The More Things Change...
Three weeks later I was seriously regretting my decision.
If I had known then what I know now, I would've laughed, said, “Yeah, right. Not a chance.” And that would have been that.
However, now I was committed. There were plans made, money spent, and people with expectations. It would be pretty hard to back out now.
It had taken a couple of days to get Mom M to grudgingly agree. Ricky stayed out of it, but I could tell by the looks he gave me when we talked that he was worried.
Dillon though was my biggest concern.
He wouldn't talk directly about my decision with me at all. Don't get me wrong, he was supportive. Probably too supportive. He helped with the planning, worked with me on practicing all the stuff my speaking coach had taught me, seemed to be looking forward to traveling, and tried his best to otherwise treat me the same.
But every time I would ask him what he thought, if it was a good idea, if he was really behind me on this, he would shrug, say, “It's too late to worry about that now,” and then he would change the subject.
Like I said, he was obviously trying to treat me the same, but I felt it. There was something. A barrier, an unspoken quarrel, that seemed to be brewing under the surface. Along with all the other stress, that had me worried. In fact, though I didn't tell him or anyone else that I was thinking this, it was actually my biggest worry.
It took me about ten minutes after our little meeting in the virtual reality pizza restaurant when it started to hit me. At first, I was just thinking about how cool this would all be, traveling, seeing stuff, helping to stick it to those horrible HfH guys. Then it struck me. The fact that I would have to be speaking in front of a huge room filled with eight thousand important people.
Now, I don't know if I've made this clear or not, but social confidence has never exactly been the strongest aspect of my personality. In fact, I'd have to say it was somewhat down the list. Really far down the list. Probably nothing-below-it far down the list. So I was mildly concerned.
No. Actually, I was scared shitless.
I hated it when I used to have to stand up in front of a classroom and talk. And that was usually just in front of a couple of dozen kids my age and the teacher. And even then I would mumble and cough and fill my talk with horrible “uh” and “ummm” and other random noise.
I knew that would never fly in this kind of setting. Especially in front of cameras.
Cameras. Oh fuck me. It wasn't just a room of eight thousand people – eight thousand of the most powerful people in North America.
This was going to get broadcast. To the entire continent.
Then I remembered what Ricky said, about how there might be world wide interest in this kind of thing.
That night, after our little meeting in the pizza place, I sat down on the edge of my bed and cupped my chin in my hands, elbows on knees, and stared at the floor. I was sweating by then, and I'm sure I was deathly pale. My heart was hammering, and I truly felt like I was going to throw up.
I stood up to go downstairs and tell Dad M that I'd changed my mind, that everyone else was right and this was a stupid idea
It almost worked too, but Dad M was excited. Even though Mom M hadn't actually given the okay yet, Dad M figured he'd better get the ball rolling. He was in the middle of a call to Bryce Markham when I knocked on the door frame of his office to tell him I wasn't going to do it.
He held up a finger to ask me to wait a second, and kept listening. Then I heard him say, “Now this is all up in the air right now, Dolores needs to give the go-ahead among other things, but you're right. This could be an incredible opportunity.” He listened for another few seconds, then said, “Yes, I think he's really looking forward to it.” Before I could shake my head and tell him how very, very wrong he was, he said, “Yes. In fact, he's standing right here. Here he is.”
He held out the receiver to me expectantly. I took the few steps towards his desk and took it out of his hand and put it to my ear.
I had to try twice, since the first time came out as a squeak, but then I managed a weak, “Hello?”
“Jeffrey?” I heard a deep voice say, “Your foster father has told me a lot about you over the past few weeks. I think you're a brave soul for agreeing to do this, and I really think it could be a great opportunity. Thank you. Thank you so much. We have a lot of work ahead of us. After Dolores gives the go-ahead I'll have my speech guy give you a call, and we can get the ball rolling. I'd like to sit down with you tomorrow too, after school, and we can talk. Make sure we're on the same page here. I need to learn more about you before this is set in stone. Can you come by with your Dad tomorrow? After supper?”
I think I must have stammered out some kind of agreement before handing the receiver back to Dad M. I then found myself back in my bedroom, sitting on my floor this time, leaning back against my bed, wondering if I could go back to my retro house with no doors, and just hide for a few years.
Dillon walked by my room, took one look inside at me sitting there, and stopped and came in. He stood in front of me and then without saying anything he sat down beside me and put his arm around my shoulders and kind of drew me into his chest in a hug.
We sat like that for several minutes. Then I managed to say, “I don't think I want to do this.”
He didn't answer for a minute, but then I felt him squeeze harder, and he said, “Then don't. It's really too much you know.”
I managed to get an arm free, and put it around his shoulders and hugged back. “Maybe I won't.”
He didn't say anything, but I could feel him nod slightly. I think he even relaxed slightly.
But my thoughts were swirling at light speed. Back and forth. My fears, my ongoing sense of foreignness, but along with that, my feelings and thoughts before my suicide attempt, and everything that happened today at school.
My voice was small. “I could help a lot of people though,” I said.
Dillon didn't answer. But I thought I could feel him tense up slightly. I wasn't sure. He kept hugging me.
“It's not fair, what he's doing. That Leon guy. He's as bad as...well...you probably wouldn't recognize the names, but there were a few people before I was frozen who talked the same way. Horrible.”
Dillon still didn't answer. His hands were moving on my back now. Soothing me.
“I was downstairs a few minutes ago you know,” I said. “Your dad was on the phone with Bryce Markham. I talked to him.”
Dillon stopped the back rub and pulled back slightly. He looked into my face, still not saying anything.
“I kind of agreed to meet him tomorrow. I don't know. I guess I'm going to do this.”
Dillon kept looking at me. I hated it that I couldn't read his expression. Then he drew me back into a hug, said, “Whatever you want,” and just as quickly stopped the hug, got to his feet, and after smiling back at me once, he left my room.
I felt cold without his arms around me.
We touched down in Washington D.C. amid a driving rain. With the weather outside the windows obscuring any real view I turned and looked beside me instead. Dillon was smiling. He squeezed my hand when he saw me looking at him. I knew he was looking forward to our little trip as much as I had been, and yet nothing had changed since that day in September. He was just as supportive as ever, but there seemed to be a growing distance between us.
We didn't talk about it.
When you can't talk about something with someone close to you, it puts up walls. Barriers. You both work hard to pretend otherwise, to try and talk about everything else as if the subject wasn't there. But you both know it is there.
I wish I understood it better. I just really hoped after we were home in a few days and this was all over with that we could put it behind us. I missed the Dillon I had come to rely on, the Dillon I could talk to and express my confusion and fear about this strange world I found myself in, the Dillon who didn't judge me.
The plane rolled to a stop and people began standing up and gathering up their things. I tried to put it out of my mind, and instead focus on what was coming.
We were supposed to head to our hotel, get ourselves settled, and then spend the rest of the day sightseeing at all the usual touristy places. The weather kind of changed our plans a bit. Dad and Mom M thought we could head for a late lunch instead after we checked in at the hotel, and then decide what our plans were going to be for the rest of the day. There were still plenty of indoor things to see after all.
Dillon and I were sharing a hotel room. This had surprised me when Mom M had told us. We had strict rules at home about when and how we were allowed in each others' rooms. She had expressed her thoughts when I first moved in about my relationship with Dillon and what she would and wouldn't allow under their roof.
I remember being embarrassed and somewhat shocked by the detail and bluntness of her explanation.
As a result of these limits, and the limits that Dillon and I had set for ourselves, our physical relationship hadn't changed much since the summer. We had gone as far as exchanging hand-jobs, but that was it. Neither of us seemed willing to make any move to take it any further. And the unspoken issues between us the past few weeks certainly hadn't helped.
I think that surprised me, for a while, that Dillon and I weren't shagging ourselves silly every night. After the first couple of weeks of getting home I had kind of gotten used to the openness here. The easy way people talked about sex and relationships and being gay, and all that. I had assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that everyone would be a lot more physical with each other, willing to go further sexually, sooner in their relationships and at younger ages.
It wasn't like that though. Sure people talked about it easily. But they certainly weren't publicly demonstrative about their physical relationships. Other than hand holding, hugging, and some fairly innocuous kissing I hadn't seen much in the way of public displays of affection.
Listening to the kids at school, and watching video programs was a bit different too.
I mean, teenagers were teenagers, so of course they were getting it on. And of course they were talking about it. But it was a bit different. The open discussion of sex and relationships and how it affected people didn't have the effect of making everyone, especially kids, jump into bed and fuck like rabbits. It actually seemed to have the opposite effect. I was surprised.
I was surprised with my own unwillingness to go further with Dillon too. I had figured, before my suicide attempt, that if I had ever managed to find a boyfriend that I would be doing every dirty deed I could think of and had read about in no time at all. But it didn't turn out that way. We seemed to get more of a kick out of endless kissing and hugging than anything else, well, and some rather serious groping, and I could tell Dillon wasn't any more eager, or feeling any pressure, to go any further either.
And then, just when I thought that things might progress a bit further physically, this thing came between us. This disagreement, or whatever it was. He just didn't want me to do this. This speech thing. I didn't really know why. I mean, I kind of did. He didn't like the idea of me of letting the entire world know about me. He worried that it would be harder to adjust. Harder to fit in at school and to make friends. He worried that all the excitement and stress and stuff would hurt me or change me or something.
Okay, so I guess I did know. But maybe that's why I was frustrated. It felt like he didn't think I could handle it. It felt like he didn't trust me. And that hurt.
So this sharing of a room was a bit of a surprise. I wasn't at all sure what Mom M was thinking when she made the decision. I mean, I'm sure she had picked up on the change our relationship. So I had to wonder.
Dillon pressed his thumb to the pad beside the number 1803 and the door to our room clicked open. He walked in, me behind him, and then we both stopped and looked around.
A hotel room is a hotel room. I don't care if the year is 1887, 1987, or 2087. You'd know what it was in two seconds of looking at it.
There were two beds.
I was standing there, holding my suitcase, my eyes looking back and forth between them.
I didn't know what to do.
I glanced over at Dillon. I caught him doing the same, then looking down at his feet.
This was stupid.
I was getting a bit angry. At me. At Dillon. At this whole stupid thing between us. Mostly at how we weren't talking about it.
I mean, here and now everyone seemed willing to talk about almost anything easily. Way more than I was used to anyway. And yet, there it was.
Like I said, I was getting a bit angry. Never a good thing for me. I fought it down though, just enough, and dropped my suitcase on the floor.
I turned towards Dillon and crossed my arms. “This is stupid! This not talking about stuff. About us. About you being pissed off I'm doing this speech. About how we can't seem to talk about a bunch of other stuff because of it. And now, this. It's stupid, and I don't like it. There's two beds.” I pointed at the far one, “I'm taking that one. We can talk, and then figure out if you're taking that one too. With me. Or we can just go to lunch with your parents.”
I picked up my suitcase again and tossed it on the stand at the foot of the chosen bed and then plopped myself down on the bed. My arms crossed themselves again, my feet too, and I lay there looking at Dillon. Waiting. Wondering what he'd do.
Scared about what he would do.
Dillon was looking back at me. His mouth a straight thin line. His eyes set.
I honestly thought he was about to turn around and walk out to meet his parents without a word.
I even saw his shoulders and feet twitch. I'm sure he was thinking about it.
He didn't do that though. Instead, he dropped his own suitcase, looked at his feet, at me, then at his feet again.
But he did start talking.
“I hate this, Jeff. I hate that you're doing this. I hate that Dad thinks it's a good idea, and that Mom is going along with it. I hate that your brother is too.”
He was still standing where he dropped the suitcase, but now at least he was looking at me.
“Why, Dillon? Talk. Tell me why you hate it so much.” I said, my voice barely audible over the hum of the air vent.
Dillon walked over to the bed, my bed, and sat down facing me, one leg curled underneath his butt and the other one still on the floor. “Because I'm a selfish jerk.”
I frowned in surprise. I wasn't expecting him to say that at all. “What? Why...I mean, I don't get it.”
Dillon wasn't looking at me. “The reason we're not talking about this. It's my fault. It's because I'm a selfish jerk. I'm being a stupid immature kid. And I hate it. And I hate that you're not. And I hate that I'm dealing with it by avoiding it. And that makes me avoid it. So I hate it more.” His voice was rising, and I heard his breath catch, though there weren't any tears yet. That was good. I knew if he started crying that I wouldn't be far behind.
“I thought you were mad at me,” I said softly.
He glanced up at me. “I am. Well. Kinda. I mean, I'm not really mad at you. I'm mad that you're doing this because...” He stopped and looked down at his hands. Now there were tears. Big ones. Rolling down his cheeks and off his chin and onto his hands.
I sat up, but I didn't move closer to him. I wasn't sure if he wanted that. “Because why?”
Dillon looked at me again. I could see the tears clearly now. “I don't know! I'm just worried. I'm worried this will change you. I'm worried I'll lose you somehow. I'm worried you'll get all involved in this stuff, you know, politics, and forget all about some immature kid who thinks politics is boring. See? Like I said. Selfish.”
I was flabbergasted. I mean, I knew some of this, but this, I didn't expect.
I opened my mouth to answer, but he beat me to it. He said, “Something is wrong with all this. I'm just worried. I don't know why. And it's all too late now.”
I shook my head. He knew everything about how the world works these days. I knew nothing. I was constantly looking to him for advice, for how to act, for answers. I felt like I was confused three quarters of the time, and befuddled the rest. He was the one who was confident. Self assured. Cocky.
I was just doing this because I kind of thought it would be fun. Thought maybe it would be a good way to tell those fucking HfH bigots to stick it, and then, after I changed my mind, it was too late. I felt pressured into doing it.
I shifted, moved towards Dillon a bit. Waiting to see if he would move away. He didn't so I moved the rest of the way and reached out, took him in my arms, and pulled him into me.
He wasn't crying. Not really, though tears were falling. I noticed a few of my own too. I said, quietly, into his ear, “I thought you were mad at me. I thought you thought I was being impulsive. Stupid. Immature. I thought you didn't want to deal with that.”
I felt him move, kind of shudder. It felt like crying but then I looked at his face. He was laughing. “You're kidding right? You thought I was being mature?”
I smiled. “Well. Yeah.”
He shook his head. “Don't you see? Before you came along I was just some average fifteen year old kid. Trying to go to school and make friends and figure out why I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Just trying to do all that, and maybe find a boyfriend and maybe eventually have sex.” He blushed slightly. It was cute. He was always cute though. “Then Mom tells me about you. About how she was assigned to help with your untangling, and how she and Dad wanted to do more, to be foster parents. They asked me what I thought.
“Then I watched you, though I wasn't supposed to. Sorry 'bout that. And, well, you just seemed so...exotic. I kind of got infatuated. Then I found out about what you went through. I learned about what things were like back then, and what you had to deal with.
“I felt like I had it so easy so far, in my life. That you probably knew so much more about stuff. About life. How to deal with things. Challenges. I felt like some stupid kid compared to everything you knew, and saw, and dealt with.
“But, you liked me. I didn't want to question that. So I didn't. I just went along with it. And enjoyed it.”
Dillon stopped looking at me again. “I knew the truth though. I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. As soon as you met more kids and started feeling like you knew how stuff worked these days, then I'd be history. You'd figure out that I was just some bratty spoiled kid that didn't have a clue about the world and everything. And then you'd move on. You'd still be nice to me, your silly naďve foster brother, but you'd see that I wasn't anything close to boyfriend material.”
I looked at Dillon. I tried to figure out how to answer. How to tell him how stupid he was being. How wrong he was.
“Dillon, I...” I faltered. How to tell him? How to explain that he was wrong? That he was never immature. Silly, sure. Impulsive, yes. Hilarious, all the time. But never immature. He was wiser than any teenager I had ever met in my previous life. More self-aware and grounded, more knowledgeable. And kind, and warm, and cute, and funny. And he wanted to learn everything. About the world, and me, and how things used to be, and what was better, and what was worse.
And he always wanted to know more. How to be a better person. How to make sure he was doing the best thing. The right thing.
Fuck, no. Just the opposite.
So, I figured it out. I figured out how to tell him. I figured out how I would clearly and succinctly explain that he was being foolish. This is what I said, and what I did:
I held his shoulders in my hands, sitting there on that hotel bed in a strange city.
“Dillon,” I said, “You're an idiot.”
Then I pulled him to me and kissed him. Hard. I tried to put as much passion, and feeling, and emotion, as I knew how to do into it. I tried to tell him everything, with that kiss. I tried hard.
It took some time. A few seconds. But I think it worked. I know it worked. I could feel his tension leave him. I could feel him relax in my arms. I felt how his arms encircled me, and he leaned into the kiss, and how he put his own love and passion into it. I could hear what he was saying too.
Ten minutes later, a bit flushed and still breathless, we met Mom and Dad M at the elevators on the main floor.
Mom M looked at us. She raised her eyebrows slightly as she studied our faces, and glanced at our entwined hands. I don't know why. We always held hands. It didn't feel any different from usual.“Good. Now maybe we can all have some fun here. Let's go eat,” Mom M said, and then she led the way into the restaurant.