By John Yager
This is the eighteenth chapter of an ongoing series. I want to thank all the readers who have written to me concerning this story. I continue to be surprised and pleased by all the responses this story has prompted.
All your comments are read and given serious consideration. Thank you for your encouragement, suggestions and criticism. This is the most serious series I have attempted and many readers have told me it is the most challenging and most issue-oriented story they have encountered on NIFTY or any other similar site. I have difficulty believing that's true. There are many fine individual stories and series being contributed by excellent writers. In any case, I certainly am grateful for the kind opinion of readers and hope I can continue to meet your expectations.
Since the last chapter was posted I received word that Absolute Convergence has received the Gay Writers Guild award for the best new story of 2002. This is a real honor and I want to give special thanks to Mark Steven who nominated the story, as well as to the Guild for their recognition
My objective in this series is to deal with issues which have impacted and influenced the lives of gay people in the period between the 1960s and the present time, or from pre-Stonewall days to the era of "don't ask, don't tell."
Many readers have asked if this story is, at least in part, autobiographical. I would not be honest if I said it was not. But I want to make it clear to readers that I am not Rob or Rick or any other specific character in the story and none of them, individually, is me. The story is raising many more questions than it is supplying answers and I certainly make no claim to know the answers. It is my hope that by raising the questions I may prompt more consideration of the issues facing gay people in the USA and throughout the world.
Andrew continues to provide much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. He has continued to be of great help. As our exchanges of drafts and more personal messages have gone on, I have come to regard him as a very close and very dear friend.
This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons.
Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental. This is a work of gay erotic fiction. If you should not be reading such material, or if such material is not to your liking, please exit now.
This work is copyrighted © by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I have posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists.
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On Friday, the day after we'd said our private good-byes, Rick and I,
along with Danny Carter, went out to cut the trees and other greenery which
were being used to decorate the church for the wedding. Actually, I made
a point of picking up Danny first in one of the trucks from dad's lumber
room. That way he was sitting in the center, between Rick and me, as we
drove out to Mr. Cantrell's property on Highway D. A couple of the other
guys met us there to help so the work went quickly. We cut about two dozen
sapling trees, averaging from ten to fifteen feet tall, along with a lot
of additional greenery. When it was loaded on the truck and tied down we
took it all back into town and met Debbie and Joyce and several other girls
from our class at the church.
The girls had prepared cans in which the cut ends of the tree trunks were placed. The trees were then bound to the ends of every third pew and the cans filled with gravel and water and covered with fabric. Other trees were erected in the same way on either side of the altar and at the ends of the choir stalls.
The girls had made bows from old salvaged fabric. These were hung in the green boughs of the trees. The effect was dramatic and festive and the decorations had cost nothing more then a little fuel for the truck, which dad willingly provided, and the time we all contributed.
Rick's family finally laid aside their irritation and planned an informal dinner on Friday night. Their house was too small for the numbers involved and in the end, the party took place at a pavilion in the city park. Everyone involved in the wedding was invited, including my folks and Joyce's folks, because our mothers were doing so much to prepare for the reception after the wedding. It was an informal affair but Rick and Debbie were so relieved that, at least for the time being, ill will had ended that nothing else mattered.
Joyce and I ended up eating at a table with our parents and there was a lot of joking about what Rick and Deb would be doing the next night. I was embarrassed by the comments, especially those made by my own father, but managed to remain silent and keep my own thoughts to myself. More than once I caught Joyce looking at me and I knew she shared my frustration.
On Saturday I picked up Joyce, as we'd arranged, and drove her to the church, arriving at nine o'clock as we'd been told to do. Rick arrived a few minutes later with his brothers and father. His mother and sisters and grandparents were waiting in a small room near the back of the church.
As we waited for the service to start I was able to speak to Rick and wish him well. As he and I were talking I noticed how his father was looking around the church with a very critical expression on his face. I'm sure the high interior or Trinity, with its dark recesses out of sight in the intricate trusses overhead were very different from the low ceiling space where he regularly attended church services. He no doubt thought the architectural grandeur of Trinity was excessive, even to the point of obscene waste. Beyond a nod of greeting, there was no communication between Mr. Carlson and me. In any case, he left us soon enough to join Deb and her mother.
We didn't see Debbie before the beginning of the ceremony but when she entered on her father's arm she looked beautiful and joyful.
The music, performed by our regular organist and students from our high school class was truly splendid. Their services had been offered at no charge, which was very helpful, considering the non-existent budget for the entire event.
It was clear as the ceremony began that Ted Tucker had a very significant role. It was Dr. Walker who led Rick and Deb in their vows but apart from that, Ted was really in charge, clearly at the Rector's invitation and with his blessing.
I realized as the old prayer book service progressed how powerful the language and the liturgy could be. It had a solemnity and grace which gave the ceremony a sense of heightened importance. It was a milestone in the lives of two people, but also an event which involved the entire community.
That was exactly the point which Ted focused on in his homily. He only spoke for a few minutes but it was a wonderful and powerful presentation, all the more powerful because it was directed first to Rick and Deb, and then, in its conclusion, to the entire congregation.
"Marriage is a civil contract," Ted said, "but it is also a Sacramental Rite of the Church. We see it as a voluntary union between two people but one which they do not, in human terms, have the capacity to maintain. It is only with God's involvement in the joined lives of these two people, this young man and this young woman, that there is hope for the survival and success of this marriage.
"The world conspires against the success of marriages. Human nature conspires against the success of marriages. It is only God's nature, and his nature is love, which can make the vows these two young people make today a reality in their lives and in the life of this community.
"We admonish them to put all past things behind them as they start this new life together. That means putting old ties, old bonds and affections behind them. Scripture tells us that they are to abandon father and mother; they are to walk away from all hindrances which would weaken their new union, their new state.
"We must also admonish ourselves as their families and friends that we must support them in this new union. As they take their vows we must take our own vow, which is this, that we will do everything in our power to support and nurture them and that we will do nothing which would in any way hinder them in their resolve."
As I thought about the language of the service and the words of Ted's homily it struck me that a major theme of the wedding, and I guess of all weddings, although I'd never seen it that way before, was to demonstrate the community's acknowledgement and support for the marriage. It really was a civil contract as well as a religoius rite, as Ted had said, not just between the couple, but between them and their peers. The community was acknowledging that it was a sanctioned union and everyone had better do all they could to uphold it and nothing which would harm it. If the couple later had children the community was acknowledging them as the legal offspring of the union.
I wondered if I'd ever be the beneficiary of such a ceremony. I wondered if two men or two women would ever be afforded equal acknowledgement by society. Now, looking back from the perspective of thirty years, I find myself still asking those questions.
The entire service went off without the slightest hitch and by the time the bride and groom made their exit down the central aisle, under the spreading boughs of the green trees, there were few dry eyes in the church.
The reception actually turned out to be a lot of fun. The wedding party was delayed a few minutes so photographs could be taken in the church. When we all entered to the parish hall where the reception was held, I was reminded of the grand entry we'd made to our homecoming dance the previous autumn. We were suddenly surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends and any plans for a formal receiving line were quickly abandoned. Instead, Rick and Deb and their families just gathered on one side of the big room and everyone took their turn coming over to visit and to congratulate the bride and groom.
The refreshments were a real success, which pleased my mother and Mrs. Lynn. There were also a lot of comments on the decorations. Everyone was very complimentary and the entire affair was a real triumph, especially considering that there had been no real budget for anything.
When it was time for Rick and Deb to leave it was my duty as best man to drive them to Joyce's house where they'd left the car they were driving on to Memphis. Debbie tossed her bouquet of wildflowers and it was caught by one of Rick's cousins. Then suddenly we were off. Joyce came with me, sitting in the front seat as I drove. Rick and Deb were seated in the back and we made our departure amid a shower of rice.
There was an awkward moment at the Lynn's house when Rick asked me to come with him to the bedroom where he was changing into casual cloths. Deb had gone on up and Joyce and Rick and I were standing just inside the front door.
"I don't think I should," I said, remembering our promise to Ted Tucker.
"Oh, yeah, I guess not," Rick said, looking from me to Joyce. He bounded up the stairs alone and Joyce and I went on in to the living room to wait.
"What was that all about," Joyce said as soon as she and I were alone.
"Do you really want to know?"
"Probably not," she said and then put her arms round me and gave me a kiss.
A few minutes later Rick came down wearing jeans and a sports shirt and carrying a small bag.
"Deb's almost ready," he said and the three of us stood there looking awkwardly at one another. Fortunately, Deb did come down quite soon and we all went to the garage where their car had been locked away for safe keeping. It was already loaded with as many of their things as they could carry.
Joyce and I gave both Deb and Rick hugs and got them into the car. "I will be sending you and Deb a wedding present later," I told Rick, "but slip this in your pocked now. It's a small memento just for you." He smiled and nodded as he took it. As they drove away Joyce and I stood there watching the car heading north on Elm Street, toward their new shared life.
"Do you want to stay a while," Joyce said softly.
"No thanks. I think I'll go home and lie down. After the last few days I'm really tired," I said. It was true; I really did feel suddenly exhausted.
The rest of June crept by. I was working at the lumber yard for dad and spending my evenings reading through a long list of books assigned for an honors lit class I would be taking in the fall. By the end of each day I was physically and mentally worn out.
My brother Ted got home from the university just before the Fourth of July. Dad had arranged for the entire family to use a friend's cabin down near Holly Bluff for the holiday period. The Fourth was on Thursday so we left on Wednesday afternoon. Our parents didn't come back to Spring River until the following Sunday evening but on Thursday after breakfast, Ted and I drove back into town to get Betty and Joyce, who came out for the day.
The time Ted and I spent in the car driving into town was the first chance we'd had for a private conversation and he immediately began asking questions about Joyce and me. How was our relationship going? Was I okay being at Oxford when she'd be on the East Coast? Did we intend to continue going steady even though we'd be separated by so great a distance?
His questions seemed endless. He was pressing for more information than I wanted to give and I was being reticent in a way that was making him even more insistent.
"I'm not trying to be nosey, Rob," he said as we crossed the railroad tracks on the edge of town. If fact, I felt he was being very nosey. "You know Betty and I plan to get married as soon as we finish our degrees."
"Yeah, Ted," I said, "I know that's what you're planning."
"Well, I can't help being a little curious about you and Joyce. Hell, you are my brother. I just wonder if you think she's the one, or if you two will go your separate ways now that you're heading for different universities."
"The truth is, Ted, I don't know... we don't know."
Once we pulled up in front of Betty's house the conversation ended but I felt sure Ted would be asking the same questions the next time we were alone.
I got out and climbed into the back seat so Betty could sit in front with Ted. We pulled on around to Joyce's and I scurried in to get her. It took a minute or two to say hello to her folks and assure them that we'd have her back late that evening. On the way to the car I was able to let her know that Ted had been giving me the third degree.
"Oh goody," she grinned. "Can we give them a show?"
"Sure. What do you have in mind?"
"Just pull me toward you once we're in the car. From there on we'll wing it."
Ted said a friendly hello but Betty greeted Joyce with her usual obsequiousness, every word dripping with effusive southern charm. It occurred to me for the first time that Betty saw Joyce as a future sister-in-law and was doing everything she could to build a firm foundation for their future relationship. God help us, I thought.
We climbed into the spacious back seat and I immediately put my arm around Joyce's shoulder and pulled her toward me. She gave a great sigh and melted into my arms.
Joyce's sigh was loud enough to cause Betty to look back at us just as Ted's eyes darted up to the rear view mirror. They both smiled at our affection and Betty said, "My goodness, but you two love birds don't waste any time."
"I haven't seen Rob for three days," Joyce intoned. "Your cruel father
has kept him working every minute."
With that she put her hand behind my neck and drew my lips down to hers. As our embrace continued Joyce slipped back so that within a minute or so she was more or less lying across the width of the seat. She pulled me with her so I was lying over her, our bodies pressed together and our lips locked in a prolonged kiss. The seat was wide and those were the days before seat belts, so there were few obstacles to our passion.
"Um," she purred, still in a whisper loud enough to be heard from the front seat. "I've certainly missed you.
"Um," I echoed.
"You certainly missed me, too," Joyce continued, her purr now mixed with a giggle and leaving little doubt about her meaning. In fact, I found to my surprise that my body was responding to hers.
This last exchange was followed by knowing chuckles for the front seat.
They may have thought it was funny but I was embarrassed as hell. I rolled a little to my left so I was no longer fully on Joyce, but it that new position she was pressed between me and the back of the rear seat, a situation which really wasn't any better.
"You kids okay?" Ted asked, looking back at us.
"Umm, yeah, fine," I managed to say between Joyce's insistent kisses.
After about ten confusing minutes Joyce released me and tried to sit up. I moved a little and we both rose from the seat to straighten our very rumpled clothes and for her to repair her lipstick, the only makeup she usually wore.
"You'd better wipe off your own face," she grinned, handing me a tissue and the small mirror from her purse.
By the time we got back to the cabin, our folks had prepared a picnic lunch which we ate out in the big screened porch.
After we'd eaten and rested for a while we changed and went down to the little lake below the cabin to swim. Ted and Betty swam across to the opposite shore and went back into the woods, quickly disappearing from sight.
"It looks like we're left alone again," Joyce said, looking back toward the cabin. My mother was standing on the porch and Joyce waved to her. "Well, almost alone."
"Do you want to swim?" I said, walking out onto a little wooden dock.
"Let's just relax here a little and see how long your brother and Betty stay out of sight."
"Yes," She said, "not about what they're doing, but just to see how long they think they can be back in the woods before your parents object."
"I don't think my parents would object," I said. "Ted and Betty have made it clear they intend to get married as soon as they finish their degrees. They aren't officially engaged yet or anything, but just making it known that they expect to get married gives them a kind of license."
"I guess that is what it's all about, isn't it?"
To be continued