Justin got a regular schedule - Mr. Sanford and Mrs. James were both surprised that they had not thought about such - and would be closing Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Mrs. James would close Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. "She said she wasn't so old she couldn't remember Saturday was a date night," Justin laughed. "Don't know what she'd say if she knew I was sleeping with my 'date' seven nights a week."
The schedule meant Clarisa would have her ethnic food night Monday, LaTasha would do Tuesday, and Consuela Wednesday. Since Justin's mom had been too ill to help out and now that Adam was no longer a part of the Clan, Thursday was up for grabs and we were to talk about it Tuesday night, but Bobbie said her mom would make arrangements for food Thursday. Ms. Reed had called Clarisa and gotten a stern talking to when she said she'd have Bobbie pick up Micky D's. They finally agreed Clarisa would arrange takeout from some place which could supply relatively healthy food and Mrs. Reed would pick up the tab. I told Clarisa to have the bill divided and two checks. "I will pay half each week since I know Mrs. Reed and Bobbie have less than the rest of us, except Justin."
Nothing new at school Tuesday or Wednesday. Adam was the same as he had been Monday and nothing was said or done about Justin and my relationship so far as I could tell. The AP teachers were really pouring on the coal, so the homework load was getting to be a real pain in the ass. When we got to the Wilsons' for dinner Wednesday evening, Mr. Wilson said he'd like to have a talk with us after dinner. During dinner, Susan and Woody took opposite sides politically and the conversation got pretty heated when they got into the war in Iraq. "I suspect you might take a different view, Woody, if you faced heading to the Middle East. Nothing romantic about war and even less in this one, I think," Susan said and her dad agreed.
After dinner, Mr. Wilson said, "Why don't you grab coffee, tea or hot chocolate and let's go to the den."
As soon as we were seated he said, "First off, I want you to know that Susan has told me nothing about the change in relationships in the Clan other than the fact that you and Adam had broken up, Bobbie. I would lose some respect for her if she had. No, what I am about to say is based on some scuttlebutt I heard. I'd like to get the facts from the source and not scuttlebutt, but if you don't feel free to talk with me, I understand."
Mr. Wilson paused and Susan and Bobbie started talking at the same time, then Susan said, "Sorry, Bobbie."
"Mr. Wilson, I think you'd be hard pressed to understand how a woman could accept the role of "the little woman," if you understand what I mean."
Mr. Wilson laughed and said, "In this household it's more like little men. Woody and I have to walk carefully around here."
"Dad, you know that's not true!" Susan said and we all laughed.
"Anyway, I had been Adam's little woman for about as long as we had been more than grade school friends. I had just accepted it as a role I would be in the rest of my life and then I got my eyes opened. I guess it sounds really weird, but it took a gay couple to make me see the light. While we were in Florida, we spent time with Sharky and Antwon, a gay couple, and when I saw their relationship, I saw what a loving relationship could be. Theirs was strong, loving and they were equals, sharing the good and bad that came along. Then when Adam got his nose out of joint over them and over Mar..." Bobbie stumbled to a stop, turned red and said, "Oh, never mind," Mr. Wilson nodded.
"Bobbie, I had heard about your breakup with Adam and I hope if it's to be permanent, you both will find someone you can really love and respect. If you can come to that point with Adam, that too will be good, but I wasn't talking about that. I was talking about Marc and Justin."
John and the two girls immediately looked at us and I glanced at Justin and saw that he seemed perfectly at ease which helped me relax, because I definitely was not at ease. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and said, "I guess it's all over town. I knew it would be sooner or later, but I hoped it'd be later. Sir, it's a bit of a long story, but the short version is: Justin and I are gay. As of last week, we're lovers. The other four members of the Clan know that. While John, Susan, and Bobbie are happy for us, Adam is another story altogether. After the six of us sat down and had a discussion of the situation, he seemed to be fine for the next few days, then when we were on our trip to Dry Tortugas, Marc and I heard a very hot argument between Bobbie and him. Part of it was about us, the rest was the break up of the two. He, of course, blamed us. Justin looked at me and smiled.
"Actually, I don't know whether or not it is all over town. Mr. Sanford was in my office on some business this week and when I asked how things were going with Justin and the store, he decided to unburden himself. Without breaking any confidentiality, he had high praise for you, Justin, and then expressed concern that Adam would decide to 'get even' with you two and cause trouble.
"It's times like this, Marc, that I wish your father and his buddies had voted differently. North Carolina has a hate crimes law, but several attempts to add sexual orientation to it have failed. What we do have are laws against intimidation. Keep your eyes open and if someone decides to harm you, take action. I'll speak to the sheriff confidentially, just to have him on the alert, unless you'd rather I not. He is a solid young man and respects the law regardless of how he feels about gays -- and I don't know how he feels since he keeps his feelings to himself. I do know he was very upset last year over the treatment of that gay kid at school when, because of the way the school decided to handle it, he could do nothing about it. I won't mention this to the chief of police and advise you not to do so until you have to. He is, frankly, a bigot who keeps his job because he stays in the hands of a few powerful people in town. Used to include your father, Marc, and he still has some influence here.
"For right now, that's about all I can do. Of course, your friends will stay alert, too. Oh, and congratulations. I might have felt different before I knew Sue's brother. He was a wonderful man with a rotten lover, but gays certainly don't have a monopoly on that or my law firm would have a lot less business.
Since there was nothing unusual at school Tuesday or Wednesday, I guess we relaxed and were really caught off-guard Thursday. When we got to our lockers Thursday morning, there were labels stuck on the doors. Mine and Justin's read, "A Faggot Lives Here". Susan's and Bobbie's, "A Fag Hag Lives Here", and John's, "A Fag Lover Lives Here". I wanted to just scrape them off and forget it, but I was overruled by the other four.
"This needs to be stopped right here and now," John said. He walked into the classroom nearest our lockers and I knew what was coming on as soon as I heard the intercom click and someone said, "What is your emergency, room 213?"
I couldn't hear John's first response, but knew someone was about to learn just how unquiet quiet John could be when I heard the intercom click again and a voice -- I recognized Cowboy Swartz -- said, "Students are not allowed to have emergencies. Only a teacher or administrator is allowed to have have an emergency and push the emergency button." True enough, only teachers or administrators were supposed to push the intercom button and only in an emergency, but they were regularly used for routine messages.
"Unless an administrator meets me outside room 213 in less than five minutes, there will be an emergency because I am calling the sheriff," I heard John shout.
"The principal is on his way," was the immediate response. We all knew the threat of calling a law officer or a lawyer always got a response, pronto!
A few minutes later, a student yelled, "Papa Smurf on the hall!" and Papa Smurf came huffing and puffing down the hall headed toward us. Of course, Papa Smurf wasn't his real name and, well, he wasn't a real principal. A new-this-year assistant principal, his name was Mr. Yeager, but he had earned the nickname Papa Smurf last fall, shortly after school had started.
Everyone had been in the gym for a pep rally when a student came running into the gym dressed in a ski mask, that's all, just a ski mask. Mr. Yeager had waddled out on the gym floor shrieking, "Stop! You're improperly dressed!" which sent the whole student body into gales of laughter. "Stop, Stop at once!" Mr. Yeager had continued to yell. Surprisingly, the masked guy had stopped - it was very obvious he wasa he! -- turned to face Mr. Yeager and called out, "Papa Smurf, catch me if you can," laughed, turned and mooned Mr. Yeager, then raced out the side door of the gym. Mr. Yeager became Papa Smurf -- permanently. Seldom to his face, but always otherwise, he was Papa Smurf.
Anyway, John had just joined us at our lockers when Mr. Yeager, about as wide as tall, came huffing and puffing down the hall having climbed the stairs to the second floor. Like Papa Smurf, he was blue in the face, not naturally, but because he was so angry.
When he reached us and before he could speak, John, pointing to the labels, asked "Mr. Yeager, I want to know what you are going to do about this?"
"About what?" Mr. Yeager asked. "I don't see anything that needs attention."
"Papa Smurf, put on your glasses," someone in the crowd which had gathered said.
I thought Mr. Yeager would explode, but when he turned around and asked, "Who said that?" everyone was as innocent as new-born babes. He swelled up some more, but did put on his glasses and looked at the labels on the lockers. "Petty vandalism. Nothing to get concerned about. I'll have them removed. Now get to your classes."
"Just a minute," I said. "We are concerned about this. Last year a student was hounded out of this school and his family driven from the town. That is not happening this year and we expect the school to make sure that it does not. You check the school board policy manual on harassment and sexual discrimination and get back to us before the day is over or you will hear from my attorney." It was all a bluff. If the school board had a policy on harassment I didn't know it and I certainly didn't have an attorney, but let Papa Smurf worry for a while -- he nothing else to do.
The labels had been removed when we went to exchange books for second period, and I guess Papa Smurf and the other administrative Smurfs thought it would all just go away. It hadn't last year and I didn't think it would this year. Last period, the intercom clicked on and Mr. Agnue, the real principal said, "Teachers, please send Justin Smith, Marcus Porcher, Susan Wilson, Bobbie Reed, and John Thurmond to the office." We all arrived in the office about the same time and Cowboy Swartz, who was filing her nails and chewing gum, just motioned toward the principal's office with her nail file.
Justin knocked on the office door and Mr. Agnue called, "Come!" Bobbie and Susan punched the three of us on the arm and giggled. I turned red.
John said, "Good idea, wrong time."
"Yes!" Justin said as he pushed the office door open.
"Come in. Have a seat," Mr. Agnue said, standing behind his desk. As soon as we were seated, he said, "I have talked with Mr. Yeager and Mr. Vickers, the second floor janitor. Mr. Yeager felt the stickers on your lockers was just a high school prank. Mr. Vickers, who removed them, was very upset by them. He, I learned, was a friend of Frank Allan's family. Frank, you will recall, was the student who left school last year and whose family left town over harassment about his sexual orientation. While Mr. Yeager thinks we should just ignore this incident, Mr. Vickers disagrees. Frankly, I suspect Mr. Vickers knows more about the school, faculty and students than any of us administrators."
"I'm sure you're correct," Bobbie said. "Everyone goes to Mr. Vickers with their problems and he definitely has the respect of some teachers. Besides, he's like a nosy mom, nothing escapes him."
"I wish everyone realized just how important he and his fellow janitors are to the functioning of a school. Anyway, I'd like to know what you can tell me about what's going on. I'm leaving that vague because I want it to be as broad a question as you want it to be."
"In school only?" Justin asked.
"As broad as you want it to be," he responded.
"Well, I guess it really started while we were on spring break," I said. The five of us then gave Mr. Agnue a pretty full and complete account of what had happened in Florida and after we got back.
"So you think your former friend Adam Sanford is behind this?"
"He has at least told his jock buddies Marc and I had caused his breakup with Bobbie," Justin said. "We all know those same guys were involved in driving Frank Allan out of school and his family out of town."
"Nothing ever proven about that," Bobbie said, "and I really don't think Adam was actively involved, just as I suspect he is not actually doing anything this time, except egging on the other three. Of course, that's enough."
"I'm inclined to agree, Mr. Agnue said, Unfortunately, Frank Allan and his family are in the past and we can do nothing about it. It seems we have another problem developing and pray we can do something about it this time."
We talked until the bell rang for the end of school, and all we really came up with was Mr. Agnue was going to speak to the faculty and point out school board policy on harassment -- it did have one after all. He was also going to meet with the sheriff and, maybe, have him assign a deputy to the school. "I think he might do an exchange with the sheriff from an adjoining county and get someone in here who is not known, maybe even someone to pose as a student or new staff member."
Friday, when we went to our lockers after the opening bell, they had been spray painted with the same message the stickers had the day before. Of course, being spray painted, they covered the whole door of each locker. Standing beside the lockers were Papa Smurf, Mr. Agnue, Mr. Vickers and Sheriff Anderson.
"I have a lab technician on her way over," Sheriff Anderson said. "I need you to wait until she has gone over your lockers before touching them. I doubt we will find anything, but you never know. Mr. Vickers saw the lockers before anyone was in the building, at least so far as he knows."
"I'm pretty sure that was done last night. It wasn't there when I left after school yesterday because I came up to check and see if the paint needed patching where I cleaned off the stickers yesterday. I saw the paint when I came to work this morning before students were allowed in the building. Someone with a key either did it or let someone in to do it."
"I'm sure you're right," Mr. Agnue said. "Mr. Yeager will do a check on keys today." he turned to Papa Smurf and said, "Check and see who has keys to the outside doors and bring the list to my office," he added. Turning to us, he asked, "What classes do you have first period?"
"We're all in Mrs. Powers' AP world history," Susan said.
"Well, go on to class and tell her why you don't have your materials. I'm sure she will understand. If not, she should see me."
Just before the end of first period, Mr. Vickers came to the door of Mrs. Powers' classroom and said, "Sheriff Anderson would like for the four of you to meet him at your lockers."
When we reached the lockers, a young woman was working at our lockers. Sheriff Anderson introduced Miss Calhoun. We all knew the sheriff. "Miss Calhoun is one of the best police lab techs in the state," he said. "We're fortunate to have her around and wouldn't have her or the facilities we do except she teaches in the criminal justice program at the community college. Miss Calhoun, Susan Wilson, Bobbie Reed, John Thurmond, Marcus Porcher, and Justin Smith."
Miss Calhoun peeled off latex gloves and shook hands all the way around and then said, "Sorry for the mess. I have dusted your lockers for fingerprints and taken samples of the paint used. I don't expect either to reveal very much since there are numerous fingerprints on the four lockers, and I'm sure the spray paint is not at all distinct. I will need you four to give me fingerprints for elimination purposes but, before that, I'd like for each of you to open your locker and check to see if there's been anything stuck in through the ventilation slots."
We opened our lockers one at a time and as each locker was opened, there was a folded note lying on the top of what we had left in our locker overnight. John opened his locker first and when he started to reach for the note, Miss Calhoun practically shouted, "Don't touch! Sorry, didn't mean to shout, but don't touch. Let me remove the notes in case there's something in or on them we can use." She put on a fresh pair of gloves and removed the notes, putting each in a ziplock evidence bag.
After all our lockers had been opened, Miss Calhoun said, "I know you want to know what is in the notes and you might be able to tell me something useful after you see them. Mr. Agnue told Sheriff Anderson we could use the conference room if we needed it. Let's go down there and I'll use the table and spread the notes without damaging any evidence, and we'll have a look and then I'll get your fingerprints."
We all gathered around the conference table and Miss Calhoun pulled on yet another fresh pair of latex gloves and used the eraser end of a pencil to unfold the notes. When the last one was unfolded, she said, "Ok, all four are alike in that each is on a single sheet of copy paper and, in fact, part of them is exactly the same, probably from cutting and pasting in a word processor. See, the words 'Warning!! Faggots, Fag Hags and Faggot Lover!! Beware!!' and the crude -- in at least a couple ways, it's crude -- drawing of two men kissing while holding each other's penis with the universal sign for 'No', the red circle with a diagonal, over the picture is exactly the same on all of them. The handwritten additions may provide a clue. I'll see."
John's and Susan's messages were essentially the same in that they warned they would be considered the same as faggots since they were a secret faggot and a fag hag respectively. Bobbie's was interesting in that it had 'Watch your fag hag back, bitch,' and 'Fag hag bitches who break up with real men are in the bull's eye,' and had a bull's eye drawn over a stick figure of a woman.
Mine and Justin's were more threatening. Two additional figures had been added, two men with baseball bats were hitting the kissing figures in the head. Bright red blood was flying in every direction.
"I'll take these back to the lab and see what more I can discover," Miss Calhoun said, "but I'll be frank, I'm not hopeful. In the meantime, you might want to cut school a couple days maybe even a week.
"Do you think you'll have something by then?" I asked.
"Wish I could say yes, but I suspect not, especially if the guys who did this are at all careful."
"I don't think we can afford to miss a week of school right now," I said.
"Then do be careful. I don't think this is just some innocent prank. Especially if something happens to get these guys worked up. I suspect they are not strangers to alcohol and if they get all worked up while drinking, it could get deadly. Just be very careful."
Four much sobered high school seniors went to third period.
There was a lot of finger pointing going on at lunch -- Adam and the Axis of Evil would call someone over to their table, say something, point at us and laugh. After about five minutes of that, John said, very quietly, "My pacifist conviction is being strained right now."
"I know, but keep cool, John. Remember they are beneath you," Susan said. "And remember Frank Allan."
"Yeah, we have something that poor Frank Allan didn't have. He was a loner, I suspect because he was gay and thought he was the only gay kid in the universe. We have been friends and are still friends. We can outlast Adam and his jock assholes," Bobbie said. I suddenly realized she was getting a double dose: as our friend and as someone who had loved and maybe still loved Adam.
I'm sure we were all glad when the last bell rang and school was over until Monday. When we got to the parking lot, Bobbie and Susan told us we needed to get together Saturday and decide what we'd be doing for the prom. "What's to decide?" John asked. "We need to get flowers for our dates. Dad is insisting we have a limo, so transportation is solved."
"I've made reservations at the club for dinner in a private dining room," I said. "Think that covers it."
Susan and Bobbie thought we weren't taking the prom seriously enough and the three guys just laughed.
Justin reminded me he'd have a supper break, but wouldn't be home to stay until later as he was closing and he was still at the new store which was open until 9:00. He climbed into my car and I was standing outside, when he said, "You know, our relationship is hardly a secret around here now."
"Yeah, I know," I replied, smiled and leaned into the car for a long, open mouth kiss.
"Why don't you just go ahead and suck him off?" Arnold Blake yelled as he leaned out of the passenger's side window of Adam's car.
I turned around ready to yell a comeback, but Justin said, "No, Marc." So I kept quiet.
"See you later, Babe," I said, closed the car door and stood back as Justin backed up and drove out of the parking lot.