Sometimes the kids don’t like a teacher.
Sometimes a teacher doesn’t like the kids.
That could be. . . awkward.
The meeting had effectively ended at that point. I’d stopped the tape.
Everyone had looked at Mrs. Graedon and from her appearance she was thoroughly defeated. Mrs. Hodges had asked her if she had any comment and she’d just sat there, slumped in her chair, chalky looking. Then Mrs. Hodges had asked the rest of us if we could leave and she’d notify everyone of what was going to be the outcome of this situation. My father had asked if we were both to come to school tomorrow, and Mrs. Hodges nodded, and then realizing my father couldn’t see that, said, “Yes.” It was apparent to me she now absolutely believed us, and a wave of relief washed over me. As we were standing up to leave, Mr. Thompson spoke up. “Danny,” he asked, “just why did you have a tape recorder, and why were you recording?”
I looked at him, and a clearly beaten Mrs. Graedon. “I talked to my father last night. He said if it came down to her word against ours, people tend to believe the adult. He suggested the tape recorder.”
Mr. Thompson didn’t appear to know what to say, and so said nothing.
The meeting was done. At least one hard part was over.
After Mr. and Mrs. Decker and my father left the office, Mr. Decker pushing my father’s wheelchair. They stopped in the corridor to talk. I pulled Brad away, and we went out the front door and walked out onto the lawn. Brad looked at me.
“Danny, we did it—well, you did it, actually—but, well, what’s my father going to say? She told him we are gay.”
“I don’t know. I know one thing, though. I was looking at him when you stood up to her and agreed that she’d called us fags. He looked mad, but not about you. He was glaring at her. I’m sure he was mad at her for saying that. I don’t think he believes that for a minute about you. What he’d feel or say or do if he found out you were gay, I don’t know, you’d know better than I, but I don’t think he’s even considering that. Besides, I’ve seen you two together. He loves you totally. Both your parents do. If it’s real love, and it sure looks like it to me, then whatever their feelings, you’ll find a way to get together on this. And you know what? I don’t think you can put that label on us anyway. Maybe we are gay, but I don’t know and you don’t know and I don’t think we will know for a few years yet. You said you don’t like boys, only me. I don’t think that makes you gay. But you like me and, hey, that’s fine with me. Better than fine. I like you, too, you know. A lot!”
Brad smiled that smile of his at me and simply said, “Thanks.” I grinned back at him. He poked me in the shoulder. Mrs. Graedon was right about something at least. He did seem to like to touch me.
Our folks came outside eventually and they drove my father and me home. The discussion in the car was one of support for us, and especially for me and what I’d gone through dealing with Mrs. Graedon all year. Brad hadn’t felt her barbs the way I had; it’d only been recently she’d started after him. Nothing at all was said about what she’d accused us of, for which I was thankful. I don’t know how I would have responded.
When we got home, I got out and got my father into his chair and pushed him to the house. We were both inside when Brad yelled at me to hold on a second, then spoke briefly to his parents. Then he got out and ran over to me. I stepped back outside to talk to him.
“I just asked. My parents say it’s okay if I come over after school tomorrow. If I can, I’ll come a lot. I want to spend the time with you, and I can help you with all you have to do. Please let me, Danny.” He looked at me with his deep eyes, his feelings apparent. “If I can, I’ll even spend the night tomorrow, and other times, too.”
The idea of that made me tingle. All over. “It’s a school night. You’re parents are all right with that?”
“They think you walk on water. They think spending time with you will mean I’ll get all A’s. I’ll bring my books over. We’ll do homework, we’ll fix dinner, hell, we’ll paint the garage if that’s what’s needed. Okay?”
I felt giddy. How could such a boy like me so much? “Of course it’s okay. It’s even better than that. It’s perfect.”
So that’s what happened. He came over the next afternoon, and the one after that. He started spending the night three or four times a week.
He told me his parents never said anything about Mrs. Graedon’s accusation. They simply didn’t mention it.
I wish the same had happened at school, but as we both feared, rumors started. I even think it might have been from Mrs. Graedon. I think she called someone at school, or sent an anonymous email, or something, because fairly soon rumors began flying around that Brad and I were gay, were boyfriends, even that we were “doing it.” Mrs. Hodges had probably believed my father’s threat because Mrs. Graedon never set foot in the school again as far as we ever knew, but her threat that she’d out us seemed to be coming true. At a middle school, gossip is like a contagious virus that rampages through a school. It only took about a day after the rumors had begun before everyone in the place seemed to have heard them. This was the second hard part I knew we’d have to face.
We thought the world would fall in on us when the entire school caught on to our relationship, when everyone thought we were gay or suspected it or just wondered about it. We thought we’d be picked on, ostracized, beaten up, laughed at, rejected—well, everything you could imagine that could happen to young teens thought to be gay who’d been outed at school. We had discussed it beforehand and had dreaded it and weren’t sure how we would react when we were faced with it, but you know what? In the end, nothing happened!
Brad was the most popular kid in school and with his winning, outgoing personality and cool demeanor, everyone liked and admired him and it was impossible, I guess, for everyone to just start hating him, especially because he didn’t act any differently. Being who he was, they had a hard time believing something like this. He was still the friendly, self-confident, sociable kid he’d always been, and people still responded to him when he said hello, kidded with them, went out of his way to make them feel good about themselves. He made people feel important just by taking the time to talk to them. When he walked away from someone after stopping to chat, that person always had a smile on his face. Brad was a celebrity in that school, and rumors that most people didn’t know whether to believe or not weren’t going to change that.
As for me, well, I remained somewhat awkward and shy, but wasn’t quite as reclusive as before. Being forced by circumstances to stand up for Brad at that meeting and being successful doing so had boosted my confidence a little. Brad told me everyone had always liked me, many kids saw what I did for everyone, being helpful and supportive and all, and they wanted to be my friend, wanted to help me if I needed help. Now, even with the rumors, when I opened up a little more and didn’t push people away, most everyone was friendly in return. They showed me friendliness and kindness and I couldn’t help but smile and respond to their actions.
So we survived Mrs. Graedon, and we were even able to retain our relationship with each other. Brad keeps coming over to my house, much more than I go to his because we are needed more at my house than his. He helps me with the things I have to do, making my load lighter, and we study together, which he says, but I refute, is the cause of his grades soaring. I tell him it is because he has more confidence in his abilities, it has nothing to do with me. He says, who cares? And he’s probably right about that. Anyway, things have returned to normal, we’re still together, and that’s about as good as anything I could hope for. Being able to sleep together three or four times a week also means we’re getting to know each other a lot better, too, and that’s really, really good. For both of us. We aren’t going fast or slow; we’re going about learning what we’re learning at the pace we both want to go, and it’s absolutely great. We feel we have all the time in the world.
Next year? High school? What’s going to happen? Who knows? But I do know this—my life has turned a corner, I’m happy, and whatever comes now, I can deal with it. Having Brad’s help is like frosting on the cake.
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