Coincidence or Fate (by Grant Bentley)

Coincidence or Fate

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

My name is Casey Gordon. I’m seventeen, and I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that I’m gay and very much in the closet. I’m out to my mom, but that’s it. I don’t think it would really be an issue, as there are several guys and girls at school who are out, and few kids hassle them about it. But then again, they don’t take shit from anyone. A couple of guys tried it with Shamus and Alex and got their asses kicked. However, I’m not exactly a self-defence expert. Besides, I just don’t feel like I’m quite ready anyway. I haven’t even found the courage to tell my best friend Brian yet.

I was on my way to school one morning when, about three blocks from the school, I noticed an old worn notebook laying in the grass near the sidewalk. I figured someone from school probably had it fall out of their binder or something, so I just tucked it under my arm with the few books I was carrying and continued on. When I got to school, I checked and there was no name on it, so I shoved it in my locker and forgot about it. That afternoon, after a yearbook meeting, I went to my locker for my homework. When I noticed it, I shoved it in my math binder and started for home. A block or so from the school, I ran into Sheridan Fort walking towards the school looking around like he had lost something. He looked pretty frantic and upset. I said ‘Hi’ to him and he said ‘Hi’ back, but other than that, he basically stayed focused on the ground and kept going.

I didn’t really ‘know’ Sheridan; no one did. He was kind of a loner and didn't seem to have any friends that I knew of, but then he did seem incredibly shy. He and his mom had moved into Brad Thompson’s old place midway through our junior year. We were both now in our senior year, but even after several months, he still usually walked with his head down and seldom made eye-contact with anyone. That, of course, made him a target and I had heard a couple of guys call him a faggot. I had no idea whether he was actually gay or not, as that’s part of the typical derogatory name-calling of most bullies.

We were in the same homeroom, and had all the same classes, but seldom had any contact with each other. From my few brief encounters I’d had with him, he seemed like a really sweet guy. Since I already told you I’m gay, I guess I can say I always thought he’s incredibly cute too. He’s about the same height as me, 6’ to 6’ 1”, but a little slimmer, weighing maybe 150lbs compared to my 165lbs. He has dark brown almost black hair and dark brown eyes which are in distinct contrast to my blond hair and light green eyes. And, if there was one person that might persuade me to come out, it was Sheridan. That is, if he was gay of course.

When I got home, Mom was in the middle of getting dinner ready. I threw my books, including the notebook, onto the sideboard by the door and began to help Mom with dinner. A half hour later, we sat down and ate, chatting about her day and my day. It’s just me and Mom at home and has been for as long as I can remember. My dad was killed in an industrial accident when I was four. I have a few memories of him but not many. I think most of those memories are from looking at pictures of us together more than they are actual memories. I can’t say I really missed having a dad though, as Mom has always been there for me and has been super supportive since I came out to her.

Once we were finished dinner, I cleaned up and stacked the dishes in the dishwasher while Mom sat back and watched the evening news. I then grabbed my stuff and headed for my room. I had about a half-hour’s worth of math to do and the rest of the evening was mine. As soon as my homework was done, I picked up the notebook. As I said, I had already checked and there was no name on it, so I slowly started thumbing through the pages to see if I could figure out who it belonged to.

As I was flipping through, I realized it was a bunch of short stories. I sat back on my bed and started to read the first one. What it was about blew me away. It was a love story, and I seemed to be one of the main characters. If that wasn’t enough to freak me out, the other main character in the story was Sheridan. I just sat there for several minutes staring at the page I was reading feeling totally shocked.

‘Oh my God,’ I thought. ‘Sheridan is totally in love with me.’

As I was reading the story, it dawned on me. If this was what Sheridan was looking for, no wonder he looked upset. I mean, if anyone else had found it and read this story, he would have been seriously fucked. So would I for that matter, as anyone else reading it may quite easily have assumed it was true. Even if they didn’t, I’d still be razzed for the rest of my life.

By the time I was reading the fourth story, I was starting to get tired. I managed to finish it and threw the notebook on my desk, crawled into bed, and was very quickly asleep. I woke up the next morning, got up, did my morning rituals, had a shower, and went back to my room to get dressed. When I noticed the notebook, I started to glance over the next story.

As I stood there skimming over it, Brian walked into my room.

"Hurry up man, or we’re gonna be late for school," he said.

“Yeah, just a minute,” I stated.

When I glanced back over at him, he had kind of a strange look on his face.

“What?” I asked.

He just grinned and asked, “You do realize you’re still naked, right?”

“Oh, shit. Sorry,” I said as I put down the notebook and grabbed my underwear and started to get dressed.

As I was dressing, I told Brian the whole story. From finding the notebook, to seeing Sheridan frantically looking for something, to reading the stories and realizing they were about me…Sheridan and me…Sheridan and me in love and in some very intimate situations.

“Sheridan Fort?” Brian asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Why the fuck would he take something like that to school?” Brian wondered aloud.

“I have no idea,” I replied. “I know I sure as hell wouldn’t. That’s just asking for trouble.”

“No shit,” Brian said, “and if he thinks someone from school found it and read it, he’s gonna be going crazy.”

“Yeah I know,” I responded. “A few guys were picking on him before, so he’s gonna be thinking the worst.”

“What are you going to do?” Brian asked.

“The only thing I can,” I replied. “I’m going to give it back to him…and we’re going to talk.”

“What are you going to say to him?” Brian asked. “You just going to tell him you know he’s in love with you and even if you can’t love him back, his secret’s safe with you?”

“Uh…” I hesitated and replied, “Yeah…I guess…something like that.”

Brian looked at me for a few seconds before giving me a silly grin.

“What?” I asked.

“You can love him back though, can’t you Casey?” he asked.

I was completely shocked by his remark and had no idea how to respond.

“No worries man,” he said as he came over to me and gave me a little push.

“Seriously?” I asked. “That doesn’t freak you out?”

“Freak me out? Why?” he asked. “I thought you would have more faith in me than that. We’ve been best friends since kindergarten. That’s not going to change because you want to date Sheridan instead of Sherry.”

“It’s not that I don’t have faith in you,” I replied, “it’s just that I couldn’t handle losing you. I know that doesn’t translate, but you’re my brother man. And there’s always that fear…you know?”

“I guess I understand,” he responded, “but there’s nothing to fear. I’m not going anywhere. Besides, I’ve had you figured out for a while now.”

“What?” I asked.

“Oh come on,” he replied. “When was the last time you turned your head when some totally hot chick walked by? Or a better question would be, when was the last time you turned your head when a good looking guy walked by?”

“Uh…I do that?” I asked.

“Uh…yeah,” he replied with a big grin. And that was it. My best friend knew about me and was cool with it. However, I still didn’t know what was happening with Sheridan. Nor did I know what I was going to do when I saw him.

We drove by Sam’s and picked her up. Sam is Brian’s girlfriend, Samantha. Then we drove straight to school. Sam was curious as to why we didn’t stop for a coffee on the way, but Brian simply said I needed to be at school early and she was happy with that.

“Sheridan’s not here,” I said as we walked into home room. “He’s always here first, like at least ten or fifteen minutes early.”

“Oh fuck,” Brian said. "If he thinks someone actually read his stories and it’s going to be all over school today, he’s gonna be scared shitless.”

“I know,” I said. “He’s probably too scared to even come to school. Fuck, I gotta go talk to him and let him know it’s all cool.”

“You want me to come with you?” he asked.

“Actually yeah,” I replied, “but I think I gotta do this on my own.”

“You sure?” he questioned.

“Yeah, but thanks,” I answered with a weak smile. “If he shows up here, call me. Okay?”

I had to promise to phone him and let him know what was happening. It took me ten minutes to get to Sheridan’s. I spent another couple of minutes walking around in front of the house trying to get up the courage. Since I figured if he was still home he would be in the kitchen, I walked around back to knock on the kitchen door. When I did, I noticed the garage door was open. I’m not sure why, but that really scared me. Actually, I am sure why. I was terrified that I would find him hanging from the rafters or something. I walked over to the door and what I saw scared the living hell out of me. Sheridan was standing on a chair in the middle of the garage with a rope around his neck. My mouth went dry and my heart started racing.

“Sheridan, don't do it,” I was finally able to say to him as I dropped the notebook, quickly stepped forward and grabbed onto the chair so he couldn’t kick it out from under himself.

“Don't do it,” I repeated.

He looked down at me and immediately burst into tears. I continued to hold onto the chair, ready to grab his legs and hold him up if I had to.

“It’s going to be okay, I promise,” I said quietly. “This is not the answer. Please.”

After a couple of minutes, I slowly climbed onto the chair with him, which wasn’t easy, and carefully lifted the rope over his head. As soon as I did, his head dropped onto my shoulder as he wrapped his arms around me and continued to cry.

Finally he stopped crying and barely whispered, “It’s too much…it’s just too much. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Oh God Sheridan,” I said. “It’s never so much that killing yourself is the answer.”

“You have no idea,” he said quietly. “Dealing with the assholes in my last school and then the faggot remarks and getting shoved around here too is bad enough, but now everyone will be ridiculing me…and you’re gonna hate me…I couldn’t take that.”

“No one’s going to ridicule you and I won’t hate you,” I said just as quietly.

“You don’t understand. Yes you will,” he said.

“No I won’t,” I told him. “I found your notebook.”

“You found it?” he questioned.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Oh God,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “You didn’t read it did you?”

“Actually yeah,” I responded. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh God,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for anyone to see it…especially not you.”

“Why not?” I asked, even though the answer was obvious.

“No guy needs to read about some faggot being in love with him,” he replied, “and some of the stories were…well…”

“Some of the stories were interesting,” I remarked, “and don’t call yourself a faggot.”

We just stood there holding on to each other as an awkward silence took over.

“If we don’t get off this chair soon we’re both gonna end up on the floor with concussions,” I eventually said with a forced chuckle.

“Yeah, I guess,” he replied.

“Let’s put this rope away too, and get out of here,” I suggested.

After taking the rope down and disposing of it in the trash, we made our way into the house and to Sheridan's bedroom, but not before he picked up an envelope from the table as we walked through the kitchen.

I gave him back his notebook which he immediately dropped behind his dresser. Then we sat on the edge of his bed and talked. We talked mostly about the notebook. I guess he had been writing in it before he went to bed. When he grabbed his books for school in the morning, it was in the same pile, and he must have picked it up with everything else. And, of course, if anything was going to accidentally fall out, that would be it.

As we talked about what he had written, I could tell he was beyond embarrassed that I had read it, especially the juicy bits. He kept apologizing and kept reminding me of how things might have turned out for both of us if someone else had found it. We talked about how he felt about me. I tried my hardest to make him understand that I wasn’t upset or angry that he was in love with me, but I wasn’t having a lot of success.

Then I thought, ‘Why am I skirting the real issue here? I sound like a straight guy trying to make him feel better…not a gay guy who has liked him and been interested in him for months. What am I afraid of?’

Finally, after he had apologized for being in love with me for the umpteenth time, I looked him in the eyes and asked, “What if I told you the feeling could very easily become mutual?”

He just stared at me, silent and motionless, until eventually a single tear rolled down his cheek. “Don’t tease,” he finally whispered. “I couldn’t handle that.”

I simply smiled, leaned forward, and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.

If I thought he was emotional and crying before, I think that simple gesture unleashed months of pent up emotions. His arms were around my neck in an instant and five minutes later, I still had a sobbing boy in my arms. Finally he slowed down enough to start to breathe normally. After another few minutes, he loosened his grip a little, pulled back so he could look into my eyes, and a small smile began to appear.

I found out a lot about him that morning. I discovered that he had been on the junior varsity volleyball team in his old school. That is, until they found out he was gay. Then his life had gone to hell. His teammates shunned him and the bullying started. After three months without any support from the school administration or teachers, his mom had decided to transfer him. She also filed a lawsuit against the school board, the principal, and two of the teachers.

When he got here, he decided the best way to survive was to go to school, do his work, and avoid everyone. Unfortunately, his avoidance of people and apparent shyness once again made him a target. I also found out he wasn’t all that quiet and shy once he got going. Neither of us noticed the time slipping by until my cell phone began to vibrate in my pocket. I pulled it out and sure enough, it was Brian.

“You trying to make me crazy?” he asked. “I’ve been waiting for you to call for two friggin hours.”

“Sorry,” I answered. “Things are cool. I really can’t talk right now, but it’s all cool.”

“How cool?” he asked.

“Very,” I replied. “We’ll talk later, kay?”

“Okay,” he responded, “but we will talk. Later man.”

“Was that Brian?” Sheridan asked as I put my phone back in my pocket.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“He knows about me doesn’t he?” he asked, sounding a little concerned.

“Yeah. He knows about me too. And I’m pretty sure he’s figured out there just might be the beginnings of a ‘you and me’ as well by now,” I replied with a smile.

He just looked at me for a second before he relaxed and smiled back at me. “So it really is all cool?” he questioned.

“Oh yeah,” I responded. “Very cool.”

At that point, we both realized it was noon and we were getting hungry. We made our way to the kitchen and fixed ourselves a bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, found some potato salad and grabbed a couple of cans of Coke. After cleaning up, we went back to his room. There is no explanation for the feelings and emotions I was experiencing as Sheridan and I stretched out across his bed and talked the afternoon away. We had a lot in common, we liked the same music, a lot of the same movies and books, and we both enjoyed writing. We both enjoyed snowboarding, skating, camping, swimming, and even rollerblading. By the end of the afternoon it felt like we had known each other for years. It was so cool.

The afternoon had flown by, and we were both surprised when his mother poked her head in the door.

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed, scaring the crap out of me.

Sheridan, on the other hand, wasn’t remotely freaked out. He immediately jumped up and grabbed my hand, pulling me up beside him.

“Mom!” he said with more than a little excitement. “This is Casey. Casey, this is my mom.”

“Casey? My, this is a surprise,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about you…I’m…uh…pleased to finally meet you.”

“Pleased to meet you too Mrs. Fort,” I responded.

“So, I was about to make a snack for Sheridan and me,” she said, as she pulled herself together after several seconds. “I hope you like grilled cheese and potato salad.”

“I love it,” I replied. “Thank you,” and she disappeared from Sheridan’s door and down the hall.

As soon as she was gone, we burst out laughing. Of course we couldn’t tell her that’s what we had for lunch because we were supposed to have been at school. Sheridan laced his fingers through mine and we made our way out of his room and down the hall. His mom smiled at us as we entered the kitchen.

As we ate, we chatted about this and that. Some of our conversation revolved around his last school. He hadn’t mentioned the ‘last straw’, as his mom put it. Apparently he had been pushed down a flight of stairs and had spent several days in hospital with a concussion and assorted bruises and cuts. A teacher who had witnessed it said he had missed the first step and lost his balance. However, several students came forward and said he had been pushed by a star player on the basketball team. The administration, of course, took the teacher’s word for what happened. The teacher also happened to be the coach of the basketball team. This was just one incident in the lawsuit he had mentioned before.

Sheridan’s infatuation with me also worked its way into the conversation.

“I must say I was rather surprised to see you,” his mom said to me. “I sort of had the impression you were unattainable. I was actually quite worried about Sheridan’s infatuation with you, especially as he seemed to be getting more and more depressed as time went on. In fact I almost decided not to go into work today because he seemed particularly down and I was quite worried.”

“Yeah,” Sheridan responded. “After all the crap that went down at my last school, like I said, I’ve simply been trying to avoid people. Obviously that hasn’t worked, as things haven’t been exactly perfect since we moved here either. A hundred times better though. Then I saw you, but you hardly knew I existed and I didn’t have the nerve to talk to you. That was the hardest part. I was sure you were straight and if I did talk to you, you’d figure I was gay and my life would be pure hell again.”

“Trust me,” I said, “I noticed you. But I was playing the closet game so I didn’t have the nerve to talk to you either. Now I wish I had. It would have made things so much easier for you. I’m so sorry I didn’t.”

“You did when it counted,” he said with a big smile.

“Yeah I guess I did,” I responded with a grin.

As we were cleaning up, his mom suddenly asked, “Why was there a chair in the middle of the garage floor when I got home?”

Both of us just froze in place and Sheridan turned totally white.

“Oh my God, Sheridan,” she said quietly as a tear rolled down her cheek.

“Casey came before I could actually do anything,” he quickly said.

Sheridan then explained about the notebook, losing it, and how scared he was that someone would find it and expose him. How terrified he was that I would be dragged down with him and hate him for it. He then explained how I was the one who found it and read it. How I thought he might in danger and had come over. That I had come over at exactly the right time and had stopped him. All three of us were crying by the time he was finished.

After we all had a few moments to collect ourselves, we talked at length about the fact that nothing is as bad as it may seem at the moment, and nothing is worth ending your life over. She made us both promise that no matter how bad we felt, we would always come to her, my mom, someone, anyone, for help before doing anything drastic. We may need a little help from time to time along the way, but things always get better and we should be around to see it.

When we were pretty much talked out, she looked at me and said, “Casey, I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost Sheridan.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” I said. “I just did what anyone else would have done.”

“Well, maybe a little more,” Sheridan added with a chuckle.

I just smiled at him and gave him a squeeze.

“I had actually better get going. Dinner and homework,” I said. “We'll pick you up for school tomorrow…about 8:15 okay?"

“That'd be cool,” he replied.

“It's been nice meeting you Mrs. Fort. Bye,” I said to his mom and she smiled and replied, “Good night Casey, and thank you.”

Sheridan followed me to the door and gave me a huge hug and quick kiss. He was grinning from ear to ear when he stepped back. “See you in the morning,” he said.

“8:15,” I replied with a grin.

I was on cloud nine all the way home. I can’t remember feeling happier. As soon as I got home I called Brian. He was over in about thirty seconds pumping me for details. When I told him about approaching the garage door, he actually turned a little pale.

“Fuck!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah,” I responded. “If we hadn’t noticed he was late for homeroom, he wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Kinda makes you believe in fate, or something, doesn’t it?” Brian said. “I mean, what are the odds that everything just happened purely by coincidence?”

“Probably a million to one or something,” I replied. “I don’t know.”

“I can’t imagine feeling that scared and hopeless,” Brian remarked. “I guess I’m pretty lucky. My life has been easy compared to his.”

Since I wasn’t particularly hungry, Mom brought us a plate of sandwiches, a big bag of chips, and a jug of juice as a substitute for dinner.

I explained the rest of the afternoon. I got a big grin and a thump on the arm when I mentioned kissing Sheridan. It was after nine when he finally decided to head for home to start his homework. Of course he was thoughtful enough to bring me my homework assignments. He even gave me a little hug before he stepped out of the front door and sprinted for home.

Brian, Sam, and I arrived at Sheridan's house the next morning. When we pulled up, I jumped out of the car and ran up to the front door. Sheridan must have been watching for us because the door opened before I got a chance to knock on it. I don't think I have ever seen anyone smile as big as he was when he opened the door.

“Hi Sheridan,” Brian and Sam both said as we got into the car.

“Hi,” he responded as he got in.

We were all pretty quiet as we drove to Tim Horton’s, grabbed a coffee and then drove on to school. Since Sam didn’t know Sheridan at all, or anything about what went on the day before, I’m not sure Brian quite knew what to say or not say.

I stayed pretty close to Sheridan all day. It wasn’t all that hard since we had all the same classes. He sat with us at lunch, which got a few looks from a some of the other students. I guess they were so used to seeing him sitting alone at the corner table that seeing him with us aroused their curiosity. That, and the fact that he was obviously suddenly neither quiet nor shy.

After school, we met up at Brian's car. Since their food is always great, we decided to stop at Malley’s for a bite to eat. It turned out to be a lot of fun. The longer we talked, the more comfortable Sheridan was becoming around Brian and Sam. He was actually really funny and had all of us laughing most of the time we were there. After spending an hour or so, though, it was time to leave and head home.

I decided to spend the evening with Sheridan so we could work on our homework together and so I could help him catch up the previous day’s homework. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“Ok. I'll see you both tomorrow,” Brian said with a grin as we got out of the car.

“See you in the morning,” Sam called out as we started towards the front door.

“See you later,” we both replied.

We walked up their front walk. Once inside, we found his mom in the kitchen.

“Hi Mrs. Fort,” I said as we walked through the kitchen door.

“Hi Casey,” she said smiling. “Stay for dinner? I’m just reheating some leftover stew but Sheridan seemed to like it last night.”

“Oh…I’d love to,” I replied. “I’ll have to phone Mom to make sure it’s okay though.”

Mom had no problem with it. As it happens, she and some of the girls from work were going a restaurant and then to the corner pub for a drink. I would have been fixing my own dinner, macaroni and cheese with wieners cut up and mixed in.

Stew would beat the hell out of mac and cheese. In fact, it was so good that both Sheridan and I had two big helpings. Of course that thrilled his mom. Our compliments about how good it was didn’t hurt either.

Sheridan and I helped clean up after dinner and then went to his room to do our homework. Thankfully that only took about an hour. Then we were free to talk, cuddle, play a couple of video games, and cuddle some more, before I had to head home.

I was in an such awesome mood as I walked home I couldn’t help but wonder why I had waited so long to talk to Sheridan. I could have felt like this months ago if I had. But I guess the time just wasn’t right or something. My being a closet case, his wariness, and each not knowing the other was gay, might have had something to do with it. It didn’t matter anyway. We were together now. We were happy now. That’s what mattered.

I woke the next morning actually looking forward to going to school. Well, looking forward to being with Sheridan is more like it. Brian, Sam, and I once again picked Sheridan up and we made our usual trip through Tim Horton’s drive-through, got our coffees and headed for school. This morning however, as we walked across the parking lot, Shamus and Alex caught up to us.

“So, can we assume congratulations are in order here?” Shamus asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh come on, you two have been staring at each other for months. And then yesterday,” Alex said with a grin, “it was like…WOW. You were both happier than we’ve ever seen you, especially you, Sheridan. You rode to school together, never got more than three feet apart all day, had lunch together, and rode home together. We didn’t need gaydar to figure out something happened between you two.”

“You wouldn’t believe what happened,” Sheridan said.

“Trust me,” Shamus replied, “we both have very good imaginations. There’s not much you could have done that would surprise us.”

“Straight people here guys,” Brian announced as he waved his hand, which just caused both Shamus and Alex to burst out laughing.

“Well we’re not here to embarrass anyone,” Alex said after he stopped laughing.

“Yeah, we just wanted Sheridan and Casey to know they have like-minded friends,” Shamus responded, “and to know we are totally happy for them.”

“Thanks guys,” Sheridan and I both said with a smile.

The six of us walked into the school together. To say we attracted attention again would be another understatement. First, it was the second day Sheridan had been with us and not alone as usual. Second, as Alex said, we were both noticeably happier, especially Sheridan, who was laughing and carrying on an animated conversation with us. Third, we were talking and joking with Shamus and Alex, a very prominent out and proud gay couple. And fourth, we were soon joined by Jason and Miles as well as Chase and Leo who, I probably don’t need to mention, are also well known gay couples.

After chatting with the guys for some fifteen or twenty minutes, and as Sheridan and I walked into homeroom, he looked at me, grinned and said, “I’m guessing we’ve been noticed.”

“I think there’s a good possibility we have,” I replied, laughing.

As the day progressed, it seemed to become quite obvious we had definitely been noticed. We got smiles from numerous people. Several of the girls became all giggly and weird every time we passed them. Some kids actually came up to us and said they were happy for us or they thought we were cute together or something to that effect. To say the very least, it was weird.

Since he didn’t actually know anyone, I was afraid that Sheridan might find all the attention overwhelming, but he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. The other thing that was notably different was the fact that the guys who had harassed him, didn’t. In fact, they didn’t even come anywhere near us.

When school got out, we decided to stop at Malley’s again. We walked in, found a table and put in our order. An hour of chit chat and laughter later, we were on our way home, my home. Tonight, was Sheridan’s night to meet my mom. I had told Mom all about him, except for the garage incident. I didn’t think she needed to know about that part of Sheridan’s history.

Brian dropped us off on the way to his place and we wandered up the walk into the house.

“Hi Mom, we’re home,” I announced as we walked in the door.

“In the kitchen,” Mom called back.

As we walked into the kitchen, Mom was quickly wiping her hands.

“Mom, this is Sheridan. Sheridan, this is my mom,” I said as I introduced them.

“Pleased to meet you Mrs. Gordon,” Sheridan said smiling.

“I’m pleased to meet you too Sheridan,” Mom replied. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“All good I hope,” Sheridan said with a chuckle.

“Oh yes,” Mom replied. “All good. And call me Carol please. Mrs. Gordon makes me feel like I’m still at work.”

“Okay,” Sheridan replied.

“Dinner will be in about an hour,” Mom said, “so if you have any homework now would be a good time to get it done.”

“We both have a little Geometry to do,” I said. “It probably won’t even take an hour.”

With that, we headed down the hall to my room, spread our books out on the floor and started our homework. Of course, no homework session is complete without a kiss or two. Before we knew it, Mom was calling us for dinner. During dinner, we chatted about school, hobbies, interests, and so on. Mom, of course, was trying to learn as much about Sheridan as she could without looking like a police interrogator. When he mentioned life in his other school, and to some extent in our school, you could almost see Mom’s blood pressure rise.

“When are we finally going to call bullying what it is…assault, aggravated assault, or attempted murder?” she asked. “If an adult did half what these low-life school bullies do, they would be arrested, charged, and end up in jail. Instead, they’re left alone to continue unchecked. It makes me so angry.”

“Us too,” I replied, “but most people have no idea the kind of hurt and damage it does to kids so I don’t know if it will change any time soon.”

“Yeah,” Sheridan said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say it’s just part of the school experience. It’ll teach us how to be stronger.”

“I’ve heard that too,” Mom said, “but if I hear one more person say, ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it’s just a part of growing up’ I think I’ll smack them upside the head.”

“Then you’ll be charged with assault,” I said.

“That’s what I mean,” Mom responded. “I would get charged. But if some school kid did that to another kid, it’s ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘girls will be girls’ and nothing happens.”

“The hardest thing for me to understand is that, if it’s done to a gay kid, or a kid who is assumed to be gay, it’s not just ignored, but often encouraged by people,” Sheridan said. “Like we deserve to be bullied because we’re gay.”

“You can pretty much thank the religious right for that,” I said.

“Unfortunately it’s not going to change anytime soon,” Sheridan said. “In fact, if we look at some of the crazies who want to be our next president, we should be saving for a one way ticket outta here.”

“You know what we need right now?” I asked.

“No, what?” Mom asked.

“Some peach cobbler,” I replied, “because this conversation is getting depressing.”

Five minutes later, we were enjoying Mom’s peach cobbler and our conversation became significantly lighter and more enjoyable. After dinner we helped Mom clean up, put everything away and did the dishes. Once that was all done, we retreated to my room, turned on some music and flopped down across my bed and talked. The main topic of our conversation was how happy we both were – and how glad we were that Sheridan was still here to enjoy it. We did a bit of philosophizing about high school too.

“Right now, being here with you, I can’t believe I almost threw it all away. How is it that we can let our fear of what might be, take control of us? I mean, I just assumed the worst and went with it. Like, I didn’t see any other option, even though there were tons of other options…like this one,” he said as he cuddled up to me and kissed me on the cheek.

“Like your mom said,” I responded, “nothing is as bad as it may seem at the moment, because it is ‘at the moment’. And nothing is worth ending your life over. Especially at our age. We have so much life ahead of us and high school, as shitty as it might be, is going to be some distant, vague memory in no time. It’s maybe 4% of our life. That’s like nothing.”

“And the biggest mistake most of us make is that we allow others to determine who we are and where we fit in,” he said. “Just using the terms jocks, bullies, and nerds, we are telling kids who they are, where they fit in, and how they should behave. Why can’t we all just be kids? Kids learning about life, each other, our differences, our similarities, and accept that we are all different and yet all the same. Young, confused, looking for love, acceptance, and happiness. Why can’t we look at each other without judging each other?”

“I think society drills it into us that ‘boys are boys’ and ‘girls are girls’, I replied. “The typical stereotypes that we are supposed to live up to are set for us even before we start school. And if we don’t fit the stereotype, we become targets.”

“Let’s not leave out the religious nuts who think there’s only one verse in the Bible, Leviticus 18-22,” Sheridan said with a chuckle.

“That’s true,” I said laughing. “Wouldn’t want them to feel left out and discriminated against.”

Sheridan rolled over, and after giving me a rather nice kiss, announced, “I think a trip to Dairy Queen is in order because I have this huge craving for ice cream.”

We quickly found ourselves walking the six blocks to Dairy Queen. We each ordered a caramel pecan sundae and a vanilla shake and sat by the front windows to enjoy our snack and people watch. About ten minutes after we got there, one of the guys from the group that hassled Sheridan walked in with his girlfriend. After they got their order, they came over and sat in the booth next to ours. There was definitely some tension in the air at that point, especially for Sheridan. After a few minutes, the guy tapped Sheridan on the shoulder.

When Sheridan turned, expecting the worst, he said, “Look, Sheridan, I’m sorry about the crap the guys have been giving you.”

“Uh…thanks,” Sheridan replied, sounding a little confused.

“I feel bad,” he added, “because I should have stood up for you and told them to back off. I know this is no excuse, but they’re my friends and teammates. And…I guess…I was scared they’d get on my case for standing up for a gay kid.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Sheridan responded, “I know what it’s like. You rock the boat and you’re liable to fall out.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “High school sucks that way, doesn’t it?”

“Yes it does,” Sheridan replied.

“You want to join us?” I asked.

We could tell he was thinking about it. But as he did, his girlfriend picked up her milkshake and got up.

I quickly moved around to Sheridan’s side of the table and they slid in across from us.

“I’m Jake Thomas by the way,” he said as he reached his hand out, “and this is my girlfriend Katy McMurray.”

“I assume you know who we are,” I said with a grin as we shook hands.

“Yeah, Casey and Sheridan,” Katy replied with a big smile.

Jake then sat for several seconds looking at us before saying, “Don’t hit me or nothin’, but you guys are like…together…right?”

“Well we’re working on it,” I replied as I glanced at Sheridan and he smiled.

“Okay…so…I don’t want to sound stupid here…but you’ve always been gay?” he sort of asked me. “It’s just no one ever suspected. Well until Sheridan…well you and Sheridan…I don’t know…got all close and everything…and were talking to Shamus and Alex and their crew.”

“To answer your question,” I said, “yeah, I’ve always been gay. You can’t just turn gay. And, just ‘cause you talk to gay guys doesn’t make you gay.”

“So I’m not gonna start hanging out in the boys’ locker room between classes after talking to you guys then,” he said, laughing.

“You better not,” Katy said, grinning.

We actually sat and visited for almost an hour before we all decided that maybe we should go home. I think we all left Dairy Queen feeling we had made a couple of new friends. I know we left feeling better about things, if nothing else. Our feelings were reinforced the next morning when Jake and Katy joined Brian, Sam, Sheridan and I and started chatting as we walked across the parking lot and into the school.

“That took some guts,” Sheridan remarked after they said they’d see us later and joined their friends.

“I know,” I said, “but I’m thinking this may be the start of something good.”

“Let’s hope,” Sam said.

When I ran into Jake at the start of the lunch break, I asked him if things were cool.

His response was, “Oh, yeah…Kevin asked why I was talking to you. When I said we’d talked at DQ last night and I thought you were pretty cool, he didn’t push it. And things have been good with us all morning.”

A few minutes later as Sheridan and I sat down for lunch in the cafeteria, Kevin walked over and sat down across from us…which I have to say was a little scary.

“I saw you talking to Jake this mornin’,” he said. “You ain’t tryin’ to make him gay are ya?”

“Are you kidding,” I replied, “Katy would kick our asses if we did.”

He looked at us for a few seconds, grinned and said, “Damn straight she would.”

Then he got up and joined the others in his group. Jake just looked at us, grinned, and shrugged. We just grinned back as Brian and Sam joined us.

“So what did Kevin want?” Brian asked.

“He just wanted to make sure we weren’t going to turn Jake gay,” Sheridan replied.

“Fuckin’ idiot,” Brian stated, as he shook his head and grinned.

What really blew us away happened about a week later as school was getting out one day. As we were standing outside the school waiting for Brian and Sam, one of the ‘cool’ guys decided to pick on one of the ‘uncool’ guys. He was mouthing off about the fact that faggots weren’t welcome in our school. We were just about to walk over and say something when Kevin walked over to the guy and said something to him. The guy looked a little shook up at whatever it was Kevin said and immediately walked away. As he did, Kevin spoke to the guy being harassed who smiled and said something back to Kevin before he walked off. Then, Kevin looked our way and just smiled as he took his girlfriend’s hand and walked towards his car.

“Wow!” Sheridan exclaimed. “I wasn’t expecting that. I think Jake has made an impression.”

“I think so,” I responded. “It looks like things around here might finally be changing.”

That was proven when we were talking to Shamus and Alex one day. They mentioned how they hadn’t seen anyone getting hassled for at least the last couple or three weeks. When we told the story about Jake and then Kevin, they were surprised to say the least.

“Damn, Sheridan,” Shamus said, “you shoulda moved here a couple of years ago.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Sheridan responded. “Jake came to us, and I guess he put the word out to guys like Kevin and the boys.”

“Maybe,” he replied, “but it started with you and Casey.”

As it turns out, the bullying did come to a stop. There was the occasional incident, but that was it. The ‘cool’ guys had decided it wasn’t ‘cool’ anymore and life became much more tolerable for a lot of kids. School became school rather than a place to dread. Well, maybe some still dreaded it, but it wasn’t because they were being hassled or bullied.

Final exams and graduation were upon us almost before we knew it. Thankfully we were not taken totally by surprise and we were prepared.

Shamus was the valedictorian for the graduation ceremonies. He gave the usual thanks to the teachers and parents. Then he spoke of the new tolerance, acceptance, and understanding that we had experienced during the year. He spoke of how one student’s acceptance and support had changed the attitudes of many. How that change of attitude had given all students a set of high school memories they could embrace with a smile. As he closed his speech, he grinned and pointed at Jake. When he did, the entire banquet hall erupted in a deafening round of applause and cheering. Jake, of course, turned a very deep shade of red, but had the biggest smile ever.

As far as we were concerned, Jake deserved every decibel of that applause. He had befriended and stood up for Sheridan and me. In doing so, he had made guys like Kevin think about what they were doing to the kids they picked on. He helped them realize that standing up for the less ‘cool’ kids was ‘cooler’ than picking on them. And, whether our decision to get ice cream that night was coincidence or fate, once again, who knows?

A very special thanks to Azy for his time and hard work editing this story for me.