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With a Little Help

Part 1: Gemini

Chapter 7: The Tower; or, Love and Death

My father was always a strait-laced, by-the-book kind of guy, and his book was the Bible. I think he was born with it in his hand, and with a buzzcut on his head to boot. There was this picture he had of himself from when he was three, and already his hair was cropped in a flattop. He wasn’t smiling in that photo either; dead serious, eyes straight ahead, mouth a solemn line. He looked like the tiniest Marine you’ve ever seen.

He grew up during the Second World War, and knew enough about what was going on to know — I mean really know, really believe — that the Allies were doing God’s work, particularly in Japan, spreading the light of American democracy among the heathen. Literally, I mean; he saw the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as God’s truth illuminating the Oriental idolaters and whoremongers, casting judgment and finding them wanting and sending them screaming into a Hell they justly deserved. His one regret was that the war was over before he was old enough to join in.

Then Korea came along and he signed up with a yahoo and a hallelujah. A lot of soldiers came back from that one different, but not my old man. He was just the same as he’d ever been, but more so. Loud, American, and cocksure, or at least so my mother told me.

During leave in 1951, in the gap between boot camp and deployment, he proposed to his high school sweetheart — my mom — and she said yes. The wedding was right away, and the pregnancy right after it. I arrived exactly on schedule, nine months and two weeks after they said their I do’s. I think it was the last time I ever got anything right in his eyes.

For the first two years I was alive, he never even laid those eyes on me in person. He was too busy overseas making the world safe for democracy. My mom told me that, when he finally got home, one of the first things he did was try to play catch with me. I was two years old. The baseball bounced right off my chest and made me cry, and I can imagine the look of disappointment on his face then, because I saw it all the time as I got older.

I think it was worst for him at first. By the time I was eight or so he seemed used to it, or maybe he was resigned. He tried, but I never got the hang of playing Lone Ranger or Superman. I didn’t like cap guns; the bang scared me. I was never interested in football or hockey or basketball or baseball, none of the usual boy things. I liked girl things, sissy things, like my friend Mina’s toy baby dolls, her Barbie collection, and later on her Easy-Bake Oven. I wanted one of my own, but there was no chance of that ever happening, so I had to content myself playing with hers instead. The cakes they bake are awful, by the way. Like a sawdust hockey puck, but with less flavor.

We’d get together when I was younger and play with her dolls, and sometimes we’d play with her clothes. She put me in dresses, skirts, her mom’s heels; she tried putting makeup on me but didn’t know how, so I ended up looking like the outside of the Hot Pot. She didn’t have any better luck with nail polish.

Sometimes she let me put on her panties. I forgot and wore a pair home one time, but my mother found them in the laundry and kept my dad from discovering them. She probably saved my life that day. She made me promise to never let any girl-underwear show up in the house again unless it was on an actual girl, and I kept that promise. That didn’t stop me from wearing it when I was with Mina, though. It felt nice.

Some days, I’d come home with what my father called whore-paint all over my face. I thought he was saying war paint, and liked being compared to the Indians on TV, those brave and strong dudes with the bare chests, their skin glossy and muscles showing, giving me feelings I didn’t really understand. It always baffled me when he’d beat me with his belt for wearing that war paint, then make my mother scrub it all off my face while I blubbered. “Never mind,” Mom would say as she dried my tears. “You’re my sweet little angel, and you always will be, even if you’re a little confused right now.”

Confused is what I was, all right. I was confused by why I had to dress one way, while my girl friends got to dress another. Why my boys’ underwear was scratchy and starchy, while theirs was soft and smooth. Why I was supposed to kiss girls when what I really wanted was to kiss boys. Why I saw married people in movies and on TV as warm and witty and content, while my mother and father seemed cold and distant and bitter.

My father got a job selling insurance after the war, and he never liked it; he said desk jobs were for pussies. The only reason he did it, he said, was for the paycheck. To support his family. Every time he said that, he’d say family like it was a dirty word, and look at me while he said it. He would come home from work and make his way through twelve cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon every night, while my mother worked in the kitchen and smoked Lucky straights.

That was our home life, and it almost seemed nice. Most of the time it was quiet. I liked the sound of Dad punching a can open, and the scent of the tobacco in my mom’s cigarettes. We didn’t say anything to each other, but it was nice because we weren’t saying anything to each other. No one was angry, at least not out loud. What I didn’t know was that the smokes were killing her. None of us knew it then.

As I got older I learned to hide my games with the girls, but I’m sure my father knew they were still going on. He inspected my nails when I got home, looking for polish residue. If he found any, he would unlimber his belt, take me over his knee, and try to “beat the queer out of me”. With time I learned to not paint my nails, and while the beatings stopped then, his suspicious inspections never did.

In the afternoons, before he got home, I would sometimes brush my mother’s hair. She tried to help me then, but she was as stuck in her ways as my father was in his. “Donny,” she would say, “you know it’s not right to dress up all the time.” That was what she called it, dressing up. As though I was going to church. She asked me if I did it so boys would look at me. I hadn’t thought of that before, so I told her no, but I did consider it after that. Maybe if I dressed as a girl, I could get a boy to hold my hand or even kiss me without his ever knowing I was a boy too. (I never tried that experiment, but I spent a lot of happy hours imagining it.) She told me that boys kissing boys was a sin. One time I asked her if she wanted to beat the queer out of me too, and that made her look at me for a while. She never lectured me after that.

I wasn’t dressing in my girl friends’ clothes because I got a kick out of it, not the kind of kick I got out of looking at boys in their underwear. Sure, I felt sexy, a little, but that wasn’t what it was about. I was just looking for something, a way out, a way for me to understand myself, to be something other than the regular kind of boy I knew, because I knew I wasn’t that kind of boy. I knew what kind of boy I was: I was a boy that liked other boys, the way I was supposed to like girls, and it wasn’t much longer before I started … acting on it. It started with my best friend, when we were eleven.

He was spending the night and we decided to wrestle. We were both in our underpants, that was all. I was squirming under him, his body all over mine, and there was a fluttery feeling in my belly. It gave me a hardon. He saw it and called me a fag, and it made me angry enough that I pinned him. Then I felt it. He had a hardon too.

“Well if I’m a fag, what does this make you?” I said, and yanked his underwear down. There he was in all his sixth-grade glory, sprung up like an exclamation mark. I looked into his eyes and saw something there, then — a mix of desire and fear. I would grow to know that look well. I grabbed hold of his dick and tugged it. I don’t know if I wanted to punish him somehow for calling me a fag, or prove that he was a fag because he had a boner, but he gasped and grabbed onto mine and pulled too. It felt good. We kept doing it, squeezing and tugging at each other. This … this feeling kept building in me, hotter and brighter, and we went on, and it hurt in a way, but in another way it didn’t, and … and … well, you know how it is. I didn’t know what I was doing then. I don’t know if he did or not, but I didn’t.

That was my first orgasm. The first time I ever came, it was because I was mad at my best friend.

After that discovery we took care of ourselves when we were alone, and each other when we were together. We  didn’t know what it was called — masturbation, jerking off, beating meat were all terms we hadn’t attached to what we were doing — so we called it what it was for us, dick-grabbing.

One night, when he was staying over and we were in bed, he pulled his underpants down and asked me to grab his dick. While I was doing that, he told me he’d seen his older brother’s girlfriend suck on his penis, and he wondered what it felt like. So … after a little negotiation … he found out. I got down over his hard little pole and took it in my mouth.

I couldn’t have been any good at it; I didn’t know what I was doing at all, but … you know what a mouth feels like. Even if there’s no skill, it’s pretty nice. My lips were soft and my tongue was smooth, and I guess that was enough, because pretty soon he came. He was staring down at me when he did, and I saw something happen in his face then. “Hey,” he said. “This is what queers do, isn’t it?”

I didn’t know. I don’t know if he did either. All I knew was that the word queer shot through me like a blade of ice. I really wasn’t sure what was involved with being queer, but from the way my father seemed to hate anything I did that he thought was queer, I figured it was probably bad.

“Is your brother’s girlfriend queer?” I said.

“No, she’s a girl. When a girl does it, it’s not queer.”

He pulled his underwear back up and rolled onto his side, facing away from me. I told him I wanted him to do it to me now, fair’s fair, but all he said was that he wasn’t a queer, and he wasn’t going to do queer things with me. Sometimes I still wonder about the timing of his realization. Maybe, after he’d got what he wanted from me, it scared him too much to want to do it back. Or maybe he’d planned to use me long enough to get off. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know.

That was the last time he ever stayed over at my house. I don’t think we said ten words to each other ever again after he left the next morning with, “Well, I’ll see you around, I guess.”

I was confused before, and losing my best friend only made it worse. I knew I’d done something I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t know why it was so bad. I liked how it felt to come, and after I’d had my first one, I gave myself plenty more. You know how it is when you’re doing that. You think about the things that turn you on the most. So I learned fast that it was the boys that made me feel best when I thought about them, when I thought about their butts and their bodies and especially the lumps in their swimsuits or underwear.

I got more bold. Sometimes I kissed boys on a dare. Sometimes I kissed them on the lips. I learned a lot about what it meant to be queer. But I didn’t give head again until I was twelve, a year after my mother died.

The cancer ripped a hole in her, and in me. One day she was fine. A month later she was “tired”. A month after that she was coughing up blood, and a month after that she was in a shiny brown box and I was throwing dirt across the lid. I barely had time to realize she was dying before she was gone.

I missed her, of course I missed her; and I think my father did too, in his way. He withdrew from me further. The most time we spent together was after he got home from work and he heated up some TV dinners for us. We’d sit there in the living room, side by side but with an invisible wall of absolute silence between us, watching Andy Griffith or The Fugitive. He went through beer at the same rate he always had, but no one was smoking any more. The most he ever said to me was usually “Get up and change the channel” when a new show came on. Once I caught a few minutes of Judy Garland, but he threw an empty can at me and told me to turn off that sissy garbage.

He said he wanted me to join the Boy Scouts, to make a man of me, and he signed me up without bothering to ask how I felt about it. How I felt about it was that if I was a queer, the stupidest thing he could do to change it was to get me involved with a dozen or more boys who camped out together, skinny-dipping and pairing up in tents, for a week at a time. So, okay, sure, Dad, if that’s what you really want.

One time when I was camping with the Scouts, my tentmate, Artie, was jerking off in his sleeping bag. “Wanna see something cool?” he said. I said sure, so he pushed the bag down and exposed himself. He wasn’t all that big, but there was some hair growing around his root, and he kept jerking off. Then he said, “Watch this.” He sounded breathless, and I watched, and then I saw cum, live and in person, for the first time ever. It was just a few squirts, nothing like what he’d be making in a year or so, but I thought it was the hottest thing I’d ever seen. It took me all of ten seconds of urgent stroking to take care of myself.

The next night, I went down on him. He dared me to. He’d read somewhere about how the Greeks used to do it, and they were some of the most fearsome warriors of the ancient world. He said he’d seen his sister do it to her boyfriends all the time, and she said it wasn’t that big a deal. From what he said, his sister had a lot of boyfriends. That didn’t make a lot of sense to me then, but it did later on.

I didn’t really care about ancient Greek dudes making it with each other. At the time it sounded like a load of BS to me anyhow. I took his dare as all the excuse I needed to do something I’d only done once before, but liked.

I guess he had done a few things before he met me, because he knew what was going on. He told me how to do it, how to purse my lips around his head and work him with my tongue, and before I knew it I was tasting my first load of spunk. It was salty, but it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I swallowed it. That also wasn’t bad. I’ve been a swallower ever since, except when … well, except when I didn’t want to be.

Then he did something to me that my ex-best friend had not, and pushed me onto my back and went down and worked at me until I had my own orgasm. It was the best one I’d ever had up until then. I was still coming dry, so I had to tell him when to stop.

He made me promise never to tell what we’d done — as if I was going to — or he would chain me to a rock and throw me in a lake. Maybe that’s where I got the idea from, later on. But I kept my mouth shut, unless his dick was in it, and we went back and forth with the BJ’s for the rest of that week.

From then on we were regular tentmates, and sometimes I spent the night at his house. I didn’t want him staying over at my house, because I was afraid of what would happen if my father ever walked in on us, or even suspected what we were doing. We probably would’ve been together a lot more often than we were, but he lived halfway across town from me and went to a different school. Still, Artie and I managed to get together. Things happened. Lots of things.

At about that same time I got to know a dude down the street, Bill. Bill was a little younger than my dad, a bachelor, and made of muscle. He strutted around all the time in muscle shirts and shorts, and he had the eye of the ladies, that was for sure. He was always having parties at his house on the weekends, and lots of women showed up. Not all of them were always gone the next morning, either. You’d see one of them scuttle off toward her car late on a Sunday morning, wearing dark glasses and stuffing her hair under her scarf, and the women nearby would and tut and shake their heads, and the men did the same whenever their wives were watching them. My father said Bill was probably a whoremonger, but he said it in a way that sounded wistful.

Of course I was smitten by him. He saw me admiring him, and asked if I wanted to get big and strong like him, with “a pretty lady on each arm”. I said yes, not because I cared about having ladies on my arms — I knew lots of girls; most of my friends were girls — but because by then I was tired of being called a sissy, and I wanted to show everyone that I was tough. Bill told me he would coach me on weightlifting in his garage, where he had a full set.

My father was delighted, of course, but he wouldn’t have been if he knew what Bill and I got up to on those hot sweaty afternoons there in the garage. Bill would strip off his shirt and encourage me to do the same. My chest wasn’t very good, but he didn’t seem to care. He liked how it looked, he said, and I liked how it made me feel when he said that. After a while he started getting me to take off my shorts too, and we worked out in just our underpants. He had a big dick, a lot bigger than mine, but he used to tell me that mine was plenty big for my age, and all it was going to do was get bigger, along with my balls and my muscles. That also made me feel good.

His was the first full-grown man’s cum I ever tasted. It happened pretty simply. We were done lifting weights one afternoon and he said he needed a shower, and asked if I wanted one too. I did, so he suggested sharing. I went along with it partly because I liked Bill, partly because I wanted to see him naked and be naked with him too, and partly because … well, I think I already knew what would happen.

It did. In the shower he got a hardon, and he saw me looking at it, and he said, “I think you know what I want. I’ve seen the way you look at me.” So I took a wild guess and took him in my mouth, and sure enough, that was what he wanted. There was a lot of cum compared to Artie, but it didn’t taste the same. When he was done he turned off the shower and we got out, and he toweled me off, gently and thoroughly, and then he returned the favor. That afternoon was the first time I ever ejaculated.

From then on, whenever I went to Bill’s house, we had sex. Not right away; he kept his word and went on coaching me with the weights. What little muscle I have now is because of him. But when we worked out, we were almost in the nude, and every time we were done we got in the shower and had a gay old time.

He was the only man I ever really loved, I think, and I told him that one day. He got a strange look in his eyes and asked me if I’d told anyone else I felt that way about him. I said no, and he said, “Good. Don’t ever say that aloud again, not to me, not to anyone.” I asked if it was because we were queer, and he said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m not.”

I kept on visiting Bill, but I’d learned not to talk with anyone about how I felt — not him, not Artie, not Robby or Shane.

Robby was this dude I knew from my street, a couple years older than me, who asked me for a BJ one afternoon while we were hanging out at his house. He had a Playboy in one hand and his dick in the other, and I was playing with myself a little too. He was more interested in the magazine than I was, but when he asked me to suck his dick, I got very hard very fast. I was thirteen then. It happened more than once with him, too, like it did with Artie, who I was still making it with.

Artie and I had gone way past mutual BJ’s by then. We were fucking, jerking each other off, making out … I learned how to kiss with him, and sometimes, after we made it, he’d cuddle up to me in bed.

I guess it was strange. My best friend had left me because I made him come, just once, with my mouth. Robby was using me for my mouth, that was it. He never did anything back to me. He just sat there and looked at his Playboys while I blew him. Bill … I loved him still, even though he never wanted me to say it again as long as I lived. Artie was the only one I had a real equal relationship with in terms of sex, and for some reason I never respected him as much as I did any of the others.

He’s the only one who I think really loved me. That’s the saddest part. He loved me, and the others didn’t, but he was the only one I didn’t love. Or, at least, I didn’t think I loved him, not then. I think I was taking him for granted, because his love was always there for me, and I felt like I had to fight the others to get any affection out of them. I didn’t see how it really was until after it was too late.

Shane was the last one, a dude in high school. Or he should have been in school, but he wasn’t. He had a motorcycle, a leather jacket, and a cigarette dangling from his lips. He liked to give me rides around town, called me his kid brother, and sometimes he’d take me to his house and fuck me. Sometimes he let me fuck him too. That was all we ever did, just fucking. He had a girlfriend, and said my ass was tighter than her pussy. I had to take his word for it. He said that what he liked about fucking me was he didn’t need to worry about me getting pregnant and having butt-babies. I’d be in the bathroom on the toilet and he’d knock on the door and say, “Are you aborting another butt-baby in there?” That always made me laugh, because I was that age.

He liked mechanical work. He was forever fiddling with his bike, a forest-green 1948 Indian Chief, and had ported and polished it to blueprint specifications. Where a lot of other motorcycles chugged and burped and farted, his ran like a cream puff. I mean light and completely smooth. Started on the first kick and never stalled, even when it was cold. He always had a couple of lawnmowers around, the kind with little two-cycle engines. He disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled them for his neighbors, for a fee. He showed me how to do all of it. I liked it, and after a while he was letting me do some of the work on my own. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel when he’d inspect something I did, then nod and spark up a Camel and say, “Not bad, little bro. As good as I’d’ve done it myself.”

He learned about my mother’s car, the one in storage, when my father was having it looked over. It was decrepit, there were mice living in the seats, the ragtop had mildewed, it hadn’t even been started in years … it was just in pretty poor condition. My father had a mind to sell it for scrap. Shane said he wanted to try to rebuild it, maybe show me how it was done, and bought it from my father for fifty bucks.

From then on I was with Shane three afternoons a week, and Bill the other three. Sometimes I was with Shane most of the night, and it wasn’t just metal pistons I was working with. Again, my father didn’t seem to mind how much time I spent alone with another dude, as long as I was doing a manly thing, such as lifting weights; or learning a manly craft such as changing bearings, lubing transmissions, or reboring cylinders, up to my elbows in engine grease. What he didn’t know, of course, was that after we were done for the day, Shane and I were up to our balls in each other. I loved Shane too, but I never told him; I’d learned my lesson with Bill.

We got that old car running, made it cherry from bumper to bumper, and he even taught me how to drive it. He said I should be a natural with it, since I already knew how to handle a stick.

I was fourteen by then, and that was when it all started coming apart. It began when Artie’s sister became suspicious of how much time I spent with her little brother. She started calling us the Little Queers, the Faggot Twins, Buttman and Rubbin’. She was in high school — sometimes, anyway, when she wasn’t “sick” and in bed all day — and into photography. It was her only hobby apart from one other, and she had her own darkroom in the upstairs bathroom that her parents set up for her. She took lots of really moody photos, dark and contrasty like film noir, of people she said she saw around town. People in alleys or doorways or in flophouses, a lot of them looking skinny and destitute. I didn’t know where she went to get those photos, but I figured it out eventually.

She set traps for us: Cameras with some kind of automatic exposure mechanism on them, so they’d take a photo as much as an hour after they’d been set, hidden away in air ducts. She got photos of me with Artie, doing things in his room that couldn’t be explained as tickling or wrestling or anything other than what it looked like, what it was: Two boys tangled and close and intimate, two boys kissing, two boys making love. Us, Artie and me, making love.

She showed them to us, then told us that she’d start putting them up all around town unless we did whatever she told us to. So Artie and I started getting money for her, and we did that by jerking off guys in alleys behind certain bars for five bucks a pop, or sucking them off for twenty. We managed two, three hundred dollars a weekend sometimes. She kept it all. I think it was going into her vein. There was a rumor, see, an old rumor, that she had a bad heroin habit. As if there’s any other kind. I think she used to blow dudes to make the money to buy more junk, but once she had us to do it for her, she had it made. You’d be surprised how many “upstanding citizens” I blew, dudes who were considered good men around town, but who got shaky and sweaty when they saw a pretty boy. It was like Artie and I were boy versions of Lolita to them.

With them, I never swallowed.

Meanwhile, Shane and I finished working on my mother’s car. It was perfect, beautiful, just like it looked the day it came out of the showroom. He kept it at his house, under a tarp. He said he’d give it to me when I was sixteen, the day I got my license, and I believed him. I really think he planned to. He never told me he loved me, but he always said I was an all right dude, a cool kid, especially when we were done fucking. Bill and I were still lifting weights and each other. Robby was still getting BJ’s once or twice a week. Artie and I…


His sister. She either lost track of her photos deliberately, or accidentally. It doesn’t matter any more. Someone got one of them, somehow, and soon copies of it were everywhere. I mean everywhere. Shane saw them, and dropped me. Bill saw them and dropped me. Both of them had good excuses: They weren’t queer, and they were damned if they were going to hang out with some little homo like me. Robby, who’d never really spent that much time with me to begin with, never asked me over for another Playboy-and-BJ session. And Artie…

My father, one day, brought one of those fucking photographs home with him, and beat me. I mean he beat the shit out of me. My vision was blurry for two days. He shoved that photo in my face and asked me if I was queer. And I told him no, I wasn’t, that it was Artie who was the queer, Artie who made me do those things with him. My father probably didn’t believe me, but it doesn’t matter. He cut me off from Artie. He wouldn’t even let me go to the same Boy Scout troop any more. That was it. No contact.

People were calling me queer all the time by then, and I guess they were calling Artie that too. I heard it from dudes, from girls, everyone. Little kids who didn’t even know what queers did were calling me that, and their moms and dads just laughed. The girls I knew … oh, they always knew, but their parents didn’t want them within a thousand yards of me, I guess because a faggot boy is somehow dangerous to girls in a way the grope-and-tickle types aren’t.

My fifteenth birthday party wasn’t even a party. I had no one to invite, there was no cake or presents, and my father just said to me, “When school starts I want you on the wrestling team, and no homo stuff. You’re there to make a man of yourself.” I figured it could’ve been worse. He always was a little dense about how “homo stuff” ended up happening.

Then Artie killed himself.

Not too long after my father forced us apart, Artie’s parents came home one evening after a night at the movies. They pulled into the drive and opened the garage door, and there he was, hanging from one of the roof beams. They cut him down and called the ambulance, but it was way too late for him. He’d been dead a while, maybe an hour or more.

They said … they said he’d misjudged the fall. That the rope was too short. So when he kicked the ladder over, when he fell, it didn’t break his neck. He hung there, at the end of that rope, and he strangled to death. They said it probably took two or three minutes for him to die like that. I never understood, until then, how the idea of a quick death could be comforting. I didn’t have the comfort. I couldn’t stop thinking of Artie, thrashing and flailing on the noose that was killing him, but not fast enough. Artie, whose skin I had kissed, whose lips had made me glad I was a boy, whose body I had embraced, Artie, choking, gasping, trying to breathe, the rope burning into his neck, dying and dying forever.

I couldn’t stop crying. I cried for days. My father laughed, and said that was what happened to queers who lost their faggot ass-boys. They were too sissy to take a breakup like real men, and too pussy to kill themselves fast and smart, like with a gun. Then, a few weeks after Artie died, he told me to “Get over it once and for all.” He said to me, “It’s a good thing your mother didn’t live to see what a homo you turned into. It would’ve broken her heart. She would’ve killed herself just like your queer little boyfriend.”

I ran then. I ran to Shane’s house, got into my mother’s DeSoto, and drove. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t care. I ended up on Brooker, by Halter Lake, and got the idea then. Shane had decided, since the DeSoto was a ragtop, to add those seat-belt things, because he said he didn’t want me or anyone else flying out if I ever hit a bump. So I buckled that thing on, and I started looking for a good place to do it. When I saw Suffock Bluff and how it stood sixty-odd feet above the lake, I knew I had the spot. And that was where I drove off.

= • =

Jake was weeping steadily and quietly, holding Donny near, his arms good and strong and right. Donny sighed shakily and wiped his eyes, then looked up at him. “Now you know.”

“God,” he murmured, and stroked Donny’s hair. “God, oh God, oh God, kid.” He kissed his brow. “You hear about things like that. But I never believed people could really be that shitty. I don’t know how the fuck you lived through it.”

“I almost didn’t,” Donny said.

“Oh.” Jake wiped his eyes. “Yeah.”

“Thank you. For listening, and for caring, and … for saving my life.” He kissed Jake’s chest.

“Any time. Just … promise me one thing, kid. All right?”

“Yeah,” Donny said.

“Promise me that if you love someone, anyone at all, from now on you’ll tell them. Okay?”

Donny bit his lip. “You think it’s my fault, don’t you? That Artie killed himself.”

“What? Jesus Christ, no. What killed Artie was … his sister, your old man, and that fucked-up shithole you and he were forced to live in. But Donny, God damn it, Donny, don’t let that make you turn off your love.”

Donny sobbed. “I … I don’t know if I know how.”

“You do,” Jake said. “You did once. You will again. And when it happens, man, it’s like … turning on. Take a toke and let the warm good feeling wash over you. It’s like being reborn.”

“How do you know?”

“How you think, man? I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve loved them. You will too. It’s good, man. It’s out there for you, and you’ll find it, and it’s good.” He kissed Donny. “Lennon’s wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away.”