Click on the link below to read Chapter 14 of Connected in the pdf format (better formatting).
Or just read it below online in the html format.
SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges and in doing the right thing, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. While some events, locations and features have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, the story takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still at its beginnings. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story at my blog here. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is intended for mature audiences only since it includes scenes that depict graphic sex and violence. While I realize people read stories like this for different reasons, you may be disappointed if you’re reading my story primarily for sexual content. There is some, which is why I’ve included the warning. But if sexual content is your primary focus, you may do better on a site like Nifty.
NOTICE: This story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. Comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. Any help with spelling and other errors would also be appreciated since I would like to correct those wherever possible. Feel free to leave a comment below or to contact me at kitkatkid[at]planetmail[dot]net if you would like to let me know what you think. Please note that this story is being archived on Nifty. However, individual chapters will always be published here first. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 13, Josh and Nolan attend the wake for Anthony, a young boy killed in the war. Later, Nolan tries to buy some condoms at the pharmacy. Although initially confused, he’s helped out by the store owner and finally succeeds in getting what he’s looking for. With their summer vacation rapidly ending, Josh and Nolan discuss their plans for college and how they’ll keep their relationship alive once Nolan returns to New York. The boys tell Nolan’s Dad about how they’ve been working out and he agrees to let Nolan join the YMCA back in the city. On the last day before Nolan’s departure, they swim across the lake together. Then, his vacation finally over, Nolan heads back to New York City.
Part II – Innocence Abused
“Josh, did you even listen to what I just told you?” Jimmy asked, placing his hand on my shoulder and staring at me.
I had been listening to him, kind of, but my mind was somewhere else.
I think my head is going to explode, I said to myself, as I slammed my locker closed. I can’t handle all this stress anymore. Why the hell is my life so stressful? When is this going to end?
The stress was coming from everywhere it seemed.
There was school, of course, which would have been stress inducing under the best of circumstances. Gone was everything old and familiar. The old teachers, courses, and schedule I had grown so comfortable with over the course of the previous year were history now, replaced by strangers: new teachers, new courses, and a new schedule, all of which were placing new and insistent demands on me.
I was a senior now and I suppose it should have been easier to handle by then. But I was being thrown together every day with Coach Johnson and that made it a lot harder for me.
Nolan had been right. There was no way we could avoid one another. The coach was keeping his distance, of course, just like I was doing my best to keep my distance from him. But just being on all of the teams he coached was beginning to take a toll. I didn’t like the guy and it was beginning to affect me really badly.
I would see him wandering into the showers after practice; and while he wasn’t really leering at me, I could see he was checking out some of the other guys pretty closely. It made me nervous because I didn’t know what to do about it. The fact the guys seemed totally clueless about Coach didn’t surprise me. I’d never have guessed myself if I didn’t know better from personal experience. But I did know better and I wondered exactly what I was supposed to do about that.
By then there were times when I wanted to throw in the towel and just quit all the teams he was coaching. But I knew I couldn’t do that if I wanted to have any chance of getting an athletic scholarship to college, which I did. I wanted one of those scholarships badly, real badly. It was my personal passport out of Vermont.
And there it was, still another source of tension and stress. College.
Taking the SATs had been stressful. Yeah, sure, I had done pretty well when I had taken them the previous spring, but I also knew some of the kids were taking special courses to get ready for them. That was something my Mom couldn’t afford and I wondered whether they would be better prepared than I was this time around.
Trying to figure out which schools to apply to was both time consuming and stress inducing as well. Sure, I already knew I wanted to apply to UVM, Middlebury, and Williams. Nolan was applying to those as well. But where else, I wondered? Should I be applying anywhere else? Could I even afford to apply anywhere else? Mom kept telling me to apply wherever I wanted, but I knew how tight money was and didn’t want to add to the problem.
But that didn’t stop Mom. She kept making different suggestions about where I might want to apply and that meant checking the places out on the computer in school or at the library. Eventually I decided to apply to Columbia, mostly because it was in New York City and Nolan was applying there too, and Castleton State, which I figured I would get into if I was rejected everywhere else.
I finally told Nolan I wasn’t going to apply to any of the other colleges he was thinking about because we just couldn’t afford it. That worried me a lot. What if he got accepted and decided to go to one of them? Where would I be then?
And there it was, the biggest single source of stress in my life, the stress of not having Nolan around to talk to, to hold, to kiss and to love. I missed him so much it hurt. Every night I would lay in bed wondering what he was doing and whether he missed me as much as I missed him. Because I really missed him a lot.
He had been good about keeping his word and calling me every Wednesday. He was even better at asking me questions that allowed me to express what I was feeling in a way that wouldn’t be obvious to Mom.
“Do you love me, Josh?” he would ask.
“You don’t know how much I do,” I’d reply.
“I love you too, Josh,” he would continue, and all of my fears would vanish, at least until the following morning.
His calls always made me feel better, of course, but they also reinforced just how much I missed him. It seemed like forever since he had left at the end of August. It had only been three weeks, but I wondered when we would ever see one another again. Sometimes I wondered if we ever would.
We had put in a joint application to visit Williams at the same time in October. They didn’t actually permit that, but I had filled out my application and sent it to Nolan, who forwarded it along with his own to the school. He had also alerted Paul by e-mail but hadn’t heard anything back. Both of us were disappointed by that because it would be really hard to be at the place at the same time without being able to see one another.
“Did you?” Jimmy asked, more insistent this time. “I’m talking to you, dude. Did you hear what I just told you, Josh?”
And now there was this. Jimmy was blurting out the story all over again and I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I liked Jimmy. We had been best friends forever. But I had never known any guy who was into gossip as much as he was. He was into more than most of the girls I knew.
Most of the time it was mildly amusing, but what he was telling me now wasn’t really funny at all.
“It’s true,” he insisted. “I’ve gotten this from three different sources. Tommy told Wayne he had a crush on him. But Wayne ain’t no faggot, of course, so he didn’t really have very much choice except to beat the shit out of Tommy. From the looks of it, Tommy didn’t put up much of a fight. He looks awful. Those shiners are going to last for at least a week, probably longer.”
“I can’t believe what a doofus he is,” Jimmy continued, “trying to hit on Wayne like that. Jesus, the guy is only the best quarterback in central Vermont. Fat chance he would be queer. If you ask me, Tommy got what he deserved. Who needs a pervert like that in our school?”
Tommy? I remember thinking. Tommy Taylor? I didn’t really know him that well, but I wouldn’t have thought he was gay in a million years.
“Look, Jimmy, I know you’re like a human vacuum machine when it comes to gossip,” I replied, “but you really shouldn’t believe everything you hear. Did you ask Tommy what happened? Did you get his side of the story? Wayne is the biggest prick in this school. He thinks everybody loves him. The next thing you know he’ll be telling everyone you came on to him.”
“Me?” Jimmy protested. “No way, man. Everyone knows I’m not a faggot. No one would ever believe nonsense like that.”
“Then why do you believe Tommy is gay?” I asked.
I knew I was taking a chance using the word, but Paul had used it and both Nolan and I liked it.
“Has he ever come on to you?” I added.
“Besides,” I continued. “What’s the big deal if he is? It’s not like he would have any control over it. People don’t choose to be gay or straight. They just are. And there’s nothing wrong with being gay either.”
“I do feel bad for him though,” I added. “Wayne is such an asshole most of the time. He uses his fists more than his brain. If Tommy did come on to him, and I doubt it, he could have just let Tommy know he was straight and wasn’t interested in being friends with him.”
“You can say whatever you want, Josh,” Jimmy replied, dismissing everything I had just said. “But all of the guys agree with me on this one. Tommy is dead meat in this school and you better not let anyone else know what you think because they’ll be thinking you’re queer too next, Josh.”
“Like I give a shit,” I replied, trying to let him know I wasn’t going to be intimidated.
But, the truth is, I was. I didn’t want anyone at school thinking I was gay, let alone knowing for sure. Just knowing what was about to happen to Tommy was enough to reinforce that for me.
Because Jimmy was right, of course. The kid was dead meat.
Once word spread about Tommy, everyone in school turned on him like a pack of hungry animals. It was gruesome watching them do it; and the thing that made it even worse was that they were after him every minute of the day. Every freaking minute. Day after day after day.
He could be walking from one class to another and one of the guys would trip him. Or spill a drink on him. Or taunt him in front of the rest of the students. They never let up. Never! They were going to ride his ass until he put a gun to his head and blew his brains out.
Of course, if that’s what he ended up doing, they’d be asking themselves why he did it, be telling themselves they had only been kidding. They were totally clueless just how cruel they were being, not just individually but collectively. It was sickening.
I had to admit he showed a lot more guts about it than I would have under the circumstances. He did his best to avoid reacting because that’s what they really wanted, of course. They wanted him to react, to be angry, to cry, to plead with them to be left alone, to show how much he wanted to be liked by them, to be accepted by them.
But he wouldn’t do it and I admired him for that. Not enough to put my ass on the line defending him, of course. I had enough problems of my own to deal with and no interest at all in committing social suicide with my classmates.
I mean, like I said, I didn’t really know Tommy that well. He was a sophomore and I was a senior so there was really no reason I should have known him all that well. I think the only reason I knew him at all was because his locker was close to mine on the opposite side of the hall. So I would see him from time to time, like that Friday afternoon I had stayed late at the school library to do some research on still another one of those colleges my Mom wanted me to check out.
I had stopped by my locker when I was done to pick up my stuff. Tommy was trying to get his locker open, but without much success. It looked like someone had messed with it somehow.
I just stood there quietly, watching him as he struggled to get it open. He didn’t even know I was there so I just stood there, silently, looking at him.
He was a pretty good looking kid, a little shorter than me. Like Nolan, he was pretty thin but it seemed to me they were thin in different ways. The word that popped into my head when I thought about Nolan was slight. Tommy seemed to me to be more gangly, a growing boy just waiting for the rest of his body to catch up with his arms and legs.
He had black hair and green eyes. I remembered the color of his eyes from talking to him the previous year. They were different, unusual actually; and since his mom was Irish, his eyes twinkled, of course. He wasn’t really special that way. All of the Irish kids had baby faces with eyes that twinkled when they were young. It was only experiences like the one Tommy was going through now that would wipe that twinkle away.
His smile was kind of unusual as well, some kind of cross between a grin and a smirk, but it seemed to be just right for him somehow. Like I said, he was cute. Not as cute as Nolan, of course. No one was as cute as Nolan. But if I had never met Nolan, I could tell I would have been attracted to Tommy now that I was actually looking at him closer than I had ever done before.
Bent over the locker like he was, I had a clear view of his ass. It definitely interested me. I remember feeling myself blush and go hard, then waiting until those afflictions cleared before I decided to speak up.
“How are you, Tommy,” I finally said, interrupting his struggle. “Do you need any help with your locker? I use to have one like yours that was hard to get open. Maybe I could help get it open for you.”
I wanted him to know that not everyone hated him, but he didn’t say anything. He just looked up and stared at me with those incredible green eyes.
“I’m really sorry that everyone is giving you such a hard time,” I continued, trying to make him feel better and to elicit some kind of response. And I guess I did. It just wasn’t the response I was expecting.
“Look, Josh, if you want me to suck your cock, you’ll have to get in line,” he said, never taking his eyes off of mine. “There’re already four guys who’ve asked me to do that so it’s not like you’ll be the first.”
I remember being shocked at just how casually he had said it. Then I began wondering who those four guys were. Was it possible that more guys at our school were gay? Or were they just guys who were sexually frustrated and figured Tommy would be easy pickings?
“That’s not what I want, Tommy,” I replied, defensively. “It isn’t like that at all.”
“Well, if you want to beat me up, you’ll have to get in line for that, too,” he added, still staring at me. “There are a lot more than four who want to do that to me. Some of them already have. Wayne’s friends, mostly.”
“I don’t want to beat you up either, Tommy,” I said. “I just want you to know I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay. Assuming you are gay, of course. I don’t know that you are and I would never believe anything Wayne says for that matter. But there’s nothing wrong with it if you are.”
Tommy just stared at me for a moment like some kind of wounded animal, trying to figure out exactly what kind of angle I was playing. I could tell he was edgy, waiting for me to drop the other shoe and move in for the kill. By then I’m sure he had seen most of the games kids could play.
“I know it must be hard, Tommy, but not everyone is an asshole like Wayne. I guess the only way some people can feel good about themselves is if they can pick on somebody else.”
By then Tommy had managed to get the door to his locker open. He retrieved what he was looking for, slammed the door shut, and then stood up and took a step forward like he was getting ready to leave. He hesitated, momentarily, and then suddenly turned around.
“Okay,” he said. “Thanks. I appreciate it, Josh. It’s nice of you to say that. And I won’t even tell anyone you said it so you’re safe.”
I didn’t see him for a couple of days after that, but it was hard to avoid all the gossip about him. It was the biggest news in the school and it was everywhere. And, like gossip everywhere, it was mostly lies piled on top of more lies, and pretty nasty ones at that. The lies weren’t even consistent with one another.
That’s how you could tell for sure they were lies, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone all that much. The truth never did.
There wasn’t really a lot I could do about it, of course. Once that kind of shit got started, it was like an avalanche in winter. No one could stop it. Still, whenever they started talking, I would walk away. I didn’t want to hear all that shit and soon enough some of them took notice of that and started talking among themselves.
“What’s your problem, Josh,” Wayne said one day while a bunch of us were standing around in the locker room after gymnastics. “Everyone else is giving that fag Tommy exactly what he deserves, but I never hear you say anything about him.”
“That’s because I don’t know him, Wayne,” I replied. “And it’s no skin off my nose if he’s gay,” I added. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
A couple of the guys standing nearby started rolling their eyes and I knew I had just committed the ultimate heresy. Worse still, I had left myself open for what I knew was about to come.
“Must be sucking your dick, then, I guess,” Wayne replied, laughing and looking over at his friends. “I bet he’s good at it. Real good. Hope you’re enjoying yourself, Josh.”
The laughing proved contagious, of course. It fed on itself. When I think back on it now, it always did in situations like that.
By now all of the guys were watching and I had a decision to make. I could walk away and lose face or I could try to give as good as I got.
“I love you too, Wayne,” I replied, blowing a kiss at him.
If I had stopped there, it would have been over. I knew that, but something inside goaded me on.
“Do you really think I give a shit what a brain dead asshole like you thinks?” I added.
There, I had done it, and it felt really good. Suddenly the whole locker room fell totally silent. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone knew what was coming next. Even I knew.
“Well maybe you would like to go outside and discuss it with me after school, Josh,” Wayne replied, barely able to control his anger. “But you’re probably too chicken-shit to do that, aren’t you?”
I had been thinking about it even before he said it. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to pick a fight with him, that’s for sure, but he didn’t scare me either. I didn’t think he would be able to beat me up like he had beaten up Tommy and that pretty much determined my answer.
“I’ll be happy to meet you outside, Wayne,” I said. “Just so long as everyone in here knows it’s just going to be between the two of us. I’ve noticed you’re a lot braver when you have some of your buddies along to back you up.”
“You were planning to come by yourself, right, Wayne?” I added. “Don’t be shy. You can tell everyone in here it’s just going to be between the two of us.”
“I’m going to kill you, you sonofabitch,” Wayne replied, angry at being challenged like that and no longer able to control it. “And I don’t need no fucking help to do it either. I’m going to hurt you bad, Josh, real bad.”
So that’s how the big fight came about.
Not that it was much of a fight, of course. Since it had happened so early in the day, word spread pretty rapidly throughout the school and some of the kids even began placing bets on the outcome.
But it was impossible to control where the word spread, of course, and by the time the two of us got outside that afternoon a posse of teachers was waiting for us and that was the end of that.
Both of us got detention for a week, which meant we had to stay late at school. And they sent a note home to my Mom, letting her know all about it.
“Why Joshua?” my Mom asked me after reading the note. “Why were you planning to fight that boy?”
“I didn’t start it, Mom,” I said. “He’s been picking on another boy at school and getting his friends to do the same thing. They’ve been doing that for weeks and just torturing the kid day after day. He’s a bully, Mom, and nobody at school ever does anything about bullies like him. They just sit on their collective asses and pretend like nothing is happening. He’s the one who challenged me to the fight. I wasn’t about to back down. And I’m not sorry about that either.”
I don’t think my Mom approved of what I had done, but she accepted it and just asked me to cool it, which I promised to do.
Back at school, everyone had pretty much forgotten what caused the fight. Most of the guys were more impressed with the fact I hadn’t backed down from the challenge. So things were cool and my reputation intact and that made me happy.
A couple of days later I had just gotten out of detention and was picking up what I needed before going home when Tommy suddenly appeared from out of the shadows. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought he had been waiting for me.
“Not like it’s any of my business or nothing,” he said, “but you may want to watch your back, Josh. Wayne don’t fight fair. When he beat me up, he brought along three of his friends to help him out. He and his friends will probably be looking for another chance to kick your ass.”
I remember being surprised he would take the time to tell me that given all the shit he had been going through.
“Yeah, I know all about Wayne and his friends,” I replied. “I’ll be careful. But thanks for the warning, Tommy.”
He started to turn as if he was going to leave, then stopped.
“So what was the fight all about?” he asked.
It was a good question, a very good question in fact.
What was it about, Josh? I asked myself. Why had I been so mad? Was it about Wayne or Tommy or just all the social pressures going to school could generate? Was it about conforming to what was expected? Or was it about something else?
Maybe I didn’t know the truth. Maybe I didn’t want to admit it to him.
“Nothing much,” I lied. “I can’t even remember right now.”
“Okay,” Tommy responded, shrugging his shoulders. “That’s not what I heard, but it don’t matter. I was just wondering why you were sticking up for me.”
He was staring at me and I didn’t know what to say.
“It doesn’t really matter, does it?” I finally replied. “I mean, it won’t change anything, will it? But it wasn’t really about you, Tommy. It was about me.”
“Look, I’m sorry, Tommy. I wish I could help. I really do. But I can’t. It’s just that, you know, maybe we’re not so different,” I added, cryptically. “That’s what makes it so hard.”
Then I turned and walked away, ashamed of myself.
That was pretty much the end of it. I was busy with different sports and other things, and I didn’t see Tommy around very much after that. I heard he was skipping school a lot and I couldn’t really blame him for that.
But, like I said, there were lots of things going on in my life right about then and there wasn’t much I could do to help Tommy in any event. Like Jimmy had told me, he was dead meat as far as the school was concerned and nothing I did or said was ever going to change that.
It made me feel bad for him, but nobody could change what had happened. That’s just the way things were at school.