Things are Different-chapter 1


Here is my first submission to Nifty. All the usual legal copyright stuff applies. Chapter two is finished and it is waiting. I look forward to hearing from some readers at

I thought I was going to make it, that everything would work out okay. I had just turned sixteen and I was starting my sophomore year of high school in just over a week. Then everything changed. No, to say it changed is wrong. It was more of the same, only worse . . . much worse. First you have to realize that things were already pretty damn bad, but I thought I would be able to stick it out until I graduated from high school and be on my way.

Instead I was now sitting on an airplane, my eyes closed and Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" spinning through my mind as the plane filled with passengers. I don't have an IPod, but I had listened to my father's CDs so many times when I was younger that I had memorized the music and lyrics. Yes, the music was old, but it was my father's music. It was the music he liked to listen to and it became the music that I enjoyed too. It was easy for me to close my eyes and disappear into the music. It is something I do to escape and this song always gave me strength. Right now I needed both.

I hate flying. I get sick on merry-go-rounds. I hate crowds and being forced into confined spaces with strangers. Mostly I hate the unknown. I was facing all of those things right now.

I've built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship cases pain
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain

I am a rock
I am an island.

That is what I had to be. That is what I am. That is what life had taught me up to now.

It was all my mother's fault. A lot of people say that to transfer blame for their failings, but in this case it was absolutely true. My life with her was miserable, but it was a misery I was used to, I could understand and that I could see an end to. Now I didn't know what was going to happen, all because she took one too many pills, or one too many syringes filled with toxin, she got higher than she should and she died.

She died on my fucking sixteenth birthday. Thanks a lot Mom. Happy fucking birthday to me.

As things go my birthday had been shaping up pretty good. Mr. Chang, the man that owned the pay-by-week motel we were living in had just brought me back from getting my driver's license. He was a nice guy, not only did he help me get my license, the written part was easy, but I didn't have a car and he taught me how to drive. He even paid me a little to help around the place. I had been saving and there was a couple hundred dollars in my shoe.

I walked into the room not expecting anything, maybe my mom passed out on the bed like usual. From the smell I knew something else wrong and all I could do was scream "Shit! Shit! Shit!" and started to kick the cinderblock wall until Mr. Chang came in. He grabbed me, wrapping his arms tightly around me, even at sixteen I stood a head taller than me. I didn't cry, but screamed in rage and wanted to hit something, but Mr. Chang just held me in a bear hug whispering "hush, hush," until I finally ran out of steam and just sunk to the floor. He led me out and called the police. I am guessing it was not the first time that he had somebody die of an overdose in the motel.

After the cops and the ambulance, there was social services and I was whisked away to the world of bureaucracy. I didn't know what happened to my mother after that point or Mr. Chang for that matter.

Eventually I was sitting across from a rather large african-american woman in a windowless office telling me how lucky I was.


"I said you're in luck, we found your grandmother and she has agreed to take you in." She was leaning across one of those grey metal desks stacked with files and her beaded corn rows clacked every time she moved.

"I have a grandmother?" It was the first thing that came to me. I mean of course I have a grandmother, but I just assumed my grandparents were dead. My mother never talked about her parents and I decided right then that I certainly was not going to be impressed with them, considering how their daughter turned out.

"You know she had the same reaction when she heard she had a grandson, but she was more than willing to assume custody of you." The name plate on her desk read Sheila Washington and I focused on that, because I just didn't know what to make of what was going on. Cat Steven's "Sitting" played in my head.

I keep on wondering if I sleep too long, will I always wake up the same (or so)?
And keep on wondering if I sleep too long, will I even wake up again or something

"Apparently she had not heard from her daughter, your mother in over twenty years, though she did try to find her. She said she even hired a private investigator, but that was many years ago. Even in this information age if you don't want to be found there are ways." I just wanted to disappear. I often fantasized about just walking out the door and keep walking until I disappear over the horizon leaving everything behind.

"Uh, okay," I just did not know what else to say. It had only been a few days since my birthday and I guess I was still in a daze. I should be happy. I had expected to end up in some foster home until I turned eighteen, if I didn't walk away before that.

"You know you must be quite the young man."

"Why do you say that?" It had mostly been my goal to be unremarkable and go unnoticed. If you are anonymous you can move about the fringes and survive with as little damage as possible.

"Well, not only was your grandmother happy to take you in, but a Mr. Chang also volunteered to be a foster parent to you. Plus he wanted to know what it would take to adopt you. Most kids that come my way are lucky to find a home off the street, much less have two, what sound like great people, looking out for them."

"Mr. Chang is a real good guy to me," I wondered what it would be like to have a life with him and if I had any say in the matter. I already knew Mr. Chang and it was all familiar to me versus going someplace strange to live with a total stranger.

"We have you on a flight this afternoon. Your grandmother would have come to escort you, but she has some sort of physical limitation that keeps her from flying."

"A flight?" I swallowed hard. I hate, absolutely hate flying.

"Yep, you will be sleeping in your new home tonight," she sounded excited for me. "Of course this is a probationary period to make sure it is a suitable home for a young man. We will be checking in on you to make sure everything is going smoothly."

"Like a cheap motel was a suitable home," I said through gritted teeth.

"I understand you did not grow up in the most nurturing environment, but this is chance for something new."

Yeah, I thought, with some crippled old lady. I could make it on the street, I know I could, but something always kept me from taking that step out the door.

"I know this must be scary, but we . . . I . . . will keep an eye on you to make sure you are in the best situation possible." She handed me a thick manila envelope. "Here is your paperwork and tickets. I am going to take you to the airport personally."

So I found myself in a window seat on a plane, my eyes closed and my own personal music going through my mind.

Did I mention I hate flying? Not just that, but planes, airports and all the people in them.

I could feel somebody maneuver into the seat next to me. Cracking my eyes open I saw a guy about my age, dressed in khaki chinos and a pastel polo with the collar pulled up. Immediately I didn't like him. He looked like a republican with his blond hair gelled neatly in place. I vowed to ignore him for the entire play trip.

He was certainly in sharp contrast to my faded thrift store jeans, Spongebob T-shirt (yeah, I love Spongebob, he makes me laugh when nothing else will) and Converse All-Star Wal-Mart knockoffs.

If he wasn't so conservative looking he might have been pretty cute. I mentally dressed him in some ripped jeans with a Hollister t-shirt and I messed up his hair. Not bad, but still not my type. I have always been drawn to guys that were my size or smaller and I am Mr. Average at five-nine and a hundred and thirty-five pounds. This guy was much bigger, taller and muscular. He probably played football. Of course I say "drawn to," but that is all. Despite any lusting on my part I was absolutely a virgin in all aspects of my life and I expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future. I am not a prude or anything, I just find it easier to avoid getting close to anyone, I guess, and I don't see myself with anyone anytime soon or ever really.

"Hi there, how ya doin?" he stuck his hand out to me when he noticed me redressing him.

"Uh, hi," I also hate shaking hands, but I accepted it, because what else are you suppose to do?

"Are you from Texas?" Great he was going to be one of those types of people. The type that try to engage you in conversation no matter how hard you try avoid it.

"I was living there, but not anymore I guess," I hoped I had not lived there long enough to pick up any sort of Dallas twang. And why could I have not just said "No?"

"Oh, are you moving to Portland. It's my hometown, best place in the world to live." He smiled way too much, even when it wasn't necessary. A smile of perfect white teeth behind thin pink lips.

"Yeah, moving there."

Before he could respond the plane started moving and the airline attendants started their safety presentation. My stomach was already getting queasy.

"That's awesome dude. By the way I'm Devon," he put his hand out for another handshake. This guy must have been practicing to be a politician. This time I just held on to arms of the seat, which meant my arm was pushing up against him.

"Jay," was my one word response, hopefully he would get the clue and I could just suffer through this trip in silence.

As it turned out I didn't have to say anything, Devon kept up a constant monologue on all the virtues of Portland which allowed me to just nod. That was fortunate because, as I mentioned, I get sick on planes and Ferris wheels. Yeah, laugh about it, but there is nothing I can do about it, so I avoid carnivals and planes. The take off was not too bad and the first half of the flight was tolerable and smooth. I could follow the progress of the plane on the monitor in the back of the seat in front of me and when we were crossing the Continental Divide is when things got bad.

It happened suddenly too. There was no little bump here or there, just a sudden lurch and my stomach was in the back of throat. All I was thinking is no, please don't let me puke in here, that would be absolutely horrible. Maybe if I went to the restroom, splashed some water on my face. That way I would be right there if I did get sick. Of course just as I going to unbuckle, the fasten seatbelts sign lit up and the pilot said "E nurged t feet pills nur. Er yuckpleck tom rubalantz." Who can ever understand what they say? Anyway the intent was clear, don't get up!

Okay just take calming breaths. Close your eyes think calming thoughts.

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what
you're saying.
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned . . .

"Yo, Dude? Are you alright?'

I opened my eyes to Devon's blue eyes hovering close to my own?

"You don't look good."

I tried to croak out a "fine," but only managed a nod, afraid that more than words would come out if I opened my mouth.

Devon reached up and pressed the call button for the attendant as the plane jostled. Everyone else on seemed to be blissfully listening, watching, reading and napping. I was the only one churning.

An attractive male flight attendant tapped the call button off and smiled with the whitest teeth I have ever seen, even whiter than Devon's, "What can I do for you?"

"My friend here seems to be a little air sick, is there anything you can give him?" Devon asked with what sounded like genuine concern to me. Of course he was probably just worried I might add a whole new hue to his Easter pastel shirt. Even in my addled state I wondered at him calling me "friend." We have shared close proximity for maybe two hours and I had barely spoken a full sentence to him. I would not have used the word. In fact I didn't know when I last used that word.

"I'm sorry, but we're not allowed to provide any sort of drugs," the steward responded with a barely disguised look of disgust at me, but a bright smile for Devon.

"Isn't there anything you can do? The dude is in a bad way."

"Well I can show you a little trick, it's accu-pressure." He reach across Devon and took my hand and turned it palm up, lightly holding my hand he gently tapped with two fingers on my wrist, matching a steady, calm heartbeat.

"Think you can do that for your friend?"

"Yeah, I think so." Devon slid his hand beneath the stewards and assumed the gentle rhythmic tapping.

"That's good, just keep that up until his stomach calms. Just call if you need anything else. Oh, and there are bags in the pouch, but they are really next to useless." He disappeared to the rear of the plane.

"Feeling better dude?" Devon asked. His amazingly blue eyes assuring calm. I thought he would make a good politician with those eyes, good looks and friendly demeanor.

"Yeah, a little," I was at least able to whisper as the gorge in my throat receded and I just concentrated on the extra pulse at my wrist. No music came to my mind; it just felt good to have the warmth of his hand holding mine coupled with the play of his fingers. His tapping would occasionally transform into a caress of my wrist which would send an involuntary shiver through me that I hoped he did not notice.

I dozed off and eventually slowly woke to a smoother ride and Devon still holding my hand while he read the airline provided magazine. I eased my hand from his and I tried to stretch in the confined space. My mouth was dry and my ass was numb from sitting so long.

"Hey dude, feeling better?" Devon turned to me taking back his empty hand.

"Yes, thank you," my tongue was thick in my mouth.

"Here, take some of this, if you feel up to it." He pushed his cup, half-full with ice towards me. He might make a good doctor too I thought. He had a good seat side, it not bed side manner. I liked the idea of him as a doctor better than a politician.

He was also more attractive than I first thought, if you could get past his awful taste in clothes. His shirt was tight in all the right places.

"Thanks," I told him again as I took a couple ice cubes in my mouth to slowly dissolve.

"Look, Mount Hood!" He pointed out the window, "We'll be landing soon."

A tall white capped mountain loomed above everything else around it into the light blue sky.

"You're lucky you can see it, it's not raining today. Maybe you brought some of that Texas sun with you."

"It rains a lot here?"

"Only about every day, but don't worry you won't mind it after you grow your gills." Devon let out a deep toned laugh.

Okay, rain, I thought to myself, that has to better than the relentless drying sun of Texas. I smiled at his joke. I am not big on loud outbursts of laughter.

"By the way, what school are you going to?" Devon asked.

I had to pause with the realization that school was going to start in a few days and I had no idea where I was going to high school or if anyone else had thought of that yet.

"I don't know yet."

The landing was uneventful, though my weary stomach did a lurch once as the plane touched down and I involuntarily grabbed Devon's arm. I muttered a "sorry" and quickly let go. He just smiled.

When the plane connected to the gate everyone else popped up and wrestled to get there carry-ons, including Devon. I waited patiently, in my seat.

"See you around Dude." Devon smiled as he hustled out with most everyone else.

"Yeah," was all I said and waved.

I waited until the plane was almost empty before retrieving my small bag from beneath the seat. It held everything owned.

There were gaps where the ramp connected with the plane and even though it was tinged with the odor of fuel and exhaust I noticed the air not only smelled different, but it felt different on the skin of my face.