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Note: Thanks to Tim for feedback on the draft chapters. I owe special thanks to Robb and Rock for doing the final proofreading and catching all those silly little errors I missed.
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by Jeff Allen
Fortunately, my relationship with Robert remained friendly. I'd hurt him, but to his credit he rarely let that show. I valued his friendship; I would miss him terribly if he left; I felt guilty for hurting him; and I fervently hoped he would be able to move past our brief love affair. We talked on the phone several times a week, but I didn't stay over at his house any more when the guys were staying over there.
Tyrone continued to be one of the outstanding basketball players for our high school. Robert even began to help a little with the coaching for the team. He was always careful to defer to the coach, but it was also clear that he enjoyed being involved with the game again.
The news at my house was that Rashod and Jonathan Pittman were "keeping company" as my mother used to say in her delicate southern manner. I was a little concerned with the age difference between the two boys so I talked with them the first weekend Jonathan came out to spend the night. The relationship seemed to do both of them a lot of good so after a month or so I didn't worry quite as much.
The addition to my house started in early January. We had a mild winter so the entire project was completed by late April well before the start of the normal seasonal push for construction in our area. It was rough for a while since there wasn't a functional kitchen in the house during most of the time the crew was working, but we survived, and the result was well worth the inconvenience. Trey, TJ, and Ryan each had their own room in the new second floor above the expanded kitchen. That meant Isaac and Rashod had their own bedrooms in the older part of the house giving them some more privacy when their boyfriends stayed over. I wasn't sure I really wanted to know what they'd done when they'd all stayed in the same room. I just had to hope that it was all consensual.
Ryan turned 16 on March 4. It was a Friday. I took him to the Department of Motor Vehicles office right after school to get his driver's license and then headed out to the house. All the guys from the soccer team and many of his friends from school were crowed into the living room of the house for a party. The kitchen was still torn up with the construction at that point so the food consisted of lots and lots of pizza and soft drinks. I never realized how many pizzas a crowd of teenagers could go through.
The next morning TJ and I blindfolded Ryan and took him out to the barn. When we took the blindfold off, he had his first look at his new vehicle. It was a six-year-old Toyota Tacoma 4x4 that Donnie Micheaux had found and fixed up for us. TJ and I had split the cost. Ryan squealed with delight and then hugged the breath out of both of us.
Soccer season started again
in March. Tyrone joined the team again as soon as basketball season was
over. Our team was beginning to draw some attention from college
scouts. I knew there were scouts at several of the matches, and Trey, TJ,
and Jonathan had several invitations to visit campuses. They declined
most of the invitations, but they did visit Western Carolina, Appalachian
Finally, I got a call from
Rick Springer my old coach at
We all met in my newly completed dining room. Trey, TJ, and Jonathan sat on one side of the table. I sat next to them at one end of the table, and Rick sat around the corner from me facing the boys.
After exchanging pleasantries, Rick began. "This is a unique situation for me to be talking with all three of you guys at the same time. If I was doing this separately, I'd use slightly different words, but here it goes. All three of you guys have talent, and I think you could make a big contribution to our team. It would be highly unusual for me to recruit three players from the same high school, but I'm willing to do that. The problem is that I only have two full scholarships left."
Trey broke in. "Mr. Springer. Let me make sure I understand what you're saying. You would like all three of us, right?"
"Yes, I would."
"Even if all of us are gay?"
The coach didn't even bat an eye. "Trey, that won't make a difference to me or to the rest of the team." He glanced over at me. "I don't want to `out' anyone."
"Go ahead, they know I'm gay."
"Good. I knew your uncle was gay when he played for me. You can ask him if he was treated any differently because of it. We have some gay players on every team sport, and they're treated exactly the same as the straight players. Our university does not discriminate. In fact, one of the assistant football coaches is gay. No one makes a big deal about it. What matters is what you do out on the field."
Trey stood up and said, "Would you excuse us for a few minutes? There's something TJ, Jonathan and I need to discuss."
Both Rick and I looked at the boys in surprise, but Rick nodded his head.
The boys left, and we talked about old times for a few minutes.
When the guys returned they were all smiling, but I could tell that TJ had been crying.
Trey spoke again. "I think we have a solution for you. I don't need a scholarship to go to school. I've got plenty of money from my parents' estate. Jonathan doesn't need a scholarship either because his parents are capable of paying for school. TJ is the one who really needs a scholarship in order to go to school."
I broke in, "Trey, I've told TJ that I'll help him pay for college..."
"Parker, I know you
have. Please let me finish." He turned back to face Rick. "We
I wasn't sure what Rick thought about the pressure play the boys had just put on him, but I was bursting with pride.
Rick sat there for a few seconds before breaking into a huge grin. "Men, you have a deal. I don't think I've ever had talks with prospective athletes go quite like this. I'm proud to have men like you on the team. TJ, you have some very good friends here."
"I know." The tears were back in his eyes.
The soccer team had their
best season ever. We went all the way to the state finals for our
division before being beaten by
Graduation was the weekend after the state soccer tournament. Trey, TJ, Jonathan, and Bobby Whittaker all graduated in the top ten of the class. I was a very proud "honorary dad." I had one of those graduation open houses for Trey and TJ. I think the entire senior class, half of the junior class, and all of the soccer team plus their parents marched through the house that day.
TJ's lawn care and landscaping business and been active all spring, but it really moved into high gear as soon as school was out for the summer. TJ employed all of my guys plus Bobby Whittaker, Jonathan Pittman, and Elijah Baker. TJ was the model of organization. He had the jobs scheduled; he figured where the equipment was needed; he made certain everyone knew their assignments for the day; and he made sure he kept up good relations with his customers. The unofficial work outfit for Ladd's Lawn Services was work boots and either running shorts or soccer shorts. If the weather cooperated, that's all the guys wore unless they were using the string trimmers. Then they pulled on a pair of chaps-like covers that protected their legs and stomachs from the flying debris tossed up by the string trimmers. They were careful to cover themselves with sun screen, but it didn't take long for the ones with darker complexions like Ryan, TJ, Trey, and Elijah to be sporting killer tans. I was looking forward to seeing their tanned bodies and white asses playing around the pool in the evenings.
The summer soccer program for
Tuesday night I dropped off to sleep quickly, but then I had a dream. I normally either don't remember my dreams or they're so comical...like a Monty Python movie...that I wake up chuckling to myself. This one was different. It seemed real, and it both scared and frustrated me. Someone I knew was in trouble. I wasn't sure who it was. It also wasn't clear what kind of trouble, but I knew I had to get to them, and I couldn't. People were preventing me from helping. I was pissed, and I woke myself up swearing at someone from the dream.
On Wednesday I got home just as the Ladd's Lawn Services crews showed up. We'd quickly fallen back to the summer routine of guys bringing their own meat for grilling while I supplied the rest of the meal. I was looking forward to a little relaxation in the pool myself, but I noticed the message light blinking on the answering machine.
I hit the button.
"Mr. Arnold, this is Lester
Henson, Karl's father. I know that TJ and Ryan Ladd are living with you
and that you and Karl were close friends for a while. There's been an
incident up here at
I scrambled for a piece of paper as Mr. Henson rattled off the number.
I dialed the number.
A woman answered. "Hello?"
"This is Parker Arnold. I'm calling for Lester Henson. Is he there?"
"Oh, Mr. Arnold, this is Joan Henson, Karl's mother. I'm so glad you called back. Lester is in the room with Karl. I was just out here in the lounge making some phone calls."
"Ma'am, Mr. Henson said that Karl had been injured. Is he okay?"
"Yes. At least he will be." Her voice broke a little. "There was an `incident' up here, and Karl got hurt. I guess the worst injury is to his knee. They're going to do surgery in the morning to try to fix it."
"You said there's been an `incident.' Your husband used the same word when he left the message. What kind of incident?"
"Well..." She hesitated. "I can't say too much right now, but Karl was beaten up. Probably by a couple of other cadets here at the Point. We don't know all the details yet, and Karl hasn't said much. Some of the officers have been in talking with him. That's another reason I'm out here in the lounge."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No...no, I can't think of anything right now. We just have to wait to see what the doctors say about Karl's knee. I think we'll be bringing him home, but not for several days yet."
"Please tell Karl that I'm thinking of him. I'd appreciate it very much if you could let me know more about his condition when you find out."
"Yes, we'll be sure to do that. Thank you for calling."
After we hung up, I remembered my dream.
Lester Henson called on
Friday. He sounded tired, and there was an edge of anger in his
voice. He said they'd done the surgery on Karl's knee, but the damage was
so extensive that he was going to be released from the Army. Karl was
going to be able to leave the hospital the next day, and they were going to
rent an SUV or minivan to drive back from
I asked if I could talk with Karl, but Lester said Karl was upset over the whole incident and didn't want to talk with anyone right then. I asked him to let me know when they arrived back in Carterville. I still didn't have any real information about the 'incident' except what Joan Henson had told me on Wednesday.
The next day 'Coach's Cubs' received another blow.
Rashod's mother announced that she had taken a teaching
position in one of the
Rashod's parents had separated around Easter time. Gloria Roberts, Rashod's mother, had moved out of the parsonage and into a small two bedroom apartment in town along with her daughter. As she had explained the situation to Rashod and me, she hadn't been able to get Rev. Roberts to moderate his stance on homosexuality in general and Rashod in particular so she delivered an ultimatum. Rev. Roberts refused to give in and so Rashod's mother and sister moved out. Rashod continued to live with us because the apartment they had rented was barely large enough for the two women.
Rashod wasn't unhappy with his parents' separation, but he was upset about leaving Carterville and his friends. The rest of Coach's Cubs were saddened by the thought of having one of their brothers move away.
Rashod and I talked with his mother and convinced her to let Rashod stay with us for the rest of the summer. The end of summer seemed like a good time for the break since Rashod would go to a new school right away with a chance to meet some kids and make friends and since his boyfriend, Jonathan, would be leaving for college at the same time.
I waited for Lester Henson's call telling me that he, his wife, and Karl had arrived back in Carterville, but I didn't hear anything. By Friday I was starting to worry that something had gone wrong so I called the Henson household.
Joan Henson answered. When I asked to speak to Karl she told me that Karl wasn't ready to talk with anyone yet. She said she'd let him know that I'd called.
About a week later TJ said that he had stopped at the Hensons' during lunch. Mrs. Henson was glad to see him and invited him in. They'd talked for a few minutes before she went toward the back of the house. He heard her talking with Karl, but when she came back out she told him that Karl still wasn't feeling up to having company. TJ was concerned. So was I.
On the way home the next afternoon I stopped at Donnie's service station. Donnie was supervising three mechanics in the garage area. He greeted me warmly with a hug, and after moving to a more private setting I told him about Karl's reluctance to see people. I asked Donnie if he would try to see Karl. They had been close friends in high school. I hoped that connection would still work. Donnie said he'd get over to the Henson's the next day.
Two evenings later I got a phone call from Donnie.
"Hey, Coach. It's Donnie."
"Hi, Donnie. I'm glad to hear from you. Did you get a chance to talk with Karl? How is he?"
"Well, I went over there yesterday just like I told you I would. Karl's daddy let me in, but Karl stayed in the back of the house and told his dad that he didn't want to see me."
"That's the same thing that happened to TJ and me."
"Well, I've got a couple of `aces' up my sleeve in the form of Grant and Micah. Karl's always had a soft spot for my two boys so I took them over with me this evening. Karl's mama answered the door this time. She saw the two boys and got a big grin on her face. She grabbed them by the hands and trotted them back into the family room. Once Karl saw the boys, he couldn't very well tell me that he didn't want to see me."
I laughed. "Donnie, you're devious!"
"You got that right," he said chuckling. "Karl and I talked for a little while. He's real torn up about having to leave the army. I think something bad happened up there, but Karl won't say anything about it. His knee's in a big ole brace, and he'll be walking with crutches for a while to come. He's got some cracked ribs that must hurt like all get out when he uses those crutches, and he got his nose broken. It's still a little swollen."
"He didn't say anything about what happened?"
"No. That's why I think it was something really bad. I can't describe it well, but there's a real big hurt inside there. You can see it in his eyes. I guess that's one of the reasons he hasn't wanted to see people."
"Do you think he's going to be alright? What's he going to do now that he's out of the army?"
"He talked with me some about that, but I'll let him tell you himself when I bring him out to your place for the annual soccer team bar-b-que next weekend."
I told Donnie that I thought he was a miracle worker and thanked him.
He thanked me and added, "Coach, this is what you do for your friends. Karl's my friend, and you're my friend."
The soccer team bar-b-que was always a great time. Joe May, Robert, and I manned the grills turning out hot dogs, hamburgers, and grilled chicken breasts as fast as we could to take care of the appetites of a couple dozen teenage boys. Since it was an all male affair most of the guys stayed naked once they'd stripped off their clothes to go in the pool. Even though I got a lot of eye candy in the showers with the guys, it was always a treat to see them again. On top of that there were several soccer "alumni" who showed up for the bar-b-que each year as well. Robert and I enjoyed checking them out too. Joe was so damn straight that I'm not sure he even realized the guys, including his own very studly son Paul, were naked.
I guess I might as well describe some of the hotter guys.
Ryan Ladd was sixteen but looked eighteen. He stood a well-proportioned six foot one with medium brown hair, hazel eyes, and an ample male organ and pair of balls swinging between his legs. He also had the beginnings of a treasure trail leading from his navel to his dark pubic hair.
TJ was still the most developed and mature looking of the "Coach's Cubs" although Ryan looked like he might catch up. TJ was still six foot tall, but he had filled out more over the past year. The stray hairs that had surrounded his nipples last summer had blossomed into a respectable patch on each pec. His treasure trail was now clearly marked.
My nephew Trey at eighteen
had clearly gotten the
Isaac was only about a year younger than Trey, but he still had a boyish appearance about him in part due to his light brown hair, hazel eyes, and fair complexion. Isaac was careful to use a lot of sun screen, and he would have to continue slathering on the sun screen all summer. He'd hit about five foot ten inches in height by Christmas, but he hadn't really added any more height since then.
Tyrone was still growing at six foot four with a lanky build that was beginning to fill out. His curly black hair and striking coal black eyes were probably his strongest features...besides the respectably large uncircumcised prick with the extra pucker of skin at the end of it.
Jonathan Pittman who was now out at the house so much we thought of him as another member of "Coach's Cubs" had just turned eighteen on June 12. His parents had presented him with a brand new Toyota Celica. Standing about 6'2", he was the most solidly built one among the cubs. He had sandy blond hair, eyes the same shade as his hair, and because he was fair skinned like Isaac he needed to be careful that he always applied plenty of sun screen. Jonathan's uncut cock was about average in size. I'd never seen it hard although I'd felt him pushing it against my ass in his sleep when we'd shared a bed the previous summer. It hadn't felt average. Maybe he was a "grower."
Rashod was the shortest and youngest of the Cubs. His muscles didn't look well-defined, but he was strong for his size and solid. His natural skin color was pretty dark although lighter than Donnie Micheaux's, but working out in the sun all day had added more melanin. In fact it was possible to see distinct tan lines where the work boots and running shorts he wore while cutting grass protected his skin from the sun. The guys jokingly decided that Rashod should win the prize for the best suntan. Rashod thought that was a hoot.
As promised, Donnie and his boys showed up with Karl Henson in tow.
Mutt attached herself to Grant and Micah as soon as they stepped out of the car. Grant led his younger brother around the yard talking with all of the guys. Mutt trailed along with her tail wagging a mile a minute.
Donnie came up to the grills to say hello to Joe, Robert, and me. Karl limped along behind. He had on sandals, cargo shorts, and a tee shirt. His left knee was covered with an elaborate looking brace, and he leaned heavily on his crutches as he made his way over to us. His nose didn't look too swollen, but there was a definite crook just below the level of his eyes that put the end of his nose a little off center to the right. Even with the banged up knee and rearranged nose, I thought he looked darn good. His chest looked muscular and fit under the tee shirt, his arms were bigger than before, and his right leg, the one without the brace, was beautifully sculpted.
Karl shook hands with Joe, introduced himself to Robert, and then extended his hand to me. I let out the breath I'd been holding and took his hand.
"Glad you came, Karl. It's good to see you. I know the other guys will be happy you're here also."
"Thanks, Coach." He smiled, but it wasn't his usual wide open smile. This one was reserved, almost forced, with no light in his eyes.
"You and Donnie get something to eat. I'd like to talk with you when I get a chance to get away from the grill."
He nodded and then crutched his way toward the food table.
Robert leaned over and said, "He's a very handsome young man, but I think also a very sad one."
Donnie and Karl took their food to one of the tables. I watched out of the corner of my eye as guys came up one by one and in small groups to talk with them. Donnie kept flashing his big wide smile, but Karl's face never took on a full grin. I could see guys asking Karl questions, but his answers were always short. Eventually people got the message and stopped trying to draw him into conversation.
As dusk settled, the pressure on us cooks let up. The guys were still sitting around finishing their meals, back to playing naked soccer, or having water battles in the pool. Grant and Micah had settled down next to their father with their food. Mutt was sitting attentively on the ground next to them waiting for dropped food.
Robert put his hand on my shoulder. "Joe and I can handle the cooking duties for a while. Go over and talk with Karl."
I sat down on the picnic table bench next to Karl. "I'm sorry to hear about your injury. I know you really enjoyed the military and being a cadet. Do you know what you're going to do now?"
"I've talked with the
admissions people at
"What are you going to major in?"
"Probably business. Dad wants me to begin taking over the store when I graduate. He'll be close to retirement age by then."
"I didn't know your dad was that old."
Karl smiled more genuinely for the first time in our conversation, "Yeah, he's always been pretty active. Nobody thinks he's as old as he is."
"You know, Trey, TJ, and
Jonathan are all going over to
"Yeah, they told me."
"I think it'll be good for them to have a more mature role model in college."
"They won't need me."
"They look up to you, Karl."
Man, that was not the Karl Henson I was used to!
"When does your term start?"
after the Fourth of July.
Dad and I are going over to
I wasn't sure my emotions could take much more of the conversation. I stood up. "Be sure to stay in touch. I'll have the guys look you up when they get over there in August."
I walked back over to where Joe and Robert were working on cleaning up the grills.
"You're right, Robert. That's a very sad young man."
(To be continued)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many of the characters who play parts in this story were previously introduced in either "When Love Comes" (last posted in the College section on Sept. 6, 2001) or "Love of a Lifetime" (last posted in the College section on May 19, 2003). While not necessary, readers may find it useful to read the two earlier stories posted on this site. Both previous stories are also posted at www.crvboy.com.
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