It was difficult to believe the two young men sitting in front of us, holding hands, could be serious about breaking up their friendship. Yet they assured us that their friendship was at stake.
"Ok, so what's the problem?" Tom asked. "It is very serious if something is endangering your friendship."
"Well, you know Jonathan is gay, right?" Cody asked.
I smiled to myself. I knew Jonathan had told Cody he was gay almost from the time they met. Hank said Jonathan told him he had told Cody he had a deep dark secret he had to promise to tell no-one. We all got a real laugh out of Jonathan making Cody swear and write "I'll not tell," in blood. I hoped my face didn't reveal my amusement at the seriousness in Cody's voice now. When I glanced at Tom he appeared as serious as a judge.
"Yes, we know that," Tom said, never cracking so much as a smile.
"Well, I'm not. You know that, right?" Cody asked.
I'm sure Tom swallowed as hard as I did. The truth of the matter is we had long ago decided Cody was gay and he and Jonathan were getting it on, so to speak.
"To tell the truth, I kinda assumed you were," Tom said. "I guess I misread the signals you and Jonathan were putting out. Holding hands and all that."
"Well, welcome to the club!" Jonathan said. "From the very first I thought Cody was gay and wanted to be boyfriends. He never said anything until after, you know... after the Sadies Cove mess. We even played around some before... you know, beating off together, then jerking each other off."
"Yeah, well... " I stammered. "And?"
"I liked jerking off with Jonathan a lot better than doing it by myself and I even like having him jerk me off and didn't mind doing him."
"Sounds like a nifty arrangement to me," I said.
"It was more than ok, I guess, but then Jonathan wanted to do more and I wasn't into that.
"Yeah, what was that?" Tom asked.
"I wanted him to hold me some and he did and then I kissed him and it really got me hot and turned on," Jonathan said. "I wanted to get my tongue in his mouth the way I saw Hank do with Beth."
"And I didn't want any of that kissing stuff. I mean I'd like to do it with a girl, I think, but not with a boy, even if he's my best friend."
"And I guess I'm in love with Cody and want him to hold me and kiss me and love me--to do a lot of things with me," Jonathan said, "but he says if I keep on, we can't be friends. I don't want that. I couldn't stand that."
I could see tears forming in Jonathan's eyes. Cody reached out and took Jonathan's hand as tears started rolling down his cheeks.
I was very afraid what was happening here would be more than Jonathan could take. He was, after all, still fragile from his ordeal. His wanting to be held suggested he needed someone to help hold him together--no surprise there! But there was no getting around Cody's clear statement--which he obviously believed--that he was not gay. As I said, I was sure he believed what he said, but he hadn't convinced me.
"I'd say you two do have a problem," was all I could think to say.
"Jonathan," Tom said, "I fell in love with my very best friend, a boy who had been my friend and closer than a brother from practically the day we were born. I, too, brought everything to a head by kissing him. I must confess his reaction was not like Cody's. He became very violent and we certainly didn't walk holding hands afterwards. In fact, I half expected him to beat me up. Our friendship was on the line. He didn't have much problem with accepting me as a friend, but it was very hard for me to be around him. I mean, it was up to me to deal with being in love and not having that love returned. It took a while, but we restored our friendship."
"Cody, Jonathan, I don't know what to say. I wonder how you, Jonathan, can be in love with Cody and do such things as hold hands and jerk off together and not feel Cody is in love with you or might fall in love with you. Cody, I guess it's hard for you to understand, but holding hands and doing sexual things with
someone who loves you and then telling him you do not return his love sends a very mixed message--no, worse than that. It sends a totally wrong one." I thought to myself, "Damn, how can Cody even think about doing what he has been doing with Jonathan and then telling him he's straight? How could Jonathan go on being Cody's friend if that meant things like holding hands and jerking off together? I know I couldn't had it been me and Jason."
I definitely was having a hard time putting myself in Jonathan's place since Jason and I had declared our love for each other before we did anything. I had an even harder time putting myself in Cody's place, imagining how it would be to do things lovers do without being in love. The word "slut" floated by, but I rejected that, yet understood why the thought had occurred.
"Cody, I think you and Jonathan need to sit down and talk about your friendship and how you convey your love--your friendship--to each other. I don't think you can continue doing things lovers do and expect Jonathan to believe you are not falling in love with him, Cody," Tom said.
A long silence followed until I realized Tom was looking at me with a "now it's your turn" look on his face.
"Jonathan, I guess you have to decide that Cody is not in love with you and not likely to be. Once you begin to do that, you'll have to decide if you can be together without it hurting too much. You'll have to be up front with Cody about what actions arouse you or kinda lead you to thinking he is falling in love with you. Even if you both agree that it feels good and you like it, I think any playing around sexually is definitely out. The same, I suspect, goes for holding hands. But, finally, it's up to you two. You have to decide what you can live with and what you can live without."
Little was said after that and I suggested the two boys go for a walk. It was late February in the mountains, but the day had been beautiful and warmer than usual. Jonathan knew about the rock outcrop where Jason and I first declared our love for each other and I was pretty sure he and Cody would head in that direction. I
hoped the place would as healing for them as it had been for me, or at least get the process started.
As soon as they left, Tom said, "Well, what's your gut instinct telling you?"
"Not sure it's worth a damn since it told me Cody was gay and falling in love with Jonathan. Aside from that, it's confused, I'm confused."
"I think mine's confused as well, because it's telling me Cody is wrong, wrong, wrong."
"About being gay? You think he's gay?"
I didn't answer right away and then said, "As I said, I'm confused. Everything points to him being gay and at least infatuated with Jonathan--except his words, his own statements. I simply have no way of telling if he is or isn't."
When the two came back to the house, they said they had worked some things out, but said no more. I expected the others to ask about the situation but they didn't, beyond saying if they could be of help, ask.
The change in Cody's and Jonathan's behavior was not so extreme as to call attention to itself and, in fact, Tom and I both noticed very little change and I'm sure others noticed none.
The time finally arrived for the baseball team to start official practice. The team had been named the week before and it seems all my friends made the cut.
Cody had said he thought he'd not tryout and just be the water boy. Jonathan was having none of that and Cody finally relented. I think he was more surprised than any of us when he made the team. He is so small, he's not a real slugger at bat but he, as Jonathan, ran like the wind and had a good arm on him which made him a good fielder--quick, accurate in catching and pitching--he would definitely have a large number of outs to his credit.
By the time the first baseball game rolled around the last Friday in February, I was sure Coldsprings had a winning team. Wesley and Tom were both great additions. In fact, before the first game the coach told the two he thought he could find baseball scholarships for them in some good colleges. Jonathan, as Cody, was only a freshman, but he was very good and would get better with practice and development.
One early March afternoon after baseball practice, Cody came running out of the showers, clutching his towel as best he could while being chased by Jonathan. Jonathan also had a towel about his waist and was having a hard time holding it as he was chasing Cody. Jonathan had a red mark where Cody had, I guess, popped him with his towel. Cody was laughing and saying, "You're pretty slow, Hoss."
Jonathan finally caught his friend, got him on the floor and started tickling him. As he did he kept saying, "Say,'I'm, sorry, Jonathan.' Say it, Cody!"
Cody was turning and twisting trying to escape. He would try to speak, but he was unable, since, obviously, he was very ticklish. When Jonathan let up a bit, Cody was finally able to say, "Somebody rescue me from Hoss!" When he did, Jonathan cuffed him lightly and let him up.
As soon as Cody regained his composure he said, "Hoss, you're not fair!"
Jonathan tackled him again, wrestled him to the floor and sat on him. "When you learn to mind your manners, you can get up and not until," Jonathan said.
"What's with this 'Hoss' bit," Tom asked, laughing like the rest of us.
"Hoss, short for Horse Dick," Cody said.
"Horse Dick?" Tom asked, puzzled.
"Surprised you haven't noticed," Hank said. "Jonathan is not a very big guy, but he's well equipped--to say the very least."
"Yeah, he's got a horse dick," Cody said, "take a look." With those words, he grabbed the towel which Jonathan had managed to keep about him throughout their scuffle. As Cody tossed Jonathan's covering aside, his larger than average cock was revealed to all.
Jonathan turned bright red, hopped up and snatched up his towel and headed for his locker. "I'll get you yet," he called over his shoulder.
I never really figured out how Jonathan felt about it, but he had a nickname which stuck like glue at school. I noticed, however, we generally called him Hoss only at school, otherwise, he was still Jonathan. All the Deep Cove crew got a good laugh once when Hank said, "I am sure I'm going to call him Hoss at home one of these days and Mom will die of embarrassment if she finds out how he got his nickname."
One afternoon after practice, Tom and I were walking off the field headed for the showers when he said, "Take a look ahead and tell me what you think."
I looked up and saw Jonathan and Cody headed toward the showers, walking arm-in-arm.
"Well, as Granddad would say, it's curiouser and curiouser."
March proved to be a wet, gray month and that worked on all of us, I think. Jonathan in particular, seemed... well, depressed. He became very quiet, seldom saying anything. His ball playing became unpredictable. I noticed he and Cody were not their usual selves. In fact, they seemed to be avoiding each other--or at least Jonathan seemed to be avoiding Cody. I was worried.
When I mentioned my feelings to Hank, he said he had talked with his parents and they didn't think anything worth worrying about was going on, "But I do," he said. He said Jonathan spent hours lying on his bed, earphones on, but nothing playing much of the time. "He just lies there staring at the ceiling and when I ask him if something's wrong, he seems touchy, but says, 'I'm ok.'"
I offered to talk to Cody to see if he might shed some light on the situation. I didn't know how I was going to manage that without Jonathan finding out. As luck would have it, Jason told me he and the guys had an extra job to do for Jake and Hank had the family van to take them into over to Pea Ridge as soon as baseball practice was over. I told him I had something I needed to do at school and would head on to Asheville when I finished.
As soon as I had showered and saw the cleaning crew off, I headed for Ms. Kennedy's office. She was with a student, so I had to wait. The student, a freshman girl, came out of the office, crying. I learned why some weeks later when I saw her in the hall, obviously pregnant. Jason, Wesley and I talked about the tragedy surrounding teen pregnancy and what we thought should be done about it but, as Wesley pointed out, it was not a situation we would likely face. "Like people with no kids advising parents," was his comment.
"Come in, Douglas," Ms. Kennedy smiled, "Good to see you. You're not having problems are you? Seems all I have done today is deal with problems--large and small."
"Well, I suspect you are about to hear another one. It's about Hoss... Jonathan."
"Hoss?" Ms. Kennedy asked.
I blushed and said, "Yeah, well, you don't want to know." Ms. Kennedy grinned. I suspect she knew.
I told her of my concern and she agreed there had been a change in Jonathan. "A couple of his teachers have commented on the decline in his work, but attributed it to baseball. I had a note to call him down as soon as I had a chance. I wanted to talk with him before I call in his parents. Anything you can tell me?"
"As a matter of fact there's not, beyond the fact that Hanks says he spends hours lying on his bed staring at the ceiling. I wanted to talk with his best friend, Cody Andrews, although he seems to be avoiding Cody lately. Any possibility you could get permission for Cody to go to Asheville with me? I have a piano lesson and we could talk going and coming."
"I can try," Ms Kennedy said, then turned to her computer and found Cody's guardians' number. She called, explained a bit about the situation and said, "Thank you," and hung up.
"Mrs. Nash asked that you come by and speak with her before going to Asheville. Let me know what you find out if you will. After what he's been through, depression is a concern."
I had never been to the Nash place since it lay in a valley some distance from Deep Cove. Cody, of course, navigated so I had no trouble getting there, otherwise I suspect I would have been lost several times. When I mentioned that, Cody said Mr. Nash once told a delivery man, "You can't get here the first time."
Mrs. Nash said she had no problem with Cody going to Asheville with me. "Cody has talked a lot about Jonathan and his brothers." Mrs. Nash smiled and said, "It took me a while to figure out that all of you weren't blood brothers. Anyway, I wanted you to come by because Cody is concerned about him. Cody thinks he is sick or something."
"That's what I wanted to talk with Cody about. I am also concerned." I told Mrs. Nash of our concern and hoped Cody could shed some light on the situation. I then told her when I thought we'd be back and promised to phone her if we were going to be late.
As soon as we were back in the Jeep, I said, "Cody, I am really worried about Hoss. He seems half dead most of the time, his grades are dropping, Hank says he just lies on his bed and stares at the ceiling at home. His ball playing, I'm sure you noticed, is not up to par and I notice he seems to be avoiding you."
"Yeah, there's been a real change in him. He'll hardly talk to me. At first I thought it was just the whole wet, rainy cloudy, rotten weather we've been having. I know that gives me the blue funks, but it's more. Then I thought it was because I didn't love him. I even thought it might help if we'd a nasty together--you know--and offered, but he cut me short. Said something about being dirty."
I smiled and then asked, "Doing a nasty was dirty?"
"I thought that was what he meant and when I said so, Hoss said, 'Not that, me.' I didn't know what he meant."
We talked a while longer about Jonathan and when we had talked out, I was pretty well convinced he was suffering from depression and that set off a lot of alarm bells. I resolved to talk to Dr. Alexander as soon as possible.
When we reached UNC-A, I told Cody he could come with me or wander around campus. Unlike the weather of late, the day had been sunny and warm, so he said he'd walk around. I told him when to be back and went on to my lesson.
My session went very well. I was working on the Greig, which I loved. I felt really comfortable with it since I had played solo arrangements of most of it before. Maestro Alexas had scheduled a concert with me as featured soloist in late April when I would play the Greig and the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. The Paganini was another question altogether. It was widely known--Grandmom said it was used in a movie in the fifties or sixties, but I haven't seen it and don't remember the name--and I think that put pressure on me and I'm sure there were other factors at work, but it was not going as well as I wished. Then, only last week, Maestro Alexas and Professor Jamison had kinda double teamed me and I found I had a third piece, Beethoven's "Emperor", which was another piece everyone knew. It was going so well I was worried about it.
In case it was needed, they said I should pick a piece for piano only for an encore. They were surprised when I came up with a little-known piece by a little-known composer--an American from the late eighteenth to early nineteen centuries, Benjamin Carr. I chose "Rondo: Yankee Doodle" from his "The Siege of Tripoli".
Well, the session went well and I was pleased, as was Professor Jamison.
After my lesson, I found Cody waiting for me. He had enjoyed himself "scoping out the place" and found the student center where he got a coke and people-watched.
Shortly after we started back to Coldsprings, he asked me if you could think you were straight and really be gay. "I suppose, Cody," I replied. "I mean people fool themselves about all sorts of things and I guess sexuality is something most of us are confused about at one time or another."
"Have you talked to Jason and Wesley about... you know?" Cody asked.
"No, you said it was between the two of us and you."
"Well, I don't care if you do," he said. "I just don't want everyone in school knowing. They'd probably make my life miserable like they do Hoss."
"Yeah, there's some who keep calling him "slut" and "ho" saying he asked to be fucked. Makes me sick."
"It's making Jonathan sick too," I thought. I really did need to do something.
"Guess that's part of what's wrong with Hoss," I said. "It's enough to depress anybody. I know. I went though something similar when I first arrived here even if the assholes making my life miserable didn't know anything about me."
"Well, it'd be good if there was someone you could talk to and not let it get all over the school."
After that our conversation roamed all over the place. Later, in thinking back over the conversation, Cody had been dogmatic in denying he was gay, but I began wondering again if he might not be.
I realized it was past her office hours, but on the off chance that Dr. Alexander might still be at the hospital, I decided I'd call her after I dropped Cody off at home. I had to wait until I drove several miles before I got a signal and when I did, I stopped and called.
Dr. Alexander told me she was on her way out the door when her phone rang. "I just had a feeling it was a call I needed to take," she said.
I told her what I thought was going on with Jonathan and what I had learned from Hank and Cody. "He has said nothing to any of us about being harassed at school, so that might explain part of what's going on with him, but I think there might be more. I think he might be depressed.
"I need to see him," she responded. "I probably should have called the Dennisons before, but guess I thought they'd call me. I suspect you are right about depression and the old mountain idea that you just have to buck up and pull yourself out of it dies hard. I really don't like him thinking he is dirty. That's often true of rape victims. Cody say anything about him feeling guilty? Like he deserved being raped? That would be very serious."
I told her there had been indications of such and she responded, "Douglas, thanks for calling. I'm afraid things might be a great deal more serious than I anticipated. I'll call the Dennisons right now and see that they get Jonathan in soon." She thanked me for giving her a heads up and said she'd just ask that he be brought in for a follow-up visit since Mr. Dennison didn't think there was anything to worry about.
After supper when Jason, Wesley and I were supposed to be doing homework, I told them about my talk with Cody. "Sure wish there was some way we could connect with Cody in a really honest way," I said. "I'm convinced if he's not gay, he's confused about his sexuality. Also, he's not doing Jonathan any good by suggesting they do stuff together--sexual stuff I mean."
"I know it would have been great to have someone I could talk to without revealing who I was," Jason said. "I was very confused about who or what I was. I mean I fought my old lady's boyfriend off, but I knew I liked boys. I bet other students are confused about this whole sexuality business--straight, gay, bi, whatever."
"At least we have our friends--not just our peers either. We have Stone, Tim and Wes," I said.
"Now we do, but last summer... How about you Wesley? Weren't you confused, mixed up?"
"Not really. I guess I might have been, but my sexuality got all mixed up with my rebellion against my family and in particular my mother. Being gay was great because she disapproved. Then Dwight came along and I sure wasn't confused about having sex with him! It would have been good if someone had told me all about having sex. We got into anal sex right away and I now know Dwight didn't prepare me the way he should have. There's other things too. Well, let's be honest, now that I look back on it and then look at you two and Tim and Stone and, yeah, Brad and Jeremy, I see what you all have that I didn't have is loving and being loved in return. Well, respecting each other--that, too, was missing."
We talked more about Jonathan's situation and how great it would be to have some way kids could reach out and find a friend without revealing too much. Finally Jason asked, "Can you have a friend you don't know?"
We were in the middle of discussing that when Wesley slapped his forehead and said, "Man, am I being dense. Guess old age has got me already. Last week I was talking with Tom about my experience with Dwight and how I got into something without knowing what. Before long we were talking about harassment at school and all and he said his former school developed a program with the help of a group called The Mail Crew. They are a group of high school kids who have developed a really grand setup to help communication among gay, lesbian, bi, and not-sure students in their school. A couple football players--sure cuts against the stereotype, huh--started a kind of confidential e-mail thing. They have a web site which tells about them. I don't remember a lot about it, but I think it might be what we are thinking about. Their website is called The Mail Crew. I do remember that much."
Homework was quickly forgotten as we searched and found The Mail Crew's site at [ http://www.themailcrew.com/]. We spent the next hour and a half reading and talking about what that bunch of high school students had done, printing out their advise about starting such a group and talking about how to go about getting such a program at Coldsprings. We were all very excited, but finally had to get back to homework.
Since Ms. Kennedy knew Wesley was gay, he was appointed to go talk to her about The Mail Crew. She agreed that he definitely wasn't the only gay guy at Coldsprings and thought an anonymous e-mail system was a grand idea. "You get it all worked out and give me the word and I'll see that the word gets out," she told him.
We decided for the time being we'd keep the program--we decided that it really wasn't a program but didn't know what else to call it--among the three of us, letting others in on it when we felt comfortable doing so.
After we read and reread all The Mail Crew had on their web site, we e-mailed them and got a response right back encouraging us to go ahead. We spend more time than I would have thought deciding on a name. We didn't want to use The Mail Crew. That wasn't right. We decided it would be Coldsprings Something and thought about troop (too militaristic), gang (bad connotation these days), team (nope, sounded like sports), group (not very interesting). We finally decided to go with the Coldsprings Tribe. Wesley suggested it since so many of our fellow students were Indians or part Indian. "Also it sounds like a group of people who stick together," he said.
At breakfast the next morning we told the grandparents something about what we were up to and gave them the material we had printed out from The Mail Crew. At supper they suggested we talk about the plan before the three of us went upstairs to do homework.
The grandparents were very encouraging. Both thought it was something which was probably needed and both were firm believers in helping others. They were very concerned about our safety and Granddad insisted on getting a second phone line with an unlisted number, which he had already ordered when we got together. It would be three to four days before it was installed he had been told.
We also set up a new e-mail account. That was easy enough to do since we all had our own accounts with our cable ISP and could have practically unlimited accounts.
After discussing it, we decided we should include Hank in the tribe if he wanted. Since Tom had experience with this kind of approach, we decided to talk with him about it as well.
When we approached Tom, he said he'd help all he could, but presently he was on dial-up and out where he was, that was very undependable. "I'll do what I can, but leave all the online stuff to you cable modem guys," he said.
Hank was all for it. "It might have helped Jonathan," he said. "Right now I'm not sure what's going on. Dad took him in to see Dr. Alexander today and she told Dad she was very concerned about him. She ordered some tests and the results won't be back for a day or so."
"I didn't realize it, but he was scheduled to be seeing a therapist all along and he stopped. He told Dad he thought it was a waste of time and Dad went along with it. Dad said he couldn't see how talking could cure anything and was convinced that's all that is involved in therapy. Think Dr. Alexander landed on the old man a bit about that. She told Dad she didn't like to use drugs except in extreme cases and she thought Jonathan's was. So he's back in therapy and on a mild antidepressant."
When we were all set to go with the Coldsprings Tribe, we made some posters and Ms. Kennedy suggested we post them after school. "Better yet, can you come back this evening, say about eight? There will be no-one at the school so you can get the posters up without being noticed."
We were busy putting up posters when Andy saw us. He came down the hall, spoke, asked how Jonathan was doing and then said, "You know, I like that boy. He is always so polite and always speaks to old Andy like I am a real person."
"You are a real person, Andy," Wesley quickly said.
"Sure I am, but lots of them I see every day don't think so. So what's all you doing here at night? Putting up posters for something?"
"Yeah, and no-one is to know who put them up. That's very important," Wesley said. "It's our secret, ok?
"Sure. You can trust old Andy," the custodian said. "Well, I have work to do so I can go home."
"Have a good evening, Andy," Wesley said.
"Y'all too," he said and moved on down the hall.
"Sure hadn't planned on that," Jason said.
"Doesn't matter," Wesley said. "Andy said he'd keep a secret and he will."
Wesley was right. If Andy ever breathed a word about our putting up the posters we never knew it.
I guess we expected to spend hours doing e-mail from the loads of kids who e-mailed the Coldsprings Tribe, but the response was zilch, nada, nothing. Some of the posters were quickly defaced. "Fag Club" was written on most of them with magic markers, so they were taken down. Others were torn down and trampled. If we had any illusions about saving the world, they were quickly shattered.
Author's note: The Mail Crew exists and does have a web site which tells about what they have done and how a group of students could set up such a program for their school. From my e-mail contacts with the group they have much to offer and are very generous in doing so. Do check out [ http://www.themailcrew.com/]. I think you older folks might have a new appreciation for today's youth and you younger ones might find a great resource--Sequoyah.