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On the way home, Mom and Dad talked about those advanced swimming lessons. They said not only would it be good for me to learn how to swim better, it would be good for me to get to know Chet better.
The lessons started next weekend.
It was hard not to loose my temper at my parents. They just babbled on and on about how great an idea it was for me to take those lessons - and get to know Chet.
By the time we got home I was ready to run to my room and slam my door, telling them to leave me alone and that I wasn't ever going to take any swim lessons. I thought about telling them what Chet and Howie had done to me. Instead, one of my friends was outside my house, waiting to go play ball. I rode off with him.
I burned off a lot of the frustration during that game. I did really well, too. I hit two homers and stole three bases, and dove for a couple of hits that would have been singles or doubles, catching them for an out.
When I came up from catching that second one, Billy shouted, "Yeah! Way to go! As good as Chet!"
I almost walked off the field. I thought how if I did, I would have to explain why. I didn't want to have to do that. So I stayed and played.
But after that comment, Chet kept sneaking back into my thoughts all the rest of the game. I couldn't stop thinking about him. And I started thinking about the guys playing, too. I'd see one of the guys standing at short-stop or second base, and they'd be bent over a bit, hands on knees, and their butt would be all out there. I'd see their butt, and I'd start thinking things. You know, those kinds of things. I got hard so fast and so often.
I usually beat-off a couple times a day, but I hadn't since yesterday. I didn't want to think about what I knew I'd think about if I whacked it.
I'm not gay. Honest. I'm not. I won't be.
When the game ended they all wanted to play another, but I wanted to be alone. I told them I had chores to do and left. I rode off hard and fast, burning up more frustration.
I didn't want to go home, so I rode to the only place in town that I could get a soda and a burger, ordered, and sat down. I wasn't even part way through when they walked in. I could have thrown up. Chet and Howie. Together. Acting like they were all normal. Smiling and laughing, and talking to the manager at the counter about Chet's great playing.
I got up, leaving the food and soda unfinished, and did my best to sneak out.
I almost ran. I kept walking and got to the door and was halfway through it when a hand fell on my shoulder and turned me around.
"Jer! How are ya?" he asked, smiling all nice and friendly.
"Leave me alone!" I almost shouted at him.
I pulled my shoulder out from under his hand and turned away to leave. He followed me outside.
"Something wrong?" he asked as I got on my bike. "Someone bothering you? Tell me who. I'll take care of it."
"Nobody's bothering me but you!"
"Me? I thought we were friends?"
"I'm not your friend!"
"Why? What's wrong?"
"You... you did that to me!" I hissed.
He looked surprised.
"I thought you liked it," he said softly, looking around. "Didn't you?"
His face got red and I saw how scared or worried he was now. I wanted to say that I didn't, but I wasn't a liar. Liars are almost as bad as homosexuals. I stared at him for a second or two, then rode off.
I got a couple of blocks when he pulled up next to me.
"Jer? We got to talk," he shouted through the open passenger window.
"I don't want to talk to you!" I yelled, then turned to ride up onto the sidewalk.
He pulled up at the corner, trying to block me.
"If you don't talk to me, I'll have to talk to your folks. I can't let you be confused and hurt and alone."
I stopped my bike and stared at him in shock from less than ten feet away.
"You have to talk to someone about it. If you don't, you're just gonna keep feeling bad."
"I should! I should feel bad about it!"
"No you shouldn't. You remember how you felt after? When we were at the pool? Was that bad?"
My guts tightened up. I sure hadn't felt been bad then. Not at all.
"I was the same way for a while. It's confusing. And scary. I remember. It's still that way sometimes." He looked scared again, but differently now. He stopped looking at me through the window of his car, looking down at his lap instead. "It's not easy, being this way. That's why Howie and I keep our eyes out for others. So they won't be alone about it. So we can help 'em out."
"So you can... do stuff to 'em!"
"No," he said firmly, looking back up at me. "Yeah, that too. But that's how we know. You know, that... you're like us. But... hell, Jer. If you don't wanna again, that's okay. Honest. We won't ever make you. Promise. But you got to at least talk to us. We both remember how it was to be alone and think you're alone. And worried about it. Scared of it. We don't want anyone to be that way."
Jeeze, he was so cute. And he looked so worried. It made me feel bad that I was making him feel worried. But...
"I don't want to be one of those!" I said as if I were shouting it, but it came out weak and almost a whisper.
"Who does?" he said sadly. "But we are. And we only got each other to talk to about it."
I was feeling really sad now, too. I really didn't want to be one of them, but I knew I was. I kept noticing the guys while I played ball, and other times. Never the girls.
"Why me?" I asked so quietly I didn't think he could hear me.
I was so close to crying.
"Why me? Or Howie? Don't know," he said with a shrug. "But we are. And Howie and me are okay with it now. After meeting each other and having each other to talk to about it. It got to be so it's okay."
"Why me?" I asked again, just as softly, wanting to scream it instead.
"Because you're too cute to waste on girls."
I laughed, but tears started blurring my sight.
"I don't wanna be!"
"But you don't have the choice. You do have the choice how to deal. You can go it alone, and be miserable, or you can talk with me and Howie and maybe learn to deal with it. Your choice. I'd rather you talked to us, but we sure won't try to make you. We'll leave you alone if you really want that."
"I don't want to be alone!" I almost yelled, tears making it hard to see him even though he was only a few feet away.
I wiped at my eyes, feeling like a baby for crying on the street like some lost little kid. I heard the car engine shut off and the door open. I thought about riding away, but I couldn't see. I felt his hands on my shoulders, then his voice from very close.
"You don't have to be. You can try to, but it's not easy. It's easier if you have someone else to talk to. Howie and I know. That's why we kept our eyes open for someone else. We hated how it was before we found each other. Now we have each other. We don't feel so alone now."
"Why?" I choked out.
"Because you're special. Way and apart. And Howie and I are glad we found you. And if you want, we'll be around, but we'll leave you alone. When you want, you can find us. I'll give you my phone number so you can call me when you're ready to talk."
He put an arm over my shoulder, and before I knew it, I stepped over my bike and wrapped both of my arms around him. I was so scared, and it was so nice to have someone who knew and understood and didn't hate me for it. He put his arms around me.
I heard a car motor running right behind me. I was horrified: I was not only crying on the street, I was doing so in another guy's arms! A homosexual one!
"Hey, something wrong with that kid?" someone asked.
"He just got some shocking news. He'll be okay."
"Oh. Anything I can do?"
"Nothing I can think of. He just needs to deal with it."
"Yeah. Well, it's good of you to be there for him."
"Hey, aren't you that Hawkins kid? On the Farmer's ball team?"
"Great plays today!"
"He's lucky he knows you. Proud of you to be there for him like that, young man."
"Thank you, sir."
"Thank you, you too."
I heard the car take off and felt better. It seemed almost amazing that Chet Hawkins was so well-known, admired, respected, yet a homosexual. I sniffled and wiped my eyes, then looked up. He was so cute as he looked down at me.
"Going to be okay?" he asked gently.
I nodded and tried to smile.
"Feel like a baby, crying like one."
"It's tough, dealing with it. I know."
I nodded again. He put his hands on my shoulders again and held me back a bit to look at me.
"What?" I asked, feeling ashamed, wiping the last tears from my eyes.
"You're way cuter when you're not crying."
I laughed a little. I felt a little better. Not a lot, but a little.
"I'm a homosexual," I said with a huge sigh and some disgust.
"You are. So am I. So is Howie. There are others. You're not alone. You're not a monster."
"But the movie in school said how they... we..."
"Yeah, that thing. I wish I could get my hands on that movie and burn it." He shook me really gently, making me look up at him. He looked very serious. "It's a bunch of lies. Maybe there are guys like that, but I don't believe for a second that me or Howie or the guys we know will ever be like that. Not for a second."
He stared at me, eye to eye. His deep green ones were so nice. Like round emeralds with round, black centers lying on ivory. He had such nice features, and a great smile.
I shivered and sighed, like you do when you're done crying. It was embarrassing. He grinned a little wider and shook my shoulders again before letting go.
"You okay to ride home? I'll give ya a ride if ya want."
"Nah, not goin' home."
"You're not gonna go riding off somewhere, like running away from home or something, are ya?"
"No," I laughed. "I just don't feel like goin' home."
"Yeah. So, how about coming back to the cafe with me? Howie's probably wondering what's up."
I shrugged. I thought for a moment how I shouldn't be seen with a homosexual, but then I thought how everyone in town liked and respected him. If I was seen with him, it would actually be better for me than not. And I really didn't want to be alone now.
"Yeah, I'll meet ya there."
"Promise?" he asked.
"Yeah, promise. Bet I beat ya back," I said, picking up my bike.
"Bet," he said, turning and jumping into his car.
I heard it start, and the wheels squeal as he took off. I turned into the alley and then through some back yards, and rode as fast and hard as I could. I pulled up at the front door, rear wheel locked and squealing, before he even pulled into the parking lot. He got out of his car, smiling at me. He was tall and strong, but lean, his almost white, blond hair blowing in the slight breeze, his tanned skin almost bronze. The muscles of his arms bunched and rippled when he waved back at someone that called his name.
It was astounding to know that he was one of those, but everyone admired and respected him. Even liked him. I shocked myself by thinking that I was one of those, too.
He pushed me through the door with his hand on my shoulder. Howie was at the table I had been at, my burger and soda still there along with two other plates and drinks, one empty, one with a burger and fries on it.
More people waved at him and called his name. He waved back, one hand still on my shoulder.
He was so popular! And so cute.
And a homosexual.
And he was my friend.
"You guys all sorted?" Howie asked, looking a little worried as we sat down across from him.
"Yeah. Jer here had his breakthrough, I guess."
I felt my face turning red. Howie looked at me as if Chet had said I that I saved someone's life.
"Welcome to the club," Howie said, holding out his hand at me.
I shook it, feeling embarrassed and exposed. Chet elbowed me and grinned at me.
My burger was cold, so was Chet's, but we finished them. We talked about baseball and music. We all liked the same songs and groups. And of course, we all loved baseball, though we had differing ideas of who was the best players and teams.
People kept coming and saying his to Chet and Howie. Even girls. They'd come up giggling and acting so silly, and Chet and Howie talked to them. They always had a date when the girls asked if they were free for a dance or party. I was amazed, until I realized they were lying. I didn't like lies. I said so when we were alone.
"Who's lying?" Chet asked.
"You! About having a date. Or, do you go out with..."
I didn't know how much to say, sitting there in the cafe.
"Sure," Chet said with a grin. "Sometimes, sure, but not often. I consider Howie my date."
"We go to a few parties and dances, sometimes with a girl, but usually stag. Like a lot of guys do. Just, well, after..."
He and Howie snickered. I gasped again, and turned so hotly red.
"So, you do go out with girls?"
Howie said, "Sometimes go with a girl. Depends on the girl, but if you try going too fast, they drop you like a hot potato, and you're off the hook. Some you do the opposite, be too cool and apart, and they don't want a second date. Sometimes you end up going out on a few dates."
"Isn't that wrong? I don't know, like..."
"No. We have a good time. We dance, have a burger and soda, ride around, go to the point, just like the other guys do. We just aren't looking to go out for a long time with 'em. They have a good time, just we aren't the kind of guys they want to keep going out with. We make sure of that, so we don't lead them on too long."'
"I prefer the chaste method. I say I'm not into necking or making out. I say how I won't do that until I find the right girl I want to marry. Works every time," Howie explained.
"It still seems wrong. Like lying."
"The other choice is to not go out with any girls. Some guys don't. It's harder that way. Up to you, though. You decide when you have to."
"Speaking of parties, we should go get ready for Mike Chapman's," Howie said.
"Yeah, right. Hey!"
Chet looked at me suddenly, grinning.
"What?" I asked.
"You wanna go to a party?"
"With you?" I asked, shocked.
He laughed, then said, "No, not like that! Just, do you wanna go to a party with us. Mark is a good guy, he won't mind an almost freshman if we vouch for ya."
I hadn't meant that, and his doing so made me go so red! I had meant going to a party with the older guys, not as a date. I was so incredibly embarrassed. Howie snickered and started laughing harder.
"Howie," Chet said warningly. "You'll embarrass him, stop."
"Way too late!" Howie choked, laughing harder.
It was... way too late!
Howie tried to apologize, but he was laughing too hard.
"So, wanna go?" Chet asked me.
I wasn't sure. I'd never gone to a party other than birthday or other such ones with my own friends. I didn't know what to expect at a party with older kids.
"You'll probably have a good time. If not, I'll get ya home, just let me know, okay?"
"I don't know if my parents will let me."
"What if I ask?"
That was way to risky! Wasn't it? But my parents thought he was a good guy, and that I should spend more time with him, and get to know him better. I shrugged.
"What's your address? I'll stop by at six-thirty and ask your folks."
Go to a party with guys that would be seniors? I'd be famous among my friends. How could I pass up? I nodded, trying not to smile too widely.
"Great!" they both said together.
We walked out of the cafe, Chet and Howie having to wave and return greetings several times. It felt nice to be with them. Two girls walked up as we got to Chet's car.
"Hi, Chet," one said, wearing a perfectly pleated skirt and fuzzy sweater. She had really long, blond hair, big brown eyes, and big, soft lips with the reddest lipstick I'd ever seen.
"Hi, Sal," he said back.
"You goin' to Mark's party tonight?"
"Sure am. You?"
"Sure. See ya there?"
"Sure, see ya there," Chet said with a nod.
They giggled away.
"I'll have to smear some lipstick on my neck before we get to the party," Chet said to Howie.
"Yeah, or you'll be fighting her off all night."
That seemed like lying, too, but I knew why he did it. I thought that maybe it wasn't so much like lying as keeping a girl from wasting her time.
"See ya in a bit," Chet said as he got into his car.
"See ya then," Howie said, getting in too.
"Yeah, see ya then," I said, not sure how I felt about it.
But it was too late to back out now.
I rode home, feeling confused and worried, but nothing like I had when I had rode off from the ball park. When I got home, I told Dad that I had been asked to go to a party by Chet Hawkins.
"Oh? What kind of party?" he asked, one eyebrow raised way up.
"Uh, don't know. Didn't ask. He said this guy was a good guy, all I know."
"Chet's comin' to pick me up at six-thirty. You can ask."
"I will. I'm not sure, to be honest, Son."
Suddenly I wanted to go even more. Now I felt like I had to go.
"I'll talk to Chet first, before I decide. But you can get ready, in case I'm okay with what he has to say."
It was the best I could hope for, I knew. I smiled and ran upstairs to get ready. I didn't know what to wear. I saw a lot of older guys wearing suits, but I only had a black one for funerals and such, and Sundays when we went to church, which was less and less often lately. I wondered if I was being dragged into Satan's hands. It didn't feel like it. It almost felt like I was stepping closer to being free and whole.
I decided on gray dress slacks and white dress shirt. I showered and slicked my hair like the older guys did. I even put on cologne. The new black dress shoes were so tight. I was ready very early and had to wait around. Finally, almost at the stroke of the bottom of the hour, the doorbell rang.
I went to answer it with Mom. Chet and Howie were there, dressed in suits; Chet in light gray and Howie in a dark-charcoal, both with dark gray ties instead of black ones.
"Hello, boys, come in," Mom said nicely. "My husband is in the den, go right in."
"This way guys," I said, leading the way.
I felt like I did when I was a little kid on Christmas! My guts were tingling and I was so nervous!
"Hello, boys," Dad said, standing.
They all shook hands as I introduced them.
"So, you want to drag my fourteen-year-old son off to a party with you older boys? Can I ask why?"
That question made me sweat. Two homosexuals were in my dad's den, planning on taking me to a party! And my parents had no idea that I was one, too!
"Well, he's a good guy. We talked during the swim lessons and became friends. He's got good taste in music, for sure. And besides all that, he's a ball player."
Chet shrugged and grinned.
"That he is. I understand you're on the school team?"
"Sure am. Both of us. And if Jer joins up, we'll be spending a lot of time together. Most of the team will be at the party tonight. He'll get to meet them and be one step ahead of the other freshman team members."
"That's an attractive proposition, indeed," Dad said with a nod. "Will there be any alcohol at this party?"
"Oh!" Chet exclaimed. "No, sir! I know it's popular with some to drink, but not us. Not the guys on the team. We'd be kicked off!"
"So what is this party for?"
"The last weekend before school, sir."
"I see. No drinking?"
"No, sir. Sodas. Promise," Howie said firmly.
"If you bring my son back drunk, I'll be having words with your parents," Dad said very seriously. "Possibly the police."
Boy, did I believe him!
"If we bring your son back drunk, you can beat us in the front yard," Chet said just as seriously.
"We have bats in the car, you can use one if you like," Howie added with a grin.
Dad laughed. I could have fainted.
"Fine, just have him back by ten."
"No problem, sir."
And with that, I was off to my first high school party, and I wasn't even a freshman yet!
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