When my mother left, Chase was whom I went to. He was in his room reading. He read a lot. I sank down on his bed. He took one look at me and sat next to me. His arm found its way around me. I was bigger, but he comforted me much more than I ever did him. I needed it more often. I tended to do what both my parents did: I held my emotions in. Sometimes they needed to escape. Those times, I usually went to Chase. He understood even though he wasn’t that way at all.
I spilled out my thoughts to him. With him, I didn’t have to hold anything back. I told him Mom had left—how that made me feel. It was strange, because while I loved her, I didn’t like her much. We hadn’t been talking recently. I was mad at her most of the time. But her leaving like that, there was a big hole where she’d been. My world had changed in major ways, and I was having trouble coming to grips with what I felt.
Chase hugged me, then scooted around and I moved farther onto the bed so we were facing each other. He talked to me. I don’t know how he got so wise.
“Troy, you’re going through a lot right now. But you’ll get through this. You’re talking to me about what your feeling, and that should help. Holding it all in would just make the pain last longer.”
He squeezed my shoulders, looking me in the eyes. “You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t messed up right now. You’ve never been through something like this. No one should have to go through what you’ve been.” He paused for a second, maybe to let that sink in, then said, “You know, it’s a good thing you’re as strong as you are. A weaker person would have fallen apart a long time ago.”
I didn’t say anything. What could I say? He knew what to say, however. Just the right thing. “You’ve still got your dad, Troy. And you’ve still got me. You always will. You’re a good person, and none of this is your fault. You just have to continue to be strong, and it’ll get better. But, in the meantime, if you need to cry, if you need to scream and cuss and hit some walls, I’ll be right here. You do what you have to do. I’ll understand, and maybe I’ll cry right along with you.”
I spent a lot of time with him the next few days, more than usual. His dad stopped glaring at me. I asked Chase about that, and he told me he hadn’t said a word to him about me, but maybe his dad could see the pain in my eyes that was worse than ever. Chase said his dad was a really good man, even if he seemed a little intimidating.
I got through Mom leaving, eventually. I’m not sure how I’d have done that as well as I did if it hadn’t been for Chase.
I get up and check my computer. No letter from Chase, but there is one from an account I don’t know. It’s from RLGooding@Avontal.com. I stare at it. Gooding is Chase’s last name. I hesitate, suddenly feeling nervous. Chase’s dad’s name is Richard. Has something happened to Chase? Did he tell his dad he’s gay, and his dad is writing me, telling me never to write Chase again? Is it something else? How does he even know my email address? Then I decide: just read it and stop all this!
I take a breath and click on the email.
It is from Chase’s dad. It reads:
I’m sorry to have to write you like this. But there is a problem here, and I hope you can help.
Since you left, Chase has been depressed. It’s getting worse. I thought he might have a few days of feeling unhappy because you were gone, but it has turned into something more than that.
He is showing signs of major depression: not eating much, sleeping erratically, disinterested in most everything, and when I try to talk to him, he gets mad at me, no matter what I say. He swore at me today; he’s never done that before.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t want him to be medicated, and in this case, the reason for the depression seems pretty clear. You’re gone, and ever since, it’s affected him very seriously.
Troy, what I’d like is if you could see him. I think that would help. It might be the only thing that would help. So, would it be possible for you to visit us? Or, would it be possible for him to visit you?
I know you’re writing him. He has read some of your emails, but not all of them. Most of them are flagged as Unread on his computer. He doesn’t talk to me much and doesn’t respond to much of what I ask him, so I can’t really know what he’s feeling, or why he isn’t reading your email. I checked his Sent Mail and see he’s also not writing you. I think that shows you the state he’s in right now. He’s mad at me, maybe at you, maybe at the world in general.
Troy, I want my boy back. He’s always been so spirited and alive. This is killing me, seeing him so unhappy. Please answer this as soon as you can. I’m feeling quite desperate right now.
I read it three times. I begin to think my brain is in an overload condition. First, everything Dad had to say; now this.
According to Dad, I’m now potentially an accomplice in criminal activity. I think about that and decide I don’t have to be a criminal. It’s up to me; I can simply not lie when the police come. That means, of course, that Dad might get thrown in the clink, and in that case I’ll probably go live with the Gooding family, who I don’t think like me very much. But I know I can’t do that—give up Dad to the police—even though I feel a little resentment that he is obviously expecting me to lie for him, like it’s a given. He really isn’t giving me much choice.
But I know he’s mostly thinking about Carly. Everything he’s thinking and planning is about her. And when I think about that, it’s easy to go along with whatever he’s doing. I want her back, too. This isn’t about me. It’s about her—and Dad.
What about Chase? Well, that would be easy if it weren’t for what’s happening here right now. Dad will probably say no way to Chase coming for a visit, and I can’t leave. If I did, he’d be all alone with no buffer if the police came, and more practically, no one to fix meals, no one to talk to. He might not mind that last part, but I think it’s important someone is here to take his mind off Carly for at least a few minutes each day—to keep him grounded.
I have a lot to think about. Too much has been dumped on me all at once. So I do that; I lie on my bed and do some deep thinking.
All my life, I’ve been proactive when it comes to my problems. I meet them more than halfway. I think about Chase at the swimming-pool shower room. I think about playing basketball with Lindsey and what happened at the lake. I think about all the sports I’ve played.
I’m not one to sit back and let events run their course. It goes against my nature to do that. Dad’s looking for Carly. Chase needs help. And I seem to be a bystander in the biggest drama in my own life.
I lie in my bed and think and when I’ve thought enough, when I’m ready, I get up and go back downstairs.
I am on my way into town. Saying it that way ignores the drama that led up to it.
Dad was vehement. Chase couldn’t come here, and I couldn’t go there. He had good reasons why, too. Rational, logical, sensible arguments. Arguments I wasn’t buying.
“Dad,” I said, maintaining soft voice. I’d once read that he who raises his voice loses the argument. Maybe Confucius said it; he seemed to know a lot, and they probably had arguments back when he was doing his thing. I don’t know, but staying calm made sense to me. Get angry and you’re operating on emotion, not your head.
“Dad,” I repeated when I had his attention, “you’ve made your points. Now you have to listen to mine. Chase needs me. That’s important. That isn’t something to just ignore. He needs me. So there’s that.
“Also, it helps your case if the cops come here and you have a visitor, a young boy, staying here. How can you be involved in any sort of illegal activity if you’re hosting house guests?! His presence makes you look guilt-free.
“And, AND, you’re busy doing your thing, and it’s a good thing, but you’re doing it; it’s YOUR thing, and I’m not involved. I need something for ME to do, and Chase will serve that function. The only downside I can see is that he might see what you’re doing. But how can he? You work in a locked room! You only come out for meals! You barely talk to me. He won’t see what you’re doing; he’ll just think you’re crazy and ignore you!”
Dad started to object, and I forestalled him. I kept talking. “Look, Dad. You’ve had your way with everything that’s happened recently, including the move. This time, having Chase here makes good sense, and I’m going to invite him. That’s all there is to it.”
I glared at him. He looked back, but he had no more passion for the argument. I was being forceful, logical and, most importantly, stubborn. His focus was on what he was doing in that room. What happened outside, well, he didn’t have his heart in arguing about it with me. He opened his mouth, I kept glaring, and he finally said, “Whatever,” in a tone of voice to show he was pissed, and then he retreated into his room. I heard the lock click.
So I went upstairs and wrote to Mr. Gooding. I told him Chase could come, the sooner the better, and that I’d write Chase and invite him as soon as I finished with this email. I told Mr. Gooding I wouldn’t mention to Chase that this had been anything but my idea, but he’d have to make sure Chase saw the invitation. Also, because Chase wasn’t writing, he’d have to make sure I knew when and where to meet Chase.
After sending the email, I wrote one to Chase. I told him I missed him and invited him to come spend the rest of the summer with me. I told him it’d be good for me, that I needed him, that without his emails, I felt lost. I told him where we were and asked him to please come. And soon.
Then I called Lindsey on the phone. It was late, but I had her cell number, so the only one I’d disturb was her. She answered, and I told her I’d be coming over tomorrow morning and needed to talk to her about something important.
She asked what, and I said she’d know tomorrow. Nine o’clock. She said OK. She said it reluctantly. I could tell she was impatient to know. She didn’t like waiting. I hung up.
I felt good, after that, better than I had in a while. I was doing something. I was pushing my own agenda. I felt in control, as much as I could be in this situation. I wasn’t letting events run their course while I watched. I didn’t know how everything would play out, but having some control of my own destiny appealed to me, improved my comfort level. I felt like I’d moved from the back of the bus to the front.
The next morning, I was at Lindsey’s house—early enough that I was forced to eat waffles there. Well, ‘forced’ might be a little misleading. Mrs. Musso didn’t use a baking mix. She started them from scratch, and made the lightest, fluffiest, best waffles I’d ever had.
Lindsey and I went out behind the barn after that and sat with our backs against the wall. It was sunny as usual but with some fluffy white clouds breaking up the endless blue of the sky. Unlike how it usually was when we sat against the barn, we were both fully dressed today. Trevor had wanted to be with us. I’d taken him off to the side and told him he’d know what I was going to talk to Lindsey about soon enough but to please let me talk to her in private first; things were happening, and I needed to talk to her about them alone.
I think he liked the fact that I wasn’t treating him like a little kid. He said he had chores to do, anyway. I asked if the chores would require his hanging around the barn. He grinned at me, and I told him I would trust him not to eavesdrop. He didn’t say anything more, but crossed his heart with his index finger as he left. I indeed did trust him.
When Lindsey and I were sitting alone behind the barn, I got nervous. I’d never told anyone I was gay other than Chase, and he already knew. Now I was going to. But a part of me was reluctant, not out of fear of condemnation, but out of confusion. I really liked Lindsey. I couldn’t deny that.
“I have something to tell you and a favor to ask.”
“Yeah?” She was like no girl I’d ever known. She spoke more like a boy. Acted like one in many ways, too. She was very competitive, very sure of herself. Cute, too.
She wasn’t coquettish at all. She didn’t play games with me, other than teasing a bit, which isn’t what I meant by playing games. She was honest and outspoken, and I knew what she meant when she said things. Those were all qualities I liked.
Just like her response then. ‘Yeah,’ she’d said and just waited. No batting of eyelashes, no come-hither looks, no reaching out and touching my arm. Just ‘Yeah’. Pretty cool.
Now it was time to do it, and I was nervous. But this needed being done and fussing around with it just wasn’t my style and would gain me nothing. So I opened my mouth and began. “I have a friend. His name is Chase. We were really close before I moved. His father just sent me an email last night. Chase is having a difficult time adjusting to my leaving. His dad suggested he come visit me. So, I invited Chase. He’ll be coming very soon.”
She looked at me, and I could see her thinking. Then she turned away and looked out across the basketball court instead of at me. The tops of the trees, far off across the fields, were moving. There had to be a slight breeze, but I couldn’t feel it. I was happy the day was warm. It somehow made this easier.
Lindsey wiggled a little, scratching her back against the wooden siding of the barn. “And why is this piece of news so important that you had to call and tell me you were coming over and wanting to know that I’d be here?” she asked, not looking at me.
She was smart, which was part of why I liked her so much. She knew there was more to it than I’d just said. She was also nice; she didn’t come right out and ask any embarrassing questions. Instead, she left it up to me to go at my own pace; she was allowing me to tell this the way I wanted to.
“Well,” I said, having pushed back the inevitable as long as I could, “I need a favor and have to tell you something else.”
“I need a ride into town. He’ll come by bus, and I need to pick him up.”
She had her license and had told me her parents let her borrow their old farm truck whenever she wanted. I was hoping that she’d use that truck to teach me how to drive. I’d be 16 soon, and I could get a license when I was 16.
“And what’s the ‘something else’? I guess the ‘something else’ is why we’re sitting out here baking in the sun.”
“Yeah,” I said, then grinned at her, almost laughed. She could see right through me.
I was happy when she grinned back. I needed that, that sign of the closeness between us. It made this possible.
“This is hard,” I said, “but it doesn’t get any easier, putting off saying it. The fact is, Chase and I were closer than just friends. We’d done things together, things most boys don’t do; we were still doing those things together when we were broken apart by my Dad and me moving. It’s obviously been hard for Chase. His dad say’s he’s depressed. He wants Chase to come out here to see if being with me will snap him out of the depression.”
She didn’t say anything for a bit. Then she asked, “Are you telling me you’re gay?”
She’d turned to look at me when she’d asked. I liked that. I don’t know why, but I did. It made me feel like maybe she was going to accept this without too many reservations.
“Before I met you, yes, I thought we were both gay. Chase and I. But I like you. You know that. I can see in your eyes you know that. So right now, I guess I’m just confused.”
She looked away from me, and we both sat thinking for a few minutes. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. It was two kids, sitting together on a warm summer day, just thinking.
Then she said something I wasn’t expecting. “I’ve wondered if I am, too, sometimes.” I didn’t say anything, and she wasn’t looking at me. Her voice was softer than usual, less in your face. “I like sex—well, as much as I’ve done—but I’ve only done it with boys. Two boys, and you’re one of them. It feels good and is exciting. But I haven’t felt anything special when I’m doing it. Emotionally, I mean. Physically it’s great. But I think, from everything I’ve read, if you’re in love, you feel really special when you’re having sex. It’s felt good, and I always wanted to do it again, but I haven’t felt love. I’m pretty sure of that.”
She gave me a quick glance, to see my reaction, I guessed. I was looking at her, and I nodded, trying to be encouraging. So she continued, gaining confidence as she spoke. “I’ve had crushes on boys and girls, but I think that’s normal. Some of them have been pretty intense. Especially the ones that involved girls. I’d like to see what it’s like being with a girl. See if I feel more passion, more emotion.”
She stopped and there was silence again. But it was a time for truth. She’d made that clear. She’d also said all she had without any apparent nervousness, no twisting of her hair, no hesitation. She was so strong, so sure of herself, so without self-doubt.
I thought if she could say what she felt without embarrassment, so could I. “I know exactly what you mean. When we did what we did, you and I, it felt wonderful, and I felt really close to you, but I didn’t feel I was in love with you. There was something I had with Chase that was missing with us. But he wasn’t writing me, and that hurt, and I was starting to wonder if I’d imagined what we had between us. Now I know why he wasn’t writing, and I feel bad for doubting us.”
I stopped, then thought of something else. “I’m still not sure, you know. I did like what we did. I do like you an awful lot. What I feel for you feels like it could grow into love, what I imagine love would be. I actually have felt some of that, but it was for Chase. I think love grows. I don’t think it stays the same. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m still confused. But Chase is coming, and I’ll be with him if he’s OK with that. I wanted you to know.”
She reached over and took my hand. “You’re awfully mature for a guy of 15,” she said. I didn’t know how to answer that, so I didn’t.
The truck is old. It rattles and sways as Lindsey drives it at about 15 miles per hour over the bumpy dirt road. With the state the shocks are in, any faster and my head would be bouncing on the roof. We have to talk loudly to hear each other.
“So he’s only written to you once?”
“That’s been bothering me, but now at least I know why. I have a hard time picturing him like his father says he’s been. He’s so full of life, so high-spirited, always with a twinkle in his eyes. I fell in love with that twinkle. If he’s lost it, I’m going to do everything I can to get it back. It’s only been about a month. Less than that, even.”
“What’s he look like?”
“He’s smaller than I am. Well, so are most 15-year-olds, and we’re both that age. He’s about a month younger than I am. He’s got shiny black hair, cut pretty short, though not a brush cut. He combs it. Well, he does during the school year. He sort of forgets about it in the summer. I love his personality, his quick wit. I think he’s really cute, too; more than cute when he smiles. He’s very thoughtful at times, and then again, he gets funny ideas and doesn’t understand that there are risks involved in some of the things he gets us into.”
“He sounds like my type. You don’t mind if I steal him from you, do you?” She laughs and slows down because she knows the road, and I see there’s a dip in the road coming up.
“What are you going to do, seduce him at the lake? You planning on skinny dipping with him? I’ll be there, you know, and Trevor can show up at any time.”
“What, he’s the modest sort? I rarely wear anything when I swim there. I’m not a bit shy about my body. But I’ll admit, it might seem strange to have you, your friend and Trevor all looking at my svelte and pulchritudinous bod.”
“You can’t be both,” I say, ready to start an argument, but stop myself because there is something else more important to get established. “You’re forgetting something. Chase will be looking at my svelte bod, and I’ll be looking at his. Your equipment is interesting enough and I certainly enjoy looking at it, but, you know, it’s sort of lacking down there where it’s important. I don’t know who and what Trevor’ll be looking at. He sure gave me the once over, that first time.”
“You need to check a dictionary,” she says, giving me a superior look, not letting anything go that could be competitive between us. “But, given the choice of svelte bods to ogle, I’m sure Chase will choose mine. It’s a lot hotter than yours, and anyway, he’s already seen yours. He probably finds it boring by now.”
I laugh, then think of something. “You know, I hope we all will skinny dip while he’s here. I’ve really been wondering lately about whether I’m gay or if it was only something I felt when I was with Chase and it wasn’t really me. I think I am, but with you around... Anyway, having him there to look at, having you there, I think I’m going to know myself a lot better soon. Maybe I won’t feel so confused anymore.”
“Or maybe you’ll be even more confused,” she says, and that gets me thinking. Neither of us say anything else till we are on the highway and halfway to town.
Chase’s bus is due at 2:15 PM. We pull into the tiny parking lot next to where the bus loads and unloads. There really isn’t a station here at all. They sell tickets for the bus at a counter in a
drugstore. People then wait on the sidewalk outside the store for the bus, or inside the store if the weather is bad.
We don’t have to wait long. I can see the bus coming from down the street and get out of the truck. Lindsey joins me, and we walk to where the bus will unload its passengers.
Chase is the last one off. He must have been sitting in the rear. But maybe not. Only three other people get off. He could have been sitting anywhere.
He looks at me and I at him. My face is wearing as wide a smile as I’ve ever had. He sees the smile and sort of smiles himself. There isn’t much life in it. He looks... well, his clothes are rumpled, his hair barely brushed, and it doesn’t look like it’s been washed recently. When I rush to him to give him a huge hug, he smells like his hair isn’t the only thing needing to be washed.
His arms around me seem half-hearted. I let him go and take a step back. “I’m so happy to see you,” I say. He nods, but that’s it. There is no twinkle in his eyes. He barely meets my eyes before looking away.
I introduce him to Lindsey, and for the first time, I see a little spark of interest in his face.
I get his bag from the bus driver, toss it in the back of the truck, then slide in so I’m sitting in the middle. He gets in and shuts the door.
I talk to him driving home; he doesn’t say much. I ask him questions and get mostly one- or two-word answers. Questions that take more effort than that to answer, he doesn’t respond at all.
I tell him about the house, about the woods, about getting to know Lindsey, about Trevor. He seems to be listening, but I can’t really tell. He doesn’t look at me much.
I thank Lindsey when she drops us off. Chase slides out of the truck. Lindsey grabs my leg as I start to follow him. “Take care of him. He needs lots of support,” she says. I nod. And think how much I like her.