The sun was beginning to go down as Pete started up the road towards the school. Just in case he decided to attend the dance afterwards, he wore what used to be his standard attire; khaki pants and a button down shirt. He turned the corner of the driveway just in time to see traffic starting to build on the main road to the school. There would be lots of people there tonight, and the thought of the huge crowd made Pete seriously consider turning right around and heading back home. Still, it was a big event for Tyler, and he felt that he should be there to support him at the game.
So, trying to forget his lost notebook, and what might happen if someone found it, Pete started the walk towards the school. Car after car whirled by him as he trekked down the side of the road. Finally, he arrived at the gate to the football field. It was just like he thought it would be; filled to capacity on both sides.
"Hey Pete." It was Mrs. Stanton, his English teacher, who was working in the ticket booth. "You feeling better?"
Pete reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. "Yes, thanks," he said as he handed her two dollar bills. He tried his best to smile.
Mrs. Stanton took the money and handed him a ticket. "Good," she said, but it was obvious that she wasn't buying it. Looking around she leaned over closer to Pete. "Pete, if you ever need to talk about anything, you know where I am, right?" Her eyes showed a genuine concern.
"Yes, sure," Pete answered, taken back a little bit by her unexpected tone of voice.
Mrs. Stanton smiled as Pete turned and walked towards the gate.
"Ticket please," the man at the gate said.
Pete handed him his ticket, then walked on in towards the crowded bleachers. It was as full as it could possibly get, with people not only filling the bleachers but also the area between them and the fence that surrounded the field. Pete maneuvered his way towards the left side, so that he could see the field house and the entrance to the football field that was in front of it. Soon Tyler and the rest of the team would come running out of the door of the field house, and Pete wanted to be in a position where he could see them.
"Hey bro." Pete looked over to see Ryan and a bunch of his friends heading in his direction.
"Hey," Pete answered. "Where are mom and dad?"
Ryan pointed towards the first set of bleachers. "Up there somewhere. I saw them a minute ago." Ryan had a whole crowd of boys with him, which was typical for Ryan. Pete was by himself, which was also typical for him. Ryan continued, "If you see them tell them I'm playing football, ok?" Before Pete could answer Ryan and his friends were headed towards the back part of the bleachers.
As Pete watched Ryan and his friends run off, he wondered why he couldn't be more like him. Why was it that Ryan never had a problem gathering friends? In fact, he would receive so many phone calls at home that most of the time his mother just told them he wasn't there. And it seemed that there was always at least two or three of them visiting and staying the weekend with him. Yet, it was all Pete could do to have only one friend, which was Tyler. Sure, since he had become Tyler's friend other people had taken to him, but it was only because he was "Tyler's friend". It had nothing to do with Pete at all.
As Pete stood there thinking, suddenly the left gate flew open and the home football team came running onto the field, followed by a roar from the crowd. It was clear that there would be no lack of support tonight for the home team.
He searched among the players for Tyler. Dressed in those uniforms they all looked alike to him, and it was almost impossible to pick him out from the rest. But, after a few minutes of looking them over, he was able to separate him from the crowd.
Pete's heart jumped. Now he was really smiling, and not just trying to act like it. He maneuvered his way through the crowd until he was able to get to the fence. "Tyler!" he shouted, trying to be heard over the applause. "Tyler!"
Tyler spotted Pete and tried to get to the fence as quickly as he could. Finally he was there. "Hey dude," he said from behind his football helmet. "Kind of crowded tonight isn't it?"
"Yeah, too crowded for me." Pete grinned.
"Ah, you'll be fine. Where are the folks?" Tyler looked around through the crowd.
"Oh, they're up there somewhere," Pete said, pointing toward the bleachers. "Ryan said he saw them a few minutes ago."
"Well," Tyler said, his tone somewhat darker, "at least yours came." He tried to crack a grin, but didn't quite pull it off.
"Hey, you guys are going to kick butt tonight, right?" Pete said, changing the subject.
"You know it!" Tyler answered confidently.
"Hey Lawson, get your tail over here now!" the coach yelled.
"I better run dude," Tyler said as he put his helmet back on. "You're going to the dance, right?"
"Sure I am, wouldn't miss it," Pete said before he knew what he was saying.
Tyler was already running over the crowd of football players. "Cool," he called back, "I'll see you there." Then he merged into the huddle of players, and disappeared.
The game's score went back and forth, with both teams putting up a good fight. Pete sat in the bleachers next to his mom, and from there he had a great view of the whole field. To Pete it didn't matter so much who won, except that for Tyler's sake he hoped it would be them. Instead, what mattered to Pete was seeing the expression on Tyler's face if they did win. Now that was worth something to him.
The score was actually even right up until the last few minutes of the game. The exhausted crowd was somehow able to come up with wave after wave of enthusiasm, spurring the team on until the final seconds of the game. Finally, in the last minute, the winning touchdown was scored, giving Pete's school their first ever chance at the state playoffs. The crowd went wild, renewed into a sudden burst of applause. As the team exited the field, each player was given a standing ovation, and never before in the history of the school had there been such excitement about a Friday night football game.
Pete was, of course, happy that the school had won, but the most important thing to him was that Tyler was happy. This was what Tyler had wanted all year long, to be a part of a winning season.
"You going to the dance?" Pete's mom said as they stepped down the bleachers.
"Yeah, I guess so," Pete answered, as they reached the bottom row and stepped onto the ground.
"Ok then. Don't be too late ok?"
Pete all of a sudden felt a lot better than he did earlier that day. "Oh, I'll probably stay over at Tyler's anyway," he answered.
His mom stopped along side him, her expression changing to one of concern. "Pete, don't you think maybe you should develop some other friendships?"
"I will," Pete answered, trying to brush her off. "It's not that easy you know? Well, I'll see you tomorrow." Then he ran into the crowd that was headed toward the gate.
The inside of the school gym was decorated in bright streamers of every color. Victory signs hung from the ceiling, and pictures of every player on the team hung on the walls. It was a good thing that they had won.
Music started as the students began to filter into the gym from the game. Some had changed clothes; others just came as they were at the game. Pete looked around as he entered the front door, noticing what everyone else was wearing. "I'm dressed ok," he thought to himself. He even had the tie on that Tyler had given him a while back. He felt of its soft silk-like texture as he walked into the gym.
Inside the gym, people had already begun to dance, some of them noticeably better than others. Pete navigated over towards the right wall, where there was less of a crowd. He noticed Kurt and some of his jock friends huddled in a group as he passed, laughing at some dumb joke that he had no doubt just said.
As he at last reached the far wall, Pete could now relax a little bit. He would stand there and wait until Tyler got there. From where he was he could see the front door, and soon Tyler would come walking though it, and they would spend the rest of the evening together celebrating the teams victory. "It's going to be a good night after all," Pete thought to himself.
"What's up?" It was the Myers kid, the one who had taken a beating in the cafeteria earlier. He was still having a difficult time speaking. His left eye was surrounded by a deep black color, and there was a deep gash just above his eyebrow.
"Hey," Pete answered, still watching the gym door with one eye.
"Quite a game huh?" the boy asked.
"What? Oh, yeah it was." Pete didn't want to be rude, but his attention was obviously elsewhere.
"It's Pete, isn't it?" the boy asked.
Pete took his attention away from the door of the gym, and looked at his distracter. "Well, yes it is. Actually, it's Peter, but everyone calls me Pete." He looked back over at the door again, but this conversation was starting to attract more of his attention. "And you are…?"
"… Preston. Preston Myers," the boy interrupted. He was about Pete's size, but with bright flame colored hair. When he smiled Pete noticed that one of his front teeth was missing. "I'm in your English class."
"Yeah, I know," Pete answered. "You sit in the front."
"Yeah. It's my eyes. I have to sit…"
Hearing about bad eyes made Pete think of Tyler, and again he looked away to the gym door. Preston was saying something, but Pete wasn't hearing it.
"… but it's not true you know?" Preston's voice was defensive, almost angry.
The tone brought Pete's attention back to the conversation. "What?"
"I said it's not true, what everyone is saying about me," Preston had a frustrated expression on his face as he spoke.
"I haven't heard anyone say anything about you," Pete said, trying to sound convincing. At any other time he might have probed deeper, to find out what was the truth about what he had heard Kurt say. But now wasn't the time, and the last thing he wanted to be doing when Tyler got there was to be in a conversation about someone being gay.
"Yeah, right," Preston replied sarcastically. "I'm sure you haven't"
"No really, I haven't," Pete tried to sound sincere.
"Well," Preston continued, "if you do hear anything it's not true ok? Just remember that!"
Pete wondered why this stranger was standing there defending himself to him, and he didn't know what he should say. "Uh, sure, ok," he answered clumsily.
Just then there was a noise at the gym door, and Pete saw Tyler and a couple of other guys come walking through the gym door, flanked by more than a few well wishers who shook each boys hand as they entered the gym. Tyler smiled widely, and shook them all.
Pete waited anxiously by the wall. He hoped that it was light enough inside for Tyler to see him, because he didn't want to have to yell his name to get his attention. He watched as Tyler made his way through the crowd across the dance floor, stepping between the dance partners as he crossed the gym floor. Finally, Tyler was close enough for Pete to get his attention. "Hey, Tyler," he said, just loud enough to be heard over the music.
Tyler was shaking yet another pair of hands. When he heard his name he turned to see Pete waving at him from the wall. He said a few words to the owners of the hands, and then started across the floor, followed by a couple of other players from the team.
Pete's heart raced! He hadn't seen Tyler since lunch that day, and here he came. He tried to be calm, to resist the urge he had to give him a big hug right there in front of everyone. Such a display of emotion would no doubt embarrass Tyler if they were in private, much less in a crowd of their peers.
"Hey dude," Tyler said, grinning as he approached Pete. His hair was still wet from the shower he had taken after the game.
Pete reached out his hand. "Congratulations man!"
Tyler took his hand in a firm shake. "Thanks," he said. "Was there ever any doubt?" he added facetiously. He looked over at Preston, who was standing beside Pete. "Hey," he said, extending his hand, "I'm Tyler."
Preston smiled and firmly gripped Tyler's hand. "I'm Preston. Great game dude!"
"Thanks," Tyler answered. He surveyed Preston's face. "That's quite a shiner you got there Preston."
Preston reached up to touch the area surrounding his eye. "Yeah, well it's not as bad as it looks. It doesn't really even hurt anymore."
"It'll go away soon. I had one last year from where a football hit me in the face and it…"
Pete interrupted. "Tyler, that was some game man! I thought you guys were great." He looked over at Preston. Was it competition he was feeling?
"Well," Tyler continued, switching from one face to the other. "It was a hard one though. I thought for a minute we had lost until the end."
"Nah," Preston broke in. "I knew you guys had it whipped the whole time."
Pete shot a look over at Preston. "I think it's time you moved on," he thought to himself.
"Hey," Tyler said, looking at Preston, "you into football?"
"Well yeah," Preston answered hesitantly. "I mean, I don't play or anything, but I like to watch the games."
"Cool," Tyler answered, smiling broadly as he swooshed the still damp hair out of his eyes. "You'll have to come to the playoff game then in a couple of weeks."
"You know I will," Preston said, looking over at Pete with a grin; one of "those" grins.
Pete grinned back, trying not to let his mounting frustration show.
"That's good," Tyler continued, unaware of the tension that was developing between Preston and Pete. "Because we'll need all the support we can get."
"Well," Preston replied matter-of-factly, "you know you have mine."
"Mine too!" Pete blurted out, with a lot more emotion than he had intended. "I mean," he continued, trying to recover his composure, "you know I wouldn't miss it for anything". He felt himself starting to turn red from embarrassment.
Preston grinned again.
Tyler looked at Pete with a somewhat confused expression on his face. "Yeah," he said slowly. "I know."
Pete stood embarrassed for a moment at his sudden display of support. Of course Tyler knew he would be there! "Sorry,"he mumbled.
"Attention! Attention everyone!" The voice boomed from the twin speakers that were placed at both sides of the gym. It was Mr. Spokes, the principal. The music suddenly stopped and everyone directed his or her gaze toward the stage where he was standing behind the mic stand. Tyler, Pete and Preston all turned toward the stage.
Mr. Spokes cleared his throat, the way he always did before saying anything. It was a recurring sound on the school intercom system. "Now everyone, give me your attention please." When he was sure he had everyone's attention he continued. "Tonight our football team has made history. For the first time in the history of our school, our varsity football team will be going to the state playoffs!"
Applause erupted from the entire gym floor, and continued to grow as Mr. Stokes allowed everyone to express themselves to the their fullest. All of the football players who were at the dance got numerous pats on the back from anyone who was close by. Pete couldn't resist placing his hand on Tyler's shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. Tyler looked over at Pete and smiled broadly, almost bashfully.
Mr. Spokes waved down the crowd, and continued. "All right, all right. Now, I'd like to have every football player who is here come up on the stage for minute please."
Tyler turned to Pete and Preston. "Well, guess I better get up there," he said, walking toward the stage.
Almost the entire football team was there, and they made their way up the steps to the stage, amidst the fervent applause of the entire crowd in the gym. As they gathered around the stage they formed a semicircle behind Mr. Stokes.
Pete watched his hero find his place in the circle on the stage. It was where he belonged, above everyone else, at least in Pete's mind. He clapped as hard as he could clap. He glanced over at Preston, who was also clapping every bit as hard as Pete was.
Pete increased his volume.
Again Mr. Stokes waved down the applause. "Ok, ok. Now, I'd like to have the team captain step up and say a few words." Mr. Stokes looked down the line of players on the stage. "Come on up here Kurt."
Kurt made his way to the center of the stage and stood beside Mr. Stokes. Pete tried to look around the heads of everyone to see the stage.
"What's that in Kurt's hand?" he thought to himself.
"Thank you Mr. Stokes," Kurt said as he took the mic from its stand. "Now, all of you know that I am not very good at public speaking, right?" Numerous catcalls came from the dance floor. "So," Kurt continued, "I thought I would borrow someone else's words for the occasion.
Pete peaked between the heads of the crowd, still trying to see what it was that Kurt had in his hand. Kurt looked down and opened up the book. Finding the place he had marked, he started to read. "Today is the happiest day of my life…"
The words hit Pete like a ton, knocking the breath from him.
Those where his words!
Kurt had his journal!
"… but the bad part is that I can't tell anyone." Kurt looked up from the green notebook, scanning the crowd like he was looking for someone. Mr. Spokes started to get a confused expression on his face, but let Kurt continue anyway.
Kurt looked back down at the notebook and started to read again. "I realize now that I have been like this forever, and it took one person to make me see it. Today I realized that I am in love, really in love, with… Tyler Lawson." The crowd grew totally silent. Kurt knew that he didn't have much time left, so he read quickly. "And I am going to tell him today, I swear it to myself!" Mr. Stokes started for the mic. "Hey Pete," Kurt said louder as he surveyed the crowd, "I think you just did!"
Mr. Stokes tried to grab the mic from Kurt's clenched fist. "You hear me Pete! You faggot! You queer son of a bitch! It's out on you! Everyone knows now!"
The rest of the team rushed in to help Mr. Stokes wrestle the mic from Kurt's hand. A couple of the football players grabbed Kurt and tried to hold him down, but Kurt just kept screaming into the crowd. "I know you're out there fag boy! I know you hear me!"
Everyone in the gym was stunned. It was pandemonium on the stage.
Mr. Stokes directed the two guys who had control over Kurt to take him to his office, that he would be there soon. Even as he was being taken down the steps Kurt continued to scream at the top of his lungs. "I got you fag boy! I knew it all along! You're never going to forget this night! Just wait till I see you around! You just wait!" He flung the green notebook into the crowd.
For Pete it was like the world had suddenly stopped spinning, and everything was in slow motion. He watched as his journal flew through the air in slow motion, finally landing half-open and face up on the gym floor..He watched as Kurt was dragged across the gym floor, still screaming as loud as he could. He looked at the crowd, still silent and not knowing how to react. He looked at Preston, who had taken a few steps away from him by now.
Pete could also sense that others were slowly moving away from him, and he could feel the stares cutting into his soul. The weight of the silence in the gym was like a ton of bricks resting on his chest. Finally he was standing alone, against the wall of the gym.
Then someone hollered from inside the crowd.
The gym erupted in laughter. Mr. Stokes tried to wave down the crowd. "Attention, attention everyone…" But it was no use. Everyone was laughing and pointing at Pete.
Pete tried to melt into the wall behind him. He felt weak, like he was about to faint. And still everyone laughed. Words like "faggot", "queer", and "gay" rung through the crowd. He could feel the sweat dripping from his face, and his clothes were soaking.
He took it all he could. He could feel the desperation rising in his soul. He couldn't breathe. He had to get out now!
Looking around, he saw the side door of the open gym about twenty feet to his right.
He was panicking now.
Got to get out of here!
He ran towards the open door, past the laughing faces of everyone in the gym. It was only twenty feet to the door, but it seemed to Pete to take forever. Everything was in slow motion. Finally he reached the opening.
There was Preston standing beside it.
Pete noticed but didn't care. He kept on running until he was outside.
As he ran away from the gym he could still hear the laughter in the night air. So he ran faster and faster, until he couldn't hear it any longer, into the night, as fast as he could go.
He didn't look back or even think about where he was going.
He just ran as fast as he could.Next Chapter Previous Chapter