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 21 — Sara
It was fun talking to Sara. I found out that she lived in Napa and went to Vintage High, she was sixteen, she had one older and one younger brother, and her folks both were enologists.
“What’s an enologist do?”
“They manage everything about the production of wine. They decide when the grapes are ready to be harvested, the crushing and fermenting, aging, bottling, and finally deciding when it’s ready to ship.”
“That sounds complicated. Do your folks work for the same winery?”
“No. My mother works for Navio Winery and my dad is a consultant and teaches at U.C. Davis.”
“At least they don’t work for two different wineries that are competitors.”
She grinned. “The way they argue about some really arcane things about wine making you’d think they were competitors.”
“Did they both go to U.C. Davis?”
“Yes. That’s where they met and started going together and got engaged on the day they graduated.”
“How about you. Do you have a steady boyfriend?”
She said, “Yeah,” but she didn’t smile.
“You don’t seem too happy about it.”
“Jeremy’s okay. He’s on the football team. He has only one perspective and that’s football, football, football. He wants to be a big star player in high school so he can get an athletic scholarship and play football for a major university like Florida or Ohio State, then get drafted and play for a pro team.”
“I guess he’s tied up in practice all the time.”
“Tell me about it! It starts during the summer when he and other guys on teams in our area get together for what Jeremy calls independent practice. That’s because they can’t do anything with the coaches or use school facilities until about a month before school starts in the fall, then they have practice four nights and on Saturdays, then there are the games which are usually on Friday nights. We don’t go out except to parties on Fridays after the games. If we don’t win then it won’t be a very fun party because all of the guys will be huddling together going over what they did wrong and how to fix it before the next game. He has family stuff on Sundays so that leaves Saturday nights, and usually all he wants to do is go to a movie. That would be okay except he’s so tired he falls asleep so it’s like I went by myself.”
I started to laugh then shook my head. “Sounds like it’s slightly less than ideal for you.”
Sara grinned. “Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? On the other hand, there are a few distinct advantages. Jeremy and his family are uber-religious so he says that he’s saving himself for when he gets married. That is okay with me. I can say I’m going steady with a good looking first-string football player that all the other girls drool over and, not that it’s very important, that gives me major points and ups my rep at school. It also gives me a lot of free time and because I want to be a veterinarian I’m taking every AP science and math class I can get into and that means I can use my non-Jeremy time studying. So it’s actually an ideal situation.”
“When did you decide you wanted to be a veterinarian?”
“When I was around five my folks would bring me to U.C. Davis when they had classes. They were both going for their Masters degrees. I was in the child care program and sometimes they’d bring baby animals for us to pet, or even better they’d take us to see the animals in the Veterinary Science department. The animals were real cute or real impressive if they were large like horses, and I guess I thought it was the best thing ever to be able to help animals. I’d always ask questions when I was around veterinary students and teachers, and they’d take time to answer me and to explain things about being a veterinarian. One thing led to another and I’m taking the classes I’ll need to be admitted to the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
“That’s enough about me. What about you, Curt? How’d you break your arm?”
“My stepfather beat the crap out of me a week ago. It’s a long story.”
“I have the time if you’d like to tell me. If not, that’s fine too.”
I could tell that Sara was genuinely interested, so I gave her a brief summary.
“My best bud Tom, that’s him over there,” I pointed to where Tom was standing talking to some girls from school. “He and I were playing horse in my driveway. Do you know what horse is?”
“I have two brothers so of course I know what horse is. And, by the way, I beat their asses at horse. Challenge me and I’ll beat yours, too.” She grinned.
“Uh… I’ll pass. It’s bad enough that Tom beats me at horse all the time. So anyway, Tom and I were playing horse and the ball got away from him and rolled across the street. The guy who lives there is a real bastard, always yelling at the kids in the neighborhood. So Tom runs across the street and gets the basketball and I can see old man Vanvelick is yelling at him. Tom flips him the bird and comes back and tells me Vanvelick called him the N word and told him to go back to the projects where he belongs. Tom is a real easy going guy but you don’t want to be the focus if he gets mad. The more he talked about what Vanvelick said to him I could see that he was getting mad, real mad. He said he was going over there so I grabbed him and held him so he couldn’t get in big trouble for slugging Vanvelick. We went into my house and I forgot about it.
“My stepfather Don comes home and I hear loud talking downstairs in our driveway, my room overlooks it, and I see Vanvelick talking to him. Next thing I know Don’s in my room accusing me of being a niger-loving faggot and every other racist and homophobic word you can imagine, and he starts beating on me. Now, I’m not a big guy, and he’s a former college football player, and he throws me down the stairs and I hit an end table in the living room and my arm got broken. It’s a pretty bad break. Anyway, our next door neighbors heard me screaming and they called the cops and they arrested my stepfather. That’s the twenty-five cent summary.”
“Oh, that’s awful, Curt. Is your stepfather going to jail?”
“I hope so. The trial starts on Tuesday.”
Sara was looking past me, toward the pool. “Look!”
I turned around just in time to see Tom toss Mark into the pool. It made a great cannonball. I turned back to Sara.
“The guy Tom tossed into the pool is my next door neighbor. He and his grandmother were the ones who called the cops.”
“He’s cute. He looks like my little brother. He’s what, about thirteen?”
“Today’s his birthday. He’s fifteen.”
“He’s on the small side for fifteen.”
“Yeah. I think it pisses him off a lot. But some guys are slow to start puberty and slow to go through it until all the changes take effect. Does that sort of thing bug girls as much as it bugs guys?”
“No, I don’t think so. Guys are hung up on stuff like that, how tall they are and their pubes and how big they are down there and all of that sort of stuff. It really doesn’t make any difference. By the time they’re eighteen to twenty it’s all about the same, right?”
“Well, maybe not all about the same. Especially in the ‘how big they are down there’ department. Guys can be very sensitive about that sort of thing. It’s too easy to make comparisons when you’re a guy. Every guy wants to measure up.”
The sun was getting hot, and the pool looked really inviting.
“Sara, you want to cool off in the pool for a while?”
“That sounds like a great idea. It feels like I’m starting to burn. Unfortunately, I don’t tan.”
We got up and walked over to the pool. I took the steps and walked down into the shallow end and Sara followed me. The water felt fantastic.
“I’m going to rest my arm on the edge of the pool so I don’t get water inside the plastic bag around my cast.”
“How long do you have to wear the cast?”
“Six weeks, so another five weeks. Then I get it x-rayed and if it looks like it’s healed they’ll take the cast off. Otherwise I might have to wear it longer. They really didn’t say what would happen if it wasn’t healing.”
“Good luck, Curt.”
“What did your mother say about your stepfather attacking you?”
“She doesn’t believe it happened the way I told it.”
“You’re kidding! After he was arrested for it?”
“She’s in denial. All we did after is argue, so I moved out and I’m staying at Tom’s. His folks have been totally supportive. His dad is an attorney and he’s my lawyer.”
“You need a lawyer?”
“The D.A. recommended that I have one. Mr. Williams offered to be my lawyer pro bono, meaning that he’s not charging me. Though I did have to pay him a retainer up front.”
“A retainer? You mean an amount you paid him so he’d be your lawyer?”
“Alright, how much?” Sara had seen my grin, so she figured there was something funny about the retainer.
Sara started laughing, and I joined her.
“And he can’t pay it back. So I’m out that dollar. I’ll have to take it off my income tax. Oh. Wait. I don’t pay income tax. So I’m like totally out that dollar. And it was one of my favorite dollars. Life is so cruel sometimes.”
“You’re funny, Curt.” Sara put her arm around my waist and squeezed me in a hug.
“Thanks. You’re pretty special. And very pretty. I’m glad we met this afternoon.”
“I’ll bet you say that to all the girls. Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No. I’ve gone out on dates, but mostly with a group of friends. No girlfriends, ever.”
Sara turned her head and looked off in the distance toward the back of the yard. “I wish we lived closer, Curt.”
“So do I, Sara. I like you. You’re easy to talk to, and your smart, and did I mention that you’re very pretty?” I looked in her eyes and smiled, and she blushed. It was very cute.
I guess she was a little uncomfortable with where our conversation was heading, so she changed the subject.
“What do you plan to do after high school? Are you going to college?”
“Yes. I like computers. There’s also a School of Information Management at U.C. Berkeley. It’s a blend of computer science and information technology and systems. That’s something that interests me.”
“So you’re going to go to U.C. Berkeley? It’s hard to get into, I think.”
“That it is. But I’m getting good grades and like you I intend to take as many AP classes as I can. I talked to some guys who are at Berkeley now and they told me the best thing they ever did was load up on AP classes and take the college exam at the end of each class. They said that way they were able to avoid taking the four hundred people in a lecture hall kind of standard and intro courses when they got to U.C. I’d think the same would be true for Davis.”
“You know some guys who go to Berkeley?”
“Not really. Tom and I went there on Cal Day last year. We’re going back again this year. Berkeley has it every year in August on the weekend before classes start. It’s a blast, and what’s cool is that everyone thought we were incoming freshmen so we got a bunch of freebies. Pens, giant paper clips, maps of the campus, stuff like that. Anyway, we were taking a tour of one of the dorms and met these two guys who were sophomores. We said we were high school freshmen and wanted to do everything we could to get into Berkeley. They told us that AP classes are major, doing volunteer work is second, and writing a killer application letter is third. They gave us a list of some websites that help with writing the application letter.”
Someone splashed water on us, and I turned around. It was Laura.
“Hey! How’s the birthday girl?”
“Solid, totally solid. I’ve been watching you two. Making friends, ‘eh?”
Sara grinned. “Absolutely. Curt’s the best catch at your party, and he’s all mine so hands off, birthday girl!”
That started a splashing contest and a lot of laughter. I looked at Laura. Her tiny bikini absolutely left nothing to the imagination. I nudged Sara, moved my head to gesture in Laura’s direction, and mimed ‘look’.
Sara looked and I saw her eyes open wide. She turned to me and mimed ‘oh my god!’ and grabbed Laura’s arm.
“Laura, come here.”
She pulled Laura so she was in the water up to the top of her boobs. Sara was whispering something, and while I couldn’t hear was she was telling Laura I bet that I could guess what it was.
Laura was chuckling as she got out of the pool and she and Sara rushed to the pool house.
Tom sat on the coping next to where I was standing in the water.
“How’s the water feel, Curt?”
“I don’t do that in people’s pools!” I said, pretending that I was upset about his remark. He was confused, then he caught on.
“You are so bad!”
“Yeah, I am, aren’t I.”
“So where’s Laura and that other girl go off to?”
“You remember when we saw Laura’s bikini earlier?”
“Yeah. That was so hot!”
“Well, she’s a lot hotter in it when it’s wet. There is nothing, and I repeat, nothing that you can’t see through that bikini. Everything personal, pubes and all.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not. That was her cousin Sara who left with her. I thing Laura is going to change her swimsuit. No more flesh-colored transparent-when-wet bikini, I assume.”
“Rats!” Tom said. Then he started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Remember that Mark brought his camera? He took a bunch of pictures of Laura, and some of them were closeups. I wonder how clear they’re going to be.”
“Mark took closeups of Laura’s…” and I started laughing. I had such an image of Mark pointing his camera at Laura where Laura wouldn’t want it to be pointing. “That I’ve gotta see.”
“Curt, we have to make sure that if Mark does have any uh… incriminating pictures that they don’t get posted on YouTube or Facebook.”
“Yeah… you’re right. We need to talk to Mark, ASAP.”
I looked around and saw Mark lying on a deck chair on the other side of the pool. He was talking to Parker who was on a deck chair next to Mark.
“He’s over there, talking to Parker.”
“Okay, let’s casually walk over there and take a look at his pictures of Laura.
I turned and used the steps at the shallow end to get out of the pool. Tom and I wandered over to where Mark was lying.
“Hey, Mark. Hi, Parker.”
They looked up and both blushed. That made me wonder what they’d been talking about.
“Hi. Grab a chair and sit down,” Mark offered. Tom saw two lawn chairs and went to retrieve them.
“Is that Tom Williams?” Parker asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, “Do you know him?”
“He’s not in any of my classes, but I’ve seen him at school. That swimsuit he’s wearing is cute.”
“Yeah,” Mark added, “cute as in hawt. Hawt as hell, in fact. Look at him sideways and you’ll see what I mean.”
“Oh, my, god!” Parker exclaimed, “I see what you mean and I like what I see. He’s all bulged out in the front.”
I was chuckling. Jeez, what a pair of pervs!
Tom walked back and put the two chairs alongside Mark’s deck chair facing him, and we sat down.
“You guys been in the pool yet?” I asked. “It’s great. The water is warm enough but not too much, and it feels so good.”
“I’ve been in,” Parker replied, “and I agree. I wish they’d control the temperature of the pool at school as good as this one.”
“Are you on the swim team?” I asked.
“I was on the JV team last year, and I’m moving up to the varsity team this year. I’m a diver.”
“Whoa, that’s fantastic. How did you get into diving?”
“When I was in middle school there was a pool with an Olympic standard diving platform. I climbed to the top and dove in like I’d seen on TV. When I came back up to the surface all the other kids were applauding and the coach was livid. He was freaked that I’d kill myself or something. He asked me if I’d done any experience diving before and I said yes, which was a bit of stretch because the ‘before’ was the dive I’d just done. So that’s how I got started. I totally love diving. There’s an exhilaration when I’ve made my jump and I’m falling through the air, then slicing into the water is such a fantastic feeling.
“Anyway, the coach was great. He spent a lot of time with me that year and helped me improve my form and taught me things like tucks and twists. I think he realized that I’d misled him about having diving experience, but he never said anything about it. After sixth grade he met with my folks and suggested that I meet with the Los Arcos High diving coach and participate in the summer diving program at the Larkey Park Swim Center. When school started in the fall I’d go to Los Arcos High for seventh period and work out with the JV diving team. At first the guys were, ‘like who’s this eleven year old kid?’ But when they saw me dive, and I’d ask them what mistakes I’d made and how they thought I could improve my dive, they adopted me as a junior member of the JV swim team. Unfortunately I couldn’t actually be on the team and participate in meets because I was too young. But now that I’m in high school it’s all good.”
“Parker,” Tom asked, “you’re gay and you’re out at school. Has that been a problem being on the swim team? I mean, there are all these hot guys in Speedos and you’re able to look at them. Did anyone object to you being on the team?”
“No, never any problems or objections. I’m also very careful that I don’t stare at guys, ever. That would be a big problem.”
“But guys are always checking out other guys in the showers. You don’t do that?”
“Never. That way I derail any problems before they start. That’s one of the problems about being gay and out in high school. You’re being watched more carefully by most of the guys.”
Tom grinned. “So they can check you out but you can’t check them out?”
“I never thought about it that way, but I’d agree that’s how it happens. I’ll remember that if I find some straight guy checking me out and it makes me uncomfortable.”
“Did you do any diving today?” I asked.
“Yeah. Of course this isn’t an Olympic pool or diving platform. But it’s still fun diving off a low board into a home pool.”
“Mark, did you get any pictures of Parker diving?”
“Yeah, a few. Lemme show you.”
Mark got his camera out and turned it on in playback mode. He scanned through some shots and handed the camera to me. He and Parker got up and stood in back of me, and Tom scooted his chair over so it was right next to mine, so they could all see the pictures as I stepped through them.
“Don’t expect that these pictures will show any major dives,” Parker told us. “The diving board at this pool isn’t for meet or tournament diving.”
The first few pictures were stills, but the rest were videos and Tom was impressed by those. “Damn, Parker, you’re one hella diver.”
“You are good, man. Even if this diving board is lame, you make the dives look absolutely perfect,” I added.
The last video finished and Mark asked, “Do you want to see the rest of the pictures I took today?”
“Sure!” I replied.
“Then use the right arrow button. It’ll wrap around to the first pictures I took.”
“Hi, guys. What are you looking at?”
It was Laura and Sara. Laura had a much more modest swimsuit on. Her father would be much happier.
“We were looking at the pictures Mark took today. You want to see?”
“Sure. But let’s go into the pool house and play them back on the big screen in there. Okay?”
We were all in agreement, so we trooped into the lounge room and I handed Mark his camera.
“Oh, cool! Here’s an HDMI cable. Lemme see if it works with my camera.”
Mark plugged the cable into his camera. “Well, the cable fits if that means anything.” He turned on the TV and the picture on his phone came onto the screen. Well, sort of because it was sideways. “Lemme see if rotating the image on the camera straightens it out on the screen.” He adjusted the image ninety degrees, and that did it.
We watched as Mark stepped through the pictures he’d taken. First, the pool house; then the barbeque grills being set up to cook burgers, franks, and chicken; the table with the birthday presents for Laura; people standing around and talking in the back yard; Laura chatting with people; and finally people in the pool including of me and Sara. And of Laura. Those were the pictures that Tom and I were worried about. And there was a lot to worry about.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing Forgetting Can Be a Big Mistake
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