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by Nick Chapter Nineteen
"You stay where you're at!" George snapped tersely at Mark as he walked toward Justin and me. We knew we were standing in the middle of a path between two men who obviously knew each other. We also knew we were standing in the middle of a path between two men who were angry with each other. My dad seemed to get over his initial shock, and the look of discomfort on his face was replaced by one of disgust. I saw his fists tighten up, and I knew there was going to be trouble.
Mark ignored George's command and continued until he was standing almost protectively in front of Justin and I, perhaps trying to protect us from whatever was about to go down. He had a bewildered look on his face, but he appeared to be in enough control of himself to know what he needed to do. Luckily, Patricia defused the situation before it escalated in the aisle.
"Honey, come this way," she said matter of factly as she hooked George's arm and pulled him back. Steele looked uneasy too, and as confused as I was. I looked at Justin for a moment, studying his face and trying to decipher what was going through his mind. Mark looked up at Justin, making eye contact, and as if they were having a silent conversation, they both seemed to understand what was going on.
I looked up at my dad, who was returning George's fierce look, and it started to dawn on me what I was dealing with. When George spoke, he confirmed my suspicions.
"You're fucking amazing," he spat. "One family wasn't enough, was it? You had to ruin his life too."
By the way George was pointing and motioning, I knew he was talking about me.
"Me?" my dad asked incredulously, his body language accentuating his every word. "You had a family. Remember? You're the one that walked out!"
"Guys this isn't the place for this," Patricia said in a short tone. She was right, too. There was a small crowd of shoppers forming, and as if that weren't bad enough, Steele was starting to cry. Justin and Mark led me away from my dad, over to Steele. Watching Steele move instinctively to Mark for comfort was odd. Mark knelt down and wrapped his arms around him, whispering something in his ear and stroking his head lightly as Patricia looked down with a concerned expression.
"You're right," my dad said nastily. "We can do this outside if you want, George."
With that, my dad extended his arm toward the front of the store, as if to invite George to follow him to the parking lot.
"No," Patricia said with a tone of finality. "You have a lot of nerve, judging my husband. You could learn a thing or two from him about how to be a dad."
"Oh yeah," my dad snapped back. "Well, maybe he can share those things with the boy he hasn't seen in four years. You know, he still has the same number, George."
"You're one to talk, asshole," George almost shouted. "My wife picked your son up on the side of the freeway! You didn't even care what happened to him!"
"Go fuck yourself!" my dad hollered at the top of his lungs, pointing threateningly at George.
"Kevin slept on my couch!" George shouted back, his eye's on fire as he shook Patricia off of him.
"Both of you need to leave," came a voice out of nowhere. A burly man, standing about six inches taller than both my dad and George, had issued the command. He was wearing a tag that said Store Manager on his shirt, and he looked like he meant business. "I'm about to call the police. Just leave."
I looked desperately at Mark and Steele, trying to figure out what was going on. Bits and pieces of it were clear to me, but the rest was a blur. From everything I gathered, George was Mark's dad. He was also Steele's dad. What I was sure I gathered from the exchange in Railey's was that he was also somehow connected to my stepbrother. I just couldn't do the math. Steele was older than my stepbrother by a year. It didn't make any sense to me that he was his real dad. There had to be some other explanation.
There was an awkward air in the motor home that made the silence deafening as we drove home to Pittsburg. We never got to buy our Tempura, so when we got home, my grandma went to the store while my dad ranted and raved about George and Patricia to my grandpa. In the middle of his rant, Justin and I got on our bikes and rode back to his house, where he promptly told his mom and dad everything that happened.
They both looked shocked and disgusted at the same time. I found out that neither one of them liked George for whatever reason, and as we were talking to Justin's mom, his brother walked in with his cell phone to his ear looking troubled.
"Holy crap!" he exclaimed as he hung up. "Are you guys okay?"
With that, the three of us retreated to his room, where he rolled a joint and talked to me while he let it dry.
"Mark's dad is a real asshole," he said. "He walked out on him and his mom and sister when Mark was little. Come to find out he had another family that no one knew about. Of course, when that fell apart, he found someone with money and a kid and remarried again."
"Do you mean Steele isn't really his?" I asked, and Justin sighed loudly as he nodded. "That means my stepbrother.."
"That's exactly what it means," Justin cut me off.
"What the fuck?" I asked quietly, not really believing my ears. "You mean to tell me that this whole time my dad's been raising George's son?"
I never got my answer. The sound of the doorbell was followed by my dad's voice in the living room. Justin's brother put our joint in an Altoid's tin and slid it into his pocket, then we followed him to the living room.
"You should have kicked his fucking ass," Justin's brother said un-apologetically as my dad talked about what went down, earning him an admonishing look from his mom.
"We're not exactly fond of George," she explained uneasily. "He walked out on Mark and his mom and sister without warning. When it all came out, he had a fiancÚ and a baby."
My dad cleared his throat and straightened up, looking a little uncomfortable but subdued at the same time. Justin's parents gave him a small understanding nod.
"There was a time when George and I were best friends," Justin's dad revealed. "Hell, we were next door neighbors for years. When he opened his art gallery in San Francisco, I was the one who got the financing together for him. But all of the the sudden he changed. Mark really suffered for it, too."
"That's putting it mildly," Justin's brother interjected. "When Mark needed his dad the most, he couldn't be bothered."
"I tried to be there for Mark," Justin's dad said sadly. "But it wasn't the same for him, you know? He needed his dad, not his neighbor."
As I sat there calculating what was being said, my mind wandered. The day George and Patricia helped me when no one else did kept running back in my mind, and I had a hard time reconciling what my dad and Justin's family were saying.
My little step brother always talked about his other dad. I always shrugged it off because it seemed like a taboo subject. The vibes I always picked up on when he was brought up told me not to press the issue. How could I have known that the stars would align one day and bring him into my own life in such a major way. He was so gentle with me, even in his panicked state the morning I woke up on his couch. There was no trace of the monster they were speaking of in my presence. I wonder what Mark thought. Even more, I was taken back by the irony of it all.
How could I have known that day what I was embarking on? I was just trying to get away from my troubles. I got on my bike and rode off, looking for a way to escape. Both times.
Leaving Modesto was hard, and almost fateful. What would have happened if I had left a few minutes later? Would I have missed Patricia? Would I have ended up in Concord? I had no idea, but I felt like fate had brought her to me. Especially after having sat in Justin's living room, listening to everything unfold.
Of course, my dad was leaving out key details, as always. He conveniently forgot to mention to them that Patricia was the one who found me on the freeway when he turned me away. He forgot to tell them that I begged him for help and he told me no. That he was planning to let Billy molest me in exchange for having to be there for me. That he was no better than George.
Justin knew, though. He knew, and so did Mark.
Mark and Justin, my two problems. My boyfriend and my best friend. Justin, the person I was starting to have serious feelings for. Mark, my boyfriend and my brother's brother.
Justin's brother's cell phone rang, snapping me out of my day dream. It was Mark. I knew it from the ring tone, but I would have known anyway because there was no one else he would have had to console the way he was consoling Mark at the moment.
"He's coming over," he announced when he got off the phone, but it was obvious that he was addressing my dad. "He feels really embarrassed, though. He thinks you're going to be mad at him."
"That's not true at all," my dad said softly, looking a little troubled. "I'll have a talk with him when he get's here. I don't want him to think that at all."
I learned a lot while I sat there waiting for Mark to show up and listening to the adults talk. George had been with my stepmom for years while he was still at home raising Mark and his sister with their mom. There was hardly any indication, according to Justin's parents, that anything was wrong. When the facts were laid out during the divorce, though, it all came to the surface. The hardest thing for me to hear was the way George had walked out on his family. Justin's brother was there when it happened, and hearing him regale the events of that day made me want to cry for Mark.
"We had just gone to Sun Valley Mall to pick out a Christmas tree," he said. "We were having such a good time. We got home and unloaded it, then George set it up in the tree stand and went out to the garage to get the ornaments out. We waited and waited, and finally, we went out to see what was going on. His car was gone, so Mark tried to call him on his cell. It went straight to his voice mail, which was weird.
"So we went in and told his mom," he continued. "She got a real nervous look on her face and went upstairs. We followed her to their room and watched her open all of his dresser drawers and the closet. All his stuff was just gone, and she broke down on the spot. That was about three weeks before Christmas, and the Holiday was ruined for all three of them. In a way, it was ruined for me too."
With that, Justin's mom grabbed a tissue and dabbed her eyes as my dad sat silent with a solemn look on his face. I wondered to myself how much of that story he already knew and how much he was hearing for the first time. I also wondered how my stepmom could possibly be so evil as to let George leave his family at Christmas time for her. Of course, I was also having issues with George. I didn't understand how he could do something so awful, and even more, how Patricia was able to stay with him knowing about his past.
"The only part I knew was the fact that he had walked out on my wife and son," my dad said bitterly. "She said they were planning to marry and one day he told her he never wanted to see her again."
That was an event I could easily picture in my head. My stepmom was one of the most unreasonable people I knew, and I imagined in my head the life Mark would have had if she had been his stepmom instead of mine. He probably would have faired a lot better than me because his mom seemed so stable, but he would have still had to deal with her anger and her vindictiveness, which might have been what drove George away in the first place.
When Mark arrived he looked pensive to say the least. I had to fight my urge to go to him and give him the long hug and the deep kiss I knew he needed. Justin's mom wrapped him in an embrace and told him how loved he was in her home, that he was a part of their family and that he better not forget it. Mark smiled warmly at her and sat between her and Justin's dad, who put his arm over Mark's shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze, kneading his shoulder in a supportive gesture.
I was relieved when the subject of George was dropped, and instead, the focus moved to the fact that my dad had nothing against Mark at all. In fact, my dad stressed to him that he had nothing but admiration for him and called him a "fine young man." That seemed to help Mark relax, and the distressed look on his face was replaced by one of confidence by the time Justin's brother announced that the four of us were going to drive to Buchanan Park to throw the football around.
The car was silent as we drove slowly through the neighborhood, I reached for Mark's hand, unsure if he was willing to let me have it. There was an awkward air between us, and it was worrying me. When his fingers laced with mine, a sense of relief swept over me like a cool refreshing breeze. Out of the back seat, the pungent smell of burning green bud filled the air and the sound of Justin's coughing could be heard. I took the initiative once again, lifting Mark's hand to my face and rubbing my left cheek against the back of it before I pressed my lips against his knuckles.
"I love you," I confessed, looking to him for a response. He turned and smiled at me sweetly, then he made my day by saying, "I love you too, Kevin. Nothing's going to change between us, I promise."
When the joint was finished, we drove to the park and got out, letting the cold October air bite our noses as we all ran to the grassy area. Mark ran out for a pass, catching it easily, then tossing it to Justin, who seemed to know that we needed our privacy. He ran out long and tossed it to his brother, then the two of them moved further away from Mark and I. There was a steep incline at the edge of the park that Justin and I loved to roll down after school sometimes. There was a sidewalk at the top that circled the park, and sometimes after school the two of us would walk to the park and race, seeing who could roll all the way down the fastest.
Mark and I walked up the steep incline, almost to the sidewalk but not quite, and took a seat on the soft grass to talk. I felt an overwhelming urge to apologize to him for everything, but he assured me that I had nothing to be sorry for.
"Kevin, it wasn't you that walked out on my family," he said in a soft voice. "It was my dad. You're dad told the truth today, Kevin. My dad basically abandoned mom and my sister and I, then he did it again with my brother."
I had butterflies in my stomach as he uttered those words. I had been so accustomed to him being my brother, and now my boyfriend was sitting in my presence, calling him his brother.
"Does that mean we're related?" I asked worriedly, inciting a chuckle from my boyfriend as he slowly shook his head no.
"I guess that means we both have a reason to be mad," he said. "I mean, you know, her.."
"She's a bitch," I muttered bitterly.
"I know she is," Mark said. "Why do you think my dad left her? She cheated on him, you know."
"With my dad?" I asked, again feeling awkward because I already knew the answer.
"I think so, Kevin," he said solemnly. "But that serves him right. He did it to my mom too."
As I sat there on the grass with my boyfriend, a new reality came over me. He could relate to my pain on so many levels. Just like Justin, Mark and I had something in common that bonded us. Perhaps even more so than with Justin, I thought, because we shared something more than a bond of contempt for my stepmom and the men who took liberties with her. We shared a little brother.
For the next half hour we talked about him. I told Mark about all of his little quirks and his funny habits, like not wanting his food to touch on his plate and wanting to wear his mom's high heels around the house when he was three. Then we talked about Steele.
George had adopted Steele years ago, and he had no idea that George wasn't his real dad. Mark was careful not to mention it in front of him, too. Mark's sister had nothing to do with George, and therefore refused to acknowledge Steele and Patricia, either. Mark, on the other hand, had no problem with his stepmom. He told me that she was as loving to him as she was to Steele, and that she was gracious to Mark's mom, which meant a lot to him. I couldn't even begin to fathom that kind of civility in a family, especially after what George did, but when I considered Patricia and the person I knew her to be, I found it easier to swallow.
When we were finished talking, I looked around carefully. No one was watching, so I leaned forward and stole a sweet tasting kiss from my boyfriend. He grinned knowingly at me, then he gave me a playful shove on the shoulder. I let my body fall flat, then I sat up and challenged him.
"I'll beat you to the bottom," I said as I laid back down and started my decent to the bottom of the hill.
We reached the bottom at about the same time, laughing as we sat up. I was a little dizzy when I stood up but Mark was there to help steady me. We brushed the grass off each other, then we joined Justin and his brother on the other side of the playground.
"Do you have to leave already?" Justin asked, sounding disappointed as I slid Mark's flannel on in his garage and prepared to get on my bike to ride home.
"It's almost seven," I said, mindful of my curfew. "Maybe I can stay a little longer."
Mark had already left for the night, and Justin's brother was inside finishing his homework. His parents were in the kitchen, cleaning up after the lasagna dinner we had all enjoyed. Instead of climbing on my bike, I followed Justin to the Camaro, where he was climbing into the driver's seat. I got in on the other side and closed the door.
"Do you think you can spend the night this week?" he asked. "Maybe on Tuesday? My mom and dad have to go to Walnut Creek that night and they'll be late. We'll have fun."
"I'll ask," I said, feeling almost excited about the prospect of spending a weeknight at Justin's house. It was unheard of to me, and I half expected my dad to tell me no, but I at least had to try.
When I wasn't paying attention, I felt the warmth of Justin's hand on my wrist, prompting me to smile at him warmly. I looked down at his hand, then back at him one more time before I lifted my arm and pulled it back so that his hand met mine. I heard him whimper a little when I grabbed his hand and looked deeply into his captivating eyes, wanting to act on the urge I had to climb over to his side of the car and attack his body.
The sounds of our breathing filled the otherwise silent car, and as if gravity was having its way with us, our faces drifted closer and closer until our lips touched. I puckered my tingling lips and pressed as softly as I could, then I parted them and prepared to let Justin make a move.
The heat of his tongue in my mouth made my eyes close for a moment, and the moment our tongues touched, my head spun out of control. His kiss was delicious, and I was delirious with passion as it intensified. I was so delirious, in fact, that I almost didn't hear the sound of his moms voice as she called out Justin's name as she knocked on the driver side window.
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