K. J. Pedersen
Rumors of War
Anno Domini 2074
Sceofeld, North Lancascir, Republic of Liberia,
Anglian Federative Republic
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND why Lukas just doesn’t knock Markus flat on his back,” Shane said and indicated Lukas, across the lunch hall, with quick nod. “If I was Lukas, I wouldn’t stand for the shit Markus is saying.”
“I know you wouldn’t stand for it,” I told Shane. “You need to control your temper.”
Johannes, Lukas, and my little sister Susanna were seated together at the other end of the lunch hall. My brother and Lukas sat across from another. Susanna was seated at my brother’s side. She stayed close to him, worried.
Markus said something to Lukas in their world history class that morning, Shane told me, something he had not heard, but which brought Lukas down immediately. Following the strike, Lukas and Markus had a serious falling out. Now Markus was spreading rumors.
Wulfric put his cheeseburger down on the tray, looked at Shane for a long moment, and said, “Chancellor Rheinhardtsón was serious, Shane. He will expel you next time you’re caught fighting.”
The day before Shane and Godric had gotten into it again. Godric started it. He knew how to push Shane; he enjoyed it. And Shane, foolishly, let himself be pushed. Nothing happened. One of the newly hired security guards was on top of the situation immediately and broke it up before blows were ever exchanged.
The academy’s head, Chancellor Rheinhardtsón called Shane’s mother at work. He let her know Shane was one hair’s breadth away from being expelled. He was deadly serious too; he was worried about his job. Students fighting on school property was a serious violation of school policy — and it was something the chancellor would be held accountable for.
That Saturday, immediately following the strike, my father called the chairman of Sceofeld Academy’s board of directors, at home, and threatened to take Johannes out of school and move him to Acbeorg Christian Academy. He informed the chairman that he was not pleased with Rheinhardtsón’s performance as chancellor.
Apparently the board of directors agreed with my father that Rheinhardtsón had fostered too permissive a spirit at Sceofeld Academy. They called the chancellor into a private meeting the day following their own meeting. The meeting between the board and chancellor was intended to be private, but the points discussed very quickly became public. The chancellor was chastised for being lax in his enforcement of school policy. As a result, first thing, security was hired to prevent or stop fights (though rare) and prevent vandalism (also rare). The dress code was being enforced precisely (excepting, still, those boys who could not afford the dress coat). Classes were to start and finish on time, and student stragglers were to be locked out and marked absent.
“Chancellor Rheinhardtsón can go fuck himself,” Shane said. “He let Godric off with a warning.”
“I wouldn’t test the chancellor,” Wulfric said.
“I can control my temper, Wulfy.”
Wulfric and I exchanged a cautious glance.
“What the fuck is Markus doing, trying to make a pariah of Lukas?” Shane said.
“I don’t think you understand what’s going on between them — ” I began.
“Markus has no right trying to drag Lukas’s name through shit just because he doesn’t agree with his father’s politics,” Shane said.
“Granted,” I said. “Look ... Shane ... Lukas’s relationship with Markus is kind of ... well, complex.”
“What do you mean?”
Wulfric blushed and lowered his eyes. He whispered, “Shane ... he means Lukas and Markus have sex.”
Shane snorted. “I knew that, Wulfy. That rumor’s old news.”
“It’s more than that. They’ve been involved since they were fourteen or fifteen,” I said. “I’m not convinced Markus is trying to make a pariah of Lukas. I think there is something there between them that hurts like a betrayal of trust and friendship.”
“Well, whatever the case may be, in my book, Markus is a fucking hypocrite then. He has sex with guys too. Implying that Lukas is homosexual and trying to turn your brother gay too is the betrayal,” Shane said. “Everyone knows Markus is bisexual.”
“In Markus’s mind bisexuality is okay because it’s ‘experimental,’ and ‘sex is just sex,’” I said. “Homosexuality, however, is morally wrong because to be exclusively attracted to the same sex is abnormal. He’s saying Lukas is gay, and therefore — ”
That was the rumor: Lukas wasn’t just bisexual, but gay, and he was trying to convert my straight, but still very curious, brother to the other side. With Markus, it was a way of sparing himself and other bisexual jocks, to excuse their sexual behavior, while simultaneously attacking Lukas’s. Unfortunately, now, my brother was caught in the middle.
“There’s more than just a kernel of truth to this rumor,” I told Shane.
Shane turned to me. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how exactly you feel about homosexuality, Shane,” I said. “But since you have an anarchistic world-view — even if you don’t agree with homosexuality as a lifestyle — I suspect your philosophy is still ‘live and let live,’ right?”
Wulfric blushed again.
“What are you trying to say, that Lukas is gay?”
“We can be candid with one another, right?”
That annoyed Shane. “Of course!” Then he growled at me: “What do you think, you can’t trust me?”
“I didn’t mean that, Shane, but listen, when it comes to matters of sexuality....”
“This is fucking bullshit, Mattæus,” he said. “I don’t have any troubles with gays. Understand?” He paused. “Now is Lukas gay or not?”
Shane nodded too. “Okay then.”
“So is ... Johannes.”
Shane’s eyes widened. “No way, man.”
“Yes, Shane, my jock brother is a boy-fucker too!”
“Don’t get all pissed off, man. I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said. “Does Eadmund know?”
“He doesn’t know. But he isn’t blind either.”
Wulfric’s face was bright red by then.
“What are you so embarrassed about, Wulfy?” Shane demanded.
Shane and I laughed, but Wulfric seemed more than just a little bit uncomfortable about the direction our conversation had taken. To be honest, so was I. Johan and Lukas ... their relationship ... I was worried about them, and what might happen now that Lukas had suddenly found himself at the fringe of the pack. And with him, Johan.
Shane opened his sack lunch. He had a few crackers and cheese. His mum’s paycheck was smaller this week than usual as her hours had been cut in response to worsening economic conditions. I didn’t offer him anything from my lunch tray though. I knew he’d take serious offense to that.
“I hate seeing Lukas like this, guys,” Shane said suddenly. “I mean, we’ve never been close friends, true, but he is Johan’s best friend. Johan is solid. He has a good spirit. And if Johan and Lukas are tight, then I know Lukas is solid too.”
Of course Lukas was down. Of course he looked lost and disheartened. His father had a court date coming up soon. The investigation into his activities with the WCLW had brought additional charges, as we all feared they might. He was being charged with sedition and conspiracy to overthrow the government in addition to trespassing, inciting public disorder, criminal conspiracy regarding interference with local, national, and international commerce. He faced a long prison sentence.
I could scarcely imagine the stress in their household at the moment. Lukas looked careworn in a way I had never seen him look. He had always looked like a boy before, perpetually at play, innocent, sometimes mischievous, but now he looked harried, crushed. And I could see cracks beginning to form in his relationship with my brother too.
“Would you have really run away if your father had taken Johannes out of school?” Shane asked after a minute.
“I’m glad your mum was able to prevent it then.”
Shane’s eyes met mine. His expression was hard and serious and.... There was something else in the way he looked at me I couldn’t describe. I saw this expression fairly often now. Was it an expression of lonely desperation? It was almost as if he feared our friendship was something fleeting.
I didn’t understand where my friendship with Shane was going, but we were becoming inseparable. It had been less than a month since Shane had called to renew our friendship, and yet in that time ... well, it felt as though we’d never been apart following Cormac’s death.
And yet Shane, it seemed, was unsure of his footing. He was unsure of what our friendship meant.
Shane, Wulfric, and I spent most of our free time together. I ignored the fact I, like Johannes, had been grounded, and was brazen enough to step out whenever I felt like it. (My brother, on the other hand, obediently kept himself confined to the house.) I usually wound up with both Wulfric and Shane. We took long walks, often well into the night, or went to the park a half mile west of Shane’s apartment to laze about. We talked. We drank wine. We smoked hashish. And even when Wulfric wasn’t around, Shane was.
“The three of us should go out tonight,” Shane said to me.
“I can’t,” I said. “I have plans with my brother and Lukas tonight. We’re going to the mall. It wasn’t easy convincing Johan his chains need to be shivered, you know.”
“Why doesn’t he just sneak out?”
“He plays the role of the obedient son to his own detriment,” I said.
“Who knows,” I said. Then, after a moment, I said: “Listen, now that you know the truth about Johan and Lukas — that they’re gay — you might as well know too that Lukas isn’t just messing around and trying to get into my brother’s underwear. It isn’t casual. They’re a couple.”
Shane nodded. “Why am I not surprised?”
“My father does what he can to break them apart, Shane. It drives him crazy that he can’t keep them apart during school hours or during football practice. He hates that Johan drives Lukas home. But there isn’t much he can do about it. Once Johan is in the house again, however, Eadmund’s iron heel descends.”
“That sucks,” Wulfric said.
Shane’s eyes had settled on Johannes, Lukas and Susanna. He turned to me then, and said, “Looks like Susanna’s become Johan’s shadow.”
“She’s scared,” I said. “She’s convinced he was nearly killed the night the state militia broke the strike.”
Shane was pensive and watched my siblings carefully.
“His leg’s still not at one-hundred percent, is it?” Wulfric said.
“No. The rubber bullet did some pretty serious damage,” I said. “He’ll play a full game this week though.”
“Rubber bullets are real bullets encased in rubber. That’s it,” Shane told Wulfric. “That’s why the police always shoot at the ground and let the bullets bounce up again at their target. If you shoot directly into a crowd ... you can kill someone. Easily.”
“Yeah?” Wulfric said.
Shane and I nodded together.
Following the strike, and the way the police, militias, and regular army units had put it down, protests had erupted throughout the world. In North Lancascir, in Niew Lifrapol particularly, university students, members of the working-classes which had not union representation, the unemployed, and political dissidents protested the State’s actions. They took to the streets. They gathered in front of Cætham Fort, which housed the state militia. They deliberately impeded the flow of traffic. And it went on like that until they finally occupied the Shire Hall exactly one week following the strike’s end. The police broke up the protests too. Again rubber bullets, tear gas, smoke grenades, and stunners had been employed.
One protester was still in the hospital — a young woman bludgeoned into a coma by an young, inexperienced police officer. Who knew if it was outright terror induced by circumstance or the vile rush of wielding authority over another that led the boy-thug to beat the university student senseless? Whatever the case was, he had been suspended for a week without pay, and then promptly reinstated.
Was it not Othmar Múller who said the State is the world’s most open, naked conspiracy?
Despite the flowery words and sentiments contained in the constitution — the Freedoms of Speech, the Press, and Assembly, etc. — the State no longer even feigned such liberalism; it acted swiftly and ruthlessly now.
“That night, I saw a boy’s eye put out,” I told Wulfric.
In fact, I could not get the image out of my mind.
I told Shane what I saw happen to Jaroslav right after it happened. He told me to try to forget it. And then I remembered Shane had watched his father die. If anyone knew how to suppress a horrific memory, it was Shane.
Later, one night a week or so ago, Shane opened up for the first time and told me about his father’s fall. He described, fiercely, the events. He described the way his father’s body laid on the rocks, broken, and in a very unnatural position. The thing that brought tears to my eyes, beyond Shane’s own crying, was the mention that Cormac’s breath rattled in his broken chest the whole fucking time before he finally died. I could only guess, but surely he a collapsed lung. Unsettled and truly sick at the heart, I had put my arms around Shane as he cried.
Lost in the memory, I watched Shane for a moment, but averted my eyes as soon as he realized he was being watched.
Wulfric asked carefully, “Have your mother and father filed for divorce yet?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t know what’s keeping them from it.”
Shane muttered under his breath: “Maybe she’s scared.”
“They should’ve divorced years ago,” I said. “And she’s not scared, Shane. My father’s never laid a hand on her. But if he did, I can tell you this much, he would have contend with Johannes and I both.”
“You don’t care much for your father, do you, Matti?” Wulfric said.
“That’s an understatement,” I said. “I hate him.”
Wulfric was again careful. “Do you really mean that?”
Perhaps I should have offered a more diplomatic answer, but the honest one came out instead. “Yes, Wulfric, I hate him.”
Once the words were out of my mouth, my feelings came to the surface, and would not be suppressed.
Shane shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry,” I told Shane. “I know that’s hard for you to hear, a son hating his father. I understand why, and where you’re coming from. Cormac was a loving father, Shane. My father isn’t. He’s ruined our family. He belittled my mother. Even in public! He ignored Elisabet. He berates Johannes. He’s dismissed me. And he’s terrified Susanna. Yes, I truly hate Eadmund.”
“How does Johannes feel?” Shane asked.
“He loves Eadmund, the dutiful son that he is, and believes I should ‘reassess my feelings.’”
Wulfric slouched in his chair, and muttered,. “Maybe we should change the subject.”
“You love your father, don’t you, Wulfric?”
He nodded. “Yes. Of course.”
“Because.... I just do.” He was stumped.
“Think about it!” I demanded. “Why?”
Wulfric looked me in eyes. His expression wavered between anger and defiance at the challenge. “Because I trust him.”
“Because he loves me too. I can feel that he does.”
“Well, I can count on only this from my father: In that house he bought with my mother, I’ll have a room to sleep in and there will be food on the table, but I cannot trust him to be a teacher or an ally. He takes no personal interest in our family, and never has.”
* * *
Two stories on the evening news caught my attention:
First, the Senate of the AFR had drawn up and passed sanctions that morning, including economic sanctions, against the Rus for violating federal treaties, and particularly for violating those treaties signed to regulate atomic weapons. The bill was then immediately sent to the Landsthing and passed with little debate. An hour ago the bill was signed by both our First Consul, Godfrith Ceolwulfson, a Liberal, and our Second Consul, Villum-Karl Andersson, a Conservative.
Apparently, the government of the AFR wanted to send a clear political message to the Rus, one more pointed than the one sent by the Republic itself. For all of this was done in addition to the acts proposed by one of Nova Catalonia’s most respected politicians, Senator Titus Vinicius Ovinus. The bills he penned were passed by the Senate of the Terran Republic on October 22nd and 24th, following a week of heated debate. The first bill included sanctions; the second, fines. The most significant thing here was that the measures passed by the Republic were leveled against both parties, the Rus and Sinæ, where the AFR’s were strictly directed at the Rus.
Second, the First Consul of the Terran Republic, Akinori Fujii, had ordered an investigation into the so-called “orbital incident” weeks ago, but publishable findings had yet to be reached. The investigation had deepened though, and it had come to encompass military records from not only the Rus and Sinæ, but the AFR as well. The previous attempts by those states to withhold military intelligence had been countered by legislation passed by the Senate at the request of Consulate.
Vasili Kondratiev Pskovski, Consul of the Republic of the Rus, had declared, publically, that the investigation was a violation of the sovereignty of the Ruthenian state. The Sinæ had remained mum. But Senator Ælfbeorht Michaelson, a Senator from Lundenwic, Anglia, had echoed Pskovski’s reasoning on the floor the Senate of the AFR, stating the investigation was a “violation of the good-faith of Anglian people; the sovereignty of their republic; an affront to the federal principle; and, as such, a danger to the liberties enjoyed by the many national republics of the Terran Republic.”
* * *
Nova Anglian Liberals were, according to Lindi’s father, responsible for every evil in the AFR. They were responsible for the abundance of pornography and narcotics on the streets. Their agenda served to further sexual deviancy, divorce, homosexuality, bisexuality, godlessness, profanity, and a thorough lack of respect for the Church as an institution, and its leaders. They, like the ‘red republicans’ which followed, were trying to destroy the family, marriage ... hearth and home. How dare they introduce values alien to Liberia? And it was the fault of the Niew Dunham-based media — television, films, books, magazines, commercial advertisements, and so on — that such immoral values were so easily propagated.
Certainly there was a grain of truth to Deacon Nordkvist’s accusations, I thought while perusing a popular society magazine, filled as it was with sexually provocative images.
Sex sells, and so, at once, complicity between liberals, red republicans, and the invisible hand of the capitalist market were blamed by churchmen for the “ugliness of our secular, post-Christian society.”
The media did indeed propagate certain values, namely, constitutional republicanism and free-market capitalism. Political conservatism fastened to cultural liberalism was in their best financial interests, after all, for the profits generated were tremendous. The First Estate, the Church, was merely jealous that they had been supplanted by the Fourth Estate, the Press. Like the Church of old, the media did now enjoy a type of monopoly over public thought and discourse. And the union between media conglomerates was such, with its mishmash of cross-ownership, that it resembled the marital incestuousness of the now defunct royal houses of Europa.
A glossy advertisement for white wine featuring a young woman with breasts as perky as Lindi’s elicited a chuckle for reminding me of my girlfriend, her pious father, and his righteous indignation at the moral state of Sceofeld Academy, our community, and society at large. I wondered if he was aware of the moral state of his own family ... and particularly that of his daughter.
Lindi, the naughty, sensual girl who wanted to keep her virginity intact until marriage, had no problem whatsoever with exploring erotic activity of other sorts on a regular basis. Following our spat that Friday, we had since made up, and I had the love bites to prove it.
Yes ... Deacon Nordkvist’s daughter, the minx.
I thumbed forward a few pages, stopped, went back, and felt color come to my cheeks at what I saw. It was an advertisement for men’s underwear, and explicitly homoerotic. In my lifetime I’d seen, no doubt, hundreds of homoerotic images. Bisexuality was popular, and had been in Nova Anglia since the turn of the century or before, and homosexuality was an accepted peculiarity. Well, that is, most everywhere else in the AFR.
Two young men wearing ‘ερως’-brand briefs knelt upon a bed together in a passionate embrace, one leaning forward against the other, their lips together lightly. Both were fully erect, their cocks strained against the underwear they advertised.
My heart raced as I stared at the picture, not because it was erotic — and it was — but because it reminded me exactly of the moment I had walked into my bedroom to find Johannes and Lukas together. This pose, the embrace of the two models was just like that between Johannes and Lukas, with my brother leaning forward against Lukas, and the only difference being that they were both, when I found them, completely naked. I had never seen my brother with an erection before. It embarrassed me. At the same time, I felt strangely proud of him — or happy for him — that he was in love, even if it was with Lukas. Perhaps it was an odd emotional response, but that was what the discovery had evoked.
Johannes had jumped off the bed, covered himself quickly with both hands, and tried to explain it wasn’t what I thought. Lukas was more casual, and told me not to be angry with Johannes; it wasn’t his fault, after all; it was all Lukas’s idea.
I ducked out quickly, not knowing what to say.
Later that night, after a long walk alone in the dark, I came home and let Johannes know it was okay with me that he was that way. I was just embarrassed for having walked in on them.
I ran my fingers slowly over the image.
“Hey, Matti, what’s up?”
I looked up to find Matthias-Paulus about two feet away. He stood across from me in front of the magazine rack at the Folcanstan Bookstore in Acbeorg Mall. Startled, I snapped the magazine shut.
“Hey!” I said. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“What’s that you’re looking at?”
He snatched the magazine out of my hands.
“Give that back,” I protested.
“In a minute,” he said, thumbed through the pages, stopped at the advertisement selling white wine with a generous side order of tits, and smiled with amused approval. “You know, here in Liberia, the censors can pull a magazine off the shelves for this.”
And they could. Every now and again they attempted to enforce the law too. But the ‘smut’ kept coming back. Churchmen like Deacon Nordkvist were right: The Nova Anglian publishing houses had a powerful monetary interest in overcoming sex-related censorship, and worked tirelessly to circumvent Liberian prudery. (Political censorship, on the other hand, the media took up with keen expertise.)
I grabbed at the magazine again, but he pulled away, and found the picture I’d been looking at.
“And this ... the censors would go wild over this!” He looked up from the picture and gave me his infamous cat-like smirk. “I thought I saw right,” he said. “Now-now, Matti, my boy, I had no idea....” he said with a tone of mock scorn.
I didn’t say anything, embarrassed as I was, and especially so because he was enjoying the whole situation so much.
“It is as fun as it looks,” he commented quietly and returned to me the magazine. “Not quite as fun as with a girl, but still fun.”
I shoved the magazine back onto the racks and wrinkled the cover in my haste. “What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“Don’t sound so pleased to see me, Matti.”
He ignored that, and said, “I’m here with friends. And you?”
“I’m here with my brother and Lukas.”
“My friends — Andreas, Wolfwig, Tórsten — and I are going to have dinner in the food court in a while. Would the three of you care to join us?”
“See you in what ... fifteen, twenty minutes then?”
He grabbed the magazine off the rack again and handed it to me. “I think you should buy it,” he joked. “Something to jerk off to tonight.”
* * *
I found Johannes and Lukas in front of Athletics, a store selling shoes and other athletic wares. Lukas looked pissed. He was talking quickly, gesturing with both hands. They were arguing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Lukas said and scowled.
Johannes moved toward me. “Nothing’s wrong.”
I looked at them skeptically, both had lowered their eyes, and were staring at their toes. “Listen, want to get to something to eat?” I said. “I ran into Matty-Paulus. He’s here with his friends. He invited us to join them.”
Lukas shrugged. “I’m not really in the mood.” Then he stared violently at Johannes.
“Neither am I,” my brother retaliated.
“Oh, come on! What is wrong with you two? You’ve been fighting all afternoon.” I touched Lukas’ shoulder. “This is the first time you two have really been out together for weeks. Don’t fight. It wasn’t easy sneaking out past Eadmund.”
“We’re not fighting!” Lukas said, and much more loudly than he needed to.
I prodded gently: “You’re cross because you’re hungry. Come on, let’s join our friends — ”
“You’re buying then!”
“Like hell I am, Johan,” I said.
Lukas relented. “Fine, whatever.”
* * *
We met up with Matthias-Paulus, Tórsten, Andreas and Wolfwig a few minutes later, bumped fists in greetings, bought a huge platter of Mongolian beef and stir-fried vegetables, and shared the meal.
“You know what would go good with this?” Tórsten said.
“Plum wine!” we all said in reply.
“Umeshu plum wine,” Tórsten declared.
Andreas lifted his paper cup and made a face. “Cola is just too weak.”
And so, as we ate and talked, the subject turned, as it somehow always does with boys, to girls and sex. Tórsten informed us Nikki rode his cock the night before for nearly an hour (an exaggeration, no doubt). He gave details which I didn’t care — or need — to hear. Not to be outdone, Andreas told us about his date Saturday night: The girl he was dating at the moment had given him a blow job.
Matthias-Paulus implied then I was bisexual (for the thousandth time!), and told everyone he’d caught me “staring at a gay underpants advertisement.” They all laughed, except for Johannes, who simply rolled his eyes.
“You know, Matti, maybe Wolfwig can show you how it’s done,” Matthias-Paulus suggested with a wicked, licentious look. He put his arm around Wolfwig’s shoulders, and said, “I hear Andy’s girl isn’t the only one who sucks his — ”
Wolfwig slugged his shoulder as hard as he could, and muttered, “Asshole. You fucking liar.”
“Fuck, that hurt, man!”
Wolfwig slugged him once more to emphasize the point.
“Fuck yourself, Matty-Paulus,” I said.
Andreas laughed. “Don’t give him any ideas.”
We all laughed again, especially Wolfwig.
Wolfwig Englehardtsón was Alemannian and his Englisc wasn’t great. They had moved to Liberia, from East Prussia, a few years before. He spoke with a very definite accent and had not yet come to grips with Liberian colloquialisms. Half of the jokes Tórsten, Lukas, or my brother told, he failed to understand. His jokes too were odd. But, for that, somehow it made him all the more likeable. He didn’t play C-ball, but hung out with the guys on the team anyway. No matter, we were all on the A-ball team together.
Physically, Wolfwig was built a lot like Shane, except taller. He stood six-feet two-inches tall, was slender, and wiry. He had blue-gray eyes, long, thick, stick-straight, dark red hair, and a pale complexion. He often grinned self-consciously, shyly, and that gave him an adorable quality that attracted the girls ... and apparently Andreas as well.
“We need you to play a full game tomorrow, Johannes,” Tórsten said and thankfully steered the subject away from sex talk. (Never mind that he started the whole thing.) “Our game against Lifrapol Central Academy is going to be hell without you in the lead, man. Pure hell. Their captain is good. Very good. We need you.”
Johannes missed the first game following the strike. For a week, he hobbled around. He’d been to the family physician twice between October 13th and 19th because the pain hadn’t abated. The doctor assured him the rubber bullet caused no permanent damage. The game following that, he’d played for a few minutes during the first half, but had to excuse himself for the rest of the game. Last week, Friday November 2nd, he’d played again a partial game.
“It’s been three weeks,” Johannes said. “Practice went well today, didn’t it? I played well, didn’t I?”
Lukas crossed his arms over his chest, lowered his eyes, and scowled. I sensed he felt responsible, in part, for what had happened. Maybe that was why he was in such a bad mood. He felt guilty.
Place the blame where it belongs, Lukas, with the state militia, I thought, recalling what he had told Eadmund nearly a week ago in the jail cell. They shot Johannes.
Matthias-Paulus nodded. “Better with each practice, Johan.”
“Does it still hurt?” Wolfwig asked.
“No,” Johannes said. “I get muscle cramps though. And sometimes my leg aches.”
“You will play a full game though, won’t you?” Tórsten said.
“He will,” Andreas volunteered.
Johannes grinned and nodded. “Andy said I will, so I’d better.”
* * *
“Why do you always push me away like that?” Lukas demanded.
“Because we’re in public!” my brother said.
They were fighting again. This was getting to be too much.
The mall closed at ten, the parking lot was almost completely deserted, and we were walking alongside the sidewalk and curb towards our car. Lukas had reached to take my brother by the hand, and Johannes had reacted sharply to it.
“You make me so fucking angry, Johannes!” Lukas shouted. “You’re always so ashamed of yourself. For being who you are. For being gay. You tell me you love me, and then ... fuck!” He kicked the curb. “Fucking hell! Goddamn it!”
“Fuck that, Lukas,” my brother replied. “Grow up!”
“Grow up?” Lukas shouted, kicked the curb again, and then stormed off in the opposite direction. Suddenly, he turned and charged at us. His fists were clenched. “Goddamn it!” he cried. There were tears in his eyes. “Goddamn it! Why do you have to be ashamed of yourself, Johannes? Huh? Why?” He was crying.
I had never seen Lukas cry before. “Lukas — ”
He ignored me. “Why do you do this, Johan?”
For a moment my brother was utterly dumbstruck, and then whispered, “Man, don’t cry — ”
“Do you love me or not?”
“Fuck, you know I do!” My brother put his arms around Lukas, hugged him close, and told him he was sorry. “It’s not that I’m ashamed, Lukas.” He paused. “I’m scared. I don’t want to be shunned.”
We walked to the car together, Lukas and Johannes with their arms around each other. Lukas still sniffled back tears. The two of them got in the back seat together; I drove. As soon as we were on the road, it all came out. Lukas cried and put his head on my brother’s chest.
I watched them in the rearview mirror, tried to offer words of comfort, but again Lukas ignored me. It hurt, bad, because next to Shane, I had no friend I cared for as much. The friendship between Lukas and Johannes had enveloped me as well.
“We’re going to lose the house,” Lukas said.
“No, man,” Johannes said and hugged him tighter. “No you won’t.” Then he kissed Lukas on the top of the head.
“My father faces fines in the tens of thousands,” he cried. “We’re going to lose the house. We’re fucked.” He buried his face against Johannes’ chest tight. “I just know it — my father’s going to prison....”
I drove Lukas home in silence, a lump in my throat.
* * *
“Move over, Johan,” I said, pushed aside the covers, and sat on the edge of his bed. “If you don’t mind, I’ll sleep here tonight.”
My brother muttered, “Fine,” and moved over enough for me to lie down beside him. “I’m tired.”
“Me too.” I slipped between the sheets and under the blankets.
My shoulder brushed against his, and he said, “Goodnight, brother.”
We laid on our backs, aware of one another, and wanted to talk, I think, to vent our fears, but said nothing more. We were preoccupied with the same worries, but not one word was spoken. In our stead, the whispering winds conversed outside our window.
Sleep did not come easily, for either of us.
Seeing and hearing Lukas bawl had shaken me right to the core.
Johannes, I think, cried beside me in the dark. I wasn’t sure though; I didn’t dare look.