We all just stared at Randy.
Who was Tony, and why was he asking Randy out on a date? My mind had stopped working; I couldn’t understand what was going on.
“Sorry, mate, but I think that’s my fault,” Adam said apologetically from where he was nestled with Scott. “When I started telling people at school that you aren’t my boyfriend, I thought they would realise you aren’t gay. It just never occurred to me that someone would think that it meant you’re available.”
“Who’s Tony?” I asked, perplexed, before anyone could say anything.
Randy shrugged. “No ideas. I know a couple of Tonys at school, but I didn’t recognise the voice. He might not be in my year, anyway.”
He sat thoughtfully for a moment before adding, “I hope he rings back. I’d like to get to know him.”
“WHAT!” I yelled. “You can’t be serious! What if he makes a move on you?”
My brother scowled at me. He leaned forward and looked me straight in the eye.
“Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do, David,” he said, quietly but firmly. “If he’s gay, he’s probably all alone. Even if I can’t be his boyfriend, I can still be a friend that he can be open with. Why don’t you try talking to Ads and Break to find out what it’s like to be hiding something from everyone and not being able to say anything?”
I rocked back in my seat. Randy’s words didn’t intimidate me, but they certainly made me start thinking. I still hadn’t sat down to talk one-on-one with Adam, but I had had a good, if short, chat with Scott on the night I found out he’s gay. I also recalled my thoughts from the morning.
“Sorry,” I said, hanging my head to stare at the carpet. “You’re right.” Looking back up, I added, “Just be careful. He might assume more that you want him to.”
A muffled grunt made me glance across to the other two. Scott was smiling faintly, but Adam didn’t appear very happy with me. He wasn’t quite scowling, but he wasn’t far off it. I realised I’d done it again.
“Sorry, Adam, Scott,” I said. “I was stereotyping again. I’ve been trying not to, but sometimes I just react.”
Adam just looked away in disgust.
“That’s okay, Stick,” Scott replied. “I understand. You’re still adjusting.”
I gave him a faint smile of thanks. For some reason, Scott seemed to be more forgiving than Adam. That’s partly because of the difference in their personalities, but I suspected that it was also due to the difference in what they’d gone through. Adam had been hit head-on with abuse due to assumptions people make about homosexuals, while Scott had seen it but not experienced it.
Adam turned back to me.
“David, you need to talk less and think more,” he said, still showing disgust.
“Actually, I think Stick’s right,” Scott interjected. “At least to a degree.”
He was suddenly the centre of attention. Even Adam shifted around so he could look at his boyfriend. Scott looked uncomfortable, but still continued.
“Just because the guy is gay doesn’t mean he can be trusted. Stick’s right as far as that is concerned. The guy might take Giant’s friendship to mean more than that. Giant needs to be careful around the guy. Tony might be the gay equivalent of Sean McInnes.”
I was grateful of the support, but disturbed at the comparison he made. Sean McInnes was a student who’d ended up in juvenile detention the year before on sexual assault charges. He thought he was God’s gift to women, and while, according to the rumour mill, he was quite successful, he made the mistake of not understanding that “No” meant “No”. The girl got away before he went too far, but it seemed that he thought that if a girl went out with him, she would have sex with him.
“He might not be, and probably isn’t,” Adam said, though in a thoughtful manner, “but I see your point.”
I bristled a little at the implication that if Scott said it, it was reasonable, and if I said it, I was talking through my arse, but I had to admit that Break had said it a lot better than I had.
“While we’re on the subject,” Scott said to Adam, “what are you going to say when it’s your turn?”
Adam looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“This was only the first one,” Scott said reasonably. “Think about it. If you’re a gay kid at school, and you find out that there are a couple of other gay guys, and then learn that they are not a couple, what are you going to do? Most will probably be too scared to do anything, but some will take the chance and try to contact one or both of those guys with either a view of just being friends, or trying for boyfriends.
“There’s about five hundred kids at school. If ten percent are gay, that’s fifty kids. Half will be lesbian, so that means around twenty-five gay guys who would’ve heard the rumours.
“Tony was just the first, and obviously doesn’t have much taste,” he added with a cheeky grin at my brother. “After all, he asked Randy out and not Adam, who’s the much better catch.”
“Hey! That’s not fair!” Randy pouted, playing up to the line he’d been given. “I’m a good catch!”
“Yeah,” I put in. “Randy’s a lot better looking than Adam.”
Scott grinned at me. “Sorry, Stick, but unless there’s something you haven’t been telling us, you’re not qualified to say who’s better looking to a gay guy,” he teased.
He silenced me with that one. Even Randy waved a hand to concede the point. I could’ve argued that even though I’m not gay, I can still tell who’s attractive or not, but I knew Scott meant it as a joke. I was surprised he was relaxed enough to do that. It looked like he felt safe in our home.
Scott turned back to Adam and eyed him speculatively.
“So, what are you going to do when someone rings up and asks you out on a date?” he asked.
As if on cue, the phone rang. We all looked at it for a moment, before Randy picked it up and answered it.
“Randy Johnson,” he said tentatively.
He then relaxed back into his chair.
“Hi, Tony,” he said cheerfully.
He listened for a while, with a smile playing across his face.
“Don’t worry, Tony,” he eventually said. “I won’t tell anyone at school, but I still would like to meet you. Why don’t you come out to our place at some stage? Everyone here is cool with Adam, so they’ll be cool with you, too.”
Randy suddenly looked panicky.
“Uh… sorry, but Adam isn’t here at the moment,” he lied. “Why don’t you try ringing Wednesday after school and you can ask him then?”
He then gave an inaudible sigh of relief.
“There’s a basketball tribunal we all have to go to tomorrow night, that’s why. Things will be hectic here.”
After a short pause he added, “Yeah, same to you. Stay in touch!”
With that, Randy put the phone down.
He looked over at Adam and gave a sheepish grin. “He asked me if I thought you’d like to go out with him. I thought you’d like a bit of time to think of an answer, so I lied,” Randy said. “I hope you didn’t mind.”
Adam gave a fake frown. “So, I’m the second choice, am I?” he asked, before continuing more seriously. “Thanks, Giant. I really need to work out an answer to that, don’t I?” he asked rhetorically, looking at his boyfriend. “I don’t want to hurt him. We both know what he’s going through, don’t we, Break?”
“Yeah, we do,” Scott replied, subdued. It was as if they’d forgotten that Randy and I were in the room. “But I’m not sharing!” he added forcefully.
Smiling, Adam leant forward and kissed Scott lightly on the lips. “I’m not sharing, either,” he said softly before being silenced by a return kiss from his boyfriend.
“Eww... gross! Boy germs!” Randy exclaimed.
Adam and Scott jumped slightly as they suddenly realised where they were. Randy started chuckling and they both started blushing. I couldn’t help smiling, but I refrained from actually laughing at them. I’d been caught like that a few times with Liz, so I knew what it felt like. I’d felt uncomfortable seeing the two kissing, but it hadn’t been as bad as I’d expected. I knew it was a simple sign of affection, rather than a kiss of passion.
We continued the discussion after that, but didn’t really get anywhere. Both Adam and Scott were firm that they wanted to help other gay guys, but didn’t want to lead them on. Adam very tentatively suggested that he tell any gay guy who might ask that he’s already seeing someone, but he said he realised that that may mean Scott’s secret would be revealed. I was surprised that Scott, while seeming nervous, didn’t object. He said that if he had to come out to more people, other gay guys would be an easy group to do so to.
After talking that subject into the ground, we started talking about the basketball tribunal that was coming up the following night. That wasn’t productive, either, but I became aware, again, of how much anger Randy still had bottled up.
He made a couple of comments that I jumped onto quickly. It seemed that things hadn’t been quite as smooth that day as he’d lead our parents to believe. Some of his classmates who hadn’t said or done anything earlier had spent the day snickering at him. He’d also heard a couple of older students make a few suggestive comments. It was mainly low-key stuff, and that was why he hadn’t said anything earlier.
I was going to gripe at him, but Adam beat me to it. In retrospect, I was happy about that. Randy was taking advice and comments from Adam more readily than he was from me. After promising Adam that he would pass on any future comments, at least to Adam and me, he fell back to insisting that it had been no big deal.
Chris joined us after that. He had been in the study with Dad, discussing the tribunal. They both thought that one of the key things would be Brendan and his dad showing up to testify on Randy’s behalf. Brendan’s being from the opposition team should have a big impact on the tribunal members.
Soon afterwards, Chris and Scott went home and the rest of us went to bed.
I woke up early the next morning. I wouldn’t call it a nightmare, but having a dream about trigonometry functions coming to life and chasing you around in circles has to come close. I took that as an omen – the test that day was not going to be fun. Not that I really needed a dream to tell me that; mathematics has always been a struggle for me.
Deciding to do some last minute revision before the alarm went off, I sat down at my desk and reviewed, again, the formulas that I would have to know for the exam. I had been having a tendency to mix up sines and cosines and I wanted to try to drill the difference into my brain.
As the sound of music filled the room, I closed my textbook with a sigh of relief. I got up, walked over, and switched off the alarm. After stretching to relieve the muscles that had gotten stiff while I was bent over my mathematics book, I headed off for a shower. I didn’t know if that last bit of review was going to help, but I couldn’t see how it would hurt.
The rest of the morning went according to routine. There was a light drizzle as we walked down to the bus stop. Despite our jackets, we ended up lightly soaked. It wasn’t enough to require us to get changed; just enough to dampen our spirits. To me, it felt like the universe was no fonder of Maths exams than I was, and was doing its bit to put everyone into an appropriate frame of mind.
When the bus arrived, the driver’s greeting surprised me.
“Ah! Good to see you, boys. Things were too quiet, yesterday,” he remarked with a grin as we started to board.
Adam and I looked at each other, puzzled by the comment.
“Sorry about that. I promise it won’t happen again,” Randy said sheepishly from behind us.
“That’s okay,” the driver replied cheerfully. “Nice hair, by the way.”
When we turned to stare at my brother, he scowled back. “Hurry up, it’s wet out here!”
Adam and I started down the aisle, but both of us threw glances back at Randy as we went. What had happened, and when? It had to have been the previous week, while Adam and I were suspended, but Randy hadn’t mentioned anything. Of course, he had been in such a sour mood on both of those days that it wouldn’t have taken much to set him off. Whatever it was, the driver seemed to have found it amusing.
With only a handful of other students on the bus, we had plenty of seats to choose from. I glanced down the length of the bus to where two of Randy’s classmates were seated. I might have been mistaken, but I thought they looked terrified, and they seemed to be trying to avoid looking in our direction.
“Here,” I muttered to Adam, well before we reached the younger students. Intuition told me that it wouldn’t be good to let Randy too close to them. As I moved across to the window, Adam dropped into the seat next to me.
“Hi, guys!” Randy called out cheerfully. If I hadn’t been listening for it, I might not have noticed the touch of steel behind those simple words.
“Umm... hi, Giant,” one of them called back hesitantly. A quick look showed clearly false smiles painted on their faces.
Randy chuckled quietly to himself, as he dropped into the seat opposite us.
I leant over Adam to try to catch my brother’s eye. “Okay, Giant,” I whispered across the aisle. “What happened?”
He tried to return my gaze innocently, but he couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth twitching upwards.
“Nothing,” he lied.
His tone indicated we weren’t going to get anything out of him. I wondered if the bus driver would tell me, if I asked, but I decided that maybe I didn’t really want to know. It couldn’t have been too serious, if the adult found it amusing, but Mum would kill me if she found out I knew something and didn’t tell her.
I settled back into my seat and paused for a moment before asking Adam how he felt about that morning’s exam. It wasn’t a typical conversation for the bus, but I was feeling desperate enough to want some extra reassurance, or help, prior to sitting down to a Maths test.
That trip had to be the oddest I’d ever had on the bus. Randy made a point of saying hello to almost everyone who boarded. Most gave indifferent replies; a few gave nervous ones. Only three people glared at him; the same people I remember from the first trip after Adam came out. Randy just smiled back. Rick dropped into the seat next to Randy without any hesitation and engaged him in a conversation, as if nothing else was happening around him.
Adam was ignored – it was Randy that had the focus. There wasn’t a single person that didn’t look in his direction when they came on board. He seemed unperturbed by it. I wondered if it was just the pink hair, which was fading but still quite noticeable, or if it was because of something he had done the week before. I felt curiosity warring with caution. Should I ask Rick what was going on, and would I receive a straight answer if I did?
I still hadn’t made up my mind by the time we arrived at the school, and then I had other things to keep my mind occupied: Liz was waiting for me.
I approached cautiously, not sure of the reception I’d be getting. Unlike the day before, this time her attention was fixed on me.
“Hi, Liz,” I said quietly, trying to keep my tone neutral.
“Hi, Stick,” she responded in a similar manner.
An awkward silence followed. Only two weeks prior, we would have been chatting happily about all sorts of inconsequential things. None of those topics seemed appropriate anymore.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Randy and Adam heading in the direction of their lockers. I was torn on whether or not to follow them, ready to help out if they needed it, or stay with Liz.
“Can we follow the other guys?” I asked lamely. I’m sure I could have said that more gracefully, but the words just weren’t flowing.
She raised her eyebrows in surprise, before glancing over her shoulder to where Randy and Adam were going. Turning back to me, she gave me a flash of her old smile.
We started walking after the other guys, who’d been joined by Mary and Gary. I started to stride out to try to catch up, but when Liz didn’t follow suit I dropped back to join her. I glanced back at her as she caught up to me and found her nodding to someone ahead of us. Quickly looking in that direction, I saw Mary turning her back on us. Mary and Liz hadn’t had a lot to do with each other previously, as Mary and Gary had only been going out for a few weeks, but it seems they have been talking since then.
One face I wasn’t happy to see was Nick Tremen’s. I don’t know if the others saw him, but after they passed, he stepped out of an alcove and glared at them. His face was contorted with fury, and his hands kept clenching into fists and then relaxing again.
Making an instant decision, and wondering if I was doing the right thing, I left Liz and stepped up behind him.
“Why don’t you tell us what the problem is?” I asked politely.
He spun around in surprise. For a moment, I thought he was going to hit me, but his arms quickly dropped back down by his side.
“If you need to be told, it’s too late for you,” he snarled, before shoving past me, deliberately knocking me with his shoulder. “Enjoy your brother while you still have him,” he threw back as he headed off.
I shivered at the malice in that last statement. By the time I thought to chase after him and ask him what he meant, he’d disappeared.
“Stick, what did he mean?” Liz asked from just behind me.
“I don’t know, Liz. I just don’t know.”
I turned to her and found my concern mirrored in her eyes.
“Should we say anything to Randy?” I asked. “Or should we just tell the office?”
She frowned as she tried to work out an answer.
“We have to tell the school staff. I promised Mum,” I added, trying to be more decisive. “That was definitely a threat.”
“Let’s go while it’s still fresh in our minds,” Liz said firmly, having made up her mind. Grabbing me by the hand, she started to drag me towards the office.
With my longer legs, I was walking next to her almost immediately, and I expected her to let go. For a few strides, I thought she wouldn’t, but then she just relaxed her hand and I allowed mine to slip out. I made a conscious effort to not turn and look at her at that point. The momentary handholding had sent a complex surge of emotions through me, and I didn’t want to ruin the feeling by finding out what expression she had on her face.
Checking my watch, I realised we didn’t have a lot of time before we were supposed to be in class. Luck was with us, though, as Ms. Ng was in the outer office when we got there, talking to one of the office workers.
“Excuse me, Ms. Ng, but we just heard something that we thought you should know about, straight away,” I said, taking the lead.
She turned at my voice, looking ready to berate whoever it was who’d interrupted, but that expression disappeared quickly when she recognised me.
“You’d better come to my office, then, Mr. Johnson,” she sighed. After a thoughtful look at Liz, she added, “Miss Richardson?”
Liz nodded, and the three of us headed down the now-familiar corridor. It felt strange that after never having been down there for my first few years at the school, that hallway seemed like a regular haunt for me. I was impressed by Ms. Ng’s recognition of Liz. She visits the classes regularly, but I hadn’t expected her to know Liz’s name.
“All right, Mr. Johnson, Miss Richardson, what is this about?” the vice principal asked once we were all seated.
“A student said something that sounded like a threat against my brother,” I said, before relating Nick’s comment.
After Liz gave her version, adding a couple of things that I’d forgotten to say, Ms. Ng sat back in her chair and stared at a picture on her wall for a few seconds. I followed her gaze and saw a print of The Last Supper. I wondered if she was considering something in the print, or if it was just a place to rest her eyes while she thought.
As the bell sounded to indicate the start of school, she jerked her attention back to us.
“Thank you for the information,” she said, as she started to scribble something onto a piece of paper on her desk. “We’ll keep an eye on the situation and work out what to do.”
Standing up, she held out two late passes to us. We clambered to our feet and accepted them as she continued.
“These will stop you from getting into trouble, but you had better get moving. You both have exams starting in a few minutes. In the meantime, thanks again for coming forward.”
Sensing we were dismissed, Liz and I headed to the door. As we left the room, I heard Ms. Ng pick up her phone and dial a number.
Liz and I quickly made our way to our lockers and then on to our separate classes. Mr. Irving started to scold me for being late, but fell silent when he saw who’d signed my late pass. He gave me a strange look; understandable, as it must be a rare thing for the vice principal to sign a late pass.
After looking around, I took one of the few empty seats. I was mildly surprised to find that all the seats near Adam were taken. It was clear that most, if not all, of his immediate classmates didn’t have an issue with his being gay. It was the students in other years that seemed to be the main source of concern.
“Now that Mr. Johnson has deigned to join us, we can begin,” Mr. Irving declared, staring pointedly at me as he spoke. “You will have three hours to complete your test. There will be no talking. If you have a question, raise your hand and I will come to see you,” he continued, gazing indiscriminately around the room.
With that, all the nerves and worries that had been pushed aside by my concerns for Randy came flooding back. I had wanted to do some final studying beforehand, but that option had been taken away from me.
I turned over the paper and looked at the first question.
“Using a unit circle, show the relationship between the trigonometric functions of sine, cosine and tangent and a right-angle triangle.”
They had kindly provided three circles for me to destroy, so I started searching through my memory for what to do. I knew the basics, but I had trouble remembering which way around everything was. All I could do was hope I got it right in the end.
The wave of relief that swept over me when Mr. Irving announced the end of the test was for an ordeal ended, not for a challenge overcome. I thought I had done well enough to pass, but there were too many questions where I wasn’t confident of my answers.
As was normal after a major test, all the students were reasonably subdued until we’d exited building. Adam, Scott and I left as a group.
“So...” Peter drawled, startling me as I hadn’t realised he had followed us out, “why were you late?”
Shifting mental gears took me a couple of seconds, as I was still in exam mode and didn’t understand what he was talking about.
“Uh... I had a message I had to give the VP,” I replied, adlibbing quickly. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. The general student community frowns on dobbers. Under the circumstances I thought I’d get away with it, as there seemed to be a genuine sense of sympathy for Randy, but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t see how telling anyone would help.
“And what?” I asked back, stalling for time by playing dumb.
“And what was the message?” Peter asked, looking a little exasperated with my reluctance to say anything.
“It was about the attack on Randy, and I’d prefer not to say anything more as the police are still investigating,” I responded, as inspiration struck me on how to get out of that.
“Fair enough,” Peter said, nodding his head. “I hope the cops get the evidence they need quickly. Luke Williams deserves anything that happens to him for that!”
“How do you think you went on the exam?” I asked, partially to try to double-check my answers, and partially to force a change of topic.
Peter shrugged and gave a small smile. “Pretty well, I think.”
“I got confused on question five,” I admitted. “How were we supposed to do that?”
With that, we started reviewing the exam. I found out I’d completely messed up a number of questions, as Peter explained the correct solutions, but it seemed I had a few others right – at least as far as Peter was concerned. Either that, or we had both made the same mistakes. Adam and Scott threw in a few comments, but largely let Peter and me dominate the conversation.
His curiosity satisfied, Peter left us soon afterwards.
“Okay, David,” Adam said sternly. “What’s the real reason you were late? And don’t give us some bullshit story about having to tell the VP something!”
I looked around. There were no other students within easy earshot. Momentarily, I thought of refusing to tell him, but the matter was too serious for that.
“I spoke to Nick Tremen this morning,” I said, lowering my voice. Adam and Scott took a half step closer so they could hear me. “He made what sounded like a threat against Randy, so I went and told Ms. Ng.”
“Shit, David,” Adam said, suddenly concerned. “What did he say?”
“He told me to enjoy my brother while I still have him.”
That simple statement silenced the other two guys. There was a long pause while they tried to make sense of it.
“It could be that he expects him to get AIDS and die,” Scott remarked thoughtfully. “It may not be a threat; just a warning.”
I shook my head. “I know you want to see things in the best light, Break, but you didn’t hear the hatred in his voice.”
“We only have your word for that,” Adam said, bristling slightly as he defended his boyfriend’s opinion.
“Liz heard it, too,” I added quietly, looking at him squarely, willing him to understand and believe me.
Something got through to him, as his eyes went wide before flicking across to Scott.
We turned as one to see Gary and Mary approaching, hand-in-hand. Both looked cheerful, which implied that they were fully recovered from their exam ordeal, as I couldn’t see how anyone could be happy if they were still thinking about what they’d gone through.
“I don’t want everyone to know,” I whispered quickly to Scott and Adam, before facing our other friends.
I didn’t have time to explain, so I just hoped that Scott and Adam would keep quiet. They needed to know, just in case they were threatened next, but I didn’t see how the information would make any difference to anyone else. They’d all been warned about Nick and my earlier suspicions; telling others would only risk giving me a reputation.
The conversation shifted to safer topics after that. When I spotted Liz, I dropped out and headed over to see her. I asked her how her exam went, and we discussed it for a few minutes before I switched to the subject of Nick Tremen.
“I’ve told Adam and Scott, but I don’t think we should tell anyone else the details, or we’ll get reps for being dobbers,” I explained.
She frowned slightly as she nodded her head. “What about Randy?”
“He knows about Nick, though I don’t think he knows what he looks like. I don’t see how saying anything would help. He should already be on his guard.”
After a couple of seconds thought, she shook her head.
“No, David, I think you’re wrong. We need to tell people what Nick said. We just don’t tell them we told the VP,” she said, staring across the grounds to where our friends were standing.
“Why?” I asked, looking for her reasoning, rather than objecting.
“A lot of people are already up in arms about the first attack on Giant,” she said. “Rumours of another threat against him will make them keep an eye out. The more people who are looking out for him, the better.”
I slowly nodded my head. Even if it backfired and I was accused of running to the teachers telling tales, my brother’s safety was more important.
“You’re right,” I conceded.
When she looked at me, I gave her a soft smile and added, “I’ve missed your advice on things like this.”
She flicked me a smile that I reflected back to her. I couldn’t help it – it had been too long since I’d seen her do that.
We headed over to join the others. Michael had appeared at some stage, though I hadn’t seen him approach. Once we were all together, Liz and I told everyone about Nick’s comments.
The reactions were of anger.
Gary had to be restrained from heading off looking for Nick. Michael wasn’t much better, but his was more a cold rage. He mentioned, again, that he’d seen Nick talking to Luke Williams the previous week, and wondered out loud if there may have been a connection with the attack on Randy.
Scott pointed out that we might all have been misinterpreting what had been said, and repeated his earlier comment. Liz agreed with me about the malice with which the statement had been made, but did say that maybe Nick just liked the idea of gays dying from AIDS. However, she did reiterate her earlier statement to me, and said that we needed to let people know so they could be on the lookout for Randy, just in case.
Soon afterwards, Randy and his friends joined us.
Randy’s reaction to the news irritated me. Despite everything that’s happened to him, he still had a feeling of invulnerability.
“Doesn’t sound like much,” he commented. “Let’s not go overboard. This is not a soap opera; kids don’t go around knocking off other kids just because they don’t like them. Unless he’s wacko, this guy is not going to do anything stupid. He may make threats, but he’s not going to do anything.”
“And if he is wacko?” Gary asked.
Randy shrugged. “The odds are against it. Why worry about something that’s unlikely to happen?”
I was ready to step in and try to shake some sense into him, but someone beat me to it.
Maria stepped forward and slapped Randy across the face.
Putting his hand to his cheek, he just stared at her in surprise.
“Don’t be an idiot, Giant,” she growled at him. “Yeah, he may not try to kill you, but that doesn’t mean he won’t hurt you. How about thinking of someone other than yourself, for a change? Do you think we like seeing you being abused and hurt? Give us a break and try taking this seriously!”
Randy’s other friends all made noises of support for Maria. He glanced over them in amazement. As they all stared back at him defiantly, he dropped his eyes and started to blush.
“Okay,” he said, shamefaced.
With that out of the way, the rest of lunch went quickly. Gary and Mary disappeared partway through, after making a comment about spreading the news. Mary gave Liz a hug and whispered something to her before they left. I looked at Liz with a raised eyebrow, but I wasn’t confident enough to ask her what that was about when she just gave me an innocent stare in return.
The rest of the day was too busy to leave much time to worry. We had a practical test in our Computer Studies class that afternoon, but it was a straight continuation of what we’d been doing the previous weeks. It was also not going to be a major part of our overall class mark, so it didn’t produce the same level of stress as our other exams that week.
Unlike the week before, Media Studies was almost a joy. That subject was being marked mainly on papers we’d had to submit, rather than a written test, so it was just a normal class. Liz and I hadn’t resumed our normal level of banter, but the communication we did have was a vast improvement over the painful silence I’d felt when we weren’t talking.
The school rumour mill was working well. By the end of school, I’d overheard several rumours about threats to Randy. Most of them named Luke, rather than Nick, but they almost all expressed disgust at the idea of anyone attacking my brother. Liz was right in that respect – my brother was attracting a lot of sympathy for what he was going through. A reasonable number of people seemed indifferent to the whole business, but few said anything that even implied that he deserved whatever happened to him.
While we waited for the bus, Randy was more contrite than he’d been previously. Maria’s comments at lunchtime must have sunk in; he was being very cautious with all his friends, as if he was trying to avoid offending them. He even went as far as going up to Mark and Luke, his classmates from the bus, and apologising. I was shamelessly eavesdropping, hoping to hear what he was apologising for, but no details were mentioned.
That night, after we had explained the events of the day, Mum made a point of thanking me for going to the vice principal. She wasn’t happy at the threat, naturally, but she was pleased with how we all handled it. Randy was careful to avoid mentioning that he’d initially made light of the matter, and Adam and I let it slide. The important thing was that he was taking it seriously, not when he started doing so.
Adam and I managed to get some study done for the next day’s history exam, but our preparations were cut short when Dad announced it was almost time for us to go to the main basketball stadium in Lilydale for Randy’s tribunal hearing. Mum made all us get changed into better clothes before she let us go out. It wasn’t a major thing, but she felt that a neat appearance would make a better impact than a scruffy one.
We made the trip to Lilydale in silence. Randy was getting tense, as were the rest of us. Matters at school faded into the background of our minds as my brother’s basketball future was in the balance.
When we entered the stadium, Dad took us over to the tables near the canteen, overlooking the basketball courts below. Neil was already there, sitting at a table in the corner. He glanced up at us, nodded his head once, and then returned his attention to the book he was reading.
We sat down at a table about twenty feet from Neil.
“Now, boys, remember to keep your cool. Getting emotional isn’t going to help. Just tell the truth, and don’t try to hedge. If they think you’re lying, it’s going to hurt Randy’s chances,” Dad said, his concern showing by the nervous way he kept glancing around.
“You’ve told us that, already,” Randy replied with a roll of his eyes. He was trying to be nonchalant, but was betrayed by the white-knuckled, clenched fist on the table in front of him.
Dad gave him a tentative grin but didn’t say anything more.
“Here comes trouble,” Adam muttered to the rest of us.
Following his gaze, we saw Lawrence strolling in, chatting to another referee, who was in uniform. She gave him a quick kiss before she headed off to the refs’ room. Lawrence was grinning like a fool as he watched her leave. The smile transformed into a scowl when he turned around and saw all of us staring at him.
After a quick look around, he headed to the table in the corner where Neil was reading. With nothing better to do until we were called in, I kept watching. I was surprised when seconds after Lawrence sat down, Neil closed his book and stood up. Moving to another empty table, he sat down and opened his book and resumed reading.
Lawrence’s face was a picture of confusion. He just stared after his fellow referee. It was obvious he didn’t understand what had just happened.
“That could be really good news,” Dad stated quietly. He had also observed the incident.
“What do you think it means?” I asked.
“What are you two talking about?” Randy asked, irritated.
“Neil’s refusing to sit at the same table as Lawrence,” I explained quickly, before turning back to my dad, who looked cautiously happy.
“I’d say that Neil isn’t going to be giving Lawrence much support tonight,” he said. “How much that helps us will depend on whether or not he goes the other way and offers us support.”
“Why don’t we ask him?” Adam suggested.
Dad shook his head. “We don’t want any accusations of collusion. We have to let Neil give the evidence the way he wants to.”
With our attention focused on the two referees, we were startled by the voice behind us. Brendan and his dad stood there with smiles on their faces.
“Hi, Brendan,” I said, standing up and extending my hand. Adam and Randy followed suit.
“Thanks for coming, Wayne,” Dad said to Brendan’s dad. “Tony Ricardo can’t make it because of work commitments, so we really appreciate having you here.”
“The least we could do, Kevin,” Mr. Stanlen replied.
“Brendan, this is Adam, and this is my brother, Randy. Guys, this is Brendan,” I said as I realised they probably had never been introduced.
As I grabbed a couple of spare chairs for the newcomers, Dad and Mr. Stanlen pre-empted me by moving to a nearby table.
After we all sat down, there was an awkward silence for a few seconds. I wasn’t sure whether to talk about the tribunal, or if that would sound too mercenary. After all, Brendan was there doing us a favour and I didn’t want to be ungrateful.
Randy spoke first. “Stick told us you might be looking for a new team for next season.”
“Yeah,” Brendan replied with a sigh. “I just don’t think I can tolerate those guys anymore.”
“They weren’t like that the last time we played them,” Adam said, clearly begging for an explanation.
Brendan gave him a wry smile. “Last time, they didn’t know you’re gay.”
After a pause, he added, “They’re a bit bigoted on a few things. I play with a few of them in another competition, which has a team of mainly Aborigines. They’ve made comments about the Abos that I felt were out of line. The things they said to you were just the last straw.”
Adam tensed up slightly and asked, “You don’t have a problem with me?”
Brendan laughed. “Only on the basketball court. You’re too tall!”
That broke the ice and we started gossiping about the various teams we played against. We were still chatting happily when Scott and Chris joined us. After quick introductions, we continued our conversation. Everyone was relaxed and comfortable when Dad approached.
“Time to go, boys.”
I looked up and saw that one of the tribunal members was standing in a doorway nearby.
“Randy, you come with me. The rest of you stay here and wait until you’re called. We may not need all of you, but please be ready. Just remember: tell the truth and don’t get emotional,” Dad instructed.
We all nodded nervously and watched my brother and dad follow the referees into the tribunal room, where the door was then closed behind them.
The easy atmosphere of only a minute before was gone. It was quiet at our table as we sat solemnly, each of us absorbed in his own thoughts.
Fifteen minutes passed before Mr. Stanlen was called as a witness. Having never been to a tribunal before, I had no idea whether that was a short or long time. Ten minutes later, he came out and Brendan was called in. Mr. Stanlen came over and sat down at our table.
“How’s it going?” I asked nervously.
He smiled, but it didn’t look like a confident smile.
“I don’t know. They asked a lot of questions about the whole match, rather than just the one incident. I can only see that as good news for your brother. Lawrence questioned me on the details of when Randy got up off the bench, and I was forced to admit that I was sitting down near the other end of the court. I don’t think that helped.”
He shrugged. “I don’t think it’s going badly for Randy, but I don’t know if it’s going well enough for him,” he said, almost embarrassed at having to admit a lack of certainty.
After a look in the direction of the canteen, he stood up. “I’m going to get a coffee. Would you like anything?” he asked, glancing around the table.
“No, thanks,” I answered. I was too nervous to think about food or drink.
“Thanks, Mr. Stanlen, but I’m fine,” Adam replied, while Scott just shook his head.
“I’ll go with you,” Chris said, rising to his feet.
Before they were back, Brendan came out and Adam was called in.
I wanted to ask Brendan how it went, but I was afraid of the answer. I think he worked out what I wanted from the way I was staring at him.
“I think it’s going fine, Stick,” he said with a quick grin. “There were a lot of questions about Lawrence’s umpiring and his attitude towards Adam. That has to be good news.”
I gave him a weak smile in response. I knew I would stay nervous until Randy came out and said he’d been cleared.
When Mr. Stanlen came back, he put a can of Coke in front of Brendan before sitting down with his coffee. Chris dropped into the chair next to Scott with his drink.
“How did it go?” Mr. Stanlen asked his son.
Brendan shrugged. “I think it went well. At least one of the tribunal members seems really annoyed with Lawrence, and Neil doesn’t seem to be giving him any support at all.”
We all fell silent after that. I just sat there, fidgeting in my seat, as I waited for my turn in front of the tribunal. It seemed to be going well, but would I say something that would sink my brother? All it would take was the wrong word at the wrong time, and he would be banned for years. That was worse than my worries before the Maths exam earlier that day.
Adam came out of the room. I started to get up, ready for my turn, but the person who’d let Adam out just closed the door behind him.
I was stuck there, half out of my chair, wondering what to do. Should I sit down, since they hadn’t called me, or should I get up so I can go straight in when they did?
Deciding to get ready, I finished standing up and pushed the chair back under the table.
“I don’t think you’ll be going in,” Adam said quietly, as he came up to us.
“Why not?” I asked, worried at the change in plans.
Adam gave me a nervous half-smile.
“The chairman asked the other members if they’d heard enough, and they both nodded. Your dad was told that they didn’t need any more witnesses.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” I asked anxiously.
“It sounds good to me,” Mr. Stanlen said from behind my back. “If they thought he was guilty, they’d have to let all his witnesses have their say, so they couldn’t be accused of preventing evidence from being presented.”
At that moment, the door opened and Randy and Dad came out, followed closely by Lawrence and Neil. Lawrence immediately headed away to the far corner, but Neil followed the other two towards our table.
Dad smiled. “I think it went well. I don’t think we could’ve put forward a better case.”
He turned slightly towards Randy, then appeared startled to find Neil hovering nearby.
“Good luck,” Neil said with a shy smile. Before anyone could say anything, he headed over to another table, sat down and pulled out his book.
“Thanks, Wayne,” Dad said to Mr. Stanlen, extending his hand. “Between you, Brendan and Neil, Lawrence came off looking like an idiot. I don’t think the members of the tribunal were happy about wasting their time on this report.”
“Neil?” I asked in disbelief. I was already puzzled by Neil’s comment, and this just confused me more.
Randy gave a short laugh.
“Yeah! Neil started contradicting Lawrence almost immediately. While he never said Lawrence was ever wrong, he just insisted that he saw nothing of what Lawrence was saying, but agreed with me on almost everything!”
Dad and Randy seemed optimistic, though still a little tense. Until the announcement was made, he wasn’t off.
The door to the tribunal room opened just then, and the man signalled that everyone should go back in.
“That was quick,” Dad remarked as he gathered Randy up with a glance. “Hopefully that means good news.”
I started to follow them, but a frown from the tribunal member stopped me in my tracks. It was clear that I would have to wait until they came out again before I found out the verdict.
Sitting back down, I gazed blankly down at the table. All I could do was wait and worry.
At some point, a cup of coffee appeared in front on me. Looking up, I saw Chris lowering himself into his seat.
“If you’re going to sit there ignoring everyone trying to speak to you, you might as well have something to drink,” he remarked dryly. “You haven’t responded to anyone for the last few minutes.”
“Thanks, Chris,” I said faintly. I looked around. “How long has it been?”
“About ten minutes,” he replied, sounding a little worried. “I don’t know what’s keeping them. All they need to do is to announce the verdict, don’t you think?”
I shrugged. I had no idea on what went on in a tribunal, as I’d never been to one before.
Taking a quick sip of my drink, I started getting more tense, if that was possible. What was keeping them? Dad isn’t the sort to start thumping his fist on the table when he disagrees with something, but if they found Randy guilty, he just might’ve done that. An argument with the tribunal could be what was keeping them, but that thought didn’t feel like good news to me.
“Relax, Stick,” Scott said soothingly. “Everything will work out in the end.”
“Yeah,” I replied despondently, “but if he’s found guilty, that end may be years away.”
The conversation died, again, with that. Everyone was trying to be optimistic, even Brendan and his dad, but the longer that door stayed closed, the worse the tension became. My coffee cooled down, but I barely noticed it as I kept taking sips automatically.
Randy was the first out the door. The angry look on his face told the story of how things had gone. He started to stomp towards us, but we all got up quickly and met him halfway.
“What happened?” I asked, getting in slightly ahead of Scott and Adam.
“Not guilty!” Randy beamed suddenly.
“You little shit!” I said, giving him a light punch to the arm. “From the way you looked, I thought they’d found you guilty.”
He scowled angrily. “Lawrence wants to appeal.”
“He doesn’t have any grounds to do so,” Dad said mildly, as he came up behind Randy. “That’s what kept us so long – the tribunal arguing with Lawrence about the result. They were pretty damning in what they said about him. Either things have changed, or they were really annoyed, because when I was a ref, the tribunal never criticised the ref in front of the players; they would ask the refs to stay behind afterwards to tell them what they thought.”
“They asked them to stay behind, anyway,” Randy said cheerfully. “I’d love to know what they’re saying to them. If they save up their worst stuff for when they have the refs by themselves, they must really be slamming into them!”
“Anyway, I think I can shout everyone something,” Dad announced, rubbing his hands happily. “What does everyone want?”
He took orders from everyone, before glancing over to where Brendan and his dad were getting to their feet.
“You, too,” Dad said. “It’s the least I can do for your help.”
“You don’t have to,” Mr. Stanlen replied.
“Okay,” Mr. Stanlen replied, returning to his chair. “But I still think we only did what was right.”
Dad took their orders and headed off. While he was gone, the tribunal door opened and the two refs came out. Lawrence glared at us before heading off in the direction of the basketball courts. I guessed he was hoping to get consolation from his girlfriend, or whoever that was he had kissed earlier. Neil, on the other hand, was headed in our direction.
Randy stood up as he approached. Everyone else had gone silent.
“I’m glad it all ended up okay,” Neil said, extending a hand.
My brother reached forward and shook hands. A grin appeared on his face.
“Thanks for your help, Neil,” he said simply.
Neil shrugged. “No big deal. All I did was tell the truth. I wasn’t doing you any favours.”
“Still, I appreciate it.” At Neil’s puzzled look, Randy clarified, “Your honesty, I mean. Lawrence wasn’t happy about that.”
Neil made a face. “I’m going to tell the supervisor that I don’t want to ref with him ever again. From a couple of comments he made, I think the feeling is mutual.”
Clearing his expression, he added, “Good luck. I doubt you’ll be getting him as a ref for any of the finals, so you should do okay.”
With that, he headed off, not waiting for Randy to say anything else.
Randy stared after him for a few moments, before returning to his chair. The conversation picked up, and a blow-by-blow account of the tribunal hearing was in full swing by the time Dad came back with our orders.
A number of us wanted to keep celebrating, but Dad soon reminded us that we had school the next day. Recalling that I had a history exam coming up, and I hadn’t done much effective study for it, I reluctantly agreed.
On that depressing note, we headed home.
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Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to express a special thank you to everyone at The MailCrew. The help they have given me with this story has been fantastic. Special kudos go to Aaron for doing a brilliant job of editing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.
I would also like to thank Ryan H. for all the feedback he’s provided on the early drafts; helping to keep the story on track.