The Field of Love
Tony, true to his word, told his parents everything, including why Evan attacked him, but it wasn't easy for him, nor was it without fear of rejection. However, what frightened him more was that Evan could kill someone with the way he had been acting the past few months. He had nearly killed his own brother.
After he had told his mom and dad everything, Gloria tenderly brushed her son's blond hair from his face. "My sweet baby. How long have you felt this way?"
"I don't know Ma. I guess I just lately started to understand the feelings I've had. I mean, I'm not blind, I know a pretty girl when I see one, but they just never interested me, not that way. Y'know?" He glanced at his dad who seemed to be a million miles away deep in thought. "It's not that I haven't tried to have feelings for girls. Y'know I've dated, but when we kissed, I never felt anything. Well, that's not true. It just didn't feel right, but when, well…" Tony stole another glance at his dad who was now intently watching him. Tony averted his eyes. He had a brief look at his father's face, but couldn't discern what he was thinking. "I don't know Ma. I didn't want to be this way. I didn't choose to be." Tony's voice became more forceful, confident. His eyes locked onto his father's. "It's who I am. I was born this way. There's nothing I can do about it. God knows I've tried. The one thing that hurts more than losing all my friends because of this, is losing your love and respect."
Ralph Thompson stood from the chair by the window and walked to Tony's bedside. He took in Tony's fragile state. Yet, the boy had a determined spark in his eyes and a hopeful expression. Ralph didn't understand the boy's feelings. He had been raised that homosexuality was a sin and that no man should lay with another man, only sissies would do such a thing, but Tony was not sissy. He was an athlete, good at it, too. He may never play professional sports, but he would grow into a fine strong man. If everyone had been wrong about queers being sissies, maybe they were wrong about the sin part, too.
The more Ralph studied his son, the one thing he was sure of, he loved his son and always would, no matter what. A lone tear made its way down the strong rugged face as he placed a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Tony, I always have and I always will love you. You're my son. My flesh and blood. Nothing could ever make me not love you." He glanced at his wife and received a smile and a nod.
Tony place a hand on his father's. "Thanks Dad. Having you and mom on my side means everything to me."
"Now, as much as I love you, I also love your brother. What he has done is wrong and there'll be consequences that must be paid. We'll support him and do all that we can to see he is treated fairly and justly, but never doubt our love for you for one second." Ralph carefully watched Tony's reaction to his words and received an understanding nod and smile. He patted Tony's shoulder. "I'll be right back. You and your mother talk while I'm gone."
Ralph left the room and went to the nurse's station. "Miss, would you be so kind to allow me to use your phone to call the police?"
After the police spoke with Tony, Gloria, and Ralph that evening, an arrest warrant was made out for one Evan Thompson for the attacks on Sammy Day and Tony Thompson. An APB was issued and with the information provided by Evan's family, the Lexington police was asked to be on the look-out for him.
The good news was Tony didn't have any broken bones or serious internal injuries. He had been knocked out but his most serious issue had been emotional. With the acceptance of his parents and who was becoming his best friend, Sammy, the emotional issue had been mostly resolved. There was still the reactions of his classmates to deal with when they found out about him, but with Sammy by his side, he felt he could weather the storm.
Monday morning came all too quickly for Sammy, as it does for most teenagers during the school year. His dad owned some of the best bottom land anywhere around. They had about forty acres of land with about ten of it mountainside. Sammy had made a path around the perimeter of the property to run. It amounted to about five miles around the land. So, every morning when it wasn't raining, Sammy would run. Sometimes he stretch it to ten miles and if he had a problem in his life which needed a lot thinking, he would run even more as this was the time he worked out his problems and freed his mind and soul.
Today, Sammy had some thinking to do. Even though he still wasn't sure he was gay, he felt he had been developing feelings for Tony, but Mike had completely captured his attention. He was worried and concerned for Tony, and had recently involved him in his private moments; but ever since he awoke in Mike's arms and peered into his eyes, he had this feeling there was something special between them. It was these feelings Sammy was trying to work out today as he ran.
He woke at five-thirty and started his run by six. By six fifty, he realized he had run three times around his five mile track. He gradually slowed down and ran in place for a few moments, finally coming to a stop. Breathing hard, he bent over with his hands on his knees, as he tried to catch his breath. Damn he thought, fifteen miles in fifty minutes. That was a record for him. What he didn't realize was just how fast that really was. Yet he still hadn't come to any conclusion about his feelings other than to allow his heart to guide him.
First period blended into second period, second into third, until lunch when several of his teammates joined him at his table for the first time. Eric, Steve, and Robby sat down at the table at the same time.
"Hey Sammy. Any word on Tony?" Eric asked.
"Hi Eric. Yeah, he should be at school today. Isn't he?" Sammy said with a raised eyebrow, surprised at them sitting with him and at the question.
"We haven't seen him." Robby said.
"Don't know for sure, but he called last night and said he would be at the game." Sammy said before taking a bite of his pizza.
"Cool. I'm glad he's going to be okay." Steve said, then leaned forward, lowered his voice, and asked. "Is it true what Teresa Hurst is saying about him and his brother?"
Sammy placed the piece of pizza down on his plate, narrowed his eyes, and said in a normal but measured voice, "First, I have no idea what this Teresa person is saying. Second, I never pay any attention to rumors. And last, why would any of you trust a rumor about a teammate without asking that person first?" By the time Sammy finished, his face had reddened and his fists were clenched on top on the table. He had never been one to anger quickly, but his promise to Tony made him more defensive and protective of the first friend he's had in years. Neither the words nor his indignant appearance were lost on any of the boys at the table.
"Hold up a second Sammy." Steve said trying to calm him down. "As far as I know, none of us have said anything to anyone not on the team. As teammates we were just attempting to learn the truth so we could set everyone straight who ask us about it all. Don't forget, we were there when Evan attacked you and was shoving Tony around."
Understanding better why they were asking him about Tony, he did calm down. "It's not my place to tell you anything concerning Tony, that's for him to tell you, if he wants to. As for what's going on concerning me, there's a warrant out for Evan's arrest for attacking me." Everyone let out a sigh of relief when he unclenched his fist. Sammy switched back to Tony's appearance or lack thereof at school. "Are you guys saying he isn't here or just none of you have classes with him and haven't seen him or that he wasn't in class?"
"Damn, you're right." Robby said as he looked at the others, and received shrugs before they all busted out laughing at themselves.
Steve stood. "We'll see you later at the game, Sammy." He and Sammy bumped fists followed by the other boys, leaving Sammy to his lunch.
Sammy wasn't sure he had done the right thing, but he didn't feel the middle of the lunch room was the right place for saying any more than he did about a rumor he hadn't heard. He hoped the statement Tony gave to the police hadn't leaked, but knowing Pine Hills he didn't hold out much hope. He decided he better look for Tony himself in case he needed some support.
As he stood to leave, Brent and a couple of his followers blocked his path. "Well, well, well, if it isn't the big hero. I hope you're feeling better after Evan knocked your faggy ass out." Brent laughed and then leaned in closer to Sammy. "Listen half-breed, nothing has changed. Just because you hit one homer and were the hero of one stupid game doesn't change who you are." Brent said mockingly. "The word is out about you and Tony, we think the team would be better off if you two fags quit." Brent emboldened by Evan taking Sammy by surprise, mistakenly thought Sammy had been bluffing all these years.
Sammy stepped closer to Brent, almost nose to nose. "I don't know what you're talking about and I don't care, but if you think you and your wannabe thugs can intimidate me into quitting the team, you're dumber than I thought."
Sammy surprised him enough to take a step back. He didn't quite understand it himself, but from the very first time he laid eyes on Sammy, he had this uncomfortable feeling he equated with hate. However, Sammy's determined expression caused him pause, but he couldn't back down now.
"You heard me half-breed. The whole school knows about you and Tony. It won't be long before the team turns against you again." Brent warned, then turned and strutted away with his thugs leaving Sammy wondering what precisely was being said about Tony and himself. He couldn't worry about it now, he had to find Tony.
After his encounter with Brent, Sammy nearly gave up searching for Tony when he passed by the main entrance and saw Tony coming through the door. "Hey Tony." Sammy smiled as they bumped fists.
Tony was nervous about coming back to school today, but seeing Sammy the first thing pleased him to no end. As he thought about Sammy, he regretted not becoming friends with him sooner. Sammy had never been one to cause any trouble, nor had he ever been heard saying anything bad behind someone's back. Tony felt he could trust him completely, with one exception: his feelings for Sammy.
With a grin from ear to ear, Tony greeted him. "Hey yourself."
"You just getting to school?"
"Yeah, I had a doctor's appointment this morning." Tony said, losing some of his smile.
Sammy walked with him as Tony headed to his locker. "I don't know what's being said, but Teresa somebody is spreading some rumor about you, Evan, and me."
With a worried expression Tony stopped in the middle of the hall and turned to Sammy. "Do you think someone leaked what I told the police?"
"I don't know. It could all be made up from information someone pieced together. I guess I should have asked more about it, but I didn't want to say anything not my place to say. Y'know?"
"No, you did right. Thanks." Tony smiled a weak smile. He glanced around and saw a few people looking at him and whispering, which made him a little edgy.
Sammy noticed the change in his new friend and placed a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Tony, I'm your friend and I'll stand by you no matter what. If the truth is out, it'll at least be the two of us together." Sammy sighed and looked deeply into Tony's eyes. "You're the first friend I've had in forever and I'm not going to let some small minded people hurt you or drive a wedge between us." He said with conviction. It wasn't lost on Sammy that words alone may not be enough to negotiate the path laid before them, but he was determined to see it through with Tony. Although he was hopeful some of their teammates would support them, he wasn't convinced any would. Nevertheless, if nothing else, he would be a true friend to Tony. And maybe, just maybe, he could convince others to support Tony as well.
Tony nodded and they resumed their walk to his locker. As they walked the length of the hallway there were noticeable stares and a couple of giggles, but no one spoke to them as they passed. Tony retrieved what he needed from his locker and Sammy continued to walk with him to his next class.
Sammy stopped Tony before he entered the classroom. "Stay strong and don't let words bother you too much. I've learned words can't hurt if you don't allow them to. If they come from stupid people then they're stupid words." Sammy smiled.
Tony couldn't help but laugh at Sammy's simple philosophy, yet at the same time he realized truer words couldn't have been spoken, even by someone with PHD after their name. "Thanks, Sammy. You're a true friend." They bumped fists and Tony headed into the classroom.
With Tony's appearance at school, Sammy begun to turn his thoughts to today's game with Jenkins. The school is an Independent School System, located in Jenkins, Kentucky, just fifteen miles north of Pine Hills, right on the Kentucky/Virginia border. It was the only school in the county blacks attended. They didn't make up more than twenty percent of the school's enrollment, but they and their families made up nearly one hundred percent of that one percent of non-white residents of Letcher County.
Contrary to popular belief, there haven't been any racial problems in Letcher County for many decades. Most people here, white and black, had it just as bad as those in the slums and the projects of the big cities. The sixties saw an unwanted but needed spotlight shone on the area by Senator Robert Kennedy and President Johnson's war on poverty. In most areas of the Appalachian Mountains, the whole economy is based solely on coal mining and the businesses that support it.
In the early years, the miners lived in coal camps, where the company owned all the properties, the houses and everything associated with the camp. Miners who worked there, just worked for wages and the pay they received was not enough to provide decent living for their families. The houses were mostly four rooms without indoor plumbing, there were no streets, just dirt lanes filled with coal ashes from the ‘warm morning' stoves that were used to heat the home. Some houses only had a single fireplace for heat in the cold winters.
A general store owned by the company, allowed the miners to trade for necessities. The miners used company monies called scrip which could only be redeemed, at the company store. Tennessee Ernie Ford had it right with the song lyrics, "I owe my soul to the company store".
Things have changed since those early days and some have not. Today, the average coal miner is forty-five years old and has twenty years of experience. The average weekly wage for a miner in Kentucky is seven hundred and fifty dollars. It is estimated that Black Lung disease affects almost three percent of coal miners. Although less than one percent of coal workers have scarring on the lungs, the most severe form of the disease, each year, close to four hundred miners die from the disease. Also, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mining remains the second most dangerous occupation in America.
So, in the darkness of the mines, no one saw white or black, since everyone was covered in coal dust, making everyone appear black. They were brothers, brothers of the mines. It seems the attitude in the mines carried over outside as well. Most families, white and black had few problems with one another. However, without involvement in sports, there would be little, if any, contact between the kids of Pine Hills and non-white kids of other communities.
Some would think Sammy saw this as an opportunity to interact with kids who, like himself, had suffered some type of racial abuse in their lives. He didn't. Sammy tended to see past the color of one's skin and saw what type of person one was. He figured no one had a choice in how they looked, but they did have control over how they thought and acted.
Sammy's thoughts didn't center on the racial makeup of the opposing team, he was more concerned with who was pitching, what direction the wind was blowing, if at all, and if Brent's arm would be ready to go again this early in the season. At least today's game was a home game.
After fifth period, Sammy was outside the main building by the side door leaning up against the brick wall, as he waited for Tony. He thought they could walk over together to the field's locker room to change and warm-up for the game. He also thought it would be a good time to catch up on how Tony's day had gone. He didn't have to wait long.
As Tony exited the school, he was surprised to hear a familiar voice. "Hi."
Tony turned towards the voice and saw Sammy standing there with a smile. "Hi, yourself."
"I thought I'd wait and walk with you to the field. I hope that's alright." Sammy said.
"Sure." Tony said as they started walking to the field.
"How did your day go?" Sammy asked.
"Well, it was kind of weird. Everyone seemed to act the same when they were close to me, but kept staring at me from a distance, like I was a space alien or something, when they didn't think I was looking at them." Tony paused and his smile faded. "I also found out what Teresa Hurst is telling everyone. Her uncle is a city cop and I guess that's where she heard about everything." Tony said with his voice full of sadness. "What she's saying is pretty much the truth, except she is telling people you and I are boyfriends. I never said anything like that to the cops. I swear Sammy." Tony said with concern. He was afraid Sammy would abandon him and turn against him now.
"I don't care what people think about me, not for a long time now. And I know you wouldn't say anything like that." Sammy reassured him. At last, Sammy knew what the rumor was. From the way it sounded, there hadn't been any open reaction to it, directed at Tony, anyway.
On their way James, Steve, and Robby caught up with them. "Hey guys." James said putting an arm around Sammy shoulders. "Going to be a hero again today, chief?"
Sammy laughed. "I was just lucky I guessed the pitch the other day."
"Nope, not true. Didn't you get two hits in three at-bats?" James asked.
"Well …" Sammy, embarrassed at the compliment, was at a loss for words.
"Ha! He got you there, Sammy boy." Steve said.
"Stop teasing him guys." Tony smiled at the good natured ribbing Sammy was receiving.
James reached up and rubbed Sammy's head. "We're just playing with you, chief."
Sammy ducked down and before James knew it, Sammy had him in a headlock. "Yeah, I know. Me too." Sammy smiled and released James.
Robby whistled and said, "Wow. You're super fast."
"How you think he got to the ball deep in the hole last week?" James said shaking his head in disbelief. "Your name may mean thunder, but you're quick as lightning."
"What's the Indian word for lightning?" Tony quickly asked.
"They are nearly as many words for it as there are tribes, but I do not think there is a word for it in my mother's tribe, the Lakotas, used anymore. I may be wrong, but I think the word was wakȟáŋgli." Sammy said.
"You wanker." Steve laughed, joined by the other boys, including Sammy.
"Sammy, I'm glad you're on the team. Not only are you an awesome player, you're an interesting person, too." James said with a smile, as he patted Sammy's shoulder.
"I agree." Steve nodded.
"You're the best thing to happen to this team since I've been here." Robby, like James, also a senior, echo the other boys' feelings. "You and Tony turn a double play better than any combination Pine Hills has had in a long time. And to think, both of you are only sophomores."
Sammy was beginning to feel like he and Tony just might have a chance.