Trace has the day off work and the boys have the day off school thanks to teachers’ meetings. Trace decides that he wants to go to the mall and gets up to ask Blake if he wants to go with him.
“Blake, come here, son.”
Blake shows up with his phone close to his ear.
“That kid is nonstop on the phone now that he’s dating Ben.”
“I want to head up to the mall; do you want to come with?”
“Can Ben come?”
“Sure.” Trace just wants to get out of the house for a little while. He’s a little bored. Ian is stuck at the school until noon. For lunch today, Ian and Trace have plans to take Blake out to eat at their favorite restaurant. Now it looks like, that it could end up being a double date.
“Ben, would you like to go up to the mall with Trace and me?”
“Yeah, but I need to talk to my mom real quick.”
There was silence on the phone for a few seconds.
“Blake, my mom wants to talk to Trace for a second.”
“Okay, he’s right here.”
Blake hands the phone to his dad.
“His mom wants to talk to you.”
“Okay.” Trace loved how Ben’s parents gave their son his freedom, but managed to know what was going on in his life.
‘I’m so glad we aren’t the only parents who keep tabs on their kids,’ Trace thought.
“Hello, Mrs. Hatcher, how can I help you?”
“I just wanted to check and see what the plans are for today.”
“No problem, I am taking the boys to the mall, next we’re meeting my partner for lunch and then it’s back to mall for some frozen yogurt. I’m hoping to be home by 4:00 PM. It might even be earlier than that, depending on how much shopping we do or don’t do.”
“Thanks, Mr. Andrews. I can’t wait to meet you and your partner. You have no idea how happy Blake has made Ben. Thanks for allowing him to date my son.”
“You’re welcome. I owe you thanks as well for allowing Ben to date Blake.”
“Mr. Andrews, I guess we both have much to be thankful for when it comes to our sons.”
“True. Well, I guess I had better give the phone back to Blake.”
“Before you go, I want to invite you and your family over to out house for dinner next week.”
“Thank you for the invite, Mrs. Hatcher! Let us know which day and the time, and we’ll be there.”
Giving the phone back to Blake, Trace went to grab his keys and his wallet. He was grateful for the love that was being shown to Blake by Ben and his family. He came downstairs, ready to head over to the Ben’s house.
“Blake, are you ready to roll?”
No answer; Trace knows he’s not upstairs and the house is quiet, so maybe he’s already outside. A quick glance through the window confirms it; Blake is already outside by the car. Seeing that, he opened the door and headed to the car. He could see the look on his son’s face ‘Come on, Dad, get moving!’ was clearly written all over it.
“Dad, Ben’s waiting for us.”
Trace opened the car door and then looked at his son.
“Well then, get inside, son, and we’ll take off.”
There have only been a few times that Blake has shown any form of rebellious attitude, a typical teenager attitude. Trace knows and respects where it’s coming from. Father and son get into the car and they leave for Ben’s house.
Blake can’t help himself. He’s getting butterflies, the warm fuzzy kind. They happen every time he thinks about Ben, or any time he’s around him. It won’t be long until they arrive at Ben’s house. Trace is also looking forward to doing some shopping. Ian’s twenty-ninth birthday is coming up and Trace wants to get him something nice. He needs to remind Blake about it too.
“Blake, we have Ian’s birthday coming up in a few days. Any ideas as to what you might want to get him or do you want to go in with me on a gift?”
Blake considered his options. If he went in with Trace, they could get something big, but if Blake goes and buys one himself, Trace could get something for his Ian. This time though, Blake decided to go in with Trace. Hopefully, Ian will like whatever Trace picks up for him.
“Sure Dad!” he said in reply to Trace.
“Is that your answer? I mean it’s not much of an answer.”
“Sorry, I guess something is on my mind. Yes, I would love to go in with you on a present for Ian.”
“Thank you for answering!”
“What are you thinking of getting him?”
“Ian loves to cook, so I’m getting him an actual spice grinder, so he can use it instead of the coffee grinder.”
Blake didn’t think Trace’s idea was all that great, but he’ll still go through with his decision. Maybe, he’ll get his dad a little something extra.
As they pulled up to the Hatcher house, Blake undid his seat belt and went up to the door, knocked, and waited. The whole time, he was feeling the butterflies in his stomach. It seemed to take forever for Ben to answer the door, but even when he did, the butterflies were still flying away in his stomach. Blake and Ben smiled at each other.
“Hey, babe!” Blake said, as his smile grew even larger.
“Hey!” Ben loved being able to stare into Blake’s eyes, even for just a second.
“Let’s go!” Blake walked hand in hand with Ben, up to the car.
“Are you excited about going shopping at the mall?”
“I’m more excited about spending time with my boyfriend.”
“Ben, that is so sweet!”
They exchanged a quick peck on the lips, and then got into the car. Trace pulled away and headed up to the mall.
When they arrived, everyone stepped out of the car.
“Okay guys, you have two hours to do whatever you want.” Grabbing his wallet, Trace took sixty-five dollars out and gave it to Blake. “Here. You can spend all of it or some of it, but whatever you don’t spend is to come back to me.”
Blake gladly accepts the money.
“You’re welcome. Now go enjoy yourself and be safe.”
“We will.” Blake smiled as he took Ben’s hand, and turned to head deeper into the mall.
Trace hopes the pair is careful. He knows that the mall sometimes is not a nice place, and he worries about the boys. He also worries about the homophobes that might be in the mall today. They can be anywhere, and they don’t care about the feelings of others. The caring father has already seen people who do not approve of Blake and Ben’s relationship. Their faces say it all. Luckily, there are others who seem more accepting.
Trace wonders off in search of his present for Ian, while his son and Ben continue walking. As the boys walk past different people, they get different reactions. Some people choose to accept, while others feel the need to hurl insults at them. The caring father would do anything to keep his son safe, but there are times when a dad just can’t be there.
As the boys are walking, they come across one of their favorite stores, Hot Topic.
“So are we buying for you or for Ian?
“Both, I want to grab some cheap sunglasses and a gift card for my dad.”
“Are you sure that he’ll like it?”
“I’ve been with Ian when he’s shopped here on occasion. I’m sure he can find a use for it.”
“Okay!” Ben said as Blake grabbed one of the twenty-five dollar gift cards. They walked up to the cash register and put their stuff down to pay. The guy at the register acknowledged Ben and Blake with a smile. He even displayed his pride colors for the couple to see. Ben and Blake smiled back at him. As they left the store, someone yelled “Faggot” at them!
Ben and Blake reacted differently to the name-calling. Ben was shocked. Blake was shocked at first, but he quickly dismissed it.
“You want to quit holding hands?”
“No!” Ben said. He didn’t want to stop holding hands just because of some punk. “I’m not going to let some jerk ruin my day.”
Ben was not going to let anything bother him today. He wanted to enjoy his day with Blake. They passed by another couple of stores when a group of guys came up behind them.
The guys in the group got within five feet of them. At first, it didn’t bother them to have the group that close.
“Isn’t that cute, two little love birds holding hands.”
Blake wanted to say something in response to the goons, but this group of haters outnumbered them. Ben was tempted to say something too. But instead, they decided to just ignore them. It didn’t work though. They thought that if they ignored them, that the group would simply go away. The group of bullies kept right on following them and making comments to them. It was really starting to annoy Ben. He made a decision to lead their tormentors to a security guard.
His plan to lead the group of boys to someone hopefully will work. The name-calling continued for another fifteen feet. They found a large security guard, around 6’2”, coming out of one of the stores. Blake’s first impression was that this guy seemed a bit cocky. They hoped that this would put a stop to the harassment.
“Sir, the group of guys behind us has been harassing us.”
The guy looked at them and they could plainly see the disapproval on his face.
“If you were not holding hands, then you wouldn’t have a problem.”
A call came over his radio and he took off like a rocket. In the end, nothing was said to the thugs. Blake leaned in and whispered, “Should I call Trace?”
“Yeah!” Ben said, feeling a bit intimidated at this point. Blake brought up his speed dial list and selected Trace’s cell.
“Blake, what’s up?”
“We’re being followed by a bunch of guys and they’re calling us names.”
“What store are you by right now?”
“Abercrombie & Fitch,” Blake said as he looked around.
“Okay, I’ll start heading your way, but in the meantime the two of you need to get inside that store. Stay where you can be seen by the employees. If you see a security guard, get their attention.”
Blake and Ben headed into the store to wait for Trace. The group of guys that was following them, sat down on a bench outside the store. Ben and Blake browsed the clothes while they waited for Trace. A security officer entered the store while making his rounds. Blake immediately walked up to the guy, while the boys outside watched him intently.
“That group of guys out on the bench has been following me and my boyfriend since we got here and they’ve been harassing us.”
“Well thanks for telling me. I’ll take care of this for you.”
As promised, the guard walked out and spoke with the troublemakers. He walked back into the store as the group left.
“Everything is okay. They won’t be causing you any more problems.”
“Thanks, sir!” Ben and Blake both said and the guard just smiled.”
Blake grabbed his phone and called his dad again.
“Blake, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, you can slow down. We caught a security guard and he took care of our problem.”
“Okay cool. I’m going to keep shopping.”
“Okay, bye Dad!”
Blake felt bad because this mess could have been avoided by not taking Ben’s hand. If he had not taken Ben’s hand, the thugs wouldn’t have picked them as targets. He felt bad because he unintentionally caused that to happen.
“Ben… I’m sorry for ruining your day.”
“What? How did you ruin my day?”
“If I didn’t take your hand and walk through the mall with you, we wouldn’t have been harassed.”
Ben had to set him right.
“You had nothing to do with it.”
Blake didn’t roll his eyes, but he disagreed with his boyfriend. He just didn’t feel right about this whole situation. He didn’t understand why Ben didn’t see things the same way he did.
“Blake, I loved holding your hand. I thought it was sweet.”
Ben’s boyfriend still was not convinced that holding hands wasn’t in some way responsible for them being harassed.
“What do you want to do now?”
“How about the arcade?”
“Cool!” Blake took Ben’s hand again and off they went to the arcade.”
As they entered the establishment, another teen noticed their handholding. Blake sees him looking and quickly let go of Ben’s hand. Ben’s disappointment doesn’t show on his face, but Blake can feel it. The teen who saw them holding hands stops what he’s doing and comes over to start trouble. A guardian angel is in the arcade and he approaches Blake and Ben. He recognizes the kid’s body language and decides to intervene. No one is going to mess with his one true friend and his boyfriend.
“Who are you calling a fag?”
Rick gave the loud mouth the same look that he used to give Blake. The teen faced Rick and he was ready to fight until he got a glance at the size of Rick’s muscles.
“You need to back off from my friends.”
“Okay… I don’t want any trouble.”
The kid not only backed off, but he left the arcade. “Thanks, Rick!” Blake said with a smile.
“You’re welcome, Blake.”
Ben and Blake put out their hands to Rick and the boys all returned to whatever they were doing before being interrupted. Just as Blake and Ben started playing their game again, Blake’s phone went off.
Blake answered the phone and kind of frowned. He was not happy to hear his dad’s voice.
“Blake, I’m ready to head out so we can meet up with Ian.”
‘Dang it!’ he thought. Trace’s son didn’t want to give up his time with Ben. Blake was really enjoying the day with his boyfriend.
“Okay Dad. We’re at the arcade and headed your way.”
“Sounds good, son, see you soon.”
Blake ended the call and walked up to Ben.
“We have to go. My dad is ready to go pick up Ian.”
“Darn it, I was doing so good, too.”
Ben stopped playing the game and the couple headed out to find Trace.
“I hope my dad has plans for lunch. I’m dying of hunger.”
“I’m right with you, Blake.”
As they move towards Trace’s location, Ben decides that he wants to hold Blake’s hand.
The pair starts walking hand in hand. They brave potential haters in order to be romantic. At first, no one seems to be bothered by them. As luck would have it, the peace is short lived. Someone in the crowd yells a slur at them. Ignoring the mouths in the crowd, the boys continue to walk. Out of nowhere, a lady appears and approaches them with a very sour expression on her face. Blake could see the hostility born of ignorance running through her. All he wanted to do was to get away from her and make it back to his dad. “Let’s go Ben,” Blake said, worried about the outcome of this encounter. Ben started walking, hoping that maybe they could blend into the crowd. She followed them despite their attempts to get away from her.
“You… you are the reason that we had that tornado two years ago. You are sinners. Now repent!”
Blake finds himself teleported back home. He can hear his mom’s voice coming from that lady. Her words hit Blake in the heart. Ben, however, did not seem fazed. However, someone in the crowd did not like what the woman said.
A man came up to the woman. She smiled thinking that someone else had joined her holy crusade. She was wrong though.
“How dare you yell at them?”
“Oh come on, they’re gay. Surely, you don’t think that this is right?”
“Ummm… as a matter of fact, I do think it’s okay.”
“Well, I guess these boys won’t be alone in hell.”
“Neither will you!” he said as he walked away. He melted into the crowd. She turned and went back to her shopping. It left Blake feeling a bit down in the dumps. He was lost in his emotions, but at least Ben was by his side. Now Ben was thinking the same thing that Blake had been wondering about earlier.
‘Maybe Blake was right; perhaps holding hands wasn’t a good idea after all.’
Even though Ben was worried about the attention that was being drawn to them by holding hands, he still wanted to hold hands with the guy he loved.
‘I think we need to be more careful.’
Blake saw a lot while out on the streets, but it’s been a while since he was treated like this by anyone. He just wants to be in love and forget about the haters, but at the moment, he can’t forget about them. Blake does not understand why people hate gay people so much. Even his own parents hate him. Ben and Blake picked up speed when they saw Trace heading their way.
Trace could see the boys approaching him. He can see their expressions and they don’t look happy. ‘Something’s up.’ Trace recognizes the look on Blake’s face that just screams ‘Help me, Dad!’ Worried that something might be wrong, Trace started walking faster.
“What’s wrong guys?”
“Nothing, just some haters.”
Blake was glad to be standing with his dad. Ben was happy to be with Blake’s dad also. Nothing they experienced, with the exception of the crowd of thugs, scared them or hurt them, but they were shocked.
“So I take it that you guys got to see how nasty some people can be.”
“Yeah… they’re pretty cold.”
“Dad, have you ever had people trash talk you before?”
“Do you mean call me names because I’m gay? Yeah… I’ve had my share of words thrown at me.”
‘Someone would have to be stupid to call Trace names,’ Ben thought to himself.
“Are you two ready to head out?”
“Yeah we are, Dad.” Blake wanted to get away from the mall and away from the haters.
Together, they walked out and headed back to the car to pick up Ian.
Trace needed to have the boys see that there are people who don’t see ‘gay’, but rather, only see the person. He wants them to be comfortable being themselves in public. There is only one place that Trace knows is fairly safe. It’s the neighborhood that has built up around Shepard Avenue. Shepard Avenue is a street that is home to clubs and bookstores at one end and coffee shops and other little stores that cater to the LGBT community. Many of the shops are owned by people in the community. In fact, they are going to be having lunch in one such establishment. Before the crew can eat though, they have to get Ian.
They pulled up to the house and Trace honked the horn. It didn’t take Ian long to come outside. He opened the car door and got inside. Looking back at the boys, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Duh, Dad!” Blake said with a smile.
“So hubby dearest, where are we eating?”
“I’m thinking El Toro sounds good.”
El Toro is operated by a guy whose family is from Mexico. His partner is the chef and a dam good one at that. Trace and Ian went there on a double date with some friends at the start of last year.
“Ben, do you like Mexican food?”
“I love Mexican.”
Blake’s stomach started rumbling at the thought of food.
“This place makes killer tacos!”
Trace’s words caused Ben’s eyes to grow large. Blake can’t wait to eat. He’s starving. The whole purpose behind this trip is to show Ben and Blake that there are friendly places. Trace stops the car about a block away from the restaurant.
As the group exits the car, Trace and Ian walk up ahead.
“Ian, I want to show them that they don’t have to be afraid that everyone in the world is out to taunt them for being gay.”
“How?” Ian asked, he had no idea how his husband was going to accomplish this plan, but Trace knows, and for now, that is all that matters.
“Just trust me.”
Now Ian knows that Blake and Ben are in for it. Trace reaches out for Ian’s hand and before you know it, the couple is holding hands. Ben and Blake saw it. Blake felt a little uneasy watching them walk down the street. He’s worried about what people will say. No one seems to care that two gay guys are holding hands.
Blake just doesn’t get it, and he asks, “Aren’t you afraid of someone seeing you?”
“No son, we aren’t and neither should you.”
“I… I don’t get it.”
People passed them and no one said a thing.
“Dad, back at the mall, people were calling us fags. Why isn’t anyone saying anything to you?”
“They aren’t saying anything because no one here gives a crap about us being gay.”
‘How is it no one cares?’ Blake asks himself. He looks around at the people on the street. Sure enough, no one is looking. A couple of people even had rings or other accessories that told Blake they were members of the LGBT community. Suddenly, without warning, this strange place had managed to take on take a different feeling. It was home; a safe place. Blake was finding that he liked it here. Ben was beginning to like it here too. The boys could not get over the fact that these people were okay with Trace and Ian holding hands. The restaurant was within one hundred feet of them. When they got inside, the host quickly seated them.
The place has an authentic feel to it, and Blake is beginning to really like it. The waiter came out and put tortilla chips and salsa out on the table. He handed out menus to everyone, and then he stepped away and gave them a chance to look over the menus.
“I know what I want! I’m going to have the chicken molé.” Then he asked his boyfriend, “So what are you having, Ben?”
“You know what? I think that I’m going to have some of their molé tacos.”
Blake liked the sound of that, but what came out of Ben’s mouth next caught his attention.
“Trace, Ian, is the waiter gay?”
“It’s possible,” Ian answered, as he glanced at the waiter. It didn’t take long for the waiter to return.
“Hi, I’m Max, sorry for not introducing myself earlier. Are you ready to order?”
Trace ordered mushroom quesadillas. Ian ordered chicken tamales. Blake ordered his chicken molé. Ben ordered his chicken molé tacos. Throughout the meal, they made small talk until Ben asked about how the guys felt about public affection and people’s reactions to it.
“When I first met Trace, it used to really bug me that he would want to hold hands, but ever so slowly, he got me to see that it was okay. I was already very able to defend myself, so I wasn’t worried about the haters. You don’t have to be ashamed to show your love by kissing, hugging or holding hands, but you do need to be smart and trust your senses and your instincts, and then just enjoy your day.”
After the meal, Trace paid the bill and they headed back to the car; now it was time for dessert.
We drove back to the mall for frozen yogurts. Once the car was parked, we headed into the mall. Trace once again took his lover’s hand. Blake and Ben started feeling nervous. It was that attention that caused all their problems here at the mall to begin with. The boys watched as the two men passed by people on the way to the food court. Most of the people choose to see two people in love, but others were staring too. Ben and Blake were more annoyed than anything else. The group came to a stop outside the frozen yogurt shop. Trace ordered four large vanilla cones. They took their cones and the group sat down and made small talk as they ate their cones. Trace and Ian smiled as the boys heard footsteps coming up behind them.
“Hey Trace and Ian, what’s up?”
At first the voices didn’t click but then the strangers came where Blake and Ben could see them. The taller of the two pulled up a chair and sat down, followed by a slightly shorter guy. Ben and Blake recognized the tall guy as Mr. Clark from school.
“Mr. Clark? Umm… what’s going on?”
Blake didn’t get it. Mr. Clark and this other guy seem to be pretty close. Blake gives Ben a questioning look.
“What do you mean Blake?”
Ian knew what Blake was getting at and he leaned close to Trace.
“I think Blake is trying to ask about Ty and Alec.”
It was Trace’s turn to whisper.
“Ty, I think maybe our son has figured things out.”
The browned-eyed guy to Blake’s right quietly acknowledges Trace’s whisper.
Ian knows how important it is for teachers to keep close tabs on such things as their sexuality. Ty tries to keep close tabs on their students who are known, or rumored, to be gay. He’s tried to keep his sexuality hushed. If he is ever invited to Trace’s house, his cover may very well be blown. Ty gave a nod to Trace.
“Blake, Ben, you know how important it is to never out anyone?”
“Yes!” they both answered Trace.
“I need you guys to keep this quiet.”
“Dad… what exactly are we keeping quiet?”
Ben was as lost as Blake.
“I think that I can clear things up.”
Mr. Clark looked at Ben and Blake.
“Trace isn’t the only one who’s got a husband at home.”
“I… I guess that about wraps it up.”
The boys smiled at the thought of having one more ally at school. As they sat there talking, someone in the crowd yelled “Fags!”
A wave of anger flowed through the youths, while the older guys blew it off. Ben and Blake have a long way to go before they develop the knowledge that, though the words can annoy, they are simply words.
“Why doesn’t that bug you guys?”
Then, Ben and Blake could see it in their eyes. It made no sense to the young guys.
“Guys, it’s because ‘fag’, ‘queer’ and ‘homo’ are nothing but words. They have no power.”
Ty was right. Words are just words… but Ben and Blake are not ready to let the words bounce off just yet.
By Chuck B.