Taking Off the Mask
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without
and know we cannot live within.  -James Baldwin
Chapter 13
When I arrived at school on Monday morning, I said goodbye to Jackie and headed in
the direction of Dion’s locker. It was on the other side of the campus from my first
period class, but I wanted to see if I could just ‘run into’ him.

He was struggling to get a book out of his locker, and he ended up pulling books and
papers all over the floor. I watched as his shoulders sagged and he bent down to pick
them up. I walked over, knelt down and started picking up stray papers. He looked up
and a small smile formed on his face.

“Hey,” I said as I continued to stack papers into a small pile. Most of them appeared to
be notes for a research paper. Others were graded tests. I was surprised that none of
them were lower than a B+. I stopped and stared when I picked up one that had my
name written all over it. Some were circled and others contained stars around them.
One even contained my name inside a heart. Dion startled me when he quickly yanked
the paper from my hand.

I looked into his very embarrassed face. “Thanks, James,” he said quickly. He then
stood and shoved the papers back into this locker. “I’m going to be late for class.”
He slammed his locker shut and then scurried quickly down the hall.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the paper with my name written all over it. I had done it
before when I was in the seventh grade when I developed a crush on a boy named
Jimmy. He was a blonde haired boy who sat next to me in history. When the weather
was warm outside, he would wear very short shorts which revealed most of his leg.   
I’d sit in class and get hard while taking side glances at him. When I finished my
assignment, I used to scribble his name all over the inside of my notebook. Jackie saw it
one day and teased me unmercifully about my crush. I tore off the notebook cover and
threw it away in a trash bin on the way home from school.

I wondered if Dion had a secret crush on me? Why else would he repeatedly write my
name on a piece of paper? He was also extremely embarrassed when he knew I saw it.
I kept remembering what Jackie had said about him telling Roy that he liked me more
than a lot. Is possible that a piece of his mask was being removed? And if he did like
me, was I prepared to like him back?

“Well, Mr. Hoskins?” I looked up and Mr. Zimmerman, my computer science teacher,
was standing over me.

“Well, what?” I asked. My face was beginning to redden as I heard students giggling
around me. He must have asked me a question while I was deep in thought about Dion.

“I don’t know why I bother,” he remarked as he strolled back to the front of the class.
“See me after class, James.” I tried to pay attention the rest of the period, but I knew it
wouldn’t matter. He was now the third teacher I had upset in just a few weeks. At the
rate I was going, I’d probably have the entire staff of Anderson High School mad at me
by the time I graduated.

I remained seated when the bell rang. Mr. Zimmerman motioned for me to come to his
desk. “I’m sorry, Sir,” I apologized.

“Is everything all right, James?” he asked. “You used to be my brightest student. Now
it seems like you’re always preoccupied.”

“No, Sir,” I replied. “I’m fine.”

“Well, I know it can be difficult being a teen boy,” he said. “Believe it or not, I used to
be young once.” He sat back in his seat and smiled warmly. “If you ever need someone
to talk to, come see me.”

“I’ll remember that, Sir,” I replied politely. Mr. Zimmerman was a cool teacher for
someone over thirty. He once told us he was thirty four and unmarried. When a girl
asked him if he had a girlfriend, he remarked, “I haven’t met a woman rich enough.”
The class laughed, but it left me wondering why he had jokingly avoided the question.

“Am I free to go?” He nodded and waved his hand, dismissing me. Before leaving I
stopped and said, “Thank you, Mr. Zimmerman. I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention
today.”

“It‘s all right, James,” he smiled. “And I mean it. If you ever need to talk, you can trust
me.” I knew by the tone of his voice, exactly what he meant.

“Thank you, Mr. Zimmerman.” I hurriedly left the room and headed to my next class.
The bell rang just as I entered Mrs. Horner’s class. Jackie looked over and gave me a
questioning look. I gave her a thumbs up as I sat down.

I surprised Mrs. Horner when I raised my hand to answer several questions that she
posed to the class. More than half the class was asleep, including Jackie. It appeared
that Agatha and I were the only one’s who were really paying any attention to her.
After class, Mrs. Horner stopped me and remarked on my positive behavior. I felt that I
still had a chance of maintaining my ‘A’ average.

I told Jackie to go to lunch while I stopped by the restroom. As I was leaving, Raymond
Saunders came towards me and grabbed my arm, pulling me back into the restroom.

“I’m going to kick your ass,” he said threateningly. “Your boyfriend made a serious
mistake fucking with me the other night. When I’m through with you, I’m going to go
looking for him.”

He threw a punch into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. As I gasped for air,
he drew back his arm to hit me again. I bent forward and closed my eyes. I heard a
rustling sound and then a loud thud. Raymond let out a grunt. I opened my eyes and
watched as Roy and Donovan grabbed Raymond and pulled him into a bathroom stall. I
couldn’t see what was going on; but by the threats that Roy and Donovan were making
to Raymond, it was obvious that he would never mess with me again.

I heard several thuds and Raymond let out a few loud grunts. The door flew open and
Roy and Donovan exited with very angry looks on their faces. “Fuck with him again,”
threatened Donovan, “and we won’t be so nice the next time.” Donovan looked over at
me and then walked out. Seconds later, Raymond emerged holding his side. He looked
sheepishly at Roy, and then he hurried from the room.

“The bigger they are,” Roy remarked angrily, “the harder they fall.” He looked at me.
“Are you all right?”

“I think so,” I replied as I pulled up my shirt and looked at the red mark that had
appeared on my chest from Raymond‘s punch. Roy inspected it before I pulled my shirt
down.

“We saw him follow you in here. If he ever comes near you again,” he said angrily, “you
let me know. I’ll make sure the son of a bitch never touches you again. Come on.” He
threw his arm around me and we walked to the cafeteria.

“Thanks, Roy,” I said as we approached the cafeteria. “It seems like you’re always
saving my ass.”

“You’re my friend,” he said. “I’m going to always be there when you need me.”

“I don’t even know how to repay you,” I remarked.

“You already have,” he replied. I looked over and gave him a questioning look. He smiled
and said, “You introduced me to Jackie.”

“So you really like her?”

“I think so,” he confessed. “I’ve never felt this way about another girl.”

“We’re not talking the L word here, are we,” I joked.

“Don’t you dare tell her,” he said seriously, “but yeah, I think so.”

“I’m happy for both of you,” I grinned. He pulled me in tighter and squeezed my
shoulder.

“Me, too,” he said happily. “Me, too.”

Jackie watched us walk over to the table. Surprisingly, Dion was sitting across from her.
Her eyes narrowed. I know she wondered why Roy always seemed to be so close to me.

“James Micheal Hoskins,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’ve told you- he’s mine, find
your own boyfriend” Suddenly, she looked over at Dion and realized what she had just
said. Her face began to turn red.

“But he’s just so cute,” remarked Roy as he grabbed my cheek and pinched it. He
realized what Jackie had said, and he was trying to make light of her remark.

“Yes!” I said. “I’m just so cute. Don’t you think so Dion?”

His eyes flew open, and he began to grow embarrassed. He started to stammer out a
response as the rest of us broke out in laughter. “I don’t think he really wanted an
answer to that question,” howled Roy.

We laughed even louder as I looked at Dion and batted my eyes, “So you don’t think
I’m cute?”

The rest of the lunch period was filled with playful conversation. Even Dion began to
grow more comfortable around us. I had never seen him laugh as much as he did in the
half hour we spent bantering back and forth. Before leaving, we made plans to go to
another movie on Saturday night. It surprised us when Dion asked if we could stop
once again at Ben and Jerry’s. “My treat this time.” He looked at me and smiled warmly.
In that instant, I saw a corner of his mask being removed.

As the bell rang, and we parted to go to our next class, I was suddenly aware of
someone walking closely behind me. I looked over my shoulder as Donovan walked up
beside me.

“Are you all right?” he asked softly. He kept walking without looking down at me.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m okay.”

“Good,” he said. “Let me know if Saunders ever fucks with you again.” He patted me on
my back, and then he turned and walked away. For the first time since that Saturday
night, I  didn’t feel like I had to be afraid of him anymore.

Roy met Jackie and me at my locker after school. The three of us were quickly
becoming inseparable. I thought it was strange that they wanted me to be around
them constantly. I know if I had a boyfriend, I wouldn’t want Jackie around. I guess
they were building a relationship the way one should be developed- become friends
first. I was just glad they wanted me to be a part of their blossoming friendship.

As we were getting ready to leave, I looked down the hall and noticed Dion heading
towards us. It was the first time I had ever seen him pass by my locker on the way
home from school. I smiled to myself, hoping that he was doing it intentionally, so that
he could see me.

He held his head down and didn’t look up as he started to walk past. Roy quickly
reached out and grabbed his arm.

“Don’t you walk by us like you don’t know us,” he kidded. Dion looked up and gave him
an embarrassed smile.

“Hey, Guys,” he said bashfully. “I was just on my way home.”

“Want a ride?” Roy asked. Dion’s face lit up.

“It won’t be out of your way?”

Jackie grabbed my arm and pulled me towards her. “See, I told you,” she whispered in
my ear.

Jackie wanted to stop off and get something to eat, but Roy said he had to get straight
home. His mother was taking him to the dentist for an appointment. He drove to Dion’s
house to drop him off.

When we pulled up outside his house, Dion sat quietly in the backseat. It was as if he
didn’t want to get out. Finally, he looked over at me and asked, “Would you like to
come in for a while.” Jackie was in the front seat nodding her head.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’ll have to call my mother and see if she will come get me.”

“Momma can take you home,” he responded. “She told me the other day that if you
ever wanted to visit, she’d see that you got home.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.” Roy gave me a thumbs up when I got out of the car. Jackie
mouthed the words, “Good Luck.” They seemed eager to see us together.

As soon as Dion opened he door, Marky came running down the stairs. His eyes lit up
when he saw me. “James!” he squealed. He ran across the room and jumped into my
arms. I fell back onto the couch as he straddled my lap and grinned into my face.

“You kept your promise,” he smiled.

“I told you I’d be back,” I gave him a big hug.

“So James is here and now you’ve forgotten about me?” Dion began to pout. Marky
jumped off my lap and ran over to him, jumping into his arms. This kid sure loved to be
affectionate. It’s too bad people lose that innocence as they grow older. It would be
wonderful if everyone could just reach out and hug someone they felt close to.

“I’m sorry, Dion,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

“Well, you did.” Dion acted like he was crying. I laughed as a sad expression appeared
on Marky’s face. Dion carried him over and sat down beside me on the couch.

“Don’t cry, please,” he begged. “James, make him stop crying.”

“Maybe if you give him a big hug he’ll stop,” I suggested. Marky hugged him tightly, but
Dion still continued to pretend to be crying.

“He won’t stop, James,” Marky said sadly. “You better hug him, too. Maybe that will
help.”

“You think so?” Marky nodded his head.

“Stop crying, Dion,” I giggled. I put my arms around him and Marky, pulling them both
into a strong embrace.

I pressed my face to Dion’s and Marky pressed his to mine. I closed my eyes and
enjoyed the closeness. I could sense that Dion was feeling the same way. His skin was
warm and soft against mine. We slowly started to rub our cheeks together.

Marky pulled away, looked at Dion and started giggling. “Your pee pee is getting hard.”
He lifted himself off Dion, and I saw a very noticeable tent in his pants.

Dion lifted Marky up and placed him on the floor. “You go play,” he said. He gave him a
playful push and patted him on his butt. Marky went running out of the room.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. I could tell that Dion was humiliated by Marky
pointing out his erection. “If it makes you feel any better,” I admitted. “I started to get
hard too.” I reached down and adjusted myself while Dion looked on. We looked at
each other and started laughing. He reached down and pushed his erection upward, so
that it wouldn’t be pointing out to the side.

“I’m so embarrassed,” he admitted. “I’m going to kill my nephew.”

“You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.” I looked down and stared at his large cock still
tenting the front of his pants.

“You don’t either,” he said timidly. I looked up and our eyes met. I once again had an
intense urge to lean in and kiss him. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was
feeling the same thing.

“Would you like to go to my bedroom?” His voice cracked. I nodded and he got up and
walked out of the room. I hesitantly followed him. I knew that it was going to be a big
step for us. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing. I had rushed into a
situation with Donovan, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with Dion.

He turned and looked at me. I could tell he was feeling the same thing. I knew that his
fears were much greater than mine. I had been hurt by Donovan, but it was nothing
like the hurt that Dion had experienced. I had to make a decision if I could commit
myself to him, without hurting him deeper. I didn’t want either of us to be hurt by
quickly jumping into something neither of was ready for.

We went into his room, and he closed the door behind us. He tossed his book bag on
the bed, and then turned and looked at me. He had a very sad expression on his face.

“I don’t know what to do here.” Tears started to appear in his eyes, and he brought his
hands to his face. I walked over and wrapped my arms around him, holding him tightly
as he wept. After a few minutes, I felt him relax in my arms, and he stopped crying. He
lifted his head off my shoulder and looked into my face. Our faces were only inches
apart. I closed my eyes as he brought his face closer. I felt his warm lips meet mine.

The kiss wasn’t passionate, and it didn’t last long; but it was enough for us to express
how we felt towards each other. He pulled me into another tight embrace, and he
sighed gently into my shoulder.

He pulled away and wiped the remaining tears from his face. “I’m such a baby,” he
muttered as he started to walk away. I grabbed his arm and pulled him back towards
me.

“No, you’re not,” I said as I leaned in and kissed him again. This time the kiss was more
passionate. I opened my mouth and he slipped his tongue into it and began to kiss me
more deeply. I could feel his hard cock pressing against mine.

Suddenly, the door burst open and Marky came running in. “Granny said come get a
snack.”  He stopped and looked at us as we jumped apart.

“Oh!” he squealed. “You guys were kissing!” He turned and went running from the
bedroom. We could hear him singing as he headed downstairs, “Dion and James, sitting
in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

“God, Dion,” I said with remorse. “I’m so sorry. Your mom is going to know now.”

I walked over to the bed and sat down, burying my head in my hands. Dion walked over
and put his arm around my waist. “It’s alright, James,” he insisted. “Momma knows.” I
looked up and he was smiling. “I told her two years ago that I was gay.”

“She won’t care that we were kissing?” I was stunned that Dion seemed to be so calm
about everything.

“Actually, she’ll be happy,” he smiled. “She thinks the world of you. I think she’s been
hoping something like this will happen.”

“Something like what?”

“This.” He leaned in and gave me another quick kiss. He then rose from the bed and
grabbed my hand. “We’d better get downstairs. It’s hard to say what Marky is telling
everyone.”

He held my hand all the way downstairs. I tried to pull it away when we entered the
kitchen, but he gripped it tightly. Nurse Dorothy was pulling a batch of cookies out of
the oven. She looked down and saw our hands entwined and smiled.

“Sit down, Boys.” She motioned for us to have a seat at the table in the middle of the
kitchen. I sat down, and Dion scooted his chair next to mine. His mother placed two
glasses of milk on the table and a plate containing about six cookies. It appeared that
her eyes were misty, but she wouldn’t look us directly in the face.

“I want some milk and cookies!” Marky shouted as he came running excitedly into the
kitchen and jumped into my lap. He snatched a cookie off my plate and took a drink
from my glass of milk.

“Marcus Dwayne Robinson,” admonished Nurse Dorothy. “Remember your manners.
That is James’s milk and cookies.”

“You don’t care, do you?” Marky looked hopefully at me while he continued to stuff the
remaining cookie in his mouth.”

“No, Little Guy,” I smiled. “I don’t.” He leaned in and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.

“See Granny,” he grinned. “James don’t care.” He then took another swig of my milk.
Nurse Dorothy just shook her head and turned back to the counter.

As we ate our snacks, Dion and I kept looking over at each other and smiling.

“Are you Dion’s boyfriend?” Marky asked. I was taking a drink of milk when he asked it,
so I immediately began to choke. “I saw you kissing him,” added Marky.

Nurse Dorothy walked over and pulled him from my lap. “Go upstairs and take your
bath,” she instructed. “And wash behind your ears.”

“Will you play ball with me when I get through?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “You go clean up, and then we’ll toss the ball.”

He squealed and went running from the room. He was pulling his tee shirt above his
head as he scurried up the stairs.

“He really likes you,” said Dion. Nurse Dorothy gave him a playful smack on the back of
the head as she left the kitchen. “He’s not the only one,” she teased.

We kept looking over at each other and giggling as we finished our snack. The more he
opened up to me, the more I began to feel that I was beginning to fall in love with him.
I found myself unable to stop staring into his beautiful brown eyes.

“What?” He asked embarrassedly.

“Nothing,” I said, looking away.

“No,” he insisted. “What are you thinking?”

I sat quietly for a minute. I was trying to sort out the feelings I was having at that
moment. I looked over and he was smiling at me.

“I think I’m beginning to really like you,” I admitted.

“Are you scared?” Dion’s comment took me by surprise. Suddenly, I realized why I was
having trouble understanding what was going on inside me. I was scared. I had only
been with one other boy, Donovan. We had met so quickly, and I had let alcohol
influence my judgment. I hadn’t taken time to get to know Donovan. It had been about
sex, and nothing more.

With Dion, however, it was different. Sure, I was physically attracted to him; but I
wanted to get to know him. I didn’t want us to jump into a relationship too quickly.    
I could see us sharing our lives together, but first I wanted to see behind his mask.
I wanted to know what kind of music he listened to.

I reached down and took his hand. “You have no idea how scared I am right now,”
I admitted.

“You don’t know how happy I am to hear you say that.” He leaned in and gave me
another kiss. “I’m scared to death.”

Suddenly, we heard someone knocking on the back door. We looked over and saw Roy
grinning at us through the window. He gave us a timid wave. Dion motioned for him to
come in.

“Sorry, guys,” he said embarrassedly. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything. I got out
of the dentist’s office early and I thought I’d drop by and give James a ride home.”

“Won’t Jackie get mad?”  I asked.

“Not if she doesn’t know,” he said. “A guy’s got to have a little space once in a while.
Just because she’s my girlfriend, it doesn’t mean I have to spend every minute with
her.”

“Now you’re learning,” I laughed. I lifted my hand and we fisted.

He stood nervously before us as his face began to redden. Finally, he asked, “Are you
two together now?” Dion looked over at me and our eyes met.

“Yeah,” I said. I took Dion’s hand and held it. “We’re together.” He squeezed my hand
tightly.

“This is going to sound weird,” Roy remarked, “but I’m glad. You two really make a nice
couple.”

“Thanks, Roy,” I replied. Just then Marky came bounding down the stairs and ran into
the kitchen, jumping into my lap.

“Who are you?” he asked Roy.

“I’m Roy.”

“I’m Marky.” He jumped out of my lap and started pulling me to the door. “James is
going to throw me the ball. You can play too, if you wanna.”

We played around in the backyard for about a half hour. Marky was a ball of energy.
Not only did he have us throw him a small baseball; he had us toss him a football, race
him around the yard and climb a huge oak tree in the backyard.

“James, can you help me a minute?” Nurse Dorothy stood on the back porch and yelled
out to me. I nodded and trotted over to her. “Come inside and help me make some
lemonade.”

I stood at the counter and squeezed lemons while she took out a pitcher and filled it
with ice.  I stood by and watched as she prepared the lemonade. She watched Dion and
Roy tossing a ball. Roy had on a glove, and he was stooped down while Dion hurled the
ball at him.

“I’ve never seen him so happy,” she said. “He’s like the Dion I once knew.” She then
turned to me with tears in her eyes.

“You know what happened to his brother?” I nodded.

“He was such a vibrant kid, a lot like Marky,” she continued. “I’d be worn out by the end
of the day just trying to keep up with him. Then his brother died, and he was never the
same. He worshipped Terrence. He was nineteen and Dion was twelve, but they were
inseparable.” She paused and took out a handkerchief and blew her nose. I couldn’t see
her face, but I knew she was crying.

“After the shooting, he went inside himself and wouldn’t let anyone in,” she said.
“I didn’t have a lot of money, but I tried to get him help. He wouldn’t talk to anyone,
not even me. For a while, I honestly felt he was going to die himself.”

She sat down and looked at me with a tear-stained face. I couldn’t help but start crying
myself. She tore off a paper towel and handed it to me.

“I’m not telling you this so you will feel sorry for him,” she cried. “I’m telling you
because I want you to know how much you mean to him.” She reached across the table
and took my hands.

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse,” she continued, “he came to me two years,
when he was fourteen, and told me he thought he was gay. He said that he didn’t want
to live anymore.

“I admitted him in a clinic,” she said. “He was there for about three months. They
helped him work through a lot of his problems. He came home better, but he was still
quiet and withdrawn.”

She squeezed my hands, and then smiled. “Then about a month ago, he started to
change. He seemed to want to go to school, and he didn’t complain in the morning. I
couldn’t figure out why, until the day you showed up at St. Andrew’s. I noticed how he
watched you. I began to see a sparkle come back into his eyes.

“Then last week when I saw you two on the floor in the supply room after he had cut
his face, I began to see him smile.” She started crying again. “I hadn’t seen him smile
in four years.

“Thank you for giving me my boy back.” She got up and walked over, pulled me to my
feet and embraced me. We stood crying into each other’s arms.

After a minute, she pulled back and looked into my face. “Just don’t hurt him, James.
He can’t take anymore hurt.”

“I won’t, Nurse Dorothy,” I assured her. “I won’t hurt him.” She gave me another
embrace.

“We’d better get this lemonade out to the boys,” she said. I helped her get glasses out
of the cabinet and put them on the tray. She placed a large plate of cookies on it, and
then we went out onto the porch and sat down. Within seconds, Marky came running
up and jumped into my lap.

“I jumped out of the tree and Roy catched me,” he announced with a wide smile. “It
was fun.” Just then, Dion and Roy approached and sat down.

“Dion and I have been throwing the baseball,” said Roy. “He’s got quite an arm on him.
I’m going to introduce him to the coach tomorrow. We need a good pitcher. We don’t
start practicing for several months, but we’re going to start conditioning soon. I’ve
talked him into joining us.”

Dion was looking down at the ground. “I think that is great,” I said. He raised his head
and smiled at me. “Maybe I’ll go out for the team, too.”

“Maybe not,” said Roy responded quickly. “I watched you throwing the ball to Marky. I
think he would have a better chance of making the team than you.” Everyone broke out
in laughter.

“This is great news!” exclaimed Nurse Dorothy. “It calls for a celebration.  I’m inviting
everyone for a cookout on Friday night. Roy, you invite a date; and James, you bring
your mother and little sister.”

She walked over and pulled Dion to his feet. “I’m so proud of you, Baby.” They stood
and hugged. She looked down and opened her arms to me and Roy.

“You two, get over her.” The four of us hugged on the back porch. Marky wrapped his
arms around my legs. I don’t think I had ever felt that I belonged somewhere, as I did
at that moment.


Chapter 14                                   Return to TMJ