Richard's Redemption

Chapter 13

I love you, Todd. The moment the words escape my mouth, I freeze in panic. What if Todd thinks I'm lying? What if he gets scared and wants to stop seeing me? Worse yet, what if he doesn't care for me in return? Sure, we've been together since the Valentine's Ball, but then again, how many opportunities are there for guys like us in a school like Hell-ton?

But then... “I love you, too, Richard,” Todd whispers against my neck, his breath hot against my skin as he clings to me.

I can feel him trembling in my arms as I hold him closer still. “We have each other, Todd... that's what it's all about. The only way I'm ever going to let you go is if you ask me to.” I drop another soft kiss on his temple.

“Never,” he says softly, kissing my neck. After a long moment, he lifts his lips to mine.

Something seems different about this kiss. Maybe it's the gladness of getting our letters from the Captain. Or maybe it's that we've admitted aloud how we feel about each other. Whatever the reason, I feel as though I can fly. My hands move along Todd's back, no less hungrily than usual but with more tenderness and less urgency. He responds in kind, and for the next hour or so, we forget about the food, the letters, and the school around us. We take our time exploring each other's bodies for a change, caressing with lips as well as hands. My breath catches in my throat as Todd hesitantly takes me into his mouth... something we haven't done before. “Yes...” I breathe, shifting around to return the favor. We get lost in the taste and feel of each other for what seems like days. When we come back to ourselves, we're wrapped in each other's arms as our breathing slowly returns to normal.

After a while of cuddling together, my stomach growls and Todd laughs. “So much for being able to live on love alone,” he quips, tickling me.

I yelp and jerk away, being extremely ticklish. Naturally, I fall off the bed and we both start laughing. “I don't suppose that does work too well,” I grin, pulling on my shorts and slacks. “Fortunately, we've still got half a pizza and two more Cokes, plus some Hershey bars. So we don't have to. We don't even have to try to live on mystery meat, at least not tonight.”

He watches me dress, then pulls on his own clothing. “I'm glad of that. I don't want to go to the dining hall tonight, not after...” he blushes. “I feel like someone will see something in my face. That was... incredible...”

I lean over and give him a gentle kiss. “You are incredible, Todd.”

Todd turns brighter red and tries for a change of subject. “Do you really think I'll be able to come see you this summer?” he asks wistfully. “It seems too good to be true.”

“Tell you what,” I suggest, picking up my unfinished pizza slice from earlier. “After we finish eating, I'll go to the pay phone and call my folks. I'm sure they'll not only say yes, they'll offer to talk to your parents themselves. And if I can come up with enough change, I can even call AJ at Dartmouth and see if he knows your brother, if you think that will help.”

He nods. “I... don't bother your brother,” he says. “If your father calls mine, that will be good enough, I think. Your family is from Boston, right?”

I nod. “Close to Boston, anyway... Andover. Father and AJ both went to Phillips Academy there. I was supposed to go as well, but my mother got sick when I was in the sixth grade, I don't remember exactly what she had. But she had to have surgeries and live in a care place for a while to recover... she's fine now. But Phillips doesn't start until ninth grade. Father found out about Welton from one of the partners in his law firm, and learned that it starts with seventh grade. So, Father ended up sending me here, rather than pay my tuition at the day school I'd been attending plus hire a woman to live in at the house to take care of me. AJ was going into his senior year already, and he just changed from being a day student to being a boarder at Phillips.”

Todd nods in understanding. “I'm surprised you didn't transfer in the ninth grade, though,” he says. “I would have thought that your father would have wanted you to go to Phillips anyway. Or am I missing something in the story here?”

“Father did ask me if I wanted to transfer. But by then, I was starting to realize that, you know, that I'm queer. I figured that if I was living at home, they might start questioning why I wasn't dating anyone. I mean, between the girls at the Abbot Academy and the ones I knew growing up, they'd be sure to wonder. By staying out here, where we see the Henley Hall girls maybe three times a year unless we get into something like drama... I just figured I'd have an excuse for not bringing any girls home, you know?”

He gives me a sympathetic smile. “At least I had that a little bit easier. For all my family cares about me, I might as well be a piece of furniture in the house. Plus I've always had a bit of a struggle academically... that's why I was at Balincrest until this year, to get my grades up to where they needed to be to make it here. So if Father ever mentions girls to me, it's to tell me to ignore them and concentrate on my studies so I don't embarrass the family. I just never bothered to tell him that I have no problem at all ignoring girls. Of course, when I do get around to telling him that, I expect I'll really embarrass the family.” He opens his second Coke and takes a drink, then grabs more pizza.

I finish the slice I'm munching on, then take a deep breath. “Todd? It just occurred to me... where is your family located? I can't ask my father to call, if I can't tell him where and who...”

“Portsmouth,” he answers around a mouthful of cheese and pepperoni. He swallows and continues. “My father is Dr. J. Warren Anderson, Chief of Staff at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. He's actually a junior and my brother is the third, but Father got used to using his middle name to avoid confusion with his father Jeff, and then my brother goes by Jeffrey so it all worked out.”

I nod and finish my meal, then start digging through my pockets for change for the telephone. “Write down your phone number for me, please? So I can give it to Father.”

Todd does so, then walks with me down to the pay phone in the dorm lobby. As is usual on a pass Saturday, the dorm is semi-deserted still, as curfew isn't until nine o'clock. As it's only about six, I figure my parents will be home. Even if they have plans for the evening, they likely won't be leaving the house before seven. He leans against the open door of the phone booth as I give the operator my number and deposit the appropriate coins.

“Cameron residence, hello?” My father's voice sounds odd over the long-distance wires.

“Father? It's Richard.”

“Good to hear from you, son. Nothing is wrong, I hope?”

“No, sir. But I wanted to ask... may I invite a friend to Martha's Vineyard this year?” I cross my fingers nervously.

Father's laughter explodes in my ear. “Richard, how many times have I asked you to invite someone? You've always said you'd rather not bother. Well, who is it you want to bring along? He's welcome for all of July, if his family will let him.”

“My new roommate, Todd Anderson, Father. Will you call his family to invite him yourself? He says they'll feel better about accepting if you do it.”

“Of course I will, son, after all, you don't ask for too many favors. Who am I calling, and what's the number?”

“Dr. J. Warren Anderson... he's Chief of Staff at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Todd's home number is POrtsmouth 7-3528. Oh, and Todd says his brother Jeffrey is graduating from Dartmouth this year, pre-med. It's possible that AJ knows him. I'm going to ask the next time I write,” I say.

“And I'll try calling Dr. Anderson tonight, son, and I'll write you as soon as I know what he says,” Father tells me. “And I'm pleased by the work you've been doing this term, Richard, keep up the good work.”

“I will, Father. Bye, now.”

“Good-bye, Richard.”

I hang up the phone and turn to Todd with a grin. “He's going to call. And he says you can come for the whole month of July if your folks will let you.”

Todd gives me a slow grin in return. “I hope they do. I really hope they do.”

“Me too, Todd,” I say as we head back upstairs to our stash of Hershey bars. “Me too.”

When we get back upstairs, we each grab a Hershey bar and look at our letters again. “You know,” I say thoughtfully, “if we write back tonight, there's a chance we can get them mailed right away. Chris might come up tomorrow afternoon. If she does, we can give her the letters and she can drop them in a mail box when she goes home.”

Todd beams. “Great idea! Let's hope she does come up.” He mangles the empty pizza box into something that will fit into the wastebasket, then sits at his desk and pulls out his writing paper.

I line the empty Coke bottles up in the window, since I'll be able to return them for my deposit the next time I get to go to town. Then I take out my paper and start writing.

Oh Captain, my Captain,

I'm very glad and grateful to hear back from you. Grateful that you don't blame me for what happened, and very glad to know that you are still in the profession that I know you love so well. I hope you do get the position at Berkeley. It sounds as though it would suit you admirably. And beyond that, I hope you're well.

As to how we got your new address... would you believe I found it? No, I didn't think you would. I confess, I went snooping through the files looking for it. I know, it seems hard to believe, doesn't it, that I would be the one to do such a thing. But I did. I wanted to do something nice for Todd, and I knew he'd appreciate being able to write to you. And I figured, correctly, that I'd be able to talk my way out of demerits if I got caught in the Dean's office. He's still covering your old classes, so I excused myself for being there by asking him to recommend a classmate to tutor me. Fortunately, I'd already closed the files by the time he arrived. That might have been a little harder to explain away.

I'm sure you've heard that Knox and Chris are officially an item now. Meeks and Pitts seem to have found girlfriends as well. Amy and Tina both go to Henley Hall, and both are very interested in electronics, of all things. Apparently, Amy's father worked on the development of the integrated circuit, and also on the EDVAC. Meeks and Pitts are both looking forward to meeting the man. I won't pretend I have more than a vague inkling of what they keep talking about, but I did manage to figure out that Amy's father is a leader in the electronics field. I know both of them want to go into that field, so having a contact like that is bound to help them.

About my dream... that's also going to be a little difficult to explain, my Captain. The problem isn't so much what I want to be as opposed to what my father expects me to be... he wants me to go into the FBI, just as he's grooming my older brother to enter the political arena once he has some experience as a lawyer. I think I'd prefer to be a doctor. Father would be disappointed, I think, but would probably understand that.

The problem is with what I am, as opposed to what I'm supposed to be. There's no truly delicate way of saying this, so I'm going to be blunt. I'm queer. That is why I suspect that I'll be breaking with my family. I doubt my father will be supportive once that becomes known. But I'm not willing to hide it, at least not once I've graduated from Welton. A big part of why I was such a jerk is because I purposely tried to keep everyone at arm's length. I didn't want anyone to get close enough to me that they might guess.

But that's changed now, because of Todd. He and I... we're more than just friends, my Captain. I... we both hope that this won't disgust you into breaking off the correspondence. We're going to try to make it through to graduation without anyone finding out. We figure we can manage to work our way through college if we need to. Who knows? Perhaps we'll even end up coming out to San Fransisco after graduation. I've heard rumors about it... that queers are somewhat accepted there... at least, they're not routinely beaten up for existing.

But that's the dream that will likely cause me to break with my family... the dream that Todd and I will share a life together after we're out of Hell-ton. I'll join you in hoping that the break won't happen. But that's really up to them. Once I've graduated from here, I'm done pretending to be what I'm not.

Your friend,
Richard Cameron

I fold my letter up and place it in an envelope, sticking a stamp on the front and writing in Mr. Keating's address. I glance over at Todd, who is still scribbling busily. I'm not surprised. I've never been as good with words as he is. I smile a bit, watching him as he writes, admiring his profile. He catches me looking as he folds up his letter and blushes.

“What?” he asks.

“Just... I like looking at you,” I say, with a blush of my own.

He ducks his head shyly, smiling.

I glance at the clock and see that it's almost curfew time. “We should probably take advantage of the pass day, and get into the john before everyone else starts piling in at the last possible moment.”

He nods and stands up, stretching a bit. “That's probably a good thought.”

We wash up and head back to the room to change for bed. And as usual now, we climb into the same one, the both of us sleeping better for the presence of the other.

“Night, Richard.”

“Night, Todd.”

We kiss softly, then spoon together under the blanket, him curled against me and my arm over his middle as we cuddle close and drift gently into sleep.

Todd and I give Knox our letters to Mr. Keating, in hopes that Chris will indeed be up to visit. Todd tells Meeks and Pitts at breakfast that he has a way of contacting the Captain, and that if they want to write him as well, they need to give Knox their letters immediately after lunch. Both of them look astonished, but simply nod and vanish to write. Knox addresses their envelopes for them, and adds them to the pile for Chris to take. Todd and I are almost as glad as Knox when Chris arrives for the Sunday visiting time.

And so we settle in to await replies. It hasn't been a week yet, so we don't expect to hear back from the Captain quite yet. But on Friday, Todd and I both receive letters from our respective fathers. Todd gulps nervously as he looks at the envelope in his hand. I'm nervous as well, but I take a deep breath and open mine.

Dear son,

I spoke with Dr. Anderson as you requested. Your friend Todd will not only be accompanying us to Martha's Vineyard, but he'll be spending the first two weeks of August with us at our home as well, as his parents will be attending a convention in Washington. I didn't think you boys would mind spending the extra time together, and Dr. Anderson was quite pleased to avoid having to hire someone to look after Todd and the house while they are gone. Apparently the older son will be doing some sort of internship in Connecticut, and will also be away for the majority of the summer.

Tell your friend to make sure he brings a tennis racket if he plays, and a fishing pole if he has one. If he doesn't, tell him we'll loan him one, and teach him to fish. I told Dr. Anderson that we'd pick up Todd at Portsmouth harbor on June 30th, around 10 in the morning. That should leave us plenty of time to sail to Martha's Vineyard before sunset. AJ will drive down to Woods Hole and take the ferry over. He'll meet us with the car at Oak Bluffs harbor to bring the rest of us to the cottage. Oh, and Todd is welcome to use AJ's bicycles at the cottage and at the house, so he won't need to bring one of his own. AJ says he can drive or take the bus if he wants to go wandering while we're on the Island.

Your mother and I are both looking forward to meeting Todd. Be sure to introduce us when we come to get you at the end of the school year, and then we'll have most of the summer to get to know him. Keep up your good work meanwhile, Richard. Mother sends her love.

Father

I look up at Todd, a huge smile wreathing my face. “Six weeks!” I say. “We're going to have six weeks this summer... all of July and part of August.”

Todd blinks, then gives a relieved smile. “I can hardly believe it... let's see what my letter says.” He opens the envelope.

Todd,

You will be spending six weeks with your roommate's family this summer. Jeffrey is going on internship and your mother will be accompanying me to Washington where I will be attending a medical convention. The Camerons have kindly agreed to keep you with them until our return on August 15th. They will be picking you up from the Portsmouth harbor on June 30th, to sail you to their vacation home.

Be sure to thank them for their kindness in putting you up, and don't you dare cause them any problems while you are visiting them.

Dr. J. Warren Anderson, Jr.

I shake my head, reading Todd's letter over his shoulder. “How did you get so nice, with a father like that?” I can't help but ask. “My father might not be the warmest man around, but... God. How do you put up with it?”

Todd sighs and tosses his letter onto his desk. “I guess I just got used to it. It was always about Jeffrey, you know? They never wanted a second child at all. But it was during the war and Father chose to enlist in the navy rather than wait for the draft to catch up with him. He figured that with being a doctor and knowing the right people, he'd serve out the war stateside. Which he did, but he got sent to Newport News instead of remaining in Portsmouth as he'd planned on. Mother couldn't go with him, housing there was too limited, and of course they didn't want to uproot Jeffrey. However, Father did manage a weekend pass in February of '42 and they met in Washington. Apparently they were... careless... that weekend, because I arrived in November of '42.”

I slide my arms around him. “I was an accident as well, according to my mother. But she said I was a welcome one. My father went through Dartmouth on an ROTC scholarship, and he went air corps. He was supposed to have gotten out in June of 1941, but with the war on, he chose to stay on, and he got stationed at Hickam... in Hawaii. There was good base housing for families, so my mother and AJ were there with him. They were there when the Japs attacked Pearl... and they got Hickam as well, to make sure we couldn't chase them back to their carriers. I arrived on October 2, 1942... the direct result of my parents finding each other alive in the aftermath of the bombing.”

Todd grins faintly. “My father is a big flag-waver, but he never saw combat.”

“Mine wasn't in a combat position, but he served for a year after that in the field as a personnel officer, so he got fairly well acquainted with the sound of combat. Then he got hurt... it sounds funny now, but I'm sure not at the time. He got hit in the leg with the door of a deuce and a half... the truck got blown up by a Jap plane, and somehow the door blew off in one piece and hit him as he headed for the shelter.” I shake my head, torn as always between wanting to laugh at the mental image of a combat injury caused by a door, and wanting to flinch because it happened to my own father. “It smashed his leg up pretty badly, to where they weren't sure he'd be able to walk again without a cane. So they gave him a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge. He used the bonus money they'd paid him when he re-upped to go to law school while he went through therapy for his leg, and he worked his way up into partnership at the law firm started by my grandfather.”

“You sound like you have a more or less normal family, don't you?” Todd's voice seems more wistful than anything. “I think only Neil's father is as screwed up as mine, from what I've heard from you and the others. Are you sure you want to risk having me stay with you this summer, Richard? I mean... what if we slip?”

I kiss him gently. “I want you there,” I tell him. “I know it will be a shock to them when they find out. But... no one stays with his parents forever, right? We'll just have to be careful. Besides, it won't be any worse than here... maybe easier, since there won't be as many prying eyes and ears around.”

Todd leans into my embrace with a sigh. “I just... I worry sometimes. Being with you... it's like a dream. I keep getting scared that I'm going to wake up and find out none of it is real. I love you, Richard.”

“I love you, too, Todd,” I answer softly.


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