1. Deviation or departure from the normal or common order, form, or rule. 2. One that is peculiar, irregular, abnormal, or difficult to classify.
Scott Thiessen noticed the boy immediately as he entered the front door of the Maple Avenue Library. From his table at the back, he could see him look doubtfully about the six rows of shelves. He seemed to be debating whether it was worth his while to come in. Scott felt defensive suddenly for his library. Why was this kid looking so arrogantly about the place? Sure, it was a small library. It was a neighborhood branch. If he wanted a large, comprehensive library, he should go downtown to the Ashbrook Central Library.
Scott glanced to his right at his friend, Nathan, the librarian, who sat behind his desk doing paperwork. He seemed unaware of the boy slowly walking down the center aisle of the narrow building. Nathan was young, just graduated from college, and seemed to have an understanding of what an eleven year-old intellectual such as Scott would find interesting. He was the best friend Scott had. He was really the only friend Scott had.
Nathan looked up as the boy slowly passed the final row of shelves. He smiled and asked, "Is there anything I can help you with?"
Scott watched as the boy seemed to look startled and then blush.
"Um, no. Thanks," he replied. "I'm just looking."
Nathan smiled at him and returned to his paperwork, brushing his longish brown hair away from his glasses. The boy looked about the back half of the library, at the reference section and Nathan's desk on one side, at the card catalogue on the other, at the periodicals in the back, and at Scott sitting at one of the four Formica-topped tables in the center. Their eyes met for a second, a long second, and then the boy looked away, walking past Scott's table and toward the rack of newspapers to his side.
Scott focused on the book before him, a collection of astronomical photographs; however, he kept careful track of the boy through the periphery of his vision. He was picking through the newspapers and finally settled on one. He took it to the table furthest from Scott and sat with his side to him. It was the New York Times.
Scott couldn't remove his eyes from him. It was not every day that he saw a boy who appeared to be his own age reading something such as the New York Times. Nor was it every day that Scott saw a boy as cute as this one.
He frowned in disgust with himself. Yes, the boy was cute and Scott couldn't deny the thoughts that floated through his mind. The neatly combed red hair, the green eyes focused on the newspaper, the scattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks made Scott want to kiss him.
He looked down at his book in irritation. He was furious with himself. He could feel a stiffness forming in his shorts and that only added to his anger.
He glanced up again. The boy's slender arm was resting on the table. It was beautiful.
Scott closed his eyes. How could an arm be beautiful?
The boy was dressed almost identically to Scott, except that his short-sleeved sport shirt was sky blue instead of pale green and his Bermuda shorts were navy blue instead of a green plaid. His legs were slim and his calves were smooth and… yes, beautiful.
Scott looked back at his book and realized he still had the Pleiades before him. He sighed and turned the page. The Orion Nebula looked up at him, but he lost interest in it almost immediately. Something strange about the boy before him had caught his attention.
The boy seemed to be frozen with a slightly pained look on his face. He was staring not at the newspaper before him, but at the card catalogue. As Scott watched, the boy's face seemed to take on a look of suppressed fear and, perhaps, rage. For several minutes, he seemed frozen in his pain and, then, he awoke. He looked about him as if, for a moment, he wasn't certain where he was. Then he looked down at the newspaper and took a deep breath. Suddenly, he pushed his chair back, stood, and picked up the paper. He walked slowly and deliberately back to the newspaper racks, where he placed it in its space before turning around and walking through the library toward the front door. Without looking back, the boy walked through the door and disappeared.
Scott looked at Nathan and the two raised curious eyebrows at each other before Nathan went back to his paperwork. Scott sat for a moment trying to make sense of what he had just experienced. One of the cutest boys he had ever seen walks into the Maple Avenue Library and picks up the New York Times. He sits for a moment and then looks like he's just watched his parents die. Then he walks out.
He turned around in his chair and pulled the New York Times out of the rack. It was the previous Friday's edition. He scanned the front page to see what, if anything, might have triggered the boy's strange behavior. There was an article about the peace talks in Paris with the North Vietnamese, a story about the preparations for the first moon landing, and something about the first anniversary of the murder of Robert Kennedy. Was that it? The boy was freaking out about the murder of John F. Kennedy's brother?
Scott shook his head and put the paper back. He tried to focus on the astronomy book before him, turning the page and studying the Andromeda Galaxy, but he couldn't shake the thought of the cute, strange boy who had just passed through his life so quickly.
He was hard. He was painfully hard. And, he knew this one wasn't going to go away until he did something about it. He knew he couldn't wait until he got home and that he would have to take care of the problem immediately. Disgusted with himself, he glanced up at Nathan and saw that the librarian now had his back to him as he was focused on a reference book behind him. Slowly, Scott pushed his chair back and stood. He turned toward the hallway in the corner and headed for the restroom.
Jeff Thompkins walked numbly up Maple Avenue away from the library and past the numerous old red brick apartment buildings that lined the north side of the street. The early afternoon traffic roared past, but he was unaware of it. The mid-June sun shined from a clear blue sky and felt hot on his pale skin; however he paid no attention to it. The memories had returned and with them, the guilt, the shame, and the secrets.
He turned left at the first corner and walked into the neighborhood and away from the traffic on Maple. There was a strange white house on the corner he was approaching, facing the upcoming street but with a driveway coming in from the side Jeff was walking along. The house was two stories, with what seemed to be smooth white stucco on the outside, rounded corners, and narrow vertical windows. He had heard his grandparents describe it a art-deco. A red MG convertible pulled into the driveway directly in front of him and Jeff was forced to stop for a moment. As he resumed walking, he watched as a blond man in a Hawaiian shirt and white slacks jumped over the right door and out of the car. A boy of Jeff's age climbed out of the passenger side, though Jeff blinked as he realized the steering wheel was on the wrong side. MGs were English. This one must have been a real English car, instead of an American version. The boy had pale white skin, even paler than Jeff's, with dark, almost black hair. He was dressed in a yellow pullover and green shorts. He seemed to Jeff a bit cocky as he walked around the front of the car. The man opened the trunk and removed a suitcase. He glanced at Jeff and smiled. The boy smiled, too; it was a bit too friendly a smile and Jeff felt a sudden rush, an uncomfortable urging deep within, and a burning flush to his face. The guilt, the shame seemed to overwhelm him as he quickly looked away and quickly walked on.
He crossed the street before reaching the corner, not bothering to look before doing so and causing a Buick to slow down. He walked down the tree-lined sidewalk along Linden Avenue, past the old two-story houses with their neatly trimmed yards and colorful, pristine flower beds, until he came to his grandparents' house in the middle of the block, the nicest house on the street. He turned up the walk to the front porch and passed the holly bushes lining the wide front porch and the giant wooden red wheel barrow full of firewood on which their address, "1814," and last name, "Thompkins," had been printed.
An air conditioner was humming in one of the side windows of the darkened living room as he entered. The Negro housekeeper, in her crisp white dress, smiled at him as she polished the dark oak mantle above the fireplace and the two bookshelves on either side. He was grateful he hadn't met his grandmother as he came in. He hoped he might slip upstairs to his bedroom without facing her and as he walked through the kitchen and reached the stairs in the back that led up to the converted attic, he heard his grandmother on the phone in the den and sighed with relief.
His grandparents had converted the attic years before when his father was a boy. It consisted of his bedroom, once his father's, and a hobby room where his grandmother kept her sewing machine and anything else that didn't naturally fit into another room. When his parents had married, this had been their room. It was now his and had been for a week. He tried not to think, as he fell onto the old king-size bed that dominated the room, that this was the bed in which he had been conceived. Some thoughts were best left in the limbo of things that must be avoided.
Like that awful day a year before.
Why had a chosen to read the newspaper? Why did he have to see that headline about Bobby Kennedy? Why did the memories of the swimming pool and afterwards have to force themselves from behind the locked door in his mind and remind him of the awful, yet wonderful things done to him, the unspeakable things? He knew his family had not died in the accident because of the threats to keep silent, issued that awful morning, the warnings to say nothing of what had happened. Yet, they had died and somehow, despite his best efforts, he still felt responsible. He was responsible because even though he had never told anyone what had happened, even though what had been done to him was something that should never had been done to a boy, he was certain he could have stopped it somehow, if he had really wanted to. He could have ended it and escaped. But, despite the fear, the shock, the horror... it had felt good. He was certain, though he could not verbalize how, that if he had somehow escaped, somehow stopped it, his parents, his brother, his sister would still be alive. He knew it was irrational, yet he knew it.
It had nothing to do with Bobby Kennedy beyond the coincidence of it happening the morning after he had been shot. But, in Jeff Thompkins' mind, the two events were inextricably linked and would remain so forever. Every time he heard or saw the name Robert Kennedy, he would remember that morning. But, there was more.
There was The Feeling.
He had felt The Feeling that awful morning, that horrible, disgusting, wonderful feeling. He had felt it in the library, as well, as he fought to avoid looking at the exotic blond boy in the back of the room. And, he had felt it walking home as his eyes had met those of the dark-haired boy climbing out of the MG.
The Feeling. The feeling that told him he was vile, filthy, disgusting. The feeling that was inseparable from the loathing he felt for himself. The feeling he needed.
He rolled over on his stomach. He was hard, so very painfully hard. He pushed his hips down against the bed and felt The Feeling explode through him. Quickly, wildly, he pushed his hips forward, losing himself in The Feeling. For ten brief seconds, The Feeling took him over, controlling him, giving him what he needed until it grew and consumed him.
When he was able to return finally to rational thought, as the afternoon sun shined into his room at the foot of his bed, the tears flowed. He lay on his stomach and cried into his pillow.
The ride from the airport had been just what Todd Trent needed. From the moment his father's morose older brother and his even more morose wife had put him on the plane and bade good-by without even a hug or a handshake, Todd had fought the demons inside him, the anger, hurt, and fear. But, from the moment the 707 pulled up to the gate and he saw his Uncle Ted, his mother's younger brother, standing in the giant window jumping up and down in his flowered shirt and waiving his arms like a madman, he knew everything was going to be all right.
“Well, it's about time!” Uncle Ted declared as the boy emerged from the jetway and people stared. “I have a mind to go into that plane and tell that pilot he flies entirely too slow. I've been waiting for hours. My God, he has four engines. TWA just isn't what it used to be.”
He held the boy at arms length and looked down into his sharp blue eyes.
“How you holding up, kiddo?” he asked softly.
Todd smiled and replied softly, “I've been better.”
A grin came over his face as he added, “I thought you were going to pee in your pants there in the window.”
Ted turned with a cocky grin and replied with mock petulance as they started walking down the concourse, “Well I was just excited. It's not everyday that I get to take charge of a cute young man!”
Todd chuckled silently at the outraged looks of several people around them as they marched toward the baggage claim. His uncle was definitely flamboyant. It would certainly be a change from the past.
He quickly put that out of his mind as Uncle Ted announced, “Absolutely everyone wants to meet you. All my clients are just begging to have you over to dinner and, of course, all the girls can't wait to set their eyes on you.”
Todd wondered what girls his uncle was referring to.
They were approaching the TWA baggage claim when the man turned to the boy and said, “I suppose you have dozens of trunks and such.”
Todd grinned and shook his head.
“No, just a suitcase. Uncle Martin is sending everything else by UPS.”
“Well, good. I can barely squeeze into Nigel as it is.”
“What?” Todd asked as an elderly lady looked askance at them.
Ted grinned and explained, “I'll introduce you to Nigel when we get to the parking lot.”
Once they had retrieved his suitcase, Todd followed his Uncle Ted outside and across the sweltering concrete. His eyes grew wide as he watched the man stop beside a fire-engine red MGB with the steering wheel on the right, or wrong, side.
“This,” Ted announced dramatically, “is Nigel.”
“I love it!” Todd declared as Uncle Ted unlocked the “boot.” Todd handed him his suitcase.
“This is way cool,” the boy declared as he watched the man climb into the car over the right side door. He copied his uncle on the other side and when Ted started the car and let the engine roar, Todd moaned.
Ted placed an English driver's cap on his head, grinned at his nephew, and whipped the car out of its parking space. By the time they were on the freeway and the wind was blowing through his hair, Todd could barely contain himself. He raised his arms above his head and yelled, “Woo hoo!” as Ted laughed and gunned the engine. Considering the horrors the boy had witnessed just weeks before, it was amazing he could find the enthusiasm and joy he was displaying. Ted was grateful for the resilience of boys.
And, so, as they pulled into the driveway of Ted's art-deco home, Todd was feeling no more apprehension. His uncle was cool and he knew that his new life would be devoid of the fear and pain he had known for so long. He relaxed as he walked up the pathway around the house toward the front door.
He noticed a boy walking along the street, dressed rather plainly but with attractive red hair. Their eyes met. There was something about him, about the eyes, which held his attention. He heard Uncle Ted slam the boot after removing his suitcase and looked back to where he was walking. When he reached the front door, Ted joined him and chuckled.
“So, you like redheads, eh? That fiery personality gets you going?”
“Uncle Ted!” the boy objected. “Come on, now.”
“What?” the man declared dramatically as he fished in his pocket for the keys. “It's not, gasp, females that do it for you?”
“Nobody does it for me,” Todd replied with a rare blush.
“Oh, I don't believe that for a moment. You're twelve. You're just hitting puberty. You have hormones just raging through that body! My God, they're absolutely oozing from your pores! If your were to produce any more pheromones, you'd have every dog in this neighborhood humping your leg.
“Jeesh!” the boy declared with exasperation as he grabbed the suitcase and marched past his uncle into the house. “You’re insane!”
“Well, that's what they say,” Ted replied with a shrug. “But, can anyone really define 'insane?'”
Todd rolled his eyes until he looked around at the foyer and living room of the house. He froze.
It was incredible. He thought he was in a museum or perhaps the penthouse of a wealthy socialite. The style was stark and in various shades of white. There were track lights on the ceiling, square, angular chairs and tables about, and strange paintings of green and purple flowers, very impressionistic, on the walls.
“You like it?” Ted asked, much as a boy might ask a parent for approval. Todd nodded with a reassuring smile.
“This is way cool.”
Ted smiled with relief and started up the stairs.
“I've moved everything except the bed out of the guest room. We'll go to the furniture store later and you can furnish your room any way you like. Then this evening, we're meeting some friends for dinner and tomorrow…”
A loud explosion, much like a gunshot, interrupted him. Ted turned around at the top of the stairs and saw Todd frozen on the bottom steps, his eyes wide with horror as he stared off into space. Ted rushed down.
“Todd! What's wrong?” he asked as he wrapped his arms around the stiff boy. “It was just a car backfiring, probably Mrs. Higginbottom's old Plymouth. It does it all the time.”
Todd said nothing, though he was trembling and his eyes remained fixed on some point in space. Gradually, he relaxed and leaned into his uncle. Ted was uncertain what to do. He stroked the boy's face and whispered, “It's OK, sweetie. It's OK.”
Slowly, he guided the boy down to sit on the stairs, his arm still around him. Softly, he said, “It must have been horrible watching it. I can't imagine how I could have survived it. You've amazed us all at how well you've dealt with it. But, I want you to know Todd, it's OK to fall apart if you need to. It's OK.”
He paused and held the boy for a moment before resuming.
“I know I'm only twenty-seven and I don't have a lot of experience with the whole Daddy thing. I'm not even going to try to be a Daddy. But, I will be your friend and I will do everything I can to make a good life for you and to make sure you have a happy life. If you ever need to talk or hug or cry or whatever, I'm here. OK?”
Todd's confident, almost cocky demeanor had dissolved in less than a second with the backfiring of the neighbor's car, but he forced a smile as he looked up at his Uncle Ted through watery, bloodshot eyes. Saying nothing, he snuggled into his uncle and silently wept. Ted sniffed and squeezed him.
Life was certainly going to be different now.