SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. Comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 16, Josh and Nolan have dinner at Jack's with Aaron and Paul, but only after eluding an anti-war demonstration on campus. The four of them discuss the war a bit. Later, Paul gives the two boys tickets to a dance being put on by the Queer Student Union. Returning to campus, the boys get dressed before going off to visit some of the different student organizations at Williams. Nolan dresses provocatively, causing a stir as they walk around the Student Union. Eventually the boys split up and Josh runs into Brett again. When he trips, Josh spills his papers and the dance ticket. Brett rips up the ticket after Josh denies knowing anything about it. With Josh unable to get into the dance, the four boys stop by the straight dance where another student starts harassing Nolan, who refuses to back down. The situation is only defused when Professor Jeffords walks by and shames everyone into leaving the boys alone. Later, Nolan and Josh make love. At the end of the next day, Josh returns home to Vermont.
Part II - Innocence Abused
“Hey, Josh, are you going to the game Friday night?” Jimmy asked one morning at school in November.
“I was planning to, Jimmy,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just thinking we could take it in together,” he responded. “You know, kind of like the old days when we did everything together.”
Jimmy was right about that. I had known him forever. We had been best pals since that first day in elementary school together, but our friendship went way beyond school. We had been den members in Cub Scouts together and played on the same Little League team. We had been inseparable for the longest time, but lately it seemed like we had drifted apart.
“I know you have practice after school,” Jimmy continued. “Why don’t you come over to my house when you’re finished? You could have dinner with us and then we could go to the game. That way you wouldn’t have to go all the way home and then come back later.”
It was a good idea, one that would save me a lot of time.
“Thanks, Jimmy, that would be great,” I replied. “Are you sure it’ll be okay with your Mom?”
“No problem,” Jimmy responded. “By the way, they’re going to be having that ceremony for Anthony at the game you know.”
It was something I knew but had forgotten. The thing is, I'm not exactly sure when I heard the news, but at some point in September the School Board had announced they were planning to honor Anthony Torricelli by retiring his basketball jersey before the opening game of the season.
I had been glad when I heard the news. I liked Anthony. Unlike a lot of guys who were popular at school, he was down to earth and willing to help out anyone who asked. He had even helped me out a couple of times.
So I was glad to hear they were retiring his jersey. But I didn't really give it much thought at the time. Not being a member of the basketball team, I only knew Anthony casually and I had pretty much forgotten about the whole thing.
Still, like most of the rest of my classmates, I usually went to all of the games, partly to root for our team and partly just to get out of the house.
“Jeez, I forgot all about that, Jimmy,” I replied. “But, yeah, sure, I wouldn’t want to miss that; and thanks for inviting me over, Jimmy. I’ll come over after practice on Friday and we can just hang out until it’s time for the game. It’s been a while since we did that.”
So that explained why Jimmy and I were walking to school together that Friday evening.
By now the days were growing shorter and shorter as fall yielded to winter’s approach. It was already dark when we set off from his house that evening and there was definitely a chill in the air. I hated that. Winter in Vermont was never something I looked forward to.
By then we were approaching Main Street. As we turned on to it and started walking toward Sycamore, I noticed a solitary figure sitting on a bench in the park across the street from the library. It was dark and it took me a couple of moments, but eventually I recognized the kid. It was Tommy Taylor.
I guess Jimmy must have spotted him at the same time as me.
“Oh, look, the little queer is out and about tonight,” Jimmy said. “I suppose he must be looking for some dick to suck. What an asshole.”
“Why do you say hateful stuff like that, Jimmy,” I protested. “Most of the time you’re the nicest guy in school. I just don’t understand why you hate the kid so much. I mean, it's not like you know him or anything.”
“I know the dude wanted to suck Wayne’s cock,” Jimmy replied, challenging me. “How much more do I need to know?”
“Did you ever actually ask Tommy for his side of the story?” I replied. “It’s not like Wayne is exactly the most truthful dude at school. To Wayne, everything is about Wayne. The guy exaggerates like crazy.”
“Give it up, Josh, will you,” Jimmy replied. “You just have to look at that asshole to know he’s a faggot. I mean, for crying out loud, there he is, across from the library, just waiting for some little kid to come out alone so he can molest him; and not even ashamed about it.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was crazy. But, the thing is, once Jimmy got something into his head, it was impossible to get him to change his mind.
By that time we were rapidly approaching the bench on which Tommy was sitting.
“Evening, girl,” Jimmy said, taunting the kid. “Looking for some cock to suck tonight? Because we’ve got two here just waiting for you if you haven’t sucked enough already.”
I remember cringing. But Tommy didn’t respond. He just turned and looked away.
“What’s the matter, faggot?” Jimmy said, refusing to let go.
“Cat got your tongue? I sure hope not because I’m really looking forward to feeling that tongue of yours on my cock. I bet you’re really good at it, aren’t you, homo?”
Tommy turned and looked at Jimmy. His face seemed blank, not revealing any emotion.
“No, the cat don’t got my tongue, Jimmy,” he responded. “I was just thinking about where I could find a microscope because I figure I’ll need one to find that cock of yours to suck.”
I remember being caught by surprise, but I knew Jimmy wouldn’t like what Tommy had said at all. He had a quick temper.
“Listen, you little cocksucker,” Jimmy screamed, taking a step toward the kid. “You better watch what you say or I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
“Like I’m really scared,” Tommy replied.
“Stop,” I finally shouted, stepping between the two of them.
“Could everyone please shut the hell up. I’m sick of this kind of shit. Jimmy, you should apologize to Tommy for what you said. It was mean.”
“I ain’t apologizing to no fucking cocksucker,” Jimmy replied. “So you can just forget about that, Josh.”
“Fine,” I replied. “If you’re not man enough, I’ll do it for you.”
Turning to Tommy, I looked him in the eye.
“I’m really sorry for what Jimmy just said. He’s a good dude most of the time, but sometimes he lets his mouth run without stopping to think.”
“He can say whatever he wants,” Tommy replied, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve heard worse. And it’s not like I give a shit. So why don’t the two of you just get the hell out of here. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do.”
And with that he turned away again.
The whole thing was frustrating, frustrating as hell.
“Come on, Jimmy,” I finally said. “Let’s go.”
I thought it was over, but Jimmy just couldn’t let it rest.
“Night, cocksucker,” he shouted over his shoulder. “I'll tell all the guys up at school that mouth of yours is looking for some action tonight.”
I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind as we approached Sycamore, but I couldn’t.
“Why, Jimmy?” I asked. “Why do you have to taunt him like that?”
“Because he’s a faggot, Josh,” he replied, “a fucking faggot. He’s not like the rest of us and I really didn’t appreciate you sticking up for him like that. We don’t need any fairies like him in this town.”
There was a part of me that wanted to tell him right then that I was a fairy. There was a part of me that wanted to kick the crap out of him even if he was my best friend in school. But I didn’t do either of those things. I knew it was pointless and by that time we were approaching the school.
We had arrived early so the two of us spent most of the time prior to the game just shooting the breeze with some of the other guys. Wayne wasn’t there, of course. Because he was such a hot shot quarterback, he was too full himself to share the spotlight with anyone. To be honest, I was glad he wasn’t there.
Just before the game was scheduled to start, all of the lights in the gym went dark and Gus Hodges, who broadcast the games from courtside on the local radio station, made the announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please stand while our national anthem is played.”
Within a couple of moments the lights came back on and we could see the members of our Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) squad standing at attention at center court, holding the flag. Then, while people stood in silence, a choral group from Anthony’s church sang the national anthem. When they were done and people had stopped applauding and cheering, both the choral group and the JROTC squad retired from the court and the lights went dim again.
A couple of moments later Gus was back on the microphone making another announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, to honor Anthony Torricelli, the captain of last year’s basketball team, who was killed fighting in North Burkistan, please welcome Miss Jessica Stevens, who will honor Anthony in song.”
When the lights came on again, there was Jessica standing at center court by herself. She began singing:
When she finished, our basketball coach, Mr. Rouse, walked to center court slowly and joined Jessica. Stepping to the microphone she had just used, he looked around the gymnasium and just stood there until the place had fallen totally silent. When it finally did, he began speaking.
“Let freedom ring,” he said, softly.
“Let freedom ring! he repeated, this time a little louder.”
“Please say it with me, ladies and gentlemen,” he continued, and the audience responded loudly to his urging.
“LET FREEDOM RING!”
Coach Rouse waited until the gym fell silent again, then resumed his speech.
“The reason we have the right to sing those words this evening is because we know there are brave men and women fighting to defend freedom for all of us tonight in North Burkistan. Rarely do we stop and think about the sacrifices those brave men and women are making for America. When the game we play this evening is finished, all of us will go back to our homes and our comfortable beds and go to sleep.”
“Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, there will no sleep for tens of thousands of courageous young men and women who have forsaken the comforts of home to serve their nation. Instead, they will be vigilant, standing guard to protect the peaceful sleep all of us take for granted back here at home.”
“Will any of us here tonight fall to our knees and give thanks to the Lord for their sacrifices? I hope so. I hope everyone will.”
“Until recently, our friend and the former captain of our basketball team, Anthony Torricelli, was among those defending us in that far distant land. He was doing this not because he wanted to be there but because our country asked him to be there; not because it was an easy or convenient thing for him to do but because it was the right thing to do. Anthony was defending all of us in North Burkistan because he loved our country, he loved our state and, most of all, he loved all of us who shared our community with him.”
“Anthony was the ultimate team player. He was never in it for personal glory even though he was the very best player on our team. He played because God had given him the talent to play and because he wanted to give back to his community. He was never a selfish player. He would rather pass the ball to a teammate who was open than take a shot himself. But when the game was on the line, you could always count on Anthony to take the shot, no matter how difficult.”
“He was totally fearless and I know for sure he brought that same fearlessness to the battlefield. Just like his teammates could count on Anthony to leave everything on the court, America knew it could count on Anthony to give every ounce of his boundless energy to defend our country. And when there was nothing left for him to give, he gave the last full measure. He sacrificed his life for each one of us in this gymnasium this evening and for every American so that we could continue to enjoy the right to play a simple game like basketball. And for much more as well.”
“In doing so, he joined countless others who had gone before him and made a similar sacrifice, the men and women who fought at Valley Forge and Gettysburg, at San Juan Hill and Belleau Wood, at Normandy and Iwo Jima, at Khe Sanh and Da Nang, and at countless other places around the globe.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I can think of no more fitting tribute to Anthony than the words of a poem I learned as a youth a long time ago:”
The words were powerful and emotional and most of the girls in the gym were sobbing by then; and when Coach Rouse had finished speaking, the lights went dim again and I was glad they had because I could feel the tears forming in my eyes as well. I was having trouble holding them back.
Then, moments later, the lights came up still again and were shining on a jersey hanging from the rafters up above the court:
As the lights began descending toward center court, Coach Rouse walked slowly to the sideline where Anthony’s Mom was sitting in the front row. She was struggling to hold on to a young boy who was fidgeting as if he didn’t really want to be there. Bending down on one knee, he handed her a second jersey, the one Anthony had actually worn in games the previous season we later learned.
There were tears in her eyes and I had to look away. She seemed much older now, even older than when I had seen her not so long ago at the funeral home.
Then the lights went dim one final time. When they came up again, there was Jessica at center court. The music began to play and she began singing again:
And with that the ceremony was over and the fans started clapping and cheering and stomping their feet as our team took to the court. I wasn’t surprised when we won that evening. Everyone on the team was totally jacked up for that game.
Later, after the game was over, Jimmy and I headed out of the building and into the cool evening. We started walking toward Main Street together.
“That was a nice ceremony for Anthony, don’t you think, Josh?” he finally said, breaking the silence.
“It was very nice, Jimmy, very moving,” I replied. “I’m just sorry it ever took place.”
“What do you mean by that?” Jimmy said, looking over at me.
“I just mean I wish Anthony was still here, alive, playing for us, not down the road in the cemetery,” I replied.
“Well, yeah, sure, I understand,” Jimmy said. “But he isn’t here, Josh. Like Coach Rouse said, he died fighting for freedom over there in Buddastan.”
“Burkistan,” I replied, softly. “The name of the country is Burkistan, Jimmy, North Burkistan, not Buddastan. And you know something, Jimmy? I don’t feel any more free today because Anthony died there for us. If anything, I feel less free because I’ll never be able to talk to Anthony again. He was nice guy. I liked him. And now I’ll never be able to play a pickup game with him again, never be able to talk with him again. And neither will his Mom.”
“Burkistan, Buddastan, who gives a shit,” Jimmy responded, shrugging his shoulders.
“Well, if you really believe what Coach Rouse said, Anthony did,” I replied. “Because that’s where he took the last shit he’ll ever take, Jimmy. So I hope he cared, at least some, but I kind of think he was probably like you and me and didn’t really care very much at all and was just trying to keep himself alive as best he could.”
“Jeez, Josh, sometimes I don’t know what to think about you,” Jimmy said, staring at me. “Sometimes you have the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard in my life. And not just crazy either. Dangerous. If somebody else heard what you just said, they would be whipping your ass right now. I mean, I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but it’s almost like you don’t think freedom is worth defending.”
I turned and looked at him. I mean, yeah, I liked Jimmy; he was a good friend and all. But most of the time he was totally clueless and would believe anything he was told.
“Let me ask you something, Jimmy,” I said. “How long do you think that ceremony honoring Anthony lasted tonight?”
“I dunno,” he responded. “Ten, maybe fifteen, minutes. Something like that I would say. Why?”
“So that’s it,” I replied. “Anthony lived in this community for what? Eighteen years, nineteen? He gets himself killed in some hell hole in Asia and that’s all we can give him as a community, ten or fifteen minutes and then that’s it for Anthony?”
“I dunno,” Jimmy said, and I could see he was becoming exasperated with me by now. “What do you think we should give him, a statue or something?”
“I just think he deserved more of a chance, Jimmy,” I responded. “A chance to grow up, to live and to love and to get married and to have a family and to give something back to this community. The same kind of chance I hope you and I will have.”
“I don’t understand you, Josh,” Jimmy replied, quietly, shaking his head. “I mean, hell, you didn’t even know Anthony that well. Neither did I. What’s the big deal? I’m sorry I even raised the topic with you.”
“Well, I guess I’ll just split off here at Sycamore and head back to the farm,” I said. “See you on Monday, Jimmy.”
“See you, Josh,” he replied as he ambled off in the opposite direction toward his home.
As I walked through the woods toward home I couldn't get that ceremony out of my mind. It had been a really beautiful ceremony, simple but well thought out and moving, very moving. It had almost brought me to tears. More importantly, I think it had comforted Anthony’s mother and I was glad about that.
At least I think it had comforted her. Not as much as having Anthony there with her would have, but I’m sure she was proud. She was his Mom. She must have been proud that everyone cared, that everyone was sorry about what had happened.
Or had the ceremony just opened the wound again?
By now I was getting confused.
And then there was Coach Rouse. He had obviously given a lot of thought to what he wanted to say. But the more I thought about his words to us that evening, the more none of what he said made any sense to me.
“Let freedom ring,” he had said.
Was that why we were in North Burkistan? I mean, the thing is, Burkistan was thousands of miles away from America and I couldn’t see any connection between our freedom here at home and what was happening there.
Nolan had told me there was a lot of oil and natural gas off its coast that some corporations wanted to pump, but I had read in the paper the place was ruled by a dictator and we didn’t seem to be doing anything to change that. In fact, from what I heard, we were pumping a lot of money into his country to keep him in power. Some people even said he was stealing all of the money.
Of course, there were rebels fighting the government. I didn’t know a lot about them either. Maybe they were even worse than the dictator we were supporting. But how exactly? And if they were worse, why were we involved in the place at all? Wouldn’t it be just smarter to mind our own business?
The coach had said that Anthony was not there because he wanted to be there but because our country had asked him to be there. Who exactly in the country had asked Anthony to go to North Burkistan? I hadn’t. My Mom hadn’t. I didn’t know anyone in our community who had asked him to go there.
In fact, the truth is no one had asked Anthony. One man, President Matthews, had decided on his own we should be there and Anthony didn’t have any choice in the matter at all. He hadn’t gone there because it was the right thing to do. He had gone because the government had told him to go and would have put him in jail if he didn’t go.
By then I could see the lights from our house and decided just to forget about the whole thing. I mean, I was 17 years old. What did I know? The only thing I knew for sure was that Anthony was dead and there wasn’t anything I could do about that. If I could, I would have. But I couldn’t.
And yet, even though I had only known Anthony casually, I couldn’t get him out of my mind for some reason. I wanted to thank him for helping me out when I needed help. I wanted him to know I was sorry about what had happened, that everyone in our town was sorry.
The following day I decided to visit his grave. When I finally got there, most of the flowers someone had left were dead and the little American flag they had placed on his grave on Veterans Day had fallen over.
I put the flag back in its place of honor and busied myself rearranging the flowers, removing those that were dead so the ones still alive would really stand out and have a better chance of surviving a little bit longer.
When I was done, I said a prayer and told Anthony what I had come to say. Then, not knowing what else to do, I got up and left.
That was pretty much the end of it, for me, for the school, and for the town. No one said anything about Anthony after that, but I found myself thinking about him from time to time, mostly just wondering why he had died.
The following Wednesday was the day before Thanksgiving. I remember being in a really good mood at the end of the day when I stopped by my locker to pick up my stuff. Looking across the hall, I saw the obscenity someone had spray painted on Tommy’s locker. It hadn’t been there in the morning.
I tried to wipe it off with my towel, but couldn’t. I finally gave up and reported it to the principal’s office.
It was only later as I was walking home through the woods that it occurred to me. How could our school do such a wonderful job honoring Anthony, but not do anything for Tommy?
I mean, everyone knew what was happening. The students knew. The teachers and the administrative staff knew. The principal knew. In a small town like ours, I was sure the School Board knew as well.
Everyone cared about Anthony now that he was dead. Would Tommy have to be dead before anyone cared? Would they even care at all for some kid who was different and died here at home fighting rumors and innuendo, not in some far off land fighting some distant enemy?