As I pulled up in front of the music store, Hank said, "Jason, why don't you come with me? You can scout around for a job and ride home with me and my parents."
The two got out and after missing a street twice, I finally found Mrs. Roberts. When I introduced myself, she said, "Of course, I should have known. You look at lot like your dad did at your age. I was so sorry to hear of the accident."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Yes, I remember your dad well. All the girls were crazy about him. He had the most beautiful eyes. Let me see," she said as she put her hand under my chin and turned my head. "Yes, indeed, you have the same beautiful eyes, almost black-brown with pure gold flecks in them. Well, how good are you? Where are you in your music? I need to know so we can decide what to do about you, young Mr. McElrath." For the next three-quarters of an hour she had me playing short pieces, doing some exercises, all of increasing difficulty. Finally she handed me the last piece she had.
When I finished it she said, "Now, Douglas, I want you to play two pieces from memory--or part of them if they are long. First, I want you to play something you like--anything--and then the most difficult piece you know."
All I had been playing, except some of the exercises, were what most people would call classical although much of it was from the romantic period. But I immediately knew I wanted to play a Scott Jolpin piece. I played it safe and started "Maple Leaf Rag". For my most difficult piece I chose an unpublished piece by Madame Lapinsky, my piano teacher in Durham.
As soon as the sound had died away, Mrs. Roberts said, "Bravo, Douglas. You are good. How much time do you devote to practice?"
"I guess you'd hardly call it practice. I didn't have my piano until a short time ago, so I did none most of the summer. Since I have had it, I have played about an hour a day, but I just played what I wanted to play, not really practicing."
"Young man, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news, for me anyway, is that I don't think you have much to learn from me. You are far beyond what any student I have ever had has achieved. The good news is you are very good, I think good enough to get Professor Jamison at the University of North Carolina-Asheville to take you on as a student if you can get there. I think he'll probably find time for a lesson a week and, with your background, I think that will be enough. I'll contact him and arrange an audition if you like, on one condition. You have to come and play for me occasionally or let me know where I can hear you. Deal?"
"Deal." Mrs. Roberts held her fist out like any good brother and I bumped it with mine. It would be a couple weeks before I finally got to audition for Professor Jamison at UNC-A. After the audition, he agreed to take me as a student with a lesson Saturday mornings at 10:00.
As soon as I left Mrs. Roberts, I went to the Y and asked for the swim team coach. "He's in the pool area looking over some guys interested in swimming this year. You look like a swimmer yourself. You here to try out?"
"Well, I came to see about tryouts. I didn't know they were being held today."
"Every day after school, this week only. Go on down."
When I reached the pool, I saw four guys sitting on the edge and a man talking with them. I walked up and the older man said, "I'm Pat Haynes, swim team coach. You are?"
"Kinda late if you are here for tryouts."
"Actually I just came by to find out when they were being held."
"This week, every day after school. But since you're here, want to go ahead and try out? I'm in no rush right now and I'd like to select the team as soon as possible."
"Don't have my swim gear with me.
"Strip to your drawers. You should be able to let me know whether or not you need to come back. Swim or dive?"
"Well, get stripped and get in the water. Swim some laps to get warmed up."
It felt good to be back in the water after having been out for the summer except for the time I swam Labor Day. I swam some slow laps, using as little effort as possible. After swimming for ten minutes or so, Coach Haynes said, "Ok, show me what you can do." I started swimming laps, changing strokes at the end of each round trip. "Ok, give me speed!"
I slipped into my favorite stroke and poured on the coal. I didn't realize I was being timed until the coach met me at the end of the pool. "How about a couple dives?" he asked when his tap on my head let me know he was there. "Anything you want to do."
I made two dives. After the second one, when I broke the surface a kid sitting on the side of the pool had my boxers at the end of the long pole used to pull swimmers out of the water. The whole bunch was laughing like mad. I grinned, climbed out of the pool, grabbed the boxers, threw them over my shoulder and took a towel Coach handed me. As I dried myself, he said, "You're pretty good, Kid. Pretty good."
"Thanks. I enjoy it."
"Pretty good? Coach, that guy can kick ass," one of the four sitting on the edge of the pool said.
"I'm holding tryouts the rest of the week, but you can come in and swim if you like."
"Thanks, I need to. I haven't been in the water since early summer. I need to get back in shape."
"Team practice starts next Monday and we have official practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday 3:30 until 4:30. Meets are almost always Saturday afternoon beginning at 2:30. That work for you...if you make the team?"
"I'm not sure just yet. I thought I'd be doing piano two days a week, but it looks like I'm going to have to go to Asheville for that."
"Find out. 'Course if you have to choose between piano and swimming, we know your choice, don't we?"
"I do and I will miss swimming," I said.
Coach said, "Whatever. Ok, you four, back in the pool. I'll post the names of team members Saturday morning if you'd like to check," he said as he turned back to the guys in the pool.
My name and Hank's were posted among the others on the swim team. We had tried to get Jason to try out, but he said he liked to swim, but didn't think he was good enough to swim on a team.
Hank told me his dad had taken Jason into his office the first day of school and talked to him for a good long time. "Dad said Jason could surely get a job flipping burgers or being a bag boy since both come and go quickly, but he thought he could find him something else which paid more. Since he's eighteen--you remember he said he lost a year of school--he could do things you and I are not allowed to do."
Wednesday when we got to town, Mr. Dennison told Jason he had lined up an interview for him. "Since you'll get here around 3:30, Jake Jenkins thinks he can use you. He runs a cleaning service for several businesses here in town and, of course, most of his work is in the evening. I close the store at 6:00 unless I have a customer, but I never leave before 6:30. You can get in three hours work before I leave the store and you can ride home with me. That's fifteen hours a week and he's agreed to pay you the same as he pays his full-time people because I told him you were a hard worker and he'll not have to provide you benefits he does for his full-time people. You'll draw about $90 a week after taxes. He can use you an occasional Saturday. You can come in with me and work until I close the store. Get in ten or so hours each Saturday you work. Not every Saturday, of course, but when you do, that'll give you another $60-65. Should help."
"Three-four hundred a month is more than Grandma draws and we have managed on that. Saturday would be extra. Thanks. And I won't disappoint you," Jason said.
I didn't tell Jason I wouldn't be taking piano Tuesday and Thursday and asked Granddad if I could go on into town to take him. I took Hank and him in and they came home with Mr. Dennison. Tuesdays and Thursdays when I didn't have swim practice, I went to the library to study.
We gradually settled into a routine, all three of us. Jerry Arington and his asshole buddies--Hank called them Ass and the Three Holes--kept up their harassment of me. One morning when I got to my locker, there was a pair of lace panties hanging on it with a note, "You forgot your panties, Sissy." Another time, someone--and it had to be one of them--poured a bottle of cheap perfume into my locker. Everything I had in it smelled like a French whore house.
The name calling got worse and worse. A couple times a teacher had heard Jerry or one of his hangers-on call me faggot, candy ass or boy pussy. They had been sent to the office, but they were simply told not to do it again and given after-school detention. My locker got "Candy Ass" written on it with a magic marker. The janitor got some of it off, but it could still be read when someone drew a cartoon of a guy being fucked on the locker. Ms. Kennedy called me in to her office to ask about the harassment. I told her I didn't know who was doing it, but I'm sure she knew better. I just didn't want to make matters worse.
Occasionally one of the jerks would slip and call me a name in front of Hank or Jason, but they never did more than that. They physically harassed me only when I was alone and almost daily they managed to shove, kick and otherwise push me around. I guess they were afraid of Hank because they knew his family had some clout and of Jason because of his build. They were definitely afraid of doing anything when the three of us were together. They were chagrined when some students started calling their hand, but it didn't stop them. I guess I should have forgotten about being the new boy and put them in their place, but I didn't.
Jerry and his boys kept up the comments on my clothes but I never let on that my clothes bothered me. Well, they didn't except, I guess, I wanted to be like other students. You know how it is. High school students are very possessive of their individuality and their right to be just like everybody else!
Three or four weeks after school started, as the three of us were leaving school, Jerry and his crowd started on "Sissy in his fancy pants." For some reason or other, it really hit a sore place I hadn't acknowledged. As we were driving into town, I said something about it. Jason was very quiet and finally said, "Yeah, I know how it feels to be kidded about your clothes when you are doing the best you can." I remembered Jason being bare-assed, and the fact that his clothes were always clean, but very worn and some really too small. When I remembered there was no running water in the cabin where he and his grandmother lived, I marveled that he always had clean clothes.
"Yeah, well, I know my grandparents would buy me new clothes if I asked, but they are definitely spending money on me and it's not going to stop anytime soon. I remember how I felt when I learned my family was deep in debt partly because I had to have everything any other kid had. Not going there again." Hank was taking in our discussion. I knew he had anything he wanted. He was like I had been and I think he was waking up to what his parents were doing for him.
As we were going into town Thursday, Jason mentioned he would get his check from the cleaning service Friday and asked if we'd like to go with him to pick out clothes. "Think I'll buy a shirt, pair of pants and maybe shoes and underwear."
"Sure." Hank and I said.
Friday Jason asked if we could stay late so he could get a ride home as Hank's dad would be working very late so Hank and I helped Jason finish his work and then the three of us rode back to the cove. As we left Clarksville, Hank asked, "You work tomorrow, Jason?"
"No, Jake doesn't need me."
"Maybe we can go to Asheville with you, Douglas, and do some shopping after your lesson," Hank suggested. "Don't you go every Saturday?"
"Sure. Sounds good. Pick you two up at 9:00. I'll drop you off downtown and meet you after my piano lesson."
My lesson went well. I was working on a very modern piece which I didn't like very much but, as Professor Jamison said, it placed a lot of demand on technique. "Just look at it as an exercise if you like," he advised.
I had agreed to meet my two buddies on Pack Square at 11:30 since that gave me enough time after my lesson to find a place to park, then walk to the square. I thought we'd probably leave downtown for the mall to do our shopping so I found a parking place a few blocks from the square and put coins in the meter giving me half an hour's parking.
When I reached Pack Square, I saw the two sprawled out on a park bench, Hank with his sunglasses on, Jason with his hat pulled down over his face. Hank and I had laughed at Jason's hat, a very old black felt job with a long turkey feather. Hank said it make him look like one of the Indians hanging around outside a saloon in old movies. As I walked up, he pushed his hat back with a thumb and Hank looked out from under his sunglasses.
"Ready to go clothes shopping, Jokers?"
"First things first, Douglas," Hank said. "Jason and I decided it was time you got an earring." Both guys had one, Hank's a small diamond stud in his left ear, Jason had a turquoise and silver one."I don't know about that," I said. "I'm not sure my grandparents would approve. Besides, I'm not sure I want someone punching holes in my ear." The two kept on as we walked up the street. Finally, I told them I had to get back and put more money in the meter. When we reached the Jeep, Hank put the max in, giving us two hours.
Shortly afterward I found myself in a small shop, sitting on a stool while a young woman took a needle out of an autoclave--Hank had given me a real talk about the dangers of just going to a booth in the mall--cleaned my ear lobe with disinfectant and pierced my left ear. As she said, I hardly felt a thing. She then inserted a white gold stud and, after she gave me instructions on how to care for the pierced ear, we left.
I felt like everyone was looking at me and when I said so, Hank laughed, "Why are they looking at you when the street is full of the trust fund hippies?" He had a point. Asheville had become a haven for ex-hippies, neo-hippies, back to nature folks, new age drop outs, what have you. Hank said most of them were living off trust funds or their parents gave them money to keep them away for home. City people fussed about them but, to tell the truth, they were part of the reason people came to Asheville. "If they weren't here, Asheville would have to hire people to pose as hippies," Hank laughed. "Anyway, now that we have you properly pierced--unless you want a stud in your cock ..." Hank started.
"Ouch!" Jason and I said together.
"I take it you're not interested," Hank laughed as he pointed to the two of us who had shielded our cocks without thinking.
Hank changed the subject quickly, saying, "Look, Jason and I think we may have found a gold mine. Jason expected to pay fifty to seventy dollars for a pair of pants, shirt, underwear and a pair of shoes--if he's lucky. I told him the shoes alone would cost that much, but he said he'd get cheap ones. Anyway, I saw a long-haired guy coming down the street in a shirt I really liked and asked him where he got it. He said, 'Well, Dude, I picked it up at the Goodwill thrift store.' We asked him about that and he said the Goodwill and Junior League thrift stores have good stuff cheap. 'Junior League is more expensive, but you get name brands there,' he said and added that he had gotten shirts still in a wrapper for a dollar or so. There's a thrift store in Clarksville, but I'd be afraid someone would recognize something they had given away, but in Asheville? I think we need to check it out."
"Do you know where they are?" I asked.
"I got the addresses. The Junior League shop is a few blocks over and we can ask about the Goodwill."
We spent an hour in the Junior League store and all three found a pile of clothes and none of us had spent over $25. Jason said he guessed he had enough, but Hank insisted we go to Goodwill. Prices were less, but you had to do a lot more hunting to find good stuff, but we got another pile of clothes for about $10 each.
Jason and I went to a shoe place and got him sneakers. The prices were outrageous, but there was a sale on and we got Reeboks for $35. Hank had stopped at a men's store while we looked for shoes and when we got back together said we didn't need to shop for underwear. "I took care of that," he said, but he wouldn't tell us what he had done.
Leaving town, we stopped at Sonic, a fifties-type drive-in complete with car hops on skates, and had cheeseburgers, fries and a shake. When we finished eating, Jason said, "Hank, what's this about our not needing to worry about underwear? I really need some since I keep having to do something to keep guys in gym from knowing I am bare-assed.,"
"Patience. Douglas, to the cow pasture."
The riverside where we ate lunch the first day of school had become a special hangout when we could make it. Now that Jason was working every day after school and some Saturdays, we didn't get to go very often, but we had all afternoon now and the weather was perfect.
When we reached the river, we stripped and waded across in spite of the fact the day was a bit chilly for river wading. Every time we did it after the first time, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off Jason. As I looked at his equipment, I felt the blood rushing to my cock and quickly looked elsewhere before I got hard and embarrassed us all. When we reached the opposite side, Hank said, "Keep your pants off."Jason said, "What's going to happen when I get hard?"
"Why are you going to get hard?"
"Looking at Douglas' nice round ass."
"Cut out that kind of kidding," Hank said quickly and I knew he was serious. I just wondered if Jason was.
Jason turned and looked at me, his eyes sparkling and the corners of his mouth turning up in that special smile of his which made me melt, then winked.
I felt my cock twitch and just gave him a embarrassed half-smile.
"Ok, guys, I saw something in the window of that men's store I just had to have." With that he handed me and Jason a package and had one himself. "Open it," he said. Inside was a pair of silk--silk already--boxers. They were bright red with the heads of men wearing broad brimmed hats with plumes. "The three musketeers," he said."Put 'em on."
We put on the boxers and posed for each other. Wearing only the boxers, we sat on our pants to keep our silkies clean. Hank handed Jason another package and said, "Jason, don't want you to give me any of that 'mountain man pride' shit. If we can't help each other, then we may as well stop pretending we are friends. I'm telling you, giving is a hell of a lot easier than receiving. So I have the easy part."
Jason opened the package Hank had given him and took out two five packs, one of briefs and one of boxers. He looked at Hank and started to say something, but before he could, Hank said, "A simple thank you is enough."
It wasn't enough for Jason who stood up, pulled Hank to his feet and gave him as bear hug, smiled at him and said, "A simple thank you, Hank buddy."
"Ok, these silkies are great, but it's kinda chilly for just boxers," I said as I stood up and pulled on my pants.That night, as I lay in bed, I thought back to our time at the river and Jason's comment about my nice round ass. Not only had he made the comment, but had given me a smile and a wink which only I had seen. Just thinking about that was enough to get me very aroused, hot and hard. Even after I had taken care of my immediate need and cleaned up, I still thought about Jason and his comment. It might have just been one friend kidding another, I mean, guys often kid each other about being gay, but when they did, it was that, just kidding. But Jason had said something to me and given me a smile and a wink and it didn't seem like kidding. Well, maybe it was and I didn't want it to be.
I know one thing, when I thought about Hank, I didn't get the feeling I did when I thought about Jason. I don't mean just getting hot, although I did when I thought about Jason, but not when I thought about Hank. But I had other feeling too, feelings for Jason that I didn't understand, or maybe I did. I spent most of the weekend thinking about whether or not I was gay and about my feelings for Jason.
Hank had started riding his bike to my place or if he got early enough start, on down the road getting in shape for swimming. Monday morning he had gone on past Jason's and when the two of us picked him up, Hank slid into the seat and when he did, unzipped his Junior League thrift shop cargo pants and said "One for all and all for one," as he showed his boxers.Jason did the same, then reached over and unzipped my jeans and said "Yeah." I was glad he zipped them quickly before he or Hank could see me getting aroused.