WARNING: This poem deals with some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Stan's football buddies take exception to his relationship with Lawrence. Jealousy, possessiveness, homophobia and biphobia, bullying, verbal abuse, and other obnoxious behavior ensue. Stan has very little idea how to cope with any of this, because his experience focuses on protecting other people, not himself. He's always been able to rely on privilege and popularity, which are suddenly not quite as reliable as they once were. Fortunately Lawrence comes to the rescue, and Stan is a resilient fellow, but it's still very stressful. If these are sensitive issues for you, consider your headspace before deciding whether to read onward.
"One Thing Endures"
Lawrence was clearing trash from his lunch tray
into the garbage can when the trouble started.
From the sound of it, Brant wanted Stan
to come play football on Saturday,
and wouldn't take no for an answer.
"Thanks for the invitation, but I've got plans,"
Stan insisted, which was true. They meant
to visit the Omaha Public Library for
more reference books, then do some
people-watching in the Mall.
"Seems like you've always got plans now,"
Brant said. "They don't involve football anymore.
For a team captain, you sure don't care much about it."
"You're just ditching us so you can
spend more time with your boyfriend,"
Fortney said, her dark eyes narrowing.
"So?" Stan said mildly. "You went out
with yours last weekend too."
"That's different," Fortney said.
"I wouldn't give up practice for a date."
Ryker whistled. "Skipping out to make out,"
he said. "Careful, Stan, you'll lose your
jock cred doing things like that."
Now Brant was a bully, and Fortney
was on the same team with him and Stan,
so it made sense for the three of them to squabble --
but Ryker did track & field instead, and had
no business in that discussion.
It was like watching a Fried Liver Attack
against an unprepared player on Black,
Lawrence realized grimly.
Stan was altogether vulnerable and
had no idea how to respond to the threat.
His experience came from defending other people
against bullies, not protecting himself.
Lawrence slipped back into place beside Stan.
"You know, we could reschedule if necessary,"
he said, just to see if Brant would take
the offered opening.
"See there, even the nerd knows what's
important and what's not," Brant said.
"What's important is that I already made
a commitment somewhere else,"
Stan pointed out. "Let it go, Brant.
We can play another time."
"You never have time these days," Brant said.
He gave Stan a push that wasn't quite
the playful horsing around as usual.
Lawrence wasn't about to let a bully
get away with that kind of gambit,
even if Stan could have flattened Brant
without breaking a sweat.
"Jealous, Brant? I didn't know that
you wanted Stan for yourself,"
Lawrence said sweetly.
Brant sputtered in outrage.
Ryker laughed, enjoying the show.
Fortney leaped to Brant's defense.
"He only wants what Stan owes us!"
"Stan goes to the official practice sessions
after school," said Lawrence, maneuvering
around her clumsy move. "I know, because
he schedules study times around them."
"Too bad it's the fruits sticking together,
instead of the football team," Ryker said,
going for a flank attack as wild as his blond hair.
"Well, at least somebody here
has an understanding of teamwork,"
Ryker shied away then, unwilling
to tangle with Lawrence for real.
"It's not good for the team to fight," Stan said
in an attempt to smooth things over.
"You should have thought of that
before you took up with him,"
Fortney said, then stormed away.
Lawrence took a careful half-step
to pin Brant in the angle
between himself and Stan.
"You have shop class in a few minutes,"
he said to Brant. "I don't think you want to be late."
Brant snorted. "I'm wasting my time
here anyway," he said as he turned to leave.
"Stan doesn't even have his head in the game."
Lawrence took advantage of that
to urge Stan into a quieter corner
and soothe the vulnerability.
"Come on, catch your breath a bit before
we need to get to our own classes."
"Why didn't they listen to me?"
Stan said numbly.
"People always listen to me."
"Popularity can be a fragile thing,"
Lawrence said. "We've talked
about this before -- how going out
with me could cause trouble for you,
both because I'm a geek and I'm another guy."
No amount of warning made it any easier
to bear once it started happening, though.
Stan was so used to being everyone's darling
that he hardly knew how to handle it
when suddenly he wasn't.
"I've always known that Brant's
kind of a jerk sometimes," Stan said.
"That's why I'm the football captain
instead of him -- he's got a great arm
and amazing aim, but not the direction
that most quarterbacks have. Coach
said I could make up for it because
inside linebacker is the other position
that needs strong leadership skills."
"Then why are you so surprised?"
Lawrence said gently, bumping against
Stan the way Stan sometimes did for him.
"I just wasn't expecting it from Fortney,"
Stan replied. "She plays cornerback, with
good instincts and the softest hands on the team.
Some people don't like that she's a girl,
but I backed her when she wanted to try out,
so then Brant started working with her too.
I thought she'd have my back when I needed it.
She's been pretty reliable before this."
Lawrence knew what it was like to be unpopular
and then glimpse a chance to claw your way
higher up, like a pawn getting promoted. "Fortney
wasn't thinking as a friend or a teammate," he said.
"She was thinking about putting herself into
a better position by stepping on your face."
"Yeah, I guess so," Stan said. "That worries me.
The three of us need to work together on the field,
in practice as much as during the games."
"Did I just put a wedge in your team's
best triad?" Lawrence asked.
"You didn't," Stan said. "They did."
Lawrence still felt like part of the blame
fell on him, and that hurt, knowing that
his presence cost Stan something of value.
Lawrence might think sports were silly,
but they obviously meant more to Stan.
"I'm sorry. You deserve better," Lawrence said.
"Guess I'm not as impressive when you've
had to come to my rescue," Stan said.
"You're as much of a shining knight now
as you ever were," Lawrence said firmly.
"What, because I'm usually the one
saving the day like in a fairytale?"
Stan asked him.
"That too, but more because of how
you think around corners, and you
typically have at least two good plans,
like a knight in chess," he explained.
"Then what piece would you be?"
Stan asked, beginning to smile.
"I'm the queen," Lawrence said quietly,
"the most versatile piece, but the one
that novices overlook because
they think the king is more important."
Stan frowned a little as he worked through
the extended analogy. "Then the king is
the civilian, or whomever we're trying to protect."
"You catch on fast," Lawrence agreed.
"You know, I think Brant was wrong," said Stan.
"It's not that I don't have my head in the game
anymore. It's that I have my head in a different game."
"I'm grateful for it," Lawrence said. "I meant
what I said about you making a fine chess player.
I regret the drop in your popularity, though."
Stan shrugged. "Popularity is an accident.
I'm finding that it's not very reliable,
as you warned," he said.
"Only one thing endures," Lawrence said,
"and that's character. I've never doubted yours."
"I'll never doubt your loyalty," Stan replied,
lacing their fingers together as they headed to class.
* * *
Brant Owens -- He has tawny-fair skin, brown eyes, and short straight brown hair. He is the oldest of three brothers. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska where he plays on the same football team as Stanley Wood. As quarterback, Brant has excellent throwing and aiming skills, but lacks the leadership that usually accompanies the position. He also has an unfortunate habit of ostracizing or bullying less popular people.
Qualities: Good (+2) Quarterback Football Player, Good (+2) Popular, Good (+2) Work Ethic
Poor (-2) Leadership
Fortney Sullivan -- She has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and light brown hair usually pulled back in a short braid. She is tall and beefy, but quick on her feet. Her four older brothers have inspired her to keep up with the guys. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska where she plays football on the same team with Stanley Wood. As a cornerback she excels at agility and catching the ball. Hyperconscious of her precarious social position -- football is respected but girls are unwelcome there, and playing football is seen as unfeminine -- she is always looking for ways to move up the popularity ladder.
Qualities: Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Cornerback Football Player, Good (+2) Student
Poor (-2) Unpopular
Ryker Costello -- He has fair skin, gray eyes, and shaggy blond hair. He is an only child. He is a track & field athlete at the same high school as Stanley Wood. He prefers sports with an individual focus rather than those heavily reliant on cooperation. While Ryker is not an active bully himself, he's one of those bystanders who give power to bullies by watching with approval.
Qualities: Good (+2) Athlete, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Math
Poor (-2) Teamwork
Stan and Lawrence attend Everleigh High School in Omaha, Nebraska, Terramagne. It's inspired by Putnam County High School, Local-America. See the exterior and the floor plan. Everleigh also has more classrooms on the second storey. The history of Omaha is colorful, and the school is named after Ada and Minna Everleigh. In Terramagne, the Everleigh sisters' alternate history was true, and instead of starting a brothel, they started a women's law firm and networked with other businesswomen to form the Ladies' Business Bureau.
* * *
"Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character."
-- Horace Greeley
When someone won't take no for an answer, or displays excessive jealousy and possessiveness, those are warning signs of an abusive relationship. While people usually think of abuse in the context of romantic relationships, it can happen in friendships too. Know how to deal with an abusive 'friend.'
Check out the Omaha Public Library and the Gene Leahy Mall (which is actually a park, not a shopping mall).
The Fried Liver Attack is a chess opening that can make a very effective boobytrap.
Bystanders play important roles in bullying, because they can encourage it like Ryker or discourage it like Lawrence. Teach young people how to stand up to bullies.
Homophobia and biphobia can pose a serious threat, especially to queer teens. This can make coming out a more complicated and harrowing process. Stan hasn't actually come out as bisexual. It simply never occurred to him to keep secrets about his developing sexuality and relationship with Lawrence, despite Lawrence's attempts to warn Stan about potential consequences.
Popularity can be fragile, privilege can turn into a barbaric argument, and none of that helps maintain healthy relationships.
Some football positions are notably difficult to fill. Compare NFL player specs. High school coaches customarily appoint a team leader based on social skills as well as athletic skills. Usually it goes to someone in one of the positions that requires strong leadership aptitude, and the tipping point between two particular players can be either the social or the athletic side. Know how to be a good sport captain.
Teamwork is essential in football and other contexts, requiring a good combination of roles. Although some quarterbacks do provide leadership and an effective team takes advantage of that, other teams prefer them to focus on play and leave leadership to the coach. Reading quarterbacks is a particular skill of cornerbacks, and there are tips for being an excellent linebacker too.
Female football players face extra challenges due to their gender. This can influence how they feel about themselves and interact with people around them.
Betrayal is always upsetting, but especially so within a friendship. Follow the steps to recover from betrayal.
Pawn promotion is a chess rule for improvement, changing a pawn into something more powerful. Because many bullies are social climbers, being popular can make you a target for bullying, as they react to the social power dynamics.
The relative value of chess pieces is complex, comparing minor to major ones. It helps to study how they move.
Resilience is the ability to adapt to challenges, based on many different factors. Stan is basically a "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down" kind of guy. Lawrence doesn't bounce that well yet, but he's learning. There are ways to improve your resilience.
Moral character touches on ethics and virtues. Stan is an Unsullied Hero; he can make mistakes, but they won't be mistakes of virtue. Water is wet, the sun shines, and Stan is a good guy who rescues even supervillains. He is plausible in context precisely because so many other characters in Terramagne, such as Lawrence, show a more typical human mix of light and dark traits. People like Stan on the good side and Haboob on the bad hold down the far ends of the moral spectrum. There are tips for encouraging moral character in kids and for building your own.