Westpoint Tales

by Kiwi

Entangled Tales - 26 - Justin, Jeremy, and Billy

This one's for Jerry who writes and comments on every chapter. Hey Jerry and thanks.

They pushed in to the crowd around the noticeboard, and surveyed Mrs. Lewis's results. Sure enough, at the top of the list - Billy Mathieson as Oliver, Justin Reynolds as Artful Dodger, Claire Lewis as Nancy. ("Yes!") Lucas', Carl's and Dee's names were there as well - well down the list, but they were there.

"Thanks, Sweetcheeks," said Claire as they left. "I'm going to be the best Nancy - or the most authentic looking one - that this school's ever seen. Put my name on the list of people who owe you."

"There is no list, Claire. Congratulations, you deserve it." And, he sang, “I'd do anyfing for you, Claire. Anyfing. For you mean everyfing to me. I know that, I'd go anywhere, for your smile - anywhere. For your smile, everywhere I'd see."

Claire replied, taking up the song, "Would you climb a hill?"

"Anyfing."

"Wear a daffodil?"

"Anyfing."

"Leave me all your will?"

"Anyfing."

"Even fight my Bill?"

His reply, the next line - "Wot? Fisticuffs?" - with an innocent expression, had them all rolling around laughing. This was destined to become a very old joke as rehearsals for Oliver went on in the months ahead.

When they were leaving the school, walking out through the main entrance, Carl said, "Uh oh! Here's trouble people."

"What do you mean, trouble?"

"Look, there's a Carver sitting on Jonathan's car. One of the meanest ones too."

They walked over to the car, Stretch was there, leaning against the front of the bonnet, arms folded, head hung low and ignoring all the kids going past.

Justin stopped. "Hey Stretch. How's it going?"

He looked up, his face was pale, his eyes red. "Not good, Superboy. Not good at all. Ma sent me to get you, she wants to see you. Will you come over?"

"Yes, of course I'll come over. I'll see you guys later, okay?"

Dee said, "Are you sure you'll be all right, Justin?"

"Course I'll be all right. I'm the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley, remember? Besides, Stretch is my friend. Right Stretch?"

"Yeah, I'm your friend, boy. Come on, Ma's waiting."

Justin and Stretch crossed the road and disappeared around the back of the Carver's rough old house. Dee asked, "Are we going to wait for him, Jonathan?"

"No, we're not waiting, who knows how long they'll be? Stop worrying, Dee. Like Granddad said, there's only about thirty of them. My brother's a one-man army."

Justin came into the kitchen, Ma Carver struggled to her feet, teary eyed, and held a hand towards him. "Justin. Thank you, Justin." She sobbed.

"Mrs. Carver? Ma? What's wrong?" He ignored her outstretched hand and put his arms around her - as far as he could reach anyway.

"Justin!" she wailed, hugging him hard. She flopped down again in her old armchair.

"Jeremy's dead. My baby's dead, Justin. My little boy!" she wailed, crying loudly.

"Oh, no," he sighed. He knelt beside her, one hand on her shoulder, tears flowing.

"Jeremy, No!" His face hardened. "What happened to Jeremy? Who? Who did it?" he demanded.

Ma pulled herself together and wiped her eyes. "No, Justin. Not like that. He killed himself. They were bringing him back for the trial, the car stopped for a rest stop, up at the Springs, he broke away and ran out on the road. There was a truck - a milk tanker. He ...he died instantly. It was all over in seconds, he died. My boy is dead."

She broke down again in tears. Justin knelt, an arm across one shoulder, his face buried in the other. "Ma. Oh, Ma, " he sobbed. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. The poor kid. Poor tortured, Jeremy. I'm sorry, Ma."

"Yes. Well." She straightened up again. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry for everything that has happened to my baby. It's too late now for Jeremy, but there's going to be changes. There's going to be changes around here." She looked at the sad faces around the room, then back at Justin. "You're a good boy, Justin Reynolds. I hope those grandparents of yours know what they've got in you."

"I'm nothing special, Ma - Mrs. Carver. I'm just me."

"Ma, is the word, Justin, and don't talk nonsense, you're special. And that is why I want you to do something for me, for Jeremy."

"Of course I will, Ma. Anything, anything at all. What can I do?"

"Thank you, Justin. I knew you would. Would you come to the funeral? It will be in the Catholic Church, I don't know when yet - Monday or Tuesday, probably. But, would you come? And sit up where they can see you - where this whole town can see that you're not ashamed to be seen with the Carvers?"

"Is that it?" he whispered. "To come to Jeremy's funeral? I wish you had not asked me that, Ma. I wish that you didn't feel you had to. Of course I'll be there - nothing would keep me away. You didn't have to ask, I'd be there anyway. And, I'd be proud to be seen as a friend of your family. Is there anything else? If you think of anything at all that I could do - please tell me."

"Thank you, Boy. I don't think so - I'll let you know. Thank you."

"Thank you, Ma. And thank you for telling me yourself, I'm so sorry."

He was there for some time, meeting and speaking to all the members of the large bereaved family. Billy's mother, Cecily, was there along with Billy's sisters and all his brothers. There seemed to be a horde of them, some redhaired, some not. There was no sign of Billy, he didn't see him anywhere.

When he left, he slipped out quietly and alone. He went up the driveway to the front of the house. Billy was out there in the rain, sitting on the car seat on the verandah, again. He sat there quietly, a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

Justin stopped, out in the rain, on the sidewalk opposite him. "Billy?"

Tear filled eyes looked up. "Justin?"

"I'm sorry about your cousin, about Jeremy. I don't have the words, but I really am, truly, sorry."

"Thanks. Come over here and get out of the friggin' rain. Come here and sit with me, Justin. I want to talk to you."

He stepped over and sat down next to him. Billy continued, "I've no right to ask you, but I'm going to anyway. I want you to do something for me. Say no if you don't want to - I'll understand."

"Billy, ask whatever you want. The answer is yes."

"Yes? Well, maybe it is, maybe you won't. But - would you sing at his funeral? I would, I told him I would, but I can't. I just can't do it."

"You can't do what, Billy?"

"Sing for him. We had an agreement, it started as a joke, but it grew into something more than that. You know that old song - 'Danny Boy'? Well, we agreed that whichever one of us died first, the other would sing it at his funeral. If it was him, he would sing, 'Billy Boy', or I would sing 'Jere - my', to the tune of Danny Boy, you know? I loved my cousin; I really loved Jeremy, poor fucking sap that he was. He was there when I needed him, he saved my life. Now the time has come, and I can't do it. I can't sing for Jeremy - would you sing for me, on my behalf? Oh, it doesn't matter. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked you. We can play a record."

"Billy, of course I will. You don't need a record. I would be proud to sing for Jeremy, for you. Thank you. But, why me?"

"Why you? Because you're a fucking good singer. I've heard you and you're good. Plus - everyone thinks that the Carvers are scum ..."

"I don't."

"Well, maybe not everyone, but most people do. We are trash. But if you were to stand up there and sing for Jeremy, the whole town.....they'd have to take notice and maybe think a bit. You're the 'Superboy' and the hero of our town, if you are on our side, well, maybe they'll see that Jeremy wasn't such a monster after all."

"Jeremy was no monster. He was a kid, a broken kid. Your family are not scum, Billy. Where I come from the Carvers would be one of the better families. I will do this, I will be proud to do it. I'll do more than show this town - I'll show the whole friggin' country that Jeremy was loved. By you I mean, not me. I never knew him long, but I think I knew him well, part of him. Part of him was part of me."

"Thank you Justin. I really appreciate this."

"Save your thanks for afterwards, I might screw it up, but I'll be proud to try."

"You won't screw it up. I'll get you a ride home, you can't walk in this rain."

"No," he said walking back out. "I like to walk in the rain. There's another old song about crying in the rain. Goodbye Billy."

"Goodbye Justin. Thanks for everything."

At lunchtime on Friday, Justin went back and spoke with Ma Carver. The funeral was to be at 10am., on Tuesday, at St. Jerome's Catholic Church. He agreed that he would sing Billy's song in place of a recessional hymn - at the end of the service, when the pallbearers were carrying Jeremy out of the church. He declined to be a pallbearer as he believed it was the family's place to carry Jeremy to his final rest.

Tearfully, he promised Ma that they were going to do her boy proud. He would use all his fame and notoriety with the media people and Jeremy was going to have a funeral that Westpoint would never forget. Ma had better make sure that all of her brood were scrubbed up and dressed in their finest - the world would be watching.

He went back to school, late, and when they went out to the Friday afternoon sports periods, he went to the staffroom where the teachers and staff were meeting. He stood outside the door listening to the murmur of voices inside. He took a deep breath, knocked loudly, and marched straight in without waiting to be called.

The conversations stopped and all eyes were on Justin as he limped to the front of the room. "Good afternoon Mrs. Lowry. I'm sorry to interrupt you all. I wish to speak to the staff."

"Well, Justin. You appear to have the floor. What do you want to say?"

"I am Justin, Jonathan, Reynolds. I am a new student at this school, and I am ashamed to be associated with Westpoint High School. You are the staff of Westpoint High, you are responsible, not only for their education and training, you are also responsible for the welfare and safety of the children entrusted to your care. And, you have failed them. You have failed, not once, not twice, but hundreds of times. Regularly, consistently, almost daily, you have failed your students, their families, and your chosen profession.

There has been a long and shameful tradition, a culture of bullying in this school. Bullying, humiliation, persecution, beatings and torture. The strong preying on the weak and grinding them down. You who should be the strongest, have done FUCK ALL about it ! You and your predecessors. Adults in this town, both young and old, have told me that they were bullied when students here.

It happens in other schools, but that is not your responsibility. It happens here, and that is your responsibility, and it is time to say - enough!

In the recent incident, a boy, a loved and cherished child, was pushed over the edge. Jeremy Carver was beaten until he was broken. His mind snapped, and now he is dead. Fourteen years old, and he is dead. Bradley Stephens was sixteen years old, and he is dead. Four others, including one of you, and myself, were shot and wounded. We are not dead, but Brad and Jeremy are, and we are all responsible, we have failed them because we did not prevent it.

I was not there, I was in hospital when Brad Stephens' funeral took place. Jeremy Carver's funeral will be at St. Jerome's church at 10am on Tuesday. I will be there, and I believe that this entire school - staff and students - everyone, should be there also, to line the streets, to say goodbye, and to say sorry to one of your own whom you - we - have all failed. And to promise that it will not, ever, happen again.

That is all I have to say. Thank you for listening."

As he walked, crying, back to the door, someone - Mrs. Lewis perhaps - started clapping. Applause broke out all around the room and they rose to their feet, clapping loudly.

Mrs. Lowry stopped him. "Justin! Harsh words, Justin. Harsh words, but true. I will be at the funeral, and I will tell the entire school, staff and students, that I expect them to be there as well. There must be no more bullying in our school."

He stood at the door. "Thank you, Mrs. Lowry. Thank you all. The television news cameras will be there as well." And, he left.

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