I hadn’t been looking forward to Mr. Davis’s class on that post-election morning; Mr. Farnsworth’s warning only made me more nervous. I would’ve cut—and I’m sure Jimmy would’ve joined me—if I wasn’t certain that Mr. Davis would use it as an excuse to fail me. I wanted to pass Mr. Farnsworth’s warning on to Jimmy, but I was too late to class, and Mr. Davis had seated us as far away from each other as possible, as if we might overpower the room with g*yness if we weren’t separated by three rows of chairs and computers. The joke was that he put me between Keisha and Mira instead. I told them to lay low once Mr. Davis came into the room; Keisha tried to spread the word, but Mr. Davis barged in at that moment and slammed the door so hard the map of the world shook.
I hoped Jimmy would know to lay low.
He didn’t look afraid. But then, Jimmy never looked afraid. The first time we ever went out, I was so nervous my leg shook. But Jimmy could have been napping, for all the insecurity he showed. Not that he seemed sleepy; the thing I recognized right away was that he was paying attention to me—not just to the things I was saying, but to details I didn’t even know I had.
It was, of all things, a homework date, made so casually that I wasn’t even sure it was a date until he was kissing me. At the end of school one day last year, he’d asked me to come over to work on physics together. Giddy and terrified, I’d said yes, then ran to get my books before either of us could change our minds. As we walked home, I kept drying my palms in my pockets, while he talked about why he was sure physics was going to end up as his worst subject in all of high school. When we got to his house, he offered me a power-water and settled us down in his living room, where a muted screen was tuned to an open news channel.
At first, we stuck to the subject. How much weight needs to be attached to pulley x to get weight y up incline z? But then, with a smile, he started to weave other questions in. If the weight of y is doubled and the incline of z is halved, do you feel you’re more an optimist or a pessimist? If we add two more weights, w1 and w2, to pulley x, would you mind if I told you that you have beautiful eyes?
I thought there was no way my eyes could be as beautiful as his. I looked at them, shy, then looked a little lower and saw a gentle scattering of freckles across the top of his cheeks.
“You have freckles,” I said.
“Probably my Irish great-grandfather…but who knows? When you have African and Indian and Irish and French and Catalan grandparents and great-grandparents—well, it’s all just a mix.”
I wanted to tell him it was a wonderful mix, but I couldn’t. We sat there on the floor for a moment, our problem sets spread out like kindergarten drawings between us. I had liked him for so long without being able to say it. Now here we were, the pulleys and the weights and the inclinations moving into their delicate balance, that equilibrium of desire, awaiting the conversion of thoughts and feelings into words and movements.
My leg shook. He reached over and placed his hand on it. And I…I moved my hand and settled it onto his. He looked into my eyes to see if it was okay, then leaned in and kissed me. Once, softly. I closed my eyes, stopped hearing, shut down all my senses but the nerve endings in my lips. Felt him there. Felt the space after. Felt my own smile as I opened my eyes.
He loosened me then, with a gentle “Can I kiss you again?” My caution eased. The bad tension turned into good tension. He raised his hand so that my ear was in the crook of his palm. The edge of his hand settled close to my pulse. I moved my own palm up, matched him. We were both so serious, and we were both so smiling. Our homework crushed beneath us.
We kissed in whispers for minutes, our bodies finding hundreds of ways to hold each other. All the while, the screen unfolded the world to us wordlessly. When we let go, we saw a familiar figure stepping up to a podium, green flags waving in a sea in front of him.
“Look, it’s Stein,” Jimmy said. He pressed a button and the sound came on. We rested into each other and watched.
“There is no such thing as equality for some. Equality must be for all. That is what freedom is. That is what liberty is. No human being is born more or less important than any other. How can we allow ourselves to forget that? What simpler truth is there?”
As the crowd cheered, I looked at Stein’s husband, Ron, standing by his side.
“Ron’s pretty cute, isn’t he?” I said. “I mean, for a forty-five-year-old.”
But Jimmy wasn’t interested in that (although later he’d tell me that, yes, he thought Ron was adorable, especially when little Jeffrey and Jess were around). Instead, he asked me, “Do you believe he can actually do it?”
I knew Jimmy’s own answer was yes. But at that moment, I had to tell him what I really thought.
“I’m not sure,” I confessed. “I really don’t know.” I paused for a moment, feeling I had more to say. “I want to believe it. I want to believe there are enough people in this country who agree with us and want to do the right thing. I want to believe that the Reign of Fear is over, and people want true equality and fairness. But I guess…well, I guess I’m still afraid that people’s minds can’t open that far.”
I was worried that Jimmy was going to correct me, that he was going to say I didn’t believe enough. Instead, he kissed me again and said, “Well, we’re going to have to try, aren’t we?” And I knew he was talking about politics, and I also knew he was talking about us.
So I said yes twice. I didn’t promise him anything, but I promised myself. I was going to try.
Now here I was, over a year later, sitting in Mr. Davis’s class, in a changed world that our teacher was in no rush to recognize. I kept looking at Jimmy, but he was concentrating on the front of the room, waiting to see what would be thrown our way.
I expected Mr. Davis to yell. But instead he started quietly.
“This is a day,” he began, “that will live in infamy. Our country has been attacked from within.”
He stopped for a moment and looked at all of us. He appeared genuinely horrified—sleepless, haunted, angry.
“I’ve had it up to here with this so-called equality,” he continued, saying the last word as if it were a curse. “It was bad enough when we called it tolerance. This isn’t a question of rights. This is a question of right. What next? Are we going to start having serial killers elected as President? I’ll bet some of you would like that.”
I saw Jimmy’s posture draw to attention and immediately knew he was going to say something. Part of me wanted to stop him, to prevent the trouble that it would lead to. But part of me wanted him to speak up…because I knew that I wouldn’t.
“Haven’t we already had serial killers as President?” Jimmy said levelly, not bothering to raise his hand. “Insofar as we’ve had Presidents responsible for needless deaths in a calculated, premeditated way. That’s nothing new. But I’m interested—do you think you can liken him to a criminal because he’s g*y, or is it the fact that he’s Jewish?”
“Oh, you have all the answers now, do you?” Mr. Davis didn’t leave the front of the room, but he turned to face Jimmy directly. This was one of his favorite responses when he was presented with a statement he didn’t agree with—Oh, you have all the answers now, do you? Jimmy had already been asked this when he’d pointed out that the Founding Fathers were far from flawless and that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were best viewed as starter documents, not ends in themselves, or else we’d still have slavery, black men would still be three-fifths citizens, and women wouldn’t be able to vote at all. Mr. Davis viewed this as taking things out of context, but Jimmy insisted it was actually putting them into context.
Now we didn’t have the benefit of hundreds of years’ worth of hindsight. History was happening at this very moment, and the only context Mr. Davis would allow was his own.
“Is the world now yours?” he asked Jimmy. “Am I just supposed to step aside? Because that’s not going to happen.” He paused, and for a second I thought he was done. But then he said, almost offhand, “I’ve had enough of you. Get out of my class.”
Jimmy didn’t look like he was about to go anywhere. If anything, he sat more firmly in his seat.
“Get out of your class?” he said. “No.”
I started to do what I always do when a moment is too much for me—I started noticing the wrong things. That Mr. Davis’s tie was green and blue. That Keisha had put down her pen, and it was about to roll off her desk. No, she caught it. And Mr. Davis’s voice rose as he said, “No? What, do you think you’re in control here? I believe that I’m the teacher, and this is my classroom. Get out.”
Jimmy stayed seated, stayed calm. I knew his expressions so well—even the way he breathed—and I couldn’t spot a single hesitation, any shade of doubt. All the hesitations and doubts seemed to have been placed within me, fidgeting in my seat, looking to the clock for help, wanting to explode. I imagined Mr. Davis in fake fatigues, thinking war was a game. Re-enacting it as one. Playing at killing.
Jimmy looked Mr. Davis right in the eye and said, his voice barely conversational, “This might be your classroom, Mr. Davis, but this is as much my school as yours. It is as much my town as yours. And it is damn well as much my country as yours.”
“Is it?” Mr. Davis snorted. “What have you done for this country, Mr. Jones? Have you fought for it? Have you even supported it? No, you’ve just tried to tear it down. I’ve known kids like you all my life. So idealistic. But you have no clue how the world really works. You think you’re going to get a Great Community through equality and kindness? You are going to have your ass handed to you. Weakness is never a strength. You might think you’re strong right now, but mark my words, you are not. You are nothing more than a small, ungrateful mongrel, and you are going to get out of my classroom if I have to throw you out myself.”
Jimmy stood up, looking pleased. I sat there, stunned. I noticed that it was still sunny outside. It was a nice day outside.
“Thank you, Mr. Davis,” Jimmy said. “You’ve given me everything I need.” Then he looked at the rest of us and said, “Let’s go.”
I don’t think people really knew what he meant at first. Then he repeated it, motioning us up, and we understood: He wanted us all to leave.
“The rest of you remain seated,” Mr. Davis warned, “or you will fail this class.”
As if to prove his point, he loaded his grade book onto the class screen.
“Who here wants a zero?” he asked.
“Come on,” Jimmy said to us, shifting around to look everyone in the eye. Then he turned to Mr. Davis. “This is so classic. You’re threatened, so you threaten us. Well, not now. Not today.”
Mira, Keisha, and a few other kids stood up. I quickly joined them.
But more of the class stayed seated.
“What can he do to you?” Jimmy asked. “We’re going to go right now to the principal and tell him exactly what he just said. You can’t just attack students. You can’t use your power to instill fear like that.”
Mr. Davis wasn’t even looking in Jimmy’s direction anymore, treating him like he’d already left. “You will fail this class,” he repeated to the rest of us. “Your GPA will be lower. Colleges will want you less. I will not write you a single recommendation.”
“You’re going to be fired,” Jimmy said, his voice even, not gloating.
Mr. Davis nearly smiled. “No, Mr. Jones—you’re going to be expelled. If one single person leaves this room with you, I will personally see to it that you’re expelled.”
I wanted to stop it. I wanted to go back a few minutes and convince Jimmy to cut class. I didn’t want any of this to be happening. I was standing, but now it felt awkward. Something had to happen one way or the other.
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