The next morning, everyone was in a good mood. The outcome of the tribunal had lifted our spirits. Even Randy showed no signs of the simmering anger that had been making random appearances over the preceding week.
With the rain still falling, Mum gave us a lift down to the bus stop before she continued on to work. The weather was not putting a damper on the high spirits we were all feeling. Even a reminder from Adam about the history exam coming up later that day didn’t faze me.
Randy was quieter on the bus than he had been the previous day. I think Maria’s comments were sinking into that thick skull of his. He still attracted most of the attention, but everything stayed low-key.
“How did it go last night?” Rick asked, as he slipped into the seat next to Randy.
“Not guilty!” Randy said proudly, before scowling. “Lawrence wants to appeal, though.”
When Rick looked concerned, I spoke up.
“Dad doesn’t think Lawrence has grounds to appeal, so Giant should be okay.”
“Well, are you going to give me the details, or do I have to beat them out of you?” Rick asked my brother.
With a smile, Randy started to tell the story of what happened at the tribunal. I was silently thankful for Rick, as he kept Randy occupied for the rest of the trip. Glancing around, I saw a few other students listening to the conversation. As far as I could tell, they were just being curious. None of them showed signs of anything except interest in something unusual.
When we reached school, we found Gary, Mary, Scott and Liz waiting for us. Scott explained that he was there early because Chris had given him a lift in. Randy’s friends, Stu and Kev, joined us soon afterwards. Scott had already filled the others in on the events of the tribunal, so Randy was busy accepting congratulations from everyone. Stu and Kev weren’t happy, though. It seemed that Randy had neglected to inform them about the tribunal. They had previously learnt about the report, from Randy’s teammates, but they hadn’t known the tribunal had been held. After giving my brother a bit of abuse for keeping secrets, they added their congratulations for the successful outcome.
There was still some tension between Liz and me, but it was dissipating the more we spent time together. I saw Fiona scowling at me in the distance, but I didn’t care. I hoped that Liz wouldn’t have a falling out with her girlfriends over me, but I was selfish enough to not care if some of them couldn’t stand me. I had the girl I wanted with me, and I just wanted it to stay that way. She was happy to stand next to me while Randy had the spotlight. We weren’t holding hands, though I was very tempted to reach out, but I was happy to just share some common space.
As we began making the rounds of everyone’s lockers before our classes started, we were laughing at a joke that Gary had just told us – a clean one, for a change – when Scott suddenly stopped dead and just stared ahead. We all fell silent as we followed his gaze to my locker.
I stepped forward and read what was scrawled on the door: “My brother gives great head!”
“Pretty tame stuff,” Randy remarked with a touch of anger.
“But it means that whoever is doing this is starting to target other people,” Liz pointed out, concerned. “What about your friends and classmates, Randy? Will they be next?”
I glanced over at my brother and saw anger and fear fighting for a place on his face. Fear won.
“Surely they wouldn’t target them?” he asked, pleading for an answer he wasn’t going to get.
There was a small well of silence around my locker as everyone just looked at each other. I didn’t know what to say, and it was clear that no one else did.
“Ah, you’ve found it,” a gravelly voice remarked mildly.
I looked around to see Swampy approaching, carrying a small pot of paint.
“I’m sorry about that,” he continued, “but I was busy fixing the other locker first. I thought it had priority.” Fixing an eye on Adam, he added, “I’m moving you to a new locker. I have better things to do with my time than to keep repainting your current one. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve got it organised.”
He was disgusted, but it wasn’t with Adam.
“Wh... what did they do to my locker?” Adam asked hesitantly.
Swampy looked around. He peered at Liz and Mary before leaning forward to speak softly to Adam.
Adam started to go green as he listened to what the maintenance man was telling him.
Straightening up, Swampy addressed all of us.
“Now, whose locker is this?”
“Mine,” I answered tentatively, wondering what it was that Adam had been told.
“Okay. Get what you need out of it, and I’ll repaint it. If it happens again, I’m moving you to a new locker, too,” he said with a sigh.
Mechanically, I did as I was told. I kept glancing at Adam, as did most of the others, unable to ignore the way he kept swallowing, as if he was trying to stop himself from throwing up. No one said anything, though, until we’d finished at my locker.
As soon as we moved and were out of Swampy’s earshot, Gary was the one to ask the question everyone was thinking.
“What did he say?”
Adam looked extremely uncomfortable. Fixing his eyes straight ahead, he sighed.
“Someone stuck a used condom onto my locker,” he said without expression. He then made a face and continued, “Trust me, you don’t want to know what they wrote.”
Gary and I exchanged puzzled looks, but we both trusted Adam enough not to ask any more questions. None of us are particularly squeamish, but if Adam was sickened by what he was told, then it must have been really revolting.
We headed down to Adam’s locker after that. The paint on it was still wet and Adam had to be careful when he opened it.
“What the fuck?” he exclaimed as soon as he glanced inside.
It was just as well that there was hardly anything in his locker, as there was a fine spray of some lightly-coloured liquid over everything. Looking over his shoulder, I noticed a lot of whatever it was on the back wall of the locker. Adam started to gingerly take things out.
“I’ll get some paper towels from the toilets,” Gary volunteered, and ran off.
“It looks like they sprayed it in through the slits in the door,” I remarked. “What is it, Adam?”
After one sniff, he rocked back in disgust. “Piss.”
“Someone pissed into a jar, or something, and then sprayed it into your locker?” Randy asked in disbelief. “The bastard!”
Adam and I looked at each other. A quick unspoken agreement flashed between us. Randy was going to be getting a new locker, too. Whichever one of us saw Swampy first would mention it. The bastard had indicated that my brother was a target and we wanted that target to be as small as possible.
When Gary came back, everyone was expressing disgust, and thanks that Adam would be shifting lockers. As soon as Gary found out what the liquid was, he was ready to start stomping on heads, but the fact that the perpetrator was completely unknown stopped him.
We were a somber group as we continued the rounds of the lockers. As this was not something we’d done much, we found ourselves running out of time and broke up into small groups just before our classes started, so the others could get to their lockers in time. Adam, Gary and I headed to our history exam, while Scott, Mary and Liz went with Randy and his friends to make sure he got to his class safely. I saw a flash of resentment on his face, but when Mary slipped her arm around his back on one side and Liz did the same on the other, he was quickly disarmed. Walking around the school with a pair of good-looking older girls appeared to do wonders. He quickly gave up the struggle and let a proud grin appear on his face. While Scott carried his bag for him, Randy draped his arms over the two girls’ shoulders.
Gary smiled after them. “It’s lucky that I trust Giant. Otherwise, I’d have to have a few words with him,” he chuckled.
“Yeah,” I said quietly. I knew Liz liked my brother, but at the moment she seemed more comfortable with him than with me. I trusted both of them, but that didn’t stop me from feeling uneasy. After a moment’s thought, I decided I was just being nervous because I’d barely started to get Liz back. There was no way I could be jealous of my brother. Liz was just being helpful.
As we entered the classroom, we noticed that Mrs. Leadbetter was already there, even though there was still a few minutes before the class would begin.
“Put your bags against the wall, please,” she ordered as we entered, pointing to the front of the class where a collection of school bags had already accumulated.
“What about pens?” Gary asked. “Won’t we need them for the exam?”
“I’ll be providing the writing equipment,” she told him, “so just put your bags down and find a seat.”
We were all puzzled by that, but did as we were told.
“She’s paranoid about cheating,” a voice whispered from behind us after we’d sat down.
We turned to find Andrew Driver leaning forward in his seat.
“Apparently, a student once hid notes inside a pen. Now, all she’ll let us have on the desk is the exam and a pen that she provides,” he explained.
“She’s going a bit overboard, isn’t she?” Adam asked.
Andrew shrugged. “It’s her class. She’s allowed to run it any way she wants to, I suppose.”
Adam was right. Those instructions were only the start of the draconian rules our teacher had for the exam. It was as if she’d researched all possible ways for students to cheat and had put procedures in place to counter them.
Despite the overbearing nature of the teacher, I thought I did pretty well on that exam. There was one section that I found interesting, because it wasn’t in our textbook. Rather than a dry recitation of facts and figures, one part of the exam asked for our opinion on whether or not the actions of Governor Bligh that triggered the Rum Rebellion were justified.
The issue had been discussed in our lessons, and for anyone who’d been paying attention there was plenty of material to work with, but I knew it wasn’t a subject mentioned in our reading material. I wondered if that was just a creative way for the teacher to draw out of us what, if anything, we had learnt from class discussions. It wasn’t clear how it would be marked; whether it would be like an English essay and marked mainly on presentation, or whether it would be marked mainly on content. I guessed it was the latter, but I tried to make sure my answer was well constructed.
As we left the room after the exam, we found Swampy waiting patiently outside.
“Ah, there you are,” he said when he saw Adam. Straightening up from where he’d been leaning against the wall, he added, “Come with me. I’ll show you to your new locker.”
Gary and I followed, causing Swampy to stop for a moment and cast a critical eye over the two of us before continuing on his way.
“I’ve picked one that should make anyone pause before they attempt to deface it,” he remarked to Adam as we walked along.
“Where is it?” Adam asked.
Swampy chuckled. “You’ll see.”
As I realised where we were heading, I grinned. If I was right, it would be a brave student who’d attempt any graffiti.
“Here you are,” Swampy announced proudly when he stopped, pointing to a nearby locker.
I was right; Adam had a locker that was within spitting distance of the teachers’ staffroom. With the danger of a teacher appearing at any time, only a lunatic would try anything.
“Swampy,” I said, attracting the attention of the grinning maintenance man, “would it be possible to get a new locker for my brother, as well?”
He frowned at me. “I don’t like making changes during the term. Why does he need a new one?”
“Whoever has been doing this has shown that they’re not just targeting me,” Adam replied. “David’s brother was mentioned in the graffiti on David’s locker. We don’t want him to get any of this.”
Swampy stared intently at first me, then Adam. Pursing his lips, he looked away as he considered the suggestion. Turning back to me, he asked, “Your brother, is his name Randy?”
He nodded his head. “Consider it done. It may not be until tomorrow, though.”
With that, he waved and headed off.
Adam took the opportunity to dump several items from his bag into his new locker. Since he’d learnt about the first episode of vandalism he’d taken to carrying almost all his gear with him. That morning, he’d cleared the last of the things from his old locker. Even though I stood a couple of feet away, the odour wafting from those items was noticeable. Adam would need to take them home and give them a good airing to let the smell fade. At least he wouldn’t have to carry them for the rest of the day.
“Are things getting better, Ads?” Gary asked quietly as Adam closed up the locker.
I leant forward to make sure I heard the answer. It was a question I’d wanted to ask but was too uncertain of the reception I’d get. Most of the time, Adam and I had been getting along, but I still sometimes put my foot in it if I talked about the “gay issue”.
Adam gave the question serious thought before responding slowly, “I think so, Gazza. I think so.”
His uncertainty was clear, but there was an undercurrent of hope in the way he said it.
As we started to head to where we always have lunch, Gary nodded his head.
“You’ve had your fifteen minutes of fame, and now everyone’s moved on,” he remarked.
“Almost everyone,” Adam replied, “but yeah, that’s the way it seems.”
With the morning’s rain ended, and the occasional ray of sunshine as the cloud cover started to break up, we took up our position near the outside basketball courts. The bench was wet, but a quick wipe with the sleeve of my jumper dried it off enough for us to sit down.
Liz and Mary soon joined Adam, Gary and me. Gary and I both got up at the same time to offer our seats to the girls. Mary gave Gary a quick kiss on the cheek before she sat down, while Liz just smiled softly. I’m sure I had a foolish grin on my face in response, but I couldn’t help it.
Scott trotted up just then, and we all settled into a discussion about the exams we’d just had. From the post-mortem, I was confident that I’d passed, and thought I’d done reasonably well.
Adam filled everyone in on the location of his new locker, and we all agreed that it was as safe a place as the school could manage.
I was looking around, wondering what was keeping my brother and his friends, when we became aware of a commotion in the direction of the sports field. Several guys were running in that direction, and a couple of kids were running away from it. One of guys running away started shouting out to some other students nearby.
“Hey, Paul! Luke Williams is bashing up some kid on the footy oval!”
We all heard that clearly. Still looking around for my missing brother, I added two and two and got a number I didn’t like.
“Randy!” Scott and I said at the same time.
All of us guys started sprinting, and Scott quickly outpaced the rest of us. Joining the general throng heading towards the football field, I was slowed down as bulkier kids kept getting in my way. Scott, on the other hand, used his smaller size and agility to zip through gaps as they appeared. Adam and Gary just barged through, trying not to knock anyone over, but not caring if they did.
When we got to the slope that overlooks the sports field, we saw that Luke Williams was being restrained by a number of older students. I recognised Ty Roberts as one of them. Luke was screaming obscenities. “Poofter”, “faggot” and “cocksucker” were some of the common expletives he was using. Scott had stopped at the top and was just watching. I quickly scanned the area around Luke, looking for his victim. I saw a body lying on the ground and was relieved that whoever it was had black hair, not the pink/blonde I’d been looking for and dreading to find.
As I watched, I saw someone lean over the guy and shake him gently, and realised with horror that Luke must have gone mental – whoever he’d bashed wasn’t moving.
Not knowing if there was anything I could do to help, I started down the slope. At the least, I could run to get a teacher.
It seemed that someone had had that thought before me, as Mr. Presley, the head P.E. teacher, arrived at the same time I did. He gave one glance at where the guys were holding a struggling Luke Williams, before turning his attention to the guy on the ground. Another student was busy on a mobile phone. From what I caught, he was asking for an ambulance and the police to be sent to the school as quickly as possible.
Very gently, the teacher turned the victim over. I gasped as I recognised him, despite the blood covering his face and the bruising that was already beginning to show. It was Nick Tremen.
“Okay, everyone. Move away, please. There is nothing for you to do here,” Mr. Presley commanded, as he began to gently check Nick for injuries. He glanced at the four guys holding Luke down and added, “Keep him there until we get help. He’s done a real number on this guy.”
He glanced around and caught my eye.
“You! Go to the staffroom and tell them I need help, NOW!”
I hesitated for a moment, to see if he had any other instructions, but all he said – with a touch of desperation in his voice – was “GO!”
I started running and Gary, Adam and Scott quickly joined me. We were moving too fast for a conversation, but Scott managed to gasp out a question.
“Who is it?”
“Nick Tremen,” I replied between breaths.
I was puzzled by why Luke had bashed up Nick, especially so badly. From what Michael had told us previously, it seemed that they’d been mates, or at least co-conspirators. My musings were brought to a stop when we arrived at the staffroom.
I quickly explained what Mr. Presley had told me to say. They seemed a little hesitant to get out of their comfy seats on just my word, but when I mentioned Luke Williams and an unconscious kid, they acted quickly. Before I could move, one teacher was ringing the nurse, while another was calling out names to go down to help Mr. Presley.
Effectively dismissed, we all headed outside. We were followed out by a group of five teachers who started running in the direction of the oval.
“What happened?” Adam asked me, as we strolled back to our normal lunchtime place.
I shrugged. “Beats me.”
I was trying to make sense of it, and I’m sure the other guys were as well, but I hadn’t come up with anything to say by the time we got back. Randy and his friends had shown up while we had been away, and were busy talking to Mary and Liz. Michael O’Conner was also there.
We filled them in on what we had seen. Michael was the one who came up with what sounded like the most likely explanation, though it still left a lot of questions unanswered.
“If Nick was the one who put Luke up to the attack on Randy, Luke might’ve blamed Nick for the police being involved. If the wrong thing was said, Luke just might’ve snapped,” he said thoughtfully.
“He certainly looked like he was ready to start breaking bones the other morning,” Randy remarked.
“If that’s the case, then that’s two problems solved at once,” Gary said cheerfully.
“Gary,” Mary said warningly, “a kid was hurt, and hurt real bad. You don’t describe that as a problem being solved.”
Gary cringed. “Sorry, that’s not how I meant it. I just meant that that is two people who didn’t like Adam out of the way. The school has to expel Luke for this!”
Mary gave him a stern glare before responding. “You did mean it that way, and you know it.”
Gary flashed the rest of us a silent plea for help. I was mildly amused at how well Mary had Gary wrapped around her finger. Of course, I knew Liz was able to do the same to me at times, so I stepped in to try to help him.
“Do you guys think Luke or Nick vandalised the lockers?”
The conversation shifted and we started to discuss my question. Gary gave me a look of gratitude, but I’m sure he didn’t realise that Mary gave me a wink and a small grin, as well. I smiled wryly at the thought that we hadn’t fooled her in the slightest, but she’d let us get away with it, anyway.
Everyone quickly agreed that Luke wasn’t the sort to write things on lockers. He would’ve been more likely to make the owner of the locker write it, if he’d ever thought of it. Doing something without his victim seeing it happen was just not his style.
No one knew enough of Nick to say if he was the culprit or not. I thought it was likely, but as Scott pointed out, there were more than two people in the school who’d indicated they weren’t part of the gay fan club.
It wasn’t long before everyone in the schoolyard stopped to watch the arrival of first an ambulance, and shortly afterwards, a police car. Most of the school, including our little group, congregated near the football oval and watched as the police put handcuffs on Luke and took him away, and Nick was loaded into the ambulance.
After that, the crowd dispersed. We all wandered back to our usual spot. With the previous topic dying, we started to talk about what we’d be doing over the Easter break. I saw Liz give me a speculative look when I mentioned that I had no special plans for the long weekend. I wanted to ask her if she wanted to do something, but I wasn’t sure if I should let her be the first to raise the subject.
As the bell rang for the end of lunch and everyone started to scatter, I noticed Adam looking rather tense.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“Have you forgotten what class we have next?”
With everything that had been going on, and the disruption to our normal timetable because of the exams, it took me a moment to realise what he was talking about.
“Oh,” was all I said. The next class was Religious Education with Sister Brenda. The corresponding class the week before had resulted in our being suspended.
“I saw the Sister from Hell earlier today, so it’s pretty definite it’s going to be her, this time,” Adam added as we headed towards the classroom. He sounded depressed.
“I’m not going to start anything, but I’m not going to let her put me down, either,” he added in a firm tone.
We continued on our way in silence. I had no ideas on what was going through Adam’s mind, but I was getting ready for a repeat of the week before. This time, I was planning on watching a bit more carefully what came out of my mouth. I was hoping that wouldn’t be needed, but from what little I knew of Catholics and homosexuality, I expected Sister Brenda to be only a more refined version of Mr. Martin. The twins had given me the impression that homophobia is rampant in the Catholic Church.
We arrived to find most of the class already seated. As one, their eyes all followed Adam as he walked in and sat down. No one said a thing, but an aura from the week before was hanging over the room.
I looked around before I sat down. Being tense was normal for this particular lesson, but it had been raised up a level in intensity. I was pleased to see no one was gloating in anticipation, and a handful even looked concerned, but everyone looked like they were just trying to be spectators, not wanting to get involved.
As the final stragglers came in and sat down, the noise of other students outside the room died away. We could hear the low hum of other classes starting, but everyone in our room was quiet.
Sister Brenda entered the room. The silence intensified with her physical presence.
With scarcely a glance at us, the elderly nun walked over to the teacher’s desk and sat down. She then commenced reading the roll, noting, as normal, each student’s reply of “Present, Sister Brenda.”
I listened carefully for any change when she came to my name and Adam’s, but I couldn't detect anything. That, at least, was different from the week before with Mr. Martin.
When the roll call was completed, she paused and cast her gaze over the class.
“I have been informed of the reprehensible events that occurred in this class last week. Needless to say, I was not impressed by the behaviour that was reported to me. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will not tolerate a repeat – today, or at any time in the future,” she stated forcefully.
“I was also subjected to a lecture on the importance of tolerance; something I found extremely distasteful,” she continued. “For many years I have taken my instruction from one and only one source.” Lifting up the Bible she always carries around with her, she added, “I take my instruction from this, and I consider it to be the ultimate source for how I should live my life.”
The entire class remained silent as she paused, though almost everyone, including me, flicked glances across at Adam, to see how he was reacting.
“Mr. Johnson, will you please stand up?” Sister Brenda ordered.
I rose slowly to my feet, cringing at what was about to happen. Tongue-lashings from the Sister from Hell have been known to reduce students to quivering wrecks. I steeled myself as I expected the worst.
“I have been informed of your comments of last week. Do you intend to repeat more of the same, today?” she asked me. She raised an eyebrow, seeming to indicate that she would’ve been amazed if I’d answered anything but “no”.
“No, Sister Brenda.”
She nodded. “You may be seated, Mr. Johnson.”
I let out a controlled sigh of relief as I sat back down. I wanted to wipe my brow, but I didn’t want to take the risk of drawing her attention.
She turned to look at Adam. You could hear almost every student take a breath and hold it, as they waited for what was going to happen next.
“Mr. Kennedy, will you please stand up?” Sister Brenda asked.
I don’t know if anyone else picked it up, but the tone she used was different to the one she’d used on me. For me, it had been an order, though phrased as a request. For Adam, while he still didn’t really have a choice, it was more like a suggestion than an instruction.
Adam rose stiffly. His face was set into an expression not often seen in Sister Brenda’s classes: steely determination.
“While the subject of homosexuality is not on the curriculum, it appears that it must be addressed. I have been informed of the Bible quoting spree engaged in by Mr. Martin and Mr. Kennedy. I would like to state that I consider the statement that Jesus made on the subject of homosexuals to be definitive,” she stated firmly to the class, before turning her attention to where Adam was standing. “Do you care to disagree with the word of our Lord, Mr. Kennedy?”
Adam looked confused. Something about what Sister Brenda had said had thrown him.
“Umm... what statement, Sister Brenda?” Adam asked cautiously.
“You do not know it?” the elderly nun asked rhetorically. “I’m very much surprised. I had expected you to have everything on the subject memorised.”
I heard a faint giggle at Adam’s discomfort from someone to my left.
Sister Brenda quickly flicked her eyes across the room.
“Do you wish to say something, Miss Wheelan?” she asked sharply.
“Sorry, Sister Brenda,” Kim Wheelan stammered, clearly not expecting to be caught.
“Then please be quiet until you have something to contribute,” Sister Brenda ordered before turning back to Adam.
“If you are not aware of what our Lord has said on this subject, then I think it is appropriate that you read that statement out to the class. Please come up here to the front, Mr. Kennedy,” she stated firmly, as she picked up her Bible again and rose to her feet.
Adam walked nervously up to join the nun. As he stood there hesitantly, she gestured that he should face the rest of the students. She then handed him her Bible, already opened to whatever page she wanted him to read.
“I want you to read the marked verses. I’m sure you’ll find it amusing that I have used a pink highlighter on them,” she stated dryly.
I had a sudden suspicion that Adam had been set up. Why did she have the section to be read already highlighted? Several other students seemed to have the same idea, as many leant forward in their seats in anticipation of Adam’s humiliation.
Adam looked at the Bible pages for a couple of seconds, and then his jaw dropped open and his head snapped around to stare at the nun.
“If you could please start soon, Mr. Kennedy,” she said politely, if a little sharply. “We have a lot of other things to cover today. I do not wish to spend the entire period waiting for you to learn to read.”
To everyone’s surprise, Adam smiled at the nun before turning back to the class with a broad grin. His whole body seemed to lift as all his nervousness disappeared.
“Mark, Chapter 12, Verses 28 to 31,” he started confidently.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
“ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
“ ‘The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There are no commandments greater than these.’ ”
Adam reverently closed the Bible and handed it to Sister Brenda. I might have been mistaken, but I thought he gave her a short bow as he did so.
“Do you wish to disagree with our Lord?” Sister Brenda asked him, as she accepted the Bible’s return.
“No, Sister Brenda,” Adam said happily.
“Then you may resume your seat,” she said. Turning to the class, she swung her steely gaze over all the students.
“Does anyone want to say anything, or can we consider this topic closed?” she asked, clearly not expecting anyone to say anything.
“Sister Brenda, what about the sections of the Bible that say homosexuality is an abomination?” Tristan MacDonald asked politely.
She raised an eyebrow at him, and the rest of the class stared in amazement at his audacity. I was surprised that Tristan was willing to continue something that the sister clearly wanted ended.
“The verses that were read out don’t say anything about that,” he added defensively.
Slowly, the elderly nun nodded her head.
“You are correct; they do not,” she admitted. “I will not make comment on that directly, as different branches of the Christian church have varied opinions on the subject. I will just point out that a person’s actions are between him and God. Our Lord said ‘Judge not, least you be judged.’ He also said ‘Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.’ What I have indicated is how Jesus Christ taught that we should treat each other, regardless of what sins we may or may not have committed. I would expect everyone here to follow those instructions.”
She looked almost apologetically at Tristan as she added, “That is all I am prepared to say on that subject at this point in time. If you feel that is insufficient, I am willing to meet with you privately at a later date to discuss it further, Mr. MacDonald.”
Tristan nodded his head thoughtfully.
“Thank you, Sister Brenda. I will think on what you have said,” he said with careful formality.
I stared at him for a few seconds longer, as I tried to work out what that meant. There had been no hostility in what he’d said, and I hadn’t noticed any hostility from him prior to Sister Brenda’s class. Was he just trying to sort out what he believed, or was he trying to stir the pot against Adam?
“If you would kindly bring your attention back to the front, Mr. Johnson, we can continue with our planned lesson,” Sister Brenda said sharply.
I quickly turned back to the nun. The last thing I wanted was to get into more trouble.
The lesson continued after that, though there was an odd feeling in the room. Somehow, the terror that the Sister from Hell normally instilled in the students seemed muted. It was as if, by indicating her tacit support for Adam, she’d shown that she was human and had a sense of compassion. Everyone was still incredibly formal and polite, but the edge had been taken off it.
Tension returned at the end of the lesson when Sister Brenda asked Adam to stay behind. I paused and let everyone else leave, while I tried to decide if I should ask to stay, too.
“You may stay, if you wish, Mr. Johnson,” Sister Brenda graciously offered, when she noticed me hovering by the door. “Please close the door first, though.”
I closed the door, then walked back to where Adam was sitting, and sat next to him. The nun left her desk and sat down in a chair near us.
“Mr. Kennedy, I’ve asked you to stay because I want to address some of the things that you said to Mr. Martin last week,” Sister Brenda started.
Adam and I both stiffened at that.
“Please relax,” she added quickly. “This is not an attack, but an attempt to provide you with some advice.”
The nun in front of us was not the iron-willed disciplinarian that normally taught us. As if a switch had been thrown, this was a compassionate person, extending an offer of help.
“What do you mean, Sister Brenda?” Adam asked carefully.
“You made two major mistakes last week, and I want to point them out to you. Hopefully, if you are in that situation again, you will perform better,” she replied.
Adam and I exchanged quick glances. Both of us were perplexed by what she was saying.
“Your first mistake was to get into a Bible quoting contest. Please remember what happened to Jesus during his temptations: even the Devil can quote the scriptures when it suits him.”
Adam nodded his head thoughtfully. I could see the point, too. It seemed a bit of a cop-out to me, but I understood what she was saying. The ability to quote sections of the Bible that support your point of view really doesn’t mean a lot.
“The second thing is that in response to the comment about homosexuality being an abomination, you replied by commenting about the subject of adultery,” she continued. “That was a mistake.”
“But he was being hypocritical by only picking part of that chapter and ignoring the rest,” Adam pointed out, though without anger. It was as if he was trying to understand what she was getting at, and wasn’t taking offense.
“You are correct, but don’t you realise that you were conceding that homosexuality is a sin?” Sister Brenda asked politely.
Adam rocked back in his seat as he absorbed what she had just said. My own mind was racing, as I tried to work out what she meant.
“Adultery is listed in the Ten Commandments, while homosexuality is not. Linking the two raises the subject of homosexuality to the same level,” she explained patiently.
“Are you saying that you don’t think it is a sin?” Adam asked, wonder in his tone.
“That is a question you have to answer for yourself,” she replied kindly. “My opinion is not important. If you are to grow up as a Christian young man, you need to be confident of that answer in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul.”
When Adam didn’t respond, she sighed and looked out the nearby window.
“When I was younger, I worked in Belfast during the height of the IRA activities. Two young people there made me realise that those verses I made you read were what I had to base my life on.
“The first was a young woman whom I met in hospital. She had been badly hurt as a result of a bomb blast that destroyed the shop where she worked. The reason the shop was blown up? Because they opened on St. Patrick’s Day.”
She reached into a pocket and brought out a handkerchief. Dabbing at her eyes, she continued.
“The second was a young man whom I met in prison. I spent several days visiting and praying with him. It was only as I was finishing that I learnt why he was there. He had ruthlessly assassinated two people for being suspected informers.”
She sighed and hung her head.
“He said he was a Catholic, but he had no qualms about breaking the commandment, Thou shalt not kill. The people who planted the bomb that injured that young woman also claimed to be Catholics. The other side was just as bad. People claiming to be Protestants would go out at night and kill people.
“That was when I highlighted those verses in my Bible. I read that section daily. I am not able to say who is right and who is wrong, but I can do my best to love all of them as my neighbours.”
She looked up and stared directly into Adam’s eyes.
“His Holiness, the pope, has said that homosexuality is a sin. I will not debate that with you,” she stated firmly. “The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded me to love my neighbours and to not judge. Whether or not the life you live is sinful is something for God to decide when you face Him. Until then, you are my neighbour, and I don’t want you hurt.
“Take care, Adam,” she added, using his given name for the first time. “Love the Lord, and love those around you. That’s all I ask. The rest is up to you. Take my love with you as you go.”
She stood up and walked back to her desk. As Adam and I got to our feet and picked up our bags, she started writing.
“Here are passes that excuse you for being late for your next classes. Don’t abuse them by dawdling along the way,” she stated dryly.
“Thank you, Sister Brenda,” Adam and I chorused. We also gave her nods of thanks. Adam surprisingly had an ally in the elderly nun. It was clear to me, at least, that she wouldn’t tolerate any sort of attacks against him.
When we opened the door, we found her next class lined up quietly and neatly. If that had been any other class, it would’ve been a rowdy mess. Sister Brenda’s control extends beyond her room, however. Even though the class was supposed to have already started, none of the students had been game to open the door and interrupt her chat with us.
“Okay, class. You may now come in,” she commanded from her desk.
The students entered the room in an orderly and quiet way. Not one of them was brave enough to risk the ire of the Sister from Hell.
Adam and I exchanged quiet smiles as we walked along. I had to start thinking of Sister Brenda differently. The title of the Sister from Hell just didn’t fit her, anymore.
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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 Ryan H., and also 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.