Curt's life takes a turn that he never expected, and he realizes that it's because he forgot something that didn't seem important at the time. He also discovers that others have forgotten things that are important and that turns out to both help him and hurt him.
Mature or distressing themes. This story deals with abuse.
Chapter 12 — Mark’s Story
Of course my left arm didn’t hurt, but the ploy worked — again — and Tom stopped tickling me. He got up off of me and I continued to lie on his bed with my eyes shut and my right hand cradling my non-painful left arm.
“Oh god. Curt, I’m sorry. Lemme get Mom.”
I opened one eye a bit and watched Tom run out of his bedroom and heard him running downstairs.
Kyle looked at me. “Your arm doesn’t hurt, does it.”
“Nope. But I had to get him off me. I’m deathly ticklish, and if he hadn’t stopped I’d have peed my pants.” I looked at Kyle’s surprised expression. “Really. When I’m tickled too much I pee. I can’t control it, and it’s very embarrassing. Don’t tell Tom, okay?”
Kyle was grinning. “Okay.”
Mrs. Williams rushed into the room, followed by Tom.
“Did you hurt your arm, Curt?”
“It always hurts when I twist it. It feels better now. Maybe I should take a pain pill.” I looked at the clock on Tom’s nightstand. “It’s about time for one anyway.”
“Tom,” Mrs. Williams commanded, “go down to the kitchen and get one pill from that bottle of pain pills that’s on the counter near the table. And a glass of water.”
He rushed out of the room. Mrs. Williams patted my right shoulder.
“If you need anything else, let me know.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Williams.” She raised her hand and shook it in sort of a wave as she left the room.
Tom returned with a glass of water and my pill. He handed me the pill and I popped it into my mouth. Then he handed me the glass of water and I drank down the water and the pill.
“I’m really sorry, Curt. I didn’t mean to hurt your arm.”
“Thanks, Tom. And I’m sorry I said you had a big butt. You really don’t have a big butt.” I turned to look at Kyle. “And you don’t either, Kyle. I was just joking, guys.”
Of course, Tom had to add a smarmy comment. “At least we’re not skinny like you, Curt. We have great looking bodies, don’t you agree, Kyle?”
“Absolutely, Tom. Much nicer than any skinny-ass little kid.”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I stated, and I stuck my tongue out at them.
Tom and Kyle stuck their tongues out at me and we all laughed, just like little kids.
“Okay, enough of this palaver. We need to talk about some of the options we have when we go to San Francisco tomorrow. I suggested that we take one of those bus tours of the city first thing when we get there. That will give Kyle and Mark a good view of most of the major tourist attractions, and I’ve never been on one of those tours.”
“I like that,” Tom agreed. “Can you believe it? I’ve lived here all my life and never taken a tour of San Francisco, either.”
“What else would you guys like to do?”
“Go shopping!” Tom shouted.
“Yeah, shopping!” Kyle agreed.
I already knew that Tom loved shopping, and usually liked to embarrass him by joking that he must be gay to be so into shopping. But I didn’t say anything because we didn’t know Kyle that well.
“Okay, shopping is in. We also need to eat lunch. I like the big food court in the basement of San Francisco Centre. Kyle, that’s a shopping center downtown that’s a bunch of big buildings all connected together right on Market Street. There’s a Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and a ton of other stores. The food court is great, with lots better places to get food than in any of the malls out here in the suburbs. It’s convenient because we can go shopping and eat in the same place.”
Tom added, “Oh, yeah. That’s a great place for lunch. Trouble is I can never decide what to get, so I wear myself out wandering around looking at all the different foods.”
“Tom, the last time we went there you got food from… umm… three different places, wasn’t it? Yes. It was the soup kitchen, the Korean place, and the Mexican place. Then you almost dumped your tray on me when you got to the table where the rest of us were already eating.”
“I didn’t almost dump my tray on you, I was shoving things over with it so I’d have room to put it on the table. I didn’t spill anything, did I? Anyway, I like variety. I even remember what I had. A big bowl of chili from that soup place, a plate of Korean barbequed beef, and a chicken burrito. And I ate it all.”
“Yeah, then when we were passing by that creampuff place you stopped and got two of those huge creampuffs.”
“I didn’t get two creampuffs. I got one regular creampuff filled with whipped cream. Oh, man, I love whipped cream! And I got an éclair that’s filled with that thick creamy vanilla custard and coated with chocolate on the top. They were delicious!”
“I agree with your mother. I don’t know where you put all the food that you eat.”
I looked around at his butt.
“Hey, don’t get started on that butt thing again. I’m just a growing boy.”
“Yeah, I heard you tell that to your mother.”
Kyle interrupted our food and butt discussion. “Not to butt in, no pun intended, let’s talk about where we could go after lunch. I read about the San Francisco aquarium and natural history museum and that it has this big indoor rain forest. Can we go there?”
“Sure. That’s the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. On a Tuesday there shouldn’t be that big a crowd. Only thing is that tickets are expensive, like thirty dollars. There’s a Muni Metro line that goes from San Francisco Centre to Golden Gate Park, then it‘s a short walk to the Academy of Sciences. I don’t remember which Muni Metro line it is, but we’ll find out when we get to the station.”
“That sounds great. What should we do next?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t think there will be a next. The Academy of Sciences will take the rest of the afternoon. Then we can take the Muni Metro back downtown. We can either go somewhere to eat in the city, or take BART and come home and eat at home. Whichever we feel like doing.”
“Hey, why don’t we go to Chinatown after and then we can go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I know you like Chinese food, Curt. Do you like Chinese, Kyle?”
“I love Chinese food. Is there much to see in Chinatown?”
“It’s mostly tourist shops, but it’s different and interesting.” I replied. “I especially like to look at the markets with all of the weird food on display right on the sidewalk. And there are these shops that sell herbal remedies and they have the walls lined with cabinets that have hundreds of little drawers with the different herbs. They also have lots of teas. I love jasmine tea. I’ll buy some for your mother, Tom, and some for Mrs. Hutchins since she’s feeding us tonight.”
“Thanks, Mom will appreciate that, Curt. You know, we’ve planned out the day and we haven’t even talked to Mark about what he’d like to see.”
“True. I’ll write up our list of places to go and things to do and we can talk to Mark when we go to his house for dinner tonight and find out if our plans are okay with him.”
“That reminds me,” Tom said, “I’m going downstairs and find out if my folks are going to go with us to Mark’s for dinner.”
I took Kyle to my bedroom, turned on my laptop, and opened Word. I entered our itinerary with Kyle’s help, listing everything we said we’d do. Then I printed four copies, one for each of us.
Tom stuck his head in my bedroom. “My folks are going to dinner with us at Mark’s grandmother’s tonight.”
“What time should we go to Mark’s house? If we go earlier than just for dinner we can talk to him about our plans for San Francisco tomorrow.”
“Do you have his phone number?” Kyle asked.
“Hmm… yes! I just remembered I swapped phone numbers with him before he left to go back to school this morning. I’ve got it here somewhere….”
I pulled out my wallet, but it wasn’t there. I emptied my pant pockets and it wasn’t there. Then I remembered that I was wearing a jacket and I’d put it in my closet when we got back to the house. It was in the right side pocket.
“Here it is. I’ll call him now…” I dialed his number. “Hey, Mark, what time do you want us to come over?”
“How ‘bout now? Then we can hang for a while before Grandma has dinner ready.”
“Sounds good. Hold on for a minute…”
“He said to come now and we can hang while we wait for dinner to be ready. That okay with you guys?” They both nodded.
“Give us twenty minutes to get ready and walk over to your grandma’s house. We’ll see you then.”
“Okay. See you in a bit.”
I saw that I had a few missed calls and a couple of voicemails. Two of the missed calls were from friends, one from Mom. I decided I’d listen to the voicemails and get back to the missed calls when we got back from Mark’s.
I put my phone in my pocket and put on my jacket and joined Tom and Kyle in the family room. Tom had already told his folks we were going over to see Mark before dinner.
When we got to Mark’s house he was sitting on the front porch. I looked over at my house, and fortunately I didn’t see Mom.
“Have a seat. Take a load off.” Mark said.
I started to giggle then broke out laughing. Kyle and Tom started laughing too.
“Uh, what’s the big joke that I’m not in on?”
I explained about Kyle borrowing an old pair of Tom’s jeans, and how I’d said it had a big butt, but that it was just a joke and Tom started tickling me and forced me to say that he didn’t have a big butt and neither did Kyle, and that’s what the three of us were laughing about.
Mark sort of grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it’s one of those things where I would’ve had to have been there. So, what are we going to see in San Francisco tomorrow?”
I handed him a copy of the list I’d printed.
“So, we thought that we’d take BART into the city, go on a tour bus to see the main sights of San Francisco, then do some window or actual shopping, eat lunch, then go to the Academy of Sciences and see the aquarium and the rain forest and the natural history museum. Oh, and if we have time there’s a planetarium too. Then we’ll come back downtown and go to Chinatown and walk around for a while and have dinner and come back on BART. Do you like Chinese food?”
Mark nodded about the Chinese food, and studied the list I’d given him. “Why are we leaving so late? If we don’t get into the city until ten thirty we won’t have time to do all this stuff. Grandma said that a city tour can last a couple of hours. I think that if we get on BART at eight we’ll be in the city by nine and we’ll have time to everything. I mean, it doesn’t really make any difference to me, I’m living here now, but Kyle might not have time to go to San Francisco again before he goes home.”
“Well, I have about three weeks before I have to be back to pick up my textbooks, but if Mom gets them for me then I have about a month before classes start. Actually, if we can squeeze in all of the touring stuff today I’d like that. What time would we have to leave to get that BART train by eight?”
“It will take us a half hour to get to BART from here unless we can get someone to drive us. So let’s say we would have to be ready to leave by seven fifteen. I can do that, how ‘bout you guys?”
The only complaint was from Tom, but I knew he could do force himself to do it even if it was summer. When school’s in session we usually leave at seven.
“So we’re agreed,” I said. “We’ll meet at the corner of Ward and Hillview at seven fifteen. It’s about a half hour from there to where we can get the free bus to BART. Or, maybe we can find someone who’ll drive us to the BART station. That would be even better then we don’t have to leave until seven forty-five.”
“Let me check with Grandma. She said she’s going somewhere tomorrow morning. Maybe she’ll have time to drop us off.”
Mark went inside and was back in about a minute.
“We have a ride. Grandma will take us, and we’ll pick you up at Mr. Williams’ house at seven forty-five.”
“Cool. We’re all set for tomorrow.” I turned to Mark. “Any ideas about what to do before dinner?”
I heard Mark take a deep breath and let it out.
“Kyle, at lunch today you told about what Don did to you, and I’ve heard what Don did to Curt. I told Curt I’d tell him what happened to me. If it’s okay I’d like to tell you guys about it now.”
“Sure,” I said, and I saw Tom and Kyle nodding.
“Okay. Here’s why I’m here, living with my grandma.”
He leaned back and closed his eyes for a few seconds, then opened them and sat with his arms crossed.
“I lived in Rosemont, and went to Oak Grove High. I’m gay. Unfortunately, there’s no GSA at Oak Grove High, and the student body tends to be more homophobic than accepting. I met a guy, Jon, and we became friends. We did a lot of things together, and sometimes with other guys and even girls, like going to the movies, playing miniature golf, and going hiking. Neither Jon nor I had a girlfriend, which is not unusual for freshmen. We would talk about which girls at school are hot, and which ones we heard about who were putting out. We were also talking about the freshmen guys who had girlfriends, and what about them that made girls like them. Things like ‘He’s good looking’ and ‘He’s a really nice guy’ and ‘He smiles a lot’ and ‘He’s a jock’ and things like that. Pretty soon we were talking more about the guys and we’d started saying things like ‘He’s cute’ and ‘He’s really hot’ and ‘I see him in the showers and he’s hung’ and ‘He even turns me on’.
“It was when I said ‘He even turns me on’ that I saw Jon smiling. He asked me, ‘So, are you gay too?’ and I just about freaked. I didn’t hear the ‘too’ part and I was ready to run right out of his house. Then my slow assed brain finally computed the ‘too’ part and I said ‘Too?’ and Jon said ‘Yup’ and I said ‘Yup?’ and we sort of went on like that for a bit. Finally he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and said, ‘I’m gay and I want to know if you are too.’ I think that was the happiest day in my life. I told him I was, and we just sat there and talked about being gay at Oak Grove High. We tried to guess about if some other guys we knew were gay.
“He asked if my folks knew. I almost freaked again. Not only did my folks not know, as far as I was concerned they’d never know. They are totally homophobic, and when Proposition 8 was on the ballot they marched in favor of it passing. Of course I had to go with them and hold a sign. It was totally bullshit but there was no way I could get out of it without a ton of embarrassing questions being asked.
“Jon shocked me when he said his folks knew he was gay and they were fine with it, and they told him that they loved him and his sexuality was part of him and gay, straight, or whatever made no difference to them. The one thing they made him do is to promise to not have sex with anyone until he was seventeen. He said that he interprets that to mean ‘anyone else’. That broke me up and pretty soon we were laughing so much it was hard to breathe.
“So, at school and with our friends everything stayed the same. Of course, it didn’t really stay the same. I guess we looked at each other more, or maybe it was how we looked at each other, and one of the girls called us on it when a bunch of us were having a burgers after seeing a movie. We denied it, of course, and laughed it off, but the idea that we were gay stated getting around school. We’d get hassled about it from kids we didn’t know, and even a one of our teachers made some nasty comments about us being boyfriends. Jon told his folks what was going on, and they were very concerned about it. They went to the school to complain, but it was all ‘yes, yes’ and nod, nod. Then his folks talked to me about how to respond to my folks if they heard about it, but the idea of that happening pretty much freaked me out.
“Well, of course it got to my folks and Mom wanted to ship me off to military school where they’d ‘make a man of me’ she said. Dad said we couldn’t afford a military school, so she decided I should be shipped off to my aunt and uncle who have a fleabag motel in Boulder City, Nevada. My aunt registered me in the high school. It was okay, a really small school compared to Oak Grove, and they were pretty much at the same point in my classes that I’d been.
“My uncle said I had to work cleaning the rooms and changing the beds and doing the laundry. He started slapping me on the back of my head saying I wasn’t fast enough and I wasn’t worth what it cost him to feed me. My aunt and uncle both drank a lot, and when he got drunk he started slugging me and calling me a fag. It got real bad, and they were definitely not nice to live with. After a month staying with them I packed my things in my backpack, hitched a ride into Las Vegas, and took a bus to Reno.
“I met a guy on the bus who said he was going to stay with his boyfriend who had a place to live, and I could bunk with them while I figured out what I was going to do. Turns out that his boyfriend and a girl the boyfriend had met were living in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of town. It was a foreclosure that was vacant and they just moved in and were living there. It was nice. The power was still on, and it had two bedrooms each with a double bed, a living room, and a kitchen, just like a regular house. I paid them fifty dollars a month rent, and I took the laundry to a Laundromat down the street, and helped keep it neat and clean. I shared the bedroom and the bed with the girl. I told her I was gay so it worked out okay, and we never did anything. Once in a while we could hear the guys moaning, and she’d joke about it, like didn’t I wish I was in bed with them, and I told her that I didn’t. At first I’d been afraid that they were druggies, but they weren’t. They were runaways who’d come from bad situations at home, all worse than mine. I didn’t know how they made money. They didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask.
“My second week there I was walking to a soup kitchen in a sleazy part of town for something to eat and I passed a bar with a sign in the window saying they had an opening for kitchen help. I went in and said I wanted to apply for the job, and the manager took one look at me and asked if it was okay if he paid me as an independent contractor for cash, and I said yes. He put me to work right then for nine dollars an hour for Tuesday thru Saturday. I worked from nine to six with time off for lunch and breaks. It included three meals a day. Not great meals, but plenty to eat. Because I was working full time I didn’t have time for school, so I never registered.
“The first pay envelope I got had three hundred and sixty dollars cash. I didn’t know what ‘independent contractor’ meant and I found out he didn’t take anything out of my pay for taxes and medical and stuff like that. He didn’t have me fill out any paperwork so I figured there’d be no way I could report my income and even though it was illegal everything I made was mine. I found out from one of the waitresses that it’s called getting paid under the table.
“I’d worked there for about two weeks and I heard the manager complaining about his computer, so I told him I knew about computers. The hard drive needed to be defragged and the registry cleaned, he didn’t have an anti-virus program, and his version of Windows hadn’t ever had updates applied, so I did all that and it fixed his problem. He was so happy that his computer was working and that it was a lot faster that he paid me fifty dollars for about three hour’s work. I used that to buy some clothes at the Goodwill store near the bar. Except for rent and thirty-five dollars a month for a bus pass to get to and from the work I had no other expenses, so I saved everything else I made. I worked there for about three months and cleared just over four thousand dollars cash. Not bad for a runaway, don’t you think?
“Anyway, one day I came back to the trailer and saw a cop car watching the place. I walked right past him and on up the street then turned down the next block. Later I doubled back and the cop car was gone. That freaked me, so I went into the trailer and packed what little stuff I had into my backpack, wrote a note that I’d seen a cop car watching the trailer and that I had to leave, and I took the bus downtown. I phoned my boss and told him I had to take off, and thanked him for giving me a job. When I was looking through my backpack I found my grandma’s phone number so I called her. She said she’d been frantic, no one knew where I was. She told me to come down here immediately, that she wanted me to live with her. Even though I told her I could afford it, she bought a train ticket for me to pick up at the station in Reno.
“So that’s what I did. I got here about a month ago. Grandma’s wonderful, she doesn’t care that I’m gay, and her number one rule is that I go back to school. That’s why I’m in summer school. I tested out of some of the classes I missed, but there are some make-up classes that I have to take. Grandma got an attorney and she’s now my legal guardian and my folks have relinquished any claim on me. Besides, they are paying her two hundred dollars a month for my room and board. She is putting all of that into an investment account for me. She says she doesn’t need the money, and it will be there when I go to college. I asked her how she got them to pay it and she said she had her attorney threaten them. She’s got a good attorney.
“So that’s it, a very different story. I’m real lucky. I could have been truly homeless, living on the street. I love my grandma, and I’m looking forward to going to Los Arcos as a sophomore this fall.”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing Forgetting Can Be a Big Mistake
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