Because I Know Why

by Steven Keiths © 2011

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Carl leaned closer to the mirror, his nose almost touching the glass. “Ack! Those look like wrinkles,” he lamented. “Peter, Peter.”

 

“Whaaat?”

 

“Peter, am I getting old?”

 

“Huh?” Wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Hon, you’re 60, of course you’re getting old,

uh, older.”

 

“I most certainly am not 60, I’m 59. But do I look older?”

 

“Okay, I stand corrected, 59 for another month. You can’t stay 25 all your life, Hon. You’re not a prune, if that’s what you’re asking. Now can I go back to sleep? I was having such a wonderful dream about you.”

 

“Poppycock. Besides, it’s seven o’clock.”

 

“I know. I can read the digital clock. The numbers are so big they light the room up at night. I don’t know why you don’t get glasses.” But of course Peter did know why.

 

“I do not need glasses.”

 

“Then why do I have to read you the menu at Luigi’s?”

 

“You know darn well the lighting is poor in that dungeon. Oh, go back to sleep. I’ll wake you when breakfast is ready.” Snapping off the vanity’s light, Carl harrumphed out of the bedroom suite — stopping first to plant a kiss on Peter’s forehead. Peter dozed off again, returning to the dream that had been interrupted by his lover of many years.

 

 

***[ ]***

 

Peter froze in his tracks. Standing 15 feet in front of him was the most gorgeous boy he had ever seen. Peter didn’t hear the cacophony made by the students rushing through the hallways yelling goodnights to one another. He was enthralled by the vision in front of him. The diminutive young boy was meticulously placing his books and other belongings neatly in his locker, the books stacked according to size. Peter noticed him removing some things from a plastic bag and inserting them in his gym shoes. Taking his jacket off a hanger, the boy donned it and closed his locker door, slung his book bag over his shoulder and spun the combination lock. Peter couldn’t help but notice that even the boy’s gym apparel was on a hanger.

 

As he passed Peter, still cemented to his spot in the hallway, the angel looked up, smiled and said goodnight. Peter came out of his daze to mumble something in return and weakly raised his hand in a wave, but the freshman was already walking out the door.

 

A tremor rippled down Peter’s 5’ 11’ frame as he came back to his senses. He wanted to ditch soccer practice and follow the boy. But he knew why he couldn’t: the coach would be furious if he didn’t show. As he made his way to the locker room, Peter was scheming. He had to find out more about the cute boy and somehow meet him. Seniors didn’t normally socialize with lower classmen, so he’d have to manufacture some reason.

 

Peter heard raucous laughter and testosterone-laden braggadocio as he entered the locker room.

 

“Hey, Pete, you’re late. You’d better step on it. Coach is in a real snit today.”

 

As Peter dressed in his wrinkled, smelly gym clothes, he overheard Greg Landry ask, “Have any of you seen the prissy new kid? I think he’s a fag. He certainly is a know-it-all. His hand shot up for every damn question in both math and history class today.”

 

Several other boys responded, saying yeah they’d seen him and thought he was strange, so prim and proper. A couple even agreed that the kid was probably a queer.

 

Peter, trying not to show any special interest asked, “Who are you talking about?”

 

“Carl Bannister,” Greg replied. “I think his dad owns the men’s store in the new mall.”

 

The shrill whistle blown by their coach ended any further questions Peter could ask and everyone scrambled for the door.

 

***[ ]***

 

That weekend Peter, his sister Amy and their parents went to the new mall. It was a curiosity to the locals and, being new, many bargains were to be had. In their meandering, Peter spied his reason for coming: Bannister & Sons Haberdashery. He also saw the person he wanted to see. He was outfitting a mannequin in the window, standing on a step stool to adjust the angle of a fedora. He climbed down and took a step back to survey his work. Peter didn’t see anything wrong, but apparently Carl did as he climbed back and fiddled a bit more with the hat.

 

“Petey,” Amy called, “Come on, let’s go. Daddy wants to see the new home supplies store.”

 

“Uh, you guys go on ahead. I see a friend from school. I’m going to go say hi.”

 

“Well, don’t be long. It’s almost time for us to get home. Be at the car by 4:00,” his mother said.

 

“Okay, Mom.” He was trying to formulate something to say to Carl. “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?” Nah, that was lame. “Hi, I recognized you from school and thought I’d stop in and say hi.” Yeah, that’s better. Not great, but better.

 

Just as he took a step in the direction of the store, he heard, “Hey, Patterson, what’re ya up to?”

 

“Hi, guys. Uh, just walking around.”

 

“Get a load of the little fairy in the window,” said Greg, looking past Peter. He went over and banged on the window. It startled Carl and he slipped off the step stool. Greg and his friends burst out laughing. Greg gave the fallen boy the finger. Carl glared at the gang of boys. Dusting himself off and repositioning the stool, he continued with his work, ignoring his tormentors.

 

Peter wanted to slug Greg, but of course couldn’t do that, and he knew why. He couldn’t let on that he was interested in the cute little blond. So, with his hopes to meet Carl dashed, he sauntered off with the group to explore more of the mall.

 

It wasn’t until the following Wednesday that Peter and Carl finally met. The circumstances weren’t exactly how Pete envisioned their meeting.

 

“Hey, give me back my bag.”

 

“Come get it, ya little prissy fag,” taunted Greg.

 

Carl made a grab for his backpack, and twisted his ankle as he reached. He yelped in pain and fell.

 

Greg didn’t let up. He hovered over the smaller freshman, harassing him all the more. “Oh, are we going to cry now, sissy boy?”

 

“Just give me my stuff and get away from me. I wasn’t bothering you.”

 

“Give him back his bag, Greg,” Pete said as he stepped between the group and the fallen Carl.

 

“What? Why are you sticking up for this little twerp? He’s a friggin’ know it all. Thinks he’s better than us.”

 

“Uh, Greg, have you ever wondered why he is taking senior classes and he’s only a freshman?  He probably does know more than you, which isn’t saying much. Amy knows more than you and she’s in the sixth grade.” The other boys snickered at Peter’s dig at Greg.

 

“Mr. Landry and company,” resounded the voice of the approaching principal, Mr. Sutter. “Don’t you boys have soccer practice or homes to go to, instead of loitering in the hallway?”

 

Seeing Carl on the ground he inquired what happened. Before anyone else could respond Peter said, “He slipped. I think he sprained his ankle.”

 

“Well, you boys get a move on,” said Mr. Sutter. “Mr. Bannister, I’ll take you to the nurse.”

 

“That’s okay, Mr. Sutter. I’ll put ice on it when I get home, but thanks for your concern.”

 

“Very well. And why are you still here, Mr. Patterson? Don’t you have a practice to attend?”

 

“Uh, well, I thought I’d give Carl a ride home so he doesn’t have to walk.” Peter eyed Carl to see his reaction. Carl sat silently.

 

“Very well, have a nice evening, and Mr. Bannister, take care of that ankle.”

 

Carl nodded. Peter attempted to assist Carl to his feet but his hand was brusquely pushed aside. “I can get up by myself. Why don’t you go join your little gang and leave me alone?”

 

Peter wasn’t going to be deterred. He saw this as his one opportunity to finally get to know this boy who had occupied more of his thoughts than anyone or anything else since he had first laid eyes on him. “I said I was going to give you a ride home and that’s what I’m going to do. Now you can come kicking and screaming, or quietly — your choice.”

 

With that, he picked up Carl’s backpack and held out his hand to the wide-eyed boy.

 

The ride to Carl’s home was uncomfortably quiet. Peter, smiling, didn’t mind in the least. He hummed. It irritated Carl.

 

Seeing him stumble as he got out of the car, Peter rushed to his side. “Here, put your arm around my neck.”

 

“Why should I do that?”

 

“What is it with you? Don’t argue, just do it, for crying out loud,” Peter responded.

 

He had to stoop a bit. But as soon as Carl had his arm around his neck, Peter scooped him up to carry him up the porch steps. It was a comfortable looking house. Not a bit showy, unlike what Peter had expected.

 

“Put me down, you asshole. I’m capable of navigating these steps without your help.”

 

“You want me to put you down?” With a devilish grin Peter feigned opening his arms to dump the startled Carl.

 

“You wouldn’t?”

 

“If you don’t quit your bellyaching, I just might. Shut up and enjoy the ride.”

 

Setting him gently down on the porch, he helped Carl maintain his balance as the boy dug out his key and opened the door.

 

“Carl, is that you?” came a voice from another room. A petite blonde woman in an apron appeared. Noticing her son's limp as he took a step toward her, she cried, “Oh my, what happened to you?”

 

Without responding to his mother he turned to Peter and said, “Okay, you’ve done your good deed for the helpless little kid.  You can leave now.”

 

“Carl Theodore Bannister, Jr., I will not have you talk that way to someone who has kindly assisted you and is now a guest in this house. I apologize, uh…”

 

“Peter Patterson, Mrs. Bannister. I think it is the pain talking, no need to apologize. Some boys were picking on him at school and he twisted his ankle.”

 

Not convinced, she glared at her son. “Well, it was very nice of you to see him home. Carl, why don’t you go to your room and I’ll bring an ice pack to keep the swelling down. Peter, could I offer you some refreshment? Orange juice, or a soda?”

 

Not willing to give up on Carl yet, Peter responded, “Thank you, ma’am, a soda, Seven-Up if you have it, would be nice.”

 

Carl continued to glare.

 

“I’ll help Carl to his room.” With that, he again scooped the irritated Carl in his arms and carried him up the stairs, asking which room was his when they’d reached the upper hall.

 

Carl told him, then asked, “Why are you doing this? So you and your friends can ridicule me further?”

 

Peter remained silent as he deposited the diminutive boy on his bed.

 

“Well? I asked you a question.”

 

“You know, for all your brains, you certainly lack people skills,” Peter responded. “Has it ever occurred to you that I may just want to be your friend, or that I wanted to help someone who was in a bad spot? No, probably not, because you’re so self-absorbed.”

 

Abashed, Carl hung his head, and then looked up into the dark brown eyes of his rescuer. “You’d want to be my friend?” he asked.

 

“Is that so strange? You act like you’ve never had a friend, but given your pissy personality, maybe you haven’t. You do make it difficult,” Peter replied, but his smile diluted the harshness of the words.

 

There was a tap at the door and Mrs. Bannister entered carrying a tray. “Here’s your soda, Peter. I hope Sprite is alright.”

 

“That’s fine. Thank you, Mrs. Bannister.”

 

“And Carl, remove your shoes and put this on your ankle for at least twenty minutes. I think you should get out of those school clothes, also. Peter, would you mind pulling a pair of sweats from that middle drawer?”

 

Peter did as she requested and Mrs. Bannister said she’d leave while Carl changed. She was hoping Carl had found a friend. He’d become reclusive since the death of his adored older brother two years ago. He didn’t even practice his violin any more. Before leaving the room she turned and said, “Oh, and Peter, if it’s alright with your parents, we’d love it if you could join us for dinner. You can use the telephone on Carl’s nightstand if you’d like to stay.”

 

Inside, Peter was jubilant. “Thank you, I’d enjoy that! I’ll call and ask.”

 

“Peter, I apologize for the way I reacted to your kindness. I’m not telling you this to put you off or drive you away, but I think you should know — you may not want to stay for dinner or be my friend. The rumor going around is true — I am gay.”

 

“Well, okay, would you like me to help you remove your shoe?”

 

“That reply was some kind of non sequitur,” Carl responded with a creased brow. “I think I can do it myself, though… but thanks for the offer.”

 

“Anytime and, uh, you need to get your mechanism fixed.”

 

“Now you’re confusing me. What mechanism do I need to fix?”

 

“Aren’t we supposed to have something called gaydar? Yours is broken.”

 

“And I suppose you know where to get it fixed? Wait a minute. Did you say 'we'? As in you and me?”

 

“Ah hah! and the cute blond gets a gold star for his deductive prowess. Yes, I’m gay. However, the only people who know are my mom and dad and, well, now you. I’d like to keep it that way for the time being. I’m not ready to be out yet. I still want to be your friend. I promise I won’t be a fair-weather one either.”

 

“But aren’t you afraid of what others will think if you’re my friend, especially your friend Greg?” asked Carl.

 

“I know people at school will talk. As to Greg, let me deal with him and the others. I can guaranty you no one will hassle you when you’re with me. They know, especially Greg knows, that I’ll kick his ass to the coast and back if he bothers you if you’re a friend of mine. Let ’em talk. Most would have a hard time believing I’m gay. I’m the school jock after all. This is the one time stereotyping plays in my favor.”

 

“Well, if you still want, you could help by pulling my pant leg over my swollen foot. And, don’t forget to call your mother to ask for permission to stay for dinner.”

 

***[ ]***

 

Peter decided that no matter what happened he’d let nothing come between him and, hopefully in the near future, his boyfriend. For now both boys were happy spending time together and getting acquainted. Peter maintained his friendships with those known as the Gang of Five. After all, they had known each other most of their lives.

 

Greg Landry wasn’t too keen on the burgeoning friendship between Peter and Carl. The other three really didn’t have much trouble with the friendship. That pissed Greg off. He was hoping for them to be his allies in getting Carl out of the picture. Greg didn’t like queers. They were freaks of nature, unnatural. He didn’t like that he had to associate with one. What the hell were his friends thinking? Didn’t they care what other people thought? Greg was determined to put an end to it. He knew he had to be very careful. He wasn’t willing to deal with the wrath of Peter. Peter made it quite clear, if you messed with any of his friends, you were going to regret it. Greg had taken this remark as directed at him personally and retorted, “Yeah, well, what about me? What about our friendship?”

 

“Greg, we’ve always looked out for each other, that isn’t going to change. Someone messes with you, they have me, Red, Frank, and Tony to deal with. You need a hand; we all pitch in. That’s the way it is and will be. Carl’s an addition to my list of friends, that’s all I’m saying. I’d like us all to be friends.”

 

Carl felt very uneasy when Greg was around. Carl ignored the other’s subtle digs. He didn’t say anything as he was trying to fit in and didn’t want to come off as a whiner. He also knew that Peter valued his friendships with this group. In Greg’s mind at least, Carl was the newcomer who was there to ruin what the five had built over the years. He was Carl the Intruder.

 

Carl didn’t know how long he would or could tolerate Greg’s crap either. He felt stuck. He was falling for Peter in a big way. At this stage of their relationship, he didn’t want to start tossing out an ultimatum, either. Patience, he kept telling himself, just be patient.

 

***[ ]***

 

The night was warm and Peter and Carl were lazily swinging on the backyard glider. Peter’s head was nestled in Carl’s lap as Carl absentmindedly twirled his fingers in Peter’s wavy hair.

 

“Peter?”

 

“Yeah, babe?”

 

“What do you think about going to the matinee on Saturday? Just you and me.”

 

“Uh, well, I think the guys were planning on having a soccer practice. You know we have a game coming up. This game is really important. We’ve never beat Williamsburg High before. This year we have a chance. The guys are counting on me. I was going to ask if you’d want to come and watch us practice.”

 

“Nah, you go be with your friends. I was just hoping… oh, forget it.”

 

“Carl, please don’t be that way. I try to spend as much time with you as I can. What about going on Saturday night?”

 

“Don’t you remember? Mom and Dad and I are going to visit my grandparents.”

 

“Oh, yeah, I did forget.”

 

“Okay, how about Sunday then? We’ll be a day late…”

 

“A day late for what?” interrupted Peter.

 

“Oh, never mind. It’s almost 9 o’clock and you have to go. I’ll see you Sunday.”

 

“Carl? I’m confused.”

 

“Yeah, that’s obvious, but you’ll have all night and tomorrow to think about it.” With that he gave Peter a peck on the lips, said goodnight and went into the house.

 

As Peter drove home he could not for his life think what the cryptic remark of being a day late meant. It bothered him. He was really taken with Carl and would never do anything purposely to hurt him. Now he felt he had. Carl looked so downcast when he left.

 

The next day at soccer practice Peter was not on his game. He made some blunders that caught the attention of his teammates. “Ya shoulda made that last goal Pete, it was easy,” Red stated.

 

“Piss off Red, so I missed one.”

 

Red was hurt by Peter’s rebuke. Red wasn’t the brightest of the group. He admired Pete because while they were growing up, Peter had always stood up to others who teased him.

 

Peter walked over to the bench and sat down, hanging his head. He knew he’d screwed up, especially that last shot at the goal. He couldn’t concentrate. He still had no idea what Carl meant. Now he’d hurt his friend Red.

 

“Hey, Pete, we’re all going for pizza, you coming?”

 

“Nah, I have a headache. I’m not feeling too hot. Think I’ll head home and hit the sack early. You guys have fun. Oh, and, good practice. Uh, Red, come here a minute will ya?”

 

Red, a little nervous, yelled to his friends, “Wait up guys.” As he neared where Peter was sitting, Peter said, “Red, I’m really sorry I blew up at you. That wasn’t fair. Besides, you were right, it should have been an easy goal. We okay?”

 

Red smiled, “Yeah, we’re okay. See ya later, and I hope you feel better.”

 

“Me too, see you at school if not before.”

 

Pete waited until everyone left, then slowly made his way to his car. He really was exhausted and did have a headache. He wished he could talk with Carl, but he wouldn’t be back until late — too late to call.

 

No one was home, so he took some aspirin and decided to have a nice long soak in the tub for his aching muscles. Afterwards he turned on his stereo, the volume low. He was dead to the world before 6:00. His mother looked in on him when she and Amy got home, but decided to let him sleep. And he did until 8:00 in the morning. He probably would have slept longer if Greg and Tony hadn’t jumped on his bed, rousing him, to drag him to soccer practice. “Get your lazy ass up. After yesterday, you need more practice. So, let’s get moving,” Greg ordered.

“Uh, give me a chance to open my eyes. Besides, I think I have plans with Carl today.”

“You need to practice. He’ll understand. He knows this game’s important. It’s only for a few hours for God’s sake,” replied Greg. “Yeah, only a few of hours” chimed in Tony.

“Okay, but let me call him first.” The boys went downstairs, telling him to hurry up.

 

“Hello, Mrs. Bannister, is Carl around?”

 

“No, he isn’t, Peter. He and his father went to the bakery. I do expect them back in about twenty or so minutes. I’ll have him call you when he gets back.”

 

“Uh, well, that’s why I called. I’m going to go practice with the guys and won’t be home until about 2 or 3 o’clock. I’ll call him then. Could you please give him that message?”

 

“Certainly, Peter.”

 

“Thank you, Mrs. Bannister. Goodbye.”

 

Carl was disappointed when his mother gave him the message. “Well, Dad, I guess I’ll come with you to the store for awhile. Don’t want to sit around the house.”

 

The boys did practice, and satisfied with how they played, broke it off about noon.

 

“Hey, why don’t we go catch the matinee, I really want to see the new X-Men movie,” said Greg.

 

“I don’t know,” said Peter, “I told Carl I’d be over around 2:30 or so.”

 

“Hell, the movie will be over about that time. Come on, ya wuss, what’s he going to do if you’re a few minutes late, tell you never to be late again?” The group all laughed.

 

Strolling down the mall toward the theatre, they passed Bannister & Sons Haberdashery. Carl noticed them laughing and joking as they went by. He watched as they bought their movie tickets and entered the theatre. His heart sank.

 

Carl went into the back room and cried. He thought Peter would be different. He thought he meant something to the dark-haired boy. Pulling himself together he went to his father and told him he wasn’t feeling well and was going to take the bus home. His father felt something was wrong, more than Carl not feeling well, but was engaged with a customer, so couldn’t pursue it. “Okay, son, see you at home.”

 

Ann Bannister was startled when she heard the front door open. “Carl, is that you?”

 

“It’s me, Mom. I wasn’t feeling well so I came home.”

 

“Oh, what’s the matter?”

 

“My stomach is upset. I think I’ll just go lie down.”

 

Before going up the stairs he went into the kitchen. From the refrigerator he took the small cake he had purchased earlier and tossed it into the trash. So much for that celebration, he said to himself.

 

Around 2:45, his mother knocked on Carl’s bedroom door informing him that Peter was on the phone. “Tell him I’m not feeling well and I’m asleep.” Ann Bannister heard what she thought was a sob. She returned to the phone and relayed Carl’s message. After hanging up she went to Carl’s room. She saw her son’s eyes swollen and red from crying. “Honey, what’s the matter?”

 

Peter was saddened to hear Carl was sick. He asked Mrs. Bannister to tell Carl to call him when he woke up. He really had wanted to see Carl. He missed him. Also, he still didn’t know what Carl had meant by being a day late.

 

For most of that evening Peter waited for Carl to call. He was tempted to call, but decided to be patient and wait. He played some cards with Amy, but his mind wasn’t on the game. Amy was thrilled that she was beating her older brother, unaware his thoughts were elsewhere. Around nine o’clock he decided to go to bed. He tossed and turned and had a fitful night’s sleep.

 

The next morning he waited by Carl’s locker, but Carl never showed. Now he was concerned. As soon as he had the chance, he called Carl’s house. Mrs. Bannister said that Carl was still not feeling well, so she had kept him home from school. And no, she didn’t think it was a good idea for him to stop by, adding that she thought Carl might be contagious. Peter asked her to tell him he called and hoped he got well soon. Ann Bannister said she would have Carl call as soon as he was better.

 

Peter at least had soccer practice as a distraction. Everyone was getting excited about the game with Williamsburg High. The practices were intense and grueling.

 

Wednesday came and Peter still hadn’t heard from Carl. There was something in Mrs. Bannister’s tone in the way she said, ‘I’ll have him call you when he’s better,’ that implied Peter shouldn’t call.

 

Carl went to school the following day. He dreaded it. He hoped he could avoid Peter. Thankfully, Peter was not in any of his classes, but Greg Landry was.

 

At lunch that afternoon, Greg said to Peter, “Well, I see Carl’s back.”

 

“Huh?” Peter asked.

 

“I said, Carl was in math and history today. Didn’t you see him?”

 

“No,” replied Peter. He scanned the cafeteria to see if he’d spot him: no Carl. He got up, said he’d see the guys at practice, and headed toward Carl’s locker hoping he’d catch him. Not finding him there, he shrugged his shoulders and headed back to the cafeteria thinking maybe he missed him. He again scanned the cafeteria: still no Carl.

 

“Well, did you find him?” asked Greg. Peter shook his head no. Greg could see that Peter was upset and felt he’d get in a dig, “Well, maybe because you won’t let him in your pants he’s looking elsewhere.” Peter frowned and flipped Greg off. But the seed was planted. Peter couldn’t think of any reason for Carl to avoid him. Pete was confused, hurt and getting angry. “Ah, the hell with him,” Peter mumbled. Greg overheard it though and was inwardly thrilled.

 

Carl was in the boys’ restroom waiting for the bell to sound so he could safely get to his next class without running into Peter. Combing his hair he heard the door open. “Well if it isn’t Carla,” said Greg Landry. Behind him stood Red.

 

“Leave me alone, Greg.” He tried to go around him and Greg grabbed him. “Listen here, ya little faggot, I got a message from Pete for ya.” With that he belted Carl in the gut. Carl grabbed his belly and sank to the floor. Then Greg kicked him in the side. Red grabbed Greg and said, “What the hell are you doing Greg? Pete will…” Before he could say anything else Greg pushed Red through the door. “You keep your mouth shut Red. Now that little fag will leave Pete alone and we can go back to the way it was before. Pete’s pissed at him anyway. I was doing Pete a favor, but keep it to yourself. Understand?” Red nodded, “I guess.”

 

Curled in a ball on the tiled bathroom floor, Carl was hurting in so many ways. He struggled to his feet; he felt as though he was going to throw up and it hurt to breathe. Stumbling to the door, he trudged painfully to the bus stop. He was trying to hold it together. He kept telling himself 'Don’t cry. Don't cry.' He'd thought Peter was the one, felt they had something— something special. By the time he was exiting the bus he was sobbing uncontrollably. Thankfully there were few people riding the bus that time of the day to witness his tears.

 

Ann Bannister could barely understand a word Carl was saying as he flung himself at her and clung to her. When she hugged him more tightly he winced. “Carl, honey, what happened to you?” All she could get out of him was he didn’t know what he had done. He thought Peter at least liked him, and then he would cry. His body shook as he sobbed and clung to his mother. When his sobbing finally abated, he became quiet. When his mother asked him about the pain, he lied and told her he had stumbled and had fallen against the bike rack at school and hurt his ribs. He let go of his mother without saying another word and went to his room. His mother tried talking with him but he said it was over and he needed to be alone for a while. His mother could only surmise that he and Peter had a break-up. Of course she felt for him, but he was only 15 and that happened at his age. She kissed him on the forehead and told him to call her if he needed anything or wanted to talk. A few minutes later she came back with two pain pills for his aching side. He thanked her, and when she had left, he stripped down to his briefs and crawled into bed. His last thought before he fell asleep was how much he missed his brother.

 

Soccer practice that night was again intense. Peter had to really concentrate. He kept thinking of Carl, wondering why he seemed to be avoiding him. It was the only thing he could think Carl was doing. Normally, he and Carl would spend lunch together, and see each other between some classes. Peter hadn’t changed his routine, so that meant Carl had. In the locker room after practice, Pete asked Greg and the rest of the guys if they had seen Carl that day. They all said no except Red. He said he thought he saw him go into the restroom early in the afternoon. Greg gave him a look and Red said nothing more. Pete feeling miserable, left.

 

He talked with his mom and dad and said he was baffled. They both hated to see their son hurting and could only say that perhaps things had happened too fast. Carl was, after all, two years younger. None of what they said satisfied him, but at least it was something to think about. It still didn’t make sense to Peter. Carl might be younger, but he was, or at least seemed, mature and responsible. Peter fell asleep hurting and confused.

 

The day of the game, Peter scanned the crowd hoping to see Carl. When he had no luck spotting him, he made a decision. He needed to focus on the game. He’d worry about reconciling with Carl later.

 

It was a fierce game. At the end of the first half, Williamsburg was ahead of Jefferson High, 2 to 1. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Peter scored, tying up the game for the Jefferson Jackals. The game continued and neither team managed to score. It appeared the game could end in a tie. With thirty seconds left on the clock, the Jackals were making one final drive down field. Tony passed the ball toward Greg but it was a little beyond his reach and went into the box. The Williamsburg goalie, in an attempt to drive the ball back up field, rushed to kick it. The ball glanced off his foot. Peter saw the bad kick and rushed toward the ball. At the same time, two defenders from Williamsburg saw Peter and rushed toward him. Peter slid and connected with the ball as the two defenders collided with Peter. There was a roar from the crowd as the ball soared into the goal. Players were high fiving and bumping chests. Red ran toward where Peter still lay. In all the revelry, no one had noticed that Peter was not moving. Red saw blood oozing from Peter’s scalp and noticed one leg was positioned awkwardly. He dropped to his knees, and putting his face next to Peter’s to see if he was breathing. He heard Peter murmur “Carl, Carl, I…” Red stood up and started yelling for the coach as the team regrouped at the center of the field for what would be the final play. The crowd quieted when paramedics were seen coming onto the field with a stretcher. An unconscious Peter was unaware he had scored the game-winning goal.

 

Peter’s parents, the coach and several team members were pacing in the emergency room waiting area. A half hour had passed with little word on Peter’s condition. A doctor came into the waiting area and asked if anyone there was named Carl. Red popped up and said no, Carl wasn’t there, but that Carl was a friend of Peter’s. The doctor explained that Peter came in and out of consciousness and each time asked for Carl. Greg was noticeably agitated.

 

“Greg,” Red asked, “let’s go get Carl and bring him here.”

 

Snarling under his breath, Greg said, “Ain’t no fucking way I’m going to go get that faggot.”

 

“Come on, Greg.” Greg just shook his head no and walked away. “Well, then let me borrow your car and I’ll go get him,” Red pleaded. Greg ignored Red’s pleas and continued walking toward the other side of the waiting room. Red yelled, “Fuck you, Greg. I thought you were Pete’s friend,” then dashed down the hallway and out the waiting room door. The others in the waiting room, startled by Red’s outburst, turned their eyes toward Greg.

 

Forty minutes later Red, exhausted from running seven miles, was leaning on the doorbell at the Bannisters’ home. Mr. Bannister angrily opened the door, yelling, “What is the meaning of this, young man?”

 

“Carl,” Red blurted, gasping. “Carl’s got to come to the hospital. Pete’s hurt real bad. He keeps asking for Carl.”

 

Mr. Bannister opened the screen door and assisted the panting Red into the living room as Red continued to plead with Mr. Bannister to get Carl.

 

Hearing the commotion, Ann Bannister rushed into the living room. She was startled to see Red being held up by her husband. “Ann, will you please call Carl and get a glass of water for this young man?”

 

As Carl descended the stairs, he was jarred seeing Red being led to the sofa. “What are you doing here?” he screamed angrily.

 

“Carl!” his mother scolded. “We will have some civility in this house.”

 

Red concerned about only one thing, his injured friend, repeated what he had been saying since he arrived. “Carl, you gotta come to the hospital, Pete is hurt real bad. He keeps asking for you.” Red blushed and, looking at the Bannisters, he said more quietly, “Pete said he loves you.”

 

Carl was torn. Red could see the look of distrust on Carl’s face. “Carl, Pete didn’t know anything about what Greg did. Pete wouldn’t never have let that happen. Ya gotta believe me. I didn’t know that Greg was gonna do what he did, or I’d never have let him get close to you. I’m sorry, I really am, but right now we gotta get to the hospital.”

 

The Bannisters were confused, but Red explained the bathroom incident to them on the way to the hospital.

 

Greg’s head snapped up when he saw Red, Carl and Carl’s parents rushing into the emergency room. Red gave Greg a look that could not be mistaken: stay away and keep your big mouth shut. Greg angrily got up, glared at both Red and Carl, and stormed out.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Patterson greeted the Bannisters before informing them that Peter had a concussion and his tibia was fractured because of the collision on the soccer field. The doctor had informed them that Peter was out of danger and would recover. He was asleep at the moment. Carl asked if he could see him. The Pattersons, knowing how close the two boys were, asked the doctor for permission before escorting Carl to Peter’s room.

 

Peter’s head was wrapped in bandages and the left side of his face was swollen and beginning to turn black and blue. His leg was suspended and in a cast. Carl began to cry as he approached the boy he had grown so fond of. He put his hand in Peter’s and gently rubbed it. Peter’s parents decided to let Carl be with Peter; however, Mr. Patterson asked Carl to try to remain calm. He didn’t want Peter to be upset seeing Carl falling apart if he awoke. Carl nodded his understanding of what was asked, sniffled and managed to calm down.

 

As Carl was looking at the monitors, still holding Peter's hand, he felt movement. Peter’s right eye opened. Carl smiled. Peter mumbled something. “What did you say, Hon,” Carl asked as he leaned in.

 

Groggily he repeated, “Thirty days — last Saturday we were together thirty days. I’m sorry I didn’t remember. I love you.” Then he nodded off again.

 

Carl sniffled, kissed his boyfriend and said he loved him, too. Carl stayed a while longer, until a nurse said he had to leave as she needed to check Peter’s vitals. Carl returned to the waiting area. Though his eyes were red, he had a smile, and went and hugged his and Peter’s parents.

 

All the others had left except a sheepish Red. Carl thanked him for coming to get him and apologized for yelling at him. Carl said that he hoped that they could remain friends. Red's face lit up and he grabbed the small boy and gave him a hug. When he noticed Carl wince, Red recalled Greg kicking him. “Oh God, Carl, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt ya. I’m really…”

 

“Red, it’s okay, really. I’m just a little sore. It wasn’t your fault.”

 

Red looked down at Carl and said emphatically, “Well, it’ll never happen again, ’cause if Pete doesn’t bust Greg’s, or anyone else’s, head open if they try to hurt you, I’m gonna.”

 

Carl smiled and wrapped his arms around the much bigger boy, squeezing him tightly as Red turned crimson.

 

***[ ]***

 

Peter was discharged from the hospital after three days. His cast would come off in two and a half months.

 

Two days later, while Carl was visiting Peter and there was a lull in their conversation Peter said,

“You know what, Babe, I think I’m ready to tell Frank, Tony and Red that I’m gay and that you’re my boyfriend. Though I think Red’s figured it out already. He’s slow, not stupid. What do you think?”

 

Carl was elated. His smile, had it been an incandescent light bulb, would have lit up the entire town. Carl would have liked the entire world to know he was partnered with this wonderful handsome boy. However, being pragmatic Carl stated, “Well, I’m all for it, but we also have to think how having it known may affect you getting a scholarship, and how others will regard you. I know how cruel some people can be, especially kids our age.”

 

The sadness in Carl’s voice did not escape Peter. He pulled his boyfriend close. “Yeah, but you know, Greg may be behaving like a prick, but I don’t think Frank, Tony or Red will turn against me, uh, I mean us.”

 

“Well, I’m sure Red won’t. He admires you a lot, Peter. Tony and Frank, well, you know them much better than I do, but I agree. I don’t think they’ll be thrilled. But, I can’t see them acting like Greg.” Carl snuggled in closer to Pete.

 

 

Greg was angry. He and Pete had been friends for a long time, and he missed his friend. He knew that loyalty was one of Pete’s strongest character traits and knew also, that he had violated a cardinal rule — you don’t fuck with Pete’s friends. He was torn between his feelings for Pete and his attitude toward homosexuals. What his church said; what many of his peers said; even what his dad said: it was just wrong. They were freaks. Abominations. Why did Bannister even matter, and why did Pete want him as a friend? Not only was Greg angry, he was confused.

 

To add to Greg’s woes, the other boys were steering clear of him. Though they weren’t overjoyed that Carl was gay, but they liked him. They felt what Greg did to him was uncalled for. Greg was feeling very alone.

 

During the week, the boys usually stopped by to give Peter his assignments, and to do their homework together. In between studying they laughed and joked and generally would have a good time. On this particular study night, Peter was uncharacteristically quiet. Frank was the first to notice. Peter sat nibbling on his lip and picking at his fingernails. “You okay Petey-boy?” Frank asked.

 

“Huh, oh, yeah, just was thinking.” Peter hesitated. “I have something I need to tell you guys.”

 

Everyone became quiet.

 

“Uh, Patterson, we're waiting. What do you need to tell us?” asked Tony finally.

 

“Well, this isn’t easy, but, and, well, it’s kinda scary. I don’t know how you’re going to take it. I mean, I value our friendship… and, uh, well, I’m hoping we can still be friends once I tell you.” His head was hanging. He found it difficult to look his friends in the eye.

 

“Jesus H Christ, Pete, what could you possibly tell us that we would not want you to be our friend?”

 

Peter looked at each of his buddies and swallowed. “I’m gay and Carl and I are together, uh, boyfriends.”

 

“You’re shitting me,” replied Tony incredulously. “You’re quee… , I mean gay… really?”

 

Seconds later, Carl came into the room with sodas and chips. He felt the heavy silence, and noticed the bewildered expressions. Suddenly all eyes were on him. Carl became uneasy. “Uh, did I miss something?” he asked.

 

“Pete said you were going to tell us about your sex life,” responded Frank.

 

“Huh?” He looked at Peter for an explanation.

 

“Your boyfriend just told us he’s gay, that’s all,” responded Tony nonchalantly.

 

“Well?” Shocked at the lack of drama, Peter asked. “Are we cool?”

 

Tony, Frank and Red looked at one another, smiled and simultaneously replied, “We’re cool.”

 

“Just don’t go givin’ up soccer and join the musical theatre club at school. And, that’s all I’m sayin’ on the whole thing. Besides, you have a terrible voice. Love ya, dude,” said Frank with a grin.

 

Again laughter broke out amongst the boys. Carl hadn’t moved.

 

“Hey, blondie, are ya gonna serve those sodas and chips, or continue to stand there with your mouth almost touching the floor?” asked Tony.

 

Carl relaxed, stood tall, and with the tray of goodies, approached the boys sitting on the bed. He was overcome with a feeling of relief.

 

Between sips of his soda Red asked, “Uh, does Greg know?”

 

Peter shook his head. “Well, he’s gonna shit bricks,” Frank said. “I’m selling tickets for when you tell him.”

 

“Yeah, he’ll explode, probably in Technicolor, right before our eyes,” replied Tony. Everyone laughed.

 

“I’m not ready to tell Greg yet. I’d appreciate you all keeping it to yourselves for now. Okay?” asked Peter. “You’re my closest friends; that’s why I’m telling only you.”

 

The three boys seemed comfortable with Carl and Peter’s being gay and their being in a relationship. However they weren’t going to let the lovebirds off without an hour of bad gay jokes, gibes and double entendre, before they went home. After the guys left, Peter said, “Well, that didn’t go so bad,” and he pulled Carl into a hug.

 

***[ ]***

 

“Carl, I absolutely will not let it ‘slide’, to use your word. This sort of behavior cannot be ignored. Young Mr. Landry needs to be held accountable for what he did.”

 

“But Dad… ”

 

“It’s not up for discussion, Carl.”

 

“Now, Dear, remember your blood pressure,” interrupted Ann Bannister. “I must say, Carl, I’m in agreement with your father on this. However, Dear,” she said, patting her husband’s hand, “I do believe we owe it to the boys to let them have their say.” Carl, Sr., reluctantly capitulated to his wife’s suggestion, indicating he wanted Peter to speak.

 

“Um, well, Mr. and Mrs. Bannister… ” 

 

“Excuse my interruption, Peter, but I do believe considering the relationship you have with our son, it would be fine if you addressed Mr. Bannister and me as Ann and Carl, or Carl, Sr. to avoid confusion,” Ann Bannister said with a smile. “Please, continue Peter.”

 

“Thank you. I think, well, I know, I feel much like a judge who is related to the plaintiff, and then hearing that case being tried before him. I feel I should recuse myself. I do want to say that I haven’t said anything to Carl as to what I think he should do regarding his being assaulted by Greg. I personally would like to knock Greg upside the head — okay, beat the crap out of him. On the other hand, I’ve known Greg since we were six years old, and he has always been a good friend. What I want is for Carl to do what he thinks is fair.” Turning to his boyfriend he continued, “Carl, whatever you do decide, do it because it is what you need to do, what you think is right. I want it to be your decision. I will back you up no matter what you decide. What Greg did was wrong: plain and simple.” Peter then turned back to the Bannisters and indicated he was done.

 

Mr. Bannister then gestured to his son that he would now hear what he had to say.

 

“Mom, Dad, Greg must have learned his dislike and hatred for gays from someone, perhaps his parents— I don’t know, but I do not think he came out of the womb hating gay people. He’s, what,” and turning to Peter for verification, “17 years old?” Peter nodded. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, let him think or believe what he wants. I want for him to recognize that what he did was wrong. That violence is not an acceptable way to show his displeasure. I’m not out to ruin his chances of going to college or getting a job. Pressing criminal charges could have that effect.”

 

“Well, you both articulated quite well what you think, but I’m still left with the question, what do we do? Any suggestions?”

 

Carl took the lead, “Well, I’ve heard of these classes or groups that do sensitivity training for people who have prejudices. I think if we enlisted the help of Mr. Sutter, our principal, he could use his position to insist that Greg attend these meetings, or not be allowed to graduate until such time as he does.” Looking at Peter, then his parents, he saw them nodding in agreement.

 

“All right,” said Mr. Bannister, “Monday morning your mother and I will go see Mr. Sutter. However, I and your mother stand firm on this: if Mr. Sutter will not intervene on your behalf, I am going straight to the police department and pressing charges. Is that understood?”

 

“Yes, Dad, and thanks for you and Mom listening to our thoughts.”

 

***[ ]***

 

“Francis O’Malley, please report to the administrative office immediately,” came the announcement over the school loudspeaker.

 

All heads turned toward Red. He stared at the speaker as if it would explain why he was being called away from his class. His teacher, clearing his throat to catch Red’s attention, made a gesture toward the door. Not used to being the center of attention, all the eyes on him caused him to blush as he rose and made his way to the door.

 

“Mr. O’Malley, please come into my office.”

 

Red nervously entered the principal’s office. He froze when he saw Mr. and Mrs. Bannister. “No need to be nervous, Mr. O’Malley, you’re not in any trouble; I need to ask you a few questions and then you will be free to return to your class.”

 

“Hello, Red,” Mrs. Bannister said pleasantly, trying to put the nervous red-head at ease.

 

“Uh, hi, Mr. and Mrs. Bannister.”

 

To further put the boy at ease, Mr. Sutter addressed him by his nickname. “Red, would you please tell me what happened in the boys’ room a few weeks back? I believe it was a Thursday. The Thursday before the game with Williamsburg.”

Staring down at his shoes, Red shuffled nervously, “Well, uh, Greg and I went into the restroom to take… to use the bathroom. Carl was there and Greg began making fun of him. Carl tried to walk away, but Greg grabbed him and called him a faggot, then slugged Carl in the gut, er, I mean belly, uh, stomach. Carl fell down and Greg kicked him in the ribs. I pulled Greg away. I thought he was going to hurt Carl more. That’s about it. I’m really sorry,” he said as he looked at the Bannisters. “I really am.” His eyes began to tear up.

 

“Red, you did the right thing in pulling Greg away. Mr. Bannister and I appreciate the action you took,” replied Ann Bannister. “He could have been injured even more than he was.”

 

“I only need to clarify a few things for my records, Mr. O’Malley,” said Mr. Sutter. “You were referring to Greg Landry as the attacker, and Carl Bannister as the victim, correct?”

 

“Yes,” Red nodded.

 

“Well, thank you. You may return to your class now.”

 

“See you later, Red,” Mr. Bannister said. “And thank you again for your willingness to help.”

 

Feebly smiling, but feeling less nervous, Red said his goodbyes. Once on the other side of the principal’s door he paused, leaned against the wall, took a deep breath, and then returned to his English class.

 

***[ ]***

 

There was a loud banging at the front door that caused Peter to jolt up, causing a pain to shoot through his leg. The pounding on the door continued as Peter reached for his crutches beside the sofa. He thought of calling for his mother who was in the backyard, but figured it was one of the guys messing around.

 

Not prepared to see Jack Landry, Greg’s father, Peter almost stumbled backward. Once he regained his footing, he said, “Jack, what brings you here?” as he opened the door wider to let Mr. Landry enter.

 

“I fucking want to know why my boy has to go to some damn sensitivity group, just because you have a fag for a friend. Who seems to mean more to you than Greg does, after how many fucking years of friendship. Huh? You haven’t even been over to the house to visit for months.”

 

Peter could smell the whisky on Jack Landry’s breath.

 

“Jack, you’ve been drinking. Come back when you’re sober and we’ll talk. Now isn’t the time.” Peter waited for Mr. Landry to leave, but he just stood there — agitated and fuming.

 

“I’m not that fucking drunk. Now answer my God-damned question.” Peter turned to head back to the sofa. Jack in no mood to be ignored grabbed Peter, pulling him off balance Peter went crashing to the floor. Peter let out a painful scream.

 

Seconds later Debra Patterson came rushing into the living room. Seeing her son on the floor gasping for air and in pain, she yelled at Jack, “Well, don’t just stand there, Jack, help me get him up and onto the sofa.”

 

Peter wincing said, “I don’t want him touching me.” He then yelled at Jack, “Get the hell out of here. Now I understand why Greg acted the way he did. You’re both bullies. Get out!”

 

Debra struggled to help her son up, as Landry staggered out the door. Peter explained to his baffled mother what happened.

 

Once she got her son settled on the sofa, she called her husband at his law office. Phillip Patterson told his wife not to worry that he’d handle it. And he did. Jack Landry was picked up an hour later. He had been he pulled over for his erratic driving. He was charged and arrested for several things. The most serious charge was assaulting a minor.

 

When Carl came by that night, along with Red, Frank and Tony to do their homework, neither Carl nor they took the news of Mr. Landry’s attack on Peter very well. Some very choice remarks were passed. Peter stopped them when they started railing on Greg. “Listen, guys, Greg didn’t cause me to fall, his drunken father did. Greg’s my friend. I’m hoping he’ll attend and learn something by taking those classes. If he chooses not to take part in the classes or if he doesn’t change his attitude, well then, my friendship with him will come to an end. But until then he remains my friend.” The four boys detected sadness in his voice.

 

At first, Carl was upset by Peter’s admonition and his defending Greg. The he realized that Peter’s loyalty for his friends was one of the traits he loved and admired about him. He went and knelt by the side of the sofa and told Peter he was sorry for bad-mouthing Greg. He leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. “Oh, would you two go get a room,” said Tony. The remark lightened the mood.

 

***[ ]***

 

The school year was coming to a close. Peter was caught up in all the graduation preparation madness. His cast had been removed and he was in physical therapy. Carl took part in — actually took charge of — his rehabilitation. He was quite the task master. “Carl, can we rest for a bit?”

 

“One more time around the track and then we’ll quit for the day,” Carl replied.

 

“I think my boyfriend is really the Marquis de Sade in disguise,” Peter said as he continued to hobble around the athletic field.

 

“Damn. And I left my whips and chains at home,” countered Carl, staying close to Peter should he stumble. Peter loved the attention and inwardly giggled. He was much bigger than Carl. If he did fall, Carl could only cushion the impact. There was no way he would have the strength to hold Peter up.

 

“What’s that smirk on your face, Gimpy?”

 

“Oh, I was just thinking of how much I love you,” Peter fibbed, and he wrapped his arm more tightly around Carl.

 

One afternoon, when Peter was in the boys’ room, he heard a sheepish greeting, “Hi, Pete.” Peter instantly recognized the voice, turned and said, “Hi Greg.” As Greg stood at the urinal next to Pete, there were a few moments of silence. “Uh, Pete, can we talk?” Greg asked.

 

“Sure, Greg. You want to do it here or meet after school?”

 

“After school if that’s all right with you.”

 

“Sure, I’ll meet you at the park, you know where.”

 

Greg smiled, “See you then.” Greg took care of business as he watched his estranged friend leave the restroom.

 

Peter informed Carl that he was meeting with Greg that afternoon after school to talk. Carl said he was a little leery about the meeting and asked Peter if he thought he, Red or one of the others should accompany him. Peter said he didn’t think that would be necessary. There was something in Greg’s voice, Peter responded, that told him everything would be okay. Besides, he said, even with a bum leg he could handle Greg. Carl still wasn’t crazy about the idea of a meeting with Greg — at least not with Peter being alone. He told Peter that he would come by his house later, to see how the meeting with Greg went. Peter could hear the concern in Carl’s voice. Peter grabbed his boyfriend and steered him into the boys’ room. Leaning against the door so no one could enter, Peter gave Carl a hug and a kiss, then assured him he’d be okay and told him not to worry: easier for Peter to say than for Carl to do.

 

As they sat quietly under an old oak tree, Peter broke the silence, “So, are you glad we’ll be graduating soon? Do you have a date for the prom?”

 

“Yeah, it’s been a tough year. I’ll miss this old place, though,” Greg replied. “Suzy Martin and I are going to the prom together. She is really a nice girl. Think I could even fall for her. And you, who are you taking to the prom?”

 

“I haven’t had much of an opportunity to do much dating with recuperating from my broken leg. Maybe I’ll just go stag. Who knows, maybe someone will come along,” Pete said with a smile.

 

The two boys chatted for awhile, did a bit of reminiscing, and then Greg said what he had come there to say. Bowing his head, he started, “Uh, Pete, I want to say that I’m really sorry for fucking up our friendship. After I completed the sensitivity workshop, I realized my head was really fucked up. So now I go to therapy once a month. I’m sorry I hurt your friend Carl. That was lame, hell it was pure meanness. Can’t say I understand why someone is gay. But I don’t have the hateful feelings I once had toward gay people. I truly regret what I did to Carl. I have wished a thousand times I could take it back.”

 

Peter listened and mulled over what Greg was telling him. He knew at some point he would need to tell Greg that he was gay and of his relationship with Carl. He could then gauge by Greg’s reaction and determine if their friendship had a chance of being renewed. A friendship he missed. “Greg, I appreciate your apology, but I never in all this time stopped being your friend. I just couldn’t be around you if you were determined to choose who I could or who I could not associate with. You can dislike any or all of my friends, but harming or harassing any of them was and is out of the question. Also, you owe Carl the apology. He’s the one who suffered physically and emotionally for what you did.”

 

“Well, that was another of the reasons I wanted to talk to you. I do want to apologize to Carl. I’m not sure he’s interested in hearing an apology, but I want — hell, I need to do it or I’ll never feel comfortable with your friendship. Don’t know if that makes sense to you. But I feel rotten for how I acted.”

 

“Whether he accepts your apology is not for you or me to decide. Your willingness to apologize is all that matters. I think you’ll be surprised, though. Carl is a sweet guy. And now I have something I need to tell you.” Pete hesitated. “I’m gay.” Greg’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. “I’ve known I was gay since I was about thirteen,” continued Peter. “I was just too scared to admit it to anyone, with the exception of my mom and dad. I knew they’d love me no matter what. Let’s face it, much of what I heard and witnessed didn’t do anything to inspire me to be open about it.”

 

“Yeah, there was always an asshole like me to prevent that,” Greg averred.

 

Peter smiled. “Yeah, it was rough. At thirteen years old, I didn’t understand. If I was still the same old me, why would my being gay change anyone’s attitude, feelings or opinion of me? I knew I didn’t act or do thing any differently before I knew I was gay than I did once I realized I was. Like I said, it was rough — sometimes it was hell — knowing how some of the people I was closest to felt about homosexuals.”

 

“Then I’m doubly sorry, Pete. I really am. You were always there for me and a great friend.” Tears were flowing freely from Greg’s eyes as he realized the pain Peter had suffered, and knowing he might have been the cause of some of that pain.

 

“You were a good friend, too, Greg. You didn’t know. And your old man didn’t help matters either with his constant hateful talk — not just about gay people, but anyone who wasn’t white and a Bible-thumping Christian. Sorry, don’t mean to rag on your dad.”

 

“But it’s true,” Greg admitted. “He really pissed me off when he went to your place and attacked you. I wanted to come by, but… Well, thankfully, Mom has finally seen the light and is divorcing him.”

 

The two boys talked a little more. Peter told Greg of his love for Carl and that they considered themselves boyfriends. The healing had begun. Greg and Peter's friendship would endure throughout their lifetime.

 

***[ ]***

 

“Are you serious? He wants to apologize?” Carl lay on top of Peter and wrestled with how he felt. Brushing some lint from Peter’s hair, he said, “Well, I think I would be pretty hypocritical if I didn’t at least give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, the sensitivity classes were my idea. Will you go with me?”

 

“If you want me to, of course, I’ll go,” replied Peter.

 

Carl couldn’t believe Greg's transformation. Greg explained some of what he learned and discovered about himself while he attended the sensitivity workshop and now, during his counseling sessions. They talked for hours. Much was related by Greg as to how his father treated him. Mr. Landry was not the person in private that he displayed in public. Peter and Carl were moved. Peter was astonished that he had never picked up on what Greg had been going through — though it explained Greg’s tendency to be angry more than most kids his age. As Peter had his fears of disclosing his gayness, Greg had similar fears about discussing the abuse he suffered. Peter and Carl were happy that Greg got help. Greg was happy that he and Peter were back to being friends — and now he had another friend: Carl the Included. All three boys walked away from their meeting feeling good and with a sense of freedom, now that there were no more secrets among them.

 

***[ ]***

 

“No, no, no, that tie does not go with your suit, nor does that tacky shirt. Trust me, I work at the finest haberdashery in town,” Carl teased his handsome boyfriend. “I’m not about to let you walk out your door without being properly outfitted. What would our friends think of me?”

 

Peter decided to let Carl have his way with dressing him, after they went round and round because Peter decided he was not going to wear a tuxedo to his prom. Carl was aghast at that. Peter explained that he didn’t have a date, and therefore no one to impress. Why waste the money on a tuxedo?

 

The Gang of Five was in their usual form, joking and insulting one another throughout the evening. Not being too steady on his feet, Peter was able to decline the requests to dance. Not that he would have been opposed to dancing. The hip grinding he witnessed, had he had to experience that, would have made him uncomfortable. Peter enjoyed being with his friends that night, especially now that they were all together again.

 

Peter had a greater time after the prom — it was the first time that he and Carl would spend the night together. Though Ann and Carl, Sr. were reluctant to allow it, they had extracted a promise that no hanky-panky would take place. After the boys stopped laughing at the use of the word ‘hanky-panky’, they gave their word that nothing would happen. Okay, they confessed, maybe they’d cuddle. Sex was not part of their repertoire, but did have a wild make-out session. The former was decided could wait. It was comforting to wake up in each other’s arms that following morning. It was that comfort they felt that made them both realize they truly did want to be together forever.

 

***[ ]***

 

Peter felt a nudge and the dream faded. He heard his name being called.

 

“Peter, Sweetheart.”

 

Opening his eyes, Peter smelled bacon and freshly brewed coffee.

 

“Here you go, man of my dreams,” Carl said, setting the breakfast tray over Peter’s lap. “I’ll go get my coffee and join you.” He gave Peter a kiss. “Now, eat up.”

 

Peter smiled. There on the tray was a flower in a vase. It never failed. Carl always had flowers on display when they dined, no matter if it was in the kitchen nook or at the formal dining room table, or even at a picnic.

 

“Carl, I do not know what you do to make your omelets, but this is absolutely and delicious and so fluffy.”

 

Carl smiled, “The secret is adding a tablespoon of ice cold water while beating the eggs.”

 

“Well it’s absolutely scrumptious.”

 

“Do you have any plans for this afternoon?” asked Carl.

 

“I’ve been meaning to repair that broken step on the back porch. Why, was there something you wanted to do?”

 

“I thought it would be a lovely day to take a walk in the park. I could even pack a picnic lunch.”  Carl said.

 

“I think I’d like that, Hon. Let me fix that step and then I’ll pop in the shower and when you’re ready, we can go.”

 

As they walked to the park, Peter carrying the picnic basket, they waved to their neighbors. Of course, all the neighborhood children had to greet and hug their favorite principal as the couple trekked along. Some even hugged the stoic Carl. 

 

Lying on the blanket beneath a spreading oak, they sat as close as they dared, occasionally touching. “This was a wonderful idea, Carl. I only wish the weather would stay this way the rest of the summer. I’m not looking forward to the humidity.”

 

“Or the bugs,” responded Carl.

 

“Well, for at least two weeks we will be in sunny California visiting your parents. By the way, how did your mother’s surgery go? You never said, and I never asked.”

 

“Quite well. Dad, of course, was helpless. Mom said she never saw so many fast food wrappers in her life as when she came home from the hospital. Not to mention the piles of laundry.” Poking Peter, he teased, “His domestic skills are on a par with yours.”

 

Peter, ignoring the gibe, said, “You know our 45th anniversary is coming up. I was thinking we could leave California after our visit with your folks and spend a couple of weeks in Hawaii. What do you think, Hon?”

 

“Oh dear, I’ll have to plan a more extensive wardrobe, which will mean at least one more suitcase, but yes, Sweetheart, I think that would be wonderful.”

 

Peter calculated: that brought the total pieces of luggage to six, not counting carry-ons.

 

Walking side by side down the shaded path, their hands occasionally but purposely grazing, they lazily made their way home.

 

“I can’t believe we’ve been together 45 years. I still don’t know why you pursued me. I was such a shit to you. Yet you’re still here.” He grabbed his mate’s hand and squeezed.

 

Peter smiled, because he knew why.