“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
I fell asleep for about an hour. When I awoke, the right side of my head was throbbing. I almost passed out when I tried to sit up. I made my way across the hall to the bathroom. My eye looked worse than it had earlier. The bruise was darker and redder, and I was afraid that if I touched it, it might burst open.
I was heading back to my room when my father hollered angrily from downstairs. “Matt, dinner is ready.” I considered going back to my room and locking the door. However, I was afraid he might bust it down if he had to come up to get me.
My father isn’t normally a violent man. Usually, when he gets mad, he’ll close his eyes and appear to pray. Then, he’ll take a deep breath and forget whatever upset him. However, today he seemed like a stranger to me. I had never seen him so mad. He has never hit me, but I’m not really sure what he might do if he thinks that I am ‘one of them.’ I can still remember the nasty tone he used when he referred to Charles that way.
I entered the kitchen, and Mom and Dad were already seated. Dad ignored me, but Mom was shocked by my appearance. She started to get up, but my father cleared his throat, and she sat back down.
She reached over and grabbed my hand. “Let us pray,” she said. My father usually takes my other hand, but tonight he didn’t. She began by blessing the food, but then she started praying to Jesus about wayward children, and how we were becoming disobedient and rebellious. I quicky pulled my hand away from hers, but she reached for it and gripped it more tightly.
“I pray, Heavenly Father, that you show Matt your love and direct him toward a path of righteousness.” My father replied with a strong, “Amen.”
“Don’t let him take a sinful path of lust and debauchery.” I pulled my hand away.
I stood and shouted, “I’ve had it!” Tears started to flow from my face. “Look at me! Look at my face! I’m in pain, and all you can pray about is you think I’m a queer?”
My father slammed his hand on the table, “Sit down, Matt!”
“I won’t!” I shouted back. “You don’t love me! You hate me!” I upset my chair, and it toppled onto the glass cabinet behind me. Glass shattered to the ground.
I looked angrily at them. “Well, I hate you too!” With tears streaming down my face, I rushed to the patio door, pulled it open, turned and shouted, “I wish you weren’t my parents!” I hurried as fast as I could down the stairs and raced down the sidewalk. I could hear my mother shouting my name behind me.
I must have run four blocks before I stopped, bent over and tried to catch my breath. Tears were dropping onto the pavement below. I couldn’t help thinking that my life was over. I had crossed a line that could never be uncrossed. I knew there was no way I could ever go home after what I had said.
What was happening to me? None of it made any sense. How could my life spin so out of control in a couple of days? And the sad thing is, I had done nothing to cause it. It started with Ricky kissing me. I didn’t kiss him. Yet everything seemed to have begun when that happened. Now, he won’t even talk to me.
And I didn’t fight James, he hit me. All I did was tell him to leave Charles alone when he was picking on him. Yet I’m the one he hit. The right side of my head hurts so bad, I can hardly stand it. Running didn’t help. All it did was make my head throb even more.
But what I had I done? Nothing! I got upset when my parents began thinking that I am gay simply because I tried to defend a gay boy at school. I would think they should have been proud of me. I did the righteous thing. I didn’t turn my back on someone who needed help.
However, they didn’t see it that way. Dad saw me as a pervert because I helped someone who he considers a pervert. And not once did either of them show any concern for me. Mom seemed to care when she first saw me, but my father let her know right away not to show me any affection or care. Following my father’s lead, she started to pray for my sinful soul. She could at least have prayed that my eye heals. As far as I know, I could be blind. It is swollen so much I can’t even see out of it. But did they care? No. All they cared about was that I might be gay.
I slowly started making my way down the sidewalk. I had no idea where I could go. In the past, I would have gone to Ricky’s house. But now, he doesn’t want me to be his friend anymore. Every time I heard a car approaching, I turned to make sure it wasn’t Dad driving around trying to find me. In a way, I was disappointed that he didn’t care enough about me to search for me.
I passed a park, but too many kids were playing. Two girls about five saw me pass, and they pointed at me and began to giggle at my swollen face. Even at a young age, kids can be cruel.
I walked a few more blocks until I came to the public library. It seemed like a safe place to hide. When I entered, the librarian behind the desk rose and approached me. “Are you okay, Son?” she asked. She held the side of my face and examined my bruises.
“How did this happen? She asked with concern. “Did you get into a fight? Would you like me to call the police?”
“No, Ma’am,” I replied tearfully. “I’m okay.” I looked around the library. “Do you have a copy of Grapes of Wrath? I’m supposed to read it for a school assignment.”
She smiled slightly and replied, “Of course. However, it would probably be better to read it on a computer rather than a hard copy.” She took my hand and led me across the room to a computer table. She sat down and pulled up the story. “Sit down,” she said. “You’ll have to find the chapter you want.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” I responded politely. She seemed to be really concerned about me. However, I was afraid that she might call the police once she returned to her desk.
It was difficult to read with one eye, and the right side of my head was still pounding. I considered leaving and going to the hospital to let someone look at it, but then they would call Dad, and right now he was the last person I wanted to see. I looked up when I noticed someone approaching. It was Robbie Henderson, a friend from school. We had attended classes since the seventh grade, but we didn’t hang with each other outside of school.
“Whew! Look at you, Matt,” he said excitedly as he sat down beside me. He giggled and asked, “What does the other guy look like?”
“I’m reading,” I said rudely, hoping that he would go away. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about how I had gotten a bruised face.
“I’m sorry, Matt,” he apologized quickly. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I’m okay,” I responded politely. I pointed to the screen. “I just got to get this story read for Mr. Harper’s class.”
“Grapes of Wrath?” he asked. When I nodded, he added, “Boring book.” I smiled and nodded again.
He asked, “What did Ricky say about your shiner?” I shrugged my shoulders. Everyone at school knows that Ricky and I are best friends, so it didn’t surprise me when Robbie asked. In fact, I would probably get similar questions asked about Ricky or Stephanie.
When I didn’t say anything, he asked, “Ricky didn’t do that, did he?”
“No,” I replied. “He hasn’t seen it.”
Robbie studied me for a few more seconds. I know he had more to ask, but he could tell I didn’t want to talk about it. “I guess I’ll see you later, Matt.” He started to walk away but stopped. “You should get a doctor to look at that. It looks pretty bad.”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied, and then I continued reading.
Twenty minutes later, I looked over toward the entrance, and Robbie was crossing the library with Ricky following behind him! My heart started pounding, and I felt sick to my stomach. The last person I wanted to see was Ricky.
Robbie stopped beside me and pointed at my face. “See, Ricky. I told you.”
I looked into Ricky’s eyes, and he seemed ready to burst into tears. I looked down at the computer screen as tears filled my left eye. Ricky sat down beside me and scooted his seat closer to me. “Who did this Matt?” he asked worriedly. “Who hit you?”
I don’t know why, but I suddenly lost it. I began to cry uncontrollably. When Ricky reached out for me, I fell against his chest and wept. I heard Robbie mutter, “God, Matt. What is wrong?”
Ricky held me as I cried. I couldn’t help it. Maybe it was because I missed him. Maybe Ricky is the only person who ever cared about me. All I knew then, was that I wanted him to hold me.
The librarian approached and asked if I was alright. She asked if she should call my parents or the police, and Ricky told her that I would be okay. She walked away, but I was still concerned that she would call the police since she had been watching me closely all night.
Robbie said, “I’ve got to head home. I’ll let you guys be alone.” He asked, “Matt, are you going to be okay.”
“Yeah,” I muttered weakly into Ricky’s chest. “I’m going to be alright now.”
When Robbie left, Ricky pulled me into a tighter hug. “It’s okay, Matt,” he assured me. He rubbed my back gently and said, “You’ll be okay, now.” He held me silently a few more minutes before I pulled away.
I wiped tears from my left eye. My right eye was too tender to touch. Ricky stared worriedly at me. “Thanks,” I said appreciatively. It seemed like the past couple of days had disappeared. My best friend was by my side when I needed him the most.
Ricky looked around the room to see if anyone was watching us. “Maybe we should leave,” he suggested. He looked at the librarian. “I think she may have called the cops.”
I nodded and turned off the computer monitor. When I stood, Ricky put his arm around my waist to steady me. I waved at the librarian as we left. She gave us a concerned look and followed us to the door.
We started walking down the sidewalk, and I rested my head on Ricky’s shoulder. We didn’t speak as we headed in the direction of his home. I was too emotionally drained to say anything. My head on Ricky’s shoulder made me feel safe.
When we entered his house, he hollered out, “Dad! Mom! Come here quick!” Seconds later, his parents appeared in the foyer.
“Oh, God!” his mother wailed when she saw me. She approached, took my arm and led me into the family room. Ricky’s brothers and sister were watching a movie on television. They stood and began asking what was happening. Ricky’s father told them to go to their rooms and stay there. Ricky’s mother led me over to a leather sofa. I dropped onto it while she sat beside me and examined my eye.
She looked worriedly at her husband. “I think he needs to go to the hospital.”
“No!” I shouted. “I’ll be okay.”
“It looks bad, Dear,” she insisted. “Do your parents know about this?” I nodded my head. “Didn’t they think it should be seen by a doctor.” When I shrugged my shoulders, she looked worried at Ricky’s dad.
They knew what I endured at home. They knew how religiously strict my parents were. I usually spent Sunday mornings at their house when my parents went to church. They also knew that my parents had disapproved of many places they wanted to take me because they thought it might have a negative influence on me. One time they wanted take Ricky and me to see a Harry Potter movie, but they refused to let me go because they thought it promoted witchcraft.
Mrs. Fowler rose and disappeared from the room. Ricky instantly sat down beside me and grabbed my hand. I started to pull away, but I didn’t. I looked quickly at Ricky’s dad, but he didn’t seem to care.
I looked into Ricky’s tearful eyes. He appeared ready to bust out crying at any moment. We sat looking at each other and smiling slightly. I think we were both feeling the same thing. Why had we let the last couple of days happen? How had we tried to convince ourselves we were no longer friends. I reached out and pulled him into a hug. If his father hadn’t been watching us closely, I might have kissed him.
Ricky’s mother returned with a handful of medicine. She began to gently daub some cream onto the right side of my face. I thought it would burn, but it felt soothing. “This is some antibiotic,” she explained. “Hopefully, it will help the bruising heal.” She then looked worriedly at me. “Perhaps, I should call your mother.”
“It won’t do any good,” I responded. “She already saw it and she didn’t care.” Mrs. Fowler turned and looked worriedly at her husband. He rose from his chair and headed toward the kitchen.
She turned to Ricky. “Take Matt to your room and let him rest.” She looked softly at me and asked, “Would you like to spend the night with Ricky?” I returned her smile and nodded.
I was glad that I wouldn’t have to confront my parents, at least for one night. I’m sure at some point I’ll have to return and face their wrath. It wouldn’t be the grapes of wrath I’ll be facing. It will be God’s wrath.
Ricky helped me down the hall to his bedroom. Stevie and Martin were watching television. He told them to go to the family room to finish watching their show. They grumbled as they headed out the door. Ricky walked over, closed the door and locked it. I toed off my shoes and lay down on his bed. He hesitated before he came over and sat down beside me. It surprised me when he reached out and held my hand, but I didn’t pull away. I gripped it tightly.
He looked worriedly at me and asked, “You want to tell me what happened?” For the next few minutes, I told him how James had harassed Charles in the hall, and then how I had been hit for interfering.
When I finished Ricky responded, “I thought that is what happened. Charles told me James had hit you, but he didn’t stay around to see how bad you were hurt.”
I gave him a surprised look. “Charles told you what happened? When?”
Ricky sighed and explained. “I was waiting outside school when he came rushing out. He told me you had been hurt, but he was moving so fast, he didn’t finish.”
“Charles told you what happened?” I asked, “I didn’t even know you guys talk to each other.”
Ricky rose and responded somberly, “There’s a lot you don’t know about me. We talk all the time.” He left the room, leaving me by myself.
I was confused. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” Did he just confess to me that he is gay? Is that why they talk? Are they boyfriends?
Ricky returned a few minutes later with two cans of Coke and a bag of Doritos. “Hungry?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I didn’t eat dinner.” We sat in awkward silence as we sipped our drinks and dipped our hands into the bag. Once, we did it at the same time, and our hands touched.
“Sorry,” Ricky said apologetically. I giggled, grabbed his hand and held it.
“Um,” he asked as his face reddened. “What are you doing Matt?”
I smiled and replied, “Holding my best friend’s hand. Is that okay with you?”
He looked shyly at me, then he lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it. “If it is okay with you, then it is okay with me.” This time it was my turn for my face to turn red. I wasn’t sure if he had thought I had just come out to him. It was meant to show him that he was still my friend. I wasn’t sure yet if I was ready to go any further. With everything else going on, I didn’t want to mislead him into thinking that I wanted him for a boyfriend.
Ricky looked at the clock and noticed it was almost 10:30. The evening had gone so quickly since I walked out the door of my house. I had spent hours in the library, and it had been another hour since I arrived at Ricky’s house. “Are you ready to go to bed?” His face blushed when he asked me.
I yawned, stretched out and replied, “Yeah. It’s been a busy day.”
He walked over to the dresser and removed a tee shirt and a pair of athletic shorts. He handed them to me and said, “You can sleep in these.” He then asked, “Do you need to take a shower?”
He giggled when I smelled my armpit. “Yeah, I better.” I rose and headed for the bathroom across the hall. I was lucky that the others had gone to bed or I might have had to wait an hour like I have in the past. With his brothers and sister sharing the same bath, it was sometimes impossible to use it. It was worse in the mornings if everyone awakens at the same time.
When I finished, Ricky was sitting on the bed with a towel wrapped around him. He rose and headed across the hall for his shower. I dressed into the clothes he had given me, but I didn’t know if I should go to bed, or if I should sit and wait for him to come back into the room. After a deep yawn, I crawled into bed. I was almost asleep when he returned. I opened my left eye slightly and watched him drop the towel from his waist. It had been several years since I last saw him naked. He looked amazing. He had a thin light brown tuff of pubic hair, and his cock hung about four inches. It appeared that he may have been lifting weights. Even though he wasn’t muscular, he did have a well-defined body. I could feel myself begin to harden inside my shorts. I should have worn my underwear because I was afraid Ricky might notice the bulge that was beginning to form.
After dressing, he walked over to the bed and looked down. “Are you okay if we sleep together? If not, I can go sleep on the sofa in the family room.”
I pulled back the covers, smiled and replied, “Get in, Dork.” When I did, Ricky’s face flushed as he noticed the protrusion in the front of my shorts.
He turned off the light, and we lay silently for several minutes. Usually, we would talk about the activities of the day until we tired and fell asleep. Now, I could hear his heavy breathing beside me. He seemed nervous as he tossed and turned.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” he replied nervously. He reached over and turned on the light before rolling over and looking directly into my face.
Tears welled up in his eyes, and he wiped a tear falling down his face. He muttered softly, “I’m gay, Matt.”
I am the featured author in the May issue of Comicality's Imagine Magazine. You will find an article where the incomparable Comsie interviews me. You won't want to miss it! Imagine Magazine