Brenda stood inside the living room as she waited on Neil to return from his bedroom. It hadn’t seemed like a week since she dropped him off at Brian’s home. She missed him, as did his little brother, Brett. Every night when she tucked him in bed, he would ask when Neil would come home.
“Soon,” she would assure him.
She had spent the week accepting Neil’s sexuality. At first, it surprised her. She had noticed little mannerisms as he grew older that Brian exhibited. She would notice, for example, that Neil never seemed to look at cute girls they would pass at the mall. Normally, she thought, a boy would turn and stare.
However, Brian did the same thing. They would pass a beautiful woman, and she would watch to see if he flirted with her. He never did. She considered herself lucky because she just assumed that Brian was being faithful to her. It never dawned on her that he didn’t have an interest in women.
She was also aware that Neil didn’t seem to want to have close connections with his friends. He would spend all day outside playing with them, but they rarely came home with him. Occasionally, Owen or Ned would spend the night. However, Neil would often get up early in the morning and let them sleep alone in his room. Now, after understanding what happened between Neil and Owen, she understood why.
She felt a sense of sadness knowing that Neil had hidden his feelings deep inside for so many years. ‘How awful,’ she thought, ‘how alone he must be.’ She wondered if other gay boys felt the same way. ‘No wonder Jack had to spend so many times with him in his closet. If he had only said something.’
But how would she have reacted if he had said something? She had spent years trying to get rid of the shame she felt when Brian left her. It might have been easier if he had left her for another woman. At least she would have known how to fight back. As a result, she had been bitter for so many years. If Neil had come out to her earlier, she might have rejected him. She hoped that she would not have, but bitterness cuts deeply into the soul.
It was only now that she was finally able to accept that things were what they were. There was no way she could have prevented the things that happened between her and Brian.
She smiled warmly when Neil entered the room carrying his backpack on his shoulder. He seemed to have grown in a week. His appearance had changed. He looked happier than she could recall him being the past few years.
“Hello, Sweetheart,” she said as she hugged him and kissed his cheek. Tears welled up in her eyes as she held him for a moment. She was only beginning to realize how close she had come to losing him. A few days earlier, she found the blue tie lying on the floor in his bedroom closet. She sobbed with sorrow when she held it and looked at the knotted edges.
“Mom!” cried Neil as he pulled away. When he saw her tears, he gave her another hug.
Just then, Brian and Dwight entered from the kitchen. He smiled at Neil and asked, “Have you got everything, Sport?”
Neil tugged the backpack onto his shoulder. “I think so, Dad.”
He walked over and hugged Neil. “Now, remember,” he said. “I’m picking you and Brett up next Saturday to go to the football game.”
“Okay, Dad,” responded Neil. He turned when he felt a pair of strong arms wrap around him.
“You take care of yourself,” said Dwight. “Can’t have anything bad happening to my son.”
“I will,” smiled Neil as he gave Dwight a hug. It surprised him when he watched his mother walk over and kiss his father on the cheek. She whispered something to him, but he couldn’t make out what she said.
She turned, faced him and asked, “Ready?” He nodded and they headed for the door.
* * * * * *
Lucas was lying asleep on his twin bed at his grandmother’s house. He had broken the window the night before and climbed into his room. The sun was beginning to appear, so he knew it wouldn’t be too long before she awoke.
He had spent the past two nights sleeping in an old car at the wrecking yard. He had to be careful so that the guard dog that watched the premises didn’t see him and attack. He would watch it as it lay outside the office door. He would wait about ten minutes to see if it moved. When it didn’t, he would creep through a hole in the fence and quietly make his way to the wrecked Buick. He didn’t open the door for fear that it would awaken the dog. He would climb onto the back of the car and enter through the missing back window. He would remain there until morning. The owner would usually let the dog stay inside with him, so he was able to exit without worry.
The night before, he ran out of money that he made selling Ned’s laptop computer to a pawnshop. With his appetite, the fifty bucks only lasted two days. He would buy fast food during the day, and then he would take soda and snacks with him to the wrecking yard. By morning, he would usually be starving.
He had few options. He couldn’t, and wouldn’t, stay with Uncle Raymond. He had decided after the last time that he would never allow him to abuse him again. He was big enough now to fend off his advances. However, he was afraid that in doing so, he might harm him. With the rage he felt inside each time his uncle touched him, he knew that his wrath could cause him to seriously injure his uncle. Then, he thought, he might end up in a juvenile detention until he was twenty-one. He also feared that he could be tried as an adult and then spend time in prison.
He could never tell anyone what his uncle had done to him. He was ashamed that he had let it go on for so long. He reasoned that there was little he could do when he was younger. However, he had been the size of a man for the past few years. He would be ridiculed mercilessly. His friends might wonder why he didn’t do anything to stop the abuse. They might even suspect that he liked it.
So, he let it continue. He remained silent. And with each day, the rage would become stronger. He had no way to fight the cruelty of his life. His mother was in prison. His grandmother was an unloving and cold person who felt her life was as cruel and unjust as his. His friends tolerated him because he bullied them so that they would accept him.
Lucas hated himself, his life and everything that surrounded him. Such elements make a boy dangerous.
He sat up in bed when he heard his grandmother stirring around in the hallway. He stood and put his pants on. As he was tying his shoelaces, the door to his bedroom opened.
His grandmother shouted, “What the hell you doing in here, Boy?”
“Listen, Granny,” pleaded Lucas as he rushed over to her. “I need me a place to sleep. Can’t I stay here?”
She replied angrily, “You’re supposed to be over at Raymond’s. Does he know you’re here?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Lucas hurriedly. “I told him I was coming over here for a few days.”
She turned and started to walk away. “Maybe it’s best I call him and see,” she said.
Lucas rushed at her and grabbed her arm. “No, Granny,” he continued to plead. “Don’t call Uncle Raymond.”
Her eyes narrowed as she asked, “And why might that be? You done something wrong?”
“No!” he tried to assure her. “It’s just that...that...he’s drunk.” He shook his head and added, “He’ll be mighty upset if you wake him.”
As she walked away, she muttered, “That’s all that boy does. It’s no wonder you don’t want to stay there.”
Lucas smiled to himself. It sounded like his grandmother was reconsidering sending him to live with his uncle. At least, she didn’t kick him out of the house. When he entered the kitchen, she was sitting at the table sipping coffee from her mug.
She pointed at the cabinet. “Get me some oats, will you?”
“Sure, Granny,” volunteered Lucas happily. He removed the oats from the cupboard, walked over and put some water and oats in a pan on the oven. Several minutes later, he was placing a bowl of steaming oats on the table in front of her.
He took some cereal from the cupboard and prepared a quick breakfast. He then sat down at the table. His grandmother took a sip of her coffee and stared intently at her large grandson. She furrowed her eyebrows and asked, “You back in school yet?”
“Yeah, Granny,” he lied. “I’m doing good in school.” He could lie because he knew his grandmother would never check on him. She didn’t care how he did in school, just as long as he left in the morning.
She looked up at the clock on the wall and asked, “Shouldn’t you be gitting to school then?”
“Yeah, sure,” replied Lucas as he stood and put his bowl in the sink. Normally, he would have left it on the table for her to pick up. This morning, however, he didn’t want to upset her since she seemed to be in a good mood.
“I better get to school,” he said. Before walking out, he turned and said, “I guess I’ll see you when school lets out.”
The old woman grunted and took a sip of coffee.
* * * * * * *
As soon as Neil entered the house, Brett and Emily ran up and gave him a big hug. Brett looked at his mother and whined, “The next time Neil gets to go stay with Daddy, I want to go, too.”
Brenda ruffled his hair and said, “We’ll see.”
Brett pouted, “That means no.” He grabbed Neil’s hand and pulled him towards their bedroom. “Mommy bought me a fish aquarium. I want you to see it.”
When they entered the room, Neil noticed that his mother had rearranged the room. The bunk beds were now twin beds across the room from one another. She had also put in a small room divider to give them more privacy. He thought that now he wouldn’t have to wait until Brett was sound asleep before he had to take care of things that boys his age have to take care of at night.
A small fish tank glowed from atop Brett’s dresser. “See,” he said excitedly as he pulled Neil towards the dresser. “I have five goldfish.” He frowned and added, “There were eight, but three died.”
“Nice,” remarked Neil as he knelt and looked at the goldfish swimming around inside the tank.
Brett gripped Neil’s hand and led him over to his bed. When they sat, Brett asked excitedly, “What is Daddy’s house like? Mommy says he has a swimming pool.”
“He does,” replied Neil. “He also has a golden retriever named Midas.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Brett. “I hope I can go stay with him like you did.”
Neil smiled and said, “You probably will someday.”
Neil felt uncomfortable when his little brother asked, “How come you got to go? Why weren’t you in school?”
Neil was unsure just how much his mother had told Brett and Emily about what had happened to him at school. Since Brett didn’t seem to know, then he assumed she hadn’t said anything. He was worried that if he told him too much, it might upset his mother.
“I got into a little trouble at school,” he said.
“Did Mommy send you to Daddy’s to punish you?” asked Brett.
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Sort of, I guess.”
Brett giggled and said, “It doesn’t sound like it if you got to go swimming and play with a dog.”
A serious look appeared on Brett’s face. Neil almost fell off the bed when he asked, “Is Daddy gay?”
Neil shrieked, “What! Who told you that?”
Brett looked over at the door, and then he leaned toward his older brother and whispered, “I heard Mommy and Uncle Jack talking in the kitchen.” He giggled and said, “I hid behind the door.” He looked at the door again and whispered, “They said that Daddy is gay.”
Neil looked at his little brother and asked, “What do you know about gay people? You’re too young to know about that.”
Brett puffed out his chest and announced proudly, “I’m nine years old. I’m not a little kid anymore. I know all about the sex stuff.”
Neil looked at the door and said, “Shhhh! Mom is going to hear you.” He rose from the bed, crossed the room and closed the door.
When he sat back down, he turned to Brett and asked, “Just how much do you know?”
Brett replied, “I know that being gay means you like other guys.”
He looked up at Neil and asked, “Does Daddy like other guys?”
Neil was becoming very worried. “We better not be talking like this. You should talk to Mommy.” He tried to convince his little brother that some things shouldn’t be discussed.
When he finished, Brett grinned and asked, “So Daddy is gay?”
Brett rolled his eyes and said, “You’re just not going to give up, are you?”
Neil’s heart stopped when Brett said, “I heard Mommy and Uncle Jack say that you are gay, too.” He looked into Neil’s eyes and asked, “Are you?”
Neil rose from the bed and said, “I’m going down to the family room to watch television.”
Brett hurried across the room and grabbed his hand. “I’m not a little boy,” he insisted. “I’m old enough to understand the truth.” He grinned and again announced proudly, “I know all about the sex stuff. Me and Frankie look at the magazines his big brother hides under his bed.”
Neil frowned and admonished his little brother, “You better quit looking at nasty magazines.”
Brett giggled and proudly stated, “It makes our dicks get hard.” He then frowned and said, “But we can’t make the spam come out yet like the big guys in the magazines.”
Neil roared with laughter. “Spam?” He fell back on the bed. “Is that what you call it?”
“Yeah,” replied his little brother with a quizzical look. “That’s what Frankie says it is.”
Neil sat up and informed Brett, “It’s called sperm.”
“Oh, okay,” he replied. Neil’s face reddened when Brett asked, “Why can’t we make sperm?”
Neil’s voice cracked with embarrassment when he asked his little brother, “I thought you knew all about the sex stuff?” Brett explained he knew about sex, he just didn’t know what the white stuff was.
“You’ll make that when you get to be about my age,” replied Neil. When he saw Brett grin, he knew what was coming next.
“Can you do it?”
Neil rose from the bed again. “I’m going to the family room to watch television.”
Brett quickly grabbed his hand to stop him. “So are you gay?” he asked.
Neil knew he was experiencing one of those challenges that life tosses your way occasionally. If he said he wasn’t, Brett would probably accept his answer. However, if he later did come out to his little brother, then he might be disappointed that he hadn’t trusted him now with the truth.
Neil sighed and sat back down on the bed. Brett sat and waited for him to answer. “Okay,” he said to his brother. “You have to promise me that you won’t tell Mommy or anyone else I told you this.”
Brett giggled and crossed his heart with his fingers, “I won’t tell,” he promised.
“Okay,” sighed Neil. “I’m gay.”
Brett grinned and replied, “Cool.” He then grabbed Neil’s hand and pulled him to his feet.
“Let’s go watch television,” he said cheerfully as he pulled Neil from the bedroom.
* * * * * * *
Lucas was waiting on the sidewalk when school let out. He knew that since he was suspended, he could be charged with trespassing if he was on the school grounds. The last thing he wanted was another confrontation with the police. He was already violating the term of his earlier release by not staying with his uncle. If he got caught again, the judge might order him to go back there.
He hid behind a tree until he saw Owen and Ned exit. As they walked to the bus, he stepped out to greet them.
“Hi, Guys,” he said cheerfully as he approached them.
Owen looked skeptically at Ned. He had no idea what Lucas might want. Hesitantly, Ned replied, “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be suspended?”
Lucas glared at Ned. “It sounds like you’re not too happy to see me,” he growled.
“No!” remarked Owen. He could tell that Lucas was getting ready to erupt as he often did when he got upset. “We just wasn’t expecting to see you, is all.”
Lucas stepped up and put his arms around both boys. As he tightened his grip, he said, “What say we go get something to eat at the Burger Roost.”
“I..I..don’t know,” stammered Ned. “Mom wants me to mow the yard when I get home.”
Lucas tightened his grip around his neck and replied, “That can wait. Ain’t it more important to be with your friend?”
“Yeah,” responded Ned nervously as he leaned down and escaped Lucas’s grip. “But Mom will kill me if I don’t come home right away.” He looked over at Owen with a frightened expression before hurrying away.
Lucas turned to Owen. “I guess it’s just you and me then.”
“Uh, uh,” stammered Owen nervously. “I promised Ned I would help him.” He tore off down the sidewalk before Lucas could stop him.
Lucas watched them board the bus and take a seat by the window. When the bus pulled away, he flipped them off and muttered, “Fucking pussies. I’ll get even with you.”
* * * * * *
Neil and Brett were in the family room watching an old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Brett had his head in Neil’s lap. Neil suspected he had been asleep for about fifteen minutes. He wanted to change the channel, but he wasn’t sure if Brett was watching the show.
Neil looked towards the door when his mother appeared. She was wearing a blue dress he had never seen before. Her hair was styled, and she was wearing make-up. He was used to seeing her go to work well dressed, but never like she was now.
Brenda danced into the middle of the room, grabbed the hem of her dress, lifted it and swirled around the room. Brett sat up and giggled. “Gee, Mommy,” he said, “You look beautiful.”
Brenda stopped before the two astonished boys. “Thank you, Baby,” she smiled as she leaned down and kissed a giggling Brett on the forehead.
Neil looked admiringly at her and asked, “Are you winning some kind of an award tonight?” Last year, she had been nominated as Farmersville’s Woman of the Year for her involvement in the small community. The winner, however, turned out to be Mrs. Davenport, a local farmer who sold fresh vegetables each Saturday at the Farmers’ Market in the town square.
“No, Honey,” she cooed as she leaned down and kissed Neil’s forehead. She smiled when he wiped the kiss away with his shirt sleeve. “I have a date tonight.”
Neil shouted, “A date!” Brett jumped from the sofa and embraced his mother.
“Yes, a date,” she said as she gave Brett a hug. “It’s about time I got out of this house. You kids are old enough now for me to start enjoying life again.”
“But...but...,” stammered Neil. “You can’t go on a date.”
Brenda put her hands on her hips and asked, “And why not?”
Neil stood and insisted, “Because you’re our Mom!”
“Nonsense,” exclaimed Brenda as she grabbed the hem of her dress and danced around the room. Brett giggled, grabbed her hands and attempted to dance with her.
She stopped in front of Neil and replied, “I’m a healthy, vibrant woman, and I need a man.”
Neil grabbed his ears and shouted, “Ew, that’s gross!”
Brenda smiled and said jokingly, “I’m going to say the same thing the first time you go out on a date with a boy.”
After realizing what she said, she looked over at Brett. She knew instantly she had outed Neil to his little brother. Brett giggled and responded with a laugh, “It’s okay, Mommy. I know Neil is gay.”
She gave Neil a puzzled look and asked, “He does?”
Neil smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “We kind of had a talk. He made me tell him.”
Brenda asked worriedly, “Don’t you think he’s a little too young for you to be talking about things like that?”
Brett stood defiantly in front of her and announced proudly, “I’m nine years old. I know what gay is. I know all about the sex....” He didn’t get to finish because Neil hurried over to his little brother and covered his mouth with his hand.
“It’s okay, Mom,” he assured his mother. “Brett can handle it.”
Brenda responded as she sat down on the sofa, “I certainly hope so.”
Neil and Brett sat on the sofa beside her. Neil asked, “Now, who are you going out on a date with?”
Before she could answer, the doorbell rang. Brenda jumped up from the sofa and hurried to the front door. A minute later, she returned with a tall man wearing a dark blue suit and tie.
Neil gasped when he saw him. “Mr. Collins?”