The following work is complete fiction. Any similarity with existing people or places is purely coincidental. It may also contain scenes of sexual activity between males; if it is illegal for you to read this or if you feel you may be offended by reading it, please do not do so. Because the story tales place in 1971, some characters may engage in behavior which is considered unsafe today. If you are not abstinent, please respect yourself and your partner by being safe.

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Centennial Park

by FreeThinker


Chapter Eleven

From my desk, I could see Alex walking up the street to our house. Mother didn't want me to leave the house; I could understand why, but if I had to sit in my room until the trial was over, I was going to go crazy. I was listening to the radio; the "Voice of Clarkesville" was giving updates every hour on the trial and I was spellbound by the reports.

Alex looked solemnly up at me as he crossed the street. He waved and then bushed his hair out of his eyes. I waved back and in just a couple of minutes, he was walking in the door to my room.

"So what's the latest?" he asked as he walked over and, glancing back at the door to make certain the coast was clear, leaned down to kiss my cheek.

"They've started jury selection. The ten o'clock news said that Daddy had dismissed three jurors and your Dad hadn't dismissed anyone."

"Why should he?" Alex responded morosely. "All the bigots in this Nazi hellhole are all on his side."

I frowned. I didn't like to hear Alex criticize Clarkesville, though I had to admit that I was beginning to see his point. I also hated to hear anyone put down their father. Intellectually, I knew Donald was right; Burris deserved a fair trial. But, why did it have to be him defending him?

"I don't get it," I said. "Daddy says this is the most open and shut case he's ever had. But, everyone in town is against him."

Alex shook his head.

"Its going to be hard for your dad to get an impartial jury. I've watched my Dad go into the most hostile cities, cities just as Nazi-like as Clarkesville and he had to really work to get a jury that would be open-minded to the radicals he was defending. Its kind of weird seeing him on the other side like this, wanting a Nazi jury. But, your Dad's smart. He knows the town better than my Dad does, so maybe he can get an impartial jury."

The Eleven O' Clock news came on.

"Jury selection continues at the Clarke County Court House this morning in the murder trial of Leroy Burris. As of just before news time, nine of the twelve jurors had been seated, but Prosecutor Ted Conrad had exhausted all his dismissals. Defense attorney Donald Partridge has exercised only one. George Cartwright, legal reporter for The Clarkesville Chronicle tells AM680 news that this is not a good sign for the prosecution as feeling in the town is running strongly in favor of the defendant. It may be very difficult for Conrad to seat a jury sympathetic to the prosecution."

"That's what I said," Alex muttered. "Maybe I should be their court house reporter!"

I tried to grin at him as I felt my stomach tighten in concern for Daddy.

"Meanwhile, supporters of Burris continue to gather on the court house steps, despite an order by the City Council requiring a protest permit. The Reverend Webster Hardesty has made no speeches this morning, though he and his followers have been praying and reading from the Bible. AM680 has learned that Hardesty will lead a rally in support of Burris at Southside Park across from the Spread the Word Tabernacle this evening at seven PM."

"Great," I muttered. "He'll get 'em all fired up and they'll all come over and burn our house down."

Alex put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.


Mother had driven Alex and me downtown to the Orpheum Theater to see the afternoon matinee of The Andromeda Strain. It was a really cool movie about a laboratory set up by the government to study a microscopic extraterrestrial life form that had killed everyone in this small town out west. I had read the book by Michael Crichton and loved it.

The only problem was that the theater was across the street and a block north of the court house. As Mother pulled on The Avenue in front of the Orpheum, we could see the dozens of protestors lining the sidewalk in front of the court house. There were even some people up on the old-fashioned clock tower on top of the court house. It looked like there were a couple of police officers trying to get them down. There were Clarkesville police cars and State police cars all over the place.

"Now, here's your money," Mother said nervously. "Don't waste any time getting your tickets and don`t stop for Coke and popcorn. You just go right into the dark and stay there. Alright?"

"Yes, ma'am," I replied.

"I'll be right here at exactly four forty-five. And, Alex," Mother continued, "you keep that pony-tail inside that cap."

"Yeah, alright."

Mother's eyes narrowed at his reply, but we had both jumped out of the car before she could reprimand him. She waited until we had our tickets and were entering the front door before driving away.

The Orpheum was old. Daddy said it was old when he was a kid back in the thirties and forties. It had frayed red crushed velvet seats and an elaborate arch all around the stage where Vaudeville acts used to perform before they started showing movies back in the twenties. My grandmother had told me once that my grandfather had proposed to her one night after they had come to the Orpheum to watch Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, the very first talkie.

We took seats in the middle of the next to the last row. My sneakers squeaked on the slanting concrete floor as they stuck to the dried pop that had been spilt.

"Man, this place reminds me of some of those porno houses on 42nd St.," Alex said as we sat down.

"How do you know what they look like?"

Alex rolled his eyes.

There weren't many people in the theater, mostly about a dozen kids sitting near the front and laughing as they threw popcorn at each other. There was an old couple right in the middle; and then there was Alex and me in the back.

As the lights dimmed, the first preview was for a movie called The Summer of `42, about a teenage boy who falls in love with an older woman. Alex and I both looked at each other and whispered, "Gross!" and then chuckled.

As the commercials for Coke and Milk-duds and all the other crap at the snack bar came on, Alex reached over and tried to take my hand. Nervously, I jerked it back.

"What's the matter?" he whispered.

"Are you outta your mind?" I replied.

"It's safe. Its dark, we're alone. There's no one around. Nobody can see."

"What if somebody comes in late?"

Alex rolled his eyes.

"We'll see the light from the door."

I crossed my arms on my chest and nervously huddled away from Alex. As the movie started and the giant Universal logo spun around the earth, I heard Alex give one of his quick, explosive exhales, a sure sign he was irritated.

In fact, he said nothing more until the end of the movie. We waited until the credits were over and the lights had come up, by which time everyone had left.

"Well," I started, trying to make conversation. "That was pretty good."

"Yeah," Alex replied walking ahead of me through the door and into the lobby. "It figures the government would try to use extraterrestrial microbes for germ warfare"

He was walking rather quickly and I was having trouble keeping up.

"Slow down."

"Your Mommy's waiting for us," he muttered.

Indeed, she was, as we walked out into the brilliant light and the brutal heat of a Clarkesville August afternoon. I could see the protestors had left from in front of the court house as we climbed into Mother's car. Mother was quiet and didn't even ask how we enjoyed the movie. Alex said nothing and when we finally pulled into the driveway and parked in the garage, he simply climbed out of the car and said, "Thanks for the ride, Mrs. Conrad." He started down the driveway.

"Alex!" I called. He simply waved without turning around, though he did dramatically remove his cap and let out his pony tail.


Dinner was just as quiet and unsettled. Daddy must not have gotten any sleep after the gunshots in the living room the previous night. He had quietly inspected the new windows, pausing to hug Brian and me, and Mother afterwards. There were bags under his eyes as he ate.

"Um, so, what happened today?" I asked.

Daddy swallowed then said, "We had jury selection and we have opening arguments tomorrow and I would prefer to say nothing else."

He smiled weakly at me and I nodded.

"Alex and me went to see The Andromeda Strain today," I said, trying to continue some conversation.

"Christopher, you know its 'Alex and I.' You don't need to try to make life a little more normal by making me correct your grammar."

Daddy gave me a smile.

After dinner, he took Brian and me across the street to play Frisbee and Daddy was almost his old self again, running and laughing and jumping and praising us on good catches or tosses. I kept glancing over at Alex's house, but I couldn't see anything. After awhile, as Daddy missed a wild toss from Brian and was strolling back from the street, where it had landed, he motioned me to come over to him.

"Why don't you go see him."

I shrugged and looked down at the browning grass.

"I don't think he wants to see me."

Daddy sighed.

"Son, this is not just a trial to determine in Leroy Burris is guilty of murdering Stephen Kincaid. Its also a trial for us as individuals, how we face the challenges it presents us and the choices we make. I know its been pretty hard and pretty scary for everyone. And, I know it has put a strain between you and your friend. Go talk to him."

I smiled and nodded. As I walked away, Daddy was leading Brian by the shoulder back toward the house.

I could hear the piano over the hum of the air conditioner in the window again as I approached. I waited for a break in the music and then knocked. When Alex came to the door, he looked at me for a moment and then stepped outside.

"Hey, what's up?" I asked as we sat down.

"You the one who knocked on the door. You tell me."

That was it.

"Why are you being such a butt?"

Alex gave me very cold look. I persisted.

"Is this about me not holding hands in the movie?"


"Oh, for Pete's sake! Don't be so silly."

Alex stood.

"You're so busy trying to be The Good Boy and being everything everyone wants you to be that you're missing out on being Chris. What's so bad about holding hands in a movie, in the dark, with no one around? Nothing. You're just being paranoid that someone may find out you love me."

"Are you crazy, Alex?" I demanded. "They kicked Stephen to death. Mike Holt's father beat him up. Alvin and Jim keep trying to beat us up. And, someone shot a gun at our house last night. Yeah, I'm paranoid! Maybe you're used to everyone hating you all the time because of your Dad always getting arrested and protesting and all that. But, I'm not! I just want things to be the way they were before..."

"Before I moved to town?"

"No! Before Stephen was killed."

Alex shook his head.

"Welcome to the real world. You have a choice. You can be yourself, or can hide. You can be my boyfriend, or you can be The Good Little Boy. Let me know when you decide."

He turned around and went back inside. I simply sat there for a moment in shock. My Alex, my sweet Alex was telling me to go away.

Slowly, I stood, descended the steps and walked across the front lawn to the corner and up the street.

He didn't understand. He just didn't understand. We couldn't just throw it in everyone's faces or we'd be killed. Everyone hated gay people. Mother couldn't stand them. Even Daddy said he hated homosexuals. What was I supposed to do? If I quit being scared, I thought, I get to keep my boyfriend, but I get killed. If I hide, I lose my boyfriend, but I get to stay alive and keep my parents. What a choice. What a fucking choice. And, yes, I used the "f" word.


I hardly slept at all that night. I didn't even jack-off. I tried to. I tried to remember how beautiful and wonderful it was to lay naked with Alex and hold him and kiss him and feel his arms around me. But, even though I was hard, it just didn't feel right.

The radio said that opening arguments in the trial had begun. Daddy had laid out the State's case against Burris by saying they had a confession, they had witnesses who saw Burris enter and leave the restroom and that no one else except for Stephen had gone in. They had a match between the boot print in the blood on the floor and Burris's boot. They had Stephen's blood on Burris's jeans. And, they had a witness who said Burris told him he hated Stephen.

During lunch, Mother looked across the kitchen table at me with concern.

"Did you and Alex have a fight?" she asked.

I shrugged.

"I really don't want to talk about it."

Mother frowned and reached across, squeezing my arm.

"Well, its probably for the best, anyway. You're a good boy and Alex isn't really the kind of friend you should have."

I jerked away from her.

"You don't know him! You just hate him because he has long hair and you're a snob!"

Mother looked at me in startled and angry shock. Then, she slapped me face and barked, "Go to your room and don't come out until I say so!"

I looked at her with fury and stormed out of the kitchen.

Sitting at my desk, I was so upset, I didn't know what to do. I needed Leonardo's. I needed Stephen. Stephen would have understood. He'd have understood what to say. If only Stephen could have loved me.


Daddy didn't come home for dinner until late in the evening. The prosecution rested its case and the judge adjourned until the next day. Daddy seemed a little more relaxed, but when Mother told him over dinner about my insubordination, he looked at her wearily and said nothing.


Wednesday. The defense began. The radio said the crowd on the court house steps was even bigger than Monday or Tuesday. They said they had booed Daddy as he entered the court house. After a quiet and sullen lunch with Mother, I slipped out the back door and got on my bike.

Slowly, I rode south on Union, through the shadows of the maples and oaks and elms and cottonwoods. A few kids were out in the heat. One was even mowing in the afternoon sun.

As I came to Sixth Street, I turned and looked toward downtown. I could see the top of the tower on the court house, peaking over the trees. I took a deep breath and slowly pedaled toward it.

I was a block away when I heard the voices. It was a crowd. It wasn't angry or loud, just a low, menacing rumble. I stopped at the corner. The people were lined up all along Clarkesville Avenue, holding signs that read, "Kill the Perverts," "Save our Children," "God Hates Fags," "Free Burris," and "Fire Conrad." It was scary. My town had never been like this. Even when the anti-war protestors on campus used to demonstrate, nobody got upset like this. Some people were holding Bibles. A few were on their knees praying. It reminded me of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said not to pray on the street where everyone can see you, but in the closet where only your Father in Heaven can see you. I turned around and pedaled away.


Daddy was home for dinner. Apparently, Donald had presented most of his case that day, but wanted to finish up Thursday. The court recessed in time for Daddy to eat with the family. He was quieter than Tuesday night. He and Mother apparently weren't speaking. They said almost nothing during dinner. I couldn't finish dinner; my stomach was too upset. Halfway through, I asked if I could be excused. Neither of my parents said anything; they both simply nodded.

I was sitting at my desk, looking at the golden light of the evening sun as it shown on the trees across the park, when I saw Alex walking up the street toward the house. My heart leapt. Finally. I needed to talk to someone. I needed to talk with Alex. I needed him to love me.

I ran downstairs and met him on the front porch. He simply looked at me and smiled forlornly.

The only thing I said was, "Let's go up to my room."

When we arrived, Alex walked over to my desk. I pushed the door shut as I walked toward him. We put our arms around each other and just held each other. Alex rested his head on my shoulder, his hair falling over.

"I know you love me," he said softly. "Tonight, Dad told us about the crowds on the court house steps. He told us that he hates this case and that it makes him sick to defend this man and be on the same side as these animals. He says they're dangerous and I realized then that you weren't trying to be Ted and Helen's good little boy. You were just trying to stay alive. I'm sorry, Chris. I'm so sorry."

We held each other for a moment longer until I said softly, "I missed you so bad."

"Me, too. I love you, Chris."

"I love you, Alex."

We kissed, a long, loving kiss.

I heard a deep intake of breath. Behind me.

We broke apart.

Daddy was standing in the doorway, watching. His face had no emotion on it. His eyes simply watched.

I could barely breath. My stomach felt as if it might explode, my chest as if it might burst. My mouth was open and I tried to say something, but no words could come out. I knew Alex was still beside me and I knew he was facing my father, as well.

"Daddy," I said in a quivering voice.

"Don't... say... anything," I replied in a slow, even, dead voice.

We stood silent for a moment until Daddy spoke again.

"Alex, leave now."

Alex stood firm.

"Mr. Conrad, Chris is a good guy. He's..."

"Leave, Alex. Now."

"Don't hurt him, Mr. Conrad. Please don't hurt him."

Daddy took a deep breath and in a slightly softer voice, said, "Alex, please leave now."

Apparently reassured by Daddy's use of the word "please," Alex slowly stepped forward. Our eyes met in a silent expression of our love.

When he was gone, I swallowed.

"Daddy, I..."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Daddy, I..."

"The truth. How long has this been going on?"

I was trembling. I looked down at the floor. I couldn't look at my father. The shame was more than I could bear.

"Since we became friends."

Daddy said nothing.

"Daddy, its not Alex's fault. He didn't make me do this. I was like this before Alex moved here. That's why I was in my shell all that time. That's what I couldn't talk to you about. I wanted to, but..."

"Not now. Later," Daddy said in a low voice that I had never heard before. It was voice that seemed to hold all the pain and disappointment in the world. "I can't look at you right now."

I wanted to die. I would rather he had struck me than to hear those words.

Daddy turned and left.

I stood, trembling, for several minutes, staring at the empty doorway. After a few moments, I heard Mother crying downstairs. Slowly, I stepped forward and closed the door. I returned to my desk and sat down, clutching my hands before my mouth as if I were praying.

Oh, my God, I kept thinking to myself, over and over. Oh, my God.

There were children playing in the park, joyously laughing and running. A flock of blackbirds was startled from the trees in which they were sitting and swept first one way and, then, another until they alighted in another tree. The golden glow on the trees was fading slowly.

"I can't look at you."

My father's words. My father. My father couldn't look at me. My father couldn't look at me because I was one of them, because I kissed another boy, because I loved another boy, because I had sex with another boy. It was the worst thing anyone could do and his son had done it. His son. Me. I had done it.

I had lost everything. Everything. I couldn't bear the thought of the pain I was causing my parents. My Mother could be a shrew, but she could also be loving and kind. She was my Mother and I loved her. She was crying downstairs because the son she had carried in her for nine months was one of them. My father, my wonderful father whom I worshiped, the man who was my inspiration, couldn't look at me.

I could not bear to know what I had done to my family. I could not bear to know what I had become, what I done, what I was. I couldn't bear it. It was too much.

Slowly, I opened my desk drawer. Beside the ruler and the number 2 pencils and my Book of Common Prayer, was my Boy Scout knife. I thought of the day Daddy and I had gone down to Fleischmann's Supplies to buy all my Cub Scout gear. I was so proud of my Boy Scout knife. Every man carried a pocket knife and I would have this knife for the rest of my life, he told me.

Tears were flowing down my cheeks as I lifted it up and closed the drawer. Slowly, I slipped my thumbnail into the groove and pulled it open.

There it was, the blade.

A movement outside the window caught my attention. Donald and Alex were approaching. They were still across the street.

This was not the time or the place to do it. I had to leave. I had to get out of the house.

Numbly, I stood and walked to the door of my room. I looked around, at my Royals poster, at my books, at my World Book Encyclopedias, at the Science Fair awards and the Soap Box Derby trophy, at the model of Apollo 11 on my shelf, at the tennis racket in the corner and the socks peaking out from under the bed on the floor. I turned and opened the door.

Mother and Daddy were still in his study with the door closed. I slipped down the stairs quietly. My heart jumped as I heard the doorbell. I disappeared into the hallway to the kitchen as I heard the door to the study open.

I was out the back door before the front door was open. Standing on the back porch, I realized I was still holding my knife. I closed it and started off across the yard.

Where to go? I couldn't go to the Park. Someone might find me too soon. I started walking up Union toward town.

The locusts were singing in the trees. The dusk was growing. It was getting darker earlier now that August was past its prime. I loved to hear the locusts sing. I loved to watch the sun set in the summer.

I stumbled on south.

A car honked at me as I crossed Ninth Street without looking.

Someone was mowing the grass in the "cool" of the evening.

A radio somewhere was telling me that Coors was brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water.

Tony Bennett was in a house I passed bemoaning the heart he had left in San Francisco. I thought of Stephen.

I was at Fourth Street, the main drag in town. It was dark and the traffic was bumper to bumper. It was the usual evening ritual of high school students endlessly cruising up and down the street, stopping at Dairy Queen or Tastee Freeze or the A&W. The bowling alley was just across the street. The light changed and the river of GTO's and Mustangs and Barracudas and junky Impalas came to a halt. I trudged across the street, ignoring the catcalls and honks until I reached the other side.

A bunch of kids had gathered in the parking lot of the bowling alley. Some high school girls called out to me in flirty voices.

I passed the building and came to the alley behind it. A car approached me from behind and stopped. The doors open. I looked. It was a beat-up old Chevy.

A high school guy who looked like an older version of Alvin Turner go out.

"Hey, where ya goin', faggot?"

"Hey, faggot!" someone yelled from within. I looked and it was Alvin himself. "Where's your boyfriend?"

Alvin's older brother was grinning and groping his crotch.

"How `bout you suck my cock, faggot?"

I simply stood there, numb. No fear. No anger. I didn't care.

The engine turned off and Alvin and Jim climbed out of the back seat as another guy I didn't recognize climbed out of the driver's side.

They grabbed me and dragged me behind the alley.

I didn't struggle. I didn't cry out for help.

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I was relieved. I didn't know if I could really do it myself. Now, I didn't have to worry. They would do it for me. And, as the first fist slammed into my stomach and I fell to my knees, with a certain satisfaction, I thought, I deserve this.

Through the kicks and punches, through the pain and vomit, as I fell against the concrete and was thrown against the cinder block wall of the bowling alley, I knew. I deserved it.

My last conscious thought, though, was of Alex.


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