– Chapter Nine –
After being checked over by the doctor and then having to answer endless questions from the police officers, I spent the night in a cold hospital ward, mostly alone. It was just for observation purposes, they had said to me.
My cuts and scratches had been cleaned and checked and I had been poked and prodded and had every nook and cranny of my body checked over, much to my embarrassment. Afterwards I was allowed to shower and was supplied with some emergency hospital issue nightclothes. I just hoped my friends didn’t visit while I was wearing these.
I kept asking for news of Dallas, but there was none forthcoming, which frustrated me even more.
‘All in good time,’ my mother had tried to tell me, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I needed to know what was happening and begged every nurse who came in to find out for me. Of course I learnt nothing.
My father had arrived some time in the night and at one stage when I awoke I found both of my parents sitting there in the semi-darkness of my room, talking softly.
‘Why don’t you two go home?’ I said to them, which seemed to startle them both. ‘All this chatter is keeping me awake.’
I heard my father chuckle softly; ‘I think he’ll be okay, Karen.’
He got up and came over too my bedside and he too ran his hands back through my hair, just like he had done when I was a child.
‘Please, I’m okay, really. You should go and get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning. Oh, and can you bring me some of my clothes when you come to get me?’
They promised that they would, then after they had each kissed me good night and left me to my own devices I was finally allowed to drift off to sleep which was deep and long and filled with dreams that weren’t fit to be repeated to anyone else.
When the morning finally came I woke not to the loving arms of Dallas, which I had started to become used to, but to a hospital room that seemed cold and hard and unwelcoming. I was facing the door and could see out into the hall way, watching people pass by in their crisp white uniforms or pushing trolleys.
Not wanting to be disturbed by any of them I decided to roll over and face the other wall and when I did I got the surprise of my life, as there was Dallas, propped up in the next bed (which had most definitely been empty before I had last drifted off). They must have brought him into the room at some stage through the night. From behind him there was sunlight streaming in through the window, casting a light over him that seemed to make him glow.
Straight away I sat up on my bed and studied his sleeping form. His damaged ribs were covered in some kind of dressing, and many of his abrasions seemed to have been treated with that coloured liquid they often use, but the most obvious thing was what was on his damaged foot, which I could see was well wrapped in bandages and dressings, leaving just a few toes pointing out.
Sitting on the edge of my bed with my chin in my hands I watched him for quite some time, oblivious to whatever else was happening around me. In my head I started trying to figure out what day it was, but I was having great difficulty in trying to get things straight, as I couldn’t remember just how many nights it was that we had spent huddled in our little shelter.
At some stage I tried adding things up on my fingers and it was while I was doing this that Dallas must have woken up.
‘Hey,’ I heard him say. ‘Nice jammies you have there.’
I looked up to see him smiling at me.
‘I bet yours are the same,’ I replied. ‘His and his.’
Suddenly the smile seemed to vanish and his face clouded over again.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I know I shouldn’t say things that . . .’
‘Sssshhhh . . .’ he said, while holding up one hand to stop me. ‘It’s okay, mate. It’s not you. It’s me.’
I looked down at the floor and bit my lip, unsure of what I should say or do, so I decided that I shouldn’t say anything at all. We both stayed like that for some time, each with our own private thoughts to keep us company.
‘My foot is broken,’ he finally said. ‘And so are my ribs.’
‘I knew you were lying about those,’ I teased. ‘You always were a terrible liar.’
‘I’ll get over it though, then I’ll be able to kick your ass again, just you watch.’
I smiled. The thought of him doing anything with my ass was fantasy enough.
‘What? What’s that smile for?’ he demanded.
‘It’s probably best I don’t tell you,’ I replied. ‘So, if you’ve got so many broken bones, how come you’re not covered in plaster then?’
‘They can’t do anything with the ribs. They just mend all on their own apparently,’ he answered, ‘and the foot is all swollen so they have to wait for some of the swelling to go down before they take another look and decide what they are going to do. They may even need to operate on it, they said. What about you then? What did they say?’
‘Nothing much . . . no injuries or anything like that. They just told me that I was a total nutcase for jumping in the water to start with. I reckon they’ll probably send me to see a shrink!’ I laughed.
‘Well, I for one sure am glad you did what you did,’ he responded. ‘I won’t ever forget it. I just wish there was some way that I could repay you.’
‘No,’ I said to him, while shaking my head. ‘You don’t owe me anything and I don’t want anything from you. What I did was just my reacting to the situation. I’m sure I would have done the same thing no matter who it was.’
‘But still . . .’
‘Listen Dallas, despite what may have happened between us over the years I do still care about you. You know that don’t you? That’s the bottom line.’
‘Yes,’ he answered, with a nod of his head. ‘I can see that.’
I stood up and walked across to his bed, sitting down on the edge of it, half turning to face him as I did so.
‘That’s good,’ I said to him as I sat down beside him. I had a captive audience now and I didn’t intend to let the opportunity go to waste. There were things I needed to say to him and I figured that now was as good a time as any.
He looked up at me rather nervously.
‘I also know,’ I began, ‘that despite your tough guy image, deep down you still care about me too. It’s just that you’re too scared to show it.’
‘Is . . . is that right?’ he replied.
‘I think so. I also think that just between me and you, we are actually much more alike than you would care to admit. Aren’t we?’
He looked away from me when I said that, his gaze seeming to drift out through the window but not looking at anything in particular.
‘W-w-what makes you think that?’ he finally asked. He was clearly uncomfortable, and for that I was sorry, but this was a demon he needed to confront.
I leaned forward and whispered to him; ‘I don’t think many truly straight guys would want to wake up in the position we woke up in the other morning. Especially the first morning. Do you?’
For the past two days I’ve been reliving that moment in my mind and the conversation that followed. I was convinced that he wasn’t entirely straight, despite the bravado he had been displaying. It might also explain why, as far as I knew, he hadn’t ever said anything to anyone else about what had happened between us; something along the lines of people in glass houses not throwing stones, perhaps?
His face snapped back in my direction and he looked at me, wide eyed and fearful.
‘Dallas,’ I continued. ‘You’ve got nothing to worry about from me. I care about you, probably more than you realise. All I want is for you to be honest with yourself . . . and with me. That’s all I ask. If you want to repay me for pulling your ass out of the water, then that’s how you can do it.’
For a long time he just stared at me. I picked up one of his hands in mine and just held it. He didn’t flinch or pull away, so I took that as a positive sign.
‘I can’t . . . I can’t be like you,’ he finally said to me. ‘You know who you are; you know what you are, but . . .’
‘But you don’t know about you,’ I prompted. ‘You’re confused. Maybe you’re afraid of others finding out?’
He nodded. There it was. His first admission.
‘Maybe nobody needs to find out anything at all?’ I said. ‘You don’t have to go shouting anything from the roof tops . . . not unless you really want to. Just be yourself and live your life how you want to live it. Screw everyone else.’
‘I wish it were that easy.’
‘That’s just it. It can be that easy.’
He looked down at our entwined hands and smiled.
‘I’ve missed having you around,’ he said to me.
‘I’ve missed you too,’ I replied. I lifted my hand up, bringing his with it. I brought them close to my face, then turning my hand slightly, so that I could see the back of his hand, I reached forward and kissed him, before then letting our hands fall back down.
‘I’m not asking for much,’ I said to him. ‘Just a chance, that’s all. I’m tired of us not being friends and I want you in my life . . . but as more than just friends. Does that make sense?’
‘Yes, it makes sense,’ he replied. ‘I can’t make any promises, but this is a good a place as any for us to start, I guess.’
‘Yes it is.’
It was then that we heard the sound of footsteps close by in the corridor outside and we both realised that we could be easily seen through the doorway if someone had come past. We both pulled our hands back at the same time, while glancing at the doorway. Neither of us was wanting to tempt fate, and we ended up just sitting there grinning at each other.
This was a new start for us and we both knew it. I just hoped in my own heart that he would have the courage to move on from here.
‘So, what was it you were trying to count up on your fingers when I woke up,’ he asked me.
‘What? Oh, I was just trying to figure out what day it was,’ I replied.
He thought about it for a second and said, ‘I think it’s Friday, isn’t it? We spent Monday night in the railway carriages, then on Tuesday we went for our little swim. Wednesday we were together at the little cave and then you went gathering berries. Thursday, yesterday, you set fire to the National Park and we got to ride in a helicopter, so today must be Friday. I think.’
‘That sounds about right then. We certainly got more than we bargained for on this trip, didn’t we? I hope they don’t try to charge us extra!’
‘Yeah? What do you say?’ we heard someone say from the doorway. We both snapped our heads around in that direction to find someone standing there who was the last person I had expected to see. It was my brother, Connor.
Jumping to my feet I crossed the floor to where he was standing and we hugged each other. I know that he could be an asshole at times, but he was still my brother.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I said to him.
‘Yeah, it’s good to see you too, bro!’
‘Sorry . . . it’s just that you were the about the last person I had expected to see.’
‘Mum and dad were worried about you playing Little Boy Lost out in the National Park, so I came back to see if I could do anything. Looks like you’ve got everything — and everyone — under control now, though!’
He looked from me to Dallas and back again.
‘You remember Dallas, don’t you?’ I said to him.
‘Is he the dweeb you were friends with years ago?’
‘Yeah,’ Dallas laughed. ‘That’d be me.’
Connor walked across the room and reached out his hand for Dallas and they shook. ‘You’ve changed a bit since I last saw you,’ Connor said to him.
‘So have you,’ Dallas replied.
‘So, you guys look like you’ve got it all sorted now. That’s good to see,’ Connor said. Dallas and I threw nervous glances at each other.
‘Relax guys. Your secret is safe with me. Mum filled me in over breakfast.’
‘W-w-what?’ Dallas stuttered. ‘Your mum already fucking knows?’
I looked at him and grinned. ‘Hell, she knew before either of US did!’ I answered.
‘But . . . how?’
‘Dude, mothers know everything! Haven’t you learnt that yet?’ Connor laughed.
Dallas and I both just shook our heads, but then I had a sudden, worrying thought.
‘Dallas, do your parents know or suspect anything about you?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said, but with a sad tone in his voice.
‘Okay. Then we can’t let them find out . . . at least not until you are ready,’ I added. We both looked up at Connor.
‘It’s like I said guys. Your secret is safe with me!’ he said to us, while holding his hands up in front of him and waving them at us, as if to say ‘don’t look at me’.
‘It’ll be fine, mate,’ I said to Dallas. ‘You’ve got nothing to worry about from here.’
He nodded to me, then placed a hand back on mine, giving me a gentle squeeze as he did so. ‘Thanks,’ he said to us both.
‘So, are you guys going to tell me what happened out there? It sounds like quite a tale from what I’ve heard so far!’ Connor asked.
It was just at that moment that a hospital orderly wheeled in a trolley on which was sitting several trays, which I presumed contained our breakfast. I sat back on my bed as she placed a tray on each of the trolleys next to our beds, then retreated to the corridor.
Connor sat down on the only chair in the room and while we started eating he looked at us both expectantly, waiting for one of us to start. Dallas and I looked at each other, then I figured that I may as well start, and did so. It would be the first of many times that I would tell and re-tell the story of what happened over the preceding few days, as a procession of family and friends came to visit us there, all keen for the details.
Midway through the morning both lots of our parents came in to see us, and our small room suddenly seemed to be filled to overflowing, with Dallas, myself, four parents and one brother all trying to find places to sit or stand.
My mother had brought with her a change of clothes for me, which I took from her, while at the same time also ushering her in to the bathroom.
‘You can’t say anything to his parents about . . . us,’ I whispered.
‘Why ever not? They already know too, right?’ she asked, but then quickly realised, I think, what I was trying to tell her.
‘Do you understand?’ I asked her, to which she nodded. She went back out into the room while I shut the door and changed into my own clothes, emerging a short time later feeling quite normal again.
Dallas appeared rather nervous when I returned to the room, but when I gave him a wink, in the hope that he would understand that things were okay, he appeared to relax.
The morning passed us by in a blur, with people coming and going, including a reporter and photographer from the local newspaper who wanted to know all the details. I didn’t really expect to see anyone from school, seeing as it was a Friday, but we were both quite surprised when at lunch time we received a visit from Pete and Merry, accompanied by Mr. Harris.
When they arrived we made our introductions and then our families decided to retreat to the cafeteria for a bite to eat, leaving us with our friends.
‘You two really had us worried,’ ‘Hollywood’ said to us. ‘We’re all so relieved that you have come through this so well.’
‘Thanks very much,’ I said to him. ‘But I can guarantee you that you’re not half as relieved as we are.’
‘No, I guess not,’ he laughed. ‘So, I take it you guys are all good now?’
‘Apart from his broken bones . . . never better,’ I replied.
‘Pleased to hear it,’ he said, while Pete and Merry both exchanged looks which clearly carried questions with them.
‘So, what actually happened to you out there? How did you survive?’ Merry asked, and so, for the umpteenth time that day, I told our story. Less the more intimate bits, of course.
* * * * *
Officially I was discharged from hospital that afternoon, following a visit from the doctor, and was allowed to go home, but Dallas wasn’t quite so lucky and still had to wait in there. I decided that I would wait with him as well, at least for that day, and I also I made up my mind that I would be in there every day while ever he remained in hospital. There was no way I would be kept from him again.
I had arranged for Connor to come by and pick me up that night when visiting hours were over and so I spent the afternoon with Dallas, chatting not about our adventure, or even the future for that matter, but catching up on the years that were missing between us.
His parents came and went a few times throughout the day. They continually seemed to be thanking me for what I had done in saving Dallas, which, quite frankly, was starting to embarrass me. We had both quietly discussed that we hoped they didn’t start to question my remaining there with him, but so far everything was sweet.
When our conversation did turn to what the future may hold I found myself having to stop my hopes and dreams from running too far ahead, as I knew that Dallas and I weren’t exactly travelling at the same pace when it came to thoughts of how our relationship might develop.
He would need time to digest what was happening between us, and I could understand that, but I also hoped that he understood that I was serious about our pursuing a relationship and that I wasn’t going to be shy about it. Sure, I knew that this might create some issues between us, but if we both serious about it, then as far as I could tell there wasn’t anything that might come between us which could prevent us from being together.
I didn’t even contemplate what might happen if he wasn’t serious about us. That just wasn’t going to happen.
After his dinner had been served that night and Dallas’ parents had left for the day, I pulled the curtain around his bed so that we would have at least a little privacy and sat on the edge of his bed so that we could continue to talk. We were just like old friends again, with the years that had separated our friendship having quickly fallen away.
I was continuing to learn about this new Dallas, and the layers that made up his personality, while he too poked and pried at me, wanting to understand how and why I had become the person I now was. He seemed thoughtful when I explained what it was like to have the feelings toward guys that I had, nodding often and saying that he had felt the same way at times, but was too afraid to act on those feelings.
‘I can’t tell you how many times I almost came to you to try and talk about things, to ask you about things,’ he said, ‘but I just couldn’t do it. I thought that after what had happened previously you would just hate me even more.’
‘I’ve never hated you,’ I replied. ‘I hated myself more than anything, for fucking up what we did have. You were my best friend and when you dropped me the feeling was just the same as the one I felt when my grandfather died . . . just one of total emptiness.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered, while reaching out and placing his hands over mine. ‘I never meant to hurt you like that.’
‘It’s okay. We were just kids. We didn’t know about those sorts of things. I guess it’s all just a part of growing up.’
‘Can you ever forgive me?’
‘You were forgiven long ago,’ I replied, while reaching up and cupping his face in one hand. He started leaning in toward me, as I did the same, both of us knowing what we wanted and for the very first time in our relationship not being afraid of what we were feeling.
As our heads came closer together we found ourselves gazing into each others eyes. Of what Dallas was seeing I couldn’t be sure, but for me the view was of a deep, deep soul, filled with a need to be loved. I felt his breath on my face, then I saw him close his eyes and as our lips met for the first time, so gentle and tender and loving, it felt like my whole life had been building up to this point, building up to that moment when two souls would merge and finally become one.
Our kiss was long and passionate and left us both breathless. There may not have been any fireworks or heavenly choirs singing, but still it was perfect in every way.
When we separated we both smiled at each other, then let our foreheads rest together.
‘That was perfect,’ I whispered to him. ‘I’ve been waiting for so long for just that moment.’
‘So have I,’ he replied.
‘I know that they say that whatever happens always happens for the best, but it is hard to understand how that can be the case for us. We’ve wasted so much time. I don’t want us to waste another minute.’
‘Please, let’s just not rush into things, eh? Maybe what happened in the past was just the universe’s way of saying we just needed to back off and take things easy, at least for the moment, so that when we finally did get together it was at the right time!’
I pulled my head back and studied him for a moment, with my head cocked at a slight angle.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘What are you saying? That you need more time? Is that what you want?’ I asked, feeling slightly confused.
‘JJ, this feels so . . . so right, but I need to make sure it IS right,’ he replied. ‘I just want us to both be absolutely certain that this is what we both want. Can you understand that?’
‘Yes, I guess I can.’
‘That kiss was the most fantastic thing to happen to me in a long time, I want you to know that, but if we are going to have a proper relationship, one where we are equal, one where we share everything, then it’s going to take more than just one kiss to start it off. We still have a lot of catching up to do in other ways first, plus . . .’
‘Plus?’ I urged.
‘Plus . . . I guess that I still have a lot of things that I need to come to terms with.’
‘Well, like dealing with my family for one thing. Like dealing with my friends . . . our friends. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to handle that . . . you of all people know what they are like.’
‘I hope you don’t think I’ve got cold feet or anything, but for us to have the relationship which I think we both want, I think there’s more to it than our just saying we want to be together.’
‘Okay then. So, we take it one step at a time?’ I asked.
‘And our next step is . . . what?’
‘It’s back to school, I guess,’ he answered, ‘then we just see what happens from there.’
‘All right, that sounds reasonable,’ I said, although even to me it came out sounding flat.
‘JJ, I know at the moment you probably want more than this from me, or are expecting more from me,’ Dallas said, on hearing my tone, ‘but just now I don’t think I can give you any more than that. Please understand that.’
‘Sssshhhh . . . ssshhh,’ I said to him, placing a finger up to his mouth. ‘It’s okay, truly. There’s no need for you to worry. I know I might be a bit gung-ho about this, about us, but trust me, I’ll do whatever it takes for you to be happy and for you to want this. Please believe that.’
‘Oh, I believe it,’ he replied, before then pushing my hand away and placing one hand behind my neck, pulling me forward into another gentle, yet passionate kiss, which only ended when the curtain was suddenly pulled back and we heard Connor say, ‘Oh, shit, sorry guys. I didn’t mean to interrupt.’
* * * * *
After we eventually left the hospital, reluctantly leaving Dallas alone in that cold room, we drove home in silence. It was dark and the only light in the car seemed to be that which came from when passing beneath street lights or from the headlights from oncoming cars.
I was deep in thought and totally lost amidst feelings that I was finding hard to understand or comprehend.
‘Are you okay?’ Connor asked me after we had travelled about half way home.
‘Huh? What?’ I replied, before finally looking across at him.
‘You look like you’re off on another planet or something.’
I managed a smile. ‘Yeah, I probably am, but I’m fine.’
‘Sorry bro, but if you don’t mind me saying it, you don’t sound it. What’s up?’
‘That’s just it. I’m not really sure myself.’
‘Yeah, what else would it be?’
I looked across at him and for the first time in a long while I saw him not as my asshole older brother, but as a human being. I guess college had changed him some. Either that or he had finally grown up a little.
He was three years older than I was and to look at we were like chalk and cheese. He was the regulation footy player stud, well built and with the looks to match, while I was the regulation high school dweeb. Our features too were quite dissimilar, with him being more like a beefed up Zac Efron to my Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The only thing we seemed to actually have in common was the fact that we both have brown hair — well, at least in its natural state that is. Mine was currently black, while Connor’s was presently tinged with blonde.
I thought back to one of the things that Dallas had said to me while we were out in the boondocks, when he told me I had a good body and should try working out more. What would have happened if I had started playing more sport in school, I wondered; would I have ended up looking more like Connor then? Maybe I would give that a try.
‘So, do you want to talk about it?’ Connor asked. ‘I’m a good listener. At least, that’s what Becky tells me.’
‘Becky? What happened to Charlotte, and Crystal, and Samantha?’ I teased.
‘Hey, cut it out JJ. You may be my gay brother, but you don’t have to be a total biatch!’
‘Moi?’ I laughed.
Where we lived was in the hills on the edge of town, in a development that was built a few years back. The road came up out of the town and about half way up there was a place on the side of the road with a parking area which looked down over the town, so Connor pulled his car over to the side and came to a stop, then switched off the ignition.
‘Aren’t we expected at home?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, but I told the folks I wanted to spend a bit of time with my kid brother, so they won’t mind if we take a little while yet. The fancy dinner can wait a few minutes.’
I looked out the window at the twinkling lights of the town below us. It was quite a sight, even given the fact that the town had less than twenty-five thousand people living in it.
‘So, what’s eating at you? And what’s the real deal with you and Dallas?’
I looked back at him, unsure of where I should start, or even if I should start.
‘Do you really want to know?’
‘Absolutely. And I want to know everything; from the beginning! Don’t hold back.’
‘But . . . you’re not gay! You probably wouldn’t understand.’
So that was how I ended up spilling my guts to the one person in the world I never thought I would. I started at the very beginning, six years ago, and I told him all about what had happened since then, about what had happened recently downtown and then at school afterwards, about what happened on the trip to Salvation and right up to when Dallas and I arrived at the hospital and when Connor picked me up tonight.
I told him what I thought Dallas was feeling right now and about how scared I was feeling myself that he would wake up in the morning and realise that the declarations he had made to me tonight were a mistake and that he was sorry but there could be no relationship with me.
What I didn’t tell him was about Pete or any of my other exploits, but I guessed he would have been able to use his imagination, if he was so inclined, as to filling in the blanks.
When I was finished he just sat there staring at me for quite some time.
‘Well, aren’t you going to say something?’ I asked him, suddenly feeling as if I had gone too far.
‘JJ, I’m so sorry. I had no idea about what has been going on with you. I was so wrapped up in my own life, it was like no one else mattered.’
‘That’s okay,’ I said. ‘I didn’t really expect you to understand. Please just don’t tell the folks about it all will you? That’s all I ask.’
‘Don’t understand?’ he exclaimed. Suddenly he reached over and grabbed me by the neck and pulled me toward him, then planted a kiss on my forehead. ‘Mate, you underestimate me. I’ve said your secret is safe with me, and I meant it. Even everything you’ve told me tonight. I am truly amazed by you with everything you’ve done, and if Dallas is foolish enough not to see how great a guy you are then he doesn’t deserve you anyhow.’
‘But that’s just it, I don’t care if people think I’m a hero or anything . . . and that’s what I heard people whispering in the hospital . . . all I care about is Dallas. I’ve loved him since before I was twelve years old. I don’t want to lose him. Not now!’
‘Then you should tell him that.’
‘And what if he can’t handle that? What if that’s what ends up pushing him away? I just don’t think I could handle that if that happened again.’
‘JJ, from what I’ve heard tonight, I think you would be able to handle just about anything that was thrown at you,’ he said to me, while placing a hand over mine which was sitting on my leg. ‘You’re an amazing human being and I’m just so proud to have you as my brother . . . even if you don’t have any dress sense!’
As Connor reached for the keys and started the car I looked down at my AC/DC tee-shirt and daggy jeans, not knowing if I should laugh or cry.
* * * * *
Our homecoming was pretty much everything I expected. I was showered with hugs and kisses from both my parents, while Connor stood back, his butt propped against the kitchen bench and his arms folded across his chest, looking different to how I had ever remembered him being.
He had changed, but I knew that I had too, and pretty soon I knew that we both would be setting out to chart our own course in this world. I was just glad that I finally knew that there was someone else in this family who I would be able to turn to when that course became a little rougher than expected.
I had told Connor on the rest of the short drive home that I would like to be able to talk to mum and dad alone after dinner so that I could finally tell them my innermost secrets, so when dinner was finished he volunteered to clear the table and retreated to the kitchen, leaving just the three of us sitting at our oversized dining room table. Apparently they were already aware of my plans.
We sat there in silence for a few minutes as I tried gathering my thoughts – and courage – but in the end it was my father who broke the ice.
‘We’re so glad to have you home, JJ,’ he said. ‘You certainly had us all worried there for a while. How’s Dallas doing now?’
‘He’ll be okay,’ I replied. ‘His ribs and foot are busted up, but they have to wait for the swelling in his foot to go down before they’ll know what to do with it.’
Dad shifted seats and came around the table so that he was now right beside me, sitting at an angle to me. I looked into his eyes and saw a kindness there that I had never expected to see from him. Growing up I had always heard him going on about gays being this, or that, and had genuinely dreaded ever having to have the conversation with him I was about to have.
‘Joel,’ he began. ‘We almost lost you this week. I can’t begin to tell you how worried we were about you, but as it turns out, you’re okay and Dallas is okay, and that is all that matters. In the process, however, you mother and I have found out more about our son than we had ever expected to learn.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I replied. ‘I can’t help being who I am.’
‘No, you can’t. None of us can,’ he added. ‘Some people get to be famous for one thing or another, some people get to do some good in the world. How our son turned out to be a hero, I’ll never know.’
I looked up at his smiling face.
‘You don’t have anything to be sorry for JJ. We love you just as you are. I want you to know that.’
‘But . . . what about . . .’
‘About what? How you feel about Dallas?’
‘For quite a long time we’ve had an idea that there was something there between you two, but things can change every day when it comes to kids growing up, so we just thought it best to let things run their course and trust that you would be able to make the right decisions. We knew that things would sort themselves out all in good time.’
‘Is that why you’ve never said anything?’ I asked incredulously.
‘Pretty much. We knew that you would come to us when the time was right, or if you ever needed help.’
‘So now you know for sure, then.’
‘Well, so it seems. But that really depends on what or how much you want to tell us. It won’t make one bit of difference to how much we love you.’
I looked from one of my parents to the other and back again, their faces showing nothing but love.
‘You deserve to know the truth,’ I said to them. ‘So yes, it’s true. I’m so glad that I don’t have to hide anything from you any more, but at the same time I’m so scared.’
‘About what?’ my mother asked. ‘You know we love you and will support you through this. We’ll do whatever we can for you to be happy.’
‘It’s not that,’ I replied. ‘It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve finally come to terms with who I am. There’s been stuff happening at school, which I haven’t told you about yet, and one of my teachers, Mr. Harris, even talked with me when he realised what was happening. He helped me realise that I’m not alone in this world . . . there are lots of others out there who have faced exactly the same issues I’m dealing with now . . .’
‘But, what scares me is that now that I’ve found someone I want to be with . . . well, what if he doesn’t want to be with me?’
‘Dallas, of course?’ my father asked.
‘Of course. Who else is there? He says he feels the same . . . but what if he can’t bring himself to follow through on that? What if he doesn’t really feel the same way about me as I do about him?’
‘Son, there hasn’t been a single person in the history of love that hasn’t asked himself that exact same question. If Dallas feels the same way about you, then you’ll know soon enough. If he doesn’t, then as hard as it may sound, there are always plenty of fish in the sea . . . or so the saying goes.’
I looked across at my mother, sitting there demurely. She was a wonderful lady and I was truly blessed to be her son, but suddenly the image of her and my father as awkward teenagers sprung into my mind. I had seen the family photos from way back when and knew exactly what they looked like in their nineteen eighties clothes and hair styles. Tragic . . . really tragic!
I felt a smile break out over my face.
‘What are you smiling at?’ my mother asked.
‘I was just wondering what it was like for you two?’ I asked.
My parents looked at each other and smiled.
‘I think I’ll let your father answer that,’ mum said, then got to her feet. She came to me and kissed me and said, ‘I love you, JJ,’ then left the two of us there alone.