By Julien Gregg
Tyler's words hit me like a ton of bricks. To say I was surprised would have been the biggest understatement of the year. I'd hoped that maybe he was gay but to have him actually come right out and say that he was just seemed unreal. Never mind that he had already known about me when I was trying to figure out just how to tell him. That didn't faze me a bit compared to his announcement about himself. No that was nothing compared to hearing exactly what I wanted to hear.
Fate seemed to step in once he'd told me that he was gay. Leo and Thad came back over to where we were sitting and talked about nothing in particular but effectively ended my conversation with Tyler. Under normal circumstances that would have allowed me to form an articulate response or at least get over the initial shock. These weren't normal circumstances though. I was dumbstruck. I was actually glad that Leo and Thad had come over to talk when they did. I had no idea what to say to his revelation.
The cook out turned into a pool party without any chance of me talking to Tyler about what he said. Instead I was in charge of watching Thomas so that Jeremy could get in the pool. Then I decided to find some things for Thomas to use so that he could get into the pool safely. I ended up having more fun than I expected watching Thomas delight in being part of the group. He splashed around and laughed. The expression of pure joy on his face nearly made me cry. I looked at him and thought about how uncomplicated his life really was. Sure he was disadvantaged and handicapped but to him life was as it should be. He was untouched by the real cruelties of the world around him. He was untainted.
Then it was time for Thomas and Jeremy to go home and I was sad to see them leave. Somewhere in all of that Tyler had said his goodbyes and left as well. I wondered if he'd left because he thought I was avoiding him. I actually wasn't avoiding him at all. Events had occurred that kept us away from each other throughout the party. I decided that I'd have to figure out how to get in touch with him at the dorms after work the next day. I liked the guy. I didn't want him to think that I was avoiding him for any reason.
Thad stayed to help us clean up the mess and I noticed that he and Leo were laughing about stupid things. It seemed that Thad wasn't as bad as I'd thought. Leo seemed to be making a friend and I liked that idea. I just hoped that Thad really wasn't a bad guy. I did realize that Leo had just made friends with another out and proud homosexual. Wonders truly never cease.
Greg talked about nothing but the party once we were back in our dorm room freshly showered and sufficiently worn out. He'd had a grand time and had liked everyone he met. He thought it was funny that I didn't know that Tyler was gay. He laughed uproariously over that fact. I seriously considered strangling him as I watched him hold his sides and laugh like a hyena.
"I can't believe you didn't know," he said, still almost in stitches.
"Well now that you're done cackling about my apparent ignorance maybe you'll explain how you knew," I said sarcastically.
"Start with the fact that the whole time he was there he watched your every move with a look on his face that was nothing short of lustful," he said. "Then there's the fact that I watched the boy move. Now I'm not saying he's obviously gay or anything but I do know how to spot them."
"Obviously," I said while giving him one of my best sardonic smirks.
"Oh come off it," he laughed. "You're just pissy because you couldn't figure him out on your own."
"Pissy?" I asked, looking at him evenly.
"What, too gay?" he asked before grabbing his sides and succumbing to another gale of laughter that shook the chair he was seated in.
"Right straight boy," I replied with another smirk. "You said that he looked at me lustfully."
"He did," he replied, getting himself under control.
"Well then maybe I'll really get know him better soon," I replied with a straight face.
"You like him don't you?" he asked, looking at me with his head cocked to the side as if really studying me.
"I do," I replied, thinking that if he liked me half as much as I liked him I was in trouble.
He laughed at that too but I just crawled into bed and turned off my lamp. I didn't want to talk about Tyler with Greg anymore. I had work in the morning and I still had to study for my computer exam. With no thoughts of Tyler, well not many, I closed my eyes and tried to block out the sounds of Greg's laughter and get some sleep.
The next morning I was up and showered before Greg had even opened his eyes. I was out the door and on my way down the hall when he was just getting out of the bed. All the way to the coffee house I tried not to think about Tyler. Of course I was unsuccessful. Tyler was just about all I could think about. I couldn't get the look in his blue eyes when he told me that he knew that I was gay and the he was gay as well. I really liked him and that actually made me uncomfortable. If I told him that I liked him would he expect an instant relationship? I wasn't ready for that just yet. I'd only been out of my relationship with Steve for a few months.
When I got to the coffee house Dean and Drake were waiting for me. I wondered at first if I had done something wrong when I saw them talking at the bar. Dean was standing behind the open register while Drake held papers in his hand. They stopped talking when I came in. They didn't stop and stare at me exactly though Drake was looking at me. Dean began to count the money in the drawer and even though I wasn't the one who closed the night before I was worried. I wondered if we were short or maybe not making enough money. Maybe they'd decided that hiring me wasn't such a good idea. Then I wondered where all of my insecurity was coming from. I hadn't worked the night before. If the register was short that would have been Jamie's fault. They were constantly busy with only the very occasional slow times. We were making more than enough money to support my employment. I decided to just stop worrying and find out what was up.
"Tommy," said Dean as I closed the door and walked to the bar. "Come have a seat."
"Let me clock in," I said, stepping around the bar to the back room where the time clock was located. I punched my card and put it back on the desk before walking back to sit at the bar with Drake and Dean. "What's up?"
"Well we've been going over the figures for last month," said Drake as he flipped through the stack of papers in his hand.
"We're doing so well that we've decided to give you a raise," said Dean. "One dollar per hour should do it. Don't you think?"
I didn't know what to say. I almost laughed. I'd been so worried when I came through the door and found them together looking at me that I'd expected to be fired. Now to hear that I was getting a dollar raise nearly made my eyes bug out. And Dean was asking what I thought about it as if I could argue for more!
"I think it's great," I said with a smile.
"We're also going to be looking for one other employee," said Drake. "With everything going on in our lives we just don't have the time to be here all the time anymore."
"So if you know of anyone who you think would be good for the position just let us know," said Dean.
"Sure," I said, wondering what Drake had meant by everything that was going on in their lives. These boys were strange but nice and I really liked them. I heard rumors about them from time to time but I never paid any attention to the talk.
That was the end of our discussion about raises and future employees. Drake left to have breakfast with Aaron and Dean helped me get the tables all set up and the coffee pots going. We polished cups and saucers and got all of that ready and we were putting them away when our first customer of the day walked through the door. That began a steady stream of customers that lasted all throughout my shift. Dean ran the cash register and waited on the customers at the bar while I circulated through the lobby waiting on the customers at tables. In four hours of work I'd made sixty dollars in tips and had managed not to have any problems with any of the customers.
I stopped at the house to chat with Andy after work but he wasn't home. Jeremy and Thomas were out with friends and no one else was around. Even Tom and Shirley were out doing something so I just went back to the dorm and studied. Gregg wasn't in our room when I got there so I had peace and quiet to study. I got a lot of studying done before Gregg came in all sweaty and panting. He'd been for a run it seemed and I smiled at him when he came in.
"You stink," I laughed as he closed the door.
"Thanks," he replied, turning to smile at me. "That means I ran my ass off."
"Now that would be a damned shame," I said, deciding to play with Gregg a little. "You have such a nice ass."
"Hey now!" he gasped as his eyes grew large. "None of that. Eyes off gay boy."
"Scenery straight boy," I laughed. "Go take your shower. Then maybe we can study some before supper."
"Where are we eating?" he asked as he used the towel that was draped over his shoulder to wipe his face.
"No clue," I replied. "Think that over while you're cleaning up."
"K," he said, tossing his towel toward the basket at the end of his bed and missing by a foot.
He disappeared behind the bathroom door and I got up and picked up his towel to throw it in his basket. I studied a bit more while he was in the shower and then he popped through the door bare assed naked and shaking his ass. I stared at him in disbelief for a few stunned seconds and then he was laughing.
"Scenery gay boy," he quipped before wrapping his towel around his waist.
After I recovered from the shock and he got dressed we got down to studying. Two subjects in almost three hours and we were both studied out. I grabbed my keys off the desk and we headed down to my car to head over to the Campus Diner for a bite to eat. I was very happy that all through the meal he didn't mention Tyler even once. I'd been thinking about Tyler all day long but not obsessing. I wasn't quite ready to talk about him. I liked Gregg a lot but I wasn't sure that I would talk to him about Tyler when I was ready.
We stayed in our room that night and watched a movie that I can't even remember. When I poured myself into bed that night the last thing I thought about wasn't Tyler. It was Leo. I wondered how he was fairing with his roommate. They'd seemed pretty friendly with each other the night before at the cook out but that didn't mean anything. I wondered if I still needed to worry about Leo and Thad.
I saw Thad in English as Gregg and I walked into the lecture hall. He was seated at the top back row so we made our way up to him. Gregg asked me why we were moving to sit with Thad and all I could say was that I wanted to at least try to be his friend. Thad showed us those pearly whites as his face split into that huge grin he was famous for. I had to admit that he was actually very attractive when he smiled. His entire face lit up and his blue eyes that normally looked cold and cruel sparkled with an inner light that made him look like a kid with his first dog.
"Hi guys," he said, still smiling at us. "I had a great time last night."
"I'm glad to hear it," I said, sitting in the seat next to him while Gregg sat on my other side. "Thanks for helping us clean up."
"No problem, Bud," he said, and I felt my own smile freeze on my face. That nickname was mine from Steve. Hearing it come from Thad made me feel my heart thudding in my chest.
"Tommy?" Gregg inquired after I'd been silent for a few minutes, staring at Thad. "You all right?"
"Fine," I sighed, shaking my head. "Thad, please don't call me that."
"Uh, ok," he said, looking confused. I knew I'd have to explain things to him soon but our instructor came in and class began.
Leo was waiting for me when I came out of the lecture hall. Thad said his goodbyes and we were off to meet up with Brian for our computer class. These were the only two classes I had on Mondays so I would be leaving after this class and headed off to work. Brian and Leo both had another class to get to. I had two hours off before my shift started at the coffee house and I spent the better part of those two hours sitting in the campus diner. That was where Tyler found me. He walked over and all I could think about was that we would talk about our sexualities.
"Hey," he said as he slid into the other bench of the booth I was sitting at. "I didn't get a chance to thank you for inviting me to your house yesterday."
"Don't mention it," I said with a smile, deciding not to get worked up. "I hope you had a good time."
"I had a great time," he said with a smile of his own. "Thanks for inviting me."
"Sorry if I acted weird after you told me you were gay," I said quickly. I must have sounded and looked like an idiot.
"You didn't act weird," he said with a slight chuckle. "Just surprised."
"Well I was surprised," I admitted. "I had no clue."
"Well now you know about me," he laughed. "I'm glad that you know. I would have eventually caused a stupid scene if you hadn't found out."
"What do you mean?" I asked as the waitress came over with my food and took his drink order. She smiled at us and looked at me for a few moments. I was starting to get uncomfortable as she looked at me. I thought that she obviously recognized me from the magazine interviews. They'd taken a lot of pictures of me at the time and I'd even appeared on a few news programs.
"Your lunch is on me boys," she said with a bright smile. Her blond hair was pulled into a ponytail with bright red clips on the sides of her head. Her name tag was faded so I couldn't read her name.
"That's all right . . ."
"No I insist," she said, smiling wider as she scribbled something on her pad and tore off the top sheet. "I shouldn't be doing this," she said as she handed me the slip. "Here. I get off in a few hours."
Suddenly I understood perfectly. She didn't recognize me from the magazines or the television interviews. She was hitting on me! I almost started laughing. It was the craziest thing that had ever happened to me. Tyler was laughing. He was laughing so hard that she started to look worried. I knew I had to say something to her. I couldn't let her think that I was interested.
"Uh thanks," I said, handing the slip back to her. "I think you should know that I'm gay though."
"Oh!" she said, looking from me to Tyler and back. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," said Tyler, beaming a smile at her. "I'm not."
Tyler was still laughing when the waitress walked away from us. I couldn't believe that she had hit on me like that. This wasn't something that I'd ever had to really deal with in the past. I wondered about that actually. I mean even before Steve and I came out of the closet none of the girls at school had hit on me. Wendy had expressed an interest in me but she'd been the only one. Maybe the girls just knew I was off limits or something. I guess it didn't really make a difference because I was never really interested in girls as anything more than friends.
"Why are you looking like that?" Tyler asked when he'd stopped laughing. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine," I replied, picking up my burger. "She just surprised me."
"I can see that," he chuckled. "You shouldn't be surprised though. You're a hot guy. It's natural that she'd want to go out with you."
"Whatever," I sighed before taking a bite out of my burger.
"What?" he asked, looking at me evenly. "You are a hot guy Tommy."
"Ok," I replied, shaking my head.
"Well I think you are ok?"
"Really?" I asked. So much for not being nervous. I could feel my heart beating faster and my palms were sweating. I knew that it didn't really mean anything if he thought I was attractive. I wasn't even ready for anything more than friendship anyway. That didn't stop me from getting excited at the thought that he might actually like me.
"Come on," he chuckled and then turned serious. "You're gorgeous. You know you are."
"Right," I said, shaking my head.
"You have to know," he said, looking at me hard. "My God Tommy I can barely talk to you without turning into a blubbering idiot."
"I'm having a similar problem," I said and then nearly died when I realized that I'd said it out loud.
He looked at me with wide eyes for a second but luckily the waitress arrived with his food at that moment. He dove into his food while I could only stare at mine. I wasn't sure what was happening. Was he trying to tell me that he liked me? That would be more than I'd hoped for but was I ready for it if that's what he was trying to say?
"Come on, you had to know that I like you," said Tyler, looking at me with hope filled eyes.
"I had no idea that you liked me," I said honestly. "I like you, too, Tyler. You just have to understand that I just got out of a relationship not long ago and we were together for a very long time. I'm not ready to jump back into a relationship right now."
"What are you ready for?" he asked.
I had to think about that one for a minute or two. What was I ready for? With Steve things had happened so quickly, and I'd loved him with all of my heart. He'd taken that love and killed it when he walked out on me without an explanation. Was I really ready to try again? Sure I liked Tyler. I liked him a lot but I didn't really even know him. I mean we'd only hung out like this twice so far. The other times that I'd even talked to him there had been other people around.
"We don't even really know each other," I said finally. "I would like to take the time to get to know you though."
"I'd like that, too," he said. "Trust me, I'm not ready to jump into anything serious right now either. I just got out of a relationship too."
"How long were you together?" I asked.
"Almost a year," he said. "I know that doesn't compare to you and Steve Sutton but I did love Loren a lot."
That shocked me. I couldn't picture Tyler with Loren. All I knew of Loren was that he was an asshole. Maybe there was another side of him that I hadn't seen. I wasn't planning to take the time to get to know him any better though. My first impression of Loren had told me all I wanted to know. I hated the guy.
Then what he'd said about Steve registered. How did he know anything about my relationship with Steve? Sure he'd been assigned to study with Steve on a project but how much had they really talked about?
"How do you know your relationship with Loren doesn't compare to mine and Steve's?" I asked.
"Well Loren and I were only together for ten months," he said. "It started very quickly and I was more overwhelmed at first than anything else. According to Steve, you two were together for the better part of four years."
"We were together for just over three years," I said. "Our relationship started very quickly as well. Before we were together a year we were living together. Steve and I were closer than most couples, or at least I thought we were."
"He's still in love with you," he said. "You're all he talked about when we were working on that project."
"His feelings mean nothing to me anymore," I said, trying hard to keep the bite out of my voice. "He gave up the right to have me care about him when he walked out on me."
"What happened there?" he asked. "Why did he do it?"
"I still don't know," I said. "We were going through a very difficult time in our lives. Bombs had been planted in our locker, an entire congregation threw stones at us and one supposed man of the cloth made us public targets with his bigotry. Once that seemed to be over so was my relationship with Steve. I got no explanation then, and I still haven't gotten one. Any time we're around each other we end up fighting."
"That really sucks," he said. "Steve must have been crazy to leave you after all of that. Just the fact that you stuck it out with him through all of that plainly says that you loved him."
"I loved him very much," I replied. "In all honesty I'm still hurt by what he did but I don't love him anymore. I pity him."
"Because he's alone," I said. "He chose to be alone and now he's miserable. Everyone tells me about it all the time. I have to hear it from friends as well as strangers that Steve is miserable. But he did this to himself. I would have never left him. He just didn't trust me enough to know that. Whatever his reasons were for doing what he did were more important to him than the love that he was getting from me. He had to know that I loved him. I'd practically walked through fire to prove it to him."
We were both quiet for a while. Our food was forgotten while we were both locked in our own thoughts. Mine were of Steve. I wished that things had turned so I'd decided shortly after it had happened to just shove him out of my heart. Did I hate him? No. Pity was all I felt when I thought about him now. I didn't even let myself miss him.
Was I ready to go through it all again? Was I ready to set myself up again? If I trusted Tyler and entered into a relationship with him what was there to guarantee me that he wouldn't stab me in the heart the same way Steve had? There were no guarantees. I knew that but it didn't make things any easier for me. I really liked Tyler and I wanted to get to know him. Did getting to know him mean that I had to fall in love with him?
"Well I'm not trying to get you to believe that anything could happen between us," he said after a long silence had built between us. "I want to get to know you. I want to hang out with you and really get to know you. I know what I've read about you, but that isn't the real you. What do you say? Can we get to know each other?"
I was quiet for a moment while I thought about what it would be like to get to know Tyler. I really did like him so it wasn't as if I'd have to work on that part. What could it hurt? If I said no then what would happen next? I at least wanted to be his friend. Getting to know him wasn't dangerous.
"That sounds good," I said finally.
By Julien Gregg
Tyler came to the coffee house each night that I worked. I would have been uncomfortable about that but he didn't pester me while I was working and he actually did order a drink or two. By Wednesday night he was asking me when I could go out with him. I was off on Thursdays but I'd already promised to have dinner with Brian and Ian. I told him that we could do something on Saturday night or any time on Sunday. Then he was gone and I could think again. It occurred to me that the fact that I had trouble thinking about the simplest of things when Tyler was around wasn't a good thing. I was doing a damned good job of keeping myself from being affected by him.
The next day I found Brian waiting for me after my last class of the day. We stopped by my dorm room so I could drop of my books and then headed for Santucci's, an Italian restaurant on the other side of town. Brian said he liked that restaurant because it was rarely ever busy and we'd have enough privacy. He called Ian as soon as we left the dorms and told him to meet us there. I had wondered why Ian wasn't with Brian when we met up at the university.
"He was working at the Student Union," Brian explained. "That's how he's paying for his tuition."
"I never thought about how he would pay for tuition at Storyville University," I replied. "I thought you said he is the son of a wealthy family."
"I did say that," he said slowly. "There's a lot to talk about. We should probably wait for Ian to get here before we talk about his situation."
"Sorry," I said, realizing that I'd just asked a personal question without intending to.
I hadn't given much thought to Ian's situation. Brian had told me that he was the son of a wealthy lawyer but he hadn't said anything further. Of course I didn't ask about his tuition because it was never my business. Learning that Ian was involved in the work study program reminded me that taking things for granted wasn't such a good idea. I needed to keep that in mind while getting to know my brother and his lover. I also needed to keep that in mind while getting to know Tyler as well.
"No need to be sorry," he said. "Ian wouldn't get upset about me telling you that he was working to pay his tuition. He's proud, Tommy. He wouldn't have accepted money from his family if they'd offered it."
That told me a lot. I wondered why his family wouldn't pay his tuition and why he wouldn't accept it if they had offered. Ian had a tale of his own to tell. I just hoped that he trusted me enough to tell it to me. He was my brother's lover and I wanted to get to know him. It seemed that we would be spending a lot of time together if I was really going to get to know Brian. I wanted to be Ian's friend.
We arrived at Santucci's and got our table. A waitress took our drink orders but Brian wouldn't accept menus. He told her that there would be another person joining our party shortly. I looked around the restaurant remembering the first time I'd ever been there. It was the night that my mother and Mike were celebrating winning Mom's first case. Steve and I weren't together yet and he and Nick were keeping his sexuality secret. I remembered the scene I'd caused that night with Sharon. Being in the restaurant brought back a lot of painful memories for me. I missed my mother like crazy and I could almost see Steve sitting across the table from me in his dark pants and blue shirt that made his eyes look amazing. I had to shake my head to dispel the memory.
"You all right?" Brian asked, pausing as he lifted his glass of soda to his lips.
"Fine," I sighed. "This place just holds some bittersweet memories for me."
"Memories of Steve?" he asked.
"And my mother," I replied before telling him all about the night of the celebratory dinner. By the time I was finished talking I was nearly in tears. It was as if I could just turn around and see my mother coming through the door. I had to snap out of my memories. I hadn't felt like this in quite some time.
"I'm sorry, Tommy," he said, looking almost panicked. "Do you want to go somewhere else?"
"No," I sighed. "It's just a restaurant. There are many places in this city that are more painful to be in. Trust me."
"If you're sure," he said, looking at me hard.
I nodded as Ian walked up to the table. Brian actually got up and kissed him right there in the restaurant. There weren't many customers in the place but those that were watched with rapt attention. I was a little shocked at how out they were.
"Sorry it took me so long," Ian said as he sat down. "There was a lot to do today."
"No problem," I said, smiling at him.
"Tommy was just telling me about the first time he came to this restaurant," said Brian. "I was suggesting that we leave."
"Bad memories?" Ian asked, looking from Brian to me.
"Not exactly," I replied. "We don't have to leave. I was just telling Brian that there are far more painful places in the city."
"If you're really sure," said Brian.
"I am," I replied, noticing the waitress was on her way back to the table. "Here comes the waitress again."
The waitress returned to get Ian's drink order, refill mine and Brian's sodas and leave the menus. We politely told her that we'd need just a minute. She glared at us but didn't say anything. I sighed as she walked away. You can find at least one bigot everywhere you go. If I had anything to say about it she wouldn't be getting a tip.
"I don't think she liked our public display of affection," said Ian with a giggle.
"She'll get over it," replied Brian, then he looked at me. "It didn't make you uncomfortable, did it?"
"No," I laughed. "I'm gay remember?"
"That doesn't mean you're comfortable with public displays of homosexuality," pointed out Ian.
"Well it didn't bother me at all," I said. "Don't worry about it."
"So," said Brian, looking at both me and Ian. "Where should I start?"
"Why don't you start from the beginning," Ian suggested. "When you woke up in the hospital."
"I was scared," he said. "I couldn't remember my name or anything about my life. I knew what just about everything in the room was, so I knew that I had an education. When the doctor told me that I'd been in the hospital, in and out of a coma for four months I was shocked and scared even more.
"He told me that I had been in an accident and that the two people who were in the car with me were both dead. At the time I didn't know if they were my parents or not. It was a little while later that I started to believe that they were. I had an . . . inner voice that talked to me. I'd like to think that it was my memory trying to right itself. I told myself that my name was Brian.
"Doctor Carlo told me that there were some people who wanted to adopt me. It had been accepted by that time that the people I'd been traveling with were my parents. They were both dead and since I couldn't remember any family I became a ward of the state. I wasn't adopted though. My social worker, Sarah Bennet, decided to enter me in some new program the Social Service Office was employing. They'd received a large donation and were sending six boys to Rhaven Academy. I was to be one of the six," he said, pausing to take a drink of his soda.
"I met Ian my first day at Rhaven. I have to say that we weren't exactly thrilled to meet each other. We became friends shortly after a group of the other boys learned about my amnesia and the accident that killed my mother and step-father. It was partly through Ian that I got my memory back. He took me to Chicago to see the University after I'd learned that I was actually a student there under hypnosis. That's where I got my entire memory back.
"I also learned that his father was the man who had been chasing us when we had our accident. His father had murdered a man and I, along with two friends, discovered proof. When his father found out he killed my two friends. One of them was his own nephew. He tried to kill me."
"My oldest brother, Dale, chased us back to Storyville," said Ian, picking up when Brian fell silent. "He was trying to get the disc from Brian that had the proof on it. He was also trying to kill us both."
"We made it back to Storyville and contacted a detective who was investigating the accident that killed my parents," said Brian. "Once he saw the disc, Dale was arrested. Shortly afterward authorities in Chicago arrested Ian's father. I had to testify against both of them."
"And so did I," said Ian. "Because of that my mother cut me off. I still talk to my older brother, Brady, but my mother hasn't spoken to me since the day my father and Dale were sentenced."
I didn't know what to say for a while. It sounded like something out of a television movie or something. I knew that I had lived a strange television-like existence not long ago myself and I didn't doubt what Brian and Ian had told me one bit. For one thing there were newspaper articles about what they'd said. I'd read one and didn't know what I was reading about. I'd dismissed it as something that happened to someone else when I was having my own troubles.
Instead of talking about what they'd told me I began to talk about my own experiences. I started with moving to Storyville from Florida and how upset I'd been about leaving behind all of my friends. I told them how I'd met Nick after he'd smacked me in the head with a baseball. They'd laughed at that part as did I, but they were rapt while I described what had happened to Steve on that fateful holiday when his father had nearly killed him.
I told them about my mother's death and Brian had tears in his eyes as I described my violent reaction to the news. They listened patiently as I told them about what life was like for me as I dove into my school work and working out to deny myself the grieving process. I'd put off dealing with my mother's death for as long as I could. I told them how devastated I was when it finally hit me that my mother was dead and she wasn't coming back.
They listened as I told them about the hateful messages that had been written on our lockers just the year before. They listened as I told them about the bombs in the lockers and how scared we'd all been. I told them about how most of the students of Storyville High School had refused to return to school until the metal detectors were replaced at the doors. They listened as I told them about Ms. Tull being fired for constantly using her religion against us in school. They were shocked when I told them about Reverend Hartman and his flock throwing stones at us and landing both me and Steve in the hospital.
I told them about how we'd had to go to court to testify against Reverend Hartman and how Steve grew more and more agitated as the trial went on. They listened as I told them about the fact that we still didn't know who it was that put the bombs in the lockers. They were both shocked to hear about the way that Steve left me. By the time I got to that part I had run out of things to tell them. It was only at the end of the summer that I'd met Brian for the first time and he knew all of the rest.
"After hearing all of that I can't say that I envy you your life any more than you'd probably envy me," said Brian. "Tommy, I'm so sorry that all of that happened to you. Steve sounds like a real ass to me."
"He didn't start out that way," I said slowly.
"They never do," said Ian. "My first boyfriend started out like a gift from God, but he changed once he met my older brother, Brady. He was instantly in love with him. It was horrible for me."
"That sounds terrible," I replied, shaking my head to dispel the image it had put in my mind.
"Well I turned out all right," said Ian. "It didn't scar me too deeply. I have Brian, and I wouldn't trade him for the world."
"I'm glad you have each other," I said, smiling at them. "I have to say that you look great together."
"Thank you," said Brian, beaming at me. "It's time for you to find someone to make you happy too, little brother."
"Well I've just found out that someone I'm very interested in is gay and likes me," I said, thinking of Tyler for the first time since we'd sat down in the restaurant. "We've decided to spend some time getting to know each other."
"That's great," said Ian. "Who is he?"
"His name is Tyler Beckett," I replied. "I met him just before the semester began."
"I know Tyler," said Ian. "He's in one of my classes. He's a nice guy and very good looking. He hangs with some bad elements though."
"Loren and TK?" I asked. Ian nodded. "I've had the unfortunate displeasure of meeting both of them."
I told them about the first time I'd seen Tyler. He'd been with Loren and TK. I talked about Loren's childish behavior that day and then his foolish attempt to rile me the second time I'd seen him. They seemed surprised that the second time I saw TK he had nothing at all to say to me. I told them how shocked I'd been to learn that Loren and Tyler had dated for nearly a year.
"That's shocking," said Ian. "Tyler seems to loath Loren."
"I can't understand why he has anything to do with him," I said.
By Julien Gregg
Over the course of the next few weeks Brian and I hung out quite a bit. I liked the fact that we seemed to be getting close so quickly. He'd told me that he was so happy to have finally met his brother, and I was more than thrilled to know that there was actually someone in the world that was actually related to me. Ian and Tyler seemed to be getting to know each other as well. I was happy for that. Tyler and I were spending as much time together as possible without shutting out our other friends. I liked him a lot but I wasn't sure exactly where our relationship was going.
Tyler and I were having quite a bit of fun together. He'd even joined me and Gregg a few times to study. Not much studying ever got done during those sessions though. Gregg and Tyler, TJ, as he instructed me to call him after our third "date", seemed to feed off each other's prankster images. I was growing used to getting myself covered in spit balls and finding silly things in my text books at any given time. I'd even gotten in on the fun a time or two myself.
The problem with these little bouts of playfulness was that I was starting to see TJ as a good friend. He was completely gorgeous and lusty thoughts could overtake me from time to time with him as the star. We both seemed to be attracted to each other but the more we saw of each other the less romantic we found ourselves. It was becoming clear that we would be nothing more than great friends. I just hoped that I wasn't the only one who felt that way about our relationship.
"But I thought you liked him," said Leo one day while I was polishing glasses at the coffee house. He was seated on a stool at the bar with a steaming cup of coffee in front of him. We'd been discussing the lack of romance between me and TJ.
"I do like him," I replied. "It has nothing to do with not liking him. I just don't see myself liking him any more than I already do."
"Is this because of Steve?" he asked, and I was forced to remember just how perceptive Leo could be at times. This time he was wrong though.
"No," I replied with a chuckle. "This has nothing to do with Steve. This is about the fact that I only see TJ as a friend. Maybe a good friend but still only a friend."
"Well then you'd probably better tell him that," advised Leo. "I think he might just have other ideas about where your relationship is headed."
"You think?" I asked, leaning against the bar. "I really thought he was feeling the same way I am."
"He might be for all I know," he replied. "I may not know him well enough to interpret the way he's been acting around you. I have to say though; he really seems to like you so much more than as just a friend."
"Shit," I sighed, making Leo blanch. "Sorry."
"No foul," he said, putting up his hands. "Just haven't shrugged off the teachings."
"I hear you," I said. "I hear you on both matters. I'll talk to TJ."
"Just try to make sure that you listen, Tommy," he replied.
That request gave me pause. Is that the way he saw me? Was I someone that just didn't listen? I worried over that one for at least an hour after Leo left. At around an hour after that interaction the coffee house got really busy. I was about to call Dean when Jamie came in to help. He seemed to have a way with people and everyone was happy while he was around. I wondered about him from time to time. He was awfully attractive but I also knew his lover, JD.
"Well that's that," he said, coming up to the bar with a tray of cups as the last of the customers left the coffee house. "It was fun while it lasted."
"It was because you were here," I replied. "I was about to freak when you came through the door. You were my salvation."
"I thought Dean and Drake were going to hire someone to help out," he said, looking around at the dirty tables.
"I thought so too," I replied. "I recommended my friend Leo but they never got in touch with him."
"Well I'll remind them when I get home," he said, looking at his watch. "If you'll just stick around long enough for me to wipe these tables down I'd appreciate it."
"Sure," I said, glancing at the clock. I was shocked to see that I was supposed to have gotten off work twenty minutes earlier.
"Thanks, Tommy," he said, smiling at me. "I'll have you out of here in twenty."
"No problem," I said. I didn't have any other plans but another study session with the practical jokesters.
True to his word I was out of there twenty minutes later. I made it back to the dorm and into my room to find TJ and Gregg in the middle of one of their debates over who was better at balancing a textbook on his head. I shook my head and opened my English book as I slid onto my bed. These two would most likely make studying impossible.
"Tommy, I'm so glad you finally made it," said Gregg. "Tell this hair brain that he can't possible hold his book on his head longer than me."
"I'll tell you both to shut up so we can actually get some studying done," I replied, trying not to laugh. "Come on guys. I have an exam in three days."
"Ooh," said TJ, grinning like crazy. "He's in a mood. What to do?"
"We could show him the error of his ways," replied Gregg in a mock menacing voice.
"And how do you suggest we do that?" TJ asked.
"Oh I don't know," he said. "We could just fire spit balls at him until he realizes that we mean him no harm."
"You two are insufferable," I said, closing my book and getting off the bed. "I'm going to hang out with Brian for a while. I'll talk to you guys later."
I didn't give them a chance to protest. I just left the room and headed downstairs. I met Leo in the first floor hall. He didn't look happy. I wondered what Thad had done. They'd been getting along so well all semester long, but that didn't mean that they liked everything about each other. I sighed as I realized that I wasn't going to get any studying done.
"Tommy, I need to talk to you," he said as he walked up to me.
"Let's go get something to eat," I replied, putting my arm over his shoulders and turning him toward the door.
We went straight to my car but Leo hadn't said anything by the time we drove out of the parking lot. He was silent all the way to the diner and I wondered just what could have him so upset. It was clear that he was upset by the tense way he was sitting. His neck would hurt him soon if he didn't relax. Whatever it was that Thad had done it had Leo stiff as a board. We were seated at the diner and had given our drink orders before he said anything.
"I think my brother needs to talk to you, Tommy," he said, confusing me to no end. What did Noah have to do with Thad?
"Is Noah all right?" I asked slowly.
"I'm not sure," he said with a sigh. "He told our foster parents something that has them very upset."
"What did he tell them?"
"That he was gay," replied Leo with a startled look on his face. "I don't know why he said it. It can't be true. He knows how . . ."
"Leo," I said, stopping him before he got any further. I was sure he was going to say something about how much of a sin it was. I didn't want to have to get angry with him. It had been so long since we'd argued over that.
"Sorry," he said, looking down at his soda. "Will you talk to him?"
"I'll talk to him if he wants to talk to me," I replied slowly. "What exactly are you wanting me to say to him?"
"You have to make him understand how hard it is to be a homosexual," he said, looking at me with pleading eyes. "You know how difficult your life has been since you acknowledged that you are gay."
I had to think carefully about what to say in response to that. My life had become difficult all right but it was his grandfather and a few other bigoted people who had caused the difficulties in my life. Leo and I rarely ever discussed his grandfather. I knew how hard it was for him to think of the man that his grandfather had become and compare him to the man that he'd once been before the anti-homosexual crusade had began. I didn't want to fight with him at all, but this statement about homosexuality making my life difficult really didn't sit well with me.
"Leo, the life of a homosexual may be difficult but it isn't much more difficult than the life of anyone else," I said. "My life became difficult because of other people and their twisted views. If Noah really is gay then telling him his life will be difficult won't make him change his sexuality. It can't be changed, Leo. This isn't something as simple as putting on a red shirt or deciding to eat grapes."
"I know that," he snapped and then sighed again. "I'm sorry. This is just something I never expected."
"I know it's unexpected, but does this mean that you love your brother any less?" I asked.
"Of course not," he said. "I love Noah just as much today as I did yesterday. I'm just worried about him."
"Well I'm sure you're worried about him," I replied. "Leo you have to understand that if you don't accept this and be there for him you will make Noah's life more difficult than necessary."
"That's just it," he said quickly. "He won't talk to me about it. His foster parents are ready to throw him out of the house. They have another foster son that isn't dealing well with the news either. He's already threatened to beat Noah."
"Then Noah doesn't need to be in that foster home anymore," I said. "Leo, this is serious. You have to contact Noah's social worker and alert her that Noah isn't safe in his residence."
He looked at me blankly for just a moment and in that moment I wanted to punch him in the face. I knew that in that moment he was considering the possibility that maybe Noah deserved to be in danger where he was currently living. In that moment he believed that if Noah could just see the folly of his decision he would change his mind. In that moment he was the same Leo Hartman who had made my life at Storyville High School difficult and I wanted to hurt him.
"Will she move him because of this?" he asked, and I had to shake off the thoughts I'd been having.
"She has to," I replied. "Who is his social worker?"
"Ms. Bennet," he replied. "She never really seems to be interested in anything but hearing that everything is fine."
I remembered Brian telling me how cold Ms. Bennet had been to him. I didn't think that she would do much for Noah. I wondered if there was anything I could do about it. Then an idea came to me. It was an idea that made my stomach uneasy. It required me to ask for help from a person that I had no respect for. I knew that I had to do something though. This was the only thing that I knew of that I could do.
"Come on," I said, reaching into my pocket to put money on the table to pay for our sodas. "We're going to talk to someone who I hope can help."
He followed me out of the diner and back to my car. He didn't ask any questions as we drove across the city. I was glad for that because if he had I might have changed my mind. I just had to keep Noah in my mind and remember that if he stayed in his current foster home he was in danger. I knew that a threat of being beaten up wasn't necessarily dangerous but if the threat went unchecked what else might this foster brother do? We pulled into the driveway at my house and I looked at the house next door. I didn't really want to do this but there was nothing else that I could think of to help Noah. I got out of the car and barely noticed that Leo followed me to the Andrews house. I could see Sharon's car in the drive so I knew that she was home. We stood on the porch for a few minutes before I touched my finger to the button of the doorbell. I really didn't want to do this.
"Tommy," said Sharon in surprise when she opened the door. "What are you doing here?"
"Sharon, I need your help," I said and inwardly winced when I heard myself saying those words.
"Well come in," she said, stepping aside. "Hello, Leo."
"Hello, Mrs. Andrews," he said as we walked into the house I hadn't set foot in for two years.
"What can I help you with?" she asked when we made it to the living room. "Have a seat, boys."
"Leo's brother, Noah, is in a foster home where he isn't exactly safe," I said. "It's kind of like the foster home that Jeremy used to live in."
"That's awful," she said. "Have you talked to his social worker?"
"His social worker is Sarah Bennet," I said. "Do you know her?"
"I know her well enough to know that she doesn't belong in her position," said Sharon as her face darkened. "What can I do to help?"
"Well I was hoping that you could talk to Mrs. Bennet," I said, realizing that I didn't really know what it was that I expected Sharon to do. "Maybe you can get her to see that Noah needs to be moved."
"Well I can call the Social Service office," she said. "But I don't know that my voice alone would make them understand. Maybe I can get Mike involved in this. He'll be home soon."
"Thank you, Mrs. Andrews," said Leo. "I don't want my brother to get hurt."
"Maybe you should tell me exactly what is going on," she said, looking from me to Leo and back.
It gave me an uneasy feeling as Leo tried to explain about how his brother had told his foster parents about his sexuality and the other foster child had heard what he'd said. He told Sharon that the foster parents had grounded Noah to his room and the foster brother had came to his room and told him that he would beat him senseless. I watched Sharon's face as Leo talked. I hoped that she wouldn't try to use this event in any way other than to help Noah. She didn't have a clean track record with this sort of thing but she had worked with Mike to get Jeremy out of the Cox house. I hoped that she would do the same thing this time.
Mike came home shortly after Leo finished telling Sharon what was going on in Noah's foster home. He was outraged by what he'd heard and went straight to the telephone to call Social Service. I left Leo with Sharon and Mike and went next door to talk to Andy about the situation. I thought that if they got Noah to a better foster home maybe Andy could talk to him the way he'd talked to me when I had first come out of the closet.
"Tommy, that was different," he said when I asked him. "I had known you since you were in kindergarten. I don't even know Noah Hartman. I'll talk to him but he has to want me to for it to work."
"Well I don't know Noah that well myself," I admitted. "I've only hung out with him a handful of times in the past. I just don't want him to get the idea that he's bad because of this. You know where he comes from."
"I do," he said. "I'll do what I can, but this can only happen with the permission of his foster parents."
I understood that but before we could say more Leo came in the side door. He looked excited and I wondered just what Mike and Sharon had done. It wasn't long before he told me that Mike had called Social Service and they had agreed to look into Noah's case. Noah was getting a new case worker because Ms. Bennet was being transferred to a different office. That was good news but would his new social worker be any better?
For the next several days I waited on word about what would happen. Leo hung out with me as much as he could. That meant that Thad was around a lot too. I was continually shocked by his attitude. He was angry about what was going on with Noah and he assured Leo that any time he needed to talk about it he was there for him. I was shocked by this side of Thad.
It was two weeks before the end of the semester that Noah was moved to another foster home. I was shocked to learn that it was Mike and Sharon Andrews who were now his foster parents. When I'd taken Leo to Sharon to ask for her help I hadn't thought that she would step in that far. Leo said that Noah was happy with the Andrews family and he was very happy to be around Thomas. Jeremy was in and out most of the time and Noah told Leo that they rarely talked. That didn't surprise me because Jeremy rarely talked to anyone.