by Richard Norway

November,1945. My brother, Jeremiah, and I were on top of the world because the never-ending war was over, and Dad had finally come back home to our farm. Our family was together again for the first time in four years.

I missed Dad from when he left for the training center. Mom, although sad at times, did everything she could to keep our family together, always stoic, and keeping a 'stiff upper lip,' as she told us the British say. I tried to keep up with her; I really did, for years, but it just wasn't enough.

I told my brother, it started when he got his black eye, but Jeremiah said it all started when Mark moved into town.

Dad's absence was daunting for all of us. We were just barely able to keep the farm going, as I was only 11 years old when he left, and my brother, 12. Dad didn't have a lot of money to send back, but our neighbors helped out a lot; bringing meals, helping out on the farm, and even taking my brother and me out to an occasional movie in town. The feed and fertilizer stores advanced us what we needed to plant and keep the crop healthy. They did this on credit saying they knew our dad would make it right when he came back. My family was well known and established over decades in the area; our roots were in the land.

Joshua Olson, my great-grandfather on my dad's side and from whom I got my own name Joshua, spent a short time on Ellis Island with his young wife in 1891 before arriving in Northern Minnesota, a previous settler had sponsored him. He was straight off a farm in the Southwest area of the Telemark region of Norway where hogs and chickens were the major component of the economy. While grain was an exceedingly small percentage of his former farm production, great-grandpa Olson saw the rich soil of Northern Minnesota and knew grain was what he had to produce.

Even though this region of northern Minnesota was known as 'Little Siberia,' developing a small farm with his new wife was by no means an impossible task as land was cheap and fertile. Settlers, mostly from Norway, had tamed the region fifty years before my great granddad's arrival and encouraged former neighbors attracted by the good land, to immigrate to the area The region started to be settled 50 years prior to my great granddad's arrival mostly by fellow Norwegians. Other farmers, attracted by the cheap land, continued to arrive. Grandpa's farm was surrounded by those of fellow countrymen.

Shortly after my great-grandfather established his farm, the crossroad nearest all the farms became known as Olson's Corners. Joshua Olson had a vision of the potential of the fertile soil around him. He watched the b usinesses grow in the area to satisfy the farmers' needs, and only in a few years, a railroad made its way into the area. They called it the Soo Line.

My grandfather, Carl, was born just two years after my great-grandfather's arrival. When he was old enough, of course, he helped his father till the land. The land was part of the ancient floodplain of the Red River of the North that separated North Dakota from Minnesota, where floodwaters had laid down a rich black soil. By the time Carl was working with his father, the farm had grown considerably. Carl kept his eyes open and paid attention to the world around him.

An industrious boy, Carl saw a future in grain and landed a job at a grain elevator in Olson's Corners. These giant storage silos were called elevators because of the scoop-type elevator – a bucket elevator - that lifted the grain and distributed it via conveyor belts to the large storage silos. Farmers would haul their crops to grain elevators for temporary storage before they were shipped in box cars to the rest of the country.

Carl loved the business, worked hard, and rose to become its general manager. Carl and his wife, Sadie, were devout Lutherans. He became a deacon at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Olson's Corners, while Sadie headed the women's group.

My dad, Richard, was born to Carl and Sadie in 1908.

While my grandfather worked the grain elevator, teenaged Dad wanted to get back to the land. After graduating from high school - yes, the town now had a high school - he asked my grandfather if he could work for him. Of course, his own father wanted him to get involved in the grain business, probably further along the trail of the grain, and maybe even become a futures trader. Dad retorted that he couldn't live a life in a large city; he wanted to be part of where he came from, and that was the land. These strong desires led him to devote himself as he grew to learning everything there was to learn about farming from his grandfather.

Sadly, Carl Olson passed away before his own father did at quite a young age. When my great-grandfather did pass away, all the land and equipment was left to my dad. I wouldn't call us wealthy, at least not like many Wall Street investors were, but we had enough for up-to-date farm equipment, food on the table and an occasional night out.

My mother, Elizabeth, captured my dad shortly after he graduated from high school, and they married in 1927 when he was nineteen. Within two years, the Great Depression slowed work on our land as prices of grain fell, but my family persevered even as many of our neighbors did not. Dad bought their property when he could, keeping it for the families he purchased it from, awaiting their return. Because Dad was starting to do well when the depression was winding down, and was out of debt as well as a generous man, he sold the land back to the original owners for exactly what he paid them. Dad's not insubstantial gift was the land's added value due to inflation.

My brother, Jeremiah, was my parent's first born, a year older than me. I arrived in 1929, just as Dad's farm expanded to almost 800 acres. The drought suffered by many of the states south of us was felt here too, but only slightly due to the rains coming out of Canada.

As the depression wound down, we could see disaster on the horizon. WWII broke out, and my father was drafted in 1941, creating a serious hardship for Mom. Through it all, her stiff upper lip kept us together.

In 1942, with Dad gone and my thirteenth birthday approaching, Mom allowed me to spend time with my grandfather during his workday at the grain elevator during my summer from school. I observed and learned what made the grain elevator work, helped where I could, and played on high piles of gunny sacks of wheat in the warehouse. He even allowed me to shoot a 22-caliber rifle loaded with bird shot at the small birds gathered outside of the buildings going after spilled grains. I got quite a few. Shooting any type of gun in town would not be allowed today, but that was a different time.

Even with our dad off to war, my brother and I were as happy larks to be twelve and thirteen years old. The age difference meant nothing to us. We were always together. Life was simpler back then, of course. I mean we didn't have to worry about the Russians attacking us or tornados like they have south of us or not having enough to do. We always had the farm work, and we could go to our regular fishing spot on the lake bordering our property (now called Olson's Lake), where we caught walleye. I remember when I finally caught my first three-pound walleye one day on the spinner I had picked out instead of the one my brother was using. He got skunked that day. I wouldn't let him forget it, and whenever I brought it up, he would yell, "Just shut up." So, I kept bringing it up in order to continue the brotherly love between us.

Being with my brother made the separation from our father bearable. I can still remember how Dad started to teach me what being on a farm was all about; During the time he was away, my brother and I filled our time with the farm work and occasionally just fishing by ourselves awaiting Dad's return.

I can still remember how Dad started to teach me what being on a farm was all about; how we had to watch the weather for planting, how we had to get the fields ready for the first seeds to be sown, how the equipment had to be repaired during the winter so as to be ready for planting time in the spring and harvest time at the end of summer, and how the harvest should proceed. Farming seemed like a never-ending job. Dad had worked hard all his life to give us what we had. I loved my dad because he cared about us.

Dad had farmed our land before the war and was incredibly happy to get back to what he loved after the war was over. We grew mostly wheat, but years later we switched to soybeans as a more profitable crop. Farming is a difficult job as you're always dependent on unpredictable weather. Not enough rain or too much rain can ruin a crop or reduce its season's yield. I could see it in his eyes and temperament when he came in from his day's work; he was always tired from working to keep up the farm. We had one farm hand, Billy Radneicki, who helped Jeremiah and me with what needed to get done. Billy was only 20 years old when he started working for us in 1939, but I knew his family needed the money we could afford him. I learned a lot from him about always keeping the machinery running.

Our livelihood always seemed to be subject to the weather. Our income for the year depended on how the wheat grew. We lived simply at that time. Not too many extravagant things came our way, but we didn't think about such things back then, nor did we care. We had too much farm work to get done, but we never forgot the required fishing time either. In 1954, Aaron Copeland premiered his opera, The Tender Land ; commissioned by Rogers and Hammerstein, the musical giant of the time. This opera so exemplified how my family cherished the land, its harvest, and our feeling of community. It was truly a promise of living.

Dad was a foot soldier in the war but wouldn't talk about it much. I knew he was in a battle in some place in Northern France that I couldn't name at the time, but General Patton had to race his tanks up from Southern France to save them. I now know it was a place called The Ardennes in Belgium. Dad survived, thank God, and is now home.

My brother Jeremiah and I both attended high school in our small town together, being only eleven months apart in age. He was the school jock and eventually became the captain of our football team. He was good, I have to admit, and scored more touchdowns in his final year than the previous record. Me, I loved to play tennis, but our school didn't have a tennis team back then. I usually found a few friends who would play, or like me, practice at a court provided by the city in a park. I loved it. I think it was a difference in what we wanted from our sport's activities. Jeremiah wanted to be a part of a team, while I wanted to play for myself. For some reason I had evolved to be more introverted while he had become more of an extrovert.

It was a day in late August when the train pulled into Olson's Corners bringing our families together again and it spawned a day of celebration for the entire town. V-E day (Victory in Europe) occurred on May 8, 1945, when the Germans finally surrendered to the Allies. By the time the train pulled into our town, we had only two more weeks of summer, but they closed down the town completely for that day. Mom, Jeremiah, Billy, and I waited impatiently around the train station with almost the entire town's population.

When it was time, and the train began to slow as it neared the station, the high school band began playing the Star-Spangled Banner . When the train finally came to a stop, the conductor placed the steps in front of the passenger car's exit doors, and the soldiers started to walk off the train.

I searched for my dad as I studied each one of their faces. Finally, he walked down the steps in his uniform, looking so very handsome, tall, and thin. He held his head high, taking in the grand reception he and his fellow soldiers were receiving. As he noticed us starting toward him with broad smiles across all our faces, he pointed to the side of the platform and started to walk in that direction. I guess it was so we could have more room to greet each other.

He started to walk faster the closer we got to each other. He dropped his duffle bag and started to run toward us. When he reached us, he collided with Mom and hugged her for like forever, kissing her repeatedly without letting her go. He raised his head and just stared at Jer and me for a few moments, shaking his head slowly. He finally let Mom go and turned to us.

I looked at Jeremiah briefly, and then turned as we both engulfed our dad in a hug, welcoming him home. Home. I thought about that word as I was hugging my dad. It now felt like a home again, a complete home with a complete family. We looked around us to witness the welcoming all the families were going through. It was a happy time for us. But some of the families were not there, as they had no one to greet.

"I left two boys and returned to two young men. Jeremiah and Joshua," he said, shaking his head in wonder, "how you've both grown." Dad was smiling at us like I've never seen him do before.

He then turned toward Billy, who was standing off to the side, watching us.

"Welcome home, Mr. Olson," Billy said as he stuck out his hand for a handshake.

"Come here, Billy. You deserve a great big hug too. You're a part of this family and look at how you've grown, too."

Dad gave Billy a hug, and Billy grinned.

Jeremiah drove us home as he had his driver's license, although most farm boys, including me, knew how to drive. We'd learned long ago to drive the farm tractors, not just on the farmland but the connecting gravel county roads. Billy and I had to sit in the back bed of our truck with Dad's bag as there wasn't nearly enough room in the cab for all of us, but I didn't mind. I could see Jeremiah through the rear window talking nonstop. He hardly let my dad speak at all, while mom just smiled at the two men getting to know each other again. Jeremiah, I was sure, was also filling Dad in on all that I would have told him.

When Jeremiah finally parked the truck in front of our home, he, Billy, and I carried Dad's duffle bag into the house. As Dad was getting settled in, Billy left to head for his home. It was about a mile from us, so his pickup ride was easy. I really liked Billy. He was a little simple, very talkative, and really liked working on our farm and working for my dad.

It took Dad a while to settle into our home. His mind was having a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life, as it was quite a change from the war he was used to. Things were quieter now. A few times when we were all sitting around in our small living room, he would suddenly become quiet, incredibly quiet, and just stare off into the empty spaces of the room. We, of course, held our voices at those times, waiting for him to return to us. But, as quickly as his mind would leave the room, he'd return and was listening to us again, fully engaged. During those times, Dad kept returning to talking about the war and what he had endured and witnessed. You could tell he was thinking about the widespread deaths because his face showed his pain. But when he was with us again, he noticed how little things at home had changed from when he left.

Mom was telling Dad all about how we had managed to keep the farm going. Dad listened quietly, and when Mom had filled him in with all he had missed, Dad turned to all of us.

"We will have to make a plan of how we're going to continue from this moment on. We're all home now, so this plan should include all of us. You boys don't have school for the next week, so let me go talk to a few people over the next few days. When we're all set, we'll start making our family recovery plan. That okay with you guys?"

Jer and I looked at each other for a moment and then turned back to Dad, smiling, and we both nodded simultaneously.

I really was looking forward to school starting up again the next week, just after Labor Day (coincidentally the day Japan surrendered, finally putting the war to bed). But things were about to change.

Excitement permeated the air as Jeremiah, and I came down to breakfast for that first day of school. Mom had made us our favorite breakfast of rommogrot (a Scandinavian wheat porridge that we loaded with butter and sugar) fried eggs, toast and orange juice.

Our farm was close to the school, maybe a fifteen-minute walk. While we traversed that short distance along the gravel county road toward town that first day, I turned to look at my big brother and found him looking at me. We both wanted to speak; he let me go first.

"Since you're a senior now," I finally said, "are you looking forward to football one last time?"

Jeremiah nodded his head at me, and said, "You betcha," then smiled. "I don't know if the coach will let me be the team captain this year, though Remember, I was only on the junior varsity team year before last, and there are a lot of juniors from last year's varsity who will be eligible."

"I hope you get it, Jer."

"Me too, but we'll have to wait and see." He grinned and smiled at me. "What about you, Josh? Still thinking about tennis? We don't even have a team."

"I know, but I keep hoping the school will start one. I know it'll be difficult 'cuz most of the schools in the area don't have tennis teams, and so it would be near impossible to find any competition."

I looked away for a moment, but then looked back at Jeremiah and smiled.

He looked away from me, scanning the fields of growing wheat but soon looked back at me.

"Don't worry, Josh. We may not have an official school tennis team, but knowing you you'll find a way to make your own team."

I'm not sure if I understood what Jeremiah was talking about as I frowned at the gravel passing under my feet. I kept my attention toward the ground for a few moments, shuffling my feet in the dust before I looked back up at him.

"What do you mean, my own team?" I asked.

Again, he looked back at the fields.

"Josh, you'll make whatever you want out of your life. You've always been that way. The way I see it is if you like tennis so much, you'll find a way to find the competition you need so you can grow at it."

He then smiled at me as I turned my attention to the wheat field on my right, thinking or perhaps dreaming, about my wants in life. I still had no idea what I wanted do.

Within one month, the school district would be opening bus service. We were the last stop toward town as we still lived only a half mile from town and three-quarters of a mile from the school, but as the bus drove right past our house, we were going to be added to the stops it made.

When we entered the school building, Jeremiah headed toward his locker while I headed in the opposite direction toward mine. As I was opening the combination lock, a kid I didn't recognize walked up and started opening the locker next to mine. He glanced at me for a moment before returning his gaze to the inside of his locker. I stared at him for a second and then turned back toward my locker.

"Hi," I heard him say.

I looked back at him with a smile, noting he was looking at me again.

"Hi," I replied. "I'm Joshua," trying to be friendly to someone new.

"My name's Mark." He hesitated for a moment, looking at me, but continued, "We just moved here from Cleveland, Ohio."

Mark seemed to me to be one of those kids that were just super friendly and easy to like.

"From Ohio? Whatever made you move to the arctic North?" I grinned at him, then said, "Our winters are a lot worse than yours."

He looked away from me, staring down the hallway filled with kids. A moment later he looked back toward me with a grin on his face. That grin was captivating, and it caught my attention. It fit his boyish round face. He looked more like he was a surfer from Hawaii, without the tan, of course.

"I love the cold. Yeah, we had snow in winter in Ohio, but it was never enough for me. I loved to go downhill skiing on what small hills we had around. We had plenty of flat ground, though, for cross country skiing."

Mark seemed to be athletic with the skiing he seemed to like. I was starting to like him.

"Dad got a job with a company called Simplot that sells fertilizer to the farmers, and he'll be heading their office here in Olson's Corners. I'm as excited to be here as is my dad is."

"What does your mom think of this move?" I asked.

"Ah, it's only me and Dad. My Mom left us when I was six years old," Mark said, and looked at the floor.

It was easy to see that his mother leaving him was still hurting him inside. I wished I had a way to get him out of that darkness.

"I'm not sure I've met anyone that really wanted to move to this town. Most of the people I know were born here and stayed, but their kids have left. Those that stayed put, stayed because this is all they've ever known. So, what do you like to do in the summer?" I asked.

"You mean when my dad's not making me work for him at his fertilizer plant?" he asked with a chuckle.

"Yeah, in your free time."

"Once in a while, I try to play tennis, but I'm only a beginner and not particularly good at it yet."

"So do I! That's like me. I dabble at tennis when I can too," I said.

Then, I looked at him with a somewhat more serious expression.

"I guess you must have been a little sad about leaving Cleveland."

"Not me. I wanted to get out of Cleveland as soon as I could. I thought it would be after I graduated from high school, but Dad's new job changed all that."

His smile held steady. He looked about my height at 5'-11" and his hair was a light blond color which I found intriguing. It was long on top but short on the sides and parted in the middle. That was way different than what I was used to seeing around here. Then I noticed his eyes. They were a light shade of blue, but what attracted me was their sparkle. I found it difficult to look away.

"What's your last name?" I asked.

"It's Nelson. I know it's a common name, and Dad's got a few relatives that live around here. I guess that's one reason why he was excited about coming to Minnesota."

"Mine's Olson, and I know a few Nelsons. Some of them are farmers, and some own stores in town. They're all over."

"Olson?" He looked at me with a curious expression. "Are you any part of the town's name?"

I chuckled. "Well, yeah. The town's named after my great grandfather. He was one of the first to settle here a long time ago, but within a few years after settling here, many other farmers arrived and settled around his farm. There are two gravel roads that cross about a mile from where my great grandfather's farm was located. That intersection became known as Olson's Corners, and the town grew from there."

"Wow. You must be famous."

I laughed. "No, my great-granddad's famous. I'm just trying to get through high school," I replied.

Just then the bell rang, signaling we had only a few minutes to get to our first class. I started to walk away but stopped and looked back at Mark.

"Do you know where your next classroom is?"

Mark looked around with a blank expression. It was obvious he had no idea where he was to go. I glanced at the clock on the wall, knowing we had only a couple minutes, and made the quick decision that he needed my help more than I needed to get to my class. So, I turned around and walked back to him.

"Can I see your schedule?" I asked him with my hand out.

He pulled a piece of paper out of his back pocket and handed it to me. I looked at it for a few moments, then looked back up at him and smiled.

"This is great. You and I are in the same class first period. Follow me, but we'd better hurry."

His eyes opened wider as that smile returned to his face.

"Great! You lead the way," he said.

I turned to get to our US history class; he also turned and followed me. We just made it to the door when the second bell went off. I stared at the door, knowing we were technically late.

"Let's hope we're not in too much trouble. Mr. Wilcox is a stickler for being on time," I whispered to Mark.

I looked at Mark, smiled, opened the door, and we walked inside. All the students were in their seats waiting for Mr. Wilcox, the teacher, to start the class, but he was staring at us as we entered.

"Glad to see you could make it, Mr. Olson," he stated.

"I'm sorry Mr. Wilcox. Mark here is new to the school, and I was helping him find his classrooms. I'm sorry, and it won't happen again," I said, continuing to look at Mr. Wilcox.

Mark handed Mr. Wilcox his admission paperwork. The teacher looked at it before looking back at Mark.

"Welcome to Lincoln High School, Mr. Nelson. This a good school, and I think you'll like it here."

Turning to me, Mr. Wilcox smiled, looked around the room, and said, "There are two empty seats next to each other," pointing at them. "Both of you, please go sit down so we can begin class."

Mark smiled at Mr. Wilcox and followed me down the row to our seats.

Mark and I started our friendship that first day at school in 1945. He was such a lively boy, seemed full of hopes and dreams for his future, a future we all shared. You'd think his life wouldn't be easy because he'd had come from a large city, but quite the contrary. He seemed like a small-town boy like the rest of us. I assumed he was hoping for a simpler life here.

As the day went on, I showed him to his other classes, and we made a start at becoming closer friends.

During lunch that day, Mark looked around to find a table after picking up his lunch from the food line. He spotted me with a couple of my friends and headed my way. As he approached, he stood behind the only empty seat, a seat which happened to be directly across from me. Mind if I sit here?" he asked.

I looked around at the people sitting at our table and received shrugs from most of them.

"Sure. Have a seat, Mark," I said to him.

Mark sat down, removed his food from the tray and arranged his lunch in front of him. Everyone at my table had turned and was looking at Mark with that 'Who the hell are you?' look in their eyes.

I figured it was time to make introductions.

"Hey guys. This is Mark Nelson. He just started at Lincoln today, and he's a junior like us."

Then going around the table, I introduced Mark to my friends.

"There's Michael, but you better not call him Mikey. He hates it. Then there's Al, short for Alfred, Cayla, who's glued to Al, and Betty. She's still looking."

I noticed Betty's eyes were focusing on Mark.

"And I can't forget Steve. He's my best friend."

"This is our table, and you're welcome to join us anytime," I said.

When Mark was finished getting situated, he looked up at me and the rest of the group and said, "What do you guys, and gals, do for fun here? Do you play any sports? Joshua told me he dabbles at tennis."

Michael spoke up, trying to be friendly to the new kid. "We're farm kids, so we spend most of our time working on our farms. But in season, Al and I are on the baseball team at school. It works well for us because practices start indoors during the late winter."

I looked up at Mark with my hamburger still in my hands and responded to his remark about playing tennis.

"Yeah, I do, but this high school doesn't have a team, so it's hard to play regularly or find a coach to help me learn the game," I replied.

"I like to play," Mark said. "I mean, I'm not really any good, but our school in Cleveland had a team, and I was on it. I didn't get to play many matches, 'cuz the coach usually picked the better players to compete. But I had some lessons and loved the game."

"Well, maybe it could be something we could do together. My brother, Jeremiah, and I play at the city park tennis courts. We could play there," I replied.

Then, I thought for a moment, thinking of something else for Mark to do.

"Jeremiah and I usually go to our lake to fish on weekends. It's not really ours, but we call it ours because it's on our property line. It's called Olson's Pond," I chuckled.

Mark looked down at his half-eaten hamburger for a moment, and then he looked back toward me with what appeared to be a longing in his eyes.

As I thought about it, I mentally kicked myself because I told him about fishing earlier but never brought it up again. And then he mentioned tennis. I realized we had more in common than I had thought.

"Would you like to go fishing with me sometime?" I asked.

"You better go with him," Steve chided in. "If he's by himself, he always lies about the size of fish he catches."

I gave Steve a dirty look and the finger.

"Do not," I rebutted.

"Do too."

Mark heard our exchange.

"I hoped you would ask. I haven't done it very often, but I liked it, and I'm willing to learn," Mark replied.

I put my knuckles to my lower jaw, and looking into Mark's eyes, resting my elbows on the table. He had a slight hurt look in his eyes. I knew it was because he must have really wanted to do things with me.

"Mark, if you can come fishing with me, I could teach you how to fish. And in return you could play tennis with me and maybe I could learn more about the game."

He looked at me and chuckled with that smile on his face I seemed to like.

"This Saturday would be good for me, if it's all right for you?" Mark asked.

I thought for a moment, wrinkling my brows. Then I looked back at him.

"Oh, shit Mark, I can't. Dad's got this BBQ planned for the entire town as his gift to them for welcoming him back home. I can't miss that, Mark."

Mark looked down at his almost finished hamburger before looking back towards me.

"That's okay, Joshua," he said.

Oh, Christ, I suddenly felt like a jerk. I thought being new to the town, Mark and his dad probably weren't invited because my dad didn't know them yet. I looked directly into his eyes and didn't see the sparkle that had been there before.

"Mark, why don't you and your dad join us at the BBQ? I'm sure Dad would have invited you if he'd known you were new here. It starts around noon." I definitely wanted him to be there. This would be a great opportunity for my family to get to know him and his dad.

"Let me talk to my dad. I know he wants to get to know all the farmers in the area. This would be a great opportunity for him," Mark responded.

"So, you're coming then," I stated with no uncertainty in my voice.

"I'll talk to my dad." he said again, looking at me.

I smiled, nodding my head up and down in the affirmative, leaving it at that.

Soon after Dad got home from the war, he started planning the gathering at our farm for our family and all the families he knew. He was planning for over 200 people to be there. I knew my dad couldn't afford it, but it seemed necessary to him. It was to be a BBQ in the grass lawn around our house, and we had butchered four full hogs for twenty-four pork roasts. Jeremiah and I had to construct a fire pit out of concrete blocks that must have been thirty feet long for the roasts. We had asked Dad to help us weld a grill in sections to span the width of the grill that, when fitted together, would span the entire length of the fire pit. He looked at us wondering who came up with that idea. Jeremiah said I did, but I knew it was mostly his idea. Dad then asked us to include an angle iron at the edge to hold the grill sections. Dad smiled at us. I thought about what a family is based on and that's honesty.

So, I said, "No. It really was Jer's idea." Dad looked at us, and he smiled broadly. I guess he could see that my brother and I were a team protecting each other. His smile only grew as he nodded his head. Dad helped build the grills for both Jer and I, but he did most of the work.

On the day of the gathering we had corn on the cob followed by a crock full of melted butter to dip them in, pork roasts, some shredded for sandwiches and others for just sliced roast meat, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, baked potatoes, rolls and butter, green salad…the absolute works.

Just after noon, people started arriving. The men headed for the beer kegs, while the women headed for my mother and community gossip. The kids headed for the grassy areas behind the house, some to throw footballs and softballs, and the younger ones to play tag.

At about 12:30, I noticed a car I didn't recognize pull into the area where all the other cars were parked as Jeremiah, and I were attending to the pork roasts on our long grill. With so much food, it seemed like the cooking was a never-ending intense job, but when I looked up again for a second, I saw Mark with a man walking toward our outdoor BBQ from the parking area. I stared at them for another second or so and smiled.

"Hey, Jer," I said as I tapped his arm.

Jeremiah turned to me.

"What?" he asked.

"See those two coming up to our yard?" I asked as I pointed toward the two of them with the tongs.

"Yeah. Who are they? I don't recognize them."

"They just arrived in town a week ago. I met the kid in school last week. His name's Mark Nelson. The older guy is probably his dad, but I don't know his name."

We watched them approach the crowd that had been sitting or milling around outside of our house, then stop and look around.

"Jer, they're new here and probably don't know anybody yet. I'm going to go introduce them to Dad. Here, take over for me for a couple of minutes."

I shoved the tongs into his hand and took off in their direction.

While I approached them, Mark turned and saw me coming, and I could make out a huge smile on his face. It was that beguiling smile that captivated me.

"Hi, Joshua." he said as I came up to them.

His dad turned and looked at me for a moment.

"Hi Mark," I said, and we shook hands.

"Who's your friend, Mark?" his dad asked as he continued to look at me.

"This is Joshua Olson. I met him on my first day at school. I told you about him, remember? He invited us to come over today. Joshua, this my dad."

"Well, I'm glad to meet you, Joshua." He reached out and his hand shook mine.

"I'm glad to meet you too, Mr. Nelson. My dad would like to meet you, too. I told him I'd invited Mark and his family. He's over with the men by the beer kegs. Come on. Let me introduce you to him."

"Well. Okay then. Lead the way," he said as we headed in Dad's direction.

As we walked along, Mark's dad's eyes searched the crowd for any familiar faces but didn't seem to find any.

"There are a lot of people here, Joshua. I haven't recognized anyone except for Mr. Burkhart from the bank and Mr. Johnson, my new attorney. I was in their offices only yesterday."

I smiled and continued leading them to where my dad was.

We stepped up beside my dad, who was talking to Derrick Johnson, our nearest neighbor. We stood alongside of him, not wanting to interrupt their conversation.

"I know, Derrick. We've been working on a plan to get this year's wheat out. Oh, hi, Josh," Dad said as he caught sight of me and of the Nelsons standing next to me. He turned to look at me, Mark and his dad.

"Sorry to disturb you. This is Mr. Nelson and his son, Mark. Mark's the guy I was telling you about that just moved into town.

Dad turned toward Mr. Nelson, sticking out his right hand.

"Good to meet you Mr. Nelson. I'm Richard Olson," Dad said as they shook hands.

"Please, it's Earl."

"Well, it's good to meet you then, Earl," Dad replied with a smile.

Dad then turned toward Mark.

"Joshua's told me a lot about you, and I'm finally glad to meet you."

I didn't like the notoriety.

Dad continued. "I'm glad both of you could join us today. And welcome to our town."

Even though my dad was just a farmer, he was also a consummate politician. He turned back to include the man he was speaking to before we walked up on his conversation.

"Earl, this is Derrick Johnson. He's an attorney in town, and I must say, a surprisingly good one at that."

"I know Mr. Johnson," Mark's dad said. "We met yesterday. He's my new attorney. I'm looking for his help in making my company, Simplot, grow stronger here."

Derrick and Earl Nelson shook hands, smiling.

At that time, I didn't realize the importance of their meeting.

Derrick looked up and noticed his son in the distance. And frowned.

"Excuse me for a moment. I'll be right back," Derrick said and headed to where his son was.

"I've been looking at the fields of growing wheat," Earl said. "It looks like I might be seeing more of you. I just took over the Simplot warehouse and outlet here in town."

"You don't say. Well, now I'm doubly glad to meet you. We here in his part of the country don't use turf fertilizers for our yards, but your products already have helped increase yields in the fields. That's much appreciated. We've been buying from Simplot for years."

Earl smiled at my dad and was about to say something, when my dad saw someone moving toward him out of the corner of his eye. Derrick had a sour determined look on his face. Dad squinched his eyebrows; I knew he was wondering what made Derrick seem so distraught as he headed our way.

When Derrick arrived, he told my dad what was bothering him. His son, Jason, a senior and an old friend of ours from high school, seemed to have been able to steal himself a beer or two from the kegs that were set up at the end of the food tables. I knew Jason wasn't used to drinking, so after only two beers, it was no surprise that he had become a little tipsy. His Dad had noticed, and that was why he'd left us so abruptly. Derrick asked Dad if they could talk. Dad nodded.

"Excuse me for just a moment," Dad said to Mr. Nelson.

Dad and Derrick then walked away from me and the Nelsons.

Excusing myself, I followed the two men at a distance. They stopped under a large oak tree in our back yard. Staying out of sight, keeping the tree between us, then scooting behind a row of bushes beside our house, I was able to listen.

"I'm sorry, Richard," Derrick said as they stood under the tree some distance away from the gathering.

"Don't worry too much about it, Derrick. Kids experiment, as you know."

"I know, but it's a little embarrassing in front of all of your guests."

Dad didn't say anything for a moment, looking off at the gathering but then turned to look at his neighbor.

"Derrick don't be too down on Jason. He's still a kid even at seventeen. He'll grow and eventually everything you've taught him will hit home. It did for you and me, you know? He's a good kid and will continue to be."

Dad softly chuckled for a moment, looking back at the gathering, then turned his attention to his neighbor again.

"Do what you need to do Derrick, but don't be too hard on him. And if you look around, all those parents out there have probably been through the same thing. Kids want to experiment and sometimes make wrong choices. I guess that's where we as parents come in, right?"

Jason's dad smiled at Dad, looked at the crowd and then looked back at my dad.

"I still have to get on his ass."

"I knew you would," Dad said with a smile.

I looked at my dad with more understanding than I had ever known before. Dad seemed to know what it was like being a teenager in the process of growing up. I knew I would need him as I grew, and I also knew he would be there when I needed him.

Looking around at my family and friends, I felt good about myself and my place in the world. I had a good family, a family that gave to others. I knew lots of my friends came to the BBQ that day because it was put on by my family. They appreciated us, and we them. It was the way it was.

Mark and I spent the rest of the afternoon talking about our past experiences and how we felt about them, what our dreams and our goals were for our lives. Mark was more driven to be what he wanted to be than I had ever imagined.

I really began to understand Mark, as I think he did me. We began to have an openness with each other that I had never experienced before. I felt great each time I interacted with him, and that thought began to disturb me.

The next morning, I heard Mom yelling up the stairs at me.

"Josh, You'd better get up. Mark's on the phone for you."

What's he calling me for at 8:00 in the frigging morning. I thought. On a Sunday! I had to quickly stagger out of bed to take the call. We didn't have cell phones back then, so the phone was what your grandparents were using…dial ups. And it was in the kitchen, meaning I had to get out of bed to use it. Not good; not good at all.

"Hey," he said over the phone.

"Mark?" I answered, not having a cell phone tell me who was calling, but thinking he'd be the only one I knew who'd call me at this ungodly hour.

"Yeah. It's me. So, what are you doing for the rest of the weekend?"

I stifled a yawn to answer.

"I don't know. I hadn't thought about it yet."

"I was wondering if you wanted to go fishing with me?"

"Ah, Mark, it's too late for that. You need to be on the lake at the crack of dawn when they're feeding."

"Oh," he said. "I didn't know that. See, you're teaching me already," he chuckled.

"Well, if you want to do something, maybe we could play some tennis," I suggested.

"I'd like that. When do you want to get together?"

"I'd need to check with my dad first. I know he wants me to go to church and help him around the farm a little later today."

"Oh. Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"Oh, no. Just in bed sleeping. I need to check with Dad first. I don't think he'll object with me going out to have some fun because it's Sunday, and he doesn't usually work on Sunday, unless it's harvest time, of course, which isn't until next month."

"That sounds good. Let me know. You've got my number, right?"

"Yeah. Hold on a minute; I'll ask now."

I put my hand over the mouthpiece, not believing Mark called me wanting to do something today. I turned to Dad, who was in the kitchen with me, watching Mom fixing breakfast. He had the Grand Forks Herald Sunday newspaper on the table in front of him.

"Dad," I said, turning to face him.

Well, what's got you up so early this morning?" he asked, repressing a smile.

I guess I looked a bit out of sorts. Well, I had been called to the phone in what to me was the middle of the night on a weekend. What, he thought I should be cheerful about that?

"I was wondering if I could play some tennis with Mark if you don't have anything for me to do after church."

Dad picked up the paper then put it on his lap and looked up at me.

"Well, is your schoolwork done for tomorrow?" Dad had a sly grin on his face when asking that.

"Yup. I finished it after the BBQ yesterday."

"Well then, are all of chores around the barn done?"

"Dad, it's Sunday! I don't have farm chores today," I retorted throwing an exasperated tone in my voice back at him.

"I could find some more if you're bored," he said.

"DAD!! Yes or no! Can I just go play some tennis this afternoon?"

"Well, of course you can. Who said you couldn't?"

"Dad, sometimes you're impossible," I said with a grin on my face.

"We'll have to get ready for church, though, right after breakfast," he said pulling up the newspaper again.

I took my hand from the mouthpiece and told Mark, "Everything's a go. Dad mentioned before about this being his first time in this church in years, he might take us out for lunch after church, so why don't we meet at Ole Englestad Park's tennis courts, say around 2:00?"

"I'm good with that."

"Good. See you then," and we hung up.

We had lunch at Olga's Café located one block from my grandfather's grain elevators. When I was thirteen and stayed with him for the summer, Carl would take me to Olga's for lunch. They had the best Norwegian potato dumplings - called klub - that were smothered in bacon fat and butter and served with lots of fried bacon. Norwegian's love their butter.

When we got home, I took off my suit and tie, hung them up and quickly changed into a pair of shorts, a tee shirt and tennis shoes. The professional players always wore white, but I didn't have any white tennis clothes, so I used my blue ones.

Although I was sixteen and had a driver's license, I didn't have a car yet. Dad had told me if the crops turned out well this harvest, that he would get a third car then. He already had a pickup truck and a four-door sedan used only for trips to town. I would have to share the third car with Jeremiah. I could imagine how that would go with both Jeremiah and I wanting to go out on a Friday night to the football game and a dinner or movie after that. HA!

So, I stuck my racquet and a can of balls in my backpack, slipped it on and rode my bike the three quarters of a mile to Ole Englestad Park where there were four tennis courts. As I rode up to the courts, I saw Mark was already there waiting for me with that captivating grin on his face. I leaned my bicycle against the fence surrounding the courts and entered the court Mark was already occupying.

"Hey, Mark. Are you ready?" I shouted to him. He was dressed just like I was with shorts, polo shirt and tennis shoes. But his clothes were all white, just like the pros.

"Have you been trying to fool me?" I asked as I crossed the court, walking up to him.

"What do you mean, fool you?"

"You're in all white just like the pros."

Mark looked down at the clothes he was wearing then looked back at me.

"I told you I was on the high school's tennis team. This is what we were required to wear."

"Oh. Okay. Let's volley a little to get warmed up."

Mark headed to the other side of the court, while I stayed on my side. Mark hit the ball over the net toward me, and I swung my racquet trying to get the ball back him. It hit the net and fell back in my side.

Mark looked at me with a questioning look on his face, and then approached the net.

"Josh, have you had any lessons?" he asked.

"Well, no. We don't have a tennis team, so there's no one to coach me. All I've done is hit the balls off the side of our barn."

"I'll be right over," as he walked around the net to where I was standing.

"Do you mind if I try to coach you a little?" he asked.

"No. Go ahead. I guess you can tell I need all the help I can get."

"Okay. First off, when you're trying to hit a forehand shot, you need to turn your body, so your front side is perpendicular to the net. Position yourself so the ball will be about one arm and one racquet length from you as it passes you by moving your feet. Always keep your eye on the ball. Prepare for your stroke by bringing you racquet behind you before swinging it forward. When you swing your racquet at the ball, give it a slight upward movement so the ball will have a slight topspin to it. That will help the ball fall onto my side of the court without going too far. During your follow through, your racquet should wind up over your left shoulder. Then you should turn around to face me to be ready for my return shot. I know it's a lot to remember, but if you keep trying to do it that way, your body will remember what to do.

"God, this is complicated," I said.

"Want to give it a try?"

"Why not? I want to learn how to do this."

Mark headed to his side of the court but stood close to the net.

"I'm going to hit the ball toward you for you to practice your footwork and forehand. You stay back in the court, so the ball bounces once before you hit it. Okay?

"I'm ready."

"Okay. Here goes."

Mark hit the ball, somewhat gingerly so it bounced just before it got to me. All I remembered was to turn my body, and when I tried to hit the ball, it went back into the net.

"Good. You remembered to turn your body to get ready to return my shot. And you did a good job of using your feet to be the right distance from the ball. But you forgot about the slight up swing of the racquet to give the ball topspin. And this time, try to remember the racquet must wind up over your left shoulder. Start your stroke with the racquet head below the ball, and finish with it up high. Let's try it again."

This time the ball came at me a little faster than before, so I scrambled to get ready for it. I remembered to give the racquet a slight upswing, but this time it sailed over Mark's head and hit the fence behind him.

We practiced this shot for a good thirty minutes, and I was getting better and better. One of my return shots barely cleared the net, and Mark had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. I had to laugh.

"Let's take a break. I'm getting a little worn out," I told him.

"Good idea," he replied.

Fortunately, Mark had thought to bring a couple of bottles of water which we shared. After we - by that I mean I - cooled down, we continued my forehand shots for another fifteen minutes.

"Now, let's try something different. It's the backhand shot. It's the same as the forehand shot, but this time you turn to the left, and you need to cross your racquet over to your left side and move the racquet head behind you to get ready to hit the ball with the back of the racquet. Everything is the same except your follow through will end with the racquet over your right shoulder. Oh, an important thing to remember with the backhand shot: meet the ball in front of you; don't let it travel all the way to you. Ready to give it a try?"

"Why not?" I answered.

I had more trouble with the backhand shot. It just felt weird, and my return shots showed it. After another thirty minutes of lessons, we decided to call it quits for the day. Since it was only 4:00, and I didn't need to be home for dinner until 6:00, we decided to rest under the trees at Olson's Lake. The lake was only about a fifteen-minute bike ride from the tennis courts and Mark had his bike, too.

When we got there, the sun was out in full swing, casting its warming light through the maple and poplar trees surrounding the lake. The bright glare of the sun on the lake was almost blinding, so we found a quiet place to sit among the grasses lining the lake on the west side where the sun was behind us.

We pulled our shirts off and, as we laid on our backs, I could feel the calming effect the slight breeze was having on my body. We lay without speaking for at least fifteen minutes before Mark turned on his side facing me with his head propped up. He didn't say anything but just watched me.

"Joshua, I'm glad I met you," he said in almost a whisper.

I turned my head to look at him while still lying on my back.

"I'm glad I met you, too, Mark."

"You're turning out to be one of the best friends I've ever had."

"It sure looks like we're heading in that direction, doesn't it?"

Mark's eyes started to look over my body, starting with my hair all the way down to my feet and then back again. When his eyes returned to investigate mine, I could see a slight glistening of his pupils.

Mark continued to stare at me for a moment and then turned so his back was facing me. It was then I heard unmistakable sniffling coming from him.

"Mark, is something wrong?" I asked softly.

One more sniffle.

"Nothing's wrong, Joshua."

He was quiet for another moment.

"I'm sorry, Joshua," he said as he turned toward me again. "I was just thinking about some bad things that happened to me back in Cleveland."

"Want to tell me about it? I'm here to listen; whatever it was."

Mark pursed his lips in a half smile.

"You're so a kind and caring. I wish I could have known you sooner."

"Mark, if something's troubling you. I'm here to help."

"I know, Josh. Thank you for that. Maybe some time I'll let it all out to you but not now. Now isn't the time."

Mark sat up, crossed his legs and began a survey of the lake. He sat like that for quite a while and then turned to me and said, "We should probably get going."

During my bike ride home, I was troubled. Something in the past happened to Mark that had caused his tears, and he was very reluctant to tell me about it. I wished I knew what it was. I really liked Mark, and I wished he'd let me help him.

Then another thought came to me, how much did I like Mark? I really didn't have to think about that one. I must admit, he was one of the cutest boys in school. Oh, that smile of his! It captivated me, and I found it hard to look away from him. I loved just being with him. He was polite and caring. So how much did I like Mark? A lot, I realized. Really a lot!

When I got home, I thought it would be nice if we could invite him to dinner some night. But I needed to run that past my parents first. I liked him, and I wanted him to be around.

When I walked in the house, I heard Mom in the kitchen, so I headed that way. When I got to the kitchen, I could smell her wonderful spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove.

"Geez Mom, that smells absolutely great." She liked to be complimented on her cooking.

"It's been simmering all afternoon, plus it's made from our fresh garden vegetables," Mom said as she slightly turned her head to me.

"I have a question, Mom."

Now she turned fully around to look at me.

"Okay, shoot," she said.

"Do you think it would be all right if I invited Mark over for dinner sometime this week?"

"You seem to have found yourself quite a friend?" she remarked.

"Yeah. He's turning into my best friend. We seem to have a lot in common, and I don't know, we just sort of seem to fit together."

Mom slightly leaned her head to the right and looked at me, obviously thinking of something.

"Joshua, having a lot in common doesn't make a best friend. It's what's in his head that matters, his character. Is he honest, does he care about you and all those around him? Does he share your moral values?"

"Yeah, I believe he does."

"Okay then. When do you want to invite him?" Mom asked with a smile.

"I was thinking of maybe Thursday."

"Your dad has to be up early on Friday, so we're eating dinner at 5:00. He's got some work to do on the equipment to get ready for harvest."

"Okay, I'll check with Mark to see if it's okay with his folks," I said as I headed to the phone.

Mark arrived with a ring of the doorbell at 4:30 on Thursday. I'd asked him to come early so we could spend some time together before we sat down to dinner. When I opened the door, I couldn't believe my eyes. Mark was dressed in a pair of tan Dockers, brown loafers and a dark tan button-down collar long sleeved shirt. I had thought he was cute before, but this was incredible. God, he looked so handsome. I was still in my school clothes looking something other than handsome.

"Come on in, Mark. Geez, you look good."

"I didn't know if you guys dressed for dinner, so instead of being a slob, I thought I'd put on some good clothes."

"You look fine," I said as I led him into the living room. Dad was there reading the newspaper, but when he saw Mark, he put the paper on the coffee table, stood, walked over to Mark and shook his hand.

"It's good to see you again Mark."

Dad led Mark to have a seat on the sofa. Dad took his place in his favorite easy chair, as I sat next to Mark.

"So, what do you think of our small town?" Dad asked.

Mark looked at me for a second then back toward my dad again.

"This town's not small sir, and I see it's still growing. I was with Dad in Grand Forks when he interviewed for the job here. We took a side trip through Olson's Corners on our way back. One thing I really like is how friendly and laid-back people around here are. It's like life has slowed down here. It's not the frenzied hurry of Cleveland where I come from."

"That's quite an observation from someone so young," Dad said. "And what you said is quite true in many ways. We're a farming community, and you don't tell Mother Nature to hurry up," Dad laughed. "And it's Richard, not sir.

"So, I hear you're giving my son tennis lessons now," Dad continued.

"And he's doing quite well so far, sir, ah, Richard," Mark said. "We worked on his forehand stroke and a little on his backhand. I'm going to make a Poncho Gonzales out of him yet."

"Who's Poncho Gonzales?" Dad asked.

"Oh. He's a famous professional tennis player."

"Can you gentlemen get washed up? Dinner's almost ready," Mom called as she walked into the living room.

"Okay guys. It's time to get ready to eat," Dad said while getting up from his chair.

Mom and Dad sat at each end of the table while Jeremiah sat on one side with Mark and me next to each other on the other side.

The table was filled with plates of braised pork chops with apple sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and homemade rolls with butter. When we were finished eating, there was nothing left.

Mark and I started clearing the table, but Mom stopped us.

"Joshua, since Mark hasn't been here before, why don't you take him out and show him around the farm?"

"I'd like that, Josh, since I've never been on a real farm before," Mark said.

"Okay, but the sun's going down, so it's jacket weather," I said.

"Ah oh. I didn't bring a jacket," Mark said.

"Okay. You can use one of mine. They're hanging next to the front door."

We walked outside and I pointed to two large Butler Steel buildings. "Those are for all of dad's farm equipment. One is just for the combine that harvests the grain and thrashes it; that means separating the grain from the chaff. See that large truck next to the second building?"


"That truck follows the combine off to its side and has a long auger that shoots the grain into the back of the truck. The chaff is sent out the back of the combine to the ground to be fertilizer for next year's crop. Right in front of us are six large silos. The grain is pumped from the truck to fill the silos. We store the grain there. Later we'll haul it to the grain elevators in town. From there it's hauled by train to feed the country."

"You know what they remind me of?" Mark asked, chuckling.

"No. What?"

"Six large stiff penises," Mark laughed.

I had to laugh too because Mark was right. That's what they looked like.

We continued our walk through the farmyard with me pointing to various things in the yard until we reached the large barn.

"We're pretty self-sufficient here. We have some chickens for eggs and chicken soup, and huge hogs for bacon and pork roasts, some cows for beef and milk and we also have a couple of horses."

I looked back at the silos for a minute.

"I wonder why we need roosters with all that cock there behind us," I chuckled.

Mark laughed so hard he had to double over.

"Come on. I'll show you my special place in the barn."

We walked inside, but it was difficult to see because the sun was going down. I turned on the light switch and lit up the barn. The main floor had mostly stalls for the horses, cows and pigs. I showed Mark where the ladder was to climb up to the loft, and I took the lead. When we got up to the top of the ladder, Mark could see the space contained mostly bales of hay.

"This is your special place?" Mark asked.

"Yup, and it's right over there," I said as I pointed to a haystack in the corner. "When I want to be alone or need some quiet time to think, I come up here and lay in that soft haystack. It's almost like lying on a cloud."

I didn't think what I was doing or why, but I took Mark's hand in mine and led him to the haystack.

I lay on my back in the soft hay. "Come join me. You'll see what I mean," I said to him.

Mark lay down beside me, our hands behind our heads and our elbows touching.

After a short period of silence, Mark said, "I see what you mean. This is so comfortable, and the quiet is so relaxing."

We didn't speak to one another for several more minutes, and then Mark closed his eyes.

Then I heard Mark sniffle.

"It's okay, Mark." I turned on my side to look at him, remembering the time at Olson's Lake.

Then Mark turned on his side to face me.

"I think it will be," Mark responded.

I looked into his eyes and saw the shine from the tears starting to form.

Then Mark continued and said, "Now that I'm here with you."

I put my hand on his side just above his hip, closing my hand slightly to let him know I was there. I remained silent. I hoped he could read the compassion, the empathy in my eyes. I didn't want to distract him by talking. I could tell he had more to say.

"It's time for me to tell you what happened to me in Cleveland."

I nodded my head toward him. I wanted him to be free to say what I felt he needed to say without any interruption.

"Josh, I hope I can trust you. What I'm about to tell you is just between you and me, okay?"

Again, I nodded my head in understanding.

"I few years ago, I had a boyfriend. I know this may shock you because I'm letting the cat out of the bag. I didn't think I was a homosexual back then, but I started falling in love with him. We were always together, and I was so happy. We fooled around a little, mostly rubbing each other to get off.

"One night while we were lying on my bed, he said he was going to fuck me that night. He said I had been teasing him for months and it was time for me to put out. I told him no.

"Then he hit me.

"Josh, he raped me that night."

Now the tears flooded his eyes as he looked away from me.

"Oh, God, Mark." My eyes also flooded with tears. I pulled him into me and just held him close.

"Mark, I'm so sorry."

"Just hold me Josh. I need you right now," he softly said into my ear.

I held him tighter.

After a few moments, I raised my head and kissed him on his cheek. With the kiss, he started to sob even more, uncontrollably.

I continued to hold him.

"Josh, it hurt so much. I screamed, but he hit again. I didn't know what to do because he was bigger than me."

"Mark, I don't know what to say, but saying I'm sorry that that happened isn't even close to what I'm feeling for you right now."

"Just hold me Josh," he repeated.

I held him close to me for what seemed an eternity and his sobbing eventually subsided. With the last sniffle, he moved out of my arms and returned to lying on his back.

"Josh, when he was finished, he went into the bathroom, I imagined cleaning himself off. When he returned to my room, he dressed himself and walked out the door without saying a word to me. I've not seen him since. That was about two months ago. After he walked out, I just lay on my bed and cried for the longest time. Eventually, I covered myself and went to sleep.

I stayed on my side looking at him. Eventually I said, "I'm so sorry you had to experience that, and thank you for telling me about it. I know it was hard for you to do."

"Josh, when I woke up, I kept wondering what I had done. I felt so guilty I had done something that had made him do that to me."

"Mark, I'll tell you something. He wasn't a very good friend, was he?"

"No, he wasn't. And it took me a while to realize that. I've been trying to forget about him, but what he did to me has haunted me ever since. When Dad was interviewing for the job here, I asked him to take it no matter what they were offering him. I wanted to get away from that town as soon as I could. He asked me why, but I managed to keep my real reason to myself. When he took the job, it was like all my prayers were going to be answered."

"So, your family doesn't know what happened to you?" I asked him.

"No, I eventually told him. It was after we moved here. Keeping it to myself was just too hard. He accepted that I am gay. I'm sure he didn't love it, but he was okay with it. It's just me and my dad, and I just felt he had a right to know. You're the only other person I've told."

"Well, I 'm certainly not going to tell anyone, but maybe we should be getting back. I'm sure they're wondering what happened to us," I said.

"Okay, but can I have another hug before we go?" he asked.

We stood and I grabbed him and hugged him for all I was worth.

"You feel so good, Josh," he replied.

"Mark, this is now our special place," I said.

After the third week of school, when Jeremiah came home one Friday afternoon, he walked in the front door, and Mom saw his eye was blackened. He was crying, which I had never seen him do before. I wondered what was so horrific that had happened to him. He went to Mom and Dad, looking sad. Dad looked at me and then back at Jer.

"Jeremiah, why don't we go up to your room so we can talk about what happened to you? We need to be told who did this."

Jer looked at me and then nodded to Dad. Jeremiah continued looking at me as he started up the stairs followed by Mom and Dad.

They spoke to him behind the closed door of his bedroom, so, I couldn't hear much of the conversation. Even though I was at the bottom of the stairs looking up, I did hear my name spoken several times. Dad came out of the room first and looked at me for a few moments before he walked past me to the kitchen. He didn't say anything to me. Mom came out shortly after and also looked at me for a moment. But she reacted differently than Dad. Mom knelt and kissed me on the forehead before she stood up and followed my dad. I really thought that was weird, and I really wondered what this was all about. I looked up and saw Jeremiah standing at the top of the stairs looking at me. I was confused, but Jeremiah only smiled at me, not saying anything.

I closed my eyes for a moment, scared of what was happening. Even though I had no idea what had happened, I knew something was wrong. I looked back up at Jer. He momentarily looked at me sadly and then dropped his eyes toward the floor. When he looked up, I could see sympathy in his eyes. Then he turned, raised his head, nodded toward me and went back into his room. I stayed at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the empty staircase for a while and kept wondering why my family had become so weird. Was it something that Jeremiah had done that had gotten that black eye, or was it something I had done? When Mom and Dad had been with Jeremiah behind that door, I had kept hearing my name spoken many times. Why?

No one spoke of what had happened after that. It was like they were avoiding me. Life went on as usual on our farm, Dad tending the wheat and animals and Mom cooking our meals. But Jeremiah had become distant toward me. I tried to figure out why, but every time I tried to talk to him about it, he would only say, "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."

After two days of hearing 'Don't worry about it.' I finally had had enough, and I persuaded Jeremiah to talk to me on Sunday. He looked at me with pain in his eyes and then, looking around to see we were alone, he said, "Let's go to my room."

I turned, but Jeremiah hesitated. I think he was still reluctant to discuss what I wanted to know about, but he eventually followed me. Alter we were in his room, I turned to him.

"Jeremiah! I heard my name many times through the door that night. I know something was said about me. What's going on?"

Jeremiah shook his head and turned away from me and started to walk toward the window, so I talked toward his back.

"Jeremiah, why did you get that black eye? Who hit you?" I was becoming angry because something was being kept from me, and it was coming between my brother and me.

Jeremiah stopped and stood still for a moment, but then he turned to face me. He looked at me for the longest time without saying anything then tilted his head to his right and quietly asked.

"Josh, are you a homosexual?"

I flinched my head upward in shock and stared at him.

"What?" I felt like yelling, but in fact ended up speaking really softly with a tremble in my voice.

"What are you talking about?"

Jeremiah looked at me for a while, just staring at me without saying anything. His eyes started to cloud, so I knew this was really bothering him. He looked down toward the floor for a moment before looking back toward me and spoke the most horrible words I have ever heard.

"Josh, someone at school told Mike that you are a homosexual. Mike came up to me accusing you.

"What?" This time I did yell at my brother.

"Look, all he said was you act homosexual."

"What do you mean I act homosexual? I don't act homosexual. And I'm not a homosexual!"

I turned away from my brother, facing his bedroom door. After a moment, I turned back to face him.

"So, what did he say to you, I mean about how I act homosexual?"

Jeremiah was getting defensive

"I don't think you act homosexual. I don't see it, but he kept on about why you don't play team sports or why you don't date anyone right now. Look, he's a stupid jock. He's just stupid."

My curiosity was now getting to me. Who would have told Mike that? I didn't even know Mike, whoever he is. I knew I shouldn't ask Jeremiah because I knew he wouldn't tell me. But my curiosity was getting the best of me, and I had to ask.

"Jeremiah, who told Mike I was a homosexual?"

"That's not important, Josh."

"But it is Jer. It's important to me."

"Josh, don't you go off on some revenge thing. Just let it rest."

"I'm not going to do anything like that, Jer. But I need to know."

"If I tell you, do you swear you're not going to do anything?"

"I swear."

"Okay. Mike told me it was Carter Mansfield . Do you know him?"

"Yeah, I know him. If anyone acts like a fruitcake, it's him."

Then, I looked at Jeremiah for a while. Before asking him another question.

"But Jer, why do you have a black eye?

Jeremiah looked at me and smiled.

"Because I told him he was a stupid fucking redneck homophobe who knew nothing about the world because of his paranoidal upbringing,"

Jeremiah looked toward the floor but then looked straight at me.

"That's when he took a swing at me. I ducked the first and blocked his second swing."

"But Jer, you have a black eye," I said again.

"Yeah. Unfortunately, I thought the fight was over, but he stood up facing me and just swung again and got me good."

"Oh, God, Jer."

I reached out and took hold of his shoulder and squeezed it, realization causing my eyes to water.

"You defended me, didn't you?"

He smiled.

"Yeah, but he stopped after that though, and it was over."

Jeremiah looked at me, maybe with some empathy, and walked away.

I smiled at my brother. I went to my room, full of understanding about how good a brother he was. I still had questions, but whatever the answers were, he was still on my side. I threw myself on my bed spreading my hands under my head, just staring at the ceiling.

Why would anyone think that about me? I kept running that question through my mind. I was just a kid who liked to read. Reading stories of other people's adventures was exciting, and sometimes the stories made me think about what was important in life.

A moment later, I heard a knock at the door.

"Joshua, can I come in. It's your dad."

I looked at the door from my bed, wondering what he wanted but in fact already knowing what it was.

"Yeah, sure. Come in."

I watched as Dad walked into my room, looked around and then sat on the end of my bed, looking at me. He sat quietly for a moment.

"What's up, Dad?"

"Josh, I need to apologize to you."

"For what?"

He looked away from me for a moment and then focused his eyes on me again.

"Friday night, your brother said someone at school had accused you of being a homosexual. I think I reacted badly to that, and I've thought about it for several days. That's what I'm apologizing for. But what I need to tell you is if you are, it will change our family's life forever."

"Dad, I'm not."

"Just listen, son, and this is from my heart and your mother's. If you are, it's going to change how we as a family react. There are laws in this state as well as the country against homosexuality. You could be put in prison if found guilty. These laws are silly. For example, you can't associate with other homosexuals other than one at a time. There's no law against being homosexual here in Minnesota, but there is a law against homosexual acts. Teachers are losing their teaching credentials and fired from their jobs just on speculation. Like I said, these laws are silly and backward. Things are starting to change, though. Many of those laws are starting to be repealed, but this will take years. In the meantime, you need to be careful. What's started as a rumor becomes fact to many people. If you're homosexual, you just need to careful.

"Please remember we will always be with you on your side, no matter what. But you're still a little too young to know what will fall on you. There will be a lot of people who are going to react badly to you being a homosexual."

I looked at my dad in horror and shook my head.

"I'm not, Dad," I said in my own defense.

"The real point I'm trying to make, Joshua, is it makes no difference to us," Dad said.

Dad slapped me lightly on the top of my leg, and then smiled at me.

"Come on son," he said as he stood up. "Let's go have dinner, Okay?"

I knew the next day at school would be different. People would be talking about the slander Mike had been spreading, and I knew I would have to face it. I wasn't a homosexual, but I knew in high school, that didn't matter. Rumors were always taken as truth. I knew I had a fight on my hands, maybe several. So, what if I liked classical music? So, what if I liked the school musicals? So, what if I liked my art class? Hell, there are school jocks in my art class. Christ, Tchaikovsky was homosexual. Did that make his music bad? It had better not! Even though I liked his work, what does that matter? I was not a homosexual, damn it.

As I approached the school bus stop the next day, I was very apprehensive. I kept looking around at the faces of the other kids also waiting for the school bus. I didn't see much in their expressions, except for two of them. A boy frowned at me, but the other, Sharon, smiled as I looked at her.

'Could I get through this day?' was the thought racing through my mind as I turned away. But then I had to stop myself. 'I'm not a homosexual,' I kept saying to myself. 'Nothing's wrong, and I'm just making all of this up. Nothing's going to happen.'

I pretty much stayed to myself on the ride to school just looking out the window. Thoughts of what my brother said to me last night kept racing through my mind, and then a thought scared me. I started to rock my belief in myself.

'What if I am a homosexual? What if I really am a homosexual and don't know it?' I had to take hold of myself. This was getting ridiculous.

But then, how could I not know? I was sixteen and should know these things.

The perspiration started to form on my forehead as these inexplicable thoughts went through my mind.

I couldn't stop thinking: what if I really am and don't know it yet?

Steve was my best friend at school. We hung out and listened to music all the time. We joked, laughed and made fun of each other. I was 5'-11"; he was only 5'-10," I never let him forget what a runt he was, but it was all in fun. So, now I had to ask myself, did I think he was cute? Well, yes, I did, but that didn't mean anything, right? A lot of guys at school were cute, just like there were a lot of guys at school that weren't. Just because I liked Steve didn't make me a homosexual, right?

As the bus stopped at the school's loading zone for us to get off, I stayed in my seat for a moment to let the other kids get off first. With these questions racing through my mind, I didn't want to talk to anyone yet. As I got up to go to the exit, I looked behind me and noticed Sharon was also staying behind. She looked at me as she got up from her seat and smiled that smile again that I'd seen when we were waiting at the bus stop. As she passed me in the aisle, she looked at me while I just stood there wondering what was up with her. Finally, she left me alone and made her way toward the exit door.

I turned and followed, and when I finally stepped off the bus, Kale, short for Katherine, came running up to me.

"Where've been? I thought you missed the bus."

"I guess I was lazy this morning and forget where we were when the bus stopped. Sorry," I said back to her.

"Don't be. You didn't know I was waiting for you. So, tell me, is it true?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

It's all over the school, Josh, that you're a homosexual."

I was about to crash and burn. I'd known this would happen. My greatest fear was that rumors would spread like wildfire and would be very hard to extinguish.

I looked down at her and flatly stated, "I'm not a homosexual, Kale."

She looked up at me and smiled and then just nodded.

I turned my eyes toward the double doors of the school's main entrance, wondering what would confront me within.

'Okay,' I told myself. 'It's time to find out.' I started up the concrete walkway, not knowing what to expect.

Once inside, I found the normal scene of kids heading toward their classrooms, boys getting a last make out session with their girlfriends in the alcoves along the walls, kids coming out of the bathrooms and running down the hall. Just a normal scene.

Halfway to my US History class, I started to notice many kids had stopped to look at me. They stared while I passed them, continuing my school journey. I knew what was up. They must have heard the rumors, too.

SLAM went a locker door just behind me. I jumped while turning around.

My book bag came around my shoulder and almost took me down. Looking at where the sound came from, Steve turned from his locker across the hall and just stared at me for a moment, frowning.

"What's up with you, Josh?" he said.

"Ah, nothing. You just startled me, that's all."

"Na. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the talk going around that you're a queer. What gives?"

I knew it! This was what I was facing, and the school day hadn't even started yet. I looked at Steve for a moment, not saying anything, just looking at him.

Finally, I said, "Steve, what do you think?"

He looked at me for a moment, thinking about what was truly in his mind.

"Josh, I don't know. You've always acted kind of fruity, but that doesn't necessarily make you one of those."

I looked at Steve, knowing what he was referring to.

"What do you mean, fruity?"

"You know, like liking art and classical music and shit."

"Do you really think that Rembrandt or Beethoven were homosexuals?" I asked.

He was taken aback for a moment.

"Well, no. But talk about you is going around."

I looked down and shook my head, and then I looked back up at Steve.

"You guys are so wrong. Just because I like the art and don't want to play football doesn't make me a homosexual. I'm not."

"Okay, if you say so," was all he said, but I knew that he wasn't convinced.

He looked at me for a moment in silence before he turned and walked away toward his first class.

My eyes followed him as he proceeded to walk down the hallway, skirting around kids on his quick journey.

"You're my best friend, Steve," I called out to him before he got too far away.

He never stopped walking and didn't turn back to acknowledge he'd heard me.

'This is definitely not over.' I thought as I watched him walk away from me.

I made it through most of the day with only a few snide comments. In English class, one of the guys who used to sit next to me all of a sudden decided he didn't want to use that seat any longer and found a seat in the back of the class. I knew this was coming. Every time I looked back toward him, he was eyeing me, and he kept that up during the entire class; he had a disgusted look on his face. At some point during that class, I started to feel shame…for nothing. Why did I think that? I'd done nothing wrong. But that feeling was to continue to follow me for the rest of the day.

My next class, Biology Lab, was almost worse. When I got there, I found my normal seat had been taken by another student, Sharon Finley, someone who had been trying to get a date with me ever since our freshman year. She looked up at me and her lips snarled. I knew if I made a scene about my usual seat, it would make things even worse. I looked around for an empty seat. There was only one seat vacant in the rear of the classroom, and I looked toward the teacher for any kind of guidance, but all he said was to take a seat. I knew then he had heard the rumors and was going to believe them. I trudged down the row of desks ostracized.

Gym class had been on my mind, hoping a run on the soccer field would loosen my tension that had built over the day. But even before I was able to get changed, it all started again, but much worse. Billy Duckworth, the school bully, was watching me as I was getting my gym clothes on, not just watching, but staring with a frown on his face. Billy dressed and got up from the bench about ten feet from me and headed in my direction. I just knew this was going to be trouble. As he approached me, he stopped behind me as I was tying my second sneaker.

"What are you doing in here fag?" he snarled.

"I'm going to gym class. What'd you think?"

"No, you're not. You're not going to be in my gym class."

I turned my head to look up at him while sitting on the bench. I knew this was going to be my worst trouble of my day. I didn't know why I did it, but I just shook my head from side to side. He must have taken that as a defiant gesture because he grabbed my tee shirt and pulled me off the bench, so I was standing facing him. I could see the others getting closer, gathering around him.

I could see hatred in his eyes, and though he was about to hit me, but he didn't. He just pushed me backward, so I landed on my bottom back on the bench.

"You're not worth hitting, you scum fag. I'm not going to do that, even though you deserve much worse. But I'm not…I'm not. Like hell I'm not," and he raised his fist and swung, connecting with the side of my jaw, sending me off the bench landing on the concrete floor.

A circle of his and my friends circled around him and pulled him from me trying to stop any further fighting.

As they moved away, I continued to lie on the floor holding my face. It didn't take long before I found myself all alone, still on the floor. I bit my lip, trying to hold back my tears, but I couldn't do it. I started crying, softly to begin with, but soon I was bawling. 'Why is this happening to me? What have I done to make me such a total reject from everyone I have ever known?'

Finally, I started to calm down, seeing myself on the floor. I got up, starting to feel a bit of myself returning.

'I don't need this,' I said to myself. 'They don't know me.'

I quickly changed back into my street clothes, closed my locker, and walked out the door. My school day was over, and I walked the three-quarters of a mile home.

That night, I told Jeremiah what had happened to me that day and especially my conversation with Steve.

"Josh, I kind of figured something like that was going to happen to you. Rumors are truths to those idiots. I'm really sorry I wasn't there to stop it," Jeremiah said.

I walked over to him and hugged him. "Thanks for being my brother, Jer," I said and then went to my room to get some much-needed sleep.

The next day, I listened to my alarm clock telling me it was time to get up for school, but I had decided I wasn't going to put up with what had happened to me yesterday. I finally turned off the alarm but continued to just lie in bed looking at the bare ceiling.

Mom yelled at me from the bottom of the stairs to get my butt out of bed as breakfast was being served, and so I slowly got up and headed to the bathroom. After getting dressed, I walked down the stairs wondering how I was going to explain why I wasn't going to school today.

When I entered the kitchen, I saw Mom and Jeremiah sitting at the table, but there was Dad, too, sitting with them. 'What is Dad doing here?' I thought. He's usually up before any of us, working the farm.

"Have a seat, Joshua," Dad said.

"What's going on?" I asked as I took my place at the table.

"Joshua, your brother told us what happened to you at school yesterday," Dad said as he looked straight at me. "I was so angry that I was about to go to your school and raise some hell with that administration, but your mother convinced me to not run off too soon until we had a chance talk to you."

I looked at Jeremiah, and he nodded his head. Then I looked down at my breakfast getting cold. Suddenly, I wasn't very hungry.

"Mom, Dad, I'm not going to school today," I said. "Yesterday was horrible."

"I can imagine," Mom said.

"Joshua," Dad said, sounding very determined and angry at the same time. "I'm still going to your high school today, and I'm fine with you staying home today, but just today."

"I agree," Mom said. We'll wait to find out what happens after your dad has words with them."

Since Dad and Jeremiah were heading in the same direction, Dad put Jeremiah's bike in the back of the truck, and they were off.

"Aren't you hungry? You haven't touched your breakfast," Mom said after they had left.

"No, Mom, I'm not very hungry. I'm going up to my room to try to relax."

"Okay, but If you do get hungry, let me know, and I'll make something for you to snack on."

"Thanks, Mom."

I laid on my bed watching the ceiling again thinking about what Dad was going to say to the administration at school.

Two hours later, I heard a knock on my door. I knew it had to be my mom.

"What, Mom?"

Mom opened the door and came into my room. "Joshua, I think you had better come downstairs. There are two policemen here that would like to talk to you."

"What? Why? I haven't done anything.?"

"I know, dear. They want to talk to you about something else."


"I'll let them explain it to you. Let's not keep them waiting."

We walked downstairs, and as we entered the living room, both men stood up.

The older policeman spoke first.

"I'm Detective Udall and this is Officer Marsdan. We're from the Olson's Corners Police Department. And you must be Joshua Olson?"

"Yes sir, I am. What's this about detective?" I asked.

"Would you officers like some coffee? Mom asked. "It'll only take a minute to make."

"Thank you, Mrs. Olson, but no. We'd like you to stay here, though. Since Joshua's only sixteen, we can't ask him any questions unless a parent is present. I hope you understand."

"Yes, of course," Mom said.

"Joshua, may I call you Joshua?"


"Why don't we all sit down? I think we'll be more comfortable that way."

Once we were all seated, Detective Udall cleared his throat.

"Joshua, do you know a young man named Carter Mansfield?"

"Yeah. I know him from school."

"Did you see him last night?"

"No. I was home last night. Anyway, we're not friends. I just know who he is."

Detective Udall glanced over toward the police officer for a moment and then back toward me.

"Joshua, Carter was found last night in the alley behind the Ace Hardware store. He had been savagely beaten. We tried to get him to the hospital, but he died on the way there."

"Oh, my Lord, no," my mother gasped.

"If he had survived, it would have been an assault case, but since his death, it's now murder," the detective said. "We're trying to talk to any of his friends that might know something to help us find out who did this to him."

"Like I said, I really don't know him," I replied. "So why did you want to talk to me?"

The detective glanced at the police officer who nodded his head. He then turned back to Joshua.

"Something we didn't tell you is that Carter was a homosexual. We have others that have confirmed that."

I closed my eyes for a moment as I was remembering my day yesterday.

"So, what does that have to do with me?" I asked.

"Well, there are a lot of rumors going around your school about you. We think you may be closer friends with Carter than you're telling us."

'There it is,' I thought. The bullshit going around school has now reached the police. Oh shit. Now what?

"I'm telling you the truth. I don't know Carter at all. We've never hung out together. And I certainly didn't beat him up or kill him."

"Then tell me why your friends say you two are…" Detective Udall turned to the officer, and asked, "what was the term they used?"

Officer Marsdan said, "They said you two were like two peas in a pod."

I was starting to get more than a little defensive.

"I don't know what they're talking about. I've already told you I don't know Carter. And I was here with my family all last night."

"Okay, Joshua. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We should get going. We still have a few more people to interview today," Detective Udall said as they both stood up.

"Thank you, Mrs. Olson, for your time too."

When they left, I turned to my mom. "Mom, something's are going on that I don't understand. Why do they think I know anything about what happened to Carter?"

"I don't know, Joshua. Maybe we'll find out when your dad gets home," Mom said.

When Dad walked in the front door, Jeremiah was with him, which I didn't understand as school wasn't out yet.

"Oh good, you're back," Mom said as she walked into the living room. "How'd it go, Richard?"

"It didn't go well. I think you all had better sit down."

Now my anxiety was returning.

"I met with the principal, Mr. Collins, and explained to him what had gone on yesterday with Joshua. He didn't like what I was telling him as he tried to soft-soap it by telling me all kids get made fun of from to time. It's supposed to make them get a tougher skin, to not let it bother them, to toughen them up in preparation for the outside world.

"I told him we assumed our school was supposed to be a safe place, and it appears it isn't." 'Why isn't it?' I asked him.

'I'll have a talk with the boys,' was all he said.

"I asked him, that's all you can do? Just have a "talk" with the boys? I told him there are many witnesses to what happened to Joshua in the locker room when his face was hurt. That there needed to be more done than just a talk."

"Mr. Collins said his hands were tied because of board policies of non-interference."

"I was appalled. I guess I might have even yelled at him."

"Non-interference? My boy was attacked in your school, physically and knocked down. And you're telling me you can't, or won't do anything?" I almost screamed at him.

"Mr. Collins then sat quietly for a few moments looking at his desk. I thought he was wondering how to respond to me."

"Mr. Collins then told me this is not his way of handling these kinds of incidents, but the School Board had given his staff instructions if the harassment was against a homosexual, they should do nothing.

"I then told him I think this policy should be made known to the community, and I'm going to make sure the word gets out there. That policy would sure to bring lawsuits, from the ACLU if no one else.

"The principal then informed me it already had. And because of that he also informed me the new Evangelical Church has planned a rally for tomorrow night addressing homosexuality in our community. He told me they'd heard the rumors going around the school that Joshua was a homosexual.

"You're joking, right?" I asked him.

He just said, "No, I'm not joking."

"I was furious. I turned and was about to walk out the door when I turned back to face him. I told him I want Jeremiah to go with me.

"He said, 'but Jeremiah is in class right now.'

"I told him that was his concern, not mine, and if I didn't see Jeremiah walk out the front door in five minutes, I'd go in and get him myself."

Mom had put her head back on the sofa where she was seated next to Dad and had been shaking her head from side to side during the entire time Dad was telling us what had happened in his meeting with the principal.

She sat up when Dad was finished and asked, "What are we going to do?"

"I, for one, am going to that rally tomorrow night. We need to find out what's going on in this community. You are all invited to join me."

Jeremiah turned toward me and said, "I'm going to be there, too," while still looking at me.

I looked at Dad. "Me too," I said.

"Elizabeth?" Dad asked.

"No, I'll let you men handle this," Mom said.

"Okay. We'll go after dinner tomorrow," Dad said. Then he turned to me and asked, "Isn't it your turn to muck out the stables, Joshua?"

"Yeah, I think it is," I answered.

"We still have only the afternoon to get it done, so I'll help you, agreed?"

Oh, how I hated this job. But Dad was right, it was my turn and as he'd be helping me, it wouldn't be too bad.

Dad and I came in for dinner a little after 6:00 covered in you know what and smelling like it. Mom didn't have to turn around to see us as I think she could smell us even before we got to the house.

"Just march yourselves to your bathrooms and get cleaned up. Dinner's almost ready," she said.

Just as I had finished my shower and was walking back to my room with only a towel around me, I heard the phone ring from downstairs. Then Mom yelled back up the stairs, "Joshua, it's for you. It's Mark."

"Tell him, I'll be right there. I've got to get dressed first," and headed into my room.

Back downstairs, I picked up the phone and, as we have a long cord on it, I walked into the dining room for some privacy.

"Hello, Mark. Sorry it took so long. You caught me stepping out of the shower.

"Hm, wish I was there."

"You pervert," I said while snickering.

"You weren't in school today. Are you sick?"

"No, I'm okay, I just had a bad day yesterday, that's all."

"Yeah, I heard," Mark said.

Then Mark continued, "Say, Joshua, I was wondering if I could come over after dinner."

"Sure. I'm not doing anything."

"Maybe we could go to our special place, and you can tell me all about it."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Okay, I'll be over around 8:00."

"See you then. Bye."

When Mark showed up later, I told my parents that we were going for a walk but headed for the barn instead. We both knew where to go, and in no time, we were both lying in the soft hay.

"I missed you, you know," Mark said as he turned to look at me.

"I missed you too," I said.

"Want to tell me about yesterday?"

I was quiet for a while, looking at the roof of the barn. Then I took a long breath and let it out slowly before turning to look at Mark.

"It seemed like everyone turned on me thinking I'm a homosexual. Mark, I was scared. The worst was in gym yesterday. Billy told me I didn't belong in his gym class and then he hit me. Mark, I have never felt so alone as I was then, lying on the locker room floor."

My eyes were starting to show my emotions.

Mark leaned over toward me, put his arm around me and pulled me into a hug. I lifted myself so he could put his other arm underneath me, and we stayed like that, hugging each other.

Mark raised his head from my shoulder to look at me.

"Can I ask you something, Josh?"

"Yeah, anything," I answered.

Mark was silent for a few seconds.

"Josh, are you a homosexual? It's okay if you are.""

"That's just it, Mark. I don't know. I've thought about this repeatedly, and I don't know if I am."

"Have you had crushes on guys?"

"Yes, but…"

"Josh, do you have a crush on me?" Mark interrupted.

This, I was afraid to answer, so I kept quiet, all the time looking into Mark's eyes.

"I think you do, Josh," Mark answered for me.

He started me thinking, and I realized it was true. I had a huge crush on him. Whenever I looked at his radiant smile, I knew that I was hooked. He was so nice to be around, and somehow just his appearance did it to me.

"Mark, I do have a huge crush on you; it began when you spoke to me on your first day at school."

"Josh, I have had a crush on you ever since that day too," Mark said to me in a quiet voice.

Mark put his hand on the side of my face, moving it downward to my chin, and I felt the tenderness of his skin sliding across mine. I raised my head as his hand lifted my chin.

"Josh, can I kiss you?" Mark asked while looking into my eyes.

I had dreamed about this moment for a long time.

"Yes," I barely croaked out.

Mark lowered his face to mine, and when our lips touched, I was transported by the feeling of his velvety lips on mine, so smooth, so warm, so enticing. I felt like I was in heaven with angels swirling around my head. From that moment on, I was in love with him.

Our lips parted, and Mark pulled apart from me and rolled over toward me, so he was on top of me. His eyes were on mine as he lowered his head to rejoin our lips. His kiss this time was stronger, and I could feel the strength of him on top of me.

"I'm in love with you, Josh," he said. "And I have been for some time."

"Mark, you've made me see myself for the first time, to realize who I am, and I can finally admit to myself that I am in love with you."

"When I told you about what happened to me in Cleveland, you should have realized that I'm a homosexual," Mark said, looking at me.

"Yeah, in the back of my mind, I guessed that, but you act so different from what I've heard about homosexuals. You're not the person I've heard homosexuals are. I thought they liked going after little boys for sex."

"No, Josh. That's a myth. And anyway, even if they did, that isn't me. Little boys don't excite me like you do."

I had to smile.

Does everyone know what it's like to suddenly realize that someone loves you? For me it was like my head was in the clouds with a choir of angels singing glorious music all around me. It was the happiest feeling I'd ever had or could ever imagine.

"Kiss me again, Mark, please. You feel so good in my arms"

We kissed once again for the last time that night.

"Josh, with what you're feeling right now, let me ask you this question again. Are you a homosexual?"

I smiled back at him, and said, "YES!"

I was apprehensive while getting ready to go to the rally. After my declaration to Mark the night before, I knew the rally was going to be all about me. But I had told Dad I would go so there was no backing out now.

After a light dinner, Dad seemed to be raring to go. He seemed to be repressing his anger.

"You boys ready to go?" he asked as we got up from the dinner table.

"I'm ready," Jeremiah said.

Although I had different thoughts, I nodded my head.

We drove to Ole Englestad Park where the rally was to be held. It was an open park with no trees to obscure anyone's view and lots of grass for seating. When we got there, Dad couldn't find a close place to park so we had to walk several blocks to get to the park. The Park was almost filled with people, some standing alone and some with families. At one end of the park in front of the warming building for the ice skaters in the winter, there was a makeshift stage with large speakers on poles on each side facing the audience. We looked around but were only able to find places in the back.

Shortly after we were situated, still standing so as to see from our distance, a man in a black suit with a clerical collar got up on the stage and grasped the microphone that was in front of him.

"Good evening, everyone. I'm Reverend James Rocksbury . I'm the pastor at the new Evangelical Church here in town. I hope you all had a very enjoyable dinner tonight. But tonight, we need to talk about something that may not be enjoyable," he said.

He paused to let that sink in, then continued, his tone somber.

"Tonight, we need to talk about a plight that has gripped our town. I'm talking about the growing number of homosexuals among us. These are lost souls and are destined for an eternity in hell. Their homosexual lifestyle is an abomination in the eyes or God, and they cannot enter his Kingdom."

I knew this was so wrong. I was not a lost soul. I went to my church every Sunday and tried to love my neighbor and to do what was right.

Leviticus 20:13 says, if a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them."

I looked around me and saw many heads bobbing up and down. I just knew then this town was in trouble when a familiar face caught my eye. I watched Steve, my ex-best friend, as he turned to look at the crowd around him. What struck me was the look of enthusiasm in his eyes. He seemed to be thriving on every word Rocksbury said.

"There are a couple of young men in trouble with their souls. One was Carter Mansfield and another I've heard about is Joshua Olson, and there are others."

What the hell!! He was giving out names! Now I was just screwed. I couldn't believe what he just did. I looked at my dad and saw the anger in his eyes. Then I saw other people around me…looking at ME. I wanted to run away, but I knew I couldn't. Now I was really scared.

Dad put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Let's go. I've heard enough hatred coming from that man. Come on, Jeremiah."

We walked back to the car in silence, but I could tell Dad was fuming.

Just as we arrived back at the car, Dad turned to Jeremiah and me and said, "I don't want either of you two believing what that man said. I was about to say that 'Man of God,' but he assuredly is not."

As we drove away, we could hear the roar from the audience at the rally. I knew the shit was going to hit the fan in this town.

Dad was still furious the next morning. It was like he couldn't get out of his mind what that preacher had said the night before. As usual for a farm family, we were all up early. Well, that time maybe it wasn't the farm in us but the tension we all felt. Dad was sitting at the breakfast table with Mom when Jer and I went downstairs. Dad looked up at us.

"Boys, I think we need a family talk about last night. Please sit and Elizabeth can serve you some breakfast."

"I didn't sleep well," Jer said. "And I'm not very hungry. You can skip me, Mom."

I smiled at him. He really did have my back and cared about me. I told Mom the same thing, and she remained seated.

"I explained to your mother what went on last night, Dad said. "And, yeah, she was pretty angry. We go to the Lutheran Church here, and they don't preach the hate we heard last night. We're taught to love our neighbor and that doesn't exclude homosexuals. He was getting that crowd pretty worked up last night, and I'm afraid there may be repercussions. Joshua, your name was mentioned last night, and because of that, there may be some trouble for you. Because of that, I don't want you to go to school today. There may be some trouble there if you go"

"But Dad, I'm getting behind in my schoolwork," I told him.

"I figured you were getting somewhat behind, so Jeremiah, I want you to go to school and get anything that Joshua will need for the next two weeks from his teachers.

"Two weeks?" I said with emphasis on the last word.

"Yes, two weeks. I hope this blows over after that, but I don't think it will. That man put hate in the minds of most of those people there, and I don't know what they're capable of or going to do. Right now, I need to protect my family, and Jeremiah, when you get Joshua's work, get what you'll need also for the next two weeks and then you come right home. Whatever you do, don't respond to taunts or anything said to get you fighting. You have to ignore all that."

This being kept at home business sounded to me like when faced with Indians, the wagon master in the movies would have the wagons circle up for protection. It sounded to me like we're circling up.

"Boys, I don't want you to worry too much about this. Let's just be safe, though, and smart." Dad said.

I spent the rest of the day in my room mostly reading, but it was broken up by farm chores that needed to get done. I did have one phone call from Mark later in the afternoon.

"Josh, you wouldn't believe what is going on in school," Mark said as soon as I picked up the phone."


"It's like a crazy lynch mob. They're using your name all over the place. Some say they want you out of the school, and others are saying that you should be arrested. Your friend Steve is one of the more outspoken ones.

"Arrested!? Why am I to be arrested? And what about Steve?"

"It's because in their eyes, you're a homosexual."

I realized Mark was a homosexual too.

"Mark, does anyone at school know about you?"

"No, thank God."

"Mark, you need to be careful. So, what's Steve been saying?"

"He's been saying that he can't believe he was a friend of yours. He said that a bunch of the guys took care of Carter, and that you might be next."

That sent a terrifying chill down my spine.

The next day was just as boring as the last time I'd stayed home from school until there was a knock on the front door. Dad went to answer it, but then I couldn't hear anything else.

"Joshua, you'd better come downstairs," Dad shouted.

When I got to the living room, I saw three uniformed policemen standing with Dad.

"What's up Dad," I said as I entered.

"I'll let them tell you, Joshua."

"Joshua Olson, you're under arrest," the first policeman said to me.

"For what?" I asked emphatically, surprising myself how, instead of being scared, all I felt was anger.

"For suspicion of the murder of Carter Mansfield."

"What?" I spoke.

"Please turn around," the other officer said.

They handcuffed me. THEY HANDCUFFED ME!

I was led out the front door to their squad car, my hands cuffed behind my back. Dad called to me saying, "Joshua, please don't worry. This is ridiculous. You'll be fine."

After I left with the three police officers, I was sure Dad would immediately call Derrick.

They took me to the Olson's Corners Police Department and by then, my anger had been overridden by fear. I was scared to death, had been all the way there. After they took my handcuffs off, I was put in what they called a holding tank. It was a large room with a long table in the middle and individual cells lining both sides on the room with all doors open. Each cell contained two bunk beds, a toilet and sink but that was it.

There were several people in the holding tank, eight to be exact. Four of them were kids I knew from school, but the rest of them were adults I didn't know. I wondered if one of the adults had robbed someone, if one was a car thief, or if any or all of them were just drunks given the chance to sleep it off. Did I tell you I was scared? You bet I was 'cuz I had never been in jail before and didn't know what to expect. After a few minutes, I walked into one of the cells that seemed to be unoccupied. I didn't know what was what and ended up just lying down on one of the bottom bunk beds trying to relax, trying to get my head to stop spinning.

I hadn't been lying there long before one on the kids came into the cell. He looked down at me, and asked, "You're that Olson's kid, aren't you?"

"Yeah," was all I said back to him.

"Well then, we're probably in here for the same reason. I know you probably don't know me 'cuz we don't hang out together, but I'm Kyle Johannsson ."

"I'm Joshua Olson," I said. I looked up at him and had to ask the obvious question. "Are you a homosexual?"

"Well yeah. That's why we're here, don't you think?"

"No. I don't know why I'm here," I said.

Kyle watched me for a moment and then sat down next to me on the bunk.

"Do you know Carter Mansfield?" he asked, his voice starting to tremble.

"I know who he was, but that's all."

Kyle's face scrunched as tears began down his cheeks.

"Carter was my boyfriend. I'm here because we did things together, and they killed him for it."

Kyle was now openly sobbing. I sat up and wrapped him in my arms.

"I'm so sorry, Kyle. I didn't know Carter, but no one should go through what he had."

Kyle looked up at me.

"I loved him; you know. We had planned on spending our lives together."

I suddenly felt his excruciating pain because that's what I planned on doing with Mark, spending our lives together. But Kyle's dreams had been ripped from him. My thoughts were of Mark and how I couldn't let what happened to Carter, happen to Mark. I sat beside Kyle, him crying for Carter while I cried for Mark.

Kyle broke our embrace and stood.

"I think you know what I feel by the way you reacted. You were emotional, weren't you? You feel my pain."

I looked up at him with tears still streaming down my cheeks.

"Yes," I barely squeaked out.

"Do you have a boyfriend?"


"Do you love him?"

"With all my heart."

"Don't tell me his name, please. Just protect him, Joshua. Keep him safe."

I just nodded my head to him. He looked down at me and when I didn't speak again, he eventually left, and I laid back down wondering how many of the boys in here were also homosexual and going to go through what Kyle and Carter went through.

I slept on and off for the next two hours until a jailer from outside the holding tank yelled my name. I got up, left the small cell and said, "That's me."

"Come over here. You've got a visitor."

I walked over to where he was standing with another guard who was unlocking the holding tank door. "Your visitor is waiting in the conference room for you. Follow that officer and I'll be right behind you."

I felt like James Cagney as they were leading him to the electric chair. We entered a small room with a table and two chairs in it. Derrick was seated in one of the chairs and I sat in the other facing him.

"Man, am I glad to see you, Mr. Johnson."

"I'm sure you are, Joshua, and call me Derrick. Do you know why you're here?"

"Sort of. They said it was because I killed Carter Mansfield."

"Yes, that's the charge they have against you. First off, I'm going to represent you in this matter and eventually in court, if it gets that far. You need to know what you say to me is confidential. I can't repeat it to anyone. Has anyone asked you any questions?"

"No. They've pretty much left me alone."

"Good. If anyone tries to talk to you about this, you must say you can't talk to them without your attorney, that's me, present. And then you're not to say anything more. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir, I do."

"Good. Then tell me what you know about Carter Mansfield."

"I don't know him at all. He just goes to the same school I do."

"Did you know he was homosexual?"

"No. I did suspect that he might be, though."

"How did you suspect that?"

"Mainly from what other people said about him."

"Like what other people are saying about you?"

I jumped up, knocking my chair backward to the floor.

"What have you heard?" I said somewhat angrily.

I was upset and wanted to show it.

"Calm down, Joshua. I'm only trying to get some background as to why he was killed."

"I'm sorry, Derrick. I get mad about the rumors going around about me," I said while picking up my chair.

"You told the police that you were at home that night. Where were you when you were at home?"

"I guess I was in my room."

"Alone? Did anyone at home see you there?"

"No. I wanted to be alone so spent all night in my room."

"The prosecutor is saying that your alibi doesn't hold up because it can't be confirmed. They're saying that there was ample time for you to have left your house to meet up with Carter."

"I didn't leave home that night," I said.

"Do you have any idea who might have done this?"

"The way the hate is going around the school against homosexuals, it could have been any one of them. I talked to Mark on the phone earlier that day, and he told me what was going on in school. He told me that a bunch of the guys said they beat up Carter. He also warned me that I may be next."

"A bunch of guys? Not just one?"

"Yeah, and one of them was Steve."

"You may be safe here. There's no bail on a murder charge," Derrick said.

"I'm supposed to just sit here?"

I'm afraid so. Who is this Steve guy? Does he have a last name?"

"It's Tinsdale . He used to be my best friend."

"Used to be?"

"Yeah, when he heard the rumors about me, he turned against me."

"Do you know who started this rumor about you?"

"Yeah. Jeremiah, my brother, told me that some guy named Mike told him I was a homosexual. When I asked Jer who said that to Mike, he said it was Carter Mansfield."

Derrick sat back for a moment.

"Sounds to me like Carter was fed up with being the only one harassed and decided to spread it around, and it came back to bite him."

I had to think about that.

"Joshua, from the little that you've told me, I realized that there's more going on here. I'm going to hire a private investigator to look into what's happening at your school. I also want him to take a look at this Reverend Rocksbury. He fits into a lot of what has happened.

"Tomorrow, you'll have to go in front of a judge for what they call an arraignment. The judge will ask you if you're innocent or guilty. I'd like you to plead 'not guilty.' I'm asking you to do that so we can have a trial. If you plead guilty, there will be no trial and the judge can sentence you right then. It you plead not guilty then we can have a trial and have witnesses brought before the court to testify. Since this is a murder case, the judge may override a guilty plea and order a trial anyway. Is this making any sense to you?"

"Yeah, sir. I think I get it."

I was transferred from the holding tank to a cell that housed two inmates. I learned that I was an inmate now. When I walked in, I was surprised to see my cellmate. Kyle stood from the lower bunk he was on and looked at me.

"They tell me you're here for killing Carter," was all he said.

"Kyle, I didn't do it. I wish I knew who did."

"You don't know? Fuck, everyone knows."

"What are you talking about?"

Kyle's eyes became misty and looked away from me. He stared at the concrete wall before he spoke.

"When Carter was still conscience in the ambulance, he told the EMT people who had done that to him."

"What? I exclaimed. "Have you told that to anyone?"

"No. Who'd listen to me? I was Carter's boyfriend. They would assume I was making it all up just to get back at someone."

I spent the night in my cell, tossing and turning in my upper bunk, not able to get anywhere close to a good night's sleep. Kyle was no help because he was crying almost the whole night.

In the morning, I was served some cereal with milk, two slices of toast and a carton of orange juice for breakfast. It was assuredly nothing like Mom would have for me at home.

Then I was handcuffed again and brought upstairs to the court room. What did they think by putting handcuffs on me again? Did they think I would make a run for it? Yeah, where would I go? Well dah, home of course.

Mr. Johnson was at a front table facing the judge who was already seated, and the guard pointed for me to have a seat next to him. As I was heading over to the table, I saw Mom, Dad, Jeremiah and Billy in the front row just behind the wooden fence separating the spectators from the judge. Behind Mom and Dad, I noticed the Reverend Rocksbury.

A man in a police officer's uniform undid my handcuffs and then went to the bench and handed the judge some papers, and after reading them, Judge Cogswell said, "The next case is docket number 45-168. Is Mr. Olson present in the courtroom?"

Mr. Johnson stood up and said, "I'm Derrick Johnson, and I'll be representing Mr. Olson for this hearing. Mr. Olson is seated next to me."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Is the prosecution ready to proceed?"

"Yes, Your Honor. I'm Larry Christianson and I represent Pennington County ."

"Let's proceed then. Mr. Olson, would you please rise."

I looked up at Derrick who nodded his head and I got out of my chair to stand next to him.

"Mr. Olson, you have been charged with the murder of Carter Mansfield. How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?"

"My client pleads not guilty Your Honor," Mr. Johnson said in my behalf.

"Okay. Trial will be set for the fifteenth of September at 9:00 AM."

Just then the rear doors banged open, and everyone turned to see what the commotion was. I also turned around to see Mark walk through the doors. There was blood all over his face and clothes. He was limping, holding his side.

I turned to step toward him, but Derrick stopped me. Just then Mark collapsed to the floor, motionless. I shoved Derrick's hand away, shoved the gate in the bar away with a bang and ran toward Mark lying on the floor.

"Bailiff, see what's happening out there," the judge ordered.

I held Mark's head in my hands, and he looked up at me. "I'm so sorry, Josh."

"Don't say any more, Mark. I'm here."

Mark then gave me his eloquent smile.

"Someone call a fucking ambulance!" I screamed.

Just then, the bailiff reached me.

"We've already called. They'll be here shortly, he said.

Mom, Dad, Jeremiah and Billy were at my side.

"What happened to Mark?" my dad asked.

"I think he got what Carter got," I answered.

The bailiff was at the bench, explaining what had happened to Judge Cogswell.

The EMT people moved me away as they as they worked on Mark to keep him alive. He was going to be transported by ambulance to the hospital.

"I'm going with him," I stated.

"You can't." the judge spoke up. You're still under arrest for murder."

I stood and faced him.

"Your Honor. This is my boyfriend. He means more to me than you could ever imagine. He's my life as I am his. If we were married, you'd let the wife accompany her husband. The only reason we are not is because of archaic laws. But that doesn't mean I don't love him with all my heart. Order the entire police department to escort me. I can't nor will I let him die alone. Mark and I need the courts compassion right now."

I lowered my head and cried.

The judge then glanced toward the prosecutor, who nodded.

"Sheriff, escort this young man to the hospital. Keep him in your sight. I want him in chains the entire time.

"This court is adjourned until 9:00 AM the day after tomorrow." Bang went his gavel.

I looked upward to see Judge Cogswell's face. He was watching me. He stopped his exit from the bench and just stared at me. My eyes opened wide when I saw him nod his head at me. What was that all about? I wondered. That nod told me that he knew something that I didn't.

I must have been a sight walking into the emergency room in chains. I had three policemen escorting me, and one of them, Sargent Livingston, told me to stop. Another policeman, who's name I didn't know, left us and walked to what I assumed was a reception desk. He spoke to the man behind the desk for a few moments and then returned to us.

"Mark is in the OR right now. He didn't know anything about Mark's injuries but said a doctor would be out shortly to talk to us."

I looked at each one of the policemen guarding me. What I saw in their eyes… was sympathy. They were all as concerned about Mark as I was.

"We're to wait here. Joshua, take a seat over by the wall."

I sat in one of the empty seats with two officers beside me and the third on the other side. It was extremely uncomfortable with my hands cuffed behind my back. I kept squirming to avoid the cuffs cutting into my wrists.

"Uncomfortable?" Sargent Livingston asked me.

"Very. Every time I lean back, these handcuffs hurt my wrists."

"Turn around. I'm going to put them in front of you," he said.

I turned so he could reach my hands, and he removed my handcuffs. I felt the relief as my blood rush back into my hands. With the handcuffs in front of me, I looked into the Sargent's face.

"Thank you," I said to him.

We all stood as a doctor approached us.

"I'm Doctor Pellson. I assume you're here for Mark Nelson. It's a little unusual to see a boy in chains here. Why the security around him?"

"He's actually on trial at this moment. Mark entered the courtroom and collapsed, and he was bought here. This boy is a friend of Mark's. The judge allowed him to come here with Mark. That was very unusual, but he dictated that he be escorted in chains," Sargent Livingston said.

The doctor turned to me.

"So, you must be Joshua. Mark called for you before we sedated him," Doctor Pellson said.

"Yes, I am. How is he?"

"It was obvious he was attacked, and not by one person. There had to have been multiple attackers. At first, we didn't think it was too serious, but on further examination, we discovered that one of his kidneys had ruptured. That's why he was rushed to the OR. We had to remove the kidney."

"Is Mark going to be alright?" I asked with a concerned voice.

"He's going to be just fine. One kidney works as well as two. The operation went well. He's going to be in the ICU until the anesthesia wears off. Where are his parents?"

Sargent Livingston looked around the waiting room for a moment before pointing to the front doors.

"Right over there," he said.

Mark's dad must have recognized me because he rushed over.

"Are you Mark Nelson's father?" the doctor asked.

"Yes. I'm Earl Nelson."

Doctor Pellson then described Mark's condition to his dad.

"It may be an hour or so until he's conscience from the surgery. You can visit him in the ICU, but you have to be brief. He needs rest right now. I'm sorry officers, but only family is allowed in right now."

Sargent Livingston looked at me and saw my face crumple as tears crept from my eyes. He then turned to the other officers and nodded up and down.

"Joshua is Mark's brother," he suddenly exclaimed.

Earl Nelson looked at me but said nothing. The expression on the faces of the other officers, except Sargent Livingston's, was one of surprise.

"We'll have to follow Joshua in there. I'm sorry, but it's a court order," the Sargent said.

"Okay. You may want to go to the cafeteria. We'll call you when he's awake."

"I don't want to leave Mark," I said. "Can I just go to his room and wait for him to wake up?"

"It'll be a while," Dr. Livingston said.

"I don't care, I need to be with him."

The hospital staff had to get more chairs for all of us so we could sit with Mark. We sat quietly for almost ten minutes, watching Mark sleep, before Mr. Nelson turned to me, tilting his head to his right slightly.

"It appears to me, Joshua, that you've become pretty close to my son."

"I have. He's more than a brother to me."

"I can see that. How close are you two?"

I turned to look into Mr. Nelson's eyes for a moment.

"So close that Mark told me what happened to him in Cleveland. I know he's homosexual, and I don't care," emphasizing the words, 'don't care.'"

"He loves you; you know."

I nodded my head to Mr. Nelson. "I know, and I love him."

Sargent Livingston smiled and turned to me.

"Joshua, I need to tell you something, to all of you. My son is 17 and he came out to me last year. He's beside himself and doesn't know what to do. I know what you and Mark are going through because it's almost the same thing that my son is going through. The difference is, he doesn't have a Mark by his side. I only wish there was something I can do to help my son."

Sargent Livingston lowered his head, and I watched him for a moment. I then got up and sat next to him.

"What's his name," I asked.

He looked up at me. "It's Kent. Do you know him?"

"Yeah, I do. He's in my Algebra class. He's pretty smart, and he seems to be a good kid."

"Thank you for saying that. I wish I knew what to do to help him."

I wasn't too sure that what I was about to say was appropriate for a 16-year-old to be telling Kent's dad.

"I guess the only thing to do is be a dad for him, love him and support him. Kids our age are always filled with doubts. Just be there for him when he's afraid, when he has those doubts."

He looked at me with tears running down his cheeks.

"I'd like to meet your dad one of these days. I need to tell him what an amazing son he has."

I looked up and saw Mark open his eyes. He grunted a bit before trying to look around the room. Mark's dad rushed to his side before I could reach him. He then looked down at me and pushed me in front of him. The nurse in the room must have called Dr. Pellson because he came into the room.

"I'm sure Mark wants to know that you're here," he said.

I looked down at Mark, who was trying to focus, and I took his hand in mine.

"I'm here, Mark. Your dad's here too."

Mark looked up at me and smiled. I knew he was waking up.

"Ahom," I heard from across the room. Sargent Livingston was pointing his head toward the door. I knew what he wanted.

"Mark, I can only stay for a moment. I was in court when you came in there. I have to get back. The police are waiting for me. I love you, Mark, and I'll be back as soon as I can."

Earl stepped in front of me as I backed away.

"I'm here, son," he said.

The ride back to the jail was a somber one. The two other officers seemed to be reflecting on what they saw and heard in the ICU with Mark. It appeared to me that I now had three policemen on my side.

It was late afternoon when I was escorted back to my cell. Kyle stood when I entered.

"How is Mark?" He immediately asked. "I heard what happened in the courtroom."

"Mark's in the hospital in the ICU. He was beaten just like Carter was. They had to remove one of his kidneys because the beating ruptured it."

Kyle sat down on his bunk and looked up at me.

"When will all this fucking end, Josh?"

I had to look around the cell, trying to figure out how to answer Kyle. I finally looked down at him.

"I don't know, Kyle. With the hatred in this town, I don't know if it'll ever end."

"Josh, I'm in here because I loved a boy. Mark is in the hospital because he loved a boy. Carter is dead because he loved a boy. What is wrong with love. Jesus said that the most cherished thing for us to do was to love. He didn't say to whom, just to love," Kyle almost screamed while slamming his fist down on his mattress.

"I don't have all the answers, Kyle," I said to him. "God works in mysterious ways."

"Sometimes, I wonder if there is a god."

I sat next to Kyle while he put his head on my shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Josh. This has got me worked up."

"I know. Me too."

I heard the jailor say my name from behind our cell door.

"You've got a visitor. It's your attorney. Let's go." he said as he opened our cell door this time without even bothering with cuffs.

I was never so glad to see Derrick sitting at the table we had used previously.

"Josh, I think I've got some good news for you."

"They're going to let me go?"

"Not so fast. My detective has come up with some very interesting information. He talked to the EMT people from the ambulance and found out the names of the boys that attacked Carter."

"Who were they," I asked.

Derrick looked at me for a moment.

"I think you know the three of them. Don't be alarmed, but one was Porter Nelson, Mark's cousin. Another one was Charley Garrett."

Derrick looked at me for another moment.

"And?" I asked.

"The other one was Steve Tinsdale."

"Steve?" I almost shouted.

"Yes, your ex-best friend, Steve."

I sat and shook my head in disbelief.

"Josh, all three of them were at Roxbury's prayer meeting the other night. My investigator interviewed a few of your classmates about those three. It was interesting what he found out."

"What were they saying?"

"All three of them were under Roxbury's spell. They had been going around the school spouting Roxbury's words that the Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death. Many of the kids didn't agree with them but some did."

"What are you going to do?"

"I already have. I turned over what I discovered to the DA, the detectives notes, and the interviews with the ambulance crew. All three of the boys were arrested this morning."

"Does that mean I don't have to go on trial?"

"It may be a formality, but yes, you still have to show up at least once."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing and started to envision myself walking out of this cell. Then, Kyle crossed my mind.

"What about Kyle? Will this affect him?"

"No. Unfortunately, he committed a crime and still has to go on trial."

I looked at Derrick, thinking about what he just said.

"This just seems so wrong to me. His only crime was to love someone. What is wrong with love?" I had to ask.

"By the law, it has to be with the right person. Kyle was sexually active with Carter. That was his crime."

I got up and walked around the room, furious.

I put my hands on the table, looking directly at Derrick.

"Derrick, do you love your wife?"

"Yes, of course I do.?"

"Do you have sex with her?"

"That's an inappropriate question, Joshua."

"Do you?" I asked again, more forcefully.

"It's none of your business but yes."

"Do you have sex with her as an expression of your love for her?"

"I know where you're going with this, Josh, and yes, that's exactly why I have sex with her."

I stood up but continued to look at Derrick.

"I rest Kyle's case," I said to him.

Derrick nodded.

"Does he have an attorney?" I asked.

"Yes, he does."

"I hope he's a good one."

"I do too because it's me."

"You're his attorney?"

"I am. See, Josh, you didn't have to get so worked up about Kyle, going through your interrogation of me."

"I'm sorry, Derrick. I know you'll do your best for him."

I looked across the room.

"I want to be at his trial," I said to the wall.

"I'm sure, he'll want you there, Josh."

Once I entered the courtroom with my chains rattling, I noticed it was packed. There were also news journalists standing in the back with their cameras trained on the front of the courtroom. The first two rows were being kept empty, with one exception, Earl Nelson, for some reason I didn't understand.

Mom, Dad, Jeremiah and Billy filed into the first row and sat next to Earl Nelson. I then understood why the first row was left open. It was for family members. The bailiff motioned for me to sit with Derrick at his table. Before I sat down, he removed my chains. As we were waiting for the judge to arrive, I looked around the courtroom and saw Reverend Rocksbury seated two rows behind Mom and Dad.

Suddenly, a door opened on the left side of the judges' bench. A group of fourteen people filed in the courtroom and took seats along the left wall. There were fourteen, I counted them.

I heard another door open on the right side of the front wall and Judge Cogswell entered the room. A uniformed Police Officer in front of the judge's bench (I don't know why they call it a bench because it was obvious, he had a high-backed easy chair to sit in) said, "All rise. The District Court for the County of Pennington in the state of Minnesota is now in session, Judge Cogswell presiding." When the judge took his seat, he said, "Be seated," and we all sat down.

Judge Cogswell said, "This is the trial for docket number 45-168. Is the defendant present in court?"

Mr. Johnson stood and said again, "I'm Derrick Johnson, and I'll be representing Mr. Olson for this trial. Mr. Olson is seated next to me."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Is the prosecution ready to proceed?"

"Yes, Your Honor. I'm Larry Christianson and I represent Pennington County."

"Since all parties are present, we'll now hear opening statements. Mr. Christianson, you may proceed," the judge said.

"Thank you, Your Honor," Larry Christianson said as he stood up and approached the bench.

"Some new developments have been brought to our attention just yesterday. Because of those developments, Your Honor, the state will be dropping all charges against the defendant, Mr. Joshua Olson."

"I'd like to see both attorneys in my chambers. Court is adjourned for a few moments."

I watched Derrick and Mr. Christianson rise and follow Judge Cosgrove out of the courtroom. I knew what Mr. Christianson was going to say to the judge.

Derrick and Mr. Christianson reentered the courtroom followed by Judge Cosgrove. Derrick took his seat next to me and put his hand on my arm.

"You ready to go home?" he asked.

I knew I was about to go home, but I couldn't get Kyle out of my mind. I may be vindicated, but I feared for him.

"Mr. Christianson, I believe you had just made a motion to drop this case. Do you still wish to make that motion?"

"Yes, Your Honor. For the court record, we have uncovered evidence that Mr. Olson was not the person who attacked Mr. Mansfield. He was not even present. The three people who did attack Mr. Mansfield are in custody awaiting trial."

"Mr. Johnson, any comment?"

"No, Your Honor."

"Then this case is closed. Mr. Olson, the court wishes to apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused you. You are free to go."

The gavel banged, the last time for Joshua.

My ride home would have been a joyous one except for one thing.

"Dad, instead of going home, would you take me to the hospital?"

"I was wondering when you were going to ask, Josh. I know your mind is on Mark, so you probably didn't notice that we're almost there."

"What?" I asked looking out the window seeing the hospital come closer to me.

"I'll let you off in the front and then go to park the car. We'll join you later," Dad said to me with a smile.

Mr. Nelson was already in the room and looked up at me as I entered.

I hope you found your way to the room all right," he said to me. "They moved Mark this morning."

"I didn't have any problem. When they saw me, they knew who I was here to see."

"Good. I'm going to leave you two for a while. Remember, Josh, he still needs his rest."

"I promise."

I then looked at Mark.

"How do you feel?" I asked as I moved to his bedside.

"I'm alright. I missed you, but I'm glad you're here."

"I missed you too."

"You're here without your armed guard. What happened?"

"They let me go. They found the guys who attacked Carter and they're in jail now, so here I am."

"I told the police who did this to me."

"Were they the same ones that attacked and killed Carter?"

"Porter Nelson, Charley Garrett and Steve Tinsdale were mine."

"It's the same bunch," I said.

"I guess I'm lucky to be alive," he said. "I don't know what got into this town?"

"I do. It was that Reverend Roxbury, that's who."

"I wonder if someone's going to do something about him."

"I don't think so. It would be hard to get rid of him."

Mark looked away for a moment then back at me.

"I wonder if the school could do something. I think it was those school kids that were affected the most."

"That's a good thought. I think I'll talk to my dad about it. He may be able to do something."

Mark looked around again but came back to me.

"Josh, would you kiss me? I need you so much and I can't sit up yet."

I had to smile, knowing he was thinking the same thing I was thinking.

"Just lie still, Mark," I said as I lowered my lips onto his.

As always, my heart sprang with double beats. I couldn't get enough of the feel of him on my lips. I opened my eyes for a moment, looking directly into his. He was crying.

He broke our kiss suddenly.

"Josh, I can't get enough of you. Please don't ever leave me."

"You're stuck with me, Mark. I want you to be with me forever."

Mark raised his arms and grabbed me to him. I could see the tears of joy filling his eyes. We hugged each other without words; they weren't necessary.

I didn't hear the knock on the door but was not surprised to see my mom and dad come into the room. I didn't care; I wasn't going to let go of Mark.

"Josh, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" my mom asked.

"I think you know why, Mom. Mark's alive."

I didn't care anymore as I plastered my lips onto his.

"Want me to leave you guys alone for a moment?"

"No. Come in," I said as I raised myself from Mark.

Dad walked over to me, and whispered into my ear, "Take care of him, Josh. Keep your love alive. Be strong for him, as I know he'll be there for you, too."

I grabbed my dad and hugged him with all the strength within me.

"Why am I so lucky to have you two, and now Mark, with me?"

"It's because you have a wonderful capacity to love, Josh. Don't ever lose that."

I left Mark with his dad. They needed time alone, too. I missed him when I wasn't by his side, but Mom said that I needed to give him time to get better. I knew she was right, but it ached inside me not to be with him. We drove home somberly as I couldn't get Mark out of my mind, worrying about him.

The ache suddenly turned to Kyle. He was in trouble, and I didn't know what to do about it. I needed to call Derrick. I ran to the kitchen and picked up the phone.

"Hi, Derrick. It's me, Josh."

"What can I do for you, Josh?"

"How's Kyle? What's happening to him?"

"Well, he's still in jail. His hearing is scheduled for tomorrow."

"What time? I want to be there."

"It's scheduled for 9:00 AM. Josh, you've told me why Kyle means so much to you, but there's nothing you can do to help him. Right now, that's my job."

"I don't care. I'm going to be there anyway."

"Josh, I know how passionate you are. I was thinking that your passion might help to sway the jury. I haven't put you on the list of witnesses I'm going to call, but would you be willing if I called you? I would need your parents' permission, of course.

"I'll do anything I can, Derrick."

"I'll be over in a few minutes to get your parents to sign a permission slip. He ended the call.

I went into the living room to talk to Dad. He was reading the paper when I went and stood before him.

He put the newspaper down and asked, "Yes, what is it?"

"Derrick wants to put me on the stand tomorrow for Kyle."

"Who's Kyle?"

"Dad, I can't explain who he is in a short amount of time. Derrick will be here in just a few minutes for you to sign a permission slip for me to do what he needs."

"When's the hearing?"

"Tomorrow morning at 9:00."

"This means a lot to you; doesn't it?"

"More than you know."

"Okay. I'll drive you to the courthouse and on the way, you'll tell me who Kyle is and what's this all about. If I agree, I'll sign the paper then. You okay with that?"

"Thanks, Dad. And yes, he's important to me."

I went to sleep that night fearful of what might happen in that courtroom tomorrow.

Dad woke me at 7:00 AM which was late for a farm boy. I was already awake when he knocked on my door, having been unable to sleep past 5:00. My fear for Kyle had gripped me for the past two hours.

"I'm up Dad," I yelled at the door.

"Get dressed. Mom will have breakfast ready in about twenty minutes."

I jumped in the shower, dressed myself in my church clothes and was bounding downstairs five minutes before breakfast was ready.

"So, who's this Kyle guy?" Mom asked.

I couldn't help my eyes from glassing over by her question.

"Mom, he's a friend who's in trouble. I want to tell you all about him, but it needs to wait."

"What kind of trouble is he in?" she asked.

"Mom, he's in trouble because he loved someone."

She looked at me with questions on her face.

"Josh is going to tell me all about Kyle on our ride to the courthouse this morning," Dad said to her.

"Well, eat your breakfast then. It's Josh's favorite, Rommegrot, bacon, eggs and toast."

"Thanks, Mom," I said.

Dad and I talked the whole trip to the courthouse. I even told him about my tirade with Derrick about sex with his wife. But, more importantly, I told him about Sargent Livingston's son, Kent, and what he must be going through.

Dad signed the permission slip before I got out of the car.

This trial must have made the papers because the courtroom was packed. Standing in the rear were cameramen at the ready. Derrick looked up at me when I walked in and motioned for me to sit in the first row behind the bar. I sat down next to a man I didn't know. He wasn't dressed like I was in my church clothes, but rather in farmers overalls. Dad sat behind me.

He turned to me and said, "You must be Joshua Olson. Kyle's talked a lot about you, and you looked like you might be him."

I looked up at the man. He was weathered in face for a man who worked outdoors.

"Yes, I am."

"I'm so glad to meet you, Joshua. I'm Kyle's grandfather, Knut Jacobson"

"His parents aren't here?" I asked.

"No. They were killed in a car accident some years back. I've raised Kyle since he was eight years old."

Oh, my God. This revelation about Kyle made me want to take him under my wing, if I had a wing.

"Kyle's a good boy," I said back to him.

"I know. But he's a troubled boy."

I turned to him, knowing what he was saying.

"I know about Kyle, so you probably don't have to keep secrets from me. I know what he's going through."

He looked down at me.

"Kyle's not been himself after Carter was killed. His desperation to be himself has almost evaporated. I don't know what to do."

I reached over and took this stranger's hand.

"I don't either. All we can do is hope for the best."

"He's going to jail; you know."

"Maybe, maybe not. Derrick Johnson was my lawyer. He's good."

"Yeah, I heard about the trouble you were in from Kyle. He really thought a lot about you."

"And I think a lot about him."

"I know you do."

I liked this man.

'All rise' was heard from the bailiff as Judge Cosgrove entered the room. We all stood.

"The 9th District Court of Pennington County in now in session. Judge Cosgrove presiding,"

"Be seated," the judge said.

The court clerk then handed Judge Cosgrove a manila folder. He read it for a moment and then looked up.

"This is a trial to hear testimony to determine the innocence or guilt of Mr. Kyle Johannsson for the crime of homosexual contact with another. He has requested a jury trial, and I see that they are all present. Is the defendant present?"

Mr. Jacobson clinched my hand further.

Derrick rose. I'm Derrick Johnson, and I represent Mr. Johannsson seated beside me."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson."

"Is the country prosecutor present?"

"Yes, Your Honor. I'm Margret Maybury, and I represent the State of Minnesota."

"Very well. You may proceed with opening statements, Mrs. Maybury."

"Thank you, Your Honor"

Mrs. Maybury rose and faced the jury.

"Homosexuality is not illegal in Minnesota, but homosexual acts are. We intend to prove that Mr. Johannsson willingly submitted to performing sexual acts. This case is simple in that Mr. Johansson has previously admitted to performing these acts. The law is specific, and we know that you will find him guilty."

"Mr. Johnson, your turn."

"Thank you, Your Honor," and turned toward the jury.

"This case is not simple. It is about the very foundation of our humanity," Derrick said, emphasizing the word 'foundation.' "I want you to open your eyes and minds and feel your humanity. Mr. Johannsson is guilty of one, and of only one, thing. He dared to love. Simple, isn't it? No, it's not. We intend to show Mr. Johannsson's humanity, but more importantly, his ability to love."

"Thank you."

Mr. Jacobson gripped my hand tighter, and I looked up at him to see tears flowing down his cheeks. It was obvious to me that he loved Kyle, but I also saw the fear in his teary eyes.

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Your first witness, Mrs. Maybury."

"Thank you, Your Honor. I call Mr. Joshua Olson to the stand.

"I object, Your Honor," Derrick said immediately jumping to his feet. "This witness was not on her witness list."

"Mrs. Maybury? The judge asked lowering his head to his right.

"Mr. Johnson was intending to call Mr. Olson to the stand without our knowledge. I just beat him to the punch."

"Mr. Johnson?"

"Yes, I was thinking about Mr. Olson's testimony. I hadn't intended to put him on the stand, only if was necessary."

Judge Cogswell thought for a moment.

"I'm going to overrule your witness for the moment, Mrs. Maybury. The defense has a right to know who your witnesses are before the trial. Mr. Johnson, I'm going to overlook your not putting Mr. Olson on your witness list for now. Please put his name on your list and hand it to Mrs. Maybury even if you're not going to call him."

"Yes, Your Honor. It'll be done."

"Now, you may continue, Mrs. Maybury."

For some reason, I thought the Judge was on our side. I wondered if my trial had anything to do with that.

"I call Reverend Roxbury to the stand."

Reverend Rocksbury rose from the row behind my folks and walked past the bar. When the reverend was to place his hand in the bible and asked by the bailiff to swear to tell the truth, he answered, "I always speak the truth."

"Just answer 'I do,' if that's your answer, please."

"Yes, of course I do."

"Thank you. Please have a seat."

When the reverend was seated, Judge Cogswell asked, "Please state your full name for the record."

"I am The Most Reverend James Conner Roxbury, spiritual leader of the Evangelical Church here in this town."

"Reverend, did you hold a rally the other night?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes, I did, and it was a wonderful and informative gathering of the people of this town."

"What was the subject talked about at your rally?"

"It was all about the plague that has overrun our town."

"Do you mean like the bubonic plague?"

"No ma'am. It is the plague of homosexuals that has invaded us."

"Tell us about these homosexuals."

"Leviticus 20:13 says that it is a sin for a man to lie with a man, and those that do are an abomination in the eyes of God our Father. The bible tells us so. But they can be saved from an eternity in hell. We have a program at our church that can cure these lost souls of their sinful ways and return them to the fold."

"Specifically, what are these homosexuals capable of doing?" Mr. Christian asked.

"Their perverted souls will prey on young children and gather them in for sex. They believe that sex is for enjoyment, not procreation, and they gather together to plan which child they will go after next."

"That sounds horrible, sir," the prosecutor said.

"It is assuredly the most horrible thing that this town is facing, but all is not lost. Like I mentioned earlier, we have a program that will turn these mentally ill individuals away from their evil ways and return them to the blessed family of God."

"Thank you, Reverend Rocksbury, for enlightening this court and the jury. I have no further questions."

"Cross, Mr. Johnson?" the judge asked Derrick.

"I have no questions for this witness, Your Honor. I believe he's said enough, but I reserve the right to recall this witness," Derrick said to the judge.

"You may step down, Reverend, but be ready to be recalled should the defense attorney so request," the judge said,

"Call your next witness, Mrs. Maybury."

"I call Henry Staitler."

Henry was a friend of mine from school, well more like an acquaintance. I knew he hung with Kyle and Carter because they ate lunch together and I'd seen them in the halls together.

"How old is Mr. Staitler?" Judge Cosgrove interrupted.

"Mr. Staitler is 16-years-old. His parents are in the courtroom today and have given their permission."

"Thank you, Mrs. Maybury. You may proceed," the judge said.

"State your full name, please," Mrs. Maybury asked.

"I'm Henry James Staitler," he said.

"Do you know Mr. Kyle Johannsson?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Have you ever heard Mr. Johannsson talk about his relationship with Mr. Carter?"

"Yes ma'am, many times."

"Has he ever talked to you about any sexual relationship he and Mr. Carter had?"

"That is a hard question to answer. If I do, I'd be betraying something said to me in confidence."

"Let me remind you that you're under oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth."

I saw Henry look over toward Kyle. After a moment, Kyle nodded his head 'yes.'

Henry looked down for a moment, and then looked up at Mrs. Maybury.

"Kyle was madly in love with Carter. He never gave me any details other than he and Carter have had sex. I was jealous of them. I wanted to have the loving relationship they had."

"Do you know if during their sexual activity if there was any penetration?"

"That is none of my business, and they never talked about that."

"Thank you, Mr. Staitler. I have no further questions."

I looked up at Kyle's grandfather. His hands were tightly clasped. It seemed he was having a difficult time hearing what Henry had said.

"Cross?" Judge Cogswell asked Derrick.

"Thank you, Your Honor." Derrick said as he rose.

"Mr. Staitler, could you describe any emotion you felt while they were telling you this?"

I could see that Henry was having a hard time trying to answer that question. He looked down for a moment, and when he raised his head, I saw his eyes were glazed.

"I've already told you this. I felt a deep hurt because I didn't have someone to love; the deep love they felt for each other."

"Thank you, Henry. Thank you for being brave to tell us what you did. I have no further questions."

"The witness may step down."

Henry left the witness stand, but instead of returning to where he was sitting with his parents, he turned into the front row where I was sitting and sat next to Kyle's grandfather.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Jacobson. I didn't want to say all that."

"That's okay, Henry. You had no choice."

Kyle's grandfather paused for a moment.

"Look at me, Henry."

Henry looked up at him.

"I've known you since you were five-years-old. I've seen you grow up to be the wonderful man you are today. You're going to find someone to love. Trust me. There's a boy or girl out there for you. Be patient and be yourself. I know it's going to happen someday."

Henry's eyes were watering when he threw his arms around Mr. Jacobson and continued crying. I felt so sorry for him.

Call your next witness, Mrs. Maybury."

"The State has no further witnesses, and so, the State rests."

"It's getting late," Judge Cogswell said. I'm going to break for lunch. Court will reconvene at 2:00 this afternoon."

"All rise," the bailiff said. We all stood as Judge Cosgrove left the courtroom.

"Let's meet in the attorney's conference room next door. I'll have some sandwiches and sodas sent up," Derrick said.

Derrick, Mom, Dad, Mr. Jacobson and I all filed into the conference room.

Derrick, Mr. Jacobson and Dad each poured themselves a cup of coffee before sitting at the conference table. Derrick sat down at the head of the table, put his coffee cup in front of him but didn't drink any.

He looked up at us.

"Well, the prosecution has sure proven its case with Henry. There is no doubt in the jury's mind that Kyle broke the law."

"What are you going to do?" Dad asked.

Derrick paused for a moment.

"The only thing I can do. I'm going to make the jury go against the law."

"How're going to do that?" I asked.

"I don't know yet."

Our concentration was broken when turkey sandwiches and cans of coke arrived. After what Derrick said, no one seemed very excited about food. I grabbed a can of coke and sat back down. At least I had something to wrap my hands around.

No one spoke for the rest of the break as a somber atmosphere filled the room.

"We should be getting back to the courtroom. It's almost 2:00," Derrick announced.

I returned to my seat next to Kyle's grandfather. Kyle took his seat at the defendant's table next to Derrick.

"All rise," the bailiff announced.

Judge Cosgrove took his place behind the bench.

"Be seated," he announced.

"This court is now reconvened to continue with the case against Mr. Johannsson. "Is the defense ready?" he asked Derrick.

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Call your first witness, Mr. Johnson."

"I call Mrs. Maybury to the stand."

"That is highly irregular, Mr. Johnson," the judge said.

"It's unusual, but not without precedent. In the Scopes Monkey trial in 1926, Clarence Darrow, the defense attorney, called William Jennings Bryant, the prosecution attorney, to the stand."

"I'm familiar with that case of Darrow's. It was a brilliant move. You may proceed," Judge Cosgrove said.

Mrs. Maybury was sworn in and took the stand.

"Mrs. Maybury, are you married?"

Oh, my God. I knew where Derrick was headed. He's going to use my tirade against him to Mrs. Maybury.

"Yes, I am, and happily so."

"How long have you been married?"

"We've been married for twenty-one happy years."

"Do you love your husband?"

"Very much so."

"I know you have two children, so you must have had sex with your husband."

"Isn't that a little inappropriate?"

"Not really. I was just stating an obvious fact."

"Okay then. Yes, my husband and I enjoy sex with each other."

"Do you have sex with him as an expression of your love for him?"

Mrs. Maybury looked at Derrick for a few moments.

"Answer the question, Mrs. Maybury," the judge said.

"Yes, I do, and I know he feels the same as I do."

"Thank you, Mrs. Maybury. I have no further questions.

"You may step down, counselor. Call your next witness, Mr. Johnson."

Derrick looked back at me, shaking his head. I think he was wondering if he wanted to call me or not. Finally, he nodded his head at me.

"I call Mr. Joshua Olson to the stand. Joshua's parents are in the courtroom and have given permission."

The rear door opened, and I almost screamed when Mark entered the courtroom. He was using a crutch and was aided by a man I assumed to be his physical therapist. Mark was walking slowly, but his eyes and face showed his determination to be here.

"You Honor, I apologize for this disturbance. My name is Mark Hanson."

"Your Honor, Mr. Nelson is a friend of Mr. Olson's. I believe he has relevance to this case and beg your forgiveness for this disturbance," Derrick told the judge.

"Have a seat, Mr. Nelson. And please refrain from any more disturbances."

The entire courtroom watched as Mark slowly made his way up the aisle and turned to sit by his dad. He obviously had a difficult time moving down the row in front of the knees of others to get to his dad. I watched him with admiration for what he was doing.

After being sworn in, I took the stand.

"Mr. Olson, do you know Mr. Kyle Johannsson?"

"Yes, sir. I do."

"Could you tell the court under what circumstances you got to know him?"

"I was in custody, and we shared the same cell. We became friends."

"I understand that you were released from custody, and the case against you was dropped, is that right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Could you tell the court what the charge against you was?"

"I was accused of the murder of Carter Mansfield."

"I understand that the real perpetrators were eventually identified and that's why you were released, is that correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"That must have been a difficult time for you."

"It's not easy being in jail; it's terrifying. But I did learn some things being there."

"Could you tell us about what you learned?"

I sat back in the chair, looking at Mark and then at Kyle.

"I learned what love is. Not the love I feel for a pet dog or cat, not the love I feel for my parents or brother, but the truly meaningful love for another human being. I'm sorry if I get a little teary-eyed talking about this but it's coming from my heart."

"Would you like a glass of water?" Derrick asked.

"No, thank you. I'm okay."

"I'm going to have to ask you a few more questions that may be difficult to answer."

"I'm okay."

"Do you love your boyfriend?"

I looked at Mark and spoke directly to him.

"I love him with all my heart and soul."

"Have you had sex with him?"

"Not yet, but I want to."

Mark nodded his head to me.

"Why? Do you lust after him?"


"Then why do you want to have sex with him?"

"To be with him; to be tied to him, to show him how much I love him."

"Is he in the courtroom today?"

I smiled at Mark and said, "Yes."

"I'd like to turn to Kyle Johannsson. In your own words, what have you've learned about the relationship between Mr. Johansson and Mr. Mansfield?

I looked at Derrick and smiled.

"In three words, it's God sent."

"Could you explain that, please?"

I looked toward Kyle at the defendant's table. His head was on the table, and he was crying. I knew he was crying for Carter. Seeing that, I began crying for Kyle and what he was going through.

"Do you need to take a few moments, Joshua?"

"Yes. Can I go see Kyle?"

Derrick looked at Judge Cogswell.

"Would you allow this, Judge? You can see that Mr. Olson and Mr. Johannsson are very distraught over what's being said today."

"I understand and feel sympathy for them, but I must keep the witness and the defendant separated."

"I understand. Mr. Olson, take your time. I'll proceed only when you're ready," Derrick said.

The bailiff came up and handed me a box of Kleenex.

"I'll be alright," I said breathing heavily. I want to get this over with."

The courtroom waited for me to pull myself together. I blew my nose several times and wiped the tears from my face.

"I'm ready," I said.

Derrick looked at me for some time, shaking his head.

"Josh, I'm sorry for what you're going through."

I jumped from the chair.

"It's not me! It's what Kyle's going through. Look at him! He lost the only thing that mattered in his life, and you want to shove some fucking, stupid law down his throat. I don't think there's any humanity left in this world."

"Calm down, Josh," Derrick said to me.

"I'm not going to calm down! You all are about to reach the most regretful decision that I have ever heard. You're going to ruin the life of a young man, a beautiful, caring… loving young man. And for what? Because he had the unmitigated audacity," I screamed as I slammed my fist onto the rail imprisoning me in the witness box, and said quietly, almost inaudibly… "to love? I will not, cannot, ever forgive you any of this."

I sat down, put my head in my hands and wept.

Derrick looked down at me, shaking his head.

"I have no further questions for this witness."

"Cross? Mrs. Maybury."

"I have no questions for this young man," she answered.

"The witness is excused. Your next witness, Mr. Johnson?"

Derrick stared into the courtroom void. He then looked at Mark, shaking his head, 'no.' He knew he couldn't do it.

"I have no more questions… for anyone. The defense rests."

"We'll now have closing arguments. Mrs. Maybury?"

"Thank you, Your Honor." Mrs. Maybury then turned to the jury.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; this law is very specific. It reads that anyone engaging in homosexual acts is guilty of a crime. Mr. Staitler, on the witness stand, testified to conversations with the defendant admitting that he had engaged in a homosexual act with another male. This is an open and shut case, and I'm sure you'll do what your duty requires and find him guilty as charged. Thank you."

"Mr. Johnson, your closing argument."

"Thank you, Your Honor.

"I don't know where to begin, but with my opening statement. This case is not simple. It is about the very foundation of our humanity. I want you to open your eyes and minds and feel your humanity, that which is inside you. Mr. Johannsson is guilty of one, and only one, thing. He dared to love. Simple, isn't it? No, it's not. It's about Mr. Johannsson's ability to love as God intended for all of us. Look into your hearts; look into your own humanity. That's all I have to say. Thank you, members of the jury."

Derrick returned to his chair, lowered his head and put his hands behind it.

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Members of the jury, you are excused to deliberate."

I watched the faces of each jury member as they left the room. Some had their head's lowered while some marched out proudly with heads held high. I didn't know what to think.

We left the courtroom to gather in the attorney's conference room once again.

"What do you think, Derrick?" Dad asked.

"I think he's going to be found guilty. I tried to get around the law, but in the long run, Kyle broke the law. I need to thank Josh for the bravery he showed when this trial unsettled him. What you said, Josh, was absolutely true. Let's hope it opened some minds."

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?" Judge Cogswell asked.

"Yes, Your Honor. We have," Mr. Kenneth Jackson, the foreman of the Jury, said."

"Bailiff, please bring me their verdict."

The judge quietly read the verdict and handed it back to the bailiff.

"Mr. Johannsson, would you please rise?" The judge asked.

When Kyle and Derrick were both standing, the judge turned to Mr. Jackson. "Would you please read your verdict."

"Your honor. Before I read this verdict, I'd like to address the court with a statement we have all prepared. Our verdict is unanimous with no argument whatsoever, but we all feel what we have to say is important to this trial."

Judge Cogswell stared at the jury foreman for moment, concern evident on his face.

"Okay. But please be brief."

"Thank you, Your Honor."

Mr. Jackson turned within the jury box, starring at all the jurors. Each one in turn nodded to him. He then turned toward the court.

"Your Honor, we're a small town. We're not like Minneapolis or even Grand Forks next door. But that doesn't make us as naïve as most people think of small-town farming folks. Yes, we're simple folks believing in right and wrong. And we think! We've been thinking about what is right and wrong here. We've seen what has gone on in this courtroom over the past few days. And we're dismayed. What we've seen has injured our faith in our judicial system, specifically with the law. This case should never have been brought to trial. Homosexual laws are archaic and absolutely worthless. Our US Constitution clearly states that all men are created equal. But that's not happening in this country. Homosexuals are ostracized, jailed and beaten. This is clearly wrong. Reverend Rocksbury is wrong."

Mr. Jackson turned his face toward Kyle and stared at him for a few moments before turning his attention to his grandfather in the front row.

"Mr. Jacobson, the court owes you and your grandson a most sincere apology for what they've put you through."

Then Mr. Jackson took a deep breath, sighed and looked at Kyle.

"We the jury unanimously find the defendant guilty. We could have done no other. Was what he did right? We unanimously think so, yes. We, unanimously again think Mr. Johannsson's a caring and compassionate man who showed his humanity today. Speaking for myself, I wish I had a son as noble as he is. Thank you, Your Honor for letting us have our word."

Judge Cogswell smiled, told the jury they were excused, and they filed out.

Judge Cogswell retired to his chambers while we all waited. I was amazed to see him walk back into the courtroom within ten minutes.

"I've given this case a lot of thought, Judge Cogswell said. "I'm ready to pass sentence at this time. Mr. Johannsson, please rise."

Kyle looked me and smiled. He mouthed the words 'thank you' and turned back to the judge.

Mr. Johannsson, you are remanded into the custody of your grandfather. You're to go home with him and fix him a steak dinner tonight. When he's satisfied that your sentence is complete, you are released. I am also instructing the court to expunge this case from your record."

Kyle looked at the judge and then at me, and I knew he couldn't believe what he just heard. I happened to look behind me and saw Reverend Roxbury storm out of the courtroom. "This isn't over," he was yelling.

The End

I couldn't have written this story without the tireless work of my editors. I am indebted to them.

If you liked this story, or if you didn't like it, please let me know.

Richard Norway

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