Friday, December 22, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 16

In Chapter Fifteen, Wyatt discovered that his outing Lincoln may have cost his teacher his job... and that it happened just as Mr. Guzman was maybe starting to believe him! And Wyatt learned that the school shut down all the student blogs (especially his) to bury the story. Overwhelmed, he cuts out of school and calls Martin, who tells him everything's backed up and still online, on a new website the school doesn't control. And then, Wyatt gets a text from his Mom to get home - she's heard. Everything feels like it's starting to crash down on him...

Want to start reading from the beginning? Click here for chapters One and Two.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Sixteen!

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Chapter 16
Monday January 19

            Wyatt found them in the kitchen, hovering over the speakerphone. His mom was in a workday skirt and blouse but her hair was still wet from the shower. There was a half-inch stack of papers that looked like legal stuff in her hand. Wyatt’s dad, in his messy-job overalls, held up a finger for him to be quiet.
            Wyatt’s mom was talking. “First it was two – two! – tickets on my truck, which made no sense, then the library’s letter, and now you’re suing us, too?”
            The speaker crackled with Mayor Rails’ voice. “On behalf of the town. You’re not giving me much choice here. It’s your family spreading this destructive rumor that’s getting completely out of control. I’ve tried to contain it, but as the elected leader of this community, they’ll be coming for my head soon if I don’t act for the common good.”
            “But this is crazy!” Wyatt’s mom attempted a laugh but it didn’t quite work. “It’s just a book report, for Heaven’s sake.”
            Mayor Rails’ voice was knife-edge serious. “Five organizations have dropped out of our parade. Five! Our Grand Marshall just cancelled, and it’s not even nine a.m.! Businesses are screaming at me to fix this, our local economy stinks, what am I supposed to do?”
            Wyatt slunk over to one of the chairs around the table. Sitting there in the center next to two parking tickets signed by Mackenzie’s dad – one for being too far from the curb, and the other for mud on their license plate, which was ridiculous because everyone in Lincolnville had mud on their license plate – was the letter from the library, saying Wyatt owed them all that money. That the library was going to sue them.
            Did they find it? Heart pounding, he leaned forward to check, and saw it was stamped “Second Notice.”
            Oh, crap. The bookcase key Wyatt was still carrying around in his pocket, like a good-luck charm, suddenly burned like it was radioactive.
            His mom checked the papers in her hand. A lawsuit. “So you want us to pay… a thousand dollars a day, for lost tourism revenue?”
            The Mayor scoffed. “If you read it more carefully, you’ll see that the amount is tied to lost revenue. A thousand’s just an estimate, but whatever businesses lose, you’ll be on the hook to make them whole.”
            “She knows we can’t afford any of that.” Wyatt’s dad said quietly.
            “Greg, I’m glad you’re on the line with us.” The Mayor said. “If you can’t pay for the damage you’re causing, then your only choice is to wipe this story off the internet, destroy the radio program files,”
At that Wyatt’s mom shot him a ‘what exactly have you done?’ look.
“…and get Abraham Lincoln’s – and our town’s – good name back.” There was a staticy pause on the Mayor’s end of the line. “Look, Elizabeth, I don’t want to be unreasonable. If you can make this whole thing go away, and have the parade be the success it needs to be, I’ll let you keep your job as my assistant. But if it all crashes and burns, so do you.”
            A dial tone filled the kitchen and they realized the Mayor had hung up on them.
            Wyatt’s mom put her forehead in her hands. His dad’s eyes darted from object to object like he was figuring out what they could save and what they’d have to sell once they were homeless.
            Neither of them looked at Wyatt.
            He knew why. He’d done this. Speaking up. Telling the world about Abe being gay. He’d ruined their lives.
            He stared at his wet feet. It wasn’t ripples. It was a storm at sea, and he needed things to calm down. He was never going to be able to come out to them.

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            “It’s the third offer, Gregory. The Von Lawson Report. I think we should do it.” Wyatt’s mom was holding the phone in the kitchen, some producer on hold. The B&B line hadn’t stopped ringing since they got home from returning Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend to the library’s drop box. Wyatt could just imagine Mr. Clifton looking all smug when he found it there after school. At least the entire book was still online, and they couldn’t hide it anymore. But the whole seven-block ride home, Wyatt’s dad and mom were on him to call Martin the minute they got back to take the new blog down.
It was the last thing Wyatt wanted to do.
That call had had to wait because his phone was at home in his mom’s purse. His parents had confiscated it – No more technology for you, young man – as part of the big lecture, about how could they ever trust him again after he hid the library’s we’re-going-to-sue-you letter from them, and lied about being 18 so he could do the radio interview. About how hurt they were that they had to find out he’d broken up with his girlfriend from Mackenzie’s online profile. About how honesty was so important.
            And he’d sat there in the truck’s backseat and couldn’t say anything.
            Then they got home, and the phone calls started. Two news outlets, and now this T.V. show, they wanted his blog up.
            Wyatt’s mom kept trying to sell it to his dad. “It’s a nationally syndicated show. The book’s returned, and we couldn’t buy this kind of publicity. Maybe this is how we get through this – the silver lining. If we can make the B&B support us, then I don’t need to work for Kelly!”
            “Liz, you don’t believe Lincoln was gay any more than I do.” Wyatt’s dad reminded her.
            “If we’re smart, we can spin this!” His mom held her hand over the phone. “Wyatt can take the line that intelligent people can disagree about Lincoln. The main thing is to not pass up this chance. It’s once-in-a-lifetime!”
            Wyatt’s dad twisted the strap of his overalls. Neither of them asked Wyatt what he thought. He just sat there, as they decided his fate.
            “Seven million viewers!” His mom’s eyes were lit up with hope.
Wyatt’s dad asked her, “Are you sure about this?”
            She was. “If we can get to their studio in Portland by seven, Wyatt will have a chance to talk up the B&B, coast-to-coast.”
            His dad said, “We’ll need to coach him with exactly what to say – to not make a big deal of the bed or anything that makes people think about what Lincoln might have done in bed.”
            Wyatt tried to keep his face a mask and not show the flash of pain he felt. Anything gay, you mean.
His mom nodded. “Kelly gets prepped before all of her public speaking engagements. And we’ll have two-and-a-half hours in the car. But we have to go now if we’re going to make it.”
“All right.” His dad agreed. “Tell them we’ll do it.”

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Coaching Wyatt took nearly two hours. He was supposed to talk about the tours they did, about Lincoln and how important he was to their town, and he wasn’t allowed to say anything about who he thought Lincoln slept with or loved. And if he could get in how comfortable the rooms were, that would be good, too. And the Civil War-Era dinners.
“And don’t mention the bed at all.” His dad insisted.
Wyatt thought that was crazy. “We’re the ‘Lincoln Slept Here Bed and Breakfast.’ How am I not going to say the word bed?”
“Just say B and B!” His dad changed lanes even though he didn’t need to. “Stress the other stuff.”
His mom agreed, “It’s like the social media updates I do for Kelly. If you want people to like you, or vote for you – or stay at your B&B – you can’t talk about anything bad, or anything that’s going to make people uncomfortable.”
But then you end up with a world that’s all fake.
Instead of arguing, Wyatt just bobble-headed it, and went back to repeating what they wanted to hear.
When they were finally satisfied, his parents started talking about all the things they’d do if the B&B were a success, his mom didn’t have to work for the Mayor, and they had some extra money. Be one of the sponsors for the big summer Civil War battle re-enactments on Asgur’s farm. Go to Hawaii on vacation at Christmas. Put money aside for Wyatt’s college.
They were dreaming, and Wyatt didn’t want to burst their bubble.
One of the photocopies Mr. Guzman had left him turned out to be from a book they had a copy of in the glass bookcase. Wyatt had noticed it when his dad and mom made him get Joshua Fry Speed out of hiding to return it. So he’d grabbed Herndon’s Life of Lincoln for the ride and was flipping through it when he found a poem Lincoln wrote, on page 48:
            For Reuben and Charles have married two girls,
            But Billy has married a boy.
            The girls he had tried on every side,
            But none he could get to agree;
            All was in vain, he went home again,
            And since that he’s married to Natty.”

It turned out ‘Natty’ was a nickname for ‘Nathaniel.’ Abe wrote it as a mean joke when he was in his twenties, but Wyatt thought it was pretty wild that Abe was thinking about this kind of stuff. That he wrote a gay poem, about two guys getting married, back in the 1830s. Something he and Joshua couldn’t do when they met and fell in love.
Maybe I should read this on the T.V. show. He snorted at the thought. Dad and Mom would freak.
He needed to talk to Martin.
His mom’s purse was on the floor between the two front seats, and his cell was in there. They were exiting the freeway and his mom was squinting at her smart phone’s map for shortcuts. His dad was cursing the traffic and the rain, even though it wasn’t much more than a drizzle. They were both busy, and Wyatt went for it.
He pretend-dropped his book on his mom’s purse, and, hand fumbling around, managed to grab his phone. He pulled his knees up. Blocking his phone with the book, he saw he had four new voicemail messages. All from Martin. He couldn’t listen to them, or call him back. He’d have to text him.

                        Wyatt                          6:39 p.m.
                        hey! returned book after all.
on way 2 vonlawson report –
I’ll b on live show 2night!

            Wyatt turned off the sound, pressed send and waited, hoping for a response. Outside the window, downtown Portland was all lit-up buildings and shiny asphalt streets. The funny step-pattern of Big Pink winked by. A city of skyscrapers, full of strangers, caged off from nature. He swallowed against the thought that he’d have to live someplace like it, someday.
Come on, Martin!
            A text flashed silently on his screen.

                        Martin                         6:42 p.m.
                        hey! wondered if u were ok.
                        bad idea 2 go on vlr. stop it if
u can.

Wyatt looked at how intense his dad and mom were about just getting him to the studio on time. There was no way he was getting out of this.

                        Wyatt                          6:43 p.m.

                        Martin                         6:45 p.m.
                        ok. never told you this, but
                        knowing about von steuben,
                        & lincoln & joshua, it makes
                        a difference. makes it easier.
                        for me. for a lot of us. don’t
                        forget that. speak truth to
                        power. & know

I’m cheering u on.

            His chest felt warm as Wyatt powered down the phone. Truth to power. Maybe Martin was right. Maybe, in the middle of everything his parents wanted him to say, Wyatt could make the argument. Convince some more people. Keep the real story of Abe and Joshua alive. After all, like his mom said, intelligent people could disagree…
            “Take a right here!” His mom ordered.
            His dad protested. “It’s an alley!”
            “I know! But traffic is blocked up ahead, and I can get us through.”
            He had to put the phone back. “How much longer?” Wyatt leaned forward like he was trying to see out the windshield as his dad turned them away from a mass of red brake lights. Wyatt slid his cell back in his mom’s purse without them seeing.
            His mom’s eyes flicked to the dashboard clock. 6:47 p.m. “We’ll get there.”
            His dad’s fingers were tight on the steering wheel as they picked up speed.

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Endnotes for Chapter 16

In this chapter, Wyatt comes across the poem Abe wrote in his twenties about two guys marrying each other. As cited, it is from page 48 of Herndon’s Life of Lincoln.

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

Ready for Chapter Seventeen? It will be posted on December 29, 2017.

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