Series: Seasons of Chadham High, Book One
Author: Huston Piner
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 28
Genre: Historical YA, coming of age, depression, drug/alcohol use, family drama, friends to lovers, grief, historical/late 1960’s, homophobia, humorous, no HEA or HFN, tear-jerker, YA
Can a cool reputation really deliver on promises of happiness?
Nick’s got problems. He’s a social outcast who dreams of being popular, he’s an easy target for bullies, and he doesn’t understand why he’s just not attracted to girls. So, after a series of misunderstandings label him a troublemaker on his first day of high school, he’s really stoked to have Jesse Gaston and his gang take him in.
Jesse starts a PR campaign around campus to give Nick a new image, and the shy loser soon finds himself transformed into an antiestablishment hero. While Nick would rather explore his growing attraction to Bobby Warren, he’s forced to fend off would-be girlfriends and struggles with the demands of acting cool. And things at home are spinning out of control as the Vietnam War’s destructive impact threatens to change his life forever.
Nick’s story is both humorous and haunting–a journey of ridiculous misadventures, unexpected psychedelic explorations, and tragic turns of fate. Can a world still reeling from the sexual revolution and the illicit pleasures of marijuana and underage drinking accept two boys in love? Can Nick and Bobby’s relationship survive a hostile time when acid rock rules, status is everything, and being gay is the last taboo?
The following scene was deleted fairly early in the revision process. Originally, I intended it as a bit of comic relief and as an example of Nick’s ongoing loneliness and growing attraction to Bobby. It also features a dialogue between Nick and Bruce, in which Bruce tries to encourage Nick to be more outgoing, but which Nick interprets as him declaring their friendship over.
Ultimately, I decided to pull the scene for several reasons. First, although it is in fact loosely based on a true event I personally witnessed, I thought readers would find it too over-the-top. Second, the Nick/Bruce part didn’t fit well with other sequences dealing with Bruce, and it risked possibly leading readers to interpret some of Nick’s later actions in a way that would be out of character.
Nonetheless, I find it humorous and hope you will too. (And you’ll be amused at how loquacious Gary is here.)
To provide some historical context: In 1969, except for “in town” fires, all fire departments in rural counties like Chadham were strictly volunteer services. In other words, firemen like those in the scene were a bunch of very noble, extremely dedicated, rank-amateurs. Wednesday, October 15, 1969.
I had just sat down in Algebra when the fire alarm went off. Miss Antallen corralled us all out the door and guided us to the field near the parking lot to wait for the all clear buzzer. We had been standing there for a couple of minutes when Gary and Bobby strode over like they were just out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Bobby said with an impish grin.
I suddenly felt shy to see him again so soon, but smiled back.
“Okay, lay it on me.”
“We ran into Randy Parker’s sister, Suzie,” he said, while I wondered who Randy Parker is. “We had just got to the lunchroom and she comes up, and she’s laughing her ass off, and she tells us the school is on fire.”
I looked around but saw no great billowing clouds of smoke.
“So where’s the fire?”
Bobby laughed. “That’s just what we said. She said somebody had set fire to a roll of toilet paper in the boys’ restroom, the one near the gym. Apparently, they propped it up under one of those plastic seats to make sure it would burn, and the seat caught fire. It’s been smoldering since first lunch.”
“Oh great,” I said. “Just one more thing Fuddle will blame on me.”
“Hey man, don’t sweat it; you’re covered,” Gary said. “Matt and Jesse will swear you were with them.”
“So why don’t they just put out the fire?”
“That’s the best part,” Bobby said. “At first, they thought it would go out on its own. And by the time they realized it wouldn’t, the fumes were too thick. So they called the fire department, and they told them to get everybody out of the building until they got here.”
“Makes sense,” I said.
We stood there for about twenty minutes, and there was still no sign of smoke. Finally, somebody spied a firetruck barreling down the highway. Cheering broke out and people jumped up and down, waving their arms wildly.
Apparently, the driver was so moved by this display that he pulled into the parking lot, jumped the curb onto the field, and stopped right where we were all standing.
A teacher directed two firemen around the front side of the building, and they hurried off, axes in hand, to find the fire while the rest of the crew frantically unloaded hoses and other gear. It really was ridiculous. They were running around like something out of a Hollywood comedy. Meanwhile, the firetruck slowly sank to the axels in the soft ground.
When the driver realized the fire was at the other end of the building, he screamed for the men to pack everything back up. Five minutes later, hoses and equipment haphazardly thrown back onto the vehicle, the driver hit the gas pedal, spinning the tires and sending spray of mud all over Mr. Kemijsky. Of course, the firetruck went nowhere, and it was obvious they wouldn’t be going anywhere soon without a good-sized tow truck. I actually felt sorry for the driver as he sadly pull out his radiophone to call for help.
About fifteen minutes later, while we milled about and the firemen stared at the stranded engine, we were all surprised to see another firetruck racing towards the school. The driver of the new truck saw us standing near the first truck waving our hands and jumping up and down.
The men from the first truck desperately tried to wave him off, but this driver also jumped the curb, bringing his truck to a sinking stop right next to stranded vehicle number one.
Firemen started yelling at each other and several arguments broke out. Then two of them started pushing and punching each other, and within seconds, they were all getting in on the act, shoving, punching, and kicking each other.
Suddenly, Mrs Walters said, “That’s enough,” broke ranks, and marched up swinging a ruler. The much taller men cowered away from her, ducking behind the firetrucks as she swatted them with the ruler. Even the teachers were smiling.
By now, we were well into what should have been fifth period, and it was beginning to look like rain again. Gary and Bobby had drifted off somewhere, and while I could still enjoy the absurdity of the situation, I wanted to share the experience with someone other than kids I barely knew, especially if it was going to be raining.
That’s when I spied Bruce leaning up against a car and walked over to him.
“Hey man,” I said. “How’ve you been doing?”
“Great” He brushed the dark locks out of his face. “Even without entertainment like this every day, I’m really beginning to like this place. How about you?”
“Well, I have made a few friends, but it’s still kind of lonely. I miss you.”
“Aw, I didn’t know you cared.”
“I’m serious. I wish we had at least one class together, or lunch, or something. It’s a real bummer.”
“Nick, you just gotta try harder,” he said matter-of-factly. “You can’t keep living in the past; you gotta move on. You gotta put yesterday behind you, step out, and make a new life for yourself. I did, and things have never been better.”
“I’m just saying I miss my best friend.”
“Yeah, well, what if you never saw me again? Forget our friendship. You need to make new friends; you know, stretch your wings. You can’t expect me to always be there for you.”
“Wait a minute. What are you saying? I should just consider our friendship over?”
“If it’ll help you to think of it that way, yes. I mean, whatever it takes for you to –”
He broke off as Miss Antallen called me over, and it started raining. Mr. Fuddle, Mr. Allen, and a small group of firemen were huddled together talking.
Apparently, the two firemen from the first truck had succeeded in putting out the fire. But because the burning toilet seat fumes were toxic, the whole building needed to be aired out. Miss Antallen told us that all homework was cancelled, and we were only being allowed in long enough to grab essential personal belongings, and get out fast. We’d have five minutes, and the bell would be our timer.
Needless to say, cheers broke out.
But it didn’t mean anything to me; I’d just been dumped by my best friend. Bruce had come to Chadham High, made new friends, and he didn’t care whether I had or not. He didn’t even miss me.
I didn’t go in the building, instead going straight to my bus. Of course, the door was locked, so I had to stand there in the pouring rain. Slowly, other students came out too, and by the time the driver finally sauntered over and unlocked the door, we were all as soaked as water rats.
But that wasn’t the end of things.
What none of us knew was that from the start, volunteer firemen all over the county had been following events on their CBs. First, they’d heard about a fire at the high school and a truck being dispatched. Then they heard the firetruck radio in that they were stuck and couldn’t put the fire out. Then they heard a second truck had arrived and they still couldn’t put out the fire. At that point, volunteers from all over the county dropped what they were doing and headed for their local VFD stations help fight the mighty blaze.
As the first school bus, filled with wet bedraggled teenagers, finally turned onto the access road, firetrucks with horns blaring and lights flashing descended from all directions, swung onto the access road, and plowed forward in both lanes, completely cutting off any chance of our escape.
There we were, trapped and destined to sit in soaked, souring clothes until well after four when the state patrol finally managed to clear out the firetruck traffic jam.
My Life as a Myth
Huston Piner © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Chapter One: Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Wednesday, August 27, 1969. 4:45 p.m.
My first day of high school. Boy, do I wish I could start over. I mean, I need to start over. I bet if you were me, you’d feel the exact same way.
What a day. It’s bad enough that I’m already the casebook example of a loser. A social life? I don’t have one. My few acquaintances don’t really count. If I vanished out of their lives, they’d never even notice. My only real friend is Bruce Philemon. He says I just need to try harder. So to help me try harder, I’m starting this journal.
Okay, about today: There I was, in front of the elementary school, waiting for the bus for my first day at Chadham High. Three or four girls were standing on the sidewalk talking with four or five guys. The girls had clearly spent a lot of time deciding what to wear, and given the way the guys were looking at them, they were all smiles.
Now, these guys were all bigger than me. And while we might have gone to the same middle school, they were two or three years older and looked kind of dangerous. So I decided to keep a safe distance.
High school—the great unknown. All I knew was we’re expected to be “adolescents,” which apparently means “emerging adults,” and act mature, and be interested in girls. And see, for me that’s a problem. How am I going to get a girlfriend when they gross me out? I mean, guys talk about how girls make them feel, but just looking at the Playboy Bruce swiped from his dad kinda made me feel sick.
So anyway, I’d been standing there a couple of minutes when Andy Framingham showed up. Now I’ve known Andy since first grade and he’s one of the most profoundly stupid people I’ve ever met. He had a can of Coke (his mother doesn’t trust him with bottles), and he foolishly tried to chat up one of the girls (a bad idea). One of the guys was obviously her boyfriend.
I moved a little farther away from what I knew would soon become “the scene of the crime.” A couple of the guys—who were all cracking their knuckles—started talking to Andy. Now, I was too far away from the scene of the crime to hear the exact conversation, but I got the idea one of the big guys challenged Andy to put his soda can somewhere that would probably be real painful.
At that point, Andy actually got down on one knee like he was saying his prayers—which I thought was a pretty good idea. Then he held up the Coke can like he was trying out for the Statue of Liberty and swung it down onto the sidewalk with the speed and force of a jackhammer.
It erupted like Mt. Vesuvius and sprayed the side of Andy’s head. The fizz also hit two of the big guys all over their shirts and chins. And as the can spun around, it ruined the girls’ first-day-back dressed-to-impress fashions.
Just as they all prepared to kill Andy and hide the corpse, Mr. Wiggins, the elementary school principal, came running from the building. He yanked Andy out of harm’s way and announced he was reporting everyone to the high school principal. Then he pulled out his notepad and started taking names.
At first, I thought I’d been far enough away from the scene of the crime to avoid guilt by association, but no. Mr. Wiggins finished writing down the name of the last soda-splattered girl and marched over to me.
“Name,” he said.
“Nick, uh, Nicholas—Nicholas Horton, sir.”
“Horton? I remember you. Still making trouble, eh? Well, this time Mr. Fuddle will see you pay for it.”
“No, sir. I’m Nicholas Horton. Not Raymond.”
The whole six years I went to Chadham Elementary, Mr. Wiggins treated me like a punk because he kept confusing me with my older trouble-making brother. But I’d hoped to put all that behind me at Chadham High. My plan was simple: keep doing what I’d done in middle school and lay low for four years. It should have been easy. After all, Raymond had been long gone by the time Mr. Fuddle took over as principal. But now, identified as an accessory to the crime, I would be squarely on Fuddle’s radar screen. Not good!
Mr. Wiggins warned everyone not to move and went inside to type up our death sentence. Then he came back out, slapping an envelope against his thigh. He stood there glaring at us until the bus came, gave the envelope to the driver, and watched to make sure we all got onboard.
Needless to say, the trip to Chadham High wasn’t very festive.
When we turned into the parking lot, I caught sight of a tall bald man in a cheap suit. His white shirt looked dingy, and the skinny tie could have come straight from a game-show host’s wardrobe. It was none other than Mr. Fuddle himself, arms crossed and scowling. Mr. Allen, the assistant principal, stood next to him. A couple of inches shorter than Mr. Fuddle but beefier, he was dressed just as square. He wasn’t smiling either.
Mr. Fuddle boarded the bus and gave each of us the stink eye before speaking. The driver handed him the envelope, and he read off the names of the condemned. Somehow, my name had gone from last on Mr. Wiggin’s list to first on Mr. Fuddle’s. Andy Framingham’s name concluded the roll call. With that, Mr. Fuddle told us to “stop by” his office during our lunch breaks, and emphasized we’d better see him before eating.
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Huston Piner always wanted to be a writer but realized from an early age that learning to read would have to take precedence. A voracious reader, he loves nothing more than a well-told story, a glass of red, and music playing in the background. His writings focus on ordinary gay teenagers and young adults struggling with their orientation in the face of cultural prejudice and the evolving influence of LGBTQA+ rights on society. He and his partner live in a house ruled by three domineering cats in the mid-Atlantic region.
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