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Beyond Salvation

by Mark Peters

Chapter 13

It was late when Dallas and his mother finally left us. We had all been talking through our situation and things were definitely looking better. The relationship between Dallas and me was beginning anew and as I lay in bed that night I felt that if there was going to be a new 'us', then there also needed to be a new 'me'.

Dallas was right. The front that I had presented to the world these last few years was just that, a front. I wasn't really a punk rocker type. Hell, sometimes I even listened to country music! The long hair could be a pain in the ass. And some of these body piercings might have appealed at one point, but their novelty was beginning to wear off. Their days were numbered… although the nipple rings – or at least one of them – was definitely staying!

I'd been acting out. I'd been doing things that I knew were deliberately against the values that those I cared about held dear, and yet somehow they tolerated it all. Were they okay with me testing the boundaries? Did they think I was just going through a phase or something?

I don't think I'll ever understand why my family hadn't come down on me like a ton of bricks, though I am grateful that they didn't, because chances are I would have rebelled even harder. As it was, I was given the opportunity to find my feet, and that is probably why I am still here today. I can tell you that through some of those dark times, as I mourned lost friendships, suffered at the hands of bullies, and hit rock bottom, I had thoughts that could have easily overwhelmed me.

But now, that was all in the past, and as I lay in bed that 'new me' mantra was all I could think about, and it was going to start first thing tomorrow.

When I finally accepted that reality, sleep then came to me, and while it had been brief, I felt all the better for it when I woke a few hours later. Friday morning dawned bright and clear and my state of mind finally seemed to match it. There were still details to work through, you know, to dot the i's and cross the t's and all that, but I was confident that the future was looking better, even if I knew that there were also some challenges in front of us.

After a shower, then pulling on my school uniform, I headed for the kitchen before pouring some juice, which I was just finishing by the time my parents finally emerged. I was ready to get going, so moments later, right on seven-thirty I kissed both my parents goodbye, and picked up the car keys from the counter.

'You want to tell us what's going on now?' mum asked. She had a smirk on her face, clearly surprised at me being on the move so early.

'Got to pick up Dallas for school, but I need to do something first,' I replied.

They both raised their eyebrows at me.

'Have a great day. Catch you guys later,' I said, before heading out the door, not wanting to let them know just what I was planning. Step one of my 'new me' plan was underway.

I arrived at our local shopping centre a short time later, finding a parking space close to a hair salon that I knew opened early every day. It gave workers the chance to get their needs catered to without having to take time out of their work day, and I knew it was a favourite with office workers and tradies. I didn't know if they would be busy at this hour or not, but was relieved when I found there was only one other customer when I arrived.

'Just pop straight into a chair, sweetie,' one of the girls said to me. 'I'll be right with you.'

I did as I was directed, giving a nod to the hunky tradie in the next chair as I did so. His dark hair was short and looked neat, and I liked the look of it. I liked the look of him as well, but I was taken, so too bad.

'So, what'll it be?' the girl asked when she came to me.

'Lop all this off please,' I replied. 'Can I get it like that?' I then asked, while pointing at the tradie.

'You sure about that?'

'Absolutely. It's time for some changes,' I answered.

'Your wish is my command,' she replied, as she draped a satin bib around me and then fastened it.

The tradie beside me gave me a wink and a thumbs up when I glanced his way. I smiled back at him.

Half an hour later the 'new me' walked out of there, definitely feeling like a brand new person. There was nothing fancy about the haircut, just short and shaped at the back, a little longer on top and swept to one side. Some product held it in place, and I was assured that they could do some more with it on the next visit if I wanted anything a little more fancy.

I felt good about what I had decided to do. I felt good about myself, for the first time in quite a while. I just hoped that others would see what I wanted them to see; that I was ready for change, and that didn't just mean in my looks. It meant in all aspects of my life, especially if I wanted Dallas to be beside me.

A short while later I pulled into the driveway at Dallas' house, got out of the car and walked up to the front door, before knocking.

From outside I could hear Dallas say, 'I'll get it,' then I heard him thumping his way up the hallway with the aid of his crutches.

When he opened the door we both seemed to be gobsmacked. He was standing there only in satin boxer shorts and nothing else, other than some fading bruises, as he looked me up and down, his mouth actually hanging open.

'What the fuck have you done, Jackson?' Dallas said.

'I… I t-thought you wanted…' I stammered, but before I could say anything more he reached out and grabbed my school shirt, then pulled me towards him, wrapping his arms around me and kissing me, right there on their front landing, in plain sight of anyone who might be driving past or looking this way.

When we separated he rested his forehead against mine. 'I didn't think you'd actually go through with it, like, right away. But I've got to say, that makes you look so hot, JJ,' was all he said.

'I'm glad you approve.'

'You better come inside while I finish getting ready for school.'

As we stepped inside and Dallas closed the door we heard his mother ask, 'Who was it, Dallas?'

'It's JJ, mum.'

'Already? What time is it? Am I running late?'

'No, mum. He's just early,' Dallas said, before turning and hobbling off towards his bedroom. 'C'mon, I need to get dressed and then grab a coffee.'

The way their house was laid out, the parents' bedroom was near the front of the house, but the other bedrooms were located closer to the rear. I assume that was so the 'rents could have some peace and quiet, far from where the kids hung out. Seemed like a reasonable idea, I guess. We walked through the doorway to the bedroom area, avoiding the kitchen, and I soon found myself sitting on Dallas' bed once more. The memory of his father's rage still seemed so raw that I half expected him to come charging back into the room.

I must have appeared tense, or worried, as Dallas sat down beside me and took one of my hands in his. 'He's not here,' he said softly.

'I know,' I replied. 'It's just…'

'You don't need to explain. You were treated badly when you were last in this house… and I don't mean just by my father. I promise I'm going to do better for you. Treat you better. I might not get it right all the time, but I'm going to try.'

'Thank you. I can't ask for anything more than that.'

'There is something I'm worried about though.'

'And what's that?'


'Yeah. Me too.'

'Any suggestions about what we do? How we deal with our friends?'

'I know mine won't be a problem. They already know how I feel about you, and they will defend us if necessary. Your friends, on the other hand, still want to eat me alive. I don't want you to have to confront them over me, or for you to have to pick or choose who you are going to hang with… you play sport with those guys after all.'

'Won't be doing that for a while though.'


'And maybe I won't be again.'

'Don't say that. That's who you are… it's what you do…'

'Maybe. But maybe I also need to study harder. Next year will be our last year of high school and my grades aren't brilliant, so maybe next year I'll need to concentrate on the books rather than the sports field? And get some help from a sexy, nerdy brainiac.'

'Okay, but we've got to get through the rest of this year first, even if there isn't much left of it.'

'Okay, yeah. I get that,' he replied, as he got to his feet, with something of a struggle.

I watched him as he pulled out some clean clothes, applied a deodorant stick to his underarms, and then dropped his shorts. My eyes must have been bugging out of their sockets when he half turned to face me, standing there in all his glory, his chubbed-up cock in full view.

'You may as well get used to it,' he said, with a smirk on his face, adding, 'You're going to see a lot more of this,' as he slapped his shapely buttocks.

'I can only dream,' I replied.

With some effort he pulled on some underwear while leaning back against a cupboard, giving me an eyeful as he did so. They were a pair of dark blue boxer briefs that clung to those shapely buttocks just right and held his bulge in place perfectly, then his school shirt, but without buttoning it up as yet, before picking up his school pants and hobbling over to the bed and dropping down beside me.

'These are a bit harder to get on,' he said, as he reached down and pulled one leg of his pants over the leg that wasn't plastered, then tried the other leg, but only seemed to get tangled up, before he fell backwards on the bed in frustration.

Yeah, the pants were clearly a longer and more complicated problem with his cast compared to the jocks.

'Let me help,' I said, as I got to my feet and started to try and untangle the mess he had somehow managed to create. While holding up his plastered leg I manage to twist his pants back to where they should be and started pulling them over the plaster, just as his mother walked through the open door of his bedroom.

We both froze and looked at her.

'Well, this is certainly different. Aren't you teenagers usually trying to rip each other's clothes off, instead of putting them on?'

'Very funny, mum. You know how much trouble I've been having these past few days since they put this thing on me.'

'Yes, I know, Dallas. So does this mean that JJ will be coming to help you every morning from now on?'

'Now there's a thought!' Dallas replied, laughing.

'Oh, and I love the haircut, JJ. You look very dashing.'

'Thank you, Mrs Pearce. It was way past time for a change.'

'Yes, I think you might be right. Anyhow, I need to get to work. Thank you for picking Dallas up, JJ. I hope today goes well for you boys.'

Before we could even respond she turned and left us, and moments later we heard the back door of the house close, as Dallas and I just looked at each other.

With his pants now over the plaster Dallas struggled to his feet and pulled them all the way up, before allowing me to button his shirt, starting with the bottom button first and working my way up. The expression on his face as I did so was one of wry amusement, but when I finished fastening the top button I was staring straight into his eyes, which were boring into mine as I reached up and cupped his cheek on one hand. Then, before he could react, I leaned forward and kissed him.

'As much as I want you to… don't start anything else, JJ. There's somewhere we need to be.'

'I know, but I just wanted to kiss you and look at you before we left for school. We probably won't get to see much of each other throughout the day.'

'I know. But I don't know what we're going to be able to do about that.'

'We'll think of something,' I replied. 'Now tuck yourself in and zip yourself up. If you make me do it something might just get started. And we can't have that.'

As we had plenty of time up our sleeve we decided to detour via McDonald's on the way to school for some coffee and a hash brown, as neither of us had had breakfast at home.

'I've been thinking,' I said to Dallas, as we sat in the waiting bay for our order.

'About what?'

'School… and what people might think about us,' I replied. 'They are bound to ask why I'm picking you up and driving you around… so maybe it's time to just say that we're friends again? I mean, you don't have to say we're besties, or anything more than that, but if we're friendly and talking to each other, and you're not treating me like a leper any more, then at least some of your friends might eventually warm to the idea. I wouldn't count on Timmy and his henchmen being amongst those, but some of the others might be okay with it.'

'Yeah, maybe.'

'Life might become bearable at least.'

'I think that the fact that you're cleaning up your act will help too.'

'You mean, if I'm not so out there and actually try to fit in or something.'

'Or something,' he said with a grin.

Just then a McDonald's worker came out the door carrying our order and handed it over. I passed the cardboard tray over to Dallas, then started the car and pointed it in the direction of our school.

'What's the bet that when you get to school and they see you with the new image, the short haircut and no rock 'n roll t-shirt visible under your shirt, at least some of them start treating you differently? Maybe not straight away, today, but soon.'

'I hope you're right,' I replied. 'It would be good to have the pack off my back and be treated like a regular person again.'

'I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that happens,' Dallas said, as he rested a hand on my leg. 'Anyone gives you shit they'll have me to answer to.'

I knew that Dallas would do that for me. What I was worried about was what might happen if someone like Timmy, even though he's a friend of Dallas', refused to back down and listen to, or respond to Dallas. What then?

As I drove through the front gates of the school and found a parking space, I figured we were about to find out.

Buses were dropping students off on the road out the front. The car park was starting to fill. Kids who walked to school or rode their bikes were starting to roll in. We still had about half an hour before we needed to be in home room, so we just sat there and finished our hash browns and coffees. It was so good to just be spending time with Dallas again, just as friends, with nobody to judge us.

I could get used to this, I thought.

But then the morning came barreling in on us, as there was a loud banging on the back of the car. Both of us twisted in our seats to see what the cause of the noise was, or should I say, who was the cause, only to see a grinning Pete looking at us through the rear window.

He came around to my side and yanked open the driver's door.

'Breakfast! Great!' he said.

'Fuck off, Pete. It's too early for that shit! Why are you in such a good mood? You get laid last night or something?'

He was about to say something, but then he took a good look at me, as if he had just really noticed me for the first time.

'JJ! What the fuck have you done? You've… well… Jesus Christ!' he exclaimed, just as Merry came up beside him and threaded an arm through his. She too was about to say something, but then looked at me, as I climbed out of the car. The shock on her face was exquisite. I was certainly generating some reactions this morning.

While this was happening I heard a disturbance behind us and turned to see Timmy Baker pull the passenger side door of my car open, before Dallas climbed out and stood up, looking slightly unsteady on his crutches.

'What the fuck are you doing travelling with him?' Timmy said.

'Mind your own business, Baker. I'll travel with whoever I want to travel with. He happens to be a friend of mine, so get used to it,' Dallas rebuked him.

Baker stepped back, waving his hands in front of his as if trying wipe them of any wrongdoing, bumping into his two shadows, Macca and Thommo as he did so.

'Whatever, dude,' he said. 'Just didn't think you'd ever stoop so low.'

The look Dallas shot his way was sizzling.

Dallas turned back to face me. We were looking at each other over the roof of the car.

'Talk later?' he said.

'Yeah, I'll see you around,' I replied.

With a nod Dallas turned and headed off towards home room, his henchmen in tow. I watched them for a few moments, then turned to face my friends.

They both started on me at once, talking over each other, asking incomprehensible questions, until finally I held up my hands and said, 'Just STOP!'

Abruptly the noise was silenced.

'Okay then. That's better. Now, first things first…' I said, while looking directly at Pete. 'Did you, or did you not, get laid last night?'

His mouth popped open and his face went pale, before finally he looked sheepishly in Merry's direction. I had my answer.

I glanced at Merry, only to receive a slap up the side of my freshly shorn head.

'Joel Jackson. That's none of your damned business!' she scolded me.

I just grinned at her. Yep, I definitely had my answer.

'Now,' she continued, 'Just what the fuck have you done?'

'I made a pact with the devil,' I said. 'If I clean up my act, I get his soul.'

'No! Fucking! Way!' she gasped. 'Really?'


'I want to know everything! Including what happened to this,' she said, as she ruffled my hair.

'Let's just say I had an eventful evening, much like yourselves really… but not as exciting, or fulfilling. I'll explain it all later, okay, but don't you think we'd better get to home room first?'

To reach our home rooms we had to climb the steps to the first floor balcony, which ran along the length of the Senior's building, then enter the hallway which fronted the classrooms. It seemed that yet again I was the centre of attention as I walked the halls on the way to home room with my friends. People stopped and stared as we passed, their expressions ranging from mild amusement to surprise. As we passed Hollywood's office he was just coming out into the hallway, he stopped as we passed, then did a double take.

'Joel Jackson! Is that really you?' he asked.

I stopped and looked his way, smiling.

'You've changed,' Hollywood said.

'They say a change is as good as a holiday, sir.'

'Well, good for you. Someone has to keep us on our toes. You know where to find me if you need to talk.'

'Thank you. I appreciate that.'

With a nod he dismissed us, then turned and headed for his home room.

'No doubt about you, JJ. You sure know how to grab people's attention,' Pete said beside me.

'It's not really intentional,' I replied.

'Yeah, whatever,' Pete said, chuckling as he did so.

When we reached our home room, after dumping our bags in our lockers and retrieving just those books that were needed, we found Dallas and his hangers-on were already there and seated. He gave me a nod as we entered the room, I smiled in return, but then noticed Timmy giving me the evil eye and glanced away. Moments later when I looked back in their direction, while taking a seat beside Pete, I noticed Dallas frowning at him. It was gratifying to see that it looked like Dallas wasn't going to just let Timmy get away with whatever he wanted. Was Dallas beginning to set some boundaries? I certainly hoped so.

The rest of the day went pretty much to script, though there definitely seemed to be some change in the attitude of my fellow students towards me. I copped some friendly ribbing about my makeover, but there was nothing negative about it. There seemed to be less hatred pointed my way, and perhaps just a tad more curiosity than I had expected, though little was said to my face. The peripheral conversations that seemed to always be going on around me… you know the ones where they talk about you, but not directly to you, but they still want to make sure that you've heard what they want you to hear… well they continued, and gave me just about all the information I needed. Even after just one day of this 'new me' shit, the tide seemed to be turning.

Fucking amazing!

At lunch time the three of us were sitting on the grass near the sports oval, somewhere where I knew we could talk without being overheard, when we saw Dallas and Timmy and about three or four of their footballing mates walking along the path in front of our building. They were laughing and jostling amongst themselves, as they often did, and were about to climb the steps up to the first floor, where our home rooms and lockers were, when I noticed Dallas stop and look my way, causing the others to stop also.

We stared at each other across the lawns for what seemed like an eternity, and if his thoughts were anything like those that were bouncing around inside my head right now, I can tell you they would have been centred around how hard it was going to be to watch each other every day from a distance, how hard it was going to be to not touch each other, or say things to each other that the pack might pounce upon. The last thing I wanted was for Dallas to cop heat for being my friend, or have anyone in his friendship group find out that he and I were more than just friends, so it was important that we keep a distance, even if only just at school.

As his friends moved around him and climbed the steps, Dallas finally seemed to snap back to the present. He smiled at me and then shook his head, before he then followed them, one step at a time, struggling slightly with his crutches on the steps.

Throughout the morning, I had gradually filled in Pete and Merry on the events of last night and had sworn them both to secrecy. I knew that they could both be trusted, but as this new relationship between Dallas and me was still a work in progress, the need to tread lightly was vital if we were to avoid total disaster.

'So, being an asshole runs in the family then?' Merry had said.

'Please don't do that!' I said to her. 'Just like the rest of us, he has had things he needed to keep to himself, and just like the rest of us he developed ways of being able to cope. I didn't understand it at the time, but I do now. In a way it was exactly the same thing that I had been doing, only instead of acting out, like me, he was keeping it bottled up, making sure that it didn't get out there.'

'Sounds to me like you're just making excuses for him, JJ.'

'Not at all, Merry. I didn't understand it at first either. But now it all makes perfect sense to me.'

'And what about moving forward?' Pete asked. 'How do you plan on keeping your relationship a secret in this place. Aren't you worried that sooner or later one of you will stuff up? One of you will say something, or do something, that lets the cat out of the bag?'

'I'm scared shitless about that happening,' I replied. 'But for now, all we've got to do is get through the last few weeks of this school term and get to the end of the year. After that the pressure will be off and while we're on holidays for Christmas we can work something out then.'

'I just hope you know what you're doing, JJ?' said Merry.

Later in the day, once classes had finished and we had collected our bags and were heading outside, I was stopped by Hollywood in the hallway, right outside his office.

'You got a minute?' he asked me.

'Sure,' I replied, then turning to my friends I said, 'Meet me at the car in a few?'

They agreed and I followed Hollywood into his office, where I found Dallas already in residence, standing just inside the doorway and leaning on his crutches, with his back against the wall.

'Hey,' he said to me, as Hollywood closed the door.

'What's going on?' I asked Hollywood.

'Nothing serious, JJ. I saw Dallas passing by and figured you'd be along soon, so I just thought it would be a good chance to check in with you guys.'

I let out a breath that I didn't even realise I had been holding inside me, then leaned back against the wall, beside Dallas. Instantly his hand reached out for mine, almost as if he was looking for some support. This was a first.

'I can see things are different… and in more ways than one,' Hollywood said as he rested his bum against his desk, his arms folded in front of him. 'And I take it you're not going public with this?'

'Fuck no!' Dallas said firmly.

Hollywood looked at me, to see what my reaction was.

'What he said,' I added. 'There's no way we can let it be known that we're together. Things are scary enough as it is.'

'How do you mean?'

'Well, first there's Dallas' father, but hopefully things will settle down there now. Then there's everything that's happening here at school. I know my friends are cool with us…'

'So they know then?'

'Yeah. It's Dallas' friends that I'm not so sure about.'

'And what do you think, Dallas?' Hollywood asked.

'Some of them would be okay if they knew about us, I think… but others may not be so cool.'

'Like Timmy Baker?' Hollywood suggested.

'Yeah. Like him. But if push comes to shove, we'll handle him. I know what he's like.'

'Okay then. Well, I just wanted to say again that if you need anything… someone to talk to… someone to take action if it's needed, then come and see me, okay?'

I looked at Dallas and we both nodded.

'Thank you, sir,' I said to him.

'Okay, get out of here,' he said to us, as he opened his office door. 'I'm sure there's other places where you'd rather be and things you'd rather be doing.'

We both grinned at him, then stepped out into the corridor.

'You want to meet me at the car?' I said to Dallas. 'Probably not a good idea us both leaving together. I need to take a piss, so I'll catch up.'

'Sure thing,' he replied, offering his fist as he did so. I bumped him, then I set off for the toilets, which were at the far end of the corridor.

As I made my way past the few stragglers who were on their way home it felt good knowing that we had people on our side. It seemed the tide was slowly turning in as much as how people like me were being treated, not just here in school, but in the outside world as well. For years I had lived in fear of being found out, of having people treat me like some kind of monster, but recently, despite there being some individuals who seemed to still be stuck in another time, especially right here at school, things were beginning to feel as if they were changing.

Pushing through the door to the male toilets these thoughts were still mulling around in my head when I was suddenly confronted with some familiar sounds. A moist, slurping kind of sound that wasn't difficult to mistake for anything other than what it was, followed quickly by a forced whisper of, 'What was that,' and another of, 'Shut up!'

The first voice sounded younger and I didn't recognise it. The second voice did seem familiar though.

Smiling to myself I quickly back-pedalled and left the bathroom, allowing the door to close quietly, then retreated to my locker, as I tried to make sense of what I'd just heard. Who the hell would be stupid enough, or horny enough, to do that while still at school, especially as school was only just out.

As I tried to decide what to do, whether I should get the hell out of there, or perhaps wait for the participants to emerge of their own accord so I could see who they were, I opened my locker and pretended to rummage around as if I was looking for something. I was curious, but I was also mindful that whoever they were they deserved the chance to live their own lives without having something like this hanging over them. It wasn't that long ago when I was that boy, fearful of being discovered. And I knew exactly how I had felt when I had been discovered. It wasn't a nice feeling.

In the end I did what was right, I closed my locker door and started back down the corridor.

By the time I reached the doorway to the balcony I heard a noise a fair way behind me and footsteps in the corridor, but I dared not look back. They deserved their privacy, their moment.

When I made it to the bottom of the steps and started for the car I sensed movement behind me and felt compelled to take a glance back over my shoulder, seeing two boys emerge from the building onto the balcony at the top of the steps. I recognised them but simply kept going, choosing to not even acknowledge them. On reaching the car I found Dallas leaning against the passenger-side door, with Merry standing in front of him, pointing a finger at him and saying something I couldn't quite make out at first, but I soon heard the tail-end of the lecture.

'… if you hurt him, Dallas, I swear to god I'll…' she said to him, almost poking him in the chest.

I looked at Pete, who was standing a few steps away, not quite knowing what to say or do, then at Dallas' face, which was looking a bit shell-shocked.

Stepping up to Merry I quickly placed a hand over her finger. Now it was her turn to look shocked, as she hadn't seen me approach.

'Are you threatening my boyfriend, Merry?' I asked quietly.

'What? No, I was just…'

'Just shut up, Merry. He's not going to hurt me, no matter what you might think.'

'How can you be so sure?' she demanded to know.

'Because I won't let him,' I replied, finally knowing in my own heart that I was no longer the insecure kid who cowered at the slightest threat.

I liked this new me!

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