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Out of the Closet: 5. Graduation Day

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Title: Graduation Day

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean

Fandom: In and Out

Pairing: Howard Brackett/Peter Malloy

Rating: PG

Email address: Tinneantoo@aol.com

Warnings: spoilers for the movie, and I imagine quite a bit of dialogue is going to be lifted.

Notes: Thanks to Gail, who is an excellent friend and beta. And to Silk, who is all of the above, and who made me her Assistant in Charge of Changes to be Made.

Graduation Day
J. Sherman/N. Sherman

A time for joy
A time for tears
A time to treasure through the years
We will always remember
Graduation day...

 

Graduation Day
Part 1/1

It was Graduation Day.

The air in Greenleaf High was redolent with chalk dust. Soon after graduation the maintenance staff would go through the classrooms, preparing them for the next term. The floors would be mopped, the desks sanded to remove statements of undying passion, opinions of the teacher, and the latest crop of profanities.

I stood at the doorway of my classroom, watching as dust motes danced on muted sunlight. The blinds were all down and angled to limit the amount of light they let in.

For so many years I had taught twelfth grade English in this room, in this school. I had taught unwilling scholars of Shakespeare and Browning, husband and wife. Kipling's Gunga Din and Lord Byron's Childe Harolde; Percy Shelley: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!' And Sir Walter Scott.

A lump was lodged in my throat, and I swallowed hard, crossing to my desk. I set a large cardboard box on it and began emptying the drawers. Outside the room, I could hear seniors hurrying down the hall to the auditorium, where they would graduate out into the real world.

I finished filling the box and set it aside, then decided to see if I could find Ray, who was head of maintenance. He'd know if there were more boxes available.

I opened the door and stepped out into the hall. And there was Jack, putting something away in his locker.

We're not supposed to favor one student over another. It's very unprofessional, not to mention self-indulgent. But Jack was special. He was an honor student, he ran track, and he had come to me when he needed help submitting his application to Indiana State.

I loved Jack like a little brother. And it tore me up inside to see him freeze when he noticed me watching him.

"Hi, Jack."

"Mr. Brackett."

"Big day." I tried to ease into the camaraderie we once shared, but it was gone.

Jack shifted from one foot to the other. "Yeah. I can't believe it's finally here!"

One of the other seniors went running past us. "Jack, come *on*! We're going to be late!"

And Jack looked so relieved my heart broke. I tried to keep him there just one minute longer. "Indiana State is lucky to have you!"

He was so fidgety. "Thanks. Good luck next year, Mr. Brackett."

Next year. There was no next year for me. I had to let him go. I made myself smile at him. "You too, Jack."

But he was already tearing off down the hall.

****

I stood in the wings as the seniors finished singing the school song. Tom Halliwell was making the same trite remark he made every year, about how it reminded him of the school motto: studare, hypare, attire. Study, learn, leave.

I made up my mind. These kids were mine, and no one was keeping me from their special day.

I walked out onto the stage. Tom Halliwell faltered in his speech. I nodded at him and took the empty seat.

Peter, who had been lounging off to the side with his cameraman, jerked upright, pride lighting his face. I gave him a small smile.

Tom decided he was going to pretend nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

"We've, ah, had quite a year, haven't we? Well, let's begin our ceremony on a high note, shall we? We're proud of our Oscar-winning graduate, of course, but today we have another winner. Our Teacher of the Year. And the envelope please!"

Ava Blazer hurried to the podium and gave Tom a slip of paper.

"I'm so nervous!" he twittered. "Can you hear my heart beating?"

There was some halfhearted laughter from the adults in the audience, but the teens graduating watched in bored silence. The orchestra began playing People.

Tom glanced at me uncomfortably, then flipped open the paper. "What do they say? 'And the winner is...' Ladies and gentlemen, our brand new Teacher of the Year, Edward Kenrow!"

There was a moment of stunned silence. The orchestra staggered to a halt, and then a smattering of applause rippled through the audience. Ed made a big show of being surprised, but he bounded to the podium, grabbed the plaque and leaned into the microphone. "Hoosiers. What is the definition of a Hoosier?"

From the back of the auditorium, a voice called, "Excuse me, Mr. Kenrow. I guess I'm a recent Greenleaf graduate."

"Who's that?" Tom Halliwell demanded, a little annoyed to have the ceremonies disrupted.

Vicky, Mike's girlfriend, leaped to her feet. "Oh my God!" she shrieked. "It's Cameron Drake!"

Pandemonium broke loose. Well, it isn't every day a successful actor, who happens to have won the Oscar for best actor in only his second movie, appears in his hometown.

Peter watched with interest, and his cameraman filmed it all.

"I'm sorry to interrupt graduation, Mr. Halliwell," Cameron said as he walked down the aisle, toting a backpack and pausing every few feet to shake hands and acknowledge old acquaintances. "I was looking for Mr. Brackett. Hey, Mr. Brackett!"

"Hi, uh, Cameron," I murmured, wondering what other havoc he was going to cause. It was his announcement at the 68th Academy Awards that I was his inspiration, and gay, that had started the entire course of events that ended with me outing myself at my own wedding.

"People! People, please! Our Teacher of the Year!" Halliwell tried to drag Ed Kenrow to the fore.

"Say, weren't you up for this Teacher of the Year thing, Mr. Brackett?"

"No!" Kenrow snapped. "Um, withdrawn! Tom!" He stepped away, trying to look uninvolved, and leaving the principal to elucidate.

"Uh, *ineligible*! Mr. Brackett is no ...no..." Tom's voice became weaker. "Howard Brackett is no longer employed here!"

The seniors looked stunned, shocked by that sweeping statement.

"He was canned?"

"He resigned. Sadly!" Ava Blazer said. I always disliked that woman, even when we went to school together.

"Why?" Cameron asked baldly. "Is this about the Oscars, and the gay thing?"

"No!" Ava and Ed Kenrow chorused together, Ava forcing a stilted laugh. "Nooooo!"

"Cameron," I said. "It's fine. It's over and done with now. Today belongs to the students."

Tom was looking beleaguered. "We felt, that is, the community felt, that it was a matter of influence."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Halliwell, I'm a little slow. I was a C student, and now I'm an actor." Oh, yes he was. The people watching this unfold were loving seeing Tom Halliwell put on the spot. "Influence?"

"It's all right to be... this way, or that way, in your own private area... *arena*!" he hastily corrected himself. "But after all, Mr. Brackett is... *was* a teacher!"

"I see," Cameron said. "So you're thinking about the students!" And suddenly it was deja vu. I remembered that look from when he was in my class, and had decided a bit of obfuscation would get him out of an assignment he didn't want to do. "Okay, so stay with me here, Mr. Halliwell. Are you saying that you think Mr. Brackett is going to send out some kind of gay voodoo vibes or microwaves, and make everybody else gay?"

"Well... well, in a crude manner of speaking." He glanced at me, his look sour. 'You got me into this!' he seemed to say.

I leaned forward and tried to get Cameron's attention, but he purposely kept his gaze away from me. I glanced frantically to Peter, but he just grinned and winked at me.

"Okay, seniors," Cameron was saying. "You've had Mr. Brackett. Is that the way it works?"

Everyone at the podium started speaking at once.

"You don't have to answer that..."

"This is a highly inappropriate forum..."

"Can I finish my acceptance speech? Hoosiers. What is a Hoosier...?"

And a loud voice burst forth from the graduating class. "'Scuse me. *I'm gay*!"

Silence descended on the auditorium. "Who said that?" Tom Halliwell snapped.

Breaths were held. And the senior slowly unwound himself from his seat.

"*Jack*!" He was doing this for me.

"Young...young man?"

"I had Mr. Brackett for senior English. He taught me Shakespeare. He was my track coach. He helped me get into college. I just realized what Mr. Halliwell says is true." He shrugged and grinned, and once more he was the boy who had hatched the plot to douse me with champagne in honor of my wedding. "It must have rubbed off. I'm gay."

"See! What did I tell you? A young life corrupted! Thank you, young man, very brave!" Ed Kenrow looked like he was about to climax, he was so thrilled to be right. Well, he so seldom was.

And then Meredith was standing beside Jack, giving a very good impression of having St. Vitus' dance! "Oh my God! Oh my God!"

"Young lady?"

"I had Mr. Brackett all year, and it's happening! I'm gay! If there's something wrong with Mr. Brackett, and with Jack, then there's something wrong with me! *I'm* gay!"

Vicky bounced up next. "So am I!" she caroled.

"No you're not!" Ava Blazer sneered. "I know you! You're a tramp!"

No one deemed that remark worthy of notice, least of all Vicky. She turned to her boyfriend, who was trying to disappear in his seat. "*Mike*! Michael!"

"Mike!" Jack urged, and his best friend surrendered.

"Okay, all right, I'm a homo! I admit it. I mean, I still do it with chicks every chance I get, and I'm totally good at it! But...I hate it, and I'm gay!" Vicky held tightly to his hand where it rested on her shoulder.

Tom stood there, totally nonplussed. And then he rallied. "Kids, please sit down. We're here to graduate! I'm sure Mr. Brackett is gratified by your display. After all, passion is a wonderful quality, however misplaced. However, as we all know, it is a gonad thing."

I couldn't believe that Tom had let his mouth run away with him. A deep flush colored his cheeks, and he hastened to correct himself. "A *grown-up* thing! I have to answer to the community, and to Howard Brackett, they have said no, no, *no*!"

"Well, I'm a member of the community, and I don't mind that Howard's gay!"

I felt my eyes burn with unshed tears. The support of my students couldn't mean more to me than this. My brother Walter, the one who needed things explained again and again, was actually standing before the entire community and declaring his support.

"But you're his brother." That was Tom, always stating the obvious. "As...as you know."

For a moment he looked confused, but then a sweet expression filled Walter's face. "You know what that means! Uh oh! I must be gay!"

I thought Tom was going to have a coronary. But he rallied. "But you're not a parent!"

"Excuse me!"

"Ah shit!" It was spoken so softly I'm sure no one beyond the orchestra heard Tom. The student conductor gave him a shocked look.

The man who stood was dressed casually, wearing suspenders *and* a belt. His eyes gleamed behind his tinted glasses, and his mustache bristled. "I'm a parent. I've lived in this town all my life. I'm Howard's father. And *I'm* gay!"

A murmur swept through the auditorium. The woman next to my Dad stood up. "I'm Howard's mother, and I'm *very* proud of him. And I'm...I'm...I'm a lesbian!"

Dad was not surprised by that statement, although my brother Walter was clearly taken aback. Dad often said that Mom was a lunatic, but this went beyond the norm, even for her.

And I wanted to run down the aisle and scoop her in my arms, and just kiss her to pieces. I hadn't been sure she would ever forgive me for ruining her dream of a perfect wedding. I should have known better.

"Hi!" A feminine voice sang out. "I run the Bridal Barn for Better Brides. I can tell you that Howard has perfect taste. So do I. So...I'm gay!"

"I'm Howard's hairstylist! I'm gay." Aldo stood stolidly, glaring at the principal. This seemed to be the day for confessions. "And I'm bald!" And he tore off his toupee and flung it away. There was a muffled scream as it landed in someone's lap.

"I deliver Howard's mail, and everyone else's! I'm a Federal employee, and I'm gay!" Emmett was never one to be left out of things.

"Fire chief Red Brody, and the volunteer brigade. Howard has always been there to lend a hand." Big, brawny, buff, and as one, they all announced: "Gay!"

It was as if the dam had broken. Suddenly everyone was calling out their sexual orientation. It seemed the entire town of Greenleaf, Indiana was gay. As I watched in bewilderment, one after another they leaped to their feet. Faces familiar, and not so familiar, all voiced their support of me. And among those was the Inside Entertainment reporter.

"I'm gay," Peter called softly, waving his microphone to get my attention.

"But he's not *Teacher of the Year*!" Ed Kenrow snapped. "I am! And this belongs to me!" It looked for a second as if he were going to make love to the plaque.

Cameron Drake stepped onto the stage. "Well, maybe Mr. Brackett deserves something else!" He held out his Oscar, and the audience went wild. The orchestra struck up People again, and this time played it to the end.

I stood there, holding the statuette, stunned by this outpouring of respect and love.

Tom Halliwell grabbed my hand and raised it over our heads, determined to prove to the whole town that the decision to fire me had not been his choice, that he was behind me a hundred and fifty per cent.

I remembered what he had said to me when he hinted that if I weren't getting married, I'd be getting fired: that friends didn't threaten, they *warned*.

I never claimed to be a saint. I threw my arms around the principal and swept him into a snug embrace.

It was Peter's face in my mind, and the torrid way he'd made love to me. But Tom Halliwell had no idea that was what was making me hard.

His broad smile turned really sickly. And my smile turned really broad.

~End~