Friday, September 22, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter Three

In Chapters One and Two, we met closeted and bullied Wyatt, and his best friend, Mackenzie. When Wyatt's nemesis – Jonathon – is about to clobber him, Mackenzie saves the day... But in a way that makes things even MORE complicated.

Want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapters One and Two.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Three!




Chapter 3
Monday January 5


That’s what I get for never telling her. And now I can’t. She’ll hate me.

            School was out and Wyatt was running, cutting the back way to avoid Mackenzie. And Jonathon. Well, everyone.
            He turned at the far side of the gym and raced past their School Rock, its foot-high purple and gold letters shouting,

GO FIGHTING SOLDIERS!

            Sprinting along the edge of the field, he passed the faculty parking lot to get to the chain link fence. There was a gap at the bottom, blocked by an old log, but there was enough room for Wyatt – and the occasional soccer ball – to scoot through. He’d been sent to get enough of them during P.E.
            Nearly empty backpack in his hand, he slid through the gap. He shouldered the bag and noticed, on the ridge across from him, a family of tourists posing in front of the Log Cabin that was supposed to be like the one Lincoln had been born in. They were so happy to be in Lincolnville. Everyone was. Everyone but him.
            He dashed down the ravine to the trail along the stream, and ran.
            Where Jenson’s Stream widened out to the ford, he jumped across the flat concrete stones that made a path, and kept going on the other side. It was just him and the rushing water, his heartbeat, lungs, and the rhythm of his feet pushing him away from school as fast as they could go.
            Twenty minutes later, his side cramped and Wyatt stumbled to a sweaty stop. He dropped his backpack and let the cold afternoon water run through his fingers, on its way to Corvallis. And Portland. And then, the ocean, and maybe… San Francisco. Or L.A.
            But me? I’m stuck here.
            He wiped his hands on his jeans, got out his phone and pulled up the photo of his soldier. Wyatt imagined him saying, Hey there, again, Wyatt. Fancy meeting you in a place like this. He knew it was corny. Stupid. But it made him feel better, anyway.
            Not for the first time, Wyatt wished his soldier was real. That he could tell him about Mackenzie, those weird kisses and what a disaster everything was.
            The day came crashing in on him – early wake-up, getting ambushed, sore muscles, clueless Mr. Guzman announcing his ‘A’ and Jonathon’s ‘D’ – and because of that, Jonathon almost pounding him and then that kiss – both kisses… Ugh!
            He kicked a fist-sized rock into the current and it splashed water back onto him. Great. Now he was wet, too.
            Everything ached as he lay out on a boulder that edged the stream. His shoulders protested as he lifted his phone – which hardly weighed anything – above him, but Wyatt didn’t care. He focused on his soldier.
The guy was staring right at the camera, kind of smiling, like he and whoever had taken the picture shared some secret. His coat was way too big, and the forage cap on his head – the same kind they sold in the B&B and that looked so awkward on their plastic military mannequin, whether it was dressed in Union Blues or Confederate Butternut Gray – looked pretty cool on him. There was another young guy behind him, holding a sword, all check this out, and Wyatt wondered if they were friends.
            He figured his soldier was only a little older than he was – you could tell he wasn’t shaving yet. Well, okay, Wyatt knew he was a lot older – the Civil War was like 150 years ago. Who was he? Who was he staring at like that? What was his secret?
            All Wyatt could do was look at him, across time, and imagine he was just dressed up for the re-enactments. That he was some teenager from another town, and he was going to lay back right here next to him. And they’d get to listen to the stream together. And talk, about the stuff Wyatt couldn’t tell anybody. And Wyatt imagined, in that tightly locked secret place in his heart, that maybe that smile – like some guy version of the Mona Lisa – might be the way he’d get looked at some day.
            Somewhere in the trees above them, a bird wheezed like it had just swallowed a kazoo. Cooper’s Hawk, Wyatt guessed. He closed his eyes and breathed in the mossy wet, letting it fill up every part of him.
            His soldier was crazy cute. Wyatt could imagine wanting to kiss him. The corners of his mouth tugged up at the idea.
            But Mackenzie? A tremor went through him, and it had nothing to do with his clammy T-shirt or the clouds stealing the last warmth of daylight.
Wyatt lurched up to sitting, the muscle-knot under his ribs clenching tight.
            It was all impossible. He wanted to want to kiss her. But he didn’t want to.
            He couldn’t be himself, either – not till he was hundreds of miles away at some college. He’d go to some big city where no one knew him and no one would care about what he did or who he was… or who he wanted to kiss.
            Until then, he just had to survive. Fit in, somehow.
Bulk up? He imagined working out every day at lunch, and feeling this sore all the time. How would he ever get as strong or as big as Jonathon, who was a high school Hulk? It would take him forever to even try. And he needed a way to get through tomorrow.
Maybe, if it helped him not bleed into the water like shark food, maybe… Plan B? He could have a girlfriend, instantly. He kind of already did.
Wyatt struggled to stand, rubbing at the cramp just now easing in his side. But not telling Mackenzie…
She was going to hate him, sooner or later, no matter what he did. He had three-and-a-half more years in Lincolnville before he was free. He’d rather she hated him later.
I have a girlfriend.
He tried saying it out loud, but it came out as a question. “I have a girlfriend?”

* *

Tuesday January 6

            “So this is just like the room where Lincoln lived in Springfield, Illinois, from 1837 to 1841, when he was 28 to 32 years old.” It was the final minutes of Wyatt’s tour, and the Lincoln Room at the top of the stairs was crowded with second graders. He pointed out the furniture: the low antique dresser; the rocking chair that was just like the one that had ended up at the White House; the oval mirror with candlesticks and a little shelf for shaving things at the exact height Abe shaved; the could have been there china water pitcher and basin.
            “And this is Lincoln’s cherry/pine rope bed.” Wyatt walked over to their Bed & Breakfast’s shrine, the actual bed Abraham Lincoln had slept in. The kids crowded closer, red velvet ropes on brass posts holding them back. The bed was just a little bigger than his own twin bed one more flight up, but Abe’s had polished wood balls at the corners, an old green and blue quilt at the foot, and was made up with Wyatt’s great-grandmother’s linens from Italy. Once a month, Wyatt put a dent in the pillow with a spaghetti squash to make it seem like maybe Abe himself had just gotten up. Over Winter Break, he’d even yanked a couple of hairs from wax-Lincoln’s head and put them on the pillow. Mackenzie had given him a hard time about how it was starting to feel like lying, but he told her museums were kind of like theater, and he was just helping set the stage.
            He couldn’t tell whether any of the kids noticed the hairs on the pillow or not, but they were in awe in the presence of a real piece of history. Wyatt’s dad had bought the Lincoln bed at auction years ago and that’s how they ended up in Lincolnville, right before third grade. His folks had taken over the “Lincolnville Civil War Bed & Breakfast” and renamed it “The Lincoln Slept Here Bed & Breakfast.” He’d been assigned a desk next to Mackenzie. They’d bonded over her never teasing him for being new, and him never teasing her for having a mom who was sometimes around but most of the time, not. They’d studied together, and listened to each other… and been friends ever since.
            Behind the field trip teachers in the doorway, Mackenzie waved to get his attention.
            And now she’s my girlfriend…
            Shaking it off, he jumped back into the tour, lifting the mattress edge so everyone could see the ropes underneath. “Even though it’s never used, every six months we have to tighten the rope grid so it doesn’t get saggy. Tight ropes made the bed more comfortable, which, we used to tell people, is where they got the expression, sleep tight.”
            Oh!s travelled the room like applause.  
            “But, turns out that’s not really true.” Wyatt glanced at Mackenzie – correcting their mistake had been her first addition to the tour. “People didn’t start saying sleep tight until a generation later, when rope beds weren’t even that popular anymore. The Oxford English Dictionary says ‘tight’ used to mean ‘soundly’ or ‘well.’ Sleep well – sleep tight. History can surprise you, sometimes.”
            Mackenzie winked at him, then spun her pointer fingers around each other: wrap it up.
But once the tour was gone, they’d be alone.
            “Can we touch it?” A girl asked.
            He took the chance to stall. “Just the wood parts.” Avoiding eye contact with Mackenzie, he unhooked the velvet rope closest to the bed and stepped aside. Forty-three pairs of hands darted out to rub the wood smooth, like the bed of the most admired president in history was somehow good luck.
            “Excuse me. Sorry…” Mackenzie got past the teachers and tiptoed to Wyatt’s side. He tried to drift away but she took his hand. Clearing her throat, she announced, “this way to the souvenir shop and the end of the tour!” And pulling Wyatt with her, she teetered out of the room.
            Wyatt checked to see if she’d hurt her foot.  Since when does she wear high heels?

* *

            “Pishhu!”
“Pa-pa-pa-pow!”
            “Pishhu!”
            The sound effects for the rifle pens were more Sci-Fi than Civil War, but they were the last two kids. Their teacher checked the time on her cell. “If you’re going to buy those, you need to do it now.”
            Wyatt knew better than to waste a bag or receipt that he’d just have to pick up from the parking lot gravel later and handed the first kid his change. As he paid for his, the second boy asked, “Were there really eight-year old soldiers?”
            “They were mostly drummers, but, yeah.” Wyatt had told them about Edward Black, 21st Indiana Volunteer Regiment. There was a portrait of him in what used to be the dining room, part of this new display on child soldiers his dad had been working on forever.
            “Lucky!” The first boy said, and the second nodded like one of their bobble-head plastic Lincolns.
            Lucky? Wyatt didn’t think so. Edward Black died at 18. Of ‘Soldier’s Heart,’ what they called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder back then. Who wanted to fight a war and be so freaked out by it all that it killed you, before you even got to live your life? And that was if you survived in the first place. “I’d hate to be a soldier,” Wyatt told them.
            “Pffft!” The second kid spit-taked air, like that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.
            The first kid targeted Wyatt with his new gun. “Pishhu! Pishhu!”
            Baby sharks.
            “All right, you two. That’s enough. Everyone’s waiting.” Their teacher steered them outside.
            “Thanks for visiting!” Mackenzie waved from the front porch as the stragglers joined the rest of their class on the bus. Next they’d go to Jennie’s family’s put-on-a-Civil-War-costume-and-have-your-old-time-photo-taken store.
            Mackenzie closed the front door and headed back to where Wyatt stood in their Lincoln and Civil War Memorabilia Alcove. They were alone.
            Yikes.
            “Hey…”
            Wyatt got very busy at the register. She stood right next to him, waiting.
            “You’re really good with kids,” Mackenzie said, balancing a stuffed bear on one of the little speakers by the reception computer.
            Wyatt shrugged, spotting the mess of rifle pens. Typical. They had to examine every one before deciding. He scooped them up and started sorting, Richmond Carbines in the Jefferson Davis: President of the Confederacy mug, Springfield Rifles in the Abraham Lincoln: President of the Union.
            Mackenzie pulled her matching pink argyle wallet from her backpack and grabbed a ten-dollar bill. She put it on the glass counter in front of him.
            “What’s that for?” Wyatt risked a quick glance at her.
            She snuggled two grapefruit-sized Give-a-Lincoln-Get-a-Lincoln $4.99 teddy bears to her chin. “I can’t decide between the blue one or the gray one, so I’m going to get both.”
            Wyatt was out of pens to sort. “You don’t have to pay for those.” He bent down to straighten the line of infantry soldiers on the Civil War Chess Set.
            “It’s your family business. I’m not going to steal them!”
            “You’re my girlfriend, aren’t you? Just take ‘em.”
            Wyatt stood, and it took everything he had to not look at his soldier in the display case against the sitting room wall. Before he could figure out something else to do, Mackenzie wrapped her arms around him. “Honeybear!”
            “Honeybear?”
            Her shirt was silky, and he searched for an excuse to slip away.
            She nodded, “sometimes you’re like a growly bear on the outside, but in there…” She touched his chest through his T-shirt. “You are so sweet.” She tilted her lips down to his, going for kiss number three.
            Oddly purple-red lips closing in, Wyatt thought fast. He grabbed a loose bear and with a lip-smack sound effect, pressed its nose to Mackenzie’s cheek instead. He broke free and acted like he was being all funny and playful.
            Something cracked inside Mackenzie’s face, and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. “Are my braces that horrible?”
            “No! It’s not…” Wyatt stopped. He had no idea what to say. “Mom!”
            Wyatt’s mom, still in work clothes, walked in from the kitchen corridor holding a folding plastic ‘Rails Realty’ sign. It was broken. “I finally got Kelly to let your father make one of these out of wood, so they’ll last. If she likes it, it will be some extra money…”
            Mackenzie whispered, like she was trying to believe it, “You knew she was coming home now?”
            Wyatt took the excuse. “I thought, maybe…”
            His mom stashed the sign behind the reception counter and focused on them. “Mackenzie, you’re looking beautiful!”
            “Hi, Liz.” Mackenzie said.
            Wyatt’s mom came over and hugged her. Then, instead of letting go, she held Mackenzie out at arm’s length, staring at her like Mackenzie hadn’t spent the last seven years hanging out there practically every day. His mom repeated the compliment, “Just… beautiful.”
            That got Mackenzie blushing, which always showed off her freckles, which she hated. Actually, where are her freckles?
            “Don’t you think so?” Wyatt’s mom turned to him and Wyatt startled. He didn’t want Mackenzie to catch him staring at her. That would send the wrong… Oh, man. He didn’t even know anymore.
            “Yeah, sure.” He rubbed at a spot of ink on his hand.
            “Sweetie,” Wyatt’s mom gave him a quick kiss on the head. “I still have a few calls to make for the parade, and your dad’s too busy cooking… I noticed the breakfast buffet never got put away. How about you pitch in, and then you two can set the table for dinner?”
            More chores. Great. But to avoid the lecture, Wyatt just said, “Sure.” And tossed Mackenzie a ‘you in?’ look.
            Lipstick. And no freckles.
            “I’d love to.” Mackenzie tossed a flowy, big-hair curl over her shoulder, all game. Wyatt pushed down this queasy feeling that he wasn’t going to listen to. He just had to make sure they didn’t spend any more time alone together.
           
* *

            “Honestly Mr. Yarrow, I would never have guessed it’s rabbit!” Mackenzie gushed about the meal Wyatt’s dad was trying out since there were no guests eating with them at the big table in the kitchen tonight. Weekly Civil War-Era meals was the next big thing that was supposed to get money finally pouring in.
            Wyatt eyed the dandelion greens and pieces of slimy-looking meat on his plate. His mom was going to need to keep her job for the Mayor. Another thing for Jonathon to lord over him, like because Wyatt’s mom worked for his mom, it made them Jonathon’s family’s servants or something.
            The bottle in his hand made a plastic farting sound as he coated his rabbit salad and heap of turnip-potato pie in an oozing blanket of red.
            “Ketchup? Really?” Wyatt’s dad bookmarked the 19th century cookbook he’d been reading and decided to pay attention to actual living people.
            “Gregory…” Wyatt’s mom started.
            “He hasn’t even tried it!” Wyatt’s dad shook his head. “It’s supposed to be period food.”
            Wyatt held out the family-size bottle, label facing his dad. He pointed to the small red print below ‘Heinz,’ and read it out loud. “Established 1869.”
            “Really?” It was like Mackenzie was interested in everything today. She reached for the ketchup bottle with matching red nail polish. Nail polish, too?
            Wyatt’s mom patted his dad’s hand. “It’s delicious.” She turned to Wyatt, “So, how was your day?”
            “Fine.” Wyatt poked in vain for something else on his plate.
            “Anything new to share?” His mom asked.
            “Nope.” Wyatt answered, wondering if he just cut it up and moved it around on his plate, and then volunteered to do dishes, he could get away without eating it.
            “That’s funny,” His mom said nonchalantly, “because when I was updating the Mayor’s status earlier, I noticed Mackenzie’s profile says she’s now in a relationship.”
            Wyatt kept his eyes on his plate. Don’t tell them. Don’t tell them. He tried to send the thought to Mackenzie – maybe they did have some kind of E.S.P.
“You didn’t tell them?” She asked Wyatt, totally telling them.
Wyatt’s mom shrieked and leapt out of her chair to squeeze them both into a giant hug. “Why didn’t you tell us? Mackenzie Miller! Oh my gosh – what’s your middle name? I don’t know your middle name!”
“Liz.” His dad said, and Wyatt’s mom released her death-grip on them.
“Okay, okay! But you can’t blame a mother for being excited about her little boy growing up and finding love.”
            Wyatt could feel the hole he was in getting deeper and deeper. He managed to lift his lips apart and show his teeth, just like a real smile.
            His dad picked up his wine glass in a toast. “That makes this your first official meal as Wyatt’s girlfriend!”
            “Guys!” Wyatt squirmed. Do all parents do this?
            “And now that you’re dating, we need to make sure you’re respecting each other. I won’t be a grandfather before I’m fifty.”
            “Gregory!” Wyatt’s mom sounded shocked. “They’re only in ninth grade.”
            “I remember being a teenager. And we have a double responsibility here.” Wyatt’s dad pointed at him and Mackenzie. “No more alone time in either of your bedrooms, understood?”
            Wyatt felt like he’d just been handed a late Christmas present.
            He nodded, quick.
            Wyatt’s dad sipped his wine. “Mackenzie, now that you’re even more a member of our family,”
Mackenzie made a little squeaking noise. Wyatt didn’t look at her, cause he didn’t want to embarrass her. But anytime Wyatt complained, Mackenzie told him how great his family was and how he needed to appreciate his parents more. How ‘you don’t know how important it is until you lose it.’ And he never knew what to say. And now, she was thinking his dad and mom could be like her dad and mom, too, so she’d have three parents instead of just one. And it was all built on a lie. He felt like pond scum, if pond scum could feel bad about itself.
His dad continued, looking at Mackenzie in a way that felt parental, “…why don’t you choose our Sunday movie this week?”
            Wyatt couldn’t believe his dad was giving it to Mackenzie. “It was my turn!”
            “Sweetie,” his mom scolded. “It’s a lovely idea of your father’s. Be gracious.”
            “Sorry.” Wyatt said, but he wasn’t. Even pond scum had stuff it looked forward to. “I’ve… just been waiting to see the new Bond movie since Thanksgiving, and it’s finally out on DVD, and it’s my week!”
            His mom ignored him. “Tell us, Mackenzie. What movie would you like us all to watch?”
            Wyatt slumped back and stared at the floor under the table. Pink leopard-print high heels kicked off, Mackenzie’s bare feet were crossed at the ankles. What was going on?
            “I’ve always tried to get Wyatt to watch Little House on the Prairie with me. Maybe this would be a good chance?
            “Ughhh!” Wyatt rolled his head and eyes all the way back. Something kicked his leg. “Ow!” Bending forward to rub his shin, he was pretty sure he heard Mackenzie smother a laugh.      He glared at his dad, who shifted into lecture-mode. “Being in a relationship means some give and take. Little House on the Prairie sounds perfect, Mackenzie. And we can all watch the new double-o-six movie next week. Agreed?”
            “It’s double-o-seven.” Wyatt pouted. Like his dad even cared. If it wasn’t about the Civil War, he was just going to sit there and read an auction catalog no matter what they watched.
            His mom leaned towards his dad. “We’re supposed to let them sort it out.”
            His dad shrugged. “Why, when it’s so simple?”
            “Young love is never simple,” Wyatt’s mom said. “Remember?” His parents got all mushy and Wyatt paid attention to the food he wasn’t eating.
            Mackenzie chimed in, “How about we watch Wyatt’s movie this week, and next week we can watch Little House?
            Wyatt looked at her. Thanks, he mouthed silently.
            Mackenzie locked eyes with him, all intense, all I’ll-sacrifice-my-happiness-for-yours, and suddenly, Wyatt got it. The makeup. The big hair. The heels. It was all for him!
            And he didn’t want it. Any of it.
He looked away.
            “See? They worked it out.” Wyatt’s mom said, kissing his dad’s hand.
            It’s like I’m being tortured.
             Wyatt survived the rest of dinner, and even managed a couple of bites of cinnamon, apple and raisin dessert until his dad launched into one of his footnote monologues. It was the kind of thing guests found charming for a weekend stay, but they didn’t have to live with it full-time. It was all about how he was sorry it was Braeburn apples instead of the York Imperial or Ben Davis varieties they would have made it with back in 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, since this was Gettysburg Fruitcake.
            And all Wyatt could think about was Jonathon hearing that and telling everyone Wyatt was the Gettysburg Fruitcake. But he wouldn’t, now that Wyatt had a girlfriend. Right?
            He dropped his spoon to the plate, appetite gone.
            Wyatt’s mom brought up junior prom – two years away – and how now she would volunteer to chaperone. How am I going to keep this up for that long?
            Then they were talking outfits, and how Mackenzie didn’t even have one for the Purple and Gold Pep Rally in two weeks.
            “What I’m really not sure about are the shoes,” Mackenzie said. “These gave me blisters, and I nearly twisted my ankle, twice.”
            “You need to start with kitten heels.” Wyatt’s mom told her. “Maybe I have something… I’m a size eight, what size are you?”
            “But, I wear a size eight!” Mackenzie’s words came out in a giggle.
            Before Wyatt knew it, with his mom in the lead, Mackenzie was pulling him along to his parents’ bedroom. “Come on, Honeybear!”
            Wyatt stalled out in the doorway, watching his mom throw open her shoe wardrobe. Mackenzie acted like a starving person at a buffet, touching and oohing and ahhing over each shoe. She didn’t have a mom to do this with since hers was – well, no one knew where her mom was – so Wyatt figured it was a big deal.
            “Here, try this one!” Wyatt’s mom held out a pair of low heels whose shifting purple-blue colors reminded Wyatt of iridescent butterfly wings.
            Carefully, Mackenzie slipped on the left shoe. “It fits!” She said, all Cinderella.
            Wyatt’s mom came up behind Mackenzie and studied her reflection in the Ikea standing mirror. “Beautiful. And you don’t have to wait for the Pep Rally.” Wyatt’s mom was all Fairy Godmother. “You can borrow any pair you want, anytime.”
            Mackenzie gulped air, and Wyatt could barely make out her whispered, “Gaia. My mom gave me a totally embarrassing hippie middle name.”
Wyatt’s mom moved to face Mackenzie. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.” She tucked a loose strand of hair gently behind Mackenzie’s ear. “Mackenzie Gaia Miller, you are a lovely young woman. I couldn’t be happier… for all of us.”
Wyatt was out of there. He couldn’t be the Prince in this fairy tale. He just couldn't.


* *


* *

Chapter Three Endnotes 


Wyatt tells the visiting students about the Civil War child soldier Edward Black. You can find out more in this “The Boys of War” opinion piece in the October 4, 2011 New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/the-boys-of-war/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 There’s additional info (and a painting) of Edward Black, “who was 8 years old when he became a drummer for the 21st Indiana Volunteer Regiment…” in this online slide show: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/10/05/opinion/disunion-children-4.html 

* *

Want to know why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free right here on this blog? Click here.

Ready for Chapter Four? Click here.

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3 comments:

Alex Sanchez said...

Hi Lee, I LOVE the characters. And I'm enjoying reading it as a serial. It's a new wonderful experience. I'm eager to read more. Thanks for your fortitude in sharing this with the world. Alex

KarolinaS said...

Something I forgot to mention in last night's chat - I love, love, LOVE Wyatt's soldier! So glad he's back early on in Chapter 3. (Have only read the first few pages so far.) I think a lot of us had someone like Wyatt's soldier as lonely teens. I know I did.

Hope you're doing more #qaafdb chats in the weeks to come. Last night's inaugural chat was SO fun!

Ishta Mercurio said...

I hereby vow to be nothing like Wyatt's parents were at dinner when my own kids start dating. Poor Wyatt! I really feel for him, and I look forward to reading the next installment!