Kaiser's Pack - Next Gen

by Bensiamin

Chapter 6

Jerrod wasn't fazed by what he knew was Matt's bluster and fake anger. He just looked at him, smiling and not saying anything.

Finally, Matt's expression softened, and he said, "I'm sorry if I'm being an asshole."

"You're not being an asshole. You're acting more like a kid that didn't get what he wanted for Christmas. Come on, man. We're all big boys now and it's about working together to find a solution, instead of doing the Debbie Downer thing and making yourself miserable. I know. I did that. It doesn't work."

"Yeah, so."

"So, you've got to get with the program. You're the most competitive athlete I know, but that's not the way you're acting. Some shit happened this week, but it's not the end of the world. Okay?"

"Yeah? If that's so, why does it feel like the end of the world?"

"Come on, man. Sound like you're serious."

"I am serious. This is seriously the shits. I thought I could go to college and have a career, now that's out the window and I'll probably end up flipping burgers or some other low wage job."

"Matt, you don't know that. You also don't know what's possible. Any more than I did last summer when I came out here to get away from my problems and look what happened to me. I thought it was all over and then I found out it was just beginning."

Matt was quiet.

"Can I use your CD player? I want to play you a song."

Matt's eyebrows rose and he suspiciously said, "I've seen this movie before. Jackson and David did it to me."

"Cool! You know the drill, and now I'm going to do it to you… whether you like it or not! Jackson turned me on to a great album from like fifteen years ago by Peter Gabriel, and one of the songs was written just for you."


"Well, you know, not just for you. But for someone in your situation. Gabriel wrote the song about a man who loses his job and has to deal with all the stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness and despair. Gabriel is the lead, but there's a second voice, a female voice by Kate Bush, and she sings about hope and encouragement. I'm going to play it. Will you listen?"

Matt nodded grudgingly. "I don't have any choice, do I? Either I listen or you go sic Kaiser on me?"

Jerrod grinned, walked over to the desk and cued up Don't Give Up .

In this proud land we grew up strong
we were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

no fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I've changed my face, I've changed my name
but no one wants you when you lose

don't give up
'cos you have friends
don't give up
you're not beaten yet
don't give up
I know you can make it good

though I saw it all around
never thought I could be affected
thought that we'd be the last to go
it is so strange the way things turn

drove the night toward my home
the place that I was born, on the lakeside
as daylight broke, I saw the earth
the trees had burned down to the ground

don't give up
you still have us
don't give up
we don't need much of anything
don't give up
'cause somewhere there's a place
where we belong

rest your head
you worry too much
it's going to be alright
when times get rough
you can fall back on us
don't give up

please don't give up
'got to walk out of here
I can't take anymore
going to stand on that bridge
keep my eyes down below
whatever may come
and whatever may go
that river's flowing
that river's flowing

moved on to another town
tried hard to settle down
for every job, so many men
so many men no-one needs

don't give up
'cause you have friends
don't give up
you're not the only one
don't give up
no reason to be ashamed
don't give up
you still have us
don't give up now
we're proud of who you are
don't give up
you know it's never been easy
don't give up
'cause I believe there's a place
there's a place where we belong

Listen to the YouTube video of Peter Gabriel perform Don't Give Up .


When the song stopped playing Jerrod got up and hit stop, then sat back down next to Matt. He waited and Matt was quiet.

"I know you haven't lost your job or changed your name, or any of that stuff," Jerrod said. "But I also know you feel like your dreams have just evaporated and you're a loser. That you always thought you were tough and couldn't be affected, but now you feel like all the trees in your life are burned down to the ground. You may even have had thoughts about standing on that bridge above the dark river down below. Is it something like that?"

Matt said nothing, but eventually nodded silently.

Then Jerrod went on, "So, you heard the important part, didn't you? In the 'Don't give up' verses, where she says don't give up 'cause you have friends, 'cause you're not the only one, 'cause there's no reason to be ashamed and 'cause you still have us and we're proud of who you are. You heard all that, didn't you?"

Finally, Matt said, "Yeah, I did. I heard it. I know it's true, I've just got to believe it."

"Well, believe it, man. Because I'm right here telling you it's true. It's not just me. It's Roger and Nate and your mom and David and Jackson and Eric and Kim and Sam. All of us. That's exactly how we feel. It's not the end of the world, okay? It hurts, and it's the shits right now, but it's not the end of the world. You can't let yourself get totally bummed and depressed by this and ruin your life, or ruin your grades and stuff. We're all working on options to see what can happen for you. You've got to be on the team with us, that's all."

He heard Matt start to say "Why…"

Jerrod turned sideways, and said, "Stop!" Then he leaned over and put an arm around Matt's shoulders and pulled him in for a hug. All he said was "Because!"

He held his larger friend close for a couple of minutes, and could feel the sobs begin, then come and go, finally replaced by some sniffling and then some throat clearing, and then Matt's muffled voice speaking into his chest saying, "What a deal, right? Big athlete and bully crying into the gay boy's chest because he didn't get a scholarship!"

Jerrod was quiet, then he heard Matt giggle and say, "Pretty pathetic, isn't it?"

Jerrod purposefully said softly, "No, not pathetic, just human. Welcome to the human race!" Then he kissed the top of Matt's head. "Remember the deal with Kaiser's Pack. We love each other and take care of each other. Now, before Roger and Kaiser come down here to find out what happened to us, are you ready to put all this shit where it belongs?"

He felt Matt's head nod on his chest, followed very softly by the words, "It feels really good to have you hold me."

"It feels good from this side, too." After a minute or so, Jerrod added, "Okay, let's go see Roger and Nate and Kaiser. I'm leaving the CD here. I want you to listen to it a few more times, okay?"

They both walked into Nate's room to find Roger sitting on the bed next to Nate, playing a video game. Roger had dragged Nate's small desk over to the foot of the bed so the controller cables would reach Nate. The younger boy was furiously playing, and Roger looked up and rolled his eyes as Matt and Jerrod walked in.

"I didn't know you played video games," Jerrod said with a grin.

"Neither did I, but hot shot here wanted to, so I said I would. As you can guess, I'm getting creamed. But it is kind of fun."

They finished the game, Nate whooped at the thrill of winning again, the turned to his big brother and said, "Are you okay now?"

Matt smiled timidly and said, "Better than I was. Jerrod played me a song and told me I had to get my shit together, and if I didn't he'd sic Kaiser on me!"

"No way!"

"That's what I said," Matt replied, as he sat down on the foot of the bed and stroked Kaiser's ears. "I don't think this guy knows what that means." He and the dog looked at each other for a minute, then Matt said, "Anyhow, you guys, sorry I let this get me so down. It's time to give that up and work on a different vibe. Right?"

He looked at Jerrod, and smiled, and got a quick "You've got that right!" response.

Roger glanced at his boyfriend and said, "We better get going. We've got to walk Kaiser and then help David and Jackson because Dieter and Robert are coming over for dinner, remember."

"Oh, yeah! I'd temporarily forgotten. You're right." He turned to Matt and said, "Dieter is an old friend of David's who's the sales manager at the BMW dealership. He's the guy that keeps David in cool cars, and he got me into the Cherokee."

"Are you guys still coming over tomorrow afternoon," Nate asked, "after you're done at the hospital?"

"That's the plan. I wish you were able to get out on that walker and we could all go. Are you getting better at using it?"

"Yeah, but just in the house, and it's clunky. It doesn't work too well for bathroom trips. You know, the frame is in front of you and with this cast it isn't easy to hold yourself up and piss. Let alone get on or off the toilet to take a dump. But…" and here he looked at Matt and grinned, "I've still got the best big brother in the state helping me out with all of that."

Matt smiled softly, and Roger said, "Well, keep working at it. As soon as you start PT, we want to take you out for walks, and remember you've got a rain check for a ride in Jackson's Challenger, too. Remember?"

Nate grinned and nodded his head. Matt walked to the car with them, purposefully walking between them and placing an arm around each of his friend's shoulders. "I know you guys said you came to see Nate, but you usually do that on Sunday. So, thanks for being here today. I really needed the boost." He paused, then added, "Sorry for getting so bummed, but I guess it all just hit so hard after how good the last couple of weeks have felt."

Roger pulled him into a hug at the curb in front of the Cherokee and said, "It's not the end of the world, man. Just think light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn't too many months ago that when I'd have a seizure, I'd go blind. Remember? They kept telling me I'd get through it, and for a while I didn't believe it. You've got to think light at the end of the tunnel. We're all on it for you, man!"

"Cool. I'll see you guys tomorrow afternoon."

Jerrod gave him a quick hug and said, "Just talk about it all with David tomorrow, okay? Don't hold back or be afraid. Let it all out. It'll help, trust me."

Matt nodded, smiling wryly, and then watched the Cherokee pull away from the curb.

Dieter and Robert pulled up out front right on time in their almost new 5 Series E39. David and Jackson had already seen it, but not Jerrod and Roger, who shot out the front door to greet them. Following the requisite huge hugs they insisted on the run down of the car. They talked engine and horsepower, and understood that Dieter had chosen the touring model in burgundy because it was a fabulous road car. "It makes me think of being on the autobahn back in Germany," he laughed. "Robert says he's not a car guy, but even he is coming around to the combination of performance and comfort in this beauty."

He smiled at his partner, rolled his eyes who said, "Yes, that's true. I will say it's a fabulous automobile. But, more importantly, you are two fabulous young men. Rumor has it that you've both been accepted to the college of your choice!"

"For sure. We both were accepted where we wanted, and maybe more important is I can continue living here with David and Jackson." He paused, "I mean, they told me they wanted me to, so that's about the best thing ever. Eric got accepted at Lewis & Clark too, and you guys remember his boyfriend Kim… he got accepted at Portland State and so did Roger. So, Eric and I can take care of each other, and Roger can watch out for Kim."

"Sounds to me like the transportation matter is about to raise its head," Dieter quipped. "Eric can ride up the hill with you, but while Portland State is very convenient by mass transit if you live in the main part of Portland, and you young gentlemen don't, my suspicions are that it will be lengthy and complicated getting there from Sellwood."

They were walking side by side up the sidewalk, approaching the front door, and Dieter continued, "So, Roger, have you and Kim discussed, or spoken to your parents about who is getting a car? I will bet you fifty dollars right now that it will save you half an hour each way if you had your own car."

"Really? I guess I just kind of thought I could ride with my dad or something. But, now that you say that, our schedules wouldn't be the same, will they? And, then there's Kim." He grinned. "I don't drive much, but now I'll have to think about that!"

David and Jackson met them at the front door, and in minutes they were all settled in the living room with their preferred drinks and chatting away. David made it clear that dinner would be easy since they were having grilled salmon. Robert, who wasn't much of a cook raised his eyebrows. David continued, "The spring chinook are pretty good sized this year, and we have a full fillet. The potatoes for garlic mash are prepared and ready to finish, and the green beans will steam while the salmon grills."

They all got caught up on each other's lives, and thirty minutes later David said, "Time to put the salmon on the grill," and the rest of dinner prep followed. The conversation continued to flow over dinner, and finally Dieter looked at Roger, winked, and asked, "Have you thought more about the automobile matter?"

"Well, not really. It's only been an hour." He then looked at David and Jackson and said, "Dieter pointed out how much time Kim and I would save each day if we had a car to drive to campus like Jerrod and Eric will."

David grinned. "The best sales manager in the state, but still a car salesman at heart!" They all laughed, and then he added, "However, that is a subject worth thinking about."

Over dessert Robert announced that since May was their anniversary of twenty years together, he was taking Dieter to Baja in Mexico for a week. They talked about the plans and Jackson said, "How can you pull off a solid week? I mean, I know there's vacation, but you're Dean of the School of Music and May is near end of term and a month busy with student concerts and performances."

"All true, but this year it's possible because there's a Department of Education Teacher Development day on the second Friday. That means no school, and thus no performances that night or the next. I was able to move some class coverage around with other faculty members, and so put together seven days including the weekend." He smiled broadly.

Jerrod asked if the statewide part meant it applied to high school as well?

"That's my understanding. That means you guys will have a three-day weekend in May. What's not to like about that? With Memorial Day at the end of the month, that gives you two three-day weekends before classes end in mid-June."

"That is cool. Memorial weekend is always crazy busy everywhere, this sounds like a nice alternative." Jerrod looked at David and Jackson and said, "Maybe we could plan to go somewhere? What do you think?"

They nodded and Jackson said, "Let us think on that. David doesn't teach, but if all the teachers are off, maybe he will be, too. I can certainly take a couple of days off that week."

Dieter jumped right in. "If that's the case, why don't you all go down and stay at our beach house. You've been there before… well, Jerrod and Roger haven't, but we'll be in Mexico so it will be free. It has three bedrooms as you know, and the weather is usually dependably good in May."

Jackson looked at David who grinned back. He looked at Jerrod and Roger who were grinning, too. "Dieter, that sounds like a pretty great idea. I bet we can get it organized."

He looked back at Jerrod and Roger. "What do you think?"

"It sounds fabulous," Jerrod said. Then he glanced at Roger and added, "If the house is that big can we invite Nate and Matt? It would be really good for both of them."

"And who are Nate and Matt?" Dieter asked, which led to the full story of the former bully and his brother who was recovering from hip surgery. "He starts PT in a couple of weeks, but till then he's been stuck in his house in a cast. The beach would be really good for him don't you think?"

"I'm certain it would. Who you ask to join you is entirely up to you. We're just pleased to make it available and that you want to make a weekend of it."

The evening continued, including cleaning up and washing dishes, and they all adjourned to the living room… until Roger gave Jerrod a sly smile and a few minutes later they both excused themselves and headed out to give Kaiser a final walk and then retired to their room.

Later, Roger was nuzzled up against Jerrod in bed, stroking his belly and said softly, "Weekend at the beach sounds very sexy to me."

"Yeah, but not as sexy as your fingertips doing what they're doing right now!"

After David poured two of cups of coffee the next morning, he sat Matt down at the kitchen table and said, "Do you remember what I told you last Sunday, about how I have an advantage over the typical psychologist because we know each other? Meaning, I know your friends and family, and you've been very open and honest, so we haven't had to spend tons of time getting through all the defenses so that we can talk about your challenges?"

"Yeah, I do. I thought it was very cool. Why am I suddenly worried about that?"

"No need to worry," David replied. "My point is that we can talk about real challenges and be very candid. Do you agree?"

"Yeah." Matt sounded skeptical.

"It's okay to wonder where I'm going with this. I want to talk to you about another subject that I discussed with the GSA at school, and though it starts about LGB kids, it's relevant to all of us. Are you okay with that?"

Matt nodded his head.

"Great. The subjects are depression and suicide. I know that's heavy stuff, and you've had a heavy week, but I think this is important. What most straight people don't understand is that as many as half of LGB teens are clinically depressed at any given point in time. I'm talking clinical depression, not just bummed about blowing a test or breaking up or whatever. Does that surprise you?"

"Yeah, it sounds pretty high."

"I'm sure it does, but the number comes from studies of LGB teens, and guess what goes along with it? Almost as many, like over forty percent have thought about or considered suicide. What do you think about that?"

"That's pretty heavy. Are you serious?"

"I am. Those are real numbers, but the fact is that most of those LGB kids don't talk about it… not even with each other. That's why most of the time everyone has their mind totally blown when there's a suicide, and people and parents say things like 'I had no idea,' or whatever."

He paused and noted that Matt was seriously listening. "Part of why I'm telling you this is that you now have good friends who are gay, and you're meeting other LGB kids at GSA. So, you need to know, and here's some other numbers for you. On top of what I said about the prevalence of depression, did you know that LGB adolescents are four times more likely to actually commit suicide than their straight peers?"

Matt's eyes widened and he shook his head. "Any idea what causes it?" David asked. Matt shook his head again.

"It can be traced back to a lifetime of loss of support from family and friends, bullying, physical and verbal abuse and how all of that rolls up into a thing described as disappointed expectations of their anticipated adulthood. That's probably a new concept for you, but it means you grow up being subtly and not so subtly told you're bad and depraved, that you're not accepted and not good enough, and so you constantly lower your expectations. Most professions still shun LGB people, so you cross off those professions and reduce your career opportunities. Go rent the movie Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and you'll see what much of the legal profession was like just a few years ago. That's where Jerrod's dad was coming from."

"You mean they get so much shit from people, like the way I used to be, that they can't see any good in themselves?"

"Pretty much, and it's compounded by rejection, or no support from family and friends, the people they love and need the most. So, Matt, the point is simply that this stigma that society puts on them results in low self-esteem, lowered expectations, depression, and for many, suicide. That's why four times as many gay kids as straight kids commit suicide."

"That's not just terrible, I hate that I was part of it."

"Good point, and let's talk about that. I don't think you were part of it out of choice, but mainly in reaction to what happened to you with Coach Evan. After you got over the hurt, you responded with anger, which is common. Then over time that turned into bullying and homophobia. Why do you suppose that was?"

Matt was quiet for a few moments, then said, "Because I was so hurt?"

"Yes, that's where it started. But while it's understandable that the anger manifested as bullying, why do you think it was aimed at gay kids?"

"I don't think I want to know, do I?"

"Trust me, you do. It's because the abuse you experienced was from another male. You're not gay, but you were homosexually abused. In my mind, as the anger developed into bullying, the target became gay kids so you could tell yourself you're not gay… in spite of what happened to you."

"But, I'm not gay."

"You're right. You're not. But the nagging doubt is that somehow you must be if Coach Evan went for you. He must have found you attractive because maybe you were really gay? Because he did gay things to you and made you do gay things to him, doesn't that make you gay? Many women who are raped feel it was their fault. There's likely a place in your brain where somehow you think you were to blame about what happened to you. You've been in reaction to what happened for a long time. I think you're past it now, but you still need to understand it."

"You mean I was bullying Jerrod and all the others because I was afraid if I didn't then it meant I was gay?"

"Or that you could be gay, something like that. Think of it as a defense mechanism to assure yourself you weren't. At least, that's the way I see it based on what I know and what you've told me."

"That's fucked. Oh, sorry, I didn't mean that."

"Yes, you did, and it's fine. You're expressing what you're feeling, and at present that's revulsion at what you used to do because you now understand the motivation. You can swear all you want."

Matt was quiet again for a while, then said, 'Okay, I get it. Meaning I guess I understand how what happened to me made me the way I was. Now what? I'm not doing that anymore. My two best friends are gay. I'm going to GSA. God, I even think my little brother's bi! What am I supposed to do?"

"Just what you're doing. You're doing all the right things, beginning with acknowledging it, then changing your behavior, then understanding what caused it. Just understand that you've had a few years of developing that behavior and those habits, and you'll need some time to work through it and undo it."

"You mean like when I said, 'that's so gay' in front of Roger and Jerrod last week?"

David grinned widely. "Exactly. You're not that person anymore. Especially if you think Nate could be bi, you need to be sensitive and accepting. But there's also some unlearning and new learning to do here. And, guess what? You're already well along in doing it. Remember what I said about tagging third base and heading for home? That's what you're doing."

Matt grinned wistfully.

"Now," David continued, "what does all that have to do with you right now? Those levels of depression and suicidal thoughts in gay kids are the result of all the things we've talked about. You've had a bad week with some bad news. We both know that you're not gay and you're not dealing with that specific stuff, but I'm pretty certain that you've been depressed for the last few days. Even if you didn't think about suicide. Jerrod told me about playing Don't Give Up for you. What did you think about that?"

"It blew me away, just like when Jackson played me Behind Blue Eyes ."


"Yeah. It was pretty much how I was feeling, and here this song captures it, but it's not a downer thing, it's balanced with the 'Don't Give Up' verses, and that knocked me back."

"Why's that?"

"Because I guess I was spiraling downward and only thinking of how shitty things were, what was happening to me, and Jerrod had to ring my bell with that song about it not just being about me. About other people caring, and there's hope… stuff like that."

"You understand a lot of people care about you, don't you? And those same people will do whatever we can to help out."

"I do. I told Jerrod I heard it all, that now I just had to start believing it. I am, too. Trust me."

"That's very perceptive. Now, there's one other thing I want to talk about with you and then we'll call it a day. That's becoming emotionally numb. The reality you are now accepting is that you were sexually abused. Set aside the hetero or homo part of it. You were sexually abused. In almost a hundred percent of cases, the abuser is known by the victim, in over a third the abuser is a caregiver of some sort. On top of that it happens frequently in sport, and because of the strength of the coach-athlete relationship, coaches not only have a major influence on young athletes, but the young athletes place a great deal of trust in their coaches. Somewhere between eight and ten percent of young athletes are abused by their coaches."


"Really. The point is that you're not alone, and it's not your fault. The fact is, though, that youth abused in a sports setting, after they recover from the shock and fear and guilt, typically have low self-esteem, strained relationships with their parents, post-traumatic stress, and denial or withdrawal. That's tied to the authority and reverence with which coaches are typically held, and those things have now been violated. And because they're athletic and competitive, many manifest it in anger and aggression. Here's the other thing, for many, but not all, it's frequently accompanied by emotional numbness, lack of commitment in romantic relationships and sexual behavior problems."

Matt was silent, but his expression was blank as he stared at the tabletop.

"That's a lot of stuff to process, Matt, but the point is that what happened to you isn't just one of those things you can blow off like an injury in a football game that you can take care of with some liniment and an ace bandage. It was serious, and for some people the result means serious consequences. I don't see most of those behaviors in you, but I do see some. You need to be aware of that and work on it. That's all."

"David, can I ask you a question?"

David smiled and nodded.

"Why is all this shit happening to me again? I mean when I was a kid life was good, and then my dad dies. Then my Little League career is ruined by that fucking perv coach. I switch to football and skiing and that goes good except for… well, you know, the bullying. Anyway, I finally get sorted out on being a homophobe and bully, get two really great friends, and it feels like my life is getting on track, and now this shit with no scholarships and probably not being able to go to college. Why? Tell me, why?"

"One of the most important things I learned in seminary is that there's no right answers to wrong questions. You know as well as I do that life is not predictable. Your dad died in an accident. On the other hand, some people live to be a hundred years old. Some planes crash, most don't. The decisions about your scholarships were out of your control, so, you're asking the wrong question. The right question is what do I do now? I've been handed three lemons. How do I make lemonade?"

"You make it sound so simple."

"Matt, I'm not saying it's simple, and I'm certainly not saying it's painless. It's also not karma either. Jerrod told me what you told him. I'm just saying the solution, the way out, isn't that complicated if you want to go for it."

"Okay, go on."

"Like I said, you tagged third and are on the run to home plate. But you know what the deal is after you round third, right? It's called 'rounding third' for a reason. You're running a curve, not making a right angle turn and a straight line to home plate. You're pumped because you've come so far, and scoring is so close. But what do you have to do to score?"

"Well, get to home plate!"

"Yes, Matt, that's true. But two things have to happen for that to occur. You've rounded third and that means you're off course. Now you've got to get back on that straight line for home. Also, you have to assume there's a ball being thrown to the catcher to pick you off, what do you have to do?"

"Not get tagged at home by the catcher."

"Precisely! Not that it's so easy anyone can do it. Think of what happened to you this week as going a little wide after you passed third base. You've been thrown off your line, now you need to get back on that line to home, and then size up if there's a ball being thrown in and how to get past the catcher. Think you can do that?"

"Well, I've done it before, but it's been a while."

"Cool. You've had three scholarship rejections. Big fucking deal."

Matt's eyes widened.

"I mean it, Matt. In the grand scheme of things, when at the end of your life you look back on all your accomplishments and the things that didn't come to pass, I guarantee you that it will look like small potatoes."

"Ya' think? Really?"

"Yes, really. You've got before you now the opportunity to perform and affect the outcome. One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell, the man who did the work on mythology I told you about, is this: 'Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.' You've just got to make the decision about where you go from here."

"That sounds good, but you really think this is doable?"

"I do, and with your family and support group, by which I mean your therapy team and the rest of us, you'll work through the worst of it… if you choose to. The post-traumatic stress, the anger, the withdrawal, the low self-esteem, as well as the scholarship matter. Is that what you want to do?"

"I told Roger and Jerrod last week I feel happier now than I can ever remember feeling. Does that count?"

"That counts for a lot. And being able to say it out loud counts for even more. Just keep working on it."

"What else do you see that you haven't told me yet?"

"That to a large degree you're still emotionally numb, though that's starting to change, as evidenced by being able to talk about being happy. You've still got to ask yourself why you don't have an active social life, very few dates, no girlfriend, things like that."

"Jerrod hugged me yesterday when I was in the dumps and I cried on his chest… and told him it had to be a pathetic scene, the bully crying on the gay boy's chest."

He paused, and David understood there was more.

"Then I told him it felt really good to be held. But part of my brain was telling me I was a wimp."

"Not true at all! Turn that part off. The rest of your brain should be telling you that you're a young man getting in touch with his emotions, and that's healthy. But, think about those other things, not having an active social life, very few dates, no girlfriend, and we can talk about it next time, okay?"

Matt nodded, with a smile on his face that wasn't too certain. But he did seem more resolved. David was looking him square in the eyes and Matt softly said, "Is it okay if I have a hug?"

"It's more than okay. I know one of the things that's been missing in your life is just that, from an older man who loves you and who you can trust."

David stood up and Matt followed, and he pulled the teenager close. Matt was tense for a few seconds, then relaxed and settled into the full-on embrace being given to him by this man who was old enough to be his father. His face was in David's neck as he felt his shoulders being rubbed softly, and he was afraid he was going to cry.

He heard whispered softly into his ear, "Jackson always says that in this house there's lots of hugs."

Matt realized he didn't care about thoughts of being a wimp or feeling embarrassed anymore, because this felt good and it felt right, and he was going to get back on the straight line for home plate no matter what!

Matt and Nate's mom answered the door when they arrived after their dog therapy session at the hospital, so Kaiser was still wearing his vest.

"Wow! He's so professional looking in that vest," she said. "Did you have a good session at the hospital?"

"Yes, it was another good day," Roger said. "A lot of new patients who were so happy to have a dog come visit. It's really kind of uplifting to see them break into smiles and their eyes sparkle."

"I can only imagine. By the way, Coach Sam with Eric and Kim came by to visit Nate after lunch. They only left half an hour ago. She's a wonderful lady, and they're really nice boys, too." She grinned conspiratorially. "They're a lot like you two."

Jerrod grinned back at her. "Do you mean because we're all in the same grade, or because they're our doubles tennis partners, or because they're gay, too?"

Laurie was unphased. "I suppose I have to say, 'All of the above.' Sam spent some time with Matt, so I hope that helped. You know your way around, so go on down. Thanks for coming by again today. I know Matt will appreciate it."

"Can I ask you a kind of private question?" Jerrod asked.

Laurie nodded and said, "Sure."

"We're trying to get as much info as possible to see what we can do to help Matt with college. Jackson asked who his father's employer was to look into company education funds."

"I'd never thought of that. It's easy though, he was a project manager for Behlen Construction. They do large scale commercial construction, from skyscrapers to dams. Their main office is in Portland."

"Okay, thanks. We'll let you know if we find anything out." He smiled at her in acknowledgment.

When they opened the door to Nate's room, he and Matt were watching the door. "I knew it was you guys! Hi, Kaiser." The dog jumped right up on the bed as if that was now a standard part of the therapy visit.

"Have you guys had too many visitors yet this weekend?" Jerrod asked.

"Nah, it's been cool," Nate replied. "I didn't know Eric and Kim, so it was a surprise when Coach Sam brought them along. It was neat to meet some new people, though. Was that your idea?"

Jerrod raised his hands in the air, saying, "Not me. I knew nothing about them coming along. I'm betting they were being a pain, and she needed to get them out of the house. Like, Will needed some time with their sister, Susan, or they had to come see you for punishment."

"Yeah, right! Anyhow, it was neat to meet some of your friends. And they're gay and together, too, right?"

"Yeah," Roger said, "you guys are just getting circled by gay dudes. They are good guys, and between them and Jerrod my tennis game is improving a lot. Did they tell you how lousy I am?"

"Well, they said you started out kind of weak! But they also said you're a quick learner and you're serious about it and you've improved a lot."

"That's cool of them to say. Truth is that like a lot of other things in life it's more than that. They all create a fun learning environment, we practiced every week since skiing ended, and they all work hard to help me improve. It's a pretty good formula, and should get even better now, with more practice after school."

"So, how's the tennis team stuff going?" Matt asked. "I mean 'cause it's not a team sport like football, more like skiing with individuals competing as part of a team."

"I think that's what I dig about it. Jerrod was right about getting me on the team to connect me with more people and stuff, but I don't know if I'm the football or baseball team kind of guy. Tennis works for me… kind of like skiing works for you and Jerrod."

Matt nodded his head and didn't say anything.

Jerrod turned to Nate and asked, "How'd it go with Sam? She said she was going to visit you, but she didn't say anything about Eric and Kim."

"It was cool. She's upbeat, and was talking about getting mobile and starting PT, stuff like that. By the time she was done I almost couldn't wait for it to start."

"How long?"

"Two more weeks."

"You know that means you've been out of the hospital for a month! Make your appointments in the late afternoon, and we'll figure out how to toss your ass in the back of the Cherokee with Kaiser and get you there after school."

"That'll be cool. I'm supposed to have a checkup and X-ray next week. You know, one month follow up. Can we try getting my ass in the Cherokee for that? Are you up for driving me up to Doernbecher?"

Jerrod glanced at Matt and wiggled his eyebrows. Matt smiled and nodded.

"We'll do it after school, and we can probably get out early if we need to. When's the appointment?"

"I'll find out from Mom and make it afternoon, okay? Anyway, seeing Coach Sam was great. But then she split to go talk to Matt and left Eric and Kim to keep me busy." He wiggled his eyebrows at Jerrod.

"I'm sure everything was as pure of snow, too, right? No hand jobs?"

Nate grinned. "Well, they are a cute couple, too. Like you guys." He turned to Matt and said slyly, "Don't you think Eric and Kim are cute together?"

Matt tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't, and finally said, "I'd probably call it something other than cute, but they're good together." He paused and decided it was time to give it right back to Nate. "So, did you quiz them about being able to fuck like rabbits, like you did Jerrod and Roger last weekend?"

Nate smiled and tried to control himself, but couldn't and started giggling and then lost it. When he'd recovered, he said, "I tried, but it wasn't the same. I mean, I don't really know them. But it sounds like they're on the same program as these two" He turned to Roger. "What did you call it? Something about decorum?"

"Right. Manners and decorum. They only get to spend a night or two together per week, and Kim's Dad is a very cool guy but ex-Navy, so there's rules. I think Will and Sam consulted with him and David and Jackson and came up with a play book they use on all of us."

He rolled his eyes and they all laughed, and then there was a few moments of silence.

Matt cleared his throat and said, "I know what you want to know, and I was going to tell Nate but decided to just tell you all at the same time. Yeah, Coach Sam ran me down and we had a long talk. She's really a good coach. I mean she knows her stuff, meaning psychology and motivation and stuff. It felt like the kind of talk you'd get at half time in a football game when you know you're the better team but you're down by two touchdowns. Then, it's all about stopping doing the stuff that didn't work, getting over the bad feelings about losing, and focusing on doing the right stuff."

He paused and realized he had been talking to a rapt audience. "She worked me over pretty good, and you know what? She never once put me down. It's just that when she was done talking about all that other stuff it was pretty obvious that the message was about doing the right stuff."

"Wow!" Jerrod said, "and you got that on top of your session with David this morning?"

"Yeah, I'm getting the mega dose today." He'd been stroking Kaiser's ears as he talked, and then he leaned over and rubbed his face on them and said, "David talked to me a lot about how what Coach Evan did to me made me angry and set me up to be a bully and a homophobe. Kind of like a defensive move so I didn't have to worry about being gay. You know, bully gay kids to make yourself feel more like a man. It's pretty pathetic, but I think I understand that better now."

"That sounds like progress."

"Yeah, it was. And he talked to me about being emotionally numb and not having relationships with girls and stuff. I've got to figure out what that all means. But now I get this kind of warm and fuzzy therapy." Kaiser rolled over on his back to have his belly scratched.

They talked about school and homework and the coming week, and then Matt said he was going to see if his mom needed any help.

"You know, so you guys can take care of Mr. Horny here."

Roger winked at Matt, who smiled and rolled his eyes.

Jerrod turned to Nate and said, "So, are you horny again today?"

"Yeah, I've kinda been dreaming about it the last two days."

"Well, we're here and it's my turn." He sat down next to Nate and said softly, "My hands probably aren't as soft as Roger's, but you just think about Michael, and I'll take care of the rest."

Nate laid back on his pillows as Jerrod softly ran his fingertips through his pubes and reached for his shaft. He smiled at Roger who headed to the bathroom for the washcloths.

Nate was taken care of and recovered fifteen minutes later when Roger said they had to get going so Jerrod could drop him home. "See, manners and decorum. My parents let me stay with Jerrod this weekend, but now I've got to be home, do my chores and homework and stuff."

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