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 2000 by archer. Permission is
granted to Nifty Archives, ASSGM, and gaywritings, to post one
copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted
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Pocketful of Stars
Saturday finally came, and it looked like it was going to be a hot one. I love Saturdays. Theres no school. Thats a big plus. Mom got the letter that I had to go to summer school. She was not a happy camper. In fact, Im grounded. But thats all that really happened. She did say to me that she was really disappointed in me and she thought I could do much better. What I didnt tell her is that I can, but I didnt want to.
I was just about to sneak to my room, when my mom caught me.
"Just a minute, Joe. Not so fast. Im going to need your help today."
When my mom says that shes going to need my help, it means some sort of gross housework. Usually its a job like cleaning the bathroom, or scrubbing the garbage cans.
"Marks coming over...."
"Oh, we finally get to meet Mr. Right?" I interrupted.
"Dont get smart with me, young man," she snapped back. "Anyway, hes coming over to do some work on the efficiency apartment. I want to have a family meeting before he comes over."
Uh-oh. Family meetings mean that somethings up. Something big. It means more trouble than when my mom said she needed my help. The last family meeting we had was just before my parents got divorced. My dad had already left for Chicago, and my mom called us all into the kitchen. I was only nine then, Carrie was seven and Cindy was only four. It was kind of scary. We all sat around the kitchen table after dinner. My mom had just made us homemade pizza, which we all love. After we had eaten, Mom cleared the table, and told us that our dad wasnt coming back. Cindy started crying right away. I dont think she stopped for a couple of days. Mom tried to explain what a divorce was.
"Will we still live in this house?"
Cindy asked, "Will we get to see Daddy?"
"Daddy lives in Chicago now. Thats far from here. If he makes the effort, you can go to see him."
"Why did he leave?"
"He...he.." Mom choked back a sob; "he loves someone else." She started crying. So did Carrie. I didnt. I waited until I got to my room alone. Then I cried for about an hour. After that I never cried again, not even when I got suspended for a week this year when I put a firecracker in a kids locker at school. I was almost glad he left. We rarely saw him, and when he was home he was fighting with mom. It still hurt when I saw other kids doing things with their dads. Like when Joshs dad helps him fix his bike. But I never cried about it.
I brought myself back to the present. "Whats going on?"
Mom just said, "Wait until Carrie and Cindy get here and well talk about it together."
Whats all the mystery about, I wondered?
Mark arrived about an hour later with five gallons of paint, some rollers and drop clothes. He was really ugly. He had deep scars all over his face. It looked like someone had tied him down and burnt holes in his face with a lit cigarette.
Mom, Cindy, Carrie and I all sat at the kitchen table. This time mom didnt make pizza. But she did pour us all Pepsi.
"Whats Mark doing upstairs, Mom?" Carrie asked.
"Hes doing some work on the apartment. He is a contractor. He does a lot of construction work. He will be putting in a bathroom upstairs."
"Finally," I sighed.
Hell also be installing a stove and a refrigerator."
"Why does Carrie get all that?" Cindy asked.
"Its not for Carrie," Mom explained. "Im going to rent out the apartment to a college student. I need the extra money."
"Can you afford all this?" I asked.
"Not really. Marks going to put off payments until the rent starts coming in. Hopefully, it will be done in time for summer school in June.
"Where will I sleep?" Carrie was concerned.
"You and Cindy will share a room. Joes room."
"Why my room?" I protested.
"Because its a lot bigger than Cindys room. You will get Cindys room."
"But I hate Cindys room. Its so small." Not to mention I couldnt climb out of the window. There are big bushes right outside her window.
"Well do the moving tomorrow. Thatll give you time today to take the stuff off the walls, throw the dirty clothes...."
"But, Im not going to move. I love my room."
"Joe, Im not going to argue about it. Youre going to move and thats final."
"Its not fair!"
"Life isnt fair. Thats the way its going to be."
I stormed out of the kitchen. I didnt care whether she needed the extra money. I went to my room, and threw myself on my bed. You know those stories about people being evicted because the city wanted to do urban renewal! Thats how I felt.
I almost felt like crying, but I didnt.
Since I was grounded, I couldnt leave the yard, but I could go outside. In the backyard, I sit in the grass and stare at the back of the house. I kind of have my mom figured out when it comes to being grounded. If I stick to the straight and narrow for about a week and cooperate, then she forgets and I can go a little further until Im free. I hate being grounded.
Our house is on Whites Place in Bloomington. Its such a cool street. Its three blocks long. On the south end of the street theres a gate made of limestone. Its way cool but its pretty narrow. Only one car at a time can fit through the gate. Then, the street itself gets wide; actually its almost like two streets. A grassy divider separates the northbound and southbound traffic. The street itself is paved with bricks! The city wants to keep it that way because this is a historical district. The bricks are called cobblestones. I dont know why they call them cobblestones. Theyre not stones at all.
Most of the houses were built about the same time at the turn of the century last centurynot this one. Theyre big, too. This was a pretty classy place to live back then. But over the years the houses got divided into apartments, at least most of them did. Ours is one of the few that wasnt divided. Because this is a historic district you cant make any changes to the outside of your house without city approval. You can do whatever you want to the inside.
About three blocks north is the border with Normal. I love that name. Normal. Its a funny name for a town. Like: Where do you live? I live in Normal. I think thats hilarious. Theres actually a pretty logical explanation about how the town got the name. See, Normal is where Illinois State University is located. ISU started as a teachers college. Back then, they called teachers colleges normal schools. ISU was called Illinois State Normal University. Then they dropped the word normal. Originally, the name of the town was North Bloomington. They should have stuck to North Bloomington.
When people ask where I live, I tell them I live in Bloomington, which is the closest you can get to Normal.
I have to admit that moms idea was a good one. We live only five or six blocks from ISU and Illinois Wesleyan is even closer.
I went back into the house after a half -hour or so, and flopped on my bed. I started to clean up my room. It took a long time. The easiest way was just to make big piles of everything. Since nothing was in any sort of organization anyway, this seemed to be the most logical thing to do. Even the piling process took most of the day. About four, I decided to take a break, so I went upstairs to see how it was going.
Carrie had taken most everything out of the big room, and put it in the bathroom. Mark had painted a few of the walls a light tan color.
"How can you stand the smell of the paint?"
"I cant. Im going to sleep on the couch in the living room tonight. Want to help me move some of this stuff down?"
"To a corner of your room. Youre going to end up helping sooner or later."
She had a point. There was no avoiding it. I took about three loads of stuff down. After the third trip, I plopped down on the bed.
"Im tired," I said.
"I wonder what kind of student is going to move in here," Carrie wondered out loud. "I wonder if Mom will rent it to a girl or a guy."
"I dont know. In any case, I dont think well see much of them. Hell probably be studying most of the time." What I didnt tell her is that I had already made up my mind not to like whoever was moving in. I resented the fact that they were moving in our house and I had to give up my room.
The next day was cloudy and gloomy. It was a very fitting day for the moving we had to do. Mom appeared in a worn pair of blue jeans and her brown hair wrapped in a red bandanna. She looked rested and refreshed. She also smiled and laughed a lot. She seemed very young that day. She promised to make us homemade pizza when we were done. It took a long time to do all the moving. We moved everything out of my room and put it in the living room. Then, we took Cindys things into my room. Finally, we carried my stuff into Cindys old room.
I hated my new room. It was painted green. I dont mind green usually, but this green looks like puke. It was a lot smaller than my other room. And it was at the back of the house, whereas my other room was in the front, and had a window that opened onto the porch. That was the window I could climb out.
The construction went on for weeks. Mark did the work during evenings and on weekends. New carpet appeared, and Mom bought a used stove and refrigerator. One Saturday hope appeared on the bathroom battlefront. Mark brought in fixtures for the upstairs bathroom. He let me help install the shower stall. One time, he brought a couple friends to help finish the bathroom.
My dad called the following Wednesday. Mom talked to him a long time, and I knew she was telling him about summer school. She knocked on my door and told me that he wanted to talk to me.
"Im very disappointed in you, son," he said to me as soon as I took the phone. His tone of voice told me that any smart comments would best be kept to myself.
"I know you dont like math, and Im not asking you to bring home As. But you should at least bring home passing grades. Why didnt you ask for help if you were having trouble?"
"The teacher and I dont get along."
I heard him sigh. He does that when hes irritated. "One of the things youre going to have to learn is not to let personalities get in the way of what youre supposed to do. Suppose I said to my boss that I didnt want to do something because I didnt like him?"
I didnt have an answer for that one. It made too much sense.
"Its part of growing up, kiddo. You have to learn to do this. You have to master math in order to get a decent job, no matter what you do."
"Plus its going to cut into our time together. I was really looking forward to you coming up by yourself." Dad lives in Hyde Park in Chicago during the year. He has a condominium there near the lake. I like it but theres not much to do for kids there. There are no kids my age around. During the summers, he goes to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The University of Chicago has an observatory there. He owns a small house in Williams Bay, which is on the other side of Lake Geneva. Ive never seen the house, but Ive seen pictures.
The summer plan was that I was going to go up to Williams Bay by myself. No sisters to put up with. It was going to be just Dad and me for the whole summer. Now, at least three weeks would be taken up with summer school.
"Besides, Phil was going to bring his younger brother up. Hes your age, I think, No, wait, he might be a year or two older than you." Phil is my dads friend. They met when Phil was a student at ISU and my dad was the director of the Planetarium there. When he was offered a job at the University of Chicago, Phil transferred schools, too. I met him once. Hes kinda cute. Between you and me, I think theyre doing the Posturepedic Polka.
"Do you think you can pass summer school?"
"Yup. Im sure."
"Can you stay out of trouble?"
"OK, good. Put your mom back on the phone Ill see if I can talk her into commuting your sentence."
"Ill see if I can get you ungrounded."
"Thanks, Dad. I love you."
"I love you, too." I put the phone on the table and yelled, "Mom!"
The next Saturday, which was the Saturday before Memorial Day, Mom brought in a newspaper. She opened it to the HOUSING section and showed it to me. There was an ad circled.
607 N Whites Place: Studio apt for upperclass or grad student only
Newly remodeled. All utilities. Off-street parking. $400 summer,
$1000 semester. 827-0013 evenings. Ask for Laurie.
"Thats us!" I yelled.
"Yes. Now, if anyone calls, be sure to take a message."
I was eating lunch with Josh when Sue Travis came up to me. She was in a few of my classes.
"Can I sign your yearbook?" she asked.
Josh looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
I swallowed. I hardly knew her. I mean, I knew her name but not well enough for her to ask if she could sign my yearbook. I shrugged. "Sure, I guess so."
She sat across the table and wrote quietly.
Josh elbowed me. I watched out of the corner of my eye as I ate
the rest of my sandwich. I was getting nervous.
She seemed to be writing for a long time. I started nervously chewing on my fingernails, which arent very nutritious. Instead, I pulled out my apple, and pretended to be intensely interested in eating.
Finally, she finished and slapped the yearbook shut.
"Thanks," she said suddenly.
"Thanks to you."
She left so quickly, I thought she had written something obscene.
I opened the yearbook right away, and began to read. Josh read over my shoulder.
hope youre not going to be mad at me for writing this. I think youre kinda cute. But people are scared of you. Really. Theyre afraid that theyre going to get in trouble if they hang with you. I just wanted you to know.
PS Want to go to the movies sometime?
"Love! She signed it love! OOOh, Joe-baby, she loves you."
"Get over it, Josh," I said, a bit irritated.
Later that day, I sat on the porch. Carrie noticed me, and sat on the steps.
"Whats wrong?" Unlike Cindy, who only sees the things she wants to see Carrie notices everything. Sometimes, I feel that she can read my mind.
I sighed. "I have to go to summer school."
"That sucks." She picked a blade of grass and sat on the front steps carefully dissecting it. "Does Mom know?"
"What about Dad? Will you go up there later?"
"He was really pissed. Yeah, Ill have to go up in July."
Carrie had already been to Williams Bay. "Youll love it up there..." She was interrupted by the phone.
I ran inside to answer it.
I could tell right away that it was a long distance call. The connection sounded a bit static, like during a thunderstorm. At first, I thought it might be Dad again.
"Is Laurie there, please?" My dad doesnt have a Southern accent.
"No. Shes not available." Mom had taught us to say shes not available instead of shes at work. I guess she was afraid of Stranger Danger.
"Well, my name is Paul and I was calling about the apartment. Has it been rented, yet? When will your mom be back?"
"No, it hasn't been rented yet. Im not sure when she'll be back."
"Well, cowboy, can you take a message for me? Have her call me." He gave me his phone number, which I wrote down. He also told me he was going to ISU to work on a Masters in math.
"Ill give her the message."
"Thanks, cowboy. Be good now."
As I hung up, I remembered how I had decided that I wasnt going to like this guy. Somehow, his voice, and accent and the fact that he called me cowboy made me change my mind.
I was so excited about the fact that the apartment might be rented, I hopped on my bike and rode to Dinahs Diner to tell my mom. She would be really excited!
Dinahs was on the south side of Bloomington, near the plant that makes Eureka vacuums. It was enough of a ride to make it tiring. Finally, I could see the sign that announced that Dinahs had Home Cooked Meals.
Dinahs is one of those places that attract truck drivers, construction workers, and Eureka employees. Its busy all the time. The food is awesome, and its cheap, so I guess they dont notice the place is ugly. My mom calls it tacky.
There are plants everywhere. The booths are covered in red vinyl that has faded with time. Many seats have rips that let the stuffing out. The walls were once white, I guess, but now theyre a kind of beige color. Theres an ancient Coke poster that looks like its from the 1950s.
I saw my mom before she saw me. She was taking an order. I wasnt supposed to disturb her when she was taking an order. Once I came to see Mom while she was taking an order. I went up to the table just as they ordered hamburgers. I said casually, "Did you know they put worms in the meat to increase the protein?" I was only kidding, but the customers didnt seem to like the joke. They got up to leave. Mom wasnt too happy that she lost a tip.
I watched as she smiled at them. I heard her say; "Can I suggest the special of the day?" She began writing, took their menus, and put the order ticket on a rotating wheel in the kitchen window, and rang the bell once. That told the cook, Woodrow Wilson Humphrey, that there was a new order. Finally, she came over to me.
"Hi, Joe." She kissed me. I hate it when she does that in public. Someone I know might see it. "Whats going on?"
"We had a call about the apartment."
"Really?" She smiled and her eyes sparkled. "Who is it?"
"A guy named Paul. Hes a grad student. Hes from the south."
"Great. Did you get his phone number?"
"Good. Ill call him when I get home. Be careful going home."
Thanks for reading! The next chapter won't be so long in coming, I promise. In the meantime, drop me a lint and tell me what you think! I try to answer all my e-mail. Be sure to check out my other story Paternal Instincts in the college section.
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