Plan B: A Degree of Difference
I picked up my bag and went to leave the mens room, then I dropped it and went back to look at myself in the mirror. I still looked like death warmed over, and I didn't want to go out of there like that.
There was probably nothing that would clear up my red eyes, but I thought some more cold water might tame my red nose down, a combing would certainly fix my hair. I'm not a narcissist, I'm just not. I have to shave now, but if I didn't, I'd be back to about a minute of mirror time each day, and that's almost all spent combing my hair, which I'm not very fussy about.
I took my time in that police department, though, mostly because I didn't have any reason not to. The longer I spent fixing myself up, the later it would be when I left there, and maybe it could take me days until I got it right.
Not likely. I fussed over myself to the extent that I knew how to, then the door suddenly burst open. In the mirror I saw Aaron, surprise on his face, but something else, too.
I almost tripped on my own feet turning around, because I guess I'd already crossed them. In my surprise, I tried to cross them again, but in the same direction. It made me stumble, but toward Aaron, and I'm pretty sure I came up with a smile. If I didn't, it wasn't because my main theme wasn't happiness.
"Aaron! Oh my God, Aaron!"
"Evan!" he cried, as we fell into a hug, and I couldn't come up with anything to say. I'd been briefly convinced that Aaron was part of my history, that I might never see him again, and that was the main reason I fell apart. Now he was there holding me, touching me all over, hugging me after a week apart, and a nail gun couldn't have done anything to make me feel closer to him.
He was hanging on hard, and I started to choke, pushing him away gently. "Take it easy, Aar!" I backed away, my hands in surrender mode, "I'm here, I'm alive!" I smiled, "I missed you, too." Then we both smiled, kind of tearful again, and we fell into a kiss. We were almost at the door, and when I saw it start to open, one step forward had Aaron's back against it, and I called, "Sorry, the floor's flooded. Try the one upstairs."
I hoped there was an upstairs, but Billy's voice said, "You're an idiot, Evan, let me in!"
I was surprised to death that Billy was there, but one look at Aaron made me say, "Give us a minute, Billy, maybe a half hour!"
There was silence, so Aaron and I kissed again, then Billy's voice said, "I have a gun. Open up!"
I laughed, Aaron laughed, and I suggested, "Go commit a crime, Billy. Far from here! Make all these people chase you!"
"Stop fuckin' around, Evan! I have the runs!"
I yanked Aaron away from the door, and pulled it open, only to see Billy's greenish face run by me, straight to the nearest stall. In another second or so, Aaron and I had to leave because, true to his promise, Billy started making the rudest sounds I ever heard coming from another human being, and he wasn't exactly voicing them.
Oh Lord, it had been the worst day I'd had in a long time, but I was laughing, and I was loving. And I had to stop in my tracks the moment we got out of the mens room, for it suddenly looked more like my birthday party out there than anything else.
Mr. and Mrs. Castle were there, and Justin was there with them. Dean was there. Kevin and Arnie were there, along with Shane, and even Eli. Nan and Ron rounded it out, and I wondered at first if the whole thing had been a joke of some sort, some kind of put on.
Kevin trashed that thought when he walked up to me, a really cross and sad look on his face, "I'm sorry, Evan." He shook his head sadly, "I'm really sorry." His look intensified, "It was the money, man, that's why she did it ... the reward money."
"What? Who?" I asked.
Kevin put both hands on my shoulders, "My sister ... Mandy. She called your old man. Honest, Evan, when she said she thought you were the kid with the reward on him, we tried to get her to shut up about it."
Nan was right behind him, looking sad herself, but she faced me. "I told her no, too, Evan, for what that's worth." She shook her head, "She's a single mother, it was just too much money to ignore."
Kevin said to her, "Still, she'd live without it."
Curiosity burned within me. What was I worth? "How much?" I asked.
Kevin shrugged his mighty shoulders helplessly, "Twenty-five grand if you end up back at home."
My eyes bugged out. I thought five hundred, maybe a thousand bucks if Chris did a real good job. But twenty-five grand? I said, without thinking, "I'm not worth that much."
I suddenly felt overwhelmed. Here I was in a police station, fresh from questioning, really, and all those people were there for me, and seemingly on my side. I fumbled my hand out for Aaron, and he was right there, and I didn't care who saw us.
Eyebrows should have been stuck all over the ceiling if it bothered anyone, and with Aaron's hand firmly in mine, I did feel a little bit defiant. I really just wanted to hold Aaron's hand, and it felt good to do it. Everyone saw us, and a few made faces of surprise, but it wasn't any big deal, and it didn't get a chance to be.
Officer Lindquist hurried over, "Evan," he looked around at the small crowd and smiled, then noticed I was holding hands and he took a good look at Aaron, "My, my, Evan. The last time I saw you, I thought you were ready for suicide watch, now look at you." He smiled and bopped my elbow, and I suddenly liked the guy. "Evan, D.C.Y.S. is with your family now, and based on what you told me there's nothing for them to investigate, but it's still going to take time."
I nodded, not sure what he was getting at, and he told me. "I can put you up here for the night, or I can put you in a youth facility, or I can release you to Mr. Blaine, but only if you promise to be back here by ten tomorrow morning."
I had choices? I looked for Harlan, and somehow he was right there. I questioned him with my eyes, he smiled, and he asked Lindquist, "Where do I sign?"
Lindquist shook his head, "You don't have to sign, Mr. Blaine." He smiled brightly, "Just make this party happen elsewhere. This is a police station!"
I laughed with Harlan, and Lindquist looked back at me. "Ask for Sgt. Gostyla tomorrow, Evan. She's my boss, and you can trust her to do right by you."
I smiled at the cop, thanked him and shook his hand, and I felt a certain power that I hadn't known before. Not an hour earlier, I'd been a quivering mass of fear and dejection, and now I felt back in control of myself. That wasn't the all of it, really, because I felt somewhat in control of the situation, too. A little in control, anyhow, like the outcome would depend way more on my behavior and actions than anything else. That seemed like an opportunity to do things right more than anything, and I suddenly felt like Evan again, because doing things right was my business.
I looked at Harlan and asked, "Can Aaron stay with me?"
Harlan shrugged, "Who's Aaron?"
Okay, he didn't know. I held up Aaron's hand, and Mr. Castle came hurrying over. "What?"
I looked at Aaron's dad, who probably only knew half or less of what was happening. "Can Aaron stay with me tonight? Oh, please?"
Harlan looked at Aaron's father, and recognized him. "Hi, Steve. I think that right now I'll just claim complete ignorance. What are you doing here?"
Aaron's father shook hands with Harlan, and smiled, "This is my younger son, Aaron, Harlan. He's taken a shine to young Evan, here."
God, I liked that man's style. He'd introduced Aaron proudly, then indicated that he was queer for me in the same sentence, and there wasn't an ounce of reticence in any of it.
Harlan smiled at Aaron, looking at his face and not where his hand was, and said hello cordially, then he smiled at me. "You're full of surprises tonight, do you know that, Evan?"
I smiled wanly, and Mr. Castle asked, "Are you okay, Evan? I'm certainly surprised."
I looked at the floor, suddenly feeling ashamed. I'd never outright lied to Aaron's parents, but I'd certainly let them believe things about me that weren't true, not like that somehow distinguished them from anyone else in this town. I made myself look at Aaron's father, and said, "I'm sorry. I ..."
His hand was immediately on my shoulder, "Don't apologize, Evan. Save that for your own family." He squeezed a little, "I won't say I'm not disappointed, but I look around and see all these people, and your little deception hasn't hurt anyone on this end. Evan, look at me!"
I jerked to attention, and he smiled, "Evan, I hope things work out for you at home. If you think I can help in any way, just give me a call, okay?"
I nodded, once again feeling overwhelmed.
Harlan had moved away, and I could hear him asking Shane if he thought he could take over the paperwork and computer entry in my place. I couldn't resist, and I said, "Hey Harlan, now you'll see. It's gonna take two people to replace me!"
He turned a grim smile to me and muttered, "Two if I get really, really lucky."
Kevin, Arnie and Eli suddenly appeared right in front of me, and Kevin asked, "Does this mean you won't be coming back?"
I shrugged and made a pattern on the floor with my toe, "I guess I won't. I'm really sorry, guys."
Kevin tapped my shoulder and I looked up, and found him smiling at me. There had been a point when his smile scared me, but I was far beyond that now. "Don't worry about it, Evan. You know, if somebody ever told me that some kid would come along and change my life as much as you have, I would'a laughed in his face."
"Me?" I asked in surprise.
"Don't sell yourself short. We're eating better, drinking and smoking less, and not living in a pig sty anymore. That's just starters, too. It's not so much a free-for-all anymore. We never really looked out for each other 'til you came along, either."
Arnie added, "I agree, Evan. We're gonna really miss you." He smiled, "Jesus! Do you have to hold his hand in public?"
I glowered at Arnie, then grinned. "No problem, there's other things we can do with our hands."
To my surprise, it was Eli who barked out a laugh and slapped Arnie's back, saying, "Hah! He got you, Arnie!"
Arnie looked sidelong at Eli and grumbled, "Yeah, fuck you, too." He looked back at me, "Well, are you gonna introduce whoever this is?"
I think I was born rude. "I'm sorry, This is Aaron Castle. Aaron, this is Kevin, Arnie and Eli, the guys I live with."
Aaron shook hands with everyone, then Shane approached, and he said hello to him, too.
Shane grinned, "Hey, my vacation's over. I take over for Evan tomorrow."
"Yeah," Kevin growled, "you and whose army?"
Just then, Billy, Dean and Justin came over. Billy kind of searched my face, the usual trace of mischief on his own. "Excuse us, here, but what should we be doing? Are you leaving, Evan?" He looked at my hand holding Aaron's, which seemed to be garnering much attention, and asked, "Are you taking Aaron with you?"
God, that was a nice prospect, but, "I wish," I said as I squeezed Aaron's hand a little. I leaned into him, kind of wishing we could get alone. I smiled at Justin, "Can I? I'll take good care of him."
Justin smiled and said quietly, "I know you would, Evan. I'm not sure that we're ready to let him go right yet." He grinned, "Keep checking in, though, there are days."
I laughed, but I didn't know quite what to do. Nan and Ron approached, and Nan put her arms out, so I let go of Aaron and took the giant hug. She whispered, "Aren't you the one? We were appalled when Eli said you were busted, but appalled takes back seat to Ronnie's reaction to seeing you with your ... um ... friend."
"Aaron," I helped.
She patted my back, "Aaron ... of course. You know, we've been speculating about you since you moved in, but not about that!"
I gave her a squeeze and pulled away, smiling. "It all ties together, you know, Nan. I left home because I knew they couldn't deal with me being gay, and now I have to go back and convince them I really am, and guess what? They're going to deal with it, or I'll be back real soon!"
Nan had probably been very pretty once, and it could still show through sometimes. The natural condition of her face was a smile, and it was a real one that came out all over the place, especially in her eyes. Her smile right then was genuine and warm, and she said, "Evan, your first few days here it seemed like you were scared to death. It didn't take long, though, and we could see you taking the bull by the horns. Ron and I used to laugh, because you changed your environment to fit you, and people just fell into your wake."
I smiled in surprise, "Really?"
"Oh, yes! It wasn't two weeks before all we heard from the guys upstairs was, 'Evan says'."
Ron stepped up, smiling, "Yeah, 'Evan says' became like a noun, as in 'that's an evansays', like it came from the Bible or something."
I decided that it was nice to hear, probably only partly true. I reached for Aaron's hand and took it in mine, pulling him close. "Ron, Nan ... I'd like you to meet Aaron Castle." Damn, I meant to say that Aaron was my boyfriend, but that suddenly seemed kind of trite, and possibly challenging. Instead, I said, "I love him."
Nan cooed happily and hugged Aaron to her while Ron studied him, then looked at me and shrugged. He held his hands out a bit, palms up, and muttered "Whatever," then he turned to the other guys. He shrugged again, and muttered again, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
I felt a little tap on my shoulder and turned to see Mrs. Castle. She smiled sadly, then hugged me for a long time before she whispered, "We'll miss you, Evan. I want a promise from you, actually, two promises. Either/or promises is what I'm looking for. I want you to try your best to make things work at home, and if you can do that, I'd like you to try your best to stay in contact with Aaron, because he really cares for you. If you can't make things work, or if you need help, please, please call on us to help."
To my surprise, she was crying, and I pulled her to me, patting her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
She shook her head and choked back a sob, then held on tight. "Oh, Evan! I look at you, and I look at Aaron, and I see two remarkable young men. The sheer volume of promise that exists between the two of you inspires awe, and it hurts me more than you can know that people will try to keep you from fulfilling that promise, and they'll do that in the name of God, in the name of science, in the name of their own mothers if they have to."
That made me look around, take in my own situation, and she noticed me doing that. I said softly, "Maybe there's hope, you know?"
There were a lot of people there right then. If you subtracted me and Aaron's family, there were still a lot. Billy and Dean were, and had been, cool with Aaron's gayness for a long time, and they were equally cool with mine. For everyone else, though, this was the first brush with me as a gay person. There was some surprise there for sure, some hesitation when they saw me holding hands with Aaron, some odd looks. Still, Harlan, the guys I lived with, Nan and Ron, they'd taken it in with little more than a crossed eye. Actually, Shane had seen me with Aaron once, and I thought then that he had us figured out, but he never once said a word about it.
I took Aaron's hand in my right one and put my left arm over his mother's shoulders. "It won't be so bad," I whispered. "These guys knew nothing until just now, and it's okay."
Aaron's mother smiled, "Maybe you're right. You're certainly right tonight, but I think that's a testament to you." She looked at me with a warm smile, "Before you came out of the bathroom, before we knew what was happening here, all of these people were anxious about your fate. Maybe the acceptance will go away when the newness fades, but I doubt that. These are all Evan fans, and you personally could probably get away with a lot of things." She smiled, "I hope it works out, Evan, I really do. I've seen the opposite many times, though, and it is unfortunately the likely reality for most gay children." She squeezed my shoulder, "Let's hope," her voice trailed off. "Let's hope, Evan."
I heard her, but I was confronting my own reality, which seemed kind of unreal. I was standing in a police station lobby. Everybody there knew that I was gay, and many of them had just learned it, yet I was still alive, still standing, still holding hands with Aaron. I should have been jumping for joy, and in a way I was, but I really wanted to be jumping Aaron, who I hadn't seen for a week, and who I could possibly not see again.
An opportunist by nature, I pulled Aaron to the source, who at the moment was Harlan Blaine, because I had been released to him.
"Harlan," I started, "Does being in your custody mean I have to stay with you? I mean, what would your wife think if you came home with two queer teenagers?"
I'd said that lightly, but Harlan's face went cold. He said, "Evan, we need a few minutes alone, then we can talk about where you'll sleep tonight, okay?"
I knew it had been too easy, and I sighed silently, let go of Aaron's hand after looking at him until I knew he knew, then I followed Harlan outside, going through the gauntlet of stares on the way.
When the heavy glass door closed behind us, Harlan faced me and raised his right hand, the index finger pointed to the sky, and he said, "Evan!" That came out pretty solidly, but his next words were much softer, "Evan, I don't know what to say. On the one hand I'm really angry with you, and for a lot of reasons." He looked up, he looked down, he looked around, then he looked at me, locking my eyes. "You lied to me, Evan!" His hand started making a circle, "I ... I'm ..." He looked at me, "Dammit! I don't know what to say here. I feel deceived in a way, but not in a way. I don't know how you do it Evan, but you're older than your years, and you're really, really good."
I thought Harlan was being kind, and admitted, "I lied about my age, faked my age, and I know that could get you in trouble. I'm sorry, Harlan, you didn't deserve that." I toed the ground.
He said softly, "That could still cause trouble, Evan. I have to think about it, but I may want to report it myself. I don't think you'll get in any trouble with the law, and if I report it and say it's the reason you're gone from the company, it should keep me honest. You had the two forms of id that I'm required to ask for, and they looked legitimate to me. As soon as I found out, I dismissed you. I'll call our lawyer to check, but I don't see any real problem." He patted my shoulder, "You're fired."
I looked, and he was smiling, so I chuckled. Fired. "Like Hell," I smiled, "I'm quitting."
"You can't quit now, you're already fired."
"Okay," I mumbled, "have it your way. Thanks Harlan, for everything."
He nodded, "One more thing. I know this is redundant, because you wouldn't have said it if it wasn't true, but you're really gay?"
"Yeah, really," I mumbled, back to toeing the ground.
Harlan was silent for an awkward length of time, and I didn't look at his face, and he eventually whispered, "Wow, that's pretty wild."
Then I looked, and he had this hesitant smile on his face, and seemed to have been waiting for me to look at him. "Thanks," he said. "Not for me, really, but for gay guys in general." He stared at me, then found some words, "I guess I'll have to re-think some things, maybe open my eyes some, Evan. I don't know, I've just had this general aversion to things gay, and you have me wondering what all I've missed. Anyhow, that's me. I'm concerned that you ran from home because of it."
I said darkly, "I had to."
Harlan said, "I just want you to know that if I can be any help at all with your family, just give me a call and I'll be there. I mean it, Evan. I don't like that you seem to be afraid of going home."
I looked at him, "I guess I'm not really afraid now. I was before. Heh, then you cleaned puke off my pants and ... and ..."
I looked at Harlan, who was a little confused, but still confident. "It's weird, Harlan. I was feeling sorry for myself, feeling really scared, then you're there cleaning my jeans, and I suddenly knew what I had to do."
Harlan gaped, "Cleaning your jeans?"
I smiled and nodded, "Yeah, it doesn't take much, I guess."
Harlan looked lost, "I don't get this. I um, I wash puke from your pants and you see the light?"
I grinned, "A light, anyhow. I'm not saying it was the light, not at all. That sounds more Biblical than this was."
Harlan grinned, "Okay, I'm lost. Kindly state clearly, please, exactly what you're talking about."
I looked at Harlan in admiration. "Take this as a compliment, because that's what it is. I can get through this, Harlan, and I can do it by being like you. What I have is a mess, and it's not a pleasant mess, but it won't change if I cry about it. It'll only get worse if I try to avoid it, so I have to clean it up. I need to ... I don't know, get it in my own hands, then I'll figure out what to do."
Harlan looked at me for a long moment, then he smiled, "That's the way to do things," he said quietly. "You're a man already if you understand that one simple thing."
I smiled in gratitude, and Harlan added, "You stay wherever you want to tonight, Evan. I'm only responsible to have you back here in the morning, but I'm adding that to your responsibilities. Ten o'clock, the man said, so you be here."
I smiled, "Thanks, Harlan. I'll be here."
He held out his hand and I took it in mine, and Harlan said, "Be good, Evan," he said warmly. "Finish your education, then come on down, because you'll always have a job here if you want one."
I smiled, tears in my eyes, and Harlan Blaine turned to go home. He turned back around after about two steps, "Evan, you should come in tomorrow morning, even if you can only stay an hour. That way you can say goodbye to people," he grinned, "and that way you won't kill Hokay all at once."
I thought for a second, then said, "Okay, that sounds good. I'd just go stir-crazy anyhow."
Harlan smiled and said, "I'll pick you up with Shane, then I'll get you back here on time. Thanks, Evan."
I smiled and made a little wave, then Harlan really left.
I watched him go, then turned back toward the door. Aaron was already coming out, and I guessed that he'd watched through the glass. He looked after Harlan, then worriedly at me, "What happened?"
I grinned and hugged him, "Nothing bad. Well, I got fired. Do you think you can stay at my place tonight?"
I shrugged, "Where else? Can I stay at your house? At least my rent's all paid."
Aaron looked doubtful, and said hesitantly, "I'll have to ask."
I said, "If the answer might be no, don't ask. Just sneak out."
Aaron hugged into me, and I gave him a squeeze, then he went back inside and I followed him.
Other people looked anxious to leave, so I went over to the guys I lived with, who were there with Nan and Ron. I said, "I guess I'll stay in my own bed one more night."
That, and the fact that I was going to work for a few hours the next morning, cheered the guys up, especially Shane, because I'd have at least a little time to help him get going.
When they headed out, I turned to Billy and Dean. They'd come with Justin, and he was standing with his parents and Aaron.
This was especially hard for me, because I'd learned to rely on Billy when I needed a friend, and now I felt like I was abandoning him. I smiled the best I could and held out my hand, "I guess this is it for now." I hesitated, "I don't know, maybe I'll be back tomorrow, I just don't know what's gonna happen."
Billy looked sad, but managed a smile. He pulled me to him and we hugged, and he croaked, "Either way, Evan. Get your life back if you can. If it works, that's great. I'm not going anywhere, so you can call if you need me." He lowered his voice, "I know I'll be calling you."
I had tears in my eyes, "Thanks, Billy." I pulled back, and his eyes were wet, too. We both smiled, and we both knew we were friends. Whatever happened to me next wouldn't affect our basic friendship, just possibly the ways in which we could exercise it. I might be grounded for life, and I might get kicked out, and I had no way to tell. There were lots of in-between things that could happen, too, and I was in no position to predict what they were.
I knew for sure that if I at least lived through it, Billy would always be my friend, and Dean was appraising me pretty warmly, too.
I shook his hand and said, "I'll be around, Dean." I smiled, "Be good, okay?"
He said, "You, too, and thanks."
Dean had managed to turn his anger off, and he was a pretty nice guy without it. He was a gifted musician with an insightful mind, and he'd decided to try liking himself again, to shed the idea that he'd lived with too long, that he didn't want to be him.
Now I looked at his smile and wondered if I wanted to be me anymore. Being away from home for so long had me feeling like there was an old me and a current version, and the task of reconciling both me' into yet somebody else seemed monumental. I wasn't suffering any type of self-loathing like Dean had, but having a past and a present that didn't agree with each other made my future seem pretty fearful.
I'd known I was gay for years, but that little fact had been held really close to the chest before I left home. It was just Chris and me who knew until my brother walked in on us. Now, according to the police, my parents didn't believe it anyhow, even though I'd left home because of it.
To the analytical part of my mind, that was a possibility that I'd never considered. I could see denial at first, but the fact that I left and stayed away should have said something to them.
Now I was out in my new life, really and truly out as of that night, and the reaction was no worse than what I might have expected if I announced I had a hangnail. Chris had been right all along. He'd been telling me since I was absolutely without doubt sure about my sexuality that I should tell people. He was another insightful friend, and I could see now that he'd been right all along.
I had no idea of what I'd have to face up to the next day, so I tried to mentally table the issue. It would be close to hand all night and I knew that, and I found some humor in the idea that I'd have to go around convincing people that I'm really gay, that I really have a boy I love, and one you'd never question if he mentioned he was gay.
That was tomorrow's problem, and when Aaron finally came back, running and with a huge grin on his face, I knew that the evening's problems were down to logistics. He leaped into me, and we hugged right there in the police station, then felt ourselves being urged out by his chuckling parents.
Everyone else was gone or leaving with us, so I clutched onto Aaron and we followed his parents out into the warm night. I'd lost all sense of time, and my watch battery had died the day before. I looked around as we walked to the car, and the time really didn't matter.
This time with Aaron was what was suddenly important. After all, we didn't know when we'd see each other again, although I was counting on soon.
I was feeling kind of like a zombie by then, tired and overwhelmed by events.
I had hold of Aaron's hand, and he led me to the car and held the back door open for me. I knew I'd have to put on a seat belt, so I sat in the middle seat and buckled up. Aaron sat beside me and we cuddled in silence during the ride to his house. Aaron went inside to get a long-sleeve shirt while I said goodbye to his parents.
As always, they were non-intrusive. They both wished me well and offered to help with my family if I found it necessary. I was fairly certain I'd need all the help I could get, and they both promised to be there for me if I called. It was really kind of them, but it only added to my feeling of dissociation. These were Aaron's parents ... more specifically my boyfriend's parents ... and they were offering to help me to first prove to my family that I was indeed gay, and then that it was okay to be gay.
I thought things felt all mixed up, and wondered how Aaron lucked out so well in the parent department. He had enough loving support to go and share it with me.
I guess I got support from my parents, but it was of a fundamentally different kind. They'd finance my interests, set some expectations to merit that financing, then kind of hang me out to make it or not on my own. It was a far cry from the loving encouragement that Aaron and Justin had behind them. To be fair, I probably would have resented my folks getting involved more than they did. I got it on the other end, at any rate. When I accomplished something of note, there would be champagne, there would be a new dent in the dining room ceiling, and whatever it was that I did would be celebrated with a lot of good cheer.
I sighed. When Aaron came out he had a warm shirt of Justin's for me, and it felt good over the thin baseball jersey I was wearing. I got a hug from his mother and a pat on the shoulder from his father, then we started walking toward my place for the last time, holding hands as soon as we were beside each other on the sidewalk.
It had been almost two months since I first walked that route with Aaron, and we had done it many times since then, and we'd always started off in the same silence. We always seemed to make it to the first corner before talking. I don't know why I noticed that right then, but it was probably just the sort of thing you'd notice when you knew you were doing something for the last time.
I knew there were lots of things I'd miss about Aaron if I had to live back home, and those walks at night were near the top of the list. He walked me home the first night we met, and every night after that when we were together. Even that first time, we made it to the corner before saying anything. At first it was us figuring each other out, getting up the nerve to say anything at all.
Now it was just a quiet thing we did, maybe just out of habit, but maybe because it was nice to not say anything until the corner triggered it. I found myself really paying attention to the feel of Aaron's hand in mine. I loved his hands, anyhow. My hands were kind of blunt things, where Aaron had these long, slender fingers that touched things as though they were made of the finest, most delicate crystal.
I wasn't all that delicate, but I loved Aaron's touch anyhow, because it made me feel special.
"I'm going to miss you," I said softly as we turned the corner. I squeezed Aaron's hand gently.
"Yeah," he whispered, "me too."
"It'll be okay," I reassured him, even though I was feeling riddled with uncertainty myself. The truth was obvious, and I'm sure that Aaron understood that as clearly as I did. There would be no truth, at least no new truth, until tomorrow played out.
I had some confidence that we could work out a way to stay together, get together on a regular and frequent basis, but it was a confidence based on nothing solid. For all I knew, I could be in some treatment center by the same time the next night.
I'd been mildly surprised that there was a search on for me when I found out, much more surprised when I learned the magnitude of the reward, but I had no idea what it all meant. My imagination was already teasing at me, and if Aaron hadn't been with me I'm sure I would have already imagined a million scenarios. Aaron was with me, though, and I decided to release some tension.
"Aaron," I asked, "what if I'm in a center for the terminally gay tomorrow?"
He giggled, and I asked, "What if it's a place for the terminally running-away, or however you'd phrase that?"
Aaron snickered, kissed at my ear, and tightened his grip on my hand. "You're not terminal, Evan, except when you're the anode to my cathode." His elbow nudged me and he giggled, "We get some electrolyte flowing, don't we?"
I looked at him in surprise, "Aaron the scientist? Why am I just learning this now?"
Aaron shrugged happily, "It's fallback, Evan, fail-safe. Most actors die young, and of starvation." He started acting, pointing at the sky, which made me look up, "Unless, of course, they have another skill. One that will put food on the table!"
I loved him. "What exactly, Aaron, does that have to do with the night sky?"
He pulled away and ran ahead, crying merrily, "Made ya look, made ya look, stole your mother's pocket book!" Then he laughed, and I laughed, and all I wanted to do was jump his bones.
When the weight of the world threatened, there were two of us there to deflect it, to push it aside yet again and find a happy, foolish moment. Two gay boys, both of us fifteen years old, and we could use nonsense to help keep us fifteen, at least until we were sixteen. I had unknowns out the wazoo to face the next day, but right then I had Aaron, and we were just two kids having fun for the moment.
I chased after him, and caught him at the back door to my place. Aaron was laughing, and I laughed with him. Then I kissed him quickly, then more slowly and he kissed me back.
We walked upstairs, and I was no longer wondering if it was the last time or anything. It was that time, the present, and that was enough to know.
I turned the light on and Aaron sat in the only chair. I looked around and decided that it might be wise to pack more of my things, since I knew for sure where I was headed. Aaron was watching me with a blank expression, and I said, "I think I'll pack up what's worthwhile." That brought sadness to Aaron's face, but he nodded.
I opened my hockey bag up on the bed, and opened my clothes drawers. I decided against taking the clothes I'd worked in, all except one company jacket, because they were pretty well beat up. I started filling the bag with clothes that had some usefulness left in them, and Aaron busied himself holding up one thing after another and asking if I wanted to keep it.
My bag slowly filled with things that seemed to be worth keeping. I filled a trash bag with clothes that didn't make the cut, and another one with miscellaneous junk that I'd accumulated, such as old magazines and the boxes that other things had come in.
It didn't take long because there wasn't much there. My hockey bag was much less full than when I'd first arrived, and I zipped it up next to the boom box that I'd won.
I saw Aaron looking at the boom box and asked, "You want that? I won't need it for anything at home."
He looked at me sadly, then, with a shy smile and his eyebrows slightly raised, he nodded.
I smiled back, "I'll trade you for your pants."
Aaron grinned and reached for his belt, and I said, "You can have them back, I just want to borrow them."
Aaron snickered, "You just want me out of them!"
Such a smart boy! I knelt down to help him, hurry him along, whatever, then I triumphantly stole his undies in a single, deft move that left him naked on his back on my bed. I crawled beside him, and before I could kiss his mouth, he smiled and said in a tiny voice, "Help?"
Trying not to laugh, I said in my most manly voice, "This is your lucky day, Aaron. I'm here to help!" I kissed him, "What seems to be the problem?"
Aaron turned towards me on his side and giggled, and I said, "Oh. Oh! Now I see. Tell me, Aaron," I said, taking hold of him, "is this sudden bone growth something new?" He jumped a foot and giggled, and I went on, "Or is this a bone at all? Maybe just a fatty growth on Aaron Castle's tummy?"
Aaron growled, "I'll give you a fatty growth."
"Free?" I asked.
Aaron snickered, "You're nuts."
I felt around and said, "No, these are yours, I'm sure of it!"
Suddenly, somehow, Aaron was all over me, his arms wrapped tight around my sides, his tummy heaving in mirth, and he laughed as happily as I'd ever heard anyone laugh. He kissed my nose wetly and giggled some more, finally saying, "I needed this, Evan, I really did."
He smiled and kissed me again, "I mean it. I've been tense all night, and scared about you leaving, and a whole lot of things have me worked up. Heh, it just kind of goes away when I laugh."
Aaron was exactly right, too, and I felt the same way. We'd been together for a short time, really, but we'd learned a lot about each other. Sex had become something we did when we could, but right then, when it might be our last night together ever, and it certainly would be for some amount of time, it didn't seem important. Yes, I'd teased Aaron out of his clothes, but seeing him happy right then seemed way more important than getting him off.
I was happy too, even though the future was cloudy at best. I'd come to Riverton hoping for survival, hoping to find some kind of life, and I'd met Aaron and found love as well.
Aaron was right. We should laugh, because we could make each other laugh easily, and that was important. Right then, feeling good about how we related seemed way more important than sex, even though sex might have added to it.
What I wanted most was to look at Aaron, to see him smiling and giggling, to memorize him. I wanted to memorize the parts I could feel, too, to feel him all over while he felt me in the same way, and it seemed the most loving thing we'd ever done together. Soft words and promises, kisses, smiles and touches, that's all we did, and still it was so hot and sexy that we both came, both so in love that it was all we needed.
* * * * * * * *
I hadn't packed up my alarm clock, and that was a good thing, because I was totally sound asleep when it went off the next morning. I was surprised to find Aaron there with me, though I quickly remembered why he was there.
That pulled me from the stupor of sleep, and I was filled with a vague dread. At the same time, Aaron was there. I was confused, had to pee in the worst way, and I sat up to try to get my mind sorted out.
Aaron stirred, and I caught the smile just before he opened his eyes, and I loved so much that he did that. The smile always showed up first, and often enough it disappeared just as quickly, but right then it stayed, then his eyes blinked open and he cried, "Evan!" just like I knew he would, and I loved Aaron all over again.
I grinned and said, still kind of sleepily, "Aaron, I have to pee, I have to go to work, I have to do a lot of things ... but I love you, okay?"
He nodded, still smiling, and I kissed the end of his cute nose. "I'll be right back," I said, "don't move a muscle."
I jumped up and went into the bathroom to pee, and that's all I did. I hurried back to my room and asked Aaron if he wanted to clean up with me, shower with me, brush his teeth with me.
He wasn't sleepy at all, and nodded his head enthusiastically at each of my questions. I sent him across the hall to the bathroom while I started a pot of coffee and checked to see if anyone else was up. Nobody was, and I decided I'd call Shane when we were finished in the bathroom, which is exactly what I'd have done if it was just me.
The bathtub in that place was an old-fashioned, claw footed one. It had been fitted with what Kevin called a 'shower ring', which was an upright post at the faucet end, to which was attached a chrome ring. A shower curtain hung from the ring, and a shower head was attached to it. It worked fine, but the space you had to stand in was severely limited compared to a whole tub. Alone, it was kind of annoying being so cramped, but with Aaron there it made for the funnest shower either of us could remember. We'd done it once before, but it was less experimental now, and we were a lot more comfortable with each other.
I could have stayed there with Aaron forever, but we were time-limited, and did the best we could in just a few minutes. Happy minutes, but not enough of them, not nearly.
We combed our hair, and I shaved while Aaron looked for a whisker on his own smooth chin, then we both brushed our teeth, smiling at each other in the mirror at first, then trying to get grosser than each other with the foam. When we cleaned off, we kissed, and we both realized it might have to last us for a long time, so it intensified, at least in meaning, if not in a sexual way.
No, we both knew it was something, though we couldn't describe it. Aaron had to start his Sophomore year the next day, and I should too, though I didn't know how that would play out.
Aaron Castle was the first and only person I'd ever kissed in a sexual way, and I was his, and we were way better kissers than we were anything else-ers.
It was time, though, and we both knew it. We pulled apart with a reluctant sound that made both of us giggle, then I went to wake Shane while Aaron put his clothes on.
* * * * * * * *
Inevitability forced us into normalcy We did a few silly things before I had to leave. I wrote, 'I love you, Aaron, today and always,' on a napkin and shoved it under his sandal strap while we were having a breakfast of toast and jelly. He smiled, "What's that?"
"Something for later."
"Love letter?" he asked, his eyebrows arched.
"Yeah," I whispered, smiling, "but for later. Sort of like a Hershey kiss."
Aaron grinned, looked right and left for others, then leaned in and kissed me, and I kissed him back, and we kept at it until we heard the bathroom door opening.
Shane came in and said hello, then started getting his things ready. He seemed nervous, but it turned out to be about going back to work, and in a job where he'd have to use his head.
"I like that I get to use my head, Shane," I said. "Then again, I liked working in the field, too. It was outside, and I got to daydream all day."
I glanced at my watch and said, "Fifteen minutes, man. You better eat up. Come on, Aaron."
We left Shane at the table, dumped our paper plates into the trash, and hurried back to my room.
I knew that once I left I'd be gone, but I didn't know how to make leaving any different than it always was. I couldn't grasp the idea that I wouldn't go to work and come home later on, and that Aaron would be there like he almost always was. No, not this day. I'd go to work, and then go to the police station, and then who knew what.
It wasn't going to be a normal day, and we both knew that, but we still treated it like a normal day to the point that we could. It wasn't real yet, that was the problem, and we both suffered it.
We both wasted it, too, squandering our last moments together in the foreseeable future moving my junk to the top of the stairs, sweeping the porch, doing things that just weren't necessary. They were normal things, though, so maybe it wasn't really time squandered. Normal helped, it really did, and we still had a few minutes when there was nothing left to do but say goodbye.
I loved Aaron's hands, his touch, and when we stood to say goodbye at the top of the back steps, he touched both my cheeks. He looked stronger than I felt, smiling and encouraging, while I felt I could lose my stomach at any moment. Aaron said sweetly, "I love you, Evan. I know you love me, so whatever happens, we'll always have that."
I leaned into him and we hugged, and I whispered, "Thanks, and I do love you, and nothing bad's going to happen."
Believing that was all we had, so we kissed, then kissed again, then again. "Call me every day?" Aaron asked in a whisper.
I smiled the best I could, getting choked up, "I will, if you don't call me first."
Aaron gulped, then he smiled, "Let's not get all teary-eyed, okay? I love you, Evan, and you know that. I know you love me, and we're not some dummies. See how things go at home, then call me." He smiled and punched my arm gently, "Let's be strong, okay? You going home isn't a bad thing, Evan." His expression changed, and I thought that he'd cry after all, but instead he hugged me to him, "It's a good thing. If it won't work out, you know you have a new home right here."
I was a little surprised, but not a lot. Aaron didn't often speak up, but I knew by then how he thought. It was my responsibility to go back home, try to make things work there, and try hard.
My summer hadn't been wasted. I'd learned a lot about myself, and at fifteen I'd made a life for myself, by myself, and I'd made friends who thought enough about me to be there if I had to come back to the new life. I was touched, and strengthened by Aaron's own strength.
We kissed again, and I picked up the boom box. We walked down the back steps for the last time, and kissed again before he went outside.
This was an important moment, and we both knew it, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to cave to it. Instead, we smiled. Aaron was girlish in his mannerisms, but he had a strong mind and a strong will. I would have given anything if this parting didn't have to happen, but it had to, and I felt Aaron's own strength inside myself.
We looked at each other for a long moment, then I said, "Bye," and that was it. Our eyes were locked, then Aaron smiled briefly and turned to go. I watched until he was out of sight, then went back upstairs.
I had a new sadness in me, and a million questions and doubts about how things would work out, but one thing I didn't have was any fear that I'd lose Aaron. The absolute, finite worst that could happen was that I'd be locked down by my parents. Even if that happened, the longest they could do that for was two and a half years. Then Aaron and I would both be eighteen and free agents.
That length of time would test us, certainly, because it would cut right through some of the most formative years of our lives. I honestly thought it wouldn't break me, though, and in that way I thought Aaron was stronger than me.
I was Aaron's ideal in a lot of ways, and I'd learned that from talking to him. Aaron had always had a sense of being gay, and he'd conjured me up as the one guy who'd someday walk into his life. In that respect, I was his dream come true, because that's exactly what happened. We'd practically tripped over one another, and it was love almost at first sight, at the first sign of smoke, anyhow.
Me, I'd learned that I was gay by degree, and it brought an unbelievable oddness to my puberty and early teens. Where my friends went from avoiding girls to liking them, I went from liking girls to liking my friends, which I never found that obtuse at first. By the time any of that had any meaning, I had my special friend, Chris, to help me realize what was going on with me.
I know that a lot of gay kids really fear being gay, and I did in certain circumstances, but not in general. I had Chris to thank for helping me think it all out rationally, put things in perspective so it was never really a big deal, and to help me find ways to be honest with myself while I hid my sexuality from everyone else.
My main fear was my father, otherwise I might have bent to Chris' incessant prodding to come out. He thought that homophobia was a very nineties thing, and that, anyhow, I could cripple anybody who gave me a hard time.
I honestly wasn't worried about my friends, nor about what might happen at school or out in public. No, it was my dad, and he terrified me.
He did not suffer disappointment from his sons easily. He did celebrate our successes, but his anger with our failures was legendary. What greater failure could I produce than turning out gay?
Don't get me wrong, I'm talking about personal failures here. Dad wouldn't get angry if my ball team got out-played to lose a game, but he would if I made a game-losing error. Our home wasn't an unhappy place, but us kids had to walk a narrow path to keep it that way.
Upstairs, Shane was anxious to get outside. He took his wheelchair and rode it down the lift while I followed with his crutches and a bag of things he wanted to keep at work. We no sooner got outside than Harlan drove up. He helped Shane into the truck while I hassled the wheelchair onto the back end, then hopped in.
The ride didn't take long, and when we got to work, we reversed the process, and Shane followed Harlan in his wheelchair, the crutches sticking up from a pod on the back of it. I followed the two of them, wondering about a few cars that were parked inside the fence.
When we got in, Harlan's wife was there putting up a sign that said, "It's Evan's Last Day," and another lady was laying out trays of doughnuts and pastries on a table that had two big coffee urns at one end.
I almost cried. It was a going away party for me! Well, not a party, but a gesture. I picked up a brown doughnut, and when I took a bite and discovered apple inside, I grabbed another one for future reference.
Hokay came in, and when he saw the spread and the sign, he looked horrified. "You leave?" he asked.
I nodded, "Yeah, this is it. Back to school, I guess."
Hokay stood there and stared at me, then he nodded quickly, "School is good." He just looked at me, and he seemed to understand. He picked up a doughnut and stared some more, then went over to his desk, the doughnut between his teeth.
Then the crews started coming in, and it was chaotic. People didn't expect or understand my leaving, although they were all good about it and wished me well. I worked as I normally would, given the circumstances, and Harlan worked almost feverishly with Shane.
When the crews were on the road, Harlan asked me to follow him, and we walked over to the reception area, where he handed me a paycheck envelope. He was as nervous as I'd ever seen the man, and he said, "Here's for last week, Evan, and for today. Your Christmas bonus is in there, too."
I gulped, "Bonus?"
Harlan nodded, "Yeah, once a year I get soft and add an extra week's pay." The smile faded, "Now we, I mean you and me, we're even, right? We'll be like Clinton's military and don't ask, don't tell. Just promise me that you'll file tax returns, and we should be golden."
I felt bad. Harlan was frightened for himself because he'd employed me based on my own lie. I found it hard to look at him, and mumbled, "I'll file, you can count on it."
He said, softly, "They won't care, Evan, they just want their money. You've paid in, and you should actually get a big return. As long as you file that return, things should be fine."
I swallowed and nodded, and we both stood there for awhile, and Harlan finally said, "Well, I guess we should get going. Do you have everything?"
"Yeah," I mumbled. "Harlan, I ... I don't know what to say. Thanks for giving me a chance."
Harlan nodded and looked at the floor for a moment, then he turned a weak smile to me. "Thanks for rising to it, Evan. I guess I kind of saw redemption in you ... someone so young who could just take on one thing after another. You got it all right, too."
I smiled shyly at him, "Told you I was pretty smart, and I knew my way around the yard."
Harlan looked at me, then barked out a laugh, and said "Yeah, you did, didn't you?" He put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a tug, "Come on, Evan. Let's get you home."
I exhaled, then breathed in, and we went back out to the shop. I made my goodbye's with Hokay and Shane, who was working worriedly on the computer, then got in the truck with Harlan. My stuff was still in the back.
I wondered again at the location of the police station, which was on a residential street among multi-family homes. It seemed totally out of place to me, but I guess it didn't matter.
Harlan parked, and asked, "You okay? Want me to go in with you?"
I thought about it, and I would have liked the company, but then I could have asked him home with me too. I needed to break it off somewhere, and there was no point inconveniencing Harlan anymore. I said, "No, I'm fine."
He smiled, "Be good, Evan. Call me when you're legal, and we'll set you up with a summer job, okay?"
I grinned, "Heh, I live in Mt. Harman! That's kind of a big commute, don't you think?"
Harlan's eyebrows went up, "It's not that far. I'm sure you could find a place to stay in town, and the ride wouldn't be so bad in a company truck."
"Get out," I said.
Harlan held out his hand to shake, "I'm serious, Evan. You'll always have a place here if you want it."
"Thanks," I said. "Thanks, Harlan. That means a lot."
He smiled and nodded, and I opened my door. I pulled my things out of the back, then looked back in the truck. "Thanks for everything, Harlan."
He grinned, "You be good. If you need anything at all, just give us a holler."
I closed the door, and he backed out, and I all I could come up with were good feelings for ever crossing paths with Harlan Blaine. He was a good man and an honest man, and he'd helped me more than he'd probably ever know.
He enabled my independence, for starters, and he encouraged me from the very beginning. Work hard, play fair, treat everyone with respect, and most of all have fun.
Harlan drove off, and I looked towards the building entrance and headed that way with my heavy load. I still smiled, and I mentally gave my experience in Riverton a title: 'The Super Summer of Evan Smiley'.
The doors opened automatically, and I walked inside, intent on finding Sgt. Gostyla. I walked up to the desk, and before I could even get the attention of the man standing there, I heard, "Evan?"
I spun around, "Dad!"
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