Jeremy Owens

Note: This story follows “The Visit: Beth Goes To Chicago.” The earlier one concerns Jeremy Owens’s Aunt Beth. This story begins about four years after that one ends.

About Me

It took time but I’ve come to love the New York City subway. Not the delays and the canceled trains. The crowds and the crazies. Just riding along, standing by a door, and taking in what’s in the car.

I am Jeremy Owens. I live in the Bronx. I’m a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Fordham University there, majoring in history. My objective is law school—my Dad’s a Chicago lawyer—and I run on the college’s cross-country and track teams. I’m one of three kids of Sheila and Richard Owens. I’ve one sister, Erin, who’s two years younger than me and a senior in high school. My younger brother, Ron, is in grammar school.

And I’m gay.

This particular story begins on my first subway ride in New York. I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. Pretty normal, Catholic upbringing. Dad is a partner at a big Chicago firm. Mom is a hospital administrator at nearby Evanston Hospital.

Mom’s mother—Grandma—is alive and well and recently retired at 67. She lives not too far away, in Elwood Hill. It’s where Mom grew up. Grandpa died several years ago of cancer. He was a retired CPD cop.

Dad grew up in Wilmette. His father—Grandpapa—is also a Chicago lawyer and Grandmama taught until Dad was born. Dad went to Villanova for college and the University of Chicago for law school.

Which is background for that first subway ride. In my second week at college, I was going to surprise my Aunt Beth. My gay Aunt Beth, who I now know well enough to call “Beth.” I said I had a typical Catholic upbringing and I think that includes one or two skeletons out-of-the-closet. Beth was ours. She’d come out, somewhat spontaneously, on Christmas years ago and to some extent blew the family up. She was visiting from New York, where she lived. When she came out, Grandpa threw her out, and she promptly returned to New York. She saw Grandpa only one more time, a few days before he passed. That last visit had not gone well either—she returned to New York immediately with her girlfriend, now wife, after seeing him. She didn’t even come to the funeral. She hasn’t seen anyone in the family since.

I was a freshman in high school when that happened.

The only reason my parents let me go to Fordham was that it is a Jesuit school. I was the never-get-into-trouble studious one. While I thought of going to Columbia or NYU, they aren’t Catholic so Fordham it was. Or is. I wanted to go to New York for college. Beth was a part of this. First, I knew she’d understand and would help me. Second, the way she was treated was an indication of how I feared I would be treated by my family were I to stay in Chicago and come out there.

I met her at family gatherings when I was a kid and, of course, recall generally the commotion at that infamous Christmas. I guess I was in fifth or sixth grade. I was in the basement with some cousins when it happened and no one spoke of it beyond probably something about Beth having a sudden emergency she had to take care of in New York. Something like that.

She became persona non grata and I don’t recall her being mentioned after that, at my parents’ house or my grandparents’. One of my cousins told me after Grandpa died that my Aunt was a lesbian and that no one wanted anything to do with her. At that point, I knew I was gay. Hearing all of this affected me. Frightened me.

Still, I was in high school. A bit obsessive about running. On the one hand, it’s essentially a solo activity; you’re on your own each step, your mind wandering where it wanders. On the other, it’s communal. You have your solo runs but when you’re in school or in a club you often are with others, bullshitting as you go. Different schools often warm down together after meets or during workouts, which is how you meet runners from other schools I mention this because it turns out to be important to my story. Which I’m returning to now.

Beth

I knew Beth was in New York and was gay. So I had to meet her. I’d been able to get some information online—remember my family wasn’t talking to or about her. On Facebook, I saw what she looked like. At 34, she was six or seven years younger than Mom. She was a graphic designer at a small firm in Greenwich Village she owned with two others. Her hair was short and stylish in the photos I saw, and she was married to Melissa, inevitably described as “Sweet Melissa” in her posts.

I was heading for her firm. I was buzzed onto the third floor of a loft on Spring Street and told the receptionist I’d like to see Ms. Jenkins, saying it concerned Chicago. A minute later Beth appeared.

“Good morning. May I help you?”

“Aunt Beth? I’m Jeremy Owens.”

It took a moment as she assessed me. “Sheila’s boy?”

“Yes. ‘Sheila’s boy.’”

“Jeremy. What are you doing in New York?”

“I just started at Fordham.”

“Oh my god.” She directed me to a small office and sat behind the desk.

“And your parents are OK with that?”

“I sold it to them as a Catholic school. I didn’t tell them I intended to look you up.”

“That was probably wise. Why did you? Look me up?”

I paused. Lowered my voice. “I’m gay.”

“Ah. . . . Do they know?”

“They don’t. No one does, except for people I’ve met at an LGBTQ thing at Fordham.”

She raised her hand. “Let’s get something to eat.” With that, she led me out to Spring Street. We entered a non-descript restaurant a block away. They recognized her and although it was well before lunch, they directed us to a table at a corner window and brought us tea. The staff went on preparing for lunch.

“So they let you come to New York?”

“I didn’t dare mention that I knew you’re here. They only agreed when I insisted I wanted to go to a Jesuit school and that Fordham is one of the best.” I told her about me and she told me about her and Melissa. After about an hour and a bit of lunch, I headed back to Fordham and she headed back to her office. We’d keep in touch.

*          *          *

To the question, “when did you know you were gay?” my answer is it wasn’t something I knew or didn’t know. It simply was. I was at all all-boys high school, but we had enough interaction with girls schools that I knew I did not feel the attraction that other boys had (or pretended to have) in girls. It’s awkward trying to explain it. Bottom line: when I jerked off I thought of guys. Not girls.

The closest I came in high school to doing anything about it was a furtive kiss with someone at another school when I was a senior. It was in the men’s room at the Fieldhouse at the University of Chicago during an indoor meet. We both kind of knew. Lasted maybe two seconds. I still think it was crazy for both of us and it was never mentioned again, although we became regular running friends.

One reason I picked Fordham, notwithstanding—although perhaps because of—its Jesuit roots, was its LGBTQ alliance program: “In keeping with the Jesuit tenet of Cura Personalis (care for the whole person) and the principle that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, which is explicit in Catholic teaching.” This was on its website. Upon arrival, I felt welcome in a way I never had before I got to New York. Look, I don’t want to make it sound like New York is some nirvana for gays or that Chicago was hell. There were plenty of folks in Chicago who seemed respectful for members of the LGBTQ community and plenty in New York who’d call you “faggot” before they’d give you the time of day. Plus, of course, I wasn’t out in Chicago. All I can say is that I felt relatively welcome and safe in New York. But I’ve encountered plenty of assholes along the way.

Fordham was welcoming. I lived in an on-campus dorm and joined the cross-country team and met classmates that way. A new world. More opportunities than I imagined.

As it happens, it was my running that was the most important. Once or twice a week the team headed to Van Cortlandt Park for speed and hill training. So did several other local colleges. On the flats, a broad expanse with a soft surface surrounding fields used for soccer, cricket, Gaelic football, and hurling, I met Malcolm Davis. He was a sophomore at Columbia. Our two teams kidded each other but a few times we joined together for workouts. Our fastest guys would be with their fastest guys and down the line. Malcolm and I were comparable middle-of-the-pack runners.

Malcolm came from outside DC. An electrical-engineering major. We became friendly as we ran easy between hard segments of the workout. Eventually, he asked if I was interested in meeting with him sometime. Again, we sort of knew.

A date. I had a date. Malcolm was very attractive. An inch or two taller than my five-ten, he was a bit thinner with beautiful dark skin. His legs were long and he had a nice smile. And big ears. Everyone, I think, noticed his big ears.

I took the subway to 96th Street and Broadway and we met at a nearby restaurant for lunch. He immediately recognized how nervous I was and smiled when I told him it was my first real date, saying, let’s just enjoy ourselves. See what happens.

We’d both raced that morning and shared a typical runner’s post-race hunger. We each had a burger with fries and each cleaned the plate. We lingered over our coffees until he asked, “shall we go?” After splitting the check and the tip, we did.

He listened to my stories of growing up Catholic outside Chicago. My explanation of not being out with anyone except my Aunt and people, straight and gay, at Fordham. He came out while a senior in high school. He said it was a big public school and there were enough gays that none of them stood out and they faced only muted harassment. Plus there was a support system at the school.

“I made it through relatively unscathed.”

“I envy you. I would not have.”

We walked up Broadway, easily moving from one topic to another. When I felt his left hand touch my right, I pulled it away. Instinct, I think. But I looked at him and said, “sorry” and reached to hold his hand. I had never done that before, and the two of us chatted, holding hands as we headed north.

When we reached 106st Street, we crossed Broadway and began to walk south on the opposite side. We’d gone about half-a-mile.

“Look, I like you and I’d like to get to know you.” This was Malcolm. He told me as we walked that he had a few boyfriends since coming to Columbia but none had worked out. “But.” And he paused. “I’m not feeling anything with you. You?”

“I really don’t know what I’m supposed to feel but if it’s sparks, I don’t feel it either.”

He stopped and looked at me. “So I won’t be your first,” and he smiled, holding his arms out.

I reached for him and gave him a hug. As I pulled away, I said, “I guess I’ll just have to wait until the right boy comes along.” With that, we resumed the walk and left at the subway. I don’t know why, but as I was about to go down the stairs, I pulled Malcolm to the side.

“Look. In my life, I’ve had one brief kiss with a boy. How about you be my first kiss with a man?”

“I won’t be responsible if you fall in love with me for this,” said as he moved close to me. Our lips touched briefly and however much I did not feel a spark I felt a smattering of lust and opened my mouth to welcome his tongue. Suddenly I was hard and suddenly I was wondering whether it made sense to hop the One Train and get to Malcolm’s place. Before that thought crystalized, though, he pushed away.

“You’re a damn good kisser. You’ll make someone,” and he leaned back and look at my crotch, “very, very happy” and with a peck on my lips, he said, “go now. But let’s get together for a run now and then, deal?”

“Deal.” And it was a somewhat confusing but altogether pleasant subway ride to the Bronx.

Sure, I was still a virgin. But I’d been kissed by a man. I liked it.

Christmas in Wilmette

My Aunt and I agreed. It would be dishonest not to tell the truth when I was home for Christmas. If it meant being cut-off, it meant being cut-off. I’d be like millions of other kids trying to figure out how to make it through college.

I got to Wilmette Friday, with Christmas on Tuesday. I decided to come out to my father first. We were alone in the house on Saturday afternoon. Mom was shopping and Erin and Ron were with friends. He was reading in his den. I knocked on the open door.

“Dad. Can I talk to you about something?”

After I sat in an armchair separated by a small table between us, I spit it out.

“I’m gay.”

This moment had played through my brain a million times and, frankly, I had no idea how it would play out with him. Beth was encouraging, saying he was probably the most reasonable among her in-laws. But you don’t know when you drop the bomb. He had, after all, made no effort to keep in touch with Beth.

In the event, he simply asked, “Have you found someone?”

After I told him “no.” that I was only starting to “explore,” he said, “I love you however you are. You know that, don’t you?”

“Well, I thought so. But, you know, with something like this you can’t be sure.”

“I’m sure your mother will too.” He put the paper down and took a long pause. “If we’re being open, I should tell you that I once had something of a gay affair.”

I was shocked.

“At Villanova. I was a sophomore and my roommate was gay. I didn’t know that until, well, we did some things. He was sometimes ‘careless’ in walking around our room naked and sometimes he was, um, hard. He probably thought I looked more than I should have and that I was either gay or would be receptive. I think he decided to seduce me. He was a good guy and we laughed about my dates.

“In early spring, I got in a bit early on a Saturday night. My date was a bust and I was frustrated and, well, horny. He was up and we spoke about it and that was pretty much that and we both turned in as usual. I began to, um, touch myself, trying to be quiet, but I wasn’t. I froze when I heard him get up and step towards me.”

He paused again and took a sharp breath. “Again, I didn’t know he was gay and I felt his hand reach for me. He said something like, ‘let me give you a hand,’ and I pulled my hand away as he moved the covers aside. I wasn’t a superstud or anything but women had touched me and I wasn’t a virgin. But this was the first man to touch me. I let it happen. I was so horny and it felt so good. It wasn’t long before I came. As I was coming down, he licked my tip. Before I cleaned up, he placed his lips by my ear and whispered, ‘you always know where to find me,’ and then he went back into his bed like nothing had happened.

“Things, of course, changed between us. He was still a friend and that didn’t change. What did was that he wasn’t walking around naked as much as he had. So when he did I paid particular attention. He knew what he was doing. But it wasn’t mean or anything. It was particularly hard back then, no pun intended, for a gay guy to date at Villanova. I assume it’s easier now. Even at Fordham.”

I interrupted. “I don’t know what it was like then, but they’re pretty supportive, even the school itself.”

“Really. They are Jesuits though.”

I nodded.

“Anyway back to Villanova twenty-five years ago. It was another Saturday and another busted date. To be clear, he was the only man I ever did anything with. We’d not done anything since that first time, which was a few weeks before. When I got in the room he knew I was pissed. And frustrated. As I started to get undressed he walked up to me. Standing behind me. I nodded and felt his hand wrap around me to my crotch. We both felt me grow. He kissed my neck and I floated away.

“He turned me, and I said, ‘please.’ He stepped back and undid my belt and my pants and pulled them and my underwear down. Again he waited and my hand pulled his head towards my dick. I started to sway as his lips kissed down one side and up the other. I remember the moment his lips encircled me. My legs started to shake.”

He paused yet again. “Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Anyway, I was in his mouth. I said I needed to sit down and I backed to my bed and sat. I’m sure it looked ridiculous, with my pants around my ankles, but he didn’t care. He devoured me, playing with my balls, and it wasn’t long before I burst. I was still horny. I asked if he, you know, ‘wanted me to.’ I don’t know where that came from but he said, ‘no.’ That was more than enough. He turned away and left, saying he’d be right back.

“I got up and got changed. When he came back, I told him I was going out for at least half-an-hour and that’s what I did. I assume he took care of himself while I was gone, but he was in bed reading when I got back.

“We didn’t talk about it again. We did it a few more times, including on nights when I didn’t have a date. I never did anything to him. We weren’t roommates again as juniors but we were friendly. I lost touch with him after we graduated.”

This was, well, unexpected.

“Do you think you’re gay.”

“No. I never had the desire to do anything to him. Or to any other man. I probably would have if he wanted me to return the favor, but he didn’t and, well, I think I was relieved when he didn’t. You’re the second person I’ve told this to.”

“Mom?”

“Yeah. After we were engaged it weighed on me. So about a month before the wedding I sat her down and told her pretty much what I just told you. I didn’t try to justify it as a fling or anything. It was just something I enjoyed with a roommate. I told her, too, that I’d never had urgings for a man. She was surprised, to say the least. She knew I had some, um, ‘experience’ with sex, far more than she did.

“By then I think she understood that when I found her I didn’t care about anyone else, male or female. It was like that, hard as it may be to believe all these years later. When I said, ‘only you, always only you,’ she simply said, ‘thanks for telling me’ and that was the last time we spoke of it.”

“When I tell Mom, may I mention it?”

He thought. “I’m an open book with your Mom. I think it would, in fact, be good if she knew that I told you. So go ahead. Again, I love you. So does she. Are you telling your sister?”

“I wasn’t sure. Given your reaction, though, I will. I didn’t like keeping this big a secret.”

With that I left and went to my room, awaiting the return of Mom and Erin. I decided to hold off on reporting to Beth until I told Mom.

Given Dad’s reception, I was not nearly so tense when Mom got in. After helping her with putting groceries away, I told her I had something to talk to her about.

“My, that sounds serious.”

Her smile vanished when she saw my expression. “Your Dad’s in his mancave. Let’s go for a walk.”

It wasn’t too cold as December in Chicago goes so I grabbed a coat and we headed out.

“Mom. I’m gay.” I said it when we reached the sidewalk.

“I figured.”

I stopped and she turned towards me.

“Your father, bless him, may be a bit unobservant but I’m not.”

“But—?”

“I just figured it out. Do you have a boyfriend?”

Now, this was completely unexpected. How could she be so lackadaisical? We resumed our walk and I brought her up to speed on the non-existence of my love life, assuring her that I had some leads. I told her what Dad told me about college.

“We never spoke of that after he told me. But I think about it now and then. He promised me it was a one-off and I’m pretty sure that’s the case. He glances at pretty girls but never at handsome boys. . . . He leaves that to me.”

“Mom. TMI.”

“TMI?”

“Too much information.”

“Ah. Have you told Erin?”

“Dad asked me that. I wanted to see how you two reacted first. I will.”

“Good. I think it would be good for her. I’m afraid she’s letting intolerance seep into her blood.”

“What about Aunt Beth?”

This stopped her. “I assume you’ve seen her in New York.”

“I visited her the second week I was there. She’s married you know.”

“Yes. We were invited to the wedding. I never responded.”

“What?”

“I’m not proud of it. I’m not proud of how I treated her. After your grandfather died and she didn’t come to the funeral, though, we all kind of agreed that she was not a member of the family.”

“What do you mean, ‘we all’?”

“Your aunt and uncle.”

“You mean my other aunt.”

“Yes. Your other aunt. Marcie. And your grandmother.”

“But I thought she came right before he died?”

“She came to reconcile with him. Marcie told her he’d changed. He hadn’t so she felt double betrayed. By him when he told her to change who she was and by Marcie for lying to her. So she didn’t come to the funeral even when your grandmother begged her to. We figured that she knew what that meant and that it meant she was out of the family. I think of her now and then and wonder how she is. I try to find things about her online. I keep thinking I’ll contact her. But I never do.”

We’d resumed our walk.

“I hope this doesn’t blow the family apart.”

“Mom. Should I tell the others? How will they react?”

“You know, Beth came out, spontaneously, at Christmas. It was a long time ago and the family blew up then. She left after your grandfather said he wouldn’t have dinner with her. But it’s so stupid. We all went on with our separate lives. . . . Do you think she’d speak to me if I call?”

“She told me in general terms what happened. I think she misses having a ‘family’ although she’s building her own. Her wife if pregnant—”

“That I didn’t know. How far?”

“About six months I think. Beth has kind of adopted Mel’s family as her own. But to answer your question, I think she’d like to hear from you.”

We neared the house and she asked for my phone, saying she was going to call Beth. I went inside and she stayed out.

When I did, I went into the den. Dad looked nervous. “Well?”

“She’s like, ‘when can I meet your boyfriend?’ That was not one of the things I expected of her.”

“Some of us soften as we age. But she’s always been soft, under her gruff exterior, as they say.”

“She told me about what happened with Beth. She grabbed my phone to call her.”

“Good. It’s been an albatross, the silent treatment.” With that Dad and I went to his den to await Mom’s return. She didn’t say anything since she had to make dinner beyond. Only “it went very well.” When we sat down for dinner, I looked across at Erin and Ron.

“I’m gay.”

Ron didn’t understand. Erin stopped cutting her meat.

“You’re joking, right?”

“I’m not joking.”

“You’re a faggot. No wonder—”

BAM.

Mom’s hand hit the table and everything shook.

“Upstairs. Now.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Upstairs.”

“What am I? Twelve?”

“NOW.”

Erin turned to Dad and his glare was even harsher than Mom’s. I’d never seen either of them so angry. She threw her knife and fork and napkin down and marched out of the room, Mom right behind her. I heard her door slam.

“We were afraid that’d happened. We’ll just have to see what comes next.”  We ate in silence. Mom came down about fifteen minutes later. Erin did not. Ron asked if he could be excused and he was, scurrying to the basement. The three of us ate awkwardly after Mom said, “she has some thinking to do.”

After dinner, I went to my room and closed the door. I heard a light knock.

“Come in.”

“Mom says I have to apologize and that I have to be nice to you since you’re—”

“Look. I don’t give a rat’s ass about you apologizing or being nice to me. Mom and Dad. Yeah, I care about them. But they’ve been great. You? You’re a high-school junior at an all-girls Catholic school in the suburbs with a bunch of Kardashian wannabes following you around the mall.”

She looked stunned. I’d never spoken to her like that. I didn’t care.

“I’m happy in New York. Meeting people. Seeing Beth.”

“Wait. You’ve seen her?”

“I see her all the time. I’m part of her family in the City.”

“What family?”

“She’s married and about to have a kid.”

“I thought she was gay.”

“She is. Her wife Mel, Melissa, is pregnant.”

This, all of this, was hitting Erin pretty hard. She deserved it. She sat on my computer chair. I was sitting on the bed.

“Wait a minute. So Beth is married with a kid on the way. But Mom and Dad hate her.”

“Mom spoke to her this afternoon.”

“What? This is like a bad Amazon show. They hadn’t spoken in years, I thought.”

“Mom said she always felt bad about that but didn’t pick up the phone. Until I came out to her.” Mom told us this while Erin seethed in her room.

When Erin was not in her prima donna mode, she was not horrible. “And the rest of the family?”

“Why would I care as long as I have Mom and Dad. Hell, I’m probably only coming home once a year anyway. I can tolerate them with that if they’re like you and think I’m a degenerate.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, but you think it. So, as I say, just go.”

She got up, said, quietly, “I am sorry,” and left.

Mom knocked on my door shortly after Erin left. We went down to the den, which Dad left to us. She told me more about her conversation with Beth and how horrible she felt about not doing it sooner. “But I think she’s forgiven me.”

She spoke about Erin. Before she could get too far, I told her of my conversation with her, how I thought her apology was barely half-hearted and that I told her that I didn’t care.

“I don’t think she was expecting that. It’s up to her. I really don’t care since I have you and Dad. Either she grows up or she doesn’t.”

“That’s just it. We’re waiting for her to grow up. We’ll just have to wait and see. You never had her elitist, intolerant side.”

We turned to my coming out to the rest of the family, especially Grandma. We agreed it had to be done when we were all together on Christmas even though that’s what Beth did. This year we’d be at Uncle Tim’s house.

“We’ll talk about how you’ll do it.”

I called Beth when I got back to my room and filled her in. She said she was glad I helped Mom call her. She thought Mom’s regrets were genuine and she hoped they would see each other again soon. I said I’d call on Christmas and she said, “You’d better.”

With that done, I started browsing on my computer. A few running sites mostly. Answered a few emails, but most of my friends were home and things were quiet. I heard a light knock on my door. “Come in.”

It was my bitch of a sister. “Can we talk?”

She’d been crying.

“I don’t want you not to care about me. You’re my older brother. You’re supposed to care about me. You’re supposed to . . . take care of me.”

I sat on the floor and she followed suit.

She began. “I wasn’t thinking. Sometimes—”

“It wasn’t that you weren’t thinking. It was that you said what you were thinking. It was better for me to hear it.”

“But I didn’t mean it.”

“Of course you did. Don’t bullshit me.”

“OK. Maybe a little. But I hate that I did. What can I do to make things right between us?”

This was one of those forks-in-the-road moments and as Yogi Berra may or may not have said I had to take it. “I can’t tell you what to do to make things right. OK? You’ve known me all your life. I’m still who I always was.”

“But you always seemed normal.”

I stood. Her moist eyes looked up.

“If you can’t understand that I am normal, there’s no hope for you. Just leave me alone.”

With that, she got up and with a defiant glare she turned and left, slamming the door behind her. I had no idea what to do. I tried to browse a bit more but I was too upset to concentrate. I streamed a mindless movie to pass the time until I could get in bed.

The house was quiet the next morning. It was Sunday, early, and I headed out for a ten-mile run over roads I covered when in high school. I’d be heading out with guys from my high-school team on Monday but today was nice and relaxed. When I got home, Mom said Erin went out and was very upset. “It’s a process,” Mom again said. “She has to work it through.”

“I hope she does.” I mean, there’s only so much I could do.

My phone rang a few hours later. It was her.

“I’m out front. I need to talk to you.”

She and I to some extent duplicated the walk Mom and I took the day before. She put her left arm through my right and I left it there.

“Please give me a chance. I know I’m an ignorant, bigoted bitch a—what did you call it?”

“A Kardashian wannabe.”

“A Kardashian wannabe. Do you think I’m really that shallow?”

“You’re a high school junior. You’re entitled to be shallow. That’s not the issue.”

“Then what is?”

“The issue is that you think that someone like me isn’t ‘normal.’ You said it yourself. I don’t know how you can change that.”

She stopped us. She stepped back, her head down. It was hard to hear her.

“Just promise me you’ll give me a chance to try.”

I put my hands on her arms, and she lifted her face.

“You have a chance, OK? You’re old enough to know who you are. But I’m telling you right now. I don’t care about your friends. If you can’t accept who I am one-hundred percent, we are done. Understand? ‘Cause I’m not changing.”

She nodded. “I don’t want you to hate me.”

“In the end, it’s about hating yourself. What are you going to do if in twenty years you’re like Grandpa and throw someone in the family out? Away. Simply for who they are.”

She nodded, and we silently walked back to the house. She went to her room when we got in. Mom stuck her head out of the kitchen. All I could do was shrug and say, “It’s a project.”

I had a good run with classmates in the morning and we all got coffee together. As we sat at a table at Starbucks, I dropped my bomb. It was something of a dud. “No shit Sherlock.” That came from our team’s captain.

“You knew?”

“We sort of figured it out. But you didn’t seem to be eying any of us—although I, personally, was offended by your lack of interest—and we’ve known you forever so no one really cared. We thought of having a pool to see when you’d come out to us. For the record, I would have won.” To which a teammate said, “Yeah, because you’re always right,” which garnered a “fuck you,” which garnered a disapproving glance from the middle-aged woman at the next table, who had shown a bit too much interest in our conversation.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. That they knew, yeah. But that they didn’t care. We had grown up together and shared a lot and I was just me and they were fine with that.

After a shower at home, I saw Erin. We were better. I think she was starting to understand. She was trying to clean years of barnacles from herself, which had slowly accumulated in the vacuum that is high-school life. She told her posse that she was staying home on Christmas Eve and Christmas. I overheard her tell one of her buddies that “I’m just hanging with my brother who’s home from New York.”

Things were a little tense, but they eased by late afternoon. Then I heard the doorbell. Mom said she’d get it and I heard screams. Women screams. I rushed out just as Erin and Ron were coming down the stairs. It was Beth and Mel. Somehow they’d gotten tickets on Christmas Eve and flown in.

*          *          *

Things were whipping together like some strange Dickensian novel. My parents arranged for Beth and Mel to visit. Beth and Mom headed into the den when the visitors settled, leaving Mel to sit somewhat awkwardly in the living room with everyone but Ron, who was in the basement. Dad had seen Mel on that horrible day when she showed up with Beth in Grandpa’s final days. They hadn’t shared more than a “hello” and small talk—no one in the family did—that day but Dad seemed to have been liberated with all the revelations that were in the house in recent days. He quickly was his normal, gregarious self.

Erin surprised me. Giving no indication of caring or even noticing that Mel was gay, she wanted to know as much as she could about life in New York. Her ears particularly peeked when Mel, a banker on Wall Street, told of Beth’s graphic-design firm in the Village. “How cool is that?” she asked the room.

After about twenty minutes, Mom and Beth returned. Mom said, “We have a plan.” Dad rolled his eyes.

Here it was. The smart money was that however tepid, my aunts and uncles would be OK with me and with seeing Beth and Mel. Grandma was the wild card. (As we shall see, the smart money was wrong.) Tim’s house was about half-an-hour away. He’d pick Grandma up on the early side, before the hordes descended. Mom would drive over early so she’d be there when Grandma arrived. And she’d talk to her one-on-one. By doing that, she figured she could get her to not at least panic when Beth and Mel showed up.

She went back into the den alone to call her brother. She emerged about fifteen minutes later.

“He’s on board. So is Dorothy.” Dorothy is Tim’s wife. “I spoke to them both. They agreed that it’s about time to interact with Beth. I think we all were just letting it coast along the way it has been. He said our plan as to Mom is probably the only way. So I’ll take the small car. Erin, you’ll have to come with me because there won’t be enough room in the wagon now that Beth and Melissa are here.”

Erin took that last part with more grace than I expected seeing as it meant leaving her room two hours before she’d planned to and having to help at Tim’s.

The plan almost did work. When we arrived, the rest were there. The youngest kids were in the basement. I don’t know how Grandma would have reacted otherwise, but Mom’s prep and Mel’s six-month bump melted her.

Before that aura could spread, though, Marcie stood.

“Ruining one Christmas wasn’t enough for you, Beth? You had to do it again?”

She turned to Tim. “Either she and her whore go or I do.”

Beth began to shake. Mom went to her and waited. Mel stood stunned.

My Uncle Tim said very simply, “Beth and Melissa are our guests. They’re members of our family. They’re not leaving. You’re free to go if you want. They’re not going anywhere.”

Things were coming fast and furious, and Marcie looked to her husband who gave her a you’re-on-your-own shrug. She looked around the room. “Mother, are you OK with this?”

“Marcie. Put a sock in it. You don’t like it, just go. I’m not letting anything ruin this family again. I should never have let your father do what he did. Do you understand?”

Marie stood stoically. She had no allies. What the others were doing was so wrong. But she had no allies. She stormed out. Her husband said, “we’ll have to see. I’m hungry so I’m staying.” We next heard her slamming the front door as she went for a solitary walk.

What about me?

About fifteen minutes after we arrived—again, we were the last—and ten after Marcie fled, most of the family, except for the kids, were in the living room. Mom went to the kitchen to call the others in. Grandma was in a corner chair near the fireplace. Aunt Marcie was marching around somewhere in the neighborhood.

I cleared my throat as I stood. “This may be a bit awkward for everyone given what happened some Christmases ago,” and several of my aunts and uncles exchanged looks. “But I’ll come right out and tell you all that I’m gay.”

Those who already knew—Mom, Dad, Erin, Beth, and Mel—were quiet.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” This was Tim. Which seemed to be code for people who don’t know what else to say but want you to know that they’re fine with it. Instead of, say, “that’s just great.”

“No, Uncle Tim, no boyfriend,” then, to the rest, “if anyone knows someone who I might like don’t hesitate to tell me” and the tension broke. And that was pretty much the end of it. We got on getting things ready for dinner.

I went to Grandma, still sitting in the chair.

“You OK, Grandma?”

“If you’re OK, I’m OK.”

I kissed her on the forehead.

“Then we’re OK.” And I pulled up a chair and told her of my adventures in New York. She told me she always regretted what happened to Beth. “It’s the biggest regret of my life, what we did to her.  I don’t know how we could have been so stupid.”

Aunt Marcie returned about thirty minutes after she’d left. She was probably surprised that except for the presence of Beth and Mel, nothing much was different from our last Christmas. Everyone just enjoying themselves. Her absence was not notable. It was irrelevant. She barely got an acknowledgment when she came back. No one even bothered to report what I’d said.

As to Erin, Mel affected her more than I would have thought. Here was her gay aunt (by marriage) pregnant. It got to her. She melted with Mel. I’d told Beth about her reaction to my coming out. She agreed with my folks. Not much anyone can do. After seeing her with Mel, Beth said, “I think the reality of same-sex love may have finally hit her.”

Erin came to my reclaimed room the night Beth and Mel left a few days later. I was staying until January 3. Knocking lightly she sat on the bed. I was at the chair at my computer. I rotated to look at her.

“Jeremy. I’m a shit. All I can say is that I’ll try to stop being a shit.”

“And all I can say is that I’ll give you a chance. As I promised. You’re my sister. I’ll always give you that chance. But I need you not to fuck it up, OK?”

She got up and put her arms around my shoulders.

“A chance. I won’t fuck it up and I love you” whispered in my ear and she was gone.

After Christmas, I went for some runs and went out for a few lunches and dinners with friends. I spent New Year’s Eve at home with my folks and Ron. Erin was out with friends.

All in all, a very good trip. Dad drove me to O’Hare.

Back in New York

I still thought of Malcolm now and then when I jerked off and we ran into each other on a pretty regular basis once the indoor-track season resumed. He remains a good friend. He set me up with my first love. It was mid-February at a meet at the Armory. An indoor track in northern Manhattan.

As I say, I saw Malcolm at a meet. My race was before his, but not by much, and he asked that I stick around. That he wanted to talk to me about something.

It turned out that he wanted to talk to me about someone. Alex Estes was from western New Jersey, though he lived on campus at Columbia. Malcolm was doing a bit of match-making and dragged him to the meet. Apparently, neither of us made it past Malcolm’s first cut. Alex was a math major intending to go into finance. He was about my height although a bit heavier. Very handsome. A round face and sweet lips.

I, of course, was sweaty from my race and after we were introduced I only had about twenty minutes before the team’s van went back to campus. But there was something about him. Alex and I exchanged numbers. We spoke a few times in the next days. We arranged to meet the following Saturday, this time in Greenwich Village. It was wicked cold. We headed to Christopher Street, something of a gay mecca in the City, and had brunch on Hudson Street. I admitted to being a virgin—except for a couple of brief kisses—and he told me that was cool. “We all were at some point. It’s not like I’m super experienced.”

That bit of conversation was in the air for the rest of our date. We hopped on the subway heading uptown sharing a baguette when Alex said, shortly before we were to split up at 96th Street, “You know, I don’t have a roommate.” He gave my hand a light squeeze. I was so ready.

“Are you asking me to come up with you?”

“I’m asking you to . . . come with me.”

I gave his hand another light squeeze and soon we were at 114th Street and entering his Columbia apartment-building. When he closed his door, he turned. I saw lust and I’m pretty sure he saw the same. In a moment, our tongues were crashing. I ran fingers through his slight beard, with his right hand pulling me closer to his mouth. When we came up for air, we took off our coats and tossed them on the floor. Alex reached and pulled my sweater and shirt together over my head, and I did the same to his. He closed the shades and turned on a light.

We again kissed, but this was briefer as I felt his hands on my belt. I kicked off my shoes and backed away so I could get rid of my pants and socks. He was doing the same. I could see his erection through his underwear, and he could see mine. Only a moment of hesitation and our underwear was off and we were kissing yet again, our dicks hard and lightly banging against each other.

Soon we were in his bedroom. He ripped the covers off and lay on his back. For the first time in my life, I feasted on a live, beautiful, naked man, his dick hard in anticipation of what we were about to do. He lifted his arms in a come-hither motion and I climbed atop him, our dicks again crashing into one another.

“We’ll take it easy, OK?”

“I don’t want to fucking take it easy.”

“Believe me. It is worth it. Patience is a virtue.”

He pushed me to his side and arose.

“Back,” and I lay where he had been. Sitting on the side of the bed near my calves, he placed his left hand on my dick. It jolted as if fifty-thousand volts shot through it. Or through “him.” He was a separate body, living and excited. Alex started pumping, all the while looking down at me with a devilish smile.

“Close your eyes and enjoy. This first one’s on me.”

And I did. I was in heaven when the pumping ceased, immediately followed by his fingers toying with my balls. Then it happened. I felt movement on the bed and then kisses along the side of my dick. My eyes shot open and I looked at him, his own eyes still fixed on mine.

“Close them.” I did. The kisses stopped and his tongue teased my dickhead and then his mouth inched its way down me till it stopped. I was almost completely in his mouth and his tongue was caressing me. He removed his mouth.

“Ready?”

I nodded emphatically. It was his signal to give me a blow job beyond what I’d imagined, beyond the many I’d read about or seen on websites. There was a faint traffic-noise outside. In his room the only sounds were my moans and the wet slurps of his taking care of me, of my dick.

I didn’t last long. There was no edging.

“I’m cumming.”

He ignored me beyond being more aggressive with my balls and speeding up a bit with his mouth.

“Fuuuuck” and I exploded, my hands grasping his head. He moved his mouth so he could take it and he swallowed as my ropes shot into his mouth. I was left breathing heavily and I felt him get up and lie down next to me, his left hand lightly rubbing my shrinking dick.

“You like?”

I nodded. “That was so much better than I imagined.” I turned to face him, again seeing his devil smile. “Thank you.”

He kissed my forehead and hopped up. I saw he was still hard.

“Be right back.”

While he was gone, I idly ran my fingers along my now-soft dick, staring into nothingness. All of my feelings about myself were affirmed by this wonderful man.

“I had to pee,” he said on his return. He had to soften to do that so I saw his dick grow as it was his turn to look down on a naked man. I made no effort to hide. I was proud of my body and pleased that it was affecting Alex. That led to my starting to rise again. “My turn.”

“You sure?”

“I’ve not done it so I’ll be clumsy. You need to guide me but I want you to enjoy my mouth as much as I just enjoyed yours.”

I got up as he passed me and sat at the side of the bed. I knelt on his rug between his legs, far enough away so that my right hand could touch his dick and my left his balls. He stayed seated.

I stared. This was real. This was beautiful. This was alive and hard because of me. More than anything in the world, I wanted to adore Alex’s dick. My eyes fixed on it. Its veins. Its colors. Its subtle pulsing. I got closer. With a final breath, I ran my tongue around its head, hearing Alex moan. I ran my tongue down its right side—my right—and under and up its left. I couldn’t wait and pushed my lips against its circumference as for the first time I had a dick in my mouth. Ecstasy.

I didn’t know what to do about it till I replayed what Alex did to me. I tried to duplicate it, responding as best I could to his “that’s good” and other instructions. Soon all thought was gone and I was kissing and slurping and sucking until I felt Alex’s hands try to slow me down. I came up for breath and he said, “let’s get on the bed. We can 69 and you can mimic me.”

This hit me as him not being happy with how I was doing it but I didn’t care because my sole objective was pleasing him. We lay on the bed, with his head toward the foot, on our sides. I was hard as a rock. I studied him again. Perfection. I felt his lips encase me and I did the same. We held each other’s asses. He was moving his mouth slowly and so did I. As he picked up the tempo, so did I.

He pulled off me and kissed my shaft. Again I did the same. We were both breathing heavily, as best we could. With a final, “let’s do this,” he shot his mouth on my dick and began to pump it up and down. I tried to do the same, but Alex had me distracted. I fought through it and was back focusing on his pleasure and it didn’t take long before he pulled his head from me and warned me that he was coming. I pulled away so only his dickhead was in my mouth and then for the first time I felt the marvelous taste of another man filling me with his seed. I gagged a bit and could not swallow it all. It was coming too hard and too fast, and cum was slipping over the corners of my mouth. I’d tried my own, but this was another man’s and it’s being in my mouth thanks to what I did made it glorious. Again, better than I thought it could possibly be.

Suddenly I felt myself go. I didn’t warn him, but he felt it beginning and swallowed it all. He got up and turned so we could face each other. His head reached over and his lips touched mine.

“Well?”

“I’ve never felt so alive.”

“Good.” And he kissed me again. We shared and mixed the remnants of each other’s cum. I turned, and after he grabbed the covers he put his arm around me and I fell asleep.

I don’t know what time it was when I felt Alex caressing my dick. When he knew I was awake he whispered, “I want you to fuck me.” My dick shot up. I said, still away from him, “you sure?” He answered by giving a hard stroke.

I got up to pee, as did he. It was dark. When he came back, he turned a small light on and reached into his top drawer. He pulled out a box of condoms and some lube. He handed me one condom, which I put on. Then he gave me the lube.

“Use your fingers to get me loose. You’ll figure it out. When you’re ready, get your dick nice and wet.”

I wasn’t sure about this. Was I actually going to fuck him? I liked him, yes, but what if it all went to hell because I fucked him? All doubts vanished, though, when he kissed me and pulled away, whispering, “Jeremy. I really need you to be inside me” as his fingers caressed my dick.

He stepped to the bed and was on all fours, his ass near the foot. I stood looking at it. Another first. My dick had sagged a bit but now was again like steel. I put lube on two fingers of my right hand and put the tube on the bed. The lube was cold, and I warned Alex. I then ran a lubed finger up and down his crack and applied lube to his hole. He shook at the cold.

“First put one lubed finger in.” I did. I moved my middle finger to the second knuckle and rotated it. “Another.” I pulled out and joined the middle with my index finger, now shoving and trying to enlarge his anus as I lubed it. After another minute: “Fuck me. I need you to fuck me.”

I spread his ass cheeks. There wasn’t much light, but I could see his anus was lubed. I put some on the condom and approached. Alex put his chest on the bed and opened his ass cheeks. I used my right hand to line up my dick with his anus and started pushing. There was resistance and I pushed harder. Suddenly Alex was pushing against me and the head of my dick popped into him. He started breathing quickly. I stopped. “Just push in slowly. It’ll take a minute for me to get used to you.”

I waited for his OK. “Now,” and I slowly pushed into him, feeling his anus tighten around my dick. Hell, I don’t know what I was feeling really, so much was bounding around my head and my body. If I had any doubts, they evaporated when I entered Alex. This is where I was meant to be. This is what I was meant to be doing.

Once I was all the way in, I waited again as he prepared for me to fuck him. My hands were on his hips and I slowly pulled out until only my dickhead was in him. And then I started to fuck him, increasing my pace as his moans came, like waves against a beach. I tried to keep my own moans down. I don’t know how well I did as we became a single body of passion and lust.

I reached around to grab his dick and coordinate my pumping his dick with my pumping his ass. Neither of us could last long and we didn’t. Suddenly I mumbled that I was coming and as I did I felt his cum shoot through his dick and onto his stomach and the bed. He flopped down, and I was attached to him and on his back. I leaned to the side and kissed him on the neck. “That was—” and I couldn’t finish the thought and he responded, “Yes, it was.”

I pulled out of him and went to the bathroom to clean up. When I got back, I gave him a damp hand-towel so he could clean himself off. The sheets, though, were a mess, and he pulled them off. We put a new set on. “Next time, we need to prepare for this so we don’t have to change the sheets. They’re a pain to clean.”

We got back into bed and pulled the covers over ourselves. This time he turned away from me, and I put my arms around him and we fell asleep. Staying that way until morning.

When we got up he tossed me a robe, and we puttered around the kitchen having coffee and toast. It was cold out and I had to get back to school. Reluctantly, I left his apartment at about ten, but not until we shared a kiss at his door. When it broke, he ran fingers across my cheek.

“You were wonderful. I can’t believe it was your first.”

“You’ll always be my first,” and then with a kiss I was gone.

Who do you tell you’ve lost most of your virginity? Your aunt, of course. Well, that’s what I did when I got back to Fordham.

“Spare me the details,” she laughed. “Was it good, really good for you?”

“It was so far beyond good, they haven’t invented the word.”

I made clear it was Alex who made it what it was. She asked me to send a picture. “I approve,” she said. It was a picture I took when we met in the Village, and he did look good. After promising to keep her up to speed, we hung up. Then I went for a run before getting ready for Monday’s classes.

Neither Alex nor I had classes on the next Friday afternoon so around noon I headed over to his place at Columbia. We spoke each night during the week, about nothing mostly, and arranged our rendezvous. He buzzed me up and greeted me with a kiss when I came through his apartment door. I’d been horny for days and refrained from jerking off since Tuesday. The kiss led to a frenzy as we went into the bedroom.

“Today is all about you,” I told him. I stripped him and soon he was standing in his bedroom naked and I was clothed and on my knees sucking him. “You’re a quick learner” encouraged me. As did his hand lightly draped around my head, controlling my pace, which, frankly, needed controlling. I was famished.

Before he came, he backed away.

“Ready?”

I stood, taking his hand to feel my erection.

“You tell me.”

I quickly stripped. He reached into that top drawer again and removed lube and condoms. He placed a couple of towels on the bed.

“I want to watch you as I fuck you.”

I nodded and lay on my back on the bed. I spread my legs so he could lube my anus, which he did quickly. Despite the discomfort, I enjoyed the first incursion into my ass with his middle finger and even more when it was joined by his index and then his ring fingers. I felt a slight nausea at the invasion but that was overwhelmed by my anticipation.

“You are tight.”

“You’re the first one in.”

He pulled his fingers out and looked at me.

“Tell me what you want.”

“I want you to fuck me. I want you to take my anal cherry. I want you to have me.”

“Good. That’s what I want too.”

He lifted my legs and I bent my knees, using my hands to open myself lewdly for him. His right hand guided his dick to my hole. He looked at me and waited. I nodded and felt his dickhead start to push in. I tried to push it out, reading that that’s how to do it, and suddenly I was being fucked. His head was in me and he paused. It hurt but, again, I felt pleasure as well.

Again I nodded. He pushed slowly into me and stopped for several seconds until starting to pull out and then pistoning me. All pain was gone and I melted. I closed my eyes and put my head on the pillow, letting him take me. It wasn’t long, this first time, but shortly after I began to jerk myself he told me he was coming and then with a grunt he did, smashing into me three or four times while my own cum shot up and landed on my upper chest.

He quickly pulled out and left. While he was gone to clean up, I felt an aura of satisfaction I’d never known. It was similar to, but different from, what happened when I fucked him. I was more alive than I’d ever been.

When he came back he again placed his head towards the foot of the bed and my face again saw his wonderful dick. His lips lightly kissed mine, which quickly hardened and I did the same to his already hard dick. It wasn’t passionate or at least lustful. Instead, it was the strangely sweet sensation of having a lover’s lips savoring me as I savored him. Somehow, before he came and before I came, I fell asleep.

When I awoke, Alex and I were under his covers. He was on his back looking up.

“Where do we go from here?”

I turned on my side to face him.

“This is the first for me. I have no idea. Let’s eat and talk about it.”

We sat at a diner he liked on Amsterdam Avenue, on the northern side of the Columbia campus.

I liked Alex. A lot. But this was way too soon to be looking deep into the future. I think he was ahead of me, wanting some sense that I was thinking long-term with him. It’s not as though I hadn’t. But he was my first boyfriend, if that’s what he was. We had good times together and we had transcendent sex. Our compatibilities were check-check-check. But it was too soon. Which is what I told him.

“I can see it getting there. Just not yet.”

I don’t think he was surprised. More that he was forced to adjust his expectations for “us”.

After the semester ended, Alex was definitely my boyfriend and I drove with him to meet his family for a Memorial Day barbeque in Morristown, New Jersey. He met my Aunt and Mel and their baby a month earlier. They, except for the baby, heartily approved. He was shy with them as strangers but they drew him out and saw much of what I saw in him.

I should mention the baby. She is named “Shirley Mary.” The Shirley is from Mel’s mom and the Mary from Beth’s. That was a gesture that solidified Beth’s relationship with Grandma. Mom flew in from Chicago when Shirley was due and stayed the week with Beth. Mel’s mother also came, from Florida, and she’s still with them, squeezed into the tiny Bushwick apartment. She and Mom got along well.

As we drove to his house, Alex told me not to be nervous. Several times. They were great with me his last boyfriend and they’d be great with me. He’d told me about Daniel. They went out for a month or so in their first semester at Columbia. It was with Daniel, he confessed, that he learned how to make love to a man. For which I owe Daniel, who I met once when Alex and I were walking through Columbia’s quad, a major thank you.

Sex with Alex was always great. We varied our positions and neither of us knew whether we preferred being the fucker or the fuckee. He’d met some of my friends at Fordham and I met a number of his at Columbia. In fact, I spent most Saturday evenings hanging with his classmates before we went to bed. And we were regulars at the diner on Amsterdam and 121st Street.

He grew up in a big house. He warned me. His dad made his money on Wall Street and lived comfortably as a semi-retired fifty-two-year-old. His mom had also been in finance but now focused on several community charities, particularly one for abused spouses. His two sisters were also there. Both older, one was a senior at Princeton and headed to Hopkins for Medical School and the other was a second-year student at Fordham Law School, which is by Lincoln Center, away from the main Bronx campus where I lived.

Alex was right. I was greeted warmly by his family, including his older sister’s boyfriend, another Fordham law student. After the burgers and beers and hot dogs, Alex took me for a walk in his neighborhood. Of big houses. He had no concern that we held hands and said hello to old neighbors he saw, introducing me as his boyfriend. Quite different from where I grew up. Or at least I thought it would be, never having tested it.

Because we’d had a fair amount of beer—although technically underage—his mom said we could stay in his room. It was tight on his small bed but we made ourselves comfortable. The bastard couldn’t resist, when I was trying to sleep, reaching around and getting my dick hard and pumping it just enough to get me excited and I was as quiet as a church mouse as he slowly but inevitably got me off, pulling out a hand towel and handing it to me to catch my cum just before I exploded.

And, yes, I called him a “bastard for doing that.” To which he replied, “I love you.”

He said it quietly so I could pretend not to have heard. So I pretended I didn’t. Frankly, it wasn’t a surprise. I just didn’t know if I loved him, and I thought about it after returning to the bed after a trip to the bathroom. We shared nothing but a quick, chaste goodnight kiss and then he fell asleep with my left arm encircling him.

We set the alarm for six-thirty. We both had to be at work by nine-thirty. I was interning at a law firm that Dad’s firm worked with, and Alex was doing the same at his father’s old financial firm. We were both only a few blocks from one another in midtown. We’d brought suits, and were out the door by seven-thirty with his parents hugging me as we left, taking his older sister and her boyfriend with us so they could get to their midtown summer-associate jobs.

Lunch in Union Square

“You have to tell him.”

I sat with Beth at lunchtime on Wednesday. We were on a bench in Union Square. I told her what happened, what Alex said. She cross-examined me and I admitted that while I liked him a lot and loved being with him, I didn’t feel a spark with him.

“It may happen. It may not. But it’s not fair to either of you if one of you is pretending. And you’re pretending.”

I told her I knew. I gave him a call and asked to meet him after work. He was still in his place at Columbia. I had a summer rental a few blocks from the Fordham campus in the Bronx.

“Let’s walk.”

We headed up Sixth Avenue toward the Park, slowly weaving through the crowds. Not holding hands. He stiffened.

“I heard what you said. But I don’t love you. I like you and love—”

He stopped me and we moved toward the curb.

“Jer. I know you heard me and I know you didn’t say anything so you’re not surprising me. If I can’t win you over with a barbeque in Morristown, I never will.”

He was half-teasing, and we resumed the walk.

“I need to understand whether you think you might come to love me.”

“I can’t promise you that. I don’t want to waste both of our times waiting to find out.”

“OK, then. Let’s not belabor it. I want . . . need someone more than what ‘we’ are right now. If it’s not you, I understand. We don’t control these things. I know that. So, well, good luck.”

He turned and that was it. His hand moved to his nose as he headed to catch the One Train at 50th Street to get home.

“It was like someone cut it apart with a big knife. I thought he’d try harder.” I was on the phone to Beth.

“He knows you need to feel it. I don’t think he thought it would do any good and probably leave a bad feeling for you. You need to give it time. It may be that you really do love him and can only hope that he’s still available and still in love with you if you figure that out. For now, though, enjoy being single again. You’re not in school so explore people at work or in the neighborhood.”

Which I did. I found a gay-friendly place not far from Fordham and went on several dates. I went home with a few and enjoyed what we did. I was, I think, getting better with experience. I know the sex was. Was it like with Alex? No. I’ll admit that. It was sex. Although I didn’t love Alex, I was comfortable and liked him a great deal and that added spice to our sex. And to our making love.

I missed that. I was not, though, going to fuck him up by fucking him. I ran into Malcolm during a group run in August at Van Cortlandt. He and I did a mile or so together. He hadn’t heard from Alex but someone told him that he was very broken up about what happened between us.

“Alex’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.” Malcolm might have been a bit cold, but he was right.

When he saw me about a month later at a cross-country meet at Van Cortlandt, Malcolm jogged over to me.

“Good news. I had a chat with Alex. He asked about you, but it’s clear that he’s seeing someone else. I see them on campus every once in a while.”

“At his favorite diner?”

“The one on Amsterdam? Yeah.”

As we finished our warm-up, I thanked him. I wanted that to work out. My feelings for Alex had not changed. It was affection. It was not love.

Erin

I decided to keep my off-campus apartment for sophomore year. It wasn’t great but, (a) I didn’t have a roommate, (b) it was off-campus, and (c) I didn’t have a roommate. I felt a step closer to adulthood. Unlike being on campus, there were plenty of stores and restaurants I could walk to. In school, freshman jitters were gone. I was used to college work and did well freshman year. I had plenty of friends.

It was the second Friday of classes. I had one at ten but then was free for the day. I rode my bike home. When I hopped off and was rolling to the building’s front door I saw Erin. She was sitting on the sidewalk and jumped up. I had spoken to her on the phone only a few times since Christmas and she’d always made a point of saying she loved me, and I echoed that to her.

“Erin?”

“Hi, Jeremy.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m visiting a couple of colleges. I asked Mom not to tell you because I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, then it worked. Where’s she?”

“She’s actually wondering around Fordham’s campus. I assume you didn’t see her.”

“No, I didn’t.”

We sat down, our backs leaning the bricks. “I wanted to wait until I saw you again to tell you that I love you and accept you as you are. I’m not bullshitting. I get it now. You’re you.”

“And to whom or what do I owe this revelation.”

“I was sitting, yes, in the food court of the mall with one of my ‘wannabes.’ The others were in a store, and she and I were tired. After we spoke, I find I get tired in the mall more quickly than I used to. It’s lost some of its attraction after what you said. You don’t know her I don’t think. She’s Susie. Anyway, we’re sitting with coffees and it kind of came out that I had fucked things up with you. And she asked and I know I shouldn’t have because it’s your secret—”

“Relax. It’s not much of a secret there. I think almost everyone I know there knows I’m gay.”

“Really? The guys on the team?”

“They figured it out and have been great.”

“Wow. I always thought most of them were jerks. Anyway, I told Susie I was a horror to you when you came out over Christmas. You took me by surprise. Anyway, I said I didn’t know what to do about it. She leaned over to me and said, ‘It’s more common than you think.’ I looked at her. She whispered, ‘I think I’m gay but you have to promise not to tell anyone’ and I promised.”

“But you’re telling me.”

“She meant the ‘wannabes.’ She told me so I might be able to understand. It helped. She’s still my friend. She told me I’m not her type, and admitted she knew someone who was but who she’s afraid to approach, and so that’s off the table. I really don’t see her as really different. You know? I mean different as in abnormal and different as in how I always looked at her before she told me. I guess she thought she could tell me because of, well, you.

“So if you want me to sign something about me accepting you and there still being an ‘us’, I’m happy to.”

“Let’s go inside. I’ll draft something.”

Before we headed up the stairs I called Mom’s cell.

“Hello, Jeremy.”

“Hey, Mom. Just checking on the weather in Chicago.”

“She’s with you, isn’t she?”

“Apparently in more ways than one. Look I’m putting my stuff away. Can you come to my place? I’ll show you two around and then you’ll treat us to lunch.”

She was there in about ten minutes and I buzzed her up. She was, frankly, horrified at my living conditions. But resigned herself with an “it is what it is.” Erin, on the other hand, thought it was great. Freedom and independence.

We went to an Italian place nearby and I had one of those small pizzas—“I’ve gotten used to how they do pizza in New York”—and they had salads.

Erin had looked at Fordham that morning and a couple of other colleges the day before. She didn’t know if she wanted to come to New York. She still had a bunch closer to Chicago to consider. But the thing was that she seemed infinitely more mature than she was over Christmas. Perhaps I noticed it because I hadn’t seen her in almost nine months. Though I sensed something in our phone conversations since.

She and Mom were staying in a hotel in Midtown and we had a nice dinner during which I told them about Alex and what happened there. I wanted them to understand me. That gay love was pretty much like any other kind.

I went with them on Saturday to visit Beth and Mel and the baby and both Mom and Erin cried. The three had moved to a two-bedroom in Prospect Heights, a major upgrade from the bungalow in Bushwick. Mom and Erin were heading home in the morning. But it was, well, comfortable and homey. Mom arranged for a car to take them to their hotel and then me up to my apartment.

Before we left Beth’s place, Erin pulled me aside.

“Promise me you believe what I said.”

“I lied over Christmas about not caring about you. I always will. You know that. I’m just glad we can be friends as well as siblings.”

I kissed her on the forehead and we went to the living room and said goodbye to Beth and Mel and Shirley Mary.

Cross-Country Resumes

I could tell you about each step I took in an early-October cross-country race. Each is burned into my brain. But it’s enough to speak of the last 400 meters, on the flats at Van Cortlandt Park. For all of us, our lungs were screaming and our quads were screaming. What were they screaming exactly? STOP YOU FOOL STOP. But, of course, none of us do. We just need to make the final, agonizing 400, 300, 200, 100 meters.

With about 200 to go, I locked onto someone in a dark green singlet. Manhattan College. I was gaining on him. By inches. I ran out of room. Another twenty meters and I would have had him. And I am telling you this because I eventually did “have him.” He just nipped me at the finish, well behind the winners. As is customary, we told each other, “good race” and shook hands.

I felt something when we did. Maybe it was his look. I don’t know. Probably a passing thing but we ran into one another as we warmed down. I noticed his rainbow pin and he noticed mine. It’s not a sign that one is gay because lots of supportive straights wear them. But he pulled to the side from his team and I did the same.

“Nice race.”

“You too. How about getting together for a run and lunch sometimes?” We agreed and exchanged numbers before he sprinted after the Manhattan folks and I did the same for Fordham’s.

Which is how I came to be having lunch near Manhattan College—which for some reason is in the Bronx—with Kevin Fraser on the next Saturday. He was a junior, a year ahead of me. He lived on campus although he came from a northern suburb of the City. He was one of those runners who ran on strength instead of flow, with fireplug thighs. A couple of inches shorter than me, but I put his weight as a little more. He had dirty blond hair, which he kept short, and nice, blue eyes.

I think we both had the same thought as we sat. I want you and I want you to have me. So that afternoon we did. He was in a one-bedroom Manhattan College apartment building. We wasted no time. We were both sweaty from the pre-lunch run we’d had at Van Cortlandt and decided to share a shower. As we waited for the water to warm up we, well, admired each other. We were both hard and I was tempted to drop to my knees on the small rug but he said we’d have more fun if we did things “together.”

We were in the shower. A little tight. It wasn’t a bug, though. It was perc. He grabbed the soap and started at my chest, working down, although not forgetting to pinch my nipples. He rubbed hard against my stomach with his left hand as his right went around me to hold me. He told me to turn, which sort of pissed me off, having stopped at my stomach and all, but I relaxed with my hands on the shower’s wall as he soaped my shoulders and my back. I felt his finger run through my crack and then heard, “my turn.”

I duplicated what he did to me, but added a reach-around to his dick after I ran along his ass crack. It was his first moan. I turned him and soaped up his dick and his balls. I forced him to turn, his back to me, and started pumping his dick. His hands were, as mine had been, flat against the tiles. I don’t think either of us meant it to happen, but suddenly he said, “shit, I’m coming” and his hips jerked as he shot his cum along the tiles.

“Fuck.” It took him time to recover, and as he stayed facing the wall and catching his breath, I cleaned off my dick and my balls and my anus. He looked disappointed when he turned and saw what I had done.

“The water’s getting cold and my legs are getting tired.” After we finished rinsing, we grabbed the towels on the rack and dried ourselves. He dropped to his knees and engulfed my dick. Now it was my turn to moan, my hands caressing the back of his head to increase our physical connection. I was close, but wanted more, wanted him. I begged him to stop. He looked up with a smile.

“What do you have in mind?”

“I want to fuck you on your bed.”

He got up and took my hand, leading me to his bedroom. He pulled the covers from the bed and reached into a drawer for lube and a condom. And after I had the condom on and had lubed it and his anus, he turned on his back to let me fuck him while he looked at me. He didn’t hesitate as his hands reached around to open himself to me. And I didn’t hesitate as my right hand guided me into his anus. I slowly entered him and felt him get comfortable. And I fucked him. I fucked him with a spark I’d never had before.

Kevin reached up to pull me closer and our lips met as my hips continued to pound him. As he matched my rhythm with his hand on his own dick. He pushed me away with his free hand.

“Fill me up, Fordham,” and that was enough to trigger my explosion, soon followed by his own. I pulled out and removed the condom and went to the bathroom, returning cleaner and with a hand towel for him.

We were both too spent to do anything more for a while so we sat on his sofa and watched something on Netflix. Until we stopped because we had to kiss each other. It was that kiss, I think, that sealed the deal in my mind. We returned to the bedroom and I got on my back and he was on top of me, his mouth over my dick and my mouth beneath his. And we enjoyed each other again, each having a “nice” orgasm. Which was just what we needed.

We ordered Chinese, watched another movie, and fell asleep early. Manhattan is, like Fordham, a Catholic college. When we got up, Kevin asked if I went to Mass. I told him that I didn’t. He still did, although he was working out some issues “because of the gay thing.” I didn’t think I could go to Mass with him—I only went on Christmas Day when I was in Chicago—if only because all I had was dirty running clothes, and I was way too big to wear something of his. But he knocked on a door in his hallway and borrowed a pair of respectable pants and a polo and a sweater and I was made presentable. No socks or underwear and running shoes, mind you, but presentable.

It was a nice service, not the fire-and-brimstone of my youth (although in fairness that wasn’t that bad). I realized that I, too, had to work through the religion thing, which I’d long since put to the side. But that Sunday was for sharing time with Kevin.

Since then, I’ve been spending most of my weekends at his place. It’s a bit nicer than mine, and I ride my bike over after class on Friday morning and ride back to Fordham—it’s not far—on Monday morning. We go for runs on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sometimes I go with him to Mass but more often I go out to get breakfast stuff and wait for him at the Church’s door. We walk home and have coffee and bagels and carrot cake and then we have each other.

I’m staying in New York for Thanksgiving, and he went to his folks’ place in Chappaqua. We spoke about me joining him there. He, though, said he has some issues with his folks “I’m trying to work through” and that it was too early. Given family dynamics, I was not hurt that he was afraid to show me off to them. I know too well about things going south on a holiday. While Kevin’s come out to his parents, their acceptance of him is tentative. He thinks it best not to shove a “boyfriend” down their throats. I’m OK with that.

Which is why I’m alone in my apartment on Thanksgiving afternoon. Kevin’ll be coming down this evening, and I’ll meet him at the Fordham train station—it’s on the same commuter line as Chappaqua—and he’ll spend the night. I know I’ll sound like a horny rabbit, but although we fucked before he went there this morning, the first time in my apartment since he could catch the train here, I’m sitting around without him and bouncing off the walls.

My folks and siblings are good. We had a great talk and I had an adult conversation with Erin. I’ll see them at Christmas. Beth, Mel, and Shirley Mary are spending the week with Mel’s folks in Fort Lauderdale, and I spoke to them as well, disappointed that I could not be with them.

I hope I used the time well to write all of this down. The more I write, the more I miss Kevin. Nothing is as empty as having a holiday without the person you love. Even if you know you’re going to fuck his brains out in about three hours. Which is one-hundred-and-eighty minutes. Seems longer.