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What Else Is There?

by Al Norris

Chapter 3

My injuries were not life-threatening, so the ambulance took its time and obeyed all the traffic regulations to get to the hospital. No siren, or flashing lights… that part was a bit disappointing. It was early afternoon and the ER was not as busy as one might expect on a Friday. Hmm, bet that changes as the sun goes down!

I was surprised that the Coach was already there. "Coach Anderson, what are you doing here?"

"I have to be here, to show the hospital that this was a school-related accident and is covered by the school's insurance. There's a lot of paperwork that needs to be signed."

"Ah, I guess that makes sense. Even if it wasn't an accident. So my uncle's insurance won't be charged? I saw that the cops took Carl away; do you know what he was charged with? Am I gonna get arrested too for fighting at school?"

The coach began to answer, "All I know is that he was arrested…"

"PETER!" Uncle George had arrived.

"What the hell happened?" He walked over to where I was sitting and stood looking at me. I could see the concern on his face, but I couldn't tell if he was mad at me too. I was about to answer when Coach started talking to him. Just then a nurse came through the door and called my name. "Peter, go with the nurse and I'll talk with your coach."

By the time my uncle came back to see me, the ER Doc had shaved part of my head, put four stitches in my scalp, and was starting to stitch up my shoulder wound. I ended up with a 3-inch gash on my right arm, just below my right shoulder. Looked to be about 15 stitches, but I didn't count them (well, not until later).

It didn't take but a few more minutes and the ER people released me. We had some pain pills and a sheaf of paperwork about the dos and don'ts of the care and treatment of lacerations. There was also some stuff on concussions, which I guess had to do with the locker door smacking my head.

When we walked out of the ER, I was surprised to see that Coach Anderson was still there, and he was talking with a policeman! Both men came over as soon as they saw us.

"How are you feeling Williams?" Coach asked. It was clear that he was still concerned.

"Ummm, OK I guess." OK, that was not one of my snappier responses, but I had something else on my mind. I locked eyes with the patrolman and asked, "Are you going to arrest me for fighting at school?" I'd asked that question several times now and I still didn't have a real answer. Truth be told I wasn't sure I wanted one, but they had arrested Carl, and I had to know.

The patrolman grinned as he responded. "Hi, Peter, or should I call you Pete?"

"Ummm, Pete is OK."

"Pete it is then. I'm Patrolman Stoner and no… I am not here to arrest you. But, if you feel up to it, and it's alright with you," he said looking at Uncle George before turning back to me, "I'd like to ask you a few questions about what happened. I just need to get your statement so I can finish my report. If you'd rather we can put this off until tomorrow."

I didn't know what to say. This was my first encounter with a cop. I just turned to look at Uncle George, hoping that he would know what to do.

"Well, it's up to Peter, of course, but I think he is still a little rattled by everything that's happened… and we're still not sure about a concussion… If it's OK with you, could you come by the house tomorrow morning and talk then? I think Peter could use a good night's sleep."

Uncle George looked at me and asked, "Is that OK with you?"

I shook my head. "Coach is posting the roster tomorrow morning right after practice. With everything that's going on I really need to see if I made the cut."

Coach spoke up at that. "You can be there, but you are not suiting up until the doctor says it's OK!" My heart sank a little bit when he said that, but then I remembered what he had said just before they put me in the ambulance and I felt better.

Uncle George turned his attention back to Officer Stoner. "I don't know what your schedule is like, but would tomorrow be OK? We don't have any other plans that I know about, and the coffee pot is always on."

The patrolman smiled and nodded. "Great! I'll come by around 1:00 or 2:00. I'll call first and it should only take about half an hour at most.

When we got home, my head had mostly quit pounding, but my arm was starting to throb. I guess the adrenaline and the local were wearing off. Uncle George was still muttering under his breath. He was pissed at what the kid, Carl, had done.

"Uncle, did you find out what the police did with Carl?"

"Yeah, that's why I'm so pissed. They said there was no intent to harm, so they kinda lectured him and turned him over to his parents." I could tell this more than just upset him. Uncle George was about to spit bullets.

"Whether or not the kid intended harm is irrelevant. He did cause a serious injury, that alone is felony battery. He used homophobic language while committing the crime, that's makes it a hate crime. There are supposed to be laws about this, but it seems the cops are taking sides, trying to downplay what actually happened. Makes me wonder what kinda connections his folks have.

"It's clear they don't have Stoner's incident report yet, and they made their decision without it. I wonder if they contacted the city's prosecuting attorney before they made their decision. Whether they did or not, that adds something else to the list. Alrighty then, I'm going to call my attorneys and get this crap sorted out and settled."

"Uncle George, don't forget I have to be at school tomorrow morning, for practice. Coach is posting the roster right after we... I mean they," I grinned sheepishly, "finish up. Granted, I can't do a normal practice, but I can darn well do some other things. Besides, the coach said I made the team, just before I got sent to the ER. With what you said happened with Carl, I really need to see for myself, if I made the cut."

It had been about 7:00 pm when we got home from the hospital, and my uncle had ordered in Chinese for dinner. We sat there eating while my uncle thought about my going to practice in the morning. "Are you going to try to do your morning run and then head off to school?"

"Yes sir. I don't see how this little injury affects my running, but I also want to see how many of the regulars show up for the run. It will tell me a lot about what some of the team really thinks about this mess."

Uncle George put his chopsticks down (I need to learn how to use them… It just looks so cool), and looked right at me. "I hope you're right about being able to run in the morning. I don't think you will have a problem, but with a concussion, you might wake up with a headache from hell. Let's hope not." He paused then continued. "Peter, I think I've come to know you a little bit, at least, I care more than your mom ever cared about you. What are you really planning? 'Cause I don't think for a minute that you're gonna let this slide. This isn't all you're gonna do is it." That last was a statement and not a question.

I looked at him. "I'm gonna do whatever I have to do, uncle. If I have to out myself, then I will." Then, waiting just long enough to chew a bite of General Tso's chicken, I moved on to another important topic. "Can you teach me how to use these danged chopsticks?"

The next morning, I was up at my usual time. I started the coffee, took my shower, and got dressed. I had my sports bag packed so I could make my run, get to practice, and change afterward. I quickly drank a cup of coffee and ate some toast. My regular morning breakfast was done, I grabbed two bottles of water and headed out for my run.

Normally, as I ran my seven-mile course, I was joined by four guys on the baseball team and four guys that played football. This morning the footballers were all there but one of the baseball guys wasn't running.

We were on the last leg of our run when one of the footballers, Jesse, a senior, called a halt. "Pete, we need to talk before you head off to practice."

"Look man, I'm going off to college after this year. So none of this crap with Carl affects me. I don't care if you're gay or straight, Pete. You've never come on to anyone. I know, I've checked. If you're gay, you beat all the stereotypes that most people think of. Personally, I think you're a good guy, regardless. But I would suggest that you settle this, once and for all…"

My eyes got wide at that last statement. "Pete, everyone here," he gestured, "has your back. Even Robert, who had some other stuff to do so couldn't make the run this morning. He will be at practice and I talked to him last night." Robert was on our team and was another senior. "Listen, Carl is a bully. He has always thought he was better than the rest of us. By all accounts, you've put him in the dirt, twice now. By Monday morning, everybody at school is gonna know this. You're three years younger than him, and he's not gonna forget that you made him look like a wimp. If I know him, he will try to fuck you over, so watch your back, man."

"Jesse, I don't know what to say, other than thank you. I was kinda planning on dealing with all of this, this morning anyway. I think I can take care of myself, as long as it's one-on-one. Being younger than everyone else, I've sorta had to learn to fight and fight hard. But it's nice to know that at least you don't care about my being gay… Yes, that's right. I'm gay. Not gonna hide it anymore. I've known since I was nine or ten. It's just the way things are and there's nothing I can do about it."

Jesse smiled, "Yeah, I take AP Biology. It's one of the things we studied this year. Being gay is a genetic thing… Actually, with the latest research, geneticists say it is more epigenetics than anything else." Jesse looked around at everyone else. "Any of you guys have a problem with Pete being on your team?"

Several of the guys smiled and muttered a bunch of 'no's'. Another added, "So what if Pete is gay?"

"So what?" One of the other guys said. "Pete has done nothing to anyone, gay or straight. Pete's been a stand-up guy since he got here… Besides, he's a damn good ball player!" Everyone else seemed to agree.

I was so glad to hear and see this. It was going to make the rest of the day, maybe even the year, better. It kinda helped me make my mind up as to what I was going to do after practice.

After that, we all picked up and finished the last of our run. As we were stretching and cooling down, Jesse kinda whispered to me, "Pete, Mitch is my little brother's best friend. They have no secrets between them and I have no secrets from my brother. We've known about Mitch being gay for several years now. You be careful not to out him, he's not ready for that."

My entire train of thought was derailed by what he said. Shock one: He seemed to already know I am gay! Shock two: He knows Mitch is gay?! Shock three: He assumed that Mitch and I might have a relationship??? Hell, that wasn't even something I'd dared to consider yet!!! I don't think I've ever felt so totally off balance… and I hated it!!! "How do you…" Hearing this actually got me a bit angry. "Jesse, I would never do that. I would've hoped you knew that."

"Easy guy," Jesse must have read my face. "I figured as much, but no matter how old you act, you're still only a fourteen-year-old kid. At your age, sometimes things just slip!"

I was starting to get mad. But I had to remind myself that straight guys had no clue how much us gay guys had to hide ourselves and anyone we might like. By the time I got to the practice field at school, I had calmed down. Pretty much.

Coach Anderson set everyone up and it started. I was benched right off the bat. I knew I would be. Contrary to what I'd said to my uncle, not much I could do with my right arm in a sling. Sitting on the sideline turned out to be rather interesting. I began to see the team the way Coach Anderson did. The game looked so different from here than when I was in the middle of the field and focused on what I needed to do. I also thought it was interesting that Carl didn't show up for this last tryout.

Just as the practice was ending, I got off the bench and approached the Coach. "Coach?" I asked, "Can I have a few minutes with you and the team?"

The coach looked at me, then blew his whistle. "Gather round guys. Looks like we need to have a few words before you hit the showers today." When the guys had gathered around, he turned to me and said, "OK Williams, it's all yours."

I briefly wondered what he thought I was going to say. Most adults would have asked, before just handing things over to a kid. But it was now or never. I needed to know. I cleared my throat and screwed up my courage. "You all know what happened in the lockers, yesterday. I think most of you know that Carl had been spreading around the school that I was a faggot because I went to that one Diversity Club meeting. I went there because I thought it was kinda like a GSA club… That is a Gay-Straight Alliance club. I had a couple of gay friends back at my old school and I went to the GSA meetings to help support them. Your Diversity Club isn't anything like the GSA, so I never went back. But Carl took that one meeting to mean I was gay. He never asked me if I was, so I didn't say yes or no to him. I did confront his starting rumors about me. I think you all know what happened." I turned and looked the coach directly in the eyes, and continued without a pause.

"Regardless, Coach, you called me into your office at the start of tryouts. You asked me about the rumors and I didn't confirm or deny them. Instead, I asked you what you might do if you found out that one of your players was gay. You told me that it shouldn't make any difference, unless, it affected the team."

I turned back to the guys that had gathered around us. "Guys, I think under the circumstances, I need to let you all know… I'm gay.

"Now, the Coach and I both need to know if you can accept that and keep playing, as a team. Or would you rather I just walk away and leave the team?"

As soon as I said I was gay, a general murmuring could be heard amongst the guys. Suddenly Robert, the senior that had missed this morning's run stepped out and moved to my right (the Coach and I were a bit in front of everyone else). "Pete, you're a heck of a second baseman and a passable short-stop. I don't care who you like, you've never hit on any of us that I know of. You don't look at anyone in the showers… Well, any more than the rest of us do." Several chuckles could be heard. "That took a helluva lot of guts to come out and admit what you did, and then stand here, face to face, and make it our choice as to what happens next. I, for one, want a guy like you on the team."

Mitch was the next guy to come and stand by me. He gave me a quick bro hug while saying, "Pete, you got bigger balls than most on this team."

Tom was the third to step up. "Pete, You and I had a problem earlier on. There is no doubt in my mind that you belong on this team. Let's play ball together." With that, Tom held out his hand. It was a done deal as we shook hands and he moved to the side to stand with the others.

It only took a few more moments, as everyone but five of the team moved to stand by me.

The coach sorta grinned then addressed the five holdouts. "Out of you five, four of you were gonna get cut today. Arlie? Are you sure about this?"

Arlie, whom I thought was going to be our first baseman, spoke up. "Sorry Coach. Pete, I've nothing against you, but my dad would beat the hell out of me if he thought I played on a team with someone who was queer." Arlie hung his head. "I just can't … sorry."

"That's OK Arlie. Trust me, I understand how hard it is to stand up to your parents, and what can happen if you do." I was thinking about what would have happened if my mother had found out I was gay.

"OK, you five are off the team," the coach said, then added, "Thank You for having tried out with us. Monday, get with your counselors to rearrange your schedules. Only team members are allowed last period Gym."

When they left the field, the Coach went on. "Here's how this is going to go down, guys. Pete just admitted he was gay. All of you have just said that doesn't bother you, and that you were still willing to play as a team. So, I expect every one of you to have Pete's back. Not just because he's a team member, but because he's a lot younger than all of you. Granted he seems to be able to hold his own," lots of chuckles, "but that's been one-on-one, so far. If he gets ganged up on, or I find out you could've helped your teammate when he needed it, you'll not only be off the team faster than you can blink, I'll flunk you for this class.

"Are we on the same page here?"

A very loud "Yes Sir!" was all that was heard.

"Good! Now there is one more thing. This is something I've never done with a team before but right now it seems like a good idea, so listen up. I know none of you are Walt Whitman…" he was interrupted before he could complete the thought.

"Who's that Coach?"

Coach Anderson chuckled and continued. "Don't worry about it Jenkins, but pay attention to what I'm going to say next. I want each one of you to write a paragraph and tell me what it means to be a team. Don't be afraid to write a bit more if you need to. I expect you to hand them to me before you suit up on Monday. And just for the record, anyone that tries to copy something from the dictionary, or Wikipedia, will find himself running bases for an hour after practice!

"All right," the coach spoke out, "Our first game is three weeks from today. We will practice Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays after school, and Saturday mornings. I'll have the roster posted on my door in a few minutes. Hit the showers, guys."

And that was that. The locker room that morning was like any other day. I waited around until the coach posted the teams. Starting and backups. Arlie's name was scratched. Mitch was listed as starting shortstop and I was listed as starting second base! The interesting thing was that Carl was still listed, but as the starting pitcher for JV's.

If it had been left up to me, I would've cut Carl, just because he didn't bother to show up today. However, it was the coach's call. What I did know was that this was not going to go down well at all.

"Hey, Pete! Wait up a minute!"

I had just left school and had started my walk home when I heard that call. So I stopped and turned around to see that it was Mitch. Everything Jesse had said earlier that morning flashed through my brain like a bolt of lightning. As quickly as they appeared, I shoved them into that corner of my brain where I keep all the other 'think about this later' stuff. So I waited for him to catch up.

"Wazzup Mitch?"

"Ya doing anything for the rest of the day? Wanna hang out at your place?"

"Well, this stupid arm isn't gonna let me do most of the chores I'd normally do, so unless my uncle has something specific, I'm free today and tomorrow." I know I had a stupid smile plastered on my face. I couldn't help it.

"Great! Didn't you say you got an Xbox?" I nodded. "OK, then let's go. Oh, do you want to get a sandwich somewhere?"

"Mitch, we got stuff at the house we can make sandwiches with, better than anything you can buy. Do you like pastrami, swiss, tomatoes, and rye bread? Add some bacon and spicy brown mustard… I can make us a sandwich to die for!"

"Oh, man… You'll get me drooling here in a moment."

I looked over at him, as we walked, "Um, yeah. I'm already drooling just looking at you." Oh shit! All of a sudden I could feel my face heat up. I just knew I was neon red. Did I really just say that? Suddenly, I just wanted to curl up and die, and run away, all at the same time.… Oh yeah, there was one other thought screaming at me. 'Come on man, look at him. Don't be a wuss!' Without looking, I heard laughter.

"Pete, are you seriously flirting with me?" Mitch was still sniggering. "Damn but your face is red!" More laughter. "Come on. Let's hurry and get to your house. I wanna kiss you, you're so adorable."

Adorable? Huh? He thinks what I did was 'adorable?' I almost looked over my shoulder to see who he was talking to. Hmm, maybe this flirting thing isn't so bad after all!? "We can run… Can't be more than 10 minutes from here…"

Mitch grabs my hand and says, "Come on! Hurry up, stud."

OK. We start jogging and before I can process anything else, we are home. Then it hits me. It's Saturday and Uncle George is here. Oh crap. I let us into the house, looking around to see if my uncle is close by. Maybe we can get to my bedroom without being seen… If we are seen, maybe I can blame my red face on 'windburn' from our run. I glanced at Mitch and wondered if insanity, and stupid grins, were a permanent part of my life now.

"Is that you Peter?" Uncle George calls from the dining room, which is just off the living room. So much for being unseen.

"Yes, Uncle George. I brought a friend home with me if that's OK." I looked at Mitch as I say in a lower voice, "Come on. Let me introduce you to my uncle."

Mitch follows me as I lead him into the dining room.

"Uncle George, this is my friend, Mitch Thomas. He's going to be our shortstop. Mitch, this is George Williams, my uncle and guardian."

Mitch stuck out his hand. "Mr. Williams, I'm glad to meetcha. Pete's talked a bit about his uncle."

"Good to finally meet a friend of Pete's. Just call me George, Mitch." He looked at me, "Well? Did ya make the team?"

"YES!" I fist-pumped. "Starting second base on Varsity!"

"That's good to hear, Pete. What about that Carl dude?"

"That's the funny thing. He didn't show up this morning, but when Coach Anderson posted the results, Carl was listed as a pitcher for the JV's."

"Oh shit!… Sorry George, but Carl is not going to take that lying down."

"Yeah. I don't know what your Coach was thinking but that's like puttin' salt in an open wound. You had better watch your back, Peter."

"Um… You probably haven't heard, and knowing Pete here, he won't tell you. Right after practice this morning, Pete outed himself to the whole team…"

"You stupid son of a bitch!" George growled, as he grabbed me and gave me a noogie. "Sometimes I think you have more balls than you have common sense." He let go of me and his smile said he wasn't really mad.

Mitch jumped in anyway. "George, the Coach said that we all had to have his back. He gave two reasons. First, because we were a team and we had to have each other's back, but more importantly because Pete was so much younger than the rest of us."

I blushed a bit at the last part. Now I wouldn't need the wind burn story, but a change of topic was needed. "Uncle George, I'm gonna make some sandwiches for lunch. Would you like some? Then we're gonna play some Xbox for a while if that's all OK with you."

"That's fine Pete. Just a sandwich and a glass of iced tea, please? Remember that Officer Stoner and my Attorney will be here at around two o'clock today. I'll be in the study 'till then."

"I'll bring your lunch to you when I get the sandwiches made. Come on Mitch."

I made two sandwiches for each of us and took my uncle's lunch to his study. Mitch and I then went to my room to eat.

"Dang Pete, these are really good. Hey, can I ask you a personal question?" Mitch looked at me and I kinda thought I knew what he wanted to know.

"Sure Mitch… Though… I think I know what you want to ask."

Mitch looked down and kinda hemmed a bit before he looked back up at me. "Pete, you showed up here for the second semester. I know you've told most everyone that you were at a school in San Bernardino, California before this. But you've never talked about your family, just your Uncle. So… What happened? Why are you here?"

This wasn't exactly what I had expected, but it was something that was bound to come up sometime. "I kinda figured you'd want to know." I sorta hung my head. I really didn't want to get into this, not right now, but I also knew at some point, he would want to know. So it might as well be now. I looked back up and stared into Mitch's eyes, took a deep breath, and began.

"My dad died in a mine cave-in, shortly after I turned six. We were living up in the southeastern Sierra Nevada at the time. The closest town was Twin Pines, twenty miles down the mountain. My dad's parents lived in Bishop. My dad and Uncle George were in partnership together. I was being home-schooled by my mom, at the time.

"So, we had the funeral, and then a little later, mom got a job with a construction company in San Bernardino. She had an associate's degree in accounting and had kept all the books for the mine. She was their financial secretary. I guess she made good money, but we never really knew. All I knew was that within a short time after the funeral, we moved into a house in San Bernardino. When we went to register for school, they placed me directly into the second grade. So I guess the stuff I was taught by my mom at the mines was pretty good.

"At any rate, after the funeral, mom had changed. She was no longer the caring mom we used to know. She now became more and more demanding. I was constantly compared to my father. Nothing I did or nothing I achieved was ever good enough. He had always done better. As I grew, my father became a sort of superman. What my mom said he did, was the goal I had to reach for. If I got close to the goalpost… It moved. It always moved just beyond my reach. Getting straight A's wasn't even good enough. They should have been all A pluses. After all, she would tell me, that's what my dad got.

"Mom made sure that we couldn't call any of my dad's relatives. Long distance always shows up on landline bills. If Uncle George wanted to talk with us kids, he had to call us. And he had to call when mom was at work. 'Cause if she was home, she made sure he couldn't talk to any of us. We caught hell if we called him or our grands. So Uncle George came down one spring, when I was ten, and gave me a cell phone. Everything was paid for. I think that was the only reason mom allowed me to have it. She didn't have to fork over a penny. That was also when I started talking about my sexuality, but only with Uncle George and never with Mom. She would have had a hell of a fit, and he didn't care.

"Mom used to bitch about the fact that I wouldn't talk things over with her brothers or sisters. But they never seemed to have time for us kids. Besides, I had already heard enough remarks from my other aunts and uncles to know I could never discuss things about myself with them. They were homophobic to the max.

"Things started coming to a head when I turned thirteen. See, my birthday is in early December. So that Christmas, I had accidentally discovered all the Christmas stuff mom had bought. Like an idiot, I showed my sisters. Well, we hadn't put stuff back the way mom had placed it and when she went to wrap stuff up, she knew someone had been in it. The upshot was that my sisters and brothers got everything that was for them. Mom returned all the stuff she had gotten for me. I actually could sorta see why she did that. It was worse than that though. The things we kids had gotten for each other? She threw away what my sisters and brothers had gotten for me. So I received nothing for Christmas that year. What really hurt was that I had gotten her a nice silver necklace with a nice crucifix on it. She liked things like that. She wore it to church and when some other ladies complimented her on it, she claimed it was just some old thing she had forgotten about… That hurt. A lot.

"Uncle George was furious with her when he found out what all she had done.

"Meanwhile, I was doing a lot of odd jobs for our neighbors. Some big, some small. But they always paid me for what I did. I made enough money that I was buying all of my clothes. Mom never had to buy a thing, even though she complained about having to buy new stuff.

"That spring term at school, I made the JV baseball team. It wasn't good enough. At thirteen, I should have made Varsity according to her. The following school year, at the start of my sophomore year, I made Varsity Football. I was thrilled, even if I wasn't a starter. Mom downplayed that, too. Still, it hurt that she never once went to any of my games.

"By the time football was over, Uncle George told me that if mom pulled the same crap on me as she did last year, he wanted me to come and live with him. When my birthday came around and there was not even a sneeze about me turning fourteen, I had had enough. I called Uncle George and asked if he was serious about me coming to live with him. I told him how she had ignored my birthday. The only thing he wanted to know was if I had enough money to get a bus to Elko. I told him I had more than enough. Then, this last Christmas came, and it was just about the same. The only difference was that I did get one 'present.' A lump of coal with a ribbon on it.

"I was going to go out for Varsity Baseball this spring. I carried four AP classes and had a 3.93 GPA. I knew I would be a starter for our Varsity Football next fall. I had had a growth spurt and was taller, heavier, and faster than last year. I took care of my little brothers. I kept the house clean. I made enough money to buy all of my clothes. None of that mattered to her. It wasn't as good as what my father did, according to her. I knew better. My grands and uncle told me how my dad had done in high school. I was beating him in every aspect. But according to my mom, not only was I a failure, I wasn't being responsible.

"I already had my bags packed. I had done that right after my birthday had been passed up. So Christmas morning, after all the gifts had been opened and I had been demeaned one more time by my mother, I walked to my room, collected my luggage, and left. The most hurtful thing was what I heard her say, as I shut the front door. 'Good riddance to bad trash!' She was nearly screaming it through the door.

"My own mother, and all I was to her… was… trash."

All of a sudden, I just couldn't help it. After saying that last bit to Mitch all of it was like reliving everything all over again. Only this time I couldn't hold back the sobs. Or the tears. I sorta just came unglued. I don't know how long I was out of it. But when I started being aware of things around me again, I was on my bed with Mitch holding and gently rocking me. Uncle George was on the other side, also holding me. Both of them were telling me it would be alright. I was loved and things would now be better.

I slowly untangled myself from them. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to turn into a baby. I don't know what came over me. Forgive me, please." I was embarrassed by the whole situation, and I was ashamed of my loss of control. OK, maybe I'm taking the 'big boys don't cry' thing a bit far… but that was what I was feeling.

"A baby? Pete, you are the bravest guy I've ever known." Mitch said. "I don't know anyone else who would have stood up in front of forty-plus people and told them all, that you were gay. And you were willing to leave the team, give up your dream if they couldn't wrap their heads around that, and still play as a team. Forgive you? There is nothing to forgive."

"I agree, Peter. You have nothing to be sorry for. The fact is, I've been waiting for something like this to happen ever since you got here. You've lived for eight years with that monster, never shedding a tear. I can only imagine the frustration, anger, and remorse you have accumulated over the years. This was bound to catch up to you at some point. I'm just glad it happened here, where I could help, instead of somewhere else." Uncle George said, as he grabbed me and held me again, then looked at Mitch. "Mitch? The way you've held onto Peter, I just have to know. Are you and Peter more than just friends?"

"George, I would like to be. We've only known each other for a couple of weeks. Although, I've been kinda watching for the last month or so, hoping he um, bent my way." Mitch blushed hard at this. This is the first time he had ever admitted his feelings to a virtual stranger before.

"Well, I can see that Peter likes you as well. Can you call your folks and ask them if'n you can stay for dinner and maybe sleep over? I think Peter could use your, um, company tonight." Uncle George gently let me go and pushed me into Mitch's arms.

Since my Dad died, this is the first time in my life that someone treated me like they cared about me. But… wasn't I supposed to be a man now? Isn't it my responsibility to invite my guest to dinner? But, now that a lot of the hurt was fading, everything was beginning to feel right. OK, maybe it's a good thing Uncle George had taken charge. I'm pretty sure I'd not have the courage to suggest a sleepover. Not just yet anyway.

"OK you two, get cleaned up a bit. We got some official company due in a few minutes." Then he looked at me. "Are you going to be OK with this? Peter, never forget that I'm here to help you whenever you need it."

I nodded while rubbing my rather red eyes. "Yeah, I'm gonna be ready, and Thank You, not just for this… but for everything!"

As soon as my uncle left the room, I turned into Mitch and put a lip lock on him for a minute or so. "I need to wash my face and put a clean shirt on, Mitch," I said to him and began to walk toward the bathroom. Looking back over my shoulder, I said, "Oh! You know if you sleep over, I only have this one bed… Think we can both fit?" Damn, but he suddenly turned the most flattering shade of red! It made me smile.

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