Things were busy for Justin and the other seniors as the academic year seemed to rush toward its close. And then for Justin the train was derailed.
One morning he was called out of his history class and told to come to the principal's office.
In the outer office the secretary, Mrs. Comstock, looked even grimmer than usual. Next to her was a burly man in a dark blue uniform. She said, "Justin, this is Officer Sudowski of the Colby County Police."
"Hi, Officer," he said, offering his hand. "What's up?"
"Justin, let's go out into the hall, okay?" He looked at Mrs. Comstock, who nodded.
When they were alone in the hallway, the policeman said, "Son, there's no easy way to say this."
Alarmed, Justin said, "Okay, just tell me."
"Your dad collapsed in his classroom a little while ago. He was DOA at the hospital. I'm sorry."
His stomach clenched, and he felt dizzy for a moment. The policeman put his hand on Justin's shoulder. "You okay, kid?"
He wanted to say, "Of course I'm not okay. You've just told me my dad is dead." Instead, he asked, "Where's Mom? Is she all right?"
"She's still at the hospital. Come on, I'll take you to her."
In the unmarked police car, his mind teeming with conflicting urges, he said, "I've gotta call Grandma Mary. And Brody."
"Son, why don't you wait until you've seen your mother? I'm sure she needs you right now. I take it you don't have any brothers or sisters?"
"Yes. I mean, no, I don't. What happened to Dad? He's always been in great shape. We just ran together this morning."
"I'd better wait until you've talked with your mother."
Moira was sitting in the ER waiting room. She had been called from her office, so she was dressed in business garb, a tailored suit and mid heels. She stood up as Justin ran to her. They embraced and simply stood there consoling each other by their closeness.
Finally, he asked, "How are you doing, Mom?"
"I'm okay, sweetie, how about you?"
"What happened to Dad? Do they know?"
"Until there's an autopsy, they're only guessing, but Dr. White thinks it may have been some sort of aneurism."
"Why does there have to be an autopsy?" He did not at all like the idea of his father being laid out on a table and cut up.
"As Rob White explained to me, any unexplained death has to have an autopsy. Since Larry was in great shape, with no health problems, it's required by law."
"Oh. So what do we do now?"
"Well, I should call Mother. We'll need to talk about arrangements and find a funeral home."
Justin shuddered. He'd never had to cope with anything like this before. If he hadn't felt so numb, it would have been scary. But he knew he had to be strong for his mother now.
"How long will the autopsy take?"
Justin looked around for Officer Sudowski, but he'd disappeared.
"I'll ask Rob. He may know."
"Let's go home, Mom. I'll call Grandma Mary if you want me to. What about Father Hugo? Maybe he can recommend a funeral director, or whatever they're called. And we'll need to get him started working on the arrangements for the service."
Moira put her hand on her son's cheek. "I'm glad one of us is able to think clearly. Let's go home and call your grandmother. Oh, and I'd better call Larry's department chairman. They'll want to know about him."
"Well, not until school's out."
"Yeah, that's right. But I've gotta call Brody."
"Justin, Brody's in class too, probably, and he can't do anything."
"You're right." He stood straighter and looked at his mother. "What do we do now?"
"I'll see if they need us for anything else. If not, we'll go home."
* * *
Justin was too busy during the succeeding days to realize fully the extent of his loss. He got through the funeral home visitation. Mary Morrison, his grandmother, had come from
"It's times like this," she said, "that remind us how important family is."
The funeral was well attended. Although the Quinns hadn't lived in Higgins very long, Larry's departmental colleagues and a large contingent of his students showed up, as did Moira's colleagues in the firm where she worked. In addition to that Justin himself was well supported. In addition to a dozen of his classmates, the whole baseball team was there, as were Brody, Dave, and Gary and his parents. Even Sheila from the flower shop was there.
It was the interment that Justin found most difficult. The funeral had been elegant and upbeat, a celebration of his father's life. But when the casket was lowered into the ground and he and his mother had to toss dirt into the hole on top of it, he almost lost it. But his mother was sobbing, and he put his arm around her. She needed his strength, so he couldn't show signs of weakness. And thus they got through it.
After a day or two of together time, Justin went back to school and his mother returned to work. Life has to go on, as she said to him. Back in school, students he hardly knew came up to him and offered their condolences. He had more friends than he'd thought.
He had his bad moments, however, times when it seemed his life was suddenly barren and cold despite the support he'd gotten from his friends. He shed his tears in private and remembered that, at 18, he was a man and that his mother needed him.
He returned not only to classes but to playing baseball. The team was doing well, and their success, along with the rapid approach of graduation, helped take his mind away from how much he missed his father. Most of the time.
Moira and Justin had to meet with James Boswell, the family lawyer. Moira was familiar with the terms of Larry's will, so that session contained no surprises. His estate went to his wife in toto except for the proceeds from a life insurance policy payable to Moira as trustee for Justin until he became 21 or graduated from college. It was large enough that he could go to university and on to graduate school without having to work unless he wanted to.
At the funeral Brody had hugged Justin.
"Jus, when you get through all the formalities, you're gonna need someone. I'm here. Call me. Come over. Text me. Whatever. Will you remember that?"
Justin had squeezed Brody and said, "I'll get in touch as soon as I can, okay?"
One evening not long afterward, Justin called Brody. It was Dave who answered.
"Dave, this is Justin."
"Oh, hi. How are you and your mother getting along?"
"Like somebody said, one step at a time. Thanks for asking."
"Well, if there's anything, anything at all I can do, you be sure to let me know. Promise?"
"Yeah, thanks Dave. It helps to know you guys are there for me. Uh, could I speak to Brody?"
"Of course. I'll get him. But you be sure to let me know if you need anything."
Brody picked up the phone. "Jus?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"How are you?"
"Can I come over? I really need to be with you."
"Are you okay to drive? I could come get you."
"No, Sarge, I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Drive carefully, Jus."
When he got there, Dave and Brody were waiting for him. After hugging Justin and once again offering any kind of help he needed, Dave tactfully retreated to his home office, leaving the family room to Brody and Justin.
"Brody, could you just hold me, please?"
They sat on the sofa, Justin wrapped in Brody's strong arms. For ten minutes neither said anything. Justin couldn't help being aware of how good Brody smelled. It wasn't aftershave or cologne, just essence of Brody. He felt guilty to be enjoying the sensations when he was here because his dad had died. But he couldn't deny it was wonderful being comforted by Brody.
He hadn't cried much since Larry's death, never around someone else. Now he cried. He'd been holding it all in, but here he knew he could let go.
Brody held him, rocking him gently, stroking his hair, saying nothing.
Finally, as his sobs subsided, Justin snuffled and said, "I'm sorry to be such a wuss."
"Not a wuss, little brother. No way."
"I don't know what I'm gonna do. I already miss him so much!"
"Sure you do. And you probably always will. But he's gonna live on in your heart. And you're the man you are not just because you've got his genes in you, but because of the values he taught you."
"Oh, God," Justin said, sobbing again.
Brody continued to hold Justin until he calmed down. After they'd remained quiet for a while, Dave came back into the room and offered to make cocoa.
"David, do we have any Kahlua?" Brody asked.
"I think so."
"Good. You make the cocoa and put a little of that in it."
"I know where you got that idea," Dave said, winking at Brody.
Later, after they'd had the Kahlua-laced cocoa, Justin said he should go home.
"You wanna stay here tonight, Jus? You can use the guest room."
"No, thanks. I need to check on my mom, maybe spend a little time with her." It was true that he felt obliged to go home in case his mother needed him. But the thought of lying in the guest bedroom while Brody was in bed with Dave down the hall was more than he could bear.
* * *
Two weeks or so after Larry's funeral Justin and Gary were having a rare 69 session. They preferred exchanging blow jobs one at a time, but this night they were more urgent, neither wanting to wait.
"I love it when we do that, mixing it together and then sharing it,"
"Yeah, and there's no clean up, either."
Later they were lying there,
"What about the prom, Jus?"
"Would you be seriously pissed with me if we didn't go?"
"No. Disappointed, though. Your senior prom only happens once."
"Yeah, but it's a breeders' affair."
"Since when have you been afraid to show the flag?"
"Afraid? Bite your tongue, bitch."
"Well, then, what? You'd look so great in a tux, and I'd love to be out there on the floor dancing with you while half the girls in the class were envious of me."
"I suppose you'd want a limo and a corsage, too."
"We could split the cost of the limo, and I'd pass on the flowers."
Justin stuck his tongue in
"Awwkk! Stop that! You know that drives me crazy! And you're just trying to get me to change the subject."
They snuggled together and
Sleep didn't come so easily to Justin, however. He felt bad to disappoint
* * *
A day or two later
"You've been just busting to tell me something all day," Justin said.
"Huh? They have a football team."
"Go ahead, spit in my shake. It isn't like we haven't swapped spit before. But seriously dude, you should look at
"Well, Harvard and Stanford don't have such great football teams, either."
Keeping a straight face, Justin studied the ceiling for a moment. "I'm not sure what it's called, but there's a logical fallacy there somewhere. Because
Justin grinned. "So you say, but you don't mean it!"
Ignoring that remark,
"Yeah, I know. I was just yanking your chain."
They sucked and slurped for a few minutes.
Then Justin said, "Gare, I'm gonna miss you. I was hoping you'd be around for the summer."
Giving his friend a puzzled look, Justin replied, "Nope. I'm working for Dave Cromer. He can give me more hours than the Coxes can, and I want to work outside. It'll help me stay in shape, get a good tan, stuff like that."
"What'll you be doing?"
"Mowing lawns, general yard work."
"I gotta say, man, I'm surprised you'd give up seeing Brody every day to work for Dave Cromer. Is the difference in pay that important? Oops, I'm sorry, Jus. I guess it could be. I wasn't thinking."
"No prob." Justin grinned. "Brody's worked out some sort of arrangement with his brother Bob. He's not working in the flower shops after the end of this school year. He's gonna be working with Dave's crews too."
"I might have known."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, I'm sorry if I'm being, uh, indelicate here, but who did you go running off to when your dad died? Right to the comforting arms of Brody Cox. I didn't see you from the day he died until the funeral, you know, and not alone until some time after that."
"But . . . I was busy helping Mom make the arrangements and stuff. And at a time like that you're not thinking of fooling around. Besides, Brode's always been like a big brother to me, you know that."
A pensive Justin said, "There was a time, yeah. Last summer I wanted to get into the big stud's pants so bad. But he made it clear we weren't gonna ever have sex, and that was the end of it."
"Oh, right! Forget what he told you. Think about what you want. You'd turn that sexy ass up for him in a heartbeat, don't kid yourself. And wiggle it around at him, too. Why do you think I'm going to be away all summer?"
"You told me you loved Interlochen last year."
"I did. But I didn't know you then. At least not like we know each other now. And I think I know you too well. We've had a good time together, but face it, it's over. I'm moving on, just as soon as commencement is over. And you can do your fucking best to break up Brody and Dave, if that's what you want."
Surprised this had all happened so fast, Justin said, "Gare, at least let me take you home."
"No, that's all right. The walk will do me good."
"Idiot. It's three miles to your house and, if you haven't noticed, it's raining."
"Of course I don't mind."
When they pulled into the Kellers' driveway,
"Thanks for the ride." He grinned ruefully. "It's been great."
He got out of the car and went into his house, not looking back.
* * *
The scene left Justin feeling like he'd been a total shit, and yet he wasn't sure what he'd done wrong. That he and Brody could ever be lovers was a pleasant dream, but he knew it wouldn't happen. Brody and Dave were obviously very much in love, and Justin had to admit that Dave made a perfect mate for the Sarge.
He also knew that he and Gary weren't in love with each other. But he'd loved
Fuck! That was all he needed right then. He missed his dad. His mother was going off to work valiantly every morning but she was miserable, missing Larry. Now he and Gary were through. He wanted to go to Brody and pour it all out, but that wouldn't work. Brody was his brother, his best friend, but he wouldn't whine to Brody. The Sarge might not tell him to suck it up and move on, but that's probably what he'd be thinking.
Somehow Justin decided he'd have to get through the few remaining weeks of the school year. When summer came he would enjoy the physical work as a member of one of Dave's crews. He'd enjoy playing with the Higgins Hammers again, at whatever position they needed him. (He'd come to like playing shortstop on his high school team.)
* * *
It was Sunday evening. They were having tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
"Have you made up your mind about college yet? It's getting pretty late, you know."
He sighed. "I know. It's probably too late to go to OSU or Carnegie-Mellon. Even if it isn't, I'm gonna write them and turn them down."
"So what are you going to do, go to
"Uh huh, that's what I want to do."
"Are you seriously thinking of majoring in architecture?"
He took his mother's hand and stroked the back of it with his thumb. He looked her in the eyes and said, "Maybe it's in the genes. I want to try to be as good an architect as you and Dad."
Tears came to Moira's eyes. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, Mom, nothing's carved in stone, but I'm pretty sure."
"It will be nice to have you here, sweetie."
"Well, that's just the thing. It's good I'll be at Colby because I'll only be a half hour away if you ever need me. But I want to live in the dorms. I want to feel as if I've gone away to college."
Moira was quiet for a moment. Then she smiled at her son. "Of course, dear. I understand."
Justin smiled and continued to hold his mother's hand.
"But Justin, I feel bad. I feel as if you'd rather have gone away somewhere and you're settling for Colby because you'll be near me."
"That's not the way it is. And even if that was my motivation, what's so wrong with a guy wanting to look out for his mom?"
* * *
The next day after history class, Gary said, "Jus, can we talk sometime?"
"Sure. But I have baseball practice after school, so it'll have to be later."
"Look, I don't have any right to ask, but could you come to my house after supper? I'd offer to come to yours, but my folks are using the car tonight for something."
"Well, I can't stay long, `cause I've got an English paper and that history report to work on. But, yeah, I can come for a little while. 7:00 okay?
"Thanks, Jus. See ya then."
Justin was curious.
When he arrived at the Kellers'
"The folks have gone to Colby to see some old movie they remember from when they were in college. They won't be back until after 10:00, probably. Would you like a Coke or something?"
"No thanks, I just had supper."
"Oh, okay. Well, sit down then."
Old habits die hard, and Justin took his place on the sofa, where he'd sat many times as he and
"Uh, Jus, I'm sorry, man, for the way I acted the other day. I don't know what got into me. And I sure don't want there to be hard feelings between us."
Justin almost made a comment about hard feelings, but sensing it wouldn't be a good time, he waited for his friend to continue.
"I mean, I've always known how you felt about Brody, and I've always been willing to take what you could give me. But with graduation coming, with the prom and all, and knowing we were going to different universities, I got really depressed. And I decided maybe I'd feel better if I broke it off instead of waiting for you to do it. And you know you would have at some point."
Justin took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I figured it was something like that, Gare, and I'm not mad at you. Honest. You're right, I knew our plans for next year would make it hard for us to keep the kind of relationship we've had this year. But you've got the Brody thing wrong. I do love Brody. And I think he's the sexiest guy I've ever met. You've always known that. I never hid it from you. But I love the big guy so much I'd never do anything to come between him and Dave. I'm just glad they've found each other."
He looked at Gary, who nodded but didn't say anything.
"Be honest. What you and I have isn't like what those guys have. So, yeah, we shouldn't kid ourselves that we can remain boyfriends next year. You're gonna meet lots of cute guys and so am I. I wouldn't want you to be a hermit because of me, and I sure as fuck need to be free to make new friends and fool around with them if we want to."
"Yeah, Jus. You're right. About everything. And all the things you've just said . . . those are the reasons why I tried to push back from you that evening at the BK. I'm just sorry about the way I did it."
"Apology accepted. Now, hotstuff, is there any reason we can't keep on being boyfriends until you leave for Interlochen?"
Justin laughed. "I can't tonight, babe. Like I said, I've got those papers to work on. And so do you, don't you?"
"Nope. Mine are done!"
"God, you're anal!" Justin said, grinning.
"How would you know, stud?"
"Keller, we gotta cut out this kind of talk or I'll never get home tonight. And you don't want your folks to find us humping each other on the floor here, do ya?"
"We could do it in my room. They know what we do up there."
"Look, I've got another idea. We're not going to the prom this weekend. But let's spend that evening together. The restaurants will all be full of the prom crowd. So why don't you come to my house? We'll order in pizza, get some flicks from Blockbuster, and make a night of it. Maybe Mom would like to go spend the night or even the weekend with Grandma Mary in
"You know, that could be more fun than the prom. Especially if we have your house to ourselves."
"Once she understands the situation, I'm pretty sure she'll go along."
"Yeah, you and I are both lucky to have cool parents." Then he looked stricken. "Oh, Jus, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Gare. Dad was the coolest. It's a little easier to think and talk about him now than it was right after he died. And Mom's great, too. But right now I really gotta get to work on those papers."
"Jus, hug me before you go?"
They scooted across the sofa to each other. The hug, which turned into a groping session, lasted so long Justin almost forgot about doing his homework.
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