"You awake yet?" my grandfather asked through the door.
"Yeah, I'm awake," I replied as I hauled myself off the bed slowly.
"Why don't you get cleaned up, I'll start breakfast," he said and I opened the door to find him in a state of disarray. His robe was wrapped loosely around his skinny frame and his hair, well, ever have one of those pencils as a kid that you twisted between your palms and made the `hair' go every which way? Yeah, like that.
I nodded at him, not trusting myself to speak and just barely succeeded in not smiling at him, which probably would have earned me the privilege of cooking breakfast. As it was I showered quickly and got ready for school before sitting at the table where Grandpa had hash browns and bacon and just about any other morning food that could cause you to get clogged arteries. It was delicious too.
"How'd you learn to cook, Grandpa?" I asked.
"Leprechauns," he snorted.
"Come on!" I smiled at him.
"I am not coming on, twisted little number named O'Reilly taught me. That woman had a sick sense of humor, but she was a darned good kisser," he snorted at me.
"Dated her?" I asked.
"Yeah, but we broke up about the time the blue rinse came into style," he said.
"Don't you have school to go to?" he eyed me evilly. I sensed it was time to go, and grabbed my books before hitting the door. As I stepped into the garage I looked with longing at my car and then started the walk to school. I heard the nattering of Eleanor next door, nagging someone to hurry up and rake so they weren't late for school. I poked my head around the fence to see Bryan raking the leaves he had knocked into her yard the day before. She hung back on the driveway like a harpy from mythology, admonishing him to get this leaf and that small patch over there. From this vantage point I could see that Bryan had a most intriguing backside, nicely displayed by his cargo pants.
"Is that grandfather of yours at home this morning?" Oops, I think I just got noticed.
"Yes, ma'am, he is," I replied.
"Kris, give me a hand and I'll give you a lift to school?" Bryan looked at me and I think I saw some genuine pleading in his eyes. Always a sucker for the eyes, I was.
"Ok," I said as I set my bag down and walked across the lawn to him.
"Just hold the bag open, would you?" he asked and I complied as he filled the large lawn and leaf bags with the dying foliage.
"I am going to give that old coot a piece of my mind!" Eleanor fumed. Bryan looked at me and grinned.
"I don't think she can afford it," he said under his breath.
"What did you say, Bryan?" she snapped.
"I think that's about the last of it," he said quickly, "I can finish it after school, Aunt El, I have to get to school. You know mom will ground me if I'm late again!" And so saying we dragged the bags to the curb and then headed for his car, parked on the street. I set my pack on my lap and the car rumbled into life, and of course as it did, Eleanor sniffed disdainfully at it. Well, I imagine she sniffed, since I couldn't hear her, but if looks could kill that car would be scrap.
"Thanks Kris, sometimes I wonder if it's worth it to go through this mess. I always remember why as soon as I start the engine, though, `cause this thing is a money pit!"
"Why do you keep it then?" I asked quietly.
"'Cause it's mine, and it's a dope ride. All these kids have Hondas and Nissans that their parents give them, or they drive the old farm truck to school if they don't take the bus. Not many have any muscle," he emphasized this by goosing the pedal and the car jumped, then stalled.
"Well, that kind of spoiled the effect, huh?" I said. He grimaced.
"Old man Nickles says I need a carb job, but that's mad money, dude," he replied before starting the car again. Well, it tried, made this grinding noise, then he turned the key and it caught the second time. "Needs a starter too," he commented before dropping the beast into gear and sliding towards school.
We reached the school without further incident and parted ways once we hit the doors. I noted he became a little noisier with his friends, JR and whoever the other guy was, as they all started carrying on once they were together inside. I made my way to my locker for books and then on to first period. The day really was uneventful until I reached lunch and we got greasy pizza, no toppings, and you could see the oil sitting on top of what I sincerely hoped was cheese. It looked like cheese, or it could have been a pale yellow floor tile at one time.
I moved to the table I had occupied the day before and quietly ate my lunch, taking stock of a few people in my lunch period and cataloguing them. The druggies, the brains, and the jocks, of which Bryan seemed to belong. The skateboarders and smokers seemed to be joined at the hip as they went out behind the school, and the lunch monitors were too busy gossiping to notice.
Biology brought me together again with Jessica, and she was perky and bubbly as she had been the day before, smiling at me as I hit the door.
"Hi Kris," she said perkily.
"Hey Jess," I replied, "What's new and exciting?"
"Oh, well, let's see," she placed a finger on her chin, "I think we get to talk about mold and spores today! Yay!" she did a mock clap of her hands and rolled her eyes and I couldn't help but giggle at her.
"Look here," she said opening her book to a page that showed various molds, "this one is my favorite. I think it's the same color as my refrigerator."
"I didn't know fridges came in `mold'," I sniggered as I set my books down and plopped into my seat.
"Well, they called it Avocado, but I bet if you go to the book it looks more like mold. I mean, how many fridges would you sell in a mold motif versus Avocado?"
"You know, I never really considered it before," I replied with a grin.
"Things that make you go, hmmm," she smiled then giggled.
Class started and was largely boring, spores and mold not being the type of subject to whip me into a scholastic frenzy. Fortunately I had Jess to distract me and keep me entertained as she drew parodies of our teacher, Mr. Paino, quite well. She drew frame by frame, our biology teacher being slowly transformed into a giant ball of mold, teaching as it went. She was good!
The lesson ended and we were allowed to talk amongst ourselves, and Jess wasted no time in turning to me.
"So, have you met anyone besides me yet?" she asked.
"Um, yeah, kind of," I shrugged, "This guy, my grandfather works on his car, Bryan?" I told her
"Bryan Shantz?" she wrinkled her nose, "He is such a pig!"
"What makes you say that?" I asked.
"He is such a player, you know, the love `em and leave `em type? That's Bryan," she informed me in a confidential whisper.
"Oh, well, I don't know him that well, but he's been nice to me so far," I mumbled.
"Well, I don't think you're his type, so don't worry about a broken heart," she laughed.
"Oh, Damn, struck out again!" I smirked at her. This was hitting some odd nerves with me, but no sense in giving away the farm with my face, you know?
"Oh my god, you were hoping you were, weren't you?" she looked dramatically stricken, one arm thrown over her brow. "Bryan is so straight, he makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a drag queen!" she giggled.
"Um," I uttered feeling like a particularly heinous breed of loser.
"Jeez, don't look so shocked! I'm sorry, we get Showtime and I watch Queer as Folk, you know? God, Brian is hot!" she prattled on and I continued to look stricken, and at last she seemed to notice this.
"Hon, I was kidding, you know that, right?" she asked me, hand on my arm, " I mean, Bryan is straight as far as I know, he has the rep for it anyway, but I was just kidding about you," she smiled.
"I just was...surprised when you said it, it's weird to hear someone say that about me, or anyone," I smiled sheepishly, "I never watched Queer as Folk, so...," I grinned.
The bell rang signaling the end of class and we said our goodbyes before hitting the door and moving to our next class. I daydreamed most of the rest of the school day though, scared about what she had said but forced to replay my thoughts about Bryan's butt and how they looked with him bent over in cargoes. After what seemed like an eternity the day ended and I walked to my locker to get my books for homework and get out of this place.
I stepped into the warm September sunshine and had a small spring in my step as I moved towards home. I stopped in my tracks and considered myself for a moment. Home, a deadly four letter word in my vocabulary, but I was already more comfortable around my grandfather than I had ever been in my parents' house. Yeah, I was going home, and I had a car there and no one was waiting to hit me in my snot locker, as my dad called it. With a renewed step, I headed home but had not gone very far when I heard a beep, not obnoxious like Maybelle's, more...squeaky. I turned to look and saw Jess seated behind the wheel of an older Toyota, waving me over.
"Hey, my partner in mold, want a ride?" she grinned and I accepted. We headed past the garage and to a small shop that was fashioned after a soda counter, selling small grilled items and ice cream, as well as milkshakes and whatnot.
"How about a malted chocolate milkshake?" she questioned.
"I'm a little short," I smiled at her.
"Yeah, but you still look all right. So what do you say?"
"Hey, no short jokes!" I smiled at her.
"Ok, fine, be a spoilsport!" she giggled and we got out of the car and went into the small shop. It was quickly apparent that this was a hangout of sorts, kids dotted the booths and sipped on sodas or slurped on a sundae while socializing. I felt like I had stepped through the TV, like `Pleasantville', and could almost expect to see Wally and the Beaver come in with Lumpy and Eddie Haskell. They would be talking about going to `mess around'. I giggled to myself, a fact that was not lost on Jess.
"What's so funny?" she asked and I told her, which got her to giggling as well.
"Where do you want to sit?" I asked her.
"Well, I don't think they have booster seats for the booths, how about we sit at the counter?" she asked innocently.
"Hey! That's not funny," I said to her with a small smile. Somehow it was ok for her to tease me, it seemed as though there was no real malice behind it.
"Ok, ok let's just sit," she grinned at me and we took seats at the counter. She ordered two chocolate malted milkshakes and I turned to face her.
"This is really nice of you, excepting the short jokes, but I have to ask," I bit my lip, suddenly uncertain if I wanted to know the answer to the question or not. I realized I had committed myself no matter if I wanted the answer.
"You want to know why, is that it?" she asked.
"Well, yeah," I replied.
"I heard you were easy," she cracked and I gave her a stern look that made her laugh even more. She continued to giggle and each time she got close to stopping she would look at me and start again. It wasn't long before I was doing the same, laughing each time we looked at each other and I wasn't quite sure why, or what was so funny, but it just was.
Once we finally contained ourselves I looked at her again and asked seriously, "Why?"
"Well, the easy answer is that I like you, of course," she said this as if everyone did,
"Of course," I agreed with her.
"But the truth is, I'm bigger than you so if you try anything," she grinned at me.
"Bitch!" I snorted.
"Well, really, I just have fun with you. Don't get me wrong, you're cute and all, I'm not afraid of saying that, but you're comfortable to be around and...uncomplicated," she shrugged and smiled.
"Well, you know I think more than few guys in our class would spend time with you if you said you liked them," I told her seriously.
"Yeah, well, I know exactly what they want, and I know that's all they want. They just want head," she shrugged, "but I want mind." I nearly gagged on my milkshake, which had the malt flavoring that I was truly enjoying. Never had one? Give it a shot, what could it hurt?
"Jesus, don't they say head in Western New York?" she asked.
"Yeah, it's just...I dunno, it sounds weird coming from you?" I said, unsure of myself.
"Sorry, mom says I'm too outspoken, but I figure there is no reason to hide it, people will like me for who and what I am, or they won't. I am not going to be quiet for someone else's sake," she said with a shrug.
"That's a good philosophy," I replied.
"Are you going to agree with me about everything? `Cause I hate that," she looked sternly at me.
"No ma'am," I said with a smile.
"Don't be sassy, I'll beat you like a red headed stepchild!" she said while raising her arm, and I of course, flinched. As my eyes stopped their blinking motion I saw the question in her eyes, "Kris, I wasn't going to hit you."
"I know...it...it just caught me off guard is all," I replied lamely.
She dropped me off in front of the house and I walked in back to the garage and was greeted by my grandfather's voice.
"You sum bitch! Slanty eyed bastards don't think these things might have to be worked on once in a while? Arrogant bastards!" he growled as I rounded the corner and saw him under the front end of a Nissan. He slid out from under, dirty and disagreeable as he eyed me.
"What?" he asked.
"I didn't say anything," I replied as I schooled my face to not laughing.
"You were going to," he accused.
"Well, it does sound funny to hear you talking to the car," I said with a small smile.
"It's part of the technique, you have to use the right words to get the car to cooperate," he said as he displayed the largish bolt in his hand, "works most of the time."
"You going to teach me the right words?" I asked.
"Fucking A," he replied as he headed towards his workbench, "You're late today."
"Yeah," I replied as I walked closer to him, "Jessica Hussy took me to this little soda shop hang out kind of thing."
"Oh, yeah, Nelson's is a good place, been there for years," he replied as he rummaged across his bench, "Jessica Hussy, huh? You going for the crème de la crème, huh?" he snorted at me.
"We're just friends, Grandpa," I laughed.
"Uh huh, sure you are," he cackled. I rolled my eyes and headed into the house to do my homework. I decided I would get that done and then clean out my car. I grabbed an apple and some milk from the fridge and sat down at the kitchen table with my books. Moments later my grandfather entered the room, grabbing a fresh cup of coffee from the bottomless pot on the counter. He leaned against the counter and regarded me with one raised eyebrow.
"Why didn't you ask your girlfriend in?" he asked.
"She's just a friend," I repeated feeling somewhat uncomfortable under his gaze, "she's just helping me get settled here."
"Should have brought her in, jeez, you don't have to be embarrassed about a girl!" he laughed again, more like a cackle.
"I'm not embarrassed, it's just not like that!" I said getting annoyed.
"Jesus, why not? You a faggot?" he chortled and I froze. I saw not my grandfather, but my father. His jeering face and demeaning tone, and then I felt the blood drain from my face and my hands went cold and clammy. The old fear welled up inside my heart and my head pounded with the rushing of blood, all that my ears could hear was the white noise of the blood in my veins as I neared full fledged panic.
"Kris, can you hear me? It's ok, you're all right, son," I dimly heard as I snapped back to reality, staring into not my father's face, but my grandfather's, salt and pepper eyebrows instead of dark black ones, white hair instead of coal black. I felt a small tremble in me and I worked to regain control, it used to be so easy! Now my defenses have started to drop and it's harder to gain control again. I met my grandfather's eyes, light gray ones that were in sharp contrast to my fathers' dark brown ones.
"I'm...I'm ok," I managed while my grandfather continued to look at me critically until he felt certain that whatever it was had passed. He took a seat next to me, with his coffee in front of him.
"Frank beat you," he said with a measure of certainty. I looked at him and nodded slowly. "Not just content to physically beat you, either. He called you a faggot, didn't he?"
"Yes, sir," I whispered.
"That son of a bitch," he said under his breath. "Kris, look, I am not going to hit you," he said soothingly, "I saw you curl into a ball yesterday morning when I went to wake you, and of the many things you might have to fear in this life, getting a beating from me isn't one of them, we square on that?" he asked jutting his jaw out at me. I nodded in silent agreement.
"Good, the second thing is," he hesitated before plunging on, "if you are a...homosexual, then it's what you are by god and no one has the right to tell you that's wrong. It's no different than being cantankerous like me or a queen bitch like Eleanor, it's just a part of who you are, you understand me?" he glared.
"Yes sir," I whispered.
"Do you know why you're here, Kris? I'll tell you, because I won't let you believe that the world is the way your folks are, that no one cares," he watched as I started under his gaze, "don't look so surprised. Frank really is a piece of shit, and Wally Bouchard bitched to his mother about you stealing that hunk of crap Olds off his lot. His mother happens to still live here, and she just happened to drop by for her winter air. So I called Frank and told him to quit being a fuck head and give me the number to social services," he smiled at me.
"Why?" I asked, mystified.
"You are the only family I have," he sighed, "Redemption, Kris, we all want some of that. This was a chance to make things right, in some small way," he leaned over the table and looked at me, "You're here `cause I wanted you here. This is your home, you don't have to be afraid anymore."
I nodded dumbly, the words going over me but my feelings too far out of whack to be under much control, so I changed the subject.
"What's winter air?" I asked.
"What? Winter air? Oh, you mean for that
Bouchard bitch?" my grandfather laughed, "She used to go to the
old Conoco station and Jim Thompson that used to run the place has
her thinking she needs to change the air in her tires every winter
and spring. So I drain her tires and refill them with air and she
thinks she's good to go," he cackled as he stood and knuckled his
back before heading towards the door to the garage. He paused to
place a hand on my shoulder, giving it a brief squeeze before going
back to work.