Chapter Four - Weasel
A lot of different things make me nervous. The few minutes of class before a test that I know I’m not ready for, waiting for results from a doctor, seeing a large animal loping in my direction. As far as I knew, Nick wasn’t going to grade me, determine my chances of survival, or give me rabies, but for some reason, being alone with him had me a little nervous. That’s probably why the few seconds of silence that passed felt like a lot longer.
“So, you write?” He asked, steering us away from the gaping maw of awkward silence and back to the conversation we had been having about the Cursives meeting.
“Yeah. Well, not much any more, but I used to write stuff all the time.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Hmm…” I thought for a second. “From about forth to sixth grade I wanted to be R.L. Stine, so I wrote all these bad horror stories that all had titles with ‘beware’ or ‘revenge’ in them. Terrible stuff. I kept trying to do the crazy last chapter plot twist like he did, but always messed it up.”
“Really? I loved R.L. Stine! I used to have a secret stash of Goosebumps books under my mattress.” He laughed. “I can see why you’d want to be like him; he could write the same book every week and still sell a billion copies.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. ‘Night of the Living Dummy III’ was completely different from ‘Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes’. I mean, one had lawn gnomes.”
“Yeah.” I paused. “Though, now that I think about it, that dummy was probably out for revenge, too. I mean, he had to be pretty mad after losing those first two times.”
“Just like the time the mummy came back for revenge. Or that time the evil camera came back for revenge. Or those three times that the monster blood came back for revenge.”
“Which means that revenge counts as one of his recurring themes. See, he was making a point about our vindictive nature, not beating a dead horse.”
“Didn’t he have a book about a dead horse?”
It was weird – after that initial nervous silence, we had fallen back into the same pattern of easy conversation that we’d had on the ride home the day before. It was like once we started talking, every ounce of tension I was carrying just dripped out through my fingertips and evaporated. That went on for nearly half an hour before Mark made a re-appearance.
“Dude, have you seen that snow?” He buzzed through the room, returning with his coat in his hands.
“Uh, yeah.” I said.
“Not that stuff you walked home in, but the new stuff. It’s coming down hard.”
“Really?” I looked out the window. There was at least another inch on the ground. Not the weak, powdery stuff, but the thick, heavy kind. “Wow.”
“You might have some trouble getting home.” He said to Nick.
“Maybe not. Don’t worry about it yet. Come on outside, we’ll make snowmen.”
He pulled on his gloves. “Come on. We build them now, and by the time it’s done snowing, they’ll be an inch or two taller without us having to do any extra work. Efficiency, man, efficiency.”
Nick looked over at me. “Efficiency,” I said, shrugging.
Five minutes later, we were in the front yard, rolling snow. There was still a lot of it on the ground from the last snow storm, and combined with the new stuff, we had plenty to work with. We’d decided on one big snowman instead of three ordinary ones. Some kids down the street were working on normal sized ones, and we wanted to put our developed motor skills to use and show them up. Conversations had died out; for now, we only opened our mouths to shout instructions to each other.
“Roll it off of the driveway and the sidewalks first. Less of it to shovel later.”
“That’s too big, we’re never going to be able to lift it.”
“Back corner’s spent. Go around to the side.”
“Push it the other way, it’s starting to flatten out.”
We lost entire sections more than once when they cracked apart, but we kept going. Now that we’d started, if we gave up, if would be like the snow had beaten us. To any kid in Curson, failure in fighting the snow was looked down on even more than failure in school, sports, or business – failing a geometry test or striking out made sense, but being beaten by a bunch of little crystals that dissolve as soon as you touch them? Not acceptable.
Since I was the shortest one there, I got the duty of being the wedge – that is, the one who squats down in front of the middle section and slides underneath it while the others lift. It wasn’t the most fun, but I couldn’t deny that it worked. Soon enough, our snowman was towering over us. We found some nice fist-sized chunks of broken up concrete to use for his eyes. The jagged triangular shapes made him look a bit more menacing than originally intended, but it fit. We stood back, puffing fog into the air like broken car exhausts, admiring our work. This wasn’t some greeting card snowman – this guy had big lumps and dents all over, along with the occasional smear of dirt and grass. The lack of nearby trees had left him armless, and he stared out into the street with a disconcerting cockiness.
“He’s kind of creepy.” I said.
“It does look a bit bloodthirsty, now that you mention it.” Nick said.
Now that I wasn’t concentrating on building, I started to notice my clothes. The coat had kept me relatively dry from the waist up, but my pants were soaked. My shoes had been filled with snow, which then melted and soaked through my socks, driving a few icy needles through my ankles and toes with every step. A look at the others told me that they were in the same condition.
As soon as we were back inside, I grabbed some towels from the bathroom and passed them out, then went to my room to change my socks. At the last minute, I grabbed an extra pair.
On the way back into the living room, I threw the spare pair to Nick. He gave me a puzzled look.
“If your shoes are anything like mine, you’ll need those.”
“Oh…thanks.” He pulled off his shoes, revealing that his socks were just as soaked as mine had been.
“No problem. We’ve got this thing about not giving our guests athlete’s foot.”
“Hey, you didn’t bring me any socks…” Mark said.
“You’ve got your own socks.”
“Yeah, but they’re all the way over there.” He motioned to the hall that lead to our rooms.
I was in a good mood, and still standing, so I went and got him a pair of socks. I rolled my eyes when I noticed that all of them were balled together in mismatched pairs.
After pushing all that snow around, none of us felt like doing anything, so we threw our towels over the chairs and stared at the TV for a while, making fun of the bad sketch comedy and music videos that came on until Mom and Dad got home.
“Hey, what’s with the abominable snowman out-” Mom stopped when she noticed Nick. “Oh, hello.”
“Mom, Dad, this is Crowbar.” Mark said. “We found him tunneling out of prison and said he could lay low here until the heat’s off. In exchange, he helped us build a snowman.”
“Uh…hi. I’m Nick.”
“Yes, Crowbar has many aliases.”
“He left something in Mark’s trunk, and you guys have his keys.” I explained.
“It’s not a body.” Mark said with an exaggerated wink.
“Well, nice to meet you, Nick.” Mom ignored Mark. “Are you staying for dinner?”
“I should probably get back home before the snow gets any worse.”
“Oh, right.” Mark stood. “I kind of said I’d give him a ride home.”
Dad sighed heavily. “You know you’re not supposed to drive for a week.”
“Then can you drop him off?”
Now he was stuck. It was either stick to the sentencing and go back out into the cold, or be a bit lenient and send Mark into the cold. His eyes rolled up to one corner, as they always did when Dad was deep in thought. Or at least, when he wanted it to look like he was deep in thought.
“All right, you can drive him.” He said. “But! Give your phone to Brandon.”
Mark dug into his pocket and handed me his cell.
Dad turned to me. “Now, you go with him, and if he even thinks about going anywhere but straight there and back, you call me. Got it?”
“Got it.” I had to admit, it was a good plan. I wouldn’t normally rat out my brother, but this completely eliminated any chance of my using the “he kidnapped me” excuse that I had used the day before. If he tried to take me somewhere, and I didn’t call, I’d get it just as bad as he did.
“How are the roads?” Mark asked.
“Not too bad yet, but tomorrow morning…”
“Don’t jinx it.”
“Right. You’d better get going. Stay ahead of the plows.” He tossed Mark his keys, and we headed out.
“Stay ahead of the plows” was one of the most commonly repeated phrases during winter in Curson. It showed where our priorities were. While other cities or common sense may suggest waiting until the roads are plowed before driving on them, we take pride in getting to our destination and back before the plows make it out. Because of its repeated use, it’s worked its way into local vernacular, an expression ranging in meaning from “don’t be late” to “don’t take no crap from nobody.” Even in the middle of July, it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone mention staying ahead of the plows.
We got caught behind a plow. Not on a main street, where you can just pass them, either. We got caught behind a plow on one of the little one-lane out-lying roads that everyone referred to as “the goat-paths”, since they didn’t have actual names. They run around the outskirts of the town, between the farmlands and the gain elevators and stuff. The only people to drive on them were city vehicles, farm trucks, and teens who swore they knew shortcuts. I don’t suppose I have to tell you which of those categories we fell under.
I was forced to call home after about half an hour of traveling at the speed of plow to tell Dad that no, we weren’t screwing off, and yes, we were now ripping up the asphalt at speeds of fifteen miles per hour because Mark had gotten stuck behind a plow. Which, according to Curson folklore, may cause him to turn into a plow on the next full moon. All right, that last part was a lie, but it was more interesting than describing a long ride spent staring at the back of a plow.
Not that I was staring at the plow. For the second night in a row, I found myself in the back of Mark’s car, staring at Nick. Talking about something that I can’t remember very clearly, because of the way the lights from outside were hitting the drops on the windows, putting little patterns of shadows across his face.
The parking lot of First Baptist was lit by giant light poles at each corner, casting glowing globes against the snow. Mark twisted off the ignition and handed me the keys.
“Open the trunk for him.” He said.
“Isn’t there a switch for that?”
“Yeah. And it probably worked, like, five years before I bought this car. But not any more.”
Nick and I climbed out of the back seats, the shotgun position still occupied by the mannequin. I went around to the back and opened the trunk. Nick grabbed the frame he had left in there, and I saw a quick splash of color before he tucked it under one arm.
“Well, um…see you later?” Nick said, sounding a bit anxious. He was looking at the pavement next to my shoes. I realized he wasn’t saying it the way most people do, as just a different way to say goodbye – he was really asking if he’d see me again.
The snow was melting against his face, the streetlights giving his red cheeks a subtle glow. I noticed that his coat was just a little too big for him, that the sleeves covered everything but the very tips of his fingers. I definitely wanted to see him again.
“Yeah. Hey, uh…one second.” I felt in my pocket, finding the pen I always carried with me out of habit. No paper, though. Desperate, I checked the rest of my pockets, finding only my wallet. I pulled out a dollar and scribbled our home phone number on it. “Give me a call some time. We can hang out, or something.”
His already big eyes widened a bit when I handed him the dollar. His lips twitched just a little before curling up, like he was trying not to look too excited. “Y…yeah, thanks. Later.” His words steamed up in the cold, floating into the air above his head before the wind whipped them apart.
As he walked away, all of a sudden, I felt like I had just swallowed a snowball. I didn’t know if I should laugh or scream or swear, whether I should fall over or run for it. I thought that I could probably force it away, whatever it was that I felt, but I didn’t think I wanted to. I wanted to hold on to it as long as I could, before the slippery claws of logic or reality could find it and tear it apart. Mark blew the horn, and I jumped, remembering where I was. I slammed the trunk closed and climbed back inside.
Mark turned the radio on once I gave him back his keys, so we didn’t talk on the way back. That was fine by me. I leaned my forehead against the window, feeling its chill against my skin and watching the headlights in the other lane fly past. I knew what had happened. I’d never expected it to happen like that, not to me. I always figured my first crush would be on some girl from school who wouldn’t give me the time of day. A drama girl or a band chick or something. I never, never expected to find myself standing in a church parking lot with head full of thoughts about another guy in the middle of a snowstorm.
Now, I had to think about what it meant. Was I gay? I wasn’t sure. As a result, the question stuck with me for the rest of the night, as questions tend to do when I don’t have an answer for them. This one seemed to have taken the form of a live weasel that had made its home in my abdomen. And, as I would assume any real weasel would, my metaphorical question-weasel kept alternating between quiet, peaceful moments and clawing-biting-thrashing moments. After midnight, it calmed down and let me get some sleep.
The snow kept falling. It mixed with freezing rain every now and then, but it kept steady all night. At some point, it became too cold for the street salt to have any effect. Somewhere, one of the school district’s big shots made the call to the morning news channels, sending that sweet signal of temporary reprieve sailing across the scrollers at the bottom of every television set in town. I got up just long enough to see it, then went back to sleep.
When I woke up an hour later, and the Abdomen-Weasel of Insecurity woke with me. Yes, it seemed that over the course of the night it had gained not only a title, but proper noun status as well. At first, I couldn’t remember exactly why I felt so strange, but soon enough I remembered. Twenty four hours ago, I had been safely confident in the knowledge that I was a heterosexual, and now, I wasn’t sure. Remembering why it was there caused the Weasel to give a few extra kicks, but knowing why it was there was better than having an unexplained Weasel.
Dixie stopped by around noon. She lived only one street away, so she would always come by on snow days.
“I like the snowman.” She said as I let her in. We gravitated toward my room as we talked. “Bunch of ice from the storm last night froze over his eyes, though. Looks like he’s got cataracts.”
“Yesterday he looked pretty creepy.”
“Oh, he definitely looks like he wants to kill you. It’s just that he’d have a hard trouble finding you. And he’s got no arms.” She took her usual position in my room – sitting on the bed with her back against the wall. “In a way, though, that makes him even scarier. It’s like, you don’t know what he’s planning on doing to you. It won’t involve arms, or vision, but you know it’s going to be ugly.”
“Yeah.” I plopped into the chair I had in the corner of the room. The Weasel was doing cartwheels.
Dixie cocked her head at me. “What’s wrong?”
“No way. I just opened the topic of blind, armless, killer snowmen, and you didn’t do anything with it.” She said. “Plus, you’ve been looking all…spacey. More spacey than you usually do. And I’m not even going to bring up the Cursives meeting, whatever the hell that was about.”
“But I still want to know what’s wrong.”
I sighed. She was going to get it out of me. She always could.
“I just found out that Mark’s graduating early and that he’d be gone by the end of the month.” That wasn’t the reason The Weasel was gnawing its way through my guts, or at least not the only reason, but it seemed like it would work.
“Yeah.” I explained what he had told me about Uncle .Joe’s offer.
“Wow. And you didn’t find out until yesterday?”
“Yep. Just before school.”
“Well, no wonder you’ve been acting weird. If I had a brother tell me he was moving out of state in a couple weeks, I’d be spacey, too.”
There was that, and the fact that every now and then I’d think about what had happened to me in the parking lot the night before. Of the feelings that ran their fingertips across my back when I had watched Nick’s eyes catching the streetlights. About how, for a few seconds, I would have sold my left foot for the chance to take his hands in mine, to slip my hands into his too-long sleeves and…and…what? I looked up to make sure that I wasn’t about to get hit with a bolt of lightning for having those kind of thoughts about a preacher’s kid. I shifted my hips slightly, thankful that my pants were made of some pretty thick material.
“…and that’s when the violent orgy broke out.” Dixie said.
“What?” What the hell kind of a story did I just miss?
“Just seeing if you were paying attention.”
“Oh. I wasn’t.”
“I know. Still thinking about Mark?”
“Not exactly.” I grabbed a pillow off of the floor, set it in my lap, and rested my chin against it, hoping she wouldn’t notice its rather strategic placement. “A lot of stuff’s come up. Er, a lot of stuff’s been going on.”
“Like what?” Damn it, I’d opened up the topic again.
She gave me an exasperated look. “You can’t tell me?”
I shrugged. “You ever think I was…different?”
“Different from what?”
“I don’t know…must guys.”
“Well, yeah. That’s why I hang around with you, and not with most guys.”
“I mean, aside from the usual stuff. Like, is there anything about me that sticks out as kind of…” My eyes found a rather interesting spot on the wall, and The Weasel was working double-time.
“Kind of what?”
“...Queer?” My voice cracked a bit.
“Sure, you’re kind of weird sometimes. Nothing wrong with that. I’m pretty weird, too.”
I didn’t want to say anything more.
“So what’s up? I thought you got over your weirdness years ago.” She said.
“I think I’m gay.” I blurted out, immediately regretting it. I gripped the pillow a bit harder, not wanting my hands to shake. “Or bi. Or something where I like guys. But maybe not. I don’t know.”
“Oh, no way. My mom was right.” Her voice took on a breathy, amazed quality.
“She told me last year that you must be gay, since you never asked me out.” She laughed.
“I know. You know how my mom is. In her mind, the only reasons a boy wouldn’t ask me out are if he’s gay, or if he’s racist. And since she knows you’re no racist…” She cracked up again. “She must think half the town is either racist or gay.”
Dixie’s mom grew up in a small town where she was the only black student in her entire graduating class, so you can see why she’d jump on things like that now and then. She mostly joked around about it, though, not taking it too seriously. She had a bit of a problem with her only daughter’s nickname being “Dixie” until she heard the story behind it, though. She was cool.
I started to laugh, but remembered how we got on this topic in the first place.
“So, you don’t have any problem with it? With me?”
She gave me a look that can only be described as dumbfounded. “We’ve been friends since we were wearing Velcro shoes, and you think I’ve got a problem with you?”
“Never mind. I’m an idiot.”
“You are, but I still don’t have a problem with you.” She said. “Now, you want to tell me why you think you’re gay?”
“Well, like…I’ve never had a girlfriend. Never really wanted one. Still don’t want one.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re gay. You might just be a what-do-you-call-it…late bloomer? I mean, you are pretty short, and your voice is still kind of high. I don’t know anything else about your, uh, development, and I don’t really want to, but…you know. Maybe it just hasn’t kicked in yet.”
“Uh…maybe.” I could feel myself blushing a bit. “But I think it kicked last night. In the other direction.”
“Okay, I’m going to get off of this kicking analogy, because I’m not sure exactly where it’s going. What happened?”
I took a deep breath. “I met this guy.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Maybe. So I can’t tell you who it is.”
“I think I like him. In a way-too-much-to-be-straight kind of way. But I don’t know if that’s enough to make me gay.”
“Does it matter that much?”
I knew what she was getting at. Labels don’t matter, people matter, you are who you are, et cetera. It’s pretty much exactly what she told me when I went through an earlier identity crisis, when I wasn’t sure whether or not I was a geek. But this was bigger than that. People didn’t kill geeks for being geeks. They didn’t outlaw geek marriages. There weren’t any “God Hates Geeks” organizations. At least, not any that I knew about.
“It matters. Maybe not to you, and probably not to my parents or Mark, or even to me that much, but it matters to other people.”
“People that don’t matter.”
“If they can pass laws about me or beat me to death, they matter. That’s why a weasel’s been clawing at my stomach all day.”
“Maybe, but…wait, weasel?”
“Nothing. Anyway, that’s why I’ve been so out of it. And I don’t really feel like talking about it any more. You want to go do something?”
“Mall?” Even though it was half-deserted, it was within walking distance, so that’s where we usually went when we had nothing better to do.
“On a snow day? It’ll be packed.”
“So, while you push your way though the crowds, you won’t have to think too hard about anything.” She stood up. “Which also means I’ll get to have an unthinking pushing machine on my side.”
And so we left, weighted down with coats, and for the rest of the day, The Weasel seemed pretty calm. My guess was that he was either frozen by the walk or too stuffed with mall food to do too much kicking, and either way was fine with me.