“Jeremy, your parents are very worried about you,” Annie said when she sat on the edge of his bed. “They called me to talk with you because we have a special bond. You’ve dropped out of wrestling and even chorus. You’ve shut Scott and Cody out of your life and even me to some extent.”
Jeremy was silent lying on his bed with his back to Annie. “It still hurts so badly,” Jeremy began to sob loudly. “It hurts when I think of how he was brutalized. I wish it had been me instead of him. I’ve had everything I’ve ever wanted, and he had just found happiness. Now he’s gone and I’m still here.”
“Your parents want you to go for counseling to help you deal with your feelings. I agree with them that you’re hurting and probably feel guilty because you’re still here and the boy that you loved was taken from you.”
“It isn’t right that I’m still here and he’s gone. If there is a God and he is the God that Cody worships, then why would He let this happen to a kind wonderful person like Blake? If there is a God and he lets things like this happen then I want no part of God.’
“Jeremy, there is a superior spirit. I’m not sure it is the God of the Bible that Cody and his dad follow. They say that all who have not accepted Jesus are going to hell. But, we Cherokees had never heard of Jesus before the white men came. We all need to believe in something. You need to believe that Blake is somewhere safe now, and that he would want you to be happy.”
“I can’t be happy without him here. I expected to spend the rest of my life with him. Now there’s no reason for me to be happy or even live.”
“If it had been you that was taken from Blake would you want him to give up on life?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Will you agree to go to counseling?”
“I’ll go. I hurt so badly now that if I was brave enough I’d take my own life. But I’m not brave enough to even do that.”
“You don’t have to be brave to take your own life; you have to be brave to continue living. Believe me I know how you’re hurting. I still hurt from the loss of my husband. As time goes on it gets easier, and then some little something will bring back memories of him. I still talk to him. I don’t know that he can hear me, but I feel that he does. He will always be in my heart as long as I live, just like Blake will always be in yours. One day you’ll find love again, but you’ll never stop loving Blake.”
“I’ll never love anyone again. It hurts too much when they’re taken away.”
“Are you sorry that you met Blake?
“Of course not.”
“One day the right person will come along and you’ll love again. When that person comes along you should accept that you can love again, but that you’re still not giving up your love for Blake. He will be a special love for you, but you can and will love again.”
“Annie, what am I going to do?”
“Let your parents back into your heart. They love you very much. Let them back in and let them help you. Let them get you into counseling. Will you do that?”
“I have to because this hurts too much like this. I can’t live with this much hurt.”
“Hello Jeremy, I’m Dr. Carlton,” Dr. Carlton said during Jeremy’s first visit. “I asked your parents to not be in on any of your sessions because I want everything coming from you. I want you to be able to talk freely with me. The only information I got from your parents was that you’ve been very depressed following the death of someone close to you.”
“He was my boyfriend,” Jeremy said.
“Okay, so you’re gay. That makes no difference to me. I have more gay patients than you could imagine. Your admitting that you’re gay from the get-go will make my job easier. Would you like to tell me what happened?”
Jeremy told the entire story of how he met Blake, how Blake had gone to live with Dorothy, and how Blake had been raped and murdered.
“I can understand how you could be depressed, but you must not blame yourself for his death. He would likely have been murdered even if he didn’t know you,”
“That’s what Annie told me.”
“Who is Annie?”
“She is very wise elderly Cherokee woman who convinced me that I needed professional counseling.”
“Why did you agree to seek counseling?”
“I came because I hurt so much.”
“The hurt will always be there, but as time goes by you will learn to live with it. I could give you medication to help through the worst of it.”
“No, I don’t want to be a zombie. I’ve read and heard about how some of that medicine can make a person feel. I would rather deal with it in another way.”
“First, you have to accept that your boyfriend’s death wasn’t your fault. I know you feel guilty that you’re still here and he is gone. The best thing you can do is talk. Talk to me, or talk to the wise Cherokee woman that you mention. Talk and cry and let it all go.”
“It still hurts so much to even think about it, much less to talk about it.”
“I think you should reconsider your stand about medication to help you through this. I could put you on a low dose of Zoloft and see how well you tolerate it. We wouldn’t leave you on it very long, just long enough to get you on the road to recovery.”
“I’ll try it for a while, but promise me that you won’t insist that I stay on it longer than needed.”
“Think of it this way. Suppose you fractured your ankle and needed crutches to get around for a while. It would be senseless to insist you continue using crutches after your ankle had healed. It’s the same way with an antidepressant. Once you’ve recovered you will no longer need to be on it.”
“I guess that makes sense. Will it be like a fractured ankle when a person gets arthritis later on and have to take medication?”
“That’s a good analogy, and yes you could still feel pain in the future. However, not every fracture later results in arthritis. You will never forget what has happened to your boyfriend, just like never forgetting a bad fracture with a lot of pain. It will be very difficult for you when you meet someone with whom you find attractive and fall in love.”
“I’ll never fall in love again.”
“Sure you will fall in love again. When it happens, don’t fight it. You could even have a broken heart over it. Just remember that it can never compare to what you’ve been through with this.”
“How long will I need to see you?”
“I can’t say for sure, but I think you’ve already started your recovery. Just agreeing to come in was a giant step. Based on our conversation, I don’t think it will last long. When you leave today I want you to make an appointment for about two weeks from now. That will give your Zoloft time to kick in, and we can see how well you are tolerating it. There is a slight chance of increased suicidal tendencies. Contact me immediately if you begin to feel suicidal. I’ll talk to your parents about that. If they appear to be watching you too closely, that is the reason why.”
Jeremy’s recovery progressed as Dr. Carlton had predicted. He even managed a visit with Dorothy and they both cried a river of tears. “Jeremy, I sold my house,” Dorothy said. “I will be moving soon:”
“Will you still be moving to Tahlequah?”
“No, I will be going to Florida to be with my sister. She isn’t in good health and needs someone to look after her. Her son is worthless and her daughter has a family of her own to take care of. I think it we both need each other.”
“Have you told Annie that you’re moving to Florida?”
“No, I’ll see her in a couple of days when she comes to Tulsa for a visit. I want your parents, you and Annie to come for a visit. I won’t be far from Orlando and you could see Disney World. Have you been there before?”
“I’ve been to Disneyland, but never to Disney World.”
“Even an old woman like me enjoyed it.”
“Do you need help getting ready for your move?”
“Everything is taken care of. I’ve sold my furniture and have already shipped most of the things I plan on keeping. What few things I didn’t ship will fit in the trunk of my car.”
“Why don’t you spend a few days with Annie and us before you leave for Florida?”
“You know, I might just do that. The man that bought my furniture will be coming to get it Tuesday, and the closing of the house isn’t until Thursday. I had planned on staying in a hotel until then. It would be better to be with friends in Tahlequah than in a hotel all alone.”
“It is getting late and I had better head back home. My parents worry when I’m in Tulsa anyway.”
“I’m happy that you have parents that worry about you. Before you go I want you to have this afghan that I was making for Blake. I finished it just last week.”
“Oh Dorothy, it’s beautiful. I will always cherish it.”
“Please don’t put it way and never use it. Blake would have used it and enjoyed it. I want you to do the same.”
“I’ll use it and it will always remind me of you and Blake.”
“Don’t be sad when you remember Blake. He wouldn’t want that. I love him too and will miss him every day that I live. All he ever wanted was to be loved, and I think you and I both gave him that love that he wanted. The poor boy had the misfortune of being born to a worthless mother who wasn’t capable of loving him. But, just remember that he was loved when his life was taken.”
“Dorothy, it hurts so much not having him with us.”
“Honey, I know that. That boy brought so much joy to my life in just the short time I had him. Always think of the love and joy he brought to you.”
Jeremy knew then exactly why Blake loved this woman so much.
“Have you decided for sure about where you will be going to college? Annie asked Jeremy the day he graduated from Tahlequah High School as a Merit Scholar.
“I think I’ll go to the University of Oklahoma. I’ll be a teacher just like Dorothy, you, and my parents.”
“If you’re going to be a teacher, you could just stay at home and go to Northeastern. They do have a good teacher education program.”
“I know that, but I think it would be good for me to get away for a while. I’ll come back here to live though. I love it here and Tahlequah will always be home.”
“When you come back you can build a house on the bluff overlooking the river valley. I’m deeding my property to you as soon as you turn eighteen. All I ask is that I live in my house until I die or can no longer care for myself.”
“Annie, even if we have to hire someone to help take care of you, you’ll live in your house as long as you live.”
“I know that you’re very kind and would take care of me, but I wouldn’t want to burden you.”
“You would never be a burden to me. I love you as much as I could ever love a blood grandmother.”
“You are my grandson, maybe not by blood, and I couldn’t love you more if you were my grandson by blood. Tell me, what do you want to teach?”
“I think maybe elementary school.”
“Is there a particular reason you’ve decided on elementary education?”
“Maybe if a teacher had reported the possibility of neglect early Blake wouldn’t have had to live all those years being neglected. Maybe I can make a difference, even if it is just one child.”
“You’ll make a difference, and it will be more than just one child.”
“What are you doing this summer?”
“I’m taking a few classes here at Northeaster. Since I took college classes in high school I only need three hours to enter OU as a sophomore.”
“Cody is going to Southwestern Oklahoma State.”
“Why did he decide on Southwestern?”
“Allison is going there to become a pharmacist and he has decided that is what he wants to do too. I hope that’s what he really wants and isn’t doing it just because Allison wants him to do it. That girl has him by the balls and he will do whatever she wants.”
“I hope he finds true happiness, but I doubt he ever will since he can’t admit that he is gay.”
“Jeremy, are you happy?”
“No Annie, I’m not happy. I miss Blake something terrible.”
“Don’t you think Blake would want you to be happy?”
“I know he would, but it’s easier said than done. But, I am better now. I doubt that I will ever fall in love again thought.”
“You will, and when you do you’ll have no control over it. It will be something that just happens regardless of what your head tells you. Do you have other plans when summer classes are over and before you go to OU?”
“There is this equestrian trail in the Winding Stair Mountains in Southeast Oklahoma that I’d like to do. I would like to go there and ride the trail and camp out.”
“Would you and your parents go?”
“No, it would just be me. Dad is doing a seminar in Las Vegas.”
“You can’t go alone, Jeremy.”
“I don’t know who would go with me. Cody is too wrapped up with Allison and his church, and I know that Mitch wouldn’t let him or Scott go with a queer. I might take advantage of his boys.”
“If Scott wants to go, I’ll see that Mitch gives permission. You know that Mitch is homophobic because he questions his own sexuality.”
“I read that is often the case.”
“If you want to go and take Scott, let me handle Mitch. How will you get the horses down there?”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about that.”
“I’ll talk to Allen and Nancy and maybe we can figure something out. Maybe it is time that Allen buys a horse trailer.”
Jeremy wasn’t sure how Annie worked her magic, but Mitch agreed to allow Scott to go with him on the trail ride. Allen even agreed to buy a horse trailer. After several hours of practicing Jeremy learned to back the trailer into an exact spot.
The day finally arrived for the boys to leave for their mountain trail ride. They loaded the camping gear, tack, food, and changes of clothes into the SUV. Hay and grain was loaded into the trailer before they loaded the horses.
“Promise me that you boys will be very careful,” Nancy cautioned before they departed. “Make sure you have the charger for you cell phone and call home every day.”
“Yes Mom,” Jeremy said as he rolled his eyes.
“Don’t roll those eyes at me,” Nancy said. “I mean it. I had better hear from you every day.”
“Bye Mom and Dad, I promise to call,” Jeremy said as he started the SUV.
“Are we there yet?” Scott joked after they drove about two hours.
“Actually, I think we’re really close,” Jeremy said. “When we get there, let’s set up camp and the go riding tomorrow.”
“I thought we would be sleeping in a tent. I didn’t know your dad bought a trailer with sleeping quarters.”
“Yeah, we will even have air conditioning.”
“Where will we put the horses?”
“There’s an area where we will put up the portable corral. This town is Heavener; our camp ground is about nine miles from here. Watch for Holson Valley Road.”
“Wow this is something,” Scott exclaimed as they pulled into the camping area. “Look, there’s a lake too.”
“Yeah, that’s Cedar Lake. We can go swimming later.”
“I didn’t bring anything to swim in.”
“I brought extras, and you can use one of mine. Let’s set up the corral and then unload and feed and water the horses.”
The sleeping quarters of the trailer was hot and the boys decided to fix themselves a sandwich and enjoy it outside while the air conditioner cooled down the inside. “I’m sure glad Annie talked your dad into letting you come,” Jeremy said as he munched on his sandwich.
“She didn’t talk him into it. She told him that I was going. You should have heard it. Dad didn’t stand a chance. When Dad said that he didn’t want me camping with a queer, she lit into him. First she said that I was big enough to take care of myself and then she said if he were a little more secure in his own masculinity that he wouldn’t be concerned. Dad’s face became beet red when she said that. Do you think my dad might be gay too?”
“I wouldn’t know about that. Why do you ask?”
“When he sees a nice looking guy he looks at them the same way you do. If he sees me with my shirt off, he does me the same way.”
“Has he ever tried anything with you?”
“No, and if he does I’ll beat the crap out of him. I think he knows that too. Fortunately Cody and I got our size from Mom’s side of the family. We’re both bigger than Dad and either of us could take him out if we had to. I can’t wait until next year when I go to college and get away from home.”
“Do you want to make the salad or grill the steaks?” Jeremy asked after their cooling swim in the lake.
“I’ll grill, how do you want your steak?”
“Rare of course, that’s the only way to eat a steak.”
“You got that right, Mom eats hers cook until it is like leather.”
“Where will you go to College?” Jeremy asked as he and Scott rode their selected mountain trail the next day.
“I’ll probably just go to Northeastern.”
“Why go Northeastern if you want to get away from home? Why don’t you come to Norman and go to OU with me?”
“I want to play football.”
“Hello, I think OU has a football team.”
“I would love to play for OU, but I know I’m not good enough. I’m pretty sure that I am good enough to play for NSU. Kerri is going to NSU too.”
“Oh, the truth comes out.”
“That’s just part of it.”
“So, will you still live at home?”
“Oh hell no, Annie said there is also enough money in my college fund for room and board.”
“What will be your major?”
“I want to teach science and coach high school football. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Since I’m sixteen now, Annie is getting me a car and making Dad pay for the insurance.”
“Good for her. When do you get it?”
“Next week. Someone she knows is getting a new one and they are giving her a good deal on their old one. It is Ford Focus, but that’s good enough for me.”
“I’m happy for you, Scott.”
“Jeremy, are you happy?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You seem different since Blake was murdered. You seem sad all the time.”
“I am sad, but I’m getting better. I guess you knew that I’m seeing a shrink. I’ll never get over Blake’s murder, but I’m trying to learn to live.”
“You’re strong and you’ll make it. At least you’re getting help. I wish Cody could get help.”
“Why do you say that? Cody hasn’t lost anyone.”
“Yes, he’s lost himself. He is becoming a young version of Dad. Neither can accept themselves and are living a miserable life.”
“I hope he finds happiness. Hey, let’s go inside and change and then go for a dip in the lake to cool off.” Jeremy suggested when they arrived back at the camp grounds.
Scott stripped naked in front of Jeremy without embarrassment. He didn’t see Jeremy as a gay male who may perceive him as a potential sex partner, but saw him as a best friend. Jeremy too was happy to have Scott as a friend. He knew that Scott would be his best friend through thick and thin.
After a cool dip in the lake they boys cared for the horses before starting dinner. “Do you want to grill steaks again or just settle for sandwiches?” Jeremy asked already knowing that Scott would chose grilling.
“Let’s grill steaks, we had sandwiches for lunch,” Scott replied.
The next day the boys rode another of the many trails in the park. Jeremy had packed a lunch for them to enjoy during the ride. “It is beautiful and peaceful here,” Jeremy said.
“Yeah, it is. I’m glad that I got to come with you.”
“Me too, besides my parents wouldn’t have let me come down here alone.”
“You’re out of high school, couldn’t you have come anyway?”
“Maybe, but remember that I’m still not eighteen. Besides, I respect my parents more than to just come without their approval. As long as I live in their house I’ll go by their rules.”
“Yeah, I keep forgetting that you have parents who are reasonable.”
“When you have kids, just remember how you would like to have been treated.”
“I will. The first boy I have will be named Jeremy.”
“You would name your kid after me?”
“No dumb ass, he will be named after the UPS man.”
“Shut up. Actually, I’m honored that you would name your kid after me.”
“If I would ever have a kid, I’d love to name him Scott. But, we both know that’s not going to happen.”
“Maybe you could adopt.”
“That’s not going to happen. It’s almost impossible for a gay man to adopt.”
“I know you would be a much better father than mine is.”
“Do you hate him?”
“No not really, I guess I feel sorry for him. I can never respect him. He treats Mom like property and she lets him get by with it. I tried to talk to her about leaving Dad and she said that marriage was a commitment. I gave up and decided that as soon as I can I’ll move out.”
“Hang in there and one day you’ll be out on your own.”
“I know that and it will be one more year of high school. I wish you were going to college with me at NSU.”
“I’m sorry Scott, but I need to get away for a while. I’ll come back to Tahlequah when I graduate. It will always be my home.”
“Have you decided on a major yet?”
“I thought about dentistry or maybe medicine, but now I’m not so sure I want to go to college that long. I may become a teacher. I want to make a difference. I keep thinking that if just one teacher had reported that Blake was abused and neglected then maybe he would have had a better life.”
“You can’t save the entire world.
“I know that, but if I help just one child I’ve made a difference. Just look at what Annie has done.”
“I know, she has sure made life better for me and even Cody and Molly.”
“Damn, look at the time. Do you realize how long we’ve been riding?”
“My butt is telling me that it has been hours.”
“Your butt is right. It is after four. By the time we get back to the campground it will be close to six.”
“What are we cooking for dinner?”
“Let’s feed the horses when we get back to the camp and then drive into Heavener for dinner. I heard some of the other campers talking about the Southern Belle Restaurant being really good.”
“I wonder how expensive it is.”
“Don’t worry about it. Mom and Dad gave me plenty of money.”
“You always buy. I sometimes feel like a leach.”
“Don’t feel that way. Mom and Dad think of you as their second son.”
After a great southern style dinner the boys decided purchase a few food items at the Marvin’s IGA that they had seen. “Those guys over there by that car must be gay,” Scott joked.
“Quiet,” Jeremy scolded. “They might hear you. What makes you think they might be gay anyway?”
“They seemed to be checking you out,” Scott teased.
“What do you mean me?” Jeremy asked. “You’re the hot one.”
“I know I am, but you’re the gay one,” Scott countered. “Don’t look now but two of them have followed us into the store.”
“Even gay people have to buy groceries,” Jeremy laughed.
“They didn’t buy anything and they followed us out of the store,” Scott whispered as they carried their purchases to the SUV.
“I don’t like this,” Jeremy nervously said. “Let’s get out of here quickly.”
“Give us your wallets,” a voice said as they loaded the groceries into the SUV.
Jeremy turned to face the voice and noted that they weren’t armed and then said, “Like hell.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed there are four of us and only two of you,” the man said with a bit of nervousness in his voice.
“I’ll tell you what, if you just leave we won’t kick your asses,” Jeremy said.
“No I’ll tell you what, give us your wallets and we won’t beat the shit out of you,” said another man who appeared braver than the first one as he slammed Jeremy against the SUV.
Without a thought Jeremy kicked the aggressor in the balls as his fist landed on the jaw of the first man. The loud crack told him that the man’s jaw was fractured as he spit blood onto the ground. A second kick to balls of the man on the ground took any fight in him that might be left.
Scott seemed to be holding his own against the other two attackers as Jeremy grabbed one and put him in a choke hold. Scott then managed to get the arm of the remaining attacker behind him in and had him begging to be released.
“The police have arrived,” Jeremy said as he relaxed his grip on the man.
“What’s going on here?” The policeman gruffly asked.
“They were trying to rob us,” Scott quickly answered.
“We were not,” one of the men said. “They were trying to rob us.”
“You’re Charlie Barlow’s boy ain’t you?”
“Yes sir,” he answered.
“Ok, I’m going to run you two in for attempted robbery,” the policeman said.
“That’s bullshit,” Jeremy said. “There’re four of them and only two of us.”
“We’ll I know this boy’s daddy and I know this boy wouldn’t do anything like that,” the policeman said.
“Jack Webber, you spineless asshole,” a woman’s voice came from the front of the SUV. “I saw the whole thing and these four did try to rob these two boys.”
“Now Marie, I don’t think the Barlow boy would do anything like that,” Jack said.
“Are you calling me a liar, Jack?” Marie a gray haired woman who appeared to be in her seventies asked?
“Marie, this isn’t your concern,” Jack said. “I’m running these two in.”
“You do and they will own this town,” Marie said. “I might be old, but I’m still an attorney and I’ll see to it that justice is served. I suggest that you arrest these four hoodlums because I’ve called Chief Mandel and he will be here shortly.”
“Now Marie you know that we look out for our own kind here,” Jack argued.
“Oh, is Charlie Barlow in on your drug dealing?” Marie accused. “Don’t think for one minute that I hadn’t heard about your dealing.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jack said as his face flushed.
“Here is Jake now,” Marie said as the Chief’s car pulled up. “I’m done with you and I’ll just talk to him.”
“Marie, what’s going on here?” Jake Mandel asked.
“These four boys tried to rob these two young men,” Marie said. “When Jack found out that one of these hoodlums was Charlie Barlow’s son, he tried to arrest the victims. I tried to tell him that I saw the whole thing and that these two were the victims. But, he wouldn’t listen.”
“Is that right, Jack?” Jake asked.
“Well, I really thought these two were the ones doing the attacking,” Jack said as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Even when I told you that I saw the whole think, you still insisted on protecting your buddy’s son,” Marie said. “Trust me; I intend to find out about your connection to Charlie Barlow.
“Jack, I’m taking these four in and you’re suspended. I’ll be taking over the rest of your shift, and I’ll see you in my office in the morning. You two boys are free to go after I get some information from you. I’m sorry for the way you were treated, and I want you to know that the majority of our citizens here are good people like Marie.”
“Are you two new here in town?” Marie asked.
“No we’re camping at Cedar Lake with our horses,” Jeremy said. “We just came into town for dinner and to buy a few things.”
“I see that one of my officers just drove up,” Jake said. “I’ll let him take these four in and I’ll get some information from you and then you’ll be on your way.”
“Thank you sir, and thank you too Marie,” Scott said.
“You’re welcome,” they both said.
“Are you going to call your parents and tell them about what happened?” Scott asked as they drove back to camp.
“No, I’ll tell them about it when we get home,” Jeremy said. “If I call them now they may insist that we pack up and go home.”
“I hope Dad doesn’t find out or I’ll never get to do anything like this with you again.”
“Why would he do that?”
“He’ll say that the guys attacked us because I was with a fag.”
“Well you were.”
“No, I was with my best friend who just happens to be gay.”
The next two days were spent enjoying the mountain trails and scenery. Jeremy was almost the old Jeremy that Scott knew before Blake’s murder. It was with a sense of sadness and also a sense of eagerness that they prepared to go home.
The summer ended with the Morgan family and Annie taking a trip to Florida to visit Dorothy and of course Disneyland.
“Are you doing okay?” Dorothy asked Jeremy.
“I’m better,” Jeremy said. “I still think of him all the time.”
“I know Honey,” Dorothy said. “I do too. Remember that Blake would want you to be happy.”
“I know, but it is not that easy,” Jeremy admitted.
I’ve lost someone I love and I know,” Dorothy said. “Each day will get better, but you’ll never forget him. I know I won’t.”
“Annie said that you’ve decided to go to the University of Oklahoma,” Dorothy said.
“I think that is best for me,” Jeremy said.
“I think you’re right,” Dorothy agreed.