Whispers From the Past

by Grasshopper

This is for two cowboys who found the love of a lifetime under the branches of an old cottonwood tree. I'm not sure which one of them is Frodo and which one is Sam, but I know they've watched each other's backs for a lot of years and one couldn't have made the journey without the other. I tip my Stetson to you because you are what we all strive to be.

GH

"Some of us fall by the wayside,
And some of us soar to the stars,
And some of us sail through our troubles,
And some have to live with the scars."
Elton John

I could hear my parents talking, in those low tones they always used when the discussion was about me. There'd been a lot of those 'discussions' lately, sometimes me included, mostly me excluded. I could lie in my bed and hear the murmurs or I could go sit at the top of the stairs and eavesdrop.

By the tone of their voices, my life apparently is hanging in the balance.......I am obviously crouching now on the top step....it's my life and I kinda need to know what's up.

"He got in another fight at school today. That's two this week. They had no choice but to suspend him for three days."
"Did you talk to the guidance counselor?"
"Yes, same old thing....kids today have so much stress. Brian scores well above average on all his tests, but isn't working up to his potential."
"What does that mean?"
"Apparently, he has turned off."
"But, he loved school."
"Not any more."
"What was the fight about?"

I heard a loud sigh. "Apparently over his Calculus book."

I should tell them. I should march right down there and just get it said: 'Mom, Dad, I can't concentrate anymore. I've tried and tried but all I can think about is boys. And the fights....it's cause I'm tired of being picked on just cause I'm turning out to be different.'

I know high school is supposed to be hell, but somehow the rules have really gotten screwed up. How can you grow up true to yourself and become the man you're supposed to be when fuckwits decide to make you their business? Why aren't they busy taking care of their own business and trying to grow up too? I mean it, why should anyone care if they found out I have a crush on Gary Tremont? He doesn't know it, so why should it concern anyone else?

Gary is this really nice guy I've known for like five years. He's not some god football player, he's just a really sweet quiet guy that likes the same books I do. We've had lots of arguments over what Neil Gaiman was trying to say in American Gods and other really important stuff. I'd like to hold his hand or something, and I have a kinda small feeling he might hold it right back, but no way. Not as long as the result is like what happened today.

My mom's voice echoed up the stairs. "Today it was just a bruise on his face, but next time he might really get hurt."

"What did he say was going on?"

I heard my mom sigh and I felt like shit. I never meant to hurt either of them. I just couldn't explain the real reasons, not yet. Maybe not ever.

"He just says it's a misunderstanding. I couldn't get him to tell me anything else."

There was a silence and then my dad said, "I'll talk to him tomorrow. We can't have him going to school and getting hurt like this."

Actually, the fight wasn't really a fight. It was more of a me trying to get my book out of the garbage can where my old friend, Derrick Langer, threw it and banging my face into the wall when he tried shoving me in after it. Just as I turned around to shove him back, somebody yelled "Fight!" and that was that. To be truthful, I'd much rather read than fight. I'm not scared, just a total pacifist by nature.

Crisis over for a little while, I crawled back into my bed and worried. You've heard the term 'worrywart'? Well, I'm more of a 'worrymountain'. I get a problem and there's no getting around it. I envy the people who say 'What the hell....not my prob.' I seem to just attract problems and they buzz around me like skeeters. I didn't know what to do and I had no one to talk to about any of it. I pictured this happy scene:

"Mom, Dad. I'm GLBT...well, not L, cause well...........but I'm definitely G, still trying to be kinda B, and the T part would maybe be the purple and green stripes I wish I could put in my hair."

See, that's the thing. I am totally confused. There isn't a guidance counselor for kids like me. Not where you can feel safe and comfortable. There should be. But, a secret is only a secret if you don't tell it.

If you tell your parents, they freak. I can't really blame them, not right off, cause you've had like forever to think this through and you still don't understand. Can you imagine someone dropping a big deal like that one on you and you trying to sort it out while they stare at you? You drop it on them and hold your breath with an expectant face waiting for them to go, 'Wheee, we've just been waiting for you to tell us THIS happy news. Let's call all our friends!" There is no way Stewart and Eloise Jenkins could tell their friends this particular bit of news.

So, where do you go? What do you do when your Calculus book goes in the garbage along with the words, "Go get it, fag." I was just standing there in the hall, waiting for class. I have no idea what possessed Derrick to decide my book needed to go there or that I was a fag and I needed to go there too. If I knew, I would change it, fix it. Do I give out some kind of vibes that scare people like Derrick cause my theory is that people do gross ugly things to someone else when they don't understand and it scares them...rocks their world.

Sad part is that Derrick and I used to be friends way back in grade school before everyone found their niche and the cliques split old friends. I wasn't into sports and I spent my time reading and on my computer. That made me different and different spells 'bad' to people like Derrick, I guess.

I remember sharing my homemade lunch with him every day in grade school cause his mom didn't even wake up to tell him goodbye in the morning, much less make him special sandwiches. Now, all he wants to do is embarrass me and hurt me. What happens to people?

Sleep finally came and took me away and I escaped into dreams about Jake Gyllenhaal and small warm tents and clear mountain skies. Jake kept telling me over and over how gorgeous I was, that my long brown hair was the color of melted chocolate, my green eyes were sapphires. He couldn't get enough of my skinny body. I kept trying to tell him that I liked Gary, but he was so hard to resist. Dream over, I looked in the mirror and saw.............same old dumb me. Nice try, Jake.

I am suspended from school for avoiding being stuffed in a trash can. I took it like a man. I'll just hang around in my room reading and listening to tunes, maybe work on my last project for Botany. Just quiet stuff til I have to go back there and get pushed around for being me.

Or not.................

"Brian, we need to talk."
"Sure, Dad."

He looked really uncomfortable and I felt sorry for him. Now, you gotta know right off that my dad never gets really mad at me. He does the "I'm so disappointed" thing and I'd rather take a whipping any day. He has the "I'm disappointed in you " look on his face now and I wait for it......

"Your mother and I are disappointed in your behavior at school."
"I'm sorry."
"Can you tell me why you're acting like this?"

Perfect opportunity. Tell him right now. I look in his eyes, all concerned and kinda sad, waiting, hoping for some stupid explanation like I like Mary Alice, but she doesn't like me.

"No reason, Dad."

The window of opportunity slams shut.

He sighs.
I sigh.
I can hear my mother hovering in the hall.
I am such a chickenshit.
They deserve better than this.

He knows there's more. I watch his eyes flinch as he sees I'm not going to say anything. I see the disappointment build, all the possibilities for my behavior lining up like little soldiers. I wonder if being gay is in there anywhere. I bet not. All my parents know about gay people, they learn from CNN watching the Pride marches and Massachusetts.

My dad is talking again. "It's a week before your spring break. Since you've started it early," he said sadly with justified sarcasm, "Your mother and I have decided you need a change of scenery."

What? Huh? I just want to stay here in my room. I want to feel sorry for myself, play that song, Cause You Had a Bad Day, over and over on a continual loop so loud that I don't have to think about Gary Tremont or the fact that I could have it a lot worse.

I tuned back into my dad as he finished saying, ".........He's invited us so many times, but we just never had the chance. I think you might learn a lot from him."

Huh? Who?

"Scuse me? Him who?" I said getting this really squirrelly feeling like I was about to get shipped off to a gulag somewhere in upper Siberia. All for the great privilege of seeing the inside of the hallway garbage can close up. Dang!

"My cousin Stephen. He lives in San Diego. I think it would be good for you to meet him."

Now, I've never even heard Dad or Mom mention this cousin Stephen before and I so do not want to go there or meet him or leave here or anything near any of that. What's the deal here?

"I don't know this guy. I'm not going somewhere I don't even know the person. Jeez, Dad. No way."

Mom chose this moment to enter the conversation. She does that...lurks and then pounces when the line has been drawn in the dirt. "He's your father's cousin on Grandpa Clyde's side. I met him at your Aunt Stella's wedding. He's very charming and he has a big house with a pool out in San Diego."

I just sat with my mouth hanging open. What the fuckage was going on? They were giving me away to some strange guy. There was no way I was going. NO WAY!!

*

The flight took seven hours cause I had to change planes in LA. I skulked in my seat, a big fat lady on one side and some man with bad BO and polyester pants on the other. I wanted to jump planes and fly to Hawaii. That would serve them right. I'd just get lost among the homeless people who sleep on the beach and eat coconuts. Better yet, I'd become a street boy in Honolulu. Yeah, that'd teach 'em to mess with Brian Jenkins.

The plane dove down out of the clouds into the air that is California. I'd been to Los Angeles with my parents when I was twelve, so I knew that there is nowhere else that looks like this. It's the palm trees and the plastic people and the dogs with jewelry and the unfuckenbelievable convertibles. I was so dang ready for all this glitz and style, me in my faded jeans and extra large Old Navy t-shirt, my long brown hair tangled in my eyes. Yeah!

I walked down the tunnel and out into the terminal. The crowd was all moving down the hall toward the baggage claim, but I had my duffle slung over my shoulder. How much stuff did I need after all to suffer for five days?

As I walked out into the baggage/people claim area, I saw a man standing by a railing. He was cool for an old dude, brown hair cut short, tan slacks, one of those Hawaiian looking shirts that you don't tuck in, a kinda light blue one, and sandals. Tan and really toned looking, this guy was actually staring right at me. Now, wow.....I know I'm gorgeous (Jake told me, remember?) but this guy is old enough to be my.....................and then he waved. Oh, shit. This must be Cousin Stephen. My totally bad.

"Brian?" he said, coming towards me with a very friendly smile.

"Yeah. Brian....me." I answered stupidly.

"I'm your dad's cousin, Stephen Kelley. I'm so glad you decided to come out for a few days. Is this all your luggage?" He took my duffle and slung it over his shoulder.

"Yeah....mine," I again answered in practically ape language. I can actually speak in complete sentences.

Stephen smiled and pointed toward the doors. "We need to go to level B of the parking garage."

"K," I muttered.

I wasn't being sullen. I swear. I know it looked like I was, but I was totally tongue-tied. What do you say to a total stranger who's your father's cousin, but looks a hella lot better than your dad? So, I tried.

"What, um, what do I call you?"

He smiled, his eyes crinkling in the corners, "Steve, just call me Steve."

Now, that made me feel good. Grownups forget and usually build this big wall right off by saying, "Uncle Steve or Mr. Kelley". The wall then becomes the difference between them and us; the age, the experience, the sorrows. We don't have any of that yet and they have had too much.

"Steve," I said experimentally. He smiled.

"I figure you want to get out in the sun and see all the sights while you're here," he said.

"If you have time," I replied shyly.

"Oh, I emptied my calendar after your dad called. This is such a treat for me. Your dad and I were good friends when we were growing up."

Now, that's news to me, but I didn't want to tell him that my dad had never even mentioned his name. And now, I was really hugely curious. He didn't seem weird, like a black sheep kinda dude. What was the backstory on this guy? My parents would never have sent me out here if he was any kind of freak. What could I learn from my dad's cousin, Steve?

Well, the first thing I learned was that the dude had an amazing car, a Porsche Boxster S. It was a thing of totally profound beauty, navy blue with camel colored interior. Just, Oh my freakin' god! I hesitated touching the door handle until he laughed and said, "I bet you're going to want to drive it while you're here, right?" That broke down my last barrier and I climbed in, plopping down to stare wide-eyed at all the bells and whistles.

"You've got a Garmin GPS."
"How fast can you get to 100?"
"Have you ever let this beauty full out?"

Steve laughed, "Um, yes......55.5 seconds......oh, yeah, out on the Pacific Highway."

I sat in awe as he maneuvered through the ticket gate and we headed out onto Harbor Drive. Steve was a great tour guide. He pointed out all the cool places as we zoomed along. I was just way past my limit and was totally maxed out on all the new stuff. We headed up Laurel Drive and then up onto I163 headed north, Steve keeping a running commentary of all there was to see and do, exiting off onto University Avenue into a really cool little area full of neat shops and beautiful people. I saw two boys walking together, laughing and shoving each other and then two more holding hands. My head swiveled around. I wanted to keep watching them.

We turned onto a quiet street lined with beautiful, tall houses that looked really old, but all pretty with great yards. Steve answered my question by saying, "We live in an old Victorian house that we restored. It was built in 1893 and we tried to make it look as much like it did when it was built as possible."

'We?' I thought to myself. I hadn't heard about a 'We'. Well, I guess there was a family. After all, Steve was a really cool guy. I kinda hoped there weren't any kids my age. I was just getting comfortable around Steve. I didn't really want to make new friends right now. You know how parents always assume that if you're the same age as their friend's son, Kermit Snodgrass, you two will be best friends instantly. Gah!

"Any thoughts about what you want to do first?" he asked as he turned the last corner.

'I want to go back to that street and watch the boys', I snorted to myself.

"Nah, not yet," I answered with a smiley voice. I was filtering through all the information in front of me and really began to think that maybe this was gonna be a good trip after all.

"Well, here we are," Steve announced as he pulled into a drive by one of the prettiest houses on the street. He was obviously really proud of his home and even I, who knew less than nothing about houses, could tell he had done a hella lot of work.

"Let's get you inside and comfy," he smiled, grabbing my duffle before I could and heading for the house. "I tried to get things ready for you. I hope you like everything."

I'd never had anyone particularly care one way or other if I was 'comfy' or not, so this was like I'd died and gone to 'me' heaven. He led me up the stairs as I gawked around quickly into the living room. Wow! Some awesome place!

My room was full of sunshine, the window open, curtains blowing gently. A blue quilt on the bed, flowers in a vase on the nightstand and a pile of surf/dirtbike/tunes/scifi magazines. My eyes lit up as I flipped through the mags.

"Your dad told me you liked to read, so I picked up some dude-friendly ones at the store," he laughed. "I hope they're okay."

"Thanks, they're great," I said shyly. "You didn't need to."

"It's all cool. I wanted to," he answered. "I want you to have fun while you're here."

"I'm definitely thinking I will," I grinned. My manners kicked in as I said, "Thank you letting me come. I think my parents just got pretty sick of me and......."

He caught the tail-end of my sentence, "No, not sick at all. They love you, Brian. I think they just wanted you to have a change of scene for a bit to try to look at open possibilities."

What did he mean by that? What possibilities? My parents, god love them, had no idea what my problem really was. They were from another whole generation. They didn't have problems like I do now. It was easier back then. They could never understand. Just like Steve could never understand. I felt my hopelessness crowding down on me again.

"I'll let you get unpacked. Your bathroom is right across the hall. You come on down when you're ready and we'll go for a swim or just soak in the sun for a bit. Okay?"

"Sounds good," I answered.

Unpacking took about 3 seconds cause I just threw my duffle in the closet and then went to look out the window down onto the sparkling water of the pool in the back.

Now, even I knew that it hadn't been part of the house in 1893, so Steve must have had it added. It looked so great. No one I know at home has a swimming pool in their back yard. I felt like I was at a hotel or something. I leaned against the window ledge for a few minutes remembering why I was here, but not knowing what difference it would make that I had come. I liked Steve, but me learning something from him seemed unlikely.

I dragged on my blue baggies with the lightning bolt down the leg, kept my t-shirt on and walked slowly down the hall, listening for sounds of anyone else. It seemed like it was just me. I wondered where the rest of Steve's family was; work, school? I hoped they'd like me. Moms always like me. I do dishes and stand up when they come in a room and take off my hat and all that good stuff. My mom taught me well.

As I passed an open door, Steve called out, "Bri, in here." Then, into the phone, "He's here safe. I'll let you talk to him." He handed me the phone and walked out, closing the door behind him.

"Mom?"
"Yeah, the flight was good."
"Yeah, it's real pretty out here."
"Yeah, Steve is great."
"Yeah, he said I could call him that."
"Mom!!"
"He has a pool and we're gonna go swimming now."
"Yeah, I'll call you tomorrow night."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah," rolling my eyes.
"Tell Dad hey."
"Bye, Mom."

I hung up the phone, glancing around what must be Steve's office, a huge desk with neatly stacked folders and a statue of something that looked Chinese. I noticed a photograph in a beautiful silver frame and turned it to look, expecting to see a pretty lady. Instead, I looked into a handsome face, kind laughing eyes, full generous lips and a neatly trimmed moustache. Weird, must be his brother or something. I shoved it back in place and walked out onto the patio.

Steve and I spent a couple of hours relaxing, swimming and drinking, Steve a Samuel Adams and me a coke. We talked about not much of anything; books, cars, TV, music, what I wanted to do, and what he did for a living. He told me all about his rise in the biotech/software industry. How he had jumped in at just the right time and made enough money to rebuild this house and live the way he had always wanted to when he was growing up.

"I didn't have much when I was a boy growing up in Kansas," he sighed, a frown letting me know his memories were not very pleasant. "I promised myself I'd work hard and be happy to make up for a lot of years when I wasn't."

I didn't want to pry so I didn't ask, but I sure did want to know what had made him so sad when he was my age. I figured if he was Dad's age, he had been a teenager in the 60s. My history class had taught me about John Kennedy and the Viet Nam war and all that old stuff, but I had never really cared. What did it have to do with me? Pretty much all I knew about the past came from the 70s Show and Ashton Kutcher. They all seemed so happy and innocent.

I heard the front door slam and the sounds of someone moving around inside. Steve seemed to tense up just a little and I wondered who had just come in. I found out quickly when the guy from the picture on Steve's desk walked out the sliding glass door over to where we were sitting.

He came right to me, his hand out. I stood up and we shook. He looked even better in person than in the photograph. "Hey, Brian," he said with a big smile, "I'm Whitaker Branson, but just call me Whit. I'm so glad you could come to stay with us for a few days."

I wasn't sure, being from Kansas, but Steve and now his brother Whit sure didn't look like typical guys my dad's age, all worn out and weary. You could tell they worked out and dressed way up the money scale. I was duly impressed, and a little confused.

Okay, so Steve lives with his brother. I guess that's cool. Saves money for sure. I guess they worked on the house together.

Whit loosened his tie, ran his fingers through his curly blonde hair and leaned down to peck Steve on the cheek..................okay, hold on. Way past brotherly love here, folks. That was just the way my dad does when he comes home and kisses my mom.

I wish I had a video of that moment. I wish I could see my own face. I must have looked like a total idiot. I stared and I started to blink. I do that when I'm at a loss. Then, my mouth opened and sounds came out:

"Uh, hey, uh, I'm, uh............" (great, huh. I told you...ape language)

The world kinda went into freezeframe. I heard noises in my head like a roulette wheel, you know, it spins and then you wait to see where the rolling ball falls. I was totally confuzalated. My parents sent me to...................God, they would die if they knew this.

I could hear Steve asking Whit about his day and Whit telling him that the pro bono case he had taken on was tough, another bashing with a conservative judge.

"They're pushing for simple assault, but it's straight out attempted murder."

"You'll get them, Hon, you always do," Steve said, pride strong in his voice.

The conversation flowed over me, around me and through my mind. It was like any other conversation in any home anywhere at the end of the day. What was for supper, how warm it was, what our plans were for tomorrow...all the little nothing stuff that families say when they see each other after 5:00.

"..............,Brian?"

Huh? Oh Jeez, Steve had been talking to me. "Um, yeah? Sorry."

He smiled, as if he knew what I was going through. "I was asking if you wanted to go out for burgers tonight and take a drive?"

"Yeah, uh......yeah, uh......sure." Lord, I had to stop with the ape talk. I was just thrown by the surprise of it all. You gotta understand, where I come from there are no odd couples. You know what I mean. There are men and women.......period and hardly any of them ever touch each other or smile or kiss.

Now, I'm only 16, but I'm not stupid. I read. I know it looked like I was shocked or upset or something, but my mind was just totally overwhelmed. It was funny cause I was suddenly just exactly where I needed to be and my dad had sent me here. Good old clueless Dad, if he knew, he would spaze.

You know how sometimes your mind goes in a gazillion directions at once and your mouth just does not work right? I wanted to say "It's cool that you guys are um...together" but that was dumb cause of course it was. Who was I to say it wasn't?

I wanted to blurt out....."You're gay!" like a dork. Not to justify it, simply to acknowledge it. But then, they already know that, don't they?

It was so weird how I was going apeshit and they were just sitting there, drinking cold beer, talking about the day. There should have been loud trumpet music or something to signal the change in my life.

Wait! What change in my life? I've come to visit with my dad's cousin Steve for five days cause I was getting in fights at school. Finding out that Cousin Steve lived with hmmm, would he be Cousin Whit? Nothing had changed. I was still the same me. Same dumb old Brian. They couldn't help me cause they don't even know I have a problem that needs help. Obviously they never went through what I'm going through now.

Whit went in to change and Steve asked if I liked burgers. Well, duh! He told me they were going to take me to the best hamburgers in the world and the best part was we could just go, no getting all dressed up for this. I laughed and told him that what was stuffed in my duffle was exactly like what I had on, just maybe a different shade of blue. We couldn't all three fit in Steve's Boxster and Whit grinned and started talking about his car before we even got out the door.

Whit's ride was a vintage totally restored Ford Woodie like I'd seen in the old surfer movies. It was yellow with walnut doors and panels and even the tailgate was wood. He had surfboard racks on top and there was no back seat. I had no problem with climbing in the back and hanging over the front seat to listen to them talk.

"Great car," I managed to say.

Steve laughed, "Don't get him started on his pride and joy....and don't, please mercy, sing any version of the Beach Boys." Whit whacked him on the arm and I never felt quite so happy for reasons I didn't even understand.

As we drove along, they both pointed out interesting stuff and my head just swiveled right and left. What a great place.

"While you're here, you've gotta have some fish tacos," Whit laughed.

"Uh, okay, I guess," was my answer.

"You won't believe how great they are, especially if you spend all day at Seaworld first."

"Gross," I laughed. "I bond with Shamu and then I go eat him for dinner."

We drove thru a brightly lit area with bookstores and coffee shops that made me think of a carnival, so many people, music and laughter. I saw again, several boys and men together, just being couples. My mind was spinning with the thought that I could be like that, maybe one day.

"This is Hillcrest," Steve explained. "We'll come here one evening if you like."

If I like? Stop the car. Let me out now.

"Yeah, sure," I replied. I was so out of my depth. I saw Whit glance over at Steve and I watched Steve shake his head. I guess they didn't want to say too much. This just got more and more bizarre. I kept picturing my dad's face if he knew I was cruising along in an old Ford Woodie with two gay guys. I was in heaven but I kinda knew he wouldn't be. After all, he was my boring str8 old dad.

We finally pulled up and got in line to go through a drive-through hamburger place named In-N-Out Burger. I'd never seen so many people at a hamburger place before.

"You are so gonna love these burgers," Steve smiled.

Whit jumped in. "Okay, okay, okay........here's the thing. You have to order the Double Meat. It's like you can say 2X2, or 3X3, or 4X4, and so on. You get like 4 hamburger patties and 4 slices of cheese."

"How could anyone get their mouth around a 5X5?" I asked innocently to which Steve and Whit both snorted with laughter. Realizing I had maybe said my first 'gay' funny outloud, I blushed. "Very carefully, I guess," I answered my own question to hear them laugh even louder. I grinned and began to laugh myself. I felt like I was in the right place after years of feeling very very alone.

Steve jumped out of the Woodie as we got near the drive through and disappeared inside the store coming back out in a few minutes with a t-shirt gripped in his hand.

"I think you need some cool t-shirts to take home with you so all your friends can be jealous as hell," he laughed.

"Wow, thanks," I said, thinking about all the "friends" back home who would just as soon cram me in a garbage can as look at me. I sure wouldn't tell Steve and Whit that I was having that kind of trouble. It would make me look wussy and dumb. I bet neither one of them ever had the trouble I do. Look at how happy they are, how proud to be together. It takes more guts than I have to ever be that way.

We ate our 3X3s and fries sitting on the tailgate of the car. It was fun and they treated me like I was their friend, not some kid that got dumped on them by parents who had no clue. I appreciated that.

Back at the house, I was feeling kinda dopey from the trip and the stress and the revelations and I kinda wanted some time by myself to think it all over. I excused myself, took a shower and lay across the blue cover on my bed. I could hear their voices rumbling somewhere in the house and wondered what they were saying. Probably what a dork I was. I wondered if they could tell I was like them? Would Steve call my dad and talk to him about his poor son and why he was so screwed up?

I fell asleep stretched across the bed, my arm thrown over my face. I'm not sure what woke me, but I looked over at the neon numbers of the digital clock and saw I'd slept for almost three hours. It was close to midnight. I heard whispers and quiet laughter, then a splash. I knew I shouldn't, but I did. I watched them swim, pacing each other for about 10 laps and then they met at the shallow end of the pool and, arms around each other, I watched them kiss.

It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life. I had pictured this very thing in my head a million times, but seeing the real thing, two men in love kissing in the moonlight overwhelmed me. I felt hot tears burn and I just let them trail down my cheeks to puddle in the corners of my mouth. I licked my tongue out and tasted the salt. I watched Whit raise his hand and caress Steve's face. I didn't know how long they'd been together, but everything I watched made me feel like it had taken a long time to build the love I was seeing.

I knew there would be more, but it wasn't for me to watch. It belonged to them. I let the curtain fall and crawled under my sheet. I dreamed of boys and surfboards and Derrick Langer. I was helping him do his Calculus homework and he was eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches my mom had made just for him. We were on the beach sitting on a long board, he fed me a bite, I wiped sticky honey from his bottom lip and he was happy.

I woke up to a warm breeze and good smells coming from the patio. I poked my head out the window and saw Steve and Whit eating breakfast. Suddenly starving, I pulled on clean clothes and ran downstairs, only to stop and walk hesitantly out the sliding doors. I felt kinda shy after watching them last night. I shouldn't have spied.

"Hey, morning Bri," Whit called as I came out the door. "Come have Steve's breakfast special, Salsa Burritos."

Now, I was used to eggs or cereal and, if I was lucky, a waffle or two, but burritos?? But they were laughing and eating and I wanted to look cool, so I took one and bit down. Yum! "Hey, this is excellent!" I laughed.

"Course it is," Steve grinned. "And good for you too."

"What you guys gonna do today?" Whit asked. "I wish I could go with you, but this case has got me wrapped up in knots."

Steve reached over and rubbed Whit's arm, taking his right hand and massaged his fingers. "It's all cool. You need to help that poor kid. We'll bring you surprises from the places we go, right Bri?"

"Sure," I smiled. "You're helping a kid who got bashed, right?"

Whit's smile faded. 'Yes, he was jumped by four older boys outside his GLBT centre and they beat him pretty badly. The judge wants to call it simple assault, but I swear, when you bring baseball bats and lie in wait for someone in particular, that's premeditated and that's attempted murder. We all know how one kid alone won't do much, but you put four or five together and you have mob mentality. You hand them baseball bats and you've got major hurt coming to some innocent kid." He frowned, then shook it off. "You guys go have fun today and enjoy San Diego. What are your plans?"

Steve looked at me. I just looked blank. He laughed, "I thought we'd go to the zoo."

Now, I have nothing against zoos. Cool places for little kids who like monkeys, but I'm sixteen. I'm too old for that. But this is Steve's town and Steve's treat and he was looking at me with expectant eyes. "Sure, whatever you want. I'm game."

"It's not far, just over in Balboa Park. I really think you'll love it once you get there."

Whit stood up, and again I thought, 'Whoa, not your average old guy. He was all dressed to knock 'em dead in court; grey suit, pale blue shirt, cool tie and his blonde curls tamed for the moment with gel. He had to be at least like 35 or 40 or something, but still one totally fine looking dude. I'm just sayin'.

He leaned down and this time I watched without my mouth falling open. I felt my face break into a grin as he actually kissed Steve on the mouth, right in front of me. Cool! Like normal people...like anyone. Like maybe........me someday.

I helped Steve stuff the dishwasher, he clicked it on and we gathered our stuff for a day of sightseeing.

It was weird, but when I have to go somewhere with my parents it's excruciating misery. They act so dorky and embarrass the bejesus out of me with pictures and treating me like a little kid. We went to Disneyworld and my mom, I swear, turned into this six year old kid trying to make me pose with Goofy.

I didn't feel like that with Steve or Whit. I didn't know why, but there was just a difference, like I could say whatever I wanted and they'd understand. Like if I actually looked at a boy for more than one second, they wouldn't look at me funny, but probably grin and say, "I agree" or "You've gotta be kidding" or something else funny.

It wasn't that they knew I was gay. I hadn't told them. It was more that they wouldn't care. That they'd just be cool with whoever I looked at. That's what made the difference, I think. The constant bubble of anxiety that lived in my chest was gone.

The San Diego Zoo is fabulous! If you've ever been to a zoo and thought, 'Yuck, all these poor animals cooped up in these cages when all they want is to be at home in their own environment', you'll really appreciate going here. Each animal is in its own special place and they look happy. We went to the Polar Bear Plunge, the Hippo Beach, Tiger River, rode the Skysafari ride and saw the Sunbears in their forest. We walked like a hundred miles and man, was I outa shape or something cause Steve walked circles around me.

One really cool thing was how Steve brought two old cell phones. He dumped them in this collection box. He told me that cellphones contain a rare ore called coltan (short for columbite-tantalite). It's a metal found in Africa and the mining of it has caused loss of habitat for the African gorillas and other wildlife. The recycled cell phones do a little bit to help. I watched Steve's face as he told me, his eyes expressing the sadness he felt for these endangered animals.

We were sitting in the shade watching the koalas hugging their eucalyptus trees and I was exhausted, but happy. It was like I had this friend who knew bunches more than me and yet he was willing to spend time just letting me be me. I had so many questions to ask him, but I didn't know where to start.

"Why did you get in that fight?" he asked out of the blue.

I answered without thinking. "Derrick threw my book in the garbage and called me a fag." I kept my eyes down and held my breath.

"Who is Derrick?"

"He used to be a friend of mine until high school. You remember how it was?"

"Oh yeah, no one forgets high school," he sighed. "My trouble was that I had this huge secret and I knew no one would understand and I had no one to talk to about it except......"

Just, Oh my sweet Jesus! Did he just say what I think he said? Did he just say the exact words that I keep repeating like a mantra over and over? 'Except, who', I wondered.

"What did you finally do?" I asked, my voice really quiet. I really needed this answer. He was going to give me the answer I needed.

Steve looked at me, square in the eye. "Back then? Nothing. In those days, you didn't tell anyone. I knew I had to just wait until it was my time."

I needed an opening. "You mean, that you were.......gay?" My eyes fled back down to my sneakers. There, I'd said the word.

"Yeah," he said, his voice a murmur. "God, it's been a long time, but I can still feel the way it was, the fear, the uncertainty. Of course, back then, there was no 'gay', the name was 'queer'."

"Steve...."

"Mmmm?" He waited.

"Maybe you can help me."

"I think you already know I will. Whit will too, whenever you're ready, Brian. Take your time."

And I knew, right then, that he knew. And it was okay.

I had this uncontrolled urge to reach out, to touch someone who understood. I did the only thing I could there in the park. I leaned my head over just a bit and rested it on his shoulder lightly. I sighed when I felt him shift to let me know he understood.

Tired, but happy, we trudged to the car and I sat in the seat hugging my bag. I had bought my mom some panda earrings and, with Steve's insistence, a box of panda golf balls. He kept laughing and saying my dad would get a kick out of them. I wasn't so sure. He had bought Whit a pair of Panda boxers with a cute smile on his face.

Steve had bought me another t-shirt to add to my now growing collection. The only condition was that they had to fit, not big huge and baggy so I could hide.

We got home a little before Whit and were floating in the pool soaking our tired feet when he came out onto the back patio. "You guys looks like you walked the entire zoo," he laughed.

"We did. We saw everything," I gushed like I was eight years old. I was finding that it was okay to be happy and be a little kid if I wanted to.

Whit laughed at my enthusiasm. "I bet Steve walked you into the ground though, didn't he?" He left and came back in his bathing suit. Where Steve wore a pair of respectable baggies, dark green, Whit almost caused me to drown with his red Speedo. Just, pass me the oxygen mask...I can't breathe. I was like Oh.My.God! This old guy looked expedientially out of bounds!

He swam his laps and I tried not to watch. It wasn't that I was junior-perving on my new older friend, really. It was more that I'd never been in a position to look at a guy without pretending not to. Steve didn't seem to mind cause I caught him looking at me with laughter in his eyes. These last few years, I had never once just looked at another boy with admiration, the way boys look at girls. It was a new freedom.

We cooked on the grill; Steve grilling, Whit stir-frying veggies and me tossing a salad. I hadn't cooked much and I was watching every move they made, wanting to be exactly like them one day.

Dinner was fun, and as the night wore on, we sat by the pool, me on the edge with my feet stuck in the cool water, Steve and Whit sitting close in two lounge chairs. Whit told us about the trial, telling us that tomorrow, Friday, the young boy was taking the stand to tell his story. For a minute, we all grew silent, thinking about the boy and the horror of what had happened to him all because he admitted he was gay. He had been at the GLBT centre for God's sake. Whit said that his parents were totally supportive and it helped him a lot.

Steve asked, "Are your parents supportive, Brian?"

The question jolted me. "I quess, yes. They help me with my schoolwork and ........." I wasn't sure what else to say.

"Do you talk to them?"

"Sure, everyday."

"No," Whit asked, "I mean, about what you feel inside. Do you tell them your hopes and dreams?"

Sadly, I shook my head. "No, they wouldn't understand."

"How do you know?" Steve took Whit's hand and was rubbing his knuckles slowly as they looked at me.

"I guess it's cause," I thought hard, trying to find an answer, "I guess the big thing I want to say is something they'd never understand."

Whit put his hand on my shoulder. "That you're confused and are having trouble sorting yourself out?"

"Exactly," I said softly. "I know one part of it, but what to do about it and how to handle myself is that big thing. I feel so alone all the time." I felt tears starting to roll down my face and I brushed them away with the back of my hand.

Steve stood up and came around the table to stand behind my chair. "Shhh, it's okay. I think it's time for you to get to bed. Today was a really long day and we've got lots of time to talk."

I stood up, my chair making a loud scraping noise. I wanted.....I wanted..... As if he heard me, Steve just took me in a huge warm hug and held me as I just sort of melted. I'd never had this feeling, another guy holding me, another heart beating in my ear. It wasn't sexual exactly, it was more like I needed to connect and Steve and Whit were letting me into their world, a world where I belonged.

I peeled myself off him and, following my instincts now, I went around and hugged Whit tight. "Thank you for today, Steve. See you both in the morning."

As I fell asleep, I could hear Steve's voice drifting up through the open window, talking softly with spaces like he was on the phone:

"Yes, we had a really good day."
"He's a great kid."
"I know you do."
"He's beginning to think."
"I'll have him call in the morning before we go out."
"No, thank YOU for sending him here."
"Night, Stewie."

As my eyes closed and my brain shut down, my last thought was 'Stewie?'


We ate breakfast and saw Whit off to court. It seemed natural to give him a hug and wish him luck. It was like a regular family starting their day. It was something I hoped one day I'd have.

"I talked to your dad last night. He called when you didn't."

"Oops," I said, my mind jumping back to 'Stewie'. That WAS my dad he had been talking to. I couldn't even picture anyone calling my serious, totally conscientious dad anything but Stewart or Mr. Jenkins.

I couldn't ask Steve about it without admitting I was eavesdropping again. I seem to do that alot. I shoved the name in a pocket of my brain to think about later. "Stewie" Weird!

After I checked in with Mom, I found Steve in his home office talking on his cell phone. I started to back out the door, but he waved me on in, giving me a smile. From the conversation, I could tell something was up at work. Sure enough, when he shut the cell off, he smiled sadly and said, "I have to go in for a few minutes. I'm sorry. I'll be back as soon as I can and we'll go to lunch. I'm taking you to Hotel Del Coronado today. You'll love it."

He set me up on his computer. I laughed to see an icon for every game imaginable on his screen. "You swim or play on the computer or watch a DVD and I'll be back in no time."

I decided to check my favorite website. I'd found it by accident one time when I was surfing late at night. There was a message board, and lots of stories about boys like me who were trying to find their way. I read the latest posts and then saw that there was a new poll. I grinned and read the new question. I clicked on my three favorite ways that men look sexy to me:

Hmmmm,

Speedo ( grin ~ I pictured Whit last night)
Shorts ( all the boys I'd seen since I got here)
Jeans and a wifebeater (Brian Kinney)

Actually, I'm sixteen. If there'd been a box labeled 'clown suit', I would have checked it too. Everything turns me on.

Clicking on the Everquest site, I logged on and played awhile. Restless, I walked out to the pool and finally fell asleep in the warm California sun.

When Steve shook my shoulder gently, I jumped awake to see him grinning at me. "Let's go. I'm starved."

The car cut through the traffic like butter and we crossed the Coronado Bay Bridge to ease along the causeway. Pulling up in the parking lot, a really cute guy about twenty stepped out to park the car. I blushed when he looked me over. I could feel Steve grinning. The cute guy looked from me to Steve and then back again. He couldn't think....................Hahaaa! I grinned really big and looked at Steve with a flirty look on my face. Steve choked and we both walked into the hotel lobby laughing loudly.

Sitting out on the big patio overlooking the water under a big umbrella, we ate a really good lunch. Steve pulled a small digital camera out of the pocket of his jacket. He asked a waiter to take our picture standing with the water behind us.

"Tomorrow Whit will be free and we thought you'd like to drive to the coast and watch the surfers. We'll load the boards on the woodie and you can try your hand. What do you think?"

"Sounds great. Everything we do is great," I smiled.

And tonight, we're gonna go to Ken's movie theater in Kensington to watch an art film Whit's been dying to see. After that, I think we'll just go and walk in Hillcrest."

I looked a question at him and he laughed, "Where we saw all the boys the other night, remember?"

My body did somersaults. Did I remember? Oh, lord yes. "It sounds like a plan," I managed to say without grinning too much.

"We thought it would," he laughed.


As we walked along looking in the shop windows, well Whit and Steve did, I window shopped all over the sidewalk, we laughed and they pointed out cute boys. I noticed how cute they all looked and realized that I had hidden behind my long hair and baggy clothes for a long time.

I swear, it's like they can read my mind. "Look, here's KutBois. Let's go get that mop styled up, want to, Bri?"

The next morning, I looked in the mirror and saw a new me. Nothing flashy cause I did have to go back home to Kansas, but just better. Gone was the long hair flopping in my eyes. It was cut short on the sides and back and the new gel Whit bought me made it stand up on top kinda cute. I wasn't used to seeing myself like this and I stepped back to get an overall look. I pulled on the t-shirt Steve got me at the zoo. It was teal with a cheetah stretched out in full run across the front. It fit and I had nowhere to hide. This was me....Brian Jenkins. For the first time, I liked what I saw.

"Wow! Hot Dude Alert!" Whit called as I walked out onto the patio. Blushing, I jumped into a chair but it pleased me a lot that they thought I looked good. I wondered what Gary Tremont would think.

Whit said we needed short boards for where we were going, so he loaded two on top, he dragged out wet suits, and we were gone.

"I think you'll get a kick out of Black's Beach," Steve said with a totally straight face, which I had already learned meant something was up. Whit let out something that sounded close to a giggle and I knew I was in for something.

I sat the whole way to the coast with my arms draped along the front seat listening to them and remembered how scared and confused I was when I got here just three days ago. It seemed like a lifetime.

"I'm glad I keep everything I've ever owned," Whit laughed, "cause that water's gonna be damn cold. You'll do fine with my old wetsuit."

We parked the woodie and stepped into the wetsuits, letting the tops hang down til we got to the water. The path was steep down a cliff, but it was all cool and the water was freezing when we got there. I was watching a surfer cut right and ride in, when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Naked skin! Kinda old wrinkly naked skin! I turned and stared. There were naked people walking along a path up where the dark rough pebble sand meets the treeline.

"Steve....Whit!!" I whispered urgently. "There are naked people."

They both started laughing and then I got the joke. "You knew it, didn't you?" Oh lord. My eyes! Why weren't the cute surfers naked? Black's Beach it turns out, is a kinda nudist place with good surfing. It's got illegal signs, but they keep getting stolen and no one seems to care.

Whit helped me and I managed to stay up for like two minutes. I finally just body boarded and watched all these guys do their thing. It took a lot more talent and practice than I had time for. Whit was the best one there. I watched Steve watching him, the pride in his eyes making me grin.

The sun would be setting soon on the Pacific rim and we sat just watching the last of the surfers riding before the dark drove them out of the water. We had to climb the cliff before dark caught us, but the twilight settled around us like a cloak.

You know how sometimes you can talk in the dark? It's like when you're little and you think if you cover your face, no one can see you; same thing. In the dark, you can't see their faces and the talk is muted and secret.

"Life's a funny thing," Steve said quietly. "It goes by so slowly when you're a kid. It's like things will never happen....it takes forever to get old enough to be counted."

"Yeah, and then, when you want to savor every day, it speeds up and the days fly by," Whit added.

"I'm gay." I blurted and stared out at the horizon. We all sat silently for a few minutes.

"Feel better?" Steve finally asked.

I sat there thinking how hard it had been to say that and now how silly it seemed. I know it was cause I trusted these two men totally and I knew they'd understand. I knew I wouldn't say it again anytime soon, but to just say it outloud, even this once, was great. "Yeah, I do."

"Take your time with it, Bri. It's no one's business but yours. You'll know when the time's right to let someone else know."

"Yeah," Whit said, "For some guys, where they live, their life, it's easy to be out, but for others, it's not good or safe. I know you feel a pressure inside to announce to the world who you are, but believe me, sweetie, the world only needs to know what you want it to."

"Yeah," I started, "But....."

The dusk was settling. "Let's go home," Steve said, "It's time we talked to you about some stuff."

The drive home was quiet. We stopped for another round of In-N-Out burgers, 4X4s this time, and carried the burgers, fries and shakes home to eat by the pool.

Burgers gone, Steve sat back in the lounge chair and Whit sat on a mat next to him, his head resting back on Steve's hip. They looked so right together.

"When did you two get together?" I asked.

Steve ran his fingers through Whit's curls, "In college," he said. "I had left Kansas, practically run from there, and Whit was my roommate's best friend and we hit it off right away."

"I was from Santa Rosa, right up the state and I had it a lot easier than Steve did growing up. People out here tended to be more tolerant. I don't mean they wanted to see anything gay, but I wasn't as afraid as he was. We became really good friends and, once we actually admitted it was more than that, we've been together ever since."

"So you didn't have any trouble?"

Whit leaned further back into Steve's chair. "We didn't say that. Of course we had trouble. Back in the 1960's and 70's there was no such thing as political correctness or gay tolerance. The name then was 'queer' and you had to be very careful. There were a lot of people beginning to wake up and make their presence known in the big cities like New York and San Francisco, especially after Stonewall, but in the small towns of America, you couldn't afford to be 'different'."

I sighed, "It's still like that today."

"Yes," Steve said sadly, "There are still people who are afraid of what they don't understand and act out of hate or fear. But, there's also a growing wave of acceptance. Some people are beginning to realize that we're no different from them."

"So, you guys got yelled at and picked on?"

"Hell, yeah. We've never flaunted that we are together and it took a lot of hard work and thick skin to get where we are today."

"Did you ever get in fights?" I asked, thinking of Derrick.

"You know that boy that I'm defending right now?" Whit said quietly. "That happened to me when I was twenty-four. Steve and I were coming out of a restaurant and these guys jumped us. Steve ended up with a broken arm and I was in the hospital with broken jaw and a smashed right hand."

I remembered the times I had seen Steve rubbing Whit's right hand and now I understood why. They had scars. It wasn't all perfect. "What happened to the creeps?"

"Well, back then, the general feeling was that we brought any trouble on ourselves just by existing. They served six weeks community service and we almost went under paying off the hospital bills."

I totally was reconstructing my image of these two men. I guess I had thought, just because they lived in a beautiful house, drove great cars and were so happy, that they had sailed to this place in their lives. I felt like a dope. I also felt sad and scared and hopeless. I just wanted to live my life, find someone to live it with me one day and not have any trouble. It sure didn't look like that was gonna happen any time soon.

"I know you're sitting over there thinking it's not worth it, right?" Whit said gently.

"Yeah, sort of."

"Thing is, kiddo, this is the life God dealt you. I totally believe that he made us stronger so that we can endure any trouble. He chose us to fight this fight to overcome bigotry and intolerance."

I pictured archangels, huge white wings out stretched. The angel Gabriel, the warrior. "I don't really want to be a fighter," I frowned.

"There are different ways of fighting, Brian. No one likes to get hurt. That's stupid. Fighting, for you, will be having pride in who you are until the day comes that you can share it with someone. Not letting anyone, out of stupidity and jackass ignorance, take your pride away from you."

"But what about the guys at school? They used to like me when we were growing up, but now, even though I don't say anything, they pick at me."

"It's because they feel a difference and they don't understand it. You don't like what they like; sports and girls. You don't talk the talk. You read. You're smarter than they are in class. Add all that together and you have 'dumb jocks'. You know how people use the words "That's so gay" and "What are you, a fag?" to anyone who does anything different, right?"

"I think too," Steve said, "That a lot of times, they have odd feelings about themselves sexually and it scares them, so they take it out on someone they see as weaker, especially if possibly that person is attractive to them in the deep recesses of their minds."

Whit snorted a laugh, "I can't picture them having deep thoughts."

"Feelings?" I asked.

Steve laughed, "Haven't you ever thought that the huge muscle-necked football linebacker would really like to, just once, come up against someone as male as he is? But, he hides it under many layers of build-in homophobia."

"Really?"

"Your nemesis, Derrick, was it? He used to be your friend, right? Why would he turn on you this way? I'm not saying he has a crush on you, I'm just saying that he has no reason to hate you either, other than feelings he doesn't understand."

God, so much to think about. "Am I just kinda too young to sort all this out? I'm feeling really lost."

"You know, Whit and I have talked about this a lot. Kids have to make so many decisions so early; who they are, what they want to be, where they stand on things they don't even comprehend. It's a wonder you make it through."

"But you do. That's the thing. You will sort this all out and come out on the other side. You have us now and you have your parents, your dad. You aren't alone and sometimes, us 'old folks' know a thing or two."

I grinned, and then thought, 'My dad? Stewie?' He'd never understand.

But, Whit was standing up and stretching. "It's been a long day. Tomorrow we'd like to treat you to a helicopter ride. What do you think?"

I knew the time for serious talk was over for tonight. Maybe tomorrow, I'd find out about my dad.


The day was bright and crystal clear, but then ALL days in southern California are like that. The helicopter ride was awesome! It was a one hour flight over Glider's Port, where we saw the multi-colored hang gliders soaring over the cliffs. We cruised over Torrey Pines and La Jolla Shores and watched the surfers ride the waves. We saw the coastline, downtown San Diego, Seaworld, the Del Mar race track, Point Loma lighthouse and even dipped down over the Hotel Del Coronado. I could see the little table where Steve and I had eaten lunch just days before.

The helicopter settled back down on the tarmac at Montgomery Field. I had seen so many more places I wanted to go, so much more to San Diego than I had known was here.

"Thank you so much," I said as we walked back to Whit's woodie. "You guys have been so great to me. I don't know how to thank you." My voice trailed off.

"Heck, Bri, we were glad to do it. You're a good kid. Your parents have done a good job with you. We want you to come out again any time you want. It's always fun to look at this place through new eyes."

Whit grinned, "It's feeling like beer o'clock to me. Let's go have those fish tacos at the Brigantine."

We sat in the bar, cool for kids, and had big bowls of clam chowder and fish tacos made out of huge chunks of beer batter cod stuffed into taco shells. I had to admit that 'Shamu' did taste pretty good fried up.

Heading back to the house, we drove down Adams Avenue. I saw the sign for the area – Normal Heights. Smiling, I had to say, "That's the name of where you live? Normal Heights? That's kinda funny, huh?"

Steve laughed, "Yeah, we thought so too. We had a choice of this area or a few others and it was totally ironic that "Normal Heights" is gay-friendly."

"Steve added, "We like to think that WE are the normal ones and the other people out there are just trying to fit in with US."

I still had so many questions, but I couldn't find the words to ask them. Questions about things that hadn't even happened to me and may be never would. Things that had happened to other boys and girls like me. How do you stay strong? How do you make it through?

We pulled onto their street and I saw a strange car parked up in their driveway. It was a non-descript silver Ford Taurus and had a rental plate. "Looks like you guys have company."

I saw a man sitting on the front steps. As we got closer, he seemed familiar. Well, hell, of course he did.

"Dad?" I murmured and then hopped out of the car to walk toward him. What was he doing here? I felt all my new confidence slipping away. I felt the closet door slamming shut on my feelings and questions. Damn! Why did he have to come and ruin it all?

Steve grabbed my dad in a big hug and said something too low for me to hear. I saw my dad wrap his arms around Steve and hug him back. Whit slung his arm around my shoulders, smiling at them. I was totally confused. My dad didn't hug like that. My dad didn't hug men. My dad........................

"Hello, Brian," he said, stepping away from Steve and smiling at a totally confused me. "I hear you've been having a good time out here."

"Yeah....I......we.....uh, yeah," back to ape mutterings.

Let's get you inside and changed into something cool and find something cold and wet to drink," Whit said as Steve grabbed Dad's bag out of the rental.

I trailed behind the men as they walked into the house. This wasn't the plan. I was supposed to fly home tomorrow evening. I had one more day. Why was he here?

Now, don't get me wrong. I love my dad, but he just won't understand what I'm trying to find out here. For the first time in my life, I'm with people who understand me; who know me for who I am and accept and love me for it. Now, Steve and Whit would have to pretend to be straight. It would all be ruined. No more hugs or long talks. I wouldn't get to see them kiss or hold hands. I realized how much I had loved that.

I went to my room to think for a minute. I could hear their voices on the warm breeze coming through my window:

"He's doing good."
"No, I waited."
"He's confused, but then, weren't we all?"
"I think you should tell it."

Tell what? Waited for what? I finally trudged down the stairs and out onto the patio grabbing a cold soda on my way out. Popping the top, I walked over to the lounge chairs and sat on the rim of the pool near Steve's feet.

"You look good. Got your hair cut, I see," Dad smiled. "It looks really great."

I touched my hair. I'd forgotten totally. I had turned back into the 'before' Brian, the one who hid under hair and clothes. "Thanks."

"We've just been telling your dad where all we've been dragging you these last few days," Whit said.

"It's been super great," I managed. "You've been super great...even Black's Beach." My eyes still hurt from the wrinklies.

Laughing, Steve spoke up. "I'm really glad to see you, Stewie. It's been way too long."

There it was again – Stewie. I looked at my dad. He had changed into a pair of cargo shorts and a plain light blue t-shirt. With his beer in his hand and his shades on, he almost looked like he fit in out here. Almost.

"Why didn't you bring Mom?" I asked.

"Well, it's only for a day and she has her club meeting on Monday, remember?"

I just wanted to yell – "Why are you here?" "Don't you trust me?" I had no idea why my frugal dad would spend money to fly all the way from Kansas to California for just one day. It was just something he would never do. But look – he had.

Steve took pity on me. "I know you're confused right now, Bri. You want to know why your dad's here, right?"

"Yeah." I looked from Steve to Whit and then my eyes rested on my dad's face. He almost looked scared....my dad. Impossible. I'd never seen him the least bit shaken. He was always calm and in control. That was my dad. He was nothing like me, all fiddley and raggedyass off the wall when it came to emotions. He was always just Dad.

He cleared his throat, a rusty sound, took a long drink and smiled at me. "I have something I want to share with you. I had put it away in the back of my mind where I store 'forgotten' things. I was hoping I'd never have to open that door again, but I feel like I'd be lying to you by not telling you now."

"Why now?" I asked, suddenly afraid that my world was on shaky ground.

His eyes darted around from face to face and back to me. "Because of how you have fit in out here, I guess."

I jerked my head toward Steve. Fit in? What did that mean? Had Steve told my dad? Did my dad know? Had Steve told my biggest secret to the one person I never wanted to know? I turned my hurt eyes from them and slid into the cool water.

Sinking to the bottom, I sat heavily, deciding to never surface. Why had I thought I could trust grownups? Even grownups like me? They always ratted you out. They did what was 'best' for you without asking. Even Steve...that really hurt. My dad would never understand.

Finally, my lungs burning, I decided that I would hear them out, but I wouldn't talk. I'd never talk to any of them ever again.

Spluttering, I gripped the edge of the pool and pulled myself out of the water to drip on the cool ceramic tile.

My dad was frowning in that way he does when I confound him, but Steve was smiling and Whit was trying to hide a grin. 'Fuckers!' I thought to myself. This is so not funny.

"Welcome back, Aquaman."

Silence.

Dad ran his hand through his graying hair and started again. "This isn't about you, Brian. It's about me. It's something I shoved way down deep, but now, I want you to know. I hope it helps you understand me better and, in time, understand yourself."

Okay....put a hold on the 'No Talking' thing. This isn't about ME? Well, then, Jesus H. Christ, who is it about? Dad? What does me being out here and fitting in have to do with Dad? He sent me here. He had to have known. He wanted me to.......................................shit! My eyes bugged wide. This is so not happening! My dad? My dad is...............

"You need to start talking before he implodes," Whit said softly.

Dad nodded his head. "This is real hard for me to put in words."

Put the words, Dad. Put the words.

He began slowly, his voice no more than a loud whisper. "When Steve and I were growing up, he lived right down the block. His mother and your grandmother were sisters. We played together all the time when we were little and then as we grew, we were best friends spending every day together."

Okay............how come I never knew any of this?

Steve spoke, "I knew I liked boys from the time I was about, well, I guess I always knew, but it started looking at Stew.....your dad.....when we were eleven. We were best friends, always together, playing together, swimming together, sleeping together, and you can't imagine how hard that was for me."

My dad isn't saying anything about Steve being gay. He isn't reacting. He must have known.

Dad continued, "It seemed natural for us to see each other with no clothes, to grab and wrestle and so, when we began to touch each other," he looked at me and his eyes were begging me to understand, "that was natural too."

My mouth opened, "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because Steve said it was something you needed to hear."

I swung my head to look at Steve. He nodded. "You need to know that what you're feeling isn't new. It's been around a long time."

"Did you..................? Are you......................?" I felt a little frantic. It was like I had waked up one morning and my dad had become a total stranger. Oh God. Mom!

"Did I fool around with Steve?" Dad took a deep breath. "Yes, the usual stuff that boys do. Am I like Steve? No. I had a lot of long discussions with myself because I loved him, but no, I'm not."

"Wait, you loved Steve? Like you love Mom?"

Steve broke in, "I loved your dad with all my fourteen year old heart had to give and he was so good to me. He didn't feel the same way, but he shared what he could and those feelings lasted a long time."

Blurred images flew across my mind of two boys, one painfully in love, the other caring so much that he was tender and shared his heart. I looked at my dad. He was wide-eyed, tears glistening. "There have been too many secrets over the years," he said, in reply to my unspoken question.

"Back then, there was no 'gay', only queer. It was absolutely unacceptable. There was no way to live with it in a small town. There was no internet, there were no message boards where kids can talk to other kids like them, no Advocate magazine where you can read on-line about all the people who have pride and are standing up for what they believe in. No TV shows with accepted gay characters. It was all secret and wrong and frightening," Whit added softly.

"But, it's still hard. It's still dangerous. You can still get hurt," I said, forgetting that I was not talking to them, that Steve had outed me to my dad. This was way beyond all that.

"Yes, it still happens, but there are places now where you can live and feel safe. We live here and are accepted by our neighbors and our business associates. We own a home and live day to day just like any member of this society. It's happening in the big cities in countries all around the world. It's changing, slowly, but it IS changing."

I took a deep breath. "Why did you tell me this, Dad? Why didn't you wait til I got home?"

"Would you have told ME?" he asked.

I thought about it. "No."

"What did you think would happen if you had?"

"I didn't know. I just didn't want to take the chance."

"Did you think there are conditions on our love for you?"

Oh, God. Mom! "Does Mom know?"

Dad smiled and held out his hand. I went over and sat beside him with his arm around my shoulders. "We've both known for awhile."

The lights all came on. The bricks fell in place. The square pegs went in the round holes. "You sent me out here so I could see that there is a future for me. That it isn't hopeless. That I have to wait. Is that right?"

"Exactly," he said softly, "Exactly."

"You have it so much better than kids 40 years ago. Yes, you have to be careful and yes, you need to watch your back, but there are opportunities for you to be the person you want to be. College will open those doors and you'll find that high school was just this black hole where kids were all trying to find themselves. It's just such a crime that they torture each other to find out that life's over too fast to worry about other people."

Whit laughed, "Yep, life's a bitch and then you die."

"Life's a joke and then you croak," Steve tossed in.

"Okay, okay......are you telling me that you and Mom are okay with this?"

Dad looked at Steve and Whit and smiled sadly. "I wouldn't choose this life for you, no, but we will always be your parents and we will always love you."

I had a lot to think about. I suddenly wanted to be by myself. "I'm gonna go to my room, k?"

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I stared at my sneakers. My dad and Steve, the picture had, at first, made me cringe with the creeps, but I sat here now and I smiled. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be terrified of my feelings, not scared the way I felt when I looked a t a cute boy, but totally terrified that someone would find out. I had always worried that my parents would find out and they'd......it was right then that I realized I didn't really know how they would have reacted. That was because I really didn't know them. I hadn't known my dad. I guess my mom had secrets of her own from when she was growing up. Can it be that if we knew more about the people around us, they wouldn't be so scary? Maybe they all have secrets that keep them trapped?

My mind just expanded with the thought. What if there were other boys at my school who felt like I did? What if they had no one to turn to?

I was amazed at what my dad had done. He had not demanded my secrets from me, rather he had given me a chance to open that locked door freely. Not only that, he had handed me his secret so that I wasn't alone. I hugged that thought to myself and just kept staring at my sneakers.

Whit tapped on the door. "You up for dinner? There's a great Italian place right here in the Normals."

I opened the door and kinda just sank into his hug. "You okay, kiddo?" he asked rubbing my shoulders.

"Yeah, I think so." Then I thought, wow, my dad and Steve. "Whit, does it bother you? The thing with my dad and all?"

"What? That Steve had someone to love him during those crap years til he could leave? No way. I really love your dad for being there for him."

I felt another brick in the wall fall into place.

We had a great dinner, Steve just ordered for everyone. They brought this huge platter thing full of baked Rigatoni with spinach and lots of cheeses, a humongous garlic bread roll and for dessert, just lay down and die now, this thing called Tartufo. Its chocolate ice cream mixed with cherries, crushed chocolate cookies, chocolate chips and then covered in chocolate sauce. I ate all mine and most of everyone else's. Grownups don't know what's good!

Steve and I crawled in the back of the woodie, so Dad could have the front seat and Whit drove us around town for awhile. Back at the house, we sat around the pool and watched the light grow misty.

"I have a story I want to tell you," my dad started.

"We have a story. Stewie, you know it's as much mine as yours, more because I should have seen it coming."

"I know you're feeling vulnerable and awkward right now, Brian, and part of that is because your life is centered on the actions of so many others that lived before you. I know that may seem an odd thing to say, but each generation comes a little further along the road. It may seem like baby steps, but that's the way great things happen sometimes."

"Like a 'Rome wasn't built in a day' kind a thing?" I asked.

"Exactly."

I sat down on the tile by my dad's chair and watched Whit settle himself to lay back resting his head on Steve's chest. Steve took his hand and rubbed the knuckles absently.

"Back when we were your age, we went to high school just like you and had friends and played sports. It was a good time to be alive as long as you were exactly like everyone else. You had to wear the same clothes, cut your hair the same way, listen to the same music, talk about the same stuff. There was no room for 'differentness'."

"It's like that today," I said.

"Not as much. Look at all your choices of music, your clothes, the way kids wear their hair; the Goth kids, the street punk kids, the sk8rs, the geeks. You realize that geeks turn into the men who rule the world, don't you?" Whit laughed and pointed at Steve. "It's much more okay to be smarter, or talented, or interesting than it was back then."

"Think for a minute, Bri. Other than liking boys, do you feel any different than any other person at your school?"

I thought. "No, not really."

"Do you feel smarter sometimes?"

I wrinkled my nose, "Yeah, kinda."

"You just are a good kid who loves to read, who will go to college and make something interesting of himself, who happens to want a boy to love. There are two choices for us all: boys or girls. You chose the first one. It shouldn't be a big deal."

"But," I sighed, "It is."

"It is now. One day, it won't matter at all."

"So, I'm part of the road to that?"

"Yeah, there you get it," Whit laughed. "Okay, back to the story."

I felt my dad's hand on my shoulder. His voice turned down a notch as he went back in time:

"Steve and I were best of friends. We shared a lot, our dreams, our plans. Steve told me about himself when we were fourteen. I remember thinking to myself that I had been stupid for not realizing it sooner. It wouldn't have changed the way I felt about him, but I could have been kinder. I could have helped him sooner. We were both lucky, I guess. I was a shy kid and Steve kept me laughing and happy during those years and he needed someone that knew who he really was.

He told me he loved me when we were fifteen and I told him that I couldn't give him what he wanted, but I could be there for him until he didn't need me anymore. We were like Siamese twins all through high school. It was okay because, to everyone else, we were Steve and Stew, good friends from the get go. No one ever thought any different. I dated lots of the pretty girls and kissed enough of them that I had a solid reputation. I fixed Steve up with their friends and we always double dated. It was perfect, or so we thought.

We had a friend. The only boy we let in on our secret. Well, actually, he saw right through Steve's shields. You have to remember that, back then, it was a dangerous secret for Steve and for me too, because I would have been right there when any trouble happened. There was no tolerance, no compassion for things that people didn't understand. At least, we never saw any. Even my own parents and Steve's would make veiled hushed comments about 'those homosexual people'.

Anyway, his name was Ronnie, Ronnie Sawyer. He had always tagged along with us being younger, and it was like having a kid brother. He was the first boy that Steve thought was really pretty. He was slightly built, and always wore his blond hair in long bangs that drooped down into his eyes. He had the saddest eyes, and we spent a lot of time trying to make him laugh. Lonely, no brothers or sisters, and his wealthy parents never cared about him. His one love was his steel guitar. He taught himself to play and spent hours in his room teaching himself new songs and then playing them for us. He was as good as any of the radio stars. He went to a private school, not regular high school with us.

We would go skinny dipping out at the old tree by the river and he always looked at us with those bright shiny eyes. We didn't know how cruel his mother and step father were. We didn't know how much he needed us. We just liked him and he laughed at our jokes. He was always so happy to be with us. For a while there, we became the Three Musketeers; Steve, Stew and Ronnie.

One day, down by the river, he asked, out of the blue, what it felt like for a boy to love you? We knew he had figured it out, or part of it anyway. Steve explained as best he could and nothing changed, except that we watched over Ronnie more carefully. I became clear that he had a crush on Steve and I guess, thinking back, Steve was just flattered, right? We thought we had his back.

He met us one Sunday afternoon full of excitement. He said he had met a boy at his school, a beautiful boy who loved him back. That they had kissed and done things in the woods after school and he was so happy. We cautioned him to be careful, that we didn't know the other boy and it was awfully fast. Steve didn't like the feel of it at all.

After that, things happened so fast, and spun out of control. It turned out that the other boy wasn't gay, just used Ronnie. He was a spoiled jerk and when Ronnie wouldn't leave him alone, kept begging for him to talk to him, to tell him he cared, the creep went to Ronnie's mother and step father and told them that their son was a homo and to make Ronnie leave him alone. They took care of the problem all right, in the worst way imaginable.

Steve and I didn't know any of what happened until much later. We didn't see Ronnie again for almost a year. He just disappeared. Then, he showed up one afternoon down by the river and he wasn't the same boy we had known. Gone were the bright shiny eyes and the sweet little laugh. He told a horrible story of an evil place with high barbed wire fences, bare cement walls, ice baths and electric shock, cruel people and uncaring doctors. He said he could be our friend, but only if his mother didn't suspect anything. He could never go back to that place. He said he'd be good. But, it got to be too much. He couldn't forget and he couldn't go on."

My dad's voice broke at this point and I realized I'd been holding my breath.

"What happened, Dad?" I asked, turning to hug his leg.

Steve took over, his voice low and beyond sad. "I spent the night with Stew and we woke up to a feeling that something was very very wrong. Ronnie's stepdad's truck was in the driveway and as we opened the back door of the camper, the smell of propane gas hit us full out. There was a note on the door........" His voice trailed off.

Whit ended the tale for his love and his friend. "Ronnie said that he loved them. His mother was going to send him back and he couldn't go. He asked that they take care of him, so that he could lie where he could see the blue sky and smell the clean wind off the prairie."

"Dad, Steve? Did you...did you do that for him?" I gulped in air.

"Yes," Dad said.

"Did his mother even......?"

"No."

I felt my chest hurting. I had this really strong desire to run. Just run until I couldn't breathe.

"Dad?" I gulped, "Daddy?" I felt my dad slide down and sit on the floor by me, wrapping his arms around me tight. We sat like that for a long, long time. Finally, I sniffled back a low sob and said, "No one should have to do that."

"No," Steve replied. "No one should ever have to do that. There's always some way past what looks like an impossible place."

"Why didn't he run away? Why didn't he tell you and you could have helped him? Why didn't he..............." I blabbered.

"We'll never know. That was then and this is now," Whit said. "Can you see what we've been trying to tell you?"

"Yeah, that we're here to make tomorrow better than today, right? That today, there are places that will help you and kind people who will listen."

"That's it plus, we find moments of pure joy along the way," Steve said as he held Whit tight.

"But," I sighed, "Ronnie paid too much for yesterday."

"Yes, he did. And remember, it wasn't Ronnie's fault; it was his mother, who eventually had to answer to God for what she drove her son to do."

"I hope she's burning," I said, gritting my teeth. "Mom would never do anything like that."

"Shhh, we told you so you could open your eyes to the possibilities around you. Yesterday is over.......today you take a deep breath and build your pride in yourself....tomorrow you live the life you've chosen for yourself."

"What about kids who don't have parents like you and mom? Friends like you, Steve and you, Whit? What do they do?"

"They hold it in the road until the time comes that they can be free to express their feelings. They make friends and laugh and wait. Patience is the key to tomorrow. That's why so many young gay guys go all wonky and jump anything that moves when they get in their early twenties, because they had to keep it all bottled up when they were supposed to be learning how to handle life."

"I don't think I wanna go "all wonky", I frowned. "I'm not sure of much of anything right now."

"That's okay, now's the time to be sorting it all out."

"Where is he, Dad?"

He didn't ask me who. "We had a little money saved up and your grandmom helped us. It was totally hushed up. He's buried in the cemetery behind the old Red Brick Church. It was the only church that would take someone who had done what he did."

What he had done.

What had he done after all, but run for his life in the only way he could think of. He wasn't thinking straight, terrified and alone.

We all sat quietly, my thoughts with a scared boy I'd never known who I felt very close to right this minute. As I looked at Steve and Whit, I knew they were feeling the same. My dad was rubbing my shoulders, his breath rough. The darkness held its secrets. I knew nothing would ever be quite the same for me again.

Exhausted, sleep came easy and, with the morning sunlight, clear thoughts and some new ideas. I could hear my dad, Steve and Whit laughing down by the pool. They were teasing Dad about his pale skin and the next thing would be he'd put on black socks with his sandals. I grinned, listening to my important people sounding so happy.

Whit called up to my window, "You up, Bri? I've gotta run. It's the closing arguments this morning. Keep your fingers crossed. I'll be here to take you to the airport though."

I stuck my head out the window, "Good luck, Whit. I know you'll win this for him if anyone can."

Over breakfast, Steve convinced Dad that we needed to go to SeaWorld and then he needed to try the fish tacos. He didn't look too excited about the taco part, but, as I was finding out, my dad was full of surprises.

Steve called the airline and got Dad's ticket changed so we could fly home together and then we took off for the big aquarium. I had so many questions, but I decided to wait until it was quiet and I could really listen.

Sharks and Mantas and Whales.....Oh My! Being from Kansas, I never knew fish came in so many shapes, sizes and colors. Dad bought me one of those throw-away cameras and I clicked pictures of all the beautiful fish tanks, trying to get Dad and Steve in as many pics as possible.

Tired and hungry, we went back to Brigantine's and I watched as my dad ate not one, but four fish tacos. Whoa!!

I tried to soak in everything I saw as we drove back to the house. What had started as a punishment had turned into the best five days of my life. Amazing how things change so fast. I had totally not known my dad. He was like some kind of super hero in my mind right now. The things he had done, the people he had helped, the way he had sent me out here to the person he loved next to my mom. My mind couldn't get around all the new stuff.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that until I came out here to stay with Steve and Whit, my world had been all about ME. What will happen to ME? How will this effect ME? What will I do? I was beginning to realize that there was more to life than ME. That maybe if I opened my eyes and looked around, I could find my way.

I began to see that it wasn't all about being gay or straight; it was about being the best person I could be. Instead of always being worried about whether people would find out my secret, I should stop worrying about my secret and make some friends that like me for me: gay/ straight/ fat/ skinny/ funny/ quiet/ smart/ bozo/ whatever. There's so much more to me and everyone else than just one thing. Instead of keeping my nose stuck on a book 24/7, maybe I need to shut the book for a while and find some people to talk to. Maybe.

I had had my eyes opened on this trip. What I thought was an impossible dream was, in fact, a reality in so many places. As we drove through Hillcrest, the light turned red and we stopped at the corner. Two boys were waiting for the light. I watched as they, arms around each other, laughed and kissed gently. Right on the street! One of the boys caught my eye and, when I smiled, he winked at me. I'm gonna treasure that wink. Maybe, one day I'll see a kid like me that needs a wink.....just a reassuring wink. Enough to carry him through the dark hours until he can find his own light.

The day was over way too quickly. I didn't want to go home. I knew what waited there and I didn't know how to fix it. I still had the rest of this year and my senior year to muddle through before I could go to college. But, now, instead of feeling alone, I knew I had people I could go to. People who would listen.

It was time to say goodbye. How do you say goodbye to two people who have turned your life around? I guess it's like Steve says, "We never knew you, Brian, and now you're an important part of our lives. You're welcome here anytime. Call us if you feel yourself spiraling. Believe me, we both remember that feeling."

I never got to drive the Porsche. It doesn't matter. I got something much better.

Whit made it just in time and we drove to the airport, listening to his story of the day. "The judge ruled in my client's favor. Three of the boys are juveniles, so they'll be in boot camp until they reach eighteen. The eighteen year will serve two years. The best part......" his eyes were dancing, "The parents have to pay for the medical costs."

"It's about time someone made parents responsible for the hate they instill in their kids," Dad said.

"It's not enough punishment, but at least they didn't just walk away."

"Remember what we said," Steve reminded me, "We take baby steps to the future. One day, bashing will be seen as the hate-filled crime it is and the punishment will fit."

It seemed like I'd been here for a long, long time. My life in Kansas seemed so far away. I hoped I could carry the things I'd learned back home.

Hugs all around. No silly sideways half hugs this time. No way! I wanted big bear hugs and I got them. And the best thing......I could sniffle if I wanted. I didn't have to hide the way I was feeling. I watched my dad hug Steve. I knew how much they meant to each other now. He turned to Whit, "You take care of him."

"I will. I always do."

Steve mouthed the words, "Love you" to my dad. Dad smiled and said, "Me too."

Walking down that long terminal hallway was hard cause I wanted to turn around and run back. I wanted to stay where I could be me. Dad bumped me with his duffle and smiled, "It's gonna be okay now, Brian. You'll see."

We got all situated, seat belts on, and yahoo, an empty seat on the aisle. Normally, I would have moved over and gone into my own world of headphones and music, but I had so many things to talk to my dad about. I stayed in the middle seat.

We changed planes in LA and headed home over New Mexico and up.

"Dad?"

"Mmm?

I lowered my voice. "Why didn't I know about Steve? Why didn't you ever talk about him or go see him or anything?"

Dad frowned, 'It's hard to explain. I guess when Steve left for college and said he was never coming back, I just had to shut that part of my life down. I was going to the local junior college, and knew I was gonna take over your granddad's print shop. My life was laid out in front of me. I'm a small town kinda guy and I knew Steve was headed for big cities."

"He never came back?"

"No. He always said that when he left, he'd never live the small town life again and he hasn't. I missed him, he was my best friend, but I understood. He was searching for something, for someone and neither were in that small town in Kansas."

"But, you knew about Whit?"

"Oh, yes. We still call and keep each other up to date on the latest news, always have. I heard all about Whit right after he met him way back in college. I could tell by his voice that Steve had met someone special and I was right."

"Why didn't I ever know?"

"I guess it was part of my life that I wanted to keep secret. When I began to see Steve coming out in you, I would tell him about you and he would tell me to just watch and wait and let you find your way. When the fighting started, I knew it was time to lend you a hand."

I grinned, "Thanks, Dad."

"I know it's not gonna be very different when you get home, but I'm hoping that the way you look at life will have changed some."

"I can't promise that I'm willing let anyone stuff me in a garbage can, but maybe now I can figure out ways to avoid it. Steve and Whit gave me a lot to think about."

"Just take your time and sort out all the possibilities. Let's see what happens in the next year."

*

School rolled on. I'd like to be able to tell you that Derrick Langer saw the error of his ways and we became best friends, but well, no. He is still acting like a total asshole, but 'someone' reported him to Coach Abernathy, who has an old maid sister who lives with another older lady, hmmmm.......could be...... and the comments have stopped. It was either that or warming that bench senior year.

I decided to pull my head out of my butt and my books and asked Principal Geary if I could start a Book Club. Gary Tremont joined and several other really interesting kids, girls and boys, who were way cool and smart when they felt safe. We were an odd bunch, really smart misfits. I could tell that some of them had lots of questions, but it took a long time to get all the fear out of the way. We've decided that college is the primary objective. Our club motto is:

"Look, we're not in Kansas anymore!" It brings a laugh and a smile every time.

Of course I did. You know I did. The day after I got home, I asked Dad to take me. We drove to the Red Brick Church and picked our way through the weeds in the back part of the cemetery.

That part of the cemetery was all overgrown, weeds choking the few stray wildflowers that struggled to put beauty around the small plaques where no one would ever see, long gone souls forgotten by the world. There was a soft breeze; just dappled sunlight through the branches of a cottonwood tree, its shade covering the stone. The only sound, the trill of a bright yellow meadowlark breaking the silence.

The blue of the Kansas sky gazed down on a small plain marker. I watched as Dad knelt on the grass and brushed aside the twigs and dirt that had collected. "I come here and talk to him. He was always so lonely and I want him to know that I always care."

I knelt beside him and traced the letters with my fingertip:

Ronnie Sawyer
1944-1962
Will Be Missed Forever By His Two Best Friends

"This was so wrong, Dad," I whispered. I could feel the warm sun on my shoulders and the burning of held-back tears.

I'd never seen my father cry. I grew up a little that afternoon standing by that small stone. I realized that everyone has regrets. It was a moment where I could help my dad.

"You did what you could. You were his friends. You told me that he laughed when he was with you. That he was happy."

"Yes, we tried."

"Dad," I reached into some, until now unknown, cubbyhole in my mind, "Maybe Ronnie wasn't supposed to be here for long. Maybe he was only here for a little time. Maybe God was watching and saw his pain. I like to think God knows how much we can take. Some of us are stronger. I think you and Steve were the strong ones and Ronnie, well, you've given him a place to rest. Kids don't have enough experience to know that there is always a tomorrow. Every day is THE crucial day of their lives."

I could see the pain on his face and hear the regret in his voice. I knew that Steve felt the same way. Some memories just have to be lived with. I was seeing the world in a whole new way. It was sad, but it made me see that what Steve and Whit tried to tell me was true. Today, in so many places, there are loving people who will help. There are places that can shelter you. You don't have to live your whole life afraid. Yesterday is over, live today making your dreams reality tomorrow.

I had learned so much in the last year. I've learned to be brave and have pride in myself...not because I'm gay, but because I'm me.......

Brian Randall Jenkins
seventeen
brown hair
hazel eyes
loves to read
good with computers
Dog named Wulfie
makes a great homemade pizza with pineapple and ham
loves to sit by a small stone marker and talk to a new friend
runs by the edge of the river when things get too much
loves my mom and dad and two great guys in California
gay
still has all the X-Men comics and action figures
sometimes, my headphones are playing classical instead of rock
hope I make a million before I'm 30
am going to the University of Arizona in the fall
waiting to fall in love
I'm no one special, but maybe, one day, to someone, I will be


I still go to my favorite website and last night, I read a post there that made me grin. Someone was asking for help, saying that he was confused and trapped. Not long ago, that might have been me. People wrote replies like "Be patient", "Be brave" and I thought, Yes, all good answers. Then, a reply popped up:

"You can just accept it all. But then again, you can tell them to kiss your butt, graduate from school, go to college, date a few guys, fall in love with a guy and have a happy fulfilling life."

I laughed and thought, "Yeah, you tell 'em." I'd do all that, was exactly my plan...except, I think I'd graduate from high school and THEN tell them to kiss my butt on my way out of town. Hahaaa!

Can it be that simple? Can life open up when we're just a little older? A little wiser? You bet!

I'm going out to San Diego for the summer. Steve called and said that my room's waiting for me and the first stop is Black's Beach. Jeezz! Some people never grow up! I'm driving that Porsche.....Look out, California Boys!

Remember that boy that winked at me on the corner in Hillcrest? I'm keeping that wink close. I'm hoping I'll need it one day soon.

Ronnie's story is real; everything else is written to let me tell it. I always hope that stories I write will help someone take a deep breath, smile and hold it in the road. We watch the TV news, read the headlines and see it with our own eyes; the intolerance of the world today. If we can just remember that sometimes, when we hold out our hands and offer a tiny bit of generosity, we may change someone else's life forever.

Oh, and for the fella on the MB who said that what we write are just stories and people's lives aren't really like that and that the world is just a pile of shit......a hug and a hope and a prayer that you think hard, choose your path wisely and let your heart show you the way. God loves you, always has, always will.

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