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Note: Thanks to Dick 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 had seemed distant, distracted, and nervous during dinner. Now we were sitting in the living room, and he said he needed to talk with me. His level of discomfort was even higher.
He started slowly, almost reluctantly. He said he loved me as a friend and that I would always hold a special place in his heart because I was his first real lover. I knew where the conversation was going.
"What's his name?"
Karl looked down at his hands. "I can't tell you that right now. We've only been together a couple of times. We love each other, but both of us are really scared right now. It's such a homophobic attitude at the Academy. We have to be so careful. If anyone up there even suspected, we'd be out on our asses in no time. Parker, I love you, but I'm in love with him. I can't be with anyone else."
There was a big lump in my throat, but I knew what I had to do. I had to let him go.
I reached over and squeezed Karl's hand. "I understand. If you can't tell me his name, at least tell me about him."
Karl looked up. His eyes were moist. "Thanks for making this easier."
I stood and pulled Karl up with me. "Let's go back into the bedroom. The guys won't bother us in there, and you can tell me all about him."
I sat on the bed. Karl
took the chair and proceeded to tell me about his new love. My
replacement...at least that's how I thought of him...was in the same cadet
class as Karl. He was from
I listened. It was obvious that Karl was in love. I kept my expression neutral, but inside I was hurt...angry...sad...resigned because the rational part of my being had always known this day would come...happy because Karl was so obviously happy.
Karl went home around midnight.
I went to bed and cried.
The next morning, the guys were surprised to discover that Karl wasn't there. I begged off running by telling them that I wasn't feeling well and went back to bed. I was an adult. Why was I acting and feeling this way?
That evening I took a bottle of scotch back into my bedroom after dinner. Trey woke me the next morning for a run. I told him I still didn't feel well.
He looked at the empty scotch bottle beside the bed and replied, "I see."
I went back to sleep.
The next thing I knew, Trey was sitting beside me on the bed. He was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and freshly showered after his morning run. "This is about you and Karl, isn't it? Did you guys have a fight?"
"No. We didn't fight. He's found a boyfriend."
"Oh. And you're going to handle that by staying in your bedroom with a bottle?"
"Yeah. I think I might."
"No, you're not.
Parker, I know you really like Karl, but you guys didn't have much of a
relationship going. You only see each other when he's home from
"You're right, but that's not the way it feels right now."
"Okay, then you need to get up and get moving. Do things to get your mind away from Karl. We're going to take you skiing. Get cleaned up. We're leaving in half an hour."
Trey was right. Getting out of the house helped. The skiing helped. It didn't take away all the heartache, but it helped. My guys and I spent the next five days taking advantage of the great winter weather. It had been several years since my last time on a pair of skis. I was pleased that all the old moves came back quickly. Trey, TJ, and Ryan were almost expert skiers, but poor Isaac was a novice. However, with his natural athletic ability he was going down the intermediate slopes by the second day and keeping up with the rest of us by the third day.
Late in the afternoon on the
day before New Year's Eve, we ran into C.Z. Johnstone,
Andy Hathcher's ward, and four other young guys at
the snack bar. C.Z. recognized TJ and me and called us over. There
were introductions all around. TJ and I introduced Trey, Ryan, and
Isaac. In turn C.Z. introduced the guys he was with. The first was
Justin Barnes, C.Z.'s roommate at
My guys tried hard to keep my mind off Karl Henson. By the time school started again in January, they had almost succeeded or maybe I was just resigned to the reality. I knew Karl was making the right choice for him. We saw each other only at Christmas time and in the summer when he was able to get home on leave. He'd be able to be with his boyfriend more often; they shared the same career; they were the same age. There were all sorts of reasons why it was the right thing to do. My mind just had to convince my heart. My heart wasn't always listening.
I had a new student in my
junior American history class that January. His name was Jonathan
Pittman. His father had replaced Andy Hatcher as the branch manager at
the bank. Jonathan was a big, handsome kid, standing about 6'2", and
he looked like it was mostly muscle. He had medium length, slightly wavy
sandy blond hair, eyes the same shade as his hair, and a soft
"Well, you need to meet my
nephew, Trey. He moved here from
Jonathan smiled. "Mr. Arnold,
I laughed, told him that it was really a mild winter, and welcomed him to Carterville.
"Thanks. Say, when I was in the office I asked if this school has a soccer team, and they told me that you're the coach. I played soccer at my old school. When do you start practice for the spring season?"
I was a little surprised that he played soccer. He was built more like a typical linebacker or free safety than a soccer player. "We'll start the first of March, but most of the guys get together after school for a `study hall' and in the morning for a conditioning run. If you have the time after school, stop back in this room, and I'll take you down to the old gym and introduce you to the guys."
He smiled again. "Thanks. I'd like that. I don't know anyone here yet. It'll be nice to start to meet some of the kids."
Jonathan bonded quickly with the other guys in the "study hall." He also joined us the next day for the morning run. He struggled a little to stay up with the guys. Trey and Tyrone, who was still running with us in the mornings even though he was now playing on the varsity basketball team as a freshman, held back with Jonathan and kept him company.
At the end of the morning run, the guys headed for the showers. As I walked out of the coach's office toward the shower, Jonathan was just ahead of me. His smooth muscular back and ass were great scenery.
As we entered the shower area Tyrone blurted out, "Well, looks like I'm no longer the only one whose parents had the good sense to forget the clip job."
Everyone turned to look. Indeed, Jonathan was uncircumcised. He blushed deeply but made no effort to cover his substantial endowment with its hood of skin that just covered the tip of his penis.
He looked at Tyrone, winked,
and in his slow
That remark earned him a chorus of good-natured jeers from the rest of the guys in the shower room.
January and February passed quickly. The winter was exceptionally mild after mid January, and the ski area owners were crying about their lost revenues. It was even too warm for the man-made snow.
Tyrone was successful on the varsity basketball team. He wasn't a starter, but he was getting lots of playing time in the games, and everyone assumed he'd be one of the five starters the next season.
Robert Marquez clearly enjoyed watching his son play. Elena Castro, Robert, Trey, Isaac, TJ, Ryan, and I usually sat together during the games. The normally cool and elegant Elena could yell as loudly as anyone in the gymnasium.
When the games were on a Friday evening, we would all go out to the Marquez place afterward for snacks followed by some time in the pool or hot tub or both. Most of those times, the guys stayed overnight with Tyrone, and I spent a couple of those nights in Robert's guest bedroom as well.
It was during the first week of true soccer practice in the spring that TJ and Ryan found out that their dad's cancer had returned. This time the doctors told the family it was only a matter of time. TJ and Ryan spent most of their evening and weekends with their father after that. Trey, Isaac, and I missed them, but we understood that they had limited time before their father would be gone.
I tried to be as supportive of TJ and Ryan as I could. One time TJ broke down in tears in my office. I hugged him until he stopped crying. It was all I could do. Another time I saw Ryan and Tyrone sitting side by side on one of the locker room benches after all the rest of the team had left. Tyrone, who had rejoined the soccer team at the end of basketball season, had his arm around Ryan's shoulder. I saw Ryan wipe a tear out of the corner of his eye.
The spring soccer season went very well for us. Our record was ten wins and two losses. On top of the regular season we advanced to the state quarterfinals before being eliminated. We'd never gotten that far before.
TJ and Ryan Ladd played with heavy hearts for the state tournament. Their father died three days before the state quarterfinals match.
After his father's death, TJ was back out at our house often. He'd always been there frequently before his father's death, and I knew that his relationship with his stepmother had grown even worse during the last few months of his father's illness.
I was distracted by all the rush of exams at the end of school. The week after school was out in early June I suddenly realized that TJ had been at our place for every dinner and for every night since the state soccer tournament. When dinner was over that night, I told Trey and Isaac that TJ and I would do the dishes. The three boys exchanged glances before Isaac and Trey excused themselves and went upstairs.
We washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen in silence. When everything was done I asked him to sit down to talk.
He sat at the table and looked at his hands that were folded in front of him.
I sat down across from him. "TJ, what's going on?"
"Coach, I just can't take it any more."
"Can't take what, TJ?"
"I can't take Angela anymore. All she does is yell at me and call me names and tell me how ungrateful I am and how much it hurt my dad that I was such a bad son. Can I come and live with you guys?"
"Isn't that what you've been doing for the last couple of weeks? I went upstairs this afternoon. You've even brought your computer over here."
"Yeah, Angela threatened to sell it to help pay for some of the funeral expenses. I was afraid she'd do it sometime when I was away from the house so I brought it out here. She was going to make me sell my Jeep, but then she found out that Dad put the title in my name. Boy was she pissed about that. She must have yelled at me for a good hour afterward. That's when I knew I just couldn't stay there any more."
"TJ, you know I love you, but you're still a minor, and Angela is your guardian now. You can't just move out here. Don't get me wrong, son. I'd be happy to have you here, but there are lots of legal issues involved."
"What if I got Angela's permission to live out here?"
"Do you think she'd give you permission?"
"Oh, yeah. It might be the only thing I could do that would make her happy. She's said several times that she can't wait for me to turn eighteen so she can kick me out of the house. I think she'd be glad to be rid of me."
"What about your brother? You've said before that your stepmother picks on him when you're not there."
"I know. I worry about that, but right now she's been really soft on Ryan. He and I have talked, and Ryan wants me to get out. Coach, I don't know how much more I can take over there."
"Why don't you go upstairs with Trey and Isaac? I'll call your stepmother and see if we can arrange something."
He gave me a long hug. "Thanks, Coach. I've felt for a long time that this is my real home."
I went into my bedroom to call Angela Ladd. I wasn't sure what I was going to say, but I didn't want the guys to overhear anything either.
She answered on the second ring.
"Ms. Ladd, this is Parker Arnold. I hope I'm not disturbing you.
"Oh, hello, Mr. Arnold. I am expecting another phone call. Will this take very long?"
"I'm not sure, Ms. Ladd. It's about TJ."
"Oh, what's he done now? I assumed he was staying out with you and your nephew."
"He is. That's why I'm calling. I understand from TJ that you and he haven't been getting along recently."
"Oh, that's an understatement. He is the most spoiled young man I've ever encountered. My husband let him get away with murder and never disciplined him. Now that my dear John is gone, and I'm all alone, TJ has been just terrible. I've been so good to him...just like he was my own son, and all I've gotten in return is pouting and sullenness. Never even a thank you for all the things I've done for him."
I thought, `God, what a bitch!' Trying to keep my voice neutral I said, "I understand things have been difficult. I wonder if you would let TJ stay out here with us for the time being. Perhaps after both you and he have had some time to deal with Dr. Ladd's death, he could move back home."
"Oh, Parker, that would be so wonderful. He stays out at your house a lot, but it would be so much easier on me if he could live with you for a while. I just don't know how much longer I can continue to be a good mother with the way he's been acting toward me lately."
"Good. I think it would be best for both of you. I would like something from you in writing indicating that TJ is living out here with your permission. He isn't eighteen yet, and I want to be certain there's no question that you've agreed to let him stay out here."
"Why, Parker, I can't imagine that you would ever need anything like that, but I'll write something out tonight and have it here for TJ when he comes to pick up his clothes."
So TJ officially moved out to our house, and the summer began to settle into a familiar routine.
TJ's lawn care and landscaping business kept the guys busy. They left early in the morning and picked up Ryan at the Ladd's house before heading out to the jobs scheduled for that day. I was heading up the county youth soccer program again. Like the previous summer there was often a gang of guys from the soccer team and their friends hanging out with my guys in the late afternoons and evenings playing soccer or splashing around in the pool. Most of the guys were naked when they were in the pool or lounging around the pool edge. Great scenery. I kept a supply of soft drinks and snack foods on hand. The guys put money in a jar in the kitchen to cover the cost of the drinks and snacks and brought their own meat to grill if they were staying for dinner.
Tyrone Jackson became one of the regulars at the informal evening pool parties. He stayed over at the house about once a week and would then help out with TJ's lawn care crew the next day. A couple of the times when Tyrone's dad brought him over to the house, I asked Robert to stay for dinner, and he accepted. After dinner Robert and I would retreat to the hot tub away from the frenetic teenage antics that surrounded the pool. Of course I enjoyed looking at Robert's amazing body in addition to enjoying our conversations.
Robert had talked to TJ about
taking over the gardening duties at his place, but TJ had wisely determined he
didn't have the manpower or equipment to do what was necessary at the Marquez
mansion. TJ suggested a larger lawn care/landscaping company out of
It was shaping up to be
another great summer. The only disappointing news had been learning that
Karl Henson would not be coming home at all that summer. I'd seen his
father in town and he'd told me that Karl was spending his two-week leave with
a friend in
As I said, with the exception of the fact that I would not be seeing Karl, the summer was going to be a pleasant break from the hectic pace of the school year. At least that's what I thought.
Angela Ladd's actions changed all that.
(To be continued)