The silence in the room was kinda terrifying. I didn't expect to be yelled at; I mean, I knew that they all loved me, but I wasn't expecting the complete silence that filled the room. I didn't sense anger or disappointment in the air from Dad, Aunt Alice, or Uncle Steve. However, after my announcement, their attention immediately shifted from Joey and me, to Roger, and I didn't know why. Joey nervously squeezed my hand. I squeezed back leaned and into him, trying to reassure him that everything would be okay. Of course, I had no clue what was wrong.
"Uh guys?" I raised my voice bringing everyone's attention back to me. "What's up here? Roger didn't do anything."
"Son," Dad shook his head, and smiled, "We're all fine with you and Joey dating. In fact, we all thought it was just a matter of time. I told you last week I would love you no matter what. As for Roger, he was supposed to keep us updated." Dad said looking back at Roger, who was trying to sink into the couch we were sitting on.
"Please don't be mad at Roger." I said, pleading with my eyes as I looked at my father and then at Roger's parents. These people meant so much to me, and I just wanted them to understand why Roger hadn't told them. "We made him promise not to say anything to anyone. He is the best friend anyone could ever have and he kept his promise. So if you want to be mad at someone, then let it be me."
"And at me too," Joey interjected. There was no way he'd let me take the blame for something like this by myself. "Please be mad at me, not Roger. We asked him not to tell, and he did it more for me than anyone."
There was silence as Aunt Alice and Uncle Steve looked at each other and smiled. Dad looked over at them and nodded before he stood up. For a moment everything seemed off, until I seen the smile on my father's face.
"Come here boys," Dad stood up, throwing his arms wide.
Joey and I both stood and went to him. He drew us both into the tight and loving embrace that only a father is capable of giving.
"I'm so proud of both of you." Dad smiled as he kissed us both on the forehead. I could see the tears in his eyes as he looked at us.
Aunt Alice and Uncle Steve came over to us and hugged us too, soon followed by Roger in a six-way family hug. My family.
JT pushed himself back into a sitting position on the floor and raised his right hand to his mouth, wiping the blood from his split lip as he looked up into his father's eyes.
"Boy, I told you never to sass me again. You'll do as you're told or else." Mr. McCray growled at his son, scowling menacingly.
"But Poppa, I'll be kicked off the football team, if I'm not already." JT pleaded, shivering in fear at what else his father might do to him.
"You listen to me boy, either you uphold the family name and take care of that faggot that dishonored you, or you don't come home, and that's final." His father towered over JT, watching to ensure that his son would follow orders.
JT nodded and got up off the floor. He kept his head down as he passed his father. Leaving the living room, he headed for his bedroom. Tomorrow, he would do as his father ordered. He had no choice - at least, he didn't think he did.
"Thank you, Dad, it means a lot to me that you accept Joey and me. I've been scared for a little over a year, when I shouldn't have been. I love you," I whispered in Dad's ear, as I hugged him tighter. I took a step back and looked into my father's eyes. They were overflowing with his love for me and his smile was filled with pride.
I turned to Aunt Alice and Uncle Steve.
"Please don't be mad at Roger." I watched Aunt Alice shake her head a moment. Then she stepped forward, took me into her arms, and hugged me tightly.
"Don't worry sweetie, we aren't mad at him."
I hugged her a little tighter, relief flooding throughout my body. I kissed her cheek and told her, "Thank you."
That only left one member of my family to talk to. I turned my head to look over at Uncle Steve. He smiled and winked at me.
"Come here." Uncle Steve reached out his arms for me. I walked into his fatherly embrace.
"Thank you, Uncle Steve. You have no idea how good this feels." He hugged me tighter, and all I could think was that my family had to be the best in the entire world.
I turned looking for my boyfriend, and found him being hugged by my dad, which brought huge smile to my face.
"Boys, it's a school night, so we better break this up," Aunt Alice said looking between Roger, Joey, and me.
I turned to Dad. "Is it okay if I walk Joey home?"
"Before you guys leave, can I ask what you plan on telling your friends about the two of you?"
I looked at Joey to make sure it was alright if I answered for the both of us. The gentle nod that he gave me told me I could.
"We're not going to tell anyone yet. When we do, it'll only be after we both agree to do so."
All three adults smiled and nodded their approval.
We all left Dad, leaving by the back door and crossing over through the adjoining backyards. The Banks's went on in, leaving Joey and me on the back porch. As we faced each other, holding hands, there was a brilliant full moon lighting Joey's angelic face causing my heart rate to increase and leaving me totally breathless. Joey leaned in, and I met him half way. As our lips touched, I felt our souls connect.
"I better go in," Joey said as he broke the kiss.
"I love you, angel boy." I smiled and nodded.
"I love you too. Good night, Andy."
"Good night, babe."
He smile and went in, leaving me feeling like a million bucks. As I was walking back, the feeling Joey left me with had me smiling from ear to ear, and the joy from knowing that Joey loved me back just increased, and I couldn't hold it in any longer. I pumped my fist in the air and yelled at the top of my lungs, "YES!" My entire family now knew the truth and supported us. Who could ask for anything better?
I didn't sleep well that night at all. I had a nightmare and woke up from it drenched in cold sweat and screaming. I don't remember screaming, but Dad heard me, and came running in to check on me. I dreamt I was on High Rock and could see for miles and miles. On the horizon, I could see a gathering of dark clouds. As I turned and looked in any direction, all I could see were dark, ugly, greenish, clouds. Yet if I looked straight up, the sun was bright and warm overhead. As I looked around, the storm clouds seemed to be getting closer, and the wind was picking up. At first, I thought I saw rain falling from the clouds, but as the clouds neared, it looked more like fingers were reaching down from the clouds toward the ground. They danced from hilltop to hilltop, all the while closing in on me. The wind began to howl and get stronger and stronger. I could see the destruction these fingers were causing, as they got closer. It was then that I realized that these fingers were tornadoes. I was surrounded by tornadoes, and they were tightening the circle of destruction around me. I looked down at the foot of the mountain where Pine Hills was and saw tornado after tornado pass through the town I'd lived my whole life. I saw homes being torn apart. When one past over the Cherry Hills Outpatient Clinic, I swear that I could see glowing rocks spiral up into the funnel cloud.
The destruction that I was seeing wasn't the worst of it, for houses and towns could be rebuilt. I was filled with so much fear that it was like a poison, racing through my veins, causing my entire body to shake uncontrollably as I stood there paralyzed. I wasn't afraid that I would be hurt; rather that those I love were BEING hurt. The tornados continued to tighten their circle around me like a noose slowly tightening around my neck. Gone was the sun overhead. The sky was filled with boiling clouds as far as I could see. As the tornadoes began their climb up the mountain towards me, there was a sudden blast of blinding white light from above. I fell to the ground and covered my eyes from the explosion of light.
I opened my eyes, and took my first looked around. The sun was shining again, and the sky was a beautiful blue; not a cloud to be seen. However, when I looked down towards Pine Hills, I could see the scars left by the tornadoes. The school was gone, the churches ripped apart, and my own neighborhood was torn asunder. There was nothing but rabble where my house and Roger's should have stood.
Then there was a light again, not a bright as before, yet brighter than the sun light. Standing in the air, out in front of me, a figure seemed to be within the light. I then heard an angelic voice call to me.
"Fear not, for I stand with thee and yours."
That's when I jerked awake. Dad said I was calling out NO over and over again until I seemed to calm down before I woke.
Before Dad left, he made sure that I was okay, and told me that he would talk to me more at breakfast. It was only six a.m., but I knew that it was useless to try to get anymore sleep. I went ahead and started my morning routine. I knew I had to gather my thoughts for Dad, but I also knew I wouldn't have to work to remember that dream. I will never be able to forget it.
I was rattled. I have had more than my fair share of bad dreams before; but most of them had dealt with me losing my mom, and my fear of becoming an orphan, so this feeling wasn't totally unknown to me. Yet, I had never felt as alone as I did in that dream, not to mention completely helpless to protect everyone that I loved. Then at the end, I didn't understand the voice or the bright light.
When I rounded the corner, Dad was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper.
"How are you feeling, Andy?"
"I don't know. It was a weird dream."
"You have plenty of time, so sit down, and tell me about it," Dad said, as he pushed out the chair next to him at the table. I sat down and began to tell him about my nightmare.
After hearing the whole thing, Dad had me repeat the end of the dream to him a second time.
I watched my father's reaction as I did so. He was staring off into space listening to me. When I finished, he looked at me, smiled, and nodded.
"I know your dream was disturbing, but if it holds any deeper meaning, then the ending can only be interpreted as a good omen. Focus on that, and I'm sure you'll feel much better about it, okay?" Dad said as he leaned forward and patted me on the shoulder. "Go ahead and have breakfast, then I will take you boys to school."
I nodded, got up, got my breakfast, and ate in silence, all the while thinking over the horrific dream and Dad's interpretation. Thinking about the voice did make me feel better, but I couldn't forget the destruction.
I couldn't help but worry that something bad was coming our way and I didn't know if it could be stopped. A story I had been reading online, Clan Short – Memories, came to mind. The boys in the story had a saying; sometimes we need to go through bad things for good things to happen. Maybe this was one of those situations. I just wish there were some way to keep bad things from happening and still have good things happen.
As I was finishing breakfast, Dad had me call over and tell Roger and Joey to get ready, since we'd be leaving in five minutes. I wondered if I should tell them about my dream on the ride to school, but decided against it.
Dad dropped us off in front of school. I swallowed the fear that had not subsided and walked into the building with Joey and Roger.
Roger walked on without us when Joey stopped me at the door after we walked in.
"What's wrong Andy?" he asked, turning me to face him.
"I don't know." I sighed. "I just have a feeling something bad is gonna happen."
Joey looked me in the eye. "As long as we stand together, we have nothing to fear."
"What did you just say?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I said, as long as…" I interrupted him.
"I know what you said." I said a little harsh. "I'm sorry, Joey. I didn't mean to bite your head off, but this is just too weird and it kinda has me freaked out. It reminded me what a voice told me in my dream last night." I grabbed him by the arm, started walking us towards my locker, and I proceeded to tell him about the heavenly voice from my nightmare. When I finished, Joey gave me a weird look.
I didn't get a chance to explain further before I was shoved from behind into the lockers and put a two inch dent in one, with my head. As I shook the pain out of my head, I realized I was sitting on the floor with my back against the lockers, and blood was pouring down my face from a gash in my forehead. I looked up and saw JT had pinned Joey up against a locker, choking my boyfriend with his forearm. If the blood wasn't causing me to see red, the sight before me was now. Flanking JT were Jonas and Kevin, two of his lackeys from the football team.
None of them was paying any attention to me. I quickly jumped up before any of our attackers noticed, and I hit JT with all my might on the side of his head, knocking him to the floor. I was more than happy to return the favor for the blow I had been given. As I turned to face Jonas, from out of nowhere, Roger tackled him and started raining blows down on his face and body. That meant two out of the three bullies were now down which just left Kevin. I turned to take on Kevin; but all I saw was his back as he ran down the hall, as fast as he could. I turned my attention back to JT. He had now tried to beat Joey up twice and he had attacked me. I started for JT, who was still on the floor dazed. The blood from the cut on my head was starting to run into my eyes, stinging and serving to make me even angrier. I was just about to make him pay for attacking us, when I heard a commanding voice that I had no choice but to obey.
"Andy," Joey whispered from behind me. With my name spoken so softly, he had my full attention. Everything else was forgotten, I turned and faced him.
He shook his head and put his hand on my chest. The sympathy in his eyes broke my heart and immediately stilled my anger. He glanced at JT before he said anything more to me. "He's not to blame. He's only doing what he was told to do. I know his fear. I've lived it too. It's his father." Joey calmly walked over to JT and reached down his hand to help him up. "JT, I forgive you."
To say JT was as shocked as I was would be an understatement. At first, his eyes widened, his mouth hung open, and his lips trembled slightly. As JT took Joey's hand, the hatred and scorn his face had shown earlier, changed to one of peace and tranquility. Joey pulled him to his feet and glanced at Roger.
"It's okay now Roger. You can let him go. There won't be any more trouble from him today."
Roger released Jonas, but kept an eye on him. Jonas shook his head, bewildered, and then headed towards the door.
JT -was nervous, but he remained rooted to the spot, eyeing Joey up and down. Finally, the tension broke, and he asked, "Why?"
"Because I understand why you did it," Joey answered, placing a hand on JT's shoulder. "I didn't get hurt, but Andy did."
JT glanced at me. His body trembled. He turned his gaze to the floor out of sheer guilt. I'd never seen him show anything but anger. It felt like forever before he took a breath and said. "I'm sorry you were hurt. I didn't do it, but I'm the one that caused it." His gaze went back to the floor and his voice, barely louder than a whisper, reflected his remorse. "I'm sorry," He said.
This stunned me more than Joey's commanding voice or having my head shoved into a locker, but I knew I had to reply, and choose my words wisely.
"JT, we used to be friends a long time ago. I don't know what I did or what happened that caused us not to be friends." I paused, searching for the words, before continuing, "I trust Joey, and from what I've seen here this morning, I believe you mean it. You're forgiven and I hope we can be friends again," I said reaching out my hand. He cautiously took my offered hand and shook it just as Mrs. Moore came running up. She was a little out of breath, but quickly took control of the situation.
"What's going on here boys? I was told some guys were fighting."
I didn't want to lie, nor did I want JT in trouble at this point, so, I had to be careful how I worded my explanation.
"Mrs. Moore, as you can see no one is fighting. I lost my balance," 'Yeah right, with a lot of help,' I thought. "And I fell into the lockers and cut my head. I was just thanking JT for his help. Do you think I should go and see the nurse about my head?" I hoped that I had given Mrs. Moore enough information to let her know that this was settled and that she should let it go. She was known to be fair with students and concerned with how we all handled our problems. Besides, my head had begun to really hurt, and felt light headed.
She walked up to me, took my head in her hands, examined it carefully, and said, "I think you're quite right." She peered into my eyes. "Andy, how are you feeling now?"
" I'm a little dizzy and kinda in shock to be honest." I told her the truth, and I really just wanted to lie down.
Mrs. Moore paused a moment and glared at JT. She shook her head in dismay and turned to Joey, who was standing beside me. "Will you take him to the nurse's office and stay with him until she comes in?"
"We both will," Roger answered. She nodded in approval and chased the stragglers, who had stopped to watch, to their classrooms.
JT's expression of gratitude was genuine. "Thank you, Andy." There was no doubt that he meant it. This sure wasn't how I had expected my day to go, fighting and then making friends, with JT. I smiled and waved him off. "Forget it, JT."
"Come on." Roger put his arm around my waist and pulled me towards the nurse's office.
I was glad both Joey and Roger were escorting me. I felt a little dizzy now that the fighting had stopped. I would have hated to pass out on Joey, on the way to the nurse, if he had been by himself.
"You know we are going to talk about what happened this morning, don't you." I asked Joey.
"I don't know what to say, Andy, but if you feel we must, I'll try to explain, but not now. First we need to get you examined." He stiffened beside me and his voice was stronger than before. There was no denying my boyfriend was determined when he wanted to be.
I nodded and followed their lead. By the time we got there, I really did need the two of them to hold me up. My knees had turned to jelly during the long walk to the nurse's office and my vision had blurred. The office was open, but the nurse hadn't arrived yet. Roger and Joey laid me down on one of those hospital examination beds, like the one Joey sat on the first time we kissed. As soon as I lay my head on the pillow, I noticed the concern in Joey's face. Then the world around me darkened, and everything faded. Finally, blackness.
I became aware of being surrounded by darkness and a figure stood in front of me. It glowed brightly and radiated warmth.
"Michael Andrew Collins."
I couldn't see the lips move in the bright light that emanated from it. I had the feeling that this wasn't a dream, and I was expected to answer.
"Yes, sir?" I answered, as respectfully as I could.
"A time of trials is coming for thee. Thou hast strength of character and courage of the heart. Be strong of faith, for faith will see thee through all that comes against thee." It paused, and then as if it could see into my heart, it said, "God did not take thy mother from thee, it was her time."
"How… how did you know that I blamed God? I've never shared that with anyone, not even my dad."
"God hast heard thine prayers. He knows all things, and what is best for all of us. Sometimes we have to go through bad things for good things to happen."
I wasn't totally convinced with that answer, but I had accepted it when I read it in the Clan Short stories. I mean, it made sense the way it was explained in the story. So why couldn't I now? I decided to go with my heart. "Okay, I can believe that, so what do you want from me?"
I had the feeling that my answer had pleased it, whoever it was.
"Be thyself, and know that thou dost not stand alone. God moves through many people. Remember, God is known by many names by many people. God is spirit, and God is love."
The figure began to fade as it spoke those last words.
"Wait, don't go yet!"
"Thou canst stay here no longer, Andy. Thou hast much to do, and people who love thee are waiting. For now, have faith."
As I watched, the figure faded from sight, and I was alone in total darkness once again. Great, a talking light that talked in riddles. Well maybe not riddles, but it could have at least told me what was coming and what I was supposed to do about it.
The ground beneath my feet trembled, and I fell flat on my back. Someone called my name. In the distance. Closer. The voice of a woman.
"Andy, wake up."
My eyelids were heavy and they slowly drifted open. It took a moment to focus on the figure before me. Eventually I could make out Miss Pennington, the school nurse. She was concerned, and she stared nervously into my eyes. She waited a minute before speaking.
"Good, you're awake. Now you have to stay awake for me, okay. No more sleeping until we get you to the hospital." She reached out and took my pulse, ignoring my puzzled expression. A moment later, she was marking down everything on a sheet of paper she had on a clipboard.
"What happened?" I asked.
"You passed out as soon as we laid you down. You kinda scared us for a minute." Joey's voice seemed like a life preserver to me. A moment later, he came into view beside Miss Pennington. It was a relief to know he was there with me.
"I must have hit my head harder than I thought." I tried to smile.
"Nothing can hurt that hard head of yours too much," Roger joked. I could tell he was worried, but he was trying hard to put me at ease.
Just then, two EMT's walked in pulling a stretcher. I wasn't expecting that.
"Has anyone called my Dad?" I asked.
"He'll meet you at the hospital," Miss Pennington said, resting a hand on my arm.
After the EMTs had made me comfortable on the cot, they wheeled it out into the hallway with Joey and Roger behind me. Debbie, Timmy, Gary, Randy, and some other people were standing outside the nurse's door.
"Are you okay, Andy?" Debbie asked as I passed.
I smiled and gave her an okay sign. I didn't trust myself to speak. I hadn't expected this many people to be so concerned about me. One thing was for sure: the okay sign may have been faked, but the smile was for real. As they wheeled me down the hall to the ambulance, I heard the nurse tell everyone they needed to head to class.
Outside, one of the EMTs explained to Joey and Roger that they couldn't ride with me to the hospital. Roger was having none of that.
"Sir, there's no way we that aren't going with Andy," he said with a determined look. "Our parents told us we had to stick together. I fucked up this morning and walked away for just two minutes, and look what happened." Roger pointed at me on the cot. "That's Judge Collins's son and my best friend, so either we go with Andy, or we deal with the judge at the hospital. If you don't let us go with him, I'll be on the phone to Judge Collins before you leave the parking lot."
When the EMT looked at Joey, Joey nodded towards Roger and said, "What he said."
"Fine, let us get him in first and you two can ride back here with me." The EMT shook his head as he stared at Roger and Joey. The glare he shot them made it apparent that this wasn't something he normally would put up with. Roger and Joey were silent while the EMT registered my vitals.
After Joey and Roger had climbed into the ambulance the last thing I remembered was the mask being pulled over my mouth and nose, and someone mentioning that my vitals were crashing, and when I opened my eyes, I was standing in a large valley with a lake surrounded by green fields and tall, snow-capped mountains. I was at peace. I felt surrounded by love. The love flowed into me from everywhere, like the waters of a graceful river, on a warm summer day. The water in the lake was calm, and I could see the reflection of the mountains in it. A gentle breeze with heavenly smells calmed my soul.
"It's beautiful, is it not?"
I would know that voice anywhere; a voice that had always been there. After she lost her battle with cancer, I thought I would never hear it again. The voice of the only woman in the world I would always love. Mom. Pure unconditional love. A love I had missed so much these last few years. My vision blurred from the tears flowing down my cheeks.
"I've missed you so much!" I cried and fell into her open arms.
"I know baby. I've missed holding you like this." She rained kisses on the top of my head.
"Is this heaven?"
"In a way, it is. It's a place I can talk to you for a few minutes." She patted my back like she used to and gently hugged me to calm down.
"Then, to me, it is heaven. I have my mom back, even if it is just for a few minutes."
She ruffled my hair. "You're becoming a man, A Thaisce. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was rocking you in my arms and feeding you. And no you are as tall as I am."
One of the things I missed most about my mom was her calling me A Thaisce. It had been her private nickname for me since as far back as I could remember which always made me feel special. She told me once that it meant 'my treasure', and her father had called her the same nickname. It was nice to know it meant so much to her. Now, after three long years, I was hearing her call me that again and it made me feel ecstatic.
Even though I hadn't felt this good in, like, forever, and I have missed my mom like crazy, there had to be a reason that I was with her now, and Mom had always been honest with me, even during the roughest parts of her cancer.
"It's been three years, mom," I grinned, and then turned serious, "but why are we here?"
"My brave A Thaisce, you're always asking the hard questions. I'm so proud of you. We are here so I can prepare you for what's coming. You will soon be challenged. Just remember that you have been chosen to do this. It won't be easy, baby, but I have faith in you. God will help you through this."
"What? What can I do? I'm just a boy."
"Honey, God can take your weaknesses and make them your strengths. All things are possible through Him. He is everywhere and in all things. Know that you will always have help. There will be guides, sent by God, to guide you through the coming years. They will teach you and train you to be the man you were meant to be. Just remember that people know God by different names, like The Great Spirit, or Sky Grandfather. Trust those sent by God. You can tell them by their spirit, for you have the ability to know if they have a good spirit or a bad spirit. If their fruit is good, then they are good. Have faith in God, and He will protect you and provide for you. Then you can do the same for those you love."
I was nervous. I had come out to my father and the rest of my family, but Mom had died before I could tell her.
"You… you know about Joey and me?" I asked, averting my gaze for the first time.
"Yes, Andy, and I approve." She wrapped her arms around me. "A love that's pure, like the one you share with Joey, can never be wrong in the sight of a loving mother, and I love you so very much, A Thaisce." She hugged me tighter and tears washed my face when she accepted me.
"Andy, we don't have much longer," she said as we pulled apart. "Remember everything I've told you. Listen to your father, for he is wise and knowledgeable. Let him guide you when you aren't sure. Let Joey be your light in the darkness. He will guide your footsteps between right and wrong. Have faith in God, in your love for Joey, and his for you. And always remember that I love you, and I'm proud of you."
"Yes, Mom, I'll do as you ask. I really miss you, Mom. Will I see you again?"
She noticed the pleading in my eyes. "Only God knows the future, Andy. But I know one day, we will be together."
"I have so many questions, Mom. Are you alright? Are you happy?" I intertwined my hands with hers.
"Oh Andy, you have no idea how happy I am. I miss you and your father very much, but there is so much joy and happiness in heaven. Remember the Bible verse 'God is love?'" I nodded. "It's so true. Always remember that. Love overcomes all things." Her eyes had a little sadness in them. "When everything becomes dark and seems hopeless, call on God for help. He will answer."
I nodded again, afraid to speak.
"Our time is up," She said and kissed my forehead.
I wrapped my arms around her tightly. "I love you Mom. I will never forget you."
Her hug tightened. "I know baby. I love you too."
When she kissed my forehead a second time, darkness surrounded me again. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard beeping noises far in the distance, growing louder and louder. My eyes were closed, but through my eye lids I could see the light growing brighter. When I opened my eyes, the light blinded me and I quickly closed them.
"A Thaisce" is a Gaelic term of endearment meaning "[my] treasure"
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