Friday, June 24, 2016

DON'T JUMP! An Excerpt from BIG LOVE


Big Love is about accepting yourself for who you are. And that lesson can be very, very hard-won, especially for those of us who are “different.” This scene illustrates how hopeless that acceptance can seem:

“He’s up there!” Betsy pointed to Truman on the roof ledge, her voice high with hysteria. “You have to do something, Dane!”

Dane peered up, squinting. For a moment he could see nothing. Although the day was bitter cold, with the temperature in the single digits and, with the wind chill factored in, most likely below zero, the sun was blinding and bright. The sky was a brilliant cerulean blue. The anxiousness and terror in Betsy’s voice ramped up his own terror, making him feel like an animal being plunged into nightmare.

Quickly, his eyes adjusted to the sun’s glare, and he could make out a silhouette on top of one of the two towers that fronted the school, one on either side, like a castle. A small figure with its legs dangling casually over the ledge flung Dane’s heart into his throat. Out of the corner of his mouth, he whispered desperately to Betsy, “Who is it?”

“It’s Truman Reid.”

“Oh God. Of course it is.” Dane flashed back to only a short time ago and what he had witnessed on the school’s central bulletin board. He must have seen. The kid was desperate. Dane recollected that it seemed like almost every week, maybe even every day, the boy was the punching bag for a bully, the butt of a joke, or a target for derision. Dane tried to step in when he could, but he couldn’t be everywhere at once. With staff cutbacks and growing class sizes, it had become harder and harder for Dane to concentrate on individual students, no matter how compassionate he wanted to be or how much they needed him.

And today, right now, Truman Reid needed someone.

He let out a shuddering breath and reached for Betsy’s hand, clutching it for a moment and squeezing for courage. “What do I say to him? What do I say?” Dane felt on the verge of tears. There was a quivering in his gut that made him feel dizzy, as though it were he and not the boy dangling over the edge of that rooftop. His next few words could, quite literally, mean the difference between life and death.

Betsy Wagner, teacher of social studies and human sexuality, could be relied upon for her well of knowledge in a desperate situation. She leaned in and whispered, “Hell if I know.”

Dane turned away from Truman for a moment to glare at her.

“But you’ll think of something. All the kids trust you,” she said, and Dane was sure the smile she gave him was meant to be reassuring, if not inspiring.

Like Truman, Dane once again found himself alone. Betsy stepped back and away from him, presumably to give him more space to conjure up just the right words, the magic speech that would coerce the kid into swinging his legs back slowly off the ledge and then to retrace his steps back inside the school, where he could get the help he needed.

Dane put a hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. “Truman?” he yelled. “Truman? Can I just talk to you, man?”

A shadow fell across the ground to Dane’s left as someone stepped up next to him. He turned quickly and saw it was Seth Wolcott, the new teacher. Seth’s hazel eyes, behind his glasses, seemed darker with concern. He handed Dane a bullhorn. “We had this in the theater department. Thought you could use it.” Seth clamped a hand on Dane’s shoulder and squeezed. The simple touch gave Dane courage.
Dane lifted the bullhorn to his mouth, grateful for the amplification. He only hoped he could hear if and when Truman responded.

“Truman?” he repeated. “I just want to talk to you. Okay?” He glanced behind him, stunned to see a massive crowd had formed. It appeared the whole school stood outside now, behind him. It was both a comfort, a horror, and eerie, because there was no sound from any of them. Dane hadn’t even heard them assemble.

He whispered to Seth, “Has anyone called 911?” Dane longed for official help. He also feared it—the sound of a siren could startle poor Truman right off the roof.

Seth answered, “Betsy called a few minutes ago from her cell. Someone should be here soon.”

For now, though, silence prevailed. Dane lifted the bullhorn to his lips once more. “Listen, son, whatever’s got you up there is something bad. I’m not gonna kid around with you or insult your intelligence by pretending otherwise. Life has dealt you a raw hand, and that really sucks.”

Oh God. This is terrible. I can’t make this speech. I can’t. Where are all the wise words from the books I teach?

Dane drew in a quivering breath and called up, “But whatever it is, the one thing I know, and I think you know too, deep in your heart, is that nothing stays the same. Nothing, Truman. There’s no one on God’s green earth who can say what’s gonna happen tomorrow. Or even a few minutes from now. We just don’t know.” Dane looked up at the boy’s silhouette, unmoving, above. Was he getting through at all?
“Truman? Can you just throw me a bone and let me know that you hear me, son?”

Dane waited, figuring he’d give the boy some space in which to reply. The wait seemed to go on for hours, when Dane’s rational mind told him it was only seconds until he heard the boy’s high and thin voice filter down.

“I hear you.”

Dane shut his eyes for a moment, feeling immense gratitude for such a small gift. “I’m glad you can hear. But can you listen?”

“I’m not going anywhere… yet,” Truman called down.

Dane was relieved to see the tiny trace of humor in his response. Gallows humor, but it was better than nothing.

“Then listen to me. What you’re thinking of is an end. There’ll be no coming back. What you’re doing is taking hope out of the equation. What you’d be doing, if you jump or even accidentally slide off that roof, is removing any chance at all for things getting better.”

“They always say ‘It gets better,’ but they lie,” Truman screamed. “Nothing ever changes!”

“Truman, you’re too young to be so pessimistic. Everything changes. Constantly. Whether we want it to or not. Things go from bad to worse, from good to better, and everywhere in between. And most of the time, none of it makes sense.”

BLURB
Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay.

But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men. And a new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth himself is starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup. The last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.

As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.

BUY


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