Sunday, January 21, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 20

In Chapter Nineteen, business at the B&B is tanking, and Martin and his mom, civil rights attorney Rhonda Sykes, show up to help. Wyatt's attracted to Martin, but know he has to play it straight so people will believe him about Lincoln. Wyatt pretends to be sick so he doesn't have to go to school, and when  Wyatt goes for a walk with Martin, they're confronted by more anti-queer graffiti.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Twenty!

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Chapter 20
Saturday January 24

It was past noon, and a knock on Wyatt’s door followed by the sound of the key in the lock got him to sit bolt-upright in bed. “Yeaahhhh?” He said cautiously. He’d left it unlocked – he wasn’t hiding anything.
After it got locked and then unlocked again, in walked his dad, mom, Rhonda and Martin.
Yikes. There were piles of clothes and papers scattered everywhere. Martin hadn’t seen Wyatt’s room yet, and this wasn’t the best first impression.
Martin avoided his eyes, “Hey. This is… an intervention.”
Wyatt’s mom straightened the edge of his top comforter. “We’ve been making a mistake, Sweetie, letting you hole up at home. You can’t hide from life.”
Rhonda took her turn: “Monday, you have to go back. If you miss another day of school without a notarized doctor’s note, they’re threatening to expel you for truancy. And there won’t be anything I can do about it.”
His dad looked him square in the eye. “We Yarrows don’t hide from our problems. Time to get up, and face them.”
Martin’s face was serious, but there was a teasing glint in his eyes. “You do know I’ve been here for four whole days, and you’ve been a terrible host?”
Wyatt had to laugh at that one, “Okay, okay!” Hands up, he slid out of bed to stand. “I’m up.”
His mom ruffled his hair. “I’ve got an open house to set up for tomorrow, your dad will be busy going through the attic, and Rhonda has to work. So, I’m dropping you two off by the Junior High and you can walk back. At least that way I’ll know you’ve made it out of this room.”

* *

Twenty minutes later, Wyatt climbed into the back seat of their green pickup, letting Martin and his guitar ride shotgun. As his mom made the turn to Johnson Street, Wyatt saw a whole bunch of yellow and black flyers on the utility poles. Someone having a yard sale, he figured.
But what he really noticed was that the Lincoln businesses and the Log Cabin were a ghost town. The only human being they saw was Mr. Woo, sorting through the period costumes on his outdoor clothing rack. He spotted them, but didn’t smile or anything. Just turned his back and went into his store. Like they were lepers. Wyatt guessed they kind of were. Or, at least, he was.
            His mom punched the radio’s on button to cover the awkward moment. It was talk radio, and it was like the shock-jock hosts of the show couldn’t spin their words out fast enough as the truck headed into Union Square.

Rob: Hey, Amy, did you hear about the Sapphic mayor of Lincolnville?
Amy: Rob! What are you talking about?
Rob: It’s all over. See, now that it’s been revealed that Lincoln might have been secretly gay, there’s talk that everyone in Lincolnville is a closet case. Their Mayor? I hear she’s a big lesbian.
Amy: So you’re saying High School coach and sometimes country singer Bryan Rails, her husband, is a bit…
Rob: Limp in the wrist? Well, if the pump fits…
Amy: How about the other people in their town?

Wyatt’s mom slowed them to a near-stop as they listened. Wyatt stared at the library, just up ahead.

Rob: They’re saying it’s not true, that they’re all straight, but science disagrees.
Amy: Science?
Rob: Statistically, the people who know these things, are saying that between three and twenty percent of the people in Oregon are gay.
Amy: Three and twenty? That’s some kind of ‘knowing things.’
Rob: Well… what if everyone who’s gay in Oregon is there?
Amy: In Lincolnville?
Rob: You hear about them in Portland, and Ashland of course, and I hear there’s some bent folk over in Bend, but… maybe all the closeted ones are living right here in Benton County – you know, in the town with possibly the most famous closeted gay man of all, Abraham Lincoln!
Amy: I used to get the best pancakes at their Pantry restaurant… or was it Pansy? Who’d have thought. Lincolnville.
Rob: I hear they’re calling it ‘Queerville’ now.
Amy: A rose by any other name is just as… gay?
Rob: Is that what Shakespeare said?
Amy: Just call me the Bard of Stratford-on-A.M. radio!

Martin shut the radio off, but it was like Wyatt could hear their words still echoing in the truck cab.
How many people listen to that show?
The silence stretched, as taut as the space between lightning and thunder. Wyatt’s mom drove them forward again, made the right onto Route 37 and accelerated under the covered bridge. Wyatt checked in the side-view mirror as they cleared the roof – ‘Queer America’ – the graffiti was still there.
            Two blocks past the high school turn-off, Martin cleared his throat. “You know, Shakespeare was Bi.”
            Wyatt’s mom swerved the truck onto the shoulder of the road and slammed to a stop. She let her head drop to the steering wheel. Wyatt wasn’t sure if she was crying or not.
            Guitar rescued from the floor, Martin turned and caught Wyatt’s eye, looking guilty.
            Wyatt gave the slightest shrug. He didn’t want to make him feel worse. “Mom? You okay?”
            She didn’t say anything. Wyatt was about to unbuckle his seatbelt to check on her when she took in a shuddering breath. “Kelly told me she can’t wait to fire me the Monday after there’s no parade. We only had thirty-one entries, and I have twelve messages on voicemail that I’m afraid to listen to. My emails are… I can’t even... The B&B is going under – I don’t think we can save it. Which means the bank will foreclose. Rhonda says we can fight the lawsuit, but…” She raised her head and looked at Wyatt in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were puffy. “This has gotten so out of control.”
            “I didn’t mean for it…” Wyatt started, but didn’t know what to say. Martin fidgeted in his seat.
            “I know.” Wyatt’s mom said. After a moment, she dug into her purse. “Why don’t you two get out here? I’ll give you some money for Sandee’s.” She held out a five-dollar bill.
Wyatt’s eye caught on Lincoln’s face, and his mom forced a smile. “There’s no escaping it, is there? Go. Have some fun – someone should.”
 “You going to be okay?” Wyatt asked her as he pocketed the five.
“Your dad told me this great thing last night.” She checked her reflection in the rear-view mirror and wiped under her eyes with a knuckle. “Winston Churchill, in the middle of World War Two, said, ‘If you’re going through Hell, keep going.’ And that’s what we have to do. Don’t stop, just… keep going.”
A minute later, Wyatt and Martin stood in the weeds by the roadside. Under Wyatt’s mom’s truck, the tires spit gravel as she pulled back onto the road.
            Martin turned to Wyatt. “I guess… we should keep going.”

* *

            “Those foreign commercials can be a riot.” Martin was speaking over the sound of Sandee’s soccer match broadcast in Spanish as they browsed the shelves of Sandee’s Liquor and Candy Mart. “Ooh – there’s this one French Orangina ad where an Opera singer is on a plane. She has a sip, starts singing high ‘C’, rips the door off and skydives out!”
Martin mimicked the falling Opera singer, “Orangin – aaaaaa!” He hit a falsetto note and crumpled to the floor. Wyatt cracked up.
“You’ve got to see it – I’ll show you online when we get back.” Martin said.
“¡Fue Falta! ¡Idiota!” Sandee yelled at her screen.

Martin looked up at Wyatt. “You going to help me up, or am I just going to lay here?”
Wyatt put out his hand, and Martin grabbed on. It was almost electric, the current that shot through Wyatt’s arm from where they held each other. Wyatt yanked – stronger than he meant to – and Martin soared up, bumping into him. They caught their balance and steadied out, faces inches from each other.
 The door jingled, “I’m pretty sure it doesn’t list the P.H….” Jennie was saying as she and Mackenzie, still in the white pants and t-shirt from her karate class, walked in.
Three of the four of them froze, watching each other. Wyatt’s face shut down. Martin looked from the girls to Wyatt, like he was trying to figure out what was going on. Breaking the moment, Wyatt stepped back, bumping into the shelf of shaving creams and band aids.
Jennie started to head for the sodas, but Mackenzie pulled her towards the shelves of gum opposite Wyatt and Martin. “Indoor glow-in-the-dark mini golf. And in the dark, Jonathon could hardly keep his hands off me!” She was talking to Jennie but Wyatt knew it was for his benefit. “We had such a great time! He’s busy tonight, but wants to see me again tomorrow. Now that my Sunday days are free, we’re meeting at eleven to watch a movie in their screening room and have a catered lunch. Did I tell you he sent roses? They came this morning. You wouldn’t believe how fancy they are.”
Wyatt made a bee-line for the freezer and snagged an ice cream sandwich. Martin was taking his time, browsing the shelves of crackers and chips.
“Hey!” Wyatt leaned in close and whispered to him. “Grab something and let’s get out of here.”
“Why? What’s up?” Martin asked.
Wyatt’s eyes pointed out Mackenzie, who at that second turned with a packet of gum in her hand to scowl at them. He said under his breath, “That’s Mackenzie. My ex-… friend.”
Martin’s eyes darkened. “And her Jonathon’s Jonathon?
“Yeah.” Wyatt breathed.
Jennie touched Mackenzie on the arm, “What are you thinking?”
Mackenzie spat the words out, “That I’ve had enough.” She slapped the gum she’d been holding back on the shelf and strode over to them. “Who’s the stranger, Wyatt? We don’t get a lot of outsiders who aren’t tourists here.”
Wyatt gave her a look like she’d gone crazy. “Uh, Mackenzie? We’re all outsiders, unless we’re Paiute Indians.”
“Name’s Martin.” Martin crossed his arms, which Wyatt noticed made his arm muscles pop. “I’m staying with Wyatt for a few days.”
Mackenzie’s eyes flashed at Wyatt. “You didn’t waste much time getting a boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend! …I’m not gay!” Wyatt was nearly shouting and told himself to chill. “Martin and his mom, they’re staying at the B&B. That’s all.”
            Martin snagged a bag of almonds and slipped past Mackenzie, like he was done with the conversation. “What are you getting, man?”
Wyatt held up his ice cream to answer, and tried to pretend that the lasers in Mackenzie’s eyes had no effect on him, either. He joined Martin at the counter, put his ice cream sandwich by the almonds, and topped it with the money his mom had given him.
Sandee stood there watching them, ignoring the penalty kick happening on-screen. “It would be a shame to break that.” She pushed the green portrait of Abraham Lincoln back at Wyatt. “This one’s on me. Just, go home, and be safe.”
Wyatt blinked, surprised. Did that mean Sandee believed him about Lincoln? Was she a lesbian? Or, did she just want to be nice?
He looked at her. Whatever the reason – he was grateful. “Thanks.”
Sandee gave him the slightest dip of her head, then turned back to her soccer match. “¡Ja! ¡PATEA LA PELOTA!” she yelled at the T.V.
Not risking another glance in Mackenzie’s direction, Wyatt got them out of there.

* *

            They were heading down Hayes Street back to the B&B, and Wyatt could feel Martin’s eyes on him.
Finally, Martin said, “Ex-friend or ex-girlfriend?”
“Uh…” Wyatt stalled, trying to figure out what to say about him and Mackenzie. “Kind of …both?”
“Oh.” Martin said.
“No! It was never like that, it’s just…” Wyatt stalled out. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”
Martin nodded, like he understood. Did he?
“Well, thanks for standing up for me with the un-welcome committee.” Martin said, ripping open the bag of almonds and popping a few in his mouth.
Wyatt took another bite of spongy chocolate and velvet-cool vanilla, but he felt all torn up from everything. Mackenzie had been so mean. And her and Jonathon… he didn’t want to think about it. And Martin was right here – he finally had a friend who was gay! – but Wyatt couldn’t even be real with him. …And Martin was thanking him for standing up for him?
Wyatt shrugged, “that’s what friends do, right?”
Martin put his hand on Wyatt’s shoulder. “Yeah. That’s what we do.”
They were in public!
Wyatt stepped away so Martin’s hand fell. Wyatt kept going, pretending the reason he’d moved was that he wanted to read one of those yellow and black flyers stapled to the utility pole on the corner ahead.
Martin covered the moment by pocketing the bag of almonds and swinging his guitar around. Like he had only been trying to pat Wyatt on the back.
But Wyatt was hyper-aware that they both knew what had happened, and they both knew the other knew it, too.
Martin plucked out some notes as they passed under another one of the banners announcing the town’s upcoming parade.
It felt weird, and Wyatt didn’t want it to. If I was walking with a girl, no one would care if her arm was around me. Why does this have to be so much harder?
Martin strummed a chord and started to sing. The melody was familiar to Wyatt: It was a Civil War song from one of the CDs they played in the exhibit rooms. But the words were new,
            “Two brothers on their way,
            One wore blue and one wore gray,
            One was straight and one was gay,
            All on a beautiful morning…”
“Whoa – that’s not the lyrics I know!” Wyatt spoke over his shoulder as he neared the flyer.
“I’ve been playing with them.” Martin fingered the strings, plucking out the wistful melody.
Wyatt turned back to see who was having a yard sale. The letters shouted,


The uneaten half of Wyatt’s ice cream sandwich squished in his fist.
Reading it over Wyatt’s shoulder, Martin stopped playing.
There was a line of them. Wyatt saw the flyers went all the way down Hayes street. He scraped the mess off his hand and threw it to the asphalt as he hurried to the corner of Union. More yellow flyers.
“Wyatt!” Martin ran behind him, guitar bongoing against his hip, trying to keep up. But Wyatt couldn’t stop. Grant Street, yellow flyers. Johnson Street, yellow flyers. Buchanan Street, yellow flyers.
It was the whole town.

* *

Back home, they found out that the afternoon tour, a Boy Scout troop from Philomath Christian Day School, had cancelled. So had Tuesday’s tour for Mother of Sorrows Elementary, who had told Wyatt’s dad they weren’t going to bring their children to a place that promoted homosexuality. But it wasn’t like Wyatt had expected any of them to show, not now.
All frazzled, his dad went back up to the attic to keep looking for hidden treasure. Martin’s mom was still knee-deep in legal documents, and Wyatt’s mom wouldn’t be home till nearly dinner, so they were on their own. “You want a tour?” Wyatt asked Martin, pointing to their exhibit rooms.
“Ahhh. You’re making an effort to be a better host.” Martin teased. “I better play along.”
Wyatt tried to keep his face serious. “You better.”
He kept thinking it was his first gay-friendly tour and he should change stuff, but the facts about Lincoln and the war pretty much stayed the same. Just… how Wyatt felt about it was all different.
Martin pointed to wax-Lincoln’s hat. “In Kindergarten they told us he kept papers in there – but it sounded crazy.”
“He did! Tucked in the lining.” Wyatt took the imitation beaver-fur hat off wax-Lincoln and handed it to Martin so he could see the coffee-aged Emancipation Proclamation Wyatt kept inside it for tours. “It left his hands free.”
Martin reached up to put the hat back on wax-Lincoln. “The hat made him even taller.”
“That was probably the point. So he would stand out even more.” It struck Wyatt that while Lincoln had been willing to stand out about some things, like being super-tall, and leading their country through the Civil War, he hadn’t been willing to stand up about loving Joshua. A wave of sadness washed over him and he shook it off.
As they walked by the weapons case, Wyatt thought about introducing Martin to his soldier, but decided that would have been too weird. He just snuck a wink at the photo, and led Martin to the flat screen monitor in what used to be the dining room. At the end of The Civil War in Four Minutes DVD, Martin gave a low whistle at how many people had died during the war. The casualty numbers on the screen topped out at:
            North: 702,000           and                  South: 621,000
“One point three million,” Martin said. “Just think, nearly triple that have read all about Lincoln being gay, thanks to you.”
Triple? Wyatt hadn’t asked about or checked their blog stats all week. That’s more than three million… Thanks to me? He shook his head. “Thanks to us.” He was glad they were in it together.
They finished the tour upstairs in the Lincoln Room. The bed stood at the far end like some altar. Wyatt made himself busy, moving the bronze plaque’s wooden stand and the three metal stanchions with their velvet ropes to the side – it was a better view without them.
“Can I get on it?” Martin asked.
“We’re not supposed–” Wyatt started, then changed his mind. “Sure.” He picked off the three wax-Lincoln hairs from the pillow and put them on the lip of the china wash basin. Wyatt slid his palm in the air for Martin to try the bed out.
“I’ll be right back.” Martin ran across the hall to his room. A minute later he returned with a plastic drop-cloth, and eased the door shut. “Those are going to be some old dust mites. Help me?”
Wyatt wanted to tell Martin he was being paranoid, but he just took one end. They unfolded the thin plastic and laid it over the bed like they were getting ready to paint the red-striped wallpaper behind it.
Martin carefully climbed on, plastic crinkling underneath him. He looked over at Wyatt. “Lie down.”
Wyatt cleared his throat. “Nahh, I mean…”
“Come on! Let’s see if they could really be in this bed together without, you know…”
“I tried it!”
Martin shook his head. “You just put those mannequins on it.” He patted the plastic space next to him. “This way, you get to experience it.”
Wyatt walked over to the edge of the bed and hesitated. Martin’s right arm was thrown back under his head, which made his bicep in his tight T-shirt… perfect. He was so hot. Damn. Wyatt turned around and lowered himself to the thin plastic. It was like lying down on his mom’s dry cleaning or something. Stop thinking about Mom!
“You’re going to fall off.” Martin’s voice was soft.
“I’m okay.”
Martin’s hand came around and rested on Wyatt’s chest, pulling him back towards him. And Wyatt let him, covering Martin’s hand with his own. And then Martin was spooning him, and even with the plastic under them it was warm and safe and crazy and–
Wyatt jumped away, keeping his back to Martin. His face burned, and he couldn’t catch his breath. “I… I gotta go!” He raced to the door, flung it open and took the stairs two at a time to his bedroom. He got the door closed behind him and sank to the floor.
Oh, man…
Blood pounded through Wyatt’s body as he tried to get it under control.
There was no way they’d been in that bed together without getting it on.
And now, for sure, Martin knew about him, too.

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 Endnotes for Chapter 20

When Wyatt gives Martin a tour of their B&B’s exhibits, The Civil War In Four Minutes DVD that they watch really exists, and the Civil War casualty numbers I used are from that. The video is available from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum here: 

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Sorry for the late posting, everyone. We'll let this one ride until Wednesday.

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