STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!
Copyright 2001 by Nick Archer.
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By Nick Archer
"Tim, we have to talk."
Friday morning before Tim left for work, he sat at the kitchen table where Tim was lingering over a mug of coffee.
Matt presented him with Jennys booklet of chemical reactions. She had drawn it for Matt when he was a teacher. It was a brilliant bit of work, especially considering she was in 8th grade when she completed it. On the back, Tommy had drawn with his craypas.
"I told him he could use some paper from the recycle bin."
"That wasnt the recycle bin, that was the stuff I wanted to save."
"Well, how was I supposed to know that?"
Matt was irrationally angry. "Its my only copy. Shit, I wanted to keep this."
"Im sorry, Matt, I really am. But the crates werent marked, and I thought that one was the recycle bin."
"Thats not the only thing. A couple days ago, Tommy told me you let Brian go over to Leahs when she wasnt there."
"I didnt know she wasnt there. He said her car was here."
"Her car was here, but she had gone to her bridge club or whatever."
"Im sorry Matt, I didnt know."
Matt poured himself a cup of coffee. "Not to mention the fact that he had just asked me if he could go over there just minutes before," he said from the kitchen.
"I didnt know that either."
"Its the oldest trick in the book. One parent says no, so you ask the other parent."
"I never did that."
"You didnt have to. You were the youngest."
"Whats that supposed to mean?" Now, Tim was getting angry.
"The youngest always gets away with murder. By the time the youngest kid comes around, the parents are tired of battling. You never learned to play the game."
Tim tried to diffuse the situation with a quip. "And thats a good thing, right?"
"I feel like youre undermining me, here, Tim. One of the things we agreed on is a united front when it comes to the kids. What other things have been going on that I should know about?"
Out of anger, Tim struck back. "Nothing, unless you count Brians cell phone bill."
"What about it?"
"He went over the minutes, so I paid the difference," he replied with nonchalance to further anger Matt.
"Tim!" Matt shouted.
"Shhh-hh! Youll wake the kids up!"
Matt slammed his coffee mug on the table. Coffee sloshed over the sides and onto the tabletop. "How do you ever expect him to learn responsibility if you keep bailing him out?"
Tim took a deep breath. "Why dont you just let them be kids, Matt? Just let them be boys! Theyre going to do stupid things and get into trouble."
"Thats true, but we dont have to encourage it!"
"I see your point about Brian going over to Leahs -- but guess what Matt? Theyre going to have sex no matter what we do. Youre right, we dont have to encourage it, but we might as well accept it. As for Tommy drawing on the paper, Im sorry about that, but it was your fault for leaving this stuff in the dining room and for forgetting to buy paper at the store after they asked you to do it several times. As for the cell phone bill, he can pay me back."
"What is Brian doing intercepting the cell phone bill, anyway? Its in my name."
"I dont know."
"Think about it, Tim. Are there other things theyre lifting out of the mail before we can see them? Progress reports from school?" Matts voice was rising again.
"I feel like youre working against me, Tim. These kids are from broken homes. What they need is routine and consistency and discipline. Otherwise, theyre going to walk all over us. We cant be consistent if one parent goes against another."
Tim stood up. "You know, Im tired of this. Sometimes you treat me like a kid, too."
"And thats the last thing I need around here."
"I need to get to work."
"Were not finished with this discussion. Not by a long shot." Matt had one more shot in his gun, and he took aim. "And you can just sleep on the couch tonight."
"If Im here after work."
"Whats that supposed to mean?"
"You figure it out," he said as he slammed out the kitchen door.
Matts hand trembled as he wiped up the coffee on the table. Had he gone too far? Was be being too inflexible? Was Tim right about just letting them be kids? No, he told himself, thats one thing thats not negotiable. These kids need consistency more than anything.
He sat down at the table again and sipped his lukewarm coffee. I wish I had someone to talk to right now. Leah would understand. God, how I wish I could talk to Marty.
His eyes filled with tears. He loved Tim dearly, but he was right, he knew he was. He glanced at the clock.
7:15. I have just enough time for a cry, then I can jump in the shower before the kids get up.
"Are you done with your saint report yet, Brian?" Matt asked him on the way to the Field Museum.
Instead of driving, Matt had chosen to take Metra, Chicagos excellent commuter railroad system. The Illinois Central once owned the line they were riding. Out of the dozen lines that radiated from downtown Chicago, this was the only one that was electrified. Just inside the entry vestibule were two pairs of seats that faced each other. It was here that Matt and the boys sat. Tommy sat on Matts lap. They had parked the Jeep in the station lot in Richton Park. The tickets were probably no less expensive than driving and parking, since Matt had to pay the full fare for Mike, Brian and Jake. But the experience of riding the train was part of the adventure.
The train lurched. A bass voice boomed over the public address system: "This is the downtown train. Matteson is next. Watch the doors, please."
"Yeah," Brian beamed. "I did Saint Sergius."
"Hmmm. Thats an interesting choice." Jake and Brian had to do a report on the life of a saint. The saint was supposed to be someone who they wanted to imitate. They would adopt the name of the saint as part of the Confirmation ritual.
"Hes a martyr from the third century. He was part of the Roman army and the emperor ordered him to worship in a temple of Jupiter. He was killed when he refused. But get this he was gay!"
"He was? How do you know?"
"He was martyred at the same time as St. Baccus. They had gone through some sort of marriage. The source I found on the Internet called it a Rite of Brotherhood and compared it to a same-sex marriage."
"Wow! Very resourceful of you. You didnt include the part about the gay marriage in your report, did you?"
"Of course not, do you think Im crazy?"
Matt smiled to himself. In some ways, Brian was a chip off the old block. He already was developing a sense of which information to withhold and when to do it. It was such a shame that he had to learn that task. In a more enlightened time and society, he wouldnt have to do that.
"211th Street is next," Matt mumbled.
"What?" Mike and Brian asked him.
The train slowed for the next stop. "211th Street Lincoln Highway. Please watch your step."
Tommy looked at him in amazement. "How did you know that?"
"I have it memorized," Matt smirked at him. "Ive ridden this train enough to know. I used to drift off sometimes in the afternoon on the way home. I didnt want to miss my stop." He turned his attention to Jake. "Jake, is your report done?
"Yup," he beamed. "I did St. Augustine of Hippo. He was the son of St. Monica. Early in his life he was a party animal. Then he turned his life around and followed Christ. And he was bisexual."
"Where did you find this out? Im sure they didnt include that information in Lives of the Saints."
"No, I found it in a book you have in the basement. Peoples Almanac. It said that when he was sixteen or so, he had an affair with another boy. This was before he converted, of course."
Hes trying to tell me something. Hes trying to tell the world something. Wonder if Jake is bisexual? Whatever he is, hes definitely questioning his sexuality. I dont think hes exclusively gay; Ive never thought that. Could he be basically straight, with gay tendencies? Could it just be the environment hes in?
"Olympia Fields is next," Matt told them before the conductor announced it. The conductor came around and punched their tickets. They had missed the rush hour by taking the 9:01 train. They would detrain at 12th Street, just south of the Loop, and cross Lake Shore Drive on the pedestrian bridge.
"Can we go sit upstairs?" Jake asked.
Matt glanced around the nearly empty train. "OK, but stay out of trouble."
They noisily climbed the steep stairs to the upper level, choosing to sit in the tandem seats at the opposite end of the car. Matt could watch them in the curved mirror installed just under the ceiling.
Station naming became a game between Matt and Tommy, who was now seated opposite Matt. As the train slowed for the next stop, Tommy would ask Matt to name the next station. Matt only forgot one Ivanhoe.
The pastoral, wooded suburbs blurred into an urban landscape. They passed huge steel factories, and blighted neighborhoods, some that still displayed signs of their former glory. Every so often, Tommy would point out the window and ask Matt to identify a building or landmark.
"What station is next?"
"115 Kensington, change for the Blue Island train."
"What does that mean?"
"Its a branch to Blue Island. You would get off this train and get on another if you wanted to go to Blue Island."
"Isnt that where Uncle Marty lives?"
Matt shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Yeah. In fact he rides this train to work."
They retreated into silence as they watched out the window. Every so often Matt glanced upstairs to keep an eye on the boys. Now that they were in the city itself, the train stopped at fewer stations. Matt decided that he needed to have a serious talk with Jake about sexuality. And he had some deep-seated prejudices to overcome. Matt disliked bisexuals. After he had accepted his own gayness, Matt dismissed bisexuals. He thought they were all looking for justification of their gay lifestyle and having a decoy girlfriend was one way to do it.
In addition, Matt was prejudiced against bisexuals because he had dated a few two to be specific and had come away from the experiences hurt, confused and wondering why he had ever tried it.
Just north of Kensington, Tommy pointed to a neighborhood of red brick buildings, all done in a similar architectural style.
"Whats that?" He pointed out the east side of the train.
"Its a neighborhood called Pullman."
"It kind of looks like Park Forest."
Matt was pleased at Tommys thought processes and astute questions. He was quite an intelligent boy. Matt explained to him, "Thats because its a planned community, like Park Forest."
"Whats a planned community?"
"Its a town or neighborhood that is planned by one developer. Everything is taken into consideration. Houses, apartments, shopping areas, factories everything is planned and placed before construction begins. George Pullman built Pullman in the 1890s for his workers. They built railroad cars."
"Interesting. Do you think we could find some information about it on the Internet when we get home?"
Matt smiled at him. "Sure." Matt realized that he focused an inordinate amount of attention on the teens in his house, he knew it, and felt bad about it. Although Tommy was quite independent he deserved more of Matts undivided attention.
"Hey, dad?" Tommy interrupted his reverie again.
"Can we go to the Planetarium instead?"
"Well, theres a problem. Brian and Jake and Mike are going on a field trip there in a couple of weeks. Mr. Groves asked me to chaperone."
Tommy pouted, but Matt knew he would soon snap out of it. Tommy was very resilient and seldom stayed down long.
When they reached McCormick Place at 18th Street, Matt stood up and called quietly to the boys. "Our stop is coming up. Come on down."
"Come on down! Youre the next contestant on The Price is Right!" Jake shouted.
"Shh-hh-hh," Matt admonished him.
An Asian woman on the lower level smiled. She, at least, found Jake amusing.
The Field Museum of Natural History stood along the lakefront at 12th Street, just south of Soldier Field. Recently, the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive had been rerouted to the west of the museum, creating a Museum Campus that included The Field, The Adler Planetarium, and The Shedd Aquarium. All three buildings and the land they sat upon were created for the 1933-34 Worlds Fair. The whole area from 12th Street south to 34th Street was a massive landfill. When the fair ended the three museum buildings was the only lasting legacy.
A Century of Progress was staged to celebrate the centennial of the incorporation of the city of Chicago. Its art deco architecture; graphics and industrial design set the pace for decades. And despite the fact it was held in the midst of The Great Depression, it was unique in one more aspect: A Century of Progress was the only Worlds Fair in the twentieth century to not only break even, but to turn a profit.
The morning was sunny but blustery as they walked across the pedestrian bridge spanning busy Lake Shore Drive. They had a clear view of the skyline as well as the lake. Lake Michigan was restless today, displaying its impatience for summer in the form of white-capped waves.
"Look! They have a McDonalds here!" Mike pointed at the map of the museum. They had paid their admission and now stood in the skylit central hall. A replica of a Mastodon loomed over them.
"But thats not what we came to see. Lets start upstairs."
The bright central hall echoed with their voices despite a fountain that was probably placed there to deaden the echoes.
Upstairs were housed the Museums vast plant collection and artifacts from Pacific cultures. There was a full size replica of a Maori meeting house. They all found the gems room fascinating. The jade room astonished them with the craftsmanship and skill of people who could create such objects out of the semiprecious material. On the balcony overlooking the central hall, there were displays on earth science. They browsed displays on plate tectonics, glaciers, rivers, lakes, meteors and asteroids. One of Tommys favorite displays was a display of a meteor that fell to earth in the 1920s. It had landed on the wooden roof of a garage, then burned through the metal roof of the Model A, then the back seat and finally became lodged on the tailpipe. All the artifacts where there: the garage roof, the roof of the car, the back seat and the dented tailpipe. A diagram demonstrated the trajectory of the meteorite.
Life Over Time presented evolution in a series of realistic dioramas. And then there were the dinosaurs. The boys were openly enthused about the dinosaurs. The mission of the Field Museum was not only to display and present natural history to the public, but also to fund research projects. By 1998, the most complete T. Rex dinosaur ever to be discovered would be displayed in the central court. However, their collection of dinosaurs was excellent now. They marveled at the reassembled fossils as well as the animated dinosaurs.
On the main floor, they paused at the displays of birds, reptiles and mammals. Matt liked the Africa display and a display called Nature Walk. They all learned from the Native American area with the replica of a Pawnee earthlodge.
"The ceiling is so low in here," Jake commented.
"I think they were shorter than us. Thats what Mr. Roache said. Hes my history teacher." Brian asked.
"I think you may be right."
They also browsed through the well-stocked Museum Store. Matt always challenged the boys when they were in public and they wanted him to buy something for them. He insisted that they use their own allowance money or reimburse him for CDs, toys, sports equipment and other things that couldnt wait for their next birthday or Christmas. He had to watch his budget, and he wanted to teach them the value of money. Matt had long ago learned that while in a store, if one of the boys said to him, "I want to show you something," it was a red flag. It meant that he was being treated as a wallet on legs. And he hated that feeling.
But, when it came to educational items and books, Matt never hesitated to open his wallet within reason. Brian found a mineral guidebook, Jake an edible plant book and Mike wanted a birdfeeder kit. Tommy was excited about a butterfly kit. It came with a plastic butterfly terrarium and a certificate to send away for live cocoons and plants.
They stowed their purchases in a checkroom, then descended to the lower level of the museum. Lunch at McDonalds was the next order of business, even though it was almost two oclock.
"Why do you hate McDonalds?" Jake asked.
"Where to start the food, the service. I read you had to have a skin condition to work there."
They boys laughed. "Most of all," Matt continued, "I hate the play areas. I dont need screaming kids while Im trying to eat."
"So thats why we can never eat in the restaurant when we go with you," Brian observed.
"You got it, Kimosabe."
"I like the play areas," Tommy mumbled.
When they finished eating, they proceeded to the Egyptian area. It was no mistake that the Egyptian artifacts were located on the lower level. When some slabs were brought back to Chicago, they were so heavy, museum officials were afraid that the floors wouldnt support them.
In rapt silence they gazed upon the bodies and faces of humans thousands of years old, as if they contained wisdom of the universe. They marveled at the artifacts of gold and the inscrutable hieroglyphics. They gazed at the exotic representations of birds and snakes and cats.
One of the displays that interested them was a display of mummified cats.
"Glad Prints isnt here to see this. It would upset him," Brian said.
With a visit to Underground Adventure, their trip was over.
"Its almost four oclock!" Matt exclaimed. "Wed better get going. I dont want to hit rush hour on the trains."
They retrieved their goods from the checkroom, and put on their jackets.
As they crossed the bridge over Lake Shore Drive, Matt asked them, "Who has the train schedule?"
"I do," Jake handed the schedule to him.
"Does everybody have their ticket? Good." The 12th Street Station, unlike the other two downtown stations was unattended. It had recently been rebuilt from the ground up, with sturdy concrete platforms replacing the almost century-old wooden ones.
Just as they reached the platform, a train pulled into the station. The boys raced to board it.
"No, no," Matt stopped them. "Thats not the right one. Thats a South Chicago train."
"How do you know?"
"The number on the front of the train. That was 333. We want 701. It should be the next one."
Within minutes, the next train glided into the station. "South suburban express train, Zones F and G. Next stop; 59/The University of Chicago; 115/Kensington; Olympia Fields, 211th Street, Matteson, Richton, and University Park. Boooooard!"
Even at 4:30, the train was already crowded. "Stay together as much as possible." Matt told them.
"You mean we cant sit upstairs?"
"No," Matt replied.
They walked toward the back of the train in search of empty seats, preferably, the seats facing each other near the vestibule.
The train lurched gently and walking down the center aisle was like trying to walk on a boat on Lake Michigan. The boys had a hilarious time. They pretended to be drunk as they made their way down the aisles and through the sliding doors between cars. They were almost to the rear of the train, when they spotted a single man in the four-seat space near the vestibule.
He was reading the Chicago Sun-Times and held it up so Matt couldnt see his face. The top of his head was shaved bald, Matt observed.
He smelled the strong cologne as he leaned in to ask, "Excuse me, do you mind if me and my sons sit here?"
Slowly the newspaper came down. It was Marty!
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. I read and respond to all email (even if it takes a few days) Just click on one of the links below. And don't forget to check out my website (Chapters are always posted there earlier than here) and my other story here on Nifty, Pocketful of Stars, in the Young Friends section.
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