A high school senior trying to adjust to a new town, new school and new friends, finds love and strength of character in an unexpected place.
To enter the city limits of Adams Place, Alabama, it seemed to Joey Daniels, was to be transported back to the turn of the century. As his father maneuvered the family car down the main street, Joey sat in the back seat watching the small town pass in review. Presently, the two-story, red brick buildings fronting the shopping district gave way to large, white houses of every architectural style that had impressed the wealthy cotton farmers a hundred years ago. The cotton farmers were gone now, and families that commuted to work in the nearby city occupied the houses.
Joey's parents were to become one of those families. Actually, they would begin their commuting tomorrow, just as Joey would enroll in his new school tomorrow morning. They had just driven from Tampa, Florida, supposedly one day behind the moving van. Joey's father had paid dearly to have the moving company meet the van, unload it, and set up their new house.
Joey didn't care where his parents worked so long as he wasn't stuck in this hick town that looked like the set of a Disney movie. At seventeen, he didn't appreciate reasonable real estate values and low crime rates. He was only interested in miserably contemplating what he would be missing in Tampa. He had big plans to spend his senior year of high school as Mr. Popularity. He had escorted the prom queen last year and he had intended to do likewise this year. Now, he would be in a public school system that had fewer than two thousand students, and, he would be attending classes with all new students, as low man on the totem pole. ‘Shit,’ Joey thought for the millionth time.
The car turned down a narrow, tree-lined street and stopped. It appeared that the sun had waited to set, just to illuminate the first glimpse of their new home. The golden rays of the dying sun made the house glow in welcome. It was a sprawling affair with verandas on two sides and dormer windows protruding from the steeply pitched roof. Actually, it looked friendly enough sitting in a nest of well-kept trees, hedges, and flower beds. The house next door looked just like it, except that it was painted a pale yellow.
Joey's father was the only family member who had seen the house first hand, so he led the way up the brick walk, key in hand. He unlocked the front door and threw it open for his admiring wife and sullen offspring to view.
The moving company had performed to the letter of their contract; the house was ready to be lived in. Joey demurred from the tour and asked where his room was. His father said that he had the entire upstairs, his own bedroom and bath in a finished attic. The sun's last rays disappeared just as Joey reached the top of the stairs. He paused to get his bearings and found the door to his bedroom; but, before he could turn on the light, he was treated to a startling sight.
Through the window beside his bed, he could see into the identical dormer room of the house next door. The light was on and a nude man stood with his back to the window. Joey could clearly see the man, from the top of his dark head down to his knees. And what a sight he was! He was evenly tanned, and the overhead light set off his muscles in sharp relief. His broad shoulders tapered down to a small waist, which disappeared into strong, narrow hips. His muscular thighs flared out and then narrowed into almost delicate knees.
Joey's mouth became moist as he took in the sight. Before he could react further, the man turned to view his profile in a full length mirror.
Joey's breath caught as he saw the man's side view. As he studied his reflection, the man thrust his hips forward, sucked in his tiny waist, and filled his lungs. The effect was breathtakingly sensual. The man paused to admire himself, and Joey noticed that the guy did not have a tan line.
Joey seized the moment to breathe and to look at the man's face. Why, he wasn't a man at all! He was a kid his own age, just well developed. The guy had to work out several hours a day to get a build like that.
Joey was totally mesmerized by the sight. He couldn’t look away even as the young man, ever so slowly, began to manipulate himself. As the scene continued, Joey became aware of the aroused state of his own manhood. As if in a waking dream, he opened his jeans and emulated the movements of the boy across the way.
The boy manipulated himself with a well-formed hand. Then, he began to move faster as a prelude to what was about to happen. Then, it did. Joey's body answered the call at the same instant. When the spasms subsided, he fell to his knees and pitched forward on to his hands. Gasping for breath, he raised up just in time to see the boy stroll out of the room. With his remaining strength, Joey dragged himself over to the window and closed the blinds. Just then his mother called up the stairway to say they were ready to go out to dinner.
It would be an understatement to say that Joey seemed preoccupied during the meal. But to his parent’s relief, he didn't complain about living in a small town.
The next morning, he found the high school without difficulty and reported to his assigned homeroom. He felt conspicuous and uneasy until he noticed that the boy sitting next to him was the one from the night before. He really wasn’t sure what he felt then. Their eyes met and Joey recovered long enough to smile and stick out his hand in response to the one offered to him.
The boy's name was Derek. He smiled warmly and gripped Joey's hand with conviction. They ran into each other at noon and shared a table in the cafeteria. Joey identified himself as his new neighbor, and Derek seemed genuinely glad of the fact. As the bell rang, he asked Joey to meet him after school.
After sixth period, they walked home and Derek invited him over for a swim. Joey changed clothes and bounded next door, clad only in his Speedo. He met Derek coming down the stairs naked.
At Joey's look, Derek just laughed. “No one can see over the backyard wall man, come on.” With that, he playfully yanked Joey's trunks down and ran out the back door laughing like a banshee. Joey kicked his trunks all the way off and sprinted after him, thoroughly in the spirit of the game. They hit the icy water at the same time and spent the next half-hour playing and splashing about, generally having a ball.
Winded after the exertion, they hauled out on the cement to rest. Joey noticed the differences and the similarities of their bodies for the first time. Both were large for their age, but delicately built with well-defined muscles. And Derek obviously worked out. The main differences were in coloring. Joey was blond, blue-eyed, and fair to Derek's olive skin, brown eyes, and black hair.
When they stopped laughing and chattering for a minute, Derek looked thoughtful. “Damn, I'm glad you moved next door. You're a hoot!”
A warm flush turned Joey's skin pink. “Thanks, I'm glad I did too.” To cover his embarrassment, he blurted, “Aren't you afraid your mom will catch you swimming bare?"
“Mom died two years ago. My dad and I live here alone, and he doesn't care.” Suddenly Derek asked, “How did you know who I was this morning when you introduced yourself?” Joey turned bright red again and changed the subject. Shortly afterward, he made the excuse of having to go home for dinner, and left.
But, the tone for their friendship had been set. They acquired the habit of walking home from school together and going for a swim, in the nude. Joey always managed to blush at the sight of Derek's bare body, remembering the activity he had seen through his window. After a swim they studied together, or they just laughed and talked about whatever subject came to their minds, silly or serious.
Their parents approved of their companionship. Derek's dad was pleased to think that his son might be developing a true friendship. Derek had never sought popularity among his peers and had never had a close friend. Whereas, Joey's parents welcomed Derek and rejoiced that their son had made a friend quickly in his new school, for they felt terribly guilty about uprooting him just before his senior year.
Derek was a member of the wrestling team and whooped with joy when he heard that Joey had also been a wrestler in Tampa. It didn't take much persuading to get him to try out for the Adams Place team.
In his old school, Joey was also active in student government. He was pleasantly surprised that this Hicksville school had an active chapter and applied as a volunteer. He began to appreciate the school even more when he was paired with a pretty girl named Judy, whom he found to be intelligent and fun loving as well.
At the end of the first week of working with her, he asked for a date. To his surprise, she accepted. He had assumed that all of the pretty girls in this pygmy school would be spoken for. They went to dinner and a movie and had a great time. He even kissed her when he dropped her at her door.
Joey made the wrestling team, to Derek's delight. But at his first practice, Joey was paired with Derek. Time after time, as he tried to pin his buddy, the smell of his musk and the feel of his sleek, powerful muscles intoxicated him. Drenched with sweat, he finally pinned Derek just before his strength gave out. His mind reeled when Derek gave him a hug of congratulations, and he secretly hoped he wouldn't be paired with Derek very often.
While doing his homework that night, Joey's thoughts floated in an around the house next door. His open window beckoned. Clad only in his underwear, cool breezes wafted into the room and gently caressed his body. He absently thought about Derek's smooth brown skin stretched over his massive chest. By the time he was in the middle of a chapter on the cell structure of ocean kelp, his fingers had drifted under the waistband of his shorts. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he recalled the lazy swing of Derek's manhood as he walked about the swimming pool, and he began to stiffen.
Joey didn't try to stop the process; instead, he let the thoughts of Derek rise to the surface. These thoughts were new to him; thoughts of a male had never aroused him before.
He swiveled his desk chair toward the window and stared at the gaping blackness. In his mind's eye, he saw Derek standing before his mirror, pleasuring himself. Joey's manhood was rampant now. He lowered his shorts, spread his legs and touched himself in response to the picture in his mind.
Suddenly, his mental vision was replaced with the real thing. The light came on in Derek's room. Derek strolled in, stopped and stared out of the window. Joey froze as Derek saw him. After half a heartbeat, Derek turned and hit his light switch. Suddenly able to move, Joey plunged his room into blackness too.
Numb with shame, he fell into bed and pulled the covers over his head. He eventually cried himself to sleep with embarrassment. The next morning, he told his mother he was too sick to go to school.
He lay in bed all day with his door closed, blinds drawn, consumed with the blackest thoughts. How would he ever be able to face Derek? How could he live next door after this? Would Derek spread the story of his nocturnal masturbation all over school? His head hurt; his stomach hurt; he was thoroughly miserable.
By late afternoon, as he sank into a fitful sleep, there was a light tap at his door. Before he could tell them to go away, Derek burst into the room bright as a ray of sunshine and perched on the edge of the bed.
“Hey guy,” he said with a sincere smile, “I missed you at practice today, and nobody saw you at your classes, so I came over to find out what was up.” Joey just looked at him dumbly, unable to comprehend that Derek was actually in the room. Derek's smile gave way to real concern. “Hey man, are you all right? Is there anything that I can do for you?”
Joey flushed at seeing the object of his greatest embarrassment and looked away. “I'm okay; I just had a headache and an upset stomach.” He dared to look at Derek, “I'm surprised you came over though,” and looked away again.
Derek smiled, “My air headed friend, I know that I've only know you for a month, but is it so fantastic that I want to find out how my neighbor is when he's sick?”
“No,” Joey fumbled with the bed covers, “but after last night...” and his voice trailed off.
The source of Joey's discomfort suddenly washed over Derek. “Aw, come on Joey; don't be embarrassed that I saw you. Didn't you ever see a guy masturbating before?”
Joey just stared at him, openmouthed, and the connection that Joey had seen him performing before his mirror slammed through in Derek's mind. Suddenly, it was Derek's turn to be embarrassed. His dark skin actually turned rose-colored, and he couldn't meet Joey's gaze. “That's how you knew who I was at school. You saw me having fun in front of my mirror.” Joey could only smile lamely.
Derek drew back the blinds and stared across the way at his window. “Man, that must have been some show,” he said slowly. Looking back at Joey, he said, “No wonder you got so red when I asked how you knew who I was.”
They smiled shyly at each other, and then burst out laughing. The facts of a totally ludicrous situation suddenly seemed stupid. They laughed until tears ran. When the first wave subsided, they looked at each other and began all over again. Derek had to lie down on the bed, and they began to roll around, trying to quell the laughter. The covers fell off the bed, exposing Joey's nude body.
In between gasps, Derek pointed to Joey's limp member. “Did you beat your meat while you watched me perform?”
Joey was breathless, laughing. At first all he could do was nod his head. When he could speak, he gasped, “Yes, I shot all over the rug.” They howled. “My mom's going to have to get it cleaned.” This set them off again. “And all over the blinds.” More howls. “They're going to have to be replaced.” With that, they couldn't talk any more.
After a while, they became quiet, content with the way things had turned out. Their laughter had cleansed the way between them and they were both grateful. An atmosphere of peace and trust settled over the room. Finally, they both began to speak softly and tentatively. Derek said, “Thanks for not laughing at me for jerking off in front of a mirror. It's a habit of mine.”
"Don't sweat it. It was hot watching you though. I did get off, at the same time you did. That's what I was so embarrassed about. When you caught me last night, I was about to jerk off just thinking about what I saw.” Joey looked pointedly at Derek. “Does that disgust you?”
Derek didn't speak for a second and Joey held his breath. “No, I just never thought about anyone getting off watching me, that's all."
Joey let out a long breath, “Well, it was a surprise to me too. But you gotta' know that you're built like a brick shithouse. And, you looked like you were having such a good time. I think that's what turned me on.” In spite of himself, Joey's penis began to stir. “And then last night I was sitting here thinking about you in front of that mirror, and I got turned on all over again. And, well, you know the rest. I was so embarrassed when you saw me.” His voice gave out just as he reached full erection.
“Joey, if it makes you feel any better, I was real disappointed when you turned your light out last night. I stood there in the dark hoping it would come back on.”
“What are you saying?” Joey asked softly, fear and longing gathering in his eyes.
“I'm saying that I stood there in front of my window last night and jerked off thinking about you jerking off in here.” With that, Derek reached out, encircled Joey's erection, and began massaging it tenderly. This was a new experience for Joey and beautiful sensations began to course wildly through his body. He shouted a warning, but it was too late for Derek to do anything but helplessly watch Joey's semen spew out onto his friend's body.
While Joey caught his breath, Derek cleaned his chest with a towel.
“Thanks, that felt great,” Joey said with wide-eyed wonder.
Derek smiled and gently stroked his chest. “You're welcome. I wanted to do it, and here's something else I’ve wanted to do.” He leaned forward and kissed Joey, tentatively at first, then deeper. Finally, they kissed desperately, as two lonely souls emerging from a black void of emotional need. At last, their kiss lingered sweetly, until both boys were satisfied.
Derek got up silently and removed his clothing, while Joey lay still, eyes closed, his pulse pounding in his temples. As Derek glided back into bed, he placed a soft palm in the center of Joey's chest. “Don't be nervous; I know you've never done this before, but I know how.” He tasted Joey's lips once more, then left a trail of tender kisses down his body. Joey became excited again and wanted to reciprocate.
They moved into each other’s arms, each boy trying to give as much pleasure as he took. All the while they made love Derek murmured instructions and encouragement. Finally, their ministrations reached its ultimate peak and the boys fell back exhausted.
Derek gathered Joey into his arms, “God Joey, that was great. I haven't been close like this with someone for a long time. Thank you.”
"I've never done anything like this with a guy. It was wonderful, but it scares the shit out of me.”
They were still for a long while, savoring the experience. Then, they slept.
Derek woke the next morning to the sound of a Bach fugue. Languidly, he rolled on his side and reached out for Joey. Examining the empty covers, he smiled and stretched, lifted the covers to his face and drank in Joey's scent.
Joey! Oh, Joey's kisses.
Derek had suspected that he was gay for several years. When he reached puberty, he played adolescent exploration games with his peers. But, when they matured and became interested in girls, he did not follow their change in interest. Instead, he continued to have sex with one friend who shared his feelings. Neither boy was sure of himself, so their experience never went much beyond mutual gratification. Two years ago, the boy moved away and Derek never sought a new partner for sex.
But, last night was not adolescent sex. He became a man. He made love to someone. He kissed a boy for the first time, a deep, long soul kiss. And they did many other things. And he held a boy in his arms all night, for the first time.
Now, he knew for sure. He was gay. And he was deliriously happy. He felt content, complete, satisfied.
As he slid out of bed and began to dress, he hardly felt the clothes touch his body. He had never felt such a sense of well-being. And Joey was the catalyst. Where was Joey? He checked the john. No. The fugue ended and the opening chords of Chopin's Grand Polonaise began. A piano. Downstairs.
At the top of the stairs he looked down on Joey seated at a grand piano, dressed only in Jockey shorts. As he began to play the measured octaves of the Polonaise, the muscles of his arms and back rippled and flowed with the music. He was a sight for the senses and Derek drank them in. He thought giddily that appreciation for classical music would be greatly enhanced if artists were required to perform in their underwear.
He paused at the foot of the stairs to listen to the music. Derek's mother had been an accomplished pianist, and Joey matched her skill. At the end of the piece, Derek applauded, “Fantastic! You're as good as my mother, and she was a teacher. Where did you learn to play like that?”
Joey smiled, “I've taken music lessons since I was five, and I practice every day. That's the hard part. Otherwise, I have perfect pitch.”
“Are your folks here?”
“No, they've gone to work.”
Derek placed his hands on Joey's shoulders and kissed his cheek. Joey flinched and turned away. “What's the matter?”
Joey headed for the stairs. “Nothing, but it's getting late. We'd better get ready for school.”
Derek said with a frown, “Okay. See you in school.” Puzzled, he headed for home, his bubble of exhilaration burst.
Joey got to homeroom just before the bell rang. He ate lunch with Judy at noon, and he walked home in silence with Derek after wrestling practice. At his house, Derek said, “Let's skip the swim and talk.” In the privacy of his room, they sprawled on the bed. “Okay Joey, you've been a grump all day. Out with it. Are you upset about what we did last night?” Joey nodded. “Why? It was beautiful.”
“I just can't handle having sex with another guy.”
Derek said, desperately, “But you did have sex with another guy! I kissed you, and you kissed me back. We did everything, and you said it was wonderful for you.”
“That was last night, this is today, and now I feel differently.” His eyes pleaded. “It was a fluke, that all.”
Derek took a deep breath. “Okay Joey, I won't push it. If you aren't into guys, that's all right. I'm disappointed, but it's cool.” He paused for the length of a heartbeat. “Are you sure you can handle having a gay friend?"
Joey frowned. “Uh, are you gay?”
Derek nodded. “I didn't know for sure, until last night, when I kissed you. You were the first guy I've kissed, and,” he fumbled for the words, “and, it opened up something inside me.” He gave a crooked smile. “Yeah, I'm gay.”
Joey's eyes were wide. “But how do you know, for sure?”
“It was our kiss. I've dated girls and kissed them. With them,” he waived his hands, casting about, “kissing was something that I was supposed to do after a date. I felt nothing. But our kiss was different. It was electric!” Joey blushed. “Now, don't get embarrassed on me. I'm just telling you that kissing a guy, particularly one that I like a lot, turned me on like I've never been turned on before. And I love it,” his voice cracked, “and I’m gay.”
Joey's embarrassment turned to frustration. “Aw, come on Derek. Don't say that! Do you realize what will happen to you at school if someone finds out? Your life will be hell. You've heard the fag jokes in the locker room. You'd probably be kicked off the wrestling team.”
“Maybe. Yeah, it might be rough. But I can't deny who I am.”
Joey's cheeks burned with barely suppressed anger. “Well, don't say I didn't warn you.” He picked up his books and stalked out of the room.
That evening, each boy sat in his own room, blinds drawn, utterly miserable, and neither slept much that night.
All the next day, their nerves felt rubbed raw. To make matters worse, the coach paired them for drill at wrestling practice. Joey attacked Derek with all his strength. Derek counter attacked just as fiercely. Their frustration spiked their adrenaline levels early. Sweat poured from them as they went after each other repeatedly. At last their eyes locked, their faces contorted with anger and Joey lost his concentration. Derek pinned him and stalked out of the room.
Joey dragged himself to a bench and sat holding his head in his hands. The coach stood before him and said, “Take it easy. This is just a practice drill, not a tournament. You let him push your buttons, in here” he tapped the side of Joey's head, “and he pinned you.”
Joey shook his head, “No coach, I pushed my own buttons.”
He found Derek in the shower. He walked into the spray of water and placed his hands on Derek's shoulders. “I'm sorry, really sorry, that I've been such a shit. You're the best friend I've ever had, and I don't care if you're gay, straight, or otherwise, I don't want to loose you. The past twenty-four hours have been the most miserable of my life. Please forgive me.”
Derek took Joey into an embrace and whispered, “Apology accepted. Oh man, don't ever do that to me again. I’ve felt like a piece of me was missing.”
They returned to their routine, except that the weather had grown too cool for after school swims. So, they studied, worked on school projects, or met at the local hangout for fun. Occasionally, Joey brought Judy along. She and Derek already knew and liked each other. When football practice would allow it, Derek brought Elliot, the quarterback of the football team. They had met and become friends while working out in the gym. The group worked well together, but Joey and Derek were happiest when they were alone, sharing ideas or just being content in each other's presence.
Joey continued to date Judy. He even talked Derek into calling up a girl so they could double date for the final football game of the year.
They discovered that their birthdays were only a few days apart, just before Thanksgiving. Judy and Elliot conspired with Joey's parents and Derek's father to plan a surprise party at the Daniels’ house the Saturday before the holiday. Elliot had the job of keeping the guys away from the house while Judy received the guests. Just before dark, Elliot brought the boys back to a rousing welcome. Judy had invited the kids from the student government, the wrestling team, and several members of the football team.
It was the boys eighteenth birthday and everyone brought a gag gift commemorating their becoming adults. Some of the gifts shouldn't have been opened in polite company, but this was a bash and everyone took everything in stride with good humor. Mr. and Mrs. Daniels gave Joey a two-year-old car, and Mr. Sousa gave Derek a new motorcycle. The revelers ate enough food to satisfy an army. They played games, danced, and sang until the parents threw them out so they could clean up the mess.
Everyone said good night and pronounced the party the best ever. But the four friends were too happy and keyed up to stop the festivities. Joey took Judy for a ride in his new car, and Derek took Elliot for a ride on his motorcycle.
Joey and Judy drove around town for a while, then through the City Park on top of a bluff overlooking Adams Place. They parked at a strategic place where they could see the city lights. Joey's eyes were shining with happiness. He kissed Judy and thanked her for the party. She placed her arms around him and drew him to her side of the car. As they kissed, she unbuttoned his shirt and left a trail of wet kisses down his chest. She unbuckled his belt and moved to the floorboard of the car as she pulled his pants down to his ankles. Joey's body responded immediately as her mouth enveloped his penis. Then, she began to undress. Joey fumbled for his wallet to retrieve the condom he always carried. Judy placed it on him and mounted his erection. She settled herself and began a slow rocking motion. As their passion increased, she alternately kissed him and fed him one of her well-developed breasts. At length, they cried out as their orgasms overtook them.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Judy was waiting at the door when Joey's last class was dismissed. Wearing a worried frown, she led him into an empty classroom. “I heard a rumor today that Derek is gay. Have you heard anything like that?”
A spasm of panic rippled through Joey's midsection. “No! I haven't heard a thing. Who told you that?”
“One of the girls who dates a football player.”
Joey promised to get to the bottom of the rumor and headed for the gym. Wrestling would begin in earnest now that football season was over. He found Derek spotting for Elliot as he worked out in the weight room. At Joey's worried frown, Derek excused himself and followed Joey into the hall.
Joey relayed his conversation with Judy. Derek scowled at the news. “Well, I got some strange looks today, but nobody has said anything.”
Joey said, with an aggravated edge to his voice, “Well, have you told anyone?”
“Just Elliot.” At Joey's exasperated look, he continued defensively, “Joey, I have glands too. We rode the bike through the park the other night too and saw you and Judy christening your new car as the pussy wagon.” An unlovely flush covered Joey's face and their anger subsided.
Derek continued more calmly, “I need affection as much as you do. Elliot and I are good friends, and I thought he might be gay, because he doesn't date any girls in school. So, Monday after everyone had gone, we were changing in the locker room and I told him. He was cool about it. So, I asked him for a date.” It was Derek's turn to blush. “It turns out he's not gay. He's been dating a girl over in Pineville for two years, and they plan to get married after they graduate.”
Although neither wanted to believe that Elliot had spread the rumor, they went back into the gym to confront him, but the weight room was empty.
The other boys gave Derek several sidelong glances during wrestling practice, but the coach kept them too busy to talk. Derek was the best wrestler on the team and he was their hope to spearhead winning scores at meets. They had to bring their skill up to his level, and the coach drilled them mercilessly for two hours. Dog tired, the team showered, changed, and departed without their usual locker room banter.
Derek and Joey parted company in the parking lot. The sun had set and it was almost dinnertime, but Joey decided to take a quick drive to think. He was furious with Derek for coming out to Elliot. He didn’t like to think about the cruel jokes Derek would have to endure at the hands of his peers. In addition, he couldn’t escape the thought that it might be implied that he was gay too. Best friend or not, he and Derek would have to have a long, long talk about this.
He parked in front of his house and headed for Derek's front door. As he crossed the Sousa’s lawn, he heard his name called from the driveway and walked down the dark path. Derek was lying beside his motorcycle, trying unsuccessfully to get up. Joey smirked and gave him a hand. “What's the matter hot rod? Fall off your bike?”
Derek cried out in pain as he got to his feet. “No, a couple of guys jumped me as I parked the bike,” he said through clenched teeth.
Joey could now see his face in the dim streetlight. “Oh my God, you're bleeding. Come on, let's get into the house.”
Mr. Sousa settled Derek into an easy chair in the living room, and went to fetch towels and bandages. Joey examined him as best he could. He had a cut lip, black eye, and scraped elbow. He yelped when Joey pressed his side just below the rib cage, but he didn't appear to have any broken bones.
After they patched him up, Mr. Sousa began to ask questions. He had been calm and efficient to this point, but Joey noted that now his hands were shaking. Derek explained simply that two men jumped him as he parked the bike. They wore ski masks. One held him while the other delivered a half dozen blows. As they walked away, one turned and said, “This is what we do to faggots, so you better get out of town.” Derek looked his father in the eye and said, “Pop, I'm gay.” Mr. Sousa simply nodded. “Joey and Elliot are the only two that I've told. I know that Joey hasn't told anyone else, and I don't think Elliot did either. He took it pretty well when I came out to him.”
Joey's frustrations flared. “Well, somebody found out. Now what are we going to do about it?”
“I'm too tired to do anything about it now. Pop, can we talk later?” Jim Sousa nodded. “Please help me upstairs Joey.”
Joey draped Derek's arm around his shoulders and felt every ache in his friend's body as they slowly made their way to the bedroom. When Derek was comfortable on the bed, Joey's frustration and concern erupted. He looked down at his friend’s bruised face with tears in his eyes. “Derek, I’m scared. They hurt you. Why did you have to tell someone?” He rested his forehead on Derek's chest and cried in frustration.
Derek stroked the back of his head. “Sh, don't cry. I heal fast, and we'll get to the bottom of this sooner or later.” Joey rested on Derek’s chest for several minutes, his mind in turmoil.
Presently, he raised his head and looked at his friend. Then, he gently stroked Derek's face. He paused and cocked his head, still looking into Derek’s eyes. Finally, he realized that this individual meant more to him than anything else in his life. A strange look came into his eyes, a look of confident conviction. He placed a hand tenderly to Derek's cheek. “I love you, you foolish jerk.”
Derek held his breath for a
heartbeat, and then whispered, “How do you mean that?"
Joey gave him a smile. “Let me show you.” And he kissed Derek as passionately as he could without further bruising his lips. “You'd better heal fast. The next time I do that I want to show you how I really feel.”
Derek gave a shout of joy. “I feel better already,” he turned back the bed covers, “climb in.”
Joey chuckled. “Later stud. You need some rest.” He stood to leave the room, then his face brightened with an idea. “My folks always go to my grandmother's in Birmingham for Thanksgiving. How about I stay behind and join you guys.”
Derek grabbed Joey's hand, dragging him back to the bed. He gathered the boy into an embrace. “You've made me the happiest guy on earth. Come back tomorrow.” Joey kissed him good night.
Jim Sousa sat exactly where they had left him. Joey sighed and sat on the couch beside him. “Mr. Sousa, I don’t know what to say except that I’m sorry that this happened. And, don’t be too mad at Derek for being gay.”
Jim looked startled, then smiled. “I've suspected that he might be gay for a long time.”
“How did you know? Doesn't it bother you?”
“No Joey, it doesn't bother me.” He shrugged. “As to how I knew, well, parents know these things if they are sensitive to their children's needs.” He chuckled. “And it helps to have several degrees in psychology.” Jim Sousa taught psychology at the State College in Adams Place.
“I can't believe you're so cool about it, especially after he was beaten up.”
“Make no mistake, it bothers me very much that he was attacked for being gay, but it doesn't bother me that he is gay. He's my son and I love him very much. I'll support him and strive to see that he lives a happy life. I made a terrible mistake years ago and I won't make the same mistake again.”
Jim went on to tell Joey why he had studied psychology. During his first year in college, his younger brother told him he was gay. Unfortunately, Jim fell back on his religious upbringing, became angry, told Ken he was sick, and told him to get out and never come back.
The next day, his brother committed suicide. Jim was grief stricken and guilt ridden, because he had loved and doted on his brother. Ken had turned to him for support and he had not given it. He never got over the feeling that he had caused his brother's death. Thus, he spent his life trying to understand his brother and redeem himself.
“So you see Joey, I've always considered my son's feelings and emotional well being as well as provided for his physical needs. I believe that his sexual preference is just as natural as anyone else's.”
Joey frowned, “But he’s been beaten up and lord knows what they’ll say to him at school.”
Jim spread his hands in a helpless motion, “I didn’t say I was happy about the life he will have to live in our present society, but he’s my son and I love him. I will do everything I can to see that he lives a happy life.”
Joey shook his head in amazement. “Derek’s a lucky guy to have you for a father.”
Jim chuckled. “I was a young fool once, and I’m trying very hard not to be an old fool now. Besides, by loving Derek unconditionally, perhaps I can atone for the injustice I inflicted on my brother.”
Joey nodded, then paused, uncertain. “Would you mind if I joined you and Derek for the Thanksgiving holiday? My folks are going out of town and I'd like to be with Derek.”
“Of course you can. You're more than a guest here, and Derek needs a friend right now.”
Joey told his mother that Derek was not well--it really wasn't a lie--and that he would like to spend the holiday with him. Mrs. Daniels protested the violation of family tradition, but relented in the end when Joey cranked up his whine quotient. It didn't seem reasonable that an eighteen year-old should have to resort to whining, but hey, it still worked.
Joey woke at daylight the next morning and raced to the house next door. He invaded the Sousa’s kitchen, and by the time Jim shuffled out of his bedroom, he had prepared a sumptuous breakfast.
Derek awakened as Joey brought in a tray laden with ham, scrambled eggs, grits, toast, coffee, and orange juice. He stretched luxuriously. “I had the most wonderful dream last night. I dreamed that a handsome knight rescued me and brought me to safety.”
Joey shoved a piece of toast in his mouth. “Well, this knight got you as far as this bedroom.”
“Ah, then it wasn't a dream. Come here handsome knight,” he fumbled for the buttons on Joey's shirt, “and let me remove your armor.”
Joey dropped the tray in Derek's lap and finished removing his clothes. “Be patient, Sweet Prince. Let us break bread together, then I will exact my reward from you.” He climbed into bed beside Derek and they ate ravenously. Then, they set the tray aside and moved into each other's arms.
Later, Joey helped Derek downstairs and the three of them prepared a reasonably good turkey dinner. Joey did most of the work. He fussed over Derek and took advantage of every opportunity to touch him.
In the early afternoon, Joey played the piano. Jim enjoyed this interlude very much. He had enjoyed his wife's music and had missed hearing her play since her death.
As the sun was setting, they sat down to dinner and ate with relish. The boys kept up an animated conversation throughout the meal and seemed to find almost every comment amusing.
Finally, the carcass of the turkey attested to the fact that their bellies were full. They pushed back from the table and carried the empty dishes into the kitchen. Jim turned to Derek with a smug smile. “You seem to have recovered remarkably well. Since Joey did most of the work preparing the meal, I think it would be admirable if you would offer to wash the dishes.”
Derek flung his forearm to his head in mock despair. “My own father would have his only son rise from his sickbed to work. Aye, but I will make the noble offer. Go yonder to the comfort of the living room while I overtax myself.”
They booed his ham acting and strolled out of the kitchen laughing. When they were seated on the couch, Jim turned serious. “Joey, last night I said that I didn’t want to be an old fool. And I still don’t. I’m not blind. There’s been a change in your relationship with Derek, hasn’t there?” Joey blushed and nodded. “Would you mind telling me about it?”
Joey looked at his shoes and said softly, “I love him Mr. Sousa.”
“More than just a friend, I'll bet,” Jim said gently.
Joey nodded. “Yeah, I'm gay too.” He looked up at Jim, startled. It was the first time he had admitted that to himself, much less to anyone else, and it scared him. “But I don't want to go through life getting beaten up. I don't want to be different from other people. I just want to love Derek.”
“But Joey, you are different. Everyone is different from everyone else. That's what makes you Joey and me Jim. If some people won't accept that, that's their problem. You have the right to live your life in peace and be happy. And you have to stand up for that right,” he poked a finger at Joey’s chest, “first, within yourself, then, to the rest of the world. If you don't, you will deny your very nature and live out your life as one miserable individual.”
“Then, sometimes I'll have to fight,” Joey said with finality. “Well, wait until I get my hands on the guys that beat up Derek.”
“Joey, please let me give you one more pearl of wisdom, then I'll shut up for the night. You're angry with the people who attacked Derek. Don't be. It's much better to be Mr. Unflappable. Never be angry; never be defensive. Live and let live. Everyone has the same rights that you do.” He pointed a finger in the air for emphasis. “However, it's perfectly acceptable to rise up in righteous indignation when someone steps on your rights. Reason with them, but, if you must, then defend yourself.”
Joey chuckled. “You make life sound so simple and reasonable.”
“It is, when you get down to it. When you are in school, peer pressure seems very powerful. But you’re an adult now, and you must abandon peer pressure for your own needs and standards.” He added with a wise expression on his face, “Regardless of whether you are dealing with students or adults, I think you will find most people reasonable. At least, I have."
Jim looked pointedly at him. “Pardon me for changing the subject, but you said that you loved Derek. Are you ‘in love’ with him?”
Joey turned red but held his chin up, proudly. “Yes sir.”
“Did you come to realize this recently?” Joey nodded. “It must have been a startling insight for you to realize that you were gay and in love too.” Joey nodded again. “Then you can understand that it’s been startling for me to realize that my son is gay and that he also has a lover.” Jim smiled ruefully.
“Earlier today Derek asked if you could stay here for the rest of the holiday.” It was Joey’s turn to blush again. “I know that if you two are lovers that you will sleep together.” Jim sighed, heavily. “And, as a parent, I don’t know how to think about that. If you were a girl, I would be reluctant to let you sleep with Derek under my roof. But you aren’t a girl, and both of you are over eighteen.” He sighed again, then smiled. “So, I’m going to do what I frequently do when I have a problem that I need to deal with. I’m going to take a drive over to my Aunt Sarah’s and talk it over with her. And I won’t be back until late Sunday afternoon.”
Joey sprang up from the couch and hugged him. “God, you're a wonderful man.”
Jim laughed. “Before you praise me too much, ask Derek how many times he's been grounded in his lifetime.”
Jim got another hug from Derek when he told him of his plans. He made a quick call to Sarah, then packed an overnight bag and left.
Joey and Derek were alone. The house was theirs for three days and nights. They stood in the middle of the living room and surveyed their domain. Derek took Joey into a gentle embrace, as if he was the most precious thing on earth. He kissed him slowly and deeply.
This set the tone for the rest of the holiday. They spent hours on Friday moving from lot to lot choosing just the perfect Christmas tree. Then they hauled dusty boxes of decorations out of the garage to transform the tree and the rest of the living room into a holiday vision. After dark, they turned on the tree lights, lit a fire in the fireplace, and sat quietly, drinking in the beauty of their handiwork.
Joey moved over to sit on Derek’s lap to let himself be enveloped in a warm embrace. He rested his head on Derek’s shoulder and murmured, “Oh God, if this is what it’s like to be in love, I’m all for it.”
Derek purred, “Um, yeah. I’ve never been so happy.”
Joey rubbed his cheek against Derek’s stubble of beard, drank in the scent of his musk, felt the hardness of his muscles. God, he loved this man! If only they could remain like this for the rest of their lives. But, he realized that Monday morning they would go back to school, to whatever hostility resided there. He shivered and Derek tightened his embrace. There. The moment of fear and doubt had passed. He would stand by Derek, stand up for their rights no matter what. He kissed his lover and they prepared to go to bed.
They cooked, ate, made love, and enjoyed themselves for the next two days. Saturday, they braved downtown traffic to Christmas shop. Derek revealed himself as a good cook. He had taken on the cooking chores after his mother died, and Jim had assumed the task of housekeeper. This became clear to Joey as he cheerfully picked up after Derek.
Sunday night, Jim returned to a festive dinner and a clean and beautifully decorated house. He allowed that they were excellent housekeepers and he could tell by their faces that they had gotten along beautifully. They blushed and he laughed. When they pressed him to reveal the outcome of his talk with Aunt Sarah, he was non-committal.
After dinner, they spent time talking to Jim about the gay lifestyle. He answered their questions, but also suggested that they join the gay student group at the college. There, they could gather practical information from individuals their own age. With a smug grin, he said they would be more inclined to listen to their peers than adults anyway. Regarding their peers at the high school, Jim counseled them to keep a cool head but stand up for their rights.
Monday morning, Joey drove Derek to school. Just before first period, he ran into Elliot in the hall and told him about Derek's beating. Elliot was genuinely surprised and denied telling anyone that Derek was gay. Just then, Derek walked up to them. Elliot expressed his sympathy and assured him that he had said nothing to anyone. Derek believed him and shook Elliot's hand when he offered it.
As the three walked down the hall, they reviewed the possibilities for the source of the rumor. Derek had come out to Elliot while they talked in the locker room. That could only mean that they were not alone in that room at the time. The rumormonger could be any guy in school that overheard them. Shit.
At noon, Derek and Joey agreed to have lunch apart. Derek wanted to try to narrow the list of possible attackers with Elliot, and Joey wanted to talk to Judy.
By the end of the meal, Joey had screwed up his courage to tell Judy the truth. He took a swallow of coffee, cleared his throat, and closed his eyes. “Judy, I'm gay."
And the world did not come to an end. When he opened his eyes again, Judy was smiling wistfully at him.
“Yes. I think I knew that you were.”
‘Jesus,’ Joey thought. This wasn't going the way he had expected. First, Derek, then Jim, now Judy. How come half the fucking world knew he was gay before he admitted it to himself? He said, almost crossly, “How did you know?”
She covered his hand with hers. “Calm down. It's okay.” She shrugged. “I don't date around. I get to know a boy pretty well when I go with him. Like I did you. And, well, I could tell. I didn't actually decide that you were gay, but I knew that something was going on.”
Joey's eyes went wide, then he blushed. “What did I do? Did I do something wrong?”
Judy squeezed his hand to reassure him. “Oh no. As a matter of fact, you were almost too perfect.” She faltered, fumbling for the right words. “I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but a girl can tell these things. I know you enjoyed the times we had as much as I did, but it was just a social thing for you. There was never much emotion or feeling between us, even when we had sex.” Joey blushed again. “I know you enjoyed it, but we're very close and there just wasn't any passion or feeling there, and there should have been.”
Joey recalled their lovemaking in the car and quickly compared it to the weekend he had just spent with Derek. “You're right. But I want you to know that I wasn't trying to deceive you. I didn't admit to myself that I was gay until Thanksgiving. Please believe me. I love you and I would never use you or anyone else that way. It's not my style.”
“I believe you Joey. I love you too, and I always will.” Joey gave her a kiss on the cheek and a tight hug.
After their last class, Joey and Derek talked as they walked to the gym. Joey asked, “Have any trouble today?”
“No. Not a comment from anyone. Everybody treated me as usual. In fact, there was something positive.” He handed Joey a tightly folded piece of paper.
Joey stopped to read it. ‘We wanted you to know that there are other gay guys in school, but we're too scared to come out right now. Good luck.’
“Wow! Where did this come from?”
“It landed on my tray in the cafeteria just as the bell rang. I looked around, but there were twenty kids milling around. I couldn't tell who threw it.”
The coach drilled the wrestling team relentlessly for over an hour. Joey and Derek made their last pins and headed for the showers. They had just sat on a bench in front of their lockers to cool down and catch their breaths, when they heard voices in the next aisle. The voices became heated and grew louder.
First voice: “Elliot, we don't want to associate with faggots and we don't think you should either.”
Second voice: “Yeah, it didn't look too good today when you shook hands with that cocksucker in the hall.” Derek's eyes widened with surprise. That voice belonged to one of the guys who attacked him, and he mouthed the fact to Joey.
Elliot said, “I'll associate with anyone I choose. Derek's my friend and I'll see him whenever I want.”
Second voice: “No you won't. You ain't going to give us or this school a bad name. We took care of the cocksucker and maybe we can change your mind too.”
Derek and Joey rounded the corner of the next aisle just as the two guys backed Elliot into a locker and began delivering blows to his midsection. Derek shouted, “Leave him alone!”
Vic and Roger, two linemen on the football team dropped Elliot in a heap and turned around. Vic, the biggest player on the team, sneered and said, “Well, it's the faggot himself and his little buddy.”
Derek said evenly, “If you've got a beef with us, say it to our faces.”
Vic growled, “We're through talking asshole,” and they charged, Vic for Derek and Roger for Joey.
The burley linemen were used to the direct attack in football, but Derek and Joey were trained for the oblique approach in wrestling. Derek wrapped his arms around Vic, kicked his feet out from under him, and guided his head into a locker. Joey sidestepped Roger, jumped on his back, and pitched him forward. The guy's head hit the floor with a thud. It was all over in twenty seconds.
The sound of applause filled the locker room. Joey and Derek spun around ready to take on all comers. “Very good! Are you guys sure you don't want to play football instead of wrestle?” Ernie, the captain of the football team held up his hands in peace. The rest of the wrestling team surrounded him.
Ernie said, “I heard the whole thing when I entered the locker room, but you guys took care of the problem before I could get here to help. Elliot asked me to stop by to discuss something, and I think I know what it was.”
Derek said, “These are the two who beat me up, and they worked Elliot over just now.”
Ernie stepped past Joey and Derek and helped the linemen sit up. They stared at him glassy eyed. “You guys give football and the human race a bad name. You're off the team. Are you listening to me?” The two nodded dumbly.
Ernie said fiercely, “You two can be expelled from school for this and you can land in jail.”
Derek shook his head. “I won’t press charges. I just want to be treated like everyone else.” Elliot nodded his concurrence.
Ernie snarled, “You guys are fucking lucky. I’d have seen you in jail. Now get out of here!” They shuffled to their feet. “And remember this, if you ever pull a stunt like this again, you'll have us to answer to,” he indicated everyone in the room, “and you'll wind up in the hospital in traction. Got it?” They nodded again.
Vic took Roger’s arm. “Come on, let’s get the fuck out of here.” The assembled boys parted to allow the two to exit.
Roger shook off Vic’s hand. “Let go of me. I’m through listening to your bullshit!” He turned to Elliot and Derek. “Look, I’m sorry.” Further words failed him. Vic stomped off in disgust, and Roger shuffled out.
Derek bent to help Elliot to his feet while Joey mopped his face with a towel. Protesting further help, he declared that he was all right. The three friends turned to a completely silent locker room. Ernie and the wrestling team stood staring at them.
Derek looked around the group and cleared his throat. “Look guys, I’ve got something to say. You've heard rumors that I'm gay. And I wanted to clear the air, because we have to work together as a team, and there shouldn't be any secrets between us. The rumors are true. I'm gay.”
Joey stepped closer to Derek. “I'm gay too.” He looked from one boy to the other. “We're the same guys you've always known and worked with. We haven't changed, we've just realized who we always were.” He gave Derek a crooked grin. “We feel good about ourselves, much more relaxed, and we think we'll be better for the team.”
Derek spoke up. "We want to continue on the team. Will you guys work with us?” He held his breath. He and Joey had already decided that they would not voluntarily quit. If any of the other guys didn't want to associate with them, they would have to quit first.
One by one, the team members looked at each other, then Jake, one of the seniors spoke up. “It's cool with me. You guys are all right.” Then the rest chimed in with similar sentiments. Finally, the rest of the team shook hands with their two gay members. Derek gave a whoop of joy. Ernie and Elliot shook hands with them too, then everyone headed for the showers.
Later, Jim Sousa sat in amused silence as the boys tried to tell him what happened, both speaking at the same time. He finally pieced the story together and swelled with pride and admiration. He gave both boys a hug and offered to take them out to dinner. They calmed only slightly once they had plowed through soup, salad, and entree. When desert arrived, they were still on a high. Joey announced that he was going to come out to his parents that very evening. They discussed the pros and cons of such an undertaking, and Jim counseled considerable thought and discretion. But in the end, Joey's rationale was ‘do it now or chicken out until God knows when.’
Back at the Sousa home, Joey thanked Jim for dinner and kissed Derek good night. Forty-five minutes later, he was back at their door. Derek watched him walk dumbly to the couch, sit down, and stare at his shoes. When Jim spoke to him, Joey looked up and they noticed the red welt on his left cheek. “What happened?” Derek said softly.
In a measured monotone, Joey said, “Well, I told them. I explained as best I could, and they freaked.” He looked at Derek with tears in his eyes. “My dad hit me.”
Jim rose slowly from his chair and stared down at the boys. “You two stay here. Don't leave this house.”
“What are you going to do?” Joey asked in a small voice.
“Rise up in righteous indignation, my boy.” He turned and marched out the front door.
Joey and Derek tripped over each other running to the window. They got there just in time to see Jim go inside the Daniels house. They tried watching TV, playing cards, and finally just sitting, holding hands, during the three hours that Jim was gone.
He returned with Mrs. Daniels, looking very subdued and contrite. She took Joey into her arms and kissed his cheek. Then, she apologized. She explained that neither she or her husband knew anything about homosexuality, except the ugly things they had heard all their lives. When Joey made his announcement to them, they were shocked, then dismayed, then hurt, and finally outraged.
But, she explained that Jim’s words made sense to her. Although, she didn't fully understand homosexuality or accept it, she loved her son and wanted him back. She loved him, regardless. Unfortunately, her husband couldn't bring himself to accept Joey as being gay. It was only after Mrs. Daniels threatened to make his life miserable that he agreed to let Joey back into the house.
Joey sat on the couch holding his head in his hands. “Oh God, what have I done?”
Jim said softly but firmly, “Joey, you haven't done anything wrong. Remember that it's your life. Whether or not your parents accept you is up to them. It's their problem to work out, so don't blame yourself.”
Mrs. Daniels quickly agreed. “Jim’s right Joey. Your father and I have to deal with this in our own way. Jim has given us a lot to think about. All we ask is that you give us time.”
Joey looked at his mother with pleading eyes. “Okay Mom, but I don't really feel comfortable going back home if Dad will only tolerate me because of you.”
"He'll change Joey. Just give him time.” She was clearly out of her element and wasn't sure of what to say. “Perhaps we can attend the meetings at the college. You know, for parents of gay children as Jim suggested.”
Jim recommended a compromise. “Maybe a cooling off period is in order. Joey, why don't you stay here until you and your father can sit down and talk?” They agreed that was the best plan. Mrs. Daniels hugged Joey once more and departed.
The moon was high and the
stars were dazzling as Joey and Derek stood, arm and arm, before
Derek's bedroom window, gazing at the heavens. The window across the
way loomed darkly. So much had happened since they looked at each
other through those windows for the first time. But most important,
they had discovered themselves. They were free now. They knew who
they were. The possibilities for their lives were as limitless as the
stars in the sky.
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