“Benjamin Ross, get your ass out of bed!” I groaned and looked over at my alarm clock. According to it, I still had fifteen minutes before I had to get up, but the voice in my head would soon be real if I didn’t heed it while it was still just an internal annoyance. Thursday mornings meant I had to fix breakfast for my younger brother since mom left early for work, and my older sister Kate had probably left for her day’s classes at OSU in Columbus. 5:35A.M. the numbers read. It could have been far worse, like it had been on Tuesday when Greg had called me around midnight and I was more than an hour trying to calm him down. I really didn’t mind our talk, not with what all Greg and I had been through in the last two years, but that made two nights in a row where I got little sleep. Monday had been the first, thanks to the role I played in stopping Zane’s idiocy in the parking lot at school. Wrestling was one thing, but anything like fighting made me feel bad for hours afterward, whether it was for a good cause or not.
I guess that was why I wasn’t real close friends with any of the guys on the JV team, and my real friends were almost all non-jocks. Since I’d almost always been the biggest guy in my year, and tended to look out for the kids who got picked on, I got a reputation as a ‘tough guy’—but that hadn’t really been the case after my first real fight in 1st Grade; I had no clue who they were now, but I stopped this mean kid from pushing around another guy who was smaller than him—I tried talking to him, and getting them to be friends, but the bully took a swing at me, and I smacked his arm away and hit him in the face. Blood was everywhere, and the kid got sent to the Nurse while I was given detention during the next recess, and the Principal called my dad. Later that night, he told me the kid had a broken nose, and he had to pay the doctor to fix it. After that, he had a long, long talk with me about being careful with my strength, and how to use it without hitting someone. For the rest of that school year all the little kids loved me, but most of the others were very careful not to upset me…I really wasn’t mean by nature, and though I went out of my way to be friendly to everybody, my reputation had begun to form.
Most of my friends were made at Summer Camp and later in the ‘Club’ until I went out for Wrestling Camp. None of the other sports I’d tried were any fun because they were either too competitive or too rough for me, like football. I played basketball at friends’ houses, but I didn’t like it enough to play in school or the youth leagues…and the same went for baseball, where I was a bit slow running the bases. The thing I liked most about wrestling was that though being strong and big was an advantage, it was more about skill. There were set rules and any violent moves were discouraged, again, unlike football which could quickly turn into a fight. One of my proudest moments was when the coach managed to corner me and my dad at one of the fundraisers for the middle-school teams and tried to pressure my dad to sign me up for football camp. My dad looked at me, and I shook my head emphatically ‘no’. When the youth league coach tried to continue, my dad looked at him with a fierce scowl. “My son just told you he wasn’t interested…the case is closed until he approaches you himself. Until then, you keep away, or I’ll file a complaint against you with the Athletic Association. Am I clear?”
That was it, no pressure from him, no hint of disappointment, just the resolve to back my decision to the hilt. I loved my dad. The shrill beeping of my alarm jolted me fully awake, and I jumped out of bed and ran down the attic stairs to the bath where I did all the stuff guys do, teeth, hair, piss, deodorant, then dressed and headed down to the kitchen. Finn was standing at the stove, and I could smell oatmeal as I came in. I grabbed two glasses and filled them with orange juice, and got out the sugar and butter for our meal. As he was dishing it out, I buttered toast for each of us and sat down across the small table from him. I added two slices of butter from the stick in its covered dish and four teaspoons of sugar to my bowl and stirred it as the aroma invaded my nostrils. I watched my brother put in the same amount of sugar, but he skipped the butter in favor of a dash of cinnamon.
“So, you dating Linda Beckel again?” Finn asked in a still-sleepy voice—he hated being called Finley like it said on his birth certificate—and no one at school knew his middle name. He was fifteen, winding down his Freshman year, and I had no clue why mom thought I still had to cook breakfast for him—maybe she thought it would force me to eat it too, since I was almost always in a rush before heading off to class. We shared the same black hair, but his eyes were not as green as mine, though he did have a few faint freckles which I’d managed not to inherit. He wasn’t as muscular as me, but he looked good at 6’ even. Guys often asked what sport he would try for, but he turned them all down if they tried to get him to sign up. He used some of my weights to keep his tone, but he was totally uninterested in turning into a giant muscle like those Charles Atlas dudes, same as me. I think only I knew what the problem was—an almost complete lack of coördination. He got his confidence from being smart-as-a-whip, and thoroughly focused on his goal of having a 4.0 GPA by his graduation.
I guess there were some things he had missed if he thought Linda and I were back together, but I had to remember that he was still two years behind me in school, and he might not have heard the full story yet. “No—she broke up with Bob Thomas when he wouldn’t dump Timmy Zane after the fight on Monday. She needed a ride to school, so I offered to take her. We’re just friends now.” He turned one of his long looks on me, then started on his oatmeal again. You’d think he was done with the subject—but Finn wasn’t one to let a thing go if he was still curious about it—he could be like a dog with a bone at times like that.
“What about Greg? Is that over too?” Damn—he didn’t miss much! We weren’t as close as Greg and his brothers, but we could always talk, and we trusted each other with some pretty big secrets. The biggest was last summer when I told him I might be bisexual…and he only shrugged. Just before Greg and I stopped going to the meetings when we were fifteen, I’d taken Finn for the first time, and once his initial shyness had worn off, he seemed comfortable with it. I guess he’d noticed Greg and me exchanging looks since he didn’t seem surprised by my revelation. I had no idea what he was into since I didn’t go any more, but I did know that he still went to every meeting.
I wasn’t sure how to answer him; Greg and me and sex wasn’t a simple thing to try to explain. At first it was just two guys getting off together with friends, but by the time we were Finn’s age, it had evolved—and we found ourselves doing more than just jacking each other off; that hot summer day when I’d kissed him for the first time—letting him into a part of me that I’d never thought could be shared in this little town—showed both of us that we did have feelings for one another, even if we weren’t sure what they were at the time. We had become friends over the years, but this was more intense, and confusing. I was content to see where it would go, and I had to admit I was saddened when we discovered that while we could talk, and the sex was wonderful, we wouldn’t really be a couple…there just wasn’t any special spark between us. For the two months I’d dated Linda Greg had been my advisor, listening to my concerns, and just after Thanksgiving he had given me his support when I broke up with her—and he was the first person to hear my admission that I wasn’t bi, but gay instead. He was also the one I told of my crush on one of the guys who tried out for wrestling last fall, and he encouraged me to ‘go for it’, but I didn’t want to push myself on the guy and risk being ‘outed’. Since Christmas Greg had tried to get me to ask Calvin out on a date, but that was harder when I wasn’t sure what was going on with him—we began to talk some, but just before the wrestling season started, Calvin had dropped out of the squad and withdrawn into himself. I couldn’t get more than a few words out of him before he’d look away, and I couldn’t figure out if I’d done something wrong…maybe made him think I was some creepy pervert or something. Greg assured me that wasn’t the case—that Cal was going through a rough time right now, and that I should try harder to become better friends with him.
I saw Greg talking briefly with him at lunch most days, then he’d join Jay and Miles at their table; I didn’t know if he was trying to get Calvin to talk to me, but my resolution to make one last attempt at being friends had gotten derailed with the fight on Monday and Greg’s call Tuesday night saying he’d screwed up his chances with his boyfriend. I knew Greg would always have a special place in my life, but being my boyfriend wasn’t it—but I was still sorry to hear that possibility was fully closed off. I wondered who this new guy could be, and I hoped he would treat Greg right, so that left me with my plan to give Calvin one last try. All this went through my head as I was finishing my oatmeal, so I went to the sink to wash my dishes.
“Greg will always be special to me since he was my first partner, but we both realized pretty quick that we could be friends, but not be a couple. We care a lot for each other—but like with Linda—we’ll always be close friends.” Finn brought his bowl up to stand next to me and took the dishrag from me to clean his own bowl. He tried nudging me aside a bit to get more room, so I let him do it as I grinned at him. His stare was back, and I squirmed a little. “He’s been trying to fix me up with someone since Thanksgiving…”
“So, give! Who is he…or she?” I put the butter dish back in the fridge, and the sugar bowl back on the counter and wiped the table to clear off our crumbs, then headed to the front door where our bags were piled on the small table next to the phone. I looked at my brother as he took my jacket off the hook in the closet and tossed it to me, then grabbed his own windbreaker. The black wool jacket was fairly new—it was my ‘letter’ jacket since I knew I’d earned one in Wrestling, and had the big ‘W’ to show it. The left sleeve had the numbers ‘77’ on it in gold for my Graduation year and the back had ‘WILDCATS’ arching between and just below the shoulders. A thin gold stripe went down the center of each sleeve, and my name was embroidered on the right breast. I hadn’t put the medal for Wrestling on it yet…maybe I’d just keep that at home, since that was my only sport, and all the students knew what I got the letter for.
“It’s a guy, Finn. Linda helped me figure that out, which is one of the reasons we’re still going to be friends.” I paused before adding, “She wants to check out who I date to make sure he’s good enough for me.”
Finn laughed all the way to his bus stop, where he climbed out to join his friends. We were headed to the same place, but he wanted the time with his friends on the bus ride every day, so I had no problem with that. Just before he shut the door, he leaned his head in. “I don’t know why he’s stalling you Benj…but just this once will you take a chance and make the first move? If Greg thinks it could work, he may be scared…don’t let him slip away because you didn’t try.”
Yep, Finn didn’t miss much: he knew my tendency to hesitate because I didn’t want to intimidate people, and he figured out that Calvin must be scared, even though he had no clue who Greg was trying to fix me up with. “You think you’re so smart,” I teased him.
“One of us has to be!” he retorted, ducking the swipe I aimed at his head.
“See you later…Finley.” I pulled out before he could respond, but I saw him giving me the finger in my rear-view mirror, and started to laugh. Next stop Linda’s house, then school…and later I’d talk to Calvin Schuyler.
* * * * * * * * * *
“How long are you going to keep it up?” Jay turned around to look at me from his stool while his hands continued to milk his cow. I was in the next stall doing the same thing with mine, and had been doing this with him since Tuesday, the second day he picked Mikey up for school and needed a little extra help to get this chore done in time. It wasn’t that I minded, exactly—he’d helped me out enough when I was dating some boy—but in just a few months I’d be living on Ohio State’s main campus, and he’d have to find someone else to help him. I’m sure Far would do it, but he had enough to do with Summer chores starting after planting and then the Fall harvest. If Jay had picked a boyfriend who could drive this would have all been unnecessary—the boy could come here and keep Jay happy.
At first I didn’t know what to think of Miles; he seemed too introverted for someone like my brother, who had always been a bit of a card with his smart attitude and sharp wit—and his practical jokes. Even though he had been around less than a week, I could see Miles changing slowly into a more confident and outgoing person, no doubt due to Jay’s influence. What was more surprising to me was Jay—he was being a bit less rash in his pranks, and seemed to be making an effort to think about his actions before implementing them. I could only assume that this change was due to the example Miles set him—nothing else had changed in Jay’s life so far as I knew. When I saw Mikey stand up to Zane, not knowing anything about fighting, but doing his best—I knew he was the right person for my brother.
“Keep what up?” I saw him shift a little on his perch, and he tried very subtly to adjust himself without me noticing. I nearly laughed, but caught myself in time—I didn’t have the same problems as boys, but I knew what being embarrassed over sex stuff felt like. For all their big talk in the locker-room, very few of the boys I’d dated over the past four years could claim to be in the same class as Don Juan. That reminded me of Bobby, and I shook my head and picked up my bucket to empty it into the stainless steel holding tank. Jay was on his third cow, and I’d just finished my second, so we would be done with this chore in a few minutes, then I could collect the eggs. I rinsed the bucket and hung it upside down to dry, and leaned on one of the main interior timbers to stare at Jay’s back.
Jay was always the hardest of my brothers to relate to; he was smart even growing up, something I could tell from the questions he asked, but it also came out in his sense of humor, which I didn’t have the patience for. He would only concentrate his attention on something serious if it could lead to something fun. Jerry was more like me, quiet and fairly serious with a curiosity which drove him to find out everything he could about things which interested him. Jay and Jerry did share another trait—they cared about other people as much as they did themselves, and went out of their way to help them. With the way Jay and Miles acted, I saw they were good for each other, filling in the gaps in each other’s personalities, and I was going to be a little sad to miss out on how things went with them once I left for school in August. It also scared me that the two of them, in their enthusiasm, might slip up next year and find themselves the targets of bullies like Timmy Zane or worse.
“Don’t you think it’ll look suspicious if you take Mikey to school every day? You don’t hang out with your other friends as much as you used to.” I watched him squirt a few more streams of milk into his bucket, and then he straightened up and gathered up the stool to exit the stall. He walked with a firm step, and he was fairly confident, but I could see a little uncertainty sometimes in his movements. He wasn’t quite a man yet, but he was very close, and I was surprised at how much I worried about not being around every day to look out for him. He rinsed his bucket after pouring the raw milk into the refrigerated tank, and then he focused his sapphire eyes on me.
I thought he might get mad, but he didn’t—he just looked at me speculatively for a minute then shrugged. More Mikey, I thought to myself. He grabbed the basket for the eggs, and we went into the hen house to see what the haul would be today. There were two rows of nesting boxes on either side of the central aisle, some had chickens resting in them, others were empty while their occupants were out in the pen going after the feed I’d set out earlier. You had to be gentle checking under a hen for her egg; startling them wasn’t a good idea, so you had to be a little sneaky about it. We were being quiet and making slow movements, so we didn’t pick up the conversation until we got all fifteen eggs and left the coop for the house.
We handed the basket to mor and then went upstairs to clean up and put on school clothes. “It’s not the same for me as you, sis—I have some friends, but I never really spent loads of time with them except at school; I know a lot of guys because I say ‘hi’ to almost everybody, and smile and clap them on the shoulder or arm, but that’s not changed. They also know that we are working on studying for finals, so no one worries about us all sitting at the same table every day…” Jay handed me the wash rag to work on my face and arms, then dried his own. “Mikey and me talked the other day about school, and we decided to just act like the other guys—slapping each other on the back, an arm across the shoulders, a punch on the arm…even a quick slap on the butt—all that is the stuff your jock guys do, and stuff I’ve done with my other friends, so we’ll be okay.
“I want to hold his hand in the halls, find a dark corner to kiss him and tell him how I feel…but we both know we can never do that. It’s not fair, sis, but we have to live with it for now.” Jay looked at me with a wistful expression as he turned into his room across from mine. “I love him so much, there’s no way I could ignore him like a stranger—just be happy for me, okay?”
My vision blurred as I stared at him, and it took me a second to realize I was crying. Damn it, this wasn’t me! I started to say something, but he continued a moment longer. “Mikey’s gonna help me with painting my truck, and help us on the farm this Summer…so by next school year it’ll be nothing to comment about that we do things together like driving to school. We’ll also have Greg and Denny to hang out with in studying and at lunch time, I hope.”
I was glad to hear that Mikey would be helping far with the farm once I was gone, but I had doubts about what he’d be able to do. Still, I had a few months to watch and maybe help him get into the routine, especially since I didn’t have Bobby to distract me anymore. Standing there in the hall, looking at my brother, it hit me that this was all coming from the fact that I was single again…if I’d still been going out with someone, I wouldn’t be so concerned with Jay and his safety. Once that thought hit, I stepped back a bit in my head to think things over in the light of this new revelation.
Jay was no longer my ‘pesky little brother’…he was a person in his own right. I’m sure I stunned him as much as I did myself when I walked over and gave him a hug with all the strength I could. When I pulled back, his eyes were wide and his mouth was trying to form words. I cut him off with a small smile. “Jens, jeg holder af dig og bekymrer mig om dig.” I switched back to English now that my major point had been made. “I’m going to worry about you because I’ll be away at OSU, and a lot of my friends are graduating with me—but I’ve asked Benny to keep an eye on you and Mikey; Timmy Zane graduates too, but who knows how many others like him are still there? As far as I know from the older kids that have left since I started, no one has ever come out and said they were gay. That’s twenty years of people hiding, or there simply weren’t any—and I can’t believe that you and Mikey are the first.”
I saw that Jay was looking worried now—since elementary school we’d all heard the terms ‘fag’ and ‘queer’ tossed around as insults and in jokes at the expense of kids who were unpopular or different, or just to get a rise out of a friend…and occasionally, it had led to fights…but how much worse would it be if the words actually fit a target, and it became known that someone was gay? Jay was so open with his feelings and his stance on fair treatment for everybody—he’d always stood up to bullying like he had earlier this week with Timmy Zane—and that was what worried me the most. I would do what I could by reminding Zane that if any of his friends or relatives stirred up trouble, I’d be talking with his mom and dad within the hour, and I had no qualms at all about letting them know what he’d done to his cousin Jenny.
“I think it’ll be okay, Jay…it’s just one more year, and Benny is graduating with you guys…just behave normally and you’ll be safe. I’ll fix it with my friends in your class before school starts the day after Labor Day.” I pushed him toward his room again, and went to check myself out too. Breakfast was nearly ready judging from the smells drifting up the back stairs, then we both had to leave—me with Benny Ross, and Jay to pick up his squeeze. From the conversation after he took Mikey home last night, I knew that his ‘anniversary’ surprise had gone well, and so had their quick ‘study’ session before they separated for the night. As I checked my make-up in the mirror, I saw red spots on my cheeks from thinking of the soft noises I’d heard, and a badly muffled ‘Jeepers!’ told me that at least one of them had been satisfied…though I had no desire to learn just how that had been achieved.
There was no way I’d comment on what the two of them got up to…I still had a few months at home, and just maybe I’d bring someone home to spend the night—and I didn’t want to give Jay free ammunition to use against me. When I got down to the kitchen, everybody else was digging into the eggs and bacon, so I sat opposite Jay and took a little for myself—I was so lucky that I never had to watch my weight.
I heard a car pull up near the back porch, and put my dishes in the sink so I could go grab my books from the hall table. Benny was chatting with my parents when I came back into the kitchen, and he was also munching on a slice of toast with apple butter and regular butter on it. Mor had always asked him to sit down and join us, but toast or a glass of milk was all he’d ever taken, and even when we were dating, he’d done the same. The times he’d come to dinner he ate no more than the rest of us, so I wondered how he managed to look so good on the mats…but he’d just laughed and kept quiet. He ruffled Jay’s hair, which brought him back to the present and he stared at the clock over the sink, then ran his dishes over to the sink and bolted for his books and toward the back door.
“Sorry—I’m running late! See you guys at school,” then he was out on the porch slipping on his black loafers and the outer screen door slammed behind him. We laughed when far spoke up with a chuckle. “I’d love to follow that boy some morning to see why he’s always in a hurry to get to Mikey’s!” He stopped laughing when mor answered with a laugh of her own, “Skat, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the same thing that made you so eager to drive me to school.”
On that note, I said ‘Farvel’ to my parents and went out the door to Benny’s waiting car. His Barracuda was only six years old, and it was really sharp, but I had to wonder why he chose one that was purple. The first time I saw it at school I went up to him and told him it was really cool, and he’d told me I might ride in it sometime—but he’d said that to a lot of the kids standing around, so I didn’t put much stock in that. It was almost a year later—just after he asked me out for the first time during last semester—that I had my promised ride. He told me that he liked the color mainly because it wasn’t popular, and he got a great deal on the price. I knew a lower price meant a lot to us kids when it came to cars—most of us had to save for one ourselves, but I also knew that Benny had his own tastes, and he didn’t care if they weren’t popular. Benny wasn’t worried about that sort of stuff—if he liked something, then he liked it—I've always admired that about him, and if he wasn't gay, I think we could have made a go of it. But that's just wishful thinking on my part. Besides, he is younger than I am, and he does make a great friend.
“Benny…I know I’m asking a lot of you because you’re so sweet, but I’m worried about Jay next year; I know Zane will be gone, but so will a lot of my friends…will you keep an eye on him? Make sure he’s safe? I’m gong to be asking my other friends to do that too, so you won’t have to do it alone like last Monday.” I watched his expression closely as he thought it over, and I could tell he was reluctant to do it…and that made me feel terrible, but I couldn’t see any other choice. Just as he gave me a glance and opened his mouth to answer, I did have another idea. “Is there any chance you could teach him some wrestling moves that will help him defend himself? You don’t know any of that karate stuff do you?”
Benny laughed at me, taking his eyes from the road for just a few seconds to shake his head. “Me? Nah, that’s too violent for me—it is mainly for defense, but you can also use it to injure people quite badly if they don’t stop being aggressive with you…and I just don’t think I could do that.” He frowned before going on. “I’m not sure I could even punch anyone unless it was a matter of life or death.
“There are quite a few things about wrestling I can show him, if he’s interested…maybe get Miles to try it too. I can ask my friends if any of them know any martial arts—a little is better than nothing.” I leaned across the center console to kiss his cheek in gratitude, but he jerked his head away, which made me giggle at his reaction. “Come on Lin, we agreed there wouldn’t be any of that!”
I punched his arm, and gave him a huff, which caused both of us to laugh, then I just had to tease him a little. “I know one person you’d love to kiss….” I could tell from the tone of his next words that he was blushing furiously, and I poked him in the ribs a couple times to annoy him. We both knew who he thought about most times, but he had yet to make a move.
“Shut up, Lin!” As he slowed to turn into the school’s parking lot, I gave it one last try.
“When are you going to ask him out, Benny? You told me you liked him, so what’s the hold up? And don’t give me that line about not wanting to scare him off!”
There weren’t many student cars there yet, but the parking area in front of the school had almost all its spaces full with teacher’s and administration’s vehicles. There were a lot of smaller cars like VW Beetles and Dusters, and most of them were more than five years old—everybody knew teachers didn’t earn much, and it looked like the Principal didn’t either. There were no trucks parked in front, though I knew that the Auto Shop teacher drove a pickup with a trailer hitch and adjustable tow bar in case he needed to get a non-running project car to the school’s facilities. In the winter he also used it with a plow attachment to clear the two parking lots for a few extra dollars a week.
I was shocked when Benny growled at me, and pounded his hands on the steering wheel—something had happened to bring this on since he almost never got angry. “Fuck—I don’t need another person to bust my chops over this!” Since we were parked, Benny had seen my startled look, and glared at me.
“See! You know me, and even you’re a little scared of me—how can I ask a potential boyfriend to trust me?” He paused for a few seconds, “Lin, I wanted him to ask me because then I’d know he wanted to go out with me—that he wasn’t doing it just to get me off his back, or because he was too scared to say no.
I stared at him in shock. Benny was scared this guy would reject him—which was just crazy—he was one of the best-looking guys in school, and all the girls had lusted after him, and probably more than a few boys too. I smacked him in the arm to get his attention, and to blow off some of my frustration with him. “Ben Ross—you are such an idiot! You’ve seen him around for a long time, but only met him when he tried out for the wrestling team—since then, it’s all I’ve heard—how cute he is, how nicely muscled he was at practice in those uniforms. During try-outs, didn’t he have to take on each one of you to see what he already knew and show how strong he was?”
“Well, yeah…but what does that prove?”
“He already knows you, you jerk—if he wasn’t intimidated then, why would he be now? And, you spent a lot of time talking to him during practices, so he knew some of your interests and still kept talking to you. Guys are so stupid sometimes!”
We had almost another twenty-five minutes before the warning bell—it would be a quarter-hour before the busses would even start to show up, and the kids who drove tended to wait as long as they could before arriving, so we were pretty much alone in the north lot until a set of headlights passed us heading for one of the far corners of the lot. “There’s his car, Benny—go talk to him!”
Benny actually squirmed in his seat and whined. “Lin…he stopped going to practice and dropped off the team—what if he did that because of me?”
That was the last straw for me—nearly five months since Calvin Schuyler had quit the squad, and Benny still hadn’t asked him why? I shoved my door open and stomped to the driver’s side so I could yank his door open. I grabbed the sleeve of his letter jacket with both hands and tugged with all my strength. “Gud i Himlen! You get your ass out of this car and go talk to him now. I swear I’ll rip your damn arm off unless you get over there this instant!
“I don’t even care if you ask him out—but you won’t know why he quit unless you ask—shit, I thought you’d done that when he stopped going to practice and you were just too shy to ask him on a date. I’m giving you ‘til ‘three’ to get over there….One!...Two!....”
I smiled triumphantly as Benny slid out of his seat and took a few steps toward Calvin’s car. When he made a half-turn with his shoulders to face me, I just pointed to the blue Buick and glared at my ex-boyfriend. He would have his first date with Calvin before the end of term, or I’d wring his bull-neck.
I wasn’t close enough to hear anything, which was fine with me, but I could see the interior light come on as Benny walked up to the old LeSabre and Calvin got out to lean against the car’s driver-side door. As usual, he was dressed in those stupid Army camouflage clothes, which just looked so wrong with his shoulder-length blond hair. I let my eye rove over the lot to see if anyone else was paying attention to this scene, but so far, no other cars had pulled in.
* * * * * * * * * *
I stood and looked down at the ground for a second before I spoke. “Hi…”
A long-fingered hand brushed blond hair back from his eyes—I knew they were green—I wondered if mine were that bright? I thought he would say something, but the seconds passed and all he did was look a little sad with a wistful smile on his lips. I looked around a second, then back into his eyes…I shuffled my feet a little. The four inches between our eye levels seemed like miles to me. “I don’t get a ‘hello’ in return?”
Calvin rubbed a hand across his brow as if he had a headache or something, but he met my gaze, two troubled pairs of eyes—mine were worried—I kinda thought his looked regretful. “Is there any point to it…a greeting is something you say to friends,” he paused and swallowed before going on. “I thought when I first met you at practice that we were getting to be friends—someone even told me back then that I should get to know you…but I guess he was wrong.”
All I could do was stare at him for a few seconds as my mind spun in circles. Now that the sun was up over the horizon, I could see his face better, and his eyes—they were full of hurt. “I don’t understand, Calvin—we are friends.”
“Yeah?” his voice sounded bitter. “When was the last time we spoke? Don’t bother to think about it—it was two weeks ago when you bumped into me in the hall and said ‘Excuse me,’—that’s what you call being a ‘friend’? That same someone asked me Tuesday how we were—I didn’t know what to tell him since the last time we really talked was the day I quit the wrestling squad.”
As the light grew brighter, I was shocked to see his eyes shining with tears, and he wiped them with the back of one hand. “Greg said you were nice, so I started to talk to you—and you were nice like he said—we even had a lot of things in common—it was stupid of me to let my hopes build up; by now I should know better….” He wiped his eyes again, and breathed in deeply to try to stop his sniffling. “I didn’t think you were like the other guys…only hanging out with the other jocks…but I found out I was wrong about that too when I quit—you even acted like you were avoiding me for a while…”
I drew in my breath when he said that last bit—I thought he quit because of something I did, so I had been keeping my distance from him, waiting for a chance to make things right. “Calvin, it wasn’t like that at all…”
The skepticism evident in Calvin’s green eyes and in the cool tone of his voice was plain. “No? It sure seemed like that to me. If it wasn’t that, then what was it that kept you away from me for four months? If that’s what you call friendship, then you can keep it!”
I knew that if I made a wrong move now, I could lose any chance at all of becoming closer to this beautiful boy whose looks had drawn me to him since he came to tryouts last Fall. I stared at him just an arm’s length away, but it seemed like a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon separated us, and was very close to becoming an impossible obstacle between us. I wanted to pull him into my arms, but I was pretty sure that if I tried that right now, he’d get even angrier. My parents always told me that honesty was the best policy, but what would happen if I admitted that I had been avoiding him? If he didn’t give me a chance to clarify that statement, he’d be gone—completely and forever out of my life.
I licked my lips which had become dry like the parched sands of the Mojave and shifted my weight from foot to foot uncomfortably…he was standing in front of me, hands balled into fists on his hips and his eyes a cold glare as they bored into mine. “Cal…I really enjoyed our talks at practice, they were the best things that happened to me last semester. Greg was the only other person I’ve ever been able to talk to like that—everybody else is either too intimidated by my size to say anything they think I might not like, or too scared to talk to me at all. You were the first person besides Greg to talk to me like I was a regular guy, and not just some hulking brute to be feared….”
From his stance, I couldn’t tell if his attitude had softened toward me; he’d drawn himself up to his full 5’10”, and despite the four inches and nearly f0rty pounds I had over him, he wasn’t about to back down from confronting me. Shit—what was wrong with me—I could feel my dick getting hard in my jeans! Calvin took a step closer so that there was now less than three feet between us. God the urge to reach out and hug him was almost unbearable.
“I see,” he said in a harsh whisper, “you liked talking to me so much that when I quit, you kept talking to me every day…strange that I don’t remember that at all—maybe I have amnesia?” He tapped a finger to his lips a few times, and scratched his right temple with his index finger. “Let me see...three days before Thanksgiving, I was hunting in the woods near my house—tracking down the 4-year-old buck I hadn’t killed with my crossbow because he turned slightly just as I pulled the trigger—I spent more than an hour following the trail of blood through the undergrowth until I came upon him—and had to slit his throat to end his misery. I cried as he bled-out and resolved to give up anything that could hurt another person—and the next day at school was when I told the coach I was quitting the wrestling team. You were such a help then as I drug the carcass to my dad’s truck and off to the nearest ranger station to donate it to the poor for a holiday meal.
“Oh, and Thanksgiving break when my parents told me they were having problems, and were going to try a separation…so I had to spend that time sorting and packing my clothes and other things I wanted to keep, and having to throw out the stuff which wouldn’t fit in my new room at Grandma’s, where I’d be living starting Christmas Break. Yeah, I remember all those kind words at school during those weeks, sitting at my table by myself at lunch. Do I even need to go into Christmas…or my birthday in early February? The only thing I can place is you sitting with your jock buddies staring at me across the lunch room, like I had some sort of disease.”
Calvin was openly crying by this point, and I wordlessly passed him the handkerchief I’d used to wipe away my own tears. I’d had no idea he was going through any of that stuff…no wonder he had closed himself off from the rest of us…but I bore the heaviest guilt for that—I had deserted him rather than stick by him because of my own selfish fears. He had never treated me like the other kids did, as someone to be feared—and yet I’d treated him like I did them when he quit wrestling—making the decision to class him with all those others who feared me, rather than find out what was going on with him. I started to reach out a hand to him, but hesitated, not sure he’d accept that gesture yet. “Cal, I was so wrong for what I did…since 1st Grade I’ve had a reputation for being a ‘bad kid’ because I stopped other kids from bullying the littler ones…I didn’t have many friends until Middle School when some of my neighbors started getting together once a week to do stuff…so I don’t have a lot of experience at being a real friend. If you give me another chance….”
I watched helplessly as Calvin Schuyler took a step back from me toward his car. While we’d been ‘talking’ other kids had started to arrive, and there were more cars in the student lot, most of them toward the front a good distance away from mine and Calvin’s cars. I hadn’t noticed that Linda had moved my car so that it mostly blocked the view of us from the other kids…and she was waving for her brother Jay to park his big old Ford truck to block the view from the rest of the arriving students.
“Why should I give you another chance, Benny? You just said you don’t know how to be a good friend…which God knows I have ample proof of…with everything that’s happened to me I’ve learned one thing: I don’t need anyone in my life…not my fucking piss-poor parents, and sure as hell not a guy with a girlfriend who would be a part-time friend at best!”
I took a half-step back in surprise—I didn’t have a girlfriend—Linda and I had broken up at Thanksgiving. Then I thought about what it looked like—that we were together again since I was taking her to school every day, and everyone knew she’d cut Bobby Thomas off at the knees. It would be so ironic if the girl who had helped me discover my gayness was also the one who would cost me my best chance at having a boy to be gay with. “I can give you one reason to think about giving me another chance…”
Calvin wiped his eyes again, but his voice was still rough when he responded…but I couldn’t tell if it was from the remnants of his anger or hoarseness from crying. “Yeah…why should I be bothered?”
I didn’t care at this point about anything except getting Calvin to listen to me, to give me that one last attempt to be a worthy friend, and boyfriend. I held out one hand toward him, and I felt my tears start again. The pleading note in my voice was unmistakable, and I didn’t give a shit who heard it.
“Please, Cal…I’m an asshole…I thought you didn’t like me when you quit the squad, so I gave you room until I thought I could try again. It’s the stupidest thing I ever did in my life, when I had seen you weren’t like that when we were friends…but it fit with all the past things in my life—I am so, so sorry that I hurt you like that! I did—I do like you, more than I can say….Just give me one more chance and I’ll be the best friend you’ll ever have!”
I thought Calvin was wavering since he wasn’t moving, and he’d relaxed his tense posture. His fists were no longer clenched, but were flexing slowly at his sides. I couldn’t read his eyes because mine were still full of tears…then I panicked as he started to turn away toward his car. “I’m really hurting, Benny—I can’t stand another change of heart by you.” I saw him glance at Linda, then back at me. “From what Greg has hinted, I thought I might have a chance to be somebody special to you…he said we’d be a good fit…with all I’ve been put through by my family, I need some stronger bond than that of an occasional friend.”
Linda stepped forward to stand off to the side so she could be heard and still see both of us. “Calvin, Benny and I aren’t going out anymore, not since Thanksgiving…we broke up then, but we are still friends—that’s why he’s driving me to school since Bobby and I are through.” She moved closer to him so only he could hear her voice now. “Benny told me he was attracted to someone else—a person he knew, but was still working his way to becoming a friend to—that person was all he could talk about once we broke up—he’d call me at least every week to tell me how he felt and what this guy did that week….That person was you, Calvin.”
I blinked back my tears as the blond’s eyes shot back to look into mine. I thought—hoped—I saw some indecision there—some chance for us to be happy. “You expect me to believe that Benny Ross, the star athlete, is interested in me all of a sudden? He wants me? What do you take me for, anyway? He’s done nothing to show me that he gives a damn.”
My heart sank into my stomach, and I was finding it hard to breathe from the tightness in my throat when I saw Greg come up to stand on Calvin’s other side. I hadn’t even seen him arrive; I was so out of it. He put an arm across Cal’s shoulders, and looked at Linda, silently asking her to step back to give the two of them privacy. She looked from me to Calvin, then at Greg for a few seconds before coming back to stand next to me. She handed me a hanky from her purse since mine was being used by Calvin, and I wiped my eyes so I could see better. I was still sniffling, but wasn’t about to blow my nose in her nice kerchief. “Idiot!” she whispered in my ear. “That’s what they’re for.” I was too upset and nervous to even smile, but I was grateful to her as I wiped my nose and stuck the linen square into my shirt pocket.
Greg had bent his head close to Calvin’s, and was saying something to him in soft whispers with several gestures in my direction. From the startled look on Cal’s face, I could guess what my neighbor was talking about—our time in the ‘Club’ and when the blond gave a little gasp and his eyes darted in my direction again, Greg motioned me to come join the two of them. “…for most of the past two years, me and Benny have been doing some sex stuff with each other…but that stopped when school started, and since he met you at wrestling tryouts, you’re the only thing he’s been able to talk about. Like me, all Benny’s ever wanted is a boyfriend who can make him complete. He and I had almost nothing in common except liking boys, and it didn’t take more than a week or two for us to realize we had no attraction for each other beyond the ‘wrestling’ we did. Calvin, I told you, you could trust me when I said Benny was right for you—I’ve known him for as long as I can remember, and you won’t find a kinder and more loyal boyfriend even if you look for a hundred years.”
Calvin looked at me, very intently, for half a minute, then motioned for Greg to go back to stand with the other guys looking out for us: Jay, Mikey, Denny and Linda. He looked a bit uncertain still, so I did the last thing I could think of to keep him close—I grabbed both his hands in mine and kissed them before I pulled them up to my chest so they rested over my heart. If he’d fought me, I’d have let him go, but he didn’t. “Cal...please...give me this one chance. I know I’ve screwed up, and I haven’t been there when you needed me, but I promise that will change. I want us to be boyfriends, Cal—and I hope you feel the same…but if you only want me as your friend—I’ll accept that.” The heat from his hands on my chest was something I’d longed to feel again since he quit wrestling. Despite the stress of the situation, my dick hadn’t relaxed since I took his hands in mine.
We were all jolted out of our skins when the warning bell went off—we had four minutes to get to our 1st Period home-rooms. Calvin had jerked when everyone else did at the jangling of the bell, but I kept his hands firmly against my chest. I wasn’t moving until I had some sort of answer, and I didn’t care who saw us standing so close. “If you can’t answer now…which I can understand…then let’s arrange a time to talk it over later—pretty please—with sugar on it?”
I was close to crying again as he looked up into my eyes, and could see the extent of the emotions which wracked me body and soul. As a final plea, I kissed the back of his hands, then turned them over one by one to kiss his soft palms. He tried to get me to let go by pulling his hands back, but I held firmly to him as I tilted my head to catch his eye so he could fully see my determination and loyalty to him. He gave me a slight nod, and I moved in closer, letting his hands go as I pulled him into a bear hug, then leaned down to kiss his forehead.
“When can we talk?” I opened his car door and retrieved his books for him, then shut it firmly. I saw Linda with my books, and she handed them to me, then herded everybody else toward the school entrance. I started after them, then turned to see Calvin hesitating by his car…my smile faded when I thought he’d changed his mind now that everyone was gone. He shook his head in resignation and started for the school as well.
“It’s gonna have to be after school…I have Biology last period, and I’ll wangle a pass to do some field work out in the woods for my final project. Meet me at the little nature shelter near the middle. Do you know where that is?”
I poked him in the arm and snickered. “Everybody knows where that is—we’ve all been out there at one time or another for science or art classes. Why so long, why not at lunch?”
Calvin smacked my shoulder, which didn’t actually hurt, but I winced as if it did anyway. “Because, you big doofus, you just locked my keys in my car!”
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