Everything But Love

by Joel Young

Chapter 6

Imagining What Might Have Been

After our ordeal with the fox in the chicken coup Saturday night, Mark and I were exhausted. We went back to bed and tried to go to sleep. That fleeting moment of intimacy we had shared was gone. I was awake for some time, but I managed to sleep sporadically during the night.

Mark and I had planned to go to church on Sunday. After we got up that morning, we did the chores, ate breakfast, showered, and got dressed. Sylvia and her mom gave us a ride to church.

It had been a stressful week, and somehow, I felt comforted by sitting in the church's sanctuary, singing hymns, and listening to the sermon on faith and fellowship. After the service, Mark, Sylvia, and I stood in line, waiting for our turn to shake hands with Pastor John. "I want to talk to the three of you before you leave today," the Pastor said. "I have a favor to ask."

While everyone was milling around after the service, I noticed Justin Pennel standing in the hallway by himself. I had not seen him in church before. I immediately went over to him.

"Hey, Justin," I said. "I didn't know you were a member here."

"Officer Nerd!" he said as he reached out to shake my hand. "My family and I are just visiting today. My mom and our minister had a falling out, so we might be looking for a new church. Do you have any jokes for me today?"

"As a matter of fact, I do have some pretty good new jokes," I said. "But they're really not the kind I can tell in church."

"Those are the best kind!" Justin quipped.

I motioned for Mark and Sylvia to join us. I started to make introductions, but they already knew each other. Although they hung out in totally different clicks, they had all been in the Tellico Falls school system since kindergarten.

After Pastor John finished his greeting duties, he came up to us. I introduced him to Justin. We all exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes before Pastor John brought up the subject of the favor he wanted to ask of us. "I'd like to get the younger members of our congregation more involved with our services." He looked at Sylvia, Mark, and me. "It crossed my mind that you three might be willing to provide the music next week while the ushers collect the offerings."

"Sorry," Sylvia said. "My family is going out of town next weekend. But Mark and James might do it." Mark and I looked at each other and nodded our heads in agreement. "Okay," I said. "But I'm not sure what song we'd do. I don't want to choose anything that might upset people."

Pastor John smiled, clearly indicating that he understood our reluctance to sing something that members of the church might find offensive. "I was thinking that 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore' might be a good – and safe - choice," he said. "How does that sound?"

"Sounds good to me," Mark said. I nodded in agreement.

"If James will play the piano," Mark said to Pastor John. "I can sing. But I think adding a guitar would make it sound even better."

"I play guitar," Justin said.

"Great! The three of us can do it together," I said enthusiastically.

"Well then, it's decided!" Pastor John said. "Mark, will you take the lead on putting everything together?" Mark said that he would. Pastor John thanked us all and went to mingle with the other congregants.

"Guys," I said. "I'm not sure we need to use the piano. Since we'll be doing a folk song, how about I play harmonica instead? Mark and Justin said they thought that was a great idea.

"Let's practice after school – in the choir room if possible," Mark suggested. "Justin, can you bring your guitar to school – maybe on Wednesday?"

Sylvia's mom dropped me off at the farm after church. Mark picked up his things from the sleepover before Mrs. Turner drove him home. "Thanks for letting me spend the night," Mark said. "I had a great time." He gave me a quick hug. "See you tomorrow at school."

Uncle Nathan's truck was in the driveway, so I knew he was home. I checked to see if he was repairing the fence around the chicken coup. The entire section with the hole had already been replaced. So, I assumed that my uncle was fast asleep after working a sixteen-hour shift at the dam and fixing the fence.

As I made myself some lunch, I thought back to my evening with Mark and the intimate moment we had shared. "Was he really going to kiss me?" I wondered. Then, I realized that I was disappointed that the kiss never happened. "Oh, my God," I thought to myself. "I have a crush on Mark! Does that mean I'm gay?!?"

Since I had only slept sporadically the night before, I decided to take a nap after lunch. I went up to my room and closed the door. I stripped down to my jockey shorts and got into bed. I tried to sleep, but my mind kept thinking back to Mark and the kiss we almost shared. I started to imagine what might have happened if we hadn't been interrupted by the emergency in the chicken coup.

As I thought about Mark putting his lips on mine, I got a funny feeling in my stomach. And I felt my dick tingling and getting hard. Without even realizing it, I slipped a hand inside of my underwear and began fondling myself. Wow! It felt terrific – like nothing I had experienced before. I pushed my underwear down to my hips and started to stroke my dick, just as Mason had forced me to do for him. I imagined being alone with Mark in my bed.

The more I stroked my dick, the harder it got. From the showers at school, I knew that I had a larger dick than most guys my age. But that afternoon, it looked bigger than ever before. I loved the feeling of my hand going up and down the length of my shaft. And, when I softly squeezed the head of my dick, I felt wonderful! I lost control of my thinking and gave into the tremendous urge to keep touching and stroking myself. But I still imagined Mark lying next to me and cuddling up close.

The elastic band of my undershorts around my hips became uncomfortable. So, I stopped touching myself long enough to slip the shorts off and toss them on the floor. I was completely naked as I stretched out and took my dick back in my hand. The compulsion to continue stroking was overwhelming!

I imagined Mark staring into my eyes and telling me again that he thought I was beautiful. For a moment, I pretended that it was Mark's hand stroking my dick. That's when everything started to change. I thought for a moment that I could feel Mark's body pressing close against mine. Then, all I could focus on was stroking my dick. Soon, I began to tense up. I felt a strange sense of something building up in my balls. I thought I was about to pee. Then suddenly, I squirted a watery, milky liquid out of my dick as I experienced an all-encompassing sense of euphoria.

I took a deep breath and lay quietly for a long time. I looked at the white stuff on my hand. It was similar to what had come out of Mason's dick when he made me jack him off. But mine was thinner and more watery. I remembered that Mason had called it 'cum.' I lifted my hand to my nose. The white stuff smelled a little bit like bleach! I thought about that for a while, and I realized that I had just had what my sex education teacher at Bridgeport Academy had called an orgasm. And what had come out of my dick was semen!"

I was both disturbed and pleased by what I had just done.

I was disturbed because it had happened almost by itself. I certainly hadn't planned it, and I felt as if I were not in control of my actions. And now, I couldn't ignore the fact that I was physically attracted to Mark. It was the thought of him - and imagining that he was touching me - that had triggered my orgasm. That meant that I was probably gay. And I didn't want to be gay!

At the same time, I was pleased that I was growing up. Today had confirmed to me that my body was maturing. In many ways, I didn't feel like a child anymore. Now, I felt as if I had reached a milestone toward becoming an adult. Also, I had experienced the overwhelming sense of physical pleasure that I had heard about but never felt before. I liked it.

After lying in bed for close to half an hour, I finally got up and went into the bathroom to clean up. Before going downstairs, I got dressed and checked my bed to make sure I hadn't made a mess on the sheets.

It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, and Uncle Nathan was eating his lunch at the kitchen table. "Hey, James," he said. "How was your sleepover – other than that damn fox getting into the chicken coop?"

"Mark and I had a good time," I answered. "We watched the Arkansas – Georgia game. And we ordered some pizza and played some board games."

"No girls? No beer?" he asked. He sounded like he was teasing me, so I decided to tease him back.

"There were no girls here last night!" I said defensively. "I would never disrespect your home like that! Those women you saw climbing over the fence in the backyard were from … ah … the power company! Yeah. They just wanted to read the meter."

"Uh-huh," Uncle Nathan said. "And what about the beer cans in the trash barrel?"

There were no beer cans in the trash, so I knew for sure he was just playing with me. I continued the game. "What beer cans? I asked as if I were startled by the question. "There were no beer cans! And definitely not a six-pack! Maybe you saw some - Coke cans – from the pizza place. Yeah, that must have been what you saw – just a few Coke cans."

"Since when does Budweiser make Coca-Cola?" Uncle Nathan asked sarcastically.

But then he ended the verbal sparring. "You're pretty good at joking around, Kid," he said. "You should be a comedian." He got up and put his dishes in the sink. "I don't have to work at the dam tonight, so I'm gonna go catch up on some things in the barn. "You gonna be okay by yourself for the rest of the afternoon?"

I nodded my head. I was standing by the refrigerator. "What's wrong with your pants, James?" Uncle Nathan asked.

That question startled me. "Oh, my God!" I thought to myself. "Did I somehow get semen on my jeans?!? Does Uncle Nathan know that I just jacked off – in Jean's bed?!?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"They're too short on you! They look like flood-pants," he said. "You're growing pretty fast, Kiddo. Ask Aunt Gretchen to take you down to the Farm and Family store and buy some new ones."

I looked down at my pant legs. Uncle Nathan was right; my ankles and socks were showing. "Okay," I said. "I'll do that when she gets home next week."

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," he said. "Your aunt will be home a week early – probably this evening. If I were you, I wouldn't ask any questions."

I wasn't sure what Uncle Nathan meant, but I found out shortly after 8:00 that night. That's when Aunt Gretchen and Mason came in the back door.

"Welcome home!" I said. "Can I help with the bags?"

Aunt Gretchen had a scowl on her face. "Your uncle is bringing in the rest of them," she snapped.

Mason had a suitcase in his hand, and he headed toward the stairs. As he walked past me, he whispered, "Just keep your mouth shut!"

Uncle Nathan brought in some suitcases and set them down next to the stairs. He sat down in the living room, and Aunt Gretchen joined him. Given the coaching I had received not to ask any questions, I said I was going upstairs to finish my homework.

"Not so fast, young man!" my aunt said. "Sit down. I want to talk to you."

I felt a knot forming in my stomach. I sat down.

"What's all this about you letting a fox in my chicken coup?" she asked.

I looked at my uncle for some help, but he turned his head away. "A fox chewed a hole in the fence, and it got in the coop," I said. "It killed six or seven chickens before Mark and I scared it away."

"Mark? What the Hell was Mark doing here?" Aunt Gretchen asked. I explained that Mark and I had a sleepover on Saturday night.

"You're supposed to inspect that fence every day!" Aunt Gretchen said. "One fox can't chew through a thick fence like that in one night! If you had been doing your job, this wouldn't have happened. You're grounded – for two weeks!"

I didn't think I had done anything wrong, but for some reason, I felt guilty. Stupidly, I asked a question. I shouldn't have done that. After all, I had been warned.

"Can I still go to church on Sunday?" I asked. "My friends and I are doing the music while the ushers pass the collection plates."

Aunt Gretchen flew into a rage! She stood up and started flailing her arms. "Oh, my God!" she yelled. "You are just like your mother! She always demanded to be in the spotlight - always hogging the attention. You even look like her! As far as I'm concerned, all you Covingtons can go straight to Hell! Your mother is the most selfish person I've ever met! She always got everything she wanted, and I was stuck with her hand-me-downs and leftovers. Did I get piano lessons? Oh no! Those were for Angela – so she could have a talent for all the pageants. Did I get new clothes every year? Of course not! There was only enough money for Angela to dress like a princess! And, I had to go and watch her parade around the stage acting like Little Miss Perfect! I had to carry her things! I had to be her maid. Well, I'm done with all that. Maybe Angela was runner-up to Miss America. Maybe she dated all the rich and famous men like Frank Sinatra and that country singer Darren McCoy. Maybe she married the richest man east of the Mississippi! But I'm not spending another minute in her shadow! And I'm not raising her sissy son just because she and Ted Covington think they don't have time now that they are expecting another child! Angela can take her $200 a month and stick it where the sun don't shine! And, since Jean has decided to name her baby – my granddaughter – after Angela, she can go to Hell right along with the rest of you!" Aunt Gretchen ran out of the room and up the stairs. I heard her slam the door to her room shut.

I was speechless! I felt as if someone had just run me over with a car, turned around, and did it again – on purpose! I had never heard anyone go into an angry, bitter rage like that – well, maybe except for the time when my father spat in my face and threw me out.

"You shouldn't have heard that," Uncle Nathan said. "She didn't mean all the things she said."

I was reeling from what I had just heard, especially the part about Mom and Dad having a new baby! "That's why they gave me away," I thought to myself. "Dad wants his own son because he thinks I'm too much of a sissy!" I put my hands over my face, leaned over, and tried to fight back the tears forming in my eyes.

Uncle Nathan came over and sat next to me on the couch. He put an arm around my shoulder. "I'm so sorry, James," he said. "It wasn't your fault about the chickens."

Uncle Nathan was a good man, and he had been kinder to me than anyone else on the farm. But really? The chickens? After all that Aunt Gretchen had said, he thought I was crying because I was grounded over the chickens! What about her announcement that my parents didn't have time for me because they were having a new baby! What about the part where she called me a sissy? How about the fact that she said she wasn't going to raise me anymore? What did that mean? Was she going to lock me in my room for two weeks and then put me on a bus to go live with the next set of unlucky relatives?

And then there was the bomb that Aunt Gretchen dropped about my mom dating a country singer named Darren McCoy! I guess my aunt didn't realize it, but she had just told me who my biological father was.

"Uncle Nathan," I said as I wiped the tears off my face. "Ted Covington isn't my real dad. I only found that out a day before my parents sent me here. I didn't know who my real father was. All Mom would tell me was that his first name was Darren. I never knew his last name – until just now. I guess my real name is James McCoy."

"Oh, James!" Uncle Nathan said as he tightened his arm around my shoulder. "I had no idea, Son. You must be in shock! But your aunt didn't know that about your dad. She would never have hurt you like that if she knew."

"But she called me a sissy!" I said. "That really hurt. I hate it when people call me names!" I turned and looked at my uncle directly in the eyes. "Do you think I'm a sissy?"

Uncle Nathan didn't say anything. So, I knew what he thought.

"No one wants me here," I said as I pulled away from him and stood up. "And, I've had enough of living where I'm not wanted. I don't care what Aunt Gretchen says. I will not let her ground me for two weeks. I'm leaving - tomorrow!"

"Oh, for Pete's sake! Sit down!" Uncle Nathan said, sounding a little irritated. "You're not going anywhere. I'm still the Man of this house, and I say you're welcome to stay. I'll talk to your aunt. She's not mad at you, James. She's mad at Jean for naming the baby after your mother. She just needs time to settle down. Promise you'll give me some time to fix this before you run off and get yourself into a bunch of trouble!"

I thought about what my uncle had said. "Okay," I told him. "But only if you answer my question – truthfully. Do you think I'm a sissy?"

It took Uncle Nathan a long time before he answered my question. "Well, not really a sissy," he said. "It's just that you're – delicate. I mean, you look fragile. And you're so thin that a strong wind could send you flying through the air. Some of that will change as you get older."

I didn't like what Uncle Nathan said, but I knew it was true. I decided right then and there to make changes to my appearance. I would put on some weight, and I'd start exercising and running track to look stronger. And while I was at it, I'd get my braces off! And I would replace my glasses with contacts!

I said goodnight to Uncle Nathan and went to my room. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I remembered a line from the movie "Gone with the Wind." I made a fist and held it up in the air as I spoke in a firm and angry voice. "As God is my witness, I will never be a sissy again!"

The following day, I came downstairs to do my chores. Aunt Gretchen was in the kitchen. We didn't speak to each other before I went out back to take care of the chickens. When I came back into the house with a basket of eggs, there was a hot breakfast waiting for me – with a note that read, "I'm sorry!" I set the eggs on the counter and sat down at the kitchen table to eat. Aunt Gretchen took a seat across from me.

"You're not grounded," she said to me. "Your uncle said that I was the one who should be grounded."

Part of me wanted to be mean and tell her off. Part of me didn't want to believe that she was sincerely sorry. But it wasn't in my nature to be spiteful. "Let's just forget about it," I said.

"That would be good," Aunt Gretchen said. "But first, I want you to know that I knew nothing about Ted Covington not being your real dad. And I'm very sorry that I said enough for you to figure out who your real father is. You shouldn't have found out that way. And I regret that I told you about your mother's new baby. It wasn't my place to do that."

"What about you calling me a sissy and saying you won't raise me anymore?" I asked. "Did you mean those things?"

"No, James," Aunt Gretchen said. "I let my anger get ahold of what I was thinking and saying. You're not a sissy, and I am glad you're here. You've already become part of the family. Will you forgive me?"

"Okay," I said. "I accept your apology. I know you were upset about Jean naming the baby after my mother. But I want you to know something, too – I am NOT a sissy, and I won't be anybody's whipping boy!"

Aunt Gretchen nodded her head. "Okay then." she said. "I promise to do better. You're only thirteen, and I shouldn't take my frustrations out on someone your age."

"I'm fourteen," I said.

"Your mother told me you were thirteen!" Aunt Gretchen said. "When did you turn fourteen?"

"Yesterday," I replied.

Aunt Gretchen looked embarrassed. "Oh, no!" she said. "We forgot your birthday!"

"Yeah, well," I said. "There seemed to be a lot of other things going on around here."

I went upstairs and got ready for school. I rode with Sylvia so I could avoid being around Mason. I was happy to get away from the farm and all the drama from the weekend. I didn't mention anything to my friends about my birthday or my aunt's tirade. I just pretended that everything was fine. I tried to concentrate on the only thing I was looking forward to that week – practicing with my friends and singing at church on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Mark, Justin, and I had a great practice session in the choir room after school. Justin played the acoustical guitar beautifully, and our singing sounded pretty good. Mark and Justin both said that I did a great job on the harmonica. We were all excited about performing together on Sunday.

When Aunt Gretchen, Mason, and I arrived at church on Sunday morning, the ushers were running around frantically - as if they were looking for something. "We can't find the sound equipment!" the head usher explained. "It's kept in the cabinet right by the Alter, but it's empty!"

Pastor John came up the stairs from the basement. "None of it is here," he said. "Someone has stolen the sound system!"

"Oh, my God!" Aunt Gretchen exclaimed. "That's awful! Who would steal from a church?"

"I'll call the Sheriff after services," the Pastor said. "In the meantime, I'll just have to preach without a microphone." He looked at me. "And you and your friends will have to project when you sing!"

Pastor John started the service by explaining to the congregation what had happened to the sound system. I could see how upset people were. And I understood exactly how they felt. I was unnerved by the thought that someone had broken into the building and taken things from the church. I think that was part of what made Justin, Mark, and me nervous as it came time for us to sing.

Pastor John called for the ushers to come to the Alter for the offering plates. As soon as they went back into the pews, my friends and I went up the steps to the Alter. We settled into our places. I began by playing two choruses of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" on the harmonica while Justin accompanied me on the guitar. Then, Mark, Justin, and I sang the choruses together, and we traded off on the solos. We invited the congregation to sing and clap along on the choruses.

Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah


Sister helped to trim the sails, hallelujah
Sister helped to trim the sails, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah


The River Jordan is chilly and cold, hallelujah
Chills the body but not the soul, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah


The river is deep, and the river is wide, hallelujah
Milk and honey on the other side, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

I finished up with another chorus on the harmonica. As the song ended, Pastor John came up onto the Alter. "Let's thank these fine young people for sharing their talents with us today." Then, he introduced us. "That was James Covington on harmonica; group leader Mark Salinger; and new to our church, Justin Pennel, playing guitar. The congregation gave us a loud and sincere round of applause.

The sermon was next, and it surprised me. The topic was the importance of congregational singing in worship. I hadn't realized that Pastor John had recruited Mark, Justin, and me to set the stage for his remarks. As such, I was glad that our performance had gone well!

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