Chapter Fourteen

Carys arrived early at school on Monday, hoping to avoid some of the hallway mob scene. She went to the locker commons to get books from her locker and stash her jacket. Her locker door was difficult to open. Once it did open, she stood there and stared, then gingerly reached out a finger and touched the solid mass of foam. She was still staring when David walked up behind her.

"What the hell! Ah, shit, Carys. This is not funny."

Carys threw the books she'd brought from home on the floor. "Please stay here and keep people away from this, David. I need to go to the Counseling Office."

She walked to the office, trying not to think. Just do what I have to do. She went through the door into the office suite and said to the first person she saw, "Is Sandy Meechum here? I'm Carys Douglas. I need to talk to her. Now. Something else has happened."

A woman came out of an inner office on hearing Carys.

"I'm Sandy. What's going on?"

Carys looked at her, took a deep breath, and said, slowly, without emotion. "I arrived at school this morning, and went to my locker to get my books. I opened the door, with difficulty, and found that since I left on Friday someone had filled the locker with construction foam. You know, the stuff that's used to glue boards together and fill holes? It's one solid mass."

Sandy let out a large sigh and swore under her breath. She turned to the woman at the desk, "I need to go look at this Helen. If my 7:30 comes in, please tell her I may be a little late. Please call Security. Ask them to go to the locker commons. Call the Police, too. Tell them we have some minor vandalism and a possible hate crime here. Come on Carys."

Carys and Sandy walked quickly back to the locker commons. As they neared the area they could hear crowd noises.

"Oh, hell!" said Sandy, "Just what we need. I hope Security gets here soon."

They made their way through the crowd to Carys's locker. David was still standing there, along with two other GSA members. Off to one side Linda stood with her usual following of smirkers.

Sandy called for quiet and spoke in a loud voice, "If you're standing around gawking, please go somewhere else. If you need to get something from your locker, do it, and leave. I have called Security, and the Police."

She spoke more softly to David and the GSA members. "Thanks for keeping people away from this mess. Would one of you stay to walk Carys to her first class? The rest of you, please go on to your own classes." David stayed.

Sandy started to speak to Carys, who had slipped her backpack off and unzipped the large pocket. Carys shook her head to stop Sandy. She took a book from her pack and added it to the pile she'd dropped in front of her locker. Then she pulled the paper she'd finished Saturday night from her pack and handed it to Sandy.

"Please give this to Mrs. Blake. This is the last required paper I have to write. If there are any other requirements I have not fulfilled, please let me know, but I am walking out the front door right now, and I am not coming back."

She turned to David. "I'm sorry, David. I just cannot take it any more. Tell the GSA I'm sorry. Tell Linda to put her head in a toilet and flush it!"

Carys shouldered her pack, walked toward the door, and did not look back. Sandy decided to let her go. She knew from talking with Anne Barton last week that Carys was probably headed to her house. She'd call and check once she was done with this mess. Just then Security arrived.

Carys continued walking until she came to Jami's house, though later she could recall nothing of how she got there. She rang the bell and stood on the step.

Anne opened the door.

"Carys? Oh, no, not again! What's happened now?"

"I did what you said to do. I went to the Counseling Office and asked for Sandy. Then I gave her my last paper. I am not stepping foot in that building again. If they don't let me graduate, I'll do a GED. I don't care. I just don't care."

By the end of her statement Carys was talking with a clenched jaw and her face was turning red.

"Oh, damn. Why, why, why?" Anne put an arm around Carys and led her into the house. "Jami! Jami!"

"Mom! What is it?

"Carys is here!"

Jami pretty much slid down the stairs, saw Carys, and started swearing. She ran to Carys and put her arms around her.

"What happened, honey?"

"When I opened my locker this morning it had been filled with construction foam. Totally solid. They'll have to chisel it out if they want to use that locker again."

"Shit. What total assholes!"

"It doesn't matter, Jami. I'm not going back. Ever. I am not setting foot in that building again. It's not worth it. If they give me my diploma, fine. If not, I'll do it some other way, or I'll sue the bastards."

Anne let out a large sigh. "Jami and Carys, I'm going to the school to talk to Sandy. I'll call Ted on my way and ask him to come home as soon as he can, and I'll call your parents, also, Carys and let them know where you are, in case the school calls them. Stay here. Just try to calm down."

"Mom. You don't look very calm, yourself."

"I'm not. I'm mad as hell. But I'll be okay." She picked up her keys and cell phone from the hall table and headed through the kitchen to the garage.

Jami turned to Carys. "I'm so sorry this happened. It's your last week at school, isn't it?"

Carys shook her head. "I wasn't even that surprised, Jami. I knew something awful would happen this week, I just didn't know what, or when. Now the suspense is over. So is high school, may it rest in peace."

* * *

The school agreed that it would be best for Carys to not return for the few remaining days of class, and her teachers all agreed that she had finished her required work. Whether Carys would actually attend her graduation was something yet to be worked out between Carys and her parents and the school.

Caitlin was furious when Carys told her what had happened. She remembered her high school days fondly, and was outraged that the school wasn't doing a better job of promoting diversity and tolerance.

"They can only do so much, Cait," said Carys when she called her sister later that morning. "The problem is that it's still socially acceptable to bash queers. Kids hear their parents do it, they read it in the letters and opinions in the newspaper, they hear it on talk radio and in songs and they hear it in church. A few banners and pep talks at school can't counter all of that. It takes generations to change people's attitudes. In the meantime, no one is going to send troops to schools to protect the queer kids. Instead the government is busy trying to outlaw gay marriage forever."

"Yes, I can vote now, and you better believe it won't be for the damned Republicans! Not that the Democrats are that much better, but there is no real third choice in our sorry excuse for a political system."

"I don't know about graduation. I'd rather skip it, but I suppose I should show up just so I can flip Linda the finger."

"A rainbow cap and gown? Are you serious? Can you really find me one? That would be so awesome!"

"Even if you can't, thanks for the idea. Just thinking about it makes me feel better. I am so glad you are so cool about all this, Cait!"

"Okay. Love you, too. Do you want to talk to Jami?"

Carys handed the cellphone to Jami, then sprawled back on the floor, where she was reading scripts and making notes. Derick had contacted her and asked if she would be interested in being his assistant director and stage manager for the full show he hoped to direct. She had said yes immediately and was helping him select a script to propose to the Board of Directors at Riverfront.

After a while Carys stood up to stretch, and walked over to drape herself on Jami, who was looking at the Between The Lines web page.

"Pride March is two weeks from Saturday, Car. I assume we're going to fit that into our busy schedule?"

"Is the sun rising tomorrow? Of course we're going!" She peered over Jami's shoulder. "Oh, look. There's a public commitment ceremony."

"Yes, there is. Are you suggesting we're ready for that?"

"To make a public commitment? I am, if you are. It sounds like great theater."

"Shouldn't we make a private commitment first, Car?"

"Like what, blood sisters? You have a knife handy?"

"Like something with which your parents might possibly consent to be involved."

"Oh, crap. I suppose we are pushing them fast enough as it is."

"I think so. So let's just march and hold hands, the three of us."

"Okay. What? The three of us? What three of us?"

"I just mentioned it to Caitlin and she said she'd fly back for the weekend, to march with us."

"Just like that? I never knew my sister was so impulsive."

Jami closed the browser and leaned back in the chair, giving Carys a kiss. "Your sister sounds like the same kind of person my mom is. I'm looking forward to meeting her."

"You know, now that you mention it, I think she is a lot like your mom. I wish we lived closer. I get along with her so much better than I get along with my parents." She frowned.

"Hey, no frowning allowed. How about some cuddles?" They playfully dragged each other to the bed and covered up with a blanket.

Carys had formalized the idea of cuddles as a non-stressful alternative to their infrequent approaches to actual sex. The rules were simple: kissing and touching and bare skin were okay, but neither tried to excite the other past the point of no return. They needed, and cherished, the intimacy these cuddle sessions provided.

They didn't talk for a while. Kissing and touching and playing with each other's bodies was more important than anything they could say in words. This was special, their own private bond.

"So, my wonderful, fantastic, extraordinarily beloved Jami, what else have you been talking to my sister about?"

"Oh, all kinds of things. Interesting stories about you as a baby. What you did to her dolls with your action figures. Her failed attempts to convince you to be a stereotypical girl child. The time you beat up the boy next door because he said girls couldn't fight."

"Oh, my God! Are you serious?"

"Absolutely. We both love you. It's fun."

"I suppose that's fair. I've had some interesting conversations with your mother."

"Really? That's cool. I'm glad you two get along so well."

"So Cait said she'd march with us? Huh."

"She says she'll wear my Hermaphrodites with Attitude shirt if I'll loan it to her."

"I am beyond amazed. I don't suppose she's going to dye her hair in rainbow colors?"

"I could ask."

"No! Please, I don't think I could deal with my older sister being so weird."

"I could dye my hair, and wear my riot grrrl outfit?"

At that point the cuddle turned into a tickle session.

* * *

Jami and her parents picked up Carys early on the first Saturday in June to drive to Ann Arbor for Jami's graduation. As soon as Carys climbed in the back of the Barton's minivan and slid the door shut she felt like a drowning swimmer who had made it to the surface again.

"I am so looking forward to spending the day with you guys!"

Anne turned in her seat to look at Carys. "I take it things are somewhat tense at your house, with your graduation Thursday and your open house next weekend?"

"If my mom doesn't melt down completely it will be a wonder to me. She is obsessed with all these weird concerns that I don't even understand. I mean, cripes, if it were up to me I'd order a bunch of bagels and pizza and pop and have people sit on towels in the back yard and tell jokes. If it rains, they could grab everything and sit in the garage. End of planning. Thank God Caitlin gets here tomorrow! I just want it all to be over."

"It will be, soon enough," said Ted, waiting to pull out into traffic. "We are certainly not sorry to be giving the whole open house thing a miss for Jami. But speaking of food, we stopped at the bakery as we left the house. There are some muffins and Danish in the bag there. The cooler behind the seat has apple and orange juice in addition to pop, and I have a large thermos of coffee up here."

They ate and talked and laughed. The one-hour trip to Ann Arbor went by very quickly. Carys had been to Ann Arbor a few times, but didn't know her way around. "So where is your graduation taking place, Jami?"

"At the school. They run a regular day school, too, with its own buildings and campus. Well, it's not a regular school, it's an alternative school, or free school. But it's a physical place. I'm in what they call the home-based education program. They have a home-schooling conference most years at graduation time. This year it's back in Ann Arbor again."

"I know what home-schooling is, at least so far as you are concerned. What's an alternative school, or what did you say, a free school? Is it just a charter school, like the ones in Lansing?"

"Not exactly. This school dates back way before that, to the alternative school movement of the sixties. That movement actually goes back even further. The famous Summerhill school in England dates to 1921, and the philosopher Bertrand Russell and his first wife founded a free school in England in 1927.

"The basic idea is that people will learn what they need to learn whenever they feel like learning, so long as the resources are available. There's very little structure and few expectations. It's more a way to open up a free space for learning."

"You mean you just do what you want for twelve years?"

"Well, yes. Toward the end, if you want to actually graduate and have them certify that you know the same things as someone who graduates from a state sponsored school, you have to write a few essays and do some reports. But Carys, think about it. What have you really learned in school? How much of the time you've spent in school have you actually learned anything? Did you do it when you were supposed to do it, or when you wanted to do it?"

"Like what I learned by standing in front of a locker filled with construction foam by people who have brains that a hamster would turn down?"

Jami grimaced. "How about before all that started?"

She thought a moment. "I agree that most of the time kids spend in school is a waste, so far as learning anything. You go to school when your parents go to work and you try to stay until they get home. It's always seemed to me the main function of school was a place for kids to be when no one was at home."

"Exactly. Everyone is divided into little groups so they're easy to control and given tasks to keep them busy. Then they're given a zillion tests so they think there's some higher reason behind it all."

"So alternative school people just play and do what they want?"

"Basically, yes. At least at the younger years. What is play? It's learning how to do things. What else is a child supposed to do?"

"What about learning to read and write?"

"And do arithmetic? It happens when a person needs to do something. If you want to read books, play board games, do stuff on the computer, you'll learn to read. It's not that hard, in fact it's easy if you don't force people to do it at some arbitrary time just because the school plan says that's what they do that year. People will pick up writing and math and other skills the same way.

"The thing about traditional school is that there is this narrow window, first and second grade, when you're supposed to learn to read and write. If you don't, then never again are you offered the opportunity to do so. You're simply a failure for the next ten years."

"I suppose so."

"How many of your former fellow students can read or spell or write or do math or science well after twelve almost full time years of effort?"

"Surprisingly few, I'll admit."

"Exactly. My dad teaches at State. He dreads the freshman classes, not because he doesn't like the students, but because many of the kids coming out of high school these days are almost illiterate. Not everyone. The people who motivate themselves learn more, but the ones who have only done what they've been forced to do can barely write a coherent paragraph. I've seen the stuff they turn in for papers. It's incredible.

"The worst part of it is that most of them haven't learned the one absolutely critical skill. They haven't learned how to learn. In a world that's changing as rapidly as ours is, that's criminal. It just boggles the mind to think of all these people living in this high-tech society and they are clueless about how it works and how to make it work the way they want it to. It's as bad as any of the dystopias, if you step back and look at it."

"We're a long way from 1984."

"Are we really? There are cameras everywhere now. Most of them aren't under government control, but there is a very thin line separating us from that possibility. Most people are so ignorant of technology they would never notice if we crossed that line. Most of the media, almost all of our records, are digital. They can be altered. It's already happened, that major news stories have been based on faked photos and altered data. It's scary, Carys."

"You're kind of preaching to the choir, here, Jami. I have kind of noticed of late that there's a little less freedom in this country than I thought there was, before."

"Before you came out?"

"Yes." She stared out the window for a moment. "I assume we have to behave ourselves at this graduation thing?"

"Definitely. Don't set the trash cans on fire, or pick up cats by their tails and swing them against the walls. Sticking swords in people would be right out, so leave your weapons in the van."

Carys laughed. "You know what I mean."

"Car, we won't be the only openly queer kids there. What kind of school would ask you to hide such an important part of yourself? That's crazy."

"Yeh, it is." She was thinking of that shy girl, Kathy, and how she must be feeling after she heard about all that had happened to Carys. Kathy still had another year in that hell hole.

Jami noticed Carys go silent. "What are you thinking about?"

"Kathy. She has another year to go. I don't even dare contact her to offer to help. It so sucks to be a queer kid."

"Yes, it does. That's an important thing to try to change, and people are trying to change it. But it's not a problem for us, today."

"So it's okay if we hold hands today?"

"Absolutely. And you'd better give me a kiss after the ceremony."

Carys leaned toward Jami. "I think I can bring myself to do that. Maybe we should practice?"

Jami started tickling Carys. Fortunately they arrived at their destination before things got too far out of hand.

* * *

Caitlin and her family arrived the next day, Sunday afternoon. She insisted on renting a car at the airport and driving to her parent's house, saying she knew how busy they were.

When they arrived, Carys ran to Caitlin and grabbed her in a bear hug. "Oh, Cait! I've missed you so much!"

"Me, too, Car. You're taller than me, do you know that? You always insisted you'd grow up to be the really big sister."

Carys realized she was looking down slightly at Caitlin, who was, as always, stylishly trim. "Gosh, I guess I am. But you'll always be my big sister."

"I'm sorry I couldn't come soon enough to go with you to Jami's graduation. When do I get to meet Jami?"

Their mother, waiting to give Caitlin her own more subdued hug, scowled. "You know about Jami?"

"Well, of course I know about Jami, Mom. I've been exchanging email with her and talking with her on the phone for weeks. She sounds like a super person. I'm very happy for you both, Car."

"Caitlin! You talk as if Carys was engaged to be married."

"Mother, I very much wish that Carys and Jami were able to be legally married. We'll talk about this. It's the main reason I'm here for an entire week."

"I'll go call Jami and let her know you're here, Cait. Mom, she can come over for dinner, right?"

"Well, I was hoping this would be a family dinner."

"Good, I'll tell her to come on over," said Carys, deliberately misunderstanding. She said hello to Caitlin's husband, Martin, who she barely knew, and to their two-year old twins, who were looking wide-eyed at all the strange big people.

Carys plopped to the floor in front of the twins. "Hi guys. I know you don't know who I am, but I'm your cousin Carys. Once you get settled, I'll show you some magic tricks. Okay?"

Martin chuckled. "At their age, the whole world is magic. But I bet they'll like that."

"Cool. We'll do that tomorrow." She made silly faces at the twins until they started laughing, then jumped up. "I need to call Jami." She ran to the stairs to go to her room.

Caitlin turned back to her mother. "Mom, that was cruel. Are you trying to drive Carys totally away?"

"Of course not!"

"Then you'd better start accepting Jami. If Carys is forced to make a choice between you and Jami, which do you think it's going to be?"

"I don't understand you Caitlin. You and I always agreed on most things."

"We probably still do. But as a nurse in a big city, I don't lead a very sheltered life. I've seen things you wouldn't believe, and I hope you never see. We need to talk."

* * *

Carys's graduation was an ordeal to which she submitted only for the sake of her parents. She and Jami had discussed the situation. They decided it would be best for Jami to not be at the ceremony itself, but Carys and Caitlin demanded that she be included in the dinner afterwards.

Carys did not wear a rainbow cap and gown, but did substitute a rainbow tassel for the one with her school colors. There were no incidents. She resisted the temptation to do more than glare at Linda and her homophobic cohort. They left as soon as they could.

The open house, from Carys's point of view, was like some kind of existentialist theater at which she was more observer than participant. Her mother ignored the facts, telling people outright lies. Her father was having quiet words with people who knew what had been happening. Jami was there the entire time. Mostly she sat off to the side, taking pictures which she assured Carys she would find amusing at some point in the future. Jami's parents stopped by briefly.

Whenever Carys wasn't the center of attention, she sat next to Jami and held hands. Caitlin also sat and talked with Jami when she wasn't talking with old friends or checking on the twins. The three of them enjoyed the situation as much as they could. Caitlin mentioned the possibility of Carys and Jami visiting her in Boston at some point. They agreed that sounded exciting.

Finally the open house hours were over. Carys felt exhausted, so Jami left for home and she went upstairs to lie down. She finally felt that all of high school was behind her and the rest of her life was waiting to happen.