“Okay, who is with me?” Lucas stood in Ned’s bedroom and looked down at the boys. Owen and Robbie were beside Ned.
Owen replied nervously, “I don’t understand what you expect us to do.”
“I don’t give a shit!” barked Lucas. He stepped away and started pacing around the room. “That fag got me suspended.”
Ned remarked meekly, “Well, you were kind of pushing him.”
Lucas hollered, “What!” He rushed over to Ned, grabbed his tee shirt by the front and raised him to his feet. “You think it’s my fault I got suspended?” He tossed Ned to the bed like a rag doll.
“No,” stammered Ned nervously. “It was all Neil’s fault.”
“Fuck, right,” responded Lucas angrily. He looked at his watch, and then he announced that he had to go home.
“My granny has me on punishment,” he laughed loudly.
Robbie asked, “What kind of punishment?”
Lucas laughed louder. “She expects me to keep the fucking house clean.” He laughed again. “There ain’t no way that shit hole is going to get clean.”
He headed for the door, and then he stopped before leaving. “Remember what I said,” he reminded the others. “We got to get even with that fag.” The three boys jumped when he slammed the door shut.
Owen was the first to speak after Lucas left. He looked at the others with a puzzled look and asked, “What is his problem? Jesus.” He ran his hands through his blonde hair. “Neil didn’t do anything that bad.”
Ned asked, “Yeah. But didn’t he try to suck your dick?”
Owen sat on the side of the bed and shook his head. “We were just clowning around. I don’t think he meant anything by it.” He looked over at Robbie and asked, “Remember how we used to wrestle around on the bed?”
Robbie laughed and replied, “Yeah.”
Owen stood and paced around the room. He looked over at Ned and asked, “Remember how we used to pull on each other’s dicks until we got them hard?”
Robbie looked at Ned and laughed when his face began to redden. “Yeah,” replied Ned defiantly, “but we were only about twelve when we did it.”
Owen said, “But we still did it. That didn’t make us gay or anything. We were just having fun.” Robbie fell back on the bed and roared with laughter.
Ned looked over and said sarcastically, “You’re one to laugh. You jerked me off once.”
Robbie jumped up and shouted, “Liar! I never touched you!”
Ned laughed and insisted, “Yes, you did. You thought I was asleep, but I was just pretending.”
“When?” Robbie asked defiantly. “I never touched your puny little dick.”
“About three years ago,” recalled Ned. “We were asleep in the sleeping bag in the back yard. You reached into my pants and got me hard. Then you started jerking me off. I had to roll over because you was going to make me cum all over your hand.”
Robbie’s face flushed a bright red as he denied, “I never did that.”
Owen interrupted their argument. “It don’t matter, Guys.” He sat down between them and said, “We all played around at one time or another. I bet if they admitted it, some of the guys would probably say they sucked someone off.”
Ned leaned toward Owen and asked, “Have you?”
“Hell, no!” replied Owen defensively.
Robbie giggled and replied, “Liar. Mac told me that you and him did it a couple of times.”
Owen jumped from the bed and yelled, “We did not!”
Ned’s eyes widened and he asked, “You did?” He looked over at Robbie and added, “Mac never told me that.”
Owen sat down and confessed, “Okay. But we were about eight when we did it. That don’t mean I would do something like that now.”
Ned shook his head and agreed, “Me, neither.”
Robbie gave Owen a puzzled look and asked, “So you don’t think Neil really meant to suck your dick? You think you guys were just clowning around?”
Owen stood and paced around the room before responding. Finally, he stopped and looked down at the two boys on the bed. “I don’t know,” he said as he ran his hands over his head. “I mean, I’ve been thinking about it since it happened. We was just playing around, and I took it out and shoved it in his face.” He ran his hands over his head again. “We’ve clowned around like that before.”
Robbie asked excitedly, “You have? You guys stick your dicks in each other’s face all the time?”
Ned started laughing. He then shoved Robbie’s shoulder. “You don’t complain when I do it to you.” He then fell back on the bed and roared with laughter.
“Fucker,” hissed Robbie. “You don’t do that shit. If you did, I’d bite your dick off.”
“Try it,” challenged Ned. Robbie stood and pulled his dick from his pants. He laughed as he climbed on the bed and tried to shove his dick in Ned’s face. Ned laughed and pushed him off the bed.
Owen said excitedly, “See, Guys. That’s what I’m talking about. We do this shit all the time to each other. It don’t mean nothing.”
Robbie zipped his shorts and remarked, “Yeah, but we don’t actually suck each other. You said Neil sucked your dick when you did it.”
Owen started pacing around the room again. “That’s what’s really bugging me.” He stopped and looked down. “He really opened his mouth and started sucking me.” The boys laughed when he reached down and adjusted the front of his pants. “If I hadn’t jumped away, I think he would have really finished me off.”
“Shit,” hissed Ned. “Maybe he is a fag.”
Owen sat down on the bed and gave the others a puzzled look. “What if he is? He’s still our friend.”
Ned shook his head and replied, “I don’t know, Owen. I mean what if he is gay or something? Lucas says we can’t have nothing to do with fags.”
Owen stood and started pacing around the room again. “I should never have said anything to Lucas.”
Robbie asked, “Why did you?”
Owen shrugged his shoulders. “I ran into Lucas right after it happened. I was still kind of mad at Neil for doing it.” He walked over, sat back on the bed, and ran his hands over his head. “Now, I wish I had kept my mouth shut. I didn’t expect Lucas to go all crazy about it.”
Ned nodded his head and agreed. “He is kind of obsessed with it. I feel bad treating Neil the way we do. He was our friend.”
Owen frowned and corrected him. “He is our friend,” he insisted.
Robbie shook his head. “I don’t know, Guys. I ain’t got nothing against Neil, but Lucas will beat the shit out of us if we talk like this around him.”
Both boys nodded and agreed in unison, “Yeah.”
* * * * * * *
Neil sat in the dark closet with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. It seemed like he had been there forever since Brett and Freddie had last come into the room. Suddenly, he heard the door open, and then he heard the familiar heavy footsteps of his Uncle Jack walking across the room.
The door opened and light filled the small closet. He didn’t bother to look up. He waited for his uncle to sit down beside him. His heart raced when he heard a voice say, “Son?” He looked up and saw his father’s silhouette in the doorway.
“Dad?” He became embarrassed because it was the first time his father had known about his secret sanctuary. He thought how foolish he must appear to be sitting on the closet floor amid scattered shoes and assorted clothing.
He held his breath as his father kicked aside a pair of boots and sat down beside him. It surprised him even more when his father reached up and closed the door, leaving them both in the darkness. Jack had never done that.
He sat quietly listening to his father’s heavy breathing. He waited for him to say something, but he remained silent. An awkward silence filled the air. They sat for several minutes not speaking. When Neil leaned over and rested his body against his father’s side, his father stirred and placed his arm around Neil’s back and pulled him tighter toward him.
Neil suddenly began to cry. His father placed his large hand gently on the side of his face and pulled the weeping boy into his chest. Brian tightly held and comforted his distraught son. No words could give Neil any meaning to the pain he was feeling. He knew through his own agonizing torment that he had experienced several years earlier, Neil would have to come to understand his feelings on his terms. He could be there to give him direction, but it was Neil who would have to fight the demons. He would be there to help him, if needed.
Neil sobbed, “I’m sorry, Dad.”
Brian wrapped his arms around him tightly and whispered soothingly, “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“But you haven’t been here lately,” cried Neil. “You don’t know about me.”
Brian ran his hand over Neil’s hair and said, “I know all I need to know. You’re a wonderful boy and a very special son.”
Neil sniffled and replied, “You won’t say that when you find out I’m gay.” Brian couldn’t help but smile to himself when Neil sobbed out those words. He hadn’t expected Neil to break the ice so quickly. He figured it would take a long time for his son to make that confession.
Brian ran his hand over his son’s hair again and asked, “What’s so bad about being gay?”
Neil sniffled and relaxed into his father’s chest. “Everything,” he mumbled.
Brian squeezed Neil tightly and remarked, “It is not being gay that is the problem. Not being able to accept it is.”
Neil sat up and wiped the tears from his eyes. He looked over and tried to focus on his father’s face in the dark. “I accept it,” he assured him. “It’s just that no one else can.”
Brian searched for Neil’s hand in the dark. When he found it, he wrapped his tightly around it. “I accept it,” he assured Neil. “And your mother accepts it.”
Neil asked with surprise, “She does?”
Brian squeezed Neil’s hand and assured him, “Of course she does. She’s your mother, isn’t she?”
Neil leaned over and rested his head on his father’s shoulder. “I guess,” he mumbled softly. He sat quietly for a minute before sitting up and looking over at his father. “Why are you here?” he asked, “instead of Uncle Jack?”
Brian put his arm around Neil and pulled him closer to him. “Because I’m your father,” he stated. He then kissed Neil on his forehead and asked, “Aren’t I?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I guess.” He sat for a minute before saying, “Dad?”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me, too,” smiled Brian as he squeezed Neil’s shoulder tightly.
* * * * * *
Lucas made his way down the dark hallway to his bedroom. The lights were out in the living room when he arrived home from Ned’s house. Even though it was barely past eight, it appeared his grandmother had already retired for the night.
Suddenly, he heard a loud commotion coming from the kitchen. He turned and walked cautiously toward it. He peered into the dimly lit room and saw his uncle wiping beer off the floor with a kitchen towel.
He turned and attempted to leave unnoticed, but suddenly, he heard his uncle bark out his name. “Luke, you son of a bitch! Git in here and help me clean up this fucking mess!”
His skin bristled when his uncle yelled at him. He hated his Uncle Raymond. He had many of the traits that Lucas possessed himself. He was large, rude and boorish. Lucas couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t seen him drunk, as he was tonight.
Lucas hesitated at the door as he watched his uncle fall when he bent down to wipe up the beer. “God Damn it!” he shouted. He looked up at Lucas. “I told you to git ur fat ass in here and help me!”
Lucas walked over, extended his hand and lifted his uncle to his feet. His eyes were bloodshot, and his fat cheeks were rosy red. His hair was cut short, and it was beginning to turn gray. From what his grandmother had told him, Uncle Raymond was about four years younger than his mother. He had seen pictures of them together before she went to prison, and they looked remarkably alike.
Lucas snatched the rag from his uncle’s hand, bent over and started wiping the yellow liquid off the dirty kitchen floor. He would have just let it dry overnight, but he knew his grandmother would complain when she entered the kitchen and discovered the sticky mess as she walked across the kitchen in her favorite tattered pink slippers.
He jumped when his uncle approached him from behind, grabbed him around the waist and began humping on him. Lucas turned and balled his fist. “What the fuck you doing?”
Raymond looked at him with glazed eyes. He reached out and tried to grab Lucas’s rotund ass. “You ain’t complaining, are you, Boy?”
Lucas stepped back with a balled fist. “I told you I don’t want to do that shit no more!”
“Aw, come on, Boy,” pleaded Raymond as he stumbled and almost fell again. Lucas reached out and grabbed him before he fell onto the kitchen table. When he did, Raymond reached around and grabbed him again.
Lucas pushed him into the refrigerator. When Raymond steadied himself, he glared at Lucas. His eyes were filled with rage. “Boy,” he hissed. “I’ll kill you if you put your fucking hands on me like that again.”
Lucas looked down and pleaded, “But I told you I don’t want to do that shit no more.”
Raymond glared at him. “You ain’t got no say so in this,” he responded angrily as he began to unbutton his pants. “I ain’t been with no woman in over a month, and I need me some kind of release.” His eyes narrowed as he motioned at the hallway. “Now git to your room. I’ll be in there after I take me a piss.”
Lucas turned and headed slowly toward his room. He knew that if he refused, his uncle would make good on his threat and kill him. He almost did three years ago when he was turning fourteen. He had told his uncle he didn’t want him messing with him anymore. After going to bed that night, he was awakened in the middle of the night with a large hunting knife pressed to his neck. He still wakes up in the middle of night with fear remembering his uncle’s stale breath.
It was something he had never shared with anyone, not even his grandmother. He knew she wouldn’t believe him. Raymond was the only family she had left; that is, the only one who wasn’t incarcerated. Lucas realized that if he caused too much trouble, then she might place him in foster care. He knew because of his size and belligerent attitude, it would mean he would be shipped from home to home until he reached the age of eighteen.
So like tonight, he subjected himself to his uncle's sinister behavior. However, when he did, he plotted revenge for the degradation that he had to endure. Lately, Neil was becoming the object of his wrath.
* * * * * * *
Brian stood in the darkened closet and held out his hand to his son. “Let’s get out of here,” he said jokingly as he sniffed the air. “It smells like a locker room.” Neil grabbed his father’s outstretched hand and rose to his feet.
Neil squinted as he exited the closet. The sun was still shining through the window. He reached out and hugged his father. “Thanks, Dad,” he said appreciatively.
Brian held Neil in his arms for a minute. “I’m glad I was here,” he replied as he pressed his cheek to Neil’s face. “It feels good to be a father again.”
Brian deeply missed his children. On the weekends he had them, most of the time was spent seeing that they enjoyed themselves. In eight hours, he could only enjoy their laughter. He missed sharing their lives as a father would normally do. They were growing up quickly, and he felt he didn’t really know them.
Brian pulled away and looked around the room. He looked at Neil and suggested, “Why don’t you pack some clothes and come spend a few days with me.”
Neil’s eyes lit up. It was the first time his father had ever invited him to his home. “Really?” he asked excitedly. “What about your roommate, Dwight. Won’t he mind?”
Brian smiled and tousled Neil’s hair. “Of course not,” he replied with a smile. However, the smile masked the doubts he was feeling. He and Brenda had made the decision years earlier to hide the true relationship between him and Dwight until they were older. Brian had planned several times to sit down with Neil and tell him. At sixteen, he was old enough to accept the relationship. However, Brett and Emily were always around, and he never found time to be alone.
Now he knew that Neil needed to be told the truth. He considered telling him as they sat in the closet. However, it would be better if he waited until they could sit down and discuss it openly. Since his son was gay, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do.
Brian patted Neil on the shoulder. “I’m going to talk to your mother while you pack. Why don’t you bring enough for about five days.”
Neil exclaimed excitedly, “Five days!” It was a welcome relief to him. As he sat in the closet alone, one of the things that concerned him the most was his mother’s reaction. She hadn’t said anything to him on the way home. He thought that maybe giving her some time to digest what had happened would be helpful. Besides, she hadn’t yet said anything about his suspension. That was a discussion he didn’t want to have. At least it would postpone the inevitable lecture for a few days.
Brian smiled and replied, “See you downstairs in a few.” He then left the bedroom.
Brenda was sitting at the dining room table sipping a cup of coffee. She rose when Brian entered. “I’ll get you a cup of coffee,” she said as she went into the kitchen. A minute later, she appeared at the door and asked, “You still like it light on the cream, heavy on the sugar?”
Brian laughed and rubbed his stomach. “Just light on the cream. Dwight has convinced me to give up the sugar.”
Brenda frowned and said sarcastically, “You wouldn’t listen to me when I told you that.” A minute later, she entered, placed the cup in front of Brian and sat down.
She looked worriedly over at Brian and asked, “Is Neil all right?”
“I think so,” replied Brian as he shook his head. “I think he’s really worried how you’re going to react.”
Brenda sipped her coffee and responded, “I’ve been through this once.”
Brian reached over and placed his hand over hers. “I’m sorry,” he said sorrowfully.
Brenda attempted to smile. “Well, that’s in the past,” she remarked. “Right now we have to focus on our son.”
“Has he told you what happened?”
“No,” she replied. “He came home and went straight to his closet.”
Brian laughed slightly, “When did he start doing that? It looks like he’s built a little fortress in there.”
“It’s his sanctuary,” she replied as tears welled up in her eyes. “He started right after you left.”
Brian replied sadly, “I know there is nothing I can say that will let you forgive me.”
Brenda wiped tears from her eyes. “Let’s not open up old war wounds,” she said. “I’ve learned to accept reality.”
Brian reached out and held her hand. He thought she would pull away, but she didn’t. “You’ve done a wonderful job raising the children. I’m sorry I wasn’t more involved. But...”
“I know,” she interrupted. “I wouldn’t let you.” She reached up and wiped away a stray tear. “Let’s focus on Neil. Okay?”
Brian sat back and informed her, “I’ve asked Neil to pack some clothes. I want him to come home with me for a few days.”
“What?” exclaimed Brenda. “Neil needs me right now.”
Brian reached over, took her hand, and squeezed it. “He also needs his father. His gay father. Who is better prepared to help him deal with this than me?”
Suddenly, they heard a gasp from the doorway. They turned to see Neil staring wild-eyed down at Brian. “You’re gay?” he stammered in disbelief. He turned and rushed from the room.
“Oh, Dear Jesus,” remarked Brenda as she rose from the table. “I’d better go see if he‘s all right.”
“No,” replied Brian as he stood, held her shoulders and looked into her face. “Let me go talk to him.” He smiled nervously and replied, “I think I know where to find him.”