When we got closer to Mikey's house, I could see two cars parked in their oval driveway, one in front of the garage which held Mikey's turquoise and white Pontiac, the other off to the far side of the drive about twenty feet away from the house. I pulled into the drive and parked in front of the unused second garage, next to a medium-blue Mustang. It looked about ten years old but was in great condition, and I was green with envy. "Damn, Mikey—who drives the killer Mustang?"
"Huh? Oh that—it's my mom's car." I sucked in my breath in surprise, but Mikey treated it like it was any other car. "She got it off somebody at work when we sold the old Impala convertible to one of my sisters."
When I climbed out, I got a good look at the other car, a four-door Chevy Suburban—the back was filled with black boxes with some business logo on them. I remembered that his dad's second job was doing some sort of inventory work, and figured those cases had something to do with that. Mikey saw my look and laughed. "Calculators and batteries for them—his crew has about ten people on it, and they all need one, and several battery packs for the weekend stores they contract with." I guessed the Chevy was about four years old, and Mikey confirmed that. I turned to the Mustang next, taking in the dual exhausts sticking out the back, and the white interior with its bucket seats in front. A manual gearshift was part of the center console, and the car was very clean inside and out for being so old.
I was feeling a bit nervous now, this was different from just meeting my boyfriend's parents—these were people who liked to have nice things—and could afford them. I'd seen Mikey's house but not really seen it, if that makes sense. Their television was color, one of the largest screens you could get by RCA, and their furniture was nice too—colonial revival for the most part, and Mikey always wore nice clothes. I looked at my own jeans and collarless shirt and began to wonder if I should have worn something newer.
Mikey took my hand for a moment as we rounded the front of my truck to approach the garage entry in front of his mom's Mustang. Once he had my attention, he gave my fingers a tight squeeze and whispered "Don't you dare think you're not good enough for me! You know things aren't important to me—you and your family give me far more than I could have hoped for just by being yourselves. With just me at home, my parents work as if they still had four kids to support—I'd rather have had them at home. We aren't rich—there are kids at school who are—and we both know they don't talk to anyone but their own little group."
I had to snicker at that—we both knew which families he was talking about—and I relaxed a bit. "Dad has less than a year of payments left on his car with the trade-in he had, and mom paid $500 for her car since it was a friend's. If that isn't enough to convince you they're just people, then there's this: dad's family are all farmers too, and mom's sisters are married to salesmen, except for the one who owns the diner in the Blue Ridge...we went there a few times driving the Blue Ridge Parkway back in the '60s, but the pictures are all in black-and-white."
Since we were now in the garage next to their back door, he gave me a final quick kiss, and I felt my resolve coming back—I wouldn't let him down tonight—I'd be nice and polite as my mom taught me—even if I turned out not liking his parents. He opened the door for me, and closed it behind us. The smell of dinner hit me right away as we stopped to take off our shoes by the back door, but I couldn't see around the dogleg into the kitchen proper until Mikey stood up to precede me into the warm, odorous room. A woman with shoulder-length black hair was slicing potatoes and tossing them into a pot of water at the cutting board to the right of the sink, near the large window by the breakfast table. Toward the back were two mason jars, each holding a quart—one of corn, the other green beans. I saw a large iron skillet on the stove slowly heating over the flame—pieces of floured chicken lay on a large platter on the short counter between the stove and the brick wall of the living room. She turned to look at us, then wiped her hands on a towel. Her eyes were brown and about two inches higher than mine—everybody was taller than me, it seemed. She was a bit stocky, but seemed energetic despite that, and I could just make out a hint of southern drawl in her voice.
"You must be Jay—I'm Miles' mom. Dinner will be in about forty-five minutes if you boys want to go watch TV." She extended her hand, and I took it in mine—it was a bit chilly from where she'd rinsed them before drying them. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Stevenson, and I want to thank you for letting Mikey spend the night—I don't like driving that late, and it was a big help to have just one stop."
Mikey's mom smiled at me and nodded. "Your mother told me you were a good driver, and I'm glad to hear it from you too. Miles, there's milk and fruit punch in the fridge, see what Jay wants." Mikey got two glasses down and I chose the punch, which came in a gallon plastic jug, so I knew it wasn't Kool-Aid. "I hope you like fried chicken, Jay—we're having mashed potatoes, corn and beans with that?"
I nodded, fried chicken was a favorite of mine, and everything sounded like it would be delicious, so I told her so. "I should call my mom..." but got no further than that when she waved us into the living room." It's all set, me and your mom agreed last night—now go do something and get out from under my feet. Miles will set the table in half an hour—don't let him forget."
Mr. Stevenson was sitting in the recliner reading the Columbus Dispatch; he was dressed in a white shirt and dark gray pants, and the contrast with his deeply tanned skin was striking. His hair was graying, but seemed to have been a sandy brown originally. "Dad, this is my friend Jay Beckel—he's in art class with me at school." I extended my hand and Mikey's father took it in a firm grip, giving it a little squeeze, which I returned with more confidence than I felt. I could feel his eyes giving me the 'once-over' as my dad would say, and I resisted the urge to shuffle my feet. His eyes were greyish-blue as they met mine. He seemed to come to a decision. "So, what do you do, Jay?"
I could tell Mikey was getting flustered, and I gave his dad a small grin. "Not much, sir...I'm just a kid." That must have been all right, because he nodded. "I help my dad on the farm when my homework's done." I was peppered with questions about the farm: how many acres, what crops we grew, whether we had any livestock...he certainly knew his way around a farm, and I got the impression that he missed it in a way. "You'll be pretty busy soon with getting seed in, and plowing and discing. Do you have any help with that? When I was growing up, the neighbors pitched in to get things done, and there was a guy who came around during harvest with a big steam engine to help in harvesting and threshing." He went on to talk about the big Percheron horses they used for pulling plows and the reaper, just as my grandfather did on his own farm. I said we had a small tractor, but my grandfather had such horses...I kept back telling him about Gulliver as Mikey had asked me earlier.
"Didn't I see you in the parade a couple years ago on a nice Appaloosa?" I started to say that it was my brother Jerry, and before I got any further, Mikey's mom called for him to set the table. It sure didn't seem like half an hour had passed, but the smell of frying chicken now filled the house, and the potatoes were nearly ready to be mashed, since I heard his mom pouring them into a colander to drain. Mikey looked nervously at me as he went to get the plates, and I rose to help, but his dad called me to stay. His question set me back, but I wouldn't lie to him. "Have you had Miles on your horse yet?" He smiled at my surprise. "Jay, if there's one horse in a family, then there's usually two."
"I have a pinto, just over three years old, and I'm training him as my 4-H project this year. Last year he was my 'feeding' project—his name's Gulliver. He's real gentle, and I rode around the corral with him yesterday afternoon—just walking in place—nothing fast." It felt good to let Mr. Stevenson know what we'd done, but I was now worried and afraid that he'd make us stop—or worse, not let Mikey come over anymore. I let my breath out when he gave a slight smile.
"I think it's best we don't tell his mother that—his sisters all rode the neighbor's horses, but Miles seemed reluctant, so I never had him do the same. Has he told you how protective his mother is?" At my nod, he went on at a quieter level so we wouldn't be heard in the kitchen, or where Mikey appeared at the other end of the room with a stack of plates and cutlery. "There are things Mikey shouldn't do, like get into fights because a bad blow to his head might lose him his sight—but Anne carries it too far, and now he's afraid to take chances. I don't say anything usually to keep peace in the family, but can I trust you to help him—and will you look out for him?"
What the hell? Was this the same man Mikey had described as 'aloof' and 'uncaring'? I almost asked him why he didn't tell his son he loved him, but I stopped myself before I stepped over that line...it made me realize just how special my own parents were—and my dad in particular. Instead, I just nodded. "Why me, sir?"
Mr. Stevenson looked a bit uncomfortable, but he didn't look away from my eyes as he answered honestly. "You're the first friend Miles has brought home in years—he used to spend a lot of time at the kids' houses down the street, but not any more—he needs a friend to do things with, to learn how important it is to try new things and get more confidence in himself—I look at you and I see all the traits he can learn from you, so I'm asking you to help him become the man I think is inside him."
Dishes began making their way to the table, and I finally saw how tall Mikey's dad was when he stood up—he was 6'4—taller than my dad! He sat at the end of the table, his face once again calm and non-revealing. "Looks and smells great, Anne, as usual." Mikey had poured his parents water, while he and I had the punch; his mom took the other end of the table, and I sat opposite my boyfriend, wishing I could be next to him like at my house. The chicken was a golden-brown on its large platter, and the mashed potatoes, beans and corn were in their own bowls. The china was an oriental pattern of brown pagodas next to a stream, and the silverware was molded with little flowers on the handles and a monogrammed 'S ' on each piece which I figured stood for 'Stevenson'. I wondered what the next move would be—were his parents religious? I knew they used to go to the Lutheran church in Reynoldsburg, but that was all. Mikey gave me a little smile when he bowed his head, and I did the same. After about ten seconds, his father said "Amen," and the dishes began to be passed around.
"Tak for mad," I said automatically, which caused his dad to look up, and his mom paused in handing around the dinner rolls. "I'm sorry...we always say that at home when we eat—it's a Danish custom. It means 'thanks for the food'." My eyes caught Mikey as he mouthed 'Velbekomme' back at me, and I felt better after seeing his sweet smile and gentle reässurance. "Thank you, Jay—it's nice to see children so polite these days; we've tried to drill that into our kids too. Your parents are from Denmark then?"
I took one of the pieces of chicken and placed it next to the small piles of potatoes and corn before answering Mikey's mom. The beans hadn't worked their way to me yet, Mikey was putting two big spoons of everything on his plate, and two rolls sat next to it. "No ma'am, it was my grandparents on both sides who came over in the 1920s." I went on between bites telling them about my parents growing up next door to each other, and how their families had been neighbors back in the 'old country'. Mikey seemed to be fascinated by something, but I didn't know what it could be—we were just talking. I learned that Mr. Stevenson's family had been here since the 1840s, all he knew was they came from some country in central Europe, and the name had been changed to make it easier for people to spell a long time ago. He figured it might have been Germany or even Switzerland because he could remember his parents speaking something foreign as a little boy, though they didn't teach it to him or his siblings when World War I ended because it was unpopular. Mrs. Stevenson mentioned that her family had come over from England probably around 1760 from what little they could find out, and settled in the Appalachians far up in eastern Kentucky. They had been farmers and miners, but her father came to Ohio before the War to work for North American, a huge plant that built everything from planes to parts for satellites.
I learned also that Mr. Stevenson had seven brothers and sisters, but only five were still living, mostly on farms up north of Marion; Mrs. Stevenson had three sisters, one in Columbus, one in Marion and the third in Charlotte North Carolina. She talked about her father, and how he used to cut Mikey's hair with a razor-comb, and they'd all go fishing in the local rivers before her dad got too sick. Her mom lived in Bexley, and they owned the house next to her that was currently being rented out. When Miles went to college, she said, he could live in the house free if his grades were kept up. I felt my throat tighten, and I lowered my eyes to my plate for a minute: it was more than a year before Mikey would go off to college, but I wondered what would happen to us then...I didn't want to think about it. I was brought back when I felt something under the table which could only be Mikey's foot rubbing gently against mine, and I raised my eyes to see his right hand move to his throat and the little silver tree I knew lay there on its silver chain. I made a scratching motion at my own chest and smiled, brightening up right away.
Mikey's dad cleared his throat and repeated the question I'd missed. "What year is that truck, Jay, a '50?" I took a bite of my roll and felt the sweetness of the butter and the apple-butter on top of that slide across my tongue before answering. "No sir, it's a '47...it was my dad's first car and he told me the other day it was the first new model after the Second World War. My brother let her get rusty, and dad said he'd help pay for a paint job if I got her prepped."
"It's a shame to let something that nice rust away—how's she run?" I told him she was fine but I didn't like driving on freeways, though that was easier with the lower speed limits we had now. "She gets about fifteen miles to the gallon, most days." We all laughed at that, because most cars didn't do much better than that even thirty years later.
"When we're done here, we can have a look—Miles has some supplies left over from when he did his car, maybe he'll let you use some of them—and I have a small orbital sander which will make the job a lot easier." My eyes lit up like thousand-watt spotlights at that—yes!—another way to spend more time with my sexy man!
"Yesterday morning, my father suggested that Mikey might want to help, but I didn't want to impose on you by asking." I swear, it was hard to stop from laughing to see Mikey's mouth drop open and his eyes bug out like a dead fish when I said that—oh yeah, I forgot to mention that to him, having been occupied with bigger things last night and this morning.
Mr. Stevenson glanced at his son and noted the look on his face, and misinterpreted it. "It's not imposing—and Miles will be glad to help out, once his homework is done—won't you Miles?" There it was, the non-question question. I stepped in quickly to save my boyfriend from saying anything.
"I'm sure he'll help sir, I just forgot to mention it to him, and he's surprised—I was admiring his car when I picked him up yesterday, and he told me he hated to see rust on a perfectly good car." Okay, he hadn't exactly said that in words, but he liked what we did in the front seat...and that was the same as liking the truck wasn't it? We were making good progress with the dinner, and the topics of conversation ranged from school-work to hobbies, and what my interests were. I told them I liked to do gardening, which was natural for a farmer's son, but I liked designing things, hence the art class.
His mother's next statement caught Mikey as he took a drink of his punch, and I swear he turned as red as the liquid in his glass at the unusual praise. "Miles has always been artistic—he can play piano, recorder, and being in the same art class, you know he can draw—just like his sister Ellen could." I shot him a glance and nodded to her in agreement. "I know—he handles his pencil really well—the most talented fingers I've ever seen!" Thank god for quick reactions—I felt a breeze on my ankle as I moved it to avoid a kick under the table—and his toes connected with my chair leg, causing him to let out a surprised yelp of pain. He bent over to reach under the table to massage his foot, and managed to get the word "Cramp," out as he disappeared for a moment from view.
Why do I say things like that, I wondered. Mikey's gonna get me back for that—only now he could withhold his favors from me if I was too bad. With that thought filling my brain I had to make up for it really fast, and I practically blurted out: "I hate to ask any favors from you, since I've only just met you—but would it be okay if Mikey came over to help me with my homework most nights?—He's much better at English and stuff than I am, and finals are a little more than a month away." I wasn't sure if my plan at getting back in his good graces was working, since he was still shooting daggers at me as he finished his third dinner roll.
"I don't know..." Mrs. Stevenson began, but her husband looked at both of us sternly before answering. "If you promise the homework gets done, then I don't see any problems...so long as your parents say it's fine with them. If Miles eats with you, we'd like to contribute something—I know how much boys eat."
"That's not necessary, sir—mom cooks like my brother's still at home, and he's been out in California for two years in the Coast Guard. I know they'll say it's no extra cost since we grow so much of our own food, and always have milk and eggs and butter out of that we sell to the dairy." Mikey's look of confusion only intensified as he looked back and forth between his parents and me, like he was following a tennis match on television. At least the glare had disappeared. I kept my fingers crossed as I watched his parents think it over, his dad was all for it, but his mom still had doubts, which wasn't much of a surprise, given how she fretted over him. I had to admit that my mom did nearly the same thing though...just less obviously. Finally, she sighed. "I'll talk to your mother while you boys go play with your truck...then there's chocolate cake for dessert, even though it's store-bought."
We spent the next half hour going over my truck, lifting up the massive hood to see the V-8 engine, checked out the work that might be needed on the body, and even the condition of the wood planks which made up the truck's bed. Mikey pointed out that only a few spots were rusted through, and that could be fixed with various compounds and meshes since he didn't know anyone who could weld. Mr. Stevenson said that to be really sure, we should check underneath for the chassis, floor pan and running boards, but the light was fading and that would need to be done with the aid of a jack. He asked me to start her up, then he stuck his head under the hood to hear her roar. He came up shaking his head. "Something's not right...," he muttered, then asked me to rev the engine a few times, and finally asked me to turn on the headlights and do it again. Finally, he motioned for me to shut it off, and stepped back.
"What's wrong?" I asked worriedly. My dad would shit if there was anything major screwed up with his baby. Mikey's dad went back under the hood and pointed out a few things like the battery, some of the wiring, the starter and generator. "Did your dad or brother do anything with her electrically?" I had no idea, and I told him that. "Well, somebody fairly recently has redone a lot of the wiring—it used to be a positive-ground 6-volt system, but now it's running on 12. Your lights are brighter than the old ones, and some of the parts are newer like the generator and starter coil. That means you have more power to run her on, and the wiring is much newer." After poking his head through the driver's window, he came back out. "You still have the original gauges, so that means there are resistors in there to drop the voltage back down to six to run them...it keeps the look more authentic. What do you think of the color?"
I shrugged, not having thought about it—it had always been dark blue. "It's okay—always been blue...what other colors were there?" He ran down a list of dark blues, greens, tan and yellow, and a lot of grays, none of which sounded like an improvement to me. "Ask your dad what he thinks of maroon—it was always my favorite color back then—sort of like a dark Red Delicious apple. The auto paint shops will have the codes to mix it on file...that's how Mikey got the paint to touch up his Pontiac."
We were headed back into the garage, talking about the paint colors, when Mikey stopped by the back door. "Dad?" There was something funny about his voice, and I turned quickly to see what was wrong...but he seemed all right, if a bit confused still. "You called me Mikey...."
I watched Mr. Stevenson's face change, and it lost some of its animation. "Oh, I'm sorry...Jay used it all the time, and you didn't seem to mind it...I'll stop doing it." I watched as my boyfriend blinked several times behind his glasses, then half-raised his hand.
"Don't do that dad; I...like hearing you say it too." Heading back inside for cake, that Mikey had the biggest slice of, Mrs. Stevenson said we could study after school at my house, and eat dinner there too...but if we didn't study like we promised, or my mom said he was becoming a pest, we'd be back to studying separately. I gave my word that we'd do the studying as soon as we got to my house, once my chores were done after about half an hour, and that he'd eat all the right foods and I'd get him home by 9PM. His dad laughed at that, and said as long as it was before 10:30, he wouldn't say anything on school nights. I was floating on Cloud Nine as his parents settled down to watch television, and I excused myself, as I had to clean my room and put laundry away before bed-time. "It was nice meeting you, Jay," his mom said, shaking my hand, and Mr. Stevenson shook also, but with a gentler grip than he had used when I first came in. "Drive carefully, Jay...and thank you."
Mikey walked me out, and we sat on the running board of the truck facing away from his house; in the fading light, no one would see us since his dad's Suburban blocked the neighbor's on that side, and the truck screened us from the house. In the shadowy gloom I moved closer so that we were touching from thigh to shoulder, then took his right hand in my left, resting them on top of our legs. I let out a soft sigh knowing that in a few minutes, it would be hours before I saw him again. I rested my head on his shoulder for a few minutes to breathe in his scent, storing it up in my memory until I saw him tomorrow. "I love you, elskede—and I'm gonna miss you so much tonight."
The words that came out of his mouth weren't the ones I was expecting. "I don't know those people—but they weren't my parents!" I leaned into him and kissed him firmly on the cheek. "Don't worry about it, elskede—they gave you permission to stay at my house every day after school!" I took his chin in my hand and turned his head to face me so I could kiss his soft lips, then pulled back with a grin. "It's one of Super Jay's powers, like the Kiss—I can charm people to do whatever I want."
Mikey stared into my eyes for the longest time, then the corners of his lips turned up just a bit. "The power to bullshit people into doing your will, more likely." I pulled back from him like I'd just been mortally insulted, one hand going to my throat as I gasped in shock.
"Tell me one thing I said that wasn't true," I challenged. He stared at me for a few seconds, his mouth working to form words, but failed every time. Finally, he let out a long sigh of defeat, and I could see his teeth briefly as he grinned.
"Well, if you're Super Jay—then what does that make me?" When he saw my evil smirk start to shine, he held up a warning finger. "You have two choices here—one gets you a kiss, the other gets you an ass-whipping." My sarcastic side was all set to reply Lois Lane, but I knew that wouldn't get me the kiss...and she didn't have the parts I wanted anyway. "That makes my elskede Jimmy Olsen."
"Got it the first time, Jeepers...who says you're dumb?" When I opened my mouth for a retort, I found him locking his lips to mine, and his tongue invaded my mouth for a long time, until I had to come up for air or suffocate right there in his driveway. He helped me to my feet, and I slid into the truck from the passenger's side, with him helping me scoot my butt across the seat. I was already hard and the little touches of his fingers on my ass did nothing to make that go away. I watched him, mesmerized, as he rounded the front of my truck, then he leaned in the driver's window and whispered out of nowhere.
"What's your favorite flavor?"
"Grape!" I said without hesitation, even though I was confused.
"Then the Secret Word for tomorrow is: Grape. Remember what we talked about earlier, and you'll get a big reward when I check up on you." I was confused all the way home, and even as I carried the laundry up to my room—right up until the moment I saw all the colored briefs in my dresser drawer. I just hoped my guess was right as I laid out a pair of purple shorts for tomorrow...it was an hour before I remembered I had to call uncle Mikkel.
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