Stuff People Do

Chapter 2

“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath


Wait a minute! I didn’t mean what I just said.  I didn’t want Ricky to kiss me. What am I thinking? I…I can’t think this way. It is wrong. God says it is wrong, doesn’t he?

What Ricky did was wrong. He’s going to hell. That is what Pastor Simpson says. Mom and Dad think that too. I can’t count the number of times my dad has ranted and raved about a couple of guys he sees holding hands while walking down the street. Two years ago, he rolled down his window and hollered out, “All fags are going to hell.” I slumped down in my seat as he drove away.

If they knew what happened just now, they would demand that I never see Ricky again. We could never be friends. I just can’t see my life without him. He’s been there for me through all the shit I have had to endure the past few years. He’s the only person who knows how I’m treated by Mom and Dad. They have never laid a hand on me, but they torture me mentally almost every day. It is horrible living with religious fanatics.

That’s why I have never admitted my deepest darkest secret. It has been buried since I was about ten years old. I’ve never told anyone, not even Ricky. Maybe that is why he kissed me. Maybe he knows. Maybe he knows me better than I know myself.

All I know right now is my life has changed- drastically. How I react to this may start an avalanche that I can’t stop. If I tell Ricky that it is okay, and I forgive him, he may think I liked it. If I get mad, I could lose my best friend forever.

Everything was going okay in my life. Mom and Dad were pretty much leaving me alone. I had a girlfriend which pleased them very much. I could tell that Dad was happy that I wasn’t ‘one of them.’ And I’m not. I can’t be ‘one of them.’ It would ruin my life forever. I know how Mom and Dad would react. If they didn’t put me out of the house, then they would send me to conversion therapy. I have heard them discuss it at the dinner table when they talk about Pastor Simpson’s sermon. From what they say, he’s even tried to do it himself a few times with the children of some people who attend the church. I’ve never heard them mention names, but I’m pretty sure who one is.

His name is Charles Ward. I used to see him occasionally when I attended church with Mom and Dad. His family is rather large. They are black, and everyone would mention how they took up half a pew. Charles appears to be one of the middle children. His mother is rather short and heavy, while his father is tall and lanky.

Charles is in several of my classes, but I don’t talk to him. Mom and Dad forbid me to have anything to do with him when rumors started to circulate that he was gay, and that Pastor Simpson was trying to ‘change him back to normal.’ I used to watch him at school during that time to see if I noticed any changes. I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I was looking for a hole in his forehead where Pastor Simpson exorcized the demons from him.

I always thought that Charles is rather cute, although I would never admit that to anyone. There is really nothing outstanding about him, but he is nice to look at. He’s about 5’6” and wears his hair short. He’s skinny, but not where it looks like he is malnourished or anything. Half his family is rather dark-skinned, and the others have lighter skin. Charles has a pretty, light skin color. I guess he sort of inherited the genes of both his parents. He’s also rather girlish acting which is why he doesn’t appear to have a lot of friends.

No one seems to pay much attention to him, which I always found sad. Many times I’ve wanted to go up to him and say hi, but I’m afraid that it would get back to my parents that I did. I’ve seen Ricky walking down the hall a few times talking to him. I didn’t think anything about it until now. Now, I’m wondering if he and Charles know each other’s secret. Ricky has never mentioned him, so I doubt it. If they were friends, I would certainly know about it.

“Matt!” Mom hollered up the stairs. “Dinner is ready!”

“Oh, no,” I think to myself. I have to go to dinner and pretend that nothing happened with Ricky earlier. I’m not sure what I will say if they ask about him. They are used to him coming by after school, and Mom often asks him to stay for dinner. I hope my face doesn’t turn red if they mention his name.

As usual, Mom says a long prayer before we eat. It’s like she has to forgive anyone who she felt offended her that day. Tonight, she overheard a woman at the grocery talking about her daughter being in the hospital, so Mom had to go on for several minutes asking the Lord to heal her of whatever was troubling her.

As we were eating, she looks over and asks, “How was school today?” I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. After everything that had happened with Ricky, I forgot about detention.

My face reddened as I confessed, “I got detention in Mr. Harper’s class.” I looked over at Dad and saw his face turn to anger.

“What did you do, Matt? He asked sternly. Embarrassedly, I told them how Mr. Harper had assigned me and Ricky detention for throwing spitballs in class. I knew I might as well tell them because I was afraid Mr. Harper would call them later and tell them of my sinful behavior. Then they would be even more angry because I hadn’t told them myself.

When I finished, Dad looked angrily at me and said, “You know that is very childish behavior?” I hung my head and nodded. “That is the problem with young people today,” he went on. “They act recklessly and don’t think about their actions.”

I wanted to tell him I only threw one spitball in class. He was lecturing me like I had robbed a bank and killed the teller. I never give them any trouble, and I am a good student. I make one silly mistake, and they act like I’ve committed a felony or something.

My mother spoke next. “I think it would be very gentlemanly of you to go to Mr. Harper tomorrow and apologize for your behavior. Don’t you?”

I hung my head and mumbled, “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Hold your head up, Young Man,” my father shouted angrily. “Answer your mother properly.”

I held back tears as I looked at her and responded firmly, “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Now for your punishment,” she replied. Oh crap, here it comes. I think they delight in punishing me. Sometimes I get the feeling they wish that I caused more problems. It gives them a chance to show just how moral they are.

“Since Ricky is the reason for your disobedience in class,” my father ordered, “Then you are not to associate with him for a week.” His eyes narrowed as he said, “Understand?”

“Yes, Sir,” I said firmly. That was going to be easy since I really didn’t want to see him after what he did to me earlier.

My father continued, “I do not want to see him here, and I don’t want you going to his house anytime this week.” I nodded my head. “And when we finish dinner, I am going to call Albert and Marie and let them know what the two of you did. I’m quite sure he hasn’t told them.” There was nothing for me to say since I knew he would do it anyway. Now, Ricky’s parents would have to listen to a ten-minute lecture of how today’s kids aren’t like what they used to be like. All I we did was toss one frigging spitball. I’m sure if he was honest, he did much worse than that in school. Someday, I’m going to sit down with Gramps and get him to tell me some stories about Dad when he was my age. Of course, I would never have the nerve to throw them back into his face when he is lecturing me about something. “Yeah, Dad. I threw a spitball, but you toilet papered a neighbor’s house at Halloween.” That would probably get me punishment for a month.

The rest of dinner was mainly Mom and Dad talking about their jobs. It seems like all they do is complain about work. I hope when I get a job, I’ll like it more than they do. Why spend eight hours a day doing something you really don’t like to do?

After dinner, I spent the rest of the night in my bedroom. I don’t have a computer in my room, so it gets boring. My parents are afraid that I might find something on the internet that I’m not supposed to see. Last year, I begged them to let me have one. I told them they could put Net Nanny or any other parental controls on it they wanted. I needed one to do my homework. Most teachers give assignments just assuming that students have access to a computer. I do, but it is in the family room. The screen faces my Dad’s recliner so he can watch what I’m doing. So, when I have to do my homework, Dad is monitoring me. Occasionally, I go to Ricky’s place because he has a nice computer in his room, but I guess I can’t do that anymore.

I have a small screen television and Playstation. However, Mom chooses which games I can play. She doesn’t like me playing violent ones because she thinks they are the devil’s workshop, whatever that means. I admit that some of them can get a little violent, but that doesn’t mean I’m going out and shoot up the neighborhood just because I play a stupid video game.

I plopped down on the bed and got out the paperback book I had been reading in Mr. Harper's class. One passage in the book caught my attention: 'There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.'

That seems to contradict everything my parents have taught me. To them, everything is a sin, and there is nothing more important than a person’s virtue. That is why Dad got so mad at me because I threw spitballs in Mr. Harper’s class. There’s just stuff people do. That is what I feel. I didn’t commit no sin, and I didn’t lose any virtue because I threw a stupid spitball at Ricky. We were just having fun- doing stuff. Everything doesn’t have to have a meaning. There doesn’t always have to be a right or a wrong, a good or a bad or a heaven or a hell. I mean, can’t things just be because it is just stuff people do?

I finished reading the assignment, and then I finished a few geometry problems before finally going to bed. At least doing homework had taken my mind off what had happened earlier. I touched my lips to where Ricky had surprised me with a kiss. Why did he do it? Was he just messing around? Did it have to be good or bad or right or wrong? Was he just playing around, you know, just doing stuff like we always do?

But no, it had to mean something, or he wouldn’t have done it. I’m not sure how I’m going to face him tomorrow. If I try to ignore it, he may take it wrong and try to kiss me again. If he does, I’m not sure I will resist him doing it. Then he’ll know. And if he knows, it won’t take long for my parents to find out. They’ll be able to take one look at us and know something happened. We won’t be able to hide our secret. It won’t be stuff we do, but it will be more. They will know, and my world will change forever.

When the sun came through the blinds, I was still awake. I hadn’t slept at all. I kept having this strong feeling that something bad was happening. It’s like you know a storm is on the way, but the sun is still shining outside. Then suddenly, you hear thunder in the distance warning you of the coming danger. That is how I feel. Right now, everything seems okay, but I can hear rumbling far away.

Mom was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. She insists it is the most important meal of the day. I think she says that because she doesn’t like cooking dinner after a hard day at work. I have never understood what is so hard about her job. She sits all day at a desk answering the phone and making appointments. There can’t be anything too hard about that. Yet she comes home almost every night tired and complaining about her job. On really bad days, she goes into the family room and reads her Bible. On those nights, my father and I have to rummage through the refrigerator to find something to eat.

“Good morning,” she turned and scowled as I entered the kitchen.

“Morning, Mom,” I replied. I guess she was still mad at me for what happened at school. I’m just glad Dad had already left for work or I would have gotten another lecture.

She placed a plate of food in front of me and left the room. I looked down at the usual meal- two slices of bacon, one scrambled egg and two slices of toast. It is the same every morning. I think I would pass out if she ever served me pancakes or waffles. I guess it must state somewhere in the Bible what a breakfast should contain- two slices of bacon, one scrambled egg and two slices of toast.

After eating, I picked up my book bag off the floor and headed out of the house. I stopped at the top of the steps to listen for thunder. I headed down the sidewalk for school. Normally, Ricky would run out of his house and walk with me. I glanced over at the door, but I didn’t see him. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t want to see me after what happened, or if my father had told his father I wasn’t to see him for a week. I pulled my book bag tighter on my shoulders and hurried away.

I entered school and headed to my locker. I looked to see if Ricky was around. His locker is next to mine. In middle school we shared a locker. However, in high school we have too many books, so we have lockers next to each other. I was getting out the books I would need for my morning classes when someone came up behind me. My heart starting pounding because I was afraid it was Ricky.

I let out the breath I was holding when I heard, “Hey, Handsome.” It was Stephanie. She giggled and kissed me on my cheek.

I turned and forced a smile. “Hey, Steph.”

“Just hey?” she asked with a frown. She smiled when I leaned toward her and kissed her on the cheek. We then started heading to the cafeteria where students were supposed to wait until the warning bell for first period.

Stephanie asked, “What’s wrong with Ricky this morning?”

I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Dunno. Why?”

“When I tried to talk to him this morning, he hurried away,” she said. “It looked like he had been crying.”

“Strange,” I remarked. I wanted to play it safe. I didn’t want Stephanie to think that I was aware of anything happening. I was kind of relieved that he didn’t want to talk. I knew we would have to talk about what happened sometime, but at school wouldn’t be that time.

We sit at a table with five other sophomores. I guess we are like most schools where students have cliques. Only ours isn’t anything special. There are the jock tables, the cheerleaders’ tables, the nerd tables and then there is us. It is usually me, Stephanie, Ricky, Teddy Jenkins and his girlfriend Brenda Myers. I always felt sorry for Ricky because he looked rather alone when he sits with us. I tried a few times to get him to date some girl so she could join us, but he never seemed interested. Now I know why.

We did what we do every morning- complained about classes and teachers. None of us liked reading The Grapes of Wrath. Teddy started laughing and asked me how I liked spending detention the night before. “Man, when you hit Ricky with that spitball, it was sensational. You should try out for the baseball team. The way you planted that on the side of his face, you’d make a great pitcher.” He sat back and roared with laughter.

Of course, Stephanie hadn’t heard what happened, so I had to tell her. Brenda looked around and asked, “Where is Ricky this morning? I haven’t seen him yet?”

Teddy laughed and said, “Probably still trying to wipe Matt’s slobber off his face.”

Just then, the bell rang, and we headed to our first period class. Unfortunately, mine was Mr. Harper’s English class. When I entered, I quickly looked back at the seats where Ricky and I sat. He hadn’t arrived yet. I sat down and stared at the door. I wasn’t sure what would happen when he entered. It would be the first time I would see him since he kissed me. I didn’t know how to react.

Mr. Harper entered the room, and then the bell rang. Still no Ricky. I knew he was in school because Stephanie said she saw him earlier. Mr. Harper was taking attendance when he suddenly entered. He was panting heavily, and it appeared he had been running.

“Well, Ricky,” said Mr. Harper sarcastically. “How nice of you to join us.”

Ricky stood in front of him and looked at the floor. “I’m sorry, Mr. Harper,” he said softly. “I tried to make it before the bell.”

“Maybe you need another night of detention to remind you to be on time,” he responded angrily.

“Yes, Sir,” replied Ricky. It appeared that he was ready to burst into tears at any second. I really felt sorry for him. I thought Ricky would sit in his desk beside me, but he walked over to the other side of the room and sat down at an empty desk. Mr. Harper looked quickly at me before he resumed taking attendance.

I sat staring at the back of Ricky’s head. His blond hair shone with the sunlight coming through the window. He turned once, but I quickly looked down at the assignment we were supposed to be doing. I wondered if he could sense me staring at him. When the bell rang, he rushed from the room without looking back. Before the next class entered, I did apologize to Mr. Harper. Like my father, he had to lecture me on my childish behavior. However, he threw in something about me never growing up to be a respectable man. I sure hope Dad never hears that one.

The rest of the day was the same. We shared four classes, but he avoided me in each class. He seemed to move as far away from me as he could. Gym was even more awkward. Coach Bancroft had us playing basketball- shirts and skins. Ricky and I were on opposing teams. I was shirt and he was skin. I couldn’t help looking at his bare chest as we played. He never made eye contact with me. We played for thirty minutes like strangers. I know the other members of our class wondered what was going on. Before, we would have been on the same team, and we would have made comments to make the others laugh. The mood was somber. Even Jason, a member on my team, made a comment asking if someone’s grandmother had died.

By the end of the day, I was angry. Ricky was the one who kissed me, but he was treating me like I had done something wrong. It was his fault we weren’t speaking. I felt like confronting him in the hall as I was leaving school, but I decided against it. We would have ended up saying something in front of others that we would regret.

If he didn’t want me as a friend anymore, then fine.

It was just one stupid kiss.