A Horse Named Phil

By Driver

Chapter 15

The next week went smoothly for me, at least for the most part.  I tried to get out to Harlan’s to see the baby whenever I could, and Edie brought him to work a few times.  The baby was asleep most times, so all I could do was look and admire his innocence.  The couple of times that he woke up, he’d bawl loudly enough to rattle the building’s metal sides, then he’d suddenly stop and smile, like it hadn’t been him making all that noise.


My prior experience with babies was nil.  I was big brother to Bruce, but I was two when he was born.  I don’t remember it myself, but I’m told he hit me with a vacuum cleaner pipe once, so maybe my natural inclination should be indisposed to babies.  Little Evan had my fancy just the same.  I know I have older cousins here and there with babies of their own, but I haven’t had the pleasure yet, so Evan felt a little bit like my own.


He sure is cute, with a round head and fat cheeks, and the bluest eyes going.  I’m told the blue might change; most white babies are born blue-eyed.  Who cares?  Evan was a brand-new being, born healthy to loving parents, and a family who could provide well for him.  He’s lucky in that respect, I suppose.  I hear about the cases of abuse that seem way too prevalent, but that won’t be Evan’s fate.  He is, and will be, loved.  I know that’s no promise about how he’ll turn out, but he has about the best start a kid could hope for.


I had that same promise myself.  My parents aren’t loaded like Harlan and Edie, but they were good providers, and when I look back, excellent parents.  The fact that I didn’t always believe that didn’t make it untrue.  I’d learned in the past year that my parents not only loved me with no conditions, but they went to great lengths to understand me, like they did with my brothers.


I’d gone home the year before gay, which was old to me but new to them.  I didn’t know if I’d even survive at first, but my family let me be me while they chewed on the gay part.  I knew that was tough on my parents, but Aaron’s folks helped them along, and got them into PFLAG and all.


It was my mother, my father, and me that eventually made things okay.  I don’t think they’ll ever like that I’m gay, but they know I am and love me like they always did.  I don’t know if I actually like that I’m gay myself, but I am, and I love that I’ve found a partner in Aaron Castle, who goes way beyond any of the guys I used to fanaticize about.  Aaron is perfect for me, more like my counterpoint than my opposite.  What I mean by that is, we like the same things in different ways sometimes, but we still like the same things.  It’s like, if Aaron is white, I’m off-white, not some other color altogether.


The important thing is that we don’t just love each other, we’re in love with each other.  It’s the romantic love that my father told me about once, and all the things that go with it.  For now, and I hope forever, Aaron Castle is the other half of me, and our relationship couldn’t be more beautiful if we tried to re-write it.


Wednesday of that week, I was trying to undo the oil pan of a loader that was way overdue for maintenance.  When the nut snapped, I was bathed in motor oil.  Old motor oil.  Hot, old motor oil, and a whole lot of it.  I slid away, sputtering, and when Hokay processed what happened he laughed happily.


“You spit dat out into fry pan.  Cook onions and garlic!  Ha ha ha …”


I gave Hokay the finger, as long and straight as I could get it out, then stood to go and clean up.


Harlan was right there, though, announcing, “Meet the newest member of the company:  This is Matt Smiley!  He’ll be working in engineering.”


Matt was there, and I honestly think he wasn’t sure who I was, given the oil all over me.  Hokay wiped his hands on a towel and shook hands with Matt, who was smiling nervously.  Hokay pointed back at me with his thumb and asked, “Smiley?  You related to our Smiley?  He grinned at me, then looked at Matt and said, “Evan just take up painting: oil painting!  You like?” then he bent over laughing.


I glowered at Hokay while I considered a suitable fate for him.  I couldn’t stay mad at him, though; that was impossible.  I shrugged, and tried to smile at Matt, but oil got in my mouth.  I pointed at the floor where Matt was standing, and hoped he realized that I meant for him to stay where he was while I cleaned up.  Then I hurried back to the shop’s bathroom, where I kept a change of clothes, and took the shortest shower I could while still getting the oil off.  Oil turned out to be easier than rubber dust, but it didn’t all come off before I’d soaped up several times.  Fortunately, my clothes protected me, and most of the oil was confined to my forearms, face and neck.  I was lucky that not much oil got in my hair.


I hurried into my clothes and back into the shop, but only Hokay was there. 


“Aye,” he said, looking at me.  “No more oil.  You fix pan now?” 


“In a minute,” I said.  “Where’s Harlan?  Where’s my brother?”


Hokay smiled, “Brother nice man, yes?  Maybe Evan learn from him.”


I cried, “Jesus, Hokay!  What’s with you today?  Where’d they go?”  I got close to him and asked, “Huh? Huh?  What did you do with my brother?”


Hokay conceded.  “Harlan show brother around.  They in lot.  After, you fix oil pan, yes?”


“You don’t want to do it?” I asked.  “I thought you liked things like that.”


Hokay patted his stomach with both hands, like there might be something there.  “Aye.  Evan do hard work, Hokay grow middle.”  He grinned, “Don’t fit no more.” 


I picked up a rag and tossed it at Hokay, laughing.  “I’ll fix it, then.  I’ll be right back.”  I started toward the exit, mumbling, “Middle, my ass.”  Hokay’s middle looks like an underfed ten-year-old’s.  I hurried outside, and found Matt right there with Harlan.


As soon as Harlan, who was facing my way, saw me, he said, “Here’s Evan.”  He smiled,  No burns?”


Matt turned to look at me, and there was apprehension on his face.  “What?” I asked.  I was ready to tease him, but didn’t.  “When do you start?”


Matt blinked, then smiled at me.  “You know, I didn’t know that this is where you work.”  He glanced quickly at Harlan and turned back to me.  “I’m starting right away – tomorrow morning.  How ‘bout I buy you dinner tonight?”


I was surprised, but said, “I have a riding lesson tonight.  Maybe tomorrow or Friday?”


Matt nodded almost absently, then flashed a big smile my way.  “This is something, isn’t it?  After everything, we get to work together.”


I smiled back, “Correction.  We’ll work for the same company.  I don’t even know what engineering does here.”  I brightened my smile, “You can fill me in when you figure it out, okay?”


Matt’s smile right then was one I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I took a step and hugged him.  “God job, Matt.  When you work here, you work hard.  If you work hard, Harlan takes care of you.”


Matt pushed me back, a hand on each of my shoulders to look at me.  “I’m happy, Ev.  All I hear about this company is good, and I always liked this town.  I can pull my P.E. degree right here in about six more months.  Help me find a place to live?”


I looked at him and said, “I don’t know about a place to live,” and I turned to Harlan, who had gone.  “There’s a board in the hall to the front office.  Look there.”


Matt was still smiling and said, “Um, I’m still driving your little Acura.  Is that okay for another few days?   With a job, I can get my own car.”


It’s fine, Matt,” then I had a thought.  “You know, I know some people who just moved here,” thinking of Lee and his mother.  “They looked around first.  I’ll give you a number if you want to ask them about rents and all that.”


“Great!”  Matt said, then added, “I don’t want to keep you from your work.  Maybe we can have lunch tomorrow?”


“If you bring your own,” I said.  “I don’t take much of a break.”


Matt nodded, “I’ll bring a sandwich, then.  Well, if I remember, I will.  I’m kinda pretty excited right now.”


I grinned.  “I bet.  Come in the shop, and I’ll give you Lee’s number.  You can call from there. Their place isn’t too far from here.”


Matt followed me in, looking around at all the equipment and tools we had, and he appeared to be suitably impressed.  If Hokay and I managed one thing really well, it was our shop.  It’s not spotless, because that’s not the point of a shop. It’s organized, though, and anything that’s out of place is because one of us is using it.  We keep a plastic dishpan with about an inch of gasoline in it, and any tool that is greasy after use gets a bath in there, then it’s wiped down before being put back where it belongs. Everything has a place, and only one place. We’re both very picky about keeping it all straight.


Matt didn’t say anything, but I supposed that in the military he was used to similar discipline.  That didn’t stop me from being proud, and once Matt had Lee’s number and a phone to use, I was back under the machine, drilling out the snapped bolt, then tapping for another.


“Done,” I sad to Hokay when I slid out.  I looked around and asked, “Matt left?”


“Aye, “ was all Hokay said, flexing his skinny arm for me to see.  The troops would be in soon, and we needed to be ready.


* * * * * * * *


That night Aaron and I had our riding lesson with Paolo and Diego’s father, because the guys were on a trip to buy some new horses.  It was a good lesson, because he showed us how to finesse our time in the saddle.  It was our easiest lesson by far, but it meant a lot.  I watched Aaron and he watched me, and we were both doing everything right, and looking good at it.


I’d asked weeks before if it was okay to just call him Mr. Rosa, and he’d assured me it was fine. After our lesson, he told Aaron and me to just ride, and ride often, for several months.  More lessons would be fruitless until we wanted to take the next step, if ever.


“You can ride, you can run, and can go up and down steep hills.  There isn’t much else unless you want to race, or do rodeo or steeplechase.”


I felt proud, and I could see that Aaron did, too.  In just a month, we’d become riders who Señor Elian Antonio Vizcarrondo-Rosa thought were trained well enough for recreational riding.  I smiled at him and asked, “So what’s the deal now?  We can just come whenever we want?  What’s it cost for just the horse?”


He said, “Let’s put these horses to bed, then we can talk, okay?”


We did that, and settled into comfy leather chairs, which were new additions to the office/store/reception area. 


“To answer your question,” Señor Vizcarrondo-Rosa said, “You can come anytime during daylight hours to ride.  If you want a particular animal, it’s best to call first.”  He smiled, “We’re trying to work it out with the state, and it looks like things will go our way, to allow some limited overnight camping by the river.  The state will have to approve whatever we propose for sanitary facilities, and we have to decide if it will be tent camping, or if we should construct something more permanent, like yurts.”


Aaron smiled brightly.  “I know what a yurt is.  That might be fun!”


“I agree,” our smiling host said.  “As for cost, your horse alone will be fourteen dollars an hour, or three hundred dollars a week and you feed it if you want one for an excursion.”  He turned hopeful eyes to us and added, “I hope that sounds fair.”


It sounded great to me, after forty bucks an hour for horse plus lesson.  I looked at Aaron, who nodded eagerly, then I stood and extended my hand to Elian.  “Deal,” I said.  “How much notice do I need to give if I want to make sure I get Phil?”


He shrugged and looked at me.  “An hour or so during the week.  Maybe the day before on a weekend or holiday.”  He smiled, “Phil is a hell of a name, but he’s one good horse.”


Aaron and I were elated on the drive home.  We both knew that the money we’d spent on riding lessons was worth it, but having that out of the way would leave more money for other things.


During the afternoon, I felt bad about not offering to spend the evening with Matt, and help him celebrate his new job.  Aaron had a rehearsal the next night, and I told him I’d try to take Matt to dinner somewhere.


“Soft shell crab,” Aaron suggested with a smile.  “If he’s gonna live in Riverton, he has to be a Riverton gourmet.”


That was a great idea.  Matt was pretty daring when it came to food.  He liked most fish, and the soft-shell crab sandwiches were only daunting to look at.  They were delicious when eaten, and something I thought Matt would love.


Aaron had to get up early for his gym session because his first rehearsal was in the morning.  I was tired anyhow, so it was just as well.  He dropped me at my place, where we kissed and said good night, and I was zonked within half an hour.


The next day, I walked over to the office building around ten to see how Matt was doing.  I was a bit surprised to see that he had his own office, and Harlan had given him a nice one with big windows, and an L-shaped table to lay out project plans.  He was with Charlie, the chief engineer, when I first went in, and I said, “Oh, sorry.  I’ll come back.”


Charlie was a guy who I found to have a cranky personality, but he was okay right then.  “It’s fine.  Evan, right?”


I nodded, and he said, “I’ll leave you to it,” to Matt, then nodded to me on the way out.


Matt grinned.  “This is great, Ev!  My first job is freaking huge!”  He pointed to a stack of prints about four inches deep.  “Look at that!  Charlie was just here calming me down.  He says it’s just a big job, the same as a little one, except more.”  He gave me a look and added, “I saw that stack of prints and I about freaked, but he’s right.  It’s not complicated, just big.”  He raised his eyebrows, “What’s up?”


I shrugged and smiled, “Just checking in.  How about I buy you a nice crab sandwich tonight?”


Matt said, “How about we rewind a little?  You told me to call your friends and I did.  They’re renting a condo they like, and there’s another one for rent.  I’m going there if you want to come.  It sounds perfect.”


I said, cautiously, “I’ve been there.  It’s very nice, but those are really big units.  Do you need something like that?”


“Ah.  I’m talking about a studio, not a two bedroom like theirs.”  He looked hopeful, “Come with me, though.  Tell me what you think.”


Right then, I was certain that I was good with Matt again.  I was his brother and he was mine.  I’m gay, but that’s not in Matt’s picture anymore, and it’s fine this way.  He’s my brother after all, and there’s no way I’m queer for him.  He asked me to look at a place he could live in, and it was in a development I’d been to, so I was pretty sure I’d like it.


“Great,” I said.  “We can eat after, if it’s not too late.”


Matt’s eyes softened.  “Thank you, Evan.  Harlan told me he kind of put you on the spot  His look intensified.  “I’m glad you stayed neutral, and I got this job on my own.”  He looked at the plans I was standing beside, and gave me a weak smile.  “I better get started.  See you at lunch, right?”


I could hear my father in Matt, and I knew the same drill through and through.  “Priorities, priorities, son.  Do what you have to do; deal with your obligations, then play.  Remember that.  You have to neglect your fun to get your work done, not the other way around.”


God, that was the Smiley mantra.  Get your work done!  I don’t think it’s in the cards for Aaron and I to have little ones, but if we somehow end up looking after someone else’s kid, I think I’ll repeat that advice, because it’s really very smart.


Hokay and I had a dozer with a serious maintenance schedule waiting for us, so we put a lot of little things out of the way before lunch so we could devote the afternoon to it.


Matt came by right at noon, brown bag in hand, and we broke for lunch.  I had a couple of sandwiches and a bag of chips.  Hokay had something from home that he had to heat in the microwave, so I opened our little fridge and told Matt to pick a drink.  My side was iced tea and lemonade, and a single leftover root beer.  Hokay’s side held the lesser known products, like pineapple soda, coconut soda, mango soda, and all these nectars:  banana, pineapple, papaya, apricot, mango, guava, you name it.


“Matt pointed his finger at Hokay’s bottles and asked, “That pineapple soda … can I have one of those?”


“Take it, Matt,” I said.  “That’s Hokay’s stuff, so put fifty-cents where it was.”


Matt took the bottle eagerly, then reached in his pocket.  He blushed furiously, and put the bottle back.  “I don’t believe this.  I didn’t put money in my pocket this morning.  What a dummy!”


I reached in my own pocket and told Matt to take the soda, and I put a buck there in it’s place, then offered Matt some cash if he needed it.


“Maybe twenty bucks, just in case.”  He smiled embarrassedly, “I can’t believe I left home with my checkbook, but not a dime in my pocket.”


I handed him a bill, and asked, “That’s enough?”


“Plenty.  Thanks, Ev.  I’ll pay it back tomorrow.”


We sat outside on the tailgate of a truck that was in the shade, and slid closer when Hokay joined us.  Usually Hokay’s food smelled exotic and alluring, but sometimes it stunk.  Well, Hokay liked it, so it only stunk to me, but this was one of those days.  I just tried to turn my head to breathe, and I could tell it bothered Matt.  I finally asked, “What is that, Hokay?  It smells like dead fish.”


He held a shrimp up for me to see, and said, “Fermented fish head, very nice.  Nuoc mam sauce.  Vietnamese.”  He held the tidbit out to Matt and said, “You try?”


Matt took the shrimp, and his face made a curious transformation, going right from revulsion to pleasure, and he even closed his eyes as he savored it.


“It’s good?” I asked, surprised.


“You try,” Hokay said, holding a shrimp out to me. 


Oh, God.  It stunk to high heaven, but I opened my mouth, and the second that shrimp landed on my tongue, I knew I’d found the real Heaven.  Delicious!  Like ouchly wonderful.  I savored the taste all the way down, then turned to Hokay and asked, “How can it stink like that and still taste good?”


He shrugged, “Don’t know.  I not Vietnamese.”


I love that little man.  He wasn’t being a wise guy, for once, just stating a fact.  Someone from Vietnam could answer my question, while Hokay just enjoyed the flavors.


Matt was also enjoying his pineapple soda, and asked Hokay where he ever found it.


“Grocery store.  Look in Spanish section.  All the good drinks there.”


After lunch, Matt eagerly left us to get back to work, and Hokay pulled our afternoon project into position outside the shop. I had hosed the machine off just before lunch, just to get the heavy mud off, and to leave enough time for it to drip-dry before we got under anything.


The machine was a big, gray-market, Asia-spec Komatsu that it had taken Hokay months to locate a manual for, and the manual was quite a read.  Hokay had taken the book home with him every night for two weeks, and had amassed a skid filled with parts that we might need to replace, and we had a list of seventy-one inspections to make.  It was his feeling that since he didn’t have a history on the machine, he’d have to treat it as if it required all maintenance, and we’d keep our own log in the future.


It was a long, hot afternoon for us.  At least we didn’t discover any serious problems, and we ended up with a machine that was good to put in service.  Every time we got to a part that Hokay had a new one of, we replaced old with new, even if the old one looked good.  We didn’t toss the parts, except for expendables, but put them back on that skid in case the replacement failed.


I was servicing incoming crews when Matt came over, but the workload was light because most guys were putting in extra hours now that things were green again.


Hokay saw Matt waiting for me, and told me to take off, saying he could handle it.


I still made Matt wait while I showered and changed into my last set of clean clothes.  I shoved all my dirty things into a trash bag, and prayed that I’d remember to wash those and bring more clean things to work.


I came outside and asked Matt, “Where are you parked?”


“Across the street.  You want me to drive?”


“No.  If you’re in the lot, you’re fine.  We’ll take my truck.  I have to stop home first, anyhow.”


Matt followed me to the truck and got in the passenger side, and was smiling by the time I got in.  “What?”  I asked.


“I made it!  That’s all.  I can’t believe how they treat me here, how they respect me before I’ve done a damn thing.”  He laughed out loud, “It sure ain’t the Air Force!”


“You like it here?”  I asked.


“I do, but it’s truth time, Ev.”  His voice lowered, “I don’t know if I can make it.”


“I know that feeling,” I replied.  “Were there things on those plans you didn’t understand?”


“No,” he said quickly.  it’s nothing like that.  I’m just … I don’t know, nervous I guess. I see these people bopping around, talking like these projects are big deals, and I don’t even know what a big deal is in this company.”  He seemed to shrink in his seat.  “I’m just used to taking orders, not thinking on my own.  I know how to think.  I have to get over this, because every time someone comes through my door, I kind of expect them to tell me what to do next, not ask if I’ve ever seen something like this before, and they show me a picture or a print.”


I didn’t say anything until we were on my own street.  “Could you help, Matt?  Did you know what they were asking about?”


“Two of three,” he said.  “One was a picture of something.  It looked kind of like a bunker on a hill, but I couldn’t tell.”


“So, if you couldn’t tell, that means he couldn’t either, whoever it was.  Let me guess: the old power plant by the river?”  The company had the job of reclaiming the land there, and had uncovered a lot of mysteries over time, as well as a lot of pollutants.


Matt said dryly, “You’re smarter than you look.”  When I glanced at him, he was smiling.


I told him, “Matt, Harlan has been working that site for years.  They built a containment weir out in the river that goes twenty feet below the riverbed, and goes up ten feet past the hundred-year flood stage.  It’s one of the most toxic sites in the state.  If you don’t know what that was a picture of, then probably nobody alive does.”




“If he didn’t do it already, the guy who asked you will make a tour of all the clubs old men go to.  That’s where he might find an answer when the question is, What am I looking at here?  That plant was built around 1890, and it’s been idle since the fifties.  Harlan’s guys make big bucks just for working there; it’s like combat pay because it’s so polluted.”


I turned into the driveway and Matt socked my arm.  “Maybe you can fill me in?”


I turned the ignition off and grinned at Matt.  “Just keep your ears open.  It’s not all lawns with Harlan.  I don’t know about the office, but come out in the yard when you have a break.  The older guys always bullshit with each other, and it’s not all just stories.  I learn a lot just hearing them.”


Matt was looking out his window at the house, which presents a nice enough face to the street, but the rest is blah.  “This is where you live?”


“This is the place, I said.  Come on up.  Five of us live here, but we keep it up.” 


I brought him to the front stairs instead of my own back stairs, just so he’d have to walk through.  I wouldn’t show him the other guys’ bedrooms, but the living room and kitchen were fair, and the upstairs entry led right into the living room.


I never spent much time at all there.  There was a sofa, a television, a few odd chairs, and an old gas fireplace that didn’t function anymore.  It was a blah room, but there was a little glassed-in porch facing the street, and Ira had some plants growing out there in the windows.  I hadn’t paid attention before, but it was pretty like that.


The kitchen was bright, and reasonably shiny for midweek.  Presentable..


I went to my porch to pick up extra clean clothes for the next time I decided to take a bath in used motor oil.  I put things in a bag, then ran my dirty clothes downstairs.  Nan was earning supplemental income washing our work clothes, and I was her best customer.  You could put on grass-stained pants a second day, but shop-stained things required more maintenance than the machines that soiled them to begin with.


When I came back up, Matt was looking around my room kind of admiringly.  When he saw me he smiled, “I like this.  It reminds me of a cottage, kind of.”


He was right.  When we were all younger and home, Dad took a cottage at the shore for a week every summer, and one of us would usually end up using a similar porch as a bedroom.  I think that’s why, a year earlier, I wasn’t put off by the idea to begin with.  It was a different porch then, though still liveable.


It’s pretty nice now, after the improvements Kevin made, and things I bought myself, it was a nice place to lay my head at night, and a fantastic place to spend a stormy day.  It’s clean, comfortable, and extremely private.  It wouldn’t work as a place to live in the winter, but Matt was right.  It was like a shore cottage without the shore, and if I stretched my imagination, I could substitute the sound of cars passing on the street out front for surf.  From my vantage point in the back, one story up, it wasn’t a totally different sound.


I drove Matt over to see the unit he was interested in, where Lee Erasmus and his mother lived, and I could feel his excitement start to build from the moment I pointed and said, “That’s the place, up there on the hill.”


Yo!  Whoa! Wow!” Matt said, craning his neck at every turn to keep his eyes in the right direction.


I recalled seeing that development for the first time that past spring, and my reaction hadn’t been a lot different.  After looking at nice, but flat, apartments, the place on the hill was really something to see, and a close-up didn’t belie the promise of that initial glimpse.


It was a nice place: well built, handsome, and well maintained.


I brought Matt to Lee’s unit, where he was welcomed, and he immediately started talking to Lee’s mother and Jeff of the five-syllable last name.  I took the opportunity to spend time with Lee.  I like Lee, but between work, Aaron, horses, and trips home, I hadn’t seen him much.


Lee had grown noticeably, and apparently had unlimited credit at the zit store.  He’d always had his share, but they had always seemed to land just under his hairline before, and now his chin an jaw had a bunch as well.  At least he didn’t have a full-face deal with acne going. With his coloring, he could probably claim thick freckles and get away with it.  He still had his smile, and it still came easily.


“How’s your summer?”  I asked when we walked outside.


“Excellent!”  Lee said.  “I love it here, I really do.  I like living close like this.  Everybody knows everybody, and we get along.”


I asked, not really sure of what I waned to hear, “So you’re you here?  You can be Lee Erasmus, the Lee Erasmus, and still be the real deal?”


Lee’s face clouded.  “There are jerks.”  His shoulders heaved, “I don’t always get how people think, you know that?”


I chuckled, “When you figure that out, let me know, okay?  Maybe we can write a book or something.”


When it was time for Matt’s appointment, Jeffrey led us to the studio that was available, and the agent was there waiting, so Jeff went home, inviting us to stop over before we left.


The place was great.  I thought it was great.  It was on the top floor, and there was no elevator, but it came with absolutely everything:  the furniture, the televisions and stereo, even the pots and pans.  All those things looked nice enough, but this place had a view across half the county.  It was higher up the hill than where Lee lived, and from the deck I could see all across Riverton, and across the river to the more rural areas on the other side.  I even picked out Harlan’s home without half trying.  I didn’t know the cost because I wasn’t listening, but one look at Matt told me he liked the place, and he had the checkbook out soon enough.


“Eight-fifty a month,” Matt said, while we drove to the restaurant.  “Can you believe that?  And that’s with an option to buy!”


One thing I don’t know is prices, and that sounded like a lot at first, but when I thought about what I got for fifty bucks a week, Matt’s enthusiasm made more sense.  He’d pay four times what I did, but would get his own bathroom, his own kitchen, and his own killer view in return.    A lot of belongings came with that place, too, and there was the pool, the tennis courts, the trails … I think he did well.


“Why’s it empty like that, and everything still there?” I asked.


Matt snickered, “The owner’s in jail for awhile.  He might want it back in five years.”


“Matt, do you mind going a little further into that?  In jail for what?”


“He embezzled money from where he worked … the university.”  When I pulled into the parking lot at Bill’s, he asked, “What’s this?”


“Don’t judge, okay?  I know it looks like a dump, and it is a dump  I grinned at Matt as I opened my door, “It’s a good dump, okay?   Just order a crab sandwich: two if you’re hungry, and it won’t be a dump anymore.”  I smiled, “You’ll see.”


I was right, of course.  I had to encourage Matt to take that first bite when he saw a leg and claw fall out one side, but he took it, and his face transformed.


“Man, you’re right,” he said with his mouth full.  “Oh!  Oh-oh.  Good.”


We talked about Matt’s move to Riverton.  He had to wait out a credit check that the agency required, and a background check that the association required.  He expected to take possession in a week or less. Between his meal, which he loved, and his excitement about landing such a nice place to live, not to mention the new job, Matt seemed almost beside himself in his level of satisfaction.


When I brought Matt back to the office to pick up the car, he got out of the truck and came around to my side, and pulled the door open.  For the first time in a long rime I saw kindness in his eyes, an expression I was used to at one time.


Matt held his hand out to shake, and when I took it he said, “Thanks, Ev.”


I knew what he meant, and simply said, “Welcome.”


In the truck, I was kind of high up.  Matt patted my knee and said, “You’re the best brother I could ask for,” and his expression turned hopeful, “Forget all the other shit I said?”


I smiled and said, “Screw you.  I’ll remember, if you don’t mind.”


Matt snorted, “I guess I deserve that.  I’m serious, Ev. You can be gay; you can be the tooth fairy for all I care.  You’re my brother, and that’s what counts.  Like you said, we can’t change that.”


I grinned, “I guess we can’t,” and pulled the door closed when Matt walked off. 


I could see that Matt felt like he was at the top of his game just by the way he walked.  I thought he looked like he was taking on manhood with blunt force, and a certain dread-filled eagerness, but he was on his own for real because he wanted to be.  He had a new job in a new town, a new apartment that literally looked down on the world, and if I knew Matt, by the following week he’d have a car of his own, too.


I grinned after him, thinking, “With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no - my name’s Smiley, nonny-no.”


I’d known that line about ‘nonny-no’ since forever, but it took Billy O’Shea to tell me that it was from Shakespeare, and not just childhood gibberish.  I have respected Billy’s knowledge and expertise on things literate since I met him, but he’d gone too far with that, so I checked it out just to know for sure that Billy was full of it once again.  Next time, maybe.  The line is repeated in every stanza of a poem in As You Like It:  a poem in which only the first and third lines of each stanza make any sense at all.  Talk about poetic license.


I drove by Aaron’s on the way home, because he’d said he might be there, and his car was out front.  His father answered after I rang the bell, and he smiled.  “Evan, come on in!”


I did, and asked, “Is Aaron home?”


“He’s out back, but talk to me for a second.  Aaron said you’ve made up with your brother?”


I grinned, “I’ll say!  I work with Matt now. I just had dinner with him, and he’s moving here to Riverton.  Well, Benham Falls, really.  We’re all good.”


Mr. Castle put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Sweet!  Aaron’s out back, by the pool I think.  He’s … a little tipsy, so be prepared.”


Aaron tipsy?  I went downstairs and out the back, and was met with a screech from the pool.  I hollered, “Aaron, I buy you books, and I buy you books, and you never learn a thing!  No teeth!”


Silence.  I hurried over to the pool, only to find Billy and his girlfriend, Romi in it.  I felt a little sheepish, but Billy didn’t.  He grinned at me, “I wasn’t biting her, honest.  I’m not Aaron, either, but you know that.”


I was embarrassed, but managed a smile for Romi.  “Hi,” I said, then looked back at Billy. “Where’s Aaron?”


Billly made a face and said, “Aaron got drunk.  Look around, he’s here somewhere.”


“Serious?” I asked.


Billy just nodded, so I looked around until I saw Aaron sprawled on the grass, apparently sleeping.  When I approached him, he mumbled, “I’m awake.”


I sat on the grass beside him, confused.  “What’s going on?”


He said, “Party.  I did things, took things.  I don’t know, Ev.  Help me.”


Oh, God!  Just what I needed.  “What did you drink, Aar? Did you take pills or something?  Smoke dope?”  I pulled him up from the grass into a hug.  “Give me a starting point.  Damn!”


Aaron smiled at me sleepily, and garbed his words.  “I can’t know all,  he said. “I spat on the floor once.”  He laughed after he said that, but I didn’t.


“What else?”


“There was wine, I don’t know, something else.  Somebody offered pills, but I didn’t go for pills.”  He looked in my eyes, unfocused, and asked, “Is there such a thing as one-fifty-one?”


I smiled and kissed his nose.  I wasn’t happy that he was drunk, but was relieved that it was just liquor, and that he knew enough to avoid pills and other things he didn’t recognize.  I gave him another quick kiss and asked, “Want to go to bed?”


“Uh huh.”


“Can you stand up?”


“Yup.”  Aaron almost sat, then fell over sideways and giggled, “Nope.”


“Let me help,” I suggested.


Aaron got this look of determination and said, “Get me on my feet.  I be okay, I hope.”


I smiled, stood and straddled him, and said, “Okay, give me your hands.  I’ll pull you up.”


“Hands.” Aaron muttered dumbly.  “Oh, wait!  I get it!”  He started flapping his arms and hands at me, and I just laughed.


“Cut it out,” I said.  “I’ll carry you in, okay?”


“That would be nice.”


I couldn’t help smiling.  I’d seen Aaron mellow on wine a few times, but never actually drunk.  Now he was totaled, but still the nicest guy I ever met.


I enlisted Billy to help me with Aaron who, despite his best intentions, was in no condition to help himself.  Billy took Aaron’s arms and I had his legs, and we lifted him.  We’d only taken a few steps toward the door when Aaron said, “Gotta puke!”


I looked at Billy and he at me, and Billy said, “Flip him.”


We did, so we had Aaron suspended a few feet above the ground, facing down.  Billy was right there, and I couldn’t really see, but Aaron let loose with what sounded like torrent after torrent of vomit.  Billy had Aaron’s hands, and thus his head end, and was on the downhill side.  I saw him grimace in revulsion when Aaron’s bile reached his feet, but he held on tight, crying, “Romi!  Get the hose!  It’s right there by the door.”


Romi did, and spent a long time hosing off the mess while Bill and I laid Aaron back on the grass, dead to the world.


I looked at Billy and said, “I don’t believe this.”


Billy looked down at Aaron and fussed his hair even frizzier with his hand.  He smiled at his friend, then looked at me.  “It’s an aberration, Ev,” he said.  “I’ll talk to him.”


“Not now,” I said.


Billy just shook his head, looked at Aaron, and said, “Come on, Aaron.  It’s time for bed.”


It was time for bed, and once we got Aaron into his own, and he seemed comfortable, I walked back outside with Billy.  “Tell me he didn’t drive like that,” I said, almost pleading.


Billy, the wise-ass, said, “Okay, he didn’t drive like that.”  When I gave him a dirty look, he added, “His car was here.  Somebody picked him up and brought him home.”  He put his hand on my shoulder, “That’s why his dad’s not in the stratosphere, and why Aaron isn’t roasting over an open fire.”


I snickered at both images, thinking them pretty accurate, and left to put myself to bed.


The next day, Aaron’s father called me at work   He didn’t say a word about Aaron being all schlocked the night before; he just wanted to be sure I knew I was invited to the lake for the weekend.


“I’ll be there,” I said.


“Great.  I’d normally tell you to bring others, but we have a full house already.  I didn’t want you to think you’re the straw or anything, either.  See you tomorrow.”


I didn’t know what he meant by the straw, but I was glad he mentioned it in case it occurred to me.


I was really looking forward to two days and a night at the lake, and wished it could be longer.  It was just a regular weekend, and since the Fourth didn’t land on Monday it wouldn’t even be a long weekend.  I looked forward all the time to when Aaron and I would be able to stay at the lake for extended periods.  The Castle’s place there is impressive for its size, location and Victorian features, but hardly fancy.  It was purpose-built to be a summer place, and to bed down a load of people.  Half the furniture in the house was a bed, could be turned into a bed, or could be used as a bed even though it wasn’t one, and there were tents and cots for the back yard.


The location makes the place, though.  It’s on a low rise on a large cove, and the lake road actually splits the property in two.  I didn’t think that was a detriment, because if the road went behind, then all access to the home would be from the back, and nobody would see the wonderful front that place, put out there for the world to see.  And if the road didn’t go where it did, nobody would ever notice the only gay Egyptian Love Cock in North America, feeding on its exotic blue bottle-flowers in the front yard.


Our day was busy, but easy enough, with no major crises, and no foreign hardware to figure out.  Typical for a Friday, the crews came in as early as they could, at least the ones not working Saturday did.  That lightened our load even more by spreading things out, and I stayed with Hokay until six when the only crew still out called on the radio to tell us not to wait for them.  They were staying where they were until they finished in order to take the next day off.


Hokay and I didn’t have to hear that twice.  We looked at each other, and were on our ways home by six-thirty.


Hokay told me earlier that I didn’t have to show up on Saturday if I had things to do, but I said I would anyhow.  I thought I was better off just relaxing the night away, and going in for a few hours early on Saturday before I drove out to the lake.


At home, I took a shower, picked out some clothes for the weekend, then looked through the kitchen for something light for dinner.  That was a problem.  The year before, when I first lived in that place, I didn’t think it had ever hosted a fruit or a vegetable.  Things changed, and we started buying lots of each, but a year later we never bought enough.  The vegetable bin held a couple of small potatoes, one carrot, one wilted-looking celery stick, and remnants of an onion inside a sandwich bag.


I didn’t want to go out if I didn’t have to, so I looked in the cabinets, where I came on a can of chicken a-la-king.  I looked at the nutrition label, and it wasn’t entirely toxic, so I put two slices of bread in the toaster and dumped the contents of the can into a small pot and started heating it.


I was surprised by Eli, because I didn’t think anyone was home.  He went to a Jewish youth-group thing most Fridays.  I hadn’t noticed his car outside, but I didn’t look for it, either.


“Eli!   You jumped me.  I didn’t think anyone was here.”


“I’m here,” he smiled.  “How do I look?”


That was hard to answer.  Eli looked a thousand times better this year than he did last year.  He was obviously healthier, and had cleaned up a lot after giving up drugs and booze.  Right then he was wearing navy-blue pants and a white shirt with the collar open, and that accented his dark complexion.  Eli is Jewish, but that’s a religion, not a race.  A Middle-Eastern Jew doesn’t look different than a Middle-Eastern Arab, and Eli could have been either.  With the white shirt there to make me focus on his face, I found him looking better than ever.  He had good teeth, and with the whites in his eyes actually white, and the eyes round with his question, I no longer thought he was ugly, or even homely.


“You look great, Eli,” I said.  “Date?”


He grinned, “You guessed!  This girl, Devi, from our group has agreed to let me take her to dinner.”


“That’s great,” I said.  “Going somewhere nice?”


Eli’s happy look took on some concern.  “I hope so.  She’s vegetarian, so we’re going to that place Adrianna’s, downtown.  Ever go there?”


“Good choice,” I said.  “The food’s great, but the place is more like a cafeteria than romantic.  You could go to the bookstore and sit on their deck for coffee after.  It’s really pretty after dark, looking down over the river.”


Eli grinned, “I’m getting advice on romance from a gay!”  He banged his hand against a cabinet while he yelped out a quick laugh. “I’ll tell Devi that!  She’s very liberated.”


“Have fun,” I said to Eli’s back when he was leaving.


The stuff I’d been stirring was all bubbly, so I took the pan off the burner.  My toast had popped up long ago, so I put it back down just to heat up, then spread a little butter on each slice, and poured on the contents of the pan.  I would have tasted and fooled around with seasonings if Eli hadn’t come in, but his apparent joy at getting romantic advice from  ‘a gay’ had it tasting pretty good.


I had a new tag, and I thought about it while I ate.  Being ‘a gay’ didn’t bother me coming from Eli, and I thought I might adopt that term for myself.  I mean, to me it sounds like one thing when I say, “I’m gay,” and another when I say “I’m a gay.”


I scratched my head thinking about that one.  That little ‘a’ seemed to make a bigger difference than it deserved, but I could hear it in my head.  That single article was sure a lot better than most of the adjectives I was accustomed to hearing.  It puts gay into the noun territory, and I liked that.


I’m not a gay guy, or a gay house, or a gay class at school … not gay clothes or gay books or anything else in the adjective vein.  I’m just a gay.  A gay what?  A gay, period.  If queer and faggot are nouns, well, listen up!  Gay is now a noun, and Evan says so, so it’s the truth!


Heh, I doubt it, but who knows?  If I start saying, “I’m a gay,” it could catch on, and being a noun might make me, and others like me, more real to people.  I can say, “I’m a baseball player,” or “I’m an honor student,  and people who care will smile, and people who don’t care will shrug, possibly tell me to shut up and stop bragging.


I’m not naïve enough to believe that the change from adjective to noun will turn a lot of people attitudes around, but if it could make me at least sound different to myself, maybe others would hear something different as well.


I cleaned up after myself, then sat in my room for awhile with the radio on while I leafed through an LL Bean catalog.  My mail at that place consisted of LL Bean catalogs and only LL Bean catalogs, because they were the only company who knew where I lived.  I had ordered a pair of sandals from there before I left Mt. Harman, but had them delivered to Riverton.  The sandals are fine, but that company must have one huge mailing bill, and a single thirty-dollar pair of sandals sure won’t fund the mailing of a glossy catalog every ten days or so.  My dad gets grouchy over too much junk mail, but he’s probably change his tune if it was all the mail he ever received.


I was drowsy by eight-thirty, so I turned off the radio, went to the bathroom, and right to bed.


I got comfortable, and thought I’d be asleep in no time at all, but then my brain caught up with my reality of the moment.


It was a Friday night.  I had money in my pocket, a boss-ass truck to drive, and places I liked to go.  I had friends around to do things with.  Yet I’d had chicken a-la-King from a can for dinner.  Well, it was on genuine Wonder Bread toast with real grade AA butter on it, instead of salted , yellow grease.  Then I amused myself with the latest LL Bean catalog while I listened to FM, and if someone had been there to ask, I couldn’t think of a song I’d heard.  It was only sound, like Muzak to the LL Bean company.


I did eventually fall asleep, but to the unsettling thought that I was becoming boring, and boring enough to bore even myself.


I had to call Chris.