The bank teller’s words shook me out of my trance, and I moved forward to cash my paycheck. The teller counted out two hundred dollars. As I stared down at it, I knew that it would never be enough.
I walked out of the bank in a daze, knowing that I couldn’t go on anymore. My world was about to come crashing down around me.
My hands were shaking as I climbed into my Jeep and typed out a text message on my cell phone. I hit send as I felt a streak of cold on my cheek as the tears started. Leaning forward against the steering wheel, I cried for I don’t know how long. I didn’t care if anyone saw me, as the sheer hell and fear of the last couple of months hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d cried, more than I ever had before.
The last time I’d cried, I was twelve years old. I had broken my leg; but even that was nothing compared to this. I felt despair like nothing I’d ever known, because I had no way out.
Slowly, I got myself under control and pulled out of the parking lot, for the drive to the home that I knew I was about to lose, along with something far more precious to me.
The drive itself was strange and surreal. It felt like any other day, but part of me also knew that this day was far from normal.
As I drove, I started to reminisce about how I had come to this point: Several months ago, at the end of summer, I’d moved from my tiny Arizona hometown to the county seat, to work and attend the community college. It had seemed like a great idea at the time. It had gotten me out of my parents’ house and the cold, unfeeling, poor excuse for a relationship that I had with them. It had also gotten me out of the dead-end town where I had been born and raised.
I’d moved here a week before my fall classes began, and had checked the local paper for apartments. I’d found a studio apartment where the price was right: three-hundred dollars a month, utilities, and some meals included. The apartment was tiny, as it was just a separate guesthouse that the homeowner had converted to a rental: One room and a bathroom, just enough for a bed, TV, computer, sofa, and a desk. But it was home to me, my very own apartment, and the first place of my own. Moving in was the greatest day of my life, in more ways than I could have ever anticipated.
The day I moved in, I pulled into the driveway, got out of my Jeep, and stopped dead in my tracks as I stared at the vision of perfection in front of me. I was in love! Or was it just lust? I'd never seen such a combination of good looks and raw power, with an absolutely perfect body. A gorgeous skin of honey-gold, 17'1", 3460 lbs, radial whitewalls and polished chrome, it was obvious that somebody here sure had great taste in cars!
Minutes later, I met Steve Williams, the landlord’s eldest son, who I soon found out was the proud owner of that car. He had helped me move in, showing up in just old shorts and ratty tennis shoes. It was a hot desert summer day, so I wasn’t surprised that he was shirtless. I soon was as well.
I was awestruck by Steve: He had blonde hair and blue eyes, a really cut swimmer’s “V” build and the most amazing smile. It was all I could do to keep my jaw from hitting the pavement. I later found out that the swimmer’s build was no coincidence; he was on his high school swim team. I’ve been told that I’m no slouch in the looks department myself, but I knew that Steve had me soundly beat in that department.
After my move-in, Steve and I had sat around in my apartment and talked for hours. It was harder than hell not to stare at him as he kicked back on my sofa in just his shorts, but somehow I’d managed. As we talked, I discovered that not only was he gorgeous, he was a really cool guy with a great sense of humor, who was really easy to talk to.
He told me a bit about himself that first night. Steve was a senior, and was just a few days younger than me, his birthday being just a few days short of the cut-off date that determined what year you were in. I was starting college and he was starting his senior year in high school, due to me being all of five days his elder.
We both had a few days remaining before our schools began their fall semesters, and Steve offered to “show me around”. I didn’t know anyone else in town and I loved his company, so I readily accepted.
Steve and I spent those days hiking in the desert, exploring the backcountry, swimming, and generally just hanging out together. He introduced me to his friends and took me to a few parties. By the time the week was out, we were the best of friends, as if we had known each other all our lives.
I’d never had a best friend growing up, never had many friends period, so this was all new to me. I was amazed at just how important having Steve in my life had become to me. I’d always just assumed I’d always be a loner, but with Steve and his family I found something I had never expected: a home. Best of all, Steve seemed to value our time together as much as I did. His parents were great, too. Steve’s father was a Deputy Sheriff with the local police force. He was a little on the gruff side, a typical small-town cop in many ways, but was a great guy once you got to know him. Steve’s mother was a legal aide and one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever met. I’d wished many times that my own parents could have been more like Steve’s, and less like the alcoholic rednecks that they were.
The Williams’ had a nice home, a fairly modern split-level ranch house on an acre corner lot. The master bedroom was at one end, and the other two bedrooms, Steve’s and his brother’s, at the other, with my guesthouse about eighty feet behind the house in the backyard.
Steve’s parents had welcomed me, and treated me like family. I found it easy to get along with them, and enjoyed talking to them both. For the first time in my life, I felt like I actually had a real family. I never knew that anything could feel so good. My whole world had changed, and in doing so, it had changed me. I found myself becoming what I’d never dared hope: happy, outgoing, someone who belonged.
School had started, which, together with my new job at a local bookstore, cut down on my time with Steve. Not as much as I had feared, though, as we still hung out together all evening, except for the two nights a week that I worked. The air conditioning in my apartment was very weak, which made it a hotbox in the afternoon.
Once school started, we quickly settled into a routine: after school, I’d meet Steve at his house, hang out in his room, and then usually have dinner with his folks. After dinner, we would go to my apartment and do any homework either of us had (Steve was planning on becoming a lawyer, and I was pre-med), or just hang out. Sometimes he would just crash out on my couch all night. On weekends, we would sometimes hang out with his friends, and I began to get to know some of them well. Other times, we hiked the lonely canyons to the north of town, or whatever else we felt like doing. Before long, we were like brothers. Or, at least, what I imagined it would be like to have a brother, as I was an only child.
Things had been going great, and I was happier than I had ever been. I only had one real problem: I’d figured out that I was gay not long after puberty, but had never done much about it other than a few one-night stands – hook-ups at dance clubs in Phoenix once I had my own wheels. I’d found that empty, and I wanted more, but I never had the opportunity. It was a long drive to Phoenix, and I was, as far as I knew, the only gay guy in my hometown. There was also the problem that, even with them thinking that I was straight, I didn’t get along with my parents. Had they found out that I was gay, I’d have been tossed out the door like yesterday’s trash.
So, I quit trying to find others like me, and gave up on the Phoenix trips too. I studied, kept to myself, and saved every dollar I could from what I earned, because every single dollar that I could save was another step towards getting the hell out of that shitty little town. I had no social life, no real friends, and living deep in the closet just became second nature to me.
All that began to change when I’d found the part-time job at the bookstore. After a few days of working there, I’d found out that the owner, Betty, was a lesbian. I’d come out to her, and for the first time in my life I had someone who was gay that I could talk to and call a friend.
Betty met Steve when he stopped by one day, shortly after I began working there. Steve had barely left the building when Betty had fixed me in her piercing gaze and asked me point blank how I felt about Steve.
Finding myself unable to answer, I’d tried to explain to Betty what was going through my head. My feelings for Steve were a source of great conflict for me; after meeting Steve, I had to force myself not to stare at him, and I tried to bury my feelings deep. It wasn’t just a physical attraction, though that was certainly a factor.
That got me wondering about Steve. He’d never so much as mentioned girls or girlfriends to me. He also was not shy about changing clothes in front of me and had no problems with me seeing him naked. He was almost always shirtless around me, too. Even when we were out around town, he’d only put on a shirt if he had to. But, he sure had the body for it, and I sure didn’t mind the eye candy. I also felt that his kind of confidence had an allure all its own.
Swimming was something else we had in common. I’d been a swimmer in high school, and I’d attended all of Steve’s swim meets once school started. The sight of him in a Speedo always left me breathless, and he even wore them when we went to the river, friends’ pools, or swimming holes. I felt guilty lusting after my best friend, but I couldn’t help myself. Eventually I convinced myself that as long as no one ever found out about it, it wouldn’t matter. That was my excuse, anyway.
Betty had shaken me by telling me that it was obvious to her that I had feelings for Steve. I worried about that a lot, just in case Betty wasn’t the only one who could pick up on that. I chalked it up to Betty having “gaydar” and tried to stop worrying.
Gaydar was another mystery to me. Not long after I’d figured out that I was gay, I’d read about gaydar, the mysterious sixth sense some gay people have that allows them to identify other gays. I was sure that I had to have it, too, because all gay people did, right? I’d worked to develop it, taking careful note of any vibes I’d pick up around town. I never really got a “ping”, but that wasn’t surprising, as I was probably the only gay guy in my hometown.
Once I’d finally gotten my driver’s license, and bought my Jeep, I’d headed to the big city to give my great gaydar its first real workout. I’d stood in a large crowd, trying as hard as I could to get my first “ping”, but try as I might, I got nothing. Ordinarily, this result might not have been so bad, except for one minor detail: I’d been standing in the largest gay club in Phoenix at the time.
So, I was forced to conclude that my fabulous gaydar might just be in need of a little fine-tuning. Yeah, right; I couldn’t even detect a flaming drag queen at two paces! So, I’d given up on gaydar. I would just have to trust my judgment instead. As things turned out, my judgment made my gaydar look great by comparison.
For a while, I’d thought that I was picking up signals from Steve, and my hopes that he might be gay or bi had grown. I’d never been in this position before, so I had no idea what to look for, but I was becoming convinced Steve might be gay or bi, or at least gay tolerant.
I discussed this dilemma many times with my boss, Betty, while working at the bookstore. So many times, in fact, that she would jokingly threaten to start throwing books at me if I didn’t shut up. She did however have one firm piece of advice. If I wanted Steve in my life, I needed to be honest with him for both his sake and mine.
I was slowly working up the nerve to come out to Steve when my world began to shatter; I’d found out that he was straight, and worse, homophobic. I was devastated. This meant that I’d have to hide part of myself forever. Steve had come to mean everything to me, and I’d fallen hard for him. I knew that I couldn’t let him know I was gay, because I didn’t want to lose him as a friend. I also feared that his parents would toss me out of my apartment. I’d be alone and in need of a new place, and I still knew very few people in town. But above all, I couldn’t lose Steve. I began to hope that, given enough time, he might one day be able to accept that I was gay. But, my time was up, for I had made a terrible mistake.
I’d been found out. By a blackmailer.
(*) Ed Wooton encouraged and advised me, as well as editing a very early draft of the first five chapters of this story. The story has changed much since then, but Ed helped me in many ways, and I shall never forget him.