So gorgeous, where are you taking me?” JC asked, walking up behind Ben to wrap his arms around his waist.
Ben shivered and sighed. “Nowhere if you keep breathing on my neck. We’ll embarrass ourselves in front of the horses.”
With a laugh, JC let him go and leaned against a closed stall. “So, is it a surprise? Do I get any hints?”
Ben looked at him and smiled. “It’s a surprise, kind of. It’s my place, where I go to think.”
JC frowned. “You’ve never said you had a ‘place’. Wow, I thought I knew everything about you.”
“You’re not mad, are you?” Ben asked curiously. JC seemed so serious all of a sudden. He hadn’t kept it a secret on purpose.
“No, of course not. I’m just surprised that’s all.”
“Nobody knows…except Abby. It’s her spot too. We had a fight one day and I took off for my spot and Abby followed. I was so upset I didn’t even hear her coming after me.”
“I feel honored then that you are showing me now. How far out is it?”
“It’s by the lake house. It’s not too far considering how big the ranch is. Shall we go? We need to get back before dinner.”
The boys mounted their horses and took off at a trot, slowing down only after they’d put the main building behind them.
“Have you made any decisions about tonight?" JC asked as they neared the halfway mark to the old Lake House.
Ben slowed so his horse was even with JC’s. “I think we’ll just see what happens. I’m sure if it’s time for something to happen between us it will. But if not, no biggie.”
“Sounds good to me. Have…have you talked to Abby about it?”
“No,” Ben said, pulling his collar up higher around his neck. It was getting cold. “Would it bother you if I did?”
“Nah,” he said, adjusting his collar and his hat. “As long as you don’t gossip about how good or bad I am or how big or small I am. I know how close you guys are.”
“What if I told her that even at fifteen, you were hung like a horse and rocked my world?”
JC snickered. “You’re very funny, Mr. Harper. I somehow doubt she would believe you so maybe you should stick to the truth.”
“Oh, but the look on her face would be classic,” Ben laughed as he pulled Polo to stop. “We’ll need to go on foot from here. It’s not far.”
There was no talk as they made their way through the woods near the lake cabin. To their left was solid pines and to their right, the trees were thinner and the lake was partially visible. When they reached an incline, Ben motioned for JC to follow then headed up, aware of the foot steps behind him.
“So, Benjamin Harper has anyone told you that you have a mighty fine ass?”
Ben snorted a laugh and kept on moving with his boyfriend’s laughter trailing behind. He paused when he reached the top of the hill and waited for JC. “Hold my hand as we go into the clearing.” They both stepped up and through the trees. An outdoor table and chairs sat before them. “Now look to your right.”
JC turned slowly in the direction Ben advised and his breath caught. The lake lay sprawled out before them with no barriers of trees or buildings, just shining water and the opposite shore covered in pine trees capped with snow. “Now I understand why you like it up here. This place is amazing.”
“I know,” Ben murmured. “In the summer I bring a book or my sketchpad up here, and somehow find the strength to deal with whatever problem I’m having. And in the winter, I bundle up and come up here to experience the extra quiet of the snow covered earth. And if I’m sad, I cry and let the tears freeze on my cheek. It reminds me that I’m alive.”
JC stood silent for a moment trying to absorb everything his boyfriend said. And then it clicked. “Wait, you…you don’t feel alive sometimes?”
“No, I don’t. I feel…I don’t know, emotionless I guess. Without purpose. I have never been able to see a future for myself. Oh, I can list what I want to happen in the future but I can’t see it or grasp it.”
“You never told anybody,” JC realized suddenly. “Why?”
“Well that’s easy,” Ben said, sitting down at the outdoor table and inviting JC to sit next to him. "I never knew how to voice it until I talked with a psychiatrist last month.”
“I wish I could have helped. Hell, we were best friends , shouldn’t I have noticed? I’m sorry, Ben.”
“Stop right there, James. It isn’t something that you could have seen or even guessed at. I couldn’t even do that. It’s hidden. Don’t ever be sorry about that. There was nothing you could do.”
JC sat silent, looking out at the lake. The wind was picking up and the water rippled with the breeze. “Why do you like me, Ben? Why do you love me?”
“That’s really easy,” he replied. “You make me laugh, you warm my heart and you feed my soul by giving me so many good things in life.”
“And do you know why I love you?”
“No,” Ben whispered. The anticipation was thick. Why would anyone in their right mind love Benjamin Harper?
“Because without you in my heart, I lose my humor. I become unkind and cannot warm a heart, and all of the good stuff with which I feed your soul turns sour. Without you I’m incomplete. Without you, the good in me dies.”
Ben had his head turned away from JC as he listened. The tears in his eyes made him feel weak. “I love you, JC.”
“Ben, look at me.”
After only a moment’s hesitation, he turned to look at his boyfriend. He saw only acceptance and love in his eyes. There was no judgment as he’d feared.
“I love you too, Ben. I even love that I think your corny has worn off on me.”
“Yeah, you were being kind of corny but I loved every word you said.”
This one is from Chapter 7. We see Ben and JC starting to explore their relationship, not only physically but emotionally too. How much closer will they get? And what will happen next in their epic love story?
“God, I don’t believe we just did that,” Ben gasped into the phone.
“I do,” JC chuckled. “Are you okay? It sounds like something’s wrong.”
“I’m okay,” Ben mumbled, rolling over onto his side. “It just feels strange.”
“I’m sorry, I never should have…”
“It was my idea,” Ben reminded him. “I just feel weird now that it’s over.”
“Maybe you weren’t ready. We don’t have to do it again if you don’t want.”
“It’s not that… I…I just wanted to do it together. I don’t like it as much over the phone, I guess. I want to see you, to feel you.”
“Our talk of New Year's Eve… you really meant that didn’t you? I…I thought we were just talking.”
“I don’t want to plan these things, but the more I think about it, the more I think I’ll make a move on you. And it scares me to death. My body is screaming at me to do something, and my mind is screaming at me telling me to slow down because we’re only fifteen and a half. God, I hate this!” Ben shifted in bed and rolled over onto his other side. "But I…I guess maybe you’re right, that is what I was thinking. Doesn’t just about every fifteen-year-old in the world struggle with this?”
“Yeah, it’s part of growing up, right? We have these physical feelings, urges, and they battle inside of us with the part that tells us we’re too young. That we should live a bit more.”
“Should we?” Ben whispered.
“Only you can answer that. My cousin Amber started having sex when she was fifteen and doesn’t regret a moment of it. My cousin Keith started when he was seventeen and then swore off of it until he was twenty-three. It just depends.”
“I don’t know what to do, JC. Physically I want you but I’m not sure how much I can give you yet.”
“It’s okay, Benjamin. We’ll just take it slow. The worst that can happen is that we jerk off a lot – separately.”
Ben laughed for the first time since JC had called him a half-hour before. “Do you still want to spend the night on New Year’s Eve? We may or may not do something physical but I promise we'll have fun.”
“I’ll be there. No matter what.”
The line was silent for a moment, but not awkwardly so, before Ben spoke again. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, you know that.”
“What do you think the future holds for us?”
“I can’t know yet,” JC said. “I’m thinking about journalism but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Why?”
“I have my whole future planned out but I’m afraid it might not include you.”
“I hope it does. God, I never thought about our paths separating us from each other. You were always there and always would be. Even when I was in Cali, I thought we’d end up in the same place together eventually.”
“Well,” Ben sighed. “It’s all I can think about lately. I want to go to art school in San Francisco. But I also want to study programming so I figure a four year school is in my future. Major in computer science, minor in art. I’m scared because I know how you feel about California but I don’t think staying in Hicksville, Wyoming is a good idea.”
“I don’t plan on staying either, Ben. I’m pretty sure colleges in San Francisco have journalism programs, right?”
“Well yeah… I just…”
“Why is it any different now?” JC asked in a whisper. “We were going to go to UW together when we were just friends.”
“I know,” Ben muttered. “I was the one who was so adamant about things not changing between us and here I am thinking that things have changed when they haven’t.”
“It’s because you’re the worrier. But in the end, you’re the strongest when the shit hits the fan. You have the steadiest hand.”
“Okay, I’ll try not to worry too much. Maybe the new dose of medicine will help.” “We’ll be fine, Ben. Our dreams will come true. If someday we are meant to take separate paths, we’ll deal with it then.”
“Okay. Thank you, JC.”
“You’re welcome, but I’m not sure what you’re thanking me for.”
“For being my rock when I get crazy. I hate it, I’m usually the one who can think clearly and plow through the crap.”
“We all need to be crazy sometimes, and tonight was your turn. Do you feel better about what we did earlier?”
A smile broke over Ben’s face. He wished JC could see it. “Yeah, much better. It was incredible. I realize it now that I’m thinking straight again.” Hearing his voice while he…It was absolutely thrilling.
“Good,” JC whispered. "I’d better go. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Here are some excerpts from the true beginning of Ben and JC's relationship; the moment when they knew they could finally be together. And this is also the beginnings of the struggles they had with Ben wanting to live free and JC needing to hide.
“I think we should spend the 22nd together. Movie, pizza and the fort. I’m brace free and should be pretty much good to go.”
"Good. I’ll see you then and I’ll call you tomorrow. Mom’s calling me for supper.”
“Okay, talk to you later. Ben… I love you.”
“I love you too.” He hung up the phone and hurried down the stairs. His smile lit up the whole dining room when he walked in. “Hey everybody!”
“Well, look at you. My happy son is back. That medicine must be starting to work,” Evie gushed.
“It’s more than that I think, Mama,” Dylan piped up. “He was waiting for a call from JC.”
“Oh really?” Cole asked. “You haven’t talked to him in quite a while. Is your fight finally fading?”
Ben smiled and looked around at his family. It seemed the secrecy would begin now, a whole month before JC came home. But they would be able to be together and that was all that mattered. Hell, his family was always so supportive and understanding he might just come out to them soon. It would make things so much easier. “JC and I are friends again. Best friends.”
Ben woke with a feeling that something was wrong. The sun shining through the curtains was too bright and the sounds coming from downstairs were louder than they should be for early morning. His brothers must have had enough of sleeping in on Christmas break. If he’d slept too late, his mom would have woken him. She knew how much it meant to him to be there to greet JC.
Rolling over onto his left side to try to go back to sleep, he was shocked to see that the clock read twelve, but then it was blinking which meant the power had gone out. Shit. What the hell time was it then? If his mother had let him sleep past noon…
Reaching into his nightstand drawer, he pulled out his watch. 11:53. Oh great. If he didn’t hurry, he was going to be late. Minutes later, he was dressed and headed down the stairs. “Ma! Why didn’t you wake me up. You know JC was coming in on the noon bus.”
“I’m sorry, I was on the phone with the insurance company all morning. I figured your alarm would wake you up.”
“But the power went out. My clock was flashing 12.”
“The power didn’t go out, Benjamin. Besides your clock has battery backup.”
“But then why is it flashing?”
“You probably need a new one,” Evelyn sighed. “I’ll grab one while I’m in town. Are you ready to go? You look like you’re about to explode.”
“Yeah,” he smiled big. “Let’s go already!”
Evelyn chuckled and hurried out of the room after her son.
Ben sat on the steps of the porch of JC’s old house. They’d been lucky enough to rent it again. His fingers wouldn’t stop moving, first up and down his pant leg, and then playing with blades of dead grass that poked up out of the mostly melted snow by his feet.
The minute he saw the vehicle turn down the street, he was up and waiting at the side of the driveway. He could see JC in the back cab of the truck but he didn’t want to look too close. Six hard months had passed since they’d seen each other and he wanted to be able to take in every nuance, every change all at once. Although he kept telling himself to breathe, he couldn’t help but hold his breath.
When JC stepped out of the truck, Ben’s gaze swept him from top to bottom then back up to rest on his gorgeous face. A small scar sat on his jaw line, his normally long, dark brown hair was cropped short and a big smile shined on his face.
“Benjamin,” he said with a nod.
“James,” Ben returned.
JC moved well considering what his body had been through recently and before either of them had time to think, they were toe-to-toe. “It’s really good to have you home,” Ben murmured.
“It’s good to be home,” JC whispered, reaching out to briefly embrace his best friend… boyfriend. They both now knew that to each other, home was together.
“God, we sound like we’re in love or something. I just wish we could shout it everywhere.”
“Me too…speaking of which, I want to come out to my family. I think it might make it easier. We would have one place where we could hold hands or hug, or kiss – within reason. We could have one place where we could be ourselves.”
“No!” JC exclaimed as he stood up and started to pace. “Do not tell your family!”
“Please, JC. I don’t like keeping things from them. They’ll support us, I’m sure of it.”
“But I can’t take that risk,” JC said, his voice panicked. “It could accidentally come out if even only one person knows.”
“I don’t mind her knowing, she’s one of us and she’s not here for more than a few months a year.”
“My family wouldn’t tell anybody if we asked them not to.” Ben felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t feel like there was anything to hide. Just telling his family was a good compromise. It would make him feel so much better.
We've got two short excerpts this time! One shows the rapport between Ben and his best friend/cousin Abigail. They are closer than siblings and she is his main confidant. Their relationship is special and plays a part in her future (In the contemporary romance Stormy Seas: Abigail's Story)
The second excerpt shows a bit of relationship building between Ben and JC before the final get together. Enjoy!
Amid the fun sounds of summer, Ben hurried inside and headed upstairs to find Abby. “Hey are you okay? Why didn’t you come back?”
“I thought it might be a good idea to steer clear of Chris for a while. I decided to write instead.”
“You reacted better than I would have,” Ben chuckled. “I probably would have stewed over it for a month.”
Abigail shrugged without looking up from her paper. “They’re just boobs and if he sees them now and likes them, he might want to see them again someday.”
“Well, well,” Ben chuckled. “My sweet Abby is having impure thoughts.”
“Like you don’t.”
“Ah! I’m offended. I’m sweet and innocent, dear cousin. Heck I’m almost fifteen and I’ve never even had a crush on a girl.”
“Yeah,” Abby laughed. “But you’ve kissed a boy who gave you a boner.”
“Shh, it’s a secret,” he said with wide, innocent eyes and a wink. “Can I draw while you write, or do you want to be alone?”
“You know the answer to that. Go get your stuff.”
JC looked straight ahead through the windshield, he couldn’t quite bring himself to make eye contact. “I just needed to apologize…for how I ended things. I should have told you in person and not with that stupid letter.”
“That hurt…a lot,” Ben admitted, “But I accept your apology.”
JC’s gaze finally swung over to Ben’s and held. “I lied,” he said softly. “I’m not doing good. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder if people assume I’m gay. Or if someone can guess, when I say your name, that we’ve kissed. There isn’t an hour that goes by that I’m not wondering how I can ignore my feelings for you. But on the other hand, I don’t have the strength to not care what people will think. I don’t have the power to admit what’s right in front of me.”
“Good,” Ben said with a smile. “I’m glad you’re miserable and I’m not trying to be mean. I…I just hope that if these things keep lying in your mind that you will eventually realize how much easier it is to just go with your gut and love me.”
“You’re an ass,” JC chuckled. “But I’m not so sure that will ever happen.”
“I can wait,” Ben said with as smile. “But not forever. Someday I will meet someone new.” He hoped he sounded convincing because he couldn’t imagine ever finding anyone else.
JC stared out the windshield again. “Maybe you should just try to do that.”
“I’d rather wait for a while. I have faith in you.”
“So, what have you been up to?” JC asked to change the subject as he fidgeted uncomfortably. And it worked, he and Ben talked about what had been going on in their lives, almost like they were best friends again. But their time was soon interrupted by Abby’s knock on the window. “You’ve got about ten minutes to wrap it up guys. Mom and Dad will be here soon.”
“Can I call…or maybe write to you sometimes?” Ben asked hopefully.
“You can write, but I can’t guarantee I’ll answer. It’s too painful.”
“Okay,” Ben agreed. “I understand.”
“I’d better go,” JC said, reaching for the door handle.
“Wait!” Ben said, grabbing his hand and pulling him close. “Goodbye James.” His lips came down in a kiss that went from sweet to earth shattering before they pulled apart and JC stumbled from the van.
“Goodbye, Benjamin,” he breathed, turning and heading back to where his parents would be waiting for him.
“You okay cousin?” Abby asked, breaking into his reverie.
Hey there everybody! It is now time for the excerpt from Chapter 4 of Anguish This one touches on the depression aspect of the story...this particular excerpt touches on it in a big way. This is when his life and his disorder start to change into something that is harder to handle. Again, if you need help with your mental health, please ask someone - family, friends, teachers, bosses, doctors. They are there to help. As someone with depression and anxiety I can tell you that taking that first step is so hard but in the end, oh my goodness it is so worth it. Take care of yourselves, my friends! I adore each and every one of you and am glad you are in my life.
YOU CAN PRE-ORDER NOW! PAPERBACK IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON AND BARNES AND NOBLE
Despite having just lost his best friend and potential boyfriend, the three days he was able to spend with Abby buoyed him to the point that he didn’t think of JC all day. And the suffocating moments were few and far between.
If he wasn’t wrapped up in one of Abby’s stories, he was busy drawing or creating clever programs on the computer. And after a December 27th snowstorm, the weather cleared and warmed up enough for them to go riding. As much as Abby wanted to go to the fort, Ben kept her away. He knew the memories of kissing JC would bring some of the darkness back.
At that point, darkness was being reserved for his drawings. It seemed war and death were his new favorite themes. But now, the thought of Abby leaving in a few hours made his heart ache every minute until she left. He was definitely looking forward to summer.
“No backing out, Ben. You’re coming to Nevada to visit in June,” Abby stressed as they finally walked into the warm and inviting ranch house.
“I’ll be there. We’re going to have so much fun.”
“Are you ready, Abigail?” Ethan asked. “We need to get the rental car back before five.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she sighed. “We really need to move here.”
Ben hugged her tight. “I’ll see you soon. Call me when you get home.”
“I will, Bennie Boy." With a kiss to his cheek, she grabbed her bag from by the door and followed her dad to the car.
“Hey Ben, wanna come play a game with me?” Dylan asked from the kitchen doorway. “Please? You’ve been so busy with JC and Abby lately.”
“I’m sorry, brat. Not right now. Tomorrow or the next day, okay?”
“Yeah sure,” Dylan murmured softly. “You never do anything when Abby leaves.”
“Come on, little brother,” Russell said. "Ben just misses having her here. Why don’t you, me and Logan go tune up the snowmobiles so we can use them when the big storm hits this weekend.”
Ben walked slowly up the stairs feeling like the lowest form of human. How hard would it have been for him to play a kids' game with his six-year-old little brother? But somehow he just couldn’t. He wanted to be alone, he had to be alone.
He knew it was coming the minute he opened his bedroom door. But as hard as he tried to turn around and run out to the barnyard to join his brothers, his feet just wouldn’t cooperate. As if he had no control over them, he walked to his bed and lay down.
That suffocating, drowning, gut-wrenching feeling swept over him for the first time in a week. And he welcomed it with every particle of his being. As uncomfortable as it was, the sense of normalcy brought a smile to his face – until a new feeling hit him. Anger. Steady unwavering anger settled into his chest. It was anger at himself for being so loathsome, at JC for hurting him and at Abby for leaving him. It was a rage he wanted to scream to the world but couldn’t.
Welcome to excerpt #3 from Anguish: Ben's Story - during a visit home, JC must decide if he can love Ben and admit to him that he is gay or if he will still hide his true feelings. As always, remember that attitudes about being gay are much different now than they were in the late 1990's in small Rocky Mountain West towns.
“So, what movie are we seeing?” JC asked as they sat down at the table in the pizza restaurant that was surrounded by doors leading to the multiplex theaters.
“I thought we could see Fantasy of Night. The theater gets dark so if we sit in the very back, maybe we can hold hands or something.”
JC smiled. “Is this our first date?”
“Yeah…I mean if you want it to be”
“Sounds good to me. I just wish we didn’t have to hide it.”
“Yeah me too," Ben sighed. “And maybe someday in the future, we won’t.”
“I hope so. But somehow I don’t ever see it happening. And that’s what is so hard about making a decision. Do I really want to choose to be gay and let myself fall in love with you only to have to hide it and live with such a secret my whole life?”
Ben felt like someone was stabbing his heart. JC didn’t seem to get it at all. “It’s not a choice. Either you are or you aren’t. The way I see it is that I can live how my heart tells me to and put up with the backlash, or I can live in a loveless marriage, deceiving a good woman… which also adds up to living a secret life.”
JC had tears in his eyes when he looked up at Ben. “So, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t?”
“Yeah, pretty much. But your attitude about it can make or break your happiness. I can’t live without true love. I refuse to.”
JC’s head dropped to hide his tears. “My name is JC and I’m gay. I think I’m falling in love with an amazing boy but I’m afraid I might be too much of a coward to live the way he needs me to.”
“I’ll help you,” Ben murmured, aching to reach out and touch his friend. “Come on, my dad is working in the kitchen, his office is free.”
As soon as the door closed behind them, Ben locked it. He pulled JC into a hug and let him cry. When he pulled himself together, Ben was there with tissues and then a kiss.
“Is somebody in there?” came Cole Harper’s voice. The two boys quickly pulled apart and Ben unlocked the door. “Sorry, Dad. JC’s upset about going back to California after Christmas so I thought we should talk about it in private.”
Cole nodded and turned to JC. “I take it you don’t like it there, son?”
“No sir,” JC murmured. “The whole family can’t wait to come back here in November.”
“Well, we’ll be happy to have you back. I know Benjamin misses you.”
“Thank you sir. Maybe we should go order our pizza now.”
“Yeah, come on,” Ben agreed, dragging JC out of the room. If his dad only knew how much he missed his ‘best friend’ when he was gone.
As they walked back out to the restaurant, JC turned to Ben with a sad look. “And so the lies begin.”