Life In A Northern Town

By Dabeagle

Chapter Five

Murmuring from upstairs could be heard as I made my way back inside, still feeling Nick's kiss and Randy's uncharacteristic hug. John was in the kitchen, washing a few orphan glasses that had accumulated in the sink. I stopped short for a moment, not quite daring to look at him lest he take my words as a sign of weakness or that I had given up.

"Thanks, John." I said before heading out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Joe was coming out of the bathroom as I crested the stairs, only now he looked at me differently, and I can't say whether or not I liked the look he fixed me with. It was one of familiarity, and yet one that you might fix a stranger with. Or a stray dog. One you aren't quite sure will bite.

"So, ah, I guess you're family, huh?" he asked with a crooked grin. I looked back with what must have been a puzzled expression.

"Family," he repeated, "We're on the same team, gay, queer, poofter, fag, bent," he said with a ridiculous twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face like it was the best news he'd had all day.

"Firstly," I began as I mounted the stairs, "I told you at dinner your sexuality is your business not, mine, so that goes both ways. Second, spying on people from your window is despicable, not to mention in poor taste," Joe’s face continued to sag in surprise as I moved into the doorway of my room, "and thirdly, if this was some attempt at making friends, you may want to reconsider your approach. It sucks," I said as I ducked into my room. I was tempted to add that there was no pun intended, but that would have knocked the credibility out of my dressing him down.

It wasn't that I didn't want to know others like me. But I also didn't want to be “out” everywhere. I didn't want him to think he could just say shit like that, and if I let him start that here, it wouldn't take long for him to slip and do it somewhere else.

I sat on the unfamiliar bed and chewed my lower lip, once again drawn back to Nick and Randy. I was right in the middle of reliving my kiss, my first real kiss, when Joe cleared his throat from my still-open doorway. I looked at him, face flushing with embarrassment and anger when he spoke.

"Before you go all queen bitch on me again, just ask yourself how many other gays you know, and do you want to be at war with them?" he approached me, stopping well short of the bed, but still close enough to lower his voice.

"Granted, it isn't any of my business, but I'd rather have a gay friend than another enemy. Unless you're going to continue to be an asshole, then we can part here and not speak about it anymore."

I tried to bite down on my anger, I felt totally justified in exploding, but there was a ring of truth in his words no matter how bitter a pill that might be at the moment.

"Look, I don't want the world to know," I began.

"I don't care if they do find out about me, I don't advertise. But if someone asks, I won't deny it either. If you want the truth, no one outside this house knows. But I keep thinking about this shirt I have. The one you heard about at dinner. And I keep wondering what it might feel like to just not hide at all.

"I'm not ashamed of who I am, or who I love or even what gets me off. But I do resent people who just make a snap judgment about me. If you're worried about you, don't. I guess we all come out in our own time."

My jaw was open at this point, both in amazement and outright shock. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever have such a conversation, let alone be running in fear from another individual that might understand what I feel.

"I...I'm sorry, Joe," I began, "I know that's lame, but you have to accept that I am not you. I am not ready to do things the way you are thinking about doing them. I just don't think I can handle it right now." I looked at him earnestly.

"Hey, that's cool," he said with a grin and took a seat next to me on the bed, "So, listen though, let's at least talk a little, huh?"

"Um, about what?" I asked, squirming in spite of myself.

"Like, how long have you and Nick been dating for one?" he asked with a devilish grin.

"Oh," I replied, cheeks going red, "Uh, well, we aren't officially, I don't think. That was my first kiss. Our first kiss," I amended.

"But you knew he liked you before tonight, right?" he asked with a glow in his eyes.

"Well, sort of. I mean, we just found out about each other last night. See, my mom is a little off, she has a real problem with..." I fell silent as he sat next to me.

"Fag? Queer? You should say these things, then maybe you wouldn't be afraid of what the words mean. Homosexual is not a four letter word, you know."

"It's all a little new to me. I have been in love with Nick for about six months. I couldn't take being around him ‘cause I was sure he'd hate me for wanting him, for being so irreversibly in love." I hesitated, drawing in a deep breath, "but last night I found out he has the same feelings. He thought I didn't like him, and that was why he thought I was avoiding him. Truth was, it hurt too much to be so close to him and not be able to hold him, to touch him in any way except incidental. It was like being teased, having water in a pool but being unable to drink, or starving, but the cupboards are bare."

"If you're hungry, you should have tried the fridge," Joe remarked.


"I know that sounds like I am just being a smartass, which I am usually, but in fact it's like the old axiom of a door closing means another opens, or a window opens or some such shit. Point is, you thought one thing and so that door was closed to you, from your point of view, when in fact all you had to do was see that the door was, in fact, open to you all along," Joe fell silent and I brooded on his words.

"So listen," Joe said suddenly, "Tell me about Randy."

"What are you two up to?" John's voice floated in from the doorway.

"Who says we are up to something?" Joe replied almost reflexively.

"Boys are always up to something. It's axiomatic," John replied with a stern look that was spoiled by the grin lurking just beneath the surface.

"Come on, lights out in ten, you guys have school in the AM."

"This conversation isn't over," Joe grinned wickedly as he headed for the door, “and by the way, I wasn’t spying from my window. Scott was. He just told me, trying to make up for outing me at dinner, you know?” he grinned.

I lay back on my bed, reeling from the day’s events. I thought hard about all that I had just discussed with Joe, someone who knew what I was, and moreover I knew what he was as well. I wondered about that for a moment, trying to decide how I felt about that little piece of information. Honestly? I wasn't sure, it was definitely a mixed emotion. On the one hand I was exhilarated that I had someone I could talk to NOW. On the other hand, there was the fact that I really didn't know Joe or what might he say. Even if he meant no harm? Had I just made a huge mistake? Or had I stumbled onto a great confidant?

My head swirled with the thoughts, and finally I decided to try and recapture that first kiss, all the magic and, what I would later learn, the mark by which all future kisses would be judged. That kiss had been so sweet, so full of love and passion...I was getting seriously aroused, and allowed my hand to drop down under the sheets and past the waistband of my underwear.

"Dude, you still awake?"

I groaned.

"What? I told you this conversation wasn't over!" Joe said with a wicked grin as he sat on the edge of my bed in the darkness.

"What else did you want to talk about?" I asked. Knowing full well all he wanted to talk about was Randy and how he might get into his pants.

"Well, you've been friends with Randy for such a long time, I was wondering how much you know about his, um, sex life."

"He's straight, Joe."

"He's not even a little Bi?" he asked with a little whine in his voice.

I was a little torn here, I understood where Joe was coming from, and as I mentioned before things never seemed to work for more than a week with any girl Randy had ever met. But how would Randy feel about me just passing this information out? It wasn't concrete proof by any means, but Joe looked positively predatory when he said Randy's name, so would I be doing Randy any favors by saying anything?

"Dude, come on! Does he maybe have some Bi tendencies?"

"Not that I ever saw," I replied, which was true. He never looked at another guy as far as I knew.

"Damn. All the gorgeous ones are straight," Joe sighed.

“You, Joseph, are supposed to be in bed," John said from the hallway. I wonder how much he heard? Joe had jumped up and exited the room and left me to my thoughts, which quickly returned to my first kiss and that happy thought took me off to sleep.

John made breakfast in the morning, a huge one. Eggs, toast, bacon, sausage and pancakes. Mom never cooked like this, and when she did cook you usually ended up wishing she hadn’t. Dad was the chef in the family, usually cooking after he returned home from work at night, and Sunday morning breakfasts were a real event. We’d get stuffed and sit around reading the Sunday paper, maybe watch a little football if it was in season.

“Can I have the syrup, please?” Scott asked Joe, who tossed the bottle to Scott, who mumbled his thanks around a mouthful of eggs. I sat next to Scott, where there was an empty place setting, and glanced about at all the food.

“Eat up, Adam. These guys have to go to school, then we get to go do your clothes shopping and pick up some groceries,” John said offhandedly as he sat down at the head of the table with his plate.

I spooned some eggs onto my plate and added a few strips of bacon. John poured orange juice from a jug, then offered it to me, which I accepted.

“So, you guys bond last night?” John asked absently. I reddened but Joe rose to the challenge.

“Yeah, if you hadn’t bugged us I might’ve gotten laid too,” he grinned impudently.

I choked on my eggs.

“Now there’s two of you? Jeez, no staring at my ass!” Scott laughed while I glowered at Joe.

“Joe, I AM trying to eat here. Your non-existent sex life can wait to be discussed until later,” John said pointedly. Scott tried to cover his mouth as he laughed, but he was soon braying at Joe’s now-reddening face.

“At least I am young enough to think about getting laid,” Joe finally shot back.

“Joe, don’t be so uptight. Besides, I might have to hurt you if you try and knock my age,” John said with a smile.

“Whatever,” Joe replied as he turned to the scraps remaining on his plate. I quietly resumed eating, hoping to avoid anymore conversation. Scott and Joe headed out the door to school a few minutes later, and then John and I climbed into his little truck. We headed up farther north in to the ‘Burgh and then turned up to head back into the town of Brunswick and Wal-Mart.

The store was pretty new, and even if they weren’t fashionable name brands, they were new and they would fit. John forbade me getting pants that were bigger than my proper waist size, and I disagreed with him on general principle, but I didn’t want any of those pants anyway. After some clothes shopping and a few groceries we were headed back to the house, where the items purchased were put away.

“I hope Joe isn’t too in your face,” John threw out as an opening.

“He’s OK, a little high strung maybe,” I replied.

“Well, his folks didn’t take to his coming out too well. He and his dad fought some, made it tough. Of course, coming out is hard for a lot of people,” John said in a speculative tone. He was trying to draw me out, maybe get me to talk about this whole gay thing. Well, I wasn’t going to. Not with this guy who I didn’t know at all.

“Anyway,” John continued, “he’s done pretty well since we got him here, going on six months now,” he sighed. I sat mutely as he placed the few remaining items in the cupboards and then moved to the fridge for a drink.

“Want something?” he asked.

“No thanks,” I replied.

“So, you and your mom been having problems for a little while?” he asked. I snorted, who did he think he was? My shrink?

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he replied dourly.

“Take it any way you want,” I replied.

“Just offering an ear, man,” he shrugged.

“I talk to Randy and Nick, I love them and they love me,” I bit my lip in frustration, not sure where that outburst had come from.

“Love is a strong word. Which one gave you the kiss?” he asked from behind his raised glass. I sat dumb-founded. Did everyone watch my every move? I had no idea my first kiss would be a public event! Maybe I should have called a news crew and fewer people would have seen it!

“Secrets aren’t something that is easy to keep in this house. The one thing I can say though, is that the boys WILL keep it in the house,” he smiled benignly at me as he took a seat at the breakfast nook I had noticed in the kitchen the night before.

“Why is everyone so interested in what’s inside my head?” I grumbled as I took the seat across from him.

“Partly because we’re here to help This is what I do for a living,” John replied.

“Why?’ I asked.

“Well, that’s a good question. Sometimes I ask myself that, sometimes more than once a day,” he snorted and eased back in his chair. “I think the most straightforward answer is so that I could help someone. See, I worked in shelters before and did some psych work. And I can tell you, the people that get screwed most are the kids.

“Take you for example,” he said conversationally, “you rely on your friends, which most people your age do, but in the background you should have this anchor at home, this secure place for when even your friends just won’t do. You don’t have that, obviously.

“Not just that,” he said while pointing at me as if is hand were a gun, “you’re so sure someone is out to screw you over that you have serious trust issues. Take Bernard, as an example, someone you clearly despise. He seems to see some good in you, and I have to say it’s in there,” his eyes narrowed as he looked at me, “it’s in there, but covered under a lot of hurt.”

I squirmed in my chair under his steady gaze, but that was all I allowed to show of my discomfort.

“Losing someone is never easy,” he said with a deep sigh, “I know when I lost my parents it was very tough on me. I imagine it wasn’t any easier for you to lose your dad, in some ways harder since you are still so young. At least I had the advantage of being older, having had some more time with my dad.”

“Seems like a lot of trouble just to help someone,” I muttered.

“Yeah, it can be, but sometimes you have to work a lot to get something good to happen. You might not stay here long, but I hope that you get some help here, even if it means just knowing you and your thoughts are safe,” he coughed, “or maybe I should say that they are contained to the house.”

“Well, at least no one called CNN,” I remarked and we both laughed a little.

“Your friends seemed really nice, they were very respectful, even though it was obviously a tough thing for them to leave last night,” he remarked. I knew this was his opening gambit to try and open up a dialogue between us, but right then I wasn’t sure why I should hold out anymore.

“Randy has always been the polite one of us, he helps people all the time. Like Mr. Broderick across the street from him. That guy can’t really do much physical stuff anymore, so Randy rakes his leaves and shovels his snow. Mrs. Gamache always seems to talk him into doing her lawn a few times a summer. Just about the only place he doesn’t do much is at home,” I remarked.

“Those sound like great qualities in a friend and a neighbor Tell him to move down here so I don’t have to mow, rake or shovel anymore!” John laughed.

“Yeah,” I laughed with him, “Randy did more chores at my house than he did at his,” I said trailing off into silence.
“So Randy is pretty much your rock, huh?” John asked and I nodded in reply. “Has he ever said anything about your mom, or how she acts?”

“No, not really. I mean, nothing outside of regular shit I guess.”

“Has your mom always been like she is now?” he asked quietly.

“Well, not that I really remember. I mean, she and dad used to fight, but I never knew why. She said…” I trailed off, unable to complete the sentence she had screeched about my fathers demise.

“Well, no need to bring up so much sad stuff, right? So, which one was Randy?” he asked.

“He was the one with the brown blond hair who stands about as tall as an oompa loompa,” I giggled.

“Oh, yes, and who was the other one?” John asked, keeping the conversation going.

“Nick,” I replied, “Nick Jackson.”

“Oh, is he related to the Richard Jackson’s? The politician?” he asked.

“Um, you know I am not really sure,” I replied, “I don’t ask too much and, well,” I hesitated before plunging forward, “lately I didn’t trust myself around Nick, so I stayed away from him so I wouldn’t make an ass out of myself. He thought I was an ass for avoiding him instead,” I replied sheepishly.

“So you feel more comfortable around him now?” John prompted.

“Yeah,” I nodded, “I don’t have anything to hide with him anymore,” I responded. I leaned in as if to not allow anyone to overhear, “he said he loves me.”

“Love is a strong word, one that gets used too often and too freely,” John sighed as he leaned back and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “But it’s also important enough that you can’t ignore it if it’s presented to you.”

I sat quietly and chewed this over. I got emotions from Nick that felt like more than the crushes and lustiness that I had dealt with since the onset of puberty. Unfortunately, those periods of falling in and out of lust were all I had to compare this to, so how could I know if this was love or not?

“John, what would….you say love is?” I asked carefully.

“Well, it’s a lot of things. I believe that we take a number of emotions and mix them together to make what we define as love. I also believe that love is different things to different people,” he leaned forward as if to join me in my conspiratorial pose.

“Some confuse sex with love. Some think you have to do everything for someone, and that defines love. Some think that someone has to be the center of your world for it to be love. I think it’s more complex than that.

“See, when people first get together it’s usually from attraction, and I admit there has to be some attraction to hold things together. After that initial attraction though, there needs to be something to define the relationship beyond the physical. Some of those things might be personality issues, like a sense of humor or a caring nature. Maybe it’s common interests or whatever.

“I think the truest measure of love is the ability to work through differences and to be content with the person you’re with. Now, say with you and Nick, you guys obviously have the initial attraction to each other,” at this I blushed furiously and leaned back in my chair in an effort to relax, “but what common interests do you have? If it’s sex it won’t last, or only last until the one partner decides that someone else might be fun to play with too. If you guys haven’t reached that step, maybe you have the chance to see what the other is really like and maybe get to know that person better. Maybe that’s the truest thing to your relationship, discovering one another.

“You did say, after all, that you haven’t spent much time around him, in truth,” John pointed out.

“That’s true, but I feel differently towards him. Not like the crushes in school or something,”: I trailed off, becoming embarrassed at how personal the conversation had gone.

“Well, my advice for what it’s worth to you, is to take it slow. No one is rushing you, so enjoy it and see what happens,” he smiled at me.

I sat quietly while he stood and busied himself in the kitchen, muttering that the troops would be home soon. I retreated to the living room for some space and time with my thoughts. How did I feel about Nick, really? He was very nice, and he obviously cared about me. And he’s a phenomenal kisser, can’t leave that out. There has to be points awarded for that! Outside of that, what could I really say?

The opening and slamming shut of the outside door announced the return of Scott and Joe who stopped briefly to greet John in the kitchen before heading deeper into the house. I heard the closet door open and close, and in between the sound of cloth whisking as it rubbed, undoubtedly coats being hung in place. Joe appeared first, his face lighting in a wicked grin as saw me, and right behind him was Scott, his partner in crime.

“Randy and Joe in a tree, f-u-c-k-i-n-g,” Scott sang out off-key as Joe grinned harder and smacked him in the arm, and it looked like pretty hard too.

“Ow!” Scott howled. And Joe grinned all the more.

“What’s going on?’ I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to know.

“Joe talked to the boy of his dreams today,” Scott snickered and dodged another swipe from Joe.

“Oh really? I asked with my eyebrows raised.

“It was short but sweet,” Joe sighed.

“What did you talk about?” I asked.

“Well, I mentioned that we had a mutual acquaintance,” Joe started.

“More like he wiped his chin of drool first,” Scott snickered again while almost dodging a blow from Joe.

“So I told him that I lived in the same house with you, and then he spoke to me,” Joe said dreamily.

“What did he say?” I asked with curiosity.

“Not for long!” Scott howled with laughter which sent Joe into full destroy mode, chasing the wildly-laughing Scott up the stairs. I was laughing on the couch, unable to control myself. Poor Joe, I told him Randy was straight!

... to be continued

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