“What is that smell?” my mother covered her mouth and rolled her window up just a touch.
“It's cow shit, sweetheart,” my mother's boyfriend muttered.
“Earl, language, honey,” my mother rooted in her purse and pulled out a tube of lipstick, and then pulled down the visor and used the mirror to begin applying the bright red paste. We were driving through farmland, large fields with occasional trees and in the distance, mountains. The last house had been ages ago it seemed, and my hope of any internet connection had died about the time asphalt had run out and the dirt roads had started. All I really knew is that we were going to spend some time with my maternal grandmother. I had never met her, and the only reason we were going was because my mother wanted to suck up before she died. In fact the way my mother talked, I think she was hoping it would happen while we were there.
“She used to have this china set to die for, using it at formal events would be just wonderful,” she touched Earl's arm. “Oh, and the silverware was a quality you just can't get anymore.”
My grandfather had died almost a year ago; Six weeks ago Aunt Gabriella had called to say that grandma was going downhill fast. I'd tried to get out of it and stay with my father, but he was going to be out of town on business for a few weeks and couldn't take me along. Even hotels would have been better than this.
“Quinlan Thomas, that cloud over your head had best dissipate awful soon.” Mother glared briefly at me via the mirror in the visor before flipping it back into place. I rolled my eyes and wished the charge hadn't run out on my ipod.
“Oh good Lord will you...that horse is just...right out there in front of God and everybody!” My mother was always very proper, or pretended to be.
The countryside whipped by, something I wasn't really used to I guess. We lived in a subdivision and all the houses were regulated by a homeowners' association. Everyone had to have things approved before doing them, all lawns to be mowed once a week and only during certain hours; all they really needed were soviet stars on the houses, according to Earl. I never called him Dad, just Earl, which didn't seem to bother Earl much, in truth. Not that he was so bad, we'd only been living with him about six months and that was because my dad was so busy, otherwise I'd try to live with him. Mother was always suggesting I get used to the idea of calling Earl 'dad'.
“Oh, there Earl, right there, see the driveway?” she asked brightly. Earls response was to put his blinker on. I felt for him, a bit. This long in a car with my mother was enough to try anyone, but once we got there he still had to stick with her.
“Earl, pull over a second, I just want to make sure I look all right before we arrive,” she pulled down the visor again and began checking her face, as if her makeup could have changed drastically in the fifteen minutes since she last checked it. It was moments like this that I hated, that seemed to last eons. I watched her fuss and primp, Earl looked bored and grunted replies to my mothers queries about how she looked. Finally the car began to roll forward and I wasn't sure if I should feel relieved that she was done, for now, or that we were almost there. Given that I was a stranger to these people and vice-versa I wasn't convinced journey's end was such a great thing.
The driveway was similar to those you'd see in a Spielberg movie; white split rail fence lining the drive with huge shade trees overhanging the road creating a natural tunnel. When the foliage parted the house came into view, a large two story white structure. It was hard to believe my mother was raised here. More than hard to believe, in fact.
As we pulled up in a cloud of dust I took in the house in greater detail. A large covered porch ran across the front of the house and around the left side out of view. There was a circular spire or something to the right with a conical top and just below that was a stained glass window. The lawn was a vibrant green, and then I noticed a woman watering the lawn near the house. She was a large woman wearing a pink housecoat and slippers, a cigarette dangled from her lip with what looked like a mile of ash on it. She had a coffee cup in one hand and a pistol type nozzle which she waved over the green grass.
“Quinlan,” his mother sighed dramatically, “That is your Aunt Gabriella. Take a good look and thank your lucky stars you have Earl and your Mother to guide you.” She shouldered her purse strap, “Smiles on!”
The doors popped open on the car and my mother waited for Earl to come around the car and walk beside her before proceeding, with me trailing behind her. We stopped a few feet away from Aunt Gabriella, who arched an eyebrow.
“Well, hello Gabriella. I don't think...” I recognized my mother's standard opening to introduce Earl and myself, which Aunt Gabriella wasn't going to hear. My mother suddenly stopped speaking and began shrieking as Aunt Gabriella turned the hose on her and began to thoroughly wash her down. I managed to skip off out of the line of fire with no more than a few drops hitting me.
“Gabriella! Stop it, what's the matter with you! Gabriella!” I felt a smile for the first time since my father told me he couldn't take me with him. The water stopped and my mother looked like a drowned rat, and mad as hell. Earl had, wisely, stepped a few feet away when the water'd flown.
“Gabriella! What is the big idea?” She glared daggers at her sister. Aunt Gabriella sucked in a big puff, leaving the entire cigarette a column of ash, exhaled a gray cloud of smoke and smiled at my mother.
“I was just wondering if you ever started wearing a bra, thought it would be impolite to ask.”
I felt the giggles hitting me hard and had to fight to control them, my mother would have my ass if I laughed now. Fortunately nothing could be heard over Aunt Gabriella's own laughter. Mother made a precise turn to glare at me and and spoke through gritted teeth.
“Get your things from the car, now. Wait inside. Don't,” she raised a finger for emphasis, “Touch anything.”
“We could put 'im in the barn, if you don't trust 'im on his own,” Aunt Gabriella commented, snorting at her own joke, and turned back to her watering.
“You...you...ingrate!” my mother snorted in anger and stomped towards the house.
I headed back to the car, keeping an eye on my aunt in case she decided I needed a soaking too, and popped the trunk. Two suitcases belonged to me, the old type without wheels or extended handles. I pulled them out and closed the trunk lid. I jumped back, making an awkward choking sound as the lowering of the trunk lid revealed my aunt. She lit a new stick and inhaled, then set her coffee cup down on the trunk. A cloud of smoke swirled around her head, slowly moving off – but before it had dissipated she'd released another locomotive-like belch of smoke.
“What are you, sixteen?”
“Almost.” I replied cautiously.
She sipped from her cup and dragged on her cigarette again, her eyes never leaving me. “Christ.”
I reached for my suit cases and looked at my aunt, more or less in the eye. The cloud made that questionable. “No, Quinlan.” I struck off to the door I'd seen my mother use and tried to step quickly – before my aunt got back to the hose. I took the steps up to the porch as fast as I could manage and then nudged open the not-quite-closed front door. The hallway I found myself in was a big contrast to the outside. I'd expected it to look very countrified with wide wooden floorboards, white wainscoting and small tables with doilies on them all wrapped in a narrow hallway.
Instead the floor was dark hardwood with bright oriental carpet runners. The wainscoting came to about the top of my head, a good five foot six, and was a rich dark cherry. There were no small tables and not a doily in sight – but there was a staircase right in the middle of the hall with the same dark wood and above me was a sparkling chandelier – crystal or well cut glass. In fact this entrance was nothing short of impressive.
A side door, also done in the same dark wood, opened and my mother strode out. It was obvious she'd tried to put herself right and, make-up wise, she had. But the dress was still pretty wet and her hair was bound to make her miserable. She caught sight of me and frowned.
“Can you believe you're related to that woman? Now don't you go picking up any of her bad habits, you hear?” She reached out and smoothed my unruly black hair – she claimed to not know why it was so thick and difficult to tame. “Let's go meet your grand-mama – smiles on!” So saying she put a hand on my shoulder and steered me into a sitting room, bags and all.
Stately. That's what I thought as my eyes swept the room. It was the kind of room they might show on TV when foreign dignitaries met, or powerful businessmen had cigars and brandy while settling the fate of the world. The furniture had wood trim, a thick oriental carpet covered the center of the room and on either side opposing one another was an oxblood leather couch and matching high backed chairs complete with copper rivet-heads at the seams. Earl was comfortably ensconced in one and on the sofa was a very well put together woman who didn't look anything like her 'time was close' or that she was 'going downhill'.
“Mama, may I present your grandson, Quinlan Thomas.” My mother nudged me forward as she moved to go take the chair next to Earl. I approached slowly, knowing my mother would expect me to reflect well on her.
“My dear Quinlan, do put down your bags and sit with me a moment, won't you?” Her voice was smooth, warm and made me think she was cultured and wise. I set my bags down and sat next to her on the couch, which sighed under me. She placed a hand over mine and smiled warmly. “Such a handsome young man. Tell me, how old are you?”
“Fifteen, almost sixteen.” I replied. My mother coughed and I hastily added, “Uh, Ma'am.”
“My, my, so old as that?” An eyebrow arched at my mother. “Quinlan, my darling, your room is at the top of the stairs. Turn right and it will be the second door. Why don't you take your bags up, dear?”
I glanced at my mother who made shooing motions coupled with an uncomfortable, sickly smile. I stood uncertainly and slowly retrieved my bags. Something wasn't right here, I just couldn't put my finger on it. I walked out into the hall and glanced at the stairs. Steps echoed, a slight squeak mixed in that announced an athletic shoe. A girl appeared on the right side of the staircase in the sneakers I'd surmised and a sundress. Her hair was pulled back and tied behind her, a deep golden brown, and a flurry of freckles danced across her nose.
“You must be the undiscovered grandson.” She said, one corner of her mouth quirking up. “That's what grand-mama calls you.”
I remained mute to this observation, unsure what I should say. She tilted her head slightly and then straightened up, giving a quick shake to herself.
“Sorry, I'm Kelly.” She smiled.
“So...cousin...how about I lead you to your room?”
“Okay. Uh, yes, please.” I hefted my bags and followed her up the central staircase, with thick dark wood spindles and a deep carpet covering the stairs. At the top there was a center door flanked by two others set into the corners at either side. A quick glance and I saw that past each of those doors the hall continued at a right angle towards the front of the house. It was towards that last, or second door, on the right that my cousin led me.
She opened it ahead of me and – I hated to admit that I was sounding like a tourist – but the room was spacious, filled with dark wood and the wall immediately to my left as I entered was dominated by a large bed, complete with four very solid looking posters. In fact, I'd call them square pillars.
“So what do you think?” she asked while throwing herself onto a cushion that covered a bench built into the wall in front of the window. Glancing towards her I noted the curve of the wall and realized that this corner had the turret like area I'd seen from the outside. A small spiral staircase stood in the center and went up to, I assumed, the space with the stained glass window.
“Impressive.” I replied, setting my bags on the bed.
“It is very nice,” she agreed. “How long will you stay for?”
“I'm not sure,” I replied without meeting her eyes. “Mother didn't say.”
“Well,” she jumped up, “The dresser there is yours, of course, and this door leads to the closet and bathroom.” She walked past the foot of my bed and to the far left hand wall, opening a door that revealed a shallow space and a second door. “Come on.”
I walked over to her, my eyes still wandering and trying to absorb the very nice room. Crossing the threshold to the closet I saw that it was to my right, and as deep as the bedroom. The second door opened into the bathroom, which meant that the closet was sandwiched between the bathroom and the bedroom.
“This bathroom is shared, but no one is in that bedroom.”
“I'd imagine my par – I mean my mother and Earl would be in there.”
“Likely, although...” her nose wrinkled as she frowned in thought.
“Well, it's probably nothing but...I saw you all get out of the car and I noticed...why are you the only one with bags?”
That was a very good question. No, no, no! She was not doing this again! I turned and hurried back down the hall and to the head of the stairs. Unintelligible voices floated out of the room I'd left the others in. I took the stairs two at a time and burst through the door. Three sets of surprised faces looked up. My mother brushed her skirt out and stood nervously.
“Well mama, it's a long ride but we thought it would be a great opportunity for Quinlan to get to know you,” my mother simpered as she leaned a bit over the empty space between the seating areas. “Quinn is such a handful that we never did get a honeymoon – oh! And I'll be enrolling in a six week course this summer!”
“But you're not married!” I blurted.
“Now don't you go on so!” My mother approached, her face a snarl that smoothed with a few nervous glances at my grandmother. “You know Earl and I, we need some time together honey. Once I get done with my education we can send for you!”
“Must be some old, bold whores out there to teach you anything.”
“Gabriella, hold your tongue please.” My grandmother smiled grimly at my aunt, who had appeared in the doorway behind me, and then turned to face my mother who was smoldering at her sister. “Estelle, I'm ashamed of you, dear. Go,” she waved her hand at my mother and Earl. “Go, do whatever it is that you think it is you must do.”
“But Mama,” my mother plastered fake smile #4 in place, but my grandmother cut her off.
“Estelle, I said to go. Quinlan will be fine until you get back,” she stood and placed her arm on my shoulders, “And I'll still be breathing. Go.”
I was stunned. My mother and Earl left quickly, my mother trying to admonish me to be good and my grandmother shooing her off once more. I tried to stop her, to ask why she was doing this again. She just lifted her hands, waiving me off and telling me to be good and that she'd call. In minutes they were gone. My grandmother sat back down and gestured me to do the same. I noted my aunt leaning on one of the chairs, coffee cup dangling in her hand. I looked uncertainly back and forth between them and my grandmother smiled again, putting a hand on the side of my face.
“Well, Quinlan. We have the entire summer to get to know one another. Tell me, do you think you take more after your mother or your father?”
“My father, ma'am.” The whole summer? I'd just been dumped. Again. And what made it worse was I should have seen it coming.
“Oh that's good. That's very good. Your cousin, Kelly, should be haunting these halls somewhere. And I'm not sure you were introduced to your Aunt Gabriella,” she placed a hand over mine, “We're very glad you're here.”
My aunt snorted.
“Yes, Gabriella?” My grandmother raised an eyebrow.
“Come on.” She grunted.
She headed out of the room and I stood uncertainly. It all felt surreal. I knew that my mom intended for us to stay here for some time, probably to stake a claim to whatever her mom might leave behind when she passed – but I didn't expect this. You'd think I'd suspect these things a lot sooner, given how many times she'd done it. I followed my aunt, feeling like a zombie, past the stairs and to a door hidden behind them that led to a large kitchen.
“Sit. You're a boy, so you must be hungry.” She pointed to a small table and chair set to the right. Windows wrapped around the area making it a bright spot to eat, and in other circumstances I might have even liked it.
“Oh, come on. Cheer up, it's not the last time a woman will dump you.” My aunt grumped.
“Mom. Remember when we had that talk about empathy? Go away, I'll make him a sandwich – not everyone likes ash in their food.” Kelly strode in and slid past her mother to the fridge and began drawing out food. I think my mouth was open, I'd never talk to my mother like that – not and keep a full set of teeth!
“Roast beef? Turkey?” She leaned back from the fridge and looked at me.
“Uh, I don't eat meat.”
“Grilled cheese it is.”
Lunch was quick, with Kelly having a snack and keeping up a light patter of conversation. I couldn't believe this girl was my aunt's daughter – this apple not only didn't fall close to the tree, it rolled down the hill and across the valley. Once done, she helped me put my things away and then suggested we go for a walk. There were a lot of trees on the property and she told me once upon a time it had been a working ranch of some kind, but that was long gone and done. I spotted other homes through the trees, but no one could claim to be right on top of their neighbor.
We came upon a stream and a huge rock with a flat top to it, and here Kelly sat down and stretched. “The rock's still warm,” she commented.
I sat beside her, feeling the warmth of my seat and the dying rays of the sun. The wind stirred, hesitant and fleeting.
“So, cousin, tell me about yourself.”
“I'm not all that into talking about myself.” I replied, avoiding eye contact. I scanned my surroundings, watching the water pass us by; bouncing over stones and other outcroppings.
“Well, I wasn't thinking of a biography or anything, but we're family and we don't know anything about each other.” I glanced at her and she grinned, “How about an information exchange? Question for a question?”
“I already know a lot about you,” I turned to face her, “People tell you less with their mouths than they do with their actions.”
“Oh? Do tell,” she sat up and planted her chin on her fists.
I glanced back out to the water. “I can tell you're nothing like your mother, maybe a bit like your grandmother. You're empathetic but curious.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“Neither. Both. Depends on how you think.”
“Deep,” she giggled. “What else?”
I shook my head, “I'm not a therapist.”
“Oh, I don't know. Anyone you can bounce ideas off of or who can give you a friendly shoulder can be a therapist.”
“I don't think I've done either of those things.”
“I'm bouncing things off you now, finding the cracks in your armor,” she giggled. I smirked at her, it was hard not to like her. “What have you observed about yourself?”
“That my observations are best kept to myself.” I glanced at her and then back out to the water, the trees and the heights in the distance.
“That sounds lonely.”
I had no answer to that, and saw no sense in confirming the truth. Instead I waited until I was safely in my room that night and pulled out a pocket sized note pad. It was nearly new with just a few things in the crisp pages, but now I added a fresh line.
Never trust mother again.
The first few days were filled with minutiae that I'd imagine most people experience in a new place – I'd certainly done it often enough. First there was the routine of whomever you now lived with. My grandmother was up early and tended to like to have tea in the mid-afternoon. She liked company and for someone to take tea with her and discuss nothing of importance. I have a feeling it was a relaxing ritual to her, a way to gain balance and it seemed effective.
My aunt was a never ending stream of off color, generally amusing observations well ladled with a gravy of sourpuss. Her smoking was so constant that you might have thought she was smoldering at any given moment. As the days went by the bite came out of her words, at least towards me.
My cousin, Kelly, was an unexpected find. She didn't mind that I wasn't forthcoming about myself. She didn't mind if I just listened to her. She enjoyed just having someone around, I think. We, or she, had talked about a great many things – that there was no cell coverage until you got into town. That she was hopeful we'd get the internet installed since there were two tech starved teens in the house.
The house had a schedule too. The breakfast room was always nice for a light meal and no one gave me any issues or questions about not eating meat. The sunshine through the six by three panes of glass made the table area warm and bright, and the kitchen frequently shared good smells with the adjacent spaces. The study was lined with bookshelves, although many of the books were dreadfully boring. Apparently my grandfather had been a lawyer and then a judge and a great many of his books were still on the walls and dealt with jurisprudence.
Still the library was a warm room with the same cherry paneling as the hallway, and contained a small reading area as well as a large carved desk. The chair had a straight back and was very similar to its cousins in the parlor where I'd last seen my mother, but its cushions were considerably thicker and its backrest formed a curved wrap-around effect that came past one's face. I found the blinder effect to be comforting and it helped to block out the world as I read.
My grandmother claimed it was good to see the study in use again, as there hadn't been much call for it since my grandfather had passed. Overall I was content enough, and since my mother would come back for me, I wasn't all that concerned with making friends or meeting anyone since I'd just have to say goodbye at the end of the summer.
I also followed my own routine, which included brisk walks or jogging in the morning before showering and having breakfast. My father, my mother would remind me, had acquired a 'beer belly' and she had pounded it into my head that no one likes that. Although I realized that my mother was manipulating me, I couldn't help but notice the empirical evidence I was surrounded by. When was the last time someone with a gut was considered a sex symbol?
I had added to my notebook, simple things as reminders. Don't get too close. This one I had to keep writing because, let's face it, I'm human and still felt the need to belong.
As it happened a few days later I was sitting in the chair and reading when my cousin stepped in and asked if I'd go to the store to get groceries. Despite my not minding the quiet, I decided that seeing something of the town wouldn't be a bad thing, and besides they could probably use some help to carry bags – not to mention I'd like to try and get a few things I liked to eat.
We climbed into a pick up truck and trundled down the driveway and over some bumpy roads, the truck squeaking with each one. My cousin happily kept us from lapsing too deeply into silence, in fact I had been distracted enough not to realize until we'd reached the store that my aunt was still in a house dress and open backed slippers. I cringed inwardly, but again – I wasn't here to make friends so it didn't matter who I was seen with or what they wore.
We'd parked on the side of the building, which was made of painted cinder block with the store name on it. The sidewalk had some foot traffic, people coming from small shops or sitting on benches to await friends or the bus I guess. A man in a trench coat, buckled severely at his waist, went from shop window to shop window, winding his way down the street. A small cafe was doing brisk business with tables on the sidewalk filled with customers enjoying the day. All this observation was interrupted by my cousin nudging me.
“So? What do you think?”
“I'm sorry, I wasn't listening. What did you say?”
“What a surprise, another boy that blocks me out.”
“Get used to it, the only time a man hears is when you say dinner or sex.” My aunt observed.
“I was just looking around, it wasn't intentional.” I said in my defense.
“And I didn't say anything about dinner or sex!” Kelly laughed.
We entered the store and my aunt grabbed a cart while Kelly snagged a basket. “Quin, lets go get you some vegetarian stuff.”
Kelly and I wandered the store while I picked out some vegetables and fresh fruit, as well as beans and other items I felt all right eating. In the course of our wandering Kelly had discovered that I could make a meatless chili and asked me to do so.
“So, Quin...man of few words and endless mystery...” Kelly beamed at me.
“You're going to ask me about myself again, aren't you?” I stated. There was no real question, in fact she enjoyed using words like 'enigma' and 'unknown' when speaking of me.
“Well, I'm curious. Why are you a vegetarian?”
“I don't think anything should have to die so that I can live,” I shrugged. “I can eat, and eat well, without causing anything else to suffer.”
“I can see that.” She nodded, “I guess seeing it in the store kind of desensitizes you to it, so you don't really think about where it comes from.”
“My mother once dated a guy that worked at a meat processing plant. I can't forget.”
Walking up the aisle with the bags of beans we came upon a guy our age stocking the shelves. He had on the store colors, khaki pants that fit well and a white button-up shirt and tie. He wore a plain white undershirt which both enhanced and hid his physique. His red hair was cropped short and his pale blue eyes were warm as he greeted Kelly.
His hand extended to me and I realized that names may have been exchanged while I had been examining him. I put my hand out, allowing Kelly to make introductions.
“And this is my cousin Quinlan.”
“Nice to meet you,” the clerk said with a polite smile. Under his shirt there was a lump, the indistinct outline of a pendant of some sort looped around his neck.
“And you,” I replied.
“You moving here or...?”
Oh I hate that, such a pet peeve of mine that dangling 'or' – an unfinished question that was usually attached to something simple. Like 'Would you like the receipt in the bag or...? Loathe it. I smiled.
“I'm here for the summer, visiting my grandmother.”
“And me!” Kelly pushed on my shoulder.
“Yes,” I allowed a small smile, “And my cousin.”
“Oh, okay.” He stood awkwardly, his eyes shifting from Kelly to me and then back at his feet.
“Kevin's dad is the coach of the summer league soccer team and is, ahem, very involved in his kids' lives.” Kelly smiled sweetly.
“Thanks, Kel, you almost made it sound like a good thing,” Kevin chuckled ruefully. “Mine are kind of like helicopter parents except worse.”
“Yeah – they search rooms randomly for whatever they are crusading about that week. I come in and stuff is all moved around. They monitor phones, computers and stuff. Dad even put a keystroke recorder on the computer to spy when he wasn't there.” He gave an embarrassed but very cute smile, “One time I came home all my Transformers were gone.”
“Kev's mom likes to remind him that he's the only Kevin they'll ever have.”
“Okay then.” I smiled. What a difference from the parenting style of my mother – almost complete opposites.
“Well, we should...” Kelly touched my arm and started to turn us back towards our task when Kevin cut her off.
“Uh, so do you play any sports?” He asked haltingly. “Because, you know, that soccer team Kelly mentioned? That is still trying to...um...fill out.”
Well, crap. I was now torn and kicking myself for going out in public. On the one hand the right answer was probably to say no, but the part of me that was currently doing my thinking was strongly lobbying for a yes. There didn't seem to be any way this could turn out well and my brain was about to wrest control of my internal discussion when my cousin opened her mouth.
“Quin loves to run, I'm sure he'd be an asset on a soccer team.”
“Um, cool,” his face slowly moved to match his hair color. “My father, he's the coach. Uh, he has some forms in his office, let me run back and grab one.”
“Hm,” Kelly mused at his retreating form. I merely raised an eyebrow in her direction.
“If I'm forced to do this, then you should be too.” I pointed out.
“Oh, I am much more a person of the mind,” she laughed.
“Even to reach our books we need a strong body.”
“You trying to say I'm weak?” She nudged me.
“I'm trying to say since you are trying to trap me on this team that I won't play unless you do.”
“What do I get out of it?” She frowned.
“It just keeps us even.”
“No, you think this exercise thing is so important, if I do it then you have to do some long term activity that I want.”
“What?” I snorted. “That means we're doing two things you want. Besides,” I shrugged, “I won't be here after summer.”
“Then I guess you have no real reason not to risk it, huh?”
The clerk came back down the aisle with a balding man behind him, he of the receding hairline and the comb-over. He looked like a henpecked man, but as soon as he opened his mouth it was clear he was used to being listened to. His forehead wrinkled slightly in disapproval at seeing Kelly. I could not imagine Kelly being the true source of his disapproval, logically it was her mother. In fact as tightly wound as he seemed to be, that made sense.
“Kevin says you're interested in signing up?” He addressed me, but Kelly jumped in.
“We are, thank you Mr McAuliffe!” Kelly smiled widely. Kevin covered the lower part of his face and I couldn't help at letting a small grin go myself.
“I thought all the kids had flyers mailed to them, I'm not sure how we missed two.” He muttered as he gathered documents from the folder in his hands. “But you will clearly help,” he handed the forms to Kelly. “See that your grandmother gets those.”
“What is that?” My aunt said appearing behind the manager. Before he could reply and make worse what I sensed would only be a bad situation, a male voice behind me yelled out some strange cry. I turned to see and found it to be the man I'd seen outside with the trench coat – now open wide to reveal his body. The manager made a disgusted sound and rushed forward to deal with this incursion.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Aunt Gabriella muttered. “We need baby carrots.”
We were on the field at 9 am for the first day of soccer practice. Kelly and I both wore shorts and hoodies, but we were in the minority. Most of the players had on sweats or wind pants of some kind. We stood on the side of the field, stretching and arguing. Kelly hadn't let up since we'd turned in the documents that, somehow, I owed her. Not only that she'd cast me in the role of someone who valued the physical over the mental – that exercise of the body was more important that that of the mind. I tried to explain the balance I'd prefer but she was relentless.
It was better than the conjecture about why my mother hadn't called yet. It had been almost two weeks and not a word. We'd sat up one night coming up with outlandish reasons for the silence, from Witness Protection to alien abduction. She'd always come back for me, this would be no different. I'd also began putting more notes to myself in the small book. Kelly is sharp, never forget. And Stop staring at the boys, you're leaving so don't start anything!
As we argued Kevin McAuliffe and another boy approached.
“Torian!” Kelly took the excuse to quit stretching and hugged the newcomer. Kevin and I exchanged nods and a quick shake before Kelly dragged her friend in front of me. “When did you get back?”
“Over the weekend, you didn't get my text?” He grinned.
“You know my mother won't allow me a phone and even if she did there is no service at my house! Ugh,” she smacked his arm before hugging him again, “Oh my god I missed you!”
“Clearly,” he grinned. Kelly looked back at us and seemed to remember we were there.
“Torian, meet my cousin Quinlan.”
“Hey there,” I nodded and he gave a short wave. He was a bit stocky in his track suit, his face full but not overly so. He was so well covered that it was really hard to tell what kind of physique he had, other than being a tad short and possibly overweight. His head was crowned by tousled dark blue hair and dark green eyes.
“Quin, word is you met Hank.” He wiggled his eyebrows and smiled. I gave him a quizzical look, but Kelly jumped in to save me.
“Oh,” I smiled at Torian, “Yes. I hope my aunt doesn't need him to remind her of anything else on her shopping list.”
“Baker's chocolate?” Torian grinned. “Preparation H?”
Collective groans were had and then some small talk about people I was unfamiliar with. With no attention on me I allowed myself to take in Kevin, while reminding myself that I shouldn't start anything as my mother would finish it soon enough. Kevin was a touch taller than I was, just over six foot would be my guess. He wore a tee shirt that clung a bit as he moved and whenever the wind stirred it would press against some admirable features. His long legs were encased in long under armor style leggings to wick away sweat with a pair of shorts over them to keep prying eyes away.
Shortly afterward the coach, Kevin's father, blew his whistle to get all of us together for an informal session to break down who was a returning player and who was new, if everyone knew the rules and so on. Practice was unorganized and annoying, despite Mr. McAuliffe seeming to know what he was talking about, he had no organizational ability. After everything had been put away Kelly made plans to go to the movies with Torian and we went home.
After showering, my grandmother asked me to join her for tea. The parlor was her preferred area to sit and have her tea, and have conversations that didn't seem to have much substance. Today there was something different about the set of her face, the subtle positioning of her body but I couldn't figure out what it might mean – just that something was different.
“Quinlan, I understand you've gone out into our little town.”
“Yes ma'am.” I poured her tea and added the lemon slice she preferred.
“What were your thoughts?” She accepted the tea from me and I set about making my own with cream and sugar.
“I'm trying not to think too much about it.” I told her honestly as I sat back in my chair.
“Because you won't be here long?”
“I do wish you'd stop calling me that.” She arched an eyebrow. “You are aware that an apostrophe takes the place of a letter in a word to form a contraction, are you not?”
I nodded and sipped my tea, unsure where she was going.
“Remove the apostrophe and replace the missing letter, a 'd' if you're interested, and ma'am quickly becomes madam. Your aunt is many things, but...” she hid a smile behind her cup as her words hit home. She chuckled at my open mouth. “It's nice to know I can surprise you, I was beginning to think you were made of stone.”
“No, not stone. I think of it as experience.”
“Ah, this is your armor, experience. It prevents you from getting hurt when the time comes to say goodbye.”
I held my cup on top of my saucer and met her eyes. “Yes.”
“So while in town, did you observe anything worth noting?”
I thought of Hank and his baby carrot, Kevin and Torian. A few others on the team whose name I didn't know, but who looked attractive and more than a few with a terminal case of acne.
“It was a nice enough town.”
“You are playing soccer now, with Kelly I understand?” She placed her empty cup on the tray and I refilled it for her.
“Yes Ma – grandmother.”
“Grandmother, so formal.” Her hand drifted over mine for a brief moment. “Do you mean to hold us all outside your armor?”
“I think it's best.” I replied, dropping my eyes.
“Best? Perhaps. Easiest, that's true enough.” She sipped her tea and I did mine as well, the need for talk having fled. It wasn't easy though, not really.
The days began to pass, one blurring into the next without much of distinction to mark their passing. Soccer practice and then games began. Kelly found herself enjoying it more than she'd thought she would, but that was only confided to me while we sat on her rock near the stream. She claimed it was a truth area or safety zone...some nonsense. I spent my time indulging fantasies of long legged Kevin and growing fond, despite myself, of Torian and his sense of humor and charming personality.
Both he and Kevin were in my book, repeatedly noting to myself to keep them at arm's length. The rest of my time was spent wondering when my mother would call or, more likely, swoop in and end it all. She would take us back to our house that looked like all the others on our street, until she finally broke Earl and in a fit of insanity he'd paint that star on the house he was always talking about.
One night after a game Kelly and I walked to the rock, her place that was somehow now ours, and sat in the fading light. The rock, per normal, was still warm from the heat of the day and the air swirled around us, cooling and promising rain.
“So almost six weeks and I barely know you, QT.”
“QT?” I glanced at her curiously.
“Yeah, Quinlan Thomas. QT, although someone told me that cutie just fits you better.” She smirked and I felt my cheeks color.
“Is that so?” I looked away.
“Yeah. So...if you're going to be leaving soon anyway, why don't you talk about yourself at all?” She slipped off her sandals and laid her bare feet on the rock. I glanced back at her again, a little off balance at her change in conversation.
“What difference would it make?”
“You're my cousin, family...the undiscovered grandson!” she waved her arms, “It would be nice to get to know you some.”
“I don't know what you're looking for here...”
“Just...tell me some of your history.”
So I did. Don't ask me why, I don't know the answer. She was a good person, and she was nothing if not persistent. Here where I had so little time left, perhaps no more than a week or two, the risk of some information seemed negligible, and though it was an embarrassing history I wouldn't have to endure others knowing it for long. I told her about the first time my mother had left me, this with a lady I'd called Aunt Diane. I hadn't known why my mother had left, only that Aunt Diane had muttered frequently that my mother had horrible taste in men.
I'd been left behind a smattering of times at distant relatives – or people my mother claimed were relatives. Once, for a summer, we'd lived in the desert with some guy that claimed he could purify my mother and start her on the path to spiritual abundance or something equally dodgy. She always fell for it, things that were so easy to see through – things I picked up on from an early age. We'd crisscrossed the country a few times, in fact Earl was the longest we'd been in any one place. In a way I'd be sad that she'd wreck things with Earl, because she would, but there wasn't anything I could do about it.
“What about your dad?” She'd asked softly, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“He travels a lot for work. My parents broke up not long after I was born,” I snorted, “Knowing my mom you can see why. He's always been too busy for me to come stay but he sends cards, calls sometimes.” I grew quiet.
“Well, I think it would be nice if you stayed.” She said while slipping her shoes back on. I knew that wouldn't ever be, and I didn't even entertain the thought. My mother would drop down one day, just when things were seeming to be going well, and snatch it all away – she couldn't function without me. But I couldn't say that, nor did I want to quash that bright thought Kelly was holding onto, though I had to admit I wasn't sure why she'd want me to stay.
More than anyone I knew how I didn't fit anywhere. From all the moving around to the lack of any long term home or friends, I knew I was missing something socially. I'd thought about it before, my choices were to extend myself and get hurt when we moved on or to not engage. I knew if I let any of them in I wouldn't want to leave them. So, instead of sharing more of myself, we went back to the house in silence. Besides, I sound like enough of a freak when I talk about my certifiable mother.
I tapped the notebook against my leg as I sat in the window of my room. Did I really need another reminder not to get too comfortable? Did I really need another reminder that letting people get close only made it easier for them to hurt me, intentionally or not? I sat in the dark, unhappy after the fact that I had said anything of my past to my cousin. There was no point, except the pity it would bring. She'd gone out again with Torian, I wasn't sure where, but it was just as well. She was wearing down the rock of my resolve – not like a jackhammer, something I could see coming and avoid, no. She was like the laughing stream that made inroads so slowly and gently as to pass unnoticed.
The eighth week my mother called. It seems it had taken them most of a week to travel to Las Vegas and from there they had moved on to see Hoover Dam and headed south through New Mexico and Arizona and were presently in Texas. In short she was half the country away – and not one word about that supposed six week course she was going to take.
“Now, how is your grandmother feeling?”
“She's a Sherman tank, mother. She'll probably outlive me.”
“Oh, oh. I hope you're being polite! Have you made any friends honey?” I could see her, in my minds eye, simpering at the other end of the line.
“Why? I'll be going home soon. Right?”
“Well, the thing is...Earl got a job offer out here in Texas, that's why we're here. It may take a bit, there is some talk that he may be better suited to their Tennessee branch, but he's interviewing here and then it will take time, a lot of time to set up a house so Quinlan, honey...”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Quinlan Thomas don't you try and make me feel guilty! I'm doing the best I can to make a family for us!”
“Hard to be a family if you're never together.”
“You mind your tongue! I did not raise you to speak to me like that!”
I held my tongue, raging inside at her utter lack of consideration. That was probably why I didn't hear my aunt approaching, but I did manage to jump when her hand pulled the phone from my ear.
“So?” She questioned. The response was muffled and I stood by uncertainly. My mothers lessons on manners frequently left me paralyzed when someone did something rude.
“You have a mirror handy? I think there's probably a little bullshit on your chin.”
The muffled volume instantly became almost intelligible.
“I always did say your brains slid down your spine and into your tits. Sort of explains why they're so small.” So stating my aunt hung up the phone. She glanced at me and broke eye contact right away. I felt a calm descend on me, a bit of comfort knowing that an impending blow was about to hit. My aunt muttered, just enough for me to hear, “I guess you'll be staying for a while.”
I jerked in surprise. Although I was expecting her to say something mean or inconsiderate, she hadn't. Not really. My tensing up and waiting for her to strike still sat on me, a silent weight pressing down on the seething I still felt at my mother's actions. I thought when you got older you got wiser? How had my mother missed out?
I watched her as she ambled away from me towards the back of the kitchen, heard the slap of the screen door and could smell the smoke of her cigarette in my mind. For the first time it occurred to me that my aunt's smoking may come from stress. I was a little disappointed to think that I was stressful to her as well. I took that thought with me up to my bedroom and sat below the window and flipped through my little notes to myself.
Near the front I stared at Don't trust mother again. I felt tears threatening and looked up at the ceiling and taking in great gulps of air to try and stave off the wall of confusion washing towards me. As long as I knew when she was coming I could manage things, not make friends – learned that lesson early – but now she'd thrown everything into flux with the only certainty being that she'd show up as soon as I got comfortable. I rubbed my eyes furiously and passed air between my now clenched teeth. The sound of a car door closing caught my attention and I glanced outside while continuing my attempts to regulate my emotions.
Kelly was climbing out of Torian's car, smiling and giggling at his no doubt witty comments. They were both in shorts, Kelly had a light tank top and Torian a sleeveless v-neck tee. His arms were nicely muscled and, oddly, the blue hair looked good on him. I heard them come in the front door and I sat, melancholy heavy on me as I waited for Kelly to get the news and for her inevitable visit.
A light tap on the door and then she was there, Torian uncertain behind her.
“Quin, I'm sorry.” She whispered while taking the seat next to me.
“I'm okay.” I sighed deeply. “I shouldn't be surprised. I know better than to trust her.”
“Hey, uh, maybe we can look on this as a good thing?” Torian remarked from the doorway, “I mean, you know some folks here and besides, Kelly was going to hold you hostage anyway so you just avoided being kidnapped and getting your cousin thrown in jail for a billion years.”
I tried to be gracious and give my cousin a small smile. “Well, we can't have that, can we?”
“Oh, we totally can!” Torian broke out in an enormous grin, “See we already had a place picked out and canned food set aside. Dude, we even got you a pot to piss in,” he exclaimed.
“Nice, always wanted one of those.”
“Finally, a man that appreciates my work!” Torian exulted, pulling his hands into fists and extending them over his head. I grinned at him and Kelly snickered. “So let's go through with it! First we take him to the field...”
“Oh, I don't know...” Kelly trailed off, a frown drawing her freckles together.
“The field?” I asked. “And Kelly, how could you drag Torian into a felony?”
“It was his plan!” She laughed.
“Communal underage drinking area. Also primary site for abductions and other petty crimes,” Torian supplied, completely ignoring Kelly.
Things happened fast from there, Kelly told her mother and our grandmother that we were going to the movies, something she and Torian were wont to do. The soccer season was ending in a week and several people wanted to celebrate, though I'm not sure why as the team was mediocre at best – maybe they were happy the team was being put out of its misery? It was the plot of a thousand bad teen movies, and yet here I was chuckling along to Torian's jibes about anything and everything.
The party was in an open field hedged in the distance by trees on three sides. A fire had been started and it was being steadily fed as the night wore on. There seemed to be some who were most interested in fire maintenance and who made trips into the field and to the tree line to draw back firewood. I spotted Kevin, hair shining a crimson gold in the firelight. He had a drink in hand, there were kegs abounding and Kelly was off to obtain drinks for us all.
“So hey, Quin, you know this party place? No accident we picked it. It's a famous spot.” Torian nodded sagely.
I quirked an eyebrow at him.
“No doubt you've seen our little town is kind of in the sticks, but this post here? This field? This is the very place Jesus lost his sandals.” He grinned.
It took me half a tick but I grinned back at his silly joke. Kelly returned with three cups and I took a tentative sip. Almost instantaneously I spit it back out.
“Jesus, that's horrible! How can you drink this?” I spluttered.
“Hey when you're underage you're not likely to get the king of beers,” Torian grinned at me, “More like the stable boy's whore.”
“The stable boy wouldn't have a whore.” Kelly interjected, “I mean not one all to himself.”
“And now she gets it,” Torian laughed. Kelly stuck her tongue out at him and I simply shook my head. Who could drink this swill? I held the cup in my hand, if nothing else to prevent some poor soul from actually drinking its contents – and if it was full, no one could refill it for me. Others didn't seem to be put off by the crappy brew and were busy drinking and talking in groups. We stood together as people that knew us from soccer or others that knew my companions stopped by to chat and then move on. I knew there was no point in trying to remember any of their names, even if I might see them in school in a few weeks – they were barely out of sight before their names had left my head. Eventually Torian spotted a friend and wandered over to say hello and Kelly told me she'd try and find us something better to drink and left me on my own.
Through the night I'd been catching glimpses of Kevin, clad in cargo shorts and a button up shirt. As he carried on with his friends I let my fantasies run in my mind, and was startled when he actually walked up to me on slightly unsteady legs.
“Quin, how's it hanging?”
I glanced down and then back at him, “Normally I guess.” He guffawed and I began to wonder how many drinks he'd downed before coming over to me. Considering how long we'd been here, he could have had several – I wonder if he'd pinched his nose and just gulped it down?
“Yeah, so...” He lifted his empty cup to his lips and frowned, lowering it. “I, uh, saw you were here. I mean,” he glanced away, “I mean I noticed you. Saw...you know, that you came.”
“I saw you too. I was with my cousin and Torian so...I figured we'd run into each other eventually.”
“You...noticed me?” He glanced around furtively.
“Yeah, I did.”
His eyes were a filled with light from the fire and a slightly glassy look as well, from the alcohol. He glanced around as if to see if anyone was watching, then grabbed my hand. Just as quickly he dropped it and threw his arm around my shoulders and began walking me away from the crowd. I glanced over my shoulder but didn't see my companions and decided to see how this would play out. By anyone's standard Kevin was attractive – trim, well groomed and there was also the fact that he was my main fantasy in this town.
We hit the line of trees without incident, passing a couple of folks busy making room for more of that crappy beer – one way or another. The grass grew a bit taller here, untrampled beyond the trees and then Kevin was pulling on my shoulder, spinning me around to face him. His face was hard to read, the darkness around us pushed back only by the distant firelight and the minimal lunar illumination from above. Then his lips were pressed to mine, uncomfortably hard and I pushed him back.
“No, you were looking at me. You were!” Kevin grabbed my head and pulled me in again, frantically kissing me and I struggled with myself – I had wanted this with him, yes, but not like this! He pulled back and I saw the tears running down his face before he punched me.
To say I never saw it coming is probably obvious and I struggled to catch my breath, dimly thankful that his shot hadn't completely winded me. Kevin stood over me, alternatively clutching his head and turning in place. I could hear his crying now and then he jumped on me. He was frantic, kissing and pulling at my clothes as I fought back. His sobbing was swallowed in the tall grass, his breath coming in ragged gasps. A small, cold item bounced off my face – a necklace with a cross dangling – hitting me randomly as he moved.
Then he was hitting me again, punching me in the ribs. I balled up defensively and tried to roll to gain some distance. If I could stand up I could fight or run, but on the ground I was in a real jam. As suddenly as his punches had started they stopped, and he tried once more to kiss me and groped for my crotch. I pushed him back and he looked down on me miserably.
“I hate myself, but I want you so bad.” He bawled, snot and tears mixing on his face. He wiped his face with his forearm and then delivered another blow, and then collapsed on me alternatively crying and kissing me. I held him, as it seemed safest since he could not get any arm extension to hit me. He whispered in my ear over and over, “I'm sorry I'm in love with you. I'm sorry.”
We stayed like that for what seemed like forever, until two other drunken, would be lovers found us – and then we were the news.
Note to self: Don't make out with drunk, closeted boys.
I chose to stay in the house for the next day. I could claim that I didn't care what people thought, but that wasn't entirely true. I could claim that I was afraid of running into intolerant people, but that wasn't entirely true either. I cared a little about what others might think, since I was apparently here indefinitely and I was sort of spoiling for a fight so an intolerant person could come in handy right about now. Mostly I was just sore and feeling dumb. None of my fantasies about Kevin had anything to do with drunken rages, none of the kisses I had wanted from him were imagined with the force he'd used.
Yet, there we had been, him drunkenly crying and fondling me all at once. Of course once we'd been discovered, others came and Kelly decided we needed to leave, and it was pretty obvious what had happened – though graciously neither she nor Torian mentioned it in the car. I was sitting in my room lamenting just how much this sucked when my door swung open to reveal my aunt.
“Tea.” She turned and walked back down the hall. I sighed and walked stiffly down the hall and descended to the first floor parlor where my grandmother was waiting.
“I'll pour today; your movie seems to have affected you severely.” I remained mute as she filled both cups and handed one to me. I leaned back and waited for the lecture, the remarks about how untrustworthy I was and how I hadn't been raised that way.
“It would seem your dear mother has business elsewhere.” She sipped her tea. “Would you say that's common?”
“That she's busy being somewhere I'm not? It happens.” I shrugged.
“So then you would normally stay with your father?” She pressed.
“No, I've never gone to stay. He,” I coughed, “he travels a lot. He tells me hotels are no place for kids.”
“I see.” She studied her tea for a moment. “You have such beautiful hair, thick and lush I think it could be characterized.”
“Wha...uh, thank you.” How do we get from the lie about the movies to my mother's travels to my hair?
“Your father has the luxurious hair, I'm guessing?” She sipped her tea.
“No, he's bald, but the little he has is blond,” I replied.
“I'm told you'll be attending our high school; I think you'll enjoy it here. Your mother did mention that she wouldn't be back in time for you to get to school back in your town, correct?”
“Yes.” I replied sullenly.
“You know, I am always fascinated by the punishments we are willing to endure, the things we allow others to inflict upon us.” Her eyes met mine and a sad smile crossed her face. “Many times we believe the lies we are told because we have nothing else to rely upon. You should know, Quinlan, that this is not the case with you. We are here for you now.”
“For now, until she comes back.” I set my cup down and stood. “My mother will come back, and she'll be a wreck. Earl won't be with her but she'll take me from here – she always says I'm the only man that never lets her down.”
“It seems a shame a young man like yourself is asked to carry the burdens of an adult – a weight a mother shouldn't set upon her child's shoulders.”
“Everyone makes mistakes,” I replied quietly.
“Yeah, my doctor did – told me to take off my clothes, poor bastard.” Aunt Gabriella chimed in as she took a seat. “You two are grounded, by the way, and no having Torian over till school starts.”
“Speaking of school, apparently there will be computer work required. I think it's time we broke down and purchased machines for the kids and got the internet installed.” My grandmother lifted an eyebrow at my aunt.
“Fine, but if you two porn up your computers and they die, I don't want to hear it.”
“Are you naturally grouchy?” I muttered in spite of my 'proper' upbringing.
“Hell no, I have to work at it constantly. Be nice to me or I'll put net nanny on your computer.” She turned to my grandmother, “I'll take them tonight while they are still recovering.”
I sat in silence with my grandmother, looking into the bottom of my tea cup. “I've heard people say a good cup of tea solves a lot of problems. It isn't working for me.”
“Well, no, not directly. Working things out through dialogue is much more productive and the tea facilitates that. However,” she smiled, “it can be most gratifying to pour one's hot tea onto the offending party's crotch.”
I wandered back to my room and took a seat by the window. I pulled my leg up and wrapped my arms about the lower half of my leg with my chin on my knee. I was a little sore, but of course I hadn't drank any of that skunky beer, so no hangover. I turned over my encounter with Kevin, wondering if I'd done something wrong, if there was a way I could have salvaged the evening. A quick knock and Kelly was in the room and padding over to sit with me on the other end.
“Feeling okay?” She asked.
“You look bummed.”
“Well, I did get attacked. Oh, and we're grounded or something.” I leaned back against the wall, my jaw finding it uncomfortable to flex against my kneecap.
“Q can I ask...what actually happened?”
“Kevin was drunk, he was attracted to me...I guess.”
“Yeah, but...you never, like, encouraged him or anything. Plus he was dating Lisa Finnerty all summer, I had no idea he was in the closet.”
“Are you? In the closet, I mean?”
I let it hang for a moment. Kevin was outed in a semi-small town. I've done that before and it's not pretty. One thing that kept coming back to me, though, was that the only thing holding me back was my mother. That certainty that she'd come back and nullify anything I'd done so far. But this was getting to be about the longest she'd left me and her coming back to rip me away seemed like it was becoming less and less a sure thing. In that case, I was free to...care, to confide to make friends, the real kind.
“So you want to know if that means I'm gay or not? Yes, it does. I'm out.”
“You bastard,” she laughed.
“Do you know how long I had my eye on that long legged boy? Here you come, not even trying, and he's all over you!” She laughed at my open mouth.
“Hey, it wasn't like he was romantic or anything!” I protested.
“Yeah...it's a shame really,” she shook her head, “His parents are such control freaks, I'd hate to be in his house right now.”
“Kel, I'm not sure my mom is coming back. At all.” Well, talk about blurting things out.
“We'll deal with it. So,” she smiled, “I know the larger story but was there anything, even one salacious detail to savor from Kevin?”
“You know,” I shook my head, “there wasn't. Let's be honest, I never knew the guy. He was just attractive and when he led me off into the grass I was hoping for something, for sure. Getting roughly molested by a drunk guy? Not hot. In fact, he got not hot really fast.”
“Well, I'm sure you'll break other hearts.” She smiled brightly, “Hey! You are talking about yourself without me having to drag it out of you one little gem at a time!”
“That's all you have to say? Yeah? Do you realize how hard it is to get you to talk?”
“Do you realize how hard it is not talking?” I glanced out the window, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to cut yourself off and not make friends because you know it's going to hurt when your mother drags you away again? You don't. It's hard, I have to remind myself all the time.” I felt in my pocket and tossed my notebook to her. She reached for it slowly, confusion on her face. She picked it up and began to leaf through the pages, all my little notes about her, Torian, the town. Kevin. Grandma, even Aunt Gabriella.
“Okay, this note here? Doesn't fit with the rest.” She pointed to a page, “You're seriously going to tell my mom to buy cheaper cigarettes to save for her iron lung?”
“Are you kidding? She'd probably put her cigarette out in my eye!” I laughed.
“Oh, please! She's all bark,” she waved the book at me, “I think we need to do something drastic about this, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I can understand why you'd want to protect yourself. It makes sense,” she held the book up, “but you're going to be here for a while and I think a few people might not want to let go of you so...at the very least you need to make new notes. Come on!” She stood and headed for the door, and I followed out of curiosity. We headed down the stairs and out the back of the house, through the kitchen. She went to the gas grill and lit it up.
“Now, not all of these are bad, but we have to cull this thing, seriously.” So saying she opened the book and showed me the first page. Never trust mother again. “Totally keeping this. Will hold it to your face if you forget. But this?” Keep your distance, Torian isn't your friend. “Has to go. He's a total sweetheart. I mean, come on, he was willing to help me kidnap you; isn't that the truest form of friendship?” She pulled the page out and tossed it into the flames. “All these reminding you of how smart I am? Keeping those,” she continued to rifle through the book and throw pages in willy-nilly.
“So about us being grounded...”
“I told you, all bark. If anything it freaked her out enough to say we're getting cell phones – they built a new tower three months ago and, somehow, I didn't know.”
“You realize it's so she can GPS you?”
“You do realize they have removable batteries?” She laughed at the shock on my face, “Torian is at the store picking out good phones for us already – laptops too.
“She said no visits from him till school starts?”
“That would hurt her more than us, she loves him.” She handed me back my thinned notebook, “you need more positive things in here. But, QT, thanks for sharing it with me.” Then she hugged me. It felt so weird. I sort of half hugged, half patted her back.
“I can't believe you have a mall,” I said.
“You said that already.”
“Yeah, but it bears repeating. This tiny town?”
“Look, it's not as small as you think. Yeah, we do have some wide open spaces and yeah you saw little main street, but I think you saw a few more things on the way out here. We're not a wide spot in the road, bit we're not really a city either.”
“But...a mall!” And it was an awesome mall. When we walked in I commented that it looked as if they had simply covered over the street and made the roads foot traffic only. I was mostly, generally, right. We walked up to four way intersections that still had their traffic light and old style store windows complete with awnings, gold lettering on the windows and everything. It was like putting a roof over the town's shopping district.
“They decided it was cheaper, and they could all band together so they didn't need a big developer to come in. Plus it has its own flavor.”
Aunt Gabriella was frowning. “You don't agree?” I asked.
“I'm trying to think of something funny to say.”
“Don't, Mom,” Kelly waved a hand at her mother, “You don't make jokes.”
“I made you,” she didn't even smirk, just her normal sour puss face the whole time.
“Ha, ha.” Kelly replied, slowly clapping her hands, “Good one mom.” Thankfully we arrived at the store we were looking for, an electronics outfit called Giga. We walked in and headed towards the computers, which were on the left hand side of the store. Tablets were on the ends of the aisle and laptops afterward with the desktops in the back. I had to do a double take as I spotted familiar blue hair behind the counter that ran the length of the left side of the store. Torian was behind the counter, wearing a green polo with the store name on the chest and speaking to an older couple.
He stepped out from behind the counter, and walked over to the laptop display and began to explain different functions of each unit. The couple made a selection and he handed them a ticket to take to the register.
“Hi Tor!” Kelly called out as she closed the distance and wrapped Torian in a hug.
“Hey! I've been waiting for you! Can't believe your mom finally caved!” He smiled widely.
“I am right here, you know.” Aunt Gabriella huffed.
“I have the laptops all set for you, too.” Torian interjected, “I asked for a couple of reasonable phones with plans to set up in that department too.”
“This is going to be a pain in the cash,” my aunt muttered, “Come on, I need to make sure there's no sexting plan on these phones.”
“They don't have a plan for that, mom!” Kelly blurted.
“Maybe, but I'm sure you two do!” So saying she headed for the phone department. I lingered, curious as to the computer Torian had selected. As my aunt and cousin moved off, bickering, I turned to Torian's still smiling face.
“Su cuy'gar,” he said.
He smiled, his face reddening, “Sorry, it's my geek side. Su cuy'gar is a Mandalorian greeting, means you're still alive.”
“Mandalorian? Isn't that in China?” That didn't sound quite right. I could feel the skin on my forehead wrinkling in thought.
“No, you're probably thinking of Manchuria.” If it were possible, I think his blush was spreading.
“Maybe, but it still sounds a little...Mandarin! That's what I was thinking. That's not it either though, is it?”
“No, they aren't even close, actually,” Torian looked away.
“So where does the language come from then?” I leaned against the counter and watched him squirm.
“Uh. Star Wars.”
“I'm a huge geek,” Torian flashed a lopsided grin, “Mando'a is the real name, but everyone calls it Mandalorian. It's spoken by the Mandalorian culture, like Boba Fett?”
“Guy with the rocket pack? Was after Han Solo?”
“Yes! I mean, uh, yeah. Right.”
“So you learned an entire language?”
“Just bits and pieces. It seemed like a good greeting, considering you were...you know, in a fight. Sort of.”
“Hm. Su cuy'gar, huh? Interesting.”
He nodded and then dropped into a fidgety silence that began to drag. I had to admit, I had no idea where to go from here but usually I relied on Torian to carry the conversation forward. Maybe he was embarrassed, a little. I didn't like to think I was making him uncomfortable.
“So, what did you suggest for laptops?”
He eagerly hopped in, displaying the laptop that he'd picked for each of us, explained that even though my aunt had instructed him to pick out something good for school, he thought we could use something better than a bare bones system. He opened 'my' unit and booted into it, showing me the features and how fast things worked. He also pointed out the camera for video chat and some of the deals that came with it.
“Check this out,” he turned on the camera which showed a pretty good image of us, with a gap between. Torian grabbed my shoulder and pulled us in, cheek to cheek, and the computer made a mechanical click. He released me with a laugh and a few keystrokes later the picture was my background. Me with a confused, perhaps slightly startled look and Torian grinning foolishly.
A silence descended, and Torian shuffled his feet, made a polite cough and then started speaking slowly, “So, you and Kevin, huh?”
“Not so much, no.” I replied, leaning my back against the counter.
“I guess you must be kind of weirded out, huh? Guy kissing you?”
“No, it's not that. He was molesting me, really. Drunk closet case,” I shrugged.
“Oh. Well, you know, a lot of guys would be all, you know, raging about the gays,” he laughed halfheartedly.
“You know, I think...” I hesitated. How much to say? Kelly claimed he was 'the best' so I guessed I'd follow her assessment. “I think I more feel sorry for him than anything else.”
“Aww, I need one like that too!” Kelly cooed as she reappeared.
“The picture! You guys are too cute!” Torian went through the routine again, bringing out the machine for Kelly and snapping a silly picture of them, her kissing his cheek and he making a surprised face. It was kind of cute, I was glad she found someone that made her happy. My aunt grumbled over a few minutes later, two phones in hand with colored cases, one bright orange and one bright green.
“Okay, we're done. We can't afford to eat now, so I'm grinding Prozac and putting it in your food so you sleep till school starts.”
Start it did, a few weeks later. I was a little nervous, anticipating there to be issues with other kids or with Kevin over the little moment we'd had, but there was remarkably little. I had first period with Kelly, after homeroom. Different last names so different rooms, and then I saw Torian after lunch in a study hall and gym at the end of the day. Days passed, then a week, nearly indistinguishable. I hadn't seen Kevin and I was relieved to not have the issue of a public eruption. The end of the third week everything changed, just a bit.
First at lunch, I usually sat outside on a bench with a book while I ate whatever I'd made at home. Normally this wasn't a problem, but on that day I was reading 'Camy's Shorts' when I felt someone staring at me and, startling me slightly, I found someone sitting on the bench with me. I hadn't even heard her sit!
“So you're him. Quin.” She stated. Her long red hair was brushed in neat waves, her dress just below the knees even while sitting, and the gold cross at her throat glittered in the sunlight.
“I am,” I replied while closing the cover.
“I'm Siobhan McAuliffe. Kevin's sister.” Her gaze was laser sharp and before I could think to reply she blurted, “What did you do to my brother?”
“What did I...? Me? No, you have this backwards,” I shook a hand at her, “I didn't do squat!”
“You have to tell me,” she said in a low, conspiratorial tone. “He's gone! I know this had something to do with it!”
“What do you mean he's gone? Gone where? When?”
“Last night.” Her face crumpled a little but she smoothed it again, a forcible grip on her emotions that would have been impressive under other circumstances. “Please, tell me what happened that night. All anyone will say is that you fought, but he was a mess after that! There has to be more to it!”
“Well,” I said awkwardly, “It's not a very flattering story. I guess a fight would cover it all right, though.” I pulled my bookmark out from the back of the book and placed it where my finger had been, closing it. She glanced down and her eyes narrowed as she took in the cover.
“That rainbow thing...this is a gay thing, isn't it?”
“The book? It's a gallimaufry, actually. What do you mean gone?” I turned the book face down so it wouldn't be such a distraction.
“Look...” she brushed her hair out of her face, pushed by the wind, and put her focus on me full force. “I know Kevin had a...weakness...for other boys. God was testing him and I know...” she looked down to her lap where her hands had settled.
“Leave all that, all the rest aside,” she waved her hand, brushing away the details, “My biggest concern right now is that he's missing. Please, I need to know what happened.”
I looked down as well, looking at the back of my book. I didn't want to dig this up, after it seemed like it was going to blow over so easily. It was hard to ignore the stress in her voice, however, and the fact that Kevin was missing. So I told her. I told her how we had never really talked that much, I told her how he'd had too much to drink and how he led me off, willingly. Of how he had thrown himself at me, quite unexpectedly. I even went so far as to admit that if his advances had been more...romantic, they would have been welcomed.
She was silent next to me on the bench, her face down towards her folded hands. Her face was obscured by the drape of her hair, golden red like Kevin's. Her slim, pale fingers slowly flexed, twining themselves before one hand moved to wipe her eyes. She let out a long, shuddering breath before tilting her face towards me, slightly.
“He told me. When he was thirteen, he told me.” Her face tilted towards me for a split second before turning back and was hidden again by the curtain of her hair. “He had a crush, really bad. On a boy.”
I remained silent. I couldn't think of a single thing that would make this any less difficult for her, except that I wasn't sure I should be the one to hear it. Unless, of course, there was no one else. If Kevin was that deep in the closet, then maybe there was no one else she could talk to about this – except the guy with the gay storybook on his lap.
“He thought this other...boy...was interested in him too, maybe. We talked, we...” she turned and looked at me, eyes red, “We prayed. We know that if we pray and if we trust God that...” Her hand strayed up to wipe her eyes again and push her hair back.
“It didn't help, though.” She said quietly.
“Has this...happened before?”
“No, good God, no.” She shook her head quickly. “He'd get crushes here and there, he and I would pray and pray. He told our youth pastor at the beginning of the summer and they were spending a lot of time praying and working through God's plan for Kevin. He encouraged him to spend more time with girls and this one from our church, Lisa, he started to date her.”
“I guess you were encouraged by that,” I said neutrally.
“I was,” she looked at me and frowned, “I know that probably seems impolite to you, but I didn't want Kevin to be like that and neither did he.”
“Well, I guess he was who he was no matter what either of you wanted,” I replied indignantly. “Maybe if you'd dealt with it in a healthy, realistic way he wouldn't be so conflicted.” I pushed my book into my bag and gathered my things to leave.
“Wait, god damnit, stop.” She said fiercely.
I glanced at her, “Why? So you can pray with me to be someone other than who I am? No thanks.”
“This isn't about you!” She placed a hand on my arm and I paused. My heart rate was up, I was breathing heavier and my nerves were on edge, but a tiny part of my mind agreed with her – she wasn't talking about me, no matter if I agreed with her.
“So? What is it you want?”
“I want...I want my brother back.” She pulled her hand away and turned to face me, red rimmed eyes and a stray tear in full view. “My parents won't talk about it, they know where he went but I have no idea what's going on. I'm scared for him.”
I slowly sat again, in silence. My mind turned over the facts as she presented them and I began restating them to her. “So if your brother is gone and your folks won't talk about it, it stands to reason they know where he is. If they know what the fight was about the other night, well...it sounds like they sent him away.” The sick bastards, I said to myself.
“But they love him...” She shook her head and larger tears began to trickle from her eyes. I awkwardly put a hand on her shoulder, and she leaned in slowly. I felt hollow, but I also knew the pain of being betrayed by your parent, so I told her about it. Because one day Kevin would be back, and then...who knew who he'd be and what he'd need from her?
Second thing that day was Torian.
I worked on my social studies homework in study hall while Torian tried to distract me without getting sent to detention. I found him to be oddly endearing. I'd had friends before, of course, when it looked like we were staying somewhere. I'd even made short term, superficial friends with people I'd liked a lot. With our nomadic existence, it always hurt when the time came to say goodbye. With my mother having gone silent I found that I was inclined to put a few tentative roots into the ground. Torian seemed to be so comfortable with me that I sometimes forget I've only known him a few months.
“Don't you have homework to do?” I muttered.
“Sure. That's for when I get to work!”
“Don't you actually, you know, work?”
“Nah, at least not that hard.”
“Mr Everhart, do you need some work to do?”
“Oh, no Mrs Sullivan. I was just asking Quin for the page our homework is on.”
“Then get on with it,” she scowled. Torian dutifully opened a book and I snickered. He shook his head at me, smiling. We went our separate ways, but met up again for gym. I have to get this out of the way, no matter how guilty I feel about looking at my cousin's boyfriend. I knew he had nice arms, he's worn sleeveless shirts before. When he pulled his shirt off and dropped trou to get ready for gym, I couldn't help but look, and be jealous. He wasn't a typical pin up guy with washboard abs, huge arms and legs that could double for support columns.
Instead, although he had nicely defined arms and pecs, he also had an extra layer that made him look soft. Not fat, but not hard and ripped either. His legs were proportional and toned and when you put it together, it was an enviable package by any standard. To top it off the blue hair just fit with the entire ensemble of his unique body. I committed him to memory as a guilty pleasure and finished changing, myself.
“Hey, heard a rumor Siobhan was sitting with you at lunch. You getting some action from the sister too?” Torian nudged me, smirking.
“Hardly. She told me Kevin is missing and she thinks her parents know where he is, but aren't saying.”
“Seriously? Holy shit.”
“Yeah, it's just unreal.” We lined up with the rest of the class for attendance and then did our exercises. I was bothered the entire time by my conversation at lunch and one question bounced around my head.
Where was Kevin McAuliffe?
As the days in September numbered less and less I found myself becoming dangerously enamored of Torian, and feeling conflicted as I never had before. He and Kelly continued to go out regularly, even inviting me along, but I always stayed home. Not only did I not want to be a third wheel, but I wanted to limit the amount of time the three of us spent together so it didn't become something I had to awkwardly explain. And it would be awkward.
At the tail end of September, with no word from my mother, a group was going to a local swimming hole – sans suits. Torian was going and they were both trying to convince me, but I just couldn't. I knew I'd stare, make an obvious mistake or goodness forbid we touched. I was getting warm just thinking about it and begged off again. It was getting to the point that it was straining my relationship with Kelly as I felt I really couldn't talk about this with her – nor with Torian. If he weren't dating her, I'd have been feeling him out to see if he might be interested, but as it stood...I couldn't risk it, for either of their sakes.
With the start of October, Kelly came into my room with a grin that instantly made me wary.
“You may recall, you owe me one,” she began.
“For soccer? You weren't worried because your mother was coming? Well, time to pay up QT!” So saying she handed me a flyer for the school play. I rolled my eyes up to look at her.
“No, no way.”
“Look, QT,” she rolled her eyes and fixed me with a withering look. “The body is there for the mind – to take it from one experience to the next. That's it!”
“No, totally false. The mind co-ordinates the muscles but you need a strong, reliable body. You need it for things you do everyday – walk, talk...”
“You know, at least the brain is involved there.” I pointed out.
“Your lecherous imagination isn't what I was talking about,” she laughed.
“This is blackmail!”
I was so screwed.
She started in first thing in the morning, slipping a cast list and description under my door. She texted my phone with an appointment for the calendar app for that afternoon after school. She also posted on Facebook that she, Torian and I were all trying out. Well, of course Torian was going to be there. In first period Kelly kept shooting me excited looks and 'thumbs up' for tryouts. I ignored her, for all the good it did me.
At lunch Siobhan found me again, on my bench. I was re-reading all the stories with the character named Algy; he was so sweet and if I couldn't have Torian, I wanted Algy. She sat quietly and waited for me to notice someone was there. I closed my book and gave her a hesitant look.
“I found something.” She began moving her fingers together in a ceaseless rhythm, “My dad puts key logger programming on our computer at home, did you know that?”
“I think Kevin actually mentioned that,” I replied.
“Well, it took me most of this month – between them being home and searching his desk but I found his password,” she glanced at me, “the computer makes you change it every so soften so he writes it down.”
“Okay,” I replied slowly.
“I looked at his browser history – I found this.” She handed me a printed sheet. At the top it had a colorful bar that showed a grassy lawn and classical stone buildings. Beneath it was the title 'New Light Redemptory School For Boys' and a small blurb beneath that. Rebuilding lives through Christ our Lord.
I scanned the rest of it, but really all it meant was that Kevin's parents had allowed him to be taken to this place – a boot camp or prison school to be reprogrammed. My stomach turned.
“What am I gonna do?” She whispered.
“We don't have much in the way of rights,” I fumed, “The only things I can think of are pretty drastic, though. Let me think about it.”
She nodded her head slowly, “Thank you, Quin. I...just, thank you.”
I was fidgeting while staring into my locker. I kind of really didn't want to do this. I've never been a theater guy or a musicals kind of guy. I like the occasional movie and I've been known to binge watch a series but I didn't have much exposure to live plays. Plus I was worried about getting up on stage. So as I stood staring into my locker, my mind was churning to come up with an acceptable reason to give her – anything that would get me out of this mess.
“What are you looking for? Come on, let's go” Kelly said with a nudge.
“I don't really want to...” I started.
“You have to, you promised!” She scolded. I frowned at her, annoyed that she was telling the truth and that she was going to hold it against me.
“I only agreed because I never thought I'd have to do this!” I argued. I knew this was a losing battle, but one felt compelled to fight.
“Doesn't matter, you promised – we had an agreement – and don't roll your eyes at me!” she slapped my arm.
“Kel, seriously? Look at how many friends you made playing soccer, and!” I held up a hand to silence her, “It was your idea that we play in the first place. Isn't that enough?”
“Enough for what? There was two parts to that deal, Q. If I played soccer you would do something I wanted to. I did my part, your turn.”
“But...” I was going to tell her I didn't want to again, but that would lead to her telling me she hadn't wanted to play soccer. “Fine.” I frowned.
“Jesus, not sure why I have to fight with you to get you to follow through on your own promises.” She muttered. “Come on.”
I reluctantly followed her into the auditorium whose double doors opened at the back of the room. Row upon row of seats in green velour with cast iron frames from the 1930's showed us their backs. The wooden stage dominated the far end of the room with heavy matching green velour drapes with gold fringe. People were clustered in the orchestra section before the stage or in small groups among the seats. As we moved down the center aisle I felt as though the seats were standing at attention with their bottoms pulled up, silent sentries as we marched to our artistic doom. Who says I have no sense of theater?
“Kelly!” A small gaggle of girls became even more animated as we approached, waving to my cousin. I trailed along because I had no where else I belonged in this crowd. Well, I really didn't belong next to Kelly either, but it was as close as I was going to get to fitting in. Where was Torian?
“It's so exciting!” Kelly nearly danced the last few steps into the waiting group of friends. They giggled and returned her enthusiasm for the announced play, a musical called 'Oklahoma!'. I glanced at my cell to check the time which was, I think, moving in reverse. I remained as Kelly's shadow while excited questions whipped across the tiny space between them. Things like whether they had read the script, which parts would go to whom, what the dorky semi-jock like guy was doing here. Okay, I may have made that last one up but I'm sure someone was thinking it.
I couldn't answer any of those questions, except the last one, though I wasn't inclined to. So I was stuck. I looked at the time on my phone again. Only three minutes had passed? Really? I sighed and put the phone away and scanned the crowd that I was supposed to be part of for the next several weeks. I recognized a lot of faces even if the names wouldn't come to me. The school wasn't huge, only a few hundred in our graduating class – but I still couldn't keep that many names in my head. Two teachers entered from a side door and the sound level in the auditorium dropped. The woman was carrying a large shoulder bag which looked more like something a librarian would use to tote books in. It had a floral pattern and was stuffed to the brim. The man, by contrast, held nothing and simply followed his colleague while she smiled at the group and dropped her bag in a first row seat.
“Hello, beautiful people!” she smiled broadly and waved her hands. “Why don't we all take a seat?”
She was tall, probably topping six foot, but her figure was all angles. Her skirt was kind of retro and she had on a long sweater thing that hung well down below her waist. Kelly pulled me into a seat with her group of friends and I took one more glance at my phone before sighing. Kelly rammed her elbow into my sides, no doubt to help me finish expelling the air from my sigh. Torian dropped in behind us, patting my shoulder.
“Okay, so some of you I don't know,” she glanced at the assembled faces, “Let's see I know you, and you and – oh yes, I know you all right!” she pointed to someone and the group gave out a laugh. “As some of you have never been in my art class, I'm Mrs. Harikova, but you can call me Mrs. H if you like. Our other adviser for this year's play will be Mr. Adamson,” she waved towards the male teacher who'd accompanied her in and who was now seated in the first row of seats who languidly waved a hand.
“This year is the first year in a long time that Mr. Nieman, from the high school music department, will not be directing the school play. So we'll be learning right along with you.”
Great. Talk about the blind leading the blind. She went on and on about what a great experience she hoped this would be and blah, blah blah. Oh and more blah, blah, blah. She had a handout that described the characters in the play and asked us to review it for a few minutes to decide which parts we thought we'd like to try out for. She also indicated that those people that wanted to be on the set crew could speak with Mr. Adamson.
Kelly held the character sheet in her hand so that I could see, and began talking excitedly about which parts might be open to her, and by proxy, me. Torian popped stood and braced himself with a hand on my shoulder to look at the list and I felt guilty for enjoying that contact. I glanced over at Mr Adamson and it took me all of ten seconds to make the snap judgment that being a character was the better way to go here, as opposed to being on the set crew. Adamson had long blond hair, that seemed to be permed, and tinted glasses. I'm not sure which decade he'd time warped in from, but it sure as hell wasn't this one.
“Are you listening to me?” Kelly asked.
“No,” I shook my head.
“Why not?” she snorted.
“I was just weighing my options. Which character has the fewest lines?”
“Gee, I'm sure they'd list something like that in the index here,” she pretended to rifle through a copy of the script. “Oh, look, maybe there is a part for a dumbass after all!” And then she slapped me. With the script.
“Very dramatic. How about you faint for me now?”
“Quin, come on. I had a good attitude about soccer – give this a chance.”
I sighed. “Fine. What do you think I should try for?”
“Well, that depends on what kind of thing you'd be most comfortable with.”
“Paying patron? No? Okay...” I smirked and she gave me a warning glance.
“Now even though the people in the chorus have fewer individual lines, they usually have more choreography and group songs.”
“Okay, and what's the other option?”
“Main characters have more individual lines and have some scenes on their own, but not as many group songs. Oh, maybe you should try for something with a solo!”
“Yeah, solo. If I start singing to a room full of people, solo is what I'd end up being. You know, after they stampeded in pain through the exit.” Torian chuckled and patted my shoulder again.
Kelly frowned at me before glancing back to the pages. “True, you are kind of scary when your mouth is open.”
I sighed internally and did a quick mental inventory to be sure I still had my testicles. Yep, they were there. In full retreat and trying to hide behind my pancreas but, as long as I still had them, I guess I better try to do them proud.
“So how does this work, anyway? Like if I try out for a part, that doesn't mean I'll get it. How does that work?”
Kelly ignored me for a moment, probably waiting for me to make a follow up comment. Once she was satisfied it was a legitimate question she replied with, what I thought, was a little too much frost in her voice.
“It goes like this. Take a look at the play, skim through the lines, see if there is a character you like or can relate to. Then she'll have people read some lines to see who fits the character the best.”
“What do you think I should try for?”
“Hard to say what would be more fun for you,” she turned her head slightly and smiled. “The chorus is nice because you have this whole group fun kind of thing going on, but there's a lot of excitement with a main character too.”
“Well, maybe I'll try for the chorus then,” I said.
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with signing for copies of the school provided script and a setting of the rehearsal schedule. I almost choked when I saw we'd have Saturday rehearsals, Kelly hadn't ever mentioned that!
I sat back and watched as a few guys got up to read lines for the lead role, Curly. The lines came off a bit weird but I guess they'd get better with rehearsal. After they ran a few lines they stepped over to the piano and were run through scales to see if any of them could carry a tune. Maybe it would help if they had buckets. I have to admit, though, Torian was passably good. I also just sat back and watched him, which in this capacity was okay, even if I still felt guilty perving on Kelly's boyfriend. They called a few more guys up for some of the male parts and then moved on to the ladies. Naturally enough of course, Kelly was trying out for the lead character, called Laurey.
I'll give her this, she was pretty good. Not professional or anything, but she was a whole butt load better than the guys. She was running the lines and I started looking around to see where the chorus type people would be hanging out when I heard the klaxon of doom, otherwise known as Kelly – calling to me from the stage.
“Q? Quin? Quinlan!”
I turned to the stage, wondering why the hell she'd call on me when I was hit with a blinding realization – she was going to make me get up there with her.
“Quin, come here and read the male part with me! It's easier to get into character with a guy reading the male part.” She smiled at me from the stage and I hesitated. One of the guys shyly broke from the group clustered at the piano and Kelly fixed me with a glare that, magically, made my feet move. I climbed up on stage to a smattering of giggles and I'm sure my pale skin tone was turning a magnificent shade of crimson.
I frowned at her, away from the crowd, but she pretended not to see. Opening my script she pointed out where she'd pick up and which part I'd be reading, Curley. Great, the lead. We started the scene, something silly where I was talking about a surrey – whatever that is. I guess they come with fringes on the top.
“Wait, wait, wait.” Mrs H waved her hands, “Our fellow there reading Curley, turn to page...seventeen and read the lines for 'Jud'.”
I glanced once at Jen, confused, and turned the pages. I cleared my throat, unsure where to start and Mrs H took care of that.
“That's whut I thought. Hello Jud.” she read.
“Hello yourself.” I replied.
“Oh! Deliciously perfect! Ah, let's see. Stay right there and let's get...Torian? And maybe Steve? Yes you boys come over here and read the 'Curly' part along side...” she looked at me.
“Quinlan, Mrs H.” Kelly supplied.
“Lovely. Quinlan, read the part of 'Jud' please.”
I sighed and read the lines, trying to let my sullen attitude about this project convince Mrs H that I wasn't right for this part – or any for that matter. The horrible thing was, it wasn't working. In fact she never lost the smile on her face. Finally she had us get down and she resumed working with the girls and, at last, the chorus. It had been a few hours and she asked us to group up on the stage before breaking for the day.
“Firstly,” she began, “let me thank you all for the lovely auditions. Some roles I feel very confident about at this stage and others are yet to be decided.” She smiled at the whole group, “We'll get together tomorrow at the same time so I can get a grasp on the undecided roles and then I'll post them so we can get to rehearsals. Good job, everyone!”
“Su cuy'gar,” Torian smiled at me as we exited the school and headed for his car.
“Back at you. I feel like I was in a fight, I'm exhausted.”
“You were great! It was almost like you had read ahead of time and knew the character,” Kelly gushed.
“She's right.” Torian said. “I Googled up a quick description of the play once I found out the one Kelly tricked us into,” Torian dodged as Kelly tried to smack his arm, “and old Jud is a real sourpuss. Well played.”
So my lousy attitude had backfired. Of course it did. We climbed into the car and Torian ran us home, Kelly bubbling happily about our theater experience to be. After setting the time he'd pick us up in the morning for our Saturday rehearsal thingy, he took off. I trudged to my room and started on my homework while trying to figure out how to sabotage my way out of this mess.
That evening my mother called. In a very weird way I wondered if she'd sensed my stress and was swooping in to take me away. I found, however, that despite my discomfiture about the play, I didn't want to leave. Except that it would spare me any more uncomfortable moments where I knew I was checking out Torian.
“Where are you, mom?”
“Georgia! Oh, Quinlan, it's so nice down here! The people are so sweet, although it is awful warm and they have these little biting bugs everywhere.”
“Georgia? I thought you were going to Tennessee?”
“Oh we did! We did! Earl decided that the job wasn't a good fit, especially after we took a look at the housing market? It just would have been a disaster, a complete disaster I tell you.”
“Why is Earl looking for a new job, anyway? What's wrong with the one he has and the house we live in now?” I leaned against the wall, twirling the cord on the old phone in the kitchen.
“Well, he's trying to move up of course, sugar! You know Earl is very dedicated to us and he's trying to find the best way to take care of us that he can.”
My mind locked up. I sorely, sorely wanted to call bullshit on that statement. Earl was an okay guy, but there was no way he was dedicated to us in the way my mother was claiming. I think he'd be just as happy getting rid of us both – I just had no idea what this game they were playing was all about. I had a bad feeling my mother would wake up one morning at a hotel in the middle of no where to find that Earl had left her and her simpering in his rear view.
“So, how is your grand-mama?”
“Oh, well, I'm glad to hear that.” She coughed lightly, “Well, I hope to have things settled soon enough. I'll call you, sugar. Bye bye.”
I didn't bother to say anything in response, just dropped the phone back on the cradle. My aunt was sitting at the kitchen table, I hadn't heard her come in. She fixed me with an odd look, one that I just couldn't read.
“She's in Georgia. Says the job for Earl in Tennessee didn't work out.”
“I'm not sure she's coming back this time.” I'd said as much to Kelly, but with her it was just safe speculation. With my aunt, it felt more real, and more dangerous.
“She will. Eventually. If nothing else because causing chaos to try and find her own peace is a talent she has,” My aunt replied tiredly. “Actually, I truly think she believes she's searching for peace, but she always manages to sabotage it. I don't know why.” She sighed heavily and covered her forehead with one hand. “I find it best to take your mom with a grain of salt.”
“Just a grain?”
“Yeah. I need the rest of it for a margarita. Where your mom is concerned, maybe two.”
I took that thought back to my room with me, how odd it seemed that my aunt was saying my mother sabotages things in life and I was contemplating the same thing with this play. Maybe I need to give this a genuine try. I mean an honest chance before I preemptively ruin something that has some potential. Maybe something good will come from it?
The mornings were a tad cooler now, but Torian's car was warm when he picked us up. Taking our seats among the rest of the assembled, Mrs H bustled about trying to organize her notes and other items. She seemed to be in a perpetually hurried state. Mr Adamson was gathering a group, the set crew I guessed, and they were heading off to a different area. Sitting on the corner of the stage I spotted a boy who wasn't there the day before, or I'd have noticed him for sure. At least I think I would have, even though I was perving on Torian while he'd been on stage. He had a true swimmers' build, wide shoulders tapering into a slim waist. He had short spiky blond hair and a very smooth complexion. His eyes were hidden to me as he was looking down at his phone. Moments later he slipped the phone into his pocket and glanced at the rest of us in the auditorium seats. Blue, cerulean blue. The eyes I mean.
He noticed me looking at him, and met my gaze. I felt my temperature rise and glanced away. I surreptitiously moved my eyes back to look at him only to find that he was stealing looks in my direction. My heart picked up a few beats per second. Could this seriously cute guy be checking me out?
“Okay! I want to start with the 'Curley' and 'Laurey' roles, and I have several people I want to read. Let's start with...” and Mrs H rattled off a bunch of names for either role, Torian and Kelly included. They formed two groups, scripts in hand, and began looking at the scene in question. “Matthew will go up and warm up the spotlight and I need a few of you,” she pointed out five of us. Yes, us, I was included. “You five can spread out on the stage so that Matt can get some practice putting the light on you.
The seriously cute guy, who I now knew to be Matt, headed up the aisle and to the stairs to reach the spotlight. The five of us moved onto the stage and spread out, while the readings began in the orchestra section for the two lead roles. We milled about on stage, waiting for Matt to fire up the spotlight, and my mind was a whirl about him. I hadn't seen him at school, not that I knew everyone, but I think I'd have noticed. In fact I'm sure I'd have noticed – and this was great for another reason too, maybe I'd stop pining for Torian.
Matt had a long way to go, what with Torian's great personality and his endearingly quirky and, at the same time, sexy appearance. I never thought I'd be attracted to blue hair! The hole at the back of the auditorium, way up high in the wall, opened and there was Matt's face for just a moment. I'd swear he lingered to find me on stage, but as soon as his face disappeared I started to look and see if anyone was close by that he might have been looking at. As I wondered, I realized that with as far away as he was, it was less than likely he could clearly see anyone.
The light moved into the opening and a mellow glow filled its lens as the bulb warmed. A few minutes later the beam was bright enough to start reaching the stage, but not enough to really blind anyone. I glanced over as Torian and Kelly started the scene playing their respective roles, and of course they played well off one another. She was kind of flirty, communicating her wish that he win her basket at auction and he was appropriately hetero in his response. He was still sort of a ham though, and I smiled as I watched them.
Then I was blinded from the side, the spotlight moving to me. Of course I turned and looked full on at it, like an idiot. It lingered just a moment before moving across to another person, but a bright light still moved in my field of vision. The light bounced from one person to the next as Matt got a feel for moving the big light and I blinked stupidly, trying to hurry my vision back to normal.
“Beautiful, wonderful!” Mrs H called out, clapping her hands. “All right, all right, let's gather everyone up!” We all migrated back to the seats in the first few rows while Mrs H fluttered back and forth with a bit of paper here and scratching a random thought there. Finally, she settled in front of us and beamed.
“This is a good group, a very good group!” She almost rubbed her hands together in glee. “I'd like to go over this next bit quickly and then we'll break for ten minutes or...” The spotlight was suddenly on her and she squinted up at the light. “Matthew! Your aim is perfect dear, turn it off and come back down.”
The light lingered a moment, then went out. The scraping sounds of the cover being replaced traveled through the auditorium, and Mrs H continued. “As I was saying, a few items of interest. We will be breaking the rehearsals into groups. The chorus will meet here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Main characters will be here Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next two weeks, with a full rehearsal each Saturday, maybe two. If you have a small speaking part you may be assigned to the chorus, as you'll be with them most of the time.
“Now let's take a ten minute or so break and I'll post the leads on Monday, but today we'll break into some small groups for line reading, some preliminary choreography and then call it a day.”
“I'm so excited,” Kelly said as she stood. “I'm going to walk to the vending machine for a soda, you want anything Quin?”
“I'm good, thanks.”
“I'll go with ya', Ma'am.” Torian said in his best southern drawl. I kind of shivered.
“Why thank ya' sir,” Kelly replied and they sauntered off.
“Hey there,” the seat next to me was suddenly filled with Matthew. Wow, he was even prettier up close. “You look like a new face in the drama club.”
“I am, first year here.” I replied, feeling a little giddy. It kind of wasn't fair, first I got a little wound up over the unattainable Torian and now I had Matt here, speaking and sparkling next to me.
“Oh, well, I'm Matt Harikova, teacher's kid.” He grinned at me and stuck his hand out.
“Quin Thomas, nobody special,” I replied as I took his hand.
“Oh, I don't know about that. Could be a spark of special in there,” he grinned. I glanced away as I was getting the impression he was flirting with me. A quick glance confirmed there was no one within earshot, so I turned back to him.
“Depends on the kind of special you mean, I guess.”
“The kind that looks at boys across a crowded auditorium?” He smiled and leaned in a touch, “Not much opportunity for that in a small town, you know.”
“Is that a fact?” I asked.
“Oh sure. You get the odd drunk fellow, the one that says they never kissed a boy, except for the last time they were drunk of course.” I stiffened a bit, thinking he'd heard about Kevin, but he continued as though nothing had happened, “But I'd kind of like to find one that liked kissing while they were sober.” He placed a hand over mine. “Want to take a quick walk?”
I sat in my room debating. Should I put down Matt is a great kisser? At some point someone else might see this, but then again it wasn't a secret to Kelly. Plus I'd already told Matt as much, but still. Did I need the reminder? I was practically swooning thinking about the make out, and I mean this boy knew how to do it! He moved a little fast, he already tried to reach down the back of my pants a bit, but it wasn't like it was with Kevin. It was soft but urgent, curious but hot, very hot.
Kelly and Torian had gone out after dropping me off, and I think they both knew that something had happened between Matt and me. I was just shocked it happened so fast, but Matt knew what he wanted and I guess it was me. Each time he'd advanced the gambit, reaching under my shirt or licking my earlobe, I'd matched him – his advances giving me the same permission. The thought was more than I could bear and I took in a quick afternoon shower.
I took tea with my grandmother that afternoon, pouring for her as per normal and then settling into a chair across from her.
“I have a picture to show you, come sit by me,” she patted the space on the sofa. I obliged and glanced with curiosity at the image in her hand. It was an old 6x9 that showed a woman with honey blond hair next to a man with thick, dark hair. There was a white heart surrounding them, some kind of prop.
“Is this a prom picture?” I asked.
“It is indeed,” My grandmother murmured. She sipped her tea while I looked at the picture.
“Hey...” I drew it out as it dawned on me, “This is my mom!”
“That is true. She was beautiful, wasn't she?” My grandmother smiled. “It was in the spring, the dance I mean. Everyone looked so nice...” she trailed off. “How curious, her date. That hair, so thick and unruly. He was a nice boy.”
I looked at him, standing next to my mother before I was even thought of. He had on a white jacket and dark pants with a blue handkerchief sticking up out of his breast pocket. His face was clear, though he wore glasses, and his hair was indeed dense and unruly. In fact his hair kind of looked like he'd just rolled out of bed, but it really worked just fine on him. His arm was behind her, a hand appearing on her hip. My mother's smile was radiant, not one of her fake simpers.
“She looks happy,” I said. “I wonder what happened to that girl.”
“Oh, life, I suppose. Stress, we all react differently you know. Take this young man, for instance,” she gestured with her hand, “I know that many months later it was found out that he had gotten a young lady into a family way, a young lady from a good background. This young man...it wasn't easy for him, his family didn't have much.” She fell silent, lost in thought perhaps, looking at the picture.
“What happened to him?”
“Well,” she said slowly, thickly. She raised her teacup and drank slowly. “He was a very responsible young man, as it would happen. He gave up the scholarship he'd earned and began working at one of the local mills to get ready to support his lady love and their child. The girl, however, felt her life was ruined and blamed him. She found that she couldn't bear to abort the child, but giving birth would change her life as well. It was a terrible conundrum. But, grudgingly, she started to accept her life and the choices she'd made when the worst of all possible things happened.”
My grandmother sighed deeply and I waited, drawn into the drama that had happened before I was even thought of. “He was in a very bad accident on the job and he...well, he passed away.”
“That's horrible,” I turned back to look at the picture. My mother must have felt so badly, someone she knew had died so young. “Was my mom close to him? Was she upset when he died?”
“She was crestfallen.” She nodded unsteadily, “It was a turning point, a great many awful things happened all at once.”
“Like what?” I asked, unable to be silent. My grandmother looked hard at the picture, lost in thought before suddenly shaking herself.
“Nothing that we need worry about right now. I understand that my grandchildren are in the school play? How are you finding that?”
“I didn't want to do it at first, but I kind of realized that I should be giving this a fair try. If Kelly really thought I'd hate it, she wouldn't have bullied me into trying it.”
“Bullied?” she guffawed. “Kelly? I could believe it of Gabriella, but Kelly? I must hear this story!”
So I told her how Kelly had tricked me, and how I still maintained she'd blackmailed me. It was just that I decided to make the best of it and try to have fun. I told her about the play and that I thought Kelly and Torian were naturals to play off one another on and off stage. She nodded sagely and urged me to continue.
Monday the cast was posted, and I was truly stunned to find I'd landed the role of 'Jud'. I was equally surprised at some of the dirty looks I got from people who thought they should have gotten the role. Kelly squealed, as she was cast as 'Laurey' and Torian and 'Curley'. I knew this would mean running lines together, but that wasn't the same as just hanging out where Torian would force me to fall just a little more for him.
Besides that, I was distracted all week with thoughts of seeing Matt on Saturday – and I was sure I'd see him. He'd clearly enjoyed our time and had sought me out, and I definitely enjoyed our time as well. A great side effect was it took the pressure off the feelings I'd been struggling with towards Torian, or at least gave me a little release from them. Because to be honest, my feelings for Torian hadn't changed, they had been steadily getting stronger. Matt was a very pretty release, and I planned to work hard to have a real relationship with him, something that would allow me to grow out of Torian.
Torian continued to greet me in Mandalorian, and it was seriously endearing that he felt silly, but also that he shared his little silliness with me. It was like a private joke – I'm not sure he'd ever greeted Kelly that way, and I liked that. It was a little bit of Torian just for me. I wasn't a mindless ball of jelly, however much these two boys were addling me. I started looking up all I could find on the New Light Redemptory School for Boys.
Firstly they were located in the central part of California in a tiny town whose only other main complex seemed to be a prison, making for an isolated environment. A phone number was listed, and a P.O. Box address. I hopped on Google Earth, but the car hadn't come close enough to the compound to photograph much, though the top down view was kind of a mystery. It had many different roofs on the building – a round, tower like roof a and a peaked central roof, like a tent with four sides. The building seemed massive and, the satellite map also showed, there was a pretty obvious fence ringing the property.
I did a quick search to see if there were any news items for the school, but there wasn't very much besides a notice that the building was leased to a new school. The building was on the historic register and had been a state school for delinquents for many years. I noted the town name and looked up the local law enforcement division. The idea I had was simple: to find out if there had been any allegations made against the school and then take those to Siobhan. My hope was that their tearful daughter, armed with such information, could guilt their parents into changing their minds – or at least get them to check on Kevin.
Outside of getting big outside help like the ACLU or HRC involved, I wasn't sure...wait. Maybe, maybe....as a back up plan...
Glancing at the county sheriff's number I decided to take a chance and called with my cell phone.
“Hello. I'm calling because a...” Well, he wasn't my enemy, so I guess friend it is, “friend of mine disappeared a few weeks ago. His sister found the website his parents were looking at and we are sure he's at the..”
“Let me guess, the New Light Redemptory School?”
“Yes, that's it.”
The line stayed quiet for a few moments, and I was on the verge of asking if the officer was still there, when I heard the line disconnect. I looked at my phone in confusion and was debating if I should redial when an unknown call came in on my phone.
“I'm going to make this quick, this call is unofficial – understand?”
“This is what you do, call this number – she's a children's rights lawyer and she has some muscle in politics. Inform her of the situation and that the child wants to be emancipated. She should be able to get in to see him – and if she gets that far, she can take him on as a client. Best of luck, and I hope your...friend...is okay.”
I stared at the number. I guess this was one step below the nuclear option – but it was awfully close. I saved the number to my phone and decided I needed to speak to Siobhan.
Friday was a bust as I didn't have Siobhan in any of my classes and I searched for her at lunch in vain. Saturday we arrived, ready for a full dress rehearsal, and it was an agonizingly slow process. We started with initial placements and then a loose set of movements were laid out for each character while they played out their scene. Of course each set of instructions required a break in the scene and a lot of standing around while instructions were doled out or cleared up. We finally took a break and Matt and I disappeared again, but I think Kelly saw us.
Matt was as passionate as ever, and his patented gentle but insistent touch made me hotter than I'd ever been before, but when his hand moved past my waist and under the band of my underwear, well I nearly finished right there. He started to unzip me, but voices drawing close cut us short. A couple of people wandered into the area we'd hidden in, the prop room, and retrieved a few items. While they dug around, Matt leaned in and whispered in my ear.
“I don't live that far away, want to come over tomorrow and finish what we started?”
After rehearsal, which I don't remember any more of, we climbed into Torian's car and headed out. I was lost in a fantasy of just what we would end up doing the next day and so was a little surprised when we pulled up in front of a strange house and the engine shut off.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Did you block me out again? There's no food so if my mother was right, sex is on your mind.” Kelly laughed at me. I colored.
“Olar ner yaim,” Torian said carefully. We both looked at him in confusion.
“Which language did you say you were learning, again?” Kelly asked.
“Mandalorian,” I supplied.
“Right,” Torian said with a grin, “It means 'this is my home'. Well, except the 'is', I haven't found that word yet, but I was answering your question.”
“He doesn't know anyone else that speaks Mandalorian, so he tries it out on us!” Kelly laughed and patted Torian's cheek.
“Oh, okay so...what are we doing here?” I asked in confusion.
“I told you, he was thinking about sex!” Kelly laughed, “Nothing else so completely occupies the male brain.”
“Every 9 seconds,” Torian nodded as he opened his door and Kelly followed suit. I mentally shrugged and followed them. The house was done in white with a pale gray trim, had well kept hedges and pretty flowerbeds arranged that gave the little house a stately air. It was a modest home, but one that looked very inviting. I have to admit, as well, I was curious to see where Torian lived – probably too curious – but we were here so I couldn't be blamed for indulging my curiosity.
We walked up the short driveway and into the car port where a side door revealed itself. We stepped in and Torian kicked off his his shoes, so we followed suit. Inside Kelly went right to the fridge and took out stuff to make sandwiches while Torian grabbed plates. I was slightly taken aback by Kelly's familiarity in Torian's house, but I guess she must have felt pretty comfortable as his girlfriend. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and they both told me, nearly in sync, to sit down.
As I lowered myself into the chair a smallish woman entered the room with orangish-pink hair, smiling and grabbing both Kelly and Torian for hugs and little kisses. “How are you guys? How was rehearsal? Are you making a sandwich for me too, I see there's three....Oh! Who is this?” She asked making a beeline for me.
I stood quickly, to be polite, and tentatively waived my hand, “Hi, I'm...”
“Wait, wait.” She put a finger to her very red lips and tilted her head to the side in thought. “Thick, dark, beautiful hair,” She muttered and I shifted a tad on my feet. “Olive colored eyes, very deep and expressive.”
She continued to regard me and I glanced at Kelly and Torian. Kelly was smiling, clearly enjoying my discomfiture, Torian looked a little embarrassed which led me to believe that this was his mother – as if the hair wasn't enough of a clue.
“Turn around, hon? Little spin?” She twirled her finger at me and Kelly giggled while Torian groaned, 'mom!' She ignored them both and continued to prompt me by spinning her finger. Uncertainly I complied and when I finished the turn I found myself being engulfed by the little woman with the bright hair. “You must be QT, and such a cutie you are! Welcome to our home.”
“Uh, thank you.” I said, still uncertain but trying to return a little bit of the hug. I wasn't used to hugs, so they felt a little awkward, even with Matt – though I had less time to think about it when I was with Matt.
“I've heard so much about you, it's such a pleasure to finally meet you. Sit down, love, sit down. I'm told you're a vegetarian?”
“Yes, ma'am.” I replied as I sat down and she took the seat to my right.
“Ma'am!” She looked at the other two who were putting sandwiches on the table, “Didn't you guys prepare him for me at all?”
“I prefer the look of surprise he gets; he needs his little world shaken up,” Kelly grinned.
“I do not,” I muttered.
“Call me Susan, cutie, and I find it so interesting that you made that choice. You know, Torian and I are looking at that as well. I was a little surprised, but I guess Kelly was talking to him about your reasons? And we saw some abuse videos online? How can anyone do that with a conscience?”
“I'm not here to convert anyone. It's something I felt I needed to do for myself.” So Torian and Kelly talk about me? I wonder what else they'd said?
“That's sweet, hon, but doesn't it bother you a little when people eat meat in front of you? I mean, given that you made this choice based on a moral stance?” She put her elbow on the table and supported her head with her hand.
“Well, I mean, yeah it can bother me a little sometimes. I try to keep in mind that not everyone knows what I know and that fighting with people doesn't make them listen. It just makes them dig in and fight harder.”
“Yeah, I think we're all related to mules somewhere along the line.” She smiled. “Well, I'll let you kids eat and run your lines.” She touched my arm and smiled brightly, “It was nice to finally meet you, QT.”
“And you, Ma'am...Susan.” I corrected at her slight frown.
“You'll get used to it.” She said and headed out of the room. Music started somewhere in the house and Torian shot me an apologetic look.
“Sorry about that, mom can come on a little strong.”
“Hey, I wish my mom was like yours,” I found myself saying. “I don't even know where mine is.” We started running some lines after the snack and Susan kept coming in and out of the room singing the same songs under her breath. I didn't recognize the songs themselves but some of the lines stood out, like 'waiting for your change of heart', and 'true colors'. I only noted it because Torian seemed to be glaring at her when she'd come into the kitchen and she'd pat his cheek affectionately.
We got ready to leave and I asked to use the bathroom before we left. Almost immediately a downstairs door was heard to close and, after a quick look to confirm, Torian directed me upstairs as his mother was using the one downstairs. The small craftsman style house had pretty wood fixtures and the home was very neat and not nearly as colorful as either mother or son's hair. I went up the carpeted stairs and was immediately presented with a dilemma.
I could see a door that was plainly Torian's – because it said, in old English script, 'Torian's Room'. The door to the bathroom was next to it and standing open. I glanced down the stairs and curiosity overcame my common sense, as well as my polite nature, and I stuck my head into Torian's room. It was relatively neat, a few clothes that didn't make the hamper, but other than a few cluttered flat surfaces it was pretty picked up.
He had a very soft looking full sized bed and one wall was filled with books. With one more glance behind me to make sure no one was headed up, I stole over to his bookshelf and glanced at the titles. Tons of Star Wars and Star Trek items, all grouped together. There was a grouping of 'horror' novels, some comedy stuff and...holy shit! There was a copy of 'Camy's Shorts!' As I glanced at the section there were other titles I'd read with gay characters, a whole row of Alex Sanchez's books, Josh Aterovis's mysteries and Midnight Dude. I heard Kelly call from downstairs and I quickly, as quietly as possible, retreated to the bathroom and ran the water into the sink.
Of course, that made me need to go even worse but I'd been upstairs too long so I'd have to hold it till home. Gah!
Monday came, but my mind was still lost in fantasy about Sunday. I'd gone further with Matt than I'd ever been before with anyone; in fact the whole encounter was practically pornographic. And I wanted more, of everything. I had texted Matt asking if we could get together this week to talk, coffee or something. Underneath all my hot blooded fantasies and the reality of what Matt and I were engaged in, I was finding that, in my more quiet and reflective times, I was feeling as though I was missing something. Something that should be obvious, but that I couldn't put my finger on.
I think, dimly, I was thinking that with the things Matt and I were doing I wanted to do things with him that we weren't, so far. Movies, talking, dates. I think that was it, I wanted a relationship. The sexy things were great, felt great, and I enjoyed them immensely but I also felt like it was taking on the qualities of masturbation – there was nothing left once you cleaned up.
At lunch I did see Siobhan, though, so I motioned for her to join me on the bench. She was a pretty girl, physically, and I liked her despite her religious leanings. In fact I thought it was a real testament to her that her brother was more important than all that, and that she wanted to help him more than she wanted to 'save his soul' or whatever it was her parents were doing. She sat down and gave me a heartrendingly hopeful look.
“I found some stuff, it's kind of up to you how you want to do this, though.” I explained about my idea to look and see if the school had any legal claims against it that she could use to sway her parents.
“The only problem is that they might send him to another place,” she said shaking her head. “I have no doubt my parents want him in a safe place, but they are convinced that his immortal soul is in peril.”
“And you?” I asked softly.
“I...” she clasped the cross around her neck. “I love my brother. I don't know if his...desires...are as dire as my parents think they are. I do think that God would want this treated with love, though. Not being ripped from your family in the middle of the night and...and...” her other hand moved up to cover her eyes briefly.
“There are two other options I have come up with. One is really, really out there but...I have this phone number.” I explained what the Sheriff had said, off the record, and she began to nod her head. “I did the research though, and in California you can be emancipated at 14, but you have to have a place to live or support yourself to be emancipated.”
“We,” she glanced away and then brought her eyes up to face mine, wet with emotion, “We have an aunt and uncle in town. They don't go to our church and my parents won't let us have anything to do with them. My parents say they are godless and...well, a lot of other things. But I could ask if they'd be willing. I know where they are, I've even spoken to my uncle once. He seemed like a nice man, nothing like what my parents said he was.”
“Well, if we could line them up before we contact this lawyer, it might be his best shot at getting back here.” I replied.
“Would you...I know it's asking a lot, and you've helped so much already but...would you go with me?”
“Uh. Yeah, sure.” I shrugged.
After lunch I was in my study hall with Torian and I was dying to ask him about his books, specifically the whole 'gay' section he had on his bookcase. Did Kelly know about them? Well, just because he had them didn't mean he was gay, let's be clear, but I think it at least indicates he's curious. No, wait, maybe he just liked the stories? After all, there are plenty of stories with no gay characters that I enjoy, so it doesn't make you gay if you like a story where the main character just happens to be gay. Right?
I kept stealing glances at Torian and, for the first time, really wondered if he could be gay. If he was, could he ever be interested in me? I could all too easily see myself cuddling on the couch and watching a movie with Torian, or reading books with our feet touching or even just walking together. I could see us in the mall, or him using that silly Mandalorian to try and communicate...all the things I wasn't sensing with Matt.
I checked my phone, Matt had replied that today wasn't good. That was fine, considering Siobhan and I were going to see her relations.
“What?” Torian whispered.
“You keep looking at me?” he held his hands out.
“I do?” I felt embarrassed, my thoughts of cuddling instantly flooding my mind. “Oh, well, I, uh...Siobhan and I have an errand this afternoon, I was wondering if we could maybe get a ride?”
“Siobhan McAuliffe?” His eyes grew large.
“Yeah. Uh, tell you after gym?”
He nodded, but he looked a little off, now. Hard to say what, I couldn't put my finger on it.
We returned to our school work before the monitor caught us, but I knew my mind wasn't on it. It was swirling with thoughts of Matt, Torian and Siobhan. My phone vibrated in my pocket and when I looked I saw Torian had texted me. It's okay if you want to stare at me, I don't mind.
I tilted my head at him and lifted an eyebrow and then quirked the corner of my mouth. He looked away and began chuckling quietly.
Right after gym I gave Torian the short version, and had to repeat it once Kelly showed up. Both were in favor, angrily so.
“I didn't know Siobhan had this kind of spine in her, it must be hard to go against everything you were taught.” Kelly said while running a hand through her hair.
And that was how Siobhan found us, now four strong instead of two. As it happens, Siobhan's aunt and uncle owned an organic co-op featuring their own produce as well as that from other local farmers. The lady at the counter assumed we wanted applications, but Siobhan let her know we were there to see her Uncle Jason and Aunt Tracey. Her uncle appeared moments later, a tall, broad man with thinning brown hair chased with white strands. His face was wide and pleasant, ruddy and crinkled from laughter.
“Siobhan? How nice to see you, sweetie.” He gave her a small hug and she tentatively returned it.
“These are...my friends,” Siobhan introduced us and we all shook hands.
“So what's the occasion? I'm happy to see you, but the work is never ending here.”
“I needed to see you and Aunt Tracey about Kevin. He's in a lot of trouble.” Siobhan said firmly.
“But, wouldn't your parents...” He trailed off as the dots connected in his head and he invited us back into the office. A plump woman whose hair was in a similar condition as Jason's smiled at our group.
“Siobhan!” another round of hugs, handshaking and introductions were had. Then we got down to it, with Siobhan presenting the gory details from home and me supplying the overview of the school, its intent, and the under the table advice we'd been given.
Her uncle was visibly angry, hands clenching and relaxing. Her aunt's face had taken on a look of iron, which only grew harder with each detail. In the end they both agreed to make room for Kevin and to contact this lawyer – it was the best we could hope for at the moment.
“I think you should probably go now. We'll let you know what happens, but I don't want your parents to get wind of what we're up to.” Her aunt said stonily before giving hugs all around and sending us off with a piece of fruit each from the basket on her desk.
When we had dropped off Siobhan and waved goodbye to Torian, we got home to find my mother in the parlor having tea with my grandmother.
Seeing my mother was a little bit of a shock, and not a pleasant one. I know that sounds terrible, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who wasn't thrilled to see their parent at some point, but this was a little worse. I was already tired from the day, but when you add into it all the other parenting types I'd run into since she'd dropped me off – dumped me – the idea of running off with her on one of her selfish adventures soured my stomach.
“Sugar, there you are,” my mother simpered as she stood and smoothed her skirt.
“Mother.” I said quietly, standing my ground.
“Quinlan, why don't you join us for some tea? Kelly, why don't you as well?” Kelly glanced at me and took a seat on the couch, scooting over to allow me space as well. On the coffee table was the picture my grandmother had shown me of my mother's prom. I poured tea while Kelly picked it up for a closer look.
“I wore my hair so differently then,” my mother said to Kelly. My mind boiled over knowing why my mother was here – and knowing I didn't want it, not this time. Before I'd always been waiting in anticipation of her arrival. Maybe not with longing or excitement, but with certainty. Now I was honestly sad to see her because I fit here. I had made a home with my somewhat aloof grandmother, my sourpuss aunt and my gem of a cousin. Yes, with Torian and Kevin and Siobhan, and even Matt. I now have a history here and I didn't want to give it up.
“Who was your date?” Kelly asked. I mentally asked 'who cares?' while my mind tried to get some traction on how to get my mother to leave me here.
“What was his name, Estelle? I think I may have forgotten,” My grandmother murmured.
“Oh, well now, I think his name was Tiernan. Yes, Tiernan, his family was from a long line of Irishmen with that dark hair.” My mother's hands fluttered and she reached for her cup, and then lost interest partway. Kelly held the picture where I could see.
“He looks like you, QT.”
I shot Kelly a confused look, and then examined the picture closer. The hair was very familiar, I saw something very like it everyday in the mirror. The light skin the...
“What was his last name, mom?”
“His last name, what was it?” I asked firmly.
“Well now, let's see. It was so long ago,” she sputtered.
“It was Thomas, wasn't it?” I said with certainty. “This guy in the picture, he's my father isn't he?” The colossal betrayal my mother had allowed me to believe rose up like an enormous wave threatening to wash away everything I had believed about myself. “Who's the bald guy you said was my dad?”
“Now don't you take that tone with me! Everything I've done was for you!” she snarled.
“Bullshit!” I snapped as I stood.
“Quinlan Thomas, be seated and be civil.” My grandmother intoned. I was so angry my mind rebelled at the thought, but my good manners and respect for my grandmother forced my knees to bend and my body to stiffly sit on the couch. Kelly moved closer.
“Estelle, I believe you owe your son an explanation. Kelly, I don't think this is either of our affairs.” So saying she stood smoothly and held her hand out to my cousin.
“We can talk later if you need, you know where I'll be,” Kelly said to me before accepting my grandmothers helping hand to exit the room. The door slid closed and I glared at my mother.
“Don't look at me like that, it wasn't like I planned life to be this way,” she said sadly.
“Why don't you just tell me the truth?” I asked with as much control as I could manage.
“Tiernan Thomas? Be great if you could say his name.”
“I loved him!” She said loudly with tears in her eyes. “He was a good man, but we were so young! I wasn't ready for marriage or a child but our actions had put us in that situation,” she picked up a napkin and daubed her eyes. “He would have been a father you'd be proud of. When he found out I was in a family way, he went to work to support us. He was the only man that ever took his responsibility to us seriously, and I have been looking ever since for that. For him.”
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“Because,” she looked down in her lap, “Because I didn't want you to suffer, to miss a man you could never know – how good and honest and decent he was. I tried to find a man worthy, worthy of us both. But as time passed,” she held the napkin to her nose for a moment before dropping it and meeting my eyes, “I realized how rare a man like your father really was. Each time things seemed to get worse.
“I admit I didn't start out looking for him. I started out looking for anyone, if they seemed to have an idea of what life was about – which I certainly didn't – I tried to make something work. Not just for you, I know that, not always. I needed something too. But no one ever measured up to Tiernan.”
I should have felt bad for her. I should have, but I didn't feel much of that. I was angry, angry for her bad choices and for her lies and for...everything. I got up and headed for the door, and as I placed my hand on the handle I turned and spoke over my shoulder.
“When you run this time, I don't want to go. I'm happy here. If you really want to do something for me, do that. Leave me somewhere I can be happy.”
I started texting Matt in the morning. I knew I had rehearsal that day, but I wanted to spend some time getting to know him on Wednesday. For most of the day he didn't respond, and when he did he gave me a general 'I'm busy' response. I told him how much I wanted, needed to see him and asked when we could sit down and talk. He said Saturday, and so I waited unhappily for then.
My mother took up a room in the house and seemed less the person I knew. Her false shell broken and she seemed to be hesitant and confused. I did my best to be polite, but I didn't have a great deal to say.
The rest of the week dragged and when I saw Matt at rehearsals, we didn't talk. I physically couldn't with his mouth clamped over mine, but I accepted it. I needed the physical contact, to know that someone wanted me. I knew I felt so needy because this physical interaction was something only Matt could give me. Kelly would talk, maybe even give me a hug that I would awkwardly return. Torian would make me smirk and make me feel guilty that I wanted him to hold me, cuddle me until I felt stronger. Instead all I had was Matt's passion, and he had enough to make up for my misgivings about everything else our relationship lacked.
They started to call us back to the stage and I gently pushed Matt back. His face was full of longing and heat, his lips swollen from our kisses. “Matt, can we talk? I've had some stuff going on and I could really use you.”
“Oh, well,” his face slipped into a slight scowl. “Well, come over tomorrow again. I have something to talk to you about anyway.” With a final kiss, forcing his tongue past my lips, he was gone and I felt curiously empty.
I felt tired at the end of rehearsal and begged off going to Torian's again to run lines. They both were sympathetic; I'm sure Kelly had filled Torian in on doings at our house, and they let me go without a fight. I brooded the rest of Saturday, drifting in and out of wakefulness.
Sunday I left ostensibly for my morning exercise, but like last Sunday I walked to Matt's. His mom, Mrs H, had a regular class she attended on Sundays so Matt was left alone. Even though I wanted to see Matt, I wasn't as lust-filled as I had been even a few days ago. I wanted Matt's arms to hold me, maybe on the couch while a black and white movie was on TV that neither of us were watching. I wanted him to rub my back and maybe add in a gentle kiss here and there. I realized, with a jolt, I wanted him to act like a boyfriend, or a human that really cared about me.
His back door was open, as it had been the week before and I called out to him. He returned the call and said that he was in his bedroom. Despite my melancholy, my body responded to the situation, and I headed towards his room. The door was open halfway and as I stepped in I saw two nearly identical things that gave me the complete opposite reaction.
Matt was laying in bed, nude. The sun from the window kissed his skin and made each tiny hair on his body awash with light. His tanned skin was a beautiful contrast to his lighter skin around the waist and his blond hair. He was erect and smiling at me, and my crotch pulsed in response.
Then the rest of the scene kicked in for my brain, and my crotch was in full retreat. She was pretty, no doubt, but she was also nude with small perky breasts tight to her chest and long chestnut hair that cascaded just past her shoulders. Her hand strayed to Matt's chest and slowly down to cup his testicles. He wiggled a bit under her touch and sat up on his elbows.
“Move over on this side, babe,” he said to her as he guided her across his body and to the far side of the bed. He turned his eyes towards me, over his shoulder as he turned his chest towards his 'girlfriend'.
“Abby has wanted to have two guys for a long time. I don't mind other guys, in fact I think you know I even enjoy it. But we wanted to try something new.” He placed a hand on his butt and pulled up a bit, exposing some of his crack. “I want you to get in me while I get in her. What do you say, want my ass?”
Some part of me did. Some part of me was sweating and urging me on, to close my eyes and to get into that beautiful, practically sculpted ass. But the rest of me couldn't. Tears began forming in my eyes, and I felt ashamed.
“Matt...I thought you...I wanted us to...”
“Hey, come on, don't spoil this now, sexy boy. How many times in your life can you have a shot at an ass like this, huh?”
“I thought you and I would...be boyfriends.” I whispered, feeling stupid. There was no sense having a conversation, it was already over.
“Sure, I don't mind! Hey, I like sex, I want to try it all – it was just hard to find a guy to mess around with.” He began pushing his penis between her legs, and then glanced back at me once more. “But I'm not a one person kind of guy. So either you get that, and get this,” he slapped his ass, “Or you go without, 'cause in this town? Mine's the only ass you'll get.”
On Monday I was emotionally unbalanced. I felt sick, I felt tired and I was cranky. I solved most of it by being quiet while I tried to reconcile my actions with my image of myself. I just couldn't, though. How do you adjust when you wake up one day and don't know yourself anymore? Was this lost feeling that I was going through in any way similar to how my mother had felt? Granted the perspective was different, but I was willing to bet the pain was the same.
It took until Wednesday and then Kelly couldn't take me anymore. I was reluctant to talk, afraid of what she might say – to me or Torian – and I resisted her efforts. Finally she grabbed my arm and dragged me off to her rock. The safe zone, or whatever.
I sat in the dying light and, with sudden clarity, realized that this is what had caused my mother to run and hide. What better way to put such things in your rear view? The idea of running away, of packing my things and simply running was tremendously appealing...until I looked into my cousin's concern laden face. Maybe if my mother had a face like that, like my father's, she wouldn't have run.
“QT, I'm worried and you won't talk to me and...”
“It's embarrassing.” I said. Then I told her about the last three weeks, not just the pressure with Kevin's situation that she knew, but of the fling with Matt – the consecutive Sunday visits, how we progressed from oral sex to his proposal the second time. I kept my eyes turned from hers as I spilled from both my eyes and my mouth, and once I got to the previous Sunday I slowly looked up at her, wondering if she'd be disgusted.
“Did I...fuck him?” I asked slowly.
I hung my head. “Yes” I whispered. “I...part of me was afraid it was true, that no one else...not the sex part, but I was hoping that after maybe he'd,” I sniffled and looked up at the darkening sky, the trees, the setting sun – anywhere but her face. “I thought...hoped that, maybe after wards, he'd hold me.”
“Are you...going to see him again?”
“I...I don't really want to. It was my first time and...it so wasn't special.” I whispered. Her hand was on my shoulder and I started to cry in earnest. “I feel so worthless. He challenged me, he dared me to walk away without fucking him and...I just...”
“Matt is so hot, but such a douche! I just had no idea...”
“You know, it's okay if people have whatever they want for a relationship. I just think that, you know, he should have said...that I knew what I was getting into. I don't know if...if I would have, you know, turned it down. But it's totally not what I was thinking or what I wanted.”
She remained silent, giving me an awkward sitting hug while I cried out how stupid and used I felt, and the guilt that Matt's body still turned me on but that his attitude made me feel like shit. I stilled a bit, sniffling and wiping my eyes. Once I had calmed down some, I began to talk again.
“My mom admitted that Tiernan Thomas, the guy in that prom photo? That was my father. I think...” I glanced and my hands, clenched together. “For a long time I've made excuses for the guy I thought was my dad. I don't know why he never just told me, just said once 'you know kid, I'm not even close to being your father. That's why you don't live with me and why I never visit'. If he'd have done that, maybe...”
Shaking my head I replied, “I used to dream that, when my mom would dump me, he'd come get me. One of those knight in shining armor moments. That's what I wanted. Instead, what I wanted,” I sniffled, “What I needed to realize was I don't need a knight in shining armor, a sweet boy in old blue jeans would do nicely.”
“QT, I'm so sorry,” she rubbed my back and I slowly straightened up and wiped my face. I glanced around, any where so she wouldn't be looking at my red eyes and puffy face. “Quin...do you know, I mean after all this...do you know what you want?”
“Torian.” It was in my head, it was on my tongue before I could clamp my teeth down. I babbled, telling her alternately how sweet he was and how wonderful and how I had wanted him to hold me, and yes even make love to me. But all that was separated by apologies and embarrassing stutters. I felt so monumentally bad to have told her; I felt guilty and like such a slut, and then to turn around and blurt that I had been perving on her boyfriend for months.
“Q, I don't get this – I mean, I get being attracted to Torian, but the rest of it? Why all the apologies and guilt?”
“Because he's your boyfriend, duh!” I said with a laugh that bubbled into a cough. Recovering I looked at her solemnly and told her about his books, how I had peeked in his private space, and that I hoped he wouldn't turn out like Matt, for her sake. I think her laughing at me was borderline rude.
“You idiot,” she grinned as she patted my cheek, “Torian's gay.”
“No, wait, hang on. That's what I want to hear but you two are always together, you go to the movies just like a couple, you tease and plot like a couple, ergo you're a couple.”
She giggled, “Tonight when you go to sleep? Pray for brains.”
“No, really. Look,” she smirked, “Torian is totally, one hundred percent gay. He's done everything he could to stay near you, just on the off chance you'll notice him. He is so head over heels for you,” she shook her head in amusement.
“This,” I licked my lips, “This isn't funny, Kelly. I was being serious.”
“Q, stop being stupid, Torian is gay and he wishes you'd notice him!”
“No, no!” I stood on the stupid safety rock, “No! This...” I turned my head, looking at the sunset for answers. It wasn't possible I missed signs from him, was it? No he was.... “That picture on the laptop, you kissed! When I first saw him you ran and hugged him and kissed him! You greeted him like a boyfriend!”
She rolled her eyes and laughed at me, “I'm sorry I asked you to stop being stupid without considering how difficult that would be for you. Clearly, you missed the part where I kissed him on the cheek, hello?”
“But this whole...”
“Yeah, this whole time while you thought he and I were an item so you didn't make a move, which is totally commendable following that train of thought,” she frowned, “too bad it derailed before it left the station.”
“What?” I asked in confusion.
“Your train of thought? Derailed? Never mind. Look, I'm the one that needs an apology right now!”
I decided not to ask why. Logic told me she'd tell me without asking in 3, 2, 1...
“Ever since you got here I've been listening to him tell me how you'd never be interested,” she allowed her voice to drop down and imitate a male, “guys like me don't get guys like him, Kelly.”
“He'd never say that, he's so out...”
“Don't you dare say he's out of your league! You're both in the same league, damn it!” she frowned, “I have never met two people that wanted to be together so badly but were too chicken shit to do anything about it! I understand you feel screwed up – newsflash, we all are! Torian's got his shit to deal with, the question is will you guys allow each other a chance?”
Thursday I was, if possible, a bigger mess than before. I knew, rationally, that there were all kinds of relationships and that, if people wanted an open one, that was fine – whatever fit their own rules. I felt like I was kind of under the gun, though, when the rules – Matt's rules – were made clear, and I was disappointed in myself and my lack of control. I was also disappointed that I enjoyed it somewhat and, lacking the girlfriend, might have done it again.
Except for one thing, and it's that I found out Torian was gay. All through my affair with Matt, my mind and heart had wandered to Torian as if it knew that's where I should be. I worried that Torian wouldn't want to even try when he'd heard what I'd done, and I thought about not telling him. But in the end I didn't want to do things the way my mother had. I would own my past and present myself to him warts and all.
So there I am walking through the halls when a hand clamps down on my shoulder. I turn to see...Kevin. I surprised myself with the smile that spread across my face and his return of that smile. He put his hand out and I shook it.
“Kevin, welcome back.”
“Thanks, I'm incredibly glad to be back,” he said. Physically he was lighter, you could see it in the face – and I'd looked at his face enough to know. But his smile was genuine, though his eyes were a bit haunted. “I was surprised when Siobhan told me you helped. After...what I did...”
I placed a hand on his arm, “All forgiven, Kev. Friends?”
He smiled back, “Friends,” he nodded. He told me he was living with his aunt and uncle while the court heard the petitions from him and his parents, but that his lawyer expected to win. He let me know he was working at the Co-Op and asked me to stop and visit. I felt incredibly good after that, even optimistic. I saw Siobhan at lunch, and she related how angry her parents were, but she was only relived. She filled me in on the conditions at the school, the 'prayer conditioning' and some of the odd and downright sick things they did for 'treatment'.
Later, in study hall, Torian plopped down next to me. I smiled at him and he returned it.
“Hey, you're back to being happy. Su cuy'gar! You're still alive!” He grinned at me and I smiled, feeling as though everything would work out. Study hall started and the proctor quieted the room down to work. I kept stealing glances at Torian, wondering if he'd be willing to give me a chance and knowing, just knowing that he was right for me. He caught me looking and held his hands apart again, like a 'what gives?' pose.
I texted him. You said it was okay for me to stare at you.
Moments later my phone vibrated with the reply, No, I said I didn't mind.
I grinned at the phone, and looked at him. He was looking down but smiling as well, so I sent him a reply. Fine, I'm just staring at you, because you don't mind.
He chuckled quietly and rolled his eyes at me before we resumed our work.
In gym, I continued to stare. He grinned and shoved me, thinking I was being silly, but all I was really thinking about was molding myself into his arms, against his body, and simply being. For starters. But I could easily spend an afternoon or evening ensconced in Torian's embrace. After school we had a rehearsal, and then Torian took us home. I lingered at his car, and Kelly seemed to get the clue. She smiled and went inside and Torian turned to look at me.
“You've been acting pretty happy today, glad to see it.” He leaned back against his car.
“Yeah, Kelly and I talked last night, I got a bunch of things off my chest. I mean, I'm not totally happy with myself, but I feel a lot better. Plus, did you see Kevin McAuliffe in school today?”
“Yeah,” Torian shifted his feet, “Seems like the plan worked, it's awesome. So,” he hesitated, “You and Kevin going to try and patch things up?”
“Oh, we did, it's all good.”
“Oh. Well, cool. Uh, I guess I should...” He hooked his thumb towards his car. I have to confess, I was playing with him just a tiny bit. I wasn't really trying to, but I was nervous. I knew I wanted to be with him, but I was going to let him know who I was – and what I'd done – before he could feel awkward. I'd be honest, and if he didn't care – which might be too much to hope for – I'd be thrilled. Either way, here goes nothing.
“Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum,” I said, looking right in his eyes.
“What did you say? Slower,” his grin spread across his face.
“Torian Everhart, ni kar'tayl gar darasuum.”
His face clearly showed his mind was turning, “That's Mandalorian, but I'm having a hard time figuring out the phrase!” He was so adorably excited that someone was being as geeky as he was. “What does it mean?”
“This,” I said as I leaned in and kissed him. He froze but I kept the kiss on until I began to wonder if I had screwed up and I started to pull back, but his hand was suddenly behind my head and pulling me in.
We'll survive this, and each time we did, I knew what we'd say. Su cuy'gar, which means we are still alive, and ni kar'tayl gar darasuum, which means I love you. When he finds out I told him that I love him in Mandalorian...he may have a nerdgasm.