Finding Home: a novella
By Jake McKinnon
Prologue: Home Again
The winter rain pelted the window as cars rushed by, trickling down like liquid crystal, and reflecting the glare of their headlights into a million shards of light. Red, yellow, white. It never rained in California, not like this, at least.
"So how's school, Nathan?" asked Mom.
This was the third time she'd asked. The third.
"It's fine," I sighed, "busy."
We dissolved into silence again, the only sound coming from the rain and the light hum of the radio barely turned up. NPR, of course. Dad had little to say, which I had both expected and appreciated. Despite the lack of conversation, he and I had an understanding. It was tempestuous at best, but it was an understanding.
"Did I tell you about Lorraine Burkett's foot?" Mom asked, her eyes catching mine in the rearview mirror.
"Yes ma'am," I said, "she had surgery on it last week and the doctor damaged some nerves."
"And you heard about little Jackie Simons?" she asked.
"Hit by that car," I nodded.
"Poor thing," she said, quietly smoothing an imaginary wrinkle from her dress, "that devastated poor Ellen. What was Ellen's cousin, Grady, the one that shot himself in the head?"
Dad paused and mulled it over.
"Think it was Dwight," he said.
"No, Grady," Mom sighed, "it wasn't Dwight. It was something else."
And once again, silence. I thought about all the other UCB students who were thrilled to be going home for winter break. Quite frankly, I'd gone all the way across the country to escape my little house and my little town, and here I was, taking the two hour drive from the Jacksonville, Florida airport back to my little house in the little town of Masterson, Georgia. I could practically feel all the liberation I'd felt over the past year and four months evaporate into nothingness. It was like someone was slipping a shackle around my neck and there was nothing I could do about it.
"Hunter Jackson was asking about you yesterday," Mom said, "you know, he just got home from Georgia day before yesterday. I saw he and his father in Boomer's Pharmacy."
My chest tightened. Hunter.
"He's still on that football scholarship," she said.
"Boy was good," Dad said shortly.
High praise coming from my father.
"He sure was," I sighed, leaning my head back against the head rest, thinking about things I had no business thinking about.
"He said that they might let him play a little next year," she said, "won't that be something?"
I nodded, but didn't respond. I was too wrapped up in old memories.
"Ya'll used to be so close," Mom said, "what happened? You haven't mentioned him in ages."
I hadn't mentioned him in eight months, three days, and oh...about three hours and fourteen minutes, to be quite precise.
"I guess we both got busy with college stuff," I shrugged.
Mom caught my eyes again. I hated the look she got when she knew I wasn't saying everything I meant.
"You give any thought to transferring to Georgia?" Mom asked.
I threw my hands up.
"Mom, we've discussed..."
"I'm just saying," she interrupted, holding up a hand, "it just makes more sense than gallivanting off to California where people are crazy."
"Leave him alone, Kathy," Dad said, "the boy can make his own decisions."
Dad nodded to me in the rearview mirror apologetically.
"I'm just stating the obvious," she shrugged, turning back around.
We had blessed silence again for a few seconds.
"He had the President's Scholarship to Georgia, after all," she said, sniffing loudly.
"I had a lot of scholarships, Mom," I groaned, "most of which transferred just fine to Berkley, and several that I've picked up since being there."
"I just don't like you being so far from home," she said, a hint of emotion creeping into her voice, "you were gone all last year and didn't come home for summer break. You've barely called this year. You don't even look the same any more."
She was right, I didn't look the same. My clothes now were actually in style, I'd traded my old wire-rimmed glasses for a trendy set of black plastic frames, let my hair grow out a little, and I'd managed lose twenty pounds, and a couple of pants sizes. I mean, I practically had abs...practically.
"Mom," I sighed, rolling my eyes, "I didn't come home for Christmas because I had Christmas with Aunt Lucy in Texas, I didn't come home for summer because I did that study abroad thing in London, and I don't call much because by the time I'm through with school and work, you guys are in the bed."
"I'd rather you call," she said.
"Kathy," Dad sighed, "leave the boy alone. He ain't been with us barely an hour and you're starting in on him."
Mom just huffed a little and started rummaging around in her monster suitcase of a purse, but didn't say another word. Dad winked at me in the rearview mirror and I smiled at him thankfully. I rummaged around in my backpack for a moment and pulled out my ipod and popped in my ear buds. I hated to throw out the universal "I'm not interested in talking to you" signal, but I figured I at least deserved to be at home before the guilt tripping started. Soon, Damien Rice had lulled me to sleep.
The sound of a train crossing woke me up. We were in Masterson.
"Welcome home, baby," Mom smiled, squeezing my knee.
The sight and sound of Masterson hadn't changed a bit. The trains still ran through it, I noticed. Old Jim Morgan's barbershop still had it's candy-cane pole. The Stop-and-Shop was packed since it was a Wednesday night (double coupon night). The City Hall clock still ran ten minutes slow. I could even smell fried catfish from Bateman's Restaurant. I pulled out my ear buds and rolled down my windows. My chest tightened and my eyes burned.
I remembered the time I got into my first accident in front of Masterson Video. I'd backed my dad's pickup into some little old lady's Buick Regal. Both cars were built like tanks and were barely damaged, but I'd been so scared that I'd burst into tears and had to be comforted by the little old lady until the cops showed up. She'd told them to not file a police report and they let me off with a stern warning and Chief Metts called my dad.
The town was exactly like I left it, as if I'd never really left. This angered me and comforted me at the same time.
"You hungry, baby?" Mom asked.
My stomach growled as if on cue. We all chuckled a little.
"I haven't eaten since breakfast this morning," I admitted.
"You wanna go to Bateman`s?" Dad asked hopefully.
Bateman's was Dad's favorite place. He got the same thing every time: sirloin-medium rare, baked potato with butter, but no sour cream, and a Caesar salad without the olives. I hadn't anything that came close to Bateman's burgers anywhere I'd ever been in the world.
"Please," I said.
Mom rolled her eyes and shook her head. She liked to pretend that she didn't like Bateman's (which I suspected was because it was my dad's favorite place). We pulled in, parked, and I got out of the car, anxious to stretch my legs.
Bateman's was an old wooden building that'd been built and painted to look like a big barn. Through the years, the paint had faded and flecked, but the place was rock solid and was something of a community center. People had birthday parties, wedding receptions, even took their prom dates there. It sure was something else, and of course, the food was great.
Before we'd even gotten in the door good, we were greeted by someone we knew. I was told how handsome I looked these days, how proud everyone was of me for representing the town out there in "Californy." I just smiled and nodded and tried to play off the fact that I'd forgotten the couple's name. It took us a good fifteen minutes to get away from them. Fortunately, it was a weeknight so finding a table wasn't that hard.
The waitress was named Ashley and was a girl who'd graduated a few years ahead of me. She hit on me the whole time...hard. It was actually kind of flattering.
"I reckon that girl likes you," Dad said with a smirk, studying the menu as if he were going to order something than his usual.
"Oh, you don't want that one, baby," Mom said, "she's been married and divorced and has two kids. You get you a nice girl, like Nicole Atwood."
"Nicole Atwood?" I asked, "the girl who used to beat me up in kindergarten? Ha! No thanks."
"Well," Mom said, "I guess a nice California girl will do, but only if she's sane. You never can tell about those girls. I hear they're all atheist feminists and man-haters."
I swallowed and considered what it would be like to come out to my parents like I'd done a million times in my head. I pictured my dad just getting up and walking out. My mom, I pictured freaking out and making a scene. Besides, a crowded restaurant wasn't the place to do it. Maybe no place was the place to do it. I mean, how do you tell your parents you're gay when they think it's the equivalent of baby-killing and pig-fucking?
"Got your rolls here," Ashley said, interrupting my thoughts, tossing her brown hair and smiling, "I even threw in a few extra for you."
I'm sure had I been a straight guy, the smell of her shampoo and her offering of extra food would have sold me.
"Thanks," I said, giving her my best smile.
She blushed, stuttered through taking our orders, and left quickly.
Oh my God, I thought to myself, by some weird fluke of nature, I've become hot to these girls.
I'd never been really ugly, but I'd been a little pudgy, had acne, and no sense of style. Regular exposure to foods that were not deep-fried, a drier climate, and being surrounded by Californian fashion plates (and those months in Europe during the summer) really helped with those particular problems in that particular order. Now, I guess, I was a prime cut of man. It felt odd.
"Stop that," Mom said, "it's not nice to flirt with the girl like that."
"Leave him be, Kathy," Dad said with a grin, "he's enjoying it."
Mom shook her head and frowned.
"Men," she sighed, "you're all the same."
Dad and I chuckled and afterwards, I looked out the window and sighed. Dammit, I hated to admit it, but I was home.
Chapter 1: Reunion
I drifted around my house for two days, restless as a ghost and bored to tears. It's amazing how quickly the old feelings of depression and imprisonment came rushing back to haunt me, and it's amazing how quickly I let them get to me. The moment I walked into my bedroom, I thought about all the times I thought about what it`d be like to just...disappear. I remembered digging my fingernails into my palms until they bled, ashamed of what I'd just looked at on the computer or fantasized about in the shower.
I remembered the magazines that were still hidden under my mattress, full of beautiful, naked girls that never did anything for me but frustrate. There was the guitar I hadn't picked up since I'd decided that making music wasn't worth the pain it evoked. There were no pictures on the wall of me with friends, there'd never been much opportunity for that. The only picture in my room was of me and Hunter Jackson on Jekyll Island. It was one some random yearbook staffer had snapped on a school trip.
In the picture, Hunter was pointing something out to me across the water, casually leaning against my shoulder, his blonde hair tousled by the sea breeze, his blue eyes intent on some sight. My hair was shorter then, a spiky black mess, and my eyes, a dark green compared to his light blue and hidden behind wire-framed glasses, were gazing longingly at him. It was a moment of perfect weakness that terrified me still to look at. I'd snatched it off the bulletin board the yearbook staff put up at the end of the year my junior year. It was of pictures they didn't use, but didn't want to throw away. Double prints, candids, things like that. I grabbed it before anyone else could, and through it all, I couldn't bear to throw it away.
It was enough to drive a guy crazy.
I'd looked in the mirror a lot those first two days, mainly to remind myself how much I'd changed. Gone was the chubby, nerdy kid who`d barely been a blip on anyone`s radar. In his place was someone decidedly different.
For one, I was taller. I'd been a late bloomer and had grown a full three inches during the past year, which put me just at six feet. Second, I'd lost a full twenty pounds without good old Mama Kathy DeAurora frying up chicken or some other god-awfully-fattening entree every other night. I'd polished my look, too. A summer in Europe will do that for you . Jesus Christ, those European boys were like chocolate truffle after years of powdered cocoa mix. I had been in heaven.
European boys are...whew. That's all I'm saying. It`s a wonder my virginity was intact at all.
I mean, when you're a gay guy, virginity is sort of a nebulous place to map out. Girls have it easy. If a dude hasn't put his penis in your vagina, you're a virgin. Guys like me, it's different. Was it the first time you gave or received a hand job, blow job, got fucked? Are there three different levels of virginity? It's hard (no pun intended) to figure it out sometimes.
I guess if we classify hand jobs a 1, blow jobs a 2, and anal 3, then I'm a level 3 virgin. My first blow job, I got in Paris from a SMOKING hot French boy named Michel. Good God, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. He even swallowed. He wanted me to fuck him, but I was scared and neither of us had a condom, and there was no way in hell or earth that I was doing anything anal, giving or receiving, without a rubber. So he just sucked me off, which, as aforementioned, was amazing.
The first hand job I ever gave lasted all of about thirty seconds when I was fifteen and fished Jesse Martin's dick out of his boxers while he slept and played with it. When he rolled over and muttered something in his sleep, I nearly had a heart attack and I didn't even touch my own dick for a week. The first hand job I ever got was...well, it was actually a few months later when I turned sixteen, it was eventually followed by the first blow job I ever gave. That was when Hunter and I got close, and I didn't even want to think about it.
Christ, it still hurt to think of him, and I submitted to myself that I was not going to. I'd had enough of wandering around the house like a ghost. It was time to take some initiative.
"Can I borrow your truck?" I asked my dad, sticking my head into his office, "I'd kinda like to drive around, see what's changed. Maybe clear my head a little."
He regarded me strangely for a minute, then tossed me his keys. Much to my surprise, I caught them. I'd never been good at that sort of thing. I left my cell phone on the kitchen table (on purpose, so as to be "conveniently unavailable"), and kissed my mom on the way out the door, pretending not to hear her when she asked where I was going. I backed dad's old Ford Ranger out of the driveway and sped off down the dirt road in search of some sort of higher truth.
If you've never got the chance to ride the backroads of a small, southern town, then let me let you in on a little secret: you're missing out on one of God's great adventures. If there's ever a question that you need to tackle, a mental quandary that you've got to get over, around, or through, then I suggest you take it to the backroads. Given enough gas, a man could figure out the cure for cancer out there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those tree-hugging granola people. I think urban life is great and all that, but there's something peaceful about getting lost on a small country lane with nothing but ditches, fields, and trees on either side of you for miles around.
I thought a lot about what I'd left behind in Masterson. There was Mrs. Carter, my guidance counselor, who'd challenged me to chase my dreams until they took shape. There was Mr. Troy, my English teacher, who I'm pretty sure was gay himself (which would explain his great interest in helping me reach my "highest potential.") There was the loose-knit group of freaks and misfits that I hung out with every now and then behind the old gas station and played music with.
I chuckled as I thought of us, convinced that we were rock stars and gods of guitar and song. We were pretty pathetic, if I remember correctly, all singing about how much we didn't care whether or not the world cared about us. Fuck them, we said. Pretty pathetic, now that I think about it.
I rolled the windows down and breathed in deep. I smelled dirt, rain, and pine needles. Sometimes, I swear the place isn't so bad. If only I had been more at peace, like I was at that moment, but there never was much peace to go around for the kid trying to come to terms with his sexuality in a small town. I blinked back tears. I'd gone so far, I thought, and here I was, full circle, back at home, dealing with the same shit over again.
I knew the only thing left to do was to tell my parents. I knew it. Still, I was scared, terrified even. I figured Mom'd overreact, act like it was okay, then be all passive-aggressive about it. Dad...who knew how Dad'd react? What if I had to go back to California on my own? I mean, my ticket was round-trip, my college bills were taken care of thanks to my scholarship, and I had a somewhat-decent job at the campus bookstore. How would I pay for graduate school? How would I live when I'd finished? What if I got sick. I didn't have health insurance, not apart from my parents.
I took a deep breath.
Stop being such a drama queen, I chided myself. I pulled over next to an empty field, grabbed the blanket I knew my dad kept behind the seat, and threw it in the truck bed. I lay there for what seemed like hours, watching the sunlight play through the trees like a kaleidoscope. I imagined for a moment that I was the only man on earth, that there was no one else to tell me I was wrong or right. I imagined for a moment that all that mattered was what I thought and felt.
Mostly, that just made me feel alone, though. Feeling alone sucks, as I'm sure you know. I modified my fantasy to include just one other person. I imagined him, hard and warm against me, lips brushing against my cheek as he whispered clever little quips about our day and how much he loved me. He was strong, this imaginary boyfriend. Beautiful, but firm. Kind of like Hunter...
"Dammit!" I growled, sitting straight up.
I couldn't even have a fucking fantasy without him invading! No! I was fucking over him! It had taken me months, but I was over him! Still, all the old feelings came rushing back, and for the first time since I'd gotten home, I let them. I remembered what it was like to touch him, to have him touch me. His body was so warm all the time, like he had fire inside him. I loved how aggressive he was, how hungry for life he seemed. It wasn't just the sex, hell, it was barely the sex at all. Okay, maybe it was the sex, but he was the best friend, maybe the only real friend I'd ever had.
Everything had been so perfect with him. We laughed with each other, talked about everything, fooled around together. Of course, I'd been head over heels for him, and he'd just been confused and horny most of the time, but I remembered every moment I'd been with him as if they'd been burned into my skull with a red-hot poker. He'd woken up places in me I'd tried my whole life to ignore and made me not only feel okay to acknowledge those things, but enjoy them.
I'll never forget the time he came to me at a party, drunk as a skunk, and bold as brass, telling me he'd seen me looking at him. He was a football jock with a reputation as something of a man-whore. He was also massaging my dick through my shorts. What was I supposed to do? We'd jerked each other off for the first time of many. I thought his dick was going to burn my hand, it was so hot, and I nearly died when he actually shot into my hand. It'd been the highlight of my life up until then.
I could feel my crotch start to tighten just thinking about it. I needed a cold shower. Like...right away. I toyed with the idea of whipping it out and getting some relief right then and there, but jerking off in a random field when just anyone could drive by was stupid...and kind of hot. Shit, I was already hard, why not? I'd barely jerked for thirty seconds before I shot into the dusty gray-black soil. I got back into the truck breathing a little harder and a little less stressed. Nothing like spanking the monkey to get the monkey off your back.
I threw the truck in gear and headed back home. There was an old movie on AMC I wanted to see and it was just about to start. When I got home, there was a black Audi sports car parked in the yard. I didn't recognize it, but it damn sure impressed me.
"Damn," I said with a whistle as I got out of dad's truck and circled the little coupe.
I headed inside, anxious to see who my parents knew with such a great car.
"Hey, who's car is that outside? It's frigging..."
It was Hunter Jackson, and he was in my house, sitting on my couch, talking with my parents. He'd not changed one bit, except for his hair, which was much shorter, now styled into a fashionable faux-hawk. He still looked and dressed like a walking American Eagle commercial, all confidence and charm. He was wearing a simple navy blue knit polo (obligatory popped collar included, of course) and a pair of-well worn jeans with his flip-flops. It was close to forty degrees out and he was dressed like he was going to the beach. Only Hunter.
He also happened to have a look on his face that was reminiscent of a man who'd just seen a ghost.
"N...Nathan?" he stammered, standing up.
I suddenly realized that he was seeing me for the first time in over a year.
"Dude, you look...you're...wow."
"Uh...thanks?" I chuckled nervously.
"You look great, Nate!" he finally exclaimed, pulling me into a hug.
It took all I could do not to melt against him. Oh God, he smelled so good. I thought I might die. Then he pulled away and slapped my shoulder...hard.
"Nerdy little Nate went all Joe College on us," he grinned, flashing his blindingly white teeth.
Sometimes he could be a total asshole. A damned charming asshole, but an asshole.
"You look...exactly the same," I jabbed back.
"Why improve perfection? Am I right Mr. and Mrs. DeAurora?"
Dad chuckled and Mom gave him his typical female response of shameless fawning.
"That your car outside?" I asked
"Yeah," he said through a cocky half-smile, "she's beautiful, isn't she? I named her Becca."
After his first girlfriend. Appropriate. He probably rode that car as hard as her.
"You're a bad man," I smiled, unable to stop myself from appreciating his skewed sense of humor.
"I am indeed," he said, "you wanna go for a ride in it?"
My heart pounded. Him and me. Alone. In a car. In the past, that had always ended in one way. Usually cleaning jizz off the dash...and each other.
"Go ahead," Mom said, "I'll have dinner ready when you get back."
Dad nodded his approval as well, and I found myself following Hunter out the door. How typical.
"I was hoping she'd invite me to stay for dinner," he said, whispering to me.
My mom was a killer cook. For real.
He unlocked the doors and we both slid into the leather bucket seats. Even the car smelled like his cologne. Jesus, it was making me horny...again.
"Graduation present," he said, answering me before I could ask.
"Nice," I said, absently fingering the dash.
He started the car up and the damn thing actually purred.
"Shit," I breathed.
"I know, right?" he giggled like we were seven.
"You boys drive safe!" my mom called from the porch.
"Not a change, Mrs. DeAurora!" he yelled back, throwing the car into reverse and peeling out of our driveway like a madman.