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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

A to Z - 52. Chapter 52 Anxiety


No special warnings for this chapter.

Questions and issues raised in this chapter or any other chapter can be discussed at the A to Z story thread here: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/40860-a-to-z/

March 13

I don't know how to write about the last two days. Zander came home, and that’s fantastic. But a lot happened before and after that, and it's hard to decide what to write about first, because, right now, I am angry and scared and fidgety, and I can't sleep, all because of something that happened to Zander, and he had no control over it.

I guess I'll start with the snow.

I set the alarm for very early Sunday morning. Ordinarily, I would sleep in, but I knew I'd have to shovel out the Abbott's and Mrs. Marjorie. I left a note for the Stevensons and slipped out of the house. They were okay with me doing my job, and I was glad of that, as I trudged down the road through the snow. The plows hadn't come yet, and there was maybe four or five inches of heavy wet snow to shovel. I sighed.

The Abbott's went quickly, and I was shoveling Mrs. Marjorie's by around seven o'clock. Mrs. Marjorie came out of the house with a frown just as I finished up.

"Andrew, come inside. There's a phone call for you in the kitchen."

Puzzled, I followed her, wiping my boots on the mat. She handed me the landline phone.

"Andrew Stevenson?" a vaguely familiar voice came over the line to me. "This is Father Brewer over at St. James' Church. Do you remember me?"

"Yessir. What's the matter?" I asked anxiously.

"Well, Mrs. McDowell has her snowblower here at the church on permanent loan, and well, it won't start. If I remember, you were the fellow who was the expert on it, and if your grandmother can part with you for a few moments, I was hoping you could come and help me get it working in time for the early services," the minister explained.

I looked over at Mrs. McDowell. "Just a second, sir. I'll ask."

"Mrs. Marjorie? Father Brewer wants to…" I began.

"Yes, yes, I know what the man wants," she snapped, "and it's fine, Andrew, you go on ahead and help him out. I'll even call your parents to let them know you'll be late finishing with me."

I returned to the phone and promised to be at the church quickly.

"I'm really sorry about this, Mrs. Marjorie, I don't know…" I started, but again, I was cut off.

"It's not him calling here that upsets me, Andrew; I'm the only contact he has for you, God knows why. It's that he assumed I was your grandmother, for heavens' sakes! Honestly, some people haven't got any sense," she fumed.

"I'll be sure to make Father Brewer see the light," I answered, and I hurried off.

The snow blower hulked in a shed right beside the church, and Father Brewer watched me anxiously as I had a look at it. I could see the problem right away. A sparkplug wire had come loose. I reattached it quickly and had the old monster up and running noisily in just a few minutes.

"Hallelujah! Another miracle!" the reverend shouted over the din. "Can you do the clearing?" he asked.

I nodded and waved him on, so he could go back to pastoring or whatever it is ministers do when they're not preaching. I was glad to help. The big machine made good work of the snow on the walkways, and the bulk of the clearing was done by the time people started walking up to the door. I stopped the snow blower and got a shovel to scrape off the steps in time to keep ice from forming there.

On an impulse, I decided to stay for church. If nothing else, there'd be a chance to warm up. I pulled out my phone and texted home to Monica: "staying for church. Pick me up after?"

Not a minute later, her reply brought a smile to my face: "Church? :o Text when u r thru."

From my vantage point in the back, I noticed that it was more like New Year's Day than Christmas – the crowd was kind of sparse, and the singing somewhat subdued. I vaguely remembered the prayers and tried to concentrate. But the scripture got my attention:

“...for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life."

What did that mean? God gave away his son? I wished my own father had given me away – I might have avoided a lot of pain and misery. Though, on the other hand, I probably wouldn't have landed at Zander's house, either. When Father Brewer stood up to preach, he talked some more about this, and I listened. I'm not sure I understood all of what he said – Father Brewer kind of got sidetracked trying to make some story about Moses fit in – but I liked what came next.

"When you look at Jesus raised up, what are you supposed to see?" he asked everyone. "Does God want you to fixate on a grotesque, beaten, dead man, nailed to a wooden cross? Or does God want you to see Jesus in life, not merely in his death? To see love in the flesh, in life, instead of despair and a tortured ending?"

That grabbed my attention. He kept speaking, but I got lost in thought. This had a personal meaning. Could I focus on love, and leave despair behind?

After the service ended, I stayed in the pew to text Monica to come and pick me up. By the time Father Brewer made a point of shaking my hand and offering his thanks, nearly everyone had left the church.

"I really appreciate your helping us out on really short notice, Andrew," he said, taking my hand both of his, "that walkway just isn't safe unless it's cleared."

I gathered up my courage and asked a question: "Father, when you said God loved the world, did you mean he loves the whole world? All of it? Everyone?"

He looked startled to be asked such a question for a moment, but then recovered and said, "Absolutely. God loves the whole world. Every person in it."

I persisted, "What about gay people? Does God love them, too?"

Father Brewer looked at directly in the eye, very seriously, before answering: "Everybody. No exceptions."

"Even parents who beat or abandon their children?" I pressed.

Instead of answering, Father Brewer hesitated a moment, then motioned for me to follow him. "Have you got a moment? Let's sit for a second in my office." He spoke as he walked quickly down the passage to a door marked "Rector's Office."

I followed him into a warm, wood-paneled room with a desk and several comfortable-looking chairs. He waved me into one of them and left the door just slightly ajar. Seated, he gazed at me a moment and then asked,

"Andrew, are these questions purely hypothetical, or is there a personal element to them?"

I was on the spot. "Is what I tell you secret? Just between us?"

"This is completely confidential," the man said, his eyes darkened by his glasses.

And I decided I could tell him at least something.

"My question's personal. My dad and mom fought – fought so much that she left. One day, she just took off. I haven't seen her or heard from her since. My dad used to beat me. He was pretty vicious."

"I'm so sorry, Andrew," Father Brewer breathed out.

I shrugged. "He's dead now. I have a foster family, the Stevensons. Mr. Stevenson is a lawyer here in town."

Father Brewer nodded, recognizing the name, anyhow.

"And one more thing," I continued, "I'm gay."

Father Brewer sat very still for a moment. Then he spoke very carefully, but quite firmly. "God loves you, Andrew. There are no exceptions. Being gay has nothing to do with it. I don’t know you very well, Andrew, but I know this. You appear to have a kind and generous heart. You are one of those people who can be lifted up to heal the world."

I cocked my head, wondering what he meant.

"You did listen to the sermon, didn't you?" he asked.

I shifted uncomfortably. "Yessir, but I'm not sure I understood it all."

The priest smiled. "Doesn't matter. Just remember that you are beloved of God."

"But what about my mom and dad?" I couldn't leave them alone.

He sighed. "God loved your father, despite everything he may have done to you. He loves your mother, too, wherever she is. God loves everyone, but," he said, wagging his finger, "God does not like the evil people do to one another. It's not like God meant for you to be miserable or hurt."

Maybe I looked skeptical. "So what did he mean?"

"I think God meant for someone to be his hands and his arms who could rescue you from that situation," Father Brewer asserted, "Isn't that what happened?"

I sat in silence, thinking that one over. Is that what Zander was? God's hands and arms? God's warm hug? "Maybe. I don't know," I said eventually.

"I seem to remember saying something to you about miracles," Father Brewer began, but he was cut off by a sharp knock on the door. It opened, revealing a startled Monica Stevenson.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Reverend, but you have my…boy, and he asked me to pick him up," she said, sounding a little worried, maybe a little annoyed.

Father Brewer beamed and leaned back in his chair, "That's fine, Mrs. Stevenson. Andrew was just asking questions about my sermon. It's not every day that you have an attentive teenager in church, now is it?"

Despite herself, she smiled. "No, it sure isn't." She turned to me. "All ready?"

I nodded and rose from my seat. "Thank you, sir. I appreciate your time."

"No problem, Andrew. We can talk anytime." He smiled again. I have the feeling Father Brewer is a cheerful man to be around. I liked him.

Monica directed me to the driver's side of the car.

"You're driving. You've been to church, so maybe you're holy enough to avoid an accident," she went on.

I looked at her, puzzled.

"I hated driving with my kids. Garrett said I was just being overly sensitive, but teen drivers make me crazy," she explained, getting into the car. "He's at home working, but I know you need the hours behind the wheel. Just take it easy, alright?"

Now I was nervous. I went through a thorough pre-start check-up, and then started up the car. Very cautiously, I eased my way out of the parking lot. I could see Monica gripping the armrest anxiously. Maybe conversation would help.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Grocery store," she replied, tersely.

I nodded, and made the necessary turn. Once we were moving along Main Street, I asked, "Are you mad at me?"

She turned to me and asked "Now what makes you think that?"

"Well, because I got you out of the house on a snowy Sunday morning to pick me up…because you didn't know where I was…because I kind of abandoned you yesterday…and maybe…" I hesitated, wondering if I should mention it, "because I called you 'Mom,' on the phone."

I heard her sniffle for a moment. I couldn't see her face, I was too busy watching the road.

"Andy, I'm not mad about that. God, no. In fact, I'm very happy. What made you think I'd be angry?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not your son or anything. I'm just some kid Zander picked up out of the…"

"Stop that, Andrew. It's fine. I know I'm not your birth mother, but…well, you're one of my boys. And you just happen to love my son. If that doesn't give you the right call me 'Mom,' then I don't know what would."

I nodded.

"But you're right about one thing," she went on a little more briskly, "I did miss you yesterday. Everything go all right?"

"Yup. Kaz tried to run me into the ground, but I managed to stay with him," I asserted proudly.

"I meant the party after that," she laughed.

"Oh. Kaz set me up. It was a Track Team get-together. I was being recruited. No drinking allowed." I slowed and put on my left signal to enter the grocery store lot.

"No wild and crazy track stars?" she teased.

"Not really," I smiled, waiting a little nervously for my turn. At least I was a better driver than Mrs. Marjorie. Of course, that's not saying much.

"And did you get recruited?" This was much more like the Monica I knew.

I smiled and said nothing.

"Ooooh, stubborn boys," she laughed.

Inside, I pushed the cart and followed Monica, as she worked through the grocery list.

"Since when did you become a churchgoer?" she asked casually, picking through produce.

"It was just a crazy thing, I guess," I admitted with a small smile. "I'd been there...before, and kind of liked what I heard."

Monica nodded.

"So how come you don't go to church?" I asked.

Monica looked thoughtful before answering. "We used to go pretty regularly. I was brought up Catholic, so we all went to Queen of Peace." She laughed. "When we were young, before we were married, Garrett hung around at our house so much that my mother insisted he go to church with us one Sunday. I think her point was to either convert Garrett into a nice Italian boy or to scare him off."

"She didn't like Garrett, er, Mr. Stevenson all that much?" I asked, trying to decide what size cereal box to select.

"It's not that she didn't like him, so much as she didn't exactly approve. She thought we were too different to be a couple with a future."

I nodded and pushed the cart along.

"But even though he wasn't Catholic, Garrett came to church that day. And again the next week. And again the week after that. Mom was impressed. He didn't convert, but we got married just the same. And we had lots of children, anyway, which was what we both wanted," she continued, frowning at a display of crackers.

"So what happened?" I asked.

"Oh, about ten or twelve years ago, we began hearing rumors that a priest - not here in Blackburn, but over in Essex - was accused of molesting an altar boy," she said, turning to me seriously, "but that wasn't the end of it. It turned out not only that the rumors were true, but that the bishop and his superiors had tried to cover it up, and the priest involved was left completely unpunished."

I was suddenly queasy.

"You may not remember this, but we learned there were literally hundreds of cases just like that across the country."

I just stared at the tiles on the floor. I felt terrible.

"Garrett and I just got disgusted with the church after that. We stopped going. Maybe we shouldn't have, but that's what happened."

We moved on to the pasta section.

"Is it okay that I went to church?" I asked at length.

"Of course, honey, I'm not going to tell you not to. And I've never been to St. James, so I couldn't really tell you what they believe. But I think Dan Brewer is a good man," she asserted.

"How can you tell?" I asked, curious.

"I see him and his dog at the animal hospital every now and then," she smiled, "he's good to his animals."

A chuckle escaped my lips. I couldn't help it.

"Do you think your mother would approve of me?" I asked later on.

"I don't think she's going to get a choice," Monica replied, "you're with us now." She paused to smile at me. "Really, I can't imagine you living with some other family." She hesitated a moment. "Besides, Zander is obviously head over heels for you, and that's pretty much all there is to it."

I got a warm feeling all over hearing her say that.

By lunchtime, I was getting fidgety. Zander should have finished his races, and coach should have returned his phone. I waited for a text telling us how he did. I knew there would be a brief ceremony for handing out awards and medals, and then Zander would board the bus and come home. To me.

Monica and Garrett traded glances over their sandwiches.

"Preoccupied, Andy?" Mr. Stevenson asked, grinning.

"Maybe," I admitted, putting down my phone. "He wouldn't forget to send a message, would he?"

Immediately, my phone on the table buzzed like an angry hornet. Grabbing it, I checked my texts. There in the light blue box was a message from Zander.

"It's all over. Getting on bus, coming home."

"You do good?" I typed back. I waited for long moments, hoping for a reply. I looked up at my foster parents and shrugged. No news.

Another buzz: "Did OK. Got a surprise 4 U J." I relayed the message.

"Can't wait to C U," I returned.

"Will take longer getting back. Snowing hard," arrived quickly.

"He says it's snowing there," I informed Monica and Mr. Stevenson. "Zander says he's going to be delayed." I hoped the weather wouldn't slow him down too much.

But in this I was bound for disappointment. For a while, we traded messages, but Zander reported that the highway traffic was only crawling in the heavy snow. They were getting the same weather we got the night before.

And then the messages stopped. Eventually, I tried calling Zander's number, but it went right to voicemail. I had this terrible feeling something bad might have happened. I worked at staying calm. His battery might have run low, or maybe he decided to take a nap. I tried to get my homework done and buried my nose in a book, but the afternoon dragged by.

To keep busy, I went out to the barn and took care of the llamas. I did laundry. I did homework. I volunteered to make supper – nothing fancy, just one of my old standbys.

I tried calling Zander a bunch of times, but there was no answer. In my mind's eye, I saw Zander's bus run off an icy road and down a steep bank. I'd seen enough of those roadside drop-offs last summer. I imagined Zander lying pinned and injured under a mangled heap of twisted bus wreckage. I worried so much, I felt almost felt sick.

Over a very quiet plate of baked chicken and rice, I looked up at Monica and Garrett. "Anything from Zander?" I asked.

"Nothing recently," Mr. Stevenson said, trying to sound patient. "I got a message from Coach Simpson a while back, explaining about the weather delay. He promised to let us know when he had an arrival time."

I felt a little better hearing this; at least Zander had been okay when the coach sent that message. The landline phone rang around eight o'clock; I came downstairs to see if there was any news, but Mr. Stevenson waved me back up to my room, back to worry some more.

It was just a matter of letting time pass.

The bus ride home promised to be agonizingly slow. Exhaustion settled in quickly. Luckily, nobody joined me, and I had a pair of seats to myself. Now that it was all over, I just wanted to get home to you. I remembered how we'd talked on the phone. I was afraid of rushing things. I couldn't bear the idea of hurting you, but being so close to you at night was torment. Sweet torment, but torment. And I couldn't wait to get back to it.

You and I traded texts for a while until I noticed Coach Simpson standing in the aisle.

"Mind if I sit down?" he motioned to the seat at my side.

"No problem Coach," I said, moving over to make room for him.

"Nice job this weekend," he grunted, sliding in. "Crappy weather, though," he added, peering through the window at traffic creeping along the highway through the snow.

"Thanks," I said.

"You know why Greg Earwin wasn't at states this weekend?" Coach asked.

I nodded. It had been the big gossip topic around the pool areas between events. Word going around was that Greg got caught fucking some younger boy in the showers at his school. The kid freaked, his coach lost his job, the school board went nuts, and Greg got into some deep shit legal trouble. Oh, and he got kicked off the team.

"Seen this?" Coach handed me his phone. A Facebook post appeared, obviously from Greg:

'You all know about me and little Jeff. What, are you all shocked? You knew about me for the past three years. And you gotta be kidding if you think I'm the only one. I know for a fact there are ten other gay guys near the top of swimming in this state: Mickey Kovac, Oliver LaRue, Zander Stevenson, …'

My mouth went dry. The post went on:

'There are gay athletes all over the country. Hell, what about Jason Collins or Michael Sam? You see anyone getting in trouble over any of them? No. Those other guys? They're swimming at states this week. But me, the best swimmer in the state? Not there. It's not a crime to be gay. It's not a crime to be a gay athlete. I'm still the best, and everyone knows it…'

I stopped reading there. I handed the phone back to Coach. I didn't want to face the conversation we were about to have.

"Look at me Zander," he said. It was not a request. He fixed me with a steady gaze. "Is it true?"

No point in dodging the question, delaying by asking him to clarify, or anything else. I had a choice: lie and hide, or tell the truth. The truth would have consequences, and not just for me. You would be affected too. But I already knew the costs of hiding – misery, isolation, conflict – and in that moment, I saw I could lose you. That cost was too high.

I nodded slowly.

"How long have you known?" he asked quietly.

"For certain? Since last spring."

Coach made a face. "And that boy, what's his name? Andy? The one with the scars you've been teaching to swim? He's more than just a friend, isn't he?"

I nodded again.

He passed his hand over his face and sighed deeply. "Zander, you've put me in a hell of a position."

I felt sick. Was Coach about to dump me from the program? Get me in trouble? Parade me in front of the school board? It wasn't fair. What had I done wrong? Maybe Greg was right.

I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off.

"Don't get me wrong," Coach continued, "I don’t give a shit about what team you play for, I really don't. My observation is that you're a great kid, Zander, and who you love doesn't change that." He paused while I processed that. He was okay with me being gay?

"But look at it from my position, Zander. Think about it, knowing about this," he added, tapping the phone with his index finger. "For the last week, you and your…boyfriend? Boyfriend. I've gotten up early and opened the pool specially for the two of you, and left you pretty much unsupervised for the past week."

And I did think about it. Apart from that one, incredible kiss in the pool, we'd been angels, especially for a pair of gay boys in love. But if somebody confronted Coach about it, he'd only have our word for it. He'd be on the hook for whatever speculation somebody wanted to make.

”I'm in a bind, Zander," Coach said. "Can you really tell me that you two haven't been doing things you shouldn't every morning?"

Stung, I spoke up. "We haven't done anything except swim," I said.

"So why the private lessons?" Coach asked.

"The scars. Andy's dad used to beat him… and his back…" I shrugged.

"I've gotten a glimpse," Coach replied softly. "Are they really bad? Is he embarrassed about them?"

"It's not just that," I said. "It's that Andy hates being asked about them. That brings up some seriously bad memories, I think." That was an understatement. I never want to see you curled up in panic or pain again.

Coach nodded. His expression was less severe, less worried. "So you’re doing it to spare him the pain?"

"Yeah, basically. That's it."

Coach pondered for a few moments. "Like I said, you're a good guy, Zander. Your boyfriend is lucky to have you."

The silence between us lingered as we watched the cars on our left crawl past.

I took a deep breath. "So do Andy and I show up early for lessons tomorrow?"

Coach waited a long time to answer. "Yes. You two show up just like last week. I'll figure something out. And no monkey business." He cracked a small smile for the first time. He put his hand on my shoulder and rose. "I appreciate your being honest with me, Zander. Thank you for trusting me with this."

He moved back down the aisle to his seat, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

So now I was really and truly out. I looked around and realized I'd been given a lot of space. Nobody behind me or ahead of me. I wondered how many people on the bus already knew. Greg's post would detonate on swim teams all across the state in the next forty eight hours. Nine other guys at nine other schools would be going through what I felt. Not much comfort in that, but a little. The only good thing was that the season was over; no more swim meets until next year. But that hardly mattered, a bunch of us who swam also ran track. We'd be together again starting…the next day.

School the next morning looked like it would be a minefield for both you and me.

Mom and dad knew already. It wouldn't be a shock to them. But the news would probably set tongues flapping all around town. I wondered how long it would be until the shocking rumor that the Stevenson boy was gay got back to my sister Carol – she still talked to friends in town, even though she was married and moved away. And if it got back to her, it wouldn't take more than an hour for my brother Frank and big sister Maria to know. And from them, to my grandparents. And so on.

How would they take the news that their little brother was gay? That the baby grandson was a fag? It couldn't be good, especially if they heard it through the grapevine. Why hadn't I told Carol and Frank at Christmas? I kicked myself for letting it go, even though Mom and Dad agreed to let me take my time in coming out to the rest of the family.

I stared out the window at the snow and the cars alongside, ignoring my phone, stewing over what to do. Eventually, it stopped snowing, but the traffic still appeared to be as snarled as ever. Finally, as darkness fell over the world, I arrived at a decision. Just about everyone on the bus was asleep, or zoned out listening to music. I pulled out my phone, and stared at it for a moment, then moved my thumb.

My grandfather's number appeared on the screen. A flick of finger, and the sound of a connection being made. Three rings, and the old man's voice in my ear.

"Hello?" His voice at once familiar, and intimidating.

I hesitate to speak. "Gramps? It's Zander."

"Zander, hello! Great to hear from you, boy. How are you?" The bluff, hearty voice sounded over the speaker.

"Fine, Gramps. I'm calling from my cell, on my way back from swimming at states."

"How'd you do?" The old man was always interested in whatever sports I was in.

"OK, I guess. But that's not why I called." I was trying to speak low, even though nobody was likely to overhear.

"So what can I do for you, boy?"

I could change my mind. Last chance to chicken out. Deep breath. "Gramps, there's something you and Gram need to know. I'm gay." There. It was done.

Silence on the other end.

"Zander? I don't think I got that." He sounded confused.

"I said I'm gay, Gramps," I repeated.

"What? You telling me you're a homo? A queer, boy?" So he had heard me after all. I hated hearing those words from his mouth.

"Yeah, Gramps. That's what I'm saying."

More silence for a few moments. "I don't see how you can say that. You swim. You run. For god's sake, you fish and hunt. You're an athlete. How can you be…a queer?" Gramps' voice sounded genuinely pained.

"I'm sorry, Gramps," I got out, trying not to cry. This was the man who taught me how to bait a hook. The man who greeted every swimming race as a triumph. The man who showed me how to draw and design so that I could build. He believed in me. And now I'd let him down.

"I just can't believe it," he said, almost to himself.

"Why not, Gramps?" I asked plaintively. "Why not? Everything you said is true. I do all those things you say; why can't you believe that this other thing is true about me, too?"

There was more quiet on his end. Finally, "Zander. You sure about this?"

"Yeah, Gramps. I'm sure."

"Okay," the old man responded eventually. "Now I want you to listen to me, boy. This is a bit of a shock, and I'm having trouble gathering it all in. It's not what I'd see you choose, that's for sure. But. You're my grandson. I still love you. I don't understand it, and I'm not altogether happy, but I still love you. You hear me?"

"Thanks, Gramps. I hear you." I relaxed a little. Being gay wasn't a choice, but I wasn't going to argue that point with my grandfather right then.

"Have you told your parents?"

"Yeah, Gramps. They know."

"Do you want me to tell Gram?" he asked.

"Yes, please. Just tell her I'm gay, not queer," I managed.

"Huh. Okay, Zander, I'll do that. Remember what I said, all right?"

"I love you, too, Gramps." We disconnected.

I took a deep breath. It could have gone a lot worse. While courage remained, another flick of a finger brought up my other grandmother, Nonna Costanza. Mom's mother. Italian.

Again, the sound of the phone ringing on the other end.

"Yes?" Nonna's voice in the speaker sounded older than I remembered.

"Nonna, it's Zander. Your grandson," I added for clarification. I'd forgotten how many grandchildren she actually had.

"Sandro? Is that you?" She never called me 'Zander,' or even 'Alexander' or 'Garrett.' Always the Italian contraction, 'Sandro.'

"Yes, Nonna. Sandro," I confirmed.

"So, you are well? There is a problem?" she asked.

"I'm fine, Nonna. But there is something I want to tell you." Now that I'd done it once, telling someone else was a little easier.

"What is it?"

"Nonna, I'm gay."

"Say that again, Sandro, I didn't hear."

"I said I'm gay, Nonna. That means…"

"I know what this means, Sandro," she interrupted gently, "I just didn't hear you the first time."

There was quiet for a moment.

"You decide this when, Sandro?" she asked.

"Since last year, Nonna. Last spring," I admitted.

"You know this for a whole year, Sandro? So why you call me to tell me this? Why now?" she demanded.

"Nonna, I was afraid to tell you. I was scared to tell anyone. But somebody else found out and posted something on the internet. So, I didn't want you to hear about it from anyone else but me. I wanted to tell you myself," I told her.

"You afraid to tell me before, but not now? Why?" she demanded sharply.

My breath caught in my throat for a moment. "Because…because I was afraid of what you might think. That you might not…like me anymore."

Silence from the phone. I wondered if she had heard. Then her voice, soft and caressing, even over the poor cell reception: "Sandro mio, you really think I stop loving you because of this?"

Now it was my turn to be silent. Ashamed.

Again, Nonna's voice broke the quiet. "You like other boys, then Sandro?"

"Yes, Nonna. I do."

"You have someone special you like?" she asked, slyly.

I couldn't help smiling at that. Just like my Nonna Costanza to ask. "Yes, Nonna. I have someone special. His name is Andy. And he's strong, and courageous, and he's adorable. He likes animals, Nonna, so mom thinks he's great. And he's so smart, and he doesn't even know it. I love him," I blurted it all out.

"You love him?" she cried out, surprised. "You’re so young, just like your mother," Nonna teased. "You didn't meet him in church, did you?"

"No, Nonna. I met Andy in school," I explained.

"And his family? Who are they?"

I hesitated. "Andy has no family. His father used to beat him and his mom ran away. He's got nobody but us."

"Nobody but us?" Nonna asked sharply.

I realized I'd said more than I meant to. "Andy's got nobody. Nobody at all. Mom and Dad and I kind of adopted Andy. He lives at our house."

"You take him in before or after he's your…your what? Boyfriend?" she asked.

"After, Nonna. I didn't know about his family or anything until after I fell in love with him," I told her.

"Santa Maria, Madre Dio," she sighed, "just like your mother and father. So you love him. God help you. Are you behaving with him? No sex?"

"Nonna!" I gasped.

"What, you think I don't know anything about the world, Sandro? Eh? You think I stopped living in 1970? Tell me. You behaving?" This was the Italian grandmother I remembered. I knew she had grilled my siblings about their various loves, too.

"Yes, Nonna, we're good. No sex."

At least not yet. My daydreams in the shower that very morning were pretty hot. The thought of sex with you, of the time when we could be together, flashed into my mind. I felt myself getting hard. I didn't tell Nonna that I wanted to misbehave with you. Or how.

"Good boy," she said. "Now, let me talk to your mother."

"I can't, Nonna. I'm calling from my cell phone. I'm on a bus right now."

"Fine, Sandro. I call her myself. You were good to tell me, Sandro. I'm glad you found someone who makes you happy. Now make sure you make him happy, too."

"I will, Nonna," I said. And I vowed that I would do just that. Make you happy.

"Be good, now, and remember, te amo, bambino mio. Addio, bello," I heard her add mischievously before hanging up.

Another deep breath. And relief. I respected my grandparents. They needed to know. My siblings were another matter. Maria and Carol took the news easily; Carol actually squealed so loud I had to cover the speaker on my phone with my hand. She was happy for me, couldn't wait to meet you, Andy, couldn't believe I'd been holding out on her. Maria was more distant, but I expected that – we're twelve years apart, after all.

Frank was more like Gramps in his denial – I could practically see him shaking his head as I told him, not wanting to believe what he was hearing. But at least he cracked a joke, late in our conversation.

"How the hell am I gonna corrupt you now? It's not like I know how to set you up to lose your virginity," he huffed in mock annoyance.

But when he let me go, he promised his support, if not his love. That was Frank all over.

Not long after I finished my phone calls, I noticed the bus was pulling off the highway. Funny how you don't notice things when you're deep in conversation. It took all of fifteen minutes before I was putting my bag in the back of Coach's car, and he was driving us back to Blackburn. Home. To you.

I offer my sincere and humble thanks and appreciation to Craftingmom for her patient and steadfast editing of this and every chapter.

Please leave a review. I appreciate your remarks, comments and reflections, whatever they might be.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

(Robert, Andy had just finished with the sidewalk.)


Andy was very lucky to have found a welcoming church. Far too churches think that 'Thou Shalt Not Be Gay' is the #0.5 Commandment, over and above all the others. Far too denominations many forget that their favorite prohibition is part of a list of ritualistic purification rites which they otherwise ignore. Far too many religions forget that their primary requirement is love.


Zander was lucky to have a supportive coach. Far too many educators forget to leave their personal beliefs at home where they belong. Far too many schools ignore the very real consequences of homophobia. Far too many school districts neglect their primary requirement to keep their schools safe for all of their students.


It's too bad Greg Outed so many of his fellow swimmers, forcing Zander to Out himself to his relatives. But Zander is fortunate that his relatives remembered that their love for Zander is more important than any discomfort they might have with LGBTs. It was interesting to finally hear from Zander's extended family.


It was great for Andy to hear from Monica herself that she was surprised, not angry, that he had called her 'Mom'. And we also got insight into why the Anderson's don't attend church. Our understanding of Andy's new family keeps getting more complete, just as it is for Andy himself!

Edited by droughtquake
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On 01/27/2016 12:56 AM, mayday said:

What do you call what happened to Zander - a curve ball? Disquieting outlook for 10 athletes and for Greg, too... But I am impressed with Zander's way of dealing with it. Coach Simpson also seems to be a decent and fair man.

How lucky Zander seems to be with a loving family. His capacity for empathy and his values must have come from somewhere - just as his parents learnt and taught him to be what and as he is. Some interesting scenes in store for us?

Beautiful scenes, too, with the snowblower. Andy the expert, the miracle (albeit a small one) -worker. I love it. I am wondering why Mrs. M is so upset with the reverend concluding that Andy must be her grandson. We know nothing about her past and her family apart from being married and a widow. Andy asking the minister about love - he has grown so much more confident - amazing. And what a difficult, difficult question to ask and to answer.

And it proves that he is dealing with his past and he does not hide any more. Good for him and Zander when the going gets tough in school.

But your beginning has made it clear that on Monday a lot would be in store for Zander, and not all of it good. Can't wait for your next chapter... again...

and thank your for this one.

Zander is fortunate in many respects. First, he has Andy. :) Second, his coach is (like an increasing number of coaches) fair and understanding, at least as far as Zander's orientation goes. Third, Zander is part of a family that largely supports one another - they don't appear to be a quarrelsome bunch. Andy's conversation with the minister shows a lot about how far Andy has come. He won't tell the whole story, but he'll at least allude to it. We've all seen how Andy is growing, and it is wonderful to see. Thanks so much for your remarks and for keeping faith with Andy.

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On 01/27/2016 12:50 AM, Robert Rex said:

Great chapter! He'd developed quite the measured response, and came out on his own terms, despite the fellow player outing him.

Really nice to get inside both Zander's and Andy's heads...but suspect he's gonna have some explaining to do--did he ever finish the sidewalk he's originally started before going to church? (Grin)

Another well done chapter!

Thanks for the encouraging words. I really appreciate your reading this story. And it is a good story to see - we got a good look at what Andy still thinks about - what he's willing to put his neck out for to ask. As for Zander, he is part of a good, caring family - just shows where he comes from. And yes, Andy did finish the church sidewalk.

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On 01/27/2016 01:12 AM, droughtquake said:

(Robert, Andy had just finished with the sidewalk.)


Andy was very lucky to have found a welcoming church. Far too churches think that 'Thou Shalt Not Be Gay' is the #0.5 Commandment, over and above all the others. Far too denominations many forget that their favorite prohibition is part of a list of ritualistic purification rites which they otherwise ignore. Far too many religions forget that their primary requirement is love.


Zander was lucky to have a supportive coach. Far too many educators forget to leave their personal beliefs at home where they belong. Far too many schools ignore the very real consequences of homophobia. Far too many school districts neglect their primary requirement to keep their schools safe for all of their students.


It's too bad Greg Outed so many of his fellow swimmers, forcing Zander to Out himself to his relatives. But Zander is fortunate that his relatives remembered that their love for Zander is more important than any discomfort they might have with LGBTs. It was interesting to finally hear from Zander's extended family.


It was great for Andy to her from Monica herself that she was surprised, not angry, that he had called her 'Mom'. And we also got insight into why the Anderson's don't attend church. Our understanding of Andy's new family keeps getting more complete, just as it is for Andy himself!

Thanks so very much for such a thoughtful and insightful review. Some responses:


para. 1 - Amen, amen, amen! There are inclusive and welcoming denominations and congregations out there. Lots of them. They just never make the news.


para. 2 - Zander's coach is one of the increasing numbers of mentors, teachers and advocates who understand their students need support and affirmation more than to be molded into images of themselves or their icons.


para. 3 - sometimes students don't think about what will happen as a result of their actions. Greg clearly hasn't been doing that. Zander is a product of his family. We know him to be a wonderful boy, so it's not surprising his sibs and family are that way, too.


para 4 - Monica and Andy are growing into their relationship with each other. Good that he feels confident enough to call her 'mom' and good that she feels happy he did so. As you say, Andy is slowly becoming more complete.


Thanks again for this.

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On 01/27/2016 02:01 AM, avidreadr said:

Greg was wrong for outing the others. He was caught with another student in the school shower and the other boy freaked. He caused his own problems. Zander is gay but has always behaved respectfully. I would suggest most of the others outed are in the same position. None deserved what Greg did.

As for Zander, he again showed his maturity in how he handled it by calling his family. He should, however, have called his parents and Andy just to let them know what's going on. Otherwise, it was a great chapter and I look forward for more.

Greg's actions are those of a young man who is having trouble facing up to the trouble he may have caused. His response was essentially petulant. Zander acted in a sense of self-preservation, too, but also to spare his relatives the pain of being surprised by the news. I agree that he might have called Andy and his parents first. That he chose not to probably illustrates how surprised and rattled he was. Thanks for the perceptive insights, and most of all, thank you for reading Andy's journal.

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On 01/27/2016 02:07 AM, skinnydragon said:

Anxiety is right, and it's certainly not over yet!


Swimming anxiety. It might actually be a good thing so many top swimmers were mentioned in that post. It'll be more difficult to scrap them all. It could work in Zander's favor, especially with the coach he has.

Track anxiety. Kaz might help out a lot here. Especially since the team has met and encouraged Andy.

School anxiety. This is a big unknown, the reader doesn't know much about the school yet.


A Great chapter Parker! It showed lots of Andy development too. He'll probably need that strength.

Yes. Anxiety. What will happen on Monday morning for swimming lessons? What will Track sign ups and practice be like? Very likely that Kaz will be there to lean on, but it could still be difficult. And yes, what happens at school is another source of anxiety. But first, Zander has to get home.

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On 01/27/2016 04:35 AM, spikey582 said:

It was hard to gauge Zander's reaction to what happened beyond rolling with the punches and taking the bull by the horns and probably some other cliche saying haha. He didn't wait for the rumor mill to out him, but took control of the situation and in the process, got to tell his family about Andy as well. One criticism I'd have about Zander here is that it seems like he should have had a conversation with Andy first, both to explain what happened as well as to make sure that it was ok to tell his family about them being a couple. Even if Andy's totally fine with it, it was a decision they probably should have made together.


Also with the preface Andy made at the beginning of the chapter, and no follow up upon Andy learning what actually happened, it almost felt like the chapter was incomplete. This was almost more like 51 part 1 or something. Andy's anger and worry, was that for Zander being kinda forced to be out? For Zander subsequently outing Andy to a few people? The potential ridicule Swnder might have to deal with, or that they both might have to deal with? A bit of a complicated situation the boys find themselves in.


I gotta say my breakout favorite character this chapter definitely had to be Nonna. She made me laugh and I just love how she encourages Zander and immediately embraces this new information as being a part of him. Already with the relationship advice! I loved her!

On reflection, I think your criticism of Zander's actions may be valid. He might have called Andy or his parents first, which certainly would have put Andy's mind at ease. On the other hand, Zander was possibly rattled or unsettled enough to start calling his grands and sibs right away, forgetting about his parents and boyfriend's reactions to the news posed by Greg Earwin's post.


You are also right in that the chapter was left without hearing from Andy again. Guilty as charged. The follow up to this chapter (ch. 53) continues as the 'part 2', if you like.


Yes, Nonna is a character, and one I loved from the moment she appeared in my head. She made me laugh, too. Thanks so much for your perceptive review and for your comments. I value these so much. Most especially, thank you for reading Andy's journal.

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On 01/27/2016 05:07 AM, Onim said:

Fantastic chapter...love the way you handled Zander's convos with his grandparents and siblings...with them in his corner now, life may not seem so daunting for he and Andy to move forward! Looking forward to this next chapter...and Andy's reactions!! :D Thanks for sharing!! :thankyou:

I am so happy you liked this chapter. It wasn't easy to figure out how all these events occurred, only that they needed to happen. The grandfather is grudgingly supportive; Nonna much more so. Thank you so much for your review, and for reading along with Andy's journal.

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On 01/27/2016 06:59 AM, slapshot said:

Probably not the way Zander wanted to be outed by a fellow that was feeling bad for being kicked off his team for screwing some kid in the locker room. It is good to see his coach standing with him in regards to giving Andy swimming lessons! Andy is also getting along better with Monica lately too. It will be interesting to see how things go for them both at school, if this information gets around. Another great chapter Parker!

Coach Simpson is affirming Zander and standing with him as he should. Not every gay kid is so lucky, but there are more and more coaches like that. Monica and Andy are growing into their relationship with one another, and this was an opportunity to see that happening. Poor woman - she thought she was all done teaching kids to drive, and then...


Thanks for your review and commentary - and of course, many thanks for reading Andy's journal.

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On 01/27/2016 10:26 AM, Rigel said:

Wonderful chapter!

I'm curious--Zander's bus coming home being delayed by snow echoes this past weekend's news of the Duquesne University basketball team and Temple University gymnastic team being stranded by snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for almost 24 hours. Is this just happenstance, or did the news have anything to do with the way the chapter was written? It almost seems like current events barging their way into the fictional story!

I loved Nonna. She reminds me a little of the character played by Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck--an old woman worrying so sympathetically about the love life of her children and grandchildren, with spot-on advice from the ages.

And it seemed like Andy was such a cautious driver that Monica might, for the first time, be at ease with a teen-age vehicle operator.

Looking forward to the next chapter...


I actually wrote the first draft of this chapter in September...or was it August? I forget now...but long before snow was in the air, anyway! This week's crazy weather just coincidentally played right into the story. Nonna is a character I loved from the moment she emerged on the page. I've known several of her...and what fun you connected her to Olympia Dukakis in one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone will be a good enough teen driver to suit Monica. However, she and Andy managed all right.

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On 01/27/2016 10:15 AM, Defiance19 said:

You handled that really well, and by you I mean Zander. No one should be outed for any reason, but I will say I think Greg acted wanted to hit back and did so selfishly. Coach is a good kind man, and he took the news of Zander and then Andy admirably. Have to say I was worried about Nonna, but she surprised me. I saw her so clearly as this played out. Thankfully the rest of the family reinforced how much they loved Zander. There, that's a little less anxiety.

The fall out amongst the athletes and his school peers still remains to be seen. Maybe it will be nothing he and Andy couldn't handle.


I loved the conversation Andy had with the minister. We really see him opening up once he chooses who to trust with his past. He is working so hard at understanding why things happened the way they did and to find hope. I'm proud of Andy..

Also loved his chat with Monica. We get to know the family background a bit more too.


Great chapter Parker, The only thing that got me going hmm, was Mrs. Marjorie's response to being thought of as Andy's grandmother.. Other than that, I loved it!

Greg acted selfishly, petulantly and unfairly. Zander handled this reasonably well, although several reviewers faulted him for not calling Andy first. The coach joins the ranks of an increasing number of accepting, affirming individuals who work with athletes. He knows what a good kid Zander is, which is what matters. Andy got more on family and history with Monica, which is good. I am so very glad you enjoyed this chapter. Thank you for reading along in the journal.

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On 01/27/2016 11:44 AM, Valkyrie said:

Great chapter. You really covered the anxiety on all counts very well. That swimmer was an ass to out all those other swimmers on Facebook. I'm glad that everyone handled Zander's coming out well. For the most part, anyway. I also loved the scene with Andy in the church. It's nice to see the good side of Christianity portrayed. There are open and affirming churches out there and pastors and congregations more than willing to accept gay members. Great job, Parker. :hug:

Thank you for the hugs in your review. Zander could have used them on the bus. Zander got outed by the action of a petulant kid. His family turned out to be supportive in varying degrees, but none of them hostile. There are many accepting, inclusive congregations out there, but so few of the make the news. It really shouldn't be news, should it? Anyway, Fr. Brewer said it right...everyone should be loved, no exceptions. Thank you for your review, and for continuing to read in Andy's journal.

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On 01/27/2016 07:31 PM, BrianM said:

A bit of drama, but overall a sweet and gentle chapter. Andy and Xander are really delightful kids. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely story with us. So dark at the beginning and so much light and love now.

Zander and Andy are indeed great kids, which is why I couldn't help writing about them. Zander's family showed their connection to him - his grands and sibs, though in varying degrees surprised, came around and will support him. Zander and Andy have much to be anxious about, still, but at least that won't be part of it.

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