THE DRAMA CLUB, Part 16Here Comes the Sun
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One day youll look and see Ive gone,
For tomorrow may rain so Ill follow the sun.
Some day youll know I was the one,
But tomorrow may rain so Ill follow the sun.
And now the time has come so my love I must go,
And though I lose a friend in the end you will know,
One day youll look and see Ive gone,
For tomorrow may rain so Ill follow the sun.
Ill Follow the Sun (Beatles, 1965)
Gene sat at the table in the kitchen, his hands wrapped around the ceramic mug of cold chamomile tea. A cigarette lay abandoned in the metal ashtray beside him, a long cylinder of ash clinging to the slow burning filter. The overhead light threw sharp reflections from the white surface of the tabletop and the night backed glass over the sink. The apartment was silent save for the slow rain that tapped quietly against the windowpanes.
He hadnt been able to sleep. Tossing in the bed and disturbing the cat, hed finally given up and trudged into the kitchen in the hopes that tea might help him get through the night. It wasnt working. Gene studied the small vase of silk daisies in the center of the table. The illusion of life, he thought, looking at the false flowers, his brain dull with exhaustion. They dont even need water, forever self-sufficient, forever perfect. And what is it that I need, he asked himself. What do I need, not just want, but really need to survive?
The answer was important; he knew that. But knowing it wasnt helping. He still felt ashamed of himself, felt like a jerk for what he was thinking. Selfish. Self-indulgent. Spoiled and self centered. Hed been calling himself names in his head for hours. He picked up the cigarette, noticed it was nearly gone and crushed it out. He reached for the half-empty pack of Marlboros, fished out a fresh cigarette and put it to his lips. The click of the silver lighter seemed loud in the silence.
He needed to concentrate. Today was important in so many ways, just not in ways his mind wanted to work on right now. His thoughts kept drifting back to Michael. He just couldnt shake the thought that Michael had gone to see Angel tonight. And just what did you expect, Gene asked himself harshly. You told him to call Angel; you told him you didnt want to see him. Lying was so easy when he was being noble, Gene thought. He wished just once he could be a selfish bastard. Selfish bastards were never sitting alone in their kitchens at four A.M. He heard the sound of a key in the lock and the front door opening. Barbara was home from her late shift. He looked around the kitchen and stood up quickly to dump out the full ashtray into the trash under the sink. No sense in worrying her.
Gene sat down with the empty ashtray, the lit cigarette still in his hand, just as his mother came into the kitchen, bringing in the smell of rain. Her black hair was pulled back from her high cheekbones in a tight bun, she wore hospital scrubs and white sneakers. She set her lunch case on the counter, brushed a stray hair behind her ears, and looked at her son.
"Good morning, Gene, youre up a little early, arent you?" Her voice was gentle. She looked at the cigarette in his hand but said nothing.
"Yeah." Gene watched impassively as she put the used plastic containers from the red zippered case into the dishwasher, closing both when she was done. She sat down beside her son and felt the mug in front of him.
"Would you like me to heat this up for you?" Barbara asked him. He shook his head. She studied his face. He tapped his cigarette on the side of the ashtray without speaking, gray ash tumbling silently. Barbara picked up the mug and took it to the microwave, punching the keypad after she closed the door. Gene sighed.
Barbara leaned against the counter, waiting for the tea to heat and watching her son. He looked more tired than she had seen him in months and that was during a late spring tournament. This was a Sunday night. Something was keeping him awake. He didnt look sick, just exhausted. The skin under his eyes was dark and the hand that held the cigarette trembled slightly. She reached up to a cabinet for another mug and a tea bag, choosing green tea from a little box decorated with willow trees. She opened the microwave and added the second mug.
Gene watched her without speaking. He remembered her face when theyd told her that Mike was his boyfriend. Mike had been nervous and theyd both kept their eyes on hers as they spoke, telling her that Gene was gay, that they loved each other, asking what she thought, if it was alright. Her elegant face hadnt changed expression while they spoke. Barbara had told them she was pleased for them, had told Michael he was always welcome at their home. Shed asked if hed like a key made. The boys had exchanged glances. When they looked back, Barbara had been smiling, her dark eyes bright with tears. Shed told them to make each other happy, Gene remembered, and not to worry about what other people thought.
Well, I certainly screwed that one up, Gene thought. He wondered how many chances people ever really got to be happy. He didnt think it was many. He didnt expect to get another one anytime soon.
The microwave beeped and Barbara brought the two mugs to the table and sat back down beside Gene. She watched him pull out and light another cigarette. He was smoking too much; shed seen the extra empty packs in the trash for over a week. Surely, this was several packs a day now. And here he was smoking alone in the tail end of night, his face haggard and drawn. She tested her tea cautiously. Too hot. She set the mug down and placed her small hand over her sons long fingers.
"Would you like to talk?" Barbara asked him.
He made a little noncommittal noise in his throat. She waited.
"Nothing to talk about, Mom." Gene said, his voice husky from lack of sleep.
She tried her tea again and, satisfied, sipped while she thought, her eyes closing. She was fairly tired herself and wanted to sleep soon. These late shifts seemed longer than the same hours did in the daytime. The pay was good, though, and the hospital was easier to deal with at night, few administrators and fewer complications. She stroked Genes hand under hers.
"Gene, is this about Matthew?" Barbara asked, careful to keep her tone neutral.
The debater shook his head, his tousled hair glinting under the ceiling light.
"No, I can handle Matty." He told her in a flat voice.
"Has he called you yet?" She asked him.
"No but Im sure hes here or Coach would have called me." Gene lifted his mug and drank some of the tea thinking, as always, that it would be better with sugar. Then again, what wouldnt? He smiled to himself.
"Hes still staying with Dr. Friedman for now?"
Barbara paused, then spoke.
"Hes welcome here, Gene, be sure to remind him. Its not a problem if he needs to stay with us. The sofa bed is big and I wont fuss over him. Make sure he understands that."
"He knows, Mom."
Barbara nodded. "It wont hurt to say it again, Gene. People dont always believe theyll be welcome. Matthews young and going through a lot right now. It wont hurt to remind him that he has a place here if he needs it."
"Matty, Mom, he hates being called Matthew." Gene corrected. Barbara made an affirmative sound and drank her tea. Her mind felt thick, she needed sleep. It wasnt usual for Gene to be so hard to talk to, they usually communicated easily. It wasnt the new debate partner, it was something else but she never pushed her son. Well, never without a reason, she thought to herself with a small smile.
"Is this the day you start working on the Gay-Straight Alliance?" Barbara asked him.
"Yeah. First meeting is after school."
"And Dr. Friedman is the sponsor?"
Barbara looked at her sons face, his dark eyes were strained.
"How does he feel about it?" She asked, vaguely sure that wasnt the problem. Gene avoided her gaze.
"Hes fine, Mom. Hell be great, theres no problem." Genes voice was distant now.
"No problem doesnt keep you awake like this."
"Mmm." Gene was looking at the flowers again. They looked so real; the illusion was excellent. Then again, it wasnt so hard to fool people, Gene knew. What you needed was a distraction and then just enough substance to meet expectations.
"Is it "Barbara hesitated, her eyes on Gene. "Is it Michael?"
Genes jaw tensed but he didnt answer immediately.
So much for secrets, Barbara thought. She knew Michael had been here over the weekend, it couldnt be serious. Her sons face suggested otherwise. Shed had mixed feelings about their breakup last year but when little seemed different between them Barbara had relaxed. She wondered what had changed, if anything. Something must have but it didnt quite make sense. Then again, what did?
"Gene?" Her voice wasnt demanding but the tone was firm. Her son sighed heavily and her heart hurt to hear the weariness in it. Hes so very young, she thought, to sound so old.
"Mikes found someone else. I think its going to work out for them. Its a guy in drama." Genes voice was toneless as he told her this. He didnt meet her eyes.
Barbara felt a sudden weight in her chest, a hard heaviness, and she closed her eyes. She knew what it was to be forgotten. She hadnt wanted Gene to know that feeling. And shed been just his age, too, when shed been left alone and pregnant, living with parents who felt her disgrace keenly though they never mentioned it. She was second generation Chinese and had been expected to make it in America. Pregnant with the child of a white boy at sixteen wasnt what they had expected from their only child. She wondered how many times they might have wished she had been a son. Her father had loved Gene on first sight, though, the tiny infant small in the doctors hands. She was still grateful to her father for staying with her through the difficult delivery. Hed held her hand during the long hours and then fed her ice chips in the recovery room. Her mother had stayed home that endless night. Theyd never been close.
Her father had pinned his hopes on Barbara until the pregnancy interrupted her schooling. He had switched them to Gene almost immediately, spending time with the boy at every opportunity. She had never told him that his grandson was a homosexual. Some things were better left unsaid. Michael Morrison was a nice enough boy but hed always reminded her uncomfortably of her own high school sweetheart, Genes biological father. She hadnt seen Jack since that night shed told him about the baby. But she remembered the feeling of loss with an intensity that took her now by surprise. He wasnt going to marry a Chinese girl, that much had been clear from the moment shed spoken. He was going to university in the fall and couldnt let anything ruin his chances of success. The look hed given her was angry, almost as if he were offended at the imposition. She had never filed for child support and his family had never sent them a penny, never acknowledging that the baby existed. Gene had her fathers name, the same as she had, and no one had ever asked about another parent.
Well, she hadnt needed one. They were fine, the two of them. Now she wondered how she could help Gene forget the football player who had taken up so much of his life for the past year. Her own thoughts at his age had been filled with parenting and obtaining her GED so that she could work full-time. Shed had little time for heartache. Gene could finish high school, of course, he didnt have another person to care for, but she wondered how difficult the rest would be for him. He was so sensitive, she thought, so gentle. She took his hand into both of hers and held it silently. His eyes were on the flowers in the center of the table. She wondered what he was thinking. She didnt have to wonder what he was feeling. She had felt it herself at sixteen.
His heart was broken and he didnt have words to explain it to her. Gene who had words for everything and spoke on his feet with such ease, winning debate rounds with the fluid elegance of his English and the intelligence of his carefully constructed arguments. She had a feeling that hed never be able to put this into words, never be able to structure his heart the way he did debate cases with a careful, logical progression to an indisputable conclusion. There was nothing logical about love. Those threads didnt lend themselves to organized weaving, they lay in a disorganized tangle at the bottom of your heart. Barbara was astonished at how distinctly she still felt her own long-ago pain.
Evidently, an empty heart wasnt something that ever escaped your memory. She hoped that wouldnt be true for Gene but didnt see how he could avoid it. It wasnt as if he felt things any less because it was another boy that he loved. She thought of Jack in his tuxedo at the one school dance theyd attended. Hed been so very handsome. His eyes, like Michaels, had been a vivid green.
The rain was slowly letting up, the tapping at the window becoming less frequent. Today would be clear, according to the forecast, and the sun would come out.
Barbara sat holding her sons hand in the silent kitchen, her tea and exhaustion forgotten.
Little darling, its been a long cold lonely winter,
Little darling, it feels like years since its been here:
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say its all right.
Little darling, the smiles returning to their faces,
Little darling, it seems like its years since its been here,
Here comes the sun
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles, 1969)
Angel stirred in his sleep, his naked body turning under the covers to settle again beneath Michaels arm. Michael was awake in the dark room and listening to the sounds of slowing rain against the windowpane. Angels body felt good against him. Michael leaned close and brushed his lips across Angels eyelids.
Angel made a purring noise in his throat and opened his eyes. He could just make out Michaels features in the dim light from the computer monitor near the bed. He smiled into those shadowed eyes over his.
"Hmmm, hi, Mike." Angel said, his voice thick with sleep.
Michael kissed Angel, his lips lingering as the boy slowly wakened, then pulled back slightly.
"Hey, baby." Michael said huskily.
Angel stretched, his body pressing against the hard muscles of the football player beside him. He leaned his head back into the pillow to look at Michael.
"I fell asleep." Angel said, his voice soft.
"I noticed." Michaels tone was gently sardonic.
"Sorry, Mike, I dont know what happened. I must have been tired."
Angel giggled and pulled Michael down into a kiss, then pushed him just far enough away to see his face in the low light. He could feel Michaels body against his, the arm across his chest and the hardness against his thigh.
"Im sorry." Angel whispered, looking up at Michael.
Michael kissed him again, deeply this time, his tongue pushing into the heat of Angels mouth. Angel wrapped his arms around the other boy, pulling them together. He reached down and grasped Michael, causing them both to groan.
"So where were we?" Angel said softly, his lips almost on Michaels.
"Mmm. Right about there, if I remember correctly."
Angel smiled and pressed his lips to Michaels own. Michael thrust gently into Angels hand, the heat and friction fully waking his body. The rain was soft against the window, beating a rhythm much slower than their hearts. Angels fingers tightened, his other arm around Michaels waist. The boy against him felt good; the comforting closeness, the enticing warmth, the sleepy scent of his skin under the covers. Angel was hard but there was luscious softness in his heart and the combination was intense. He felt Michaels fingers draw down his back to cup his buttock in a broad hand.
"I seem to remember a certain request." Michael whispered in his ear, hot breath tickling Angels flesh and stirring his sleep tousled hair.
"Mmm." Angel arched up, pressing his need into Michaels own hardness. The touch of the two organs together sent a pleasurable shudder through his slim body. Michaels chest against his was delicious and banished the last vestige of sleep. Michaels nearness was intoxicating, his larger body impossible for Angel to resist.
Angel growled and put his hands to Michaels shoulders, pushing the other boy over and flat against the mattress. He heard Michael groan deep in his throat as Angel lay on top of him, pressing him into the bed.
"Mmm you feel good, Mike." Angel murmured.
Michael moaned low and pushed himself up into Angels slighter form.
"You feel better, baby. Especially like this." Michael said, his voice a tiger rumble. Angel ran his hands across Michaels chest, pinching the nipples between his fingers. Michaels eyes closed and the deep rumble returned.
Michael seemed like a huge cat to Angel, those feline green eyes hiding desire under dark lashes, the taut muscles of his body straining under him as if ready to pounce. Angel smiled to himself; he wanted to do some pouncing of his own. He leaned down and licked Michaels erect nipples, teasing them each in turn with his tongue. Michael cried out softly as Angels teeth touched the left nipple, rolling the hard tip between his teeth. Angel slid his hand down to the other boys organ, pulling it up and flat against his own belly between them. Michael ground his pelvis into Angel, his head tilting back into the pillows softness, his neck exposed and inviting. Angel nipped at the join of his shoulder, then sucked tender skin between his teeth.
Michael tasted like summer rain, like thunderstorms, like Love itself, tart with sweat and sweet with passion. Angel marked him with his mouth as he pushed Michaels legs apart with his right knee. He reached down and put his hand on the soft skin behind Michaels knee, pulling it up to let him lie between and press into the athletes groin, their urgency touching like hot coals, sending up sparks in the darkness. Angel felt sparks, felt as if there was a roaring furnace at that point of contact, a heat that slicked them and let them slide against each other easily, every tiny movement fueling the fire. Michael wrapped his legs behind Angel, little cries escaping his throat as Angel bit his flesh painfully, deliciously. Angel pulled his head back to look at Michaels face, the full lips parted, the eyes shut tight.
"I want to fuck you, Mike, is that okay?" Angel murmured, running his fingers against Michaels pectorals, cupping and squeezing them in his hands. Michael groaned loud and gasped as Angel ground hard into him.
"Oh God, yes, baby, way okay, I want you, I want that." Michael whispered, breathing fast. He pulled his legs higher onto Angels back, his erection flat against his stomach, the skin slick with sweat and other things. Angel slid his hand between Michaels legs and down to touch him there with two fingers, Michael crying out louder in the darkness and arcing his back up to meet his lover, wanting more, needing more. Angel was almost past thought; his need overpowering him as he reached over Michaels body to the bedside table.
Angel slipped a wet finger inside and Michael made a low sound between clenched teeth. Holding his breath, Angel focused on his own aching need and the tender place he touched, and slipped in another finger.
"Now, goddamit, now, baby, now." Michael pleaded, pulling his own knees back with his hands and opening himself under the slender boy.
Angel pulled his fingers out, making Michael groan and press his feet against the back of Angels thighs, urging him inward.
As Angel pushed gently in, the tightness engulfing him, he smiled to himself.
Angel had always wondered what it would be like to fuck a football player. He chuckled to himself as his eyes closed and his thighs tensed. And then Angel couldnt think; his brain shut down as his body took over. Michael writhed under him, his fingers digging into Angels sides. Angel leaned forward and thrust faster, his hands flat on the mattress alongside Michaels torso. Michael was incoherent, sounds low and deep escaping his throat.
The last of the rain trailed down the outside of the window, soft whispers in the night, as the first light of dawn purpled the sky.
Monday was here and the sun was stirring.
I need to laugh, and when the sun is out,
Ive got something I can laugh about.
I feel good in a special way,
Im in love, and its sunny day.
Good day sunshine.
We take a walk, the sun is shining down,
Burns my feet as they touch the ground,
Good day sunshine.
And then we lie beneath a shady tree,
I love him and hes loving me.
Good Day Sunshine (Beatles, 1966)
Bobby palmed the pills the nurse brought and drank his orange juice. He sat in the common room with the others, dutifully eating his breakfast. Hed made an effort since yesterday to follow the rules. He didnt want to be here tonight. Bobby knew his mother. If he could just convince her that he should come home, little would stop her from taking him out of there. And Bobby thought he could do that, thought he could persuade her. Hed woken up early, even earlier than his keepers, and had been running over arguments in his mind, readying himself for Mother. But he knew they were watching him, so he was careful.
Last night had brought almost dreamless sleep, for once. Hed woken up and lain there thinking while he listened to the sounds of the rain and the night shift trading off for morning faces. Richard came on in the morning; Bobby didnt want to see him again. After Gene had left, Richard had sat alone beside him for an hour, the door closed, his hand on Bobbys knee, asking him about the debater. Richard had been watching for signs of interest, that forbidden thing, so Bobby had worn a mask, showing no concern with the questions and no reaction to the undercurrent of accusation. He was sure Richard hadnt seen Genes kiss but Bobby probably hadnt been able to conceal the flush in his cheeks, the brightness in his eyes. Richard must have sensed something and thought it a good time to talk to Bobby about boys, about desires, and about God. More or less in that order.
Richard had sat close and said that hed done things with his friends when he was Bobbys age. Things he was ashamed of now. He said it was wrong, those secret things, those nasty things, but that Bobby shouldnt think he was the only one. Richard had gone into a lot more detail than Bobby had been comfortable with, telling him about the boy that he had shared his explorations with when he was in high school. Richard had described his feelings to Bobby, his long-ago friendship, and the way the curious questions had turned into experimental touching, kissing in corners, hands that finally strayed to crotches. Richard told Bobby about the first time hed held another boys dick and the guilty thrill of pleasure had it had given him. He had been unable to stop himself, he said, when the other boy asked him and had knelt down and taken it into his mouth behind the closed door of an empty classroom. Richard had come in his pants without touching himself, on his knees at fifteen with his friends hard little organ in his mouth. Richard said hed been ashamed when he stood up and realized just what hed done, felt the stickiness in his briefs, but known that he would do it again at the first opportunity. Richards hand had crept up Bobbys thigh as he spoke, his tone low and intimate. Had Bobby ever done anything like this, ever felt things like this, Richard had asked.
Bobby had sat woodenly on the bunk, looking at the wall while he felt Richards hand caressing higher, their thighs touching, his lips almost at Bobbys ear. Bobby knew he mustnt make Richard angry, that he might end up on a discipline list or, worse, back in the Quiet Room for the night. After talking to Gene, Bobby knew he wanted to leave, that he had to get out of Refuge and go home, but to do that, he needed Richards help with Mother. And Richard wanted something from him despite the talk of God between lurid confessions.
Bobby felt Richards clumsy fingers on his fly and closed his eyes. Whatever it took, he had thought to himself as Richard cautiously unzipped his jeans. Whatever the fuck it takes, I am going home tomorrow, Bobby had told himself. He had felt Richards hands stroke him. Bobby didnt move, he didnt open his eyes. No one said he had to watch. No one said he had to like it. The problem was, he realized, as he felt Richards breath on him, that some filthy part of him was enjoying it. There was a sick slimy churning in his stomach as he felt himself respond to Richards mouth, felt himself grow hard against his will. Bobby tried to imagine Angel instead, those dark eyes smiling up at him, the fresh scent of Angels hair when he stood close. Bobby suddenly realized he had never even kissed Angel in all those private moments of pleasure. He remembered Jaye asking him so many times for just one kiss and the hurt look in his eyes at the answer, the one and only answer Bobby had ever given.
Genes lips on his tonight had been soft, a brief electric current quickly broken. But Bobby could still feel that touch on his mouth, could feel that glow in his heart lit from the warmth in Genes eyes. Why had he never kissed a boy before, why had he always turned his head away and refused? Bobby couldnt remember just now, images of Gene and Jaye and Angel coalescing in his mind to one bright luminescence, one single image of a boy and a smile.
Eyes closed, Bobby groaned into the mouth on him and climaxed, angels and stars in his eyes as he thrust upward from the mattress. Suddenly the mouth was gone, the chill air and his shame combined to soften him fast. This wasnt Angel; it wasnt Jaye. He had never even kissed them and Gene well, Gene didnt know Bobby, hadnt seen the shadows inside.
Bobby wanted a shower, he felt dirty.
An angry red uncurled from his belly and sent wispy tendrils up through Bobbys chest as he sat still and alone on his bed. Behind closed eyelids, Bobby saw again his fathers sneer, the contempt in the eyes of the Northside football players, the icicle smile in his mothers eyes when hed told her he was gay. The anger gripped hard and hungry inside him, then coiled tight around his heart. For the first time, Bobby wanted to spit that red outward, to burn something with the acid touch of his fear and his fury.
No matter what he had to do, he was going home on Monday. If he had to stay here any longer, Bobby had thought, he would surely lose those last fragile links to sanity.
What he would do when he got home well, right now, Bobby just couldnt be sure. The red had filled his thoughts last night and consumed him, as he lay back against the pillow and beckoned to sleep. His dreams had been strangely empty. Bobby had woken up and put on the mask, prepared to say and do whatever was needed to get out of here.
Whatever the fuck it took, Bobby thought, he was going to go home. He was going to clean the filth out of his heart and start over somehow.
Bobby was going to make it right.
Hes not a boy who misses much,
Hes well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand
Like a lizard on a windowpane.
The man in the crowd with the multicolored mirrors
On his hobnail boots;
Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy
Happiness is a warm gun.
When I hold you in my arms
And I feel my finger on your trigger
Happiness is a Warm Gun (Beatles, 1968)
Ryan sat smoking at the kitchen table, ignoring his mothers occasional looks of distress as she fried his eggs. She was so lame, he thought. No wonder his father cheated on her. Hed cheat too if he had to sleep with someone so useless, so stupid. Fucking stupid cunt, he thought, and he didnt care that she was his own mother. She was just as worthless as the girls at school, all so eager for his attention, all so ready to let him put his hands under their skirts. Eager, that is, until he wanted more and then, yeah, then you always saw what they were really like. No, theyd say, dont rush, too soon, please, no, Im not ready, I dont do that, I thought you loved me, Ryan. His lip curled around the filter tip of the cigarette. Love, what a crock of shit. Love was invented by Hallmark to sell candy and insipid greeting cards, encouraged by self-righteous churches and money-hungry banks with an investment in marriage, in a stupid fake family life at eighteen percent interest. Look where it had gotten his father. A proud man, a former Marine, now a judge and married to a brainless bitch, shackled to a mortgage and car payments and worth ten times as much dead as he was alive.
No fucking way, not me, Ryan thought, not love. He only ever said it to get what he wanted from girls, was it his fault they were stupid and believed him? All his friends said they did the same but he wondered about a few of them. Billys girlfriend had bought him a pager and the moron would drop everything whenever she beeped him. What a loser. Ryan had asked Billy just what the fuck he thought he was doing the last time it had happened and Billy had asked to borrow a cell phone in the middle of a movie. Sherrie called, was his answer. And so the fuck what, Ryan had demanded, she can wait, whats the rush? Billy had the grace to look ashamed but had still made that call, standing in the next room and talking softly into the receiver, sweet sugar tones of apology in his voice. Billy was sorry for being with his friends, he was sorry he hadnt called earlier, he was just fucking sorry, thought Ryan in disgust. Sorry was definitely the word for it.
And Michael Morrison, what the fuck was he up to the other night outside that fucking drama party? Since when did he hang out with weirdoes and queers? Ryan planned to ask him today, hed had a funny feeling around Michael lately, the guy had been giving off a seriously creepy vibe. He could have sworn that was Michael leaning against the garage of that fags house and smoking in the streetlight. Ryan had wanted to ask him then but hed been busy, hed been waiting.
And that was another fucking thing. That guy wasnt the right one, the guy at the Ford pickup. Billy kept insisting what did it matter, a queers a queer, but Ryan had planned something else. He had had enough of that little Spic faggot, the one with the mouth and the smartass attitude. The one with the fucking makeup and shit, wearing it right out there in school like it was nothing. Like he didnt care who knew he was a cocksucker. Ryan had promised him payback and Ryan planned to keep his word. And if that drama fairy liked cock, Ryan could fucking give him some of that, too, more than the little faggot could handle. Ryan could fucking choke him on it. Maybe today hed find that little fucker at school. It wasnt like he was hard to pick out of a crowd. Ryan thought of shoving the boy down and making him prove what cocksucker he really was. Ryans steely blue eyes narrowed and his breath quickened. He shifted in the wooden chair.
Idly, Ryan wondered why that image, of Angel on his knees and crying, made him hard.
We were talking - about the space between us all
And the people - who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion,
Never glimpse the truth - then its far too late - when they pass away.
We were talking - about the love we could all share - when we find it;
To try our best to hold it there - with our love.
With our love - we could save the world - if they only knew.
Within You Without You (Beatles, 1967)
Michael laughed and threw the empty eggshells at Angel who stood at the sink in his mothers kitchen. Angel giggled, caught them, and looked over at Mary sitting at the table, watching them with a smile on her face. Michael turned to her with a wicked grin.
"Mrs. de la Torres, is he always this much trouble?" Michael asked her, unable to keep laughter out of his voice. Angel made a face as he pushed the eggshells into the garbage disposal and flipped the switch, drowning out Marys answer. Angel wore rumpled Hello Kitty pajamas; Michael was dressed in jeans and a neat polo shirt. Angel still had an hour before hed be ready, Mary knew from experience. She shook her head, amused and unable to answer Michael over the noise from the sink.
"I couldnt hear you, maam, Angel is just so rude." Michael said earnestly when Angel hit the switch again. He pretended to ignore Angels loud snicker.
"Youre both nuts, is what I think, Michael." Mary said with a smile. "Maybe you better let me fix breakfast after all."
Michael shook his head.
"No, no, really, Im used to it, I cook for me and Dad all the time. The mess is all Angels fault." Michael insisted, pulling away to avoid Angels pinch. He shook the spatula at Angel.
"You go sit, baby, or Ill have to spank you." Michael warned, wiggling his eyebrows.
"In your dreams, Mike, in your dreams. Anyway, youd have to catch me first." Angel told him in a less-than-contrite tone.
Mary laughed again, her eyes lighting up as she watched the two boys finish making breakfast, teasing each other at every step. Angel set the table while Michael filled three plates with eggs and bacon. Mary stood to help bring the food but both boys shooed her back to her chair so she retreated, entertained by their efforts and unable to resist Michaels cheery morning smile. She honestly couldnt remember the last time someone had cooked for her. Michael was adorable even if he was making a mess on the stovetop. And shed never seen Angel look so happy; laughing this early in the morning was quite a change for him. He usually skipped breakfast and dashed out the door at the last minute to the loud sound of Jaye honking his car horn. They were always just barely on time she knew, but nothing could get Angel out of bed earlier or speed him up in the bathroom. Shed learned not to fuss, to just let it happen, and somehow Angel was never really late. At least, not late enough to attract the official attention of the school.
Michael opened the oven and pulled out the tin of biscuits with a mittened hand. Angel poured three glasses of orange juice and took them to the table. Outside the window, the sun was bright, yellow light drying the last of the rain along the sill. Birdsong could be heard in the nearby trees. Marys red plastic hummingbird feeder under the eave had little blurs of color hovering just beyond the eyes ability to focus. The three of them ate their breakfast together, the boys laughing and teasing each other and sometimes Mary, too, their hands brushing against each other frequently and, Mary was sure, quite unconsciously.
Mary was fairly sure Michael hadnt been here when shed gone to sleep but she had no plans to quiz them. She had never seen her son look so happy and, frankly, Michael made her feel happy, too. He was so cheerful, so friendly, so thoughtful and so obviously deeply in love with Angel. His eyes followed the darker boy whenever he moved, his smile brightening each time Angel looked at him. The boy was smitten.
Mary smiled to herself. It was about time, she thought. Angel deserved a little happiness and she could see that Michael was good for him. That boy had spent hours carefully arranging flowers in the living room yesterday morning, talking to her the whole time, polite but so friendly, clearly relaxed around adults. He genuinely seemed to like her company and she couldnt deny hed made a good impression, if that had been his object. The impression hed made on Angel was obvious. Angel was relaxed and playful, more energetic than shed ever seen him this early. And Mary was certain she knew who was responsible for the hickey on Michaels neck. She blushed and closed her eyes. Michaels deep voice as he spoke to Angel interrupted her thoughts.
"Baby, after breakfast, Im gonna go talk to Dad but Ill be back in time to get you to school." Michael said, his eyes on Angels face.
Angel shook his head, waving a biscuit in the air as he answered.
"No, Mike, Jayes picking me up, its okay." Angel told him.
Michael frowned at the mention of Angels friend, catching Marys attention.
"No, really, Angel, I can make it, I wanna take you to school with me." Michael insisted.
"Mike, no, okay? Jayes already coming over and thats fine. Itll take me ages to get ready. You can maybe drive me tomorrow, okay?"
Michaels puppy-dog look of disappointment earned him a quick kiss on the cheek from Angel. Michael turned, blushing, to gauge Marys reaction. She smiled at him and he relaxed.
They finished breakfast and the two boys cleared the table, again refusing Marys help. She surrendered, hugged them both, and went to get ready for work. Their happy laughter from the kitchen followed her all the way back to her bedroom.
We were talking - about the love thats gone so cold and the people,
Who gain the world and lose their soul -
They dont know - they cant see - are you one of them?
When youve seen beyond yourself -
Then you may find peace of mind, is waiting there -
And the time will come when you see were all one,
And life flows on within you and without you.
Within You Without You (Beatles, 1967)
Joe Morrison was eating toast, the burned edges scraped off onto his plate, and reading the paper when Michael burst into the kitchen, Quirksy dancing at his heels in excitement. Joe laughed and set down the slice in his hand. Michael blushed and sat down beside his father, car keys in his hands. The scruffy blonde dog nuzzled Joes leg, earning a pat, then lay down at Michaels feet, head on his paws, watching the humans with alert black eyes.
"So whats the big rush, Stud, and just where the hell is my breakfast?" Joe asked his son, grinning, his face nearly matching Michaels own.
Michael flushed deeper and twisted the car keys between his fingers as he answered his father.
"Umm, well, I, ah, made breakfast over at a friends house." Michael admitted.
Something in Michaels voice caught Joes attention.
"Oh?" Joes voice was carefully neutral as he watched his sons face, searching for the source of his discomfort.
Michael shifted in the heavy kitchen chair, aware of his fathers scrutiny. Oh, well, here goes nothing, he told himself. He swallowed hard, looking closely at the patterned tablecloth. Michael reached down to scratch Quirksys ears, the familiar fur calming his frazzled nerves.
"Umm, I wanted to talk to you before school, Dad." Michael told him without looking up.
"Okay." Joe set the newspaper down and folded his hands in front of him on the table. Michael looked worried. Girl trouble? Joe wondered. Surely not but Michael did have that look, bashful and nervous, as if ashamed and proud at the same time. Hed often wondered why Michael hadnt had a girlfriend since his freshman year but never actually asked, unwilling perhaps to examine his own reasons for not dating since the divorce from Michaels mother three years ago. Bachelors together, hed often thought, secretly pleased to be left with his sons undivided attention. Michaels friend Gene had been over a lot but that was hardly the same thing and besides, Gene was easier to talk to than most men his own age. Smarter, too, and Joe had been glad and surprised that Michael had found a friend even smarter than he was. Michael tended to downplay his own intelligence but Joe knew that it was hard for him to make friends the way other boys did. He had taught Michael to play football not only because he loved the sport but because he also knew that teams were an easy way to form close friendships. Somehow, though, Michael never brought many of his teammates home, a fact that hadnt gone unnoticed. Joe studied his sons anxious expression.
"Well? So whats the crisis this time, Stud?" Joe asked him gently, smiling as Michael looked up into his face.
Michael exhaled hard, the worry in his eyes growing as he gathered the courage to speak.
His voice was shaky but his eyes never left his fathers, green eyes intent on green eyes. Uh-oh, Joe thought, this is serious. He laid his hand across his sons, quieting the keys that twitched in Michaels palm.
"Just spit it out, Mike, whatever it is." Joe said quietly.
Michael swallowed hard and the hand under his fathers trembled.
"Okay, here goes." Michael said, hesitating and then blurting, "Im gay, Dad. Im gay."
Joe gasped and pulled back his hand before he realized what he was doing and the effect it must surely have on his son. Michaels eyes were terrified, tears just visible in the corners. Joe could see his sons shoulders shaking and had heard the tremor in his voice. Mikes gay, he thought numbly. No damn wonder he hadnt been dating. And what about Gene? Gene had spent the night so many times but surely a boy like that couldnt be gay. Hell, surely a boy like his son couldnt be gay but he knew that was a stupid line of thought. He shook his head to clear it and reached across the table, pulling his sons reluctant hand back into his own. Hed always thought the idea of men not touching was ridiculous and made an extra effort to show affection that way at home.
"Okay, Mike. I hear you. Just what are you telling me here?" Joe asked in a calm voice.
The sound of his fathers voice, even and steady as always, served to center Michael and he leaned back into the chair with a sigh.
"Im telling you that Im gay. That I like guys, not girls." Michael said in a low voice.
Joe could see his son struggling to breathe evenly, to relax and meet his eyes. It hurt him to see Michael so worried. Was he really so afraid of me, of what I might say, Joe wondered? That he had the power to hurt his own son was suddenly clear to him and he kept his eyes steady, listening as Michael spoke.
"One guy in particular, Dad. I like one guy, a guy at school." Michael added.
Joe winced; he couldnt help it. Michael saw and bit his lip, watching his fathers face carefully.
"Dad?" Michael asked, uncertain. He couldnt quite read his fathers expression. Joe didnt seem angry but he hadnt really said anything yet. What was he thinking?
Joe took a deep breath and nodded his head.
"Okay, Mike how long have you known this, that you were gay?" Joe asked, choosing his words with care.
"Since forever, sort of, but definitely since ninth grade." Michael admitted.
Joe nodded. "Mindi."
Michaels blush deepened.
Joe nodded again absently, his gaze moving to the near wall as he gathered his thoughts. The small oil painting there had been done by Mikes mother; a field of blue flowers and a weathered house in the distance.
"Dad?" Michaels voice broke.
Joe looked quickly at his son and patted his hand reassuringly.
"Calm down, Mike, Im not freaking out on you, I promise."
Michael exhaled slowly, eyes locked on his father.
"And?" Michael asked. The question hung in the air like the morning sunlight itself, heavy with other substance, dust motes and old memories. How does this change things between us, Michael wondered.
Joe sighed and released Michaels hand.
"Im fine, son, its fine. Youre gay. I can live with that, Mike. If youre sure, then I can live with it." Joe told him.
Joe looked at the painting again. It needed cleaning, he realized; sunlight revealed the thin layer that obscured the surface. Beautiful things needed constant care, Joe knew. Sometimes that was difficult to remember. He studied the shades of blue paint across the field; the careful long-ago brushstrokes of his wife distinct in the light.
"So, Mike, tell me about this one guy, this guy at school." Joe said finally, his gaze still on the picture.
Michael closed his eyes in relief.
Id like to be under the sea in an octopuss garden in the shade,
Hed let us in, knows where weve been, in his octopuss garden in the shade.
We would be warm below the storm in our little hide-a-way beneath the waves.
Resting our head on the seabed in an octopuss garden near a cave.
We would sing and dance around
Because we know we cant be found.
Id like to be under the sea in an octopuss garden in the shade.
Octopuss Garden (Beatles, 1969)
Camille sat in the tiny office, fiddling with the huge bag of seed beside Ms. Robis desk. The elderly drama teacher had brought it up last year for Doug to feed to the ducks that flocked in the pond outside the theatre building. It was still half full; the ducks really preferred the bread and treats students threw them at lunch. Nevertheless, every day, Doug came in, filled the scoop with seed, and took it out to them. The ducks came and went but always seemed to know Doug, often spotting him as he walked across campus. Dozens of ducks would then glide to the nearest shore and climb out to waddle towards him in a quacking, chattering flock of feathers. Doug was pleased and embarrassed when they did this as he went to and from classes. Ms. Robi called him her Duck Boy.
And Doug certainly was a featherbrain if he thought she was going to have a baby at sixteen, Camille thought to herself. She would lose everything; her dance career, her education, her friends, the tiny figure that allowed her to be cast in anything, to dance in everything each summer when school was out, and always with offers of more whenever she was ready. Well, she was ready and the only thing holding her back was the high school diploma her father insisted she earn. And now this. She loved Doug but he was an ass to think they could build some kind of fantasy family out of two teenage parents and bag of wishes. That was her Doug all right, wishful thinking was his specialty. He was a master at pretend with his costumes, his characters, his endless and ever-changing accents. Well, this wasnt something you could play at, Camille knew, this was real, this was serious, this was life breathing hot in your face.
Welcome to reality, Doug, Camille thought. And reality for me doesnt include teenage motherhood. She frowned and tossed the plastic scoop back into the bag, hearing it slither over the seeds. She heard John Ironwoods voice in the open door of the drama room down the hall, calling out instructions. She heard laughter, voices rising and falling. How long would Ms. Robi be? Jaye Peterson appeared in the doorway out of breath, his blonde hair disheveled and his blue-striped cotton shirt undone, baring his smooth abdomen down to the waistband of his tight blue-jeans.
Jaye smiled at Camille and blew her a kiss. She made a face at him, she always did. Somehow, she had gotten the idea somewhere that Jaye was a goose. She often told him so, though the ballerinas words were usually far more colorful. Jaye shook his head with a grin.
Camille watched Jaye button his shirt while he read the sign on the door that announced the tryouts for Camelot on Wednesday. He missed a button, she noticed, but said nothing. Boys. Jaye was almost as handsome as Doug but looking at him did little for her. He was just another boy, another cute drama boy, and a gay one at that. Jaye could strip in front of her without raising her heart rate, she thought with a smile. Doug, on the other hand well, but look where that thinking had gotten her. She shook her head and closed her eyes, hoping Ms. Robi would come back before first period. Camille had nearly almost worked up the nerve to tell her teacher what kind of trouble she was in this time.
As he read the requirements and cast options, Jaye tried to organize his thoughts for the day. Tryouts were Wednesday after school so Jaye needed a new piece and some music. He hoped Bobby would come back soon, everyone expected him to play the King. Bobbys height, his stage presence, his singing voice made him the natural choice although, of course, Ms. Robi said nothing was ever decided until it was decided and the cast list was posted. Still, sometimes you just had a feeling, Jaye knew. He wouldnt mind playing Arthur himself but doubted that Ms. Robi would cast him as the British king. For one thing, he just wasnt tall enough. He smiled to himself. And for another, he nearly always sang off-key. Fortunately, theatrical singing, in the main, was far more about volume than substance. Jaye had always thought of himself as short on substance. Charm without character, dimples without depth. Anyway, thats what Angel always said. All smiles and nobody home. Not that he disagreed. But sometimes he got a little tired of being second best. Standing next to Angel, was it any wonder he didnt shine?
Anthony walked by the open doorway of the office and, seeing the two of them inside, entered, kissing Jaye on the cheek as he passed by to sit beside Camille. She smiled at him; he obviously wasnt awake enough for hellos. So few of the drama kids were morning people. Anthony stroked Camilles leg and handed her an unopened pack of cigarettes. The ballerina made a face and shook her head. Anthony shrugged and re-pocketed the box, pulling a rolled up script from his back pocket. He opened it and began to read to himself. Jaye leaned against the doorframe watching them and then glanced towards the parking lot entrance.
Jaye saw Gene Kuo walking up the hallway, briefcase in hand, and stepped out of the doorway, trying to catch Genes eye. He wanted to talk to him. It was a good thing Gene was helping with the GSA; Jaye had a feeling theyd need it.
Gene took the corridor in long strides, his eyes on the floor as he walked. As he passed the theatre office to enter the debate room, Jaye saw him look up. Gene paused but clearly his thoughts were elsewhere.
"Jaye." Gene said with a nod by way of greeting.
Jaye grinned at the debater. Gene was always much too serious.
"Bad night, Gene?" Jaye asked mischievously, "or did you just get lucky and forget to sleep?"
The change in Gene was dramatic. He stood taller, his slumped shoulders straightening, and his eyes became steely. His look was ice and Jaye suddenly had an idea of how Gene managed to destroy other top debaters on a weekly basis.
"Something I can do for you, Jaye?" Gene asked in a voice of sheer silk, his eyes glinting at the actor.
"Not really, no." Jaye searched for a reason to exist here in Genes world. "I was just wondering about the GSA thing " his voice trailed off as he watched Genes impassive face. Damn, Gene the Machine is back today for sure, thought Jaye. So much for all that gay pride and solidarity crap. What the hell did I say?
Gene gazed at him for a moment without speaking.
"The GSA thing as you put it, is after school today right here in the debate room." Gene said coolly with a slight gesture towards his target door.
"Okay, uh cool." Wow, I sound stupid, Jaye told himself. No wonder Angel teases me. What is it about Gene that makes me feel sometimes that Im six years old and forgot to zip up my pants?
The debaters gaze softened and he looked away from Jaye and sighed. He looked back, his black eyes suddenly tired.
"Sorry, Jaye. The meeting is at three, be early if you can. I have all the printouts and, yes, everythings fine, we just need people to show up."
Jaye bit his lip and nodded again.
"Great." Jaye said, still watching the other boy. Students were moving through the hallway, it was half an hour until first period. The early bell would ring in ten minutes. Gene watched the others navigate the hall, some half-awake, others wired and ready. Jaye could see that Gene didnt really see them; his eyes seemed distant.
"Gene?" Jaye asked tentatively. Genes gaze returned to him, black eyes unfocused.
"You okay, Gene?" Jaye put his hand on Genes arm, drawing him close and out of the way of the hall traffic. He didnt remove his hand, though, Genes expression worried him. Hed never seen quite this look on the other boys face before. Gene blinked.
"Im fine, Jaye. See you at three." Gene said, his deep voice uninflected, his eyes now flat and blank. He pushed past Jaye, opened the door to the debate room and entered, the door sighing shut behind him.
Jaye watched the door close with a thoughtful expression. The first bell rang, echoing against the high ceilings of the backstage corridor.
Jaye suddenly wondered if this personality change had anything to do with Angel. Angel hadnt wanted Jaye over last night and now Gene was different. And hed had something or other going with that damn football player, as unlikely as that seemed to Jaye. Angel had seemed awfully happy today in the car this morning. Jaye hadnt thought to ask why, he was just glad to see Angel and, as always, Angels moods were infectious. Theyd laughed together and sang along with the radio all the way to Northside. Where was Angel now?
Jaye walked slowly down the hall, trying to remember when hed seen Angel last. He checked in the boys bathroom at the end of the hallway. No Angel at the full-length mirror touching up his mascara. The second bell rang, warning late arriving students to hurry. The bodies around Jaye sped up and the talking died down as everyone tried to make the next bell. Jaye looked through the choir rooms, hugging a few of the friendlier, and cuter, tenors. No Angel. Maybe this could wait until lunch. The final bell rang and the hallway emptied, a lone straggler slowed his stride, no sense in hurrying now. Late was late.
Jaye walked around to the front of the Performing Arts building to the wide glass doors that opened onto both the duck pond and the student parking lot. He suddenly saw Angel, the slim form of his friend unmistakable, standing just outside the glass. Jaye stopped, trying to determine whether to just go on to drama class or speak to Angel. The school grounds outside were empty save for a group of drama ducks that waddled across the pavement near the theatre building. Silence had returned to the campus after the noisy first period rush. The hallway was clear and quiet. Jaye wondered why Angel hadnt gone to class, Angel hated to be late, hated to attract attention for reasons other than the obvious.
Someone was standing next to Angel, Jaye saw, someone taller and larger than the slight boy. Jaye moved closer, something in their body language alerting him. The bigger boy had his hand on Angels shoulder but the grip didnt look friendly. Angels back was stiff, his hands clenched at his sides. Another step and Jaye recognized who held Angels slender body in his broad, thick hand.
It was Ryan Sellers.
[End of Part 16]
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