Back home at dinner one evening Tim asked, "Remember Billy Carson?"
"The diver from Fargo? Sure."
"The swim season has started for him, and he called to invite me to come down and join him at one of his practices-then eat dinner with his family. You're invited, too."
"And you're going to run down tomorrow instead of practicing with the team here. Right?"
"Wrong, actually. I don't want to miss a practice session with the aquatics team here-not this early in the season. I'm going to go down day after tomorrow, when I would normally be with the gymnasts. Frank can handle that group, and they don't need me. I'd like to see Billy."
"I think you have a crush on him."
"He is cute."
"Sexy is a better word."
"So you noticed?"
"Shall we do something about it?"
"Of course not. And don't say 'Gotcha,' because I know full well you have no intentions regarding Billy."
"I can dream, can't I?"
"I can too."
"Want to come along?"
"Sure; I think I can keep my raging hard-on under control."
"If you think it's hard for you, in jeans; how about me in a Speedo and then in the shower."
"Take a cold shower."
"You're a big help."
"I try to be. So how's the aquatics team doing this year, now that you're been invaded by girls."
"Some of them are pretty good. And there are a couple of pretty good divers as well."
"I'll bet you love to give lessons."
"Charlie, I'm gay. Don't be suspicious."
"Gay, Hell. You're straight enough to enjoy girls in tiny swimsuits."
"Actually, its funny. The boys' suits really are sexy; not so the girls'. It's as if the suits were all designed by gay men."
"Maybe they were. You have the first team meet coming up pretty soon, don't you?"
"Yes, and it's a problem, because it's a men's meet. We're the only school in the conference with a women's team."
"What're you going to do about it?"
"For this year we'll get the girls to all the individual meets they can qualify for. We're already working on dual meets for next year. We're trying to encourage the other schools in the conference to build women's teams."
"But you aren't having any luck. And the reason is...."
"They haven't got a Tim to have the vision and raise the money. And they all have Prexy's that think a lot smaller than Edison does. I'll have to say, Tim, you picked the right school."
"Prexy being as good as he is was just good luck."
"Don't you believe it. He's been here fifteen years-fifteen then, sixteen now-and was largely responsible for the things about this place that attracted you-that is other than it's size and the fact that it's colder than Hell in Grand Forks."
"Charlie, it's colder than Hell just about everywhere!"
I couldn't help but chuckle at that one. He'd gotten me.
"Come watch us practice some time."
"What, and miss my four hours with my little bow and arrow. I've missed too many hours already thanks to your making me play lobbyist. And your insisting that I get straight A's. Do you think a future employer cares whether I get A's or B's?"
"I care. And so will the Supreme Court justice that you're going to clerk for. By the way, I haven't gotten a recent report. What's your personal best these days, and what do you consistently shoot?"
"Very high and almost as high."
"Could you provide numbers?"
"I could be bribed."
"OK. If you tell me, I won't fuck your ass with an arrow."
"Good. Now, how about some numbers."
"Personal best, 1294. I'm very consistent at beating 1260, which is higher than my score in Cedar Rapids."
Tim was startled. "That's good enough to qualify for the Olympics, isn't it?"
"Probably. Who knows? Archery is new as an Olympic sport. Who knows what the level will be?"
"Oh, Charlie, that's just so wonderful. I love you. I don't love you because of your score, but I sure love you because you did this all for me, and I know it. If it hadn't been for me, you never would've gotten serious about shooting."
"That's right Tim. Another way to say it is that I owe this exciting opportunity all to you."
"Truce. Let's just love each other." I would've hugged him, but there was a dinner table between us. I'd take care of the hugging later.
Two days later found us on the road to Fargo. We went straight to Fargo North High School and to their pool. Billy was there, along with the coach and team. All but a few of the new boys knew Tim and greeted him warmly, and physically. Lots of hugging, but nothing more and nothing inappropriate. I worried about Tim, and myself as well, being too physical with kids. People get wrong ideas really fast when they start out knowing we're gay, which according to the stereotype means that we probably are looking for trouble.
Billy dragged Tim over to a corner and they sat on the floor and talked about twenty minutes. Then, without saying a word to anybody but each other they climbed up to the 3 m. platform. The talking resumed. Then first Tim and then Billy dove in doing a one and half with a full twist. That much I was knowledgeable enough to understand. Other details like tucks, pikes, etc. were lost on me. I really just liked to watch and not have the beauty spoiled by technical discussion and terms.
Tim and Billy ignored the world and went up the platform repeatedly. Sometimes Tim didn't dive, but waited at the top for Billy. However, usually they both went down. Then they did a pair of back jackknives together. As soon as they were underwater Tim grabbed Billy's foot and pulled him, and the roughhousing was started. Soon the whole team was in the pool, joining in. I stood on the side with the coach. I asked, "Does Tim always mess up your practice like this?"
"He did last year. The boys love it. He doesn't usually spend so much time just with Billy, but works with all the kids. He and Billy had something special today. Were you watching Billy's dives. He makes quantum leaps of progress when he has a session like that with Tim. I think we could burn the building down around them and they would go right on with their diving."
"I'm quite familiar with Tim's concentration. It seems to be rubbing off on Billy."
"I think so. Billy's quite a kid. Of course, when I met Billy he had already met Tim-at the very beginning of last school year-at some show Tim did up your way. Billy could hardly stop talking about it last year. So I really can't say just how much difference Tim made in things like concentration. As for the quality of Billy's diving-it goes up constantly, and startlingly quickly. I've only had one boy better than Billy in 26 years of coaching, and he was a senior."
"Tim's like the Pied Piper. Guys like Billy and me will simply follow him to the ends of the earth."
"You and he are like, married, aren't you?"
"I don't really understand that."
"It doesn't seem to bother you."
"No. Don't see why it should. At first, knowing Tim was gay, I was a little concerned about the hugging, the roughhousing, and the showers. But there isn't a problem at all. Billy's parents are comfortable as well."
"I know. We've talked to them. Nice people."
"Yes, they are. And very supportive of Billy. Look, Tim's challenging them all to a race. The best of my lot can beat him, but he gives them a run for their money. It's a real ego boost for them to beat him, even if he is a diver not a racer."
Tim came in third, and as he climbed out of the pool numbers one and two picked him up and tossed him back in with a big splash. I could see the smiles in his eyes as he hit the water.
5:30 came and the coach blew his whistle and announced that practice was over, but that he thought Tim would probably stay around another hour and he'd keep the pool open. Nobody left. Tim started working with three other divers, none of which came close to Billy's skill or determination. It didn't matter, Tim gave them the same undivided attention that he had given Billy.
The coach said, "They aren't as good, but they improve under his influence too. And they get the same bragging rights about having Tim coach them as Billy does. And they all use those rights, too. The big deal was when Tim came to one of our meets last year and cheered them on. The whole team responded by performing way above their level. We won the meet by a wide margin. It's hardly fair to the other teams."
"You know, you got Tim because of Billy's insistence to his parents that they take him to the show, and that they stand in line for two hours to shake his hand."
"They were the last in line. I think Billy arranged that deliberately, hoping that he'd get a little more time with Tim."
"He's told me that. But he almost died when Tim asked him if he wanted to dive that night. His father told me that he had never been so embarrassed in his life. But Tim almost kidnapped Billy before Bill could say, 'No.' But you were there, I don't have to tell you the story."
"Tim loves to do things like that. But only to really special people. He took to Billy right away."
"You know what Billy got from his father for his birthday last spring?"
"Not a clue."
"A glass case to mount the Speedo that Tim gave him. It's on the wall in the main hall of their house. It's Billy's prize possession."
I looked up and saw Tim looking at me with a gleam in his eye. Without any hesitation I handed my wallet and watch to the coach and took off my shoes. Tim gave me time to do that before he and the whole team descended upon us, and I was tossed into the pool.
I wasn't surprised by this turn of events, and joined in the horseplay with the group. Billy's coach was worried that the boys had gone too far, and started to try to break it up. I called out an assurance that the ringleader had been Tim. He relented and let the play continue. I hauled myself out of the pool, Tim and the others following. I looked at Tim and said, "I assume that you have dry clothes for me, because if you don't we're going home together, wet and right now."
Billy looked worried, because he was expecting us to have dinner with him, our having accepted his parents' invitation.
Tim tried to drag it out as long as he could, saying, "Why would I have brought clothes for you?"
That was all I needed to be sure that he had clothes for me, so I simply said, "To the showers." We undressed in the locker room and Tim was the last to the shower. Tim was right, not only was Billy a good diver, he was one sexy kid, especially nude, and he was making no attempt to hide himself-nor did he seem to be trying to display himself. The others boys, equally sexy for the most part, behaved about the same. Finally one of the boys that had known Tim from last year asked the $64 question: "What's it like for a gay boy to take a shower with a bunch of naked teenage boys?"
Tim had the answer, "I guess about the same as you guys taking a shower with a bunch of naked teenage girls."
Another boy said, "I'd be hard as a rock. You aren't."
Tim replied, "I have amazing self-control." However, he turned toward the shower head, rinsed and left to dry off. My next view of him was with a towel around his waist. My self-control wasn't any better, and I headed for the towels as well! When I got back to my locker my wet clothes were in a big plastic bag and dry clothes hung in the locker. Billy, now wrapped in a towel himself, looked relieved-his dinner wasn't ruined.
Billy now had another problem. Tim and I had been using empty lockers right next to Billy, who now had the problem of dropping his towel and putting on his underwear while he had a very hard prick. Tim was just staring at him, so I did the same. Billy got a little red, and then one of his friends picked up on his predicament and shouted, "Billy's got a hard-on." With that much emphasis on the situation, Billy soon didn't have the only hard-on in the room, just the only one hidden behind a towel. A jerk from one of his friends and that situation was remedied.
The situation was pretty electric, and I was beginning to think that Tim and I ought to make ourselves scarce. This was confirmed when one of the boys threw a dollar on the floor and said, "Circle Jerk time."
I was about to step in when Tim took charge. He picked up the dollar and said, "Another time, guys. You guys do your own thing, but you have to leave Charlie and me out of it. Now, you're all cute, hard or soft, but it's time to get dressed. Go!"
They went. Billy had gone soft during the speech; I think he was really embarrassed. He dressed quickly, as did Tim and I. Once everyone was dressed Tim gathered them around. "Lets talk just a minute, guys. First, Charlie and I are too old to be involved in your sex games. It's inappropriate as well as illegal. Please don't do anything to get us in trouble, or that would make us have to stop coming to your practices. I really enjoy my time with you guys. Second, you want to think a little about casual sex. At the very least make sure that everybody wants to be a part, and that they don't feel compelled in order to remain part of the group. And I suspect that the locker room isn't the best place. You could put your coach in a pretty tight spot if he walked in. Charlie and I would've been in a pretty tight spot if he had walked in a little while ago at just the wrong moment-and you know nothing inappropriate happened."
One of Billy's friends, perhaps the one who had said, "Circle Jerk," spoke up. "Tim, we're sorry. We got a little ahead of ourselves. We wouldn't want to do anything that would deny you your shower with a bunch of sexy, naked, teenage boys."
"You said that, I didn't," said Tim.
I said, "I already get to shower with a sexy, naked teenage boy."
Tim said, "Yeah, but only for another week or so. Then I'm twenty and teenage is behind me."
On the way over to Billy's we asked him about the circle jerking.
He told us, "That started late last spring; I'm not really sure who started it. We were fooling around like today, kidding one of the team about having a hard-on. Somebody said, 'Have you ever been in a Circle Jerk?' None of the rest of us had. Somebody else said, 'Let's try it.' We headed to the wrestling room, and each of us put a dollar in the middle of the mat. We all lay down with our feet toward the center of the circle, all naked, all hard. Somebody said, 'Go!' and we did. It didn't take long. I won. I think because I don't jack off a lot, so I came pretty fast. I made six bucks."
Tim asked, "How often do you guys do that?"
"They do it about once a week or so. I don't join in. I'm just not very comfortable with it. The next time they did it I went with them to the wrestling room. I told them I wasn't going to be a part of it, and I put my six bucks on the mat. I said, 'It isn't fair to keep this if I don't give you a chance to win it back. Add three bucks to today's pot and three to the next one.'"
I said, "That was generous."
"Not really," said Billy. "It wouldn't have been fair to quit and keep the money. Just as important, I want to be friends with those guys. I like them. Their playing doesn't bother me, and my not playing doesn't seem to bother them."
Tim said, "I don't think I've ever been in a Circle Jerk."
I said, "You didn't miss much."
"The voice of experience?"
"Not really. Three of us did it a little, but we had different rules. Each of us would put a $5 bill on the floor. Then we jacked off. As soon as you came, or were sure you would, you clapped your hands above your head and held them there. Everybody else had to stop. If the guy who clapped came and nobody else did, no money changed hands. If the guy who clapped had jumped the gun, then he lost his $5. If anybody but the guy who clapped came, he lost his $5 to the clapper. Then we all got dressed and did something else, knowing that the two who hadn't come were going to be frustrated. Sometimes we'd vary it and make the two losers do 69. But all that didn't last long. I don't think that the other two were really gay, and it just stopped."
Billy's eyes were wide open, as his ears drank all this in.
Tim said, "Billy, we've been pretty honest here, we may have gone too far."
"No. No. Almost everybody I know is scared to talk about sex, unless they're bragging about sexual exploits with girls that you know only took place in their dreams. Never honest conversation. It's wonderful."
"Are you able to talk to your folks about sex?"
"Not really. They've tried, but we're all too embarrassed."
We had a delightful dinner that night with Billy and his parents, Bill and Martha. They were filled with questions about Tim, me, the Gang, Billy's diving, and what to them seemed to be a huge mystery: Why was Tim interested in spending all this time with a high school kid in Fargo.
That almost stumped Tim. "I'm not sure. I like Billy; I took to him right away the night we met. I guess I also felt sorry for him having to wait in line so long."
Bill said, "OK, Billy, confession time."
Billy said, "It wasn't an accident. We waited a long time to get in line, and then we let everyone ahead of us. I figured if I was going to get any time to talk to you at all, I needed to be the end of the line, so you wouldn't be quickly moving to the next in line."
Tim and I really laughed at that. I said, "That sounds like something that Tim or I would engineer. You know, a lot of what happens around Tim has been thought out in advance. But, believe me, Billy, you weren't thought out in advance."
Tim continued, "In any case, I felt like diving that night, and here was Billy, a perfect excuse. Besides, he was a nice kid, polite, clearly in awe of me-just the kind of boy I like to do things for. And I could do something really nice for him at no cost to me-in fact I enjoyed it.
"Then we went diving. He's good. And unlike a lot of divers with his skill, he has the concentration to be really good. I could tell that that night as we talked up on the platform. He was hardly aware of what was going on down below. And his unbelief at getting the diving invitation quickly was replaced by real concentration on his diving. He's my kind of kid.
"Besides, he's cute."
I couldn't believe Tim had said that. Later he told me, "Look, Charlie, he is cute. You and I have said so. Billy knows it-think of the scene in the locker room in the afternoon. Billy's parents know it, and they've already opened the subject of my being gay. Let's get it out in the open so it can't sneak up on us and bite us."
Billy fooled everyone with, "I am, am I?"
"Yes, you are. But just to clear the air, I'm taken; you're too young; and you probably aren't gay."
There was a long silence, finally broken by Martha. "Billy, if you were gay would you tell us?"
I spoke up with, "I think it's time for my favorite speech to parents. You know I met Tim, and the six other boys of what we now call the Gang, at a summer camp in Michigan. I was their counselor. I've since met and gotten to know all of their parents very well. They all have wide open lines of communication with their boys."
Tim cut in, "In most cases because of being encouraged by Charlie."
"That wasn't true for you, Tim. But it was for most of the others. I pushed a lot of parents to open up the lines of communication with their teens. But I emphasized one thing-and this is the point of this whole speech. Kids won't talk to their parents if they feel threatened by the possible reactions of their parents to what they're told. If Billy told you now that he had a girlfriend and that they were having sex at her house after school, how would you react?"
"That really puts it on the line, doesn't it?" said Bill.
"Yes, it does. By the way I haven't the slightest reason to believe that's true, but it seemed like a good example."
Billy was almost dumbstruck. He sat in total silence, his head moving from one speaker to the next. He had the same bug-eyed look he had when we talked about circle jerking.
Martha said, "I'd be a little upset. Billy is in tenth grade and having sex isn't really an age-appropriate behavior."
"Would you tell him like that, or get angry and shout? More importantly what would you do? Would you forbid him to see the girl again? Ground him?"
"I honestly don't know. What do you think a parent should do in that situation?"
"Remember, we're talking about Billy telling you, presumably because you asked some questions. How about responding with your first comment-that you questioned whether that was age-appropriate behavior, and then suggesting that he invite the girl to dinner so you could all talk?"
"Wow, you really are open minded!" said Bill.
"I work with two underlying assumptions: First, you have to keep the lines of communication open, and second you can't change teen behavior through prohibitions. If you keep the communications open, and accept their behavior, then you have a good chance of actually influencing it."
"I can't believe that parents would be so accepting that they would invite a girl to dinner in the circumstances you described."
I said, "How about this. Your son-you know that he's gay-goes off to summer camp at age 14 and comes home in love with his camp counselor. The parents decide that the best response is to invite the counselor to visit for a weekend."
Tim said, "That's exactly my story, and that's exactly what my parents did. They didn't want Charlie to become forbidden fruit. Instead, they fell in love with him as much as I did. And they were willing to allow us to do more than Charlie was willing to do before I turned 18."
Billy spoke up then, after being utterly silent throughout the conversation. "There isn't a boy in school that wouldn't give anything for parents he could talk to like that. We don't talk because we fear the consequences. But I think most of us would like to talk."
Tim said, "Bill and Martha, this afternoon I asked Billy if he had talked to his parents much about sex. He answered that you all had tried, but that you were all too embarrassed."
Bill said, "I think he's right. Honestly, I think we've talked more about sex with Billy today than all the days before. And we haven't said much."
"Talking about sex is a two way street. Granted, parents have a lot of factual information to deliver, and some actually do a fairly good job, though most don't. A lot of misinformation is imparted. But as soon as parents start asking questions about what the teen does they expect it to be a one way communication. Questions about what the parents do are off limits. But if you won't talk to your son, why should he talk to you? If you're embarrassed about what you do in the bedroom, why shouldn't he be?"
"Are there parents like that? Anywhere?"
"Tim's are. Hal's are. Franklin's are. Jim's are. Andy's are. Tom's are. Ronnie's are. Mine aren't."
Tim jumped in, "Mine, Franklin's and I think Ronnie's always were. The rest learned from Charlie, in a conversation much like this. And everyone of those parents have thanked Charlie at least a dozen times for those conversations."
"I wish you all could've witnessed a conversation that Andy had with his parents. It changed their lives."
Martha said, "You have us pretty curious."
"I'm not sure you can take it."
"Try us, we'll promise to behave," said Bill.
"Are you up for this, Billy."
"I'm just listening here."
"You know it's going to lead to more, right."
"I'll ask again, are you up for this, Billy?"
"Yes." It was clear, if a bit shaky."
"Well, we were sitting in Andy's kitchen, talking about talking about sex. I think Andy's mom was testing to see how far Andy was willing to go. She asked if he was a virgin."
"That led to a discussion about just how much who was going to tell whom, and the extent to which it was a two way street. So Andy decided to test the matter. He asked his parents if they had oral sex. His mom handled it like a trooper, waving her husband to be silent. She said, 'Yes, it's fun.' Andy didn't let it go, and asked, 'Does Dad come in your mouth?' His father was aghast. His mother simply said, 'Yes.' Then Andy said that he and his girl had done the same things, but that he was technically still a virgin."
"My God," said Bill. Billy was beet red. I had a sense that the moment of truth had arrived: had I pushed too far? My luck wasn't going to hold forever. Eventually I would run into a set of parents that couldn't handle it, and I would be thrown out, perhaps bodily.
There was a long silence. Finally, Martha said, "Well, Bill, Billy, are you ready for that kind of honesty?"
Billy said, "I don't have that much to tell."
Tim said, "You told us a lot this afternoon."
Bill and Martha exchanged glances, clearly ready to ask a follow-up question to that, and realized that now was not the time. Instead Bill said, "I think we ought to try. Lord knows it isn't going to be easy."
Tim said, "Billy you start, but I mean ask the first question. What question has haunted you about your parents? Just one for now."
"Dad, did you masturbate as a boy? Do you now?"
I stepped in, "That question scares me. It comes from a boy who's fearful of masturbating. I'd like to ask a question, and Billy I want to get a straight answer. Who has told you that jacking off is bad for you?"
"My sex education teacher in 8th grade." Long pause, "And Dad."
Bill was clearly upset. He said to Billy, "Son, I screwed up."
Tim was a little upset by this and decided that it was time for a strong response. He said, "I think we ought to use the right term. Bill, you fucked up."
Bill said, "OK, that's probably a better term. I fucked up. Billy, I was told by my father, who was told by his father, who was told by his father, back to Adam I think, that masturbation is bad for you. It's just what fathers say, because the idea of their sons masturbating scares them. I really don't know why."
I said, "That's as honest as he can get, Billy. But let's go on the record here: jacking off won't hurt you. Period. Jacking off a lot won't hurt you. Jacking off with another boy won't hurt you. Having another boy jack you off won't hurt you. It simply won't hurt you. Period."
Bill said, "True."
Billy said, "Thanks, Dad. All the boys agree that's true, but we're all fearful anyway, because adults have told us a lot of lies about jacking off."
Tim said, "OK, there was a question in here somewhere. Perhaps it's time for an answer. Actually Billy snuck in a double question. It takes two answers."
Bill said, "Yes, and yes."
Billy said, "So do I."
Tim said, "Now's the time for the story of the afternoon."
Billy, very slowly and shyly at first, told everything that had happened in the locker room, and then the stories of the Circle Jerk before. No one interrupted him. He ended with, "Now it's my turn with another question."
"OK," said Martha.
"Were you two virgins when you got married?"
Bill said, "One of us was, and it wasn't me."
Billy said, "Is Mom learning that for the first time now?"
"No. She knew my history before we were married."
Tim said, "I think it's time to change the subject. You guys are off to a good start. But there is one thing. This started with a question about whether Billy would tell you if he were gay. He needs to hear that he can tell you-that that's a safe subject with you both."
I said, "You know, beginning about age 11 Tim talked with his parents about the fact that he seemed to like boys more than girls. They talked it out, and by age 13 they all had concluded that he was homosexual, and were able to begin talking about how that would work out in all of their lives."
Martha said, "I think I could handle that better than some of the stuff we've already talked about this evening."
Billy said, "Well, I'm not gay, I like girls too much for that. But watching the boys in the shower is fun too."
Bill said, "OK, let's really try to change the subject. How good a diver is Billy?"
Billy said, "Tim, we all really need to hear the truth on this. Are you here because I'm a sexy little kid, or because you see a real diver in me?"
Tim said, "Both. But don't get any ideas, I'm not going to bed with you."
Martha said, "How good?"
Tim said, "Well, he has the right body. It has to be sufficiently supple to make the dives look good. And the body has to be handsome-his is."
Bill said, "That's ridiculous; are you saying that ugly people can't dive?"
"No, but ugly people don't become champions. It's unfair, but a fact of life. Diving is art more than athletics. The overall beauty of the picture created by the diver between board and water is what wins. The beauty of every element contributes. Take it from me, I wouldn't encourage Billy if he weren't handsome. It would be unfair.
"He has sufficient strength. He has beautiful grace with his dives. But he doesn't have a repertoire of difficult dives. He needs serious technical coaching to get down a series of very difficult dives. He has the ability to concentrate, closing his mind to everything but the next dive. I've seen him demonstrate that.
"That leaves dedication and support. Unqualified support from family, friends, coach, and school. And dedication. To be a top diver, you have to live and breathe it over a period of time. Grades get equal billing; everything else is secondary. Play is non-existent."
I said, "Tim's talking about national level competition. If the question is about whether Billy is good by high school or Fargo standards, then the answer is simple, 'Yes, he's very good.'"
More or less ignoring me Billy said, "You're telling me that I could be a real competitor nationally, provided I get the right coaching, family support, and dedicate my life to it-at least until I retire from diving."
"Exactly," said Tim.
"Just to be told that Billy has that potential in him is startling," said Martha.
"Blows me away," said Bill.
Billy showed just how astute he was when he commented to Tim, "You see yourself in me, don't you, Tim?"
If you had blown hard you would've blown Tim over on that one. He thought for a while before he said, "Billy, I think you may know me better than I know myself."
Billy continued, "So you're looking for a young man that can give the level of dedication that you do?"
Tim said, "I could never demand that from anyone but myself."
"No, but you'd lose interest in me if I didn't meet your standards. Being a sexy little kid is only worth so much. Being a dedicated diver is where the points are, right?"
I spoke for Tim, "Right."
Tim said, "Am I that transparent?"
Bill said, "No, Billy's unusually observant of people."
Martha said, "Let me go over what I just heard. You think that Billy could be a national champion diver, maybe go to the Olympics, if he gets an adequate level of support and is sufficiently dedicated.?"
Tim said, "No. I think that Billy could be a national champion diver, probably go to the Olympics, if he gets total support and is totally dedicated. Half way doesn't cut it."
Bill said, "Is that what you would like, Billy?"
Billy said, "Of course, it's what I would like. But the question is whether I'm willing to give up everything else for that, and whether I'm willing to ask you two for the level of support that I would need from you."
Tim said, "Those are the questions. If everyone here decides the answers are affirmative, then I'll also support him, provide coaching, and see to it that his dreams come true. What I won't do is try to create or buoy up his dedication. It comes from within or it isn't there. If promised support isn't forthcoming-if it's less than total-I'll kick butt and make sure that folks live up to their commitments."
I looked at Bill and Martha and said, "It isn't fair to Billy to ask him to make that kind of commitment unless the support commitment is in place."
Tim said, "A lot of the work is going to have to take place in Grand Forks. He'll need me, and I can't come down here nearly as often as he'll need my coaching."
Bill said, "If that's what Billy wants, that's what he gets. But, Billy, I support Tim when he says that the commitment and dedication are completely up to you." He turned to me, "Can we be specific?" He's in 10th grade, aged 14, he'll be 15 in April. What're his realistic goals?
Tim said, "His timing is just off for the Olympics, but he'll have to deal with the schedule. Mexico in less than two years will be quite a challenge. Munich in five and a half years is a good bet. He'll be in college, and keeping up his practice won't be too tough. But five and a half years is a long commitment. The trouble is, he's getting old. He has to start intensive training now, or it's too late, regardless of the timing of the Olympics."
"If I target the Mexico Olympics," said Billy, "then I'm going to be competing in your shadow."
"Can you deal with that?" I asked.
"It would be wonderful," he replied. "Standing on the same Olympic podium as Tim would be the biggest thrill of my life. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to aim for Mexico. That much I have decided."
I said, "I don't know how much you know about the story of Hal. But he was offered a similar chance his first summer at camp with the Gang. He was a real loser, and Tom, Franklin, and Tim asked him if he wanted to change. They made it clear that it was a total commitment if he said 'Yes.' They gave him about ten seconds to decide. He said 'Yes.' The rest is history, a lot of which is yet to be written."
Billy said, "What you're saying, Charlie, is that if I have to think about it, after I understand just what all it entails, if then I have to think about it, that's really admitting that the answer is 'No.' Right?"
It wasn't soft; it wasn't hesitant; it wasn't qualified. Billy knew exactly what he wanted, as if this had been his total plan since that long line following Tim. His parents were startled. Tim was grinning from ear to ear. I was trying to figure out just what impact this was going to have on our lives.
Tim said, "What time is school out?"
"Be at our house in Grand Forks at 4:00. Tomorrow. Plan to stay until 8:00. You can eat dinner with us."
"I'm 14; I can't drive. How do I get there?"
"That's why you have a support team. Total support means total support." He looked at Bill and Martha, "Right?"
"Four o'clock tomorrow. Bring your swimsuit. And wear something sexy. That's my perk."
Promptly at 4:00 the next day Billy knocked on our door in Grand Forks. He was wearing the tightest jeans I've ever seen, and a fishnet shirt under his winter coat which he slipped off the minute he came through the door. Then he sort of strutted in his jeans and half-naked torso. God, it really was sexy. He said, "My father bought these for me this morning and had them in the car when he picked me up at school. I think he's trying to give you back some of your own medicine after making him talk about masturbating last night."
I said, "Tim is so hard he won't be able to get his suit on. But there isn't enough room in those jeans for you to be hard. But look out when you take them off."
"Not to worry, Charlie, I have my suit on under them."
Tim said, "Off to the university. I've made arrangements for you to use their facilities. You're officially listed as a prospective student. I want you to meet both coaches, Mr. Knudsen and Miss Phillips. They both think of you as a prospective diver for UND."
"I am. It would be wonderful to follow in your footsteps here. I'm hoping to work it out so that I can come here a year early and be a Freshman when you're a Senior."
I couldn't help but think, "Tim may have met his match."
They were off, but not before Tim told Billy he wouldn't be in the water until after dinner, so he would need a different shirt. Billy said, "I have one in my gym bag, but don't you think the fishnet looks cute-especially in January?"
They would be back about 5:30 for dinner, with Billy's father joining us. I had agreed to have dinner ready when they arrived so that Billy's time would be used to the fullest. In the meantime, Billy was getting a quick tour of the campus, the athletic facilities, and the pool-all at a virtual run considering all Tim expected to accomplish in an hour and a half. After the tour they were to meet the two coaches, and then head off to meet Prexy. Tim had insisted on that for two reasons: first, he always wanted Prexy to know what he was up to, and second he wanted Billy to understand that he was getting pretty special treatment, not just from Tim but from the whole university.
Billy was so excited on their return that he could hardly stop talking. Tim did slow him down enough to send him to wash up for dinner-and he told him to put the fishnet back on. "I'll enjoy looking at you in that while I eat."
Billy had stripped to the waist before Tim finished his sentence, and strutted off to the bathroom to wash up and put on the fishnet. I said, "He's sexy, he knows it, and he's enjoying teasing us. And it's fun to be teased. But you can't let this get out of hand."
Tim said, sort of to himself, "I wonder how gay he is."
I said, "Don't get any ideas."
"Don't worry, Charlie. He's fun, but way off limits. And he knows it as well as I do."
"I hope he does."
"The kid has great common sense. You should have seem him with the coaches and Prexy today. You would have thought he was a college graduate, not a tenth grader-composed, knowledgeable, and not the least intimidated. And he expressed sincere appreciation for what the university and I were doing for him. How did I ever pick such a winner that night?"
"You didn't. He picked you. And he did hitch his wagon to the right star."
At dinner Tim laid out the practice plans that he had in mind for Billy. Two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays he would be in Grand Forks by 4:00 or 4:30 and stay until 9:00 eating dinner with us. Tim would practice with him either before or after dinner, but probably not both. He would be with the aquatics team before dinner, and on his own in the pool after dinner, except when Tim joined him. The pool was open and supervised at those hours. Tim expected him to practice with the Fargo North team Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after school. He needed to find a pool where he could practice for two hours before school. One weekend day he would be in Grand Forks with Tim, depending on Tim's practice schedule. The other weekend day he was expected to find pool time for at least four hours of practice in Fargo. If he wanted, he could spend the whole weekend in Grand Forks and spend the night with us. In addition, he was expected to keep up with his homework and get his grades up.
At this point Billy's father interjected that he already got mostly A's with just a few B's.
Tim responded, "If he's going to be my protege he got his last B last semester."
"What else am I supposed to do?" asked Billy. "You seemed to have claimed all my time."
"Eat and sleep, take showers and go to the bathroom."
Bill was in shock. Billy didn't seem to be perturbed.
I said, "Bill, you look a little flustered."
He looked at his son and said, "Did you have any idea of what you were getting into. You don't have to, you know. I'm not sure that these two are really sane-no teenager deals with a schedule like that. Your 'Yes,' yesterday didn't commit you to anything."
Tim and Billy both started speaking at once. But Billy was the more determined, and he drowned Tim out. "I had read enough about Tim's schedule to know exactly what to expect. I was ready for it when I said 'Yes.' But, Dad, this schedule is a transportation killer and I don't drive. Can you and Mom possibly handle it?"
Tim said, "First, I guess I don't need to say it now, but I'll certainly affirm that Billy has no commitment that he can't back out of. But beginning on Tuesday people are going to start spending time and energy on him. They don't expect backing out after he starts. Of course, we couldn't stop him. But I'm pretty sure that Billy isn't that kind of man. He'll stick with what he commits to, and that commitment is right now. Second, I know exactly how much of a strain the transportation support is going to be. But as I said last night, the support has to be total. Without it, there isn't any point in starting.
"Bill, I want to tell you something about the support that's involved. There are a lot of parents that provide not only the logistical support that's being asked of you and Martha, but also have to be their children's prime motivators as well. I feel sorry for those kids, because it's very difficult to perform for someone else. You don't have that issue with Billy. He's totally self-motivated. The logistical support is the easy part. But there's another kind of support that he'll need: Love. Total, unconditional, love. I got that from my parents, and without it I wouldn't be standing here. No matter what, I knew I could depend on them. If I wanted to wait around two hours to be last in a line, they let me. If I came home from school down in the dumps because of a bad practice session, they hugged me. If I did the most spectacular belly flop in a season of diving meets, they laughed with me. I sensed last night that you and Martha would love Billy just that way. Never waver. Without it, no champion."
"Martha and I have already worked out the transportation details. I'm a lawyer with a small firm in Fargo. We have a small office in Bismarck, and it's time to open one in Grand Forks. We have a young lawyer in the office that would like to branch out and move up here. He'll staff the office, and I'll be in the office here enough to supervise and coach him. When my work won't let me come, Martha will drive Tim up. She works as a school nurse, so she's free when school's out. I'll just have to get my own dinner those nights."
When they had driven up, Bill hadn't discussed this with Billy, because he wasn't sure what the transportation demands would be. So Billy was hearing this for the first time. He ran over and hugged his father, and kissed him on the cheek, getting a very affectionate kiss on his cheek in return.
Tim said, "I want one of those too." He got it.
I was watching Bill very closely as Tim and Billy kissed. He didn't seem in the least concerned. He saw me watching him, winked at me, and said, "I'm cool; how about you?"
"Not worried. But really excited for Billy."
Billy stuck with it, kept up the grueling schedule with almost the same ease as Tim, and improved astonishingly quickly.
Tim was so happy watching Billy both mature and improve, that I think he might have given up his Olympic diving berth to let Billy go. It was clear that Billy would have a chance at it, at least.
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