– Chapter One –
Okay, so it’s Monday morning and I’ve made it through another weekend. I’m not sure if that’s actually a good thing yet or not, because this one was a close call. A very close call as a matter of fact.
If I’d have had a convenient cliff on Saturday afternoon, or perhaps if a nice deep crevice had opened up in the ground beneath me, well then, things might have been different. In fact, things might have been very different and I might not be now walking toward my first period of the new school day, with the eyes of my entire school upon me and their whispers echoing in my ears.
You can laugh if you like, but I’m being serious here! Totally serious! I’m always serious. . . didn’t you know that?
You see, I’m the guy who never smiles. When I’m not wearing the deliciously boring uniform of the Catholic high school I attend I’m always dressed in black and wearing punk rock or heavy metal tee shirts. I have my shoulder length brown hair perpetually dyed black. And I have numerous body parts that are pierced. You know the type? I’m sure there’s someone just like me in your year at school too.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t class myself as Emo or Goth or anything like that. I’m just me. What I’m not sure about though is if this is the real me or not, but what the heck, I still have an image to uphold, you know, so it’ll do for now!
Merry . . . err. . . that’s my friend Meredith in case you were wondering, thinks I’m just crying out for some attention, seeing as I’ve always lived in the shadow of Connor, my asshole, football superstar, hot-shot older brother who is now off studying somewhere at University, and no doubt fucking the brains out of anything that smiles in his direction.
I don’t know if Merry is right or not, and to be honest, I really couldn’t give a flying fuck if she is or if she isn’t. People can take me or leave me as far as I’m concerned! Besides, when I’m finally through with this place, which will only be in about six months, barring mishaps, I’m thinking of being someone different anyway.
And if that doesn’t work, then I’ll do something different again. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually manage to figure out just who I am.
In the mean time however, I’ll just go on scowling at people and continue to have them think that I am who they think I am, and hope to hell that they never call my bluff!
So . . . now that you know my life history, or as much as you’re going to find out in one sitting, I suppose you would like to know what it is that ails me on this grey Monday morning then?
Well, it’s like this. There ain’t no use in denying it . . . I got busted sucking cock on Saturday afternoon by a guy from my class! It’s true, and now I’m certain that everyone in this whole freakin’ school knows it, or if they don’t already, then they are just about to know it.
Are you shocked?
I can tell you that Timmy Baker sure as hell was when he walked into the toilets at the shopping centre on Saturday. That was where he found me on my knees in front of this cute twenty-something year old guy who had just sidled right up beside me in there while I was having a piss. Naturally, being who and what I am, I couldn’t resist taking a peek and, well, as sometimes happens in such places, one thing led to another and the next thing I know I’m on my knees and staring at seven beautiful inches of uncut meat.
I remember hearing the door open, just after the guy shoved his cock down my throat, but for some reason I just didn’t take any notice of it or react. Next thing I remember is hearing someone saying, ‘Jeeeeeee-sus!’
That was when I looked up to see Timmy staring down at me. He stuttered and stammered there for a second, but then this huge grin came over his face, right before he bolted for the door.
And that was what scared the hell out of me. That grin.
* * * * *
So, yeah, as you can probably imagine, ever since then I’ve been dreading showing up here at school this morning and walking these halls. I even tried faking illness, but my olds could see right through me.
I’ve already heard the words being whispered since I had entered the building. Words like faggot and queer and poofter. Each time I hear them they send shivers down my spine. And it’s still early yet. The first bell hasn’t even rung!
Slowly I began my journey down the corridor, away from the relative safety of the main doors, heading towards our home room with my bag slung over one shoulder. Like the Red Sea before Moses, the crowds parted before me, my schoolmates standing back against the walls and lockers, their faces showing every emotion possible, plus a few that looked like they could be new ones, never before seen by mankind. All of the faces were familiar to me, yet all looked like total strangers. Some of them looked shocked. Some looked horrified. Some just looked sad. Some looked like they were saying: ‘I knew it!’ Some of them even smiled . . . and one guy in the year below me even gave me a wink! WTF?
Few of them could look directly into my eyes, preferring instead to study the scuff marks on their shoes, but there were a few who tried staring me down, looking me straight in the eyes, their faces cold and unloving.
‘Hey JJ, it seems you’ve created quite a stir. Is it true?’ came a familiar voice from right beside me.
I turned to see Pete Howard fall into step alongside me. He was one of the good guys in my year. Pete was one of those guys who was a friend, but we weren’t what you would call besties. We hung out a bit sometimes, but I had never been to his place, nor had he ever been to mine. He was good value though and I liked him a lot. And let’s face it, right now I could do with all the friendly faces I could find.
‘So, you’ve heard, huh?’ I responded. ‘Yeah, it’s true. You better not get too close to me, you might get tarred with the same brush. The masses might think I’m doing you too!’
‘Fuck ‘em,’ he answered, then realising what he had said he quickly added, ‘Figuratively speaking, of course!’
‘Yeah, I get your drift. Thanks.’
‘No problems,’ he replied, with his trademark lop-sided grin while giving me a punch in the arm as he did so.
Ignoring the stares as best I could I asked, ‘Have you seen Merry yet?’
‘No,’ he replied, while shaking his head.
We kept on walking down the gloomy corridor, our shoes squeaking on the ugly green linoleum floor as we went, which obviously must have been polished sometime over the weekend.
The stares and whispers didn’t abate.
Soon we came to the intersection in the corridor and turned left to head to our home room, which was the third room along on the right, with our lockers all standing to attention outside in the corridor, like guardians.
Thankfully there weren’t quite as many people along here so we opened our lockers and shoved our bags inside. When I slammed my locker door shut, however, I got the shock of my life, as there stood my nemesis, Dallas Pearce, his arms folded across his muscular chest and being surrounded by his henchmen – including Timmy Baker.
‘Hey, Dal,’ I calmly said to him, while my heart was still skipping around inside my chest. His face was expressionless, like it was set in stone. The deep wells that were his eyes, the chiselled features, the strong jaw, the well developed body, the black, black hair, they were all as familiar to me as my own, but this would be as close as I would ever get to them.
Slowly he looked me up and down and for a fleeting moment I thought I saw his upper lip curl back in distaste. Before anything could be said though, I suddenly found myself being dragged backward by Pete and Merry, who, it seemed, had arrived on the scene just in time.
As I was dragged away, despite my protests which were directed at my saviours, I tried to keep my eyes on Dallas, who I noticed continued to watch me. Our eyes made contact for the briefest of moments before I was dragged through the door and into our home room.
‘What the fuck were you thinking?’ Merry squealed as she and Pete physically threw me into my usual seat.
‘About what?’ I asked.
‘You and King Dick out there, of course!’ she replied. ‘He looked like he was going to pick you up and snap you in half.’
‘Nah, it’s okay. He’s really just a big pussy cat,’ I said.
‘Man, do you have a death wish or something?’ Pete added. ‘You must be out of your freakin’ mind.’
I just grinned at him.
‘Oh fuck, I really can’t work you out, you know that?’
‘And that makes two of us,’ Merry added, angrily folding her arms across her rather flat chest and looking down at me, frowning.
Just then the first bell rang and students started piling in through the door. They would take one look at me and instantly they would stop, before then changing course and taking the longest route possible to their usual seat.
‘Okay guys, I’ve got to go,’ Pete said to us. He was in the same year as Merry and me, but a different class, for home room at least.
‘Thanks Pete,’ I said to him. ‘You’re a good guy.’
‘No worries,’ he replied. ‘I’ll catch up with you at recess. Just see if you can stay out of trouble ‘til then, eh?’
Merry sat down in the seat beside me, which wasn’t her usual seat, and we watched him go. I couldn’t help but wonder just why Pete had even bothered making the effort this morning, but in the end I just put it down to the fact that he truly was one of the good guys in our class.
No sooner than when Pete had left we saw Dallas and his gang come into the room. He stood at the doorway, like a king surveying his kingdom, awaiting his loyal subjects to bow and grovel.
The few people who were already inside stopped whatever they were doing as he did so and just stared at him.
He was that kind of a guy. He had a touch of arrogance about him. He was more than just good looking. He was built like a sports star. He had charisma. The whole shebang. All the guys wanted to be him. Most of the chicks wanted to be done by him.
We had been friends once. Besties even. But that was quite a few years ago now and that’s a whole different story.
His eyes flicked around the room before eventually settling on me. I felt a chill go down my spine as they did so, then I noticed the corner of his mouth raise up in a wicked smirk. Once more he held my gaze for a few seconds, his eyes feeling like they were boring into my soul, then he glanced away, turned, and headed for his usual seat, which was about three rows behind mine and a few aisles over.
‘Don’t provoke him,’ Merry whispered. ‘You know how mean he can be.’
‘Relax,’ I replied. ‘He ain’t my type.’
I sensed, rather than saw, her eyes roll into the back of her skull. I was too busy to see it though; I was sitting with my chin on my crossed arms, trying to catch furtive glimpses of the only other person in the school – apart from Merry – who had, until today, known my dirty little secret.
The only thing I could never figure out was why Dallas hadn’t ever told anyone.
* * * * *
Home room roll call was followed by our first period, with English being the subject of choice today. The morning’s first class passed without any major incident, apart from some expected heckling and the odd thing being thrown in my direction from somewhere behind me. At one stage I was hit in the head by a flying rubber . . . errr . . . eraser, which bounced off me and also hit Merry.
Merry, ever my hero, turned around and said in a forced whisper, ‘Why don’t you lot of douche bags just grow up?’
This only earned a round of giggles from the douche bags in question, along with a stern, ‘That’s enough from you lot back there!’ from our teacher, Miss Petrie.
I managed to glance at Dallas while this exchange was taking place, but he remained stony-faced and silent. He was always like that, not being one to ever show too much emotion, unless he had just managed to score on the soccer field or something like that, then he was all smiles and high-fives and hugs and such. It was moments like those when I wished I played sport.
At the end of first period we changed class rooms and headed for maths, with old Brother Bernard. He is a savage old prick who doesn’t stand for any nonsense, or at least, any nonsense that he could hear!
During the short walk between class rooms the heckling seemed to get ramped up just a fraction, with calls coming from all quarters and the masses crowding in and jostling. I felt as if I wanted to push through them all and just run away and hide someplace, but Merry, sensing my fear simply put her arm through mine and held on tight.
‘They are all assholes,’ she said through gritted teeth. I had to agree.
Just before we reached the classroom where we had to be we were suddenly brought to a standstill when this kid stopped directly in front of us, holding up his fingers like a cross, almost as if we were vampires or something.
‘This’ll be good,’ Merry whispered.
‘Repent you sinner!’ he said to me. ‘Save yourself, or burn in the fires of hell!’
A heap of kids started laughing, but I just wanted to smack him in the mouth. I could feel my face suddenly burning up and the blood pressure building up inside my head. I clenched and unclenched my fists. It was all I could do NOT to lash out at him, but deep down I knew it wouldn’t do any good if I did that.
Instead I just said, ‘You’re already too late, asshole. I’ve sold my soul to the Devil himself! Or hadn’t you heard?’ then pulled myself from Merrys’ vice-like grip and pushed past him and through the crowd that had gathered behind him and started running, running down the corridor toward the light at the end of it, the light coming from the glass doorway, and with everyone’s taunts and laughter ringing in my ears.
‘Poofterrrrr . . .’
‘Faggottttt . . .’
‘Cock suckerrrrr . . .’
They were relentless and unforgiving. I knew kids could be cruel. I just hadn’t expected that they could be this cruel. I guess that I should have known better, eh?
* * * * *
The Sports Master, Mr. Harris, found me about half way through that second period, hiding from the world beneath the bleachers on the far side of the sports oval. The tears had dried up by then, but the rage was still burning brightly in my head.
I had intended to just keep running and somehow try and get myself home, which was on the other side of town, but by the time I reached the bleachers I had slowed to a walk and that was as far as I went.
‘Joel Jackson,’ he said to me. ‘I didn’t think I had you for sport today?’
I hadn’t heard him approach and was startled by his voice. For a second I thought I must have been in trouble again . . . no one ever calls me by my full name unless I’m in trouble. Most folks just settle for JJ, my initials.
‘You don’t,’ I answered, without even looking up from my shoelaces, my voice coming out sounding all cynical, twisted and bitter.
He stood there casting a shadow over me. I imagined that he was silently assessing me, wondering what to say next.
‘Word on the street is that you’ve generated quite a bit of gossip today,’ he said to me in a plain, matter of fact kind of manner.
‘Is that right?’
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘You wouldn’t understand.’
‘Maybe you should try me? Just between you, me and the lamp post, I might know more about it than you think.’
I looked up at him in amazement. Was he just telling me what I think he was telling me? That he knows what it’s like to be in my shoes?
He was only new to the school but he had made quite a splash in the short time he had been here. In his early to mid-twenties, with the build of a professional athlete and the looks of a movie star, he had all the girls (and I figured more than just a few of the guys) drooling after him. Like we had done with most teachers we had given them all a nick-name of some sort, and the one that Mr. Harris had been given was ‘ Hollywood ’. It wasn’t hard to see why.
Right now he was wearing a white polo shirt with a Nike logo on it, black track suit pants and some Nike runners. Let me tell you that he filled out that polo shirt in a way that just shouldn’t be legal.
He reached down and gave his package a slight adjustment, then without invitation he sat down opposite me, leaning back against one of the posts, with his feet stretching out toward mine. He looked across at me and pushed his shades up over his short cut hair to the top of his head, revealing a set of hazel eyes that were to die for.
‘It gets better, you know,’ he said to me.
‘Is that right? Are you speaking from personal experience?’ I replied, unable to take my eyes of his bulging pecs and the pair of nipples that seemed to be pointing directly at me.
He smiled at me. ‘You catch on pretty quick.’
‘Well, there’s only the quick and the dead around here . . . or hadn’t you noticed?’
‘It’s no different to any other school, JJ.’
Okay, so now it was JJ again. Maybe I’m not in too much trouble after all.
I looked around to see if there was anyone else about, but the sports ground was empty. ‘Don’t you have a class to take or something?’
‘Not right now,’ he answered. ‘I’m all yours.’
I leaned back against the post and closed my eyes. My head was spinning. It’s not every day that a guy gets an offer like that from someone as hot as this . . . but even I knew that what he actually said wasn’t what I thought he said. I thought for a second, then I got to my feet and stood there looking down at him.
‘Maybe later?’ I said to him.
He got to his feet and placed one hand on my shoulder. ‘Anytime you feel like it JJ. My door is always open. Okay?’
‘Thank you. I appreciate that,’ I said, meaning it, then with a nod I set off back in the direction of the school buildings, just as I heard the bell for the start of recess go off.
‘JJ,’ I heard ‘ Hollywood ’ call out. I stopped and turned back around to face him. ‘I’m not going to try and give you any lectures or make you do anything you don’t want to do, but can I give you one piece of advice?’
‘Yeah, I suppose you can,’ I replied.
‘If I can give you one tip to help you get through today it’s this. Just make yourself scarce. Don’t put yourself in any situation where you might be alone. Keep your friends around you. Do you understand what I’m saying?’
‘I . . . I think so. Thanks,’ I said to him, then turned to go again. I took a few steps then stopped and turned back to him. ‘Did you keep your friends around you?’ I asked him.
He smiled, but it was only a wry, wistful smile, behind which I could see the answer even before he answered.
‘I was a bit too slow.’
* * * * *
I found Merry and Pete pacing up and down the quadrangle between buildings searching for me when I reached it a few minutes later.
‘Where the hell did you get to?’ Merry demanded as we sat on one of the benches.
‘Sorry, I just had to get out of there,’ I replied.
‘Obviously. So, where did you go?’’ she asked again.
‘Just down on to the oval. ‘ Hollywood ’ found me there.’
‘And?’ Pete asked.
I shrugged. ‘He just said if I wanted to talk just to go and see him. So, how was math?’
‘Hollywood’ Harris had opened up to me in a way no teacher had ever done so before. I felt that there was also a connection there between us that I had never before felt with any other teacher, so as far as I was concerned what was said between us would never be repeated.
‘Math was shitful,’ Merry answered.
‘Science is next,’ Pete added. It was one of the few classes that the three of us were in together, so at least in there it would be safety in numbers.
The bell for the start of the next period rang and so we started off toward the science block. I had Merry on one side of me and Pete on the other, so I was feeling a bit more comfortable than I had been earlier, although not entirely invincible perhaps.
The laughter and lurid comments were flowing thick and fast as we reached the classroom door. One guy grabbed his crotch right in front of me and invited me to go with him to the nearby toilets, which only served to inflame the throbbing masses.
I felt Merry’s hand grip mine even tighter, while Pete was still right there at my shoulder also.
I heard someone say, ‘Don’t tell me he’s doing you too?’ to Pete and apparently that proved to be the last straw, with Pete lashing out with his right fist, connecting on the side of the head of the offender and sending him sprawling backwards.
‘That’s enough!’ Pete yelled, standing over the hapless kid, whose name was Jimmy, with his fist cocked, as if ready to go again. ‘And that goes for the lot of you. Give the guy a break will you?’
Merry and I were both shocked, as were the stunned crowd still gathered around the door. Pete dropped his hand to his side just moments before our science teacher, Mr. Spillsbury, came around the corner.
‘Just what’s going on here?’ he demanded when he saw the kid getting up off the floor, still rubbing at his jaw, with Pete still standing near him.
It was Dallas who stepped forward, who I didn’t know was there as he must have been coming along behind us, and said, ‘Nothing happened Sir. Jimmy just got pushed over in the rush to get inside for your class.’
He looked around at everyone in the group and everyone, including Jimmy, got the message.
‘Yes, Sir,’ Merry added. ‘It was just like Dallas said.’
Mr. Spillsbury looked around us all, then at Merry and I and saw that we were still holding hands. ‘I thought you were . . .,’ he began to say to me, then said, ‘Oh, never mind . . . come on everyone, inside please!’
He then pushed through us all and made his way to the front of the class room, with Dallas and the other kids in his wake. Dallas glanced back at us but said nothing, then assumed his usual seat down near the back of the room.
‘Thanks, Pete,’ I said to him. ‘You’re officially now my hero, but can someone please be kind enough to tell me what the fuck just happened?’
The pair of them laughed and then we went inside, taking our usual seats as ‘Spills’ started today’s lesson, which was apparently on geology.
The lesson was just as boring as ever, however, toward the end of the lesson ‘Spills’ said to us, ‘Now in a few weeks we’re going to do something a little different,’ then started handing out sheets of paper to us all.
‘This’ll be good,’ I heard Pete mutter.
‘We’ll be combining our geology studies with Mrs. Bird’s history class and will be taking a field trip out to an old gold mining town about two hours away from here by bus, called Salvation. Has anyone ever heard of it?’
There were blank looks exchanged between most of us in the class.
‘It’s going to be an overnighter and for part of the trip we’ll be taking a look at the various rock formations of the area, which is quite mountainous and rugged,’ he added, ‘then for the rest of the trip we’ll be looking at the history of the place.’
Rumour had it that ‘Spills’ and ‘Birdie’ were an item, but no one ever seems to have seen them together. Maybe they were hoping for a bit of alone time out there in the boondocks?
‘Bor-r-ring,’ some wise-ass said from the back of the room, which brought a round of laughter from most of the class.
‘What?’ he asked us, ‘Doesn’t anyone want to spend a couple of days away from school?’
‘Well, now that you’ve put it like that, I suppose we’ll all love to go,’ the same wise-ass answered.
‘That’s more like it. Now here are the permission slips which you will need to have your parents sign and have back to either myself of Mrs. Bird by Friday of next week. All the information you need, like the costs and what you’ll need to bring, is on there.’
‘Where are we staying?’ someone else asked.
‘There’s a campsite with cabins and old railway carriages set up as dormitories just outside of the town. It’s all in a national park.’
‘Does anyone still live in the town?’
‘No, not that I know of. It’s pretty much just a ghost town these days I think.’
Ordinarily I would have been excited about the prospect of a field trip like this, but today I was just so totally over absolutely everything about school and the last thing I felt like doing was taking a trip to some dusty old half fallen down place filled with ghosts. Also, the thought of going away someplace overnight with guys like Dallas and Timmy Baker around wasn’t exactly what you would call enticing, and judging by the expressions on Pete and Merry’s faces I got the impression that they were thinking along the same lines.
The bell rang soon afterwards and once more we made the trek from one classroom to another, running the gauntlet while the masses were baying for blood; and in particular, my blood.
The ridicule, the laughter, the name calling were relentless. I shouldn’t have been surprised really, but I guess deep down a part of me had hoped that in this day and age we could have gone beyond the paranoia and bigotry of days gone by. Come to think of it though, the facts were that it was no different than being within my own home even, with my father being the worst offender, and that was proof enough to me that times really hadn’t changed.
I was just glad that I had Merry and Pete with me. Without them close by I feel certain that things would have been much, much worse than they were.
With a sigh I settled myself in for the next lesson — Commerce with Mr. Brown — but I was already thinking ahead to the end of it when the lunch bell would ring. What would I do then? Where would I go?
As I sat there trying not to fall asleep from the droning voice of Mr. Brown, the words that ‘ Hollywood ’ Harris said to me down on the oval kept going through my head. Keep my friends around me. Don’t go anywhere where you might be alone. After seeing how some of the madding crowd have been behaving this morning I figured that heeding his advice wasn’t such a bad idea.
How I was going to achieve that though I wasn’t quite sure, as sooner or later both Merry and Pete would have classes different from mine and we would be separated. Hell, even if I needed to go to the toilets I would have to do that on my own, unless of course someone came and held my hand, and as far as I could see that just wasn’t going to happen in this lifetime. By the time the bell finally rang I had made up my mind.
‘Guys, I think I’m going to head to the library at lunch time,’ I whispered to them as we packed up our books. ‘I don’t want to be out in the open with this lot around.’
Merry nodded. ‘Not even they would dare follow you in there,’ she said.
‘Probably the safest place,’ Pete said. ‘But you’re not going to be able to hide from them forever, are you?’
‘No, but if I can get away with hiding from them for today, then that’ll do me for a start,’ I replied. In my own mind I had already figured on either pulling a sickie tomorrow and staying at home, or wagging school all together, so if I could get past today, then give things a few days to settle, hopefully after that it would get better.
‘We’ll get you there,’ Pete said. ‘But afterwards I have to go see the ladies in the office for Mum.’
‘Sure. And thanks guys. I really owe you after today.’
‘Oh JJ . . . you have no idea how much you owe us,’ Merry said with an evil grin plastered across her face.