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Chapter Twenty Five
"Tell your daddy what you did," my grandma said in a tone that said I had no choice, cutting her eyes at me in a show of disapproval. "Go on, tell him."
I gulped and looked up at my father, who had an amused expression that took me by surprise. I nervously grabbed the top of my tie and fidgeted with it, moving it back and forth as I looked between my dad and my grandmother, who looked less than pleased with his smile.
"Go ahead, Kevin," he said, trying to keep a straight face as he placed his hands on his hips and stood up straight.
"Well," I said, clearing my throat and trying hard to come up with the words to describe what I had done to upset my grandma so badly. The problem was, I couldn't articulate it. It was more or less a culmination of things that had brought her wrath on, and I was hard pressed to accept the blame she was casting my way.
"Mom, why don't you tell me," my dad said, turning to my grandmother, who looked like she was going to explode. I heard a heavy sigh from behind me, so I turned to the couch, where my grandfather was sitting with his head resting on his hand and shaking his head. Apparently my dad and grandma heard the same sigh, because they were both looking his way when my grandma pointed at him and snapped, "That's enough out of you."
"I'm sorry grandma," I said remorsefully, afraid that I had caused some sort of rift between her and my grandpa. "I'll do better next time, I promise."
"Kevin you did fine," my grandpa assured me, causing my grandma to move closer to him, cock her head to one side and give him a stare that even I could read. He was in a lot of trouble with her.
"Well we all know about your behavior," she admonished him. "But that doesn't mean Kevin can't behave. It is church you know."
Taking my grandmothers invitation to go to church with her wasn't my best move. I had never been to church in my life. At least, I had no memory of it. If I had been, it was when I was a baby. But to my knowledge, I had never been in my life. The day before, my grandma asked me to go with her to take The Lord's Supper, and I shrugged and said sure, Then she turned to my grandpa and told him he'd be going too, whether he was planning too or not. Somehow my dad got out of it, but I'm not sure what lead to that.
Over the years I've been punished in various ways. I've been spanked with belts, hands, shoes and wooden spoons. I've had my hair pulled, and I've been grounded. There was one punishment, though, that I didn't know existed until I accidentally burped during the sermon that the Priest was giving. I had already been trying my grandmothers patience by not standing and sitting at the right times, and I giggled one time when the Priest grabbed some sort of smoking chamber and walked around shaking it while he sang a prayer over and over.
At one point, my grandfather didn't stand up, and when my grandma grabbed him by the arm and jerked him up, he pointedly whispered, "If Kevin doesn't have to, why do I?"
That's when I giggled for the second time and the burped slipped out. Out of the blue, I felt my grandmother's fingers on the back of my arm, grabbing just enough of my skin to hurt, then she twisted then enough to make me straighten up. I looked helplessly at my grandfather and realized that he would be of no use to me because she had reached over with her other hand to do the same to him.
When the services were over, she rushed the two of us out to the parking lot and instructed my grandpa not to say a word. When we pulled in the driveway behind my dad's truck, I wasn't sure if they were just dropping me off or coming inside.
"Turn the car off,' she snapped, and I just knew I was doomed. I tried apologizing to her on the way up the porch, but she wasn't trying to hear it. My dad opened the door and I felt a sinking in my gut that made me want to vomit.
I felt a little more relaxed when I realized that my dad was trying to keep a straight face, but I still felt awful about seeing my grandparents fight. I mean, I guess they weren't actually fighting, but they were disagreeing, and I wasn't accustomed to that either. I had a feeling that my grandpa wasn't going to hear the end of it for a long time. When my grandma turned to face my dad, his face turned deadly serious and he wisely nodded in agreement with everything she said.
Eventually my grandma calmed down about what happened at church and took five dollars out of her purse, then she motioned me to her.
"You're a good boy, Kevin," she said, tucking the five in my shirt pocket. "I know you'll do better next time, sweetheart." I nodded and wrapped my arms around her for a hug, then I dashed off to my room to change out of my church clothes.
In all honesty, they weren't my church clothes. They were my anything formal clothes, and my dad had bought them for me about two weeks earlier when the two of us had to go back to court for another hearing regarding Billy. I was nervous the whole week leading up to the hearing, but my dad said not to worry because I wouldn't have to see Billy. Then, to make me feel better, he took me to Macy's and bought me a suit and my own bottle of Eternity.
When I was trying the shoes on I had some trouble, but my dad and the man helping us explained that I was having a hard time getting them on because I was wearing white socks and they were too thick. I was handed a pair of Polo dress socks and. lo and behold, the shoes slipped right over my size seven feet.
The tie my dad picked out for me was dark blue, but it also had light blue and white lines running through a long stripe that ran all the way down to the bottom. Then just for kicks, he picked out a red tie with the same blue and white pattern. I also got two dress shirts to go with the coat and slacks. One was white, and the other was a blue-ish gray. They both looked good with either tie, and I found my self looking forward to the hearing so I could show my suit off for the first time.
When I came back downstairs my grandparents were about to leave, so I gave them both hugs and kisses and told them I loved them. My grandma told my dad that dinner would be ready at four. She always had an early dinner ready on Sunday for some reason, but this time was different. Two of my aunts and about five of my cousins were going to be there, and she wanted us to come too. My dad told her to move the dinner to our place so everyone could go swimming afterward, but she quickly dismissed that idea as silly.
"Who goes swimming in October?" she scoffed.
"It's an indoor pool, mom," he countered, but she wasn't having it. Finally my dad relented and told her we'd be there, and they were out the door When they left, I made a bee line for the phone so I could call Justin and see what was happening. I had been there the night before and that morning, but I had promised my grandma that I was going to church with her, and I wasn't going back on my promise.
Just as I suspected, Mark wasn't there yet. It was his weekend to go to George and Patricia's, and he usually didn't make it to Justin's till after four in the afternoon. That meant I was going to miss him altogether this weekend, but Halloween was coming up, and I had already made plans to go to his house with Justin and his brother so we could trick or treat in his neighborhood. Justin and I talked for about thirty minutes, but my dad said I needed to hang up because we had somewhere to go. I hung up the phone and walked out to the backyard, where my dad was standing next to a section of fence that had fallen.
"We have to go to Home Depot and get some planks," he said. "Next weekend I'm going to need some help back here, son."
As soon as he told me I was going to help him with the fence my mind started to race. There was something about working in the yard with a hammer and nails that appealed to me, especially if I was going to be working with my dad. I was a little nervous about messing up and making him mad, but as we did little things around the house, I was learning more and more and his patience was holding up better than I thought it would.
"Dad, can I get a tool box like yours?" I asked as we made our way from the backyard to the garage, where he was taking a final inventory on what he had and what he needed. "I've been saving my allowance and report card money. I have enough."
"You want one like mine?" he asked, sounding a little surprised. I nodded eagerly, running my hand over the shiny red roll away toolbox that bore the Craftsman emblem. There were so many compartments and drawers, and they were all full to the brim with various tools that I longed to use. To the right of his toolbox hung a plethora of power tools. He had every kind of saw, drill and sander known to man, and to the left of his toolbox was a compressor that he used to power his air tools.
I was itching to get my hands on all of it, but I knew my punishment would be swift and unrelenting if I were caught. He warned me over and over again about the danger involved with using power tools. He explicitly told me that I was never to use his power tools when he wasn't around to make sure I was doing it safely. I took all of the lectures of the dangers lurking around the corner if I didn't heed his warnings seriously, and I didn't dare defy him.
"I have two hundred dollars saved up," I told him as he opened the cabinet door over his work bench and counted his nails.
"I'll tell you what kiddo," he said. "If you put that money in the bank, I'll buy you a toolbox of your own. If you want tools, you have to make a deposit in your account. That way, you get your toolbox, and you can start to build up a savings account. Is it a deal?"
"Yes sir," I said, almost trembling with excitement. I turned on my heels and ran as fast as I could to my room to gather up the two hundred and sixty dollars I had in my dresser drawer and hand it over to my dad. When I made it back to the garage, I handed him the cash and watched him count it all up. He handed twenty dollars back to me, then he put the rest in his wallet and smiled.
"Tomorrow when you get home from school," he started as he tucked his wallet in his back pocket. "We'll go to the credit union and open a savings account for you. I'm proud of you for saving this money, Kevin."
I beamed as he took my hand and we walked through the house, locking all of the doors. He set the alarm, then we walked out the front door and got in the truck. The trip to Home Depot didn't take very long. We walked in, found the planks we needed, then we walked out. We drove to the front of the store where a man was waiting to help my dad load the planks into the back of his truck, then we went straight home.
As soon as we unloaded the planks, we were off again, this time to Sears. We walked in through the automotive department and the smell of rubber made my head spin a little. We walked straight to the toolboxes and I put my hand on the one I wanted, as if I were saving it before someone could buy it out from underneath me. Of course, it was only a display model, but I didn't care. I didn't dare take a chance that my toolbox was going to sell out before I could get it to the register.
"Why don't we get you a set of wrenches and screwdrivers while we're here, son?" he said as I stood steadfastly with the roll away I was so eager to claim as my own. "You can relax, Kevin. They have about fifty of them in the store. You're going to get your toolbox. I promise."
With that, I let out a small sigh of relief and followed him up and down the aisles, marveling as he picked out a large set of regular and Phillips head screwdrivers. Then we got a huge pouch of standard and metric wrenches. I looked longingly at a socket set that was sitting on a shelf just below, then I looked up at my dad hopefully. Without a word, he smiled and nodded, so I picked it up and waited for him to stack the screwdrivers and wrenches on top, then we meandered back to the toolboxes, where my dad pulled a tag from the floor model and then motioned me to follow him.
Right before we got to the register, my dad reached out and picked up a hammer with a claw and smiled knowingly at me. "You'll need this if your going to be helping me with the fence, kiddo."
I was in a state of disbelief for about ten minutes after everything was rung up, but as soon as I saw the toolbox being loaded into the back of my dad's truck, I realized it was true. As we were driving home, I rummaged through the bags, counting the number of screwdrivers and taking note of the different sizes. There were short ones, long ones, skinny ones, fat ones, extra skinny ones that were super short, and one each extra long flat head and Phillips head. My hammer smelled brand new, and if I could have managed to break through the packaging, I would have been in my wrenches and sockets too.
We had about an hour to spare when we got home, so we used it wisely. I knew I was being a little unreasonable, but I still made my dad use the tools he had just bought me to assemble my toolbox. When it was finished, I was waiting with a soft cloth to wipe it down and shine it up. The red surface was gleaming under the fluorescent light that lit up the garage. After we put all of my new tools away, I glanced up at my dad and smiled shyly when I realized that he was beaming proudly at me.
"Son, before we go get ready, I want you to wait right here," he said. He turned and walked into the house and I did as I was told. In no time flat, he was back with his digital camera. I stood next to my toolbox and grinned while he snapped picture after picture.
While I was in my room getting ready, he uploaded the pictures on his PC, then he hopped in the shower while I looked at the pictures he took of me and my new toolbox. When he got out of the shower I told him to email me the pictures so I could use one of them for a desktop image and have the rest for a screen saver. While he was drying off and getting dressed he told me to print a few out for my grandparents, who didn't have a PC and most likely never would. I did as I was told, and as soon as he was dressed, he slid them into a large manila envelope and set his keys and wallet on top of it so he wouldn't forget to take them along.
I normally do my hair in my room, but I decided to do it beside my dad this time. The mirror he had on his dresser was big enough for four people to stand side by side and do their hair, and he had more hair styling gels, waxes and pomades than anyone I had ever known. Considering that he also had the shortest hair of anyone I knew, I thought it was rather silly, but I never questioned it. When our hair was done, he gave me a shot of his Eternity, grabbed the pictures, and we were out the door.
My grandparents literally lived right around the corner from us, so we walked. It took us all of five minutes to get there, and it was probably a good thing that we didn't drive. There were about six cars in front of their house, besides my grandparent's cars. It was just supposed to be two of my aunts, their husbands and five of my cousins, but at the last minute, my grandma talked another one of my aunts into coming too, and her oldest son and daughter both drove. I thought it was senseless myself, but she let them each take their own cars. One of the cousins we were expecting earlier actually lived in Oakland, so we knew he'd be driving.
There's a funny thing about family. When they aren't around, people tend to miss them and wonder how they're doing. At least, I was always that way. When I first ran away, my aunts, uncles and cousins were constantly coming over and checking in on me, making sure I was okay. When my dad came around, those visits dropped off a little, mainly, I suspect, to give my dad and I room to reconcile. With one of my aunts, the reason was a little different.
My aunt Christina was the youngest of my aunts and uncles, and she was disgusted with my dad. In fact, she went out of her way to tell him so on the phone. It was the second day after I arrived in Pittsburg, and I was really depressed about not seeing my dad. She consoled me and offered to take me to Six Flags Marine World with her and her family, my Uncle Sam and my two cousins, also named Sam and Christina. I politely declined her invitation, and she kissed me and told me that she loved me and that everything would be fine.
She then got on the phone with my dad and told him in no uncertain terms that he was "an asshole" and used other colorful language. Since then, they hadn't spoken to one another, and I was afraid things were going to be awkward between them. Dinner at my grandparents was going to be the first communication between them in a long time, and I was more than a little apprehensive about the two of them coming face to face.
As soon as we walked through the door, though, my fears faded. My dad and I were met with a barrage of hugs and kisses by my aunts, and my uncles all offered my dad handshakes. When I saw my dad and my Aunt Christina wrapped in a long embrace, a feeling of relief washed over me. While his arms were still wrapped around his sister, my dad handed my grandma the envelope with the pictures I had printed out.
I admit I was feeling a little proud of myself as she passed the pictures around to everyone and they all gushed about how cute I was and how sweet it was of my dad to get me my own toolbox. My cousin Sam gawked a little and looked a bit put out when he saw the size of the toolbox my dad got me, then he cut his eyes at my uncle and said, "I want a toolbox too."
Sam was a year older than I was, and he was definitely bigger. In fact, he was almost as tall as my dad, and at twelve, I had to wonder just how tall he would get. My dad was almost six feet tall, and Sam stood up to his shoulders. He was always tall, though. When I was five and he was six, he towered over me and a kid that used to live next door to my grandparents that was ten.
He looked just like my Uncle Sam, except for the fact that he had dark hair like everyone in our family. He had a young looking face, too, but his height was overwhelming. Still, he had girls flocking to his side, the way Justin did. His problem was immaturity. In his mind, kissing was still gross, Lego's were cool and he needed his mom and dads permission for everything, even for a drink of water.
Of all of my cousins, though, he was probably my favorite. It might have been because we were so close in age, or it might have been because of the memories we had built together when we were younger. Regardless, we had grown apart, and I had the distinct feeling that I had left him behind for something more grown up while he sat amidst his toys and refused to mature.
As we sat at the table, he told a story about being chased by a girl who wanted to beat him up for teasing her, and I felt a little embarrassed for him. I looked over at my cousin Christina, who was nine, and I watched her roll her eyes. That's when I realized I was right about him. He needed to grow up and take an interest in something besides his toys.
After dinner, the adults sat at the table and drank coffee while us grand kids went out to the backyard. I pulled my Side Kick out and Sam gawked again.
"You have your own cell phone?" he asked in near disbelief.
"Yeah dude," I said, turning it on to check for any text messages. When I didn't see any, I shrugged and turned it back off. Christina asked if she could look at it, so I turned it back on and let her have it.
"Aw, how cute," she said as she looked through the pictures I had stored on it. I leaned over to see what she was looking at, and I realized it was a picture of Justin and his brother standing side by side, arm in arm with huge smiles on their faces. The next one was of Justin's brother and Kate, and their lips were puckered up and pressing. Christina put her hand over her chest, gesturing that she was touched, then she went to the next picture.
It was one of Justin, his brother, Mark and I all arm in arm in front of the Camaro in Justin's garage. Kate had taken it for us, and it was my favorite of all the pictures I had on my phone. The only thing, in my mind, that could have made it better would have been if Kate were in it with us. She was fast becoming one of my best friends, too, and I realized that despite the arguments Justin and her had, they were almost like brother and sister to one another.
While my cousin was going through the pictures on my phone, my Aunt Christina came outside and gave me a hug.
"How's my favorite nephew?" she asked when we broke our embrace.
"I'm doing good, Aunty Christina,' I said with a shy smile. "How are you?"
"I'm doing good now that I know things are going good with you and your dad," she said with a smile. "Do you have time to come talk with me?"
"Sure," I said, letting her wrap an arm over my shoulder and lead me into the house. We walked through the kitchen and down the hallway to my old room, where she closed the door for privacy and sat next to me on my old bed.
"So Grandma and Grandpa gave me some news," she said, and I knew exactly what she meant. "Do you want to talk about it?" I just shrugged a little, not sure where we were headed, and she nodded and went on. "I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable, Kevin. I just want you to know that you have someone you can talk to if you need me, okay."
"Okay Auntie," I said with a small smile. "Me and dad are seeing a counselor."
"That's good, honey," she said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "I hope you know that everyone in this family loves you, and we always will. Grandma and Grandpa haven't told anyone but me because they know I'm sensitive about this kind of thing."
"How come?" I asked, suddenly finding myself curious.
"Well, I don't know if you know this or not," she said. "My best friend is a gay man. You know him."
"I do?" I said, not sure who she was talking about.
"Sure you do," she replied. It's Richard."
She was right. I did know who he was, but I had no idea he was gay. I also had no idea that he was my Aunt Christina's best friend.
"Do you want to hear a funny story?" she asked, and I smiled and nodded as she took both of my hands into hers and crossed her legs to get more comfortable before she went on. "When I first met your Uncle Sam, I brought him home for Easter dinner. Richard always ate over here too because he's been a part of this family for as long as we've known him. Everyone knew he was gay, too. Everyone but your dad, that is.
"Well, we were all sitting around after dinner and talking, when the phone rang. It was Richard's new boyfriend, and your grandpa brought the cordless to the table for him. Richard excused himself from the conversation and went into the other room for some privacy, and as soon as he was gone, we all talked about how excited he was about meeting this guy. Of course your dad was just finding all of this out, and he was understandably surprised, but he kept quiet.
"So eventually the subject gets changed and Richard comes back out to the table to join us. We're all talking about different things, and out of the blue, your dad says, `So Richard, you're gay?' Of course I wanted to die on the spot, but it gets worse. Richard nods and there's an awkward silence for about a minute, then, out of the blue, your dad blurts out, `Well what the hell for?' I could have died right then and there, but Richard just cracked up laughing. Later on your dad apologized to me, your Uncle Sam and Richard, but we just thought it was the funniest thing. "
I had to laugh myself. It was too much, because I could just picture my dad blurting something inappropriate out like that. He most likely had no idea at the time that being gay wasn't a choice, and the irony of it all was hilarious in my opinion.
My aunt and I sat on my bed for another half hour trading stories about our family, and I realized that once again, I was lucky to have someone in my life. I didn't feel quite ready to come out to my whole family, but I knew that when I was, she would be at my side with my dad and grandparents to make sure I was okay. Before we went back out to join the rest of the family, I made plans with my aunt to join her and Richard on a Saturday for a trip to the day spa.
I waited until we got home to turn my cell phone back on. I hadn't received any calls while it was on at my grandparents, so I figured that five minutes wasn't going to change anything. As I walked side by side with my dad, I relayed the story my Aunt Christine told me and watched his face turn bright red. The sun was setting and it had turned a bright orange against the purple sky as we were walking up to our front porch.
When we got inside, I went to the bathroom and washed my hands and face, then I went into my room and plopped down on my bed, wondering what Justin was up to. I called him on his cell phone, but there was no answer. I glanced over at my alarm clock and realized it was only six o'clock and that they were probably at the dinner table, so I dialed Mark's number instead.
"Hey babe," he said when he answered.
"Hi honey," I said tenderly. I had picked up on his pet names and added a few of my own to the mix. There was something about it that I found totally hot, and it definitely stirred my libido to hear him talk that way to me. "How was your weekend?"
"It was okay," he said with a sigh, and I understood his frustration. "Am I going to see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah," I said quietly. "I was hoping to see you tonight, but I know it's late."
"My mom want's to take me out to dinner, too," he said with a deflated tone. "I really miss you."
"I miss you too, hon," I said sadly. "We'll see each other tomorrow though. Guess what I got today?"
"What?" he said, suddenly sounding interested.
"A big ass toolbox, just like my dad's," I bragged. "I got tools too."
"Really?" he asked, and I nodded as if he were there and went on to tell him all about my day. As we talked, I kicked my shoes off and made myself comfortable, knowing I'd be on the phone with him for a while. As we were talking, Justin called me a few times and finally I got online so the three of us could chat on MSN while Mark and I talked. Before long, Justin's brother and Kate were online with us.
As the clock neared ten, I knew I had to get off the phone and sign off of MSN, so I said my goodbyes and hung up after my PC was finished shutting down. I jumped in the shower without having to be told and when I was ready for bed, I went downstairs to say goodnight to my dad. He had the phone to his ear and he looked a little upset about something, but he excused himself from his conversation long enough to give me a hug and a kiss and tell me that he'd be up in a little bit to tuck me in.
While I was waiting for him to come tuck me in I fell asleep, but I woke up when I felt my bed dip and he kissed my forehead. "I love you son," he said sadly.
"What's wrong dad?" I asked him, still half asleep.
"Nothing buddy," he said. "I just want you to know that I love you and I always have."
"I love you too," I said as he pulled the covers up to my chin and smiled down at me. I closed my eyes and in no time, I was asleep.
I was in the middle of a dream, somehow thinking to myself how well I was sleeping and how soft and warm my bed was when a loud gunshot rang out, startling me out of my slumber as I automatically sat straight up in my bed and my heart raced.
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