Love in the Choir Loft

by Alan Dwight

Part 1

He was about my age, give or take a year. He was a very nice boy too, very quick and dark, and always laughing.

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

His name was Grady Archibald. Mr. Martin had asked me to help him find his way in the music during our rehearsal. He was sitting beside me, to my left. He smelled unwashed. His skin was pale in contrast to his dark hair. His eyes were nearly as dark. He had a cute mouth with pouty lips when he smiled, which, as he grew comfortable, became often. He was dressed in torn jeans and a dirty, stained T-shirt. On his feet were old, ratty sneakers. I on the other hand wore a cotton sport shirt, grey slacks, and penny loafers.

He had the most beautiful voice I had ever heard, and my heart quailed with fear.

I had been groomed to be the new soloist, since Parker, our former soloist, had suddenly become the victim of the bane of boy sopranos. His voice had cracked.

It was 1951. I was thirteen, and I had been in the cathedral choir for over three years. We were not like the cathedral choirs of England. We were not in residence and the cathedral did not maintain a school. The boys rehearsed on Thursdays after school and on Friday evenings with the men. A few of us, prospective soloists like me, also rehearsed on Saturday mornings.

As I heard him sing, his crystal-clear voice ringing with increasing confidence, I feared that my days as a soloist were numbered. I was stunned. I cast sideways glances at him and could see that he was thoroughly enjoying himself, even though he needed some guidance finding his way in our octavo anthems and figuring out Anglican chant.

“How long have you been in the choir?” he asked during a lull in the rehearsal.

I told him.

“You’re not bad for a yuppie puppy,” he commented.

My ears grew red, but I said nothing.

I wanted to say to him that he did pretty well for a filthy, smelly, slum-dwelling twelve-year-old, but I kept my mouth shut.

At the end of the rehearsal, Mr. Martin said something to Grady and sent him on his way before calling me to sit beside him on the piano bench.

“Well, how was he, Wally?” Mr. Martin asked.

I couldn’t lie to Mr. Martin. I had too much love and respect for him. Besides, I was certain that he had heard Grady as well as I had.

“He was amazing,” I answered. “I’m not sure he can read music, but he picked it up really quickly, and his voice is. . . his voice is. . . stunning.”

Mr. Martin nodded. “Thank you, Wally,” he said before dismissing me.

Dispirited, I went out the door of the choir room to the parking lot, where my mother was waiting to take me home. She greeted me warmly. I told her hi but nothing more as I stared ahead through the windshield.

As we rode home I spotted Grady trudging up State Street. I supposed he lived up there somewhere. It was a part of town I’d never been to.

“You seem a little glum,” Mom remarked. “Did something happen?”

At first I was silent, but I finally said, “Mom, there’s a new boy, and… and he’s really, really good.” The tears running down my face embarrassed me.

She looked over at me and asked, “As good as you?”

“I’m afraid he’s better,” I sniffed.

She reached out and patted my knee. “Does he have the music background you do?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, “but I don’t think so.”

I had been playing the piano for six years. Sometimes, when the choir took a break in the middle of Friday night rehearsals, I played the rehearsal room piano. It was a Steinway grand, and its tone was so much better than my old upright at home that it was a joy to play.

Usually during the breaks on Friday evenings, the men would go into another room and smoke, but they could hear me play, and often they stopped talking and listened when I began. Maybe I had an inflated ego. Grady’s arrival had severely damaged it. If he couldn’t play the piano, I reasoned, then I was still ahead.

I should explain that there were not a lot of opportunities for soloists in the Episcopal Church. The music tended to be more focused on the choir than on a few individuals.

On Saturday morning, I was standing at the piano in the choir room warming up with Billy, our lead alto, when Grady entered. He stood beside me at the piano. He still smelled.

Mr. Martin had us do some vocal exercises and then asked me to sing the first part of “Hear My Prayer”, by Mendelssohn. It was an old chestnut, but I loved it. He played an introduction, and I began:

Hear my prayer, O God, incline Thine ear!
Thyself from my petition do not hide.
Thyself from my petition do not hide!

After I sang the high note on the last “Thyself”, Mr. Martin smiled and stopped. Then he asked Grady to do the same. Grady had been following closely while I sang. He stood, head up, eyes straight ahead, and sang the solo with such clarity and beauty that I couldn’t help but be impressed. When he came to the high note, he was a little flat.

Mr. Martin stopped playing and told Grady he was a little under the pitch. He asked him to try again. This time the note rang true and flawlessly.

My heart sank.

In the next section of the anthem, Mr. Martin had me sing the solo while Billy and Grady sang the choir part in a call and response style. Then Grady and I switched parts, and he sang the solo:

The wicked oppress me

The wicked oppress me

Perplexed and bewildered, O God, hear my cry!
My heart is sorely pained within my breast.

While I sang with pleasure, it was true that my heart was sorely pained and that I was perplexed and bewildered. I doubted that God would hear my cry, but I knew this wasn’t the time to burst into tears.

Coming to my favorite part, I sang with all my heart:

O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!
Far away, far away would I rove!
And remain there forever at rest.

When I finished, Mr. Martin asked Grady to sing the last section.

I knew I was outmatched, but it was more than that: I was overwhelmed. I felt like a whipped puppy. There were tears in my eyes. Mr. Martin’s eyes were also damp, but for a different reason, I was sure.

In the weeks that followed, Grady and I became openly competitive. I no longer helped him with his music. Singing with him should have been a delight, but it wasn’t, it was torture.

One Saturday morning at the end of rehearsal, Mr. Martin asked me to stay back for a minute. When the other boys had left, he motioned for me to join him on the piano bench.

“Wally,” he began, “you’ve seemed very down the last few weeks. Is something the matter at home or in school?”

“No, sir.”

“So, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“I’m not sure I believe that. Is there something bothering you here?”

I sighed and at last answered, “Yes, sir.”

“Tell me about it.”

I did. I poured my heart out to him. I told him about feeling like I’d been replaced. I ended by telling him I was thinking of quitting the choir. I didn’t say anything about Grady smelling.

“Wally,” he said, “you’re right that Grady has a beautiful voice. Yes, he will end up singing some solos. But you haven’t been replaced. Without a doubt you are the leader of the boys in the choir.

“But if I’m not the soloist, I won’t be a leader for long.”

“That’s not so. There are many ways to lead. Your knowledge of music is unusual for a boy your age, and it’s recognized by the others. You sing very musically. So does Grady, but he’s imitating you. He’s never sung a solo on Saturdays without hearing you sing it first. Your place in this choir is very secure. Remember that.”

I nodded and thanked him before I left, but I still wasn’t happy.

I often took the bus home on Saturdays. As I looked out the bus window at the first snowflakes of winter falling gently, I saw Grady trudging up State Street as usual. Why doesn’t he take the bus? I wondered, before realizing that he probably couldn’t afford to.

The boys in the choir were paid, but not a great deal. I remember being very proud when I received my initial pay envelope, which contained a quarter. It was the first money I had ever earned, and I was pleased, but it wouldn’t pay for my transportation to choir for even a week. Instead, I spent it on an ice cream sundae.

A month before Christmas, Mr. Martin gave the Saturday morning group a new anthem, O Holy Night. Well, it wasn’t new, but we had never sung it during my time in the choir. The first few times we practiced it, he had me and Grady sing it together. I realized that Grady had difficulty reading the music. Later Mr. Martin asked me to sing it alone, with Billy and Grady singing the choir part along with me:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!

Two weeks later on Saturday, Mr. Martin announced that Grady would sing the solo on Christmas Eve. He was watching me as he announced this, so he saw me struggling for control.

When Grady and I got out of the building, I said to him, “You bastard. That should have been my solo.”

“Don’t be a sore loser,” he said as he laughed in my face before trotting down Maple Street to State Street.

As I stood waiting for the bus, tears ran down my face. I was terribly disappointed and discouraged. Then I sensed a presence beside me. Billy was there. He put his arm around my shoulder as I turned into him and wept.

“I tried my hardest,” I sobbed, “and it just wasn’t good enough.”

“You sang it beautifully,” he replied. “Most years it would have been yours, but Grady just sang it better.”

“I know,” I sobbed.

“Are you aware that you taught him to sing it?” Billy asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he’s not nearly as musical as you, but he’s a great mimic. The musicality in his singing comes from him imitating you.”

That was not much consolation. If it was my musicality, then why wasn’t it my solo? I just didn’t understand.

Whether or not I understood didn’t really matter. The solo was Grady’s, and it was he who sang it with the choir during our final rehearsals before Christmas.

Christmas Eve was my favorite service of the year. The cathedral took on the scent from the pine boughs hung on the rows of pews. There were special candle holders at the end of each pew. But that year, the program announced that Grady would sing the solo for “O Holy Night”, and I found little joy in anticipating the evening.

The service started at 11 PM and was timed so that communion began right after midnight. As I was getting into my robe, Mr. Martin called me to him.

“Wally,” he said, “Grady has laryngitis and won’t be able to sing. Would you please do the solo tonight?”

My heart leaped. I was filled with joy, but I tried to remain calm. “Yes, sir,” I answered.

The service began with the carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. As we processed down the aisle, I sang with the joy of the season.

During a brief announcement time in the service, the dean of the cathedral announced that Grady had laryngitis and that I, Wally Driscoll, would sing the solo in his place.

On Christmas Eve, the acoustics of the cathedral change from the weekly services. During most Sundays, there is a several second reverberation in the building, but for that service and for the ones at Easter, there is a capacity congregation which soaks up some of the sound.

When the choir rose for the anthem, I turned slightly towards the congregation. I was excited but struggled for control. I could still see Mr. Martin out of the corner of my eye. I sang as I never had before, giving the solo everything I had. I didn’t need to look at the music. When we came to the final coda, my voice rang out:

Christ is the Lord, then ever, ever praise we!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!

On the last line, my voice soared over the choir to a high A on “glory”, before descending the scale to join the rest of the sopranos.

At the end of communion, the lights dimmed and everyone lit their candles as the flame was passed along each row. I stood, gazing out at the beautiful sight of hundreds of glowing candles while we sang “Silent Night”:

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright

The recessional was “Angels We Have Heard on High”, which I sang lustily as we departed. Many people in the congregation were smiling at us, and I smiled back.

Disrobing in the choir room after the service, I suddenly became aware of a distinctive odor. The other boys grew quiet. Turning, I saw Grady standing, looking at me.

“You did great, Wally!” he croaked, and before I knew it, he was hugging me.

Lying in bed that night, I wondered if I would have been half as gracious.

Part 2

For the first time in my life, I was really aware of another person’s body.

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

Grady was absent from the first week of rehearsals after Christmas. While he was gone, I heard other boys talking about him, particularly about his hygiene. When he returned, some of the boys held their noses is disgust. If he noticed, he didn’t react.

Although we sat side by side, I didn’t say much to him. I was still puzzled about his congratulating me and my reaction to it. He did try to make a few comments, but other than answering questions about the music, I ignored him.

A couple of weeks later, as we exited the building at the end of a Saturday rehearsal, Grady asked me, “Can we talk?”

I nodded hesitantly. It was a cold day and Grady had only a light jacket. Shivering, he said, “Look, I know I smell. I know it offends the other guys, but I don’t know what to do. We have no hot water in our apartment. We keep the temperature of the place pretty low, and taking a bath in cold water in the winter is just torture. I think that’s how I got laryngitis.”

“So, why don’t you turn the heat up?” I asked.

He blushed and said quietly, “We can’t afford it.”

That had never occurred to me. “So, what do you want from me?” I asked. “I don’t see how I can help.”

“I just hoped maybe you had a suggestion.” Looking at me with a downcast expression, he said, “I guess I was dumb to think that.” He walked away.

I was feeling very guilty as I plodded down Maple Street behind him. “Wait,” I said. He stopped until I could catch up. “I’ll try to think of something.” We walked on a little and I asked, “Can I walk home with you?”

I don’t honestly know where that thought came from. We weren’t friends. We had never walked together before.

“No. That’s okay,” he said, but I kept walking, crossing the intersection of Maple and State streets and turning up the hill.

When we got to the top of State Street, he said, “You should stop here and go home.”

“Why can’t I come with you?”

“Because you don’t live around here and it’s not safe for you.”

“Not safe?” I asked, surprised.

“No. There are guys around here who will beat up any kid they think doesn’t belong, and the way you’re dressed, you definitely don’t belong.”

I looked around but could see nobody except Grady.

Angrily he said, “Go home, Wally. If they see you with me, we could both get hurt.”

There were tears in his eyes by then, tears which might have been the result of anger or fear or embarrassment or all three. I shrugged and headed back down the hill, but not quickly enough.

Three boys considerably bigger than me came out from between two apartment houses. They stood in front of me and the biggest said, “Hey, faggot, what ya doin’ around here?”

I was scared and almost visibly shaking. I could see Grady standing in the background, watching. The boy followed my gaze and then asked, “Ya got a thing for my little brother, Grady? I’ll let ya fuck him if ya want, but it’ll cost ya.”

I was horrified. I hardly even knew what the F word meant, let alone how two boys could do it.

“N─n─no,” I stammered. “I─I was just walking.”

“Yeah?” the boy said. “Well, there’s a toll to walk here. Gimme the money ya got.”

Shaking, I gave him what was in my pocket.

“An’ yer watch,” he said.

I undid the watch and handed it to him.

“Now, get your little faggot ass outa here.” He shoved me, and the three walked off laughing. By then, Grady was nowhere in sight.

I was in a fix. I had no money for the bus. I walked back to the cathedral and found Mr. Martin just leaving.

“Wally,” he said, “why are you still here?”

I told him what had happened, and he said he’d give me a ride home. As we rode, he said, “You were in a dangerous part of town, Wally.”

“I know that now.”

“You say that Grady tried to warn you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why were you with him anyway?”

I didn’t want to tell him what Grady had said about his home, so I simply told him I’d decided to walk with him.

Mr. Martin sighed. “Did Grady ever tell you how he happened to be in the choir?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, a teacher from his school called me about Grady’s voice. I told her I’d like to hear him sing, so the next day I went to his school and heard him. I was really impressed and wanted him in the choir. His family is Roman Catholic, so I had to make a special arrangement with his priest for him to sing in the Episcopal church, but the priest knew Grady and gave his permission. You might have noticed that Grady doesn’t receive communion. He just crosses his hands on his chest and that’s the sign for the dean to give him a blessing. Anyway, I can’t say much more, but I think Grady benefits from being in the choir.”

We rode in silence for a while before I said, “I don’t think I’ve been very nice to him.”

“Well, he’s your competition and it’s probably natural for you to resent him a little.”

At that point I changed my mind about telling Mr. Martin what Grady had said about his home.

“You’re right, of course,” said Mr. Martin. “He does smell. Maybe I can find a way to help him.”

When we arrived at my house, I thanked Mr. Martin for the ride and went in for lunch. Later, I told Mom what had happened. She was shocked that I had gone to the part of town where I’d been accosted by Grady’s brother, and she made me promise not to go there again. I assured her that she didn’t need to worry. I had no thought of returning.

On Sunday, Grady found a little private time after the service to say, “So, you met my brother. What did he say?”

I told him, including the line about fucking Grady and that he had taken my money and watch.

“Shit,” he said. “Oops, that just slipped out. Anyway, I’m glad he didn’t hit you. I was afraid he might.”

When I entered the rehearsal room on Thursday afternoon, Grady was already in his seat. My watch was on my chair. “Thanks,” I said, putting it on and sitting.

At the end of the rehearsal, Mr. Martin asked to talk with Grady for a moment. The next evening, Grady came into the rehearsal and took his place beside me. I was amazed. He no longer smelled. Well, he did, but he smelled of soap. His hair had been shampooed. Before it had been dirty and unkempt, but now It was shiny and brushed.

“Did you say something to Mr. Martin about me smelling?” he asked.

“Well, yeah, I did.”

“Thanks,” he said. “After rehearsal, Mr. Martin took me to his place and let me use his bathroom. God, that hot water felt good. Now he says he’s gonna do it three or four times a week.”


“Oh, and he introduced me to his boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” I asked, puzzled.

“Yeah. Well, they live together, and I suppose they have sex.”

I was shocked, but at that moment the rehearsal began.

On Saturday, I asked Grady if he’d go with me to a nearby diner on State Street and have lunch. I told him it would be my treat.

As we sat at the lunch counter, he asked, “How come you’re not ignoring me anymore?”

I explained that I had realized he was a good kid and that I’d been mean to him. He nodded a little and said, “Thanks. Most kids are kinda mean t’ me unless they know my brother and understand they can get the shit beat outta them. Derek, he’s my brother, he really does kinda protect me and he does what he can to take care of me.”

I wondered at that statement because Derek had said I could fuck Grady if I paid. Even though I wasn’t sure what it meant to fuck a boy, I was pretty certain that the statement wasn’t a sign that Derek would protect Grady if there was money to be made. I didn’t say anything, but I did ask, “Your dad doesn’t protect and take care of you?”

He looked at me like my question had come from outer space. He blushed a little (I loved that about him) and said, “I don’t have a dad. Mom’s a whore so she doesn’t take care of me either.”

I had no idea what a whore was, but determined to look it up when I got home. We chatted amiably over lunch. I think it was the first time I realized that Grady was really cute. Especially his smile, which got my heart beating, although I didn’t know why.

When we parted, he thanked me for the lunch and even gave me a little hug. I think I floated to the bus stop.

At home I pulled out Mom’s old Webster’s Dictionary and looked up ‘hor’. Nothing. I tried ‘hore’ and ‘hoer’. Still nothing. Then I tried ‘hoar’ and learned that it meant frost. Somehow, I didn’t think that was what Grady meant.

After Dad died, my family was just me and Mom, so she was the only one I could ask. Puzzled, I finally asked her about the word. She looked shocked. “Wally, where did you hear that word?”

Uh-oh, I thought. Fumbling for an answer, I said, “Ummm, I just heard it from one of the kids.”

Mom thought for a minute, saw the dictionary in my hand, and said, “It begins with a silent w.”

Back in my room with the dictionary, I looked up ‘whore’. The definition it gave was, ‘A woman who practices unlawful sexual intercourse esp for hire’. It gave ‘prostitute’ as a synonym. (Much later I learned that the act was not always unlawful and that there were male as well as female prostitutes.) I was shocked that Grady used such a disrespectful word to describe his own mother, and I decided that maybe I shouldn’t be friendly with him after all.

There followed a few weeks of my ignoring Grady almost completely. Rehearsals were uncomfortable for me, especially the Saturday ones. At first, Grady tried to continue our growing friendship. When I ignored his overtures, he acted hurt and confused.

One Sunday, having had enough, he asked me what he had done wrong to upset me.


“Was it Derek then?”


“Did I say somethin’ ya didn’t like?”

I hesitated before replying, “Yes.”


“You called your mother a whore. Boys should respect their mothers.”

“Respect? How can I respect someone who spreads her legs for any guy who’ll give her twenty dollars? Who totally ignores me? Who is always drunk?”

“Is that really how it is?” I asked.

“Yeah. She was a whore when she had Derek. She was one when she had me. We don’t know who our fathers are. Derek says they were just one night stands for each of us.”

I was suddenly getting a whole new view of what the world was really like. I had always been taught that mothers should be respected, even honored. Were there other kids in similar situations to Grady’s? I wondered.

I looked at Grady, who was standing red faced with tears of either sorrow or embarrassment pouring down his cheeks.

“You know something?” he blurted out. “You’re nothing but a snob, and you have no idea what life is really like.”

He ran down the hill to the intersection, crossed it dodging traffic, and raced up State Street towards his neighborhood.

As I lay in bed that night, his words kept coming back to me. Am I a snob? Yes, I had known that he was poor, but what he had said completely overwhelmed me.

On Thursday, although I had decided to apologize, Grady didn’t show up at rehearsal. He was, however, present for the Friday evening one. He sat in his assigned place next to me but didn’t look at me.

I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry, Grady. I really didn’t understand.”

“I know. That’s what I said.”

“Will you forgive me?”

“How can I do that? You criticized me. You totally embarrassed me. You made me feel like shit.”

“What can I say except that I’m sorry?”

“Nothing. Just shut up.”

On Saturday, Mr. Martin looked at the two of us and said, “Boys, there are sparks flying between you and neither of you looks very happy about it. What happened?”

Grady slammed his music down on the piano and said, “Nothing! I’m quitting!” He turned and ran out of the building.

Mr. Martin gave me a nod and I ran after Grady. He hadn’t gone far, just down Maple Street to the corner of State Street, where I joined him. He crossed the street and started up the hill. I walked right beside him.

“Go away,” he said.


He turned and swung his fist at me. I grabbed him, and soon we were rolling together on the sidewalk. A man paused and tried to stop us, but we continued to tussle. It was a warm spring day, and I could feel the heat from Grady’s body. When he was sitting on top of me, one of his tears splashed on my cheek. Then another. I don’t know why, but after the third tear hit, I suddenly giggled. Before long, both of us were laughing.

He stood and helped me up.

“C’mon,” I said, “let’s get a Coke. I’ll pay.”

By the time we got to the diner, we had dried our tears. He put his arm around my shoulder, grinned, and said, “You are such an asshole.”

“Takes one to know one,” I answered, that being the standard reply.

He punched me on my arm, but not hard and I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me.

All the time we sat spinning on the stools and drinking our Cokes we joked and giggled.

That night in bed, as I played the scene over, reviewing the fun we had had together, I realized that Grady could truly be sweet and kind. He was cute and I really, really liked him.

About a year before, I had discovered the joys of jerking off. At first there was just the sensation of tension rising, but one night a little fluid came out. Soon I was producing thick, milky liquid. I no longer wore pajamas, although my mother didn’t know. Each week I put a pair in the laundry.

I lay in bed that night after we’d been to the diner and fondled my penis as usual. I tried to imagine Grady naked. Picturing him quickly aroused me. It didn’t take long before I shot my load. Wiping myself off with a tissue, I smiled and wondered if he jerked off too. Well, I couldn’t ask him. That would be embarrassing.

Part 3

I knew I could do nothing whatsoever to stop the ferocious excitement which had burst in me like a storm.

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

Easter came, and with it more glorious music. It was my second most favorite day of the church year, and the only day when we sang two services. We had an early morning service and then walked down State Street to a restaurant which served a buffet. We could eat whatever we wanted, all paid for by the cathedral.

The second service was at the usual time of 11AM. Both services began with one of my favorite hymns ─ “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”:

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!

Nothing, I thought, could be more joyful.

Grady had turned thirteen in January. My fourteenth birthday was in the middle of May. As my day approached, Mom asked me who I wanted to invite to a party. “Just Grady,” I said.

She had met Grady. She had even given him a ride up State Street a few times when the weather was bad. At his request, she always dropped him off before reaching his apartment building.

“Do you really think he’ll come?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but if he won’t there’s nobody else I want to invite.”

As Grady and I walked down Maple Street on Saturday morning, I said, “Grady, I’m having a birthday party next Saturday. Will you come?”

Looking at me he asked, “Me? Ya want me t’ go t’ yer house?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“How many’ll be there?”

“Just you and me and my mom.”

“I don’t think I should. I wouldn’t fit in, and I couldn’t even give you a present.”

“That’s not why I invited you,” I said. “I just want you there on my special day. We can take a bus to my house and give you a ride back. Maybe you could even stay over.”

“Can I think about it?” he asked.

“Sure, but I’ll need to know pretty soon.”

On Sunday, he told me that he’d come but he wouldn’t stay over, saying that if he did, Derek would give him hell.

After rehearsal the following Saturday, Grady and I went down to the bus stop. I paid the fares, and we rode towards my home. As we neared the suburbs the houses grew larger, and the lawns were impressive. I could see Grady watching out the window.

“I’ve never been out here before,” he said.

We got off the bus and walked the two-and-a-half blocks to my house. Standing in front of it, he just said, “Wow! Is that all yours?”

To me it was just an ordinary house, but I guessed that to him it must have seemed special. “Well, mine and my mom’s,” I said. “Dad’s life insurance paid for it.”

“That’s a big place for just the two of you.”

Mom gave us lunch and then I showed him around the house. None of the rooms were huge. Mom had a little tiny study, and we had a rec room in the basement as well as a wood shop which had been Dad’s, but was now where I worked, building models.

As we passed through the kitchen, Mom said she had some errands to do and asked if we’d be okay in the house. I assured her we would.

On the second floor I took Grady into my room. I sat on my bed while he walked around the room examining my models. When he finished, he sat on an upholstered chair. He plopped down and then got a silly expression on his face as he bounced up and down. “We have one of these, but the springs are all broken,” he said.

We talked a little before he said, “Wally, I really like you, but I feel kinda out of place here.”

“But you’re not,” I said. “I want you to feel welcome here and to come a lot.”

He thought about that for a minute and then stood and walked over to me. “Stand up,” he said.

I stood, wondering what was up. He took my head in his hands, pulled it towards his face, and kissed me firmly. . . on the mouth.

“That’s for bein’ such a good friend,” he said, before resuming the kiss.

I wriggled for a few moments before realizing that I really liked his lips on mine.

Oh God, I wondered, should we be doing this? But I didn’t stop returning his kiss.

I felt his tongue part my lips a little. “Open your mouth,” he murmured. When his tongue slipped into my mouth, I shivered, thinking it was the sexiest thing that had ever happened to me. I put my tongue in his mouth. It was warm and I could feel his breath on my lips.

We looked at each other. He grinned and asked, “Did ya like that?”

“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “You said you couldn’t give me a present, but that was the best one I ever had.”

Soon, Mom called us downstairs.

In the dining room Grady and I sat at the table as Mom came in from the kitchen singing “Happy Birthday” and carrying a cake with 14 candles on it. When she told me to make a wish, I thought for a moment and then blew out all the candles with one breath.

Mom cut the cake, chocolate with white frosting, while I scooped peppermint stick ice cream, my favorite, into bowls. Grady observed, “I never had this ice cream before, but I sure hope I’ll have it again. “

When we’d both consumed two bowls of ice cream and two slices of cake, Grady and I went out and sat on the front porch, closing the door behind us.

“What did ya wish fer?” Grady asked.

“I’m not supposed to say,” I answered. But he kept after me until at last I said, “I wished that we could repeat this afternoon again and again and again.”

“Yeah,” he agreed.

“Grady, you’ve kissed people before, right?”

He smiled and nodded. “But this was the best,” he said.


“Because this was the first time I honestly cared about the person I was doin’ it with. I wanted to make you feel real good.”

“Well, you certainly did,” I said. I began to lean over and kiss him, but realizing where we were, I didn’t.

“Have ya ever done anythin’ with another boy?” he asked.

“Never. Have you?”

“Yeah but I don’t wanna talk about it now.”

Mom came out of the house a few minutes later and said that we needed to get Grady home before dark. He and I sat in the back seat holding hands while Mom acted as our chauffeur. The ride seemed much too short.

As Grady climbed out of the car, he said, “Thanks, Mrs. Driscoll.” Then to me he said, “See ya tomorrow.”

I moved up to the front seat for the ride home. Mom tried a couple of times to start a conversation, but at first I was quiet.

At last she said, “You really like him, don’t you?”

I nodded.

“Did you have a good time?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “It was the best birthday ever.”

In the summer it became more difficult for me and Grady to meet unless we prearranged it, as the choir didn’t convene over the long vacation. Sometimes we met on the grassy space behind the cathedral. Sometimes we met at our diner. Sometimes we took the bus and then walked to my house. Grady had given up complaining that I paid for everything.

One day as we sat in my bedroom grinning at each other, I said, “Grady, you asked me before if I’d ever done anything with another boy and I had to admit that I hadn’t. But I know you have.” He nodded. “Will you tell me about it?”

“That’d be kinda embarrassin’,” he said. I looked him in the eyes and after a few moments he said, “O… kay.

“Well, the first time I had sex it was with Derek.”

“Oh my God. Your brother.”

“Yup. I was only nine so I didn’t cum or anythin’. We share a bedroom and I gave him a blow job. He made me do that a lot of times until, about a year ago, I shot my load. After that he changed and began fucking me.”

By then I knew what the F word meant, but I still didn’t know how two guys could do it, so I asked him.

He explained, saying, “My ass really hurt that first time, and when he finished, I was bleedin’ back there. He’s done it a lotta times since. Now he lets men do him fer money. He wants me t’ do men, too, but so far I’ve been able t’ refuse.”

“Did you ever do it to him?”

“Nope, he won’t let me.”

By then we were both rock hard. We lay on my bad, caressing and kissing and tonguing each other.

A week later, we again met in town and rode the bus towards my house.

We had lunch with Mom at my house before going up to my room. By then my heart was pounding and I knew his was as well.

“Let’s take our time,” he said. “Last time we kinda rushed, but we’ve got all afternoon.”

It was a hot day, and I could smell his sweet boy-sweat, which I found erotic.

He pulled me to him and kissed my mouth, nibbling my lips. I loved his mouth and began to explore it with my tongue. Soon our tongues were twisting and dancing together.

Without stopping his tongue, he began to unbutton my shirt and pull it off. He had a T-shirt on, so when I raised it, we broke the kiss long enough for me to lift the shirt over his head. We embraced, loving the sensation of each other’s warm skins on our bare torsos. It was so warm that our skin stuck together.

One of his hands began rubbing my back as I rubbed his. He reached down and undid my shorts, pushing them and my underpants to the floor. I did the same for his shorts. He pushed me onto the bed.

Kneeling over me he began exploring my neck and torso with his tongue, sucking as he went. He loved on my nipples and belly button. When he got to my penis, he stroked it and took my balls in his mouth before licking my shaft. Soon I erupted.

“Oh, yes!” I replied. “That was amazing. Did Derek teach you to do that?”

He nodded. “Will ya do me?”

“Sure,” I said eagerly, and I did.

When I finished, we lay as usual face to face, holding each other.

“Ya know,” he said, “I don’t know what love feels like, but if this is it, I hope it lasts forever.”

“Grady,” I answered, “I’ve never felt this kind of love before, but I think I truly love you too.”

He grinned and kissed me again.

All too soon, Mom called, saying it was time for her to take Grady home.

In the car, I asked, “Mom, could Grady sleep over sometime?”

“I don’t see why not if you two will behave yourselves.”

We grinned at each other, giggling quietly over the word ‘behave’.

Part 4

Love him, love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

Fall had come and the choir had resumed practice. Grady and I set a date on a Saturday when he could stay overnight and we would ride together to the cathedral on Sunday.

Mom and I picked up Grady at the end of the Saturday morning rehearsal. Once again he and I rode together in the back seat holding hands.

After lunch, we went up to my room. As soon as the door was closed, we began removing each other’s clothes. He had been wearing his best clothes so he’d have them for Sunday. I put them neatly on a hanger in my closet and then dropped my T-shirt and shorts on the floor.

We had found that we enjoyed a frantic bout of loving to start with. After we’d shot once, we took our time, relaxing and enjoying the subsequent lengthier anticipation and climaxes. When we finished the first time, each of us servicing the other, we lay as usual facing and stroking each other. After our next round we decided to wait until night for the third.

Grady told me that his brother, Derek, had been beaten up by a customer and had decided that the money he made wasn’t worth it.

We decided to clean up before dinner. As we talked in the shower, disaster struck. Or at least it was a disaster for a boy soprano. My voice cracked, suddenly dropping nearly an octave. It was the first time, and I was very afraid that it wouldn’t be the last.

At first Grady laughed to hear it, but then, when he saw tears in my eyes, he understood. My time in the choir as a soprano was at an end. Slowly, we put our clothes back on and went downstairs for dinner.

I tried to be cheerful at the table that night, but again my voice cracked. Mom looked at me. Seeing my expression, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Wally, you’re growing up, and it’s not a process you can control.”

“I know,” I said. “I just wish it hadn’t happened quite so soon.”

Two subdued boys made their way back upstairs after dessert ─ peppermint stick ice cream. When we got to my room, Grady pulled me to him and gave me a long, loving, tender kiss. Looking in my eyes, he said, “I guess that’s the price we pay for our bodies being able to enjoy sex.”

“Yeah. I guess.” I felt numb.

He closed the door behind us and held me for a long time. “Let me take charge tonight,” he said. “I want this t’ be a night you’ll always remember, not because of yer voice but because of our love.”

I just nodded.

Slowly he undressed me while I stood listlessly. The temperature that day was in the 90s. I had a fan going in my window, but it didn’t seem to help. We were both sweating. Although I was feeling down, the smell of his sweat turned me on.

He led me to the bed and told me to lie down. He removed his own clothes and lay beside me, stroking my back gently. His body was warm and damp, and his touch aroused me despite the way I was feeling. Pulling my head to him, he kissed me gently and began to tongue me. I opened my mouth to let him in, the excitement growing in my groin.

When he broke the kiss, he began to caress my nipple with his tongue and then suck it, knowing that I loved the sensation. He moved to the other nipple. Then he returned to my head and stuck his tongue gently into my ear. He licked my neck, giving special attention to the area between my collar bones. Moving down my torso, his tongue stroked me lovingly and flicked in my belly button. Arriving at last at my groin, he took my ball sac in his mouth and sucked very tenderly first one ball and then the other. At the same time his hands stroked the sensitive insides of my thighs. I feared I was going to cum too soon, and I asked him to stop for a few moments.

After waiting, he resumed his ministrations. He took my hard penis in his mouth, running his tongue up and down it and giving special attention to the sensitive spot just below the tip.

Looking up at me with a grin he smiled. “Ya ready?”

I grinned back and nodded.

“Good,” he said.

He resumed his motion, and again my excitement rose. I started to shoot into his mouth, and I cried out involuntarily.

I heard a knock on my door. Oh, no, I thought, not now. But before I could say anything the door opened and there was Mom staring at us in shock.

Confused, she blurted out, “I’m sorry,” backed out, and closed the door.

“Oh, shit!” exclaimed Grady. “Now she’ll never let me visit again.”

We dressed hastily and went fearfully to the living room holding hands. Mom looked up from her book and said calmly, “Come, sit down.”

We obeyed. What else could we do?

Looking me in the eyes, she said, “First, I’m sorry I burst in on you like that. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.”

“You haven’t,” I said meekly.

“Of course, I was quite surprised,” she continued.

Grady and I both nodded. I wanted to say, “So were we,” but I thought it wiser to keep my mouth shut.

“Were you just experimenting, or do you really care about each other?”

“Mrs. Driscoll,” said Grady, “I guess we’re kinda young, but I really do love Wally, and it’s not just sex. He’s taught me so much that is decent and kind and so different from where I live. I think he’s saved me. Tonight, he was kinda sad and I was tryin’ to cheer him up.”

Mom nodded. “You are young, both of you,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean you were wrong.” Looking now at Grady she asked gently, “Have you had sex with other people?”

Blushing, Grady nodded. “Yes, ma’am. But it wasn’t love. My older brother has kinda forced me to.” There were tears in his eyes and Mom looked shocked.

She nodded. “I need to think,” she said, “but I’ll say no more for now. Do you boys think you can sleep?”

We both nodded.

“Can you call a halt with the sex for tonight?”

Again we nodded.

“Then why don’t you head up to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.”

Gratefully, we went back upstairs, holding hands.

“I don’t believe it,” I said when we were in my room. “She acted like she understood. I thought sure she’d get mad.”

“Me too,” said Grady. “Maybe we should wear something in bed tonight, so we won’t be as tempted.”

I agreed. I pulled on my undershorts. Grady didn’t wear any, so I loaned him a pair of mine.

In bed we snuggled together. He hugged me and kissed me before turning over so I was spooned into his back.

And after a long time of tossing and worrying, we slept.

In the morning, Mom called us to get ready to go to the cathedral. We dressed and went downstairs, still fearful about what she would say. She didn’t say anything except, “Good morning,” and then she passed us a plate of waffles and filled our mugs with coffee. Imitating Grady, I had begun to drink it. Grady said he’d never had waffles before. I taught him to butter them and pour syrup on them. Soon we had devoured them, and the serving plate was empty.

On the ride to the cathedral, Grady and I sat as usual in the back seat holding hands.

After the service we found Mom waiting for us in the car.

“Grady,” she said, “I’ve been thinking, but I really need to talk with Wally alone before I go any further. Would you be willing to return to our house with us and have lunch?”

“Sure,” he said. “I eat a lot better at your house,” he remarked, grinning. Mom and I both laughed. God, I loved his grin!

Back home, Mom told Grady to make himself comfortable for a few minutes in the living room while she and I went into her study.

When Mom and I were both seated, she said, “Wally, I have to tell you I really like Grady. I know he’s had a hard time but he’s gentle and loving and above all honest. He acts older than most boys his age, and I can tell he truly cares a lot about you.”

I nodded, holding my breath for what she was going to say next.

“How would you feel about him living with us?” she asked.

I suddenly burst out crying. “Oh… y… yes… Mom,” I stammered. Do you really mean it?”

Rising and coming around her desk to me she hugged me and said, “Yes. I’m not sure it will be legal, but I think we can pull it off.”

Hugging her hard I said, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Together we walked back into the living room and found Grady sitting on the couch and holding a magazine, although I could tell he wasn’t really looking at it because it was upside down.

I sat next to him on the couch. I looked at Mom and she nodded.

“Grady,” I began, “how would you like to live here with us?”

He looked at me with astonishment. “Really?” he asked.

“Really,” I said.

He burst into tears, and I joined him, hugging him as my tears blended with his.

After a joyful lunch, we all rode into town and Mom bought Grady some new clothes, telling him that as far as she was concerned, he never needed to return to his old home.

I’m not sure how Mom managed to get Grady enrolled into my suburban school, but she did.

I still went to the choir rehearsals and sat listening because my voice was still cracking. I planned to rejoin the choir when my voice had settled. I did attend the services on Sundays, usually with Mom. I wasn’t at all religious, except that I worshiped the music.

On a Sunday few weeks later, when Grady, Mom, and I came out of the cathedral, there was Derek.

“Uh-oh,” Grady said.

“Where ya been?” asked his older brother.

“With Wally,” Grady replied.

“Ya mean yer livin’ with him?”


“Yer not comin’ home nomore?”


“Good fer you. Wish I had a place t’ go, but I think I’ll find one soon.” He reached over and hugged Grady. Then he hugged me. “Thanks fer takin’ care of my little brother,” he said.

Hugging him back, I said, “Take care of yourself, and let us know where you land.”

He nodded, but he never did, and we never saw him again.

The days and weeks and years that followed were magic to me. I did rejoin the choir as a tenor and sang for years. Oh, Grady and I sometimes acted like siblings and had arguments, but we knew that we loved each other and that was what mattered.

Sadly, Mom died just after I turned 21. Since the mortgage on the house had been paid off, Grady and I remained living there. She had willed it to both of us. We both got jobs. Perhaps, had things been different, I would have gone to college, but I didn’t want things to be different. I wanted my Grady, to hold him, and kiss him, and love him forever.

As always, many thanks to Mike for maintaining AwesomeDude and to my editors for all their help.

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