Sometimes a series of seemingly unrelated events can be connected in ways you’d never expect, each depending on the prior event in order for everything to happen, to turn out perfectly, almost like it had been preplanned.
Charles Purcell pulled into the faculty parking lot and then into his reserved space. He’d been principal of Corrigan High School for almost twenty years, and as he neared retirement he found that he enjoyed a few of the perks of his position. Having a parking space close to his office topped the list. As he locked his car he wondered why that thought had come to mind. ‘Getting old,’ he decided.
He saw Derek Bower standing near the entrance to the administration building, leaning against the wall alongside the walkway. He usually saw Derek here in the morning before school. He wondered why the boy always seemed glum.
“Morning, Mr. Purcell,” Derek greeted him.
“Good morning, Derek. Do you have a few minutes to spare? I need to talk to you about something.” Seeing Derek’s look of concern, he quickly added, “It’s something I think you’ll find quite acceptable. Let’s go to my office and we can chat.”
Charles greeted his staff on the way to his office. Once inside he left the door open, something that he’d found made the kids feel more at ease than if he closed it.
They both sat down, Derek taking the chair closest to the door.
“Derek, I’ve been told by Ms. Collins that you achieved a four point zero grade point average last year.” He saw the boy’s shy smile. “I want to do two things. First, to congratulate you on that achievement. It’s no small thing to get an A in every class when you’re a freshman in high school.
“Now that you’re a sophomore you need a computer for your assignments. Ms. Collins told me that you don’t have a computer at home, and that you stay after classes to use the computer lab.”
Derek seemed embarrassed and dropped his eyes to his lap when he replied. “We have a PC at home, but I have to share it with my sisters and my folks. Besides, it’s sort of old, and it’s real slow. It uses Windows 2000, which is really old, so I couldn’t install the math software I have to use for my Algebra 2 and Trigonometry class. That’s why I use the computer lab after school.”
“So, here’s the second thing I want to do this morning. Because of your perfect grades and because you didn’t miss one day of school last year, you are being awarded a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 notebook computer with accessories including a mouse, and a Canon inkjet multi-function printer. The notebook comes with a keyboard, and you’re getting a WiFi router and all of the cables needed to hook everything up.”
Derek sat staring at the principal, not believing what he’d just heard. Charles sat smiling at Derek.
Finally, after several seconds of silence, Derek asked, “Really?”
“I assume you mean, when will you get the notebook and printer?”
“Well, there’s a bit of a problem with that.”
Derek’s smile faded. ‘Here we go,’ he thought. ‘I just knew there’d be a catch.’
Charles continued, “You ride your bike to school, is that correct?”
“There are three boxes and they’re too big for you to take on your bike. So, what I’d like to do is come to your home this evening and bring you your new computer and printer. Mr. Bannerman will come with me and he’ll help you set it up and connect it to the internet. You do have an internet connection at home, don’t you?”
Derek nodded. He didn’t know if he should laugh or cry, he felt like doing both. But he decided that since he was almost fifteen years old he shouldn’t cry, so he laughed.
“I don’t believe it. This is so wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Derek. It’s the school district’s way to recognize your accomplishments.”
“Can I keep it all year? Or do I have to give it back at the end of the semester?”
“Why would you want to give it back? The computer and the printer are yours, Derek. They’ll be registered with Microsoft and Canon using your name and address. They will belong to you, not to the school.”
Derek did start to cry, just tears, and he got up and rushed around the principal’s desk. Charles stood and Derek grabbed him in a very tight hug. Then he pulled back.
“This is… this is… I don’t know how to say it. Thank you. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Is it okay if I tell my folks when I get home?”
“You can tell anyone you want, your folks, your sisters, your friends.”
At the mention of ‘friends’ Charles saw Derek’s expression go dark for just a couple seconds. That confirmed what he’d learned from the counselor. Derek had few friends at Corrigan High. He’d been a popular boy at Edison Middle School, but something happened over the summer and Derek became one of a small number of kids who didn’t seem to have any friends during their freshman year. For Derek, it seemed to extend into his sophomore year. Charles decided he’d try to find out what happened, and why Derek seemed to end up friendless at school.
“What would be a good time for me and Mr. Bannerman to come to your home this evening? I’d suggest after you’ve had dinner. That way you can spend the rest of the night trying out your computer.” Charles grinned. “Until your regular bedtime, of course.”
Derek smiled and nodded. But he thought, ‘As if!’ He’d probably spend until midnight or maybe even later getting on the school Blackboard system and installing the math software, and Microsoft Office, and a bunch of freeware utilities, then test everything.
“Derek? What time is best for us to bring you your computer?”
“Oh, sorry.” He blushed. “I got thinking about what I’d need to install on my new notebook tonight. Is seven-thirty okay? We’ll be finished with dinner and the dishes by then.”
“Yes, that’s fine. I have your address and phone number, so I think we’re all set. Here’s my card. It has the school phone number and my cellphone number. If you need to change the time, call my cellphone number.”
Derek took the card then held out his hand, and they shook hands. “I’ll see you tonight,” he said.
“Don’t forget, you’ll need a pass to return to class. First period has already started.”
“Really? I didn’t hear the bell.”
“Yes, really. I think you were focused on something else and missed hearing it.” He grinned at the ecstatic teen. “But there’s no problem. Just ask Ms. Wong for a late pass on your way out.”
Derek was floating on air and not paying a lot of attention to where he was going. After all, it was twenty minutes past the start of first period, and everyone was, or should have been, in class. As he started to pass a boys’ restroom the door was slammed open and barely missed hitting him.
“Hey! Watch out!” he shouted, as he jumped back.
Wes Higgins and Fred Martinez came out of the restroom, laughing. They were followed by smoke that smelled strongly of marijuana. They were both bigger and older than Derek, and while he had seen them around campus he didn’t know them or their names. Wes turned and stared at him.
“What the fuck you mean, watch out? Hey, look Fred, it’s a fuckin’ freshman, you think? Prob’ly a fag, too, I’ll bet!”
Wes pushed Derek in the chest with his right palm. He was surprised that it didn’t seem to affect the kid; he didn’t stumble backward and fall the way Wes expected. In fact, Derek barely flinched.
“Fuckin’a,” Fred sniggered. “Looks like he’s stronger than you, Wes.” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Yeah, we’ll just see about that!” Wes responded. He walked up to Derek, grabbed his t-shirt with his left hand and with his right arm cocked and fist balled, was about to slug Derek. Instead, Derek reached out with his left hand and grabbed Wes’s right wrist and pressed his thumb on the inside, hard, and twisted his arm counterclockwise.
Wes let out a loud “OW!” and Derek continued pressing his thumb as hard as he could. At the same time, he grabbed Wes’s left wrist with his right hand and squeezed hard with his thumb the same way. The pressure caused Wes to let go of Derek’s t-shirt. He turned Wes’s left wrist clockwise. Then with a sort of jumping movement he kicked the outside of Wes’s right ankle, hard. As Wes lost his balance and started to fall to the floor, Derek kicked him in his right shin, hard, then let go of both of Wes’s wrists and watched him fall to the floor, his eyes wide with shock and pain.
Derek turned and glared at Fred. “I don’t know who you two are, other than he called you Fred and you called him Wes. Both of you listen to what I have to say. Don’t. Ever. Touch. Me. Again. Capiche?”
Wes didn’t say anything; he was too busy lying in a fetal position on the floor, holding his right leg, moaning in pain.
“I got ya,” Fred said as he backed up a few steps and put up both hands, palms out. “I’m outta here, okay?”
“If you were his friend you’d stick around,” Derek commented, pointing at Wes.
“Fuck ‘im. He’s always doing crap like this and if he gets caught I suffer ‘cuz I’m with ‘im even though I wasn’t doin’ nothin’ myself.”
“Whatever, it’s up to you. By the way, I am gay. You got a problem with that?”
“Not me, man, not me. No tengo problema. My cousin’s gay and him and me are best buds.”
“Contento de escuchar eso,” Derek responded with a grin. He was, in fact, glad to hear that.
Fred grinned, waved his hand, then turned and jogged to the exit at the end of the hall and disappeared outside.
Derek looked down at Wes. “Time to call in the sheriff, pardner!” he said in his best cowboy accent. He pulled out his cellphone and the card Principal Purcell had given him, then dialed the school number.
“Corrigan High School, how may I direct your call?”
“May I speak to Mr. Cobb, please. This is Derek Bower. I’m a student.”
“I’ll transfer you to his assistant.”
After a few seconds the call was picked up.
“This is Barbara Watts in Vice Principal James Cobb’s office. How may I help you?”
“This is Derek Bower. I’m a student, a sophomore. I was just attacked in the hall in building 500 near the boys’ bathroom. I subdued the guy who attacked me when he tried to slug me. He’s on the floor. Can you send Vice Principal Cobb to meet me here?”
“Hold on,” she said. Then, a few seconds later, she continued, “He’s on his way with a school security officer. You and the boy who attacked you are going to stay there, right?”
“Hold on, stay on the call until they get there.”
After about a minute he saw two men walking quickly up the hall.
“I can see them coming, so I guess we can end this call.”
“Alright. Goodbye and good luck.”
‘Wow, good luck?’ Derek thought. ‘That was an interesting thing for her to say.’
“Who are you?” Vice Principal Cobb asked as he and the security officer walked up.
“Derek Bower. This guy, Wes something, tried to attack me. I had to stop him from doing that.”
“What did you do to him for him to end up on the floor like that?” the security officer asked.
“My dad’s a personal trainer. He started me on building my muscles and taking Taekwondo self-defense training back when I was in the seventh grade. I’m in the tenth grade now. One other thing, I only use my training if I’m attacked by someone. Coach Lewis knows about my training; you can ask him about me.”
“So, what caused this ruckus?” Vice Principal Cobb asked.
“This guy,” Derek pointed at Wes, “almost smashed the bathroom door into my face when he came running out. There was some smoke that smelled like marijuana when the door opened. Anyway, I had to jump back and I yelled for him to watch out. I guess he decided he was going to show me who should watch out. He tried to knock me down by pushing me. When that didn’t work he grabbed my t-shirt and was about to slug me. I had to stop that, and I decided to take him down to ground. I kicked his right ankle and shin, and that and the inside of both wrists where I used pressure holds are going to hurt him for a while. But he’ll be okay. I don’t think anything’s broken.”
The security officer walked to the restroom door and opened it a few inches, then quickly closed it. “Yup, definitely marijuana. Can’t prove it was him, though.” He looked at Derek. “Have to catch ‘em in the act.” Derek nodded. He knew the school rules.
“Why were you in the hall and not in class?” the security officer asked.
“Principal Purcell saw me when he got to school this morning and asked me to meet with him. Ms. Wong gave me a pass.” Derek pulled the late pass out of his pocket and gave it to the officer. “I was on my way to my first period Algebra 2 and Trigonometry class.”
“There won’t be much of your algebra class left by the time we’re finished. What room is it in?” the vice principal asked.
“It’s room 522, just past the boys’ bathroom.”
Vice Principal Cobb addressed the security officer, “Pete, let me have the pass and I’ll talk to Mr. Rivas about Derek… Bower, right?”
“Derek, you’ll have to check with Mr. Rivas to get your homework for tonight.”
“That’s okay; I have it already,” Derek said. “On Mondays he posts our homework assignments for the week on the school’s Blackboard system.”
Vice Principal Cobb continued by giving instructions to the security officer: “Pete, call the nurse and have her come with a wheelchair; escort Wes Higgins to my office; take a statement from Derek and give him a late pass for his second period class; and finally, lock the boys’ restroom to keep any deep breathers sober.”
Derek almost laughed out loud at that last instruction. ‘Keep the deep breathers sober?’ he thought. ‘I’m going to have to remember that one!’
The statement was easy and quick. The security officer used a little digital recorder and asked Derek a series of questions which he answered, and he was in his second period English 2 class less than five minutes late.
The rest of the morning went by quickly. Both his World History and Biology classes had quizzes but they were easy. Then it was time for the lunch period.
Derek was used to eating lunch by himself. Before he could get in the cafeteria line a couple kids from his algebra class stood up, called his name, and waved to him to join them at their table. That totally surprised him, so he decided to walk over and see what they wanted.
“Say, Derek, we heard a rumor,” Dale Brown said.
“Yeah,” Paul Choi continued, “we heard that you flattened Wes Higgins.”
“I overheard Fred Martinez talking about it with some other guy. He said you told him that you’re gay. Is it true?” Dale asked.
“Uh… yeah, sort of. I guess.”
“What do you mean, ‘sort of you guess’?” Paul asked, laughing.
Derek just shrugged his shoulders.
“Lionel Rykes was going to see the nurse because he got a nose bleed. When he came back he said he saw Higgins all hunched over in a wheelchair mumbling about how he was going to kill you,” Dale said.
“Kill me? You’re kidding, aren’t you?”
“Nope. Lionel said Mr. Cobb overheard him and called the cops and they arrested Higgins for making threats against a student. The cop said they were going to take him to the hospital first, then to juvie. Then he came back to class.”
“Wes came back to class?” Derek asked.
“No! Lionel, of course! Hey, there he is.” Paul stood up and shouted, “Hey, Lionel, over here. Derek’s with us!”
Everybody in the cafeteria turned around to see what was happening. Derek felt like crawling under the table. But before he could figure a way to sneak out of the cafeteria, Lionel Rykes walked up.
“Derek, my man!” he shouted, then put his hand palm out and grinned. They high-fived.
“You, Derek Bower, are my hero. The guy who finally put Wes Higgins down. Fan-fucking-tastic!”
“Uh, why the big deal about that guy?” Derek asked.
“Because,” Lionel explained, “he’s been pounding on me since I was in sixth grade at Foothill Middle School. And you did a total job on him and did it without leaving a mark on him and without making him bleed. How the fuck did you do that?”
Derek explained how he’d been taking Taekwondo self-defense training since seventh grade.
“Damn, I need to take something like that,” Lionel said. “Would you tell me where you go for that training?”
“Yeah, me too,” Paul and Dale said simultaneously. That made them giggle, also simultaneously.
“God, that is so gay!” Lionel said.
“What?” Dale asked.
“When you two say the same things at exactly the same time, and especially when you two giggle at exactly the same time. You two do it all the time. It’s gay! It’s embarrassing!”
“Dale and I are gay. Dale and I are boyfriends. Dale and I are out. No big deal. So why is it embarrassing?” Paul asked.
“It’s one of those gay stereotypes,” Lionel replied. “You don’t see me going around with my boyfriend acting out like that!”
Dale was looking at Derek, who looked pale as if all of the blood had drained from his face. “Derek, are you okay?”
“You guys… are… all g-gay?” he stammered.
“Yeah,” Dale replied. “Didn’t you know? We all came out when we were freshmen.”
“What, are you homophobic?” Lionel growled at Derek.
“No! I’m gay. I didn’t think there were any other gay kids here….”
“That’s ridiculous!” Lionel interrupted. “Why would you think that?”
“Well… the summer between eighth and ninth grades I told a friend that I’m gay, and Joe Welch overheard me and told all my friends. None of them would talk to me after that.”
“That’s crazy,” Paul said. “Joe Welch isn’t even at Corrigan, he moved to Chicago or Cleveland or somewhere like that that starts with a C. He was a total douche. How about the friend you told? Who was he?”
“It was a she, Ellie Ivers. She wouldn’t talk to me after that either. I lost all my friends. So much for friends!”
“So you what, climbed into the closet and sealed the door from the inside?” Lionel asked. Then he saw somebody and stood up and shouted, “Hey, Carry, over here!”
He turned back to Derek. “That’s Carry Underwood, my boyfriend. He’s gay…. Well, of course, since he’s my boyfriend he’d have to be gay, right? Anyway, he’s on the varsity football team. He’s a junior.” Lionel sighed and grinned, watching Carry navigate with his tray through the cafeteria to join them. When Carry arrived he put down his tray and was introduced to Derek, then Carry and Lionel sat across from each other. They grinned and stared at each other like lovers in some sappy movie.
Paul watched them and shook his head. “Talk about gay stereotypes!” He turned to face Derek. “So, back to what Lionel was asking you about being in the closet. He forgot to ask for your answer because all the blood went from his big head down to the little head in his crotch when he saw Carry. Anyway, is it true that you’ve been in the closet?” he asked.
“Pretty much. I guess. I don’t really have many friends. Any friends, actually. I’ve been keeping to myself,” Derek said. He looked like he was about to cry.
“Bullshit. You’ve got the four of us now. And we’re gonna drag you to the GSA meeting after school tonight and you’ll meet a bunch of other kids who are gay or gay-friendly.”
Derek shook his head. “I can’t go tonight. I have something else I have to do.”
Carry Underwood had been watching Derek. Then he stood and walked across from where Derek was sitting, and stared at him for a few seconds. That made Derek nervous.
“Damn! Now I know who you are! Hey, guys, Derek’s the dude who won the award for perfect straight A grades and perfect attendance in his freshman year.”
“How did you find out?” Derek asked. “It was just this morning before school that Mr. Purcell told me about it.”
“It’s in the daily bulletin. That’s where I just remembered seeing your first name. Derek.” He looked around the table. “Don’t you guys read the daily bulletin?”
Everyone shook their heads as an emphatic ‘No’.
“So I’m the only one who knows about it. Well, and Derek, of course,” Carry said, with a disgusted expression aimed at his friends.
“So, Derek, what did you win?” Paul asked.
“Uh….” Derek was interrupted by Carry. “He got a Surface 4 notebook computer with all the bells and whistles. That is such a great notebook, runs Windows 10, it’s really lightweight, and you can use it as a tablet too. He also got a printer and a bunch of other stuff. And he deserves it, too.”
“That’s what you’re doing tonight, isn’t it?” Dale asked.
“Yeah. Mr. Purcell and Mr. Bannerman are coming to my house after dinner to set it up. So I have to get all of my homework finished before dinner so I can concentrate on playing with my notebook after they leave.”
“Why are they setting it up?” Lionel asked.
“I guess they want to make some sort of big deal out of it.”
“And to make sure your folks know that it’s a big deal,” Paul said. “Stop blushing, Derek! It is a big deal. You deserve what you’re getting because you worked your butt off getting the best grades of anyone in the freshman class.”
“And I happen to know that beside you there were 1,059 other students in last year’s freshman class,” Carry added. “That was in the daily bulletin, too. The daily bulletin on Blackboard that you troglodytes never read.”
“Whoa, you know what that means?” Dale asked.
“What, troglodytes?” Lionel asked.
“No! It means that Derek got an A both semesters in…” and tapping a drum-roll on the tabletop, “…Physical Education! Okay, who was your PE teacher last year, Derek?” Dale asked.
“God, he’s a hard ass,” Carry said. “I should know, he coaches freshman football and I was on the freshman football team year before last.”
Derek shook his head. “He’s an okay guy. He’s just really into strength and weight training.”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. A hard ass. God, I’ve never worked so hard and had so many sore muscles in my life.”
Lionel punched Carry in his bicep. “And that’s why you have all of these super-hard muscles, and made the varsity team as a sophomore last year, Mr. Underwood.”
“Huh! I think it’s my muscles that you’re in love with, not my brain,” Carry said.
“Carry, it’s definitely your muscles, especially one of ‘em,” Lionel said, making everyone else laugh. “Shush, all of you!” he commanded, then continued, “Carry’s a complete package, muscles, a cuteness index of one-hundred-quadzillion, a Brainiac, and to top it off, you, Carry Underwood, are the sexiest guy I’ve ever met.” He wiggled his eyebrows. That was met by hoots and derision, then everyone laughed, including Lionel and Carry.
“Okay, Derek, if you can’t go to the GSA meeting after school tonight, then you can go week after next. Get your phone out and put it on your calendar.” Derek pulled out his cellphone and opened the calendar app. “The meetings are right after school every other Wednesday. Room 211. Three-thirty. So start with tonight and set them for every two weeks. If there’s a conflict, like a holiday or something, then the meeting is cancelled and they send a tweet to the members.”
While the conversation continued Derek noticed that Carry kept staring at him again, and again it made him nervous. Finally, he found out the reason.
“Uh, Derek,” Carry started, “I have a question. Who’s your PE coach this year?”
“Same as last year. Coach Lewis.”
“What period do you have PE?”
“Now I know why you look familiar. You’re taking strength training and weight training with Coach Lewis seventh period. You’re going out for weight lifting or wrestling or some spring sport like that, aren’t you.”
“Try Taekwondo,” Lionel interjected.
“No shit?” Carry exclaimed. “God, I’ve read about it. I really want to learn Taekwondo. I think it would help me with my moves on the football field. Derek, where do you train? Can I join? Is it expensive?”
“You’ll have to get in line,” Lionel said. “Paul, Dale, and I have already asked him that.”
“Guys,” Derek said, “you can all tryout for Taekwondo and see if you like it. If you do, and if you’re accepted, you’ll be in. Any of you or all four of you. It’s not real expensive, and because I’m working with a fairly new instructor I know he has room for new students.”
“What do you mean, if we’re accepted?” Carry asked.
“Well, there are two parts to being accepted. First, you have to be healthy. That means going to a doctor and being checked out, just like if you were going out for a sport like football or basketball. Second, it’s a mental thing. You gotta be sure that you can go to every training session and — I guess you’d call it homework — you practice moves and do exercises at home. Also, you have to be taking Taekwondo for the right reasons. The sabeomnim, he’s the master, the senior instructor, will make that determination. It’s not that hard to qualify. Like, I qualified when I was eleven years old and in the seventh grade at Edison.”
Paul looked at the clock. “You going to get something to eat, Derek?” he asked. “The sandwich bar’s going to close in about five minutes. You better shag your butt over there now.”
Derek grabbed a turkey sandwich on multigrain bread and a bottle of water and headed back across the cafeteria to rejoin the guys, who he realized were now his friends. That almost boggled his mind. Friends! Gay friends! He never thought that would happen. He also realized that he was happy. Two things happened today to make him happy. He liked the way being happy felt.
Something that surprised him was when random kids said hi to him, both going to get his sandwich and when he returned. He smiled and said hi back to each of them. He mentioned that to the guys at the table after he sat down.
“That’s because you’re famous, Derek,” Paul said. “You beat up a bully, and that story is going around school like any rumor does. Sit back and enjoy, my man! Fame is fleeting, and by Monday there’ll be something new catching everyone’s attention.”
“Yeah, he’s right,” Dale said. Then he asked, “Hey, Derek, do you have a boyfriend?”
Paul poked Dale in his shoulder. “Geez, Dale, did you already forget that Derek had sealed himself in the closet? There’s no way he could’ve met anyone who might be a boyfriend. That’s why I think he needs to come to the GSA meeting today.”
“We already talked about that. I want to finish all my homework so I can spend all evening getting my new notebook set up,” Derek said.
“Exactly how much homework do you have for tonight?” Paul demanded.
“It’s mostly Algebra 2. We have a bunch of equations to solve and turn in tomorrow. Then there’s some reading for World History, and a story to read and comment on for English 2 — but I finished that in class. We’re supposed to read about the experiment we’ll do tomorrow in Biology — but I already read about it. What I don’t know is what homework I’ll get in my classes this afternoon.”
“And what classes do you have this afternoon?”
“Fifth period I have Spanish 4, sixth I have Digital Art and Design, and seventh I have PE.”
“Okay, you have some Algebra 2 equations to do. You have Rivas first period.” Derek nodded. “You know I’m in your class.” Derek nodded again. “We have nine equations to solve. That oughta take you maybe forty, forty-five-minutes max. The World History reading is a no-brainer. I have Zimmer for World History fourth period and he told us the reading will take about ten minutes. What about Spanish?”
“We’re doing translations, and I think I’ll be able to finish mine in class.”
“How long’s it take you to get home after school?”
“So,” Paul said, “you get out of the GSA meeting at four-thirty, get home before five o’clock, it takes an hour to finish all your homework, and you’re done by six. No brainer. So, there’s no reason you can’t come to the GSA meeting today. We spend the time from three-ten until three-thirty chatting with peeps and introducing newcomers to everyone. Then the program is almost always over in an hour.”
“Hey, Carry!” Paul called out. “You and Derek both have PE seventh period. How about you bring him to the GSA meeting?”
“You got it,” Carry said.
“Okay, Derek, you’re going to the GSA meeting tonight. No excuses this time!”
Derek tried to scowl, but couldn’t hold it and it turned into a grin. “Okay, Paul, I will go to the GSA meeting tonight. Satisfied?”
“Yes! Now, the four of us need to exchange phone numbers and email addresses and Instagram IDs and so on with you. And we need to do it right now, before we have to head to our fifth period classes,” Paul said.
Derek’s afternoon classes resulted in no additional homework assignments. He saw Carry when he went to take his shower after PE.
“Hey, Derek! There’s an empty showerhead over here.”
Derek went to the showerhead next to Carry at the back end of the room. He kept repeating a mantra in his head, over and over: ‘Don’t look at Carry’s junk. Don’t get hard. Don’t look at Carry’s junk. Don’t get hard.’
“Hey, Carry. How was football practice today?” he asked, trying to focus on something else.
“Good. We’re running plays now, working on what we’ll do when we play Sienna in our first game next week.”
Derek noticed that Carry was actually checking him out, looking at his junk. It was like auto-pilot: he started looking at Carry’s junk, too.
Derek thought, ‘No, no, no, no!’ But he couldn’t stop an embarrassing automatic response. But then he saw that Carry had the same problem. They both laughed and when they finished showering they wrapped their towels around themselves and went back to their lockers. Fortunately for Derek, they were in different locker banks so he wasn’t tempted — or able — to stare at Carry. Derek got dressed, tried to straighten his hair, unsuccessfully, got his gym bag to take home what had to be washed, and headed for the exit.
Carry was waiting for him.
“I couldn’t help noticing that you’re in really great shape,” Carry commented. “You ever think about going out for football?”
“Yeah, for about two seconds. What I pictured was me in a hospital bed with most of my bones broken and in traction from head to toe. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to Taekwondo. Maybe I’ll go out for wrestling in the spring. That’s what Coach Lewis wants me to do.”
“And what do you want to do?”
“Wrestling. My folks don’t want me to do it, though. They want me to continue to concentrate on my grades and stay away from any competitive sports.”
“What do you want to take in college?”
“Bioscience and biochemistry with a minor in computer science.”
“Whoa! That sounds real heavy duty.”
“I’m good at chemistry and biology, and I love computers.”
“Are you taking chem this year?”
“No, I’m taking AP Biology. I took General College Chemistry 101 during the summer at Diablo Valley College.”
Carry was incredulous. “You took a college chemistry class without having taken any chemistry in high school?”
“How’d you do in that class?”
“I got an A, four grade points times five units. I was number one in the class.” Derek blushed. “That sounds like I’m beating my own drum.”
“But rightfully so, methinks!” Carry responded. “You really are a Brainiac, aren’t you.”
“I guess. I sort of find school pretty much easy.”
“I’m impressed, Derek. Man, you’ve really got your head screwed on right way around.”
“Thanks. Please don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Okay. My lips are sealed. You can talk to me about this Brainiac stuff anytime you want, and it’ll be between you and me, no one else.”
“Okay, we’re at Building 200, and the meeting is in room 211. Shall we?”
“Yup. I’ll definitely have to leave by four-thirty, though.”
“It’ll be over by then.” Carry pulled open the door and they walked in.
Derek was surprised. There were about thirty or forty kids standing around talking, including the guys he met at lunch.
“Let me introduce you to the club officers. They’re over there at the front of the room.”
Derek met Guy Moore, the GSA Club President, Kathy Smith, the Vice President, and Shannon Gorman, the Program Chairperson. Derek liked Shannon right away. He had a mop of unruly blond curls, and freckles on every part of his skin that Derek could see. What got to Derek most was Shannon’s smile. Derek liked that, a lot.
“So, what’s the Program Chairperson do?” he asked.
“I try to get people to come and give presentations at our meetings. It’s a tough job because we meet every other week. It seems like I’m spending a lot of my free time contacting organizations trying to find someone new to invite.”
“How do you find ideas for programs?”
“Google, and I have a mailing list of a bunch of people who do the same thing for their GSAs all over the United States and Canada.”
Derek grinned. “How many speakers do you get who are from Canada?”
Shannon grinned in response. “None, but I’ve gotten some good ideas. Like the GSA at a high school in Montreal invited the guy who coordinated the floats in their Gay Pride parade. I found the people who did it for the San Francisco Pride parade, contacted one of them, and he sent one of his people to talk to us. It was really interesting.”
“So the meetings aren’t just about being gay and what that involves, then?”
“Nope. We do have meetings about that, like we had a round table one time about how to find a gay boyfriend or girlfriend.”
“Damn, I wish I could have been at that meeting.”
“You looking for a boyfriend?”
“Uh huh. You know anyone here who is gay and single and is also looking for a boyfriend?”
“Me?” Shannon asked.
“What?” Derek asked, confused by the response.
“I asked you, ‘Me?’ because I’m looking. Derek, would you like to go out on a date with me? We could see if we’re compatible… damn. This must sound ridiculous. Or that I’m desperate. Forget it.”
“Yes, I would,” Derek said.
“What?” Now it was Shannon who was confused by Derek’s response.
Derek laughed. “What I said was, yes, I would like to go out on a date with you. I’ll admit that I’m desperate. I’ve just come out of the closet. That’s why I’m so pale.”
That made Shannon laugh. “So tell me all about it,” he said.
“How about we wait until our date. That way I’ll have something to talk about and I won’t just sit there looking stupid.” Derek grinned.
“Deal,” Shannon said. “How about we go to lunch and then see a movie on Saturday?”
“Deal!” Derek replied. “How about let’s exchange phone numbers and email addresses.” They did, and at the same time they took pictures of each other.
“Now,” Shannon said, “let me introduce you to some of the other people here, and in between I’ll tell you how the Corrigan High School Gay-Straight Alliance Club works. Okay?”
The speaker at the meeting was from U.C. Berkeley. He talked about the large number of LGBTQIA clubs on their campus. He explained that the letters in the LGBTQIA abbreviation meant Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersexual, and Asexual. Even though the GSA Club members probably knew most of the definitions, he explained each of them. He also told us why it was an abbreviation and wasn’t an acronym; everyone thought that his ‘teaching moment’ was funny. Then he talked about the negative and positive debates about the terms ‘Queer’ and ‘Lesbian.’ He also talked about how open and accepting U.C. Berkeley and most other large universities were for gay students. His talk made most of the gay kids at the GSA Club meeting wish they were already in college.
The meeting ended at four-twenty-five and Derek got home at quarter to five. He hung his bike on the wall in the garage and then rushed into the kitchen where his mother was preparing dinner.
“Hey, mom, I’m home,” he called out, as usual.
“How was school?” she asked, as usual.
“Lemme tell you about it,” he said, which was definitely not his usual ‘Okay.’ He sat down at the kitchen table and grinned at her.
“Do you want a snack?” she asked.
“Maybe just some tortilla chips. I’ll get ‘em.” He was closer to the cabinet where the chips were kept, so he got up and retrieved the bag.
His mother filled a glass with ice water and set it in front of him. “You eat those chips and they’ll make you thirsty,” she said, as usual. “Now I’ll sit down and you can tell me all about your day.”
“Okay. Four things happened to me today. All of them are good, each in their own way. All of them are related, but I’m going to tell you about the last three things first. Then I’ll tell you about the first and best thing that happened.”
“Aha, there’s a mystery story here, I gather.”
“More like an action-adventure story.”
He told her how he’d been in the hall between classes and about Wes Higgins calling him a fag and attacking him and how he responded, and how that ended up. He didn’t tell her why he was in the hall between classes, or that Lionel overheard Wes say that he’d kill Derek. He did tell her about Fred Martinez, and how he told Fred that he was gay and Fred was okay with that because his cousin is gay, and so on. He told her the Vice Principal said he wasn’t in trouble for what he did to Wes.
Then he told about the reception he got in the cafeteria at lunch, how he met four kids who were gay and out and they were two sets of boyfriends, and one boy was a junior and was on the football team, and the other three were sophomores. He told her that they were now his friends, and how nice it was to have some good friends, and even nicer because they were gay.
Then he told her that they’d wanted him to go to the GSA meeting and he did and he met a really nice guy, Shannon Gorman, and Shannon asked him to go out for lunch and a movie on Saturday. He told her if they liked each other then they might become boyfriends. And that yes, he hoped they would because Shannon was cute. He showed her the picture he’d taken of Shannon. She agreed that he was very cute.
“Okay, those were the three related things. Now I have to tell you about the first thing, which happened before school this morning, and was in a bizarre way responsible for all of the other things that happened to me today.
“When I got to school I was standing outside leaning against the wall, as usual, thinking about my classes and what we’d be covering and if there’d be any snap quizzes today. Principal Purcell walked up to me and said he needed to talk to me. Well, you can guess what my expression was like when I heard those words, ‘I need to talk to you,’ from the principal. He saw that and told me it was a good thing. It wasn’t a good thing. It was a freakin’ amazing, wonderful, fantastic thing!
“Mom, he said that because I got straight A’s last year and I had a perfect attendance record, I’m getting a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 notebook computer and a printer and it’s going to be mine to keep forever. Mr. Purcell and Mr. Bannerman, my Digital Arts and Design teacher, are coming this evening after dinner to bring me my notebook and all of the stuff that I’m getting with it and help me set it up. They’ll be here at seven-thirty. Is that okay?”
His mother just sat looking at her son.
“Uh, Mom, is seven-thirty okay?”
“I’m so proud of you, Derek. Getting your own computer is certainly wonderful. But what’s most important is what you achieved last year. Your dad is very proud of you, too. I love you, Derek.”
“Thanks, and I love you and Dad too. But, is seven-thirty okay? If not, I have Mr. Purcell’s cellphone number and I can call him and change the time, or the day.” He looked at his mother waiting for her response.
“Of course seven-thirty is okay. I guess I should fix something for when they’re here. There’s a cherry pie in the freezer. I’ll bake it now and it’ll be ready to eat when they are here.”
“They’re going to help set it up for me. I don’t know how much time that’ll take. Maybe they won’t have time for cherry pie.”
“Even if they don’t have time for some cherry pie, we will.”
“Thanks, Mom. That sounds wonderful. Uh… what’s for dinner?”
“Beef stew and a salad.”
“Sounds great. Now I need to get my homework done so I can spend the evening learning about my computer.”
“How much homework do you have?”
“Some reading in the World History textbook, and some equations I have to solve for my Algebra 2 class.”
“Nope. Everything else I was able to get done in class. Say, where are Linda and Bethany?”
“They are each at a friend’s house doing their homework. They’ll be home for dinner. Why don’t you plan on telling us the story about the computer at dinner? You can skip all that other stuff.”
“That sounds like a plan.”
“One thing, you said the story about the computer related to the other things that happened.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot. None of the other things would have happened if Mr. Purcell hadn’t met with me this morning. When we finished talking the last bell for first period had rung, so he had his assistant write me a late pass. That’s why I was in the hall and almost got the boy’s bathroom door slammed into me because I was late to my first period class. Then each of the other things just fell into place, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Derek smiled and thought about what he’d just said. He realized that sometimes a series of seemingly unrelated events can be connected in ways you’d never expect, each depending on the prior event in order for everything to happen, almost like it had been preplanned. Today’s series of events connected one after the other to become his most perfect day ever.
A big thanks to Cole Parker for editing Derek.
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