It was almost eleven when I heard the doorbell. I tried to ignore it, but they were persistent. After five minutes, I crawled out of bed and trudged downstairs to see who was at the door.
Because of the incident with the news reporter on Saturday morning, I was careful before just opening the door. I peered through the peephole and saw Linda and Amber standing on the porch.
I jumped when they started ringing the bell again. I sighed, and then finally opened the door.
“It’s about time,” muttered Linda as she barged through the door. Amber gave me a timid wave as she walked past. “We’ve been worried sick over your ass.”
“It’s nice to see you too,” I answered back angrily. She stopped and looked me over, before walking up and wrapping her arms around me.
“We heard what happened to you at school.” She squeezed me tightly. “Are you all right?” Amber was standing behind us, and it looked like she was ready to burst into tears at any second.
“I guess,” I replied. “Mom told me I could stay home today.” She led me over to the sofa and we sat down. Amber sat down next to Linda.
“What happened yesterday?” she asked. “I’ve heard everything from you got beat up to you tried to kill yourself.”
“No,” I laughed. “It’s nothing like that. I guess everything that has happened over the past few days came crashing down on me. The doctors said I had some kind of a nervous breakdown.”
“Are you going to be all right?” Amber spoke for the first time. I could see the worried look in her eyes.
“Mom wants me to see a counselor,” I told her.
“You mean a shrink?” Linda asked angrily. “My mother sent me to one and he was full of shit. He told me I was not gay. He said I was just confused and going through a phase. I agreed with him, so he told my mother that I was cured. What a dumb ass.”
“Well, I already agreed to go,” I informed her. “If I don’t think he can help, then I’ll stop going.”
“Just be careful what you say,” she said. “They think everything is related to sex.”
“You mean it’s not?” I laughed.
“Well, yes, probably.” She laughed as she reached for Amber’s hand. “But we don’t want them to receive the satisfaction that they are right.”
“Drinks?” They nodded and I rose and headed to the kitchen to get some soft drinks out of the fridge. They followed me into the kitchen and we sat at the counter.
“What caused your breakdown?” Amber asked. “It seems strange that it would happen around lunchtime. We were sitting at the table waiting for you to show. Brent wanted to introduce you to our cousin, Rachel. She’s gay also.”
I sat and stared at Amber. Was the girl I saw Brent walking arm in arm with his cousin? She gave me a quizzical look.
“What’s wrong?” she asked worriedly. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“I’ll be okay,” I answered. Just then, Amber’s cell phone rang. I could tell that she was talking to Brent. It seemed he was at school and was angry that Amber and Linda had left without him.
“I’ll tell Rachel to come get you.” She turned off her phone and looked at me.
“He wants to come over too,” she said. “My cousin is waiting outside in her car.”
“He won’t have time to come here and then get back to school on time.” I looked up at the clock on the wall. “In fact, you guys are going to be late as it is.”
“Actually,” informed Linda, “we were going to stay here the rest of the afternoon, if you don’t care.”
“You can’t cut school because of me,” I replied.
“We’re not.” Linda laughed as she squeezed Amber’s hand. “We’re doing it for us. We haven’t had a chance to be together in weeks.”
“So, what do you say?” Amber asked. “Should Rach go get Brent?”
I had conflicting feelings. I did want to see Brent again; but at the same time, I knew that my feelings for him were too strong. I hadn’t thought about anything but him since yesterday when I saw him with that girl, who I now knew was probably his cousin. It did make me realize that perhaps he didn’t have the same feelings for me. I wasn’t sure I could handle rejection on top of everything else.
“Well?” Amber asked impatiently. Just then, the doorbell rang. I went to the door and opened it to the same girl I had seen Brent with yesterday.
“Hi.” She offered me her hand. “I’m Rachel. You must be Artie. You’re even cuter than Brent said you were.” My face immediately began to turn red.
“Aw,” she cooed. “You’re adorable. Look how easily you blush. You turn red even faster than my cousin, and I didn’t think anyone could embarrass as easily as Brent.”
“Knock it off, Rach,” threatened Linda as she walked over to us. “He’s been through enough. At least wait a few days before you get started.”
“Damn,” laughed Rachel. She wrapped her arm around me. “I’ll be gentle, but only because you’re Brent’s boyfriend.”
My eyes widened. Why was everyone assuming that Brent was my boyfriend?
“Speaking of boyfriend,” said Amber. “Brent’s pissed off because we left him alone at school. He called a minute ago and wants you to come get him.” She grabbed Rachel by her arm and started to lead her to the door.
“You guys must think I’m a taxi,” she muttered as she walked out the door.
Linda grabbed my hand and led me back to the kitchen. We sat on the counter stools and quietly drank our sodas.
“You have a nice house,” she said, breaking the silence. She got up, walked over to the patio door, and looked out at the pool.
“We’ll go swimming when Amber comes back,” she said.
“Do you have suits?” I asked. She turned and grinned.
“Who needs suits? We can skinny dip.” I coughed out a big mouthful of soda I had just drunk from my can.
“I really don’t think so,” I said embarrassedly.
“You’ve never skinny dipped in the pool?”
“Well, yeah. Me and my little brother do when my parents, I mean, my Mom isn’t home.”
“It hurts doesn’t it?” She sat back down beside me and squeezed my hand. I realized she had picked up how I had quickly changed my wording about my parents.
“You have no idea.” I could feel the tears starting to form in my eyes.
We talked for a little while, as we waited for Amber, Brent and Rachel to return. I could tell that Linda was wanting me to open up a little and tell her what I was feeling, but I wasn’t comfortable doing that. We had only known each other for a few days, and I didn’t want tell someone I didn’t know all that well about my innermost feelings. I could hardly understand them myself.
The doorbell rang, and I jumped to answer it. When I opened it, Amber and Rachel came walking in. Brent was standing timidly on the porch.
“Are you going to come in?” I held the door open as he brushed past me. I resisted the overwhelming urge to reach out and pull him into me. We went into the kitchen and I prepared sodas for everyone.
“Artie said we could go skinny dipping,” Linda said excitedly.
“I’m in,” replied Amber.
“Me too,” responded Rachel. “Last one in is straight.” She stood up and kicked off her shoes.
“NO!” I screamed. I ran frantically over to the door and blocked it. “No one is skinny dipping! My mother could come home at any time.”
All three girls fell to the ground laughing hysterically. “If you could have seen your face,” laughed Rachel, holding her sides. “God, you’re adorable.” I sat down and pouted as they continued to laugh. Brent walked over and put his hand on my shoulder.
“I put up with this crap all the time,” he stated. This only made the girls laugh harder.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to him. I got up and started up the stairs with Brent following behind me.
“Oh, kissy time,” shouted Rachel. “Be gentle, Artie. Brent’s still a virgin.” I turned and Brent’s face was bright red. We could still hear the girls laughing when we entered my bedroom and closed the door behind us.
“Sorry about that,” he apologized as he walked around the room looking at the posters on the wall. I wasn’t really interested in sports, but most were hot guys in basketball or football uniforms. It was the only way I could look at guys and not raise suspicion.
“Do they always act like that?”
“They are being kind today,” he said. “Wait until they really get to know you.”
He walked over to my bookcase and thumbed through some of the books I had.
“Cool. You like science fiction.” He held up a book by Kurt Vonnegut. “This guy is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read everything he’s written.”
“I have too,” I said excitedly. “Some of them I’ve read twice. I also like Ray Bradbury a lot.” He picked up a few more books and read the covers.
“Can I borrow a few sometime?” he asked. “You’ve got some I haven’t read yet.”
“Sure,” I replied. “Take some with you today, if you want.” I knew if he borrowed some books, at least I’d get a chance to see him again.
I walked over and stood beside him. We both reached at the same time for a book by Stephen King, one of the Dark Tower series. He put his hand over mine as we both lifted the book off the shelf.
“You like Stephen King?” he asked nervously. He was still holding my hand.
“Yeah.” I could feel him squeezing my hand more tightly as we looked into each other’s eyes. “I like him a lot.” I made it clear by the tone of my voice that I was talking about him, and not Stephen King.
“Me, too,” he said, as he looked up shyly into my eyes. “I like him a lot, too.” Nervously, I reached out, placed my hand around his small waist, and pulled him toward me. He didn’t resist and fell into my arms. I could feel his heart pounding against my chest. He was as nervous as I was.
I placed the book back on the shelf, and then put my other arm around him, holding him tightly. I could feel him trembling slightly. He looked up at me, and I was captivated by his wet, blue eyes.
“Kiss me, please,” he said softly. He stood on his tiptoes to meet my lips. I leaned in and kissed a boy for the first time. And not just any boy, it was Brent. The kiss was awkward because we were both nervous, but I could feel the softness of his lips. Just when I didn’t think it could feel any better, he began to nibble on my lower lip. I pulled him tighter to me and opened my mouth. He gingerly stuck his tongue in, and began to carefully probe around inside. It was the most incredible sensation. He let out a deep sigh, and then pulled back and placed his head on my chest. My heart was pounding so fast, I knew he had to feel it.
We just stood in the middle of the room, embracing each other tightly. I don’t think either of us wanted to break the incredible feelings we were experiencing. He jumped away quickly, though, when he heard the girls bounding up the stairs.
There was a loud pounding on the door, and we could hear the girls giggling on the other side.
“Sex Patrol,” hollered out Amber. “You’d better have your clothes on. We’re coming in.” Suddenly, the door burst open and all three came rushing in, laughing uproariously.
“Damn,” said Linda. She turned to Amber. “You said they’d be naked by now.”
“I guess this means he’s still a virgin,” giggled Amber. I looked at Brent as his face changed about five shades of red.
“Maybe we should leave and give them a little more time,” suggested Rachel.
I was saved from further humiliation when I heard my mother’s car pull into the driveway. “Come on.” I said nervously. “Let’s hurry down to the kitchen before she comes in. If we’re up here, she’ll think something is going on.”
We scattered downstairs, and ran to the kitchen and took our seats where we had been earlier. My mother stopped suddenly when she came through the door and saw them.
“I didn’t know you were going to have company.” She looked angrily at me and then turned to the others.
“Hello, Linda,” she said. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Mrs. Thomas,” Linda responded politely. She then introduced the others. My mother studied them carefully, before giving me another suspicious glance.
“We came by to see how Artie was feeling,” she announced. “We were worried when we didn’t see him in school today.”
“Yes, well I told Rudy he could stay home today.” She stressed my name, Rudy. The others looked over and gave me a puzzled look. None of them, but Linda, had ever heard me called that. “I didn’t know he was seeing you at school.”
“We all eat lunch together,” Linda offered. Again, my mother stared at me. She seemed surprised. I had just met Linda on Sunday and I was already eating lunch with her. I thought she’d be pleased, but she seemed suspicious. I don’t know if it was seeing Linda, Amber and Rachel sitting together. They all seemed rather boyish in their appearance.
Then she stopped and stared down at Brent. I watched him squirm nervously. He was trying to take a sip of his drink, but his hands were shaking.
“I didn’t catch your name,” she said sharply.
He looked down at the table and responded timidly, “My name is Brent.”
I was becoming increasingly angry. She was treating my friends rudely. Everyone seemed uncomfortable by the way she kept pacing around the room and staring at them. I knew she was trying to figure out what was going on
“Rudy has an appointment in a half hour with the therapist,” she said coldly. “I’m afraid your little party is over.” She looked at me angrily before leaving the room.
There was a collective sigh when she left. “I’m really sorry, guys.” I was trying to sound upbeat, but inside I was boiling mad. My mother had no right to embarrass me in front of my friends and make them feel uncomfortable.
“It’s all right, Artie.” Linda walked over and kissed me on my cheek. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother watching us from the den. I leaned in and kissed Linda’s cheek. “Just for show,” I whispered in her ear.
“Then in that case.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me quickly on the lips. She then whispered in my ear. “If it helps with our perfect cover, then I’m willing to make the sacrifice.”
“Thanks,” I whispered back. I thought about returning the kiss, but I could see Brent watching us. I had been upset when I thought he was with another girl yesterday. I didn’t want to ruin any chance we had. Besides, I could still taste his lips on mine, and I didn’t want to remove it.
I walked them to Rachel’s car and we talked a few more minutes. I assured them I’d be back to school the next day. Besides, it was Friday, and we had to make plans for our ‘date’ on Saturday.
When I entered the house, my mother called out from the den that she wanted to speak to me. I cautiously walked in and sat down across from her.
“You have an appointment in a little while with Dr. Ashe,” she said. “I spoke to her this morning and I think you’ll find her to be quite helpful.” I nodded my head, realizing it would be useless to argue.
She looked at me sternly and then said, “I wish you’d tell me when you are having company in the house.”
“I didn’t know they were coming,” I replied defensively. “They just showed up.”
“I don’t mind you seeing Linda,” she continued, “but I’m not sure about the others.”
I was ready to explode, but I kept my anger in check. First, she had set me up with a date with Linda, now she was trying to decide who I should have as friends.
“What do you mean?” I asked angrily. I crossed my arms, ready for an argument.
“Those two other girls seemed rather...” She paused.
“Boyish.” She looked at me and waited to see my reaction.
“They are basketball players for our school,” I replied, hoping that would dispel the thoughts she had about them.
“Yes, well,” she responded, “they didn’t seem very feminine. And that boy with them.”
I tensed up and clinched my fists in anger, knowing what she was about to say.
“He seemed like the feminine one.” She eyed me suspiciously. “He’s too pretty for any boy. I hope you don’t plan to associate with him.”
I had heard enough. I stood and looked down angrily at my mother. “I’ll associate with anyone I damn well want to!” I shouted. She rose quickly and then slapped me harshly across the face.
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that!” she shouted angrily. “I’m your mother and you will not talk to me like that.” I rubbed the side of my face where she had hit me. Tears started to form in my eyes, so I turned quickly and ran up the stairs to my room.
I looked in the mirror at the red mark across my cheek. I couldn’t believe she had hit me. In my entire life, neither she, nor my father, had ever raised their hand to Randy or me. Last night I had felt that things were improving in our relationship, but now I despised her once again. There was no way she was going to keep me from seeing Brent.
About ten minutes later, she knocked on my door and announced that I had to leave to see Dr. Ashe. I walked downstairs and headed to the car. She stood in the kitchen and appeared to want to say something, but she let me pass without a word. I had nothing to say to her, and she definitely had nothing to say to me that I wanted to hear.
“Would you like to drive?” she asked as I stood waiting by the passenger’s door. I had gotten my learner’s permit a few months before, but I had hardly used it. Dad let me drive his car a couple of times, but Mom just laughed when I asked to drive hers. I was taking a driving class at school, and I considered myself a good driver.
I knew she was trying to make up for slapping me, but I wasn’t in the mood to forgive her. She had been saying some nasty things to me for the past several days; but now she had criticized my friends and had disapproved of me seeing Brent.
After kissing him in my bedroom earlier, I thought we might have a chance of becoming more than just friends. In fact, I was going to ask him to spend the night on Saturday after the movies. I now knew that my mother would never allow him back in the house.
“No,” I said angrily. “Open the door, please.” She looked sympathetically at me and then unlocked the door. We drove in silence all the way to the doctor’s office.
She pulled up to an office building, which on the outside seemed to be surrounded by mirrored walls. I’d seen the building many times over the years, but I’d never been in it.
“Here.” My mother handed me a business card. It read, Dr. Elaine Ashe, Psychologist, Suite 4112. “I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour.” I got out of the car and watched her drive away.
When I entered Dr. Ashe’s office, a very attractive receptionist greeted me. She smiled at me when I walked through the door.
“Mr. Thomas?” she asked.
“I’m Artie,” I replied. “My father is Mr. Thomas.” I became saddened after realizing what I had said. I’d used it before in the past and usually found it amusing. This time, however, it hurt.
“Oh.” She looked down at a folder. “Your mother said your name is Rudolph.”
“I’d prefer to be called Artie,” I informed her. She drew a line through Rudolph and wrote Artie. She then told me to have a seat, and she disappeared through another door. Several minutes later, a black, middle-aged woman opened the door and walked over to me.
“Artie, it’s so nice to meet you.” She extended her hand and shook mine. She was professionally dressed, but her demeanor was kind and gentle. She immediately reminded me of Mrs. Garber, my fourth grade teacher. My father kidded me about having a crush on her that year. I was always cutting flowers from the garden and taking them to school.
She led me into her office. I noticed a couch and a chair in the middle of the room. I walked over, sat down on the couch, and looked around.
“You don’t have to lie down,” she laughed. “They only do that in the movies. I just want you to be comfortable. In fact, you can sit in the chair if you like.”
“No, Ma’am,” I said politely. “This will do.” She smiled warmly at me as she walked over to a small refrigerator.
“Would you like a soda?”
“That would be nice, thank you.”
She returned with two Cokes. She sat down and studied me for a minute.
“Anything you say to me is confidential,” she assured me. “I will tell your mother nothing about what is said in this room. And at the same time, I expect you not to ask me about anything your mother has said.” I nodded in agreement.
I had been worried that my mother was using Dr. Ashe just to get her to ask me personal questions so she could learn about my sexuality. I was relieved to know that I could trust her.
I looked at her and noticed that she was only holding the Coke in her hand. “Aren’t you supposed to have a notebook or something to write down what I say?”
She again started laughing. “You watch too many movies. I have a very good memory. I’ll take notes after you leave. I don’t want to distract you by watching me writing all the time. I’ve found it makes people very nervous. Just think of me as a friend, someone who cares about you. I’m here to help you. I’m not going to judge you, or tell you that you are wrong. I’ll make suggestions, but it will be up to you to act on them. Is that fair?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I responded. I was beginning to like Dr. Ashe very much. She seemed kind and sympathetic. I did need someone to talk to about what had been occurring the past week, and I felt I could trust her.
“Very good,” she smiled. “Then let’s begin.”
We spent the next hour discussing everything. She asked me how I felt about my father’s arrest. I told her how I hated him, and she told me that was a common reaction. She did suggest that someday I might need to see him to bring closure. She told me that she would be willing to have him come to her office and confront him there, if I wanted. I told her it was something I’d have to think about.
She listened attentively while I discussed my mother’s reaction, and how she had changed since Dad’s arrest. She seemed particularly interested when I told her how she had reacted to my friends; and then our argument afterwards, which resulted in her slapping me. She questioned me if I thought she was capable of hitting Randy, and I told her I didn’t think she would ever hit him.
“You seemed very protective when you were talking about Brent.” She said. “I also notice a change in the tone of your voice when you mention his name.” She sat back and waited for me to respond.
I knew what she wanted me to say. She was a psychologist, and I knew she had probably figured out that I was gay the moment I walked into her office. I also assumed that my mother had implied it as well when they talked earlier.
I took a deep breath and said, “I’m gay.”
“Thank you,” she smiled. “At least I don’t have to waste three or four sessions trying to get you to say that.”
I left Dr. Ashe’s office feeling better than I had in a long time. After I told her I was gay, she assured me that there was nothing wrong with me. She also seemed amused when I told her about kissing Brent in my bedroom.
The good feelings left as soon as I exited the building and saw my mother waiting in the car. I knew it would take many more sessions with Dr. Ashe before I could feel comfortable in her presence again.