We're Working On It

by Richard Norway

Chapter 17

Richard got out of his car and closed the door. He looked around and saw Todd Hubble with his wife walking toward the auditorium. Todd waved to him, and Richard gave a short acknowledging wave back. As Richard continued his walk to the auditorium, up the front steps and through the double doors, he noticed that he didn't see many students around. His first thought was that not too many kids are going to be at a memorial service for just another gay kid.

But as he entered the main auditorium, he saw that it was filled to overflowing and noisy. He didn't see an empty seat, so he stayed in the back, standing.

Looking past the throng of unruly high school students, Richard saw the stage. It was empty except for five chairs in a line behind a wooden podium. Seated in the chair on the right was Mr. Bettler, the school Principal. The three chairs next to Mr. Bettler were taken by what Richard assumed to be teachers as they were mostly middle aged. Cory was seated by himself in the fifth and last chair on the left. Cory's face was completely devoid of any expression. He sat motionless with his hands in his lap looking toward the back of the auditorium. Looking around, Richard saw Matt's parents seated in the front row.

After a moment, the room began to quiet, and Mr. Bettler took the opportunity to stand. As he did the room got even quieter as most of the students were now in their seats.

When the principal approached the podium, he looked out at the room and began speaking, "Thank you all for coming today. We're here today to remember one of our students, Matt Hubble. These are the times that we as teachers fear the most, the untimely death of one of our students. Matt's death was such an unfortunate accident. We all here on the staff grieve along with his parents and his friends."

Cory's head snapped toward the podium as he shot Mr. Bettler a look of disbelief.

After a slight pause, Mr. Bettler turned slightly and looked at the other four chairs.

"I've asked a few of Matt's teachers and a friend here today to say a few words about their friend. Miss Garner here was Matt's English teacher. Miss Garner...?"

Mr. Bettler stood back from the podium slightly to let an older woman of about 55 come up to the podium. Her clothes were of another era. As Mr. Bettler returned to his chair, Miss Garner began softly.

"Thank you, Mr. Bettler. Yes, Matt was in my class. I knew him well, and he had such promise. His grades were superior... "

Cory was not listening. 'This is pure bullshit,' he thought as he looked out at the audience. 'They have no clue to what had happened at their school,' Cory said to himself.

Suddenly he saw the image of Matt's face looking at him. He was in the audience. Matt had that same smile that he had when he appeared to him in the cemetery. Cory just looked at his minds image of his friend, and Matt's smile grew larger. His head nodded at Cory, and Cory smiled back, a knowing smile.

"And now Cory Mathews has agreed to say a few words about Matt. Cory...?" was the next thing that Cory heard.

Cory stared at Mr. Bettler for a moment and then he slowly got out of his chair and approached the podium. On his way to the podium, he turned toward the audience and smiled at the image of Matt. Matt was with him. Cory stood quietly behind the podium for a long time, looking out at the audience, saying nothing. After what seemed an eternity, he began.

"Hi. I'm Cory Mathews. I was a friend of Matt's."

Cory looked at the other four chairs behind him for a moment, and then looked again at the audience.

"You've all said some mighty nice things about him here today."

Cory looked down, and after a slight pause, looked up.

"But you're probably not going to like what I have to say to you."

Silence started to fall over the room. Cory turned around to face the principal.

"No, Mr. Bettler. Matt's dying was NOT some unfortunate accident," Cory said to him loudly so that everyone heard. He then turned to face the audience again.

Cory's voice was now getting louder.

"Matt was a victim."

He paused to let the words sink in for a few moments. Todd Hubble started a smile, a knowing smile. In the back of the room, Richard nodded his head in understanding of what Cory was about to say. Cory's words resounded with passion.

"You all know what I'm talking about, don't you? You want to know what the fucking word for it is? You wanna know? Well, I'll tell you. The word is homophobia. It's a fear born from ignorance that runs rampant in this school."

Cory paused and looked around the room. Everyone had their eyes glued on him. Cory continued with force.

"Johnny only acted out what he was supposed to do. He was following your orders. Yes, Matt was gay. So am I. So are a lot of you. You didn't choose to be gay. I didn't choose to be gay. I just am. You just are. That's the way it is folks, so get used to it."

Cory paused a moment to calm down before he continued.

"But Matt was humiliated. He was teased. And he was ridiculed for it. He couldn't change it any more than he could change the color of his eyes or change the parents he was born with."

Cory's pause was one of determination now.

"But you all feared him. Why? Was he a threat to you? Yes...He...Was. He was a threat to you because you didn't understand him. You didn't know him or even try to get to know him. Things in Matt's life made him who he was. You never even tried to understand who he was. You don't understand anything about what it means to be gay in America or for that matter, in this school. Try living with the fear in every day of coming to this school. Not just the ridicule after being found out but the harassment and the beatings. Why do you think that one third of all teen suicides are by gay or lesbian kids? Tell me why! It's because you MAKE them do it."

Cory had to stop for a moment but continued with earnest.

"The issue is not about a different way of life – it is about life itself. I know that every teacher and every parent in this school fundamentally agrees that no young person, gay or straight, should have to live under that kind of fear. A school is supposed to be a safe place for us, a safe place to learn and grow.

"But it's not for us. What happened here is a travesty. Your fears did this to Matt. And I don't know how I can ever forgive you for it. I don't know how Matt's mom and dad can ever forgive you. Every one of you was a part of this, this, this DEATH of another human being."

The tears were openly streaming down Cory's face, but he stood tall. The audience was silent.

Kevin stood up from the fourth row and made his way to the aisle. He climbed the steps to the stage and walked over and stood next to his boyfriend. Kevin slowly raised his hand and placed it on Cory's shoulder. Nothing was said between the two boys as they both looked out at the student body. Kevin knew that this was Cory's time. Cory had arrived. Their bond was resolute.

Cory looked down and saw Matt's parents in the front row. Todd Hubble, again, slowly nodded his head to Cory.

Cory looked up at the audience.

"You tried to put out a candle before it had a chance to light up some small part of this world. But part of that light is still here. It's here within me and within Kevin. Matt was, no IS, a part of our lives because he was here. Because he was here, I've been changed. Because he was here, you've been changed. He's actually a part of every one of you. And you can't change that. Whatever you do, PLEASE, PLEASE don't let this bigotry, this hatred, this fear, this, this ignorance put out his light."

Cory tried to speak, but no more words came out. He slowly wiped the tears from his eyes and turned from the podium. Cory slowly and openly wrapped his arms around Kevin and buried his face in his shoulder. Silence was all around them.

The faculty behind Cory and Kevin could not move, could not speak.

After a moment, Cory withdrew from Kevin, turned and stopped in front of the podium. He looked out over the audience. Matt's face was out there. Matt was still with Cory. Matt was still with Kevin. Maty was smiling.

Todd Hubble slowly stood up and remained motionless after standing. Matt's mother followed her husband and also stood, slipping her arm through her husband's.

Cory reached over and put his hand into Kevin's. He motioned forward and the two boys defiantly and proudly walked down the steps together. As they reached the bottom of the steps, a boy from the left side of the auditorium stood up and faced Cory.

The silence was deafening.

Cory stopped for a moment, starring at the standing boy. Cory's lips curled slightly upward at the ends, and he nodded slowly at the boy. Cory felt his pain and knew what the boy had just done. He had just outed himself. The boy nodded back.

As Cory and Kevin slowly continued their walk up the aisle, another boy in the middle of the auditorium stood and faced Cory.

Cory and Kevin both smiled at him and slowly nodded their heads in acknowledgement of the truth that this second boy had also so fefiently reveling.

Cory and Kevin slowly continued to walk up the aisle toward the rear of the auditorium, and as they did, a football cheerleader seated in an aisle seat in front of them silently rose as Cory approached. The girl turned around and faced Cory as Cory and Kevin walked up the aisle.

Cory stopped, Kevin following Cory's lead, and stared at the girl. He smiled and a moment later, nodded his head. He then clinched down on Kevin's hand and continued up the aisle.

The silence in the auditorium was roaring in everyone's ears like the sounds of a brass band.

Cory saw Richard standing at the back of the room, and he noted that Richard too had been crying. Cory paused for a moment and looked at Richard. The love between the two sparkled in their eyes.

Cory slid his hand from Kevin's and walked over to Richard.

"Dad, thank you for being with me today and thank you for all you've taught me. I know I worry you sometimes, and maybe that's what kids do as they're trying to grow up. But I've learned one special thing from you, something I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. I've never said this to you, cuz I guess I was scared it wasn't going to come true. But I now know it to be true. You may not be my father, but you ARE my dad."

Richard smiled down at Cory.

"Cory, I am so proud of you, and I am so honored to have you as my son!"

Richard was now whole, filled to completion. He had his son, Cory, and he had a family.

Cory and Richard engulfed each other in their arms, not wanting to let go. After a moment, though, they slowly parted, and moved to the aisle. Cory took Kevin's hand in his as his dad slid his arm around Cory's shoulders. Together, they walked proudly toward the double doors and out of the school's auditorium. Kevin stopped Cory and turned to look at him. He moved into Cory and proudly kissed him on the lips with all the love that he could give.

The boy's school day was over, and a 'dad' and two 'men' went home.

The End

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