Triptychs – Chapter 35
May, 2009 – Memorial Day Weekend
“Sorry,” I whispered to Noah, as I slipped back into my chair. “I had to take that.”
He just looked sideways at me, the question more eloquent than if he’s said something out loud.
“Just my mom, checking in. She’s in Stockton.” I grinned at him, as I picked up my fork. “Maybe in another ten years or so, I’ll get her to start texting . . . ”
Berkeley, and a warm little, wood-paneled Thai restaurant off of Telegraph Avenue; Noah and me, and Cole and Jeremy, and our friends Derrick and Drew. A celebration dinner, actually; well, maybe a little more of a celebration for the four of them, than for us. But; still.
It was definitely a celebration for Drew.
“’ . . . three to four months!’” he was saying, in a deep voice; obviously impersonating somebody. Derrick was grinning in delight. “’Three to four months, before they mail the boy’s diploma! For what we’ve paid in tuition, you’d think they could hire some illegal Mexicans with decent handwriting, and crank the things out a little faster!’”
Wincing, and mixed laughs and groans, from around the table.
“Drew’s from San Diego, like Derrick and Jeremy,” I whispered to Noah. “And his family’s a little conservative . . . ”
Another ‘Duh,’ flicker of expression from Noah.
Derrick and Drew . . . Well. Derrick is Jeremy’s best friend, the two of them are almost as tight as Cole and me; and Drew’s his boyfriend; Derrick, olive-skinned and taller, Drew shorter, broader, blond.
We used to all hang together, a lot, the two years before I started college . . . and, fuck-me, it was good to see them, again! It really surprised me, how good it felt to see them, again, it was just a stab of acute happiness, to hug them both, again, when we’d met up, outside of the restaurant . . .
Laughter, from all of them, about Drew’s dad, at his graduation ceremony. The only ceremony for any of us, this year, actually; Jeremy’s got another couple of semesters, what with his dual major, and Derrick switched majors last year; so.
“ . . . well, he didn’t yell out anything, when they called your name,” went Jeremy; smiling, with his own happiness. Arm on the back of Cole’s chair. “Were you really afraid he was going to give a Rebel yell - ?”
“I sure was,” from Drew; emphatically. “He said he was going to do it. And he usually does what he says.”
“It’s what he did instead, that surprised me,” went Derrick; smiling at Drew, then smiling at all of us, big; savoring some kind of news, I figured. “Did you see - ?”
“No,” from Jeremy.
“He shook my hand! Can you believe it - ? He actually took my hand, and he shook it, just at Drew was walking off the stage! Can you believe it?”
“No way!” From Jeremy, excited; Drew was smiling, proud and embarrassed.
“Way!”, from Derrick.
I almost whispered over to Noah, about how much progress that showed, between them; but, I figured, he’d gotten the idea, by now.
“And his mom kissed me on the cheek!”
“Well, that I can believe; but his dad - ?”
I tried to imagine, what it would be like, to have a dad who would be there for my graduation; if it ever happens.
I tried to imagine what it would be like, to have a dad who would shake hands with Noah; even reluctantly.
Hell; for that matter, I tried to remember back, to the time before my dad gave me my scar; and, to the time before I knew, beyond any possible doubt, just what a sadistic asswipe he really is . . .
Well. I guess my memory doesn’t go back that far.
It’s not like there’s much chance of him showing up in Berkeley, anytime soon, anyway. He’s in Atlanta; as in, Atlanta, Georgia, two thousand miles away from us, a whole continent away from us.
It’s actually looking like he’s pretty well settled there. He’s got a Georgia driver’s license; and, wonder of wonders, he actually has a bank account of his own, some bank was actually ten-kinds-of-fool enough to give him an account. Even more surprising, he’s got a few hundred dollars in it; and he does ATM transactions, deposits and withdrawals, in the Atlanta metro area, in a pretty consistent pattern.
Don’t ask me how I know all this. And don’t ask Cole, either. I mean, it would be illegal to setup online banking access to somebody else’s account, illegal to break somebody’s password, or steal his PIN, right - ?
I keep a close eye on that account; along with a few other online things, that I won’t get into. And if those ATM withdrawals start heading West . . .
While a part of me worries, will always worry . . . a bigger part of me thinks, feels, he’s finally gone, for good. As in, out of our lives. Not coming back.
And I still haven’t gotten used to it. I mean, I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling; the feeling of freedom, the feeling of safety, the feeling of relief. It must be like the way you feel, when you’re cured of an incurable illness, or when you’re let out of jail, after a stretch of years . . .
No, I have to admit it; I need to be honest, I have to say it.
It hasn’t been all easy, and straightforward.
After the confrontation with my dad – after we threatened my dad – the couple of days after that, I fell into one of my dark spells. One of my deepest, darkest, blackest spells, ever. Where nothing seemed good, nothing in the whole world was right . . . everything was fucked, my whole life was fucked, I was just like my dad, oh, fuck-me . . . And I couldn’t FEEL anything, I swear, I fucking couldn’t FEEL anything . . .
You get the idea.
I was pretty out of it, for awhile. I mean, well – I was a mess.
Cole was there for me; of course. The way he’s always been.
But so was Noah.
And they talked.
Oh, not in front of me, or anything; nothing like that, they were both just, there for me; spending time with me, going through the motions with me, getting me out, and around, and fed. Into the sunshine. BEING there, with me.
But they talked; I know they talked, out of my earshot. I know it went on for a long time. I was aware of that much, at least.
And when I came out of it all . . . when I finally did, gradually come out of it – they were, kind of, different, with each other. Kind of – tight, maybe.
Not like they were before; not like they were, at the dinner, when they first met. They were . . . closer. Close.
And the gratitude I felt, later, was all mixed up with the shame . . . that Noah’d seen me like that, Noah’d seen me, down in the depths, they’d both had to deal with me, down in the depths . . . But in the end, what was important, was that they were both there for me. They both stayed there, for me.
Noah’d stayed there, for me.
Like, I deserve either one of them - ?
“Yeah . . . my dad’s got a few blind spots,” Drew was saying; a little apologetically, glancing sideways at Derrick. “But his heart’s in the right place. Usually, anyway; and I do love him. But I can’t see him letting you call him ‘Dad’, anytime soon . . . ”
“It’s not like we’ll get the chance to get married anytime soon,” from Derrick; gloomily. “Not in California, anyway.”
The fallout from Proposition Eight, in California, again; the entire state voting on our basic civil rights, as LGBT people. Like one of my favorite signs said, in the protests after the vote – ‘When do I get the chance to vote on YOUR marriage?’
“No,” went Cole; darkly. “No; not anytime soon.” And we all went quiet, for a second.
So. Yeah. My bastard, crazy-shit plan worked. We scared my dad away; scared him clear across the country, apparently.
That was my plan, that was all of my plan; to scare him.
I’m not exactly sure when I began to wonder, began to realize, that what was happening . . . wasn’t necessarily my plan, anymore.
I guess it was the grimness in my Uncle Ryan’s face, when he and my mom came from Stockton, the day after the fire, to look at the damage . . .
Which was nothing, compared to how fucking grim, how darkly grim, he was, when I took him aside, and told him I knew the bar where my father hung . . . and then, I told him what I wanted to do.
He got it at once. Actually, he shut me up, at once, made me stop talking. Threatening somebody, conspiring to threaten somebody, is a crime, after all; a felony. Even if it’s an asswipe stalker arsonist, you’re threatening . . . And the less said, the less any of us said, the better.
That’s why I can’t tell Noah the whole truth, the real truth, about what happened. Or Cole. Or my mom. Ever.
No; no. I think it was really the next night, when I got together with all three of my uncles, actually looked at their faces, as we set out for my dad’s bar – it was right then, that I began to realize; it wasn’t my plan, anymore.
And by then, it was too late to get scared.
“Pad Thai - ?” from the wait-person; carrying a big plate of noodles, and shrimp. She set it down on the table with graceful swoop, then did the same with the plate in her other hand. “Gan-Garee Gai - ?” Chicken, in yellow curry, with potatoes, all fragrant as anything; one of Cole’s favorites, I knew. Another waiter came up, with another dish; and with a big, hammered-silver pot of steamed rice . . .
Tired, happy smiles from all six of us. Steamed rice, scooped out with a big silver ladle, on my plate; and I checked on Noah, he’s still a little new to Thai food, I’d been a little worried about bringing him here –
He was taking an enormous helping of Pad Thai from the serving platter, big enough to make me blink; and he passed me the platter, and our eyes met . . .
And eloquent as anything, he smiled just a little; a self-aware smile, an ironic smile, that said, ‘stop worrying’. So, I took the platter, from him, grinning, and I started spooning noodles and shrimp onto my own plate.
I wonder if, what I told my dad . . . was really a bluff.
I’m not sure, anymore.
I mean, on one hand – my uncles are warm, and loving, hell, they’re GENTLE, my uncle Ryan is just about the gentlest human being I know, except maybe for Jeremy. Or Noah.
On the other hand – they’re adults. And, they’re rugged, they do hard, dangerous work, they’ve all seen people hurt and killed, on the docks, in accidents – too many times.
And we’re McCarthys. We’re family. Maybe that matters, most of all. Maybe that’s what scares me about it most of all, looking back . . .
I can’t ask them.
I can’t ask them, the subject is closed, it’s so totally taboo, off-limits closed . . .
I don’t know.
I ask myself; if my asswipe father killed my mom, burned her up in an arson fire – what would I do? Especially if there was no proof, no way he could be arrested, or convicted, or anything . . . ?
My dad believed our threat. Believed it enough to move thousands of miles away. To an inland city; no port; no docks. No Union. And, he’s known my uncles, since before I was born . . .
So. I wonder. It’s another one of those things, that I think about; another one of those things that lives in my head, unwanted; especially in my darker moments, my down moments. Like the one I’d just worked through.
I wonder; but I don’t want to know.
The plates of Thai food passed around the table, and we all helped ourselves; and the conversation lagged, a little, as we ate. Six college boys, all hungry.
And I tried to shake off my momentary mood, as I enjoyed the food, the warmth, the feeling of Noah close against me, on my left side; Noah on a Friday night, with another whole weekend to share coming up, fuck-me, another whole three-day weekend - !
For the rest of us, it was more than just a weekend.
Cole and Jeremy, and Derrick and Drew – well. They’d all just finished Finals week; the Finals before summer vacation; which was the other, main reason for the celebration . . .
Not so much a celebration for Noah and me, though; Finals for us are next month, since we’re on the quarter system. It kind of sucks, I wish we weren’t on the quarter system.
“So, you’re both off to San Diego, now - ?” from Cole; eventually. Looking up from his food.
“Just for a week,” said Derrick; leaning back in his chair, a little. “With our families.” He made a wry face. “Then, we’re back up here, so Drew can start back to work at the Foundation.”
Noah was paying attention, politely, with his head turned; so of course, I stole a fat, delicious-looking shrimp from his plate, one of his last ones, and I put it down on my plate, grinning to myself.
“And are you guys doing anything special, to celebrate, while you’re down there?” from Cole, again; with a little half-smile, a Cole half-smile. Remembering Jeremy’s stories about Black’s Beach, the famous clothes-optional beach in San Diego, I guessed.
“Well,” went Drew, with a grin. “I think on Monday . . . I won’t write a paper. And then, on Tuesday, let’s see . . . I won’t write a paper! And then, on Wednesday, just for a change – maybe I won’t write a paper, again!”
Five of us undergraduates contemplated that, for just a second; a future which DIDN’T involve writing papers, writing papers on deadline, an endless stream of papers to be written . . .
“That works,” went Jeremy; admiringly. With a little shake of his head.
“Jesus,” from Cole, with a breath.
“Hey. It’s just until I get into grad school,” went Drew, laughing. “A year, or two at the most, and I’ll be writing papers for a living, again. Or, that’s what it’ll feel like . . .” He leaned over and pecked Derrick on the cheek, quick.
Noah looked down at his plate, finally, then looked over at mine; then sideways, up at me, with a slightly-lifted eyebrow.
“Oops,” I went, grinning at him. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned . . .”
An eloquent eyebrow-twitch, from him.
“Here,” I said; and I spooned over a couple of nice, thin slices of marinated beef onto his plate; he’d really liked it, the last time we’d had Thai. “Penance,” I went on; grinning bigger.
Which got me another Noah-expression. But, the marinated beef disappeared pretty damn fast, I noticed . . .
We’re sharing more meals, these days; Noah and me. A lot of them, cooked by my mom.
We’re sharing more nights, too.
Yeah; Noah’s mostly spending weekends with me; Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, at our house – my mom’s and mine house, I mean. And sometimes, mid-week nights, too.
Not too long after the first time she’d met him – a couple of weeks after the fire, when we’d all gone out for dinner – not too long after that, she’d sat me down, and we had a Talk.
At the kitchen table. Naturally.
“Honey . . . ” she was saying. “You and Noah are both adults. We’re all three of us adults. But; you both have at least three more years of college, before you graduate; and that’s if you’re lucky, considering the way the state is cutting the budgets of the universities.”
Which was depressing, and true enough; getting the classes I needed, next Fall, was going to be a real problem. CSUEB was cutting classes, all the state colleges and universities were cutting classes way back, laying off teaching staff, to save money.
Well, what with the Great Recession, at least me and my mom aren’t the only people around, struggling for money, anymore. Cold comfort that it is. No comfort at all, that it is.
“And,” she went on, gently – “I do not want you taking risks, doing risky things outdoors, or in cars . . . Oh, don’t look at me, like that! I was your age once, remember - ?”
There was laughter, actual laughter, on her face, as she looked at me; busting me, so totally. I’ve never been able to hide much from her, she reads me; almost as well as Cole does.
“Actually, honey,” she went on; and her face got all serious, again. “Actually, honey, I really was your age, once . . . and I was in your situation, once.” She paused a second, and looked up at the turquoise-painted ceiling; the freshly-repainted ceiling, another change, since the fire, and the repairs.
“You were - ?” I asked; blinking.
“Yes.” Her eyes came down, and met mine, again. A pause. “Trevor – you should know, that I don’t regret anything in my life; all my choices have been my own, and I’m happy with them . . . and you are by far the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are the single, most precious thing in my entire life . . . ”
But; I thought to myself. Slightly stunned; I’d never heard her talk like this, not really.
“When I was in college, at San Jose State University . . . I had some plans, for my life. I never thought I would settle for a bachelor’s degree; I wanted a Master’s degree, and a teaching credential, and maybe more. I had plans; and I had the grades, and I had access to student loans . . . ” She stopped a moment, and cleared her throat. “But then, in time, your father and I, we needed a place to live, an apartment of our own.” Her eyes meeting mine, again; looking for my reaction. “We didn’t have much support, or approval, from my family . . . ” Another pause. “So. I took a year off, after I graduated, to work, so that we could afford an apartment, afford a place of our own . . . And that year turned into two years, and then three years, and then, well . . . ” She shifted a little, in her chair.
“Mom – ”
“No, honey.” She reached over, and took my hand. “Just listen. All I’m saying, is that sometimes the small choices we make in our lives, become life choices, without us realizing it. And, that you and Noah and I are all adults, we can choose to act like adults; Noah is welcome to stay over, here, anytime. More than welcome. And – that if you both keep as many of your options open, as you can, as long as you can – I’ll be very happy.”
There’s nobody like my mom. I love her, so, so much. I’m not ashamed to say, my eyes got wet, as I hugged her, then . . .
So. Noah’s spending weekends, with us.
And, yeah, on some level I’ve almost gotten used to the miracle of lying in bed with him, of waking up with him, in the morning –
But you want to know the strange part, the really surprising thing, about the whole situation, with Noah, my mom, and me - ?
Well, it’s not so much about the three of us; it’s about Noah and my mom.
It’s how they get along; how they communicate. How they relate to each other. I mean, they Get Along.
And I don’t really get it, I don’t understand it . . . but I do know, that when we’re all together – usually at the kitchen table; usually for breakfast, one of my mom’s over-the-top breakfasts, with Noah, all sleepy and tousle-haired . . . when we’re together, they communicate.
I can tell, they really understand each other; I can tell, by what they say, the looks they give each other, the things they DON’T say, as much as the things they do say . . . They understand each other.
And, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad, I’m fucking glad, they get along . . . but. I don’t really understand it. I mean, it’s like they’re on the same frequency, some band that I just can’t access. And when I think of all the misunderstandings I’ve had with my mom, the missed cues, the ways I’ve hurt her without meaning to, the dumb-shit things I’ve pulled because of that, my whole life . . .
There’s a lot of things about my life, just now, that surprise me. Surprise me, in a good way; and that, alone, is surprising.
The talk at the table had gone from Drew’s graduation, to his upcoming, actually-paid-job at the charitable foundation where he’s been interning.
“ . . . and the thing is, I’ve learned so much from Greg! I can’t believe how much I’ve learned, I swear, I’ve learned more than I did in any of my business classes, this whole last year . . . ” His face, full of wonder; and maybe a little flushed, from the food, and the warmth. He and Derrick were leaning a little closer together, now, the way that couples do; the way I’ve been noticing couples do, lately.
Okay. The way Noah and I do, too.
“That’s usually how it works,” I said, comfortably; my shoulder just touching Noah’s, now. “That’s how it works, in photography; you find someone who knows what they’re doing, and you watch. The classes are just about learning the vocabulary.”
“Uh-huh,” went Drew. His face changed, a little. “That reminds me; I saw Jim last Monday, and he asked how your film project is going. He wanted to know if you were having any trouble with the Archdiocese – ?” He looked at Noah. “Jim is my boss Greg’s partner, his life partner, basically; he’s a lawyer, and he’s the one who negotiated the filming rights . . . ”
“And he’s a friend,” put in Derrick.
“I’ll say,” I went, grinning. “And no, no problems with the Archdiocese . . . and, you’ve got to thank Jim again, for me, if you see him. It was pretty awesome, sitting in on the talks.”
It WAS awesome; it was a little terrifying, actually, to see Jim in action, in a business suit, all professional and serious and persuasive and intense as anything; the lawyer for the Archdiocese didn’t have a chance. And, there was no possible doubt, I couldn’t have even started the film, without him drafting the releases, I couldn’t even have gotten in the door.
Which is a little daunting, thinking about my future career . . . I mean, I just want to make films, you know? But, I think now I’m going to be learning a lot about the law, along the way . . .
“So, how are you doing with the filming?” asked Derrick. “Your season’s almost up, isn’t it - ?”
A pause; a slight pause, from me.
“It’s not going too bad,” I went; trying to keep my face straight. “We’re going into the playoffs . . . and the filming’s going okay. It’s not going to be a complete wreck.”
It’s fucking brilliant.
“The kids on the team are great, they make it all work.” I shrugged. “And I owe it all to Noah, here, and his friend Ron – ”
“I’m not doing anything except giving technical advice,” from Noah, by my side. I felt him glance sideways at me. “About baseball, I mean; I’ve never met anybody in my whole life, who knows less about baseball than Trev.” And I nudged him with my shoulder, just a little, as I grinned sideways at him . . .
It’s fucking brilliant.
The film is turning out fucking brilliant, it’s the kind of thing that comes along once, twice, a couple of times in your whole life, if you’re lucky; it’s the kind of thing that can change a career. Or start it.
And it’s absolutely true, that the kids on the team, make it. Oh, the story tells itself; a baseball season, with a beginning, a middle, and end; the drama of going into the playoffs, maybe going into the finals . . . the structure is built into the concept, and it helps, a lot. Yay, Me, for thinking it up!
But the real story, the film itself, is about the players; the kids. Their own stories; their lives, their personalities. Their faces, beautiful, shining on the screen. How they relate to each other, as a team; how they love each other, really; that’s the heart of it. Yeah.
I caught Cole’s eye, across the table, I saw the way his smile hooked up on one side of his mouth, the little tilt to his head, and I almost lost it, I almost busted out, laughing. He’s seen some of the footage; he knows. And, he knows me; he reads me.
Noah’s almost right, actually; about his involvement, I mean. He was one of the captains last year, he just doesn’t feel really comfortable about hanging around, as I film the interviews; he told me, he doesn’t want to influence any of the kids, violate any confidences. And I respect that . . . It’s just one more way I respect Noah; one more way I admire Noah. On top of everything else.
Anyway, he knows he doesn’t really need to be there; he knows, I’m not going to embarrass any of the boys, make them look bad, make fun of them, take advantage of them. Some filmmakers like to do that kind of thing; not me. Not ever. No way.
So, at practices – and there’s where I get my best footage, during practice, or before games, or off days – during practice, usually he’s out with some of the other kids on the field, batting, tossing around a ball, giving them tips . . . ‘Coach Noah,’ is what the kids have started calling him. Not ironically; with honest affection, you can so tell.
And, so, on those days at practice when I’m filming, and he’s out helping the kids . . . he’s happy.
I mean, duh; he’s doing something he loves; he’s got a good excuse for being there, meaning, me; and he’s making a positive contribution, and the real coach is ridiculously glad that he’s there, helping out, Noah can give kids the kind of personal attention that the coach can’t . . .
Noah’s happy. And that means the world to me, it so fucking does.
I don’t know what’s going to happen, when we’re done with the film. About Noah and baseball, I mean. I know Ron’s trying to get Noah to go playing with him in an amateur league, not associated with any school or anything, just people who get together to play because they love to play.
I think he should coach. Find a Little League team, or something, and coach; hey, I’ve seen him with the kids on his old team; he’s a total natural, he’s just such a natural teacher. Or maybe, he should do both - ?
It would be so worth it, being a part-time baseball widower, if Noah could play again; if it made Noah happy. It would be so fucking worth it . . .
We’d gotten to the stage where the food was mostly gone, now; the serving platters were pretty empty. Looking around the table, I could see that the four of them, Derrick and Drew, Jeremy and Cole, were all looking a little tired, on top of the happy; Jeremy had little semi-circles under his eyes, he’s always shown it when he’s tired, more than Cole.
Well, finals will do that, I guess.
I looked up, and over, to the ornate little wooden-faced clock on the wall; thinking it was getting late, thinking, it would be nice to be in bed with Noah, pretty soon –
And when I looked down, there were a lot of Pad Thai noodles on my plate, to go along with the shrimp I’d stolen from Noah. I glanced sideways at him, grinning; and he shrugged, and smiled, a little . . .
And then with a quick swipe, a base-stealer’s swipe, he stole the rest of my marinated beef; and I laughed out loud.
“ . . . down to Santa Monica next week, to meet my dad,” Cole was saying. “Finally.”
The conversation had turned back to families.
“But he’s known about you guys for awhile now, right - ?” from Drew. Blinking, a little.
“For a year.” Cole shrugged. “And he’s actually told me before, how much he wanted to meet Jeremy. But his schedule’s been pretty busy, he’s been travelling so much . . . this month is our first real chance, to all meet up.” And I saw him reach up, and put his hand on Jeremy’s, where it rested on his shoulder.
“And you’re staying with your dad - ?” Drew asked. Sympathetically.
“Uh-huh. In the guest bedroom.”
“I wish we could do that, at my parents’ house,” Drew said, wistfully; looking sideways at Derrick. “My dad’s coming around . . . but I don’t think THAT will ever happen, at my parents’ house.”
I felt Noah look at me; then his hand came over, and took mine, on top of the table.
Yeah; we are lucky, we are SO fucking lucky.
With my mom, anyway.
Yeah. Noah’s still not out, to his family. Not officially out, anyway.
And maybe I can understand, I guess I can understand. I mean, one of the things he’s told me, is that they not only have a big picture of the Pope in the living room, right under a crucifix – but they’ve got a picture of the previous pope, John Paul II, on the other wall, facing it. Under ANOTHER crucifix. Hey, it’s a Two Pope, Two Crucifix Family!
Noah’s not out to them, and I don’t know if he ever will be . . . but he won’t lie about it. In his stubborn, idiot, honest, Catholic-boy way, he just won’t talk about it – well, except to his brother Isaac, that is – while he goes on refusing Communion at Mass, and not being an altar boy, not talking any more about the Seminary, and especially, not-dating girls . . .
Wait. It gets better.
See, like most students at CSUEB, Noah and I are both taking the summer quarter off, to work; to build up a little money, to help last us the rest of the year. I’ll be at my temp job at the Port of Oakland, like last year –
Noah’s going to be working with his dad, and Isaac, at his dad’s solo HVAC business. Full time, and then some. In Tracy.
But; he’ll be spending weekends with me, in Berkeley. Friday night to Sunday night, or really early Monday morning, anyway.
He’s already told them. All he said was, that he’ll be spending weekends in Berkeley, with ‘my friend Trevor’. Period. End of discussion.
I don’t see it ending well. I can’t see how it could possibly end, well.
And if I see a world of hurt, maybe, coming in Noah’s future – there’s a whole special shiver of fear, knowing I’ll be caught up in it all, that it’ll be me, caught up in that role . . .
I mean, it’s inevitable. And, how will they react, fuck, how would ANYBODY react, when that surreal, hilarious moment comes; when, Ding! Ding! Ding!, Door Number Two rises, to reveal – ME as the Surprise Son In Law From Hell - ? I mean, if I were like Jeremy, maybe, or Derrick – but, ME - ? And –
No, no, no, fuck-me, FUCK-me, I need to stop thinking like that, I have GOT to stop thinking like that. Fuck-me, that I keep thinking like that - !
I’ve been doing better, lately, I really have been trying . . . but. I’ve got to do better, I’ve got to stop thinking like that.
So, maybe I’m not exactly a prize, as a boyfriend . . . maybe I’m not anybody’s prize boyfriend, and maybe Noah deserves better.
Well, fuck, of course he deserves better; I’m still crazy as hell, moody as hell, I still have dark, dark patches . . . and then, there’s my criminal, asswipe father; and the worry, the constant worry that I might be more like him than I want to admit – the worry of what I might turn into, myself . . .
In the end – for some reason, Noah loves me. He loves me a lot, and that’s more than a little scary; but.
That means, in the end – I’m all he’s got; I’m what he’s got. And that means, I HAVE to be good enough for him, I can’t be toxic for him, I can’t LET myself be toxic for him. I HAVE to be good for him.
I’ve been trying. I really have been.
And if sometimes I still feel a flash of panic, at how close we’re getting, how much into me he is, if sometimes I still feel like bolting . . . well.
Those times are getting fewer, as we go along; and they’re more than outweighed by the good times, the priceless times, the priceless things. The way he not-quite-laughs, at one of my lame jokes . . . the shy, self-aware, sideways-smile on his face, when I tease him about being Mister Motor Mouth . . .
The way he holds back. Giving me space; trying not to crowd me, with his love.
The feel of him, in my bed, at night. In my arms, at night. The love I feel for him, then, spiking through me, so vivid, as he lies sleeping in my arms . . .
I’m trying, I’m really trying to be good for him. And if it’s all a work-in-progress, hell, if I’M a work-in-progress . . . at least that’s the keyword; ‘Progress’. Right - ?
* * *
The food was gone, cleared away, the table was empty; the check was all paid, and I’d only winced a little, at our share of it. Celebrations are celebrations.
It was so, so the end of the evening; Derrick and Drew were talking softly to each other, leaning against each other, heads close together, the way couples do. Noah and I were holding hands, our hands proudly on top of the table, comfortably quiet together. Jeremy and Cole –
Well, Jeremy’s arm was full-on around Cole’s shoulder, now, and they were pretty damn close together, too. But Jeremy had just said something about, maybe going somewhere, for some coffee . . . ?
“Oh, no,” went Cole; just beginning to laugh. “Oh, no, no coffee for you; unless it’s decaf. You’ve been on a caffeine jag all Finals week, since even before, actually; no coffee.”
“What are you talking about - ?” from Jeremy; beginning to laugh, himself, now.
“You! You’re on a caffeine rush! Are you denying it? Here, hold out your hand – ”
Jeremy held his hand out, flat, palm-down, facing the table. It looked pretty steady to me.
“There! You see?” He turned to us, Noah and me, grinning triumphantly. “Did you see the way he’s shaking - ?”
Cole was tired, too, I could see it now; something in his face, around the eyes . . .
And he was in full brat-boy mode, now, laughing, almost glowing, actually; it’s something he does really well, pushing Jeremy’s buttons, working him, making him laugh –
And I’d never seen him more beautiful; that soft brown hair, that I remembered from our first class together, in sixth grade; the smooth skin . . . no. No, it’s more than that, it’s so much more; it’s just something about him; who he is. His expressions, his moves, his gestures – the essence of Cole-ness, that just seems to shine out of him, sometimes . . .
I settled back, a little, just watching him, capturing the moment, framing it, filming the moment in my head, the way I do. The way I’ve always done. Loving him; loving the both of them.
“ – and if you have espresso tonight, you won’t sleep again. And that’ll keep me up, too!”
“I’ve been sleeping! When have I not been sleeping?” Jeremy was laughing, helplessly, the way he does when Cole gets on him like this. “I sleep fine!”
“No you don’t, either! You thrash.”
“You toss and turn. A lot! And with those big feet of yours, when you go thrashing around in bed, I don’t have a chance, I get kicked!”
“Oh, come on, I may turn over, but I do NOT ‘thrash’ . . . ”
I grinned down at the top of the table, for a second; then I looked back over at the clock on the wall – and I blinked. Fuck-me, it was even later than I thought . . .
Yeah; I was tired, too, and I knew Noah was. We’d both had class, and we’d both worked at the bookstore, on top of it . . . and, we had lots of studying to do, this weekend. Which was going to be an interesting experience, since it was also another Clothes-Free Weekend for us, with my mom away in Stockton . . . I began to smile to myself, at the thought, at the anticipation.
I leaned my head in closer to Noah, my cheek brushing his dark curls, the warm of him, that scent of him, and I squeezed his hand a little. “Are you about ready to go - ?” I asked, keeping my voice low.
“ . . . I do too have bruises!” Cole was saying. He brought one foot up onto the seat of his chair, still laughing. “On my shins! Here, do you want to see my bruises - ?” and he began lifting his pants leg –
Noah shifted in his chair; he turned his head, looking at me, directly, those clear blue eyes meeting mine, close; our foreheads almost touching. “I’m ready,” he went, quietly. “Are YOU ready?”
I blinked at him, for just a second . . .
And then I could feel this grin, this huge grin just starting to spread across my face; a grin coming from my whole heart, from my whole soul, it felt like, absolutely nothing held back.
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s go.”
// end //
* * * *
Author’s end note:
My deepest thanks, to all of you who have read this. And, my lasting gratitude, to all of you who have written; your encouragement has meant the world, to me.
Extra-special, warmest thanks to the Dude, for posting this story; on this priceless site.
Believe it or not, when I started writing this story, the Great Recession was just a glimmer in a hedge fund manager’s eye; apart from the major themes, the point of Trevor’s relative poverty was to explore a character who was a little different, not-quite-so-well-off, maybe even from blue-collar roots.
Well, too bad I couldn’t see what was coming. Trevor does, indeed, have way too much company, just now. My sympathies to all of us.
It’s been pointed out to me, that the University of California system has a great deal of financial aid available; and that with Trev’s backstory, of having an abusive father, he might well have been able to get a complete ‘free ride’.
My counter was, that Trevor and his mom were only balance-sheet poor, having a decent middle-class income, but burdened with crippling credit card debt; which might or might not be a weak argument. Regardless; if you, or anyone you know, is looking at college – be sure to check out available financial aid; please. I’ve been told, talking to an actual person in a financial aid office, is the single, smartest thing you can do. There is real, substantial help out there.
There is help, too, available for victims of domestic violence; whether emotional, physical, or sexual. All you have to do is google ‘domestic violence’; resources are local, national, and international, and I’d urge anyone who recognizes the symptoms to reach out. Please.
Comments, as always, are extremely welcome at dlgrantsf (at) yahoo (dot) com.
And, as always – please consider contributing to Awesomedude, as I have done? Even a small contribution helps ease the considerable financial burden of keeping the site running; it’s money well spent.
Thanks again, for reading!