Butterflies swarmed in Danny Becker’s stomach as he walked across the entrance to the park under the rainbow arch formed by brilliantly-colored balloons. He wore neatly washed jeans and a blue t-shirt. The shirt was a little tighter than his mother liked. She said something about it before he left home and he’d reminded her he was gay. “Mom, straight men like to look at girls with big boobs in tight shirts and short skirts. Gay men like to look at boys in shirts tight enough to show their abs and skin-tight jeans.”
He watched two rather stocky men in leather kilts and harnesses walk by. One of them had a shaved head. Tattoos covered almost every visible inch of their arms, legs and backs. He tried not to stare as he thought. “I don’t see how anyone can think that looks good. The small tattoo Coop got after our eighteenth birthday is bad enough. Why would anyone want to cover himself with pictures?” The men had their arms around each other’s waists. Danny envied their openness. “That’s what I want, someone to walk hand-in-hand with.” A few feet further, he saw a couple pulling a small girl in a wagon. At first, he thought they were a straight couple until he realized they were both women. Tattoos also abounded on the short-haired mannish-looking woman.
Danny looked to his left and was reminded of a carnival midway. Alternating blue and white canvas sunshades formed booths down both sides and across the bottom of the area. A few tents and a row of Port-a-johns occupied the center of the area. He saw signs for churches, insurance companies, phone companies and others. As he watched the people milling around, he began to think he might be over-dressed. A lot of the men were shirtless and several of the women wore halter tops and shorts. Some of the men even appeared to be dressed in only their underwear.
In the opposite direction, loud music played from speakers beside and over a stage. Danny bought a soft drink from one of the tents. The music stopped and a man and woman came out on stage. At least Danny thought one was a woman until he spoke. He hadn’t seen any drag queens except on TV. He was surprised he looked so feminine. He found an empty spot on the grass about twenty feet from the stage and sat down on the grass.
As Danny watched the antics on stage, a man approached and sat down a little closer than Danny liked. The man was probably a little older and rather scruffy-looking. His cut-off shorts were a bit too short and low, and the bottom of his t-shirt was ripped off and it ended about three inches above his waistline baring his pierced navel and treasure trail. His ears, nose, eyebrows and lip were pierced . Danny didn’t want to offend the man, but the face piercings really turned him off. “Yuck, I can’t imagine kissing someone with a ring in his lip or a stud in his tongue.” Printing on the man’s shirt said, “You Look A Lot Like My Next Boyfriend.” “Not if I have any say about it.” He moved a couple of inches away.
“Hi, I’m John.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes watching the people on stage. Then John said, “Think I’ll walk around for a while. Wanna come?”
Danny lifted his soda can. “I’m just gonna sit here and finish my soda.” He didn’t let on the can was almost empty.
“Okay. See ya.”
* * *
Mike watched the young man sit down. He turned to Daryl. “Were we ever that young and innocent?”
Daryl raised his head from where it lay on Steve’s lap and looked at Danny. “I don’t know about you, but I was until I met this guy.” He rubbed his hand along Steve’s arm which rested on his waist.
“He is kind of cute.”
Steve shook his head. “When I said you needed to get on with your life, I didn’t mean with someone who’s jailbait.”
Mike remembered the conversation:
“Mike, it’s been two years. You need to get out and meet people. I know you loved Jerry, but it’s time to get on with your life.”
“I know, Steve. My therapist says the same thing.”
“You’re so busy with all of your friends it that straight world at work, you don’t have time to be gay any more. Come to Pride with Daryl and me. Maybe you’ll meet someone.”
“I didn’t say I was interested in him. I just said he’s kind of cute. He’s much too young.”
* * *
A few minutes later, another guy approached Danny. This one was a little neater looking although still with piercings and tattoos. He sat down a couple of feet away and Danny could smell cigarette smoke. Danny ignored him and he didn’t stay long.
As the man left, Danny heard a deep voice chuckle and say, “Awful picky aren’t you, kid?”
Danny turned and saw three men and an Irish Setter on a blanket a few feet away. He made a sound of disgust. “I don’t like cigarettes, and I could smell them on him. I also don’t care for face piercings.”
One of the guys lay with his head on another’s lap. He spoke, “If you don’t want them to hit on you, come sit on our blanket. They’ll think you’re with us.”
Danny looked at the three guys. Although two of them were shirtless, their clothes were clean. He didn’t see any tattoos or piercings.
The man continued. “It’s okay. We don’t bite and we’re in the open so we can’t do anything to you.”
The man sitting by himself said, “Speak for yourself, Daryl. You know I like to nibble.” He winked at Danny. “Of course, I don’t nibble without permission.”
Danny recognized his voice as the first one who spoke. The other men’s faces reflected surprise. He got up, walked over and knelt on the blanket.
The deep voice introduced them. “I’m Mike, the lazy one there is Daryl, and that’s his partner, Steve.”
Danny looked into Mike’s eyes. “I’m Danny.” He felt his face grow warm and his jeans got a little tighter and uncomfortable. Mike was the picture of the type of man Danny dreamed about, tall, dark and hairy. Now that he was closer, he noticed nipple rings nestled in the thick black hair on Mike’s chest.
The dog stood up, stepped closer to Danny and sniffed him. He reached out and scratched behind her ears.
“Sorry, I forgot to introduce Rosy,” Mike said. “I hope you like dogs, Danny.”
“Yeah, I do. I’ve always wanted one but can’t.”
“I suppose your mom’s like mine,” Daryl said. “Dogs are too messy, Daryl,” he continued in a falsetto voice.
“It isn’t that,” Danny replied. “My younger sister’s allergic.”
Steve questioned, “So, Danny, is this your first time at Pride?”
“No. I came last year.” He wrinkled his nose. “But my parents came with me.”
“So they let their baby boy come alone this year,” Daryl taunted. “Just how old are you, Danny?”
“I’m eighteen,” Danny answered indignantly. He felt the warmth rise in his face again. “Why am I letting myself get embarrassed? I usually don’t blush like this.”
Mike chuckled. “You know, you’re kind of cute when you blush.” His voice turned serious as he continued. “You shouldn’t be upset your parents came with you. You’re lucky they support you. They could have kicked you out.”
“Are yours not supportive?” Danny asked.
Mike snorted. “Baby, when I turned eighteen, my dad kicked me out. I haven’t seen any of my family since.”
It was his eighteenth birthday. His mother and sister went to the store to get stuff for his favorite dinner. While they were gone, his dad came into his room with a suitcase and an envelope. “You’re eighteen now and I’m no longer legally responsible for you. Pack your clothes and get out. I’ll not have a queer living in my house.” The envelope contained the title to his car, his birth certificate and $1,000. At least his dad didn’t turn him out penniless.
Mike sounded angry, but Danny could see the hurt in his eyes and didn’t say anything.
Steve broke the silence. “So, Danny, how long ago did you come out?”
“About a year ago. Dad walked in on me jerking off.”
It was Saturday night. Kathleen went to a slumber party and Mom and Dad went to the movies. I thought I had the house to myself for at least three or four hours. How was I to know the movie sucked and Mom and Dad would come home early? Dad opened my bedroom door to tell me to turn down the stereo and found me doing something no man should ever see his son doing. I came just as he opened the door. A couple of seconds passed before he calmly said, “Danny, when you’re finished, please get dressed and come downstairs. I think we need to talk.”
I took a quick shower and dressed. I found Mom and Dad at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Dad motioned to the chair opposite him. I sat down and Mom asked, “Would you like a cup of coffee, Danny?” Unshed tears filled her eyes.
“No, thanks.” I knew the way my stomach felt one sip would cause me to heave.
I kept my eyes on the table. I couldn’t look at Dad. He finally broke the silence. “Danny, please look at me.”
I slowly raised my eyes and blinked back tears.
He looked straight at me. “Danny, are you gay?”
“How long have you known?”
“About eight years.”
Mom’s tears now flowed freely as she asked, “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I was afraid,” I admitted. “There are stories in the paper and on-line all the time about parents who kick their gay kids out on the street.”
Mom got up and came around the table. She took my face in both her hands and kissed my forehead. “Danny, don’t you know we love you no matter what? You’re our son.”
I buried my face in her bosom and she held me the way she did when I was younger. We cried together.
Mike looked skeptical. “That can’t be the whole story. Even straight guys jerk off. What else?”
Danny looked down at his hands as he twisted them together. “Well…ah…there was this dildo.”
“And just what were you doing with this dildo?” Mike probed.
Danny’s voice was barely audible as he whispered softly, “I had it inside me.”
Mike threw back his head and roared with laughter while Daryl looked shocked and Steve just shook his head.
“That could cause some questions,” Mike said with his voice still full of laughter. “So what happened?”
Danny shrugged. “Nothing really. We sat and talked. They told me they love me no matter what. Mom was ready to sign up for PFLAG the next day. I finally convinced them I wasn’t’ ready to come out publically yet.”
“I have a question,” Steve said. “Where did you get a dildo? You aren’t old enough to buy one.”
Danny screwed up his face. “A-h-h, I ordered it on-line.”
“You’re lucky your mom didn’t open the package,” Daryl stated with a grin.
“It was just before Christmas. I told Mom I’d ordered some presents and not to open anything. That much was true. I had ordered several things.”
“You’re a devious one, aren’t you?” Mike said and shook his head.
“Did you ever come out publically?” Steve asked.
“Yeah. Last fall I came out to my two best friends. Last summer they closed two of the district’s five high schools and consolidated them into the remaining three. When soccer practice started, we had five new guys on our team. One of them, Kyle Johnson, was obviously gay. I mean, I know you really can’t tell most of the time, but Kyle was very effeminate. The new guys weren’t really bullying anyone, but they cracked a lot of jokes about gays, blacks and other minorities. Some of our guys joined in, especially the ones who were also on the football team as well as the soccer team. I sensed trouble coming and decided I’d better come out to Coop and Jack.”
Saturday before the start of the new school year, I called Coop and Jack and told them I needed to talk to them. I paced in my bedroom, and wondered how they were going to react. I hoped I wasn’t about to lose my two best friends. David Cooper and I had been friends since before pre-school. He lived two doors down and as soon as we could walk, where you saw Coop, you saw Danny. Where you saw Danny, you saw Coop. We took almost every class together in junior high and high school. The only exception was when Coop took wood shop and I took bachelor cooking. We were even both in orchestra, Coop on the bassoon and me on the violin.
I looked around at my room and tried to see it the way a stranger would. The blue and green plaid bedspreads on the twin beds did nothing to suggest my sexuality. The poster of David Beckham could be attributed to my involvement with soccer instead of the fact I found him hot. (No need to tell anyone how many times I’ve jerked off looking at it.) The soccer trophies gave no indication I was anything but a high-school jock.
The aroma of my mother’s freshly-baked, chocolate-chip cookies wafted up the stairs and did nothing to settle my stomach. My favorite Celtic music by the Chieftains played softly. I wiped my sweaty hands down the side of my jeans. I heard the doorbell and Mom’s voice as she greeted the guys. I replaced my CD with one by Nicki Minaj I knew was more to Coop’s taste and opened the door.
Coop entered the room carrying a plate of still-warm cookies. His mouth was full and there was a dab of chocolate on his lips. Jack Lewis followed with a jug of milk and three glasses which he set on the desk as he reached for a cookie.
The three of us made a good-looking trio; or at least that’s what the girls at school said. At six feet, three inches, Coop towered over me by six inches. He also outweighed my one hundred forty pounds by twenty pounds. Jack stood about halfway between the two of us in size. Running back and forth on the soccer field and basketball court burned calories as fast as we ate them and helped keep our weight down.
Coop’s blond hair and blue eyes contrasted with Jack’s black curly hair, and deep brown eyes. My light-brown hair was a bit longer than my mother liked. It wasn’t long enough to hang over my shirt collar, but I had to keep pushing the front out of my eyes. Coop’s girlfriend, Shannon Willis, told me Alice Clark said she’d love to do that for me. I didn’t tell Shannon I wasn’t interested in Alice. I often wished the smattering of freckles across my nose would disappear, but I was lucky that I didn’t have trouble with acne like Coop.
Coop set the plate down, stuffed another cookie into his mouth and tried to talk around it. “You called this meeting. What’s up.” he mumbled.
I looked at the two of them, took a deep breath and said, “I need to talk to you guys about something serious.”
Coop swallowed the cookie, took a drink of milk and said impatiently, “So talk already.”
I motioned to two chairs, “Sit down.”
Jack sat down on my computer chair, but Coop remained standing next to the bed. He stared at me and a look of dread came over his face. “Hey, Dude, you’re okay, aren’t you?”
I thought of Nick Wallace who left school last year because of cancer. I assured him, “I’m okay, but you may not be when I’m finished.”
I paused to take a deep breath before I continued. “Coop, I’ve known you all of my life. I can’t remember a time when you weren’t there. I know your mom’s told you the same story mine’s told me about taking us to church when we were two weeks old and them putting us in the same crib. We’ve been more like brothers than friends since before we knew what friends were. We even have the same birthday. Jack, we met you when we started high school. The three of us make the best front line in the state.”
Coop broke in, “Don’t tell me you’re quitting the team. Are you changing schools? Are you moving? What’s going on?”
“Cool it, Coop.” Jack said with a sigh. “Let him talk. Can’t you see he’s trying to tell us something important?”
I again bit my lower lip, “Thanks, Jack. Sometimes it’s hard to get a word in edgewise with him.”
I walked across the length of the room and back before I continued. “I don’t want to lose either of you as friends. I hope you can accept what I’m going to say.”
Coop rolled his eyes. “So, out with it; don’t keep us guessing,” he said impatiently.
I shrugged my shoulders and looked directly at Coop. “You’re right. There’s only one way to say it. I’m gay.”
At this Coop finally sat down. It was a good thing he was close to the bed because he nearly missed it.
He just stared at me for a moment. Jack sat holding a cookie halfway to his open mouth.
Coop finally found his tongue. “You’re kidding? You aren’t gay?”
“Yes, Coop, I am,” I answered sadly.
He stood up and walked across the room and back. He turned to face me and practically yelled, “So, when did you figure this out? Yesterday? Today? Last week?”
I could tell he was upset and tried to be calm as I answered. “I knew when we were about nine or ten that there was something different about me. But it wasn’t until we took sex education in junior high that I could put a name to it.”
“Do your folks know?” he asked.
“They’ve known for a few months.” I said.
Coop again paced the width of the room and back. “You mean that you’ve known all these years and didn’t tell me?” he asked angrily.
I felt tears form in my eyes. “I was afraid of losing you as a friend.”
Coop furrowed his brows. He turned to Jack and said accusingly, “You’re being awfully quiet.”
Jack looked from me to Coop. “I’m just listening to you two.”
“Okay, Jack. What are you thinking?” I asked.
Jack looked back at me. “I’m thinking you don’t look gay.”
I shrugged and shook my head. “How does gay look? Does Neil Patrick Harris look gay? Does Ricky Martin look gay?” I was nearly yelling. “You can’t tell by just looking.”
“I guess you’re right.” Jack frowned. “I’m also thinking I’m pissed.”
I quirked an eyebrow and asked, “Pissed about what? That I didn’t tell you? Like when we met I was supposed to say, ‘Hi, I’m Danny and I’m gay.’ I mean, you never told me you’re straight.”
“No. That’s true,” Jack admitted thoughtfully. “People just assume you’re straight. But that’s not what I’m pissed about. I’ve always heard gay guys would hit on anyone they thought was hot. You’ve never hit on me.” He pouted. “I thought I was hot.”
The mood was lightened and we all chuckled as I said “Jack, you are hot and so’s Coop. But you are both so much like brothers to me that hitting on either of you would be like hitting on my sister.”
“Okay. So, why now?” Jack sat back down on the bed and reached for another cookie. “How come you decided to come out to us now?” he asked.
I noticed the look on Coop’s face. I’d seen that look before. It meant he was upset. I sighed heavily. “I’m just tired of hiding what I am and what I feel. Sometimes in the locker room, I get upset with the horse play.”
“You mean the ‘that’s so gay’ comments?” Jack asked.
“That and the name calling. Especially the word faggot. Sometimes I just want to throw something at some of the guys.”
Coop ignored what I said and looked at me. “Have you been going out with guys?” he asked disgustedly.
“Not yet,” I admitted. “I haven’t met anyone I wanted to date.” A bad feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. Coop’s reaction worried me.
“Date? I thought all gay guys do is have sex and I don’t like to think about it.” he said disgustedly. He curled his lip. “I’ve heard they lick and suck on each other’s dicks. Yuck. I can’t imagine doing that.”
I mirrored the look on his face as I said, “Yuck. That’s the way I feel about licking a girl’s pussy.”
Coop was quiet for a while. Then he said, “I’ve heard about anal sex. What about that? Would you let a guy stick his dick up your ass?”
“That I don’t know,” I admitted. “I’ve seen it on the porn sites. That’s something kind of private.”
“But would you?” he persisted.
I decided this was no time to mention the toys I had in the drawer on my night stand. “Coop, I’m gay. Yes, I’ll probably engage in anal sex someday. I’m pretty sure I’m what they call a bottom. If you don’t know the term, just think about it. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. If you want to know more, I’ll tell you the sites to visit.”
Jack acted shocked as he put his hand to his mouth and said in a prim voice. “Oh, my goodness. Do you mean gay porn sites? You aren’t supposed to go on those if you’re under eighteen.”
I snorted. “Yes I mean gay porn sites. They don’t check your ID any more than straight porn sites do. And don’t tell me you and Coop haven’t checked those out. I’ve heard you two talk about ‘em and compare notes.”
Jack had the decency to look embarrassed as he replied, “That’s different.”
“Why’s it different? You like what you like, and I like what I like. After all, you like chocolate ice cream and I like strawberry. It’s the same principal.”
He looked thoughtful, but didn’t reply.
Coop stood up. “I don’t want to think about that. It makes me sick.” He walked to the door. “I told Mom I’d be right back. I’ll see you guys later.”
My heart dropped and tears flowed freely as he left the room without looking back.
Jack quietly watched me until I was able to pull myself together. “So?” I asked. “Are you deserting me, too?”
He stood up, walked over and put his arm around my shoulders. “Hey, it doesn’t bother me any. You’re still the same person you were when I walked in the door. Besides, I have a cousin who’s gay. He and his boyfriend were at my grandmother’s house for Christmas last year. It’s no big deal. Give Coop time. You two have been friends for too long. He’ll come around.”
He winked at me and grinned. “So, you haven’t met anyone? Have you really looked?”
“Not really. As far as I know, there are only two gay guys at school. Kyle Johnson, the new kid on the team and Jason Scott. You know what a nerd he is. I’ve checked some of the gay dating sites, but most of the guys on there are so much older. I’m not even sure what to look for in a guy.”
We changed the subject and talked about school and listened to music for about an hour until Jack’s mother called and told him he needed to come home for dinner.
“That’s not public,” Daryl prodded.
“W-e-l-l, I guess I came out completely when I broke the nose of the soccer team’s goalie.”
It was in the locker room about a week later things came to a head. As most of us usually do, Kyle Johnson showered and started back to his locker with a towel wrapped around his waist. As he walked past, Ralph Davis, the goalie, reached out and pulled the towel off.
Ralph pointed at Kyle’s junk, “Hey, look guys, he does have a dick. He is a boy after all. Huh. You can’t tell when he has his clothes on.”
Kyle grabbed for his towel. “Leave me alone, Davis.”
Ralph held the towel over his head out of Kyle’s reach, “I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I don’t want to share a shower room with a faggot.”
A couple of the others nodded their heads. I could see Coach Simms behind a row of lockers watching in a mirror.
Kyle blinked as if holding back tears. He ignored the comment, straightened his shoulders, walked to his locker and started getting dressed.
I walked up behind Ralph, grabbed the towel out of his hand and tossed it to Kyle, “Leave him alone, Davis.”
“What?” Ralph asked incredibly. “You sticking up for this fag? Maybe you don’t mind having him on the team, but I don’t want to be on a team with a faggot.”
I shook my head and calmly said, “I wish you wouldn’t use that word. It’s very degrading. I mean, you wouldn’t call Jack or Leon the ‘n’ word.”
“What? Faggot? That’s what he is, and like I said, I don’t want to be on the same team with a faggot.”
I’m usually a peaceful person, but I knew it was time to stand up and be counted. I drew back my fist, and before Ralph knew what was happening, I punched him in the nose. Blood spurted everywhere.
“You broke my frigging nose,” Ralph screamed as grabbed a towel and held it to his nose.
Jack cheered, “Way to go, Danny.” as I said, “I told you not to use that word. Also, I wanna know what your problem is. You’ve been playing on the same team and sharing a shower room with a faggot for the last three years, and it hasn’t bothered you.”
“Whadda you mean?” It was hard to understand Ralph through the towel.
I looked directly into his face and accented every word. “I mean I’m gay. That’s what I mean. Wanna make something of it?”
“You’re not gay.” Ralph said unbelievingly.
Jack laughed. “You mean you didn’t know? Wow, you’re dumber than you look. Come on, Danny. Let’s get out of here. You coming, Kyle?”
Kyle grinned as he finished tying his sneakers and grabbed his t-shirt, “Right behind ya.”
I looked at the indecision on Coop’s face. My heart soared as he turned and followed Jack, Kyle and me. I heard several voices start talking at once as the four of us left the locker room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Coach came out from behind the lockers.
Shannon and Lisa Roberts, Jack’s girlfriend, stood outside the locker room. Shannon saw blood on my shirt, “Danny! What happened? You’re bleeding!”
Coop put his arm around her, “Don’t worry, Honey. It isn’t Danny’s blood. He just broke Ralph Davis’ nose, and the blood got on him.”
Shannon asked in a surprised voice, “What happened?” as Lisa stood there with her mouth open.
Shannon pulled away from him. “You knew Danny’s gay and didn’t tell me?” she asked angrily.
“Don’t blame him, Shannon,” I said. “I just came out to him and Jack Saturday. I was afraid something was going to happen with all of the new guys on the team.”
Lisa took hold of my arm, “This is great, Shannon. Every girl needs a gay best friend. We can share Danny.”
I looked pleadingly at Coop as Shannon grabbed my other arm. “Wonderful. Come on, Danny. Let’s get some pizza.”
I looked around for Kyle and saw him a few feet away. He was standing next to a boy I’d never seen who had his arm around Kyle’s shoulder. I called out, “Hey, Kyle, we’re all going for pizza; you wanna come?”
“Can Jim come?” he called back.
We walked about a block to Pizza Hut. When we entered the restaurant, several heads turned our way and I heard whispers mention Ralph and me.
Kyle introduced Jim and said he was a senior at Lincoln High on the other side of town. He said his folks bought a new house in this school district to be closer to his dad’s job and he had to change schools. He wasn’t happy about leaving Jim.
“Do your folks know about you and Jim?” Jack asked.
“Yeah. They’re cool with it. I’ve been out to them since I was about twelve. They treat him the same way they do my sisters’ boyfriends. Jim’s parents are the same.”
“How many sisters do you have?” Shannon asked. “I haven’t noticed any new girls at school.”
“I have three sisters. They’re all older than me. In fact, two of them are married, and one has a son.”
Jim looked at me, “Do your parents accept your sexuality?”
“Yeah. They’ve been very supportive.”
He continued, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Nope. Haven’t found one yet. Besides Kyle and me, I only know one other gay guy at school.” I hesitated, “At least I think he’s gay. He’s not in any of my classes, and I haven’t had much interaction with him. He’s a computer nerd, and doesn’t participate in any sports.”
“I think I know who you mean,” Kyle said. “There’s a guy named Jason Scott in my computer class.” I nodded and Kyle continued. “My gaydar perked up when I met him.”
Jack laughed. “By the way, I don’t think you’re in the closet at school any more.”
The rest of us joined his laughter.
“Do you think there’ll be a problem about me belting Ralph?” I asked seriously. “You know his dad’s on the school board. He’s also very conservative.”
“I don’t know, but my dad’s on the board also,” Lisa answered. “I’ll have a talk with him when I get home.”
I noticed Coop’s silence all evening. Although he came with us, I sensed he still wasn’t completely accepting.
After we ate, Jack and Lisa dropped me off. When I went into the house, Dad was waiting for me.
“Danny. Coach Simms called. Do you want to tell me your side?”
I told him what happened, “I’m worried Ralph’s dad may cause trouble.”
“You’re probably right. Coach said he wants to see me tomorrow afternoon.”
Mike chuckled at Danny’s statement. “I’ll bet that went over big.”
“Ralph’s dad tried to get me and another guy kicked off the team because we’re gay, but the school board said that wouldn’t be legal.”
The next day, whispers filled the halls but stopped when I got close. Shortly after lunch, Dr. Foster called me into her office. I hadn’t been called to the principal’s office since third grade. I was nervous as I entered and saw Dad, Mr. Davis, Ralph, and Coach Simms. Dr. Foster motioned to a chair next to Dad and I sat down. I could tell from the look on his face that Mr. Davis was angry. Ralph’s nose was taped and both of his eyes were purple.
“We are waiting for two more people,” Dr. Foster said.
Just as she spoke, the door opened and Kyle and an older man came in.
Mr. Davis stood up and yelled, “Now that we’re all here, I want these two boys expelled and I want to press charges against him.” He pointed to me.
“Please sit down, Davis,” Dr. Foster said. “We’re here to discuss this in a civilized manner and I’m in charge. No one is being expelled.”
“Well, I at least want them off the soccer team. Good, God-fearing boys shouldn’t have to be subjected to sharing showers with queers.”
“Davis, I told you to sit down!” Dr. Foster exclaimed.
Mr. Davis angrily returned to his chair, and Dr. Foster continued, “Ralph, you first. Tell me what happened.”
“I was just kidding around, and for no reason Danny hit me and broke my nose.” Ralph answered belligerently.
“I had a very good reason,” I almost shouted.
“Your turn will come, Danny,” Dr. Foster admonished me in a quiet voice. “Please lower your voice. Now, Coach Simms, did you see what happened?”
“He wasn’t there!” Ralph exclaimed.
“Ralph, I said no interruptions!” Dr. Foster warned. “We will be civilized or this meeting is over.”
“Yes, I saw,” Coach answered. “I was behind the lockers and could see all the action in a mirror. Ralph pulled Kyle’s towel off of him and started taunting him. He called him a faggot several times. He went on about how he didn’t want to share a shower room with a faggot. Danny asked him to stop using the word. When he said it again, Danny hit him.”
“Don’t forget he said he was one also,” Ralph said snottily.
Dr. Foster glared at Ralph before she continued. “Coach Simms, did you know Danny’s gay before this took place?”
“No. But I’ve been worried for some time now. With all of the news about bullying of kids who come out or even appear to be gay, something like this was bound to happen, especially with new guys joining the team from other schools.”
“Did you suspect Danny was gay?” Dr. Foster asked.
“Danny,no. But there are a couple I’ve wondered about.”
Mr. Davis asked Coach, “So you’ve thought our sons might be showering and getting naked in front of faggots?”
“Davis, I’m going to have to ask you to refrain from using that word,” Dr. Foster said. “After all, that’s the word that started this mess. If you have to use a label, please use something less offensive.”
Mr. Davis blustered, “That’s what they are. What am I supposed to call them?”
Kyle’s dad spoke for the first time, “I don’t know about Danny, but Kyle prefers to be called gay.”
“There’s nothing gay about them,” Ralph sneered. “They’re a couple of faggots.”
Dr. Foster rapped on her desk with her ruler. “We will have a civilized meeting, or we will adjourn. Ralph, this is the last time I want to hear that word from anyone.”
“That’s fine,” Mr. Davis huffed. “I’ll bring this to the attention of the school board. We’ll get rid of these gays so decent kids don’t have to be around them.”
“You can bring it up to the board if you wish,” Dr. Foster said. “However, there is no legal way these boys can be suspended from school for being gay. Now fighting and bullying are different matters. Ralph and Danny, you’re both on a three-day suspension starting now.”
Mr. Davis jumped up, “Why Ralph? He didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Actually, I have not only the testimony Coach Simms just gave, but also written reports from a couple of the other students.” Dr. Foster answered. “Ralph was the instigator. He started things by calling Kyle a derogatory name. His actions caused the whole problem. I also have reports from other students about name calling and bullying on Ralph’s part. Although being gay isn’t against any rules, bullying is. Be glad I’m only suspending Ralph for three days. So far it’s only been name calling. If it gets any worse, he could be expelled.”
Mr. Davis huffed, “We’ll see what the board and the superintendent of schools have to say. Come on, Ralph.”
He and Ralph stormed out. Dr. Foster said to Kyle, “I’m sorry this happened. You did nothing wrong.” She turned to me, “Danny, I admire you for standing up for Kyle. You do understand why I have to suspend you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said trying to sound respectful. “Will Kyle and I still be able to play soccer?”
“Given your record with the team, I’d be in big trouble if I said you couldn’t play. However, no practice while you are on suspension. Kyle, from what Coach tells me, you are going to be a welcome addition to the team.”
Kyle answered, “Thank you, Ma’am.”
Dr. Foster told us we were free to go.
When Dad and I got home he called me into the den. “Danny, I can’t say I’m proud you’re suspended, but I am proud for you standing up for your friend.”
* * *
Ralph’s dad went to the school board and we were all called into an open meeting. The board echoed what Dr. Foster said in the meeting. Kyle and I could not be expelled just for being gay. At the end of the three days, Ralph and I were allowed back in school. The first day back at practice, the atmosphere in the locker room was quiet and subdued. Coach called us all together, “We’re a team, and we’re a very good team. We have a chance to win the state championship this year, but we can’t do it unless we pull together as a team. Anyone who has a problem with Danny and Kyle being on the team can see me. The law and the school board say they have as much right to be here as the rest of you.”
Jerry Griffin held up his hand. “Do we have to shower with them? I don’t want them looking at me naked.”
I spoke up, “Jerry, I’ve seen you naked for three years. Really, you have no reason to worry. You don’t have anything that interests me.”
There was general laughter because everyone knew that Jerry was one of the least endowed guys on the team.