The school year started Wednesday, so Tuesday was a day for me to finalize my schedule in the various buildings. I had mapped out a rotation. I was really concerned about my time in the high school. Most of the students that could be mainstreamed were in that building. On the plus side, my office was in the high school and it was the most comfortable of all the buildings for me.
Katie, the district administrative assistant, was obviously someone I wanted on my side. She was Ian's right hand, and during our tour of the buildings, had given me lots of inside information about the district. So I brought three of Marcus's homemade blueberry muffins that morning and shared one with her.
"I knew you were a smart young man when I hired you… Already buttering up my assistant I see." Ian laughed when he saw us munching on the muffins.
"Well if you'd like one, I do have another with your name on it. They are really good." I smiled holding a paper bag up.
"Watch out Katie, this one is a charmer. And that boyfriend of his is too. Marcus managed to get two of my wife's recipes at dinner, and she never shares with anyone."
Katie grinned at the two of us, "Well Dr. Hunter, Tony can share muffins with me any day… but I knew he was a smart one when he listened during our tour last week. Most new teachers don't."
"I guess you didn't need muffins, you've already got the power in the district in your corner." Ian laughed, "Don't try for my job just yet. Give me a couple of years before the coup…"
"Actually, I'm not sure your job will ever be on my wish list… but I don't think a muffin will take Katie's loyalties from you, anyway. She's very smart and completely above bribery." I smiled. "But I need to hit the road and see how many teachers I can meet before tomorrow. It's going to be tough enough meeting all the students, I'd like to try to get to know a few more of the staff. Katie, make sure the boss eats his muffin or my boyfriend will have my head."
I heard laughing in the background as I headed out to my first stop, the elementary school on the north side of the district. When I walked into the teacher's lounge, a few of the staff were chatting.
"Did you hear Shelley Bond left the district?"
"Yeah, I heard she moved to California."
"I wonder who we will get to replace her? Hopefully it won't be someone as green."
"I heard it was a guy, no real experience, and gay to boot." A blond woman added.
"Well, he must have done something right at the interview, because Marion was impressed. And you know it's difficult to impress her." A very tall older gentleman seemed to be defending me.
Finally, I couldn't stand any more. A small part of me felt guilty listening to them talk, another smaller part a little intrigued to hear more, but mostly I felt like I needed to assert myself and nip this in the bud. The comment about being gay had raised a red flag, I wasn't sure exactly why but I felt flushed and slightly angry. I spoke directly to the blond.
"Excuse me. My name is Anthony Wallace, Tony. I'm new and since it's me you're talking about I felt like I should introduce myself."
I was met with stone cold silence. After what seemed like minutes of awkwardness, I finally spoke up.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your conversation but I felt a little guilty listening while I was the main topic. So let me try this again, I'm Anthony Wallace, please call me Tony. I am brand new to teaching, but spent my master's project working with kids. I am gay and happily monogamous with the love of my life. I am currently working on my doctorate, but decided that I missed working with kids and jumped at the chance to work in this district. I don't know how much I impressed anyone, but all of the principals and the superintendant were in on my interview. I'm trying to tour the district; I was hoping to meet a few of the teachers in each building today. Is there anything else I can fill you in on?" I tried to keep from sounding angry, but I don't know if it worked.
Finally, a couple of the teachers introduced themselves to me. We did a little small talk thing and I thanked them. The blond never spoke directly to me. The whole episode left me a little off. I decided to head back to my office and regroup.
I called Marcus and filled him in on the events of the day so far. I was a little down from the initial meeting at the elementary school. I guess I needed just a little feedback.
"Babe, you sound uncertain, but I think you handled things exactly right. I'm impressed and surprised you spoke right out and didn't hesitate to tell them who you were. I'm not sure there was a better way to do things."
"I guess I needed to hear you say it out loud to me. I just didn't think about attitudes going in. I thought they would at least wait to get to know me before passing judgment. I feel like I took a step back today. It's almost like I'm going to be fighting two battles at once. And do I say something to Ian about the gay comment? I don't want to stir up trouble; I may have nipped it in the bud. I just haven't dealt with this before. I'm not sure how to proceed. I got all flushed inside and a little angry. It was all I could do to calmly say what I did. Hon, I'm still a little put off. It shouldn't matter. I really didn't think this attitude would exist in the culture here."
"Tony, you have every right to have gotten angry. You have been very insulated in your gay life. I mean the university is among the safest places to be out. So TJ is the only one to ever have called you a faggot. And because it was TJ it wasn't the same as a complete stranger. And really all the person said was that you were gay… not a fag, not any of the other names haters are so fond of. So while I think you reacted perfectly, you need to be careful about overreacting."
"I never thought of it that way. Thanks Hon. You really helped. What would I do without you? What time do you expect to get home tonight?"
"I don't know. I have a meeting at six and I could be very late. I'll text later but don't expect me for dinner. There's leftover of your Mom's chicken and pasta primavera she sent home with us. Heat it up for yourself."
"Hopefully, you won't be too late. I'll talk to you later. And before I forget your muffins were a major success with Katie and Ian this morning. Thanks, Hon."
"You are too cute Babe. Text me later; and keep being yourself, you've got this."
At the other elementary school and the middle school, I used a different tactic. I went right to the building principal's office. Either I met a few teachers with the principal, or I used the office as a starting point to tour the building again on my own. I was sure word had traveled quickly through the district that I was making a tour. The people I met were exceedingly cordial, if not a little too prepared for my appearance. All in all, not the day I expected.
Just as I was packing it in, I got a text. It was from Keith.
"Tony, I have some free time this evening. I would love to spend a couple of minutes picking your brain. I know we just met yesterday, but I have a meeting with Dr, Miller tomorrow. It would mean a lot if we could get together."
"Let me get back to you. It should work, but I need to let Marcus know. I will call in a few minutes."
I finished for the day and as I walked to the car I tried to give Marcus a call. He didn't answer so I left a message and sent a text. If I didn't hear from him before I got to the condo, I'd try a second time.
When I walked into the condo, my phone went off. Marcus was returning my text.
"Babe can't talk. I guess coffee is fine. Please let me know when you will be home. I love you."
"Thanks, Hon. I will text you when I am on way home from coffee. Love you too. Don't work too hard."
I gave Keith a call and we agreed to meet at the coffee house on campus. It took a few minutes to get there, so Keith was waiting when I arrived.
"Thanks, so much for meeting with me, Tony. It really means a lot. I have so many questions for you. What can I get you? Are you hungry?"
I burst out laughing, "Calm down. I'm happy to help. Take a deep breath and start at the beginning. I have a couple of hours before I want to get home. I start teaching tomorrow and I want to do a little prep for myself."
"I'm sorry. I get a little crazy sometimes. Let me get you a coffee and collect my thoughts."
"That's fine. Just black coffee is good."
When he got back with the coffees, I took a sip and started, hoping to get him focused.
"Keith, I understand losing an advisor can be stressful, especially right at the start. But, it could be a blessing in disguise. If Dr. Miller agrees to take you on, you will be very pleased with the results. First tell me what you hope to do with your degree and we can go from there."
I had purposely set the alarm on my phone so I would know when we were an hour and a half into the discussion. When the alarm went off I was stunned. It barely felt like we started to talk. I finished up what I was saying and let Keith know we needed to wrap this up. He was as surprised as I was that we had been talking for that long.
"Tony, I can't thank you enough. You have helped answer a lot of my questions. I'm a little less panicked about the whole process now."
"Don't worry. You know what you want to do and I think Jon will be a great advisor for you. I will give him a call later to let him know we've spoken. Let me know if I can do anything else to help. I do need to run, I'd like to spend some time with my boyfriend tonight and get a little work done."
He grabbed me and wrapped me in a hug.
"I really owe you. Danni was right; you are a really nice guy. Hopefully we can talk again soon."
"Thanks, Keith. And shoot me a text after your meeting with Jon, I mean Dr. Miller. Have a good night."
As I walked back to the car, I sent Marcus a text to let him know I was on the way home. I didn't get a reply so I figured his meeting was still going on. Just as I was starting the car I saw Keith talking to someone. I would recognize that ass anywhere, and the asshole it belonged to. It was Jared. I didn't think; I reacted. There was no way I was going to let Keith get hurt by Jared. I jumped back out of the car and headed over to the two of them.
"Tony, what's up I thought you were heading home?" Keith looked puzzled.
"I was until I say you talking to the biggest mistake I ever made. I decided I couldn't let you become just another notch on the bed post."
"Back off, Tony, this is none of your business." Jared sneered.
"Actually to quote my boyfriend, Keith is a friend of mine and that makes it my business.
"Keith, Jared and I were together for months. During that time, he cheated on me at least three times I know, and one time I even caught him in the act. You are a big boy and can make your own decisions, but be warned you are looking at the biggest fucking player in town.
"And by the way, Jared, Marcus and I are very much together and happier than I would have ever dreamed possible. Do me a favor and pick on someone else for your kicks today. Keith is way too nice a person to fall for scum like you."
Jared cocked his fist and looked ready to swing at me; suddenly Keith grabbed his neck and put him in a choke hold.
"Don't even think about it. Wow, I guess Tony was right. The package might be nice to look at but the insides are all rotten. Get lost Jared."
Keith let Jared go, gave him a little shove. Finally he sulked off.
"Thanks again Tony. You definitely saved my ass there. He seemed like such a nice guy. I can't believe it.
"Trust me I thought so too. Just remember you are a great guy and can do way better than the likes of him. I'm sorry I stuck my nose in but I didn't want to see you get hurt. Some night we can go out to Noah's in a group and I can introduce you to some friends."
"Tony, you are the first guy in forever not to treat me like a piece of meat. Usually, guys take one look at me and just want to get into my pants. You aren't like that. You see me as a person. That means so much to me. You are turning into a real friend. Thanks."
"Hey, like I said you're a good kid. But, now I definitely need to dash."
"Thanks again for everything, Tony."
I pulled into the parking lot at home and Marcus's Lexus was already there. I dashed up to the condo.
"Hey Hon, you're home early. This is great."
"Where have you been? What took you so long?"
"Whoa, what's the problem? Are you upset at me? I actually was in the car ready to head home, when I saw Keith talking to Jared outside the coffee shop. Well there was no way I was going to let Keith get used by that piece of trash. I confronted Jared and when he tried to take a swing at me, Keith wrapped him in a headlock. Basically, he was forced to sulk away. You would have been proud of me I even used your line from the picnic. 'He's my friend, and that makes it my business.' I'm sorry I'm later than expected, but I didn't think you would be home. You never answered my text."
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm very proud of you for what you did for Keith. That was a wonderful thing, Babe. Plus did it give you a little extra pleasure that you got to tell Jared off?"
"Actually, I found I had no feeling left for Jared, I wasn't even angry at him. I just didn't think I should allow him to hurt someone else if I could stop it. I thought I would still hate him, but I just didn't care. I think it's because I'm so happy. So, what's got you so tense tonight?"
Marcus looked a little guilty. He hesitated, "I'm a little upset at my father. I'm trying to increase our web presence and change up the advertising. I found a really great firm that could do both. Hudgins Design from Atlanta seemed perfect to me. They have a great reputation, no real clients locally, and are used by a friend. My friend's site is top notch. I'll admit it would be more than we currently spend, but our web site sucks and I have no time to do any of it myself. My father is being a stubborn mule and won't even consider it. I'm sorry it's just frustrating."
"Hon, I'm sorry. I wish I could help. Maybe if they did a mock up for your Dad, he'd be willing to consider it."
"I hadn't thought about that. I wonder if it would work? No, my father is a stubborn pain in the ass. He wouldn't even pay for a mock up. I just need to figure out a different plan.
"Anyway, have you had anything to eat yet? I'm starving."
That night in bed, Marcus again seemed more enthusiastic than usual. No complaints from me, but it seemed out of the ordinary. At the time, I wondered if there was something going on and I was being my usual clueless self. It turns out I was right on both counts.
School was much more work than I had anticipated. But working with kids again was incredibly fulfilling. It was such an amazing moment to watch a seven year old speak a full sentence without stuttering. Looking at his face when he strung a conversation together was priceless.
On Thursday night I was working after school, doing some research on line. I came across an article, about using tablets to help autistic children. New apps were being developed constantly to help kids with various types of autism. The article was an overview of some of the more successful apps and their uses. I wanted to start using these tablets in my work. So, I did some further research.
One of the manufacturers offered grants to schools for both the tablets and some of the apps. I had never written a grant before so my idea was to write a draft and send it along with the article in an email to Ian to get his feedback. It took over an hour until I felt like the grant application was fairly well written. I attached it, the article, and a link to the website of the manufacturer all in an email. I was packing my stuff up when I got a call from Ian.
"Tony, I just got your email. I'm impressed with the idea. I've heard about some of the apps being discussed, but the article does a nice job cutting away the fat. I also think you did a great job on the grant. I'm going to have the staff look at it, but I don't think they will make many changes. I'm going to make it a priority for them to take care of this; Very well done.
"Thanks, Ian. I have never written a grant before. That wasn't nearly as difficult as I anticipated, but I'm sure it needs work. I'm glad you like the idea. I think the tablets will be a great resource for some of the elementary teachers, especially on days I'm not in the building."
"Well, I think it's a great idea. I just called to say nice job. Keep up the good work. And by the way, I moved the next project meeting another two weeks. I want this grant to get done first and then I can unveil my ideas. Have a good night and again well done."
I was a little full of myself when I got home. Marcus gave me a look and listened when I explained about the grant and the tablets.
"Nice job. You are turning into a superstar in the district. I'm very impressed."
"Yeah well sometimes when you want something you just need to figure out how to accomplish it. I guess I knew if the grant wasn't perfect Ian would get someone to rewrite it, so there wasn't any real pressure. Thanks, Hon. You always make me feel so good about myself."
"Babe, not to change the subject completely, but your father sent us a package. It's next to the couch. The instructions on it were very clear. 'Open Together' is the only thing it says. It looks like he sent us an enlargement of one of his pictures."
"Do you want to open it now or wait until after dinner?"
"Let's open it now so we can call and thank him before it gets too late. It is a school day tomorrow…" Marcus's eyes twinkled.
"Look Hon, there's a card taped on the box. I'll open the card you open the big box. You're right it does look like he sent us a piece of his work."
"Okay, read the note out loud and then I'll do the big reveal with the picture."
"It's from Dad. 'Tony and Marcus, when I saw this shot in my most recent stuff, I knew I had to give it to you. It makes your Mom and I very happy to see the love you share for each other. Marcus, we are thrilled you are a part of the family now. We are also both very grateful for everything you have done for us and our son. By the way, Crystal is heartbroken she can't have this one for the gallery. But says that's just her mercenary self talking. I hope you like it. Love, Dad.'"
Marcus turned the picture around. We were speechless. Both of us started to tear up and smile at the same time.
"Oh my god, Babe, I can't believe your father captured this moment. This is the most incredible picture."
Somehow, my father managed to snap a shot of the two of us laughing and hugging just after being splashed by the whale. We both had the most amazing looks on our faces, surprise, happiness and pure joy, plus we had water dripping down from our hair. It truly was a priceless photograph.
I started to dial my parents' number and Marcus stuck his hand out.
"Babe, please let me tell them how I feel first." I nodded.
"Tony, that was quick" I heard Dad say.
"Sam, actually it's Marcus. I just wanted to say thank you. You can't imagine what that shot means to me. You have managed something I didn't think was possible. You have actually captured love in a photograph. I know when your son and I look at this piece of art; we will not only remember the feelings we have for each other but how much you and Betty mean to us. Thank you seems to just scratch the surface of how grateful I am. Now before I become a complete emotional wreck, here is your son."
"Hey Dad, thank you so much. That is the most incredible picture ever. I love you guys so much. Really it's incredible."
"You're welcome, son. I'm happy you guys like it."
"Like it? Are you kidding? It's amazing. It means the world to both of us…
"How's the new school year treating you?"
"Well son, I could ask you the same thing…"
Dad and I spent the better part of an hour chatting back and forth about his new students, my grant proposal, and everything that had to do with the new school year. Finally I noticed myself nodding off, and my stomach gave a huge rumble.
"Dad, I really need to go. We haven't eaten yet and have a long day tomorrow. We have company coming for dinner tomorrow night. Thank you so much for that incredible photograph. It was the most amazing moment and to see it captured forever… We are so grateful."
"Son, the minute I saw that shot had worked I was ecstatic. Crystal actually did the enlarging and matting for me for free when I brought her the new shots. Mom and I really do appreciate everything you and Marcus do for us, and are so thrilled at your happiness. Good night Tony."
"Good night, Dad. Talk to you soon."
While I was on the phone, Marcus had been busy in the office. When I finally found him, he had managed to hang our gift on the wall so it could be seen from both desks and the doorway.
"What do you think? I had to move things around a little, but I think it looks perfect here."
"Hon, it looks great; Unbelievable actually.
"I'm starving; let's have the leftovers from the weekend before they go bad. And then we can spend some cuddle time together."
"Sounds good, Babe."
Friday night Marcus and I had asked Jon to join us for dinner. He had agreed to take Keith on as his master's student. On the other hand, I just wanted to spend a little time hanging out with him. Ever since Marcus and I had gotten together, I was much more aware of Jon's seeming lack of social life. Granted he attended conferences all over the country, meeting tons of new people, but I remember being pretty lonely when I accompanied him to those conferences, I was sure it was even lonelier for him. Marcus and I had talked about it, but he was sure Jon would never go for an obvious set-up. So I was content to try and have him join us for dinner occasionally.
"Tony, I chatted briefly with Ian this morning. It seems you are living up to all the praise I heaped in your direction. He is very pleased with you to this point. What's this I hear? You are writing grants your first week on the job? Be careful, or Ian will be expecting that kind of 'out of the box' thinking all the time." Jon chuckled.
"You know me; I can be very focused when I need something. I can be incredibly clueless, but very focused. And thanks for taking on Keith as another master's student. I don't know how he'll do for you, but I think he's got a good head on his shoulders."
"Jon, have you ever had this many students at once to advise?" Marcus added quickly.
"Not really, but it's just one extra for now. None of the other students who lost their advisor have asked me to take them on yet. I think I have a reputation for being a difficult person to work for. Or least a very involved and particular…"
"Jon, you were the best advisor I could have had. You were perfect for me and the project was exactly what I needed. I think it will be the same way for Keith. His interests are very similar to mine, the only difference I see… He's not lucky enough to have Marcus looking out for him. Hon, I never would have made it through the first year of that program if it wasn't for you. I just wish my cluelessness wasn't so strong."
They both burst out laughing. Marcus grabbed my neck and pulled me into a kiss.
"Babe, you give me too much credit…"
Just then, the doorbell rang.
Marcus got up to answer the door, "Who the hell could that be at this time of night?"
I heard talking at the door and Marcus raised his voice slightly. "I'm not sure this is a good idea…"
Eventually, Marcus walked back to the table. He was followed by Detective Matthews. The detective was the one who handled my case involving Derek Kingston. While I knew in my head he had been very concerned and compassionate at the time, his appearance however, caused the beginning of a panic attack.
"Mr. Wallace, I'm very sorry to interrupt your evening. I have news I felt would be best delivered in person and right away. I'm here to let you know Derek Kingston was killed in prison about two hours ago. I don't have all the details, but it appears he was killed in the yard after an incident in the showers. An investigation is pending, but I'm sure it will hit the papers tomorrow. I honestly didn't want you reading about it or even seeing it on the news. Again I'm very sorry to interrupt your evening."
Marcus walked over to me and wrapped his arm around me. "Are you okay Babe?"
"Thank you Detective Matthews. It was very kind of you to deliver this news in person. And please call me Tony. Could you stay for dessert?"
"Umm, I guess," He hesitated. "Sure, I'm calling it a night. I would love a little dessert. And please call me James."
"Ok, James. Actually, have you eaten yet? I know my boyfriend always makes enough for a small army so I'm sure there is plenty left. Why don't you sit and eat a real meal. Are you expected anywhere soon?"
"That's very gracious of you. I was headed home for a sandwich or something. The only creature expecting my return is the goldfish my niece gave me. Frankly, the fact I haven't killed it yet is a testament to the goldfish."
At that moment, Jon burst out laughing. "I had a hamster whose life was tragically cut short because my nephew gifted it to me. I probably should have given it to a master's student, but Jack kept asking how Hammy was doing." James and Jon started laughing together. For me the room started swimming. I felt as though I was going to either pass out or throw up.
"Excuse me for just a moment please."
I walked into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. The panic attack that started at the sight of Detective Matthews was now in full force. I couldn't breathe. I really didn't know why the news that Derek had been killed was affecting me like this. But, suddenly I felt trapped. I started pacing back and forth. When that didn't seem to ease the panic, I slumped against the wall and quietly started to sob. I tried deep breathing. I briefly thought about calling Danni, but I knew she was in New York auditioning.
I just sat there still sobbing. The memory of that night was playing out in my head; then the rest of the weekend was coming back to me, too. Suddenly, I recalled Marcus and his love and care for me. I took a deep breath, and it was clear I was being foolish. Just at the moment Marcus, looked in the door and dashed over to me.
"Babe, oh my god I knew you were not doing okay. Fuck me; I should never have let him in the house."
"Actually, Hon. I think this was just a small panic attack. I was going into a full blown panic when I thought about that night. Then I remembered the rest of the weekend, and just as you found me I was coming out of it. At the risk of being a drama queen, your love saved me. Or saved me again. I think I want to see Dr. Abbott again and talk to her about this, but Marcus it's going to be okay. He's dead and maybe I can move past this."