Journey to Love
edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
Preface warnings apply.
Levi said he would help with supper and told me I should visit with Jeremy. Jeremy and I talked in generalities about school. He was swimming, but got little chance to actually compete. “Honestly, I know I am better than some who do, but like in everything else, rank plays a role. You’re still diving? Still number one?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. “I have competed and done okay in past meets.”
Levi overheard me and said, “Yeah, the guy actually did miss coming in number one for our team once. Joker tripped on an electrical cord and turned an ankle. Kept him out of the next day’s meet.”
“You know that’s how he ended up swimming and diving, I guess,” Jeremy said.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Brad, Sam, it’s your story.” Brad and Sam, with help from DeAngelo, told the story of my ‘Road from Buffalo Gap’ experience and how it transformed me into a fish. The telling was a lot funnier than I remembered it was in actuality, to say the least!
In spite of DeAngelo’s news, supper was light-hearted. Jeremy was definitely enjoying himself. As Brad served dessert--Sam’s special apple pie with ice cream--Jeremy suddenly got very serious and asked, “Guys, I’m part of this family, right?”
“Of course,” Brad answered. “You know that.”
“Does that mean the kitchen table is part mine?”
“It’s for anyone who needs it,” Sam said.
“Can we talk after dessert?”
“We can, of course,” Brad said. “And by the way, Levi knows the table and table rules.”
As always, the request was registered and would be followed up on, but was not mentioned again during the remainder of the meal. We did talk about our visit with Mr. Manning. “Love that man,” Jeremy said. “You don’t know how many times I wished he was not only teaching a class, but was around to talk to while I was at the Academy. I’ve talked to a chaplain and liked him very much. He was very helpful when I was having a problem with having kissed Derek, but he was not Mr. Manning. Maybe I can get out to see him before I have to go back.”
We decided we were on break and if we couldn’t get to sleep right away, we’d sleep late in the morning, so I made coffee while the rest cleared the table. Brad and Sam had coffee after supper every night and it never seemed to bother their sleeping. DeAngelo asked to be excused and Brad said, “Of course,” and he went upstairs. With the table cleared except for the cups of coffee, we all sat down and the floor was Jeremy’s.
“Dads, I know I’ll talk more to Derek and maybe DeAngelo and Levi, but I really need help from someone older as well. I have a major problem, well, two problems or a problem with two sides. I guess Dad told you I was going home with a woman and she is coming here for New Years. Derek, that was the surprise I was talking about. Well, at this point she is still coming, but I’m not sure what will happen. Let me back up.
“Deborah and I met in an ad hoc study group. Plebes are discouraged from dating and I wasn’t very interested at first, but we became very good friends and then kinda dated. Things got really serious and we even talked about getting married after the Academy. She, as I, is from a long-line military family. At first I thought she was at the Academy because her family had no sons and someone had to carry on the family tradition. I discovered when I was at her place that her family was not exactly gung-ho about women at the Academy. She is one hundred percent hell-bent on becoming an officer in the US Army and serving until she dies or is put out to pasture.
“Had she not been from a military family, I could see how she could have some illusions about military life, but she has been dragged from post to post as I was. She knew she had had to go for months without seeing her father and it would be the same for her and her husband and children if there were any. Her life, since she could remember, was all about getting to Academy. Now that she’s there, she is like a pig in mud.
“There’s that side of the issue. The other side is that I really do love the woman. She is beautiful, smart, witty and just plain fun to be with. I miss her like crazy already. So, just say that if I knew I had to spend the rest of my life with her, I’d like that so far as our being together and in love is concerned.
“Finally, and I talked with Dad and Derek about this last summer, the Academy was never my dream. In my mind, Dad wanted me in the military. As I said, our family has been a military one forever and none of my siblings made the military their career. I felt that I would be a terrible disappointment to Dad if I didn’t. If I was going to be in the military, then I too was hell-bent on being an officer and knew that an Academy officer had advantages others didn’t. Being a bit on the hard-headed side, I put a lot of effort into making an appointment to the Academy happen.
“Then, last year, I said something which made Dad question my choice of careers and he said if I was doing it because I thought he wanted me to, I needed to rethink the question. Since I had already received my appointment, he suggested I try it for a year and then decide. Well, I guess I’ll finish the year because, as I said, I am a bit hard-headed, but I don’t think I’ll be back next year.
“Kinda got your ass in a crack seems as though,” Brad said.
“Yeah,” Jeremy sighed.
“Jeremy, you cannot make a decision for Deborah, so you have to focus on Jeremy. You can, however, have some idea of her reaction to your decisions,” Sam, the analytical dad, said.
“Jeremy, you haven’t said what you feel about the Academy itself. How is that experience?” Brad, the feeling dad, asked.
“Brad, you know me. I said I am a bit hard-headed, and, well, a part of that is that I am pretty determined when I set out to do something. To be honest, when it is required, I am disciplined. Unlike the dads of a lot of the kids in the military, my dad demands disciplined behavior, but he’s sensible. For example, he expected my room to be kept in order and that meant my bed made, but he never tried to bounce a quarter on it. Discipline was for a purpose, not for its own sake. Much of Academy is, to me, pointless. The instructors are good, the classes hard, but doable, but I can find that elsewhere. Tradition is great in its place, but when it becomes a drag on getting on with life, it’s time for it to go. I’m just talking, Brad, there’s a lot of good things about the Point and for some people it is wonderful. To be brutally honest, I hate it. The thought of going back gives me a gut ache.”
“What about a military career?” Sam asked. “I know you admire your dad, so do I. I’m pleased that a man like him serves this country and the men and women in the military. I hold him and those like him in great honor and respect, but I could never be a military person. The life and the way I’m put together--even if I were straight--just wouldn’t work, but I’m not you, you’re you.”
“To be honest, I have spent a lot of time over the past four years trying to convince myself the military life was the one for me. For the past year, I have worked really hard at it. When I wake up in the middle of the night and can be completely honest with myself, a military career is my worst nightmare.”
“So your problem is . . . ?” I asked. “You hate Academy and a military career is your worst nightmare. So what’s the question?”
“Sounds kinda dumb put that way,” Jeremy grinned, then immediately became serious again. “My problem is I really, really do love Deborah and she loves Academy and her ultimate dream is a military career. To be honest, if she knew I was having this conversation, that would be the end of our relationship.”
“So you are willing to have a relationship based on a major deception, a false foundation?” I asked.
“Derek, you can be so brutally honest at times,” Jeremy said, with a weak smile.
“I try to be.”
Levi had been listening silently, but chose to speak up then. “Jeremy, you don’t know me nor I you, but I think I can tell you about relationships based on deception. In the middle of my freshman year, I met a guy I liked very much. We were not in love, but developed a great relationship; I guess it would compare pretty much with the one you have with Derek except with sex added.” Levi then told Jeremy about Edward and how their time together ended. “Jeremy, it never was a relationship; it was a lie. The relationship was between two guys who were in a monogamous fuck-buddy relationship; a relationship that, in fact, did not exist. A bit of an extreme example, but as much as you love Deborah, you cannot have the relationship she thinks you will have, a relationship between two people dedicated to each other and the US Army.”
“Man, you know how to cut through the crap to the heart of the matter. I don’t think I need any more talk about that. The question is, ‘What do I do now?’”
“I hope you don’t expect us to answer that for you,” Sam said.
“Maybe we can help you sort out the details, but you have to answer to yourself and for yourself, Jeremy,” Brad said.
“As much as I hate to think about it, there’s really no way I can go on with developing a relationship with Deborah. I guess I hoped she’d love me enough to give up a lifelong dream for me, but she won’t and I know it. Same as I am not willing to take on a life I hate because I love her.”
“Jeremy,” Derek said, “I just had to deal with finding out someone was not who I thought him to be. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done. Were I in Deborah’s shoes, I would be hurt and disappointed to learn that Jeremy is not who I thought he was, but I’d rather that happen than to come here expecting to meet my possible future in-laws and discover that my soldier boy was anything but. Would be best to do that in person, but that is out unless you fly to . . . ?”
“Idaho. Sorry, but I don’t think my wallet can stand the hit. I’ll phone her tonight and come clean. Also, I need to make a decision about the Academy. I have a free ride, but if I drop out, I’ll have to pay full freight somewhere else. That will be a big hit for Dad. I suppose I should drop out next semester and try for scholarships next year. Why does life have to be so complicated?”
“Welcome to the adult world, Jeremy,” Levi said.
“Think there might be room for me at OCU next year, Derek? Maybe even on the swim team?”
“What do you think, Levi? Think the swim team might be able to use a Academy dropout?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t seen the plebe swim. He as good as you?”
“Of course not! He’s a swimmer,” I replied.
“Obviously second rate then.”
“I’ll take it,” Jeremy laughed. It was obvious he felt a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders, but he still had to act on his decision or decisions.
“Sounds like we have done what we sat down to do,” Brad said. “Sam, why don’t we see just how good the boys are.”
“Brad, why not get some really excellent judges?” Sam asked.
“Splendid idea, Lover.” Brad whipped out his cell phone as he walked into the office. When he came back in a few minutes, he said, “It’s all arranged. Jeremy, I’m sure you have a pair of Speedos in Derek’s room somewhere. Levi, I know you have some, so let’s head for the pond in twenty minutes.”
The three of us went upstairs and I quickly found one of Jeremy’s Speedos. Jeremy was smaller than me in most respects, but packed a pair of Speedos well. “Nice package there, Jeremy, if you don’t mind my saying so,” Levi said.
“Look, but don’t touch,” Jeremy laughed. “I see you’re packing as well.”
“Never had any complaints,” Levi said.
“Say, who’s gay around here?” I asked, trying to sound confused.
“Not sure about Levi,” Jeremy said, “but the way you kiss a guy, I’d place money on you.”
“Say, who did the kissing?” Levi asked.
“See? You keep confusing us or are you confused?” I asked and laughed.
“Much as we might wish otherwise, we both know the answer to that, I’m afraid,” Jeremy said and didn’t laugh.
When we went downstairs, Brad and Sam were waiting for us and we piled in the jeep and headed for the pond. When we arrived, we quickly dived into the warm water and started swimming laps. After our third or fourth lap, Brad’s voice came over a speaker. “Swimmers, on your mark for a butterfly lap.” We swam four laps: butterfly, breast, back and freestyle. Levi’s and my times weren’t terrible, but not good either. Jeremy wasn’t in top form, but he sure finished ahead of us.
“Divers, prepare for your dives.” Brad called out the dives with the usual patter heard from the announcer at a competition. After each of us dived, he also called out our score from four judges. From observing Levi and Jeremy and hearing their scores, I knew these were not amateur judges and wondered where Brad had come up with them in less than half an hour. Had there been only two, I would have been almost certain it would have been Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik, but there were four and the scores didn’t sound like I would expect from my old coaches. One thing was for sure, Levi and Jeremy were my best friends, but they were not holding back on my account. At first I thought their competitive spirit came from trying to show me who was best, but they were going all out and pushing me hard.
“Last dive,” Brad called out. “Your choice.” Both Jeremy and Levi chose dives that I considered near the top of their ability. If executed well, Levi’s would put him several points ahead of me. I decided to go for broke and selected a dive I had managed to execute well a few times and completely flubbed more often.
I climbed to the seven-meter platform and decided I would make sure my dive was as near perfect as possible. It was! I nailed it! When Brad announced my score, I wished I had been in an official competition, but this one was also important to me. “Guys, you all did very well. Derek, you take took a great risk with that last dive, but it put you ahead. Levi you did well.” He laughed and said, “Jeremy, you’re an excellent swimmer. Get dressed and we’ll go back to the house. There will be people who want to meet you.”
Ten minutes later we walked into the house, where Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik grabbed me and Jeremy for hugs, then switched and hugged the other one. “It is so good to see you two in action again,” Ms. Bianchi said.
“Indeed it is,” Mr. Malik said, “and to be honest, I don’t think I have ever seen you perform as you did tonight. And you, Levi, you are good as well.”
“I assume the other two judges are friends of yours?” I asked.
“Indeed. Derek, Jeremy, Levi, these are Drs. Albert and Anita Reese, dive judges and coaches, he at James Monroe and she at Sweetwater. They came over to have a look at our high school group and for dinner. When Brad asked about Haresh and me coming over to judge an impromptu aquatics competition, we asked Al and Nita to come along and judge as well.”
“By the way, you’ll have to come up with some way of separating us since we both answer to Dr. Reese. Al and Nita are okay,” Dr. Anita said.
“Beautiful exhibition, guys. Derek, Jeremy how did Monroe and Sweetwater let you two slip though their fingers?” Dr. Al asked.
“Neither seemed very serious in talking with me,” I said. “That means they didn’t offer reasonable scholarships and I had no money. OCU came though with some money this year and more the next three.”
“I had an appointment to Academy so was out of the running,” Jeremy said.
“And you are at OCU with Derek?” Dr. Al asked Levi.
“I am. I’m a junior, so I have been diving there for two and a half years.”
“I don’t want to appear disrespectful or anything, but your talent--and yours as well, Derek--is far superior to the quality of the program at OCU,” Dr. Nita said.
“True, but a scholarship and the program I wanted were available at OCU. I think, however, you’ll not be able to make that statement in the next year or two thanks to Derek.”
“Levi,” I said in a warning tone of voice.
“How so?” Dr. Al asked with raised eyebrow.
“You are no doubt aware of the retirement of Coach Anderson and if you have kept up, you couldn’t help but have noticed the accomplishments of both the swim and dive teams after that retirement.” Levi then told the four, to my embarrassment, how I had brought about the change in the coaching staff.
“Guys, it’s not for publication, but Gianna has been approached about becoming assistant diving coach at OCU I’m urging her to take it and I’ll find a job in a high school in Norfolk or environs. What do you think?”
“Look, Jeremy and Derek can’t be very objective about that,” Levi said. “We all at least semi-worship high school coaches who helped us along. I, on the other hand, had never met Ms. Bianchi until a couple days ago, but I have seen her handiwork and yours as well, sir. Half the team still thinks Derek has been coached and diving since he was two days old. Sure he had natural talent, but he has also had some excellent coaching. Not only can she handle the job, but OCU would be damn lucky to get her. Frankly, they really need a swim coach as well and while Derek is a better diver than swimmer, he’s not bad at swimming.”
“How long have you been diving, Derek?” Dr. Al asked.
“Just over three years. Same with swimming.”
“That’s hard to believe,” Dr. Nita said.
“Just over three years ago, Brad and I took Derek and his brother--who is at Monroe--to the pond and gave them their first swimming lesson,” Sam said. “They could barely manage a dog paddle.”
The talk continued to my increasing embarrassment until Brad finally said, “Son, we are proud of you and think we have bragging rights, but I guess we’re overdoing it.”
Finally the four coaches left and Jeremy said he needed to go home and talk with his dad and call Deborah. It seemed very late, but it was just a few minutes after eight when he left. Shortly after he left, Sam said, “It’s been one of those days, Babe, and I think I need some cuddling.” The two said goodnight to us and left the room, arm in arm, exchanging kisses as they headed upstairs.
Earlier Brad had asked if we had seen the movie, Brick, and neither of us had. He had the DVD and I popped it in the player, lowered the screen and projector and we snuggled together and watched it. We got so involved in the movie that there was no making out until the credits rolled. “I bet the bed is better than the back seat of a convertible,” Levi whispered in my ear after sticking his tongue in it.
“I guess we could find out,” I responded and kissed him. I raised the screen and projector and we went upstairs. An hour later I could report without fear of contradiction that a bed is better than the back seat of a convertible and that sixty-nine is more than a number.
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