(Takes place during the months of October to December 1992)
The second time it happened wasn’t even a week later. Coach Caruthers had facilitated it after Jonathan experienced a dizzy spell and had to be replaced during practice. Angry at his body’s betrayal, he threw himself onto the bench and put his head in his hands. The coach approached him quietly, knelt down, and put a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, whispering, “Listen to me, boy. Listen good.”
Jonathan lifted his gaze, blinking at the uncharacteristic tenderness in the high strung coach’s tone. “Of course, Coach.”
“Remember what was said back in Kelley’s office? Remember? How you fellas loving other fellas didn’t have nothing to do with how you play ball?” Coach Caruthers murmured, his brown eyes holding Jonathan’s amber steady.
“Here, Coach. You called me?”
Jonathan looked up at the first baseman, Bailey Strittmatter, though they all called him Bay. He was a good friend of Chad and Travis, and ever since the meeting in Ms. Kelley’s office, he’d been instrumental in keeping an eye on David in the halls as many of his classes were in the same hallways. Jonathan smiled at Bailey, who returned it warmly, saying, “Don’t worry about it. We gotcha.”
“Bay, need you to do a 3-2-1. Now.” Coach Caruthers squeezed Jonathan’s shoulder as Bailey left them, returning to their conversation. “I know that, technically speaking, it don’t. I know that, technically speaking, what caused this was you not being able to eat… or sleep. I’m not askin’ you to be inhuman. I’m askin’ you to push through this, boy. You gotta. He’s countin’ on you to keep breathin’, and you are the only reason he keeps comin’ to school. I seen him in his P.E. classes. He keeps tryin’ to hide the evidence of some pretty serious anger, and ain’t none of it as bad as the one time, but Jonathan… you gotta…” Coach looked up at the sky and then out at the field, pausing for a long moment before he continued. “Jonathan, you just gotta find whatever it is that fires you up, keeps you runnin’, because you two got a hell of a time coming. A hell of a time.”
“Complete, and exactly as you said, Coach!” Bailey called as he ran back onto the field.
“Thanks, Bay! Jonathan, come with me.”
He’s right. He’s so very right. God, I am letting myself succumb to despair when David needs me most. I’m an idiot. I’m such a freaking idiot.
Jonathan followed the baseball coach back into the school, so lost in his mental chastising he didn’t notice Coach turned the lock on his office door after he let Jonathan into the room.
“I’ll give you some time, but you need to close the blinds. God forbid someone see the two of you together,” Coach Caruthers stated, a familiar edge to his words as he smiled tightly before shutting the door behind him.
Jonathan turned to see David sitting in the chair closest to the door, his blue eyes wide as he looked up at Jonathan. Jonathan closed the blinds, swallowing hard before he moved over to David, running a gentle hand over the gold curls he loved as he whispered, “I’ve been a bad boyfriend.”
David stood, wrapping his arms around Jonathan’s neck. “You don’t know how to be a bad boyfriend.”
“I see you all the time, and all I can think about is that it’s been forever since your voice has been in my ear, that I can’t remember the last time I was able to walk next to you, and that all I want is to be able to not leave marks on you—”
David shook his head with a grin. “Babe… you leave the deepest mark on me. Your mark on me is a tattoo on my soul. Your name is all over me and when I go to sleep at night, I pretend I’m in your arms, that your breath warms my neck—” David pressed a kiss to Jonathan’s jaw. “—because I know that one day those things will be commonplace.”
“How are you so optimistic?” Jonathan murmured, amazement clear in his words as he held his boyfriend tighter. “Jonah hurts you—”
“You’re a man of your word. If you say it, it will happen. I am well aware that should we leave today, it would be hard for either of us to make our dreams happen, that likely, should we run away together, we’d be living on the streets and that’s a nightmare, not a dream, even if we were together.” David set his chin on Jonathan’s chest. “So, we graduate and then we get the hell out of this town.”
Jonathan smiled at him, sliding his hands over David’s trusting face. “I wonder how it is we never got here until this year.”
“Because it wasn’t time. It took a kiss—” David stretched up on tiptoe to kiss the same corner of Jonathan’s mouth Veronica had kissed. “—from a girl to ignite in me a truth which can never be extinguished.”
“Say it to me… tell me again.” Jonathan didn’t mean for the words to carry the same perpetual tremor his whole being bore. “Please, David.”
David nodded. “I belong to you. I belong to you and you belong to me. Amor meus in aeternum.”
“Forever—mine, forever!” Jonathan’s lips found David’s in a greedy kiss, his heart pounding in his chest in time with David’s. Their stolen time together, spent breathing each other’s breath as their hearts beat as one, was over quickly. A quick rap on the door broke them apart into two beings once more, and David darted out of the office, the smile he threw over his shoulder at Jonathan giving balm to the wounds he knew Jonathan carried.
As he walked out of the locker room seven minutes later, Chad and Travis on one side, Bailey on his other, Elisha leaned against the wall across from the doors, backpack on his left shoulder, eating an apple. Jonathan didn’t miss the irony and he arched an eyebrow, asking, “Why are you here?”
“Why was he?” Elisha answered, waggling his eyebrows.
“I’m sorry?” Jonathan clipped, his heart pounding. No… no, no, no, Elisha… please!
“Not sorry enough.” Standing up straight, he tossed the apple, two bites taken out of it, to Jonathan. “Catch you later.”
That night, when he got home, his father was waiting for him in his room, holding his telephone in his lap. Jonathan hit his knees in front of Bill before he could say a single word. “Please—please, please, please… I haven’t called him. I’ve followed your instruction, Dad. I swear it! You can’t take that—what if he needs help? Dad, please! Don’t take away his only lifeline—please!”
Bill furrowed his brow. “I think you’re exaggerating the situation a bit, Jonathan. Lifeline? That’s a word you don’t use casually.”
Jonathan shot to his feet, growling. “He missed an entire week of school and Momma Claire had me and Eli drop by his classes each day to get his work! One of the bruises on his arm was worse than the one I got in Little League. I accidentally touched it before I knew it was there and he passed out from the pain… but please, tell me that I’m exaggerating the situation!”
Bill stood up as well, his eyes flashing. “You’re suggesting that Jonah did that to his son?”
“There were two people in the house when it happened—that would be the day that we waited and waited for David to get here and he never called or showed. You remember that day, don’t you? You kept badgering me to call him and then you had to go because you had that deacons’ meeting?” Jonathan watched his father’s face for a sign of recognition.
“I remember. What’s your point?”
“That was when Jonah was beating him.” Jonathan took a shaky breath. “Please, Dad. Remember that I’ve never lied to you about anything, that I never make a big deal about things unless they need a big deal made—”
Bill’s free hand curved up under Jonathan’s jaw. “And you have to learn that certain things in life are non-negotiable. My son dating another boy? Never going to happen. It’s against God’s laws and I will not allow it. The idea that Jonah would hurt his boy in the manner you described is also ludicrous and disrespectful and I expected more from you in regards to Jonah Wolff. If you ever expect to get telephone privileges back, do better at the not lying to me part. I knew almost the minute you and David decided to break the rules again today. That’s twice now.” He loosed his hold on Jonathan’s face before turning and crossing to the door. “Phone is gone until I see improvement.”