Richard's Redemption

Chapter 11

Knox pulls back slightly and his face drains of color so rapidly that for a moment I seriously think he's going to throw up. He looks as though he's been punched in the gut. Which, I suppose, is sort of what Todd did with his little revelation. I can't help but think that his reaction is going to be the most common one, and that doesn't exactly thrill me. But at the same time, I know why Todd decided to tell him... we do need his help, and we aren't going to have a chance at getting it without being brutally honest.

Todd gives a slightly impatient snort. “Jesus, Knox, queer's not catching,” he says. “Although I suppose I ought to be grateful that you haven't either socked us or run screaming out of here.”

Knox blinks, shaking his head as he tries to organize his thoughts once more. “Um... yeah... well. I sure as hell didn't see that coming...”

Now it's my turn to snort. “Well, you weren't supposed to. Come on, Knox, you know as well as we do what will happen to us if this gets out.”

“Um... yeah...” Knox is still pretty dazed. He drops his gaze to our clasped hands and flushes, then looks back up at Todd. “I don't get why you told me this.”

“Because we need your help, duh, Knox,” Todd says. “For one thing, we need you to get Chris to take the Captain's letters for us like she does Nuwanda's for you. For another... I want you to give Richard a chance. I'm not asking you to be best friends with him, just to give him a chance. He and I... we've talked some. And I think a lot of what you've seen of him all these years was him trying for perfection so that no one would guess his secret.”

I nod at that. “Do you remember who I roomed with, back in the seventh grade, Knox?”

Knox frowns a bit, thinking. “Didn't you end up with Chet Danburry? I remember my dad being disappointed that I didn't draw him.”

“Be glad you didn't,” I tell him. “I missed my family, and I admit to crying a bit my first night here. Chet punched me and called me a sissy, then told me if I cried again, he'd accuse me of being a fairy and get me expelled. I didn't know what he was talking about then, but my parents were so pleased when I'd gotten in here, I couldn't take a chance on it. So I learned to hold everything inside, pretend I didn't care about anything but my grades. To always follow every rule so I wouldn't get into trouble. And to keep anyone from getting close enough to guess my secret.”

Knox gives me a crooked smile. “I always knew Chet was a jerk,” he says.

I agree heartily. “Always has been, apparently. Anyway, I figured... Todd was hurt the most by... by everything that happened last semester. After Todd and I talked, I wanted to do something nice for him, and I thought that getting the address would mean the most to him.”

Todd smiles at that. “It does.”

Knox looks between us again, and I can almost see the thoughts churning in his head. Finally he nods. “All right. I'll talk to Chris, and if it's okay with her, I'll give you her address to use. And Cameron, I'll stop snarling at you. Don't expect me to be all buddy-buddy, but if you want to start sitting with us again, you can. Same thing for study group. You're as good if not better than Meeks in chemistry, so I suppose you'd be making a contribution.”

“Thank you, Knox,” I say sincerely, holding out my hand.

He hesitates for a long moment, then extends his own hand and we shake. Then he glances at Todd's alarm clock. “It's early enough that I can call Chris tonight. But I don't know if I'll get back to talk to you before lights out. She'll probably want to re-hash the ball in complete detail,” he chuckles. “I'll stop back tonight if I can, Todd, and if not, I'll catch you tomorrow.”

Todd stands up to walk Knox to the door. “I appreciate it, Knox. Oh, and please do remember, Richard and I would like to make it through graduation.”

Knox smiles. “My lips are sealed.” He gives me a nod and walks out.

Todd closes the door behind him. “He'll probably want to write to Mr. Keating himself, you know,” he smiles. “Not that I see a problem with that.”

“Nor do I,” I answer, relaxing with a sigh. I tuck my half-written letter into my desk drawer, making sure no casual passerby will see it. “I'm just glad I didn't get punched.”

“Me too,” Todd smiles as he starts getting undressed for bed.

I do the same. Once the bell rings for lights out and we're sure Knox won't be back, we climb into the same bed, just holding each other. Soon enough, we fall asleep, our nightmares of December held at bay by the warmth of each other's presence.

Monday morning. Todd and I both groan as we get out of bed to start another school week. We straggle in to breakfast, taking our places at the end of a line of bleary-eyed boys and young men headed for the serving counters. Todd glares balefully at Pitts as he and Meeks step in behind us. Pitts, an obvious morning person, is cheerfully blathering on about Amy. Meeks just looks half asleep still. Todd points an accusatory finger at Pitts. “You,” he announces, “are entirely too cheerful and alert for this time of day. Especially on a Monday.”

A few others close enough to hear nod agreement. Pitts shrugs. “I like mornings,” he comments, but he is smart enough not to say anything more. We get our trays and head for seats.

I drop into a chair next to Todd. Meeks doesn't seem to notice, but Pitts raises a brow. He doesn't say anything, though, when Todd doesn't react. Instead, he digs into his oatmeal. The dining hall grows louder as people start to fully wake up over the meal. Meeks eventually perks up enough to mention that he is having a problem with the second part of the chemistry assignment that's due on Wednesday. I breathe a silent sigh of thanks for the opening being handed to me and speak up. “I can try giving you a hand, if you want, Meeks,” I offer quietly.

Meeks blinks and looks at me, then glances at Todd. “I... um... okay,” he says tentatively. He seems to relax a little when Todd doesn't object.

“After supper tonight, then?” I ask.

“Um, sure,” he answers.

“Mind if I sit in as well?” Todd asks.

I smile. “Glad to have you along,” I say. “Pitts, how about you?”

Pitts takes a big gulp of orange juice. “Sure, I can always use help with chemistry. And I know Knox isn't finished yet either, I heard him bitching about the assignment in the john last night.”

I nod. “He's also welcome, if he's willing to join us. And guys? Thanks.”

Pitts and Meeks nod as well, understanding what I'm thanking them for without need of further elaboration.

Knox flops into a chair on the other side of Todd a moment later, his hair still wet. “God, I hate my new roommate,” he comments. “He keeps turning my alarm off before I hear it. Why'd Nolan have to pair me with such a damned light sleeper?”

Meeks, another heavy sleeper, makes a noise of sympathetic understanding. Pitts shoves the butter over to Knox and says, “Cameron is going to help us with chemistry after supper, if you want to join us.”

Knox frowns a bit as he butters his toast. “Yeah. I can use it, I guess. I'll be there.” He applies himself to his breakfast.

Meeks and Pitts finish eating and disappear, mumbling something about trying to tune in a news program before going to class. As soon as they're gone, Knox pulls out a slip of paper and hands it to Todd. “Here's Chris's address,” he says. “She doesn't mind getting more mail for us. And she says to give him her greetings. Would you mind if I wrote as well?”

“Of course not,” Todd replies. “Why would we?”

He shrugs a bit. “Well, I didn't know... I mean, I'm not the one who took the risk...” he trails off, glancing around to make sure no teachers were in earshot. “And with everything else, I just didn't know if it would be okay.”

I nod my understanding. “It's fine,” I tell him. “After all, you've done us a favor as well, getting Chris's address for us and getting her to receive any reply he cares to make.”

Todd nods. “He's right, we owe you a lot,” he says. I suspect he's not just talking about the address thing, either. “Anyway, I'm glad you decided to study with us tonight. You know that will help get me back into Nolan's good graces, when he hears I'm spending time studying with Richard, I mean.”

I make a face at that. “Yeah, go me, suck-up extraordinaire. But better that Nolan keeps thinking that. We'll all be better off that way.”

Knox nods. “I expect you're right.” He hesitates, then drops his voice a bit. “I do hope you manage to pull it off, you know. I... I know everyone says it's wrong, but... my Aunt Helen is... is like you. The whole family just pretends she's an old maid, but... I met her... her friend Gertrude a few years ago... by accident, when Mom had dragged me out shopping for a new suit. Mom didn't notice, but I saw them kiss. I asked Aunt Helen about it the next time I saw her. She told me that she kept it quiet because the family disapproved, but that she and Gertrude were together and had been for eight years at that point. I'm still not sure if Dad doesn't know or if he just pretends not to know so as not to have to think about it.”

My eyes widen at his recital. “Damn,” I say. “I'm... glad it was you we asked for help, and not someone else. No wonder you were fairly sympathetic.”

Just then the warning bell rings. We hurry to bring our trays over to the cleanup line and set off for class. But as we're walking, Todd looks to Knox. “Thank you for trusting us the way we trusted you. We won't spill your family secret.”


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