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 takes 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.
Use only as directed and under a physician's care. Side-effects may include erectile dysfunction and extreme nausea.
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It was heaven. It was my refuge, and even today, the glorious smell of old books and the creaking of wooden floors warms my heart and brings a smile to my face, even as my heart breaks. Shelves and shelves of old books, the remnants of family libraries long gone, the wisdom of writers long dead, the creations of artists and the masterpieces of composers great and unknown; this was the world of Leonardo's, the most glorious little shop in the world.
To most people in Clarkesville, it was just that little shop on College Avenue, across from Centennial Park and down the street from the college, where you could take your old books or records or antique prints if you needed some quick cash. It was where you took whatever was left over from your grandmother's estate sale. When people gathered in the park for a concert at the bandstand, they might glance over at it. When students at the college went in search of beer and sex on Saturday night, they might glance in the window as they staggered down the street and see a nineteenth-century edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, a bust of Richard Wagner, and a framed picture of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue. To me, if Centennial Park was the center of my life, Leonardo's was my womb. It was where I found my nourishment, my spiritual and emotional growth. If one of my parents ever needed to find me and I wasn't in the park, they knew they could find me in Leonardo's.
It was Monday morning and as I opened the creaky door to Leonardo's, a bell tickled. In the back of the store, above the rows and rows of shelves, I could see Stephen's head. He turned and peaked around the corner.
"Hey! Chris! What's happening?" he called out with a smile.
"Not much," I replied.
"Look around for a bit. I need to open a few boxes back here."
I sat down in an old leather chair and picked up an ancient copy of Time magazine from the thirties and looked around. I smiled. I was home.
The shop had a fireplace in the front with a gas burner inside. Several leather chairs were arranged around it with tables on which dozens of old magazines were laid. Above the fireplace was a large framed print of The Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing of the naked man with his arms and legs spread inside a circle. I loved that print, (no, not for that reason); it made me feel like I was in a truly intellectual, academic environment. The classical music Stephen played on the stereo from the local college station helped. This morning, it was Handel's Water Music, one of my favorites.
I looked around. Sometimes, Stephen liked to change the decor. Today, on the walls above the bookshelves were a large picture of Marilyn Monroe making one of those really weird kissing poses, a print of the pastel blues and pinks that I recognized as Monet's The Houses of Parliament, and some old poster advertising bicycles in French. Down the aisle through the middle of the store, Stephen had put little display tables at the end of each bookshelf, and on each was something really cool, like a Tiffany lamp, a bust of Benjamin Franklin, a copper reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, and an elaborately engraved abacus. I loved this place.
I thumbed through the old magazine until I heard Stephen come up front.
"So, how'd you like Tom Brown's School Days?" he asked as he walked around behind the sales counter.
"I loved it," I gushed, standing up and dropping the magazine onto a table beside the chair. I walked up to the counter and Stephen grinned.
"I knew you would. That was something I found in an old bookshop in San Francisco. I was holding it for just the right person. And, I guess I found him!"
We both grinned at each other. I felt special.
"You know," I said looking at Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out at me, "this is the coolest place in Clarkesville and you know what else?"
"What?" Stephen asked as he sat down on the stool behind the counter.
"A lot of people in Clarkesville don't know this is the coolest place in town. And, because I know it is, I think it makes me cool."
I could see Stephen thinking for a moment before a grin came on his face.
"You, know, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said about Leonardo's."
We both smiled at each other until I started feeling uncomfortable. I looked over a poster with a picture of Coit Tower and asked, "So why'd you go to San Francisco after high school?"
"Well," Stephen said slowly, looking thoughtfully at Marilyn, "I wanted to see the world and live a little and suck the marrow out of life. And, San Francisco is definitely the place to do that, and San Francisco State was one of the most stimulating places to be in 1966."
The look on his face was the kind that told me he was remembering something really wonderful. After a moment, I asked, "So, were you a hippy?"
"Well, I don't know if you would call me a hippy. But... I guess I wasn't what everyone here in Clarkesville would have been happy with."
I had never known anyone who had been to someplace as exotic as San Francisco. Stephen and I were friends, but this was the first time we had ever talked about his mysterious few years away from home.
"Um, like, did you live in Haight-Ashbury?"
Stephen smiled, but looked down.
"No, actually. Though I had a lot of friends who did. When I first went there, I lived in a place called Noe Valley, which wasn't too far from The Haight and then I met someone who had a place in the Marina and he let me live there until I came back to Clarkesville."
I could see Stephen was remembering a lot and that he seemed a little sad remembering San Francisco.
"Um, do you miss San Francisco?"
Stephen smiled at me and then turned away. He walked over to the table behind the counter and stood there for a moment. When it began to get uncomfortable, he turned back to me and replied.
"San Francisco is a wonderful city and when you are a boy from Clarkesville looking for freedom and a new world, it is absolutely heaven. You can be yourself in San Francisco. No matter what you think of yourself, no matter how you might think people think of you here, no matter what you may have done or what you may want to do, San Francisco is a city where you can be yourself. No matter what you are."
I caught the emphasis on the last sentence and I caught the way his eyes held mine when he said that. Was it possible that Stephen knew? Was Stephen telling me he was... like me? Was he saying that I could go to San Francisco and no one would care that I was... well, you know?
I couldn't breath. I was frozen, looking up at Stephen's eyes.
Stephen suddenly turned. He looked down at the table behind him for a moment and, then, he turned back to me. His face was back to normal.
"When Dad died, Mom didn't have anyone to take care of her. I knew she could take care of herself right now. But, in a few years... Well, I knew I had to come back home. So, after graduation, I did. But you know something?"
I said nothing, but looked up expectantly.
"San Francisco taught me that I could find what I wanted no matter where I was, that I could find whatever made my life good where ever I lived. And, I have. And, I can tell you that I am as happy now in Clarkesville as I ever was in San Francisco."
I knew that he was telling me something special and profound. I was not understanding it and I was angry at myself for not getting it, but I could see the peace and happiness in Stephen's face.
Just as I was about to comment, I heard the bell on the door tinkle. We both looked in the direction of the bell and there was Jack, Stephen's friend and helper in the shop. Jack was a really cool guy, with dark curly hair that fell over his ears and down to his collar. He went to Clarkesville College, but was staying here over the summer term to work in Stephen's shop. The two gave each other warm smiles and as he passed me, Jack squeezed my shoulder.
"So, how's the world, Chris?"
"Its still turns," I replied with my ritual answer to his ritual questions.
Jack walked around to the back of the counter and, suddenly, Stephen took his hand and squeezed it, giving his friend a meaningful look. Jack seemed as surprised as I was to see this, but after a second, he smiled and squeezed back.
Stephen released his friend's hand and then smiled at me. But, before either of us could say anything, the door opened again as I turned at the tinkling of the bell, he was there. I gazed for a second as he stood in the door and then quickly looked away. I felt dizzy, breathless. My eyes fell to the counter. I didn't trust myself to speak.
"Good morning!" Stephen said cheerfully. "Welcome to Leonardo's! What can I do for you?"
I knew how I would like to have answered that question, but I simply stood stone still, my eyes glued to a scratch on the wooden counter.
"Just looking around, checking it out."
Oh, my goodness. That voice. I opened my mouth to breath, yet no breath could enter or escape.
"Well, have at it! If you have any questions, let me know!"
I could sense that he was walking over near the fireplace and the leather chairs. I moved over a bit so that I could see him out of the corner of my eye. He was, indeed, standing before the first shelf, on which Stephen had stacked some special books, the prized finds from the estate sales he frequently drove around the state for. However, my eyes weren't satisfied with merely looking at him from the periphery. As innocently as possible, I quickly glanced over than looked back at Stephen, who was maddeningly looking directly at me with maddeningly irritating smile.
Alex Partridge was beautiful. In that half second, I could see that he was amazing, god-like, incredible. His black hair was long; it swept down across his forehead and fell over his ears, curling around the collar of his psychedelic t-shirt. His skin was very white and seemed a stark contrast with the night-like darkness of his hair. As Stephen smiled at me, I took a deep breath.
"So," I said, my voice shaking, "what was that book you wanted me to read?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes! That!"
Stephen stepped out from behind the counter as Jack turned to a desk behind them and began to write something in a ledger. I took the moment of freedom as an opportunity to look again at Alex. He was still facing the bookshelf, holding some old volume, but he was looking directly at me. I was stunned. His eyes were aimed at mine and for a moment, our eyes were locked. His were amazing, gray-blue, so pale that I almost couldn't see the iris. He had a mysterious smile that I immediately compared to the Mona Lisa's; and, then, he turned back to the bookshelf, replaced the book, and walked around to the next aisle and out of my sight.
After his disappearance, just a second later, not even enough time for me to recover from such an emotionally draining experience, Stephen emerged from an aisle further back, holding a newer looking book.
"Here it is. I've been saving it just for you!"
I smiled weakly as he walked behind the counter. He handed it to me and in a voice that didn't need to be quite so loud, announced, "There you go! Fire from Heaven, by Mary Renault."
Jack immediately turned around and looked at Stephen as if he were crazy.
I looked at Stephen curiously, feeling as if something definitely was up, judging from the funny way Stephen was acting and from Jack's very curious reaction.
He emerged from the aisle in which he had been perusing. As he turned to enter the next one, he looked at me again with a humorous grin.
When he disappeared, I looked at the cover, blue with a photograph of a bronze statuette of someone who looked like an ancient Greek working with a horse, under which were the words, "A novel of Alexander the Great," and asked, "So, what's it about?"
Stephen grinned yet again.
"Its a novel of Alexander the Great."
I heard Jack chuckle and he turned back to his ledger and I felt distinctly uncomfortable.
"Oh, well, OK. So, um, why do you think, um, that I should, um, read this?"
"Well, its about Alexander's childhood and adolescence and I think that it might be helpful for you, since you're dealing with some adolescent issues. I'm sure after you've gotten into it a bit, you'l realize what I mean."
I heard a stiffled chuckle from Jack and one, also, from the second aisle. I was starting to get irritated, as if everyone knew something that I didn't and that I was becoming the butt of a joke. I looked warily up at Stephen.
"How much?" I asked.
Stephen smiled again, though with a bit more humanity, this time.
"Don't worry about it," he said, shaking his head. "Just return it when you're finished with it."
"Well, um. OK. Thanks," I replied as I turned around. He was just emerging again from behind a shelf. He was holding an old book and glanced at me again. I remembered that I had promised to show him around town and I almost, almost, introduced myself. But, there was something stopping me. I just couldn't say anything, particularly with Stephen making all these goofy smiley faces. I turned to the door and called out, "Well, I'll see ya later, Stephen. Thanks for the book."
I didn't see his face, but I heard him over the bell as I opened the door reply, "Have fun Chris. Enjoy the book."
It was late afternoon and hot as I sat under my maple tree reading Fire from Heaven. Except for fifteen minutes, when I had reported home for lunch, I had not moved from beneath my tree. The book was amazing.
First, it started off with Alexander as a very young boy, awakened by one of his mother's pet snakes. Apparently, his mother was a witch and she and Alexander were quite close. However, what shocked me most, was that his father, King Philip of the Macedonians, not only had several wives, but also liked to have sex with his soldiers! He was, well, I didn't know how to describe it. I didn't know if "homosexual" was the right word since had several wives. But, he had sex with men! And, no one, except Alexander's mother, seemed to care! In fact, it seemed most men in Macedon had sex with other men. As I read on, I found it was a common practice not only in Macedon, but also in the Greek cities to the south!
All had become clear to me as I read. I knew why Stephen wanted me to read this book. I knew what he was saying now Sunday in the sacristy. I understood why he was holding hands with Jack behind the counter. Stephen was a homosexual and he knew... he knew... he knew I was a homosexual. There I had said it. I was a homosexual. I liked sex with other guys.
Well, I probably had to correct that. I had never had sex with another guy. I had never had sex with anyone! Unless, you counted doing it with yourself, which I seemed to to do quite frequently. But, when I looked at a cute boy, I got hard. When I saw a sexy, handsome man, I got hard. Of course, sitting at the dinner table eating mashed potatoes, I could get hard. But, it was cute boys, not cute girls who made me hard. And, now Stephen knew the secret I couldn't tell anyone. Even when Daddy had sat me down to have a couple of The Talks, I just couldn't bring myself to tell him. What was more horrible than being a homosexual?
Yet, here was a book that seemed to say that it was once commonplace for men to have sex with men, and boys; that is was accepted as normal, even virtuous, for two boys to fall in love with each other. In fact, there was a hold army from Thebes of nothing but soldiers who loved each other, couples who fought side by side because one would want to be as strong and heroic and possible to make the one you loved proud of you. Two guys who loved each other in Athens, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, had killed the tyrant of Athens and when one died, the other killed himself so they could be reunited in Heaven. And, here, here was Alexander the Great, who had conquered most of the known world, one of the greatest generals of all time, in love with his friend Hephaistion.
There was something special in their love. Alexander saw himself as a decendent of the great Achilles and that Achilles had been in love with Patroclus and that it was when Patroclus died that Achilles entered the war against Troy. Alexander thought that virtue integrity were paramount and that having a lover, a lover, guaranteed that you would be virtuous because you could not bear to let down your lover. How beautiful. How wonderful.
At one point, I set the book down on my lap, noticing only then that I was hard. But, it was a different kind of hard. It wasn't the kind of hard that made me want to run off someplace private and do it. I couldn't describe it, but I had tears in my eyes. The whole thing was just so, so beautiful.
To have a boyfriend, someone I could tell anything to, someone who would understand me and love me so much that we would could never do anything wrong because it would dishonor the other, disappoint the other, pollute our love. How could people object to that? How could something so wonderful be hated so much? And, what happened to Ancient Greece and this wonderful way of life and way of thinking?
I looked around the park, at the old houses, at the church on the other side, at the shops along College, at Leonardo's. I was alone and no one understood.
Slowly, I crawled up and stretched in the shade of the maple. Some kids were splashing in the wading pool beside the rec center and as I looked over, I saw the old red Coke machine. I was thirsty and I did need to visit the restroom, so I slowly began walking in that direction.
Traffic seemed to be picking up on Twelfth Street as I walked. I looked at the Timex on my left wrist and saw that I had apparently forgotten to wind it that morning. Oh, well. Judging from the traffic, it must have been after four. Mother would be getting ready to cook dinner. I judged I still had some time before I had to be home. I could sit on the patio beside the rec center, in the shade of the awning, and read a bit more as I drank my Coke.
A couple of older boys, Jason Parker and Matt Fenway, were just putting their chess set back in its box as I approached. They would be ninth graders, this fall. They spent many afternoons on the picnic tables here playing chess and challenging others. They had always been friendly to me and had never given me a hard time. Jason's dirty blond hair had started turning darker over the last year, closer to his dark eyebrows in color. I liked his legs... and his smile. He was always cool. Matt was a lot quieter, but he was always nice to me, as well. I didn't think he was a cute as Jason, (his skin was a bit darker and he had dark hair), he always seemed to have a big bulge in his shorts.
They waved at me as I walked past and then, they were gone. I decided to relieve myself first before getting my Coke.
I opened the door to the men's room and was immediately assaulted by the stench. I hated using the restroom in the park because it seemed like they never cleaned it. But, there was something else I sensed, as well.
I turned the corner past the sinks and there, in front of the metal trough urinal, were Alvin Turner and Jim Whitney. I froze. Their shorts were open, not unusual since they were standing in front of a urinal. But, there was a backpack on the floor behind Alvin and he was holding... a Playboy! He was holding it open and the centerfold was hanging in front of them. And, they were doing it! They were masturbating!
They both had turned with concerned looks on their faces to see who had just entered. When they saw me, they both relaxed and Alvin's acne-covered face burst into a grin, while Jim just smirked as he resumed pumping himself.
"Hey, Conrad! You ever seen anything like this?" he asked with a leer as he turned the magazine toward me. The centerfold was of a slender blond woman, naked, with huge titties. She was laying on something and her legs were open and one hand was laying across her thigh while the other arm was above her head. It took me only a second to see all that before my eyes were drawn to the open shorts of the two eighth-graders before me.
Alvin's penis was thick! And long! And hairy! And it was pointing directly at me. Jim was still facing the urinal as he stroked himself, but I could see his was as thick as Alvin's though it seemed to curve upward in the middle.
I was frozen. My eyes were glued to the two penises. I couldn't look away. And, my own! It was as hard as it had ever been!
"Shit, Jim!" Alvin declared, causing me to look up and see the disgust in his face. "Look at this! Conrad's a fuckin' fag! He's looking at our dicks instead of this babe!"
"Oh, shit, man!" Jim responded. "And, look at how hard he is! I'll bet he want's to suck out dicks!"
"Is that true, Conrad," Alvin asked, ominously. "You wanna suck my dick?"
I turned and ran out the door.
I had placed my book on the picnic table closest to the door to the restroom and, now it was gone. Oh, no! I had lost Stephen's book! I had to get home, but I had to find Stephen's book, too. In a panic, I looked around. There was nobody to be seen. What could have happened to it?
Suddenly, the restroom door burst open.
"Hey, faggot!" Alvin spat as he grabbed me. I could see he had pulled up his shorts and put himself back together again.
"Where ya going, faggot?" he demanded. Jim was right behind him with the backpack, which must have contained the Playboy.
"Yeah, you're not leavin' yet, are ya, fagboy?"
Alvin had my right arm and Jim my left as I struggled.
"Leave me alone! Let me go!"
Alvin's grip tightened as he snarled in my ear, "Come back in here for a minute, fag, and we'll forget this ever happened. OK?"
"Let him go."
All three of us turned to our left at the sound of the voice. It wasn't angry or demanded. Indeed, it was almost conversational.
Standing at the corner of the patio, very calmly holding my book and with concern in his face, was... Alex Partridge.
"Who the fuck are you?" Alvin barked. I was shocked. He said the "f" word! NO one said the "f" word in Clarkesville! Ever!
"What the fuck did you say?" Jim demanded in the same tone.
I was speechless. Alvin and Jim both tightened their grips on my arms, quite painfully. I stared in amazement at Alex. He seemed so nonchalant, (a word I had heard my father use). He just stood there, calmly, holding my book, watching with those eyes, those eyes, his black hair falling over his face, in those short cut-offs with those long, slim legs, and that psychedelic t-shirt with those long, slim arms.
"I said, let him go."
Alvin and Jim looked at each other, speechless, and then looked back at Alex, who rolled his eyes, (oh, God, those eyes), and sighed as he placed my book on the edge of the nearest picnic table.
Interestingly, Alvin and Jim let me go. Unfortunately, it was so they could walk menacingly toward Alex.
"I never seen you before," Alvin said as he approached Alex. "What's your fuckin' name? You a fag, too?"
Alex smirked and replied, "Its 'I have never seen you before.' And, my fucking name is Alex and you don't really want to do what you're about to do."
Alvin stopped, stunned, in front of Alex. He looked back at Jim, as if to say, "Is he crazy?"
I watched as Alex slowly spread his feet out a bit and began to raise his shoulders and prepare his hands. I was certain that neither Alvin nor Jim was aware of what was happening; but, I could see it, and all I could think was,Oh, my God...
Alvin looked back at Alex and said, "You're gonna git the shit kicked outa you now, fag!"
But, just as Alvin raised his fist, Alex stepped forward and put his right hand up and deflected blow to the side. He grinned as Alvin looked at him, first in surprise and, then, in anger. However, before he could do anything else, Alex raised his foot and brought it around behind Alvin's knee and before I realized what had happened, Alvin was laying on the ground on his back. Alex then brought his other foot down hard on Alvin's crotch. Alvin suddenly groaned and rolled up into a ball.
Alex looked toward Jim, who suddenly seemed less than enthusiastic about going after Alex. However, his image was at stake, I could see, so he went after Alex, you simply raised his arm with the heel of his hand open. Jim collapsed against the picnic table holding his nose, from which copious amounts of blood seemed to be seeping, and cursed more fluently that I had ever heard before.
Alex picked my book up and extended it to me.
"I think this is yours."
It took me a moment before I realized that it was safe for me to walk away. I stepped forward, took the book, and looked up into his face, (oh, his face), and said, rather stupidly, "Um, well, uh, thank you. I mean, like, thank you."
Alex smiled and replied, "It's nothing," as he turned and walked away.
I stood for a moment with Alvin writhing on the patio in agony and Jim cursing away against the picnic table.
"Um!" I said loadly, "um, I'm Chris Conrad!"
Alex turned for a second and said, "Yeah, I know."
He then turned back and resumed walking toward the corner of Eleventh and Union.
I didn't know what else to do, so I walked toward the house with my book and left Alvin and Jim in their pain.
Thus endeth the second chapter. I would not be extraordinarily offended if you chose to write to me about your thoughts. You may PM me at GayAuthors.org or Ghouldrool.com. You may also email me at FreeThinkerCG at yahoo.com, (cut and paste and please remember to remove the word "at" and replace with "@"). In the mean time...