Chapter 2: Hide (Your Love) Away
JOE MADSEN

You can read Chapter 1 of the story here.

For the first Monday morning in a while, Mickey wasn’t fast asleep at his desk. Eyes wide, he sat stiff in his chair, wondering what he’d say or do when he saw Skyler. The whole school was talking about them, but now Skyler wasn’t talking to him.

The loudspeaker crackled.

The Dean:
“Good morning, gentlemen. And happy
Monday. We now begin our third week of Lent,
a time of reflection and preparation. In
the words of St. Ignatius…”

Skyler was going to break up with him. He understood that now. Just as everyone was catching onto them, too.

The Dean continued.

“Seniors! Please be advised that your privilege of using the
dining terrace has been revoked. Until someone returns Mr. Wallace’s
blazer, which was stolen last week, no one is allowed to sit anywhere
in the dining terrace at lunchtime. And if anyone has any information
on the blazer’s whereabouts, we urge you to come forward.

A low chuckle swept the room. Mickey felt eyes on his back. He knew no one would ever snitch. And even if they did, there was no proof. But the thought of facing their whispers and glances alone… he needed Skyler.

“Finally, in preparation for Spring Break, we ask that those who
are traveling please submit a form indicating the destinations
where you and your loved ones will be going. All community service
trips have been canceled, in light of the coronavirus. And we urge
that any trips to affected areas be postponed. You can submit a paper
form or access an electronic form on our website.

And now, please join me in prayer.
Lord, teach me to be generous, to serve you as you deserve…

The boys mumbled along gracelessly. When the prayer finished, the bell rang and they dispersed, shuffling along to their first classes. Only Mickey had first period free. And Skyler. They usually napped in the theater. But who knew if Skyler would show… 

Stage Floor

Mickey scuttled down the hall, gliding past all others at apace. He took a turn down the stairs and nearly tumbled into someone coming up.

The other boy smirked. “What’s the rush, Dunleary? Got a hot date in the theater?”

“Fuck off,” Mickey fired back.

“Will you go to prom with me?” 

Others standing by cackled. But he’d already reached the first floor and entered a grand marble atrium that echoed with leather shoes and low chatter. He marched across to a set of big wooden doors and into the courtyard outside. Packs of twos and threes stared and whispered. He avoided their eyes. The brick pillars of the path were painted with saints. Halfway across, he hung a left and strode toward the theatre. It stood quietly detached from the rest of the school, facing the far-off church. The door was locked. But Mickey used his key. Four years of building sets made the place his sanctuary. Dusky and quiet. Silencing the outside as the door closed behind him. He tossed his blazer and backpack in a seat and strode down the aisle and onto the stage, lifting a trap door in the middle. There he climbed down a ladder and flopped on a mattress at the bottom. Lying on his back, he slipped his phone from his pocket and texted Skyler.

Mickey:
Be my nap buddy?

He paused before sending. As soon as he did, he heard the door clatter open. Right on cue. Mickey leaned up on his elbows, watching the trap door for a minute until Skyler descended into the pit. When he lay down across from Mickey, he smiled. Mickey smiled back. Relieved. But when he leaned in for a kiss, Skyler flinched.

Mickey frowned. “Everything ok?”

“Yeah…” Skyler mumbled. “I mean, yeah, I’m just…”

“Just what?”

Skyler rolled over. “I’m just tired.”

Mickey started to panic in silence again. He had all the feeling but none of the language to say what he wanted.

“Ummm…” he began, steadying his voice. “Are you sure you’re ok?”

Skyler groaned. “Jesus, Mickey, I’m fine.”

“Whoah.”

“Whoah what?” Skyler sighed. “Can we just go to sleep? I’m tired.”

He was still turned away, with Mickey staring at the back of his head. He had one question to ask. Just one obvious question. But he feared his voice would crack in tears if he did.

Skyler broke the silence. “You’re not sleeping.”

“Neither are you,” said Mickey. “And you’re not even looking at me or talking to me.”

“We’re talking now.”

“But we haven’t been.” Mickey’s voice was low. “Why haven’t you been answering my texts?”

Skyler said nothing.

“Have your feelings changed?”

“What the fuck, Mickey?”

“Why are you being such a dick?” Mickey hated his words — hated himself. “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” Skyler said, sitting up. “No, I’m just…I’m just stressed about this whole blazer thing. And all the shit people are talking about us.”

Mickey locked eyes with him and stared hard. It dawned on him at last — the missing thing.

“No, that’s not it,” he said. “You’ve been acting weird since you went out on Friday night.”

Skyler looked cornered, but he didn’t break eye contact.

“Did you…” Mickey asked. “Did you meet someone at Indigo?”

Indigo Club

They kept staring in the dark for a while. As awful as it was, Mickey hoped he was right. He’d take anything but the silence.

Skyler stood up suddenly. “I think we should break up,” he said. And not a second later, he climbed out of the pit.

Mickey lay on his elbows watching him go. It happened so quickly, he wasn’t sure it was real. But when he heard the doors shut, he suddenly felt out of place. Here in his sanctuary. He crawled up the ladder and found his articles again: blazer and backpack. It was awkward gathering his things, feeling forced out somehow. But when he reached the exit, he gathered something else that was lying on the floor. A wallet. Skyler’s wallet. Inside he found a fake ID tucked in the front sleeve. The one that got him into Indigo. Mickey slipped it out and stuffed it in his bag, dropping the wallet to the floor.

Red Building

A moment later he was back in the courtyard, sitting on a bench and looking up at the big red church across the way. The magnificence consoled him in his shock and grief. The old bell towers soared against the gray morning sky. He was chilly and alone, but he was less lonely out here than under the stage. Many boys before Mickey had looked up at her just like this, and many more would after him. It was comforting. The belltower chimed once. Quarter bell. Despite himself, Mickey found a smile on his lips at the sound. The bell reminded him of something. At this very moment, he was one of only two people who knew what was hidden up there. The other just dumped him in a matter of seconds.

Away in the bell tower, hung on a hook, was an old crimson blazer. Belonging, of course, to Mr. Wallace, the disgruntled head of security.

A week before the theft, Wallace had caught the boys kissing in the theater. He made a scene, too, when he shooed them out into the courtyard. Other boys gathered and watched.

“Ok, ladies,” he sneered. “You wanna fool around and practice kissing for the prom? That’s a detention for the two of you. This ain’t a back alley for queers.”

“News to me,” Skyler grinned. “Have you ever been in a theater, Mr. Wallace?”

The boys standing around chuckled, but Wallace only clenched his jaw. “If you want that kinda thing, take it to the gayborhood. But not in my school.”

“Huh,” said Mickey, surprising himself. “Did you go to this school, Mr. Wallace? I thought you were from Mississippi.”

“Alabama.”

“Weird,” he answered. “You say that like you’re proud of it.”

The boys served their detention after school that very day. And another one the next morning, for good measure. The official reason: entering a restricted area. A week later, Wallace’s blazer went missing. It was the first day of Lent.

The school buzzed with rumors all day, many circling around Skyler and Mickey. They weren’t all wrong. Once classes ended, the school gathered in the church for Ash Wednesday Mass. But just before the bell ran, Mickey got a text from Skyler. It said to meet him in the bell tower.

He had to be quick to beat the rest of school to the church. Hidden by loose panels and secret passages, he crept through her walls up narrow stairs. Until he found himself on the highest floor, facing a 50-foot iron ladder bolted to a wall. It led to a small opening in the ceiling. It led to a small room: the nest of the holy bells. He climbed to the top, rung by rung. When he emerged, he found Skyler, standing proudly next to Wallace’s blazer hanging from a hook in the wall. The bells began to ring. And then without a word, they desecrated the place while their peers took ashes 150 feet below.

Attic

Two weeks had passed since then. Mickey hadn’t dreamed he’d be recalling that day with such a broken heart so soon, but here he sat. Wondering what the hell he should do. And what the point of doing anything was.  

By some intervention, one of the big wooden doors in the church creaked open. Just as he was looking. Calling him from across the courtyard. He felt himself stand — as if his mind weren’t his own — and he began to walk. Until he reached the church. And slipped inside. And before he knew it, crept through a panel and up the winding steps again, until he reached the upper room, with the great iron ladder. He climbed. Rung by rung. Steady but not stopping until he came upon the bells in their nest.

The blazer still hung on the wall. It felt like claiming something by coming here. He realized he could just take it now. Take it back where it belonged. Confess to the crime. Tell the story how he wanted and leave Skyler out of it for good. Like he was never there. It felt powerful.

He stuffed the blazer in his backpack and made his way back down. Down the great ladder and the winding steps in the wall. Mickey truly felt alone, until he discovered otherwise. When he reached the first floor, he found the Dean of Students bolting the doors shut. He turned and stared a moment before speaking. He was a tall man, but he had soft eyes. And a softer voice.

“Mr. Dunleary.”

Mickey nodded back cautiously. “Dean Dudley.”

“What brings you here, pal?”

“Just praying,” said Mickey. “You?”

The Dean rolled his eyes. “Me, too. Now get going. You’re not supposed to be in the church right now.”

Dean Dudley swung the door open. But Mickey didn’t move. He just stared, remembering the first time he’d met the Dean. At his father’s funeral. They’d been friends since they were students at St. Frank’s. The man always looked sad to Mickey ever since, but maybe that was just a trick of his memory. Either way, he looked the Dean square in his sad, tired eyes and took a breath. It seemed now was his moment.

“Hey, I… can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” the Dean said gently. “Everything ok?” .

Mickey shook his head. “I took Mr. Wallace’s jacket.”

“Oh boy,” the Dean sighed, letting the door close. “And why’d you do that, Mickey?”

In the years since his father died, old friends and family wove in and out of Mickey’s life. He learned what he could off of them, and their connection to his dad. One such friend was the Dean. And at this very moment, Mickey recalled something about him. Something private, but useful.

Church Candles

“Mickey,” the Dean repeated. “Why’d you take the blazer?”

“Because…” Mickey mumbled, knowing what he’d say but knowing he’d never said it before. Not out loud.

“Because what?” the Dean pressed.

Mickey took another breath. “Because I’m gay.”

The Dean looked confused.

“I’m gay,” Mickey said again. “And Mr. Wallace made fun of me for it so I took his blazer.”

The Dean crossed his arms, staring down at the marble floor in thought.

For a moment, Mickey thought he might’ve blown it. “I’m sorry. Really. I just—”

The Dean put a hand up. “No, I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry you had to put up with that.”

Mickey shrugged.

“Between you and me,” the Dean said. “I think Wallace is a prick, too. But come on — let’s walk and talk. Do you have the blazer?”

Mickey unzipped his bag, revealing a bit of dusty crimson.

Dean Dudley laughed and shook his head. “Leave it there until we get to my office. Is that why you’re here? Has the thing been hiding in this church the whole time?”

Mickey nodded. “Would you believe me if I said I was about to turn it in?”

“I would,” said the Dean. “Because you just did.”

They walked across the courtyard in silence, not speaking until they reached the office. Mickey told his story, careful to leave Skyler out of it, and the Dean listened patiently. Before suspending him for a week. It took all of five minutes. The next hour they spent talking about being gay. Or at least the Dean did. Now it was Mickey’s turn to listen patiently. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t embarrassing. Not even when the Dean shared the story of how he came out to Mickey’s dad.

“MJ was a true friend,” he said. “And I sure as hell needed one at the time.”

Mickey smiled. It was a kind thing to say.

“Coming out is scary,” the Dean continued. “You worry it’s gonna change everything, and it sure as shit does. But all for the better.”

Mickey didn’t have anything to say, but the Dean didn’t mind talking.

“Does your Uncle Cal know?”

Mickey shook his head.

“Talk to him,” the Dean smiled. “At the very least, you’ll make him feel useful.”


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