by H.M. Godwin
A young boy is faced with a difficult decision after a tragedy occurs at his prep school.
I suppose you want to talk? Well you're not going to because I'm doing all the talking now. Conversation is overrated. If people would just say what they mean, there would be no need to exchange words. Just tell them what you mean and move on with it. You think I'm angry? Hardly. Anger is an emotion and I don't feel much these days. Guilt- now there's something that strikes a chord with me.
My name is Noble, though I'm nothing like the word. I went through a phase called life. And during that phase I did a lot of... experimentation. I'm not proud of it, but I did it and now thanks to my lack of superego, I experience it every night in my sleep. Why? I did one thing- I had one relationship and now it's back to haunt me. I haven't seen this person in years! Not in real life anyway. Now before I begin, let me tell you that I'm not a bad guy. I mean, I've never been arrested or anything. I've never hurt anyone. Physically. I'm sure I hurt him emotionally. But he hurt me too!
His name was James McKenzie. He went to Gladen Prep with me- an all boys private school in Virginia. That place was miserable and James was the only thing that made it worth while. His blonde hair and white smile made everyone love him. But no one loved him like I did. Now before you start thinking bad stuff about me, I'm not a fag okay? James was different. But, you see the problem with getting close to people is you let them in. And when you do that, well they hurt you. That's just what happens, okay?
But you don't just care about his name- you came here for the story, didn't you? James and I met on the soccer team. He was goalie- always protecting us from those other guys. But occasionally he let them get by. On the soccer field and in life. One day he let them get to him so bad it ruined my life. When something bad happened to James, it messed me up inside. But one day it got to be too much. And he told me it was over. And that's that. There's your story. We began, we ended, and it happened so quickly there was hardly a middle.
The day he kissed me was a day I'll never forget. It was the beginning of something special and the ending to something crucial. You see, people don't like it when two boys kiss each other at an all boys school. People freak out. It all happened so fast, I thought I was dreaming. I was in the bathroom at the end of the hall and I had left my towel over by the sinks. So halfway through my shower, I realized I had no towel. I peaked my head out around the curtain and there was James McKenzie looking at himself in the mirror with a towel around his waist. Big deal.
"Hey McKenzie, can you hand me that towel over there?"
He looked at me funny and started walking over to me like he was going to beat me up or something.
"James, just hand me the towel."
But he kept walking towards me. And he didn't stop at the shower curtain. He took his towel off, let it drop to the floor and stepped inside the shower with me. I was so afraid of touching him, I scooted back into the corner, letting the shower-head blast me in the back of the neck.
"Dude, what's your problem?" I asked, flattened against the wall. I had never been more scared of someone in my life, and I think he knew that.
He didn't say anything- just got real close to my face. And then he did it. At first I was so confused- I never thought of James... that way. But then I decided it wasn't so bad so I kissed him back. He grabbed the back of my hair and pulled me into him, and that's when I'd had enough. I shoved him away.
"Get me the damn towel!" I yelled.
He just laughed, grabbed his towel that he'd left on the floor and walked out of the bathroom. What had just happened? I mean, I still liked girls- but what the hell? James McKenzie is a fag? And he didn't even bring me my towel.
THE BOY WHO SAID YES
Noble had a counterpart- the better half so to speak. The most interesting part was that they not only got along, but they needed each other to exist.
James McKenzie was everything Noble wasn't. He was popular, successful, and he actually cared. His blonde hair lay straight across his forehead and barely kissed his brow. His strong jaw and lean build made him the object of every girl's affection. Lucky for James, he went to an all boys school- keeping him far from the sex he least desired. Like everyone at Gladen, James McKenzie had a secret. His parents were not divorced, he was a soccer champion, he ate his veggies. On the exterior, he was as perfect as a boy could get. Underneath the exterior, however, lay a deeply troubled teenage boy- more frightened than anything else. He didn't care for women.
Unfortunately, rich boys and their fathers didn't like men who didn't like women, so James swore himself to secrecy. One could only guess what trouble would arise if his secret were to be exposed. As much as that idea troubled him, there was nothing on earth that could change James's mind. Not even Noble.
There was a third boy in the showers that fateful evening. Evan Lyons was just three shower stalls away from the two boys. He was completely oblivious to what was going on around him until he saw James McKenzie exit three showers down. Moments later, he saw another boy step out of the same shower, but he wasn't certain who.
Evan was so shocked he stayed in that shower ten minutes too long. When he had finally built up the courage to leave, he ran back to his room and confided in his roommate, who confided in his younger brother and so on and so forth.
But James was not yet aware of what was brewing so he found it perfectly acceptable to approach Noble the next day. He came up to Noble at a courtyard bench during lunch hour. The dry grass was just beginning its transition from Winter brown to Spring green and birds were chirping their happy songs somewhere, but James was too far away to hear them.
"Hey Deveroux, can we talk about what happened yesterday?"
"I'd rather not, James." Noble said as he stood up and moved to a different bench in the same courtyard. James huffed a sigh and walked five steps to where Noble now sat.
"I can see you move, Noble. You're not escaping me."
"This school has 300 students- I couldn't escape you if I ran to the other side of the school. So why waste my energy?" he scowled.
"Oh come on Noble, you know what you felt!"
To this, Noble had no answer. He knew James was not like any other guy he had met. Though he hated to admit it, there was nothing wrong with James- not even his apparent homosexuality. James was a good person in and out. Noble was not, and he knew it. It was then he realized he admired James. Was it admiration, or adoration? He decided maybe both. But was adoration that far from like?
James was talking about something important, but Noble was only looking at him- looking at his perfection. Could a human really be so perfect? He was a good student, had a happy family, was the best athlete at Gladen, and was a seemingly happy kid. What was wrong with him? The fact that he was gay was seeming more and more insignificant.
"I think I like you." Noble said it so quickly even he wasn't aware of what he'd said.
"Excuse me?" James was rather confused.
"I think I like you... like I'm interested in you as a person. You don't annoy me as much as you did yesterday."
"Well you still piss me off so I don't know what you think is going to happen."
With that, James turned on his heel and headed back into the main building. Noble was left with only his conflicted thoughts. Why did he have feelings James just now?
James had no idea what to do. The last thing Gladen needed was a gay couple. People would have a fit and James would probably be publicly shunned. Nothing could happen. Ever. Just thinking of the repercussions made James nauseous.
And what about Noble? James's controversial life was hard enough- he would never dream of dragging someone else into it. But Noble was different somehow.
He took a breath to steady his nerves and began walking to his next class. As he was leaving the courtyard, he saw the bird that had been singing the cheerful melody except it was a lament instead. He followed the bird's gaze and saw what she was mourning- her baby chick had fallen from its nest. Abandoned, it would not survive. It was the laws of nature.
Lunch period was just ending and soon a throng of students had joined him in the hallways. He was almost to Advanced Physics when he heard an oddly familiar voice throw a taunt behind him.
The back of a retreating head looked oddly like Evan Lyons from the team. The fear of his secret being exposed haunted him all the way into the classroom. It wasn't until the bell rang that he felt safe inside the physics lab.
ONE WEEK LATER
It had been exactly one week since the incident in the shower when things started getting weird. Noble noticed it Tuesday morning as he was passing James's locker. From far away it looked like it had been painted with glossier sheen than the rest, but upon approach Noble realized it was lightly dusted with silver glitter.
"Oh God, what's happened?" Noble whispered under his breath.
"Don't worry, I don't think anyone noticed it was you. If they had, your locker would be bedazzled too."
James had come up behind him, avoiding eye contact. Noble felt immediate guilt. He committed the same crime as James- if you could call it that- yet there was no shimmering graffiti on his own locker. But what could he do- confess as well? That would be stupid and useless. It didn't keep James from being taunted. It would just give the school two chances to point and laugh.
"What are you going to do?" Noble asked him with sincerity as James removed textbooks from his glittery locker like it was nothing unusual.
What was there to do? Any response would have confirmed everything.
"James, you have to do something-"
"What exactly did you have in mind? Throw on my pink feather boa and tell them to cut it out?"
James slammed his locker door and made his way to class as usual.
"Besides, what do you care Deveroux?"
"I care about you!" Noble yelled.
"Not so loud!" James hushed him.
"I'm trying to protect you from all this so just leave me alone and we'll act like it never happened."
So James was playing the honorable one. He would protect Noble while Noble hid underground watching someone fight for him.
"James I can't do that and you know why."
James stopped walking and turned towards the boy his heart was beginning to ache for. James was afraid this day would come- a day when he would have to put another's life above his own happiness. When it came down to it, a silly kiss seemed a lot less important than someone dealing with the repercussions for the next two years.
"Look Noble, what you're doing is really nice- I appreciate the support. But the truth is, I don't feel the same way about you."
"You're lying." Noble called his bluff.
"It was just a prank, okay? That's it."
"Then why did we both feel something James?"
James closed his eyes, hoping it would all disappear when he opened them again, but there was Noble- still standing.
"Fine. I like you. Is that what you want me to say? I like you. I liked kissing you. But it can never happen again."
James fought to shut his mouth- any other affirmation would only put Noble in danger.
James was taken aback. As much as he longed to hear more words from Noble, he knew it would only make it harder to say good-bye to him.
"Noble, I really like you so I'm only going to say this one more time. Please leave me alone. Something terrible is about to happen, I can feel it and I don't want you around when this school gets turned on its head."
Though James's hands were steady and calm, Noble couldn't help but notice the shaking in his voice.
"But I can help-"
"No! I love you too much to let you do that."
Noble was too stunned to follow James as he walked with a graceful gate down the hallway and to his first class- head hanging low. That was it. James wanted nothing to do with him, because he loved him. Odd, but that seemed a little backwards to Noble. Noble's stomach knotted as he watched his one chance at mattering to someone walk away. Noble momentarily forgot where he was. He looked at the silvery locker. Was it James's locker or his own?
Between each class period James heard a slew of insults and saw judgmental glares. He walked on as if they did not bother him, but they did. But who was he supposed to tell? No one understood him like Noble, and if James confided in him it would only make Noble worry. Telling him would just make everything worse. Besides, Noble hadn't talked to him in days. It was obvious that he had taken James's advice. Shouldn't he be happy?
It was Thursday afternoon and the springtime sun was shooting its rays through the high arched windows. Soccer season was days away and James was itching to get on the field where he felt most comfortable. He made his way to his again matte gray locker and opened it to put his books back in their place. Only when he opened the cold, metal door he found something very out of place. A plastic, pink rhinestone tiara sat very tidily on top of a stack of his books. Without turning to see who might be looking on, James took the three large textbooks he held in his hands and slammed them inside the locker, crushing the gaudy plastic tiara. With momentary satisfaction, he closed his locker door and headed towards the locker room to dress out for practice. He almost made it before the tears started welling up in his eyes.
"Hush, he's coming!"
James heard Evan Lyons whispering the words as he rounded the corner of the locker room. He fought back his urge to breakdown in tears- that would do no good here.
"It's okay, Evan. I know."
He stole a glance in Noble's direction, hoping he would find some connection- something to take the fear out of his eyes. But instead, Noble sat in the corner pretending no one was talking, so the fear stayed and Evan was sure to use it to his advantage.
"Know what?" Evan played dumb.
"You did that stuff do my locker."
"Oh please McKenzie, why would I do that?"
"Why not?" James challenged. He looked at Noble's apathy and became as angry as he was the day he kissed him. How could he not care about anything? There had to be something on this earth that Noble cared about. There was a time James had wished it was him, but Noble's behavior confirmed otherwise.
"What do you think Noble?" James prompted.
"I don't know," he said with even less emotion than showed on his face.
James huffed out a nervous laugh and began dressing out.
"Whoa," many of the boys started.
With his shirt halfway off, he paused- how could he have not seen this coming? It was so predictable.
"Given the recent... occurrences," a boy named Cooper began, "We think it's in the team's best interest if you... took some time off.
"I'm the best goalie in the state! You'll die without me-"
"We're kicking you off the team McKenzie," Evan finished.
"Who are you to make that decision?" James could not help but yell with outrage.
"Do you want me to tell Coach why we really came to this decision?" Evan fought back.
"We?" James gulped.
"That's right. The team voted. It was unanimous."
James's breath left him. Unanimous. He tried to hide the betrayal in his eyes as he shifted his gaze towards Noble. The traitor sat with his back to the crowd, facing the metal lockers. He wouldn't even look at James.
"Alright then," James finally said after having collected his composure. "I'll leave- who wants to be a part of a team where they aren't wanted."
"Really sorry about this," Evan's fake apology might as well have been salt in James's wound, "but we can't have a fag on the team. You understand."
"Actually, no I don't."
And with that James walked out of the locker room for the last time. Things had changed so much in the last week. His life was falling apart right in front of his eyes. James was glad hadn't confided in Noble. Clearly, he had been wrong about him.
Right now, James's secret was contained within the soccer team but soon the entire school would know. And then his parents would find out... he could see it now- his mother in tears, his sister feeling betrayed and his father acting like his son had died. After all, what good was a son who didn't have a pretty thing on his arm?
That walk back to room 204 was the longest walk of James's life. He had thought many things over and had come to only one conclusion. His family would never understand, his peers would never understand, and the only person he hoped would listen had just betrayed him.
James's eyes were unfortunately opened to the truth. The only thing this school could offer him now was silver glitter and tiaras. And having to hear slurred insults every day held no appeal. Having lost all hope of keeping his soccer scholarship, his spirit was beginning to feel incredibly burnt out. He slowly opened his door, half expecting to find his roommate packing his things and leaving, but he was nowhere to be found. He methodically searched his belongings- he was in no hurry. After he had found what he was looking for, he typed a brief note on his laptop and left it open for someone to find.
Once that was in order, James made his bed, folded his laundry, and tidied up his computer desk. All was in place... except the climbing rope by the door. James's favorite pastime of rock climbing had left him with a plethora of rope. This one was six feet long. He picked up the rope on his way out the door and slung it over his shoulder as he walked down the hall to the communal bathroom. He stepped inside. Empty. He picked the third shower stall down, according to his preconceived plan, and began his work. James found himself enveloped by an odd peace during his preparation. It gave him time to think. Not that he wanted to think much about the past week, but he did enjoy re-playing Noble's shocked face the last time he entered this shower stall. He laughed to himself thinking of how quickly things had changed. On the exterior, James had not let the cruel words and pranks get to him. But inside, there was no secret. He was a wounded animal that was going off to die. He had tried his best to protect Noble and in turn, Noble had deserted him.
So what now? There was only one option.
"Did you hear what happened?"
The gossip was all over the school. But Noble didn't care if they were gossiping like old ladies in church- he wasn't listening anyway.
"Yeah I can't believe it!" One kid was saying.
"Hell, I can. Who would wanna live like that?"
Noble continued to ignore them as he headed in the direction of James's locker. No doubt James would have his own version of the story. And plus, he owed James an apology from yesterday. The guilt had eaten him all through practice and well into the night. He would make things right today.
"No! Please no!" Noble was yelling in the bathroom stall just outside his second period classroom.
"Not James! Please not him," his screams turned into sobs and what was left of his composure fell apart next to the toilet. He rested his head on the cool plastic seat, thankful for the cool relief against his hot, wet face. As his tears fell into the toilet bowl, he offered up something that resembled an apology. Too late now, James was gone.
The door opened and closed. No footsteps. Someone was in here and they had to notice a pathetic human being crumpled on the floor of a stall. He held his breath so no more sobs would escape. Then he heard them- one, two, three steps in his direction. He stayed quiet. There were two raps on the door.
"Hello?" a female voice asked. "Who is in here?
A woman at Gladen? Perhaps a teacher.
"I'm just not feeling well."
"Can we talk about it?"
When a teacher says 'can we talk about it' she really means 'you better open this door or I'll send you to the Headmaster for doing drugs.' So he opened the door.
It was not a woman. A girl.
"You're not a teacher," Noble said through glassy eyes.
"Of course not," she laughed, sounding like a fairy, "I'm Emily. Emily Hudson."
She stuck out her hand awaiting a handshake.
"What are you doing here?" was all Noble gave her.
"I'm visiting my father."
"You're the headmaster's daughter." Noble said.
It was not a question. He knew exactly who she was. The ever-virginal Emily Hudson who went to Oxford and visited her father in the states on her vacations. Her red hair was a shock against the black and white bathroom and made her green eyes pop with vigor.
"I'm afraid I am." She smiled at him.
"Why are you in here?"
"I had to use the bathroom..."
"But this is the boy's bathroom."
"This is an all-boys school... they're all boy's bathrooms."
She had a point, but she did not wait for him to argue.
"You're eyes are glazed over and there are streaks on your face- it must have been pretty bad. Who was she?"
"It wasn't my girlfriend."
Noble stepped out of the stall and over to the sinks where he rinsed his face with cold water.
"You knew him, didn't you?"
Noble stood completely still, hands stuck in the action of drying his face with a paper towel. He removed the towel from his face with a slow caution and looked at her. She knew.
"It was a bad day to visit apparently. My dad has been on the phone all morning with parents and even some newspapers. He's keeping it all hush hush though."
"He's just being respectful."
"If people had cared about that, James wouldn't be dead!"
He hadn't meant to yell at her, but he couldn't help it. His nerves were frayed and his emotions were like live wires. He stormed out of the bathroom before the red-head could speak anymore. God, she was annoying.
THE OTHER BOY
Noble walked as fast as he could back to his dorm room. The masses had just been dismissed from second period and the halls were crowded with suited boys going about their business. It became stuffy and Noble found it difficult to breathe. He loosened his tie and took off his suit jacket emblazoned with the Gladen crest. It shamed him to be associated with a place that had driven a boy to his death. Not just any boy. James.
What was he saying? It wasn't the school that had pushed him to commit suicide. It was Noble himself! He had denied so much as knowing him in the locker room yesterday. He hadn't done anything to the student who had plastered glitter on his locker. He hadn't even asked James to confide in him when it was so obvious things were turning sour. He just let James protect him from the big bad wolves. Just like on the soccer field. Until yesterday he was able to stop them from getting past him. James had let one too many attacks get to him and he had fallen, trying to protect his team- him and Noble. And Noble had only watched from afar.
"All students please report to the auditorium immediately."
The voice over the intercom broke through Noble's guilt-ridden thoughts. The assembly was no doubt about James McKenzie and his act of hanging himself in a shower stall.
You should go in there and tell them it was you. He thought to himself.
But no, you're going to sit and wallow in your room till this all blows over. You piece of shit.
Despite his fleeting moment of decency, he found himself at room 208 rather quickly. He stepped inside and fell onto the bed face first.
Maybe I'll smother myself and they'll find my body in the morning. That would be nice. Like Romeo and Juliet...
He would have laughed at his own joke but a knock on the door interrupted him.
"Noble Deveroux? Are you in there?"
"God, leave me alone woman!"
It was that stupid girl from the bathroom. The one with the hideous red hair.
"Noble, I want to help you. I want to talk," she spoke through the door.
"How did you find me? And how the hell do you know my name?!"
"My dad's the headmaster, remember? Everyone's saying you were one of the last people to see James so I figured you two were friends."
"That's a lie."
"You weren't the last one to see him?"
"No, we weren't friends."
Friends did not even begin to describe it.
"Noble, open the door. I have something for you."
He slowly got up off the bed and opened the wooden door only an inch.
"What is it?" he put as much venom in his voice as possible. She was holding an open laptop computer on her sleeve. It was sleek and black- not a smudge on it.
"It was his."
"Why do you have it?" Noble wondered why she had any right to touch his things.
"My dad has regrettably started a low key investigation. I snuck in when the team was on a break and found this. I thought you might want to see it before they do."
She handed over the laptop.
"They'll notice if it's missing. But make sure you delete that before you put it back- I think it was meant for you and only you."
For the first time, he looked at the computer screen.
But she was gone. He examined the computer and realized there was an open document addressed to "The Other Boy." He sat down at his desk and began reading.
To: the Other Boy
You and I know who you are, but don't worry, I won't tell anyone. I can't say that I wasn't angry with you at first, but I'm beginning to see why you did it. It's mere survival instinct I guess. I want you to know that you are not the reason for this. They are. Everyone who doesn't understand us. I pray that one day there will be a world where we could have existed. But it's not here, not now. I am sorry for any guilt this may cause- I just had to escape and this was the only place I could go peacefully. Please try to understand... don't be mad at me. I love you.
What the hell was this? Don't feel guilty? There was no way in hell Noble was going to be able to not feel guilty! It was the first true emotion he had felt since he set foot in this school. As far as he could remember he had given the world a cold shoulder- a mere survival instinct- but the cold exterior had shattered when James hung himself from the end of a rope.
Whether or not James meant those last three words, Noble knew his love for James would continue. He was sure nothing could extinguish it. But was this James's way of telling Noble to confess? Was he sincere or trying to guilt Noble into admitting? There was no way of knowing. Noble was on his own.
He did as Emily said and wiped the page clean with some satisfaction- he never wanted to see that thing again. He poked his head out into the hallway to make sure no one was watching before he tip-toed two doors down to room 204. The door was opened but marked off with caution tape. He ducked under the caution tape and carefully placed the laptop back onto his desk. Noble resisted the urge to be overcome with emotion. No one else was sobbing over James. Once back in his room, he grabbed his towel from the back of his door and headed down the hall . He stepped inside the bathroom and didn't even feel a slight chill. Maybe that was because they had cleaned the place spotless so it looked as if no one had showered there, let alone died there. He went to his usual third shower stall and turned on the cold water. This was where it happened. This was where James had first encountered Noble and this was where James rid himself of Noble.
In the shower stall, Noble didn't move. He merely let the icy water pelt him in the face like tiny nails made of indestructible ice. When he'd had enough, he shut off the water, wrapped his towel around his waist and headed for the exit door. He ran into him on the way out.
"Deveroux, how you holdin' up?" Evan Lyons asked.
"Same as you I suppose," Noble responded without looking in his eyes. If he had, he might have killed him right then and there. His nails were digging into his palms.
"Who would've thought the little queer would go and hang himself? I mean, he was just kicked off the soccer team. What a baby."
Evan threw his head back and had a good laugh while Noble made a conscious decision to unclench his fists.
"You know, that's the one." Evan pointed to the shower stall Noble had just come from.
"That's where he killed himself. Spooky, huh?"
"Not really. It's the same stall I always use, so today's no different."
Noble tried his hardest to sound indifferent. Once he was safe outside the bathroom, he took off running towards his room. His face was burning with useless, angry tears. He had to get far away from Evan before Gladen lost two students in twenty-four hours.
Inside the bathroom, Evan began piecing together what he'd just heard. The same stall he always used...
Two days had passed since James's death and the red-head was still on the grounds. Would she ever leave? The whole suicide thing should have scared her off. Noble wished. She was everywhere now. Ever since she had mysteriously known to give Noble the computer, she was around every corner.
"I need to talk to you," she told him on the following Sunday afternoon as Noble was walking from the Main Hall to the science building.
"I don't really want to talk Emily."
She hurried to keep up with his long-legged gate.
"I'm glad you've started using my name," she smiled at him.
"Well it looks like you're never leaving Gladen so I might as well."
He took off at a faster pace than usual towards the science lab. He hoped it was unlocked on Sundays- he knew James had been working on a project in physics and hoped it hadn't been confiscated along with the rest of his belongings. Mailed back to his family no doubt. He could imagine them sitting around the table crying over their son the suicidal homosexual.
The door to the physics lab was unlocked. He stepped inside the dark classroom. Only the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the windows illuminated the room. He looked around at the clean, black lab tables hoping to find his name on some project. Anything of his that Noble could touch would comfort him at this moment.
"It isn't there," a voice came from the door.
"Damn it Emily, stop following me!"
"They took it away with the rest of his things. It's like he never even went here- creepy isn't it?"
"Look, I didn't track you down to talk about James. My dad wants to see you in his office. He's made a special appointment since it's Sunday and all. You need to come with me."
So the headmaster thought sending his beautiful daughter would entice Noble to follow. Ha! Little did Headmaster Hudson know, Noble wanted to follow Emily as bad as North wants to follow South.
"Mr. Deveroux? Please come in."
The old man remained seated in his rich brown leather chair and ushered the boy in with his hand.
"Have a seat, Noble."
"What's this about, sir?"
"Oh I think you know."
"I had nothing to do with that locker stuff, you have to believe me. I'm not a vandal!"
"I know, son. I know."
He spoke like a grandfather who was about to recite a life lesson. He noticed the fear behind Noble's dark eyes.
"Then what is this about?"
Headmaster Hudson breathed a deep sigh, rubbed his temple and regrettably began his accusation.
"As you know, there's an investigation going on to make sure there was no... foul play."
"I didn't hurt anyone. Not physically."
"What was your relationship with James McKenzie?"
The fear that was in Noble's eyes now turned to shear terror. There was something that was being left unsaid and Hudson could not afford to ignore it.
"We were teammates. We played soccer together, that was it."
"Son, I need the truth."
"That's it! I don't know why-"
"Your fingerprints were found on his laptop."
Noble hesitated, surely coming up with a better lie.
"Tons of people have touched that laptop- he took it with him everywhere."
"No one had touched it since the research team cleaned it Saturday morning. Not even James's fingerprints were on that computer after Saturday. So tell me, why did you sneak into a restricted area and steal his laptop only to put it back?"
He struggled to find words but soon the truth tumbled out.
"I read the note."
Noble's thoughts were beginning to unravel.
"Why didn't you think of the repercussions? We are trying to do an investigation! Why would you-"
"Because it was meant for me!" he yelled, not bothering to keep himself seated.
"It was meant for me, okay? No roommate, no fucking investigation team- nobody but me!"
Hudson was stunned. All the rules told him to reprimand this boy, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Something inside him broke when he saw the angry boy slump back into his chair and start weeping.
"Are you telling me you were..." he gulped out the word, "involved with this boy?"
"Involved?" Noble scoffed, "I was in love with him!"
This was unfolding before Hudson's eyes and he didn't know what to do with the information. What would anyone else do?
"Please don't call my parents," Noble begged. The boy was actually afraid of him.
"No I won't call your parents. Frankly, it's none of my business. But son, you know the dangers of this information. I mean, look what-"
"Don't you dare say 'look what happened to James.' That should have been me! I'm the same as him."
But that wasn't entirely true. Noble was nothing like James. James was whole, pure, kind. Noble was cynical, caustic, apathetic.
"Noble, I'm afraid you're speaking out of guilt and anger so I will not remember anything you've said today once you leave this office."
Hudson looked at him with meaning, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Noble lifted his head from his hands and looked into the Headmaster's eyes.
And Noble left, wiping his eyes to hide any trace of tears.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he spat at Emily. He chased her down outside once he left the Headmaster's office.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Bullshit! You knew they had cleaned that laptop. Your dad was leading the investigation! Yet you handed it to me knowing my fingerprints would end up on it leading him to me."
"Someone had to get through to you! You may hate me but you can't ignore my father!"
"It's none of your damn business, Em!"
"What, do you give all your enemies pet names?"
"How did you know to give the note to me?"
"Because of how you were crying the day after he died. I had nothing else to do that day but wander all around this awful place and I found you. You were the only one who remotely cared that he was gone!" She tried to keep the tears from surfacing in her eyes, but somehow she knew she would not succeed,
"And I prayed to God that it was you because it would have broken my heart to see him write that note to someone who didn't even care!"
She stormed off while the word traitor was still on his tongue. The only reason he ¬didn't shout it at her was because he knew he was equally guilty. He had played the role of traitor when he voted to kick James off the team. If he had been the sole person to fight for him, he would have been outed. And at the time, that seemed like the worse outcome. Now the only man who knew had just promised never to bring it up again. But wait- there was Emily.
He dreamt of him every night after that. Sometimes more than once a night. Sucks doesn't it? Dreaming of your dead lover? Most times they were just having a conversation. But this night was a little different. James had been gone for a month now and Emily had traveled to and from Oxford twice. Before she had left she kissed him on the cheek and went on her way. She was coming back today and Noble hoped to see her soon.
It was late one night, and Noble had decided to take a shower but this time he remembered to grab his towel.
Halfway through his shower, he saw him- or the ghost of him- in the middle of the bathroom with his towel around his waist. Noble blinked twice.
"Oh God, I'm going crazy!"
James gave him that cute smile and started walking towards him just like the first time. The apparition kept walking like he was going to walk into his shower all over again. He was seriously losing my mind. Noble backed up into the shower to keep from touching him. Already up against the wall, he had nowhere else to go. But he kept backing up further into the wall until he hit his head on that damn showerhead. Noble fell to the tile and was staring at the ceiling with the water was blurring his vision. His eyes grew heavy and soon- darkness. That's when Noble had the dream.
"So what do you think?" James was saying. They were both standing in the shower stall, fully clothed. The water was running from the steel showerhead but neither of them were wet.
"I think you're stupid," Noble said back to him.
"What kind of star athlete kills himself?"
"I wasn't a star athlete. I got kicked off the team remember? Thanks to you." He lit a cigarette.
"Relax, I'm only joking, Deveroux. I would've done the same thing... if I were a coward."
He was lying on his bare back- choking out the water that had gotten trapped in his mouth. He rolled over on his stomach and just laid there, not really sure what to do. James had been so close. He was so real. But no, that couldn't have been him- there was no way. James didn't smoke.
He knew right away what to do. He didn't bother drying off, so with wet hair and his white t-shirt sticking to his chest, he ran over to the visitor's quarters. Looking for beams of light under doorways, he finally found one halfway down the hall on the first floor. He knocked twice and she opened before he could knock a third time.
"Noble? What are you doing out this late? If anyone finds you-"
She kept on rambling, but he never listened. Her arms were crossed over her chest concealing the fact that she wore no bra. Her pink pajama bottoms were about as girly as you could get. She sickened him.
"I saw him, Emily."
"You came out here to talk about James? Are you insane?"
"I just told you I saw a dead guy and you're still questioning my sanity? Shouldn't that be decided already?"
"Noble, you've been through a lot of trauma this past month. Hallucinations are normal for once. Just get some rest."
She began to close the door but he had to stop her. She was the only one he could talk to and if James had ended his life because he felt alone... well Noble wasn't going to be like that.
"Let me in."
She looked at him like a puppy that had been found in a box. Pity- that's what it was.
"Noble, I'm sorry but you know I can't let you do that. If anyone finds you here, we're both in trouble."
Couldn't she be normal for once and just let him talk without giving advice?
"Please Emily," he begged. He never thought he'd see himself in this position, but here he was. For James. Because of James. He must have said something right because she wrapped her arms around him. Not wearing a bra- just like he thought.
She stepped back and opened her door- inviting him in. He spent the night with Em that night and much to his surprise, she didn't say a word. For the rest of the night, she just let him sit there. She let Noble talk, but all she did was nod. Sometimes she cried with him, but other times she just let him hold her. Noble thought that was kind of nice- it had been so long since he held someone.
"Emily, what do I do?" Noble asked her the next morning.
The sun was peaking through the window in her room and Emily had just successfully sneaked two muffins and two cups of coffee from the Main Hall.
"About what?" she asked absentmindedly. Then she knew. She looked at him and she knew exactly what he was talking about. The buzz of James's death was dying down, but it was replaced with the buzz of who was his secret boyfriend. Evan Lyons was having a field day with this gossipy story.
Noble sat on her bed more conflicted than ever. Did he hide himself from the torturous boys of Gladen, or did he stand by the one boy who ever understood him? Noble was realizing just now that he was facing a very difficult decision. On one hand, he could go about things just as they were, keeping his relationship with James a secret. On the other hand, he owed it to James to at least tell the truth. James had been so torn up about revealing Noble's identity, he killed himself to keep it a secret! So did James die in vain, or did he die protecting Noble from the same wolves that got to him? And could Noble live up to his name?
"Are you going to do it?"
"I don't know if I can." He looked at her hoping she had an answer but he saw she was just as conflicted as he was.
She handed Noble his muffin and coffee and said, "You better get going. Classes start in half an hour."
He threw on his white undershirt and made off towards his dorm room. There, he grabbed a v-neck sweater and pulled it over his head. He rubbed the knot on the back of his head where he had hit the shower-head last night. It was tender to the touch. He walked quickly towards his locker, but something was wrong. The boys looked like middle-school girls with their mouths hiding behind their hands. He looked at his fly. Zipped. He smelled his shirt. Fresh. What the hell was going on? That's when he saw it. The dark red paint sprawled across his locker in ugly letters. It was so much worse than glitter.
The word "COCKSUCKER" was branded across the gray metal. Upon closer inspection, he discovered it was nail polish. Clever. He scrunched up his dark eyebrows and wrinkled his nose.
"I never did that," he said to himself.
Perhaps it was his shock that kept him from anger. Well, what goes up must come down, but who was going to find nail polish remover in an all-boys school?
"It will be down within the hour," a voice assured.
The Headmaster had come from out of nowhere but now stood behind Noble.
"Let it stay, I don't care."
Hudson breathed heavily and rubbed his temple. He was doing that a lot lately.
"I don't care!" he hadn't meant to yell but Noble was finding it was all he knew how to do these days.
"If you choose to deny it, I'll support you."
"Look, if you're worried about another dead student on your hands, don't worry about it. I'm not gonna go and off myself-"
"I will do my best to track down the perpetrators."
"You'd have to expel the whole school, sir. Look, I get it. People aren't used to this and they're scared, so they're acting out the best way they know how. I'll be okay."
He turned and left, knowing there was nothing else the Headmaster could offer him. On his way out of the building, he ran into her.
"Em, I need to borrow some of your clothes."
He wasn't quite sure why he was doing this. Maybe to prove a point. Maybe to shock everyone into shutting the hell up. But with Emily's help, he walked down the hallway of Gladen in a pleated skirt, and gray cardigan. The difference was this time he was prepared for the snickering, and he actually found it funny. Everyone laughed as he walked by but he kept walking to his locker with a smile on his face. James would have found it mortifying. Noble could see him now, burying his head in his hands as Noble strutted down the hallway in heels three sizes to small. Just as the Headmaster had promised, his locker no longer displayed the offensive word. He turned his back on the laughing crowd to grab his books for his next class. Bad move.
"What the hell is this, Deveroux?" Evan asked.
"What do you think?"
"I think you're asking for it."
Evan grabbed him by the collar and drug him outside into the courtyard. Noble saw the rest of the team in the courtyard and his stomach sank. Somehow, Noble hadn't calculated this into the equation. Evan shoved Noble off his feet and Emily's high heels went flying into the dirt. Once on the grass, Noble scrambled to his feet only to be shoved down again and spat on. Despite it all, he continued to try and stand.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Evan screamed.
"What I should have done to begin with," Noble mumbled.
That's when the kicking began- first in the back, then in the stomach and the face. The beating, cursing, tearing of flesh and spirit. Countless hands grabbing at him and beating him down. It all sort of happened in a miserable slow motion. It seemed it would never end. Noble's vision was blurred with sweat and blood, but he was elated. It made him feel like he was doing something... good. The first good thing he'd done in a while. He let them do it- not bothering to fight back. After all, he deserved every punch. After they'd had their fun, they left him lying in the grass. He walked back from the courtyard with a bloody nose, busted lip, and his chin held high. No one whispered when he walked past. He let Evan take his frustrations out on him that one afternoon, but he never bothered Noble again. No one did. No one spoke to him at all- they just ignored him altogether.
After a few weeks, the healing began... of the wounds at least. Some scars would remain forever. The team recruited a new goalie and things went back to normal- for everyone but Noble. Though he had taken the opportunity to make James's life count for something, he had miles to go. He hoped he would get there eventually.
And eventually that day came.
I'm graduating today. And I couldn't be more relieved to get away from this place. James was the only thing that ever made it worthwhile. Emily is finished with school for the summer and is coming back for my graduation. I think I like her now- she's not so damn annoying. Good thing too because I'm going to Oxford in the fall.
After everything that happened, I'm walking away from Gladen a proud man. Proud to have known him, proud to have had the chance to do right by him. I'm working towards that place called happiness. Some days I just wake up pissed. In case you're wondering, I'm still not gay, alright? But James wasn't a boy or a girl... he just was. So there's the whole story- just like you wanted.
I'm done talking to you now.