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Choices - 1. Chapter 1

Chapter I Confession


Sunday afternoon was long and miserable. Not only had I just gotten back from spending the night at Jesse’s house-- the most amazing day and half of my entire, almost fourteen years of existence-- I was now seriously worried for the first time about being discovered--by our parents, by our friends , and even by those nameless ones who hate for its own sake. Jesse and I had fallen in love so quickly--really the first time we met--and the last month and a half had passed in such a flurry that I hardly had time to come to grips with the consequences of our relationship. On the one hand, I felt like I could no longer go on living without Jesse actively in my life; on the other hand, I was terrified of being ‘outed’--labeled a ‘fag’ or a ‘queer’ or a ‘pervert’ by my peers, being scorned or even rejected by my own mother. We were Catholics, and while there was some unspoken tolerance for homosexuals in the Church, many people still insisted the Bible came out clearly against it (as it did about eating pork, living with lepers, cutting your hair, etc...).

When Jesse told me he that he thought our good friend Tom might be gay, it got me to thinking how Jesse and I were going to handle ourselves in relation to others, both those we cared for and those we didn’t.

This weekend, we had plunged deeply and passionately into a highly physical relationship that I would not have imagined only a couple of months ago. Despite my (still) unresolved issues pertaining to my own sexual preferences, I now felt an even more desperate need to be with Jesse all the time. We connected in a way that made us seem closer than brothers. It was like he could read my mind. To the outside world, Jesse was shy and withdrawn, undeniably attractive physically, but also exuding an air of fragility. And yet, he had shown me a completely different, almost polar opposite side to his personality when we were alone. He had a sharp, somewhat bizarre sense of humor, he was a martial arts blackbelt who, even to an untrained eye like mine, seemed amazingly fast and adept, he was a great writer, and he was incredibly sexy--downright kinky, in fact!

I had hoped he would spend the rest of the afternoon with me at my house, but he had refused, rightly reminding me of his school and family obligations. He was so dedicated to his hard working single mom and his nine year old sister, Miranda, that beyond all the other powerful feelings I had for this kid, was the fact that I was simply proud and grateful to have the friendship of such a truly good-hearted person.

As I sat at my desk, doing my homework on the computer, I was so tempted to pick up the phone and call. It had only been a couple of hours, but already I felt the lack of his presence as a physical ache in my gut. Granted, we had both just stuffed ourselves like pigs at the biggest Sunday Brunch in town, but hey--I could tell the difference between heartache and stomachache!

When I finished my homework, I didn’t feel like going downstairs and seeing my mom--not that she wasn’t a great person or anything. I loved her deeply and appreciated everything she did for me, but I was suddenly feeling so disturbed about the idea of the true nature of my relationship with Jesse being discovered, that I just couldn’t face her right now. Instead, I picked up the Dune sequel I had started reading before I met Jesse, put on the White Album, and lay on my bed, just trying to stay focused on the music and the story, and nothing else. I was just coming to the conclusion that the new Dune sequels were total pieces of poorly written crap and didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with Frank Herbert’s originals, when my cellphone rang. I was afraid it would be Tom, and I had no idea yet how I was going to handle that conversation!

“Hey there,” came that sweet, familiar voice over the cellular airwaves.

“Jesse!” I said, springing to a sitting position in my elation. Had it only been three hours since I had seen him last? It seemed like days...

“I miss you,” he said in his quiet, raspy, young teenage voice.

“I miss you too,” I said, trying to calm my beating heart enough to have a normal conversation. “I wish you had come over...”

“I don’t think I could’ve kept my hands off of you,” he said apologetically.

“I know what you mean. I feel like we’re joined somehow. Being separated from you really hurts.”

There was a long pause. “Yeah...” Jesse agreed quietly. “Anyway, my mom called a few minutes ago. She’s on her way back. I’ve got the laundry and homework almost done, cleaned up all the cum stains...”

“Dude!" I snickered, feeling myself blush at Jesse’s brashness. We both giggled, our filthy little minds going over how many times we had shot our loads in the nearly twenty four hours we had spent together alone in his apartment.

I heard Jesse sigh. “What’re we gonna do?” he asked longingly.

Perhaps it had been intended as a rhetorical question, but I took it at face value. “I don’t know,” I answered seriously. “Ever since you told me that Tom might be gay, I’ve been thinking about us--worrying about us, actually...I mean, what if someone finds out?”

“I can tell you from experience that it’s best that we keep it a secret for as long as possible,” Jesse answered seriously. “Even though I wish I could tell the world...”

“I know, even if it were just our moms, it would take some of the weight off our backs,” I agreed.

“Just hang in there,” Jesse said in a not entirely confident tone. “We need to be really careful--especially at school. Kids don’t need much incentive to be cruel.”

“I’m sure you’re right about that...” I said, my voice trailing off. I heard Jesse sigh.

“Was that an ‘I’m so depressed about this whole tangled mess I’ve gotten myself into’ kind of sigh?” I asked worriedly.

“No, it was more of a ‘God, Perry, you’re so sexy and hot, I just want to cling to your naked body for the rest of my life’ kind of sigh...”

“Maybe there’s some kind of surgery for that,” I suggested hopefully. “Anyway, the church rummage sale is two weeks from yesterday. You just have to come over and help me get all our stuff together for that--and then we get to spend all day Saturday hauling people’s junk around, loading things into people’s trunks, moving stuff from one side of the hall to the other, getting really sweaty and dirty...”

”Stop! You’re turning me on!” Jesse teased.

“I don’t know how I’m going to keep my hands off you at school,” I warned him.

“Don’t worry-I am a certified blackbelt!” Jesse reminded me.

“It just might come to that,” I said wistfully.

“Well, er...I guess I’d better go,” Jesse said in that uncomfortable way that I knew signalled the end of our conversation.

“I love you, you bastard!” I whispered hoarsely.

There was a very long pause, and I could hear Jesse breathing heavily. “Bye, Perry...” he moaned longingly and hung up.

The ache of emptiness in my gut was countered only by my burning groin. I got up and locked the door before getting completely undressed. It was time to relive, in vivid fashion, some of this weekend’s highlights...

Monday was definitely a strange day. When Jesse walked into class, his head bashfully lowered as he made his way to his seat, it was as if I was seeing him for the first time all over again, only now, the physical attraction had become almost unbearable. I could hardly look him in the eye as he took his seat in front of me. From the furtive glances I got from him, I guessed that he was going through something similar.

Then there were the knowing glances from Jessica and Katy. As far as they knew, I was seriously in love with some mystery girl outside their sphere of influence, and they were dying to know who it was! At least it would keep them distracted from what was really going on, for a while anyway. I had to assume the rest of the party goers had also gotten the ‘news’ at some point over the weekend. I really didn’t care much about what Kyle or Dana thought, but I was concerned about Morgan. No doubt, he was wondering why I hadn’t let him in on my big romance before. We had already had one awkward conversation about it, and there would likely be others. The old saying about one lie leading to another kept popping into my head, and it was disturbing to say the least. Oh well, at least it was all for a good cause--Jesse!

Lunch was also strangely uncomfortable. Gene had extra football practices almost every lunchtime now, since the team was doing well and had a real shot at getting into the regional playoffs, so we didn’t see him much outside of class. For that matter, the basketball team was also doing quite well, with Morgan really beginning to shine as the star player of the St. Boniface Crusaders. I wished that Jesse was on the team as well. Besides his amazing ability to sink a freethrow from almost anywhere on the court, he had proven to be an excellent student, and could now dribble and play defense nearly as well as I could--at least one on one.

Tom looked nearly as uncomfortable as he did at the party the other night, and I was determined to set up a time that we could talk real soon. If there was anyway I could help him out, I wanted badly to do it. And then there was Morgan...

He only came by to say hi, giving me a knowing wink before going off to sit with Kyle and Eric, and the rest of the jocks. I didn’t really think about it until much later, but he only said ‘hi’ to Jesse and me, giving Tom only a furtive acknowledgement.

With Morgan and Gene gone, I thought maybe Tom would open up some, and to a certain extent, he did. We talked about some new movies coming out and an upcoming Geography project. We were supposed to choose partners for that, and Tom seemed to be hinting that he’d like it to be me. I , of course, had just assumed that it would be Jesse and me--an extra excuse to spend some time together! When I asked Tom if he had a good time at the mall arcade on Saturday, he gave me a really strange look, like I had just told him that his fly was open.

Jesse, maybe seeing that the conversation had taken a turn to the south, jumped in. “I think you and Perry should team up for the Geography project,” he suggested.

I was surprised to hear him say that, and my heart sank a little. But I realized I was being selfish and Jesse was being just the opposite.

“Yeah, I think that would be cool,” I agreed.

“Well...uh...” Tom said, caught off guard. He was actually blushing. That seemed like a strange reaction, but no stranger than the rest of his recent behavior. Then I had the weirdest thought: What if Tom was gay, and what if he had a crush on me?

I felt the blood drain from my face. Even though I was making two huge assumptions, it suddenly all seemed very real to me. I started to feel panic welling up inside me, and I suddenly couldn’t look Tom in the eye. I took a huge bite of my sandwich to cover my agitation.

Jesse gave me a quick glance, confused by my sudden reaction to he didn’t know what. But he turned back to Tom with something of a forced smile. “Yeah, you know Perry has that superfast Broadband thing on his computer,” he said, trying to persuade Tom to accept his plan. “And Perry, Tom’s much better at Geography than you are--hehehe!” he teased.

I had managed a B+ on the first quarter report card, but it had been a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t particularly good at memorizing a lot of dry facts and statistics--what were the natural resources of Canada, what was the capital of Argentina, what form of government did Israel have, and on and on. Fortunately, we had Geography after lunch, and Jesse had been kind enough to go over the material with me before upcoming tests, which was a big help. (Jesse, of course, got straight ‘A’s first quarter.)

“You have a Broadband connection?” Tom asked, obviously impressed.

I nodded, my mouth thankfully full of half chewed tuna salad sandwich.

Tom looked at Jesse, almost as if asking permission. Was our relationship already that obvious, that Tom would assume that Jesse and I would be partnering up on every team project from here on out? I began to realize that maybe there was more to Jesse’s suggestion than just creating an opportunity for Tom and I to talk. Maybe by intentionally teaming with others in class on projects like this, it would tend to throw people off the trail so to speak, not making it so obvious that Jesse and I were practically joined at the hip!

I swallowed my mouthful quickly now. “Yeah, Tom. I think we’d make a great team--what do you say?” I held out my hand.

Tom seemed to take his time examining my outstretched palm before reaching across the table to tentatively grasp it in his own. His palm was annoyingly sweaty, but I gave him a big firm shake anyway. Tom finally smiled for the first time today, and I felt some sense of relief.

“Do you think you could come over tomorrow, after school?” I asked.

“I think so, if I tell my parents ahead of time,” he said, and I could hear in his voice that he was holding back a sense of nervous excitement. While I was looking forward to talking to him and being of whatever help I could, I prayed that I was way off base with the way I was interpreting the situation. I mean, maybe he wasn’t even gay. It had certainly never occurred to me before. He always seemed to behave pretty much like any other guy, and had even pointed out the occasional hot babe at the mall. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that Jesse was on target about that. As far as my own further assumption, it really terrified me. I didn’t know how I would handle that. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt Tom’s feelings, especially if he was going to have the guts to ‘come out’ to me.

Just before we were about to break up to head for our afternoon classes, Jeremiah Oatner came up to the table, busily entering data into his ever present Palm Pilot. Until Jesse had come along, he had held the uncontested title of smartest boy in the class. This apparently went back to the second or third grade according to Morgan. He looked like a chubby version of Harry Potter, complete with wire rimmed glasses and shaggy black hair. Unfortunately, he also had a strange body odor that most people found off putting to say the least. That, along with his somewhat condescending attitude, had left him with no friends in his own class. The only kids he hung out with consistently were a couple of seventh grade geeks.

Still, we all said our hellos as he approached. He acknowledged Tom and I with a peremptory nod of his head, and then planted himself right next to...

“Jesse Taylor, I wonder if I might have a brief word with you?” he asked stiffly.

“Uh, sure...” Jesse said, glancing at me with bemused puzzlement on his face. “What's up?”

“Perhaps it would be best if we sought a more private venue in which to conduct our business,” Jeremiah suggested.

“Okaaaaay,” Jesse said, following Jeremiah to a secluded location, away from the lunch crowd. Tom and I watched, barely able to stifle our giggles, as Jeremiah called up data on his Palm Pilot and shoving it in Jesse's face, apparently trying to make some sort of point. Jesse tried to keep a straight face and look interested, but every once in a while, he’d glance over at us and shrug his shoulders with a ‘is this guy for real’ look on his face.

As we got our afternoon books out of our locker, Jesse explained to me that Jeremiah had come up with this long, elaborate proposal for a Geography project, and was trying to convince Jesse to be his partner.

“He said I was the only guy in class who had the intellectual capacity to fully appreciate and pursue the intriguing hypothesis he had established,” Jesse said with a smug smile.

“What an arrogant little bastard!” I laughed.

“Yeah, that’s quite a charming personality he’s got there,” Jesse agreed. “But still, his ideas were interesting, and I said I’d work with him.”

“Really?” I asked with unabashed surprise.

“Hey, I can’t help it if I’m the only one with a sufficient intellectual capacity to grasp his hypotheses!” Jesse exclaimed.

That deserved a serious punch in the arm. Jesse winced exaggeratedly and rubbed his arm. Then he leaned over and whispered in my ear. “That was really hot--hit me again!”

The next day seemed to just crawl by. Jesse could see how apprehensive I was about my afternoon get together with Tom, and I could see the sympathy in his eyes. After lunch, Jesse went to stand under the same tree where I had approached him back on that first day he had come to school. I knew he was waiting for me. I excused myself from the table where Tom and Morgan still sat. As soon as I got up to leave, Tom quickly jumped up as well, saying that he had to get something from his locker before class. I saw Morgan saunter over to the jock table and join in their conversation.

“Are you planning another afternoon rendezvous?” I asked, wiggling my eyebrows in a ‘wink, wink,’ kind of way, recalling our brief, but incredibly romantic, bathroom encounter.

“I think I’ll hold out,” Jesse said, trying not to give too much away with his expression. After all, there were kids all around us. “I don’t think we can pull that off every day,” he admitted reluctantly. “I wish we could...”

I nodded enthusiastically.

“Besides,” he said, getting close enough to me to whisper. “I jacked off twice before school today, thinking about all the cool stuff we did last weekend!”

My eyes nearly bugged out of my head as I nervously looked around to see if anyone had heard. No one seemed to notice us though. Everyone was either heading back inside or wrapped up in their own conversations.

“You’re an incredibly naughty boy!” I scolded him quietly. “I jacked off once this morning--and I only got down to your belly button!”

We tried our best to stifle the giggles that always seemed to bubble up when we started talking dirty to each other. It was getting to be time to head back in, but Jesse touched my arm lightly, his expression turning serious.

“Good luck with Tom this afternoon,” he said quietly. He looked straight at me with those luscious crystal blue eyes. “If it’s what I think, it’s going to be a very difficult conversation, and you might be tempted to...er...spill the beans about us...you know, in sympathy or whatever...”

“I’d never do that!” I insisted, louder than I intended. I cringed, not wanting to draw any attention to our very private conversation.

“I know you don’t like to lie, Perry,” Jesse said seriously. “It’s not in your nature.” He gave me a warm, loving smile. “But be careful--please!” He was pleading with me now. “I couldn’t bear to see something happen to you if word got out...” There were the beginnings of tears in his eyes.

“No problem!” I insisted. “I’ll be as supportive as I can, but I won’t say anything about us,” I assured him. I thought about telling him about my suspicion that Tom might have a crush on me, but I decided that would sound incredibly paranoid and egocentric. Besides, I had already fabricated a story to thwart Jessica’s advances, so why shouldn’t the same thing work with Tom?

My mom picked us up after school. The plan was for Tom’s dad to pick him up on the way home from work, around five thirty. Tom certainly hadn’t relaxed any over the past couple of days. Other than politely thanking my mom for the lift, he didn’t say anything during the short ride. My mom followed us in and put a couple of sandwiches together for us, before heading back to work. We sat at the kitchen counter, drinking Cokes and hungrily munching our sandwiches. For some reason, I was never starving more than when I got back from school. It must be some kind of conditioned response.

On the one hand, I was anxious for Tom to let loose with whatever it was that had been bothering him lately. On the other hand, I was afraid of the possibility that I might end up hurting his feelings. Well--here goes nothing...

“So what’s been on your mind lately?” I asked in a light conversational tone, trying to disguise my own unease.

Tom looked at me seriously, his wide brown eyes reflecting the late afternoon light coming through the kitchen windows. “You know you’re my best friend, right?” he asked solemnly, more a statement than a question.

Actually, I didn’t know that. It had never occurred to me that Tom might see our relationship that way. I mean, we hung out at lunch, traded a few books, went to the movies or the arcade...but that was about it. I had never been to his house, although he had been to mine a couple of times to play video games. I had been hoping to get a few informal swim parties together with our little group late in the summer after I got back from New York, but the pool was leaking and had to be repaired. We had a great time playing baseball last year, with Tom as relief pitcher and me at third base, but I never thought that our relationship was deeper than that.

If I had thought about it, before Jesse came along, I guess I would have named Morgan Kipner as my best friend. I admired him so much as an athlete and he was so straight forward and easy to talk to. He had been the one to pull me into a game of Horse, on my first day at St. Boniface last year, and that had meant a lot to me. Of course, nothing in my whole life’s experience could come close to what Jesse and I had, and to hear Tom telling me that I was his best friend, confused me more than anything else.

“That’s cool,” I answered smoothly, trying to cover my surprise. “You know your one of my best buds, too...”

Tom smiled only a little, as if he didn’t need my acknowledgement of our friendship, but I sensed by his increasing discomfort, that something BIG was about to come down.

“I couldn’t tell this to the other guys--I mean Gene, he’s a great guy and all, but we’re not that close...”

Were we, I wondered?

“And I like Jesse a lot, but I haven’t really gotten to know him yet...”

I remembered the strange conversation we had in the school parking lot a couple of weeks ago. Tom had practically interrogated me about Jesse, and had even commented rather boldly on Jesse’s physical appearance. It had occurred to me even then, that Tom might be hinting at some sort of crush on Jesse. But since I had never seriously considered the possibility of Tom being gay, I hadn’t given the idea much credence. But now...

“And Morgan...” Tom went on, his voice becoming more and more strained. “I just couldn’t tell him...” he said in a despairing way.

Now I was getting really uptight and just wanted to get through this as quickly as possible. Whatever was going on, it was causing Tom a lot of pain, and it hurt me to see him suffer like this.

“Tom, you can trust me,” I said, hoping that I was reassuring him.

“I know that, Perry,” Tom replied with the slightest of nervous smiles. He took a deep breath and seemed to hold it forever. To my surprise, I was also holding my breath. Tom looked like he was about to cry and I instinctively wanted to reach over and touch him, but I resisted.

“I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with you for a long time,” he said, his voice getting a little shaky. “But now that we’re here, just the two of us...suddenly, I just can’t say it.”

That was just great. How could I tell him that I had a pretty good idea what he was going to say, and that the best thing, at this point, was to just go ahead and say it?

“Tom, I know that you’re trying to tell me something really important--I’ve never seen you so serious before.” I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. I was anxious for Tom to spill whatever it was he had to spill, so that we could discuss it or move on, or whatever seemed to be the appropriate thing to do, but I was also scared. Did I really want to be burdened with this piece of information? How would it affect my relationship with Tom? What might he expect from me in return? At this point, I was even more confused than I had been when we first sat down.

“If it doesn’t feel right, then you shouldn’t...” I began, thinking that the simplest thing might be to brush the whole thing under the table for now. But Tom was already shaking his head.

“No, I promised myself I was going to say this, that I was going to tell you, Perry...because you’re my very best friend and I need to tell somebody...” He was on the verge of tears, and that caused an empathetic reaction in me. What would it look like if I started crying for no apparent reason? I tried to remove myself from the situation, trying to keep myself from going over the edge emotionally, but it was no use. I felt the tears starting to form at the bottoms of my eyes, causing my vision to blur.

It turns out that...” he stammered nervously, his voice barely audible even in the absolute quiet of our kitchen. “It’s that...” Finally he looked at me with teary eyes and I had a huge lump in my throat. Come on, Tom....let it out...

“I like boys,” he whispered.

And even though I thought I had been prepared for this bit of news, it still sent my head spinning. It was so strange to hear those words come out of a friend’s mouth! And yet...what courage it must have taken. I made every effort to remain calm and even managed a gentle smile.

Tom was sitting there on the stool next to me, looking small and vulnerable. I got up and went to him. I carefully rested my hand on one of his shoulders and felt him tense up.

“I like boys!” Tom said louder, not looking at me, sounding as if he expected me to ridicule or question him.

“It’s okay, Tom,” I said softly, rubbing his shoulder, feeling the need to reach out physically to this thirteen year old boy who had told me what was probably the biggest, deepest, darkest secret of his entire life. It stunned me.

“It...it is?” he asked with a quivering voice, finally turning his head to look at me. There were tears in his eyes now and one finally welled up enough to spill down his smooth cheek.

“Of course, it’s okay--with me, anyway,” I said. “I think you’re incredibly brave to share that.”

More tears spilled from Tom’s brown eyes, and I felt my own vision blurring up. I had my hands resting on both his shoulders now, just wanting to give him what ever comfort and reassurance I could.

“It’s so good to hear you say that, Perry,” Tom said, sniffling and wiping the tears away while more spilled out. “I had to tell...someone--I just had to!”

“I’m really honored that you chose me,” I said with warm sincerity.

We were quiet for a long time, and then Tom got up and we hugged, tightly. I could feel his thin frame shaking as it pressed against mine, his heart racing, his breath hot on my neck. I had always thought Tom was cute, with his slender boyish frame, tight, curly black hair, big brown eyes and high cheek bones. But even now, I didn’t feel attracted to him in that way, not sexually the way I was to Jesse. As I’ve said before, I never really thought of myself as gay. Before Jesse came a long, I always thought I’d end up dating girls, maybe even Katy if I was extremely lucky. Right now though, I felt like Tom was my brother, a younger brother who had shared with me a very deep and personal secret. I just wanted to comfort him and give him my support in any way I could. That’s when Tom kissed me...

At first, his lips pressed deeply into my cheek. While it was certainly more than a friendly peck, it didn’t seem inappropriate, considering the emotional moment we had just shared. We were still hugging and I thought it would be rude of me to pull away, so I just hung on, feeling Tom’s heart pounding forcefully and rapidly against my chest. Then his lips moved to mine! I felt the suction of his dry boy lips on mine--and I freaked!

I pulled away, almost losing my balance as I backed up away from the counter. The look on Tom’s face was one of shocked horror at what he had done. I watched as his expression quickly turned to one of extreme embarrassment. His wet eyes darted around the room, as if looking for some way to escape. Of course, he could run right out the kitchen door if he wanted to, but where would he go then? Instead, he covered his face with both hands, and turned to lean weakly against the counter, now crying outright, big, throaty sobs that shook his whole body.

“I...I’m sorry, Tom...” I apologized, hesitantly moving closer. “It’s just that you...”

“I’m a freak!” Tom cried, pulling away from me with his hands still covering his face. He looked up just long enough to get his bearings, and made a quick dash down the short hall past the laundry room and pantry to the bathroom. The door slammed loudly behind him. It was nearly half a minute later that I heard him locking the door. He was still sniffling and sobbing loudly, and he sounded like he was going to be sick.

I just stood there, pretty much in shock. It had all happened so quickly. Had I been wrong to back away when Tom tried to kiss me on the lips? If I had let him kiss me--if I had kissed him back--he would have known I was gay--but I wasn’t gay, was I? So maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal after all--just a guy trying his best to comfort his emotionally distraught friend. Had I fucked this all up because of my own insecurities? What had Tom expected of me? He didn’t think I was gay, did he? Or was that why he had chosen to come out to me? Oh, my head hurt!

I finished my Coke in a couple large gulps and felt the sweet and tangy carbonated drink spill satisfyingly down my parched throat into my belly. My stomach wasn’t feeling too good just then, and I realized that I was trembling. I hadn’t handled this well. Tom had shared his deepest, darkest, most personal secret with me, and I had pushed him away! Shit! What an insensitive idiot I was! But what could I do to comfort him, to reassure him, to take away his pain? He must be feeling so lonely and foolish right now...

If only I could share something with him, something about my own feelings--as confused as they were--maybe that would make Tom feel a little better. But then I remembered Jesse’s warning...

I know you don’t like to lie, Perry...It’s not in your nature. But be careful--please! And the last thing he said especially sent a shiver down my spine--I couldn’t bear to see something happen to you if word got out...

It was Fear...I was afraid for myself. I couldn’t do what Tom had done. I was really trembling now, the true ramifications of Tom’s revelation finally dawning on me. In a sense, he had given his life to me. If I ever chose to let it be known that Tom was gay, it could easily ruin his whole life, emotionally as well as physically. There were always stories in the news about gay bashing, some of the incidents even proving to be fatal. But even if that was too much to get my naive young teenage mind around, wasn’t it true that in my own school--a small Catholic School that had the warmth and intimacy of an extended family--the most popular way to insult anybody you didn’t like or were angry at was to call him a fag? That fear and disdain of homosexuality was already firmly entrenched, not just in the eighth grade, but at the very least in the sixth and seventh grades as well.

I felt very weak as I sat back down on one of the tall stools, laying my head down despairingly on the counter. I had been foolish to think this was just going to be a simple little discussion and Tom was going to admit he was gay and I was going to say that’s okay Tom and pat him on the back and let’s go shoot some hoops...I wished with all my heart that he hadn’t told me.

“Perry?” The thin, shaky voice came from behind me. I lifted my head suddenly, and felt dizzy, almost losing my balance on the backless stool.

I turned to see Tom standing there in his white polo shirt and black Dockers. His eyes were red but he had apparently cleaned himself up a little in the bathroom. I glanced at my watch and realized that it had been nearly fifteen minutes since Tom had slammed the bathroom door.

“Hey, Tom,” I said, shakily getting to my feet. “I’m so sorry about that...about backing away...”

“Don’t,” Tom said quietly. There was still a lot of emotion in his voice, but he seemed to have recovered somewhat from his earlier hysterics.

“I messed up,” I persisted. “I’m totally here for you, ‘kay? Please?” I opened my arms and he came hesitantly. As soon as he got close enough, I pulled him in, wrapping my arms tightly around his back. Slowly, his arms came up and wrapped around my back. Tom lowered his head and leaned against my chest.

“I shouldn’t have told you,” Tom said, his voice muffled by my shirt.

Was he already regretting outing himself to me? Had I totally fucked up what must have been one of the most important moments in his entire life?

“I needed to tell somebody so bad, and I knew it had to be you,” he went on, as he held his head tightly pressed against my chest. “But it never occurred to me what effect that would have on you. What a selfish asshole I am, laying this stupid thing on you...” I felt his body shake with silent, dry sobs.

“No, no, don’t talk like that!” I said soothingly, leaning my cheek on his curly haired head. “You’re not selfish--you’re brave, so incredibly brave...” We stood like that for a few more minutes, locked in each other's arms. Finally, I felt Tom sigh, and he slowly released his embrace.

We stood there, awkwardly looking at each other.

“You don’t look so good, dude,” Tom said with a weak smile.

I nodded, knowing that the queasy feeling in my stomach must be reflected in my face. “Maybe it’d be more comfortable to sit in the den,” I suggested.

Tom nodded, reaching past me to greedily gulp down his Coke, before following me into the den. I started for the sofa, and then diverted myself to the huge leather recliner off to one side. It wasn’t a very good seat to watch TV from, because the angle was a little off, but it was nice for curling up with a good book on occasion. I hoped Tom wouldn’t be too upset by my choice of seating arrangements, but he didn’t say anything, wearily plopping himself down on the middle of the sofa, looking small and lost.

At least he seemed to have calmed down somewhat, although the occasional dry sob still erupted from his chest. For a while, he seemed content to just sit quietly like that, relieved of a great weight, grateful that he hadn’t been scorned or ridiculed.

“What brought this on?” I finally dared to ask, sensing that he might be ready to talk. “I mean, why was it so important to tell me now?”

He looked at me searchingly, and it was if he had grown up since the time we had left school today. Then, he had still been the slight, cute, half-Hispanic kid I had known for over a year now. While he hadn’t been grabbing and squeezing people lately, he still had his silly sense of humor, still seemed to be bursting with excess energy, still talked excitedly about sports and Fear Factor and what ever else he happened to be into at the moment. Sure, he had been acting a little strange lately, especially at the party, but I felt that way plenty of times myself--out of place, afraid to look this person or that person in the eye for no apparent reason, wanting to be anyplace else but where I was. I think that was just part of the confusion of being a teenager--wanting to be a child and an adult at the same time and not quite belonging in either of those worlds. Now he looked at me calmly, the earlier panic gone from his bright brown eyes though the redness around them remained.

“Do you remember the first day you came to St. Boniface?” he asked. I assumed he meant the first day of school, since I had actually been there once before with just my mom, filling out papers and getting a tour of the campus from Fr. Marlen himself. I nodded.

“I liked you right away,” Tom went on. “I just felt like we were going to be good friends.”

The truth was, although Tom had been hovering around that day, I hadn’t really paid much attention. I guess I was too wrapped up in your own fears and concerns to take much notice of anyone who didn’t get right in my face. What I mainly remembered was Morgan drawing me out of my shell, soothing my first day jitters, and introducing me to the guys. I even remembered Gene with that big smile on his face that seemed to be a nearly permanent fixture, reflective of his always cheerful disposition. He had a paperback copy of Stephen King’s latest, ‘From A Buick 8’ tucked under his arm, and I told him I was anxious to read it. He had been willing to lend me his copy right there on the spot, even though I could see by the bookmark that he was only half way through. Of course, I already had the book at home, but it still made an impression on me that he was willing to trust me so readily. I had the sense that I was going to like St. Boniface, and that was really thanks to those two guys. I wondered if I had ever really told them that?

It had taken a few days for Tom to even register in my mind, which was struggling to get used to this new Catholic school (in La Jolla, I had gone to a very nice private school, but it wasn’t religiously based), and all the new kids and faculty, all the new routines and expectations. There weren’t that many people I missed back in La Jolla, but clinging to their familiarity seemed to comfort me as I tried to acclimate myself to the new situation. I had always been the shy, bashful type, and getting thrown into a new situation like that was a real challenge for me. But now that I thought about it, Tom always was there, and he was his usual exuberant, playful self. It was just that I couldn’t even remember the first time he actually spoke directly to me. He always seemed to be part of the group, talking to Gene or Morgan, or addressing everyone and no one in particular. So I felt a little bad that he had wanted to be my friend right from the get go, and I hadn’t even noticed. Still, what could I say?

“I...I didn’t know...” I stammered hesitantly.

“Of course, I didn’t want you to know!” Tom explained. “I had to think about it myself. I mean, I know I’m kinda noisy and hyper and stuff, but mostly, I’m really shy around new people. I knew I liked you, but I just kinda hid myself and watched--isn’t that weird?”

I thought about how nervous I had been approaching Jesse that first day.

“No, it’s not weird. I understand. I’m the same way.”

Tom seemed glad to hear that and he smiled thinly. “The thing is, when I went home that day, I kept thinking about you...and I started to realize that what I was thinking about wasn’t just about how cool it would be to be your friend, or hang out at the arcade with you, or shoot hoops or whatever. I started to think about weird things...”

I felt a wave of apprehension surge through my body, and the big leather chair I was sitting in suddenly didn’t feel as comfy as it usually did.

“You’ve been so cool about everything so far, Perry. Can you just stand to hear a few more things--even if they’re really weird things...maybe even sick things?”

“Gee, Tom, are you sure...?” I asked.

“I really want to get this all in the open before I chicken out!” Tom interrupted quickly.

I nodded, not sure if I should be looking directly at him to give him the reassurance he needed, or if I should look elsewhere, and keep him from feeling self-conscious. I guess I ended up doing a little of both as he spoke.

“I thought about your eyes, Perry. I know that sounds weird, but there was something about them that was just...so cool.” Tom was speaking very quietly now and I really had to strain to understand what he was saying. Even the groaning sound of the leather upholstery when I shifted my weight was enough to drown him out at this point.

“You have beautiful eyes, Perry,” he said a little more confidently, looking right at me. I felt myself squirm and forced myself to sit as still as I could.

“And everything just followed from there. I realized that I liked your hair--it’s so long and wavy, and frames your face just...I don’t know,” he said, looking down and blushing.

Should I let him go on like this? Would a straight kid let another guy talk about him that way and not put a stop to it? Still, it reminded me so much of the way I had felt about Jesse those first couple of weeks before we really had a chance to bond in more meaningful ways. I had to let him get it all out.

“And I just liked everything about you...physically,” Tom went on, mostly staring at the coffee table in front of him as he continued to speak in hushed tones of private recollection. “That’s when it first really dawned on me, I guess, that I might...like boys. Girls always made me nervous, and I guess they still do!” He smiled a little at this and I knew he was referring to his odd behavior at Katy’s party.

“I know this sounds gross, but I started having fantasies about you, Perry, imagining that we were alone together, that we were kissing and touching each other...”

I didn’t know what kind of pervert I was, but I was starting to get hard!

“So, when we were hugging before, that’s why I lost it--I’d been dreaming about doing that for so long...”

Tom’s voice trailed off as his voice tightened with renewed emotion. My head was swimming, and I was starting to get panicky about my own lack of self control. I decided I had to say something before I ended up jumping Tom’s bones right then and there!

“It’s okay; I understand,” I told him, leaning forward in my chair for emphasis. “You know, I don’t think it’s really that unusual for boys to have...thoughts about other boys sometimes, you know?” I said awkwardly.

I don’t think Tom did know, because he was staring at me with a somewhat blank look on his face. Had I said too much? Maybe, but it was better to go for it, and hope that what I had to say was some comfort, than to watch my poor friend writhing with guilt and shame.

“I mean, most of us never act on it, but still...” I said, my eyes only occasionally able to make contact with Tom’s. “I’ve seen boys that have things about them that I like--maybe it’s their eyes, or their hair, or whatever. I’ve even been known to sneak an occasional peak at the guy standing next to me when I’m taking a piss in a public bathroom...” Ouch, that sounded gay!

“I guess I hear you,” Tom said hesitantly, “but that’s not really same thing. I mean, of course, every guy is always trying to compare his package to the other guys around him. That’s just macho bullshit, and it’s not what I’m trying to tell you,” Tom said, a hint of frustration in his eyes.

I just looked at him dumbly, realizing that Tom already had it in his head that I was straight.

“When I look at you, Perry, or some other hot looking guys,” Tom flushed a little at his own remark, but quickly went on, “I get like...you know...physically turned on...” He said the last part so quietly, I had to hold my breath to catch it.

I decided the best thing at this point was just to keep my big mouth shut.

“Like when you look at Melissa, I bet you’re really looking at her big boobs, aren’t you?” he asked pointedly, a bit of confidence entering his speech now.

I nodded with a sheepish little shrug.

“And that’s exciting to a...a...normal guy, but not to me. I’m not interested in girl’s...in those things...” he stuttered slightly. “The idea of being with you, Perry, kissing and holding you, is so exciting to me...” He paused to regain his composure. “And if you were naked too...” he whispered almost to himself.

I was becoming seriously concerned that Tom was going to see the lump in the front of my Dockers, so I leaned forward even more in the chair to try and conceal it. “I guess I understand what you’re saying...” I said hesitantly.

“And you’re not freaked out?” Tom asked incredulously.

Damn! How was I supposed to react? I couldn’t figure this out to save my life! Maybe freaking out was exactly the reaction he was looking for. I decided to play therapist for a minute.

“Did you think I would freak out?” I asked.

That seemed to give Tom some pause. After a little thought, he replied unconfidently. “I guess, I wasn’t sure...I mean, I was hoping you’d be okay with it, but...truthfully, I guess I was kinda expecting you to freak out.”

“Well, I haven’t, so you shouldn’t feel bad about what you’re telling me,” I assured him. I was getting uncomfortable leaning forward in the big chair, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. Finally, I decided to lean back, quickly crossing my legs to cover my growing 'problem.'

“Perry, you’re just the coolest guy...I’m so glad I could tell you this without you freaking out--if only you weren’t straight...” His voice trailed off despondently. Then he looked up at me, his demeanor brightening slightly. “But I guess that’s partly what gave me the courage to talk to you about all this,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Kyle told me what you told Jessica at the party...”

“Gees, can’t anyone keep a secret!” I blurted out, with undisguised irritation.

“I’m...I’m sorry, Perry. Kyle said it wasn’t a secret...” Tom looked at me fearfully.

He was right. In fact, I had suspected that, once I told Jessica, word would spread quickly. How exciting that the whole school seemed to know about my big huge lie. It probably wouldn’t be long before it got back to my mom, and then I’d really be up shit creek without a paddle!

“No, you’re right,” I assured him. “It’s just that, news sure spreads fast at this school,” I said with exasperation.

“You’ve got to understand, Perry. You’re very popular. People like you. They want to know about you.”

I looked closely at Tom, relieved that we had somewhat drifted off the main (and extremely difficult) subject for a moment. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing though... Me, popular? It was probably just Tom. I mean, he had a crush on me, right? So of course, for him, the world revolved around me. I couldn’t believe for a second that I was one of those kids that everyone liked, and wished they could hang out with. No way, that wasn’t me!

Tom actually giggled. “You look so shocked! I tell you I like boys, and you go, ‘that’s cool, Tom.’ Then I say that you’re popular at school, and your eyes practically bug out of your head!” He giggled again, and I was glad that we were at least having something of a light moment to alleviate all the uncomfortable tension in the room.

I shook my head, still wanting to deny it. “Anyway,” I said, “I guess it doesn’t really matter whether people know or not. I still think it was really brave of you to come to me about this. I don’t really know how to react though, knowing that you have a...” I hesitated over the word.

“A crush on you?” Tom finished, his impish smile slowly being replaced by a more thoughtful one. At least he wasn’t crying anymore, and the redness was starting to leave his eyes.

I nodded, feeling myself blush.

“I know that’s probably the weirdest thing you ever heard in your life,” Tom explained, “but I guess when I heard that you had a serious girlfriend, it made me feel that maybe it was time to share all this with you.”

”Why didn’t you tell me before?” I asked.

“It was hard, Perry. I mean, dealing with the fact that I was attracted to boys, I mean, that seemed weird even to me--and I was the one experiencing it!”

I was really impressed with the way Tom was able to articulate his feelings. And he was so sure of himself, so sure of what he was--just like Jesse. Was I the only one who was totally confused?

“Remember that time I invited you for a sleepover?” he asked.

Actually, I did. It was early March, around Tom’s thirteenth birthday I think. He had invited me to sleep over on Friday and spend the day with him on Saturday. He had been so excited all week, and kept coming up behind me and squeezing me. While that could be fun sometimes, it was definitely a questionable thing to do right after lunch...

“Remember, you got sick and had to cancel at the last minute?” Tom asked.

“I really was sick!” I said defensively, maybe sounding a little desperate.

“I know, Perry. You’re not the kind that would make up something like that. It’s just that, I guess I was really looking forward to it. I even had it all worked out that I was going to tell you everything, and in my fantasies, you felt the same way I did...” Tom blushed again, and had to look away.

I started thinking about that first time I had invited Jesse to my house, and how excited I had been, and all my hopes and dreams for that afternoon...I felt tears well up in my eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Tom, really. I didn’t know...” I sniffled a little.

“Hey, chill out, dude!” Tom assured me. “It wasn’t your fault. I was the stupid one, imagining all those things when there was no evidence at all that you might be the least bit interested in me that way. I’m just a stupid fag...”

“Don’t say that!” I got up from the chair and sat right down next to Tom, who was startled by my sudden action. I gripped his narrow shoulders tightly, and even shook him a little. “Don’t call yourself that! That word totally sucks! It’s awful...it’s...it’s not you...”

We were embracing again, sitting with our hips pressed together, our arms reaching around to pull ourselves closer together. This time, instead of me comforting Tom, it seemed more like we were consoling each other, but it felt good anyway.

“I am a fag, Perry, whether you like the word or not,” he said quietly, speaking directly into my ear. “And if I had my way, I’d be doing all kinds of things to you that you’d find gross and disgusting...”

I pulled slowly out of the embrace, not wanting to indicate that I was upset by anything he said. I looked at him, and he bravely looked at me. I smiled a little.

“What kind of things?” I found myself asking.

“You don’t want to know,” Tom assured me, with a sweet, but sad little smile.

“I do, Tom. I’m you’re friend. I want so bad to be here for you. I had no idea what you were feeling all this time and I just want to be here for you.”

“You are here for me,” Tom insisted. “You took what I had to say so seriously, I still can’t believe it. Even when I lost my head and kissed you on the lips, you didn’t throw me out into the street. I’m so grateful to have you as a friend...”

We hugged again, tighter than ever, and once again, Tom kissed me on the cheek.

“You taste so good!” he whispered in my ear.

Okay, this was all too much. Tom might have been convinced that I was totally straight, but the fact of the matter was, I was totally horny. Either it was time to wrap this all up somehow, or else...

Tom kissed me on the lips and I didn't pull back. At first, I think Tom was just as surprised as I was, but then he started getting into it, and I could feel the pressure of his lips increase against mine. The only thing I did was to keep my mouth closed, and to his credit, Tom never tried to tongue me.

When Tom sat back and looked at me again, it was more like the Tom I had come to know over the last year, bright eyed with an impish little grin full of white teeth against a background of smooth, light brown skin.

“That was totally rad!" he gushed. "Perry," he said, looking at me thoughtfully, "I’ve been doing some reading and stuff on the internet. I could give you the best hand job you ever had!” he said excitedly. Apparently my willingness to give him a kiss on the lips had given him some confidence he had previously lacked.

I was really tempted to just go ahead. We were both hot and horny and I’m sure Tom must have seen by now. I didn’t have to look any further than his eyes to know what state he was in.

“Hand job?” I asked dumbly.

“Yeah, we could go in your room, dude! It would be totally awesome!” Tom was grinning widely now, any fear or shame at least momentarily banished. “You take off all your clothes and lie on the bed, and I’ll...”

Just then, the doorbell rang. Yes, that’s right--saved by the bell! I glanced at my watch, and it was only five fifteen.

“It must be my dad,” Tom said with obvious disappointment in his voice. “Sometimes he gets home a little early if the traffic from Escondido isn’t too bad...”

I was trying mightily to calm myself down. I think I had been ready to take Tom up to my room. Now, I had to calm myself down enough to answer the door.

But Tom got up first, and the lump in the front of his Dockers was plain to see.

“What are you staring at, straight boy?” he teased.

I blinked, and flushed with embarrassment.

“That was totally my fault!” Tom apologized, glancing down at the obvious lump in the front of my Dockers, the impish grin never quite leaving his face. “Thank you so much for being such a good friend, Perry. There’s more I want to tell you, but I guess it’ll have to wait. Guess that hand job’ll have to wait too, but it would be so cool--you’d really like it and your girlfriend would never have to know!”


“Don’t get up,” Tom insisted. “I know I got you worked up in a bad way. Don’t worry about me,” he said, glancing down at his own obvious lump. “I’ll just use my backpack for cover. Uh, maybe we could talk later?”


“All right, I’d better go!” Tom seemed so happy, brimming with relief. He gave me a quick peck on the forehead, and took off. I heard him grab his backpack from the kitchen, and race across the livingroom to the front door.

“Hey, dad!” I heard Tom say cheerfully.

“Everything go okay?” I heard the deep resonant voice of his father ask. I had seen Tom’s dad before, and he was a big, heavy set man with a thick, bushy moustache. He was always laughing and patting people on the back.

“Yeah, we got a lot accomplished!” Tom answered.

“Where’s your friend?” his dad asked.

“Oh, I left him upstairs. We were just downloading some stuff off the internet...”

“For your project, I hope?”

“Dad!” And that was the last I heard of the conversation as I heard the front door slam.

I sat there by myself on the sofa, overwhelmed by everything that had happened this afternoon. Finally, I managed to stagger up to my room and take a long. cold shower...

I knew I wasn’t quite myself at dinner, but my mom didn’t press it, once I told her that Tom and I had just spent the afternoon researching our school project.

“You look really tired, hon,” my mom said as we finished up. “Why don’t you go upstairs and rest--I’ll take care of the dishes tonight.”

I thanked her and even gave her a little hug, which she probably thought was weird. But I didn’t give her a chance to ask any more questions, as I headed upstairs to my room.

I was nearly through my math homework, when my cellphone rang. I was all excited, thinking it was Jesse, but (sigh) it was Tom.

“Hi, Perry, uh...how are you?” he asked, and it sounded really funny, like English wasn’t his native language or something (It was, of course!).

“I’m okay, I guess,” I answered honestly. “There was a lot of stuff to think about...”

“I know, I know,” Tom agreed readily. “I keep going back and forth, wondering if I should have told you, if I shouldn’t have, if I told you too much, or too little...” His voice trailed off as he realized he was babbling. Still, he sounded pretty calm, and I was glad for that.

“It was definitely big news,” I agreed.

“I’m really embarrassed I told you all those things about...you know...about wanting you and stuff...”

“Hey, who doesn’t want to be wanted?” I asked, trying to make a silly joke out of it.

“You’re way too cool, Perry,” he said admiringly. “I don’t think I could’ve handled something like that as well as you did...”

“You’re part was a lot harder than my part, and I think you handled it extremely well,” I said, hoping my comment sounded as sincere as it was intended to be.

“Thanks,” he said quietly. “I hope we can still be friends...”

“What’re you talking about?” I asked with mild astonishment. “Why wouldn’t we be friends?”

“I...I...don’t know,” Tom muttered, starting to sound a little emotional. “I was afraid I really freaked you out today. Not only did I tell you I was...er...you know...like that,” he stammered. I noticed he never used the word ‘gay’ to describe himself, so I had also been careful to not use the term as well. I didn’t know if the word bothered him, or if ‘liking boys’ didn’t have exactly the same meaning for him as being ‘gay.’ As long as he didn't call himself a 'fag'...“But then, I practically jumped you right there in your own house,” he added apologetically.

“That was a little weird,” I admitted, trying to keep my voice calm and nonaccusatory. “But really, it wasn’t that bad...”

“You taste so good, Perry!” Tom exclaimed rather loudly.

“Hey, are you alone over there?” I asked nervously.

“It’s okay. My parents went to my uncle’s house, and they took my little sister with them, thank God!” he laughed a little. “My big sister’s in her room, probably chatting away on her cellphone--so I don’t think you have to worry about anything. But I won’t say things like that anymore, Perry. I know it sounds gross to you.”

“Whatever you say, dude,” I answered diplomatically.

“Actually, remember I told you that one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was because I had heard about your girlfriend in La Jolla?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, feeling a wave of guilt at the mention of my blatant lie.

“Well, I wanted to tell you something else...I mean, I really like you, Perry, and I did have a crush on you...”

Now I started to see where this was leading. Tom hadn’t come over to jump my bones--he had just got a little worked up, that’s all. That was understandable, considering the enormous secret he had shared with me, and the fact that he had feelings--sexual feelings--for me. But having seen no sign that I would be reciprocating his advances, Tom had moved on. He was already interested in someone else...but who? Then it suddenly came to me how nervous he’d been around Morgan lately, at the party, at lunch...

If Tom had a crush on Morgan, there was going to be a BIG problem. Morgan was straight as an arrow and, from the few times the subject had ever come up during conversation, it was clear that he had, at the very least, the same disdain for homosexuals as the rest of the straight world... This was going to be baaaaaaaad...

“But...remember my tae kwon do class?” Tom asked.

I nodded uncertainly. I guess I had a vague recollection of Tom telling me he attended such a class at one of those strip malls on the edge of town.

“Well, there’s this guy there that I really like...” When he said those words, Tom’s voice really started to change. It went from quiet and hesitant, to having a tremor of excitement in it.

“Go on,” I said, feeling relieved. I knew Morgan wasn’t taking tae kwon do, and it probably wasn’t even somebody from our class...

“It’s Derek...Kipner,” Tom said, whispering the name as if he were gossiping about somebody else’s relationship.

Derek Kipner...? Morgan’s kid brother?! Holy shit! I tried to cover the shock of my reaction.

“That’s...that’s cool,” I said as calmly as I could. “Does he...er...know?”

There was a long pause. I heard Tom’s breathing over the phone sounding hesitant and heavy. He wasn’t as calm and cool as he was trying to sound. “We’ve become pretty close friends. We always partner up for sparring and stuff. We’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the arcade lately...”

“With Morgan?” I had to ask.

“Sometimes...” he said. “I don’t think Morgan likes it too much that I’m friends with his kid brother.”

That was obvious from the way Morgan had been behaving at lunch lately.

“How old is he?” I asked with concern.

“He turned thirteen at the end of September--we’re less than seven months apart.”

“Do you think Derek is...” I had trouble saying the word, even after we had talked so freely just a little while ago.

”Does he like boys too?” Tom finished up my question, using his own, almost child-like term. More silence. “I’m hopeful,” he said, and his voice reflected the sincerity of his desire. “Maybe now that you...uh...know, maybe you could help me somehow...”

Help him? Help him how? All I could think about were all the bad things that could come from Tom’s pursuit.

“Tom, you realize, if Morgan ever found out...”

“I know he wouldn’t understand,” he answered quickly. Tom wasn’t that naive then. That was something of a relief. Still, this whole conversation had the sense of ‘the blind leading the blind,’ and I was fearful to say too much. But Morgan...

“He would kill you, if he found out you were with his kid brother!” I said pointedly, trying to make him understand that this could be a very serious problem.

“I know, Perry, but what can I do...?” The tone of his voice told me everything I needed to know. “I just think Derek is so much fun to be around. It’s like, when we’re together, time passes so quickly--and it doesn’t hurt that he’s really cute! Hehehe...”

It was still very odd to hear Tom talk about another boy like that. But I had to admit, I had the same thoughts dancing around in my head all the time, and at least I had Jesse to share all these things with. Right now, Tom had nobody but me. I wanted to tell him how dangerous all this could be, to point out all the implications, to discuss all the tremendous ramifications both for his own life and perhaps that of Derek and even Morgan, but now that I knew what it was like to have really strong feelings for another person, it made it much more difficult to do so.

“Just be careful,” I cautioned him a bit half heartedly. I knew it sounded lame, but I couldn’t say anymore. In a perfect world, I would have told him to follow his heart, to let Derek know how he felt and then see how the boy reacted. But, as I was beginning to learn, this was far from a perfect world. Even our little corner of Santa Corina was not spared from its share of evils and prejudices.

“I will,” Tom assured me. Maybe he was expecting more from me, but I felt like this was all getting way over my head.

I was tempted to ask Tom for permission to reveal everything we had talked about today to Jesse. But how could I make him understand without giving away our own relationship? Nothing in the world would cause me to intentionally jeopardize what Jesse and I had, and on top of that, Jesse had clearly warned me against such a temptation. Still, it was hard to just leave poor Tom hanging like this. I felt really helpless.

“Look, Tom, you gave me a lot to think about today. Just give me a little time to absorb it all.”

“You’ve been incredibly awesome about all this!” Tom exclaimed with open admiration. “I just knew you were the coolest kid in school and I’m so glad--relieved really--to have told you. I can’t imagine anyone else taking it as well as you did.”

“It’s okay Tom--and I really want to help you. Just give me some time.” Realizing that we were getting near the end of our conversation, I flashed back to something Tom had said this afternoon.

“And Tom,” I said, my voice low and serious. “I hope you don’t think you’re a freak, because I don’t think of you that way.”

Now there was a really long pause, and I could only hear Tom breathing sporadically. He was obviously getting choked up with emotion. I guessed he might, but I felt like it needed to be said anyhow.

“Thanks, Perry...that means so much to me...” I heard his voice tremble over the phone.

“Uh, sure...listen, maybe we can still get together and really work on that Geography project...if you want to...”

“That would be great, Perry. I really want to get together again!”

That response seemed to cry out for further analysis, but my brain was already in total overload mode, so I let it slip.

“Okay then, I’ll see you in school tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure, Perry! I really...” Tom abruptly cut himself off.

‘...Love you...’ Why was it I knew what he had been about to say? It made me shudder. It was too much, and I felt like I was going to be sick.

“Uh, Tom, I’m totally here for you, okay? See ya tomorrow!” and I ended the call quickly.

I struggled to finish my homework, but every math problem took more concentration than I could manage. My mind kept going over all the things Tom had shared with me today, and I even thought about what it would have been like to let him touch me the way he wanted to...If you could flush out a brain the way you could flush a toilet, I think I would’ve been all for pulling that handle just then.

As I was finally settling down for the night, I held the latest addition to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series in my hands unopened. I had been dying to read this, but now, looking at it as simply a book of made-up stories and people, it seemed to have no meaning. That’s when my cellphone rang.

“Hey,” came the sweet voice that sent shivers through my body.

“Hey, yourself,” I said, and there was such a sound of relief in my voice that I’m sure Jesse could hear it easily.

“How’d it go with Tom?” he asked, perceptively getting right to the point.

I debated with myself for all of five seconds, wondering if it would be a betrayal of Tom’s trust to talk to Jesse about his deepest secrets. “Er...can you talk, dude?” I asked cautiously.

“Sort of,” Jesse replied. “Mom and Miranda are in bed and their door is closed.”

“Good enough,” I said. “You were right about Tom...”

There was a pause, and I heard Jesse sigh.

“Are you okay?” I asked, a little concerned by Jesse’s lack of response.

“I’m fine. It’s not like I can feel happy for him or anything. Being gay is not the best thing in the world for a teenager,” he whispered, even though he had just assured me that he wouldn't be heard.

I heard the pain in Jesse’s voice. It made me shudder again, thinking about the bad things that had happened to Jesse before he came here, and about all the horrible things that could happen if he and I were ever ‘outed.’

“We need each other,” I said encouragingly. “We need to support Tom.”

“Of course,” Jesse said. “Of course we will. He knows that you’re telling me?”

”No, he doesn’t, but we need to find a way to make him comfortable with the idea of you knowing--I just can’t handle this myself!” I felt strong emotions threatening to overwhelm me, and I laid back against my pillow, staring at the ceiling and taking deep breaths.

“That is a huge burden to place on someone. He must really trust you, Perry.”

“Yeah, I don’t know why, but he does, and I’d never want to do anything to betray that trust,” I said nervously.

Jesse sighed. “That’s why I love you so much..."

Jesse’s words had something of a soothing effect on me. While I certainly didn’t feel that I was anywhere near the saint he claimed I was, it was still comforting to the deepest levels of my soul to know Jesse thought that way about me.

“...And you make great milkshakes,” he added in the same heartfelt tone.

Jesse’s crude remark caught me completely by surprise. I had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing out loud and attracting my mom’s attention from down the hall. It was the first time I had really felt like laughing all day, and it was just what I needed to clear my head a little. I finally calmed down enough to continue.

“Tom had another surprise for me--and I think even you couldn’t guess what it is,” I taunted him a bit.

“Is he getting his tongue pierced?”

“Very funny,” I chided him. “But this is serious--Tom apparently has his eye on someone...” I decided to drag it out a bit just for fun.

“That’s...that’s interesting,” Jesse said uncertainly.

“It’s someone we both know...” I continued.

“Perry! Tell me, for chrissake!”

“Hehehe...” I muttered conspiratorily. “It’s Derek Kipner!” I whispered loudly.

There was a rather long silence, much longer than I would have expected. Jesse was always leaps and bounds ahead of me in everything, especially when it came to grasping complicated human situations like this. The long pause was somehow disturbing.

“Morgan’s brother...?” Jesse asked weakly.

I continued in a more subdued voice, realizing that Jesse wasn’t finding anything amusing about my latest revelation. “Yeah, the very same. They take a tae kwon do class together, and I guess they’ve become pretty good buds.”

”Has Tom told Derek about his feelings?”

“Not yet.”

Another long, uncomfortable silence.

“I don’t like this, Perry,” Jesse said quietly, his voice clearly devoid of joy and excitement.

“I know, it’s a little messy, but I’m hoping for a happy ending.”

“Take my word for it,” Jesse said sullenly, “it won’t end happily.”

I was taken aback by Jesse’s reaction. I knew there were some obstacles that had to be dealt with--the first of which was whether or not Derek ‘liked boys’ as Tom would put it. But I was excited for Tom and wanted to see everything work out. It would be great to have another ‘couple’ in our little circle, people we could share things with that we had to keep hidden from our family and other friends.

“Don’t say that, Jesse!” I scolded him a bit harder than I intended. “Tom really took a huge chance telling me all this--and now I’m telling you so that we can support him!”

“Don’t get upset, Perry,” Jesse said nervously. I sometimes forgot how sensitive Jesse could be and it just stabbed my heart when I hurt him like that.

“I’m...I’m not upset,” I told him as gently as I could. “I just want us to be able to help Tom through this. I mean, we have each other, and he’s going it alone right now.”

I heard Jesse sigh, trying to reign in whatever emotions he was feeling at the moment.

“We will help him, Perry--I promise,” Jesse finally said, sounding a little more like himself.

“Together,” I reminded him.

“Together,” Jesse replied.



comments and constructive criticism are always welcome: underthehoodster@netscape.net

Copyright © 2011 underthehoodster; All Rights Reserved.
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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.
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