A week later, Jim was working in his office when his cellphone vibrated. He looked at it and saw Jordy was calling him.
“Hey,” Jim said after taking the call.
“Jim, this is Jordy.”
Jim chuckled. “Yeah, I know.”
“Oh, yeah. Duh. Well, I was wondering. I need a ride. The guy who usually takes me had to leave early, and I was late getting out of the shower. Most of the guys are already gone. You’re about done there, aren’t you? Can you swing by and get me when you’re through?”
“Sure. I can come now. See you in a few.”
“Great. I still have to get dressed. And the coach said he wanted just a quick word with me. You might be here before I get out. Wait at the curb in front of the gym. I’ll be there soon as. And thanks!”
Jim’s work was only a short distance from the school, and he pulled up to the curb not
expecting Jordy to be there yet. He wasn’t. Jim picked up some papers he’d been
reviewing when Jordy had called him; he’d brought with him to finish. Somehow, though, he
couldn’t concentrate on them. He set them back down and just looked out the car window,
waiting for Jordy and watching the few other kids who were still around that late after
He had something else on his mind, however. He was thinking about what Jordy had told him about his time in California. Listening to him talk, Jim had been pretty sure that he’d end up saying John had molested him. That Jordy had said he’d defended himself from the attempt was great, but it had left Jim unsure if that was really what had happened. He kept wondering: what if John had overpowered Jordy? Would Jordy have admitted it? Or would he have made up the version he told Jim to spare his dad’s feelings or because of shame? Jim wasn’t sure.
What if this had happened when Jordy was still 12? Maybe it had continued until Jordy was old enough to defend himself. Or maybe John had lost interest by the time Jordy had matured. Wasn’t that usually how it worked: child molesters were only interested in kids up to a certain age, and older kids weren’t what turned them on? Jordy had said it had worked the other way with John. Did that really make sense?
How would Jim ever know for sure? That was bothering him, but there was something else, too, nagging at him. It was that something about the story he’d been told simply didn’t ring true. Was it that Jordy had lied about not being molested? Or was it something else? Jim couldn’t put his finger on what it was that was bothering him, but there was something….
While he was musing, trying to think it through, he was watching the gym door where Jordy would come out. A few boys who were obviously football players were still trickling out. A few kids were still emerging from the school itself as well.
Jim saw three football players emerge from the gym together, the rambunctious kind who couldn’t seem to walk together without shoving each other, one trying to get a headlock on another, just playfully exercising what energy remained after practice. And then Jim saw something else.
From the school’s side door, a figure emerged and started down the walk toward the street, someone that Jim recognized: the busboy from Antonio’s—Tristan.
He was on a sidewalk that cut across the school lawn, running at an angle to meet with a similarly angled one coming from the gym, the one the three boys were on. The walks converged and led straight to the sidewalk running in front of the school. Jim could see from where the three boys now were, and at the pace they were moving, they’d soon meet up with Tristan. As he watched, Jim saw Tristan notice the three boys and stop. One of the boys, by far the largest of the three, a boy who had a thick mop of red hair sprouting from a very large head, saw Tristan. Jim saw him grab the arms of the other two and point to the boy.
Jim didn’t like the look on the red-haired boy’s face. He didn’t like Tristan’s body language or the way any of the three football players were acting. He opened his car door.
He was about 30 yards away. He closed the door and started walking towards where the boys all were.
The red-haired kid, quite obviously the leader of the three boys because he was the tallest and had been walking in the middle of the other two, walked over to Tristan and said something. Tristan took a step back, and the guy grabbed him by his shirt. The other two boys came up and moved to either side of Tristan, hemming him in. Each of the three boys surrounding him was considerably larger than Tristan.
The boy holding Tristan’s shirt gave him a shove, and Tristan fell down, landing hard and sprawling because of the shove. The other two boys reached down and yanked him to his feet. The tall boy moved in again.
Jim was jogging by then. He was ready to shout, but didn’t. He saw something that made him stop. The gym door had opened and someone had come through it. Jordy.
Jordy had seen what was happening, and instead of stopping and watching, he seemed to know what was going on immediately. He took off sprinting toward the group.
When he arrived, the tall boy had Tristan by the shirt again and was shaking him, yelling at him loudly enough that Jim, still yards away, could clearly hear every word.
“We don’t want you here. You’re a faggot, a cocksucker, and we don’t want your kind here. Go to some other school. We’re going to mess you up every day till you’re gone. Every time we see you. Like this.” He pulled back his arm, obviously intending to punch Tristan, which was exactly when Jordy arrived.
He grabbed the arm before it could come forward and yanked on it. That twisted the tall boy around so he was half-facing Jordy.
“That’s enough,” Jordy said. “Leave him alone.”
The tall kid yanked his arm away. Tristan, having been suddenly released, stumbled and fell down again. He stayed on the ground.
“What’re you, some kind of a fag, too?” The tall boy was still yelling. “We can deal with you the same way we did with him. We got no use for you, either.”
He took a glance back at his two friends. They were still standing where they’d been, back a couple of steps from the tall redheaded boy, suddenly looking undecided.
“You’re an asshole, Red, you know that?” Jordy was speaking. “I’m here, I’m staying, and I’m telling you, leave this kid alone.” Jordy’s voice wasn’t shaking at all. He wasn’t shouting. But his voice had a tone, a threatening tone, that told anyone hearing it that this wasn’t a boy to mess with. Jim had stopped, still a short distance away, and simply watched. If all three boys attacked Jordy, he’d be able to intervene. For now, he just wanted to see how this played out.
“You don’t tell me what to do!” The tall kid’s face was red, his hands were in fists, though at his sides, and he took a step closer to Jordy. “You gay, too? That why you’re sticking up for the fag? You gay?”
“Yeah, I am. So what?”
A huge grin showed on the tall boy. “I’ll show you what. I’ll show you how we deal with fags.” He took another quick look at his buddies. “Come on, guys,” he said, then raised his fists and stepped forward.
Jordy’s punch came so fast Jim didn’t even see him throwing it. He doubted the tall kid did, either. Jordy’s left fist crashed into the tall boy’s nose. Jim heard the crunch from where he was standing. That was followed by a right fist to the side of Red’s jaw, again lightning fast, and the boy crashed to the ground, splayed out and not moving.
Jordy looked over at the other two, both of whom seemed frozen in place behind the boy on the ground.
“You guys have his back? Or are you just idiots who hang around with him for some reason I can’t even begin to imagine?” Jordy was speaking in a voice Jim had never heard from him before. Nasty. Challenging. Totally without sensitivity. “You want to try me, I’m here. Come on. Show me who you are, what you got.”
The two guys looked at each other, and one of them said, “Idiots, I guess. I don’t have any problem with gay kids. He,” and he pointed to his prostrate buddy, “has a problem with everything and everybody. I’ve been wanting to break away from him for a while now; haven’t known how. This makes it easy. I’m done with him now.”
“Me, too,” said the other one. They looked down at their dazed former friend, then turned and walked off.
“Wait,” said Jordy, his voice still hoarse from adrenaline.
The two stopped and looked back. “You forgot to apologize to my friend here.” He pointed at Tristan, who was still on the ground looking shell-shocked.
“Oh, sorry, guy,” said the one who’d spoken first before. “Really. I don’t know why we went along with Red. We’re both sorry. Aren’t we, Arnie?”
His buddy was looking at Tristan, still lying on the ground. “Yeah,” he mumbled, never looking up. “Me, too.” It seemed to be a favorite phrase of his.
The one who’d spoken first extended his hand down to Tristan, and Tristan, taking a quick glance at Jordy first, took it and let the boy pull him to his feet.
The two then walked off, and Jordy moved Tristan’s side and asked, “You OK?”
Tristan had a pained look on his face. He looked at Jordy, then away. He seemed shy. “Yeah, I’m fine. Uh, thanks. No one’s ever stood up for me before. Thanks. Oh, I already said that.” Then he sort of gave Jordy a half wave, looking flustered, and started walking away. Except with the first step he almost went down, caught himself, tried another step, limped badly and stopped.
That was when Jim woke up. A door had been opened for him. He finally had the opportunity he’d been looking for. He rushed to Tristan’s side.
“Hi, Tristan. Remember me? From Antonio’s?” Jim smiled at him. Being a big guy, he was used to people finding him intimidating. He was used to talking the impression he made down to size.
Tristan looked up at Jim and recognized him. He nodded.
“Looks like you hurt your hip when that jerk knocked you down,” Jim said, turning to look at the redheaded boy. He was moving now, but not well. Jordy was looking over at Red, too, watching him. Jordy looked up when Jim glanced at him, and Jim noted Jordy’s expression. It was difficult for him to read, but Jim thought that if he wanted to interpret it that way, Jordy’s look might even have had a vestige of fear in it. But the boy’s overall appearance was more feral than anything else. Jim considered that perhaps he had yet to come down from and out of combat mode.
Jim turned away from him and back to Tristan. “How were you planning to get home?” he asked him, speaking softly, non-threateningly.
“Walking,” Tristan said, then frowned.
“Yeah, that’ll be hard. This is Jordy, the guy here who cleaned the clock of the kid who was bothering you; you met him the other night at Antonio’s, remember? He’s my son. How about letting him and me help you to my car? We can take you to the emergency room if you think your hip is bad, or to your house. Whatever you want.”
Tristan looked at Jim and didn’t say anything. This time, however, Jim had the impression that at least the gears in his head were meshing. He was thinking of what he wanted to say and finding it difficult.
“If you’d like,” Jim continued, seeing as how those choices didn’t seem to brighten Tristan’s day, “there’s another option. I could take you to our house where you could just rest, get an icepack on your hip, and see if a little time with that will settle things down.”
Tristan thought some more, then said, “I have to work tonight.”
“Not if your hip won’t allow it. Let’s get some ice on it; the sooner the better. Jordy,” Jim said, “you could help me here. If that guy on the ground isn’t going to die or anything, why don’t you leave him be and give me a hand with Tristan? We need to get him to the car.”
Jordy looked at Tristan, and Jim saw the feral look fade into something much softer. “You hurting?” he asked softly.
“Some,” Tristan admitted.
“Come on, let us help you,” he said. “How you want to do this? You could put one arm around both Dad’s and my shoulders and we could walk you there.”
Tristan looked at him, then at Jim. Jim was really tall, Jordy just an inch or so shorter, and Tristan was only about five-feet six, if that. He looked, then looked again, and for the first time ever that Jim had seen, he almost smiled. “I think you’d have to get on your knees,” he said. “Both of you,” and Jim laughed.
“Then let’s do it like this,” Jordy said, and reaching down, gathered Tristan in his arms, picked him up in the manner of a groom carrying a bride across the threshold, and started toward the car, carrying him. Tristan’s weight didn’t appear to strain him at all. Jim guessed Tristan probably weighed something like 125 or 130 pounds, but Jordy just picked him up and apparently did so effortlessly.
Jim just watched for a step or two. All sorts of thoughts were running through his head.
At Jim’s house, Jordy carried Tristan into the living room and set him on the couch. Jim went into the kitchen. He took two plastic grocery bags from the drawer where he kept them, put one inside the other, then filled them halfway with ice cubes. He squished the air out of the top, then doubled the plastic over itself and tied it off with two twist ties so no melted water could seep out. He found a clean dishtowel and took everything into the living room.
“Put this against your hip for twenty minutes, holding it in place with the towel so you won’t freeze your hand,” he told Tristan. “If you need more time with it, do it again after waiting a few minutes.” Tristan did as instructed, holding the bag against the jeans he was wearing.
“Jordy, why don’t you give us just a few minutes of privacy? Maybe you could go in the kitchen and make us all some nibbles.”
Jordy nodded and left. Jim repressed a smile. He knew it would be easy for Jordy to overhear what he was going to say to Tristan.
Jim sat down in a chair next to the sofa so he was speaking to Tristan but toward the kitchen as well. He looked at Tristan and didn’t speak until the boy looked up at him. Jim wanted Tristan to be able to read his eyes and the compassion Jim knew was evident in them. He knew it was there because he felt it so strongly.
Tristan did look up for a moment, then down again. His sadness was apparent, and there was an extra quality there now. Uncertainty, probably. Or maybe pain.
“Tristan,” Jim said, “I don’t know whether what those boys said about you was true or not. But I want you to know, a lot of people don’t care about that. A few years ago it was different, but things have been changing. Most kids in high school now accept different sexualities. Sex Ed has helped with that, society has become more enlightened, and the number of gay boys coming out has helped change attitudes. Kids have seen for themselves that the kids who are gay are just like everyone else: good kids, kids who want the same things they do. It’s made a big difference.”
Tristan didn’t appear to be ready to respond, to say anything at all, so Jim just continued on. “A lot of adults are like that, too. Very supportive. I’m like that. I look at who a boy is, what his character is, not who he finds attractive. Why would that matter to me?
Jim paused briefly, wanting to make sure that had sunk in. He continued in an emphatic voice. “But I do have a hang-up. I want boys to be happy. As happy as I was when I was a teen. That’s a glorious time of your life if you’re happy. An awful one if you’re not, and it just makes it worse as you see all the other kids around you enjoying life. And you, Tristan, don’t seem happy to me. Ever since I first saw you, the most obvious thing about you is that you’re sad.”
Still silence. Tristan wasn’t meeting Jim’s eyes at all now.
“I don’t know whether you’re gay. If you are, and that’s what is making you sad, I’d love to talk to you about it. If you’re not gay, if it’s something else, I’d love to talk about that, too. It drives me nuts, seeing how sad you are! Your boss sees it, too. He loves having you in the restaurant. He wants the same thing I do: for you to be happy.
“Look, I can’t force you to talk to me. Or to trust me. But I can tell you, I’m here. I’m on your side, whatever it is. If ever you need me, I’ll be available. I’ll give you my phone number. Call it if you need to. If you want to. I want you to be happy.”
Tristan was still looking down at the couch cushions.
“That’s all,” Jim said, standing up. “No more unwanted lecture.” He chuckled. “I’ll leave you alone for a while and go see what Jordy’s screwing up in the kitchen.”
That said, he walked into the kitchen. Jordy was getting some carrots and celery and raw broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces and placing them on a plate that already was supporting a cup of onion dip. He looked up when Jim walked in. Jim again saw a fleeting shadow cross Jordy’s face.
So it wasn’t just California, Jim thought. But he had a good idea now what else might have been bothering Jordy. “I’m going to talk to you, too, when we’re alone,” Jim said, then reached out and gently squeezed Jordy’s arm.
Jim replenished the ice as needed during the periods Tristan held the icepack on his hip. Jim hoped it was reducing or at least minimizing the swelling. He finally asked the boy to try standing. Tristan did and took a couple of cautionary steps. His limp was still pronounced, but he said it was much better. Jim told him if he iced it up again at home, he’d probably be close to normal by tomorrow. He asked him if he had any ibuprofen at home. Tristan shook his head, so Jim gave him what was left of his bottle and told him to take two every four hours, which should also help.
It was obvious, even to Tristan, that he couldn’t be on his feet much with his bruised hip and limp, so going to work wasn’t feasible. Jim asked him if he’d like to eat dinner with him and Jordy and suggested the three of them go to Antonio’s. Tristan had to think about that. Finally, he said no, but Jim could hear it was a difficult no for him to say. So, he looked up at Jordy.
“Know what? You think you and I could manhandle him a bit, rough him up some? You maybe could get him in a head lock? I maybe could grab his legs? Together, we could wrestle him into the car and take him to the restaurant, him fighting us all the way, of course. We get him there, could you force feed him if he gives us any grief about eating a decent meal?” Jim laughed, and Jordy joined in.
They turned to Tristan. It was Jordy who asked, “Please? We’d both like it. And you’ve got to be hungry.”
“We would like you to come with us,” Jim added softly.
Jordy then spoke before Tristan could answer. “Please? I’d like to get to know you. Dad told me we’re both sophomores at school, and I’m new. I don’t know many kids yet, don’t have any real friends. Getting to know you would be great.”
Tristan was at least looking at him. He obviously didn’t like to make eye contact with Jim, maybe not with most people, maybe just not with adults, but he had less of a problem with Jordy. Now, he looked back and forth at Jordy and Jim, then finally said, “OK.”
Jim held back on letting out a whoop. He just smiled. It was a beginning. Maybe he really would be able to help this kid and find a way to erase the sadness from his eyes.
“You’d better call home and tell them you’ll be eating with a couple of friends tonight and will be home after dinner,” Jim told him as they were about to take off for Antonio’s.
“Don’t have to,” Tristan said, and then his shutters snapped shut, closing him off completely.
It was painful to watch Tristan limp his way to the car. After only a couple of steps, Jordy just swooped in and picked him up again. He carried him to the car and got him seated in the back seat. When Jim could see Tristan again after Jordy had stood back up, he could see the kid was blushing.
“Jordy, could you come here just a second?” Jim called to him. “Tristan, we’ll just be a minute.”
When Jordy walked back to Jim, he led the boy back into the house and shut the door. “Jordy,” he said, “I heard what you said to Red and those guys. I know you heard what I said to Tristan; I said it so you would hear it. And everything I said to him was true. I don’t care if you’re gay, if you are. Whether what you said to Red was true or not, I don’t care. I love you, Jordy. If you’ve been worrying about my finding out you’re gay, don’t. Take those worries and toss them to the winds.”
Jim saw relief in Jordy’s eyes. Jordy reached out, grabbed his father, and hugged him. “If I’d lost you, I wouldn't have had anywhere to go,” he said, not releasing the hug, speaking into Jim’s ear. “I was sure you’d be OK with it, but I wasn’t sure enough to take that big a risk. Yeah, I can stop worrying about it now.” He squeezed Jim. Damn, this kid was strong, Jim realized.
“You know,” Jim said, having thought about it, “I think it would help Tristan if you talked a little about yourself when we’re eating together. Tell both him and me what you’ve been through the past few years. If you can, maybe it’ll help him. He’s got problems, that’s obvious. I don’t think he has anyone to help him, maybe not even anyone he can talk to about them. If he hears you opening up, well… Do you feel comfortable doing that? I don’t want to bring it up if you aren’t.”
“Yeah, I can do that. I was only worried about you finding out. I’m usually pretty open about everything. It’s a load off my mind being out to you, not having to hide myself.”
They went back to the car and drove the short distance to Antonio’s. Tony was at the front desk and immediately showed his concern for Tristan as he limped in. Jordy had offered to carry him, but Tristan had pleaded with him not to. He obviously had some pride and in his mind at least, would rather limp and suffer what pain that caused than be humiliated by being carried in by a boy his own age.
Jordy gave Tristan a shoulder for support, and he made it to Jim’s usual booth without other help. Tony came with them and was solicitous. It was easy to see he cared about Tristan, too.
Jim was glad that their setting was as private as it was. If the conversation they were going to have, made easier by food and drink, went as he hoped it would, they were going to need that privacy.