Friday, January 12, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 19

In Chapter Eighteen, Wyatt's parents have a big cancellation of booked rooms for their B&B, and Wyatt can't reach Martin to get him to take down The next morning, Wyatt confronts Mr. Clifton outside the library. After all, Mr. Clifton gave him the book. Didn't he want him to know about Lincoln and Speed? The answer stuns Wyatt.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Nineteen!

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Chapter 19
Tuesday January 20

            It was still dark outside, but the not-quite-period grandfather clock by the stairs said it was 6:15 a.m. Wyatt hung back in the kitchen doorway. His dad and mom were at the table, with the ledger book. His dad put down the phone and crossed out another name. “And that last one was the junior high from Albany.” He said it like someone had died. “That’s two tours and eleven room-nights cancelled. And we haven’t booked anything since Saturday.”
            His dad’s eyes travelled to some papers on the table in front of them. Wyatt recognized the logo: Lincolnville National Bank. They had the loan on this place. The payments that Wyatt’s family couldn’t miss even one more of. Whatever fire he had left inside him fizzled out. Damn ripples.
            His mom glanced up and saw him. “There you are.” She came over and kissed Wyatt on the forehead, then pulled him to the table. She reached into her purse and pulled out his cell phone. “We’ll come up with a different consequence. This is not for interviews, but for now, don’t use the land line.” She handed the cell over to him.
            Wyatt gave her a what’s-going-on? look.
            “There were some pretty nasty messages this morning.” His mom looked away, like just talking about them hurt. “You don’t need to hear that.”
            Wyatt tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. He’d done this. Gotten them into this mess. How was he ever going to fix it?
            “Excuse me.”
They all turned to stare at the teenager standing in the kitchen doorway, a blue guitar slung over his shoulder and a rolling carry-on by his side.
“Martin?” Wyatt had trouble believing it.
But the smile he gave Wyatt felt like the sun when you get out of the cold ocean and you’re all goose bumpy. “Hi, Wyatt.”
Wyatt couldn’t help checking Martin out. His teeth and eyes were electric white against the deep river-stone brown of his skin. He was wearing jeans and a tight blue tie-dyed Superman T-shirt that was a ‘G’ instead of an ‘S.’ Wyatt wasn’t sure what it stood for, but it did show that Martin was in really good shape. Scratch that, he was hot.
Martin pointed over his shoulder to the front of the house. “My mom says she won’t come in while the Confederate flag is flying outside.”
“Oh, uh…” Wyatt crossed to the doorway. “I’ll take it down.”
Wyatt tried to pass him but Martin went to his left just as Wyatt went to his right. Then they did it the other way, and Martin laughed low, “wanna dance?” He flashed his impossibly bright grin at Wyatt.
“I… uh–” Wyatt could feel his face get lava-hot and couldn’t get any words out. He slipped past him, nearly brushing against his shoulder as Martin held his guitar out of Wyatt’s way.
Wyatt darted down the corridor, through the entry hall and out the front door, taking the stairs in a rush. A woman stood there by a pile of luggage. Martin’s mom. Rhonda. She was staring at the flags, like they were stopping her from taking even one more step forward. Like they were Kryptonite.
Wyatt yanked the Confederate flag out of its holder and started to roll it up on its four-foot long stick. “I’m really sorry about the flag – it’s not meant to disrespect African Americans. It’s just that we’re a Lincoln and Civil War site, and having both flags seemed kind of … fair…” Did that sound terrible?
Rhonda pulled out a camera and aimed it at their ‘Lincoln Slept Here Bed & Breakfast’ sign. The flash went off as she snapped the picture. “Documenting everything is critical.”
Wyatt glanced to see if it was that different without the slave-holding states’ flag, and saw what she had really photographed. Someone had crossed out the ‘Here’ on their sign with pink spray paint and wrote in ‘WITH GUYS.’
Making them the ‘Lincoln Slept WITH GUYS Bed & Breakfast.’
Wyatt cringed, wondering if he could get that off before his dad saw it. While he was busy with the flag, Rhonda lifted her carry-on and started up the front porch steps. Wyatt grabbed the other two bags and hurried to join her. His dad, mom and Martin were in the entry hall.
Rhonda glanced around her at the exhibits, and Wyatt felt a flash of relief that their military mannequin was still in his Union Blues. That could have been awkward.
Martin’s mom’s eyes lingered on the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote above their ‘The Great Emancipator’ display case. She read it out loud, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” She frowned. “You’re missing the next line.”
Wyatt checked the wall. That was where their quote ended.
Rhonda spoke to her son, “You know it.”
Martin recited from memory, “…But a hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” He said it with force, and meaning. His mom gave him a ‘well done’ dip of her head. He looked down, kind of shy.
He was mighty cute. But Wyatt was going to be straight. He had to.
Rhonda turned to him. “You must be Wyatt? T.V. is always so deceptive.”
Wyatt gave a nod.
“Forgive us,” Wyatt’s dad said, “But, do we have a reservation for you? We certainly have room, it’s just that…”
She pulled out three business cards, handing one each to Wyatt’s mom, dad, and Wyatt himself. “I’m Rhonda Sykes, attorney of record and field representative for Legal Advocates of Oregon.”
Wyatt looked up from the card in his hand. “They’re here to help.”

* *

            “The new blog picked up right where the old one left off!” Martin had put his guitar on the far side of the kitchen table and was setting up his laptop, running the internet over some cellular data card because the B&B’s setup was quaint. “It took me a while to re-link stuff, but three more aggregators picked us up, and one of them was huge. We were at nearly 200,000 hits when we left Idaho…”
            Wyatt had gone over how he’d contacted Rhonda twice already, but his mom still studied the business card clutched in her hand. “It says ‘Oregon?’”
            “We were in Boise, helping out with a class-action gender discrimination suit.” Rhonda explained.
“Let’s make it load on top of the old visits…” Martin grabbed a muffin from the basket Wyatt’s dad offered as he worked. “Drove all night to get here. Did it in just under nine hours!”
            Rhonda pulled out a chair and sat heavily. “I’m so glad Martin has his provisional license. I couldn’t have done that by myself.”
            “Coffee?” Wyatt’s dad asked.
            Rhonda stretched her neck side to side. “Please.”
            “Me, too.” Martin said, left hand up as he typed. “Half way.”
            He drinks coffee?
            Wyatt’s mom got a second mug for Rhonda while his dad poured Martin half a cup. Martin filled it the rest of the way with milk and seven packets of sugar. He took a tentative sip.
            Well, I like coffee ice cream, too.
            Martin hit a final key and whistled. “I thought so! Von Lawson’s show was like rocket-fuel.”
            Wyatt leaned over Martin’s shoulder to check out the new stats. His nose picked up the waft of sweet coffee and bright citrus, like what your hands smell like after you peel a tangerine. Was he wearing aftershave? Focus, Wyatt.
            The new statistical readout page showed a bunch of big vertical lines. Page loads per day. Today’s was shorter. Wyatt was trying to make out the numbers when Martin moved the cursor to point out the total.
            “We’re over a million?” Wyatt asked. That couldn’t be right.
            “One million two-hundred and thirty-two thousand one-hundred and seventy-nine!” Martin raised his hand for a high-five, and their palms connected. Wyatt’s was suddenly sweaty. He wiped it on his sweatpants.
            Wyatt’s dad frowned. “Unless we’re somehow getting a dollar for each of those visits, that T.V. show – and that blog – actually destroyed our business!”
            Wyatt didn’t mean to flinch, but the truth hurt.
            Martin shrugged. “We can’t get a dollar, but we could probably get some fraction of a cent a hit if we put advertising on it.”
            “We’re going to lose this place!” Wyatt’s dad fumbled his coffee and it spilled across the table. “Can we close the computer and focus on what’s going on in the real world?”
            “Hey!” Martin leapt up with the laptop and grabbed his guitar into the air, too, even though the spreading puddle of coffee was still a foot away from where his guitar had been.
            Rhonda used some paper napkins from the holder to blot the spill. “We’re here now. And we can help.”
            Martin still held the laptop and guitar, like he didn’t want to put them down.
Wyatt’s dad just sat there, motionless, staring at the chipped handle of his now-empty Jefferson Davis mug.
Wyatt’s mom squeezed his dad’s hand and spoke to Rhonda. “There are already 1.2 million people who won’t be staying with us. You want to help? Get your son to take that website down.”
            What if his mom was right? Who knew if anyone visiting his blog even agreed with him about Lincoln? It was probably just looky-loos. Or Von Lawson’s audience, working themselves up. Getting to know who they needed to hate. Him.
1.2 million people who hated him.
Wyatt’s voice cracked oddly. “Are they going to come after me?”
            “We won’t let them,” Rhonda said. “But, let’s take things one at a time.”

* *

            The adults decided Rhonda would take the case pro bono – which meant Wyatt’s family wouldn’t have to pay her. In return, like a barter, Rhonda and Martin would stay with them for a week or so. And, instead of the Confederate Flag, the B&B would fly the 33-star and the 35-star Union Flags, from the beginning and end of the war. And the blog could stay up, for now.
Room One, down the hall from the Lincoln Room and in the front of the house with a big bay window, would be Rhonda’s room and temporary office. Martin would stay in Room Two, closer to the stairs. Closer to Wyatt’s room, one flight up and down the hall.
            Outside, in the darkness that had lightened to inky blue, Wyatt spent a half-hour in the B&B sign’s light, trying to remove the pink graffiti. It wouldn’t come off. Dumping the useless cleaning stuff in the downstairs closet, he peeked in the kitchen. Rhonda sat at the table with Wyatt’s dad and mom, using a red pen to scribble notes on the lawsuit the Mayor had hit them with. After Von Lawson’s show, local businesses were going to lose a lot of money. Money they didn’t have, if they lost the lawsuit. What would happen then?
He wondered where Martin was. Probably in his room…
Wyatt searched his brain for a reason to go up there. Clean towels! He raced up the stairs to the laundry room on the third floor. Then, arms loaded with a pretty good excuse, he walked down the flight of stairs to Martin’s room.
The blue guitar was outside the doorway, propped against the blue-gray and orange-brown leaves of the hallway wallpaper. Wyatt wondered if he should pick it up and carry it in for him, or if that wouldn’t be cool. He was about to ask but froze when he saw him. Martin was wearing plastic gloves, and a white face mask with those yellow rubbery head straps. He had the mattress off the bed, and a giant silk bag halfway over it.
            “What are you doing?” Wyatt asked.
            “Dust mites,” Martin said, carefully pulling the bag all the way over the mattress and then zipping it shut along the side. “You ever seen one in a microscope? They’re like aliens.”
            He finished with the mattress, and then, like it might bite him, cautiously fit another silky bag over the room’s pillow. Once that was zipped shut, he pulled his gloves inside-out, careful to not touch any of the parts that had been on the outside. Putting the gloves in a plastic bag, he knotted it, and put that in the trash can under the antique desk. Then he took off the facemask. “Mom says it’s like I go all Howard Hughes, but we’re in a different place every couple of days…” He shrugged, zipped open his rolling carry on, and pulled out his own sheets.
            “We do wash things here.” Wyatt said, putting the towels on the desk.
            “It’s just allergies. I’ve kind of got it down.”
            Wyatt helped him push the hermetically-sealed mattress back on the bed. He’s weird. Cute, but weird. Or maybe… weird, but cute.
            Martin’s mom came up the stairs. “Wyatt, you need to get to school. We can’t be giving them any excuses to suspend you. Martin, I need our system up and running an hour ago.”
            “I’m on it.” Martin said.
            Man. Wyatt had been hoping no one would bring up school. He checked his cell phone. It was 7:25 a.m. He was already thirteen minutes late.
Once he’d locked himself in the third floor bathroom, Wyatt closed his eyes against the day he knew was ahead:
Sharks in yellow T-shirts, saying they’d rather celebrate the guy who killed a hero than acknowledge a hero might have been gay. Basically saying they’d kill Wyatt if they knew he was gay, too. And then celebrate it with custom T-shirts printed for the occasion.
Mackenzie, getting all lovey-dovey with Jonathon.
And probably some camera crew following Jonathon around, for the new reality T.V. series he was probably going to star in.
Wyatt ran the hot water until it gave the glass & mercury thermometer a high enough ‘fever’ to be convincing. Sometimes, his dad’s insistence that old-fashioned things were better was useful.
There was no way Wyatt was going to school.
Just thinking about all of it made him feel sick.
So it wasn’t a total lie.

* *

Wyatt holed up in his bedroom until lunchtime, when hunger got the better of him. He was heading down to the kitchen when Martin called out from his room. “Hey, it’s you.”
Martin came to his doorway, running a hand back along his close-cropped hair. His T-shirt rode up and Wyatt could see a line of skin pulled taut over muscle. Wow. He needed to look somewhere else, anywhere else, and recognized the stripy cover of the book in Martin’s hand. It was Absolutely, Positively Not… He must have bought it! And Wyatt guessed Rhonda was okay with that.
Did that mean…?
Maybe it didn’t mean anything. After all, he wasn’t wearing a rainbow bracelet like he had in that video. Maybe he was just cool with gay people.
But maybe…
Martin’s smile was a little lopsided. “Feeling better?”
Wyatt’s mouth was suddenly dry. “You wanna get out of here? I’ll show you our town.”
The house was empty, and Martin explained that the adults were off in Corvallis at the Benton County Circuit Court. They snagged two granola bars and were out the door. Martin wanted to bring his guitar along, but Wyatt said no – they didn’t want to attract any attention on this mission.
“So, being home schooled must be heaven, huh?” Wyatt thought it would be sweet to never have to set an alarm again. Never have to see Jonathon, either. They were on the school side of Jenson’s Stream, since the near side was too overgrown with Himalayan Blackberry. But walking along the bank at the bottom of the ravine, it wasn’t like anyone would see them. Wyatt was thinking he would take Martin all the way to the covered bridge into town. They could pop up there, and Wyatt could show him Union Square and stuff without his getting caught cutting school.
“It’s all right,” Martin said, picking up a pine cone by the path.
They were both quiet for a bit, but it was okay. Martin stopped to put the pine cone gently into the water, like he was launching a boat. They watched it bob along. “How many seeds do you think are in there?” Martin asked him.
Wyatt had no idea. “Fifty? A hundred?”
“That could go all the way to the Ocean, and travel to New Zealand. Start a forest there. That would be cool to see.”
It would, but Wyatt knew his future was some big anonymous city, where he could just disappear. The pine cone was almost out of sight and Wyatt wondered if it would make it past the ford. His voice got quieter, and a bit sad. “The second high school is over, I’m out of here.”
Martin seemed like he wanted to ask a question, but didn’t. Instead he said, “Being home schooled? My mom only gives me a hard time about doing my work, not about being myself.”
“You were getting crap at school for being Black?” Wyatt didn’t think that was it, but he had to ask.
Martin scoffed. “I was getting crap for thinking Daniel Craig coming out of the ocean in Casino Royale was hot. Instead of Ursula Andress in Dr. No.”
“Craig is completely the best Bond!” Wyatt said, but inside he was screaming He’s gay! He just said he’s gay! Act cool.
“You watch them, too?” Martin asked, his smile like a superpower that short-circuited Wyatt’s brain.
Wyatt managed to squeak out, “Yeah,” and they started walking along the bank again. Did Martin know about him? He couldn’t. Could he?
Wyatt turned, hoping to see it again. Feel it again. They caught eyes, and the look Martin gave him made Wyatt feel like his stomach had dropped out of his body. Like Martin wanted Wyatt to stop everything and just look at him. Let him look at Wyatt.
Wyatt’s breath caught and he plunged ahead.
Why didn’t I ever feel like this with Mackenzie?
After a while, Martin started humming. His voice fit, somehow, with the birds and the gurgle of water, even their crunching footsteps on the path. Wyatt didn’t talk anymore. He just wanted to listen, hoping to get his pulse to stop pounding in his neck.
Ten minutes later they were climbing the bank by the covered bridge to top out on Route 37. As they gained altitude, Wyatt saw there was only a single car by the log cabin. Usually there were at least a couple of tour vans and buses. Martin touched his arm as they got to the road.
“Wyatt,” he started.
Wyatt jerked his arm away – anybody could see them.
 Wyatt followed to see where Martin was pointing, at the ‘Welcome To Lincolnville – Real America’ sign.
But the sign on the red bridge had the same pink graffiti as the B&B sign at home. This time, the word ‘Real’ had been crossed out and ‘QUEER’ was scrawled over it instead.
Wyatt felt sucker-punched. Trapped. He couldn’t get away from it. Any of it.
Martin pulled out his cell phone and snapped a photo of the sign. “My mom will want that.” He saw the sick expression on Wyatt’s face, and gestured back to the stream trail. “Let’s get out of here.”
Wyatt’s feet obeyed. But as they headed down the ravine, and the whole walk back, he couldn’t get the image out of his head. The sign shouting,

Welcome To Lincolnville – Queer America

Hiding out in his bedroom for the rest of the week, Wyatt felt like he was caught in an avalanche, and the whole hillside was sliding out from under his feet.

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Endnotes for Chapter 19

Rhonda reads and Martin finishes the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote from his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. You can read the entire speech transcript and listen to the audio here: The speech video, which Wyatt and Martin watch in Chapter 21 is available from

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