It was the weekend before Halloween and the ten year old twins were spending it with their grandpa. Trevor and Tyler had always been close to their grandparents, but since their grandmother had died unexpectedly a few months ago, their bond had grown even stronger.
Their grandpa had done well for himself. He had graduated from college early, opened a successful small publishing company, then sold it at the age of fifty-five and retired to spend time with his family. He and his wife had had two children and were extremely proud of them. His daughter was single, but was a free-lance photographer who spent her time living from a suitcase, but she met many famous and influential people, and she took the most incredible photographs. Their son was a history professor at a small private university here in the city, and had a wonderful wife and the twin boys who were now resting on either end of his couch.
Trevor said, “Tell us a story, grandpa.”
Tyler agreed. “Yeah! Make it a good scary one!"
Their grandpa scratched his chin and settled on the sofa between them. He loved these two boys so much and he cherished the time he got to spend with them. He knew it wouldn't be long before they would be older and not want to spend so much time with an old man like him.
“OK boys. I think I've got one for you. The events in this story took place many years ago. It all started way back when I was a kid...only a little older than you guys are today...”
The 1960's was a tumultuous time. The Viet Nam War was raging. Robert Kennedy, poised to be the next President of this great country, had been assassinated, just like his brother. The Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum, but still faced considerable opposition from many with centuries-old prejudices. Hell. A National Guard unit in Ohio shot and killed four students who were protesting that abomination of a war in Viet Nam.
On the other hand, the hippies and flower children were “checking out” and lighting up. They preached about free love and communes. Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Pete Seeger were making music with a message that inspired hope. It was a difficult time, but also an exciting time with hope, change and the potential for great accomplishments.
Fifteen year old Christopher Donnelly didn't feel so excited about the state of the world though. Oh there were things that excited him, namely some of the guys in his sophomore class, but when his hippie neighbors talked about how things would be different, he need only listen to the talk as he walked through the halls of his high school to know that society wasn't ready to accept the “fags” yet.
Christopher was gay, but it wasn't like anyone really knew it. He was a nobody who survived by remaining anonymous. He walked the halls with his head down, plodding along, trying to keep his biggest secret just that...a secret.
It wasn't like he had any experience with sex to make that determination, though. He just knew what he felt. He knew he wanted to have sex with other boys, but more than that, he wanted to have the emotional ties that would link him with another guy his age. He wanted to kiss. He wanted to hold hands. He wanted a boyfriend. It broke his heart to see boy-girl couples walking hand in hand in the hallways at school, knowing that he couldn't do the same thing with a boy who made him feel all giddy like his classmates did with a girl they were “in love with.” His parents weren't overly religious, but he had heard their comments when seeing news coverage of the riots at a little gay bar in New York called the Stonewall Inn. A little piece of him died when he heard his father say, “Those fruitcakes should all be shot. Parading around in the streets like that, making a nuisance of themselves. No decent person is ever going to put up with stuff like that.” No. It was just better if Christopher kept that part of himself to himself.
Billy Sanders and Lee Tanner were the ones Christopher was determined to keep his secret from. They were the “studs” of the sophomore class. They both played varsity football, even though they were only sophomores and that shit went right to their heads. Their school drew from a good chunk of the city. Christopher lived in the “old” part. There was nothing wrong with it. It wasn't run down or anything. It was just older. The house that Christopher grew up in had been built in 1921. It was a nice old house. But, Billy and Lee looked down on those from the old part of town. You see, they lived in the brand new suburbs that had sprung up as the city grew after World War II. Their fathers had done pretty well with the opportunities available after the war. College degrees, wildly successful businesses and they had developed an arrogance that they passed on to their sons. In their minds, if you weren't successful and wealthy, you were probably lazy. And they made damned sure their sons lived by that credo too. As a result of that unfeeling, selfish upbringing Billy and Lee made life hell for those they deemed “less” than themselves.
Their usual target was a quiet, skinny freshman named Brian Lester. Christopher wasn't even sure if Brian was gay. He just had the misfortune of springing a woody in his first ever mandatory shower after gym class. The irony is that Brian wasn't the only one. He just happened to be the only one who did it and wasn't included in the “right” social circle. High school can really suck sometimes!
Brian was an only child so he never had to undress in front of others before. Even his own parents gave him his privacy and he hadn't been seen naked by either of them since he was about seven or eight. But fourteen was a tough age with the hormones flowing like water through a tap. Anything, or nothing, could give a young guy a boner. Any guy who claims he's never gotten a boner in math class is a liar...and there's nothing arousing about math. So it wasn't surprising that Brian, who hadn't seen a naked body other than his own in years, plumped up during his first after PE shower with about fifty boisterous, naked fourteen and fifteen year old guys all in there together.
Billy Sanders started it. “Look everybody. That little fairy Lester is getting a boner!”
His first week in high school and Brian Lester was branded a fag.
“Move faggot,” grumbled Billy as he walked past while shoving Brian face first into the wall of lockers. Lee added another shove, banging his face again on the same locker door. Brian shook his head to clear the stars that danced around him before he hurried off to the boy's room, needing to wipe the blood off his lip and hoping to hide the few tears that had managed to escape. Christopher had just caught the end of that exchange and watched the shy, quiet boy scurry past to clean himself up.
As Brian dabbed at the blood on his bottom lip with a damp paper towel, he, for the thousandth time, cursed his unruly penis. He wasn't gay. The idea of having sex with a guy, while not sickening to him, just wasn't something he could ever imagine himself doing. No. Girls did it for him. He had even held hands with Lisa Fraley when they were at a school dance back in the eighth grade. He walked her home afterwards and kissed her on the cheek. He had no idea why he had gotten kind of hard in the shower that first day in PE. It was just...everyone was naked, and...he got hard almost every time he took his clothes off...even when he was completely alone. It just wasn't fair. He had been so looking forward to high school. And now, one stray boner had caused him to become a pariah. Sometimes he wondered if it was worth going on.
The taunts and slaps and shoves continued. Nearly everyday Brian was assaulted, at least verbally. Complaining to the school administration did no good. Even though Brain weighed barely more than one hundred pounds, and the two football players weighed more than one hundred eighty, he was told more than once that he needed to “toughen up” or that they were just joking around. Brian was convinced that the school officials had probably heard the rumors claiming that he was gay and just didn't really care whether he was being picked on. In their eyes, he was only getting what he had coming to him for being “one of those.”
As September moved into October, Brian found that the only thing keeping him coming to school was his running. He had joined the cross country team, and since it was something he didn't really need any friends to participate in, he found that he enjoyed it and even excelled at it. Running gave him an outlet for his frustration with his situation, and gave him time to think...or time to just run and not think. He started to realize that the only time he was close to happy was when he was running. He could blot out everyone and everything and just...run. If he had been paying any attention to his surroundings, he would have noticed that there was another person just like himself on the team. Christopher was on the team too for much the same reasons. Christopher knew that Brian was on the team, but he never got the impression that Brian wanted to talk on the runs, so he just sort of watched...and ran.
During the first week of October, the cross country team was on one of its usual four to five mile runs along the streets around the school. They made a big loop that started from the school parking lot, circled a good part of the neighborhood, and ended up back at the front of the school. Unfortunately for Brian, the football team was doing some running as part of their training that day too, but they were doing the run in the opposite direction. Brian and Christopher were the best runners on the team, so they were well out ahead of the other members of their team. Brian was in his “zone” so he failed to realize that the big lumbering football players were headed right towards him. The teams had strict instructions to stay on the sidewalks as some of the streets were pretty busy and could be dangerous if they were to run in them. Billy and Lee saw the shy, quiet kid running toward them and separated from their teammates a bit. As Brain passed them, not even noticing they were there, Lee shoved him hard toward the street, right into the path of a car going probably a little too fast for the neighborhood. The driver saw Brian stumble and fall into the street and locked up his brakes. Christopher also saw the whole thing and grabbed onto Brian's shirt, pulling him back enough that the car was able to swerve and stop a few feet past where Brian had been lying just seconds ago. Realizing how close he had come to dying, Brian just collapsed on the sidewalk and sobbed. Christopher turned and glared at Billy and Lee who just laughed and high fived each other as they continued down the street. Christopher tried to help Brian up, but he was beyond caring what was going on around him. Brian couldn't even speak to thank this other boy for helping him due to his uncontrollable crying. Finally, Brian got up and bolted back to the school. Even Christopher couldn't keep up with him. When Christopher made it back to school, he found that Brian was already gone.
Even though he was rebuffed when he tried to talk to Brian, Christopher was determined to do his best to keep an eye on him. Maybe someday they could be friends, even if they would never be boyfriends.
The next couple of days, Christopher looked for Brian in the halls, and then again at cross country practice, but he never showed. He really just wanted to talk to him and make sure that he was all right, and maybe let him know that he'd like to be friends. It sure seemed that they both could use a friend right now. Christopher was getting worried about Brian and the treatment he was receiving from Billy and Lee. Their abuse seemed to be escalating and it didn't look as if they cared one way or another whether they seriously hurt Brian, or even killed him. Christopher couldn't understand the callous disregard they showed, no matter if Brian was gay or not. In his mind, someone would have to be mentally unbalanced to treat another person so cruelly.
October 31, 1969 was a Friday that year and the school was hosting a costumed Halloween dance for all of the students. Brian really didn't want to go, but his parents had noticed how withdrawn and sad he had seemed since school had started, and pretty much insisted that he go. They figured he was just having adjustment issues to being in high school and just needed to socialize and make a few friends. They saw the Halloween dance as the perfect opportunity for Brian to get to know some of his classmates in an environment that might make it easier for him to make some friends. His mom had put in a lot of time and expense getting a vampire costume for him that included a cape and even white face make up. Brian had to admit. He did look pretty good, even if going to any function at school was the last thing he wanted to do.
Christopher wasn't sure if Brian was going to be at the dance, but decided to go anyway, just to make sure that nothing happened to him if he was there. He threw together a hobo outfit, which was really just some of his father's old clothes and some cheap, dime store make up and an old broom stick with a bandanna tied to the end of it.
Billy Sanders and Lee Tanner wouldn't miss this dance for anything. They were in their element, enjoying their popularity as the sophomore studs. They wanted everyone to see them, and they made sure that everyone did. They were both dressed in faded jeans, studded leather jackets with leather caps. They didn't know it at the time, but in a few years, their outfits would have “screamed” gay, leather couple! They had a “flock” of giggling girls around them when they spotted Brian walk in alone. They excused themselves and made their way over towards the door to intercept Brian as he entered the gym. From a corner across the gym, Christopher saw Brian enter, and the two bullies shove their way through the crowd. The teacher/chaperones weren't paying any attention to anything except who might be dancing a little too close...not that Christopher expected them to do anything anyway.
Before Brian was more than ten feet into the door, Billy and Lee were on him. He looked around helplessly, hoping to spot anything or anyone who might stop this from happening again. The two football players got on either side of him, each taking an arm and started leading him across the floor towards the door to the pool. You would think at an event like this, the school administration would have the pool locked, but as the boys approached it, Billy hit the bar with a hip and they were on their way down the stairs. Actually, Brian was shoved down the concrete steps, and Billy and Lee bounced down gleefully as they saw blood start to leak from a large gash on Brian's head. They dragged him onto the pool deck where they planned to have some more “fun” with him.
Christopher cursed himself for putting himself so far away from where Brian came in. He was having trouble getting through the crowd of students to follow his would be friend and his tormentors. As he burst through the pool door, he heard the faint sounds of splashing and some laughing. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he saw Lee and Billy on their knees while holding Brian's head under the water. Blood was staining the water near his head and his arm was lying at a strange angle that lead Christopher to believe that it was broken.
“STOP IT!” Christopher screamed.
The two bullies jumped at the sudden noise and let Brian go, who suddenly pitched forward and fell face first into the water. He had just enough strength and wits left to pull himself away from the two monsters and gradually made his way over to the ladder. While the cape made for a great costume, it, and his broken arm, made it extremely difficult to maneuver in the water, and he went under a few times before he got there.
When Billy and Lee saw who had interrupted them, they laughed. “Take off, loser. This is none of your business.”
“I'm making it my business,” cried Christopher angrily.
They were a lot bigger than both Brian and Christopher so they weren't really worried. They charged at Christopher just as he swung his broomstick, hoping to bean one of them. Billy took the brunt of that swing and Christopher heard a satisfying crack, as both the stick and Billy's jaw broke. This only enraged Billy, but didn't stop Lee at all. They started pounding on Christopher and continued long past when he had lost consciousness. Brian was in no shape to help and had slipped away to hope to get some help.
When the principal got to the pool after Brian's bloody entrance back into the dance, he saw Christopher floating face down in the water, while Lee was trying to hold a towel to Billy's broken jaw to stem the bleeding. As another teacher came in right behind him, they both jumped into the pool, hoping to get Christopher out of the water so he could breathe. When they flipped him over, it sickened them to see the condition the poor boy was in. Christopher was dead.
Based on Brian's and the two teacher's testimony, Billy and Lee were arrested and eventually went to trial. Their fathers tried to use their money and political influence to keep the case in juvenile court, but the district attorney, citing the brutality of the attacks on the two smaller boys, succeeded in getting them charged as adults. They both got twenty-five years to life. When the story of Brian's abuse came out during the trial, and the fact that nothing had been done to stop it by the school administration, the principal and several teachers were fired. The DA was only sorry that he couldn't charge them with a crime too.
The week before Christmas found Brian, his arm still in a cast, standing alone before the freshly placed headstone.
Born January 16, 1954
Died October 31, 1969
An Angel Without Wings
Brian wept bitterly as he read the words “An Angel Without Wings.” Christopher certainly had been his angel. He had saved his life twice, and Brian never even thanked him. That's why he was here now. He had to right that wrong before the guilt drove him crazy.
“Thank you Christopher. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I never realized I did have a friend. I promise you now that I will make sure your friendship and your sacrifice wasn't in vain. I will make something of my life. I will never forget you. I hope we both can find some peace now.”
He placed a bouquet of cut flowers gently on the grave in front of the marker, turned and started his long walk home with the tears still tracking down his cheeks.
The twins were quiet for a minute until they noticed that Grandpa had tears running down his face.
“Why are you crying, Grandpa?” Trevor asked.
Grandpa Brian answered simply. “I was just thinking about someone I knew a long time ago.”
“Was he a friend of yours?” Tyler wanted to know.
Grandpa smiled sadly and nodded. “He turned out to be a very good friend.”
“That was a good story, Grandpa. But it wasn't very scary,” Tyler said.
Brian smiled again and replied quietly, “Just remember that not all monsters have fangs and not all angels have wings. It's not usually hard to spot the monsters. It's the angels you have to pay attention in order to find...or sometimes, they find you.”