“What?” Brenda fell back into a chair. “What do you mean, you’re gay?”
Brian knelt down before her. “I’m sorry,” he said as tears filled his eyes. “I’ve wanted to tell you for years, but I didn’t know how.”
Brenda stared into his eyes and shook her head. She was too shocked to react. “You can’t be,” she insisted. “We’re married. We have three children.”
Brian stood and paced around the room. He ran his hands over his blonde hair. Finally, he stopped, sighed deeply and said, “I should never have gotten married. I thought I could deny what I really was.”
Brenda started to cry as she stood and faced Brian. “You mean these past ten years have been a lie?”
Brian shook his head sadly. “No,” he assured her. He reached to hold her hands, but she pulled them away. “I’ve always loved you.”
She turned, looked out the window and watched cars passing by. “You love me,” she finally said, “but you’re not in love with me.”
Brian walked up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She started sobbing when he stated, “I really do love you, Brenda.”
She turned and looked into his tearful face. She then asked softly, “But you’re not in love with me?” She wept harder when Brian slowly shook his head. He helped her over to the chair, and he held her arm as she dropped into the chair.
He paced around the room, and occasionally he would stop in front of his distraught wife. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I never ever wanted to hurt you. I just thought I could fight the demons inside me. I just can’t anymore.”
She looked up at him. Her eyes were swollen with tears. She asked hesitantly, “Is there someone else?” She held her breath as Brian paced around the room.
Finally, he stopped in front of her, shook his head and assured her, “There is no one else. I would never be unfaithful to you.”
Brenda started laughing nervously. “Don’t you think lying to me ten years isn’t being unfaithful?”
Brian knelt down again and took Brenda’s hands in his. He squeezed them tightly and responded, “I love you, Brenda. I love the kids. I always will.” He stood when she shook her head disbelievingly.
Brian started pacing around the office. “I really thought I could do it,” he stated. He stopped and stared down at his distraught wife. “But I’ll never be able to give you what you want.”
Brenda stood, brushed her clothes off and stated angrily, “I want a divorce.”
“Of course,” Brian replied sadly. “I’ll give you anything you want.”
Brenda approached and slapped him harshly on the side of his face. Brian didn’t budge. He knew he deserved any anger she had toward him. “Right now,” she hissed, “I want you out of my life.” She opened the office door and stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
Brian walked over to his chair and fell into it. He picked up the phone and told his secretary to cancel all his afternoon appointments. He then left and headed to a bar around the corner.
* * * * * * *
Neil had his head buried into his knees as he sat inside the cramped closet. His little brother, Brett, had opened the door earlier and peeked inside. After shouting at him to “get out!,” he knew it would only be a short time until his mother came into the room to check on him.
“I just wish people would leave me alone,” he muttered as he balled the tie up into his hands. He unraveled it, stood and hung it on the metal rod. After sitting down, he tested to see if it would hold his weight. He shook his head. “I doubt it,” he thought to himself when he felt the tie start to weaken. He knew it would never hold his 140 pounds without breaking. He moved aside boxes and shoes to see if there was anything else in the closet he could use.
Just then, he heard the bedroom door open. The footsteps were too heavy to be his mother’s. “Jack,” he moaned softly.
The door opened, and his uncle’s tall silhouette appeared. Jack asked softly, “Can I come in?”
Neil didn’t respond, but he did shift his body so that he could give his uncle room to sit down. Jack wasn’t a large man, but he was tall. He kicked aside a shoe, and then he carefully sat down beside his distressed nephew. He noticed the tie hanging from the rod, removed it and tossed it aside.
Neil didn’t respond when he asked, “What’s up?” Neil never responded. So Jack would wait patiently until Neil would start talking about whatever was bothering him. Sometimes it would take a few minutes if it involved an argument between Neil and his sister. Other times, it could take a half hour or more as it did after Brian left home.
They sat silently with their arms rubbing gently against each other. Heavy breathing filled the small closet as Jack waited for Neil to start the conversation. He never did. Whenever Jack attempted several times in the past, Neil would get up from the floor and walk out. He knew that whatever was bothering his nephew couldn’t be discussed until Neil was ready to talk. He sensed that this would be one of those occasions in which he might have to wait a long time.
They sat silently for twenty minutes listening to each other breathing. Suddenly, Neil let out a soft whimper. His body began to tremble as the whimpers became louder. Without saying anything, Jack placed his arm around Neil’s back and pulled him into his body. Neil’s head fell against his chest as he started to cry. Jack rocked the distraught boy in his arms, assuring him that everything would be all right.
“No it won’t,” cried Neil. “You don’t know what’s happened.”
Jack pulled him tighter and asked, “You want to tell me?”
“No,” muttered Neil as he felt the comfort of his uncle’s embrace. Besides, he didn’t even know how to begin to tell him what had happened in the barn with Owen. If he did, then he would have to admit that he was gay. He didn’t think his uncle would be too upset over the revelation, but he wasn’t sure how his mother would react. It had only been recently that she seemed to be happy, and he didn’t want to upset her again.
Jack spoke softly. “It must be something pretty big,” he said. “You’ve never cried this hard before.” He hugged Neil tightly. “Sure you don’t want to talk about it?” Even though he knew what was bothering Neil, he wanted Neil to tell him himself.
He knew Neil was weakening when he felt him shrug his shoulders instead of saying he didn’t want to talk about it. He asked, “Did something happen at school?” Again, Neil shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t you like your classes?” he asked. He knew that would be a beginning since Neil had attended the first day of school.
Neil sniffled and replied, “My classes are okay.”
“Did you get into a fight?” Neil shook his head against his uncle’s chest.
He knew he had hit upon something when he asked, “Did someone pick on you?” Neil’s body stiffened and he didn’t shake his head. He was beginning to assume that perhaps other boys had discovered that Neil was gay, and perhaps they were harassing him.
He had heard Neil mention Lucas many times over the years. He seemed to be the leader of the group, and Neil often complained about the way he treated some of his friends. “Did Lucas do something to you?”
He smiled when Neil shrugged his shoulders. ‘Finally,’ he thought. ‘We are getting somewhere.’
He asked his nephew, “Is he bullying you?” Again, Neil shrugged his shoulders. Jack embraced Neil tighter and asked, “What did he do?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders again and replied, “Because I did something bad.”
Jack thought it best to avoid a direct question at the moment. “That still doesn’t give him a right to bully you. No matter what you did.”
Neil sniffled and replied, “I know. But I did something really bad.”
Jack hugged Neil tightly and asked, “What?”
His nephew became distraught again. “I can’t tell you,” he cried. “I can’t tell anyone.” Jack held him for about five minutes before Neil started to breathe more regularly. Finally, he sat up and wiped his eyes dry.
A few minutes later, he looked into his uncle’s eyes and asked, “You ever did something that you wish you had never done?”
Jack laughed slightly and replied, “Almost every day.”
“No,” responded Neil. “I mean like did something really, really bad. Something you wish you could take back as if it never happened?”
Jack leaned his head against the wall, sighed and replied, “Life doesn’t work like that. You can’t close the barn door after the horses have gotten out.”
Neil gave his uncle a puzzled look and asked, “What’s that mean?”
Jack smiled and said, “Some things just can’t be undone. We have to live with the consequences of our actions.” He put his arm around Neil and pulled him towards him. “You want to tell me what happened?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Not really.”
Jack nudged Neil in his side. “You’ll feel better,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t you always feel better after we talk?”
Neil insisted, “But I can’t talk about this?”
“Why?” He laughed and asked, “What did you do, toilet paper someone’s house?”
Neil smiled and replied, “No.” He rested his body against his uncle’s chest. “I just can’t talk about it.”
He listened to his uncle’s breathing as his chest rose and fell against his cheek. Jack had always given him good advice in the past when he had a problem. He reached out, took the tie in his hand, and twirled it through his fingers. Jack sat quietly and waited patiently.
Finally, Neil whispered almost inaudibly, “What if I told you I was gay?” He started sobbing when Jack wrapped his arms around him and started rocking him. He cried for several minutes before he sat back up and wiped his eyes.
He smiled nervously at his uncle. Jack’s eyes were also wet with tears. Neil asked jokingly, “I guess I let the horses out of the barn, huh?”
Jack nudged Neil in his side. “Yeah, I guess you did,” he replied. He sat back, put his arm around his nephew and asked, “You want to tell me about it?”
He was relieved when Neil responded, “Yeah.”
Neil felt a heavy weight leave his shoulders after telling his uncle about what happened with Owen in the barn. He also told him how Lucas and the others were starting to torment him at school. Jack seemed to get upset when Neil told him about the incident on the bus. He stood and turned on the overhead light.
Neil winced when he knelt down and touched the knot on his forehead. He asked worriedly, “Does it hurt?”
Neil grimaced and answered, “A little bit. Is it bad? I haven’t looked at it yet?”
Jack cautiously touched it again. “I don’t think it’s too bad.” He smiled and added, “You’ve hurt yourself worse on your bike.” He turned off the light and sat back down beside Neil.
Neil looked at his uncle and asked, “So what am I going to do?” Since he didn’t have an answer, he hoped Jack did.
Jack replied sternly, “One thing we can’t have happen is to let Lucas and the others bully you.”
Neil replied dejectedly, “But it is me against the rest of them. I don’t see how I can stop them.”
Jack responded assuredly, “We’ll find a way. You’re not going to spend the rest of the year worried that one of them is going to do something.” He shifted and looked at his worried nephew.
“Let’s wait a few days and see what happens,” he suggested. “Sometimes things like this just go away. Maybe tomorrow they’ll be directing their attention at something else.”
Neil asked, “What if they pick on me again like they did today.”
“Then defend yourself,” remarked Jack angrily. “If they know they can get to you, then they’ll keep it up.”
“So you want me to fight them?” asked Neil. “Lucas is twice my size. He’ll kick my ass.”
Jack shook his head. “I didn’t say fight with them,” he replied. “Just stand up to them. Don’t back down. If they try to do something, then yes, fight back.”
Neil asked, “And get my ass kicked?”
“I guess,” replied Jack. “Sometimes you have to get your ass kicked.” He gripped Neil’s arm. “But if it happens in school, tell a teacher or the principal.”
Neil sat back and sighed. “I guess,” he replied. “I still don’t want to go to school anymore.”
Jack insisted, “If you give up, then they win.” He patted Neil’s hand and stood.
He asked, “You want me to talk to your mother, or do you want to do it? She’s worried about you. She should know what’s going on.”
Neil thought for a minute. He didn’t think he could tell her what was happening. Anyway, is there any good way to tell your mother that you are gay? He didn’t think he could bear to see the disappointment in her eyes when he did.
Neil looked up at his uncle and asked, “You think you can do it?”
Jack replied, “I’ll fill her in on some of the basics. Okay?” Neil nodded his head. “But you’ll eventually have to talk to her about it.”
Neil replied sadly, “I know.” Jack left the closet and closed the door. Neil sat quietly wondering what his future would now be like. In a few minutes, Jack would have told his mother he was gay. He was also uncertain what would happen when he returned to school tomorrow.
He picked up the tie and twirled it between his fingers.
* * * * * *
Ned Peter’s bedroom was dark. The four boys sat around his computer desk. Ned and Robbie were playing an intense game of Titanfall. Lucas and Owen were watching. Lucas was encouraging Robbie, and Owen had sided with Ned.
Lucas hollered, “Kill his fucking ass!”
Ned turned and admonished him, “Shut up! My mother is going to hear you and make us stop.”
“Fuck her,” muttered Lucas. He grinned and nudged Owen in his sides.
“Shit,” hissed Ned as he watched Robbie kill his character. He turned and looked angrily at Lucas. “Thanks a lot, Asshole. You made me lose.”
Lucas remarked, “Me! You’re the one who got your ass whipped.”
“Yeah,” replied Ned. “I had to tell you to shut up.”
Lucas balled his fists. “If you weren’t my friend, I wouldn’t take that shit.” Ned scooted his chair away from Lucas. He knew what he had said was true.
Owen shouted excitedly, “I got the next game!” He turned to Lucas and asked, “You playing?”
“I guess,” replied Lucas. He looked around at the other boys. “But first we got something to talk about.”
Robbie gave him a puzzled look and asked, “What?”
“Neil,” hissed Lucas. “What are we going to do about that faggot?”
Owen gave him a worried look. He regretted the way they had treated Neil on the first day of school. Normally, it was a fun time greeting old friends back. Instead, there seemed to be a lot of tension as Lucas attempted to berate their former friend anyway he could.
He asked, “What do you mean?” He looked at Ned and Robbie. “None of us talked to him today. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yeah,” replied Lucas as he raised his large body off the chair and started pacing around the room. He stopped and looked down at Owen. “It don’t seem like enough, though, considering what he did to you.”
Owen stated timidly, “I don’t think we need to do anything else. We just won’t talk to him anymore.” He looked at Robbie and Ned for their approval. They looked at Lucas and waited to see his response.
They found out quickly as he stormed over to Owen and knelt down into his face. “Nothing else? What kind of shit is that? That fag tried to suck your dick?” He stood erect and looked angrily down at Owen. “You gonna just act like it didn’t happen?”
Owen shook his head. Even though he didn’t say it out loud, he regretted he had said anything to Lucas and the others. When he told them after it happened, he thought they would just kid Neil about it. Even though it surprised him when Neil did it, they had been clowning around. He had put it in Neil’s face and dared him to suck it. Maybe Neil was joking and innocently accepted his dare. He also thought that he might have done the same thing if the roles had been reversed. It didn’t mean he was gay. He and Neil had been friends for so long that it might have just been an innocent act of trust. Now, he felt he had betrayed that trust by telling the others what had happened.
“Well,” asked Lucas. “Don’t you think that fag deserves more?”
Robbie asked, “Like what?”
Lucas began pacing the room again. The others looked nervously at each other. They knew whatever Lucas suggested, they would have to follow. He stopped and looked down at the others while they waited for his decision. “I don’t know,” he said. “What do you think we should do?”
Ned suggested, “We could hide his book bag.”
“Naw,” replied Lucas as he shook his head. “That’s something we would have done in the sixth grade.” He hit his right hand into his left palm. “We have to do something really good.”
Owen stood, approached Lucas and asked nervously, “Why do we have to do anything?” Lucas’s face reddened, and he grabbed Owen and threw him back onto the bed. He leaned down and hissed into Owen’s scared face, “What are you, a fag, too? Maybe you liked Neil sucking your dick. Huh, fag boy?”
“No!” replied Owen as he shook his head. “I ain’t no fag.”
Lucas grinned and stood. “Good,” he said with a smirk. “Then you’re going to prove it.”
Owen asked worriedly, “What do I have to do?”
Lucas paced around the room for a minute as Owen looked worriedly over at Ned and Robbie. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers, walked over and looked down at Owen. “I know,” he grinned mischievously.
Owen asked, “What?”
Lucas smirked and replied, “You’ll see.” He walked over and sat down before the computer. He turned and asked the others, “Who wants to get their ass whooped?” He patted the seat beside him. “C’mon, Owen. It’s your turn.” Owen hesitantly got up, walked over and sat down.
* * * * * * *
Brian Michael’s was stretched out on the couch watching a movie on the flat screen television in his family room. He was dozing occasionally from a hard day at work. He had recently been promoted to store manager at the large Costco three miles away. It had been a hard climb to the top. He started out stocking shelves six years ago after leaving behind his old life. Four years later, he was in charge of ordering. Four months ago, he was named the new manager. It was a promotion he anticipated, but the grueling hours were beginning to make him wonder if he had made the right choice.
After leaving Brenda and the kids, he became as lost as a ship on a stormy ocean. He knew he had to leave, but he regretted his decision to give up any parental custody of his three children. He still missed them, especially Neil. They had formed a strong father-son bond, and he spent many a drunken nights in a bar cursing his desolate life.
He had reached a breaking point six years ago. Alcoholism and sleep deprivation was taking a toll on his life. He knew his job was at risk. His sanity was beginning to give way to periods of drunken stupors. When he felt he had reached rock bottom and his world was at its nadir, Dwight walked into his life.
Just then, he was awakened from his light nap when he heard the garage door open. It closed, and seconds later someone entered the back door. Brian waited until he heard footsteps walking across the floor, and then lips gently pressed against his forehead.
A soothing voice asked, “Tired?”
Brian scooted over on the sofa to make room for Dwight to sit down. He looked up into his rugged face and smiled. At thirty-six years old, he was one year younger than Brian. His tanned body was the result of being outside working on new home construction projects. He owned the company, and it was his responsibility to oversee the work of the fifteen men he employed. Since winter was just around the corner, he was trying to finish as many homes as they could before cold weather set in.
“You don’t know,” mumbled Brian as Dwight ran his hand through his sandy colored hair.
Dwight asked, “What happened today?” He was used to listening to Brian complain about his job. Of course, the roles were often reversed when he came home with a problem he encountered on a site.
“I had to fire Karen,” he informed him. Karen was one of his floor managers. Two days earlier another employee reported that she had seen Karen take items from the store and placed them in the trunk of her car. Brian had spent several hours going over store surveillance tapes and interviewing employees before finally making the decision to dismiss Karen.
Dwight laughed slightly and said, “That comes with being the boss.”
“Yeah, I know,” replied Brian as he took Dwight’s hand and kissed it.
Dwight asked, “Did you eat?”
“No,” said Brian. “I was waiting for you to come home.”
Dwight rose from the sofa. “Let’s go to Dino’s.” He pulled his tee shirt over his head to reveal a chiseled body. “Give me a minute to change.”
“Okay,” responded Brian as he sat up and watched Dwight saunter from the room. “Jesus,” he laughed to himself. “There is a god in heaven.”
* * * * * * *
Neil was lying in bed with the covers pulled tightly around his body. He had finished his homework and then decided to go to sleep early. He quickly closed his eyes when someone rapped softly on the door. When he didn’t respond, the door opened and his mother tiptoed across the room. She knelt down, kissed Neil on the forehead and left.
If she had remained, she would have noticed tears streaming down Neil’s cheeks.