SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. Comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it. And if you like this chapter and are up for reading a story by another author that fits right in with Chapters 15 and 16, check out this post on my blog. There's no sex or gay characters, but it's a very heart touching story and I think you'll like it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 14, Josh finds himself stressed out over school, college, the absence of Nolan and just about everything else. Then his friend Jimmy tells him that the high school’s quarterback, Wayne, has beaten up another boy, Tommy, for coming on to him sexually. Although Josh refuses to participate, the gossip spreads quickly throughout the school and students start taunting and picking on Tommy. Josh feels sorry for the boy and tries to let him know how he feels, seemingly without success. After their gymnastics class one day, Wayne and Josh get into an argument in the locker room. One thing leads to another and Wayne challenges Josh to fight after school, but the teachers break the fight up before it can even get started. Later, Tommy warns Josh about Wayne and asks him what the fight was about. Josh answers cryptically. Busy with everything else happening in his life, Josh moves on to other things.
Part II - Innocence Abused
October had finally arrived and I was sitting around my room one evening trying to keep myself busy without really doing much of anything at all. I had taken the SATs the previous weekend and had already sent off most of my applications for college. Like everyone else in my class, I was content to just cruise through senior year without getting bent out of shape about it. For once, everything in my life seemed to be going smoothly and things were looking real good right about then.
Because the phone in our house was in the kitchen, my mother was usually the first to get it. It was rarely ever for me so I was kind of surprised when she called upstairs that evening to tell me someone was on the phone.
“Who?” I asked, as I bounded down the stairs.
“It’s Nolan,” she said.
Since it was Sunday evening, I found that even more unusual because Nolan usually called me on Wednesdays.
“Hello,” I said, picking up the phone.
“Hi, Josh,” Nolan responded. “Did you get the letter yesterday?”
“What letter?” I replied.
“The letter from Williams College,” he continued. “I got it yesterday and they’ve scheduled my overnight visit for Thursday, October 27, just like we asked. It doesn’t say whether they’re honoring our request to be put together. But it does say my host will be Paul Pierson. Do you believe it?”
“That’s great,” I responded. “Hold on a second,” I added.
“Mom,” I shouted to get her attention. “Did I get a letter from Williams College yesterday?”
“No,” she responded from the living room. “Were you expecting one?”
“Not really,” I replied. “But Nolan was just telling me he got one and they’ve scheduled his visit to Williams. He was wondering whether I had gotten one too.”
“Well you know how slow the mail is around here, Joshua,” my Mom replied. “You’ll probably hear something on Monday or Tuesday.”
“Did you hear all that, Nolan?” I asked, turning my attention back to him.
“Yeah, I heard it,” he said. “Well that’s a little disappointing actually. I was hoping you had heard as well so that we could start planning our make out session together. But I’ll e-mail Paul and see if he knows anything. So what else is new up there in Vermont, goat boy?”
“Nothing much,” I responded, “at least not since we talked on Wednesday evening.”
We talked for another fifteen or twenty minutes, and then I went back to my room and cuddled with the teddy bear Nolan had given me in August. For some reason, I had been doing that a lot lately.
It wasn’t more than an hour later that the phone suddenly rang again.
“Joshua, it’s Nolan again,” my Mom shouted to me.
I raced down the stairs, wondering what could possibly be causing him to call twice in one evening.
“Hi,” I said, taking the phone from my Mom. “What’s up?”
“Well, I e-mailed Paul right after we finished talking and I just got a response. Guess what?”
“What?” I asked nervously, twisting the telephone cord around my fingers.
“Paul says he’s going to be your host too and on the same date. So that means we’ll be staying at his suite on campus. Do you believe it?”
“Oh, man, that’s great,” I replied. I had never felt so relieved in my life.
It had been less than two months since Nolan had gone back to New York, but it seemed like an eternity to me. Knowing I would be seeing him again really soon was just what I needed right then.
We talked a little bit more. After we finished up, I told my mother what Nolan had found out.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” my Mom said, smiling. “I’m so glad both of you’ll be staying together on campus overnight with that tour guide. You seemed to like him a lot.”
“I did, Mom,” I replied. “But I’m trying not to get too excited about it. Williams is just so expensive. Even if I get admitted, and I probably won’t, I don’t know how I could ever go there.”
“That’s a worry for another day,” my Mom responded, rubbing her hand through my hair and smiling at me.
It was one of her favorite sayings.
“For right now just be happy to know you have one less thing to worry about. You’ve been fretting for weeks whether you and Nolan would be able to stay overnight the same evening and whether the two of you would be placed together. So now you have one less thing to worry about.”
It was one of the things I liked best about my Mom. She was relentlessly positive no matter what, and I needed that from her right then because things seemed so bleak to me at times without Nolan around to hold me.
I got the letter from Williams on Monday and, sure enough, it confirmed everything Nolan had been able to find out from Paul. I remember being in seventh heaven. But then I started worrying about whether we would even have any real time together. The schedule for the two days we were going to be at Williams seemed pretty daunting.
The next day my Mom went into town and checked out the bus schedule to see what would be the best way to get me to Williamstown. By the time I got home that evening she had it all figured out and had even printed out the tickets.
While it was only ten days away, it seemed like it took forever for those days to count down. As each of them passed I found myself questioning why Nolan wanted me to be his boyfriend. I tried to recall all the reasons he had mentioned for liking me, but then I would look in the mirror and all of my fears and doubts would return.
I wasn’t nearly as good looking as he was. I mean, it wasn’t like I was deformed or terrible looking. I was okay, maybe even a little above average. And my body was definitely more muscular than his, that was for sure. But Nolan really was the cutest boy I had ever known. There was just something totally mesmerizing whenever I looked at him.
I know I must sound like some kind of idiot when I say things like that, but it wasn’t just my opinion. Honest. All the girls I had introduced him to that summer said exactly the same thing.
“Omigod,” Julie had screamed, when she finally caught up with me one day. “That friend of yours is so cute,” she said. “Do you think you could persuade him to ask me out to the movies? I would owe you big time if you could do that for me, Josh,” she said, looking down coyly and rubbing one of her fingers across my thigh.
Oh sure, Julie, I remember thinking. Keep on deluding yourself, girl. There is no way in hell I'm ever going to share him with you.
Finally the big day arrived and I had to get up really early so Mom could drive me over to Rutland to catch the bus. I had packed pretty much everything I needed the previous evening. I had even packed the rest of the condoms and the tube of K-Y. I mean, I didn’t want to seem overly presumptuous or anything, but Nolan had gotten me all hot and bothered talking nasty that Wednesday evening so I figured he was as anxious as me to mess around.
I had a lot of time to think on the drive down to Williamstown. I wondered whether Nolan would even still be interested in me or whether he might have already decided he would rather be friends with Paul instead.
I had seen how he had looked at Paul during our tour in August and I couldn’t really blame him for that. Paul was really good looking and he was sophisticated and came from a big city like Nolan.
I had let the two of them know when I would get there and both of them were waiting for me at the station when the bus finally arrived. I knew from talking to him that Nolan’s parents had driven him up from New York the previous evening, dropped him off at the college, and then driven on to some place in Stockbridge. According to Nolan, it was supposed to be a romantic getaway for them. I wondered just how romantic it would be if they knew what the two of us were planning.
The fact that Nolan had stayed over at Paul’s suite the previous evening made me nervous. Like I said, Paul was a good looking guy and I wondered if Nolan would be able to resist the temptation. I know it would have been hard for me if the tables were turned. But neither of them seemed to be acting guilty when they met me so I tried to be positive and told myself nothing had happened between them.
They helped me carry my stuff over to the house where Paul lived. When we got there, Paul introduced me to his roommate, Aaron. Like Paul, he was really good looking and I remember Nolan and me exchanging glances about that, too.
“You guys are going to be pretty busy for the rest of today,” Paul said, looking at the two of us. “They’ve put together a pretty intense schedule based on the selections you made when you submitted your forms. You’re going to be together for most of the day because you selected a lot of the same things. But you selected hockey as your favorite sport, Josh, while Nolan selected Frisbee. So your schedules diverge around 4 p.m. this afternoon”
“The only thing I need to know is what the two of you want to do about dinner this evening,” he continued. “You can eat at the Student Union if you want. You have vouchers for that in those information packets I gave each of you and most of the kids staying overnight will probably do that. But you’re going to be eating lunch there today, and then breakfast and lunch there tomorrow as well, so Aaron and I were thinking we could take you out somewhere else this evening if you want. It would be our treat. We should have at least ninety minutes before the evening activities get under way. But it’s really up to the two of you. This is your orientation to Williams, and Aaron and I will be happy with whatever you want to do.”
“What do you want to do about dinner, Josh?” Nolan asked, turning to me.
“I don’t really care,” I replied. “Whatever you want to do is fine with me, Nolan.”
“How about the four of us head over to Jack’s in North Adams,” Nolan suggested. “I seem to have a hunger for some hot dogs tonight,” he added, grinning at the three of us. “Big ones.”
“That’s fine,” Paul replied, smiling and rolling his eyes at the same time. “We can do that. And then after dinner you have a lot of different choices about what you want to do this evening. From 7 to 9 p.m., a lot of the different student organizations will be putting on special activities to showcase what they have to offer. You’ve got a listing of those in those packets I gave you, and I would encourage you to check out as many of them as you can.”
“After that, you could go to the dance at the Student Union they’ve planned from 9 to midnight. That’s the main event, of course. Or the four of us could do something else completely, like taking in a movie together or going to the dance being put on by the Queer Student Union over at Hardy House. It’s a regular event because a lot of gay students don’t feel comfortable going to the other dances. They seemed to be designed mostly for straight students. We can take you to that if you want, but you signed that pledge to abide by the alcohol laws so you would have to promise us not to drink at the dance.”
“I dunno, what do you want to do, Josh?” Nolan asked. “It doesn’t matter to me. I just don’t want to get back to your suite really late tonight, Paul. Josh and I have a lot to talk about, you know,” he added, winking at Paul and Aaron.
“I’m sure you do,” Paul replied, grinning. “Just as long as the two of you don’t, umm, talk too loudly and make a commotion.”
“It doesn’t matter to me either, Nolan,” I chimed in. “We could always just wait and see how we feel later.”
“That’s a good idea,” Nolan replied. “So why don’t we get something to eat at Jack’s for dinner and then we can talk about what to do this evening. Although I’m thinking it might be cool to attend that gay dance. Not having any alcohol isn’t a big deal for me and I imagine it wouldn’t be for Josh either.”
“Sure, I don’t even like alcohol,” I concurred.
“And that way I’ll get to wear my slut clothes too,” Nolan added, grinning. “I brought them along hoping for just the right opportunity to wear them. That gay dance sounds perfect.”
“I’m not even going to ask,” Paul replied, grinning at Nolan.
“Me either,” I added, wondering exactly what Nolan’s slut clothes would look like.
“Okay, then, you had best be on your way,” Paul said, pointing us in the direction of Bascom House. “You’re first class today will be with Professor Jeffords. That should be a trip.”
“Why?” Nolan asked. “Who is he?”
“He’s a communist,” Aaron interjected. “That’s who he is, a damn communist.”
“He’s not a communist,” Paul said, sighing. “You know that perfectly well, Aaron. You just hate him because of his political views.”
“Which are what?” Nolan asked.
“Umm, well, I don’t how to describe them exactly, but I would have to say he is pretty far out there on the left,” Paul replied. “His name is Samuel T. Jeffords. He got his doctorate from Harvard; and even though this is only his second year teaching at Williams, he’s probably the most popular professor on campus. His courses are huge and totally oversubscribed all the time.”
“As you can tell from Aaron’s reaction, people either love him or hate him,” Paul continued. “Williams has been trying to expose high school students like you to him this year because he’s quite a character. But you’ll have to decide for yourself whether he suits your taste. In any event, it will be a rousing start to the day.”
With that said, Nolan and I walked over to Bascom House where our program for the day was scheduled to kick off. After a quick orientation and some reminders, we headed off for our first class.
The lecture hall was bigger than anything I had ever seen and was filling up rapidly when the two of us arrived.
“Let’s sit in the top row here,” Nolan said. “If this lecture gets too boring, it will be easier to slip out.”
“Good idea,” I agreed. And it seemed like most of the other high students who were joining us that morning had exactly the same idea because that’s where most of them ended up sitting as well.
Just before 9 a.m. a door opened and this guy walked in and put a bunch of stuff down on a table. He was dressed really casually, in jeans and a purple shirt, not in a suit and tie like I had expected. He was a lot younger than I expected, too, probably somewhere in his mid-twenties. He was really good looking as well and in terrific shape. I had been expecting someone old, distinguished, and kind of musty, to be honest, but he didn’t look anything like that at all.
“Good morning,” he said, and I could tell he was wearing some kind of cordless microphone because you could hear his voice booming throughout the lecture hall, which must have had 300 people or more in it by that time.
“On Tuesday we finished the initial module of this course. Today will be the first in a series of eight lectures on the Vietnam War,” he added, pacing back and forth across the room. He seemed to be full of energy, nervous energy, and you could tell he didn’t want to just stand at the lectern and talk to you from behind it.
“Now to me the Vietnam War is one of the most pivotal and decisive episodes in American history, probably the most decisive of all to be perfectly honest. Not so much the war itself, but how the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower spoke about responded to its defeat in Vietnam and how that has profoundly reshaped America in the ensuing decades.”
“Not too many of my fellow historians would agree with that assessment, of course, so I start at a disadvantage with you. In the course of the lectures to follow, I’m going to have to convince you precisely why I think Vietnam was so important while also explaining why my colleagues disagree. In other words, you’re going to be exposed to a variety of views and I'm sure sorting them all out will be as hard for you as it has been for me.”
“But, of course, just so no one will be surprised, I’ll give away the ending right now. Because I’m confident at the end of these lectures every one of you in this class will agree with me, not my colleagues. Because like every other professor at this distinguished institution, I’m never wrong. Never!”
“That’s why I am lecturing here rather than advising the President of the United States of America,” he added.
That brought forth a wave of laughs.
“What?” Professor Jeffords said, looking up at us suddenly, as if startled by the laughter?
“I’m stunned to see there are some skeptics in the audience. Well, yes, I suppose it’s theoretically possible you’ll be able to persuade me I’m full of bullshit by the end of this module.”
That brought forth even more laughs.
“Of course, you realize that would be a first, you know, persuading a professor at this distinguished institution of higher learning that he’s full of bullshit. But, hey, this is America. Anything is possible, right?”
By that time the guy had me. He seemed to have an easy way of interacting with his students that they appreciated and he liked feeding off of.
“Now before we begin with these brilliant lectures of mine, we need to get a better idea of what everybody in this room knows about Vietnam and what we call the Vietnam war. And today is an especially great opportunity to do so because we have some young and virginal minds among us this morning,” he continued, looking up to the top couple of rows of the lecture hall where most of us high school students were sitting.
“Well, I should take that back,” he added. “We do have some younger minds with us this morning for sure, about forty or fifty students who’re here today and tomorrow to see whether they would like to become part of our community next year. But I can’t be certain just how pristine and virginal their minds are, of course, because I don’t know their minds, at least not in the biblical sense.”
Another wave of laughter swept across the room.
“And I certainly hope you will,” he said, looking up at our group once again. “Join our little community of learning next year, that is. But one of the things you need to understand is that Williams is a little different than some other places. We think learning can be a two way process here. Not just me passing facts, theories and opinions to you, as students, but having my own understanding enriched by the facts, theories and opinions you share with me.”
“So let’s begin then,” he added, resuming his pacing back and forth across the room once again. “And the place to begin is at the beginning, I suppose, that is with what all of you know about Vietnam and the war.”
“So which one of you young whippersnappers will be the first to contribute this morning. The question is: what do you know about Vietnam or the Vietnam war?”
“Vietnam is in Asia,” Nolan piped up immediately without even raising his hand. I remember being shocked. I would have never done anything like that.
“Very good,” Professor Jeffords responded, looking up and locating where Nolan and I were sitting. He was smiling at Nolan.
“But where exactly in Asia? North Asia? East Asia? South Asia? Asia is a term that covers a lot of geographical territory. So where is Vietnam exactly?”
“Southeast Asia,” Nolan responded.
“Very good,” the professor replied, turning around, grabbing a jar from the table, and bounding up the stairs of the lecture hall toward the two of us.
When he reached the row we were sitting in, he held out the jar to Nolan.
“That’s definitely worth a lollypop,” he said, pointing at the jar and motioning for Nolan to take one.
“I suggest a green one because green is such an important color to Americans. But be careful. It might be very sour indeed.”
The entire room was laughing and I remember Nolan was fidgeting nervously. But he took one of the lollypops, an orange one.
“Anyone else know something about Vietnam or the war?” the professor asked, looking around.
“Yeah, it was a long time ago,” another kid chimed in from across the row, “a really long time ago. I think they classify it as ancient history actually,” he added, snickering as he said it.
“Very good,” Professor Jeffords responded. “But could you be a little more specific. I mean, was it before or after, say, the Civil War, for example?”
“It was after,” the kid responded.
“And that would be when?”
“I think it was in the 1960s,” the kid replied, shifting around in his chair, uncomfortably.
“Very good,” the professor replied. “It definitely covered all of the 1960s, but most historians would date the origins of our involvement to, say, 1955, and some would argue that the ideological underpinnings of the war began much sooner than that, perhaps even as far back as the 1850s before our own Civil War.”
“But we’ll talk more about that later,” he added, placing the jar in front of the boy and allowing him to pick out a lollypop.
“Anyone else?” he asked anew.
“It’s where my granddaddy was killed,” a boy in the row directly in front of me drawled in a thick Southern accent.
“I see,” Professor Jeffords responded, looking intently at the boy.
“Tell us about your granddaddy.”
“There isn’t all that much to tell I reckon,” the boy responded. “I don’t know much about him really. I’ve seen some pictures of him and I know he was killed at some place called Hue, but that’s about it.”
“Ah, yes,” the Professor replied, “the battle of Hue.”
And then he launched into a long discussion that explained the origins of the battle as part of the Tet offensive, the length and intensity of the fighting that followed, and how the battle had undermined support for the war back in the United States. The whole thing was fascinating, at least the way he described it.
When he was finished, Professor Jeffords approached the boy and switched off his microphone so that most of the room couldn’t hear what he was saying. But I could.
“I’m very sorry to learn your grandfather was killed during the battle,” he said, looking down at the boy. “My father was killed in Vietnam, too, not too long after the battle of Hue, so we share something in common. I hope offering you a lollypop will not seem inappropriate, but you’re welcome to one if you want,” he added, holding the jar out to the boy. “You’ve contributed more than you know to our discussion today.”
“Thank you,” the boy said, taking a yellow lollypop.
And that’s how it went for the rest of the lecture. Professor Jeffords kept pressing us for what we knew about Vietnam and the war, racing up and down the stairs from one place to another as each student added something new. Slowly, deliberately, more and more information came to light and by the end of the lecture I had learned more in that class about Vietnam and the war than I had from any other history class I had ever taken or any book I had read in my life.
Afterwards, as we raced toward our next class, I asked Nolan what he thought.
“I liked him,” Nolan said. “A little arrogant, I think, kind of like me that way, but he doesn’t just try to shove stuff down your throat or tell just one side of the story. And even when someone got something wrong, he found a way of turning it around so the kid was actually right in a way. I liked that.”
“Hot, too,” I added. Then I started blushing.
Nolan gave me a strange look as if he couldn’t believe I had just said that.
“Well, yeah,” he replied. “But I thought I was the only one in this relationship that looked at other guys.”
“You wish,” I said, grinning at him.
We spent most of the rest of the day running from one scheduled activity to another. It was hard to take all of it in, but I found it really exciting. It seemed to me college would be a lot more interesting than high school ever was and I loved walking around the campus. It was really beautiful and everyone seemed friendly enough as well.
Around 3:45 p.m. the two of us split up. I headed over to the Athletic Complex while Nolan peeled off and headed back to the Student Union where the Frisbee game had been scheduled.
When I got to the complex I spotted the boy with the Southern drawl from the history class that morning and walked over to join him.
“Umm, well, I’m sorry your granddaddy was killed in Vietnam,” I said, introducing myself to him. “I’m sure you must miss him a lot. By the way, my name is Josh and I’m from Vermont.”
“Hell,” he replied, shaking my hand, “from Nawlins, Louisiana. Hell Mills.”
It took me a moment, but I finally figured out he was telling me his name was Hale and that he was from New Orleans.
“And, you know, the thing is, I don’t miss my granddaddy at all because I never knew him growing up. I was just a baby when he died. But I’m glad I found out more about that place where he died today. It makes me feel a little closer to him knowing that.”
The program the Athletic Department had put together for us that day was different from most of the others. Instead of someone lecturing us, they just asked the ten of us who had signed up to sit down in a circle on one of the courts in the gymnasium. In the middle of the circle were ten of their very best athletes, each of whom represented a different team. Once everyone was settled in, the athletes started talking about what they liked about Williams, their experiences as members of different teams, and how those experiences had affected their lives.
It was very low key and I remember liking it, and especially being drawn to the different athletes. All of them seemed to me to be smart, good looking, and sophisticated, everything I wanted to be. After about forty-five minutes of that, which included questions and answers, they took us over to one of the small reception rooms off of the gym where they had set up some drinks and snacks for us.
It must have been pre-arranged because each of the athletes paired off with one of us. I guess Brett, who was on the hockey team, had drawn my straw because he came right up and started talking to me about my background and interests. We hit it off really well and I remember liking him a lot. He seemed like a terrific guy; and since he was a junior, it even seemed possible we might end up as teammates the following year if I got accepted to Williams and made the hockey team.
I had promised myself before leaving Vermont not to get my hopes up too much. But it was definitely becoming harder and harder not to. I liked the place. I liked it a lot.
[Please check the Author Notes in the header above if you haven’t already done so]