Friday, January 5, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 18

In Chapter Seventeen, Wyatt goes on Earnest Von Lawson's TV talk show and is completely side-swiped by the conservative, dog-whistled, and hate-filled reaction to his Lincoln-was-gay message. Lincolnville is pilloried, and just when Wyatt thinks things can't get any worse, Jonathon appears as a special guest on the show, wearing a t-shirt that reads: "If you think Lincoln was gay, then I'm a proud member of the John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society." Everyone in the studio audience gets a T-shirt and Wyatt's surrounded.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Eighteen!

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Chapter 18
Monday January 19

            No one said anything for the first half-hour of the ride home, while Wyatt used nearly half the box of tissues trying to wipe the makeup off his face. Wyatt’s mom was driving, because his dad was too much of a mess. His mom’s cell rang, and his dad answered it. He talked for barely a minute, saying only, “I understand,” and “Okay,” and, “Yes, we’ll refund your deposit.”
            He hung up. “The Collier wedding. Seems they’re big fans of the Von Lawson Report.”
            “That was all eight rooms!” Wyatt’s mom glanced over from the road. “For this weekend! How are they going to find another venue in time?”
            The rain beat on them and the rest of the freeway traffic.
            “That’s not really our problem, is it?” Wyatt’s dad turned in his seat. “You get this friend of yours to take down that other website pronto!”
            “I’ll need my cell.” Wyatt said.
            Wyatt’s dad pushed the purse at him.
            Wyatt fished out his phone and tried dialing Martin. Four rings and it went to voicemail. “He’s not answering. Should I leave a message?”
            His dad and mom chorused, “Yes!”
            There was the beep. “Hey, Martin. It’s… Wyatt. Call me, okay? It’s kind of important.”
He pressed ‘end call’ and sent him a quick text.

                        Wyatt                          8:47 p.m.
                        where are u? we need 2 talk!
                        u were right. about not going
                        on the show.

            Finger snaps got him to raise his head. His mom held out her hand for the phone. Wyatt surrendered it, and watched it drop back into her purse.
            The three of them rode in silence for the next two hours, until they got home. They staggered inside from the kitchen porch, no guests tonight.
            Maybe no guests ever, after that.
            Wyatt noticed the voicemail light was blinking on the B&B line, showing they had six messages. But no one hit play, or said anything.
            In his room, Wyatt peeled off the fancy clothes that were still damp. He pulled on sweats and crawled into bed, wanting to do a Rip Van Winkle – fall asleep for a hundred years, and have it be a totally new world when he got up. Or maybe, he was mixing that up with Sleeping Beauty.

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Tuesday January 20

            Wyatt woke up more than an hour before he had to. By now, with the internet, probably everyone at school had seen replays of the Von Lawson Report. He buried his head back under the comforters. He wasn’t moving from this bed.
His eyes opened, and he scrambled to his backback, on the floor by his desk. Digging in it, he found the flyer and uncrumpled it to check. Yeah, he was right. Tuesdays meant early hours at the library.
The B&B was quiet. Wyatt snuck out the front door, past the Confederate and Union flags in their holders on either side of their B&B sign. The flags were limp from last night’s rain. With everything going on, he had forgotten and left them up overnight. Well, he figured, it saved him a chore this morning.
 He did a slow warm-up run the five blocks to Union Square. Nobody was around, and it was dark since it wouldn’t be daylight for another two hours. But Wyatt had fire inside him. As he cut past the square’s metal arch that spelled out ‘Lincolnville,’ his breath puffed into the cold air like steam – like a dragon on a war-path. When he got to the library parking lot, he jogged in place behind a hedge. The streetlamp light was just enough to make out that the lot was empty. He didn’t have a phone to check for the time, but it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t be long.
Figuring working out again wasn't such a bad idea, he’d done two sets of ten pushups and was just about to try for more when Mr. Clifton’s half-sized Smart Car made the turn from Route 37. Mr. Clifton didn’t see him. He pulled into a spot right by the loading dock door, triggering the yellow motion-detector flood lamps. Wyatt waited until Mr. Clifton was getting out and headed over.
“Why did you give me the book in the first place?”
Mr. Clifton turned from picking up his briefcase. “Wyatt!” He wasn’t happy to see him. Which was fine with Wyatt, since that made two of them.
Wyatt thought Mr. Clifton might make a run for the door and he stepped forward to block his way. “Did you guys destroy it yet?”
“I… I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.” Mr. Clifton fidgeted with the keys in his hand. “Though I’m not sure it matters, as you’ve put the whole thing online.”
“Why, Mr. Clifton? Why let me know about it and then slam me for saying it?”
“I was trying to be kind!” Mr. Clifton jerked his head both ways to check the empty parking lot, but no one had heard him. It was just the two of them in the amber-lit darkness. “I wanted you to know that you’re not alone. That… we’re not alone.”
Wyatt’s mind spun. He’s gay? And he knows I am, too?
But, that meant Mr. Clifton thought they were the same. That Wyatt was like him. “You mean, in the closet?”
“Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, to get by. Fly under the radar. Keep quiet. Surely you can understand that.”
“I’m not like you!” Wyatt shouted.
Wyatt stared at Mr. Clifton. His eyes showed white, all around the irises. His nostrils flared, breaths shallow and fast. He was a cornered animal, posing as a grown-up.
Wyatt didn’t want to be afraid. Or quiet. Not anymore. But he couldn’t come out – not now, not when the whole truth about Lincoln hung in the balance.
But did that mean… Wyatt couldn’t bear to look at Mr. Clifton any more.
Was that going to be him, in forty years?
The idea was like a punch in the gut, and Wyatt stumbled away.
Mr. Clifton cleared his throat. “I’m sure you won’t tell anyone. I suppose it’s a bit like the U.S.S.R. and America during the Cold War.  All those nuclear weapons pointed at each other. And it turned out the best deterrent was mutually assured destruction.”
Anger flared inside Wyatt, but he didn’t turn around. Instead, he started running, pounding his fury into the ground with each step. It’s probably a good thing they don’t give teenagers the nuclear codes.

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