Bellevue was definitely a military town in which just about everyone was either stationed at or worked on the adjacent Offutt Air Force Base. Even though the town was contiguous with the City of Omaha, it had an entirely different feel than the surrounding communities. The houses were decidedly modest, and even the larger ones were split levels or raised ranches.
We entered an area that I later learned was College Heights at the north end of Bellevue, where all the homes were split-levels, and pulled in front of one of the nicer ones. It had a two-car garage in front, with the entry to the right and an upper level in front of and behind the garage. No sooner had we piled out of the car than the whole Gonzalez brood gathered in front of their house, all of them bundled up for the frigid temperature. It was a Saturday, and everyone was home. The parents looked to be around the same age as Papi and Mamá, and the four girls and three boys ranged in age from about ten to eighteen, it appeared. It was a household of teens and tweens, which I imagined made for boisterous times. I would be their eighth kid and yet another teen.
I was introduced to all of them, but I couldn’t have remembered all their names if my life depended on it. The father was Geraldo, and he asked me to call him Jerry, and the mother was Francesca, and she asked me to call her Fran. I couldn’t detect even the slightest hint of a Hispanic accent with either of them or with their children. What struck me the most about Jerry was how ordinary he seemed. Never in a million years would I have suspected him of being one of the top military brass in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. Right away, the oldest son, Roberto, or Rob as he insisted I call him, took me aside. He and I would be spending a lot of time together.
“We have six bedrooms and three bathrooms,” he began as he led me inside, “which works out to one bedroom for the ‘rents’ and two bedrooms for four girls upstairs and one bedroom for two boys and one bedroom for me downstairs. There’s also a tiny bedroom upstairs that’s used as a guest room and study. The problem with you sleeping there is that you’d hafta use the girls’ bathroom. The boys share the downstairs bath, and so it would be much better for you to room with me if you don’t mind sharing a queen-size bed with another guy.”
“Did anyone tell you that I’m gay?” I asked.
“No, but that’s not a problem by any means,” he responded. “I’m not, by the way, and I have a girlfriend. I strongly suspect that Henry’s gay, but he’s only twelve, and time will tell.”
We entered through the front door to find ourselves in a very attractive, large, open space. “The house originally had only four bedrooms, all on the upper level, with a family room and half bath behind the garage on the lower level and a formal living room, dining room and kitchen up here. We needed more bedrooms and had no use for a formal living room or dining room, so we converted the downstairs to two bedrooms and a full bath, and we gutted the main level, turning it into a great room with a modern, open kitchen. The original kitchen was an eat-in, which was a waste for us ’cause we all couldn’t fit in there at once, so we moved it to where the dining room used to be and opened it up to the whole floor.
“Where the kitchen used to be, we have a large eating area with a table big enough for a dozen or more to eat at once.” I couldn’t help but notice the plastic plates and utensils stacked on the table, as well as bowls of food. Apparently, we were gonna eat soon. Leading me through a large, triple-wide, sliding-glass door, he continued, “We added this deck to give us an outdoor eating area right off the great room.” It was a large deck with stairs that led directly below. On the deck was a comfortable set of patio furniture and a very large table and chair set, all still covered for the winter. The overall effect would have been inviting had the weather been warmer. Rob continued. “As you can see, it overlooks the —”
“Pool!” I exclaimed as the small, round, in-ground pool came into view. “You guys have a pool!”
“It’s nice to have on a hot summer day,” Rob continued as we turned around and headed back into the house.
As we headed up the stairs to the upper level, I asked, “When you say you’re pretty sure Henry’s gay, why do you say that? People talk about confusion, especially at that age, but the only confusion is from gay kids denying their orientation or from straight kids worrying that having the normal, homoerotic impulses all kids have in early adolescence means they’re gay.”
“It’s nothing like that,” Rob answered, “nor is he at all effeminate, but he’s had a best friend, Darren, ever since the fourth grade, ever since we moved back to the States,” Rob explained. “They have a lot of sleepovers and spend a lot of time behind a locked bedroom door.”
“Henry shares a bedroom with your middle brother, right?” I asked. “What does he think?”
“It was Sammy who brought it up with me,” Rob explained. “Whenever Darren sleeps over, Sammy rooms with me, and we’ve talked.”
“How does he feel about it?” I asked.
“Sammy’s fine with having a gay brother,” Rob related. “He just resents the amount of time he finds himself locked out of his bedroom. Although now that he has a girlfriend and spends a lot of time after school with her, that’s much less of an issue.” Rob led me around the upper floor as he pointed out, “There are four bedrooms up here, including the tiny guest room I mentioned, and the master bedroom. Two of my sisters share each of the larger bedrooms and the bathroom across the hall that’s right next to the stairs. The master bedroom is much larger than the others, and it has a walk-in closet as well as its own bath with a shower.”
Heading back downstairs and then down to the lower level, Rob led us into a room with a queen-size bed. “When I turned sixteen, I asked my parents if I could replace my two twin beds with a queen. I told them it would make my room look larger, but I doubt they were fooled,” he added with a grin. “That won’t be a problem for you, will it?”
“Of course not,” I replied, “as long as you don’t mind sharing a bed with a gay boy.”
“That’s not a problem,” Rob replied, “so long as you stick to your side of the bed,” he added as he gave me a playful shove. I shoved him right back and our back and forth led to an all-out wrestling match on the bed. Rob wasn’t quite as tall as I am, but he was more than four years older and had real muscles, undoubtedly from lifting packages all day. Not that I didn’t have decent muscles thanks to all the prep work associated with painting, but the match was no contest. Rob had me pinned in no time.
“Hey, homos,” a young boy greeted us as he entered the room. Rob and I both stood up, and I got a good look at the boy, who appeared to be in his early teens, with dark peach fuzz on his upper lip and a voice that had already changed. Although he was around 5-foot, 4-inches tall, the roundness of his face belied his age.
“You shouldn’t go around calling people ‘homo’ even in jest,” I responded. “Sooner or later, you’ll say it to a gay kid you didn’t know was gay, Henry. Someone like me.”
“You’re gay?” he asked in surprise.
“One hundred percent,” I replied.
“Gees, I’m sorry I called you a homo, then,” Henry replied, then asked, “Um, could I maybe talk to you sometime?”
“Of course, you can,” I replied. “After all, I’m the one putting you guys out. I hear you have a best friend who sleeps over a lot, but Sammy usually sleeps in here when he does, and I’m interfering with that.”
Wrinkling his nose, Henry replied, “There’s still the upstairs guest room, but Sammy hates it ’cause he hasta either use the girls’ bathroom or come all the way down here to use ours. He asked Darren and me to lay off the sleepovers for now.”
“I could always sleep in the guest room whenever Darren stays over,” I suggested.
“I wouldn’t ask you to do that, J.J.,” Henry replied. “It wouldn’t be right. Maybe once in a while.”
“Hey, whenever you want, just ask,” I replied. “Someday I might get a boyfriend and want to play musical beds for a sleepover, too, but I imagine I’ll probably be ready to get my own place by the time that happens.”
“Darren’s not my —” Henry started to say, but then stopped himself, turned red and started to get tears in his eyes.
Placing his hand under Henry’s chin, Rob lifted his head and looked right into his youngest brother’s eyes. “You know I love you, no matter what, don’t you? You can talk to me about anything.”
“Yeah, I know you do and I can, but I think Darren and I need to talk to J.J.,” Henry responded. “Darren and I have been foolin’ around since the fifth grade, but I think Darren sees what we do now as still foolin’ around. He talks about girls all the time,” he added as he rolled his eyes. “I’m pretty sure he’s straight.”
“And you’re not?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered sincerely. “I’m not at all interested in girls, but other than Darren, I’m not much interested in boys, either. It’s all fucked up.”
“Sounds like you’re in love with your best friend,” I interjected, “but maybe he loves you back in a different way.” Henry nodded his head. “That really sucks.”
“Big time,” Henry agreed. “I want to make love to him, and he just wants to get off.”
“Are you sure that’s what’s goin’ on?” I asked.
“Pretty sure, but I don’t know,” Henry answered.
“You need to talk to him, Henry,” I suggested
“But what if he rejects me and we can no longer be friends?” he asked.
“And what would happen if he found out later? Then it could really blow up, and your best friend could become your worst enemy,” I related. “There’s no way around it. If he’s really your friend, he’ll accept you as you are, and the two of you together can decide where to go from there. However, he may take offense at you having used him all this time, even though he was a willing participant. A true friend wouldn’t let any feelings like that get in the way of your friendship, regardless. You’re going to hafta deal with all that someday, and it’ll only get worse with time.
“Who knows, though, you may find he feels the same way about you as you do about him?”
“Could Darren and I both talk to you later, J.J.?” Henry asked.
“Of course, you can,” I replied.
“Thanks,” he said with a wan smile.
“Henry, if you are gay,” Rob interjected, “you know we’re all okay with it. Mom and Dad, too.”
“Yeah, I know,” Henry replied. “I guess I’ve been wrestling with it myself, ’cause I was afraid to push it too far with Darren. But yeah, I think I’m ready to admit it to myself. I’m going to talk to Darren, and I’m going to come out – to you guys, for sure, and maybe even at school if Darren takes it okay.”
“What grade are you in?” I asked Henry.
“Seventh grade, middle school,” he answered. “I’ll be thirteen in September.”
“Cool,” I replied, then asked, “Sammy’s fifteen and a sophomore?”
“Fifteen and a freshman,” Rob corrected me. “His birthday was back in November, which is after the cutoff date for the school year.”
“I’m gonna go see if Darren’s here yet, and if not, I’ll help Mom with the food,” Henry announced as he left the room.”
“Food?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’re having a barbecue in your honor,” Rob explained. “It’s too cold to have it outdoors, so we’re having an indoor barbecue. The convection ovens are designed so they can be used to grill things, so we often grill stuff during the colder months. It almost makes you forget there’s snow outside.
“Let me show you around a bit more,” Rob suggested. “If I’m keeping you entertained, Mom and Dad won’t ask me to help get things ready,” he added with a grin. Instinctively, I really found myself liking Rob in spite of the age difference. He was definitely someone who could be a good friend. The room had a sliding glass door that led out to a patio and the pool. Behind the patio was a large yard and then what appeared to be undeveloped, forested land.
“One of the things I’ll really miss when I move out someday is having a forest right behind my back yard,” Rob added. “It goes on for miles, but here it’s narrow, although it still gives us privacy you just don’t have when there are neighbors right behind you. Of course, there are neighbors on both sides, so you can’t exactly go skinny-dipping in the pool. You can’t see it from here, but we’re right on the Missouri River. There’s maybe fifty feet of forest and then a railroad track before you reach a floodplain and the river. The Platte empties into it just south of town.”
“Does the river ever flood?” I asked.
“The Platte’s actually the bigger risk, because it’s very shallow and it meanders all over the place,” Rob explained. “Nebraska has more miles of river than any other state.”
“I didn’t know that,” I responded.
“There’s a berm on this side of the railroad track, and the forest is somewhat uphill,” Rob continued, “so we’re actually a good twenty feet above the hundred-year-flood stage. That said, we’ve had a historic snowfall this year and there’s another major snowstorm predicted in the coming week, possibly a blizzard. After that, it’s expected to warm up rapidly, so we’re anticipating that hundred-year flood within the next couple of weeks. There’s a chance we may need to evacuate, but not likely as we’re still well above the flood stage. There are low-lying areas that won’t be so fortunate, and there’s even a risk that the airbase will flood.”
“Damn, first I was expecting a pool party to welcome me to Omaha —” I began.
“In March?” Rob interrupted. “That’ll be the day.”
“And now I find that my plans for skiing are gonna be wrecked by a blizzard,” I continued.
“There’s an old saying about the weather in the Midwest,” Rob interjected. “If you don’t like the weather, just wait and it’ll change. Where else can you experience a four-season climate, all in one day? By the way, did you know the Missouri-Mississippi River system is the longest in the world?”
Laughing, I replied, “The headwaters are in Glacier National Park, right on the border with Alberta, but there are tributaries that drain much of the western plains. The Mississippi drains about two-thirds of the continental United States.”
“A fellow geek, I see, but it's the Morias River, a tributary of the Missouri that joins it near Loma, Montana, that has its headwaters in Glacier” Rob corrected me. “It’s sometimes hard to tell from the maps on a smartphone, but the Missouri doubles back and has its headwaters near the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park.”
“I stand corrected. I’m curious, though,” I asked, “if you’re a geek, why are you working at Applazon?”
“I could ask you much the same.” He countered, “but given that you’re sixteen and on your own and that you’re gay, I can pretty much guess why. In my case it’s a bit complicated. The short story is that I’m not sure what I want to do with my life, except that I’m sure I don’t want to go into the military. I’m taking a couple of years off to make some money while still living at home, and then I’m gonna spend a year traveling the globe. Unless I find the girl of my dreams and settle down first.”
“I take it your current girlfriend isn’t the girl of your dreams, then,”
“Don’t get me wrong; we have a lot of fun together and she’s a great lay, but I don’t think either of us is deluded into thinking about marriage and certainly not with each other. She’d be the first one to say we’re best friends with benefits.”
“At this stage in our lives, I think that’s what we really need more than anything,” I agreed. “There will come a time for love and marriage, but that time sure as fuck isn’t now.”
“Well put, brother,” Rob chimed in as he punched me in the shoulder. Anyway, while I’m working, I’m taking advantage of Applazon’s tuition benefit. They pay 95% of full tuition, regardless of the area of study. I’m taking some online classes this year, and maybe when I get back from my travels I’ll spend a year on campus in Lincoln and get my degree.”
“Applazon pays tuition?” I asked in surprise.
“Applazon’s benefits are fantastic, from tuition to healthcare to a 401k – not that I’ve started one yet. You should definitely take advantage of the tuition benefit, though. It’s a great way to get a start on college.”
“That sounds fantastic,” I responded, “and your trip sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. In a way, I wish I could come with you.”
“You could if you wanted to,” Rob suggested. “It’d be nice to have company.”
I was surprised by the offer, but I felt I had to get my life in order before I could even begin to consider such a thing, so I replied, “You probably ought to get to know me first before making that kind of offer, but I think I need to get my life back together first.”
“I think we’d probably enjoy each other’s company, but yeah, you have a lot of fuckin’ shit to deal with, so I completely understand,” Rob replied. “So tomorrow, while just about everyone else is at church, you and I will sit down and work on your résumé. We hafta submit it online, and it’ll go to Corporate, where it’ll percolate for a few decades, not going anywhere. However, our HR folks will be able to pull it right up when we pay them a visit on Monday.”
“You don’t go to church?” I asked as the smell of grilling meat began to permeate the house.
“I go whenever I feel like it,” he replied. “I’m neither here nor there when it comes to religion, unlike Henry. Henry’s been a devout atheist since he was ten, so he doesn’t go, either. I think it’s so he can spend the time with Darren. Sammy goes, and the girls all go.”
“A devout atheist,” I responded. “That sounds like a contradiction in terms.”
“Just think about it,” Rob answered. “An atheist has absolute faith that everything can be explained by science, but there are things science can’t explain. Science can only address what you can test, and there are things that can never be tested. The bottom line, I think, is that to be an atheist, you hafta believe we’re here by chance, and I don’t believe that. There hasta be a reason for our existence that’s way beyond our understanding.”
“But if there’s a reason,” I countered, “there must be an intelligence behind it, but then who or what created the intelligence?”
“In other words, who created God?” Rob asked, and I nodded my head. “Henry’s really gonna love you. That’s just the sort of thing he’d come up with if he could.”
We headed back upstairs to the great room to find that the kitchen island was set with bowls of food and stacks of plates, silverware and the like. Already the kids were lining up for food. Papi, Mamá and Steve were there, too, which meant they were staying for the barbecue. I hated to admit that I’d almost forgotten about them, but it was great we’d have more time together.
It was strange after eating Oaxacan Mexican food for so long to be having a traditional American-style barbecue. On the island were serving bowls of baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, pasta salad and a plate of corn on the cob. It was clear that everything was homemade, as the baked beans had pieces of bacon mixed in, the potato salad contained green grapes, red onion and broccoli and the pasta salad was filled with walnuts, apples and raisins. The corn on the cob was white corn, too. On the grill, Jerry had hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken breasts, and for garnishments he had lettuce, tomato, onion, grilled onions and peppers, chili and grated cheese. Squeeze bottles contained ketchup, yellow and spicy brown mustard, relish and mayonnaise. Everything looked wonderful. It was hard to choose.
I decided to start with a grilled chicken sandwich with onions and peppers and spicy brown mustard, corn on the cob, coleslaw and potato salad. Everything tasted as good as it looked. I started to sit down at the large, great-room table, but Henry intercepted me and asked If I’d sit with him by the TV. With him was a boy who looked to be about the same age, and so I went with them and sat in a swivel chair while they sat across from me in a love seat.
As we sat down, I surreptitiously took a close look at Darren. He was obviously on the cusp of his teens but was much less far along in his development than Henry, although his face appeared to be somewhat older. He had no discernible facial hair, minimal hair on his bare arms and legs. He had an unruly mop of curly, dirty-blond hair on his head with vivid blue eyes that made him utterly cute and, frankly, sexy. “I take it you’re Darren, Henry’s best friend,” I began.
“My reputation precedes me,” Darren replied in a high-pitched voice and with an endearing smile that could melt anyone’s heart. No wonder Henry was in love with him.
“Henry, did you have a chance to discuss any of the things we talked about?” I asked. When he merely shook his head, I realized a difficult conversation might lie ahead. Then again, I had a perfectly valid reason to talk to Darren, so perhaps we could approach it obliquely.
“Well, Darren, I’m sure Henry mentioned I’m going to be staying here for the next few months, until I get my feet on the ground and can afford to get my own place,” I began. “He probably didn’t mention why I’m here because he didn’t know it himself until a little while ago. I’m what they call a throw-away kid. My dad threw me out of the house when he discovered I’m gay.” There was an audible gasp from Darren and what I thought was a look of concern. “Most parents are better than that these days and have no problem with having a gay kid. I’ve been living with Arturo Rodriguez and his son and wife for the past several months in Kansas City, working for his painting and construction firm. He’s right over there and his son, Steve, is talking to Rob.
“Anyway, Steve came out a couple years ago and his parents have been fine with it. He’s still accepted by the members of the Catholic Church they attend, and everyone knows about him and they’re fine with him.”
“I can’t believe your dad threw you out like that,” Darren responded in a very soft voice. “You hear stories and I’ve read some things on the internet, but I thought that was mostly just fiction.”
“You’ve read gay fiction on the internet?” Henry asked. That wasn’t the subtlest approach to asking your best friend if he’s gay, which was quickly borne out by Darren’s reaction. Darren turned bright red and started breathing very rapidly and even so, appeared to be having trouble breathing. The boy was in a full-blown panic attack, but before I could do anything, Darren ran from the table and headed right out the front door, followed a moment later by Henry.
“Well, fuck me,” I responded to no one in particular.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.