I found I was spending more time with Evan. Just as I’d developed a chemistry with Nick, I had with Evan, too, but the molecular formulae were different. I felt avuncular towards Nick. I was feeling something much different with Evan.
I’d told him I was gay, and I hadn’t lied. But my attraction to boys and men had always been of the crush variety, short-lived and easily forgotten. My feelings for Evan were becoming more than that.
I was in Fox in my bed one morning after all the boys had scattered. I was thinking about love and about Evan when the door opened. I peeked through mostly closed eyelids to see who it was.
“Hey, kid!” I said, sitting up.
“I need to talk to you,” Colley said.
“Great. But talking works better outside in the warm air and bright sun. Let me get my boots on, and we can take a hike and talk. Wait for me outside.”
So I got shod, then joined him, clapped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him along as I started walking toward a path into the woods. I’d been thinking of doing this with Evan, but Colley would do as well for company, and he’d come to me. The trail led to the top of one of the hills on the island, then down the backside and around back to the camp.
Colley walked with me without saying anything till we were deep in the woods. The only noise we could hear was our own shoes crunching leaves and twigs on the path and our own breathing.
Colley eventually stopped, so I did, too. “What’s on your mind?” I asked.
“I want to talk to you, but, well, you know, talk like we were both adults. Not like an adult talking to a kid, not really saying what we want to know.”
“Is that what we do?” I asked, assuming an air of great indifference and nonchalance.
“See?” he said. Except he wasn’t smiling.
“Okay, okay, bad time for a joke. I’ll take this seriously, even if that isn’t my best thing. Go ahead.”
Now that he had my attention, he hesitated. I could see it was hard for him. It took him a moment but he finally looked up and said, “You like Nick, don’t you?”
“Wait a minute! I like all you guys.”
“Yeah, I know you do. Not like Nick, though.” I think he saw the expression on my face, so he hurried on. “I don’t mean like that. You don’t look at him like Rad looks at Zach. You look at him like he was a little brother who needs your love and protection.”
I was startled. “Really? I had no idea I did that. Or that anyone was looking.”
“I was. I watch everything in Fox. This is the greatest summer I’ve ever had, being with all these guys. And with you, too.”
I decided to take a chance. I hadn’t really wanted to be involved in anything personal with any of these guys unless they started it. Well, he seemed to be starting it.
“Really?” I said, acting as surprised as I actually was by that statement. “Your best summer ever? You don’t seem to be all that happy. While you’ve been watching us, I’ve watched all of you, and you, well, you haven’t looked happy, really happy like I thought you’d be since the first couple of days here. I thought you’d be a loosey-goosey kid, sort of how I was back then, but . . .” I tapered off, opening the door for him to say what was on his mind.
He looked down, then slowly raised his eyes to mine and abruptly changed the subject. “At home, they all think I’m gay. My dad’s brother is gay, and since I haven’t been talking about girls at all, they’ve started assuming I’m like Uncle Jack. I haven’t liked that. I never considered myself gay. Yeah, I don’t talk about girls. I’m 12! Most of my friends don’t talk about girls, either. Jeez!”
To me, it sounded like maybe we were getting to why he’d wanted to talk. I did the smart thing: I kept my mouth closed, letting him go on. Worked a charm, as it invariably does.
“I had crushes in school, growing up, like everyone. I had them on boys and girls. Anyone I found attractive. That’s how crushes work, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I never thought about it that way. It seems to me to have something to do with chemistry. But you might be right. At least it worked that way for you.”
I started walking again. I think I have too much energy. Just standing still, even if I’m talking, gets old pretty quickly for me. He walked with me.
“Yeah, that’s how it worked for me. And I’d always get over them, usually pretty quickly if I got to know them a little better. Knowing someone means you see their personality, and that’s much different from their appearance.”
I laughed. “You’re sure you’re only 12?”
He grinned, which I liked to see. He was being so serious! He was a lot cuter when he grinned. Isn’t everyone, though?
“Don’t get me sidetracked,” he said. “I’m going somewhere with this.”
“Yeah. Well, I never got to the point where the appearance meshed with a personality. That ended the crush. I guess I was pretty shallow.”
“Not shallow. Just hadn’t met the right person,” I interjected.
“Yeah. Maybe. Well, anyway, as I was saying, I never thought I was gay. I never thought about it all that much, to be honest. Then they sent me here, and most of the boys here are either gay or questioning. And here, I met someone who’s got a personality I can’t get enough of and whose appearance has me hard half the time.”
He looked at me after saying that. I needed to respond. “I told you I’ve been watching you. I never saw that.”
He grinned again. “I’m waiting for a growth spurt.”
I laughed. This was the confident, funny Colley I’d been looking for all along.
He continued. “Anyway, he’s a boy, and I’m just in awe. If you’ve seen me looking odd and not happy and all that, well, have you ever been in love? And not known what to do about it? It hurts, man. It really hurts! He’s all I can think about, and he’s into his own stuff, and I can’t talk to him about this. What if I did and he told me to back off? That he doesn’t feel the same way at all and doesn’t want anything to do with me? What then?”
“So you now think you’re gay? Is that part of what’s bothering you?”
“No! It’s him that’s bothering me. If he likes me at all, I couldn’t care less if I was the gayest boy in the world.”
I stopped again, saw a fallen tree off the path a few steps, and walked over to it and sat down, patting the trunk next to me for him to take advantage of. I spoke, trying to be wise. Always a difficult thing for me.
“Colley, you’re describing everyone in the world’s nightmare when they’re experiencing first love. Yeah, it’s painful as all get-out. It’s hard, and trying to get through it, understand it, enjoy it can be just as difficult as catching lightning in a jar. But it can be as wonderful as that, too.
“I know one thing for sure, though: it doesn’t get any better if you just sit back and suffer through it. You have to do what everyone but the meekest cowards do: suck it up and speak to him. Yeah, you might get rejected, but if you do, you won’t have wasted any more time dreaming about him. And if you don’t, if his eyes light up and he says he feels the same way about you, then you won’t have wasted any more time alone that could have been spent together.”
He was looking down. I continued.
“I know it’s hard. It’s hard for everyone. That fear of rejection is very real. Sooner or later, though, everyone does something when they’re going through what you are, or does nothing and feels lonely and bitter thereafter. Which are you going to be: recklessly adventurous or lonely? The first sounds a lot better to me, and it’s the one that’ll make you feel good about yourself even if it doesn’t work out.”
He didn’t say anything, just sat thinking. I knew it wasn’t easy. I put my arm around his shoulders again, just like when we’d started this journey together. I could feel the tension in him.
Young love. What a painful experience that is.
“You want to tell me who it is?” I asked. “Only if you want to. It’s your business, not mine.”
He looked over at me, a slight smile on his face. “You sure aren’t very demanding of us, are you, David?”
“I think kids should have their privacy, that’s all.”
“We’re 12! Since when do adults think 12-year-olds should have any privacy?”
“Since they made me king of you guys, I guess. I know I had things to hide when I was 12. Things that would have embarrassed me. I distinctly remember how I hated to be embarrassed at that age.”
“Well,” he said, hesitating as he was thinking it through. Then he blurted out, “he’s an older guy. I don’t know . . . ”
“Don’t know what?”
He shook his head. “Don’t know if I should say anything. What if you don’t approve? That would hurt.”
“Then don’t tell me. That’s easy.”
“No, it isn’t. I want to tell you! But I want you to approve. I guess I want you to tell me you think I have a chance with him.”
“It’s up to you, Colley. I’m here for you if you need me, but it’s up to you.”
He sighed. “I don’t know. What if you say I’m being silly?”
I chuckled. “Colley, you’re getting yourself into a state. You’re wondering all sorts of things when all you have to do is be brave enough to believe in yourself. Is this older guy a lot older? Is he out of your league? Is this dream realistic—or a complete fantasy?”
“Arrrrgh!” he said. “I don’t know! All I know is I think about him all the time, and if I don’t seem like I’m all that happy, or as carefree as you thought I was, that’s why. I see him all the time, see how nice he is, and think about him. I can’t think about anything else.”
“See him all the time? Older? Not a fantasy? Nice? Hey!” The light dawned. “You’ve fallen for Sam?”
He looked scared, then defiant, then moony. He sighed a deep sigh and blushed. “Sam,” he said, drawing out the word, and I could see his thoughts run off somewhere else, and it was like I was no longer there.
“Sam,” I said. “Older man. Hah! He’s what, six or seven months older? That’s nothing. And believe me, you have a chance with him. I’ve seen him noticing you. He looks at you more than anyone else in the cabin. That might be because your cot is next to his, but it might be that his eyes are just drawn there. You have to grow a pair, Colley! Talk to him.”
“You think I have a chance? Really?”
“A chance? Sure. More than a chance, I think. There’s only one way for you to find out for sure, though.”
We were quiet again, walking back to camp. Funny how easy it is to give advice and how hard it is to follow it yourself.
§ § § §
I spent some time each day watching Nick and Dillon work on the Franck. It was an education—and often hilarious—though I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from showing that. They argued like bantam roosters.
“Hey, don’t slow down there! Dammit! We’ve been building from a mezzo piano to a forte for twelve measures. Slowing down takes the drama out of it just when it should be peaking.”
Nick was shaking his head. “No, this is where the violin carries the piece. You’re just secondary here—as usual. I decide the tempi. Just follow my lead.”
“Like hell! This is a joint effort or it’s nothing. We have to agree, and you’re just about impossible to agree with. On anything!”
“That’s because I know what I’m doing here and what works! You’re just learning this piece. Save yourself some embarrassment: listen to the violin and just play along!”
“That would be like eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup and leaving all the noodles in the bowl. You need the broth and the noodles together; otherwise, you’d be missing all the glory.”
I had to leave the cabin after that one. Sometimes it was impossible to hold the laughter back. What made it so funny was how serious both guys were. They meant what they said, and neither would give an inch.
I also noted that with all the arguing, there was no name-calling, no personal attacks. Very strange. It was all about the music.
But the music! The music they made was incredible. When they stopped arguing and just played, that is. For two 12-year-olds to put the feelings and nuance they did in the music they played was something I’d never heard before, and I’d heard an awful lot of kids that age playing in my mother’s studio.
The thing was, they did listen to each other’s arguments, even when pooh-poohing whatever their partner was saying. I knew this because I heard each of them changing what they were doing to comply with what had been said. They were compromising. And the music they were making was glorious.
§ § § §
One day, after I’d left them and was mostly back in the camp commons, I heard them coming down the trail behind me, bickering up a storm. I decided to step off the trail and let them pass without knowing I was there. I wanted to hear more, but incognito, and it was hard to do that when I was ahead of them. So I moved behind a bush and let them go by. I enjoyed their arguing all the way back to camp without either of them aware they had an audience.
Nick had begun the verbal combat with Dillon only regarding the music they were making. That combat had grown now; they seemed to disagree about everything that came up. Just then they were arguing about which book was better: Code of Silence or Four Secrets. I’d never heard of either of them, but each of them had obviously read both, and they were each supporting their own choice tooth and nail. This was a Nick I’d never thought possible. He was holding his own with a very confident boy his age who liked to argue. I loved it!
When they reached the main campus and were headed toward the mess hall, I saw a boy walk up to Dillon, one I recognized as being a fellow Wyandot.
He stopped in front of them, looked at Nick, then asked Dillon, “Who’s this?”
“This is Nick, if it’s any of your business, Gary,” Dillon answered, a little unnecessarily aggressively, I thought.
Gary turned back to Nick, looked him up and down again, then spoke to Dillon. “The one you’re always on about? He don’t look like much to me.”
I saw Nick’s eyes drop, his shoulders droop, and Dillon step out a pace, putting himself slightly in front of Nick. He stared Gary down. “Get the fuck out of our faces, Turdbreath,” he said, as nasty as I’d ever heard him speak.
Gary stood his ground for a moment, then turned and walked off.
“Loser,” Dillon muttered. Then he turned to Nick. “Sorry about that. Gary has—or maybe had, now—a crush on me. I’m gay, and so’s he. We’re all gay in Wyandot. I think, seeing us together, he was just jealous.”
Nick looked back up, meeting Dillon’s eyes. “Are we together?” he asked softly.
Dillon smiled at him, one of the few times that had happened. “Damn right we are,” he said.
Nick was silent, and they started again toward the mess hall. I trailed behind. When they’d almost reached the steps, I heard Nick say, “You don’t have to protect me. I don’t want you to. I do fine by myself.”
“Sorry,” Dillon replied. “But I have to be me, and I stand up for the people I like.”
“You can’t like me,” Nick argued, stopping and half turning toward Dillon. I stopped, too, still behind them, but now able to see both their faces in profile. “Everything I say, you disagree with.”
“So? So do you, and you like me.”
Nick paused, then said in a scoffing voice, “Hah! You wish.”
But he smiled when he said it. It was the broadest, least worried or tentative smile I’d ever seen on him.
§ § § §
Reggie asked me to see him after dinner one night. I went into his private cabin and found him reading a book.
“Grab a seat,” he said. “How about something to drink?”
I would have loved a beer but didn’t know if alcohol was allowed on the island, so said, “A glass of water would be fine.”
He gave me a strange look but got a bottle of water out of his ‘fridge and tossed it to me. He sat back down.
“Just wondering how it was going. The other counselors come to me for advice. I’ve only seen you in the mess hall. How are your kids doing? How are you doing? Do you need any help with anything?”
“Things are great! I’m having a great time. My boys are, too. They’re all doing their own thing, and I’m staying out of their way for the most part but checking on them now and then, keeping tabs, you know?”
“Well, good. I, uh . . . well, I just was wondering.”
Something was going on! It wasn’t like Reggie to act embarrassed or unsure of himself. Now, he was almost blushing and not meeting my eyes.
Then it came to me. Well, what it might have been.
“So,” I said, meeting my supposition head on, “what have you been hearing?”
Reggie sat up a little straighter, giving me the impression he wasn’t going to beat around the bush. “I just got the idea that maybe your campers weren’t as involved in everything that’s available for them here. That’s all.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Well, they’re happy, they’re spending their time doing what they want to do this summer, and I sorta thought that’s what we wanted for them. Happiness.”
He nodded, now looking straight at me. “Good. Okay, then.”
“Can I guess where you ‘got the idea’ from? It didn’t happen to come from, oh, let’s say, Luther, did it?”
“Now why would you think that?” Reggie asked.
“And why wouldn’t you say either yes or no?”
He laughed, taking some of the bite out of my bark. “Okay, yes, Luther mentioned it to me.”
“And it’s true,” I acknowledged. “But they love it here. They love the summer they’re having. One just told me the other day that this is his best summer ever. And if they’re not mingling with the other boys in camp to the same extent some of the other cabins are, it’s their choice. They come to the evening campfire. They join in when they’re there. Do you want them to do something different?”
“Now don’t start getting defensive! But I like this mother hen feeling you’re showing.” He laughed.
I did too. “You’re right: I do feel protective towards my guys. And you know, I’ve been thinking about something. An idea I need to bounce off you.”
“Okay. Go ahead.”
“These boys are doing great here. They’re not only having fun, but they’re showing some personal growth. My idea is, as great as this is for them, having them back for another year, next summer, might be even more important. They’re just coming into their sexuality now. They’ll be further along in that development in another year. For some, they’ll be doing well. For others, they’ll be feeling fear and separation because of their awareness that they’re gay. These boys are mostly 12-year-olds, many of them are still little boys and haven’t felt what they will in a year’s time. For the most part, they haven’t encountered the intolerant portions of society yet either.
“I think what you have here, this insular setting, would be just perfect for them at that point. They’ll know the place, they’ll feel safe, they’ll know many of the returning campers. It’ll be just what they’ll need to help them come out of the shell they’ve formed around themselves in the months after they leave here this summer. What do you think?”
He was staring at me, his eyes unreadable. But they were bright and intelligent as always. I could read that he was thinking about what I’d said. Then he stood up, walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge. He came back to his couch with a beer. Just one. Drat! Probably got the idea I didn’t like beer.
“You know, David, you called me a, what was it, ah yes, a dyed-in-the-wool do-gooder. I kind of liked that. And now I can call you the same thing, and maybe you’ll deny it. You seem not to think that highly of yourself for some reason. But that label fits you just as snuggly as it does me. And your idea? I love it. We’ll have to talk it over, but yes, it’s a great idea, and I see no reason why we can’t do it!”
§ § § §
Summer was coming to an end. Only a few more weeks and I’d be entering U of M, the boys would all be back to their own middle schools, and the dream world I’d been living in would be over. I’d had no idea I’d enjoy myself as much as I had. No idea I’d bond with a bunch of very young boys so thoroughly.
I was still making the rounds every day, visiting each boy as he let his muse inspire him. Zach and Rad still danced and exercised and did whatever they did in the nude. I only stayed a few minutes with them each day, peeking in their back window. I didn’t ever see them aroused again; I simply saw them being great friends and pushing the other to be the best dancer and/or actor he could be. In the nude. They were very attractive lads!
Now that Colley had spoken to Sam and Sam had spoken back, those two were together all the time. Where Colley would go to set up his easel, that’s where I’d find Sam, too. I did hide myself from them. I admired Colley’s painting. He was awfully good. Sam didn’t share his writing with me but did with Colley. I knew that because as I was leaving, Sam would start reading to Colley something he’d done and frequently Colley would burst out laughing.
I spent time with Nick and Dillon, too. I think they liked me there, perhaps because I complimented them on their playing so encouragingly. They’d moved on from only practicing the Franck. Dillon told us he had a thing for Broadway show tunes and had got Nick to play some with him. Nick had basically taught himself to play by watching and listening to classical music on YouTube. He knew how to listen, then reproduce what he’d heard. So if Dillon played just a single-note melody line, Nick could easily reproduce it, and then they could play together. Some of the stuff they played sounded good enough to me that they could go on the road together. I’d find myself humming along, or even voicing the words to the songs I knew, and there were several of those.
So all in all, things were going very well. Fox was a happy place.
And then it all blew up.
Code of Silence
Book by Tim Shoemaker
Available at Amazon.com
Book by Margaret Willey
Available at Amazon.com