By John Yager
This is the twenty-forth 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 series has prompted. All your comments are read and given serious consideration. I try to respond to all e-mail promptly. If there is a delay in my response it is usually because I am traveling.
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. I could not post chapters as quickly as I have been doing without his assistance.
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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"I fucking can't believe this!" he snarled back over his shoulder as he stormed out of the weight room and headed for the showers.
"Steve," I called after him, trying to get the weights we'd used back on their racks and then hurry to catch up.
He was already standing naked under one of the shower heads in the steam filled room. His back was to me and he didn't turn when he heard my voice.
"Look, Steve," I said, "it was a huge mistake. I know I shouldn't have done it."
"Drop it, Rob," he interrupted me. "I have no claim on you."
Suddenly I realized that in his mind, as well as in my own, there was already a sort of bond between us. I had violated that bond when I'd so willingly had my little romp with Sammy. Perhaps I had damaged my budding relationship with Steve irrevocably.
We stood silently under the steaming water, separated by no more than six feet and a seething wall of silence. There were no sounds coming from the locker room and so far as I could tell we were completely alone.
It was a risk but I took it. I stepped across the space between us and put my arms around Steve, pressing my chest against his back and resting my head on his wet, muscular shoulder.
Neither of us spoke but after a minute or more his hands came up to grasp mine and a sudden, deep sob escaped his lips.
"I'm so sorry, Steve," I whispered.
There was a long pause and then he turned a little toward me and said, "Let's get out of here."
"Okay, sure," I said. "Where do you want to go?"
"I guess our dorm rooms aren`t an option."
"Mine sure isn`t. If David's not there now he will be soon."
"My room is like Grand Central Station."
"How about just going for a walk?"
"Well it's a better idea than standing like this."
"I guess it would look a little odd if anyone walked in, us standing here naked and me hugging you."
He chuckled but there was still an undertone of hurt. We dried off quickly and went to our lockers to dress. In ten minutes we were out in the cool autumn afternoon, surrounded by the growing gloom. There was an hour yet until supper and, without thinking, without a word said, we headed across the campus and along the footpath into Rollins Grove. The bench was screened from view by a thick clump of cedar trees and we sat silently in relative seclusion.
"Can I say something, Steve?" I finally asked.
"No, let me go first."
He waited, collecting his thoughts.
"I guess you know how I feel about you, Rob."
"I think it's pretty much the same way I feel about you."
"I know there's been no verbal commitment between us but I guess I thought there was a sort of unspoken understanding."
"There was. I hope there still is. I know I really messed up."
"Do you like him, Rob? I mean, do you have the same kinds of feelings toward Sammy that you have for me?"
"No," I said without hesitation. "I like him. I think he could be a good friend, but I don't feel any emotional attachment with him the way I do with you. It wasn't my feelings toward him that caused what happened."
"What did cause it then?"
It was my turn to wait while I tried to find the words I wanted, explain it in a way that wouldn't hurt Steve any more deeply than he was already hurt.
"I guess I've been sexually frustrated for months. You know that though."
"Yeah, it's been the same for me."
"I know." I waited again, hoping the right words would spring into my head. When the didn't I tried to go on. "I was frustrated because I kept wanting something to happen between you and me and because I was afraid to let it happen."
"Then I was with Joyce and things got a lot more sexual with her than they ever have before."
"But you said you and she didn't do anything, right?"
"We didn't have sex. We did do some pretty heavy necking. I was really aroused when I left her - when she kicked me out."
"So you got back to your motel and jumped Sammy."
"It wasn't like that."
"But you did have sex with him."
"Yeah, but it wasn't the way you think." How to explain it? I was unable to find the words until all of a sudden I just started telling him how it had been, how my back and shoulder had been sore, how Sammy had offered to rub my shoulders and had been really good at it. I told him how Sammy had begun to touch me in more and more arousing ways and I had just let it happen, not really wanting it, or at least not wanting it with Sammy, how I'd kept thinking about Rick, the only guy - the only person - I'd ever had sex with, and at the same time thinking about Steve, alone in Oxford, the guy I really wanted to be with. By the time it got to the point when I more or less took over, there was no way either Sammy or I would have stopped.
When I finished I just waited, not knowing how Steve would respond.
Eventually Steve reached over and took my hand. We sat there in silence a little longer and when he began I thought he's somehow jumped to an entirely different topic, avoiding any more discussion of my trip or the episode with Sammy.
"When I first discovered sex I wanted to try it with every kid I knew, guys and girls."
"I know," I said, "you told me about all that."
"Did I tell you I've had sex with three girls and six guys?"
"No, not how many, just that you had been with several people."
"Does that bother you?"
"No, not really. But I understand why you're upset. Your experiences were all before we met. You have never said a word about my relationship with Rick. What I did with Sammy was after we'd met, after we'd begun forming a real relationship."
"Yeah, I guess that's why I reacted so badly when you told me."
"Should I not have said anything?"
"God no. It would have hurt a lot more if you'd not told me and I'd found out later."
`That's what I thought too, Steve. I felt like I had to be honest with you. Coming home on the bus last night and thinking about seeing you today, I was almost physically sick."
"Well, it's done, right?"
"I think what I want now is for us to have a chance to be alone together. I don't want some quick romp, though. I want us to have time together."
"I feel the same way but I just don't know how we're going to work that, at least not any time soon."
"We've got to find a way."
"There's no football game next weekend," I reminded him.
"Yeah, I've been thinking about that. We could have the whole weekend to ourselves if we'd get a little ahead our studies."
"The problem is where. David will probably go home. If he does, we'd at least have my room to ourselves."
"A dorm room isn't exactly what I had in mind, but we could keep that as a last resort if we can't find someplace where we could really be on our own."
"Do you know anyone with a car we could borrow?"
"No one who'd let me keep it over the weekend. Anyone with a car will want it then."
"Okay, it's a date," I said, suddenly very anxious to be with him.
In the gray light of dusk, Steve leaned over and softly pressed his lips to mine. It was the first time we'd even kissed.
Later that evening I called Joyce. Apart for a delayed departure from New York, her trip back to Hartford had gone well. She'd loved the trip and was glad we'd done it, even if it had been for such a short time. She finished all the reading she'd planned for time on the trains and actually figured she'd rested more over the weekend than she would have had she just stayed on campus. All told, it had been a good weekend for her.
"I'm glad we did it," I told her.
"Me, too," she said and I knew she meant it. We'd look forward to being together again over the Christmas holidays. "Oh, by the way," she said just as we were ending the call, "how was rooming with Sammy?"
"Fine," I said, "just fine."
The next few days were hell. I kept thinking about what an awful mess I'd made by having sex with Sammy. I was very thankful that Steve seemed to have put the entire situation behind us but there was still a lot of pain there on Steve's part, and a lot of guilt on mine.
Sammy had amazingly dropped off the face of the earth. I didn't see him at football practices or in the gym. I never ran into him at meals. I could only assume he was avoiding me and I must admit I was relieved. I'd almost feared he'd be at my door day and night. As it was, I began to be a little concerned about him but figured he'd be around when he was ready to talk.
On Tuesday afternoon I was standing just outside the seminar room talking with Steve when Dr. Bardwell arrived.
"Good afternoon, Steve," he said as he approached us. "Would you want to join us today?"
"Um," Steve stammered, caught off guard by the invitation. "No, I'd better not. I have a lot of my own work to do."
"Well, anytime," Bardwell said as he went on in to join the others.
The class was an especially interesting one, but the reality was that every session with Bardwell was interesting. He had a real talent for challenging his students, for pushing us to better work and clearer thinking.
We somehow got onto the issue of academic freedom and, as always, Bardwell played the Devil's Advocate.
"My colleagues all want to talk about their freedom," he said at one point. "But I think they'd just as soon ignore their responsibilities to the institution."
"Maybe they just think in this environment they need all the protection they can get," one of the girls said. In those days the Feminist Movement hardly existed as such, but it was clear that women were beginning to see themselves as a persecuted minority. It was the first step toward demanding greater equality. But even by 1968 there was an increasingly resolute tone to much of the discussion.
"I'm sure you're right," Bardwell had responded. "But we all need to understand that if we so cripple the institution in order to get the rights we want, it may all be in vain."
"If the institution is so weakened that it can't enforce or uphold the rights that have been won, you mean," Daniel said.
"Yes, exactly," Bardwell had said. "That's the difference between the reformer and the anarchist. One wants to use social institutions to effect change, the other wants to destroy them in the off chance that what rises to replace them will be better than we currently have."
"So you see yourself as a reformer," Daniel replied.
"Yes, definitely. I of course recognize the need for change on many levels but I am a real stick in the mud when it comes to preserving the institutions."
"You think academic freedom can only be achieved within the context of a strong university."
"Yes," Bardwell said, "It's a lot like Winston Churchill's remark that `Democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other form.'"
"Or perhaps like saying we're better off with the devil we know than the devil we don't know."
"I prefer a more optimistic view of things, Mr. Skinner, but you may be right."
When the group was breaking up Bardwell caught my attention. "Would you have time to come to my office, Rob?" he asked as I was putting my books back into my pack.
We talked a little about the exchange we'd just had as we walked along the crowded hall to his cluttered sanctuary. Once there, and with the door securely closed, he said, "I couldn't help notice the rather grim looks on your faces as I approached you and Steve before our seminar today."
I wasn't sure what he'd noticed and didn't know how to reply. "Well, Sir, yes, at times life gets rather tricky for two guys like us."
I had no idea if he really understood our dilemma but didn't feel comfortable saying more.
"What did you make of Daniel's comments today," he asked.
"Oh, he just likes to grumble a bit," I said.
"So you don't think he's a real insurgent at heart."
"Well, I don't think he'll go out and set fire to the ROTC building, if that's what you mean."
He laughed and I found myself laughing with him. The thought of Daniel taking such a bold step seemed completely out of character.
"I think you're right," Bardwell said. "Pouring detergent in the war memorial fountain is more his sort of thing."
"Probably, but only under cover of darkness," I agreed.
There was another long pause but I had come to recognize them as a hallmark of all conversations with Dr. Bardwell. Eventually he got around to the real issue he wanted to discuss.
"Are you seeing quite a lot of Steve, then?" he began.
"Yes, I guess anyone watching us would say we're inseparable."
"But you aren't sharing a room."
"No, I didn't meet him until after dorm assignments had been made."
"I suppose it would be awkward trying to switch roommates now."
"Yes, awkward, and it would probably raise questions. I'm living in the athletic dorm and he's in one of the regular freshman halls. We do see a lot of one another though. We work out in the gym together every day and we have most of our meals together."
"No real privacy though."
"Well, no." I wondered if he'd sensed our dilemma.
"Perhaps you can work something out for next semester."
"The best thing would be for one of us to get a private room but not many freshmen have that much luck."
"That must make life difficult for the two of you."
I think I blushed. At least my face felt suddenly very hot. It was clear that he assumed we were lovers, or at least in love, whether we'd consummated our feelings for one another or not. I almost volunteered that we had not, but wondered if that might be more information than he wanted. In any case it was clear he was a very perceptive man.
"Yes, Sir, difficult," was all I said.
"Well," he said as he rose, ending the conversation, "I'll give your plight some thought. Now, on your way, or you`ll miss dinner."
With that I was politely booted out and sent on
my way, wondering what Bardwell had up his sleeve. As it turned out, I
didn't have to wait long to find out.
I sat with Steve at dinner but we didn't have a chance to talk. The dining room was always noisy and we were surrounded by a bevy of my fellow football team members. Conversation with them generally came down to four topics; football, of course and the alleged weaknesses and strengths of our next opponents, women, food and the problem of keeping grades at passable levels.
After dinner Steve and I went to our rooms for books and then met again in the library for three hours of reading. None of this, of course, gave us any real time alone and no opportunity to express the things we longed to say to each other.
Wednesday didn't get off to a good start. Steve and I met for breakfast and then went on our separate ways until lunch. After lunch each of us was off on our own again with the expectation of seeing each other when we met for our workout after my late afternoon football practice. As it happened, however, we met, more or less by chance on the second floor of Bridges, where Bardwell's office was located.
Steve and I were talking for a moment, leaning against the wall of the second floor hall as a steady stream of students passed by. We weren't holding hands, of course, but I held a bunch of books in my right hand and Steve held his books in his left. Our free hands had managed to touch, the back of mine against the back of Steve's, just a light touch, seemingly accidental. He told me he'd finally seen Sammy after leaving me at lunch. They'd not really spoken but at least nodded in greeting. Steve said Sammy looked nervous and guilty and just went on by.
Did Sammy realize that Steve and I had a special relationship? He'd said he'd watched Steve and me working out together. Was there something in our interaction which told Sammy that Steve and I were, if not lovers, at least getting very close to that state?
I guess neither of us saw Bardwell approaching but when he came up to where we were standing together in the crowded hall, he paused and, in a low voice, said, "Gentlemen, please come with me."
I think Steve was as startled as I was, but we followed Bardwell without even questioning what he wanted. When we reached his office he held open the door, saw us in, and then shut and secured the door behind us.
"I really think this must stop," he said.
"Sir?" I said, really not knowing what he meant.
"You two look like a pair of love sick pups and anyone watching you very long would figure that out. The only reason they haven't figured it out yet is that most people seem to assume that two big, muscular jocks like you just have to be flaming heterosexuals. But anyone who is the least bit observant would very quickly spot the signs."
"Are we that obvious?"
"Yes, Mr. Ballinger, you are."
"I guess we'd better stop meeting in public," Steve said.
"Where else can me meet but in public?" I asked, a note of irritation creeping into my voice.
"Yes," Bardwell jumped in, "that is the issue."
"We've been trying to figure out how we could spend this next weekend together," I said. "For once I don't have a football game and we have a couple of days free, but no place to go."
"Well, I think I can help."
"Really?" both Steve and I said at once.
"If I were to offer you the hospitality of my home, knowing that your intentions were to have sex together, and if my little gesture were somehow known, it would be seen as a very serious breach of my responsibilities."
"Oh, we understand that, Dr. Bardwell," Steve quickly said. "We certainly weren't hinting at anything like that."
"I know you weren't, Stephen, but, as it turns out, I've been asked to give a series of informal talks at a college in Memphis. Because of my schedule here, it's been arranged for me to give these talks on Saturday afternoons over a period of the next six weeks, which will bring us to the end of the term."
"Will you be driving up on Saturdays, Sir?" Steve asked.
"No, the college is providing housing for me there and I've decided to go up on the Friday afternoon before each talk, and stay over until Sunday afternoon. It will give me some time there to prepare for the talks and to spend some time with a friend who lives there."
"So your house here in Oxford will be empty for those two nights," I said, beginning to get the gist of his plan.
"Yes, Rob, empty and in need of some attention. I was going to suggest that the two of you might be willing to do some house-sitting for me, just to have someone there while I`m away."
"Oh, Sir," I responded immediately, "we'd be pleased to help you."
"I thought you might," he grinned. "I don't expect to pay for your services, you understand, and I also don't care to know what goes on while I'm away. I just ask that the house be well looked after. I assume the beds...or bed...you use will be stripped, the sheets laundered and the beds remade before you vacate the place on Sunday."
"Absolutely, Dr. Bardwell," Steve said. I guess
by that point we were all three grinning.
So it was agreed. The next day after our seminar, Dr. Bardwell gave me a key and a sheet of instructions, how to turn on the oven, how to adjust the heat if that was needed, etc., etc., etc.
"Yes, I understand," I'd said after each injunction. My palms were sweating and I had trouble breathing. That key was like an enchanted talisman and all I wanted was to clutch it to my chest and get through the next twenty-four hours.
By late Friday afternoon Bardwell would leave for Memphis before Steve and I finished our workout. We had no car, of course, but we arranged to borrow one for a hour or so to do some shopping and take our purchases to the house, promising one of my football team mates that we'd have his coveted T-Bird back well before he planned to pick up his girl for their weekly Friday night wrestling match.
With our plans made, all Steve and I had to do was make it to Friday.
Thursday night was sheer torture. I couldn't sleep. I tossed and moaned until David, my roommate, finally turned toward me from his adjacent bed and asked if I was sick or something. Not sick, but restless and as nervous as hell.
As tired as I was, I just couldn't get my brain to stop thinking about myself and Steve, myself and Sammy, even myself and Rick. I thought back to the times when Rick and I had met with Ted Tucker. I thought of all the conversations about our sexuality and the morality or immorality of loving another man. I went back over every word of our discussions. I thought again about my own life and the situations I was likely to face in a world which seemed to be very quick to condemn what I was.
I thought a lot about Rick and what I'd felt for him. Had he made the right choices? Was it better to marry a girl who loved him and try to make a life with her? Knowing Rick as I did, I felt sure that there was a part of him, that part he'd shared only with me, that could never be fulfilled in such a relationship. It didn't matter how much Rick wanted to make himself into the responsible, loving husband, and eventually, into a loving father.
Could I do what he was trying to do? I doubted it.
I had to admire Rick's decision, even if I felt it would eventually fail. Like him, I knew I wanted a solid, lasting relationship. It still hurt though, that he'd chosen to form that relationship, not with me, but with Deb.
As I thought back over the months Rick and I had been lovers I was reminded again that it had been Rick who'd started things between us. If he hadn't taken the risk and made the first move, would I have ever had the nerve to take the first step? I suspected that I wouldn't have been that brave.
With Steve it had been much the same. We had been involved in a sort of mating dance for weeks. It had been clear from the beginning that we were attracted to each other, yet I had made no move. Steve, for his part, had held back, perhaps out of sensitivity to my still raw feelings toward Rick. I had at least told Steve all about Rick almost as soon as we'd admitted to each other that we were sexually attracted to other guys.
Perhaps Sammy had done us an unintentional favor. His unexpected sexual advances and my easy capitulation had at least forced Steve and me into admitting to each other that we did want our relationship to move forward.
What did all this tell me about myself? I had to admit to my own timidity. I had to admit that as much as I wanted a relationship I had made a huge mess of things with Steve. The lesson I learned that sleepless night was one of great importance to me. It had a powerful influence over my life in the years to come.
Lying there in the dark night, trying to be quiet in my confusion so I wouldn't wake David again, I kept coming back to Steve. Was he the person I could love with my whole heart? I knew I wanted a relationship, which made my absurd encounter with Sammy all the more painful. It was contrary to everything I believed, or thought I believed. It was contrary to everything I wanted for myself.
"I do the things I would not do and fail to do the things I want to do," I paraphrased St. Paul in my dark broodings.
I think I finally fell asleep about four o'clock, but had to be up again by seven. David was already gone. It had been a long, restless night. I had every expectation of a long and exhausting day. At least that evening I would be with Steve.
I stumbled out of bed and looked out the window
at a gray, wet world.
To be continued.