The More Things Change...
I slept until eleven the next morning.
Nobody came that day. I was alone. I felt horrible. I had no idea why my reaction had been so strong. Maybe it was hearing about the whole world that I knew coming crashing to a horrible end. Maybe it was knowing almost everyone I ever knew was dead. Maybe it was being locked up in this house for so many weeks, and then this sudden influx of information.
I don't know. I just knew I felt horrible. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I had been unforgivably awful. To say the things I did. To treat them, oh my god, to treat Dillon, the way I did. I felt a new round of shame and hurt wash over me.
I wondered what would happen to me now. So much for my foster family. There was no way they would ever come near me again.
Despite all of this, I still felt that I had some kind of vindication. That, somehow, I was, at least partly, right about things.
Was I being used?
Or were things, like Mr. Abel used to say from junior high history, more complicated than they seemed?
The rest of the day I spent moping around the house, feeling sorry for myself. I tried to fiddle with a few things in the workshop, to read, to work on the laptop computer, but I just couldn't concentrate. Nor did I want to. I felt pathetic.
After a dinner of canned soup and plain luncheon meat without any bread I went to bed. Again, I didn't bother looking after myself, no shower, my teeth were fuzzy but I didn't care. I fell asleep with visions of a world being torn apart, bodies everywhere in the street, running through my mind.
The next morning I felt a bit better. Despite everything, I felt like the worst and the most awful of the emotions were behind me. I wondered if they had put a mental block on me, but I didn't think so. I could still think of everything, and there didn't appear to be any gaps or sudden loss of time. I had a shower, took care of my hygiene, dressed, and made a decent breakfast. After cleaning up I sat down with a book in the living room, wondering how long before some social worker or something showed up to assign me to a new foster family.
A few pages into the book the doorbell rang. The door, which only seemed to exist when somebody was on the other side, opened before I could get to it.
Dillon stood there. Looking more like a scared twelve year old than the confident, mischievous teen I was getting used to. He looked at me and I could see his eyes watering. I was certain he was about to cry. He looked awful.
His expression, along with my own feelings, had my eyes tearing up too. I'm sure my face didn't look much better than his. We looked at each other for long seconds before a deep part of my brain told me to move, to talk, to stop being an idiot and take the opportunity in front of me.
I opened my mouth, and as I did so the tears finally fell. “Dillon,” I said, my voice raw, “I'm an idiot. I was horrible. I'm so sorry. So very, very sorry.” I stood up and took a tentative step towards him, one hand half reaching out.
Dillon's own tears were falling too. He shook his head sharply. “No. It's my fault. I messed stuff up. I made Mom and Dad move things up sooner than they wanted, before you were ready, and they explained it to me. Oh boy did they explain it to me, for hours and hours they explained it to me. I was angry at you when we left. But Mom straightened me out. She said you had every right to feel the way you did.” He took his own step towards me.
We both crossed the remaining distance between us and found ourselves in each other's arms, hugging each other desperately and crying openly now. Both of us were telling each other, “sorry,” over and over again. We pulled back, looked at each other's eyes, then fell into another hug, still apologizing in between sniffs and sobs.
Again we pulled back and looked in each other's eyes. His eyes were full of pain, of guilt, and of hope. They drew me in. My head moved towards him. He reciprocated. Our lips touched. The kiss was as desperate, as hard, and as long as the hug had been. Our lips moved against each other. Our tongues met. Hands moved over each other's backs, grasping, rubbing, and moving again. The kiss continued. I could feel his hardness against my leg and I have no doubt he could feel me as well, but we made no attempt to do more, just hugged and let our lips and tongues say what we were thinking, what we were feeling.
We pulled apart, smiling gently at each other, long minutes later. His soft smile turned into the patented Dillon grin, glowing at about seventy percent. “Wow,” he said, as his grin reached a hundred, “now that was totally freak!” He giggled.
I found myself chuckling back and we just stood there, still hugging gently, looking into each other's eyes and smiling.
Dillon said, “Mom really made me think about it. She told me to imagine what it was like. Imagine I was torn away from everyone I knew, put in a strange house for weeks, then told I would never see anything familiar again, told my world tore itself apart. After she had me practically sobbing in loneliness and fear, then she said, on top of everything else, how about we pile some massive responsibility on you that you don't want, don't really understand, and didn't expect. She asked me how I would feel.” He took a breath. “It took me a while, I'm a bit thick, and way too impatient, but I got it. She had me crying and begging to come back here to talk to you a few hours later. She made me wait though; she said you needed to be ready too. The only way to get through this was to get through this. And time was the most important ingredient.”
I just shook my head and smiled back, “She's pretty smart, your mom.”
He nodded, “Yeah. She's the best.”
“You just remember that next time you have chores to do, young man,” said Dolores as she walked in the door with Donald.
Old habits die hard. Realizing I was still in Dillon's embrace I pulled away from Dillon's arms fast, surprising him. He was off balance and fell forwards towards me. I was looking at Dolores and didn't see him as he fell into me. We would've been fine except that my foot, trying to move back to balance myself, bumped into his front foot and tangled together. We landed in a heap on the carpet, me underneath, him on top.
It was an embarrassing position. To say the least.
Donald chuckled and Dolores grinned. For the first time I figured out where Dillon got the damnable, wonderful grin from. She said, “Oh dear. Did we come in too soon? Maybe you two need a bit more time to, umm, apologize to each other?”
Dillon, blushing, climbed off me and stood up. Despite the blush he had the temerity to grin jauntily back at his mom before sitting down on the sofa, his arms crossed and his eyes saying, “Yeah, what are you going to do about it?”
I got up myself, finally understanding what should have been obvious. That it just wasn't a big deal. I was still blushing too but managed to give a little grin to the adult Mastersons myself before sitting down on the couch beside Dillon. He immediately took my hand.
I suddenly remembered my forgotten manners, and blushed all over again. “Mrs. Masterson, Mr. Masterson, I owe you both an apology. I acted completely horribly. I was rude, insulting, and completely out of turn. I know it's not enough, but I'm sorry. To all of you.”
Mr. Masterson looked back at me with a small smile, but a calculating look in his eye. Mrs. Masterson nodded perfunctorily, as if this was only to be expected. She said, “Thank you Jeffrey. Apology accepted. We all understand,” she looked hard at Dillon while saying this, “that this is very difficult for you. But you're right. It's not quite enough. So this will be. When we get home, and you're coming with us today, you will have some chores to do as punishment for your language and disrespect. Not for your anger. That was only to be expected, and well within your rights. But anger must be controlled. You will be cleaning out the garage and taking the items I show you to the recycling centre.”
It was weird. When my dad or mom used to dole out punishment like this I always felt angry. Resentful. Like they were doing it just to make me mad, or get revenge on me. I didn't feel that way now. I felt like, well, like I deserved it. It somehow seemed just. I was almost relieved a little apology didn't get me off the hook.
Dillon was smirking slightly when Dolores finished, and she turned her wrath on him, “You, Dillon, for the smirk and the lack of respect, will be helping him,” she finished smartly.
Dillon's smirk vanished.
We looked at each, and both shrugged at the same time and smiled, a real smile this time.
Dolores looked at me again, “Jeffrey,” she said, her tone soft once again, “I know this is hard. Try not to worry about what we told you. About the need for more genetic diversity. You aren't being forced into anything here. Believe me, we have very strict laws about that kind of thing. Tomorrow, after you've had a chance to finish your chores and get a bit familiar with your new home, you and I will sit down and talk about this.”
I nodded, then it hit me. I was leaving this place. I was going back into the world! I was going to be outside for the first time in what seemed like forever. I felt suddenly elated. I felt like I was going on a new adventure. I felt, well, I felt something that had been unfamiliar to me for almost as long as I remember, but I did remember the name for it.
I felt excited.
Dillon's hand in my own as we stood up and walked out the door of the house only served to solidify this feeling.
I'm not sure what I had expected. We were in the Mastersons' car, driving west. Maybe watching too many science fiction movies had me imagining a scene out of Star Wars or the Jetsons or something. The car was obviously and recognizably a car. Oh sure, it was quite different in many ways, and very quiet, it obviously didn't run on gasoline, but it was a car just the same. I remembered when I first saw Dillon's clothes, and did the same kind of comparison. I imagined if a kid from the 1940's saw a car from my era. Sure, it would look different, but he would know exactly what it was as soon as he saw it. It was like that. Buildings were buildings, cars were cars, roads were roads, sidewalks were sidewalks. Some things were different, and weird. Many things were not. Mr. Masterson explained that not a lot of new buildings had been built since the Depopulation. There simply wasn't the need. There were so many buildings and so few people. Many of the buildings were built near the turn of the century, when I was frozen. They have been maintained since. There were some new ones though, and they were interesting.
We were on a freeway of some kind. Again, it was different, but it was a freeway. Or expressway, or whatever. Its purpose and function were obvious.
I was mulling over the experience of leaving the house. We had walked out of the front door and I had expected to find myself in the yard I viewed through the windows.
That's not what happened.
Instead, I was in a hallway. It was obvious what it was. It was a hospital hallway. I looked back through the doorway and saw the living room of the house. Then Mr. Masterson pressed a button beside the doorway and the house vanished, leaving a large, empty room except for the big furniture. Apparently that was real.
My jaw dropped. Holy shit! I knew exactly what that was. I had seen it on Star Trek enough times. It was a holodeck!
In my surprise, I said that aloud. “That whole thing was some kind of holodeck?! An illusion?”
Mr. Masterson looked surprised. “Well, yes, but how do you know about that? I didn't think they had been invented before you were frozen.”
Dillon was openly laughing, “Dad, you're the one who always harps on and on about knowing the lessons from history. How come I know this and you don't?”
Mr. Masterson smiled and shook his head, “Okay, out with it, Dillon.”
“They're called holodecks because the company that invented them named them after something from videos from Jeffrey's time. I'll bet that's where he knows them from.”
I nodded at his look.
“See. I knew it,” he said smugly to his dad, then he turned to me. “Dad programmed your house,” he said boastfully, obviously proud of his father. “He's the best software engineer in the city.”
His dad chuckled, “Well, I don't know about that. Besides,” he was still smiling but his eyes hardened, “it seems to me you made a few changes on your own young man.”
Dillon looked slightly abashed, then turned to me and shrugged as we exited the hospital and found their car in the parking lot.
As we drove, I looked over at the lake on the left and the buildings on the right, feeling a warm sense of familiarity. Then I saw the tall graceful tower reaching high up into the sky up ahead and I sat up straight with a shock of recognition. I knew exactly where we were. “I'm still in Toronto!” I said with a start.
Dillon looked over at me, “Well, yeah, where did you think we were?”
“I didn't know! Looking at the yard outside the windows of the house, I thought we were in the country somewhere. So where are we going? And why is there hardly any traffic?” I asked, used to the heavy bumper to bumper flow of cars in this area.
Mr. Masterson answered gently, “Remember Jeffrey, there're just not that many people anymore. From Hamilton to Oshawa, and everywhere in between, not to mention a hundred kilometers north, all put together there's a bit under a million people now.”
I blinked at this. I should have realized it, but wow. Seeing this, only now did it really sink in.
“Anyway,” continued Mr. Masterson, “we're going home. Our house is in Oakville.”
I really was going home. That's where I used to live with my parents.
As we pulled into a residential neighbourhood and eventually into a driveway I was again surprised. The house was just a house. It was fairly large, but nothing extravagant. The trees in the yards around us looked mature. Most of the houses around here, explained Mr. Masterson, were still pre-Depopulation, with a few exceptions. Though most of them had been upgraded with new solar roofs, better insulation, and of course, stylistic changes. It just didn't make sense to keep building more and more houses when there were so many more houses than people to fill them. Many whole neighbourhoods had been razed, turned back into farmland or given over to nature. Old neighbourhoods, like this one, had been extensively modernized, but most of those modernizations must have been behind the scenes, since it really did just look like any old neighbourhood.
I recognized the area. It wasn't all that far from where I used to live. I wondered if the shopping mall in between was still around.
The familiarity was reassuring. I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this wouldn't be quite as hard as I had thought.
I changed my mind almost right away once we got inside. Oh sure, the furniture was all pretty obvious and not that different really, again aside from all the stylistic stuff, but most of the appliances were completely unrecognizable. I figured out what must have been the fridge, and some kind of stove. Other than that, I was at a loss. I didn't see a TV anywhere, or a computer for that matter. I knew there must have been one somewhere though, because Dillon had been talking incessantly on the drive home about meeting all his friends on the 'net after we got home.
I was shown a bedroom, and drawers full of clothes that I was assured would fit me. I didn't bring anything from my “house,” since Dillon told me it would look totally weird if I wore those old fashioned clothes anywhere. I understood. The room was nice, but plain. Dolores told me that was intentional since she didn't know how I might like to decorate it.
I don't know anything about decorating, but figured maybe a few posters or something might be nice.
Then I saw Dillon's room. Forget posters. Apparently decoration involved some kind of projection equipment or maybe the entire walls were video screens. Every square inch of every wall and the ceiling and even part of the floor had artwork, what I guessed were music artists, sports figures, you name it. Part of one wall had some funky pattern at one end and a large square patch of wall next to it had text on it, scrolling slowly. No wonder I didn't see a computer or a TV; any spot anywhere seemed to available for a video screen.
It was very cool, or maybe I should say “freak,” to borrow what seemed to be Dillon's favorite word, but it was all a bit overwhelming.
Before I could even begin to explore though, we were marched into the garage to begin our chores.
Yep, some things never changed. Boxes were boxes. Dust was dust. Junk was junk.
I met with a tutor the very next morning. She was a friendly woman, quite young, maybe in her early twenties. Her name was Jenna. I was glad about this, I figured a younger tutor might be easier on me. I was corrected in my view of this within twenty minutes. Mrs. Masterson didn't mess around, neither with her own attitude or, it seemed, with the people she hired. I was grilled endlessly that morning in every area of education I had ever thought of, and several that I hadn't. Jenna's ongoing, “hmmm's,” at my answers, and her frowning all the time had me thinking I was some backwards child just out of the mountains somewhere. I figured the testing would never end, and I was convinced I would be starting kindergarten all over again in this place.
Fortunately, the grilling finally ended and Jenna gave me her first smile since she arrived and said hello. “Okay, Jeffrey. That wasn't so bad, was it? You have some pretty serious deficits, there's no doubt about it, but nothing we can't clear up with a few hundred hours of hard work.” My eyes widened at this, but she didn't give me a chance to interrupt. She continued, “Of course, some areas I'm actually impressed. You seem to have an incredibly thorough knowledge of the political events and popular trends in North America of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century,” she laughed, I think mostly to herself. “I guess that makes sense though. It's hardly history to you. Your math is woefully inadequate, even for your time. Your history is barely tolerable. And of course completely absent past the first decade of the century. Your English is passable, but your French is abysmal and you have no other languages? No?” I shook my head, and she continued, “Hmph. Your humanities, and socio-economic-psychology are completely nonexistent as far as I can tell.”
Well, of course they were, I thought, I had never even heard of whatever she said.
She stood up and I breathed a sigh of relief. A very short lived sigh of relief as she pulled out what I had already learned was some kind of electronic text book, like a Kindle I suppose, but you could work right on it. “Here's your homework for today. It should only take four hours or so. Maybe a bit more. I'll check it over by the time we meet tomorrow.”
She left without a further word and I sat there looking at the list appearing on the front of the homework thingy. Oh my god. I'd be lucky if it didn't take seven hours. Wasn't it supposed to be summer? Wasn't I supposed to have time to get used to this place first? I sighed and pressed my finger on the top entry. No time like the present I suppose. I frowned and got to it.
It was two hours later when Dillon pried me out of my chair. “C'mon Jeffrey, you can't work all day on that stuff. You need a break. Let's go play some street hockey or basketball or something.”
I was happy for the interruption, and halfway out of my chair until he mentioned sports. I froze, and just looked at him. I knew how it started. It always worked the same way. I didn't see any way out though, and I didn't want Dillon to feel bad, even though I knew what was coming.
I sucked at sports. I sucked at all sports. I couldn't bounce a ball, I could barely shoot a puck, and looked stupid doing it. I felt trapped. I would do my pathetic best, and pretend not to see the disappointed and disgusted look on Dillon's face, and the faces of any other kids that might be joining in. They would try and be polite. For a while. Then they would ignore me, and play around me. Then I would be watching from the side. Then I would go to my room while the game went on without me, and I would hear the comments through the window, asking Dillon why he invited that guy to play.
I don't know what my face looked like, if Dillon read something in it or not, but as we walked towards the garage he said, “You'll have to go easy. I really suck at most sports. Sorry. We'll just shoot the street hockey ball around and have some fun, all right? Then maybe a swim before you get back to your homework?”
I managed a smile at him, and he opened the garage door and we pulled a street hockey net out to the street along with a ball and a couple of sticks made out of some composite material I had never seen before.
It wasn't at all horrible. That was a relief. There was nobody else around to watch, just me and Dillon, until a little boy around seven or eight years old wandered by and asked if he could join in. Even I could hold my own against a little guy like that. Dillon obviously knew him. He said, “Hi,” told me his name was Ryan, gave him a stick, and we passed the ball around and shot at the net. But mostly we made dumb jokes, hammed it up, and ran around stupidly. Despite myself, I found I was having fun. After every goal they scored, Ryan and Dillon would yell out names that I'd never heard before, obviously contemporary hockey players. I started to do the same, using names from my own era, like Crosby, Forsberg, Ovechkin, Iginla, and the like. They thought that was hilarious, seeing as those names were ancient history to them.
After one goal that Dillon scored, off his elbow, accidentally, deflected off of Ryan's mile-wide shot, he raised his arms and yelled, “Woo Hoo! Carlson scores!! The Leafs win the cup for the first time in a hundred and twenty years!” and then he swooped in and kissed me.
I don't know which was more shocking. That the Leafs still hadn't won a damn thing or that Dillon kissed me right in front of Ryan, right out in the open in the middle of the street. Ryan, for his part, seemed utterly unfazed.
Later, as Dillon and I sat on his lawn chatting, after Ryan had wandered home, we had an interesting talk about that. Not about the Leafs. They still sucked apparently. About the kiss, and us, and being gay.
I had figured some of this out, but it was still a bit of a shock. I asked Dillon, “So your parents know you're gay?”
He looked at me with an odd puzzled look. “Well, yeah. They're my parents.” His expression was like I had asked him if his parents knew about that tiny little mole on his neck. Completely obvious, but utterly unimportant.
I shook my head at this. “You say that like it's absolutely nothing.”
Dillon's look of puzzlement increased. “Why should it be?”
“You must know, in my time, it was anything but. People got attacked for being gay. My parents hated me for being gay. I lost all my friends for being gay.” I looked away from his eyes and lowered my voice, “I killed myself, partly for being gay.” I looked down at the lawn.
Dillon shook his head at this. “I knew all of that from school, but to me it's like hearing about Roman gladiators. Just stories. Hearing it from you, well, it's just weird. It makes it real. And it seems so completely unlikely. Why in the world would anyone care if someone's gay or straight? What does that have to do with anything?”
I looked back up in his pretty eyes and just shook my head sadly, “As far as I could ever figure out, absolutely nothing at all.”
Dillon just looked at me. “Boy, you lived in a strange time.”
I just laughed and moved to stand up, “Yeah, I suppose I did. C'mon, I gotta hit the books again, or the ebook, or that ipad/Kindle thingy, or whatever you call it these days. I still have a lot to do.”
Dillon got up with me, gave me his grin at somewhere around 90%, smooched my cheek and walked in with his arm around my waist, “I'll help. Maybe it'll go faster.”
He was right. It did. It even made it fun.