Starting Point (by Grant Bentley)

Starting Point

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

I am an associate professor at Highlands University where I teach an introductory physics class. I am in the Graduate Degree Program at the university working on my doctoral thesis. I am also working with the research team studying Experimental Condensed Matter Physics.

What is condensed matter physics? It is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic or easily visible physical properties of matter. In particular, it is concerned with the condensed phases that appear whenever the constituents or parts in a system are extremely large and the interactions between them are strong. The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids. There are more remarkable condensed phases which include the Bose-Einstein condensate, the superconducting phase, and the subject of my doctoral thesis, the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic phases of spins on atomic lattices.

One of the reasons for calling the field "condensed matter physics" is that many of the concepts and techniques developed for studying solids also apply to fluid systems. For example, the conduction electrons in an electrical conductor form a type of quantum fluid with fundamentally the same properties as fluids made up of atoms. In fact, the phenomenon of superconductivity, in which the electrons condense into a new fluid phase in which they can flow without dissipation, is very similar to the superfluid phase found in He 4 and He 3 at low temperatures when two of these atoms pair and take on boson properties. That’s helium of isotope 4 with two protons and two neutrons and helium of isotope 3 with two protons and one neutron.

Sound interesting? I’m thinking not. Most of you are probably shaking your heads and saying, “What?”

For the most part, it basically means nothing to anyone except physics freaks. I mean, seriously, who really cares what boson properties are. Do you? I don’t and I know what they are. In fact, I don’t care much about anything I just wrote. Unfortunately it’s my life…at least for the present. Perhaps you need to learn a little more about me to understand my slightly negative attitude. I don’t want to study condensed matter physics and I don’t want to be an associate professor of Physics. I don’t want to be here.

So why am I here then? Why am I doing research in condensed matter physics? Because that is what my father wants.

My name is Charles Anderson Bradfield. I am considered a genius. I’m not trying to brag but my IQ is in the top fifth percentile. I can listen to a physics lecture and six months later write an exam on that same lecture and get 100%. I don’t have to write notes and I don’t have to study. Oh, and I am fifteen years old.

I have studied physics since I was seven. Because I have such a high IQ, I have been pushed to excel all my life. I was home schooled until I was twelve when I became the youngest student to enter the university. I was enrolled in the Faculty of Science—Physics Department. When I was thirteen, I was the youngest student to enter the Physics Department’s research centre. I had my picture in the paper on both occasions. Since my father’s dream is that I will one day be a famous physicist, what proud days those were…for my parents. But I don’t want to be the next Einstein or the next Schrödinger. Of course no one has asked me what I want because what I want isn’t important. But the truth is, I want to be me. I want to be a kid.

I had been almost completely isolated from the world outside my home until the university, specifically the Physics Department, became my second home. It's not like I have been locked up or anything. I was just never allowed to go anywhere without a parent right beside me. We visited relatives from time to time and I have often gone shopping at the mall with my parents or gone to a restaurant, but I have never gone anywhere alone. Even now, my father takes me to the university, drops me off and picks me up. He is a professor of Entomology at the university so it’s not exactly out of his way.

I have no friends. In fact I have never had a friend, not even as a child. They would get in the way of my studies, my father told me. If he caught me watching children playing outside he would say, “You’re too intelligent for such things. Only the simple are entertained by such foolishness.”

I would have given anything to have been simple…to have been a child. I was never given the opportunity to be a child, just a little adult. My parents never once cuddled me, hugged me, played with me, or even kissed me. I have been spoken to and treated like an adult in all aspects of my life…except for having freedom. Freedom would only lead to distractions and distractions would affect my studies and ruin my chance, I mean my father’s chance, of my becoming a famous physicist.

I have never been camping. I have never had a sleepover. I have never wandered around a mall just for the fun of it. I have never played a sport. I haven’t read a book that didn’t have the word physics in it. If it wasn’t for the Internet, I wouldn’t even know what camping or sleepovers were. I learned about them on the Internet. Of course my parents have no idea where I go or what I do on the Internet. One thing about being a genius is that no matter how good the parental controls are, I’m better. No matter how good the tracking devices installed on the computer are, I’m better.

Everything I know about normal life I learned from reading stories and watching videos on the Internet. Even the word fuck I had to learn from the Internet. I like it and, unless things change, on my eighteenth birthday I am going to use it. It will be the second last word my father hears me say. The last word he hears will be off. On that day I will be legally an adult and I’m walking out the front door and never coming back. My father and my mother have never been either a father or a mother. All they have ever been so far are the adults in charge…the prison guards. I will have a PhD in Physics and combined with my research credentials, I will be able to study and teach in nearly any university in the world. I already have a very substantial bank account from my research work and work as an associate professor at the university. I made sure it was in my name and my name only so no one has access to it but me. I won’t starve to death or lack for a place to live. But that is all in the future.

In the mean time, however, I am so tired of being alone and feeling lonely. I want to be able to talk to someone my own age. I want a friend. I want to play ball. I want to laugh. I want to wrestle. I want to spend a whole day just walking around a mall. I want to go camping. I want to be hugged. I want to be kissed. I want a boyfriend. That’s right, a boyfriend. I even had to discover that on the Internet. I’m gay. Something else I had to figure out and work through alone.

As I said earlier, I have never been out of the house to go anywhere without my father or mother, or both. My father may have done his best to keep me under his control and to protect me from the simple children, but it ends in two weeks. He, my mother, and I are going to have a talk. Actually, I will talk and they will listen. I will assure them that I will complete my PhD, but they will know that it will be on my terms. It should be a bit of a shock to both of them as I have never talked back, never argued with them, and never taken a stand before.

But, a lot has changed in the last year. One, I have grown nearly a foot and now stand six feet two inches tall. Two, I am on the verge of going insane if things don’t change. And three, I will be sixteen in two weeks and have the legal right to leave home without parental supervision. Together, these three factors have combined to give me the confidence to stand up for myself. And that is exactly what I am going to do. Then, I’m going to the mall…alone. I’m going to have a burger with fries and gravy. Afterwards, I’m going to walk through every store in the place…well, except maybe the women’s clothing stores. It will be my birthday present to myself and will be the first birthday present I have ever received.

I discovered that two weeks can be a long time when you are waiting for something, especially when you are waiting for something life-changing, but finally the two weeks were up. I don’t think I slept more than two or three hours that night and by 6:30 I was wide awake. I decided to get up, have breakfast and wait for my parents to come downstairs. At about 8:30 they both walked into the kitchen. Of course neither one of them even acknowledged that it was my birthday. They simply went about preparing their breakfasts.

Once they were seated at the table, I announced to them that I was going to go out for the day.

My mother looked stunned for a few seconds before replying, “It is much to dangerous to be out on your own. You have no idea what it’s like out there.”

My father stared at me for a minute before stating, “You will do no such thing. You have work to do on your thesis. It’s due in three months and needs to be perfect if you are to get your PhD.”

I just looked at him for a minute or so before asking him, “How old am I?”

He replied, “Fifteen.”

I then told him, “Look at the date.”

His face paled for a second or two before he turned back and stated emphatically, “You are not going to jeopardize everything. I will not stand for some foolish teenage rebellion destroying everything you have worked so hard for.”

“I’m not jeopardizing anything. If you don’t know me well enough by now to know that I would never allow myself to jeopardize my PhD, then you don’t know me at all,” I replied. “I am simply going out for the day. I am old enough and intelligent enough to spend time alone without jeopardizing anything.”

I then grabbed my coat, walked out the front door and down the front walk. My father shouted something to me but I wasn't listening.

When I reached the sidewalk I stopped and simply looked around. I could hardly believe I was out here…alone. I cannot explain how I felt at that moment. It will be a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. I turned to the left and started walking slowly towards the mall. ‘I am finally free. This is going to be the best day of my life,’ I said to myself.

As the mall didn't open until 10:00, I spent some time walking around the park. I watched the ducks and geese as they paddled about in the pond and watched some kids playing soccer. As soon as the mall opened, I went to the food section, found a burger place and ordered a triple burger, loaded with fries and gravy, and a Coke. Once I had it, I found an empty table and sat down to enjoy my first ever burger. After the first bite I was in heaven. My arteries may have already started to harden, but I didn't care. This was soooo good.

As I was focusing on my burger, I heard someone say, “Hi. Can I sit here?”

I looked up and saw this young fellow about my age or a little older standing looking at me with a big smile and holding a tray full of food.

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

“Andrew,” he said as soon as he sat down.

“Charles,” I replied. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’ve don’t think I’ve seen you here before,” he stated.

“I don’t get out on my own that often,” I told him.

“Why not? Get grounded a lot?” he asked with a grin.

“Grounded?” I asked.

“Yeah, you know, not allowed out of the house because you’re in trouble,” he replied.

“Oh no,” I responded. “I don’t get into trouble.”

“Then why don’t you get out on your own much?” he asked. “Your parents just make you stay home for no reason?”

“They don’t want me to fall behind in my studies,” I said.

“I can relate to that,” he said with a laugh. “My parents are always on my case to bring my marks up in school. Speaking of which, how come I’ve never seen you in school? You home schooled or something?”

“Or something,” I said.

“Okay, what's or something?” he asked.

“I’m not in high school, I attend the university.” I replied.

“No way. You’re too young,” he responded.

“Actually I’m working on my PhD in Physics,” I said.

“Yeah, right and I’m the Pope,” he said laughing.

“Seriously, I started university when I was twelve,” I told him.

He studied me for a minute before he asked, “For real?”

“Yes, why would I lie to you?” I asked.

“You must be some kind of genius then,” he said.

“Actually I am,” I replied.

He grinned at me before he asked, “Okay, so what are you working on for your PhD?”

“My thesis is on the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic phases of spins on atomic lattices,” I responded.

“Okaaaay. The only words I recognized were phases, spins and atomic,” he said laughing. “So you really are in university?”

“Yes I am,” I answered.

“Cool, I never met a genius before,” he said. “So your parents make you study all the time just because you’re smart.”

“Yes, they want me to become a famous physicist,” I replied. “This is the first time I have been out on my own.”

“You’re joking,” he said.

“No, I’m not joking,” I told him.

“Oh my God, I’m so glad I’m not you. That is so unfair,” he said.

“I turned sixteen today,” I said. “So now I can legally leave the house and go out alone.”

“Happy Birthday then,” he said with a big grin.

“Thank you,” I responded.

“Hang on a minute, I’ll be right back,” he said.

About five minutes later, he was back. He had two tiny cakes with him, each with a candle in it. As soon as he put them down, he took some matches out of his pocket and lit the candles.

“Okay, make a wish and blow out the candles,” he said.

I started to say I wish when he interrupted me and said, “It won’t come true if you say it out loud.”

I made my wish and blew out the candles. “Thank you,” I said with a big smile.

“You're welcome,” he replied with a grin.

We ate our cakes, which I found out are called cupcakes, and talked about all sorts of things: school, university, my life, his life, and whatever came to mind for almost an hour.

“Let’s walk through the mall,” I suggested. “I’ve never done that without my parents guiding me from place to place.”

“Okay, lets do it,” he said.

We spent the next three hours just wandering around the mall. He took me to several places my parents probably didn't even know existed. One of them was the arcade, where he showed me how to play a couple of video games. We ended up back at the Food Court a couple of times for a snack or a drink. We stopped at one of the cell phone booths that are scattered throughout the mall and I purchased a cell phone. Andrew immediately took it and programmed his number into it and then programmed my number into his. After that, we went into a music store and he bought a couple of CDs. When we came out of the music store, he looked at his watch and announced that he had to go home, or he'd be in trouble for being late for dinner, so I decided I might as well go home too.

As it happened, we both lived in the same direction from the mall so we walked together. As we got about half a block from my home, he stopped and told me this was where he lived. I laughed and pointed up the street to my house. It turns out, we had lived our entire lives four houses apart. I guessed he was one of those ‘simple children’ I used to watch play out front when I was younger.

“This has been the best day of my entire life,” I told him as we stood there. “Thank you.”

“I had a really good day too,” he replied. “Am I going see more of you now that you’re sixteen and liberated?” he asked.

“I definitely hope so,” I responded.

“Cool, I hope so too,” he said with a big smile. “See ya later.”

“See you later,” I replied with an equally big smile.

As I walked the short distance home, I couldn’t stop smiling. It really had been the best day of my life. I had been able to spend an entire day with someone my own age and talk about things that interested me. Talk about ‘kid’ stuff. I was tingling all over, I felt so good. When I walked in the house, my parents ignored me, so I ignored them. I went up to my room, closed and locked my door, flopped down on my bed and thought about my day. I so hoped that it was just the beginning of a new life. The beginning of something special.

The next several weeks were life changing. Weekdays were almost normal. I worked on my thesis. My father drove me to the university. I worked with the research team and taught my obligatory class in Introductory Physics and worked on my thesis. Nothing new there. But now I had a friend, Andrew. He called me every night before going to bed and we would usually talk for an hour or more. I was happier, more contented, and certainly more relaxed than I had ever been, something that didn’t go unnoticed. The team members in the lab noticed. My students noticed. Even my parents noticed. I was like a new person.

However, it was the weekends that really changed. Andrew and I spent every Saturday and Sunday together. We made several more trips to the mall and spent hours in the arcade. I actually became quite proficient at some of the games, especially the strategy games. I met his two closest friends, Todd and Steven. Along with Andrew, they taught me how to catch a baseball, a football, and a Frisbee. I learned how to ‘shoot hoops’ in Andrew’s driveway and we played some two-on-two. Believe it or not, Andrew and I actually won a few times. I was living my fantasy. I was like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t get enough. I was finally doing all the things I had dreamed about. I was being a kid…and loving every minute of it. I was also becoming very fond of Andrew.

After about five weeks, we were laying back chatting on the phone one evening when Andrew suggested we go out for dinner and a movie the following Friday. I know I shouldn't have, but I thought of it as my first real 'date' with Andrew and I accepted immediately. I also had not been to a theatre to watch a movie on the big screen and I was very excited about that. On Friday evening, I let my parents know I was meeting Andrew and we were going to a restaurant for dinner and then to a movie. Surprisingly, I didn’t get ignored or get a lecture. Instead, my father simply told me to be careful and to have fun.

I just stared at him for several seconds before smiling and saying, “Thank you, I will.”

I left the house still smiling, walked over to Andrew’s and rang the doorbell. Andrew’s sister Karen answered the door.

“Hi Karen, I’m here to meet Andrew,” I said.

“Hi Charles,” she replied before turning and calling out, “Andrew, your boyfriend’s here!”

That made me feel good, but at the same time, I had no idea how to respond to it and just stood there with my mouth open. Thank goodness, his mom appeared at the door and gave Karen an evil look before she sent her off into the house.

“Sorry about that. Don’t pay any attention to Karen. She plays the part of the evil little sister very well,” she said grinning. “Come in Charles, Andrew will be right down.”

“Thank you,” I said as I stepped in the door.

“So how is everything in university?” she asked.

“Just fine, thank you,” I replied.

“It must be very interesting studying, what is it, Condensation Physics,” she said.

“Condensed Matter Physics,” I answered smiling. “It has its moments.”

“You must be so proud,” she added.

“Not really,” I said. “It’s more a pride issue for my parents than for me.”

“How modest,” she responded, “I like that.”

Just then Andrew appeared. “Hey,” he said. “Ready to escape and get out of here before the inquisition really starts?”

“Yes,” I replied laughing.

“See ya later Mom,” Andrew said to his Mom.

“It was nice talking to you,” I said to her. “See you later.”

“It was nice talking to you too,” she said, as Andrew grabbed my hand and ran down to the sidewalk pulling me with him.

“Sorry about all that,” he said as soon as we got to the sidewalk and had slowed down to a nice moderate pace.

“Don’t be,” I told him, “I like your mom…and your sister.”

“Give it some time. You’ll change your mind,” he said laughing.

“Maybe,” I said laughing, “but I’m still in the ‘anyone who is not my parent or on the research team is interesting’ phase.”

“Yeah I forgot,” he laughed. “I guess compared to them, even my sister seems interesting.”

We had walked several blocks before I realized we were still holding hands. I felt a warm tingle run through me as I realized I liked it. Of course that had to be the same moment a car drove past and someone yelled, “Faggots!”

Andrew immediately let go of my hand and began apologizing profusely. “Oh my God,” he said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even realize I was still holding your hand.”

“You have no reason to be sorry,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I liked it.”

“You did?” he asked with a tentative smile.

“Yes I did,” I replied smiling back. “It actually seemed a rather natural thing to do.”

That got me a much bigger smile as we resumed our walk towards the restaurant. Another couple of blocks and we were standing in front of the Verona Ristorante.

“This place is awesome, so you ready to go eat?” Andrew asked.

“I would like that very much,” I responded.

We entered the restaurant and Andrew told them we had a reservation and gave his name. We were immediately taken to a table for two in a corner near the windows. Our waiter was there in a few seconds and asked us what we would like to drink as he gave us our menus. We both ordered 7-Up and the waiter disappeared only to return a minute later with our drinks.

“I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what you would like to order to start with,” he said and disappeared again.

I learned several new terms that evening as we pondered the menus. The first was antipasti, like appetizers to start the meal with. Andrew decided he wanted to try the salumi and cheeses, bruschetta, and caprese salad. It all sounded good to me, so that's what we chose to start our evening.

The waiter returned about two minutes later. “Are you gentlemen ready to order?” he asked.

“Yes please,” I said.

“We would like the salumi and cheeses, bruschetta, and caprese salad please,” Andrew told him.

“An excellent choice,” he replied. “Anything else gentlemen?”

“No, we’re good, thanks,” Andrew answered as he glanced at me.

The waiter returned a few minutes later, he was carrying a small candle floating in a glass bowl. He set it in the middle of the table, looked at me, then at Andrew, smiled and lit the candle. I think we both turned several shades of red.

“Thanks,” Andrew said smiling.

“What’s a romantic dinner without candlelight?” he replied before once again disappearing.

“I don’t believe it,” Andrew said grinning. “Candlelight for a romantic dinner?”

“I like the idea,” I said with a grin.

Andrew just looked at me for a few seconds before he gave me a huge smile. “I like it too,” he responded, “But I have to say, I was not expecting the waiter to assume that two guys were having a romantic dinner.”

“I don’t imagine that is the norm,” I said.

“No, not exactly,” Andrew replied with a chuckle.

Just at that moment our antipasti arrived. It looked amazing. We both began eating, and were trying a bit of everything as we chatted about this and that. Everything was as good as it looked. As we were almost finished, the waiter returned and gave us the main menu. It contained primi and secondi items, two more new terms for me. We decided we really didn't want two main courses and decided to order only a secondi dish, the Veal Marsala. We did order the contorni, another new term, a side dish to go with the main dish, broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic. The waiter returned and we gave him our order. Again, he complimented us on our excellent choice.

Within fifteen minutes, we had our Veal Marsala and broccoli rabe. I can't begin to explain how exquisite it was. It was triggering taste buds I didn't know I had. Andrew and I kept glancing up every so often, chatting and smiling between each mouthful. Although we had been together countless times before, the two of us eating together, in that restaurant, with the candle glowing between us, felt intensely romantic. I was thoroughly enjoying the meal, but it had nothing to do with how I was feeling. I had eaten wonderful meals before and they certainly didn’t make me feel like this. However, every time I looked at Andrew and he smiled the feelings intensified. It almost felt like some alien had entered my body and was fluttering around in there causing all these weird sensations…and…I couldn’t stop smiling.

I was almost ready to say something to Andrew about it when the waiter appeared with the dessert menu. No new term there, dessert was dessert. He looked at us and his smile couldn’t have been bigger. He took our plates and told us he would be right back to take our dessert order.

“So what looks good to you?” Andrew asked.

I almost said you do, but thought better of it and said, “The Tiramisu looks good.”

“I’m nearly full,” he said, “so let’s just order one and share it.”

“Good idea,” I replied. “I don’t think I could eat much more either.”

When the waiter returned we ordered one Tiramisu and asked for two forks. That got us another big smile and he was gone. Within three minutes he was back with our dessert which seemed much larger than normal. He shifted the candle over and set it in the middle of the table. “Enjoy gentlemen,” he said.

We both took a taste and again, it was amazing. I don’t think I have ever eaten anything that tasted so good. We had eaten about a two-thirds of the dessert when Andrew looked at me and said, “I need to tell you something.”

He had a serious look on his face and I suddenly felt nervous. The evening had been going perfectly. I was feeling happier than I had ever been in my life. Even the alien feelings were good. So good in fact, I was hoping they would never stop.

‘Had I done something wrong?’ I wondered.

I guess Andrew could see the concern in my eyes because he immediately smiled. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad,” he said, “but there’s something I need to tell you.” He looked really nervous which scared me, but he did say it wasn’t anything bad.

“Okay,” I replied.

“I think I’m reading all the signs right here,” he said. “At least I sure hope I am. So here goes. Charles, I’m gay and I’m falling in love with you. In fact, I've been in love with you since the first time I saw you at the mall.”

I just stared at him for a few seconds. There was no doubt I was fond of Andrew, but it wasn't until now that the realization hit me. I was in love with Andrew. That’s what all the weird feelings were, that’s why I couldn’t stop smiling and that’s why this evening together felt so intimate, so right. Unfortunately, the longer I thought about it, the more nervous Andrew got. I looked up at him and I saw tears starting to form in his eyes. I had to tell him what I was feeling and I had to do it now. I reached across the table and took his hand. When I did, I could literally feel him relax and his smile returned.

“You know I have no experience with relationships, not even friendships,” I started, “but if being in love feels like your body has been invaded by an alien and your stomach flutters, your heart keeps speeding up and slowing down, you keep having tingling flashes of warmth and you can’t stop smiling then I think I’m in love too.”

Andrew’s face literally lit up his smile was so big. “I’ve never heard love described quite like that before, but that actually describes how I feel whenever I’m near you,” he said.

Still smiling, he reached across with his other hand, placed it on the back of my neck and slowly pulled me over the table towards him as he slowly moved towards me. About midway, our lips met. I had read all kinds of stories on the Internet about a person’s first kiss. I can tell you now that nobody even came close to explaining what it’s like. You know why? Because there are no words or combinations of words capable of explaining it. It can only be experienced.

As we moved apart, the look in Andrew’s eyes was a look I will never forget either. It was love. It was passion. It was desire. It was all that and more. It told me there is no emotion more powerful than love. But, as with the kiss, it cannot be explained with words, only experienced. I’m sure I had the same look in my eyes because Andrew gave me the widest smile possible as a single tear rolled down his cheek. I wiped the tear away with my thumb and we both sat back. We were still holding hands, just staring at each other and grinning as we gradually became aware of our surroundings again and realized the waiter was standing next to our table. I looked up at him and he was smiling broadly. His eyes were almost as tear-filled as ours.

He just stood there for a few seconds before he took a deep breath and asked, “Can I get you anything else gentlemen?”

“No thank you,” Andrew replied and then asked, “Could we have the check please?”

“This evening is on me gentlemen,” he replied.

We both gave him a big smile. “Thank you, that's very nice of you, but we can’t do that,” Andrew replied, “We wouldn’t feel right letting you pay for us.”

He looked at us for a few seconds, smiled and said, ”Gentlemen, don’t feel you are taking advantage of a poor, underpaid, overly sentimental waiter. You won’t be. You will be taking advantage of a poor, underpaid, overly sentimental restaurant owner. I own this restaurant and you have given me something tonight that is priceless. Humour me and let me give you something in return.”

We agreed and thanked him. As we both stood up, he gave us each a hug. He made us promise to come back which we readily did. Although we explained that next time we were going to pay.

He laughed and said, “Yes, of course.” and wished us a wonderful evening.

As we left the restaurant and walked down the street, we again held hands. This time it was not accidental and we didn’t care who saw us.

It was a short walk to the movie theatre and we were there in less than five minutes. It was a smaller independent theatre that played less-commercial films than the big chains. We looked at the list of movies playing.

“What do you want to see?” Andrew asked me.

They were playing a movie called Edge of Seventeen, which it said was about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality.

Edge of Seventeen sounds like it might be good,” I replied.

“Okay, Edge of Seventeen it is,” he responded.

There was no line-up so we had our tickets and were ready to go into the theatre in two minutes. Andrew decided we needed a large Pepsi to share. There was a short line-up for food and drinks and we were in the theatre waiting for the show to start within ten minutes. We sat in the middle of the theatre so we were almost directly across from the centre of the screen. I have to tell you, I was more than a little excited. The screen seemed huge.

Soon after we sat down, eight young men entered the theatre and sat in the row directly in front of us. They made quite a commotion passing food and drinks around and laughing and bantering back and forth. Once they settled down, I noticed that three of the couples were holding hands. For some reason, that made me feel good. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it made me feel like Andrew and I were not alone in this world. Getting yelled at earlier had unnerved me a little and seeing these young men reinforced that we were okay. I smiled as I felt Andrew’s fingers lace with mine and leaned into him. He turned to look at me and smiled as we got comfortable and ready to watch the movie.

The lights dimmed and the previews and advertisements began. Some of the previews made me close my eyes. There was so much violence in some of them I couldn’t believe it. I was so thankful when the words ‘Feature Presentation’ appeared on the screen. The movie was excellent and I enjoyed every minute of it. I thought it was very well acted. One of the lines in the movie that was very meaningful to me was, “It’s okay to want another guy.” Maybe it was because, like I had, Andrew was wrestling with being gay. I had really doubted myself initially and it took me a while to come to terms with myself. Or, maybe it was just because at that point in the movie, Andrew leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

As we were leaving the theatre, I felt excited, confident, and strong. I think Andrew did too because we didn’t hesitate to hold hands all the way home. When we arrived at my home, we faced each other, still holding hands, and Andrew took his other hand and caressed my cheek as he smiled and stared into my eyes. We slowly leaned into each other and our lips met once again. It was just as awesome the second time…maybe more so, because this time it lasted much longer and was much more passionate.

As we broke the kiss, Andrew looked deeply into my eyes and smiled as he said, “Charles, I am so in love with you. Since the first time I saw you at the mall, I've dreamed of us being together.”

I felt my eyes fill with tears as I replied, “I love you too Andrew.”

Just then we heard a noise inside the house. “I think I better go in,” I said, “but I want you to know tonight was the best. Thank you. I really do love you.”

“It couldn’t have been better,” Andrew responded, “I love you too.” Then he kissed me again before jumping off the step and running down the front walk. As he got to the sidewalk, he looked back, blew me a kiss, smiled, and called out good night, then turned and ran home.

I stood there smiling for another couple of minutes before I pulled my key out and opened the door. As I stepped into the house, I was met by my mother and father. I suspected they were spying on us when I heard the noise. Now there was no doubt. I froze and just stared at them.

“That was Andrew?” my father asked.

“Yes, that was Andrew,” I replied nervously.

“He seems like a nice young man,” my father said.

“Excuse me,” I asked, not quite believing what I heard.

“He seems like a nice young man,” my mother responded before asking, “Will we be meeting him anytime soon?”

“He is nice,” I replied, then asked, “You want to meet him?”

“Of course we do. How about tomorrow afternoon for tea?” my mother replied.

“Okay,” I said, still somewhat in shock, “I’ll invite him.”

“Goodnight,” my mother said and they turned and walked up the stairs to their room, leaving me wondering what just happened…or hadn’t happened.

I had expected any number of reactions from them. This one was not on the list. In fact, it was just too weird for me to handle on my own, so as soon as I was in my room, I called Andrew.

“Hey Babe, miss me already,” he said laughing as he answered his phone.

“Of course,” I replied with a grin, “but you’re not going to believe what just happened.”

“Oh, what?” he asked.

“You know that noise we heard when we were on my front step?” I questioned.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Well, my parents were spying on us and they saw us,” I said.

“Oh no, are you okay?” he asked sounding concerned. “I can come over if you need me to.”

“No, I’m fine,” I told him, “but their reaction was so strange.”

“What did they do?” he asked, still sounding worried.

I then explained my parents reaction and told him what they had said. He laughed and agreed that it was definitely strange. When I asked him if he wanted to come for tea, he just laughed and asked me if my father had a gun. I assured him that he did not as he hated guns. So he said yeah, he thought it would be cool to meet my parents and have tea with them. We talked for a few more minutes. He asked me if I was still coming over to his place in the morning to shoot hoops with Todd and Steven and told him I would be there for sure. He said we could talk about my parents weirdness some more then too and laughed. After chatting a few more minutes, I suggested it was getting late and I should probably get to sleep if we were going to beat Todd and Steven.

“See you in the morning…love you. Good night,” I said.

“Love you too…good night,” he responded and hung up.

I was still mystified by my parents reaction. They had watched me kiss another boy and seemed unfazed by it. There was no point worrying about it though. I decided I should just accept it as a blessing. My parents knew I was gay and apparently they were not upset about it…definitely a good thing. I slept in until almost 9:00 the next morning. I got up, showered, brushed my teeth and went to the kitchen to have breakfast. There was no sign of my parents so I grabbed some cereal and juice and then went over to Andrew’s. When I got there, Todd and Andrew were already shooting hoops. Steven wasn’t there yet. When Andrew saw me, he ran over.

“Morning Babe,” he said as he gave me a quick kiss.

“Morning,” I replied as I glanced over at Todd to see his reaction. He just gave me a smile and a little wave.

“So your parents didn’t kill you in your sleep,” he laughed, “That’s a good sign.”

“I think so,” I responded laughing.

The three of us then proceeded to shoot hoops for another fifteen minutes before Steven arrived. After that, we played several games of two-on-two. Andrew’s mom came out after about and hour or so and brought us some lemonade and cookies. We all sat down on the front lawn, relaxed, and started chatting.

“So, you and Andrew, huh?” Todd asked with a big grin.

“Yes,” I replied with an equally big grin.

“Cool,” Steven said smiling. “We were hoping you played for our team, especially when we could see that Andrew was falling for you.”

“How could you tell I was falling for him?” Andrew asked.

“Oh, come on, every time you looked at him your eyes lit up like little lasers,” Todd said laughing.

“Yeah right,” Andrew responded, grinning. “It was that obvious?”

“Oh yeah,” Steven replied.

We rested and chatted for another half hour and then played for another hour before Andrew suggested he and I should shower and get ready if we were going to have tea with my parents. Andrew gave me a quick kiss before I went home to get ready and he did the same. About a half hour later, our doorbell rang and I ran to answer it. It was Andrew of course. He definitely looked a little nervous. I gave him another quick kiss and then led him into the kitchen where my parents were waiting for us.

“Good afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Bradfield,” Andrew said, “I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Good afternoon Andrew,” my father responded. “We’re pleased to meet you too. It’s not every day we get to meet one of Charles’ friends.”

“That’s because until recently I wasn’t allowed to have friends,” I said.

“Yes, that is true,” my mother stated. “We underestimated you. And for that we are truly sorry. Just try to understand that we thought we were doing what was best.”

“I know you were,” I said, “and I accept your apology. Thank you.”

“So, you and Charles are very close,” my father stated more than asked Andrew.

“Yes we are,” Andrew replied. “I hope you’re okay with that; if not, I’m sorry if it upsets you.”

“We have known about Charles for a long time,” my father replied.

“You have?” I asked.

“You may be a genius, but I’m no dummy,” my father said with a smile. “You can override parental controls and erase your Internet history and dat files for just so long before I figure out what you are doing and find a way around it.”

“So you’re okay with Charles being gay and my boyfriend?” Andrew asked.

“We don’t have a choice, now do we?” my mother responded.

“We would prefer he wasn’t,” my father said, “but we understand it is not his choice to be gay. We also understand that he is intelligent enough to make good decisions.”

“We have observed the two of you together. We know you care deeply about each other,” my mother said.

“We also know neither of you will jeopardise Charles’ work or PhD,” my father said. “That makes us happy.”

“And you make Charles happy. That is all we can ask,” my mother added.

My mother then asked if we would like some tea and began pouring each of us a cup. Then, for the first time in my life, I sat and spent time chatting with my parents. We actually discussed normal topics and I can honestly say we had a very enjoyable afternoon together. I was seeing my parents as normal people with hopes, dreams, and concerns—not only as authoritarian tyrants with one goal in mind: making themselves famous through my accomplishments in physics research. Even Andrew commented on the fact that he found both my parents to be very interesting to talk to. My life was definitely changing for the better.

The next few weeks seemed to fly by and almost before I knew it my thesis was due. As promised to my parents, and, more importantly, myself, it was completed and I was fully prepared to make my presentation on time. The presentation was about four hours long with an hour break for lunch. I didn’t realize how nervous I would be and was very thankful when it was over. It took close to two weeks before I heard anything from the Board. When I did, it was wonderful news. Not only did they accept my thesis, but I was awarded a PhD with distinction. I would be welcome in any university in the world to carry on with my research and/or teach. I was now Dr. Charles Bradfield. However, I was still only sixteen years old and felt I was a long way from being fully independent.

Of course Andrew and his parents were there for my convocation. I’m not sure who looked more proud, my parents or Andrew and his parents. After the ceremony we all went to out to “our” restaurant, Verona Ristorante, to celebrate. As soon as we walked in the door Marcello, the owner, was there to greet us. For some reason, we seemed to have become his favourite customers.

Andrew proudly announced the reason for our celebration. Marcello looked at me for a few seconds with a look of total astonishment on his face. “You are a doctor?” he asked.

“I’m not a medical doctor,” I replied with a grin. “I have a doctorate in Physics. I just received my PhD from the university today.”

“You are so young…you boys…my goodness…you never cease to amaze me. Such mature minds in such young bodies,” he exclaimed. “Congratulations Charles. It will be the VIP room tonight. This way please.”

Both my parents and Andrew’s were all smiles and couldn’t have looked more proud as they followed Marcello, Andrew and me. Once we were seated, Marcello announced that he would be right back.

A few minutes later, he was back. “I’m sorry I can’t give you the real thing but, for your celebration, I have a nice chilled bottle of Canada Dry the ‘Champagne’ of Ginger Ales. Is that satisfactory gentlemen?”

“Very satisfactory, thank you,” I replied.

He opened the bottle and poured each of us a glass of Canada Dry, including himself. He then held his glass up as he proposed a toast to the 'new doctor'. Everyone then clinked their glasses together and made some remark like, "To Charles."

“Would anyone care for something else to drink as well?” Marcello asked after the toast.

Our parents all ordered coffee but Andrew and I said the ginger ale was all we wanted. He then gave us our antipasti menus and told us he would be back shortly to take our first orders. Once we ordered and the food arrived, we all casually chatted and ate. After about twenty minutes, Marcello was back with the next main course menus. Once again, we chose to only order one main course. The meal was unbelievable as usual and the deserts were to die for. Both my parents and Andrew’s wondered why they had never chosen to eat here before. Both stated they would certainly be back. All in all, it was a wonderful evening filled with great food, great company, and great conversation. I was almost sad to see it end.

To say my life suddenly became easier would be an understatement. Things between my parents and me continued to improve. I was an full adult in their eyes now, and they treated me as such. I continued with my research at the university and continued teaching my introductory physics course, but, no longer having to put in the long hours working on my thesis, I was free to do the things I had always wanted to do but never had time for. My time away from the university was my time.

You may see a bit of a pattern in my activities here. I would go for walks with Andrew, go to the mall with Andrew, go to a movie with Andrew, listen to music with Andrew, and just be a kid with Andrew. Things just continued to improve between us, as if that were possible, and we became almost inseparable. Actually, it was more like the four of us, as Todd and Steven were with us much of the time.

With their coaching, I tried and became reasonably good at a number of new endeavours. I learned how to swim, how to dive, how to rollerblade, how to skateboard, how to dance, and how to fish, just to name a few things. There were days when I hurt in places I didn’t even know existed before. I also often had more scrapes and bruises than I could count. Who knew something like skateboarding, which looked so easy when other guys did it, could be so difficult? But, I was having the time of my life. The sore muscles, scrapes and bruises were a small price to pay for the fun I was having. I couldn't wait for winter to try snowboarding and skating…maybe a little hockey too.

I think many of my students found my new activities quite amusing. It’s not every university physics professor who shows up with road rash on his face and has to explain that he wiped out on his skateboard trying to ollie over a rain barrel. Each time I had a new injury, someone would raise their hand and request a detailed explanation before I began my lecture. My newfound physical activities also had a rather profound effect on the shape and condition of my body. Not that I was chubby or anything before, but I was soft. I was definitely becoming more muscular and toned. Again, something that didn’t go unnoticed. Oh, and there was another new feature I had never had before; I had a deep, dark tan.

One other thing that caught the attention of several of my students was a pendant Andrew bought me. It was a two piece dog-tag type of pendant. The top one had the word love cut out of it. The bottom one was painted the colours of the rainbow. The rainbow showed through the word love. It also became obvious when I moved and the pendants shifted. Jason, one of the younger students came up to me after class one day to say he admired it. We got into a short conversation as it was lunch break. Among other things, he expressed his appreciation that a prof, admittedly a young prof, but a prof nonetheless would be open about his sexuality. He thanked me and said it gave him added confidence to be more open about the fact that he was gay. I had never thought of the significance of wearing it that way before, and it gave me a good feeling. Even so, the sole reason I wore it still remained…because Andrew gave it to me.

We joined a local gay youth group in the city and got to meet a lot of other gay guys our age and made some really good friends. The second or third time we were there, we ran into Jason from my physics class. He was now out and proud…and not alone. I introduced him to Andrew and was introduced to Rick. He and Rick soon became good friends. The youth group had a dance once a month, which is where, to some extent, I learned to dance. I say to some extent, because I didn’t want to look like an idiot, so Andrew, Todd, and Steven gave me some lessons in Andrew’s basement before we went to our first dance. I quickly discovered that dancing to the flashing lights and deafening sounds of House music is close to the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

The group also had a four day campout on the May long weekend. It was at a private scout camp in the Kananaskis, which is a vast area of wilderness in the foothills just outside of Banff National Park. It exceeded anything I had imagined about camping. We saw several elk or wapiti and just as many deer. They were so used to humans that you could get within ten feet of them before they would turn and calmly walk away from you. We saw two black bears. Those we did not try to approach although they didn’t seem to care that we were there. We went on a couple of hikes. One of them was to this waterfall halfway up a mountain. By the time we got there, my legs literally ached. I was never so glad to get somewhere as I was to finally get to that waterfall. It was amazing though and, combined with the view, it was well worth the effort. Some of the guys went swimming at the base of it, but the water was ice cold so I declined the experience. We had lunch up there and then slowly made our way back down. We had a huge campfire that night, actually every night, and would sit around singing, roasting marshmallows, and/or just cuddling and watching the flames. That weekend also included my first sleepover with Andrew.

I even signed up for my first driving lessons when we got back and got my driver’s licence. Then, one Saturday, Andrew and I made my first car shopping trip the Auto-mall which includes about six or seven large dealerships. Ever wonder how two teens are treated by car salesmen? Not well. On three occasions we were asked not to touch the cars and at one dealership, we were simply asked to leave.

Finally, at the fifth dealership, a salesman actually talked to us…politely. He looked pretty young, so either he could relate to the fact that just because we were young didn’t mean we weren’t there to buy, or he was just bored. He asked us if we were looking for anything in particular which got an audible laugh from a group of salesmen nearby. I just looked at them and smiled before turning to the him and replying that I was interested in the silver Audi A4 Cabriolet out front. He hesitated for a second, but he got the keys and took us out to look at it.

I asked him the price which was sixty three thousand nine hundred. When I told him I would take it, the look of surprise on his face was almost comical. I told him that although I was buying and paying for it, I would need to call my father as, at sixteen, I was too young to sign the purchase contract. The look on the faces of the other salesmen was priceless when my father walked in and we made the purchase. Our young salesman just grinned at them as I’m sure he was thinking of his rather large sales commission. I now had my first car. Then, just for fun, we drove over to the dealership we were kicked out of and I asked the salesman if he liked the car I had just purchased next door. He was not impressed. That, of course, made it even more entertaining. I think he called us fuck’n spoiled brats as we drove off.

Andrew and I drove around town for the next couple of hours. When I got home, my father’s car was parked on the street. When I parked behind it, he came running out of the house, handed me the garage door remote and told me to park it in the garage. He claimed it would be too much of a temptation sitting on the street and would likely get stolen or vandalized. He laughed as he said his Taurus wouldn’t attract anyone’s attention. He was surprising me more every day…and in a good way.

On the first weekend in June we all attended Andrew, Todd and Steven’s high school graduation ceremonies. I’m not sure why they have them in June because no one has written their final exams yet and no one has actually graduated. But who am I to question the school system’s logic? It was almost as grandiose as my university convocation. There were three hundred and fifty seven in his graduating class. The ceremony and diploma presentation took almost three hours. There was to be a huge banquet at the Convention Centre downtown, but we had already decided we were going to have our own private, quiet banquet at Verona Ristorante. It would be far less expensive, easier parking, and we knew the service and food would be exceptional. Our parents were with us of course. This time, Todd and Steven, their brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents joined us as did Andrew’s sister and grandparents and my grandparents. This time, we booked the banquet room complete with several bottles of The Champagne of Ginger Ales. We enjoyed a meal fit for royalty and, once again, the evening was perfect.

In the fall, I would be returning to the university as an associate professor and would be continuing with the research group. Andrew would be entering the Faculty of Arts majoring in English. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into journalism or teaching after his degree. Both Todd and Steven would be entering the Faculty of Fine Arts majoring in theatre and dance. But for now, we had the whole summer ahead of us and the best part is, for the first time in my life, I had the summer off to be a kid. I had no commitments, no obligations, and no summer course to teach. I had nothing but freedom. I can’t even put into words how great that felt.

This had been the perfect year and life was only going to get better. It had been a year of so many firsts I couldn’t begin to list them all. There's one I will mention. Ever wonder what I wished when I blew out the candles on my first birthday cupcakes? Well, I'm not going tell you, but I will tell you that it did come true. I glanced over at Andrew as he leaned against the old oak tree in our backyard grinning at me and couldn’t help but grin back. He was the instigator of so many of those ‘firsts’. He took me on my first date, to my first movie, to my first dance, and on my first campout. He taught me how to dance, swim, play basketball, throw a Frisbee, skateboard, rollerblade, and basically how to be a kid.

He was my first friend, first date, and first boyfriend. He gave me my first hug, my first kiss, and my first taste of unconditional love. As he stepped up to me and gave me a quick kiss, I knew this was just the beginning…the beginning of a multitude of Andrew-instigated firsts. Although, I must admit, I’m getting pretty good at instigating firsts myself.