Plan D:Lake Effect
That second cup gave me a nice edge, and Paul's steady demeanor helped to calm me down at the same time. We picked up Chris and made the short ride to school. Chris looked out at the wires overhead and said, "Rats. I thought the phone lines would be all melted from the traffic yesterday. How many calls did you get, Evan?"
"Seven or eight. You got a lot of calls?" This was something I didn't know.
He nodded, "A lot more than that You're kind of the talk of the town. Well, I guess I'm part of it too, but I can say I'm not gay. Who called you?"
"Just kids who already knew about me, except for Derek Simons."
That got Paul's interest. "What did Derek want?"
Derek was a Senior and co-captain of the baseball team. He was about as solid as they come. "He asked if it was true. When I said it was, he said to let him know if anybody gave me grief. He just said the things a team mate should say."
Paul chuckled, "Heh, yeah. He's about the ultimate team player. Well, we're here."
Paul parked and we started walking to the building. He said, "Let's meet at lunch, I want to check in with you."
I smiled, "Thanks," then turned my attention to my surroundings. The closer we came to the building, the more people we passed. Most didn't notice us at all. A few looked up, then went back to what they were doing. Not many paid attention, but there were a few who watched me walk by for longer than they absolutely had to.
We went up the steps and inside, and it wasn't until I got to my locker that someone said something. "Evan?" an excited voice called from behind me. I turned to see this kid, Jan Marth, and he was all agitated. Actually, Jan was usually agitated because he was high strung, but this was worse than normal. He was a tall kid; thin with glasses, and he had wild blond hair that sometimes looked like he got electrical shock treatments.
"Hey Jan," I said.
His hands started going before his mouth did, a nervous gesture like miniature Karate chops. He broke the ice nicely, asking, "You're gay?"
I nodded, and he made a hand disappear into his hair while he fretted, then he turned around and put his other hand up, and he pulled the hair on both sides of his head straight out. Then he screamed, "Aaaaaah!" and ran down the hallway, screeching to a halt after about ten steps. He walked back, his hands now jammed in his pockets, his eyes carefully watching his feet.
He didn't look up. "When did this happen, Evan?" He lifted his face nervously to face me, "You weren't gay on Friday. How could you change so fast?"
I just stared at him, my jaw refusing to help me form words. Chris came to the rescue, and he was gentle. "Don't be a fucking moron, Jan!. Evan was gay on Friday. Thursday, too. I saw him being gay! This goes back to Wednesday after lunch, when they had that crabmeat crap. I am so glad I got the macaroni that day."
Jan's face was a priceless mix of shock and horror. "Oh God!" he moaned, "He got it from eating?"
Chris patted his shoulder, "Don't worry, just avoid crabs. It was a souffle, so you better lay off the eggs and pie crust while you're at it."
Jan nodded and turned away, a lost soul. I faced my locker and leaned my head into it, then Chris yelled, "Hey Jan!"
I looked up just as Jan turned, and Chris said gently, "You're too gullible, man. Talk to your health teacher, okay?"
I said, "You're bad, Chris," then opened my locker and got my things squared away for the start of the school day.
The exchange with Jan, of course, made me one of the last ones into my home room, and everyone noticed when I walked in. My desk was in the geographical center of the room, too, so they all got a good look at me. The extra attention embarrassed me a little, and I'm sure I blushed, but nobody said anything until I sat down.
Randy Steiger sat to my right, and he said out loud, "There's a big story going around about you, Evan. Are you really gay? Did you dance with a guy on Saturday?"
I was going to glance at him, but doing that made me notice that people were staring at me openly, and a look around the room told me they all were. If my ears had been pink before, I was certain they were flaming by then. I growled, "I danced with girls, too. I like dancing!" I was being defensive by reflex, I think. I was out. There was no good reason to play with words, but I did it instinctively.
A taunting voice from behind me said, "There was a second part to that question, Evan. Randy also asked if you're gay, isn't that right, Randy?"
Randy nodded, and I said, "That's an awfully personal question, isn't it?"
"Yes it is!" boomed Mr. Grimaldi's voice from the doorway. "You will not answer that, Mr. Smiley, not in this venue!"
He walked up and stopped in front of his desk, a very tall man who was the best-dressed teacher in the school. He pressed his hands together for a second like he was going to pray, then sat back against his desk. He looked around the room and said, "Mr. Throckmorton isn't here anymore to do this, so it's up to individual teachers to reiterate school policies from time to time. You all know the words, but let me tell you what they really mean, because it's one of the more important lessons we try to impart to you. No two of us are exactly alike. Actually, no two of us are even remotely alike. The staff of this school, the board of education, the police, the state and Federal governments, will not tolerate any kind of discrimination based on the differences between people. Not in this classroom or any other classroom, not in the hallways, not in the toilets, not anywhere on school property. I should add that, with zero-tolerance policies in place, your personal actions are all we're allowed to go by, so even joking around with your friends can get you suspended or expelled."
Randy had his hand up and Grimaldi acknowledged him, "Steiger?"
"I can't even ask if something is true?"
Grimaldi looked at him for a long moment, then said, "Of course you can. If it's a private matter, you should ask your question in private. If I overhear you, I could easily mistake your tone for harassment, or even as threatening." He looked around, "Any more questions?"
None. "Good. Listen carefully. Differences are good. They're cause for celebration, not for bad feelings. Your parents send you here to expand your minds, not to narrow them. You should really try to honor their wishes."
He took attendance, and the bell rang five minutes late, so I figured his little speech had been mandated by the office. When I stood, Randy walked out with me. "I don't mind either way, Evan, it's not my business. You'd be a good guy if you had purple pigtails. I was just asking."
I smiled at him, "It's true, then. Just so you know."
I patted his shoulder and headed off to my first class. Wouldn't you know we got the lecture again, and at the start of every class that morning? Aside from that, I got looked at more than I was used to being looked at, but nothing happened. Not until English, where I had to stand up front and deliver my book report. I got to the front of the class, where I'd been before to give book reports, but everyone in the room was staring right at me, where they'd normally be doing their homework or doing almost anything else than paying attention.
I felt self conscious enough to laugh out, "What? I'm Evan, remember me? You're lookin' at me like it's my first day."
That made a few people laugh nervously, and most turned away after I said it. I gave the report without incident, but I'd found the staring to be disconcerting.
At lunch I met up with Chris and Paul, and we sat in a booth for four. I barely had the lid off my juice when someone asked, "Can I sit here?"
Paul said, "Sure," and when I looked over it was one of his friends, Dan Chabot, and he was looking at me. Dan's brother, Allen, had been in the cast of the play.
I sighed silently, thinking the whole school wanted a good, close look at the new gay boy in their midst. Dan surprised me when he said, "Evan, right?" I nodded, and he went on, "I heard what happened Saturday at the party. Are you alright?"
I was surprised, "Yeah, I'm fine," I said.
I started on my salad, and there was silence for awhile as we ate. Then Dan said, "Allen said it was a great party." Then he looked at me like he was expecting me to respond.
I said, "Yeah, it was a good time. They had a mountain of food, and the DJ was a wild man! We pretty much danced all night after we ate."
Dan got back into his sandwich for awhile, then said calmly, "I think it's neat, you know. You're what this school needed, Evan. You're a guy that everybody notices anyhow, then you bring a boyfriend to a school function." He grinned, "And you get away with it!"
I stared, wondering if he was going to make a point.
So he did. "Only you, Evan. I don't know how many gay bashers there are here, but I can promise that you have them taking a new look at themselves. The emphasis has been on Smiley all day." He bugged out his eyes, "Smiley? He's gay? Say it ain't so!"
Chris and I both snickered at his antics, and Dan continued, "I'm serious. If anybody in this whole town was gonna blow a hole through homophobia, it had to be you, Evan. People look up to you, they really do."
Chris butted in, "What about me?"
"Yeah, you too," Dan dismissed him, which wasn't the wisest move on his part. He looked back at me, "I just wanted to say that, Evan. I wouldn't have guessed in a million years that you're gay, but in a way I'm glad you are."
He chuckled, "I mean, you're going to give heart to a whole lot of kids who're scared of themselves." He saw my confusion and said, "Evan, an earthworm could count your enemies on its fingers." He leaned closer and said, "You ain't got none! So, finish your salad, you look like a fish!"
Paul and Chris both laughed, so I probably did look like a fish. My mouth was already open, and I shoved a crouton in it, then followed on with a fork full of greens.
I chewed and I wondered. There were something like two thousand students at Mt. Harman High, and hundreds of staff members. I had fears when I started there the year before, mostly the normal ones of any kid entering high school. I wondered how I'd fit in, how I'd measure up, if other kids would like me, if I could keep up.
I also had a darker fear, one of being found out for being gay. That was a personal fear, and I never considered that there were most likely other gay and lesbian kids entering school at the same time, not to mention cross-dressers, trans-gendered, or anyone else who varied from the norm.
Now I was out. I'd done that so I could pursue my relationship with Aaron in public, which was a purely selfish reason. Dan Chabot, a popular Senior, was telling me that my actions spoke to and for others, and it was exciting to hear that. I wasn't sure I believed it, but I still liked hearing it.
After lunch, I went to my locker, then headed down the hall to my next class. My gym teacher and baseball coach, Mr. Goodwin, was standing outside, and he handed me a yellow slip that said I was excused from that class. "Follow me," he said, and started down the hall.
I followed behind him, and he ignored me when I asked what it was about. I was always kind of daunted by the guy. I respected him because he was a good teacher and a savvy coach, but he always had the air of a dangerous man about him. It wasn't just that he was big and tough, but rather that he didn't seem to care about things most people would care about. If somebody got hurt, even badly, he'd say to get him out of there and keep on with it. Worse than that, nothing, absolutely nothing ever seemed to amuse him, not even a little. Well, once something struck him funny, but only that one time.
I followed him to his office next to the gym, and sat opposite his desk from him. He looked at me and said, "Evan, I won't mince words with you. Your actions have distressed a lot of my best players, and I think it would be best if you quit the team."
My jaw dropped. "What? What players? Derek called me last night and said there was no problem."
Goodwin eyed me and said, "Captains can get outvoted. If Derek's on your side, then he can quit when you do."
He had ice in his voice, and he scared me right then. I didn't believe him, though, not a word. If even some of the guys wanted me off the team, I would have already heard it, and not second-hand.
"Fine," I said. "I need to think about it. I'll let you know tomorrow."
"Evan!" he warned.
I stood up, "What's the problem? If I don't quit, you can kick me off. Practice isn't 'til Wednesday. I'll tell you tomorrow." I got up and walked out on him as he called after me. I was fuming, and I got angrier as I walked. I sat on the hall floor by my locker when I got there, and tried to calm down. My pass excused me from the whole period, so when my heart rate settled down I went and camped outside the door of Chris' science class, and I jumped up when the bell rang.
Chris was one of the first ones out, and was very surprised to see me there, and concerned about the look on my face.
I started talking right away, and we stopped in a corner so I could finish. "I don't believe him, Chris! It's him, not the team! Please tell me that's true!"
Chris got serious for once, and put a steadying hand on my shoulder, "I haven't seen everybody, Ev, but so far nobody's asking for your head. I think you're right. Anyhow, how different is the Iceman than that Angus dude?" He shook me gently, "Evan? You remember what Aaron said to do? We need to report this."
I leaned back against the wall. "He's got a family, Chris. He could lose his job."
Chris spoke in a voice that I very rarely associated with him, one of anger. "That would be tough shit, wouldn't it? He's trying to hurt you, Ev, just like we talked about. If he gets away with it, he'll do it again. If reporting him makes him lose his job, then he deserves to lose it."
I looked at Chris, and I was on the verge of tears. He pulled me into a gentle hug and said, "Come on, lover. Let's do this right."
I nodded, but stayed where I was. "I need to think, Chris," I said. "What if it's true, and guys are talking to him?"
Chris regarded me, and sighed. "Let's ask around. He said his best players, right? We know who they are, don't we?"
I nodded. "I don't know where to find anyone."
Chris thought for a minute, and said, "After school, you go out by the front doors, and I'll hang around near the parking lot. We should see most of them. If somebody's running for a bus, at least get the phone number so you can call later. If you get socked in the head or something, then you know it's one of Goodwin's goons."
"What should I ask?"
Chris thought for a moment, "Ask if they've seen coach today, for starters. Be blunt, I guess. Ask if they want you off the team, and if they've talked to anyone else."
I looked at the floor and put my hands in my pockets. "This doesn't sound like much fun." I looked up at Chris.
He frowned, then smirked, "You can tell them their flies are open, that's always fun!"
I started to say he was right, but my brain kicked in. "Um, Chris ... that's one thing I probably shouldn't be noticing right now."
He giggled, "Make me an honest man, Ev. Is mine open right now?"
I laughed with him, "No, it is not."
"I knew it!" he said. He put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a shove towards my class. We'd both be late, because the bell had run long ago. Chris called, "Wait for me out front, okay? I'll come around to find you once the lot clears out."
I waved, and went to class. I apologized for being late, then thought to hold up my pass. It only covered the prior class, but I wasn't that late, only late enough to have missed the tolerance lecture.
After classes I hurried to the front entrance, which served strictly as an exit at that time of day. I could get to my locker afterwards. With so many students pouring out of the building at once, it was hard for me to pick out individuals. I did manage to talk briefly to three guys from the team. They each told me that there was some noise about me, but it seemed to be coming from two guys.
Otis Scott and Jamal Cormusker were both black, both Juniors, and I always thought they were pretty good friends. Unfortunately, that's all I could learn. Otis could be considered one of coach's best players, but never Jamal. He could hit and that was all. When he got called into a game to pinch hit, somebody was always called to pinch run for him if he got on base.
When Chris came around from the side of the building, the last buses were pulling out, and only a handful of students were still coming out.
"How'd it go?" Chris asked as he approached.
I shrugged, "I only saw three guys. They said the only bad things they heard were from Otis and Jamal. How about you?"
Chris shook his head. "No better luck out back, everyone moves too fast. There's one more that I heard about, and it's Brin."
My stomach felt that one. Jerome Brin was another black kid, and he was far and away the best player on the team. He was another Junior. He'd already had colleges scouting him out, and the word was that there would be big league scouts at our games that year.
I admired the guy immensely. He was serious about baseball without a doubt, but he was an academic star as well. He was also a nice guy right down to his bones. His family wasn't well off, but if he had something that someone with less needed, it was theirs. No Questions, and he was delighted when he could help.
I felt sunk. If Jerry wanted me off the team, then I was off the team. It was as simple as that.
Chris saw me sag, and even he couldn't come up with anything to say. He put his arm over my shoulders and mumbled, "Let's go get our books."
I was in a daze all the way home. Chris said he'd call me, and I left him at his house, walking the rest of the way home without even his support.
I dropped my things inside the door and went up to my room, closing the door behind me. I was numb. Of all the people, and I mean of all the people I might have feared by coming out, Jerry Brin was at the same end of the list as Chris and Aaron. It didn't seem possible.
I know I cried, but I also fell asleep, and I awoke to Bruce's voice outside my door.
"Evan?" he called softly.
"Somebody's here to see you."
I was half asleep. "What? Open the door, I can't hear you."
I didn't look up when he came in, and he said, "Somebody's here!"
"Who?" I mumbled.
Bruce said, kind of sarcastically, "I don't know! Big people!"
I grunted an acknowledgment and thought Great! Fucking Goodwin couldn't wait for tomorrow, so he has to humiliate me in my own house. The least I could do was to make him wait, so I took a good, long time taking a leak and washing up. I felt broken, but I wouldn't give anyone the satisfaction of knowing that. I pissed, washed my hands and face, combed my hair, and straightened out my clothes. Then I went downstairs, taking them two at a time like I was excited to have company.
"Who's here?" I called out.
There you are!" my mother said. "Your friends are in the family room."
I ran down the four steps to there, and stopped in my tracks. Standing by the fireplace, looking a bit surprised by my sudden, loud appearance was Derek Simons, co-captain of the team, and seated on the sofa was none other than Jerome Brin, the other co-captain.
I think I stammered, and "Guys!" came out an octave higher than my normal voice.
Derek smiled, and said softly, "Hi, Evan. We need to talk."
I looked at Jerry, and he nodded, "Hi Evan."
"Jerry ..." I said.
I felt Derek's strong hand on my shoulder, and he walked me over to a chair that faced the sofa. While I sat down, he went over and sat at the other end from Jerry. Jerry seemed anxious, and Derek smiled. I was a wreck.
"Evan," Derek started, then he suddenly looked flustered. "Oh, you know what this is about. There are a couple of guys on the team who are ... ah ... freaked a little about what you did at the party Saturday. Jerome here is one of them. I just think ... well, I think if you guys talk, then maybe you can understand each other better."
I looked at Derek, then turned my face slowly to Jerome. He was just staring at me, and he stared long enough that I got fidgety and asked, "What?"
Jerome fidgeted, too, and he seemed very interested in the artwork on the wall behind me.
With both of us fidgeting and avoiding each other's gaze, Derek finally said, "Will somebody say something?"
Jerome and I both showed some teeth in what resembled smiles, but my jaw was pretty well locked down. After at least another minute, Derek sighed loudly and said, "Evan, Jerry has religious problems with you being gay."
Jerome finally spoke up. He said quietly, but forcefully, "It's not a religious problem! It's a homosexual problem. Pastor says it's a sin, and I don't want people to associate me with sinners."
I stared at him, then dropped my eyes. "What religion is that, Jer? I don't think I'm a sinner, at least not because I'm gay."
"I'm a Christian," Jerry said reasonably. "Park Street Bible Church."
He looked up in question, and I said, "Episcopalian, not really a practicing one."
I noticed Derek put his hand on his head like what I'd said was the wrong thing. "What?" I asked, looking at him.
"Gay Bishop," he grumbled.
I spoke up then. "Alright, let's talk about that. New Hampshire is the most conservative state in the North. They don't have income tax, and they don't have sales tax, and their license plates say 'Live Free or Die' on them. They don't often elect Democrats, and even Republicans are suspect."
Derek chuckled. "I'm an Episcopalian," I said. "Episcopal Bishops are nominated and elected from below ... right from the parishes. That's where Reverend Robinson got nominated from ... the people who know him best! They know he's gay! It's not some big, dark secret, but they elected him anyhow! They didn't elect him as a gay bishop, they elected him as their bishop, the man they most wanted to lead their church. It wasn't an issue for a soul on Earth until CNN and Fox got hold of the story." I took a breath, "I'm sorry, but who's business is it what a very conservative congregation does on their own behalf? If he gets confirmed next summer, it's not a gay victory, it's a parish victory."
Derek stared at me, and Jerry looked at his hands. I said, "I'm sorry. That's not a hot point with me because I'm gay, it's hot because I'm Episcopalian, and I don't think other faiths have any right looking down their noses at us."
Jerry swallowed loudly, and I felt like I was digging my own grave, but I kept talking, quiet and steady now. "Every religion has their spiritual leader. Most of them are dead, but Catholics keep the Pope around. Some churches are just little things, and the minister is kind of it. Others have these structures and hierarchies." I looked at both of them and said levelly, "Not everyone is a Christian, either. Everyone thinks of Jews and Christians. Islam is bigger than either of those. Then there are the Hindus and Buddhists and Sikhs and ad-infinitum. They all believe their own thing, celebrate their own gods."
Jerome was looking at me now, interested. I spoke very quietly, "More people have died in the name of one god or another than for any other reason. Every genocide, every so-called ethnic cleansing ... all in the name of religion." I glanced at the both of them, "My feeling is that we should stay out of each others business where it doesn't concern us. I have a lot of stronger things I could say here, but I don't want to get you bent."
Derek seemed to be enjoying the exchange, while Jerome was deep in thought. I sat back and waited.
When he looked at me again, his normal warmth was back in his eyes. He almost smiled when he said, "You're a believer, aren't you?"
I gulped, "I believe in God, yes I do."
He eyed me, "And Jesus?"
I had to think about that, and I said carefully, "I've read the words of Jesus over and over again. If His words alone made up the whole religion, then yes, I would be a follower."
Jerry's look was an innocent question, but he never quite got it out. I continued, "I'm talking about the Old Testament, Jerry. That book was cobbled together over a thousand or more years. Different parts were written by scholars and teachers and priests, and who knows who else? A lot of them would be way, way behind bars if they lived in this day and age." I had a thought, "We're talking about gay here, so tell me why a few words in a book can make gay a sin when that very same book celebrates slavery and murder?" I held up my hands, "I'm gonna stop, I'm not trying to piss you off."
Jerry was eying me, and when I didn't say anything else he asked, "Would you read the Bible with me sometime, Evan? I want to show you what I see, but I want you to show me the things you just said."
I groaned to myself, and said, "It's all in there, Jerry." I figured I'd take my chance, "I'll read the Bible with you if you don't kick me off the ball team."
Jerry sat up like I'd slapped him. "Where'd that come from?"
"Where'd what come from?" I asked. "Coach said you wanted me off the team. He insisted on it!"
Derek and Jerry shared what seemed like an incredulous look, then Derek turned to me and asked, "What?"
"After lunch today," I said. "He pulled me out of class and said I had to quit the team. He said all his good players wanted me off. He even said if you didn't agree you could quit, too."
Derek was astonished, and said, "Me?"
I nodded. "Did you even see him today?"
Those guys looked at each other with eyes wide. Jerry said, "I saw him, but just to say hi in the hall. Did you see him, Derek?"
Derek shook his head, and they both looked at me. I shrugged, "That's what he said. I can tell you his exact words if you want."
Jerry stared right through me, "That prick!" He focused on me, "He doesn't speak for me, Evan. I have a problem with homosexuality, not a problem with you! Either way, I think we'll figure it out. Goodwin, though, he's the ..."
Derek butted in, "He's a low-life, Evan. You wouldn't know this, but my Freshman year I got hit right in the eye with a pitch. Did he care? Well yeah, but not about me! I'm laying in the dirt scared that I'll be blind, and I have a hole in my cheek and blood coming from my ear, and he's arguing with the umpire! My dad had me in the car on the way to the hospital before that thoughtless fuck even knew I was gone."
Jerry Brin looked at me, crossed and uncrossed his legs, did all kinds of things with his hands, and I ended up smiling at his nervousness. I said, "I'm not trying to make waves."
Jerry smiled, "Me either. I don't know Evan, maybe we'll disagree forever. Coach didn't ask me anything, and I didn't say anything. I think you're the first Sophomore to start on third base since this team began. My father was on the team when he went to school, and he never heard of such a thing." He turned to Derek, "Is there anything else? I have to get home before I starve."
Derek smiled, "I'm not surprised. I'm hungry, too." He looked at me, "I don't know what to say about Goodwin, Evan. I didn't hear him say anything. Why don't you just show up at practice? That way you'll at least have witnesses."
I grinned, "You're serious? He wants an answer tomorrow."
Jerry laughed, "Tell him you had homework, and you'll think about it another time."
I liked that idea, and I was suddenly hungry myself. I thanked them both profusely for coming over when I walked outside with them, then we all shook hands, and Jerry said he'd talk to me about reading the Bible together sometime.
I was ambivalent about that, but as I walked back inside I thought it might do both of us some good. I didn't know what flavor of Christianity they taught at the Park Street Bible Church, but Jerome Brin turned out pretty well. My chances of changing Jerry's mind about anything were somewhere between slim and none, and his chances of convincing me that homosexuality was a sin were exactly nil. Non-existent. My only hope was that I could make him believe that gay is something I am, not something I do.
Barring even that, we could still play ball together, and I would still respect him from afar.
I didn't even know what time it was, and hoped that I didn't miss dinner. Alton's car wasn't outside, but I saw my Dad in the living room with the paper when I went up to the kitchen. I'd just turned through the door and saw with relief that my mother was still cooking, when the phone rang right beside me. I picked it up, "Hello?"
"Hello, who's this?" a man's voice asked, sounding kind of odd. "Evan? Is that you?"
It still sounded odd. "This is Evan," I said. "Who's this?"
My own voice sounded different through the phone, and I figured it for a bad connection until the voice said triumphantly, "It's me, Matt! I've been waiting to say this man, so mawg dilligs!"
My brother! "Matty!" I cried, causing my mother to drop something, "How are you? Where are you?"
"Oh, God Evan! It is good to hear your voice! I'm in Kuwait. I love you, Evan, but I only have a minute or two. Is Mom home?"
"Right here," I said, and that was sure the truth. She snatched the phone from me before it was far from my ear. I went to tell my father, but he must have heard because he was right there.
He asked, "It's Matty?"
I nodded, and ran to find Bruce, who wasn't in his room, so I called up to the attic. "Bruce! Matty's on the phone. Hurry up!"
I heard him stumble, then he clomped down the stairs past me and kept going. I was still excited, and I ran after him. He ran into the kitchen crying, "I want to say hello!" and I heard my father shush him. When I got there the phone was between my parents' ears, and they were both listening intently to whatever my oldest brother was saying.
We had all been paying close attention to the developments in and around Iraq. Even though Saddam's troops had pretty much rolled over, people were still getting killed every day. Matty had said over and over in his letters that he felt safe, but it seemed that a lot of non-combatants were getting hurt and killed, too.
We were hopeful, though. Matt was in the Air Force, and it didn't seem like we'd need to keep much of an Air Force in the area. Iraq's had been devastated, so we probably needed transport and supply ships more than the warplanes Matt serviced. Matt's call home was still important because of where he was ... his proximity to the firestorm that had just taken place.
I felt a hand on my arm, and my mother pointed frantically at the stove, which had a pot boiling over on it. I hurried over and lifted it off. It was macaroni, and it wasn't done yet, so I stood there stirring it so it wouldn't boil out again.
The phone call didn't last much longer. It ended with Bruce saying hi for a few seconds, then he looked at the phone before hanging it up.
We all kept to our own for a little while afterwards, our backs to each other so nobody could read our thoughts. I could think about Matt in Kuwait and not get too worried, but if I tried while looking at my mother or father I would have lost it, just like any of us would.
The macaroni was done, so I took the pot to the sink to drain it. I dumped it into the waiting strainer, then looked out the window at the westering twilight. I wondered what time it was in Kuwait where Matt was. I'd figured out the difference once, but after hearing his voice it eluded me. I thought it might be eight hours, and that made it the middle of the night there. Matt said in a letter that he worked nights sometimes, so this must be one of those times.
I saw a mirage of my face in the window. It was a reflection of course, but it made me smile. Reflections are like that. In windows, you can see right through them, and nine times out of ten you won't notice it's there. This had been the other one time, and in the moment after I noticed and before I reacted I looked so serene and wistful that it was amusing.
I said, "The macaroni's ready," still looking outside at the gathering darkness. I don't know why, but one thing I'd always liked was watching day turn into night.
I moved out of the way so my mother could put things together, but I stayed watching out the window.
'Darking out'. That's what I called it when I was little. I didn't really remember myself, but I believed it when my parents said I used to run up to them, all excited, and announce, "Daddy, it's darking out," then I'd run back to the window to watch, probably hoping that somebody would come and watch with me, maybe provide a lap.
I still loved it, and I knew I always would. It's the best in Summer, when the days are longer. Not because it happens later, but because it takes so long. You can watch and watch and watch, and never have to turn a light on. It's a fantastic time to let your imagination run rampant, to give your mind a little free-form exercise.
When my mother said dinner was ready, I felt pretty good.
I sat at the table, and when the conversation moved away from Matty, I told what happened with Coach Goodwin. My mother was aghast, and my father got angry. Furious, actually. My mother calmed him down enough to eat, then I let him rant for a few minutes.
"Dad," I said, "I'm mad too, but what should I do? He's expecting me to quit the team tomorrow!"
Dad poked a finger to my face, almost hitting my nose, "You do not quit that team!" He blinked and stayed red faced, "Let me think, Evan." He was flustered for sure, but then he said, "I'll go with you, that's what I'll do! We'll go straight to the principal in the morning. We'll confront that no good .." Dad's face was already red with anger, but I think it changed to a blush. He calmed down a little, "I'll go in with you, Evan. Get out of here now, I need to think about this."
I knew better than to say anything. Bruce had already slipped away, and I very quietly thanked my mother for feeding me once again, then I was gone in a hurry.
I went to my room and pulled my homework out. I would talk to Chris, then to Aaron, but later.
I looked through my cd's, then decided on some classics. I plugged my earphones in, then loaded Pink Floyd. I know, I know, it's my parents' music, but I really loved it. Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, The Allman Brothers, Spirit, Queen (We Will Rock You), Led Zeppelin. Oh, Lord. Black Sabbath, Steve Miller Band, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, they all had it down!
I loved the hard rockers, and Aaron loved the Detroit sound, but we both enjoyed the music from that era, and we weren't alone.
I think I liked anything musical, but Aaron was fussier. He could abide my enjoyment of Avril Lavigne but he avoided Limp Bizkit, and I liked them a lot. I hesitated to apply the term 'different strokes' because we were gay and in love, and thus kind of stuck with each other's strokes.
I was stroking my homework right then. I had some reading, which I'd do later, and I breezed right through the little I had in other subjects.
When I finished, I straightened my things out for the next day, turned the music off, and I called Chris.
He was relieved to hear that Jerry and Derek came to see me, and really irate with Coach and whatever game he was playing. After he sputtered for awhile, he said, "Okay, here's how you get him, Evan. Do it in front of the whole team, or maybe even in gym. Tell him that when you're older you want to open a wind surfing shop. Then say you're thinking about calling it 'Please Blow Me', but say it like blow me!"
I laughed, "It's your idea, Chris, you do it!"
"You're the one with a problem, Ev. You do it."
I giggled, "I can end my problem by quitting the team. If you tell Coach to blow you, you'll only be able to wish you had quit. Instead, you'll be in traction for the next nine years."
"A life wasted," Chris muttered.
"No, a life saved."
"Well, try the idea on Brucie. I still think it's a good one."
"Bye, Chris. I have to call Aaron. I'll try it on him."
Chris said, "That's not fair! Aaron will do it!"
I smiled, knowing that Chris couldn't see it. Even so, he said, "Wipe that grin off your face and call the boy, alright?"
I did. Aaron was anxious, and I told him about my day, starting with Coach, which was the worst part. I ended up telling him about Matt's call, which was the real high point.
"I don't know, Aar. Except for my asshole coach, it was a pretty good day. I got looked at, but nobody really hassled me." I giggled, "Some people have all the tact of a bulldozer falling off a plane, but I didn't feel bad intent from anyone except Coach. Dad's going to school with me tomorrow, so we'll see what that's really about."
I could tell that Aaron was happy. "Oh, Evan, this is so wonderful to hear. I ... I wasn't really afraid for you, but after what happened with that monster at the party ... I'm so glad that you're not ... ostracized or something."
"I'm not. Not so far anyhow."
"One girl I danced with said really nice things about you, you know," Aaron teased.
"You didn't tell me."
"I didn't want you to get a big head. She said," and he made it sound like an announcement, "She said you're better at being yourself than anyone she knows; that she was very surprised to see you with me, but it looked so right that it took other people to make her notice. That's pretty high praise, Evan."
I said, "Yeah, you shouldn't have told me. Now I'm gonna need all new hats."
We both chuckled for a moment, then Aaron asked, "Can I change the subject now? We get the same week off for Spring vacation, right?"
I looked at the school calendar that was pinned to the cork board right in front of me, "April eleventh ours starts."
"Yay! If you want, we can spend the week up at the lake house. We'll have to do some work, but not a lot."
"In April?" I asked, "Won't it be kinda cold?"
Aaron said, "Too cold for the water, but it's really nice there in the Spring. Gramps needs some hands to help him open the place up. There are lots of beds there, Ev. I was thinking we could ask lots of people."
"Like who?" I asked.
"Justin's coming, and he'll bring a couple of the guys you played ball with last summer. I thought I'd ask Billy, Dean and Huck. You could bring Chris and Paul ... your brothers, maybe even Lee. It doesn't matter. Even without the porches and the tents, that place still sleeps about 15 people. There were four times that when you came up last summer."
I smiled, remembering. It was a big old house, for sure, and it wouldn't have surprised me if the ironing board itself folded out into a bed. The weekend I spent at that place was certainly a fond memory, and thinking about it caused me to ask, "Aaron, a lot of people last summer took pictures, and they said they'd send me copies. Nobody ever did."
Aaron sighed, "That's a Castle for you. Did you happen to notice that all the pictures of Jus and me make us look like we grew up in a popcorn popper? There'll be a hundred pictures, two hundred, even, all from one day. Then the next pictures are from like two years later. If I relied on this family for all my history, then I'd have to believe that I only existed in even-numbered years.!"
I sighed, "Mine's the same way. You're doing good if you even get every other year. That's why they made such a dipshit poster last summer. That was my class picture from the year before, and it was the newest one they had of me. Bruce told me they took mug shots of him after I took off."
Aaron laughed merrily, "Oh, that's funny! Well, not funny, but the way you say things is funny." He paused, "Um, so do you want to? Stay at the lake, I mean."
I said, "Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, come home on Sunday." I was counting on my fingers at the same time. "Aaron, that's nine nights in a row together. Do you honestly think for one second that I'd say no?"
"I hoped you wouldn't. It's a yes?" he asked gleefully.
"Aaron, that's the silliest question you ever asked. I already can't wait!"
I thought of something I meant to ask. "Aaron, the three guys I know about who have a problem with me being gay are all black. I know what Huck used to think about you, and you said Billy fixed it, but you never said what it was."
Aaron sighed, "I didn't say that, Ev, Billy did. He fixed it for sure, though."
"Is it a secret?" I asked.
Aaron paused, "I guess not. Huck had these religious ideas, and they made me like an evil spirit." He sighed again, "Huck never liked me, Evan. Billy kept bringing him around me, and me around him, and we just didn't like each other. We had this kind of make-believe liking when Billy was there, but we weren't real friends at all."
When Aaron didn't say anything, I prodded, "Don't stop there!"
"I'm sorry," Aaron said, "I was just thinking. When you came along, Billy liked you and Huck liked you, and then I liked you. Billy said he talked to you."
I nodded, then realized Aaron couldn't see me, so I said, "Uh-huh."
"Okay. After you came over to eat that first time, I admit that I was all overboard about you. I mean, you made me happy, you made my brother happy, and you made Billy happy. Here's where it's cool. Billy knew that if everybody liked you, then Huck would feel even more left out if he had to not like you because you're gay like me. I'm saying this all wrong."
"No, no," I said, "Say it any way you like, I'll tell you if I get lost."
"There's no short way to tell it, Evan."
I smiled, "So, use the long way then. I like the long way, when it's you."
Aaron snickered, "Okay, here goes. Billy came over that day, and after awhile we walked down to that field you saw right after the blizzard. In the summer it's nice there, Evan. The woods are all around, and there's a brook, and just goofing off in the high grass is nice."
I smiled, "That sounds nice!"
"It is. Anyhow, I went there with Billy, and Huck was there. He was waiting for Billy, it turns out, and wasn't that happy to see me. Well, he never was."
"Aaron," I said. "If this is private, you don't have to tell me."
"It's not private, Evan. And if I don't tell you, who will? Those guys have had as long as I have."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, they could have told you. You could have asked, it's no big secret. It's just a thing that happened, a lesson from Billy."
Aaron laughed just a hair's breadth before I did. A lesson from Billy!
"Well, Huck was there, and he was his usual way when he saw me. He never really said anything, but I could tell how he felt about me, even if he didn't come out and say it. Anyhow, we got there and it was a nice, lazy day, so we just laid in the grass and looked up at the clouds. I talked to Billy, and Huck talked to Billy. Billy talked to both of us, but there wasn't much to talk about anyhow. Then Billy asked me what I thought about you."
"Uh-oh, I said."
"Yeah, uh-oh is right. He asked what we did, and I said I walked you home a few times, then you came over to eat the night before. He asked what else, and I said we went in the pool. He asked if I liked you and I said I did. Heh, he asked how much, and I said a lot ... a whole lot. Well, you know Billy, he was doing this partly to see what was going on, and partly to make Huck squirm, and boy, was Huck starting to squirm. Huck finally sat up and told Billy to quit it, because thought he was making fun of you by making you sound gay. I think Billy took a guess, because he told me to set Huck straight, and that scared me to death! You know how big Huck is!"
"Yeah, he's a big one," I agreed.
"Anyhow, that got Huck mad, and he started yelling at both of us, and he got up like he was going to leave. Then Billy called him Clarence, and Huck sat back down. It's his name and all, but when Billy calls him that, Huck listens." He snickered, "I think it's like when your mother says your name in a way that you'll know you're in trouble. Then Billy got in Huck's face, making one point after another. Like Huck never liked me because he always thought I was a sissy, then he learned I was gay and he used that as a bigger excuse not to like me."
I said, "I saw a little of that one night."
"Then Billy convinced Huck that he always liked you, even though you only knew each other a week. He got Huck saying the things he liked about you, and he actually came up with quite a few. Then Billy picked it all apart. He asked Huck about each good thing he said, and what happened to it if you were gay. Did that make your toughness a weakness? Did it make your smarts become dumb? Huck's saying no, but arguing that you can't be gay, because you're not like that."
I was chuckling, picturing it. Aaron continued, "Then Billy asked me if I thought you were gay, and I said I knew you were. Heh, if you ever wanted to see Huck pissed, that would have been the time. He couldn't even talk! Here's the kicker. Billy asked me why I thought you were gay, and I said because you told me so. Then I said that you kissed me. Billy double-checked that, and it was you who kissed me that first time, and Huck was molasses!"
I wheezed, "Molasses?"
Aaron giggled, "Well, he's black, and if you poured him out right then, he would have come out with a big glug sound, because he couldn't talk at all."
I was laughing silently. Aaron said, "It took awhile, but Bill got Huck going back and forth, thinking about defending me from you if you were queer, then back to defending your reputation if I was making it up, and it ended up just being silly, like it should have been all along. It was kind of fun to see. When we were little, Billy got kids to see things his way by knocking them down. Now he knocks them over with words, and it's a lot more fun to watch!"
I laughed, and it turned into a yawn. Aaron heard it and said, "I'm tired, too. You'll call tomorrow?"
"You'll be careful?" His voice became very terse, "Ev, listen to people. You have to report every incident that seems serious. I don't get all bent over the verbals usually; that's the 'sticks and stones' thing. You get an ear for that, though. If it's just lip, you learn to ignore it, but if somebody's trying to put you down, you report it."
"I can't just hit them?" I asked, trying to be funny.
"Oh yeah, I forgot. You can hit them. Tell 'em it's from Aaron!"
"I'll do that, Aaron. I love you."
After we hung up, I laid on my tummy across the bed to read, but trouble came back to the surface before I got my attention on it.
I once dreamt about Lee Erasmus being this big dog breathing down my neck. Now I had Coach to think about. If I pictured him behind me, he was a wolf, not a dog. In front of me he was a dragon. All he had to do was breathe hard, and I'd be toast.
In the end, finding out that other people don't like the same people you don't like doesn't do anything to advance your own cause. Our coach, as cold and uncaring as he was, did a great job of coaching. He knew the game starting with the rules, which he was fanatical about. More importantly, he knew the motions, and he was good at teaching them. Everyone on that team learned something at every single practice, and we were all better players because of the man.
I couldn't win anything by defeating him, even if I could prevail. I was really torn. Everyone was telling me to fight for my rights, but Iceman had rights, too. I was angrier at him right then for copping out and blaming it on players. Anything that made me lose baseball would hurt, but if Coach said it was him who couldn't deal with me, at least I would have understood. I had hoped all along that my peers would be on my side, but I hadn't given enough thought to older people. I should have, of course. Angus, from the party, looked to be sixty or so. Coach wasn't nearly that old, but probably around forty. He was a member in good standing of the generation that was in control of things for the foreseeable future, and gay teenagers would always and forever be subject to scorn by them.
I tried again to read, but I couldn't, and I finally laid my chin on the book. I thought that some fights aren't worth fighting, because everyone loses. This was one of them. I could quit the team, and things could stay the same for everyone else. It would be painful for me, but I could find a place to play somewhere else.
The last thing I wanted was to start polarizing things in any respect. That was unfortunately all I could hope to do with the baseball team, and possibly the entire athletics program. I wasn't that important. I did remember something, and it sent me rummaging through my desk drawers until I found them; blank bumper stickers, three to a sheet.
I just needed one of them, but I'd print three anyhow. I pulled up Word and typed,
Yes, in pink! I knew Coach's Subaru, and I knew where he parked. He always approached it from the front, too!
We'd both win a round this time.
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