Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Man From Swift Current Chapter Seventy Six - Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus

Chapter Seventy Six – Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus

After I got off the phone with Rick, I crossed the hall to Justin’s room and tapped on the door.   I heard Justin say, “Come in.”

I opened the door, and stopped dead in my tracks and stared.   Justin was standing on his desk chair.   He had tied a rope to the ceiling and had made the other end into a noose, which he had placed around his neck.

“Justin, please come down from there,” I said, in a quiet voice hoping to keep Justin calm.   I don’t know what caused Justin to do this.   Dr. Hansen had warned us Justin might attempt suicide, again.   She had also warned us to be on our guard, especially if he seemed overly happy.    She had emphasized that, if something like this should happen, we needed to be very calm and not react negatively.

Justin looked at me, with tears streaming down his face.  “I can’t take it anymore, Glenn.   I can’t.”

I walked over to Justin and took his hand.   “Can we talk about it just you and me?”   I looked Justin in the eyes, to make sure he was paying attention to what I was saying.   I put every ounce of love I could into my voice.   “Justin, I love you.   Please come down.”

Justin tears came even faster, “I can’t.”

“Why?” I asked.
“I’m too scared to come down,” Justin responded.
“Will you let me help you come down?” I asked.
Justin nodded.   I climbed up on the chair with Justin and loosened the noose and lifted it over his head.   Justin wrapped his arms around me, nearly causing us both to fall off the chair.   “Justin, I promise not to let you go, but can we get down now?”
Justin released his hold on my waist and I jumped off the chair.   I grabbed Justin’s hand and pulled him down off the chair.
I led Justin over to his bed and we both sat down.    I put my arms around his shoulders, and Justin started sobbing, putting his head on my shoulder.   “I'm the worst person in the world, Glenn.   Everybody hates me, and I hate them.   I want to end it all.   I have no reason to continue living.”
“Justin, we love you.   Adam and Robbie love you.   You know the other guys love you, too,” I said, soothingly.   I smoothed his hair with my hand, then put my hand to his chin and raised it so I could look Justin in the eyes.   “Justin, I want you to come with me to the hospital.   Will you go with me?”
Justin nodded his head, but didn’t respond to my question.   I shouted, “Ben!   Come here please!”
I heard Ben’s footsteps in the hallway.   “Where are you, Glenn?” Ben called out.
“I’m in Justin’s room!” I shouted.
Ben stopped in the doorway and stared at the chair and the rope, still swinging from the ceiling.   He took in the fact Justin was clinging to me for dear life, and he was still crying.   The look of shock on his face told me he understood what had just happened.
“Ben, we need to get Justin to the hospital,” I said.   “He has agreed to go, if we take him.”
Ben nodded.  “Let me get my shoes on, and we’ll go.   I will meet you two by the front door.”
Ben stopped and knocked on Robbie and Adam’s door.   He heard Robbie say, “Come in.   The door is unlocked.”
Ben opened the door and walked in to see both boys were keeping their word and doing their homework first before any other activities.
Ben said, ‘I need both of you to remain calm, and keep calm after I tell you what has just happened.   Promise me you will do as I say and not react, or show you're upset.”   Ben looked from one to the other, waiting for their answer.
Robbie and Adam both nodded.   Before Ben could continue, Adam asked, “It’s about Justin, isn’t it?”
Ben nodded.   “Justin has just tried to commit suicide.   Glenn and I are taking him to the hospital.”
Both of them tried not to react, but the tears started running down their cheeks.   Ben beckoned to them to come to him.   They stood and Ben wrapped his arms around them.   “Justin is okay, but we need to help him get better.   I'm going to call Dr. Hansen, as she instructed us to do, if something like this happened.   Do you remember she warned us this might happen?”
The two boys nodded.   They had become very close to Justin, and Ben felt their pain, as he held them tightly.   “Are you going to be alright?”   They nodded their heads, and he released them.   Holding hands, they went over to sit down on their bed.   Robbie pulled his hand free of Adam’s hand and put his arms around Adam, holding him tight.  
Ben watched the two teens comforting each other.   He said, “I’ll be right back.   Please wait here until I’ve talked to Dr. Hansen.”
Ben reached for his cell phone and hit the speed dial for Dr. Hansen, as he walked back down the hall to his room.   Rick and Glenn had given him her number, and instructions to call her, if anything happened to either Glenn or Justin.  
She picked up on the first ring, “Hello, this is Dr. Hansen.”
“Dr. Hansen, this Ben Nielsen, Glenn’s cousin,” Ben said.
“What’s going on Ben?   This is my emergency number I only give to patients’ families that have a family member who is on a suicide watch,” she said.
“Justin has just tried to hang himself in his bedroom,” Ben said.
Dr. Hansen asked, “Is he safe?”
“Yes, he is safe.   Glenn is with him, now,” Ben said.
“Take him to the emergency room, and I will meet you there,” Dr. Hansen said.
“Okay, we’ll see you there,” Ben replied.
I heard Ben talking to Dr. Hansen, so I turned to Justin and asked, “I’m going to put your shoes on, okay Justin?”
Justin, again, nodded his head, but didn’t speak.   I let him go and walked over to the closet.   I opened the door, and picked up Justin’s trainers.   I turned and knelt down by Justin’s feet to put his shoes on him.   Standing up, I took Justin’s hand and pulled him to his feet.  
“Justin, come with me, please,” I said
Ben ended his call with Dr. Hansen.   He went into his room to put his shoes on, and returned to the boys’ room.   “Come downstairs with me.”
The boys held hands, as they descended the stairs together.   Robbie asked, “Can we go to the hospital with you?”
“You may, but you should call Zach and ask his advice.   I think it would be easier on both of you and Justin if you let Glenn and I take him,” Ben said.
Ben handed Robbie his phone.  Robbie dialed his brother’s number.    Zach answered, “Yo, Bro.!   What’s up?”
Robbie explained what had happened and asked, “Can I go with them to the hospital?”
Zach asked, “Is your homework done for tomorrow?”
“No, and, before you ask me, Adam isn’t finished with his, either,” Robbie asked.
Zach said, “You do realize that, if you go, you won’t get your homework done?”
Robbie answered, “Yes, I do.”
Zach continued, “I’m not telling you what to do.   If you think you should go, then go.   You and Adam are his lovers, and you know him better than any of us.   Will it help him to have you go with him?”
Robbie thought for a minute before he responded, “I think it would, but it might also cause him more pain; because I know he loves us very much, and he might feel guilty for hurting us.”
“Talk it over with Adam, then, decide what to do,” Zach counseled his brother.
“Thanks, Zach for letting me make my own decision about this.   I guess I was hoping you would make the decision for me,” Robbie said, his voice cracking, as he tried not to break down into tears.
“In my opinion, if you are old enough to have a sexual relationship with a guy; you must be old enough to decide what to do to help him the most,” Zach said.
Robbie said, “Thanks, bro.”   The confidence Zach had in him bolstered his self-esteem.   He felt like his brother had just handed him a winning lottery ticket.  
“If you decide not to go, I’ll take you guys over, later.   Robbie, I love you,” Zach said.
“I love you, too,” Robbie said.   “I’ll let you know what we decide.”
“Bye, Robbie.   I will see you when I get home,” Zach said.
“Bye,” Robbie replied, and cut the connection.
He turned to Adam and asked, “What do you think we should do?”
Adam answered, “I don’t want to spend hours at the hospital waiting, where everyone will stare at us, and give us dirty looks when I hug and kiss you, or try to comfort you.   I’d rather wait here, where I can hold you and comfort you, until they come home.”
Robbie smiled at his boyfriend.   “Okay, we’ll stay home.   I’m glad I have the best boyfriend in the entire world.”   He leaned over and kissed him.
I held Justin’s hand and led him downstairs, where Ben was waiting for us.   “Let’s go,” Ben said.
When Robbie and Adam saw Justin, they ran over to him and gave him a hug and a kiss.   Robbie said, “We love you, Justin.”
Adam said, “We will be here when you get back.   Don’t forget, you still owe us a night out!’
Justin smiled and returned their hugs and kissed each in turn.   Tears began coursing down his cheeks, as he managed to choke out, “I’m sorry I’m so messed up.”
Robbie put his hands on either side of Justin’s face.   He looked deeply into his eyes, and said, “Justin, Adam and I love you very much, and we’re here to help you.   Don’t you ever forget you’re not alone, and you’re part of us.”  Justin nodded his head, and tried to smile.   Robbie kissed him, and released him.   “Now, go get the help you need.”
Justin grabbed my hand as we walked out to the Land Rover.   I opened the back door and climbed in, pulling Justin in behind me.   Justin’s grip on my hand tightened, as Ben climbed in and started the engine.
I said, “Justin, everything is going to be okay.”   Justin squeezed my hand to let me know he understood; but, still, he didn’t say anything.
Ben drove to the hospital emergency room and parked the Land Rover near the entrance.    We climbed out and entered the emergency room.   I sat down with Justin in the waiting area, while Ben went to the triage nurse to sign us in.
A few minutes later, Ben appeared with Dr. Hansen.   Justin was still clinging to me, and crying.
Dr. Hansen asked, “Justin, I'm here to help you.”
Justin didn’t speak, but nodded his head as he looked at her.
“I have already made arrangements for you to spend the night here, Justin.   Is that okay with you?” she asked.
Justin, again, nodded his head.
“Come with me, please,” Dr. Hansen said.
We followed her down the hall to the elevator, which we took up to the psychiatric ward.    We waited outside the doors while Dr. Hansen checked with the staff, then we were admitted.
“Go with the nurse, and I will join you shortly,” Dr. Hansen said.
The nurse escorted us to a hospital room.  She instructed Justin to get undressed and to put on the hospital gown she provided.
Justin, who was still holding very tightly to my hand, looked at me for confirmation that it was okay.   He was like a little child seeking reassurance.  “Yes, it’s okay to do as the nurse says,” I said.   I put my hand up to his cheek, and wiped away his tears.   “I love you, Justin.”
Justin nodded his head.   “I know you love me, but getting fired today brought back all of the memories of Alex beating me and calling me all sorts of terrible names.   The things they said to me today echoed Alex’s statements that all gays deserved to die.”
Ben and I helped Justin get undressed and into the hospital gown.   This was the first time I really had looked at Justin’s naked body and saw the scars that crisscrossed his back from being abused by his ex-boyfriend.
I put my hand on his back, and asked quietly, “Did he do this to you?”
Justin nodded his head.   Then he pulled up the hospital gown and pointed to the scars on his abdomen, groin, arms, legs and feet.   I could hear Ben cursing under his breath, as he realized, for the first time, the magnitude of the physical damage Alex had inflicted on Justin.  
Ben said, “Justin, it’s a good thing your ex-boyfriend is in jail; because, if I ever meet him, he’ll wish he had never laid eyes on me.   Nobody hurts my friends, and gets away with it.”   He face was a mask of barely controlled anger.   
Ben reached over and pulled the gown back down into place, then pulled the sheet up over Justin’s legs to his waist.   He met Justin’s gaze, as he tucked the sheet around his slim waist.  “Justin, I promise you no one will ever hurt you like that again.   You’re part of my family and we protect our own.”
Tears were streaming down Justin’s face, as he reached out to hug Ben.   Ben held him tight for a moment.   He pulled back and took Justin’s hands in his.  “We will always be here for you.”
The nurse returned and brought a blanket and an extra pillow.   She was followed by Dr. Hansen.
Dr. Hansen said, “Justin, I am going to give you a sedative to help you sleep tonight and I will return in the morning to visit with you.   The nursing staff has my orders to watch over you during the night.”  She paused, and turned to look at Ben and me.  “Will you two stay with him until he falls asleep?”
“Yes, doctor, we will be glad to stay with him,” I said, looking across the hospital bed at Ben who nodded his agreement.
“Good.   Justin, do I still have your permission to tell Glenn what is going on?” Dr. Hansen asked.
Justin nodded.   Ben said, “I grabbed the medical power of attorney Justin executed for Rick, Glenn and I, so we could help Justin.  I have it here in my pocket.”   Ben tapped his pocket, where the envelope with the power of attorney could be seen.
“Okay, since you have the power of attorney, may I see it?” she asked holding out her hand.
Ben surrendered the document to her, which she pulled from its envelope, and read it; before returning it to the envelope and handing it back to Ben.  “That is all in order, so I won’t have any concerns sharing Justin’s medical information with you,” she said.   “Justin, I want to keep you overnight for observation and tomorrow, after you have rested, we will meet to see what else we can do to help you.   Is that okay with you?”
Justin nodded his head.   His eyes were wide with fright and he was trembling, again.   I sat down on the bed and put my arms around him.   I looked up at Dr. Hansen, and asked, “Would it be okay for Robbie and Adam to stay overnight with him?”
Dr. Hansen said, “I’ll authorize it, but he won’t know they’re here.   I think it would be best for them to come to see him tomorrow.   I know he is very close to them, from our conversations; but they will need to be strong for him, and will need their rest.   I’ll put them on the list of those who can see Justin.   Is there anyone else I should add?”
“Yes, please add Robbie’s brother, Zach,” I said.
Dr. Hansen left and summoned the nurse, who returned with an IV drip and proceeded to set it up.  Once she had it attached to Justin’s arm, she started the drip and added the sedative Dr. Hansen ordered for him.    Ben and I sat on either side of Justin, as we waited for the drug to work.   He gradually relaxed and soon was asleep.   Ben and I looked at each other, and I said, “I think we should go now.   I want to be back here in the morning, before he wakes up.”
Ben nodded, “I think that is a good idea.   I wonder what set him off.   Justin seemed to be doing so well.   His attitude has been very positive and he seems to be thriving with all the attention Robbie and Adam give him.”
“Let’s go home.   Maybe there will be some clue in his room.   I still don’t know how he managed to cut a hole in the ceiling without us hearing him do it,” I said.
“I don’t either.   I’m afraid we're going to have to arrange for someone to be with Justin 24/7, for a while.   We need to take a good look at what we have around the house he could use to kill himself, and lock it up,” Ben said, as we left Justin’s room.  
We said good-bye to the nurses and indicated we would be back in the morning.   We left the hospital and returned home to find Robbie and Adam waiting for us in the front room.   Robbie looked so forlorn I couldn’t help but go over and put my arms around him to comfort him.   Ben did the same for Adam, who didn’t look much better.
I could see that both of them had been crying.   “Justin is going to be okay.   Dr. Hansen wanted to keep him overnight, and gave him a sedative to help him sleep.   We are going back to see him in the morning,” I said.   “We asked if you guys could stay overnight with him; but Dr. Hansen gave him a sedative, so he wouldn’t even know you were there.   She thought it would be better for you to get a good night’s sleep, instead of trying to sleep in his hospital room.”
Before Robbie could ask, Ben said, “Yes, you and Adam may come with us tomorrow.   I will ask Zach to call the school for both of you.”
“Do either of you know what upset Justin so much that he would try to commit suicide?” I asked.
Robbie said, “Yes, he left a suicide note on his desk.   We found it when we went upstairs to see what had happened in his room.”
Robbie handed me the note he had crumpled up in his hand.   I took it and spread it out so I could read it:
“Robbie and Adam, I am so sorry to hurt you, but I can’t go on living with all the hatred that is directed at me.   I was fired today because my boss found out I’m gay.   He called me all kinds of names and told me I was going to rot in hell for being such a sinner.   Thank you for being such wonderful friends to me.   I don’t want to be a burden on anyone, anymore.   It is better for me to end it all, than to continue living.   I am of zero worth to anyone – not even to myself.”
As I read it, the realization his employer had fired him for being gay made my blood boil.   Earlier at the hospital, Justin had mentioned he'd been fired but didn't tell us why.  How could someone be so hateful, especially to someone who is as fragile as Justin?
I passed the note over to Ben, who read it and had the same reaction as I did.   Ben said, “I think we should call your Grandpa and ask for his advice.   There has to be some kind of legal recourse.”
I nodded my agreement and pulled my cell phone from my pocket.   I dialed Grandpa.   Grandpa answered and I said, “Hello, Grandpa.   We need your help.”
I related everything that had happened, then I asked, “Is there anything we can do?”
“Let me do some calling around and I will call you in the morning,” Grandpa said.
“Thank you, Grandpa,” I said.
“Good night, Glenn,” he said.
“Good night,” I said in reply.
Ben said, “Let’s go clean up Justin’s room.”   Just as we made our way upstairs, the rest of the guys came in from lifting weights.
Robbie immediately wrapped his arms around his older brother, clinging to him like he was a life preserver.  Zach held him tight and asked, “How is Justin doing?”
I didn’t answer Zach’s question, but said, “Let’s go back in the family room, where everyone can sit down.   Is everyone here?”
Mark said, “Brandon will be here in a few minutes.   He just finished with his last class.”
By the time we had everyone settled in the family room, Brandon came in, wearing his usual biker gear.   I waved him back to join us.  Seeing him gave me a serious hard on.   His very erect cock was plainly visible through the cloth of his biker shorts.   Dang!   Why did Brandon have to be so good looking?  
Brandon grinned and winked at me.  “I’m glad to see you still find me attractive, Glenn.”
I smiled back at him and said, “I never said I didn’t find you attractive.   Please join us in the family room.”
“Sure,” he responded, as he came past me and stole a quick kiss.   He laughed.  “Glenn, I can’t resist you, because you're so cute.”
“Brandon, you are such a tease!” I exclaimed, as I turned to follow him into the family room.
Brandon scanned the room and quickly found Mark.   He made his way over to him, planting a big kiss on him, as he sat down.   I still marveled at the change in Brandon since he and Mark had become a couple.   I looked around the room and found everyone grinning at Mark, as Brandon placed Mark’s hand on his very hard dick; which everyone could see, through the fabric of his shorts.
Brandon whispered loudly in Mark’s ear, “This one is only for you.”
Mark was blushing furiously, which made all of us laugh.   Zach said, “Mark, I think you are a very lucky man to have such a handsome guy to take care of you.”
Mark eyes sparkled, as he smiled and said, “Yes, I am.   Brandon is the best.”
I cleared my throat to get everyone’s attention.   I said, “Guys, here is what happened with Justin today.”  
There was a heavy silence in the room, as Ben and I related everything that happened, up to the point where the rest of the guys had arrived at the house.
Zach said, “I had no idea Justin was having problems at work.   He seemed perfectly happy yesterday.”
Robbie chimed in, “He was very happy yesterday.   Adam and I couldn’t keep him away from us.”
Adam grinned.   “Not that we didn’t like what he wanted to do with us!”
Robbie grinned, as well.  “Let’s just say we enjoyed each other’s company very much.”
Zach laughed.  “You two are incorrigible!”
Robbie replied, “We are no worse than you and Todd, or Mark and Brandon over there.”
Mark started to protest, when Brandon kissed him, stopping him from saying anything.   “Robbie’s right, Mark,” Brandon said, smiling at his lover boy.
Ben stood up, and said, “Alright, lover boys, we need to clean up Justin’s room and make some repairs to the ceiling.”
We all made our way upstairs.   I wasn’t prepared to see it again.   As we entered the room, I couldn’t help tearing up; as I remembered seeing Justin standing there with the rope around his neck.   I sat down on the bed and put my head in my hands.
Ben sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulders.  “It’s okay, Glenn.   Why don’t you call Rick and talk to him, while we take care of this.”
I nodded my head and walked down the hall to my bedroom.   I entered and closed the door.   I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Rick.
Rick answered on the first ring.
“Hello, Babe,” he said.
“Rick, I need you,” I said, my voice choked with emotion.
“What’s going on,” Rick asked, immediately sensing how upset I was.
“Justin attempted suicide this afternoon,” I said.   I had held my emotions in check to help Justin, Robbie and Adam; but, now I was talking to Rick, the emotional dam broke, sweeping away every vestige of control.    I continued to tell Rick everything, including how I felt about seeing Justin on that chair.   I was crying by the time I finished.
“It’s going to be okay, Babe,” Rick said.   “You need to think about the positive things about this experience.   The fact you found Justin in time is a good thing.   You and Ben got him the proper care, and he is where he needs to be right now.   You need to take care of yourself, Glenn.   You need to be strong for Justin.”
I replied, “I know, but I want someone to hold me and to comfort me.   I need you!”
“I wish I could be there right now,” Rick said, his voice full of emotion.
Hearing the raw need in his voice caused me to choke up, so I sat in silence for a moment, until I regained control of myself.   “I’m sorry for ragging on you about not being here with me.   I miss you so much,” I said.
Rick replied, “It’s okay.   I miss you, too.   With Zach and Ben there to watch over you, I’m sure you will be alright.”
“You’re right.   I shouldn’t be feeling sorry for myself.   Zach and Ben have been wonderful to me.   I will call you tomorrow,” I said.
“Okay.   I love you,” Rick said.
“I love you, too,” I replied.
I sat there for moment on my bed, thinking about what had happened over the last few hours.   I decided to see what the guys had done with Justin’s room.   I stepped out into the hallway just in time to see Mark carrying a ladder into Justin’s room.   I followed him into the room.
Ben saw me and said, “We found some wallboard and some other supplies to make repairs, in the tool shed; so I think we can fix the hole in the ceiling.”
Mark climbed the ladder and measured the opening in the ceiling and then got down and measured the same amount of wallboard and then started cutting it.
Brandon said, “I didn’t know you were so handy around the house, Mark.”
Mark replied, “I helped my parents build our house, so I learned how to do a lot of things; like putting up wallboard, framing a room, wiring the house and putting in the plumbing.”
Brandon smiled, “Wow!   I hit the lottery when I found you, Mark.   Not only are you good in bed, you know how to build a house, play ice hockey and you dance pretty well, too!”
Mark laughed.   “You make it sound like a miracle, Brandon!”
“It is a miracle to me, because, for the first time in my life, I have a real boyfriend, instead of a friend with benefits,” Brandon said.   “You know, somebody who loves me and I love him.”
Mark finished cutting the wallboard and handed it to Brandon.  “Hold this while I climb the ladder.”
Mark grabbed a hammer and some nails, and climbed the ladder.   He reached for the wallboard in Brandon’s hands.    Brandon climbed up on the desk chair and helped Mark put the wallboard in place.   He held it there while Mark nailed it into place.
A few minutes later, Mark had completed the job of patching the ceiling.   Ben said, “Thank you, Mark, for fixing the ceiling for us.”
“No problem.   We will paint it in the morning after the plaster dries,” Mark said, looking over his handiwork.
Ben looked at his watch.  "Glenn, did you still want to audition for the Gay Men’s Chorus?”
I said, “Yes, but I’m afraid it’s too late now.”
“Why don’t you call Justin’s friend, Brian, to see if they are willing to wait for you.   It won’t take us long to get there,” Ben said.
I looked around Justin’s room and found his cell phone.   I hit the menu button and scrolled down the contacts list until I found Brian Sandrithani and hit send.
Brian answered, “Hello, Justin.   We were wondering why you aren’t here!”
I said, “Brian, this is Glenn.   Justin tried to commit suicide this afternoon.   He will be in the hospital for a day or two.”
“Is he going to be all right?” Brian asked, his voice full of concern.
“Yes, but they want to keep him for observation.   Dr. Hansen will be working with him starting tomorrow,” I answered.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked.
“Yes, you can visit him in the hospital and help us remind him he has friends who care about him,” I replied.
“I’d be glad to do that.   Weren’t you going to audition tonight?” Brian asked.
“Yes, I was going to audition, but I’m afraid it’s too late,” I said.
“No, it’s not too late.   We have about 10 more guys waiting to audition.   I will put your name on the list for the last audition, and we will see you in a few minutes,” Brian said.
“Thanks, Brian.   I will be there shortly,” I answered.
I ended the call and turned to Ben, “You are right.  Let’s go.”
Ben smiled at my excitement.  “Okay, but you have to remember not to be so hyper when you get up in front of the judges.”
I responded indignantly, “I never get ‘hyper,’ I only get nervous.   There is a difference, you know.”
Ben laughed.  “Whatever!   I still call it being ‘hyper,’ because you can’t stop bouncing all over the place and talking really fast.   It’s like you had too much caffeine or something!”
I punched my cousin in the shoulder.  “I don’t bounce all over, but I do admit to talking too fast, though.”
We went out to the Land Rover, and Ben drove me over to the church where the auditions were being held.   We parked the car and went inside.   We were greeted by several really cute guys, who directed us over to where Brian was sitting.
Brian looked up to see me crossing the hall.   He stood up and came forward to greet me.   I looked him over appreciatively, noting the well-muscled arms and legs.   He looked to be slightly taller than me and had a slightly roguish grin on his face; as he returned the favor of looking me over.   Brian pushed back his shoulder length black hair, as his piercing jet black eyes met mine.
“You must be Glenn.   Justin gave me a pretty good description of you, only he failed to mention just how good looking you are,” Brian said, in slightly accented English, as he shook my hand.   “I'm Brian Sandrithani.”
“Thanks, Brian.   You are pretty good looking, yourself,” I replied, smiling at him.   I turned and introduced him to my cousin.  “This is my cousin, Ben.”
Brian looked Ben over and his grin broadened.  “Glad to meet you, Ben.   You look like you play a lot of sports.”
Ben laughed, “Yes, I do.   I’m on the university hockey team.”
Brian immediately grew very excited.  “You must be Ben Nielsen, then, number 9!   You're the best player on the ice!”   He turned around and shouted to the group of guys standing a few feet away, “Guys, come here and meet our very own hockey star!”
The guys turned and came over.   Brian said, “Guys, this is Ben Nielsen, the best hockey player on the ice.   He’s leading our team to the championships!”
Ben flushed with the praise.   “I'm but just one guy on the team.   The rest of the guys work just as hard as I do to make sure we win.”
Brian said, “Yes, they do, but you’re the one who gets the goals for us.   Let me introduce these guys.   This is Martin, Jean-Michael, Peter, Francis and Jason.”
Each of the guys shook Ben’s hand.   “And this is his cousin, Glenn, who is going to audition for the chorus.”
Peter said, “Good luck with the audition.   It’s going to be tough to choose who gets in, since there is so much talent.”
“Thanks,” I said.  
Jason asked, “Ben, how do you manage to work your magic on the ice?   We love watching you play.”
Ben said, “I guess you could call it magic, but it is the result of a lot of hard work.   Coach keeps us pretty busy in between games.”
As the guys continued quizzing Ben about his hockey game and his teammates, Brian put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Come with me and I will show you to a warm up room; then I will take you to where the judges will listen to you sing.”
Brian led me down a side passage to a room with a piano.   “Do you want me to play some scales to help you warm up?”
“Sure.   I think it will help me keep from getting so nervous,” I said, looking into Brian eyes.  
He smiled at me, as he took a seat at the piano.  Brian ran me through a couple of warm up exercises.   He asked, “What are you going to sing?”
I named a couple of pieces.   Brian said, “Those are great choices, since they will allow you to show off the range of your voice; while at the same time allow you to demonstrate its qualities.   You have a beautiful voice, Glenn.   I am sure you will make it through the audition.   Are you ready?”
“Yes, I’m ready,” I replied.
“Okay, follow me,” Brian said.   He led me back to the main hallway and into the sanctuary, where the judges were listening to the guy who was just ahead of me on the audition list.   I looked at him closely and recognized Jesse from our university orchestra.   Jesse is about 6’5” and looks like a basketball player, with his long arms and large hands.   His blond hair and rugged good looks always turned heads.
When he finished, the judges thanked him for auditioning.   Jesse approached me and said, “Good luck, Glenn.”
“Thanks, Jesse.   I hope you get in, as well,” I said.
“Thanks.   I will see you tomorrow in class.   I have got to get home and finish an essay that is due tomorrow,” Jesse said, smiling and quickly exiting the church.
I walked up front and took Jesse’s place in front of the judges.   The judges indicated I should begin.   I ran through my two pieces.   One of the judges asked, “Will you sing Ave Maria for us?”
“Sure,” I replied.   I have sung Ave Maria many times, so I felt very confident I could nail it.   After I got started, I completely forgot I was auditioning for the judges, and sang it like I always did for my mother, at home.
When I finished, there was silence in the chapel for several minutes.   Then, the judges started clapping.   “Thank you for auditioning.   We will let you know if you have made it into the chorus,” one of the judges said.
I walked down the aisle to join Brian, who was waiting in the back of the chapel.   Brian said, with enthusiasm, “You really wowed them with that performance!   I don’t think I have ever heard a better rendition of Ave Maria.”
“Thanks, Brian.   I hope it was good enough to get into the chorus, though,” I responded.   “I was pretty nervous up there.”
Brian countered, “You didn’t show it.   You looked pretty confident, as you sang Ave Maria.”
I said, “That’s only because I have sung it so many times before.”
I followed Brian out of the chapel, and found Ben was still surrounded by his fans.  As we came up to the group, I heard Ben say, “You guys should come over to the house tomorrow.   We always have a house full of people at our place on the weekends.”
I turned to Brian.  “You should come, as well.   I know Justin would like to see you.   He has told us you're one of his best friends.”
Brian blushed.   “I hope to be more than just a best friend some day.   I’ve tried to get Justin to go out with me, but he always has some reason he couldn’t go out.”
“Don’t give up hope, Brian.   Justin is in a pretty bad spot right now.   I think the best thing for you to do is to continue being his best friend,” I said.   “Do you want to join us at the hospital in the morning?”
“Yes.   What time are you going?” Brian asked, with interest.
“I’m not sure, but I think Ben said we could go after our last class of the day, which would be about 11 AM,” I said.
“Okay, I will plan to stay on campus until then.   My last class gets out at 10 AM,” Brian said.
Ben said, “We will be driving over to the hospital at 11 AM; so, meet us at the campus bookstore and we will go from there.”
Jason asked, “Is there anything we should bring with us tomorrow?”
Ben responded, “No, just yourselves.   We will order out pizza, and I'm sure we will be able to find someone of legal age to get us some beverages that go with pizza.”
Jean-Michael laughed.  “That would be me.”
Peter said, “And me, since I turned 21 last week.”
Martin said, “We like to party, but we don’t overdo it.”
“Wait just a minute, Martin,” Francis interrupted.   “I believe you were the one who was passed out on my couch last weekend from imbibing too much alcohol.”
Brian said, “I don’t drink, so you won’t have to worry about me.   Water will be fine for me.”
“Same here,” I said.   “I've always been the designated driver for Ben and his teammates.”
Ben said, “We can’t get drunk tomorrow, because we have a game the next day.   So, we will have to go easy on the beer.”
Martin agreed, “And we have class the next morning.   Okay, I guess it will have to be only one or two then.”
Jean-Michael asked, “How many guys are coming tomorrow?”
Ben said, “There are nine of us living at the house.”
“Wow!   That’s quite a few!” Jason exclaimed.   “You must have a big house!”
Ben replied, “We do.   It’s not too far from campus.   This is the address.”
Martin wrote it down on a business card he had pulled from his wallet, then said, “We will see you guys tomorrow, then.   I’ve got to go.   Nice to meet you guys.”
The rest of the guys said their good-byes, and Ben and I walked out to the car.   Ben turned to me, as he started the Land Rover, and asked, “How do you think you did?”
“I think I did okay, but I guess we will know tomorrow if I made it or not,” I said.
“Good.   I’m looking forward to tomorrow.   Those guys seem like they could be a lot of fun to have around.”
“They were pretty excited to meet you, Ben,” I said, smiling at my cousin.
Ben laughed.   “I didn’t know I was any kind of a celebrity on campus.   I know I get the usual crowd asking for autographs after the games, but I don’t get much attention on campus otherwise.”
“Don’t let it go to head, cousin,” I said, laughing.   “Janice might not be able to stand you if you start acting like you are some kind of star, or something.”
Ben grinned and replied, “She already knows I'm a star, in my own right.   You're the one who has yet to recognize my star qualities!”
“Don’t forget, Ben, Janice hasn’t had to live you, yet!   Remember, I was your roommate for our senior year.  I have seen you at your worst, and at your best.   Unfortunately, I failed to notice any star qualities!” I exclaimed, laughing at my cousin.
Ben punched my shoulder.  “That’s only a down payment on the thrashing you’re going to get for your impudence.   You should know better than to fool with ‘the’ star hockey player.   I will have to enlist Zach’s services to help teach you a lesson.”
Laughing, I asked, “Do you mean to tell me you can’t handle me on your own, so you have to get help?”
“Just for that, I’ll get Mark and Brandon to gang up on you, as well.   We will see who is giving who a hard time, when we are finished,” Ben replied, laughing.
“I guess you leave me no choice, but to tell my big, bad boyfriend on you!” I shot back.
Ben laughed.  “You go right ahead and tell him you're being disrespectful to the best looking man in the house.   You know he'll side with me, Glenn.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” I said.   “He did say you were pretty ugly last time we talked!”
We continued our trash talk, as we drove back to the house.   As we entered the house, Ben grabbed me around the waist and lifted me off the ground. “So, who is being the smart mouth now?”
“You, of course,” I replied, grinning.
Ben laughed.  “Glenn, you’re impossible.”   He put me back on my feet and let me go, as Zach came down the stairs.
Zach, grinning broadly, asked, “Ben, did you need some help teaching this young pup some respect?”
I looked from one to the other and realized I was in trouble, as they both grinned.   I sprinted between them and up the stairs before they could grab me.  Zach, who was closest to me, tried to stop me as I started up the stairs, as Ben shouted, “Stop him, Zach!”
Zach barely missed me, as I raced up the stairs with both of them hot on my tail.  I managed to get the door to my room open, but I didn’t get it closed before Zach stuck his foot in the doorway to stop the door from closing all the way.   I put all my weight on the door to keep Zach from opening the door.  
Zach said, “You know you are going to lose, Glenn.”  
Ben joined Zach to push the door open.   I knew I was sunk, as the door started to open wider and Zach reached around the door to tickle me.   As soon as he touched my ribs, I knew I was finished.   I turned and ran for the bathroom and managed to get inside; but Zach caught me, lifting me up in the air over his shoulder.
Zach was laughing, as I struggled to get down.   “Where do you want him, Ben?”
Ben, seeing my predicament, laughed, and pointed to the bed, “Put him there, so we can have our way with him.”
Zach tossed me down on the bed.   Ben said, “You sit on him, while I tickle him.”
 I yelled, “Help! Robbie and Adam, help!”  I knew if I didn’t get reinforcements, that I was toast.   I am hopelessly ticklish, and Ben knows it.
Zach straddled me, holding me hostage, while Ben began his tickle torture.   Ben laughed as I tried to squirm away from him.   After a few minutes, I was out of breath, “Ben, stop, please,” I begged.
Ben paused and said, “Are you ready to admit that Zach and I are the biggest studs you know; and give a certain star power to the rest of you, just by being here?”
Robbie and Adam came in the room and were watching Ben tickle me.   Robbie said, “We think you are.   Don’t you agree, Glenn?”
I responded, “Okay, I will grant you that Zach and Ben do lend a certain celebrity to our place; but I don’t agree they are the biggest studs in the house!”
Ben gave me his most evil grin and said, “Not quite good enough.   Robbie, take off his shoes and socks.   If there is one thing Glenn can’t handle, it’s having the bottom of his feet tickled.”  
Robbie pulled off my shoes and socks, and indicated that Adam take a hold of one foot, while he held the other.
Ben said, “I will keep tickling here, while you two tickle his feet.   On my mark, one, two, three, go!”
They started in and I struggled mightily to get Zach off of me so I could escape.   I tried grabbing Ben’s hands, but couldn’t hold on.   I finally wheezed out, “I surrender!”
They stopped, and Ben said, “Okay, we’re listening.”
“Okay, you and Zach are the biggest studs in the house,” I said, trying to catch my breath.
Ben grinned.   “I'm glad you finally admitted it.   Next time, don’t be so slow to acknowledge our superior qualities that make us the cream of the crop.”
Robbie and Adam let go of my feet and came over and sat down on the bed, beside me, as Zach moved off of me, laughing, “Glenn, you are in real trouble now!”
“Why?” I asked, trying to sit up.
Zach gave me his hand and pulled me up, laughing at me, as he said, “Because we all know you're extremely ticklish, and we can get you to do anything we want, if we sit on you and tickle you.”
I looked up at Zach and said, “You're correct I would be in big trouble, if I didn’t already love all of you.”
Zach leaned down and gave me a kiss on the lips.  “Yes, Glenn, we love you, too.”
Robbie said, “Yes, we really do love you, Glenn.   Rick isn’t the only one who loves you.   Rick may be your boyfriend, and has all the privileges that come from being the only guy you want to live the rest of your life with, but we get to be your best friends.”
Adam said, “That’s right.  I’m really happy that you, Ben and Zach managed to convince my parents to let me come here and live with you guys.   And most of all, I am glad I get to be with Robbie.”
Ben exclaimed, “Seriously, guys!   You’re getting too mushy for me!”
I grinned, “You may the biggest stud in the house, but I am the most beloved!”
Ben laughed.  “Now, you really are going over the top.   I’m leaving before it gets any deeper in here.”
Ben left and crossed the hall to his bedroom.   Zach looked at me and said, “All joking aside, Glenn, we do really enjoy living here with you and Ben.   It is so much better than the dorms, and all of the guys are fun to be around.”   He paused and grinned at his brother and his partner.  “That even includes you two brats!”
Robbie rose to the bait, and replied, indignantly, “We aren’t brats!”
Zach grinned at his little brother.  “Okay, if not brats, then rodents!”
Adam said, looking mischievously at Robbie, “I think it’s time to gang up on Zach, and teach him a lesson.”
Robbie laughed, “It’s okay, Adam.   We will catch Zach when he least expects it.”
Zach asked, “Do you guys want a burger?   I'm starving!”
Robbie said, “Where are you going to get a burger at this time of night?”
Zach replied, “There’s a burger joint that stays open late just on the other side of the river.”
Robbie and Adam both indicated they were game.   Zach looked over at me, and I said, “No, thanks, Zach.”
The three guys left the room to see if anyone else wanted to go.   Mark and Brandon agreed to go; and, pretty soon, they were out the door to secure their much needed midnight snack.
Ben came back into my room.  “Are you alright, Glenn?”
“Yes, why shouldn’t I be?” I asked, meeting his gaze.
“I didn’t mean for things to get quite as rough as they did,” Ben said, looking at me.
“It’s okay, Ben.   It was all in fun and we all knew it,” I replied.   I was a little sore where Ben had tickled me; but, I could see he felt bad about the whole incident, so I decided not to mention it to him.
“If I ever let things go too far, please let me know,” Ben said.   “I know sometimes I can take something that starts out as being fun, and before I know it, things aren’t fun anymore.”
“Thank you for talking to me about it, Ben.   I trust you, so don’t worry about it anymore,” I said.
“Okay, cousin.   Have you called Rick, yet?” Ben asked.
“Not yet.   I was thinking about it, but I think it’s too late now.   I will talk to him tomorrow,” I said, yawning widely.
“Good night, Glenn,” Ben said.
“Good night, cousin,” I replied.
 I got ready for bed.  I climbed under the covers and looked at the ceiling, thinking about what had happened over the last 24 hours.   I was still worried about Justin, and how we were going to be able to help him.   I remembered Grandpa was going to call us in the morning.   He always seems to have the answers to most questions.   I think I will ask him what we can do here to help Justin; in addition to any kind of legal advice he might have for Justin about his job.   Having made up my mind to talk to Grandpa, I slipped into a troubled sleep.
*** ***
I woke up to Ben shaking me, “Glenn, you will be late for class if you don’t hurry!”
“Okay,” I said, sleepily.   “How much time do I have?”
“About 15 minutes to get dressed and out the door,” Ben said as he headed out the door.
I crawled out of bed and made my way to the shower.   I raced through my preparations for the day.   I grabbed my backpack, as I left the room.   Ben was waiting by the front door, looking at his watch.   “You’re 2 minutes late,” he said, grinning at me.
I slugged him in the shoulder.  “Don’t give me a hard time.   You’re just lucky I even made it down the stairs!”
Ben laughed.  “Let’s go!”
We jogged the few blocks over to the school.  Ben is so lucky!   His first class is on this side of the river.   I still have to go over the bridge and a couple of blocks over, to get to mine.
I barely made it to class, as Dr. Nohr began his lecture.   I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying.   He obviously knew I wasn’t paying attention to the lecture; because he called on me to answer his next question.
Dr. Nohr said, “Mr. Nielsen, can you tell us, what is the relative key to G Major?”
I responded, after only a slight pause, “E minor, sir.”
Dr. Nohr looked a little surprised; as he thought I would stumble, since I hadn’t been listening to his lecture.  “Very good, Mr. Nielsen!   I am glad to see you were, indeed, listening to my lecture.   Class, it is time for you to turn in you compositions, for grading.   Class is dismissed.”
I handed in my musical composition and headed down the hall to my piano performance class.   I took my usual seat at one of the electronic pianos in the room.   I plugged in my headset and started to warm up.   Dr. Phillips entered the room and brought the class to order.
“We will begin grading your performances today.   You each should have chosen a piano concerto to perform from the list provided to you at the beginning of this semester.   As stated in the syllabus, you each will play the solo piano part, while I will play the orchestral reduction for a second piano.   You will be chosen at random, to ensure everyone has an equal chance of being first,” she said.  Dr. Phillips continued, “I have placed all of your names inside this hat.   I will pull out two names to identify those who will perform for us today.   Each of you should have copies of the piano scores, and should listen carefully to the performance.   Be sure to annotate areas that are well executed, as well as those that need improvement.  Please be specific as to your comments, so they will be of value to your fellow students.”
Dr. Phillips pulled two names out of the hat on her desk and called out, “Jordan Smith and Glenn Nielsen.”
I was relieved that I wasn’t the first one.   Jordan played Mozart piano concerto number 21.   We all marked our copies of the score and handed them in to Dr. Phillips, when he had finished playing.   Then, it was my turn.   I walked up to the front of the class and took my seat at the piano, next to Dr. Phillips.   I managed to get through the piece without any major errors, and breathed a sigh of relief when I was done.   I am a much better violinist than I am a pianist so I had been pretty worried about it; especially since I didn’t practice it at all while Rick was here.
We had all purchased the 10 piano scores at the beginning of the semester, and would get them back after Dr. Phillips graded our critiques of the performances given each day.   The performance grade was to be determined by the critiques of the students, in addition to that of Dr. Phillips.
Dr. Nohr stopped Jordon and I just outside the door of our piano class.   “Gentlemen, I congratulate you on your stellar performances.”
Jordan said, “Thank you, Dr. Nohr.”
“Thanks,” I said, echoing Jordan.
Dr. Nohr asked, “Would you two consider performing for us next Friday evening?”
Jordan smiled, “Yes, Dr. Nohr.”
“We’d be honored, sir,” I said, looking at Jordan.
“Wonderful, I will add you to the program,” Dr. Nohr said, smiling at us.   “You each may bring someone with you, of course.”
Jordan said, “Thank you so much, Dr. Nohr.   May I invite my parents instead of bringing a date?”
Dr. Nohr replied, “Why, of course, Jordan.   We would be very pleased to have them attend.”   He turned to me and asked, “It’s too bad your handsome boyfriend isn’t still here.   He was quite a hit at the last recital we held.   Please give Rick my best wishes.   Is he coming home for Christmas?”
“We don’t know, yet.   He is currently at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.   He doesn’t know for how long, though,” I answered.
“I hope he will still be stateside, and will be able to join you for the holidays,” Dr. Nohr said.
“I hope so, too.   Thank you for asking about him, Dr. Nohr,” I said.
Dr. Nohr nodded his head in acknowledgement of my gratitude.  “Don’t forget to arrive early next Friday, so we can make sure everything is ready for the performance.   This time it will be a full-fledged concert, since we will have a complete orchestra to accompany our soloists.   I will see you both later today at our orchestra rehearsal.”
With that, Dr. Nohr left us standing in the hallway, as he retreated back to his office.   Jordan turned to me, his face showing his excitement.   “Wow!   I can’t believe we have been invited to perform at Dr. Nohr’s home!”
“Congratulations, Jordan!” Patty exclaimed, as she and Irene joined us.   “We heard you're performing at Dr. Nohr’s home.”
Jordan’s face flushed with pleasure, as he responded, “Thank you, Patty.  It is pretty exciting.”
Irene smiled, “It is very exciting.   Most students never get the opportunity to perform at Dr. Nohr’s home.   This will be your second time, Glenn.   Congratulations.”
“Thanks, Irene.   I'm very surprised to be invited back a second time,” I said.
Patty smiled.  “You shouldn’t be, Glenn.   You are a very talented musician.   Never underestimate just how much raw talent you have.”
Irene looked like she was going to be sick.  “Patty, don’t make his head swell any more than it already has.”
Patty looked at her friend.  “Irene, I think you're jealous.   You should be celebrating the fact one of your friends is doing well, instead of being envious of the obvious talent he has.”
I looked at Patty and said, “Patty, please don’t make Irene mad.” I paused for a moment, and when Patty didn’t respond, I continued, “Irene, I’m sorry you think I have let Dr. Nohr’s praises go to my head.   You know, as well as I do, I haven't solicited his compliments; and I've worked just as hard as you have to make sure I know the music, so I won’t get chastised in front of the whole orchestra for messing up.”
Irene looked at the floor, as she said, “I know you've worked hard, Glenn.   I have been in the practice rooms as much as you have.   It’s just that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to make my playing sound like yours.”
“Irene, you need to develop your own sound.   You have wonderful feel for the music and know how to approach difficult passages with a firm touch that brings out their beauty,” I said.
Irene looked me in the eyes.  “Do you really think so?”
I smiled and replied, “Yes, I really think so.”
Patty exclaimed, “See, I told you you're a great musician and you didn’t believe me!”
Irene laughed.  “Yes, you did tell me, but it’s hard to believe sometimes.   Dr. Nohr can be so critical when you mess up!”
Both Patty and I agreed.   I said, “That’s why I practice so much.   I never want to be humiliated before the entire class.   I’d rather be beat black and blue than have Dr. Nohr dress me down in front of everyone!”
We walked together across the river to the bookstore, where I had agreed to meet Ben.   Patty asked, “How is Justin doing?”
“I don’t know.   We’re going over to the hospital now, if you want to join us,” I said.
“Yes, we would like to come.   We like Justin.   He’s cute,” Patty said.
Irene said, “Yes, but he’s gay.   Can’t you convince him to go out with a girl, instead?”
I laughed.  “No, but you can ask him out, anyway.   He may just decide to go out with you.”
Irene laughed.  “Okay, I’ll ask him.   I think he is very handsome.”
Ben overheard Irene’s comment.  “I guess we had better warn Justin!”
Irene exclaimed, with some energy, “No you don’t!   Don’t spoil my fun!”
“Okay, we won’t say anything, but don’t get your hopes up,” Ben replied.
Zach, Mark and Brandon joined us, as we walked to our house.   Zach said, “We will need to take two cars, so we can all go.   I called the school today, so they knew Robbie and Adam wouldn’t be in attendance.”
We walked into the kitchen to find Robbie and Adam had fixed lunch for everyone.   They added several more sandwiches to the tray when they saw Patty and Irene had come with us.   We crowded around the food and made short work of devouring it!
We caravanned over to the hospital and made our way up to the psychiatric ward.   When the on duty nurse saw the huge crowd, she said, “You all can’t come in at the same time.   We allow two visitors at a time for our patients, so you will have to rotate in and out.”
We conferred among ourselves and decided Ben and I should go back first.   The girls would go next, followed by Mark and Brandon.   Zach, Robbie and Adam approached the nurse and Zach asked, “Can you make an exception to the rule and let the three of us go in together?”
The nurse looked at them for a moment and replied, “Okay, but only this once.”
The nurse took Ben and I back to Justin’s room.   Dr. Hansen was there, talking with Justin.   She turned to us as we entered and said, “Good.   I’m glad you are here.   We were just discussing how long we needed to keep Justin here.”
Justin looked much better than yesterday.   He actually smiled and said, “Hey, guys.   Thank you for coming to see me.   I need to apologize for putting you through such a traumatic experience.”
Ben said, “I’m glad we were there for you when you needed us.”
I sat down on the edge of his bed, and took his hand.   “We will always be there for you, Justin.”
Dr. Hansen spoke up at that moment, “Justin says he want to go home, but I think we need to keep him at least one more day.   I have put him on a new medication that should help improve things.   Of course, the medication won’t cure anything, but it will help make it easier for Justin to cope with the emotions he is feeling right now.”
Justin said, “Dr. Hansen, can you let the guys watch over me at home?   I really don’t want to be here another day.”
Dr. Hansen looked at us.  “If we let him go home, someone must be with him 24 hours a day.   He must not be left alone, and if anything changes in his behavior, I need to be notified at once.”
Ben said, “We can arrange to be there.   There are enough of us we can make sure he is never left alone.”
Dr. Hansen gave Justin a serious look, and said, “I will agree to discharge you today, Justin, on the condition that someone is with you at all times for the next 48 hours.   Then, I want to see you in my office, so we can assess what our next steps will be.”
Justin’s eyes were full of tears.  “Thank you, Dr. Hansen.   I promise to do my best to get better.”
“Good.   I will leave you to visit with your friends,” Dr. Hansen said, and she left the room to complete the paperwork that the hospital needed to discharge Justin.
Justin said, “I love you guys so much.   Thank you for being here for me.”
Ben said, “We love you, too.   The rest of the guys are waiting to come in here to see you.   Is that okay with you?”
Justin smiled.  “Yes.   I especially want to see Robbie and Adam.”
“Okay, we'll leave, so we can start sending them back.   They will only let a couple of us back here at a time,” I said.
We left his room and returned to the waiting area, so the rest of the crew could go back and visit with Justin.   Finally, Zach, Robbie and Adam were escorted to Justin’s room.
We visited with each other, as we waited.   Zach came back without Robbie and Adam.   Zach answered our unspoken question, “They wanted some private time, so I left them alone.”
 A few minutes later, the nurse approached us and asked, “Are you here to take Justin Cardin home?”
“Yes, we are,” Ben replied.
“If you will bring your car around to the patient entrance, we will bring him down in a wheel chair, then, we can get him into your car.   Here are the care instructions from Dr. Hansen,” she said, handing a packet of papers to Ben.   “You will also need to stop by the pharmacy to fill this prescription, before you go home.”   The nurse handed the prescription form to Ben, as well.
We all left to go get our cars.   We pulled into the patient pick up lane and waited for the nurse to bring Justin down.   It wasn’t long before she appeared with Robbie pushing Justin ahead of her in a wheelchair.   Ben jumped out and opened the back door for Justin, while Robbie and Adam helped him get in.   Robbie and Adam sat on either side of Justin, each holding his hand.  
Robbie saw me looking at them, and said, “We aren’t letting him go anywhere without us.   We have volunteered to stay with him tonight.”
Ben laughed, and said, “I’m sure you are doing it for purely altruistic reasons, too.”
Adam agreed, “Absolutely!   But, that doesn’t mean we can’t provide him with some entertainment at the same time!”
I shook my head in wonder.    “I’m not sure we should let you two do that.”
Robbie asked, indignantly, “Why not?”
I laughed at his reaction.  “I’m just pulling your chain.”
Justin grinned.   “Robbie, you let Glenn get you going.   I thought we had talked about that, already?”
Robbie blushed.   “Yes, we did, and I fall for it every time.”
We arrived at the house and helped Justin get settled in his room.   He looked at the ceiling.   “I see you already fixed the ceiling.”
Brandon said, “Yes, we did.   Mark is the best at making home repairs.”
Mark smiled at his partner.  “Justin, I have found the best guy in the whole world.”
Justin looked at the two boyfriends and said, “I agree with you.   I’m just glad to have found Robbie and Adam.   They’re the best.”
Ben said, “Okay, guys, let’s leave these guys alone for a bit.   We have hockey practice and Glenn has rehearsal.   We will be back in time for dinner.”
Patty and Irene volunteered to make dinner for all of us.   They called Janice and Donica and asked them to come over.  They decided they would call the rest of the guys to join us for the evening.   So it was that when we returned from our various activities, we had a house full of friends to greet us.
Justin joined us for dinner.  Everyone made sure he knew they were his friends, and he could count on them.   It made me feel really good, watching them interacting with Justin and each other.   We have a great group of friends!
After everyone had gone home, I called Rick to find out how his day had gone.   Rick picked up the call, “Hello, sweetheart.”
“Hello.   How was your day?” I asked.
“It went okay.   I did get a call from a couple of the boy scouts who want me to attend their football game this Friday,” Rick said.
“That is way cool!   I know how much you love football.   I’m glad they invited you.   You’re planning to go, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m planning to be there for them.   What are you going to do on Friday evening?” Rick asked.
“Dr. Nohr has invited me to perform at his home, again.   This time I will be playing a piano concerto.   I’m pretty excited to be asked back for a second time,” I said.   “Jordan was asked to go, as well.   He is in my piano class.”
“I remember him.   Isn’t he the tall black kid with the gray eyes?” Rick asked.
“Yes, that’s him.    He has a great voice and he plays the cello in our orchestra.   He is inviting his parents to go with him.   Who do you think I should take with me, since you aren’t here?” I asked.
Rick thought for a moment, then said, “You should take Justin with you or one of the girls.   You know, I think you should take Irene.   Isn’t she the one who is having such a hard time with you being so talented?”
“Yes, she is the one.   She is still mad at Mark for choosing Brandon as a partner.   She had her sights set on him from the moment they met.   I don’t know what we are going to do with her; because her attitude has gotten really ugly, lately,” I replied.
“Just remember she can’t help feeling things aren’t going her way.  Try to put yourself in her shoes, before you judge her,” Rick said.   “I know her behavior is inappropriate; but don’t let it stop you from seeing it as a smoke screen for the real problems that lie hidden behind the attitude.   She is probably very hurt and very afraid she won’t be able to measure up, somehow.   Maybe you can talk to her and get her to open up about why she feels the way she does.”
“What makes you think she will confide in me?” I asked, earnestly.
“I think she will share with you, because you are genuinely concerned about her.   People know when someone is being phony, or fake.   Don’t let her scare you off with her rough exterior, Glenn.   I know you can help her,” Rick said, confidently.
“Okay, I can give it a try.   She was pretty rude to Patty today when she tried to point out she wasn’t being a very good friend by being jealous of me,” I said.
“Glenn, listen to me.   Irene is hurting for some reason, and is lashing out at you, and others.   I am sure of it.   Please try to help her,” Rick begged me.
“Since when did I become Dr. Phil or Oprah?” I retorted, just a little miffed.   “I’m not about to become somebody’s resident shrink; so, think again.”
Rick responded calmly, “Glenn, please settle down.   I didn’t ask you to become her psychotherapist.   I just asked you to find out what’s wrong.   If she needs help, you can encourage her to get help, okay?”
I thought about it a minute then said, “Oh, alright!   I'm not sure it will work; but I will try to overlook her pettiness, and try to get her to talk about what is bothering her.”
“You will feel better for doing it, Glenn.   I promise,” Rick said.  “Don’t forget to send me a pic of this Brandon dude.   I can’t believe he made a pass at you!”
I responded sheepishly, “Rick, it wasn’t completely his fault.   I have to admit, I did give him the once over, and liked what I saw.”
Rick sighed, “I thought that might have been the case.   When will you learn not to be so forward?   You know it gets you into trouble when you do.”
“I am sorry, Rick.   I just can’t seem to stop.   I like admiring good looking guys!   I know that sometimes I give them the wrong impression,” I said.   I knew I was making excuses.
Rick replied, tartly, “Stop being so obvious about staring at their package.   I’ve seen you give guys that look, and, when your eyes linger on their dicks a little too long, it gets pretty uncomfortable for me, and for them.”
“Rick, I said I’m sorry!” I said, defensively.
“I know you feel bad; but, you don’t feel bad enough to stop doing it.   I know that, for you, it doesn’t mean anything other than appreciating a guy’s physical beauty; but to some guys, that’s a signal you want to get laid,” Rick said.
“I know, I know, I know!   I’m sorry, Okay!” I said, a little heatedly.
Rick said, “We have talked about this before, Glenn.   You have promised me in the past you will stop; but, you have to want to stop, before you can really do it.”
I hate it when Rick lectures me.   I feel like a little kid being scolded by his father.   What’s even worse is I know he is right!   “Why do you always have to be right about everything?   It’s annoying, you know!” I exclaimed.
Rick laughed.  “You forget I had to be right, before I could say anything around my mother, or I’d catch hell from her.   So, I learned not to open my mouth unless I was absolutely certain I was right.”
“I vaguely remember you mentioning that, at some point.   Okay, I will work harder at not lusting after other guys.   You know it’s really difficult with so many hot studs living here.   You know not one of our friends is ugly….well, except one,” I said.
Rick said, “Glenn Nielsen, didn’t your mother teach you that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all?”
“I didn’t say anything!” I protested, loudly.
“Yes, but you thought it, and I can even guess who you were thinking about, which makes it even worse,” Rick said, laughing.
I laughed.   “I know you can guess who it is, because we have talked about her before.   I'm sorry, Rick.  You’re right, as always.”
Rick teased me, “Just admit the fact, that not only am I the handsomest guy you know, but I am also the only genius you know.”
I couldn’t let that statement go without a response, “Wait just one minute, Mr. Lernier!   Since when did you decide the word “genius” applied to you?”
Rick’s voice showed his amusement, as he replied, “Since you admitted I'm always right.”
I laughed.  “You're so impossible, sometimes!   Okay, “genius” what am I thinking about right now, since you seem to know everything?”
“That’s easy:   you are thinking of having sex with me.   Let me describe what you have pictured in your mind,” Rick said.
*** ***
The next morning, I sat next to Patty and Irene during our music theory class.   I made a point of being friendly to Irene.   When we left class, Irene cornered me and asked, “What are you up to, Glenn?”
I looked at her innocently, and asked, “What do you mean?”
“You know perfectly well what I mean.   Now, answer my question,” Irene insisted, as she stared down her long nose at me.
“Okay, I will confess.   I want to invite you to attend the concert at Dr. Nohr’s house with me.   I asked Rick if it was okay, and he agreed I could ask you to accompany me,” I said.
Irene looked at me through narrowed eyes.  “Are you sure that is all you are up to?   I would swear you are plotting something else.”
I tried to look as innocent as I could; but, I knew it wasn’t working, so I stopped trying.   “Honestly, Irene, I just want to be your friend.   I hate all of this competitive stuff.   I am not out to show you up, or make you feel inadequate.   Can’t we just be friends?”
Irene thought for a moment.   “Okay, I guess I have been a little difficult to be around, lately.   I have really been feeling out of sorts for a while now; and I'm sorry I have been taking it out on you.”
Patty said, “Hear, hear, to that!”
Irene jabbed her in the ribs.  “I haven’t been that bad!”
Patty contradicted her, “That is not true at all, Irene.   Just ask the rest of the girls in our dorm.”
A brief look of anger crossed Irene’s face, before she finally said, “Okay, I will admit I have been really, really moody.”
I asked, “So will you go with me to the concert?”
Irene smiled, “Yes, I think I will.   It sounds like a lot of fun.”
We walked to our next class together, talking about the concert and who else had been invited to perform.   We knew of two more of our classmates who were going, besides me and Jordan.   Irene said, “I think I can find out everyone who is going, because Dr. Nohr’s secretary keeps the list on her desk and checks off those people who have agreed to perform.”
“Cool!   Let’s go to her desk after our next class, and see if she will share the list with us,” I said.
*** ***
When I got home, I went upstairs to see Justin.   I knocked on his door and heard him call out, “Come in!”
I opened the door and found Robbie and Adam were in bed with Justin between them.   Justin was all smiles.   “I’m glad to see you are doing much better today,” I said.
Justin said, “I feel much better.   Robbie and Adam are wonderful to me.”
Robbie grinned.   “Did you hear that, Adam.   We’re wonderful!”
Adam replied, “I sure did!”
I asked, “Robbie and Adam would you object to Justin having a boyfriend?”
Robbie and Adam looked at each other, then back to Justin.   Robbie said, “If that is what Justin wants.   We love you, Justin, but if you meet someone who is Mr. Right, we most certainly think you should go for it.   Just remember Adam and I are always here for you.”
Justin’s eyes filled with tears.   “Thank you, Robbie, for being so understanding.   I have a guy who wants to be my boyfriend, but I have been telling him I couldn’t be his boyfriend because I already have two boyfriends – you and Adam.   I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, or jeopardize the relationship we have, so I have been pretty blunt about not wanting him to come around.”
Adam spoke up, “We understand completely.   We love you, but we know you need to have someone who can care for you and be there for you.   Robbie and I understand that part.   We are still in high school and I know you would wait for us; but, at the same time, we understand there may be someone who is perfect for you, who will come along and sweep you off your feet.   Of course, we must approve of him, first!”
Justin’s tears were rolling down his cheeks now.   Adam and Robbie put their arms around Justin and held him tight.   Robbie said, “Just because we said you could have a boyfriend doesn’t mean we won’t still be here for you.   Who is this guy who won’t leave you alone?”
Justin laughed.  “He has been rather persistent.   His name is Brian.   He really is a wonderful guy.   He’s very handsome and has a winning personality.   Glenn has met him.”
I smiled and confirmed Justin's statement, “Yes, he is a stud!   However, the most important thing about him is he really cares about Justin.   He’s coming over on Friday with a bunch of the guys from the chorus.   Ben invited them to come hang out for pizza and beer.”
Justin smiled.  “That’s perfect!   I was hoping to talk to him, since Robbie and Adam have given their permission for me to see him.”
Robbie said, “No, we haven’t met him, yet; so, ‘NO’ we haven’t given our permission!”
Justin stuck out his tongue at Robbie.   “Now, you sound like my mother.”
Robbie laughed.   “I should be insulted, but I guess someone has to look out for your best interests.”
Adam started to tease Robbie, “You're just like an old mother hen!”
Robbie threw his pillow at him.   I left the room before I got dragged into a major pillow fight!
*** ***   
Meanwhile, in the room next door, Mark said, “I love you, Brandon”
There was no response for a long time, only the sound of a young man trying to control his emotions; and, finally losing the battle, the tears coursed down his cheeks.   Mark held Brandon in a close embrace, as his boyfriend let go of the tight knot of emotion he had kept buried deep in his heart.
Brandon thought to himself, “Glenn was right.   Mark is different from all of the other guys I've met.   In the short time we’ve been together, Mark has fallen in love with me.   I just thought Glenn was trying to deflect me from trying to get him into bed with me.   I've badly misjudged Mark.   I thought of him as another conquest to add to my list of accomplishments.   I am not sure how to proceed.   I have never heard someone say those words and really mean it.   Of course, many guys have uttered them to me in the heat of their passion; but those feelings always evaporated in the light of day   Could it be, this time, I have found Mr. Right?   If he is the one for me, I want him to know who I really am; so that I know that his “love” isn’t just another manifestation of “lust” for me.”   As Brandon’s thoughts took him toward the conclusion there might be a chance this could be true love, the high walls he had so carefully constructed around his heart began to crumble.
Mark, who had been waiting patiently, noted Brandon seemed to have recovered and asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
Brandon pulled back from Mark and nodded his head.   Brandon looked Mark in the eyes, “No one has ever said they loved me before, and meant it.   That is why I started to cry.”
As Mark processed what Brandon had said, he was, at first, extremely surprised; then, saddened, as he realized Brandon was telling him the truth.   Mark said, “I really do love you, Brandon.   I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I feel as if we were made for each other.”
Brandon nodded his head.   He reached up and took Mark’s face between his hands and looked deeply into his eyes, “I feel that way, too.   However, I want you to know the real me, not just the pretty face and the great body most guys look for when they want to get fucked.   I need to know what you feel for me is really “love” for me as a person, and not “lust” for me as a sex object.”
Mark smiled.  “I have to be honest with you, Brandon.   I still lust after your body, because you are such a stud.”
Brandon’s face fell and he looked away from Mark and stared at the floor.   His hands dropped into his lap, as the little ray of hope that found its way into his heart was extinguished, just as quickly as it had sprung to life.
Mark said, “Brandon, look at me, please.”   Mark reached over and took Brandon’s hands in his.   Brandon finally looked at Mark, and he continued, “Just because I lust after your body doesn’t mean I don’t love you.   I love you, Brandon McCray.   Remember I asked you to give me a chance to show you I'm different than all the other guys you have dated.”
“Yes, I remember,” Brandon said.   “It’s just hard for me to change the way I think about guys after all this time.”
Mark said, “I understand you were badly hurt, and the guys you have been with since then have only been interested in having sex with you and nothing more.   I am not one of those guys, Brandon.   I want a permanent relationship with the warm, loving person who happens to be you.   I know you like to project a tough guy image, and you have carefully constructed a self image of someone who is a player.   But, I am here to tell you I know the real you is still in there, and wants to get out of the carefully constructed dungeon where you hide yourself to keep from getting hurt.   I know you are kind and gentle.   I have watched you, and have seen you try to hide behind a mask of cynicism. “
Brandon smiled.  “I guess I have been found out.   No one has ever taken the time to get to know the real me.   That’s why I'm still having trouble believing I have found someone who loves me, for me.   But I still need you to know some things about me, before you can really love me for who I am.”
Mark said, still holding Brandon’s hands, “Yes, I want to know everything there is to know about you.   You said no one has ever told you they love you and meant it.   Do you mean to say not even your parents told you they loved you?”
Brandon nodded his head.  “I don’t know who my parents are.   I was left on the doorstep of the hospital when I was a baby.”
“Weren’t you adopted?” Mark asked, curiously.
“No.   I was placed with a foster family while social services tried to find someone to adopt me.   Nobody wanted me, because I had so many medical problems.   They didn’t want to be troubled with caring for me,” Brandon said, his voice full of pain and resentment; and his eyes reflected the deep sadness and desolate loneliness that lived in his soul.
Mark felt compelled to comfort his partner.   He released Brandon’s hands and put his arms around him and pulled him close.   He asked, “What kind of medical problems did you have?”
“I was born to a mother who was a drug user.   I suffered from the side effects of being exposed to them.   At first, the doctors didn’t think I would survive.   The withdrawal symptoms I had were severe.   I had so many other issues no one was willing to adopt me.   The state paid for my care, as I underwent several surgeries to try to save my life.   The drugs had damaged my lungs and left me hard of hearing.   The doctors thought I had also suffered brain damage,” Brandon said.
Mark asked, “Didn’t your foster family want you?”
“Yes, but they only wanted the money they got for caring for me.   They never interacted with me, unless they had to do so.   They put on quite a show for the social workers who came to visit; but, as soon as they left, things returned to normal.   They had 5 kids of their own, and took in foster kids to supplement their income,” Brandon said.
“Did you live with the same family the entire time?” Mark asked, marveling anyone could be so cold and calculating when it came to caring for a young child.
 “No.   I stayed with the first family until I was 5 years old.   When I went to school, the teachers couldn’t believe I couldn’t speak.   They thought I had been abused, so they called child protective services and I was removed from their care.   They hadn’t told anyone I couldn't speak during the entire 5 years I lived with them.   Their older children were charged with watching me and to make sure I was fed, but that is about all they did,” Brandon said, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts.  
He continued, “I was placed with a different family, who was told by social services they had to make sure I learned to talk.   It wasn’t until I was nearly 7 years old that they finally discovered I was hard of hearing.   The school started to teach me American Sign Language (ASL), to help me compensate for my hearing loss.”
“But you seem to hear just fine, now,” Mark pointed out.
Brandon smiled.   “I have hearing aids to help me with my hearing.”   Brandon pulled back his hair so Mark could see his ears, where the microphones were hidden behind his ears.   “The kids at school used to tease me, and I was the subject of a lot of bullying.   I was in the 7th grade when my physical education teacher, Mr. Nichols, took me aside and offered to help me learn to defend myself, after he saw the way the guys treated me.   I would go to the gym after school, and we would work out on the weights.  He taught me the basics of boxing.”
Mark said, “That is so cool your teacher took an interest in you.   How long did you work out with him?”
Brandon replied, “Mr. Nichols worked with me for the three years I was in middle school.   He had me lifting weights, running track, swimming, cycling and boxing.   He is the only person who had really taken an interest in me up to that point in my life.   I owe him a lot, because he saved my life.   During my last year at middle school, a gang of guys tried to jump me, and beat the crap out of me.   They said it was because I was a weirdo and they didn’t like handicapped people.   They had me cornered; but, because Mr. Nichols had been training me how to fight, I managed to take down most of them before they finally decided they had picked a fight with the wrong guy.”
Mark squeezed Brandon’s arm.  “So that is why you have such big arms.”
“Yes, it is, but you are no slouch yourself, Mark,” Brandon replied with a smile, as he leaned over and gave Mark a quick kiss on the lips.
Mark grinned.  “You’re right.   In order to keep from getting totally demolished on the ice, we have to do a lot of physical training.   Coach is pretty strict about us keeping a well-balanced exercise routine, as well as spending time on the ice, practicing.   He says we may not always be hockey players, but we will always need to have a good exercise routine, to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the rest of our lives.”
Brandon nodded his head in agreement, “Mr. Nichols said the same things to me.”
Mark asked, “What happened after you fought off all those guys?”
Brandon expression, again, showed the hurt he felt deep inside.  “No one wanted me around.   Word got around the school I was a good fighter, so the bullies stopped bothering me; but no one ever approached me, or befriended me.   My classmates treated me like a freak, because I was older than they were.   I was two years older than they were, because I was held back for two years; as a result of my hearing and speech problems.   They all thought I was stupid and slow, because I was still in middle school; when all the kids my own age were juniors in high school.    It was very hard being an outcast.   When I went to high school, things didn’t get any better.   I was moved to another foster family by that time, and things weren’t good at home.   In fact, I lived in six different foster homes during my sophomore year.   The social workers finally found a foster family that would take me, but they basically put me in an apartment at the side of their house.   I had my own entrance, and rarely saw them.   I was 18 years old and they felt I was old enough to be on my own; so they treated me like a renter, and took the money the state paid for my foster care as rent.   They told me I had to work to provide for my own food and clothing, since they provided me a furnished apartment with the utilities included.”
Mark said, “I can’t believe how greedy those people were.   Why didn’t you tell the social workers what was going on?”
“I didn’t want to be moved to another foster home.   It was better to be alone than to have them telling me what to do,” he said.
Mark asked, “What job did you have?”
“I worked at McDonald’s after school and on weekends,” Brandon replied.   “I was really lonely during high school.   I had just turned 19, when I discovered I could get into gay bars because I looked old for my age.   The first guy I brought home with me ended up living with me for nearly two years.”
Mark asked, “What was his name?”
Brandon didn’t answer right away.   Mark could see that Brandon had many painful memories of that time.   Brandon finally said, “His name was Harrison.   He was two years older than me.   At first, I misinterpreted Harrison’s need for sex as love.   I was so desperate for someone to love me I refused to see what was really happening.   But as time passed, I finally recognized all Harrison wanted from me was a free place to stay, and a friends-with-benefits relationship.   Harrison had lost interest in me fairly quickly after he moved in with me.   He kept going out to the gay bars, looking for other guys.   At first, he tried to hide the fact he was having sex with other guys.   But, after a while, Harrison started bringing his one night stands to the apartment.   I would go to my room and close the door.   Harrison always apologized the next morning for keeping me awake with his all night orgies.”
“What did you do about Harrison?” Mark asked.
“I moved into a new apartment, since I had finally graduated from high school and had been accepted into the university here,” Brandon responded.   He paused before continuing.   He wasn’t sure he should tell Mark about his sexual exploits, but decided Mark needed to know everything.   “I built a wall around my heart, and started using guys to get my rocks off; but I never became emotionally attached to any of them.   I prided myself on the fact I could seduce any guy.   In fact, it was a game I played, to see just how quickly I could get them to let me fuck them!   I even kept score in a little black notebook.”
Mark looked at Brandon, in shock.  “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m totally serious, Mark.   I have to be honest with you.   You presented a challenge to me.   I thought I could get you into bed on my own, but you weren’t even aware I existed.   When I found out Zach was your roommate, I asked him to set us up on a date,” Brandon said.
“So, you set out to seduce me, is that it?” Mark asked, laughing.
“Yes, that is correct,” Brandon said, smiling.
“Well, you succeeded.   I'm very much addicted to having sex with you, Mr. McCray,” Mark said, laughing, again.   “But you didn’t count on the fact I would fall in love with you, did you?”
Brandon replied, “No, I didn’t count on us falling in love with each other.   In fact, I made a pass at Glenn the same day I met you.”
Mark looked at Brandon in disbelief.  “You did what?”
“I tried to get Glenn to have sex with me, and I almost succeeded,” Brandon said, proudly.
“What did Glenn do?” Mark asked, looking at his lover, curiously.
“He stopped me and told me not to try to seduce him anymore, and to put my energy into building a relationship with you,” Brandon replied.
Mark smiled.  “Glenn is a very wise person.   He saw right through you and directed you to where you needed to be.”
“I don’t know about wise, but he sure had my number.   He let me know he was already in a committed relationship and I needed to respect that fact,” Brandon said.
“I’m glad he did, because now I have the best boyfriend in the whole world,” Mark said, as he kissed Brandon passionately.  
When they came up for air, Brandon said, “I never knew how much more enjoyable sex is when you’re with someone you love.”
Mark looked deeply into Brandon’s eyes.   “You’re the love of my life.”
*** ***
Friday arrived and I was starting to get nervous about my performance that evening.   Patty came up to me after class and said, “Glenn, stop worrying about how you are going to do tonight.   You know the music by heart; and, once you begin playing, everything will be okay.”
I still had butterflies in my stomach.   “It’s just I've never performed as the soloist accompanied by an entire orchestra.   It has always been with someone on the piano with the orchestral reduction.   I’m afraid I’m going to mess up big time in front of all those people”
Irene joined us.  “Are you ready for tonight?”
I looked at Irene and nodded my head.  “I think I'm ready, but I'm very nervous.”
“Just remember, Jordan and I will be there cheering for you,” Irene said, smiling.   “Thank you for inviting me to go with you.   I'm very excited to be going.”
“You’re welcome.   Let’s go to the next class before Dr. Nohr decides to give us an extra assignment, since we are still hanging around in his classroom,” Patty said.
We agreed, and walked down the hallway to our next class together.
Later that day, everyone showed up at the house around 5 PM.   I introduced our new friends from the gay men’s chorus.   I shouted, “Everyone, may I have your attention, please!   I want to introduce you to some new friends of ours.   This is Brian, Martin, Jean-Michael, Peter, Francis and Jason.”
Everyone chorused back, “Hello, guys!”
I pointed to each of our friends in turn, “Guys this is Donica, Janice, Ben, Jordon, Patty, Irene, Mark, Brandon, Robbie, Adam, Zach, Todd, Devon, and Jimmy.   And, just in case you have forgotten, this is Justin.” I said, laughing, as I put my arm around his shoulders.   I gave him a quick kiss on the lips.
Martin said, “Aren’t some of you guys on the hockey team with Ben?”
Zach said, “Yes, Devon, Jimmy, Mark and I are on the hockey team.   My partner, Todd, is on the hockey team at the U. of M. Duluth.”
Peter looked over at Todd, and asked, “Don’t we play your team tomorrow night in the Mariucci Arena?”
Todd replied, “Yes, we play you guys tomorrow.”
Jean-Michael spoke up, “I've watched you play before.   You're the center for the Bulldogs.”
Todd smiled, pleased someone had recognized him.  “Yes, I am.”
“Zach’s our left wing,” Jason said.   “I love watching him play.   And Jimmy you play right wing and Devon I know you’re our goalie.”
“Zach, how did you meet Todd, since he’s playing for Duluth?” Francis asked, curiously.
Zach looked at Todd.  “We met during high school.   We’re both from Duluth.”
Jean-Michael turned to Justin.  “How did you meet these guys?  I thought you had graduated, and were working for a company not far from here.”
Justin smiled.   “I met Glenn at the gay men’s chorus concert a few weeks ago.   Then, I saw them at one of the gay clubs, and they kind of took me under their wing, so to speak.”
Brian had his arm around Justin’s waist.  “Thank you for taking good care of Justin.”
Justin blushed.  “All of them have been wonderful to me.”
Donica asked, “What kind of pizza are we ordering and who brought the beer?”
The guys scattered around the room, as Donica wrote down everyone’s favorite pizza.   She also collected money for the beer, and we sent a couple of the guys to buy it, while Donica ordered the pizzas.
I stood in the doorway of the recreation room and watched as my friends welcomed the newcomers.   Soon, everyone was talking and having a great time.   At one end of the recreation room, we set up several board games, as well as some video games.   In the dining room, Ben moved the table to one end and set out napkins, cups, plates, etc.   We moved the TV to the sitting room and had a number of DVDs to watch.  
The front room was devoid of people, as I made my way upstairs to get ready for the concert.   Jordan and Irene had come dressed for the occasion, so I was the only one not ready.
Brian looked at Justin and asked, “Is there somewhere we can talk?”
Justin said, “Let’s go in the front room, since everyone seems to be staying in here.”
They sat on the couch, next to each other, and Brian asked, “Justin, will you please let me be your boyfriend?   I know you're still recovering from everything your ex-boyfriend did to you; but can you at least give me a chance to show you I can be there for you?”
Justin looked at the floor, as he replied, “You don’t want to be my boyfriend, Brian.  I'm too broken to be of use to anyone.”
Brian took Justin’s hands in his.  “Justin, look at me.”  Justin shifted his gaze to Brian’s face.   “Stop this pity party, and get it through your thick skull I want to be there for you.   You're someone very special to me, and I want to be the one you come home to every night.   Can we at least try to be boyfriends?”
Justin gave a barely perceptible nod.  “I will agree to try, but I can’t promise I’ll be much of a boyfriend.”
Brian smiled at the small victory he had just achieved.  “Justin, thank you for letting me be a part of your life.”
Justin smiled.  “So, what do you want to do now we’re boyfriends?”
“Would it be too much to ask you to allow me to move in with you?” Brian asked.
Justin thought for a moment, and said, “I think I would like that.   We need to ask Ben and Glenn first, though, since it is their house.”
Brian smiled.   “I’m sure they will say yes.”
“Brian, before we go talk to them, I want to make sure you understand I am not exaggerating just how broken I am,” Justin said seriously.   “I know you've heard some of what happened to me, but you need to know the whole story.”   Justin continued, “I fell in love with Alex the first moment I laid eyes on him.   At first, Alex treated me like royalty, Brian.   It seemed like we were made for each other.   For the first six months, or so, things went so perfectly.   We never had an argument or any kind of disagreement.   Then, things started to change.   Alex started to come home drunk and he would beat me.   He called me all kinds of names, blaming me for turning him into a faggot.   The next morning, he would apologize and beg for my forgiveness, promising never to hurt me, again.   But, then, the entire cycle would happen all over again, a few days later.  One night, Alex was more violent than usual,” Justin stopped, as tears started coursing down his cheeks.
Brian took Justin in his arms.  “You don’t have to say any more, Justin.   Remember, I came over to the hospital to visit you, after Alex attacked you that night.”
Justin nodded his head.  “Yes, I remember.   I was in pretty bad shape.”
“Yes, you were, and when I tried to take your hand in mine, you recoiled from me in fear and started crying,” Brian said.   “I was so angry at Alex for hurting you so much.”
Justin pulled back from Brian’s embrace.  “How can you want to be my boyfriend?   I don’t want to burden you with all of my mental and emotional baggage.”
Brian took Justin’s face in his hands and looked him in the eyes for several moments, “Justin, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say, okay?”
Justin replied, “Okay.”
“I want you to know you can count on me to be there for you.  I don’t make this promise lightly.   I've wanted to be your boyfriend for some time, now, and you have always tried to drive me away.   I know we haven’t had enough time together to say we love each other; but I want you to give us the chance to become life partners, to develop a deep abiding love and respect for each other,” Brian said, earnestly.
Justin was silent as he looked deeply into Brian’s eyes, trying to convince himself Brian really meant what he said.
Brian continued, “Justin, you deserve to have the best, and I want to be the best man for you.   Help me become that man!   I know I'm not perfect, and sometimes things may not go the way we want them to; but, I promise never to hurt you.   Please say you will give us a chance.”   Brian’s eyes were bright with tears.   He blinked several times to keep them from spilling over onto his cheeks.
Justin still stared intently into Brian’s eyes.   Seeing the tears in Brian’s eyes awakened a hope, deep in Justin’s heart, that maybe there could be a future for him with Brian.   His life after Alex had been filled with darkness and depression, and completely devoid of hope.   Justin finally responded, “Brian, I will try, but I'm so broken I can’t promise I can ever heal enough to be able to return your love.”
Brian released Justin’s face and took his hands in his.  “That is all I ask.”
Brian stood up and pulled Justin into a tight embrace.   Brian kissed Justin, then took him by the hand, and they went in search of Ben and Glenn.
I had just come back downstairs when I saw Justin and Brian holding hands in the foyer.
Justin asked, “Glenn is it alright with you if Brian moves in with us?”
Brian smiled at me.  “I promise not to make a mess.”
I returned his smile.  “Justin, Brian is more than welcome to move in with us.   I take it he will be sharing your room.”
“Yes, Brian and I have agreed to be boyfriends,” Justin said, smiling and giving Brian’s hand a squeeze.
“I will check with Ben, but I don’t think there will be any objections there,” I said.   Just then, the pizza delivery guy arrived, as did the guys with the beer.   Brian and Justin helped me get the pizzas set up in the dining room, along with the cold beer.
I walked down the hall to the recreation room.  “The pizza is here!   Let’s eat!”   The gang crowded into the dining room and made short work of the pizza.   Jordan, Irene and I left them, as they were trying to decide which club to go to tonight.   Ben said, “We will leave you a text message, so you can join us after the concert.”
“Okay,” I said, as we opened the door and walked outside to get in the Land Rover.
I looked back at Jordan, who was sitting in the backseat, and asked, “Did you want to call your parents to let them know we’re leaving now, and we'll meet them there.”
Jordan nodded and pulled out his cell phone to make the call.   It didn’t take us long to get to Dr. Nohr’s house.   As we pulled up to the front door, Jordan’s parents pulled in behind us.   The valet took my keys and handed me a number, so I could retrieve the car later.   We walked over to Jordan’s parents as they were getting out of their car.
Jordan introduced us, “Mom and Dad, this is Glenn Nielsen and Irene Radcliffe.”
Irene and I shook hands with them.   I said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
Mr. Smith was a very tall, handsome black man.   Jordan looked a lot like his father.   Mrs. Smith matched her husband both in height and in looks.   They made a very striking couple.   Mr. Smith said, in a deep baritone voice, “Glad to meet you both.   Jordan has talked a lot about both of you.   We are so glad that Jordan has made good friends at college.”
Irene said, “Jordan is one of the most talented guys I know.   Dr. Nohr has even said as much.”
Jordan’s parents both smiled at Irene’s comments.   Mrs. Smith said, “Thank you for your kind words.   We think so, too, but we are kind of biased, since we're his parents.”
“Jordan is a great musician, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.    He has helped me improve my technique when I've had difficulty with some of the passages we were learning the last few weeks,” I said.
Mrs. Smith looked over at Jordan, who nodded.  “Yes, Mom, I've been helping out my fellow students.   I want to be a music teacher, so I'm practicing my teaching skills on them.”
Mr. Smith laughed.  “It sounds just like what you do at home with your younger siblings.”
Just then, Dr. Nohr approached us.  “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.   Please join us for the concert.   We have changed our format this time.   The concert will be first, with cocktails and light refreshments, afterward.   Follow me, please, and I will show you to your seats.”   He looked at me, and said, “Glenn, you know where you need to be.   Please take Jordan and Irene with you.”
I nodded my head and took Irene’s hand, and led them to our places.   It wasn’t long before Dr. Nohr joined us.   We knew it was nearly time to start, as we heard the orchestra begin tuning their instruments.
Jordan and I acquitted ourselves very well, as did the other soloists who joined us on the program.   Afterward, we joined Jordan’s parents and the other musicians at the reception being held in our honor.
It was quite late by the time we left Dr. Nohr’s house, so we decided to head back to our house, instead of joining the others at the night club.
I dropped Jordan off at his dorm, before going to Irene’s dorm.
I parked the Land Rover and turned to Irene, who reached over to take my hand in hers.  “Thank you for taking me with you to the concert, Glenn.   I really enjoyed myself.   I’m sorry I’ve been treating you so poorly lately.”
I smiled at her, and said, “That’s alright.   I know I get pretty arrogant sometimes, when it comes to music.”
Irene laughed.  “Yes, you do, and I’m glad you recognize it.   Just remember not all of us have the natural gift you have for music.   I have to really work at it, and, even then, things don’t always go well.   I love music, and I’ve always wanted to be a concert violinist.   You don’t know how hard it is for me to watch you perform the hardest passages in our music with so little effort.”
“I’m sorry if I make it seem effortless, Irene.   My mother made sure I learned to practice, and to practice smart.   Her mantra was to always concentrate my efforts on those passages of music that are the hardest, until I could play them perfectly from memory.   She knew I could sight read most anything and play it well; so she challenged me to go the extra mile and make it perfect every time.   Mom would not accept anything less than my best.   She often said, ‘If all you want is mediocrity, you had better find someone else to teach you; because I will not accept it from you, especially when I know you're capable of so much more.’   So, every time I start to learn new music, I hear her words and I set out to make each performance my best, and I keep at it until I have achieved it.”
Irene smiled.  “Your mother must be a wonderful person.”
“She is the best,” I agreed.
“Will you answer a question for me?” Irene asked, earnestly.
“Sure.   What is it?” I asked, in turn.
“Do you find me attractive?” Irene asked.
Boy!   That came out of nowhere.   How do I answer her honestly without hurting her feelings?  “Irene, I'm the wrong person to ask that question.   You know I'm gay and I can pretty much tell you if a guy is attractive, or not; but, when it comes to girls, I’m not the best judge.”
Irene laughed.  “I know that!   I’ve watched you give each guy you meet that appraising look; and you either decide they are worth talking to, or you ignore them entirely.”
“I do not!” I protested, knowing she was right.
“You do, and don’t you deny it!   You are very particular, Glenn.   If a guy is ugly or looks too geeky, you won’t give them the time of day,” Irene said.
I laughed and grinned.   “I've been caught!   You’re right about that.   I have always been attracted to beautiful men.   In high school, the geeky kids were the ones who teased me and gave me a hard time, while the ugly ones were usually the bullies of the school.   They picked on me, because I was always an easy target.”
Irene laughed.  “I know the feeling!”   Irene’s face became somber, as she continued to speak, “I have always been called the ugly duckling, because of my homely looks.   I have spent a lot of time wishing I was beautiful, like many of my friends.   You don’t know how much it hurts to watch the guys hit on them, and totally ignore me.   It’s almost as if I didn’t exist.”
“I’m sorry, Irene.   I didn’t know that is how you see yourself,” I answered.   I felt guilty; because I had the done the same thing many times, since I first met her.
“It’s okay.   I’m used to it by now, or, at least, I should be.   Mark was the first guy who even acknowledged I existed, and just when I started to have hope, I found out he is gay and is living with his partner.   It’s so frustrating, Glenn!”
“Maybe you should stop worrying about getting a boyfriend, and just enjoy being here at school.   I think if you relax and let yourself go, you will be much happier.  As a result, you’ll attract the kind of guys you want to date,” I said.
“I guess you’re right.   I’ll try to relax a bit.   Patty has been telling me that for some time now,” Irene said.
“Patty is a good friend.   Listen to her,” I said.
“Thank you for listening to me,” Irene said.
“You’re welcome,” I replied.   I got out of the car and went around to open her door.
Irene said, “You don’t need to escort me to the dorm door.   I'll be okay.”
“I know I don’t have to, but I will because I want to do it,” I answered.
At the door of her dorm, Irene turned to me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.   “Thank you for the nice evening, Glenn.   Good night.”
“Good night, Irene,” I said.
I drove home and immediately went upstairs to my room to get ready for bed.   Just as I climbed under the covers, my cell phone rang.   I picked it up off the night stand and answered it.
“Hello, sweetheart.   How was your concert?” Rick asked.
“It went really well.   Jordan did fantastic, too,” I replied.
“Great!   How did it go with Irene?” Rick asked.
“Well, we had quite a discussion just now, as I dropped her off,” I said.
“Oh?” Rick asked.
“I feel terrible for the way I've treated her, Rick.   She told me about how she has always been treated as the ugly duckling…” I relayed to him everything she had said.
“I have to admit I didn’t give her a second glance,” Rick said.
“I will have a talk with the guys, and see if we can’t turn things around for her.   She is a very nice person and doesn’t deserve to be treated poorly,” I said.
“Sounds like you’re a man with a mission,” Rick said, laughing.
I laughed.  “Alright, you got me!   Do you blame me?”
“No, it is part of the reason I love you so much, Glenn.   You try to always think of others, and, whenever possible, you try to fix what ails people,” Rick answered.
“That’s’ enough about me.   How was the football game?” I asked.
“It was great!   You wouldn’t believe who I saw at the game though,” Rick said enthusiastically.
“Who did you see?” I asked
“I ran into an old friend from high school, Joey Malone and his wife, Kathy.   He was the quarterback of our football team.   His wife is from here and they live near the base.   They have two little girls.   I also met his in-laws.   They seem like really nice people.   Her younger brother, Greg, is in the scout troop I am working with, here on base, and he’s on the local high school football team,” Rick said.
 “I’m glad you found some friends at the game.   It really is a very small world.   You never know when you're going to run into someone you know from back home,” I said.   “What are you doing tomorrow night?”
“I am going camping with the boy scouts at Lunga Resevoir,” Rick said.   “I am looking forward to getting away from the barracks for a while.   The boys want to build a tower out of bamboo, so they can practice tying their lashings.   I went with Sgts. Mason and Slade today to gather the needed bamboo, so we will be ready for tomorrow.”
“It sounds like you are really getting into this scout stuff.   I am sure you will have a good time,” I said.
“I'm pretty excited to be camping with these young guys.   They remind me of me at the same age.   It makes me feel good to be able to share with them some of the knowledge I've acquired through both scouting and the military.   The guys are looking forward to camping out for the weekend.   They will be here first thing in the morning.  They were going to come tonight; but most of them are on the football team, so they couldn’t go camping,” Rick said, his enthusiasm showing in his voice.   
I could tell working with the scouts was helping Rick’s mental and emotional state.   The fact the Marines were trying to help Rick was a good thing; however, their motive for doing so is what worried me.   I didn’t speculate out loud about what their goals were; since Rick and I have already aired our differences regarding the Marines, and I didn’t want to undo the progress Rick seemed to be making.   So, instead, I asked, “Is Lt. Col. Bachman going to be there, too?”
“No, he has to be at some official function tomorrow night.   It will be just me, the scoutmaster, assistant scoutmaster and the boys,” Rick said.
I could hear guys joking and laughing in the background.   “It sounds like the guys are just getting home from their night out on the town,” I said.
“Yes, they are.   I’ll call you on Sunday, then,” Rick said, quietly.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you, too,” Rick replied, before cutting the connection.  
A few seconds later, Robbie and Adam came bouncing into my room.  Robbie exclaimed, “You should have seen Brian and Justin dancing tonight, Glenn!”
“Yeah, they were pretty amazing!” Adam confirmed.
Brian and Justin came in behind them.   “We had a great time,” Brian said.
I could see from Justin’s face he was floating on air.   “I’m so happy right now,” Justin said.
“I’m glad you two had a great time,” I said, smiling at them.   “Justin, you look like you just won the lottery!”
“I did!   I found Brian,” Justin said.   “He's so wonderful!”
Zach and Todd joined us.  “We had a great time and these two gave us a run for our money on the dance floor tonight,” Todd said, pointing to Justin and Brian.
The two in question grinned widely.   Brian said, “It wasn’t our intention to outshine you.”
Zach laughed. “Well, you did.”
They sat down on my bed and we talked until the wee hours of the morning, before we finally decided to call it a night.   The guys went to their respective bedrooms, leaving me to dream about my guy.
*** ***
Rick woke up the next morning with a feeling of excitement.   He had already put together the camping equipment he needed for the campout.   He had also picked up some food and snacks.   He got up and quickly completed his preparations for the day.   He headed over to the mess hall for a quick breakfast.   He returned to find Sgts. Mason and Slade waiting for him outside his barracks.   They were dressed in their scout uniforms.   Sgt. Mason was a bull of a man.   He was so big, he made Rick feel small.   He had steely blue eyes and graying blond hair, cut high and tight.   His demeanor was very stern and business like.   His back was very straight.   Rick sensed Sgt. Mason was very big on discipline and respect for authority.   Rick had bristled at the look Sgt. Mason had given him when they first met, and his interactions with the man had added to his initial dislike of the man.  
Sgt. Mason greeted him, “Good morning, Rick.”
Rick tried very hard to cover up his reaction to him and smiled, as Sgt. Mason reached out and shook his hand.   “Thank you for picking me up, Sgt.,” Rick said.  
Sgt. Slade, on the other hand, was very thin and much shorter.   He looked to be slightly smaller than Glenn.   He had hazel eyes that held a certain mischievous sparkle to them, and a ready smile.   Rick had taken an instant liking to this man, not just because he reminded him of his lover boy, but because Sgt. Slade had welcomed him warmly and treated him like he was one of the scouts.
Sgt. Slade greeted him with a slap on the back.  “Let’s get your gear in the back of the truck.   We are due to meet the boys in a few minutes, and we don’t want to be late.”
Rick grabbed his gear and threw it in the truck as directed, climbing into the cab behind Sgt. Slade.   The cab held four people very comfortably.   Rick was surprised to find another man sitting behind Sgt. Mason.   He looked to be near 50 years old.   He wore black, horn rimmed glasses held up by a large bulbous nose.  The corrective lenses magnified his eyes so they looked to be nearly twice their normal size.   He wore his gray hair near shoulder length and pulled back in a pony tail.   He had smallish hands and a slight frame.   He held out his hand to Rick and said, “My name is Ray Stanton.   My son is Cory.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Stetson,” Rick said.
“Call me Ray,” Ray said.   “Cory and Greg have told me you're helping them with some of their scout stuff.”
“Yes, I am.   They are both good kids,” Rick replied.
“Yes, they are.   They have been friends since they were in kindergarten together.   Sgt. Slade asked me to join the scouts for their campout to teach them to sing some campfire songs, and to play a little bit of guitar, if any of them have the inclination,” Ray said.
“Ray is one of the best balladeers I have ever heard on the guitar,” Sgt. Slade remarked over his should, as he climbed into the front seat of the truck.
Sgt. Mason nodded his head in agreement, but said nothing, as he put the truck in gear and headed to building #3305, where the boys were waiting for us.   “We left our vehicles here, before we came to pick you up,” Sgt. Mason said.
As we entered the building, the boys found their way to the benches that were arranged in a half circle.   Rick looked around at their eager faces, and tried to remember their names:  Mark, Chad, Selby, Chip, Steve, Mike, Norman, Kenny, John, K’shawn, Cory, and Greg.   He was quite proud of the fact he could remember all of their names.   He noticed Greg had a slight bruise on his right cheek.
Greg looked back at Rick and smiled, as he touched his face.  “I took a pretty hard hit last night.”
Rick nodded.  “It kind of looks that way.   You did a magnificent job last night, Greg.”
Greg said, “Thank you.   My sister told me you sat with them to watch the game last night.”
“That’s right.   Your brother-in-law went to school with me,” Rick said.
“Yeah, Joey told me you guys played football together,” Greg said.
“Yes, we did.   He was our quarterback and I was a tight end.   We made a pretty good team.   We didn’t always win, but we always made the other team earn every point,” Rick said, smiling.
Greg nodded his head.  “That’s what Joey said.”
Before Rick could say anything else, Sgt. Mason brought the gathering to order. “Let’s start off with the posting of the colors and the pledge of allegiance.”
After the opening ceremony was completed, Sgt. Mason outlined the activities for the next two days.   When he had finished, he smiled and exclaimed, “Let’s move out!”
The boys made quick work of storing their gear in the back of the truck, and piled into Ray’s mini-van and Sgt. Slade’s Ford Explorer.   I joined Sgt. Mason in his truck and we caravanned down to the reservoir.   Sgt. Mason located our camping area and pulled in, with the others parking next to us.
In short order, the tents were pitched and a campfire started.   Two of the boys put up the dining fly.   Sgts. Mason and Slade had secured eight canoes the night before, and had brought them down first thing in the morning.   Ray and I drew camp duty, while the boys and their scout leaders took the boats out on the reservoir to do some fishing.   The boys had purchased their fishing licenses the week before, in accordance with local laws, since all of them were over the age of 16.
Rick took charge of the dutch oven cooking.   He made up two batches of cobbler – peach and cherry - in addition to cooking some jambalaya.   Ray assisted in the preparation of the ingredients for the jambalaya.
“Where did you learn to cook with a dutch oven?” Ray asked.
“My scoutmaster taught all of us how to cook with dutch ovens.   He always said there was no reason we shouldn’t eat well while we were out camping.   So, he showed us all of the tricks to do gourmet cooking with dutch ovens.   We had many great meals during the several weeks we spent camping together during the summer,” Rick replied.    
“Are you an Eagle Scout, then?” Ray asked.
“Yes, I am,” Rick said, with pride.   “In fact, all of us made it to Eagle.   We had many great times working together to finish our Eagle projects.”
Ray commented sadly, “I'm afraid Cory may not make it.   He just doesn’t seem interested in completing the last few things to get his project going.”
Rick looked up in surprise at Ray.  “Cory seems so enthusiastic about scouting.   What seems to be the problem?”
“Both he and Greg have finished earning all of their merit badges, but neither one seems to be the least bit interested in planning an Eagle project and executing that plan.   It’s been nearly a year since their last rank advancement,” Ray said, his frustration showing in his voice.
“I’m surprised Sgt. Mason hasn’t been able to motivate them to move forward with their projects.   He seems to be quite the taskmaster, and runs a pretty tight ship, so to speak,” Rick observed.
“Yes, he does, but that hasn’t managed to motivate Greg, or Cory,” Ray said.
Rick considered for a moment what he was going to say, and said, “Ray, I will see if I can help them see their way clear to work on their projects.   Do they at least have an idea of what they might be interested in doing as a project?”
“No, none they have discussed with me, or anyone else,” Ray replied.
Rick and Ray continued to discuss ways they could help the boys see the benefits of earning their rank of Eagle Scout.   Soon the boys returned from their fishing expedition with a good number of fish.   They boys cleaned them and wrapped them in foil, placing them in the coals of the fire to bake.
Cory came over to Rick.  “What are you cooking in the dutch ovens?”
“Two kinds of cobbler and some jambalaya to go with those fish you guys caught,” Rick responded, smiling as Cory licked his lips in anticipation.
 Cory said, “I had forgotten you had suggested jambalaya for lunch, today.   I love jambalaya!”
Greg joined his friend.  “Yeah!   I’m glad you're cooking jambalaya, as well, because I don’t like fish.”
Rick looked at Greg in surprise.  “Why don’t you like fish?”
“I just don’t.   I never have.   My parents have tried to get me to eat it, but I hate the taste of it,” Greg said, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
Rick said, “Maybe you just haven’t had it cooked right.   I'm sure if I cooked it for you, you would absolutely love it!”
Greg looked doubtfully at Rick.  “I've tried it cooked many different ways and still don’t like it.”
Rick laughed.  “Are you sure the reason you didn’t like it wasn’t because you had already made up your mind you weren’t going to like it?”
At first, Greg didn’t answer, as both Rick and Cory looked at him waiting for him to respond.   Then, he laughed, and said, “Well, maybe that was the case, but I still don’t like fish.”
Rick looked at Cory and Greg.   “Am I right that you two have almost earned your Eagles?”
Greg and Cory looked at each other and then over at Ray, before Cory said, “Dad told you we needed to finish our Eagle projects, didn’t he?”
 “Yes, he did.   Is that okay?” Rick asked, with a smile.
Greg answered, “Depends on whether or not you are going to hound us about it and become a nuisance.”
Rick laughed at his statement.  “What do you think I should do?”
“Just be our friend.   We already have parents and a scoutmaster who are constantly badgering us to get our Eagle,” Cory said.
“Okay, I can do that, but can I be a friend who helps you with your Eagle project?” Rick asked.
Greg and Cory looked at each other, again, wondering where Rick was going with this.   Finally, Greg asked, “What kind of help?”
“Like helping you brainstorm ideas for a project, and helping with the planning, etc.   You know, the kinds of things I wish someone had offered to do with me when I was trying to complete my Eagle project,” Rick said.
Greg said, “I have an idea for my project, already.   The bleachers on the football field are in pretty bad shape.   I thought I could get a bunch of people to come help repair them.   I know a couple of businesses that will donate the needed supplies.”
“It sounds like you have already done some leg work to get your project off the ground,” Rick said.
Greg smiled.  “Thanks to Joey.   He has helped me think of the things I need to do to get the project going.   We've started documenting everything, and the next thing I need to do is talk to Sgt. Mason, to get his approval to move forward with it.”
“That is so cool, dude!” Rick exclaimed.   “How about your project, Cory?”
“I haven’t even started,” Cory responded.   “I've thought about doing a food and clothing drive for the homeless.   I would like to do a talent show and have the price of admission be food or clothing.”
Ray said, “That sounds like a great idea, Cory.   I know many of your friends at school would love to help you.”
Cory smiled.  “I’m sure I can get my theater peeps to help with some mimes and one act plays.   My band and orchestra friends could play their instruments and the choir could sing.”
Rick grinned.  “Well, you're already well on your way to getting your project started.”
They continued chatting, until the food was ready to eat.   Rick checked the dutch ovens and pulled them off the heat, and declared, “The food is ready!”
Everyone gathered around and soon the food disappeared.  They spent the rest of the day building the bamboo tower.   They finished it just as the sun started to set.   Rick looked at the structure and decided it looked sturdy enough.   Sgt. Mason said, “Well done, boys.   You have built a fine tower.”
After dinner, Ray pulled out his guitar, as they sat around the campfire.   He sang several songs before he pulled out a couple more guitars and showed the boys the basics of strumming a guitar.   They learned several campfire songs before Sgt. Mason said, “It’s time for campfire stories.”
Rick stretched his legs out with his feet towards the fire and relaxed.   This was just what he needed – a campfire, good company and no worries.   He loved looking up at the sky and seeing the stars.   The smell of the campfire reminded him of so many wonderful nights spent with his scout troop camping.   He sat listening to the boys talk about their classmates and their classes.   Then, they started to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future.   Most were looking forward to college; and were looking for the right one that fit within their budgets, hoping their choices would allow them the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Rick thought, “I can’t wait for my tour of duty to end so I can return to making my dreams come true.   By the time I return, Glenn will have caught up to me and we will graduate at the same time.   I am so glad Glenn has finally found a career he enjoys.   He loves music and studying music performance will allow him to continue to do what he loves doing.   Not only that, he will be able to move with me anywhere my career takes me.   Glenn made sure I knew he will follow me wherever I end up getting a job after college.   I am so glad I found Glenn.   He has been so supportive of me.”
Rick’s thoughts were interrupted by Cory asking, “Rick, do you have a girlfriend?’
Rick didn’t respond at first, as he formulated a response, “No, Cory.” 
“I don’t either.   Greg does,” Cory said.
When Greg heard his name, Greg turned his attention to what Cory was saying, “What was that, Cory?”
“I was just saying you have a girlfriend,” Cory answered.
Greg looked at Cory and, then, at me, “Cory, you know I don’t have a ‘girlfriend.’  I don’t have time to waste on their idle chatter.”
Cory smiled.   “That’s why Greg hangs around with me all the time.   He hates the girls clinging to him all the time.   It’s pretty funny to watch them throw themselves at him.”
Greg winced, as if he had been struck.  “It’s not funny.   It’s an ordeal.   Cory, you don’t understand how much I hate it.”
Cory looked at Rick and asked, “Can you keep a secret?”
Greg looked at Cory in a panic.  “Cory, you promised!”
Cory looked at Greg, and said, “Never mind, Rick.   I’m sorry, Greg.”
Greg looked relieved and he stared hard at Cory.   “Don’t break your promise to me.”
I looked from one to the other, and said, “Can I guess what your secret is?”
Both Cory and Greg looked scared and wouldn’t respond.   “No, you haven’t been obvious about it, but I know and I am sure anyone else who observes you very closely will know, as well.   Just be very careful, both of you.”
Greg finally found his voice, “How do you know what our secret is?”  
Rick smiled, “Let’s just say I know, and we will leave it at that.”   Rick stood up and stretched, “I'm going to bed.   I'll see you two in the morning.”
Rick retired to his tent and climbed into his sleeping bag.   He didn’t fall asleep right away.   His thoughts kept returning to Greg and Cory, and their fear of being discovered.   He was absolutely certain they were gay, but were so far in the closet they would never find their way out.   He wondered what he could do to help them.   His heart went out to them as he thought how hard it must be for them, being surrounded by so many military kids and their parents; not to mention their own families and friends who were sure to reject them if they ever came out of the closet.   The boys would be thrown out of the Boy Scouts and their churches would ban them, as well.   He hoped with all his heart they wouldn’t be discovered before they graduated from high school!   It was hard enough being a teenager, without being persecuted by those who were supposed to be helping you get through school and start a career, or go on to college.   Teenagers are the worst when it comes to bullying those who are different from themselves, and school administrators turn a blind eye to it; especially if the subject of the bullying happens to be gay.   Rick’s thoughts about his own experiences in high school troubled him.   Then, thoughts of Glenn sleeping in his arms comforted him, and he soon drifted off to sleep.
Author’s note:   Here is the third movement of the concerto Glenn played
Here is a wonderful thought put together by a friend.   Thank you Mark!

1 comment:

philhail said...

Russ, First I would just like to thak mark for the "When I Saw You".
It is beautiful, and oh so true for so many of us.
Rick is good helping the Scouts as I have refused to ever donate or help them since they came out with their anti-gay campaign.

Great Chapter - full of ups and downs , and I am so happy that Rick can stay in touch with "his sweetheart" for now.