“Can I sit with you?” Tyler asked as I sat in my usual spot in the cafeteria, alone.
“Uh…Yeah, sure,” I replied.No one had ever asked to sit with me before.“How’d it go at home?”
“It went,” Tyler said, sitting down in the seat next to me.“Mom cried.Dad went for a drive and has been weird ever since I told him.Like, he doesn’t know what to say so he doesn’t say anything.My brothers…Well, Jimmy said he’d kick my ass when he came home from college and Chris asked me if I’d sucked any of his friends’ cocks.”
“Did you tell him about us?” I asked.
“Of course!You’re my boyfriend,” he replied.
“How’d that go?”
“He thinks you’re a dork, but he doesn’t hate you.”
“Well that’s a relief,” I said.“He thought I was a dork anyway.”
“Yeah.Except now you’re the dork who fucked his little brother.Anyway, I didn’t have to worry about telling anybody here.Chris took care of that by Saturday night.Can’t say I’ll miss him when he graduates next year.It kinda serves me right though.But yeah, everyone who’s come to me and asked about it has been cool mostly.People who don’t like it just talk about me behind my back.So yeah.It went.You know Colton, right?”
“The Colton who helped you hang me upside down in the locker room?”
“Yeah, he’s the one I’m really worried about.He hasn’t said much, but you’ll notice I’m not sitting with those guys anymore.”
“Hopefully he’s just trying to sort out his feelings.”
“As long as he’s not trying to rearrange my face.”
Before the conversation could continue, Brett Reilly came up to us on his crutches, and Joey McKenzie followed behind him, carrying two lunch trays.
“You guys mind if we join you?” Brett asked.Tyler looked at me and I could tell he was nervous about having them join us, but I told the two seniors to sit down.Brett intentionally sat in a seat across the table from me so he wouldn’t be facing Billy on the other side of the cafeteria.
“I heard things didn’t go well in Buffalo,” I said.
“Oh, they went great,” Brett replied.“You guys know Joey?”
Joey and Tyler looked at each other with what I could only guess was suspicion.
“Hey, aren’t you Chris Bowman’s brother?” Joey asked.
“Yeah,” Tyler replied hesitantly.
“He’s a real dick, isn’t he?” Joey said.“He’s going around telling everyone you’re a fag.He’s good at ratting people out I guess.”
“He’s the regular town crier,” Brett said.
“He’s not wrong though,” Tyler replied.“Aiden’s my boyfriend.We’re together.”
Joey looked at the two of us and smiled.“Is everyone gay in this school now?” he laughed.
“You didn’t get the memo?” Brett joked.“So Aiden, I guess you get like a toaster or something for bringing Tyler into the club.”
“I’m not in the club anymore,” I replied.“I’m permanently banned…”
“No… Dude…It’s a joke.You know, like when someone encourages someone to come out and people will say you turned them gay.We just make it into a joke and say we get a toaster…I still have my toaster for converting Billy…”Brett choked a little as he said Billy’s name.“Shit, I swore I wasn’t going to cry about this.Especially where he could see me.”
“Dude, your back’s to him.” Tyler said.“He can’t see anything.”
“What’s he doing now?” Brett asked.
I looked across the cafeteria.My eyes met Billy’s.“He’s looking at us,” I said.I never saw someone look so pathetically sad, like a lost puppy.I almost felt bad for the guy.
“Is he eating?” Brett asked.
“Barely,” Tyler replied.
Brett sighed.“He needs to eat or his sugar’s going to drop.”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” Joey said.
“I’ll worry about what I want to worry about,” Brett snapped.“I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“Brett, if you go over there now, and make everything better for him, what’s he going to learn?” Joey asked.“He lied to you for two years about one of the most important things in your life.That’s not something you should just forget about in two days.He needs to feel bad for a while.We all know you’re going to end up back together when this is all over.If you don’t make him realize what a jerk he’s been now, he’ll never learn.”
Brett reached up to his collar and pulled the gold necklace he was wearing out from under his shirt.I recognized it from the time I’d been to his house and he had been shirtless.
“I thought you got rid of that thing,” Joey said.
“Please eat something…” Brett whispered.
Across the room, Billy took a bite of his sandwich as Dustin joined him at his table.
“He’s eating,” Tyler said.“Dustin’s with him.”
“That’s good,” Brett said, sounding relieved.He tucked the chain back under his shirt.
“That’s like some weird voodoo shit right there,” Joey laughed.
“I don’t know how long I can do this.I miss him.”
“After two days?” I asked.
“It feels like forever,” Brett sulked.“Look, I know I sound stupid, but you can’t just get over four years in a day.I miss everything about him.His goofy smile.The way he always has a snarky comment about everything.The way he lets me steal his lunch.The way the wind catches his hair.The way he can do calculus in his head but he forgets where he parked.I don’t want to get over any of that.”
“But you don’t want to get walked all over, either,” Joey replied.“That’s what this is about.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Brett sighed.“I can’t believe I ditched him in Erie.I’m such an asshole when I’m pissed off.”He closed his eyes and mumbled a prayer, then crossed himself and began to eat.He looked across the table at me and Tyler.“So what’s your story?” he asked.
Later that day, I received and note from Mr. Hartley to meet with him during his free period once again.I really didn’t want to do it, as I felt like I’d done what he wanted me to do and that it was time for me to move on to do other things, like Tyler.Nevertheless, I found myself knocking on Mr. Hartley’s door and being welcomed into his domain.
“Everything went as planned,” Mr. Hartley said, smiling.“Mr. Roberts missed his test, and there was no mention of a make-up test today in class.You did it, Bishop.”
“Yeah…” I said.
“I thought you’d be happy.From what I hear, the trip to Buffalo was a disaster and Mr. Reilly and Mr. Roberts are no longer on speaking terms.From what my Knight tells me, you had yourself quite a weekend as well.Everything is going our way.Mr. Roberts has lost everything, and by next year I will be in charge and we’ll finally be able to make some real changes around here.”
“I guess so,” I replied.
Weeks went by, and I watched both Billy and Brett become more and more miserable while Tyler and I got closer and closer.Those three weeks between April and May were some of the happiest moments of my life.I only wished that we were older so that we could go to the prom together, and really throw it in the faces of the old order that things were going to change whether they liked it or not.
We had our first sleepover on an early May Saturday night.We hung out at his place, and I got to spend some time with his mom and dad, his brother Chris, and I got to meet his twelve-year-old dog, Bitey.
“I named him when I was three,” Tyler announced proudly.
“Because he bit you?” I asked.
“No, it was a joke on the Simpsons.He bit Chris though,” Tyler laughed.
I had always thought that Chris Bowman was a super douchebag, since he was a year older than us, a known druggie, and a bit of a jerk.But getting to know him made me realize I’d misjudged him.Sure from the outside he was a bit gruff, but he was just a typical older brother.
“You think I’m bad, wait until you meet Jimmy,” Chris said.
“I barely remember him,” I said.
“Watch out for the dog.He bites,” Chris warned.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Chris.I would have thought that Tyler being gay would have given him every excuse in the world to be a total dick to him, and to me.But he seemed more curious than anything.
“So, you guys have boned each other in the butt, right?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Tyler replied.
“Why?” Chris asked.
“Because we love each other,” Ty replied.
“You love each other, so you do it in the butt?” Chris asked.
“You’ve never done your girlfriend in the ass?” I asked.
“Yeah, but that’s different.”
“Because she’s a girl.I have lots of guy friends who I’m close to.I even have some gay friends.I’ve never thought about boning any of them.”
“That’s because you’re not gay,” I replied.
Chris thought about that for a minute.“So which one of you guys is the girl?”
Ty and I looked at each other and sighed.
Apparently, it was no big surprise to anyone in the family that Tyler was gay.
“We were just waiting for him to figure it out for himself,” his mom told me in a moment where we were alone together.
“But you cried when he told you,” I said.
“It was a mixture of emotions.I know his life will be more difficult because of all this.But it was who he has always been meant to be.He won’t have to spend his life trying to be someone he was never meant to be.”
Tyler’s dad was more blunt.
“I knew he was queer all along.You don’t think we knew why he was always going to your house after school?”
“Maybe to beat me up?” I asked.
“He came home way too happy for it to have been that,” Mr. Bowman replied.“Whatever you were doing over there, it made him very… content.”
“It doesn’t bother you that we’re… you know… together?”
“We never stopped him from going over there did we?We knew this was coming when he beat you up in school.One last gasp before he got things figured out.Tyler was always the easy one.Jimmy had a different girl every week.And Chris…Well, I’m just glad he’s not hanging out with Joey McKenzie anymore.All we have to worry about with Tyler is that he doesn’t get bullied too much.But with two brothers like Jimmy and Chris, he’s got a pretty tough skin.You give our little boy some happiness.You want to have fun together, have at it.”
It felt good to wake up on Sunday morning next to Tyler.We’d enjoyed the opportunity to sleep with each other naked.It felt different than when I’d slept with Dustin.When Dustin held me, I felt safe and secure, but not loved.With Tyler I felt just a little bit rebellious and very much exposed, but I felt very loved.Maybe it was because I’d allowed myself to be exposed that I’d found myself loved?Like, I had to risk everything in order to find what I was looking for?Tyler was never going to keep me safe.In fact, we were probably going to get ourselves into all kinds of trouble together!But I felt loved.
“I wish you’d been the first,” I sighed as we snuggled together.
“Doesn’t matter who’s first,” Ty said.“Just who’s right.”
“Dustin said he could never fuck somebody he loved.”
“Well he doesn’t know what he’s missing,” Ty replied.
“Was I your first?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I wish I’d have been better for you,” I sighed.
“I thought it was perfect,” he said.“Until your mom walked in, of course.”
It was almost a month since I’d received one of Mr. Hartley’s little notes asking to meet with him during his free period.But that all changed the Friday afternoon a week before the prom.I was even more hesitant to go than I had been since the last time we’d had one of our little meetings.I thought this stuff was over.I felt like I was being sucked into another of Mr. Hartley’s games.
“The situation has changed, Bishop,” Mr. Hartley said seriously.“I need your help once again.”
“No,” I said.
“No?” Mr. Hartley replied.
“I…I don’t want to play anymore,” I said.“This game of yours…All it’s doing is hurting people.”
Mr. Hartley folded his hands in front of him.“You knew there would be casualties along the way, Mr. Jackson.I told you we would be taking something from someone who deserved it and give it to someone who didn’t deserve it.Did you think that wouldn’t hurt the one we took it from?”
“I knew it would, and I thought I was okay with that.But everything we did to Billy just hurt the people around him too!I never wanted to hurt Brett.I don’t want to hurt Billy anymore either.”
“Well, I’d like to tell you that no one else will get hurt, but we both know I’d be lying to you.In fact, now is when I need you the most.I’ve managed to keep Mr. Roberts in the dark about his grade until now.But soon, I will have to reveal to him what’s taken place.We both know Mr. Roberts will not go quietly into the night without raising a fuss over his grade.I thought I would have been able to use his little trip to Buffalo as leverage to keep him quiet, but it seems the whole school knows about that since those two idiots have been moping all over the school.So now is when I need you the most, Bishop.”
“What do you want me to do?” I asked hesitantly.
“We said it long ago – the key to Mr. Roberts is his friends, and here we have someone who has been in an intimate relationship with his very best friend.”
“We were never in a relationship.Last time we talked Dustin punched me in the face.I haven’t even seen him in a month.” I said.
“Oh please,” Mr. Hartley sneered.“Have you met Mr. Smith’s family?If they’re not punching each other in the face they’re drinking themselves to death.Getting punched in the face is practically a marriage proposal for those people.So here’s the plan: Just like you got some information for me about Mr. Roberts, now I need something I can use as leverage about Mr. Smith.Only this time, I want you to get visual evidence so that I can show Mr. Roberts the photograph.That thick-headed dolt will do anything I say in order to protect his friend.That’s how we’ll get him, by using his love for his friends against him, just as you suggested so long ago. You’ll be recording everything on this…”Mr. Hartley handed me a brand new cell phone.
“Now, that’s yours to keep.A little thank you for your efforts in the past.I want you to get me something I can use, and then I want you to give the video to me.It could be anything.Maybe he badmouths Mr. Reilly to you.Or who knows?Maybe you get into an intimate situation and secretly record the events?Whatever it is, get it to me before the prom next week.Then leave the rest to me.”
I couldn’t believe what Mr. Hartley was asking.“No way!You’re sick, man!I’m not going to record myself blowing Dustin!”
“You are if you don’t want to be expelled for committing sexual activities on school property,” Mr. Hartley warned.
“The balcony, before Mr. Bowman went for a little swing over the edge…”
“Dustin told you?”
“My Knight trusts me completely,” Mr. Hartley replied.“But if that’s not enough incentive, there’s always the little picture my Rook took of you.”
“Your Rook?” I said.I felt my heart drop into my belly.No…It couldn’t be.
“I told you I had other pieces in the game, didn’t I?Now, you can either cooperate with my little game or things will get much, much worse for you, and for your boyfriend.I’d hate for something like this to go public.”
Mr. Hartley pulled out a cell phone out of his desk and showed me the picture on the screen.I knew what it would be before I even saw it.I recognized the cell phone that had been used to take a picture of me in the locker room during all the confusion.There I was on the screen, naked and tied up hanging upside down.
“Tyler…” I said, feeling my heart breaking in my chest.“No…Why?” I asked, tears escaping my eyes and rolling down my cheeks.
“I always have leverage, Mr. Jackson.And I always play to win.”
“So everything that’s happened between me and Tyler…It was all part of your game?” I asked.
“He was a very useful piece of my game, but in the end, everyone is expendable.All I know is this, you need to get me what I want, one more time, or everyone will see this picture.And when it comes out that Mr. Bowman was responsible for this scene, he’ll be expelled and you’ll lose your boyfriend.This picture will haunt you for the rest of your life.I certainly don’t want that.I’d rather you just did what I asked.”
“What choice do I have?” I said sullenly.I took the new cell phone from Mr. Hartley’s desk and put it in my pocket.“I thought things were going to get better with you in charge,” I said.
“They are,” Mr. Hartley replied. “The end goal is the same, even if the means are a bit messier than I’d hoped.”
I left Mr. Hartley’s room and didn’t even bother going back to English class.I went to the balcony to bawl.I couldn’t believe everything that I’d shared with Tyler had just been part of Mr. Hartley’s sick game.Was Tyler ever really in love with me?I felt like the last few months of my life had all been manipulated by Mr. Hartley.I didn’t know what was real and what was part of his game.And now he was telling me to reconnect to Dustin just so I could betray him.For what?So that he could play more of his games with people’s lives?I thought I was through with Mr. Hartley’s games, but now I was right back in the middle of his web, worse than before.
I purposely missed the bus so I wouldn’t have to see Tyler and I got a ride home with Joey McKenzie and Brett.I dreaded hearing the knock at my door that I knew was coming at some point that afternoon.I didn’t want to have to deal with even more drama, but that was what awaited me.The knock came, the door opened, and there he was… my boyfriend - the Rook.
“Hey, I missed you on the bus today,” he said, his voice full of what I now knew was fake concern.
“You did?” I said flatly.
“Yeah.So are we just going to stand here in the doorway or…?”
“Sure, come in,” I said. I let him in and closed the door behind him.
“Are you okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re acting really weird.Like you’re mad at me or something.”
“I don’t know.I guess I’m just trying to figure out whether I’m talking to my boyfriend, Tyler, or I’m talking to Mr. Hartley’s Rook,” I said.
Tyler’s face turned white.“How do you know about that?”
“Because I’m the Bishop,” I replied.
“You’re the Bishop?!?!” Tyler exclaimed.
“So you’ve heard of me?”
“I knew there was a bishop out there. Holy shit!I never thought for a second it was you!”
“Well I never knew there was a rook until today, so you can imagine my surprise to find out you were in the game the whole time.”
“Wow, I would have never guessed you were the bishop!And I suppose you know Sarah Taylor’s the Queen.”
“She’s in the game too?”
“Yeah, she’s the queen and Dustin’s the knight.I don’t think she realizes it’s a game.I think Hartley mostly uses her to get information on her dad.”
“Oh…I guess that makes sense.She’s the one who needs to win valedictorian in order for Mr. Hartley to be principal.”
“Yeah, but he’d sacrifice her too if he has to.We’re all expendable.Wow, I can’t believe you’re the bishop.Especially the way Mr. Hartley talks shit about you all the time.So what was your role in all this?”
“I had to find out something dirty on Billy Mr. Hartley could use.”
“Billy Roberts?”Tyler asked.
“Yeah, wasn’t that the whole point?Take out Billy so Sarah can be valedictorian?”
“I thought it was to take out Joey McKenzie.You know, rid the school of its drug problem.”
“Yeah, I was supposed to let Mr. Hartley know if I knew Joey had drugs in his possession.All I had to do was tell him, and he said he’d take care of everything else.That was when we had the big drug bust.I’m the reason that happened.That’s why I was so scared when he and Brett sat with us at lunch.I thought Joey found out it was me.”
“How’d you know Joey would have drugs?”
“Because he was friends with my brother Chris.Remember? And if Chris had cocaine on him that day I knew Joey would too.The best thing about it was that Joey and Chris blamed each other for ratting each other out and they had a huge fight. No one even knew I was involved, but Mr. Hartley told me if I didn’t do what he said he’d make sure everyone knew I was the one who told the cops.But then Chris got sent to rehab and got cleaned up.That’s why he’s been so cool lately.Before, he was downright evil.So everything worked out great for me.I got my brother back and Mr. Hartley got Joey out of the way.I thought that was it, but then a week ago Mr. Hartley wanted me to do another favor for him.”
“What did he want this time?”
“It was really weird.All he wanted me to find out was who was going with who to the prom.”
“Why would Mr. Hartley want to know who was going to the prom with who?” I asked.
“Mr. Hartley said it was a contingency plan.I don’t know.It seemed harmless so I went ahead and did it.I mean, what harm could come from knowing who’s going to be at the prom?He wanted to know about everybody, and I did the best I could.I found out Sarah Taylor’s going with her brother Kenny.Brett’s going with Dustin’s sister.Dustin’s going with Emily Barnhart.The only one I couldn’t find out about was Billy Roberts but that’s because he didn’t have a date until this afternoon.”
“What’s Mr. Hartley playing at?” I asked.
“Don’t know.He told me that wasn’t any of my concern.He just wanted to know who was going to be there.Seemed really interested in Kenny.”
“Okay, so there are some things I don’t understand.How long have you been involved with Mr. Hartley?”
“What do you mean by involved?”
“You know, being the Rook,” I replied.
“I guess since around Thanksgiving.He said he could really relate to me since he knew what it was like to be a boy who could never tell anyone he was gay, always afraid of people finding out.He said he had to wait until he was in college before he felt like he could be free to be true to himself.”
“He told me he came out in high school!” I replied.“He said his best friend betrayed him and beat him up!”
“I guess he just figures out what’s going on in your life and that’s what he tells you happened to him, so you’ll think he understands you when no one else does.He tells you whatever it takes to get what he wants out of you.That’s how he got me to kick your ass in gym class.”
“That was his idea?!?”
“Yeah.Everything I did to you this year was his idea. He said it was for the greater good.It would help people see that he needed to be in charge.Like, only he could keep events like that from happening, even though he was behind everything!I knew I’d get suspended, but he said once he was principal that would disappear from my permanent record.You noticed I went soft on you, right?”
“You call that soft?”
“A bloody nose and a busted lip?And if you didn’t have braces your lip would have been fine.I’ve had worse from my brothers on a Tuesday afternoon.”
“And the picture?”
“Oh… that…” Tyler sighed.
“Yeah, that!” I replied.
“He gave me the cell phone and told me to get him something I thought he’d find useful to use against you.He really hates you.He thinks you’re a punk kid and that you think that you’re more important than you really are.That’s why I’m surprised you’re the Bishop.I thought you were a pawn.At least that’s what he was always telling me.”
“Wonderful,” I replied.“That’s why Dustin and Doug kept calling me a punk kid.He pretty much told me the same things about you.And stringing me up naked by my ankles?Was that his idea too?”
“No.That was my idea,” Tyler replied.“I’ve told you I was sorry about that.It got Mr. Hartley what he wanted.I actually protected you on that because the guys who helped me wanted to do worse things to you.”
“Like what, rape me?” I asked.
“Yeah.They weren’t going to fuck you but Colton wanted to shove a mop handle up your ass.I told him you’d probably like it and that it was a bad idea.That’s why I had them hang you upside down.It gave them something to do that was mean but not too violent.Didn’t you notice I was the one who got everyone out of there?”
“You also left me there for Dustin to find.”
“I couldn’t make it too obvious I was trying to protect you.”
“While you were betraying me,” I said.
“Exactly,” Tyler replied.
“And the swirlies?” I asked.
“Sorry.Mr. Hartley had me so scared of being outed and he convinced me take it out on you. He told me that if I did those things to you then no one would suspect that I really liked you.He said the meaner I was to you the safer I’d be. I’m really, really sorry.I see now it was all part of his stupid game.It drove you to him so he could suck you into his game too.”
“So what about these last few weeks?Has our relationship just been part of the game?”
“No.That’s why I told Mr. Hartley I was through yesterday.I gave him the names and I told him I was done playing his game.These last few weeks have been the best weeks of my life.I never saw myself falling in love with you, but I did.I couldn’t keep living a lie.He couldn’t hold me hostage by threatening to tell people I was gay anymore.”
“Were you ever going to tell me you were the Rook?” I asked.
“Were you ever going to tell me you were the Bishop? Ty replied.
“Check mate,” I said.“So I guess when you told him you were out that’s when he came back to me,” I said.“Now he wants me to get something on Dustin.”
“Is that how you found out I’m the Rook?Hartley sacrificed me?”
“Yeah.I guess he thought it would get me to break up with you or something.But what I don’t get is why Mr. Hartley would play us against each other.”
“Don’t you see?As long as you thought you were being threatened you’d keep coming to him for protection just like I did.He’s had to keep us against each other because once we started talking we’d begin to see how he’s playing everyone.He used me to keep you in line and he used Dustin to keep me in line.Now he’s using you to get Dustin.He talks about uniting us all together and turning the old order upside down, but he’s been dividing us since the beginning.Everything is about him.We’re expendable pieces of his little game.When he doesn’t need us, he sacrifices us to improve his own situation.He doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.He’s screwing everybody, and he’s going to screw Dustin worst of all.I don’t know what he has planned but it’s got to be something terrible.All so he can get more power over even more people.”
“Yeah,” I said.“So I guess it’d be hypocritical of me to be mad at you since I was just as involved in the game as you were.You used your brother to get to Joey.I used Brett to get to Billy.I can’t say I’m happy that I know why you we such a jerk to me, but at least I understand now. I just don’t understand why he picked us to do his dirty work?”
“Honestly?It’s because he knew we were vulnerable and he could manipulate us easily.He preys on the weakest people in the school.He used our fears against us, and made it look like he was the answer to our prayers.I actually thought he was helping me, but he was just using me.Look how scared and weak we were before we got together.Once we found each other, we didn’t need him anymore.”
“You think Dustin’s weak?” I asked.
“He’s physically strong.But emotionally?He’s the most vulnerable of all of us.Hartley uses him as his enforcer because he’s so sucked into the game he’d do anything Mr. Hartley said.That’s why you can’t do whatever it is he asked you to do to him.If Mr. Hartley betrays him it’ll destroy Dustin.What did he ask you to do?”
“Well let me tell you…”
Over the next hour, I filled Tyler in on what Mr. Hartley had asked me to do.We both agreed that I couldn’t do what he’d demanded.But how could I do that without ending up with my picture being exposed to the world?We came up with a plan.We were going to call his bluff.We weren’t sure it would work, but anything was better than playing more of Mr. Hartley’s game.
Did you figure out Tyler was in the game before Mr. Hartley's revelation? How will Mr. Hartley respond to the boys refusing to play anymore?