Castle Roland


by MultiMapper


Chapter 10

Posted: N/A

The Stroke of Midnight

Copyright © 2011 MultiMapper.
All Rights Reserved.

   Brian walked into his school and marveled at how different it seemed. Nothing had changed, yet everything appeared to be smaller and somehow less 'real' than before.

   "Hey Princess! We thought you'd run off to find your prince charming!" A boy said from ahead of him in the hall.

   Brian was surprised when the anxiety and fear that he had been expecting didn't try to overpower him. He didn't really feel anything.

   "Hey, Toby. I just had to go out of town for a couple days." Brian said casually as he walked by, then asked, "Did I miss anything?"

   "Well, we thought you were gone, so we already got another Princess to take your place." Toby said with a grin.

   Brian stopped and looked at Toby with question.

   "From what I hear, he got 'outed' at his old school, so his parents moved him here so he could get away from all the teasing." Toby said with delight.

   "He came HERE to GET AWAY from teasing?!" Brian asked incredulously.

   "Yeah. And the day after he started, Doug came to school and told everyone that his cousin goes to Myron's old school and he told us all about it."

   Before Brian could say anything else, he heard the first bell ring and had to hurry to get his things together for class.

   His first class was social studies and was just as boring as ever. Mr. Young was an extremely elderly stick figure of a man with no personality whatsoever. The man wore a perpetual grimace and gave the impression of being physically exhausted at all times.

   Brian was surprised to find that after missing three days of school, he hadn't actually missed anything at all. Mr. Young was still reviewing the text that Brian had already read before he left. So Brian was able to pick up right where he left off.

   The next class period was going to be the big test.

   Gym Class.

   Brian walked into the locker room and was surprised that no one seemed to even notice him.

   He changed into his gym clothes and noticed that everyone's attention seemed to be focused on a smaller boy that he hadn't met before.

   Since they were supposed to change and go directly to the field, there wasn't time for anything to happen, except a few whispers and snickers that Brian couldn't really hear.

   Once they were out on the soccer field, everything changed.

   Coach Reed had a small group gathered around him and everyone else was waiting in front of the bleachers, waiting for the last few stragglers to arrive from the locker room.

   Brian could see that a group of boys was gathered into a tight knot and that the new kid was standing by himself, looking nervous.

   Brian walked up to the boy and said, "I heard that you're gay. I just thought it was important to let you know that I don't hate you for it."

   Myron stared at Brian with wonder at the statement.

   "I don't like you for it, either. I just thought you'd like to know that not everyone feels the same as those jerks." Brian finished as he tilted his head toward the huddle of boys.

   Myron stared for a moment longer, then hesitantly nodded.

   "My name is Brian."

   "I'm Myron." The boy responded quietly.

   "Hey look! The princess has finally found her prince!" One of the boys called out in delight.

   "Jealous?" Brian asked with an irritating smirk as he turned.

   The boy flashed him a fairly decent version of the 'Whatever' look.

   "No, really. If you're over there, all worried about what we're doing, you must be interested." Brian said with a grin, then conspiratorially asked, "Which one of us were you hot for, anyway?"

   "I don't want either one of you fags!" the boy screamed as he stepped forward to face off with Brian. He was one of the leaders of the boys who had been tormenting Brian for weeks.

   Brian felt his heart racing as he held his ground and looked Danny in the eyes. If Danny chose to punch him, he was prepared to hold his place and not give him the satisfaction of even flinching.

   "Danny, go to the office! You've been told that that behavior won't be tolerated." Coach Reed said firmly as he approached.

   Brian watched as an anxious expression crossed Danny's face and he seemed to pale a little bit.

   "It's not his fault, Coach, I provoked him." Brian said quickly, before he could really think through what he was doing. It just seemed wrong for Danny to get into trouble when he had been egging him on.

   "I suppose that since you missed the assembly outlining our Zero Tolerance policy, that you didn't know that things had changed." Coach Reed said carefully, and it was clear to Brian that his speech was more for the benefit of Danny and Myron.

   "What it boils down to is that we won't tolerate ANY physical attacks of any kind or verbal attacks of a personal nature." Coach Reed said to the increasing gathering that now included over half of the class.

   "You can still rag on each other for being slow, clumsy or just an all around horrible soccer player. But the personal stuff is off limits. Harassing someone for being black, Jewish, gay, poor or whatever, there's no place for it here."

   Brian looked around and could see everyone soaking in the coach's words. Whether they knew it or not, everyone in Coach Reed's class respected him and wanted to do their best to make him proud.

   "I'm not telling you what to believe or how to feel. I'm just saying that bullying behavior won't be tolerated. If you choose to break that rule, you'll have to face the consequences. And before you take that step, let me tell you. It's not worth it." Coach Reed said earnestly.

   Brian screwed up his courage and said as clearly as he could, "I'm sorry, Coach. I didn't mean to get anyone in trouble."

   Coach Reed smiled and said, "That's fine, Brian. No harm done. Now let's get out on the field and see if you guys can figure out how to play this game."

   After just over half an hour of spirited play, Brian walked to the field house with the rest of the class. He hadn't had any spectacular moments, but he also hadn't made any monumental goofs and embarrassed himself. All things considered, he'd call it success.

   As the class approached the side of the field house, the girls went left as the boys went right, to go to their separate locker rooms.

   Brian could feel his pulse pounding, and not just from the exertion of playing soccer.

   This was the moment he had been both fearing and anticipating.

   Now that they were away from 'adult supervision', Brian knew that things had the potential to get ugly.

   "Are the princess and her prince going to run away together, now?" One of the boys asked in a mocking voice.

   "Lay off, Gerry. You don't want to get us in trouble with the coach." Danny said quietly to his friend.

   Brian walked to stand in front of Gerry and said, "Hey, Gerry! If you want to see my cock so bad, just ask."

   The locker room went silent as everyone waited for Gerry's reaction.

   "I don't want to look at you! FAGGOT!" Gerry snarled.

   "Really? Then what's this all about?" Brian asked, not backing down.

   Gerry didn't seem to have an answer, so Brian looked around the room as he said, "All I've ever done is be shy and not want to get naked in front of people. He's the one who wants to see what everyone looks like naked. And you tease me and make fun of me like I'm the one with a problem?"

   Nervous looks and a few whispers flew around the locker room.

   Brian noticed that Myron was hurrying to pull off his shirt. The boy was probably going to make a mad dash for the door as soon as he had his regular clothes on, just as Brian would have done only a week before.

   "I'm all sweaty. I need a shower." Brian said as he walked to his locker, then looked over to Myron and said, "Some of these guys are scared of you. So you can shower while I do, if you want. I promise that I won't cause you any trouble."

   Myron froze with his gym shorts halfway down his legs as he felt the stares of everyone in the locker room on him.

   "I'm not showering with a FAG!" Gerry barked.

   "Then wait for us to finish. We won't take long." Brian said simply, as he finished gathering his soap and towel.

   Myron seemed to be at a loss for what to do, but Brian felt that he had done as much as he could for the boy. Besides, he was about to face his one biggest fear.

   Brian quickly took off his shoes and socks, then pulled the t shirt off over his head. He forced himself not to look around to see if anyone was watching as he took the final step and pulled off his gym shorts and underwear at the same time.

   "Holy fuck!" Gerry gasped when he saw Brian's cock.

   "Yeah. And they're worried about showering with you." Brian said to Myron with a grin, doing his best to hide his nervousness.

   Myron was staring at Brian's cock every bit as much as Gerry.

   Brian picked up his towel and draped it around his waist before walking into the shower room.

   A moment after he turned on the water of his shower, Brian saw Myron walking timidly into the room.

   "Were you serious... I mean, is it really okay?" Myron asked hesitantly.

   "Sure. We'd better hurry though, so the little boys can get a chance at the shower." Brian said with a grin.

   Myron gave Brian a quick smile that looked a little bit forced.

   Brian turned his attention to showering.

   The sound of movement drew his attention and he saw Danny walk into the shower room and take off his towel.

   "You. Stay over there. Okay?" Danny said to Myron.

   "Okay." Myron said quietly, then went back to quickly showering.

   "Thanks for taking the heat with the coach." Danny said as he walked to the shower beside Brian's and turned it on. "My dad would've killed me if I got into trouble."

   "No problem." Brian said simply, not feeling nearly as nervous as he thought he should.

   "You're really not bothered about showering with a gay?" Danny asked as he glanced over at Myron.

   "No. The worst that could happen is that he might want to do something with me and I'd have to say 'no'." Brian said simply.

   "He might try to jump you." Danny said seriously.

   "And I might kick his ass if he tried." Brian responded simply.

   Danny looked at Brian thoughtfully, then over at Myron who was shorter than either of them and slightly overweight. The boy looked like he'd never done much in the way of physical activity.

   Brian had finished washing. After one final rinse, he turned off his shower and walked over to get his towel.

   "We'd better hurry up so the scared little boys in the other room won't be stinking up our classes the rest of the day with their sweat." Brian said as he toweled himself dry.

   Myron finished a moment later and hurried to get his towel.

   "It's safe to shower now." Brian called out as he walked into the locker room, followed by Myron.

   "Did you fuck him?" Gerry asked Brian defiantly.

   "No. He fucked me." Brian said simply.

   From the expressions on the boys' faces, it was apparent that about half of them believed him.

   Brian rolled his eyes and said, "Get real! We were in there for less than five minutes. All we did was shower."

   Danny walked into the room with a towel draped around his waist and said, "You guys had better hurry and shower. I don't want to be smelling your nasty funk in class."

   Brian got his regular clothes out of his locker, then, as he was about to dress, he noticed that Myron was looking at him hesitantly.

   When Myron saw that Brian had noticed him, he quietly said, "Thanks."

   Brian started dressing as he casually said, "Like I said before, I don't hate you because you're gay and I don't like you because you're gay. It really doesn't matter to me."

   Danny looked at Brian curiously and seemed to be thinking over his words.

   "Get the fuck out of here, faggot!" A voice screamed, then Gerry was pushed out of the shower room.

   Gerry was standing, dripping and naked, looking like he didn't know what to do.

   "Ready?" Brian asked as he looked over at Myron.

   Myron quickly closed his locker and nodded.

   Brian's eyes met Danny's, then he quietly said, "I bet he could really use a friend right now."

   Danny glanced at Gerry, who seemed to be on the verge of tears, then responded, "Yeah. I've got it."

   Brian nodded, then started walking toward the door with Myron at his side.

   Nearly out of sight at the side of the field house, Coach Reed watched and waited apprehensively for any sign of a problem. Just as he was about to walk into the locker room to check out things for himself, he saw Brian and Myron walk out, side by side.

   Cam gave an internal sigh of relief as he could see for himself that neither of them were showing signs of either physical or emotional distress.

   Before he could withdraw into the shadows, Brian spotted him and gave him a brief smile and a nod to confirm that, indeed, all was well.

   Coach Reed smiled in return and watched as Brian and Myron walked away at a casual pace toward the main school building.

   As Brian slowly walked to his next class, which was English, he reflected on the fact that he had always wanted a puppy. But as he glanced to his side and saw Myron following along faithfully, he began to understand the old saying about 'Watch out what you wish for...'

   Brian walked into the classroom and went directly to his desk.

   He was relieved to see that Myron's desk was on the other side of the room. It wasn't that he didn't want to make a new friend. He was just cautious because he had the feeling that Myron had the potential to become awfully clingy. After being alone for so long, having the boy constantly underfoot might be more attention than he could handle.

   As the classroom began to fill, the sound of chatter increased. The teacher was at the front of the room and kept looking up, apparently taking attendance. As soon as the bell rang, she put down her pencil and stood.

   "Brian, would you come up here?"

   Jack's words came back to him, telling him that the hardest part was learning when NOT to use the 'teenage' attitude. Unbidden, the facial expression that said 'BITCH!" had crossed his face as he stood. He couldn't help but speculate as to why he had been singled out.

   But finally, he made his way to the front of the classroom to stand before Ms. Schnaubel.

   "Stand over here." She said pleasantly, then called out, "Melissa, come on up. Over here, in the center."

   Brian stood aside and watched as Melissa Hauber walked up the aisle to take her place before the teacher.

   Once Melissa was in place, Ms. Schnaubel said, "Let's see... Toby. Come on up here and join us. Stand over there."

   Toby Stanton looked a little bit nervous as he also walked to the front of the room.

   "We're going to have a competition today. These are our team captains. Brian, pick your first team member." Ms. Schnaubel said firmly.

   Brian didn't even have to think about it. He immediately said, "Danny."

   As much of a jerk as Danny MacAlistair could be, he was undeniably the smartest student in the class. Ever since they had been in first grade together, Brian couldn't remember Danny ever getting anything but a perfect grade on every assignment. Brian had always thought that what Danny had in brains, he lacked in personality. However, considering their brief talk in the locker room, Brian felt that he might be willing to reevaluate his opinion of Danny.

   "Pick Gerry next." Danny said as he walked to Brian's side.

   "We need brains, not bullshit. I'm picking Chowdhry." Brian said firmly.

   Danny seemed to be about to argue, then considered Brian's words carefully.

   "Okay. But not Chowdhry. Pick Emily next, otherwise Melissa will choose her after Kendra. And Emily is the keeper of the brain in their little clique." Danny said seriously.

   Brian thought about Danny's words and decided that he was right. Melissa would most likely pick her friends in order of 'best friend' and 'next best friend'. If he chose Emily first, Melissa's team would be at a disadvantage.

   As soon as Toby had finished choosing his first teammate, Brian called out, "Emily."

   The entire, multi-headed teen female organism that was the 'cheerleader wannabe' clique flashed their combined death glares at Brian, making him want to slink away and hide.

   Emily grudgingly walked to the front of the room to stand with Danny and Brian.

   "Now I'm picking Chowdhry." Brian said as he looked at Danny to see if he agreed.

   "But he doesn't even speak English. How's he going to be any help?" Emily whined.

   "He may not speak it well, but he's studied the hell out of it. He probably already knows more about grammar than any of us will ever learn." Danny said frankly.

   Brian smiled, glad to know that Danny agreed with his choice.

   As soon as it was Brian's turn to choose again, he called out, "Chowdhry."

   Brian looked at the other teams and noticed that Melissa had, as expected, picked her friends. The perky and popular were finding their places, one by one, at Melissa's side. She must have assumed that Ms. Schnaubel was going to be hosting a popularity contest... or maybe a swimsuit competition.

   Toby, on the other hand, seemed to think the upcoming competition was going to be some kind of a sporting event. He seemed intent on assembling the best collection of athletes that the class had to offer. Unfortunately for Toby, Brian had already snatched up the only one of the bunch that exhibited any evidence of higher brain function.

   "Gerry now?" Danny asked hopefully.

   "Adam." Brian said seriously.

   "But he's probably one of the worst students in the class." Danny said slowly.

   "That's because he's late so often and is always falling asleep in class. But I've noticed that, when he's awake, he's really smart." Brian said honestly.

   "So we just have to make sure to keep him awake." Danny said thoughtfully.

   "He should be fine. It's first period and right after lunch that he's pretty much worthless." Brian said seriously.

   Before he could say any more, it was his turn to choose again and he called out, "Adam."

   Adam Johnson looked up with surprise at the sound of his name. He was familiar enough with the pecking order to know that he should have been one of the last students picked.

   There were a few snickers from the unchosen and from Toby's team, but Brian was confident in his decision.

   Brian turned to face Danny and quietly said, "That's half the team. So far, I've done the 'smart' thing. From here on out, I'm doing the 'right' thing."

   "What do you mean?" Danny asked cautiously.

   "It means that I'm going to make some choices you may not agree with. But I'm in charge and they're my choices to make. We have the four biggest brains in the class on our team, now it's time to make someone happy."

   Danny looked at Brian curiously, not having a clue of what he was talking about.

   When Brian's turn came around again, he said, "Jarritt."

   A moment of silence fell over the room. Then the sudden high pitched, droning sound of Jarritt's excited laughter filled everyone's ears as he stood and joyfully ran to the front of the room.

   Jarritt Bender had Down's Syndrome and this was his first year being 'mainstreamed' into regular classes. Brian had always felt bad for Jarritt because he could see the disappointment in the boy's eyes when he was the last one chosen, no matter what it was they were choosing for.

   At a glance, Jarritt didn't appear to be that much bigger than Brian. But when Jarritt ran to the front of the room and gave him a bear hug, Brian thought his spine was going to snap.

   Once Brian was able to get his breath back, he noticed that Ms. Schnaubel seemed to be fighting to hold back her tears.

   Brian turned his attention to the diminishing number of classmates that he had to choose from. He turned to Danny and said, "I doubt that anyone is going to pick Myron. So I can pick him on my last go. Out of who's left, who do you think I should pick?"

   Danny looked around and his eyes met Gerry's. After a moment, Danny turned to Brian and asked, "You're going to pick Myron, for sure?"

   Brian nodded.

   "Then I say, pick Alison." Danny said quietly.

   Brian looked at Danny with surprise.

   "If you have both Gerry and Myron on your team, you're asking for trouble. Alison isn't likely to cause us any trouble... in fact, I'm not even sure she can speak. Have you ever heard her talk?" Danny asked curiously.

   "Yeah. Once in third grade." Brian said with a grin, then noticed that it was his turn to pick again.


   Brian could see the crestfallen look on Myron's face.

   He started to feel bad about not picking him sooner, but decided to stand by his decisions.

   When his turn came around again, there were three students left.

   Brian wasn't at all happy to see that Gerry still hadn't been chosen. Normally Gerry would have been one of the first to be selected, just after Danny.

   "Myron." Brian called out and watched as Myron stood and slowly walked to the front of the room. He didn't look happy, but at least he looked slightly relieved.

   Brian watched curiously as Toby walked to Melissa and started talking to her. Their whispered conversation went on for a few seconds, then Melissa reluctantly called out, "Gerry."

   Brian blinked with surprise.

   He didn't know exactly what had happened in the shower room, or anything that went on after he and Myron had left the locker room. But he would never have guessed that Gerry would be so completely ostracized by his peer group.

   "Come on, Jenny. You don't have to feel bad. You weren't picked last, I just asked Melissa if I could have you on my team, so you really were chosen." Toby said encouragingly.

   The girl's sad look eased somewhat as she walked to join her team.

   "Well, now that we have teams, let me tell you what's going to happen." Ms. Schnaubel said in a voice that was a little bit too cheerful to be believed.

   "Team leaders, you break your teams into pairs. Each team will have the chance to earn 10 points per round. There will be four exercises. The most difficult one will be worth four points, an easier exercise will be worth three points, and so on. The team leaders will choose who gets which question, based only on the point value. They won't see the question itself. When I call 'ready' for the four point exercise, those pairs will step forward and try to earn four points for their team. Whichever team has the most points when the class bell rings, wins." Ms. Schnaubel explained.

   There was a moment of quiet as everyone waited to be told what to do next.

   "Team leaders, it's time for you to select who is going to work on which level of difficulty." Ms. Schnaubel said firmly, then added, "You have two minutes."

   Brian thought for a moment, then said, "Danny, Emily, Chowdhry and Adam, stand over here."

   It amused Brian when he recognized more than one 'who the hell do you think you are' glare from the named individuals, but eventually they all did as he said.

   "Danny, pick who you want out of who's left." Brian said simply.

   After a moment of thought, Danny glanced at Brian and smiled before saying, "Jarritt."

   Jarritt ran to Danny's side and Brian was sure he had never seen anyone happier in all his life.

   "Emily?" Brian asked, then waited for her decision.

   "Um... Alison." Emily said seriously.

   Brian couldn't speculate as to a reason for her choice, but ended up just chalking it up as 'a girl thing'.

   "Chowdhry?" Brian prompted.

   "Pending his acquiescence to the arrangement, I trust that I could form a fruitful partnership with Myron. From my observations of his abilities in the various classroom situations during the brief time he has been here, it would seem that his intelligence is adequate to aid in solving any queries we might encounter during the forthcoming exercise." Chowdhry said past his heavy accent.

   The others looked at each other for a moment. Finally Danny said to Myron, "I'm not exactly sure, but I think he picked you."

   Myron looked surprised, and walked hesitantly to Chowdhry's side, still not sure if that's what he really meant. As he got close to Chowdhry, Chowdhry patted myron on the back and said, "Yes, indubitably, I most certainly did pick you."

   "I guess you're stuck with me." Brian said to Adam.

   "I wouldn't call that 'stuck'." Adam said with a smile.

   "Danny, you get the four pointers. Chowdhry, three. Emily, two. And Adam and I will tackle the little one pointers." Brian said to his team.

   Danny looked over their team, then confidently said, "We are going to kick so much ass!"

   Brian smiled and nodded his agreement.

   As Danny and Jarritt were putting their answer to their four point question on the white board, Myron walked to Brian and quietly asked, "Why didn't you pick me before the last round?"

   Brian looked around and could see that everyone else in their group was listening for Brian's answer.

   "Because I wanted to give Toby and Melissa the chance to do the right thing." Brian said seriously, then, at Myron's look of confusion, he continued, "Just think about how good it would have felt if someone besides me picked you. It would've been great. I didn't really expect them to pick you, but I thought it was important to give them the chance."

   As Myron was considering Brian's words, Alison quietly asked, "Why did you pick me?"

   "Because Danny asked me to. He thought you'd be a better team player than anyone else that was left. Well, except Myron. I had already told him that I was picking Myron on the next round." Brian said frankly.

   Alison seemed happy with the answer and Myron actually smiled.

   "Jarritt and Danny have earned their team FOUR points!" Ms. Schnaubel called out triumphantly.

   Brian smiled at Jarritt's bouncing excitement as he walked with Danny back to the group.

   "Was it tough?" Brian asked Danny cautiously.

   "With my teammate to help me, it wasn't a problem." Danny said with a grin at Jarritt.

   As Brian watched Chowdhry and Myron walk forward to try to earn three points for the team, he caught sight of Gerry who was giving him a death glare.

   "You'd better watch your back after class. It looks like Gerry's about ready to pop a gasket." Danny said honestly.

   "Yeah. And I don't think his gaskets were all that tight to begin with." Brian said absently.

   Danny chuckled and Brian noticed Gerry's death glare increase by about forty percent intensity.

   "Myron and Chowdhry have earned their team THREE points!" Ms. Schnaubel called out joyfully.

   "Good work!" Brian said with a smile for the returning champions.

   "I'm serious. Gerry might try to do something to you. He's really pissed off and he blames everything on you." Danny said, drawing Brian's attention back to him.

   "Everything? Like what? I wasn't even there when whatever it was happened." Brian said cautiously as he watched Alison and Emily walk toward the front of the room.

   "You know how Gerry is always goofing around in the shower. Well, no one ever really thought anything about it until you said that stuff today. I guess when he was in there he tried a little 'grabass' and no one thought it was funny." Danny said gravely.

   "He should have known better." Brian said with a shake of his head.

   "Yeah. But... I don't know, somewhere along the way, I must have started growing up. Gerry still hasn't. He still goofs around like a little kid and doesn't get that people take stuff like that seriously." Danny said gravely.

   Brian slowly nodded as he looked toward the front board and saw that Alison and Emily were still working on their problem.

   "For a while now, I've been feeling uncomfortable being around him, the way he behaves." Danny said quietly.

   "Do you have a little brother?" Brian asked curiously. He didn't really know anything about Danny's personal life.

   "No. It's just me. Why?" Danny asked curiously.

   "Because I think you have one now." Brian said frankly, then noticed that Emily and Alison were returning from the board.

   "Why me?" Danny asked hesitantly.

   "If his problem is that he's immature, then he needs someone more grown up to help guide him. You're his friend and, besides, who else would he trust like that?"

   Before Danny could respond, Brian and Adam started walking toward the front of the room, exchanging 'high fives' with Alison and Emily, for winning them two points.

   Brian glanced over at Adam to find an expression of admiration looking back at him. It was an unfamiliar thing for Brian, and he had to admit that he liked the feeling.

   In the end, Brian's team won the competition by an impressive margin. In fact, they got every single question asked of them correct.

   As Brian was getting ready to leave for lunch, Ms. Schnaubel walked up to him and quietly said, "Thank you, Brian. I've been at my wits end trying to think of what to do for Jarritt. You've made that boy happier than he's been since he joined this class."

   "I just tried to do the right thing." Brian mumbled shyly, then hurried out of the room.

   As soon as he stepped out the classroom door, Brian found most of the boys in the class waiting for him.

   "Everyone hates me now and it's because of you!" Gerry snarled as he stepped into Brian's personal space.

   Truth be told, Brian was slightly taller than Gerry and outweighed him by a few pounds. But Gerry still gave the appearance of being bigger by virtue of his attitude.

   "And now you made Danny not like me and he's being friends with the retard!" Gerry spat.

   Before Brian could react, Danny grabbed onto Gerry's arm and spun him around.

   "Brian and Myron can stand up for themselves, so you can say whatever you want about them. But Jarritt can't. It's not okay to treat Jarritt badly. It's NEVER okay." Danny said firmly, as he looked into Gerry's eyes, then firmly asked, "Got it?"

   After an intense moment of absolute silence, Gerry hesitantly nodded.

   Brian looked around at the public scene they were creating and decided to move them somewhere a little bit more private.

   "Come on. We can't do this here." Brian said, then started walking away.

   The entire group started to follow, but Danny was able to warn the majority of them away with a glance.

   By the time they reached the seldom used hallway by the east stairs, only Gerry, Danny, Myron, Chowdhry and Jarritt were with him.

   "You know what, Gerry. You're right. It's all my fault." Brian said seriously.

   Gerry looked at him with surprise.

   "I wasn't trying to get anyone to be mad at you. But it's still my fault. If you want to hit me for causing you all this trouble, you can. I won't hit you back." Brian said frankly.

   Gerry looked around uncertainly, obviously wanting to, but afraid of getting into trouble.

   "Guys, if he hits me, will you all promise not to tell on him?" Brian asked as he looked around.

   It took a moment, but finally everyone, even Jarritt, agreed.

   "Go ahead." Brian said as he looked Gerry in the eyes.

   Gerry hesitated for a moment, then pulled back and hit Brian square in the jaw.

   Brian grabbed his face and turned away as he hunched down a little.

   "Okay, Gerry. That's enough." Danny said firmly, then added, "Go on to the cafeteria before word gets out that you're fighting."

   Gerry looked a little bit shaky, but quickly nodded and rushed away.

   "Are you alright? Do you need to see the nurse?" Danny asked Brian with concern.

   Brian slowly turned and looked around cautiously for a moment before standing up and breaking into a smile.

   "No. I'm fine. Gerry hits like a little girl."

   When they arrived in the cafeteria, Brian immediately went to the food line, along with the others.

   When they finished making their selections, Danny casually asked, "Do you want to sit with us?"

   Brian was surprised by the offer. He had been excluded from the table where his former friends ate, since the beginning of the school year. He was about to accept Danny's invitation when he noticed Myron at his other side.

   "I won't let Myron sit alone." Brian said, even though he desperately wanted to be included as 'one of the guys'.

   "Give me a sec." Danny said, then, with Jarritt at his side, carried his tray over to the table where Gerry, Adam and Toby were already seated, and a few more of the guys were just sitting down.

   "You don't have to." Myron said quietly as he looked up at Brian hesitantly.

   "Yes. I do." Brian said frankly, then added, "Not for you, for me. Because it's the right thing to do."

   "Thanks." Myron whispered as he looked down.

   "Come on." Danny called from about halfway to the table as he gestured at Brian.

   "Both of us?" Brian asked cautiously.

   "Yeah. Come on." Danny said and gestured more urgently.

   "Come on." Brian whispered to Myron, then started walking.

   "Gerry said that he punched you out for saying that stuff about him." Toby said cautiously.

   "Yeah. He punched me right in the jaw." Brian said frankly, then rubbed his jaw for effect.

   "So, did you take back what you said about him?" Toby asked as he watched Brian carefully.

   "Yeah. I guess I was wrong about all that." Brian said seriously, then glanced at Gerry before continuing, "Gerry's alright."

   "What about..." Toby asked then gestured at Myron, at Brian's side.

   "He's gay. It's not a big deal unless you make it one." Brian said simply.

   "That's right." Danny interjected.

   Brian glanced around the table to see that everyone seemed to be thinking about how they felt about that.

   The rest of the conversation at lunch was just general things about classes and what was going on with people that they all knew.

   Myron didn't join into the conversation, and no one spoke directly to him. But, by the same token, no one behaved badly toward him either.

   As Brian was eating, he couldn't help but notice that Adam's tray was loaded down with nearly all sweets.

   "Aren't you going to have any 'real' food?" Brian asked him cautiously.

   "Naw. Real food sucks. Desserts are awesome." Adam said with a grin, then opened another cream filled oatmeal pie.

   Brian cringed at the sight, just imagining the taste of that much cloying sweetness, but kept any further opinions to himself.

   By the time Brian was sitting in Mr. Hyde's math class, he was noticing that his jaw was beginning to ache a little. He really hadn't thought that Gerry's punch had done much damage. But, apparently, Gerry's 'little girl' punch had at least been able to cause a bruise.

   "Brian." Mr. Hyde called out from the front of the room.

   At the sound of his name, Brian looked up from his textbook, wondering what he had missed.

   "Mr. Hammond wants to see you in his office." Mr. Hyde said seriously.

   "Yes, sir." Brian said as he gathered his things.

   Whispers and 'Ooohs' went around the room as Brian got up to leave.

   When Brian walked into the office, he wasn't surprised to find Mrs. Hampstead, the school's secretary, on the phone.

   Even though he wasn't one to get into trouble, he had visited the office enough to know the routine.

   He took a seat in the waiting area and hoped that Mr. Hammond wouldn't make him wait too long.

   After what seemed like an hour, but was in reality less than five minutes, Mr. Hammond walked down the hall and said, "I'm ready for you, Brian. Will you come back?"

   Brian stood without comment and followed Mr. Hammond down the hall.

   "What happened to your face?" Mr. Hammond asked cautiously.

   "I bumped into the door on my locker." Brian said seriously as he met Mr. Hammond's gaze.

   "You know, I've been around for a little while. I'm not buying it." Mr. Hammond said frankly.

   Brian nodded, then said, "Since I got back, I heard about the school's zero tolerance policy."

   "Yes. It's actually been in place for a while, but we've been a bit lax about reminding the students of it." Mr. Hammond said slowly.

   Brian nodded, then continued, "So, under the zero tolerance policy, if one student were to hit another one, then that student would automatically be expelled. Right?"

   "Yes. He, or she, would have the right to request a hearing to sort through the details of the incident. But he, or she, would be expelled in the interim, and remain so until the student is found to no longer be a threat to other students. Admittedly, most just forego the process and end up going to other schools."

   "Then, if that's the case, I definitely bumped into my locker door." Brian said firmly.

   Mr. Hammond looked at Brian for a moment, then quietly said, "If you're afraid of some sort of retaliation, there are things that I can do to help."

   "No. Thank you. I don't have any hard feelings toward my locker door, and I don't think it's mad at me anymore either. It was just a one time thing." Brian said seriously.

   Mr. Hammond nodded, then said, "Understood."

   Brian smiled that Mr. Hammond was willing to let it go.

   "I asked you in here to see how you're doing." Mr. Hammond said frankly.

   "I'm fine." Brian said simply.

   "When Coach Reed told me about his plan to help you, I wasn't sure if it was such a good idea." Mr. Hammond said cautiously.

   Brian realized that Mr. Hammond knew everything, and gave him a quick smile before saying, "Honestly, everything is fine. While I was gone, I learned a lot of things that have really helped me. I think everything is going to be okay now."

   "And how are the other boys treating you?" Mr. Hammond asked cautiously.

   "Pretty much like nothing ever happened." Brian said with a chuckle, then added, "I think Myron being here has a lot to do with that."

   "Yes. It's unfortunate that news of his... orientation... spread so quickly." Mr. Hammond said quietly.

   "Maybe it's not as bad as you think." Brian said honestly.

   At Mr. Hammond's look of surprise, Brian said, "I think that his coming here and trying to hide who he is would've just caused more trouble for him later on. I mean, yeah. It's not going to be easy for him, but I think it's going to be 'better' for him if everyone knows who he really is, right from the start."

   "Still, I wish there were a way to protect him from what he's going to have to face." Mr. Hammond said regretfully.

   "Why? So you can dump him out into the real world when he's eighteen without any skills to deal with it?" Brian asked challengingly.

   Mr. Hammond stared at Brian in shock for a moment, then quietly said, "I remember you as being a timid boy, barely willing to speak. What happened to you?"

   "I found my voice." Brian said with a smile, then seriously added, "I'm trying to help Myron. I won't say that you shouldn't worry about him, but I promise that he's not going to have to face it all alone."

   "Thank you, Brian. That takes an incredible load off my mind." Mr. Hammond said honestly.

   "It's funny to know that there are people actually looking out for us. The whole time I've been in school, I've always felt like I was on my own. Now, knowing that you and Coach Reed are making sure that we're okay... it's a good feeling."

   "If you ever have any problems or concerns, all you ever have to do is ask." Mr. Hammond said sincerely.

   After a moment of thought, Brian cautiously said, "Well, this isn't exactly school related, but there is one thing that you might be able to help me with..."

   By the time Brian was done talking to Mr. Hammond, it was nearly time for his next class.

   It was a good feeling when he joined up with his classmates and felt included.

   With the exception of having to endure nearly an hour of incredibly boring lecture about history, the rest of Brian's day passed relatively smoothly.

   Brian was at his locker, putting his books away. He was feeling good about his first day back and looking forward to telling Jack all about it when Adam came running up to him.

   "Brian, come quick! It's Myron! They're going to beat him up!" Adam screamed, then turned and ran down the hallway, back toward the back of the school.

   Since Adam hadn't told Brian where they were going, all Brian could do was follow along and try to keep up.

   Finally, Brian realized that they were headed toward the area behind the school where the students waited for their busses to arrive.

   Brian could see that Danny was standing forward, seemingly defending Myron. Toby and Jarritt were at Danny's side, and Gerry was standing a step or two behind them, not necessarily standing with them, but not standing against them either.

   As soon as Brian and Adam got to the increasing gathering, they worked their way forward until they were also at Danny's side.

   "Get outta my way, Danny. I'm gonna beat the gay out of that little faggot!" A larger boy snarled.

   "No, Wayne. You're not. Why don't you just leave Myron alone. He's not doing anything to you. This is wrong." Danny said firmly.

   "What do you care? He's GAY!" One of the older boys barked at Danny.

   Brian didn't know what had been said before he arrived, so he waited to see how Danny was going to respond.

   To his surprise, it was Gerry's voice that spoke out from behind them. "Yeah! He's gay. But he's our gay! You leave him alone!"

   A bustle of activity behind them caused Brian to turn, and he saw Coach Reed approaching quickly.

   "What's going on here?" Cameron asked as he worked his way to the front of what now was a crowd.

   "We were just introducing our new friend, Myron, to the guys from the other classes." Brian said as he faced Cam with a hopeful look.

   Coach Reed looked around the gathering and said, "Those of you who ride the busses had better get going. They're not going to wait on you forever."

   "Thanks, Coach." Danny said with a relieved smile.

   Cameron returned the smile and nodded at Danny, then watched as he hurried to one of the waiting busses.

   "We'll see you tomorrow, Myron." Gerry said as he walked with him to see him safely onto the bus.

   Myron looked a little bit uncertain, not sure what had just happened, but finally said, "Yeah, thanks."

   Gerry nodded as he watched Myron withdraw into the bus and find a seat.

   Once the crowd had dispersed, Cameron walked to Brian's side and quietly asked, "So, how was your day?"

   "Good." Brian said with a small smile.

   "Are we still on for this weekend?" Cameron asked casually as they walked.

   "Yeah. I can't wait."

   When Brian left the school, he turned the opposite direction from what he normally would.

   As he walked, he puzzled over the fact that he could have done this at any time. But for some reason, he'd never thought to do it before.

   A strange thought crossed his mind as he walked.

   Even though he was fully clothed and walking on a busy public street, Brian felt the same feeling as when he walked naked through the woods with Jack.

   He couldn't help but smile as he enjoyed the feeling of freedom.

   After only two blocks of walking, Brian had arrived at his destination.

   Brian walked into the building and directly to the front desk before saying, "I'm Brian Weston. My school counselor called and asked if it would be okay if I could visit my grandpa, Andy Weston."

   "Yes. I think Andrew would very much appreciate a visitor. Do you know the way?" The nurse asked with a warm smile.

   "Yeah. Can I just go back?" Brian asked cautiously.

   "Would you sign here for me?" She asked as she held out a clipboard.

   Brian quickly signed his name, then looked to see if there was anything else.

   "Enjoy your visit." She said with a smile, then watched as Brian walked away.

   When Brian walked into his grandfather's room, he was glad to be greeted with a happy expression.

   Brian wanted to say something, but his grandfather was watching the door and seemed to be waiting for something.

   "Is it okay that I came to visit?" Brian finally asked cautiously.

   "Yes. Of course." His grandfather said distractedly, then looked at the door again.

   "Are you waiting for someone?" Brian asked as he turned to look at the door.

   "Didn't your father bring you?" Grandpa Andy asked cautiously.

   "No. I came on my own. I just got out of school." Brian said frankly.

   There was a long moment of silence, then Grandpa Andy broke into a wide, toothless grin.

   "How are you doing today?" Brian asked cautiously, still uncertain of his welcome.

   "My grandson came to visit me, so I'm doing great." Grandpa Andy said happily.

   "Is it okay that I came by myself?"

   "It's more than okay." Grandpa Andy responded peacefully.

   Brian smiled, finally knowing for sure that his Grandpa actually wanted him there.

   "Tell me, Brian. What brings you around here, today?" Grandpa Andy asked as he gestured to a chair, offering Brian a seat.

   "I don't know. I guess I just realized that I can come and visit you whenever I want to. I don't have to wait for my dad to decide it's time."

   "So how's life treating you, Brian?" Grandpa Andy asked tenderly.

   "Honestly, it's been a little bit rough lately, but it's getting better." Brian finished with a smile.

   Grandpa Andy nodded and didn't seem to need a more detailed explanation.

   "How are you?" Brian thought to ask.

   Grandpa Andy chuckled, then said, "Nothing ever changes here. I'm the same as I always am."

   "Is that good or bad?" Brian asked cautiously.

   "It is what it is. Good, I suppose. It just gets a little bit lonely." Grandpa Andy said frankly.

   "Well, now that I know I can come by and visit, maybe it won't be as lonely for you." Brian said hopefully.

   Grandpa Andy flashed him another quick, toothless grin, then said, "I'd like that."

   After a long moment of silence, Brian hesitantly asked, "Do you know... Why is my dad such a..."

   "Peckerhead?" Grandpa Andy offered pleasantly.

   Brian chuckled, then said, "Yeah."

   "I blame your grandmother. She doted on the boy. He acted all big and full of himself around other kids, a bully, really. But when he was at home he was a whiny little pansy." Grandpa Andy said frankly.

   "He hasn't changed much... except now he bullies mom." Brian said honestly.

   "I've always wanted to feel sorry for your mother, but I've never quite been able to manage that. She knew what she was getting into. Her father was a lot like him."

   "Her father? You mean my other grandfather? Do you know him? What's he like? I've never met him." Brian asked quickly.

   "I only met him at the wedding, but I'd have to say that he's probably one of the most unpleasant people I've ever met." Grandpa Andy said frankly.

   "Oh. I just thought... I always wondered what my mom's family was like." Brian said regretfully.

   "Whatever you imagined would have to be better than the reality. At the wedding Doctor Werner stood up and announced... I think his exact words were, 'Now that you're married, she's your problem'. Then him and his wife left. This wasn't at the reception, mind you. The son-of-a- bitch stood up and said it right there in the chapel."

   Brian stared at his grandfather with disbelief.

   "And, so far as I know, that was the last your mom ever heard from her family."

   "Wow! That sucks." Brian said as he tried to imagine how that had made his mother feel.

   "Even so, your mother went into the marriage knowing what to expect. She knew what an overbearing prick your dad was and went ahead and married him anyway. So she's made her bed, now she has to lie in it." Grandpa Andy said frankly.

   "With 'him'." Brian said with a crinkled nose.

   Grandpa Andy chuckled and nodded before saying, "I'm surprised to see that you turned out so well, what with your father being..."

   "...a Peckerhead?" Brian offered with a smile.

   "Yes." Grandpa Andy said warmly.

   "I was having some problems. Coach Reed noticed that I wasn't prepared for... well, much of anything, so he fixed it so I could spend a few days with a guy who could teach me all the stuff that my dad was supposed to." Brian said frankly.

   "I'm glad to hear that." Grandpa Andy said with a smile, then slowly asked, "What's your coach's name, again?"

   "Cameron Reed." Brian responded immediately.

   "No! It can't be! Little Cammy is a coach? That's wonderful!" Grandpa Andy said with a chuckle.

   "You know Coach Reed?" Brian asked cautiously.

   "Hell, I knew that boy when he was still shittin' yellow." Grandpa Andy said with another toothless grin.

   "I'll have to tell him you said that. I'll be playing golf with him and his son this weekend." Brian said happily.

   "Cammy has a son? Is he your age?" Grandpa Andy asked with interest, then added, "You need to ask Cammy to stop by and visit with me sometime so we can catch up."

   "I will, and Cam's son is older than me, nineteen, I think." Brian said thoughtfully.

   "Well, I'm just glad that you're going to be spending some time around some good, decent people. I've been wanting to talk to you about that for ages, but I never could with 'him' around."

   "Yeah. Dad kind of likes to dominate the conversation." Brian said with a nod of understanding.

   "He won't put up with any conversation that doesn't revolve around him. Spoiled little rat faced brat..." Grandpa Andy trailed off in a grumble.

   "Rat face? I'll have to remember that." Brian said with a grin.

   "I've got a million of them." Grandpa Andy said slyly.

   Before Brian could respond, the phone in his backpack started ringing.

   After taking it out, Brian rolled his eyes and said, "Hi Mom."

   "I just stopped by the nursing home to see Grandpa for a few minutes. I'll be home in about half an hour."

   Brian listened for a moment, then held the phone away from his ear, looked at his grandpa and rolled his eyes.

   Grandpa Andy smiled and nodded in sympathy.

   "I will." Brian said as he put the phone back to his ear.

   "I won't." Brian said with another eye roll.

   "Mom, I'm like, eight blocks from the house. Don't have a spaz attack. I'll be home in half an hour!"

   After a few seconds of listening, he quietly said, "Yeah. I love you, too, Mom. Bye."

   "She likes to keep you on a short leash, huh?" Grandpa Andy asked past a chuckle.

   "I think she'd still have me in diapers if she could get away with it." Brian said as he put his phone away.

   "Well, it sounds like you're doing a fine job of cutting the apron strings, so I'm not worried." Grandpa Andy said happily.

   "Well, it's either cut them or get strangled by them." Brian said with a resigned look.

   "Growing up is tough." Grandpa Andy said simply, then added, "And just so you know, growing old isn't any easier."

   "Gee. Thanks." Brian said dryly.

   "It's all about learning, my boy. You've got lessons to learn every step of the way. Once you've learned them, it gets easier... for a while."

   "Until it's time to learn the next lessons." Brian said with a nod.

   "That's life." Grandpa Andy said simply.

   "Well, I'd better get going if I'm going." Brian said regretfully.

   "And before your mother has a fit of apoplexy." Grandpa Andy said with a chuckle.

   "Yeah. And she'll be having apple-plexes all over the place if I don't leave right now." Brian said as he pulled on his backpack, then leaned over to give his grandfather a hug and said, "I love you, Grandpa."

   "I love you, too, my boy. Be sure to stop by and visit again soon." Grandpa Andy said as he returned the hug.

   "Hey. I go to school about two blocks from here. So you'll probably get sick of seeing me before very long." Brian said with a smile as he walked to the door.

   Grandpa Andy watched Brian leave the room, then quietly said, "I very seriously doubt that."

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