End of the Innocence
By: John Goode | Other books by John Goode
Published By: Harmony Ink Press
Published: Nov 15, 2012
ISBN # 9781613724958
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
Kyle Stilleno is no longer the invisible boy, and he doesn’t quite know how he feels about it. On one hand, he now has a great boyfriend, Brad Greymark, and a handful of new friends, and even a new job. On the other hand, no one screamed obscenities at him in public when he was invisible.
No one expected him to become a poster boy for gay rights, either—at least not until Kyle stepped out of the closet and into the limelight. But there are only a few months of high school left, and Kyle doubts he can make a difference.
With Christmas break drawing closer, Kyle and Brad are changing their lives to include each other. While the trials are far from over, they have their relationship to lean on. Others are not so lucky. One of their classmates needs their help—but Kyle and Brad’s relationship may be too new to survive the strain.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
THERE is an old French quote that goes: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” It’s usually translated as The more things change, the more they stay the same. Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote it in the 1800s, and it has become a common phrase people use when they are complaining about life. Adults who want to instill the feeling that no matter how weird things get, they have seen it all before.
Ironically, the actual translation is: “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” To me, that is a completely different meaning altogether.
When things change, they change, and that’s all there is to it. For example, when I came out as gay to the entire school, my life changed. There was no time out I could call, no take back that people would acknowledge. It is like that picture of the old lady and the young lady. You know the one I’m talking about? It’s an optical illusion that has both images, and what you see depends on what you concentrate on. Everyone sees the pretty young girl; she’s wearing a coat and looking over her shoulder. She’s the obvious image everyone wants to see. However, finding the old lady takes a bit more concentration. She’s a hag-looking figure with a prominent chin and wrinkles. And once someone sees her, it’s really hard to find the young girl again.
Being gay was the old lady, because once you saw her in the picture, it was all you could see. I was no longer the weird, quiet kid who haunted the halls of Foster High with my head down and shoulders slumped as I counted down my mandatory, four-year incarceration. No one could see that guy anymore; all they could see was the gay kid.
Go team Gay!
Once I had been a painfully quiet kid who avoided all forms of interaction, no matter how much I wanted people to talk to. Now I had become a different creature altogether. People knew who I was, they talked about me, and I could do nothing about that. Life had changed, and it was anything but what it had been before.
However, although my life had changed in some ways, it seemed bound and determined to give me more of the same no matter what.
Even though I was known to people, most kept right on ignoring me. The only difference was that everyone thought they knew who I was now because of that one little word. “Gay” had become my life in ways I had not been prepared for when I came out. For example, there was a lot of anger toward me, even though I hadn’t said more than ten words out loud. I was the guy who turned “the hottest boy in Foster” gay, and people were a little pissed about that. I wish I could tell you that didn’t bring a smile to my face when I first heard it, but I can’t lie.
At home, my mom was still in her “I can be sober” phase, because she thought of herself as my own little civil rights activist since the school board meeting, and activist parents don’t drink. She was doing exactly what she had done every other time—like after she had found Jesus or Buddha and, once, Tony Robbins after watching too many late night infomercials. Trying to love my mom was like trying to have a lasting relationship with Charlie from Flowers for Algernon. No matter how much you might like the person in front of you, common sense told you they weren’t going to be hanging around for much longer, so what was the point? Sooner rather than later, she would start drinking again, and the mom I had come to depend on would be gone. Again.
I was dating Brad, but I hadn’t magically inherited a working knowledge of social skills that prevented me from acting like a complete spaz whenever he smiled at me. Now I’m not saying I was all Spider-Man before I met him, with the proportionate agility of a spider and all, but I wasn’t as bad as I had become when he walked into a room. Basic functions like walking and staying upright had become challenging and—
Wait, that’s wrong. Spider-Man had the proportionate strength of a spider, not the agility. Who’s agile? Batman? No, he’s all grrr. Daredevil? Now all I’m seeing is Ben Affleck’s forehead. Okay, forget it. I had always been a klutz before I met Brad, but now when I got within eyesight of him I was afraid I was going to trip over my own feet and do something stupid like break my neck on the front steps.
The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.
But, overall, things have changed. I say changed and not “changed for the better” because I am no fool. Fate is a total drama queen. The second you say things are better than they were, she’ll come stumbling toward you on her six-inch heels, nasty-ass wig crooked and on sideways. You’ll wonder exactly how she got all that makeup slathered onto her face. One nicotine-caked fake fingernail will point at you, and she will make sure that things are anything but better from there on out. So, no thank you. Things are different but not better and, in fact, could get much, much worse, so fuck off, Fate!
Is she gone? Whew.
Things had changed at school and not in a bad way (crosses fingers and hopes that doesn’t count as pissing Fate off). People had heard what Brad had done at the school board meeting, and I honestly think they didn’t know how to react to it. He had been given a green light to play baseball. And if he had been anyone else, that would’ve been the end of the whole incident.
But Brad is like no one I’ve ever met.
A lot of people wander through life believing they are this nice and funny person. In most people’s minds, there is a rhyme and reason for why they act like they do, therefore their actions and reactions are totally justified, and the less than stellar ones are blamed on outside circumstances. Most of us don’t want to think that we’re just being dicks.
Brad is not one of those people. He’s acutely aware of the things he had done in the bullying department and how bad they had been. Unlike his friends, my boy decided to change his behavior and try to make up for everything he had done. When he threatened to leave the school if the administration didn’t stop its “I see nothing” policy as far as bullying and discrimination were concerned, he did it because it was the right thing to do. And he did it because he knew at that moment, he was the only one who could demand it.
That left a lot of people confused.
See, there were a ton of people ready to hate Brad simply because of who he used to be. It is a known fact that people like to see people fall down. I mean most of YouTube wouldn’t exist if people didn’t fall down, get hit in the balls, or just eat pavement from time to time. No one has ever been able to explain to me why it’s true, but we think it’s entertaining to see other people get hurt. The enjoyment only triples when the person is perceived to be a celebrity. Now Brad wasn’t a Kardashian, even though he had that ass, but he was well known in Foster. Through junior high and up until last month, he was easily one of the most popular guys in this town, so when he fell there were platoons of people ready to point and laugh.
Now, in this case Brad didn’t actually, like, trip and fall down a flight of stairs and catch the gay; it was more a metaphoric fall. He had broken ranks with the high school elite and admitted publicly that he had feelings for me. It was the equivalent of social suicide and hands-down the bravest thing I had ever seen someone do.
Until I saw him stand up to the school board.
In this world of anonymous Internet comments and Facebook postings, it is easy to forget what real courage looks like, but when people see it, they react. Everyone with a computer or an ear heard about Brad’s words to the school board, and, somehow, what he had done that night threw people out of their usual responses. If Brad had been just a normal guy, he’d have taken what the school board offered him and walked away. I mean, Brad had what he wanted; why the hell push for more?
But Brad stood up for everyone, and his courage made being mean to him very hard.
No one was holding a parade for him, nor were fair maidens sprinkling rose petals down on him, but most guys had stopped outright insulting him, and most people kept the staring and pointing as we walked down the halls to a minimum. It wasn’t much, but trust me, Brad and I noticed it.
There were other differences as well.
For example, a couple of days after Brad’s announcement, I walked into Trig and saw a girl waving at me. She had jet-black hair with electric-blue tips that glowed more like neon than just hair color. I tried to remember her…. Samantha, her name was Samantha, and she had been with Jeremy the day of the school board meeting. I sighed and began to dig through my backpack as I walked over to her. Pulling out my notebook, I told her, “I don’t have the best handwriting, but if you can translate my chicken scratch, you’re welcome to them.”
She looked at my notebook like it was a radioactive. “Um. What are you doing?”
I looked around nervously. “I’m giving you my notes. Hurry up and copy them before Mrs. Graizer comes in.”
She covered her mouth as she laughed and shook her head. “Kyle, I’m not asking for your notes. I was asking if you wanted to sit with me.”
I just stared at her for a few seconds, my mouth open like a dead fish.
“I’m serious,” she assured me, gesturing to the empty seat next to her. “If you want to.”
I examined the seat before sitting down, not sure how to react to such an offer.
“Don’t worry, no one spit on it or anything.”
Nevertheless, I sat down gingerly, waiting for someone to dump pig blood on me or something. “Thanks,” I said to her once I realized the seat wasn’t going to explode or collapse.
“I’m Sammy,” she said, playing with one of her bangs. “And you’re the ‘gay guy’.” Her smile as she emphasized those two words made it obvious that she knew what I had been going through the past month or so.
“That must drive Jeremy crazy,” I said with a smile.
She shrugged. “Whatever. He’s angry about a lot of things. I try not to pay a lot of attention to it.”
“I thought you were friends?” I asked as I pulled my Trig book and pencil out of my backpack.
“Yeah, you’d think so, but trust me, Jeremy has no friends except his own ego.” She sounded bitter, but her tone was resigned, like she was used to the feeling. “I was there that night Brad and his friends threw beer bottles at us. Did you hear me mentioned in his little story?”
I felt my stomach drop like I was on a roller coaster just about to fall over the edge.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said, not making eye contact.
“You don’t have to apologize for Brad, you know,” she said to me.
I looked over at her quickly. “I’m not; I’m just saying I’m sorry that happened to you. He’s a big boy and can apologize for himself.”
She gave a little half smile. “Good answer.”
We both opened our books as Mrs. Graizer walked in.
See what I mean? Not better, but definitely different.
I watched Sammy as we went over the previous night’s homework. Her hair wasn’t the only thing that was unique about her. She wore dark-blue eye shadow that had some kind of glitter in it, and I could see her lips were not black, just a deep blackberry-blue. The thought of coming to school dressed like that gave me the same sensation as the thought of walking out my front door naked. She looked awesome, there was no doubting that, but the bravery it must take to know everyone was looking at you and yet stay true to yourself—
“You’re staring,” she said out of the corner of her mouth, still looking ahead at the blackboard.
“How did you know?” I asked her in a whisper.
A small smile. “You dye your hair bright blue, you start to get a sense for it.”
I looked down at my book. “Sorry, it’s just a very cool look.”
She looked over at me, and I could see her searching my face for signs of my mocking her. I looked back at her to show I meant every word I had said. “Thanks,” she said after a few seconds of silence. “I’ve lived in Foster for seventeen years, and no one has ever said my hair looked cool.”
“Well, then the people around here are idiots,” I said firmly.
She shook her head and went back to looking at the board.
I had the feeling I had just made a friend.
AS we headed into Christmas break, things seemed to get easier and easier.
Kyle thought it was because of what I had said to the school board, I thought it had more to do with anticipation of two weeks off from school. This close to Christmas, staying mad was pretty much impossible; even my dad, who was sure I had just pissed away a chance at college, had mellowed out some.
My very public display of fuckery—Kyle’s word, not mine—had actually worked to my benefit since everyone knew what kind of trouble I was in now. And since I’d spoken out in public, my dad didn’t dare do something horrible to me like, say, taking away my car. He had to act the smiling, supportive dad of the underdog student who was just fighting for his rights.
Or some garbage like that. I didn’t pay much attention to the spin he put on everything for his own benefit when he talked to his buddies.
All I knew was that I still had my guy and my Mustang, and people had stopped spitting at me as I walked by. I was going to take that as a win all around. I also think it had less to do with my big showdown with the school board and more that people just didn’t have the energy to be disgusted with someone for so long without reason. Everyone had been shocked, everyone had been outraged, and now? Who cares? I had seen it happen more than a few times with other kinds of blowups but was kinda surprised to see it applied to me for once.
The Monday after the surprise board meeting, I was told I could change out in the coach’s office for PE and practice, which was the administration’s way of saying “sorry” without, you know, actually saying the words. Personally I was ecstatic, because I felt like I was going to explode if I couldn’t work out regularly. Of course, that was less of a school problem and more of a “me” problem.
See, Kyle is a virgin.
I know that came out of nowhere, but let me explain. It’s not like Jennifer and I had sex every day, but she was pretty good about making sure my… “needs were met.” Wow, that sounds wrong, but that was the way she referred to it. She was under the impression that I was an average guy and needed sex to keep me in line, so I was used to getting some now and then. More now than then, if you catch my drift.
Kyle, on the other hand, was pretty new to being physical. We made out, and I was enjoying finding new ways for him to lose his mind, but we have not actually had real sex.
Even though I was kind of unsure what real sex with a guy was about.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen porn and know where everything goes; it’s the whole setup beforehand that has me confused. I mean, who’s the girl? I hate saying it like that, but I mean, the thought of being the one who was… well, you know. I was scared to death. We hadn’t brought sex up, but I could tell he was worked up too. Almost every second we were alone, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I think he wanted to go further as well, but he had even less idea how this worked than I did.
So I spent more time in the gym than normal.
But, as time passed, things got better. I knew we had turned a corner when I was in Mr. Powers’s civics class. Mr. Powers had a thing about splitting us up into pairs to do things. I’m not sure why, but each teacher had their own thing they thought made their class “cool.” For some it was pulling our desks into a circle; others grouped us into fours and fives. Mr. Powers did pairs. Especially for review, he had half the class pick a person from the other half of the class. Then we were supposed to learn from each other. In reality, everyone hoped the other one had been paying attention. Pairing was a colossal waste of time, made even more of a waste of time since my fall from grace.
The only thing worse than sitting with someone and pretending to do school work was having no one willing to sit with you pretending to do school work. It sucked, but I had grown used to just sitting by myself and ignoring the people around me snickering under their breath at me.
“You need a partner?” a familiar female voice asked.
My head snapped up as my mind realized it was Jennifer talking to me. “Huh?” was all I could reply.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she announced, sitting down across from me. There was absolutely no sound in the classroom, and I realized everyone was staring at us. In a whisper, I asked her, “What are you doing? Everyone is watching us.”
She gave me that Mona Lisa smile that drove straight boys all over town crazy. “Since when are you afraid of people staring?”
She was right. Before I’d come out, I had been used to people staring at me. When I was on the baseball field, there were more eyes on me than most people can imagine. Having a classroom full of students watching me should have been a cake walk, but for some reason I knew I was shrinking in my chair.
She laughed infectiously when she noticed my discomfort. “Wow! You have changed,” she noted, opening her book. “I never thought I’d see the day Brad Greymark was at a loss for words.”
“I can talk,” I said, pretending to open my book as well. “I just don’t know what you want.”
Her smile didn’t waver, but I could see the change in her eyes when she looked at me. “Maybe I just wanted to talk. Is that a crime?”
I sighed and gave up, since the talking with Jennifer thing was happening whether I wanted it to or not. “Okay. Talk.”
We just stared at each other for almost a minute. I assumed she was trying to find the words in which to tell me I was a complete asshole, so I waited for her to explode on me because, to her, I’d really been worse than that. Finally she just sighed and shook her head. “Man, you make it hard to like you sometimes.”
That didn’t sound anything like what I was expecting. “Say what?” I asked.
“I’m just saying, you were the one who didn’t tell me he was gay for three years, then came out and embarrassed the fuck out of me, and now you have an attitude?” Her voice didn’t sound angry, but I knew her well enough to know that when Jennifer sounded like she was joking, she really wasn’t.
“I just assumed you didn’t want to talk to me,” I admitted after a few seconds.
“I didn’t, but that’s beside the point.” She laughed, and I could tell by the fake tone she was as nervous as I was.
“So why are you talking to me, then?” I ventured, hoping I wasn’t pushing my luck.
She shrugged again and began tracing circles in her notebook. “Maybe I’m done being angry? Maybe I’ve gotten over it?” She gave me a shy look. “Maybe no matter how pissed off I was, I can’t deny that Kyle kid brings out the best in you?”
Once again I found my flabber completely gasted.
She saw my confusion and smiled. “I’m not going to lie. The first few weeks, I hated both of you because you never smiled at me like you did at him. But when I heard they were kicking you off the team, I lost it.” She was still tracing circles in her book, the only outside indication she was as nervous as I felt. “You practically carried that team to state last year. For them to kick you off for that….” She broke the point of her pencil off, and I could see the tip of anger that was the only indication of a huge iceberg of fury that lay just below the surface.
She grabbed another pencil out of her bag and started making circles again. “Anyway, I realized a lot of people were mad at you just to be mad.” Another small smile. “I mean, I had a ton of reasons, but they didn’t, and that ticked me off.” She stopped making circles. “So I decided ‘what’s done is done’. Besides, you guys are too cute for words, so why stay mad?”
I had thought I felt bad about what I’d done to her before, but seeing her sitting here, burying the hatchet like this, I was stunned by the fact that I really didn’t know much about Jennifer at all. “I am so sorry about hurting you,” I blurted out, the emotion beginning to rise inside me. “You deserved better than that.”
Her mouth was a crooked grin that could make lesser men buckle. “I know.” We sat, both of us doodling and turning text pages while we figured out what to say next.
“So, Christmas break’s coming up,” she said casually.
“Yeah, can’t wait,” I answered, not sure where this was going.
“Kelly’s having The Party…,” she trailed off.
Oh shit, The Party.
While my brain scrambles to find the ability to make words again, let me explain that Kelly’s parents are some of the worst people I have ever met. People have to get a license to fire a gun, drive a car, even to sell hot dogs on the corner, but any idiot can have a kid. If there were two people less suited to be parents than mine, they were Kelly’s.
His mother was one of those ladies who had no idea how to act her age. She still wore clothes that would have looked tacky on girls with half her mileage. She had a Snookie-like tan that made her skin look more like tanned hide, and I am not even going to go into her hair. Worse, she took every opportunity to try and flirt with any of Kelly’s friends who were stupid enough to come over to their house over the summer. To have a woman who is as old as, if not older than, my mother tell me I was “growing up nicely” and then give me a long look up and down was just about the creepiest thing I could imagine.
His father was even worse.
There is a certain type of man who can only judge his value based on how many women find him attractive. He keeps count of how many girls he thinks he can have. That number translates exactly to how much of a man he is. I was used to seeing this behavior in guys my own age, but to see it in a man as old as my father was just gross. And that was Kelly’s father: gross.
I don’t know if he was oblivious to the fact he was balding and overweight and at least three times the age of the girls Kelly knew, but his dad would leer at any girl no matter how old she might be. That kind of thing was just sick. Kelly wasn’t a girl magnet to begin with, and after it got out how pervy his dad was, it was near impossible to get a girl to come over to his house at all. The only exception was The Party.
Every year, his parents went out of town right after Thanksgiving and left Kelly alone at their place. Now you’d think a teenage boy throwing a house party when his parents left for a few days might be a stereotype. In Kelly’s case, it wasn’t like that. You see, his parents knew about the party and let Kelly throw it every year. They would leave him some money and then drive off for a week, knowing their teenage son was alone and having a party for half of Foster. They wanted to be known as the cool parents, the ones the kids liked and trusted. As with my parents, appearances were all that mattered, and not in a good way.
Like I said, these people shouldn’t have been allowed to buy a dog, much less raise a child.
All moral objections aside, The Party had become legendary in the town over the last four years. It had grown year after year, and now that it was Kelly’s senior year, it was rumored to be the best one yet. I had known all this, of course, but since everything with Kyle and me had gone down, going to The Party had been the last thing on my mind.
Until, you know, like now.
“Did I lose you?”
I looked up and saw Jennifer staring back at me. I wondered how long I had spaced out and shook my head. “No, just completely forgot about it.”
“Color me shocked! Brad Greymark actually forgetting a party!” She was teasing me, but she was still telling the truth. I had been the first person to bring up having a party. I loved being able to drink, hang out with my friends, and not have to clean up after the chaos, so of course, I pushed for other people to throw them all the time.
I pretended to skim through my textbook, turning pages at random as I ignored her gaze. “Yeah, I’ve been in the middle of other things; parties I can’t go to aren’t that important to me now.”
“Why can’t you go?” she asked.
I looked up at her, openly incredulous. “Um, for about a thousand reasons, but the most important being I wasn’t invited.”
She rolled her eyes and went back to her circles. “Like anyone is ever invited. Now you’re just making up excuses.”
I leaned forward and said in an angry whisper, “How about because the three guys who held me down and beat the shit out of me in the locker room are going to be there, and I don’t want that happening to Kyle. Ever.”
When she looked up at me, I could see the abject horror in her eyes. “That really happened?”
“I have the bruises up and down my abs to prove it.”
She tried to cover her shock, but she was clearly pissed. “More reason you should show up,” she said, not looking at me. “You stay away, all they are going to do is think they won.” Now her eyes met mine. “Show up and let the people who are really your friends get a chance to meet the real you. And if anyone tries to hurt you or Kyle, they can answer to me.”
I laughed despite how serious she’d become. “And what exactly are you going to do to them? Make them over to death?”
Remember, I have known this girl since we were kids, and I had been intimate with her for the last three and a half years, so when I say I thought I knew who she was, I am not making an idle comment. I had been there when her grandmother died, when her dog got hit by some asshole speeding on her block. I was there the night her dad said she looked like a whore for wearing a miniskirt on a date with me. I really had thought I’d seen every facet there was to this girl. But I assure you, there was a stranger staring back at me when she said, “Because my dad made sure I never leave the house without protection. And he didn’t mean condoms.” The smile she gave me was a predator’s.
“You’re serious?” I asked, more to myself than to her, because it was obvious from the look on her face she was more than serious.
“You fucked them up with that little speech at the school board. If you don’t move now, by the time we come back from the break, no one will remember what you said and did. And you and Kyle go back to being second-class citizens.” Now she leaned across the desk toward me. “You want to change this town? Show up with Kyle on your arm and force them to accept it. And if you go, I promise you, you’ll have at least one person standing there with you.”
I was stunned.
“I… I did not deserve to be with you,” I stuttered as I tried to get my mind back into gear.
“No,” she said, smiling. “That we can agree on.” She looked around to the other people whose heads were down in their books. “Now you wanna try to guess what we were supposed to be doing all this time?”
And that was when I knew things had begun to change at school.