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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
IN CARTERVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
To tell the truth, I kind of wondered what I'd gotten into by offering to let Josh live with us. Don't get me wrong, it was the right thing to do; however, I'd only met the young man twice before. Still, he seemed like a nice enough fellow, and Trey and TJ thought a lot of him.
I really had no reason to worry. Josh fit into our unconventional household quickly. He was eager to help and immediately insisted on being put in the rotation for household chores. He treated us all to fried chicken, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and biscuits one night between Christmas and New Years. He kidded us good-naturedly that those of us from the western part of the state didn't know what it was like to be true southerners. He claimed it was his job to show us, and show us he did. That boy could really fry chicken!
There were some times when I thought he might break down. He'd tear up in the middle of a conversation when something reminded him of his mom, but whenever that happened one of the other guys would lay a hand on his arm or give him a hug.
As for me, I sort of sunk into a little valley of self-pity over the holidays. I saw how much TJ and Donnie cared for each other, and I was jealous. I tried not to be, but I was. I wondered if I'd ever find the kind of love and companionship I was looking for. I wondered if I'd had my chance with Robert and blown it. Maybe I should have given it a little more time before telling him that I couldn't be the lover he was looking for.
Christmas morning was hectic. Donnie woke Grant and Micah early so they could go down to Charlotte for the day to have Christmas with his mother, his sister and her two children. The boys opened their stockings from Santa before eating a quick breakfast and then loading into my Explorer. I'd insisted that Donnie take my vehicle. I knew he was a little worried about his old wreck of a minivan making it all the way to Charlotte and back without a breakdown.
TJ stayed behind when Donnie went to visit his sister and mother. They'd talked about telling Donnie's family about their relationship, but they'd finally decided to wait until TJ's spring break in March to do that.
It was surprising how quiet the house seemed with Grant and Micah gone. It's not that they were especially loud children. It's just that small children seem to spread the Christmas feeling with their uninhibited joy and delight at the whole season.
We weren't lonely. Robert, Elena, and Tyrone came over for Christmas dinner. Even Jonathan came over a little later.
Donnie didn't get back from Charlotte until almost midnight. We'd expected him back around eleven so TJ was a little worried. He broke into a big grin as soon as we saw the headlights of the Explorer coming up the driveway. The little guys were fast asleep in their car seats, and Donnie looked tired. Ryan and Isaac took the sleeping boys upstairs to their beds while Mutt danced along behind showing her delight at having her two young "puppies" back in the house. The rest of us helped unload the presents and other Christmas stuff from the SUV. Donnie and TJ headed up to bed soon after that because Donnie had to get up early the next morning to open the garage.
Just after New Years we had a big snowstorm. The guys had taken Josh out to one of the local slopes for his first time on skis, but they came back early because of the worsening slope and road conditions. I'd stayed behind to baby sit the boys and work on some school stuff.
Just after the crew got back home Donnie called to say that he was closing up the garage early. There wasn't much traffic in town, and he was concerned about making it home. TJ decided to go pick him up in his Jeep. I decided to tag along just to get out of the house.
The roads were becoming treacherous. We collected Donnie without incident and started back home. There was already about six or seven inches on the sidewalks making them difficult to negotiate for any pedestrians. There weren't many. We came up on a figure walking in the roadway where the cars had moved some of the snow around making paths for walking.
We'd just passed the pedestrian when TJ exclaimed, "Hey, that was Karl! We'd better give him a lift."
He brought the Jeep to a halt and then backed up to bring us closer to the snow covered figure of Karl Henson. I hadn't seen him since soccer team picnic the previous summer. My stomach was doing flip flops. I wished I'd stayed at home.
Donnie opened his door, and Karl clambered in joining me in the small back seat of the Jeep. He looked at me, and his eyes widened in surprise for a second.
Then he turned his attention to TJ and Donnie in the front seats. "Thanks for stopping, guys. It's a real mess out there. They say we could get a foot or more."
TJ turned to look back at Karl. "What were you doing out in this stuff?"
"I was on my way home. Mom and Dad are down in Florida for a week so I've been minding the store. When the storm started I sent everyone else home and then stayed around for a while. I finally decided that no customers were going to come in so I closed. I left the car at home this morning. Not too bright, huh?"
"Hey, man, we'll run you home. On second thought, why don't you come on out to the house with us. Sounds like you're all alone."
He smiled briefly like he was considering the invitation then glanced quickly in my direction. "Thanks, TJ, but I think I'd better go to my house. If the electricity goes off, I'll need to get the wood stove working to keep the pipes from freezing."
"Okay. Just an offer, man."
"Thanks I appreciate it."
We rode the rest of the way to Karl's house in silence.
When he got out of the Jeep, Karl said good-bye to TJ and Donnie before offering his hand to me. "It was good to see you again, Parker."
I took his hand. "Same here, Karl. Happy New Years."
"Happy New Years to you too."
Then he was gone.
That night I dreamed of Karl. We were making love on a warm beach when suddenly he pushed me away and said, "Go away! You can't love me!"
I woke up to find tears running down my cheeks.
Man, I felt so sorry for Josh. I couldn't imagine losing one of my parents like he had. I mean my folks weren't the most loving people in the world, and it was becoming increasingly clear that they actually hated each other, but they were still my parents.
Coach Parker took Josh in, just like he'd taken in Trey, Isaac, TJ, and Ryan. The man was amazing! That's the only word that fits.
I spent a good bit of my winter break out at Coach's place. Mom and Dad were fighting all the time when they were together, and when Dad was off at the bank Mom stayed home and hit the gin bottle. Not the most pleasant home situation. Coach's place couldn't have been more different. There was open affection. There was laughter. There was a lot of good-natured kidding, and everyone pulled together to make the house run.
Josh was a little withdrawn for a couple of days after his mother's funeral. Who wouldn't be? The guys paid special attention to him. They were there when he needed it, but they didn't crowd him or fawn over him. Trey told me that there were a couple of times on Christmas Day when Josh almost started crying. No one made a big deal out of it. Someone would put their arm around him; tell him it was okay, and that they loved him. They got him through it.
Josh rode back to Adams State with me in January.
Trey had left the day before because some of the guys on the soccer team were having a party. The guy Trey had a major crush on was going to be there. We all told him it was hopeless because the guy was already involved with someone, but Trey still wanted to go.
TJ wanted to sleep one more night with Donnie. No one blamed him. Donnie was a hot guy, and they seemed to be real good for one another.
I didn't mind missing the party, but I'd had enough of my parents arguing and bickering so I stayed out at Coach's that night. That let Josh and me get an early start back to school the next morning.
Coming back to school to start the winter semester was really different from the beginning of the fall semester. Then, everyone had arrived on campus pretty much at the same time. In the winter, people were dribbling back to campus one or two at a time.
We parked in front of Josh's dorm, and I helped him carry his stuff up to his room. We'd each had a couple of cups of coffee before leaving Carterville so I was pretty desperate to pee. The jock dorm that Josh was in was one of the older ones on campus. The bathrooms were all down at the ends of the hallways. I set my load of Josh's clothes down, excused myself, and headed down the hallway.
I relieved my full bladder and headed back to say good-bye to Josh. As I got close I could hear another voice coming from his room.
"...got back and heard about your mother. I'm really sorry, man. It must be rough. Let me know if I can do anything for you. Are you going to be okay for money?"
"Yeah, I'll be all right. My scholarship will pay for almost everything."
I knocked on the doorframe and walked in.
The other guy looked up. I stopped dead in my tracks.
"Holy shit!" Both of us exclaimed at the same time.
It was like looking in a mirror! Except my mirror image was wearing an Adams State football sweatshirt while I was wearing an Adams State soccer sweatshirt.
Josh looked from one of us to the other and just broke out laughing. "See, I told you guys that you looked alike. Wes, I'd like you to meet Jonathan Pittman. Jonathan, this is Wes Dawson."
I stepped forward and stuck out my hand. Wes shook it. We eyed each other. It was absolutely uncanny. We were the same height. He might have been a little more muscular than me but then he was a football player. We each had the same dark blond hair with matching eyes.
"Man, this is weird!"
At least our accents were different. I still had some south Alabama drawl. His accent was more like northern Virginia or Maryland.
"You bet. Where are you from, Wes?"
"From Bethesda, Maryland. Just outside of DC. You?"
"Carterville, but I only moved there a couple years ago. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama."
"You're kidding! That's where I was born. My dad was stationed down there. Right after they adopted me, he was transferred up to DC."
"This is getting weirder. I'm adopted too. What's your birthday?"
My knees gave way, and I sat down heavily on Josh's roommate's bed. "That's my birthday too."
It was Wes' turn to have his knees give way. He sat down on Josh's bed. We looked at each other for what seemed like a long time.
We were thinking the same thing.
Josh spoke. "It's weird that you guys have the same birthday."
I nodded. "Yeah. I think there's a reason for that."
Wes came across the room and literally tackled me on the bed. We hugged and laughed and cried all at the same time.
Finally he pulled away. "Come on up to my room. There's one way to check on this. I'm going to call my parents."
I followed him out the door. I don't remember if we even said good-bye to Josh. We headed up one flight of stairs to his room. He motioned for me to sit on one of the beds while he grabbed his cell phone off the desk. I looked around the room. His desk was neat. Across on wall of the room he had bookshelves made from cement blocks and boards. The books were all arranged alphabetically by author. I had most of the same books in my room at home with the same alphabetical arrangement.
Wes punched in a speed dial number.
"Hi, Mom. I've got some strange questions to ask you, but first can I put you on speaker? There's someone else in the room, and I want him to hear what you have to say too."
"Thanks. I'm hitting the speaker button. Can you hear me?"
A woman's voice came through the cell phone's speaker. "Yes, I hear you just fine. Now what's this all about?"
"Mom, let me introduce you to Jonathan Pittman."
"Hello, Ms. Dawson."
"Hello, Jonathan. Now, Wes, what's all this about?"
Mom, you remember me saying something over Christmas about a guy on campus who supposedly looked a lot like me?"
"Well, that guy is Jonathan. I just met him a couple of minutes ago. Mom, we don't just look a lot alike, we look exactly alike, and we were both born in Mobile on June 12th."
"Is there something you want to tell us?"
"This is incredible! We never dreamed this would happen. I hope you're sitting down, boys, because I think you've just met your twin brother. Wes honey, your twin was adopted by another couple before we adopted you. We'd waited so long for our chance to adopt, and your dad had already received his orders for DC. We were afraid we'd have to start the application process all over again once we moved. Then we got a call from the adoption agency saying that they had a baby for us. Of course we jumped at the chance. The agency told us that there had been a private adoption agreement between this young girl and another couple, but when your birth mother had twins, the other couple said they would only take one of the babies. Out of desperation, the agency called us even though we were farther down the list of adoptive parents. That's how we were so lucky to get you. I'm sorry we never told you about your brother. We were afraid it might make you feel that you were someone's second choice. I guess we should have told you, but we didn't. Wes? Wes honey, are you still there?"
Wes and I were looking at one another. We were both crying.
"Yes, Mom. I'm here. You and dad have never made me feel like I was second choice. I always thought I was one of the luckiest guys in the world because you were my parents. I love you both, but I'm going to hang up right now so I can talk with my brother. Bye, Mom. I'll call you later. Love you."
"Love you too, Wes. Oh, and Jonathan?"
We want to meet you soon. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, Ma'am. It was good to talk with you, Ma'am."
Wes flipped back the cover on the phone and came over to sit beside me on the bed. "I'm hungry. Can I take my brother out to lunch?"
"You bet! My car's right outside."
I'd parked the car in a twenty-minute zone. There was a ticket on the windshield when we got down to the car. I didn't care.
We hit the local Pizza Hut and talked non-stop while waiting for our order. It was unbelievable. We had the same food likes and dislikes. We liked the same music and the same style of clothes. I'd broken my right arm falling out of a tree when I was ten. He'd broken his left arm falling off a bicycle at the same age. He was an English major. I really wanted to be an English major but had chosen business to keep my dad happy.
Our order came. We were so busy talking that we hardly paid attention to the food. We stayed at the table so long that the manager came over to ask us to either order more food or leave the table to make room for other customers.
We went back to my dorm. Trey did a double take when Wes and I walked in the room. He just kept looking from one to the other as I introduced Wes and related the story. Wes and I retreated into my room to continue our get-to-know-your-long-lost-brother session. Trey's mouth was still hanging open when I closed the door.
I told Wes about the imaginary playmate I called "Brother" I'd had as a kid. His eyes misted up, and he said he'd also had an imaginary playmate. He'd named his playmate "Bro." That was the last drop of water that caused the dam to overflow. We grabbed each other in a bear hug and cried on the other's shoulder.
After the faucets had been turned off and we'd each used about four Kleenex to wipe up the tears and blow our noses we sat down next to each other on the bed.
I took a big swallow plunged ahead with my next statement. "Wes, you need to know that I'm gay."
His eyes widened at first, and then he broke into a huge grin. "So am I."
Okay, that little revelation started the waterfalls all over again. This time when the tears and the hugging stopped, we were holding hands.
We talked about our families. His mom and dad were in their late fifties having adopted him after trying for several years to have their own children. His dad was a lawyer and had been in the navy for twenty years. After leaving the navy he got a job at the Department of Justice. His mom had just recently retired from teaching elementary school. The way he described his parents, they sounded wonderful.
When it was my turn to talk about my parents, I tried my best to put a good spin on them, but Wes saw through it. He pulled me into another hug and said, "I'm sorry, bro. It sounds like I'm the one who really lucked out in the parent department."
I told him about Coach Arnold and Coach's Cubs.
"It sounds like those guys are your real family, bro."
"Yeah. I think they are. I don't know what my parents would do if they ever found out about my being gay."
"Hey, you can always come live with us. My parents knew I was gay long before I did. They're cool with it. My mom keeps trying to hook me up with cute guys. It's embarrassing. Speaking of parents, I bet I hear from mine real soon. They're going to want to come down and meet you or have me take you up there to meet them."
As if on cue his cell phone rang.
"Hi, Mom. Jonathan and I were just talking about you. Let me put the speaker on. Can you hear me now?"
"Loud and clear, Wes. Hi, Jonathan." Ms. Dawson's warm voice came over the speaker.
"Hi, Ms. Dawson."
She launched right into the reason for the call. "I've been talking with your dad...uh Wes' dad. We would really like to meet you, Jonathan. I know classes and all start Monday, but the next week is Martin Luther King Day. I checked the Adams State web page, and I know you guys don't have classes that day. Would you like to come up here with Wes over that weekend?"
Wes winked at me, then said, "Mom, what if we couldn't get away next weekend."
I could hear the laughter in her voice as she replied, "Well, in that case, your father and I will be down there. You can't get out of introducing us to your brother that easily."
"Jonathan and I will talk about it and let you know. I'll call you back in a little while. Love you, Mom"
"I love you too, sweetie. Good-bye, Jonathan. I hope you can come up next weekend."
"Good-bye Ms. Dawson. Thank you for the invitation."
Wes closed the phone and just doubled over laughing. "What did I tell you? They're dying to meet you, man. What do you say? Are you up for a little road trip next weekend?"
Before I could answer there was a knock on the door. TJ's voice came through the closed door. "Hey, Pittman, open up. Trey says you have a surprise for me."
Wes put his finger up to his mouth and whispered in my ear, "Is that TJ?"
He directed me to stand away from the door and then opened it to greet TJ.
TJ came in giving Wes a playful punch on the arm. "Okay, man, what's the big surprise. Did you find a hot boyfriend?"
Wes replied, "No, I found something much better than a boyfriend."
"Come on, dude. You've been pissing and moaning about not getting any loving since Rashod last summer. It's time you got out and got laid again. Both you and Trey need to get a little ass. There must be lots of guys at this school that would want to get it on with a couple of studs like you two. Now, as for me, I'm taken. Man, the things Donnie can do to me..."
About that time he caught a look at me standing beside the bed. "Oh, shit! There's two of you!"
I could hear Trey laughing in the next room.
I stepped forward. "TJ, I'd like you to meet, Wes Dawson. This is the guy Josh kept telling us about. It turns out that the reason we look so much alike is that we're actually twins. We were adopted by different parents."
"Holy sh...." A look of horror came over his face as he realized what he'd been saying when he thought he was talking to me. "Oh, man! Oh, jeez! I am so sorry, Jonathan. I never would have said those things if I'd known it wasn't you."
Wes stepped up and planted a big kiss on TJ's lips. "It's not a problem."
That flustered TJ even more. "You mean...? You too? You guys really are identical...even that way?"
By that time Trey, Wes, and I were almost rolling on the floor. Finally TJ stopped muttering and joined in the laughter.
The four of us sat around talking and laughing until dinnertime. We collected Josh from his dorm and went to O'Toole's, a local restaurant and pub, for dinner. Later Josh and Wes came back to our suite for a while. Wes used my computer to log into the university's registration system and changed his schedule around so that we would have two classes together. Those were English Comp II at 8:00 on Monday Wednesday and Friday and Intro to Philosophy on Tuesday and Thursday at 11:00. TJ, Trey, and Josh were all in the English class with us. We had Dr. Kevin Williams again. He had been my favorite teacher the first semester, and I looked forward to his reaction when Wes and I walked into the class together.
Since we all had an early class the next morning, Wes and Josh headed back to their own dorm a little before eleven that night.
I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. All my life, I'd felt like something was missing that somehow I was all alone. Even after I'd met Coach Arnold and Coach's Cubs, I'd still felt not quite whole. Amazingly, those feelings were gone. They say that identical twins, even those raised apart from one another like Wes and me, share a special relationship. They have a special connection that's deeper than the bond between other siblings. After eighteen years of feeling incomplete and alone, my heart felt full for the first time in my life.
(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.Send comments to: email@example.com