Three bullies in front of me. Sheila stands front and center with Joey on the right and Vance on the left; both are brutes. I can get seriously injured here, but it doesn't matter. Nothing matters when they're just going to keep coming. This ends now, one way or another, whether I go home in a body cast, or these bastards find a new home behind bars. Donny and Travis are behind me, but I don't know if they have my back. I don't have time to worry about it, either. If they're not going to stand up with me, then I'll just have to do this without them.
"You three fuckers are going to have to go through me," I growl, taking up a defensive stance between the three douches and my two friends. "You wanna go three on one, or are you gonna fight fair?"
Joey snorts and says, "There's no fairness for faggots like you." He starts forward, followed by Vance and then Sheila, who hangs back just a little, a bit of hesitation in her step. This makes me smile, despite my predicament: Sheila's scared of me.
Travis walks up and stands next to me, his body shaking and his quavering voice muttering, "I can't believe I'm doing this; I can't believe it." He holds his head high and stares at the two hulking guys approaching us.
"Travis?" I ask in wonder.
From some hidden part of him, Travis finds the courage to keep his voice from shaking as he yells, "You think you can attack a guy with a broken arm and a broken leg and get away with it? Think again, fuckers!"
Joey and Vance pull up short, needing a moment to reevaluate the situation now that they have two targets instead of one. Vance is the first to recover as he turns his attention to Travis and says, "Maybe we'll just get you, first."
"Guys, we should just leave," Donny says quietly from behind me.
"No, Donny," I reply, keeping my voice quiet and hoping Vance and Joey can't hear me. "This won't end until we stand our ground. Bullies lose when they're challenged. They can't win without fear."
Donny shakes his head. "Both of those guys are bigger than me, and that makes them twice your size."
"But they don't have twice my fire. These bitches are going down," I say, forcing a grin. I turn back to the brutes and yell, "Come and get me, fuckers! What are you waiting for?"
They hesitate and look to Sheila for direction; what cowards. She keeps her voice too low for me to hear as she gives them instructions, pointing wildly at the newly gathered crowd beside them. I take a moment to glance at the assemblage and notice Greg and Zane watching the unfolding situation with growing interest. Zane is on his phone, texting furiously while occasionally glancing up to see the state of things, while Greg is circling around the grounds toward us.
"I'm calling Angie..." Travis says, reaching for his phone.
I catch his arm and shake my head. "Nope. We don't need her."
Travis gives me a scared look. "Clint? You sure?"
Vance turns away from Sheila and addresses the crowd, nodding toward Donny. "Look at this dildo. Donovan Sharpe is the guy we want. You all heard what he did." A few nods and murmurs of assent ripple through the crowd, but most continue to observe in muted silence.
I snort derisively and lock eyes with Sheila. "To quote a crazy bitch, 'He didn't do nothing'?"
"You're really going to stand there and defend this guy?" Vance says directly to me. Then he turns back to our audience and points at Donny as he raises his voice. "Donny raped a little boy up on Mount Shelly! We want him. Now." The murmurs of support grow as several angry glares turn Donny's way. They're trying to incite the mob against us. Fuckers.
"No he didn't," I say, standing my ground firmly.
"Yeah he did," Joey says, standing up next to Vance. "Brent told everyone. We all heard it."
"Bullshit!" Donny says, using the crutches to come up next to me. The fire in his eyes has finally roared to life. Now it's finally three on three, even if two of us are currently a bit handicapped.
Sheila steps forward and says, "Brent told me himself, and why would Brent lie to his own sister?"
"Oh, so now you think you're smart, huh?" I reply, rolling my eyes. "Well, unlike you, bitch, I was fucking there." Gasps roll through the crowd at my admission, and some of the angry glares flicker with uncertainty.
Sheila smiles as if I just handed her everything she needed. "Of course you were. You probably helped Donny, the way you're standing up for him now. You fucking faggot." The temperament of the crowd swings back in her favor, and I begin to feel the pressure. It's time to crack this thing wide open.
"I'm the one Donny made moves on, bitch." I spit to the side and glance at Donny, grimacing. "Sorry, Donny, but I have to." I turn back to Sheila and put a new fervor behind the words, taking a step toward her to separate me from my friends and give more emphasis to my position. "I was there, and Donny stopped when he finally realized what was going on and then apologized. On the other hand, you three, don't seem to know anything but hate. Can't you fucking give a guy a break?"
"So you admit to being a faggot, huh?" Joey says, nodding at me and Donny. "You had sex with Donny?"
"I may be gay, bitch," I reply, forcing my voice into the best gay lisp I can manage. "But I'm as much a virgin as you and your pansy ass. You want me to fix that for you?"
"See?" Vance says, inciting the crowd one more time. "They're all boy-fucking faggots. Let's break 'em!" They start toward us, fists balled and ready to smash into our faces. I stand my ground. They cannot defeat me. I will not be broken.
And then suddenly there's more of us. Three more student join us, with two others running up as well. At the forefront of these is a new friend, who's proving to be as awesome as a kid can be.
"Hey now, what's going on here?" Greg says, standing up directly next to me. Vance and Joey stop five feet in front of us, staring at the growing crowd. Fighting three on three was one thing, but they're outnumbered now.
"Hey, Greg. Wanna join the party?" I ask, smiling appreciatively at my new friend.
"Yeah," He nods behind him to where Zane stands next to several of the other kids he shares a table with. "Zane pointed out what was happening and sent me over while he contacted the rest of our friends. They came as fast as they could." Greg turns back to Vance and Joey and calmly continues, "And there's more on their way."
"You guys are going to defend these faggots?" Vance roars.
Zane takes a shambling step forward, favoring his right side. I notice for the first time that he's carrying a cane. I've always been on the opposite side of him, but I can see he's using it now. This is the first time I've been this close to him, and I notice now that he's slight in frame and a bit shorter than me. Despite all this, there's no fear in his step. Joey and Vance tower over him even more than they do over me, but he looks at them and grins like they're his best friends. "Dudes, lighten up," he says. "It's the fucking twenty-first century. You bet I'm going to defend these guys from you and your unnecessary hate."
"We all are," Greg adds.
"Yeah!" Several other students cheer, coming to stand with us. There's now nine of us against our three oppressors.
"Well, maybe we'll just have to break all of you then," Sheila says. The sudden smile on her face really is unnerving. What does she know that I don't?
"Good luck trying," I reply, hoping she'll play her hand.
"It won't be hard." Sheila smirks. "We've got backup coming, too."
"Why are there no teachers?" Travis asks behind me.
"They're all watching the front of the school and the hallways," Donny answers. "These guys picked the right spot; that's for sure. Almost no one leaves this way, but Sheila knows I do. She's smarter than she looks. And-" He looks to the right, where a dozen junior and senior guys are walking toward us. "Shit. Guys, we gotta go; the football team's here."
"And there's Brent," Travis says, focusing on the big guy walking front and center. "And boy he does not look happy."
"I'm calling Angie," Travis says again.
I reach out and put my hand on his arm again as before. "I told you; we don't need her. Trust me. We have nothing to worry about."
Brent and his football buddies arrive, pausing to the side of our little confrontation. Only Brent walks forward, standing directly between me and Sheila. He addresses her first, "What the hell's goin' on here, Sheila?"
"Just cleaning up the school, Brent," Sheila says, nodding toward me. "Getting rid of these faggots. Want to help? I know how you feel about 'em. You're always cussing about 'em."
Brent nods slowly, his face expressionless. "Let me handle this," he says, then turns to lock gazes with Donny. He points at the ground in front of him. "Donny. Get over here. We're gonna finish this."
This is not going to happen. After all that, I'm not going to let Brent beat the shit out of Donny if I can prevent it. I take another step forward and say, "No. You can't have him."
But Donny is already shuffling forward, stopping next to me as he says, "Clint, don't. I'm not going to let you fight my battles for me anymore. You've done enough." And then he moves past me to stop in front of Brent, facing him directly, his head held high.
"Donny..." Brent says slowly, and then his expression shifts for just a moment. I detect a fleeting hint of a smile which disappears as quickly as it came. What the hell is Brent planning?
"What is it, Brent?" Donny asks with a surprising amount of confidence in his voice.
Brent crosses his arms over his chest and replies, "We need to talk."
"Right here? In front of everyone?"
"Yep; in front of everyone."
"All right. What do you want to say?"
"I've thought about this all day," Brent begins, starting to pace in front of Donny, taking his arms from in front of his chest and crossing them back behind his back instead. His hand twitches as if he's nervous, but he walks steadily, and his tone is unwavering. "I talked to the football team after you sent me that message last night, telling me you'd be here. I told them we had to take care of this problem before it grew out of hand. It looks like I'm too late."
Donny shrinks a little and asks, "So what are you going to do?"
"I still haven't decided. A lot of that depends on what you do."
"What do you mean?"
Brent stops his pacing and turns to face Donny directly again. "Why are you here? What the fuck put you in this position?"
"I made a mistake, and then I made a couple more."
"You're not going to blame someone for outing you to the school?" Brent asks, surprised.
"No. Whoever did that can fuck off," Donny says, meeting Brent's eyes. I can't see him from this angle even though I can see the intensity of his stare reflected in Brent's face. "But, if I hadn't been careless, everything would have been fine."
"You dropped the fucking ball, Donny. After all the time we trained together, you fumbled."
"Yes. I dropped the ball, Brent."
"Well, you know what happens to the team when you fumble, Donny?" Brent asks, gesturing to the football team standing off to the side.
Donny glances at them before returning his eyes to Brent. "You have to pick up the slack and move forward."
"That's right, Donny. We have to cover your ass. We have to make up for your mistakes. And you know what else?"
"We're damned pissed to have to do it, but it's our fucking job, and we're going to. So, it's time we cleaned up this mess." Brent turns directly to Sheila, this time allowing for no misunderstanding about his anger.
"What?" Sheila asks, recoiling from her brother's glare.
"Sheila!" Brent barks at her. "Go fuck off, and take your reject boyfriends with you. The fact you eavesdropped on my conversation with Mom and Dad is bad enough, but that you'd think it was even remotely cool to tell Donny's secret to the whole school is bullshit, especially if you can't report it accurately. Donny didn't rape anyone, as I'm sure this faggot over here has told you." He points at me as I start nodding.
"That's right," I reply. "I'm here and perfectly unraped."
"Donny did fuck up that night, in more ways than one, but we all do sometimes. But you need to get that stick out of your ass, little sister." Brent leans into Sheila's face and adds, "You ride sticks better than a faggot, anyway, the way you seem to have one buried in you."
Both Joey and Vance blush at the comment and take a step away from Brent, wanting to be nowhere near Sheila in that moment. "Brent, you asshole!" Sheila growls. "I'm going to-"
"What?" Brent snaps. "You're going to what? You can't fight me. Mom and Dad already know what you did, and when you get home you'll be grounded 'til graduation. You don't deserve my respect, or even my attention." He turns away from her, waving away her existence as if she no longer mattered to him. "I hope you figure your shit out someday, Sheila, but this isn't the right way to handle your problems."
Sheila recoils, horrified. And then she trembles in fury and storms off in the other direction with Vance and Joey rushing after her.
"Brent, who are you?" Donny asks.
"I'm your best friend, moron," Brent says, shaking his head and rolling his eyes at the same time. "You fucking cocksucker, do you think I forgot what we used to do? We've been friends since preschool, bro! And we've shared more than most." He sighs and puts his finger on Donny's chest, poking it hard. "You're the one that stopped. You thought I hated faggots like you? You thought I'd treat you different; well, you're right, I would have. I ain't done with you yet, Donny, but I'm gonna let you know one thing right now!" And then he reaches up with both hands and pulls Donny's face to his, locking their lips together in an intensely forceful kiss. Donny's eyes widen and Brent presses in more passionately until Donny's eyes close and he accepts the kiss. Only then does Brent pull his lips away while retaining his grip on Donny's head. "I'm a fucking cocksucker, too, and if you'd told me, we wouldn't have had to fucking do this!" He roars.
If my jaw sank any lower, it'd unhinge itself. "I did not see that coming."
"You're not alone, Clint," Travis whispers with awe.
Donny shakes himself and asks, "What the fuck?"
"I told you, Donny!" Brent says, shaking Donny's head slightly before letting go. "I told you at camp when we were thirteen. Why do you think I liked messing around with you so much?"
Donny shakes his head in confusion. "You said you'd beat any faggot who came near me."
Brent rolls his eyes and replies, "Yeah, cuz you're mine. Then you stopped talking to me about shit."
"I thought you meant-"
"You thought I meant I'd kick your ass if you were a faggot, too?" Brent asks, snorting. "Hell, I'm a fucking faggot, man! Do I need to kiss you again? When I saw you with this little brat," he pauses and points at me, "I thought you'd betrayed me, but I ain't gonna lose you to him. You're mine, got it?"
"But you date girls all the time! You're not gay!" Donny insists.
"Don't gotta be gay to be a cocksucker, dude," Brent says, clapping Donny on the shoulder. Donny winces in pain, but Brent doesn't notice and continues. "They got all sorts of faggots these days. Yeah, I like pussy, too, but hell, we could have been together all these years. You gonna let my girl lovin' get in the way of that? Let's fucking celebrate!"
One of their teammates steps up and says quietly, "Are you sure you guys want to be talking about this here?"
"Fuck yeah! Why wouldn't I?" Brent asks, turning toward his teammate. "You got a problem with it, Shane?"
"No; no, Brent. Sorry. It's just..." He looks around at the crowd. "Everyone is kinda staring."
"Let 'em stare. We're a team, ain't we?" Brent says, then grins like an idiot at Donny. "We gotta show the world we can't be beaten."
Donny smiles in wonder as his head shakes, saying, "I can't believe this."
"Believe it, cause we're goin' out tonight. You and me, overlook at Mount Shelly. We're gonna make up for lost time. We got a lot to talk about."
The crowd starts to disappear, realizing the possibility of a fight is now completely over. Greg gathers his friends around Zane and they talk excitedly about what just happened. As soon as I decide to go over and talk to them, Angie comes through the doors of the school, her face frantic.
She makes a beeline for us, ignoring everyone else. "What did I miss..." she asks as she nears us then does a double-take as she passes Donny and Brent whose lips are once again locked together. As soon as she reaches us she nods back at the pair and asks, "What the hell?"
"I told you we didn't need her. But you texted her anyway, huh?" I ask Travis, chuckling.
He points at Donny and Brent and says, "You couldn't have known this was going to happen."
"Yeah, but we still didn't need her," I reply, rolling my eyes. I then turn and start walking away, and as if we'd planned it, Travis joins me without answering Angie's question.
"Clint? Travis?" Angie asks. When Travis and I turn to look at her with duplicate expressions of innocence, Angie hops up and down and asks again, "What the hell!?"
"My boy Donny had his perfect boyfriend all along," I reply, shrugging. "They look good together, don't you think?"
Angie turns and looks at them again, shaking her head in disbelief. "Shit, that's crazy."
"Yeah, and maybe we should leave them alone," Travis suggests.
"Maybe we should," I say. But I'm not done here just yet. "Donny!" I call out, getting his attention. "I told you there was nothing to worry about. Brent, I assume you can take care of him from here?"
Brent nods at me appreciatively, and I wave a final time before turning around to walk back toward the front of the school. Travis and Angie follow me, but I pull up short and let them get ahead of me when Donny calls out, "Clint, thanks! Hold on a sec. Clint!" I wait for him to swing himself over on his crutches, and he stops a couple feet from me, smiling foolishly. "Thank you. For everything. I can't possibly..." He shakes his head helplessly and adds, "just thanks."
"Donny, in another life, maybe things would be different, but I had a feeling I wasn't the right guy for you." I glance back at Brent who's watching us impatiently. "I think this time you'll be the one wanting to take things slow."
"Actually," Donny sighs, "I kind of already know what I'm in for."
"What does that mean?"
"I'll explain sometime. But..." he chuckles dryly and says, "I really am an idiot. We'll talk later, okay?"
"Are you done, yet?" Brent calls after Donny, then points at a car parked along the curb forty feet away. "Your Mom's waiting."
Donny looks at us one last time and says, "Thanks, Clint. You're my hero."
Smiling contentedly, I catch up to Angie and Travis just as they're about to round the corner of the school. I'm about to say something to them about what Donny just said to me when we hear someone mumbling to themselves. We walk forward a few feet and see Sheila sitting next to the school, knees pulled up to her chest with her arms wrapped around them.
"My brother's a faggot. All this time..." She says, rocking back and forth.
"Sheila," Angie says softly, "It's not the end of the world."
Sheila snorts and looks away. "Whatever."
"We're not all the same," I say. "Give him a chance. He'll surprise you if you let him."
"Fuck off! You don't know shit!" Sheila screams, jumping to her feet and running in the other direction.
"We tried." Angie sighs.
"Angie..." I say, smiling slightly. "I'm impressed you said that to Sheila. Normally you aren't that civil to someone you had to beat up."
"Maybe I've learned a thing or two from you, 7LB. People are more important than popularity, and sometimes - just sometimes - people deserve second chances."
"She's had a lot of them," I remind Angie.
Angie nods and replies, "And until she proves she can't change, she'll keep getting them."
Travis, always eager to change subjects when the emotions get to thick, asks, "Are we still on for Friday, Angie?"
Angie glares at Travis and says, "I told you not to tell him."
"I didn't," Travis replies, grinning. "I asked you. He just happened to be there."
I stop and look back and forth at them, settling on Angie at last. "Wait a second... you're his date?"
She shrugs and smiles at a blushing Travis. "I thought about what you said. You're absolutely right, 7LB. You can't judge a book by its cover. You gotta read it first."
"What a cliché!" I say, laughing. "My best friend and sister are going out!"
Before either of them can answer, Greg's voice rises up behind us. "Hey, guys, wait up!" I turn to see him rounding the corner, breathless. He pulls up short when he reaches us, bending over and grabbing his knees.
"Hey, Greg, what's going on?" I ask.
"Just hold on a second, please?" He asks, holding up his hand.
And then I see Zane coming around the corner, supporting himself on an ornately carved cane whenever he shifts his weight to his right leg. A slight metallic clank rings out every time his right foot hits the ground, but he moves forward with grim determination at a rather quick pace.
He stops in front of me, grinning as he catches his breath. Our eyes meet, and I realize this is the first time we've actually been close enough for me to see them. They're hazel with flecks of gold and hold a beautiful complexity within them. The few freckles on his thin face make him even cuter, and the slight dimple on the right side of his face makes my heart flutter.
"Hey, I'm sorry to make you wait, but I'm a bit slow," Zane says, standing straight and raising his cane for emphasis. "I tried to run after you guys but thankfully Greg stopped me before I face-planted."
"You're Zane, right?" I say, sticking my hand out. Wanting to play it naturally I continue, "Hey... I know you. You're the guy who complimented me on my cast the day after I got it."
"Yeah. Greg was with me then, too," Zane confirms. With confidence and charm he continues, "You do have a unique style, which I appreciate. There's something I wanted to ask you, if you don't mind."
"Sure. What's up?"
"I'm starting a new club here at the school, and I'm hoping you'll all consider joining."
"What's this club?" Angie asks before I can.
"A Gay Straight Alliance," Zane replies casually. "I've tried to organize one ever since the start of the year, but no one wants to listen to a pair of freshmen. If we had more people, however..." he trails off and meets my eyes again with a warm smile.
"Count me in," I reply immediately.
Travis wraps his arm around Angie's shoulders and says. "Us, too." She throws him off and glares at him. He shrugs and blushes, and she turns toward Zane and nods her agreement.
"So..." Zane says, staring at Travis and Angie for a moment of quiet contemplation. "You two are a couple?"
"We're dating, but I wouldn't go that far, yet," Angie says, shooting another glare at Travis.
"So..." Zane says slowly, turning back to me with a hopeful smile. "You and Travis aren't together?"
"No. He's straight," I say, then with a smile to match his I add, "I am gay, though."
"I'm bisexual, actually..." Travis says. This earns him a surprised but approving look from Angie.
"Travis, you're just awesome," I say, giving Travis a high five which morphs into a quick hug. As we pat each other on the back I add, "Congratulations on coming out, buddy."
"Yeah, congratulations!" Zane says, offering Travis a fist bump. Travis returns it as Zane gives his attention back to me. "I have another question to ask you, then, Clint."
"What's that?" I ask.
"Will you go out with me?" he asks, calmly, though with an obvious touch of hope. This boy is completely unassuming, and I think I may be falling in love with him already. There is one slight problem, though.
"What about Greg?" I ask.
Zane and Greg share a look before Zane turns back to me and says, "I suppose we can double if he can find a girl to take him, but I was hoping it would be just you and me."
Looks like I've got nothing to worry about. "No offense to Greg, but I'm okay with that. I just thought..." I trail off as Greg starts laughing, and realize there's no reason to explain myself. They both knew exactly what I meant. "Our best friends are both straight," I say. Travis coughs behind me and I go on, "Okay, maybe not completely straight in Travis' case, but he's still dating a girl. Works for me. Leaves us open for each other."
Zane smiles at that and is about to say something when Angie pipes in, "Clint, aren't you forgetting something? Dad's rules?"
I give her a hard look before turning back to Zane. "Zane, I know this is a bit forward, but it's the only way we can go out. I think it's time you met my parents."
Zane laughs so hard I think he might fall over, but when he's done he meets my eyes with a roguish twinkle in his own and asks, "Are you always this fearless?"
"They tell me it's my best quality," I reply, bowing with a flourish. When I straighten up, Zane's eyes sparkle while his smile warms my soul.
For the first time, a slight blush tints Zane's cheeks as he replies. "They're right. I'm eager to see just how fearless you can be."