When we arrived at our place, the downstairs was full of people, all middle-aged and older women. Some of the movers and shakers of Elizabethton and some who were usually the moved and shaken. It looked as though they were holding some kind of arts and crafts workshop with Amy Louise and Clarisa running it.
"Snacks in the fridge, drinks in your upstairs fridge. Need anything find it, I'm busy," Clarisa said and charged off.
Justin and I got the snacks as the others went on up. "What's going on here?" I asked Justin.
"You're asking me? I'm as in the dark as you are, but I think we can stop saying, 'Just wait for the Revolution!' I think it's arrived."
When we got upstairs Bobbie said, "Didn't I hear something about a brigade of little old blue-haired ladies? I think basic training is going on downstairs."
"And John has always talked about how nothing happens in Elizabethton!" Kenneth laughed. He was sitting on the arm of Bobbie's chair, as he had the night before, looking like he belonged there.
"Ok, Mr. Jenkins," Susan said, "'The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things...'"
"'...Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. and of cabbages and kings,' Lewis Carroll."
"Thus ends the 'I'm dumb, I'm stupid, a D is good enough for me' days of Mr. Sandy Jenkins. We are met here, Mr. Jenkins, to join together you and the work I hold before me, in the bond of academic achievement," Susan said, then handed Sandy a copy of the sheet we had received the night before. "I have talked with all your teachers and gotten the assignments you missed this week, which are practically none. I have also gone to each and asked about make-up work and anything else you can do to get your grades up. You have a C in art, as you can see, and a D in everything else. The goal is to raise every grade one letter except for art where only an A is acceptable after the drawing that started this mess."
"Susan, I don't think this little country faggot can get his pansy ass in gear enough to do that, and a D is passing."
While I waited for the explosion, I debated with myself about giving Sandy a lecture on being gay and not putting yourself down or having a self-defeating attitude, a voice was heard from a most unexpected source. "Sandy, heard you use some words for yourself now and in the hospital that I want to talk about," Kenneth said. "I know you can't be in school these days without hearing one African-American calling another the 'n' word. You know if you did that, called the same guy the 'n' word, you'd be in trouble, rightly so. But I agree with some African-Americans who say the word simply should not be used at all. No way, they say, can the 'n' word be used that takes away the fact that it is degrading. At the very least, I think we'd all agree, it is used as a put-down.
"Well, I believe you need to think about why you use fag, faggott, queer boy, pansy ass. Maybe with friends you want to name yourself with one of those words and say it is all in fun, but I don't think that's what you mean. I think you use those kinds of words to put yourself down. Maybe you think if you use them first, you'll stop someone else from using them to hurt you. Either way, if you do it to put yourself down, in self-deprecation, you need to stop, OR if you do it for the shock value, you need to ask yourself why you think you need to shock people to get them to listen to you.
"So you're gay ... so are Marc and Justin and they seem like pretty great guys to me. They're having trouble right now because they are gay, but they're gay and not ashamed of it. Look at yourself, look at what you have going for you. Smart? Your grades say otherwise, but I've been around you long enough -- it didn't take long -- to see you are one smart cookie. Looks? As John said, I definitely bat for the majority team, but I know a damn good-looking man when I see one, even when beat up. You are at least an eight on my straight man's scale and probably a ten for anyone who bats for the other team..."
"Definitely a ten," I said.
"A ten, hands down, no question about it," Justin added.
"Ok, so you've had a rotten home life," Kenneth continued. "You might blame being gay for that, I guess, but from what I've heard, your father beats up on your mom and your brother is not a stranger to the strap. No question about your mom and, well, I'll give your brother the benefit of the doubt and assume he's straight. No excuse for how you've been treated, but lots of folks have a hard home life. It looks as though that part of your life is over and you have been given a chance in a million, a chance to escape a bad home life. The Thurmonds are good people and they want you to be a part of their family, period. You established tonight that you and Uncle John will have a relationship that is definitely yours. No way, even if he wanted to and worked hard at it, John could relate to his dad, country boy to country boy as you and Mr. Thurmond related to each other tonight.
"And something else, you got thrown the whole butler's pantry tonight -- china, silver and crystal -- and you handled it very well, better than I could handle eating alligator tail, I'm sure. So another reason you do not have for putting yourself down." I expected to see Sandy's eyes glazing over any second, but he was soaking up every word Kenneth said.
"Maybe there's a metaphor here. Just as a country boy is different from a town boy, so a gay man is different from a straight man. In each case, they are different, but one is not better than the other, just different. Country boy, town boy; straight man, gay man; either may feel awkward in the other's environment, but both can learn to function in it just as a county boy quickly learned to handle all that china, crystal and silver tonight. Mr. Thurmond demonstrated that tonight when he, as head of the family, was very comfortable with those things, yet could quickly talk to you on your terms. Wouldn't want to push any of that too far, but maybe it's the same with being gay. That make any sense at all?"
"And while, I guess, it is less true for country and town boys, there is something else you need to remember: gay and straight is not something you decide or choose, you just are, right?"
Sandy smiled and nodded said, "Yes, sir."
"That settled, and I hope you have finished with putting yourself down, otherwise we may decide you're 'gator food and toss you in the swamp."
"Not de swamp, Massa, not de swamp."
"Yes, the swamp," we said in a chorus.
Sandy laughed, and said, "Ok, pour it on." Susan then went over the plan we had worked out the night before and when she asked, "Overwhelmed?" Sandy said, "Not if the alternative is the swamp."
"That settled, we need to talk about the prom," Bobbie said. "Marc, I jumped the gun and called Mr. Gibson today and he said he thought he might be able to fix Sandy up if he was about Justin's size and I told him he was close. If he can't, he said he'd go next door to the Elizabethton Haberdashery with Sandy and help him get fitted with a business suit and accessories. Sandy, you're to go by after school tomorrow. John will handle that, right?" John nodded. "I also called McKessins and placed an order for another boutonniere. Eunice asked if she could take a flower from Susan's or my flowers and I told her sure, but suspected there would be plenty. I don't think we need to call La Casa, do you?"
"We'll probably have flowers enough for the whole town," I said.
"So, Sandy, tomorrow you get fitted with a suit -- tux or business..."
"Look, I've never been to any prom or shit like that."
"Well, you're going, and clean up your potty mouth," Bobbie said.
"I can see why guys want to be gay with all these bossy women," Sandy grinned.
"You ought to see it when Susan brings out the whips and chains," John laughed.
We helped Sandy get the week's assignments which were few and easy, then we had snacks and talked about a lot of things, but avoided an issue until Justin said, "Ok, what about the three-thousand-pound pink elephant in the room?"
"You mean...?" Bobbie asked.
"So what about Adam?" Bobbie asked. "I mean, if he wants to be a part of this group again, then we'll deal with that as a group, I suppose, but if he's thinking our getting back together, nothing doing. I've done some thinking and while I'm sure I loved the lug, it was just not as serious as I thought. I see that now and there's no way he could really change his attitude toward me. Maybe with another woman he'd be different, but if we got back together? It'd be less than ten minutes before I'd be the 'little woman' again. You wanta know something, I'm sure it would be as much my fault as his. So our getting back together ain't gonna happen, McGee."
"That's for you to deal with," Justin said, "after all, as has been said before, that relationship and the form it takes belongs to you and Adam. At the same time, Adam has been a part of the Clan since we were kids."
"Look, I told Adam how I felt and I haven't had any real reason to change. He fucked up, that's the only way I can put it forcefully enough. Maybe he didn't lay a hand on Sandy, but look at him and tell me Adam should be told, 'Ah, just forget it. No big deal. All is well again.' He teamed up with those three losers and whether he laid a hand on Sandy or not, he is responsible. It would not have happened otherwise," Susan said.
"I'd be beaten sooner or later anyway. I always have been when anything goes wrong or doesn't suit Pa. Last few years, it's been Kev, too," Sandy said.
"Because your father and brother have abused you does not excuse Adam for bringing this last, and most severe, beating about," Bobbie said. "And I don't want to hear any suggestion, however slight, that your dad or brother beating you up is to be expected and accepted. That's pure bullshit."
The discussion went round and round with Sandy, more than once, defending Adam. All the time in the back of my mind was what Sandy had said to Adam. Finally, I broke in and told the Clan of my experience at the hospital when Sandy had forgiven Adam. "Compared to what has happened to Sandy, Adam has done us little harm and while what he did was inexcusable, it has to be forgivable, if you can see a difference. Adam is definitely feeling guilty for what he has done. He can be allowed to wallow in it and grow bitter, or we can extend a hand, one which helps him up, but busts his ass when he starts that old shit about it's everyone's fault. If Sandy can forgive him, surely we can." I paused and everyone was wrapped in their own thoughts. After a few minutes, Justin grinned and I realized how self-righteous I sounded. "Yeah, well, that may be brave talk and I'm sure I'll forget it from time to time. Yet I'll be working with Adam and while I don't intend to not let him off the hook, I don't want to hold him down either -- and will fail at both from time to time, I'm sure. Know what I mean?" There were nods all around, but it didn't stop the discussion.
I was proud of all of us after we had talked for over an hour and Justin finally said, "Enough already. We all know where we stand, now we are beating it to death."
"Not a good choice of words there, Brother Justin," Kenneth laughed.
"In the swamp with you," Sandy laughed.
"Well, things could get interesting for you guys tomorrow," John said. "How you going to tell your mom you and Justin are up here fucking each other's brains out, so to speak?"
"Think we'll just leave my door open and when Justin starts shouting, as he does, in the throes of an orgasm, she'll come running up and we'll not have to say anything," I laughed.
"Yeah," Justin said, "Yeah, well, I planned to be working late at the store and have Marc handle it himself before I got home, but now that he's working..."
"Didn't Ms. Jones tell you? She's working late tomorrow night and Adam will handle any emergency deliveries, and that's any that will be promised or made until Monday. You and I'll be here, together, shortly after Mom arrives."
"Maybe I could find some place that needs..."
"No way, Jose. You will be here, with me!"
"Guess you could just tell her you're engaged, Marc," Bobbie said. "Then when she gets all upset, you could tell her it's not as bad as she thinks because you're marrying Justin," Bobbie said.
"That's right. You did accept Justin's proposal and we were all there and heard it," John said.
"Can two men get married?" Sandy asked, and that provoked another discussion.
"Seriously, how do you think she'll take it?" John asked.
"Honestly, I think she'll take it in stride. I don't know what Mrs. Crandall has told her or hinted at, but I know she knows. If Mom goes off the deep end, Mrs. Crandall will be here to help pick up the pieces. Not worried except when I think about it!"
"But what if she puts you out like Pa did me?" Sandy asked, clearly concerned.
"I don't have to worry about that," I said. Sandy still looked very concerned so I decided to put his mind at ease. "Sandy, this is my house, no-one's going to put me out."
"That's good," he replied, clearly relieved.
Finally it was time for all to get to their own nests for the night and Justin and I were left alone.
After a shower together, Justin and I make soft, sweet love and finally, in the glow of our love, slept in each other's arms.
Friday dawned, gray and threatening. It wasn't raining, but I think a sneeze would have been enough to start a torrential downpour. While we were having breakfast, the phone rang and when I answered, Mom said, "Greetings from sunny Florida. Guess it's not exactly sunny where you are."
"It certainly is not. You're not on your way yet?"
"Weather along the eastern seaboard is holding us up. Just wanted to let you know we will be taking off in an hour more or less, which means we won't be in Elizabethton before 3:00, later than we planned. Oh! Betsy just reminded me to tell you the flowers are packed and ready to fly, but maybe you could call Eunice and let her know they will be late."
"Will do. Need someone to meet you at the airport?"
"Betsy's taken care of that. See you when we get there," Mom said.
"Have a good flight."
"Thanks. Oh, Betsy asked me if your prom date is as good-looking as Metzer said she was."
"Mrs. Metzer said what?" I asked. If she had told mom I was dating a woman things might be sticky... stickier.
"She said she was sure your date would turn heads. Is she right?"
I laughed to myself and said, "She's right, but it's a surprise." Then, to myself I added, "And how!"
When I had hung up the phone, I said, "Mom and Mrs. Crandall's plane's take-off was delayed because of the weather. I need to call Eunice and tell her."
"They won't be open for another hour, hour and a half," Clarisa said. "I'll be downtown with the little old blue... the ladies club. I'll tell her."
I knew Clarisa was up to something, but knew better than to ask what. Had she wanted me to know, she would have told me.
Breakfast finished, we put our dishes in the dishwasher, went upstairs and got our backpacks and headed for school.
As we turned into the parking lot, I heard the sound of a very distinct horn behind us. It was John with Susan beside him and Sandy in the non-existent back seat of his BMW. Before I could ask the rhetorical question, "Wonder where Susan's car is?" I saw it in the parking lot and the couple in it were definitely exchanging a kiss.
"Damn, that Kenneth is one fast worker," Justin said. "Just look at that."
"Hope Bobbie isn't being caught on the rebound. She's too nice a woman for someone to take advantage of her," I said, seeing the two had broken their kiss.
"I think. I hope Bobbie is too smart for that, especially after she realized how she had slipped into an unhealthy relationship with Adam," Justin said.
It still was not raining, but the air was so full of moisture it seemed as if we were walking in a drizzle. In spite of the weather, Kenneth had the top down and Justin got out of the car, walked over -- swaggered is more like it -- to the T-Bird, and said in his movie tough-guy voice, "I don't know how you boys do it in Raleigh, but here in Elizabethton we keep such behavior in the bedroom. We could see you two engaging in face-sucking and tongue-swallowing a block away."
"Well, I can tell you, I like the way MEN from Raleigh do it, better than the way BOYS in Elizabethton do it," Bobbie laughed.
While that going on, I saw Adam arriving in his car -- saw, not heard. I guess one of the conditions laid down by father or judge was to get rid of his loud exhaust system. He was, I noticed, also by himself.
When we got to the lockers, Adam and Arnold were there. "Look, I've said I'm sorry for all the pain I caused by being a jealous, egoistical shit. I can't undo that or the results of it. It's done. Sandy, if I could, I'd take your pain on myself, but I can't. You are suffering, at least in part, because I had lost a girlfriend and my life-long friends. I guess, in a real sense, I have placed my suffering on you, yet I still have it. It's all messed up, but the long and short of it is, I'm very, very sorry for all the hurt I've caused all of you. I'll talk about yesterday's hearing in AP history, because I think it's something worthwhile talking about in that class, but I want y'all to know I am going to do everything I can to earn your trust and friendship again."
"Trust? Yeah, that's going to take some effort to earn it," I said, "but friendship is another matter altogether. You can't earn that, it's given as a gift. Right now it's not a gift I feel like giving, but it's Good Friday and Sandy taught me a real lesson about what Good Friday's about -- at least a big part of it. It's about forgiveness and, as hard as it might be for me to remember it, I forgive you and maybe one day, I hope soon, I can give you my friendship."
Arnold was not as articulate as Adam, but he said essentially the same thing and ended with, "Guys, I get the fuck-up of the year award. I just got carried away and the testosterone took over. Shit, I knew better and I have no excuse. Hope you'll give me another chance."
Sandy said, "Adam, you and Arnold never were my friends, but maybe one day you can be. You can be now if you want to." Adam got tears in his eyes, which didn't surprise me, and Arnold started boo-hooing, which did. Both hugged Sandy. As they did, I saw Bear, staggering down the hall. When he saw Sandy hugging Adam and Arnold, he yelled, "Hey, big man! You done let Little Shit turn you gay!"
Arnold said, "Shut up, dumbass! You want to go back to jail?"
Ignoring Arnold, Bear kept on. "Hey, Adam, you cocksucking queer, I got breakfast for you." Bear, grabbed his cock and balls through his "barely hanging on the ass" pants and started shaking them. "Mine's bigger than Little Shit's and really needs your hot mouth, Adam. Come on and suck this man's cock, yeah, suck me you girly cocksucker." I guess he wasn't getting enough attention, so he unzipped his pants and circled his boxer-covered cock and balls with a hand. Shaking his equipment with one hand, Bear pointed at Adam with the other and chanted "Cocksucker! Cocksucker! Adam's a girly cocksucker!"
Clearly, Adam was ready to explode and I don't know what might have happened in the next few minutes had Papa Smurf not showed up, but he turned the corner in the hall behind Bear, stopped, looked confused and then distressed. He finally made a decision, I suppose, because he started his little fast-stepping down the hall, saying, "Now, now, Bear, we must not use such language!"
Bear ignored him and shouted, "Hey, Adam, how you like Little Shit sticking his two inches up your ass? Can you even feel it?" He just didn't know when to stop, and Papa Smurf had finally had all even he could take and said, "You! Bear! You're disgusting. Get your pants closed and to my office right now!"
"Or you'll do what, Papa Smurf?" Bear said as he pulled his cock from his boxers and shook it at Papa Smurf, laughing like an idiot.
Papa Smurf was smart enough to know he couldn't handle Bear by himself -- face it, he couldn't have handled Bobbie or Susan -- so he pushed the button on his walkie talkie to call Mr. Bingham, the resource officer. Mr. Bingham was actually a sheriff's deputy assigned to the school. School administrators didn't like to hear that mentioned since they denied the school needed a policeman, although they had lobbied the sheriff's department and school board to have the deputy assigned. In a couple of minutes, Mr. Bingham came running from one end of the hall and Robbie Justice, a new student, from the other. The two grabbed Bear and as Robbie was handcuffing him, he said, "Sheriff's deputy and you are under arrest."
As the Bear was led away, I noticed Adam and Arnold were both very pale and shaking.
"You two ok?" Sandy asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm ok," Adam said. Arnold just nodded.
"Bear is really, really stupid," Arnold said. "He just got himself a bunk at a NC boot camp. And, to be honest, I never realized how being called names hurts. Damn! I have fucked up," and Adam, still pale and trembling, just nodded. Further discussion was stopped as the bell for first period rang.
As we walked to AP history, Justin said, "Well, I guess Robbie Justice -- we should have suspected something with that name -- will go back to whatever sheriff's department or SBI unit he's from. Thought Sheriff Anderson would have told us he was here."
"Well, he did say he might ask for an outsider to come and be here undercover," Susan said.
"Wonder what else has been going on we don't know about," I said.