Summary: Nick is a new junior at Tranquility High. His family moved over fifty miles to give him a fresh start, away from the bullying at his old school where he’d been labeled gay. He’s feeling awkward, but determined to fit in. Penny Papadopoulos is assigned by the Homeroom teacher to show Nick to his next class:
Standing in the hallway, they compared class lists. Although Nick was in math during first period, and Penny was in English, the room numbers were only three apart: 306 and 309. Together they headed for the stairs. He looked at her shyly out of the side of his eye, and found her doing the same to him. They both laughed and he knew he liked her already.
Jostling kids going up and down the echoing staircase made conversation difficult with so many different voices speaking at once. “Did you see the new boy yet?” he heard Angela O’Shea ask someone while walking ahead of them.
“What a good looking stud he is, huh?” answered Margaret, tossing her braids and pushing up her glasses. The two girls were a few steps above him, completely unaware he was following. Nick blushed deeply, having never received a compliment like that in his life; he owed it all to the clothes. He ran a hand through his hair, tousling it a little.
Nick was trying to think of something to say to Penny when she beat him to it. “Want to have lunch together? All juniors have fifth period lunch. We both have fourth period world history with Mr. K. again, so we could walk to the cafeteria together from there.”
“Sure!” said Nick, grateful and pleased. He smiled and relaxed slightly. Things were going better than he’d hoped. Three girls were all paying attention to him before he’d even gotten to first period; it was a new world and a new day. A real smile claimed his face, his first in months.
I can do this. I can make friends and fit in. Maybe even have a girlfriend.
He and Penny started down the hall checking room numbers until she found 306. The two stood together talking before she went in.
“What other classes do we have in common?” Nick was asking, looking down at his class list when he was suddenly pushed from behind, throwing him upon a very startled Penny. She shoved him back, away from her.
Time slowed down to a crawl. Nick watched Penny’s dark hair swing as she moved to the side, her eyes growing wide at what she saw behind him. Moving as if underwater, he turned to see who had pushed him. He came face to face with Julian Cain whose arm was pulled back, fist closed, grinning horribly and prepared to punch his lights out.
Impossible! He had left Julian and all his barbaric pals behind in Styxwater. This wasn’t happening. He must be hallucinating. It just could not happen!
But it did. Julian’s fist connected with Nick’s gut, knocking all the air out of him in a rush and leaving him gasping for breath. Julian laughed and sent a swiping kick to Nick’s knee, knocking him to the ground. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here, faggot?” he shouted as students gathered quickly, gesturing at Nick clutching his knee on the floor. “He’s a God damned cocksucker.”
This isn’t happening to me. He couldn’t have found me, why would he want to? This must be a nightmare, it just can’t be real. I’ll wake up any minute.
Nick tasted vomit rising. He felt faint and worried he’d just wet himself. He wished a big hole would open in the floor and swallow him up, but he knew from past experience it wouldn’t. He rose quickly to his good knee, watching for another kick.
Brent Howard heard a familiar voice right behind him shout “faggot” and “cocksucker”. He cringed, afraid to turn around.
It’s finally happened, someone’s figured it out.
It was his deepest, darkest fear coming true. Every muscle in his body locked rigidly in place and his thoughts slowed to a crawl. Only his breathing sped up.
As the laughter began he stared at the locker in front of him, paralyzed. Sweat beaded his brow while he listened to jeers growing louder and louder. He wanted to cover his ears to block out the sound, but he didn’t dare. The laughter grew even stronger, and now he felt the jostling of other students as they jockeyed to get a glimpse of the faggot cocksucker.
They aren’t looking at me. No one’s staring at me. They’re looking at someone else, laughing at someone else. A half second later his frozen muscles melted and he finally turned around. Relief flooded him as he saw over the heads and shoulders of the gathering crowd a skinny little guy, the ‘faggot cocksucker’, rising from the floor, brushing at new jeans.
He didn’t recognize him, but Brent knew his attacker; it was his younger cousin, Julian, who had moved in with his family to play hockey at Tranquility High. He’d been sharing Brent’s bedroom all summer, getting in early practices with Coach Morgensen’s yearly hockey camp. One day Julian was going to play for the U of M, and later with the Wild. It was all but a done deal.
Brent laughed uproariously along with everyone else at the homo his cousin had chosen to pick on. Look at him kneeling there, his face all red and trying desperately not to cry, the little wimp. Stupid pervert had it coming, they all did, those damned queers.
He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t gay. Brent felt his heartbeat slow and his breathing ease. He had to get control of himself; there was nothing for anyone to find out because he simply was not, once and for all, never had been and never would be, gay. He might think about good looking guys once in awhile and imagine what it might be like, but he’d certainly never done it. Thinking about doing something isn’t the same as actually doing it, right?
What a relief. What a close call.
Still on one knee, Nick’s vision swam as he gulped in air. This is not happening. I’m in a new town, a new school, on my way to my first class. Julian Cain cannot be here. He glanced over his shoulder at Penny and saw her shocked face staring back at him. He stood up and found his own fists clenched, never a good sign.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded of Julian. “You’re not supposed to be here!”
“Oh and why’s that?” Julian Cain sneered at Nick. “Did you think this was a school just for fags and dykes? Who is that girl you’re talking to, anyway? Couldn’t be your girlfriend, ‘cause you only go for guys.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” screamed Nick quickly losing control, his fists clenching in rhythm with his shouts. Then without warning, he launched himself at the bully.
Julian grinned triumphantly and held him at arm’s length as Nick started flailing in rage, his reach two inches shorter. “What’s the matter, queer boy? Thought you could hide the truth here, start over with your secret still intact? Not going to happen, fag. You’re a perv and these good people deserve to know about you.”
“You can’t be here. This isn’t happening. Go back to Styxwater, go home.” Tears washed down his cheeks. “You won, God damn it!” shouted Nick. “Leave me alone!” His fists struck only air, or glancing blows on the arm holding him at bay.
“Fuck you,” answered Julian. “Tranquility has a ranked hockey team, and they want me to play. I need a scholarship to U of M so here I am and there’s nothing you can do about it, fag.” He laughed as Nick’s swinging fists missed time after time. “You should have known you’ll never get away from me.”
To me, homophobia can be blatant, or on the down low, an insidious or in-your-face attitude, a whispered word, or a huge sign paraded in public. It’s ugly, it’s extremist, and it’s cruel.
And it ALWAYS leads to bullying.
What do you think?