I walked nervously through the hallway of my school.I’d never been called to a teacher’s room before, but Mr. Hartley had sent a note to my English teacher asking for me to come to see him during his free period.I anxiously knocked on the door and Mr. Hartley invited me inside.
“Have a seat, Jackson,” Mr. Hartley said.I obeyed his order and sat in the first desk in the middle row of the classroom.Mr. Hartley sat behind his desk and looked at me, his fingers linked together in front of him on his desk.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” I asked nervously.
“What’s this I hear about you cutting class and hanging out with Mr. Reilly?” Mr. Hartley asked.
“I…What?” I stammered.How on earth did he know about that?
“Brett Reilly is a menace, Jackson.How he’s managed to keep himself from getting expelled on more than one occasion is a miracle.Why would someone like you want to be associated with someone like him?”
“We’re in a club together.”
“Ah!Pat Winston’s little gay club…Well, you can see right there the problem with that particular organization.You’ve got the biggest closet case in the county trying to be the source of inspiration to the next generation of queer kids.Pathetic, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I protested.
“I would, Mr. Jackson.You know how hard it is to watch someone be rewarded for being a coward?Seeing her be respected by a bunch of ignorant little queer groupies…It’s infuriating.It’s like watching someone skate by on nothing but empty platitudes who puts in the barest minimum of effort and watching them succeed.I like people who work hard.Your precious Miss Winston is nothing but a fraud.You’ll see.When things get tough, she’ll sell you kids out in a heartbeat because it’s always been about her.You’ll be left with nothing but a bunch of empty promises and phony speeches about how we all need to get along and accept our second-class status.”
“I don’t get it…What do you care about the queer kids?”
“Come on Jackson!You’re smarter than that!Why do you think I would give a crap about what happens to a bunch of pathetic little gay kids?”
“I guess you might care if you…if you knew what it was like to be one of us?” I said, the truth dawning on me.
“Now you’re beginning to see things clearly!” Mr. Hartley smiled.“You see, Jackson, out of all the kids in this god-forsaken pit of a school, you are the one who most reminds me of myself at your age.I know what it’s like to be a complete loser.I was never cool like your friend Reilly, or a genius who just skates by with the most minimum effort like his doofus boyfriend.I was just Jeremy the chess-playing nerd with braces and glasses whose father beat the crap out of him for being gay.I never got anything handed to me.I had to work for everything I got like you have.And like you, I got my head soaked in a toilet on more than one occasion.I was bullied every day of my life in school and even worse at home.I heard every insult imaginable, was called every vicious name, but I never betrayed myself.I was proud to be who I was, and I still am.I’ve hidden nothing from anyone.The people around here don’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t cower in fear at their threats and insults, someone who fights back.And soon enough, I’ll be in charge of this place!And they’ll give me control willingly.And out of all the kids in this school, I see the most potential in you, because you’ve had to scratch and claw for everything while kids like Brett Reilly have had everything handed to them and kids like Billy Roberts have hidden behind their wall of lies.”
“But he did come out eventually,” I replied.
“And how long has he skated by before he was forced to finally grow a set?I can’t stand kids like him.Believe me, at the first sign of trouble he’ll show his true colors, and they’re the same as Pat Winston’s.You’ll see.She’ll abandon you when the going gets tough, and so will her pet, Billy Roberts.People like us will take the heat, and they’ll skate out of here with their perfect little lives, never having a minute of struggle.It’s already happening.There’s a three-way tie at the top of our senior class for valedictorian.It’s the saddest group of kids I’ve ever seen.Two of them have been handed everything to them by their parents, and one of them hasn’t had a day of struggle in his life and just skates by on talent alone.Unfortunately, one of them has to win.It’s my goal to make sure that the one who wins is the one I choose, and that her parents realize that I am the one who made her success possible.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will, Mr. Jackson.By the end of the week, you’ll see things more clearly.The question is, who are you going to trust to get you through the rough times ahead?You think you can trust Brett Reilly?He can hardly tie his shoes without a picture manual.You think someone like Billy Roberts would put his neck on the line for you?He wouldn’t even do that for his boyfriend. Where were the kids in that club of yours when you were getting your head stuffed in a toilet? You’re alone, Mr. Jackson, but you don’t have to be.Kids like you, kids like Dustin Smith, you’re the ones I see the potential in.You’re the ones I want to help.And you’re the ones who can help me along the way.Together, we can show those people what pride truly is.”
I sat there in stunned silence.No one had ever seen any kind of potential in me.All anyone had ever seen in me was a potential victim.What Mr. Hartley was offering me was a chance to finally not be a pathetic loser anymore.I could reach my true potential.I could be proud of who I was instead of being a scared little bitch.
“And what would you want from me?” I asked.
“Your trust,” Mr. Hartley replied.“Nothing more.See, what you’re giving me is a chance to truly shape this school into a place where the old order of things is flipped on its head.What happens when the kids who are bullied aren’t afraid anymore?Dustin’s already told me about your run in with Tyler Bowman.I want bullies like him to be afraid.I want the people who have been handed everything for free to finally pay the price.I can only do that once I am in charge around here.And with the help of the people I’ve seen potential in, people like you, I will be principal by next year.Then we’ll finally see some justice around here.”
“So you just want me to trust you?” I asked.
“That’s it!In the meantime, I want you to keep those little brown eyes and those little ears focused on what’s going on around you.When you see Pat Winston fall, you’ll know the endgame has begun.You don’t need to know too much, only what I tell you.Dustin is my knight.You’re going to be my bishop.I want you to keep your eyes and ears on the pawns.Stay close to your friend Reilly, but understand he’s just a pawn.The closer you are to him the more he’ll talk, and that boy loves to talk.His connection to Mr. Roberts will be very useful.Stay close to him, and eventually he’ll tell you something about Mr. Roberts that I’ll be able to use.I don’t know what it will be.It could be anything.Mr. Roberts has a knack for getting himself into controversial situations.All you’ll have to do is tell me what you’ve discovered.That’s it!”
“But how will I know what you want to know?” I asked.
“I think you’re smart enough to know the kind of information I’d find useful.I trust you, Bishop.Will you trust me?”
“I think I can do that,” I replied.
“Good.You know, I always knew you had potential, Bishop.I think you and I could really do something great for the kids of this school.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my conversation with Mr. Hartley. I mean, I liked what he was saying about not letting the bullies win, and about him becoming the principal.But there was something that made me feel dirty about what he was asking me to do.I liked Brett.He wasn’t one of the bad guys.I didn’t understand what kind of information Mr. Hartley was looking from him.Brett wasn’t the kind of person to hide anything he was up to anyway.Surely Mr. Hartley could get information from him without having me spy on him.
It was nearing the end of that cold January week when I began to see that Mr. Hartley was telling the truth about everything.
There was chaos and pandemonium in the cafeteria.The seniors were in an uproar about something.There was a lot of yelling and posturing.From my seat in the cafeteria I could see Billy Roberts being yelled at by another senior who I recognized as Joey McKenzie, one of the other candidates for valedictorian.I wondered if a fight was breaking out between the two of them and if that was information Mr. Hartley could use.But it didn’t look like Joey was mad at Billy. He was yelling about something else.I strained to hear over the roar of the cafeteria crowd.
“You better talk to Winston about this before I do.I’m going to kick that dyke right in the cunt!” Joey shouted loud enough for me to hear.He stormed over to another group of seniors who were closer to me so I could hear him better.He was still fuming. “Grades don’t mean anything in this stupid piss ant school!It’s all about who you know!”
I watched as Billy and Brett slipped out of the cafeteria.I thought about following them, but I didn’t want to look weird.Eventually, I found out from one of my friends what had happened.Miss Winston had quit!She’d resigned just like Mr. Hartley said she would!There were rumors about a meeting with the school board and a paper she’d graded for Sarah Taylor, who was the daughter of the school board president and also just happened to be the third contender for valedictorian.It was all very strange.I couldn’t believe Miss Winston was gone, just like that.Just like Mr. Hartley had said…
Later that afternoon, I found Doug Sanders, the Alliance president and asked him what was going on.
“I don’t know, bud!” Doug confessed.“With Miss Winston gone, I don’t know if anyone will want to pick up the sponsorship she had for the club.”
“So you’re saying we might have to disband?” I asked.
“We’re dealing with some pretty significant blowback,” Doug said.“I doubt anyone will want to touch something so toxic right now.”
“What about Mr. Hartley?” I asked.
Doug just laughed at me.“You’re not serious, are you?Hartley’s been saying for months the Alliance was useless.He might have been a queer like us in high school, but that guy’s no friend of ours now.I wouldn’t put it past him to have been behind Miss Winston getting the boot.You should watch your ass around that guy.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.I felt numb.Miss Winston – gone in the blink of an eye, not even an explanation or a good-bye to even someone as close as Doug.It felt like I was walking on someone else’s feet as I made my way to Mr. Hartley’s classroom.He had just dismissed his last class of the day and was gathering his things to go home.I walked into the room and was surprised to find someone else was already in there.
“Mr. Jackson,” Mr. Hartley greeted me.“You know Dustin Smith?”
“I’ve seen him around,” I replied.
“You’re Aiden, right?” Dustin said.“You were the one that Tyler kid was messing around with.”
“Yeah,” I said.“And you and Brett helped me.”
“Glad to do it.Anyway, you mind if Mr. Hartley and I finish here?”
“There’s no need to hide anything from Mr. Jackson, Mr. Smith,” Mr. Hartley said.“I’m guessing he’s here wondering the same thing you are.The answer is no, I did not get Pat Winston fired.She quit, just like I told you she would.”
“I don’t understand why she’d quit a job she’d had for years over one stupid grade!” Dustin protested.“It’s stupid!”
“That’s right, it was stupid, and very selfish.You see, Pat Winston quit because she wants to be thought of as being noble.There was a paper from a student involved…”
“Sarah Taylor,” I interrupted.
“That’s right, Bishop. Sarah Taylor – a very important student who just happens to be the school board president’s daughter.Pat Winston felt it necessary to punish Miss Taylor for missing a number of classes, the school board sees it another way.Rather than fight for her beliefs like I would have, she quit and ran with her tail between her legs home to her ‘roommate.’She abandoned you boys.She abandoned everyone.But you see, it makes perfect sense, because it was never about you.It was all about her.She always wanted to make herself look so perfect and enlightened.But at the first sign of trouble, she ran like the coward she really is.She lied to you, boys.But not me.I’ll never lie to you.I’ve been completely honest with you about my intentions to become principal and about the potential I see in both of you.Here in front of me I see the two boys who know what it’s like to be abandoned by someone who was supposed to love you - not only abandoned, but betrayed and abused in the worst possible ways. What your fathers did to you boys was an evil only I understand.We share the same scars, boys, and you both know what I mean when I say that.I hope you see now that I will never abandon you or abuse you.I hope you see in me the potential for greatness that I see in you.Together, we can turn this school around and make it safe for people like us.Pat Winston never knew what it was like to have a father who didn’t love her.Only I know what you boys have been through.I know what it’s like to be abandoned and abused and called a faggot.I know what it’s like to be afraid of what version of my father was going to come home on a particular night.”
“You’ve always told me the truth,” Dustin said, tears welling up in his eyes.
“And I always will,” Mr. Hartley replied, putting an arm around Dustin’s shoulders.“We are the future of this school.Not the old relics of the past like Winston.All I ask from you is your trust along the way, and I hope you know I’d do anything for you boys.”
“I’ll do anything you say,” Dustin replied.“You’re the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
“Yeah…” I replied.“Everything you’ve said would happen happened.”
“It’s a new era, boys,” Mr. Hartley said.“Pat Winston needed to go if we were ever going move on from the failed strategies of the past.Now there’s a new hope for the future, and it starts with you two.They think they’ve won because they took Pat Winston out like the pawn she always was.But they’ve just played right into our hands.My knight and my bishop…Together, we can be unstoppable.”
Dustin was practically glowing with pride as he listened to Mr. Hartley.I had to admit, I felt it too.Yeah, I knew some of what Hartley was saying was just blowing smoke up our asses, but still, no one had ever talked to me the way he did.No one had ever had confidence in me like he did.It was like he knew me better than I knew myself.I didn’t just want to help him because there was something in it for me.I wanted to help him so that he would be even prouder of me.I didn’t want to let him down.It really was like having a father who was actually proud of me instead of the evil monster who’d abused and abandoned me.Mr. Hartley had given me a new identity.I was his Bishop.If he’d told me to jump off the roof I’d have done it for him, because I knew he’d have a reason and a plan for it.
I couldn’t wait to do whatever he wanted me to do for him.
Looks like one of Miss Winston's little sheep has found himself a new shepherd.