This chapter contains a scene with violent content which may be disturbing for some readers. Discretion is advised.
“Did you hear what happened at the prom?” Tyler asked when he saw me at school on Monday.
“Did Sarah win prom queen?” I asked.
“Well yeah, but that’s not the big news.Billy and Brett danced together right in the middle of the dance floor in front of everybody!”
“They did?” I replied.“Wow!So are they going to be expelled?”
“There’s a big meeting in the principal’s office this morning.Parents, school board members, lawyers…It’s huge!”
“What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall in that meeting!” I said.
“It’s Reilly.The whole school will know what happened by lunchtime.”
“That’s true.Wow…They really danced together?”
“Slow song and everything.”
“So I guess they’re back together.I can’t believe Billy Roberts actually had some balls for once.”
“He is capable of rising to the occasion, despite your opinion of him.And think about it.How much has your opinion of him been skewed by Mr. Hartley?He had me hating you.”
“Yeah, but I thought Billy was a dick before Mr. Hartley got involved.Speaking of him, any word on what he’s been up to since we quit playing his game?”
“Knowing him, he got somebody else to do his dirty work for him.Coward…Who knows?He’s probably got Doug in his back pocket too, just waiting for the moment to strike.”
“Let’s ask him,” I said.“Let’s ask Doug if he’s in on it.”
“I’m liking this bold, aggressive you,” Tyler said.
“I’ve got nothing left to lose,” I said.“Hartley’s been messing with my life since before I was born.He needs to pay.”
I’d recovered enough from my encounter with my dad to be pretty much back to normal.It had really shaken me to see how sorry he was about what happened.I didn’t expect that.I guess I had just assumed he’d done what he did and didn’t even care about what it had done to me.I was actually kind of impressed he’d gone to therapy and stuff.Didn’t mean I was ever going to forgive him, but I didn’t hate him as much on Monday as I had on Friday.I still hated him, just not as much.I saw him more as a really screwed up person instead of an inhuman monster.It was progress.Maybe I’d piss on him if he were on fire, instead of throwing gasoline on him.
By lunch time, the rumors were flying about what had happened in the office.Apparently there had been a lot of yelling and accusations and Brett’s mom had slapped him.It was a real mess!After all that, Billy and Brett still seemed to be students, as they were now reunited at their lunch table along with Emily and Joey.I don’t know where Dustin was.I hadn’t seen him all day, but I know he was lurking around somewhere.The baseball team had a playoff game later that day, so maybe he was preparing for that?As Tyler and I were eating, we were surprised when Brett came over to our table.
“Still have time for us rabble?” I asked as Brett set aside his crutches and sat in his usual seat.
“You guys could join us, you know,” Brett replied.
“But then we’d lose this spot and you guys will graduate and we’ll be homeless,” I replied.
“Yeah, I might be homeless by the end of the day,” Brett sighed.“Anyway, I just wanted to warn you guys that the higher-ups might be on the war path after what’s happened since Saturday, especially after this morning.I might have told them all they’re full of shit.Billy’s mom went ballistic on them.They all started arguing and accusing each other of shit.It was awesome!”Brett smiled to himself, thinking about the damage he’d caused.“But yeah…You might want to lay low for a while.Maybe things will settle down over the summer, but who knows?”
“We’ll be ready,” Tyler said.
“As long as we stick together,” I said.
Brett smiled at us.“Yeah.I really think that’s the only way to do it, now that I won’t be around to solve your problems anymore.You make a nice couple.Never let them think you’re all alone.That’s how they get you.Speaking of which…”Brett rose to his feet and grabbed his crutches.“Got to get back to my boyfriend.You guys take care of each other.”
As Brett walked back to Billy, Tyler laughed.“He still thinks my name is Taylor Bowden, doesn’t he?”
“He’s an airhead, but he’s got a good heart,” I replied.
“Yeah he does,” Ty replied.“I can’t believe I was scared of the guy when he told me to leave you alone.”
“Didn’t you call him a hired goon?”
Ty laughed.Suddenly he pointed toward the door of the cafeteria.“Hey, look!There goes Doug!”
I watched along with Ty as Doug made his way toward the exit of the cafeteria.
“You want to get him now?” I asked.
“Yeah, while he’s alone,” Ty said.
We threw away our trash and left the cafeteria.We were catching up to Doug near the gym, when out of nowhere Tyler got tackled to the ground and I found myself in the clutches of two of the boys who had helped Tyler to string me up.We got dragged off to the empty locker room.
“Hey Colton,” Tyler said, trying to catch his breath.
“So you really are a faggot, Bowman?” Colton sneered.“You’d let a half-breed mutt like Jackson fuck you in the ass?Jesus, I thought you at least had some standards.”
I struggled against the two larger boys, but it was no use.They had a tight hold of my arms.
“Has he fucked you in the ass, Bowman?” Colton asked.“Is that how you knew he’d like it?
“Guys, you don’t really have to do this,” Tyler said.
“Shut up, cocksucker!” Colton snapped.
“Are you going to beat me up Colt? All because of who I love?Haven’t we evolved beyond that shit?And you really need two goons to keep little ol’ Aiden in line?”
Colton kicked Tyler right in the nuts and then knocked him to the ground.Then he kicked Ty right in the side of the head.Tyler lay there groaning in pain.I tried everything I could to pull myself from my captors, but I couldn’t break free.Colton kicked Tyler repeatedly all over his body, and then he knelt on top of Ty and punched away at his face until he was a bloody mess.I winced with every blow.I couldn’t bear to look at what was happening to my boyfriend.I closed my eyes but I could still hear the sound of Colton’s fists smashing Tyler’s face.
“Open your eyes, Jackson.Look at him,” Colton demanded. I opened my eyes.Tyler was a bloody mess, laying motionless on the ground.Colton’s hands were covered with Ty’s blood.
“See, guys?The key to doing this properly is to have no witnesses.By the way, you were always a pawn!Both of you,” Colton sneered.“There’s a new Rook in town now.Things are going to be even better next year when Mr. Hartley’s in charge.We’re going to get all the fags out of here.It’ll be like this every day until you all leave.”
I desperately tried to break free of the grip the two boys had on me.I wanted to pulverize Colton, even if I got destroyed in the process.
“I’ve got something for you too, Jackson.But first, I’ve got a little unfinished business with Bowman.Colton grabbed Tyler’s feet and dragged his beaten and unconscious body away from us toward the showers. Ty’s blood left a red streak on the floor.“You guys keep him quiet and away from us,” he ordered.Then it hit me…Colton was the one who had wanted to stick something up my ass when Tyler had me hung upside down in the showers!I realized what he was going to do to Tyler!My resistance became much more urgent as I tried to break free.
“Guys, let me go!Please!”
“Shut up Jackson,” One of them ordered.
“Guys, he’s gonna rape him!”
“You can’t rape the willing,” the other one replied.They both laughed.
“You’re literally allowing Colton to rape Tyler.You’re going to jail, and your parents are going to kill you.”
“He’s just going to put something up his ass.”
“Whether it’s a penis or a broomstick, that’s rape you stupid idiot!”
I felt the grip of one of the guys loosen.That was enough for me.I stomped on one guy’s foot and elbowed the other one in the crotch.I followed the red streak to the shower area as fast as I could.Tyler lay there on the floor with his pants and underwear pulled down around his ankles.Colton stood above him with a mop in his hand pointed at Ty’s exposed butt.I flew into a blind rage I’d only been on the receiving side of before.I ran full force at Colton and speared him right in the guts with my shoulder.Colton landed on the floor with a heavy thud.I grabbed the mop and in my anger I started swinging it wildly at the boys who had followed me into the shower area.One of my swings caught Colton right in the face and bloodied his nose.The three boys retreated.I chased them out of the locker room, still wildly swinging at them.Once I was sure they were gone, I returned to the shower room and knelt next to Ty.
He’d regained consciousness and was struggling to pull his pants back up.
“Did he get you?” I asked.
“Nah…” Tyler said, breathing heavily.“That was close!You saved me just in time.I guess now we know who Mr. Hartley replaced us with…” Ty groaned.I helped him to his feet and helped him get his pants back on.
“Let’s go to the nurse’s office,” I said.
“I’ve had worse,” Tyler said, wiping the blood from his nose with the back of his hand.Fresh blood took its place.“If we were in a normal school we could go see the principal, but they’d probably expel you for defending me, knowing this place.”
“What are we going to do now?” I asked.
Tyler hobbled gingerly to the restroom sinks and turned the water on.
“Grab a couple of the gym towels for me, will ya?” he asked.
I did as he asked.Tyler cleaned up his face at the sink.The water in the sink turned red.He checked his mouth in the mirror and made sure he still had all of his teeth.“Can you grab the first aid kit by the door?”
I quickly ran and got Tyler what he asked for.He grabbed some gauze to stop up his bloody nose and slapped a bandage or two on the places that were still bleeding.It kind of made me both impressed and sad that he was so skilled at patching himself up after getting pummeled.I guess having two vicious older brothers teaches you a thing or two.He looked in the mirror and sighed.“Now?” he said.“I guess we do what Brett said.We stick together.”
“We can’t be together all the time.”
“No, but we can reach out to those who are sick of this being the way it’s always going to be.”
“If only there were a club of people who were willing to stick together and support each other...Oh!That’s right!There was!Except for one thing, they kicked me out!”
“No they didn’t.Doug did.Doug isn’t the whole group.He only speaks for himself.”
“Yeah, but still…I don’t have any friends in that club.I’ll never have friends.”
Ty sighed.“That’s Mr. Hartley talking, not you.He’s filled your head with this idea that you’ll never have any friends and you believe that, even though it’s just as much a lie as everything else he’s told you.He was just trying to isolate you so he could control you more easily.You’re not alone, Aiden.You never were.Brett could have picked anyone in that cafeteria to sit with when he split up with Billy.He chose you.You’ve always had friends, you just couldn’t see that they were there.And there’s more where Brett came from.We’re not alone.”
“So what are you saying we should do, form a new Alliance?”
“Alliance?No.The Alliance is dead.It died when Miss Winston left.We’re going to need something stronger than that.Mr. Hartley, as bad as he is, is just a symptom of a larger problem.The whole system needs to change.We’re not going to be the Alliance, we’re going to be the Resistance.”
“Okay, so we form this resistance.What then?”
“Then we take back our school, one kid at a time if we have to.This isn’t Mr. Hartley’s school.This isn’t the school board’s school.It’s our school.We can’t let the kids who come after us suffer like we did.There has to be hope.Kids like Jason deserve better than to be preyed upon like sheep.Today will be the last time somebody gets their ass kicked just because of who they love.We’re not going to win with fists and kicks.We’re going to win hearts and minds.We’ll fight against the hatred and prejudices of this place like Billy and Brett did!No kid should ever be afraid to be who they are.No kid should ever have to worry for their safety when they’re walking through these halls.This is our school, Aiden.Our school!Mr. Hartley was right.A bishop and a rook can’t checkmate a king on their own.On their own.But we’re not alone.”
“You should have been in the Alliance.You could have been president.”
“It wasn’t my time yet.I wasn’t ready.But now I am because of you.It’s our time now.”
“Okay, so you’re going to lead this Resistance?” I asked.
“No.We are,” Tyler replied.
“Yep.You and me, together.That’s how we’ll win.We’ll stick together.”
It was later that week when word got around that Sarah Taylor, and not Billy Roberts would be valedictorian.Everyone was shocked by the news.Talk about politics was going around the school like crazy.There were lots of theories about how they got to Billy, but he wasn’t saying anything about it.
I knew the truth though.
Mr. Hartley was insufferable that last week of school.He mercilessly picked on Tyler and me during his classes.He had gotten everything he wanted, and he knew it.Colton was only the beginning of his new and improved team of assholes.I wouldn’t let Tyler out of my sight until school ended.Hartley wasn’t even in charge yet, and things were already looking hopeless.Something had to be done.I knew what I had to do.I had to face Hartley one last time.
It took every ounce of courage I could muster to go see Mr. Hartley during his free period.I didn’t even bother going to English class.I was just going to storm right into his room and give him a piece of my mind.I had to show him that he couldn’t intimidate us with goons like Colton.Something had to be done before it was too late and someone else got hurt.
As I approached the door, I could hear shouting coming from inside the classroom. I hesitated by the door and listened.I’d recognize Dustin’s slight southern drawl anywhere.
“You said we were going to use that video to get Sarah out of the way, not use it to screw Billy!”
“I had to do what I had to, Mr. Smith!The situation was always fluid, you knew that!”
“Bull shit!” Dustin roared.“You used me!You’ve lied to me this whole fucking time!It was your plan all along to use that video to fuck Billy over!I thought I could trust you!”
“Do I need to remind you that you willingly did what you did with young Mr. Taylor?You were the one who chose to debase yourself like that.”
“Because you told me to do it!I never would have done it if I’d have known you were going to use it to screw Billy!”
“I didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do.You must have misunderstood what I told you.”
“I didn’t misunderstand nothing!” Dustin snarled.
“You’re getting emotional, Knight!”
“Oh, go fuck yourself with all that ‘knight’ shit!I never would have let you film Kenny blowing me if I’d have known you were going to use it to screw Billy!Do you have any idea how fucking stupid I felt when he told me what you did to him?I thought he was just fucking with me.I laughed at him and called him stupid!I thought, ‘There’s no way Mr. Hartley would stab me in the back like that!’But it’s true!It’s all true!You used me to take out my best friend!I can’t even look him in the face anymore!All I can think about is how I cost him everything he worked so hard for!”
“It was for the greater good, Mr. Smith!”
“Shut your goddamned mouth, you piece of shit!You hear me?!?”
“I won’t be talked to like…HOLY SHIT!!!DUSTIN NO!!!!!”
There was a tremendous crash inside the classroom, and then a smaller, but still very loud crash.Dustin let out a ferocious roar and then the door was kicked open and he stormed out.He saw me standing there and the look on his face was so murderous, I feared for my life.He didn’t do anything to me though, he just stormed down the hallway and right out the door.I peered inside the classroom.Mr. Hartley was cowering in the corner next to his now upside-down desk.A student desk was also laying destroyed nearby, and the chalkboard had been broken by the impact of it being thrown at Mr. Hartley’s head. Papers and debris were everywhere.Mr. Hartley looked genuinely terrified.
“You fucked with the wrong guy,” I said as calmly as I could as I walked inside the room.
Mr. Hartley looked at me.“Not now, Mr. Jackson,” he said, his voice quivering and betraying his fear.He stood up and surveyed the damage Dustin had done to his room.
“If you want something done right you have to do it yourself, huh?Taking pictures of students in compromising situations?Well, I guess if it worked on my father twenty years ago you thought it would work again, huh?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Jackson.”
“You don’t remember my father, Bob Jackson?You don’t remember a picture of him going around this place?Sounds awfully familiar, don’t you think?”
Mr. Hartley laughed to himself.“Blow-job Bobby…That was one of my more immature pranks, I’ll admit.So, you finally put it all together, eh?Yes, I knew your father.And I knew you were his son from the first time I saw your face.Only Bobby Jackson could have produced such a pathetic, useless, spineless boy.Be happy you at least look like your mother.I’ll admit it, at first I just wanted to pick up where I’d left off with your father and mess around with you and make your life miserable.But after a while, I just felt sorry for you.I knew your father was a real loser in life.I still don’t know why they’d make him the photography club president over me.I never imagined his kid would be an even bigger loser.So pathetic.The apple didn’t fall far from that tree.”
“So you got Tyler to find out Mr. Taylor’s son was going to the prom with Sarah, and then got Dustin to do something sexual with him while you recorded it?”
"It's called leverage, Mr. Jackson. Mr. Taylor's son is one of those wonderful closet cases that are so much fun to toy with. That video is the perfect double whammy. Not only does it get Mr. Roberts out of the way, but it gives me the leverage to g John Taylor to do whatever I want, unless he wants his precious little boy's secret exposed in the most humiliating way imaginable."
“And all you had to do was destroy Dustin to do it,” I said.
“An unfortunate case of collateral damage.Mr. Smith was a good soldier in my game.His love for Mr. Roberts was his undoing.All I had to do was convince him he was helping Mr. Roberts and he would have done anything for me if I’d asked him to, without questioning.I knew he would be disappointed when he discovered the truth, but it was necessary in order to accomplish my goals.He was the perfect knight, but every piece on the board is expendable except one, Mr. Jackson.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cell phone Mr. Hartley had given to me.I pushed a few buttons.Mr. Hartley’s voice spoke from the cell phone:
“It’s called leverage, Mr. Jackson.Mr. Taylor’s son is one of those wonderful closet cases that are so much fun to toy with.That little video is the perfect double whammy.Not only does it get Mr. Roberts out of the way, but it gives me the leverage to get John Taylor to do whatever I want, unless he wants his precious little boy’s secret exposed in the most humiliating way imaginable.”
Mr. Hartley looked genuinely surprised.Then he started to laugh.“Very good, Mr. Jackson!” Mr. Hartley exclaimed.“Very good!A move right out of my own playbook!Maybe you aren’t such a loser after all!Well played!And is that the cell phone I gave you?”
Hartley laughed even more.“That is just too perfect!Hoisted by my own petard, eh?Okay boy, you’ve got me right where you want me.You have me in check.Now, do you have the guts to go in for the kill like Dustin would, Mr. Jackson?”
“Erase the video,” I said.“And all the copies.”
Mr. Hartley pulled out his cell phone and flipped through the pictures.He showed me the video on the screen and then deleted it, assuring me that was the only copy.Then I showed him the recording I’d just made of him, and deleted it as well.
“I’m disappointed,” Mr. Hartley sighed.“You had me right where you wanted me.You could have asked for anything.Your conscience was always your biggest weakness.”
“I’m through playing games, Mr. Hartley.You’re going to be the principal around here.You have the potential to do all the things we dreamed about together when this all started.You can be the one who changes things around here for the better.Or you can destroy it all.I don’t know what next year will look like with you in charge, but I do know this: you’re not the king of this school.We’re the kings now – the kids who come here to learn.We’re the ones who matter.This is our school now.You just work here.You had your time.It’s our time now.If we need to, we’ll unite together and we’ll defeat you.But you have to be free to make that choice, I can’t blackmail you into being a good person.I won’t sacrifice my principles so that you can be a good principal.”
The bell rang signaling the end of the day.
“It doesn’t have to be a war, Mr. Hartley,” I said.“But if you want one, we’ll be ready.”
I left Mr. Hartley to clean up the rubble of what was left of his classroom and met Tyler in time to catch the bus.
“I missed you in class,” Tyler said, kissing me on the cheek.I noticed the students around us.Even though Tyler had just kissed me, they didn’t even seem to notice or care.Like it wasn’t weird at all.I smiled.
“This is our school now,” I said to myself.
“Why’d you send me a video of the inside of your pocket?” he asked.
“Let’s just call it... leverage,” I replied.
I had fun with this one. I hope you did too! Next time, we'll tie up a few loose ends, and Aiden will finally meet face-to-face with the tall blond guy. In the meantime, watch out for flying desks!
Next time: the very last, I swear this time it's true, final chapter.