Along Came a Spider

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Colin Kelly

email Colin

Starting your sophomore year in a new high school can be difficult; you don’t know anyone.
It’s even more difficult if the school is small — all the kids there already know each other.
But sometimes a near disaster can make a huge difference.

Part 1: Oscar the Tarantula

I guess it started during the break between Homeroom and first period on Thursday. When Mrs. Barker opened the Biology Lab she discovered that the terrarium with Oscar, the Biology Department’s pet tarantula, had been moved off the table onto its side on the floor, and Oscar had gone AWOL. She and the two lab assistants conducted a search, but couldn’t find Oscar anywhere. Face it, tarantulas aren’t that big and could find lots of places in the Biology Lab to hide.

Mrs. Barker decided that someone must have stolen him or her — we weren’t sure which; that was an upcoming project for AP Biology students — so she called Security. She told them that she had seen Oscar in his terrarium after her last class on Wednesday. She remembered locking the Biology Lab before she left for a teachers’ meeting, and after that she went home.

The Security officer said he thought it had been an accident, that maybe the cleaning people knocked the terrarium off the table. We knew that had to be bull.

First, the cleaning people didn’t have a key to the Biology Lab; Mrs. Barker is the only one with a key. Besides, they never do the cleaning in there; cleaning the Biology Lab is one of duties of the lab assistants.

Second, that terrarium is one heavy mother; I know because I work as an assistant for the AP Biology class before school on Mondays. In my opinion, there’s no way it could have been knocked off the table accidentally because the glass sides and bottom weren’t broken. In fact, doing it on purpose would have taken at least two guys, two strong guys. It would have to be lifted above the two-by-fours that are attached with big screws along all four sides of the top of the table, and they were still in place and hadn’t even been scratched.

Someone stole Oscar then picked up and dumped the terrarium onto its side on the floor. There were two questions: Who did it? Why did they do it?

I learned the answers to those two questions during third period.

I have Gym third period. Coach Parks had us playing soccer and we had a lot of fun, and were worn out by the end of the period. We’d showered and were getting dressed and joking around when Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland strolled into our bank of lockers.

Kenny snarled, “How ‘bout you ladies get your panties on and make room so us real men can get ready for Gym.”

“Stick it where the sun don’t shine, Lamper.” We all chuckled at Barry Metzger’s gruff comeback.

“Oh, he’s so tough. I’m so scared!” Jeff responded, pretending to shiver.

Barry stood up, turned, and stepped over the bench where he faced Jeff from about one-foot distance. “You mess around before we’re all out of here you’ll be more than scared, Walland.”

Jeff put his hands palms out and stepped back, bumping into Kenny and almost knocking him down. “Hey, I’m just kidding, okay?”

Barry stood still, staring at Jeff, then stepped back over the bench and turned back to his locker.

Like me, Barry Metzger is a sophomore at Columbia High. Unlike me, Barry is six foot two and weighs about one-ninety and is all muscle. You don’t mess with fifteen-year-old Barry Metzger, even if you’re sixteen-year-old or seventeen-year-old juniors like Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland.

I figured that the event was over, and continued to get dressed. To my right Dan Covington pulled on his boxer briefs and adjusted his package. Dan and I had three classes together, Gym being one of them. We were friendly, but not close friends. He turned toward me and grinned.

“How do you like going to school here, Mark?”

“It’s good so far. Columbia High is lot smaller school than Ryan High in Chicago where I went to ninth grade. We had about 1,600 students, about a thousand more than here.”

“Wow! That’s huge!”

“Not really. Some of the other high schools in Chicago are a lot bigger.”

“Are you finding the kids here friendly?”

“I guess so. You know, being the new kid and only the third week of school makes it tough when the rest of you have been going to school together for years. I sort of have to figure out who the friendlies are versus the others like those two guys.” I motioned toward the end of the bank of lockers where Kenny and Jeff were standing waiting for us to clear out.

“Yeah. Well, there are assholes everywhere, even here. Thing is, here they’re more noticeable ‘cause we’re not a huge school, so you can easily suss them out,” Dan said as he put on his shirt.

I grinned. “I guess I’ve sussed out two of them already, right?”

“Right. And I think you’ve sussed out one of the friendlies, too. At least I hope so.” Dan smiled.

“I’d like that. Thanks,” I replied.

I pulled up my jeans and as I stuffed my shirt inside them I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Kenny and Jeff had walked in our direction.

Dan stood lifting one leg into his khakis, then the other. Just before he started to pull them up Kenny dropped something into the back of Dan’s pants. Before I could warn Dan he pulled them up and shouted “OW! Something bit me!” He dropped his pants to the floor and I saw Oscar the tarantula trying to scramble out. Dan tried to pull his legs out of his khakis and in doing so Oscar fell into the left leg and Dan shouted “OW!” again. I reached down and squeezed his pant leg, hoping to either stun or dispatch Oscar.

Barry turned to see what had happened, then turned and glowered at Kenny and Jeff who stood pointing at Dan and laughing, punching each other’s shoulders.

“Sit down, Dan. Let me get your pants off. Kenny Lamper dropped Oscar the tarantula from Biology into your pants as you were pulling them on. Oscar must have bit you.”

Dan started breathing hard. “I’m allergic to spider bites. I gotta lie down.”

I pulled his pants off and watched Oscar trying to struggle out of the pant leg. I carefully folded the legs into the pants then folded them over. I really didn’t want to kill Oscar, just close him up inside Dan’s pants and keep him from getting out.

I looked at Dan. He didn’t look good. I knew about stings and bites and how some people are allergic to them. His eyes were dilated and his voice was ragged. He was having a hard time breathing and he looked pale. I touched his forehead and his skin felt cold.

“Dan, do you have an EpiPen?”

“My backpack. Side pocket,” he whispered.

I got Dan’s backpack out of his locker and found the EpiPen. As I pulled it out Coach Parks walked up and asked what was going on.

I explained what happened to Coach Parks while I checked the gauge on the side of Dan’s EpiPen to make sure the pen had a full dose of epinephrine, which it did.

“Kenny Lamper stole Oscar the tarantula from the Biology Lab,” I said, “and he dropped it into Dan Covington’s pants and Dan got bit. He’s allergic to spider bites. He’s going into anaphylactic shock from the bite and he’s having trouble breathing, his eyes are dilated, and his skin feels cold and clammy. I’m going to use his EpiPen to inject epinephrine which will counteract his symptoms.”

“Barry,” Coach Parks said, “here, use my cellphone and call 9-1-1. Tell them to send an ambulance to the gym. Tell them it’s an emergency. Also ask them to contact the State Police and have them send a car.”

A woman, who I didn’t recognize, walked up to where she could see Dan lying on the bench. “What’s going on here?” she shouted.

Before Coach Parks could answer her question I had the EpiPen out and the cap off so I could jab the needle end into Dan’s thigh.

“Stop there! What are you doing?” she shrieked, and started to move toward me.

I saw Barry move to block her. When he did that, several other students moved as well, preventing her from being able to get to me and Dan.

Barry leaned down and whispered to me, “That’s Ms. Lynch, the Columbia High School Athletic Director. We call her Ms. Bitch.”

Ms. Lynch shouted again, “What do you think you’re doing! Stop!”

I ignored her.

“No, no!” she shrieked, “You’re not a licensed practitioner so you are not to administer any medication! It’s against school district rules! I’ll call for the nurse and she can administer that drug, if it’s appropriate!”

“If we wait for the nurse Dan might die. Can’t you see that he’s not able to breathe?” I yelled at her. I heard Coach Parks tell me, “Go ahead, Mark.”

I jabbed the EpiPen against the outside of Dan’s left thigh and held it there for a slow count to fifteen to make sure he got the entire dose. Then I removed the EpiPen and confirmed that the bar in the window on the side was red. That showed the full dose had been administered. I put it back in its container and screwed on the cap and tightened it all the way so it would be permanently locked in place and wouldn't be able to be reused.

While I was doing this Ms. Lynch kept yelling at Coach Parks “Stop him! This is illegal! The school could be sued!” When she saw that I’d administered the epinephrine she shouted to Coach Parks, “I want the name of that boy! I’m going to see that he’s expelled!”

Dan’s breathing improved, his eyes weren’t dilated any longer, and his skin color slowly changed back toward normal. After a couple minutes he looked at me.

“Thanks, Mark,” he said in a soft voice. “You might not know it, but you saved my life. I’m acutely allergic to spider bites and bee and wasp stings. After getting bit I couldn’t breathe until you gave me that injection. How did you know what to do?”

“My cousin Barbara is allergic to bees and wasp stings, and she always carries an EpiPen with her. I know about them because my uncle showed me how to use one in case I was somewhere with her and she got stung.

“Anyway, I have Oscar wrapped up in your pants. Can I keep them? That way I can return Oscar to Mrs. Barker, dead or alive. I’ll get your pants back to you after.”

Dan grinned, and that made me happy. I knew from the grin that he’d recover and would be okay.

“Yeah, that’s okay. It’s not the spider’s fault. I assume the EMT’s are going to take me to the hospital. Could you get my other stuff out of my locker and take it to my house?”

“Sure. What’s your address and home phone number?”

“It’s on my ID card in the small pocket in the front of my backpack, along with my locker number and the combination.”

I found the card and entered his name and address information, his phone number, and his locker number and combination in my cell.

Coach Parks and Ms. Lynch had moved to the end of the bank of lockers and were arguing. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, and I could care less. Ms. Lynch showed that she didn’t have a clue, and if she wanted to expel me, good luck trying that.

The ambulance arrived and the EMT’s came in with a gurney. The kids who’d been watching moved out of the way and I heard Coach Parks telling all of us to get dressed and get out. An EMT woman asked what happened as they moved Dan to the gurney, and I heard Dan tell her that he’d been bitten by a tarantula, and that I saved his life by using his EpiPen on him. She asked me for the EpiPen, and I gave it to her.

As they started to roll Dan out to the ambulance he turned and looked at me.

“Come see me at the hospital, Mark.”

“Sure thing, right after school. Okay?”

Dan nodded and the EMT’s rolled him away.

I got his other clothes from his gym locker and put them in his backpack. I kept his khaki’s separate so I could bring Oscar, or his smashed body, to Mrs. Barker.

Coach Parks and Ms. Lynch were gone, and so were Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland. I remembered Coach Parks telling Barry to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance and to call the State Police, though I didn’t see any police. All of the other kids were gone too, which surprised me. Where were the kids who had fourth period Gym? Maybe because of the ambulance and the police they cancelled the class and sent the students to sit in the bleachers or to the library. Whatever, that wasn’t my problem. I wondered if Kenny and Jeff had been arrested. I know what I saw Kenny do and I’d be willing to tell it to the police, and even go to court if there was a trial.

I finished getting dressed, got all my stuff, Dan’s backpack, my gym bag, his khakis with, I hoped, Oscar still inside, and left the locker room. The halls were empty. I realized that everyone must be in their fourth period classes, so I went to Mrs. Barker’s classroom. She sat at her desk and the students watched me come in.

I walked up to her desk. “Hi, Mrs. Barker. I have something for you.”

“Hello, Mark. And what do you have for me?”

I told her what had happened, and how I was certain that Kenny and Jeff had stolen Oscar. “So, I don’t know whether Oscar is dead or alive, but the last place I saw him was in the left leg of Dan’s pants.” I carefully laid the khakis on her desk. “Maybe you should get something in case he’s alive and wants to get away.”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s go into the Biology lab and see if we can rescue Oscar.”

She stood and announced, “Finish reading chapter three and answer the ten questions at the end of the chapter. Turn them in at the end of class.” The kids made a collective groan, but I saw them open their books anyway.

We went in the Biology Lab and she opened a cabinet and pulled out one of those plastic containers like the ones my mom uses for leftovers.

“Let’s carefully open up these pants,” she said. That’s what we did, and there, at the top of the left leg of Dan’s khakis, we found a very irritated Oscar. He — or she; remember, we hadn’t figured out Oscar’s sex yet — sort of reared up on his back legs and waved his front feet, his palps, and his fangs at us. Mrs. Barker carefully put the open end of the plastic container down in front of Oscar, and he ran inside.

I laughed. “It looks like he wants the security of a nice plastic container.”

She smiled. “Or perhaps he was so eager to leave those pants because he doesn’t like the smell of khaki.”

‘Or maybe the smells left by a teenage boy,’ I thought. That made me chuckle.

She put the cover loosely on top of the container. “Let’s go put Oscar back in his home. The terrarium has been put back in place. Fortunately, the glass didn’t break and doesn’t have any cracks, and the lab techs got all or, more correctly, most of the sand and all the rocks back inside.”

She removed the top off the terrarium, carefully lowered the container so it was laying on its side on the sand, and lifted away the cover. Oscar walked to the edge of the container, looked around, touched the sand with his front feet, then what I’d call ‘casually’ walked out of the container into his home. Mrs. Barker removed the container and put the top back on the terrarium and locked it. The lock was something new.

“Thank you, Mark. Now we have two members of the Columbia High School family back with us who might not have survived without your assistance, Dan Covington and Oscar the Tarantula.”

I blushed. “Thanks, Mrs. Barker.”

“So what’s your fourth period class, which is almost over now?”

“Computer Tech with Mr. Sommers. Um... do you think you could give me a pass?”

“Of course.” She wrote the pass. “Here you are, Mark.” I read it and grinned. She’d written that I was helping her prepare a Biology project. “Thanks for rescuing Oscar. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Barker, but I might not be in class tomorrow. Ms. Lynch said she’s going to have me expelled for using Dan’s EpiPen on him.”

Mrs. Barker squinted her eyes and gnashed her teeth. “Oh, no she won’t! I’ll fight her if she tries. You just come to school tomorrow like you always would. I’m going to talk to the rest of your teachers and the principal and his staff and get them to back you.”

“Thanks Mrs. Barker. Then I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

“Yes you will, Mark,” she responded, and she sounded convinced. Well, she might be convinced that she could keep me from being expelled or suspended, but I had my doubts.

Since Mrs. Barker took almost all of my Computer Lab time, I spent the last ten minutes watching Oscar investigate the terrarium. As far as I could tell he seemed to be fine. I left a few minutes before the end of fourth period and went to the computer lab and gave my pass to Mr. Sommers. On my way I stopped at my locker and put Dan’s khakis in his backpack. With his backpack and gym bag and my books, my locker couldn’t have held anything more. I had to jam everything in so I could close and lock the door.

I went to lunch and I couldn’t have been more surprised. The story had gotten around that I’d saved Dan’s life, and just about everyone wanted to talk to me and thank me. Some of the girls hugged me or patted me on my back. I’d gone from an unknown newbie to a popular curiosity on campus. Hey, that’s better. Really.

I was asked if Dan would be okay, did he really go to the hospital in an ambulance, did I know which hospital, could he have visitors, and did I know when he’d be back to school. I answered ‘yes’ to the first two questions, and ‘no’ to the other three.

Some of the A-list kids sat me down at their table and I ate my lunch, which someone else — I don’t know who — paid for. These kids were the kind who were on the student council and in the honor society, and there were even a few guys from the football team. They had more detailed questions, and I answered the best I could.

After eating my lunch one of the girls, Lynda Farrell, introduced herself as the Student Body President.

She smiled. “Mark, you’re new at Columbia High. Where did you go to school last year?”

“We lived in Chicago and my freshman year I went to Ryan High.”

“I’d guess that’s a large school, right?”

I grinned. “Yeah, about 1,000 more kids than here.”

“Did you participate in any sports, or run for office, or anything like that?”

“Someone put my name in for the freshman student council, and I got picked to represent my homeroom.”

“What do you mean, you got picked?” I hate embarrassing questions like that.

“We had an election and I won. But it wasn’t a big deal, just my homeroom.”

“How many students were there in your homeroom?”

“About sixty.”

“Whoa! That’s a big homeroom. Were the homerooms all that big?”

“Yeah, I guess. You’re assigned all year to one homeroom, so that’s the only one I know about for sure. Based on what some of the others on the freshman council told me, I assume the other homerooms had about the same number of students.”

She laughed. “And how many are in your homeroom here?”

“About twenty.”

“Quite a difference,” she said. She looked at me for a few seconds, “Mark, how about you join us here for lunch from now on?”

I was stunned, and I must have looked that way when I croaked out a weak “Okay.”

She looked at me and laughed. “I’m serious. You’re a cool guy and I think you had some good experience at Ryan and can contribute to making Columbia High an even better school. Okay?”

I laughed and said, “Okay!”

That made Lynda and several others at the table grin. They all said, “See you tomorrow,” when I got up to leave. I’d never been invited to join the A-list kids at any of the schools I went to in the past. This was something very new and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. At least I had until tomorrow to think about what it might mean.

I went to my other classes and the situation was similar to what happened in the cafeteria. I was mobbed by the kids in the halls and in each class. It amazed me that they recognized me, and that embarrassed the hell out of me. I felt good that everyone seemed concerned about Dan and were glad that he would be okay. It took each of the teachers a lot of effort to calm down the students so their class could proceed.

When seventh period ended I decided to find out if Dan had gone home or would have to stay overnight at the hospital and would I be allowed to visit him. Once I found out which hospital I’d call my mom for a ride.

Part 2: You Saved Dan's Life!

I didn’t know how to find the hospital where Dan had been sent without calling every one of them in the county. Not that there’s that many, only five, but there should be an easier way. Then I remembered that I had Dan’s home phone number, so I checked the contacts on my phone, found it, and dialed. It rang about six times and I almost ended the call, but I heard a woman say “Hello?”

“Uh, this is Mark Lanstrom. I’m a friend of Dan’s —”

She interrupted me. “Mark? You’re the one who saved Dan’s life, aren’t you. Oh, I’m so glad you called. We didn’t know how to get in touch with you to say thank you and how grateful we are that you know exactly what to do when Dan was bitten by that spider. He has done nothing but talk about you and I know he’d love to have you visit him in the hospital if you have the time. I’ll come and pick you up and take you to the hospital. I’m Dan’s mother, Denise Covington. Before I forget, let me get your address and phone number, if that’s alright with you?”

It sounded like she said everything without taking a breath, so by the time she wound down I had a hard time to keep from laughing so I could answer her.

“It’s okay with me. My address is 59 Sweetwater Court in Sanitaria Springs, and my phone number is 555-8827. I called to find out if Dan is still in the hospital, so I guess he is.”

“Yes, the doctor wants Dan to stay overnight. He’s at Binghamton Health Center. I can pick you up at your home and drive you there. I’ll drive you home after you visit Dan.”

“Actually, I’m still at school. I would like a ride to the hospital and back, so I’ll accept your offer. It’ll take me about ten minutes then I’ll be right out front where the school busses pick up kids after school. Oh, yeah, I have Dan’s backpack with his books and clothes that I can give you.”

“Then I’ll see you in about ten or fifteen minutes. I came home to pick up Dan’s little sister and bring her to the hospital to see Dan. If I hadn’t come home, I wouldn’t have gotten your call and you’d have a lot of trouble finding out which hospital Dan’s at.”

“I would have just called all the hospitals around here, I guess starting with the one that’s closest to school.”

“They wouldn’t tell you anything unless you’re a parent or guardian. They do that for patient privacy and security. Well, we’ll see you in a little while. I’m so eager to meet you and thank you in person. So for now I’ll say g‘bye.”

“G’bye, Mrs. Covington. See you later.”

I went to my locker and got the books I needed for tonight’s homework and put away the ones I didn’t need. I pulled out Dan’s backpack to give to his mother so she could take it home with her. I didn’t need my gym bag so I crammed it back into the locker and closed the door and made sure it was locked. Then I walked out to the front of the school and phoned my mom.

First, I told her what happened at school today, then continued, “Mom, Dan’s mother is going to pick me up and drive me to the hospital so I can visit him. She said he wanted to see me. Is that okay?”

“Of Course, Mark. How are you going to get home?”

“Mrs. Covington said she’d drive me home.”

“Alright. I’ll see you when you get here. If you think you’ll be later than six o’clock, call and let me know.”

“I will Mom. Bye.”

“Bye, Mark.”

I waited about ten minutes for Mrs. Covington to arrive. A black SUV pulled up. A young girl in the front seat opened the window and called out to me.

“Hi, are you Mark?”


“I’m Kaitlin, Dan’s sister. Come on, get in!”

I did and we introduced ourselves. His mom was nice and we chatted about what happened to Dan and how it was terrible that a bully would put a spider in another boy’s pants, even if that boy wasn’t allergic.

Kaitlin had lots of questions for me. How did I like going to Columbia High and did I like living here, and where did I live now, and when did we move here, and where did I live before, and did I like it in Chicago, and where did I go to school there, and was it bigger than Columbia, and did Chicago get a lot of snow in the winter, and did I ski, and had I been to Binghamton yet, and had I been to Metro Center to go shopping, and am I on the football team, and what are my favorite classes... and I started laughing.

“Too many questions all at once, Kaitlin!” I told her.

She laughed, then said “I’m sorry. I’m just so nervous about Dan and excited that you saved his life and I want to find out everything about you.”

“Hey, I just used his EpiPen and gave him the shot. It’s the epinephrine that saved Dan’s life.”

“Huh,” she mumbled then turned to her mother. “I still think Mark saved Dan’s life no matter what he says about it.”

“I agree, dear,” Mrs. Covington told her. Sheesh!

The drive to Binghamton Health Center took about ten minutes. When we got there Mrs. Covington said she had to go to the billing department and give them Dan’s medical insurance information. Kaitlin wanted to come to Dan’s room with me, but Mrs. Covington told her to let me go up by myself so Dan would have a chance to talk to me alone.

“By the way, Dan’s in room 206,” she said. “You know, they won’t give out room numbers of patients, especially minors, to anyone who’d not a relative.”

I took the elevator to the second floor and followed the signs that told me that rooms 201 through 229 were to the right. I didn’t check with anyone to see if I could visit Dan. I’d always read that only family could visit, but I didn’t have any problem. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to check in with to see a patient. So much for security and patient privacy! I found room 206 and walked in. Dan saw me and shouted, “Mark!”

I grinned and walked up to his bed where he sat leaning against several pillows. He reached out with his left hand and grabbed my right arm and held on.

“How you doing?” I asked.

“Good enough to go home, except for the doctor who thinks I need to stay overnight. Hey, meet my dad! Dad, this is Mark Lanstrom. Mark saved my life.”

I hadn’t noticed the man standing on the other side near the foot of Dan’s bed. He was tall and very professional looking, wearing a nice suit, dress shirt, and tie. He smiled and walked over to me with his hand extended. I retrieved my right arm from Dan’s grip, and I shook hands with his dad, who then pulled me in a hug. He pulled away and looked me in the eye.

“Mark, I’m so glad to meet you. I’m Paul Covington. Dan’s been talking about you non-stop. Thank you for knowing exactly what to do. You probably saved Dan’s life. Dan’s mother and I don’t know how to thank you enough for what you did.”

“I’m glad I knew what to do.”

“How did you know what to do? Not many people know about EpiPens and how to use one.”

I told him about my cousin and her bad allergies to bee and wasp stings, and how my uncle showed me her EpiPen and how it would be used and would save her life if something had stung her.

“That’s something they should do at the middle and high schools, train all of the staff so there won’t be a tragedy,” he said. “Well, why don’t you chat with Dan until Denise and Kaitlin arrive. You two won’t be able to get a word in edgewise once they get up here.”

“That’s true!” Dan said. “Come and tell me what happened at school after they took me to the hospital.”

I pulled up a chair and sat next to his bed. “Well, I’m pretty sure fourth period Gym was cancelled because there was no one around when I finished dressing and left the locker room. I went to Mrs. Barker’s classroom and we were able to rescue Oscar from your khakis. She put him back in the terrarium and he seemed to be a happy tarantula. I guess he was glad to be back in his home. I have Computer Lab fourth period and it was almost over so I spent part of the time watching Oscar. He seemed to be in a lot better shape than you were!” I grinned, and Dan started laughing.

“Just my luck! I get bitten by a tarantula and he’s caught inside my pants and he comes out without a scratch and I have to be in the hospital eating hospital food.”

“How is the food?” I asked.

“The lunch they gave me makes me wish I was eating cafeteria food.”

“Oh man. Bad, that’s bad.” We laughed about that.

“So what else? Did anyone ask you about what happened to me?” Dan asked.

“After babysitting Oscar I went to lunch,” I replied, “and it was totally crazy. I could barely get into the cafeteria there were so many people around me. Someone bought me my lunch and brought it over to a table where others had me sit down. Then it was questions, so many that I almost didn’t get to eat any of my lunch. Everyone wanted to know what happened and who did it and if you were going to be okay. Trying to walk through the halls and the rest of my classes were the same, and it took the teachers a lot of time to get everyone to quiet down so they could do some teaching. Dan, the main thing is that everyone asked about you and were very concerned about you. The first thing they’d ask me was always, ‘How’s Dan?’ and they seemed sincere about it.”

“What happened to Lamper and Walland?”

“I have no idea. I remember Coach Parks telling Barry to call the ambulance and the State Police, but I never saw any police and I didn’t see either of those guys once you were taken out to the ambulance.”

“I heard a woman yelling ‘stop’ real loud. Who was that and what was that all about?”

“That was the athletic director, Ms. Lynch. She kept yelling at me that I couldn’t use the EpiPen on you, that it was against school regulations, that I had to stop, that I had to wait until the school nurse got there. I yelled right back that if I didn’t use it immediately you might die because I knew that an anaphylactic shock can close the bronchial tubes and cut off air. I said all that while I prepped the EpiPen and when she saw I was going to use it on you anyway, she started yelling for me to stop and after it was a done deal she screamed at Coach Parks to give her my name and that she’d have me expelled.”

“She said what?” Dan’s dad shouted.

I turned to where he stood. “Ms. Lynch said she’d have me expelled. I told Mrs. Barker and she said she’d talk to people at school including my other teachers and the principal and stop that from happening.”

“If there’s any, and I mean any, attempt to expel you, or suspend you, or give you detention, because of what you did to save my son, I want you to phone me immediately.” He handed me a business card. I looked at it and saw that he’s an attorney.

“Thanks, Mr. Covington. I will call you if any of those things happen to me.”

“Good. I can’t believe that Principal Benson would agree to anything like that, but it’s always better to be prepared. Right, Dan?”

“Sure thing, Dad. Like me having an EpiPen and Mark recognizing that I went into anaphylactic shock and knowing how to use the EpiPen.”

That’s when Dan’s mom and little sister walked in. The room turned to chaos for a while. Dan’s mom hugged me, his sister hugged me, his mom hugged me again, they both hugged Dan, and they asked all kinds of questions and I tried to answer all of them the best I could. Finally, a nurse came in and said there were too many of us in Dan’s room and we were too noisy. I said I had to get home anyway, and I would call my mom and she’d come and pick me up. Mr. Covington said he’d drive me because it was too late and it would take a lot longer if my mom had to drive all the way to Binghamton and back. That sounded good to me.

I said goodbye to Mrs. Covington and Kaitlin, then to Dan who reached out and we hugged.

“Thanks, Mark,” he said. It looked like he was a bit teared up.

“I’m glad I was there to help. I sure wouldn’t want to lose my first friendly at Columbia High.” I grinned and Dan smiled.

Mr. Covington and I walked to the hospital garage and to his car. Somehow I saw him driving a fancy car like a Mercedes or Audi, but he led me to a Prius. He asked me for my address, and I told him how to get there.

“Mark, is it okay with you if I meet your parents when I get you home?”

“Sure, that’s fine with me. My mom will be home. My dad usually gets home from work at around six, but he had to go to Albany for a meeting so I don’t think he’ll be home until later. He’s the new Medical Director at the Binghamton Health Center. If he’d been here instead of Albany, I could have gone home with him.”

At first neither of us talked during the drive, then Mr. Covington broke the silence.

“Dan likes you a lot, Mark.”

That seemed a bit strange for him to say.

“I like him, too.”

“I’m sure Dan would be upset if he heard what I’m going to tell you,” he continued. “He doesn’t seem to have many friends at school. He never has friends over, and I don’t think he ever goes to a friend’s house. You’re the first kid who he seemed to get excited about.”

“That’s strange. He’s real friendly, and I’d think he’d have lots of friends. I know that I’d like to be friends with him. Everyone at school today seemed real concerned about Dan and how he’s doing.”

“Well... there’s something about Dan. When he attended middle school he told one of his friends that he’s gay. That boy spread the story around school, and from then on Dan was shunned by most kids. We hoped that would fade away once he got to high school, but if anything it seems worse. Dan seems to avoid most kids. I think it’s because he thinks they won’t like him because he’s gay.”

“I don’t get it. What difference does it make if he’s gay or straight? Is he being hassled about it at school?”

“I don’t think so, at least he hasn’t said anything about it. But kids don’t tell their parents stuff like that, do they, Mark?”

I laughed. “Yeah, I know how kids don’t want to talk about those sorts of things. We like to keep things to ourselves, like we should be able to handle them ourselves. I like Dan, and I don’t care if he’s black or white or Asian, or gay or straight, or left-handed, or has green eyes, or red hair, or anything like that. I want us to be friends.”

We stopped at a traffic signal, and Mr. Covington turned and looked at me.

“The fact that you saved his life and that you’ve been friendly with him means so much for Dan, Mark. I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to be friends with him. I think it’s something that’s very important for him right now. Maybe he can start coming out of the shell he’s built around him.”

“You can count on me, Mr. Covington. I judge people by what’s in here,” I pointed to my heart, “and here,” I pointed to my head, “that’s what counts.”

I thought for a few seconds. “You know, everyone who came up to talk to me at school today, the first thing they did is ask about Dan. They thanked me for giving him the EpiPen injection, but the main thing is they wanted to know was if he’s okay. If Dan thinks people don’t like him, I think he’s wrong. I talked to lots of kids today, every one of them said they hoped he got well real soon and wanted to know when he’d be back at school. That sure doesn’t sound like they don’t like him. I think knowing that will help him pull out of that shell you say he’s built around himself.”

“Mark, I thought Dan might be wrong about the kids at school. Maybe he’s the one who’s been doing the shunning, doing it because he has this preconceived idea that they don’t like him because he’s gay.”

“Could be. I haven’t been there long enough to know about something like that.”

“You and your family just moved here, I understand.”

“Yeah. My dad got the Medical Director job with the Binghamton Health Center so we had to move here.”

“Why did your family move out to Sanitaria Springs?”

“Mom wanted a house with a big yard. They found a house here that they liked. Sort of liked, because they’re fixing it up.” I sort of snarled the next part, “They like to fix up houses.”

Mr. Covington picked up my attitude about fixing up houses. “Sounds like you’re not thrilled with the fixing up part, Mark.”

“Someday I’d just like to live in a house that’s all done and we can move in and there’s nothing to be ripped out and replaced. It gets old living in a construction site all the time.”

“Well, that’s certainly something I can agree with. Do you help with the renovating?”

“In the past, yes. Not the last time, and not this time either. When we moved to Chicago last year and they picked the house I told them I could either get good grades or help fixing up the house, but not both. They said get good grades. So last year I pulled straight A’s for the first time ever.”

“They were renovating your house in Chicago?”

“Yeah. They finished it a few months before we moved here. Dad got the offer to take this job in Binghamton and we’re living in a construction site all over again. I painted my bedroom and we agreed that’s all I’d have to do.”

We drove on the expressway for a while and didn’t say much until we got to the Sanitaria Springs exit. Then I started giving him directions.

“Turn left at the end of the exit ramp, then turn right where it dead-ends at Hunt Hill Road, and keep going.”

I saw our road coming up. “Take the left next to the black mailbox, then keep left at the Y and go straight. Our house is at the end.”

Mr. Covington drove up the road toward our house.

“You’re rather isolated here, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, we are. There’s two houses if you take the right turn just before you get to our house. Then there are some houses if you turn left on Pleasant Hill Road back at the exit ramp. You turn right and it’s Hunt Hill Road, you turn left and it’s Pleasant Hill Road.

“Do you like living here?”

“I guess. We haven’t been here very long. There’s a whole forest up in back of where we live. I’ve done some hiking and exploring in there and that’s fun. My mom’s gotten to know our two neighbors. My dad likes it here because we’re close to the on and off ramps for the expressway so it’s easy for him to get to work.”

He stopped in front of our house and I opened the door and got out, then grabbed my backpack from the back seat.

Mr. Covington got out and stood looking at me across the roof of his car.

“Is it okay if I come in and talk to your mom?”

“Sure,” I replied. ‘Like, why not? You already asked me!’ I thought.

I started up the path to our front porch and got out my key. Before I could put it in the lock Mom opened the door. She smiled at me and Mr. Covington.

“Mom, this is Mr. Covington, Dan’s father. He wanted to meet you.”

“Mr. Covington, I’m Maria Langstrom. I’m so pleased to meet you. Come in and sit down, and please call me Maria.”

“Thank you, Maria. Please call me Paul.”

Mom led us into the living room, one of the few rooms that wasn’t under construction. Yet. We sat down, Mr. Covington on the sofa, Mom on one of the chairs next to the fireplace, and I sat in the other chair.

“I want to tell you how grateful my family and I are about the way Mark stepped in and saved Dan’s life today.”

“All I did was use Dan’s EpiPen and let the epinephrine do what it’s supposed to do,” I protested.

“You’re much too modest, Mark,” he said. He turned to my mom. “Mark showed leadership qualities in what he did for Dan. As a result, Mark and Dan have become friends. I’m especially pleased that has happened.”

“That’s nice to hear. Mark’s father and I know that moving to a new area and a new high school is complicated. One of those complications is making friends. Mark had to leave a group of good friends in Chicago when we moved. I’ve been worried about him finding friends here because we haven’t seen any teens his age living near us. That will make it difficult to get together with friends when he’s not at school. Where do you live, Paul?”

“Our home is about five miles west of here, in the town of Fenton, southwest of the settlement of Port Crane. To confuse things even more, our post office address is Binghamton.”

Mom laughed. “We live in Sanitaria Springs, but our post office address is Port Crane.”

“Mark tells me you’re remodeling your house.”

“We’re doing a lot more than remodeling. This house has two bedrooms and one bathroom. We’re remodeling the kitchen, and adding a new master suite with a bathroom. When that’s finished we’ll completely gut the existing bathroom and bring it up to date. Then we’ll add a family room and an office for my husband, Brad.”

“That sounds expensive.”

“It is, but compared to our house in Chicago this house was a steal. We paid $85,000 for the house, and estimate that we’ll put about $120,000 in the remodel. Would you like a short tour and see what we’ve done so far?”

“Yes, I would. We’ve remodeled our home over the past few years, the latest being the addition of a second bathroom, off the master bedroom, so now we have two and a half baths. We have three bedrooms, a den, an office, and a partially finished basement.”

“Uh, Mom, is it okay if I start on my homework?”

“Certainly, Mark.”

“Thanks. Mr. Covington, it was nice meeting you, and thanks for the ride home.”

“My pleasure, Mark. And remember, if Ms. Lynch gives you any trouble, you phone me immediately. I assume that you have a cellphone.”

“I do, and I will call you if there’s any problem at school tomorrow.”

Part 3: I'm Not a Hero

Before my mom started the tour of our renovations with Mr. Covington, I decided to say goodbye before going to my room and starting my homework.

“Thanks. Mr. Covington, it was nice meeting you, and thanks for the ride home.”

“My pleasure, Mark. And remember, if Ms. Lynch gives you any trouble, you phone me immediately. I assume that you have a cellphone.”

“I do, and I will call you if there’s any problem at school tomorrow.”

“What’s this trouble you and Mr. Covington are talking about?” Mom asked me.

“When I gave Dan his EpiPen injection the Athletic Director, Ms. Lynch, tried to stop me saying we’d have to wait for the nurse to come from the office so she could inject Dan, that it was against school district rules for anyone else to do it. But he was having a hard time breathing and his skin was cold and clammy, so I went ahead and injected him. Then Ms. Lynch said she was going to have me expelled.”

“When Mark told Dan,” Mr. Covington said, “I overheard and told him that if there’s any attempt to suspend or expel Mark or give him detention or anything else, he’s to phone me immediately. I’m an attorney and I’ll represent him.

“By the way, Mark, you have to hire me. Do you have a dollar on you?”


“May I have it as your retainer for my services in representing you as your attorney in this matter?”

“Sure.” I pulled out my wallet and gave Mr. Covington a one-dollar bill. “Here you go.”

He turned to Mom, “I assume that you agree with Mark hiring me as his attorney?”

“I certainly do. And if they try anything they’ll hear from me, you can be sure of that.”

“Mark, I’ll send you a standard Letter of Representation. You need to sign it, have your mother and father sign it, and return the original to me.”

“Okay. Uh, how much more is it going to cost me?”

“I think your retainer covers any and all of my expenses.” Mr. Covington grinned. “I love going after people who are on power trips, and it sounds to me that Ms. Lynch is doing just that. I’m sure that after I talk with Principal Benson her threat will be quashed.”

I grinned. “Quashed? What’s that mean?”

“It means to put an end to something, in legal parlance it means to declare something invalid. So, in your case, any attempt to punish you will be declared invalid and it will end. You don’t have any classes with this Ms. Lynch, do you?”

“No, I’m not in any of her classes. I guess that she’s probably one of the girls’ Gym coaches in addition to being the Athletic Director. I don’t know if she’s also a regular teacher.

“You know, I told Mrs. Barker, my Biology teacher, what happened with Ms. Lynch and she said she’d get other teachers and go to Mr. Benson and I’m supposed to go to all of my classes tomorrow as usual.”

“Mark,” my mom said, “I think that’s good advice. Do you agree, Paul?”

“I certainly do. And you’ll call me if anything happens?”

“I certainly will,” I replied with a grin.

“If something does happen, don’t answer any questions you are asked by any school employee or the police about what happened yesterday. Tell the person questioning you that you’re going to call your attorney and have him — that’s me — come to school immediately.”

“Okay. How about when kids ask me?”

“It’s okay to answer their questions, but don’t go into much detail or say who did this to Dan. Alright?”

“Um… I told a bunch of kids and my Biology teacher that it was Kenny Lamper who dropped the tarantula into Dan’s pants. But Barry Metzger also saw him do it.”

“Please don’t refer to that boy, Kenny Lamper, in response to any questions from kids at school.”

“I told a bunch of people that Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland were the ones who stole Oscar, that’s the tarantula’s name, from the Biology Lab.”

“Please don’t refer to them or speculate who might have stolen the tarantula to anyone else, okay?”

“Yes. I’ll keep that stuff to myself from now on.”

Since I didn’t need to follow Mom on one of her tours to show how my folks were going to remodeling the house, I stood up. “If it’s okay, I’d better get going on my homework.”

I went to my room and opened my Pre-Calc textbook and started on the problems we’d been assigned to turn in tomorrow.

A while later Mom came to my door and said Mr. Covington was leaving and wanted to say goodbye. Again. I followed her to the living room.

“Goodbye, Mr. Covington,” I said. Thanks for the ride home today.”

“You’re welcome, Mark. Would you like to visit Dan tomorrow after school? If so, I can pick you up and take you to the hospital, then bring you home.”

“Yes, I’d like that, thanks.”

“Paul, Mark’s father can bring him home,” my mom told Mr. Covington. “That way you won’t have to drive all the way out here and back.”

“And,” I added, “that way I can spend more time with Dan, until my dad is ready to tear himself away from paperwork.”

“Well, then it’s settled,” he said. “I’ll pick you up at the front of the campus around three fifteen. Is that time okay?”

“I’ll need a few minutes to go to my locker, so maybe three thirty.”

“I’ll see you then. And remember, don’t talk to anyone about what happened, and if any administrator tries to talk to you, refer them to me.” He pulled out a few of his business cards and handed them to me. “If anything like that happens, give them one of my cards and tell them you can’t say anything until I’m there. Then call me.”

He turned to my mom and handed her a couple of his cards.

“Maria, here’s one of my cards for you and one for your husband. Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to meet him tomorrow afternoon.”

“I’ll talk to him about that when he gets home tonight,” she replied.


The next morning I walked down to Hunt Hill Road and waited for the school bus. I wondered if anyone would remember about Dan. Probably not. My experience at Ryan High proved to me that yesterday’s story wasn’t today’s story. So I couldn’t have been more surprised when I got on and the kids on the bus started clapping. I’m sure I blushed because when I sat down next to Diane Lane she bumped my arm and I turned to see her grinning at me.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Mark. We almost never have a hero at Columbia High and it’s great to have one, and that’s you.”

“I don’t think I’m a hero, Diane. I just did what I knew how to do.”

“And by doing it you saved Dan’s life. You can’t deny that.”

“Yeah. But this ‘hero’ stuff is just wrong.”

“A hero is someone who saves someone. You saved Dan’s life. I think that makes you a hero.”

I put my hands over my eyes and shook my head, then looked at her again.

“When is this going to end? Where I went to school in Chicago this sort of thing would be over in a day because some other story would get everyone’s attention.”

“How big was your high school?”

“About 1,600 students.”

“And we have about 600. We don’t get as many rumors here.”

I took a deep breath and shook my head.

“Just go with the flow, Mark. Eventually something else will be at the top of the ‘News of the Day’ at school. For now, just be the way you’ve been, a nice guy. When someone says something nice to you just say ‘Thanks’ and smile. That combination will make people like you. By the way, you have a great smile.”

I blushed and Diane laughed.

“So, what’s it like going to a smaller school? Besides it being smaller.”

“A good thing is that classes have fewer students so anyone who has questions can get more attention from the teachers. The textbooks are in better shape. I like the way the classrooms are set up, in a semicircle around the teacher’s desk. One thing that’s the same is the food in the cafeteria isn’t very good.”

“You mean barely edible.” She laughed, then asked, “Have you found that the kids here are friendly?”

“I think so. It’s hard to tell, I’ve only been here three weeks so it’s still hard to tell. One thing that’s the same is that kids don’t come up and talk to me in the halls. That’s the way Ryan High was when I started there. Here I think it’s because most kids have known each other since elementary school. At Ryan I think it’s because the school is bigger and more impersonal.”

“That makes sense.”

“You know,” I said, “talking about small schools, specifically Columbia High, it seems funny you and I don’t have any classes together.”

“You’re taking AP classes, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, but just one, AP Biology. Sophomores can only take one AP class.”

“What else are you taking?”

“English 2, Pre-Calc, History of the Americas, Computer Tech, and Spanish 3. And Gym, but I’m almost positive you’re not in my Gym class.” I grinned.

Diane wiggled her eyebrows. “That would be fun though! Anyway, that’s why we’re not in any classes together. The only classes we have that are the same but with different teachers are English 2 and U.S. History. Oh, yeah, and Gym, Girls’ Gym. You must be a real smart guy, Mark.”

“I do okay. One of the things that helps is I took Algebra 1, Geometry, and Spanish 1 in middle school. Then when we moved to Chicago I took Algebra 2 and Trig and Spanish 2 when I was a freshman last year at Ryan.”

The bus pulled up in front of Columbia High and we all got out and walked up to the entrance. Some kids hung around outside, others, including me, went inside. I put the books I wouldn’t need until my afternoon classes in my locker. As I stepped away, several kids said, “Hi, Mark!” and smiled. That was something new.

They were more talkative than usual too. They asked about Dan, of course. But they’d start by talking to me about the homework for a class we had together, or if I knew if we were going to have a quiz. The biggest surprise came when several of the A-list kids reminded me that they’d see me at lunch. No one asked about Kenny or Jeff, or what I’d seen, or who stole Oscar. Mr. Covington would be happy about that.

Before going to my Homeroom, I stopped by Mrs. Barker’s room.

“Hi, Mrs. Barker.”

“Good morning, Mark,” she replied.

“Did you hear anything about me being suspended or expelled?”

“No, not a word. I did talk to Principal Benson and Vice Principal Greer, and most of your teachers. The one I didn’t get to talk to is Coach Parks. And I didn’t talk to Ms. Lynch either, of course. I think if Ms. Lynch talked to Principal Benson and asked that you be disciplined, he quashed her request.”

I grinned. Mr. Covington had used that word and explained what it meant. Now Mrs. Barker used it too.

“That’s great. Coach Parks told me to give Dan the injection, so I think he’s on my side in case Ms. Lynch tries to get me expelled. How’s Oscar?”

“Oscar seems to be getting along just fine.”

“That’s great, too. As long as I’m here, do you need anything taken care of in the Biology Lab this morning? I could help out, if you do.”

“Everything is fine. We’re not doing any lab exercises today.”

“Is there going to be a quiz?”

“No, I’m going to be lecturing on the similarities and differences between humans and other mammals.”

“That sounds interesting. Well, I’ll head to my homeroom then. See you later, Mrs. Barker.”

I got through my classes including Gym, sat at the A-list table at lunch, and got through the rest of my classes. What impressed me was the first question everyone asked was, ‘How is Dan?’ That showed me that Dan does have a lot of friends at school, and his dad didn’t have anything to worry about. By the end of the day only a few kids had asked about Kenny and Jeff, wanting to know if they’d been arrested. I told them the truth: I didn’t know. The best thing was that no one had approached me about being expelled or suspended or getting detention. I assumed that issue had been dropped.


I got to the pickup area at three thirty and saw Mr. Covington’s car. I walked over and he saw me and waved.

I said, “Hi,” as I got in.

“Hi, Mark. How was your day?” he asked as we drove out of the school parking lot.

“It was sort of amazing. Kids kept asking me about Dan, about how he was doing, what hospital is he in, can he have visitors. I’d say Dan has a lot of friends at Columbia High School. Only a couple kids asked me about Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland, mostly about whether they’d been arrested. I don’t know the answer to that question, so that’s what I told them. I didn’t get a call to talk to anyone in the administration, so I think the thing about me being expelled or suspended is a non-issue.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Still, it might come up next week, so I’d appreciate it if you keep any information to yourself.”

“I’ll do that. How’s Dan?”

“He’s fine. In fact, he’s at home. That’s where I’m taking you. I’ll take you home around six this evening. I assume that’s not a problem?”

“No, not at all. It’s great that Dan is home already. Will he be able to go to school on Monday?”

“Yes, assuming that he continues to feel as good as he does today.”

I sat back and smiled. I liked Dan, and he liked me. A great start for what I hoped could be a friendship. Maybe we could be best friends. I’d like to have a best friend here.

The car pulled up in a driveway in front of a large, modern, two-story house, a lot bigger than my house.

“We’re here, Mark. We’ll go in the back door. Dan is probably in the family room which is at the back of the house off the kitchen.”

I got out of the car and waited for Mr. Covington to walk around the car. I followed him onto a porch, then into the house. Mrs. Covington was in the kitchen.

“Denise, I’m home and Mark is with me. By the way, Mark, I have the representation agreement for your signature.” He handed it to me.

“Thanks. I’ll read it and review it with my folks. Then I’ll sign it and get it back to you.”

“That will be fine. Remember to have your folks co-sign the form in the places where their names are listed.”


Mrs. Covington smiled. “Hello, Mark. It’s nice to see you again. How are you doing?”

“Hi, Mrs. Covington. I’m good.”

“Why don’t I take you into the family room. Dan went to the bathroom, but he should return in a few minutes. Would you like something to drink? We have just about anything you’d like.”

“Do you have orange juice?”

“Yes. Let me get you a glass.”

She poured me a large glass of orange juice, and I followed her into the family room.

“Dan’s been sitting on the couch, as you can tell from all of his stuff lying around. Have a seat anywhere you’d like.”

I decided to sit in a chair across from where Dan had been sitting. That would make it easy for us to talk face-to-face.

After a couple minutes Dan walked in.

“Hey, Mark!”

I stood. “Hey, Dan! You look… normal. Like nothing happened.” I grinned. “I’m real glad to see you.”

He walked over and hugged me. It surprised me, but I grabbed him in a hug too. After a few seconds he pulled away, but held onto my arms.

“I didn’t get a chance to really thank you for saving my life, Mark. So, thank you.”

“I didn’t save your life. Your EpiPen saved your life. All I did is slam it into your thigh.”

“Don’t discount what you did or why you did it. First, you knew that I would have an EpiPen when I told you that I had allergies to spider bites. You’re the one who asked me if I had an EpiPen. Most people wouldn’t have known to ask me about that. Second, you applied the EpiPen correctly. Most people wouldn’t have had a clue about how to do it. Because you knew what to ask and how to use it I’m alive today. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. So stop arguing about it, and let me hug you again.”

We hugged, and I have to admit that I enjoyed it.

“Okay, let’s go up and I’ll show you my room.” Dan wiggled his eyebrows and grinned.

“Hmm. Is this one of those ‘Come up to my room, said the spider to the fly’ deals?” I asked.

“That’s for me to know and for you to find out.” Dan wiggled his eyebrows again, and led me to the stairs.

“Mom! I’m going to show Mark my room.”


We went upstairs to Dan’s bedroom.

“Well, this is it. A little messy, but I’ve been in the hospital and didn’t have time to prepare for visitors.”

“Doesn’t look that messy to me,” I said. “If you shove those dirty clothes under your bed then make your bed, it’ll look more or less clean. About the same as mine.”

I grinned and walked in, then over to his bookcase.

“Science fiction and mysteries. No zombies or vampires. I’m impressed.”

“Most of what I read now I do on my Kindle apps. I have a Kindle Touch and the apps for my tablet and my laptop.”

“Me too,” I said, “except I don’t have the Kindle, just the apps. I have an eight-inch tablet and do most of my reading on it. I also have the app on my phone and on my laptop.”

“I oughta download the app for my phone,” Dan said. “I’ve been a few places and had to wait, like the doctor’s office for my annual physical. And the hospital recovering from the tarantula bites. Having the app on my phone means I could read instead of sitting or lying there waiting and being bored out of my skull.”

“Did you know that your dad is my lawyer now?” I asked.

“You’re kidding me!”

“Nope. Remember when you were in the hospital I told you Ms. Lynch was yelling that I shouldn’t use the EpiPen on you, and after I used the EpiPen she yelled at Coach Parks that she wanted my name because she was going to have me expelled?”


“Well, your dad had me hire him in case they tried to expel or suspend me. He’ll fight them for me if they try doing that.”

“Can you afford my dad? I think he’s expensive.”

“Yeah, but it took almost everything I have.”

“How much?”

“One dollar.”

Dan laughed. “One dollar?”

“Yup, one single dollar. Now, you have to recognize that significant fee covers all of his expenses no matter how much they might be.”

“Ah. You’re a pro-bono client. That’s what he does for impoverished people and charities and other groups like that.”

“That’s me. Impoverished,” I said. “I’ll have to remember that.”

“I’ve got a question for you. What’s your impression of my dad?”

“He’s real straightforward, tells it like it is, and is in the corner of the impoverished persons.” I grinned.

“Dufus! Now I have another question. Did he tell you that I’m gay?”

“Yes, and I told him I didn’t care what you are, gay, straight, whatever. It’s the same as things like the color of your eyes or hair, or if you’re right- or left-handed, or your shoe size.”

Dan took a deep breath. “Thanks, Mark. I guess it turned out alright. I told him not to say anything to you. I wish he hadn't.”

“That’s what he told me. Well, what he actually said was that you’d be upset if you knew that he told me you’re gay. And I meant what I told him. There’s no possible way in the world that I can’t be okay with you being gay.”

Dan sat looking at me with a sort of puzzled expression. “There’s no way that you can’t be okay with me being gay?”

“That’s right.” I couldn’t keep from grinning, and I wiggled my eyebrows.

“Oh. Oh my god! You mean…? Do you? Are you? No, you can’t be. But… you are?”

By then I was laughing so much that I couldn’t say anything to answer his questions. So I nodded.

“You dufus!” he shouted. “Why didn’t you say something before?”

By then I’d stopped laughing. “So when is before supposed to have been? Your dad told me that you’re gay yesterday when he drove me home. I sure wasn’t going to say anything to you over the phone, or in a text message or an email. Something like this has to be done in person, face-to-face. That didn’t happen until right now.”

I got up and walked over to where Dan sat on his bed. I put my hands out, palms up, and waved my fingers upward, meaning I wanted him to stand up. He stood.

“I think we need a hug, both of us. And a kiss. Do you agree?” I grinned

Dan nodded, and we hugged each other, close and personal. Then I kissed him, on the lips. A soft kiss, just lips. I’d never kissed another boy before. I planned to do it again, to kiss this boy again. In fact, again, and again, and again….

Part 4: Come up to my Room

Dan and I pulled back from our hug. I smiled and saw him smile too.

“I can’t believe that you’re… you know?” Dan said.

“Well, duh!” I replied. “I am. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be, is there?” I started laughing, and then so did Dan.

We were lucky we’d broken off our hug and the kiss because Dan’s mom walked into his bedroom.

“Well, you two sound happy. What’s so funny?”

“Mark told me I should shove my clothes under the bed and make my bed and my room would be as neat as his. That’s very funny!”

“Except for the shoving of your clothes under the bed, the other part about you making your bed sounds appropriate to me,” she responded.

“Come on, Mom, I just got home from the hospital. I changed and the dirty clothes I put on the floor, then I took out my dirty clothes from my gym bag and added them to the pile. I would’ve picked them up later, but I was tired and went downstairs to the family room to rest.”

“I know, Dan. I’m just pulling your leg. But now that you have Mark to help you should straighten your bed, then pick up your clothes and put them on your bed. I’ll collect them later and put them in the wash.”

“Okay, will do.”

“Thanks. I came up to ask if you two would like a snack.”

“I am sort of hungry,” Dan said. “A snack sounds good.”

“Alright, wash your hands and then come on down to the kitchen,” she said, then she turned and left.

“We need to be more careful,” Dan whispered.

“I agree,” I whispered. “Uh, where’s the bathroom?”

“Follow me.”

I followed him down the hall to the bathroom, and closed the door after we entered. He looked puzzled.

“Why did you whisp… oh. Never mind.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I’ve gotta take a leak.”

We both took care of what we had to do, grabbing a glance of each other along the way, then I followed Dan downstairs. We sat across from each other at the kitchen table.

“How about some pizza rolls,” Dan’s mom suggested.

“Sounds good. That okay with you, Mark?”

“Sure, that’s good. Thanks, Mrs. Covington,” I answered.

“Pizza rolls it is,” his mom said. “Get whatever you’d like to drink.”

“You want a Coke or a 7-Up, Mark?”

“A Coke, please.”

Dan got up and got two bottles of Coke and brought them to the table.

“Here you go,” he said.

“So, tell me a little about yourself,” Dan’s mom asked me.

“Not much too tell, and what there is, is mostly boring. I was born in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. My dad was a hospital consultant, so we moved a bunch of times as his clients changed. Then he got a job at University Medical Center in Chicago. I went to Ryan High School and was there for my freshman year. Then during the summer my dad got the job offer at the Binghamton Health Center and we moved here just before school started. I’m a sophomore at Columbia High, same as Dan. I play tennis, and was on the freshman tennis team at Ryan.”

“Will you go out for the tennis team at Columbia High?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Is there a tennis team, Dan?”

“Yes. It’s a spring sport.”

“Do you play?” I asked him.

“Yeah, just for fun. I’m not good enough to be on the team.”

“What classes do you like, Mark?” she asked.

“I’m taking AP Biology. I like that a lot.” I grinned. “If I have questions I can go to my dad for the answers. He’s an M.D.”

“You’re lucky,” Dan said. “I wish there was a law class, then I could get my dad to help me. Say, where is Dad?”

“He went back to work. And if you’re wondering, Kaitlin is at a friend’s house and will be home by five o’clock.”

“Okay. Thanks, Mom.”

“What other classes do you like, Mark?” she asked.

“Mom! Please stop grilling him like he’s on the witness stand!” Dan said.

I laughed. “It’s okay. My mom will do the same thing when you come over to my house. I like going to school, and I like all my classes. My favorite classes, besides AP Biology, are Computer Tech, Spanish 3, and Pre-Calc.”

“You certainly like difficult classes,” she said. “Are there any you don’t like?”

“None besides lunch.” I grinned.

“You don’t like lunch? I thought all teens liked to eat,” she said.

“You haven’t eaten in our cafeteria, Mom,” Dan said.

I added, “Actually, the food isn’t that bad if you’re careful about what you pick. It’s better than the food at Ryan High. It’s more convenient to eat in the cafeteria than to bring a bag lunch from home.”

“I agree,” Dan added. “They could have some better choices, though.”

We finished our pizza rolls then went into the family room to watch TV.

“What do you want to watch?”

“I don’t know. What’s on?”

Dan scanned through the channels and found CSI New York. Neither of us had seen this episode, and even though it we got into it in the middle we decided to watch the rest of it anyway.

During a commercial, Dan bumped my shoulder.

“You want to have dinner with us? And maybe spend the night? Then we can do our homework together tonight, and tomorrow maybe go to the mall and wander for a while.”

“Yeah, that’d be great as long as it’s okay with your mom.”

“Lemme go ask her.”

Dan returned with his mom.

“Mark, you’re welcome to have dinner with us, and stay overnight. Will that be okay with your mother?”

“Thanks for offering, Mrs. Covington. It should be okay with my mom, but I’ll have to phone her and she’ll want to talk to you.”

“Why don’t you call her, and I’ll stand by so I can talk to her.”

I called home, and Mom said it would be okay but she wanted to talk to Mrs. Covington. I handed the phone to her. “My mom says okay, and she wants to talk to you. I’ll be in the family room with Dan.”

“You don’t want to wait while I talk with her?”

I just grinned and shook my head as a no. I knew once they got talking it would last for a long time.

I sat down next to Dan.

“Your mom said it would be okay?”

“Yup. No problem. Your mom is talking to my mom right now.”

“Oh, god, they’ll be on the phone for an hour.” Dan grinned.

“Tell me about it. My mom always spent more time talking to my friends’ moms than I did talking to my friends.”

“You want to play blackjack?”


So that’s what we did until Kaitlin got home a little while later. As soon she saw that I was there visiting Dan she came in and joined us.

“Mark’s staying for dinner, we’ll do our homework together and he’ll spend the night,” Dan told her.

“Dan, a bunch of kids at school were talking about what happened to you yesterday. I told them Mark was a hero for knowing how to use that EpiPen on you so you wouldn’t die.”

“How did they find out about it?” I asked her. “You don’t go to Columbia High, do you?”

“No, I go to Eastside Middle School.”

“So how did they find out about it?” I said, wanting an answer.

“They said they saw it on the TV news last night.”

“It was on TV last night? What channel?” I asked.

“My friend Bonnie said it was on cable, channel 218. I didn’t know about it. You didn’t know it was on either?”

I shook my head. “No, we don’t have cable where we live, we have a dish. I’m not sure if we get that channel, and if we do get it we didn’t see it. How about you, Dan, you didn’t see it either, did you?”

“No, and I don’t think my folks did either, since Mom didn’t say anything.”

“This is totally weird,” Dan said. “I’m gonna turn on channel 218. It’s a local channel that I hardly ever watch. Let’s see if the news is on yet. Yes, look, the five o’clock news is just starting. I’ll set the DVR to record it.”

Kaitlin got up and ran into the kitchen, shouting, “Mom, Mom!” She returned with and they sat down with us to watch the news.

The channel 218 news started with the headlines, then we sat through five or six commercials. The major national and state news came on next, with three breaks for more commercials, then the weather news, more commercials, and finally the local news. Then:

“Last night we told you that a teen at Columbia High School was bitten by a tarantula and taken to Binghamton Health Center where we were told he was recovering. We have a follow-up with more information tonight.

The teen was extremely allergic to spider bites and went into anaphylactic shock. One of his classmates recognized his symptoms and asked him if he had an EpiPen. This is a device that allows epinephrine to be injected to prevent anaphylaxis, a condition that can lead to death. Epinephrine is an anti-allergen drug for people who have this type of severe allergic reaction to spider bites and bee and wasp stings, and to foods like peanuts and shellfish. The teen was able to tell his classmate where he had his EpiPen and that classmate gave him the injection. This, according to our sources, saved his life. The classmate who knew what to do is certainly a hero.

Please note that because it is our policy to protect children and teens, we will not report the names of these two boys because of their ages.”

A commercial break started, and Dan muted the sound.

“See!” Kaitlin said, “I told you that you’re a hero, Mark. They said you are right there on the news, so that proves it!”

I closed my eyes and growled, “I am not a hero! How many times do I have to tell people!”

“Yes, you are!” Dan, Kaitlin, and Mrs. Covington all said simultaneously. They started laughing, and so did I.

Mr. Covington walked in. “What’s so funny?”

I stood up, raised both hands in the air, shook my head, and said, “Your family is totally confused!”

He stood there looking confused, then turned to Mrs. Covington. “What is going on?”

Mrs. Covington, with a few interjections by Dan and Kaitlin, explained their side of the story, emphasizing the part about me being a hero, then Dan backed up the DVR to the start of the news item and played it back.

“You’re overruled, Mark. Everyone, including me, says you’re a hero. But I would like to know who leaked the information to this news program.”

“I don’t think it was anyone from school,” I said. “If it had been, they would probably have mentioned that the tarantula’s name is Oscar, or that it had been stolen, or that two students had dropped it into Dan’s pants, or other things about what happened. Also, they didn’t say much about the hospital, or that Dan is home now, so I don’t think it was any of the hospital staff. What I think is that it’s one of the EMT crew.”

“That’s a good summary and it makes sense, Mark. Maybe you should think about going for a law degree.”

“I never thought about that. Right now I’m more interested in computer science, designing and writing software.”

“How about a combination of the two?” he asked.

“Could be. One of the things I like about software is I have to figure out what to do and how to do it, then to actually do it. Sounds like law is something like that.”

“Certainly the prosecution has to do just that, figure out what had been done by the defendant and how they did it, and then how to actually prove to a jury that the defendant is guilty.”

“I’ll think about it. I’ve got plenty of time before I have to decide on my college major.”

“Well, I have some news that I think everyone here will find interesting,” Mr. Covington said. “I phoned the State Police when I returned to work this afternoon. Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland left the campus when they realized they might be arrested. They were subsequently arrested at their homes, confessed to stealing the tarantula and dropping it in Dan’s pants. They claim the door to the Biology Lab wasn’t locked and they just walked in. They claim that they didn’t know the tarantula had fangs that could inject poison, or that Dan would have an allergic reaction to the spider bites, and they insisted that it was just a joke. They were charged with malicious mischief, and released to their parents. Other charges may be pending.

“Then I phoned Principal Benson and told him that I am your attorney, Mark. He told me that Kenny Lamper and Jeff Walland were suspended for leaving the campus without a pass, and there would be further action because of what they did to Dan pending a School Board hearing. The results of that hearing could be extended suspension or expulsion. I got the impression that he’d like to head off any kind of litigation.

“I told Principal Benson that you heard Ms. Lynch tell Coach Parks, in the presence of other students, that she would have you expelled. He told me that he has discussed the situation with Ms. Lynch and Coach Parks, and she agrees that the circumstances made it imperative that Dan receive an injection of epinephrine using the EpiPen and that what you did was appropriate.”

“I’m sure glad that Ms. Lynch didn’t push to have me expelled or suspended,” I said.

“Paul, Mark is staying for dinner tonight, and dinner is just about ready. So everyone wash up, and Kaitlin, after you wash your hands please set the table and then we’ll sit down to eat.”

Mrs. Covington served stew that had lots of beef and veggies, a salad, and homemade biscuits. Both Dan and I had two servings. For dessert she had fresh peach shortcake with whipped cream.

When we finished I told her how much I enjoyed the dinner. “It was delicious, Mrs. Covington. Thanks for everything.”

“Especially the shortcake,” Kaitlin said. “I love peach shortcake.”

“You should go to the school and take over the cafeteria,” Dan suggested.

“I’ll pass on that, thank you!” she responded.

I helped Dan and Kaitlin rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, and then Kaitlin washed the pots and pans, I dried, and Dan put them away. When we finished all of us went into the family room and watched the ‘Monsters University’ movie on VUDU. It was okay, but not nearly as funny as ‘Monsters Inc.’

Dan bumped me with his elbow. “Let’s get a start on our homework.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

We stood up. “Mark and I are going to my room. We’re going to take a look at what homework we have and how long it’s going to take, and get started on it.”

“Alright,” Mrs. Covington said. “That’s probably something you should do as well, Kaitlin.”

“Oh, all right.” Kaitlin didn’t sound pleased, but Mrs. Covington ignored her tone of voice. Dan looked at me and rolled his eyes.

When Dan and I got to his room we opened our backpacks and pulled out our books.

“Since I missed most of my classes yesterday and today, what was covered in the classes we have together?” he asked.

We went over the homework for English 2, Spanish 3, and History of the Americas.

“What other classes do you have?” I asked.

“I have Chemistry first period. I know what the reading assignments are; Mrs. Barker gave us a list in our first class. I have Biology fourth period. She gave us a reading list in that class, too. It’s probably the same material as your AP class. I have Algebra 2 fifth period. The assignment is probably the next set of problems. I have the homework that we had for Thursday. I didn’t get a chance to turn it in.

“That reminds me. I better get a note from my mom for being missing fourth through seventh periods on Thursday and all of my classes today.”

“What do you want to start on?” I asked.

“How about Spanish 3? It sounds like the most work. What did you do yesterday and today?”

“Yesterday Ms. Rodriquez handed out paragraphs in Spanish, and we each stood up and translated our paragraph into English as we read it. Our homework was to take the Spanish paragraph and do a better translation and we turned them in today. I can give you my paragraph and you can translate it and turn it in on Monday. Today we wrote a short story in Spanish, just one page, in class and turned it in. You could do that, too. Today’s homework assignment is to review the grammar rules and vocabulary in chapter four of our textbook.”

We got to work on our homework. Since Dan had both yesterday’s and today’s homework to do for Spanish 3, after I finished reviewing today’s grammar and vocabulary assignment I worked on my Pre-Calc problems. We both finished at the same time, so Dan and I went over what we did in English 2 and History of the Americas and the homework for each of those classes. Again, we both finished at the same time.

“I need something to drink,” Dan said. “How about you?”

“Sure. A Coke will be good.”

We went to the kitchen and Dan got two Cokes out of the refrigerator.

“You hungry?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No. I’m still full from dinner.”

“Well, I’m hungry. I think eating what they called ‘meals’ in the hospital left my stomach emptier than it normally would be. So I’m going to grab a bag of chips.”

We went back to his bedroom and opened our Cokes.

“What do you think will happen to Lamper and Walland?” he asked.

“I’m new here so I don’t know how they handle stuff like what those guys did. But when I went to Ryan they seemed to go easier on anyone who got good grades or didn’t have a record of causing trouble. If you got suspended, you still had to do all of your homework. If you didn’t do it, then you might have to go to summer school. If you got expelled, or flunked out a whole semester, and you were under eighteen, you’d be transferred to a remedial high school.”

“We don’t have a remedial high school here. I don’t know what happens if you’re expelled, or if you flunk out. If Lamper and Walland get expelled they should be sent to reform school.” Dan smirked.

“You really have reform schools here?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Probably not. I’m just joking. Those two were smart enough to get through ninth and tenth grades without flunking out. I don’t think they’d be expelled unless they committed a crime. What they did to me was just stupidity.”

I grinned. “But you said they were smart enough to get through the ninth and tenth grades.”

“Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean they’re intelligent enough to know what a stupid idea it is to steal a tarantula and put it in someone’s pants. I think some kids, like Lamper and Walland, can be smart and stupid at the same time.”

“Yeah, I see that. What homework should we do next?”

“I should work on my Algebra 2 problems. How about you?”

“I have to read the next chapter in my AP Biology textbook. That’s mostly dull and boring, so I’ll start that.”

I finished before Dan so I went to his bed and laid down.

I guess I fell asleep because I woke when I felt Dan shaking my arm.

“Hey, Mark, wake up. My mom wants to talk to us.”

Hearing ‘My mom wants to talk to us’ definitely woke me up. Those are words any teen never wants to hear.

I stretched and sat on the edge of Dan’s bed.

“Okay, I’m awake.”

“You look like you’re still half asleep,” Mrs. Covington said.

I looked up and focused on her, then I grinned. “I’m very hard to wake up. I have the volume on my clock radio set as high as it will go, and it’s on my desk across my room so I have to actually get out of bed to turn it off. That wakes me up. And I’m awake now.”

“I want to get you settled in the guest bedroom, Mark. So why don’t you come with me and I’ll show you where it is.”

The guest bedroom was directly across the hall from Dan’s bedroom. It had a queen size bed, like Dan had, a nightstand with a lamp and a clock, a small dresser, and a chair.

“I think you’ll be comfortable. You know where the bathroom is. There are clean towels and washcloths in the top drawer of the dresser, and a new toothbrush. There’s toothpaste in the drawer and mouthwash under the sink. If you need anything else, just ask Dan. I’ll say goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Mrs. Covington. Thanks for everything.”

“You’re welcome, Mark. Sleep well. On Saturday’s we usually have breakfast at eight thirty. Dan will make sure you wake up.”

He grinned. “That I’ll do. It’ll be the old dripping ice-water on your neck trick. Works every time.”

“Dan! You’re not to do anything like that!” his mom exclaimed.

“Oh, come on, Mom. I’m just kidding!”

“Well, make sure you never do anything like that. That’s just mean. Now, it’s ten thirty, so you two should think about getting ready for bed. I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Dan and I said together, as if we’d planned it. That made us laugh.

His mom walked out, mumbling, “Boys!”

Dan checked to make sure his mom and gone downstairs. “I wanted for us to sleep together,” he said. “But Mom pulled the old ‘guest bedroom’ interference trick play.”

“She’s pulled this on you before?”

“Once, when I was in the seventh grade. I think it freaked my friend Cory, and nothing ever developed, if you know what I mean.”

“I get the drift. I do have a problem, though. I don’t have any clean clothes with me. Can I borrow a T and boxer briefs to wear to bed tonight, and one of each that I can wear tomorrow? Please?”

“Sure. You’re a little taller than me, but we probably wear the same size boxer briefs, 28 to 30 waist, and medium T’s?”

“That’ll work.”

“Come on and select what you want. Some of my T’s are a little long so they should fit you better. Those are stacked on the left side of the bottom drawer.”

I picked out two T’s and two boxer briefs, both black which is my favorite color for underwear.

“Do you want to shower?” Dan asked.

“Yeah. I think I need one.”

Dan sniffed the air and scrunched up his nose and mouth.

“Don’t even start to say anything,” I said, then I laughed.

“Just kidding. You want to shower together?”

“Wouldn’t your mother wonder what we were doing?”

Dan grinned. “Don’t worry about my folks. Their bedroom is on the first floor at the other end of the house.”

“What about Kaitlin?”

“She’s like you. Once she’s asleep a railroad train could go through her bedroom and she wouldn’t hear it. Mom always has to go in her bedroom and practically drag her out of bed.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay. I just want to make sure we’re not pushing things too fast. Or too far.”

“Yeah,” Dan said. “You know, we’ve only spent a few hours together in total. I guess we need to go through the process, right?”

“The process?” I asked.

“Yeah. Friends first, then best friends, then boyfriends. Assuming that all makes sense.”

“I get it,” I said. “So I’d say we’re beyond the start of the ‘we are friends’ stage right now.”

“Yes, that’s what I think too. Now we need to hang together and see if we can prove that we’re really compatible and work on becoming best friends. I think we are, but we need to get out and do things together, like go to the movies and wander around the malls and play video games. And even play tennis.” Dan grinned.

“Dan, have you ever had a best friend?” I asked.

“Yup. In elementary school starting in the third grade my best friend was Brock Shaffer. Then he moved during the summer before middle school. When I went to Eastside Middle School I had a best friend in the sixth and part of the seventh grade, Cory Brown. His family moved to Endicott. In the eighth grade my best friend was Jim McDowell. I’d figured out that I was gay and told him. He was fine with it, he said, but he told a couple other kids and it got around school. Being gay and in middle school isn’t a good combination.

“So I’d been outed. Jim told me he was sorry he said anything to other kids, that he figured they’d be okay with it and wouldn’t tell anyone. He said he still wanted to be my friend. So we are still friends, but not best friends anymore. Some guys hassled me about being gay, especially two guys, Gavin Boyd and Larry Bresher.

“When I started ninth grade Gavin and Larry spread the word around that I was gay. I decided to keep a low profile, and that seemed to work. I didn’t get hassled the way I’d been in the eighth grade. I focused on my studies and brought my grades up and I got all A’s both semesters. So here we are at the start of the tenth grade, and now I’m being hassled by Lamper and Walland.”

“What happened to those two guys from your middle school, Gavin and Larry?”

“I haven’t seen them around this year. Maybe they both moved, or switched schools for some reason.”

“Dan, you think you don’t have many friends at Columbia High. But like I told you, when you were taken to the hospital it seemed that everyone asked me about you. They wanted to know how you were, if they could visit you in the hospital, if you’d be back on Monday. That tells me you have friends here. Lots of friends. Maybe they aren’t close friends, but some could be. All you have to do is open up and be friendly.”

“You really think so?”

“I know so. You’ll find out on Monday. I assume you’re going back to school on Monday, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be back at school. Assuming you help me finish my homework.” Dan grinned.

“Dufus. Here you tell me you go straight A’s last year and you’re telling me I have to help you with your homework? You should be helping me with my homework!”

“Do you really think so, Mr. Mark Langstrom who’s taking AP Biology? An AP class when you’re only a sophomore? I’ll bet you got straight A’s in the ninth grade too.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ so I am not a dufus!”

“Alright, alright, I’ll withdraw what I said. You’re not a dufus.”

“So how about you, Mark. What were your middle school and ninth grades like? Did you have best friends? Did you come out?”

“Last question first, you’re the first person, other than my folks, that I’ve told that I’m gay. My folks don’t have a problem with it, my dad being an M.D. means that he knows it’s genetic.

“Not much to tell about the four middle schools I attended. I had a lot of friends and a best friend at each school. My freshman year in high school was a little different. I’d been getting mostly B’s with a few A’s in middle school. I decided that I wanted to go into computer science so I’d need to up all my grades to A’s, and that’s what I did at Ryan. I still had friends, and even a best friend, but I didn’t get on the party train. That’s what kids at Ryan called going to parties every weekend. That sort of thing wasn’t for me, even though it was for my best friend.

“Some kids called me a goody-goody. My attitude was, and is, ‘so what?’ They can call me what they want. I’m going to walk away with a straight A average and go to college. Just like you.”

Dan grinned. “You know, I think you and I are very much alike. And I like that. I like having you as a friend. I don’t think it’s going to take us very long to move from stage one to stage two.”

“That’s friend to best friend, right?”

“Yes, it is.”

I sat looking at Dan and thinking for a few seconds. “You know, it’s all Oscar’s doing, isn’t it.”

“I never thought about it that way. Brought together by a spider. Not many people in the world can say that.”

I chuckled. “So it turns out that this is one of those ‘Come up to my room, said the spider to the fly’ deals after all, isn’t it.”

“And it’s still for me to know and for you to find out.” Dan wiggled his eyebrows, just like he had earlier.

I watched Dan smile. I liked his smile. “You know, it’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.”

The End

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