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Chapter Twenty Nine
The gasp was loud. I know because it came out of me as I sat straight up in my bed. I covered my face with both of my hands, cupping them over my nose as I took a deep breath and gathered my senses. I used the ends of my middle fingers to wipe the sleep from the corners of my eyes, then I looked around slowly, trying to let my eyes get used to the darkness that surrounded me. The shadows on the wall and floor were a cruel reminder of the nightmare I had just been having, and as if to try to block them out of my view, I reached over and turned my lamp on.
I gave my eyes a full minute to let myself get re-acclimated to the light before I hung my feet over the side of the bed and leaned back against my hands. The time on my alarm clock said it was only 11 p.m. and I could still hear the sound of the television coming from the living room, a sure sign that my dad was up watching the news. I slid off the side of my bed and walked to my door, which was partially open, then down the hall to the bathroom to drain my aching bladder.
When I was finished, I walked out to the living room, where sure enough, my dad was sitting alone on the couch with his feet propped up on the coffee table, watching the news. He looked so lonely. There was a time in the no so distant past when he would have been sitting in front of the news with my stepmom on his arm, but those days were over. I couldn't help but blame myself for that, even if it was his choice to walk away from her.
"Hey bud," he said with a warm smile when he saw me. "I thought you were asleep."
"I was," I said with a yawn as I took a seat next to him and curled my feet up underneath my body for warmth and leaned into him. "I had to go to the bathroom."
"Is that all?" he asked knowingly, and I resignedly shook my head no.
"I had a bad dream," I said with another sleepy yawn.
"You want to talk about it?" he asked, and I sighed loudly and shook my head again.
"I want to forget about it," I said quietly, and I was telling the truth. "It was stupid anyway."
"As long as you're okay, buddy," he acquiesced, giving me a firm squeeze around the shoulders. "Do you want to sit with me for a little while?"
I nodded my head and closed my eyes again. When I reopened them, I was in my own bed, reaching for my alarm clock which had gone off. I sat up and scratched my head, realizing that I hadn't been in my bed when I fell asleep last and wondering to myself how many hours it had been since my dad put me back in my bed. I shuffled to the bathroom and started the shower, got the water temperature just right, then I got in and leaned against the wall for a few more minutes of sleep while the warm water cascaded off my back.
Thirty minutes later I was at the table, sitting in front of a bowl of Coco Pebbles and a piece of toast with strawberry jam spread across the top. I stirred my cereal around a little and picked at my toast, but I wasn't really hungry. In fact, as the details of my nightmare came back to me, I felt sick to my stomach.
"What's the matter, Kevin?" I heard my dad say from across the table from me. "Don't you feel good?"
"No," I said, putting my spoon down and looking across the table at my dad, feeling almost guilty. "Dad, I'm not hungry right now."
"Do you have a fever?" he asked, getting up from his chair and walking around to my side of the table, where he felt my forehead and cheeks. "You don't feel warm."
"I just don't feel good," I said nauseously . "I don't think I'm sick, though."
"Do you want something else kiddo?" he asked in a concerned voice. "Maybe a piece of dry toast?"
"No," I said, pushing my bowl toward the center of the table. "I think I'm just going to skip breakfast today, dad."
I got up from the table and started to walk to the couch, but the instantaneous watering of my mouth told me to head to the bathroom, and it was a good thing I did. As soon as I walked through the door, I heaved up the little bit of cereal I had managed to eat, missing the toilet by about six inches and splattering the wall with my vomit.
Skipping school wasn't my preference. In fact, I wanted to go. My dad wasn't having it, though. He called my grandma, who promptly arrived and took over for him so he could keep a few appointments.
"I'll be home early, okay buddy?" he said, leaning down to kiss my forehead. "I love you."
"I love you too, dad," I said, watching as he stood up from the edge of my bed and walked to the door, which he left open in case I needed to call for my grandma.
As soon as he was out the door, my grandma came in my room with a small cup of Seven-Up, which she placed on my night stand as she sat on the edge of my bed and felt my forehead.
"How are you feeling, honey?" she asked softly with a warm smile.
"A little better," I said, returning her smile and realizing how lucky I was to have ended up living as close to my grandparents as I had. "I could have gone to school."
"It's better to be safe than sorry," she said, patting my stomach gently. "Do you think you want to move out to the living room?"
"Maybe in a little bit," I said. "My tummy's still a little woozy."
"Ok, sweetheart," she said, starting to get up.
"Grandma?" I said, causing her to sit back down and look at me questioningly. "I miss living with you and grandpa."
"Well we miss having you Kevin," she said quietly. "You know, grandpa and I have had to get used to not having you and daddy around all the time."
"Sometimes I wish we still lived with you guys," I said.
"Well it's all for the best," she said, standing up. "You call for me if you need anything, okay honey?"
"Okay, grandma," I said with a grin that she returned.
Lying alone in my room gave me time to think about a lot of things. My mind was drifting, and my thoughts were out of my control. Normally, if I was dwelling on something that made me feel bad, I could change my train of thought and in an instant, all was well again. But the thoughts that swirled through my head that morning were making me feel worse than bad, so I pulled my pillow out from under my head and put it over my face in an attempt to block out the sunlight that was making me consciously aware of my situation.
"I heard you were sick today," she said, smiling at me as I took a seat next to my dad on the comfortable brown leather couch that faced her desk. My counselor Georgia was a soft speaker with a relaxing smile and a calm demeanor.
At times I found it hard to hear what she was saying, almost as if she were whispering, but I wouldn't say she was a bad communicator. In fact, she was probably better at it than anyone I knew of. She had a way of getting me to talk about my feelings in a way that I didn't think I was capable of doing, and my dad also seemed to be more willing to open up around her. I think seeing her might have been a little awkward at first, but we ultimately eased into our sessions with her.
"I have a stomach ache," I said quietly. "I'll be okay, though."
"I hope so," she said quietly, marking something in her notepad. I tried to get a glimpse of what she was writing one day, but it all looked like chicken scratch. I asked my dad about it and he laughed and said it was called short hand. I told him it looked more like hieroglyphics, bringing another chuckle out of him.
"I had to stay home from school again," I griped, propping my arm on the armrest and resting the side of my head lazily on top of my forearm.
"Well if you're not feeling good it was probably good to take a day off," she said without looking up from her notes. "So what would you like to talk about today?"
"I'd like to mention something," my dad said out of the blue. "Kevin had a nightmare last night that he didn't want to talk about."
I sighed and turned my head so I could flash a dirty look at my dad, who looked unfazed by my glare. If anything, he looked concerned, but I wanted his concern to subside. If there was one thing I didn't want to talk about, it was the memory that had revisited me during my sleep the night before.
"Well why don't we talk about that," Georgia said matter of factly, still taking notes but looking up from the page she was writing on.
"Do we have to?" I asked bitterly, knowing that she'd find a way to get it out of me. Only this time, I was going to fight her tooth and nail because I wanted it to go away. It had to.
"No," she said quietly. "We can talk about anything you want to talk about, Kevin. Let's talk about something that makes you feel good."
I let out a sigh of relief and started talking to her about my toolbox. I told her about swimming with Mark, Justin and his brother and about the plans my dad and I had to rebuild the fence in our backyard. Then, as if I had no control over what I was saying, I mentioned the phone conversation with my mom. In no time I was reduced to tears as I relayed the feelings of betrayal that I felt when I figured out that she was going to visit Billy in prison.
"Do you think your mom stopped to consider how this makes you feel?" she asked, and I nodded tearfully.
"Of course she did," I said between sniffles. "She didn't want to tell me what she was doing there, but she knew she didn't have to. God I hate her."
"Do you really mean that?" Georgia asked, and I shook my head slowly, letting out a long, drawn out cry as I did. I felt my dad scoot closer to me and wrap his arm around me, pulling me into him for comfort, but the pain I felt in my heart seemed irreparable.
"I don't know how she could just do this," I sobbed. "After everything that happened. Why?"
"We may never know, Kevin," she said quietly, and that was it. She didn't offer up a defense of my mother's actions. She didn't remind me that she had mental instabilities that were out of her control. She didn't say that I should learn to forgive my mom for her newest betrayal.
Instead, we moved on to a different topic.
Sex isn't something I like to talk about with certain people. In the presence of my dad and a woman, though, I get really uncomfortable. The thing is, though, I got a pass the week before. Georgia never brought up the dildo, but I was positive my dad had mentioned it to her. He had to of.
Instead of the dildo incident, we talked about my trip to the day spa with Richard and my Aunt Christina. I bragged a little bit about my make over and talked about wanting to be a little more open about my gayness. In all, it was a rather relaxing session, and I went home confident that I was off the hook about the dildo and my trip to the emergency room.
I'd definitely been caught off guard by Georgia this time. I knew that it was no coincidence that she didn't actually say she wanted to talk about sex with me. Instead, she came around to the subject in a manner that made the change in subject seem natural.
"I'd like for you to be open and honest with me, Kevin," she said. "By doing that, you can be open and honest with yourself and others about an array of topics. Doesn't that sound liberating?"
"Not really," I said plainly. "But I guess I can try."
"Talk to me about the first time you ever thought about sex," she said, and I know my brow furrowed.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I don't remember the first time I thought about it."
"Was it with Billy?" she asked bluntly, and I shook my head. We had talked about Billy so much that the mention of his name and what had happened between us no longer had any shock value with me. "Do you think it was the time you found out that your little brother had been abused?"
"No," I said uneasily, thinking back in my mind to what I could have honestly pointed to as my first exposure to sexual thoughts. "I think it was when I was at school."
At that moment, I felt like I had turned a key, and when I did, an old memory came back to me. I sat still, letting the moment linger, and all of the sudden, I realized what I had stumbled across. The moment was so vivid in my mind, yet it had faded to black for almost a year before that. I put my hands on my temples and released a loud breath as the sick to my stomach feeling came rushing back to me and I knew right away what my nightmare meant and how it related to what we were talking about at the moment.
I turned and looked at my dad guiltily, soaking up his worried expression, then back at Georgia, who nodded knowingly at me, and I knew I was in a world of trouble.
Dinner that evening was quiet. I could barely look my dad in the eye, much less carry on a conversation with him. I just pushed the food around on my plate because I couldn't handle food at the moment. Finally he excused me from the table, and I went straight to my room and got ready for bed,
I didn't make it out to the living room that night to tell him good night. He had to come to my room instead, and the look on his face told me that he was searching for an explanation I couldn't give him yet. If I had known how, I would have done it in an instant.
He sat on the side of my bed and caressed my face gently, then he scooted me over and crawled in next to me. I instinctively rolled over so that I was curled up to his side and I thought about becoming the man that he was. It was a mighty task to complete, I knew, especially because I was gay. But there was no one else in the world I wanted to be like.
"You know something, Kevin," he said softly. "There's nothing in the whole wide world that you can't tell me. I'll always be here for you."
"No matter what?" I asked meekly, a feeling of dread consuming my already nauseous stomach.
"No matter what, kiddo," he said, then he kissed me on the lips and said, "I love you so much, son. That's never going to change. Nothing, no matter what, is going to change between us."
With that, he got up and pulled my covers up to my chest. I watched him as he walked to my window, making sure it was shut and latched, and I felt like he was a giant that towered over me.
I also took him at his word, though. If my dad said something, he meant it. I sighed and sat up before he hit the light.
"Dad?" I said, and he turned, his face registering the same concern it did in Georgia's office.
"Yes Kevin," he said, cracking his knuckles nervously as he approached my bed again.
"I just wanted to tell you that I love you," I said, realizing I'd chickened out of what I wanted to tell him. Without a word he sat back down on my bed and wrapped his long arms around me, pulling me in for a tight hug that lasted for more than a minute. When he let me go, he kissed my forehead and guided me back down to my pillow and pulled the covers back up to my chest again. Then he walked out of my room.
As I lay still on my bed, I let my mind take me back to the day I first found out that there were sexual pleasures that I could enjoy. School was out and I was going to walk home, but before I did, I made my usual round to the Kindergarten rooms where I knew I'd find my little brother. His face lit up when he saw me, and he ran up to me to show me the face he'd made with cotton balls and glue against dark red construction paper.
"It looks like Santa Clause," he said, handing it to me to see. "Daddy's late again, as usual."
That was true. My dad was always late picking my little brother up from school, but my stepmom was in class and there was no one else to do it. That was why I liked to walk to his classroom when the bell rang to let us out. I would have to cross the busy intersection with him if I were to walk him back to my dad and step mom's house, and they didn't think I was quite old enough to do it safely yet.
Plus, going to his classroom after school to wait for my dad with him gave me the opportunity to see my dad without having to deal with my stepmom. One thing that was different about being there that afternoon was the substitute teacher sitting at his regular teacher's desk I recognized him from the times he'd substituted for my teachers, and when he saw me, his face lit up.
"Hi Mr. Kessler," I said, waving at him. "My dad should be here soon."
"There's no hurry," he said with a friendly look. "So what grade are you in this year Kevin?"
"Fifth," I bragged, taking a seat at an activity table. "I'll be eleven in April."
"Wow, I can remember when you were in first grade," he said, getting up and walking over to the table to sit with us. "You're definitely a much bigger boy than I remember."
And that's when it happened. At the time, I thought it was nothing more than playful tickling. Looking back, though, it was glaringly obvious what was happening. I giggled because I thought it was so funny, and I thought nothing of watching him tickle my little brother the same way. In fact, I thought nothing of doing it to him myself. Mr. Kessler was so blasť about it that it seemed to be all in fun.
I had to find a way to move past the moment I was trapped in, but my guilty mind wouldn't let me. I had tears streaming down my face, drenching my pillow when the reality hit me, and I realized what I was guilty of. I just knew that as soon as I told my dad everything around me would disappear, just like it always had before. I shook my head and told myself that I was just having another nightmare, but when I sat up in my bed, I knew it was real. All of it.
I needed to do something. Anything. I couldn't just sit there in my bed and wonder what was going to happen. I had to be proactive, so I got up and walked out to the living room, which was surprisingly quiet. The TV was off and my dad was nowhere to be found. That meant he was in bed, so I crept quietly through the house and for reasons I couldn't explain, I found myself in the pool room.
I turned the light on and looked around. Considering the temperature outside, which had dipped into the low forties, the room was pretty warm. I took a lounge chair and rested my head against the back of it, taking in the smell of chlorine that lingered in the air around me and listening to the low hum of the pump as it filtered the water.
Finally, I got up and walked out to the pool, looking into the water and taking in my reflection. I took a seat on the edge and dipped my feet in the warm water and thought about how my life had evolved. It didn't take long for an uneasy feeling to creep over me when I realized what was at stake.
If there was one thing I could be accused of in my life, it's that I dwell on things. When I was little and living with my mom, I used to feel bitter about the life I knew I'd never have. I created scenarios in my mind that weren't realistic because I couldn't stop thinking about what I wished I had. I was certain, though, that things would never change.
Then my dad married my stepmom and things went from bad to worse. The small haven of sanity I had was gone, replaced by my step mom's hateful antics toward me. Still, I persevered and swore not to let her keep my dad away from me, or vice versa.
Then came that fateful phone call. It destroyed me in so many ways to learn that my dad didn't want to see me anymore, and all I could do was move on. I pretended that everything was okay, and on the surface, it was. But the truth be told, it was never okay. If someone had looked below the surface of my home life they would have been appalled, especially if they would have found out that my mom was dating a convict up for parole.
When Billy got out, I think I wanted to make myself believe that I was going to be okay. He seemed to be interested in teaching me how to become a man, and I was desperate for some kind of positive male role model in my life. As soon as my mom thought he was spending too much time with me, though, she told him my deepest, darkest secret and his interest in me changed for the worst.
But I got away.
I made a run for it, and when I did, my life changed. It was difficult at first, to say the least. I knew I could have been killed or maybe met a worse fate than living with my mom and Billy. But I didn't. Instead, things turned around in such a positive way that even in my wildest dreams, I wouldn't have predicted such an outcome for me.
Finally, my life was everything I wanted it to be.
I let my feet stay in the warm water, but I leaned back and let my back rest against the Astro Turf, closing my eyes to concentrate on my next move. I was still in shock, but at the same time, I was panicking more than anything. My mind started to drift again, back to the day I walked to my little brother's classroom, but this time I felt a nudge on my shoulder.
"Kevin?" I heard a worried voice say, snapping me out of my slumber. "What are you doing here at this time of night?"
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