By John Yager
This is a story of hope. It is the story of a young man coming of age in a culture of prejudice and misunderstanding. It is a story which deals with difficult and often disturbing issues but, nonetheless, issues which must be confronted in today's world.
Again, special thanks to Andrew for proofing and editorial help.
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 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.
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Having Joyce as my girlfriend made my senior year at Spring River High the best year of my life, at least the best year so far. She was a great girl and in many ways we were very much alike. It also helped that she was beautiful, probably the best looking girl in our class. She was popular without trying to be popular and with her by my side, it just seemed as if all the right doors opened.
After our third date I knew I wanted to go steady
with her. That in itself was certainly very odd, considering I'd never
really dated any girl seriously before. In fact, the few dates I'd had
to that point were made more or less under duress. I'd only asked girls
out when I had to have a date to do something I needed or wanted to do,
something which would have been odd to go to alone.
With Joyce it was different. She wasn't so much my girl friend as she was just my best friend. But having her with me had been a charm from the very first.
For our first date, I'd asked her to go to a movie with me. On Friday evening at dinner I'd worked up my courage and asked my folks if I could use a car on Saturday night. My dad made some crack about how I must have a hot date, knowing I never dated. He'd been on my case about it in sort of indirect ways for the last year.
"Well, I don't know if `hot' is the right word, Dad, just a date."
He dropped his fork. It wasn't a stunt, either. He really dropped his fork.
"Oh, that's nice, dear," my mother said, ignoring the mess Dad had made with his catapulting potatoes. "Who are you taking out?"
"Joyce Lynn," I said, not even looking up from my plate.
"Well, well, congratulations, Little Brother," Ted had said. "I kept telling them you were just a late bloomer."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence, Ted," I'd said.
"Never doubted you, Rob, my man."
"So do you think I could use a car?"
"Certainly, dear," my mother had said. "Your father and I are going to the country club so you can use mine."
"No, Martha," dad had said, finally regaining his poise, "we'll take your car and Rob can drive mine."
My father was a General Motors man. For years, for as long as I could remember, he'd traded cars about every couple of years, always for the newest Pontiac or Oldsmobile, always with all the options and so much chrome that Ted and I often joked about him improving his mileage by fifty percent if he'd just get rid of the excess weight. At that time, however, dad was driving a new Buick Roadmaster. He'd just traded for it in July and it was his pride and joy. "Moving up" to a Buick was clearly a mark of success in dad's mind.
Mother, on the other hand, had a perfectly good three year old Olds, which had been dad's car, two back.
"I'll take the Buick," Ted had said, "and you can drive my MG."
"We know what you have in mind, young man," dad had scolded. "Rob can drive the Buick. I don't want you getting Betty Long in that big back seat."
"Well, Rob," Ted grinned, "I guess Dad thinks you're a safer bet with a girl than I am. No making out, young man."
Ted had been dating Betty since their senior year in high school and I knew from what he'd told me that they'd been having sex for at least a year, with or without the benefit of the Buick.
"Well, it's only his first date with the Lynn girl," dad had blustered, "and that's no way to talk in front of your mother."
"Just kidding, Dad, sorry."
"Well, you should be!" Dad went back to his dinner. I guess for him it was okay for the guys to talk or act in one way when the women weren't around. But clearly, another standard came into force in front of our mother or any other `respectable' lady. Of course, dad was also overlooking the fact that he'd made the original crack about back seats in the first place.
So it was settled. I drove the Buick and my parents went off to the country club in mother's Olds, to brag about the social exploits of their younger son, no doubt.
On our third date, just a week after our first, I took Joyce home promptly at midnight, as her parents had instructed. We'd been to a party at the Grays. Their two sons were on the football team with me, Tom in my class, and Jack, a year behind. The party had been planned well in advance to mark our last few days of freedom before the start of the autumn term. In the days leading up to that Saturday night, we'd all been to the high school to register and pick up our schedules and our books. The following Monday classes were due to begin.
It had already become common knowledge that Joyce and I were dating. Several of our friends had seen us at the movie the week before. I, of course, got a lot of teasing from the other guys but by and large, they were all impressed by my new social status.
Back at the Lynn's house, Joyce and I had drifted to the kitchen and helped ourselves to cokes.
From there we'd drifted out onto the back porch, were we'd sat, side by side on the wicker love seat.
"Is it okay for me to stay a while?" I'd asked, not sure about the nature of the curfew.
"Oh, sure, Rob." Joyce had said. "My parents may come out to say hello and let us know they're here, but they don't mind at all if you stay a while, so long as you get me home on time."
I put my arm behind her, along the back of the love seat and let the palm of my hand rest on her shoulder. I was so ill at ease I didn't dare do more, but figured by our third date I should make a little show of affection.
Joyce leaned over toward me and let her head rest on my shoulder.
"This is so nice, Rob," she said. "I've really enjoyed getting to know you better."
"Yes, me too," I managed to say, and even with those few words my voice caught. "In fact, Joyce," I went on after a pause, "I've enjoyed our dates so much I sort wonder if we shouldn't go steady."
"I think that's a very good idea," Joyce said. She turned her head to me and I realized I was supposed to kiss her. I'd never kissed anyone before, girl or boy, not like that, anyway, and I suddenly panicked. Joyce saved the day, though. She put her hand behind my head, to keep me from bolting, I later thought, and moved her lips to mine. It was a very chaste kiss, just our closed lips pressed together for a moment or two, and then she drew away. "It will make a lot of things so much easier, going steady, I mean."
"Yes," I agreed.
So Joyce and I began our senior year as a couple. It was a very strange relationship, right from the start, but a very pleasant one. I didn't realize then how much Joyce had already figured out about me, or at least, how much she strongly suspected.
We knew our plans and realized right from the start that in less than a year we'd be at different universities, more than a thousand miles apart. I guess for both of us going steady was a very convenient arrangement. For me it was an amazing experience. I never tired of being with Joyce. She was and is a bright, thoughtful and caring person and still among my very closest friends.
But what was most amazing was the effect my relationship with Joyce had on everyone around me. Before I was always the odd man out. The odd man, most certainly. As popular as I was, as many friends as I had, I was always just not quite part of things. I had two or three really close friends among the guys in my class. We'd known one another since Kindergarten and for the last three or four years, been on the teams together. But suddenly I was a leader of the senior class.
The week after classes began that fall I was chosen captain of the football team. I was a very good player and that fall I blossomed as the team's starting quarterback. But in my book, Joyce deserved a lot of credit for my success in sports. It was as if having a girlfriend, admittedly, a beautiful and popular girlfriend, gave me a new kind of status among my teammates and even within my family and the community at large. Having Joyce at my side gave me a kind of confidence I'd never had before.
In late October Joyce and I were elected Homecoming Queen and Homecoming King! By then she and I had begun to speak in our own veiled and private language about my sexuality and there was, of course, a lot of teasing from her about which of us really should have which of the two titles.
That openness between us had begun toward the end of September when Joyce and I had double dated with Rich Carlson and his girlfriend, Debbie Peters. I had again been driving my dad's Buick and after a Saturday night dance at the school, we'd gone on for cokes at the Westside Drive-In and then to park on the river front below Johnson's Mill. Rich and Debbie were in the back seat, of course and Joyce and I in front.
Rich had asked me in advance if we could park for a while and recommended that spot, saying the sheriff or his deputies never bothered kids there. I'd told Joyce that Rich and Debbie wanted to park and she'd said, fine, just let her handle it. I wasn't sure what that meant, but was glad to let her take the lead.
Rich and Debbie had been dating since Junior High and it wasn't long before they were into some really serious necking. I didn't have any previous experience with a situation like that and had no idea how far they'd go with Joyce and me there.
Joyce had slid over toward me and taken my hand. She drew me over to her and then began to slide down a little into the seat, pulling me with her. Within a moment or two our heads were below the top of the seat so we couldn't see what was going on in the back or be seen from the back.
We had gotten into the habit by then of ending our dates by kissing good night, but now Joyce seemed to be inviting even more intimacy. After a few minutes of kissing, she whispered in my ear. "Get me out of here, Rob. Let's walk along the river and leave those two alone."
"Sure, Joyce," I said.
I opened the door on the driver's side and walked around to help Joyce out. As I opened the door for her and the interior light came on, I saw that Rich and Debbie were entangled in a mass of disheveled clothes and a chorus of moans.
As soon as Joyce got out of the car she asked me what time it was.
"Just eleven," I'd said.
"Go back and tell them we'll have to leave here in about half an hour so you can get me home by midnight."
"Okay." It seemed like a reasonable excuse. It gave them a little time to neck, and us enough time to get Joyce to her house before her curfew. I went back and knocked on the rear window . When Rich looked up, I flashed him ten figures three times. He smiled and nodded.
With our schedule announced, Joyce and I walked along the river and then stood together on the grassy bank. The moon was about three quarters full and its light sparkled on the water. Joyce put her arm around my waist and pulled me to her, our hips touching.
"This is nice," she said, her voice very low, almost a whisper.
There was a damp, boggy smell rising from the river. It should have been unpleasant, but it wasn't. It just smelled like the end of summer. There was a light breeze coming from the west, off the water and the night air was cool. I put my arm around Joyce's shoulder and drew her close.
"Yes," I said.
"But this kind of thing is bound to happen often, Rob. I think we need to discuss a few rules."
"Yes, our rules. You know, how to deal with the other kids, what limits we want to set for ourselves."
"Yes," I agreed.
"I think I've sort of figured you out, Rob."
I felt myself stiffen.
"It's fine. If I'm wrong, it's no big deal. If I'm right we just need to sort of agree on what we're doing."
"What do you mean, Joyce?"
"Well, for starters, you're ill at ease with all this, aren't you?"
"Well, yeah, I am, but I'm learning. I've never gone steady with a girl before."
"Look, Rob, a girl can tell about things like this. It really is fine. We both know going steady is just a convenience for both of us. It's only for the rest of the school year at most."
"You know I really care for you, Joyce," I managed to say.
"I know you do. I care for you, too. In fact, I think it's entirely possible what we are growing into may be something like love." She leaned close and kissed my cheek. "But if you'll be honest with yourself and with me, Rob, you know we'll never be more then the very best of friends."
"What are you saying, Joyce?"
"I'm saying that you may love me, but you will never desire me, not in a physical sense."
"But, Joyce, I..."
She cut me off with a finger resting lightly over my lips.
"Can I ask you something, Rob."
"How would you rate me so far as looks are concerned?"
"You're beautiful, Joyce. Everyone thinks so."
"Would you say I was one of the more attractive girls in our class?"
"Definitely. The most attractive."
"And I'd say you were the best looking guy." She ran her fingers over the curve of my jaw. "All things being equal, we might be the hottest couple Spring River's seem in a month of Sundays."
"You being vain, lady?"
"No, just recognizing the truth of the matter."
"So what's your point?"
"Well, like I said, Rob, a girl can tell."
"All things considered, Rob, we should be...what's the expression Mary uses? `Knocking on each other's door.'"
"What does that mean?"
"Look, Rob, last year I had dates with about half a dozen of your football buddies. I had to fight off every one of them. That's one reason I'm so glad you came along." She looked up at me again and said, "How are we doing on time?"
"It's eleven twenty-five."
"We'd better go rescue our back seat lovers from themselves then you can take me home. We can finish this conversation on our favorite love seat over cokes."
We did just that. As we approached the car, just as we came out of a little patch of pines, Joyce put her arm around me and drew me close. "This is for our audience, my gentlemanly friend, not that I haven't been wanting to do it anyway." Then she put her arms around my neck and drew me close. She pressed her lips against mine and held me for a rather long time.
When she finally pulled away she said, "My, that was nice. And it should do wonders for your reputation."
As I opened the door for her, I saw Rich look at me with a grin. He'd obviously seen our little exhibition by the pines. He and Debbie were sitting up and straightening their clothes as I pulled the big car back onto the road and headed back into Spring River.
We barely made the curfew. Fortunately, Rich wanted to stay at Debbie's house a while, just as I intended to stay a little longer at the Lynn's. If I'd had to take him on to his house, I wouldn't have gotten Joyce home on time.
As it was, we were sitting close on the love seat, cokes in hand at midnight, when Dr. Lynn came out onto the porch to check on us. As he came through the door from the kitchen, I quickly stood, almost knocking Joyce to the floor. She'd had her legs pulled up on the cushions and was leaning back against me.
"Well, kids," her father had said, "I just wanted to see if you were in safely before I got into bed."
"Good evening, Sir," I'd stammered, to his obvious amusement.
"Don't let me bother you," he added as he went back through the door. "Don't stay up too much longer, Joyce."
"No, Dad, I won't."
When he'd gone, Joyce turned to me and said, "Sit."
I rejoined her on the loveseat and she resumed her original position, her back against my side and my arm around her shoulder.
"Now, where were we?"
"Fighting off my football buddies, I think. Or was it something about knocking on each other's door?"
"So what were you going to say, Joyce?" I'm not
stupid, I knew where she was heading and knew I might just as well hear
"Well, for starters, I've never had to fight you off, Rob, not once."
"So didn't you say I was a gentleman?"
"Yes, but a man first, Rob. I've certainly given you every indication that I'd be receptive to more physical attention. You haven't responded."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I'm not what you're looking for. I'm not what shakes your timber, or rattles your cage. I'm not what causes your temperature to rise and makes your body quiver."
"If any girl could, Joyce, it would be you."
"Thank you, sweetie," she said, turning to kiss me again. This time it wasn't for an audience. It was just for us, and it was gentle and soft and loving. "I think you really mean that, Rob, and I am very flattered. If any girl could, I'm glad it would be me."
I leaned forward and kissed her. As I pulled away we both smiled.
"I've never admitted that to anyone ever before." She was making it as easy as possible, but I really was shaken,
"Well, I'm all the more honored."
"Does this mean you don't want to go steady any more?"
Her laugh was golden, like a hundred bells ringing at once. "Wait a minute, mister, you don't get off that easy."
"We're still going steady?"
"You bet we are, and we will be, at least until we graduate and say our goodbyes to Spring River." She turned and sat next to me, her feet on the floor. "Look, Rob, we need each other. Now more than ever."
"You mean, like for cover?"
"That and because I really care for you. I hope we can be friends for as long as we live."
"Yeah, that would be nice."
"But for right now, you protect me from those football bruisers and I help you keep your secret. I think it's a good match."
"Okay, I can see that." I looked at her and was in awe of her beauty and her pluck.
"There are a few little lessons you need to learn, Rob, if we're going to make this work."
"Well, for one thing, when we are out in public, you need to try to act as if I were more than just a friend."
"You mean I need to be more affectionate?"
"Yes, for starters."
"Okay. I can do that."
"Well, I can take your hand, hold it, you know."
"That's good for starters." She looked at me for a long time and then said, "I think we'd better work on the kisses."
"Short ones first. You come up behind me when you know other people are watching but act as if you think we're alone."
"Okay, like in the kitchen at my folks' house or in a more or less deserted hall at the school?"
"Yes, that would work."
"And I kiss you."
"Yes. Maybe you put your arms around me from behind and lean over and kiss my cheek."
"Can we try it?"
"Sure." She stood and walked to the little counter at the end of the porch. "Come here." I followed her. "So maybe I'm just fixing us a coke or getting something out of the refrigerator. I'm just standing there with my hands occupied so I can't really fend you off."
"Do you want to? Fend me off, I mean?"
"No, but a girl has to look as if she might object, or be a little embarrassed by your forwardness or your attention. The truth is, we love it, but we can't admit that."
"So I come up behind you and give you a sort of a hug?"
"Just a little hug. Then you lean around and kiss my cheek."
"Like this?" I put my arms around her waist and leaned over to kiss her just below the ear.
"Um, yes, that was very nice. Want to try it again?"
"Sure." I did it again but this time I let my lips linger over her cheek, just close enough to create a sort of buzz. Then I moved further down so I was kissing her just to the side of her lips.
"Oh, Rob," she whispered, "you'd better be careful. I may not rattle your cage, but you sure could rattle mine."
"Or shake your timbers?"
"Okay," I said as I released her. "Where do we go from here?"
"That's it, mister. At least for tonight."
"The lesson is over?"
"Definitely. You go home and I go to bed."
"So how did I do?"
"Oh, A+ all the way."
She walked me through the house to the front door,
where we again embraced. I gave her a little kiss on the lips. "Good night,
Steady Girlfriend," I said as I left her. "This has been quite a night.
You've sure given me a lot to think about."
Later, alone in my room, I thought over everything Joyce had said. I realized that what she hadn't said might be even more important.
Joyce was a very tactful girl. She never came out and said she had concluded I was gay, or homosexual, or whatever other word someone with less tact might have tossed my way. She just let me know that she'd figured out that I was not sexually attracted to her. She might have hinted, but she never said she thought the person who would attract me would be another guy.
Some time later when we'd both gotten comfortable with our somewhat revised relationship, we did get to the place where we could talk about homosexuality. On one occasion, she said something about how, if I ever did change, she would still be there.
"That isn't likely, Joyce. You do know that," I'd said, not wanting to make her think it was likely.
"I know that, Rob. I talked to m dad about all that."
"You talked to your father?"
"Yes, but only in general terms. I didn't mention you by name or say anything that would make him suspect you."
"I'd never do that, Rob. But the point is, he confirmed that in his view, homosexuality is not a choice and it certainly isn't a sickness. He admitted he didn't know what its causes might be, but he was fairly certain that it was a life-long condition, not subject to change."
I didn't realize then how advance Dr. Lynn's views were, or how unique he was among the leaders of Spring River.
To be continued.