By Mickey S.
This is a fictional story. Most of the characters and events are figments of the author's imagination. However, some of the fictional characters take part in real events and some real characters take part in fictional events. In spite of that, this is a fictional story. My thanks to Tim and Drew for all of their help. The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at NJMcMick@yahoo.com.
It was supposed to be a summer vacation. That's all, just two months with the family in
It had been a warm afternoon in late May and we were outside playing baseball in gym class. As a skinny, non-athletic sort, I was playing right field, as usual. Since only the left handed kids hit the ball out that way and there weren't very many of them it wasn't a crucial position. It was the bottom of the final inning and my team, of which I had been the last player selected, of course, was ahead by one run. There were two outs and a man on first base when Tom Lyons came to bat. He was the most-popular and most athletic boy in our class, and in my opinion, the best-looking as well. And left handed, although that wasn't what I was thinking at the time. I was too absorbed in his tousled blond hair hanging down over his forehead and the thought of his deep blue eyes. I was brought out of my trance by the loud thwack of the bat hitting the ball. The ball was coming right toward me, or so I thought. I took a few steps toward it before I realized it was going to go over my head. I back-pedaled quickly but, as luck would have it, tripped over my feet and fell flat on my back. The ball hit the ground about ten feet behind me and rolled away. By the time I got to my feet and chased it down, Tom had circled the bases and was scoring the winning run.
My disgusted teammates didn't speak to me on the way back to the locker room. Tom Lyons did, though. He patted me on my back and thanked me.
"Couldn't have done it without ya, Coop. Thanks." I was willing to overlook the sarcasm in his voice just to look into his eyes and hear him say my name. Unfortunately, things got worse in the locker room and then in the showers. My teammates were riding me about my ineptitude, of course. That was almost an everyday thing. But Ed Jamison had seen Tom speak to me and razzed me about it.
"Just because you've got a crush on
One of the others picked up on it.
"Screw the team? He'd probably rather have the team screw him."
"I don't know why they make these sissies play on our teams and ruin the games for us."
"That's bad enough but we sure shouldn't have to put up with them in the locker room, gawking at our privates."
I was staring down at my feet as I dried off, wishing I could just disappear and desperately trying not to look at anyone. I'd realized some time before that I was interested in other boys but thought I'd been careful not to show it. I couldn't afford to make a slip.
The jeering got worse as we went back to our lockers. Words like fairy, sissy, queer and nancy-boy were repeated over and over. I just wanted to get dressed and get out of there. I was reaching for my underwear when I felt a hand firmly grasp my shoulder.
"Nancy-boys like this don't belong around real men like us. What do you say we throw him out, men?"
All of a sudden there were hands all over me as I felt myself being pushed toward the door. I panicked, reaching out, grabbing at the others but that only seemed to make them angrier when I touched one of them. The door opened and next thing I knew I was standing out in the sun, stark naked, as the heavy door slammed shut behind me. I tried to open the door to get back in but the others were holding it from the inside. I pounded on it but that only succeeded in drawing attention to myself. Finally, I gave up and ran as fast as I could across the campus to my dorm, holding my hands over my crotch. I must have passed half the student body on the way. It only took a couple of minutes but it seemed like forever until I was in my room. I collapsed on the bed, crying.
The last two weeks of school were hell. No one in my class spoke to me, only at me or about me. And my name had become
"I know it had to be tough on you, but don't let them get you down, Woody. Lots of guys our age put others down to build themselves up and it's not your fault."
"But look at me. No wonder they pick on me."
"So you're not athletic. Lots of boys aren't. Bullies are always going after guys who are smaller than themselves. That just shows what cowards they really are. Try to avoid the worst ones and whatever you do don't let on how much they upset you. If they think they're not getting to you, they'll probably let up after a while. And I'll put out the word that anyone who has a problem with you has a problem with me. Maybe that will stop them."
"I appreciate that but I can't come off as hiding behind my big brother. That might only make things worse. And I don't want to get you involved in this."
"Don't worry about getting me involved, but I understand what you mean. I'm proud of you for wanting to get through this on your own."
"Proud? I'd think you'd be ashamed having such a wimp for a brother."
TR looked me right in the eyes and spoke very seriously. "Woody, don't let me ever catch you calling yourself names again. You're my brother and I love you. There's nothing that could ever make me ashamed of you."
By the time Mother and Dad came up from the city to get us, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was probably obvious to them that something was wrong but I couldn't bring myself to tell them what had happened. TR just told them that I'd had a problem with a couple of my classmates but that I was handling it.
So even though it was just for the summer and I probably wouldn't see any of my school mates even if we stayed in
"Are you out of your mind, William? Do you have any idea what's going on over there?" He paused. "Of course you do, and knowing your political inclinations and your sense of adventure I can understand why you'd want to go, but why would you risk taking your family? Those idiots over there are going to end up killing each other again, and that socialist in the White House is going to do his damnedest to get us involved, but at least we're safe here for now."
* * *
I should probably introduce myself and my family before I go any further. My name is Woodrow Wilson Cooper, Woody to my family and Cooper or Coop to the other boys at school. I pretty much answered to anything - except
The family had also grown to be quite conservative, aristocratic and snobbish over the years. Grandfather, Thomas Cooper III, was the king, reigning from his mansion on
Instead of going into the family business, he studied journalism at
For as far back as I could remember there had been tension between Dad and Grandfather but it was apparently worse right after we came back from
While Dad was considered a radical rebel by the rest of the family, we didn't exactly live a life of poverty. He was not only very successful in his career, he had income from a family trust fund as a supplement to his earnings. So TR and I grew up in a very comfortable brownstone on
* * *
Although I had my own personal reason for wanting to run away that summer, I was looking forward to the trip for all of the reasons Dad had given to Grandfather as well. Many people seemed to think the British were cold and formal, stiff upper lip and all that, but my grandparents in
And I adored TR. Talk about hero worship, he was my idol, everything I wasn't - tall, good-looking, athletic. So many boys his age thought of their little brothers as pests, but he always had time for me.
I also loved being with my parents. They were different from any other grownup couple I knew. Most of my friends' parents and most of my parents' friends had another kind of relationship. The men spent most of their time with their men friends. The women spent most of their time with their women friends. Yes, Dad did belong to a club and Mother spent some time with her ladies clubs, but they enjoyed each other's company more than anything else. Other couples seemed to be more business partners than life partners and it was clear the men were the senior partners. But Mother and Dad were friends, pals, equals. They talked, they laughed, they hugged and kissed. After twenty years, they were still on their honeymoon.
We were booked for passage on the Queen Mary the second week of June. Mother spent the whole prior week packing. She always went overboard when we traveled; her motto was `better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.' But even by her standards I thought she was packing a lot for just two months, especially for herself and Dad. After all, we'd have our laundry done several times while we were away so we didn't need to take everything with us. The day before we sailed a small truck came to the house to take the trunks which were being shipped as freight. Mother had packed suitcases with what we'd need for the four-day voyage and we took them with us in the cab the next day.
The last time we'd sailed to Europe the Queen Mary was still under construction and we'd taken the
TR and I were sharing a stateroom adjoining Mother and Dad's in first class, which was called Cabin Class on this ship. When I saw how enormous our room was I realized why the ship held fewer passengers than the older one. Dad led us on a quick tour of the ship. My favorite part was the huge map of the
When it was time for the ship to depart, we all went out to join the crowds on deck. We had no one who was seeing us off - the family was barely speaking to Dad due to his irresponsibility of taking us into a possible war zone - but we stood there and waved to the throngs on the dock anyway. It was a huge party and we took part to the fullest. Once the ship had inched away from the pier Mother and Dad excused themselves and went below - Mother to our staterooms to unpack and Dad to meet a newspaper friend in the first class lounge. TR and I stayed on deck, enjoying the party atmosphere and watching every detail of our departure.
As the ship reached the middle of the
"Will you take a look at that?" He whispered in my ear. I followed his gaze into the crowd but had no idea what he was talking about. "The blonde," he added.
Then I saw who he was looking at. Even I recognized that she was a beauty. Though I wasn't attracted to girls, I could still tell which were pretty and which weren't.
"Wait here, Wood." Without another word, TR was off in her direction. He went right up to her and started talking. When she looked up into his face a big smile broke out on hers. In no time they were chatting as if they were old friends. After a moment he turned and pointed in my direction. I blushed, having been caught staring at them. As the ship passed Battery Park and entered the harbor, TR excused himself and came back to me.
"Okay Woody, it's all taken care of. We have dates for lunch tomorrow."
"W-we? What are you talking about?"
"She's got a little sister around your age so it's a double date."
A date? With a girl? I must have looked as distressed as I felt. TR put his arm around my shoulder and led me to a railing near the stern, away from what crowds were still on deck.
"Look, little brother, I know you're not interested in girls." I knew I must have looked alarmed at that but TR just smiled. "At least not yet. We Coopers tend to be late bloomers. But it would be a great favor to me if you'd be willing to put up with the sister for at least a meal. After I've had a chance to work my charm on her she probably won't feel the need for a chaperone after that."
"Sure, TR, I suppose I can do that. But won't her sister be disappointed? I mean, she may be expecting a smaller version of you. Look at me. I'm short and scrawny, not at all like you."
It was true. TR was about 6'1" and while he didn't have a large build, he was muscular and all in proportion. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he looked like a matinee idol. I, on the other hand, was 5'6" and skinny. My hair was blond but darker than his and my eyes were an odd blue-green mix.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Woody. You may not have noticed because I've always been bigger than you, but I've grown quite a bit in the past couple of years, As I said, we Coopers are late bloomers. You may not end up as tall as me but you're not going to be short either. And you've got a good frame so once you start to fill out you'll look great. Besides, it's not all about looks, you know. You're a great guy and any girl who doesn't see that doesn't deserve to be with you."
"I'm not sure I buy all that but I'll go to lunch with you and the girls tomorrow. How bad can it be?"
TR grinned. "That's not exactly the attitude you should have going into your first date, but it'll do for now, I suppose."
The ship was about to leave the harbor through the Verrazano