“What is this all about?” Star was sitting across from me in the same coffee shop we visited in high school. She usually wanted to meet me here when something was seriously troubling her. By the look on her face, I knew that it was something more serious than getting some suggestions on how to handle Jeffrey’s latest escapade.
She finally said, “Something’s wrong with Gene.” I immediately thought that he had been involved in an accident.
“What happened?” I had never felt extremely close to Gene; however, he was Allen’s brother. He had treated me as an outcast throughout most of high school. He didn’t mistreat me like most other students did, but he wasn’t friendly either. At one time I had a huge crush on him, but it quickly disappeared as we grew older.
Then it emerged again when we were in high school. He grew into a handsome boy with golden hair and deep blue eyes. There were many times I would sit in class and just daydream about him. However, I knew that I could never have someone like Gene Albright.
I was astonished when I became interested in Allen, only to find out they were brothers. However, after learning how Gene had treated him over the years, I quickly resented him.
Then there was that unusual kiss. I’ve never understood it. Gene got very drunk at a party, and he approached me and kissed me! Me, Joey Carpenter. Afterwards, the chain of events got really bizarre. The next day, he returned to Billy Joe’s farm and tried to blow his brains out with a gun. I was the one who stopped him from doing it. For my efforts, he shot me in my leg.
Days later, he confessed that he’d had a crush on me since the seventh grade. By then I was falling in love with Allen, and we both dismissed the kiss as just a drunken act.
However, Gene changed after that. He started dating, and he became removed from everyone. He finished high school, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it anymore. Then, he went away to college and later moved to California.
He married a beautiful coed named Tina. She’s extremely intelligent and energetic. She and Gene would often stay with us when they visited at Christmas. Gene always seemed cold and distant, while Tina loved to help me cook. She adored Allen, and she was a great comfort to me when he died. Gene, on the other hand, would disappear for hours at a time and no one would know where he went.
I can’t believe how handsome he is after all these years. It is obvious he still works out, and he is in extremely good shape. His boyish features are still present- the blond hair and deep blue eyes.
However, those blue eyes seem empty. They don’t twinkle like they did when we were in high school. I was immediately struck by the coldness behind them. He would look at me and appear to stare through me. Even Nicky commented that he found Gene ‘weird.’
“He got arrested last night,” Star informed me.
“What?” He was in town for only a few days to attend his father’s funeral, and he had gotten himself arrested.
“He was caught driving under the influence after leaving a downtown bar,” she stated. I looked at her and shook my head. “His mother bailed him out this morning.”
“Does he have a drinking problem?” Since Star seemed so upset, I assumed there must be more to the story.
“His mother seems to think so,” she said. “She talked to Tina about it, and it seems Gene has been drinking heavily for several years. He’s even been given a leave of absence from his job, and he’s been ordered to get help.”
“Damn.” I looked at Star curiously. What would make someone like Gene, who seemed to have the world in the palm of his hand, be an alcoholic?
“Why would he have a drinking problem?” I asked. “He’s got a good job, a lovely wife and a beautiful home. He seems to have everything a man could want.”
“Maybe he doesn’t have everything he wants,” she replied thoughtfully as she stirred more sugar into her coffee.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I had known Star for too long to know that most statements like that had hidden meanings.
She studied me for a minute as if she was trying to figure something out in her mind. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “It’s just something his mother said to me earlier.”
“What?” I was beginning to feel we were playing a game of cat and mouse.
“She seems to think that his problems go back to high school,” she said. “Remember that incident on the porch?”
“How could I forget?”
“Obviously, Gene can’t either.” Again, her gaze began to make me uncomfortable. I could tell her mind was working on solving a complex problem.
“So, Dr. Star Wendelmeirer,” I laughed. “What is your diagnosis?”
“I really can’t say,” she replied.
“That’s the second time you’ve told me that when we’re talking about Gene,” I said angrily.
She sat back and paused a minute before speaking. “Did you and Gene ever talk about what happened that night?”
“You mean when he kissed me?”
“We talked,” I replied. I was trying to remember the conversation. It had been so many years ago. “He told me he had liked me since about the seventh grade, but he was too afraid to tell me.”
She raised an eyebrow, and then waited for me to continue.
“He said he couldn’t be gay,” I remembered. “We chalked it up as a foolish mistake and we went on with our lives. I started dating Allen and he dated some girl, I don’t remember her name any more.”
“Belinda Michaels,” answered Star. “They broke up when he went off to college.”
“So, what does all this have to do with his drinking?” I was having trouble following Star’s conversation.
“I’m not sure,” she said as she reached out and grabbed my hand, “but I think he still may have strong feelings for you.”
“What?” I shouted a little too loudly. Several people turned and looked at me. “Are you serious? That was over twenty years ago.”
“I know it sounds crazy,” she responded. “Perhaps I’m just reading things wrong.”
“Besides,” I continued. “I was his brother’s lover.”
“Maybe that’s his problem,” she said thoughtfully. “It was Allen and not him.”
I looked at her quizzically as I took another sip of coffee. Nothing Star said had made any sense to me. Gene was married, and I will always love Allen.
“How’s the group going?” I was walking down the hall when Travis Armstrong approached me. He walked over to the wall and leaned against it.
“The group is going really well,” he informed me. “Jason, Doug and I have been asking around, and right now we may have over fifty students who want to participate. Some are straight, but they have gay friends.”
“That’s great,” I responded. However, for some reason, he didn’t seem to share my excitement.
“Is something wrong?” He looked up and gave me a worried look.
“It’s Coach Arnold,” he stated angrily. “He’s giving me and Jason a really hard time in gym class. We played kick ball yesterday, and I think he had talked the football team into hurting us. Look.” He lifted his shirt and showed me a dark bruise on his side. “Jason’s is even worse.”
“Come with me.” I put my hand on his shoulder and led him to my office.
“Delores.” I walked over to my secretary’s desk, “Would you have Jason Thompson come to my office. And ask Mrs. Davis to report to my office too.” Mrs. Davis was the school nurse. I wanted her to witness the bruises on the boys’ bodies.
Once in my office, I had Travis sit down and explain why he felt Coach Arnold was responsible for the attack in gym class.
“When we entered the locker room,” Travis said, “Coach Arnold was there with members of the football team around him. They stopped talking when Jason and I entered. Then as we dressed, they kept making threats against us?”
“Things like ‘fags were going to get what they deserved,’ things like that. Then when we went to gym, Coach Arnold said we’d be playing kick ball. All week we’ve been playing basketball.”
“That still doesn’t mean that Coach Arnold had anything to do with it,” I said. I needed more evidence that the coach had intentionally set the boys up to be hurt.
Travis asked, “Do you know William Briscoe?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “He was in the meeting with the team and the coach. He told us that the coach told them that he was going to have us play kick ball and he wanted them to ‘take us out.’ He said fags had no business being at Southwestern.”
“Why did William tell you this?”
Travis let a smile curl on his lips. “He wants to join the group. Coach doesn’t know he’s gay. At least not right now. He’s going to come out sometime soon.”
“Will he testify against the Coach?” I now had the evidence I needed on Coach Arnold.
Travis started laughing. “He’s dating Jason’s cousin. Yeah, I think we can depend on him.” Just then Jason and Mrs. Davis entered my office.
I explained to her what had happened, and I had the two boys remove their shirts. There were several large, dark bruises on both boys’ torsos. I removed a digital camera out of my desk and took several pictures of them.
After dismissing the boys, I next called William into my office. He confirmed what Travis had said. I had him write down what he had heard the coach say, and then I had Delores witness his signature.
It surprised me when he said, “I’m glad this happened. I’ve wanted to come out for about a year, but I was scared. What happened to Travis and Jason made me mad. Last night I sat down with my parents and I told them I was gay.”
“How did they take it?” I knew that a young person telling his or her parents that they are gay is one of the hardest things they could ever do.
“It wasn’t too bad,” he smiled. “My dad really surprised me. He told me my Uncle Robert is gay, and that he’s loved him all his life. I had no idea. They were afraid to tell me because they thought I wouldn’t like him anymore.” He started laughing. “Isn’t that ironic?”
“I’m glad things turned out so well,” I replied. “A lot of kids aren’t as fortunate.” Flashbacks of my own childhood ran through my mind.
“I know,” he said sadly. “That’s one reason I want to join the group here at school. I think I can help others.”
He rose to leave, and I walked over and pulled him into a hug. “With guys like you, Travis, Jason and Doug, I think we’re going to have a really strong group here.”
“We’re already planning our first meeting,” he informed me. “We want you to be our speaker that evening. Doug kind of let it slip out that...” He stopped after realizing that Doug had violated a trust.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Carpenter,” he quickly apologized. “We promised Doug we wouldn’t say anything. But if we have the confidence to come out, then maybe you can too.” He looked at me hopefully.
“We were all going to try and convince you,” he added. “They are going to kill me.”
“Well then,” I laughed. “This conversation never took placed.” He gave a sigh of relief.
He hesitated a minute and then looked sheepishly at me. “About being our speaker, and you know, coming out like us.” Again, he looked at me hopefully.
“I’ll have to think about it, William,” I replied. “I’ve never been ashamed of being gay, but I am in a position of influence.”
“That’s all the more of a reason,” he responded excitedly. “Just think how much of a role model you’d be to the gay kids in our school. They already think the world of you.”
William’s words struck me. For years I had wrestled with the idea of coming out. My friends knew I was gay, as did many of my staff. I had made friends with a number of teachers over the years, and they had given me a lot of support after Allen died. I just didn’t know how the students would react. Seeing the hope in William’s eyes was beginning to convince me that perhaps it would be a good idea. Gay students didn’t have a lot of positive role models in their lives. If I could make the difference in one life, then it was something to consider.
His eyes lit up when I said, “I’ll think about it.”
“Really?” He asked excitedly. He grabbed me and hugged me. “I can’t wait to tell the others.”
“I said I’d think about it,” I laughed. “Don’t go putting the cart before the horse.” He gave me a quizzical look. “Never mind.” I laughed again.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the phone. I contacted the superintendent and a couple of school board members who were close friends. Dr. Garvin, the superintendent, suggested that I contact the school board attorney. I was considering filing a report with the prosecutor’s office for child endangering and conspiracy to do bodily harm. I needed to make sure that Coach Arnold was given due process. Considering Coach Arnold’s violent temper, it was decided that it would be best if Dr. Garvin called him into his office and informed him of the charges being considered against him. Since this would probably get media attention, Dr. Garvin’s office would best be equipped to handle that aspect.
“Hey, Dad!” Nicky ran up, grabbed me around the waist and hugged me tightly. I stepped back and started laughing.
“All right,” I smiled. “What do you want?” Nicky and I were very affectionate, and we didn’t mind hugging each other; but even I knew when he was showering me with too much love. I guess I was developing a good sense of parental intuition.
“Who said I wanted anything?” He had a hurt look on his face, and I was beginning to feel I had overreacted. Then a small smile curled on his lips.
“Okay,” he said. “You know Xavier?”
“Yeah,” I replied. Xavier was Nicky’s best friend at school. I had met him a few times, and he seemed to be a very nice young man. His mother was also a teacher in one of the elementary schools. I had met her on a few occasions.
“He’s going with his family Saturday to Six Flags, and well...” he stopped and looked at me hopefully.
“You want to go?” His eyes lit up when I asked, but he dropped his head and looked pitifully at the ground.
“Yeah, but...” He looked up and stared me in my eyes. “I kinda don’t have any money to go.”
“What did you do with your allowance?” Nicky was given what I thought was a fairly sizeable allowance for doing chores around the house. Since he came from a poor family, I wanted to make sure that he always had enough money to meet his needs. However, like most boys, he didn’t have any sense of the value of money. To him, it grew on trees.
“Remember when we went to the mall Saturday, and you went into that men’s shop to buy a new suit?”
“I kinda disappeared for a few minutes?”
“Go on?” I was getting amused watching him squirm before me.
“Well, I kinda went into a video game store.”
“The game kinda cost more than I expected.”
“So, you spent your entire allowance on it?” He looked up sheepishly at me.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I kinda did.”
“So, you spent all of your allowance on a video game and didn’t budget anything for the rest of the week?”
“Something like that.” He was looking at his feet and kicking away an imaginary stone. He then looked up hopefully at me. “But I really, really want to go to with Xavier.”
I knew I was going to give him the money, and he knew I eventually would also. We’d played through this scene before. Nicky knew I’d do anything for him, but he would never just assume it. He knew there would be a period of bargaining. All he had to do was wait until I made a decision.
“Did you finish your science project?” He looked up and smiled broadly. He knew this was going to be easy.
“Yeah, Dad,” he said excitedly. I got an ‘A’ on it.” He disappeared and ran up to his room. He returned a minute later with a paper in his hand. The teacher had given him excellent marks on his work. He knew he had won when I cleared my throat.
“Then I guess you should be rewarded.” He jumped into my arms.
“Thanks, Dad.” He pushed away. “I got to go call Xav. I told him not to worry.” He began to blush, and then he bounded upstairs.
Xavier became a regular visitor in our home the next few nights. He is African American with a light olive complexion. He towers over Nicky, standing almost six feet tall. On one of his first visits to our home, I had jokingly hinted that I wanted him to play basketball for Southwestern when he went to high school. He immediately became indignant. I received my first lesson in racial stereotyping.
“Just because I’m tall and black,” he responded angrily, “everyone automatically thinks I can play basketball.” I looked over and saw the amused look on Nicky’s face. I was quite sure he had gotten the same speech from his friend.
“I can’t even dribble a ball,” he added. “My eight-year-old sister can play better than me.”
“I’m sorry, Xavier,” I said quickly. “I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“It’s alright, Dr. Carpenter. I hear it all the time.”
I asked, “What do you like to do?” He looked over at Nicky and grinned.
“Collect stamps.” Nicky tried to hide a smile when as he watched the astonished look on my face. I didn’t even realize that someone as young as Xavier even knew what a stamp was.
“You should see his collection,” Nicky said excitedly. “He has one that’s worth over a thousand dollars.” Before the evening was over that night, I learned more about stamps than I ever cared to know.
I never realized how tiring it could be to have two teenage boys in the house. They began the evening by playing video games, which usually ended into endless arguments on who was the best invader of the universe or some foreign empire.
Then we watched a horror movie, or I should say they did. I had my eyes closed throughout most of it. When it became apparent that some human being was going to be gutted by an evil space menace, I would look away, only to hear the boys exclaiming, “Cool!”
They ate their way through two large bowls of popcorn, a bag of potato chips and a big bag of Doritos. To wash it down, they went through six cans of Mountain Dew. I got sick just watching them.
Just after one in the morning, both boys began to fall asleep on the couch watching their third horror movie. When I suggested they should go to bed, they popped up and said they weren’t sleepy. Twenty minutes later, after they had both fallen asleep again, I was able to coax them into going to bed.
“Thanks, Dad,” Nicky said as he gave me his nightly hug. He gave me a pleading look, trying to prevent me from giving him his usual kiss on the forehead. He grinned when I winked and pushed him away. Image is important to a teenage boy, and having his father kiss him goodnight in front of one of his friends would probably doom him to ridicule for years.
I picked up things in the den, went into the kitchen and began washing the dishes. I considered waiting until morning and making Nicky do it as payment for the money I was going to give him for his trip; but again, it would have embarrassed him in front of Xavier.
Thirty minutes later, I turned out the lights and headed wearily to bed. As I approached Nicky’s bedroom, I heard muted giggling coming from his room. With a full day ahead of them, I thought that both boys would surely be asleep.
When I opened the door to say something to them, Nicky and Xavier were kneeling naked on Nicky’s bed and masturbating. Xavier quickly covered himself with a pillow, ran to the other bed and jumped under the covers. Nicky stared wide-eyed for a second before tears appeared in his eyes.
“Sorry, Guys,” I said as I turned and closed the door. I couldn’t help but be amused as I walked to my bedroom. Then I remembered the embarrassed look on Nicky’s face, and I became worried. They were only doing what boys sometimes do behind closed doors, but I’m sure neither of them understood that.
I turned to go back to Nicky’s room and talk to both boys and make them understand that their behavior was only innocent experimentation. But as I walked down the hall, Nicky ran into his bathroom. I stood outside and listened to him crying softly.
“Nicky,” I whispered as I gently tapped on the door. “Let me in.”
I heard him blow his nose before responding, “I’m okay, Dad. I just gotta pee.”
“Nicky,” I again whispered. “We need to talk.”
“It’s okay,” he replied. “Nothing’s wrong.” It saddened me to hear him sniffling on the other side of the door.
“I’ll be in my room if you want to talk.”
I returned to my bedroom, put on pajamas and climbed into bed. I retrieved the book on the nightstand I’d been reading for the past few nights and attempted to read. I looked at words on the page, but it was hard to concentrate.
After about twenty minutes, I put the book aside and was getting ready to turn out the light. I heard a light knock at the door, and it then opened. Nicky was standing in the doorway with tears running down his cheeks. I opened up the covers, and he came rushing into the room, jumped into bed beside me, and buried his face into my chest. I gently rubbed his back as he sobbed uncontrollably.
He looked up at me with tearful eyes. “Are you mad at me?”
“Why would I be mad at you?” I asked as I continued to gently rub his back. “What you were doing is normal for boys your age. I bet there isn’t a boy alive who hasn’t masturbated with his friend at one time or another.”
I felt him relax in my arms, and his crying began to subside. After a minute, he looked up at me. “Dad?”
“I know that it may be normal,” he paused before continuing, “but what if I liked it a little too much?”
I started to laugh, but then I saw the worried look on his face. I realized he was facing a major teenage crisis, one that many boys go through at some point. I put my arm around him and pulled him in tightly for a hug.
“What do you mean too much?” I asked softly. I understood where this conversation may be leading, and I wanted to approach it carefully.
“It was all my idea tonight,” he explained. “Xavier didn’t want to do it, but I talked him into it. He kept saying what we were doing was a little bit queer.”
“I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with what you did,” I assured him.
“But Dad,” he pulled away and rested against the back of the bed. “Other guys are always talking about girls at school. They’re always talking about how big some girl’s titties are.” His face began to turn red. “Can I say titties?” I smiled and nodded my head.
“I never think about things like that,” he confessed. I smiled again when he wrinkled his nose and announced, “I don’t think I like girls.”
“You’re only thirteen, Nicky,” I said. “Some guys don’t become interested in girls, and girls’ titties, until much later.” He put his hand over his mouth and giggled. Then his mood became somber again.
“I don’t know, Dad.” His face reddened when he added, “I wanted to see Xavier’s dick tonight.” He added excitedly, “He has a big one.” I was trying hard to contain my laughter. I put my hand over my mouth and pretended to cough.
“Well,” I finally said after regaining my composure, “I still think you’re too young to know what you want right now.”
He laid his head back on my chest and sighed. “It’s hard growing up, isn’t it, Dad?”
I put my arm around him and squeezed him tightly. “Yes it is, Son.”
He remained quiet for a few minutes while he let his finger idly draw circles on my arm. I could tell he was still trying to deal with his sexuality. Finally, he stopped and sat back up.
“So,” he asked, “You won’t be disappointed with me if I do decide I like guys instead of girls.”
“Of course not,” I replied as I pulled him into another reassuring hug. “We’ll just wait and see what happens.” He sighed and relaxed in my arms.
He leaned over and kissed me on my cheek. “I love you, Dad.”
I kissed his forehead and replied, “I love you too, Son.” I took my arm from around him and he got up. “Now go back to bed. You have a busy day tomorrow.”
“One other thing.” He stopped and looked at me. “I’ll never enter your room again without knocking first. So the next time you’re spanking your monkey...”
“Dad!” Nicky screamed. I laughed as he turned scarlet red and rushed from the room.
The next morning both boys came sleepily into the kitchen. Xavier’s mother was picking them up around ten. After breakfast they went out into the driveway and played a game of basketball before she arrived. He was right about one thing- he couldn’t handle the basketball. Nicky easily stole it each time he tried to dribble.
I watched Nicky closely. He was growing quickly, and was he maturing into a handsome young man. I knew he was struggling with identifying who he was. I was glad I was there to help him become the man he would become.
Thanks, Everyone, for following A Bridge to Yesterday. I hope you're enjoying it. Also, thanks a million for the wonderful comments and for taking a second to hit 'like.' -Ron