January – August, 2003
Justin Kimball was still four months away from his high school graduation when Richard met him that winter.
Justin was a brilliant kid with a flair for languages and a 4.0 GPA, who could go to any college he wanted. Despite that, he had decided to stay close to home, but only if the University’s Linguistics department was up to snuff. He made an appointment to talk to some professors in the department prior to deciding, and was on a campus tour when he met Professor Richard Pratt.
Justin was still seventeen. Richard was thirty-three.
Richard was taken with the boy immediately. Justin was a handsome kid, with dark brown hair and a muscular build that was actually a little harder than Richard usually liked. But he had piercing green eyes—a trait that Richard found desperately sexy in a young man. He also had a bit of a swagger about him that Richard thought was both arrogant and charming, and he was wearing a battered Levi jacket with the NSYNC logo embroidered on the back. It was as if the boy’s whole look was calculated to appeal to all of Richard’s high school fantasies. It was clear this boy knew what he wanted, and Richard hoped, right from the first, that it would be him.
Richard was seven years into his role as a linguistics professor at the University, and his career was on a definite upward trajectory. The graduate student who was showing Justin around left him in Richard’s office to chat about the program that the University offered. And in that conversation, Richard discovered this boy was not just some handsome jock. He also had a brilliant mind.
“I’ve had a knack for languages,” Justin said, “ever since I was a kid. Our neighbor growing up was an old Russian lady, and when I was five, I used to go over to her apartment most afternoons, so she could give me tea and teach me Russian words. I loved it.”
“How much did you pick up?” Richard asked, watching the boy toy with his little Ganesh statue on the corner of the desk.
“Quite a bit. They didn’t offer Russian in high school, so after she died, I had to learn that all on my own. But I took Spanish my sophomore and junior years, and I’ve been working on French for the past nine months. I think I have a pretty good grasp on all three languages.”
Richard was surprised. A high school senior that had a good grasp on four languages was something he hardly ever saw. But the boy wasn’t done.
“I got a little bored with the romance languages, so I’ve been studying Latin and Sanskrit on my own too.”
Richard tried not to let the shock show on his face. Sanskrit was his specialty, and it was rare in Utah to find anybody interested in it, let alone a high school senior who might be coming to the University.
“How are you learning Sanskrit,” he asked. “I can’t believe they offer that in your high school.”
Justin laughed. “Not hardly. I ordered copies of Monier-Williams Grammar and Lanman’s Sanskrit Reader online. They feel a little beyond me, but they’re interesting.”
Those were both texts that Richard used in his Sanskrit seminar. And he knew they weren’t cheap, or easily available. This boy was a bit of a wonder.
“But why Sanskrit and Latin? Do you just have an interest in dead languages? Or do you plan to become a monk?”
The boy laughed. “No, definitely not. But maybe it’s because they’re not spoken much anymore. I find that interesting. It’s like unearthing a fossil and dusting it off. It’s fascinating to think what the world was like when people actually spoke those languages, and see the remnants of them in the words we still use today.”
Richard could see that Justin was hungry—not just to learn more languages, but also to learn about their history, and the process by which a language evolved and changed. It was a subject that was nearly an obsession for Richard Pratt.
Their scheduled half-hour conversation ended up stretching well past an hour, and the two continued the conversation past noon. Justin hadn’t brought a lunch with him, so Richard shared his tuna sandwich with the boy who ate it hungrily. By the end of the conversation, Richard was certain that he had helped Justin decide to take on the Linguistics major at the University. He was equally certain that he saw a hint of flirtation in the boy’s eyes.
During his last few months of high school, Richard and Justin corresponded regularly via e-mail. The tenor of the conversations began as professional and academic, but soon Richard was reading long screeds from the boy about how excited he was to start classes in the fall. And interspersed in those long messages were tantalizing details about his personal life. Details that, Richard noted, never included the mention of a girlfriend.
When Justin was getting ready to graduate, Richard called him up to convince him to enroll in his summer Sanskrit seminar. “It will be a great way to get a head start on your Freshman year,” he told the boy.
“I don’t know, Professor Pratt. I love Sanskrit, but the saṁdhi scares me.”
Saṁdhi was the Sanskrit word for euphonic combination—the way words changed their sounds and spellings when they came together. It made learning the language especially challenging.
“It’s not that complicated,” Richard said, purposefully downplaying the reality. “We do it in English all the time.”
“We do?” the boy asked. Even over the phone, Richard could sense his mind reaching out, hungry to understand.
“Sure. You know the old nursery rhyme. We write ‘mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.’ But when we sing the song ‘mares eat oats’ becomes ‘marsie doats,’ and ‘does eat oats’ becomes ‘dosie doats.’ Sanskrit does the same thing. It’s just that in Sanskrit, we actually change the way we write it, not just the way we say it.”
The boy was thoughtful. “It sounds like a metaphor for life,” Justin said. “People change each other when they come together. I guess words should too.”
Richard was dumbfounded for an instant. The boy’s words were so innocent, and so sincere, that it made his heart ache. And when Richard spoke, his voice sounded distant, like it was not his own.
“So, maybe not just a metaphor for life, but for love?”
The boy just laughed, and Richard felt the last part of the call pass in a bit of haze. Justin said he’d think about the summer Sanskrit seminar, and they hung up.
Richard didn’t know if the boy had taken his advice until he got his class rosters for the summer and found Justin Kimball’s name there.
The summer Sanskrit seminar was always a small group. It started that year with five students, of whom Justin was the only freshman. But within a week, the five students had whittled down to three, and then by the middle of July, it was just one. Richard had often seen students bail out of his Sanskrit courses because they were demanding and intense. And (being a summer seminar) they were seldom required, even for linguistics students. He couldn’t have been more pleased with that summer’s session becoming a private seminar for just one student.
As the summer progressed, Richard became more and more convinced that the sparks flying between him and his student were of more than just the academic variety. Their sessions went long, and by late August, they were seeing each other outside of the classroom. First, it was just for coffee before or after class. And eventually, it was dinner.
Even as it was happening, Richard knew it was rash, it was unwise, and it was putting his entire career in jeopardy. And yet, he allowed it to happen, because Justin awakened something in Richard that had been fading for years. Perhaps it was just an attempt to reclaim his youth, but it felt like far more than that. Whatever it was, it was intoxicating. And it was just what a thirty-something professor needed to rekindle a life and a career that had begun to seem stale and pointless.
Even long after he recognized that Justin was clearly flirting with him, he resisted giving in to what was becoming a burning desire on his part. The handshake the two shared after class lingered longer and longer, and there were days when they stood in the door of his classroom, their hands clasped in a handshake that Justin refused to release, while chattering excitedly about Panini’s influence on the decline of spoken Sanskrit.
And saṁdhi as a metaphor for love.
Richard tried to maintain his distance and remain professional, but it was a losing battle. As the summer went on, he had to admit to himself that he had fallen completely in love with the boy, and was feeling increasingly out of control around him. Justin’s eyes and his company had become a drug.
Looking back on it years later, Richard had to admit that he not only knew that the boy was falling in love with him too, but that doing so was going to cause Justin deep stress fractures in his psyche. What haunted him in the years that followed was that even armed with that knowledge, he allowed it to happen. The alarm bells he was hearing were no match for how thoroughly his ego was caressed and flattered by the intimacy they were falling into, and the intoxicating look of hero worship and adoration that he saw whenever the boy looked at him.
The coffees and the dinners turned into weekend trips out of town, and Richard knew that their relationship was careening toward the bedroom like a car which had lost its brakes. Soon Justin was turning to him for comfort as he poured out his heart, and Richard learned that the strong, confident boy he had gotten to know was also incredibly vulnerable and fragile. He was confused about his Mormon heritage, and he said he wanted to escape its oppressive weight. And yet, he also loved being at the beginning of an adventurous college career, and he felt like he had finally found, in Richard Pratt, someone who could teach him everything he needed to know. They didn’t mention his sexuality at first, but Richard could clearly see that coming to terms with being gay was part of what was causing Justin so much angst.
In any case, Richard was well aware that the stress fractures in Justin were real, and he could feel the boy struggling with them. And despite that, he encouraged Justin to open up and share all those feelings with him, and him alone. He seduced the boy with his rapt attention and his understanding nods, and he made himself available to Justin at any time he needed, day or night.
It was sincere. But Richard also knew that his attentions were a way of making the boy dependent on him for support and affection. And as he knew it would, that adoration eventually ended with the boy in his arms.
And then, on a Sunday night in early August, in his bed.
The sex between them was not clumsy or uncomfortable. The thrill of holding the boy naked in his arms was everything Richard had dreamed it would be, and he comforted himself by thinking that he was giving the boy exactly what he needed. That first love-making session broke through a dam of repressed emotion in Justin, and Richard held him as he cried until the early hours of the morning. And then they made love again, and it was glorious. Richard felt he had liberated the boy from much of his doubt and fear, and the passion they shared left him breathless.
Fortunately, by this time, there was at least no worry that Richard was doing anything criminal. The boy had turned eighteen early in the summer. But despite the passion, when Richard was thinking clearly (which was increasingly rarely) he couldn’t fully repress the knowledge that his affair with the boy was a train wreck waiting to happen.
In the weeks that followed, a powerful, obsessive passion took hold of them both. Richard was no longer just a mentor for the boy, but now needed to protect and keep him. He found his own sense of self becoming intimately linked to having Justin all to himself, and especially in knowing that Justin needed and depended on him. Richard knew he was getting intoxicated and obsessed. But he could not have predicted how quickly, and how spectacularly, it would all unravel.
It was only two weeks after they had first slept together that Justin came to Richard’s house on a cloudy August afternoon and told him he was leaving Utah.
As Richard stood dumbfounded and speechless, Justin unfurled a long story that revealed the angst Richard sensed in the boy was only the tip of the iceberg. And that most of the assumptions he had made about the boy had been dead wrong.
In a long and nervous monologue, Justin told him he still felt great conflict about Mormonism and his sexuality, and he had decided that he wasn’t sure he was even gay.
“I’ve been struggling with these feelings all summer,” he said, his voice breaking and his eyes locked on his tightly clasped hands. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I didn’t know how. All I know is that I have to get out of here. Out of Utah. Away from my family, and from the church. Away from the University. Away from… everything.”
Away from me, Richard thought.
Embarrassed, Justin told Richard that he had been hiding something from him for months. He’d known since before he graduated high school he had an acceptance from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for the fall term. He’d signed his acceptance letter in May, but he’d hidden it from Richard the whole summer.
Richard did not respond well.
There was much going on in the revelation from Justin than he wanted to break things off with Richard. But looking back, Richard regretted that he focused on the one thing that felt like it gave him the most leverage with the boy, and could possibly dissuade him from the course he had chosen. And that was Justin’s uncertainty about his sexuality.
As Justin sat dejectedly in Richard’s living room, he ridiculed the boy for his contention that he wasn’t really gay. The argument spiraled into a shouting match that was unlike anything Richard had ever experienced in his life, and the depth of rage it tapped in Richard scared them both. Soon, they were standing and shouting at each other in the very spot where Richard would die, years later.
“You can tell me about how you’re not gay the next time you’re sucking my cock!” Richard had screamed at the boy. “Or better yet, tell it to whatever professor you start fucking within your first two weeks at Dartmouth. You can tell him all about how you still want to date girls, while he’s driving his cock into your ass!”
Justin stared at Richard, his shock at his lover’s words slowly turning into a boiling anger of his own.
“The truth is, Justin, that you’re just repressed. You’re just another self-hating Mormon fag. It’s so stupid, and it’s so boring. But I could live with that. What’s worse is that you’re a liar, and a user. You manipulated me into falling in love with you, and the fact that I did it shows just how stupid I am too.” He leaned down to spit the next words directly into the boy’s face. Words that he would regret until the day he died, and beyond.
“I should have realized from the beginning that you’re nothing but a whore!”
Justin took as much as he could that afternoon, and then finally exploded. Richard’s words had cut him to his core, and like a wounded animal, he struck back.
“I’m not self-hating, and I’m not repressed!” he screamed, with his finger poking Richard in the chest. “In fact, the only person I hate right now is you! I’m not your fucking property. I’m leaving this shit hole, and I’m leaving you, and I’m going to New Hampshire! So you can just fuck off, big fucking deal fucking Professor Pratt!”
The tirade was so out of character from his sweet lover that it totally devastated Richard. Before Justin was finished, Richard had to turn away, and he sank to the couch, speechless, but quivering with such suppressed confusion, rage, and self-hate that he felt hearing another word might actually make him use his fists. He wanted to cry, but wouldn’t allow himself to be that vulnerable in front of this… boy. So he just sat rigidly on the couch, his face in his hands, trying not to explode.
But quickly, Justin cooled and became morose. He sat on the back of the couch, facing the wall where Richard’s blood and brains would eventually find their final home.
“Professor, my mind is made up. But what I really need is for you to tell me it’s okay. I need to go. Please understand that. I love you. I really do. And I really need you… not to hate me. You’ll never know how important this summer was to me. How important you have been to me.” The boy’s voice cracked, and he finally turned his head over his shoulder to look at Richard. “I just need you… Please, Richard, I need you not to hate me. Maybe even give me a hug and wish me well. Professor, my life is just beginning. And there is nobody in this world whose support and love has meant more to me than you.”
Justin looked at Richard with such need in his eyes, and there was a moment where Richard almost stepped out of his grief and pain and rejection. He almost decided that he could be there in a way that Justin needed, rather than in the way he needed.
But in that moment, Richard failed.
He looked at Justin, and said, in a voice so cold it frightened even him, “Justin, you’ve made your decision. Go ahead. Ruin your fucking life. I don’t care. I never did. I never loved you. I never cared for you. You were just a hot piece of teenage ass, and I’m glad to be rid of you. Now get the fuck out of my house.” And Richard turned his back on him.
Richard never looked at Justin again. He remained turned away, as he heard Justin break into tears, and then he heard the pounding of the boy’s feet and the slamming of his front door.
Justin was gone, and Richard would never see him again.
And once he was alone, the strangest thing happened to Richard Pratt. Rather than feeling loss and sadness, what washed over him was… relief. He felt a calm certainty that somehow he had just dodged a bullet. That his emotional needs and his libido had overcome his good sense and logic, and that Justin Kimball had made him do some very, very stupid things.
But the anger remained. Long after Justin had left, he fumed in his living room.
Richard poured himself a drink and vowed that he’d never put everything at risk like that again.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.