He was on his way home, a leisurely trip driving back roads in rural Georgia.
A sudden encounter with a young teen interrupted his trip.
He’d just completed a job, and the last thing he needed was a passenger.
Especially a kid as a passenger.
The first thing we did was eat. The boy appeared ravenous, but aren’t all boys always hungry? Fitz enjoyed his burger and wolfed down—can I say that?—the bun and even a few fries that Colt gave him. We didn’t do any talking while eating. When we were finished, I think we both felt a little better. I went out and got us more Cokes. I found an extra ice container someone had left by the machine and brought it back to the room so Fitz would have a water bowl. I balked at letting him drink from the container we were using for our own ice.
“I need a shower, and you do, too,” I said. “You want to go first?”
Colt shook his head. “I should take Fitz out. You go first.”
I stood up. “Just so you know, there’s a couple a few doors down. They shouldn’t be done with what they’re doing yet. They may even be staying the night, but I doubt it. Anyway, you might want to get into the woods and back here as quick as you can. I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
When I came out of the bathroom, wearing only a fresh pair of boxers, Colt was back on the bed. Fitz was, too. I hoped Colt didn’t plan on him sleeping there. “All yours,” I said.
“I don’t have anything to wear but these,” he said, indicating the shorts he was wearing.
I moved to my duffel and pulled out a tee shirt. “You can wear this to sleep in if you want. However you want to do it.”
Colt took the shirt. It would be several sizes too big for him. I wasn’t a small man, and he wasn’t a big kid.
He came out after his shower wearing the shirt. I guessed he liked it better than the shorts. Seemed almost more formal this way. From the look on his face, I guessed he was suddenly more aware of his circumstances. He was alone in a motel room with a man he didn’t know, and he was certainly vulnerable. He was mostly undressed, and I was, too, and there we were. I could see some hesitation in him, some tentativeness, where before he’d been assertive and self-possessed and, at times, cocky. Now, he wasn’t showing any of that.
“Look at me. You have nothing to worry about. I’m straight as a guy wire, I’m not the least bit interested in boys’ bodies, and whatever you might be worried about, don’t be. OK?”
I could see the tension in him dissipate. It was soon replaced with his normal sassiness, and I had to repress a laugh. He was difficult not to like, attitude and all. I wouldn’t have liked him half as much if he’d been shy and demure.
Hey, I thought. What do you mean, like him? You don’t like him! He’s a teenager! Nothing but attitude and trouble. What in the world are you thinking?
I had a point, but I ignored it. Anyway, he was talking.
“I wasn’t worried at all. Just wondering if you got the bed, or we did.” He put his hand on Fitz’s head. I noticed how close the dog stayed to him. When he moved, Fitz did, too. Fitz had even been in the bathroom with him when he’d been showering.
I made it look like I was considering the sleeping arrangements while ignoring his cheekiness. In fact, there’d never been any question in my mind about where I’d sleep. I stepped to one side of the bed and threw back the covers, saying, “I’m taking this side; you can sleep wherever you like. The other side of the bed’s available, or you can sleep on the floor or in the chair. The dog, however, is not sleeping on the bed.”
Colt looked at me like there was something wrong in my head and was about to debate my lack of compassion but then, seeing my eyes and the don’t-fuck-with-me look in them, nodded. “OK,” he said, “but Fitz won’t like it.”
“I can live with that,” I said.
I didn’t get into the bed, however. It was only 7:45. I walked over to the chair and sat. Colt was watching me. “This is when you tell me the rest of why you’re here,” I said. “Where you stopped before was, you’d just explained how your dad, the sheriff, was a bad man. That’s a long step from you and me in this room together and, before that, you standing by the side of the road scared half to death. Now that I know you a little, with your attitude, you being scared of anything doesn’t seem probable. So, you want to fill me in?” I cleared my throat. “‘Want to’ is just me being polite, of course. Talk.”
Colt was standing near the bathroom. Now, he walked over and sat on the bed, Indian-style, facing me. The shirt’s hem pulled up above his knee’s showing me he hadn’t worn his boxers. I wondered if he even had any.
Fitz immediately hopped up and settled down next to him, looking at me. I looked back at him. He seemed friendly enough. I wondered what would happen if anyone made an unfriendly move toward the boy.
“This is part of what I don’t want to tell you,” Colt started.
“Go ahead anyway,” I said. I didn’t say it with any meanness, however. I allowed some compassion to enter my voice, and I could tell he heard it.
He paused, then said, “I think I’m gay. Anyway, there’s this boy where I live...” Colt was watching me very carefully. I didn’t change expressions at all. He evidently decided that was better than my erupting and so continued. “There’s this boy in town, Jerrod, who does something to me. At first, when I just saw him at school, I was always getting this urge to get closer to him. It was easy when other guys were around, like in gym or at lunch, but when I managed to get real close to him and no one else was right there with us, for some reason it became more difficult to breathe. My heart would always speed up. I thought maybe that would change if I got to know him better. So I did. I made friends with him. I started spending time with him. I can do that, you know?”
He said that challengingly. I nodded. Somehow, Colt gave me the impression he was pretty much able to do whatever he set his mind to.
“I liked getting to know him. I liked spending time with him. And it did make the breathing easier. It had to. But it didn’t make it any easier in other ways. And in the end, I was pretty sure I was gay. There was no question at all that at least I was gay for Jerrod.”
He stopped, and now I knew why he’d been scared to tell me this part. Yeah, if I was one of those, one of those people who were like his father, then I could have reacted very badly. But I wasn’t like that. I’d known lots of guys in my life, and the gay ones I’d known were just the same in almost all respects as the straight ones. They didn’t bother me one way or another. Colt was the first gay teenager I’d run across—the first I knew was gay at least. I didn’t spend much time around or thinking about kids. Mostly they were a nuisance.
Because he’d stopped and not continued, I thought maybe he was waiting for me to say something. I obliged him. “Colt, I don’t care if you’re gay or not. Makes no difference at all. I guess to your father it would, though, from what you said.”
He looked relieved, I thought, though more with body language than facial expression. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s part of it.”
He shifted on the bed, which I appreciated. Then he continued. “Jerrod and I got to be good friends. I started spending more time with him. I was surprised that his parents didn’t seem to mind. Most people in that town, because of my Dad, don’t like me much. Dad didn’t care who I spent time with. He didn’t care much at all what I did. He left me alone. It was only at dinner—when he was patting himself on the back for things he’d done and my brothers were laughing along with him and buttering him up and I was just eating and not getting into it with them—that was about the only time he’d notice me at all.
“But someone in town said something to him. He has all kinds of informants in town. Spies. Toadies. It’s how he keeps ahead of everything, knows what’s going on. He gives his snitches breaks on some of the things they do. So they’re eager to pass on anything they think he might want to know. And someone told him I was spending a lot of time with Jerrod.
“See, there are people in town that think Jerrod’s parents are commies because everyone seems to know they vote for Democrats. Jerrod’s father had even run for mayor once as a Democrat. Didn’t have a chance of winning, but he’d done it.”
I snorted. Colt continued.
“Dad asked me about Jerrod. Asked me about his parents. Dad isn’t as good as you are about knowing who’s lying to him; he just sort of thinks everyone is. So I told him a bunch of crap about Jerrod and his parents, and he didn’t believe me, which I’d known would be the case. His attitude toward me got colder.
“Then Jerrod told me he was gay and he liked me. That changed things. I told him I might be gay, too. I didn’t know. I mean, some of the girls, well, they could get me hot, but no one got me as hot as Jerrod did. No way. I told him how bad it would be if my father got any clue at all that I was gay.”
He stopped then. I could see he was having memories that weren’t good.
“Even I didn’t know how bad,” he said in a voice had gotten a little hoarse.
“You need a break?” I asked.
He nodded, hiding his eyes in doing so.
“I’ll get you another Coke,” I said, hoping the time it took to get it would give him a chance to recover.
I slipped on my trousers. I had to pass the other occupied room to get to the machine. I could hear thumping noises and groans as I passed. I noticed one of the windows was open. There was a curtain across it, but the sounds of what was happening inside weren’t being contained at all.
When I returned, Colt had regained his composure. He took the Coke gratefully and downed about half of it in one long pull. Then he put down the can and said, “I’m almost done.”
“OK,” I replied and sat back down on the chair.
“I don’t know what brought on what happened next,” Colt said. “But, today, Dad came home at lunchtime and brought my brothers with him. I was making a sandwich, and he grabbed my arm and told me to come with him. He walked me out into the back yard and through to the woods behind the house. My brothers came, too, and one of them was carrying my .22.
“When we were pretty deep in the woods, well out from town, we stopped in a small clearing, and my dad let go of me and pushed me away from him. Then he said, ‘I hear you’re queer for that Carter boy. Hear you’d been being homo with him. That true?’ I told him no. I wasn’t queer, and me and Jerrod, we were just friends, was all.
“He didn’t believe me. Told me he thought I was a queer, that I acted like one, all soft and girly, and he wasn’t having any queer sons. Told me if I was a queer, to tell him and he’d shoot me and that would be that. Looking at him, I believed him. He would have shot me and walked home and had lunch and never given it another thought. Left me for the scavengers to deal with.”
Colt saw the expression on my face and nodded. I guess I was showing my feelings, my disgust and anger. I also felt a strong sense of sympathy. I think he saw that, too, and that was what he reacted to. He nodded, looked me in the eyes, and his face softened. Then he sat up straighter.
“I told him I wasn’t gay. He said, ‘Prove it.’ ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ I asked him. ‘Queers are weak and sentimental. They can’t do anything that real men could do in a heartbeat. So, show me you’re not soft. Shoot the dog.’
“My brother handed me the .22. Fitz was by my side. He always is. I rescued him when he was just a puppy. He’s been with me ever since. We’re a team. Now Dad wanted me to shoot him, or he’d shoot me. And the thing was, I had no doubts at all that he’d do that if I refused to shoot Fitz. In fact, he’d probably shoot Fitz first, because he’d be afraid Fitz would attack him if he shot me.
“I took the gun. Dad said, ‘There’s one shell in there. Only one. So don’t get any ideas about using it for anything but shooting the dog. Go ahead.’
“I looked at the three of them and saw that both my brothers had their handguns out of their holsters. They were hanging at their sides, but they were ready. Dad must have told them in advance to do that. They’d have been clueless otherwise.”
He swallowed. “I wasn’t going to shoot Fitz. Maybe I’d die, maybe he would, but I wasn’t going to shoot him. So, I did the only thing I could think of. I raised the rifle and pointed it at my dad’s face. ‘One bullet is all I need,’ I told him. ‘I’ll shoot you, and both of you two,’ I said, briefly glancing at my brothers, ‘can shoot me or not. If you do, you’re both too stupid to get away with it. So Dad and I’ll be dead, but you two, you’ll get to rot in prison a few years before it’s your turn to either fry in the chair or get the shot in the arm.’
“Neither one of them had thought to raise his weapon, so I told them that if either did, thinking to shoot me before I could shoot Dad, I’d shoot him as soon as I saw a gun come up. Dad quickly told them to drop their guns, and they both did. They always did what he told them to do.
“As they were dropping them, I took off running. I’m pretty quick. My brothers and father all weigh over 300 pounds and aren’t light on their feet. I knew if I could get out of sight of them, I’d be safe.
“They came after me. I was sure my brothers had stopped to pick up their guns, and my dad had his. And sure enough, I’d only gone a few steps, dodging into the trees, when I heard a shot. One of them, probably Dad, had fired at me. It didn’t hit me. There were already some trees between us, and I was running bent over at first to give a small target.”
He picked up his can of Coke and finished it. As he was doing so, I asked him, softly, “You OK?”
He nodded. “Just about done,” he said. Then he burped and continued. “I knew I could get away, but if they were right behind me, I wasn’t sure how it would all work out. I couldn’t run forever, and my plan, heading to the road and hoping to flag down a car, wouldn’t work if they were close enough behind, because they could get a license number. I didn’t want to put anyone in that kind of jeopardy. So, when I got a little ahead, I moved at a right angle to the way I’d been running and stopped. Pretty quickly I saw my older brother Burt coming up on me. They’d spread apart as I’d expected. I waited till I had a clear aim, then shot him in the leg. I figured that would slow them down. One of them would have to help him, and that would leave only one to pursue me.
“I took off again. Running, then walking. Then running again. I’d dropped the rifle—hadn’t seen any point in carrying it after I’d shot my one bullet. I didn’t think anyone was still following after I’d been out there for a half hour, but I wasn’t sure. It’s easy to think someone’s right behind you. Every noise you hear, you think someone’s about to pop out at you. Even without noises, your mind makes you think someone’s drawn a bead on you ‘most every step you take. The more time passed, the more lightheaded I was getting with fear. That was draining my energy pretty fast. The only thing that kept me going was knowing how hard it had to be for whoever was chasing me to get through those woods.
“I’d been heading sort of diagonally toward the road, and it occurred to me that maybe whoever was still after me had figured out the road would be my target and had headed straight for it, not following me at all, hoping to catch me when I stepped out of the woods.
“That would have been the smart thing to do, and while my brothers aren’t smart, and while I was sure it would be my younger brother Bart chasing me because my father wouldn’t be able to go very far through the woods with his weight and at his age, it was still possible that someone would be waiting by the road for me to come out. And if he wasn’t able to catch me or shoot me, he could certainly identify any vehicle that stopped for me.”
Fitz could hear the tension in Colt’s voice as Colt revisited his afternoon’s fears. He moved so he could rest his head on Colt’s thigh. Colt responded by sagging a bit, then put his hand on the dog’s head. That seemed to give him energy. His voice was stronger when he continued.
“When I got to the road, I didn’t come out of the woods. Instead, I headed north, staying just inside the tree line and keeping Fitz out of sight, too. I didn’t see a car coming for a long time, which meant we’d worked our way some distance north by then, and I thought it likely we were safe. But I wasn’t sure, and that’s why I looked like I did when I was waving my arms at you, and wanted you to step on it when I got in the truck.”
He stopped, looking at me, looking for a reaction. He got one. I got up and stepped over to the bed and opened my arms. He caught on real quick. He sort of leaped into my arms, and I hugged him. “I don’t hug kids,” I said while squeezing him, “but this seems a good time for an exception.”
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