Knots, Book 2
by Elias Scott
Coach Gilbert called the four of us into his office. We figured he was going to give us a warning after hearing what happened that morning. He smiled to set us at ease. "Relax. You're not in trouble. I talked to your teammates and explained what we agreed to at the parents' meeting. They understand that if they bully or harass you in any way, they won't dress for the next game, and will have to sit in the stands. I talked to Coach Mills, and he assured me he had talked to the varsity too. You need to keep in mind that there's always a little horseplay in the locker room, so don't react unless it's directed at you or what happened to you."
Andy interrupted. "Coach Mills must not have done a very good job, because two guys have already said something to us."
"Give me their names."
"Mel Jacobs and Tim Garcia."
"I'll tell Coach Mills to talk to them."
"Probably won't do any good," Andy insisted.
Coach Gilbert shook his head. "You may be right, but we're doing our best. We don't practice with the varsity, so just get dressed and head out to the practice field. Stay away from them."
Coach Gilbert shook each of our hands and gave us a pat on the back as we left his office.
None of the JV's said anything to us when we first got to our lockers. In fact, they turned away. I'm the quarterback and should have been the one to say or do something, but as usual, it was Andy who spoke to no one in particular. "So how'd practice go last week?"
Tony Carter slipped his shoulder pads on. "Not bad, but we missed you guys."
Mel and Tim and a couple others said the same thing and soon they were talking.
Tony looked over at Thomas. "Hell, Thomas, Sid, had to play quarterback because our first and second string QB's were sidelined all week. It's good to have you back."
I hadn't said anything. I just dressed like a zombie. Finally I spoke. "So what does coach have planned for us this week?"
"Same ole stuff," Tony offered.
A JV, by the name of Luke Dickers, stuck his head out from around the other side of the lockers. "Maybe some cock sucking after practice." He sure was appropriately named.
Within seconds, Tony, Mel, and Tim were in his face. Mel grabbed his shoulder pads and pulled him from behind the lockers. "Shut your fucking mouth, asshole. You know what the coach said. We're a team. Have some respect."
My eyes flashed wide as I glanced at Andy, Thomas, and Randy, who looked as surprised as me. Of course, it would have been great if that was the end of it, but within seconds a couple varsity players came to Luke's defense. The guy that bumped into Thomas earlier got involved. His name was Jack Barnes. Andy and I always called him Jackass Barnes. Jackass pulled Luke out of Mel's clutches. "Maybe he doesn't like hanging around fags."
I looked around for one of the varsity coaches but no one was around. The assistant JV Coach, Coach Johnson, a tall African-American retired lineman, came from nowhere and grabbed Jackass Barnes by his shoulder pads. "Take your uniform off. You don't practice today. That goes for you too, Luke."
Barnes laughed. "You don't tell me what to do. You're a JV coach."
"Try me," Coach Johnson said.
Players from the varsity and JV gathered around. Coach Gilbert and Coach Mills stepped out of the office.
"What appears to be the problem, Coach Johnson?" Mills asked.
"Seems one of your boys and one of our boys don't listen. They were both harassing our players. I told them to take their uniforms off because they weren't going to practice today. Barnes here, refused."
Coach Mills cleared his throat. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Coach Johnson. You and Coach Gilbert take care of your players and I'll take care of mine."
We're all standing there thinking the coaches might come to blows.
Coach Gilbert tried to move Coach Mills off to the side, but Coach Mills refused to move. Coach Gilbert went on. "Coach, I hate saying this in front of the boys because you're the varsity coach and my superior, but we all have a responsibility to our players. Mr. Evans made it clear that we aren't to accept any negative behavior or comments from any of our players. We assured him we'd make sure these kinds of things didn't happen. None of your coaches were supervising the locker room. Coach Johnson was doing his job and is right in suspending these boys from practice for the day. They can stand on the sidelines and watch. Coach Johnson has my full support." He paused. Coach Mills appeared to be thinking. Coach Gilbert continued. "Coach Mills, we could call Mr. Evans and have him come down to make a decision. Of course, that could lead to a two or three day suspension for both these boys. What do you want to do?"
I couldn't believe it, but Coach Mills backed down.
"Okay. I'll accept this for now."
Coach Gilbert made us proud. He didn't let it end there. He went on. "Coach Mills, you need to talk to your players again and let them know any negative behavior will not be tolerated. I'll do the same with mine. Do we understand each other?"
Coach Mills nodded and than I heard him say under his breath. "You're going to pay for this" as he walked back into the coaches' office.
Jackass Barnes and Luke took their pads off. Coach Mills called his players together in the locker room as the JV's headed out to the practice field with Coach Johnson. Coach Gilbert remained in the locker room until Coach Mills finished talking to his players.
As team captain, I led the team in warm-ups. After that, we broke into groups and ran small group drills. There was still some tension at practice, but by the end, everything almost seemed normal. You couldn't expect much more for our first day back. Coaches Gilbert and Johnson did us proud, and I gotta to tell you, they are the kind of men I'd like to be some day. They both showed the courage that I never seemed to have when it came to saying anything about Dillon Burke. I was hoping I'd be better the next time.
It was great watching Luke and Jackass Barnes standing on the sidelines watching practice. I'd like to say everything went well from then on, but as we were headed into the locker room after practice, three players came up to me. The leader was a player by the name of Pinkie Sparks. Pinkie was his nickname because his face looked like the color of a pig. I think they should have called him Piggy Sparks. "You fags seems to think you won today. Your coach forced Coach Mills to back down. He's not going to take that shit, so you better keep your heads on a swivel."
Matt, Thomas, and Randy came up to join me. "Piggy, back off. We don't need any of your shit," Thomas said to my surprise.
"The name's Pinkie,"
"Pinkie, Piggy, what's the difference? They both spell asshole."
Pinkie came unglued and went after Thomas, who easily ran away from him. Not only was Pinkie pink like a pig, he was also as big as a pig. All the JV's gathered round just outside the locker room and started cheering Thomas on.
"Stop running you chickenshit fag. Fight me," Pinkie yelled.
Thomas stopped just long enough to give Pinkie a big grin before taking off again. "I have no intention of getting suspended for fighting."
Pinkie got winded and stopped. "You'll pay for this," he hissed.
Coach Johnson walked up and looked at Pinkie, who now had his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. "What's going on here?"
Thomas was calmly standing there. "Piggy was chasing me, Coach. He called us fags and was defending Coach Mills."
Pinkie looked up and tried to speak. "Thaaaat's not true. He was taunting me and calling me Piggy. I don't like anyone calling me Piggy."
Coach Johnson tried not to smile, but he couldn't help it.
"This isn't funny, Coach."
"I agree, Pinkie. Let's go in and talk to Coach Mills."
Pinkie got flustered. "That's all right coach. We're cool."
I wasn't sure if it was because he was afraid of what Coach Mills would do or if he was afraid that Coach Gilbert and Coach Johnson would take him out of practice for a couple days. I guess he figuredwisdom was the better part of valor.
There were a few other run-ins that week, but things went pretty well except for lunch detention with Mrs. Crawford, who was worthless as a counselor. I think the purpose was to get all of us to talk about our attitudes and feelings. The only problem was that Mrs. Crawford couldn't keep her attitudes and feelings to herself. She favored the bigots.
So there we all sat in a circle with her playing the inquisitor. She put Randy and me together on her left, and the others on her right. We introduced ourselves and told a little as possible about our lives.
She started with me. "So Andy, tell us a little about yourself."
"Just start anywhere."
I pinched my lips together. "Aren't you supposed to ask us some questions?"
She frowned. "I'm running this, not you."
I rolled my eyes. "My name's Andy Gibson and I'm fifteen. I'd give you my rank and serial number too, but I don't have any."
"There isn't any need to be rude," she responded.
"I'm not. You told me to tell you a little about myself and I did."
She frowned again and seemed to realize she was going to actually have to work to earn her pay. "Where were you born? Do you have any brothers or sisters? What are your hobbies? How did you feel about being raped by Dillon Burke?"
She obviously thought she was clever.
"I was born here. I don't have any brothers or sisters. I like video games, and the last one I'd rather not answer."
"Nothing's private in this room. We need to share so we can get to know each other better so we can get along better. And you're not helping."
I pointed at Jerrod and Ted. "Why don't you ask them why they're so homophobic?"
She didn't have a chance to say anything because Jerrod stood up, put his hands on his hips, and spit out, "because I just flat out hate fags."
It took everything in me to stay in my seat. "But I was raped. How does that make me a fag?"
Mrs. Crawford ventured enough to say, "Jarrod, please sit down and answer Andy's question."
Finally, it seemed like we might get somewhere, even though the whole rape thing was a lie. But I was going to milk it for all it was worth.
Jarrod answered my question. "He didn't stop him. That's why."
She surprised me when she asked him, "Is that what you would have done?"
"Yeah, no way would I let some guy force himself on me."
"What would you do if he was bigger than you?" I asked.
"I'd kill him before he could do anything to me. You gave up too easily. It's obvious you wanted it."
And little did he know how true that was.
He looked at Randy. "And you, you little freshman whore, you weren't even raped. You just gave it up. That's right Mrs. Crawford, he just gave it up. He's nothing but a fag."
Mrs. Crawford spoke to Randy. "Is that the way you see it?"
I wanted to get up and punch her in the mouth. Randy didn't say anything at first. Finally, a quiet "no" came out of him.
"How do you see it?"
"I don't know. It just kinda happened. Dillon was helping us with football and the next thing he's giving us things and then showing us porn and one thing led to another. Thomas and I only wanted to learn to be better football players."
"What bullshit," Ted said. "You fags are all alike. Just making excuses for being perverts."
Right then I really wished Matt and Thomas were with us. But I wasn't going to let him get away with that shit. "What do you mean perverts?"
"You know. You like sucking guys and letting them put their weenies in you."
Mrs. Crawford just sat there so I asked, "What difference does it make to you? You're not involved. No one's touched you, or like you said, tried to get you so suck them or put a weenie in your ass. Just let it go. It has nothing to do with you. Or does it? You act like what happened to us scares you in some way. Why would it scare you enough to even care? Why get angry?"
"Fuck you, Gibson. What I feel and why is none of your business."
I turned to Mrs. Crawford. "He needs to answer the question."
What she said next ended it all for me. First she told him not to talk that way and then said, "Well, I don't think he should have to. That's just the way he feels. He doesn't like what you boys did. There are a lot of people who feel that way. The sooner you understand that the better."
I stood. "That doesn't make it right." I wanted to say, you're full of shit.
Randy stood. "I thought you were supposed to help us get along better. You're making it worse. I'm telling my parents. Either the school gets someone else for the rest of the week or I'm not coming."
Crawford raised her voice. "You better be here, or else!"
"We'll see about that," I blurted.
Randy and I began to walk out when the four guys from the hall stood. "If they get to go, so do we."
"All of you sit down," Crawford said. "Let's start over."
Jasper kept walking toward the door. "I don't want anything to do with these fags."
"That word isn't acceptable. Please sit. Anyone who leaves will be suspended."
Randy and I sat. The other six stood there with their fingers up their asses. Everyone looked at Jasper. He went back to his seat and the others followed. "That's better," old lady Crawford said. She looked at Jasper. "You seem to be the leader here. Do you have anything to say?"
He looked confused at first. "Well, what these guys did is wrong. That's it. It was wrong."
Crawford wrote something on a piece of paper. "Would you like to explain that further?"
She looked at the others. "Any of you have anything to say?"
"Let me ask you a question then. Do you think it's wrong because of your religious beliefs?"
Everyone glanced at each other as grins crossed their faces.
Jason cleared his throat. "My dad told me it's wrong. He says it disgusts him."
Surprisingly, old lady Crawford came to life.
"So is that why you hate these boys?"
Jason looked away. "I'm not sure. Maybe. He's very religious. I go to church and they say the same thing. Anyway, I don't hate them. I don't like what they do. And I think they had a choice. I'd never do anything like that."
What came out of her mouth next shocked me. "Has anyone ever tried to rape you or touch you?"
Jason dropped his head and quietly said, "No."
My mouth wouldn't stay shut. "Then how do you know how you'd react? You're an upperclassman now. But how 'bout if it happened to you when you were only thirteen. How would it be then?"
Peter jumped in. "You're not the counselor here. You don't get to ask questions."
"You're not either, so shut up."
Peter started to get up.
"Sit down!" Crawford yelled. "As you know, I have my own opinion on what these boys did, but I'd like to hear your answer. How would you have acted if an older boy took you out and coached you, gave you a ride in his expensive car, took you to the amusement park and slowly, over time, got closer to you. He invites you to his house, you play video games and then he shows you some porn. How would you react?"
Peter looked around the room. "I'd kick him in the balls and walk out."
"Do you think this is what they should have done?"
Randy slid his desk forward. "You're sixteen. It's easy for you to say now. But what if you were only thirteen and he's bigger and older? You admire him and he's kind of your idol. How would you act then?"
"I already told you. I'd kick him in the balls and walk out."
Randy went on. "How 'bout if he grabbed you and threw you on the bed. Remember, you're thirteen and he's sixteen or seventeen. Who do you think would have the advantage?"
Peter looked away. "I don't want to talk about this shit anymore."
Jeff had been sitting quietly and surprised us when he spoke. He was about five-eight and thin. "You know, I never thought about it that way. Yeah, it's easy to say, you'd kick him in the balls and run out. But I'm not sure I could have gotten away. Look at me. He could even overpower me now. I was a lot smaller when I was thirteen and fourteen."
"You're tougher than that," Jasper said. "You're wiry and strong. You'd have gotten away."
"How big were you Jasper when you were thirteen?" I asked.
He dropped his head and mumbled, "What's that got to do with it?"
"Just answer the question."
He looked away and then at old lady Crawford for help. She didn't say anything.
He mumbled, "I was small. A lot smaller than I am now. I've grown a lot."
I leaned toward him. "So if Dillon tried to rape you, do you think you'd have gone willingly or been overpowered by him?"
He paused and pain showed on his face. "Overpowered, I guess."
Jason wasn't going to let it go. "Okay, I'm going to give you the rape thing. But it's a big NO to the seduction. These guys wanted it."
I shook my head. "Jason, you're an ass. First of all, they were thirteen. What's a thirteen-year-old really know about sex except that his dick gets hard and shoots cum. A guy they admired showed them porn and then touched them. They're only human. Do you think he'd have let them go if they ran off?"
Jason got an irritated tone in his voice. "How should I know? All I know is I'd have left."
"And what if he grabbed you?"
"I don't know. You're getting me all confused."
Mrs. Crawford sat there like one of the desks.
Finally I said, "Take a good look at Randy and me. Do we look any different than other boys at this school? Do we act different? I know, the image of what we've done with Dillon and what Dillon did to us bothers you, but we're still human. We don't have horns. And just like you, we're horny a lot. We want to be popular, play sports, and be happy just like you. Can't you just accept us? Stuff happens in life. Accept it."
Jason cleared his throat. "My father'd kick my ass. He hates fags."
Randy spoke up. "Jason, I know I'm only a freshman, but don't you think it's time you think for yourself. Just don't tell him. We won't tell. You don't have to hang with us. All you have to do is say 'hi' in the hall or ignore us if you think people will think you're gay. Just leave us alone." And then he surprised me when he asked old lady Crawford shat she thought.
"Well, while I don't approve of what went on with Dillon, I think you have a good idea." She looked at the others. "What do you think?"
Jarrod frowned and looked around the room. "I don't think I can."
"What about the rest of you?" Mrs. Crawford asked.
That's when the dominos began to fall.
Jeff raised his hand. "I can."
Jason nodded. "I think I can too."
Kyle started to speak, looked around at the others, and focused on Jeff. "If you can, I think I can. I'm not saying it'll be easy. What they do with each other is disgusting. But as long as they don't hit on me, I can live with it."
Jarrod let out a big breath. "I don't want any of these guys coming onto me. Like Kyle, I find them disgusting. But I'll leave them alone. I don't want to serve any more detention. This is too painful. They'd better not come onto me."
I wanted to say, "Jarrod, you're an asshole and there isn't any way anyone's going to come on to you," but didn't. Just then, the bell rang.
Jarrod and Ted started to leave when Mrs. Crawford stopped them, "Hold it. Don't forget, you need to be here for the rest of the week. Bring your lunches."
They nodded and walked out. Kyle, Jeff, James, Jason, and Peter nodded at Randy and me and left. I had no idea what the next detention would be like, but I was hopeful.
Empathy is... the capacity to understand...that someone else's pain is as meaningful as your own. - Barbara Kingsolver
I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they've done. -- Andrea Arnold
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