It was the night of the school’s annual letterman ceremony and banquet, where kids in sports and art throughout the year were awarded letters and accolades for participation and excellence in extracurricular activities. Many families were in attendance, in addition to all the team members from Basketball, Football, Track and Field as well as Chorus and Drama Club members. Coaches and teachers were sprinkled amongst the tables, proud of their student’s successes. The many tables at the banquet were filled with the different clicks and groups. No one really sat outside of their comfort zone, with the exception of
Max Thompson, the team captain and quarterback of the football team sat next to his parents. He was to be the main speaker tonight after all the awards were presented. He had led his team this year to the state championship and they won, he was voted MVP and was admired by many. He was dressed in a shirt and tie that was very uncomfortable around his thick neck. He, once again, stuck a finger into his collar and tried to stretch it out… his mother admonished him for this “Stop it” she said. He smiled at her and gave an extra tug on the collar to irk her.
Cheryl Thompson was proud of her son, following in the footsteps of his father and being his spitting image as well. Her only child, she doted on him but was careful to not do so too much, no need for him to be dependent on Momma, especially when there was such a good daddy to look up to. She was dressed to the nines, wearing a dress that accentuated her breasts and lined her hips sleekly.
John Thompson, a stoic massive man with bulging biceps and a square jaw, loved his son. He had raised the boy to be a continuation of his own great legacy in the town. While he was proud of his own trophies and accolades from high school and beyond, his goal with his son was for him to surpass him on all fronts and show everyone the merit of a Thompson.
Across from the Thompsons sat Max’s best friend James and his family the Moore’s. The Moore’s, in comparison, were rather plain. Fred Moore was a skinny man in a plain suit and Sarah Moore wore a blouse and slacks. James too would receive accolades tonight and letter for the second year in a row.
Max and James had been best friends since elementary school, neither far from the others side. If Max signed up for an extracurricular activity, it was certain James would as well. They lived just houses apart and spent many evenings passing the ball around or talking on one another’s porch. Sleep overs were just a regular part of the week, many a night they’d be studying into the wee hours and just fall asleep at the other’s house. Vacations, sports, classes… they did everything together. Known throughout school as the dynamic duo – Max’s favorite person to pass to on the field was James, and they seemed unbeatable.
The basketball, baseball and chorus teams had all received their letters and accolades, football was up next. A good portion of the team lettered this year including two freshmen who were exceptional on the field. Max and James would be last to be awarded letters as was the usual for the stars, they like to build up to the excitement of it. As their teammates received letters Max looked over at James and smiled his wide smile. James looked back and winked.
As the night went on and dinner was served, the time of Max’s speech was quickly approaching.
“Know what you’re going to say right?” asked his dad.
“Don’t be silly John, he’s wrote out a speech and worked on it all week. He’s been very nervous about it” his mother stated.
Max turned red just thinking about getting up there and speaking to the crowd of people. He was getting more and more nervous as the hour approached. He filled his mouth with a fork full of prime rib and chewed slowly. Most of the time his parents didn’t need his input to have conversations around him, this was probably one of those times. James smiled at him, having been around Max’s parents enough to see this type of thing before.
As dinner was finishing up and dessert about to be served Max made his way to the main stage where he would be speaking. His mother was right, he had worked very hard on his speech and was certain it was perfect. He was nervous though about how it would go and what would be said after. He felt right about it, knew it had to be as he couldn’t contain himself anymore.
The emcee clinked on his glass to get the rooms attention and then coughed before introducing Max.
“As you all know, Max Thompson is one hell of a football player” the emcee said to a roar of applause. “He’s also in the top five of his class this year academically and an upstanding member of the community, volunteering at several good will institutions. Voted MVP this year for his exemplary work on and off the field with his team, please help me in welcoming Max Thompson!”
The people clapped and stood in ovation as Max approached the dais. Max felt sweat roll down his back and hoped he wouldn’t feel it collect on his forehead as well. He took a sip of water and surveyed the room – his eyes focused on James and felt himself relax.
His prepared speech already on the podium, he began talking. He’d memorized what he was going to say so the speech was just a crutch in case he needed it or got lost. Teams, togetherness, hard work, and dedication were key points of his talk. He touched on certain teammates that went the extra mile, coaches who inspired and motivated and his own continued strivings through the team. He really felt at ease, he knew this stuff and knew what the crowd expected of him.
As he was getting close to wrapping up he grew more and more nervous. His hands began to sweat and he chided himself – here you are captain of the football team scared to death of some words. Scared to death of the truth. Scared to death to finally be himself.
“In closing,” he began “I want to thank the most important person in my life. The one person who keeps me going each day and makes it all worth it.”
His father straightened in his chair and beamed, his mother placed her hand on his shoulder, tears filling her eyes. A few of his coaches sat a little straighter too.
Max paused to take a drink of water, his hand trembling a bit.
“My partner not just on the field but in my life, my boyfriend James. James,” he said turning to face him directly “thank you for all you do for me and for always being there with me on this journey, I love you.”
The room was silent. The star QB was gay and in love with his receiver. This was stunning.
Then there was applause, from the most unlikely source ever. Max’s dad. And he stood. Giving his son a standing ovation, slowly others joined in and then most of the room was standing and applauding. Max was shocked, he was in awe of the acceptance of his town, his school, his teammates and especially his dad. He looked out again for James and found him.
His father and mother had their coats on and were dragging James out of the room. James looked back at Max, eyes wide mouth agape. Not a look of condemnation but one of love and fear.
Max, who moments ago was feeling elated at the support he seemed to receive was now crushed as he watched James get taken away. He hadn’t thought about consequences for James as much as he did for himself, he was the one who had opened himself up, it wasn’t James’s fault at all. He beat himself up, how could he not have foreseen this.
After the banquet and tons of people coming to him to say how this didn’t change how they felt or how proud they were of him. He did get a few that advised it was probably a phase he was going through and he might want to wait until he’s older. Overall though he felt he was received well. All through that he was anxiously waiting calling James or hearing from him to see what happened and if he was alright.
As soon as he was able he texted James “R U ok? Where r u?”
James was usually pretty good about texting back right away, but nothing came after five minutes.
He was worried and he expressed his fears with his parents, they tried to reassure him that everything would be fine. That this was just a big shock to James’s parents and they may need time to adjust. Max’s dad said, “Let it sit until morning, you can survive that long without hearing from him”. Max headed to his room to try to sleep, sent another message or two to James, but again heard nothing.
He tossed and turned all night, kept checking his phone every hour or so for updates or word, but nothing was there. He woke up at dawn and decided enough was enough and headed over to James’s house.
He creeped as quietly as he could over to James’s bedroom window along the side of the house. He tapped on the window.
He tapped again, a little louder.
Not giving up, he tapped one more time, still a little louder.
A figure moved to the window and raised the blinds. James was on the other side of the window, the darkness in his room kept Max from seeing him clearly.
“James,” Max said desperately “I’m so sorry, I thought it would be alright. Are you ok? Are you mad at me?”
James mumbled something Max couldn’t hear. “What was that?” Max begged, “please talk to me.”
James reached over and turned on his bedroom lamp and raised the window. What Max saw was outrageous. James had been beaten black and blue and had a bloody lip and what appeared to be a broken nose. His eyes were red from tears and maybe beating there too.
“James, honey, what happened” Max pleaded.
“My dad, he couldn’t handle it, he lost it last night when we got back. He’s sending me away to boarding school and I’m forbidden to see you, he took my phone.”
Max grabbed James’s hand “Babe, I’m sorry this happened to you, let’s get you out of here to a doctor”
“No, I’m going to be fine, no need for a doctor.” James explained “Let’s just let him settle down for a few days and get used to this, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Max wasn’t sure this was the best idea but didn’t want to push it. He squeezed James’s hand and leaned in to give him a kiss. James kissed back gently, not wanting to push his injured face farther than he had to.
Max was about to go when he saw a police car pull up outside the house. Thinking James’s parents had called the cops on him he glanced at James, who had also seen the cop and they silently agreed it was time to go. Max headed for home.
When he arrived home his mother was waiting for him and gave him a big hug after hearing what had happened to James. She made him breakfast and said “all we can do now is just wait”.
The knock on the front door came about twenty minutes later, James and his mother were standing at the front door. It had been his mom who had called the cops on James’s dad. He had been arrested for child abuse and was currently in the town jail awaiting trial.
James’s mom hugged Max and apologized for everything, and assured him they would get through this together. Max grabbed James’s hand and held it tightly, not daring to believe it was all going to work out.