Part Four — Conversations with an Old Man

By the third Saturday of our brother meetings, Bobby was less anxious and more trusting. He and my mom liked each other, and she kidded us now and then. We even went to lunch with Sandi, and I think Bobby enjoyed her warmth and sense of humor. She was very protective of his feelings, considering the crush he had on me. When we were alone at the house in the morning, I asked Bobby how things were with his parents.

"The same."

"Have you told them about me?"

"No, I'm not sure what I'd say."

"Well, that's up to you, but if they find out and talk to me, I'm not going to lie to them about knowing you." I saw the look of terror on his face. "Calm down. I'd never discuss your sexuality with them without your permission, but I would have to let them know that we see each other, maybe like a mentor thing."

"I never thought of that. I'm not ashamed of you, you know. I wouldn't ever deny that we know each other."

"Well, good thing, my brother! So, does your dad still want you to get into sports?"

"That's his favorite song, over and over again."

"I was thinking maybe you'd like to try studying with my teacher. He doesn't work with many students, but since you're my brother, he might. I'd talk to him about it, if you're interested."

"That would be so cool, but I'm not very coordinated. I don't want to disappoint you."

"Look, he's an old man, but he's young at the same time. He always surprises me. He won't care about anything but your heart, and neither do I."

"I guess. How much does it cost?"

"I don't know. Usually a student starts out with one of the old man's senior students and then the old man decides whether or not to take him on. Since I've been training with him, I don't pay anything, but I help with beginners and help maintain the hall."

"My dad would probably be glad if I try karate. Would you see if I can get in? How much time does it take?"

"I told you I'd talk to him. In the beginning usually a couple of classes a week, and you can come for free practice whenever no classes are scheduled. Let me do some groundwork, and I'll let you know. But, you need to get your parents' permission to talk to him." We finished the morning playing catch in the front yard until Sandi came to pick us up for lunch.

On Monday evening, I was at the dojo working with some of the young people. They ranged in age from ten to fifteen. I worked with the boys and Corrine worked with the girls. After the class, some of them would use the shower facilities at the back of the hall. The old man wanted communal baths, but this was America, so showers it was. Students did not leave the dojo unwashed. I hung around outside the shower room to make sure chaos didn't break loose.

After the guys were all out of there, I sat quietly in a corner of the practice hall when the old man asked me to come into his room at the front of the hall. He wasn't usually there on Monday evenings. As I walked behind him into the sparsely furnished room, I remembered a day a few years earlier. He always had private time with his students. There were students who paid a servant for a service and there were people he treated as descendents. We talked about nearly everything that mattered to me.

One day when I was a little younger than Bobby, I had nervously told him that I was different. He had asked how I was different. I hemmed and hawed around before stumbling around an explanation of my sexual anomaly. I expected him to be shocked, but he waved his hand dismissively and said that he was waiting for me to tell him an important way in which I was different than he.

I was grasping silently for a response when he asked, "Are you generally truthful?" I nodded. "Are you generally kind and helpful?" I nodded again. "Do you consider the consequences of your actions on others before you act?" I nodded. "Do you attend to your responsibilities at home and here?" I nodded.

"Well, I think I know you a little bit, and I don't think you are different than I am in any important way." I shuddered and asked if he still wanted me here.

"Eventually, you and the others will be the only evidence that I existed in this form." Laughing a loud laugh, he said, "You're an investment in my immortality!"

When I told Mom about the conversation, I was in tears. She said that she had always liked and respected the old man. My mom and the old man saved me. So, now we sat in the room where I had so often talked with him. After pleasantries, he made tea and poured for us. His every movement came out of deep attention. "You have something you need to ask." Not a question, but a simple statement.

"Sensei, I have a brother that would like to be a student here."

"Really? Brothers would seem to spring up suddenly." He had known me for eight years and knew it was only me and my mom.

"Yes, Sensei. We found each other when he needed help." I smiled and said, "He's different in that unimportant way that I am."

"I see, and you think he needs to know how to take care of himself?"

"I think he needs to know you, and he is my brother."

"Well, bring him in Saturday morning, and I'll talk with him. No promises."

"Sensei, by definition, everything you say is a promise."

He grimaced and said, "Yosh!"

I bowed, stood up, and left, saying, "Gomen kudasai, Sensei, for the tea."

The next Saturday, when Bobby bounced up the steps, I met him at the door. "Did you ask your parents?"

"Yeah. I told them about meeting you, but left out some of the details. My mom wasn't happy, but my dad thought it was a great idea. He said he'd pay for lessons. I told him I didn't even know if I could get in, but he looked kind of proud that I was trying. Weird."

"Maybe not. Let's go."

"Now? I don't think I'm ready."

"You're ready. I'm proud of you, and it's not a torture chamber."

We walked out to my car and drove to the dojo. Bobby's eyes widened as we crossed the door. A class was in progress and one of the sempai was putting the little guys through their paces. As I approached his room, the old man appeared, looked at Bobby, and said, "So, this is your kohai?"

"Yes, Sensei. This is Bobby."

"Come in, Bobby, and let's talk for a bit," he said leaning around me to see Bobby, who was using me as a shield. Straightening, he said to me, "You, go find something useful to do."

Bobby went in and I went to talk to some friends waiting for free practice to start. Later, Bobby told me about his talk. He said that the old man had indicated a place to sit on the floor and had joined him, sitting cross-legged.

"So, you want to practice here. Why?"

"Well, sir, Robbie suggested it, and I know he loves working here. But, mostly, I am tired of being afraid."

"So, you want to learn how to defend yourself?"

"I guess, but I think there's more to not being afraid. I just want to feel at home somewhere."

Bobby said that the old man smiled and said, "Well, you know, I'm old and I don't have time for you right now." Bobby told me that he almost cried right then, but the old man said, "You have a sempai, an older brother, who can get you started. Since you are kohai to Robbie, you may start with his class. He will see to your needs."

Bobby said the old man got up nimbly, and showing him to the door asked, "Questions?"

As Bobby left, he asked the old man, "Can I ask you again sometime if you have time for me?"

"That's the only way you'll find out, isn't it?"

So, Bobby started and was full of questions. Why hadn't I told him I was a teacher? Because I wasn't; I was more like a glorified babysitter. I was a senior student. How would he get a gi or uniform. I still had a couple from when I was his age. He could have them. What should he call me when we were in the dojo? My last name followed by sempai (technically, it's senpai, but pronounced sempai).

Bobby never became the most proficient student, but he worked hard and never complained. When his classmates at school learned that he was working with me, even the verbal bullying stopped. Bobby kept asking the old man, and after not quite a year, the old man began to teach him. I had to ask for a full year; I guess Bobby got the family discount. But, here's maybe the best thing that happened.

A kid named Freddie had started a few days before Bobby. He was Bobby's age, a redhead, a little shorter than Bobby, and, I couldn't help but notice, built really well. I knew this from peeking in at the showers after class when things seemed to be turning rowdy. I also noticed that Freddie was touchy-feely with the other guys in the shower in a playful way. My bidar pinged. I paired Bobby with Freddie for classes and encouraged them to work with each other during free practice. I'd take Bobby to the dojo and drive him back after evening free practice. He seemed happier and less jumpy as he made progress.

One evening, when Freddie, Bobby, and I were the only ones left in the place, I told them to get showered because I had to get home and they couldn't practice unsupervised. They were taking longer than usual, so I quietly went back and, sticking my head through the door, started to hurry them along. What I found was Bobby and Freddie facing each other under a showerhead and stroking each other's very hard dicks. I cleared my throat and Freddie almost had a stroke. Bobby just shrugged his shoulders. "Get a room, guys. I mean, take it home. You can't be jerking each other off in the showers here. Okay, this one time, finish up and let's hit the road." I left and thought, "No wonder he's been so much more relaxed."

Bobby's dad came occasionally to see him in class and was there for his promotions. Early on, he asked me if I thought Bobby was gay. I asked him if it would matter, and he said not to him. He just wanted what most fathers want for children, for them to be happy, sane, and safe. His mother was another matter, but she came around. He came out to his parents before the end of high school when I was away at university. The world did not stop turning, and Bobby's dad, while a little disappointed, was great.

Once, after the old man began working with Bobby and watched him with Freddie, he said to me, "I'm not running a dating service here."

"He's happy, Sensei," I replied, "and he's not afraid."

Bobby and I remained brothers. He, as I had told him, had his share of heartache. He did eventually meet someone in college and they are still together. Sandi and I ended up at different schools and the relationship changed, but my spouse and I see Bobby socially a lot. Once when I was visiting home from school, Bobby told me, "You were right. I had a lot of fun learning, and Freddie and I were both teachers and students. I think that old man and you saved me."

The old man eventually did what old men do, die. Cancer. His last lesson for me was how to die.