The sound of someone clearing their throat echoed through the church and both Anthony and I turned guiltily toward the sacristy to find the church secretary, Mrs. Runnymede, glaring with frigid disapproval at us, her arms crossed and her right foot tapping impatiently on the tile floor.
"Young men should be in the rectory with their families."
Quite frankly, I saw no reason why young men couldn't sit in church if they wanted to, but six months at St. Andrew's had taught me that the church may have had a rector, but Mrs. Runnymede ran the operation; and, she did so with an iron fist that tolerated no dissent! The look of defiance about to burst forth on his face made me realize that it might be entertaining to see the clash of wills when Mrs. Runnymede ran up against Anthony! However, that was something for another day.
"We'd better go," I whispered to Anthony as I stood.
"Why?" he asked matter-of-factly.
"Because you don't want to make Mrs. Runnymede mad! Trust me."
Anthony continued to sit. I looked up at the secretary and saw her eyes growing larger and redder. Any moment now, the Runnymede death rays would shoot out and Anthony and I would explode.
"Come on!" I whispered vehemently.
Anthony snorted. "This time. But, next time..."
Anthony followed, but as we passed The Runnymede, Anthony muttered under his breath, "Tory."
"I'll brook no insolence from you, young man! I've seen rectors come and go in this parish for more than thirty years."
Anthony simply raised an eyebrow and stared her down, then turned and followed me down the hall.
"You'll pay for that," I said as we entered the rectory.
"I've seen her type before," Anthony replied serenely. We approached my grandparents, who were apparently trying to disengage themselves from my grandfather's stockbroker.
"This recession won't last long at all! You have nothing to worry about. Come by my office tomorrow, Henry, and we'll set you up with some real growth stocks!"
"Fred, I'm a banker," my grandfather replied impatiently, "not a gambler. Now, if you'll excuse me, we need to get my grandson here home and fed."
Before Fred the stockbroker could reply, we were hurriedly rushed toward the new rector and his wife.
"Well, how are you young fellows doing?" Father Mac asked as we approached. Anthony's mother gave me a long stare.
"We met Mrs. Runnymede," Anthony replied with a hint of, what? Insolence, rebellion, sarcasm? I wasn't certain, but I was getting the impression that he could be quite independent-minded when he wanted to be, a trait, I began to wonder, that he might have inherited from his mother.
"Ah, yes," replied Father Mac, in a tone indicated that he, too, had enjoyed that singular pleasure. "Do be nice to Mrs. Runnymede, please, Anthony. She will be of great assistance to me as I undertake my new duties."
"Of course, Dad." But, I saw the hint of a smile at the edges of Anthony's lips and it made me start to smile as well.
"Well," my grandmother asked as we walked the two blocks back to their house. "Are you and Anthony going to be friends?"
God! Not again!
"Anthony's OK," I replied. "I don't know if we're gunna be friends."
"Don't say 'gunna.' Say 'going to.' You're not in Texas anymore."
"You can say that again."
I knew I was pushing my luck with that last little barb and I wasn't really one to backtalk adults, but I just wanted everyone to leave me alone! Why couldn't they just let me be myself and deal with everything in my own way?
After Sunday dinner, I spent the afternoon on the porch swing reading The War of the Worlds and watching the world pass by on our quiet street. But, I was becoming increasingly irritable. I couldn't stop thinking about that redheaded guy at church and why he made me feel so funny. But, even more disconcerting, I couldn't stop thinking about Anthony and the funny way he made me feel. I saw, once again, that beautiful glow around his head, those deep blue eyes, the way his hair hung down over his ears, the way he stood up to Mrs. Runnymede. He’s stood up to her firmly but not obnoxiously. He was, well, cute! And, definitely cool. I could guess why people didn't like him in Tennessee. His accent was really English and he seemed so sure of himself. Yet, there was something else about him that made me think he was terribly lonely. Maybe, I could be his friend. But, not if he made me feel so funny. Yet, I kinda liked feeling funny, at least the funny way he made me feel.
That night, as I lay in bed, looking out the window at the stars, I thought about Anthony again, about the weird feelings I was having, about the way my thing would get stiff and swell up when I looked at guys. In the blue glow from the street light in the alley, I pulled my sheet off and then pulled down the pajama shorts I was wearing to reveal my penis. It was once again hard and sticking out. I examined it. It was bigger than it used to be, as were my balls. I put my index finger on my penis’s tip and pushed it down. Then I let it go and watched as it snapped back up and bounced. It kinda felt good to do that.
With a sigh, I pulled my pajamas back up and lay on top of the sheet. I began to wonder if Anthony's penis did the same thing, if he got stiff and big when he looked at guys.
I awoke in the middle of the night. I had been dreaming of Anthony and, though I couldn't remember any details, I knew that Anthony and I had been looking at each other's penis and they were both hard and stiff. As I lay there, the feelings I had experienced seemed ten times, a hundred times stronger. What were they? What could I do about then? I lay there on my bed, my penis so hard I thought it would break off, panting, my heart racing, and there was a strange feeling deep within me, not quite in my butt, not quite in my penis, but somewhere in between that felt as if it would burst out like a balloon!
Monday morning, I sat on my grandparents' screened-in back porch and ate a couple of pieces of toast and peanut butter, listening to the squawking of the starlings and blue jays and the rumble of traffic on Main Street a block away. I wanted to talk to someone about what was happening to me, but my grandfather had already left for the office. My grandmother was certainly NOT an option. Father Enfield was so old he would probably have no idea what I would be talking about!
Wait! Father Mac! He seemed cool. He might understand and not even think I was a freak! That would be perfect!
However, my heart sank when I realized that this was happening to me when I looked at his son. He might not be quite so understanding in that case. With a sigh, I realized there was no one I could talk to.
I started to tear up again. I could have asked Daddy about it. He'd have understood. He would have explained it to me. He wouldn't have thought I was a freak or anything. But, Daddy was gone and I was alone.
Early afternoon. I was down in the basement apartment my grandparents sometimes rented out to students at Canterbury College. On a bookshelf outside the door to the apartment and across from my grandfather's tool bench was a collection of National Geographic magazines, some from as far back as the twenties and thirties. One of my favorite things to do was to sit in the basement for hours, enjoying the damp, mildewy odor and the cool of the concrete floor against my legs and become lost in the world of the National Geographic. I loved the articles, the pictures, the maps. That's what I wanted to do when I grew up: travel the world and write articles for the National Geographic!
I was deeply engrossed in an article about Kenya when I heard the basement door open and my grandmother call out, "Jon? You have a guest!"
Oh, no. Oh, yes! Oh, NO! OH, YES!
Anthony had come to see me? I was thrilled. I was furious. I wanted to be left alone so I could read my magazines and escape. Yet, I really wanted to be around him again. Yet, I didn't want to feel that feeling again. Yet, I really wanted to feel that feeling again!
I could hear steps as he descended into the basement. With each step, I could feel my breath becoming shallower, my chest becoming tighter, my thing becoming harder. My God, he wasn't even in the room and my thing was already getting hard.
Anthony peered around the corner tentatively and gave a shy smile.
I was almost speechless. Anthony was SO cute! He was wearing a white alligator shirt buttoned up all the way, navy blue shorts, white socks, and black sandals. His hair was perfectly combed, parted just off the middle, so shiny and silky, flowing down the sides of his head. His arms seemed so slender, almost like a girl's. His face was so... so pretty.
It was not until Anthony's face took on a look of slight concern and he asked, "May I come in?" that I realized I had been staring.
I was just wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt. Anthony came over slowly, and then sat down on the floor next to me.
"National Geographic," he said. "That's my favorite magazine."
"You got the National Geographic in England?"
"Of course! It’s brilliant."
For the next hour, we sat going through different issues, commenting on various pictures, fantasizing about visiting different places. His shyness had dissolved and he’d become the same confident character who had stood his ground with Mrs. Runnymede. Then, quite by accident, I pulled out the issue with the article about Kenya again. When I opened it, a picture of a naked woman was looking up at us.
I froze, as did Anthony. We both looked at her, at her naked breasts hanging down, at her oversized belly, at the boy standing next to her—at the naked boy standing next to her. He was naked. The boy standing next to her was NAKED.
I have no idea how long we both sat there, silent, looking at the picture of the woman and her bare breasts and the naked boy, his penis quite obvious. But, I soon realized I was hard again and I was scared Anthony would be able to see it and would think I was a sick freak or something. I tried to move my arm over to cover myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Anthony watching my arm move. I wanted to die until I saw his arm move slowly as well. Anthony was covering up his zipper. Was Anthony hard, too? Was it possible? I wasn't the only boy whose thing got stiff?
This was a revelation. And then, it occurred to me that maybe I could ask Anthony! Maybe, if it happened to him, too, he might know what was going on and tell me!
I was about to ask when, all of a sudden, Anthony grabbed another National Geographic, seemingly at random, and placed it over his lap. On the cover was a photograph of an English soldier in a ceremonial helmet of some kind. The article was one from the sixties about London. Anthony opened the magazine to the article.
"I used to live in London," he said softly, a strange, husky quality to his voice. "Lambeth, actually."
"Was your dad a rector there?" I asked, noticing I had the same husky quality in my own voice.
"They call them vicars, there. No. He had a job with the Church of England, a liaison of some kind.”
"Ah. What's a liaison?"
Anthony shrugged. "A sort of go-between between the Episcopal Church and the Church of England."
"But, it's the same church."
Anthony sniffed. "Not really."
I didn't know if this sounded snobby or not—though it did sound an awful lot like his mother—so I decided not to pursue it any further. After a moment, as he turned the page several times, gazing at the pictures of London, I asked, "Do you miss it?"
Anthony said nothing for a bit, then, with a definitely shaky voice, he said, "Yes."
"I know what you mean," I said softly. "I miss Dallas."
"It’s) not the same," Anthony said with a touch of bitterness. "London's special. You just can't imagine."
I loved the way Anthony spoke, the way he said "kawnt" instead of "caant," the strange inflections in his sentences, the way his voice would rise at places where an American's wouldn't. But, I was a bit hurt at his apparent put-down of my Dallas. I sat silently.
Anthony looked at me with red eyes.
"That was rude of me. You've never been to London and I've never been to Dallas." Then, he reached over and took my hand.
"Besides, it’s worse for you because you lost your family."
I didn't know what to say. He was right. No matter how special and wonderful London was, it was worse for me. I had lost my family. And, then, the sensation of Anthony's smooth, soft hand holding mine, the strange feelings coursing through my body, the emotions of the moment, the thought of being alone, the realization that maybe, just maybe, I really wasn't alone, all of it hit me and, once again, I burst into tears.
This time, however, I wasn't embarrassed to cry as Anthony started crying, too. He reached over and put his arms around me as I did the same to him. We sat on the cold concrete floor of my grandparents' musty and mildewy basement, clinging to each other and crying. He rested his head on my shoulder, I rested my head on his, smelling the wonderful freshness of his hair, feeling the warmth of his slim body next to mine. I was in agony at that moment over my parents and my brother. I was in ecstasy as I held Anthony. So many strange things were happening to me, with so many conflicting and opposite emotions hitting me all at the same time. For months, I had felt I was losing my mind. Perhaps, I was.
Eventually, we both seemed to relax and the tears ended; but, we both continued to hold each other. I felt wonderful and thought I could sit there for the rest of the day with Anthony in my arms. I knew boys weren't supposed to hug like this, but I didn't care. It felt too wonderful.
I realized, also, that I was hard again. I looked down at Anthony's lap. The magazine had slipped to the floor and I was amazed. There, right in the middle of his lap, was a definite something pushing out. Anthony was as hard as I was!
We remained silent until Anthony pulled back a bit and raised his face. Lightly, he kissed me on the cheek. I looked into his deep blue eyes and . . .
"Boys! Would you like some ice cream?"
We seemed frozen for a moment, our eyes locked, until I broke free and looked up at the stairs and shouted, "Yeah! That'd be great!"
I turned back to Anthony, who was looking down at my lap, his face blushing fiercely.
"You want some ice cream?" I asked, my voice taking on an artificial cheerfulness as I tried to regain some composure.
"Yes, thank you," he whispered.
My grandmother, thrilled that I was "starting to come out of my shell," as she put it, fussed over us to the point that even Anthony looked like he wanted to scream. But, I knew it was just because she loved me. Eventually, we took our ice cream out front and sat on the porch. The intimacy we had shared earlier was gone, but not completely. We smiled at each other occasionally and giggled at nothing. It was nice.
That evening, as I sat on the swing alone, holding my copy of War of the Worlds closed in my lap, watching the evening glow of the setting sun through the leaves of the oak trees in the front yard, smelling the roses at the edge of the porch, listening to the hum of the air conditioner, watching Professor Goldstein struggle with the push mower in his front yard—why didn't he just get a gasoline mower? It would have been a lot easier!—I thought about that moment in the basement, I thought of Anthony, I thought of holding him, of him holding me, how wonderful it had felt even as I mourned for my family. I thought of his milky white complexion, the little scattering of freckles across his nose, the thin, dark eyebrows, those mysterious blue eyes as our gaze locked for that one moment. I became flushed. I felt as if I were running a fever. My heart was racing, my breathing became shallow. It was happening again. I wanted to be near Anthony. I wanted to look at Anthony. I wanted to hug Anthony. I wanted to . . . Oh my God! I wanted to kiss Anthony.
This was not right. There was something wrong with me. I was sick. I was a freak. I was not right. I had to talk to someone about this! I had to say something to someone or I thought I certainly would go out of my mind!
Tuesday, I couldn't get out of bed. I lay there, alternating between sobs and groans of anger and disgust with myself. My grandmother was concerned and hovered over me. She brought a bowl of chicken soup and a bologna sandwich at lunch, but I couldn't eat. Anthony came by in the afternoon, but I told my grandmother I couldn't see him. And, all day long, my penis remained stiff and hard and the image of Anthony's face remained in my mind.
Wednesday, I seemed to be getting over my fit. I crawled out of bed late in the morning and, once again clad in my shorts and t-shirt, sat on the front porch, finishing War of the Worlds. Around eleven, Anthony rode up into the driveway on a dark red bicycle. It was a beautiful bike, a bit different looking from my old Schwinn Stingray.
"Are you feeling better today?" Anthony asked as he came up to the porch. Today, he was wearing khaki shorts and a green alligator shirt. His hair was a bit mussed from the breeze of the ride, but he looked so CUTE! I couldn't help but smile.
"Yeah, I feel a lot better today. I guess I had some kinda bug yesterday, but I'm a lot better now."
"Brilliant. You want to go riding, then?" (The way his voice rose during the first syllable of 'riding' and dropped during the second, instead of the opposite, the way an American would say it), was so... OK, it was CUTE! I started getting the feeling again, but this time I decided to head it off at the pass.
"Sure! That'd be great!"