Neil was lying in a lounge chair on the pool deck. He was resting after returning home from work with Brian. He was used to long days at school, but he usually sat at a desk. His father, however, had him running all over the store doing menial tasks. At first, he complained; but he soon realized that it didn’t bother his father. He was used to hearing employees complaining about his or her job. Besides, he wasn’t even being paid.
As usual, Midas was lying beside him. Neil had his eyes closed, and he was gently petting the dog’s back. He opened his eyes when he heard the sliding door to the family room open.
Neil jumped from the lounger and shouted, “Mom!” He ran over and hugged her. He then looked behind her and saw another familiar face. “Jack!” Neil squealed as he hugged his uncle.
“Why are you here?”
His mother smiled warmly and replied, “Well, I am your mother.”
“Yeah, but,” responded Neil. “This is Dad’s place.”
His mother acted insulted and responded, “And I guess I’m not welcomed here?”
“No,” said Neil quickly as his face reddened. He had never in the past six years seen his mother and father together until a few nights ago.
His mother stepped forward and hugged Neil again. “It’s nice to see you, Dear.” She looked around at the luxurious pool surroundings. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Yeah, Mom,” he replied excitedly. “Who wouldn’t? Dad even has a cool pool.”
His mother laughed and said, “I can see.” Just then, Midas nudged her hand. She bent down to pet him.
Midas wagged his tail when she asked, “And who might you be?”
Just then, Dwight stepped out onto the deck. “I see you’ve met Midas,” he laughed. “He loves attention.”
“I see,” replied Brenda as she stood back up. “Dwight,” she asked, “Have you met Jack, my brother?”
“No,” remarked Dwight as he shook Jack’s hand, “but I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Jack laughed and said, “I hope it’s all good.”
“It is,” replied Dwight as he looked at Neil and smiled. He then announced that coffee was being served in the kitchen. Jack put his hand on Neil’s back as they headed inside to the kitchen.
Brian smiled as he looked around the table. He couldn’t believe it when Brenda and Jack showed up at his door minutes earlier. Even though he and Jack were best friends when he was married to his sister, they hadn’t talked since the divorce. Occasionally, he would see Jack’s car in the driveway when he picked up the kids, but Jack never came outside.
However, when he entered the house, Jack smiled and shook his hand. He even seemed pleased when Brian introduced Dwight to him. Having Brenda and Jack in his home seemed to validate his marriage to Dwight. Dwight seemed to sense what Brian was thinking, and he reached under the table and gripped his hand.
The customary small talk soon gave way to a more important discussion. Brenda began by asking Brian, “How do you think we should handle Neil going back to school?”
Neil immediately chimed in with, “Can’t I stay here and go to school?” He gave his dad a pleading look.
When Brian noticed the hurt look on Brenda’s face, he said, “No, Neil. Nothing will be gained by you running away from your problems.”
“But Dad,” replied Neil, “I won’t be running away. I’ll just be changing schools.”
Brian shook his head and insisted, “You’ll be running away.” He scooted his chair closer to Neil. “You’ve gone to Farmersville for nine years. That is where your friends are.”
Neil became upset and said, “I don’t have any friends there.”
“What about Sammy? Isn’t she your friend?”
“Well, yeah,” replied Neil. “But she’s a girl.”
Brenda quickly jumped in. “Neil,” she informed him. “You have a lot of friends. Some of my clients have children in your class. They don’t hate you as much as you think they do.”
Neil frowned and mumbled, “Yes, they do. You weren’t there when they were teasing me.” He folded his arms defensively and proclaimed, “I’m not going back and let Lucas kick my ass again.”
Jack spoke, “You’re not going back to get your ass kicked.” He looked at Brian and Brenda. “There must be something we can do to insure that he is safe.”
Brenda asked Neil, “What if I take you to school each morning and came and got you at the end of the day?”
Neil frowned and said, “Just what I need. My mother escorting me to and from school. Everyone at Farmersville will rib me about that.”
Neil’s eyes lit up when Brian asked, “What if you get your license, and I buy you a car?”
“Really!” squealed Neil. “A car!”
“Well,” insisted Brian, “It won’t be anything new.”
Jack looked over at Brian and stated, “I can help you buy it.” Brian smiled and shook his head.
Brenda said, “I guess that is settled then.”
“Yeah,” said Neil. “But what about the rest of the day?”
Brian insisted angrily, “I’ll deal with that. First thing in the morning, you and I are going to that school and have a little discussion with your principal.”
Brenda looked worriedly at Brian. “Do you think that is a good idea? I’ve known Mr. Bowers for years. He is rather rigid. He doesn’t like people telling him what to do.”
Brian replied, “I’m not going to tell him what to do. I’m merely going to inform him what the laws state about bullying and harassment in a public school. If he can’t insure me that Neil will be safe, then I’ll go to the school board and fight for his dismissal.”
“Dad,” whined Neil. “You’re going to make things worse. Can’t I just stay here and go to school?”
“No,” adamantly replied Brian. “No son of mine is going to run away from a problem.” He looked sadly at Brenda. “I did it once, and I learned a valuable lesson.” He looked back at Neil. “Tomorrow morning, you and I are going to Farmersville High School. You’re going to take a stand where I failed.”
“But, Dad,” whined Neil.
He was interrupted when Dwight rose from his chair and asked, “Who wants more coffee? I also have half a cherry pie in the fridge. I’ll cut everyone a piece.”
* * * * * *
Alex was lying on his bed tossing an orange sponge ball against the wall and catching it with his bare feet. Gerry was sitting up in his twin bed on the other side of the room reading a book. Alex looked over and tossed the ball at his younger brother. It knocked the book from his hands.
“Watch it,” warned Gerry angrily as he tossed the ball back. “I have to read this story for English.”
“But I’m bored,” complained Alex. He threw the ball again. This time it ricocheted off the wall and hit Gerry in the face, knocking off his glasses.
Gerry shouted, “Why don’t you quit acting like a child?”
Alex replied, “Why don’t you start acting like one. Why do you have to be so serious all the time?”
Gerry began reading again as he remarked, “Maybe I like being serious.”
Alex tossed the orange ball against the wall and caught it with his feet. He mumbled, “How did I get such a boring brother.” He threw the ball against the wall. This time he threw it too hard and the ball bounced off the wall onto the floor.
Gerry looked over and stated sarcastically, “Well, we can’t all be Mr. Wonderful.” He put the book in front of his face in an attempt to cover his somber mood.
Alex sat up and scooted over to the edge of the bed. He looked at Gerry and shook his head. “Man,” he said. “All you do is sit in the room and read or play video games. Don’t you have anyone you can call to come over?”
When Gerry didn’t respond, he asked a little louder, “Well?”
Gerry mumbled softly, “No.”
Alex rose from his bed, crossed the room and sat down on Gerry’s bed. He laughed slightly and said, “We got to get you laid.”
Gerry put his book down and squealed, “What!”
“Get you laid,” laughed Alex. “You need to find a boyfriend. You’ve been moping around since we moved here.”
“I don’t need another boyfriend,” huffed Gerry. “I’m fine the way things are.”
Alex poked his little brother in the side. Gerry slapped at his hand. “Come on,” laughed Alex. “You miss Andre. Admit it.”
Gerry scowled and replied defensively, “I don’t miss Andre.” He tried to lift the book to his face, but Alex snatched it from his hand.”
“Hey,” squealed Gerry. “Gimme back my book.” He reached for it, but Alex held it at arms length.
“Admit it,” insisted Alex. “You miss Andre.”
Tears started to well up in Gerry’s eyes. “Okay. So maybe I do.” He held out his hand. “Now can I have my book back?”
Alex looked sympathetically at his brother. “I know you miss him,” he said. “But you’re fifteen. You got plenty of time to find someone else.”
Gerry sniffed and mumbled, “Maybe I don’t want someone else.”
Alex giggled and poked Gerry in the side. “Sure you do,” he laughed.
Gerry studied his brother’s face and then asked, “What about you? You haven’t got a girlfriend since we got here.”
Alex shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not looking for a girlfriend.” He smiled and added, “At least not yet.”
Gerry replied emphatically, “Well, I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”
Alex responded sarcastically, “If you insist.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked his little brother.
Alex shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Nothing.”
“No,” said Gerry as he stared defiantly at his brother. “What did you mean by nothing?”
Alex nudged his elbow into Gerry’s side. “I saw how you were looking at Neil last week.”
“I wasn’t looking at Neil,” insisted Gerry. “Besides, he’s older than me.”
“Big deal,” laughed Alex. “One year isn’t a lot older.”
Gerry gave Alex a puzzled look and asked, “Didn’t he get suspended from school the other day? I heard he got into a big fight with someone.”
“Yeah,” said Alex. “That big goober Lucas. He also got suspended. When he comes back, I’m going to kick his ass if he messes with your new boyfriend again.”
“My new boyfriend!” squealed Gerry. “He’s not my boyfriend!”
Alex smiled and nudged Gerry in the side. “But you want him to be, admit it,” he laughed.
Gerry grabbed for his book, opened it and started to read. “You don’t even know if he’s gay,” he mumbled sadly.
Alex rose from his brother’s bed. “Oh, he’s gay,” he assured Gerry. “After living with a gay brother, I’m pretty good at picking them out. Didn’t I introduce you to Andre?”
Gerry remarked sarcastically, “You were lucky.”
Alex laughed and replied, “We’ll just have to see then.” He laughed again and strode from the room.
As he closed the door, Gerry yelled out, “You better not!”
* * * * * *
Ned was in his bedroom playing a video game. His homework assignments were strewn around him. However, like any normal teen, video games were more exciting than working algebra problems.
He jumped when he heard someone tapping on his window. He heard another tap, and then someone whispering, “Psttt.” He tiptoed over to the window and peeked through the blind.
Just as he did, Lucas tapped on the window again. “Hey, Ned,” he said softly, “Let me in.”
Ned pulled up the blind and stared at Lucas as he stood outside the window. He quickly looked over at the bedroom door to make sure no one could hear him. He turned and asked Lucas, “What are you doing?”
Lucas tapped on the window and insisted, “Open up the window, you dumb ass. I need to come in.”
“Why don’t you come through the front door?”
Lucas gritted his teeth and whispered angrily, “Open up the fucking window so I can climb through.”
Ned hesitated a minute before unlatching the window. He was afraid that if his mother or father came in, they would get upset if he let Lucas climb through his window. When Lucas tapped on it again, he sighed and unlatched the window. He then unlatched the screen and Lucas popped it out.
Ned stood back and watched as Lucas climbed awkwardly into the room. He struggled to get his upper torso over the ledge. When he did, his large body plopped onto the floor. Lucas stood and brushed himself off. He glanced angrily at Ned and said, “Fucking window. I almost killed myself.”
Ned asked nervously, “What are you doing here?”
“I need your help,” insisted Lucas.
“Why didn’t you come through the front door like you usually do?”
Lucas responded, “I didn’t want anyone to see me come in.” He walked over to Ned’s bed and dropped onto it. Ned cautiously moved across the room and sat down beside him.
Ned asked worriedly, “Are you in some kind of trouble? No one has seen you in days.”
“Something like that,” he answered. He didn’t want to tell Ned that he had been arrested. And he certainly didn’t want to tell him about his Uncle Raymond. That was a secret he would have to carry to his grave.
There was no way he could tell anyone how his uncle had been sexually abusing him over the years. He couldn’t even explain why he had let it to continue after he grew older. Even though he was large and could easily have stopped the abuse, he felt powerless to do so. He was ashamed and embarrassed for letting it happen. He felt exposing his uncle’s deviant behavior would question why he had done nothing to end it. He was a victim. Like most victims, he felt guilt and humiliation.
Lucas rose from the bed and started pacing around the room. “You got any money around here?” He walked over and started searching through the drawers of Ned’s bedroom dresser.
Ned rushed over and slammed the drawer shut. He asked Lucas, “What are you doing?”
Lucas responded angrily, “I need some fucking money.” When Ned asked him why, he told him he needed it to run away.
When Ned asked him where he was going, Lucas responded, “Any fucking where but here.”
Ned insisted, “I don’t have any money. I only get twenty dollars a week for an allowance, and I’ve already spent it.”
Lucas spat, “Fucking help you are.” He paced around the room until he stopped at Ned’s bed. He reached down and grabbed his laptop computer.
“Hey!” shouted Ned as he walked over and tried to wrestle it from Lucas. “You can’t take that!”
“The hell I can’t,” responded Lucas as he pushed Ned away. He stumbled and fell back onto the bed.
Lucas walked over to the window, turned and threatened, “If you tell anyone I came by here, I’ll come back and fucking hurt you.”
“Please!” pleaded Ned. “Don’t take my laptop. My dad will kill me if you do.”
“That’s your problem,” hissed Lucas as he climbed back outside the window. Ned considered fighting for his laptop, but he knew Lucas well enough to know that he would make good on his threat. He could tell that Lucas was desperate, and he wasn’t sure what he would do.
When Lucas dropped to the ground, Ned ran to the window and watched him scurry down the sidewalk. When he was gone, he took his cell phone from his pocket and called Owen to warn him about Lucas.
* * * * * *
Brian crept into Neil’s room to see if he was sleeping comfortable. It was after one, but Brian enjoyed the quiet of the night. He would often stay up hours after Dwight retired to bed.
Neil stirred slightly as his Dad approached. He suddenly opened his eyes. “Dad?” he asked as he became more aware of his surroundings.
His father sat down on the edge of the bed. “I thought you were asleep.”
Neil yawned and responded, “I was.”
“I’m sorry I woke you, Son,” apologized his father. He looked down at Neil and smiled.
“You’re becoming such a man,” he said wistfully. “I feel like I missed a big portion of your life.”
Neil scooted up on the bed and rested his body against the headboard. “It’s not like you missed much,” he laughed. “My life has been pretty boring.”
“But I missed watching you grow from a boy to a man,” replied his father sadly. He then added, “Life goes by too quickly.”
“When did you know you were gay?”
Brian sighed, toed off his shoes and scooted beside Neil on the bed. He wasn’t sure how to answer the question. Since he had hidden his sexuality for so many years, he wasn’t sure himself.
“I don’t know,” he said. He sighed deeply and continued. “I guess I knew something was different about me when I was a little boy. However, I couldn’t accept it.”
Neil gave his father a puzzled look and asked, “Why?”
“My Dad, your Grandfather was a stern man,” he replied. “Everything was either his way or the highway.”
“What’s that mean?” asked Neil. “I thought Granddaddy was a nice person.”
“He was,” agreed Brian. “He changed in his final years. He mellowed, and you didn’t get to know the man I grew up with.”
Neil looked at his father and asked, “So he was a mean man when you were little?”
Brian laughed nervously. “Mean is putting it mildly,” he replied.
He then related to Neil how strict his father had been. He owned his own accounting firm, and he ran his business with an iron fist. That behavior continued when he came home at night. Dinner was to be on the table at a certain time, and lights were out at nine. He frequently checked his children’s bedrooms to make sure that they were neat and clean. When report cards were distributed at school, everyone sat around the dining room table and discussed their grades. Harsh punishments were passed out for poor grades.
Brian laughed and told Neil, “I had to clean the bathroom toilets with a toothbrush for three weeks every night when I got a ‘C’ in a math class when I was in the sixth grade.”
“Ewww,” giggled Neil. “That was a shitty punishment.”
Brian laughed, “Tell me about it. He wouldn’t even let me use gloves.”
Neil giggled and said, “Double ewwww!”
Brian rested his head against the headboard and remained quiet for a minute. He then said, “But one of the things that was drummed into our heads was the importance of family. Since I could remember, he talked about me, my two brothers and sister giving him grandchildren.”
Brian briefly remained silent. He sighed and said, “So I never questioned it. Even though I knew it was wrong, I did what he expected me to do.” He turned to Neil and said, “I married your mother, and I gave him three beautiful grandchildren.” He put his arm around Neil and squeezed him tightly.
They sat for several minutes before speaking again. Neil was the one who broke the silence. “Dad?”
“Do you think I should get married, too?”
Neil was surprised when his father responded, “Yes, Son.”
He asked excitedly, “You do?”
“Yes,” he smiled as he held up his hand and showed Neil his wedding band.
He kissed Neil on the forehead and added, “I don’t expect you to give me grandchildren, though.”
Neil smiled and said, “Maybe I can adopt children.”
“Maybe,” responded Brian as he rose from the bed. He leaned down and kissed Neil on the forehead. “Goodnight, Son. I love you.”
“I love you too, Dad,” replied Neil as tears welled up in his eyes. After his father left the room, Neil fell into one of the most peaceful sleeps he had had in weeks.