Chess board and pieces


by Alan Dwight

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had crushes on boys, one after another. They had a few things in common. I found each boy very attractive. Whether you use that word or cute or handsome or even beautiful, they all had that quality. Each of them was also very popular and constantly surrounded by friends. The strange thing is I never really knew any of them. I worshiped them from a distance, and I envied their looks and popularity. Although they were all in my school, and some were even in my classes, none of them seemed to know that I existed.

I suppose when I was little the crushes had nothing to do with sex. Around the time I was 11 and starting to jerk off, I began to think of my crushes as my imaginary sex partners. I also began to think of myself as gay. My older sister, Rachel, with whom I was pretty close, figured that out about the same time I did, even though she didn’t know about my crushes. When I asked her how she knew I was gay, she said she didn’t really know how she knew. She just did.

My most recent crush was Jack Wiggins, a fellow freshman at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School. I had not seen him before we entered high school because we went to different middle schools. He was a dark-haired, handsome boy, with a beautiful smile and lovely dark eyes. He was always surrounded by cute girls. The only class we had together was gym, where I could surreptitiously admire his well-built, sexy body. While watching him, I frequently sprang an embarrassing boner which was hard to cover up with gym shorts. I saw him in the hall often but that was as far as any interaction with him went. I had a crush on him but no real contact.

The one extracurricular group I was in was Chess Club, which met on Friday afternoons after school. It was supervised by a faculty member, Mrs. Abbott, who was the state chess champion the year before, so I guess she knew what she was talking about. At the beginning of each session, she taught a little strategy lesson, trying to get us to think farther ahead in the game.

The first week, I was paired with another freshman boy, one I definitely did not have a crush on. At 6’2”, he was at least half a foot taller than me who had to stretch to measure 5’8.” he was probably the ugliest boy I’d ever seen. He had a terrible case of acne. His entire face was covered. In addition, he had an undershot jaw, so his lower jaw stuck out beyond his upper jaw. He wore braces—a definite turn-off. His nose was too big for his face and his mouth was too small, while his eyes seemed to be set too deeply into his face and his ears stuck out like Dumbo’s. No, I positively didn’t have a crush on him.

“Jeff Carter,” he said, holding out his hand.

I shook his hand and replied, “Ben Murray.”

We played two games during the hour-and-a-half session. We were pretty evenly matched. He won the first game and I won the second. At one point I asked him why, with his size and build, he wasn’t playing football, but all he said was that he didn’t have the time.

In the following weeks, each of us played the other members of the club but finally we gravitated towards playing with each other because we beat everybody else too easily. I’m not bragging. It’s just that Jeff and I knew more about the game.

The second time we were paired, Jeff asked if I knew Jack Wiggins. “Well, I know who he is, but I don’t really know him.”

“Two days ago, he and a couple of his buddies beat up a middle school boy because they thought he was gay.”

Shoot, I thought. What does this do for my crush? Aloud, I asked, “Is the boy gay?”

Jeff gazed at me for a moment, a puzzled expression on his face, and then asked quietly, “Does that matter? What matters is that the boy is in the hospital with several broken bones, lots of bruises, and the possibility that he might lose an eye.”

“No,” I said thoughtfully, “what matters is what they did, not why they did it. How did you hear about this? I haven’t heard a word of it.”

“My younger brother, Robert, is in his class and they’re friends. Robert’s really upset about it. The police have investigated the beating and arrested the three boys involved. They charged all three with assault and battery and a hate crime. I don’t think we’ll be seeing them for a while, which is probably fortunate for them because there are a number of us who would like to beat the shit out of them.”

We finished our game in silence, shook hands, which is proper chess etiquette, and left the school for the day.

One Friday, after the club meeting, I said goodbye and went back to my locker to get a book I’d forgotten. From there I went outside, unlocked my bike, and pedaled out of the school grounds, turning right on the road. When I came to the first little intersection, a side street beside the school, I stopped because I wasn’t sure what an old, dark-red Buick on the side street was going to do and I didn’t want to get hit by it if it suddenly took off. Then I did a double take. Driving the car was Jeff Carter. He was a freshman like me, and none of us freshman were old enough to drive a car, so why was he?

He looked at me for a moment, rolled down his window and called me over to the car. When I got there he very quietly said, “I know I’m not supposed to be driving, Ben, but I have to. I can explain to you but you’ll need to keep it a secret.”

“Oka-a-a-y,” I said. “Explain away.”

He shook his head. “It’s too long and complicated to explain here. Could you come over to my house on Sunday?”

“I suppose so.” I was a little reluctant because, while I enjoyed playing chess with him, I didn’t really want to be involved with him otherwise. But I was also curious, and my curious side won out, as it always did. He gave me his address which was only a few blocks from my house, and we set a time of 1 PM on Sunday.

Sunday afternoon, I rode to Jeff’s house, dropped my bike on the front lawn and went up the steps to ring the doorbell. He opened the door almost immediately and invited me in. There were two little boys about eight years old who were playing checkers on the living room floor. He introduced them as Peter and Paul saying that they were twins and the youngest members of the family. In the kitchen there was a girl about 11 whom he introduced as Elizabeth and a slightly younger boy whom he introduced as Dan. Going upstairs, we went into a bedroom where there was a boy working on a computer. Jeff introduced him as Robert, who was 13.

I asked Robert how his school friend was doing.

“The doctors were able to save his eye,’ he said. “He’s recovering slowly from the broken bones and the bruises.” Then he said sadly, “I don’t know if he’ll ever really recover from being attacked.”

“That’s so awful,” I said. Robert just nodded.

Heading to Jeff’s room, I thought, so Jeff has five younger siblings between the ages of 8 and 13. Wow! I compared that to my family: I’ve got one older sister and usually we’re pretty close, but once in a while I consider even one sibling is too many.

We went into Jeff’s bedroom, and I said, “Okay, I’ve met your brothers and sister. Where are your parents?”

“Well, that’s part of the explanation of why I’m driving. Why don’t you sit down because this will take a few minutes?” So I sat and he began.

“It started four years ago when my dad suddenly left home. I asked my mom why and she said that he told her he was gay, he had a lover, and the two of them were moving to Fort Lauderdale. I wondered then and I still do how a guy with six children could suddenly decide he was gay. He must’ve been pretty deep in the closet. I was kind of hurt by him leaving, but I think it was Robert who took it the hardest. Robert was only nine at the time and was perhaps of all of us the closest to Dad. He just couldn’t understand Dad leaving, and he cried at nights for a long time. I think he’s still hurting.

“That was bad enough, but two years ago, when Mom and a friend of hers were walking downtown, a car drove right up on the sidewalk and hit the two of them. Apparently, the driver was stoned. Mom’s friend was killed, and Mom has been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. She also lost the use of her right arm. So now she’s in a wheelchair and I take care of her. I get her meals, although often she eats at the table with the rest of us. I take care of her medications; I help her into and out of bed and her wheelchair; I clean her and bathe her.

“I also take care of my brothers and sister. That’s why I have to drive. I have to buy the groceries; I have to help the kids buy new clothes and stuff; I have to take them to friends’ houses and to games. In the summer I have to take them to summer programs and day camps. For all those things, I need to drive. I assume there are a few people in the neighborhood who know our situation and know that I’m too young to drive, but they don’t say anything. Fortunately, I’m big enough so that if somebody at the store sees me getting into or out of the car, I guess they’d assume I’m older than I really am.

“Dad still sort of keeps in touch. He sends each of us cards and money for our birthdays and Christmas, but he doesn’t write. He faithfully puts money in our family bank account every month. He pays for the insurance on the house, the mortgage, and our health insurance. I don’t know if he knows about Mom’s accident. I have his address of course from the return addresses on the card envelopes, but I haven’t written to him. I guess I’m still mad at him.

“So, there you have it. Maybe I’m an idiot to try to do all this, but I resolved, when mom had her accident, that I wasn’t going to let the kids suffer needlessly.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say, so for a while I just sat there. Finally, I thanked him for telling me and told him that anything I could do to help, all he had to do was ask. We went downstairs, and before I left, he took me into a room off the living room which had been made into his mother’s bedroom. She was sitting in a wheelchair reading a book. Jeff introduced us. She reached with her left hand to shake hands, so I quickly substituted my left for my right and shook hands with her. Holding my hand, she said, “It’s so nice that Jeff finally has a friend. I’ve been worried about him.”

“I don’t know whether I’m a friend or not, Mrs. Carter. I think he’s a saint, and I haven’t figured out what it would be like to be the friend of a saint, but I hope to see you often. Let me know if there’s any way I can help you or Jeff.” With that I took my leave and pedaled home.

Was I a friend? Did I want to be? I wondered. How did I move from being an acquaintance to being a friend? And what was the difference? Anyway, acquaintance or friend, I had committed myself to helping if asked and that was a commitment I intended to keep.

In the weeks that followed, I was at the Carters’ house often. I got to know the kids. I agreed with Jeff that there was a sadness about Robert, but I didn’t know how to get him to talk about it and I didn’t know whether that was any of my business. I soon grew to love Peter and Paul. They were cute and tended to be all over me when I visited. Elizabeth and Dan were both friendly, but I didn’t see as much of them.

Occasionally, I stayed at their house for supper. Each of the kids had chores to do. At least one of them helped Jeff cook, others set the table or cleared the table, and two of them did the dishes. There was a chart on a bulletin board in the kitchen where the jobs rotation was posted. The first time I ate there, I offered to help but was firmly told that I was a guest.

As we ate, I could see that Jeff had problems eating because of his lower jaw. His teeth just didn’t come together. He and I sat at the table for a bit after supper and I asked him if there was anything that could be done for his jaw. He said there was, but it would require surgery, which would mean him being in the hospital for a few days and he couldn’t leave the kids that long.

“The braces don’t take care of it?” I asked.

“That was the original plan, but they just can’t correct the jaws enough.”

I thought for a few moments. “Is there any reason why I couldn’t stay here for a few days and help out in the summer? I should have my driver’s license before school gets out so I could drive the kids where they need to go.”

“Do you really mean that?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“My God, that’s kind of you. I’d have to discuss it with my mom and the kids and see what they think. The kids know that I’m in charge, although it took Robert a little while to accept that. I don’t know if they’d accept you as being in charge or not. But maybe you don’t need to be in charge. Right now, they work pretty well as a team. Perhaps for a few days that would work. We’ll have to think about it but thank you so much for offering.” He stood up and hugged me, hard. With our difference in height, my nose was buried in his chest, but that didn’t seem to matter.

That was the first time I had been hugged by a boy, and I found myself holding on and enjoying it perhaps too long. But if it was too long, he didn’t say anything or pull away until I did.

Two days later I was invited for supper at Jeff’s house again. My mother asked why Jeff never came to my house, and, without telling her the whole situation, I said that he was needed to help with his brothers and sisters.

At supper that night, Jeff said, “We’ve all talked about you staying here this summer and we think it would work for you to stay for a few days and manage things.”

“You wouldn’t exactly be in charge,” put in Robert. “Mom would be in charge for any big decisions.”

“That’s fine,” I agreed. “I’ll only be here to help out.”

Before he could have the surgery, Jeff had to have a series of orthodontist appointments, both in the doctor’s office and at the hospital. On those days, I went to his house to help out with the kids until he got home.

Dad was off on a business trip, but Mom said she wouldn’t let me stay over at Jeff’s house until she had at least met Jeff and his mother. I set it up with Jeff, and Mom and I drove over to the Carters’ house one weekend. There she met Jeff, his mother, and the whole brood. Jeff and his mother were so grateful to me for offering to help that there was no way Mom could say no, so she gave her approval.

On the Sunday after school got out for the summer, I stayed at Jeff’s house. He was to go to the hospital the next day and I would take him. That night, I helped Jeff put his mother to bed, cleaning her off and giving her a new diaper. I had wondered how that would go as I’d never done it before, but it was pretty easy. We knew I couldn’t lift her in and out of bed, so she had agreed to stay in the bed while Jeff was away.

That night, Jeff and I shared his full-sized bed. We left the door open in case one of the kids needed him. Nothing happened. I did spring a boner and wondered if he did too, but I finally got to sleep.

In the morning, we went through Jeff’s morning routine, and I helped take care of his mother. Mrs. Wainwright, who lived next door and who stayed at Jeff’s house on Friday afternoons so he could play chess, came over to stay with the kids while Jeff and I were gone.

Jeff and I drove to the admissions entrance at the hospital and went in. Eventually, someone came with a wheelchair to take him to his room. Before he left, the two of us hugged again pretty firmly. He went on his way and I went back to his house.

Things went well with the kids that day. I was sorry I couldn’t help Jeff’s mother in or out of bed, but I just wasn’t big enough or strong enough. She didn’t complain and always thanked me when I cleaned her, or emptied her bedpan, or brought her food and medicine, or performed some little errand for her.

Tuesday evening, after I had gone to bed, I heard someone go downstairs. At first, I thought it was one of the kids sneaking down to get a snack, but when I didn’t hear anybody come back up, I decided to investigate.

I walked quietly down the stairs and into the living room. There was a little light from a streetlight coming in the window and I could barely make out Robert, who was all hunched over on the couch. I could hear him sobbing.

“Robert,” I asked gently, “what’s wrong?”

He sniffed a little and said, “Nothing.”

I wasn’t going to let him get away with that, so I said, “Both of us know that that’s not true, so talk to me.”

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Does this have to do with your father?”

“How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess,” I said.

Robert gave me a quick look. “Both of us know that that’s not true.”

God, he’s quick, I thought. “Okay, you got me. When Jeff was first telling me about your family and what happened with your dad, he said he thought everybody was hurt but he thought you were hurt the most.”

Slowly, he nodded and said, “I still miss my dad terribly, but I’m really confused.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, I still love him, and I miss him, but I’m really hurt, and I’m really pissed off at him. Does that make any sense?”

“Sure it does.” I thought for a couple of moments and then asked, “Have you ever tried telling him that?”

“How can I tell him when I never see him?”

“Can you call him or email him”

He shook his head. “I tried that but he changed both his phone number and his email address.”

“Well, you could write to him. Have you saved any of the cards he sent you? Jeff tells me that there’s a return address on each of the envelopes.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Every time one of those cards comes, I get very angry with him because I think he’s just trying to buy off his guilt. I put the card in a dresser drawer. I have a whole pile of them now which I’ve never opened. So you think I should write to him and tell him that I miss him but I’m really pissed off at him?”

“He’ll never know how you feel unless you tell him. He could well think that all of you have just written him off.”

“But what if I write to him and he never answers?”

I had to think about that for a bit, before asking, “Would you be any worse off than you are now? Right now, you think that if he loved you, he either wouldn’t have done what he did, or he would’ve communicated with you. If you don’t get an answer, at least you’ll know where you stand. What would you be risking?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. But even if I don’t do anything, it helped to talk with you. Can we do it again if I need to?”

“Any time you want.” He thanked me and we both went back to bed.

Thursday morning, Robert told me that he’d written a letter to his father and sent it off.

Later in the morning, I got a call from Jeff. It was hard to understand what he was saying, but I understood that the surgery had gone well, and he was ready to come home. I called Mrs. Wainwright to see if she could come for a while. She agreed, and as soon as she arrived, I drove to the hospital.

Jeff was waiting in a wheelchair in the lobby with an orderly. They came out and I helped him get into the car. I could see that his face was pretty swollen. He said it was hard to talk because his jaws were wired shut and would be for a little while.

Back at the house, I asked him what he could eat, and he said, “Just liquids through a straw.”

Fortunately, we had some chicken broth, so I heated some for him and he slowly sipped it, trying to talk in between. While he could move his lips, of course he couldn’t move his jaw, so he couldn’t speak clearly.

At supper that night, the kids had lots of questions. He tried to tell them about the cuts that were made in his jaws and the tiny plates and screws that were now holding them together, but he tired easily, and I suggested that he rest.

He had liquid pain medication which he took from an eyedropper before we went to bed that night. We slept once more back to back with the door open.

Over the next few days, the swelling in his face went down so that he looked more normal. In fact, he did look better now that his jaws had been adjusted. As the pain lessened, he was able to lift his mother again, and she joined us for meals. Eventually, the wires came off. He still needed to eat soft foods for another month or so, but he was happy to be able to talk again. A couple of times I caught him looking at himself in the bathroom mirror and smiling. I kidded him, but I smiled too, to show I was just teasing.

One day, when I was sitting in the kitchen, talking with Mrs. Carter, Robert came in waving an envelope. “He answered! I don’t know whether I dare open it or not.”

First, we had to fill Mrs. Carter in about what was going on. She said that she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what was in the letter, so Robert and I went up to his bedroom, where he opened the envelope. As he read, he started smiling and crying at the same time.

“He says that he loves me,” said Robert. “He says that he still loves and misses all of us. He still thinks that he had to leave but he feels badly about the way he did it. He wants me to fly down to Fort Lauderdale to see him.” Robert paused for a minute before saying, “I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet. I might just hurt more when I had to leave. I guess I’ll think about that. Anyway,” he said, giving me a big hug, “thanks for helping me.”

Then he asked, “Can we talk about something else?” I nodded. “Well, it’s about my friend Chad, who got beaten up. I’m worried about him. I’ve emailed him a few times and he’s never answered.”

“So call him,” I said.

“What if he won’t talk to me?”

“You always come up with the ‘What ifs,’ don’t you?” We both laughed a little. “If he won’t talk to you, I’ll drive you over to his house. If he does talk to you, why don’t you suggest that he come over here?”

Robert agreed. He talked with Chad on the phone and invited him to come over the next day. When Chad arrived, I saw what a very cute boy he was. If I’d been his age, I would have had a big crush on him, but when you’re 16, a two- or three-year age difference is huge, so fortunately no crush developed. From then on, Chad visited nearly every day, and I could see him slowly emerging from the armor he’d wrapped around himself. I could see, too, that Robert was feeling better.

On the night before I went home to stay, we were in bed when Jeff said quietly, “I’m going to do something, and I hope you’re not offended.”

“Why don’t you just do it. If I’m offended, I’ll tell you.”

He took a deep breath, reached over to put his hand behind my head, pulled me towards him, and kissed me.

Oh, wow! I thought. I’m certainly gay and I really liked the kiss, but I don’t have a crush on him. What do I do? Finally, I said, “I guess I’m not offended, but why did you do it? Are you gay?”

“Yes,” he said softly, “and I was hoping that you are too.”

It was a dilemma. Should I tell him I was gay? If I did, I’d have to tell him I didn’t love him. Finally, I told him I was gay then asked, “So what we do about that?”

“I was pretty sure you weren’t in love with me, but can’t gay boys just have a little fun?”

“I guess as long as we understand there’s no commitment,” I said.

“Do you think we might just jerk each other off?” I thought about it and, with some reservations, I agreed. Jeff got up and silently closed the bedroom door. Then we removed our pajamas.

Just the thought of jerking off with another boy, even one I didn’t have a crush on, made me terribly hard and I could see that he was too. When he put his hand on my cock, I was amazed at how good it felt. We both fondled each other for a few minutes and then began to move our hands up and down. It didn’t take long until we came. When we finished, Jeff got some tissues. We cleaned ourselves, put our pajamas back on, and he opened the door.

Just as the door opened, Robert walked past on his way to the bathroom. He looked at the two of us and asked, “So, what were the two of you doing that you needed the door closed?”

“That’s not any of your business,” replied Jeff. “Would you like to tell us what you do in bed at night with the door closed?”

Robert looked surprised and then he laughed. “Touché. You’re right. What you do in private is none of my business and what I do in private is none of your business. Okay?” We both agreed and, smiling, we all went back to bed.

I lay awake for a while thinking about what had happened between me and Jeff. How did I really feel about him? I remembered riding my bicycle home in the spring and wondering whether we were acquaintances or friends. I didn’t have to think about that question anymore; I was sure we were friends. But had we become more than friends? Did I have stronger feelings for him? Sure, he looked better after the surgery, but I still couldn’t say that he was attractive or handsome. The acne was still there and, when it finally cleared up, it would leave scars. The braces would eventually be gone, but his nose was still too big, his mouth was still too small, and his ears still stuck out. How much did I still want a cute, sexy boy? I just wasn’t sure.

As I rode my bicycle home the next morning, I continued to wonder. Jeff was probably the kindest, most responsible, and most caring person I knew. From the first time I went to his house, I admired his relationship with his siblings and his mother. I admired the way he seemed to care for everybody, always understanding, never impatient.

I had been raised to believe that there was a link between sex and love. My parents were very clear that sex without love was simply lust. I never thought there was anything really wrong with lust as long as the participants understood what was going on and there were no illusions, but what had happened with Jeff? Was that just lust, or did it go deeper for either Jeff or me?

I wondered about it for several days before deciding that I needed to talk with him. On Thursday I went over to his house ostensibly to play chess. All of the younger kids were off at their soccer or nature camps.

When I arrived and rang the doorbell, Jeff immediately opened the door. His mother was in the living room, reading a book. She greeted me, saying as she always did that she was glad to see me, and I told her I was glad to see her.

Jeff and I went up to his bedroom, where he had a chess game already set up. With me in a chair and him sitting on his bed, we played for a few minutes. I had trouble concentrating because of what was really on my mind. Before long, I made an unusual blunder in the game. Jeff looked at me, questioningly.

“Is something wrong?” He asked.

“Yes and no,” I answered. “Can we talk about something for a minute?” He put the chess game aside with a puzzled look. “Can we talk about the last night I was here?”

“Sure,” he said. “Did I upset you after all?”

“No, but after it was over, I wondered what it meant, and I’ve been wondering ever since.” I told him my thoughts about lust and sex and love. I also told him about my crushes. Then I said, “I’m just not sure what that was the other night. And I’m not sure that what happened meant the same to both of us. I don’t have a crush on you, but for me it wasn’t just sex or lust. I’m not sure it was love either. I’m kind of confused, and I wanted to hear what you thought.”

He was silent for so long that I thought maybe I had upset him. Finally, he said, “It wasn’t just sex for me either. And like you, I’m not sure it was love. I know that I really like you a lot. I had a crush on you the first time we met, but I figured that was hopeless. My feelings for you were certainly confirmed when you offered to stay here so I could have my surgery. I know that I was looking forward to you coming today, and that when the doorbell rang, I was really excited. But is that love? I don’t know.”

After a pause, I asked, “So what do we do? Do we want to continue experimenting or not?”

“If you’re willing, I don’t see any reason not to, but I guess we both need to agree that if one of us wants to stop or is uncomfortable with it, we’ll stop.”

I nodded. “Okay, I guess we have an understanding.”

“Would you let me kiss you again?”

“You mean right now?” I asked. He nodded. “Okay,” I said and moved over onto the bed beside him. He put his arms on my shoulders and pulled me close to him. Our mouths touched, gently at first and then more firmly. I put my arms around him and hugged him close to me. Then his tongue began to explore my lips. I opened my mouth and his tongue slid in, touching my tongue and my cheeks and my teeth. A shiver of pleasure ran through me. Soon we were tonguing each other, our tongues seeming to dance in each other’s mouths.

Jeff reached down, took hold of the bottom of my T-shirt, and pulled it up over my head. From there he progressed to my shorts, pulling them off me as I stood. I soon had his T-shirt and shorts off as well and we stood there in our undershorts with our hard cocks tenting them. In no time, our undershorts were off, and we were lying on his bed kissing and rubbing each other. From there, we did what came naturally to both of us.

When we finished, Jeff got tissues and cleaned us off. Then we just lay there, face-to-face, smiling. He kissed me and asked, “Was that more than just sex?”

“Oh yes,” I sighed. “Do we need to put a label on it?”

“No. Not at all. Let’s just enjoy it and the time we have together. If it turns into full-blown love that would be wonderful. If it doesn’t, then what we’re doing now, because we really care for each other, is also wonderful.”

Gazing at him, I thought, he may not be beautiful on the outside, but he’s beautiful on the inside.

I continued to visit Jeff and his family throughout the summer. I think perhaps what we had was growing into love, that it had started growing even before then. Of course, for both of us, this was our first real experience with sex, and we didn’t know what would happen long-term. But I know we were both sublimely happy that summer.

Shortly after school resumed, Robert told Jeff that he wanted to meet with the two of us. I wondered if this had anything to do with his father and a possible trip to Florida. As it turned out, it didn’t.

After school the next day, I rode my bicycle to the Carters’ house. When I had greeted everyone as usual, Robert asked me and Jeff to go up to his bedroom. Robert was very serious. When we arrived, he motioned for us to sit on his bed while he faced us in his desk chair.

“Guys, there’s an idea I’ve been wanting to share for a while. I flew it by the kids and Mom, and they agreed.”

I wondered what the heck he was talking about, and looking at Jeff, I could see that he was equally puzzled.

“Jeff, you took over caring for us when you were 13. You spent all your spare time with us. You organized us, you fed us, you took us everywhere we needed to go, and I am incredibly grateful, as I think the others are. That was three years ago, and we believe now some things need to change.

“We also talked about your relationship with Ben. I’m certain that you’re both gay. Right?”

Jeff looked questioningly at me as though to ask whether he should out me. I nodded and Jeff nodded.

Robert went on, “Of course, we didn’t use that term, and I don’t think the twins, at least, suspect anything other than a close friendship. I’m pretty sure that Mom knows and quite possibly Elizabeth and Dan, but we’ve never talked about it. That’s up to you guys to tell in your own time and way.

“Now, because of your relationship and because of all the sacrifices you’ve made for us, we all think you should have some time off. I’m older than you were when you took over, and there’s no reason why I can’t organize the kids, supervise cooking the meals, see that everybody gets to bed on time. No, I’m not gonna offer to drive illegally because I’m still too short and everybody would know, and I can’t help Mom get out of bed and into her wheelchair and back. Like Ben, I’m just not strong enough yet. So, here’s the plan, and as far as we’re concerned you don’t have an option.

“I’ll take over the household duties with the help of the other four. You will keep driving for us at least until I’m old enough to get a license. You’ll spend more time with Ben, here, at his house, or any other place the two of you want to go. I’ve talked with Mom about her getting in and out of bed. When you’re here, you can help her do that. If you’re going out for the evening, you’ll need to help her into bed before you go. If you stay out for the night, maybe at Ben’s house, Mom has agreed to stay in bed for a day or two. When you’re gone, I’ll clean her and empty her bed pan, I’ll feed her and give her her meds, and I’ll do anything else she needs me to do.

“I hope you understand that we’re doing this out of love and gratitude for you. Of course, we’re not throwing you out. Anytime you want to cook, you’re welcome to. Anytime you want to just be by yourself for a while with no responsibility, you’re welcome to be. Any questions?”

Jeff and I looked at each other before Jeff said, “I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say.”

“Jeff,” I said, “it may take you a while to get used to having a life of your own again. I for one love the idea of you coming to my house, maybe even staying overnight there. You and I could go out for an occasional meal on our own. We could go to a movie or to the park, or play basketball, or do anything else you want.” Turning to Robert, I said, “Your thoughtfulness and caring are, as Jeff said, overwhelming.”

Robert smiled and said, “Well, I’ve had the world’s best example to follow.” We all stood and hugged together.

Then we went downstairs, where all the rest of the family were gathered in the living room. “Jeff has agreed to our plan and he and Ben both are very happy,” said Robert.

“There’s no way I can thank you all enough,” Jeff said. Then we all had a huge group hug, crying and giggling at the same time.

“Dan and I are getting the supper tonight,” said Robert, “and Ben, of course you’re invited.”

And of course, I stayed. I think it was the happiest, merriest meal I’ve ever attended. We talked; we laughed; we teased each other; we loved each other. And when the meal was over, I went around the table hugging everyone.

In the months that followed, Jeff and I saw a lot of each other. He came over to my house for dinner and met my father. After Jeff left, my father, who by now knew the whole story said, “What a nice boy. I’m glad you’ve been able to help him out some.”

Soon after that, Jeff spent the night at my house. Mom asked where he would sleep and I said, “There’s plenty of room in my bed for two.” She didn’t say anything, but she did look a little surprised. That night, Jeff and I dedicated my bed to our love and had our usual loving time together in it.

We went to movies where we sat in the back row and held hands if the movie was good or necked if it wasn’t. We went out to dinner a few times. We played basketball in the park, although I was hopeless because he was so much taller than I was. Before it got too cold, we went swimming. But most of all, we just talked.

Talking together was our favorite activity and certainly our most important. As we shared ourselves with each other, we grew to truly know each other.

Early in December, we talked about Christmas. It turned out that we both had the same idea for gifts for each other. So we went to a shop and picked out the gifts.

We both spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at our own homes. In the afternoon, I borrowed the car, loaded it up, and drove to the Carters’ house. I had been there so often I no longer even rang the bell but just walked in. Everyone was in the living room, all of them going through their gifts once more and chatting happily together.

I put down a couple of bags in the middle of the living room and began to hand out a gift to each one. Robert protested, “But we don’t have anything for you.”

“Your gift to me,” I replied, “is letting me take part in this wonderful, loving family. That’s all I need or will ever need.”

“Well I have something for Ben,” Jeff announced, and he handed me a gift-wrapped little box while I found his in the bottom of my bag. We both giggled, partly because we knew what was in the boxes and partly because we were both a little nervous wondering what the others would say.

We unwrapped the boxes and opened them. Inside each box was a silver ring with filigreed openwork. Jeff took his out of the box and asked me to put it on his finger, which I did. Then he put my ring on my finger. All the others gathered around to look at the identical rings.

“Why are you giving each other rings?” asked Paul.

Jeff looked at me and I nodded before he said, “These are friendship rings. They can also be called love rings. That’s what Ben and I call them.”

“Do you two love each other?” asked Peter.

“Yes,” Jeff and I replied in unison.

“We love each other very much,” I said.

“Very much!” echoed Jeff. Looking at me, he asked, “Do you realize that’s the first time you’ve actually used the ‘L’ word for me?”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling at him. “I was saving it for a special time.”

“Does that mean that you’re really gay?” asked Paul.

“It does indeed,” I said.

“And now we’d like to spend a little time alone together,” said Jeff. He took my hand and led me up the stairs to his room. Neither of us had any worries about what his family would think. We didn’t care. We removed our clothes, kissed passionately, and truly consummated our love.

Friendship rings

Many thanks to my beta readers/editors for all their help and suggestions.
~ AD