It's been about two weeks since Justin first started living with me and my family. I don't know what went on at his old house, but it must've been hard for him. He often feels like he needs to do most of the housework, even though either my parents or I have already said we're going to take care of it.
It makes me feel like he was treated more like a slave than a son. Justin tells me that his mom was the bad one in his house and his dad often stayed out of everything and let his mother do what she wanted. Justin doesn't blame his dad for how his mother is, but wishes his dad did more to help him.
Brian often comes over to my house to see Justin and how he's doing on the weekends. He's always extremely concerned on how Justin's doing, to which Justin tells Brian he's doing okay. Justin's easygoing attitude and Brian's over-protective nature really help bring the two of them closer together. I even heard them get closer together one night when Mom and Dad were on a date. I think they forgot I was in the house...right in the next room too...
It's now early in February and I'm at Hank's Hardware and Repair Shop, my workplace. I've worked at Hank's for the last two years and he's a great boss. I often help customers find what they're looking for and carry the wood they need to their cars. It's hard work, but it's worth it.
I'm in the middle of restocking a few shelves when I hear someone walk up next to me. "Excuse me? May I have some help?"
I look to my right and am nearly blinded. Standing next to me is the most handsome man I have ever seen in my life. He even makes Channing Tatum and Ryan Gosling look ugly.
He looks to be about twenty-eight and his hair is a beautiful shade of brown and is styled to perfection and his face is immaculate, not a hair on his five o'clock shadow out of place.
His eyes are almost piercing with their emerald green color and his jaw and cheekbones are beyond perfection. His teeth are almost fake they're so perfect and are so white, they're shining. Along with his pristine button down shirt, dark jeans, and black boots, is a body that looks like he works out everyday. He's not bulky, but in perfect shape. He's...flawless.
I shake my head out and look back at him. "S-Sorry, what do you need help with?" I ask.
"I'm trying to get my boyfriend a nice birthday present." He's gay? Of course he is. No one can be that gorgeous and be straight. "Can you help me find what I'm looking for?"
"No problem." I put my last item on a shelf and look back at the man. "Do you have any idea what your boyfriend might want for his birthday?"
"Actually, his birthday is also our five-year anniversary of being together, so I also want to celebrate that."
"Congratulations," I say.
"Thank you. He and I rented a house together and although it's a nice house, it does get lonely at times for him. I work most of the day and he waits tables at night. We often only get to see each other in passing and maybe once a week for dates."
"Oh, I'm sorry. May I ask what your boyfriend's name is?"
I connect all the pieces and smile. "Your name wouldn't happen to be George, would it?" I ask.
He looks at me, lost. "Yes, it is. How do you know that?"
"I'm friends with Nelson, and I must say, he really knows how to pick them."
George slowly smiles too. "You're Josh, aren't you?" I nod, not pointing at my nametag. "Nelson told me about you a while ago. He was spot on with his description of you. You're just as handsome as he said."
"Thanks. So what do you think Nelson would like?"
"Well, our landlord has a strict no pets sleeping in the house policy, so I'm looking for a doghouse for the backyard. Do you sell them?"
"We do. I'll take you to them." I lead George through the aisles. "You have a dog?"
"That's the second part of Nelson's birthday present. I'm buying him a puppy because that's how we met. There was a dog sitting outside a restaurant and I went to go pet it, and so did Nelson. Our hands touched as we reached for the dog's head and I saw his eyes. I was instantly head over heels for him. So, I asked him out for coffee and I've loved him every day since then."
I smile at George as we get to the doghouses. "What kind of dog are you getting for him?" I ask.
"It's a German Sheppard puppy. A friend of mine has two and the girl just gave birth to a litter of puppies. It's also the same breed of dog Nelson and I met over."
"Well, are you hoping to buy a second doghouse as the puppy gets older? A German Sheppard can get pretty big."
"I'm okay with buying another one when the puppy outgrows the one I'm going to buy."
"Then this is the best option for you." I grab a box with a buildable dog house inside. "This is a very good doghouse for puppies. It keeps out water and is easy to assemble."
George inspects the box for a few seconds. "I'll take it," he says.
"Great. Just let me take that and I'll ring you up."
I escort George to the front of the store and quickly scan the dog house. George pays for the doghouse and I carry the doghouse outside to George's car. "I know I shouldn't intervene in you and Nelson's business," I say as I put the doghouse in George's trunk, "but I think Nelson might be...expecting something else..."
"You mean a ring?" George asks. I nod and George smiles. "Let me show you something."
George walks to the driver's side and opens the door. He leans in and comes out a second later with a small black box in his hand, a box identical to the box Nate showed me when he asked me if he could propose to Ryan.
He opens the box and I see a bright, gold ring. "I bought this ring two years ago," he says, "with the full intention of asking Nelson to marry me. But whenever I even think of marrying Nelson, I always second guess myself and chicken out."
"Why?" I ask. "You said you've loved Nelson since you first met him."
"I do, but I'm always scared of things not working out and it ending in an ugly divorce and us hating each other for the rest of our lives."
"George, I know we only just met, but I can honestly say that Nelson loves you more than anything. Every time I went out to Wentz's with my boyfriend, Leo, Nelson always mentioned you and how much he cares about you. I can tell you with confidence that if you propose to Nelson, you two will be together until the day the both of you die."
George smiles and closes the box. "Thank you, Josh. Nelson always said how you were a selfless person and I can see he was right about that too. Thanks for your help. I appreciate it more than you know."
He offers his hand and I give it a very firm shake. George gets into his car and drives off with the doghouse and I'm left with a few things to talk to Nelson about the next time Leo and I see him.
The next week, I get a letter in the mail with a note and a photo in it. On the photo are Nelson and George, both smiling brightly and on George's lap is the most adorable puppy I have ever seen in my life and on Nelson's finger is the ring George showed me.
The note tells me that George proposed to Nelson on his birthday, who accepted immediately. George gave the puppy to Nelson, who named him Ari. Ari, also being a very cute dog, is incredibly easy to train and is very well-behaved around people. If they weren't so happy with Ari, I'd steal him if I got the chance.
It's Wednesday of the same week, and while I should be in school, I'm in Stanford with Dad. A requirement of my application states that I need to have an interview with the Dean of Admissions if I want to have a chance of getting into Stanford. I'm just hoping the guy isn't a hardass...
I'm sitting with Dad in the waiting room of the admissions building wearing a nice suit. I can't stop shaking, no matter how hard I try. I'm just so freaking nervous. Dad catches my shaking and rubs my shoulder. "I know it's pretty scary," he says. "But I know you'll do great."
"But what if I mess up or something? Dad, Stanford has been my dream since I was a kid. One screw-up, and I don't get in."
"Josh, you've been a model student since you first started going to school. Straight A's, great scores on your SAT and ACT, football, your work, the dozens of awards you've won over the years, if you don't get in here, then they're missing out."
Dad gives me a reassuring smile, which I try to return with my own. "Thanks Dad."
"Mr. Rusden?" I look over and see the receptionist looking at me. "Mr. Kincaid is ready to see you."
I take a deep breath and slowly rise from the couch. Dad gives me a pat on the back and I shakily walk to the door and knock on the dark wood. "Come in," I hear come through the door.
I slowly open the door and see a beautiful office. Two large bookshelves filled to the brim with books line the walls, two dark leather chairs sit in front of a dark wooden desk. And behind the desk is the man who decides my fate: Gordon Kincaid.
Gordon Kincaid has been the Dean of Admissions at Stanford for the last fifteen years. He has dark grey hair and a very stern face that says no nonsense. For a man of fifty-five, he looks pretty good, almost no wrinkles and not a bit of fat at all. He looks up and sees me. "You must be Josh Rusden," he says.
"Y-Yes sir," I say.
"Gordon Kincaid. Pleasure to meet you. Why don't you go ahead and take a seat?"
I step to one of the leather chairs and slowly sink into it. Kincaid grabs a file from the right side of his desk and opens it. He begins to read over the contents and I watch as he reads them over, anxiously awaiting what he has to say. "Straight A's in every semester so far," he finally says.
"Yes sir," I squeakily reply.
"Six AP courses and five honors courses through high school, a 2210 on the SAT, a 33 on the ACT, and numerous academic awards over the years. From what I see here, you are a very bright young man."
"Thank you, sir."
Kincaid continues reading. "You've played football since you were young and are the running back for your high school team, is that correct?"
"And you are the recipient of the Running Back of the Year award by the SCFA. A very prestigious award. Along with football, you've had a part-time job since your sophomore year, volunteer at an animal shelter, and...oh...what's this?"
My skin flushes in heat at the tone of Kincaid's voice. "It says here you helped a fellow student from being seriously hurt in a violent hate crime." He looks up from the folder and stares at me, his brown eyes burning through me. "Could you please tell me about that?"
"Um...sure. Early in November, I was walking out of school to my car when I heard some low, thumping noises coming from a wooded area next to the parking lot. I followed the noises and saw my friend, Brian, being punched multiple times. I yelled at the attacker and he ran away.
"Brian had a lot of bruises and cuts, along with a concussion, two broken ribs, and a fractured tibia and fibula. A...friend of mine who was with me and Brian at the time called 911 while I helped Brian's wounds. His head was bleeding so I put my shirt behind his head and had him lean against a tree to stop the bleeding.
"I used my shirt sleeve to cover a wound on Brian's leg where bone was coming out. It was terrifying to see something like that. I can only hope it doesn't happen to me in the future."
"What do you mean?" Kincaid asks me.
Oops, that slipped out. I fidget in my seat for a second and look back to Kincaid. "Um...like my friend Brian, I'm gay."
While I expect a look of surprise or shock, Kincaid's face remains neutral, his eyes never leaving me. "I see," he says.
"T-This won't affect my chances of getting into Stanford will it?" I ask nervously. "This school is my dream..."
"Please tell me why you want to come to Stanford of all the other schools the United States has to offer."
It takes me a second to get my thoughts together, but I smile back at Kincaid. "I saw my first Stanford football game when I was nine years old. Back then, the team wasn't doing too well. The game I watched was the 107th Big Game. Stanford may have lost, but seeing the team's determination and will to never give up made me think 'I want to be on this team.'
"Ever since then, I've watched every single Stanford football game. As the years passed, the team got a lot better and is now a fantastic team. What I want to do is help carry that momentum into the future and help Stanford win another Bowl title."
For the first time, I see Kincaid's face crack a little and the corner of his mouth twitches upward. It's only a little, but I manage to catch it. "A very nice answer," he says.
"So...will my...sexual orientation affect my chances at all."
"If you're asking you being gay lowers your chances of being accepted here, then no. If we only accepted people based on who they are, then we wouldn't be deserved to be called a school. All I'm going to tell you is that we accept people based on their academics, extracurricular activities, recommendations, essay, and interview.
"Mr. Rusden. I can already tell you are a very smart, talented, selfless young man. Stanford would be proud to have you as a student here. But unfortunately, it isn't my decision alone. I still need to meet with the other members of the Admissions Department to discuss who we're going to accept, reject, or add to the waitlist."
"I understand, Mr. Kincaid. I really appreciate you telling me that. It helps put me at ease a bit."
Kincaid closes the folder and sets it aside. "There are still a little over two months left until we notify you of our decision. Until then, keep up your grades and don't get into any serious trouble."
I rise from my seat and take a step closer to Kincaid's desk and extend my hand to him. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Kincaid. It was nice talking to you."
Kincaid's tough exterior finally cracks and he smiles. He puts his hand in mine and shakes it. "The pleasure was mine, Mr. Rusden. I wish you all the best whatever your future may be."
Kincaid releases my hand and I turn and head for the door, feeling a lot less shaky than when I first walked in.
After a day off from school the next day after a short flight back home, Justin and I pull into the school parking lot early Friday morning. Leo arrives a minute after we do and I greet him with a kiss, having not seen him in two days. "I missed you," I say.
"I missed you too," he tells me.
"God, you two need a room," Justin says.
Leo and I both roll our eyes. "How'd the interview go?" Leo asks me. "I tried to ask you about it yesterday, but you didn't pick up."
"Sorry, I was asleep most of the morning and I had work in the afternoon. I think it went pretty well. Kincaid was a pretty scary looking guy, but he was friendly and fair."
"That's good to hear."
I'm so busy hugging Leo, I don't hear Mark and Shawn sneak up behind and grab both of us. It makes Leo and I both yelp like little girls and jump a bit. Justin laughs at our misery. "You guys really are dicks," says Leo once he calms down a bit.
Mark and Shawn both laugh and Leo and I join in. Brian and Danny walk up a few seconds later. "So what've I missed?" I ask.
"Oh you didn't hear," says Brian. "There's some guy that almost kidnapped a kid on the loose. He's supposed to armed and I heard on the radio that he may be unstable. They said to be on the lookout for a grey sedan with a dent on the left side of the front bumper."
"Let's just hope none of us run into him," says Danny.
We all nod in agreement. The bell rings and we head into school to start another normal day.
By lunch, I want to shoot myself I'm so bored. The guys and I decide to eat in the cafeteria today, all of us too tired to go out to get food. The cafeteria is pretty full by the time I walk in. I see the Mark, Brian and Leo all seated at a table and I walk over to them with my lunch. "You still haven't tried the cafeteria food?" I ask Leo.
"No chance," he says. "After what you told me on the first day of school, I'm not taking any chances."
He reaches underneath his seat and grabs a bagged lunch and Mark and Brian do the same. Danny, Shawn and Justin walk up to the table after a minute and take their seats. The table soon fills with nonstop conversation and laughter.
Danny forgot his lunch and was forced to get some cafeteria food. What he brings back looks like something Leo and I dissected in Biology. Danny chooses to not eat, but we all give him a portion of our lunches.
As lunch starts winding down, so does the noise level in the cafeteria. As we're all making small talk, I see Mark make a weird face. "Mark? You okay?" I ask. "You look constipated."
"Yeah, I'm fine," he says. "But I...think I hear a police siren."
We all quiet down and try to hear it too. At first all I can hear are other students talking, but after a few seconds, I hear a faint wail. "Yeah, I hear it too," I say.
"Same here," says Justin.
"I think I hear more than one," says Brian.
We all listen again and see he's right. I definitely hear at least four sirens, and they're getting closer. I look out the window and hear the sirens getting closer. All of a sudden, I see a sedan turn wildly into the parking lot. Five police cars quickly follow behind it. As I look closer at the grey sedan, my heart sinks at the sight of the dent in the front bumper.
The car stops and out jumps a man in camouflage clothing, a bandana on his head, and in his hands is something I've seen dozens of times in Call of Duty: an AK-47. The man's running away from the cops, right in the direction of the cafeteria door. I jump out of my seat, causing all the guys to look at me. "Josh? What's up?" Leo says.
"We need to get everyone out of here," I hurriedly say. "That gunman Brian mentioned is right outside and is running this way."
Everyone quickly looks out the window and sees the man. They all jump up with me. "EVERYBODY RUN!!" screams Mark.
He's met with confused looks from everyone. "WHAT'RE YOU ALL STARING FOR?!!" screams Shawn. "THERE'S A GUY WITH A GUN OUTSIDE!! HE'S COMING THIS WAY!!"
Fear races across the cafeteria and everyone starts rushing out of their seats and toward the door. The guys and I all corral all the students and direct them toward the doors. By the time we get a few yards away from the doors, there's only about thirty students left. The back door to the cafeteria bursts open.
I turn around and see the camo-wearing man with the AK-47 raised to the ceiling. The gun goes off and I cover my ears, the blast of the gun ripping through my head. The gunshots die after a few seconds and I reopen my eyes and uncover my ears. The gunman stands underneath a ceiling filled with bullet holes.
The man lowers the gun and stares right at the remaining kids. I take a quick look around and see there are about twenty kids left in the cafeteria, Leo, Brian and Justin amongst them. "Well, looks like I'm not alone here," says the gunman.
He puts his AK-47 behind his back and reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handgun. "All of you, close the doors and lock them," he tells us.
I glance at everyone, who all have the same look of fear. We want to run, but we know that the gunman will have a bullet in us before we can even take a few steps. The doors are closed and locked. "Good. Now all of you walk to the center of the room so I can keep an eye on all of you."
We all slowly walk to the middle of the cafeteria. "Sit wherever you want and talk if you like," the gunman tells us. "I need to figure some things out."
I sit at a table with Leo, Brian and Justin. Justin wipes some sweat from his brow and Brian looks like he's on the verge of tears. "What're we going to do?" Brian asks.
"I don't know," says Leo.
"Did you guys see Mark, Shawn, and Danny get out?" I ask.
"Yeah," says Justin. "They got out a few seconds before the guy burst into the doors. They said they were going to warn the teachers and principal and call the police."
"What is this guy thinking?" I say. "We're just kids. What could he possibly want to do with us?"
"Ransom probably," says Leo. "He'll let us go if he gets the money he wants."
"And what happens...if he doesn't?" Brian quietly asks.
We all go quiet for a minute. "Leo," I say. "What can you see in this guy? Maybe there's a reason why he's doing this."
Leo looks at the gunman for a minute. "Wow, there's a lot of anger in him. Something tells me that kid he was trying to kidnap like Brian said was his own child. He and his wife are probably going through an ugly divorce and his wife is filing for full custody. The guy still wants the son to be in his life, so he tried to kidnap his son."
"The news said the guy's name is Gerald Vermouth," says Brian. "He has a long history with guns and knows how to use them, and use them well..."
The air gets cold and I look at the leftover students with us. A lot of them look like freshmen and sophomores, all of them look like they're ready to cry. They can't stay like this. "Guys," I whisper. "We need to get everyone else out of here."
"How?" says Justin. "If we move, that psycho will shoot us."
I think about it for a second. "I have an idea, but I know you all aren't going to like it. We offer ourselves so the gunman will let everyone else go."
They all look like I'm the one that's holding us all hostage. "Are you nuts?!" Brian whispers.
"I know it sounds crazy, but if we can get everyone else out of here, the potential loss of lives will be a lot less."
"What about our lives?" says Justin.
"Would you rather let our classmates be at the hands of this maniac? Or do you want to help them and get them to safety?" The guys glance to each other and after a minute, nod. "Okay. I'll talk to him."
I look at the gunman, who seems to be in thought. "Hey Gerald!" I call.
He snaps out of his daze and looks at me. "What do you want?" he snarls. "I'm a bit busy here."
"I have a proposition for you." That grabs Gerald's attention. I glance back at the guys, who all nod again. "You see all these kids in here?"
Gerald looks at every student, then looks back at me. "What about them?"
"If you let them go, me and my three friends will stay and be your hostages."
Gerald looks a bit confused. "Now why would you do that?" he asks. "Wouldn't you rather get our of here yourself?"
"I'd rather see all these kids safe than be safe myself," I tell him.
Gerald looks at all the students, every single one of them shuddering in fear. For a second, I see something in Gerald's face. It looks like...regret. He shakes his head out and looks at me. "Get them out of here," he says. "But if I see you or any of your friends making a sudden move, I shoot."
"Thank you," I say. I look at the rest of the students. "You all need to get out of here. Go through the front of the cafeteria and either get out of the school or find the nearest classroom." I see a lot of them are looking conflicted. "Don't worry. We'll be fine. Go."
The students slowly get out of their seats and walk to the front of the cafeteria. One by one, they exit the room. The last one make sit out and now it's just me, Leo, Brian, Justin, and Gerald, who's holding a Glock 9 in his hand and has an AK-47 behind his back.
TO BE CONTINUED...