I prayed for the strength to hang on to Joey and that he would be okay. I had him by his left wrist, but I couldn't feel any pressure from him holding onto mine.
While I prayed, Roger crawled up beside me, and then on closer to the edge. I closed my eyes and strengthened my death grip I had on Joey's wrist. No, no, no, I thought when I realized the combination of words that swam through my mind -- death grip. I couldn't lose Joey, not now. It just wasn't fair to either of us. Joey, freshly rescued from his religious fanatic of a father, had just begun a new life for himself where he was safe, and I was in love with him!
"Andy, look at me," Roger yelled.
I opened my eyes and drove the pain in my ribs and heart down enough to be able to focus on Roger.
"Good," A brief smile formed on Roger's lips, as I shook my head and focused harder on him. "Now I want you to take your left hand and grab a hold of my belt in the back and hold on tight."
I nodded I understood, as I reached out with my free hand and took a hold of his belt.
He then turned back towards the edge and reached over it. I could hear him saying something, but I couldn't make it out. The next thing I knew, I could feel Joey's hand tightened and then pulled on mine to get back up over the edge. Roger started to scoot back inches at a time with his hand holding on tight to Joey's other hand. Finally, I could see Joey's blond head, then his face rise above the edge, and it was clear that he was in shock with his face as white as a sheet.
Both Roger and I continued to pull him up and over the edge, until we were all three back away from the edge and what could have been a tragedy that would have ended my world.
As we were lying there trying to catch our breath and calm down from the shock of everything, I realized I still had a vice-like hold on Joey's hand. When I tried to loosen it, Joey squeezed it tighter.
I turned and saw that Joey's color had returned to his face, but he was sweating like a politician on Election Day. I squeezed his hand back and he turned his face towards me.
"Are you okay?" I asked, with my voice full of concern and worry.
"Yeah, I think so." He tried to smile, but he was visually shaken by the ordeal.
"Roger. You okay?" I called over to Roger on the other side of Joey.
"I'm so sorry guys." He sobbed. "That was entirely my fault. I could have gotten you both killed!"
Fighting back the pain, I tried to rise into a sitting position so I could look over at Roger. He had an arm across his eyes and his tears were flowing down both flushed cheeks. I saw Joey place his free hand on the arm Roger had clutched at his side.
"Roger, look at me please," I demanded, as he had done me earlier.
He used the arm across his eyes to wipe the tears from them before he dropped it across his quickly rising and falling chest, and then his eyes found mine.
"Roger, you have to know you saved Joey."
"Are you okay, Andy?" He asked, ignoring my comment.
I glared at him for a second. Then I softened my eyes, after I saw the concern in his.
"I don't know."
My answer had both of them up and staring at me with concern. I briefly looked away. I guess I was embarrassed a little, but I looked back to Joey and into his eyes.
Lost in Joey's eyes, I didn't hear the next few questions thrown at me.
Simultaneously, Joey and Roger said, "Andy! Are you okay?" Hearing them in stereo, I was shaken back to consciousness.
"We asked where you were hurt and you just seemed to space out," Joey said, with a very weak smile.
I knew they were concerned about me, but after I had just about lost the boy I loved with all my heart, I never felt better with him alive and by my side. I also wasn't about to ruin Joey's first time up here.
"Guys, I'm fine. I just had the breath knocked out of me when I landed on the rock."
Joey collapsed across my chest hugging me tightly. I closed my eyes and hoped Roger didn't see the expression I made from the pain.
"There's only two times in my life I ever felt like I was going to die, the last time my father beat me and today. I froze. I heard you asking me if I was okay, but I couldn't answer. I don't know why." Joey trembled as he spoke. "Just before I saw Roger leaning over the edge, I realized you were holding on to me and I knew I was safe. I mean, I knew you wouldn't let go and everything would work out somehow."
I kissed the top of his blond head. "I told ya that I wanted to be with you every second of every day. I also wanted to be there for you when you needed me, and that I would walk through hell in gasoline underwear to help you. I meant all of that." That last bit seemed to break the tension, because it got a giggle from Joey and a laugh from Roger.
"Why don't we head down to the cave and set up camp before it gets dark on us?" I suggested, trying to change the subject.
Roger spoke up, "You two grab the little coolers, and I'll get the backpacks. Both of you are a little banged up."
"No Roger," Joey said, leaving no doubt about what he intended us to do. "Except for losing 10 years off my life hanging over that cliff, I'm fine. You take Andy's backpack, I'll take mine, and Andy can carry the coolers."
"Whoa, wait a minute here. Who said anything was wrong with me and that I couldn't take care of my own stuff?" I really didn't mind them showing concern, but come on, I wasn't the one that fell over the cliff and almost died. It was embarrassing me, and I still had my pride.
"Andy," Roger started, as he walked over to me and laid his hand on my shoulder. "Maybe for Joey, seeing you huffing and puffing isn't out of the ordinary, but I could tell once we got up here that you were out of breath." I focused on the panoramic view behind him, but he wasn't done. "I also know that you probably bruised your ribs on the rock when you threw yourself to the ground, trying to hang onto Joey. Maybe, you even strained your arm from the weight of hanging on. Joey didn't see your grimace when he hugged you, but I did. Should I go on Mr. I'm Fine Can't Show the World My Pain Collins?"
I had been gently, but thoroughly scolded like a five-year-old. I was even more embarrassed than I had been. Roger's eyes carefully studied me and waited for my answer. I glanced at Joey and saw both concern and pride in his eyes. I nodded to Roger, walked over, picked up the two small coolers, and waited for them, without saying another word.
Roger playfully nudged Joey, "Brother of mine, you stick with me, and I'll teach you how to control the infamous Collins' pride."
I just glared at Roger and didn't say a word, but I have to admit, I was thankful that I had a best friend like Roger. I also knew Roger felt guilty for what happened to Joey, and seeing him back to his normal self, made me feel better, too.
After mom died, Roger took on the role of my protector, because I had withdrawn from almost everyone, and didn't I care what the other kids said or did concerning my apparent catatonic state at school. I knew exactly what was happening. I just didn't care at the time. Even though I never let on, I knew whenever someone made some smartass crack at me at school that after I walked away and ignored it, Roger always told them to back off and keep their thoughts to themselves, or else. One of the things in life that I never doubted for a moment was that Roger always had my best interest in mind.
Therefore, I pushed down my pride and embarrassment and asked, "Well, are we going to stand here all day and talk about me as if I wasn't even here and let the sun set before we make camp, or are we going to hit the road?"
I let them lead the way, because I didn't want either of them to know I was hurting. I wasn't a kid anymore and could suck it up and not allow it to add one more worry to Joey's life. His life before was filled with worries. Today, my goal is to make his life worry free. Besides, I figured I had just bruised myself when I fell on the rock. I mean, it is a rock and not a large pillow. We finally got our shit together, but took our time, and we made it to the cave and campsite in less than 15 minutes.
Roger and Joey took it upon themselves to gather firewood and make a fire pit, and I unpacked our backpacks, laid out the sleeping bags, and made sure we had brought the hot dogs in the coolers.
Roger had a nice fire going, and he had pulled some logs over so we could sit around the fire, without sitting on the ground. Either way was good with me, but sitting like this was probably better for my side. We cooked the hotdogs and talked about what some of our classmates were like so Joey would know what to expect as the year went on.
After we ate, we told tales about ourselves. Roger told the most embarrassing stories about me, but I got in a few about him, too.
"I remember one time we were at the city swimming pool when we were like four or five years old and Roger demanded that his mom get him a bathing suit like Tracy Moore's. He thought having a two piece bathing suit was too cool and he wanted one just like it." I was barely able to tell the story without busting a gut, and Joey wasn't able to hold it in at all. Poor Roger turned every shade of red at least once.
"Hey, I could have pulled it off." Roger winked.
"That's what everyone was afraid of." I laughed.
"Uh... guys," Roger stood and brushed off his gym trunks. "I'm going to find some more firewood and look around some while I'm at it. It's really a beautiful night."
"Okay Rog," I called to his back as he disappeared into the darkness beyond the small campfire we had going.
I knew what he was doing and even though I was in a little pain, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity he was giving us. I reached over, took Joey's hand in mine, intertwined our fingers, and moved to our sleeping bags. Then staring into each other's eyes, Joey and I laid back. After we settled ourselves into a comfortable position, we turned our gaze up into a moonless sky lit by billions of stars.
"Roger's right, it's so beautiful," Joey whispered, as if he was afraid too much noise would cause this extraordinary sight to dissolve into a mist and carried away on a gentle breeze like some great illusion.
Still holding his hand, I stood. When I took in the vision that rivaled the heavens above, I could see the star lights sparkle in Joey's eyes, and it almost left me speechless.
"Come with me." I coaxed with my million-watt smile.
His pearly whites shined as his smile matched mine and then nodded his head. After I helped him to his feet, I walked us, hand in hand, in the opposite direction that Roger had gone and away from the cliffs. We took our time to allow our eyes to adjust to the only light we had, the Milky Way. Coming to a small clearing, 30 yards from our campsite, I stopped and turned facing Joey.
I took his other hand in mine and we stood smiling at each other. My chest filled with so much love for Joey, it almost hurt.
"Do you feel it, too?" I asked.
"Do you mean feeling like my chest is about to bust, because it's filled with so much love for you?"
"Yeah..." I started to say, but Joey's lips on mine shut down any further verbal response. In fact, all thinking went completely out the window at that point, because every brain cell I had was flooded with endorphins. I felt his tongue timidly run across my bottom lip as if to asked permission to enter. I released his hands, embraced him, enthusiastically opened my mouth, and lovingly sucked on his tongue, as if it was sweetest piece of candy I ever had.
I don't know how I managed it, but while still engaged in the mind-altering, chest thumping, knee bending kiss, I was able to reach down and pull the bottom of Joey's shirt from his jeans. I slid both hands up and underneath his shirt to both of his nipples. I took both of them between my index fingers and thumbs, gave them a little squeeze, and set off a growl from somewhere deep within Joey.
Encouraged by Joey's response, I began to pull his shirt up and over his head, and broke the kiss for only a Nanosecond. Joey immediately wrapped his arms around my neck and we deepened the kiss, even if it seemed impossible. I ran my hands up and down his back as we tongue wrestled within the kiss. When we came up for air, I started to kiss his bottom lip, then his top lip, making my way to the tip of his nose.
I kissed his eyelids, around to the side of his face, and then I licked his left ear and slid my tongue inside his ear. The moans from Joey only encouraged me further as I sucked on his ear lobe, with a tender nibble or two. I kissed, licked, and sucked my way to the base of his neck. The passion I had for Joey exploded into actions I never knew I had in me. I wanted him, and needed to make him feel the depth and breadth of my love for him.
I continued my assault on his celestial body down to his nipples that stuck out like erect little buds. I sucked and nibbled on one and then the other. As I attacked his nipples, my hands unfastened his belt, unbuttoned his jeans, slid my hand down into his boxers, and wrapped my fingers around his hot, hard, throbbing, leaking, manhood.
Joey pushed his crotch hard into my hand, and pumped his dick in and out of my fist. I let go of his cock, kissed my way down his tummy, and stop to swirl my tongue around inside his innie. While my tongue played with his belly button, I slid down his jeans and boxers, and freed his rock hard cock.
I could hear Joey taking short, rapid, breaths, as I trained my sight on the object of my desires. I wrapped my hand around the base of his beautiful manhood, and I could feel his brisk heartbeat in it. It seemed in harmony with mine. From my knees, I leaned forward and fulfilled a dream as I swirled my wet tongue around the head and pulled in a taste of his pre-cum for the first time. I then kissed the head and allowed it to push between my virgin lips, as Joey intertwined his fingers in my hair and pulled himself deeper into my hot mouth.
Just as I adjusted to his size and found a rhythm to my bobbing and his pumping, Joey suddenly pulled out, pulled up his boxers and pants, grabbed his shirt, and said, "We can't... I'm sorry, I can't," and ran off back towards the campsite.
Confused and heartbroken, I didn't know what I had done wrong to cause Joey to react that way. I stayed on my knees and ran everything back in my head, and tried to figure out what had happened. Yeah, I was totally out of control, but my intent was to show Joey that I loved him in every way - that I would do anything for him, including satisfying him sexually. I felt like that was the next step in our relationship. He had already been sexually active, and I was ready for it, especially with him. In fact, there was no one on earth I was ready to have sex with besides him. However, somewhere I fucked up.
What do I do now? I didn't have a clue. I laid back and stared up at the sky, and tried to think my way through it all. I lost track of time and before I could come up with any answers, I heard Roger call my name.
"Over here!" I shouted.
"Dude, what happened to Joey? He's back at the campsite crying and he's..." Roger paused. "Both of us are worried about you. Actually, I'm worried about both of you." Roger said, as he sat down beside me.
"Man, I just don't know. One minute, everything was perfect, amazing, heavenly, and the next... I don't know."
Roger placed his arm around me and hugged me close. "Andy, you been out here by yourself for a while now, and during that whole time, Joey has sat staring into the fire with tears streaming down his face. He won't tell me what happened or what's wrong."
I laid my head on his shoulder as the tears started flowing from my eyes hearing about Joey.
"Andy," Roger continued. "My brother and best friend are hurting. That means I'm hurting, too, but I'm at a loss as to what to do about it. Neither of you are telling me anything, so I have to assume that it's personal and way embarrassing. You know you can tell me anything. Hell, you told me you were gay, and look how long that took you to tell me about that, but you did. You trusted me and you can now, too."
He was right, I could trust him, and I did trust him completely, but this was different in three ways. One, this dealt with sex, and he was straight. How could he help me with a gay sexual issue when he didn't understand gay sex to begin with. Second, this involved Joey. I didn't think I had the right to talk about stuff like that without first asking Joey if I could. Third, I was as much at a loss as Roger was as to what happened.
"I can't, Roger. I really don't know what happened. He just ran off and left me here confused and hurt."
"Well, I may not be the sharpest tack in the box, but it's clear to me that the only way you are going to clear up the confusion and understand what happened is for you to talk to Joey, and let him explain from his point of view why he acted the way you described."
"I don't know, Roger. I'm not sure I'm ready to talk to him just now."
"Bullshit! You love him don't you?"
"You know I do."
"Then what the fuck, Andy?" Roger said, with a little anger in his voice. "Get your ass up, go to your boy, and find out what happened." Then his voice softened, "He's hurting, too. I don't know what happened, but it's as clear as old man Bailey's moonshine, he's in pain."
Again, Roger was right. I made up my mind to put my own feelings aside, go to my boyfriend, and be there for him. I stood and helped Roger stand. I then threw my arms around Roger and gave him a hug. I knew that Joey had given him a couple of kisses on the cheek, and both times the kisses left Roger a little shocked, but I didn't care at the moment. Roger had probably just saved my relationship with Joey and I wanted him to know just how I felt about it. When Roger attempted to break the hug, I allowed him to move away just enough so our faces were inches apart and we could see into each other's eyes. Then, I leaned in and kissed him on the lips. It wasn't a lustful or even passionate kiss, in the sense of lovers, but there was passion in it, because it was only a brief, innocent, butterfly, kiss, meant to show family love. It kinda surprised me when he didn't push me away or make any comment about it afterwards.
I whispered in his ear, "Thank you."
JT jumped off the bottom step of the bus, stoked and very proud of himself tonight. He spun around and waved to the bus driver, Mr. Thomas, as the bus pulled out from the McCray's driveway. The tails lights of the bus disappear around the next curve and left him completely in a dark moonless night. It took a second for it to register, but he finally realized that the streetlight at the driveway was out. He thought it was odd, but it wasn't going to bother JT tonight. Tonight's football game had been a game he would likely never forget. He had scored three touchdowns.
The first one for 23 yards had been a sweep to the weak side. The second one for 87 yards, happened on third down and 12 with a minute to go in the first half, from their own 13-yard line. The coach had called for a draw play and it worked beautifully with a couple of damn good blocks by the offensive line and some awesome moves by JT. He put a spin move on the big lineman that tried to wrap his arms around JT at the line of scrimmage and then jumped over a linebacker that dove for his feet at the 18-yard line. With all the backfield on the left side with the receivers, JT turned on the after-burners and raced up the right sideline untouched. That touchdown propelled Pine Hills in front 20-13, 21-13 after the extra point, and they never looked back. JT scored his last touchdown in the 3rd quarter on an off-tackle play from the defense's 44-yard line. On the night, JT had racked up 215 yards rushing. Everyone there that night knew they had witnessed something special from a player with a bright future, even if he was only a sophomore.
Nothing as seemingly insignificant as a broken light was going to dampen JT's mood tonight. No sir, he felt like the King of the World. Indeed, JT was the King Jock tonight in the little town of Pine Hills. He knew his performance tonight would be the talk of the town next week. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and started up the long darken driveway. The dirt driveway ran parallel along a creek from the main road to within 50 yards of the house, turned and ran to the side of the house, and ended at the barn out back. The house itself sat back off the main road a quarter mile.
JT replayed the touchdowns repeatedly in his mind as he walked and thought back to how all his teammates had congratulated him after the game. Even the coaches had heaped praises on him. The bus ride home from Hazard with a busload of teenagers celebrating their victory had been something JT needed after the first two weeks of school. He was ashamed at the way he had treated Joey Adams and how he had gotten Jonas to push Andy Collins into the lockers, but the last week of practice and talks he had with Coach Nettles had changed JT. He no longer wanted to tear other people down; now, he wanted to focus on himself and be the best person he could be.
The house completely encased in darkness, and was barely visible from twenty yards away. Although it neared midnight, JT thought it strange. After a week of hard and dirty work, Friday nights usually found JT's father up drinking moonshine until he passed out at two or three o'clock in the morning, and his mom always left the porch light on for him after an away ball game as well. A quick look to the side of the house told JT that his father's truck was there. They could be in bed or maybe they were going to surprise him with a small celebration for tonight's performance.
Thinking those two possibilities were the most likely, he climbed the steps to the front porch, opened the screen door, unlocked the front door... wait. The door was unlocked and creaked open when he gave it a little push. He noticed the door frame seemed different in a way that he couldn't quite place. After he tried the light switch by the front door unsuccessfully, he cautiously walked into the house, now on full alert, the next thing he noticed was the smell. Something was definitely wrong. He froze in place. The smell was strong and left a metallic taste in his mouth.
"Mom?! Dad?!" JT called out into the blackness, receiving only silence. "Mom? Is anyone home?"
JT stepped into the living room, leaving the front door partially open. He stopped at the back of the couch and looked down to see if his father had fallen asleep there, he wasn't. Just as he started to turn and walked on into the house, he was startled, as the door creaked closed, leaving the room pitch black. He took a step backwards away from the front door and intended to run to his room, but the next step he took his foot slipped out from under him on something wet and slick. He tried to regain his footing, but stumbled over something in the floor, and landed on his ass. Once he was over the shock of tripping, he lowered his hands to the floor to push back up off the floor, and found the floor covered in some liquid substance.
In confusion, he nervously scanned the room the best he could, but he couldn't even see a hand in front of his face. Just when he started to try to get up again, suddenly there was a bright light right in front of his face, blinding him. Then he felt something hit him on the back of his head; and just before he blacked out, he saw his father. His father's throat had been cut, from ear to ear, and it had been his dead body he had tripped over. His father's blood had pooled in the floor around both of them where it had drained from his body. The last thought JT had before he blacked out was "I'm sitting in his blood."
When we returned to the campsite, Joey was still sitting and staring into the campfire just as Roger said he had left him. I sat down beside Joey. Roger permitted us some privacy when he walked off to the cave we would be sleeping in when we settled in for the rest of the night.
Clueless to what time of night it was, or how long I had been out in the clearing by myself. My best guess would have been sometime after midnight. After Joey and I had sat there in silence for a few minutes, I guess from neither of us knowing exactly what to say, I bumped his shoulder with mine, gave him a sideways glance, and allowed a smile. I wanted to assure him that I wasn't mad at him.
He slowly turned his head to look at me, and I could see his tear-streaked face as the light from the flames highlighted the track that each tear had taken. It broke my heart to see him like this and he willingly allowed me to gather him into my arms and rested his head on my chest.
"Joey, I don't know what I did wrong, but I'm sorry. I promise to never do whatever it was, again."
"No, Andy, it should be me apologizing. I don't know how to explain. I think... I believe... I'm not sure... but think I need some help." Joey said, with his voice trailing off into a whisper.
"Joey, was it something I did?"
"Oh Andy," Joey sighed, "yes and no." His face looked somber as I waited for him to continue. "I've never felt more love in my life when we were out there tonight. You made me feel wonderful. I felt loved, even sexy," He sheepishly admitted. "However, at the same time, I felt all those evil things from my past. The stuff that made me feel cheap and dirty, it came flooding back. I guess, those feelings won out, because I hurt your feelings when I ran away."
"Joey, didn't the doctor want you to talk to someone about what you had been through with your father and that baseball coach?"
"Yeah, but no one ever set up an appointment for me. Do you think that's what I need? I mean, Andy trust me when I say you were awesome tonight. You had me on a level I never thought possible, I wouldn't have lasted another minute." I couldn't see his face, but I knew he was blushing which caused me to blush an even deeper red than I was already from what he had said. "It's just all those bad feelings invaded my thoughts and I felt like I was going to make you dirty too." He sat up and lovingly gazed into my eyes. "I love you, Andy. I love you with all my heart and soul. I never, ever want to be the cause of anything bad for you. I would rather walk away and never see you again than to be the cause of harm or evil to you." Joey started to shake.
"Shhh, I love you too, babe, always and forever. Please never say you'll walk away from me ever again. Whatever life brings our way, we can get through it together. This too, we will get through. I truly believe with love, all things are possible." I felt Joey relax and melt into my arms.
I hugged him tightly and rained kisses on the top of his shaggy blond head. I knew within my heart and without a doubt in my mind, that whatever was going on with Joey, we would get through it together, as friends, as a couple, and at sometime in the future, as lovers. Just whenever he was ready to take that next step, I would be there, waiting on him. I also vowed to myself that I would never push it again. I would be patient and considerate, because this boy was my world.