It’s funny how your life can change in an instant. One event can change everything that comes after.
That moment arrived for Randy Austin Taylor, affectionately known as “Rat” to his friends at Denton Academy, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon during his fifth period Geometry class on May 16, 1978.
He was summoned to the office by one of the girls who worked there. His anxiety was heightened by the way she spoke quietly to his teacher and looked at him sideways. That look spoke volumes.
As he took the long walk to the office he tried to think of anything he might have done to merit the attention of Vice Principal Maxwell. His primary duty was to tend to disciplinary matters at the Academy which he did with gusto. A large paddle nicknamed Old Hickory with which he tended to such matters was prominently displayed in his office.
When he arrived at the main office, he was greeted warmly by the school secretary Mrs. Shannon and was directed to Principal Van Zant’s Office. For a moment he felt better about matters. Van Zant never bothered with disciplinary matters except in his own Civics and Texas History classes. His role was “good cop” in contrast to Maxwell.
Everything changed when he walked into Van Zant’s office.
Mr. Van Zant was sitting behind his desk with a somber expression.
Sitting in chairs around the room was his father’s law partner Brad Miloy, a uniformed Texas Ranger and the school nurse, Shelly McBride.
Van Zant rose and said, “Randy, please take a seat. I’m afraid we have the worst kind of news for you.”
Randy’s mind was racing as he sat down in the big chair.
Brad Miloy said, “Get hold of yourself, Randy. This is as bad as it gets. I got here as soon as I could.”
Randy was really shaken up by this point and said, “What has happened?”
The Texas State Trooper said, “I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this son. Today at a little past one, your mother and father were headed north to Denton on I-35 when traffic slowed for construction. They were rear ended and killed instantly by a tractor-trailer.”
There was a pause for a moment as Randy processed the information. There was nothing to say or do. A single tear rolled down his face.
Miloy said, “Your father had a plan in case of emergency. You and your older brother are well taken care of. We have your grandparents from Mississippi flying in. We have someone picking them up at the airport, and they will be here by seven. We have someone from the Houston Office on the way to contact your brother at Texas Tech.”
Randy said, “What is going to happen?”
Miloy’s voice cracked when he spoke, “Some of it your dad had planned out. Other decisions will have to wait until your grandparents arrive.”
Randy nodded. Being fifteen going on sixteen, he knew that much of what was going to happen was out of his hands, and none of it was real for him yet.
Miloy spoke again, “Randy, your father was my best friend since we were kids younger than you are now. We built up the firm together. I will make sure that you… don’t go through this alone.”
Tears were rolling down Miloy’s cheeks. In an instant Randy remembered all of the times that he and his Dad had spent with Brad Miloy and his son Lee, of the hunting trips, football games, baseball games, fishing and skiing out West. He remembered how much his father and Brad had acted just like bigger kids and he knew: Brad had lost his best friend too. He wasn’t alone with his loss.
They hugged and sobbed and Randy lost track of time.
Everything seemed to blur. Mr. Miloy took Randy to his home in Lewisville. When they arrived, June Miloy and her son Lee both hugged Randy fiercely.
Randy was drifting. He knew he was probably in shock. People were talking and things were happening but it was like he wasn’t even there.
He realized he had zoned out for a bit and then forced himself to come back. There were things he had to do. He asked, “Mrs. Miloy, if I’m staying here for a few days, I need to go home and pack up a few things. Could Lee drive me up?”
She said, “Are you sure? Going back in that house is going to hit you hard.”
“I’ve got to do it. It’s not like I can borrow stuff from Lee. He’s three times my size.”
She said, “OK, just be careful.” She rummaged in her purse and came up with a twenty. “Stop by that barbecue place y’all like and pick us up some supper.”
Before Lee could get out of the kitchen she said quietly, “Take care of him Lee. When he goes back into that house….”
Lee nodded and followed Randy outside.
Lee’s truck was a big blue Chevy—a few years old but in great shape. He fired it up and headed north toward Denton. The radio was on a local album rock station and they caught Van Halen’s You Really Got Me Now right in the middle. The next song was Dust in the Wind by Kansas.
Randy said, “You mind? I really can’t handle Kansas right now.”
Lee nodded and hit his pre-set and caught a Rangers game.
They drove in a tense silence. Randy’s mind was a million miles away. Lee had his own struggle to say and do the right thing and avoid the all the wrong things. The pair had been friends since they were both little despite Lee being a year and some months older.
All he could think to do was to reach out with his right arm and put it around Randy’s shoulder. Apparently it was the right thing because Randy leaned into him.
It took about twenty minutes to get to the Taylor residence. It was a big two story on a hill surrounded by ten acres of scrub oak and fields.
Randy caught himself looking for his Dad’s car.
It hit him in the kitchen. His mother had dinner thawing out. There was a note on the counter for him to put something in the oven. The tears blinded him, and he lost it. All his composure and bravery collapsed.
When Randy gathered his wits, he was on the sofa and Lee was holding him as he sobbed. It occurred to him this was a gentler, more sensitive and mature side of Lee than he had ever seen.
The crisis passed, and Randy gathered himself. “Thank you, Lee.”
Lee simply nodded and let go of his friend. “Tell me what you need.”
Randy said, “Clothes, toothbrush… stuff like that.”
Lee stood and headed for the stairs, and Randy reluctantly followed.
When Randy walked into his room it felt strange. All of his stuff was kids’ stuff. The Dallas Cowboys poster signed by Danny White, the Texas Rangers bat, the Texas Longhorns poster with an Aggie dangling from the horn were all a part of his childhood that had just abruptly ended.
He reached into his closet and pulled out a duffle bag he used to take his clothes to summer camp and an overnight bag he used for short trips.
Lee asked, “Can I help?”
Randy sighed and said, “This is something I’ve just got to do for myself. I know where everything is.”
“Bet I know where most of it is.”
Randy grinned and said, “Come to think of it, you probably do.”
It took them about fifteen minutes to load up Randy’s bags.
When they were almost finished, Randy said, “I think we’re going to need a few of these.”
He pulled a cigar box out of his closet and opened it revealing a number of airport liquor bottles. He said, “Dibs on the Canadian Club. What do you want, Lee?”
“There’s a Jack and an Evan Williams. We can’t get too sloshed, or my mom will beat us both to death.”
Randy said, “I can’t imagine a more appropriate day for a drink.” Just outside Lee’s sight, Randy put two bottles of Johnny Walker in his kit. He knew that it was Lee’s favorite, and he wouldn’t ask for it.
Lee said, “No shit. We’ll just have to wait until later. Is there anything else?”
Randy thought hard for a moment and said, “Yeah. My dad left me something in case of emergency. I suppose now is the time. Wait for me here, would you?”
Lee nodded and Randy went to do what he had been dreading.
He entered his parents’ room. Everything was in perfect order. His mom was that way. The bed was made, and any dirty clothes were out of sight. The sun was low, now bathing the room in a golden glow.
It felt very strange being there without them.
He went to the bookcase and selected the book his father had told him to find. The binder said The Iliad by Homer. It was really a safe.
Randy opened the book and manipulated the lock. It was his birthday: 060464. The lock opened with a snick to reveal a letter sized envelope with a metal clasp. He looked inside and found all sorts of papers arranged in a folio and; another envelope. He flipped through the documents: an Instrument of Trust, Account Numbers, College Fund, a life Insurance policy from Texas Life & Casualty. Dad really did plan for emergencies.
The envelope had a note that said Open only in case of emergency. He opened it and found ten one hundred dollar bills and a note: If you’re reading this, it had better be an emergency—Dad.
Randy put the cash in his wallet and took the folio. It was stuff he was supposed to have. He knew there would be another one somewhere for his older brother Rod. He guessed it was in the companion volume, The Odyssey. His dad’s thinking had symmetry like that.
He collected his things, locked the house, and Lee drove them back to the Miloy house.
* * *
His maternal grandparents were in awful shape when they arrived. Grandma Jordan had obviously been crying, and his grandfather was stoic.
They fussed and tutted over Randy, but he was more concerned with them. They looked their age and very tired from their abrupt trip.
They ate dinner and settled down. It was much too soon to talk business. It was all about how soon will you be sixteen? You know in Mississippi you can get your license at fifteen. We’re so proud of your grades. We’ll need to get you a haircut before the funeral.
Thankfully the grandparents wound down around 9:30, excused themselves, and toddled off to bed.
Mrs. Miloy sat beside him and said, “You are amazing.”
Randy said, “What?”
“With everything you’ve been through today, you handled you grandparents like a diplomat. Your folks would be proud of you.”
“I’ve got to take care of them. They and my brother are the only family I’ve got left.”
She put her hand on his hand and looked in his eyes. “You’re wrong about that, you know.”
“I know. I meant blood family. Thanks for everything.”
She said goodnight, kissed him on the forehead, and went upstairs to bed.
Lee came out of the kitchen with a couple of canned cokes, and they headed up to his bedroom.
They changed into shorts and t-shirts, turned on the TV and sat on the couch in Lee’s room.
Randy asked, “Starsky and Hutch?”
Lee grinned and said, “The car is the star of the show. News will be on shortly.”
After the events of the day, they were both happy to veg out on some mindless entertainment.
Randy asked, “What is that, a Charger?”
Lee said, “Most everybody thinks so. Would you believe it’s a Ford Grand Torino?”
“I’m sure you don’t get that package in the showroom,” Randy groused as on the screen, Starsky boiled the tires chasing a bad guy down a busy street while fishtailing.
The last part of the little morality play turned out just as they expected: there was a car crash, a shoot-out with the bad guys, and they had a few laughs with Huggy Bear the pimp.
Eyewitness News is next: In tonight’s top story prominent attorney Rodney Taylor of Denton was killed today in an accident on I-35…
Lee moved to change the channel, but Randy raised his hand to stop it. Suddenly; on the screen was his father’s Mercedes, crushed like an accordion under the front of an 18-wheeler.
Randy gasped, and Lee did turn it off. “I’m sorry Randy. You didn’t need to see that.”
All Randy could do was nod. He had not needed to see his father’s car in that condition. The thought of his mother and father in that crumpled coffin made his stomach lurch. He felt like he was going to throw up but actually had nothing in his stomach. He had managed to avoid the food earlier.
Lee asked quietly, “Are you all right?”
“I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to be all right for a long time. A few hours ago I knew and understood my world. My biggest worry was geometry. Now I know I’m going to have to leave everything and everyone that I know and go live with my grandparents.”
Lee nodded, and said, “Just remember that it’s only a couple of years and then there’s college.”
Randy nodded. He sat on the couch feeling very small and afraid.
After a moment, Lee said, “Look. There’s something else you haven’t been told yet. They’re waiting until tomorrow, but I don’t think you need any more surprises.”
Randy sighed and said, “This shit this gets better and better all the time. Tell me—I don’t want them to blindside me with it.”
Lee leaned forward and said, “The first Denton county deputy sheriff on the scene noticed the trucker wasn’t acting right. He searched the truck and found a bunch of speed. They arrested him and are waiting to get the blood tests back to charge him with two counts of vehicular homicide. The mutt that caused this is going away for a very long time.”
Randy asked, “Why wait to tell me?”
Lee said, “They wanted to be sure. The lab work takes a while to process, and Dad didn’t want to say anything about it until they were sure.”
Randy didn’t like it, but he could see the sense in it. He asked, “Is there anything else that might blind-side me?”
Lee shook his head.
Randy said, “Then I think I’m ready for that drink now.”
Lee produced a couple of glasses with ice and the canned cokes while Randy rummaged through his bags. He took the Canadian Club and handed the Jack Daniels to Lee.
They mixed their drinks and Lee offered a toast, “To better days.”
Randy belted his down and started mixing another.
Lee took his time with his and said, “You might want to slow down. Now’s not the time for a roaring drunk.”
Randy nodded his head in agreement as he grimaced against the fire of the whiskey. He said, “That’s why I only brought four bottles. I didn’t want to get carried away.”
“Good idea. Mom left one of her little blue pills in the bathroom for you if you need it.”
“Probably. I don’t know pills.”
“Think I’ll skip it. I heard that mixing booze and valium is what happened to that Karen Ann Quinlan girl. My day has been bad enough.”
Lee chuckled and said, “It was probably a handful of pills and a lot more booze than you’ve got, but you’re right. That’s something I’ve always liked about you, Rat. You party, but you don’t get out of hand with it. You aren’t a dumb ass about it like some of our friends.”
Randy said, “Thanks.”
Lee blushed and grinned and Randy began to notice a nice warm feeling from the whiskey. He stretched and said, “Ready for our next round?”
Lee popped the top on another coke. Randy rummaged through his bag and said, “I had been saving these two. I know it’s your favorite.”
Lee’s eyebrows rose, and he said, “Johnny Walker? Dude, you’re rad!”
Randy pulled the two little bottles out of his kit and handed one to his friend. They mixed their drinks and finished the last of their alcohol.
Lee asked, “Where do you get these anyway?”
Randy said, “There’s a convenience store run by Mexicans back in Denton. They’ll sell to anybody with cash. Every time I’m by there, I buy one or two for my collection.”
“How many do you have?”
“Twenty-something; I collect more than I drink.”
Lee stretched and his muscles in his arms and legs stood up. He said, “Good plan. That way you have a little when you need it.”
“Damned glad I had it. If not, I think I would have taken your mom’s pill.”
Lee got up and rummaged through his routine preparing for bed and brushing his teeth.
Before he sat down on the couch, Lee turned the lights off and turned on a black light, bathing the room in a warm purple glow.
Randy asked, “Could we have some music?”
“Sure. What do you want to hear?”
“How about Pink Floyd—Wish You Were Here?”
Lee dug through his cassettes and put one in the stereo and the haunting sounds of Rick Wright’s synthesizer filled the room. When he was done, he sat down beside Randy and put his arm around him.
Lee put his head against Randy’s. When they were forehead-to-forehead he said, “Randy- there’s something I have to tell you. It took me a couple of belts to get the courage.”
Randy said, “You know you can tell me anything. Somewhere in this room, there are pictures of both of us in diapers.”
Lee said, “I thought there would be time… I thought we had time, but we don’t now, and I’ve got to say it.”
“Dude you’re scaring me a little.”
“Don’t be scared, and I hope you’re not mad because it would kill me. Randy… I love you.”
Randy snorted and said, “Lee, I know that.”
Lee sighed and said, “Wait; I mean love you, like think about you all the time, dream about you all the time and want to be with you all the time love you.”
It took Randy’s breath away. Words, Randy, think of the words he thought. He looked at Lee and saw his anxiety rise the longer he was speechless. All he could think of, all he wanted to do was kiss that sweet face.
Lee started to look away, but Randy raised his hand and gently touched his face. When their eyes met, there was understanding, and they kissed for the first time.
Randy laughed when they broke the kiss. Lee’s eyebrows rose, and he looked confused.
Randy said, “That’s exactly the same thing I’ve wanted to say to you for years, Lee. I love you and I want to be with you, too.”
Lee engulfed Randy in a hug as big and passionate as Texas and Randy felt his sobs of joy and relief. Lee choked and said, “I was so afraid….”
“Afraid that I wouldn’t love you too? How could that happen?”
Lee said, “We’re going to have to wait, but it’s only a couple of years. What do you say—you and me at UT when you graduate?”
“I’m there if you can stand living with a freshman.”
Lee kissed Randy this time, settling the matter.
Randy pretty much had everything he owned in his shiny new red Silverado short bed truck.
The tears had been shed; business had been tended to, and now was the time he thought of as his exile.
Brad Miloy had been good as his word. He had handled things just as he had promised. Trust funds had been set up for Randy and his older brother, and they were substantial. Rather than breaking up the firm to buy out their father’s share, the brothers both owned a half-partner’s share that paid into their trust funds every quarter.
Randy’s brother Rod had elected to go back to summer school. It made sense but, Randy still would have much rather had his brother with him—at least for the summer. He wouldn’t see Lee or the rest of the Miloy family until Christmas break.
He wasn’t thrilled about spending his junior and senior year in a little town in Mississippi. He had visited his grandparents a number of times. It wasn’t bad for weekends or Thanksgiving, but he wasn’t sure about living there. Byram was just outside the state capital of Jackson. Neither were big towns by Texas standards, and Byram was even on the small side for Mississippi.
Appropriately enough, when he exited I-55 to Byram, the Eagles New Kid in Town was playing on the radio. The public high school was right off the highway exit, and then he took a long country road to the subdivision where his grandparents lived. The houses were big colonials with sprawling well-kept yards set around a picturesque lake. There were a few kids on bikes and big white ducks waddling around the lake. When he passed the turn to his grandparents’ place, there was a huge strawberry-blond high-school kid mowing one of the big lawns.
The kid looked up and waved—it was that kind of town. Randy parked his truck in the grandparents’ driveway and got out. He waved to his new neighbor and started unpacking.
The grandparents were pretty easy-going. He had stayed with them numerous times. They gave him the room he always stayed in. Over the course of the afternoon, the room took shape. As he worked, he listened to the local rock station which turned out to be pretty good. Soon the room began to look like his place with Longhorn and Cowboys posters and all.
Grandma Jordan outdid herself with their first supper in the new place. She cooked fried chicken, rice and gravy, peas, fresh tomatoes and something she called jalapeño cornbread. It wasn’t that his mom or Mrs. Miloy were bad cooks. Grandma Jordan had a lot more practice, and she was showing off.
* * *
The next day Randy gassed up his truck, got an area map and began exploring. The biggest change was how green the place was. The towering pines and hardwoods were quite the contrast to the scrub oak of his home. It wasn’t just woods—it was jungle with thick undergrowth everywhere. The hills were gentler, but the humidity was absolutely wicked.
He stopped by Byram Academy about ten a.m. and handed over his transcript. They took one look at it and accepted him on the spot. They were a little taken aback when he pulled out his checkbook and paid his $1100 tuition for the fall semester.
Driving around in Jackson, he found a decent mall and a barbecue place that was as good as any he had found in Texas.
The next day he mowed his grandparents’ lawn and saw his neighbor again. He was driving a big, old Dodge truck and had three younger teens with him. The youngest of the three caught his eye. The boy was wearing silver gray shorts with red trim and had long, jet-black hair with curls. There was no way to describe him as anything but pretty.
Another thing he noticed as he saw the group: the big strawberry-blond was definitely the alpha dog in that pack. The other two boys were darned good looking too. They were both tall, thin with light but defined muscles. The one with dark hair was a little taller than his platinum blond friend.
Randy waved, and all four waved back. They followed the big fellow into the house three lots down.
It took Randy about a half hour to finish the yard. He was dirty and washed off at the hose. He went inside, took a quick shower and put on some white tennis shorts and an Orange University of Texas jersey and decided to walk over to meet his neighbor.
He rang the doorbell, but there was no answer. From the splashing, laughing and music that he was hearing, they were around back in the pool.
Randy walked around the house and smelt a very familiar odor. The Cars Just What I Needed was playing moderately loud. He began to grin a little. Maybe he wasn’t stuck in Mayberry after all.
A big smiling Labrador retriever walked up to Randy, planted his nose right in his crotch and took a big sniff. The dog stood like a wall in his way and only let him pass after what appeared to be required petting.
After reaching the gate to the back yard, Randy yelled, “Hello!”
There was some scuffling and someone said, “Just a minute. Be right there.”
To Randy it seemed a bit like a quick clean-up was going on because an unknown was crashing the party. A moment later the big strawberry blond kid opened the gate with a rebel flag beach towel around his waist.
He took one look at Randy and said, “Hi. You must be our new neighbor. Come on in.”
Randy followed the big kid into the gated back yard. It was neat and had a well-appointed pool surrounded by a concrete patio that adjoined a covered deck and patio for the house. There was a grill, and the other boys were all there either in or out of the pool.
The big guy said, “I’m Jim, and this is Alex, Clay and Travis. Welcome to Byram. Where are you from?”
“I’m Randy Taylor. I’m from Denton, Texas— a little town just North of Dallas. I came to live with my grandparents until college.”
The little one called Travis said, “That’s a sweet truck you’ve got.”
“Thanks. It’s stock, but it did pretty well on the trip over.”
Jim asked, “Follow me to the kitchen, Randy. I was just going to get some cold drinks out of the kitchen.”
Randy followed him inside and as soon as they were indoors, Jim said, “I was hoping that you would come by. I heard what happened to your parents. You have my condolences. I’ve known the Jordans for years and like them. I even met your mother once. She was a very fine lady.”
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others because that’s your business.”
Randy was quiet for a moment and said, “Thanks, man. It’s been a hard summer.”
“Just so you know, your grandparents didn’t arrange things—I heard the news from another neighbor.”
Jim pulled a big pitcher of lemonade out of the fridge and started pouring up five glasses and said, “There’s something you should know about this group: all of us have been hurt pretty bad in one way or another. None of us are really kin, but we’re more family to each other than a lot of our blood relatives.”
Randy said, “When I first saw the four of you, I figured y’all were family.”
Jim chuckled and replied, “Might as well be.” He got real serious for a moment and said, “Are you cool?”
Randy grinned and said, “I was sure hoping you were going to ask. Yeah… I like what you had on the grill.”
Jim blushed and was a little flustered, “We’ve got some… shall we say, peculiar traditions. Just roll with it. There’s no cross burning or devil worshipping. Nobody ever has to do anything they don’t want. We’re… uh… bad, not evil.”
Randy picked up the platter the cups were sitting on and said, “Dude, I used to hang with a really fast North Dallas crowd with a lot more money than brains. It would take—I don’t know—human sacrifice or something really off-the-wall to shock me.”
Jim said, “Good. I wouldn’t want to run you off on your first day here.”
Travis appeared in the kitchen with his long jet-black curls wet and a towel around his waist and said, “No human sacrifices? What is this coven coming to?”
Jim shrugged, and they took the drinks out to the sun room just inside the patio. A ceiling fan was turning languidly stirring the warm air in what Randy noticed was a very private area. He sat down at the table and said, “Randy just moved in with his grandparents. Let’s show him some hospitality. Whose turn is it?”
Clay, the tall kid with dark hair said, “It’s on me.” He pulled out a tray with a clear red plastic bong and began loading bowls.
The platinum blond kid said, “Welcome Randy—I’m Alex. The bong-master here is Clay and curly here”—he indicated the younger boy—“is Travis.”
Randy sat back and said, “I’m really glad to meet you. I don’t know anybody over here. It’s just good luck to fall into good company on my second day here.”
Clay snorted. He handed the bong to Randy and said, “That’s a matter of opinion. Some people don’t think much of us.”
Alex looked at Clay, and his face clouded.
Randy took the bong hit, held it and let it go like an old pro. He said, “I like to decide for myself and so far y’all seem pretty cool to me.”
The bong made the rounds about four times, and the conversation wandered. Travis got up and put a new tape in the portable stereo. It was Kansas.
I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind
Travis hadn’t known or meant any harm. He had no idea that those words would strike Randy’s open wounds like a brick.
Randy started shaking and tears ran down his face. In short order he was sobbing uncontrollably. There was a discontinuity as the grief overwhelmed him. When he found his wits again, he found himself surrounded in the arms of all four of his new friends.
He gathered his senses and said, “I’m sorry. That song—every time I think I’ve got it together, I hear it and lose it.”
Jim said, “Tell them what happened, Randy. It will help.”
Randy sobbed and said, “This past May I was in school one day out of the blue they called me to the office and told me that my parents had been killed in an accident. Not only did I lose my family, I had to leave all my friends behind just when I needed them the most.”
Jim said, “Inside I told you that all of us were hurt pretty bad in one way or another. Listen to us and tell me if you feel like you belong.”
Alex said, “My dad was shot down in Vietnam in December 1972. He was listed as Missing in Action, and my mom never got over it. Now she runs a trailer park for my grandfather and drinks all the time.”
Clay said, “My father killed a man and is in prison. My mom works all the time but she can barely pay the bills.”
Travis had tears running down his face and said, “I’m sorry I picked that tape. I didn’t mean for it to hurt—”
Jim reached over and put a hand on Travis’s shoulder and said, “Easy there, he knows you didn’t do it on purpose.”
Travis sniffed and said, “My mom is a junkie whore. She brings home all sorts of men and some of them were more interested in me. One of the bastards tied me up and…”
Jim said, “It’s OK. You don’t need—“
Travis said, “Yeah. I do. I’m tired of being angry and afraid all the time. It’s like you are always telling us Jim: sayin’ it gets the poison out. He tied me up and fucked me, and when I cried, he burned me with cigarettes on my privates. I think he planned to kill me, but he got caught before he could. They arrested him, and he went to prison, but I still have nightmares.”
That was a gut punch to Randy. He found himself hugging Travis close wondering what other horrors that sweet little kid had seen.
Finally Jim said, “When I was in seventh grade, my best friend and I were fooling around. Wasn’t really anything especially serious, but someone told my parents, and they went ape shit. It got me and all of my friends in a shitload of trouble. My dad kicked my ass, and my mom cried all the time and kept reciting bible verses. They—my dad took a job in Washington, and had connections enough to take my mom with him. They work together for a new agency that is being put together to respond to disasters. They left me here to take care of the house and go to school but basically… they just don’t want me anymore.”
By this point everyone had a sob in their throats and a tear in their eye and Jim said, “So Randy, you think maybe you are in the right place?”
The tears were still there and Randy said, “Yeah. I think I am in the right place.”
Jim helped him up and said, “Well come on, let’s get in the water.”
They stood beside the pool and Jim said, “There’s one other thing. We were skinny dipping when you arrived.”
Randy grinned, kicked off his shoes and dropped his shirt and shorts. For the first time in a quite a while he laughed, smiled, and played like a kid again. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad place to heal and grow up a little. It really was possible to have fun again.
* * *
That night, Jim had to work and Randy stayed with the boys. They watched TV for a while, but it was boring. Clay and Travis were asleep on the couch, so Randy and Alex went out and sat in the chairs around the pool. The radio finished Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty and started the Rolling Stone’s Miss You.
Alex said, “I bet you’ve got about a million questions so—here’s your chance.”
Randy asked, “How did you guys meet and get so tight?”
Alex took a long look up at the stars and said, “It’s not a pretty story. Are you sure you want to know?”
Randy said, “The way you guys took care of me this afternoon, I know what kind of people you are. Besides, the way I boned up this afternoon skinny-dipping with you guys, I don’t think we have too many secrets left.”
Alex laughed and said, “Yeah, that was kind of impressive. OK. You asked for it. Clay and I have been buds for a long time- I think we met when we were like eight. We live in the shitty trailer park my mom runs on the road to Jackson.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and continued, “There’s this old run-down park close to the trailer park. People told us to stay away from it but didn’t tell us why, so we were curious about it. When I was thirteen I took off on my bike and went to explore it. There were a lot of cars driving around and this old guy in a Caddy pulled up and offered me a twenty if I would let him suck my dick. At first I got scared and was about to run for it but he offered another twenty. Well—who doesn’t like having their dick sucked, and I had never had more than $5 so I let him.”
“I found out that park was what a lot of gay people call a cruise. They go there to meet and greet and try to get their freak on. A lot of them like young guys and will pay—a lot—for sex with young guys. Not long afterwards Clay made the same discovery, and we figured out we were doing the same thing.”
“We went down to the park together and watched each other’s backs. One day Travis followed us out there. Basically—we were hungry and broke all the time, so we became hustlers.”
Randy asked, “Are you gay?”
Alex said, “When we were doing that in the park, we didn’t really see it that way. It was just something we did to make money. Later on I figured out that I am. Jim is. Clay and Travis are bi.”
“Anyway, things changed about a year ago when we met Jim. We were out there trickin’ one Saturday and he was sitting in his car smoking a joint and just watching the freak show is what he said. I think we shocked him when he found out what we were doing and why. He started meeting us out there, and he always had food or he would take us fishing—looking back, he was doing anything he could to get us out of there. He genuinely cared about us and we could tell. He really freaked us out when he took us one-by-one and bought us new clothes.”
“Little by little we didn’t need the park anymore. Jim used his connections to get Clay and me jobs. We didn’t have to do that anymore—unless we just wanted to for fun.”
Randy said, “Jim sounds like a real stand up guy.”
Alex said, “Yeah, he is. If he likes you, he’ll do anything for you. But when we met, he was one of the most lost people I’ve ever seen.”
Randy asked, “What do you mean?”
“He was lonely in the worst sort of way. People shunned him. He got in a lot of fights and let me tell you this about him—if you ever see him fight it will scare the living shit out of you. Somebody tried to get rough with Travis one day at the park, and Jim landed on him like the wrath of an angry God.”
“He had a real dark side for a while. Religion did a real number on his head. He thought because he was gay he was evil. He was hooked up with some really bad people and was strung out on pills. The reason he has money is that he’s a grower.”
Randy asked, “What’s that?”
“He grows weed in secret places and harvests it in the fall. Then he keeps what he wants for his own use and sells the rest to his connections. He’s smart as hell about it. He never buys weed, so he’s never around dealers. He never sells any except wholesale, so the cops don’t have any way to get close to him. Besides—I’m pretty sure that some of the people he’s hooked up with are cops.”
“Yes way. I worry that he’s in over his head sometimes, but he never does anything stupid. He’s a very smart operator and the people he works for have to respect that.”
“In a way, it was as good for Jim as it was for us that we got hooked up. He needed someone or something to care about and for the last year that has been us. He quit the harder drugs he was doing and cut way back on his drinking.”
Randy said, “I don’t know what to say. You’re all amazing and Jim…”
Alex said, “I’m serious as a heart attack when I say this but I think—no, I am sure—that Jim saved our lives by getting us out of that park. It was only a matter of time before some psycho killed one or more of us. I want to ask one thing of you.”
Randy said, “What can I do to help?”
“This fall you are going to the same school as Jim. I wish we all could, but we can’t. By being there, you’ve got a chance to help him. Last year he tried not to show it but we could all tell those people hurt him.”
Randy asked, “What did they do to him?”
Alex said, “You’ve met Jim. You’ve seen how he is with us. He may look tough and in a way he is, but he’s really gentle and sensitive. They won’t fight him. They’re way too chicken-shit for that. They just constantly harass him and treat him like shit. It wears him down.”
Randy sighed and said, “I’m not sure what I can do Alex but, I promise that I’ll try. I think the big guy has earned himself a break or two.”
* * *
The next morning Randy waited until nine a.m. and called Brad Miloy at his office.
His secretary answered and put the call through with minimal delay.
Brad answered, “Randy, how are things going over in Mississippi?”
“Not too bad Mr. Miloy. I got registered for school a few days ago, and I found out that they have academic scholarships at Byram Academy for needy students, but they don’t have any money to fund them. As you are the executor of my trust, I wanted to ask if it would be possible if we could put some money in their scholarship fund.”
Brad said, “You know I was going over the estate taxes the other day, and we do need to make some charitable contributions—some substantial ones really to keep the federal estate taxes at bay. How much does a year cost at B.A.?”
“I wrote a check for $1100 to cover the fall term. I think that comes out to $2200 per year.”
Brad said, “Is that all?”
Randy replied, “This is Mississippi. It seems like everything is a little cheaper over here.”
He could hear Brad pecking away at his desk calculator and then he said, “How does this sound: we fund 10 seats at $22K this year and the next. That keeps the estate taxes from kicking in and gets your good deed done.”
“Great! How soon can we move on this? It’s just a few months until fall semester.”
Brad said, “The sooner the better. Let the people at B.A. know what we’re thinking about and give them my contact info. They can call me and I’ll get the ball rolling.”
* * *
That afternoon Randy stopped by and told an astonished principal that his father’s estate was going to fund those vacant academic scholarship slots. Randy gave the principal Brad Miloy’s number at his Dallas office, and then gave him three suggestions for potential new students: Alex Hart, Clay Meadows and Travis Sutherland.
Randy asked for only one condition: that the source of the donation remain anonymous.
It had been a long time coming. Once again Randy had everything he owned loaded in the back of his truck, and he was opening a new chapter in his life. Jeff Beck’s Freeway Jam was playing in his tape deck.
Mississippi was behind him now. He had learned a lot, made many friends, some of them he even loved, but that was just a stop on his journey. His most important lesson learned was not all families are blood.
Travis had become like a kid brother to him. It had astonished him how fast and completely that had happened. There was no doubt in either of their minds that they would be lifelong friends.
Byram Academy had been a Godsend to all three. Alex and Clay had blossomed. They were popular and quickly made many friends, and Travis was named sophomore class favorite. They would graduate over the next several years.
Jim graduated in Randy’s class and was on his way to Mississippi State. Randy worried about him being up there all alone. Of the whole group maybe Jim had come the farthest of them all. He was different now; his darkness was gone and he was happy. He had met someone special, and now they were on their own journey and Randy wished them well.
He arrived in Austin just before sunset and drove to the little house on 22nd street and parked beside Lee’s truck.
He went inside, hugged Lee and said, “It’s been a long strange trip. What do you say we start working on our happily ever after?”
And that they did, in each other’s arms, in the golden rays of a magical Texas sunset.
The music of this story is a major part of the experience.
Here are links to the songs as they appeared in the story: