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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
Karl Henson was determined to tell me why he had abandoned me for Ashford Connor. I wasn't particularly interested in hearing his story, but I was lying in a hospital bed with no means of escape. My body already hurt enough on the outside from the accident...I sure didn't need to be reopening barely healed internal wounds as well.
Karl's eyes focused just beyond my right shoulder. "You met Ash so I don't need to tell you how attractive he is. Thinking back on it, our relationship was pretty one sided. I was always the passive partner in the relationship, but I thought we were in love so I was okay with it. I figured I just needed to give him a little more time.
"To cut to the chase, I found evidence that Ash had cheated on an engineering exam. You know about the Honor Code at the Point? It's a cadet's duty to report any suspected violation of the Code. I was torn up. I confronted him, and he just laughed at me. He said there were lots of cadets who were doing the same thing and that I was a dumb hick for not being able to see that. I told him I had to follow the Honor Code and report him to the commandant. He laughed and told me that I would never turn him in because I loved him too much. It broke my heart. I just turned and left the room. That happened in the morning, and I had several classes that day so it was late in the afternoon by the time I was able to head over to the commandant's office to report him. I never got there.
"I was ambushed by several other cadets on my way. They threw something over my head and dragged me into an empty room where they beat me. I don't know for sure how many there were. I heard at least four different voices. They said that this was what happens to fags at the Point.
"When I woke up in the infirmary, I was worried about Ash. We'd always tried to be careful, but I figured someone had seen us do something. I was concerned that he'd been beaten up also, but I found out later that wasn't the case. No one gave me any information that first day, and no one came to visit either. Guess that should have been my first clue.
"After Mom and Dad arrived the next day, we got a visit from the commandant. He said that Ash had come to him to report that I was making homosexual advances toward him, and that it made him uncomfortable. Parker, he and I had been lovers for almost two years at that point. I was devastated.
"I told the commandant that I had seen evidence that Ash had cheated on his engineering exam, but he wouldn't believe me. He was so wrought up about the allegations of homosexuality that he wouldn't even listen to my side of the story. In short I was offered a deal: resign from the corps for medical reasons and nothing would be said about my homosexuality. If I refused, I'd be discharged for moral turpitude.
"All that shit I heard for three years about the Honor Code was a bunch of hot air. I followed the honor code and was willing to turn in the man I thought I was in love with. For my troubles, I was essentially drummed out of the corps. Ash Connor and the guys who attacked me have probably all graduated and received their commissions."
Karl's voice was steady, but there were tears in his eyes even before he finished the story.
"That's why you didn't want to see any one when you came back to town?"
"Yes. I was depressed. It took lots of counseling and about six months of medication before I told anyone other than my parents. I think I'm okay with it now. I know being a gay officer in the army would have been rough. Mom and Dad have been wonderful. They suspected for a long time that I was gay. They've made it very plain that their love for me hasn't changed, and I'm beginning to accept a different view of my future. I think I could be happy running the hardware store here in town just like my dad has done for thirty years."
He paused before going on, "I've got some regrets. I really regret trusting Ashford Connor. I felt betrayed at first. Then I was angry. Now I'm just sad. A large part of that sadness and regret is that I hurt you. You didn't deserve what I did to you.
"Parker, I miss you. I miss talking with you. I miss laughing with you. I miss just being with you. I wish we could go back in time, but I know that's impossible. I just hope that sometime in the future we can be friends again."
We looked at each other for what seemed like several minutes. I didn't know what I was feeling. I'd been deeply hurt when Karl announced that he had a new boyfriend. Later I'd been angry, and I'd let that anger control me. Now knowing how deeply Karl had been hurt, I wasn't angry anymore.
I found my voice. "You know I never stopped loving you. Even when I was with Robert, I still loved you. That's why I had to end that relationship with him. I've felt guilty about hurting him, but I had to be honest with him. He and I have been able to move on to a solid friendship. He doesn't seem to hold a grudge, but I still feel guilty."
A hint of a smile came to his lips. "I understand your guilt feelings. I don't know if it will help or hurt, but I never stopped loving you either. I just thought I loved Ash more. I couldn't have both of you, so I chose him. Big mistake."
We looked at each other from across the room. What was it I saw in his eyes? Guilt? Hope? Relief? Apprehension?
"Why don't you move your chair closer to the bed. It'll be easier to talk..."
Let me tell you, there were some anxious moments for all of us until we found out that Coach hadn't been seriously hurt in the accident. I looked around when we were all in the hospital lounge waiting to hear about Coach. Karl, Trey and I were sitting together with Grant on Trey's lap and Micah on mine. Trey's face showed a lot of strain. He was trying to hold back the tears, but his eyes were pretty wet. Karl looked grim.
Josh and Isaac sat together talking softly with one another. Ryan was trying to comfort Nacio who had tears streaming down his cheeks. When Robert and Tyrone arrived, they joined Josh and Isaac. After a few minutes, Robert went over and sat with Nacio and Ryan. I could hear Robert speaking in low tones with Nacio in Spanish.
It hit me. Every one of us had lost our families in some way, and we'd found a new family with Coach. He was the glue that held us all together. He was the one who had taken us in. He was the one who allowed us to move beyond the pain of losing our parents. He had created a family, and that family was scared to death that we might lose him.
By the time the Emergency Room doctor came to tell us that Coach had regained consciousness and that there didn't seem to be any real damage beyond some broken teeth, some cracked ribs, and a lot of bruises we had Coach May plus half of the soccer team and some of their parents sitting in the lounge with us.
We all got a chance to talk with Coach for a bit. Man, was he banged up! None of us had eaten anything since breakfast except for some snacks from the hospital vending machines. Karl volunteered to stay with Coach until after dinner when Trey was going to come back into town.
Donnie and I had planned to take his boys down to Charlotte the next day to visit with his mother and sister...and to break the news to them that we were a couple. I'd been getting nervous in anticipation of the visit. Coach's accident made me forget all about my concerns, but once we were back at the house those jitters returned full force. There was also the problem of transportation. Donnie's old mini van was't reliable enough for long trips so we'd planned on taking Coach's Explorer, which was now on its way to the junkyard. Without being asked, Trey offered the use of his car. What a brother!
I shouldn't have been nervous about the meeting. We got down to Charlotte in time to go to church with Donnie's mother, his sister, and her two daughters. Being a predominately black congregation, the church service was a little different from what I'd been used to at Carterville First Presbyterian!
When we got back from church, Mama Micheaux pulled together a fantastic meal. She must have worked all the previous day to get ready for us. After dinner, the grownups stayed at the table while Grant and Micah played with Donnie's nieces.
Donnie cleared his throat. "Mama, TJ and I have something that we'd like to discuss with you."
Donnie's sister looked down at the tablecloth. His mother fixed both of us with one of those motherly stares that would make God himself feel guilty.
"Donnie, you don't need to tell me anything. There's some things I'll just never understand. Guess I'm too old."
Donnie squeezed my hand under the table. "Mama, I don't expect you to understand how I feel, but I do hope that you'll accept it. TJ and I are in love with one another. I want to spend the rest of my life with him, and if it were possible I'd marry him."
"Donnie, you're my baby. I told you I don't understand some things, but I can see that you two are in love with one another. It's plain as day. Since Leigh left, you've been more at peace than you have been since you were ten years old. A couple of months after she left you were back to being my happy child. I figured you'd found some one to love. I just didn't realize for a while that 'the someone' was TJ."
She turned her gaze to me. "TJ, I can see you love my son. I also see how you are with my grandsons. You love them, and they love you. Heaven knows they got more support and love from you in five or six months than they ever got from their own mother. You'd best be fixin' to stay around `cause I don't want to see my Donnie hurt again. You understand?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I'm here to stay as long as Donnie wants me."
"Well, then. That's settled."
That night back in Carterville, Donnie and I lay in bed wrapped in each other's arms after making love.
"Did Mama scare you today?"
I propped myself up on one elbow and ran a finger around one of his dark chocolate colored nipples. "You bet your sweet ass I was scared. Your mother is one scary lady."
"Glad you had the sense to be scared `cause she's the scariest mother on the planet. I'm terrified of her and you should be too. If you ever leave me she'll hunt you down like a dog."
"I'm not leaving." I bent down and started nibbling on his nipple.
"You're insatiable! I'll give you an hour or so to stop doing that..."
Hospitals are not the place to be if you want to get a good night's sleep. There's constant noise in the hallway, and every hour or so someone sticks their head in the door to ask if you're asleep.
I was very tired by morning and my ribs were still extremely sore from the accident. Trey and Nacio showed up after breakfast to take me home, but they had to wait for the hospital paperwork and the doctors' okay before I was allowed to leave.
Eventually the medicos decided I wasn't going to keel over dead so I might as well go home.
Nacio accompanied the nurse and the wheelchair with me in it to the front door of the hospital where Trey was waiting with the car. I was surprised to see him standing next to a Ford Taurus instead of the familiar Volvo wagon that had been my parents, then mine, and then finally Trey's.
"It's Karl's. TJ and Donnie took the Volvo down to Charlotte today. I thought this would be more comfortable than Donnie's minivan or TJ's Jeep. Ryan's and Isaac's trucks were also ruled out for obvious reasons."
"That's right. I forgot that Donnie and TJ were going to take the Explorer."
I gingerly transferred myself from the wheel chair to the passenger's seat of the borrowed Taurus. Man that hurt. Broken ribs are such a pain!
Back at the house I had to climb out of the car again which caused more pain in the ribs. I headed directly for my bedroom where Trey and Nacio helped me get undressed and into my own bed. I think I fell asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow.
I napped off and on most of the day. Whenever I woke up one of the guys was sitting in the room with me. We'd talk for a few minutes while I ate something or drank some water or cola, then they would help me into the bathroom to pee and I'd fall back asleep.
TJ, Donnie, and his boys came in to see me after they got back from Charlotte. Grant and Micah seemed concerned that I was sick. They didn't quite grasp the whole accident thing. I told them that I'd be better in a couple of days and that satisfied them. A few minutes later Donnie hustled the boys off for showers and a bedtime story. TJ stayed with me and told me about their trip to visit Donnie's mother. His relief at how easily Mama Micheaux had handled the news that Donnie and TJ were lovers was clearly evident on his face. It was plain to see that Donnie and TJ were very much in love. I was happy for them, but a little jealous at the same time.
I told TJ about my talk with Karl at the hospital.
"I'm glad you and Karl talked. I hope you and he can become friends again."
"We'll see. I hadn't stopped to think before about how Karl had been hurt in all of this. What Ash did to him was ten times worse than what Karl did to me."
"Coach, this is not about keeping score."
"I know. I didn't mean it that way. I guess I meant that I've been too focused on my own feelings to consider Karl's."
He bent down and kissed me on the forehead. "That's a good start, Parker. Donnie should have the boys in bed by now; so I'm headed up to spend some quality time with my man. Good night."
"G'night, TJ. Thanks."
Despite being in bed and sleeping most of the day, I didn't have any problem falling asleep after TJ left. In the middle of the night a sound in the room woke me up. Someone was crying softly in the chair across the room. I turned on the bedside lamp.
He was huddled in the chair with his knees drawn up to his chest. He was wearing just his boxers.
"Sí, I mean yes."
The boy was up out of the chair and kneeling beside my bed in a shot.
"I was so frightened of losing you. I know it's silly, and I know you're all right, but I was still frightened. My mother is going to be sent back to Nicaragua, and my father is dead. You and the guys here are the only family I have now. I couldn't help being afraid."
I held up his chin. His dark eyes were wet and the tracks of tears streaked his handsome young face.
"I'm here, Nacio. I'm not going to go away. Would you like to lie down next to me?"
Gently he climbed in. I moved to the middle of the bed on my back. Nacio cuddled up to my side and laid his head on my shoulder. Fortunately, it was my right side he had his body pressed tightly up against. If he'd been clutching my left side, I would have been screaming in agony from the broken ribs.
Nacio had never been very physically affectionate. The fact that he was now curled next to me sleeping while I stroked his hair told me just how far he had come to accepting us as his "family" and just how emotionally fragile he was at that moment.
When I woke up in the morning Nacio was still plastered against my right side, and Ryan was in the bed with us pressed up against Nacio. I had no idea when he had joined us. It was funny that in a house full of gay men it was the two straight guys who had ended up seeking comfort...or maybe reassurance...in my bed.
I slowly moved away from my sleeping bedmates, rolled out of the bed onto my hands and knees and then stood up. I'd discovered the day before that it was almost impossible to twist my torso into a sitting position in the bed without a lot of pain because those movements called for muscles attached to my broken ribs. Getting down on my hands and knees and then standing straight up wasn't nearly as uncomfortable.
I relieved my bladder then went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. Ryan came into the kitchen a few minutes later. He was naked and still sporting an ample trace of his morning erection.
"Morning, Coach. I hope I didn't disturb you guys last night."
"I didn't know you were there until I woke up this morning. What's going on?"
Ryan scratched his butt and poured himself a cup of coffee before answering. "Your accident really stunned Nacio. He held it together in front of the other guys, but it really hit him. He slept with me the night you were in the hospital, and he cried a lot. We started out that way again last night. I finally told him that he needed to come down and talk to you about it. When he didn't come back to bed, I came down to check on him. You guys were curled up together. I thought it looked inviting, so I joined you."
"Thanks for watching out for Nacio."
"It's okay. Us straight guys have to stick together around here. We're sure in the minority."
"Come here and give me a hug. Just be sure not to squeeze too hard."
He chuckled as he wrapped his arms around me.
The next day Ryan, Isaac, and Nacio headed back to school, and Donnie went back to work. I called Sean O'Connor's dental office and secured an appointment for the following afternoon; then remembering the interaction between the hunky young dentist and Robert Marquez, I called Robert and asked if he could drive me to the appointment. Robert fairly jumped at the chance to see Dr. O'Connor again.
By the end of the
week I was
feeling a lot better. There were things
I couldn't do because of my ribs...such as getting out of bed like a
person. I continued to roll out on my
hands and knees. It still hurt to cough,
sneeze or laugh, but I was back working with the soccer team and doing
running. I also bought a replacement
for my totaled Explorer...a Ford Expedition.
I knew it would get lousy gas mileage, but with my crew I needed
extra room. That, plus I wanted as much
steel around me as possible in case someone else decided to try to run
That Saturday was the last night the college guys would be with us. They were heading back to Adams State on Sunday. Spring Break was over for them. The high school spring break was in early April at Easter time.
Trey had the idea to have a birthday party for their last night home to celebrate all of the March birthdays. That included Ryan (17) whose birthday was on the 4th, Isaac's (18) on the 28th, Josh's (19) on the 10th, and mine (27) on the 11th. In addition to my houseful of young men the other "guests" for the dinner included Robert Marquez, Tyrone Jackson...and Karl Henson. Trey, TJ, and Nacio prepared a great dinner with a huge birthday cake they'd ordered from the Bread of Heaven bakery in town.
After Donnie's boys were snugly in bed and asleep and the wreckage in the kitchen cleaned up, all eleven of us retreated to the hot tub. The tub was designed to hold up to six so it was crowded. There was lots of splashing and enough laughing that my ribs ached terribly, but I wouldn't have missed that for anything in the world.
Karl stayed around after Robert left for home and the rest of the guys had gone upstairs to bed. We talked until nearly two in the morning, and before he went to bed on the couch he made me promise to come visit Adams State over the high school's spring break in April.
The three weeks between the university's spring break and our high school's Easter break flew by. The soccer team was doing well, and my ribs were almost completely healed. Trey, TJ, and Josh came home from Adams State for the long Easter weekend which was the start of our week of break. They took Isaac, Tyrone, and Ryan back to Adams when they left on the Tuesday after Easter. The plan was for me to drive over to Adams on Thursday evening after soccer practice (yeah, I know it was Easter break, but we still had practice for the guys who were in town) and spend the weekend there. Karl was having the crew over to his apartment on Friday evening, and I'd received an invitation from Gary Griffith and Matt Stevens who I'd met briefly at Josh's mother's funeral to stay at their house and for dinner on Saturday. Gary Griffith was Trey, TJ, and Josh's favorite faculty member, and Matt Stevens was one of the assistant football coaches. I was looking forward to getting to know them better. They seemed like great guys, and they had been absolutely wonderful and supportive of Josh when he lost his mother.
And, truth be told, I was looking forward to seeing Karl again. We'd talked on the phone a couple of times since the week of my accident. The conversations had been light and friendly. Before our breakup our relationship had always been a complex amalgam of teacher/student, older brother/younger brother, and lover/lover. The dynamics had not been exactly 50-50. We were now talking to one another as equals. I didn't know where our relationship was going, but I was ready for the journey.
(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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