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 email@example.com. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 19, Josh arrives in New York City and is awed by what he sees. The two boys go back to Nolan's home and make passionate love that evening. In the days that follow, they visit most of the major tourist sites in New York City. They also take in a show on Broadway and a hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins. Nolan roots for the Rangers, but is ecstatic when the Bruins win knowing that will put Josh in a great mood. They visit Times Square on New Year's eve and end up welcoming in the New Year by kissing one another. The two boys watch while members of the Polar Bear club take a dip in the ocean on New Year's Day. Later, Nolan and his nemesis at school, Marcus, get into a fight at the YMCA. Nolan ends up breaking Marcus' nose. Finally, his winter vacation over, Josh heads back to Vermont on the train.
Part II - Innocence Abused
I remember being disappointed on the trip back to Albany. The whole visit had been way too short. Why did I have to go back home? Yeah, sure, my Mom was there and I loved her more than anyone in the whole world. But except for my Mom, there was really nothing important to me in Vermont. Nolan was the only thing important to me now and he was in New York City.
New York had been totally awesome. It was so big, so alive, so everything Vermont would never be, at least not for me. I wanted to be back in New York with Nolan. But here I was, on some dumpy train, headed back to Albany where my mother would be waiting for me.
I remember thinking June was so far away. We would have to get through the whole winter and winter lasted forever in Vermont. Everybody knew that. It was frustrating. I wanted to be with Nolan so bad and now it would be another five months before I saw him again. It was going to take forever I thought.
And then, before I even recognized it was happening, time started to speed up for me.
I suppose part of it came from keeping myself busy. Our hockey squad was really good that year and we were absolutely crushing every team we played. I was getting a lot of play in the sports page of the Gazette. And then the Rutland Herald ran a big story on the team that featured me too. It even included a big picture of me to boot. That boosted my popularity at school and brought a lot of favorable comments from my classmates.
Okay, so I’m being shallow about the whole thing. Who doesn’t like being popular? I had always been popular at school, but now I was super popular. I liked that.
On the academic side, school, which had always seemed to drag on forever during the winter, seemed to be passing quickly as well. Maybe it was because I had already checked out in some ways. It seemed to me my classmates were still the same as they had always been. But somehow I was different now. There was a new life out there just waiting for me. I could see it coming up over the horizon and was ready for it to arrive. Hell, I was more than just ready. I was eager.
So I didn’t take the petty squabbling and gossip that seemed to consume my classmates seriously any more. I went to class and did everything required of me. I did all of the things on the farm that Mom expected of me. A lot of my time was taken up with all of the sports I was playing even after the hockey season ended. But it seemed like I was just treading water, waiting for my new life to begin.
Not that I wasn’t nervous at times. I was. Waiting to hear from all the schools I had applied to was nerve wracking. Not so much because I was worried about getting in. I thought I would get into at least one of them for sure. But I was still worried about how Mom and I would pay for this education I wanted so badly. I knew we had to do it somehow, that I would never get to where I wanted to be if I didn’t go to college and get the degree. But how were we going to pay for it? That was the tricky part.
February turned to March and then April came on rapidly. Letters started drifting in from the different schools, first from Castleton State and then from the University of Vermont. Both had accepted me and were willing to provide some financial help, but neither was willing to pay all of the expenses. I started getting depressed, wondering whether I would even be going to college the following year.
And then it happened. The letter from Williams arrived.
I’m sure it took a lot for my Mom not to open it, but she pointed to it quickly enough when I got home that afternoon.
“Is it heavy or light?” I asked.
“It’s heavy,” she said, smiling at me. “Go ahead now, Joshua. Open it up.”
I picked it up from the table gingerly. She was right. It was heavy. Kind of. But what did that mean after all? Everyone said it meant an acceptance, but how did they know that?
It could mean anything, Josh, or it could mean nothing. So what if it was an acceptance? Sure, a rejection would have been devastating at that point, but what good would being accepted do if I didn’t get the financial aid I needed?
The more I thought about it, the more sick to my stomach I became.
“I don’t want to open it right now, Mom,” I said. “I’m going to wait until later.”
Then I picked it up and went up to my room.
My mother was a real saint that day. She never said anything even though it probably meant more to her in lots of ways than it did to me. But she just left me alone and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. The suspense was killing me.
You may as well get it over Josh, I told myself. Just don’t get your hopes up. The truth is it could be a no as easily as it could be a go. And even if it was a go, that hardly settled the matter. There was still the question of financial aid.
So I finally opened the letter as carefully as I could. I unfolded it slowly without looking at the words. Then, at last, I began to read.
We are pleased to inform you ....
“I got accepted, Mom,” I said, shouting as loud as I could. “I got accepted by Williams.”
I couldn’t believe it.
I wanted to run down the stairs immediately, but I was looking for something else in the letter and eventually I found it.
If you requested financial assistance, you will be informed by separate letter within the next two weeks of the decision regarding your eligibility for such assistance and the amount of assistance, if any, you will receive.
So there was no decision on aid.
I remember sighing deeply, then gathering up the letter and bringing it downstairs for my Mom to read.
I watched as she read it and could see her smile the moment she read the very first sentence.
“Congratulations, young man,” she said, throwing her arms around my neck and hugging me. “I’m very proud of you Joshua.”
“You need to read the whole thing,” I said, trying not to reveal by the tone of my voice what I already knew.
I knew when she had reached the part of the letter about financial aid because she pursed her lips ever so slightly.
“More waiting,” she said, looking over at me.
“Yeah,” I replied.
I wasn’t surprised that night when I got a call from Nolan. He had been accepted as well.
“I’m going, babe,” he said. “I don’t care what any of the rest of the schools decide. I’m going to Williams and you’re going to be my roommate.”
“I sure hope so,” I said, trying to conceal just how anxious I was feeling right about then.
“What do you mean?” Nolan asked. “You’re not thinking of dumping me, are you, Josh? I don’t think I could take it if you dumped me now.”
“I would never do that Nolan,” I responded. “How can you even think I could do something like that? But, the thing is, I’m not going to hear for another two weeks whether I’m getting any financial aid.”
“I know you’re going to get help, Josh,” Nolan replied. “I just know it. You have to believe me.”
“I sure hope so,” I said. “It would be great if I could go and the two of us could be roommates. And not just at Williams. Roommates forever,” I whispered.
The wait got a little easier a couple of days later when I received a letter from the Williams Athletic Department letting me know they were recommending me for a scholarship, the amount of which would be determined by my need for assistance.
“That’s very encouraging, Josh,” my Mom said after reading the letter. “Both of us know you really do need assistance.”
“I know Mom,” I responded. “I just don’t want to get my hopes up about it. When it comes to money, nothing ever seems to go right for the two of us.”
I received the letter both my Mom and I were looking for a few days later. I followed pretty much the same routine as before, retrieving the letter from the kitchen table where my Mom had left it and then disappearing up to my room where I tossed it aside.
I collapsed on to the bed and closed my eyes. I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted this and I figured that wasn’t a good sign.
The world doesn’t end just because you can’t go to Williams, Josh. Hell, if it comes to that, you could even get a job in Williamstown and still be together with Nolan. You could save up the money from the job and maybe someday you’ll be able to go to Williams.
What is it I had heard that Professor say the previous fall?
“This is America,” Professor Jeffords had said. “Anything is possible, right?”
I took a deep breath and slid the envelope opener under the flap. I opened the envelope quickly and unfolded it without actually looking at the words.
“Congratulations. Based in part on your academic record and in part on need, as well as the recommendation of our Athletic Department, we are pleased to inform you that Williams College will provide financial assistance to cover the full cost of tuition, room, board, and all related expenses should you choose to enroll during the coming academic year. This assistance will continue in subsequent years as long as you maintain the academic progress standards explained in the accompanying documents and continue to be recommended for such assistance by the Athletic Department.”
I folded up the letter, put it back in the envelope and walked downstairs to the kitchen. My mother turned and looked at me. I tried not to give it away. Instead, I walked over to her and handed her the envelope.
She glanced at me momentarily, still trying to find some clue in my face, but she couldn’t. So she removed the letter from the envelope, opened it up and began reading.
“Oh thank God,” she screamed, tossing the letter aside and flinging her arms around me almost immediately.
“I’m so happy for you, Joshua, so proud of you. I’ve never been prouder of you than I am at this very moment.”
I remember feeling relieved more than anything else. It was like some huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
That night I called Nolan and let him know the good news.
“I knew it,” he said. “I knew it all along. It’s fate, Josh. Fate wants us to be together and now that’s going to happen. We’re going to be roommates for life, just like you said.”
Maybe it’s true, I said to myself. Maybe this is going to work out after all.
By now winter and spring were in competition in Vermont. It had been a bitterly cold winter with unusually large amounts of snow. But then we had a long string of days where the weather turned beautiful and the snow began melting away. It offered the promise of better times and people welcomed the change with enthusiasm. By then everyone in Vermont was tired of winter, including me.
But winter was not so easily defeated in Vermont. Its annual struggle with spring was renewed and the weather turned cold again, bitterly cold. It would have bothered me more in the past, but by now I was finally able to relax. Everything seemed to be going my way and I found myself reasonably contented with life. Not even winter’s resurgence could depress me.
I remember staying late that day in order to take extra laps at the pool. Everyone was telling me I had an excellent chance to be number one in the state in the backstroke and that brought out the competitive juices in me. I had never been number one at anything before and I wanted it really badly now; or at least badly enough to put in extra time at the pool that particular day, trying to enhance my endurance.
It must have been 4:45 when I pushed through the double wide doors and headed home for the evening. I was feeling a little tired from all the extra work in the pool so I decided to take the short cut just off Route 91. Hardly anyone went up that way in the winter because they closed down the road at Elm and Route 91 until the middle of May. And it was dark, of course, really dark. If you weren’t careful, you could get yourself lost in the woods up there and no one would ever find you.
Still, I knew it would save fifteen minutes to go home that way and, like I said, it was brutally cold that day. I remember wanting to get home as fast as I could to get myself warmed up again.
As I was approaching Elm Street I spotted a solitary figure off in the distance. Whoever it was, he was just sitting on the bench where the bus would normally stop. But the bus never went up there in the winter so I couldn’t understand why anyone would be sitting there at all. As I approached I could see he wasn’t wearing a jacket and it looked like his clothes were wet. It took me a couple of moments but eventually I recognized who it was. It was Tommy. Tommy Taylor.
What the hell he is doing up here, I remember thinking to myself. He doesn’t live anywhere near here. He lives all the way across town. Why would he be out here at this time of the evening?
“Hi, Tommy,” I said, approaching him from behind. When he turned around and looked over at me, I could tell he’d been crying because the tears were still streaked across his face. He just looked at me and didn’t say anything.
“What are you doing here, Tommy?” I asked. “And why aren’t you wearing a jacket? You’re going to freeze to death out here without a jacket in those wet clothes. I’m surprised you haven’t already.”
“I’m waiting for someone,” Tommy replied, angrily. “Is that some kind of crime or something? Do you own the bus stop? And as for my jacket, Wayne and his buddies stole it after they beat me up earlier today and poured their water bottles over me. But you don’t have to worry about it, Josh. I’m fine. Just leave me the hell alone.”
Wayne! Not that asshole again, I thought. I just never understood how anyone could be that twisted.
“Jesus, Tommy,” I said. “You can’t stay here. You’re turning blue. How long have you been here? Is your Mom or Dad picking you up? If so, when?”
“I’ve been here for twenty-five minutes,” Tommy said. “And, no, my Mom and Dad aren’t picking me up either. I’m just waiting for someone else. He usually comes by around 5:30.”
“5:30,” I said. “That’s at least another thirty minutes from now. You’ll be frozen to death by then. Why don’t you come over to my place and warm up. I can drive you back here before 5:30 so you can meet your friend on time.”
“He isn’t my friend,” Tommy said, defiantly, and I could hear the anger in his voice. But he suppressed it quickly enough.
“He’s just somebody I know,” he continued. “And I shouldn’t leave because he’ll be mad if he comes by earlier and I’m not here. He doesn’t like it when I’m not here when he wants me to be. So thanks but no thanks. You just go on home by yourself.”
Tommy was shivering like crazy and I really was worried he would freeze to death out there if he didn’t get warmed up pretty soon. Hypothermia wasn’t all that unusual in our neck of the woods and it seemed to be overtaking him pretty quickly by then without him even being aware of it.
“Look, Tommy,” I said, “my house is a twenty minute walk from here, but only five minutes away by car. I’ll have you back here in plenty in time and you can wear one of my jackets too. That way you won’t be so cold. Come on, Tommy. You’re a smart kid. You know I’m not lying to you about freezing to death out here.”
He never really said, but I’m pretty sure it was the jacket that finally persuaded him. He was cold, terribly cold, and the thought of having a jacket was just too much for him to resist at that point.
“Okay,” Tommy finally replied. “It’s really cold. I wouldn’t mind borrowing a jacket and I’ll be sure to bring it back to you first thing tomorrow at school.”
“Sure,” I said. “No problem. I don’t really need it right away in any event.”
“And, look,” I added, stripping off my coat. “Why don’t you take this coat for now? I haven’t been out here as long as you have and it’s only twenty minutes to my house from here. I can handle not having a jacket for twenty minutes.”
“No,” he replied. “I’m not some kind of charity case.”
“I know that, Tommy,” I said. “Take the jacket for crying out loud. It doesn’t make any sense for both of us to freeze our ass off out here.”
“No way. No how. Forget about it,” he responded. “Now let’s get going. I need to be back here as quickly as possible.”
I couldn’t believe it, but there was no way I was going to change his mind. So I put my jacket back on and just led him into the woods. I remember trying to quicken my pace, but knew it wouldn’t make much of a difference even we ran the whole way. And we’d probably break our necks if we tried to do that.
As we walked home through the woods that evening, I remember thinking I hadn’t really heard very much about Tommy for a long time. By the end of November he was no longer the lead story when it came to the latest gossip at school. Everyone had moved on to something else, even Jimmy; and Jimmy was always the very last to give up on anything juicy around the school.
The fact the gossip had moved on to other things didn’t really change anything for Tommy, of course. Kids continued to taunt him or spill drinks on him or throw food at him in the cafeteria when they could get away with that, which was a lot more than you might suspect given there were supposed to be monitors in the cafeteria to prevent that kind of thing from happening.
No one ever sat at his table at lunch, of course, and after a while Tommy didn’t even bother coming to the cafeteria any longer. For a while I wondered where he was eating. Later, when I saw him occasionally, I began to wonder whether he was even eating at all.
They continued to trip him in the halls, to call him names, and to booby trap or vandalize his locker. I had even fixed his locker myself a couple of times when he wasn’t around. I had seen most of the tricks you could play with a locker over the years so it wasn’t all that hard for me to spot something that was out of place.
Occasionally Tommy would hit the front pages again, sometimes when the gossip mill was running low on victims, but more typically after Wayne and his cronies had come up with some new and/or unusual way to torment the kid.
It was terrible, of course, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. I had done more than most I liked to think. But, the thing is, it was easy enough to forget about all of this when it wasn’t happening to you. In any event, like I said, it seemed to me it must have calmed down at some point during the year because I heard he wasn’t skipping school nearly as much as he had been at the very beginning of the year when he was the hot item.
Not that I saw him around very much. He was a smart enough kid to keep himself hidden as much as possible. They couldn’t torment you if you weren’t around to be tormented. Usually you could count on some level of protection in the classroom. The places you wanted to stay away from were the cafeteria, the gym, the locker rooms, and the bathrooms. Especially the bathrooms!
For all of that, it didn’t make it any easier when I had run into him that evening. If you had any kind of conscience at all, you knew not even a dog deserved to be treated the way he was being treated. And I remember feeling guilty I hadn’t done more for the kid. I guess that’s why I had been so insistent about him coming home with me.
It was only later on I remember wondering whether I was being completely honest about that.
By that time in the winter, with the trees stripped bare, you could see the lights from my house even before you emerged from the path through the woods. It was one of the few things I liked about winter. The house always seemed so warm and welcoming to me. That evening was no different as we approached the place.
“Mom, I’m home,” I said, as I pushed opened the door. “I have a friend with me. I need to borrow the car keys.”