Plan D:Lake Effect

by Driver

Chapter 4

The next day, before I even took my shower, I printed up more bumper stickers, albeit somewhat modified. This one said,

I love my gay friends

It was still pink, and I'd actually woken up during the night, picturing that color against the flat black of Paul's primer, the nifty Hunter green of Chris' SUV. It would look great on Justin's shiny black car, too.

I hurried through my ablutions, thinking I was doing the right thing. I could play baseball outside school and have just as much fun playing. I was going to face Coach, though. I would quit if he admitted to me that it was him, and not my teammates, who wanted me to leave the team. If he insisted it was others, I'd insist right back that he prove it.

I had a course of action in mind, but it wasn't very firmly set. Any number of things could happen to make me change my mind, and for the most part I hoped that some of those things happened real soon.

I was the first one to the kitchen, so I started the coffee, then sat down with my glass of juice. When my Dad came in, I said right away, "You don't have to come to school, Dad. I'm gonna quit, I think."

He stared at me, and I realized that I'd made a mistake by not waiting until he had some coffee in him. He grunted out something that I couldn't understand, but I could tell that it wasn't a happy something. He poured himself some juice, looked at the coffee machine to see if he dared snitch a cup yet, then he did just that. I was right behind him, too, even though I knew we'd get really strong stuff and the rest of the pot would be useless.

I looked in the cupboard, and there was a jar of instant, so I took that out. When the coffee finished, I could toss some instant in it, and hopefully nobody would be awake enough to notice.

When I turned around, Dad was staring at me. "Why would you quit the team, Evan? I'll listen, but this sounds like the sort of thing you'd want to fight."

I bit my lower lip for a moment, then looked at him. "Dad, I don't want to leave the team, but I don't know how to stay without messing it up for everyone else. Right now, it's just me, and I hope to keep it that way. Whatever else Coach is, he is a great coach! People learn from him every day. I learned a lot from the guy. I just want him to be honest and tell me it's him and not the team, then I'll go. I could probably stay, but for what? I'd just sit on the bench all season. I don't want to be on the team if I can't play."

Dad stared at me, fingering his chin. He finally said, "It's up to you, Evan. I think you should try to work it out."

I nodded, and said glumly, "I don't see it working out, if you want to know. Maybe if Coach was twenty years younger, but he's set in his ways." I looked at Dad and took a chance, "It's how you were. You couldn't have a gay son, and he can't have a gay player. There's not a lot of difference."

Wow! My father actually blushed. "Evan, I changed my thinking. So can your coach."

I smiled, "You had a reason to. Coach Goodwin doesn't have much invested in me."

Dad nodded and said, "You better eat something. It's your life, Evan. I'm behind you whatever you decide. Just don't do anything rash. If you need time to think, then take all the time you want."

I smiled, "I will."

I sliced a banana into a bowl of Rice Krispies, and was eating when the rest of my family wandered in. It was a typical morning with the usual civil silence. I was almost finished when Alton said, "I have a chance to get into Brown next year. I'm thinking about changing to bio-mechanics, and they have a huge program."

Well, that was one way to start the day off. "Bio-mechanics?" Bruce asked.

"Iron lungs," my father growled.

Alton laughed, "Good one, Dad. These days it's about artificial limbs, pacemakers, all kinds of things. It's engineering that applies directly to life and health."

Alton had everyone's ear, and I wanted to get going, so I stood up and patted his shoulder, "Good luck, man. It sounds great."

I got ready for school, then walked up the street. Paul's Mustang was in his driveway so I started toward his door, and before I got there he came out.

I may never know what it was about Paul that sent me off, but it was there again. Maybe it was his plainness, the simplicity of his overall design. He was big, he was soft-looking, but in the end he was pretty. And sexy.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bumper sticker for him, and I handed it to him backwards so he wouldn't see it coming.

His reaction was great. He looked at it, then did a double take and smiled in surprise and handed it back to me. "Good one! Who's that for?"

I said eagerly, "It's for your car, Paul. You really like it?"

Then he hemmed and hawed, apparently embarrassed, and he finally said, "I, um ... I don't put stickers on my car, Ev."

I eyed him, suddenly wary, "It's not the gay friends message?"

He finally said, "Well, that too." He bit his lip, and we both got into the car and buckled up. Paul started it and looked at me while he idly revved the engine. "It's not the message, Evan, and I hope you know that. You are my friend, and Aaron is, too. I'm not afraid of liking you guys, and if it comes to it, I'll defend you as my friends." He shook his head slowly, his eyes kind of sad, "Not a bumper sticker, though." I think my face fell, because he asked, "What would come next, Evan? One saying I love my pot-smoking friends?" He reached over for the sticker and took it, "I'll keep it as a reminder, okay? I just don't like to advertise."

"Sorry," I muttered. "I thought it was funny."

Paul chuckled, "Oh, it is! It's just not going on my car!"

I shut up, and Paul said, "Derek called last night. He said he went over to see you with Jerry Brin."

I perked up, "Yeah, we talked. I think I'm going to disappoint them. Maybe not. I don't think I want to fight Goodwin ... not over this."

Paul glanced at me quickly, "What? What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I'll quit if coach tells me the truth. If he tells me it's him and not the players, then I'll go, but I won't quit for a lie."

Paul gulped, "This is heavy, Evan. Why? I mean how come?"

I said, "It's complicated. I know I could cause trouble for Coach, but that's not what I want." I looked at Paul, "Do you know Mr. Goodwin?"

Paul said, "I had him for Health, and for gym a couple of times."

"What do you think of him," I asked.

Paul shrugged as we drove into the parking lot, "What do I think? I think he was no fun for gym, and no fun as a teacher. Otherwise, I don't have an opinion."

I chuckled, "I think a lot of people feel just like you. I can tell you, though, that he's a really fine baseball coach. Look at it this way; I'm the best third base guy on the team, but I wouldn't be if coach didn't make me. He's good, Paul, and there's twenty seven guys on Varsity that will agree with me, and another twenty seven on JV. If I fight, I might get the coach benched if I win, and I'll get benched if I lose." I tried to stare Paul down, because he kept glancing at me. I said quietly, "I don't see a winner. Coach is a homophobe, and if I can at least get him to admit that, to not say it's the team when it's really him, then I won't feel so bad. I can walk away without hurting the whole team."

Paul thought, then said, "I think there are guys who'd walk with you."

I shook my head no, "That's not the point. I know Chris will want to leave with me, but the solidarity thing belongs on the team, not with one player."

Paul smiled, "You're good, Evan. You can't tell me that this isn't a big hit on you."

"Wrong words," I grumbled.


I smiled, "I don't want to quit, Paul. I don't want to wreck the team, either. I have to learn something here. Coach Goodwin isn't the last person I'll meet who doesn't like gays, and he's sure not the first. In his case, I think he gives a lot, truly tries to make players better, and that makes up for a lot of what I see as a big shortcoming. I'll have to face other people like him, too. I don't think that giving in is the same as losing. Me quitting the school team isn't like me giving up baseball, because that will never happen. I'm not really giving in to Coach, either, just letting him have his way."

We got out of the car and looked at each other over the roof. Paul said, "Evan, letting him have his way is like giving in. One hundred percent of the time, it's giving in."

I rested my arms on the car and laid my chin on my hands. "Maybe," I said. "If I give this time, then the team hangs in. That means fifty three other guys get to do what they hoped and planned for. If I don't give, then everybody might get fucked."

Paul stared at me, and a twinkle appeared in his eye. "You swore!"

I smiled, because I he was right.

Paul held up his bumper sticker, "Got any more of these?"

"A whole pocketful."

"Let's get to work," he said, as he knelt by the back of the car and affixed the one I'd given him. "Hey, not bad!"

We both jumped a foot when a horn honked right behind us, and my heart was pounding when I turned to see a grinning Chris, who'd decided to give parking in the school lot a try. When he saw the bumper sticker, the grin disappeared into a look of shock. A little smile appeared soon, and he said, "Neat. Got any more of those?"

I told Chris my plans on the way in, and he didn't agree with me. I knew he wouldn't, so I didn't try to argue with him, but I knew what I was going to do.

* * * * * * * *

"Okay, Evan," Coach Goodwin said.

I got up from the waiting bench outside his office and went inside, closing the door behind me when he said to. He sat at his desk and I took a chair. He looked at me, no expression on his face. "What's it going to be?"

I said, "I'll quit, but only if you tell me the truth."

He studied me, "What truth is that?"

"Just tell me it's you and not the guys on the team, then I'll go. I talked to both the captains. I know that some guys don't like that I'm gay, but nobody said anything about wanting me off the team." I gulped, "It's not like what you told me yesterday, so I believe it's just you."

He was good. He suddenly seemed five times harder, but he did it without noticeably tensing up at all. He stared right through me. He finally said, "You don't lie, do you, Evan? Are you recording this?"

I shook my head no, though I kind of wished I thought of it. "No, it's just you and me," I said.

He stared for a long time more, then asked, "Why are you doing this?"

I looked away, "Call it what you want. For the good of the team, I guess. It's too close to the opener to mess things up with a big fight. I can't win no matter what happens, so if I play stubborn somebody else will get hurt, and maybe the whole team. That's not what I want."

Coach looked at me, and the only real sense I had that made him something other than a statue was the barely-perceptible flaring of his nostrils as he controlled his breathing. He finally said, very softly, "I don't want a gay player on the team, Evan. No matter what anybody says, I think it's disruptive, and not fair to the others."

I felt myself deflate. We always hope for miracles, and I'd had a tiny little hope that my sincerity would win him over, but I had to keep my end. I asked, "Will you tell the team, or should I?"

He started to stand, "Just get your things after school, Evan. I'll tell them. I'll need a note from you, signed by your parents, so they know that you're off the team." He tried to smile, but it didn't work. "Do you know why that is? I mean, why I need a note?"

I grumbled, "Probably so I can't lie about being at practice while I'm out getting laid or whatever."

"Exactly. Bring it in pretty soon so I can get a new name on the roster."

I stood up and looked at him for a second longer. Then I turned to go. "Evan?" he called.

I turned around, and he said, "If you ever need a recommendation ..."

I butted in, "Don't worry. I'll never need that!" and I turned and walked out quickly.

I felt awful and the last thing I wanted to do was spend the rest of the day in school, but I didn't have much choice. The locker room was empty, so I sat alone for about ten minutes trying to think of better things. That's not easy when you have murder on your mind, but I finally pulled myself out of it. I'd gone in to see coach knowing the likely outcome, and at least I wasn't wrong about it. I was off the team, and I was likely out of the athletics program altogether.

That would be an offshoot of me quitting baseball, not being gay. If you actually quit a team you'd been accepted on, you'd never be accepted on another one.

I forced myself to look at upsides, and there were some. In no particular order, some kid who had come really close to making the team would get his chance, and you could bet your last dollar that Goodwin would see to it that he got the best coaching. That would make somebody happy, and his family and friends.

I'd have more time myself. Time to goof off in the bookstore, to visit Aaron, to work on other things I liked. I could still go to watch the games, and any audience was always appreciated. Baseball is supposed to be the national pastime, and maybe it is. Still, the year before we'd played away games where there wasn't a soul rooting for us. Track meets got better attendance. Football and basketball, which everyone had to pay for, were way more popular, and even sold out sometimes.

I could still play baseball somewhere, too. I could make it onto any team, I thought. It would be starting over, but the town and state leagues played somewhat higher quality games than the schools, anyhow. I could expand my horizons.

I could kid myself, too.

I could also think too much. I stood up and stretched, looked around. It sure wasn't locker rooms that made sports fun, it was being out on the field or in the gym where the fun happened. The noise and stink afterwards was almost like a punishment for the fun you just had.

I walked out. I felt bad about being off the team, even though I believed I did the right thing. I didn't feel any shame for giving in to coach, but I was very unhappy. I became unhappier by the minute, too, alternately thinking I was a fool for giving up, then that I was being altruistic by not upsetting the whole team.

My next class was English, and I headed that way, but I never made it. My thoughts suddenly became all contradictory, and I ended up with tears in my eyes. I went into the first boy's room I came to, grabbed a fistful of paper towels, and sat on a toilet with the door to the stall closed.

I sat there and wept, and I couldn't stop. Baseball was the big thing, of course, because I'd looked forward to it for so long, and so eagerly. Next, I was no longer sure that I'd done the right thing by coming out, no matter how I did it. Getting shoved at a party was one thing; more of a surprise than a hurt. I was getting looked at by others more often, but that just seemed like curiosity. It had only been one day and there was no history for me yet, but the day before had gone pretty well in school. If anything, it was only notable for the lack of attention on me. I'd had a few questions, but no smart remarks, no threats, nothing to make me think I'd be crying in a toilet the next day.

"Are you okay in there?" a deep voice asked.

He must have heard me crying. "Leave me alone, okay? It's private."

"Sure," the voice said. "Don't let her get to you. There's plenty of fish in the sea."

"Thanks for reminding me," I said, and just saying a few words made me stop crying. I was still incredibly sad, and after the bell rang I got up and washed my face. I stood there looking at my reflection, and it was the first time ever that I really didn't like myself. I couldn't conjure up any positive feelings, and negative ones were competing for my consciousness, so I turned and left.

I didn't go to class, and I had no excuse for being in the halls. I did something that I'd never done before. I dropped my things in my locker and walked out, and I kept walking. I walked right past one of the security guys on the way, and he never said a word, though he did watch me. Maybe it was my expression, or maybe he just didn't care. It didn't matter.

I walked home, then laid face down on my bed for a few minutes when I got inside. So far, it was a day of firsts for me, and not the kind of firsts that I could be proud of. I'd pretty much rolled over for the coach, just quit without a fight, and I was quitting a game that I loved like a living thing. Then, instead of gritting my teeth and forging ahead with the rest of the day, I quit on that too. I did find a glimmer of humor in the idea that I, Evan Smiley, was playing hookey, but it was a very small glimmer, and not enough to sustain a happy thought.

I was miserable, and I sat up on the edge of my bed, then moved over to my chair. I didn't know what to do with myself.

I wondered if the school would call, or if they'd even notice that I was gone. I'd been to home room, so I was officially present, and I didn't really know the process when someone skipped out after that. I wondered if my parents would be getting calls that would send them home looking for me. I doubted that, and tried to think of what to do with myself.

I decided to be at least a little bit useful, and wrote a short letter to my brother in Kuwait. He was about the last person on Earth who didn't know I was gay, and once again I didn't tell him. His life had to be worrisome enough right then, so I just told him about the play, wished him continued good luck, and signed off with mawg dilligs. At least that seemed to please him.

I found a stamp downstairs, put it on the envelope, then picked up my car keys on the way out. I put the letter in the mailbox, then sat in the car for a few minutes before deciding where to go. I put the radio on the local hip-hop station and headed out.

I felt better before I got to the first corner. Lil Kim was on, and I thought she was really good. I liked the car, too, and it occurred to me right then that freedom like the car brought me could take me off in a million directions. All I had to do was steer and work the pedals, and I could go anywhere I wanted to.

With possibilities like that open to me, I decided on a place nearby, one of my favorites. In ten minutes, I was looking for a parking place, then I walked down the street a half block to Readmore's, which was a book store and coffee shop. It was also a funky, neat place that I had loved since I was allowed downtown on my own. The building was old and built of whitewashed brick. There were tall windows to the street, arched with smoked glass, and neon signs that alternated 'books' and 'coffee' depending on which window you were in front of. The doorway was a larger arch, and modern glass doors were there in place of whatever had gone before.

I walked in, and it was as familiar as home. The place smelled of coffee and things baking, but also of leather and that particular aroma that was unique to rows of freshly minted books.

The current owners were a thirty-ish couple named Sol and Marie Statlender. The previous proprietor had retired after many years, and the Statlenders kept things pretty much as they had been. They had put some money into fresh paint and new carpeting. The only big change was the addition of an area for conversations just inside the door. That consisted of four leather sofas arranged in a square, and some end tables and coffee tables.

It was a happy addition to a store that was already nice, and I had spent many companionable hours on those sofas talking with the regulars. There were a couple of older guys sitting there when I walked in, and I greeted them before heading to the coffee counter. Sol saw me coming, and put on a happy smile. He was a good looking man, with longish black hair, a dark complexion and big wide eyes.

"Evan!" he greeted me. "We don't see much of you these days!"

I smiled, "Hi, Sol. I'll get down here more now, I think. What's good today?"

Sol beamed, "Everything's good! Cranberry muffins are the special."

"I'll have that!" I said. "A medium coffee, too."

"We have vanilla hazelnut today ... very nice."

"Just plain, thanks."

Sol sighed, "You never try anything different! I have all this equipment, all these special flavorings. You should try things, Evan, experiment a little. But no, not you ... just plain, thanks!"

I laughed while he turned to get my order. "Plain has a place in the world, Sol. And for your information, I eat whole crabs now every chance I get, and I mean shell and all!"

I was half kidding, but Sol turned a hungry look to me and croaked out, "Soft shell crabs?" He speeded up his speech, "You know where to get soft shell crabs around here?"

I grinned and nodded, "Yeh, over in Riverton."

His face fell, "That's not around here! Riverton ... Riverton," recognition dawned on his face, and he started flapping his hand like a floppy arrow, "Riverton's over there someplace!"

"It's twenty three point six miles!" I announced. "It's not that far."

His eyes bored into mine, "Evan, in this world you measure distance with traffic lights!" He smiled and shook his head, "That's not right, not at all. You could theoretically put a hundred traffic lights in a mile, even five hundred, and it would still be a mile. The big question is why they put a hundred between here and Riverton, where none would suffice!"

"Ancient rivalry?" I offered.

Sol put my coffee in front of me and showed me the muffin, "You want this heated up?"

"No thanks," then I got a look at it, "Oh man, you outdid yourself, Sol."

He beamed while I took a big bite, then he went back to work when he saw that I loved it.

I was alone at the counter, so after I finished the muffin I walked toward the conversation area, but it was empty by then. I sat down anyhow, and picked up the day's newspaper, which I rarely looked at during the week. Other than the updates on Iraq and Afghanistan there wasn't much going on, and the state and local news wasn't very interesting, either. That left sports and the NHL playoffs and predictions about the upcoming baseball season.

The usual morons thought it was Boston's year for sure. They should know better, but they do that every year to give the fans something to hope against. One writer said it was highly unlikely that Boston would go to the series, and in newspaper talk 'highly unlikely' means something like when hell freezes over, which was pretty close to the truth.

I finished my coffee and looked out the window. It was nice out when I got to the book store, and it had become dark and cloudy in the short time I was in there. The store had provided a little distraction, but reading about baseball put it back in front of me and I got all emotional again.

I went outside, then hurried to my car because there were drops of rain in the wind.

I just made it. I hadn't driven two blocks when the sky opened up. I thought it was neat. The cloud that was dumping the rain was a black one; dark enough that the streetlights came on. I thought it looked spooky and exciting, and when I saw other cars doing it, I remembered to turn my own lights on. I drove slowly, admiring something about the storm. I usually liked rainy days as long as they were infrequent, but this was having a different effect on me. Everything was wet and shiny for one thing, and lights were on in the daytime. The rain hitting the windshield, then getting wiped away, had an added effect, and everything was jewel-like for these tiny moments in between drops hitting and the wipers pushing them away.

It was interesting for another reason, too. The city of Mt. Harman was in the valley of the mountains, and downtown was the absolute low point. It was always subject to minor flooding, and I was amazed by how fast the streets filled with water. In no time, the car in front of me was leaving a wake, and the sound of the water hitting the underside of my car was pretty loud. I was excited rather than nervous, but I kept slowing down, then took a right when I knew the street would lead me uphill. Even then, the water was coming down the hill in sheets for the first hundred feet or so before becoming more gradual.

The downpour didn't last long, and it was raining steadily but much more gently when I got back home. I didn't have anything in mind when I headed home. It seemed like the thing to do, and when I got there I hurried inside so I wouldn't get soaked.

I turned the television on when I walked past it, but that was habit. Television interested me less and less with every passing day. If I knew something was going on in the world, then I'd watch CNN. Otherwise, I was down to MTV, and I usually just listened, only looking when I heard something that appealed to me.

I sat down after a few minutes, and I was seriously angry with myself. All I could conjure up for thoughts were what a moron I was being. It was my first hookey ever. I had my own car and I had money. What was I doing? Staring at MTV with the sound off, and mentally kicking my own ass for giving in to Coach Goodwin so easily. I had basically failed myself before I even took the test, and I felt hopelessly stupid because of it.

The television may as well not have been there. I was too busy yelling at myself to even notice it, and I eventually went up to my room and turned the computer on. I pulled up Word Pad and started trying to capture my thoughts, which I did sometimes to calm myself down. After a few minutes, I brought up a graphic of Aaron, the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing through the speakers while his face danced across the screen. Then I cranked the music until it hurt and went back to writing.

I typed random thoughts. I'd look at them later, though I didn't expect anything to make sense, but you never know. Then, the music still blasting, I looked in AIM, but nobody was on. Then I checked email, and there wasn't much of that, but I had one there from Barrett that had been sitting a few days without a response, so I tried to make myself useful.

I liked Barrett. We'd kept our promise to an extent, and stayed in touch. I think he was more important to me than I was to him, and my reasons for thinking that are complicated. We met on Thanksgiving, and only because I stayed with his uncle Harlan to avoid more trouble from my unidentified tormentors in Mt. Harman.

Barrett was what I needed that day. He turned up out of the blue, and he was big, bright and articulate. We hit it off right away. When the later events of that day tried to undermine everything, he was there, and his words are really what kept me from either going bonkers or falling apart.

His email was just an update, and I answered his questions. Then I added a lot, telling Barrett about the play, the party afterward, and what I did that morning. I added a long paragraph about how I felt about it, and why I was home writing to him.

I read it over a few times, making changes here and there for clarity, then clicked on send and leaned back into my chair. I put my hands behind my head. I was pleased that I at least had my thoughts in a row, and writing them for Barrett had helped me do that.

The music was still blasting, and it was to the point where it was starting to annoy me. I figured one more loop and I'd shut it off, and I sat there with my eyes closed, more and more convinced that I'd done the wrong thing.

The AIM service makes noises, and when it makes them, they're louder than anything else coming from your computer. With the music as loud as it was, when somebody logged in it almost made me tip my chair over, it gave me such a start.

I reached for the volume knob and turned it down just before the sound of a message came through, which was still too loud. I turned it down further, then clicked to see who was there, and it was Barrett!

I was surprised to say the least, and I told him all about my woes when he asked why I wasn't in school. Then he said he was just back from having a root canal, and that made my problems seem less immediate.

We talked back and forth for awhile when Barrett said:

barrettccbb: Don't do it, Evan. Tell him you changed your mind.

Evanescenced: I already did it ... coach won't let me off now.

barrettccbb: He can't hold you to it, can he? Don't your parents get a say?

Evanescenced: He did say I need a note.

barrettccbb: There you go. Tell him he has to ask.

Evanescenced: Care to expand? Ask who what?

Barrettccbb: Tell your coach your folks want you to play. Tell him he has to talk to THEM!!!!

Evanescenced: hmmm, not bad. Very good, actually!

Barrettccbb: At your service.

Evanescenced: I'll owe you if this works. I feel like such a dork just giving in like that.

Barrettccbb: No comment.

Evanescenced: Thanks. What else should I do?

Barrettccbb: Just watch out for dirty tricks.

Evanescenced: Sigh.

We bantered on like that for a long time, then Barrett had to take a pill, so we said goodbye.

I felt better after talking to Barrett. I didn't know how much hope I really had, but he made me feel like I wasn't finished yet. Coach needed a note from my parents. When he told me that, it was just one more detail to me, but after listening to Barrett it seemed like my lifeline. I needed a note. No matter what that note ultimately said, I'd have to persuade my parents to write it. If I didn't persuade, there would be no note, therefore no resignation.

Yes! I ... am ... Evan! Yes again! Yah! Woo hoo! Once again, please, let me repeat this! I am EVAN! I started laughing, saying out loud, "You doesn't mess with EVAN! Sorry, boss, but you lose!" I was in front of the mirror, making a jerkoff motion with my right hand, and it was soon both hands, with my hips bucking wildly, and I felt that I'd won even though I hadn't tested the theory yet.

"Thank you Barrett!" I yelled.

I went back out to my car, got in, and I drove off to pick Aaron up at school. The new law was a stupid law! I knew more about stupid than I knew the day before, and stupid was still stupid. I wasn't applying for that title ever again.

I would play baseball, too. If I had to duct tape Coach to his desk and coach the team myself, that's what I'd do. I knew what Aaron was complaining about when he got his 'faggot' pants for Christmas, and I'd just been ready to jump into them myself. I had it all rationalized too, but I'd looked at only one side, and left myself out of the picture.

It wasn't going to happen that way. Coach could bench me from day one, but he wouldn't get rid of me easily. If he ever called me a name like 'faggot' then I'd rush his ass to the authorities so fast he'd wonder how he got there.

I didn't really consider that he'd actually bench me, not if he was stuck with me on the team. He might not let me start, but he'd still have to put me in if things got bad, and I couldn't even picture that man losing a game when his chance to win was right there on the bench. If I had horns, a forked tongue, cloven hooves and a spiked tail he'd play me if he needed me.

Coach was a man, and he was entitled to his feelings about gays. He was also a school teacher, and as such the law said he had to keep those feelings to himself. Ironically, it was his talent as a coach that would ultimately put me on the field. Whether he liked me the person or not, he knew my capabilities, and he'd use me when he needed me.

I hoped.

The road to Riverton was as clogged as usual, and I followed a trailer truck most of the way. I kept a good distance, but I could only tell what was going on by his tail lights, and that made me uncomfortable enough that I eventually pulled off the road until I could get behind a car. The storm had ended long ago, and it was a fine day once again. I finally remembered that I had a sunroof, and I opened it just because it was there.

Aaron was looking at cars now, and I thought we might do that after I picked him up. He was totally undecided as to what to get. One day it would be an SUV, then a sports car the next, and something economical the day after that. He'd been looking in the papers and on the Internet, as well as just getting the names of cars that appealed to him when he saw them on the road. I thought we'd go to car dealers so he could get some more solid ideas; actually touch and sit in cars. It seemed like something fun to do together, too.

My only problem was that Aaron's school wasn't where it used to be. Well, it was of course, but it wasn't where I thought it was. I'd been there about seven times to play baseball, but I always rode with someone else, and my recollection of the directions got me lost in the south end of Riverton.

After I stopped for directions and neared the school, I knew I was too late. There was a convoy of school buses going the other way, so I turned around in a parking lot and drove to Aaron's house. I turned onto his street right behind the bus, which stopped just up from Billy's, and several kids got off, including Dean, Billy and Aaron. Aaron saw my car and did a double take, but he couldn't see in to know it was me, so I tooted the horn and waved out through the sunroof. When the bus moved, I pulled up to them and powered down the passenger side window.

They all bent down to look in, and I opened the door and stood up beside the car. "Hey guys," I grinned.

Aaron was surprised to see me, and he said haltingly, "Evan! Are you okay?"

I sighed, then smiled, "I guess. I will be."

"What happened," Billy asked, and he and Dean both gave me curious looks.

I shrugged, "I kind of quit the team this morning. My coach doesn't want any gay players."

Billy's face immediately flushed with anger, "Fuck him, Evan! You have as much right to play as anybody!"

"I know," I said. "I kind of blew it. I didn't want to mess up the season for everyone else."

Billy looked both surprised and disappointed. "Can you explain that? You're an asset to a team, Ev, a real asset. How does you being gay mess anything up for anyone?"

"Come on, Bill, you must know how it is. There are at least three guys on the team with religious objections."

Billy shot back, "That's bull! They can't bring their religion to school!"

"Calm down, Bill," I said. "I changed my mind. I'm fighting to stay on the team." I shrugged meekly, "I thought I'd take the high road until I saw how rotten I felt."

Aaron snickered, "That's my Evan. Stick to the low road by all means."

Dean chuckled, "I think I'll leave on that thought. See you tonight, Aaron. Be good, Evan."

I waved to Dean, then Billy said he had to leave as well, and that left me standing on the opposite side of the car from Aaron. I smiled, "I thought we could look at some cars."

Aaron brightened right up. "Good! I think I know what I want!"

We both got in the car, and I asked if Aaron had to stop at home. "No, let's go to the Toyota dealer. It's out on Route 134."

I thought about that, then remembered where that road was. I started down the street and Aaron asked, "Are you being a bad boy? I don't think I'm supposed to be in the car with you."

"This is the low road," I reminded him. "Laws are only vigorously enforced on the high road."

He giggled, "Is that so?"

"Yes. There was something on the news on the way over here. The cops can't enforce this law unless there's another reason to stop somebody. They're not gonna do it, Aaron. They're hoping parents do the enforcing."

Aaron looked at his watch and said, "It's three fifteen, Ev. Do you know where your parents are?"

I smirked, "I do, and they're far from here."

Aaron smiled and settled back into his seat. "Watch your driving, then. I won't distract you."

"What's at a Toyota dealer? Are you planning to tell me? You're not in love with a Camry are you?"

He laughed, "No, I want to see a RAV4. Do you know what it is?"

I thought, then said, "Not really."

Aaron seemed pretty enthusiastic, "It's a little SUV. I like the looks, and they should be fairly cheap to run. It's a little of everything; an SUV that's sporty and economical."

I smiled, "Sounds like a winner." Then we reached the road where the Toyota dealership was. They weren't out there by themselves. We drove past everything from Mercedes to Kia dealers, then the Toyota place was on the left, and it was huge. I stopped in the lot where the used cars were, and Aaron spotted a RAV4 right away, and it turned out to be a lineup of around thirty of them. They all had the prices on the window, so we headed past the newer ones automatically.

I'll hand it to old Aaron. He knew his car when he saw it, and it literally brought him to his knees with desire. At a glance, the car fit Aaron, too. It was a pale yellow color with some black cladding on the side. It had neat wheels, fat tires, and dark tinted windows. While Aaron said his prayers, I read the details on the window, then looked at the car more appraisingly. The exterior was in good shape, with just a few little dinks in the finish. The tires looked fairly new, and even with rain spots on the paint, it was very shiny.

I couldn't see much of the inside because of the tinted glass, and the doors were locked. Still, the price on the window was fifty-five hundred, and that seemed fair.

"Aaron," I said, interrupting his close inspection. "This is a nice car!"

Just then a voice interrupted us with, "May I help you?" and we turned to see a fifty-something, heavy-set woman with a tightly-kinked perm.

Aaron said, "I like this car."

She smiled, probably smelling a sucker, then she held out her hand. "I'm Barbara, and you are?"

"Aaron, and this is Evan."

She went on to heap praise on that particular RAV4, and she wasn't bad. She left us standing there while she went in to get the keys, and she came back with a sheet of paper, which she was reading closely. "This car is really loaded. It has every luxury option you could get in 1996, and these beautiful wheels are aftermarket."

I backed up to take another look at the wheels, and they were nice ones for sure. By then, the door was open and Aaron was looking inside. The upholstery was leather, and not-quite black. Barbara was rattling off features while Aaron drooled over them. He finally climbed in, adjusted the seat, put his hands on the wheel like he was ready to drive away, then he made a face. "It's a stick!"

Barbara poked her head in and had to agree, but she immediately said, "Ooh look! This is on our sale sheet. I can take six hundred right off the window price."

Aaron turned the key and said, "Eww. It has like ninety thousand miles on it!"

"It does?" Barbara asked as she craned her neck to see. Satisfied, she pulled out a calculator and tapped in some numbers. "That's just borderline high mileage, but I can deduct, let's see, another one-fifty."

I was grinning by then, because Aaron had obviously had some coaching. He asked, "Can I drive it?"

Barbara said, "We'll need permission from a parent. Can I call your home?"

Aaron said, "Call my father at work." He read off the number and said, "His name's Stephen Castle if someone else answers."

Barbara lifted her eyebrows in surprise, and smiled. "I know your father, Aaron. Quite well, actually."

She called from right there on her cell phone, talked to Aaron's father, then let Aaron talk to him. When Aaron handed the phone back, he said, "He wants to talk to you again. He wants the id number so he can get a Car Fax."

"Of course he does," Barbara mumbled as she reached for the phone. "Steve?"

When she was done, she asked me to get in the back and buckle up, then had Aaron move to the passenger seat while she maneuvered the car off the lot. She started down the road, and pulled over shortly. They swapped seats and it was Aaron's turn.

He was careful. He asked which stalk on the column did what, then played his way through the gears with the engine off, studied the dash board and adjusted the mirrors and his seat.

When he was ready, he started the engine and eased out onto the road. Aaron drove with a competence that I hadn't considered. I guess there was no reason to think he'd be a bad driver, but by the same token, there was no reason to believe in advance that he'd be so smooth. After second gear, I couldn't tell when he was coming off the gas and shifting, it was just seamless. He moved right out, too. There was traffic, and it wasn't going that fast, but Aaron drove like he belonged right where he was. Barbara watched him at first, then she just relaxed and told him where to turn.

It was a good test drive. The dealership was on a busy four-lane, then we turned off onto more of a country road, and that eventually brought us to a divided highway. By the time we got back to the dealership, Aaron had a good feel for the car, and it put a smile on his face.

We played with some other things. We looked under the hood, and it was clean. We opened the tailgate and everything back there looked like new. Aaron got back in the driver's seat and worked all the other things; the back windows, the heater, the air conditioning, the sunroof.

Barbara had left us alone, saying she'd be in the showroom. I asked Aaron, "What's the price at?"

He said, "Fifty-five hundred, minus six hundred, minus one fifty. Right now it's forty-seven hundred and fifty." He smirked, "Let's see what Dad found out."

I was amazed. "Where'd you learn this? I thought you wanted a stick shift!"

Aaron giggled, "I do want one. Nobody else does."

We got inside and Aaron called his father to tell him he wanted the car, and his father told us to wait for him there.

We had a half-hour, so we poked around the showroom looking at new Toyotas, primarily a silver RAV4 that didn't look much like the one Aaron was getting.

Poor Barbara. When Aaron's father showed up, he had the Car Fax in hand, and it showed that the car had been stolen once. No matter that it turned back up in two hours with no damage, there could be undiscovered damage, so the final price was forty-six hundred. Mr. Castle signed everything, and the car would be ready for Aaron the next day.

Aaron was unbelievably polite and reserved. After the paperwork, after Aaron had taken his father for a drive in the car, he walked to my car with me as calmly as if he'd gone through all that to order new socks or something. As soon as the car door closed behind him, he let out a high pitched squeal and tore at his hair, a madly happy look on his face. His voice was a wheeze, "I ... I ... I ... oh, never mind! I got my car, Ev! I love that car! Do you like the color?"

"I love it, Aaron! I can't believe you were so cool with that lady! That was beautiful!"

"Really?" Aaron smiled. "I was acting, you know. I think otherwise I would have wet myself."

"Acting? You were acting?"

Aaron suddenly looked shy and fiddled with his fingers. "Yeah. I do that sometimes. If I was myself there I'd go all girly and end up with a car I didn't want. I tried to be like, heh ... like my mother."

"Stop it!" I cried, fearing that if I laughed too hard I'd drive into something. "Your mother? Tell me more, Aaron! I thought you were playing Bill Gates or somebody like that."

"Really," he asked, sounding a little surprised. Then he giggled, "I don't think Gates has to cheap people out when he wants a car."

"No," I agreed. "Why your mother, though?"

He chuckled, "Oh, she's better than that. She would have said, 'Yellow? Tinted glass? Those wheels don't go at all, they can't be original.' She goes on and on, Ev, and the price goes down and down."

That was funny, and I pictured it in my mind until we were at Aaron's house. I walked in with him, and everyone was excited about his car. His mother told me to call home right away, so I did.

Bruce answered, and as soon as he knew it was me he whispered, "Get home now, Evan! Don't ask me anything, I'll tell them you called. Just get moving!"


"I don't know what it is. There's people with Dad, and they're yelling down there. Just come home!"

"Who is it?" I asked, but he'd hung up.


I dialed again, and got no answer, then I hung up and tried again. It was busy.

I rejoined Aaron's family and announced dejectedly, "I have to go now. Something's going on at home."

They all looked at me with questions, but I didn't know anything. I shrugged, "I don't know. I'll call later."

Aaron looked hurt, but he nodded and walked me out to my car, his father and mother right behind us. I felt his father's hand on my shoulder and turned around. He smiled, "Aaron said you both had a good time at the party. Has some trouble come up since then?"

I nodded, "Yeah, I don't know if you call it trouble, but I'm off the baseball team." I saw his eyes narrow and hastily added, "I quit so I wouldn't cause trouble, but now I want back on."

He nodded and smiled sadly, patting my shoulder, "Take things slowly, Evan." He pulled me into a gentle hug, "Take care, Evan. You're part of our family now, too, so whatever you need, just ask."

I pulled back and smiled. "Thanks. I mean, thanks!" I glanced at Aaron, then back at his father, "Will you call my house and say I'm on the way?"

He nodded, and I turned to Aaron, realizing that he had one more talent that I had never paid attention to. Aaron knew how to wait, how to just be there. He made his presence known without fidgeting or coughing, without saying a word. He just seemed to get bigger and bigger, until there was this giant Aaron bubble there, just out of view, that would burst if you didn't acknowledge him.

I turned to him with a smile, wondering how he did that but damned if I'd ask.

"I gotta go," I said. "Kiss me?"

Aaron came close and put a hand on my cheek. His eyes studied mine, and he said quietly, "You never told me what you did, exactly. You quit the baseball team? I thought you were going to fight it."

I sighed, "I should have, Aar, but I thought the right thing would be to let things go on without me. It sounded right 'til I actually did it. Now I want back on the team, and that was just this morning."

Aaron giggled, "You're decisive, Ev, and that usually works for you." His giggle got brighter, "It's good that you know how to un-decide things, too." He laughed, "Now you can un-quit, and everything will be back to normal tomorrow."

I kissed Aaron's nose, then his lips quickly. "We'll see," I said. "I don't know what's up now. I'll call you, okay? Have fun at band practice!"

Aaron smiled and stepped back so I could open my door. "Bye, Evan," he waved while I backed out.

I stopped to shift into first, and got one last glimpse of Aaron, and it made me wonder. Right at that moment, he looked like a little boy who was watching his best friend go away forever. Just a few hours earlier he'd cheerfully raked Barbara, the car lady, over the proverbial coals. He'd been acting, he said, and I could see it.

Aaron was able to conceal his natural tendencies when he was acting. I should have picked up on it at the car lot, but I was more interested in the car. Barbara would not go home to her family and tell how she sold a car to a gay boy, because that's not what she saw. To her, Aaron was just a kid who didn't want this, didn't want that, so she sold him a car for less than she absolutely had to.

It made me smile. I put my Spirit CD into the player, cranked it up, and started home to the eerie sound of 'Mechanical World'.

It liked that Aaron could be someone other than who he seemed, though I don't know why I liked that

I just did.

Continued ...

Comments or Questions? Use the Message Board

© Copyright, 2004, the author. All rights reserved.