Journey to Love
edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
Preface warnings apply.
As we were sitting down to breakfast at 7:30, Mom called to tell me I needn’t come by to take her to the hospital. “Hospice will be bringing equipment for Mama’s care any minute now. As soon as they have everything set up, they will call and an ambulance will bring Mama home for her last days. Maybe you can get by later,” she said.
“Mom, I know Granny will be exhausted by the time she is home and settled. I figure I would just be in the way until hospice gets her settled in. Levi and I will go by the Center and come by your place later.”
“That’s good. I can hardly wait to see you. Oh! Hospice is here. See you later then.”
DeAngelo was going to Harrisonville to see someone and said he’d be back late. He didn’t say so, but it was pretty obvious he was going to a party later. I asked if he didn’t want to see Granny sometime today as Mom was pretty sure she was near her life’s end. He said he’d see her when he got back.
Brad decided he’d ride to the Center with us although he didn’t work weekends anymore. I guess he wanted to give us a guided tour of all the changes. He’d take us out to lunch if we were free then.
When we reached the Center, he showed us around and I was surprised at the improvements that had been made. The biggest change was the elimination of a basketball court to add rooms for the martial arts. “The interest in this has been amazing. It’s now one of our most popular activities. Monday through Friday there are school teams here for instruction. To keep it simple so far as transportation is concerned, the Center has a bus at one of the five high schools each afternoon to transport high school students from that school and it’s feeder middle and elementary schools. Parents are responsible for getting middle school and elementary school students to and from the high school. It’s working great. Sergeant Major did some checking and found other retired military types with martial arts training who jumped at the chance to volunteer to be instructors. We have eleven with Sergeant Major and they now have fifteen school groups. Some of the volunteers are also taking private students for pay.
“Haresh and Gianna should be working with the aquatics team by now. They have a big tournament two days after Christmas in Richmond,” Brad said as we finished the tour. “Why don’t your two check with them? They may want you to demonstrate some dives for them.”
As soon as Levi and I walked into the pool area, Ms. Bianchi grabbed me in an embrace and actually squealed like a teenage girl. “Derek! Derek, we didn’t think you would be home! It is so good to see you!”
When she finally released me, Mr. Malik grabbed me in a bear hug and said, “Derek, our favorite diver and alumnus. So good to see you, but why are you still in street clothes? But I am being rude. You have a friend with you?”
“Ms. Bianchi, Mr. Malik, Levi Epstein, fellow diver and best friend. Levi, my swim and dive coaches, Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik.”
The two shook hands with Levi and as they did he said, “Derek claims he’s been swimming and diving less than four years. If you can turn a non-swimmer into someone who dives like Derek in that time, you should be training divers for the Olympics.”
“If we had recruits like Derek, we’d take the job. Unfortunately, Derek is some kind of genetic mutation, I think,” Mr. Malik laughed.
“I agree,” Ms. Bianchi said. “I think when fish got the call to climb out of the sea and become humans, Derek missed the call and thought land was a temporary arrangement and has been aching for it to be over. So Levi, you are also a swimmer.”
“Actually, I’m not much of a swimmer. When we have a swimmer sick or something, I follow the team manager on the roster of substitutes,” he chuckled. “No, Ma’am, I am not much of a swimmer and, to be honest, compared to Derek, only a so-so diver.”
“Don’t let him pull your leg, Ms Bianchi. Levi is certainly as good as I am.”
“How about letting us decide that?” Mr. Malik challenged. “Bring your Speedos?”
“Of course,” I laughed. “We practically keep them in our back pocket.”
“Then how about a demonstration for the divers on the Center team. I hope you’ll do a dive or two from the seven meter platform.”
“Sure thing,” I answered.
“We tried out the platforms at Grace House last night,” Levi added. “Derek is fortunate to have such a setup when he’s home.”
“We’re fortunate to be on the list of those invited to use it,” Mr. Malik said. “Now get your clothes off and Speedos on.”
Ten minutes later, we returned to the pool area in our Speedos. Levi and I had always been team members and never had actually competed against each other, but now Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik had issued a direct challenge. The competitive spirit which came into play when we were diving against another team was focused on our best friend. Me hold back because Levi was my best friend? You have to be kidding!
We both were not only focused, but also diving very, very well. Everyone has good days and not so good days in most of what they do. For both of us, this was a good day. The Center dive and swim team members watching were cheering us on and that didn’t hurt. After we each finished our seventh dive, we called it quits to cheers and applause from the observers.
“I see you haven’t lost it, Derek, and Levi, I would be hard pressed to rank you below Derek. I can see OCU going somewhere the next two or three years. We never had anyone close to as good as you guys when I was there,” Ms. Bianchi said.
We showered, dressed and as we walked out to say goodbye to the two coaches, I asked Levi if he wanted to stay since I was going to see Granny Lotz who was dying. “That’s something for you to decide. If you want to go alone, then I will stay here. If you want me with you, I’ll go with you. It’s a very personal decision, Derek, one only you can make.”
“Levi, will you please come with me? I don’t expect you to stay. After you’ve met Mom, you can take the car and come back to the Center or investigate the countryside. I’ll call when you need to come back for me. That okay?”
“Of course it is, Derek.”
Granny Lotz had always been a tiny woman; now she was nothing more than skin and bones. I had to look carefully to make sure she was breathing when I walked into the room where she lay in a hospital bed. Mom was sitting beside the bed facing the door. When I walked in, she got up and ran to meet me and said in a rush, “Derek, my baby, it is so good to see you. You look wonderful. I guess you grew up while I wasn’t looking. Baby, you are a grownup man, a very handsome grownup man. I am a bit prejudiced, but I can tell that’s not just in this mama’s eyes.”
I hugged her again and said, “Mom, this is Levi, my best friend. Levi, my mom.”
“Don’t you agree, Levi, that my baby is a grownup and a handsome young man?”
“I do indeed, Mrs. Wilson.”
“You’re not bad yourself,” she chuckled, “even if you are a white boy.”
Holding Levi’s hand, I walked over to the bed, took Granny’s tiny hand in mine, leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Granny Lotz, it’s Derek.”
I had expected no reaction from her at all, but she opened her eyes, smiled and said, “Derek, I knew you’d come before I left. Who’s the young man standing beside you?”
“He’s Levi, my best friend.”
“Is he the one?”
I didn’t know what to say. How did Granny know I was gay? How could I not answer a dying woman and at the same time, how could I out myself to my mom. I finally decided to just tell the truth and hope Granny Lotz understood and Mom didn’t. “I don’t know, Granny. I don’t know.”
Granny Lotz smiled and said, “Derek, you know I know some things before they happen, but I’m just like you, I don’t know. I do know that you will know, really know, so don’t take any shortcuts. Same for you, Levi. You’ll know and it won’t be too long before you do. Thanks for coming, both of you. I’ve been waiting for you, Derek.” With that, Grandma closed her eyes, sighed and didn’t take another breath.
The hospice caregiver arrived just as Granny Lotz breathed her last and immediately set in motion the plans Granny had made. The first big surprise was the fact that her funeral was to be the third day after her death. “Seven days hanging around a corpse is too much. Three days is too much, but I guess that’ll have to do.” She had made all the arrangements with the undertakers, the church and all else who had to be involved.
The day following Granny’s death, I asked Levi about church. I knew, of course, he was Jewish and I had neglected to ask him about attending House of Israel and apologized for that. He replied that he was an adult and could have asked had he been inclined. “And before you decide you’ll not go to church, that is a decision for you to make. I’ll not go with you, but I certainly don’t want to be the reason you decide not to.”
“Thanks,” I responded. “Church has been an important part of my life with my dads, but I would have passed it by.”
There was something very comforting about sitting in the pew with my dads. I had missed that and participation in the Eucharist very much. DeAngelo was not with us. We had not seen hide nor hair of him since he left Saturday morning. He didn’t show up until the day of Granny’s funeral.
The funeral was not the all-day affair everyone anticipated. It was all over in a couple of hours and that included the graveside service and returning to the cemetery after the grave was filled. Granny Lotz had made a list of people to be invited to a celebration the evening following her funeral. It was quite a distinguished list, very diverse, and it brought people together who would not have been in the same room otherwise. Much healing began at that event, healing that continued in the months and years that followed.
After the party celebrating Granny’s life, DeAngelo disappeared again and didn’t show up until he came in early Wednesday looking a wreck and reeking of sex. He stripped and tossed his dirty clothes at the washing machine and staggered upstairs to bed. I picked up his stinking clothes and found his boxers stiff with dried cum. He had come all over himself and from the looks of it, several times. Sam brought something for the washer and saw the boxers as well. He was not happy.
After supper Wednesday, the dads said it was time we talked about school. We stayed at the kitchen table and Brad made a point of asking Levi to stay to provide an outsider's perspective. “As your guardians, we get your grades at the end of the semester.” As he said that, he tossed two unopened envelopes on the table.. “However, rather than open these and read about it, we’d rather hear your report about how you did from each of you. How was the first semester? Derek, for you, it was your first semester in college. Maybe we should start with you. How were your classes and how are your grades?”
“What was definitely an unfortunate incident in my adviser’s life turned out to be a real blessing in mine,” I said, and told how Louis had become my adviser/big brother. “My classes were the best offered, thanks to Louis. That didn't mean some weren’t pretty tough. . . . ”
“Intro to Science immediately comes to mind,” Levi interjected.
“Yeah, especially Intro to Science, but our study group all did well in the course. The rest of my classes were difficult, but interesting for the most part. In most of them we’d formed a study group, at least before exams, and all the group members did better because of it. I made an A in all my courses except Intro. I made a B+ in it. I thought since I am leaning toward science it would be a snap, but it’s more a course in the development of scientific thought, more philosophy, than science.”
“Great, Derek. We’re very proud you. How about diving? Is it going well?” Brad asked.
“Very well,” Levi answered, “especially after Derek decided he and most of the team had taken enough abuse from the coach.”
“Derek just wrote that the head aquatics coach had retired. Derek had something to do with that?” Sam asked.
“Not really,” I said.
“Really,” Levi said and proceeded to tell the whole story. “The whole team--well, with the exception of the pets who were responsible for it all, were very proud to be on a team with Derek.
“And living off campus and with Auntie?” Brad asked.
“Take it from me, life on campus is hardly a plus from any perspective. I had a roommate who was happy living in a pigsty, others have roommates who are in college to party. No, living off campus is great, especially if you are a serious student,” Levi said.
“It’s also good if you are not a serious student,” DeAngelo said.
“Next semester?” Sam asked.
“Louis really loaded me down. He had me sign up for composition first thing so I’d get a good professor. He says the one I’ll have is 'interested in teaching people how to write rather than having masses of words and page after page of bullshit.' She was my lit professor this semester. I’m getting back into Spanish. I’m sure I have forgotten all I learned in high school since I didn’t have it last semester.”
“Forgetting what you learned in high school is not always bad. I had a good high school teacher, but I remember a lot of students who spent as much time unlearning what they had been taught--incorrectly--as learning correct Spanish,” Brad said.
“Same for me,” Levi said. “Maybe I can be a help,” he continued. “I’m fluent in Spanish so we can speak as much as you like when we are home.”
“That’ll be great! I’m taking my next sequence in math, an introductory course in chemistry and the second semester of biology.”
“That’s a major load, son, you sure you want to take on that much and diving as well?” Sam asked.
“I think so. Our diving schedule is pretty light after mid-semester, so I thought I’d get a jump start on my science then. If the load proves too much, I’ll drop something. But now I know Levi will help me with Spanish, and of course the math study group will continue. Math is pretty easy for me anyway. I figure I’ll get into a biology and a chemistry study group. So I don’t think the load will be excessive.”
“Any thoughts about a major?”
“I’ve been talking to some people in biology who are doing pre-med. The more I talk with them and the more I think about it, the closer I come to deciding to do pre-med.”
“Son, there is also the responsibility for Auntie to take into consideration,” Brad said.
“That takes very little of my time, and actually, she does much for me as well. For example, I put the laundry in the machine, but she puts it in the dryer and then takes it out and folds or hangs it.”
Levi laughed, “She doesn’t stop there. Derek is the only guy on campus with ironed clothes--not all, of course, but Auntie can’t abide wrinkles in some things.”
“The members of the study groups help out. They help keep up the yards and house, and transport Auntie when she needs to go somewhere and I can’t take her,” I said.
“Brad, Sam, Derek makes sure Auntie’s needs are taken care of, but we all look on her as our Auntie as well,” Levi said. “Her house is open to us, she often feeds us, she makes sure there are real snacks available for the study groups, so we do what we can in return. In short, Derek is right, care of Auntie is a major responsibility which he takes seriously, but one shared among many.”
“Levi, you know Derek in his college setting. What do you think of his proposed load? Can he handle it without becoming a hermit?” Brad asked.
“No chance of the latter given his friends. The former? Sure he can handle it. It’ll be tough, but by the end of his freshman year, he should have a very clear idea of whether or not he wants to do pre-med.”
“But he’ll have no social life,” DeAngelo piped up after having been mostly silent.
“Depends on what you mean by social life, Big Bro. If you mean getting drunk every night or even two or three nights a week, you can, to be sure, count me out. That’s no fun in my book. Kicking back and having a few? We’ll likely do that more often after study groups than we did first semester. Having parties? I think we’ll have more to celebrate things, but again, it’ll be pretty tame as college parties go, not because I am too busy or a mama’s boy, but because a party for party’s sake is pretty boring to me. Running around fucking every guy who’s willing? Not interested. I guess I’m just an up-tight, old-fashioned Stanton boy. Besides, two guys I love very much have tried that and neither recommends it,” I said, glancing at Levi and Sam. Both gave a thumbs up to that.
“Levi, we can’t keep an eye on our baby boy, so if you see he’s overworking, let us know, okay?”
“I sure will,” Levi responded.
“Levi, I apologize, but something pushed my daddy button. Something which has me a little concerned,” Brad said. “You said Auntie asked if you two had fucked and I guess you didn’t lie to Auntie when you said you hadn’t. Just now, I think, you indicated that you had, pardon my bluntness, fucked around a lot.” Levi nodded. “So, you didn’t fuck, but are you boyfriends?”
“Sam, Derek and I are very good friends,” Levi said. “We are close and love each other as brothers, but we are not in love--at least not now. Will we fall in love? Who knows? Until we are in love, I’m sure we’ll enjoy playing around, may go so far as what some would call sex, but I want you to know I will never go further than Derek is willing and wants to go. And Derek knows I am more experienced than he is.
“I went kinda wild--hell, I went slut wild--my first semester in college, then lived with a guy for two semesters. We weren’t in love, but had good and frequent sex and, I thought, were headed toward love and a real relationship, but, well, his whole life was a lie.” Levi then told them what had happened and ended by saying, “It comes as no surprise, I’m sure, that everyone who knows Derek feels they know his dads. Some time ago I told a group of our friends, ‘I want the kind of loving relationship Derek’s dads have and I’m willing to wait for it.’ I meant that.
“Again, no doubt we’ll engage in some sexual play and enjoy it. To be honest, most college students--gay or straight--do not consider oral sex to be real sex. I know guys who have a dick in their mouth every chance they get who call themselves virgins. I don’t think Derek would agree and anyway, I’m not a virgin any way you want to define it. Derek will set the bounds and I will live with them and I am willing to wait until I can commit myself completely to someone who can do the same before I cross the final line again.”
“Not romantic, but necessary to ask--have you been tested, Levi?”
“Damn right! Even though I was ready to abandon condoms with the guy I was living with--his name was Edward--we never had sex without one. Nonetheless, when he turned up HIV+, I got tested immediately and have been every three months since just to be sure. I got another negative report last week, the last test I’ll need so far as any thing to do with Edward is concerned.” Levi took his wallet from his pocket and handed a coded report with the code stapled to it to the dads.
“That isn’t necessary, Levi, but we appreciate it,” Sam said as he passed the report to Brad.
“Not only because of any potential danger, but from my semester of fucking and being fucked by anyone who attracted me, well, any gay guy, I learned a very important lesson about one night stands: at whatever level our sex together is, we will be monogamous,” Levi said.
I said, “I guess it is also a decision I made, but I don’t remember making it. It just seemed to me sex, love and respect go together and I simply couldn’t imagine fucking or being fucked first by this guy and then the next. It could change, of course, but at this point I have to be damn sure I am in love with a guy before we take the ultimate plunge.”
“Sounds good, but I think you’re playing up to the dads with talk about being monogamous,” DeAngelo said. “I know gay guys fuck like rabbits all the time. I mean I’m horny twenty-four seven like every man and fuck every chance I get, which fortunately, is often. I know if women were as horny as men, everybody would spend most of the time fucking. Two gay men monogamous? Bullshit! They fuck like bunnies and spread AIDS.”
I jumped up, ready to slug my big brother. “You fucking, stinking asshole! From your own macho bragging, you’d fuck a snake if it would hold still enough, DeAngelo.” I said and asked, “You always use a condom?”
“Yeah, well, almost always. I mean sometimes she’s ready and I’m not prepared.”
“You dumb ass!” Brad shouted. “And when was the last time you were tested? Shit! Dammit, DeAngelo you know better than to go bareback.”
“Hey, Dad, I’m not gay. Why would I need to be tested?”
Sam shot out of his chair, grabbed Brad and said, “Calm down, Babe. DeAngelo take a walk. Don’t come back for half an hour.”
“I don’t need to take a fucking walk. It’s dark and cold.”
“DeAngelo, go,” Sam said, “Now!”
Levi and I each grabbed one of DeAngelo’s arms and practically dragged him out of the house and into the garage. He was bigger, stronger and weighed more than either Levi or me, but I think it must have sunk in that he was in serious shit because I had little trouble getting him in the back seat of the jeep. I tossed Levi the keys, hopped in and pointed him to the cattle gate. The grass was beaten down enough that he could make out the trail as we drove to the pond.
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Dads know I fuck as often as I can. I had a steady for a couple months, but she didn’t like it when she found out a couple of her suite mates wanted me to do a three-some with them and I did. Fuck, what’s the dads’ problem?
“Sam’s problem is Brad was about to kill you. You’ve seen Brad when he looses control of his anger. He usually uses his tongue and soon goes into that ice cold anger mode of his, but tonight, he lost it,” I said.
“DeAngelo, I am not as hot tempered as Brad, I have practically no relationship with you and don’t really see you as a friend, much less as a brother since we have just met. That being said, I was ready to bust you one myself. First of all, HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease. Sure it spread first among gay men and they were a majority of the early victims, but you know who are most often the victims today? Heterosexuals around your age. And you know what? The last time I looked, African-Americans lead the group. I could just as well say, ‘Hell, DeAngelo, I don’t need to use a condom. I’m white and gay,’ as what you said. Second, you brag about how many women you fuck and you are a potential threat to every one of them. When they fuck you, they are essentially fucking every woman you have ever fucked and you are fucking every man they have ever fucked. You fuck a woman who has only been with two other guys and the guys have only been with two other women and you are the same as fucking ten women and four guys so far as your potential for disease is concerned, but hell, you fuck half a dozen women a week and they, obviously, are fucking around. It is the same as you having fucked a few hundred women and men when you’ve fucked that many and any one of them could infect you with several STDs and that includes AIDS.”
Levi paused and I took over. “Basically, DeAngelo, what Levi is too nice to say is you are an inconsiderate, self-centered, ignorant, arrogant, stupid slut. Damn, Big Bro, I thought you were a better man than that. Your goddamn slut period may well carry a death sentence for you and heaven knows how many others. You need to sleep on that, if you can sleep with yourself. ‘She’s ready and I’m not prepared’ and you’re not man enough to just jerk off! Fuck you!” We had reached the pond and I hopped out, stripped on my way to the water and dived in and swam away before I punched DeAngelo. I was crying because my hero had just turned out to be a self-centered son of a bitch it seemed and it hurt.
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