Michael Waters - Arlington Road : November, 2000
Our Thanksgiving was the best in a long time because the relatives were there. Our turkey only had two legs, and I didn't get one of them, but I ate enough to feel like I was going to explode anyhow. Our meal was probably what most people had that day, though I don't know how many others had creamed turnips with dates. It sounds awful, but it's not, and it's an old family recipe from my aunt's side. The whole meal was delicious, and we separated it from dessert by a good three hours, most everyone finding a place to drowse away part of the meantime.
Dessert was pies and ice cream, the pies being pecan, apple and pumpkin. I took a thin slice of each, but my aunt's pecan pie probably weighed in at about a hundred pounds, so it was back to sleep for me for awhile to digest.
A bunch of us had gone to the school's football game that morning, and it was fun going even though our team lost. I guess there's always hope, but our team had only won four games all season, so it turned out that being there was more fun than the game we came to watch.
Tony came with his brother and his kids, but Paulina was home cooking an unbelievable sounding forty-one pound turkey, and a ham.
It was a chance to spend some time with Annie and my friends, and the day was nice enough...cool and cloudy, but not uncomfortable. The area around the field was a little muddy, but we walked around anyhow. The game itself was more a distraction than an event, but it was still fun being there.
When the game ended, we all left to spend the day with our own families. I always kind of liked Thanksgiving, not only for what it meant, but because of the kind of day it was. One bite of everything during the meal would have you already eating more than you did in most whole days, and one bite was never enough. My particular weakness was sausage stuffing with apples, but the gravy and creamed onions came close. Oh, and my uncle's yams, which he baked after slathering them in bacon fat. I can't neglect to mention little garlic buns my aunt made, either. They were scrumptious with a little butter.
We weren't a family bent on ceremony, so the grace Melissa said was short and sweet, and then we dug in and overate to all tomorrow. Afterwards, men and boys collapsed in the living room with the television on some college football game. The women and girls did dishes, wrapped up leftovers, and talked too loud in the kitchen.
When their yak became too much, the boys headed for the yard, me included, to toss a football around, tell dirty jokes and try to work up an appetite for dessert. We even split some wood for the fireplace, and that was kind of funny. Ray hauled out an axe and a maul, handing the maul to Joey, saying it worked better if you didn't know how to swing an axe. Then he gave Joey an oak log while he selected an ash one for himself.
Well, ash splits pretty easy, but oak's a different matter, especially if it's been laying around for awhile. Ray split his fat log with little more than a tap, then stood the halves up and chopped them each into thirds, all before Joey managed to get his smaller oak log even in half. Joey, of course, wanted to try the axe, which Ray was glad to oblige. With the maul, the ash split even easier, and Joey was getting thoroughly frustrated. To show him what he was doing wrong, I rolled out a big ash log, split it with a tap of my own, and explained to Joey that it was all in the wrists.
Mean maybe, but we never did tell him about the different woods. He loved pie, anyhow, and the exercise let him work up a new appetite.
This will sound sick, but a few hours after dessert, we were back in the kitchen making turkey sandwiches, and that was because we were hungry. After that, it was more quiet talk before we headed over to Jack's room to sleep, fat and content after a peaceful day together.
Davy and Matt showed up shortly after we did, and we had a nice lazy time together just talking about things. I don't know if I fell asleep first, but I didn't last long, and the last thing I remember was a surprise little kiss on my ear from Davy as he settled in.
All in all, it was a nice day, but I couldn't forget where we were, and wondered what Jack would have thought about all the company in his room. I slept well, feeling nothing but loved by my family, my tummy full of good things: your basic happy camper.
* * * * * * * *
The day before had been different.
I had slept in Jack's room with the guys the night before. As usual, I was the first one up, and I went home for a shower and breakfast. As soon as I walked in the door, my hello still an echo, my dad said, "We need to work on the dining room, Mike. It's really grungy looking and no place for a holiday meal."
I gulped, "Today?"
"Yes, today! The room's a disaster, and tomorrow's Thanksgiving. You wash the walls, and I'll polish the floor." He smiled at my shocked face, "It won't take all that long, so don't start complaining."
I gaped at him, "What if I wanna complain?" I whined. "Can't Ray do it? I have..."
"Places to go and people to see?" my uncle asked dryly.
I glared at him while my dad said, "They'll keep." He smiled, "Two hours max, Mike. I don't ask much."
I shrugged, resigned to it. My folks didn't ask much, but when they asked it wasn't so much a question. I gave up hope for anything but breakfast and grunge work before my real day would begin.
I washed wallpaper while my father polished the floor, on his hands and knees using some paste wax. We pretty much worked around each other. My job was messy, but not hard, and it only took about the two hours he said it would. Dad finished just before I did, then we stood there admiring our handy work. The wallpaper was spotless, and a few shades brighter than when I started, and the floor was gleaming.
Dad was right about another thing, too. Joey had just come into my room when I got back from the shower, the clean dining room, a new part of my personal history: a proud part, I should add. I had rubbed and scrubbed, gone back to where I saw I missed things, gotten them cleaned up, and now the room was a righteous place for a Thanksgiving, and for a refinished hutch. Scrubbing walls wasn't my idea of fun, and I'm sure shining floors wasn't my dad's idea of it either, but it was a different room we left there. Proud isn't the right word, but we were satisfied, and we'd managed the whole thing without a cross word between us.
Joey and I rode down to Andy's to check things out, but it started drizzling about the moment we hit the road, so that's all we did. We turned around and left for home as soon as we were finished. We wandered next door to see if anything was going on, and I wanted to see Davy anyhow.
Those people were funny, playing something like a free-for-all game of Trivia Pursuit. Ken and Barry were rolling the dice and calling out the questions, but it didn't seem like the rest of the room was divided up into teams. Whoever knew an answer called it out, and either Ken or Barry would add what they determined was the appropriate pie slice. The answers to the questions were one thing. When Adam knew a really obscure answer, Tim asked, "How the hell did you know that?"
Dave added, "More importantly, why do you know that?"
Adam just giggled, "Misspent youth, maybe? I thought everybody read 'Kon-Tiki'."
They went on like that, and I don't think anyone under thirty ever answered a single question; maybe they learned something by listening. We gravitated to the dining room and had our own fun. Matt had a deck of cards and pretty well amazed us with tricks for awhile. He refused to tell us how he did them. Then, when he needed a helper, I learned one trick. He took me into the kitchen and showed me, then we went back into the other room and he laid ten cards out on the table, and asked me to leave the room while someone else selected a one of the ten cards. The trick was that the ten cards were laid out just like the spots on a ten-card, and Matt would point to the spot of the card that had been selected, so I'd know which one it was, asking, and point to a card on the table, "Is it this one?"
He kept varying things so people wouldn't catch on, and we had everyone baffled. They thought we had some secret signal, so after a few times they did all sorts of things to make sure the signal couldn't be seen. Sometimes he'd point to the chosen card, and I'd identify it. Other times he'd point to three or four different ones, then seem to give up, asking me if I knew which one it was. Then I'd call out the right card, and everyone else got went oh damn.
We did that for a little while before Matt went back to some other things, and I think we all began to wonder how he'd been spending his own youth.
The last trick he did, he had someone select a card and show it to everyone but him, and then shuffle it back into the deck. With the deck bent in one hand, he squirted the cards into the air, then snatched one with his other hand. It was the right card, of course, and that trick was really amazing enough that it got us making some noise. It was unbelievable, and the whole conversation turned to his magic, and by then it really was magic.
When we quieted down, we were attracted to the sound of guitars tuning up in the other room. Davy looked at me and Joey and said, "Wait'll you hear this. C'mon."
We hurried into the other room. Dave and Adam were on hassocks, both with guitars. Eddie was sitting on the raised hearth and started to sing, and he had a really nice singing voice. It was the music that got to me, kind of a simplistic song, but pretty at the same time. Mary joined Eddie with a nice harmony every time they got to the chorus, and I thought it was beautiful. We listened in appreciation until they ended the song, then everyone clapped. I asked, "What is that?"
Adam smiled, "It's called 'Sundown'. It's by Gordon Lightfoot." He cocked his head, "You like?"
"I love," I said.
Adam grinned, "Gordon Lightfoot's the master of two-chord songs." He looked at Dave and started playing some notes until Dave joined in, then Eddie started singing again, and it was another pretty song, and one that I'd heard before. Again, Mary joined in, and then I recognized 'Sail Away' by the Allman Brothers. Adam was no Dickey Betts, but he played a real gutsy lead part, then some more of it after the last verse.
The words echoed in my head, Sail on, sail away. I wonder why I ever thought you'd stay. My mother had that tape, and she played a lot. I always liked the music, but now the words had me wondering if she was thinking about her children. Sail on, sail away. May all your dreams come true one day. Oh God, the thought shook me up. My parents knew we'd go away, they'd always known it, yet they had us anyhow, like we were their part in the big scheme of things.
It seemed sad, us kids racing to grow up so we could do things, and our folks trying to slow us down so we'd learn to do those things well. Then they'd watch us sail away, one by one, and all that would be left for them was the hope that they'd done their job well enough. All they wanted was for us to make them proud, and we could see how little successes did just that. The reverse was true often enough. We were kids who tried to hide our failures and our frailties, tried to avoid things we didn't like, and I suppose that's normal enough.
I was the one to clam up when I knew I'd disappointed, and I was alone with that particular trait. My brother and sisters would just fess up and promise to do better next time, but I always disappeared so I could think things over. I'd come back when I was either cold or hungry, and I'd get warmed up or fed, whichever was called for, then I still had to face the music.
The music we faced wasn't really a bad song. The maddest I ever saw my father was when I said I was gay, and I didn't get hit even then. We never got hit, other than a swat on the butt to make us move, and our punishment was usually some time to think, then to come back with a 'story', as Dad called it. "Tell us your side," he'd say, and they'd let us until the truth was out. I learned at an early age that I wasn't a good fibber. I tried a few times, when something happened that would cost money to fix, but Dad always ended up with a snicker at my blush and say, "Nothing's worth lying about, Mike."
I wasn't even good about white lies. I tried to take the blame for a window Ray broke the day before he was to go for his driver's test, and Dad laughed so loud that Ray came in and confessed. Ray had to pay for the window, and I had to do dishes for a week for lying, but that was it.
I knew kids who got whacked by their parents, and they thought they deserved it when they did. It wasn't now, not at my age, but before, and nothing brutal that I knew about, just some whacks on the rear that said the parents meant business sometimes.
I was thinking too much again, and I missed the transition from Dave to Ken with the guitar, but the sudden new intensity of playing took my notice. Ken was good, and the music changed, too, going from pretty little songs to power stuff from the Stones. Ken didn't have a good voice, really, but he was on key and could make good sounds for the music he was playing.
He played the kinds of sibgs that got people on their feet, whooping and hollering. That's exactly where I was, swaying with the rest of the people, when hands landed on my shoulders and the back of my head got kissed.
I knew Annie wasn't there, and just figured it was Davy. When I saw Davy standing off to my side. I turned around abruptly, only to see Dwayne's face.
He grimaced, "Sorry, just got into the music. Um..." he turned around and motioned, and Bruce came over. "This is Bruce, Mike." He smiled nervously at Bruce, "This is Mike. You met once."
If Dwayne was nervous, Bruce looked scared to death and a thin bead of sweat leaked just beneath his hairline. He smiled weakly and held out his hand, "Hi, Mike."
Bruce was a smallish, thin man with dark curly hair, cut short. He had gray eyes that were hard to focus on, and a sweaty handshake. He wasn't wearing his glasses again, so I wondered how well he saw me. I saw him fine, and I could understand Dwayne's attraction to him. I squeezed his hand, maybe tighter than I should have, then lightened up and smiled at him. "Hey, Bruce! Bet you didn't expect a free band!"
He stared for a second, our hands still together, then he smiled for real, shaking his head a little, "No. No! Heh, not what I expected at all."
I hollered, loud enough to stop the music, "This is Bruce, everybody! Dwayne's friend!"
I looked at Ken, who shook his head and started playing again, something different from what I'd interrupted. Adam joined him, and it was background music for the time being, just nice guitar work.
Dwayne had met most people, so I left the introductions to him. Davy was suddenly beside me and he landed his arm on my shoulder, "You know, I think I like Dwayne. I can't believe he tried what he did with you." He noogied my shoulder, "That's his boyfriend?"
I shrugged, "Something like that," still staring after Dwayne and Bruce. I didn't know what to think. Dwayne had told me that he'd seduced Bruce, and I could believe that; Dwayne seemed the more forceful personality. I looked at Davy, "I don't know, I don't think it's like that. It's kinda the first time I talked to Bruce." I didn't know what to say, "I think they're just friends. Bruce is a lot older."
Davy just mumbled, "Oh."
We both laughed when Bruce got introduced to Ronnie, who, I swear, his eyebrows rolled straight up into his hair when he looked at Bruce. From across the room it looked like love at first sight, but then I remembered how Ron was and just laughed, thinking I knew pretty much what Bruce felt like just then.
We got caught up in the music again for awhile, finding the mix of styles fun to listen to. It was easy to tell which songs were special to which guys, some part always got more intense. Ken liked the bluesy stuff, Eddie seemed to go for pretty tunes, and Adam got heated up any time he got to play a lead.
We were all just relaxing and enjoying it when Bruce sat beside me, asking, "Can we talk for a minute?"
I said, "Sure, what's up?"
He looked around, "Um, someplace else?"
Okay, it was private. I hated to leave the nice music, but I started to my feet, and Bruce followed me. We went to the kitchen, but there were people everywhere, and a look out the window told us it was still wet out. We kept going into the barn, and I had a thought that amused me. Dave and Tim had only been in town for less than half a year, and already their barn was becoming something like a town center. It was for me, anyhow; that's where everything seemed to happen.
Bruce and I didn't go into the office part, just leaned against the wall by the entrance to the kitchen.
Bruce started, "I didn't mean to take you away from your friends, I just want to tell you a few things, and then ask you something."
I could tell that he was nervous, so I just said, "Tell away, then. Ask away."
He chuckled, "Dwayne said you're pretty cool. Okay, what I wanted to say, and I guess you already know, is...that night you came to my house...I didn't know...know that you were so young. I was...expecting two guys that Dwayne said he'd met." He shifted and chuckled, "He never said it was two kids."
He was nervous, that much I could tell, but he went on, "I don't want people thinking I'm some kind of pervert." He leaned against the wall, "I don't know, maybe I am. Dwayne's a lot younger than me, but..."
I snickered, "He started it? He told me that."
Bruce relaxed a little, "He said that? It's pretty much the truth. When I met him, I'd never done anything, and he led the way." He put his hand on his forehead and his head back against the wall, "Oh God, I can't believe I'm saying this. I don't want to say the wrong thing here, and I don't want to come across as a weirdo, but here's this kid in my car, wanting what I always wanted, willing...ready." He shook his head, "I was as scared as I'd ever been, but I was turned on at the same time." He sagged against the wall, "I guess I thought right then, if I thought at all, that jail would be worth it." He spoke more softly, "I was queer, and I knew it, but I always hid it. Now I had a kid in the car with me, pulling out his dick to show how hard it was. Oh, man. I nearly drove off the road, and Dwayne said that's exactly what I should do."
He stopped, looking embarrassed, so I kept my mouth shut to let him go on or not. He hesitated, "Dwayne, um, he knew things I didn't. He...we...well, you don't need to know."
I said, "No, I don't suppose I do." I didn't really get it, either, but let that pass. I felt somewhat comfortable with Bruce, so I smiled over at him, "That night we went to your house, we were scared shitless.
His head drooped, and he said to his shoes, "I'm really sorry, Mike. Dwayne didn't actually lie to me, but he had me believing something else. I just don't want you thinking..."
"I don't," I said. "Dwayne said you didn't know."
Bruce sighed, "That's true." He lifted his head and faced me, "It still wouldn't have been right. I haven't felt right since, that I'd be so excited about the idea of group sex, that I'd go that far."
I smiled, looking away from him, "Pulling in your horn now?"
He chuckled, "I think I should. I've been doing a lot of thinking since that night. All I ever had with Dwayne was a sexual outlet, but since all this happened even that's changed. We'll never be a romantic couple; that was never in the cards. When he told me the truth, something changed. I was really angry at first...at all the deception...at what he was trying to do to you, at what it could have cost me. Then I had to think about Dwayne, what he meant to me, and at first it didn't seem like much."
Bruce slid down so he was sitting on the floor, and I sat beside him. He continued, in a quieter voice, "It's been a long time for Dwayne and me, and I owed him something, so we started talking about it." He patted my knee, "It's my fault in a way, Mike. Dwayne pushed me out of my closet a long time ago, and I should have done the same for him. I'm not out to the world, just to people who should know, so their expectations aren't something I can't live up to. That's what Dwayne was missing, Mike. There's a certain reality to being gay, not that it's a big deal, but gay people are different in their gayness. I realized that after Dwayne and I got into...ah. We never talked enough that I knew about his own shame and fear."
I said, "I know, he told me."
"Dwayne was looking for something that day I met him. He never said it, and I never caught on, but he was looking for love. God, Mike, he was just like me at that age, and the whole idea walked right past me. If we'd never had sex, if I'd just once thought of myself at that age...well, who knows? Like I told you, that's my fault. I should have seen it, and I didn't. Dwayne and I both need to grow up. That leads me to my question."
He hesitated, looking at me, "Do you have feelings for Dwayne?" He saw me jerk my head, and said quickly, "Let me finish!" Then more softly, "I'm just asking, and you if the answer is no that's fine. Dwayne keeps thinking he sees something between you and him. I don't want to stomp on him if it's really there, and I don't want to encourage him if it's not."
I had to think before I answered, and I did. "I don't know, Bruce. I guess I was...enchanted. "I looked over at him, "can I say a word like enchanted?"
His smile was nice. "Enchanted's fine."
"Well, that's where I was at after we did the first story interview. I was like so...I don't know...impressed, I guess.
I chanced a look at Bruce, who was searching my face. "I went to bed thinkin'...I don't know what, but it was good things." I slumped back against the wall, "I don't know, I get confused. I'm in love with a girl now, but back then I wasn't so sure about that." God, some thoughts came hard. "I guess all I can say is Dwayne had my interest." I thought some more, "I don't know, I just don't. I was goin' with Annie, and she pushed my buttons for sure. Then there was Dwayne, all smart and... available. Like me, maybe, at least then, and he was gonna tell Jack's story."
Bruce said, "I get it now." He giggled, "Dwayne had his big chance and he blew it?"
I almost choked on Bruce's choice of words, and I grinned at him. "I guess you could put it that way," and I started giggling, "he sure never blew me!"
Bruce laughed, then got serious, searching my face again. "Mike, be careful. Dwayne said you kissed him yesterday, and he takes things like that...I don't know...different than you mean them, I think. He gets all wired up on gestures like that, at least when they come from you." He looked away, hanging his head, "I'm saying don't do things that he can misinterpret."
I protested, "I didn't..."
Bruce started to stand, patting my shoulder, "I know. Dwayne sees things his own way. I don't know how to put this gently, so I won't." He put a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes, "You're you, and I can't see into your head. I..." His shoulders sagged, "Mike, don't give Dwayne anything more than you're prepared to follow up with. The obsession's tamed but he still loves you." Bruce paused and looked at me as I got to my feet. "He's still looking for love, just like I am. If he can't find it with you, you should let him know that." He looked at me until I nodded.
With that, Bruce walked back inside, leaving me to stew it over. He said that Dwayne loved me, still loved me, and love was a word that I'd never once heard applied to the tangled mess that was me and Dwayne. It frightened me even more than when I felt that Dwayne was stalking me.
I sighed, wondering about it all. I'd come to like Dwayne, and I'd let my guard down around him, probably too much. Neither Tim nor Dave had ever taken back their request that I not be alone with Dwayne, and I'd kind of forgotten about it. Now Bruce gave me the feeling that I was sending Dwayne the wrong signals again, and he was undoubtedly right.
I'd gone off alone with him just the day before, and held his hand most of the time. I held his hand at the barn party, too, and let him kiss me on the cheek. Then yesterday, I kissed him, and on the lips. I didn't know what to think. I'd developed a new level of comfort with Dwayne, and it felt real enough to me. Our talk the day before didn't give me a clue that he thought we were anything more than friends. When I thought about it, though, I was treating him like he was a special friend like Davy or Tony, and that's not where my feelings were.
I didn't want to analyze it, but I couldn't help it. I was that way with Dwayne because he was gay, which is natural enough to me, because there was always that side to me. I was comfortable doing things like that. Hell, I'd spent the better part of two years practically glued to Jack. If there were any surprises, they were that Davy and Tony were comfortable enough with their own sexuality to get cuddly with me. I loved them the more for it, too. It wasn't their nature, but it was mine, at least part of mine. I had the thought, and dismissed it, that they did it for me. I didn't think that was the case at all. They did it with me because they could, just because we were so close.
The loves in my life...the romantic ones...were Jack and Annie. Jack was gone, so that left Annie, and there wasn't a cuddlier person that I knew, except for maybe myself, and I liked that particular thought.
I needed to talk to Dwayne, probably with Dave or Tim there, maybe even Bruce. It all seemed a little weird, but it was the holidays, and it could wait a few days.
I got up, but instead of going back in the house I went to check my e-mail. I hadn't looked in days, and I didn't really expect any, but I looked anyhow. It was weird. Outlook said I had mail, and the first few popped up, then it took a long, long time for the rest. While I waited, I went to Google and typed in 'bisexual' just to see what would come up, expecting all porn. That's not what I got. There were organizations, resource centers, book stores, even the American Library Association had a section. I was surprised, and started clicking on links. There was a lot of stuff, and I didn't really read it, but I intended to when I had more time.
There were a lot of things I could have been doing, but I got intrigued by the idea that I might learn something about myself.
About halfway down the page there was a link to a site about youth suicide, with the focus on gay and bisexual males. Oh, Lord, I should have never clicked on that. I started reading a little, link after link, and I was lost in the agony of it. So many kids...so many...had taken their own lives rather than live gay.
Oh, man. I'd idly thought of dying after Jack died, but not because I was gay. It was because I didn't think I could face life without Jack. This site, though, it was all about kids who did kill themselves, or tried to. It takes a village to kill a kid, was one of the captions.
I got angrier and angrier the more I read. Better Dead than Gay! It said it over and over again, for that was the societal attitude that led all these kids to do themselves in. It made me remember Barry and Jack's talk the other morning, how the otherwise socially unacceptable kids in the world still found love at home, and that helped them bear the taunts and bullying they had to endure out in the world.
Except for Barry and Jack, all the guys visiting Dave and Tim had understanding parents. I had understanding parents, Jack did, and I wondered how many of these suicides could have been prevented, if blind fear hadn't prevented those kids from coming out to their own parents. Then again, in a lot of cases, the fear was probably well placed.
If Jack and I had only our situation at school the past year, if our parents didn't know about us, if we were afraid of them, who knows what it would have been like. We had each other, a certain isolation from others our age based on where we lived, but I can't say whether that would have been enough.
Dammit! Parents of kids with diseases still loved them, even kids with deformities, mental problems. Those things take lots of time, money and patience to deal with. Gay is cheap, free even! Why wouldn't all parents love their gay kids just as much as the ones with a birth a defect, or dyslexia, or best yet, nothing at all wrong?
The village was the problem, I could see that, and it made me burn. It was passed down, passed around bullshit, plain and simple. And I was reading the results of that bullshit, and it made me want to scream, What the fuck is the matter with people? All these kids, children really, killing themselves because they couldn't face what should not have been a problem to begin with.
I was interrupted by the little sound that said my e-mail was done, and I wondered about all the time it had taken. When I went back to Outlook, I had to smile through my frustration.
Dwayne's uncle, Ned, had finally sent me the pictures of the fish I'd caught so long ago. There was a little note apologizing for his forgetfulness, then the photos.
I went to print the first one out, and it was bigger than the paper, coming out on four pages, bigger than life-size. I fiddled around with my print options until I found one that said 'fit to page', then they came out alright, though they took forever to print.
The sound the printer made annoyed me, and I was still seething about the things I'd read, and there was tons left that I hadn't even looked at.
Dead kids, kids like me. Dead by their own hands, only because they couldn't find what they needed in this life. Most were afraid to seek it, but they knew their own situations, and I couldn't know what those were. My exposure to gay people was mostly adults. Dave and Tim, Scott and Nick, and now all Dave and Tim's friends.
With kids my age, it was me, Guy and Dwayne. That's all I knew, and the ones I didn't know were killing themselves, and it made me feel awful. I wrote down the website address so I could give it to Sally.
I was just walking back to the house, pictures in hand, when I ran into Dwayne and Bruce. Dwayne smiled, "We were wondering where you went," as he pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket. Handing it to me, he said, "When you get a chance, check out this url. Jack's story is going to have a permanent place on the school website. It's not online yet, but you can get to it with this. Joanne did a great job of formatting it for the web."
I took the paper from him, a little embarrassed. "I didn't know the school had a website."
Dwayne said, "It's not much, believe me, but the story looks great. Take a look when you get a chance."
I was eager, so I said, "I'll look right now. I just got off the pc."
I turned around and went back into the office, followed by Bruce and Dwayne.
The url was pretty long, and I screwed up typing it in a few times, then the page appeared, just plain blue with some text about the story, Dwayne's name as the author, mine as the teller, Tony's as the illustrator, and Joanne Gurley for formatting. The chapter numbers appeared as links, and I clicked the first one. One of Tony's pictures appeared in the upper left, and the story wrapped around it.
I couldn't get past the picture, it looked so fine rendered electronically. Dwayne told me to click on the picture, and when I did it filled the whole screen. I smiled in amazement, looking back at Dwayne and Bruce, saying, "This is great!" I clicked the 'back' button and scrolled down through the story, stopping to enlarge each picture. I'd thought the story was beautiful the way it had been laid out in the paper, but this was way better. The pictures looked great, and it occurred to me after looking at a few, that a thin black border had been added. I wondered aloud if I could print them.
Dwayne said, "Sure. Just enlarge one and right-click it." I did that before he finished, and a little menu popped up. Dwayne said, "Now click on 'print target'. They're all set up to print on a full page."
The printer started making its annoying sounds, but in a few minutes I had a perfect copy of one of Tony's drawings. I was excited, happy beyond what I should have been. I clicked and printed greedily until I had them all, each picture as exciting to me as the previous one. When I was done, I picked them up along with the fish pictures, and went to show everyone. Dwayne and Bruce followed me back into the house, and Davy was right in the kitchen helping to fill some snack trays.
"Davy, look!" I cried, as I held the pictures out to him. "I got these off the Internet! Jack's whole story is online."
He smiled at my excitement, then wiped his hands and started leafing through the pictures. Other people looked over his shoulder, and they began passing them around. I'd forgotten that the fish pictures were under the Jack pictures, and when Davy saw the first one, which was the trout laid out by the measuring tape, he laughed out loud. He looked up at me and grinned, "This is a side of Jack you never told me about."
I giggled, "I never mentioned that? His middle name was Trout, you know."
Davy tipped his head to one side, "Trout? What nationality is that?"
"It's Fish, dummy, from the Great Kingdom of Fishies. It's in the Bible, I think...right next to Loaves."
Davy chuckled happily, "You really are nuts, you know." He looked back at the picture, "I suppose this is a special fish?"
I kept teasing, "Yeah, it's special. It's a grand daddy fish. You know the type. We had to take his shirt off to get the picture, but it said, 'Have I told you about my grandchildren?' on it. He was a pretty smart guy, too."
Davy looked skeptical, "A smart fish?"
I snickered, "Yeah, for a trout. He didn't get eaten, and he's not mounted on the wall. He talked me right out of it. All I got is the pictures."
Davy was cheerfully baffled, so I went on. "Fish are pretty smart, you know. That's why they're so hard to catch. They spend most of their time in school, 'cept when they can worm their way out of it!"
Davy was funny. He put his hand on my forehead like he was taking my temperature, then smacked my arm, laughing, That's bad, Mike. Just bad!"
I put on a hurt expression, "I was just tryin' to brighten your day."
Davy smiled, "I'm touched, I really am, and so are you: touched in the head!"
We both laughed, and gave it up in favor of some food, since the pictures had traveled out of our field of view. It was kind of fun just hearing snippets of what was being said about the pictures. I heard Tony's name, Jack's and mine mentioned several times, and it was a nice feeling to know that people were saying good things. I wasn't really trying to listen, just to shut out the echoes of the last school year, when Jack and I heard our names all the time, and we knew pretty much what people were saying.
I was having a nice time, just relaxing with some nice people. The music had ended, the games had ended, the card tricks had ended. It was just groups of people talking about whatever. I was back in the dining room with Davy, Matt, Timmy and Joey. Dwayne and Bruce had moved over to where a few of the gay friends were, and they all seemed to be having a good time.
After awhile, Tim came over and dropped the pictures on the table in front of my plate. He said, "These are awesome, Mike. Tell Anton I said so. I just wish I could think of a way he could make some money with them." He gave my shoulder a little pat, then headed into the kitchen. I looked through the pictures again, still amazed by Tony's work, still proud of that fish.
We'd been keeping up a good talk, but Davy and Joey both quieted down when I did. I finally looked up at them and said, "Let's go to my house."
Davy asked, "What's up?"
I said, "I want Dad to see this fish." I smirked, "I told him about it, but I think he thinks it's just a fish story." I banged the table lightly, "Now I got the proof!"
Joey and Davy seemed as eager as I was for a change of scenery, though Timmy wanted to stay, so we got our coats, told Tim that we were going next door, and hurried over to my house. Mom and Widget were in the kitchen preparing food. We said hi, then I asked, "Where's Dad?"
"At the store, they should be back any second, if they didn't stop at the roadhouse."
I groaned silently, and I know Joey did, too. Our fathers weren't big drinkers, but once in awhile they just had to have 'a few'. If they were at the roadhouse, they'd be calling in a few hours, asking for a ride.
My mother saw my concern, and changed the subject. "What's all that in your hand?"
I had to look, "Oh! Some of Tony's pictures. Guess where I got them?"
"From the Internet! Ma, you gotta see it! Jack's whole story is online and my name's even there." For effect, I looked around and added, "I don't see why this house is the only one in the galaxy without a computer."
My mother wiped her hands and reached for the pictures, saying, "Don't start, Michael. You know we couldn't afford one before. Maybe now, after we get caught up on some other things."
I felt like a worm. I should not have said that in front of others, and I felt bad for my mother having to expose something of our finances to them. I tried to gloss it over, handing her the pictures and smiling. "These just look so great on a computer screen. The story looks great, too. Did I mention that my name's on the Internet?"
Crisis over, Mom smiled and said, "I believe you did say that," then she looked at the top picture, and her face changed, "Oh, my. Look at this, Widget. You met that boy, Anton. This is his artwork."
I gestured to Davy and Joey to follow me into the living room. I plopped down on the sofa, saying, "You guys don't hafta stay. I'm gonna wait for my father."
Joey said, "Me, too," as he sat in a chair.
Davy sat next to me on the sofa. "You're embarrassed, aren't you?"
"Don't be, Mike." He shoved over a little so he could look at me. "Mike, I...I guess I've learned some lessons from you that you haven't figured out for yourself." Davy turned a look on me that I hadn't seen before, all intense and absent his usual humor. "It's not right to worry about what you don't have, when you do have so much. Half the world has to worry about what they'll eat, if they'll eat." He poked my chest, "It's not like you to be whining about not having something." His gaze intensified, and he poked my chest again, "You have everything, Mike, and all wrapped up in one package."
I gaped, suddenly cross, "You think I have everything? What about you? You're the guy with the big house, the car, all that money. I don't have diddly-squat."
I had to avert my eyes. I couldn't believe that I'd vented my anger like that at Davy, and I regretted it immediately, but didn't know what to do.
Joey was suddenly at my side, his hand on my shoulder, "Mike, what ? What happened?"
There was silence while Davy and Joey let me get a grip, and I honestly didn't know what had set me off like that on my best friend. Then it came to me, and I gagged it out, my head in my hands. "Oh, God. It's not me, it's the others." I leaned into Davy and choked back a sob.
Davy was all comfort and concern. He slid his arm behind my back while Joey stroked my shoulder. Davy asked, "Others? What others?"
I tried to force myself to calm down. "Gay kids, Davy. I got on the net when I was waitin' for the fish pictures." I leaned forward a little, speaking in a monotone. "Some small part of the populations' gay, nobody knows how much, but it's prob'ly somewhere around ten percent." I turned to Joey, then to Davy, "Half the kids who commit suicide do it because they're gay. Maybe more than that, because lots don't say why, don't leave notes or whatever. Half, so the rest are for every other reason under the sun." I hugged Davy, "It's such a freakin' waste. I'm sorry, man. It's not you that I'm mad at, it's just that so many kids could despair that much. I know what the hate's like, too. I've seen it, had it pointed at me."
Davy tried to calm me, and he did to an extent, but I had a lot to say. "Those kids are lookin' for somethin' they can't find. They get caught up in a world they can't understand...lookin' for love and only findin' sex. They get strung out on booze and drugs, s-s-sell themselves. They kill themselves."
Davy pulled me closer, but he didn't know what to say, nor did Joey. I ranted on, "It's sick. Just the way they are makes 'em get all self-destructive, and it's 'cause they think they have some kinda design flaw that can't be fixed." I sat back and took a breath, "It's the world that makes it like that. All these fuckin'...idiots that can't see past their own lamp post. The gay kids who get past Go, like the guys next door, do okay. For every one of them, there's a hundred or a thousand who never get a chance, never get a real life."
Joey said, quietly, "You're doin' alright, Mike."
I sighed, "I know, and I'll shut up if you want. It's just that, with five hundred eighty five kids in our school, I know Dwayne and I can't be the only gay ones. You'd think a few others would at least talk to us, but no. Their brains must be fuckin' boilin ' with all the shit they won't let out. And this must be the best place in the state to say somethin' right now."
I was talked out, still steaming. We were all silent for a long while when Joey patted my chest and mumbled, "You're alright, Mike, aren't you?"
I grumbled, "I'm not gonna kill myself, if that's what you mean." I felt my tone, and tried to lighten up. "I'm not mad. Well, I am, but not about you guys." I looked at Davy, "I'm sorry I said that crap. You were right, too. I have plenty."
Davy smiled, then leaned forward and kissed my cheek. Just then, the door opened and my dad and uncle shoved their way in, both carrying grocery bags. Dad called out, "We need help out here."
I jumped up, followed by Davy and Joey. We helped carry all of the packages in, then went back to the living room. In a few minutes, Dad walked in holding the pictures and smiling, shaking his head. "You get the crown, Mike. I've heard of brookies that big, but I sure never saw one. He handed me the pictures and mussed my hair, "Sorry I doubted you."
I grinned, "I would'a doubted you, so we're even."
Dad smiled and went back to the kitchen, where it was getting pretty noisy. I suddenly realized that I should tell Tony his pictures were online, so I excused myself from Davy and Joey to call from my parents' bedroom.
Paulina answered, and I asked for Tony.
"He went home with his father, Mike. It seems we're lacking some crucial spices here."
I chuckled, "How's his ma?"
"She's up and about, and the very reason they're off on a spice hunt. Want to say hello?"
"Yeah, in a second. Tony's pictures...the whole story...it's all online. I called to give the web address."
"Hold on, I'll get a pencil." There was a pause, "Okay, go ahead."
I read it off, one letter at a time, and Paulina repeated it back. Then she said, "Here's Mrs. Wolfe."
I could hear my name being spoken, then, "Mikey? How are you?"
I said, "I'm good. I'm glad you're gettin' better."
"Oh, I'm just fine, just a sleepy leg. I'm all daunted by this house and this kitchen, though. A body could disappear in this place."
I giggled, "Yeah, I know. I'd get tired just comin' down for breakfast."
"Haha. Breakfast was over by the time I found my way here. I'll never find my way back, so now I'm dressin' out the biggest bird I ever laid eyes on."
I giggled again, "You're funny. How big?"
"It ain't no hen, that's for sure. It's forty-one pounds plus an ounce, least that's what the tag said. It'll weight ten pounds more when I fill this hole with stuffin'."
I laughed, trying to picture it. "How many legs does it have?"
She giggled, "You heard about that? This one has two, and it's stayin' with two. I s'pose your preparations are under way already."
I smiled. I understood every word she said without having to wait to think it over. "Yup, I think so. Ma'n Widget been cookin' all day."
Tony's mother chuckled, "You have a good meal. I have to get to cookin', but you'll all be in our thoughts."
"Here's Paulina, she has more to say, like that's a surprise."
Paulina was giggling when she picked up the phone, "Honestly, Mike! Do I talk too much?"
I cringed, "Don't go askin' me that, girl. Your talk is all good, so I don't know that I'd ever get too much of it."
"Ha ha, aren't you the sudden diplomat?" She didn't let me get a word in before continuing, in a lower voice, "You had the right words yesterday. You really settled Tony's mind about where he stands with you. He's been funny all day."
I didn't get it, "Funny?"
"Heh, yeah. Like funny ha-ha. He is so relaxed. Ooh, I wish I could just keep him here...the whole family!"
I laughed, "I don't think there's any keepin' Tony anywhere. Not anymore, anyhow."
Paulina giggled, "You're right." Her voice quieted, "You're a good friend, Mike, to Anton and me. Got time for a quick story?"
She paused, "Okay. When we got adopted it was anything but pretty at first. Yeah, we were happy that we could stay together, but we didn't really know Scott and Nick. It was impressive...I mean, they were rich and famous, and they were trying to make things smooth for us. They didn't know what to do, and we didn't know what to do...how to act...none of that. I don't know how much you know about Hispanics, but with us it's all extended family, and that's how we ended up with our grandparents to start with. There's always supposed to be someone to look after you, someone family, but our luck had run out."
I mumbled something I don't remember. She went on, "We were loud kids, used to yelling everything out. I think Scott and Nick were afraid of us at first, and we were afraid of them. They were doing all these nice things, but they were so damned quiet about it. Us kids talked all the time, wondering what we got ourselves into. We're living in this marble mansion they rented while this place was built. It was mayhem, Mike. Scott and Nick had no control, and I don't think they tried. We were all taking advantage like crazy. It was like a year.
"Then, the day we moved here, it took a long time, nobody knew their way around, yada, yada. At the end of the day, we were all tired. Scott and Nick were in the living room, collapsed in chairs. We were tired, too, peeking at them from the other room. I was holding Nydia, and Maria was holding Jose. When it got to be too much, we set them down."
I made a little 'hm' sound so she'd know I was listening.
"Nydia went in and sat on Scott's lap, curling up in the chair with him, then Jose did the same thing with Nick. Oh God, Mike. That was the moment, the moment, when it was all real. The looks of pure joy on those two mens' faces told us everything we needed to know, and suddenly those laps weren't big enough. We all wanted that! We ended up in a pile on the sofa, all laughing and happy, kissing and hugging. We all slept there all night, even with big, fancy, new bedrooms waiting for us upstairs. It was suddenly our home, and all the strife it took to get us here was gone...all at once." She giggled, "We've been rockin' and rollin' ever since. Nobody's in charge...everybody's in charge."
I smiled, "That's nice, Paulina. Thanks for tellin' me."
"I'm not finished, don't sell me so short. There's a point to this. The money's there, and it's nice to know, but it gets less important every day. If the bottom fell out tomorrow, if it was all gone, there's not a person in this house who'd give a damn about it." She giggled, "Maybe we could get a trailer in Anton's park. Heh, more time for you know what."
I laughed, "I can't picture you broke, Paulina, but I know what you're sayin'."
Paulina said softly, "I said it for a reason, Mike. Your gesture yesterday, calling Anton by his real name, took a weight off of him, a huge one. Ace has feelings that run deep, really deep, and the idea that part of you hated part of him was the deepest." She sighed, "I love him, Mike, and not many people can understand how that feels. You can, because you had Jack, and now you have Annie." Her voice became coy, "Don't think I haven't noticed."
I had tears in my eyes and sniffed, "Twice blessed."
"More than twice, Michael. You bless those around you with your love, and you're getting really good at it. There are times, Mike. Little times like a first kiss, big times like when Clay coughed up water, and we knew he was alive. They're all important, but in the end I don't think you can separate the little from the big, can't make one more important than the other."
I said, "That's pretty deep."
Paulina paused, "I guess it's deep, but it's true. The love's there, Mike, it always is. Too many people let it slide on by, missing the whole show."
I giggled, "Couch potatoes?"
"Yes, exactly. People who think they can find what they're looking for on the television instead of in their own back yards. I just want you to know how much you're appreciated. You gave Tony his moment of truth."
Her tone had lightened up at the end of that sentence, so I lightened my own. "I been practicin'. Did you take a picture of that bird?"
"The turkey, you turkey!"
She laughed, "No, not yet. I need something for perspective, maybe a car." I could hear Tony's ma say something in the background, then Paulina laughed, "She says I should put it next to a bus to give you the real perspective. Nobody'll see a car behind that thing!"
I laughed, "I love it! Is it still rainin'? I wanna see that thing." Dumb question, I could hear the rain. "Never mind. You goin' to the game tomorrow?"
"Not me. Pick Tony up; he wants to go."
We talked for a few more minutes, and when we hung up I stretched out across the bed, feeling content again. I couldn't stay there; Davy and Joey were waiting for me, but I took a little time just to feel better, and I did.
Bad things happen all the time, and nobody likes that fact. There's no way to insulate yourself from those bad things, either, and they come from all around. Freak weather had taken my Jack away from me, and other people from their own loved ones. Grief has lots of natural causes, but it still really steamed me that being gay, a natural enough thing, caused so many people to make grief for others. Being bisexual was causing me a lot of personal confusion, and I suspected it always would, but I didn't feel bad that I I'm that way. I wished things were simpler, but I wished a lot of things. My mind got jangled sometimes, and I didn't see clear answers to lots of questions, but that was about the worst of it.
I was glad that Paulina had told me that story, because I suddenly got the point of it. There come times when you just suddenly know something is the truth, and it becomes your own reality. I didn't decide who I loved, or even who I liked, or even who and what I didn't like.
Heck, Jack didn't even want me around for the longest time, but we ended up finding something important together. The reverse was true with me and Tony, now he was important to me. Then I fell for Davy in about a nanosecond, a sexual attraction on my end at first, but it had developed into an especially satisfying friendship, a perfect friendship. I knew... knew...that if I found myself out of gas on the planet Pluto, Davy would be there with what I needed, even if I called him as he was having a hernia operation during Sunday dinner, while waiting for the the Prize Patrol to show up.
I'd do the same for him. I'd have to, knowing he'd do it for me.
My initial attraction to Annie was probably normal enough for anyone except me, and that attraction was the cause for my ongoing confusion. Being gay had never bothered my mind, then Annie got me twitching one day, and it wasn't an idle attraction. I didn't understand at first, now I did. She wasn't trying to change me, any more than I'd try to change her. Annie had been strong when I was weak, now I was catching up. Our love for each other deepened every time we talked, every time we touched, every time we kissed, every time we just goofed off and looked at clouds passing by.
There was a happiness in loving Annie that's hard to describe...levels of happiness, comfort and plain gladness that I'd never felt before. Everything felt so solid and grounded when she was around. Annie had her center, and I was finding mine, and when we met in the middle, just watch out, because that's when our connection felt so total, so irreversible, so pure and perfect that I can't even describe it.
I could make myself happy just thinking about Annie, and I just had. I got up to rejoin the family with a smile on my face.
I got off the bed and walked down the hall to the living room, still in dreamland. Joey and Davy were still talking and laughing, but when they saw me, they stopped short. Davy jumped up and hugged me, asking, "What's with the smile? Did you find someone to kill in my place?"
I laughed, returning the hug. "No, I was just thinking some good things is all."
Davy smiled, "That's always a wise move." He giggled, "Were you strokin' the salami while you thought these things?"
I pushed him away and laughed, "No! It's available, though, if you're interested," I said, trying to wiggle my eyebrows.
Davy giggled and pulled me closer. "You wish, Mike. You wish."
Joey was right there, grinning at me, "You're a chameleon, you know that?"
"A what?" I asked.
"A chameleon. It's a little lizard that can change it's colors to fit the situation."
I had to smile, Joey looked so innocent right then. He went on, "They can't change any old color, Just green to brown, but that keeps them from being eaten." He smiled at me, "I don't mean you're green and brown, just that your moods change so fast I don't know what to expect next. So?"
"So? Whattya mean so?"
He grinned, "I mean, so what's next? You're mad, you're sad, then you're glad. Do you go back to mad now, or are ya stayin' glad?"
Davy interjected, "Pick glad! Oh, please pick glad."
I said, "Okay, glad it is." I turned to Joey, reaching for the zipper on my jeans, "You gotta help, else I'll get all cranky again."
He backed away laughing, "Hey, I don't mind cranky. Let Davy cheer you up."
I turned around, laughing, "Davy?"
He giggled, "Not with that vote-getter. How 'bout I find you a piece of candy or something?"
The phone had rung during that, and I hadn't paid much attention. I kept joking around with Davy and Joey, then my father came into the room. "Mike, that was Andy on the phone. Come in the kitchen, so I don't have to say this ten times."
He looked serious, and my mood changed accordingly, from happy to somber. I followed him into the kitchen, Davy and Joey right behind me.
Dad stood by the stove, looking somewhat shocked. His voice wavered, "Andrea's been cremated. I...well, I don't know what else to say about that." He shifted his weight, looking around, "Phil's going to live, at least it looks that way. He's a mess for sure, but he's out of the ICU and off the critical list." Everyone must have been holding their breath like me, because there was a collective release of air before Dad went on.
"He'll be a long time on the mend. He needs lots of re-constructive surgery and round-the-clock care. If all goes well, he'll heal enough that he can go back to work someday."
My uncle asked, "How long?"
Dad scratched his head, "No telling, but it could take a year or more. He'll need to stay in a facility for a long time, whatever happens. Both legs and his left arm were pretty well crushed in the crash. He has some internal injuries, but not too bad. His head wasn't injured seriously, and he's lucent, save for the drugs he's on." He looked up, "The problem is the kids. Jen's their only known relative, and she already has power of attorney. Just today she went to court, and now she's their official guardian." Dad put his hand on his forehead, "You all know that Jason and Jen will do the right thing, but it's a bad time for them," he sighed, "like there could ever be a good time for all this." He straightened up a little, "Anyhow, Andy and Lin are taking their vacation time to stay in Georgia and try to put some sense to everything. If they stay at separate times, it will give them a month to figure things out, then those kids are going to need a home again."
Joey piped up, "How old are they?"
Dad looked at him, "I don't know exactly. They're all in high school, and the oldest will graduate this year."
Dad saw an empty seat at the table and walked over there, obviously troubled. I asked, kind of timidly, and it didn't have a lot to do with me, "Is there money for all this?"
My father shrugged, "I don't know about that. It's all complicated, and not really my business. Phil and Andrea both had good jobs, but whether their house is paid for or not isn't something I could ask." There should be insurance money, and that could be a little or a lot. He raised his hands in defeat, "I just don't know, it's too early to know about a lot of things."
Nobody said anything for the longest time. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and facing bad news like that had us all stunned.
The silence was broken when my sisters barged in, back from visiting friends. Jed and Sally came in right behind them. They were all in good moods, and the sudden infusion of cheer was infectious, sending somber out the door before it closed behind them.
I smiled when Jed and Sally stayed holding hands as they greeted everyone. The volume in the room rose, and my father and uncle got beers for themselves, wine for my mother and aunt. We were just getting into party mode when the phone rang, and it was for me.
It was Tony, and he said, in the happiest voice I ever heard come out of him, "This is Anton." He giggled, "You kin call me Tony."
I smiled inside, "Hi, Anton," then I felt funny saying it. "Did ya check out that website yet?"
Tony dropped his voice, "Um, I looked at it. Did you mean it yesterday? That you don't still hate part of me?"
"I meant it, Tony. That's the past, and it was pretty dumb holdin' onto it like that. Tony, Anton, Wolfie, it's all the same."
Tony snickered, "Yay! Yeah, I looked at that site! Paulina's printin' off the pictures right now. I can't believe I'm on the Internet, that it looks so good! You can't know how I feel right now!"
I said, "Yes, I can. I'm on there, too."
"Oh, yeah. Um," he lowered his voice to a whisper, "my kin are a little surprised, ya know...that you're...um...the 'G' word."
Oh, no. "Is it a problem, Tony?"
He didn't answer immediately, then, "In their heads, maybe, but not in this house. Paulina set 'em straight, I set 'em straight, Daddy set 'em straight, now Ma's givin' 'em her piece." He was silent for a moment, then laughed merrily, "They're gonna wish they was queer before dinner."
I laughed, "They won't wish it, Tony. Believe me."
Tony whispered, "Don't say that." He hesitated, whispering even more quietly, "I sometimes wish it."
I was incredulous, "What?"
"Heh, I tried, Mike. I thought if I could be like you, then I could be with you. Pretty nuts, huh?"
I didn't think so. I almost cried, "Oh, man. You really thought like that...for me?"
"Yeah. So now who's stupid?"
"I don't think you're stupid. That's a pretty far-out idea, though." I did a little mental exercise, trying to picture the Anton I'd hated, and my mind brought me back before that, when Anton was just a little boy in homemade clothes, who just didn't fit in. Fast forward, and he was bigger, more hair, better dressed, but I couldn't find that part in-between anymore.
Anton Wolfe. Always there, staring with those big eyes, but not there at the same time. Invisible.
Not anymore. He had his own pictures on the world wide web, where anyone could see them.
I suddenly had a happy idea. "Tony?"
"I got it! I got it!"
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