Lesson Plans by Cole Parker

13-year-old Neil Swenson has lived a life of restriction, sadness and denial.
Now, he's moved to Mississippi and is hoping things change.



Part 4
Chapter 13

The summer was passing. The air remained steamy during the days, as it will in Mississippi when the summer moves toward fall, but the nights had begun getting cooler.

The boys had spent almost the entire time together.

Neil’s father had been working throughout the parish all summer, preaching on Sundays and doing pastoral work during the week, and Neil had been spending almost all his nights with Tory; rarely had he slept in his own house. Somehow, it seemed Tory’s parents had simply forgotten about fixing a separate room for Neil, perhaps because the boys got on together so well. They’d spent so many nights together that, some time ago now, they’d dispensed with the lesson plans. Tory had found that keeping Neil comfortable and giving him confidence so there was nothing to be frightened about was one of his greatest pleasures. It seemed to him that Neil had become less in need of the control the lessons provided him as he’d gained trust in Tory. Their education during that early phase, however, had gone well; both had earned A’s in their studies, learning each other’s body intimately and what each liked—and what each really, really liked. They had learned each other’s moods and dispositions, and the more they learned, the closer they’d grown to each other.

They’d spent many days with Marcus and Conner, too. They’d even spent a night or two with them. Marcus’s dad had a cabin on the far side of their extensive property, hidden away at the edge of the woods, that he rented out when someone wanted to spend a rustic week or weekend away from the bustle of the city, and when it wasn’t leased out, Marcus could usually wheedle the use of it for him and Conner and even for friends if his dad met them and approved of them.

Marcus’s dad was a large, robust man who’d grown up on a horse ranch and loved the life of a rancher. His education had ended after high school, but he had a native intelligence and people skills that served him well. He’d known Tory for several years now and thoroughly approved of him. Neil had been shy around him at first, but the man had a way of making people comfortable in his presence, and it wasn’t long before Neil came out of his shell with him.

So a few times, Tory and Neil had asked permission from Tory’s parents to spend the night in the cabin with the other two boys. Tory had been surprised; his father had smiled and said it was fine, to enjoy themselves. Tory had seen his father looking at him lately with an expression that could almost be called gentle. Tory didn’t understand it but sure wasn’t going to say anything. The expression ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ came to mind.

The cabin was great fun. Tory didn’t think Neil would be able to do anything sexual in such a situation and didn’t press him to on those occasions. Neil didn’t appear to be shy when he stripped to his underwear in the cabin along with the other boys—they’d all seen each other naked, as they’d been skinny-dipping many times through the summer, of course. They sat up late playing cards, violent video games and just talking while eating a ton of junk food and drinking pop and not having to listen to any preaching from parents. It was great!

Tory was right, however, about having any sort of sex. Neil didn’t initiate anything and seemed grateful that Tory didn’t, either. The other two boys, hearing that nothing was going on in the second bed in the cabin, didn’t do more than kiss on those nights. Such was their respect for the sensibilities of the other pair they were hosting.

The summer was coming to an end, and school loomed. Neil was enrolled at the school where Tory, Conner and Marcus went, his father not knowing how to get him home-schooled when he wouldn’t be there to supervise. So he’d reluctantly accepted the fact his boy would be a member of the public-school student population of rural southern Mississippi.

Tory was sure this summer had been the happiest period in Neil’s life. Tory’s parents had been wonderful with the boy, extending to him the love he’d missed out on since his mother had died. This appeared to have done wonders for Neil’s self-confidence. While still showing some of the shyness he’d brought with him to Mississippi, he’d also been learning how to overcome it.

♂ ♂

Neil and Tory came home in the afternoon of a busy day helping out at the Townes’ ranch. Tory loved the fact that Neil no longer acted fearful of the horses and in fact now helped out when a party hired a group of horses for a trail ride and picnic. The horses needed to be combed and curried, tails and manes detangled and tamed, then saddled and bridled. Neil had watched this operation a few times, seen Tory pitch in, and finally asked if he could help. He’d gotten better at it with practice and was starting to be treated as an old hand by the other boys. Tory noted the pride Neil felt about this. He had the impression the boy hadn’t ever had much reason to be proud of himself before.

It was early evening on a Friday, two weeks before school would start up. Both boys were hot and sticky when they came into the house. “My shower first,” Neil was saying, and Tory wasn’t bothering to answer, simply racing for the stairs, when a voice stopped them.

“Neil!”

It had been two weeks since Neil had last seen his father. Tory had grown to hate the man because he saw how he affected his son. Now he saw Neil appear to actually shrink on hearing his father’s voice. This was the way he always behaved when his father addressed him. Tory had to bite his tongue.

Neil stopped his scurrying for the stairs and walked into the living room. His father was sitting in one of the armchairs with Mr. and Mrs. Edgerton in two others. Mr. Swenson had a dour expression on his face, but that was usual for him.

“Neil, I have some things to say to you.”

That sounded ominous, and Tory stepped out from behind Neil and stood next to him, seeming to want to reassure him just by his presence.

Before Mr. Swenson could continue, Mr. Edgerton spoke. “You two look like you were headed up for a shower, and I can see you need it. This can wait till you’re refreshed. Come back down when you’re ready, please.”

Neil gulped, still looking at his father, whose face showed him nothing. As Tory turned to go, he reached back and tugged on Neil’s arm, breaking the trance he seemed to be in. They both went upstairs together, no longer in the jubilant mood they’d been in. Mr. Swenson’s showing up had a way of making things seem portentous.

Twenty minutes later the two boys, red-cheeked and with still-damp hair, rejoined the adults. They sat on the sofa, next to each other, something the Edgertons noted and Mr. Swenson didn’t.

They were barely seated when Mr. Swenson began. “Neil, I’ve been offered a position back in Sala. Some of the board members of the church where I used to be pastor are unhappy with the direction the church has drifted in since I left. They are talking about starting a new church, one that will have more respect for the Bible, and they want me to come back and take a leadership role. They want to appoint me senior pastor. I’m going to accept, and we’ll be leaving here in a week.”

Neil’s face lost its ruddiness, becoming pale. Unconsciously, he moved closer to Tory, his body now up against that of his friend.

“We?” he said, his voice scratchy.

“Of course,” his father answered, unconscious of or simply uncaring about the turmoil the boy seemed to be experiencing.

“But…but…” Neil didn’t finish, seeming to be in shock.

There was an extended moment of silence, and then Mr. Edgerton spoke. “Mr. Swenson, is this a permanent position in an established church?” His voice was soft, and the glance he sent in Neil’s direction was compassionate.

Mr. Swenson took a deep breath and then let it out. “At this point, they’re still working on details. But they want me there so I can help advise and formalize. I’m sure it will become permanent. I’m sure they’ll find a building for services, though they don’t have one yet. This is a great opportunity, and I want to be there throughout the inceptive stages.”

Mr. Edgerton turned to look at his wife, who was looking back and forth between Mr. Swenson and the boys. Mr. Swenson was looking only at the adults, ignoring the boys and the effect he was having on them.

Slowly, Mr. Edgerton began shaking his head. When he spoke, it was with sadness. “Mr. Swenson, we’ve grown very fond of Neil in the time we’ve had him here. We feel a certain amount of affection and protectiveness. I don’t think taking him to Sweden just as the school year is beginning, into a situation that sounds like it’s still in its very earliest stages and may or may not become what you’re envisioning, is the best thing for Neil. Can I make a suggestion? What if he were to stay here for his freshman year in high school? You could go to Sala on your own. You wouldn't be burdened with the responsibility and the distraction of caring for a teenaged son, thus allowing you to spend all your time building the church into what you want it to be, something I think you’d enjoy. Meanwhile, Neil would be with friends at this critical stage in his development. I think this might be the best thing for both of you.”

Mr. Swenson was shaking his head even before Tory’s dad had finished. “A son’s place is beside his father. This hasn’t been the case this summer. But Sweden is where he belongs—with me. I greatly appreciate how you’ve looked after him, but it must now come to an end.”

To everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Edgerton spoke then, and her voice wasn’t at all sad. It was, instead, challenging.

“Mr. Swenson, have you noticed the changes in Neil this summer?”

Mr. Swenson’s forehead wrinkled as he thought about that, and then he shook his head and said, “No, I haven’t. He’s still the same boy, just a few months older.”

“Well, I hate to contradict you, but no, he isn’t. He came to us a frightened, shy, guarded and somewhat withdrawn boy. Here, with Tory, he’s blossomed into a more confident, outgoing and if I can say it, much happier young man. I’m very much afraid that he’d lose the gains he’s made if he’s forced to return to Sweden.”

“Forced?! You’d use that word when a son rejoins his father in a great opportunity? Forced, indeed!”

“You might ask him what his feelings are.” Mr. Edgerton’s calm demeanor was gradually slipping.

“I don’t need to ask him! He knows his place is with his father!”

Mr. Edgerton donned a wan, if forced, smile. “Still… To humor me, perhaps?”

Mr. Swenson huffed and turned to Neil. “Neil?”

Neil was now pressing hard into Tory. “I wish to stay here, Father. More than anything. I don’t want to return to Sweden. I want to stay here—with the Edgertons. With Tory. More than anything.”

“Nonsense! I’m sorry, but this is… is…nonsensical! Of course you’ll come with me. There’ll be no more discussion. I suggest you get your things and come back with me to the house now. This has been a bad mistake, I can see that.”

He stood up. The others remained seated. The air was brittle with an electric intensity.

When Mr. Edgerton spoke, he was still calm, but his eyes were hard, and there was now steel in his voice. “Mr. Swenson, please sit down. I have something to say you need to hear, and I don’t want to be looking up at you when I say it. Please.” It was voiced as a request, but came across as an order.

Mr. Swenson was glowering, but something in the quiet presence Mr. Edgerton was displaying registered with him, and he slowly settled back into his chair.

Mr. Edgerton slowly shook his head, and instead of speaking to Mr. Swenson, turned to the boys. “I apologize to you both for what I’m going to say now. I was going to speak to you about this soon, anyway, and don’t like doing it this way. I’m sorry I have to, but this is necessary.” Then he turned to Mr. Swenson.

“Mr. Swenson, how will your new church feel about homosexuality? And before you read me a sermon, how will they feel about having a pastor whose son is a homosexual?”

The effect of that was arresting. There was shocked silence in the room. No one moved, no one spoke. As pale as Neil had been, Tory was suddenly the same.


Chapter 14

I thought I might faint. The only thing keeping me from falling into a fetal position on the couch was Tory’s support. But then, after looking at him going pale, I could see he needed me as much as I needed him, and understanding that, I sat up straighter. And, doing so, I realized, for maybe the first time, that I wasn’t the frightened, shy, withdrawn boy I’d been when I’d first met Tory. As Mrs. Edgerton had said, I’d grown, and not just taller.

My father was now glaring at me, not Mr. Edgerton. But Mr. Edgerton continued speaking after a brief pause . “Mr. Swenson, my wife and I have known for some time. I had a major problem with it when I first suspected. My wife told me we needed to talk to our pastor before confronting the boys. We did that. And he told us many things we hadn’t considered. We’ve grown, just as Neil has. We want the boys to be happy. We want them to grow up loved and supported and to become whatever they can become. There are still adults who think homosexuality is a choice, but our pastor convinced us that that is now strictly a view taken only by people with closed minds. The vast majority of modern thought is that homosexuality is a genetic variant, just like many others. Growing up with you as he did, Neil certainly wouldn’t have chosen to be gay any more than other gay boys would. He didn’t choose this; he was born to be who he is. And it’s a parent’s job to support and nurture a son and, most of all, to love him unconditionally. Mr. Swenson, knowing Neil is gay, can you love him?”

“Nonsense! Neil isn’t gay. I’ll never accept that!”

“I was afraid that would be your response. Then answer this: hypothetically, if you had a son who was gay, not Neil but a hypothetical son, could you love him? Could you stand before your congregation in Sala and announce that you had a homosexual son and you loved and supported him? Could you, Mr. Swenson?”

I watched as Father absorbed the question. I watched as the red left his face and he turned pale. I watched as Mrs. Edgerton stood up, crossed the room and sat down next to me and put her arm around me, hugging me to her.

“Mr. Swenson,” Mr. Edgerton continued, after the silence in the room had grown uncomfortable, “perhaps it would be best if you’d leave now and think about what I’ve said. Neil is happy here. We’ll continue to take care of him. Perhaps you could go to Sala. Perhaps you can help establish the new church there. Perhaps, next summer, after the idea of having a gay son has percolated a bit, you can come back and we can talk some more. But I don’t think you’re ready to accept this situation now, and I don’t think taking Neil now would be in either of your best interests.”

Everyone remained silent. Then my father rose and walked to the door, opened it and walked out, closing it behind him. We heard his car start and drive away. Never once, after briefly glaring at me after Mr. Edgerton’s pronouncement, had my father looked at me again.

♂ ♂

After my father had left, Mrs. Edgerton had taken over. “Hot chocolate,” she’d said in an atypical-for-her, stern voice. “We all need something comforting to drink, and that’s the best I can offer. In the kitchen. We can talk in there.”

We all meekly rose. Tory was still pale but seemed able to walk OK.

We sat around the kitchen table while Mrs. Edgerton busied herself heating milk, getting out cups and the cocoa mix. Tory was looking at his dad as though the man was a stranger.

His dad finally looked at him and gave him an apologetic smile. “OK, so maybe I should have said something earlier. But I wasn’t sure. Pastor Hendly said sometimes with boys as young as you two that it’s just a phase. He also said whether it is or isn’t, you two are as fine a pair of boys as he’s had the chance to meet, and we, your mom and I, needed to change our thinking and relate to the world the way it is, not the way it was in Old Testament times, or we’d regret it for the rest of our lives. And, he said, we needed to change sooner rather than later.

“He’s a persuasive man, and we’ve both been watching how the two of you relate together ever since. It’s obvious how you feel about each other; it has been since near the beginning, and watching you today, how you support each other, how you care about each other, what you mean to each other, it’s more obvious still. I can see this is no phase. This is you two, coping with your troubles together, growing together, caring about each other—and it’s really something to see. I’m happy you have each other, and I’m happy I’ll get to see you mature together.”

He’d been looking at us both. Now he turned toward his son. “Tory, as much as Neil has changed this summer, you have, too. You’re so much happier now than you were. You were always a confident boy, but now you’re so much more. At the beginning of the summer you seemed to be becoming like so many teens: rebellious, uncommunicative with us, uncaring about this family. This summer, you started to look outside yourself, caring about someone else, and it’s had a big effect on you.

 “I think most of that comes from seeing Neil’s needs and nurturing him. His growth has come at your hands. But yours has come at his, too. You’re stronger than you were at the beginning of the summer, you’re more centered, you know what you want more, but mostly, as I said, you’re happier. And your mother and I are delighted about that.

“We watched it happen, and we spoke many times with Pastor Hendly, and over the summer, we’ve changed, too. I was unhappy and scared at the beginning when I first thought about what was happening. But I listened to the pastor and did what he asked; I gave it a chance and tried to understand. He also reminded me of something important: we love you, Tory. And in the time you’ve been here, we’ve gotten to love you, too, Neil. With all these changes, we’ve become a stronger family.”

Mrs. Edgerton spoke then. “That’s the most important thing Pastor Hendly spoke to us about, Tory: loving you. He made us both realize that you were the most important thing in our lives. More important than anything else. We thought, because our parents had been religious and brought us up to be, that we had to bring you up that way, too. And because the church had a lot of negative views of boys like you, we didn’t know what to do. But Pastor Hendly showed us we could still be religious about values that mattered, but your sexuality wasn’t one of those. Loving you was what mattered the most. Your happiness did, too.

“I don’t say things very well so am probably not being very clear here, but when he started asking if we loved you and if we did so unconditionally, that’s when we started looking at you two differently. Yes, we were scared at first, but then we really looked, and we saw what you were, and it wasn’t frightening, it was profound. We saw love. We saw goodness and kindness and caring. And we decided we were going to support it, not fight it.”

Tory had tears in his eyes. I put my hand over Tory’s. Mr. Edgerton paused and smiled. Then he looked at each of us individually. “At the very least you two will have each other for another year, and from what I saw of your father, Neil, he won’t be changing his mind. Some men can’t. They’re locked into their beliefs, and there’s no changing them. He appears to be that kind.”

“You, you really don’t care if I’m gay?” Tory could hardly get the words out, and I reached over and this time took both his hands in both of mine. He might have been having difficulty believing this, but I wasn’t. I believed what Mr. Edgerton had said and knew I could show my feelings for and support of Tory now without hiding anything, without feeling any guilt at all.

Mr. Edgerton didn’t answer. Instead, he got up and came to Tory and hugged him. Tory’s mom got in on the act, too, and I watched, feeling so much emotion that I got tears in my eyes.

What I found so remarkable was, after that, they didn’t even say anything at all about us being together at night. I guess they’d known what we were doing, if not specifically at least generally, for quite a while and had come to terms with it.

Or maybe they’d even known more than generally, at least since the bedroom door hadn’t been entirely closed that one morning. Maybe one of them had seen us, sleeping nude, curled up together. Maybe they’d seen how much love we had for each other. Maybe it had helped.

♂ ♂

School was on the horizon, getting closer every day. And as the days passed, I got more and more nervous.   

OK, I wasn’t nearly the same boy I’d been, but I was facing an entirely new situation, and I didn’t think being nervous about that was in any way strange. Whether it was or not, I was still nervous.

I knew it could have been a lot worse. I’d read about high schools in America where older boys acted like sharks, looking for young freshmen and treating them as chum. I’d heard Tory talking about Timothy McAdam and how I needed to avoid him. I’d heard about having to ride to school on buses and being terrorized on those trips. I’d heard about initiations and hazing in P.E. classes and the showers. I could have been worried about all that, but my situation was different. I had a friend in Tory who’d be with me as much as he could be, and both Marcus and Conner, too, who Tory had told me were very popular kids at school. They’d be there for me, too.

But I was still nervous. I tried to hide this from Tory. I wasn’t the timid, reclusive kid I’d once been, and I wanted Tory to be proud of me for having outgrown that. So I didn’t let on how I was feeling as the summer days dwindled down.

The night before our first day at school, we were in bed, cuddled up, and, in that sort of afterglow we both often felt, Tory whispered in my ear, “OK, Neil, spill it.”

I wriggled to get more comfortable in his arms and said, “Huh?”

I could feel his stomach rumble as he laughed. “Whatever it is that’s had you upset for the last week. I figured you’d tell me, eventually, but you haven’t, so… now’s the time. Out with it.”

I should have known I couldn’t hide anything I was feeling from him. I shrugged myself up out of his arms and sat up against the headboard. He joined me.

“It’s nothing. It’s silly. I’m just wondering about going to school with a lot of kids I don’t know, a lot of older kids. I’ll get over it. I’ll be fine after tomorrow, I’m sure. But it’s been growing on me as tomorrow’s approached. I just don’t know what to expect. There’ll be some kids that hate guys like us, guys like Marcus and Conner. What’ll happen if I’m all alone in P.E.? I just worry, that’s all.”

He put an arm around my shoulders. “Hey. I love you. You know that, don’t you?”

He’d never said that before, but yes, I knew. I hadn’t ever said it to him, either. I don’t know why. I just hadn’t.

He continued, not waiting for a response. “We have each other, and that’s the way it’s going to be. No one will hassle you. It’s not that kind of school. It’s small, we all know each other, and the kids’ll love you when they find out who you are and get to know you. Nobody’ll care that you’re gay. Yeah, this is Mississippi, but it’s not the Mississippi of the 1960s. Some old, old adults still have their prejudices, some of the religious folks do, but the kids, almost all of them, are fine, especially around here.

“You don’t have to worry about anything. Just remember, I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said, and he replied, “You’d better!”

Then he laughed, and I did, too, and we snuggled up, and I didn’t have any trouble falling to sleep. I wasn’t worried about tomorrow any longer, either.

The End


<<< Part 3: Chapters 9 to 12


This story was written as a gift for a dear friend of mine. It’s with his permission and at his behest that it is being posted.

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Cole


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This story is Copyright © 2014-2023 by Cole Parker and the image is Copyright © 2014-2023 by Paul. They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.

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