We had a Saturday afternoon practice and the boys slept until about a half hour before we had to leave. I got a call shortly before we were going to pack up the LX and it was Mark.
"Charles doesn't want to come to practice," he said. I could tell by his voice that he was very concerned about something.
"Is he sick?" I asked.
"I don't know what's the matter, but he just keeps saying he's not going. He's holed himself up in his room and won't talk to me."
I told Mark we could make out without him and that he needed to attend to Charles. We were late and I didn't have time to sit the boys down to talk about the argument they had when they came in from the dance-a-thon. In view of Mark's information, I had a sneaking suspicion that the two problems were related.
The ride over to the rink was a quiet one as neither boy spoke to each other and gave me very short answers as I tried to make conversation. I was trying to speculate on what the problem was and I came to the conclusion that it probably involved a girl.
When we got into the dressing room, Pieter was there getting dressed and asked where Charles was. When Jake told him he wasn't coming he turned to look at Sean and glared at him without saying a word. Sean wouldn't look at him and now I was really concerned about what was going on.
When the boys were dressed and on the ice, we had them warm up with the pucks, as this was the first thing we did at every practice. We had enough pucks that each boy, including Jake, had a puck to stick handle with as they skated around before the formal part of the practice started. During the games, some of the boys hardly touched the puck and this helped them become more comfortable handling it in a non-threatening situation. For Jake, it was the only time during practices he got a chance to stick handle, which was a difficult skill for a goalie to learn because of the big goalie gloves they wore.
The next game we played would involve full contact, as the grace period was over in the house league. We had been introducing checking in a couple of the other practices, but we had to do some more work before we played the next game.
"So boys, do you remember what the purpose of body checking is?" I asked as Rickie and I had them in a circle in front of us on the ice.
"Yah, to crunch the other guy," Pieter said as he looked at Sean.
I wasn't sure what that was all about, but by the tone, it didn't sound too friendly. I was surprised, as this was the second out-of-character action by Pieter. There had never been any bad blood between any of our players, other than Carson and certainly not from Pieter. His teammates called him the 'gentle giant', but our opponents certainly didn't.
"Now let's not get into that intimidation stuff, Pieter. It's to separate the puck carrier from the puck," I said.
Rickie demonstrated with Ray and then we ran some controlled drills to practice the skill. One of the drills involved a forward skating in over the blue line with the puck and trying to get past the defenceman. The defenceman's job was to take the forward out of the play and get the puck so they couldn't get a shot on net. We told the boys to keep the contact to a minimum and to go easy so no one got hurt. It was Sean's turn and he was coming over the blue line on Pieter. He cut to his right to try to go around him and Pieter checked him hard into the boards. Pieter took the puck and shot it out to center ice and just turned and took his place in line, without saying sorry to Sean for going overboard. Sean picked himself off the ice and I could tell that the check hurt.
"Are you alright, Sean?" I asked as he skated by me to get back in line.
"Yah," he replied shaking his arm, without looking at me.
We were near the end of the practice, so I decided not to call Pieter over with Sean to find out what was going on. I was going to do that before they went to the dressing room to get changed after we were finished.
"What's going on between you two?" I asked when they joined me off to the side as the other boys were going into the room.
"Maybe you should ask your son," Pieter said.
I looked at Sean and he said, "Nothing's wrong."
It was clear that neither of them were going to give me an answer, so I told them that whatever it was I hoped that they solved the problem before our next game. When Jake and Sean got their stuff packed up and in the LX, they still weren't talking. Jake was in the front seat and Sean was in the back. I tried to find out what was going on but I was being stonewalled.
"You two better figure out how you're going to tell me what this is all about, because we're going to get to the bottom of this when we get home," I said with a sharper tone to my voice than usual.
When we got in, the boys took their equipment downstairs to air out and brought their undergarments up to put in the wash.
They were just about to take off for their rooms when Dana said, "The living room's over here, boys. Take a seat."
They sat down and I asked them what was going on. They just looked at each other and didn't say anything. Finally Jake spoke up.
"Stéphane, Sean and I were going down the hall on the way to the washroom at one of the breaks last night at the dance-a-thon. Charles wasn't with us cuz he was hanging around with Ronald McLennan most of the night. He's that grade 10 kid from our Business class. When we passed by a stairwell on the way, we saw him and Ronald kissing in the dark."
Neither Dana nor I spoke for a few moments, as we were both stunned. When I recovered my senses, there were still a lot of unanswered questions. I didn't see why that caused such an argument, or the reaction of Pieter to Sean during practice. It explained the phone call from Mark that morning, though.
"I'm... very surprised, boys," I said trying to choose my words carefully. "That still doesn't explain what's going on between you two."
Jake continued and said, "They started to try and deny they were kissing and Stéphane and I tried to tell them we were cool with it."
There were a few moments of silence as Dana and I were waiting for him to continue. We also picked up on the phrase 'Stéphane and I' that Jake used.
"How did you handle it, Sean?" Dana asked to keep the conversation going.
He wouldn't answer but nervously looked down at the floor. Jake wasn't going to wait for him as he was getting impatient.
"He called them a couple of fucking queers and took off!"
Sean then bolted down the hall to his room and slammed the door. Both Dana and I felt a number of emotions all at once. We were angry at what Sean said; concerned for Charles and Mark; proud of Jake and Stéphane's reaction and overwhelmed at what was to likely come next.
We decided to let Sean cool down as both of us wanted to find out more from Jake about what had happened. Jake said that after Sean's outburst, both Stéphane and he apologized to the two boys on Sean's behalf and the four of them made their way back to the gym. Sean ignored them the rest of the night and wouldn't come near Ronald and Charles, even after Stéphane and Jake tried to talk to him.
"Obviously Pieter knows about this too and doesn't approve of Sean's outburst. How did he find out?" I asked.
"Pieter's brother, Karel, is gay and was Ronald's boyfriend last year. They broke up because Karel's two years older and it wasn't working out. They're still friends and Pieter got along with Ronald really well, but he's not gay. I guess Ronald called Karel this morning to talk to him about it."
"Who else knows about this?" Dana asked.
Jake told us that they didn't tell anyone and as far as he knew that Ronald wouldn't have told anyone either, except Karel and Pieter. We gave him a big hug and told him we were very proud of the way he reacted. We also told him to give Sean some time as he was reacting in the same way that he did when he found out Bryan and Tom were gay. However, this reaction was a little more severe.
He went downstairs to the Studio to play his guitar while Dana and I went to Sean's room. When we opened the door to his room he was lying in the fetal position looking away from the door. We went around to the other side so we could see his face and his eyes were wide open but he wouldn't look at us.
"Son, do you remember my two rules I told you about shortly after you came to live here?"
He nodded his head but still wouldn't look up.
"I know you very well by now and what you did last night was not being the best person you can be. I can truthfully say that for the first time, you've disappointed me."
He looked up at me and was going to say something but he stopped.
"What you said to Charles was an inappropriate and hurtful comment," Dana said.
"Would you ever call your brother a 'wop' because he's Italian or Stéphane a 'frog' because he's French Canadian?" I asked.
Finally, he spoke and said very forcefully, "No!"
"Calling someone a queer is every bit as bad, but adding the adjective you used made it even worse. It's a very mean and derogatory term and certainly one you shouldn't have said to someone who's been a very good friend to you," Dana said very forcefully.
I could see after the last comment from Dana that his lower lip was starting to quiver.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" I asked.
"I can't think... because I... leave me alone... please," he said as he buried his head in his pillow.
"We're going to leave now, but this isn't over. You need to think about a couple of things, such as why you reacted like you did and more importantly how you're going to make it up to Charles," I said.
We left him and went back into the Kitchen to start preparing Dinner. We couldn't really concentrate on what we were doing, as we were both very concerned about what had happened. Finally, we decided that I needed to call Mark to see if by now he knew and if so what fallout he was dealing with.
"Charles is devastated. Being caught was one thing, but what Sean said to him really hurt," Mark said.
"I'm not going to apologize for my son, as he needs to do that, nor am I going to make any excuses for him," I said.
I told him about his reaction to Tom and Bryan and he understood, given Sean's background, but he was still very troubled at the outburst. We also talked about getting Charles the help and support he would need to deal with his sexuality.
"I guess this is what being a parent is all about, taking the bad with the good. We have a pretty tough road ahead, but I just know we'll get through it," he said, as I could tell from his voice that he was taking charge of the situation.
"We're here to help you any way we can, Mark. I think you should call the school on Monday and talk to Lucy Smith, the Head of Guidance and fill her in. Since it doesn't appear that Charles has been 'outed', she will just let his teachers know that he's having some emotional upset and to be on the lookout for any serious signs of stress," I told him. "They don't have to know what the issue is."
We also talked about him taking Charles to see Phil to help him.
"Sean doesn't know it yet, but he'll be going soon as well," I said.
I also told him that maybe it would be good for Charles to talk to Mark in Calgary to get more perspective on what it means to be a gay teenager.
"I think that's an excellent idea. Charles seemed to connect with him when we were at the Leaf game," he said.
I told him that I would have Jake call Josh and get Mark's phone number in Calgary, as I didn't have any contact numbers for Bryan and Mark. When dinner was ready, Jake came to the table but Sean wouldn't come out of his room. I asked Jake if he could make the contact after he was finished and he said he would. After dinner, I went to Sean's room to have another talk.
"Have you thought any more about what you need to do?" I asked as I sat on his bed beside him.
He didn't look up and said, "I know it was wrong what I said, but I couldn't help it. It just came out."
He then went on to tell me how sorry he was that he disappointed Dana and me and that he felt badly for the upset he caused. He also told me that he felt angry when he saw Ronald and Charles in the embrace, because he felt he'd lost the friend he knew. He also said that he felt betrayed that Charles might have had feelings for him and wanted 'to do something' with him.
"Sean, you have some things you still need to work out from your past. I'm going to book an appointment with Dr. Barnet on Monday," I said expecting to get some resistance. However, he agreed without reluctance.
He wasn't ready to talk to Charles yet, as he still couldn't get over that big hurdle.
"We kept your dinner warm, so why don't you come to the kitchen and eat."
Jake was downstairs watching Hockey Night in Canada and the Leaf game. He told Dana before he went downstairs that he had emailed Josh, but hadn't had a reply yet. When Sean was just about finished eating, the phone rang and it was long distance. Dana answered and it was Josh calling from Toronto. She had a short chat and I could see she was copying down a phone number that I was guessing was Mark's in Calgary for Charles. Josh then asked her to tell Sean to log into Skype. Sean was surprised and excused himself, then left and went to his room to log on.
Dana and I made our way down the hall and stood outside his room to see if we could listen in. We couldn't really hear everything that Josh said, but we could tell that he wasn't pulling any punches with Sean. We left after a few minutes as we could see that this was going to be a very long session.
After about an hour, Sean ended his session with Josh. The fact that they had talked for a long time was a good sign and that I was sure they had a frank discussion. Knowing Josh, he wouldn't have it any other way. Sean needed to hear from one of his peers what it was like to have a gay friend and that his fears were unfounded. He also needed to understand what Charles would have to live with as he went through high school being a gay teen.
I was watching a movie on TV with Dana as the Leaf game was a disaster, as usual. We really weren't doing much watching as we were talking about the issue. Sean came in and sat down in one of the chairs and we waited for him to speak but he didn't say anything. He looked a little sombre.
After a few moments Dana asked, "Do you want to talk?"
"Yah," he replied as he let out a big sigh.
He told us Josh was pretty forthright with his comments on his reaction to Charles and Ronald. He didn't go into detail, but it was clear that Josh had given Sean a lot to think about.
"He told me Mark is gay."
"We know, Son. Tom and Bryan told us at the Leaf game," I said.
It looked like he was coming around as he looked much more reflective about the revelation and less homophobic.
"Josh kinda helped me understand a lot of things. He said that being gay doesn't make someone a sex-crazed maniac."
"He's right," I said.
"He also said that when he looks at Mark, he doesn't see his gay brother. He just sees his brother who happens to be gay."
"Josh is a smart boy, just like you and I'm glad that the two of you are friends. Does this mean you're ready to accept Charles the way he is?" Dana asked.
He paused and said, "Maybe. There's a lot of stuff I have to think about. I sent Charles an email but he didn't answer."
We told him that he had to talk to Charles in person, that this wasn't something he could handle through email or on the phone. Just then Jake came up the stairs to replenish his popcorn bowl. Jake looked in the Living room and the two boys looked at each other. They were truly communicating as brothers now and Jake asked if Sean was coming down to watch the third period with him.
"Did you leave any popcorn for me?" Sean asked with a smile.
We could tell from the body language and tone of their conversation that they were going to reconcile and that they needed to be alone. They went downstairs together and we knew there would be more talking than watching taking place. They came up after the game and they seemed much better.
When we were saying goodnight to Sean, we asked him if Jake and he had talked things out and he said yes.
"We're OK now. I just have to make things good with Charles and Ronald."
The next morning we went to the contemporary service at church. Charles and Mark didn't make it and I was sure it was because Charles didn't want to be anywhere near Sean. Reverend MacLaughlin's sermon was about 'Questioning Your Beliefs'. In the context that Randy was preaching, he meant religious beliefs but I could see that Sean was taking a different meaning from what he was saying.
Randy again had U2's 'Still haven't found what I'm looking for' as the closing song of the service. It fit very well with his theme and both boys loved singing it. There wasn't much they didn't like to sing and they were getting very good at it, as the training that they were getting in the Junior Choir was helping them immensely.
"You seemed to be deep in concentration during Reverend MacLauglin's sermon. You weren't thinking about your religious beliefs, were you," I said as we walked to the front of the church on our way out. I put my arm around him as he looked at me and smiled.
When we got to the foyer, Stéphane was there with his family. He came over to us to talk to the boys. He was much like Josh, very mature for his age and he possessed considerable leadership ability.
"The three of us need to talk. Let's go outside," he said to Jake and Sean.
Dana and I continued on in the line to talk to Randy and the boys went outside to the parking lot. When we were finished in the church we walked outside with Dénis. He told us that Stéphane had related the whole incident to him and he was proud of how he handled it. He was also concerned with Sean's reaction and the effect it was having on Charles.
"Sean has some demons from his past that he's working through. We're helping him and he'll be doing all he can to make amends to Charles," I said.
When we got to the parking lot, the boys were still talking. When they saw us they locked thumbs and gave each other handshakes and joined us. It was clear that Sean had made his peace with Stéphane.
We had a rare Sunday afternoon game which was against Carson's team. When Rickie arrived at the rink I took him aside to tell him what had been going on. Even though he was only twenty, I had no hesitation in telling him about Charles. He was quite mature for his age and I was certain that he would keep the news in confidence. Rickie was also very direct with his comments to the boys and I wanted him to know so he would be a little 'gentler' with Charles.
Charles and Mark were a little later coming in to the rink. When they came down the hallway, Rickie went over and gave Charles a knuckle handshake.
"I'm glad we've got our Red Rocket. We're going to need your cannon from the point today, buddy," Rickie said.
I came over and put my arm around him, which was quite a feat given the hockey bag that was slung over his shoulder. I said, "You're going to be fine, young man. Things always have a way of working out for the best."
I told him that Pieter had saved the place beside him and he gave me a weak smile and took off into the dressing room. Sean was on the other side of the room and the two of them wouldn't have a chance to say anything until later.
"It was touch and go whether he was going to come today. The only reason he's here, is he really likes playing hockey and he didn't want to let the team down by being short," Mark said after Charles entered the dressing room.
I asked Mark how he was doing and he said he was better, but he was still angry and hurt at what Sean said. I told Mark that Sean had done a lot of soul-searching over the last 24 hours and that he wanted to make amends with him.
The game was much closer this time, but it was obvious we were still outclassed. Carson and his friend didn't have as much freedom, as the body checking limited their ability to skate circles around our boys. It was also clear that the two of them didn't like the heavy going, but they were good enough skaters that they were able to avoid many of the checks directed their way.
There was about ten minutes left in the game and Charles was about to take a pass from Pieter, but Carson levelled him with an illegal check. Charles went down in a heap and instantly grabbed his leg in pain. The referee stopped play and was going to give Carson a penalty, when Pieter raced across the ice and cross-checked Carson to the ice with his stick. There was a big scuffle and the referees had to break it up. Pieter was thrown out of the game and Carson went to the penalty box with a two-minute penalty for the hit on Charles. Rickie, Mark and I raced onto the ice to attend to Charles. He wasn't able to put much weight on the leg and we helped him to the bench. The Saint John Ambulance attendant who was at all games came over to lend a hand and assess the extent of the injury.
"I think you should take him to Emergency to get that checked out," he said.
Since Pieter was thrown out of the game he helped Mark take Charles to the dressing room. We had lost two defencemen, so I told Sean to drop back and fill in. We had a faceoff in the opposition end and they got the puck and started to move it up ice. One of their defencemen passed the puck to Carson and he took it and started to head across the ice with his head down. The next thing we knew, Sean came flying across the ice from his defensive position on the other side and flattened him with a legal check. They both went down hard and the referee blew the play dead as it was obvious Carson was hurt.
The collision was close enough to the benches that we heard Sean say when he got up, "That's payback for the dirty hit on my friend, you asshole," as he stood over him.
Carson was definitely not feeling well, as he was taken from the ice. Except for a sore upper arm where Carson's head had hit him, Sean was fine. Since it was a legal check the referee didn't award a penalty to Sean.
After the game, while the boys were going into our dressing room, we heard a loud commotion behind us. It was Carson's father and he was making his way straight toward us.
"Your kid's a dirty son-of-a-bitch," he yelled as he got closer to me.
He was out of control and just before he got too close, the referees were there and got in between us.
"My son's check was legal. Your son's check on Charles wasn't," I said.
By now the arena manager had come down to the hallway and told Mr. Spencer that he was going to be banned from the arena for the rest of the season. There was a zero tolerance to violence policy in effect throughout all the municipal arenas and since he was being abusive towards me, that would be his son's last game he would be able to watch. Not only that, but he wouldn't be able to play in his own league that played out of another municipal rink in the city. He was livid, as he understood the implications of what the arena manager had just told him. By now the other coach, Randy Biggar, had joined us in the hallway. He grabbed Carson's father and told him to leave the arena before he made things worse.
"You better tell your kid to keep his head up next time we play," Randy said to me after Carson's father had left.
I turned to the referees, who were still standing there and said, "I assume you'll be putting Mr. Biggar's threat in the game report that goes to the league convenor."
Randy was really angry and started to protest to the referees to no avail.
"Maybe if you had done a better job at practice teaching your kids how to play in a contact game, your superstar wouldn't have been skating across the ice with his head down," I said. He turned and stomped off down the hall to his dressing room.
Rickie and I went into the room to talk to the boys and praise them for a good game. Even though we had lost 6-3 the score was much closer than last time. We were more competitive and Jake had made some great saves to keep the game close.
When the boys came out of the dressing room after their showers, Sean asked to go to the hospital to see if Charles was alright.
"We can go over to Charles' house later after he's released, Sean. I'm sure he'll be alright," I said.
"I want to go see him now," he said with a very determined look on his face.
I paused and finally said, "Ok. Put your stuff in the LX and I'll call Dana and tell her we'll be home later."
When we got to the hospital, Charles had been taken to an examining room after he had been x-rayed. The nurse let us go into the room and the boys made a beeline for him. Jake was the first to speak.
"Chas, you should've seen what Bulldog did."
He proceeded to tell him in detail the whole incident, including Sean's very descriptive comment to Carson when he was lying on the ice. Charles finally looked at Sean and it was obvious the two of them were ready to talk.
"Josh told me it was my problem, not yours and he was right. Friends accept each other the way they are, not the way they want them to be. I had no right to say what I did to you and Ronald, and I'm really sorry," Sean said as he put out his hand.
Charles looked at him and paused for a few moments, but finally put his hand out as well. They locked their thumbs together in a handshake.
"Why don't we leave you two for a bit," I said as I motioned Mark and Jake towards the door.
After about ten minutes we went back into the room and the two of them were talking and laughing about the game. The doctor finally came in with the x-rays and told us that nothing was broken and that it was a bad bruise on his thigh and some swelling on the knee that was best treated with Advil and ice.
When we got home Dana was really concerned. She wasn't able to make the game as she had made a lunch date with her daughters before she knew the hockey schedule.
"Is Charles alright? What happened to that poor boy?"
We calmed her down and she knew by the conversation from the boys that Sean had finally reached out to Charles and apologized. After dinner, I gave Sean a website to look at about gay teens and suicide. When Dana and I came into his room to say goodnight to him he had Teddy with him.
"I see Teddy's back in the inner circle," I said as I smiled and sat down on the bed beside him. He gave me a big smile in return.
We told him that we were very proud of the way he reached out to Charles and apologized. I then asked him what he got out of the website I referred him to.
"That's scary. Why would kids do that?" he replied.
"Lots of people, some gay teens in particular, can't live with being different from what society expects. Charles can't help it, as he was born that way. Unfortunately, there are a lot of intolerant people in society that think gays choose to be that way and they make their lives miserable," I said.
"Charles wants the same thing out of a relationship that you do with Melissa. He wants love, affection and someone to share his life with. The only difference is, it's another male, not a female," Dana said.
I leaned down and gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, "You know we love you, Sean, no matter what you do. We always will. Goodnight, Son."