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SUMMARY: The year is 1973 and Lane Bailey is a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University. A homosexual with ambivalent but often negative feelings about his sexuality, he also has a strong attraction to his brightest student, a Harvard junior named Paul. As graduation approaches, his conflicted feelings and despair grow and he tries to recall a time when he was not homosexual. That arouses powerful boyhood memories. What follows is a journey of self-discovery, one in which Lane eventually comes to a better understanding of himself and ends up learning much about life, love and sex in the process. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise indicated, all of the characters in the story are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While certain places described or mentioned in the story are real, liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. This story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you don’t like or approve of such discussions or it’s illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so.
FIRST LOVE, FIRST TIME
Bruce was right. He liked driving fast, but I was still surprised when we arrived at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield ten minutes early. Never having been there before, I let Bruce purchase the tickets. When he had done so, I pulled out my wallet.
“It’s my treat, Lane,” he said, waving me off. “They’re not very expensive.”
“Thank you,” I said, “but now I’m definitely going to pick up the tab for dinner.”
“We’ll see,” Bruce responded.
“I’m really looking forward to this game,” I said, trying to make small talk as we took our place in the stands and waited for the game to begin. “But I’m confused. I thought it was the Pittsfield Red Sox who played here, not the Rangers.”
“They did,” Bruce responded, “at least they played here until 1970 when Boston moved the team to Pawtucket. They wanted a minor league affiliate that was closer to Boston so they could shuffle players back and forth more easily. The folks in Pittsfield took the move pretty hard.”
“When they were the Pittsfield Red Sox, people got spoiled because the team had some excellent players. Carlton Fisk played here in 1969; so did Bill Lee, you know, the Spaceman. I knew both of those guys.”
“Really?” I said. “That’s unbelievable. Fisk actually won the only game I ever attended in Boston with a tenth inning home run; and Lee’s a total goofball, no doubt about it.”
“There you go,” Bruce responded. “Later on the Washington Senators put one of their minor league franchises in Pittsfield and that team became the Pittsfield Senators; then they got renamed the Pittsfield Rangers after Bob Short moved the Washington Senators to Texas and they became the Texas Rangers.”
“Confusing,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” Bruce replied. “I didn’t much like Short moving his team and leaving the Washington fans high and dry. You should never treat fans that way, but baseball is changing these days. It’s starting to become more of a business and everyone seems to be focused on where you can make the quickest buck.”
“That’s another reason I prefer minor league games,” he added. “People with kids can actually take in a game without bankrupting themselves in the process.”
We spent the next three hours watching what turned out to be an exciting game; one featuring a lot of hitting as the pitchers on both sides proved unable to clamp down on the opposing batters.
Throughout, Bruce filled me on the different players, carefully assessing their strengths and weaknesses; where their next stop in the minor leagues might be; and whether he thought they were likely to make it all the way to the top. Most of them never would he believed.
In the end, the Rangers prevailed, 9 to 7. It had been a fun day spent at a place that was a terrific venue for baseball. By the time we finally got back to the car, it was about 7:15 p.m.
“Do you prefer North Adams or Pittsfield for dinner?” Bruce asked once we were there.
“That’s up to you, Bruce,” I replied. “You know the restaurants around here better than me.”
“If we took Route 7 back, I suppose we could stop at the Howard Johnson’s in Williamstown,” he said. “That probably has the best reasonably priced food in the area if you go by the crowds. But that’s the problem. The place is crowded and noisy all the time; no privacy and no lollygagging around either. They like to move customers in and out as fast as they can.”
“The Busy Bee here in Pittsfield is another solid choice,” he continued. “They have good food and people tend to come early so it might be less crowded now. If it was me, however, I’d probably choose The Mill on the Floss in New Ashford. It’s more expensive, but less crowded and noisy; and for what you pay, it’s an excellent value.”
“Let’s go there,” I said, interjecting. “The fans at the game were pretty rowdy today so the last thing I need is someplace crowded and noisy.”
“Done,” he said, starting his car and driving off.
We were there in less than fifteen minutes and the place wasn’t crowded at all. It was definitely dark and intimate, however.
“Oh jeez, I forgot,” Bruce said, embarrassed. “This place tends to attract romantic couples. We can try somewhere else if you prefer.”
“No problem,” I replied. “I doubt anyone will take us for a romantic couple and you said the food is good.”
“It is,” he said. “It’s excellent.”
After sitting down, studying the menu, and ordering, Bruce and I were left alone by ourselves in a darkened corner that provided lots of privacy. I remember feeling awkward, less by the location than by not being sure what to say now that we were alone.
You should have thought about what you planned to say in advance, Lane.
Fumbling for a way to get a conversation going, I said something I thought Bruce would easily pick up on.
“Was that a great game or what?”
“It was,” he replied, laconically, leaving me still fumbling to get a conversation started.
“Tell me what it was like to play minor league ball, Bruce?” I asked, figuring baseball would be a topic he was comfortable with. “You must have a ton of stories you never get to tell anyone.”
“I have plenty of stories,” he replied. “But the truth is that’s all anyone ever asks me about; baseball, I mean. Not that I’m complaining, but it gets boring after a while being a one trick pony. Do you really want to know?”
Suddenly it occurred to me how difficult being a small town hero must be in real life; being pestered all the time to live in the past to satisfy other people’s fantasies about what it would have been like if they were good enough to play minor league ball.
“Uh, well, maybe not,” I said, embarrassed. “I apologize, Bruce, I was trying to make conversation and figured baseball was a safer topic than politics or religion.”
“It is, he responded. “And I shouldn’t have said what I did, but it’s the only thing people ever want to talk to me about. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot to tell.”
“The Sox started me in Class A and then I bumped around from one team to another for the next four years. I moved up gradually to AA and then AAA clubs. Eventually I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and what I saw was someone who was 22 years old who was never going to make it to the major leagues.”
“Everyone who plays minor league ball handles that realization differently. Some guys start looking for a shortcut to the top, usually by taking some kind of performance enhancing drug. It isn’t a big problem right now for baseball, but it’s going to be in a few years.”
“Other guys just refuse to abandon the dream. They convince themselves there’s still hope until someone tells them to pack up their locker and go home. And then some realize they’re not going to make it, but enjoy the game and figure they’ll keep playing it until they get released.”
“My reaction was different,” he continued. “I looked at the face staring back at me in the mirror and asked what he thought we should do next. It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually I figured out that maybe I should give coaching a chance since I liked sports so much.”
“The next question was figuring out at what level I should coach and I remembered how much I enjoyed my high school days. Sure, kids in high school like to win, more so than in Little League, but they’re still not that intense about it. It isn’t a job like it is playing professional ball; unless their coach makes it a job for them, of course.”
“In any event, I was home one summer passing through town and stopped by to see Sister Ann Marie at St. Joseph’s. She was the principal there; still is for that matter. We talked about it and eventually she said she would offer me a job teaching and coaching at the school if I committed to getting my college degree.”
“So I spent the next couple of years madly accumulating credits; and then finally, when I graduated, I said good-bye to the game and came home. True to her word, she hired me and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
“In any event, it didn’t sound like you wanted to talk to me about baseball when you called. To be honest, I’m more interested in finding out what happened to you after high school.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I didn’t call to talk about baseball, not really.”
“I’m not sure why I called,” I added, lying. “But given what you just told me, I’m curious to know whether you ever thought about moving to a big city like Boston after you finished your playing career?”
“I considered it,” he replied. “But my family and friends were in North Adams and I like the place so that’s why I decided to come back here. I would have been a stranger in Boston too; a small fish in a big pond, not the local legend I was in North Adams.”
“It would have taken me forever to move up the coaching ranks in Boston,” he added. “St. Joe’s was happy to have someone like me who could help recruit more boys to the school.”
“I see,” I said. “You mentioned you wanted to buy your own house. I don’t mean to pry, but is that because you’ve met someone you plan to settle down with and marry?”
“No,” Bruce said; “I don’t think I’ll ever get married.”
That shocked me and he must have seen the surprised look on my face.
“Does that surprise you, Lane?”
“Uh, well, I guess it does;” I said. “Not that it’s any of my business, but you were the most popular boy in high school with the girls as I recall. Even my own father mentioned that any girl in North Adams would marry you if you asked. But, then again, he figured you were having fun playing the field so maybe you are.”
“I do date occasionally,” Bruce replied, “but I enjoy my job. It’s pretty time consuming though. You have classes all day and then you have to spend a lot of time planning your courses and doing all the other things they don’t pay you for; like grading exams, writing college recommendations, and things like that.”
“I don’t mind. I do it because I enjoy it. But what I enjoy most of all is coaching the different athletic teams, especially the baseball team. Coaching is very time consuming if you do it the right way; and I like to think I do it right.”
“The upshot is you quickly discover there are only twenty-four hours in a day. Finding time for dating is hard. Marrying someone and having a family would be a lot harder still. Assuming I was interested in doing that; I’m not.”
“But what about you, Lane?” he asked. “The reason I wanted to do this is because I was interested in finding out more about you. At some point I heard you had gone off to college and I didn’t give that a second thought. A lot of people I knew did that after high school.”
“But then I heard you had gone on to graduate school at Harvard. I was impressed, Lane; very impressed. I knew you were good-looking and smart, but I didn’t have any idea you were that smart,” he added, laughing.
“I’m not,” I said, trying to reassure him. “People think you have to be some kind of genius to get into Harvard, but that isn’t true; at least not at the graduate level. In my case I was interested in history and did well at that in college; and my adviser in college was a recent graduate from the History Department at Harvard.”
“He was the one who talked me into going on to graduate school. That wasn’t very hard at the time. Vietnam was really heating up back then and I had no interest in getting myself killed like Pete eventually did.”
Peter Jamieson was a classmate of Bruce’s who had volunteered for the Army and then been killed in Vietnam.
“You were smart, Lane,” Bruce said, quietly. “I told Pete he was making a mistake, but he was all gung ho and went off in spite of everything I said to him. That’s another sad story; maybe worse in some ways because Pete volunteered.”
“I still beat myself up about that,” he added. “I should have pushed him harder not to do it. That was a stupid war and I still get angry about all the guys our so-called leaders in Washington sent off to die in it.”
“I understand,” I responded. “People had more confidence in their political leaders back then; if the President said it was something we needed to do, a lot of people just stepped up without giving it a second thought.”
“In any event, my adviser went to bat for me with the History Department at Harvard,” I continued. “That’s how I got in; because he recommended me, not because I was a genius. And they were willing to pay my way through. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at the time so I figured I’d give it a try.”
“In the end, I liked it and ended up getting the degree. Like you, I enjoy teaching. I was hoping to land a teaching job at some college next autumn, but nothing came through. I’m going to be doing research in Washington instead.”
“That sounds interesting,” he said; “being in Washington, I mean. I’m not as smart as you Lane so I would never think about teaching at the college level. But I enjoy what I do.”
“It isn’t really that different,” I said. “In the end, teaching is mostly about caring and you were just about the most caring person I ever knew back when we were growing up. Like the way you treated Billy Reid, for example. We talked about that some on the drive down, but I still can’t get over the example you set for me back then.”
“I guess that’s mostly what I wanted to tell you, Bruce; that you were a very caring person and I appreciated you being so nice to me when we were in high school. Not everyone was.”
“Is that it?” he asked.
His question caught me by surprise.
“I mean, if that’s all you want to tell me, that’s plenty,” Bruce said; “certainly more than enough to make having dinner with you worthwhile. I can’t think of anything nicer someone could say about me than what you just did. When you called, however, I had the feeling there might be something more on your mind.”
“Uh, well, I don’t know; maybe there was,” I replied. “But now that we’re having dinner, I’m not sure I want to pursue it.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pursue it, but how could I do that without telling Bruce the truth about me? Not wanting to spoil the day we had shared together, the truth is the last thing he needed to hear.
Yeah, right, Lane; like always, take the coward’s way out.
Right at that moment the waiter reappeared at the table with our meals. He set them before us. Having done so, Bruce decided not to press me further.
“Oh, wow, this salmon is very good,” he said after biting in. “How’s your meal, Lane?”
He was letting me off the hook. Both of us knew it; not knowing what else to do, I took up the offer.
“This steak is fantastic,” I said; “cooked perfectly and the other dishes look like they’ll be excellent as well.”
So that’s what we ended up doing; we talked about the food and the game and the weather. We talked about anything except what I had come to talk about. I enjoyed it because I liked spending the time with Bruce; and yet when we finished paying the bill and headed toward his car, I remember thinking I had squandered the evening.
As Bruce pulled on to the road, I looked over at him.
“I guess I should apologize for wasting your time tonight just because I wanted to take a trip down memory lane,” I said.
“I enjoyed it, Lane,” he replied. “I got to spend a beautiful afternoon watching a baseball game with someone I admire; and then I got to catch up on what you’re doing and relive some good old times. It wasn’t a waste of time as far as I was concerned. Was it for you?”
“No, of course not,” I replied, not wanting to offend. “I guess I was looking for something more.”
“And you didn’t find it I take it from the tone of your voice?” he asked.
“I guess not,” I replied, staring out the window at the now darkened landscape.
Let it go, Lane, I said to myself.
“What were you looking for, Lane?” Bruce asked, refusing to let me off the hook a second time.
“I don’t know,” I responded, embarrassed. “A clue perhaps, something about myself, not you; it’s just that I admired you so much growing up. I mentioned that incident with Billy. You had always been a hero for me, but that definitely sealed the deal. It had a big impact on me at the time. I was ten then, but there was another time too.”
“I was older then, fourteen I think, and had gone up to Windsor Lake one day at the end of the summer because there was nothing much else to do. At the time I was lonely, probably even depressed. Like I said, it was the end of the summer and I was about to become a freshman at Drury and I was dreading that.”
“Unlike you, Bruce, I was never very popular growing up; and then, for reasons I won’t go into, even the friends I once had were keeping their distance from me that summer. Like I said, I was feeling pretty miserable; and then the next thing I knew you came over and spread your towel next to mine and laid down beside me.”
“I had no idea why you did that at the time; still don’t for that matter. But it made me feel good for some reason; special even. In any event, soon enough we were in the water and swam out to the raft. We took turns jumping off the diving board and that was a lot of fun.”
“In fact, the whole day was the most fun I can remember having in a long time, especially knowing someone older and popular like you was spending the time with me.”
“Like I said, it made me feel good.”
“I remember that day,” Bruce said. “If I remember correctly, you dove in deep one time and then came up beneath me and tried to pull off my swim trunks; almost succeeded, too, as I recall.”
“Exactly,” I said, astonished he would remember something like that. “I can’t believe you recall me doing that. It’s embarrassing knowing you do.”
“You shouldn’t feel embarrassed, Lane,” he said. “I also recall I was able to stop you from getting them off because I was bigger and stronger than you. If memory serves me right for that matter, I ended up pulling off your swim trunks instead.”
“You did,” I replied, eager now to complete a story he seemed to recall at least as well as me. “I thought for sure you were going to embarrass me by swimming to shore and leaving me stranded naked out there in the water to teach me a lesson.”
“Back then boys liked doing things like that; one upping each another, humiliating one another, making you beg and plead with them to help you out.”
“But you didn’t do that, Bruce. You just smiled at me and said something.”
“Missing something, Lane?” he had said, flashing a glimpse of my trunks to show me he had them.
“And then you swam over and gave them back to me under the water. You could have humiliated me by holding them up so everyone on the raft would see what had happened, but you didn’t. Like I said, you put them into my hand underwater and then positioned yourself so no one would see me pulling them back on.”
“I was so grateful to you for doing that; for not embarrassing me, humiliating me. It just reconfirmed for me what an awesome person you were.”
“But I was a little kid, I suppose, so maybe I’m making too much of the whole thing,” I added, embarrassed now at having told him all of that.
“If you had managed to pull off my trunks, Lane, were you planning to swim to the shore and leave me stranded out there in the water?” Bruce asked.
I was surprised by the question.
“No,” I replied. “I would have never done something like that to you, Bruce. I was just going to wait there and let you wrestle them away from me. I knew you were stronger and thought that would be fun; wrestling with you in the water before finally giving them back to you. I thought that would make you like me better for not trying to embarrass you.”
“I see,” Bruce said. “And what were you hoping to discover by talking to me about those two incidents, Lane; the one with Billy when we were younger and then the one a few years later?”
“I don’t know,” I responded. “I guess I was trying to figure out whether there was something more there than just the simple admiration of a young boy for you. It’s confusing enough to me. I can’t imagine you have a clue what I’m talking about.”
“I think I do,” Bruce said. “But I suppose the more important thing is the answer to that question you posed. Now that we’ve talked about both of those things, do you think there was something more, Lane?”
It was the question I had been asking myself for weeks, but now Bruce was asking and I realized I needed to be truthful with him; perhaps even more, truthful with myself.
Was there something more, Lane? Be honest.
“No,” I responded, staring out the window at the darkness. “I guess I’ll never be certain, but I don’t think so, Bruce.”
“As far as Billy goes, I think that was purely a case of admiring you for how you made him feel so special that day. You even gave him your sunglasses. I don’t know whether you remember, but they buried Billy with them. That’s how much they meant to him.”
“I remember,” Bruce whispered. “His father even asked me whether I wanted them back, but I said no; that I wanted Billy to have them.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said, surprised by this latest revelation.
“The point is, I was in awe of you for being his friend and then you thanked me for being your teammate. I mean, think about that Bruce. You were the best player on the team, the best player in Little League, and you thanked me, a nobody, for being your teammate. I guess that’s when I decided I wanted to be just like you when I grew up.”
“As for that other incident, the one at the lake, I think that was just a case of being desperately lonely and wanting someone like you to be my friend; just a friend, nothing more.”
I didn’t tell him the rest of it which had come back to me in a flash; that it was only months later, when I realized I was homosexual, that I understood I did want something more from Bruce. But by then it was too late. Knowing I was homosexual, I also realized I could never be exactly like him; that we were different that way. That Bruce was better than me and always would be.
It had been devastating realizing that.
“I’m glad to hear that, Lane,” Bruce responded; “that there was nothing more. It makes me feel better about the decision I made that day.”
“What decision?” I asked, confused.
“You don’t know?”
“No; I’m afraid I don’t,” I replied. “I’m confused.”
“The thing you’re forgetting is that I was three years older than you, Lane,” he said.
“I don’t understand,” I replied. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You said you were unhappy that day when you went up to the lake; depressed even. Do you remember why, Lane?”
“No,” I responded.
I was lying. I kind of knew why, but didn’t want to dredge up that memory.
“Ah, well, perhaps I shouldn’t go there then,” Bruce said.
“No; please do,” I replied, encouraging him. “You seem to recall something about that day I must be forgetting.”
“There’s no reason you would remember, Lane, and I’m not sure I should tell you,” he said. “It might ruin your memory.”
“This is a very important memory for me, Bruce, very powerful,” I replied, and by now I was practically begging him. “If you know anything that would help, anything at all, no matter how trivial, I would really like to know about it.”
He eyed me momentarily and I could tell he was trying to decide what to do next.
Taking a deep breath, Bruce began talking.
“Let’s just say there were certain rumors floating around town about you that summer, Lane,” he said. “I had heard them. North Adams was a town filled with gossip back then; still is. Usually I didn’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff. But the rumor about you made me curious.”
“When I saw you up at the lake, I came over because I was interested in satisfying my curiosity. What I had in mind was spending some time with you and then inviting you to go for a walk in the woods with me if I decided the rumors were true and thought you’d be receptive.”
“I see,” I said.
I could feel my heart beginning to pound.
“I’m ashamed to tell you that, Lane,” he continued. “I imagine it’ll totally shatter your image of me. The thing is, you’re not the only person in the world who’s ever made the discovery you eventually did. I’m pretty certain both of us have made exactly the same discovery. Being older, I just made it sooner than you and I suppose it was as troubling to me in some ways as it was to you at the time.”
“Even though I was popular, Lane, there was always a place deep within me where I was alone just like you. I had more friends perhaps because I wasn’t shy and introspective like you. I was more outgoing, played sports and would flirt with the girls; so there were never any rumors about me. I made sure of that.”
“But I could also see what would happen to me if people ever discovered the truth. It was quite apparent from what was happening to you; the rumors, the loss of friends.”
“Like you, however, I was tired of being alone that day; of not having a friend who really understood who I was. Like I said, I was planning to ask you to go for a walk in the woods if everything worked out and ask you to do what I had wanted someone to do for a long time.”
He didn’t need to say more. I knew what he was talking about immediately.
“But you didn’t do that, Bruce,” I said, eyeing him. “You never asked me to go for a walk in the woods that day.”
“When we were out in the water and you tried to pull down my swim trunks, I was certain the rumors were true,” Bruce continued. “That’s why I pulled down your swimsuit; to see how you would react. But when I looked in your eyes what I saw wasn’t sexual desire.”
“I saw someone who was desperately terrified I was about to humiliate him in front of everyone; someone lonely, someone who certainly would have gone into the woods with me if I asked him to.”
“But I also saw a boy three years younger than me who was struggling with rumors and the absence of friendship and possibly beginning to realize he was different somehow.”
“You can’t do this, Bruce, I told myself. It’s wrong. This boy likes you, admires you; he’s desperate for friendship. But you’re not the kind of friend he needs; not right now. He isn’t there yet. He’ll do whatever you ask him to do, but he’s not ready. He’s too young; too vulnerable.”
“At least that’s what I said to myself, Lane. What I said to you was something much simpler; something like missing something, Lane?”
“So the upshot is I handed your swimsuit back to you and decided not to ask you to go for that walk in the woods; and now, having talked to you, I’m glad that’s the decision I made.”