STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!
Copyright 2002 by Nick Archer.
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Pocktful of Stars
Dad slowly stood up from the couch, crossed over to my bedroom door, and took down the centerfold. Dennis had taped a male centerfold to the door of my bedroom and written FUCK YOU across it with magic marker.
He folded the picture into a small square and handed it to me. "Where did you get that, young man?" He didnt seem too angry. His voice was low and gentle.
I explained where I bought it. I had purchased it at the Northwestern train station in downtown Chicago.
"As your father, I should be mad at you and give you a lecture. But, you know, I did the same thing when I was your age."
He sat back down on the couch. He looked me in the eyes and patted the couch beside him.
I sat right next to him and our legs were touching. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer. I liked his smell. I could smell the deodorant he always used and his toothpaste. But he also smelled like a man. Not bad, but just like a guy.
"You know, its not going to be easy. Maybe it will be easier than when I was growing up. Things have changed. Society has changed. But still ."
"Whats not going to be easy?"
"Being gay." The word lay there like a deflated life raft, heavy and limp, in the middle of the room. He knew. He knew about me. And Dennis. Not that it was any great shock. I suspected he knew. I had heard him talking with Tad when they thought I wasnt listening.
Still, hearing him speak the word almost made me dizzy. He had never said that word to me before. He had never used the word in reference to himself or me. It was such a simple little word. Only three letters long. Gay. But it carried so much weight.
"I doesnt matter how you got that way," Dad continued. "I love you no matter what. When you were born I had such high hopes for you. I still do. You can be anything you want to be, Joe. You have a lot more rights and opportunities that I had when I was your age. Even more than Tad."
Dad petted my hair. "I just thought of something. I think Tad is jealous. Hes jealous of the opportunities that you and Dennis have. Well, maybe not Dennis."
"Maybe by the time youre my age, you may be able to marry your boyfriend. Youll have the same rights as a married couple; insurance, benefits "
"Maybe," I agreed. I thought the conversation was getting sort of boring. "Dad? Where did they go?"
He sighed. "Dennis has a hearing next week. So they decided to leave early and stay at a friend of Tads in Chicago."
"Are they coming back?"
"Yeah," he said without enthusiasm. "We have a dinner party next weekend, and theyre both coming back for that. I think this may be the last court appearance, but Im not sure. Depends on what the judge says today."
I wasnt so sure I wanted to see Dennis again. He had hurt me, deeply, but the thought of him still made my dick twitch. "Why are they coming back for the party? Why dont they just stay in Chicago?"
"Its a birthday party for Ruth. Tad wanted to be here for it. Dennis went to counseling with her, too. Plus, Tad still has most of his stuff here."
"Why did they leave so early?" I knew the answer to the question before I blurted it out.
"Dennis was getting on my nerves. And Tad and me .we " he stopped again. His eyes were filling with tears.
"Dad?" I said softly. "Did you break up with him?"
He nodded and smiled. His mouth formed the word yes but no sound came out.
I pretended to reach into my pocket and started to sing, "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away."
I took his hand, opened it, and pretended to place imaginary stars there.
His eyes finally met mine. A very, very thin smile spread across his face. "Oh, Joe." He pulled me close to him and hugged me really tightly.
"Oh, Joe, my son. Im so sorry." He rocked me and patted my back. "Im so sorry," he repeated.
"Why are you sorry, Dad?" I was talking into his shoulder.
"For loosing sight of what was important." He finally let me go.
"You. Youre important. And your sisters. Im so sorry I forgot that." He was about to cry again.
It was then I decided to do something I havent done in a long, long time. I sat in his lap.
"Oh, Joe " his voice trailed off as he buried his face in my shoulder and cried. "I love you."
"I love you, too, dad."
I ran my fingers through his hair like he had done to me a few minutes earlier. I sometimes forget what a good-looking man my dad is. I inherited his blue eyes. His hair is brown whereas mine is lighter. It will probably be brown when I get older, because it seems to get darker each year. He has dimples in his cheeks. I didnt inherit the dimples.
He wiped his face on the sleeve of his blue polo shirt. He playfully poked me in the ribs.
Dad grinned and poked me again and I squirmed in his lap. He responded by tickling my ribs.
I squealed in a girls voice and hopped out of his lap.
He jumped off the couch, tackled me and playfully wrestled me to the floor by the coffee table. He started an assault on my ribs - my most ticklish place besides my feet.
"No, dad!" I gasped for breath and thumped my heels on the floor.
"OK," he said panting. He lay on the floor next to me and stared at the ceiling. We both panted for a few seconds.
Finally, he said in a quiet voice, "Are you OK, Joe?"
"Im OK," I lied.
"Ill kill him if he hurt your feelings."
Its too late, Dad. He already did that.
He propped himself on one elbow. I guess he did this to get a better look at my face. By this time, I was almost crying. How could I tell him? And if I could, would he understand? I loved Dennis, but in a different way than I loved Dad or Josh. I loved the image of him. I loved what I could see. Dad once explained to me that stars dont really twinkle. They just appear to twinkle because of the atmosphere.
"He doesnt love me," I managed to blubber out.
"I suspected as much," he put a hand on my chest. It felt warm there. Im sure he could feel me sobbing.
"I should have known. He was just using you. The only thing Dennis knows is sex. He uses sex to get what he wants. Actually, Tad told me this might happen."
"Love is a strange thing," he continued. "Especially when youre fourteen. And it doesnt make it any easier that guys - all guys - tend to confuse sex and love. Dennis probably doesnt know what love is, Joe. You remember we told you what his family was like?"
I nodded. I knew. But I was looking at Dennis through some sort of filter that made him twinkle, just like the layers of atmosphere around the earth made the stars twinkle when theyre viewed from the ground. Unlike astronomers that work hard to see stars as they really are, without the filtering effect of the sky, I didnt want to give up my filter. Dennis looked better through the filter. The filter allowed me to see only those things I wanted to see about Dennis.
With the palm of his hand, he wiped the tears from my cheeks. His palm felt rough against my cheeks.
"Well, youve got Troy. Thats something. Maybe, its everything. A good friend can be more valuable than a boyfriend."
I knew what my dad was telling me was true. But I still didnt want to let go of the dream. It was the dream of a boyfriend - someone who was my age and loved me.
"I like Troy," I agreed.
"I do, too."
By this time, I had almost stopped crying. "Dad? Id like to see a lot of Troy."
He smiled. "Sure, hes a good kid. I knew you two would get along. If youd like to invite him to the dinner party, that would be fine."
"Thats not what I meant. What I meant was ." I stared at the ceiling. I wanted to ask the question. But I was scared.
"What, Joe? What is it you want to ask me?"
I took a deep breath and blurted it out, "Can I live with you?"
Dad didnt say anything for a long time, but scanned my face as if he were looking for a hidden picture. Or maybe a hidden meaning. I swear I could hear the kitchen faucet dripping.
Finally, Dad said, "I thought youd never ask." He hugged me again. "Its not going to be easy, selling this to your mom."
He sighed deeply, stood up, and walked to the bathroom. In seconds, he returned with a box of tissues in one hand and wiping his face with the other. He handed me the box.
I mopped myself up with the Kleenex and dad held a hand out to help me off the floor.
When I was in a standing position, he inspected my hand. "Boy, where did you get such big hands? I never noticed them before."
I shrugged and smiled. "They just seem to keep growing. Like the rest of me. My feet grew two sizes this school year. Mom was really bitching because she kept having to buy bigger shoes this past school year."
"Youre growing up in other ways, too. Youre more mature."
"Mature?" I scoffed. "All I did just now was cry like a baby."
"Thats part of it, Joe. Growing up means you learn to deal with your emotions appropriately. It hurts right now, I know. Dont beat yourself up. I probably would have done the same thing."
He poured himself a cup of coffee, while I got a cold can of pop from the refrigerator. Suddenly, he had an inspiration. "Do you want to talk to Ruth? It might help to talk to someone impartial."
"I dont know," I hesitated.
"Shes really nice. I could make an appointment for you."
I still hesitated. "Let me think about it. I might want to talk to someone else first."
He smiled and let the subject drop. "Ok, son."
It was already the first part of August, and in two short weeks, I would be going back to Bloomington. But first, there was something I needed to attend to. I had to call my mom and tell her about my idea to live with my dad full-time. I wasnt exactly looking forward to that conversation.
I needed some advice about how to approach my mom and talk to her in a rational way. Dad wouldnt be much help. Mom would say he was just biased.
Dad had suggested I make an appointment with Ruth. As much as I liked her the few times I met her, I couldnt see myself explaining all the ins and outs of the situation.
But there was one person who could offer me advice and who knew most of the players involved in this little drama -- Aunt Lynda.
And so it was on Monday night, that I called her, with Dads permission, of course.
"What a pleasant surprise to hear your voice, Joe! And your voice is much deeper than the last time I talked to you.
How do you respond to a statement like that? I just thanked her.
"So whats up, kiddo? How can I help you?
I took a deep breath and plunged in. "Aunt Lynda, Id like to live with my dad all year."
She completed the thought for me. "And you want some pointers about how to talk to your mom?"
"Just a second, Joe. I need to prepare." I my minds eye, I could see her put her glasses on top of her head, cover her eyes and recite the short prayer she always did before she went into what I called psychic mode.
The next thing she said was her standard statement before she gives a reading. "Remember: All the things I tell you may or may not come to pass. It all depends on you." She paused briefly. "You know your mother loves you very much. You dont need a spiritual reader to tell you that. Plus, Im her sister and I understand how she feels. Im sure Laurie will miss you terribly."
I felt my heart sinking. This is not what I wanted to hear.
"But," she added, "she wants your happiness. She will put your happiness before her own needs. And she recognizes and understands that a boy - excuse me - a young man your age needs to be with his father. It is my impression that she will say yes." She paused for a moment. "But," she cautioned, "you must - you absolutely must - approach it like an adult. Talk to her rationally. Spell out the reasons why you think you should live with your father. Make a list if you need to. Because if you become emotional, youll lose. OK? Think you can do that?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Good. And Ill tell you something else, Joe. When you came to visit me just before you left, I sensed that you were going to stay there. I think its best for you. This is what you need in your life right now."
She paused again. "Joe, Im sensing someone hurt your feelings. Rather recently, too."
"I have a spirit telling me that theres someone close to you, someone who is your age, that hurt your feelings. Pretty badly, too, am I correct?"
I felt goosebumps. "Yeah."
"I have to be honest with you, Joe. This spirit is telling me that you should stay away from him. Im not quite understanding what exactly the danger is .physical or emotional or maybe even spiritual."
"But, Aunt Lynda. The last time we talked you said that a brown-haired kid represented my future. And a blond-haired boy represented my past. The kid that youre referring to, if were thinking about the same person, has brown hair."
"Im not mistaking what I see, Joe. The only mistakes are in how I interpret the signs that are given to me. Remember, Joe, that were put on this earth to learn about love. Love is the highest power. This person that were referring to - what is his name?"
"OK. Dennis may not be the same person I was referring to in the first reading when you came over for dinner. But Dennis is definitely the person about whom the spirits are advising caution. Are there any other kids up there with brown hair? A boy that you met recently, perhaps?"
I racked my brain to figure out who she could be referring to. "No, not that I can think of."
"Well, maybe he hasnt appeared in your life yet. Or maybe you just dont recognize his role in your life. Thats possible as well. Keep your eyes open. This young man is going to be an important figure in your life for a long time."
While I was on the phone with Aunt Lynda, the doorbell rang. Dad answered the door. Troy was standing there with a big grin on his face. I had one ear listening to Aunt Lynda, and another listening to Dad and Troy.
"Hey, Troy! How are ya? Come on in!"
"Hi, Mr. Ryan. Thanks."
"Troy, please call me Sean. Mr. Ryan makes me feel old."
"OK, Mr .I mean Sean."
"Joe is on the phone with his Aunt Lynda in Bloomington. He should be off any time now."
Meanwhile, Aunt Lynda was saying a silent prayer for me.
"Thanks, Aunt Lynda."
"Anytime, Joe. Youll probably be back down here to pick up the rest of your things before school starts. Id enjoy a visit if you can spare the time."
"Of course I can spare the time, Aunt Lynda."
"Fine, then Ill look forward to it. I love you, Joe."
"I love you, too, Auntie Lynda."
I hung up the phone and approached Troy and Dad in the living room area. They were chatting just above the TV when I approached.
"Everything OK, Joe?" Dad asked me.
"Yup. I think."
"Good. Troy and I decided that we wanted to go play some miniature golf. What do you think?"
"Let me get my keys and wallet and well go."
On the way to the car, Dad said to Troy, "You have the most extraordinary blue eyes, Troy. Do you wear contacts?"
"Dad!" I admonished. Its bad enough when he embarrasses me in front of my friends and its even worse when he embarrasses my friends. I could have strangled him.
"No, I dont wear contacts," Troy mumbled.
Dad turned the ignition and his Eclipse roared to life. "Black hair and blue eyes is an unusual combination. And quite striking."
"Thank you Mr .I mean, Sean. Actually, my hair isnt really black. Its just a very dark brown."
Thankfully, Dad dropped the subject after that.
The next night, a Tuesday, I participated in one of the toughest phone calls of my life. I called my mom to explain to her why I wanted to live with my Dad. I had actually made a list of the reasons I wanted to live in Williams Bay. They were all good reasons, and not based on emotion, like Aunt Lynda suggested.
Dad listened in on the extension, and promised he wouldnt say anything.
"Well," mom hesitated and there was a long, long pause. My heart stopped beating. Im eternally grateful she didnt cry. I would have changed my mind about the whole thing. "Your sisters will miss you."
"Not!" I scoffed.
"Theyve been asking all summer when you were coming home." She paused again. "And I just talked to your Aunt Lynda."
"I know you, Joe. And I love you with all my heart. And I know youre best off with your Dad. I mean, I know you were lonely here being the only boy - I mean male - in the house. Still " She paused and I heard her sniffle. "I know its selfish, but I wanted to be there. I wanted to watch you grow up into the extraordinary man I know youll be."
Oh, God. Here it comes. I clenched the phone so tightly my knuckles were white. Oh, shit, Mom, please dont cry. Please dont.
I heard her blow her nose. "I sort of expected this." She snarfed again into the tissue. "And I knew Id have to say good-bye at some point, I just never expected it to be so soon."
"I would like you to come home - I mean to Bloomington - for some holidays and at least half of next summer vacation."
"Sure, mom, we can work that out." By this time, I was fighting back tears myself.
"Let me ask you something. Did your dad ask you or did you ask him?"
"I asked him, Mom. In fact, when I did, he said, I thought you never ask."
She chuckled and took a deep breath. "OK, Joe, if thats what you want. Remember, though, if it doesnt work out, youre always welcome back here."
That did it. I started to cry.
"Its OK, Joe."
"I didnt mean to hurt your feelings."
"You didnt, son. Somewhere in the job description for moms is that we have to let go sometimes. And sometimes we cry." She sighed a long, deep sigh. "Well. Thats done." She was trying to sound cheerful and it was coming across as just a tiny bit forced. "Let me talk to your dad a bit. OK? I love you, Joe."
"I love you too, mom." And I hung up the phone. As I tiptoed toward my dads bedroom where he was still on the line with Mom, I grabbed a tissue. I stood at the door to his room and listened. He didnt shoo me away, but he didnt motion me in, either.
He listened for a while and whispered some words I couldnt understand. "Youre really brave, Laurie. Yes, he made this decision all by himself. I agree, I think it will be best for him."
Then he listened some more and injected a lot of "Uh-huhs" and "Yeses."
Finally, he said, "Well come down the third week of August to pick up the rest of his things. Anything that we cant pack in the car, well ship back up here UPS. No, no thats very nice of you, but Im sure Ill more comfortable in a hotel. Ill make reservations as soon as we get off the phone." He looked up, saw me standing there, and smiled at me. He patted a spot next to where he was sitting on the bed.
When I sat next to him, he put an arm around my shoulders. "Well, we could leave that decision up to Joe. If Cindys already moved into his room, he probably wont be interested in sleeping there, even if its only for a night. Why dont we leave the decision about whether hell stay there or in the hotel up to him? Hes getting pretty good at making decisions." He looked at me and smiled.
"Thanks, Laurie. You handled it well. OK, sleep well. Goodnight."
And in less than twenty minutes, it was over.
When we were done with the call, Dad hugged me, started to hum Catch A Falling Star and pretended to put stars in my pocket.
"Welcome to Williams Bay." Then he corrected himself. "Welcome home."
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