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 23 — Birthday Presents
Laura’s Mom walked up and joined us. “Laura, it’s time to open your gifts.”
“Okay, Mom. Come on, guys, come watch me open my birthday presents.”
We walked back to The Bowl, the area where the table and chairs were set up and where we had watched Laura blow out her birthday candles. The table was piled with gift-wrapped birthday presents. The word had gotten around because the guests gathered and began finding chairs. Finally everyone sat down and waited for Laura to make an appearance. A few people up front began clapping and shouting ‘Laura, Laura, Laura’ and almost immediately everyone else joined in. Laura’s Mom walked to the front of the table and stood there, fists on hips, glaring at us. A few seconds later there was total silence.
“Thank you,” she growled, “now we’ll get the next part of this birthday celebration under way.”
She turned and looked toward the caterer’s tent, and Laura stepped out. She was greeted by cheers and applause, but no shouting because her mom was still standing in front glaring at us. Laura walked along the back side of the table until she got to the center then turned a faced the crowd. Her mom grinned then turned and slowly walked to other side of the table next to the pile of gifts.
Laura spent the next hour opening her birthday presents, with Sara’s assistance and her mom writing down what each gift was and who it was from in a spiral notebook. She got CDs and DVDs, gift cards and books, cosmetics and clothes. Her best gift was an iPad from her folks. We could tell that she was thrilled with that gift all the way back where we were sitting.
There was a lot of laughter each time she opened a joke gift. They included an “Over-the-Hill Survival Kit”; a bright yellow girl's T that read “I’m Sweet 16” on the front and “That’s 8,415,180 Minutes and I’m Soooo Tired!” on the back; a giant alarm clock that looked like it was about three feet in diameter; and a large bar of white soap with a gigantic lable that read “For use by Laura’s mom whenever Laura gets too raunchy with her potty mouth.” That last one was the number one favorite of the audience.
Tom bumped his elbow in my side. “Bet you’re the one who gave that to her!”
“No, actually I didn’t. Someone besides me must think she’s got a potty mouth.”
“You better protect yourself, Curt. She’s gonna think it’s from you, and you know she always gets her revenge.”
“Nah. Her mom’s writing down what each present is and who gave it to Laura.” I grinned. “I’ll bet Sara gave it to her.”
Laura pulled a gift from the now much smaller pile and looked at the tag.
“Well, this is interesting. This birthday present isn’t for me. It’s for another person who’s having their birthday today. Will our birthday boy please come on down, and let’s yell a big ‘Happy Birthday’ to… Mark Hutchins!”
Everyone was shouting ‘Happy Birthday Mark.’ I turned and looked at him. His mouth hung open and he looked totally surprised. Shocked, even.
I reached over and poked him in his arm. “Go on, Mark, go down and join Laura.”
He stood up, moved across our aisle to the end, then walked down and stood next to Laura. She grabbed him in a hug.
“Happy Birthday, Mark! Here, open your present.”
Mark look at the tag, then over to Laura’s mom who pointed to the spiral notebook and nodded. He cut the ribbon with the scissors that Laura had been using and tore off the wrapping paper. It was a complete set of Monty Python DVDs.
“Oh, man, thanks Laura! I love Monty Python. This is such a great gift.”
“Let’s see what else is here. Wow, another present for you!”
All of the rest of the presents were for Mark, and he seemed a bit dazed by the pile he’d accumulated. Of course, a bunch of them were joke gifts, including a bobble-head doll that looked like him; a T that read “Kiss Me — It’s My 15th Birthday” on the front, and “After 15 It’s All Downhill” on the back; another T that read “I’m 15 — When Can I Retire?”
Finally there were no more gifts to be opened. “Hey, Mom,” Laura said, “is that everything for Mark?”
“No, I think there’s supposed to be one more.” She stood and looked at the caterer’s tent. The clown that we saw earlier came out with a large box and very carefully set it down close to the outside edge of the table in front of Mark, looked at Mark, looked at the box, looked at Mark again, shook his head, and waving his arms in the air like he was flying ran real fast back to the caterer’s tent.
I laughed. I could tell that Mark didn’t have any idea what was in the box, and that it worried him. Looking at it, and seeing that it wasn’t wrapped, I realized what it had to be. Mark pulled the box closer to him, and stood there and looked at it. Laura stepped next to Mark and pulled the top off the box and set it to one side. She pulled down the side of the box facing her and Mark, reached inside, and lifted up a large birthday cake. Mark pulled the box away and Laura set the cake on the table. This little show was greeted by loud applause.
Laura shouted, “Is anyone ready for our second birthday cake of the day?” and we all yelled “YES!”
The Laura shouted, “NO! Not until Mark blows out his birthday candles!”
Somebody yelled “Boo!” from the audience, but no one joined in because Laura’s mom stood and, with a glower, pointed at the perpetrator until there was no noise except some birds twittering in the distance.
The clown returned with a big box filled with hundreds of colored candles. He dumped them into a big pile on the table, and began searching through them until he found one that seemed to satisfy him, shouted “One!” and set it aside. He repeated this for number “Two!” and “Three” and “Four” and so on. The audience began to get unruly, and the clown stood and with a glower pointed at the audience, just like what Laura’s mom had done, until the noise settled down to a low hum. Then he continued searching through the pile of candles, periodically selecting one and shouting out the number. Finally, the count got to “Thirteen!” then “Fourteen!” and then he stopped. There was total silence, waiting for the count to continue and finish.
“Hey!” Laura shouted.
The clown looked around at Laura, she raised her eyebrows, tipped her head to one side, held her hands out palm-up, lifted her shoulders, and glared at the clown. He raised his arms then bowed to Laura, tuned back to the pile of candles, picked one at random, and shouted “Fifteen!” He then arranged the candles on the cake in a three-by-five grid, pulled out a barbeque grill lighter, and lit all fifteen candles. He then bowed to Mark, and ran off toward the caterer’s tent.
Mark took three deep breaths, and in one whoosh blew out all fifteen candles, then made a deep bow to Laura, then bowed to the audience followed by a grin and a wave to the laughter and applause of everyone.
“As usual,” Laura’s mom announced, “the person whose birthday we’re celebrating will cut the first slice of cake.”
Mark cut a fairly generous slice and handed the plate to Laura’s mom and bowed to her. The audience applauded and shouted its approval, and Laura’s mom kissed Mark on both of his cheeks.
Laura’s mom then called out, “Mark’s birthday cake will be served at this table, so come on down and get in line. There’s ice cream being served in the caterer’s tent. Enjoy!”
Everyone lined up as the caterers cut pieces of cake and handed them out. I was sort of surprised that we were eating cake again so soon after eating Laura’s cake. But hey, we’re teens and we’re always ready to eat. Mark’s cake was chocolate with milk chocolate filling and thick dark chocolate icing. If you’re a chocoholic the way Mark and I are there is no cake in the universe that could have been better. I saw a line at the caterer’s tent for ice cream, so I decided that the big piece of cake I’d been given was more than enough. I looked around and saw Mark and Kyle talking to Parker. Ray Curtis was with them. I grinned. Things were working out just like Laura had said they would.
Tom sat down next to me. “Take a look. Mark and Parker and Kyle and Ray are over there. Should we join them?”
“Nah. Let ‘em enjoy some gay bonding time together. Let’s go find Sara. Laura’s likely to be with her.”
“Sounds like an idea.”
We took our cake, or what was left of each of our pieces of cake, and wandered around looking for the girls. Then I remembered where I’d found Laura and Sara earlier. Sure enough, they were sitting on the same beach towel and were talking. I didn’t see any cake or ice cream, though.
“Hi, girls. You avoiding the cake and ice cream?”
Sara grinned. “Of course, Curt, we have to maintain our girlish figures.”
I looked them over, nodding my head. “Yup. Definitely very girlish figures, don’t you agree, Tom?”
“Absolutely,” he replied, licking his lips. Of course that didn’t get past Laura.
“What’s with the licking of your lips? You perving on us girls, Tom?”
“Who? Me? Never! Besides, I don’t like girls.” Then, in a stage whisper to me, “I prefer women.”
“Oh, so we’re not women?” Laura turned to Sara, “I think we’re women, don’t you, Sara?”
“Of course I do. This boy, did you say his name was Tom? Anyway, he must be just starting puberty and hasn’t managed to control his hormones. Right, Curt?”
“Oh, no you don’t. I’m not getting in the middle of this argument. I’m going to go over there by that tree and sit down and eat my cake. Bye.”
“Wuss!” Laura shouted at me.” I turned and grinned at her, then continued to the tree. My Tree of Refuge that would let me avoid becoming involved in something that would probably have ended badly for me.
The cake was delicious. As I was eating I saw Tom heading my way. He sat down next to me and grinned.
“You’re still in one piece. How’d you escape?”
“They gave up.”
“Who gave up? Not Laura, for sure. Maybe Sara, I’m not sure about her.”
“Laura gave up. I told her I was licking my lips because there was chocolate frosting on them. That was true. I told them that I never implied that they weren’t women, my comment was only about my preference. I told Sara that I was insulted by her comment about my hormones and that it was uncalled for. She got real embarrassed and she apologized. Then Laura apologized, and I said she should apologize to you for calling you a wuss. She said she would.”
I stared at Tom. “Laura apologized? She said she’d apologize to me? I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true. In fact, here comes Sara. And Laura’s right behind her. I’ll bet they’re both going to apologize to you.”
I looked up and saw Sara. Our eyes met, and she looked down like she was embarrassed. Laura was following her, several feet behind.
“Uh. Hi, Curt.”
“Umm… I’m sorry about what I said about Tom. I already apologized to him. We were just kidding around and we got carried away… it was what we said.”
“No problem. That’s why I left and came here to eat my cake in peace.”
Laura walked up. “Well, I called you a wuss, Curt, and I’m so sorry I did that. You may be easy for me to embarrass, but you’re not a wuss.”
“Your apologies are accepted. Now it’s time for you two to get back in fun mode. Laura, it’s your sixteenth birthday! Go celebrate!”
Laura rushed me and I almost flinched but I steeled myself and didn’t. She grabbed me in a hug then kissed me. On the lips. She pulled back and smiled. I looked around to make sure that her mom wasn’t coming after us, but I couldn’t see her.
“I’m sure glad your mom didn’t see that kiss, Laura.”
She giggled. Apparently her mother didn’t frighten her the way she frightened me.
Sara pushed in between me and Laura, grabbed my right arm, and pulled me to one side.
“No kissing, cousin!”
I interrupted. “I’m going over to talk to Mark and Kyle. I see that Ray Curtis is here now.”
“Parker better look out,” Laura said. “Ray might just take a look at Mark and like what he sees.”
“Come on, I thought the idea was that you invited Ray to get together with Kyle, not with Mark.”
“Hey, I can’t control which of my friends get together with which other of my friends. Or with none of my friends at all.”
“That’s another reason for me to go over there and see what I can do to keep Mark focused on Parker. I know Parker and he’s a good guy. Ray I don’t know very well, he seems to keep to himself. He’s in my homeroom and not in any of my classes.”
“Ray was in a couple of my classes last year and one this year. I didn’t know he was gay. He sure doesn’t seem gay. Only thing is, he’s very shy. I don’t think he’s the type of guy who would try to steal Mark from Parker.”
“I’ll find out and let you know.”
“Just be nice to him, okay?”
I walked over and joined Mark, Parker, Kyle, and Ray.
“Hi, guys. Glad to see you could get to Laura’s party, Ray. Were you able to get something to eat? And some birthday cake?”
“Hi, Curt. Yeah, I got a burger as soon as I got here. I’ll get some cake later. I read about your problem with your stepfather in the newspaper. That sucks. My dad’s an orthopedic surgeon so I’m interested in fractures. How bad is your arm?”
“It’s a bad break. The doctor called it a comminuted fracture in my forearm with the radius bone broken in three separate places. I have to go back in about five weeks to have an x-ray so the doctor can see how it’s healing.”
“Are you on pain medication?”
“I have pain pills, but I only take one if my arm is really hurting. Most of the time I don’t need the pain pills.”
“How about an antibiotic?”
“If you mean a pill, I’m not taking anything like that. The only pill I have is the pain pill.”
“Your break wasn’t a compound fracture, then?”
“I’m not sure what a compound fracture is.”
“It’s usually when there’s a break in the skin and the bone is exposed to the outside. You can get a really serious infection from a compound fracture.”
“No, I didn’t have anything like that. The orthopedist I saw said there were three cracks in my radius bone and two of the pieces were separated and had to be reset. I was out while they were doing that.”
“That sounds pretty bad. You’re lucky you don’t have much pain.”
“I guess. I never broke anything before so I don’t have any way to judge if this is more or less painful. It just sucks big time that I have this stupid cast. Showering is a total pain in the butt. I have to put this bag-like thing on my arm and put tape at the top so it won’t leak. Of course, I have to shower and wash my hair with my right hand only. Then after I’ve showered I remove the bag and let it dry. And, of course, I’m left-handed.”
“You need someone to help you, like a care nurse who’d come in and bathe you.” Ray grinned. “It would be best if he was cute.”
“He?” I busted up laughing.
Ray giggled. “Yes, ‘He’. You’re a teenage guy, so they wouldn’t let a female nurse get near you. You wouldn’t want to have a female nurse. You know, washing your privates and you get hard and die of embarrassment.”
“And just what makes you think I wouldn’t get boned up if it was a guy?”
“You probably would get wooded up. But if it’s a guy he’d know that there’s nothing you could do about it so it’s no problem. And if he was cute you’d…”
I interrupted him. “Stop! I’m straight, so it wouldn’t matter if the guy was cute or not. NFW that anything would happen.”
But Ray just continued, “…let him do whatever, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t.”
I didn’t realize that Kyle was standing in back of me listening. “Curt would,” he said. “That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.
I turned. “You’re supposed to support me, not let false tales be implied about what I might do or not do with a cute guy in the shower.”
Kyle turned and looked around. “I’ll bet Tom could tell us lots of steamy tales about him and Curt in the shower. Oh, there he is, over there with Laura. I’ll bet she’d like to hear steamy tales about Tom and Curt.” He turned and looked at me. “Shall I go get them or are you going to admit what should be obvious for any guy, gay or straight?”
“I’ll admit it could be possible. So don’t get Tom and Laura. Especially not Laura. If she heard about this she’d make my life a living hell. I might as well jump off the top of Coit Tower.”
Kyle looked confused. “What’s Coit Tower?”
“It’s that tower in San Francisco that’s on Telegraph Hill, at least I think that’s the name of the hill where it is. Anyway, remember when we took our San Francisco tour we went there and walked around outside and went inside. It’s supposed to look like the nozzle on a fire hose.”
Mark giggled. “Actually, it looks like a giant erection.”
Kyle laughed. “Now I remember it. When you’re there it doesn’t look much like anything more than a tall round concrete building with no windows. I remember the brochure and it does sort of look like an erection. The City of San Francisco has a hard-on. Man, how appropriate!”
“What do you mean, appropriate?” Mark asked.
“Frisco is the gay capital of the universe. It’s appropriate that the city has a permanent hard-on.”
“Stop!” I shouted. “First, never call San Francisco ‘Frisco’. Second, Coit Tower looks like the nozzle on a fire hose. That’s what it’s supposed to look like, and that’s what it does look like. Just look at the top, it’s got openings all around the top. That means that it absolutely doesn’t look like an erection.”
“Meh!” Kyle mumbled. “I still say it looks like an erection. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.”
I could see that Ray wanted to laugh and tried to hide it. I think the term is ‘stifling’ which is a cool word because it sounds like what it means. At least to me it does. I decided to help him out, so I looked at him and smiled. One of those smiles that some stories I’ve read call a ‘big’ smile. I just kept staring at him and smiling. Ray couldn’t hold it in. He began chuckling and after a couple seconds he started laughing. That got me laughing, then Kyle as well. Mark and Parker turned around and looked at us. Parker rotated his finger alongside his temple, meaning he thought Ray, Kyle, and I were crazy. Maybe so.
After we calmed down and there was nothing more than an occasional brief giggle or chuckle, Parker looked at us.
“What the heck was all that about? I mean, if it was that funny shouldn’t you let me and Mark in on the joke? If it wasn’t that funny, maybe we should call a shrink to figure out whether you three should be committed to the funny farm.”
“It was that funny, Parker, but it’s one of those things where you’d need to have been there and, I’m so sorry to advise, you weren’t there. So we’ll have to pass on the explanation which you wouldn’t understand and would be a total waste of our time, and of yours as well.”
Mark started to object but he didn’t get more than one word out when there was an announcement over the loudspeakers. I recognized the voice. It was Laura’s dad.
“Gather ‘round, everyone! Our entertainment is about to start. This evening we have ‘We the Mighty’, an up and coming rock group from Los Arcos High School. They’ll be followed by Dionysis, an alt-rock group from right here in the Creek! Their first album will be released at the end of the month by Keriolis Music. Now, to get started, let’s put our hands together and welcome ‘We the Mighty’ our first band tonight!”
The word ‘tonight’ surprised me, so I checked my watch. It was seven thirty and still light out. Of course, it was the middle of summer and daylight saving time, so there was no reason that I should be surprised.
After the applause died down the music started and everyone was moving to the area in back of The Bowl where the bandstand was set up.
“Let’s go, guys. We want to get a good place to sit.”
I looked around for Tom, and saw him walking past the trees below the top of the hill in back of the audience.
I pointed to where Tom was heading. “There’s Tom. Looks like he’s found a good place to sit up there. And look, Laura and Sara are up there too.”
I called out to him, and he waited for us. When we started up the hill Tom grabbed my shoulder and held me back as the others kept going.
“Hang on a sec, Curt,” he whispered.
He waited about a minute until the others were at the top of the hill.
“Do you see who’s sitting there?” He pointed to where most of the audience were sitting in front of the bandstand. We were looking at the seats at the outside edge, and there was a man, an adult, sitting there. This was a party with no adult guests so that was strange. Then he turned a little more in our direction and I recognized him. It was Donovan Clarey. Or his twin brother, and I know that he doesn’t have a twin brother.
“What the fuck is he doing here?”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing Forgetting Can Be a Big Mistake
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