The Boy on the Plane

Chapter 17

Robin

Daryl agrees to come to my house to interview me. I tell him that’s where he can get a better feel for who I am, and he can see the logic in that. We arrange it for tomorrow, right after school. That means I have to tell Terry what’s going on.

“Are you going to tell him you’re gay?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I’m going to tell him about my past, and I’ll be watching how he reacts. Whether I tell him that will depend on how I feel when I’m talking and how he’s taking it. If it makes sense to tell him, I will. It’ll only be if I trust him by then.”

“So you want me there as backup?” He grins. He knows he can’t be there.

I shake my head. “Sorry. This has to be one-on-one. There has to be a feeling of intimacy between us for it to work. My purpose here is the find out if he’s gay. It would be great if I found out he was and that he was attracted to me. But that would be asking a lot. Just knowing that he’s gay would give me hope, and that’s really all I’m hoping for.”

“So me sitting where he can’t see me, off to the right or left and a little behind him where I can make faces at you to keep the mood light—that wouldn’t help at all?”

We’re in the pool and I splash the hell out of him. It doesn’t help. He’s still grinning.

Daryl rode his bike to school, and the two of us are now riding to my house. He is impressed as I enter the gate code and we ride through and into the private community I live in. His eyes are swinging from one house to the next as we ride past them toward mine. The homes here are impressive, and ones just as large and even larger are still being built. Daniel thinks that with each one that goes up, our house gains in value. His father made a smart decision.

When we get close to my house, I use the remote clicker in my backpack and start the garage door opening. We ride up the driveway and into the attached garage and leave our bicycles leaning against one inside wall. It’s a three-car garage and we only have one car; there’s a lot of unused room.

“You live here?” Daryl asks, quite obviously awed by the place.

“It’s just a house,” I say and then feel a little silly saying that. I guess I’m used to it by now. I realize that it is kind of special, and I feel a little spurt of pride. Yeah, I live here!

“Just a house,” he repeats, and I can hear the sarcasm.

I don’t want him feeling sarcastic. That’s the worst mood to be in when he’s listening to what I have to say. So I try to dispel that. “Yeah, it is very nice. I could live most anywhere, but this is where I ended up. Sometimes, a person can get lucky. I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve this, but it’s where I landed.”

“Huh? You landed here?”

“You’ll hear when we begin. I thought you’d want a snack first. And, if you’re adventurous, maybe a swim. I have to warn you, though, the adventurous part is because of the house rule. No bathing suits. Not everyone is confident enough to face that. So. What would you like to eat?”

“Swimming?” he says, and I take a quick look at him. His eyes are alive and the impish look he frequently sports has turned mischievous. Yeah, there’s a difference. Trust me!

“You’d rather swim than eat? We can do that if you want. Want to see the pool first? I have to warn you, though. When we go out into the back yard, you’re going to have to defend yourself. Every man for himself. Though I’ll be doing most of the defending. Are you game?”

“What are you talking about?” He doesn’t sound worried as much as intrigued.

“Come on,” I say and walk to the closest door to the patio. I open it, and she’s on me. I’ve taught Nosy a lot, but not jumping on me in excited, ebullient adoration when I come home from school is something we’re still working on. As in, we’ve made no progress at all.

“Argh! Get off! Down! Down, Nosy. Get down!”

It has little effect. She likes it best if she can knock me down and then climb all over me and lick my face. That’s why I always make a rush for the lawn. Landing on my back on the cement patio isn’t much fun. She has her way with me, and I’m laughing like always before she spots Daryl.

She’s a lot bigger now but still a puppy. Puppies for the most part love everyone, and Labs are more affectionate than most. She spots Daryl, and, tail wagging fiercely, she rushes to him.

Daryl is taken by how cute she is. He gets down on one knee to greet her. She doesn’t knock him over. She doesn’t know him and wants to make his acquaintance. She does that with sniffs and licks.

Daryl is generally a happy, loosey-goosey, not-a-care-in-the-world sort of boy. He smiles and grins all the time. But the smile on his face now is the brightest and broadest I’ve ever seen. Nosy takes to him right away. That’s another plus for Daryl in my book.

I eventually get Nosy off him, or him off Nosy, and show him the pool. “Swim or snack?” I ask.

“You really swim naked?” he asks, looking around and seeing that the whole back yard is private.

“Sure,” I say.

“Well, then.” That said, he starts undressing. Just like that.

I hadn’t planned this at all. I’d even forgotten about him having to meet Nosy. I’d thought a lot about what I wanted to say to him, about doing that in my room to underline the confidentiality of it. I’d pictured how that would go, but hadn’t considered anything else, even how he’d respond to the house. I’d come to thinking of it as where I lived and hadn’t given a thought to how others might see it.

He strips bare without hesitation. I am right with him; we both shuck off our boxers at the same time. Well, boxers for me, boxer briefs for him. Believe me, I know what he is wearing because that’s where I’m looking. I manage to covertly look up at his eyes while mostly focusing on his midsection, and he is looking down, too. At me. One more point in the ‘probably gay’ column. But then, aren’t all boys interested in what other boys look like? Maybe I need an eraser for that last point. Maybe his looking only means he’s a boy. Without the adjective.

We are both 14. There can be marked differences in boys our age depending on how far into puberty they are and their genetics. Daryl looks like he’s larger than I am. Not much, but some. Then I remember reading somewhere that you look smaller than you really are because you’re looking down on yourself and your perspective makes you look diminished. That’s a comforting thought, and I decide it really doesn’t make much difference anyway. I like looking at him but can’t be obvious about it. He seems to be having trouble pulling his eyes from me, too. So maybe. Maybe.

That thought is starting to have an effect on me, so I rush to the water and jump in. He’s right behind me. We swim around for a while, just enjoying the water. He’s a good swimmer, as good as I am. Of course, the best swimmer is Nosy. Whenever I’m in the pool, so is she. She and Daryl play together, and I finally get out and sit on the pool coping, watching them. I notice Daryl keeps glancing at me, and I realize I’m pretty much on display, sitting as I am. I get up and get a towel and dry myself.

“You want to get to the interview?” I ask, still naked, still drying myself, but coyly covering and uncovering the interesting parts.

“Oh, sure,” he says and gets out. He doesn’t bother to cover anything.

We dress and go to my room. I put a bunch of Oreos on a plate and pour us each a glass of milk and take all that with us.

“I have a thought,” I say when I’m sitting on the bed and he’s in my computer chair. “Why don’t I just tell you about me? When I’m done, if you have questions, I’ll answer them. When we go to your house, we can do it the same way. Is that agreeable?”

He’s munching on an Oreo. Nosy is watching closely for the stray crumb to drop. He nods.

I’ve spent some time considering how to do this. I know what I want from him. Sympathy. Empathy. Those feelings should awaken in him the desire to make me feel better. The way to do that is to make this slightly maudlin without being too over the top.

I tell him about living with my mom. I go into some detail, talking about the insults, the humiliations, the feelings of worthlessness that I lived with for years. I talk about my stepfather, who had nothing at all to do with me, how his ignoring me furthered my feelings of insignificance.

I’m watching him closely. He’s forgotten about the Oreos. Even about Nosy, who hasn’t forgotten about the Oreos. Daryl’s eyes are riveted on me. I figure it’s time to go for the kill.

“At the beginning of this last summer, my mom discovered I was gay. She was sure that would dirty the image of her that she was always trying to magnify for everyone else. She couldn’t bear to let that happen, so she threw me away.”

I go on, talking about what had happened next and how I’d ended up with Daniel. About how my life living here is night-and-day different from how it was before. About getting close to Terry and how that has helped. But I explain how I can’t really leave my early life behind me and how little things can bring it all back. How something as innocuous as his teasing in the newspaper office sent me into a tailspin. I’m looking at the floor by now, hoping he sees my distress and steps forward, saying he, too, is gay and understands.

He doesn’t. He makes appropriate noises about how if he’d known, he’d never have made teasing remarks that had any belittling quality in them. That he’s so sorry I had to go through all that. That I seem much better now than I must have been before moving here.

And then he starts talking about what should go into the article, what was appropriate for the newspaper, and what should be kept private.

That is that. He thanks me for the swim and cookies, says he’ll think hard about what he writes and give me final clearance on it. He spends more time saying goodbye to Nosy than to me, then rides off. Too bad there’s no sunset yet to see him off into. I’m left with a very bittersweet taste in my mouth.

“Didn’t work, huh?” Terry is finishing the plate of Oreos. I call him as soon as Daryl leaves, and he is at the door a minute later. He must have been waiting, cellphone in hand. He doesn’t seem upset that my great plan has been about as effective as a magician trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat and ending up simply with an empty hat.

“It should have. And when we were swimming, he was sure checking me out.”

“Well, I’d guess that means either he’s gay but not interested, or he isn’t gay but is amazed a boy your age could be so undeveloped. That would explain why he kept checking to sure he’d seen it right.”

“You know, your frivolity here isn’t really helping.”

“What, you want me to be in sackcloth and ashes, mourning for what isn’t happening for you? When you’re not even sure it is what you think it is? Besides, weren’t you always saying you just want to know? That you could move on if he isn’t what you hope he is? Yet now you’re moaning over how he probably isn’t? I think you have too much of a crush on him, have all along, maybe more than you even realize.”

I think about that. I do wish he were gay and liked me. I do know that. Moving on? Well, yeah, I need to do that. I still have the interview with him to think over. And I will ask him if he’s gay if he doesn’t mention it. I know how I’ll do that. Even if it’s awkward, I’ll do it.

We go to Daryl’s house the next day. I live in a new area near the outskirts of the town. Daryl lives in a different section of town on a residential street of older, mostly single-story dwellings. Daniel’s dad’s house could only be labeled an upper-class house or maybe even a small mansion. Daryl’s house is what I’d call middle-class. I’m not experienced enough in judging neighborhoods or houses to know if it qualifies for either lower-middle-class or upper-middle-class or does indeed lie in the middle. I do see why, though, Daryl was appropriately awestruck by where I lived.

He has a small yard, front and back. The lawns are green and well-kept. The house inside is comfy and orderly and attractive. That description fits his mother as well. She welcomes me with a hug. I haven’t met too many women who have done that. Certainly none in the groups my mom hung with.

“Very good to meet you, Rob. Daryl’s spoken highly of you.”

“Ma!”

Kids don’t like their parents to interact with their friends, or even simply other kids, that way. The less said, the better. That’s the teen credo.

I laugh. “Glad to hear it, Mrs. Hasserly.”

“We’ll be up in my room, Ma,” Daryl jumps in, not wanting any more chitchat between the two of us. “We don’t need anything.”

I guess he is preempting the visit with cookies and milk and curiosity he thought she might make. I can tell he is nervous. I’m not sure why. Nervousness is not a trait I associate with Daryl.

His room is not neat but not real messy, either. Kind of like mine, but mine is neater. Anyone living with my mom for years knows how to keep a room tidy. I learned to be comfortable with a neat room, and while I wasn’t anal about it, I did keep it picked up and the bed made. Daryl doesn’t bother with either. He’s more an ordinary teen than I am.

We sit like we had in my room, only I have the chair this time. He doesn’t bother pulling up the spread when he sits on the bed. He does pick up some boxer briefs from the floor and tosses them into the closet and shuts the door.

He sit quietly on the bed, looking at me. I look back. He fidgets, then says, “I don’t know how to do this. I can’t do what you did. You laid yourself open for me to look at. I don’t know how you were able to do that. You said you were shy and timid, yet saying what you did, revealing yourself that way, took a whole lot more courage than I have. Besides that, I’ve lived a very ordinary life.

“Two parents who love each other and both my brother and me. That’s my family. Not a lot of money but enough to be comfortable. Not enough for fancy vacations or all the gear I’d like, but you d. Pretty tame stuff, and when I compare it to you, we should just write about you. But I know you don’t want most of that in the paper.”

“No, of course not. I told you about me for your ears. I wanted to get to know you better, Daryl, and thought the best way to do that was to let you know all about me, why I am like I am, why I reacted to your teasing like I did, why I live with a man I’m not related to, even why I’m in California. Most of what I told you happened when I wasn’t a very happy kid. I’m glad you were. That’s what you can talk about, the things that made you happy, that shaped you. You’re a great writer; something motivated that. You’re smart; I can tell because of the classes we’re in together and how you ask questions and answer the ones posed to you. You can talk about where your self-confidence came from. I wish I had what you do. There’s a lot you can talk about.”

He fidgets some more. I don’t understand that. And then, I suddenly do.

I slowly raise my eyes to his. “You have a lot you can talk about. How about your friendship with Ryan?”

Well, I’ve found out what he’s nervous about. He suddenly stands up and walks to his window. His room is in the front of the house and looks out over the front lawn and the street. He stares out of it, not moving for almost a full minute. Then he turns around.

“What do you want to know?”

“I want to know about your friendship with Ryan.”

“Why?”

“I told you about Terry being my first real friend. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their friends. If you hang with a tough crowd that’s smoking weed all the time and swearing a lot and never doing their homework, that tells me who you are. If you hang with a bunch of girls and never with other boys, that tells me something as well. You hang with Ryan. I’d like to know about that.”

“Why? What do you know about Ryan?”

I laugh. “Oh, no! No way! I told you all the nitty-gritty about me. I didn’t get defensive and try to shift the subject. I just talked about myself. You said you’d do that same.”

“Yeah, but you just said you’d know me be knowing my friends. Now you want me to talk about Ryan. So, obviously, whatever I say about him, you’re going to assume I’m talking about myself as well.”

I pause, then say, “You do have a point. But you were searching for something to talk about. Ryan’s something. Why, is there something there that embarrasses you—or would him?”

He turns to look out the window again, doesn’t see anything that needs additional scrutiny there and comes back and sits on the bed again. “Okay, I just didn’t want you getting the wrong idea. I’ve been friends with Ryan since first grade. Everyone could tell Ryan was a little different way back then. And first graders aren’t necessarily the nicest kids going. He started to be picked on. Well, that bothered me. I liked Ryan. I didn’t mind he was a little different. He was kind of effeminate back then. Still is. But I liked him and didn’t have a problem with that. He was funny and smart. I liked being with him. When a couple of guys decided he was fair game, I stepped in and protected him. I was surprised because he really didn’t need that much protection. Effeminate, yes. Able to fight his own battles? Yes, again.

“When kids found that out, the teasing stopped. But I’d shown him how I felt and what I was willing to do, and he liked that. He wasn’t making a lot of friends, and I was there for him.

“We went through elementary school together. We’re still friends.”

He gave me a hard look. “I know why you’re asking. You want to know if he’s gay. I’m not sure why you want to know, but maybe you think if he’s gay, then maybe I am, too. If that’s what you want to know about Ryan, you need to ask him. And if you want to know that about me, you need to ask me.”

He is glaring at me. No humor in it at all. He is offended, I guess, but I don’t know if it is about Ryan or my suspicions or just what it is. Anyway, the option of just coming out and asking him now isn’t one I am going to take. The mood in the room is almost hostile, and like it or not, that still has an effect on me. He is glaring at me, and it’s all I can do to meet his eyes. Eventually, I can’t. What I can do is get up and leave. That’s what I do.

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