W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement
Chapter Seventeen - Road Trip
by Jeff Wilson
Brett's mom had a little party for Brett on the Sunday before our big road trip to celebrate his eighteenth birthday properly. It wasn't a big gathering, but it made Brett happy to see everybody before he returned to school the next day. He ended up with a bunch of names on his cast and his mom bought him a new laptop which meant that I'd be getting his old one. She also got him some Yankees tickets for a three-game series in June at Yankee Stadium against the Pirates, and a hotel room for Brett and a guest. So guess where I was going to be going in June to celebrate graduation? That's right, my first visit to Brett's hometown!
As the party was winding down, Emily sat down next to Brett on the couch.
"I'm sure glad you're coming back to school tomorrow," she said. "You keep Billy from stressing out."
"I'm not stressing out!" I protested.
"Billy, if you were wound any tighter, you would chime on the hour."
I didn't want to admit it, but Em was right. I was really feeling the pressure of being within reach of valedictorian. It was right there for the taking. All I had to do is not fuck it up and it would be mine, or at least a share of it. Most of my classes were in cruise control as we coasted into the home stretch. The only teacher who seemed to be in any way motivated to cram something more into our heads was Mr. Hartley the history teacher who didn't like me. But even he couldn't stop the inevitable. I would have to get a zero on a test to not cruise to an A in his class. In every other class, all I would have to do would be to show up and take the finals. I'd learned about all Mon Valley High School had to teach me. I was ready to move on.
Dustin told me I was crazy when I told him about Brett's plan to go to meet his supposed father as we got dressed in the locker room after gym class.
"What if the guy's a psycho killer?" he asked.
"I doubt it. He's running for state office and he's a respected lawyer. I don't think he'll kill anything but Brett's hopes and dreams when he tells him the truth."
"Or you could spare him the misery and tell him before he goes."
"No, you see, as long as Brett doesn't know that I know, I'll be fine. This is actually the best thing that could happen. Charlie will tell Brett he's not his father. Brett'll be disappointed. But then, Charlie will steer him in the direction of his real father. He never has to find out I lied to him. Brett will just discover it all on his own. I never have to tell him anything. All I have to do is be there to pick up the pieces after it's over."
Dustin laughed. "Dude, you are so screwed. What are you going to do about school on Friday?"
"Who cares? I wouldn't be the first senior to skip a day at school." I pulled my pants on and tightened my belt.
"Hey, can I ask you something?" Dustin asked.
"I think you just did," I replied. "But feel free to ask another question."
"Okay, do you think Doug would want to go out with me?"
"Don't see why he wouldn't. He's single I believe."
"I think I might ask him out on Friday while you guys are out driving up to Buffalo and back."
"I think he'd enjoy that," I said.
"It's just, I've never asked a guy out before. I'm not sure what I should do."
"How about, `Hey Doug, you want to go out Friday?'"
"What if he says no?"
"What if he doesn't?" I asked.
"Should I tell him about what I used to do?" Dustin asked.
"I don't know. Go with your gut. If you think it's something he needs to know, then tell him."
Everyone in school was happy to see Brett when he returned to class. He was happy too. He spent the first day back telling everyone who would listen about his harrowing ordeal on the dirt bike, and his agonizing weeks of recovery. If only they knew the truth that he'd spent most of the past six weeks with his dick in one hand and a handful of Doritos in the other. He topped the scale at two hundred and two pounds, but the cast accounted for about ten of those. He was definitely chubbier though. After being on his ass for six weeks, he was huffing and puffing as he hobbled along to his classes on his crutches. There was always someone around to help him with his books. I bet by the end of the week he'd lose five pounds just having to haul his butt to class and not being able to stuff his face constantly.
Brett was exhausted by the end of the day, but he was happier than he'd been since the accident. Brett needed to be around people. Everyone was willing to help him. I don't know why I even worried about him. He was getting excited about the trip to Buffalo.
"This is going to be great!" he said. "Just you and me on the road for a whole day together. I think I'm almost more excited for that than I am to meet this guy."
"Yeah, me too," I said. And I wasn't lying either. I really was getting eager to go with him. Only, I knew that he was going to be terribly disappointed when he discovered the truth about Charlie. But it would be a burden lifted off my shoulders when he found out. I was ready to swoop in and pick up the broken pieces of my boyfriend's heart.
The week went by painfully slow. I couldn't wait to get it over with, but I was also dreading having to deal with Brett on the way home after the disappointment he was going to receive. I daydreamed through most of my history class with Mr. Hartley, not paying much attention to anything. It was a beautiful mid-April day. I was thankful that the weather was scheduled to be clear and sunny for the trip. We couldn't have picked a more perfect day if we tried.
"Oh Billy, I'm so disappointed!" I imagined Brett saying. "I can't believe my father was right down the road most of my life!"
"It's okay, Brett!" I would reply. "I totally didn't know either and am totally stunned by this! And while it'll hurt me to do it, I should probably keep that internship at his law firm so I can be ready to go to law school someday. Then we will be able to fight the system and get married!"
"Oh Billy! You're right! I'm so glad that you are my boyfriend! With you by my side, I know I will be able to get through this! Mr. Roberts... Will you fuck me right now, even before we get home?"
"Why Brett, you animal..."
"Mr. Roberts!" Mr. Hartley shouted, startling me back to reality. The class laughed at the situation. I could see Sarah Taylor smiling smugly. Oh, I just wanted to slap her! Thank god he didn't ask me to go to the board, because I was tenting something fierce in my pants.
"Yes sir," I said, regaining my composure.
"I asked you a question Mr. Roberts. Do you have an answer?"
"Uh... Hitler?" I guessed.
"Hitler?!?!?" Mr. Hartley replied incredulously. "Hitler?!? No, Mr. Roberts, the first secretary general of the United Nations was Trygve Lie, not Adolf Hitler! There you have him, ladies and gentlemen, the smartest boy in the school!" The rest of my class laughed at me as my face turned an even deeper shade of scarlet. "Now, for the rest of you who would actually like to learn something instead of coasting through the rest of term... Where was the first meeting of the United Nations?"
I sat there feeling my face continue to grow excruciatingly hot. My ears were burning. First I was humiliated, then I was angry abut being humiliated, then I felt stupid for letting him get to me like that. Then I felt angry again when I saw Sarah Taylor being praised by him for answering one of his stupid questions. I just wanted to be done with school.
In the hallway after class, I heard Sarah commenting on the class to one of her stupid sycophantic associates. "I'm so glad this school has at least one good teacher," she said arrogantly. I resisted the urge to throw my history book at her.
After school, I took Brett home. His mom had already left for her conference, so I planned to stay overnight with him and begin our trip early in the morning. I'd already brought everything I would need for our adventure to his house when I picked him up for school. We probably should have done our homework when we got to his house, but instead we just got naked and had sex. What? We had the house to ourselves for the whole evening. Of course we were going to screw like rabbits! After we got laid we both fell asleep. Brett's bed was so warm and comfortable. When I woke up from my nap, I found myself alone in Brett's bed. I found my clothes scattered around the room on the floor and put myself back together. I could smell something really good cooking in the kitchen. I went downstairs to find Brett cooking up some soup and sandwiches.
"Oh good! You're up. I made us some dinner," Brett said. "I could use some help getting everything to the table though." I helped Brett get everything from the stove to the table. You really couldn't go wrong with grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.
"Looks good!" I said.
Brett managed to get himself seated at the table across from me and we ate. "This is great," Brett said, dipping his grilled cheese into his soup. "You know, this is how it's could be for us if we move in together. It could just be you and me and we can just be with each other all the time. You'll be some bigshot lawyer. I'll probably play piano in some bar and work at some fast food joint. I've already got my drive-thru voice down. `Thank you for choosing McDonalds. May I take your order?' Then you'd come home from your office and I'll take care of you just like this."
"I never saw you as the kind of guy who would be happy working in fast food. I guess I saw us traveling the world getting into trouble."
"Well there'll be time for that. I just... I know that we can't legally be married. But I can dream can't I? I just want to be with you every day. I can't picture my future without you. I just love you so much. All I want to do is make you happy."
"That's what I want too. Even if you do slurp like a dog when you eat soup."
Brett stopped mid-slurp and looked at me. Then he deliberately slurped his soup as loud as he could.
"Asshole," I laughed. "Okay, so what are you going to take with you tomorrow?"
"I don't know. What do you think I should bring?"
"Well, we'll need money for gas and food. Maybe you should bring that picture you found on the college website of him and your mom."
"We'll have to bring some clothes along too. He might invite us to stay with him. We might have to stay overnight somewhere." Brett picked up his bowl and drank what was left of his soup. When he was done, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Dude, that's gross," I said. "Use a napkin!"
"Yes mother!" Brett replied.
"Speaking of her... What are you going to do when you get back? What are you going to tell her?"
"Don't know. After tomorrow, everything will change. There'll be no going back to the way things are right now. Right now, all of our hopes and dreams are there for us. After tomorrow, it'll be too late. I'd still be willing to forgive anyone who told me the truth, right up until the moment I meet this guy. No matter how long they lied to me, I'd be willing to put it behind me, if only they would tell me the truth. Do you know what I'm saying, Billy?"
"Yeah," I replied.
"After tomorrow, it'll all be over," Brett said. "All I want is the truth."
"Well hopefully Charlie will be able to help you find it," I said.
"Yeah..." Brett said.
"So tell me about school was this week," I said, hoping to change the subject.
Six o'clock in the morning comes way too early. It was nice to sleep with Brett's warm naked body against me. I didn't want to get up, but we would need to be on the road by eight o'clock at the very latest and Brett was a notorious procrastinator. But to my surprise he was ready to go before I was. We packed up some belongings in case we needed to stay overnight and were on the road by 7:30. It felt weird not going to school. I can't say I felt all that bad about skipping. The weather was perfect without a cloud in the sky.
Brett fell asleep as soon as we hit the interstate. He'd tossed his crutches in the backseat along with some snacks in case we needed them. He did look like he'd lost about five pounds since he'd been able to get off the couch and moving again. He pulled his ballcap down over his eyes and leaned his seat back as I drove down the highway for miles and miles. We left the Mon Valley and headed west on I-70 toward Washington, and then made the turn north on I-79 which would take us up past Pittsburgh all the way to Erie. Then we'd turn east on I-90 which would take us northeast into Buffalo. We would probably get there about one o'clock, if we stopped for food and bathroom breaks. Brett's appointment wasn't until 2:30 so we had plenty of time.
We stopped for breakfast north of Washington briefly before continuing north. Brett was much more alert and happy after we ate.
"You think they miss us at school?" Brett asked.
"Oh yeah!" I replied. "They'll probably just shut the place down since we're not there."
Brett tried in vain to stretch his leg a bit to be more comfortable.
"You okay?" I asked. "You need to stop for a minute?"
"No, I just want to get this over with," Brett replied.
"Me too," I said.
After a few hours of driving we came to Erie. Brett wanted to stop for lunch. We found a sit-down place where you order your food looking down at the menu instead of looking up, with a waitress and everything.
"You nervous about this afternoon?" I asked.
"Very," Brett replied.
The waitress arrived to check on us. "Is this all on one check?" she asked.
"Just give the check to me," Brett replied.
"Oh, are you two together?" she asked.
"It depends, is there a discount for gay guys here?" Brett asked.
The waitress laughed. "No. I'm just glad to see you out together. My nephew is in the same boat as you two. I just hope he gets to have what you boys have together."
"Well, I hope he finds someone who he can be honest and real with," Brett replied.
After lunch, we continued onward to Buffalo. Brett set up his cell phone to give me directions to our destination.
"I could tell you myself, but I'm not always sure about left and right. So we're better off letting the phone tell us where to go," he said.
"Good idea," I replied. "We wouldn't want to take a wrong turn and end up in the lake."
Buffalo traffic was busier than what I was used to, even in Pittsburgh. It was easy to find the Foster and Bryant office. There was a big campaign sign in front of the place with Mr. Bryant's giant picture plastered on it. I parked in the parking lot and Brett and I just sat there for a while.
"This is it," Brett said. I could tell he was very anxious.
"Yeah. Brett... I just... I hope you understand... I mean, if things don't go the way you hope they will..."
"How do you think it'll go, Billy?"
"I don't know," I replied. "It might not turn out how you'd like it to."
"I'm prepared. It's still not too late, you know. We could turn around and go home."
"After we just drove five hours?" I replied.
"No... I guess this is how it's got to be then. Let's go."
I got out of the car and got Brett's crutches out of the backseat, and then I helped Brett onto his feet. Together, we walked to the office. The large campaign sign with Charlie Bryant's pleasant face loomed over us as we approached the door.
"Brown eyes..." I said to myself.
"What?" Brett asked, his blue eyes sparkling with hopeful optimism.
"Nothing," I said. He sure did have his father's eyes, just like his mother had told us years ago.
I held the door open for Brett and he hopped along on his crutches into the office. We were greeted right away by the receptionist who offered us a place to sit down and some coffee if we wanted it. Brett asked for decaf.
"I can't drink caffeinated beverages. It messes with my Adderall," he told me. "Giving up Mountain Dew was like giving up crack."
The receptionist gave Brett his coffee. His hands were so shaky I wondered if I was going to need to go get his spare clothes. The receptionist told us that Mr. Bryant was in a meeting, but he'd be with us soon. About ten minutes later, Brett's coffee was gone and a group of men in very expensive suits made their way to the door. Suddenly, I wished I'd told Brett to at least wear a tie instead of the shorts and Derek Jeter jersey he'd worn. I was at least wearing a shirt with a collar and some khakis.
"This is it, I guess," Brett said.
"Yeah," I said.
"I mean, I was really hoping that it wouldn't come to this. Praying, really. All I wanted was for you to be honest with me. I prayed you'd finally tell me the truth. All the way up here I kept hoping... Now it's too late."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
Before he could respond, the receptionist asked us to come with her.
"Time for the truth," Brett said. "Let's go. You're coming with me."
I followed behind Brett like a man walking to the gallows. It was obvious that Brett knew something more than he'd let on, I just wasn't sure what it was. We walked through the reception area down a short hallway to a large office where the man who I recognized from the campaign advertisement was waiting.
"Thank you, Missy," the man said to the receptionist. "Hold my calls, will you?"
"Of course, Mr. Bryant," she said. She closed the door as she left us.
"Please, please, have a seat," Mr. Bryant said to us, offering us the two leather-covered, very expensive looking chairs. Mr. Bryant shook both of our hands before he sat behind his desk and we all sat down. "I would have known who you are without any introduction, Mr. Reilly," Mr. Bryant said to Brett. "The first question is, who is this young man with you and why is he here?"
"This is Billy Roberts," Brett replied. "My so-called boyfriend."
"And Mr. Roberts understands you didn't come here because of a motorcycle accident, did you Mr. Reilly?" Mr. Bryant asked.
"He's very aware of the situation," Brett said. "Stupid, but aware."
Double crap! I felt myself shrinking into the chair.
"Good. So I assume you want to know about the summer of 1986?"
"I want to know everything, Mr. Bryant," Brett said.
"Please, call me Charlie," Mr. Bryant said.
"Sure, and you can call me Brett. I want to know the truth, Charlie."
"Has anybody in your life ever told you the truth, Brett?" Charlie asked.
"No. Everyone I know has been a lying fucking asshole to me."
"What have they told you?"
"Mom's story was you got her pregnant, accused her of cheating on you, and abandoned her. She says you threatened to sue her if she ever told anyone."
"And what do you think?"
"I think she's full of shit," Brett replied.
"So what do you think happened that summer?"
"I never believed you were my father. In the years since my mom told me the story, I've kept what I suspected to myself. It seemed too crazy to be real. I never told anyone what I thought, until I broke my leg. It was only then that I told my best friend that I thought we might be related somehow. Turned out he thought the same thing. And that's when I started digging." Brett pulled out the picture from 1986 he'd printed from the internet and showed it to Charlie. "I want you to tell me what you know about him," Brett said, pointing at the picture for Mr. Bryant to see. I didn't even need to ask to know that he had pointed to...
"Jack McKenzie," Charlie said.
"That's right. Tell me about him," Brett insisted.
"You're a smart lad. Very much like your mother. You said you go by Brett?"
"Yeah. It's my middle name."
"Well Brett, that name is a very important part of this story. Your mother was a brilliant woman. Top of her class. It's no surprise to me that she is where she is today. I thought she would be a good girlfriend but probably not the best wife because she would end up married to her career. All she ever cared about was advancing her career. I don't know that she ever loved anyone or anything more than her PhD, not even her medical license. It didn't surprise me when she started writing books. It didn't surprise me when she became the top psychiatrist in her field. It didn't even surprise me when she told me she was pregnant. The only thing that surprised me is that she didn't decide to abort you when she found out you were coming. I didn't think she would ever love another person as much as she loved her career."
"She doesn't," Brett replied coldly. "So what about Jack?"
"I hardly knew Jack. I knew his brother. Everybody loved his brother. That was terrible what happened to him. Blew his brains out right in front of your mom and Jack. I think that was what drove them together. I can't imagine what that must have been like for them. I've dealt with suicidal people in my line of work, but to see someone carry it out right in front of you? It changes you. The two of them... They were never the same after that. I knew Jack enough to know he was a good guy, never got into trouble, married that sweet girl of his, loved to play piano, and he thought the world of his brother. Jack was not a bad person, Brett. What he did was stupid, but if he hadn't slept with your mother you wouldn't exist. So at least one good thing came out of it."
"So Jack is my father, then?" Brett asked.
"If I hadn't known it years ago, I would have known it when I laid eyes on you today. You have his eyes."
"Yeah, and someone who always notices people's eyes would have figured it out a long time ago," Brett fumed, finally looking at me for the first time since we'd walked into that office. "So you never had any reason to suspect that I was yours?"
"You very well could have been if you were a few months older. I hate to tell you this, but your mom and I did have a very, let's say physical relationship."
"I don't care that you fucked my mother," Brett replied.
"You're not one to beat around the bush, are you? Well, after what Brett did, the other Brett, everything stopped. And then about September she came to me and said she was pregnant. Last time we'd been together was May. The numbers just didn't add up. And then Jack's wife became pregnant around the same time. I assume that baby is now the friend you mentioned earlier. Well, I figured Jack would claim you and work things out with his wife. I told your mom goodbye and good luck. I thought you would be in good hands. I never imagined they would lie to you for eighteen years. Of course, if I had believed your mother back then it wouldn't have taken long to realize she lied to me. I can't get over how much you look like your father."
"Don't call him that," Brett said. "Just because he fucked my mother doesn't make him my father. He's a lying piece of shit. He means nothing to me. And neither does she." Brett's eyes welled up. "One more question, Charlie. If I had been yours, would you have loved me? Would you have claimed me and told me the truth?"
"I would have treated you like I treat any of my other children," Charlie replied. "And I love them all very much."
Brett pushed himself out of the chair and up to his feet. I started to hand him his crutches but Brett stopped me.
"Don't," he said firmly. He offered his hand to Mr. Bryant. "Thanks, Charlie. This afternoon really helped me to see things clearly for the first time. I wish you were my father."
"It would have been an honor," Charlie replied. "If there's anything I can do..."
"I think you've done everything you can do," Brett said. He left the room without even acknowledging me.
I stood up and shook Charlie's hand. "Good luck with the election," I said. Then I followed a very quickly moving Brett back to the car. I unlocked the doors and Brett tossed his crutches in the back seat and then sat in the passenger's seat with his arms folded.
"Shut the fuck up and drive," Brett snapped. "Don't say another fucking word to me you fucking lying asshole."
It was closing in on four o'clock by the time we made it through the city traffic and left Buffalo, and it was an incredibly quiet and awkward trip down I-90 toward Erie. It was deathly quiet as we drove south along Lake Erie from New York into Pennsylvania. Brett couldn't even look at me. I knew I'd fucked up really bad. Somehow, Brett had discovered that I knew about Jack. Why hadn't he just told me? As we drove into Erie, I stopped at the restaurant we'd had lunch earlier that day.
"I have to take a piss," I said. It was the first words we'd exchanged since Buffalo. Brett didn't say anything. I went inside and used the restroom, then bought a pastry at the counter so I could eat something. I had the feeling Brett wasn't going to be in any mood to have dinner with me. When I returned to the car, I found Brett leaning against the hood of his car twiddling with one of his crutches. I don't know where he'd gotten a cigarette, but he had smoked about half of one by the time I got back to the car. I knew he only smoked when he was super-stressed out. I was in trouble.
"Will you let me explain?" I asked.
"Fuck your explanations!" Brett snarled. He threw the cigarette on the ground and crushed it out. "I gave you so many opportunities today. I practically begged you to tell me the goddamn truth!"
"You could have just told me that you knew," I protested.
"Oh, don't give me that fucking bullshit! You lying sack of shit! Just tell me one thing. In the hospital that day, what was the reason Jack gave you that internship? Did you blackmail him?"
"Blackmail him? Dude, he's a fucking lawyer! He's the one who fucking blackmailed me! He said he'd do all sorts of terrible things me if I ever told you!"
"Then why the fuck would you want to work for him?"
"He was trying to bribe me to keep me quiet!"
"And you accepted it! You fucking douche bag!"
"How did you figure out I knew?"
"Did you forget that I had a cellphone? I've been on the phone with my brother, that's right my brother, every fucking day since I broke my leg! He's the one who told me that he thought you knew. And at first, I thought he was just fucking with me because he hates you. But then I thought about it. I remembered the day at your dad's grave. You asked me if I thought mom told me the truth all those years ago, and I told you I didn't believe her. Then I asked you point blank if you had any idea who it might be, and you said no. At the time, I knew something was off about the way you answered that. I don't know exactly when you found out, but whenever it was I do know that you sure as fuck never told me about it!"
"It seemed like you'd moved on! You were talking about how you thought of my dad as your father and how he was the father you never had and Jack threatened to sue my dad if I..."
"Wait wait..." Brett interrupted me. "He threatened to sue your dad? Your dad died almost two years ago! You've known for two motherfucking years?!?!"
Brett pushed himself up off the hood of his car and hobbled up to me. At that point, I was ready for him to take a swing at me. He just stared at me with a look on his face of pure hatred. He didn't yell. He didn't try to hit me. He just scowled at me. "You are the worst person I've ever known," Brett said. "You're an evil fucking bastard."
I stood there like an idiot, my mouth slightly open, but no words came out. Brett walked away from me as best he could on his crutches. It took me a moment to realize that he was getting into the driver's seat of his car. It was only then that I remembered that I'd left the keys in the ignition. I tried to open the passenger door, but it was locked.
"Brett, I can't get in."
He started the car.
"Brett, this isn't funny! You can't drive with that cast on."
Brett flipped me off, then put the car in reverse, almost taking my hand with him as I tried desperately to open the door.
"Brett no! You can't leave me here! We're three hours from home!"
Brett put the car in gear. I started to panic.
"Brett! This is stupid! You can't leave me here like this! Brett please! This isn't funny!"
The tires squealed and Brett zoomed through the parking lot to the exit.
"Brett don't you leave me here! You have my cell phone in the car! Come back here you stupid moron!"
I ran through the parking lot trying to catch up to him, but then he peeled out of the parking lot and down the street.
"BRETT REILLY YOU MOTHER FUCKER!!!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. I watched as Brett's car drove up the interstate on-ramp and then it was gone.
"FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!" I roared. I kicked a nearby trash can as hard as I could, knocking it over and spilling its contents. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!!!!!"
I stood there like an idiot for fifteen minutes, waiting for Brett to come back. Eventually, reality set in.
"Shit," I sighed.
Thanks for reading
Next time: Everybody Hurts