What Else Is There?

by Al Norris

Chapter 1

Good news! Greyhound does run on Christmas Day! Bad news… It is a local and goes up to Sacramento, then over to Reno and Salt Lake City, with a stop in Elko. And everywhere else in between! More bad news. It leaves at 9 pm and takes almost a whole day to get there. Good thing I have the cash for the ticket and the meals I will need.

It took me almost an hour to walk to the bus station. Even though my suitcases had wheels, I was tired. And hungry. With all the crap that had gone down this morning, I had missed breakfast, and now it was a little past lunchtime. So, after I had gotten my ticket and the particulars for my bus, I walked a block back to the Arco Gas and Mini-mart to get something to eat. A couple of bacon and egg burritos and a large cup of coffee did the trick.

After eating, I glanced at the clock in the terminal. Dang! I had almost seven hours to kill before the bus got here. I didn't want to think about why I was here. Not right now, anyway. I really needed to find something to do that would help pass the time. I looked at the contacts on my phone. I decided to call one of my few friends.

"Merry Christmas, Harold."

"Merry Christmas to you too, Peter! What up, man?"

"A whole lot of shit hit the fan this morning. I thought I should call and let you know that you most likely won't see me when school starts back up."

"What? You moven or sumthen? What's going on man?"

"You know what happened last Christmas? Where mom threw all my presents away?"

"Yeah, you told me about that… Wait! She did it again?"

"Yeah, she did. She even ignored my birthday this year. I'm so tired of her tellin' me that I'm worthless all the time. My uncle up in Elko said if she did it again, I could come and live with him… So that's what I'm doing."

"Ah, man… That's so fucked up! So you're like running away?"

"I guess you could call it that. It just hurts so much, Harold." Without warning, there was a pain in my chest and I totally understood what it felt like to have my heart break. My eyes began to water. "She even got the last dig in, as I left the house… She yelled out, 'Good riddance to bad trash,' it just hurts… really hurts…" The floodgates opened, and for a few moments, all I could do was cry. Something I promised myself, after last year, I would never do again. Sean Connery was right. "Never say never."

"Peter… Peter…"

"I'm here Harold. Sorry. I just lost it there."

"Man, that is just so cold-hearted. I know you've told a couple of us how things were. I guess we never realized it was that bad." I've only ever talked to Harold and two other guys about what was going on at home. The three of them were gay and out. One of them was our half-back on the varsity football team. "You know, I bet I could talk to the rents and they could…"

"No, Harold! You can't do that. I only called to say goodbye, not to try and have someone 'save' me. Just let me go, please."

"Dude! I want to help. You're one of the few straights that have really been a friend. I don't want to lose that."

"That's just it, Harold. I gotta get out of here. I'm not as straight as I pretend to be. If she ever found out, she would kill me. If not her, then one of her homophobic brothers would."

"Wait… What!?…"

"With everything else that is going on, I'm so tired of trying to be something I'm not. I'm gay, Harold. I've always been gay. But I can't be gay at what used to be my home. Even my sisters and brothers have caught the homophobic train. I just can't do it no more."

"But what about where you're going?"

"Uncle George knows. He knows and accepts me for who I am. Besides, Elko can't be any worse than staying here."

We talked for a while longer and I finally convinced Harold not to say anything to anybody, until school started back up. After we hung up, I glanced at the clock again. Damn! Six more hours to go.

I walked back over to the Mini-mart and picked up a couple of magazines that seemed interesting. I figured I might need something else to read, besides the one novel I had with me. I was about done with it, anyway.

Since they had an ATM there, I checked my cash and got out another hundred bucks, just in case. That left me a balance of a bit over a thousand dollars. Should be good enough for some clothes, if I don't spend much more.

I went to the corner and looked down H St. There was a Panda Express and an In-N-Out Burger about two blocks south. That sounded good. I could get a couple or three decent burgers. One for now and the rest for later… Although I liked Chinese, I just figured the burgers would last longer. It wasn't exactly cold, but it wasn't really warm either. The burgers would last longer without going bad. Besides, cold burgers tasted better than cold General Tso's Chicken any day.

By the time I got back to the Bus Depot, I still had about five hours to wait. So I got my book out and started reading while I ate one of the burgers.

"DUDE! Wake up, man!" I must have dozed off. This big black guy was pushing on my shoulder.

"Dion! What the hell you doing here?" The big half-back grinned and sat down next to me.

"You fucker. You was gonna skip town without saying anything to me? What kinda bro does that, man."

"The kind his mamma thinks he is nothing but trash on a Christmas morning." I looked at my shoes. My eyes were too moist to let Dion see them. "I shoulda known Harold couldn't keep his mouth shut. That silly queen has a heart of gold, but he can't keep a secret without the help of at least two others. Oh well… But Damn anyway."

"It finally got that bad? Shit man, you is one hella stud, for what was a straight dude." Dion took my hand in his. "Wish I'da known'd. We coulda had fun together, dude." Dion is all about sex, and he doesn't care who knows it. But who am I to judge? I've never had sex with anyone at all.

"Shit dude, you is 3 years younger than me and I's seen your cock. It bigger n mine. Might have let you top me, just ta see what it's like."

"Really? Ya gots lube? We's can go in the restroom…" I shot back with a smirk.

"I said, 'might have,' cracka." Dion shoved me a bit as I laughed.

We spent the next hour or so, just BSing and dishing shit. Dion kept trying to get me to stay, and I kept telling him there was nothing for me here. Sooner than either of us wanted, Dion had to get back to his family. It was still Christmas day after all. We hugged and Dion kissed my head. We both knew this was goodbye.

It wasn't more than five minutes after he left, and the terminal was suddenly full of people. I looked at the clock and realized that the bus must have come in early. Good! In about thirty minutes I'd be outta San Bernardino forever, and on my way to Elko, and Uncle George… And hopefully, a better life.

I arrived at the Elko Amtrak Station, just before 8 pm. I guess Greyhound doesn't have a depot in Elko. I wish I had asked about that before I left San Bernardino. I had called my uncle when I knew the bus schedule, so he knew when I was supposed to arrive. Let's hope he knew where I'd be when I got there!

Yay! Uncle George was waiting for me when the bus pulled in. He was older than I remembered but there was no doubt in my mind that it was him.

Uncle George loaded my baggage and drove us to his house. He asked if I was hungry, but I told him that I had eaten in Reno when we had a layover there. He pointed out some of the things in Elko, as we made our way to his house.

We passed the high school I would be going to, and the Maverik C-Store, where Uncle George said a lot of the kids hung out after school.

Uncle George's house was lit up with Christmas decorations! That was something my mom never did. Somehow, it made it look all the more inviting. There was another car parked in the driveway, and when we went into the house, I found out that Grandma and Grandpa were there. They had a birthday cake on the coffee table with gifts, and under the Christmas tree, there were more gifts! This was all so totally unexpected. I didn't cry… well not really… but my eyes did get a bit watery and there was a tightness in my throat for a few minutes.

Grams had taken one look at me and said, "Look at him, George. He's the spitting image of your brother, Richard at that age!"

"I think that's why Mary acts the way she does. She has never gotten over his death. Peter has grown to be a daily reminder of what she lost." Gramps thoughtfully added.

"No, dad. I've never said anything about this, but it started before Richard died. Mary was planning on taking the kids and leaving Richard, come spring. She hated the life we were living. After Richard's death, she started blaming herself for what happened to him. For whatever deluded reason, she took her guilt out on Peter."

Uncle George then walked over to me and gave me the biggest and best hug I've ever had saying, "I don't care what your mom says or thinks, Peter. I love you for who you are and the man you are becoming. Not because you look like my brother. I'm sure your Gram and Gramps feel the same way that I do."

That did it! I just broke down and cried. Uncle George held onto me, as I sobbed. We ended up in a four-way hug that lasted for quite a few minutes.

This turned out to be both the worst and the best Christmas I've ever had! Heck, even though I didn't realize it at the time, it began one of the weirdest years of my life! Not only was I recognized for just being me and the things I could do, but now I was with someone who cared for me. It was a good feeling, something I had seldom experienced growing up.

Grams and Gramps stayed the night and left for their home in Bishop the next morning. Uncle George told me that he, and my grandparents, only wanted me to try and do the best that I could. He said that if I did my best, it was more than enough for him.

The next week was a blur of activity. I don't quite know how Uncle George did it, but between Christmas and New Year, he not only got guardianship over me but also my school transcripts.

In talking with my uncle, I found out that my dad had left a life insurance policy of 100 thousand dollars. Mom had never mentioned anything about that. It didn't explain why mom was renting a dinky three-bedroom house when she could have almost bought it with that kind of money.

I also found out that Uncle George had hit a good vein of gold in the #1 Rosemont mine after dad died. About a year later, he set up seven educational Trusts for us kids. He said he did that because mom didn't seem to be able to handle her own financial affairs as she did with other people's money. She had blown through the insurance money and had nothing to show for it. He set up the trusts in a way so she couldn't get her hands on them. Uncle George also said he would let me know how much was in the Trust when it came time to apply for college.

After that, Uncle ended up finding and making claims in three other mines in the Elko area. He was making enough money that he could afford to incorporate and have other people run the mines. He is semi-retired now. He had an office in town and worked there from Monday to Thursday and was home the rest of the week. Once in a while, he had to visit his holdings, but it wasn't very often.

On Monday, the third of January, I was enrolled in Elko High School.

For the most part, I had all the same classes. I had AP Calculus AB; AP World History; AP Physics 1; and instead of AP English Literature and Composition, they gave me AP English Language and Composition. I wasn't sure what the differences between the two English classes were, but I guess I'd find out.

Since I was going to try out for their Varsity Baseball team, and because I had been a varsity footballer, I was assigned to the 7th-period Gym. The funny part of this was that the coaches saw my running and wanted me to go out for track, as well. When I asked about the schedules, I found out that Track & Field started a week or so before Football. At this school, Track was in the fall, instead of the spring. Something to do with the way the weather was in this part of the state. Nope. I figured to stick with football and baseball, which started in February. So I asked them if I could go home and talk it over with my uncle and give them an answer tomorrow. They agreed that this would be a good way to deal with the whole sports thing.

I went home and talked the situation over with Uncle George when he came home from work. I didn't get a chance to try and persuade him one way or the other. He quickly saw the problem as trying to do too much all at once. He agreed, almost before I could really get started. Since I had been on the varsity football team at my old high school and was likely going to be on its varsity baseball team here as well, I should just stick with that. That way I would still have time for my academic courses and some free time to be a teenager… Whatever that was. Guess I would find out.

One thing I did know though, it was nice to be able to sit down and talk through things with him. He didn't talk down to me but treated me as an adult. A far cry from what I had been used to.

It's Monday, the start of my third week here. I have to say that the culture here is totally different than what I was used to. The kids mostly look and dress the same as I'm used to, but they almost all talk with a western drawl. Cowboy-like. And quite a few of the kids are from local ranches or farms. It's definitely cow country here.

They do have a Diversity Club here. From what I've checked out, it's sorta like a GSA-light, except I found it really doesn't seem like there's much to do with a person's sexuality. More like they want to include race, gender, and sexuality all rolled into one. I'm not too sure about the gender thing though. You either have an outie or an innie, right? Male or female? Gay, straight, or Bi, right? This group seems to think you can have a penis and be a girl! Huh???

I did go to one meeting of this Diversity group last week. Now I'm more confused about what they are trying to do than ever. Not sure if it's my thing, but I thought I would give it one more try before I made up my mind. Maybe.

So, three weeks in and I'm not sure how well I'll fit in. I do know that I'm not gonna out myself. Cowboy Country… That could be dangerous to my health! If nothing else, I'll just play it as I did at my old school in San Bernardino. No, strike that. If I played like I used to, then it would all be the same. No, this time, if someone directly asks me, I'm not gonna lie to them.

But that could wait until later. For the moment, there I was in the cafeteria. Lunchtime and I've got my bag lunch and I'm sitting at a table where several of the baseball players ate.

"Hey Pete," Carl looked up at me as he was speaking, "I heared ya went ta that Diversity Club meeting last Thursday. Anythin' ya want'n ta tell us?" Was this sarcasm? Hmm…

Carl was a junior and he was hoping to grab the pitcher's slot on the team. He played last year on the JVs as a relief pitcher and was fairly decent, from what others had said. He wasn't speaking in a loud voice, just in a conversational tone.

"At my old school, we had a gay-straight alliance club, GSA. I used to go to that occasionally because I had a couple of gay friends. One of them was Dion. He was one of our varsity half-backs. Six foot two, 235 lbs. No one messed with him… More than once, anyway." I smiled and looked right at Carl, trying to see what his facial expression might tell me. "So I went to that Diversity Club meeting, wondering if it was similar.

"Why? You guys have a thing against gay people?" I had stopped eating and looked right at Carl and kinda looked at the other guys sitting there.

"Not personally. The fact is, I don't know anybody that is gay. I was just wondering, that's all. Especially as you're new and that's da first thing ya do." Oh boy. Carl was one of those, it seems. He was just about 6 feet and probably 160, maybe 170 lbs. Not the biggest guy around, but certainly bigger than me… not that this scared me. I've handled bigger fools than him before. I just didn't want to start this year like that.

"Ya know Carl, the first thing I did here was to go to the coaches to let them know I was gonna try out for the varsity baseball team. I was a freshman last year and good enough to make JVs. I've improved my game and thought I could make varsity this year. Who knows? This last fall semester, I made the varsity football team at my other school and I was only 13 then. I'm 14 now, I've grown and gotten stronger. I'm in better shape this year than I was last year.

"But none of that matters, does it? I mean, you saw or heard from someone, over the weekend I'd bet, that I was at that Diversity Club meeting and right away you think that makes me gay?"

"Yeah. Why else would a dude go ta that shit? I don't want some faggot perving on me in the locker rooms!" Carl almost shouted and his whole face, from his neck up, turned red. His veins were popping out, he had gotten so worked up!

Once again, I stopped eating and looked at him. "Carl, you think you got something some gay boy would look twice at? You're joking right?" I looked at the rest of the guys at the table. I didn't see anything more than an interest in a possible fight. Typical, I thought. So I looked right at Carl, "I know I'm younger and smaller than you, dude. But if you think I'm scared of you, you had better think again. I've had to fight my way all through school because I'm younger and generally smaller than everyone else. So no, I ain't afraid of you. You might whoop my ass, but I'll make damned sure you'll know you've been in a fight."

Tom Clauson, our catcher, spoke up, "Mr. Wilson is coming this way, guys."

Carl picked up his lunch tray and stood up to leave. So I quickly made a decision and spoke up, "Carl, I'll see you behind the Maverik. Right after school. Be there." Carl left and Mr. Wilson walked right by our table and kept on going.

The rest of the day played itself out. During the last period, PE, Carl, and I avoided each other as best as we could. I was dressed and out of the locker room the second the bell rang.

It didn't take me long to walk to the Maverik C-Store. It was only a couple of blocks south of the high school. There is an alley right behind and that is where I went to wait for Carl. Tom and a couple of the guys were already there.

"You think you can take Carl, Pete?" Tom asked.

"Don't know, don't care."

"So why did you challenge him, if you don't care?"

"Look, Carl appears to be the typical homophobic jock that jumps to conclusions about anyone he sees as being different or less than himself. I've had to put up with that shit all my life, just because I'm smaller and younger than the rest of you.

"The only way I've ever found to deal with his kind of shit is to just duke it out, right from the start. So here we are."

At that point, Carl and three other guys showed up. "Well, well… I really didn't think you'd show up, faggot!"

I calmly walked over to Carl and when I got close enough, I simply popped him in the jaw with my right fist and slammed my left into his midsection. As he bent over, trying to catch his breath, I pounded both fists into the back of his shoulders by his neck. That put him on the ground, where he curled into a ball, gasping.

"Are we done, Carl?" I asked as I took a step back from him. I sure hoped he was, but I had my doubts. My experience said that he would either get up and this would continue, or he would ambush me later on.

Carl got to his knees and looked at me, his face was a mass of rage. He lunged at me and wrapped his arms around my legs taking me down. "You fuckin' queer! I'll kill you!" He yelled. As he began to free his arms, but before he could move up on me, I was able to use the leg he had freed and kicked him hard enough to get him off me.

I rolled and was up on my feet, as he was. He came at me again with a haymaker, which I mostly ducked. I slammed a fist into his midsection and brought a knee up into his groin with as much force as I could. He was down once more, and this time he was in real pain.

The left side of my head hurt, where Carl had connected with a glancing blow. I took a quick look around at the guys that were there. "Any of the rest of you, have a problem with me?" I challenged them.

One of the guys, Jeremy Souter, that had come with Carl was helping him up. The other two held up their hands and shook their heads. Tom walked up to me and clapped me on my back. Then with a grin, he said, "For a little dude, you're a scrapper. Welcome to Elko High!" I could hear a couple of other guys laughing while agreeing with Tom.

I could tell, by looking at Carl, that this wasn't over. Somehow, I had won this round but Carl would want revenge. It was how he was gonna go about it that worried me somewhat. But for now, all was good. It seemed that by confronting Carl head-on, I had won a place with Tom and some of his friends. I could be content with that.

"OK, now I need a Dew," I said, and we all walked out of the alley, and around to the front of the store. I don't know where Carl and his thugs went, I just knew they didn't follow us.

So, here it was. Monday, the first day of the third week of school and I've already been in one fight. I sure hoped that this wasn't the way the rest of this school year was gonna go. That would suck.

After a bit, I said goodbye to Tom and the others (I wish I could remember their names. I'm so bad at that) and left for home.

Once there, I went to the kitchen table and began my homework. Mostly math, but also some History and English. Afterward, I started on dinner. Uncle George would be home by five or six and I generally had dinner ready then.

Did I have to cook? George had made it clear that we could make it together or switch off on days. But it was a habit for me, so I cooked. I liked cooking, anyway. He always appreciated the fact that I could do this. The fact is, I was a much better cook than he was!

I think that George used to eat out a lot before I got here. From the looks of his freezer and pantry, there wasn't much but box meals. But eating out all the time? Once in a while is fine for a change, but it gets old after a while. At least I think so. Should I mention, expensive?

So I cook.

Uncle George got home and changed clothes while I set the table. As we sat down to eat, George said, "Peter, did you run into something? The left side of your face is a bit red and swollen."

"Um, yeah. Ya know that Diversity Club that I went to, Thursday before last? Well, today at lunch, one of the baseball jocks started giving me crap about it. I knew I had to put a stop to it right away. So I called the bugger out and we met after school."

"I understand why you went to that club, Peter. But I also told you what might happen, if'n you did."

"Well, it did. The good news is that this was the only hit I took. I left him with a split lip clutching his balls," I smiled. "The bad news is that it looks like he is gonna be hard-headed and want payback."

Uncle George just shook his head and grinned. "Just don't let yourself get trapped by this guy, Peter. Some of these cowboys are as bad as those idiots in Wyoming."

"Why, what happened in Wyoming?"

"A few years ago, a gay student from the Wyoming University, in Laramie, was brutally beaten and strung up on a barbed wire fence. He was left to die. He was found and died at a Colorado hospital a few days later. His name was Matthew Shepard. His killers were caught and convicted, for all the good it did Matthew.

"I just don't want to see you get caught up in anything like that, Peter."

"Yeah. I'll watch out, but you know if I get ganged up on, it could end badly for me. Happened before, and it will likely happen again.

"I have just never understood how some people will label you, with little or no facts to back it up. I mean, I went to that club once. It wasn't even the opening meeting!"

"A lot of it has to do with how some folks just think they are better than others. Some of it is because they are insecure about who they are. When it comes to sexuality, many are simply raised to believe that anything less than a bible-thumping heterosexual, is being less than human. Lots of little reasons like that."

As we talked through dinner, it became obvious that as far as Uncle George was concerned, sexuality was only a small part of who a person was. He just didn't care about who you slept with. He was more concerned about how you carried yourself and did whatever job you had.

After dinner, we cleaned up the kitchen and watched a bit of TV before calling it a night.

Tuesday morning came and I went through my usual morning routine and left for school after my run. The day was going by, fairly routinely until lunchtime.

I noticed as I sat down, that Carl wasn't there. Neither were the three buddies that hung around him. Tom was looking a bit worried, so I had to ask, "What's up?"

"It's Carl, he's pissed. Word is that he's not gonna let some faggot sucker punch him and beat his ass."

"Is that what I did, Tom? Did I 'sucker punch' him? He's almost twice my size and a couple of years older than me. What was I supposed to do? Let him have the first punch?" I looked directly at Tom, before looking at the other four guys at the table. "Are all of you going along with Carl that I'm gay just because I went to that one meeting? Is that what this is really about?"

Two of the guys had their heads down. Tom was studying his food and wouldn't look me in the eye. "Gods! What a difference a day makes. Tom, I thought we were going to be friends. Guess I was wrong." So I picked up my tray and made to move. "I'm gonna play baseball this year, like it or not. So just fuck you guys and the horses you rode in on." I knew what table the nerds sat at, and figured with my grades, who knows, I just might be welcomed there.

I was. They had no problems with a jock who was as intelligent as they were. There weren't any of them who gave a damn about who I was attracted to… Well, there was one guy who looked like he might have been interested.

He was tall, six foot, or perhaps a bit shorter. Blond hair. Light complected and glasses. Heavy black-rimmed glasses. He had a soft look to him. Not blocky or fat but not skinny. Just sorta soft looking. Staring right at me. I wasn't particularly interested in him, but he seemed interested in me.

It took me a few seconds to realize the guy was in all of my AP classes. His name was Jimmy. Yeah, Jimmy Breslen.

I did notice that for the rest of the week, Carl & company were sitting at the baseball table. Come the last period (PE), nothing had really changed. Carl and I avoided each other. The rest of the guys mostly acted as if nothing was wrong.

The next week was going fine, that is until Friday.

Just after I suited up for PE that day, Coach Anderson called me into his office. As I walked towards his office, the assistant coach, Jonas, went out to start the class. This can't be good, I was thinking. I knocked on his office door and he told me to come in.

"I'll get right to the point, Williams.

"The rumor mill, here, has been cranked up claiming you are gay…"

"I'm sure I know who has been spreading these rumors. So coach… Regardless of my supposed sexuality, how do you propose to handle things? Are you kicking me off the team, before I even get a chance at the tryouts?" I needed to know where he stood. "Because of a rumor?" While I usually tried to deflect answers to indirect questions, I have yet to lie about it if I was directly asked. Well, not since I got here.

"Williams, while I'm sure it has happened, to my knowledge I've never had a gay player on any of my teams. I think I know what most of the kids here are going to think and how they will likely act if we had an openly gay guy here. What I can say is that I will judge a student on his abilities, character, and whether or not it affects overall team play." That last was the sticking point. If I admit to being gay, how will the team react? The coach looked at me as if he could determine the truth of the rumors. He sighed and asked, "What position do you plan to try out for?"

"Shortstop or second base. I think I'm pretty decent in either position."

"Alright. Conditioning starts next week. Be here at six in the morning. Tryouts are the next week after that. Now get out of here and join the rest of the class."

I nodded and left his office.

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