Trials and Tribulations
by Billy


Chapter 2: Black Clouds on the Horizon

I walked back into my room stunned. I haven’t seen anyone that scared since Timmy threw a baseball through the Presbyterian Church’s window back when we were eight years old. I looked over at Roger and he looked almost as concerned as I was.

“I reckon he’s in for a whopping from the way he talked on the phone and acted after he hung up.” Roger said.

“I don’t know, but he sure acted scared to me.” I said still going over stuff in my head how everything unfolded since we got home. I walked over and sat down beside him on the bed, putting my head in my hands, with my elbows on my knees, sighing.

“Look Andy, we all had our asses tanned before and lived through it.” He offered as he put a hand on my shoulder.

“Yeah, his dad is a preacher too. Don’t they have to be like more forgiving and not as hard on people?” I asked, raising my head up looking Roger in the eyes and dropping my hands to rest on my knees.

“Well, that’s not always true Andy. I’ve heard Mom and Dad talking about some friends of theirs growing up and they talked like preachers were harder on their kids because they wanted to set an example for everyone else.” Roger answered and shrugged.

“That hardly seems fair to me. I mean, what’s the worst he’s done today? Forget to call and be, what, thirty minutes late getting home?” I asked. “Besides, it seemed to be more than just being late and not calling from the way this side of the conversation sounded”

“He’s a nice guy from what I’ve seen so far. He’ll be okay Andy.” Roger offered with a smile trying to reassure me. “You like this guy, uh?”

‘Oh, no, not that question!’ I thought. “Umm, yeah, I think I’d like to be friends with him.” I said thinking that was a damn good answer.

“You know I wasn’t going to say anything when he asked if you were rich?” he asked.

I nodded and said, “Yeah, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t, not on the very first day I met him. You know how dad is about that stuff. Not only that, but If Joey knew now, I wouldn’t know if he wanted to be my friend because of that or because of me. It really does suck not being able to be totally up front and honest from the get go, but it makes sense to me, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it.” He replied. “Did Joey say where he was from?”

“No, we really didn’t get a chance to get into all of that with everything else going on. I was hoping to find out some more stuff about him this afternoon. But that didn’t turn out too well. All I got this morning from him was they moved in Thursday night and his Dad is the pastor at The Holy Word of the Lamb.” I said.

“So, we really don’t know anything about him. If he’s been in trouble before; and if he had, maybe that’s why he’s scared to get into trouble again. We don’t know anything at all about his parents, except his dad is a preacher. Plus, I’ve never heard of that church before. Where is it?” he asked.

“Out past Wal-Mart, he said. I really can’t think of much out that way that could be a church. You think it could be in the old Montgomery Ward’s building?” I asked.

“That’s the only place it could be on the other side of Wal-Mart. I bet it is. I wonder what type of Church it is that could have the pastor’s kid leave here the way he did.” He said.

“We could look it up on the net.” I said, as I walked over to fire up my PC. I sat down in the chair and waited for it to boot up.

Roger Banks and I have been friends, like he told Joey, since we were born. Our families had grown up friends in this town and lived next door to each other before we were even thought of. They all four had gone to college at Kentucky, starting their freshman year together. Mom and Dad, Sam and Ellen Collins, had been high school sweethearts. Mom taught High School math here at Pine Hills, after getting her teaching degree; while Dad went on to the University of Kentucky Law School to get his law degree. They got married after dad passed the bar and took a job with the State Attorney’s Office. Steve and Alice Banks had fallen for each other in college. After college, Roger’s mom taught the fifth grade at Pine Hills Elementary School while his dad went to on engineering school. Once he had his degree and took a job with the Pan National Coal Company, they were married the same year as my parents.

We both walked into each other houses without knocking and were treated by both sets of parents like their son. I can’t remember ever having a serious fight with Roger. Oh we had our differences, but nothing serious. Within half a day, one of us was over apologizing to the other for whatever small thing one of us was upset over. I can’t ever remember going to bed mad at him or him at me.

I looked over at him and took a hard look for maybe the first time. He really was my best friend. But he was also a hot looking best friend. He had those dimples when he smiled. He had brown eyes and hair with that pre-17 Justin Bieber hair style and it looked really good on him. I had seen Roger naked plenty of times; and he had a body like mine with more muscles. Probably because he played on the school basketball team and ran a lot more than I did to stay in shape. When it came to running, I was lazy.

Damn! I was perving on my best friend. I’ve known him all my life and never once thought about him… Well okay, I had this morning. And maybe I did some other mornings as well. But it wasn’t like I did twenty-four/seven, you know? But I hadn’t stopped and thought about him that way with him sitting right in front of me. In all the sleepovers, camping, and showers, we never once jacked off together or talked about it in any way. It just never came up. Yeah, we had talked about which girls were hot and stuff. But he did most of the talking. Maybe my mom dying had something to do with it. I was 11 at the time and kind of withdrew from everything for a couple of years. I’m going to have to get control over my thoughts before I out myself by getting caught staring at some guy. I turned to my PC and noticed I didn’t have an internet connection.

“We’re going to have to do this some other time, no internet.” I told Roger.

“Didn’t you say your dad was working late tonight?” he asked.

“Yup, it’s either pizza or delivery for me tonight.” I answered.

“Why don’t we shoot some hoops at my house and you can eat dinner with us? I think we’re having pork chops tonight!” he said as he smiled knowing I loved the fried pork chops his mom cooked.

I changed into some UK gym shorts, left a note for Dad, and we headed next door to his house. While he went in to change and let his mom know I was staying for dinner, I grabbed the ball and took some shots. We played for about an hour and went in to wash up for dinner.

After dinner at the Banks’, I headed home and found Dad eating a chicken nugget dinner from McDonald’s at the kitchen table. “Hi Dad, I’m home.” I told him.

He looked up and smiled. “Hey sport. How was your day?” he asked.

“It was good. I made a new friend from down the street. His name is Joey. I, uh, also kind of, well; I got into a fight because JT McCray tried to beat him up.” I said finally getting it all out.

“I know.” He said and with a stern face he continued, “Mr. Horn called my office today and told me of your involvement in the whole mess. He also said that you volunteered to help out at the concession stand the next three home games to take responsibility for your part in it.”

I nodded and told him, “Yes sir, I did. I hope that’s okay with you.”

“Getting into fights is not okay with me, son. However, knowing the boy was knocked to the floor with a punch to the nose, without provocation, from a homophobic ranting bully with intent to do more bodily harm, I would have to say I’m proud of you and your actions;  both because, you stopped the bully and took responsibility for the said action.” He said surprising me and making me want to hug him.

And hug him I did. I almost ran around the table to him and hugged him tightly around the neck.
I told him, “I love you Dad.”

“I love you too, son. You keep me informed if there’s any more trouble from this McCray kid. I also want you to use your head and not provoke him, understand?” he asked.

“Yes Dad. I won’t provoke him and I’ll keep you informed.” I said with a sigh.

“I’m not kidding Andy. I know his father and that family has a history of trouble and violence. I prefer you just stay away from him and have only “necessary” contact with him.” He said.

“Dad, I’m not afraid of him or anyone else for that matter. I can take care of myself. But, I will do as you ask.” I defended myself.  But, I relented to his request.

“Thank you.” He said as he hugged me tighter. “You have any homework?”

“Not really, I have a paper due Friday.” I answered. “I would do some research for it, but we didn’t have an internet connection this afternoon. What’s up with that?”

“I’m switching to cable tomorrow. So you should be good to go by Wednesday.” He answered.

“Cool” I said sitting down, letting him get back to eating his dinner.

We talked a few more minutes about his day and my plans for the week. After he finished eating, we ended up in the TV room watching a baseball game. During the game, we talked about Kentucky’s basketball team and their chances this year. I know it’s only August, but if you’re a true blue Kentucky basketball fan, it’s a year around topic. After missing the Final Four since 1998, they made it back last year only to lose to the eventual Champions. This coming year they were already projected at preseason number two and they had beaten the projected number one team in last year’s tournament. I thought we had a really good chance to win it all this year and add to our 7 National Championships. He agreed with me. As he was talking about the coach, I thought back to the conversation at the kitchen table. I know I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, but I didn’t miss what he said about homophobic ranting. I wonder……

The baseball game ended up being a blow out, so I headed upstairs to get ready for bed. After brushing my teeth, taking care of other bathroom business, getting undressed, and putting my dirty clothes in the hamper, I got into bed. Yeah, I sleep naked. It feels a lot better without the restrictions of underwear.

I thought back to today’s events. I remembered the cute smiles I had gotten from Joey several times throughout the day. He wasn’t very tall. I guessed around five foot, seven or eight inches. He had really thick curly blond hair that just fell all over his head. I’d love to run my fingers through it. It was hard to tell if he was skinny or fit because of the baggy clothes he wore, but he wasn’t fat. That much was clear. He was also easy to talk to in a way that made me want to talk to him all day long. He practically demanded to be allowed to work the concession stand with me as a way to repay me for helping him with JT. That made me smile. It also made me think he would make a good friend. I couldn’t wait to talk with him tomorrow.

Then I thought of the looks Timmy was giving me and Joey all day. It was so weird. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what was up with him. I didn’t know if he had a thing for Debbie or for me. No way could he be into me, not Timmy. So it must be Debbie and he didn’t like the attention Debbie was giving me. But there’s that look he was giving Joey. It was like he didn’t like him without even knowing him. That was so unlike Timmy. I guess time will tell. My thoughts turned to the conversation I had with Dad this evening. Is it possible Dad would be okay with me being gay? Its one thing to be liberal in your thinking about someone else’s son and another if it’s your own son. Yet, Dad had always been supportive of me. I drifted off to sleep and dreamed of being in a court room standing before the bench naked and being judged gay, by my father!

Okay, that freaked me out and I found myself sitting up in bed drenched in sweat. I looked over at the alarm clock and saw I was up half an hour before I needed to be. My first thought was to lie back down. My second thought was how I so did not want to lay in my own sweat. Sanitary needs over-rode procrastination, so I rose for a new day. I grabbed some underwear and walked or I should say stumbled my way to the bathroom with only one eye opened. I can’t swear to it, but it may have just been the eye-monster that had its eye opened. I took care of my morning routine, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I found Dad sitting at the table, drinking his morning coffee, and reading the paper.

“Morning Dad,” I greeted him, “how are you this morning?”

“Good morning Andy. You’re up early.” He responded.

“Yeah, I had a weird dream that woke me up. Since I only had a half hour left, I decide to just get up.” I said.

“It wasn’t like the dreams you use to have was it?” He asked.

“Naw, it was just a weird one.” I told him as I grab a bowl of cereal and sat down. There was no way I was going to tell him what it was about.

“Okay.” He said and then asked, “Have you decided to ride the bus every day or do you want to catch a ride with me in the mornings?”

“I think for now, I’ll ride the bus and see how that works out for me.” I said without looking up at him.

“That’s fine. I’ll be home after five today, so we can have dinner together. What would you like to have?” he asked.

“Pizza or Chinese is good with me. Unless you want me to try my hand at cooking burnt toast and hard scrambled eggs” I giggled.

Don’t ever ask me to cook if you want to live to see tomorrow! If I’m for sure gay, I need to find a guy that can cook all our meals. If meals depended on me, we’d stave. That is unless a person can live on baked frozen pizzas.

“No, I’ll handle the food.” Dad said laughing. “With that settled, I’m out of here. See you tonight Andy”

“See you Dad.” he said, as he kissed the top of my head and left.

I finished up my breakfast, headed upstairs to brush my teeth, and get my stuff together. After making my bed, I looked around my room making sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. I guess I was a little nervous, as well as excited, about seeing Joey at the bus stop. I suppose when I told my dad I wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, I hadn’t taken in account my feelings for Joey which was fast developing into something that may be dangerous for me.

The excitement won out and I headed to the bus stop after locking up behind me. I was the first one there this morning and took a seat on the bench. Sarah Tillman and her little sister Mary showed up and sat down beside me. Sarah was a year older than me and a junior. Mary was a year younger and a freshman. Both were what I would consider good looking girls, but I wasn’t interested.

“Hi Andy, how are you this morning.” Sarah asked smiling at me.

“Good morning Sarah. Good morning Mary. I’m good, thank you.” I replied.

“Good morning Andy.” Mary said looking uninterested.

“Have you met the new boy that moved in down the street yet?” Sarah asked.

“Yep, I met him at school yesterday.” I said.

“What’s he like? What all do you know about him?” she asked.

I didn’t like where this was going at all. I knew how girls worked, since I was avoiding their snares all the time. For the first time, I felt jealousy. It was a new feeling for me and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I figured the best thing to do in this situation was to lie. I know, not my best moment.

“I’m not sure what to make of him Sarah. I know he was in a fight yesterday. But other than that, I don’t know much.” I answered.

“Hey Andy, what’s up?” Roger asked as he walked up.

“Hey bro, I was just chatting with Sarah and Mary waiting on the bus.” I answered as we bumped fists.

I looked down at my watch and saw it was time for the bus and Joey hadn’t shown up yet. Maybe he was getting a ride in today from one of his parents or he’s just running late. Either way it didn’t matter, because, the bus pulled up and we all got on. As Roger and I were sitting down in the back seat, I saw some kids running to catch the bus before the driver pulled away. The driver waited on them, but Joey wasn’t one of them. I was disappointed. Oh well, I figured I’d see him at school.

But after the late bell rung for homeroom, I was beginning to be more than disappointed. I think depression was starting to set in, because there was still no Joey. I hope he wasn’t sick.

“Did you watch the game last night Andy?” Gary asked, pulling me from my thoughts.

“I did until the score was twelve to three. Then I called it a night and headed to bed.” I answered.

“The Yankees have a strong line-up this year.” He said.

“Yeah, but after CC, they’re weak in starters.” I analyzed.

The rest of the day went by pretty fast and I actually paid attention in class today. At lunch, I even made it to our lunch table with my food. Roger, Timmy, Gary, Debbie, Randy, Karen, and Lisa were sitting at the table, but I didn’t pay much attention to the conversations. I was thinking about Joey, wondering where he was, and if he was sick. He didn’t seem sick to me yesterday. Maybe he had a doctor or dentist appointment this morning, and didn’t tell me. Why should he tell me, I mean we had just met? And I realized he couldn’t have called me last night. He didn’t have my phone number since we didn’t exchange numbers, and he didn’t know my last name to look up my number. At least I don’t think I told either one to him.

Joey never turned up that second day of school, and neither did JT. But I did continue to get stares from some of his football buddies. Yet, no one said anything to me about the fight. I guess they were still trying to figure me out.

Dad brought home Pizza Hut pizza for dinner that night. After we ate, I wasn’t in much of a talking mood and Dad had some court stuff to work on, so we went our separate ways. I took off to my room to listen to some music and Dad went to his home office to work on some court stuff.

I didn’t have any dreams that night; or if I did, I didn’t remember them. So I woke to that dang alarm going off. I turned it off, and got up on my own before Dad could knock on my door again like he did the first day, scaring the crap out of me. I did my morning routine, dressed, ate breakfast while chit chatting with Dad about today’s plans before he left for work, brushed my teeth, and got my stuff together for another school day, and took off for the bus stop.

When I got there Joey was already there. He was standing behind the bench leaning over a little resting his hands on the top back of the bench, his backpack on the bench in front of him.  I walked up quietly, trying to surprise him. When I got right behind him, I slapped him on the back.

“Hey…” was all I got out as he flinched and groaned. “Are you alright Joey?” I asked.

“Yeah, I got a sore back this morning. I guess I slept in a bad position last night, or something,” he said straightening up.

I took a closer look, and he seemed, I don’t know, kind of pale, and a little lifeless than the last time I saw him.

“Sorry Joey, I didn’t know.” I said. “Is that why you missed school yesterday?”

“No, I had a doctor’s appointment, and just took the whole day off to help get things put away from the move.” He answered.

That sounded reasonable to me, since they hadn’t been here a week yet, but what did I know about moving? I’ve lived here my whole life. The biggest move I ever made was an inside-the-park homerun.

“Well, it’s good to have you back.” I smiled.

Roger showed up and the three of us talked sports, school, and girls. I found out that Joey played baseball this summer for a Babe Ruth team; but didn’t play for his school. I encouraged him to try out in the spring for our high school team and I would help him if he wanted. He said he would think about it, but didn’t look all that interested. After we got on the bus, we sat in our normal seats. Well, normal for three days worth of riding the bus. Roger and I in the back and Joey in the seat in front of us. I noticed he was careful sitting down and put his backpack in the seat beside him.

“Joey, I never asked, what town did y’all move here from?” I asked.

“Umm, it was in the western part of the state near Bowling Green. You probably never heard of it before, a really small town. Actually, it’s smaller than Pine Hills. Why do you ask?” he replied a bit vaguely and defensively, I thought.

“Oh, I was just wondering. It’s no big deal. I was just making conversation.” I said.

Joey looked forward and Roger turned to me raising an eye brow. I really didn’t know what to think. I’ve never had anyone avoid telling me where they were from before. One thing was for sure, the conversation died after that.

After we got to school, I went to my locker to put my backpack in it, minus my government book and notebook. After saying hi to my group of friends, I headed to homeroom. Joey still had a seat a few seats up and to my right in homeroom, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him any. Gary, on the other hand, was talking my ears off, sitting next to me on the right. I tried to keep up with the conversation while stealing glances towards Joey. Finally, homeroom let out and everyone but Joey, me, and Mr. Ison took off for first period. Joey got up and walked back to the desk next to me where he sat on the first day. Finally, I could have a little one on one with him. As Joey turned to slide into the desk, he had his back towards me; and I saw the blood. His shirt had streaks of blood across his back.

“OH MY GOD Joey! What the fuck happened to you?” I screamed.


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