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The Talon House

Broken


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BROKEN

Introduction

This is not a story that I wanted to tell. This is a story that I had to tell. Too many people paid too great a price for it to simply be forgotten.

There is quite a difference. Tales told for fun are one thing. A tale that is told by the demands of ones conscious is another sort altogether. I would like to bring you laughter. I would desire to elevate you. I would like to entertain or inspire or amuse you. That is my nature.

Sadly, these are not those words. This is not that kind of story.

This is a story that I have lived and lived with for decades. Carrying it around is like walking around with broken glass in my soul.

This is about those nightmares that won't go away and why my hands shake. This is why my attention is sometimes somewhere else altogether. This is why I can not share my bed for fear of waking up fighting. This is why I'm alone in a crowded room and I don't feel comfortable unless I know a quick way to get out. This is why I'd like to forget but it won't go away. This is about all those names and faces and places a long time gone that haunt me.

This is my story and it isn't pretty. I'm not proud or vain for telling it. It is a difficult story to tell. Every single word is like pulling a sore tooth. The world would very happily ignore it and keep right on spinning were it not told.

I tell this story in the hope that I may exorcise the demons that haunt me. I tell this story in the hope that those that read it will demand that it doesn't happen again. I tell this story to let it go.

Dramatis Personae

James "Jimmy" Savik- that would be me.

Big John Savik- my older brother who is away most of the time

John and Emmaline Savik- Mom & Pop

Scotty Michaels- my best friend

Beau and Meredith Michaels- Scotty's Mom and Dad

Scouting

Mr. Bob Rainer- Scoutmaster, Troop 77

Bob Jr. and Eric Rainer- Bob's sons

Doug Edwards- Senior Patrol Leader, Wolverines

Brian and Marc Edwards- Doug's little brothers

Nick Turner- Close friend of Scotty and me

Mark and Clay Hudson- scouting friends and cousins, talented musicians

Football

Jeff Dunbar- QB, Vikings and Patriots

Jerry Hurst- OT, DT- Vikings, Patriots and Eagles

Bill Palmer- DE, LB- Vikings, Patriots and Eagles

Paul and Kerry Kelly- RB & DBs- (twins) Vikings, Patriots and Eagles

Randy Austin- DB- Vikings and Eagles

BROKEN

Kid's of the Warrior Caste

Chapter 1

I was born into a good, old family with deep roots in Mississippi. My father was a veteran of WW II in Europe and Korea. My mother was a teacher. From my very earliest memories the values of parents were instilled in me: God, family and country. I am quite proud of my parents. Proud of who we are and where we came from. I very much wanted to please them.

I was always just a little gun-shy of my Dad. His time in the wars had taken its toll on him. The war had left him a touch deaf and in hindsight it easy to tell that he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was always very loud which was intimidating. He also had an unpredictable temper. Once when I was very young, he was napping on the couch having a nightmare. Seeing him in distress, I wanted to wake him up and make it go away. When I did, for a split second he was still fighting North Korean infiltrators in some dark place. He slammed me to the floor- pulling up just short of landing what would have easily been a lethal blow.

He was a good Dad for the most part- but older than most of my peers dads. We did all of the things Southern dads and sons do- hunting, fishing, and Mississippi State football games. I loved to help Pop work on our cars and trucks and had a natural gift for it. I just knew better than to get on his bad side which was sometimes painfully unavoidable. His hearing problems made it difficult to communicate with him, as he was prone to misunderstand. I might say, "I'm going to take a nap". He might hear, "Oh Pop, you're full of crap."

A dirty little secret of Southern culture is that Southern men are all mammas' boys. If you're not, then you just haven't had a Southern mother and that's a pity. Mine was great. She was one of the first women in her family to be college educated and was smart as a whip. She was a great teacher of reading and taught first grade for 35 years before she retired. My fondest memories of her were reading to me in the garden. That was her greatest trick of teaching reading. She read good stories then she would feign tiring out which would force you to continue on your own. I was reading well before kindergarten.

My Dad was the Captain of our house but my Mom was his good Executive Officer. She always had things ship shape and made sure they stayed that way. There was a routine in place as efficient as any train service. Wake up at 0600, Breakfast at 0625, bus at 0700... Before bed she would read me a story and then I had to read a few bible verses to her. Every Sunday we went to Church where I would get my ear pinched good and proper if I dared any nonsense. Then we would race home for Sunday dinner and pro football with my Dad.

Our family was spread out all over the state. My maternal Grandmother's family came from Greenville where she insisted on staying despite her advanced age. Her other children were spread out all over the country with my Mom being the closest. We would drive up to see her a couple of times a month.

My father's family came from South Mississippi- Smith County with branches on the coast. Originally settling in Smith County in the late 1700s, the Savik family and the family name was ancient. Norman-French in origin by way of the Danelaw, the family won its renown standing with King Henry and his merry band of brothers at a place in the French country side called Agincourt. The family crest is red with the lions of Henry. The martial tradition had been in the family for going on for over 600 years. A proud, old family steeped in traditions, which expected and demanded much of its sons.

My father's uncles were my heroes. James, my namesake, had been a marine during WWII in the Pacific. He was a great hunter and fisherman. Every summer my Dad and I would go down to the coast and go out shrimping with him.

Uncle Richard was retired from the Air Force and lived in Gulfport. He had started out as a 17 year old recruit in 1942 in the original Army Air Corp. He stayed in when the Air Force became its own branch and retired after 30 years a full bird Colonel. He was smart, well traveled and articulate. I used to love to listen to his stories for hours.

Uncle Edward had road with Patton in 1944. He brought home a Silver Star from the Battle of the Bulge. He had a water melon farm in Smith County.

My Dad had gone to West Point and retired from the army before I was born. All three of the brothers were college educated. That was rare for Mississippi in those days. These are the titans in whose shadow I grew up.

As is the way with my family, the boys grow very big. I was no exception. By the time I was five, I was as big as the first graders and already reading. Kindergarten was wasted on me so it was decided that I would start school a year early. Thankfully not at my Mom's school- a kid needs to be able to get away with a few things.

The only thing that bugged me was that I did not have any brothers or sisters at home. I had an older brother but he had been away at college and then at his career in Texas and I didn't get to see him that much. My neighborhood friends told me that I was lucky but I didn't see it that way. I would see my friends being mean to their little brothers and sisters and scold them for it much to their amazement.

I was an odd age for my neighborhood. All of the other boys were year or so older, and a little mean, so no one close by was in my same grade. It wasn't until a year later that a boy in my grade moved in across the street. I was delighted.

Southern hospitality demands that when you have new neighbors that you should introduce yourselves. My Mom made a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of turkey sandwiches and the three of us went over to say hello.

Mr. Michael's was a tall, slender man who was sweating up a storm moving furniture into their new home that August day. He smiled when he saw us walking up. He stopped working, wiped the sweat out of his eyes and said, "How ya'll doing. I'm Beau Michael's."

My Dad walked up to him shook his hand, "Just fine new neighbor. I'm John Savik; this is my wife Emmaline and my boy Jimmy. Could we give you a hand?"

Mr. Michael's grin widened, "I'd sure appreciate it. I think we picked the hottest day of the year to do the most work. Come on inside and meet my wife and son."

We went into the kitchen through the garage. Our new neighbors were well underway in the moving in process. Mrs. Michael's looked up from a box of glasses and saw my Mom with a platter of lemonade and sandwiches.

Mr. Michael's said, "Miriam, meet our new neighbors- the Saviks. Where's Scott?"

She laughed, "You know how shy he is. Scotty, come in here and meet our new neighbors."

Scotty entered the room hesitantly. When I first laid eyes on him I though that he was much younger than me. He was a head shorter than me."

I asked, "What grade are you in Scotty?" while our Moms poured glasses of lemonade and handed out sandwiches.

"Second.", he replied softly, trying to decide if this giant kid in his kitchen was friendly.

"Cool. I'm in second. We can walk to school together."

Mr. Michael's asked me, "Jimmy, why don't you show Scotty around the neighborhood after we have a sandwich?"

I nodded eagerly but Scotty looked a little skeptical. When we were done with sandwiches, the parents shooed us out the door to get us out from underfoot while they got down to serious work. His Mom told us to be back before dark.

Scotty asked, "Where are we going."

"This is my house..", which was right across the street, "and right behind my yard is Deer Creek."

We walked over to the little bluff overlooking the creek that was just a little trickle that time of year.

Scotty asked, "Any fish in it?"

"Naw. There's a pond about a mile back in the woods though."

The old growth oak and pine forest behind our suburbs was a favorite playground for the local kids. The ancient trees were home to many tree houses and Scotty looked at the Spanish moss draped canopy of the woods and said, "It looks a little spooky."

"It's cool. We've all got forts out there and there's bike trails all over."

Scotty looked up at me. "We won't get lost?"

"No way."

He smiled and replied, "OK. Let's go."

We walked down a well-worn bike trail along Deer Creek that lead up to the main paths into the woods. I asked. "Where did you live before?"

"Tupelo. It was fun there. My Uncle Rich and cousins live there."

"What did you do there?"

"Mostly play with my cousins. They got dirt bikes and BB guns."

"Really?"

"Uh-huh. My cousin Ray has a Mustang that goes a thousand miles 'n hour!"

"They're tough..."

We passed the rest of the afternoon exploring the woods as far back as Clark's pond. I showed Scotty where Dear Creek and Cainey Creek came together in a muddy swirl, the main bike trails and the red sand dunes. We talked about weighty matters like bikes, Star Trek and comic books.

I'm not sure where and when it happened but Scotty decided that he liked me and I liked the idea of not being the only second grader on the block.

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BROKEN

Bikes, Snakes and Poison Ivy

Chapter 2

Scotty had something really special going for him. He was just so cute and so much fun that it was ridiculous. Some of the most forbidding and stern adults would melt in his presence. One Christmas he was the photographic model for a Christmas card angel of all things.

Sure- you could get mad at the little guy but good luck trying to stay that way. He would look up at you with those big, blue puppy dog eyes and you would melt on the spot like so much butter on a hot roll.

Our families hit it off famously. My Dad and Scotty’s Dad became fast friends and golfing buddies. My Mom and Scotty’s Mom also shared a number of interests. Scotty’s Dad was a doctor and practiced at county hospital working very long hours and strange shifts. His Mom was a nurse and was also prone to work really strange shifts. As our families got to know each other, we began to cooperate. Scotty stayed with us while his Mom and Dad were working crazy shifts and I stayed with the Michael’s when they were off work.

It was strange the way our families merged together. We did everything together- school, church and play. In a way Scotty and I had two Moms and two Dads and someone was always there for us. It was rare and very special.

The Michael’s family took me with them to visit their cousins in Tupelo They were all really neat. His cousin really did have a Mustang that would go a thousand miles per hour!

Scotty went with my Mom and me to visit my grandmother in Greenville where we walked on levees, fished and ate plums until we were sick. My grandmother loved to fuss over us and always made cookies.

Our parents were delighted that Scotty and I were pals. We kept each other engaged and out from underfoot for the most part. He was the little brother that I had always wanted. If I had been given the choice of picking one out of a catalogue, it would have been him.

Scotty quickly wormed his way into the hearts of my whole family. One of my favorite pictures was taken at Christmas time with my Dad and Big John, my big brother, with Scotty on one of his big shoulder and me on the other. Even my grumpy old big brother, which I only rarely saw because he was always away, couldn’t help but smile when Scotty was around.

I was deliriously happy. I wasn’t alone anymore. I had never had a best friend before.

While exploring in the woods, Scotty stepped on a board and nails went through his shoes. His started crying and couldn’t walk. This made me very upset. I picked him up carried him about a half mile home. When we got there his mother took care of him and then she asked if I was hurt. I said no. She asked me why I was crying. I told her that I hurt when Scotty hurt. I don’t know why she hugged me so hard.

Scotty had some annoying flaws but our personalities complimented each other very well. While I was laid back and reserved, Scotty was hyper and gregarious. Where Scotty was impulsive, I was more thoughtful. Where I was more introverted, when I was with him, Scotty was quite social and outgoing. The sum of the two of us was greater than the parts.

Scotty’s worst fault was his tendency to “exaggerate” or to add a lot of “flavor” to his conversations to make himself look bigger. While annoying and embarrassing to me, this caused him a great deal of trouble with other kids. Some of the neighborhood kids quickly began picking on him by yelling things like:

Scotty, Scotty, sits on a potty,

thinking up lies to tell,

liar, liar pants on fire,

Scotty is going to hell.

This always upset Scotty and made him cry. A mean little girl named Marcy went entirely too far with it. I got in trouble for pushing her down and yelling at her. Oh was I ever furious! The very idea that my angel Scotty would be going anywhere near hell!

I hugged him tight, my heart breaking to feel my friend racked with sobs, obviously very much afraid. The preachers made hell sound like such a scary and dreadful place. I told him; “There’s no way that you’re going to hell Scotty. You’re a sweet kid. Jesus just has to love you.”

He sobbed in my arms and sniffed, “But lying is a sin. You go to hell for sinning.”

Concerned, I held him out at arm’s length so I could see his eyes but he looked down. “Why do you do it Scotty?”

He didn’t want to look at me. “I don’t know”, he snuffled. “I’m just so little, it makes me feel bigger somehow. Awe Jimmy, I don’t want to go to hell. I don’t want to go anywhere without you.” Then he started bawling.

I hugged him real tight and said, “You’re not going to hell Scotty. You’re not going anywhere without me and that’s a promise.”

He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Really? You mean it?”

“I will never leave you”, I said hugging him tight and lifting him off the ground.

Much to my surprise my long time friends Barry and David, neighbors from up the hill and two years my senior, absolutely hated Scotty. I was quite astonished by their reaction to him. They had never been petty or mean before. They called him a baby and a little girl for crying. Of course this only served to upset Scotty more and cry harder. I was furious at them and never looked at them in the same way again.

I didn’t understand why but the more people picked on Scotty, the worse it hurt me. I tried hard to protect him from meanness. How could people be so mean to him? Such behavior didn’t make any sense to me being so contrary to my very nature. I resolved that if they were going to be cruel to Scotty, they would have to go through me to do it.

In the months and years to follow Scotty and I only grew closer. We became constant companions on new adventures every day sharing everything along the way. Bikes, snakes and poison ivy- BB guns, cool rocks and sling shots. There was nothing that we kept from each other- two halves of a happy go lucky whole in constant motion exploring, discovering and having fun for no particular reason other than being together.

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BROKEN

The Uniforms

Chapter 3

During the first few weeks of fifth grade, a man came to our class wearing an olive uniform. Mrs. Lee had all of the fifth grade boys line up and go to the auditorium to see a presentation. The sixth grade boys were already there. That was cool with us. It was a rare opportunity that we could get away from all of the dumb ole girls in our class so we were excited regardless of however boring the assembly might be.

The man introduced himself as Bob Rainer. He said that he was the Scoutmaster of Troop 33, which meets at Shiloh Baptist Church. He asked if anyone knew about scouting. Some of the guys raised their hands. I looked around to see who they were- Brian Edward’s, Gary Kelly- they were pretty cool.

Mr. Rainer told us about the founder- a guy named Baden-Powell and something about the organization’s mission. He then showed us a twenty-minute film of scouts doing really cool stuff like hiking, boating and camping. After it was over he asked us to think about scouting, gave us some literature and then we went back to class.

I thought it looked pretty cool. So did Scotty. We decided to talk to our parents about it later that night. When school was over for the day, we jumped on our bikes and raced home.

My Dad was delighted that I was interested in scouting. So was Scotty’s. Our parents filled out some paperwork and mailed it off. A week later we both received a large envelope in the mail with a letter instructing us that our first meeting was at Shiloh Baptist Church at 7:00 Wednesday night.

The day of our first meeting Scotty and I road our bikes to the church and met a lot of kids our age and older. Some of them were from our school and neighborhood. Others were junior high and high school age.

Brian and Doug Edward’s were there. They were a couple of kids from the a few blocks over in our neighborhood that I had always wanted to get to know better. There were three Edward’s brothers: Brian, a year older than me, Mark the squirt, and Doug who was a junior at Oak Hills High School.

There were a couple of things that really interested me in the brothers. From being around them, I knew that they were really cool. They didn’t fight like a lot of brothers. Doug, the oldest of the three, was always doing stuff with Brian and Mark. Unlike other older brothers that I knew, nobody made him and he didn’t push us around or pick on us. All three Edward’s brothers had that brilliant copper colored red hair that is so rare which made them all stand out. Some people liked to tease them about it but they just laughed.

Doug was a senior patrol leader. Scotty and I quickly decided that we liked him. Doug wasn’t mean or bossy with the younger kids like some of the older scouts were. He was very patient; fun to be around and when appropriate he would cut up with us like he was just a bigger kid. He suffered having a dozen fifth and sixth graders hanging on him better than any teenager I had ever seen. Even better, he would talk to you like you weren’t just some dumb kid.

Our Scoutmaster had three sons of whom two were the right age to be in scouting. The Rainer boys were Bob, Jr. 17 and Eric who was my age. Bob Jr., was a the other senior patrol leader and very different than Doug. He was a not very patient nor was he nice to the younger kids. As a result the older boys tended to be in Bob’s patrol, the Badgers and the younger guys were in Doug’s Wolverines.

About the same time as scouting started, I became eligible to play tackle football on our elementary school team the Vikings. Scotty and I differed in size by about a foot and 40 pounds at the time and football was the only thing we didn’t share.

The team Coach was delighted to get me. I was our biggest fifth grader at just over 110 pounds and my size and speed made me a naturally dominant linebacker.

My Dad was happier than I had ever seen him at my games. My very first game I had eight tackles with two for a loss. Football was also good for me because it widened my circle of friends.

It so happened that we ended up having a lot of talent on that team. Jeff Dunbar our quarterback was excellent. Jerry Hurst and Bill Palmer were excellent linemen and twins Paul and Kerry Kelly were awesome backs. The Vikings ended up going 7 and 3 my first year. We had the best season in school history and the core of the team would be back the following year.

I really liked football. I was big enough to play and had the athleticism and strength to do well. I think that my Dad got even more excited about it than I did. Every time I made a play, I could count on looking in the stands and see him cheering. Most of the time Scotty and my Mom would be up there too.

Scotty made some new friends too. I felt a little guilty to admit that relieved me a little. Have no doubt that I loved him, but I chaffed under his constant demand for attention. I never let him see it but it was good for us to expand our horizons. Scotty wasn’t anywhere near as mature as I was. It was starting to get on my nerves a little.

I was very happy to see him hit it off with the younger two Edward’s brothers. Doug came with the package and was happy to do stuff with them. When I had time I would even tag along with them to go to movies or the mall.

These were for all of us the happiest of times. Our teams were winning, we were getting along, and we were even becoming popular. In the spring Scotty went out for soccer and I ran track. We got some weights and made a little gym in my back yard where Scotty and I and usually a few other boys would work out a few times a week.

We were having a lot of fun in scouting. Scotty and I went on a number of camp outs and became really tight with Brian and Doug Edwards. We also got to know Clay and Mark Hudson who were actually cousins rather than brothers. Clay was an excellent musician and always had a guitar. Mark was also musically gifted and played a number of different instruments. On many of the campouts we would stay up late by the campfire singing songs.

When sixth grade started I got my first crush. I loved Scotty but we were like brothers. Doug Edwards on the other hand, wow! He was so cool. He was friendly, patient, smart, kind, so much fun to be around and so good looking. Whenever I was around him I got giddy and goofy with jelly in my knees. He was tall, lean and handsome with freckles, red hair and porcelain skin. I know that I must have been really annoying to him for a while following him around like a puppy but he never showed it. To him I was just another one of his little brothers, he treated me that way and I adored him for it.

The summer between fifth and sixth grade was so much fun. Scotty and I looked like wild Indians with golden tans and sun-bleached hair. We were constantly doing something with each other or the Edwards brothers. It didn’t matter what we were doing; the fun of it was doing it together. It didn’t matter if we were cutting grass or playing ball, fishing or shelling butterbeans: we existed in the purest kind of joy. Friends, fellowship and fun.

Football season started that fall and we had an excellent team. I was up to 130 pounds and was a lot stronger. I got my first ever interception the season opener. I quickly discovered that it was a lot more fun to tackle people that it was to be tackled. Ouch! We ended up clobbering Byrum 38-12.

The next four games in a row were blowouts. None of the teams got within 20 points of us. We faced our biggest challenge in game 5 against the Natchez Raiders and they were as tough as advertised.

The game was brutal. Neither side could move the ball. In the last half of the fourth quarter Natchez lead 6-0. Coach had us in a split 4 defense. He sent in Kevin Kelly from the sidelines with my play: split-4 zone gap. We came up to the line and we linebackers moved around trying to confuse the blocking assignments. On the snap of the ball I smacked the tight end and went rampaging into the backfield. The Raiders were running a reverse right at me! I hit the quarterback as he was handing off the ball to their split end. I was just in time to cause a fumble deep in their backfield that bounced and rolled backwards. Time seemed to go into slow motion as everyone went into a mad scramble to cover the fumble. At least four people touched the loose football before Kerry Kelly finally covered it on the Raider 7yard line.

That play took the starch out of the Raiders. Our offense scored two plays later when Jeff Dunbar pitched the ball to Paul Kelly on a sweep off the left side. The next play we scored a two-point conversion and took the lead 8-6 for the first time in the game with four minutes left to play.

On the kickoff the Raiders returned the ball to the 35 and our defense went into shutdown mode. The Raiders had to pass and we blitzed with everything we had. We sacked their QB for a loss of seven yards on the first play. The next play their quarterback threw up a duck that Randy Austin picked off and ran back to their 25-yard line. In the closing minutes of the game we ground out another touchdown to win 16-6 cinching ourselves a playoff spot.

My Dad was so proud that he was floating. He and my Mom took me out to a steak house after the game. He told me that play that I forced a fumble on had won the game for us. He hugged me and ruffled my hair. I couldn’t have been happier if I had just won the super bowl. That’s the kind of feeling or high that I would wish that every kid might experience at least once.

I had another such moment the very next week. I blocked a punt and we got the ball inside the twenty. It wasn’t as decisive as the play against Natchez the week before, but it was early in the game and killed our opponent’s momentum. We won running away.

Much to my delight I got a nickname! The guys on the team started calling me the Beast after my favorite X-man. That fired me up like nothing else could. They would start calling “Beast, Beast” and I’d go crazy. It would really psyche the other team when this big guy started jumping around and moving all over. Half the time they would jump off sides or forget their blocking assignments.

The last few games of the season we were unstoppable. It was a smooth ride to 10-0 and a new school record that still stands. At our sports banquet that December I was named defensive most valuable player. The guys started talking about next year. Sure we would be at Oak Hills High School but we were just entirely too good to split up.

As football wound down, I got more involved with scouting. After the season my Scoutmaster, Mr. Rainer, called me into his office for a conference.

I had always liked Mr. Rainer. I respected him. He carried himself like a marine and was still in the reserves. He talked to me for a while. He said that I had grown up a lot over the fall. I was becoming a leader and that I had earned the respect of my squad. He promoted me in rank and assigned me the position of assistant patrol leader under Doug Edwards.

Then he asked me a question that I found a little weird, “Why do you hang out with Scotty?”

I replied without thinking, “He’s like my little brother. He’s lived across the street from me since before second grade. He’s always been kinda little and other people push him around. I don’t like that.”

He looked thoughtful and asked; “Do you feel sorry for him?”

I had to laugh at that, “Sorry for Scotty? No way. He gets on my nerves sometimes but we’ve been friends so long I don’t even think about it.”

Mr. Rainer nodded knowingly. “You show a lot of patience with Scotty. I admire you for that. You’re a good-natured kid and that’s what made me think that you might be the right guy to help me with something. Next week we’re going to get a new kid called Nick Turner. Ever heard of him?”

I shook my head.

Rainer continued, “I didn’t think you would have. He goes to another school. Nick’s got problems. He’s what they call developmentally delayed. It’s not like he’s retarded or stupid. He’s just way behind other kids his age. He’s real small for his age and fairly timid. I thought that if I put him in the Wolverines with you and Danny that you guys might look after him and make him feel welcome.”

“No problem.”

The week went by fast. In my new duty as Assistant Patrol Leader, I was supposed to show up thirty minutes early. A few minutes later Doug Edwards cruised into the lot on his bike and gave me a high-5. “What’s up Beast?”

I said, “I hear we’ve got cherries tonight.” At a year and a half, I was a salty veteran.

Doug parked his bike and got the keys out to open up asking, “Anybody we know?”

“I don’t think so. Did Rainer talk to you about any of them?”

“Just one. Looks like we might be doing some baby-sitting.” Doug opened up the doors and we went inside to set up chairs.

“Wonderful”, I grumped.

It took us about 10 minutes to get things ready. Rainer and his boys Bob and Eric showed up and pitched in.

Mrs. Turner and Nick showed up as the other scouts began to trickle in. We clumped around her and our new recruit as introductions were made.

My first impression of Nick Turner was one of shock. He was supposed to be 11 but he looked more like he was 7 or 8. He couldn’t have been any more than 60 pounds soaking wet. He was painfully shy and sort of hid behind his Mom. Doug and I both did our best to make him feel at ease but I think that all of the big people intimidated him. When Mrs. Turner retired from the meeting place, it was obvious that Nick wanted to go with her.

Doug and I looked at each other not quite sure what to do.

I said, “Well Nick, you’re with us tonight. Let’s take a seat over here. What do you like to do?”

Nick sighed. “I know what you’re thinking. I’m not a ‘tard. I’m just little and my hands and legs don’t work so well.”

Nick sat between Doug and me and Doug took the lead, “Nick, we don’t care how tall you are. Everybody here is somebody and I make sure that everyone in my patrol is respected. Do you get picked on?”

The little kid between us looked down at the floor.

It pissed me off that people were like that. My voice cracked when I said, “It won’t happen here.” I put my hand on his shoulder. My voice cracking like that made everybody around us laugh. Darned inconvenient that puberty stuff can be sometimes.

I introduced him to Scotty who was delighted to no longer be the smallest kid in the room. Before the meeting was over, I had to make them hush.

Nick and Scotty were pals from the git-go. When Mrs. Turner came by to pick him up Doug asked her if Nick might like to go to the movies with us on Saturday. We were going to see the way cool disaster movie Earthquake.

And just like that, Nick became a Wolverine.

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BROKEN

On My Honor

Chapter 4

Scouting is one of those activities that boys can lose themselves to no ill affects. Such was that spring. The Wolverines took on two major service projects. We adopted a homeless shelter and gathered donated food for a food bank that served needy people. We worked hard to push our rival patrol the Badgers- who responded of course by rising to the occasion out of pride, matching our projects, and beginning a long running prank war.

The first shot across our bow was a dead possum made to look like a Wolverine hanging by its tail from our work hut behind the church gym. Not to be outdone of course, we found a big, fat dead rat and left him with a “suicide note” saying he that just couldn’t live with himself for being a Badger.

Doug was brilliant in people smarts in the way that he so deftly handled people. Under his able leadership the Wolverines became a very tight knit group and about as much fun to be around as a barrel of monkeys. I learned a great deal from him and my admiration for him grew. His calm, friendly and good-natured demeanor could disarm an atom bomb. It was astonishing to see how well a bunch of 11 to 14 year olds could get along together as a team. Our arguments were never over anything more serious than who was a bigger badass: Superman or Apocalypse?

Nick became a special project of mine. The little guy was growing on me very quickly. It wasn’t too long before Nick joined Scotty as my shadow much to everyone’s amusement. His Dad had died some years before in an accident offshore. Apparently, his Mom was rather well off and had Nick in a special school that he hated. There was nothing really wrong with him except that he was very small, painfully shy and fairly clumsy. When Nick got into the friendly, supportive environment of our patrol, he thrived. It was impossible to fail to notice the improvements he made from week to week. Scotty even taught him to ride a bike.

I noticed something different about Scotty as well. He was growing up finally and it suited him. He was finally gaining height and confidence. His shyness was melting away. I was particularly glad to see that Scotty was taking a role with Nick much like I had with Scotty when we were younger. Scotty was fiercely protective of Nick and included him in everything that we did even if some of the older kids turned their nose up at him. I mentioned this to Scotty and he blushed. He put his arm around my shoulder and mumbled something about picking up a lot of bad habits from me. I then picked him up in a bear hug and said quietly in his ear- “You are growing up pal.”

Our first serious camping trip of the spring was a four-day affair in March during spring break. Our troop took all of our gear for a working camp out to a state park that had been closed for a long time. Our job was to do basic cleanup to prepare the park to reopen that summer.

Confederate Ford was a civil war site just off the Bayou Pierre near Port Gibson in the hill country of Jefferson County. It was originally part of the Natchez Trace land grant but had been handed over to the state since it was not contiguous with the trace property proper. The state let it stand idle for several years until it was finally funded.

We arrived Saturday morning and set two camps: the Badger Patrol on the North side of the park and the Wolverines on the South. A historian from Natchez came up and told us about the park’s history. During the siege of Vicksburg, the Confederacy had been quite desperate to relieve the garrison and had tried everything. The Confederate Ford is where a bunch if cavalrymen had tried to run the Union gauntlet and had been cut to pieces. It sucks to live in a state where all of the monuments are to losing battles. It’s really quite depressing.

After the tale of the doomed cavalry troopers from Utica, we ate some lunch, drank some bug juice and got to work on our assigned areas.

The work wasn’t all that hard; there was just a lot of it. Any wooded area that has been left alone for a few seasons can accumulate a lot of debris. We went about removing downed limbs and trash and made a good dent in the job by sundown.

March in Mississippi can be kind or cruel. The crisp, clear spring day gave way to a deceptively cold spring night. After playing around with a telescope, burning a big bonfire and eating supper- the Wolverines fooled around until about 11:00 when it was got too uncomfortable to stay outside. We split up into groups of four and retired to the tents.

Scotty, Nick and Brian Edwards shared the tent that I was in. Brian had a radio so we listened to a rock station from New Orleans, told fart jokes and laughed until after midnight. It was so cold that night on damp ground; we all ended up in one big shivering lump of sleeping bags in the middle of the tent.

When I woke up the next morning, Scotty was snuggled in behind me with one arm over my shoulder and Nick was wedged between Brian and me with his head on my pillow.

I had no desire to leave the warmth of the spot. I just lay there for a while and soaked it up. My best friend was curled up behind be with his arm over my shoulder. Nick’s sweet face was right before me. Brian was curled up in a ball like a red headed squirrel. It occurred to me just how cool it was.

I reveled in the feeling of closeness and warmth with my friends. There was something about it that felt so good and right. Often during the many sleepovers at our houses Scotty had slept with me just like this. He was like that with me. On long road trips he would nod off and his head would find my shoulder. Our parents though it was so cute and would snap pictures of us napping on the back seat. When I was younger I had thought what a nuisance but eventually it occurred to me that it was because he was just so comfortable with me and I with him.

Nick stirred and his long eyelashes fluttered to reveal his warm sparkling brown eyes. He saw me looking at him. I put my finger over my mouth so he would stay quite so we wouldn’t disturb the others. He rolled over and got nose to nose and forehead to forehead with me smiling and put his arm around my neck. I put my right arm around him with my hand on the back of his head in a gentle hug. He whispered, “I love you Jimmy.” Then he closed his eyes and went back to a perfectly blissful sleep.

Nick pierced my heart that morning with his innocence and sweetness. I knew at that moment that none of his problems, weaknesses or flaws mattered to me in the least. I don’t pretend to know what power had sent Nick to me but it was something very special to have him there.

I lay perfectly still and absorbed as much of that perfect moment as was possible until Rainer started bellowing for us to get up and eat breakfast.

The day had dawned bright but chill as we went back to work on our appointed tasks. We continued to gather limbs and set about building another bonfire for that night. It was not long before the frost had burned off and warmed things up to a comfortable 60 degrees or so.

We had decided that the best way to get things done was to break up into four groups of four so that we could divide our big kids and little kids evenly. As much heart as a Scotty or Nick might have, pulling an 80-pound timber to the woodpile was simply beyond them. It was more fun this way and it took teamwork and a few scouting tricks that we could put to use with ropes and knots. As noon and lunch approached, Doug told me that we were well ahead of schedule. We took an hours break and ate some hot dogs.

We went back to work after lunch. About 2:00 one of the state rangers showed up with a bush hog and started mowing the area that we had cleared. By 3:00 we had completed our work on the South side of the park and were given the rest of the day to just play around. Doug produced a Frisbee and we ended up playing Frisbee football on the fresh cut grass until dark.

Supper that night kicked a**. We barbecued chicken, cooked corn on the cob, potatoes and baked beans. After dinner, we lit the pile of debris that we had collected all day into a roaring bonfire. Mark and Clay Hudson got out their guitars and began to play.

Doug pulled me aside and told me that we were going to go up to the Badger’s territory and give them a hand the next day. We both had a chuckle over that. The Badger’s were going to love having the “help” of our patrol. About 10:00 that night a drizzle chased us into the tents.

It wasn’t quite as cold as the first night. The rain wasn’t bad but it didn’t bode well for the next day. We all changed into sweats and goofed off for a while listening to tunes and yucking it up. The activity of the day had us all pretty much worn out and we crashed hard.

Nick and Brian went down for the count. Scotty and I faced each other talking quietly for a little while with our arms around each other’s shoulders.

Sometime during the night our bodies came into direct contact. I awoke to find myself really turned on in the arms of my best friend. He felt warm and soft yet firm. His nose was nestled in on my neck and his soft rhythmic breathing made my skin tingle. Gently and slowly Scotty’s body rubbed against me in some unknowable dream. Wow. It felt so good. He was nibbling on my neck and breathing erratically.

He woke up with a start and then snickered. “Sorry Jimmy, I was dreaming.”

I whispered, “Do you like need a towel or something?”

“No... But it was pretty cool.”

“Yeah. Come on over and get in my sleeping bag.”

Scotty did and we spent the rest of the night in each other’s arms tingling, touching, caressing and... kissing?

The next morning I awoke with Scotty in my arms and Nick draped over my back, I had never felt quite like this way before. What did it mean? What was this feeling in my heart? The warmth, comfort and companionship of yesterday morning were there but there was something more. Something that made my heart beat faster.

Scotty’s sleeping face was illuminated by the dawn’s pink and purple light. Peaceful, angelic, he glowed in the morning light. It was as if I had seen my old friend for very the first time. I knew without reservation that I loved the boy in my arms. It seemed only natural like he had belonged there all along.

Scotty’s eyes opened. Smiling brightly, we shared a hug. With my left hand I stroked his hair.

I whispered, “Hungry?”

He nodded vigorously.

I gently disengaged myself from the sleeping jumble of Scotty, Nick and Brian with a smile. I said softly, “Well, let’s find some breakfast.”

The morning was warm and foggy. Dampness was in the air.

Scotty and I shared our breakfast with the early risers. Today it was individually boxed cereal and apple juice.

After eating we sat with Doug Edwards and the Hudson cousins and quietly talked about the days chores. Doug anticipated that with our help, the Badgers would have their area finished before lunch and then our Scoutmaster would have us run a map and compass orienteering exercise that afternoon.

By seven everyone had either eaten or was close to finishing up. Our patrol moved out towards the Badger’s camp on the North side of the park a little past the hour.

It took us about fifteen minutes to get there. We quickly understood why they were behind. Apparently some bad weather had really made a mess of that part of the park and there was still a lot of work to do. With the combined efforts of our two patrols we went into action and finished the North side of the park before lunch.

After lunch we took a break while Mr., Rainer and the senior patrol leaders went and laid out the orienteering course. The fog had burned off and the day was turning out pretty nice.

By one o’clock, the course was ready.

Mr. Rainer gave us all maps of the park area marked with waypoints and bearings. We were to use the map and a compass to make it through the course. Our job was to successfully navigate the course and show up at the designated endpoint. By the map, it looked to be about 3 miles max, no sweat.

We went in groups of four at intervals of twenty minutes. I stayed with my three tent mates. As luck would have it, we ended up going next to the last and it was about three before we started.

Things were going fine until... we could not find the 7th waypoint. We went back to number six and tried it again. Something was just not right. We looked and looked and never could find the 7th waypoint.

It started getting dark a little after five. The kids started getting nervous. It was obvious that we were lost but I tried to put the best face on it. We stopped for a little rest and took stock of our situation.

We had a pack, two flashlights, a canteen and some trail mix. I had everyone take a drink and eat a little trail mix. We took a good look at the map before it got too dark to try to figure out where we were.

I figured that our best bet was to make our way West towards the highway that we came in on. It didn’t look that far. With any luck, we would probably come across some landmarks that may help us get our bearings.

We started out in that direction but were funneled towards the Northwest by heavy brush and bog. We stopped again and I had to admit that I had no idea where we were. We stuck to the plan but were tired, muddy and cut up by thorns. I could tell that Nick was shot. Scotty looked a little worried but Brian was a trooper. He took it in stride.

It was slow going. I had to take Nick piggyback. He was exhausted. By 8:00, we had found the road that we were looking for. We were back in our camp by nine.

Everybody was relieved when we came in. They had been looking for us. It wasn’t hard to figure out what was wrong when we compared our map to the others. The distances and bearings on waypoints 6, 7 and 9 were transposed. OOPS. No wonder we got turned around.

I’d almost forgotten Nick was on my back. He was sound asleep and latched on like a tick. Totally exhausted by our misadventure, the four of us went to our tent and crashed. No radio. No fart jokes. I didn’t even try to disengage Nick’s death grip. I lay down on my stomach with Nick still latched on to my back and was dead to the world.

The next morning an angry Mr. Rainer awakened us. I figured he was pissed about us getting lost.

Nick was still attached so I gently got out of his grasp. Mr. Rainer told me to get outside now.

With an angry look on his face he growled, “What do you think you’re doing with Turner?”

I calmly explained, “Last night when we got lost, Nick gave out and I had to carry him. When we got back, he was sound asleep and latched on. We were all exhausted and went to sleep where we fell.”

He looked at me suspiciously then he looked at Scotty and Nick who were emerging from the tent. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out of earshot from the others, “I don’t like that s**t. I don’t like it worth a damn. I’m going to be watching you. If I see anything like that again, you are out of here. Do you understand?”

I wasn’t sure exactly what he was pissed about so I nervously gave a generic apology. I figured that he was pissed that I had blown the orientation course and didn’t know why. “I’m sorry sir. It won’t happen again.”

He growled, “You just make sure it doesn’t or there will be hell to pay.” He turned abruptly and stormed off.

I had never seen him act that way.

After the confusing a** chewing from Rainer, I was shaken up. I made sure that everything that I did or Scotty, Nick or Brian did until we got home was high and tight.

I talked to Doug about it later that day. He told me not to sweat it. He would talk to Rainer and cool things off with the old man.

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BROKEN

Best of Times

Chapter 5

After our working camp during spring break, school took on a frantic pace as the year wound down. Summer was coming.

I asked Doug what Rainer was on the rag about. He told me not to worry about it but it bugged me. Things were wrong between us somehow. Rainer became suspicious and hypercritical of everything that I did.

I talked to my Dad about it. He told me that a lot of times people like bosses or coaches came down harder on people that they expected more from. It made sense to me so I resolved to pay better attention to my responsibilities.

After that magic night with Scotty at Confederate Ford, things changed between us. We got even closer than we had been before. We found every excuse that we could think of to be together.

The school’s annual science fair came up in April. Scotty and I teamed up to do an exhibit on local fossils, which we had been collecting for some years. It gave us a really good excuse to go on some field trips to dig. We put a lot of work onto it and came up with a rather impressive display- good enough for first place in the sixth grade class and a trip to districts at Mississippi College.

The district science fair was held on a Saturday so the school sent our winners on a van with our exhibits. We set our project displays in the auditorium Friday night and Mississippi College put us up in dorm rooms over night.

That night we had pizza for supper and retired to our room. We were tired but there was something electric in the air. We had not had the privacy to further explore the new frontiers that we had discovered during spring break.

We took off our clothes and spent that night in each other’s arms. The feel of him, his touch, even his smell was intoxicating and powerful. We weren’t exactly sure exactly what it is that we were doing but we figured it out together in sublime innocence.

The next morning we put on our best suits and presented our science project from 9:00 until 11:00. We broke for lunch and a tour of the campus and returned at 1:00 to find a red second place ribbon on our project. Only the first place finalist would advance to state but we were pleased to be taking home a ribbon and a trophy for our school.

In Scouts we began to get ready for our annual week long camp out and development workshops at Camp Kellum in June. Scotty and I spent a great deal of time deciding which merit badges classes we were going to attend and weighed them carefully against promotion requirements. We decided on life saving, environmental science and canoeing.

We made a couple of trips in early June. The first was down to the coast to go shrimping with my Uncle James. Scotty, Dad, Uncle James and I went out on the Gulf before dawn and pulled the nets over the sea bed until our hold was full of shrimp, crabs and other sea critters unlucky enough to get caught in our net. Then the real work began- cleaning and packing the spoils of our trip. As the crab wouldn’t keep, my aunt had a huge crab boil and broiled some flounder for us as we processed the three hundred or so pounds of our catch. It was a feast worthy of a titan. We took home seventy pounds of shrimp, which we split with the Michaels.

The second trip was a long weekend to Greenville to visit my Grandmother with my Mom. On the trip down Scotty and I were listening to the radio when the news came on. The announcer said something that Scotty and I didn’t understand.

“Today homosexuals marched in New York...” My Mom quickly changed the channel.

Scotty asked, “What’s a homer-sexual?”

My Mom hissed in a voice that I had never heard out of her before, “Ohhh, I hate those people. They’re all sick perverts that need to be locked up. What they do is an abomination according to the bible and they hurt little boys.”

I asked, “What do they do?”

My Mom growled, “Never you mind. Suffice it to say that they are nasty.”

With that we agreed that homer-sexuals must be terrible, awful people.

My Grandmother was delighted to get good, cheap labor that could so easily plied with chocolate chip cookies. We did a big spring clean up for her lawn and garden. My Grandmother could grow anything but in those days she needed help with some of the heavier work. Scotty and I were delighted to do it because she taught us so much about the plants and how to care for them. Her day lilies and irises were stunning to behold in the rich, black delta soil.

Finally the day came for our trip to Camp Kellum. Our scout troop gathered in the church parking lot at 8:30 and started loading. Most of us were floating about a foot off the ground. The trip over took about an hour and a half as the bumpy, smelly old school bus rolls. Clumps of excited kids were yakking it up. Music was playing. We were ready for some good times.

The bus finally rolled into camp about 11:00. Mr. Rainer and the patrol leaders gathered in the Administration Building to get our assigned camping areas. Once we had our assigned campsites, our bus drove around the ring road and parked. We swarmed out of the bus like angry ants and set up our campsite.

Each campsite at Kellum had 14 two person tents on a raised wooden platform. Thankfully, the tents were already set up so all we had to do was move our gear into them. There was also a small building with a latrine and showers. Camp Kellum wasn’t overbooked like they would be later in the summer so both of our patrols got a campsite of their own. That left us with vacant tents and breathing room.

Scotty and I got in a tent just across from the Nick Turner and Brian Edwards. Mark and Clay Hudson weren’t far. Doug Edwards picked out a tent all to himself. Can’t say that I blamed him- I know we had to get on his nerves sometimes but he was good enough not to show it. After getting settled in to our campsite, our patrol took the short hike to the mess hall for some lunch.

After lunch, our first day consisted of an assembly with a short orientation session. We then had to sign up for the merit badge classes that we wanted. After all the serious official hoo-ha, they the let us go swim for the rest of the afternoon.

It was hot but the lake water was still a little chilly. It wasn’t hard to get used to it after ninety something temperatures and Mississippi’s infamous humidity. Swimming was a little difficult for me too enjoy. I was worried about Nick, as he wasn’t a strong swimmer. I spent most of the time in the water keeping an eye on him. He was delighted with the attention as usual. Nick got a real kick out of me grabbing his foot like a stirrup and flinging him hooting high in the air to noisy splash down.

We got to meet a lot of new kids that afternoon. There were troops from Natchez, Vicksburg, Clinton, Port Gibson and Jackson. When we were getting sunburned and ready for supper we gathered in a clump with some kids from Vicksburg who were headed to the campsite just past ours.

A tall blond beanpole of an older kid shook my hand and said, “Hey, I’m Travis. How do you get along with your little brothers so well? Mine drive me crazy.”

I chortled and replied, “Scotty and Nick? People make that mistake all the time. We’re not related. Scotty is 13; I’ll be 13 in July. Scotty is just shorter than I am. Nick is 11. Scotty and I have been best friends since second grade.”

Travis raised an eyebrow, “You’re just 12? I figured you for 14. You and Scotty look so much alike. I just figured...”

“Everybody thinks that. Scotty is a few months older than I am.”

“That’s weird. You’re almost three of him.”

About that time Scotty and Nick came running up behind us. Scotty said conspiratorially, “You talking about us again?”

I grabbed Scotty in one arm and Nick in the other, hoisting them wiggling, squirming and giggling onto my shoulders. “Yeah, Travis here was asking me how I put up with my two little brothers.”

Scotty snorted, “I’m 8 months older than you are ya big ole beast and I hope I’m not ugly enough to look like we’re related!”

I shook them both and said, “That’s big friendly Beast to you two!”

Nick and Scotty squealed, “Oh no!” Then I put them down gently with a friendly squeeze.

Travis smiled and shook his head. “Looks like you’ve got your big friendly Beast well trained.”

I said, “What!” in mock exasperation and chased Travis a short way up the trail.

Scotty and Nick caught up with me and tried to tackle to me squawking, “Heel Beast.”

Travis was laughing so hard at our foolishness that he fell over a tree root. Of course that only made us all laugh harder.

We gathered ourselves and decided that we would have to get together after supper for some more foolishness.

After supper our camp turned into a zoo. The Wolverines plus a few new friends we had made from the Clinton troop clumped into four or five groups and began to socialize. One of the Hudson boys had a jam box the size of a station wagon and a respectable collection of cassettes and was playing some Jimi Hendrix.

Travis and a couple of his friends joined Scotty, Brian, Nick and myself to joke around and tell stories. Before too long Doug joined us and instantly hit it off with Travis. About 9:00 Nick ran off to his tent and saved the day when he came back with a family sized pack of cookies which we demolished in nothing flat.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how old the jokes are or if all the comforts of home aren’t there. It is all about enjoying each other and we were having a ball.

About 10:30 the adults came around and shooed us into the tents. Scotty and I stayed up another hour chatting silently. We went to sleep arm in arm.

The next morning burned brightly with the promise of a hot June day as we got ready for the merit badge classes we were taking. As luck, and good planning, would have it, Scotty, Nick, Brian and I ended up having most of our classes together. Travis ended up in a couple of them and Doug ended up in our environmental science class.

The classes were all fairly serious. In each one we were received a workbook that covered all the key points for our qualification tests. Classes started on Tuesday and ran to Friday. We would get our grades Saturday morning and then head home.

Of the classes that I was taking, I could not pick a favorite. They all had something about them that made them unique.

Canoeing was fun but not real challenging. Life saving was a physical challenge and there was a lot more too it than I thought. I spent most of my time on Environmental Science as it was a lot of work and took some study. Since we were all in the same classes, the gang got together every night to study and coordinate our environmental science projects.

Travis was cool. I enjoyed hanging with him. He was older but he treated me like an equal. We spent a lot of time studying together after dark.

I got the distinct impression that he was watching the way I interacted with Scotty and Nick. I began to bug me a little. I was curious and when we had a moment of privacy asked, “Travis, why do you watch Scotty, Nick and me?”

His mood changed instantly and his eyes went to the ground. It was like the air had been taken out of him and there was a tense pause before his answered. He then said in a voice that I hadn’t heard out of him before, “I have two stepbrothers their age and we fight all the time. I try to be nice to them but they hate me for no reason. It really gets to me. I’ve been watching you guys because... I want it.” His voice cracked, on the verge of sobbing. “..to be better, like it is with you guys but they don’t want me around. They hate me and they hate my Mom.”

I instinctively put my hand on his shoulder but he turned and ran up the trail. Something told me not to leave him so I followed. Crashing down that trail in the dark, he tripped and went sprawling.

When I got to him he was rolled up in a ball sobbing. I couldn’t believe it. Travis, tall, blond, handsome, funny, smart, articulate Travis was laying there in the dark wreaked. I didn’t know what to do. I just sat down beside him on the ground and put my arms around him as he sobbed.

He choked out, “Go away. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.”

I just squeezed him harder. “I am not going to leave you out here like this. Your stepbrothers must be stupid or something not to want you as a big brother. You’re a great guy.”

“How do you know? You just met Me.” he challenged bitterly.

“I know all I need to know that I like you.”

“How?” he sniffed as he sat up.

I shifted and put my arm around his shoulder. “It’s because of the way you treat Nick and Scotty. They are little and it seems like everybody picks on them for it. Heck, I may be big but I’m only 12. It doesn’t matter to you. You treat me fair and you treat my friends fair. If I had could choose a big brother, it would be somebody like you or Doug.”

Apparently, I said the right thing. Travis hugged me so hard I could barely breath. We sat there in the sultry June night talking quietly and I learned a lot. Tall, handsome, smart and funny Travis was miserable. His parents divorce and his Mom’s second marriage was a little slice of hell for the poor kid. His stepbrothers were angry at the world and wanted their Mom back. Their way of trying to get their Mom back was to try to drive Travis and his Mom away.

Some things you just can’t fix as much as you would like too. No super hero can show up and make it better. No magic can undo the damage done. All that a friend can do is be there and listen, help the fallen get up, dust themselves off and find their way back into the light from the darkness.

Later that night I told Scotty what had transpired. It was troubling to us both that someone that we had both taken a liking too was hurting like that. We resolved to stay in touch with Travis. He was one of the good guys and we needed to stick together.

Before we went to sleep Scotty gave me a big hug. I asked him what it was for. He said because you are who you are.

The next few days went by in a blur of frantic activities. Classes, fun and friends: things didn’t get a lot better than that when you’re 12.

The nights alone with Scotty were amazing. We had a secret world of tenderness and innocence that was ours and ours alone. Thursday night I figured out what it was I was feeling towards him. I told Scotty that I loved him and would never leave him.

As all good things must come to an end, our time at Camp Kellum passed far too quickly. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses with new friends and said our good-byes.

I found it hard to say goodbye to Travis. When the time came he saw that I was about to cry he gave me a big hug and said, “Don’t worry little bro. We’ll have next summer.”

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BROKEN

The Witch Hunt

Chapter 6

Scotty, Nick and I all returned home from Camp Kellum with enough merit badges and points to advance in rank. There was a Court of Honor on the last weekend of June where all of our Merit Badges and new ranks were awarded. I got the Assistant Patrol Leader badge that I had been waiting for since spring. Afterwards our families all went out to Pizza Hut to celebrate.

Scotty and I busied ourselves with the number one priority of summer: money for albums and comic books. We quickly got a number of yards to cut and got gigs picking tomatoes, peas, butter beans and working in several of the vegetable gardens that our families and their friends kept.

July is hot anywhere and it’s especially hot in Mississippi. We would go out and make 60 or 70 bucks a day and come home tanned, sweaty and filthy. Our Mom’s would hose us off in the yard before they would let us in the house. We couldn’t rightly blame them because we would come home wearing half the garden.

Things remained tense between Mr. Rainer and me I could feel it in the air but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had gone from his golden boy to the doghouse in record time. Why on earth would he act that way over a blown orientation exercise when he knew full well that the coordinates on our map were screwed up?

I asked Doug about it again. He said he didn’t figure there was anything to worry about and we made plans to go to a weekend movie with our crew.

I kept in touch with Travis. It was good to talk to him. His stepbrothers were still annoying the crap out of him. He asked if Scotty or Nick’s parents might go for a strait up trade. Travis always seemed to feel better after we talked.

The July 4th weekend was a big deal that year. It was 1976 and the bicentennial that we had been hearing about since 1st grade was finally upon us. It was the biggest party any of us had ever seen.

Our troop “volunteered” to help out with traffic control at the lake where the fireworks display and picnic were going to be held. It was a big deal that lasted all day with a whole lot of food and games. It was fun but we were busy and didn’t get a chance to play as much as we would have liked.

During the fireworks display that night, Scotty and I were offered our first drink. Of course we refused. We were good scouts. None of us would even think of doing anything that would cause trouble or embarrass our troop or our families.

A week after the Fourth of July holiday, I got my first hint of trouble. It came in the form of a weird phone call from a guy named Chad. He was a few years older than Scotty and me and was a Badger. It was unusual for Chad to call me. I didn’t know him very well but considered him to be a good guy.

Chad told me that Mr. Rainer had been asking a lot of strange questions about Doug, Scotty, Nick and me and a few other Wolverines. Then he asked me, “Jimmy, are you a fag?”

I had heard the word but I didn’t know exactly what it meant. I thought that that it meant “asshole”. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would think that I was an a******. I made an effort to be nice to everybody.

I answered with confidence, “No. Of course not.”

Chad replied, “I didn’t think so. That’s what I told Rainer. Just don’t be surprised if there are some questions. Answer them truthfully and don’t try to cover for anybody. You'll only make it worse.”

Chad went on to tell me that he though that I was a good kid and not to worry.

Now I was completely confused. If anyone was being a fag/a******, it was Rainer. If he had questions about my friends or me, why didn’t he just ask us?

Things continued to be a little strange. The next scout meeting was cold. All of the Wolverines were having our usual good time and laughing it up. The Badgers hardly said a word to any of us all night. It was so weird that I had a word with Doug. We decided that it must be the latest gag in our long running prank war with the Badgers. However, in our long history, it was the least amusing.

Another week passed. Scotty and I did all of our usual things. We cut yards, picked peas and bought a new album by Rush called 2112 that absolutely kicked a**. We spent half the week listening too it. We were blissfully unaware that all hell was about to break loose.

When we arrived at the scout meeting the following week, there was a sheriff’s department car sitting outside. Two uniformed officers were inside.

Rainer was there already and he had the room set up in an odd formation. The meeting was called to order as usual. Then Rainer took the floor.

“Tonight gentlemen is a special meeting. I am going to call out a list of names. If you are on that list, you need to stay. Otherwise you are dismissed with my thanks and we’ll meet again next week at the regular time.”

He took a list on an index card and started calling out names: “Doug Edwards, Brian Edwards, Jimmy Savik, Blake Tanner, Mark Hudson, Clay Hudson, Seth Keys and Randy Smith- please stay. The rest of you are dismissed.”

With that most of the troop left the meeting room. When they were gone Rainer continued, “Over the last few months I have heard disturbing rumors and I have seen some things that are incompatible with the scouting ethic. I intend to get to the bottom of it.”

“I have asked Sheriff’s Deputies West and Calloway here to assist me with this informal inquiry. What we are going to do is to go into the room behind me here. I’m going to ask some questions. Answer them honestly and truthfully and there won’t be any trouble. Lie to me and there will be trouble. I already know a lot about what’s going on. Some of it is potentially criminal.”

At the mention of “criminal” everyone paled a little and looked at each other suspiciously. Criminal?

He continued, “Deputy West will assist me with the interviews. Deputy Calloway is going to sit out here with you. There are two ground rules: Number 1- you will tell me the truth. I already know most of it so there’s no point in lying. Number 2- you will not talk to each other while you are waiting out here. Understand? Are there any questions?”

Doug raised his hand, “What’s going on? Do we need a lawyer? You’re talking about criminal charges and we don’t have a clue about what’s going on.”

Rainer got that arrogant look on his face that he saved for when he was being a complete a******. He answered Doug by condescendingly, “Participation in this inquiry is completely voluntary. You can walk now and refuse to answer any questions but if there are any accusations against you, you won’t have a chance to answer them.”

We were all bewildered and were grateful that Doug was taking the lead on this. I was so scared that I couldn’t even think.

Doug said, “What does that mean?”

Rainer looked at Doug like he was a turd on the bottom of his boot and replied curtly, “If you don’t cooperate, you could be summarily dismissed from the Troop and possible criminal charges may result depending on our findings.”

I looked around the room. Everyone looked terrified. Somebody was in deep s**t.

Rainer looked annoyed, “Are there any other questions?”

No one spoke up. “Good. For the first interview, please join us in the office Doug.”

Mr. Rainer and one of the Sheriff’s deputies went into the office followed by Doug.

All we could do is sit there and stew. I caught eyes with Scotty and he gave me his best what the f**k look. The Sheriff’s deputy sitting in the back of the room cautioned us to remain quiet.

Doug was in the office for a good while. Occasionally we could hear raised voices but we couldn’t make out what they were saying. After what seemed like forever, Doug stormed out of the office. Rainer and the Deputy following close behind him.

Doug was talking angrily, “You are f****** nuts Rainer. Come on Brian. We’re out of here.”

The Deputy stopped him, “Doug Edwards, you are under arrest for disorderly conduct.”

Doug looked at him with pure hate in his eyes as he grabbed him and cuffed our friend.

This was too much. I stood up and said, “Now what’s going on. Doug didn’t do anything.”

One of the Deputies told me menacingly, “Sit down and shut up. Your turn is coming.”

Brian got up and started for the door. Rainer said, if you walk, you’re out.

Brian shot back at him; “You just had my brother arrested a******. I’m out of here and I’m going to get my Dad and we’ll see what’s going on.”

Rainer growled, “Scotty Michaels, you are next.”

Scotty’s eyes were wide and silent tears were rolling down his face but he did what he was told. Scotty always did what he was told.

Again we sat silently for about 10 minutes as my best friend was questioned.

When Scotty left the office, his eyes were red and puffy and his face was wet. I was past scared now. I had seen two of my best friends visibly shaken and obviously in deep distress. Now I was angry. Scotty looked like he was in a daze as he walked back to his chair and sat down and looked at the floor.

Rainer called for Blake Tanner who sheepishly went into the office and closed the door.

Another five minutes or so passed. Blake left the office, walked quietly to the door and left.

Then came something I was dreading. Rainer called for Nick Turner. I knew Nick. Whatever was going on, he was probably too scared to even talk to them.

Nick stood but he hesitated. He looked at Rainer, then the cops and finally at me. His eyes looked trapped and frightened. Rainer grumped, “Come on Nick. We don’t have all night.” Nick slowly went into the office and closed the door.

They had Nick in the office for just a few minutes. He came back out and sat in his chair looking dazed.

Then they called me in.

I entered the office with very mixed emotions. I was afraid of what was going on but I was very angry to see what Rainer was doing to my friends.

Rainer and the cop sat in two chairs on the opposite side of the desk. They motioned to a chair. There were file folders and a book on the table.

I sat down in the chair.

I replied, “Mr. Rainer, I’ve heard that word but I don’t know what it means. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think so.”

Rainer looked me in the eye and then looked at his notes. “During our camp out at Confederate Ford this spring, I found you Scotty Michaels and Nick Turner sleeping together in each others arms. Furthermore, at Camp Kellum last month I saw you and Scotty sleeping arm in arm. So I ask you again, are you a homosexual?”

I shook my head and said, “I don’t know what that means sir.”

Rainer looked at his notes again. He shifted in his seat and then said, “Jimmy, a homosexual is a person that has sex with members of their own sex. What we’re asking is have you had sex with Nick or Scotty?”

I looked at my scoutmaster and the deputy and said, “Dude, I’m 12. I don’t know squat about sex. Scotty is my best friend. Has been since 2nd grade. You yourself told me to look after Nick and I like him but I... sex?”

Rainer changed tact on me, “Jimmy, do you love Scotty?”

I didn’t think twice, “Yeah, he’s like a brother to me.”

“What is this... all this hugging you do when you’re sleeping together?”

I felt hot and very uncomfortable. Somehow I felt that any answer would be wrong. “Sir, we’ve been like that since we were little. We get close together so we can talk and go to sleep like that.”

Rainer and the deputy exchanged looks that I couldn’t read. Then he continued, “Jimmy, have you ever sucked Scotty’s p****?”

I looked at him like he was from Mars. “Mr. Rainer. I’m sorry. I don’t know what a peanus is.”

The deputy chuckled, “Bob, I think we’ll take that as a no.”

Rainer scribbled on his pad. “Have you put your p**** in Scotty’s a** or have you let Scotty put his p**** in your a**.”

I said, “Gross. Hell no.”

Rainer made another note on his pad. He then asked, “Have you ever kissed Scotty?”

I blushed eight shades of purple. “Yeah... Lot’s of times.”

Rainer raised his eyebrow and the deputy looked on intently. “Tell us about it Jimmy. Where do you kiss him? What for?”

I paused for a moment, “Well, when he gets hurt sometimes and he’s crying. When we sleep together, we always kiss each other on the head before we go to sleep.”

Rainer asked, “Have your parents ever seen this?”

I thought about it. I scratched my head, “Well when we were little, they said it was sweet. When we’re going to sleep, they aren’t around.”

Rainer and the deputy looked at each other. The deputy said, “Bob, I don’t know...”

Rainer turned his gaze back upon me. “Jimmy, has Doug ever touched you.”

I laughed, “Yeah, of course. We’re friends. We play ball and swim and do all sorts of stuff.”

Rainer scribbled on his pad. “Has Doug ever touched your private parts?”

I blushed. I had wished that he had, but he hadn’t. “No. Never.”

“Are you sure Jimmy?”

“Absolutely.”

“What about Scotty or Nick?”

I shook my head.

Rainer looked at me and said, “Thanks for you cooperation Jimmy. It was helpful. I’ll be getting back to you soon when we get everything sorted out. I ask that you don’t discuss any of this with anyone understood?”

I nodded my acknowledgment.

Rainer said, “You are dismissed.”

Relieved, I stood and headed for the door. Before I left, I turned and asked, “Mr. Rainer, am I in some kind of trouble?”

He smiled at me and lied. “No Jimmy. No trouble at all.”

Scotty and Nick were very shaken by the inquiry. Scotty’s eyes were puffy and Nick just had a blank stare.

I said, “Are you two all right?”

They both nodded.

“Good. My birthday is Monday and you are coming over right?”

As quick as that our moods changed. Nick nodded vigorously.

Scotty muttered, “Hell yeah. Your Mom always makes German Chocolate cake.”

I smiled, “Yeah, she does, doesn’t she?”

WARNING: If you have abuse issues, this may be hard on you.

I don't want to hurt you but this is as real and as ugly as it gets.

The rest of the week and the weekend passed. After Rainer’s assurances that we weren’t in some kind of trouble, we kind forgot about it. We were worried about Doug and Brian but nobody was talking.

The Monday of my birthday came, my 13th, on a hot July 26th. It was about 10 in the morning. Scotty, Nick and I were playing horse in my driveway at the basketball goal.

We had to get out of the way when his Mr. Rainer’s car pulled up.

I greeted him warmly, “Well hey Mr. Rainer. It’s my birthday.”

He said, “Happy birthday Jimmy. Is your Dad home?”

“Yeah sure. Go to the door and ring the bell. He’s in the kitchen.”

Scotty, Nick and I gave up the basketball goal and found some shade in the back yard. We sat there talking, laughing, oblivious to the fact that our happy little world was about to be shattered.

We heard a scuffle in the garage. My Dad and Mr. Rainer were having heated words. I heard my Dad say, “If I ever see you again you son of a b**** I’ll kill you. Now get the hell out of here and stay away from my kid.”

The three of us looked at each other. What the hell? I had never seen my Dad so pissed. Rainer cranked up his car and drove out of my life. His real influence on me was just beginning.

I heard my Dad, “Jimmy, get the hell in here!”

I ran to him as fast as I could. Scotty and Nick followed timidly behind me cowed by my dad’s tone. I entered the back of the garage and walked to my Dad.

I asked timidly, “What the matter?”

He looked at me with rage in his eyes. “So you’re a little faggot now?” and he smacked me hard in the face and knocked me down in the garage. I hit my head on the concrete when I fell and it dazed me.

He then turned to Scotty and Nick and said, “You two little faggots had better get the hell out of here. If I ever see either one of you again I’ll beat the s**t out of you!”

I was recovering from getting hit when he grabbed me by the hair and dragged me inside. He held me off balance where I couldn’t stand flat-footed and slapped my face over and over again screaming obscenities at me. Half of them I didn’t know and the others I didn’t understand in his rage.

“I let you get soft you little piece of s**t. I let you wear your hair long and listen to this s**t music.” He drug me into my room and threw me down on the bed.

Then he started trashing my albums, ripping my posters off the wall.

I said, “Dad- what did I do?”

He answered me with a smack that bowled me over and into the wall.

“Kissing your friends. What’s next you little f**k? Wearing a dress? Sucking c***? Are you f****** Doug Edwards?”

“No Dad.” Smack. Another hit knocks me down. This time I can’t get up.

“You f****** little liar! I’m so disgusted with you I want to puke!” he kicked me knocking me against the wall punching a hole in the sheet rock. I could taste blood in my mouth.

He stormed out of the room slamming the door behind him. From the other side of the door he roared, “You stay in that room and think about the way you’ve disgraced yourself and you’ve disgraced this family. If you come out of that door before I come and get you I’ll beat your a**.”

It took me a little while before I could get up. I tried to stand but I was dizzy. My mouth and face were bloody. My room was in a shambles. I could hear my parents fighting angrily in the other end of the house.

I had to crawl on my hands and knees and climb up on my bed. I don’t know if I passed out or went to sleep but darkness took me for a while.

My father never looked at me the same way again after that day. I didn’t look at him the same way either. What had I done? Why was everybody going crazy? My Dad had hit me. Not just once but a lot of times. He had never done that before.

My whole body was shaking. I didn’t know what to do.

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BROKEN

The Rage

Chapter 7

1st day of 7th grade, 30 AUG 1976

It was a hot, muggy Mississippi morning- hazy and overcast. I was scared about this new school. After all that had happened this summer, I didn't know what to expect. I had an ominous feeling of dread about the whole thing.

I hadn't seen Scotty since my birthday. We had been friends for so long to cut us off like that... We just didn't understand. I was looking forward to seeing him at the bus stop but he never showed up.

What our parents had done was cruel to both of us. Especially since we lived right across the street from each other. I would see him but my Dad would cuff me if I acknowledged him. The things that he would say would cut me to the bone. I didn't even know what some of the words meant. It was the way he said them.

My parents did a lot to distract me that summer. My Dad would take me fishing but it wasn't the same. He was always angry and not a lot of fun to be around like he was before. We took a long road trip up North to West Point, New York where my Dad had gone to school. There was an obvious and conspicuous empty place beside me where Scotty had always been. I buried my head in books and, when possible took my bike out into the trails and stayed gone all day.

Ever since the second grade Scotty had been like my shadow. At first he had been like a pesky little brother. Whenever grown-ups saw us together, that's what they assumed. We both had long, white blond hair and similar features. I was just bigger of the two and assumed to be the elder although Scotty was a little older.

He had been there for so long. Scotty had been like a member of the family. He was in all of the pictures of our family gatherings, every Christmas, every Fourth of July, every day since he moved in across the street five years before. It was like my brother had died but I could see him almost every day but I would be punished if I spoke to him.

Oak Hills was a huge school housing a couple of thousand students from seventh to twelfth grade. The original buildings dated back to 1870 during reconstruction. It had started out serving the small rural community but had grown in stages barely keeping pace with the size of the growing river town.

Mississippi public education had taken a huge hit during the previous decade with imposed segregation. Families that could, sent their kids to private schools. Education became politically unpopular in our state as it soon became synonymous with forced bussing, opportunistic outsiders seeking to score cheap political points at our expense and simmering racial tension. Public schools were left to wither on the vine.

My mom was a true believer in public schools. A long time teacher, she was on the front lines during desegregation. We were taught at home that everyone was equal- that color didn't matter. In those days we were considered to be the liberals. My Dad even took some heavy flak at his office for enforcing equal employment guidelines handed down from Washington at his agency.

The stinky old diesel busses disgorged us students behind the administration building. There was a big bulletin board with homeroom assignments for all of the students. I waded into the crowd behind the seventh grade lists to see what homeroom I would be assigned to. After jostling through the crowd I found myself on the lists assigned to Mrs. Carraway's homeroom.

I made my way from the Administration building to the Junior High building. When I turned the corner I saw him.

I walked up to Scotty and I could tell he was scared. He said, "I'm not supposed to talk to you."

I put my hand on his shoulder. He flinched. "I know. I miss you."

I turned and walked on to class wiping my eyes hoping no one could see how bad that encounter had messed me up.

I walked into Mrs. Carraway's classroom and took a seat in the back hoping no one would notice me as the students assigned to this home room arrived in ones and twos.

Trent Callahan, a tall red headed kid from my sixth grade class at McKenley, came into the room, saw me and took a desk next to mine. "What's up Jimmy?"

I laughed and shook my head. "Back to prison. Can you believe this place? It's like..."

"Yeah. I know what you mean. Reckon they could have found an older building to put us in? It's not even eight thirty and it has to be a hundred degrees in here."

Scotty entered the room and I turned white as a ghost. He took a desk on the other side of the room. I couldn't tell if he was ignoring me or had not noticed me. Trent was talking but I was somewhere else altogether.

"Earth to Jimmy!"- Trent snapped me out of it. "Hey, there's Scotty."

I sank in my seat. "Yeah. Our folks are pissed at us and we're not supposed to talk to each other."

Trent looked concerned. "You two have been best friends forever haven't you? What happened?"

I shook my head. "I don't want to talk about it."

"That sucks."

"Yeah. It does. Big time. I'll be back"

I got up and went out into the hall to a water cooler and splashed my face. Damn this is hard. Sitting right across the classroom from my best friend and I can't even talk to him. I wiped my face off and returned to my desk.

Trent had a pro football preview magazine out looking at the Raiders. He looked up when I came back. "So are you going out for football this year?"

"Yeah. My dad would have a cow if I didn't."

Trent chuckled. "Yeah- I know what you mean. Our sixth grade team was good last year and Coach Harrison knows us. He would come get us if we didn't show up."

To my shock and horror Eric Rainer walked in the door. He looked around the room, saw Scotty and me. He got an evil look on his face and took a seat in the middle of the back row. I said a silent prayer that I might just disappear.

People were coming in bunches now as the bell approached. A clump of people gathered around Eric. They were talking and laughing and I noticed them looking at Scotty and me.

Eric raised his voice, "Hey Jimmy- why aren't you sitting next to your boyfriend?"

Eyes from around the room locked onto me. I didn't know what to say. I felt a rage building inside me.

Emboldened by my pause in responding to his challenge Eric poured it on. "I guess you guys didn't hear that Jimmy is a queer. Him and his boyfriend Scotty over there were even too queer for the boy scouts. They threw them out. How can you be too queer to be a Boy Scout Jimmy?"

Scotty's eyes were big as saucers. Trent looked horrified.

Something snapped inside me. In a split second I ran at Eric, grabbing his head in a headlock with my left arm, using my weight to drive him down into the floor pounding his smart assed face with my right hand.

There was a pause of shock and disbelief as soon as the fight broke out, then there was utter pandemonium.

I was on Eric in a killing rage that had been building up all summer. His friends tried pulling me off of him. I sent two of them sprawling while I continued to batter his face. One of the guys started kicking me in the back.

Satisfied that Eric was down and not getting up, I wheeled around and grabbed the foot that was kicking me and picking the foot up, putting Billy Wheeler off balance and kicked him hard in the nutz. I then pushed him hard into the back wall of the classroom.

A chair nicked my head and I decked some kid that I'd never even seen before.

Shaking with fury, I growled, "Who is next? Who is f****** next?"

People were backing off in confusion and fear. Scotty was gone from the room.

I didn't even see Coach Thomas grab me and pull me out of the room. I was burning pure adrenaline and rage.

Coach T ordered; "Calm down. Calm down now, I mean it!"

I was shaking and broke free of his grasp. "Get off of me. I'll walk to the office."

He grabbed me by the back of the neck and turned my head to get in my face. Ordinarily such an intimidation tactic would have worked but it only served to fuel my rage. He got nose to nose with me and bellowed, "School hasn't even started yet and you're already the number one turd on my s**t list. Now calm down."

He looked me over and asked, "Are you hurt."

I shook my head.

"What was this about? Who started it?"

I didn't answer.

He put his hand on the back of my neck and guides me to the junior high office. I felt like some poor slob on the news doing the "perp walk" being paraded through the halls.

"Sit here and cool off." He put me on a bench in the front office and walked into the vice principle's office.

I sat there shaking. I wasn't stupid. I knew the implications. I was in hell.

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BROKEN

A New Ally

Chapter 8

There is an axiom of war that I had never heard: the side that fires the first shot has already lost. I had won the first battle but it was already shaping up to be a long, ugly war.

I was kept waiting for a half-hour before I was summoned into Vice-Principle Harry Walther’s office.

He had me sit down across the desk from him. Coach T was sitting in another chair. There was a file on the desk. This all felt sickeningly familiar.

Mr. Walthers asked, “Jimmy, what happened?”

I wanted to run but there was nowhere to go. I was in a quiet panic. I shook all over. I didn’t want to say anything. I had answered their questions before. They said that everything would be OK. They lie. I looked down at the floor and muttered, “I don’t want to talk about it sir.”

Walther’s snickered, “Taking the fifth are we? That’s OK for now Jimmy but we’re going to have to get to the bottom of this. Coach T, can you give me any insight into what happened?”

Coach T sat up in his chair and answered looking me in the eye; “I was taking row call in my homeroom class when I heard a disturbance across the hall. I went over to Carroway’s room as fast as I could and saw Jimmy here mopping the floor with three guys. He was very angry and it looked like he was going to take on the whole classroom. I had to pick him up and physically remove him from the room.”

Walthers grinned, “Took on the whole room did you?”

Coach T chuckled, “Yeah. Jimmy here is a little badass. He’s strong as an ox.”

“Any idea what it was about?” Walthers asked chewing on his pencil.

Coach T shook his head.

Walthers was playing “good cop”. I’d seen it on TV. He opened the file on his desk and said, “Jimmy, I’ve looked at your record from your old school. You are an A and B student and you’ve never been any trouble. You were a stand out football player and defensive MVP on an unbeaten team. Frankly, you just aren’t the kid I was expecting to see here on the first day. Talk to us. What’s wrong? We’ll help if we can.”

Sure you will. I thought. What could I say? If this got back to my Dad, and why... s**t. s**t, s**t, s**t!

I wasn’t disappointed in my assessment of the “good cop/bad cop” routine. As I predicted, after I rebuffed Walthers with silence, Coach T charged into the role of bad cop. “Jimmy, this is serious. You did a number on Eric’s face.”

“It’s just too damn bad that I didn’t break his neck”, I growled with an intensity that could only be generated by pure hatred.

Walther’s and Coach T were stunned by my vehemence. Walthers asked quietly, “Jimmy, what’s wrong between you and Eric Rainer?”

I was trapped. There was no way out. Silent bitter tears rolled down my face. “Please... please, please, can’t you see that I can’t talk about this? My Dad made me swear that I wouldn’t.”

Walthers said softly, “Then I’ve got no choice. I’m going to have to call your Dad in for a conference.”

At the mention of my Dad being called into this, I lost it. I went down on the floor in a ball sobbing uncontrollably and begging no, no, no.

Principle Walthers and Coach T were stunned. They both came around the desk to see too me. I was out of it babbling: “No, please don’t, he won’t want me anymore.”

Coach T said quietly to Principle Walthers, “Harry, something is bad wrong here.” He put his hand on my back and I jumped. I heard him mutter, “Jesus Christ. It’s just like out of the textbooks.”

Coach T gently rubbed my back and spoke softly, “I’m not going to hurt you Jimmy. I’m going to help you to the nurse’s office.” The big, powerful man picked me up in one smooth, gentle move and started carrying me to the nurse’s office.

It felt good to be held. It felt good to be touched. I don’t think that my parents consciously did it, but they quit touching me after my horrific “birthday party” It felt like the way my Dad used to hold me. I held on to Coach T. I held on to him tight with my eyes closed pretending that it was my Dad- the Dad that I used to know.

After a short walk to the school nurse’s office, he put me down on the examination table. I rolled over on my side and faced away from everyone. Coach T, Mr. Walthers and the Nurse conferred outside the office for a few minutes. Then the nurse and Coach T came back in the room.

The nurse said, “Jimmy, I’m Miss Green. I want to check you out after the fight that you were in. Could you take off your shirt and jeans?”

I sat up and did as she asked. She looked me over carefully not finding anything very interesting except for a good red spot on my back where Billy Wheeler had kicked me and a knot on my head.

A nice knot had risen where Eric’s pal had nicked me with a chair. I hadn’t given it much thought but with her poking around, it was tender. The hit had caused a small cut on which she dabbed some ointment. Satisfied that I wasn’t too banged up, she told me that I could get dressed. While I was dressing, she asked me to wait there when I was done. I lied down on the examination table and closed my eyes. A nap would be nice but I knew that sleep wouldn’t come. There was too much going on and my mind was racing.

I lay there for a while but my nerves were shot so I got up and started pacing around the room. Had I seriously hurt Eric? I had always thought he was OK. He wasn’t nearly as big a jerk as his older brother Bob. When I had spoken to him earlier that summer before my parental imposed isolation, we had joked around like we always had. He had hurt me with his comments. I was very angry with him but he had been a friend not so long ago.

Before too long Coach T came back into the room and sat down with me and motioned for me to join him. He said, “Jimmy, I hear you’re a pretty good linebacker. You want to play football this year?”

That had been the last thing on my mind but it was something that would please my Dad. “Yeah, I’d like that a lot.”

Coach T grinned wide, “I’m sure that I could use you on my squad. You’re one of the bigger 7th graders to come through here in a while.”

I replied, “Coach, right now I feel like I’m a lot bigger on the outside than I am on the inside.”

He nodded knowingly. “We’ve been asking around and we talked to Bob Rainer when he picked up Eric. We know what the fight was about. Jimmy, are you a homosexual?”

The anger came back in a flash. “There’s that damned word again. I don’t even know what a homersexual is!”

Coach T looked at me sadly and asked quietly, “Has it caused you a lot of trouble at home?”

“OH, not really. My parents hate me now and I’ve lost all my friends. Everything is just f****** peachy.”

“Watch the language Jimmy. I know that you’re upset but I draw the line at the F-word.” he scolded. “Now I’m going to ask you a question and it’s important that you be honest about it. You won’t get in trouble but we need to know: is your Dad hitting you?”

I was sick to death of questions that I needed to be honest about and that wouldn’t get me in trouble. I was going to outsmart the bastards this time so I lied, “No.”

Coach looked at me thoughtfully and asked, “Why are you so afraid of your Dad?”

I looked down at the floor. Could I trust this guy? I needed to talk to somebody. All the stuff inside me made me crazy. After pausing for a moment it all came out, “Coach, ever since Rainer came over and told my Dad that I was a fag, he hasn’t looked at me the same. My Mom cries all the time. They try to hide it but I hear them fighting. I don’t want to cause any more trouble than I already have. I’m afraid they’ll divorce. I’m afraid that they don’t want me anymore.”

Coach T sighed deeply and said, “You don’t want to add fuel to the fire. That’s understandable. Look. I’m going to talk to Walther’s about this. Would you have any objections to moving into my homeroom?”

I nodded eagerly. Coach T was the first adult that I had met in quit a while that wasn’t completely insane. It was a welcome change of pace.

I got off easy. Principal Walthers gave me three licks for fighting and I think he pulled them short.

There was a problem. The next time that I got in a fight, my parents would be called. It looked like I was going to have to grin and bear it. I was also required to meet with the school counselor once a week during study hall.

Coach T’s class was a big change. At Oak Hills, classes were divided by ability groups one through four. I had always been group one, which was usually populated by A students. Coach T’s class was Group 3. I didn’t know anybody in class but I was a shoe in for star student.

My schedule had been changed while I was in the office. I wouldn’t be anywhere near Eric Rainer.

I went to my afternoon classes without incident. I did my best to be invisible. I sat in the back and kept my mouth shut.

Football practice was a breeze. It mainly consisted of having equipment issued and some conditioning drills. We were all issued a playbook and were expected to become familiar with it.

I caught the late bus home and was there by four.

Scotty was in his yard cutting the grass. As no one was around, I waved but he wouldn’t meet my eyes.

I knew what I had gone through that day but I had to wonder. Was he all right?

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BROKEN

Bruised and Confused

Chapter 9

It didn’t take long for my name to get around. A piece of gossip that juicy doesn’t come around all that often.

As hard as I tried, I wasn’t very good at being invisible. Most people my age didn’t mess with me. Frankly they were afraid of me. I had taken three guys down in a manner that left no doubts. The word was out: f****** with the Beast was stupid. That boy is crazy.

That didn’t stop the upper classmen. The 9th and 10th graders were ruthless. Thankfully, I wasn’t around them much except on the bus but they made the most of our time together. I started getting a smart mouth and reminded them that only the dregs of the losers were still riding the bus in 9th and 10th. Yeah- they loved me.

My stop was one of the last on the route. Thankfully, I was last on and first off. Most of the time, there weren’t any seats when the bus picked me up and I had to stand. On the way to school one morning one of the bastards set my shirt tail on fire while he was giving me a “hot seat” with a BIC lighter. That’ll wake you up in the morning.

I did my best to ignore it but there was always a little something going on. I would show up and find a disgusting note in my locker. Some people took delight in stealing my stuff. The worst things that they would steal were textbooks. As old and crapy as they were, they always charged top dollar to replace them. After buying more than my share of history books, I decided to get my money’s worth out of it. I started slamming flies in between the last page and binder. Started a real collection there. By the end of the year fungus was growing on it.

Another thing started happening that really bugged me. I started getting prank and obscene phone calls when I was home by myself after school. Most of the time it was other kids- being mean or asking if I was interested in having sex. It bothered me that so many people knew my business. It also pissed me off that no one would talk to me at school but they would call me up expecting me to just have sex with a stranger at the drop of a hat.

The ones that really made me nervous were from adults. There was a guy that called himself Pete that would call over and over again. He came on all nice and understanding saying that I probably needed someone to talk to. Then he would start talking about about sex stuff and asking questions about other boys. He really creeped me out but I was smart enough to use him. From Pete, the obscene phone calling pervert, I got more information about sex and being gay than anyone else up to that point. Maybe that’s why I’m so f***** up.

Football went remarkably well. A lot of kids ran their mouths. I just ignored it and did all my talking on the field. I put all of my aggression into it and so did the other kids. Black and blue was practically our school colors.

Coach T kept things reasonable. He did a good job of keeping balance between protecting me while not making it look like he was playing favorites. For homework he would have us watch pro games with people playing our positions and write a report on it. My favorite linebackers to watch were Pittsburgh’s pair of Jacks: Lambert and Ham. Lambert looked like he was as crazy as I was and teamed up with Ham, they were devastating. I learned a lot about the game from Coach T and my reads as a linebacker got better and better.

The 7th grade Oak Hills Patriot team wasn’t nearly as good as my Viking team the year before. Our offense couldn’t score in a whorehouse with a pocket full of C-notes. Our defense was good but we couldn’t do it all. By October we were 2-2 and looking at the worst part of our conference schedule.

I asked for and was given a spot on special teams. There was nothing like the rush of going down the field to cover a kick off or a punt. I loved it. I would get up to full speed and smash anything that got in my way.

When we went up against Vicksburg I went bezerk and had the game of my life. We lost the coin toss and had to cover the kickoff. I went down field hard and fast and decked some kid that was trying to block me and found a bead on the skinny wide receiver that was returning the kickoff. He tried to make a move on me but I went airborne and drilled him right in the chest and sending the ball bouncing free. One of our guys recovered it. Our team defense caught on fire. They didn’t get but two first downs the whole first half.

I looked on the other side of ball and those guys were afraid. I fed off of it. I got in their heads bad. They started making mistakes like jumping offside and missing blocks. We won 14-6. The Beast was back.

After the game, it was like it used to be with Pop. We went out to eat and talked like we were pals again. He told me that he was proud of me.

My sessions with the school counselor were worse than useless. The guy was an idiot. The more I talked to him, the more confused I got. He told me that I was so young that I couldn’t really be sure what I was. He told me that all I had to do was decide to not be a homosexual and that was that. So, I resolved that I was not a homosexual. All that it had caused for me was trouble and I wanted nothing to do with it.

It wasn’t quite that simple. I started noticing guys at school. My success on the football field and a reputation for ruthlessly kicking a** had earned some measure of respect. Conventional wisdom had decided that I couldn’t possibly be a faggot and be such a hard a**.

I was slowly beginning to feel more at ease. Coach T’s homeroom was a good place for me. Sure there was nobody in it that could give me a run for my money at chess like Scotty used to but there were some good people in it. I became friends with a couple of kids named Foster King and Steven Ash.

Foster was a little, shy kid who reminded me a lot of Scotty. As I got to know him, I quickly learned that he was a lot smarter than people took him for. Foster’s rather simplistic and dull persona was merely a front for a much more interesting and deep thinking person inside. He wasn’t easy to get to know. It wasn’t hard to tell that somebody had burned him really bad and that it was as difficult for him to trust as it was for me. There was something that troubled me about Foster. He always seemed to have a lot of bruises.

Steven was dumb as dirt but God never made a sweeter soul. His bright blue eyes and shining smile were a joy to be around. He loved to laugh and his laugh was infectious. All I had to do if I needed a smile was to look at Steven. It wasn’t because he was funny looking. He had a weird sort of inner joy that made just being around him fun.

Before long, we were getting together after school, studying and goofing off. I was beginning to feel normal again.

Our football team rolled along and finished with a 7-4 record that November. I finished the year with an average of 8 tackles a game and 4 turnovers. Coach T himself gave me a red and blue Patriots letter jacket with my number 44 and golden football stenciled on the schools initials.

After football season ended, I had a lot more time. I was sick of riding the bus so I decided to see if I could find a trail through the woods to Oak Hill road so I could ride my bike and avoid unpleasant company. There had to be a way. The roads all went around in a square. So it was simply a matter of finding it.

I started looking for the path on a sunny November Saturday. I knew the woods, or my part of them, quite well. When I passed over barbed wire fence about a mile in, I was in unexplored territory.

The terrain was rough and brushy dominated by a ridgeline with two low marshy valleys on either side. I could tell by my trusty compass that I was going the right way. I quickly discovered why this part of the forest was unpopular: swarms of mosquitoes.

The natural path was along the ridge top. I followed for about 30 minutes until I came to Oak Hill road just a short distance from my school. It wasn’t an easy ride but I could cut the time down if I made a few improvements. The return trip was easier as it was a downward grade the whole way.

One the way back I decided to stop by the old fort that Scotty and I had built long ago. We used to spend hours out here. I skidded down the trail and took the cut off, parked my bike and went the rest of the way on foot.

When I opened the door, Scotty was sitting in his favorite place by the window in the sun reading a comic book. He looked up and said, “It’s about time you showed up.” He put the book down and sat up looking at me. Then he asked hesitantly, “There’s something that I’ve got to know. Are you pissed at me?”

I walked over too him and dropped to my knees with tears of joy rolling down my cheeks and hugged him with all my might. All I could do was cry. I collapsed with my head on his chest. He held me and just let me cry for a while. Scotty’s abrupt departure from my life had been an open wound. I didn’t even know if he wanted to see me again. Seeing him, feeling him, being with him again was like a dream. I didn’t want to let go of him.

When I regained my composure enough to speak I said, “Does that answer your question? I know what Rainer did. He did it to me too. He said tell the truth. Nobody will get in trouble. f****** liar.”

Scotty sighed and looked as sad as I had ever seen him. “Why did he do it too us? What happened to you? That day I was so scared. Jimmy, I thought your Dad was going to kill you.”

I didn’t want to think about that day and I sure didn’t want Scotty to know what a s**t storm it had caused. I just wanted to hold him. I asked, “Scotty, let’s just say it was unpleasant and leave it. What’s happened with you? Have you heard from any of the other guys?”

He sat right beside me like we used to and put his head on my shoulder. “Besides for us, Rainer threw out three other guys. Nick, Doug and Blake.”

My head swam. “Nick? He didn’t do anything. Neither did Blake or Doug as far as I knew.”

Scotty quietly said, “I know. Doug’s parents went ballistic and threw him out. He’s living with his Uncle over in Ruston. Nick’s Mom has him at some shrink all the time. I don’t know what happened to Blake. Nobody seems to know. Brian has been a wreak ever since. You know how tight he was with Doug.”

“I hope Rainer is f****** happy,” I growled. “How many people did he destroy?”

Scotty pulled me close and said softly, “A lot has changed but there’s one thing that is the same. I still love you.”

With that I pulled him closer and kissed him. It was a long kiss, a healing kiss that washed away a flood of loss, pain, grief and heartache. The emotion and feeling communicated by that one kiss was beyond words. We had something back that should never have been taken away.

We talked for a long while. We had to be careful. Our lives were a lot more complicated. We came up with signals and message drops so that we would know when to meet at the fort. If we had to steal our time together, then we would steal it with gusto.

Our worlds, so different than they had been just a few short months ago, were right again. We had each other and that was enough.

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BROKEN

Teenage Wasteland

Chapter 10

Reuniting with Scotty had an immediate positive effect on my mood. My parents even commented on it. Sure, we had to sneak around but at least I knew that he didn't hate me. I could smile again.

The sullen, angry, disconnected Jimmy of the past few months past slowly faded away. Foster and Steven were delighted. Coach T even noticed. I began to open up more.

Over the next few weekends, I spent a good bit of time in the woods with Scotty and working on my trailblazing project. It was hard work but it was worth it. If I made that ride every morning, I would only get stronger. By December my school trail was done and I could kiss off the bus except on rainy days.

I treasured my time with Scotty but I was very disturbed by some of the things he told me. He was being constantly harassed and roughed up. His grades were suffering. I didn't have any classes with him as I was in a whole different part of the school so there wasn't much I could do about it. After I had beaten Eric Rainer's a**, I had been removed from the situation but Scotty was still in the middle of it. He tried to act like it didn't bother him but I knew him too well.

After some intensive cross-examination Scotty finally told me that the worst offenders were Billy Wheeler and Todd Taylor, a fat dofus that followed Billy around. He made me promise that I wouldn't do anything. After securing my promise, Scotty told me that he had a surprise for me but I would have to wait till next weekend for it.

I started using my new path to school during the run up to winter vacation. The homeward bound part of the trail was a lot more fun. The morning dew made the trail treacherous and slippery. There were some pretty cool jumps that I could get some good air on but there were some tricky places. Wiping out was a distinct possibility.

Over the week, I worried about Scotty. It had bugged me all semester but to have my fears confirmed was disquieting. I had always been around to protect him but I didn't know what to do this time. I toyed with the idea of asking Coach T if Scotty could join our class but I wouldn't ask with out his input.

When Friday's classes were finally in the can I headed home down my trail. I stopped off by our hidden fort and found a note from Scotty inside that asked me to wait there. I got out my history book and read the thrilling chapter on the industrial revolution and the rise of the labor movement. Before I had gone completely to sleep Scotty showed up with Brian Edwards in tow.

On seeing my old pal, I jumped up and rushed to greet him. As elated as I was to see Brian, he looked sadder than I'd ever seen him. I couldn't think of anything to say so I just embraced him and he held on tight.

The three of us settled on the floor and Scotty retrieved 3 canned cokes and some Fritos from his backpack. I thought Brian was going to cry.

I tried to break an awkward silence by saying, "Damn good to see you again. How is it going?"

Brian looked down and spoke softly, "It's been a hell of a lot better Beast. You heard my Dad kicked Doug out?"

Scotty answered, "Yeah. I told him last week."

Brian's voice was pained and low, "It sucks man, I really miss him. My Dad won't even let me talk to him."

"I miss him too Brian. I miss everybody. I don't know what the f**k Rainer was thinking but he sure messed up a lot of people's lives," I growled.

At the mention of Rainer's name Brian's face flashed with anger. "Old Bob sure ain't my favorite person. I would have paid real money to have seen you kick Eric's a**."

Scotty shifted uncomfortably. "He lied to us. He lied to us all. He told us that we needed to trust him and be honest and no one was going to get hurt."

"Rainer didn't really know anything. He just assumed that he knew what he was talking about. Do ya'll know what he told my Dad?," Brian asked with a quiet fury.

I shook my head. "I haven't heard s**t about s**t since it happened. All I know is he talked to my Dad, my Dad went bezerk and I haven't talked to anybody since I ran into Scotty a couple of weeks ago."

"Rainer accused Doug of molesting some of the younger boys in the troop. He named you two, Nick and a couple of others. He was in jail for a week before they figured out it was a crock of s**t."

Scotty and I were both astonished. We both said, "Doug a molester? That's so much bullshit!"

Brian smiled for the first time. "You guys had better watch it. You two keep finishing each others sentences like that, they'll accuse you of molesting puppies or something."

I gave Brian an uncomfortable look and he said before I could speak, "It's all right. I'm cool with it. I've known you two were an item for a long time."

Scotty and I blushed a glowing color of purple that made Brian laugh so hard he rolled over.

I stuttered and said, "How..how did you know?"

Brian said between chuckles, "It's cool man. It was little things really. The way you two treated each other. Mostly it was because I've known that Doug was gay for a few years and saw how he was around his boyfriend."

I was stunned, "Doug is gay?"

Scotty moaned, "This is so f***** up. Doug is fine as hell. He doesn't have to molest anybody."

Without thinking I whined, "Scotty?!"

Brian started rolling again. Scotty scooted over to me and pecked me on the cheek.

We were being silly. It had been way too long since we had had the chance to be.

When Brian finished laughing, he opened his book satchel and pulled out a little metal box. He asked, "You guys ever smoked any weed?"

I replied, "Errr.. ummm no actually."

Scotty grinned, "Duh.. We got high last weekend Brian."

Brian smiled and said, "Then you're in for a treat Beast. Trust me. It helps." He pulled a funny looking cigarette out of his tin and some matches. He struck one and lit the joint taking a couple of puffs and held the smoke. He passed it to Scotty who took a big hit and then tried to cough his lungs out. Scotty handed it to me. I looked at it dubiously and thought what the f**k and took a hit.

The smoke tasted rich and smelled much better than I had heard. I held it for a few seconds and let it out slowly. Then I passed it on to Brian.

The joint went around our little circle a few times and then Brian took it and said, "I'm going to blow you two a shotgun. Get ready." He took a hit and then reversed the joint, moving close to Scotty. He then blew the smoke back though the joint as Scotty inhaled it out of the air. Then he turned to me and did the same.

Whoa... My head got all tingly and fuzzy. I felt a little dizzy. I exhaled and coughed a couple of times. I felt light and the turmoil that had constantly been in my head for months was gone.

We sat with Brian and talked about nothing and giggled for about an hour. He finally looked at his watch and said, "Well it's four and I've got to get home. Good to see you guys."

We shook hands with Brian and thanked him for sharing that joint.

I felt so good. I wasn't stressed. I wasn't hurting. I wasn't worrying about words that I didn't understand.

Scotty went in his pack and said, "I was a Boy Scout. I came prepared." He pulled out a bag of peanut M&Ms.

I noticed that I was hungrier than usual. Man those things were good. We tore through that pack in nothing flat. When we finished, Scotty sat beside me. I engulfed him in my arms and he lay across my lap looking up at me with those eyes.

His head was propped on my left arm and I gently stroked his hair with my right hand. He was so beautiful lying in my arms like that. Tears started rolling down my face.

He reached up and wiped them away. He quietly asked, "What was that about?"

I stammered, "It hurt so much when I thought that I had lost you. I wanted to die. With you here, now it's like, I didn't know I could be happy again."

Scotty sat up and put his arms around me. He spoke quietly in my ear, shaking with emotion, "For a while I was afraid that after all the s**t that happened that you would hate me. I was afraid that you wouldn't want to be my friend anymore. When I would see you from across the street, I could tell your big heart was breaking. I wanted to run to you. I knew that you could never hate me."

I moved to where our foreheads were touching. Up until then I had been preoccupied with my own pain. I had not given much thought to how much Scotty and the others were hurt and confused too. My sweet boy had gotten burned just as bad as I had.

On the floor of our little hideaway Scotty and I lay down side by side, arm in arm and talked softly like we had always done. I drank in deeply of his face, his eyes and his energy. It was like recharging our batteries.

Too quickly it began to turn dark and we had to part. I asked him to think about changing to Coach T's class for the spring semester.

Before we parted he gave me a big hug and said, "Getting you back was the best present I could have gotten this Christmas."

I went home and my Mom was fixing supper. Still glowing from the time that I spent with Scotty and still buzzing, I gave her a big unannounced hug.

Things had been tense with my Mom for a long time. Her Christian beliefs were seriously at odds with my sexuality. I think that she might have preferred me taking up devil worship or robbing banks.

She returned my hug with gusto and asked, "What was that for?"

I smiled and answered truthfully, "Well, supper smells awful good and... that hug was overdue."

She hugged me again and said, "My sweet boy is finally home."

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BROKEN

Sandman and Viking

Chapter 11

There was one good thing about our folks not speaking to each other. Scotty and I were able to pull off a lot of things that had they been comparing notes, we would have never gotten away with. Citizens band radios were something of a fad at the time. We struck upon the idea of asking our folks for a hand held 40 channel CB radios that Radio Shack had on sale.

That Christmas was difficult. It was the first holiday since we had been separated. Even though we were talking again, his presence was conspicuously absent. The week before Christmas, my Grandmother came down to stay with us during the Holidays. She asked where he was.

Not long after my Grandma’s arrival, my brother arrived home from college. I was a big kid but my brother Big John was huge! 6’ 6” and 250 pounds, he was a champion weight lifter. It’s a good thing that he was good-natured cause he could have easily squished me flat. He grabbed me and picked me up, tossing me in the air. I fussed about it but I really thought it was neat. He was the only one big enough that could still do it and truthfully, I missed it. Upon his arrival we assumed our respective roles: me, the pesky little brother and John being the long suffering big brother.

It saddened me that Big John was always so far away. For a while Doug had filled the big brother role very well but he was gone now and there was a void. I desperately needed someone around that I could talk to and who would look out for me. For a short time, he was here and that was good enough.

My brother and I spent as much time together as we could. We did our Christmas shopping and went to a couple of movies together. I told him that I wished that he would spend the summer with us but he had to work his co op job. I understood but it was a disappointment.

Mississippi is a weird place for weather. Christmas can be anywhere from the twenties to the seventies and it could change on you faster than you can say bad luck. That Christmas dawned a sunny and warm 75. It was shorts weather in December for goodness sakes!

I got a new bike for Christmas. My old one was getting too small. My brother must have helped my folks pick it out because it was actually pretty cool. It was a red BMX style bike with chrome and white stripes.

I got the radio too. My folks liked the idea of my having a way to call for help. I was taking a long trail through the woods twice a day. If I wiped out, it was a long way to help.

Christmas day my folks were busy with relatives and my brother was off visiting friends that afternoon. I put the radio in my backpack. I gathered up a couple of canned cokes and some of Scotty’s favorite Christmas cookies that my Mom made. Then I took off for the trails.

I turned the radio on to standby, set the channel to 37 and made a call. “Sandman this is Viking, do you copy?” No answer. Oh well. I took off to see what my new bike could do.

After about twenty minutes on the trails, my radio crackled to life, “Viking this is Sandman over.”

I stopped and answered, “Sandman this is Viking, I copy, over.”

“Viking, can you meet me at hill 29, over?”

I answered, “That’s a roger Sandman. I’ll be there in 10.”

“Sandman out.”

I put the radio back on my belt and headed off to our fort.

Scotty came skidding in right behind me beaming from ear to ear. “What’s up Beast? Looks like you did all right. Snazzy looking dirt bike.”

I smiled and said, “Yeah, it looks like our plan worked out after all.”

“The radios were a great idea,” Scotty smiled mischievously. “I brought a surprise.”

We hid our bikes and went inside to enjoy each other’s company for a while.

We sat down in the floor and I said, “Brought you something Scotty”.

I pulled out my Mom’s chocolate oatmeal, pecan cookies and Scotty’s eyes got big as saucers. He said, “Thanks Dude. I’ve been missing those! I brought us a little something too.” He pulled out a big fat joint.

I exclaimed, “Wicked! Where did you get it?”

“Brian said to say Merry Christmas. It is supposed to be pretty good.”

“Awe man. We’ve got to do something for him.”

At that Scotty looked sad. “Brian is really messed up over losing Doug. He won’t even talk to his Dad. He stays out all the time and only goes home late. Jimmy, it’s like he’s lost dude.”

I looked Scotty in the eyes and said, “I’ve been there man. It sucks. Thanks for coming to find me.”

Scotty sighed, “It was as much for me as it was for you. I was pretty lost myself.”

“You ever see Brian at school?”

He nodded and lit the joint. “Yeah.” Cough. “We’ve got a few classes together. He’s catching a lot of s**t over Doug from some of the upper classmen.” He handed me the joint.

“Why do they want to f**k with Brian?” I took my hit and passed it.

Scotty replied grimly, “Because they can see that it hurts him.”

“Damn that’s cold. You ever feel like people suck?” I asked between puffs.

Scotty replied with a bitter edge in his voice, “Persons are cool. But yeah, in general, people suck. They are mean, petty, cruel and delight in the pain of others.”

It hurt me to hear him say that. There had to be a lot more going on than what he was telling me. “Scotty, are you turning into a philosopher on me?”

“Must be the weed.” How dare such dark thoughts intrude on such a good buzz?

It wasn’t too long before we were both pretty lit and laughing. The munchies set in and we tore into the Christmas cookies.

We ended up in a good-natured tussle on the floor. I always let Scotty win those wrestling matches and he loved me for it. After giving him a run for his money, I “tuckered out” and rolled over on my back. He moved to pin me with his knees on my shoulders. With his hands held high in triumph he bowed and hooted to a non-existent audience.

I asked meekly, “Am I invited to the victory party?”

He had an impish look in his eye and grinned slyly. “Yes. I’m having a victory dinner and you are the main course.”

He passionately kissed me on the lips, face and neck. While shifting to straddle me he pulled my shirt up and I cooperated as he took it off. He then moved down kissing and licking my chest. I was getting so hot I couldn’t stand it. The shorts that I had on were straining to their limit.

I murmured, “Oh crap Scotty, who taught you that?”

Between kisses he said, “I’ve got a great imagination.”

He continued to go south kissing and licking my chest and stomach all the way down to the line of my shorts. His long hair tickling and tingling against my chest and stomach all the way. When he began to kiss and caress the straining crotch of my shorts I thought I was going to go crazy. The feeling of his warm breath on me was way more intoxicating than the weed.

I pulled him into the 69 position and did the same for him. At that moment I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Nothing else mattered. Our universe had collapsed into a singularity of passion. When I didn’t think it could get any better, Scotty said, “Merry Christmas Jimmy. I love you.” He then opened my shorts and went down on me and I eagerly followed suit.

It was amazing. Communications on a level that only lovers could possibly understand. No words, only feelings like lightning, alive with passion and warmth. My pleasure was his pleasure and his pleasure was mine- building together like an avalanche gaining strength and momentum from the sum of its parts. Abstract feelings made concrete in a blaze of shared energy, too quickly the moment passed, but forever sealing the love that we shared.

I lay there on my back panting with Scotty laying face down with his head on my shoulder. I gently stroked his hair in quiet wonder at what we had just shared.

What could I say? What words were there to describe how I felt? I love you sounds too small trite somehow.

Scotty propped himself up on his elbows and looked in my eyes like he was searching for something. Instantly, he found my smile. He asked quietly, “What are you thinking Jimmy? Did I go too far?”

I reached out and gently caressed his face. “No. You didn’t take me too far or anywhere I hadn’t wanted to go for a long time now. I was thinking that you are everything to me and how afraid I am of losing you again. I couldn’t take it. It would break me.”

Scotty got a serious look on his face and whispered, “Neither could I. We’ve got to be careful. We’re not in control and a whole lot can go wrong.”

I said gently, “I could take a whole lot going wrong just as long as you are with me. Scotty, you make me strong. You make me feel invincible. When we’re together, I’m not afraid or empty. I feel like I could do anything.”

Scotty looked at me and said, “A long time ago you told me that you would never leave me. Even when things were at their worst this past summer, I always believed that. I love you so much it hurts Jimmy and I always will.”

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Broken

Collateral Damage

Chapter 12

After Christmas Scotty’s family piled into their station wagon for a New Year’s trip to Tupelo. I hung out with Big John as much as I could without making a pest of myself.

Thursday morning Big John and my Dad went to play golf and my Mom took my Grandmother shopping so I had a little time for myself. I decided to hit the trails and see just how high the new bike would jump. I packed a few goodies away in my backpack, locked up the house and hit the trails.

My favorite run in the whole area was a string of red sandy clay hills that were perfectly spaced for jumps just a little past the hidden glade where our “fort” was located.

I built up some speed and went down the first dip. Standing on my pegs, with a hard kick and gravity, I gathered momentum for the next rise to soar over its crest landing on the downward slope. Kick, gather momentum, and soar. Kick, gather momentum, and soar. Try like hell not to crash and burn.

I liked to fly but landing could be a real b****. It was all a sort of controlled crash. Standing on the pegs was the tricky part. Slipping off meant a spill.

I went around the circuit of hills so many times that I lost count. I was in the grove until landing sideways off the second hill and taking a spill. I got up and dusted myself off. It was nothing serious but my elbow stung. It was bleeding from a cut. I took the blood on my fingers and smeared it on my face like war paint. I was a warrior. Pain doesn’t hurt. Not that kind of pain anyway.

Getting right back on my little course, I did the circuit again. And again, and again. It was worth it to fly even if it was just for a few seconds a little way.

I crashed a few more times. A bruise here, a cut there, it didn’t matter. I began to like the pain. It was a welcome distraction from the ongoing argument in my head.

I knew how I felt but I didn’t want to feel that way. I tried to think about other things. I tried to block it all. Still the question that everybody seemed to be asking kept coming back to me: are you a homosexual?

The counselor said that I was too young to know. My Dad said I couldn’t be one and live at home with my family. The Preacher said that it was a choice that meant that I turned away from God. Rainer said that it was a perversion. Some of the books I read said that it was a mental disorder. Some of the other books said it was normal for some people. The bible said that God turned away from homos and didn’t hear their prayers. What did it mean? Who was right?

OOPS, I didn’t concentrate, foot slipped off the peg. Crash and burn. Pain. Blessed diversion.

This one was worse than the rest. It knocked the breath out of me. I had gone over the handlebars and the bike had landed on top of me. I had to lay there in the dust and catch my breath. There was more blood for my war paint.

I got up but I was wobbly so I decided to go to the fort to catch my breath. I got back on my bike and took the short ride to our fort real slow. When I got there, Brian’s bike was parked outside.

I went inside to find Brian lying on his stomach dead to the world on a sleeping bag with a pack beside him.

I decided not to bother him. I got some water from my canteen and sat down to get comfortable. What was he doing here? Had he camped out here last night? We used to all the time but had not done so in a long time.

I had never thought about it much but Brian was cute. He was a younger version of Doug, on his way to being tall and slim, but not quite there, with the same brilliant copper red hair and freckles.

He was like Doug in other ways too. He had a gentle good nature about him that I found very appealing in people. I couldn’t remember ever hearing him have a cross word for anyone.

Brian had changed a lot since Doug’s departure. The old Brian that I had known was always happy. I was just beginning to know the new Brian. We had a lot in common: he had lost his best friend too. I was lucky that Scotty had come back. I had no idea what the deal was with Doug.

He wasn’t resting easy either. Every so often he would mutter something inaudible and shift around uncomfortably. As I sat still and quite, my bumps and bruises started to get a little sore. I was going to have a good bruise on my shoulder from that last crash. The cuts didn’t amount to much.

Suddenly, Brian sat up looking around like he was startled. I said, “It lives.” I hadn’t seen his face before because of his position but he had a big swollen black eye.

He said sleepily, “Dude, you look like hell. What happened to you?”

“I took a spill off the clay hills so I put on some war paint. What happened to your eye?”

Brian reached up and touched his eye absently. “Oh this? It ain’t so much.”

I got up gingerly and moved to sit a little closer to him. The shiner he was wearing was an angry black and purple color on his fair skin. I always got mad when somebody took a shot at one of my friends. I asked in a tone that suggested that I was going to bug him until he told me, “What happened Brian?”

He sat there with a far away look in his eyes for a moment and said, “It’s sort of a long story.”

“I’m in no hurry.” I said and made a show of getting comfortable.

Brian got a pained expression on his face that I couldn’t easily read. “It started before Christmas. My Dad found out from the phone bill that I had been talking to Doug at my Uncle Harvey’s place in Ruston. We got into it and it’s been getting a little worse ever since. Last night he had been drinking, I said the wrong thing and got punched. Hope you don’t mind that I came here.”

I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “Brian, I’ve been there man. When Rainer s**t on us, my Dad went off on me too. Oh, and I’m glad you came here. Feel free, anytime”

He mumbled, “Thanks, Beast. Sometimes I’ve got to get away. I heard about your Dad going off on you. It scared the hell out of Nick and Scotty. They thought you were dead.”

I snorted and said, “I though I was dead too. Funny thing is that it didn’t hurt as much as it pissed me off.”

Choking back sobs, Brian uttered, “This Christmas was so f***** up. It just wasn’t right without Doug being here. Jimmy I miss him so much. I hate my Dad, I hate him!” He lost the battle against the tears.

I held him and Brian sobbed silently on my shoulder for a while. Tears came down my cheeks as well. I said softly, “I miss him too.”

He sobbed for a while and then went silent. I didn’t want to let go of him and he held on. We sat there quietly holding each other for some time. Finally he said softly in my ear, “You’re like him you know. That’s why I’ve always liked you.” With that I squeezed him tight and went back to sitting beside him with my arm around his shoulder.

I mumbled, “That’s the nicest thing that anybody has said to me lately.”

Brian chuckled, “You know, Doug said that you are going to end up being a real stud.”

I blushed and confessed, “I had a crush on him there for a while.”

Brian reached over and retrieved his pack saying, “He knew. He thought it was cute.” He pulled out his stash box out of his pack and said, “Help me smoke a joint?”

“Don’t mind if I do”, I replied meekly, still blushing and grateful that the conversation and activity was going in a different direction. I wasn’t used to such a frank discussion of... things.

We smoked out and sat around talking nonsense and laughing well into the afternoon. The weed gave us cottonmouth so we shared my canteen. Brian pulled a bag of Cheetos out of his pack and we munched on them until our fingers were orange. He turned on his radio and let it play.

As hard as we tried, as much as we wanted it to be, things just weren’t the same.

While we were sitting, vegging out listening to tunes I asked, “Brian, do you sometimes think that everybody is f***** up?”

He laughed bitterly. “Yeah, everybody and everything. Six months ago I was literally a Boy Scout. Now I’m a raging pothead. Doug would have kicked my a** if he had caught me with weed.”

“You remember how Doug used to go over the Scout Law with the new guys?”, I asked.

Brian spoke the Scout Law from memory, “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly..”

I continued, “..courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful..”

We finished it together, “..thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

Brian said solemnly, “Doug pestered all the cherries until they knew it by heart. Then whenever he saw any point of the Scout Law broken, he would lecture the offender for hours.” Then he asked with a cold edge in his voice, “Which one of those did Doug or Scotty or you f**k up?”

I shook my head. Rainer had a sixth victim that had been hurt just as badly as the rest of us.

We talked for a while longer. I had to go home soon. Brian told me that he would go home at dark and hope that his Dad had cooled off. I asked him to give some thought into changing to Coach T’s class in January and reluctantly jumped on my bike and headed home.

When I got home my Mom was mortified to see my “war paint”. I had forgotten about it. Big John and my Dad just grinned. They were guys. They understood.

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