K. J. Pedersen
SUSANNA WAS POPULAR with the boys and had plenty of girl friends too. So, when she told Johannes and I that she was going to find Freda Leofsdohtor, her best friend, before classes started Monday morning, we were relieved. It isn’t that either of us minded her company, it was just that she had always spent most of her time with her friends, and not with us.
Maybe it was a sign that things were returning, slowly, to normal.
“I’d better hurry,” she said. “Freda and I promised to meet Benni in the courtyard.”
Lukas reached out and gave her a quick swat on the rump as she walked away. “Keep away from Benni,” he told her. “He’s a wolf.”
“More like a wolf pup,” Johannes said.
“A wolf?” Susanna stuck her tongue out at Lukas. “That’s what they say about you!”
I knew Benedictus Ecgfrithson, or more to the point, I knew of Benni because my sister had one very serious crush on him. She talked endless about him: He was ‘so cute,’ and ‘so hot,’ and ‘so adorable.’ Girls! Sure, plainly, Benni was cute. He had long, messy, curly brown hair, brown eyes, and a mischievous smirk. He knew he was good looking too, the cocky brat. But really, you’d think he was Adonis the way she went on about him!
After the strike, she’d stopped talking about him, and he’d stopped calling, but they were back at it again. They’d spent an hour on the phone Saturday, and he’d come over for lunch Sunday afternoon.
Once Susanna left, Lukas and Johannes looked at me, turned to each other, grinned, nodded, and grabbed me by the wrists. They pulled me toward the bathrooms between the auditorium and library in the Administration Building.
“Let me go!”
“We have a score to settle with you, brother,” Johannes said.
“What?” I demanded.
“You’ve been affirming nasty rumors that your brother and I are gay lovers,” Lukas said. “You’re not going to get away with that, man.”
I wasn’t sure if he was messing around with me or not because there was a menacing edge to his voice.
“Guys! Put me down!”
“You are so dead,” Johan said.
They pinned me to tile floor between the toilet stalls and the sinks. Both leaned their weight in against me. I couldn’t move.
“You told Shane and Wulfric about us,” Lukas said.
So that’s why Johannes had not said much to me all weekend. I had wondered why he acted like I wasn’t even there. I mean, I’d tried to start a conversation once and he’d walked away without any acknowledgment whatsoever. I was puzzled; now I understood perfectly.
“Listen, guys, it came up,” I said. “I didn’t mean any harm by it.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t mean any harm by this either,” Lukas said and ripped open the front of my knee breeches.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I shouted.
I fought, and nearly got away too, but it only took about a minute for the two of them to strip off everything except for my underwear. Lukas pushed my head back and it hit the tiles. He played rough.
“This is not funny!”
“You look pretty funny to me, Matti,” Johannes said, “sprawled out on the floor like that.”
I scrambled up off the tile floor. “Give me back my clothes right now.”
Lukas held up my clothes, a wadded knot in his hands, and said, “What? These?”
“Yes, those,” I said. “Goddamn it, Lukas, give me back my clothes right this fucking instant or I’m going to — ”
I started toward Lukas, but he tossed the wad toward Johannes.
They were playing keep away.
“Consider yourself lucky, Matti,” Lukas said. “If I had it my way, we’d have your briefs too.”
I lunged at Johannes. He passed my clothes off to Lukas.
The bell rang.
“We’re going to be late!”
“That’s never bothered you before,” Johannes told me.
“Well, Johan, he’s right — we’ll be late if we don’t hurry,” Lukas said.
“Right,” my brother said.
Lukas pushed open the bathroom door. “See you later, Matti.”
“Guys, c’mon,” I protested. “You’ve had your fun. Now give them back so I can get dressed. I don’t want to miss another math class. I can’t afford to!”
Johannes had my clothes bundled under one arm now. “You had no right to tell Shane about my relationship with Lukas.” He was angry and hurt. “No fucking right at all!”
“Johannes!” I cried. “I didn’t mean anything by it, I swear.”
“Maybe this will teach you to keep such secrets between us only.”
Lukas winked at me. “Such is life!”
* * *
I peeked around the bathroom door and down the hall. Nobody. So, I ventured tentatively out into the hallway. The linoleum felt even colder under my bare feet than did the tiles in the bathroom.
I heard voices.
The drama teacher had left the door to her class open. Fuck! Well, that settled it. There was no way I was going to make it past the classroom without being noticed. Besides, there were probably security cameras outside in the hallway recording everything. I didn’t need video of me wandering around the halls practically naked.
I retreated back into the bathroom and hopped up onto the sink.
There was only one option left.
He’d never let me live it down either, I knew.
I tapped the face of my new watch, and said, “Send Shane this message: ‘S., tell teacher you need go bathroom. One by auditorium. Hurry. M.’”
* * *
“Stop laughing — it isn’t that funny!”
“Remind me never to cross your brother,” Shane said.
“He probably put my clothes in either his locker or mine,” I said. “My combination is: 14-2-31. His is: 9-17-20. And if not there, then Lukas’s.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said. Then he looked me up and down, gave me a thumbs up, and laughed again. “Don’t go anywhere.”
I turned up my middle finger at him.
* * *
Between classes, between Computer Sciences and Gymnasium, I found Susanna in front of her locker with Freda Leofsdohtor, Benedictus Ecgfrithson, Justus Thurstanson, and Christof van der Hoff. The five huddled together. Some though were more tightly huddled than others, namely Susanna and Benedictus.
He had his arm around her shoulders casually, and he leaning forward whenever she spoke, so that his face was just inches from hers. They smiled; they flirted.
Freda and Susanna were best friends, and I could see Freda, too, had a crush on Benni, and was feeling heart-sick because Benni paid so much more attention to my sister than he did to her.
Frankly, I didn’t like the way Benni was looking at my sister. I knew that look. All boys know that look.
“Benni,” I called out to him across the hall, “that’s my sister, you little weasel!”
“Susi’s a big girl, Matti.” He was challenging me now. “She can choose her own friends.”
It was then I caught Christof staring at me.
Great! I’d be spending the next hour with Christof in the Gymnasium.
* * *
Christof, my shadow.
As we filed into the locker room from the gymnasium, he walked beside me, and talked on and on about a new simulator game he’d played at an arcade a few days before with Benni and Justy.
“It simulates space flight,” he said. “The controls are just like those aboard the ships of the Anglian Aerospace Command. Well, maybe not exactly, but close. Anyway, the game is in this room, it simulates the bridge of a warship, and there are three player stations. Oh, and there’s a captain’s chair too.” His voice rang clear with pure excitement. “There’s a station for navigation; another for tactical, you know, for offensive and defensive systems; and another for general operations, like, uh, engineering, and damage control, and things like that.”
I opened the door to my locker and proceeded to undress. Christof opened his locker too, undressed, and talked the whole time.
“It is so incredible, Mattæus,” he said. “These simulators are everywhere, and they’re linked all around the world by connections on the World Network. Anyway, you can join existing battles, or start one.”
“They’ve had simulators like that since the 2010s,” I said.
“Not like these, man; these are state of the art,” he said. “You should see the detail. And the options. In-fucking-credible.”
“Watch your language,” Jakobus told his brother.
“Uh, yeah, sorry,” Christof said.
“You’ve got to come with me to the 30th Street Arcade to see it, Matti,” he said. “How about today after school?”
“How much does it cost?”
“Well,” he said, “it depends on what type of ship you want to command. It’s about 5RS for a destroyer. 10RS for a battleship.”
“10RS? That’s ridiculous!” I said.
Christof insisted, “But the detail is incredible, man.”
Jakobus spoke up: “Movies, books, television shows, games — all these glorifying war and declaring it honorable. I hate it, this rehabilitation of militarism. Didn’t the Anglo-Indian War prove how utterly sick and evil war is?” He turned to Christof. “War is contrary to everything Our Lord Jesucristus stood for, Christof — everything!”
“It’s just a game,” Christof protested.
“Was it just a game what happened between the Rus and Sinæ? Huh? Scores of people died. People like you and me. The Rus used an atomic missile, Christof! What if it had gone off course? What if it had come down in a populated area? Thousands, tens of thousands of people could have been vaporized and burned alive!”
“I know, Jaapi” he protested again. “But this is just a game! It isn’t real!”
Even though I agreed fundamentally with what Jakobus had said, he’d killed Christof’s enthusiasm, and I didn’t care for the tone of voice. Christof’s face fell at the scolding. I felt genuine empathy for the boy. He hadn’t meant any harm at all.
With a long face, Christof shut up and put his clothes on.
I knew what Jakobus meant by ‘this rehabilitation of militarism’ though. The armed forces had suffered severe public disapproval following the Anglo-Indian War. But after a few years, militarists and nationalists had worked to improve the military’s image, especially in appealing to the next generation. The television was awash with military-related programs aimed at teenagers, and cartoons for younger boys. The cartoons were disgusting in the way that they sanitized and glorified warfare. There were no depictions of fields littered with charred corpses, bodies rent to pieces by shrapnel, there was no gore, no indications at all that war necessarily entailed the loss of life. To have depicted such scenes for children would have constituted a moral outrage, no doubt, but at the same time where was the moral outrage at real murders committed and organized by the State?
At least the Senate’s censure of — and fines levied against — the Sinæ and Rus were steps in the right direction.
* * *
I wanted to be alone.
Both Jakobus and Christof made me uncomfortable, but for very different reasons.
So I wandered toward the locker room bathroom. Because I didn’t like to shower in public, I’d often go into the bathroom to wash up — my face, chest, arms. Besides, I needed to piss.
I sulked over a run-in I’d had with Jakobus. It was still fresh in my mind.
Last Wednesday, Jakobus and I had argued. No. Scratch that. We hadn’t argued; he’d given me one royal tongue-lashing. He’d called me a ‘sexual libertine.’ I’d laughed at that because I was a virgin. It was ridiculous. I’d never ejaculated with Lindi, much less had sex with her. She’d touched my penis just that one time, and I’d never touched her pussy. ‘Sexual libertine,’ ha! Of course, he’d said things worse than that. Things that actually hurt.
Like I said, he’d given me a tongue-lashing.
So, yes, I was in a bad mood.
And then it got worse.
Matthias-Paulus followed me in and stood beside me at the urinals.
So much for being alone.
“Hey, Matti,” he said.
“Hey,” I said coolly.
Matthias-Paulus peed loudly. Suddenly, he turned to me, and said, “So, Matti, are you going to make him your pup?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Shocked, I turned my face to him and met his eyes.
He grinned at my reaction.
“What did you just say?” I said.
“It was a simple question: Are you going to make Christof your pup?” Matthias-Paulus offered me a mock innocent look, and said in a mock matter-of-fact way, “He obviously wants you to.”
“That is nasty, man,” I said. “Nasty.”
To be called a puppy could be taken as a serious insult. It had a dual meaning. The first meaning referred to any arrogant or overconfident young man inexperienced in life. This was a term of derision. The second meaning referred to any young and eager homosexual male (who happened also to be sexually inexperienced). This second meaning could be used either derisively or affectionately, depending on the situation, the tone of voice, and the orientation of the men involved. Often the word was used to mean, or imply, both. Anyway, puppy was frequently shortened simply to pup.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes older boys seduced younger boys. It happened among academy-aged boys occasionally, and particularly at those academies which functioned too as boarding schools. (We had dormitories at Sceofeld.) It was something that happened and was joked about. So, the saying was that to seduce a younger boy and make a lover of him was ‘to make him your pup.’
“Maybe that’s a fantasy of yours, Matthias-Paulus,” I said. “But I most certainly am not interested in making a pup of Christof. He’s just fourteen!”
“Yeah, well I had my first encounter with another boy when I was fourteen.”
“And how old was he?”
I wasn’t surprised.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Matthias-Paulus was checking me out. I glanced to the side too. He pulled at his cock, pulling it down along its whole length. It jumped slightly and slowly became engorged with each long stroke. He tugged at his foreskin then.
I was stunned for a moment, unsure of why I was just standing there watching him as he brought his cock to a fully erect state.
“Matti,” he said, “you’re getting stiff too.”
And I was.
“Fuck,” I said and shoved my cock back under my briefs.
I stepped away from the urinals and went to wash my hands.
Matthias-Paulus was quick, and before I knew better, he’d pushed me against the wall. The tiles were cold on my back; his chest and belly were warm against mine. With one hand he’d caught my arm behind my back, held my wrist, and with the other, pulled his briefs down up front. He pressed his crotch forward and his erection poked at my thigh. Then he grabbed at my cock and rubbed it through my briefs.
His breathing was heavy, hot on my throat, and his stubbly chin scratched at my collar bone. “God, Matti,” he whispered, “you are so fucking hot.”
His hand slipped under my waistband then. Matthias-Paulus was holding my cock and stroking it slowly. I was hard now. I couldn’t help it.
“What are you doing?” I demanded, and pushed against him.
That turned him on, I guess, and he pressed his entire weight against me. He let my wrist go, reached upwards, grabbed a fistful of my loose hair, and kissed my throat. He rubbed his body against mine.
“Don’t make me stop,” he hissed.
With my free hand, I grabbed him by the balls.
“Take your hand off my cock,” I said.
“But ... I thought you wanted me to,” he said.
“Are you fucking insane?”
“But you were checking me out, man!”
“Only because you were,” I said. “Now take your hand off me.”
His hand lingered. He was exasperated, and cried, “You’re hard! You want this as badly as I do!”
I reiterated myself by tightening my grip around his balls. “Now.” I applied more and more pressure.
Matthias-Paulus took his hand off my cock and backed away. He looked confused. “Fuck, man, you were sending me signals!”
“You pick up signals from everyone,” I said and walked out.
* * *
I caught the bus home with Shane and Wulfric after school as that had become my habit recently. We agreed to meet up after dinner, around eight, at Wulfric’s house. After we left Shane’s stop, Wulfric told me Shane had bought some “very fine herb” from his friend Emmerich Halldórasson.
Wulfric was an intelligent boy. He was cool, reserved, calculating, but loyal and honest. He didn’t seem like he was a year younger than Shane and I. In fact, most of the time, he seemed older, and more mature. Well, older and more mature than Shane, that is.
In a lot of ways, Wulfric’s personality reminded me of my own. We were both off in our own worlds most of the time — worlds of thought, and worlds of observation.
So, all in all, it struck me as funny when he said, “Man, we are going to get so high tonight!”
“And drunk,” I said.
He grinned at me and his dark brown eyes sparkled with impish glee. “I know where my father keeps the good red wine, Matti!”
We got off the bus at the same stop and walked together to his house.
“See you later, Wulfy,” I said, and we bumped fists before I continued on my way home.
After Johannes came home from C-ball practice, he apologized for what he and Lukas had done that morning, but insisted on an apology from me as well. Reluctantly, I offered him one, half-hearted though it was. Honestly, I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong in telling Shane and Wulfric the truth about my brother’s sexual orientation.
I sat down on the couch in the living room with Johannes. He channel surfed. Then the doorbell rang. He didn’t move.
It rang once more.
I muttered, “I guess I’ll get it then.”
He didn’t respond.
So, I went to the front door and opened it.
“Oh, it’s you,” I said.
Christof smiled. “Hey, Matti,” he said. “I just wanted to know if you can hang out for a while. I want to go with you to play that game at the arcade I was telling you about earlier.”
“Yeah, right, Matti,” he said, the skeptic. He paused and revised his plans. “Want to go up to your room and fire up the computer. We can play games here, if you’d like. I’ve saved all my favorites at my place on the Network.”
“I’m watching television with Johannes.”
His expression brightened. “Then I can watch television with you two also.”
I surrendered. “Fine. Come inside.”
I sat down on the couch next to Johannes, and then Christof plopped down beside me. He sat a little too close for my comfort. His knee touched mine. I’m sure that it was intentionally accidental. I pushed his knee away with mine roughly.
“Stop knocking knees,” I told him.
“Sorry,” he said softly.
Johannes had settled on one television station. It was a sports channel. Naturally.
Suddenly, Christof turned to me and asked, “Matti, what’s a materialist?”
I looked at him for a moment and furrowed my brow. “What?”
“My brother says you’re a materialist.”
I snorted. “He uses the term in a pejorative sense; I don’t appreciate it.”
He looked confused.
“Listen,” I said. “Tell your brother that he’s a supernaturalist, and tell him that I mean that in a pejorative sense too. He’ll understand.”
Johannes glared at me then.
“Well, I don’t understand,” Christof said. “What is a materialist?”
So, with a sigh, I explained: “Christof , a materialist is substantially the same thing as an atheist. Materialism describes the philosophy positively. That is, materialists believe the universe can be explained satisfactorily in terms of matter and energy. Atheism, on the other hand, describes our position in the negative. That is, it is a negation. We do not believe in gods. We do not believe there is any supernatural agency, of any sort, at work in the universe.”
Johannes was still glaring at me.
“What?” I demanded of my brother.
He said nothing.
I knew my atheism bothered Johan. So what? It wasn’t like he was a church-going Christian himself. We were members of the Scandian State Church, sure, but that meant nothing. The term State Church meant nothing today, for as a State institution, the Church was now defunct. The Terran Republic, the AFR, the United Republics of Scandia, in all these there was a complete separation of Church and State. A quasi-Christian at best, Johan was, in truth, a deist. (As was, in all honesty, my mother.)
Johan believed in ‘God,’ a benign deity who had created the universe, set it in motion, and then, for the most part, let it work itself out. Plainly, however, he did not believe that this god was Adonai Yahueh, lord god of Judæans. He believed, yes, that Jesucristus — Yishu bar Yosef, a radical Judæan religious philosopher — was an Earthly manifestation of his “Unknown God,” that the Saints and Apostles, at least some of them, were indeed venerable, but he cared not at all for the god of the Old Testament.
And who could blame him? Yahueh — the Lord Iehova — was the god which decreed men like my brother — gay men — were an abomination in its eyes and should be put to death!
I wondered how many innocent men, who had no evil in their hearts, who had simply loved, had been butchered because of the Levitical edict attributed to that demon.
I thought of Johannes and Lukas, and I thought of the way they hugged each other, and laughed together, and my blood boiled because of the way some people hated homosexuals.
Johannes got restless and started to channel surf again.
“I don’t want to watch the news,” Christof complained when Johannes chose a new station to watch and set aside the remote. “It depresses me.” He looked hopefully to Johannes, but his plea was ignored. “It’s so depressing. There were troop movements today on the border between the Rus and Sinæ in Iakutia. My father says God’s Judgement — ”
I rolled my eyes and let out a long, disgusted sigh.
“My father says these are the End Times and that the Second Coming of Jesucristus is close at hand,” Christof said. “He said these are the Signs of the Times.”
“Iehova didn’t return to the Earth in the guise of the Son when the Liberians used an atomic weapon on the People’s Militia in Francia Nova,” I said. “And the right-wing, would-be theocrats of the day said the Great War was to end with a battle at har-Megido, that is, with the Battle of Armageddon. After all, the Syrians and Ægyptians were combatants in that war too. It never happened though. People said the same thing of the war between the Sinæ and AFR, that it was the End of the World. Again, no Second Coming, Christof.”
Johannes narrowed his eyes at me, and spat: “Don’t be mean, Mattæus.”
“Oh, I don’t believe these are the End Times,” Christof said then and shook his head. “I think the Book of the Apocalypse was a scary fable, and not meant to be taken literally.”
I pressed on, and basically ignored what Christof had just said. “Besides,” I said forcefully, “there isn’t going to be any war! Not like last time. Not like with India. For as much as I hate this plutocratic oligarchy, I know one thing about it for certain: This Republic will prevent civil war. It must. That’s why it exists!”
“Shush it up, boys!” Johannes said. “I want to watch the news and hear it too!”
I was pissed. Any time religion came up, I got pissed. I don’t care if Jakobus was a ‘morally-centered’ Christian or not. He had said a lot of things in the last year that had hurt me. I didn’t believe he was ‘evil’ because he believed in some universal, eternal, heavenly spirit, so why did he believe I was ‘morally incorrigible’ for not believing in the same?
I was still smarting over what he’d said last Wednesday. Let me just say that beyond calling me a ‘sexual libertine,’ it had to do with Johannes, Lukas, and the rumor Markus had been spreading around.
I scowled; I pouted; I was raging pissed. And hurt.
In fact, I was really hurt, and the more I thought about it, the worse it became.
“Ruthenian Consul Pskovski has charged that the government of the Anglian Federative Republic provided technical and material support to the Sinæ Republic and Federated Asian States to facilitate espionage operations against the Ruthenian state. The expulsion of Ambassador Beorhtwinson — which Pskovski has termed ‘a punitve act’ — has been their most immediate response.”
“Did the news anchor just say ‘expulsion’?” I asked Johannes.
“What is this all about?” Christof asked.
“I’d know if you two had kept your mouths closed,” Johannes said.
We found out soon enough though.
The Rus had expelled Sinæ’s ambassador earlier in the day because, they claimed, the Sinæ had stolen military and state secrets. The Sinæ vigorously denied this, and in turn, had expelled the Ruthenian ambassador. They charged the Rus with trying to foment rebellion in Sinitic Iakutia among the Slavic population there.
The Ruthenian government then issued an official statement which reaffirmed that their only interests in Sinitic Iakutia were equal rights and access to the Lena River, and to reassert certain age-old claims eastwards to the Aldan River. The disputed area, the Rus said, was a triangular area between the Lena and Aldan — the area east of Iakutsk and the Lena to the west bank of the Aldan, and north to where the two rivers met — and nothing more.
The official response from the Sinæ said there could be no dispute because the Treaty of Irkutsk clearly drew the boundary between the two states at the Lena River, promising both equal access to the river and to Lake Baikal. The Aldan River and everything else east of the Lena belonged to the Sinæ following the war.
Nevertheless, the Rus and other Slavic peoples made up a little more than half of the population in the Sinæ Republic east of the Lena River to the Kamchatka and Chukchi peninsulas. The large number of Slavs in the ‘Far East’ was the result of massive settlement and development programs enacted by the Ruthenian government in the 1930s through the late-1970s. The whole ‘Far East’ of the Republic of the Rus had been lost to the Sinæ in 1987, but now, nearly ninety years later, calls for ‘Pan-Slavic Unity’ and a ‘Slavic Brotherhood’ could be heard from east of the Lena, and apparently had the government in Shanghai scared.
With diplomatic relations between the Rus and Sinæ largely broken, matters worsened, and in protest, the Alemannians, Scandians, and Italians had recalled their ambassadors from Sinæ. (Francia, though a member of the Eurasian Federation, had so far remained neutral, and had not taken any action.) Then the Sinæ reciprocated and recalled its ambassadors from Alemannia, Scandia, and Italia.
Then, just a little more than an hour ago, the Rus had expelled the AFR’s ambassador to Ruthenia. They had recalled their ambassadors as well. They had severed direct diplomatic ties. And the AFR retaliated in kind.
“It’s early tomorrow morning in Moskva!” I declared.
“Apparently their government doesn’t sleep,” Johannes said. Then he switched to the official news channel of the Terran Republic.
There was a news conference on. The Press Secretary to First Consul Akinori Fujii was taking questions.
“The military incident between the Rus and the Sinæ, which occurred on October 10th, prompted the Consulate of the Terran Republic to launch an investigation into its causes. The findings of that report have yet to be released to the public. However, it is widely speculated that the Sinæ were, in fact, spying on the Rus, and that their attempts to physically alter a Ruthenian military ‘command and control’ satellite prompted the incident. Have you any comment on this matter, Herra Secretary?” a reporter from the Red Republic pried.
“As you said, it is a matter of speculation. I do not wish to comment on speculation,” he said. “Next question.”
“I’ve gotta pee,” Christof said suddenly.
“You know where the bathroom is,” Johannes told him.
“Do you see what I mean?” I said as soon as Christof had left the room.
I had heard all I wanted to about the world situation and tuned out. Christof was right, it was depressing. And scary.
“About what?” Johannes said. He was half-listening to me and half-listening to the questions the Press Secretary was taking.
“Did you see the way Christof kept bumping his knee into mine? Did you see the way he kept looking at me?” I said. “Do you believe me now when I say Christof has a crush on me?”
Johannes nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Yeah, hero worship.”
“Bullshit,” I said. “He has a crush — a puppy love crush.”
“Don’t do anything to encourage him.”
“Like I would!”
“Don’t give him any false hopes.”
“Jesucristus, he’s fourteen, Johan!” I said. “No way am I going to be giving that kid any sort of ‘false hopes.’”
“I was fourteen when I fell in love for the first time,” Johannes said. “I had my first sexual relationship at his age.”
“Yuk!” I said. “I don’t need to be reminded that you and Mikael were tummy-fucking.”
“That’s a really vulgar way of putting it.” Johannes chuckled then, obviously amused by that very same vulgarity. “My point is there was between Mikael and I the same age difference which exists between you and Christof.”
“Nothing,” he said. “Just do what you’ve been doing: Ignore him.”
“I can’t exactly ignore him,” I said. “That would crush him. He’s practically a little brother to me. To us. We’ve known him since he was a toddler.”
Johannes smiled. “I remember when the Van der Hoffs first moved in,” he started. “Christof was still in diapers. Remember the way Jakobus used to pick him up under the arms and carry him around?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That looked so funny, a five year old trying to haul around a two year old.” I laughed at the memory.
“Jaapi used to lean back in an attempt to manage Christoffel’s weight. Remember? His back would arch, and his belly would stick out. And Christof just hung there, limp. It looked just like the way you used to hold that huge, lazy cat we had when we were little,” he said. “That was so hilarious.”
“I remember you and Jaapi used to fight about who got ‘to carry the baby,’” I said. “And never mind that he walked and toddled about just fine.”
Johannes was laughing now.
Christof came back into the living room then. “What’s so funny?”
“We were talking about you when you were a toddler,” I said.
“What’s funny about that?”
“Nothing really,” I said. “We were just remembering the way Jaapi would carry you around.”
Christof gave us a sour look. Obviously he didn’t get it, or why we thought it was so funny. He said, “Matti?”
“I should go home,” he said. “Mum called. Dinner’s on the table.”
“Then go,” I said simply.
“Can we talk for a minute?”
Johannes shot me a look I had trouble deciphering.
“We are talking,” I said.
I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Yeah,” I said, got up off the couch, and followed Christof into the entry hall.
Christof opened the front door.
“So, what is it, Christoffel?”
“It’s private,” he said. “Promise not to tell anyone.”
“Just tell me,” I said, annoyed.
“You have to promise first.”
“Fine. I promise. And may the wicked, corrupt, and jealous god of Abraham, Isaac, and Iacob strike me down should I lie.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that,” he said. “It hurts Jaapi’s feelings that you’re an atheist.”
“Tell your brother to fuck off!”
Christof’s face fell.
The look on his face made me feel like complete shit, and I felt truly sorry for that comment immediately. “I’m sorry, Christoffel.” I grabbed his shoulders then and gave him a gentle squeeze to confirm my apology. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
He looked into my eyes for a long moment, and then said, finally, “Just promise me, Matti, and without any bullshit.”
“Okay, Christof,” I said. “I promise.”
His eyes fixed on me, and then he whispered, “You know Justus Thurstan?”
“Your friend, Justy? Yes. What about him?”
Christof blinked. He looked so innocent, so vulnerable, so naive. All these things were going on in his head, I could tell, and the expression on his face, as a result, made him appear childish. Then he blushed.
“What?” I demanded.
Christof lowered his eyes. “Justy told me something.”
“He came out to me this weekend and said — in the strictest confidence, Matti, and I’m not fucking kidding — ”
“Watch your language, kid.”
“Matti, I’m not a kid!” He glared at me.
“What did Justy tell you?” I said each word fiercely and deliberately.
“He told me he’s bisexual,” Christof said. His face flushed. “He said he has a crush on Benni.”
The way Christof said the name of his friend, Benni, said everything. Obviously, not only did Justus have a crush on Benni, but so did Christof! It sounded like my little sister had not only her friend Freda’s jealousy to contend with, but that of two of her boy friends as well.
Christof continued: “And he’s got a crush on Matty-Paulus too.”
“That? So what if your friend has the hots for both girls and boys?”
Christof’s blush deepened. “So you’re okay with that kind of thing?” he asked in a voice so soft I barely heard it.
“Okay,” he said.
Christof started out the front door, turned, looked at me with a scared expression, started to say something, but stopped. Then he grinned shyly.
“I’ve got to go,” he said finally.
I shook my head and rolled my eyes. “Yeah. G’bye.”
Well, that basically confirmed my suspicions about Christof.
Like my brother, he was gay.
And then I worried for him.
* * *
“Before long, guys, it’ll be too cold to do this,” Shane said and took one of the two bottles of red wine from Wulfric. (I had the other, and there was more where that came from too.)
We were sprawled out on a patch of grass on the far end of Wulfric’s property. Often these last few weeks we’d come there to drink, smoke, lay under the trees, and gaze at the night sky. If we weren’t messing around at the park west of Shane’s, we were here. Occasionally the sound of a car might be heard on the street to the south, but other than that it was quiet, peaceful.
“It’s already too cold,” Wulfric said.
“I’m freezing my ass off,” I said.
“And what a cute little ass it is,” Shane said and laughed.
“Man, that sounds so gay,” I said.
Shane shrugged that comment off and joked, “So I was checking out Matti’ ass this morning — ”
“You what?” Wulfric said.
“You should’ve seen him, Wulfy,” Shane said. He had trouble forming a complete sentence because he was laughing so hard. “Matti looked so fucking retarded standing there in the middle of bathroom naked!”
“Naked in the bathroom?” Wulfric repeated.
“Not naked,” I said. “I had on my underwear.”
“A minor detail,” Shane said. “He looked so — ”
“Yes, retarded,” Wulfric said. “I heard that.” He turned to me, and asked, “What happened?”
“You see, it wasn’t my place to tell you about Johan and Lukas, their orientation, and that they’re boyfriends,” I said in a flat tone. “They got their revenge.”
A knowing look crossed over Wulfric’s face then. “They stripped you and left you stranded?” He smiled at that and one corner of his mouth went up a little. “Remind me never to cross them.”
“Right,” I said.
“Anyway, Matti sent me a digi-note telling me to meet him in the bathroom by the auditorium,” Shane said. “He had me retrieve his clothes.”
“I missed my math class. Again,” I said. “I’m going to fail that class!”
“You can make it up,” Shane said.
“No. I don’t think so. The teacher hates me!”
“What time is it?” Wulfric asked suddenly.
“About eleven,” I said.
He laid back on the lawn. “It is cold,” he complained.
The three of us had smoked all the herb Shane had bought from Emmerich. I was definitely feeling it. It wasn’t doing much to warm us though. But I felt good. Besides, the wine was being passed around with abandon. I was enjoying myself.
“I wish the city lights weren’t so bright,” Shane said.
“Why’s that?” Wulfric said.
“I used to watch the stars with my father was I was younger,” he said. “When we used to go camping.”
“Yeah, me too,” Wulfric said.
“I used to go camping with Jakobus and his father,” I said. “Johannes usually tagged along.”
“I wish I had a brother like Johan. I mean, Cully’s awesome, but he’s so much younger that we don’t really connect. You know?” Shane’s eyes met mine, and he said, “Johan’s the rock of strength in your family, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”
I took a long drink and sighed.
“You seem worried,” Wulfric told me.
“I am. A little.”
“I have a lot of things on my mind.”
He nodded and his long dark brown hair fell forward over his eyes. He swept it back with one hand. Then he took the bottle back from Shane, took a sip, and settled again.
“They’ll start drafting again,” I said after we’d all fell silent. My mind was on a lot of things, but from what I’d heard on the television that evening, I was worried too about what was happening in Iakutia. Christof had said there were troop movements on the border.
Shane sat up immediately at that. “So you think the Republic is on the verge of civil war then?”
“I didn’t say that,” I said.
“Then what makes you think the AFR will reinstate conscription?” he said.
“The Republic has this under control,” Wulfric said.
“You don’t sound so convinced any more, Wulfy,” Shane said.
“And you almost sound like you want war!”
“I most absolutely do not,” he said adamantly. “But I’m not fucking blind or stupid either, Wulfric! The Republic is a weak federation. It’s a weak State. The Senate is little more than a debating society. It’s almost as bad a the old International Council was.”
“The Constitution — ” I started, but was immediately interrupted by Shane.
“Is a piece of paper.” He continued, “The powerful states, like the AFR, Ruthenia, Sinæ, and the Alemannians abide by the constitution when it serves their purposes, and their purposes only. Like I said, it’s a piece of paper.” He laughed, and added, “If it was two-ply, guys, you could wipe your ass with it.”
Wulfric ignored that, and said, “There’s the little matter of the Fourth Amendment.”
Shane repeated from memory: “‘The Senate, by a simple majority vote, may compel constituent states of this Republic to resolve internecine disputes before the Terran Federal Court. The ruling of the Court is to be final and shall be respected by all national parties involved.’” He shook his head. “It’s bullshit. That amendment was passed after the Anglo-Indian War. But the Constitution, before it was amended, already gave the Republic the authority to resolve ‘internecine disputes.’ The federal government is sovereign, you understand. Even if it is weak. That didn’t stop the war then. Why should this adjunct do so now?”
“Shane, the Senate censured the Rus for violating weapons treaties. It’s dealt with the Sinæ. The Fourth Amendment is a powerful tool which the Republic will use to make good on its promise,” Wulfric said.
“Well,” he said finally, “I hope you’re right, Wulfy. I hope I’m wrong. Because, you know, Matti and I are only six months away from being old enough for the draft.”
* * *
It was midnight before Wulfric suggested we needed to go inside. We were drunk, we were high, and there was no way we were going home in that condition. Shane was the worst off. He’d downed an entire bottle of wine himself, and then some. We’d passed around a few more bottles after the first two; I can’t recall how many. A lot of it was spilled because Shane thought it would be funny to try to soak Wulfy first and then me. We’d wrestled. We all stunk of wine. My shirt was wet. And so were Wulfy’s trousers. So, unsteady on our feet too, we still had to help Shane across the yard.
The property Wulfric’s paternal grandfather owned had three good-sized houses on it. It was a very large irregular-shaped lot. We were in the far northwest corner; Wulfy’s house was on the southeast corner, where their private drive intersected with the main street. It seemed a long walk considering our condition.
The most recent house, the one Wulfric’s first cousins lived in was the newest and largest. It was built in the 2020s. We passed it first. Then, in the middle of the lot, we passed the one his grandparents lived in. It had an interesting history. The area that was now the kitchen, back bedroom, pantry, and upstairs second and third bedrooms was built in the 1870s. (The original 1850s log and adobe home the family had built was torn down at that time.) Another bedroom had been added in the 1890s. The rest of the house was finished in the 1930s, and thoroughly updated again just before the turn of the century. The house Wulfric lived in was the smallest of the three. It was built in 1927. It had been modernized, but one could tell that it was one-hundred-fifty-plus years old. It had that musty and old wood smell to it. I don’t know how to describe it exactly. It wasn’t unpleasant. Just ... old.
Wulfric’s bedroom was in the basement. We entered the house through the back door. The staircase was straight ahead and led directly downstairs. To the right was a door that led to the backroom, which served as a laundry room. Wulfric muttered something about washing the wine out of our clothes before it stained. Then he seemed to forget that train of thought altogether and we went for the stairs, groping, both of us, for the banisters in the dark.
We had trouble getting Shane down the stairs. We practically dragged him. He started laughing. It made no sense. We crossed through Wulfric’s dirty laundry on the way to the bed. Like me, he kept a mess. Then, finally there, Shane fell back onto Wulfric’s bed. He got really somber then and looked up at me.
I didn’t understand.
“For what?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything and rolled onto his side and curled up in the fetal position.
Wulfric pulled on Shane’s legs. “Get undressed, Shane,” he said.
Shane tried to sit up. “Can’t....”
Wulfric looked over at me, shrugged his shoulders, and scowled at Shane.
So the two of us helped Shane undress.
Shane was laying on the bed, face up; he watched me undress. It was then I noticed he had an erection. “Shane, man,” I said, “you’re hard.”
Even under his underwear, I could see how big Shane was. I looked away. Wulfric noticed too. He grinned at me and held his hands about two feet apart. He mouthed the word huge. We snickered at that. Shane must’ve been close to nine inches long. He wasn’t all that thick, but it was longer than I’d ever seen on a boy.
After Wulfric and I had stripped down to our underwear, we laid down on the bed too. The sheets and comforter were so soft. It felt so good to crash. As soon as my head was on the pillow, my head began to spin. My body felt light. My toes felt numb. The bed felt like it was in a slow, soft, gentle tailspin.
God, I was so drunk.
I laughed because it felt so weird, so good.
Almost immediately, Shane reached for Wulfric. He wrapped his arm around Wulfric’s middle and laid his head on his friend’s chest. He adjusted his position a bit, so his ear was over Wulfy’s heart.
Wulfric looked at me, shook his head, and whispered, “He does this sometimes. When he’s drunk.”
“He listens to your heart?”
I laid back and stared at the ceiling.
My mind drifted. I recalled the last time Jakobus spent the night. It was the year before. It was April, just before I’d hooked up with Lindi. Jakobus and I hadn’t been drunk, naturally. He didn’t drink; thought it immoral. But we’d stayed up really late. When we were younger and had sleep overs, we always slept in our underwear, and we always slept in the same bed. Jakobus didn’t think that was gay. He didn’t think it was gay either when he’d laid his head on my chest that night. And he didn’t think it was gay when I put my fingers in his soft, blond curls, wrapped my other arm around him, and told him to sleep tight.
But last Wednesday Jakobus had told me Lukas was going to Hell.
And so was Johan.
Because they were gay.
* * *
I was awakened some time later, kneed in the ribs. It was Shane. He scrambled over me, caught my ribs with his knee, got tangled in the sheets, and spilled onto the floor with a sickening thud.
Immediately he was up again, apparently unhurt, and darted for the adjoined bathroom.
The bathroom light snapped on. Then I heard coughing, the splattering of watery alcohol vomit in the toilet, a sickly moan, and the words “Oh, god.” There was more coughing. And again, Shane puked.
I went to get up — though my head was splitting — to help my friend, but Wulfric caught my wrist. He shook his head at me.
“Don’t, Matti; you’ll just embarrass him,” Wulfric said. “Leave him be.”
There was silence. And then Shane was throwing up again.
Wulfric was sitting up in bed now. “Shane doesn’t hold his alcohol well, does he?” he whispered.
A moment later, Wulfric stood up. His white briefs hung low on his hips. Really low. He didn’t bother tugging them up either. He was a lean, lanky boy, with a nice, tanned complexion. I noticed that even though he was a bit on the skinny side, he had well shaped pectoral muscles. Like Shane, he was more wiry than just skinny. He walked past me, reached for the handle to his bedroom door, and disappeared up the stairs then.
When he returned he did so with a bottle of water in one hand. His other hand was closed in a fist. He came over the side of the bed where I laid. He opened his fist, palm upward, and held it out to me.
“Take one of these.”
I took one of the three golden-colored tablets from his hand. “What is it?”
“It’ll kill the hang over tomorrow morning,” he said. Then he popped a tablet into his mouth, opened the bottle of water, and took a swallow.
I put the tablet on my tongue (it was surprising bitter) and he offered me the water bottle. My throat was dry and the water was a very welcome relief. Then I laid my head back against the pillow once more.
“I’ll give Shane one later,” he said. “There’s no point in giving it to him now. He’ll just throw it up again.”
Wulfric crawled into bed again.
From the bathroom, I heard a gargling sound for some time.
Shane came back, fell into bed with me, and wrapped his arms around me this time. His breath smelled of both spearmint and alcohol. He was sweating. His sweat smelled of alcohol.
I held Shane.
We didn’t say anything.
I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t, and eventually Shane shifted again. He cuddled with Wulfric, I noticed. He moved again, restless as he was, and was laying half on top of his friend, his leg over him, their thighs together. Wulfric’s arms were around him.
The back Shane’s head was all I could see from the way we laid relative to one another. His shaggy mane was damp and clung to his neck and the top of one shoulder. Wulfric was laying face up, eyes closed, and I found myself staring at his profile.
Maybe I was just too drunk to care, but I found myself thinking that Wulfric was a very handsome boy. He had such good, sharp, clean features.
I tried to fall asleep, but couldn’t.
How much time had passed, I wasn’t sure, but suddenly Shane and Wulfric were touching each other in a very deliberate fashion. Their hands were in each other’s hair after a while. And then I watched as Shane laid down directly on top of Wulfy.
I watched, startled and fascinated, as Maítíu Shane mac Cormac’s pink tongue dipped slowly into Wulfric Nathanael Hadrianus Peterson’s mouth.
They kissed for a moment, and there was a contented sigh from both of them which accompanied that soft, lazy expression of their affection and friendship.
Shane rolled off, and hugged Wulfric again.
I felt a pang inside at that, and realized only later it was jealousy. I was jealous not that they were content, and not because they were together, but because I was laying on the other side of the bed, alone.
I thought about what Matthias-Paulus had done earlier in the locker room bathroom. I was hard, in his hand, and he was stroking me. It felt good. It did. Was he right then, after all? Was I bisexual like he kept saying I was? Had that happened in his bedroom and not in a public bathroom, would I have allowed him to give me a hand-job?
Would I have reciprocated?
My first sexual experience with a girl had been at fourteen, with Rebecca. I’d come in my underwear, rubbing against her. But that wasn’t my first sexual experience. A few weeks before, I had kissed Mikael Lundmark on the mouth. A couple days after that, we’d wrestled, and then he suggested we strip off to our underwear. We’d wrestled again. Then, and without any warning, he reached under my briefs, took my cock in his hand, and gave me a hand-job. I came in his hand. What a sticky mess, I thought. He wiped it on his briefs. He’d laughed gently because I had come so quickly.
We laid there on the living room floor, afterwards, and cuddled. He kissed me for the longest time. His tongue was in my mouth. It felt good. My hands were under his underwear, on his ass. That felt good too. Then he laid on top of me and started rubbing again, until he came. We’d had our underwear between us the whole time, though he’d tried to tug them off. That made me uncomfortable, I’d told him, and he’d stopped.
So, there it is: My first sexual experience was with Mikael Lundmark.
Only later did I find out Mikael had made a pup of Johan.
* * *
The next morning, while Shane was in the shower, I asked Wulfric if he and Shane were together.
He blushed then. “You saw what happened between us last night then?”
“I saw you kiss him,” I said. “Are you together?”
“Do you mean, are we having sex? Have we come together?” He shook his head. “No.”
“We make out sometimes,” he admitted. “Sometimes, Mattæus, it just happens. Sometimes it just feels right.”
“Is Shane your boyfriend?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I love him.”
I lowered my eyes; I blushed.
“Wulfy,” I said tentatively, “is Shane gay?”
“I don’t know.”
He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Maybe. I’m not sure. I’m confused.”
* * *
To be continued....