed to dance and his lips formed a naughty grin. "I'd love to."
I called my dad and told him what the three of us were planning. He was happy to pick us up early. That way he wouldn't have to fight the post-game traffic. When he came, I climbed in the front seat to keep Dad from questioning why I always rode in the back now. That left Joey and Roger in the back seat.
"How was the game?" Dad asked.
"Well, we scored again after I called you. Levi Thomas intercepted a pass and ran it in for another touchdown." I looked over at dad. "Either Harlan doesn't have much this year or we are really good, because we're up forty-two to nothing at halftime."
"Maybe it's a little of both," Dad offered. "It's still too early in the season to know for sure." Dad paused and looked over at me as we came to a stop sign. "Andy, when Roger and Joey go home to get their clothes for tonight, we'll go with them so we can all sit down and talk about what took place at the game tonight. Mr. Horn called me and filled me in, but I want to hear it from your perspective."
Damn. I wasn't going to tell Joey about it, but then my dad spilled the beans. Shit. I turned and looked back at Joey, he was frowning. Turning back to look at dad, I said. "Thanks Dad, I wasn't going to mention anything about it to Joey. Especially since NOTHING actually happened. Now he has something else to worry about." I was mad. I didn't usually talk to my dad like that, but he fucked up. At least in my mind he had. "I would have told you about it Dad, but I would have waited for a better time." I folded my arms across my chest and pouted.
I realized I was acting like a spoiled child, but I didn't care. I was mad.
Joey leaned towards the front, putting his hand on my left shoulder, and with concern filling his voice asked, "What happened, Andy?"
I unfolded my arms and placed my right hand on top of his. "JT's dad wasn't happy with Mr. Horn, because he wouldn't let JT into the game since he is still suspended until Monday morning." I paused. I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell him the rest, but since dad had already started to tell them, I thought I should tell it all. "JT also threatened to beat both of us up and I suggested he shouldn't." I noticed dad quickly glanced at me as if he knew exactly what I had said."
"What a shithead." Roger mumbled, but loud enough for us to hear. "Umm… Sorry Uncle Sam."
We were silent as we pulled onto our street. Dad didn't slow down till he was in front of our house. I watched the nervous way his fingers gripped and released the steering wheel.
"Andy, I just had Mr. McCray in my courtroom this week. He wasn't on trial, but he would have been if he hadn't turned state witness." Dad paused, looked at me after he had stopped the SUV in our driveway before continuing. "That family has a long history no one should be proud of. As long as I can remember, they have been involved in all sorts of questionable things, including various criminal activities." He paused again and turned to look at Joey and Roger. There was no denying that Dad was trying hard to make sure we all listened to what he had to say. "All of you boys should be careful. I would prefer that none of you are alone for any length of time, but we'll get into that later. Right now, we are all going to have a chat with Steve and Alice about what happened tonight for a few minutes before you boys come over to spend the night."
Dad was acting a little strange, but I was thinking about what he had told us. I could see Dad was taking this almost as seriously as I was, but for different reasons. I wasn't concerned about fighting JT. Yeah, he could probably beat me in a fair fight, but it would be close and I would make it not worth his while to try again. But that was the thing, JT wasn't known for fighting fair. Maybe Dad had a point there. I don't know. All this passed through my head as I climbed out and followed Dad, Roger, and Joey towards Uncle Steve's home.
When we entered Roger's house, Uncle Steve was sitting on the couch in the living room watching Sports Center on ESPN. When he saw us enter, he turned off the TV.
"Come on in guys and have a seat. We want to talk to you before the sleepover." Uncle Steve told us as Aunt Alice came in with some drinks for everyone. I suspected the adult's were a little stronger and my guess was confirmed when Uncle Steve made a face after a drink. The fact that they felt they needed strong drinks showed just how much they were worried about us, and that scared me. I looked over to Roger and I could see he felt the same way.
"Boys," Dad said slipping into his judge voice. "After the principal called tonight, Steve, Alice, and I came up with what we believe is the best solution for the time being." Dad paused and looked over to Uncle Steve.
Uncle Steve set down his drink and looked at us. Once he knew that he had our undivided attention, he began to speak.
"First off, you boys will all carry your cell phones everywhere you go." Uncle Steve waited till we each nodded our head. "None of you are to go anywhere without the other two. Until you are told otherwise, you three will be joined at the hip, like the three musketeers. Absolutely no exceptions, unless cleared through one of the three of us. Is that understood?" He looked at each of us in turn as we nodded that we understood.
"May I ask why?" I wanted to know what spooked them so badly.
"Andy, the McCrays are a bad element here in Letcher County. JT threatened you and Joey tonight and you, in turn, publicly threatened to kill him." Dad started, but I interrupted him.
"Dad, you know I didn't mean that I'd literally kill him. I was just mad when he threatened Joey and I wanted him to understand I wouldn't just stand there and let it happen." I didn't want anyone to think I would actually kill someone, except possibly in self-defense.
"Yes, Andy, I know you didn't literally mean it. But nevertheless, you did make the threat. I can also assure you that Mr. McCray took it literally, and as an insult to, not only JT, but to the entire family." He paused to collect his thoughts before continuing, "Boys, I don't believe anything will come of it, but there's nothing wrong with taking precautions, and that's what we're doing here." Joey, Roger, and I looked at each other uncomfortably. Something was going on that we didn't fully understand, and it was making us nervous. Joey looked over at me, concern written all over his face.
"Joey," Aunt Alice said getting his attention. "Andy and Roger have been taught a code system that we would like to teach you now, in case you're in trouble. If you find yourself alone, or as the only one, out of the three of you, able to make a call for help, remember that the quickest way is to dial nine-one-one; however, sometimes you may need to be a little more subtle."
Aunt Alice stopped and looked over at my dad, shaking her head. "No, Sam. Let's just keep this simple." Dad nodded his agreement. "Here's what I want you to do, anytime you're in trouble, call. Anytime you feel threatened, call. Anytime you FEEL like there's trouble, call." With the steady and controlled way she was trying to talk, everyone could tell how concerned Aunt Alice was. "I don't want you three to feel like the world is after you, but for now, we want to know where you are at all times, who you are with, and when you will be home, absolutely NO exceptions. We want you to promise us that you will contact us, for any reason. Do I make myself clear?"
The three of us said yes. Whatever was going on, the adults had evidently talked long before we were sat down before them. If I hadn't been scared since the initial confrontation with JT, I would definitely be scared just based on the way that they were acting.
I turned to my father, "I understand why, we should be careful. In fact, we should always be careful, considering it is JT and his family. But, it seems to me that you three are way too concerned over something that isn't anything more than a school-yard shouting match."
"Sam," Uncle Steve interrupted me, glaring at my dad. "I think Andy has a point here, as I told you two earlier."
Dad raised his hand to stop him from saying anymore. "Okay, I know that some, if not all, of you feel this way, but I'm asking you, as a father, Andy, and as a friend to all of you, to please just do as I recommend for a little while, at least."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as we each considered what had been said. Dad looked at each of us, pleading with his eyes, for us to accept his wishes. I guess he still saw some doubt in our eyes; he shook his head before softly speaking again. "I have my reasons. Please, trust me on this."
That's all it took for me to climb fully on board with my dad. I did trust him and always had; he had never once given me a reason not to. The silence in the room was getting to me so I decided to speak up.
"Okay, Dad," I looked at both Joey and Roger and they nodded their approval, "we will do as you ask, because we trust you." I got up and gave my dad a hug.
"Good. Now you boys go get whatever you need so you can have some fun." Dad was smiling and seemed relieved.
Joey and Roger took off like a shot, and were back a few minutes later with the stuff they needed for the sleepover. Dad walked with us back across the yard to our house.
When we got to my room Joey wanted to say something, but he was having trouble coming out with it. Roger wasn't paying any attention, as he was too busy setting up the Wii, so I walked up to Joey and put my arm around his shoulder.
"What's up, Joey?" I asked as I looked into his eyes.
"Would you help me with my bandages? I'd like to get them off before we get started" Joey kept eye contact with me, but I could tell that part of him wanted to look away. I just smiled at him and nodded.
I looked over at Roger. "I'm going to help Joey with his bandages. We'll be right back, okay?"
"Sure, no problem. Oh, don't take all night. You both have a date falling to me in NBA Jam." Roger said with a huge grin.
I gave Roger the one finger salute and lead Joey to my bathroom.
"Wow! I never knew you had a bathroom like this!" Joey was surprised with how big my bathroom was, with the shower big enough for six people, complete with fancy shower heads. I turned and looked at him.
"Joey, you're welcome to use the shower anytime you want. Maybe it would even be good for your back?" I got a wicked grin. "Maybe we could even have a little fun if I helped wash your back for you." He lightly punched me on the arm, but he too had a wicked grin.
I slowly loosened the tape holding the bandages to his back and tenderly pulled them away from his skin. He looked a lot better than he did on Wednesday, but I could tell he was still in a lot of pain. Every time I saw these marks on the boy I loved, it strengthened my resolve to ensure it never happened again. Damn his parents who hurt him for being who he is, and the assholes like JT who want to beat him just for sharing the same space. If I had my way, no one would ever hurt anyone like Joey had been ever again. As I helped get the rest of the bandages off Joey, I thought back to what Mr. Horn said about there being more support in this town than what I thought. He knew what JT had called Joey and I. Was Mr. Horn telling me that gays would be more accepted here than I thought? I wasn't sure, but maybe he was right. I leaned over and kissed Joey's back. I'd do whatever it took to keep my Joey safe.
He turned and looked at me, his blond hair falling in his eyes. His long eye lashes batted at me and I got to kiss the boy of my dreams, as Joey moved closer to me, our lips touched lightly at first. It was tender, and full of love, without the passion-driven lust of teenage love. It was wonderful, and it proved to both of us that this was for real; not just our hormones controlling us. I could feel Joey's love flowing into me. I felt the tip of his tongue licking my bottom lip requesting entry. I decided then and there I would never refuse Joey anything. I may have had him at hello, but he had me the first time I saw the mop of blond hair on the school bus.
Roger yelled for us to hurry up. He said the king was waiting for us. We both smiled through our kiss at the banter coming from Roger and the awesome feeling that was burning inside of us both. We knew we had a love that would stand the test of time. We broke our kiss and I rested my forehead on his.
"Joey, I love you. I've loved you from the very first time I saw the back of your head on the bus. I didn't know what it was then, but I do now." I could feel my heart beating in my chest.
"I love you, too. I have from the first moment I saw you in homeroom." Joey was smiling as much as I was. I could tell from his eyes, he meant every word he said and that made me feel like the king of the world. I took his hand and we walked into the bedroom hand in hand.
We played a few games, taking turns, but it wasn't long till our attention wandered to other things. Before we all crashed in my bed, we had decided to take Joey camping next weekend, as long as he felt up to it with his bruises and cuts. I was hoping he would be healed by then and be up to the trip. He told us he had a doctor appointment on Wednesday and would ask the doctor if he could go camping. Roger and I filled him in where we wanted to go, a great camping place near High Rock. I told him you could actually see High Rock from Main Street, and I would point it out to him the next time we're downtown. We wouldn't actually be camping on the rock, but just below High Rock. On the east side on the mountain, there was a small cave where we would be sheltered, even if it rained.
It was late when we finally called it a night. As everyone got comfortable on the bed, I ended up in the middle. I rolled over onto my side and Joey backed up into me, spooning against my body. I draped my arm over him and pulled him tighter.
I whispered in his ear, "Am I hurting you?"
"No, I could spend the rest of my life here like this." He purred, and I smiled. I wondered if this was what heaven was like.
I thought back to the conversation with our parents tonight, and wonder if we really had anything to fear, I didn't think so. As I drifted off to sleep, with my boyfriend snuggled up close in my arms, I figured the worse that could happen was I'd get the shit kicked out of me by JT. Boy was I wrong.
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