Jake, a lonely young man bitter and hardened by the anger and hate that surrounded him growing up, meets Chance, a lonely young man isolated for no other reason than he was seen to be different. Can they offer each other the one thing they both need? Love.

This is told from Jake’s point of view. If any person, place, sport, conversation, or situation seems familiar, I assure you it is Jake’s fault and purely coincidental.

It’s What ‘Real’ Men Do, You Know

By Grant Bentley

Six years, that’s how long I waited to get out of that redneck hellhole of a town. Six years of listening to guys with the collective IQ of a maggot tell fag jokes. Six years of attacks and abuse on and off the school grounds. Six years of lying and hiding who I was. Six years of being told I should stop being such a pussy, get my nose out of those useless friggin’ books, grow some balls and play football or baseball like everyone else.

In junior high, the abuse and attacks were both physical and verbal. In high school, the abuse and attacks became verbal and usually from a distance but they were still attacks, it was still abuse and it still hurt. They knew I wouldn’t retaliate physically for their verbal attacks. Not that I couldn’t, as one of them learned the hard way.

School was tame compared to the six years at home with my father. I had to listen to his rants about fags, queers, sodomites, and the fact they’re all going to hell. And almost as bad, was listening to his idiotic explanations of what it took to be a man, which he always managed to somehow end with, “It’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.” I think he figured if he said it often enough, I would stop being a pathetic little ‘pussy boy’ (his term not mine) and turn into a ‘real’ man. That was something that wasn’t going to happen of course, because I would rather read a book than play football.

If that wasn’t enough, he was also the local sheriff and one mean son of a bitch. He had half the town scared shitless of him, so I wasn’t safe from prying eyes anywhere. He knew every move I made almost before I made it. God help me if I did anything he thought was even remotely gay. After his belt came off, there were times when I literally couldn’t sit down for days without being in pain. And, it didn’t matter how bruised and battered I was when I got to school because the teachers and principal were too scared of him to do anything. So I just suffered in silence.

However, all that ended when I was fifteen nearly sixteen, as did the physical abuse at school. Why you ask. There were two reasons actually. One was the result of the other. First, when I was twelve, my father forced me to get involved with a sport. It might make a man out of me he told me. Playing sports, it’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.

I didn’t realize it at the time, and neither did he, but he may have saved my life by doing that. I had to get involved in some sport. I had no choice. He assumed I would choose some team sport but he was wrong. I wasn’t going to play football that was for sure. First, I hated the game and second, I was way too small and would have most likely been seriously injured or killed. Baseball is more boring and stupid than football, so that was out. I thought for a while and asked myself, ‘what would really impress the hell out of my father.’  Then it came to me. I needed to find a sport where I would have the ability to kill people, you know, like a ‘real’ man.

It just happened that a young ex-marine, Ross Ellington, had started up a karate school in town, so I signed up. Unfortunately, it was mostly girls and young kids in the course. I think I was the only guy over ten. The other guys at school, being rough and tough muscle bound farm boys thought it was for girls and pussy boys. So did my father. Obviously, they were right, I was in it. But I worked my ass off and in less than four years, I became a walking, talking lethal weapon and everything changed, which brings up the second reason.

The quarterback of football team decided that he was going to show off for his buddies by kicking the pussy boy’s ass one afternoon. He was six three and a hundred and ninety pounds to my five eight and a hundred and thirty pounds. He didn’t know what hit him and the “fight’ was over in ten seconds. I spun around and lifted off the ground. My right foot made contact with his jaw, breaking it, just before my left foot made contact with his ribs, breaking two of them. The instant I landed, and before he had time to fall backwards, I struck him twice in the throat. I turned and walked away leaving him gasping for breath and crying out in pain. I also left his buddies standing awestruck by what they had just witnessed.

Needless to say, things changed dramatically for me after that. Suddenly my classmates and more importantly, my father became aware that at fifteen, I could take any one of them out. To help my cause, I let them know that the hate they felt for me paled in comparison to the hate I felt for them. I made it perfectly clear that if any one of them ever attacked me physically, I wouldn’t hold back next time. And I made sure they knew their beloved quarterback was still alive only because I allowed him to be. The next person might not be so lucky. I would make sure they got the first swing and it would be self-defence. It’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.

Even my father’s rants, became less frequent but they didn’t stop. The man was too redneck and too stupid to back off totally. I was still a pathetic little pussy boy even if he was now afraid of me. He knew, as did the guys at school, that Ross had been instilled in us that karate was for self-defence only and, being the honourable person I am, I would never take the initiative and attack him. But if he ever attacked me, physically, as I said, I wouldn’t have held back and he knew it. Therefore, the physical threats and beatings stopped altogether. Almost that is. A couple of months after the quarterback incident, he came home drunk one night and started in on me.

Instead of cowering like I used to, I walked straight towards him, “Bring it on,” I yelled at him, “I’ve been waiting for this chance for years, so please, bring it on. Hit me, come on, hit me, just once. But you better make it good.”

He actually ran through the screen door without opening it and then proceeded to fall down the front steps onto the sidewalk. He had a black eye and his face was swollen and all scratched up for weeks. And I never touched him. It was great. God I hated him. It wasn’t until I calmed down that I realized I was probably lucky he didn’t have his gun on him.

If you’re wondering where my mother was during all this, she was killed by a drunk driver when I was twelve, so it was just my father and I. And get this. Since my father was the local sheriff at the time and it was one of his close friends, the guy didn’t even get charged. In fact my father wrote up the accident report with my mother running the stop sign. Considering where the vehicles ended up, it was obvious that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, no one in town had the balls to dispute his ‘findings’. That just added to my list of reasons to hate him. ‘Helping out a buddy’ he called it. It’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.

Over those six years, I had come to believe there were only three emotions, fear, anger, and hate. They were the only emotions I ever saw and certainly the only ones I ever felt. God, I hated my life. There were several times I just wanted to end it all. If it wasn’t for Ross and my karate training, I might have. Ross turned out to be a great guy and became not just my sensei but also my only friend. He listened and I talked. I honestly think I am alive today because of him.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention somewhere in here; I’m gay. But I’m thinking you already figured that out by now. I figured it out when I was thirteen, just a few months after my Mom was killed. It was the single scariest time of my life. Not that they didn’t hate me anyway, but it was like the icing on the cake. Never mind not liking football or spending too much time reading or making high marks. That was nothing compared to being a fag. It made me everything my father and the guys at school hated.

But, I’m gone now, out of there, history. Those books I had my nose buried in. They were my ticket out. They got me a scholarship out of there and nothing on the face of this earth will get me to go back.  I even won the ‘honour’ of being senior class valedictorian. The principal called me into his office one day and announced it to me as if he thought I would actually be thrilled or something. I will never forget the look on his face when I told him exactly where to shove it and how deep. God, they didn’t actually think I was going to attend their pathetic grad ceremonies did they?

I don’t sound bitter do I? If I do, I’m sorry. And I hope I’m not coming off sounding like some whining little hard done by brat, because I’m not. Deep down, I happen to be a genuinely nice guy. I know it doesn’t sound like it so far, but seriously, I am. Think about it. All through high school I was surrounded by homophobic idiots including my father, had a black belt in karate, and I didn’t kill anyone. It’s only logical; I must be a nice guy. Okay, I broke a couple bones, and the guy still sounds like a bullfrog but that was self-defence. I wasn’t going to stand there and let him kick my ass, I’m not stupid and besides, it’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.

And in the looks department, can’t leave that out now can we?  As I said, I’m five eight and weigh a hundred and thirty pounds, a lean, mean, fighting machine, that’s me. I have a great tan from working on a local farm all summer. I have brown hair and very dark brown eyes, a perky little nose with a smattering of freckles across it. Oh, and I have dimples too. How cute is that?

So, here I am, cute as hell and getting off a plane ready to start my new life. More than a thousand miles lie between that hellhole and me. Not just distance either, but a border separates me as well. I didn’t even want to be in the same country as them, so I applied to a university outside the US. I’m going to be attending McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

I did a lot of research in my freshman year of high school. I wanted to find the perfect university in the perfect city that was as far away as possible. I came up with McGill in Montreal. You may not agree with me, but so what, whose life am I living, yours or mine? For those of you who really need to know why I chose McGill. Two reasons, one, it’s near the top of the list of quality universities in North America and, two, Montreal also has one of the largest gay villages in North America. I could finally be me in a totally accepting environment. Oh, and one more thing. In Canada, you are old enough to go to the bars and nightclubs at eighteen. And there are at least ten gay nightclubs along St. Catherine’s Street in the village. What more could I ask for?

A boyfriend would be nice. But hey, give me a couple of weeks.

Anyway, I’m rambling again, so back to the airport. I can’t explain the feelings I was experiencing as I walked off the plane and into the terminal. It was like a hundred birthdays and Christmases rolled in to one. My entire body felt alive with the excitement. I looked around and realized not one person here hated me because I was the sheriff’s kid, because I was gay, because I was a bookworm or because I hated football. Every thing was new, every person was new, I was new. If I weren’t so self-conscious I would have broken into some song from The Sound of Music and done the happy dance all the way to customs. But that wouldn’t be what a ‘real’ man would do, would it? Besides, I wanted to live in a nice little university dorm room, not a padded room.

It took about thirty minutes to get through customs and out of the airport. I picked the closest of about twenty cabs and I was on my way to McGill. I arrived on campus about twenty minutes later. I was now standing on the sidewalk with my luggage beside me as I tried to figure out which building I needed to go to. About twelve people walked right by me, but of course, I didn’t ask for directions. It’s not what ‘real’ men do, you know.

I was just about cave into my less manly instinct and dig the map of the campus out of my backpack when someone came up behind me.

“You look a little lost,” he said startling the hell out of me. I jumped and spun around only to find the cutest guy I think I have ever seen standing there. No, definitely the cutest guy I have ever seen. He was about five feet tall with very red hair, tons of freckles, blue eyes and the cutest smile ever. Did I say give me a couple of weeks? Maybe not.

“Excuse me?” I asked. It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand him; I was just too taken aback for my brain to actually register what he said.

“You look a little lost,” he said a more slowly this time and with a slight grin. Oh my God, he had the coolest French accent.

“Yeah, totally,” I replied.

“No wonder, you sound like you’re a long way from home,” he remarked laughing, “Arkansas, Alabama?” He’d picked up on my accent in four words. I thought. ‘Wow, not bad.’

“Alabama,” I answered.

“Wow, cool. Say, are all the local sheriffs as scary as we see in movies?” he asked.

“Some are worse,” I replied with a laugh. However, I didn’t mention I was thinking of my father.

“Chance,” he said as he reached out his hand with an unsteady motion. I had to move my hand around a bit to catch his so I could shake it. He didn’t even grip my hand, which I thought unusual so I was careful not to use my normal grip on him. Where I come from, you squeeze the other guy’s hand like you’re trying to break it. Just to prove how strong and tough you are. It’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.

 “I love your accent by the way,” he said.

“Jake,” I responded, “Thanks, I love yours too.”

“Thanks,” he said smiling.

“So, Jake, I assume you’re going to be a freshman at McGill this fall and you’re probably looking for the admin building, right?” he asked.

Wow, not only was he gorgeous but he obviously had an IQ at least a hundred points higher than any of the guys back home. I mean back where I came from. ‘Two things in his favour already’ I thought. 

“Yeah, I am,” I said.

“Come on then,” he said, “I’ll show you the way.”

Up until then, I hadn’t realized he had a cane. Actually, I hadn’t taken in anything beyond how gorgeous he was. When he started walking, I couldn’t help but notice that he had a lot of difficulty. Both legs were sort of stiff and didn’t seem to want to move properly for him. Also, his entire body swayed back and forth as he walked. I felt the urge to reach out to help him but instinctively knew that would have been a bad move. So I threw my backpack over my shoulder, grabbed my suitcases and started walking with him towards the very large old building I had been staring at when he approached me.

“I hope you’re not in a hurry,” he said laughing, “Speed’s not one of my specialties. I tried out for the track team last year and the assholes cut me after the first day of tryouts.”

“No shit,” I said.

“Yeah, no shit. I figured the hundred yard dash in under ten was pretty good,” he said grinning, before adding, “minutes that is. Apparently the coach didn’t think so.”

“What the hell do they know,” I responded laughing.

“I’m going to tryout for the swim team this year,” he said.

“Oh, really?” I asked sounding a little surprised.

“Why not?” he responded with a little edge to his voice.

”No reason,” I replied, “As long as you can swim.”

“Oh shit,” he exclaimed, “Never thought of that. I guess it’s going to have to be the diving team then.”

I looked at him and laughed.

“What?” he asked with a grin.

I just shook my head.

We continued our conversation as we made our way up to the admin building. He asked me about Alabama. I told him I hated every minute of the last six years there. I didn’t want to give him a bad impression of the whole state so I was careful to explain that the town I came from sucked, at least for me, but that Alabama itself I thought was pretty cool. He didn’t ask for any details for which I was grateful.

I found that he was a native of Montreal. He was a sophomore at McGill and a psychology major. I laughed and told him that was my major as well, so he could help me ace the program. Since he would be one year ahead of me all the way through he could help me with all my projects and papers. He just laughed and wished me luck.

As we approached the front steps, he turned to the right and around the side was a wheelchair ramp. He had to sort of grab onto the railing to help himself up the ramp. I walked a bit behind him just in case but he had no problems.

Once we were inside, he led me to an office where a very pleasant young lady greeted us. She gave me a big smile and did that nasty girl flirting thing. Eewwww. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she did absolutely nothing for me. Well, actually she did. She gave me a bunch of forms to fill out. It took me about fifteen minutes to get them done. Chance patiently waited for me to finish. I assumed he would take off as soon as he got me to where I was going, but he didn’t. I was glad. I really wanted to get to know him.

The young lady asked me if I had been given a residence assignment with my initial information package. I told her it was Gardner Hall but they hadn’t specified a room. Chance immediately stepped in and stated he was in Gardner Hall and didn’t have a roommate yet. He looked at me hopefully and suggested I should bunk in with him. Since we seemed to be getting along, I already thought he was a great guy, and as I said, I wanted to get to know him better, I agreed immediately.  She didn’t think there would be a problem with it and asked Chance which room he was in. It was 429. She looked it up and no one was assigned to be his roommate, so I was in. She went into the office and came out with the key and gave me another packet of information about orientation and my class schedule and we were off.

It wasn’t far to Gardner Hall and we were there in fifteen minutes. Again, we chatted about whatever came to mind. As we talked, it became evident that Chance was a very strong willed person and he definitely had a wicked sense of humour. It didn’t take long to decide this was going to be a good arrangement. I already knew one thing; it sure as hell wasn’t going to be boring. I was also beginning to really like him and the hope that we played for the same team crossed my mind several times.

As soon as we were in our room, Chance threw his cane onto one of the beds, so being the intelligent person I am, I assumed it was his and, after dropping my luggage at the foot of the other bed, I flopped down on it with a groan. I was exhausted.

“Long day?” he asked.

“Very,” I replied.

“I can imagine what with your flight and all,” he said.

“Yeah, I feel like I could sleep for a week right now,” I told him.

“I can’t promise I’ll be quiet for a week, but if you’re ready to crash for the night, I will be quiet until the morning,” he said with a grin.

“Thanks,” I said, “But I don’t think it would be a good idea yet. I’d probably be awake at four in the morning if I went to sleep now.”

“Yeah no doubt,” he replied as he sat down and then stretched out on his bed.

As we rested there, I looked around the room. He didn’t have a lot of posters and crap on his wall, but he did have a couple of pictures of soccer players and four of swimmers and divers in their Speedos. He had one of Thomas Finchum that would make a straight guy drool.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought, ‘maybe.’

The next thing I knew, Chance was waking me up telling me I needed to get ready for orientation. It took about fifteen seconds or so before I got my bearings and realized where I was. I guess I fell asleep about two minutes after I told him I shouldn’t and since I was sleeping so soundly, he just took my shoes off, covered me with a blanket and let me sleep. Thankfully I slept through the night.

“Morning,” he said once he figured I was awake enough to respond.

“Morning,” I replied staring at him bleary eyed. (I was bleary eyed, not him.)

“You must have been tired,” he said, “I don’t think you moved all night.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said, still not quite fully awake.

I did finally manage to get up, shower, and change. As I still had more than half an hour till orientation, Chance suggested we go to the cafeteria and have breakfast. It was then that I realized I was starving. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before and breakfast sounded real good.

After breakfast, Chance showed which building to go to and told me to just follow the crowd as everyone there would be going to the orientation. The whole thing only lasted about forty minutes and they really didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. The best part was the tables set out with snacks and coffee, which gave everyone a chance to mingle and meet some of the other freshmen. Since I hadn’t even unpacked yet, after about an hour I’d had enough mingling and decided to go back to the dorm to do so. When I walked into the room, Chance was doing something on his laptop. He shut it down as soon as I entered the room.

“So how was orientation?” he asked as he turned to face me blushing a little.

“It was okay,” I replied, “Nothing earth shattering, but I did get to meet some of the other freshmen.”

“Meet anyone interesting?” he asked.

“No not really,” I said and he smiled.

“So, you want to go for lunch?” he asked.

“I’m not exactly hungry. They fed us a bunch of crap at the orientation.”

“Oh yeah, right. I forgot about that,” he said, “Want to join me anyway? Have a coffee or something and watch me eat? It can be pretty entertaining,” he added chuckling.

“I haven’t even begun to unpack yet,” I told him.

“You have all afternoon to do that and I can help if you want,” he responded.

“Yeah, okay then,” I said.

“Okay, lets go, I’m starving,” he said with another chuckle.

We made our way over to the cafeteria and Chance picked out what he wanted, including a coffee for me, and we put it all on one tray. I picked up the tray and we were walking across the room to a table when Chance accidentally bumped into some guy who was getting up from a table.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Watch where you’re going retard,” the guy growled.

Big mistake. It was one thing to badmouth me, but a whole other thing to badmouth Chance. I set our tray down on the nearest table, and before the guy could react, I grabbed him by the throat and told him to apologize. Instead, he tried to pull back so he could get a swing at me. Another big mistake as I tightened my grip on his larynx and squeezed hard. If no one has ever done that to you, trust me, it hurts. It’s enough to make even the biggest asshole cooperative.

I stared right into his eyes and in as menacing a tone as I could come up with I said to him, “Two things. One, I’m a black belt. And, two, if you ever want to speak again, you WILL apologize or I’m going to rip your throat out.”

He just nodded his head slightly and I loosened my grip but didn’t let go. “Let’s hear it,” I said.

“Sorry,” he barely croaked.

“Thank you,” I said as I let go of his throat, picked up our tray and nodded to Chance to head off to find a table. We could hear the guy gasping and coughing trying to readjust his larynx as we walked away.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Chance said as soon as we sat down.

“Yes I did,” I replied, “What he said was ignorant and uncalled for and it really pissed me off.”  

“Maybe,” he responded, “But you can’t do that every time some asshole, who doesn’t know any better, makes an ignorant remark. I’ve survived nineteen years without a bodyguard. I appreciate your concern, I really do, but it’s going to happen again and I can’t have you ripping peoples’ throats out every time it does. We’ll have a bunch of guys having to learn ASL if you do.”

“Okay, sorry,” I apologized, “But it really pissed me off and I can’t guarantee I won’t do it again, but I promise I’ll do my very best to behave.”

“You better,” he said.

He looked at me for a few seconds before smiling and saying, “You know, you’re the first person to stand up for me like that. Thanks. It felt good. But please don’t be doing it again okay?”

“Yeah, I got it the first time. No ripping out throats.” I said with a laugh, “How about I rip their balls off instead?”

“Right, so we’ll have a bunch guys running around with high voices. I don’t think so. Now, listen carefully, no ripping off body parts period,” he said laughing.

“Your food’s getting cold,” I told him.

He just grinned at me and started eating.

A couple of days later, I ran into the same guy from the cafeteria in the library. I was working on a research paper for a psych course when I saw him approach the table I was sitting at. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel anger instantly overwhelm me, as it would have a few weeks ago.

“Got a minute?” he asked me, his voice still sounding a little croaky.

I looked at him for a few seconds before nodding. “Yeah, I guess,” I said.

“Look I’m really sorry about the incident with your friend the other day,” he said, “I didn’t mean what I said to him. In fact I didn’t even look at him before I said it. If you had bumped into me instead of him, I would have said the same thing to you. It’s one of those stupid things you pick up and say without thinking. If I’d seen him before he bumped into me, I never would have said it.”

“Thanks,” I responded, “I’m sorry too. I kinda overreacted. He gave me shit for it.”

“No, you were protecting a friend,” he replied, “I would have done the same thing, probably worse. My little brother has Cerebral Palsy too, and if some asshole had said that to him, I probably would have put him in the hospital. So I know where you were coming from.”

He then reached out his hand and smiled as he said, “I’m Paul Reed by the way. Friends?”

I smiled back, gripped his hand and shook it and replied, “Jake Bowman, Yeah, Friends.”

“Thanks,” he said, “I got a research paper to do so I better get going. Catch ya later.” And he was off.

As he walked away, it dawned on me that Chance had Cerebral Palsy. He had difficulty with muscle coordination that was obvious, but I hadn’t put a name to it. Actually, I never tried.  It was just part of who he was and putting a name to it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. I was falling for him and that’s all that mattered.

Oh, and I did get unpacked by the way. That in it self was an experience as Chance found a lot of my possessions particularly amusing, especially my smiley briefs and a couple of my lumberjack shirts as he called them. The entire process pretty much involved his holding up some garment he found in my suitcase and laughing; me saying, “Fuck you;” him laughing even harder then throwing it in the trash; me retrieving it and putting it in my dresser. After we were finally done, he insisted we go shopping for clothes. He didn’t think he could handle being seen in public with me wearing some of the stuff he found in my suitcases. Apparently there is a limit to the amount of embarrassment the human brain can handle before it shuts down, or so he said. God I was so falling in love with him.

Over the next few weeks, we got into a routine. We always had breakfast and dinner together, sometimes lunch if our timetables allowed. If we had assignments to do, I often worked in the library. Chance would always work in our room. Part of the reason for that was that he would use a recorder to make oral notes when reading a textbook as he had limited use of his hands and didn’t have the fine coordination to write. 

Keyboarding was also a problem so his laptop was voice activated. It was the coolest thing. He would dictate notes, essays and research projects and it would write them up as a Word doc. The only problem was, if I was in the room and he said something to me without pausing it, it would type that into his essay. Usually he would catch anything when he proofread it, but I’m sure some things got by him and gave the Profs a good laugh.

During our discussions I learned that high school had not been as bad for him as it had for me, at least as far as harassment was concerned. Junior high was a whole other story and he didn’t even want to go there. But, his high school had zero tolerance for bullying so he had been pretty much left alone. Although that, in itself, had been a problem as he was, just that, left alone, literally.

Unfortunately most of the kids had difficulty overlooking his CP and found it easier to just ignore him. Few had tried to make friends with him or even talk to him. He did have three close friends from high school though. Two of them were at McGill, Karen and Sheila. I got to meet them on several occasions. They were both very attractive and full of life. When the four of us got together it was a blast. We all had the same sense of humour and managed to make a scene wherever we went. I’m sure there are several places that won’t let us in again if we ever try to go back.

What he had told me about being ignored hit home one day at lunch, we walked into the cafeteria and there were four people standing in line waiting for their orders. They watched us walk in and as we got closer, they all turned away. Once we were standing right behind them, Chance said, “Hi,” to them. Three of them pretended they didn’t hear him. The fourth turned, smiled and replied, “Hi.” but picked up his order and left as quickly as he could.

After we got our lunches and sat down, he looked at me. He wasn’t smiling, so he obviously wasn’t happy which was unusual.

“Fuck that pisses me off sometimes,” he told me, “You have no idea. You can be surrounded by hundreds of people and be totally alone. You walk down the hallway and everyone moves away from you. It’s like the parting of the Red Sea. Or you say something to them and they pretend they didn’t hear you like those guys.”

“You’re right I can’t imagine,” I replied, “For me it was the opposite.”

“Why?” he asked, “Why can’t people see past my CP? I mean, yeah, I have trouble walking and can’t use my hands properly. But that’s the only difference between me and you or anyone else. Why can’t they see past it? It’s so fucking frustrating sometimes.”

“Yeah I’m sure it is,” I said, “But it’s not a problem with you it’s a problem with them. It’s their own self-consciousness.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well because you are different and it’s visible, I think they’re afraid of doing something to offend you, like stare, or say the wrong thing. It’s unfamiliar territory. They’re insecure and don’t know how to react, so it’s easier to walk away. People don’t like to feel insecure,” I said, “Most people will avoid anything they see as different. Think about it. If someone has a huge hairy mole on their cheek, you tend to look at anything but their face even when you’re talking to them. Why? Because you think…they think…you are staring at their mole. You look everywhere but at their face. Even if you were looking at their mole, they’ve had it all their lives so they probably couldn’t care less. You’re the one feeling uncomfortable, not them. If they didn’t have a mole, you would look right at them. Right?”

If nothing else, my analogy struck him as funny, took him out of his funk and had him laughing and joking again.

“You are so fucked,” he said laughing, “So basically what you’re saying is I’m like a huge hairy mole that has difficulty walking so I make people self-conscious.”

“Yeah pretty much,” I replied with a grin.

“If I could make a fist, I’d punch you out for that,” he threatened with a chuckle.

“No, no, no, black belt, remember,” I said laughing.

Our conversation became much lighter after that and we finished our lunch feeling much more relaxed. As we got up to leave, he looked at me and smiled. “Thanks,” he said then laughed as he added, “But you’re still fucked.”

I just smiled at him and blew him a kiss. God I was so in love with him.

The more I got to know him, the more I learned about him, the more I came to love him and the closer we became. I did eventually open up to him. I told him about the harassment at school, my father the sheriff, my mother’s death and how the guy got away with it. But I kept my deepest secret hidden. I wasn’t ready to tell him about that part of me. Not yet. I thought I was picking up little hints from some of the things he said and his posters. Oh my God, his posters.  It all made me think that maybe he was gay and maybe he liked me the same way. I knew he liked me, but. There was always but.

Growing up where I did, my gaydar was non-functional. I wasn’t sure if the hints were real or just wishful thinking. I had seen so much hate and rejection in my life that despite the signs he would be accepting the fear always won out. Finally, one day, I decided that I was being stupid. I wouldn’t jump right in and tell him I was in love with him, obviously, but I would start out by telling him I was gay. One step at a time I thought. I knew he wouldn’t reject me. He wasn’t that kind of guy. If he wasn’t gay and didn’t feel the same way, at least we would still be friends. I thought I could live with that. I started think of ways to bring it up and to practise what I was going to say to him.

Over the next few days, however, I noticed a change in him.  He was becoming really quiet. He wasn’t his usual happy, confident, joking self and he seemed to be growing more solemn and withdrawn every day. I asked him if everything was okay. He just said he had a lot of stuff on his mind at the moment and not to worry.

I’m sorry, but it worried me anyway. I decided to hold off saying anything to him about being gay. But, I decided if he didn’t say something about what was bothering him that night; I was going to ask him what was wrong in morning and insist on a proper answer not just ‘stuff on his mind.’

After we had gone to bed and he had been lying there quietly reading for a few minutes, he put down the book and in almost a whisper, said “Jake.”

“Yeah?” I responded quietly.

“Thanks,” he said.

“For what?” I asked.

“Being so cool and being such a good friend,” he replied.

“You’re welcome, I guess,” I told him, “It works both ways though you know. You’ve been a good friend too.”

“Yeah, but with you, it’s been different,” he went on, “From the first time we met, you treated me like a regular guy.”

“You are a regular guy,” I said.

“Yeah, but you’re one of the few people who’s noticed,” he said with a forced little laugh.

“And you love me for it, right?” I asked laughing.

He was quiet for a several seconds and I was afraid I’d really put my foot in it but then he went on to say, “You have no idea how much it means to me.”

“Like I said, it goes both ways, you took in this backwoods little hillbilly from Alabama and have been my best friend since I got here,” I told him.

There was a long pause in our conversation. I think we were both thinking of the possibilities. I know I was. It seemed like there was more going on than just his expressing his appreciation for my friendship. I really hoped there was. He hadn’t blown off my comment about loving me. That somehow gave me hope so I decided I needed to tell him I was gay. The time just seemed right somehow.

Finally I said to him, “Friends aren’t something I’ve had a lot of in my life.”

“You’re kidding,” he said as he turned his head to look at me, “You’re good looking, outgoing, fun to be around, why would you have trouble making friends”

“I didn’t have trouble making friends, I just didn’t want friends because I didn’t want any of the assholes I grew up with to be my friend,” I said.

“Why not?” he asked, “What was wrong with them?”

Okay, ‘here goes’ I thought, as I replied, “They were all a bunch of homophobic jerks.”

“Oh?” he responded inquisitively.

“Yeah, and I’m one of the people they were homophobic about,” I said as my voice trailed off.

There, I’d done it. I came out and I was scared to death. Not because I was now out, but because I was out to the one person I wanted desperately to like me? No, that I wanted desperately to love me.

As soon as I said it, he sat up on the side of his bed and just stared at me.

After about a minute, I couldn’t take it any longer and I began to tear up. I turned my head towards him and finally asked, “Say something, please.”

I could feel the tears running down into my ear. I so didn’t want to cry. It’s not something a ‘real’ man would do, you know.

After a few more seconds, he got up, came over and sat on the side of my bed. He just looked at me for a minute. I turned so I could look into his eyes. They were as full of tears as mine, and ready to overflow.

He reached over and brushed my hair back off my forehead, then ran the back of his hand across my cheek and smiled.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked, “I need to know.”

I reached up and took his hand in mine, brought it to my lips, kissed it gently and smiled at him.

“Oh, God,” he whispered.

It was then I knew our feelings for each other were mutual. I sat up and pulled him into my arms. He wrapped his arms around me, pressed his face into my neck and began to cry. That started my tears in earnest too and we sat for several minutes, holding each other and crying.

Eventually, I pulled back and looked into his eyes. I didn’t know what love looked like since I had never seen it, but I was pretty sure what I saw in his eyes was love. I leaned in and kissed him. His lips felt so soft, soft and gentle, like him. It was probably one of the most unusual kisses ever as we were both still crying. But it was my first kiss, it was with Chance and it was perfect.

We did finally stop crying. But we didn’t stop kissing. I flipped the covers off the far side of the bed and began to lie back pulling Chance down with me. He managed to wriggle under the edge of the covers and I flipped them back over both of us. He immediately moved so he was half on top of me with one leg between mine. There are no words to describe how that felt. If the world ended at that moment, my life would have been complete.

“You don’t know how much I’ve prayed for this,” he said, “I never in my wildest dreams expected you could love me.”

“You took my breath away the moment I saw you,” I responded, “I’ve loved you ever since.”

“I love you so much,” he said.

I know at this point, I should be thinking how amazing it felt to have his nearly naked body against mine. And it did, believe me. Or I should be thinking about making mad passionate love to him. And I was, believe that too.

But the most imposing thought was that he loved me. Chance loved me! At that moment, I felt every ounce of anger, hate and bitterness from the past evaporate and lift off my shoulders.

I had dreamed of what it would be like to hold someone like this but lying here in Chance’s arms was so far beyond anything I had ever imagined. I hugged him tighter, kissed his forehead and smiled as I thought, ‘It’s what ‘real’ men do, you know.’