New town. New life. Opportunities afresh. Only thing is, you’re still you.
Damn. I miss you so much it hurts. I really hope you’re not feeling like this, that you’ve met a lot of new people and have moved on. No one should have to feel the longing and grief that I do.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that, but I can’t help it. You’re what I think about all day and at night when I’m not sleeping. But that’s not why I’m writing. I’ve been honoring your decision and not bothering you. But... something’s happened, and I don’t know what to do. You’re the only one I could think of to talk to about this. I have to talk to someone. I have to.
So maybe, maybe... are you coming home for spring break? And if you are, can we talk? I really, really need to talk to someone. You probably can’t help me; no one can, really; but maybe?
Please write back and tell me if you’re coming home, that you’re coming home next week, and that we can talk. Let me know as soon as you can. I’m desperate, and the clock’s ticking.
I’ll never feel for anyone else what I feel for you. I’ll love you forever. That’ll never change. Together or apart.
I read it three times, and my racing heart changed to a lump in my throat. I had tears in my eyes as well. He still loved me. Like I did him, and even though I’d told him to move on, we still both felt the same. After this time, though, this silence between us, to now know he felt the same love I did was almost too much for my emotions to deal with. However—
You had to know Chip, and I knew him better than I knew anyone. He wasn’t the desperate sort. He was easygoing. Stress wasn’t something he ever had to deal with. Even with the stardom he’d enjoyed because of his skill on the hardwood, even as he became the major star of the high school, it hadn’t changed him a bit last year, and I doubted it had this year, either. The newspaper reports emphasized how even-keeled he was and how his fame wasn’t going to his head at all, how he remained modest and soft-spoken. Well, they went on and on in that vein. He was not what they expected from someone who was accomplishing what he was. It was no surprise to me that he had remained as calm and collected and modest as anyone you’d ever meet. That’s who Chip was.
Now, he sounded terrified to me. Desperate was the exact word for it—but why? What did he have to be desperate about?
But he was, and I wasn’t going to do this with emails. I picked up my phone and called him.
“Hello? Dave? Is this really you, Dave?! My god!”
“Chip. What’s the matter? What’s going on?”
There was a pause, a pause where I didn’t think there should be one, and then he replied in a softer, less-confident voice that I hardly recognized as his.
“I, I can’t talk to you on the phone. There’re people around, and anyway, well, are you coming home? Right away?”
“Yeah. I’ve got classes tomorrow, then I’m done. I’ll get home late afternoon on Saturday. I’ll need to drop my stuff off at home, say hello, but after that, sure, we can talk then. I should be free by 4:45 or 5. Where can we get together?”
There was no pause this time.
“The barn. I’ll be there at 4:30. Oh, my god, Dave! To see you . . . Uh, sorry, but I really have to go. I’ll see you then.”
I heard a noise in the background, someone calling his name, and then the call ended.
He hadn’t sounded like himself. Whatever the problem was, it was serious, I had no doubts about that. I also had felt something when I heard his voice. I knew what that was. It was a longing, the same one I lived with that was inside me. A feral, rabid longing. This separation was really terrible. Fierce. But, besides that, I didn’t know what his problem was. I needed to see him. I hoped I could help, whatever it was, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. Two days. It would seem forever.
＋ ＋ ＋ ＋
I got to the barn just when I’d said I’d be there. Walking up to it, I don’t know why, but I felt a little surprise that it looked just like it always had. I hadn’t been gone all that long, but the barn seemed part of a different lifetime. The barn was my old life; as I was now living a new one, it seemed the barn should feel much different.
Often back then, when I’d walk up to it, the thumping of a basketball being dribbled could be heard outside. Today, the barn was silent, and there was no light from the window. I wondered if he was in there.
The outside door to the stairway up to the second floor was unlocked as usual. There was nothing to steal up there unless someone wanted the nets or the two rims. Very few people were even aware of the court, and no one had ever come that I knew about who didn’t belong there. There was no reason for the place to be locked.
I opened the door and climbed the stairs, crossed the small landing at the top and walked onto the court. I knew this place so well. So many happy moments had occurred there. Memories flooded back. The smell of the place was exactly the same, the light coming through the front window, the shadows, the small sounds filtering in from outside—it was all part of me.
I looked around and spotted Chip. He was sitting against the wall near the doorway where I was standing, his head hanging down. I’d made no noise climbing the stairs or opening and closing the door, and I was sure he wasn’t aware I was there. Just like when I’d seen him for the first time in the barn. I moved silently to where he was, turned around, put my back against the wooden wall, and slid down next to him.
Now he was aware, and in that moment of awareness he was suddenly in my arms. And I felt a contentment, a peace, I hadn’t known since I left for college. As I took his weight in my arms, I sensed the weight of the world lifting from my soul.
I held him awhile, neither of us saying a word. I felt I was growing stronger just holding him, and my resolve to have us lead separate lives seemed more a mistake than ever. This just felt right. It made me see I hadn’t tried hard enough to think of a way we could always be together. I’d just done what I thought was right for Chip. I’d spent more thought on that than on figuring out whether there was a way to solve our problem. I needed to work on that, to discover a way we could have a life together, something that would be right for us both.
This, us together, what I felt right then holding Chip in my arms, this was right.
＋ ＋ ＋ ＋
I held him not wanting to let go, and I knew I wouldn’t until he made a sign that he wanted to be freed. He didn’t, not right away. Instead, he seemed to wriggle tighter against me, wrap his arms around me more tightly, and then, to my consternation, I felt him start to tremble. I started muttering in his ear, “It’s okay. It’ll be okay. We’ll figure it out. Relax. I’m here . . . I’m here . . . ”
Slowly, over a period of time, I did feel him relax. I could feel the tension slowly ebbing, leaving his body. I loosened my arms, holding him gently now, lovingly. I knew he was hurting, but I was loving having him this close again. He smelled like Chip, he felt like Chip, and I was feeling a contentment I hadn’t felt for months. My world didn’t seem so chaotic with Chip in my arms.
With a softer, relaxed Chip now raising his head, I knew it had become time. “Tell me what’s wrong, Chip,” I murmured. “Tell me.”
He moved then, and I let him go. Looking at me, he sat back against the wall in the same position he’d been in when I came in. He didn’t have his head hanging now, though, and his eyes were clear.
“I’m in trouble,” he said. His voice was soft but rough. Like he’d been crying, although I couldn’t see that in his eyes.
“Tell me,” I repeated, speaking softly, compassionately, taking his limp hand in mine.
So he did. “Someone knows I’m gay. I don’t know how, and I don’t think anyone else knows. My parents don’t. But this guy’s figured it out. And he’s using it against me. He says he’ll ruin me, out me, if I don’t do as he demands. He said I have to shave points in our playoff games. He knows a bookie, and the guy will take bets on anything, and this guy, the one who’ll out me, is going to bet I don’t score over 16 points. He’ll get good odds on that bet, and he’ll make a lot of money.”
He stopped to clear his throat. Just thinking about this was affecting him. “You and I talked about this. It’s why you told me we had to break up. If I’m outed, scholarships will dry up. No one wants to recruit a gay kid for their basketball team. I can’t go to college without a scholarship. And it means all this pain I’ve suffered, and maybe you have, too, was in vain. We could have been together, even if miles apart.”
His voice was getting raspy. He swallowed a couple of times before continuing. “If I shave points . . . ” He paused, his voice now raw; he sounded too upset to continue. He waited till he found a way to compose himself. Then, finally, and with defeat ringing in his words, he continued. “People always seem to find out, and when they do . . . I’d never be able to play college ball. But worse than that, I’d let my teammates and my school down. I can’t let my team down.” His voice was stronger now, his determination strengthening it. “They’ve all worked their ass off to get this far. Letting my coach down, the school, everyone who’s been cheering for us, too—no. I can’t.
“Dave, I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell anyone because no one knows I’m gay. Just you. Well, and this guy. I’m not even sure if he knows for sure, but that doesn’t matter. If he outs me, I can’t really deny it. That’s not who I am; that’s not the sort of lie I can tell.
“I really want to play college ball, both to play, sure, but also it’s the only way I can ever get into college. It’s been my dream all along. And now this. I have no idea what to do. The only thing that I could think of was, well, you.”
He looked up at me, his eyes full of the emotions he was feeling. “That’s the only thing that’s kept me sane. Thinking about you. I could tell you. Maybe you could figure something out. You’re smarter than I am. You’ve always been the brains of the outfit.”
He was making a joke! I couldn’t believe it. He kept staring into my eyes and reached over and took my other hand. Then the quick lopsided grin that was one of the reasons I’d fallen in love with him faded, and he said, “You’re more than just the brains. You’re everything to me. You’ve gotten me this far, teaching me how to play the game right last year. All I could do before that was shoot and maybe dribble a little. You did the rest. You always can fix things. If this can be fixed, you’re the one who can do it. Help me, Dave. Please.”
I was silent, thinking. Eventually, I asked, “How can I help you without outing you? Are you sure no college would take you? There have to be gay basketball players in college.”
“Not that I’ve ever heard of. Maybe there are, but I’m sure they only came out when they were established on a team. Even then, I’ll bet the coaches left it up to the rest of the team if they wanted the guy on the team or not. Why would any school recruit someone that would might cause a publicity riot and disrupt their team? Someday, maybe things will change. But not now. Not in time for me. The only way I can play and get into college with a scholarship is if no one knows.”
I was shaking my head but then stopped. He already felt bad enough. “I’m going to think about it. You haven’t played since this happened, have you? You haven’t shaved points yet?”
“There haven’t been any games since this happened. No. I scored 46 points in my last game. Then this guy met me and told me what I had to do. I wrote you as soon as that happened.
“Today is Saturday. Our next game, our first playoff game, is Tuesday. That’s when the games matter more. That’s why he waited. You have to figure something out by then.”
“Tuesday! You mean . . . I have to come up with something in two days?”
He didn’t answer. He just dropped his head.
I didn’t see anything I could do, but I couldn’t stand to see him so defeated. I couldn’t just give up, even if this seemed impossible.
It would be easy to just go to his coach and tell him what was going on. The school principal could be told as well. But neither of them would protect his secret, and that’s what mattered to Chip. If they benched him, they’d be asked why the team’s best player wasn’t on the court, and eventually the reason would leak. If they didn’t bench him and he didn’t shave points, he’d be outed. Either way, he’d be ruined. His only way to escape that would be to shave points, or to fake an injury, and in either case, his team would probably lose. What was needed was a way to eliminate the threat to Chip without anyone knowing he was gay. And how in the world could I manage to do that? How could anyone?
＋ ＋ ＋ ＋
If a job seems impossible, usually it’s because you’re overwhelmed by the whole of it, the whole situation, the entire problem. Well, I thought about how problems get solved. When President Kennedy said we’d land a man on the moon, most everyone just shook their head. They were looking up at that remote moon—and at us stuck here on earth. Impossible.
But some people were looking at details. At what they knew, and what they still needed to figure out—the separate components of the problem—and they weren’t giving up; they were accepting Kennedy’s challenge, and they began by breaking it down into possibly solvable chunks of problems, thinking those through from that starting point.
I needed to spend some time with my parents, and though I hated to leave Chip, it wouldn’t be for long. I arranged to have breakfast with him the next day at a cafe we’d visited often during my senior year.
Over waffles for me, French toast with butter and syrup for him, I spoke. “Okay,” I said, trying to sound more positive than I was feeling. “I need to know exactly what’s what. Who made the threat? Was it anonymous or do you know who it was? What did you say—did you agree or say you’d think about it? If you said that, when did you say you’d tell them if you were going to do it or not?”
He lifted his head and started talking again. As he started answering all my questions, I found I had new ones to ask, and things began occurring to me. Most of them were then shot down by the added info he was giving me, but, little by little, by talking it through, the impossibility of the situation began to turn into ideas. I was like that. I liked problems, liked solving them, and I thought I was pretty decent at it. So, what was happening was what always happened when I was into a problem. Ideas were coming. Far-fetched ones, then possible ones. The impossibility of the situation was being reduced to maybes. Maybe I could do this, he could do that. Little by little, we were getting closer to a plan. I wasn’t there yet but did have some ideas.
From the little ideas I was having grew a bigger one, an outrageous one, but that’s what we needed. We needed a plan, and so what if it was off the wall; the question was: would it work? Could it? Yeah, that really was the question.
I’d always been pretty good at developing plans. Not that great at actually carrying them out, but developing them, yeah, I could do that. Getting it done by Tuesday—well, we’d have to see about that. We did have an ace in the hole. We had the perfect guy to carry out the moving parts of the plan, the parts I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of succeeding with: Chip. He’d always had this laid-back confidence that I’d never have. Not arrogance. Nothing like arrogance. He simply believed in himself. Just like on the basketball court, last year I’d seen him develop to the point that he knew where all the players were all the time, knew where the ball would be going next, which side of the rim it would bounce off after a shot so he could be in the perfect spot for the rebound. Chip was just a natural at most anything he put his mind to. He’d be a natural at this, too. I wouldn’t be able to pull it off; I’d be way too nervous. He could do it.
Among the things I asked was, who was it that was blackmailing him, threatening to out him.
He didn’t hesitate. “Tim,” he said.
He nodded. “He never did like me—at the barn. He liked being the best player there, and I guess he sorta thought maybe I was better than he was after you’d worked with me. Anyway, I knew he resented me. I could feel it. Doing this, he’s probably justifying it, thinking I deserve it. I’m kinda thinking even if we find a way to stop him, he’ll still out me when he can. I don’t know how you’d stop that unless you killed him.”
I looked at Chip. “I’m not planning to kill anyone. Besides, you’re the one who’s going to do all the work.”
It was a joke, but decidedly not a funny one.
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This story is Copyright © 2018-2019by Cole Parker. The image is Copyright © 2018-2019by Colin Kelly. They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. The original image is from Pixabay.com under the terms of Creative Commons License CC0. The Codey’s World web site has written permission to publish this story and the image. No other rights are granted.
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