I guess anyone who has ever been in love can remember when you couldn't get enough of your lover. I felt like I had missed out for sixteen years and had to make up for lost time. Jason said he felt the same, but he was much more reserved than I was. Saturday, when I had a swim meet and he had to work, he seemed all business when we were dressed and ready to head downstairs for breakfast. I felt he was holding me at arm's length and said so. I was surprised when he agreed.
"You got to remember, I have never been loved by someone I could depend on. As a matter of fact, I was your age before I thought anyone cared shit about me," he said. "My Grandma was the first person I can remember who loved me just the way I am."
"And she left you."
"Yeah, not logical and rational but, yeah, I feel like she just walked off and left me. Maybe in the future I can risk letting myself go completely but right now, if I think about it, I'm afraid. I'm afraid you'll leave me too." I started to protest and he said, "Doug, that feeling has nothing to do with you and nothing you can say will take it away. It will go away when I realize I can turn loose and abandon myself to you. I wish things were different and that wasn't true, but I would not be honest if I denied that fear was there. Give me time, ok?"
I still had my arms around Jason and, to answer him, I kissed him passionately as I pressed my groin into his and welcomed his tongue into my mouth. I knew we both were hard and hot and I wanted to stay as we were forever, and said so. But Jason finally broke our kiss, looked into my eyes and gave me one of his wonderful smiles and whispered, "Not such a good idea, lover. Besides, I need food."
November crept along and school became a complete drag. The weather continued cold, wet and gray. The only bright spot was Thanksgiving holidays which would begin after school Tuesday and last until the following Monday. Monday after school, Hank told Jonathan his parents were ready for him when he was released from the hospital. "We'll have to do some rearranging but, actually, you could come now so far as we are concerned," Hank added.
We were excited about Jonathan coming to live in Deep Cove but he seemed very reserved, even frightened. On the way to Clarksville for work and swim team practice, Hank and I talked about Jonathan's attitude until Jason finally said, "Look, how would you feel about being booted out of your house and going to live with perfect strangers? I know how the first part feels since I was kicked out, but I knew my Grandma. So far as Jonathan knows, our families may be as bad as his. He only has our word for it." Leave it to Jason to get our thinking straight.
After swim practice, Hank and I went to the "cat house" to work. Jason promised this would be our last day and, since we had gotten it ready on time, Jake had said we could take off the rest of Thanksgiving week.
As we worked, finishing up the job, Hank said, "You guys mind if I ask some questions? Maybe some foolish ones, but there are things I'm not sure about--may be confused about, but things I'd like to know--I guess. You know ....."
"No problem," Jason said and I agreed. "But you know we may not answer them all."
"Sure, of course," Hank grinned and said, "I'll try not to get TOO personal, but I won't promise. Wouldn't want to answer some questions about--you know--me and Beth."
Some of Hank's questions had to do with how we knew we were gay, and Jason just turned that around and asked him how he knew he wasn't. That threw Hank for a loop, I think. Jason finally reminded him that it was not something we had decided any more than his being straight was something he had decided. A lot of the questions he asked were questions we had, and needed answers for, and we said so.
On the way home, Hank and I got to complaining about the amount of time we spent training for the swim team. We had swim practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday of every week but had very few meets, one every other week most of the time, although there were times when we only had one in three weeks.
When I got home I talked about it with Grandmom and Granddad. "Since I have started working with Jason, I've been giving serious thought about the time I spend in swim team practice. Seems a lot of effort for too few meets.
"Douglas, you know that will have to be your decision," Granddad said.
"I know," I responded, "but I'd like to know what you think about it. Help me sort through things."
"What about your teammates? How do they feel about it?" Grandmom asked.
"I guess most of them don't think about it. I doubt I'd be thinking about it if I hadn't started working."
"What would they think about you quitting? Don't you think they might feel you were letting them down? Won't you be letting them down?" Granddad asked.
Jason hadn't said anything in the Jeep and I wondered what he thought about the swim team. So I asked.
"Douglas, I will be going out for baseball. Are you planning to try out?"
"Sure, I want to, but there's a baseball game every week."
"What do you suppose the baseball team would think about someone who joined a team and then dropped out? What if your baseball teammates look at your swim team and decide you can't be depended on? You need to think about that."
"Seems to me you need to ask yourself if you only swim to practice for meets or if you swim because you love it. If you really like to swim, then it wouldn't matter whether you had a meet or not," Granddad said.
"And if you are going out for baseball, you'll need to get into shape--which I have to do as well," Jason said, "and swimming will do that for you."
"Helps to have things pointed out when you are sorting out stuff," I said. "Thanks. And I'll be on the swim team, meets or not."
Later, when Hank and I talked about the swim team he definitely changed his attitude when I brought up the matter of teammates, saying he couldn't let them down.
Of course, if I were honest with myself, what really made me think of quitting the swim team was Jason and the thought that I could have three more hours a week with him. When I mentioned that, he surprised me by asking if I really needed to spend more time with him. "Sure I do. I want to spend twenty-four/seven with you," I protested.
"You sure? Think about it," he said. "We're together almost twenty-four/seven already. I know right now we think we will never get tired of each other, but we also need lives of our own." I was kinda hurt when he said that but, when we really talked through it, I realized he was right. If we were not careful we'd end up shutting out everything except each other, becoming a whole world of our own. "And it would be a pretty small world," he reminded me.
Hank had said little while Jason and I talked. Finally he said, "Look, Beth and I don't get to spend as much time together as you two and there are times when I wish I had more time to myself. She agrees, and we have started trying to make the time we have together more than just making out. We are becoming great friends and, as friends, we enjoy spending time together. Still make out--oh yes we do--but not all the time.
"Well at least I do have something besides work and school. I still have a few more weeks of swimming and I really do like to swim. I'll still swim after the season is over, for sure. Then, Jason, maybe you can swim with me when the team is no longer practicing. Now all you do is work and go to school."
"I know. Sometimes I think that's all I'll ever do. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate what the grandparents are doing for me, but I need to work all the hours I can and school is not easy. I missed school so much the last couple years that I'm having to do some catch-up and the courses I'm taking are not easy ones. I know I need excellent grades if I am to have a chance at something beyond high school, but I'm definitely looking forward to something different--to starting conditioning for baseball." Jason paused a moment and said, thoughtfully, "Yeah, I'm looking forward to doing something beyond school and work and I need to start doing some disciplined exercise now. Facing baseball conditioning, I know I am in for some really sore muscles. I am not in shape."
"I like the shape you're in," I said, reaching over and running my hand down his strong back. "But look, the Y has an exercise room with better equipment than the school has. There's seldom anyone in it when I go for swim practice. Why don't you join up and use it while Hank and I swim. It's not expensive."
"Jason, that's a super idea," Hank said. "Douglas may like the shape you're in, but I bet a couple days conditioning for baseball and you will be one sore turkey."
"Hadn't thought about that," Jason responded. "Well, I didn't know what the Y had to offer. Yeah, sounds like a great idea."
We were so busy talking that we were nearly home before Hank said, "Whoa! We were supposed to go by the hospital after work. Remember?"
"Damn! Doug, you and I were talking about being careful and watching what we were doing too. A Jeep-load of one-track minds, I guess," Jason said as I did a U-turn and headed back to the hospital.
When we reached Jonathan's room, he was sitting in a chair, watching TV. "Hey guys," he said. "Working late today?"
"Yeah, that would sound better than admitting we were so busy talking we drove past the hospital, which is what really happened."
"Gee, must have been interesting."
"Not really, just running our mouths," I said, "but what's your news?"
"Depends," he answered. "I was told today that I can be discharged as soon as I have a place to go. I'll have to come back for a checkup and maybe to have stitches out, but I'm ready to go."
"Right now?" Hank asked.
"Well I wish, but I'm not quite that ready," he smiled. "The doctor said he'd be in to check me over thoroughly tomorrow--late morning he hopes. After he does that, I'll have my dressing changed or not replaced depending on how things are going."
"You still have a dressing on your back?" Hank asked.
"Not exactly. It's my balls," Jonathan said, turning bright red.
"Oh," Hank said.
"One of my testicles was hurt when I was being beaten. I thought it was going to be removed, but it didn't have to be. I don't know exactly what had to be done, but everything is there and functioning--or so I have been told."
"Makes me hurt to think about it," Hank said.
"Not half as bad as having it happen, I can assure you of that!" Jonathan grinned.
"Oh, Mom wanted to know your sizes," Hank said. "We'll bring clothes when we come to get you."
Jonathan was smaller than any of us. I'm sure he had lost weight in the hospital, but he had a slight build anyway. That's not to say he didn't have a nice build, just that it was slight. We'd learn later he was a swimmer and could swim like a fish. Of course, he could only swim in the summer in a pond because the religious group his family belonged to would never allow boys and girls to swim together. "Just small everything, I guess," he answered.
"That'll work for shirts and underwear, but not for pants," Jason said. "Where's the jeans you had on when you came in?"
"In the closet, I guess," Jonathan replied.
Jason opened the closet, found the jeans and said, "28, 31. That's not going to be easy to find, I bet. Boxers or briefs?"
Jonathan blushed and said, "I had to wear boxers. Well, they are even longer than boxers I think. They were to help keep me from being sexually aroused." Jonathan giggled and said, "They didn't work. Anyway, could I have briefs?"
"Sure thing," Hank said. "We'll get you covered enough to get you home," Hank said, "and I can see a trip to the thrifts soon."
Jonathan stood when we said we had to go, and gave each of us a hug--a habit which would soon become a regular part of the "one for all and all for one" gang.
As we drove back to Deep Cove, we talked about Jonathan coming to live with Hank. We knew that the Dennisons had said Jonathan could come live with them, but nothing had really been done to get ready for him. "I think you two need to have supper with me tonight and afterward we need to get things ready for Jonathan."
"Makes sense," I said. "We'll need to stop by the house and let the grandparents know what's going on."
When we got to my place, Hank's parents and the grandparents were way ahead of us. Grandmom said, "Guys, we're all having supper at the Dennisons' tonight so we can get ready for Jonathan. Have you seen him today?"
We told Grandmom about forgetting him and having to go back. "But how did you know he's being released tomorrow?" Jason asked.
"Mr. Gillis, the hospital administrator, has kept us advised of how Jonathan is doing and told us he'd be leaving tomorrow if everything continues going well. He, of course, also called your parents, Hank, to let them know what was going on. Your mom suggested we get together since Jonathan is really you boys' project. I know you will do a good job of getting ready for him, but us old folks may be able to help. So get ready and we'll be off."Grandmom had prepared a couple of dishes to take with us for a kind of two-family pot-luck supper.
After we had supper, we went up to Hank's room. It really was the whole attic, undivided except the two front dormers, one of which was a bathroom and the other a huge walk-in closet. The back ceiling sloped like the front and had a single dormer and two skylights which could be opened. The rest of the attic was one very large room. Hank had straightened up his room, which usually had piles of clothes here and there and other things just tossed about. Jason had been on his case several times without any real results. "Glad to see you did a little cleaning up here, Hank," Jason laughed.
"Yeah, thought I needed to set a good example for young Jonathan," Hank grinned.
Hank's older brother was in college, so Hank had the attic to himself. He had talked to his brother about Jonathan coming to live with the family and, before he could say much, his brother told him he would only be home for holidays as he had his summers planned. "I'll spend any time I am at home in the guest room," he had said. "Actually, I've pretty much left home unless something changes."
We all looked at the room and furniture and started planning a layout. The center of the room was already set up as a living area, with a couple of comfortable chairs, a couch, lamps and coffee table. There was even a rug defining the "living room". Hank said there was another comfortable chair in an attic cubbyhole and Jason got it out. "That's a couch and three chairs," Hank said. "That should be enough."
One end of the large open space was Hank's "bedroom" and the other would be Jonathan's. I noted a pipe running from wall to wall, some fifteen or so feet from the outside walls. Just as I was about to ask about it, Hank's mom said, "I'll go downstairs and bring the curtains up."
"Where will curtains go?" I asked, as the only windows were at the gable ends and they had curtains.
"They go on the pipes," Hank's dad said. "We had to put them up to keep Hank and Josh from fussing." Hank's mom and Grandmom came upstairs with the curtains, and the two men helped the three of us get them on the pipes. "The boys usually had the curtains pulled together except when it was really hot and they needed more air circulating, then they pulled them back." Each boy's "room" was separated from the living area by the curtains, giving them privacy.
Each bedroom had a bed, chest, nightstand, lamp--all the bedroom sort of stuff. Mrs. Dennison stripped the bed in Jonathan's end of the attic and Grandmom asked if she should strip Hank's. Hank quickly said, "I'll do that," and rushed to his bed. As he stripped it I saw why he wanted to do the job himself. There was a very large spot in the center of his bottom sheet. I just looked at him and whispered, "Dreaming of Beth?" and grinned. He grinned back.
Hank took the soiled bedclothes downstairs. Mrs. Dennison had brought up clean ones and she and Grandmom made up the beds while Hank and I helped finish arranging the furniture in both bedrooms. When all was in place, the old folks went downstairs and the three of us looked over the arrangement and liked it. "Given Jonathan's age--yours too--and the hormone level which will be up here, I think the curtains are a good idea," I said."They give plenty of privacy unless you do a lot of groaning like Josh does when he spanks his monkey," Hank laughed.
"The place looks great," Jason said, "All done--whoa--where is the computer going?" It was sitting on the floor in a corner, forgotten. It had been in Hank's room but had been disconnected so it could be put where it could be used by both Hank and Jonathan.
The three of us got the computer, printer, all that stuff, set up in the third dormer and got the cable modem connected and working.
Jason and I had talked about getting a cable modem. There was cable in the house, so getting it installed wouldn't be a major problem and we could split the cost. We just never seemed to get around to it, but every time we used Hank's computer for surfing the web the question came up again.
With everything in place, we got to work doing a super cleaning job. We went way beyond what Hank had done and probably beyond what had been done in the past four or five years, ever since Mrs. Dennison had stopped cleaning the boys' room. In the middle of our work Hank said, "I guess this is putting our work experience to good use," and laughed.
"I just thought of something," Jason said as he stopped straightening up books. "You know Mr. Duncan announced today we would be on short schedule tomorrow. That means periods will be shortened, lunch will be a bit later than usual and school dismissed after lunch, but he also said students will not be allowed to leave before lunch. 'Can't leave before lunch' means we have a vacant period--even if it is short--to do nothing before we can go get Jonathan."
"Maybe we can get permission to leave before lunch. Mr. Duncan saying, 'I have been assured we'll have a real Thanksgiving dinner,' didn't grab me," I said. "A real dinner in a school cafeteria? You gotta be kidding."
"Oh no? You guys don't know it, but the school Thanksgiving dinner lunch is worth waiting for. Personally, I think it is as good as Mama's, but I'd never let her know that. So, how's this?" Hank asked. "Why don't we see if Ms. Kennedy will give us permission to go pick up Jonathan during our off-period and bring him back to school for Thanksgiving dinner lunch?" "You're thinking, Bro," Jason said. "'Course we need to be prepared to have Jonathan tell us he's not interested. We don't really know his feeling about school. Damn! I just thought of something. Suppose that preacher, that Brother Leader jerk, has blabbed about Jonathan and it's all over school?"
"Think we can forget about that," I answered. "I'm sure if that had happened we would have heard about it. I can't imagine the high school grapevine missing a juicy story like that."
"True," Hank said, "and you, we, need to remember that--I mean about you two .... you know. But, anyway, about tomorrow ... I think it would be best if one of you goes to see Ms. Kennedy. I know her, but she knows you two better."
"Maybe we will both go. We'll see," I said. "In the meantime, this place is looking great, a really nice place for two guys."
When we got downstairs, Grandmom and Mrs. Dennison had discussed getting clothes for Jonathan and decided they'd just take him PJs and a robe. "Not such a good idea," Hank said, "because we are going to see if he wants to come to school for lunch. He'll need real clothes."
"You think he'll be dying for school lunch?" Mr. Dennison asked. "Seems I have heard horror tales about school lunch."
"Not tomorrow. It'll be Thanksgiving dinner lunch," Rosemary, Hank's sister, said.
"I'm sure you'll be busy at the store tomorrow, Ellen," Grandmom said. "Gerald and I can run into Clarksville and get clothes for the boy."
"Why don't you just come by the store and I'll go shopping with you," Mrs. Dennison said. "I can be gone from the store that long. I'm sure Gerald is like Hayden and would just as soon never go shopping."
Jason and I went straight to Ms. Kennedy's office as soon as we got to school Tuesday, and told her the situation with Jonathan. She thought our picking Jonathan up and bringing him to school for lunch was a great idea--provided he wanted to come. She wrote a pass for the three of us to leave and return to campus.
So far as school was concerned, Tuesday was a complete bust. None of my teachers tried to accomplish anything. Given the short periods and the holiday spirit among students and teachers, the lack of any academic activity wasn't surprising.
As soon as the bell rang for the end of the sixth period, "the three musketeers" dashed out of the building, mounted our trusty steed and headed for the hospital. When we arrived, Jonathan was dressed and ready to go. "Looking sharp, kewl dude," Hank said, his mountain accent notwithstanding. Jonathan was dressed in cargo pants and rugby shirt and a down jacket lay on his bed. "Ready to roll?"
"Ready to roll," Jonathan replied and his face lit up with a huge smile, the first time I had seen such a smile on his face.
"We thought you might like to go to school before we take you home," Hank said. "It's Thanksgiving dinner lunch day and that will be all that's left of school by the time we get there."
"The food sounds good--I remember my older brother talking about Coldsprings High's Thanksgiving dinner lunch. But what do I tell people who want to know where I have been and what I have been doing? I really don't want to say, 'I've been in the hospital recovering from a beating my dad gave me when he found out I was a fag.'"
"In the first place, where you have been and why is none of their business. But some students will want to know where you have been and why they haven't seen you. Some will ask out of concern, others out of curiosity. What you answer is up to you. You probably should just say something like, 'I had to spend some time in the hospital recovering from exposure.' That's true and says all that needs to be said," Jason said.
"And if they ask why you are staying with Hank--as they will when they find that out--you can just say it is a family matter and no more. By the time we get back from Thanksgiving something else will probably be the topic of conversation," I added.
That was rational and logical and, of course, did not soothe away all of Jonathan's fears. "Guys, I'm really sorta worried about going to school and everything. I don't know anyone, really, or how I should act and all." It was clear Jonathan was becoming more and more nervous as we stood around and talked, trying to reassure him.
"Heck, just act natural," Hank said. "Besides, you'll be with us and you know us."
Jonathan got a big smile on his face again. "Like big brothers?" he asked, his face clearly expecting a yes answer.
"Big brothers and friends. Sure," Jason said. "Come on, the turkey waits."
We started walking down the hall, four abreast, our arms around each other's waist. When we reached the nurses' station, the charge nurse said, "Take care, Jonathan, and do come around to let us know how you're doing."
"I will, I promise. And thanks for taking care of me, especially when I was being a jerk."
"You were never a jerk, just a hurting kid," she said, and gave Jonathan a hug.
When we got to school, we went to Ms. Kennedy's office to let her know Jonathan was back. She gave him a hug and said, "Jonathan, welcome back to Coldsprings. Your friends here have kept me posted on your progress. I understand you will be living with Hank. I hope you will come to let me know how things are going, and after the holiday we will get a program set up to help you get caught up in school. But now, come on, let's all go enjoy lunch!" Ms. Kennedy said as she took Jonathan's arm.
When we reached the cafeteria, Beth, Janie and Sandra were waiting for us. The six of us had our own table which other students respected. The girls joined us in line as did Ms. Kennedy. When we had our food, Ms. Kennedy came to our table rather than going to one of the faculty tables. We snagged two chairs and added them to the six around the table. The girls made a big fuss over Jonathan and he ate it up.
After lunch, Mr. Duncan wished everyone a happy holiday and dismissed school. There was, of course, a mighty rush to the parking lot and the buses. Hank was hanging onto Beth and was in no rush to go home. Before we could get away, Sandra and Janie had made dates with us for dinner and a movie in Asheville Saturday night. "We're paying this time," Janie said. "Don't want people getting the wrong idea. Jonathan, we expect you to go as well."
"I don't want to be the extra tag-along little brother," Jonathan replied.
"No problem," Sandra replied. "We're just friends out to have a good time. You are now part of the gang. Someone you'd like to ask, go ahead. We'll have piles of room. I'm driving Dad's van."
Sandra's dad ran a tour service in the summer. He did a lot of mountain tours in a very fancy van which carried a dozen people comfortably. In the winter he did things like taking people from assisted living homes to the shops, to movies, to other activities.
"In that case, I'd love to go. I've never been to a movie," Jonathan responded.
Needless to say, that provoked a lengthy discussion. The religious group to which Jonathan's family belonged did not allow adherents to go to movies or watch television. Even at that, we were all surprised that Jonathan had never seen a movie--well he had seen instructional movies at school, but that was it--and had only seen TV in the hospital.
When we got to Hank's, all four of us went upstairs. The curtains had been pulled back from the center so each "room" looked like a stage set. Hank said, "Jonathan, take your pick."
"Hank, I'm coming into your house. You tell me where to go and I will."
"Sure you will, but that's not the way it works. You pick your room."
I couldn't see any difference in the two "rooms" so wondered why Hank was making an issue of Jonathan making a choice. Later when I mentioned it to Jason he said, "You've never been a real outsider going into someone's home. If you had been, you'd know you are afraid you'll do something that will upset someone, but when Hank insisted Jonathan make a choice--even though you are right, there is no difference--it was a way of saying, 'you belong here as much as I do.'"
"I understand now, but I didn't offer you the choice of rooms when you came to live with us."
"No, but we made decisions together about the space. It was very clear to me that we were arranging our space--mine and yours--and not just rearranging yours."
Anyway, Jonathan finally chose a room and we put in his chest the few clothes Grandmom and Mrs. Dennison had bought for him.
"You two are off work tomorrow, right?" Hank asked.
"Sure are, and welcome time off after cleaning up the 'cat house'," Jason answered.
"Then why don't we take young Jonathan to the thrifts in the morning?"
"Sounds good, but not too early. We can sleep in tomorrow," I responded, "and I intend to make the most of it."
"Yeah, I'm sure Douglas will need to sleep in, because I feel a nightmare coming on," Jason laughed and winked at me.
"What's this about nightmares?" Jonathan asked. "I have nightmares all the time and get really scared. I sometimes scream and scream and no-one can wake me up."
"Glad to have the warning," Hank said. "But what does your having a nightmare have to do with Douglas sleeping in?"
Jason was behind me and had his arms around me, pulling my body to his, his chin leaning on my shoulder. "When Doug was a kid and had a nightmare, one of his parents slipped into bed with him and sang him a lullaby. I had a real bad nightmare some weeks ago and Doug came and crawled in bed with me, held me and sang me a lullaby. So I feel a nightmare coming on," Jason laughed and nibbled one of my ears.
Jonathan turned red when he saw Jason nibbling my ear and Hank said, "Think we need some rules around here," and laughed. Jason turned me loose and flopped in a chair, his legs over the arm on one side, his back against the other.
As the rest of us got settled, I asked, "Hank, what's going on with Janie and Sandra? I didn't miss their comment about paying for Saturday's date so people wouldn't get the wrong idea, but didn't think it was the time or place to ask for an explanation. Not that I am displeased, if the comment means what I think it means."
"Well, I'm pretty sure it means what you think it means, but that's about all I know," Hank said. "Beth told me last week Sandra had mentioned your statement, Jason, about having a commitment. She was glad because that allowed her to just be friends and you not to expect more. Janie just said, 'That makes two of us. I really want to keep Douglas as a friend, but nothing more.' I told Beth you two thought the girls wanted more than just friendship and she said she did too, but guessed signs had been misread. Anyway, you two are off the hook, at least for the time being."
"I'm glad, but I am puzzled by what seems a sudden change. Just don't want the two to get hurt. Maybe we'll find out more later," Jason said. "Anyway, we'll leave you to get settled, Jonathan."
"Yeah, and we'll be by about 10:30 in the morning to pick you two up for Asheville and the thrifts," I said.
"I keep hearing about thrifts and I don't know what you're talking about," Jonathan said.
"Fill Jonathan in, Hank," Jason said. "We're off."