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  Chapter 9: Prejudice 
  It was a cold, gloomy Friday in mid-November. Kate hurried home to her Friday-afternoon housecleaning chores. She grabbed the mail out of the box as she dashed to the house. 

Ah! A letter from Danny! Even though they communicated regularly by phone, Danny still found time occasionally to write, and his letters were always special. Housecleaning temporarily forgotten, she dropped into a chair and tore the letter open. 

Dear Mom and Dad,
 It's 10:30 p.m., and I've been in the computer room working on some reading games for my third-grade students. Decided I might as well dash off a quick letter before I head back to the dorm for a few hours of sleep. 
  I'm enjoying my student teaching. Last night was the school talent show, and it was great! My roommate's sister, who is one of my reading students, did a cute recitation where she acted the part of a windup doll on a stand. The son of the English teacher I graded papers for last year recited a poem with about as much "uninhibition" as I've ever seen! A hilarious evening! 
  Next week my supervisor is going to videotape my class and then critique my teaching. The thought makes me a bit nervous. 
  You will probably be relieved to know that my visit with Mike in Portland ended with us deciding that while we can be good friends, we aren't interested in establishing a long-term relationship. 
  I think I mentioned on the phone that I have gradually been letting some of my close friends in on the fact that I am gay. And so far everyone I've talked to has been very understanding and supportive. It is such a relief not to have to pretend to be something I'm not. Frankly, I think I have come to the place where I am ready to stop wearing my mask altogether. I just want to be honest about who I am, and if people can't accept that, then I don't need them. I even confided in one of the women I work with in the student affairs office, and she has just been great. She said anytime I needed someone to talk to, she's available. She is going to give me some books to read that she thinks will be helpful.

As Kate read, a worried frown wrinkled her forehead. Her worry was confirmed when Michael read the letter later. 

"Danny's asking for trouble," he predicted grimly. "I'm afraid he's going to have some hard lessons to learn." 

Kate was reminded of her worry a few days later. While eating lunch with friends at the cafeteria, the conversation turned to the previous day's news story about controversy over the government's funding of AIDS research. 

"Why should the taxpayers have to pay for that research?' demanded one of the secretaries indignantly. "If those people would just change their lifestyle, there wouldn't be any need for AIDS research!" 

"That's right!" agreed a man. "If they insist on continuing their perverted lifestyle, they deserve to die." 

Kate cringed. Something in her cried out to challenge these harsh assessments, but she remained silent. Returning to her office, she berated herself for her cowardice. Remembering Michael's prediction, she trembled for Danny. 

Kate left work early the last Wednesday of the month. She mentally reviewed her Thanksgiving dinner menu as she wheeled her grocery cart up and down the aisles. Oranges, crushed pineapple, and coconut to make ambrosia. Celery, onions, and walnuts to go in the dressing. Potatoes and sweet potatoes, frozen peas, and a can of beets. Olives. And, of course, a can of pumpkin for the pie and whipped cream and toasted almonds to garnish it. 

Brenden was teaching seventh and eighth grades in a church school in Virginia, and even though he was the only one who could make it home this year, Kate found herself in almost a festive mood. It seemed like such a long time since she had felt any sense of anticipation, any lifting of her spirits. 

Smiling at the clerk, she paid for her groceries and hurried home. Michael, she found, already had a fire blazing in the family room and was engrossed in the evening newscast. Quickly and efficiently, she put the groceries away, then went to peer out the window. The sun was just setting, silhouetting black, leafless branches against the orange sky. 

"I hope he gets here before dark," she murmured. 

Michael looked up. "Are you worried?" he teased with a grin. "Well, he probably had to go home and pack after school was out. I doubt if he gets here before six." 

"I bet he'll be starved,' predicted Kate, going back to the kitchen to start supper. "I don't think he gets enough to eat." 

She was stirring a kettle of tomato-rice soup when she heard Michael call out, "Here he is!" 

Dropping her spoon, Kate flew to the door, where Michael already stood waiting. In the deepening dusk, she saw Brenden lifting his suitcase out of the trunk. He turned to wave. "Oh, Brenden, I'm so glad you're here!" she called. "How was your trip?" 

"Lots of traffic on the beltway," he answered, closing his trunk and starting up the walk. "I'm kinda hungry. All I had for lunch was a burrito." 

Kate grinned. "Supper's almost ready," she assured him. Brenden's arm went warmly around her shoulders as he stepped inside and shut the door against the brisk coldness of the evening air. 

"Here, let me take your suitcase," offered Michael. 

Brenden followed Kate to the kitchen. "How's Danny doing?" he asked. 

It had only been a couple of weeks since Kate had told Brenden about Danny. When she had told Alex, she hadn't been surprised to learn that Danny had already confided in him. Although nine years apart, the two of them were alike in many ways. Alex had said simply, "I don't understand it, but he's my little brother, and I'll always love him." 

But Kate hadn't been so sure how Brenden would react. Quieter than his brothers, he had always been the most dependable, as well as the easiest to discipline. He seemed to have a natural inclination to do what was right. She had wondered if he would be shocked. But when she told him, he had replied matter-of-factly. "Oh, really? Well, I'm not too surprised." 

Now, in answer to Brenden's question, Kate said slowly, "I think he's alright. He says he's enjoying his student teaching. But I'm a little worried. Since he has come to terms with being homosexual, he seems to want to be so open about it. He says he's tired of hiding behind a mask." 

"Yeah," Brenden said soberly. "I don't think he realizes how prejudiced some people are." 

Kate nodded wordlessly, then drew a deep breath and smiled up at him. She wasn't going to let anything distract her from the joy of having Brenden home for Thanksgiving. 

"Right now, let's get some supper into you," she commanded. "Get your hands washed, and sit down at the table." 

"M-m-m! That soup smells good!" Brenden leaned over the pan of bubbling red liquid and sniffed deeply. "Hurry up! All of a sudden, I'm starved." 

Kate brought a steaming spoonful of soup to her lips to taste. It was her special recipe, flavored with a little sour cream and peanut butter. 

"It's ready," she announced. Sliding a tray of garlic-buttered French bread into the oven to toast, she ladled up large bowls of soup and smaller dishes of fruit salad. 

Seated around the table, they reached out to clasp hands and bowed their heads while Michael asked the Lord's blessing. The telephone rang as they were nearly finished eating. Kate reached out to answer it. 

"Mom, I've moved out of the dorm," Danny blurted. 

"Why, Danny, what's the matter?" Kate exclaimed in surprise. She straightened stiffly in her chair, then listened in consternation to Danny's quiet weeping. 

Her stomach contracted, but she managed to control her panic enough to ask gently, "Danny, what happened?" 

Michael and Brenden watched her anxiously. Unable to hear both sides of the conversation, they occasionally looked away to take a token bite, then refocused their eyes intently on Kate's face. 

After a minute, Danny pulled himself together. "I didn't want to tell you, Mom, but some of the guys in the dorm have been harassing me." 

"What did they do?" Kate asked, gripped by an icy fear. Her mind stopped short of graphically imagining what dreadful thing might have caused Danny to break down. 

"At first, it was just writing things like Danny McLaughlin is a fag! on the bathroom walls." Kate shuddered at hearing her son's name linked with such an epithet. "Then a couple of days ago, while I was in the shower, some guys tied the bathroom door shut, and when I tried to open it, they shouted, "Stay in there, you dirty queer, and don't contaminate our dorm.'' Kate's heart pounded, and dismay swept over her as she swallowed hard against the bitter taste of bile that suddenly filled her mouth. 

"I had to wait almost an hour till somebody came by and untied the door. I was so upset I couldn't sleep that night. But today was the worst. I came into the bathroom, and somebody had written 'Death to all fairies! Kill Danny McLaughlin!" in big letters on the wall." Danny's voice was shaking. 

"Oh, Danny!" Kate exclaimed. Righteous indignation brought a flush to her cheeks, and fear made her urge, "Somebody should call the police! Did you tell the dean about that?" 

"I told him after I got locked in the bathroom, and he said he'd do something about it, but after today I just couldn't take it anymore." 

"It wasn't your roommate, was it?" asked Kate. 

"Rob? No, Rob's been great. I think it's two or three freshman guys." "But, Danny, where did you move to?" 

"Well, there're a couple of girls who live in the village, Stacey and Joanna. They're good friends of mine, and they said I could stay with them, at least till I can work something else out." 

"Girls?" asked Kate, realizing even as she said it that girls would be safe with Danny. 

"Have no fear, Mom," Danny said with a wry chuckle. "They're both lesbians." 

"Oh!" said Kate, startled. Then, without stopping to process that thought, she continued, "Well, I think it's a good thing you moved out. This is just terrible. I can't believe boys in a Christian school could be so cruel. I'm so sorry, Danny. I know this must have really upset and hurt you. It hurts all of us. But, honey, I'm afraid some people are just very prejudiced. It would probably be best to be very selective about whom you share this with." 

Danny heaved a great sigh. "Yeah, I guess you're right, Mom. Well, let me give you Stacey and Joanna's phone number, in case you need to call me." 

After saying goodbye, Kate shakily related the episode to Michael and Brenden. 

"Those guys ought to be kicked out of school!" exclaimed Brenden in uncharacteristic anger. "Poor Danny! I feel like writing the dean and telling him what I think about it!" 

Kate was gratified by Brenden's spirited defense of his brother. She looked toward Michael to see what his reaction was. He was silent, but Kate was struck by the pained expression on his face. 

She realized that this was just what he had predicted and knew he wished with all his heart that his predictions hadn't come true. 


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