The Wounded Reindeer

A Sanitaria Springs Story

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Note: Posted after Ryan's death, this story has been edited by Cole and adjustments were made by Dabeagle to better fit the story within the timeline. As with many stories, they had been written well in advance and stories often had to be tweaked prior to release to compensate for stories written in the interim. This was originally scheduled for Christmas of 2015.

Jesus, I thought as I stepped out of 6th period and found Lucien Kutsenko and Robin Kirkwood making out in front of my locker, this place really is crawling with faggots.

“Um, excuse me,” I said as I waited for them to step aside.

“Oh, sorry, Tyson,” said Lucien. He was blushing but his boyfriend wore a wickedly satisfied grin on his face as they moved to the side.

“Uh, yeah,” I replied as I opened my locker and pulled out my swimming bag. “I, uh, gotta get to practice.”

“Shit, me too,” said Robin. “Wait up, Ty, I’ll walk with you.”

“Wait, I got something for you before you go,” said Lucien.

“Ohhh, I love presents.”

“It’s not much, but here,” said Lucien. He pulled Robin in for a hug and they shared one last long lingering kiss. I wanted to pull my eyes away, to not see the lingering look each gave the other. Lucien seemed to be doing okay for a guy whose vehicle got torched with him, nearly, in it.

“Sorry about that,” said Robin when he joined me and we headed towards the gym. “Ready for Friday?”

“I think so.”

“You were incredible at that meet in Albany.”

“Thanks, but I got lucky. The guy from Crestwood flubbed his landing, may as well have taken a dump in the pool,” I explained.

“Yeah, but then you did that dive, freaking awesome.”

“Thanks,” I said and smiled.

When we reached the locker room Robin and I parted company. I hung my letter jacket in my locker and started stripping down to put on my Speedo. I’m a diver on the Columbia High swim team where Robin swims the 400m relay. I didn’t know him well but he’d always been nice to me.

About that comment I made earlier, about the place crawling with faggots, sorry about that. It’s not me. That was my father’s voice coming out. He’d made the observation after a kid named Griffin Douglas took first place at a cross-country tournament a couple of months ago and the paper ran a picture of him kissing his boyfriend at the finish line. Lately it’s one nasty remark after another about the seeming over-abundance of homosexuals at our school.

I don’t get it; dad’s a pretty enlightened guy in most respects. He’s educated, professional, and he treats my mom like an equal partner in their marriage. He taught me and my sister that a man should be judged by the quality of his character rather than the color of his skin but that lofty ideal seems to stop when it comes to a person’s sexuality. It really scares me because, well, I’m gay and I have no idea what my dad would do if he found out.

I’m a total closet case. No one has a clue about me, not my parents, not my sister, not even my girlfriend, Chelsea. When I first got to Columbia High I was thrilled by how many gay kids there were and how they went about their lives openly without getting hassled by everyone else. I’ve heard people ask, on TV and such, when did you know you were gay? Well, I’ve always known I was different and seeing all those kids, kids like me, gave me hope. I wanted to be like them, free to be myself without having to worry about getting bashed by some asshole just because I like guys.

The only obstacle to my happiness was my father. I remember coming home one day during the first week of high school and sitting down for dinner with my family. I’d seen something that day that made my little freshman heart sing like a bird. Little did I know Dad was about to reach into the cage and strangle Tweety into silence.

“So, anything interesting happen at school today?” Mom asked as she passed Molly the mashed potatoes.

“The usual.” Molly sighed. She was a sophomore then and going through this 'life is boring' phase.

“I saw two boys kissing at lunch,” I chirped.

“Really?”

“Right in the cafeteria like they didn’t care who saw,” I exclaimed.

“I’ve heard that Columbia High has a rather large gay community. Isn’t that right Molly?” asked Mom.

“Who cares?” Molly rolled her eyes.

I started to say I care, I think it’s cool, but Dad cut me off.

“Fucking queers.”

“Grant!” Mom exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, Joyce, but it turns my stomach. We’re trying to raise good, decent kids, and that school lets those faggots run around like they own the place.”

“I think that’s a rather unenlightened point of view,” said Mom.

“Maybe it is but when it comes to being disgusted by a radical fringe group corrupting our children…”

“Grant.”

“What’s the big deal dad? They weren’t hurting anyone,” I stated.

“Ty, it’s wrong for two men to be with each other like that. The Bible says—”

“When was the last time you read a Bible?” Mom snorted.

That was two and a half years ago. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation that followed but I do remember the look on my dad’s face and the venom in his voice when he said it was wrong for two men to be with each other. I’d been on the verge of coming out that day. I’d been so inspired by the kiss I saw that I was going to tell my family I was gay but Dad’s words had me running back to the closet where I quickly barricaded the door shut.

“Hey, Ty, you coming?” asked Toby, a fellow diver. I’d been so focused on the memory I hadn’t realized I was standing frozen in front of my locker, suit in my hand and my pecker swinging in the breeze.

“Yeah, uh, coming,” I replied as I slipped on my Speedo.

As I walked to the pool I tried to push the memory from my mind. There was nothing I could do about it now. I had a big tournament at the end of the week and diving is a sport that demands focus.

~WR~

I left practice that day feeling confident about the tournament to come. I was working on a complicated dive that would be my secret weapon on Friday, and it looked like I had most of the kinks worked out.

When practice ended I quickly showered and changed into street clothes. Normally I’d go home and start my homework but I only had an hour to get to Binghamton. Christmas was fast approaching and I’d gotten a job at the mall as seasonal help so I could buy presents with my own money and store up a little gas money. It wouldn’t usually pay to drive all that way for an after school job, what with the cost of gas and all, but I was making twenty bucks an hour and it was only for a few weeks. How could I pass up an opportunity like that?

When I got to the mall I picked my way through the crowd eager for my first day at work. When I got to Abercrombie and Fitch I introduced myself to the girl working the register and she quickly led me to a small break room in the back of the store. There were eight other boys and young men there, all of them very good looking as Abercrombie employees tend to be. I took a seat and a boy with rich brown hair and dazzling green eyes took the seat next to me.

“Hi, I’m Eric Keeler, what’s your name?

“T-Tyson Prescott,” I replied. He was so handsome I could hardly contain myself as I spluttered my name like an idiot.

“Tyson, I love it!”

“Thanks.” I blushed.

“Where are you from? You don’t go to Binghamton High—I’d have noticed you,” said Eric.

“Oh, I go to Columbia High out in Sanitaria Springs.”

“Wow, way out there?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”

“Is this your first job?”

“Yeah, you?”

“I worked at the Gap over the summer,” Eric explained.

“Cool, do you know what we’re going to be doing here?”

“What did they tell you?” Eric retorted.

“Modeling. I figured I’d be a greeter or something but seeing all these guys here, well, they wouldn’t need nine of us all at once.”

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing and you’re right, they wouldn’t have all of us…”

“Good evening, gentlemen,” said Eve, the manager, as she breezed into the room. “I’m glad you all made it and I’m sure you’re all eager to get started so I’ll go ahead and explain what it it’s you’ll be doing for the next three weeks.”

Eric and I traded a look and he winked at me. God, his eyes were beautiful.

“As you probably noticed when you came in this evening the window displays are all empty. We’ll be filling them with Santa’s Reindeer—you guys.”

A murmur went up around the room; everyone was curious about what that meant. I suddenly realized why I was being paid so much; I was going to spend the next three weeks sweating my ass off in some stupid polyester reindeer suit.

“Janet, can you help me pass out the uniforms?” asked Eve.

Her assistant was holding a large shopping bag and I was curious. There certainly weren’t nine reindeer costumes in there. I was the first one Janet approached and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when she handed me reindeer antlers, red boxers with moose on them and a pair of red socks.

“Um, where’s the rest?” I asked.

“Welcome to Abercrombie and Fitch.” Janet winked and then moved on to the next guy.

Once all the “uniforms,” were passed out, Eve and Janet left us so we could change. We quickly shed our clothes and dressed in the prescribed attire but I started having second thoughts. As a diver I’m used to wearing a Speedo in front of people but the idea of wearing nothing but underwear in a window at a crowded mall with the whole world wandering by made me nervous.

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Sure you can,” said Eric. “You look so cute in that.”

“Thanks but I don’t know, everyone else is so…big.”

It was hard to tell when everyone was dressed, but as we all stood around in our underwear I realized I was the smallest. I’d never really thought of myself as small before; I’m 5’10 and at least 160 pounds, but the other guys looked bulkier. I was lean and toned from swimming, not big and buff.

“So, you’re the cutest,” said Eric.

“Really?”

“Sure, everyone loves blonds,” said Eric, reaching over to touch my hair, “and you’ve got those big hazel eyes. It’s easy to see why they picked you.”

“Thanks.” I blushed and Eric smiled his beautiful smile.

“Awww, you guys look great,” said Eve as she returned with Janet.

“And you, look how cute you are,” said Eve as she stepped up to me.

“Um, thanks.” I blushed.

“You’re going to be our Rudolph,” said Eve as she pushed a red rubber nose on to the tip of my nose.

I looked over to Eric and he smiled reassuringly.

“Alright guys, let’s get started,” said Eve.

She led us out into the store and had us take our places. Most of the guys went up into the widows but me and Eric, “Prancer,” were taken to the middle of the store to sit with Sexy Santa, a guy named Mickey who wore a Santa suit minus the coat and beard. It was our job to pose with Santa for pictures when people came in to sit on his lap.

“This is so embarrassing,” I whispered as we took our places.

“Just think of all the money we’re making,” said Eric.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

It really wasn’t so bad. People came in to sit on Santa’s lap and Mickey was so incredibly built compared to Eric and me that most of the customers hardly noticed us. That is until a group of guys from school wandered in.

“Tyson, is that you?”

Oh shit! I thought as I looked up to find Robin and Lucien, Derek Pellegrini, Austin Hamilton, Griffin Douglas and Devyn Kennedy standing there with their mouths hanging open.

“Um, hi.” I blushed.

“Oh my God, check you out,” said Robin. “What are you doing?”

“Um, it’s my job. Customers come in and take pictures with us.”

“No way!” said Derek.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Can you take our picture?” asked Lucien, handing his phone to Eric.

“Sure,” said Eric cheerfully. “Just gather around Santa and…”

“No way,” said Lucien. “We want Rudolph.”

“Oh God,” I muttered as I was suddenly the center of attention.

The guys gathered around me and Eric shot a number of poses. When it was over, they thanked me, told me I was a good sport and then headed off to finish their shopping.

“So, friends of yours?” asked Eric once they’d gone, a bemused grin spreading across his face.

“Well, the kid with the black hair is on my swim team. I know the others but they’re just acquaintances.”

“Aw, that’s too bad,” said Eric. “They were cute! I thought one of them might be your boyfriend.”

“Oh, no, they’re all dating each other. I…wait a minute, how do you know…”

“That you’re gay?”

“Yeah.” I felt myself starting to panic. No one had ever figured me out before and now Eric, a virtual stranger, had me pegged.

“Well, you work at Abercrombie.” He grinned. “It was a safe bet.”

“Oh, my God.” I blushed and shook my head.

“I take it we’re not living out loud?”

“No,” I exclaimed. “I, you see, my dad…”

“Hey, you guy’s wanna pay attention?” asked Mickey. We looked up and there were a couple of girls waiting to take pictures.

“Right, sorry,” I apologized.

Eric and I didn’t really talk much more after that and when our shift was over I changed quickly and headed for my car. When I was pulling out of the parking lot I saw Eric sitting on a bus bench as the snow began to fall. I wanted to keep driving. I was embarrassed by what he’d learned about me. I’d never said it out loud to anyone before, but he was nice and cute and I couldn’t let him sit there and freeze.

“Need a ride?” I asked as I pulled up in front of him.

“Yeah, that would be great,” Eric chirped as he hopped into the passenger seat. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” I replied. He gave me directions to his house and then we sat quietly as I picked my way through the streets.

“So, about earlier, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” said Eric.

“What?”

“You seemed pretty upset that I called you out. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“I’m not embarrassed, it’s just...Eric, no one can know.”

“Why, what’s the big deal? Those guys from your school seemed—”

“It’s my dad.” I sighed. “He hates gays. He’d flip if he found out about me. I…I don’t know what he’d do.”

“I’m sorry, that’s rough,” said Eric, patting my forearm as it rested on the console.

“It sucks. You saw all those guys from school. They’re all couples and they get to kiss and make out in front of everyone and no one cares, no one bothers them, but me? I have to hide in the closet, date a girl and pretend it doesn’t make me sick when she kisses me.”

“Wow.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to dump that on you.”

“No, it’s okay,” said Eric. “It’s good to get it off your chest.”

“I’ve never said it out loud before, that I’m gay.”

“Tyson, I know I don’t know you that well but you really shouldn’t keep this all inside. It can’t be good for you.”

“I know but what can I do? What if my dad chucked me out on the street or something? I couldn’t handle that.”

“Yeah, that is rough.”

“How did your parents take it when you told them?”

“I haven’t seen my mom since I was five so who cares what she thinks and my dad’s gay so it would have been a little hypocritical if he had a problem with it.” Eric grinned.

“Wow, you’re dad’s gay?”

“As a picnic basket,” Eric confirmed.

“That’s…wow.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

“How did you tell him?”

“I didn’t, he’s a detective with the Binghamton PD, he figured it out.” Eric snorted as we pulled up to his house. “Anyway, we’re here. See you at work tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” I nodded.

“It’s been really nice meeting you and I’m glad we’re going to be working together.”

“Yeah, I am too.”

“Here,” said Eric, taking scrap of paper from his pocket and scribbling a number. “That’s my number; call me if you ever just want to talk or anything.”

“Thanks.” I smiled.

~WR~

The week pretty much flew by after that. School was a blur; I found it hard to concentrate on anything other than Eric. I worked with him every day and knew I had feelings for him. He was cute, charming, sweet, intelligent, everything that I could want in a guy, but was too afraid to reach out and grab. We spent a lot of time talking, getting to know each other, and the more I learned about him the harder I fell for him.

“So, we’re here,” said Eric as I pulled up to his house. It was Thursday night and I’d been driving him home after work for the past few days.

“Yeah.”

“You wanna come in for a bit?” He looked at me with those dazzling eyes, so eager, so hopeful.

“I should get home. That big swim meet I’ve been telling you about is tomorrow. Coach said there are going to be college scouts there, so I should rest.”

“Oh, some other time then,” said Eric. There was a hint of disappointment in his voice as he started to get out of the car.

“Wait.” I placed my hand on his forearm and stopped him. “Just for a little bit, okay?”

Eric smiled brightly. “Sure,” he said.

He led me into his house and took my coat as we stepped into the foyer. We went into the living room and Eric directed me to the sofa.

“Make yourself at home. I’ll get us something to drink.”

“What about your dad?”

“What about him?”

“We won’t wake him up?”

“Nah, he’s working the graveyard shift this week, he’s not home,” Eric explained.

“Um, can I use your bathroom?”

“Sure, down the hall, first door on the right,” said Eric.

I went into the bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face. I don’t know why I suddenly felt so nervous. Maybe it was because Eric and his life were so intriguing. I’d never been in an actual gay person’s home before. I don’t know what I expected to find but the only thing that really stood out to me was how normal it was. I took a second to catch my breath and settle the butterflies in my stomach, then found Eric waiting in the living room.

“Have a seat,” said Eric, nodding at the sofa.

He sat next to me and offered me a can of Coke while I took in his home. His dad obviously worked hard to provide a comfortable life for his son. It was a nice house and it looked like Eric had enjoyed a happy childhood. There were pictures on the table behind the sofa and in each one he was smiling his big irrepressible smile.

“So,” said Eric.

“So.”

“What’s your girlfriend’s name?” asked Eric. “I can’t believe I haven’t asked you before.”

“Chelsea.”

“And Chelsea has no idea you’re gay?”

“She hasn’t said anything.”

“Do you like her?”

“I don’t not like her.”

“That’s not the same.” Eric giggled.

“No, I know, it’s just…she’s really sweet and if I were into girls I’d be lucky to have her but when she kisses me, well, it turns my stomach.”

“Does this turn your stomach?” asked Eric as he leaned in and pushed his lips against mine.

“Eric, hey…” I pushed him gently back.

“No one is here but us, Tyson. No one is going to see or hear or tell anyone what happens here. I like you. I think you’re sweet and in a really tough situation and I don’t want to pressure you but…”

I kissed him back. Everything he said was everything I’d longed for. I wanted to kiss a boy, be with a boy, love a boy and here, this gorgeous, incredible boy was offering himself to me and I went for him like a drowning man goes for a lifeline.

He pushed me back on the sofa and I wrapped my arms around him. I’d kissed Chelsea plenty of times but there was always the danger I might puke. I’d never been kissed in a way that felt good before but when Eric’s tongue was in my mouth, it was like it belonged there. It felt so natural to kiss him and I couldn’t get enough. I sucked his tongue like a greedy piglet going at its mother’s breast.

“Whoa, easy.” Eric giggled when we came up for breath.

“Sorry, I got carried away. I just…no one’s ever kissed me so good before.”

“You poor sweet thing,” Eric cooed. “You deserve to be kissed like that every time you’re kissed.”

“I’m so lonely, Eric. No one knows the real me, no one understands,” I stated and struggled to hold back my tears.

“Hey, come here,” said Eric. He drew me into his arms and held me as I cried into his shirt. I’m not really much of a crier but it felt good, it felt like all the things I'd held inside of me, hidden from the world, were coming out. It was cathartic. “It’s going to be okay, Tyson, you’ll see.”

“I like you, Eric. I-I want…I…”

“Shhh, I like you too.” Eric smiled and then our lips were back together.

Eric seemed to be able to read me like a book. He knew what I wanted. I didn’t have to tell him anything. He pushed me gently back on the sofa and let me hold him while we kissed. The next time we took a breather he took off his shirt. I watched him stretch his incredibly toned body then took of my own.

“Is this okay?” asked Eric as he reached for my belt.

“Yeah.” I nodded and the next thing I knew he’d stripped me to my underwear. Eric straddled my legs and started taking off his pants, when he unbuttoned and unzipped them I started laughing.

“That’s not the reaction I was hoping for.” Eric frowned.

“You’re wearing your work underwear.” I giggled.

“Oh, these,” said Eric, pulling up the waist band of his red moose boxers. “These aren’t my work undies; I thought they were cute so I bought my own.”

“They are cute,” I agreed, then reached to tug his jeans down.

Eric collapsed against me in a fit of giggles and then we were kissing again. I wrapped my legs around him and pulled him close. I could feel his erection pressing into me and it was the most erotic sensation of my life.

“Uhhhh,” Eric moaned into my mouth when I reached between us and squeezed his erection through his boxers.

The feeling, iron coated in soft velvet, blew my mind. I rolled over and we fell off the sofa thudding down on the carpet. I couldn’t stop myself; it felt like if I stopped and thought about what I was doing my fear would take over and the moment would be lost. I sat up and quickly yanked Eric’s boxers down, the next thing I knew I was kissing the head of his erection.

“Careful,” Eric moaned as I swallowed his head. “Watch your teeth.”

“Mmmhmmm,” I moaned around his erection.

Blowing Eric was like nothing I’d ever done before. Each sensation was a new experience that had me on sensory overload. I tried to savor every second of the encounter, so much so that I was actually taken by surprise when he exploded in my mouth.

“Wow,” I panted after swallowing the load and sitting up on my knees.

There was no time for reflection then. I was still hard, I hadn’t climaxed and Eric was eager to return the favor. He pounced on me, as hungry for me as I’d been for him. He didn’t wait to get my underpants off, he simply tugged them down as far as he could and engulfed my erection in his warm eager mouth. He sucked me so hard that my eyes almost rolled into the back of my head.

After I came we lay there trying to catch our breath. That’s when the guilt struck me. It always happens. Every time I jerk off thinking about some hot guy from my swim team I’m overcome by this incredible sense of shame. Now that I’d actually had sex, being gay was no longer an academic exercise. I’d done it, I’d had sex with a boy and in so doing I’d also cheated on Chelsea. I didn’t love her but she was still my girlfriend and I’d betrayed her with a boy. It was all irrational and stupid but such was the nature of my guilt, and as it set in I started to panic.

“I-I gotta go,” I stammered as I jumped to my feet and pulled up my boxer-briefs.

“Tyson,” Eric exclaimed as he sat up.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, I-I gotta go.”

“Tyson will you stop?”

“I, uh, I…oh shit,” I muttered as I ran from the house, still trying to zip my pants.

Eric tried to follow me but wouldn’t step outside naked as I made a mad dash for my car.

“Oh God, what have I done?” I asked the reflection in the rearview mirror as I sped off.

~WR~

It was late when I got home and the house was quiet as I tiptoed towards the stairs.

“Late night, buddy?” asked Dad. He was coming down the stairs, likely as not trying to sneak a late night snack as was his custom.

“Uh, yeah, there was traffic and stuff. Night,” I said as I tried to squeeze past him.

“Hey, are you okay, you seem…distracted.”

“I’m fine, why?” I asked nervously. I was afraid he’d see it on my face or smell Eric on my clothes.

“Nothing, I guess.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got my swim meet tomorrow, night.”

Dad looked at me for a second but let me pass without further conversation. I practically ran to my room and shut the door. I was so upset, first there was the post-sex guilt, then the fact that I’d treated Eric so poorly. I liked him, I really liked him and he’d given himself to me then I just stormed out. I treated him like trash and didn’t know how I’d ever face him again. I felt like a pathetic loser when I climbed into bed and cried in frustration until I finally fell asleep.

I was in a foul mood the next morning. I’d slept but it had been a restless sleep full of tossing and turning. The only good news was Dad wasn’t there at breakfast. My parents were coming to the swim meet to watch me dive so he’d gone in early in order to leave in time for the meet.

When I got to school I avoided Chelsea. I still felt like a shit for cheating on her and didn’t know what I was going to do to resolve that situation. She’s a sweet girl, I think she loves me, and I feel like I’m using her. I’m never going to be the man she wants or needs because it’s not me. I can’t go through life pretending to be something I’m not and that means her feelings are going to get hurt. I feel terrible about it.

Fortunately Chelsea isn’t in my morning classes and we have separate lunch periods so it was easy to avoid her. I was quiet at lunch and when my friends asked about it I told them I was just trying to focus my mind for the swim meet. Actually, I was thinking of Eric. Of all the thoughts running through my head, there was a small voice that kept reminding me how sweet, cute and incredible he was. The little voice played my heartstrings like a harp and I knew I had to make things right with him. He was what I wanted.

When the bell rang I grabbed my bag and started towards my French class. I was almost there when the door to the janitor’s closet opened and a hand pushed me inside. I turned to see who had pushed me and came face to face with Eric.

“Eric, what the hell are you…”

“Shhh,” said Eric, as he stepped into the closet and pulled the door shut behind him.

“What are you doing here?”

“You forgot this,” said Eric, handing me my letter jacket.

“Oh, uh, thanks.”

“And you ran out of my house like a frightened rabbit without talking to me.”

“I’m sorry, I fucked up.” I sighed.

“Why? I thought you liked me.”

“I do like you, Eric, I like you a lot. Last night, I can’t describe it. It was incredible and then, after, I…”

“Come on, you can tell me, Ty.”

“What have I been telling you all week?”

“Basically that you’re scared of your dad.”

“Yeah.” I sighed.

“Well, your dad wasn’t in my house last night.”

“I know; it’s just, okay, while we were doing it, it was great! I was so caught up in the moment and you, God, you’re perfect for me and I felt so good with you…”

“But?”

“But when it was over, I felt guilty. I cheated on Chelsea. I know I’m gay and don’t have a future with her but she’s still my girlfriend.”

“I understand that.” Eric sighed. “I was caught up in the moment too. I wasn’t thinking about anyone else, just you and me.”

“Please, Eric, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m the one with the hang ups. I felt guilty about Chelsea, I was scared I’d go home and my dad would know what we’d done. Fuck, Eric, I’m so sick of being scared.”

“Come here,” said Eric, pulling me into a hug. God damn it, he smelled so good. His arms felt so good around me.

“I like you so much,” I whispered.

“I like you too, Tyson. I know you’re scared and last night, I should have stopped things before they got out of hand.”

“But it was great,” I exclaimed.

“It was, but you weren’t ready and I should have been sensitive to that.”

“How could you know? I didn’t feel it until we were finished.”

“Ty, you’ve been telling me all week. I should have thought with the head on top of my neck instead of the one in my pants.”

“So where does this leave us?”

“I’ve dated a lot of guys, Ty. I’ve had sex with some of them but I’ve never met anyone like you. I’m tired of dating jerks. I’d really like to have a boyfriend.”

“I want that, too, but Eric, I’m scared.”

“I know and that’s okay. Look, I’d love for you to come out and for us to be an out and proud couple but I’m willing to accept you’re not there yet. I understand the situation with your dad and I respect it. I don’t care whether or not the world knows we’re together. Knowing you’re mine is enough.”

“So, you want to be my boyfriend?”

“I’d like that. It’ll be our little secret.” Eric smiled.

“You don’t know how lucky I feel to have met you.”

“Likewise, Rudolph,” said Eric as he kissed the tip of my nose.

“I know you’re going to give me a better kiss then that.” I grinned.

“Naturally,” said Eric as he cupped my face and kissed me deeply. We made out in the janitor’s closet for a few minutes before coming up for breath. “I should go.”

“Do you have to? You could stay for my swim meet.”

“I can’t. I had to ditch classes to come out here and if I’m not there when dad comes to pick me up, he’ll kick my ass.”

“Really?”

“Hey, just because he lets me date boys doesn’t mean he’s cool with me ditching class and driving an hour out of town without telling him.” Eric giggled.

“Ok, good point. How did you get here anyway?” I asked as I draped my letter jacket over my arm and stepped out of the closet.

“Got a ride from a friend. She’s waiting out in the car.”

I walked Eric to the main entrance. We had to be careful because classes had started and I didn’t want to catch any crap from a hall monitor or campus security guard. I was already going to get busted for being late to class; there was no point in adding to it.

“So, see you at work tonight?” asked Eric.

“Yeap, it’s the best part of my day.” I smiled then looked around. There was no one watching so I pulled him close and kissed him. “Hey, I got an idea.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s a little old fashioned but, since you go to school in another town and no one here will see it, well, would you take my jacket?”

“Your letter jacket?”

“Yeah, I mean it’s kind of a traditional boyfriend, girlfriend thing. Why can’t we start a new tradition, make it a boyfriend, boyfriend thing?”

“I think that’s a great idea,” said Eric, taking the offered jacket from my hands and slipping it on.

“It looks good on you.”

“It smells like you.” Eric smiled as he pulled the jacket tightly around himself. “I better get going.”

“Yeah,” I agreed and kissed him one last time.

I would have stood there and watched him drive off with his friend but I’d just given away my letter jacket and my North Face jacket was in my locker so I high tailed it inside. I walked into the building and found a girl standing there holding a hall pass and leaning against the wall as though she’d been watching the show outside. My eyes met hers and when she smiled I blushed.

“He was cute.” She smiled. “I’d have kissed him.”

“Um, thanks.” I giggled and ran to class.

I got out of class at 5th period and went straight to the locker room to prepare for my swim meet. It was hard to concentrate with so many things going through my head. I was excited about my new relationship with Eric, terrified my family would find out about him, and apprehensive about breaking up with Chelsea. It all combined to make me jittery and I had to block everything from my mind in order to focus on the task at hand. Diving demands poise and precision; you’ve got a tiny window from the time you leave the platform to the time you hit the water; there is no room for error. Not to mention, if you don’t hit the water at just the right angle, well, slamming into water at forty miles an hour is a lot like getting hit by a car.

I had a lot riding on my performance that day. It was the last tournament of the season, there were college scouts attending, and a solid performance in front of them would go a long way towards getting me into the school of my choice. Once I changed into my Speedo I joined my teammate’s poolside. As the spectators began to fill the stands I closed my eyes and forced myself to concentrate.

It was a big tournament, six schools were competing and each brought with them a large cheering section. The atmosphere in the gym was tinged with an excited energy that I felt resonating through my body when the announcer called my name. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of swimming and diving tournaments other than to say the first four dives you do are mandatory, everyone does the same dive so the judges can compare you against your competitors. The second set of dives are the optional dives in which you can showcase your craft. It’s also an opportunity to wow the judges.

The competition for first and second place quickly boiled down to me and a guy named Mike Shaw from St. Ignatius High. He’d do a dive then I’d follow and score slightly higher. It was back and forth like that until he performed his last optional dive and we were separated by a mere nine points. I’d been scoring an average of 7-8 points per dive, if I was going to beat Mike I had to score a 9.5 and there was only one way I could see to do that. I had to break out my secret weapon.

“Now diving for Columbia High School, Tyson Prescott,” the announcer called over the loud speaker.

There were cheers from the hometown crowd but also from some of the other schools I’d managed to impress that day. By this time in the tournament I felt like a machine. My mind was focused like a laser beam, my body was ready to perform and I felt a sense of calm wash over me as I climbed to the top of the ten meter platform.

When I reached the top of the platform I paused as a wave of supportive cheers went up from the crowd. When the applause died down I turned my back on the spectators, closed my eyes and stood on my tip toes at the very edge of the platform. My knees bent and I shot out over the water my body pulling into a wedge. I completed a four somersault tuck and straightened out, bringing my hands together to punch a hole in the surface of the water as I entered. It was over in less than two seconds and when I broke the surface the crowd roared their acclaim.

I swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out, holding my breath as the judges tabulated their score.

“Final score, 9.5,” the announcer called out.

“YES!” I shouted. I’d taken first place by a mere half a point.

My teammates were almost as excited as I was. I was swarmed by them as they hugged me and clapped me on the back. I felt euphoric. After all the crap of the last few days, winning the tournament, it was such an intense feeling. I felt a heavy hand clamp down on my shoulder; I turned expecting to find my coach but came face to face with my dad. The expression he wore made me think his face was about to melt off.

“Dad…”

“Let’s go,” he said coldly.

“But I…”

“Now,” Dad roared as he grabbed my arm roughly and yanked me away from my teammates.

“Owww, Dad, stop,” I whined. He had a firm grip on my bicep but I had the advantage of being wet and slipped from his grasp. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. My Dad had never touched me like that before and it hurt.

Dad turned and reached for my arm again but I was faster and dodged his grasp. My resistance fueled his anger and that’s when he hit me. Not a slap but a punch that landed right in my eye. I went down hard, sprawled out on the cold tile floor. The crowd was quiet, stunned by what they’d seen, until Mom pushed through them and found me on the ground.

“Jesus,” Mom exclaimed as she knelt next to me.

“Mom,” I whined. I was dizzy from the blow I’d received and struggled to sit up. I was desperately trying not to cry. I’d just been humiliated in front of hundreds of people and didn’t want to make it worse.

“Get up, you fucking queer,” Dad shouted.

Mom stood up and rounded on him. He’d caught me off guard when he punched me and Mom turned the tables on him when she slapped his face.

“If you ever lay a hand on my son again, Grant, I swear to God…” she started.

“Mom,” I whined.

“It’s alright, Ty, let me help you up,” said Mom.

“That’s okay, Mrs. Prescott,” said my friend Toby. He stopped down and helped me gain my feet. “Come on bud, let’s hit the locker room.”

“Okay.”

That was when Coach Chambers and some of the team dads stepped in. They subdued my father, kept him away from me and my mother and then called the police. I was still trying to shake off dad’s punch so Toby put his arm around my shoulder for support. When we got to the locker room I lost it. Everything hit me at once, my dad’s anger, my humiliation at his hands in front of the whole damn town—it was too much and I bawled like a baby.

“Hey, Ty, come on, it’ll be alright,” said Toby.

“No it’s not, Toby. My dad hates me, it’s never going to be alright again.” I sobbed.

“He’s pissed, that’s all,” said Toby. He pulled me to him and wrapped me in a tender embrace. “He’ll get over it.”

“No he won’t, he hates gays and I’m…”

“So what if you are? Dude, you’re a good guy and you’re his son. He’ll come to his senses.”

“Thanks, Toby,” I sniffled.

“Why don’t you get dressed and…”

“I can’t go back out there in front of all those people.”

“Get dressed and I’ll, I don’t know, take you out to your mom’s car, okay?”

“Yeah.” I nodded.

“It’s gonna be alright man, I promise,” said Toby, giving me a final squeeze.

I dressed quickly, and then Toby led me out the back entrance and around the gym to the parking lot. He got me to mom’s Volvo, gave me another hug but then had to get back to the gym. I was completely and totally humiliated. I had no idea how Dad had found out about me but the situation that unfolded in the gym, in front of damn near the whole town, it was like my worst nightmare come true.

“Tyson, Tyson, look at me,” said Mom, when she slipped into the driver’s seat.

I didn’t want to meet her eyes but she took a hold of my chin and turned my head.

“It’s not so bad, we’ll put some ice on it when we get home and that’ll help with the swelling,” she said, referring to my eye.

“Okay,” I whispered. “What’s going to happen now?”

Mom let out a deep sigh before she replied.

“Coach Chambers was obligated to file a police report,” she started. “He’s never had anything like this happen before so he’ll have to talk to the athletic director on Monday but he’ll probably have to press assault charges against your father.”

“Is he going to jail?”

“The police officer said this is a matter for family court. Someone from child protective services will come out and speak with us and we’ll go from there. They agreed not to take your dad into custody so long as he stays at Aunt Laura’s at least until we speak with CPS,” mom explained.

“I’m sorry,” I whined.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, baby,” said mom. She pulled me into a hug and kissed the top of my head. “Is it true?”

“Yes,” I croaked.

“Okay.” Mom sighed.

“Are you disappointed?”

“Tyson, I’ve never been disappointed by you,” said mom, forcefully. “If this is who you are then we’ll deal with it. You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”

“How did he know?”

“We were watching you dive. There were some girls sitting in front of us and the last time you came out of the water one of them remarked to her friends that you were cute. One of them told her not to get her hopes up, that she’d seen you kissing a boy earlier today.”

“Oh, God,” I groaned.

“Your dad, he, he got so angry. I’m sorry he got to you first. I was right behind him but I got hung up in the crowd.”

“This is a nightmare.” I shook my head.

“It’s going to be okay,” said Mom, reassuring me with one of her hugs.

“Are you guys going to get a divorce?”

“I don’t know, Ty, but I don’t want you to worry about that. I’ll handle your dad. I promise; he’ll never touch you again.”

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, sweetie.”

~WR~

“Hey twerp, how did the swim meet go?” asked Molly when mom and I walked into the house. Then she saw my face. “Whoa, what happened to you?”

“Ty, why don’t you go up to your room and lie down? I’ll bring you an ice pack,” said Mom.

“But I’ve got to go to work.” I protested.

“I think you need to stay home and calm down. I’ll call in for you.”

“Okay.” I sighed and headed up the stairs.

“What’s going on?” asked Molly, her voice trailing behind me as I stepped into my room.

I flopped down on my bed and lie there like a zombie. Just a few hours ago I’d given my letter jacket to Eric as a symbol of our new relationship. I’d been so happy and now I hardly recognized my life. Thinking about Eric did make me feel a little better though; he was the silver lining in this disaster. I reached into my pocket for my phone so I could call my new boyfriend, and draw comfort from his voice, but it wasn’t there. I sat up and searched my pockets but came up empty and swore when I realized that in my haste to get dressed I’d left my phone in my gym locker. To make matters worse, I couldn’t even drive up to Binghamton to see him because my car was still at school and by that time they’d probably locked the gates.

Mom brought me an ice pack a few minutes later and when I asked if I could borrow her car she reminded me I don’t know how to drive stick. Once she left I threw myself back down on the bed and cried into my pillow. It felt like the world had a new hobby, shitting on Tyson Prescott, and I didn’t want to play anymore.

A couple of hours later there was a knock on the door. I ignored it at first but the second time I shouted, “I’m not hungry, mom.”

“It’s not your mom, it’s me.”

I sat up and found Chelsea sticking her head through the door. Fuck, this day just gets better and better.

“Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” I nodded.

Chelsea shut the door behind her and sat next to me on my bed. We were quiet for a moment and then she handed me a small velvet box.

“You left so fast after the tournament, I, well, I brought you this,” she said.

I opened the box to find my first place gold medal on its blue ribbon.

“Thanks,” I whispered. “I didn’t know you were there.”

“I was sitting with your parents.”

“Oh.”

“So, is it true? You’re gay?”

I couldn’t bring myself to meet her gaze, so I simply nodded my head.

“I thought so.” She sighed.

“What?” My head snapped up.

“Ty, come on, you work at Abercrombie.”

“What?” I exclaimed, but then I saw the smile spread across her face. “Not funny.”

“It’s a little funny,” said Chelsea, nudging me with her shoulder.

“Ok, maybe a little,” I admitted. “But seriously, did you really know?”

“My girlfriends are always talking about how their boyfriends can’t keep their hands off them. You never touch me, Ty. At first I thought it was because you were a gentleman and that was sweet but then I realized you never kiss me either. I always have to kiss you.”

“I…”

“I didn’t put the whole thing together until I saw you at work the other night.”

“What?”

“You remember when I came to see you Wednesday night?”

“Sure.”

“You hardly took your eyes off the boy you were working with. The dark haired one, with the green eyes…”

“Eric,” I said almost dreamily.

“Is he the one? You know, the one that girl saw you with?”

“Yeah.” I nodded.

“Well, at least you have good taste.”

“I’m sorry, Chels. I never set out to hurt you,” I whispered.

“No, I don’t think you did,” said Chelsea. She reached over and stroked the hair above my ear.

“You’re taking it pretty well,” I said, looking up at her with a raised eyebrow.

“You should have seen me a few hours ago. I almost decked that little bitch that said she’d seen you kissing a boy.” Chelsea giggled and I found myself laughing with her.

“I was going to tell you. I’m sorry you found out like that.”

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed, you’re so damn cute.” Chelsea smiled and stroked my cheek. “But we’ve known each other a long time, Ty, and I want you to be happy.”

“I’m really lucky to know you, Chelsea.” I sighed.

“Yeah, but that’s a two way street,” she replied.

“So…friends?”

“That’s how we started, isn’t it?”

“Thanks, Chelsea.” I hugged her, she kissed me on the cheek and then she was gone.

I spent the rest of the weekend hiding in my room and feeling miserable. I couldn’t look at my mom and sister without feeling guilty for what happened. They were without a husband and father because of me. I wanted to be with Eric but I was sure he was probably pissed too since I hadn’t contacted him.

On Monday Mom dropped me off at school and I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me, that every whispered conversation I heard as I passed by was about me. I did my best to ignore it and concentrated on getting my phone out of my locker. Sure enough, it was dead but as frustrating as that was, at least I’d have my car back and I’d be able to see Eric at work that evening.

I coasted through most of the day. It was the last week of school before Christmas vacation and the curiosity about me started to wane as everyone’s thoughts returned to the pending break. When the final bell rang I went to my locker to put my books away and grab my coat. There was no swimming practice scheduled for that week.

“Hey, Ty,” said Robin Kirkwood.

The reason he and his boyfriend always blocked my locker while they made out is because Robin’s was right next to mine.

“Hi.”

“How are you doing?”

“Fine.”

“Listen, I just wanted to say, if you ever need anything, my friends and I—”

“Is this how it works?”

“Uh, what?” asked Robin, caught off guard.

“You’ve never given two shits about me but now that I’m out you’re trying to what, recruit the new gayby for the pink team?”

“I was just…” Robin spluttered.

“Fuck you,” I snapped and turned away.

“Hey,” Robin exclaimed as he grabbed my shoulder and spun me around.

Instinctively I braced myself for a punch but when Robin saw me flinch he took a step back and softened his tone.

“First off, I’ve always been nice to you. You never acted like you wanted to be friends so I never pushed it. Secondly, I’m not trying to recruit you for anything. I saw what happened to you Friday and it fucking sucks. I’m lucky, I have some great, supportive friends, and I thought maybe you could use people like that right about now.”

“I’m sorry,” I deflated. “You’re right, everything you said is true. I just…Robin, this isn’t what I wanted.”

“No shit.” Robin grinned.

“I mean, I wasn’t ready to come out. I wanted to take it slow, at least get out of high school so if the shit hit the fan I’d be responsible for myself, but now, my parents, I don’t know if they’re going to get divorced or what. My girlfriend broke up with me, the guy I’m seeing, I haven’t been in touch with him since Friday, God damn it, this is so fucking frustrating.”

“I know man, it sucks,” said Robin. He leaned close and put his hand on my shoulder. “I just want you to know, if you need friends who understand what you’re going through, the door is open.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that. This is all happening so fast, I just need some time to catch my breath.”

“It’s cool.”

“I have to get going. I have to see Eric and, God, I hope he’s not pissed at me, too.”

“Good luck,” Robin clapped my shoulder, then I ran out to the parking lot and got in the car.

It’s normally an hour drive to Binghamton but that day I made the trip in forty-five minutes. My boss wasn’t happy about the fading bruise around my eye but there wasn’t really anything she could do about it. She couldn’t fire me for being hurt; all she could do was advise me to keep my head turned to the right so my black eye wouldn’t show up in pictures. I was just putting on my “uniform” when Eric walked in.

“There you are,” Eric exclaimed. “I go all the way out there to see you Friday and I thought everything was okay but then you don’t come to work that night, you don’t return any of my calls or texts. I would have gotten a ride back out there but I didn’t know your address. I was really worried about you and…”

“I’m sorry,” I exclaimed as I stood up straight and faced him. He stopped ranting the second he saw my face and pulled me into a hug.

“What happened to you?” he asked in a gentle tone.

“I’m sorry, I left my phone in my locker all weekend and I called information, but they said there was no phone number listed—I guess you don't have a land line—and I didn’t have your cell number written down so I couldn’t call. My car got locked up in the school parking lot and then when I got to school this morning my phone battery was dead and…”

“Shh,” said Eric. “I’m sorry I snapped at you, I thought you got cold feet about us but that’s not important right now. What happened to your face?”

“My dad. He found out, Eric. He hit me.”

“Oh Ty, oh fuck, I’m sorry,” said Eric hugging me tight.

“It’s okay. I mean it’s not okay, it sucks but, fuck. I don’t know what to think Eric.”

“I feel like this is my fault. If I’d just left you alone…”

“No,” I shook my head. “Eric, you’re about the only good thing to come out of this whole fucked up situation. I realized something on the drive over here. You see, my dad and his bullshit, he needs to get over it. I can’t help being gay and I’m not going to hide it anymore like it’s some dirty secret I’m ashamed of because I’m not ashamed. I like you, I can picture myself falling in love with you and I don’t care who knows anymore.”

“Really?” Eric smiled.

“Yeah, I mean, I wish it hadn’t gone down like this but at least it’s out there now. I don’t have to hide anymore.”

“Yeah but your dad…”

“My dad is the one with the problem. He’s the one who needs to change. I’m not hiding from him, or anyone else, anymore.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” said Eric, as he hugged me.

“It’s not going to be easy. I don’t know what’s going on with my family right now but, I want to be with you, Eric.”

“Thanks, Tyson,” Eric sniffled. “I want to be with you too.”

“Don’t be sad.” I squeezed him.

“I’m not sad, I’m happy. You’re the first guy I’ve met that…well, I just really want to be your boyfriend.”

“Awww, that’s so cute,” said Janet, the assistant manager.

Eric and I both jumped; we’d thought we were alone.

“We, uh…” I started.

“Uh huh.” Janet grinned. “I need you guys out on the floor, Santa won’t go on without his reindeer.”

“God, he’s such a prima donna,” Eric rolled his eyes.

~WR~

It was late when I got home and I was surprised to find my mom waiting for me. She was usually the early to bed early to rise type.

“Hey, Mom. You didn’t have to wait for me.”

“I wanted to talk to you before you went to bed,” she replied, then studied my face as her lips curled into a bemused grin. “You seem happy.”

“Oh, uh, you know, Eric.” I blushed.

“The boy who stole your heart?”

“Yeah.” I blushed deeper.

“I’d love to meet him sometime.”

“He lives in Binghamton,” I explained.

“Well, maybe he can come out for dinner sometime?”

“Yeah, maybe. So what’s up?”

“The lady from social services came by to see me this afternoon.”

“Oh, wow, I can’t believe I forgot about that.” I slumped into my chair. “What did she say? Is Dad coming home?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about…”

THE END