NOTICE:

The contents of this story are purely fictional, and the content of this story includes love between male teens. If this is not what you expected, or it is illegal for you to read this material because of the laws governing your area, then don't read it! This story is copyrighted by the author and may not be reproduced or published elsewhere without the author's permission.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Originally, I swore that my first story on Nifty (gay/high school/Kim's story) would be my last. It was primarily done as a sort of personal autobiographical exercise for my own benefit, to help me deal with issues of my past life--cheap therapy. But, the response I received from many readers was heart-warming, and it stuck in my head to perhaps write again if I was inspired to do so. Soooo, since I was looking for a good lazy summer project while recovering from a recent surgery, and my first story was a shot at healing my difficult past experiences, this time I decided I would just re-write history altogether (so to speak), and tell my life story how I wish it might be if I could start again today at the age of fifteen; the point in my real life long ago where everything seemingly went to hell.

Also, there have been a few stories lately with reference to the wonderful game of golf posted on the archive. I don't intend to be a copycat; I have played and enjoyed the game since I was 7 years old. I have tried to keep golf central to the story line, and hopefully, real players will appreciate the tidbits of golf I have tried to include here; and, it is my hope, be able to smell the freshly cut grass, so to speak.

Comments are welcome. Send them to: Rickdog38@gay.com

PROLOGUE:

The man stood back at a distance, carefully watching the drama being played out before him. He was ready to intervene if needed--although he preferred not to do so if he could avoid it. And, it really shouldn't be necessary if everything went as he hoped. He leaned casually against the brick wall of the school, arms folded across his chest. The shadow of the overhanging walkway cover helped him to remain unnoticed so far.

As a high school counselor, this type of little drama unfolding before him was an all too familiar scene. He hoped his intuition was correct; that the boy was ready to make this step--a big step towards growing up--that he believed the boy was facing here. The boy had to learn he could successfully deal with what life was going to throw at him, not become a victim again, and find some peace with himself in the process.

He had watched the whole thing unfolding before him from the beginning, and almost chuckled to himself at how predictable events can seem sometimes when you know all the players as well as he did.

It felt almost as if he was watching a movie that he had already seen a dozen times. As it played out in front of his eyes, the very large, overweight (and not too bright--although he hated to admit to himself that he thought that way, as he felt it was very unprofessional of him--but entirely true he had to admit...) senior boy approached the two small underclassmen having a quiet and harmless conversation. Their class had just let out (Advanced Placement Physics), and they were preparing to head to their lunch period, which he knew was next for them. The senior boy looked to be in a hurry to get to his next class, as he had lunch at a later hour.

Sure enough, the two boys didn't see him coming until it was too late, and he just crashed right through their conversation, pushing both boys aside roughly in the process. Given he easily outweighed the two boys put together (pushing 300 pounds he guessed), they went flying off in opposite directions. One landed on his butt in the grass beside the walk, and one fell face first against the classroom building. Fortunately, nothing had been injured yet but the pride of the two shy boys.

"Jeez asshole, what's your problem?" shouted the one now sitting on the grass.

The senior boy, a player on this year's football team, immediately turned and faced the two boys with a look of disgust.

"You two little faggots need to learn to stay out of peoples way. Wouldn't want you or your little boyfriend there to get hurt," he said with a glare.

"What? Are you blind or just stupid? We've been standin' here since the bell rang! You can fuckin' walk around everyone else in the school, but not around us? What's up with that bullshit?" exclaimed the boy now rising up off the grass.

"Be careful, Ricky," the man thought to himself. "You can't win this by insulting him."

Ricky Williams. This was the boy he was most concerned about. The other boy, Jeff, was a little farther away from `growing a set.' Jeff wouldn't make a fuss. He would just take it, and walk away. Ricky, on the other hand, had been down this road too many times in his life, he knew, and was clearly getting tired of it. Good for him! He just needs to learn how to deal with his anger, not let it beat him. Life wasn't always (ever?) fair, and he had to learn how to handle that.

Being a school counselor, he knew all too well how that boy's anger grew from hurt. He had been the boy's counselor since 6th grade in junior high; they had both moved up to the high school level at the same time, out of sheer coincidence. He was quite fond of the boy. He admired his intelligence, quick wit, caring nature and shy smile. It amused him sometimes that a boy as smart, honest, humble, caring and good looking as Ricky could be so shy and self-effacing at times. Perhaps that's what he admired most about the boy. Some day, he knew, the world was going to discover the awesome person who had been in plain sight all along, and the boy's life would never be the same. He just wanted Ricky to be ready for that day.

But, it also saddened him a great deal every time he thought about what life had dealt the boy thus far. An alcoholic and abusive (verbally and physically) father that had left him and his family years ago, an emotionally distant mother forced to take on circumstances way beyond her capacity, and a severely emotionally damaged younger brother who had already turned to crime, drugs and alcohol for his escape. Ricky had already experienced more hurt in his 15 years than perhaps was fair to ask of anyone in an entire lifetime. He could never understand why so many kids nowadays felt this need to try and make themselves feel better by trying to beat down such a sweet, smart boy like Ricky. He could sometimes see the deep reservoir of anger and hurt in the boy's eyes when they would have long talks in his office. He hated to see it when the spark of intelligence and caring in the boy's eyes turned instead to the fire of hurt and anger. One day, that boy is gonna go postal on someone he feared, if he didn't make it past this hurdle.

"Not now, Ricky," he thought to himself. "Remember what we talked about--don't get mad. Just get respect. Don't be a doormat."

Ricky quickly looked around, assessing his current situation in total as he saw the larger boy looming up in front of him. Ricky noticed that his friend Jeff was already moving down the hallway to the cafeteria. He also noticed me in the background, but didn't call attention of my presence to his antagonizer.

He took a deep breath, and looked straight at the towering senior. "Although I'm sure the football coach will be very impressed with your ability to knock down two 120 pound juniors in the hallway, I don't think he will be very happy with the image that projects to the rest of the students here, seeing as how he is always talking up the fact that his teams play with honor, sportsmanship, and try to represent the high standards our school has set in the community and all that," Ricky said calmly.

Between his unnerving calmness and quick thinking, Ricky left the larger boy momentarily speechless. After you could almost hear the wheels turning slowly and awkwardly in his head for a moment, the larger boy shrugged and said with disdain, "Whatever, faggot," and walked off.

As Ricky walked towards him now, he could see the tension of the moment begin to leave the boy as a few tears reluctantly escaped his eyes. He held out his hand as Ricky reached him, and the boy gave him a high five with a relieved smile. He wondered just how close to home the older boy's comments had struck. His intuition told him that it was way too close to the truth for Ricky's comfort, but he wasn't quite sure at what level the boy himself had realized that yet.

"Good job, Ricky. Way to handle yourself. Can I buy ya lunch in my office today?"

"Thanks, Mr. Bill. But, do I havta?" he asked, peering out from under his ever-present Angels ball cap.

"No son, you don't have to," he explained with a laugh. "I just thought we could hang like we do sometimes, and catch up a little. You're going out for golf again tomorrow, right? I want you to tell me about your plans this year--I really hope you make it! Besides, free lunch ya know?"

"Ok, Mr. Bill, I guess so," he smiled shyly. "Oh ya, and please call me Rick from now on, like I asked you before?"

"Sure, Rick. Let's eat."

CHAPTER 1: OUT FROM UNDER

Temecula, California. It was one of those classic, blazingly clear fall days. Every year about this time in Southern California, it gets like this so predictably it almost has its own separate season. The temperature was warm, the sky a deep azure blue. The few ancient cottonwoods scattered around the golf course were beginning to hint at the blaze of golden yellow soon to come. High mountain peaks were visible far in the distance (a unfortunately rare sight around here, given how close they really are!).

As I stood there chipping, just off the edge of the practice green, the presence of another person slowly crept into my head. Usually when I was practicing my chipping or putting, my focus was so intense I wouldn't really notice anything or anyone around me. But, that funny clunking sound the ball made when you holed out a putt or a chip on the practice green (with those little knee-high `flags' on a narrow metal stick) got my attention. As my mind slowly released the tight focus it held, it dawned on me that someone had just done it again.

"What the..." I mumbled to myself, as I looked up to see another guy around my age across the green. It was immediately obvious to me that he wasn't a `local.' Well, of course, if he were a `local' I certainly would've known him; especially since today the high school golf team was having its first meeting and practice of the school year. I was here a little early to prepare for my most recent attempt to make the team. I was determined to make the team this year, after missing the cut last year...and the year before. "Great," I thought to myself. The last thing I needed right now was another good player to show up and reduce the number of spots available on the team for a player like me!

Yes, golf was my sport. I loved the game...lived it, breathed it. There were so many reasons I loved golf: it was such a pure experience-- just you, your clubs, and your ball doing battle with all the natural elements of the course, the weather, and the course designer (and of course your own inner demons!). Being somewhat small for my age all my life, I also loved the fact that nobody else had the chance to affect the outcome of my play but myself. Nobody could push you, shove you, hit you, smash you, trip you, etc.--not even touch you or your ball! I had always enjoyed a lot of different sports growing up, but had eventually given up on all of them because I was tired of all the (frequently unnecessary) physical abuse. I was no sissy, but it seemed so utterly unfair that just because some guys were genetic freaks, or so hormonally imbalanced that they could take advantage of guys like me by beating the shit out of them in the name of some sport. That's not sport, that's just idiocy. At some point, I refused to continue to willingly play the victim. Golf saved me from all that thank god!

I walked onto the green, collected my balls, and herded them back to my spot just off the side to start chipping them again. I looked up to see that this new guy had just done the same, and was looking at me with a knowing grin on his face. Weird. It kinda felt like he knew me or something, although I was sure I had never met him before. I never forget a face. No, really--I never do. He looked down briefly to gather his concentration, and smoothly swung his sand wedge with a perfect pendulum stroke. The ball hopped up softly on the green and rolled true right into the center of the hole, about twenty feet away. He looked up at me and smiled shyly again.

Well, I can certainly tell when someone is trying to take me on! So, I calmly looked down and brushed the grass a couple times with my trusty 60-degree wedge, and floated a high lob shot that landed soft as a baby's bottom three feet short of the hole and smoothly rolled along until it just trickled into the center of the hole. Eat your heart out, Phil Mickelson! I looked back at him and he was clearly impressed, still looking where the ball had disappeared into the hole.

When he glanced back up to meet my smug look, he said, "Nifty shot there, mate!"

"Mate?" I said shaking my head and laughing to myself. By his accent, I would guess he was probably from Australia--thus explaining a lot of things (like why I didn't know him, and all).

While the gears were spinning inside my head momentarily, he had lined up another chip and sent it towards the hole. As I looked up, it appeared that it was also going in just like the last; but it spun around the hole at the last minute.

"Krikes, a lipper! I've been robbed!" he said in mock frustration, flashing a big smile.

I was quickly starting to love that cute accent (when he said `lipper' it sounded like `lih-pah,' but then I am sure that all of you have heard an Aussie accent before, so I will let you all just use your own imagination from here on out...your welcome!).

Now was my chance to show off a little, I grinned to myself. I moved the ball I was preparing to hit back in my stance, pressed my hands a little forward and hit my trademark shot--a low firm chip that took one skidding bounce, spun almost to a stop, and then trickled forward two feet into the hole. Not too many people could get that much spin on a short chip, let alone control it. But, I was pretty proud of my skills around the green.

But, my little self admiration society meeting was rudely ended, however, as the coach walked by and said (a little too loudly, thank you!), "Come on Short game; stop showin' off, and get over with the rest of the team on the range. We'll start our meeting in a few minutes." I groaned. Ya, that's what they call me around here: "Short game."

As I picked up my stuff and put everything in my golf bag, I noticed the guy I had been watching had already done the same, and was approaching me from across the green. As I stood up under the weight of my bag, he appeared right in front of me. Well, actually the buttons on his shirt appeared in front of me. As I tilted my head upwards, the rest of him came into view.

"Well," he said, "I reckon I know why they call you Short game, aye? Lance McGann here," he said, putting out his hand.

"Ya, I guess," I said looking at my shoes in embarrassment. I had to look upwards again to see his face as I shook his hand. "Rick, actually," I said continuing to shake his hand. "Rick Williams." His hand felt good in mine--warm, strong, friendly--and the surprise of it kinda stunned me for a second. He turned and walked towards the group on the range. I shook my head briefly to bring myself back to the present moment here on planet earth, and I jogged to catch up with him as I said, "So, you must be new around here. You're going for the team too, then?"

"Just moved here last week, mate," he said. "My dad's a Professor at the Uni; well, he just recently got a job here at the `University of California in Riverside' he said in a mock serious tone. From Melbourne, you know. In Australia?"

"Ya," I chuckled, "I know where Melbourne is, man." Just to make the point, I continued, "So, I bet he must have been at Monash University before that, then aye?" I said, throwing in a little Aussie accent at the end for effect.

He stopped walking, turned, and looked me over appraisingly while stroking his chin idly. A lot of people did that. I mean, a lot of people seem a little surprised by me, and have to re-adjust their thinking after they talk to me a bit (I think people have a habit of under-estimating you when you are a short/small guy--maybe it's because I tend to look younger than I am. But shit, I'm not stupid... when I was in grade school they told my parents my I.Q. was over 160 and put me in some kind of `gifted' program, and I usually make the honor roll at a 3.85 GPA thus far. I'm not bad looking, but I guess I look younger than I really am. Just kinda your average teenager with sandy hair, hazel eyes, pretty smooth and tan--ok, well a `golfers tan' anyway...only I am like a size of everyone else. Everything looks to be in proportion, to my eyes anyway. Oh ya, uh--that too, unfortunately...). I'm kinda used to it, so I waited patiently as I noticed myself enjoying the sight of him rubbing the beginnings of a little black stubble on his chin. It was cute. But then, I was thinking that so was he.

Oh god. Not this again! Why am I thinking about another guy as `cute'? Just great. All my life I have been bullied, beaten, and abused for little things like this, that make no sense to me. I just don't understand what is so fucking wrong to notice that another guy is looking good. I mean, I'm not blind! It should be ok to notice things like that, right? Seemed pretty damn obvious to me that he was very cute, anyway. Jeez!

"Righto mate!" he said, giving me a curious look. "Professor of Mathematics; well, actually Astrophysics too. Mum is a medical doctor." Lance gave me a quick smile, and turned towards the range again.

The coach gathered us all around, and gave the usual speeches and all that bullshit I had already heard before the last two times I tried to make the team, and failed (don't go there! that's still a sore subject with me...). While the coach was blathering on, I took the opportunity to give this `Aussie dude' a closer look. I had been so distracted up to this point I hadn't had a chance to really study him yet. I kinda had a habit of that. Studying people, I mean. Sometimes people would get a little weird when they noticed me staring at them, but it was just my way of getting to know people--getting comfortable with them, absorbing them into my brain for future reference, etc. I have pretty good intuition about people, and when I first meet someone my paranoid brain is always on the lookout for potential new sources of pain and torment to avoid, etc. (not that Lance struck me that way at all). Ya. It's not a great way to live your life, I know; but if you had lived my life so far, you would do the same!

He was probably about six inches taller than me. But then, it seemed that almost everyone was, since I was barely (almost?) 5'6". He had dark hair (exactly when does dark brown become dark enough to be called black?), kinda wavy and medium length, parted in the center. Dark eyes--so dark you couldn't really see any color in there (just a warm sparkle when he looked at you), a basically perfect nose in shape and size, and a squarish chin with just enough of the beginnings of dark stubble to know that he shaved it occasionally. He looked like he tended to more of an olive complexion, and would darken up with some more sun; but at the moment he looked a little pale.

Stepping back a little, you could see that he had the perfect golfer's body: fairly narrow waist, strong looking (but not huge) legs and butt, and slightly broader shoulders. Everything in his manner conveyed a relaxed, unassuming, athletic grace. "Ya, Lance," I thought to myself, "You are a player, I bet." I wasn't quite sure yet if I was jealous of his presence, or excited by it. He may cost me a chance to make the team, but then I was kind of enjoying the view.

Shit, Rick! You have to stop thinking like that! "Ok, don't get carried away here...let's get things under control," I thought to myself, as I took a deep breath to relax and continued to study him. Without ever having seen him hit a ball I could already picture his powerful, effortless, precise swing--kind of like a smaller version of an Ernie Els swing. I have always had this unexplainable ability to look at someone and virtually see their golf swing, again just by intuition, I guess.

As coach wrapped up his little talk, my attention drifted back into the present moment and I noticed Lance looking at me with curiosity. Shit! He had already caught me staring at him. I blushed and looked down at my feet wondering what to do.

"Hey Ricky," Lance said, "lets hurry up and blast a few before we're on the tee, mate!"

"Huh?" I said. Sharp as a tack, like always!

"Didn't you hear the bloke?" Lance replied laughing. "We're in the first group. We start in five minutes!"

I replied quietly, "No, uh...sorry. I wasn't really listening to him. I heard it all a million times before, ya know?"

Before I could get my glove on and pull my trusty 3-wood out of my bag, I heard a powerful swoosh and the unmistakable clinking/pinging sound of a titanium driver. I looked up to see Lance perfectly posed after his swing, admiring a 300-yard drive down the exact center of the range.

"Fuckin' A..." I said mostly to myself but kinda accidentally out-loud. "Uh, nice swing there dude."

"Thanks, Ricky. Let's you have a go then, aye?" he said, stepping back to watch me hit one.

"Rick," I said. "Call me Rick, not `Reeky,' please?" I leaned closer to him and added softly, "The last thing I need around here is another nick-name," hoping he would understand.

"No worries mate. I mean Rick," he corrected himself with a sincere smile.

"Thanks," I replied as I took a swing with my trusty 13-degree titanium three-wood (I never learned how to hit a driver worth a crap, so I had to drive with a `spoon' as my Grandpa always called it). I was already feeling the heat rise in my cheeks as my `un-macho-ness' was about to be revealed. `Real men' used a driver, of course; but I found my trusty 3-wood was as long as many guys' driver, much straighter for me, and more consistent usually.

"Fuck," I said a little too loudly in embarrassment, as I shanked it way to the right. Gotta remember to keep your butt from sliding out, Rick! Shit...my chronic swing flaw! I quickly put another ball on the tee, focused my thoughts, and smacked my standard shot--a nice little smother-draw--about 250 yards or so out.

"There you go, then," Lance observed. "That'll work all day long," he added, and then leaned a little closer and said quietly while raising his eyebrows and giggling "Reeky."

I shot him a stern look, but I had to smile when I saw his silly grin looking back at me.

"Shit, we're already up," I said as I heard the coach yelling at us from the tee.

My nerves were starting act up as we approached the tee. I always got the `first tee jitters.' And, just to make things worse, the whole team was standing around watching. I was terrified I would fuck up again, like always. When I practiced alone, I always played sooo much better. I hated the fact that these assholes could get into my head so easily and make me screw up. God, I really HATED that!

Lance stepped up to me and said, "have a go, mate," politely offering to let me go first. Gee, thanks Lance. What a gentleman. You have no idea what you're doing to me here, I thought to myself.

Then a really loud, obnoxious sounding voice boomed out, "Ya, have a go SHORT game." Ah, speaking of assholes. Brent Lewis was the King of Assholes. Being a senior, and being last year's number one varsity player, apparently gave him the right to ridicule everyone, which he did with great enthusiasm. It didn't hurt that he was about 6'-4", and apparently well over 250 pounds (built like a brick shithouse and just about as good looking, hah!). It was he I had to thank for my nickname. Yes, I was a great chipper and putter. And, yes I wasn't too tall, or very long off the tee. But, when Brent used it, he wasn't referring to any of the above. Ummm...let's just say that one time in the locker room he observed that other parts of my anatomy were also in proportion to my shorter-than-average height, and leave it at that.

I looked around the faces on the tee box for some moral support, but finding none among all the snickering faces still enjoying Brent's comment. I noticed that the coach had stepped away to gather the last few players on the range. Lastly, I looked nervously to Lance who gave me a slight nod of encouragement towards the fairway and a grin, as if to say, "go ahead, and show that asshole what you can do!"

Wow, maybe this guy would turn out to be a good friend. Or, was he just this nice to everyone? Up to now, I didn't really have any close friends, just people I could talk to sometimes and get along with, without them hassling me or anything (I didn't really allow myself get very close to anyone, actually. It's safer that way.).

I stepped up to the ball, and tugged my vintage Anaheim Angels hat down low above my eyes (I never went anywhere without my favorite hat!). As hard as I tried to focus and push out all the bullshit, I just couldn't. The ball left the tee low and hard, veering sharply to the right. Another shank. Fuck! I hung my head, and walked dejectedly back to my bag, trying not to hear the laughter of everyone on the team. I slammed my club back in the bag, and turned my back to the tee box, hands on my hips, fighting back the tears of frustration and humiliation in my eyes.

My self-pity moment was soon broken by the same swoosh and cracking metal sound I'd heard on the range a few moments ago. I turned to see Lance posing again as the crowd around the tee was awed to silence by another perfect swing and tremendous drive. Brent was noticeably quiet as we walked off the tee to begin our practice round. I saw Lance look over at me with a questioning look, but he said nothing; apparently lost for a moment in his own thoughts. "Great," I thought to myself, "he can probably tell I was almost crying back there. Nice impression, idiot."

We always practiced in two-somes, as that was the way our matches usually went: with two from our team, and two from the other to make four at a time. Most matches were based on total team strokes, so everyone on the team usually pulled for each other to do well. Everyone except Brent, that is. All he cared is that nobody shot better than he did.

As we approached my ball, Lance tried to give me some encouragement, "Right, now; let's get it up there on the green, shall we Ricky?" I shot him another withering glance, as I was still in a mood about my first shot. But, the wide grin on his face just made me bust out laughing. He seems to keep having that affect on me, I noticed to myself in the back of my mind. I pulled out my three-wood again and scraped it up near the green. Not my best shot, but acceptable.

"There you go, mate," he said. "Just relax and have some fun. Don't let those assholes get you all buggered up."

We reached his ball at another 150 yards past mine. He pulled out his pitching wedge and hit a high, soft shot that nestled exactly in the center of the green.

I stood there again in awe. "Damn, Lance," I said, "with such a fucking perfect swing, I don't see how you could ever hit a bad shot."

He winked at me and smiled. "Oh, it bloody happens, believe me!" he laughed.

We reached the green, and I chipped up to about 15 feet. Damn! I knew I could do better than that. Another disappointing shot. Lance rolled his birdie putt up to within about a foot, and tapped in easily for his par. I really focused hard to get to get into my zone, so I could make this putt and save my par; hell maybe even save a little face! But, this was my strength. I didn't hit nearly enough fairways or greens, but I was just about the best putter around. I could see the line and the speed clearly in my mind. I stepped up, and easily rolled it in.

"Just like a rat up a drainpipe, mate!" Lance complimented me.

"Huh? Well, I usually make those. I usually have to, just to save par!" I laughed.

The rest of the round went much the same way. Lance was like a golfing machine--he hit the center of nearly every fairway and green, making easy two-putt pars on every hole, but nothing spectacular. It almost seemed like he was trying not to make a birdie, as every putt he hit ended up about a foot or two from the hole. Safe enough for an easy par, but never really with a chance to go in. I, on the other hand, had my usual unconventional round; avoiding the center of most fairways, chipping in for one birdie, and putting for two birdies to go with three bogeys for the first 16 holes. I was putting pretty well (as I usually did), but all too often they were for pars, not birdies. Soon, we were having a great time, chatting away like old friends as we played along. I was also able to sort of caddy for Lance, as well; advising him on strategy for each hole, reading the greens, telling him what to avoid, where the pins were, where the best positions were, etc. He was impressed that I could think my way around the course pretty well, even if I rarely took my own advice (not that I wouldn't love to be able to hit it straight enough most of the time to do so!).

At one point while we were waiting on the tee, I saw him looking at me appraisingly once again. "I think it's gonna be a blast to play on the team with you, Rick."

"No guarantees there, Lance," I said with disappointment. "This is my third time trying to make the team. I try my butt off, but I'm not a natural athlete like you, or a big ass gorilla like Brent. I just have my brain and my determination. Hope it's enough this time."

He was holding his driver in his hand backwards (with the head closest to his hands) and he pointed to my arms. "I dunno, Rick. For a little bloke, you got some good muscles for golf there" he said with a smile.

I looked at him like he must be joking. I am kinda small, like I said, and I have a reasonable build (about 120 pounds), but no real discernable `muscles' in my mind. Certainly not compared to him. He looked naturally strong and firm, but not `worked out' so to speak.

"Well, at least you got the most important one, like you say..." he said noticing my look of disbelief, and tapping me on the head with the grip end of his club while laughing.

When we finally reached the 17th tee, there was a bit of a wait because the groups in front of us had lost several balls already, and were still working on losing a few more. It was a long par three over a lake. The coach was waiting for us there on the tee; as he planned to watch all the groups finish the last two holes.

"How you boys doin'?" he asked.

"Both even, coach" I replied proudly. "Lance here has 16 straight tap in pars," I laughed. "He's gonna kick Brent's ass this year with the swing he's got, especially if he ever makes a few putts!"

Coach raised his eyebrows in surprise, excited at the prospect of having another strong player on the team. "16 straight pars?"

I looked over at Lance. He smiled at the coach, and added, "This is the little bugger who can flat out use his putter," pointing at me. "He's made everything he's looked at all day long."

"Ya, that's Short-game. How many fairways?" he said, looking back to me.

"Uh, five?" I said sheepishly, as he shook his head in mock disappointment.

"Brent made sure everyone heard about your drive on the first hole," laughed coach. "Let's go, looks like you guys are finally up."

Of course, I had to be up first again since I had made the last birdie on the 14th. A small crowd had again gathered around the tee box, as the delay had allowed the two groups behind us to catch up. Just as I started my pre-shot routine, that familiar loud obnoxious voice I knew so well broke the silence.

"What a pussy! What ya got there, Short-game? Gonna hit driver here?" Brent cackled. "Can't be more than a six iron, can it?" he said looking around for agreement from the other players. As big and stupid as he was, Brent's style of play fit him to a tee. His only mission was to destroy the course if he could, hitting every shot as hard as possible and taking advantage of his size, considerable strength and lack of imagination. Strategy and finesse were definitely not in his limited vocabulary!

Coach jumped in, "The scorecard doesn't say what club you used, Brent. Let him play his ball, and you can play yours however you like. You need to be a team player, son. Be a leader. You're a senior now, and you should be an automatic consideration for team captain. But not with that attitude son, that's for sure." You tell him, coach!

Now, the 17th was a long par three over a lake, as I said. It played about 210 yards factoring in wind and all. Not an easy shot for anyone. I was never a good long iron player, so I had learned to use fairway woods and utility woods in place of long irons. It was a source of some embarrassment for me to carry not only a three-wood for a driving club, but also five, seven, and nine woods as well. Not `manly' clubs by a long shot. At the moment, I held my trusty seven-wood in my hands (one of my favorite clubs), and I was feeling a little cocky. I was playing pretty well now, having gotten into my rhythm. I knew I had this shot--put the ball a little back in my stance and hit a low, hard draw to beat the head-wind, landing on the front and releasing to the back of the green. Right where the flag was.

I stepped back out of my pre-shot routine, and looked over at Brent. "Where are you, Brent?"

"Even," he replied. "Bogied the last fuckin' hole. I was one-under, until that cart girl with the big-titties got me all distracted. Guess I can't play worth a shit with a hardon."

"Tell you what," I said over everyone's laughter. "Lance here and I are both even too. I bet ya a coke we both finish better than you."

Everyone raised their eyebrows at that little challenge to Brent's manhood, with lots of murmuring in the background as the group around the tee had grown some more.

"Ya, right," Brent said. "If you're even par, then your new boyfriend there must be keepin' score for ya. Just hit the ball, faggot. You can buy me a coke when we're done."

Coach gave Brent a very harsh look, but didn't say anything.

I ignored his little attempt to shake me up--I was ready now. I had a clear vision in my mind of the shot I needed to hit, and it went off perfectly as cheers erupted around the tee box--a low penetrating draw that landed on the front part of the green and rolled to the back, less than twenty feet from the hole.

Lance gave me a big pat on the back. "Good on ya, mate!" he said beaming. He went over to his bag, and hesitated for effect. "Six-iron, you say Brent? Thanks mate. I'm new to this course, so I'm still getting the yardages figured out."

He pulled out his six-iron and stepped up to the tee. Without hesitation, he launched his typical perfectly straight high shot to the center of the green. It looked to me, however, that this last swing had a little more juice, like he had kicked it up a notch for some extra distance.

"Thanks for clubbing me, Brent," Lance said grinning as we walked off the tee towards the green.

About half way to the green Lance looked at me slyly and said, "Glad I pulled that one off, aye? That's a monster six iron! I wasn't sure I could even get it there! I'd never hit that shot in a tournament."

"Better yet," he said, "I bet ol' Brent back there can't get home with a six! He hits a high fade, and that wind will eat him up."

"I hope he tries," I laughed. I figured he'd just about have to now.

As usual, Lance rolled his putt up for a tap-in par. Now it was my turn, and I was drooling over this putt. Uphill and breaking slightly right-to-left: the easiest putt to make a good run at. I knew this green pretty well from previous rounds, and I confidently rolled it in for a birdie. The tee box erupted again. As we walked off the green, I looked back to the tee and tipped my hat to the crowd (in my best PGA player impersonation). I was really excited. All I had to do was par the last hole for a career-best round!

On the final tee-box Lance again waved me up first. "You still got the honors, Ricky," he said. "But, I may have to make eagle here to beat you. No offense though, mate," he smiled.

I grinned to myself as I could see that he really did have a competitive streak in him after all.

The 18th is a long par five that finishes uphill and against the wind. For me, it is just a long grueling hole because I can't hit it far enough to even get close in two shots. Lance, however, totally ripped his drive with a slight draw down the right side, giving him a little extra distance and perfect angle into the green.

"Nice drive, Lance," I said. "I noticed that was the first time you hit that low, hard draw off the tee...you been holding back on me?"

"Just lucky, I guess," he grinned back.

Lucky my ass! His next shot was an absolute killed three-wood to about ten feet from the hole for an eagle!

"That'll work ok," I said deadpanning, "if that's the best you can do." He just looked at me with eyebrows raised and mouth hanging open, while his brain was searching unsuccessfully for a snappy comeback. We both burst out laughing.

I made my standard par with a long two-putt, and held the flag for Lance. He stepped up and easily rolled it in for his eagle. Then, he looked up at me and said, "See! I told you no worries!"

We walked up the hill in front of the starter's shack and sat under a tree to watch Brent finish. He was in the second group behind us. Immediately behind us were the Johnson twins: Jimmy and David. Ya, identical. Same swing, same score, same red hair, same everything. They were both even left-handed!

As they walked off the green and sat down with us, they bubbled excitedly between themselves as they usually do. Jimmy (or was it David? I can never tell...) said, "Oh dude! You totally missed it! Brent hit it in the water on 17 with his 5-iron no less and made double! He didn't even try to make it with a six-iron! Hahaha..."

"Ya, you guys got him good today! Way to go dudes!" said David (or was it Jimmy?).

"Cool," I said smiling nervously at Lance. Somehow, I just knew Brent would make us pay for that one sooner or later. I hope Lance doesn't regret being my friend at that point.

Brent managed to match Lance's eagle on the 18th hole. He walked cockily up to the group, not knowing how we had both finished.

Lance jumped right in, "Nice eagle there, Mate. Let's head on over to the snack bar to celebrate, `cause I'm real thirsty...and YOUR BUYIN!"

"What?" said Brent dully. "How'd you guys end up?"

Lance kept on cheerfully, while I sat back and enjoyed the scene. "Well bruiser, I finished out at two minus with a nifty eagle of my own here at the last, and the little scrapper over there came in at one minus with that awesome birdie you saw at 17th! Say, I hear that hole got after you a bit, aye?"

Jimmy (or David...) jumped in, "Ya Brent, they both beat your ass! How's it feel to be number three this year?" they both giggled. Brent shot them a gruesome look, and they quickly vanished, saying something about expecting their ride home to show up any minute now...

"The wind came up right when I was hitting, asshole. And, don't get your pansy ass hopes up, Short-game," Brent glared at me. "Today was just a practice round. When it counts, you and yer boyfriend here are going down!"

"Come on Bruiser," Lance said amiably, flashing his disarming grin (he seemed to have no difficulty ignoring all of Brent's little digs, which just seemed to make him more pissed off than before), "I'm gonna die of thirst here any minute. Let's go settle up, aye?"

Brent didn't say another word and angrily brushed past us towards the snack bar. When we got there, we saw two cokes sitting on the table, but Brent was gone. So, we sat down and chugged down both drinks right away, since we both were quite thirsty. Lance offered to get us a re-fill on his treat. While he was up, I said I'd be right back, and I went to the head and checked in to a stall to do my business.

After sitting there for a little bit, my mind wandered off in its usual meditation. Lance's smiling face kept popping up into my head. What was it with him, anyway? Nobody ever treated me that nice, not that I was complaining! I was really starting to feel a warm feeling about him, and that was quite unusual for me--and not a little bit scary. I just never let myself feel that way about anyone. That way, it always felt a little less painful when they did something to hurt you down the road. And, experience told me; they always did sooner or later.

I heard the door open and Lance called out "Hey mate, you in there?" Before I could answer, I heard the unmistakably heavy footsteps of Brent come in right behind Lance. That, and the fact that I knew Brent was the only player who still wore metal spikes even thought they were not supposed to be allowed on the course.

I heard a slight scuffle, then Brent sneered quietly, "Listen up Lancy-poo. I know about you, pansy ass faggot! My mom works in the school records office. She read all your transcripts. So, if you know what's good for you, you better back off mate! This is my team, and I'm the king around here. So, if you don't want everyone in school to know your dirty little secret, just stay outta my way! No faggot is gonna be on our varsity team for very long, you can be sure of that. So, why don't you just quit now and save yourself the trouble?"

I heard Brent stomp out of the restroom, and Lance let out a kinda long sad sigh. I stayed in the stall until I thought he was gone. When I opened the door, there he was, sitting on the sink counter waiting for me.

"Finish yer business there, mate?" he said. "Sorry, but I knew you were in there. I could see your shoes there under the door. I reckon that you were the only golfer on the course today to break par in tennis' aye?" he said with a sparkle in his eyes.

I blushed a little, being embarrassed to acknowledge I was too poor to have golf shoes. My family didn't have much money. Hell, I worked all summer at the driving range to earn enough money to by all my own golf equipment, used of course (and get a lot of free practice time to go with my employee discount!). Hadn't bought myself some golf shoes yet.

"You heard all that, then?" he asked with a heavy sigh.

"Ya. You ok?"

"Sure thing, mate. No worries. He's just a sore loser. Let's go finish our drinks, aye?"

I clearly got the impression that he didn't want to talk about it at that moment, so I decided not to press him about it for now. We sat around with all the rest of the team (without Brent, of course) and swapped stories. They all took quite a liking to Lance, and he told us all about his junior golfing career `down under.' Turns out he had won a couple of junior tournaments. He had even come to California once when he was 14 to play in the World Junior Championships. It was obvious to everyone that he clearly outclassed Brent both on and off the course. The guys even started treating me with a little more respect when Lance made it clear that he was my friend. Cool.

As everyone chatted on, my thoughts wandered off again for a little while as I found myself gazing distantly at Lance. I was thinking about what Brent had said...was he just being his usual demeaning asshole self? Or was he implying that Lance was gay and he knew about it? Did the idea that Lance might be gay bother me? Excite me? Was I gay if I liked him too? Whoa there...way too many uncomfortable questions and feelings there, dude. Let's not go there again right now, I thought to myself. Denial and avoidance is always the best policy!

As everyone was getting up to go, Lance asked me "Got a ride home then, Rick?"

"Nah, I usually ride my bike; but today I got dropped off. So, I figured on walkin' home. It's not too far, though," I replied (only about 2 miles, I calculated in my head).

"Can I give you a lift, then?" he asked. "I got a car and a license and all that, totally legal you know. I can even drive pretty good on the wrong side, like all you lot over here."

"Wow, how long have you been here again?" I asked. "You sure work fast."

"Well," he said, "Me Mum and Pop are pretty busy folk, and I reckon they don't have time to haul me about. So, they made sure I had my own car and got my license. I'm pretty independent. They let me do my own thing for the most part. You?"

"Uh, I'm not old enough to drive yet, Lance," I said kinda embarrassed about my obvious `lack of maturity.' "I'm almost 16, though. But, even when I am old enough, I still need to pay for driver's ed. Hell, I don't have enough money to pay for that, let alone a car or insurance and stuff. I worked all summer long to earn enough money to pay for golf. Other than that, I'm broke. My Mom can't pay for it, and my Dad is gone--uh, he kinda left us--he won't be paying anything at all."

"So," he asked, "then you would be a junior too then, aye? I'm a junior they tell me. We have a little different system back home, but I'm just past 17 though. Come on then, let's take you home. The car park is off this way, isn't it?"

We walked out to the `car park' and stopped at a totally cool looking brand new Toyota Matrix XRS (kinda like a sporty wagon/5-door kinda thing). It was a metallic gold/beige color, with a sunroof and all kinds of cool, sporty looking wheels and shit.

"Cool car, Lance," I said.

"Ya, the folks liked it because it has room for the clubs and stuff and still holds 4 or 5 people. Pretty handy little unit, I reckon."

He drove us back to my house, with me giving him directions along the way and pointing out important landmarks and places of interest as we encountered them. When we arrived in front of my house, he parked at the curb. The house looked dark, and it was pretty clear nobody was home yet. Just as I expected. My mom worked a lot, and my delinquent 14-year-old brother was rarely home unless he was there to eat or sleep (and he only slept at home about half the time, anyway).

Lance took a deep breath and looked at me intently. "Look, Rick" he started. "I know you heard all that business with your pal Brent there in the `loo. It's ok with me. I feel like I can trust you; you seem like a good bloke to me. Somehow, I can just tell we're gonna be good friends, mate. I know we just met today, but so far you're all the friends I got around here, and I don't want to have any secrets from you. I learned that the hard way back home. People you care about don't like to hear you've been keeping secrets from them," he said kinda sadly.

"Don't be too sure; I think you already have a lot of friends on the team, Lance. You made a good impression on everyone today. Brent really is in trouble, if he thinks he is gonna play number one this year. I may not have a great swing myself, but I know a golf swing when I see one. You're a player, and you know it mate! I bet you could beat half the pro's on the tour..." I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

"Thanks," he said, looking at me sincerely. He sat in silent deliberation for what seemed like a very long time; then he took a deep breath, looked me right in the eyes and said, "I am, you know."

"Ya," I said. "you're a hell of a player."

"No!" he looked at me, frustrated with my lack of comprehension. "I mean what Brent said, you know? Oh, fuck. Don't you get it? I'm gay. I like the boys, ok?" he said sadly, looking down at the floor in obvious despair. "Regardless of what Brent said, I'm sure everyone in school will know about it sooner or later. I expected it would happen some day. Just not so soon, maybe. Great first impression, aye?"

He looked up at me with a pained expression. "So?" he asked.

"So...uh, what?" I replied as my mind was being bombarded with a million different thoughts all at once.

"You aren't gonna pitch a big fit then? Call me names and shit like everyone else? We can still be friends can't we, mate? I really want us to be friends," he said shakily.

I could tell he was close to losing it at this point. I wanted to make him feel better, but my head was still spinning from trying to process the information it had just received, and what all the possible implications were, etc. My brain just does that, kinda like on autopilot. I shook my head briefly to clear my thoughts.

I looked him directly in the eyes. Boy, I am beginning to think I could get lost in there, sigh...Oops, back to the present situation, Rick! I shook my head again to regain some focus. Suddenly, as my brain function fully kicked into gear a part of me decided all this new info was getting very threatening and uncomfortable all of a sudden. "Ok, --now let's be careful here--no unnecessary risks," it said. I began cautiously, "Uh, Lance, I don't care if you are gay. I think we might be really good friends some day. Really close, maybe. But, I just don't know you yet. I mean, we had a blast today and everything was totally cool, but it takes time for me. I usually have to know someone pretty well before I can get that comfortable around them. I can't just let people...I mean, it's just me--my life that makes me that way. I am so used to being hurt by people and picked on all my life that it's hard for me to trust anyone. Just give me a little time, ok?"

"So, are you, uh... you know, too?" he asked. "I mean, I kinda got the feeling...uh, well... you know, I saw the way you kept looking at me and..."

"Whoa there...this is all a little too much for me...I really just don't know how I feel, Lance. I like you so far, as a friend ok? You seem like a really cool guy," I said as I could feel myself blushing. A little voice in the back of my head pointed out to me that I never actually said no, I wasn't gay. Strange.

He hesitated again, and sighed. "Ricky, would you be mad if...uh, well...if I liked you that way? I mean, well...I think I do. You're just so bloody cute and all, and...well, we seemed to get on so well today on the course, and...I dunno. I guess I better just shut up now," he said quietly, looking down at the floor again, obviously in fear of being rejected.

God, he was totally starting to melt my natural defenses, not to mention my heart. "Hey, Lance--no worries man. Everything is good between us. No matter what happens, you'll find that I am the most loyal friend you could ever have if you do right by me. Just give it some time, and everything will work out the way it's supposed to, ok?" I said, trying to be basically truthful without giving too much of my own feelings away. "It's not you. I just always have a hard time understanding how I really feel about things myself, you know? I do have to go now; mom will expect me to have some supper ready. But, thanks for the ride and the talk ok?" I tried to reassure him with my best heart-felt smile. He seemed to cheer up a bit with that. "I'll see you tomorrow at practice, ok?"

"Ya, Rick; see you tomorrow, mate. Wait! I just wanna say...well, uh...Krikes! You're just such an amazing guy! I can't imagine telling anyone all this stuff, and just sitting here discussing it so calmly like you are. You're quite a piece of work there, Rick. Thanks." And he drove off, looking back at me with a wistfully hopeful kinda smile.

I wondered to myself what he would think if he knew that I really wasn't so calm about it inside, just totally unable to deal with my own feelings about those kinds of things. I had buried my feelings so deeply, sometimes I felt like I just couldn't feel anything at all at the right moment. I guess it was just a self-defense mechanism I'd developed to deal with the years of torment and emotional abuse I had endured.

As I lay in bed that night, I still couldn't get that handsome, smiling face out of my mind. Did I say handsome? God, I am so confused! It honestly never occurred to me before today that it could be possible for me to be attracted to another guy that way. Growing up, I had always heard so many negative comments about `fags' that it was pretty obvious to me that it was something to be avoided at all cost. I mean, who in their right mind would choose (and I was soon to realize, of course, that choice had absolutely nothing to do with it!) to do something that would bring so much heartache and grief into their life? I had also learned to be wary of most guys my age or older anyway: or, at the very least, to avoid their notice so they wouldn't hassle me. As far as the girls go, they basically ignored me since I wasn't cool, studly, or interested in playing the popularity game and stuff. I mean, a good looking girl--especially one with nice tits--could get me boned up in a second any day of the week. But, I just couldn't picture myself, like, hugging or kissing a girl (maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was allergic to perfume and makeup and stuff--girls/women always made me sneeze! Was that it? Was I allergic to females?). I mean; they are ok to look at, but...

I lay there with my eyes closed, hugging my pillow tightly to my chest, and imagining myself wrapped in someone's arms getting a really sexy, lingering kiss. And, as hard as I tried, I could only see one face kissing me back. That dark-haired grinning Aussie dude! Oh god. As the realization hit me, I got a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was it love? Or just an overwhelming sense of dread?