W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement

(2nd edition)

Chapter Twenty-Four - Another Day at the Park

by Jeff Wilson

As the days passed by after graduation, I was beginning to get used to the idea that I was free. June passed by as uneventfully as it could, considering I was now sharing my room with my boyfriend and his pet snake. I had thought that moving in together would become a non-stop sex-fest, but it wasn’t. I mean, yeah, there was a lot of sex, but knowing that we could have sex any time we wanted was more appealing than actually having sex anytime we wanted! We’d had experience living together before, back when I’d broken my arm and lived with Brett and his mom for a month. This was different though. This time we were sharing a room and a bed. We were actually sharing a life together.

Things went so much better living together this time than they had before. I wasn’t nursing a broken arm and trying to process what my life would be like after my dad’s stroke. Brett wasn’t trying to quit marijuana and trying to cope with out-of-control ADHD. We weren’t having to deal with insane people lying to us about their past, or with a best friend out prostituting himself. It was like starting life all over again with a nice clean slate!

“June has definitely gone better than May,” I said as I lay naked next to him. Since Brett had moved in, we’d been sleeping without clothes. For one, it was steaming hot and humid in our room. But more than that, we’d worked for years for the opportunity to just lie naked with each other and snuggle. There were some days where if we had nothing planned we would only throw on some boxers if we had to use the bathroom or grab something to eat, and then we’d shuck them once we got back to the room.

“You didn’t enjoy the craptacular moments that May provided?” Brett asked. He stood up and stretched. I enjoyed the view. Yep, still wasn’t tired of seeing Brett’s ass…

“I hope I never have a month like that again. The prom was about the only thing enjoyable about it. Everything else sucked.”

Brett grabbed a pair of boxers off the floor and pulled them on. I think they were mine, but we had long moved past having issues about wearing each other’s intimate apparel. “You want anything from the kitchen?” he asked. He lightly scratched his belly below his belly button.

“Nah, we’re supposed to meet mom in an hour,” I said.

“Oh that’s right. Today’s the day. I guess I’ll take a shower then.”

“You need a shave too,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, it’s getting to be every day lately,” Brett said. “Of course, I could just grow the beard again and not have to worry about it!”

“Please don’t!” I replied. “I like seeing your face.”

“You’re just jealous because you haven’t shaved in weeks and no one can tell.”

I laughed. “Whatever.” It was true, but I didn’t have to admit it. I liked my smooth skin, but I also liked that Brett had a little more hair in some places I didn’t. Like that trail that went from his groin up to his belly button? Yeah… I liked that!

“Don’t worry, young whippersnapper. You’ll be a man someday and grow something more than peach fuzz on that face of yours. Not that anyone will be able to tell if it comes in blond. You don’t mind a little more hair than before do you?”

“I’d love you if you had antlers growing out of your head,” I replied. “If you don’t mind me having the skin of a small child, I don’t mind what you’ve got.”

“That’s good, because the thought of shaving my ass doesn’t appeal to me. One wrong move and… Ouch!”

“Yikes!” I replied. “So, you better get moving because I need to shower too, and time is not getting any longer!”

“Why not conserve water and shower with me?” Brett asked.

“Because every time we shower together you end up fucking me, and we don’t have time.”

“I’ll be good. I promise,” Brett said. Well, looking at that handsome face, how could I resist?

I didn’t even bother with the boxers as we left my room and walked across the hall to the bathroom. Brett quickly shaved his face while I got the shower ready. It felt good to let the water spray over us and refresh us. It was also convenient to have someone to wash your back! Of course, Brett’s hands always went lower than my back.

“Bend over,” he said.

“Brett we can’t…”

“Come on, it’ll just be a minute,” he said. So I did as he asked. Brett knelt behind me and then I felt his tongue exploring me.

“Brett come on…” I said weakly.

“You really want me to stop?” he asked.

Before I could answer, he stood up behind me. It didn’t take long for his dick to find its way into me.

“Just say so and I’ll stop,” he said, already balls deep. I never said stop. So sue me, I liked it when my boyfriend seduced me! It didn’t take long for him to pop anyway. The water cascaded over our naked, connected bodies as Brett hugged me around the waist. I turned around and kissed him.

“You want a turn?” he asked.

“Yeah, but maybe later. We’re going to be late.”

“I don’t want to go. I want to stay here with you all day,” Brett said.

We dried off and returned to our room. There wasn’t enough time to put my contacts in, so I put on my glasses. Once Navi was in place, I was ready to go.

“Have I told you how sexy you look with your glasses on?” Brett asked.

“You might have once or twice,” I replied. “but we really do have to get going or we’re going to be late.”

“Are you sure about this?” Brett asked. “I mean, what if it’s all just an elaborate set-up? What if we’re being lured into a trap?”

“You’ve become a lot more paranoid lately,” I said.

“Can you blame me?” Brett asked.

“No, not really. Anyway, it’s going to be fine. Mom really wants us to be there.”

“Well okay. I just hope she knows what she’s doing. There’s only so much drama I can take.”

Once we were on our way it didn’t take us long to get to our destination – mom’s church. Even though mom had been cool about everything in the last few months, I still wasn’t quite sure what to make of her asking me and Brett to come with her to church that Sunday. Brett had a little bit of trouble with the steps, but we managed to make it before the service started. Mom and Dave met us at the door and walked with us down the aisle to our seats.

“I’m glad you came,” mom said.

“Well at least I did,” Brett replied. Oh God! He did not just make a sex joke in church! I quickly covered for him.

“Yeah, I told you I would only come here if Brett came with me, and here he is.” I elbowed him in the ribs and warned him to behave himself.

“I’ll be good,” Bret promised. I just smiled. He sure knew how to play innocent.

I looked around the place. I seemed as full as ever, though conspicuous by their absence were the McKenzie family. Not that there was a McKenzie family to speak of anymore. Jack was planning to run off with Brett’s mom to Chicago. If they’d have just done that eighteen years ago instead of trying to pretend they weren’t fucking each other then maybe everyone’s life would have been better off. But no, they had to put on the charade of fidelity and family, until their lies simply couldn’t sustain themselves any longer. Neither Brett nor Joey nor Heather deserved the damage those two had caused. And since Pastor Carl had been no help to Mrs. McKenzie, she’d disappeared from church life, an unwitting pariah created by the sin of not being able to keep her husband faithful to the satisfaction of the church’s moral guardians.

Some of the faithful were beginning to notice us. Of course, last time I’d set foot in that place I’d embarrassed the minister by daring to suggest he wasn’t God. There was certainly a chill in the air not caused by the air conditioning. I leaned over to mom.

“I don’t think people are very happy to see us,” I whispered.

Mom just nodded. The music began. A Jesusy blend of praise music and modern interpretation of hymns sung by a praise band. The Catholic traditionalist Brett didn’t know what to make of the noise and the arm waving, and the shouts of Holy Spirit inspiration from the congregation.

“What the fuck is this shit?” He asked me.

“I believe this one is, ‘I Want Jesus to be My Boyfriend,’” I suggested. Brett just gave me a disapproving look and flipped through the literature that had been given to us when we walked in.

The music gave way to the usual churchy business, announcements and such, followed by what I called the Pastor Carl warm up sermon, which was basically a plea for money. Then there was the offering and finally a time for prayer requests and concerns. Worship attendants walked around the place with live microphones, allowing for the whole assembly to hear the ways that God was working in the lives of the people, and giving opportunities for testimonies. Mom squeezed my hand and then raised her hand and a microphone was brought to her. She stood and shakily held the microphone.

“Good morning everyone…” mom said, her voice weak and strained. “First of all I want to thank you all for the way you have cared for me over these last few years, especially when my husband, George, passed away. I was truly a stranger and you took me in. I’ll never forget that. You’ve loved me and cared for me, and been my family in ways you can’t even imagine. I will always love you because of that, and the Lord knows your names.”

There were affirming nods and words of encouragement from the congregation.

“But while you’ve welcomed and supported me…” Mom paused to look at me. “You have not been so welcoming of everyone. Many of you know my son, Billy. You showed him hospitality while he was willing to lie to you and pretend he was someone he’s not. But he began to question his faith, and rather than finding his answers here, he found nothing but condemnation. He began to challenge the powerful, and he was met with a community that sought to silence him. But what hurt most deeply, was when he began to express love in a way which some in this church, myself included, found unacceptable. And it was unacceptable only because we refused to understand it. Maybe we refused to understand it because we believed that if we began to accept that which could not understand, God might actually begin to work a change within ourselves, rather than us trying to crush the world to force it into our own ideologies.”

Mom sighed. “I love this place, and I love Pastor Carl. But if you can’t love my son then you can’t love me. This church is a special place, but it is not being led by the Spirit of God, but by the ego of man. And so I came here today to apologize. I came to apologize to my son, and to this beautiful young man who loves him. I’ve stood in the way of your love, and I hope you’ll forgive me. But I’ve also come to apologize to all of you. I spent my time here trying to recapture some portion of community relevance I saw in my parents’ time. But that era is dead, and rather than help this community come to terms with that, I’ve been blinded by my own arrogance. And I’ve also come to apologize to Pastor Carl. I allowed my own ego to blind me to what was really important, and because of that, I failed you. I was more concerned with my own stature than I was in confronting you when you made the biggest mistake of your life, Carl. I’m praying that you can find the peace you need to be a leader in this community.”

Mom sat down, but Pastor Carl stood up and found a microphone.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Paula,” he sneered. “How dare you question my ministry? How dare you challenge God’s anointed leader? It’s you who needs to find peace! You see, Paula? This is what the sin of homosexuality does! It sows nothing but discord and hate! I warned you years ago to follow my example and remove the disgusting filth from your home! You have made a huge mistake. You allowed this perversion to dwell within your home until it has corrupted your entire household! And now you dare to challenge me by bringing this abomination into God’s house?”

“Carl, I’ve had good experiences here. I didn’t come to fight.”

“With all due respect, Paula, you brought the fight with you! You know what homosexual perversion did to my family. Now you see what it is doing to the community. I lost my son to that vile, disgusting behavior. Everyone knows I did not take the action I took with him lightly! The sins of your son are on your hands! You obviously haven’t raised him to respect God or yourself! If you are going to continue in this sinful disobedience then you will have no place in this church. You have to make the choice of whose side you’re on!”

“I stand with my son,” mom replied without a second thought.

“Then I can no longer help you,” Pastor Carl sighed. “You are no longer welcome in this place.”

“If my son is not welcome, then I was never welcome here either. Let’s go boys.”

David, Brett, and I all stood up and walked with mom up the aisle toward the exit. Some of the people refused to look at us. Some sneered. Some looked at us with pity. But no one said anything. Actually, a few of the people looked like they wanted to follow us, but were too afraid to be so bold. Mom stopped at the door and took one last look back. This was the place where she had made so many friends, had learned so much about herself, and even met her husband. Then she turned and walked stoically out the door, holding David’s hand.

We walked down the steps to the parking lot. The day seemed brighter upon our exit than when we’d entered that place. Mom sighed.

“You okay, mom?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Billy. I just don’t know right now.”

“You don’t have to feel bad,” Brett said. “That guy’s a dick!”

Mom smiled. “Maybe so, but this place is more than just Carl. I thought I had friends here.”

“And if they’re truly our friends they’ll make that known in the weeks ahead,” Dave said. “You did the right thing, dear. You stood with your son. I’m proud of you.”

“And if you want, you can always come to my church and become a happy Catholic!” Brett suggested.

Mom laughed. “I’m not sure I’d fit in there either. It’s a shame the Methodist church closed down because of Carl. He’s become the only show in town, so to speak.”

“We’ll find a place we belong,” David said. “So, you boys want to go to an early lunch? We’re guaranteed to beat the church crowd at this point!”

“I think I’d rather go home right now,” mom said. “I’m not in much of a mood for food right now.”

David agreed and as we began to head toward our cars, Brett stopped.

“Hey Paula, wait!” Brett called. He walked over to mom and gave her a hug. “Thanks for what you did today.”

Mom smiled and put her hands on Brett’s shoulders. “There’s no need for that. I treated you like a monster for loving my son. I was wrong, and I’m sorry. You’re as much my son as Billy is. I’ll always stand with you.” Mom kissed Brett on the cheek, and he turned a deep shade of red. Mom and Dave went to their car to go home, and Brett returned to me.

“Dude, are you in love with my mother?” I joked.

“Shut up!” Brett laughed, still blushing. He sat in the passenger seat next to me. “She is kinda hot though.”

“Where do you think I get it from?” I asked.

Brett thought about it for a moment. “Holy shit, you’re right! You do look a lot like her!”

“You’re just now figuring this out?” I asked.

Brett was quiet for a while as we drove down the highway.

“She kissed me,” he said, as deep in thought as Brett could be.

“Yeah,” I said, thinking more about lunch than about what Brett was babbling on about.

“No, dude… You don’t understand. I can’t remember the last time my mother kissed me. It’s been ages.”

“Oh…” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. His mom was a bitch. I wondered if she’d ever really loved Brett.

We made our way to Janet’s Diner during that awkward period where it’s still late enough that breakfast is available but you aren’t quite in the mood for it, but it’s just a bit too early to order lunch. The place would be hopping in a while when the church crowd began to arrive. Brett picked up an application for work while we were there. We got a booth and ordered. Before too long, Joey came in and joined us, sitting next to his brother.

“So I guess some time this week they’re moving out to Chicago,” he said.

“Good riddance,” Brett scoffed.

“Yeah. Mom took him to the cleaner’s in the divorce settlement. She got the house, so he’d have had to move out anyway. I can’t believe he was dumb enough to try to represent himself in court. I think he thought none of his lawyer friends would want to challenge him, but mom brought in this guy from Pittsburgh who handed dad his lunch. It would have been sad if he didn’t deserve it so much.”

“’Arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand,’” I mused.

Joey looked at me. “Whoa, that’s pretty deep, Roberts,” he said.

“Not really, it’s a lyric from a Metallica song. I have them all memorized. Well, except for St. Anger. Fuck that shit.”

“What’s the song?” Brett asked.

“Holier Than Thou,” I replied. “It’s on the Black Album.”

“Holier Than Thou?” Joey asked. “Boy, that describes the whole damn town, doesn’t it? Speaking of which, look who just walked in.”

Brett and I looked to see Sarah Taylor and her parents come walking into the diner, oozing with smugness as they were seated on the other side of the restaurant from us.

“Boy, Janet will let anyone in here,” Brett laughed.

The server brought us our lunch, and Joey ordered something for himself. As we ate and enjoyed our conversation, we saw Sarah get up and use the restroom.

“Can you believe I tapped that?” Joey asked.

“Scraped the bottom of the barrel for that one, didn’t you?” Brett replied.

“Dude, I had her before she did the whole basketball team. I did it so well she’s been looking for someone to give it to her as good as I did ever since,” Joey bragged.

“Oh great, here she comes,” Brett said.

“Boys,” she said.

“Bitch,” Joey replied.

“Joseph, pettiness and jealousy aren’t attractive,” Sarah said.

“Did you hear something? Like a shrill wind?” Brett laughed.

“You boys are hopeless,” Sarah said. “Little boys trying to be men by sniping at someone better than you.”

“If you can show me someone better than us in this restaurant point them out to me and I’ll snipe at them,” Joey said. “All I see in front of me is gutter trash with daddy’s money.”

“You’re one to talk about daddy issues, Joseph. Word is that your father ran off with his tail tucked between his legs. Don’t know how much he’s going to enjoy screwing Brett’s mom since your mom took his balls in court.”

Brett went to stand up, but couldn’t since he was stuck in the corner. All he did was knock everything over on the table when he bumped into it. “Why don’t you get the fuck out of here?” Brett snapped. “No one likes you. The only reason you got your way in school is because of your stupid asshole father! Without him, you’re just a dumb bitch with no friends who fucks anything with two legs and a dick!”

“Awww! Did I touch a nerve there, Reilly?” Sarah smirked. “I guess I’m the only one here whose father was actually a normal human being who wasn’t out banging his secret girlfriend or spending time in jail. I can’t wait to get out of this town where I won’t have to deal with your kind of people anymore.”

“Yeah, you won’t find po’ folk like us in Stanford,” I replied. “I don’t think your daddy’s influence over the thriving educational bastion of Mon Valley High School will get you very far in California. I wish I could be there to see how you do being at the bottom rung of society in a real school. You’re actually going to have to work for what you get. Although, I guess you could try sleeping with your professors. At least you’re good at something.”

“I don’t know if I’d call it very good…” Joey sniped.

Sarah rolled her eyes. “I’m so glad I won’t have to deal with people like you anymore, Billy. You only wish you could go to a real school instead of Pitt. Stanford only takes the best of the best, not the runners-up.”

“I didn’t know your father was on the board at Stanford,” I said.

“Oh please! Such jealousy, Billy! I earned everything I got at our school. You only wish you were as intelligent as me. You’ll find out. It’s people like me who work for what they get who succeed in life. You coasted by on talent and smarts. You’ll probably be able to do the same thing at Pitt. If you went to a real school where you had to study, you wouldn’t last a week.”

“I give you a year, maybe a year and a half, tops. Then you’ll be right back here with daddy. You’ll never leave this black hole of a town. You’ll go get a teaching degree at a local college and daddy will get you a job at the elementary school wiping kindergarteners’ noses all day, marry some guy to support you who you’ll cheat on, and wondering whatever happened to your life.”

“I can’t help it you weren’t smart enough to be on my level, Billy.”

Oh, she knew how to bait me into a fight! What I really wanted to do was to lay into that bitch with guns blazing, tell her what I thought of her, her father, her stupid valedictorian title, her prom queen, homecoming queen, class president, and every other accolade her father bought for her with his influence. I really wanted to do that. Perhaps a younger version of me would have lit into her with such venom that the whole restaurant would have heard. And it might have even felt good. But I didn’t. I didn’t have to let people like her get to me.

“I hope you enjoy your life,” was all I said.

Sarah didn’t quite know what to make of that. She just slinked away back to her parents, just like I knew she would do for the rest of her life. The three of us quietly ate our meals for a while. We kept giving each other sly little smiles, knowing that we’d really won. People like Sarah come and go in life, but brothers are for life.

“I can’t believe I once tried to punch you in the face over her,” Joey said.

“I can’t believe you lost your virginity to her,” Brett said, elbowing his brother in the ribs. Joey blushed.

We went our separate ways after lunch. Brett went with Joey to the theater to see the new Batman Begins movie. I took Brett’s car. I could have just gone home, but I wanted to stop and see how Dustin was doing. I hadn’t seen him since graduation, and I wanted to catch up. When I got to his house, I found him working in the backyard on his dirt bike.

“You finally went up to the woods and found that thing, huh?” I asked.

Dustin peeked over the bike at me, and then went back to his work. He had his old Donora Pizzeria Pirates hat on, turned backward to keep the sun off his easily-burnable neck.

“Yeah. I got it a couple weeks ago. Fortunately it hasn’t rained that much, so it’s not so bad. Just have to fix what Reilly broke when he wrecked it.”

“You need a hand with it?”

“Nah, I can do it on my own,” Dustin replied.

“Okay. You… You want to hang out or anything later on?” I asked.

Dustin peered again over the bike at me. “I don’t know. I’m really busy. I’ve got a job working at Walmart, and I’ve got to start getting ready for school in the fall. They sent out lots of reading assignments to get us up to snuff since Mon Valley sucks so hard. I guess most of the kids who graduate from this area end up sucking in school because the school sucks.”

“Oh. Hey, are you okay? You seem a little…”

“No, I’m great. Really,” Dustin said. “I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking. I guess I’m learning that I need to put some things behind me and move on with my life. Nothing personal or anything. I’m just realizing that high school is over and it’s time to grow up and leave my childhood behind. I can’t let what happened to me control me forever. Some things are better left in the past. I’m ready to move on with my life.”

“I tried to get ahold of you but you didn’t answer the phone.”

“I know. Look… I think it’s cute that you still want to be friends and everything, but let’s face facts. You’re about to go to college and live a happy little life with your boyfriend. You’re going to leave this town and never come back. I’m going nowhere. I’ll be stuck here forever. Why would you want to come back? We were best friends for a long time, and I’ll always remember the good times we had. But that’s over now. We’re destined to drift apart. And I know you can say that won’t happen and you’ll make sure you keep in touch, but I’ve heard it all before, Roberts. I’d rather say goodbye than try to cling to something that’s dying.”

“Oh… I just… I thought we’d always be friends. I thought…”

“That’s a cute thought. It really is. And I’m not mad at you or anything like that. It’s just that I can see reality a little better than you. You were a good friend. You helped me through a rough patch in my life. But I think we both need to move on. I’ve known for a while now, really ever since I moved back, that I need to let you go. Or at least I need to let go of the myth I made of you. I love you too much to hold on to you forever. I realize I have to let you go, and you need to let me go too.”

“I don’t want to lose you,” I said.

Dustin stood up. His blue eyes glistened in the sun. I hadn’t realized how long his auburn hair had grown. It was almost brushing his shoulders in the back, and much more of it was tucked up under his hat. He walked around the bike and offered me his hand. I shook it, but then I pulled him closer and hugged him. I was never the kind of guy to initiate a hug, but I couldn’t help myself. Dustin patted me on the back and then let go of me.

“So I guess this is goodbye?” I asked.

“Nah,” Dustin smiled. “It’s more like ‘see you later.’”

“See you later?” I repeated.

“Yeah. We both know it’s not really goodbye. I’ve never been good at quitting anything, especially you. See you later, Billy.”

“See you later, Dustin,” I replied.

Dustin went back to his dirt bike, and I walked back to Brett’s car. I sat there for a while before I started it. I drove up the hill. I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. I drove around for a while like my dad used to do when he needed to think. For some reason I wanted a cigarette, even though I was never a smoker. I eventually made it to the top of the hill near Brett’s house. I hadn’t planned to stop there, but it was almost as if the car itself steered me there. I found myself getting out of the car and walking toward the front door. I’d been in that house a million times, but it felt as if I’d never been there before. It felt like a stranger’s house, and since Brett had moved out and the only one there was his mother, I guess it really was a stranger’s house. It stung to see the ‘for sale’ sign in the yard. Emily Barnhart’s mom was the realtor. I rang the doorbell, and after a moment the door opened.

“Well if it isn’t my son-in-law,” Dr. Reilly said.

Even though I didn’t want to, I couldn’t help but smile when she said that. Damn it, she still knew how to work me.

“How’s the move going?” I asked.

“Is that what you really came over here to ask me?” Dr. Reilly said.

“No… I don’t really know why I came over here,” I admitted.

“You might have wanted to tell me what an awful person I am? Or how terrible of a mother I was to my son? Or maybe what a bitch I was for lying to you and manipulating you?”

“That’s a good start,” I said. “You’re saying it much better than I could.”

“Billy, I never wanted any of this. Life has a way of evening things out. It really does. Everything I did, I did to hold on to my son. But it ended up driving him away. Ever since that accident where he almost lost his leg, it’s like everything just kept falling to pieces and I couldn’t keep everything from falling apart. It was like trying to stop an avalanche. I lost the one thing I could never lose. There’s nothing left for me here without my son. I could tell him a million times how sorry I am, but it wouldn’t be enough. I hope you never understand how much it hurts to have someone you love more than anything look at you with such hatred.”

“You could try to explain all this to him, you know.”

“I’ve been trying to explain for eighteen years, Billy. Your mom has been a better mother to him than I’ll ever be.”

“Yeah, she banned him from my house for a year when she found out about us.”

“No, she was honest with him, Billy. That’s all Brett has ever wanted from anyone. Your mother may have done some bad things, but she was always honest with both of you. It broke her heart to do what she did to Brett. The difference is, she never once lied to either of you about it. She wasn’t comfortable with the two of you having sex in her house. She never once stopped you from coming over here. And now that she understands your love, she’ll be your biggest supporter. That’s why I’m okay with him moving in with you now. She would fight to the death for both of you. That’s something I can’t give him. The best thing I can do for my son is to let him go his own way.”

“And you have to move five hundred miles away to do that?”

“I could have moved away three years ago.” Dr. Reilly replied. “This offer has been on the table for a long time. But if I’d have taken it then, I would have taken him away from you. It wasn’t time then. It is now.”

“So wait, the only reason you stayed here was because of me?” I asked.

“In a way,” Dr. Reilly replied. “You’re a good kid, Billy. You’re good for Brett. You make him happy. He loves you, and I could never have taken him away from you. It would have been much better for me if I’d have taken the job in Chicago three years ago, but it wouldn’t have been the best for him. Sadly, he’ll never understand.”

“I’ll tell him,” I said.

“If you want. But it won’t make any difference. At any rate, I am glad he has you, Billy. And don’t worry, I’m not cutting him off financially. I’ll send your mother some money every month to help out, and when you boys move out on your own I’ll do the same for you. Everything I have will be his when the time comes. Money was the only way I ever knew how to show him I loved him.”

I walked to the car and took a long look back at the house. I loved that house. It had been a second home for me. I’d found love in that house. I’d made love for the first time there. There wasn’t a room in that house that I didn’t know and been known. And now it was a house I’d never step foot in again. I got back into the car and drove to the end of the street and to the park.

I parked the car and walked past the swings to the baseball field. The kids playing baseball on Stan Musial Field looked impossibly young. How were they even old enough to play little league, let alone junior league? Wouldn’t you know it? The Donora Pizzeria Pirates were battling the multiple-time defending champion Mon City Ford Mustangs yet again! I sat down on the bleachers and watched the game for a while. I’d been sitting on a bench watching baseball over half my life. The game hadn’t changed a bit, and I think that’s what I liked best about it. My dad had sat in this same spot and watched me play, and before him his father had watched him play the exact same game.

“Catch the ball, Johnny!” I heard a voice from the outfield call to a clueless kid in right field, where the ball was least likely to be hit. The ball bounced on the grass behind the right fielder and two runs scored by the time the ball made it back into the infield. I watched the kid’s face grow increasingly red as his teammates ridiculed his poor playing skills. Being called an idiot would always hurt. I wanted to give the kid a hug. A called third strike ended the inning, and the poor kid made the slow walk back to his team’s dugout. But then, the left fielder put his arm around the kid’s shoulders and whispered something in his ear that put a smile on the kid’s face. Seeing that put a smile on my face too. Maybe life didn’t always have to suck? Maybe there was hope for the next generation after all? Maybe the future was in the hands of kids like Aiden at school, or in the hands of the kid who wanted to cheer up his teammate with a kind word and a friendly gesture?

I watched the game to its ignominious conclusion. Twenty-five to three in favor of the Mustangs. Getting closer… We’d only got one kid on base when we’d played the Mustangs back in the day, and that was because the pitcher had hit Brett with the ball. I left the ball field and walked over to the lake. The old bench had been replaced when the town had cleaned up the park. It was a nice metal bench now that would probably last a lot longer than the old wooden model my grandma had used so long ago. I sat down and watched the ducks for a while. So much had changed in my life, and yet this lake was still my special place. I felt connected to my past here. I could almost feel the spirits of my grandmother and my father here, sitting on that bench right beside me.

After a while, I didn’t know how long I sat there, Brett walked up behind me and sat on the bench next to me.

“How’d you get here?” I asked. I didn’t think his doctor would like him walking through the woods uphill on a still-mending leg.

“My brother dropped me off,” Brett replied. I turned around to look for him, but Joey was long gone. I sat there beside Brett and he put his arm around my shoulders. I leaned against him and we quietly watched the ducks playing and splashing on the lake. On a bench not far from ours, a grandmother sat watching her grandchildren feeding the ducks.

“How was the movie?” I asked.

“Amazing!” Brett replied. He’d changed clothes since we’d gone our separate ways. He was wearing a pair of jean shorts, a Jerome Bettis jersey, and a pair of sunglasses. “You’ll have to see it with me. What’d you do while I was away?”

“I watched a ball game, ran a few errands. Nothing special.”

“Cool,” Brett said. “Hey, you want to move to Spain?”

I laughed. “Spain? Why would I want to move to Spain?”

“I hear they’re going to legalize gay marriage this week,” Brett said.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Brett replied. “How would you like to be Billy Reilly?”

“How would you like to be Brett Roberts?” I replied.

Brett smiled. “I like the sound of that. Anthony Brett Roberts… I wouldn’t even have to change my initials.”

“And I’d still be WAR,” I laughed. “William Aaron Reilly.”

“I just wish we could get married here – right here by this lake.”

“We will someday,” I promised. “Love always wins in the end, no matter how bleak it might seem.”

Brett took off his sunglasses and tucked them into the neck of his jersey. His hair seemed almost golden in the evening sunshine. His eyes never looked so blue. His smile made the approaching night seem brighter.

“Okay, come here,” he said, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me to stand with him. He walked us over to the edge of the lake, looking out over the water.

“This isn’t some excuse to get me close enough to push into the lake is it?” I asked.

“No, no,” Brett replied. “No, this is serious. Look here… It’s beautiful, right? Right here. This is the place. We’ll stand here, and some official churchy-type person will be over here.” He pointed to a spot near the water.

“Yeah, like Pastor Carl,” I laughed.

“Don’t laugh. God can work miracles,” Brett replied.

“That would be a big one!”

“Your mom came around. I was praying to St. Jude for that for years.”

“Oh, so it’s your fault?” I joked.

“Not mine,” Brett said pointing upward. Sometimes I forgot how seriously he took his religion. “Any way, here is where we’ll do it. We’ll both wear tuxes, or maybe suits. Tuxes are a little excessive.”

“Why do we need some permission from the government or church to do all the things you’re talking about? I love you. You love me. Why wait for some piece of paper?”

“So you’re saying we should just get married now without it being legal?” Brett asked.

“When have you ever cared about things being legal?” I asked. “Do you love me?”

“I do.” Brett said.

“Do you want to love me and be with me and only me until the day you die?” I asked.

“I do.”

“So do I,” I replied. “There. That’s good enough for me. And some day when the government gets its act together we’ll do the stupid ceremony. But we’ll be no more married then than we are now.”

“Cool,” Brett replied. I held his hand and just stood with him looking out over the water.

“So, what am I supposed to call you now?” Brett asked.

“Billy,” I replied.

Brett laughed. “No! I mean, we’re more than boyfriends. We’re not exactly husbands. What are we exactly?”

“How about partners?” I suggested.

“Boring but acceptable,” Brett replied. He put his arms around me and drew me closer, hugging me around the waist and kissing me. “And just so you know, after we say ‘I do’ we’re totally jumping in the lake.”

“Of course,” I replied. “But then, you’re going in the lake right now.” Holding on to him, I threw myself toward the water, catching Brett totally off guard. We both tumbled into the water in a tremendous splash. We both sat there, sitting on our asses in the shallow water laughing our heads off.

“I love you, Billy Reilly!” Brett said, crying from laughing so hard.

“I love you more, Brett Roberts,” I replied.

I stood up and offered to pull Brett out of the water, but of course, he yanked me back down into the mud with him. I hadn’t laughed so much or felt so loved in my whole life. We didn’t know what the future would hold. At that moment, for once in my life I wasn’t worried about it. I loved Brett and he loved me. That was all I needed. And ten years later, we did just what Brett had suggested got made it official right there by the lake, with Pastor Nate Stevens presiding over the ceremony. Funny how life works out.

The End

So ends our story, with a look back at what was and a look forward to what's to come for Billy and Brett. This also brings our time together to an end. I've enjoyed sharing this story with you. I've appreciated every note and email, every word of encouragement along the way. I'm not planning any sequels or further writing. I've enjoyed this, but writing consumes too much of my life, and I've got a real life to take care of. I wanted to do this well. I hope you enjoyed the journey!

What comes after the WAR is peace, and I'm looking forward to it. I've lived in the head of a teenage boy for way too long! As usual, I appreciate your thoughts. What did you think the story overall? How did you like the ending? Please let me know. I'd love to hear from you! My Email is: jkwsquirrel@yahoo.com

Thank you all! Peace,