Through the Valley of the High School Parking Lot

Submitted into Contest #204 in response to: Write a story about someone undertaking a long, dangerous journey.... view prompt


High School LGBTQ+ Teens & Young Adult

Sam knew he had to time his escape from last period gym class perfectly. Too early and he risked getting run over by reckless seniors desperate to flee St. Anthony’s. Too late and he’d get caught by Brett and his cronies, who took gym with him but loitered in the locker rooms afterwards. He only had one ally - the ice cream truck that occasionally pulled up in the student parking lot. With enough students flinging pocket change at the truck, they’d form a line and force the traffic to slow down. With enough luck, it’d distract Brett too…

He’d already been caught by Brett yesterday, and the rotating school schedule meant gym was 8th period three days in a row. He shuddered at the thought of Brett pulling off a three-day killing streak against him. Sam rubbed his elbow, still sore and scabbing from when he slammed into the pavement yesterday thanks to Brett. He flung his backpack over his shoulder, still wearing gym clothes, and prepared to brave the parking lot back to the main building.

“Hey! Mr. Baxter! You’re gonna stink up St. Anthony’s if you don’t take a shower first!”

Sam’s heart sank as he heard the gym teacher Mr. Haney yell after him, drawing all eyes to him. He froze in place at the doors, stuck in place like he was tied to a pole with the laughter of his classmates stoning him to death.

“Oh shit, Mr. Hiney, get his ass!” laughed Brett, purposefully mispronouncing Haney.

“Bet Sam would love some one-on-one time with Hiney!” called out one of Brett’s minions.

“Run little gay boy before Hiney catches you in the shower!” another sneered, finishing off the Greek chorus, treating Sam like a comedy but making his life a tragedy.

“Hey!” Mr. Haney turned his attention away from Sam. Maybe this would be it, the day someone finally crossed the line and faced any sort of punishment. But…

“Who called me Hiney?” roared Haney at the teens, completely ignoring Sam. He lumbered away toward the rest of the class, giving Sam the chance to finally leave.

As the warm spring air hit Sam’s face, all he could whisper was, “Crap” - the ice cream truck wasn’t there. Maybe the principal finally questioned why a strange man was pulling up to school property almost daily to talk to kids. Haney’s temper tantrum was the only distraction Sam could rely on today to slow Brett down.

Sam rushed down the stone steps, still holding the railing though, too scared to risk hurting another elbow against the pavement. His worn-out sneakers hit the pavement, preparing to propel him through ten rows of student parking.

He couldn’t even get past one row of cars before he faced his next hurdle.

“Is that the sophomore that asked you out to Froshmore?”


Sam slowly turned around to see two girls sitting on the hood of a car right outside the gym. He didn’t recognize the one that spoke first, but the one that grunted in disgust…

“Hi Margot,” Sam uttered meekly, raising his hand and feeling his ears burn.

“Dude, what were you thinking asking a junior to a freshman-sophomore dance?” her friend interrogated him.

Margot just rolled her eyes and looked away. “Just drop it, Barb.”

Sam felt sick replaying the awkward encounter he had with Margot in the beginning of the year. He just transferred to St. Anthony’s this year so the concept of a “Froshmore Dance” was foreign to him. He thought since it was a Catholic school, the dance would be a formal one, so he assumed he needed a date.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were a junior,” Sam admitted, feeling guilty even though it was an innocent mistake. Margot was in his Geometry class, and he assumed everyone was a sophomore there. She also didn’t talk to anyone else, just like Sam, so he thought it’d be nice if the two loners could go… just as friends. “I just thought we needed dates to go…”

Barb scoffed. “Even if you did need dates, don’t you think Marg would have someone else to go with?” She turned with a coy smile to Margot. “Someone like Jackson…” she teased in a song-song voice.

“Stop, don’t tell him about Jackson!” Margot complained. But it was too late. The damage was done.


“I have to go now!” Sam blurted out, turning away before they could see his face turn red with embarrassment and disappointment. He couldn’t escape in time though since he still heard Barb ask Margot behind him, “Why’d he ask you out if everyone says he’s gay?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine, please no one look at me…” Sam whispered to himself as he trudged through another row of cars. As he paused to let a senior speed past him, he realized he had been blinking back tears at the thought of Jackson asking Margot out…

He met Jackson in his Spanish III class. Unlike with Margot, Sam was aware that different years could take different language levels together, and he caught on quick that Jackson was a junior. Jackson’s Spanish wasn’t perfect – he honestly still belonged in Spanish II at best – but Sam found himself hanging on every word he spoke as he did verbal exercises in the front of class. Jackson loved to talk about being on the varsity football team, never remembering to call it fútbol americano no matter how often Señora Mia reminded him. Yet, whenever Jackson made a mistake in front of everyone, just like on the field, he’d find a way to turn a fumble into a success, making the class laugh along with him…

“Crap,” Sam sighed, realizing he had been standing still for a few seconds. He turned around to look at the gym; it was only a matter of time before Brett caught up, so Sam started to jog while turning his head back around every other second.

“Hey, watch it!” cried Vince as Sam bumped into him. Sam realized he walked into Vince’s whole friend group as they were circling around in the parking lot. They were sophomores too, but they mainly stuck to themselves, always taking up space at the lunch tables as they played rapid sessions of Dungeons and Dragons.

“I’m sorry, I-” began Sam.

“Wait, it’s you, Little Samwise!” Vince taunted, ruffling Sam’s hair. Vince was lanky but very tall, and in high school, height was always a factor in social status. “Going back to your little hobbit hole?”

“Um, I don’t know, I just wanna get home.” He knew Vince was referencing Lord of the Rings, but Sam had never watched the movies – Vince would be appalled to learn that Sam also didn’t know they were books too.

“Oh, he’s trying to go there and back again!” one of Vince’s friends laughed, the allusion going over Sam’s head.

“C’mon Sam, let’s go find a Mount Doom for you to climb, might help you mature and grow a bit. You know, in any places that you need to grow in,” Vince laughed, once again trying to ruffle Sam’s hair.

Even after almost a full year at this school, Sam was confused to how even the acme-ridden geeks liked bullying him. Instead of geeks and loners coexisting, they just wanted to establish a pecking order, but the constant teasing was getting on Sam’s nerves.

“Could you just leave me alone? I don’t wanna have to watch your shitty movies just to have a conversation with you.”

Sam knew he messed up as soon as he said that. First, he rarely cursed – he would’ve said “crappy” if he wasn’t in a rush. Secondly, the movies were on his to-watch list; Vince just kept pushing his interest in them further down the list. But most damningly, thirdly…

“Brother Sam! What did I just hear you say?”

Sam had cursed within earshot of Brother Wallace.

Vince immediately used the teacher to his advantage. “Brother Wallace, we were just trying to recommend some movies to Sam and then he cursed at us-”

“I heard, Brother Vince,” Brother Wallace said, waving Vince off from explaining further. He then grabbed Sam by the shoulder and said, “Come with me young man.”

“B-but,” Sam trembled as he was being led off to the right of his destination. The Brothers’ residence was in between the gym and the main school, off to the side of the student parking lot. It wasn’t even a good distance away to serve as an escape; if Brett walked out of the gym, Sam would still be in his path and line of sight.

“Now listen here Brother Sam,” Brother Wallace began. He wasn’t even looking at Sam as he lectured him. “You’re one of God’s children, do you understand that?”


“Your body is a temple to God. Every part of it is made in his image – that’s what I taught you in my class, correct?”

“I get it-” Sam lied.

“I don’t think you do. Because that includes your tongue. It deserves more respect than being used to speak filthy language. I should have you come inside the Brothers’ House and scrub your tongue with soap like in the old days. Or at least have you say a few Hail Mary’s-”

“I’m sorry Brother Wallace-”

“Then look at me!” Brother Wallace commanded, stopping them before they reached the house. Sam stopped looking for Brett and turned to face Brother Wallace. But something else caught his eye.

The studio art room had always been on the bottom floor of the school, but near a side entrance far from Sam’s locker. There was a brick wall a dozen feet or so in front of it, obscuring it from view from anyone walking between the main building to the gym. There was a patio-like area by the art room hidden from sight by the wall, with benches and shade meant to encourage people to draw or paint outside. Now it was clearly in view for Sam since he had been pulled farther to the right than he would’ve ever gone on his own. Now he could see what he’d been missing all year.

Jackson was right there. Painting outside on an easel, still working on something even after the final bell rang. This whole year Sam didn’t realize Jackson’s art class was at the same time as his dreaded gym class. How many times had he passed Jackson without realizing it…?

Brother Wallace was still droning on. “So many young people misuse their bodies! They think it’s all about pleasure, but our bodies have a very strict purpose that God intended them to be used for-”

He’d have to fake a response to get out of this fast before Jackson wrapped up. “I understand Brother Wallace. Cursing is misusing my body. God didn’t intend for my… um, tongue… to be saying those things.”

Brother Wallace looked as though he was scanning Sam for an ounce of sincerity. If so, his scanner must be faulty. “Good. You get it.”

“Thank you, and I’m sorry again,” Sam lied as he began to walk toward Jackson.

“Young man,” Brother Wallace stopped him again by grabbing his shoulder. Sam turned around and forced himself to hide his impatience. But the look on Brother Wallace’s face was slightly different now that he saw Sam about to walk to Jackson.

“Yes Brother Wallace?”

Brother Wallace looked like he didn’t want to have to say what he was about to, but some misplaced duty urged him to speak. “Don’t go giving into the urges of the flesh. You know that’s not what God would want.”

And there it was. The same way Vince used geeky references that Sam didn’t know about to taunt him was the same way Brother Wallace used doctrine to beat around the bush with his suspicions about Sam.

“I won’t,” Sam said as he left Brother Wallace behind and walked toward Jackson. But he saw out of the corner of his eye, from a distance… Brett. Sam did a double take and confirmed that Brett and his gang were leaving the gym. He still had time to escape to the main school building if he ignored Jackson…

And then Brett saw Sam and made eye contact with him. Sam saw his toothy grin from across the parking lot. His prey was in sight for the second day in a row, and Brother Wallace had already walked away into his house. Sam only had a minute or two at best…

“Crap, crap… no, fuck…” Sam whispered, feeling defeated, alternating between glancing at Jackson painting and Brett slowly approaching. What’s the point, Sam thought to himself. What would he even have said to Jackson? They’d see each other in Spanish anyway. They don’t even talk then, so why risk it now? Besides, what made Sam think he was worth anyone talking to him, let alone Jackson…

And then the wind blew Jackson’s easel over, falling flat on the pavement. And Sam saw the look on Jackson’s face. It wasn’t the happy-go-lucky face he was used to in Spanish. It was sheer heartbreak.

Sam rushed to Jackson and called out, “Is the painting okay?”

Jackson was already in the process of picking it up. Now Sam could see he had been painting a field goal post. Nothing too fancy, just green grass and a blue sky with one cloud. But the yellow paint for the post must have been fresh – it splattered a bit and lost its clean shape.

“Ah, damn it,” sighed Jackson. He then turned to Sam and tried to smile. “Hey you.”

“Hi. Um, hello. Hi, Jackson.”

Jackson chuckled at Sam’s poor intro. “Well, you’re just in time to see my masterpiece ruined.” Though he was smiling, Sam knew he picked up on hints of sadness in his voice.

“Hey. Um. You’re really funny in Spanish.”

“Uhhh gracias I guess?”

“I meant… You always find a way to turn your mistakes into something funny. Something positive…”

“So… how do I do that here?”

“Um… the yellow splotches? You could make the post like a darker yellow, like almost orange. Then add onto the yellow splotches since it’s a lighter shade. So that way it looks like the post is glowing. Like a halo.”

“Oh… why?”

“Because you just kicked a field goal into it and won the game.”

Jackson’s mood instantly changed. His eyes widened and brightened as he looked excitedly down at the canvas. “Yoooo, that’s actually cool as hell! I’m not the kicker but whatever!”

Sam’s heart pounded. He could almost feel Brett catching up to him. But he was finally doing it. He was finally talking to Jackson. He was making him smile. But what else could he say? He only had a few precious seconds with him; it felt like he wasn’t allowed to enjoy the moment since he was so desperate to say the right things, to keep the conversation going, to get him to laugh again because that’s the only way he knows he’s likeable…

Sam just spoke the truth.

“I gotta go, Jackson. If Brett catches up to me… I’m not gonna enjoy talking to him like I did with you…”

And again, Sam managed to change Jackson’s mood. Jackson became concerned, then looked behind Sam and saw Brett coming closer. Then he became stern.

“What’s up, Sam? Trying to have a date with your boyfr-” Brett called out, stopping once he realized Jackson was the one standing next to Sam.

“What’s that Brett? Wanna finish that sentence?”

Brett’s face turned pale as he and his friends stopped smiling.

“Go ahead, I’m listening,” Jackson continued.

“Sorry, nothing,” Brett said, walking away.

But Jackson wouldn’t let them go easily. “Hey, I saw you try out for the team this year. Sucks you didn’t make it. Wanna know why?”

Brett looked back, but before he could answer, Jackson put his arm around Sam’s shoulders.

“Because you’re not a team player. I don’t wanna hear anything about you picking on Sam, or anyone else, or else I’m telling Coach Q you’re not ready for any team sport next fall.”

“Sorry Jackson,” Brett relented before walking away, finally defeated by someone bigger than him.

Sam was hoping with all his might that he could remember this feeling perfectly for as long as he could. The weight of Jackson’s arm against him made him happier than he’d been all year. And then he hoped somehow Jackson couldn’t feel his heartbeat all the way up in his shoulders.

“Ah, damn, I should’ve gotten him to apologize to you instead of me,” Jackson admitted, letting go of Sam and snapping his fingers.

“Thank you,” Sam whispered.

“Don’t sweat it dude. Just let me know if he bothers you again.”

“Thanks… we have gym last period again tomorrow, so he might try to-”

“Then I’ll just walk with you.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah, at least for the days that we have gym and art last period. Practice doesn’t start right away, so I’ll have time to kill after school. I don’t mind. Plus, Ms. Coolidge sometimes lets us out early from class anyway, doesn’t really care to look at her watch.”

Sam had to do his best to not look at Jackson. He was blinking away tears. He couldn’t bring himself to believe he deserved this.

“Thank you for being with me.”

Jackson bumped Sam’s arm with his fist. “Hey man, I need you too. You’ve got some cool art ideas.”

“I could help with your Spanish too.”

“Hey, my Spanish is muy perfecto dude-o!”

And together they laughed in the parking lot, restoring Sam’s soul back to peace.

June 30, 2023 07:32

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