A young man falls in love with a male friend and has to come to terms with his feelings.
|Tim Channing slung his backpack over one shoulder as he stepped off the bus and onto the sidewalk in front of the high school. His breath misted in the bitter February air as he scanned the swarm of students trudging past him. His eyes landed on a figure in a brown suede coat as he joined the flow of traffic. Stepping up his pace, he called out, “Hey Josh! Wait up!”
The other figure took a few more steps before stopping and turning around. Tim studied his buddy’s face as he covered the distance between them. “Something wrong, Josh?” he asked when he was close enough to be heard in a normal voice.
“Not really. What’s up?” Joshua Harrow turned again as Tim caught up and they both headed for the school building.
“Not much. I’m kinda tired from the camping trip with my dad this weekend. I sure wish you could’ve come.”
“I told you I was busy with church stuff.”
Tim winced at the edge in his friend’s voice. “I know. Sorry! Gee, you’re kinda cranky for someone who says there’s nothing wrong.”
Josh sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry about that, Tim. I just had a rough night last night. I didn’t sleep very well.”
Tim walked in silence for a few moments, frowning. The pair walked through the main hallway, weaving between slower moving classmates. “That sucks, buddy. Any particular reason?”
“I just have a lot on my mind right now, I guess. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.” Josh sighed again and looked at his friend apologetically. Tim thought he might see tears forming in the corner of his eyes. “Look, I’m just in a mood, okay? It’s nothing against you. And I’m sorry I’m taking it out on you.”
“Yeah, okay. I need to go to my locker before homeroom. I’ll catch you later, okay?”
“Sure, Tim. Thanks. And I’ll try to be in a better mood when I see you at lunch.”
“Sounds good. I want to show you the new ideas I’ve come up with for the scenery for the play, then. See you later, buddy.” Tim watched as his friend continued towards homeroom before turning down a different hallway himself. He shook his head, wondering why Josh was in such a bad mood. He seemed to be in a bad mood a lot lately.
He was shaken from his musings by a somewhat gravelly voice. “Problems with the drama queen, Tim?” Tim turned to face Duncan Taylor, a senior and a midfielder for the varsity soccer team.
“Lay off, Duncan,” Tim snapped. “Josh is a cool guy.”
“Yeah, if you’re into that artsy fartsy stuff,” Duncan sneered.
“You realize you’re talking to someone who likes to do oil painting, don’t you?” Tim shot back, his fists clenched. “Does that make me a painting queen?”
Duncan took a couple steps back. “No way, Dude. Yeah, it’s a little weird that you like to paint. But you’re also a whiz with a table saw and hammer, so you’re cool. But Harrow’s not like that. Drama seems to be his only gig. Well, that and being a Christian.”
“And Ms. Kinney says he’s quite good at acting. We can’t all be incredible jocks, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. Just, I think it’s weird. That’s just my opinion, okay?”
“Then keep your opinion to yourself, okay?” Tim turned his back on the jock and began sorting through his locker, looking for his chemistry book.
“Fine. You don’t have to be an ass about it,” Duncan sniffed.
Tim didn’t look up. “Neither did you. But you were.” Duncan let out an indignant huff before walking off. Tim watched him walk away, and then shook his head. He stood and closed his locker as Becky Ramsey approached. The five foot girl approached, smiling sympathetically. “Another argument about Josh, I take it?” she asked.
“Does Josh realize how much you stand up for him?” She shook her head, her long brown hair cutting a small arc as she did so.
Tim sighed. “I don’t know. I hope not. A lot of people tend to talk behind his back.”
“I know. I hear it too. You know they talk about you, too, don’t you?”
“No, but I’m not surprised,” he said as the pair walked together. They had adjacent homerooms and often talked on their way there.
“Well, they don’t understand why you defend him. That’s all.”
“I defend him because we’ve been friends since kindergarten. And he’s a nice guy,” Tim said, wincing as he realized how harsh he must sound.
“I know!” Becky said, her voice placating. “I have nothing against Josh, believe me. But most of us don’t know what to make of him. He’s quiet. He’s not into the stuff most of you guys are into. And there’s that whole Jesus thing.”
“Religion’s important to his family,” Tim shrugged. “And as for the rest, some people are just different.”
“I know. I just wonder if he isn’t too different for his own good. That’s all.”
Tim sighed. “Maybe. But that’s who he is. And like I said, he’s a great guy.”
“I know,” Becky sighed too. Then she added as she stopped by the door to her homeroom. “Catch you at lunch?”
Tim and turned to face her. “Sure, you can join Josh and me.”
“Oh boy, I can listen to you two talk about the play,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Come on, don’t be like that. I try to make sure we talk about stuff you’re interested in too,” Tim said, frowning.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I guess I just feel like a third wheel around the two of you at times. I know it’s not something you or Josh do on purpose.”
“I know you feel that way. I wish I could do more about it. Hey, we better get seated before the bell rings. Talk to you later.” With that, Tim walked the last few feet to his own homeroom and then stepped inside a second before the bell rang. He took his seat as Mrs. Nye started taking attendance.
Josh carried his lunch towards the table he and Tim usually sat at for lunch. He groaned inwardly as he saw Becky sitting next to Tim. His buddy spotted him and waved excitedly with his free hand. He was busy stuffing part of a sandwich in his mouth with the other. Josh set down his plastic tray of beef stroganoff and green beans – he noted they actually were a shade that clearly qualified as green today – and sat across from his buddy. “Hey Tim.” He glanced at the girl and mustered a thin smile as he said, “Hi Becky. Did you have a good weekend?”
“It was okay,” she said as she poked the grayish glob of noodles and beef on her own tray with a fork. “Tim says you had a church thing?”
“Yeah, we had a gospel quartet come in and do a small concert. I agreed to be a greeter and help serve refreshments afterwards.” He glanced at the papers Tim had strewn in front of himself. “Are these the plans you wanted to show me, then?”
Tim nodded excitedly. “Yeah, they’re for the scenes of the play that take place at the cottage.”
Josh studied the sketches and stage plans for a moment. “Do you plan on making these antlers out of paper machete?”
Tim swallowed the bite he had been chewing and shook his head. “No, I figured I’d ask my uncle if I could borrow the set he has up at his hunting cabin. You remember those, don’t you?”
“I think so, yes. They’re over the bookcase by the window. Eight points, I think.”
“Actually, there are nine points. But you have a pretty good memory, all the same.”
“So you’ve been there, Josh?” Becky asked as she scooped up another bite of food.
“Yeah, Tim asked his uncle if he could invite me to join them on their summer trip there, back when I was eleven.”
Tim’s eyes sparkled as he said, “That reminds me, buddy. My uncle wanted to know if you would like to go again this year. He’s planning the trip for the last two weeks in August this year. I figure you should be back from camp by then.”
Josh hesitated. The idea of spending two weeks traipsing through the woods with his best buddy sounded like fun. But the thought of spending that kind of time with his buddy stirred up feelings he wasn’t sure he could deal with. “I don’t know. I’ll have to see what else is going on.”
Tim gave Josh a pleading look. “Oh, come on! It would be a blast. We could do all kinds of things! Who knows, maybe we could even sneak over to Mr. Grundy’s pond and go skinny dipping again. That was so much fun last time!”
Josh’s mind was filled with images of the two of them splashing each other and wrestling naked in the muddy water. He shifted in his seat, thankful that no one could see that the thought had aroused him. “God, forgive me for such thoughts,” he prayed silently. He glanced at his friends, hoping they hadn’t noticed his discomfort.
Becky, who had been studying her food with disinterest, looked up, a mild look of shock on her face. “Skinny dipping? Straight laced Josh went skinny dipping.”
“I was only eleven,” Josh said, feeling a bit defensive.
“It’s hard to believe though, isn’t it?” Tim grinned at Becky.
“Inconceivable!” Becky said, her voice filled with faux shock. Tim chuckled. “Seriously, Josh, I’m impressed. I would’ve never thought you’d do something so…cool.”
Josh squirmed in his seat. “Well, like I said, I was eleven. That sort of thing is okay when you’re a kid. But I don’t think it would be a good thing to do it now that we’re older.”
“Aw, why not?” Tim said, his face a study in disappointment.
“Yeah, why not?” Becky agreed. “I mean, it’s just the two of you. It’s not like there will any girls there. It’s not like you two are going to do anything.”
Josh squirmed under her gaze. That’s easy for you to say, he thought to himself. “Still, I just don’t think it’s appropriate. Besides, I still have to find out if I can go. There’s no point in making all kinds of plans only to find out I can’t.” He glanced at Tim apologetically. His friend stared at the pudding cup in front of him, looking dejected. “We’ll just have to wait and see,” he added encouragingly.
“Yeah, okay,” Tim said in a monotone voice. Josh felt horrible for putting his friend through this. He hated having to maintain some distance between them, lest his own feelings get the better of him. He hated living in fear that if he were to spend more time with his buddy, he’d give in to the desire to hold him and kiss him, to do other things too sinful to even mention.
Worst of all, he was too afraid to tell his friend all this. He was afraid that if he did, he would lose his friend forever, so he kept his secret. He knew that meant he often left Tim wondering why he often avoided spending time with him. The fact that he was causing his friend such pain without even explaining why tore at his conscience.
“Anyway, the plans look good,” he offered.
“Yeah, thanks,” Tim said, still looking down.
Josh sighed. He tried to think of a way to make it up to Tim. Finally, he asked, “Are you going to work on the set after school today? I can give you a hand if you’d like.”
The other boy looked up, his mouth open in surprise. “Um, sure. But I thought you didn’t normally like helping with that stuff.”
“It’s not that I don’t like helping, Tim. It’s that I don’t feel I’m much help. I’m neither a carpenter nor an artist. But if you can find something for me to do in spite of that, I’ll be glad to help out.”
Tim smiled at that. “That’s not a problem. I can think of a few things that I need help with that require no particular skills.”
“Then I’m your man. I’ll meet you backstage after the last bell.” Josh stood up and picked up his tray. “But for now, I think I’m going to see if I can get a hall pass to go to the library. I just remembered that I still need to look up some stuff for my history report. Catch you later. See you Becky.” He headed off.
Becky studied Josh as he returned his tray to the cafeteria dishroom. After a minute, she finally said, “That was awkward.”
Tim shrugged. “You think? He’s been weird like that for a while now. Of course, you teasing him about the skinny dipping probably didn’t help.”
She flinched and touched Tim’s arm in apology. “Yeah, I realized that afterward. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset him.”
She hadn’t meant to upset him. She meant the teasing to be good natured and ultimately approving. She was delighted to learn that he had been able to let loose enough to do something crazy and impulsive like skinny dipping at one time. She wished he would let himself do something like that again, since he seemed to far too uptight most of the time, especially when it came to anything remotely sexual.
She admired Josh because he wasn’t like some of the other guys in their class. They seemed to be obsessed with all things sexual and they were lewd and vulgar about it. She liked that Josh could be far more respectful towards her and the other girls. She just wished he could be respectful without tensing up or going off on some lecture about sin when the topic came up or was even just hinted at.
She felt Tim had a better approach at that. Sure, he could get a little carried away when he hung out with some of his other buddies, but even then he tended to be mild in comparison to the others. In his own way, he could be pretty respectful.
Tim interrupted her musings. “I think offering to help me later was his way of saying sorry for disappointing me.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” she said. She also admired Tim’s loyalty to his friend. He was loyal to all his friends, even when she wasn’t sure they deserved it. She thought that was one of the things that made Tim so wonderful. It was also one of the things that made her jealous of his other friends.
She blushed as she realized what she was thinking. She hoped she masked her feelings well as she patted him on the back. “You’re a good friend, Tim. I’m sure he knows that.”
“Yeah, I hope so,” he said as he ate his pudding.