Miss Nancy had just finished cleaning up after dinner when Judy and Mr. Reed entered the kitchen where she was putting away the last of the dishes.
"What can I do for you two?" She hadn't known Judy but for a few hours and already she liked her. Her instincts told her there was more than a professional relationship budding between Judy and the judge. And the way she interacted with the boys, made her believe that in no time this would be a big happy family and not just two bachelors living alone in this big house. She felt that Judy would make it a home again.
"We came to volunteer to help you with the ice tea and finger food for the meeting," Judy said taking a pitcher of tea from the refrigerator.
"That's right. We can't let you do all the work. Now can we?" Mr. Reed stood aside as Judy moved away from the refrigerator, taking her place to pull out a plate of snacks. "By the way, that was the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. You must tell your recipe. What you did to that chicken should go down in culinary hall of fame."
"Now Mr. Reed, please, do go on." Miss Nancy smiled and mocked fanned herself as she listened to Mr. Reed's praise.
They all laughed.
A moment passed before Judy, still smiling, asked about the part of the meal they had eaten. "Miss Nancy, he's right, but everything else was excellent as well. That corn wasn't from any can, was it?"
"No dear, I cooked it on the cob and then cut it off, before I brought it out to the table. It was a habit I got into when my husband was still alive. God rest his soul. He had bad teeth as he got older and it got hard for him to eat the corn off the cob."
"And those shuckey beans were to die for. I know Sam didn't take the time to dry them out before tonight."
"No dear, I brought them from home. Seeing how I'll be eating here from now on, I figured I'd share them with you folks tonight."
"Thank you very much, Miss Nancy. I can't tell you when I've enjoyed a better meal." Judy smiled as she watched Mr. Reed gather glasses and place them on a serving tray with the ice tea.
"Well, the next time you share a meal with us, I'll make a point of bringing some more and fixin' them up, just for you."
Judge Collins made it to the door after the second doorbell chime. When he opened it, he found an odd mix of people standing on his front porch. There were five men and two women, each from a different background and segment of society. Judge Wayne T. Rutherford, whose father was a coal miner, had made his millions as a Gulf Oil distributor and owner of several dozen convenient stores. John Nicholson, was the Vice-President of the Bank of the Blue Grass and Trust Company of Lexington, Kentucky and the current State Chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party. Bryon Fitzgerald, was the Chairman of the Board, of Columbia Gas of Kentucky, the state's largest natural gas company. Theodore Steele, was the President of TECO Coal Company, the state's largest coal company. Gail Lester, was the Chairwoman of the Letcher County Republican Party, and wife of Carl Lester who owned Lester Oil company, the Union Oil company Distributor for the region. Patricia Sloan, the Chairwoman of the Letcher County Democratic Party, and co-owner with her husband of the town's only hardware store. Nelson Freeman, the well-known Chairman and President of The First National Bank and Trust of London, Kentucky, and the brother-in-law of Edward Fleming, owner of Ed's Cadillac car dealership, in Lexington, Kentucky.
"Good evening. Please come in," Judge Collins smiled. "We'll meet in the living room. It should offer more room for everyone." He guided everyone into the spacious living room. "Please have a seat anywhere and make yourselves comfortable. We'll have some tea and snacks after we settle in. There's also a liquor cabinet, with glasses, there by the stereo. Help yourself, if you are so inclined for something stronger than ice tea."
As the formal introductions were being made by Judge Rutherford, Miss Nancy, Judy, and Mr. Reed brought in the refreshments.
"Wayne," Judge Collins began, motioning to Judge Rutherford. "You asked for this meeting, I'll turn the floor over to you to get us started."
Judge Rutherford nodded, "Sam, as you know, the current Governor is term-limited and can't run for re-election. He and his Lieutenant Governor have had eight years to accomplish their promises and have failed to do one thing for the eastern part of the state. All their attention has been focused on Louisville as well as the western and northern section of the state." He said, receiving nods from around the room.
"They have allowed the Federal government, the EPA, in particular, to regulate the gas, oil and coal industry nearly to the point extinction, without a fight. Now everyone in this room and thousands of hard-working men and women around this state, has a dog in this fight. We can't stand by and watch our livelihoods be destroyed by misguided officials in Washington that have never run a business in their life. Moreover, they haven't presented a long-term plan, other than to drive fossil fuel out of business. They have no idea how many products are made from fossil fuels and what our lives would be like without them." Judge Rutherford paused as he took a drink of bourbon.
"Here in Southeastern Kentucky, we mine the cleanest coal in the world and yet, the EPA is proposing even more stringent regulations that no one will be able to meet. We already live in the most poverty-stricken area of the country. In addition, Southeastern Kentucky also has one of the worse prescription-drug death rates in the nation. Bell County alone is ranked eighth in the country. Most of the taxes collected from coal goes to other parts of the state. Therefore, there's less money for education, infrastructure, and the means to give our families a better way of life." He paused, stood, took another drink from his glass, and walked over to where Judge Collins stood in front of the fireplace, with Judy and Mr. Reed by his side.
"Sam, we need a voice in Frankford. Someone with common sense and the intellect to find a way to solve our problems without making things worse than they already are. Our children need jobs brought into our area, not eliminated. We need better schools with better teachers. They need opportunities, not drugs, alcohol, and a hopeless outlook on employment. Ninety-eight percent of the state's natural gas production comes from the eastern part of the state. According to Kentucky Oil and Gas Association statistics, Letcher, Pike, Floyd and Knott counties each produced over one hundred billion cubic feet of natural gas. There are opportunities for our children if the damn bureaucrats in Washington will leave us the hell alone."
"Sam, we know there has to be a balance to all of this, but right now the scale has tipped in the wrong direction. Like I said, we need a strong voice in the Governor mansion and we're here to see if you're willing to be that voice. So, are you interested?" Judge Rutherford ended by placing a hand on Judge Collins' shoulder and looking him square in the eye.
Judge Collins nodded and paused before speaking. "That was quite a speech, Wayne. Why aren't you running for governor?"
"Sam, my time has come and gone. While I was Lieutenant Governor, I learned that I could never be elected Governor with my family background in coal and oil. That's why I never put my family through a campaign I knew I couldn't win. I wouldn't drag them into the mud that I knew would be thrown at me."
"You know my late wife's family also has the same history in the coal business. What makes you, or any of you for that matter, think I would have a better chance?"
"I can't nor will I speak for the others here, but I believe you can because I know you. I've seen what you've done over the years to help others, even when it's not the easiest thing to do," he said, and then turned away from Judge Collins to address the others.
"I'm sure most, if not all of you, have heard of the double murder here in Letcher County." After receiving nods from everyone he turned to Judge Collins. "Sam, where is the boy accused of killing his parents staying right now?"
"Wayne," Judge Collins was both surprised and disturbed by the question. "I don't believe that's relevant to our discussion here tonight. There's no reason whatsoever to bring that devastated boy's situation into a political meeting."
"Protector of children! That's one of the very reasons I KNOW you can win this election." He smiled at Judge Collins, and then turned to the rest. "Suffice it to say, that Judge Collins found legal representation and a good home for him while the boy fights off a political hack job, that's not even directed at the boy, but at Judge Collins, himself. The first target was Judge Collins' son, but when the evidence, or the lack thereof, proved to be too weak, instead of searching for the real killers and their motive, they turned on the poor orphaned child."
"Judge Collins, is this true?" Mr. Freeman asked.
"Detective Frank Fleming of the Kentucky State Police, did push pretty hard to have my son indicted for the crime with only a tee-shirt that had his name on it for evidence, even though my son had a strong and reliable alibi. To my knowledge, no other leads have been investigated. However, there is another officer, Detective Jones, who will likely step in and take over the investigation and look at other leads as well."
Judge Rutherford interjected. "What Sam isn't saying, but I will, since I'm not an officer of the court, is that Fleming has proven himself incompetent, ineffective, and unqualified for the position of detective at best. Or he has been blinded by political motivation and has intentionally attempted to smear Judge Collins' name. You may draw your own conclusion."
"I'll be damned." Mr. Freeman exclaimed.
"It's as I told you, Nelson. You can have your people poke around, if you like, but you'll find it's true." Judge Rutherford said as he filled his glass with more bourbon. "Anyone else needs a refill?"
Everyone else was drinking tea, so Judge Rutherford capped the bottled and returned to his seat. Everyone appeared to be deep in thought over what they had just heard.
Mrs. Sloan was the first to break the silence. "Judge Collins, I believe an explanation is due concerning my presence here tonight, the lone Democrat in a den of Republicans." She laughed. "Though I'm not here in any official capacity, other than as a Letcher County native, I want to see the best person elected Governor, and you are that person, Sam. I wanted to be here after Gail told me that it might be possible to persuade you to run, and that these men are here to consider backing you. I figured that my presence here tonight would show them your wide appeal to the general voting population."
Judge Collins smiled and waved off her comments. "Thank you, Patty. I appreciate your show of support. However, I'm not sure how a small sample of voters like Letcher County, people that know me well, could represent a state-wide sample of voters who have no clue who I am."
"Sam," Mrs. Lester interrupted. "That's what the party machine is for. To get your name out there and help define who you are and what you stand for before the opposition does it for you. But during a primary, if there's a primary, the party structure itself would be handcuffed from showing any support for any candidate. That would apply to both local and state party officials and committees."
"She's correct, Judge Collins." John Nicholson began. "However, unlike Miss Sloan, I am here in my official capacity as the State Party Chairman. We are very interested in having men of your character actively seeking state-wide office. But, as Mrs. Lester said, we're prohibited from supporting one candidate over another in a primary race. Nevertheless, there's nothing to prevent us from encouraging the best-qualified person to run. People, like those here tonight, can help you in a primary with a well-funded campaign. Which would give you the name recognition you would need in a state-wide race."
"Judge," Theodore Steele began, "I believe I speak for most people who work in the coal industry, we know you and your family. If you decide to throw your hat into the ring, we'll support you. All we want is a fair hearing of our issues. We want to protect the environment too. Our families live here in the coal fields and we don't want to have our drinking water contaminated or the hillsides slide down on us because proper procedures weren't followed. But we don't want to see our way of life destroyed either. We believe that with you, our state can find the right balance between environmental issues and jobs. You would be a Governor that could formulate a plan and keep our congressional delegation in line."
"I second what Teddy just said." Bryon Fitzgerald stood, forcing everyone's attention on him as he moved to stand by Judge Rutherford. "I would also add that Wayne's figures concerning natural gas are dead on. The revenues from natural gas will give coal a run for its money in the coming years. And we need someone to see that those revenues are shared fairly. I've read your rulings over your career. You're an honest and fair man. We need a winning horse in this race, and if you pardon my expression, I believe you're a Kentucky Derby winner."
"Your Honor," began Mr. Nicholson, taking control of the meeting, "everyone here respects you and believes you would make a fine Governor. The two ladies present, have known you most of your life. The rest of us have known you or know of you most of your adult life. However, there are questions that need to be asked that will prepare you for the type of scrutiny a campaign for Governor will bring."
Judge Collins had prepared himself for the coming examination of his private life. He had no problem with unveiling his private life to the public, but he was determined to protect Andy, Joey, JT, and Cody. "John, I have no problem with answering any relevant questions from you or the press, should I decide to run. However, I will not allow my family to be drawn into the spotlight for any reason. As long as these ground rules are understood, ask away."
I was upstairs helping JT settle-in, while downstairs, people I didn't know were trying to convince my dad to run for governor. I was proud of my father and I wanted him to succeed, but I wasn't sure what the future held if he actually ran and won. As long as it didn't come between Joey and me, I was willing to make sacrifices. I wondered what JT and Cody would think about it. I also wondered if I should mention anything about it or allow Dad to bring it up with them first. I finally decided I wouldn't say anything, but I would be there to answer any questions they might have after Dad spoke with them.
"I've never had so many new clothes before, Andy," JT said, bringing me out of my thoughts.
"You should try some of them on and make sure they fit, so you'll know for sure if you have something to wear tomorrow." I sat on the bed and watched him search through the closet for something he liked. He seemed overwhelmed by all the options. Finally, he turned to me with a pair of jeans and a yellow polo shirt.
"What do you think, Andy?"
I raised my hands to stop him. "JT, you've seen what I wear to school every day. I'm the last person you should be asking," I laughed. "Maybe when Joey, or better yet, when Roger gets back from the hospital they can come over and help out, because I have no fashion sense at all."
He laughed. "That's cool, but I think I'll go with this tomorrow." Turning serious, "Do you think the girls will notice me in these?"
I was glad I was already sitting down, because when I pictured him in those clothes... "Uh, I think so JT. I mean, probably." I blushed and looked away.
He looked at me funny for a minute, smiled, hung his new clothes in the closet, and then walked over and sat beside me on his bed.
He kept his head down as he began to speak. "You know Andy, I really felt both of those punches when you hit me. Okay, maybe I didn't feel the first one in the cafeteria, since it knocked me out. But that second one by the lockers, I still feel it sometimes."
I didn't know where this was going, and that alone made me nervous, but it was the way he smiled, before he even sat down beside me, that had me worried.
"I've been in a few fights and there's no doubt in my mind, no matter what anyone else might think, you could give anybody a run for their money," he said, glancing up at me.
"Uh... Thanks? I think." I was confused by this unexpected compliment. Although I have to admit, I never thought of myself as a fighter and I still don't, but I had a feeling this was leading somewhere I wasn't prepared for.
"So, uh... If my suspicions are correct... and I'm not saying they are, but..." He turned to look at me and his hands had a slight tremor to them.
"JT, what's wrong? You're kinda making me nervous."
"You see, my pa always told me that... shit, Andy, I'm just going to ask. Are you a ho-mo-sexual?" He clearly had trouble saying the word, which caused me to wonder how much trouble he would have with the answer, but it also almost made me laugh-out-loud at his pronunciation of homosexual. However, I thought it would be better to ask a question of my own before I answered his.
"Why? Would it make any difference?"
"At one time it would have, but I don't think so anymore."
"You don't think so?" I prodded.
"You sure are avoiding my question, huh?" he smiled.
"You would have figured this out sooner or later staying here, but yeah, I'm gay."
"Does anyone else know?"
"You mean, you don't have a problem with it?" He really had me surprised.
"No, I don't. It seems everything I've been taught has been a load of crap. If you're... what's that word again?"
"Yeah, gay. If you're gay, then you're living proof that gays aren't all girly acting. So? Who all knows? I can't be the only one," he smiled.
"Dad knows, I think he knew before I did. Roger and his family know, but that's it, besides you."
"Does Roger's family include Joey?"
"Of course, they'll probably adopt Joey."
"Wow, that's so cool. I mean about them adopting Joey."
"Yup, I agree. Joey really deserves a break."
"I uh... heard some rumors about Joey and his real mom and dad, but I don't know what to believe."
"You should ask him. He might tell you, but it's really not my place to say anything. Just like I won't talk to anyone about you either. Whatever you say to me will stay between us, and I hope you will do the same for me. I only told you I was gay because you're living here now. Oh, by the way, Cody knows too, for the same reason I told you."
"No problem. No one will hear anything from me. That's your business and no one elses," he assured me. "So uh... do you have a boyfriend?" he grinned.
"If I did, I would have to ask him first before I said anything." I smiled, and nudged him with my shoulder. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Naw, I've never really had the time for a girl, with all the chores I had and football practice. Plus I've been kind of a jerk the last few years. What girl would be interested in me?" JT lowered and sadly shook his head.
"Come on man, you've changed. We all see the changes in you, soon others will too. You can hang with me, Roger, Joey, and the rest of our friends at lunch. Word will spread fast that you're a different person. Watch and see." I said as I wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"You're being awfully nice. Is that because I don't care about you being a homo?" He playfully elbowed me in the ribs. "Oh God, I forgot. I'm sorry."
I laughed. "You didn't hurt me."
"But Joey told me you were sick and fainted today."
"Yeah, well, that's another thing we need to talk about. Everyone that knows I'm gay also knows this except you. And I asked you to keep this to yourself, too. Okay?"
"Sure Andy, swear to God." From his expression alone, I knew he meant it.
"Okay, here's the deal. We aren't sure yet, but I may have leukemia."
"Oh no! I had a great-uncle that died from that."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm sure he had a different type than what they think I might have. The types that adults have are almost always different from what kids get. Anyway, we'll know for sure after we get the results back from the tests I have to take Friday."
"I'm really sorry Andy. Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't know for sure. But there is something Dad wants us to do to help out here around the house. He knows you have football and that I may be limited in what I can do for the next few months. He just wants us to pick up after ourselves and make it easier on the people cleaning the house and doing laundry. Things like that."
"No problem here. I can cut the grass, too. I don't mind."
"Naw, he's gonna hire a landscaping company to do that. Besides, it will be too cold soon for the grass to grow." I grinned. "When Cody is released from the hospital, there might be some stuff we can do to help him though."
"That sounds cool to me. I can't wait to meet him. How old is he?"
"I don't remember." I laughed. "But I think he is around eleven or twelve years old. He really is a nice kid and I think you'll like him."
"I always wanted a little brother."
"Yeah, me too. Hey, I have an idea. Maybe tomorrow night after dinner we can go and visit with him and you can meet him. Whatcha say?"
"Sounds like a plan," he said, reaching out to bump fists.
"Cool, before I head to bed, do you need any more help getting settled in?"
"Nope, I'm good. Miss Nancy showed me where everything is, including towels and stuff. So, after I read a little bit, I'm heading to bed, too."
"Miss Nancy has been less than twenty-four hours and she knows where everything is." I laughed.
"That is pretty amazing. We better be on our toes with her around." He winked.
"Yup, I'd say so. Okay then, I'm heading to bed. Good night, JT."
"Good night, Andy."
Once in the hallway, I heard voices from downstairs. At first, it was hard to understand what was being said or to distinguish who was saying what, because it sounded like several people speaking at the same time.
Then one voice rosed above the others. "My views on gay-related issues haven’t changed since the days I threw off the bigoted ignorance I had been taught from early childhood. I believe that the individual rights that this country was founded on, God-given rights, demands that the state not interfere with who someone loves. I don't give a damn what some preacher has to say on the subject, it's just their opinion; and since we all can read and interpret the Bible for ourselves, I tend to trust my own judgment on these matters after some communion with God. Which was the driving force of Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses way back in 1517. Even IF homosexuality is a sin, and I don't believe for a minute that pure love can be a sin, but if we set that aside for a moment, if it is, why are so many preachers railing against it so much when their congregations are dying around them in droves from the violence, or murder which is a sin, caused by illegal drugs, also a sin? And to say that gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage completely ignores the fact that half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce, usually caused by infidelity, also a sin. I'm always suspicious of people that like to point out the sins of others. Seems to me they are doing so to hide from their own sins. Simply put, I believe that gay marriage should and will be the law of the land in our lifetime. I know this is contrary to the stated Republican Party's position, but I am who I am. I don't blindly follow anyone or any organization. I will never park my views at any door. If you are asking me to disavow my principles, you certainly have the wrong man." Dad concluded.
I heard several voices quickly speak up, but I didn't care what they had to say at that point. I had heard my father defend my right, as a gay boy, to be left alone and that he thought one day, gay marriage would be legal, everywhere. Nothing anyone else had to say mattered to me right then. I knew of course that later on in life I would probably take a more active role on the issue of gay marriage, but for now, I went to bed as one happy son.
The next morning Dad shook me out of some really wild dreams where Joey had the staring role. After I realized that it was someone shaking me and not an earth-shaking climax to that particular moment in the dream, I kind of woke up enough to glance over at my clock and see that it was way too early to be awake.
"Dad? It's not time to get up for school." I whined.
"You really had a busy week, son. Have you forgotten that you have the bone marrow biopsy at the hospital this morning?"
"Yeah, I had, but I'm glad I did. I haven't exactly been looking forward to it."
"I understand." Dad ruffled my messed-up bed hair. "Well, you better get a move on, we have to be there within the next ninety minutes. I would suggest you wait until after the biopsy before you eat anything. Perhaps a glass of orange juice would be okay."
"Sure Dad, I'm awake now and I'll kick it into gear."
"Good. I'll see you down in the kitchen when you're ready to go." He patted my knee and headed downstairs.
Now I was wide awake at the ungodly hour of five-thirty in the morning. I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom. As I was taking a shower, the excitement over parts of the dream I had earlier, returned. I honestly resisted the temptation to pleasure myself for at least ten seconds before I gave in. After I came down from the sexual high, I quickly rinsed myself off and washed away the evidence.
The shower activities had me in a cheerful mood, because I whistled to myself as I dried off and dressed. In fact, I whistled all the way to the kitchen. The upcoming appointment at the hospital all but forgotten- for the moment.
Dad sat at the table with his cup of coffee and newspaper. "Are you about ready, Andy?"
"Yes, sir. But I think I'll have that glass of orange juice, if you're sure it won't bother me."
"Good morning, Andy." Miss Nancy smiled and took a glass from the cabinet and pour me a glass of orange juice. "The juice will give you some energy, but won't fill your stomach like a meal would."
"Good morning," I smiled. "And thank you for the OJ."
"You're quite welcome, baby." She went back to wiping off the countertop, but continued to speak. "Although oncology wasn't my field, I do know quite a bit about it from conversations with the other nurses."
It amazed me how she could one minute, talk very professionally, like a doctor, and then the next minute, fall into a southern draw right out of the movie Gone With the Wind. There was no doubt about it, Miss Nancy was much more complex than she appeared.
She continued, "They would put you under, so the risk of becoming sick from it is low, but it's better to be safe than sorry." She turned and smiled.
After I downed the OJ, I walked over to where she stood by the sink and rinsed out the glass.
She placed a hand on my shoulder. "It won't be as bad as you think and it'll be over before you know it."
I don't know why I did what I did next, but it felt right. Sometimes you can feel deep within your bones that someone is sincere about caring for you. And that's how I felt about Miss Nancy. So I think I surprised us both as I gave her a heart-warming hug.
"I really mean it, Miss Nancy. Thank you." I tried hard to hold back the tears, but a lone tear escaped.
"Why child, you have such a love filled heart." As we pulled away from the hug, I noticed that a couple of tears had escaped her water filled eyes as well. "Thank you for making this old woman feel welcomed."
I smiled. "You aren't old."
"Bless you, child."
Dad stood. "We better get a move on. If we leave now, we'll have plenty to find a parking spot and still be there before seven.
After we arrived, I checked in with out-patient surgery, at six fifty-five. A couple of minutes after seven and nurse walked out into the waiting area. "Michael Collins?"
"Want me to come with you, son?" Dad stood when I did.
"Naw, it'll be a piece of cake." I tried to be brave about it and put on the best smile I could, but from the sad smile on Dad's face, I guess I hadn't done a very good job.
"Okay, son. I'll wait right here for you." He tried assured me. I say tried, because I didn't feel all that sure at the moment. But the strangest thing occurred at that moment. I felt wrapped in Joey's love and it strengthened me. My smile became more honest and true, and I felt myself stand-up straighter.
"Thanks, Dad. I love you."
Dad's smile brightened. "I love you, too, Andy."
I turned and followed the nurse to meet my fate.
It was a good thing I had worn shorts, because as soon as I walked into the room the nurse had lead me to, she turned to me. "Michael..." She began.
"Andy, I go by Andy." I smiled as I reached out to shake her hand.
"My, aren't you the polite one," she smiled, and shook my hand. "Andy it is. My name is Patrica Ann, but I go by Ann."
"It's nice to meet you, Ann, but let's not meet like this again." I chuckled.
She laughed. "Deal. All right, back to business, please remove your tee-shirt and pulled down your shorts below the cheeks of your buttocks. Then, I would like for you to lay down on the bed there on your stomach. I'll leave and return with some special cloth I'll cover you up with so you won't be embarrassed. Okay?" I guess she noticed that my face had turned ten different shades of red.
"Yes, ma'am." I think my voice cracked at the thought of exposing my naked butt to everyone.
"Don't worry Andy. I promise not to look" She winked and left me standing there
The procedure wasn't as bad as I feared, but when I saw the needle they planned on sticking in my back, I almost balked. It was at least six inches long, but after they gave me the local anesthesia, I didn't feel it until they reached my hip bone with it. I won't describe what it felt like, but I have a deeper appreciation of mothers go through giving birth.
After they took a sample of my bone morrow and bandaged the site, the doctor wanted me to turn over onto my back to keep the pressure on the site. I hesitated. I didn't want to show off 'Little Mikey' to the nursing staff.
When the doctor saw my hesitation, he smiled. "Andy, go ahead and pull up your shorts and then turn over. It's just you and I in here now."
I nodded and followed his instructions.
"Now I want you to just lay here and relax for about fifteen minutes and then you may leave."
"Leave the bandage on and dry for the next twenty-four hours. Don't take a shower or bath, and don't swim or use a hot tub. You may feel a little tenderness for a week or more and you may take some acetaminophen as needed."
"Acetam... what?" I had no clue what that was.
"Tylenol," he smiled.
"Oh, okay. Please tell my Dad all of this, too."
"I will. One last thing and I'll tell your father, too. If bleeding soaks through the bandage or doesn't stop with direct pressure, give my office a call. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. So, can I go to school today after I leave here?"
"You may, but no p.e. today. Monday will be fine, if you feel up to it. As matter of fact, lets cut out p.e. all together for the foreseeable future, at least until we know what we'll be dealing with. Before you leave, I'll have a note written for you to give to your school administrators and hand it to your father."
I nodded and he left me to contemplate what my life was going to be like for, as he put it, the foreseeable future.
By the time Dad dropped me off at school, second period had just ended. I headed straight to my locker and placed the books I didn't need in it. When I turned to leave I found Joey and Gary right there in front of me. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Once I calmed down and Gary had a good laugh, I said, "What are you guys doing sneaking up on me?"
"Just waiting on you." Gary still had a huge grin plastered on his face.
I faked a punch to his balls and laughed, as he bowed over like I had actually landed the punch. "I would be careful who I scared the bejesus out of next time."
A big grin spread across his face. "You're the one who should be careful with balls that hang... never mind." He shook his head and walked off chuckling to himself.
"How you feeling? We didn't know for sure if you would even come to school today." The concern clearly filled Joey's eyes.
"Not too bad. A little sore, but I never want to go through that again." I shook my head at the thought of repeating the procedure anytime soon. "The dang nettle was this long." I spread my hands an exaggerated distant of a foot apart.
"You have got to be kidding," Joey asked in disbelief.
"Well, maybe a little, but it was like six inches for sure." I smiled and shrugged.
"What did Gary start to say?" Joey asked as I put my arm around his shoulder in a friend like way.
"That my friend, is something you'll just have to wait and find out for yourself." I smiled and hip-checked him.
"Nah uh. I'll just ask Gary," he countered.
"Go ahead. I don't mind. But I doubt he'll tell ya."
I don't know if Joey ever asked him that day or not. I really didn't think any more about it. I was still on cloud nine after hearing Dad speak up last night on gay issues. I've always known people can talk one way in private, but it's another thing to speak the same way in public.
At lunch, Joey and I caught up with JT as he stood in line for our daily dose of governmental lunch. "You going to sit with us today, JT?" I asked.
"Yeah, if you guys don't mind."
Joey smiled, "Not at all, you're always welcome at our table."
"I know the other guys won't mind," I added.
"Cool. Sure, I'd really like that." JT grinned. "Joey didn't expect you to make it today. I mean to school."
"I'm fine." I patted his shoulder with my free hand. We continued to move down the line as we received our vitamins and required nutritional portion for the day. "Actually it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
When we make it to the table, Roger, Debbie, and Randy were already there. "Hey, guys. JT is going to join us today." I said as I sat between Joey and JT, and opposite from the other three.
"Hi JT, and welcome to our little world." Debbie smiled.
"Hey JT, welcome to our table JT. It's good to have another jock." Randy reached over the table to give him a high five.
Roger nodded acknowledgment at JT, then turned to me and asked, "Everything go okay?"
"Yup." I nodded and took a bite of what they called pizza back when we were in the line.
"You know, I just realized I'm surrounded by jocks. Well, maybe not Joey. You play any sports, Joey?" Debbie asked.
"Uhm... maybe." Joey quickly chewed up and swallowed his last bite of something I think they called meatloaf. "I might, but I haven't decided yet."
"Five jocks and a lonely cheerleader." Randy mused aloud.
When I glanced over at Debbie, she seemed to be dreamingly staring at JT. I noticed when JT glanced around the room and then met her eyes, she quickly averted making eye contact. I wasn't sure what to make of it. I mean, I really think JT is changing, but I've known Debbie all my life, and she was a really sweet girl that I liked a lot. She was someone I would actually count as a sister. But if I saw what I think I saw, then Debbie appeared to be interested in JT. How much and for what reason? I'd have to wait and see. One thing I was certain of, I wouldn't allow JT or any boy to hurt her. If I felt she was boyfriend/girlfriend interested in him, JT and I would have to have a little chat.
Joey, Roger, and I rode the bus home after school. Roger sat with Mary, while Joey sat with me. JT had football practice and Dad would pick him up after practice and they would go shopping before dinner. I didn't know for sure what JT had at home by the way of clothes and other stuff, but from the way he spoke last night, I didn't think he had much more than Joey.
While Joey and I stood to the side, giving Roger a chance to say goodbye to Mary, Sarah walked over to us. "Hi guys."
"Hi Sarah." We both answered.
"Andy, I'm sorry for the way I acted and the things I said about Cody yesterday. I can't explain why I believed Cody's brother at first, but now I know I was in the wrong. Please accept my apology. I feel really awful about it."
"Sarah, I haven't said anything to Cody about any of that, and now I won't. But it isn't me you owe the apology to, it's Cody." She looked down at her feet as I said that. "I do believe that you're sorry. I never did think you were that type of girl that would say mean and hateful stuff like that. So, I was really surprised when you did. Hopefully, all that is in the past and won't be repeated. Because, I have to tell you, if you or anyone else ever hurts Cody, they're hurting me and my family. He's going to be living with me and my Dad. He's my foster brother now and I won't have anything to do with anyone that messes with him."
She met my eyes with hers. "I promise you, Andy, I will apologize to Cody and ask for his forgiveness."
"That’s all anyone can ask of you, Sarah." I smiled.
"Thank you, Andy."
Sarah turned and left, taking Mary with her and walking home. I glanced at Joey and said, "I hope she really means it and drops the attitude about gays."
"I felt she meant what she said, but the gay part never really came up. So I don't know." Joey shrugged.
"What was that about?" Roger asked as he walked over to us.
"Sarah was apologizing for what all she said yesterday," I told him.
"Yeah, Mary told me she was going to. Mary said that their Dad sat Sarah down and had a long talk with her about it last night. For what Mary says, Sarah was crying by the time they were through talking and seemed to really have a change of heart."
"She sounds sincere to me, but like I just told Andy, Cody being gay or not never came up. Did Mary say if it did or not?" Joey asked as we began to walk home ourselves.
"Kinda, their Dad brought up what Paster Irvin talked about at church a couple of weeks ago and made it clear he thought the pastor was right."
"Maybe there's hope for this town after all." I really felt this way now. When I first admitted to myself that I was attracted to other boys, it had scared me to death. I figured a small town like Pine Hills would never accept anyone gay. I mean I never knew of anyone here who actually admitted to being gay, but I've heard a lot of jokes at school about gays. And the names kids would call one another, like cocksucker, queer, fudge packer, and the like, names used to cut down anyone who was weaker or only thought to be gay. Perhaps I've started to be too optimistic, but it began to look like my original fears may have been overblown.
Thoughts of fears reminded me of my chat with JT the night before. "Guys, I told JT last night I was gay." Both of them looked at me like I had lost my mind. Well, Roger did. Joey just looked surprised.
"Why?" Roger asked, dumbfounded by my revelation.
"Well, let's wait until we get to my room and I'll tell ya. Okay?"
They both nodded.
I don't know how she does it, but Miss Nancy opened the door just as I reached for the doorknob. "Mercy me, you boys look like you could use some afternoon snacks." She said as we toed off our shoes. "How does some hot brownies and milk sound to you boys?"
The words awesome, sweet, and heck yeah were quickly and enthusiastically yelled by the three of us...
"Good then, the brownies and milk are already sitting on the table for you. Help yourselves," she said, as a race for the kitchen table suddenly ensued. Miss Nancy laughed at our antics as we dashed off for our treats.
After we ate two or three brownies apiece, we headed up to my room. On the way, I tried to think of a way to tell them about the conversation I had with JT last night. What had led to me telling him I was gay. And not make Joey mad at me for visualizing JT in a way that made me blush, which lead to him asking me if I was gay or not.
Joey and I settled back on my bed and Roger sat in the chair at my computer desk. As Roger spun the chair in circles, he asked, "So why in the hell did you admit to JT that you were gay? Have you completely gone postal?"
I sighed and reached for Joey's hand to hold it. "It's not like I said, 'Hey JT, I'm gay', Roger. It's more complicated than that."
He stopped spinning the chair like a top. "Okay, explain so we can understand."
"First off, I want to make it clear, I only outed myself." I turned to look at Joey. "I would never out you, babe, but he did ask me if I had a boyfriend. And all I told him was that if I did, I wouldn't tell him without first talking to that person first and getting their okay."
Joey nodded, smiled, and squeeze my hand. I took that to mean that he was okay with everything, so far. "Well, uhm... let's see... I was helping JT settle in his new room with putting clothes away and stuff like that. I don't remember exactly how the conversation come up but he asked my opinion on what clothes he should wear tomorrow. I told him that you or Joey would be the better advisors on that subject. He then turned and held up some clothes in front of him and asked what I thought. No, now that I think about it, he turned with the clothes first. I pictured him in them and I think I blushed. Then I told him about asking you or Joey. He stared at me for a bit, smiled, and hung the clothes back-up in the closet." I took a deep breath and then continued. "I came over and sat by me on his bed. I could tell he was really nervous by the way his hands shook and by the way he was having trouble with finding the right words to say. He first complimented me on the punches I threw at him, which made me kinda nervous as to where the conversation was heading." I sighed. "I guess I knew where it was heading by his demeanor and was dreading it, because I wasn't sure how he was going to react, given his past actions towards Joey."
"That's totally understandable." Joey smiled and squeezed my hand. It appeared that I was off the hook with Joey concerning blushing while picturing JT in the clothes he held. That made me feel a lot better about everything.
"Okay, he then mentioned that if his suspicions were correct, then everything he had been taught was a load of crap, I think he said. After having a little trouble forming his words, he finally straight out asked me if I was a ho-mo-sexual." I smiled.
Roger laughed and I heard Joey snicker. "I know, right? I think I almost laughed out loud, but stopped myself before I did. We talked some more and he seemed okay with it. He then asked me if I had a boyfriend or not. And like I said earlier, I wouldn't tell him. We then talked about girls and his lack of a girlfriend. I told him that now that he has changed, I thought his possibilities would improve." When I said that, it reminded me of something else. "Did either of noticed the way Debbie looked at him today during lunch?"
Roger shook his no, but Joey said, "Actually, I did. She seemed to be studying him, and whenever he would glance her way, she would look away. But I don't think he noticed."
"I think I'm going to pay more attention to those two. I'm not saying he would, but I don't want Debbie to get hurt." I then stood and headed towards the bathroom. "Oh, Joey, do you want to tell JT about you or not? And what about us being a couple?" I stopped and turned to him. "think about it while I take a leak."
Roger walked over to the bed and flopped down on it. "I don't either of you should have said anything."
I kinda became pissed at Roger for holding me up from taking a piss by keeping this conversation alive. "Look, Roger, he is living here now and he's changed from the jerk he used to be. Maybe it's just a temporary change, but he has changed. I can see it in his face and in the words he uses. But I got to take a piss now, so please just wait until I get back."
Roger rolled his eyes. "Whatever. I'm just saying...."
"Okay, okay, go piss already."
Sometimes when Roger thinks he's right, he's like a pit bull and won't let go of it. I knew what he was saying, but I felt I was right and JT was okay with everything, but Joey needed to decide for himself what to do with coming out to him. The thing was, I knew sooner or later someone in this house or Roger's house would spill the beans, so to speak. I figure it would be better to let him know now, so there wouldn't be any surprises later. But it's Joey's call to make concerning himself and our relationship, not Roger's. At the same time, I also knew Roger was just looking out for us.
By the time I came out of the bathroom, Roger had the game system up. Him and Joey were playing baseball already. "So, you might play baseball this year?" I asked Joey.
In between plays in the game he would answer me. "Yeah, I've been thinking about it ever since you mentioned it to me." Then he threw a pitch in the game.
"Get out of here! How am I suppose to hit a pitch that comes right at me and then dive all the way across the plate and out of the strike zone?" Roger cried. I laughed. Joey grinned like a possum.
"If you can't hit my curve, what until you see my slider." Joey nudged him with his shoulder. "I've decided to tell JT myself tonight, if that's okay with you, Andy."
"It's your call, Joey, and I'll support whatever you decide. So will Roger, even if it's reluctantly." Right Roger?"
"Yeah, I got your back, bros."
"You guys wanna visit with Cody again tonight?" I kinda wanted to go since I couldn't last night.
"Yeah, he was kinda quiet at first when he first met me, but when he found out I was your best friend, you would have thought I had another brother. I like the little ball of energy, but I'd bet he'd be a hard one to keep up with without those casts." Roger laughed and dropped his game control. "You win, Joey, but I'll pick out the next game we play."
"I'm looking forward to him moving in. JT promised me to help with him. Serious, Roger, I really feel JT is going to fit in now he doesn't have all that pressure on him from his dad. It was like Joey said that day after the fight: it was his dad. Hopefully, the three of us can be a good influence on him."
Roger rolled his eyes. "I don't know about that, but maybe Joey and I can be."
I jumped on Roger and we started wrestling. Finally, I pinned him and Joey did a three count.
"Hey! No fair. The referee counted me out too fast." Roger cried.
"You need to exercise more. No way a sick boy should beat ya." I laughed. "Anyway," I began as I rolled off of Roger, hugged my hot sexy judge, and gave him as passionate of a kiss as I could muster being slightly out of breath. "Looks like the three musketeers are growing in numbers: to five."
"All for one, and one for all!" We all shouted.