"One must test oneself to see whether on is destined for independance and command; and one must do so at the proper time. One should not avoid one's tests, although they are perhaps the most dangerous game one could play and are in the end tests taken before oneself and before no other judge. Not to cleave to another person, though he be the one you love most-every person is a prison, also a nook and corner...One must know how to *conserve oneself:* the sternest test of independance."

-"Beyond Good and Evil" Part Two; The Free Spirit

"Philosophers of Maybe"

Part Six: Phone Calls

Katherine Pendleton looked up bleakly as the phone rang. She had no doubt as to who it was, and even though the late-night movie she was watching was as boring as getting her teeth cleaned, she loathed the idea of answering it. But the fifth ring broke her will; she picked up the reciever and greeted softly, "Hello, this is Katherine."

"Kathy, daaarling!" Rita Haywood slurred loudly. Katherine moved the phone away from her ear just a bit. Rita had called every night for four days, drunk as a skunk, since the boys had gone away.

"Rita." Katherine bit back a sigh and inquired politely, "Are you all right?"

"I was just calling to see...if that son of yours had called you yet, like the note said. And I'm fine," Rita mumbled, "Just fine. I miss my son."

There was a glint of ice, of steel in Katherine's eyes as she replied with the darkest calm, "I miss Justin as much as you miss Richard. But I've told you that I will call you the instant that Justin contacts me." In a moment like this, it was easy to see where Justin got his demeanor and his self-control.

"You bitch," Rita moaned, dissolving into shameless sobs, all restraint and artificial politeness gone, washed away by alcohol, "You absolute *bitch!* Why won't you let the police go after them?"

There was a detail to the situation of which Richard was ignorant, and therefore he could not have considered it the night he decided to pack his bags and skip town with his boyfriend. At the time they left, both had finished high schoool. But while Richard was eighteen, a legal adult, Justin was a month and a half from his birthday, only seventeen years old. Richard might be charged with kidnapping, but California law was a bit fuzzy on whether seventeen years of age was still minor status. If he was charged, California police could pursue the young lovers.

However, Katherine refused to press charges. She further complicated the situation by producing records of an emancipation request that was in the process of being reviewed by the county court for Justin. She also presented the investigaors with a handwritten letter from Justin affirming the young man's decision-of his own free will-to go with Richard. So the case fell into a grey area. There was nothing criminally wrong with two legal adults, even if they were a same sex couple (California's anti-sodomy laws were repealed effective 1976), leaving their hometown.

"I've explained myself before, Mrs. Haywood. Good night." Katherine said icily, hanging up.

****

Dear Mother,

By the time you read this, I will have already gone. This is probably the worst possible way to tell you this, but Richard Haywood is my boyfriend. We had decided together that it is best if we leave Wilmont for good. Mr. and Mrs. Haywood already found out about us, in a more embarrassing way, and needless to say, neither of them were very happy about it. They want to keep us apart, and I just can't let that happen.

Richard is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. He loves me, inclusive of all my faults. And I love him, no matter what happens. It has been a difficult decision to come to, and I have thought about it extensively. This is not something I decided one night in bed with him.

Right now, writing this, I can't tell you where we are going, because I don't know. I don't think that Richard does either, but we'll be out of California, at least. I will call you when we get to wherever. I love you, Mother. Stay strong, for yourself this time around.

Your son,

Justin

****

The phone call came a week later. Unfortunately, Katherine was at work when Justin called, and she played it when Rita Haywood called that night.

"Hello, Mother. It's Justin." Faintly, in the background, Richard could be heard scoffing,

"No, I'm sure she gets *other* young men calling her 'Mother' all the time."

Muffled, probably because Justin had covered the mouthpiece, "Oh, shut up, Richard." And then clearer, "Mother, Richard and I are in Seattle. I don't want you to worry. We've got an apartment, it's downtown and-"

"You don't have to tell her everything."

"Richard, hush. The tape is going to run out if you keep interrupting."

"Well, I don't think you should leave it on a message. My parents might find out; you know that they're completely insane."

"Oh, that's nice. Mom? I'll try back later. I love you."

****

"It's freezing out here," Richard grumbled. Justin looked back over his shoulder and grinned, one of his rare, sunny smiles that Richard loved so much.

Pulling his heavy overcoat tighter around his body, Justin replied, "Well, you're the one who didn't want to keep going to Canada."

Richard increased his pace and grabbed Justin's shoulder. Justin stopped cooperatively and looked up at him, his pretty blue eyes still bright with a smile. Richard fought the sudden urge he had to kiss Justin in the middle of the supermarket parking lot and answered with a scowl, "Canada would be even colder."

"We'll go to Hawaii the first chance we get," Justin said softly, their little in-joke.

Richard sighed. "Yeah, yeah...I know."

Sometimes, Richard wondered, 'What if I had given in? What if we didn't get away with it?'

The possibilities were always unpleasant. But the lack of possibilities that Richard faced-all the time, now, it seemed-was in some ways worse. After all, how painful is a gunshot wound to the head? How agonizing is a lethal injection?

But then he looked at Justin. Justin was his angel, his beautiful lover, his best friend, his everything. And Justin made it all worth it.

****

After putting away the groceries, neither of them had much to do, so Richard suggested that they go for a walk. Justin eyed him with suspiscion, knowing by now that with Richard, a walk was never as simple as a walk.

"You have something devious planned," Justin accused.

Richard grinned disarmingly. "Would I do that to you?"

"Yes." Justin said flatly.

Richard looked hurt. "Have you no faith in me?" He sidled over and nuzzled Justin's neck, dropping a gentle kiss at his jawline. Justin immediately flushed and tried to push Richard away, unsuccessfully. With a playful growl, Richard wrapped both arms around Justin's waist and moved his lips up to Justin's soft mouth.

"Richard!" Justin gasped when Richard finally released him.

Flashing Justin an would-be innocent look, Richard murmured in a sing-song voice, "I love you..."

"Don't try that fake sweet-talk on me, Richard Haywood," Justin scolded, backing out of Richard's grasp. Richard followed him, grabbing his wrists and pinning him against the wall. Justin gasped and nearly pulled his arms free, but Richard only tightened his hold and kissed him urgently.

"Please?" Richard whispered huskily. "Please just trust me? I promise to be good."

Justin let out a low moan of frustration. He hated being manipulated like this, but how could he resist? Richard was kissing him as though he were as vital to sustaining life as air. And he promised...he promised; Richard hardly ever backed out of a promise, and never without a very, very good reason if he did.

"All right," Justin sighed when Richard finally granted him a reprieve in his 'persuasions.' "All right. Let's go before you start using sex against me."

"Prude," Richard teased, licking Justin's neck just to see the young man blush and shy away.

"Whore." Justin shot back.

Richard grinned. "Only for you, babe."

****