Friday, February 16, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 24

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In Chapter Twenty-Three, Wyatt and Martin team up to open up another front in the culture war... by changing all the banners in their town advertising Abe and Mary's great love to read: "Abe and JOSHUA: A Great Love." Back at the B&B, the pressure's building, but Wyatt realizes there's no going back. If you're going through hell, don't stop. Keep going, that's the only way through. And he and Martin head out to do one more gorilla-style LGBTQ Pride action.

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

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Okay community, here's Chapter Twenty-Four!

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Chapter 24
Sunday January 25

            Wyatt got up thinking about how it was his mom’s pick for their Sunday movie. Outside, the sky was cloudy but bright. He wished they hadn’t seen the Bond movie yet, since Martin would have probably wanted to see it. Maybe his mom would let him switch weeks and they could watch 007 save the world again. He pulled on yesterday’s jeans to go ask Martin what movie he’d want to see. After all, his parents had wanted to give Mackenzie a turn and she hadn’t been living with them!
            He spotted the envelope on the floor, like someone had slipped it under the door while he’d been sleeping.
            Wyatt opened it, and read:

                        Went to get some daylight pics for the blog, to take us over 4 million.
                                    Yours Forever,

            Yours Forever? Abe’s words to Joshua. And now Martin’s to him… But Wyatt wasn’t going there. He couldn’t.
            He stumbled to his door and swung it open to head down to the kitchen. His mom was standing there, like she’d been about to knock.
            “Hey,” Wyatt said, rubbing one eye and hiding Martin’s note in his back pocket.
            “Sweetie.” His mom was way-serious. “We need you to come downstairs.”
            The air seemed to slow Wyatt down when he saw Mackenzie’s father, standing in the entryway with Wyatt’s own dad. Mr. Miller was all dressed up like a police officer, which Wyatt had always thought was funny, since he was just a parking ticket cop. But nothing about this looked funny.
            Was it about Mackenzie? Or had Mr. Miller seen them last night?
            Behind Wyatt on the stairs, his mom prodded him to keep walking.
            Looking like he hadn’t gotten enough sleep, Mr. Miller didn’t even say hello, just stared at Wyatt’s jeans. Wyatt glanced down. There was a smear of green paint by his left knee.
            “I guess I’ve caught you green-handed, huh? Should I just cuff you here, or are you going to come peacefully?”
            Wyatt’s voice cracked. “You’re arresting me?”
            “No one’s arresting anyone.” Rhonda had followed them down the stairs and walked forward to hand Mr. Miller her card.
            He read it and gave her a wary look. “Counselor.”
            Rhonda noted his badge. “Parking Enforcement Officer Miller.”
            He bristled. “I’m in training! I’ve got him on vandalism and defacing public property.”
            “Where’s your proof?” Martin came in the open front door, and walked around to stand at Wyatt’s side. Wyatt thought it was a pretty superhero move, even with the guitar strapped across Martin’s chest.
Mr. Miller was all suspicious about Martin and the backpack in his hand. “What else did you and your friend vandalize? What’s in the bag, young man?”
            Martin shrugged. “My stuff.” He didn’t seem that freaked out. Maybe Wyatt was freaking out enough for both of them.
            “Care to show me?” Mr. Miller reached for the bag.
            Rhonda put out a hand to stop him. “I’ll thank you to not interrogate or illegally search my clients without probable cause. That would be police – or parking enforcement officer – harassment.”
            Mr. Miller glared at Rhonda. “You want to see probable cause?” He went down the front porch steps to his car, parked by the curb. Wyatt saw that the back of Mr. Miller’s car was stuffed with cream-colored fabric.
Yanking out a rectangle as big as he was, Mr. Miller stomped back up the steps. He thrust the material at them. “How’s this?”
            It was one of the Abe and Mary banners, chopped off top and bottom, with their JOSHUA bumper sticker over Mary’s name.
            “So that’s where they all are.” Martin whispered to Wyatt. He turned to Mr. Miller. “Cutting them down’s a little extreme, isn’t it? Couldn’t you have just taken the stickers off?”
            “Stop talking!” Rhonda snapped at Martin, and cut her eyes to Wyatt, ordering the same.
            “They don’t come off!” Mr. Miller tugged on a sticker edge to prove it. The banner fabric tore, leaving a ragged gap.
            Oh… Wyatt realized it would have to be some pretty strong adhesive to stay on a car bumper. He hadn’t really thought of that.
            Rhonda stepped between Mackenzie’s dad and Wyatt and Martin. “You can’t prove that was done by my clients.”
            “Your…” Mr. Miller’s face reddened. “Who else would it be?” He tried to get past her to their Lincoln and Civil War Memorabilia Alcove by reception. “They sell bumper stickers here, don’t they?”
            They had used up all the bumper sticker paper, but Wyatt realized the empty box was still in the trash can right under the computer. Mr. Miller would see it if he went behind the counter! A trickle of sweat slid down Wyatt’s back.
            Rhonda stayed on Mr. Miller like it was man-on-man defense and backed him up to the front door. “You’ll need to come back with a warrant.”
            Wyatt’s cell vibrated in his pocket. He stole a glance at the text.

                        Mackenzie                  10:28 a.m.
                        emergency! I need you here 1pm.
                        about my mom.

            Her mom? Wyatt pocketed it before Mackenzie’s dad could maybe see it.
Wyatt’s lingering anger at Mackenzie – waiting for an apology after she was going to break things off with Jonathon – suddenly felt petty. She had news about her mom? Wyatt should be there for her. He would be there. That was, if he wasn’t in jail.
            “Really?” Mr. Miller stared at Wyatt’s dad and mom, who were standing as still as wax-Lincoln. “You’re going to make me go bother the Chief and a judge on a Sunday morning to get a freakin’ warrant, when anyone can just walk in there and buy a bear? Who is this crazy woman?”
Wyatt’s dad cleared his throat. “Ms. Sykes is our lawyer.”
They stood in a silent face-off. Then Makenzie’s dad said, “I’ll be back,” and clomped down the front porch stairs.
Rhonda called after him, “No, you won’t!”
Wyatt liked how she didn’t give him the last word.
But the second Mr. Miller drove off, the adults were all talking at once.
“What were you thinking?” Wyatt’s mom.
“We’re trying to put out the fire and you’re pouring kerosine on it?” Wyatt’s dad.
And Rhonda: “What’s the paint about?”
            Wyatt tackled Rhonda’s question, since it was the safest. “We just painted the School Rock. Everyone’s allowed to – it’s the rules.”
            Rhonda gave her son and Wyatt a pained expression. “They’re not going to be playing by the rules. You both need to be model citizens moving forward. Understood?”
            They nodded, Wyatt thinking how the bumper sticker box would make the perfect kindling for the fire he was about to start in the living room fireplace.

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            Mackenzie looked surprised that it wasn’t just Wyatt at the door. Martin was with him, guitar in hand.
“What’s he doing here?” Mackenzie asked.
            Wyatt ignored that and asked his own question, “Your dad’s not here, is he?”
            “No. He’s having coffee in Philomath.”
            “Good.” Wyatt caught eyes with Martin and they both relaxed.
Mackenzie didn’t move from the doorway.
“Can we come in? Geez.” Wyatt pushed his way past her. “Is your power out?” He reached for the light switch but Mackenzie put her hand out to stop him.
            “It’s supposed to be dark.”
            Wyatt gave her a strange look as her cat Tali, drawn to the warm sunlight, rubbed by her leg. Martin noticed, and Mackenzie snapped at him as she scooped up the cat, “It’s not a sing-along, you know.”
            “I don’t know what it is.” Martin answered her. “I’m here because of Wyatt.”
            Mackenzie turned and whisper-hissed at Wyatt, “I thought it was just going to be you!”
            “Well, is this an emergency, or isn’t it?” Wyatt asked. “We can both go, or we both stay. You said it was about your mom.”
            “Fine.” She whipped around on Martin. “But this is serious. You have to be respectful!”
            Martin put up both hands, all innocent. “I’ll give what I get.”
            Mackenzie pushed the front door closed with her shoulder and let Tali go. She gestured to the entry bench. “You can leave your guitar and shoes there. You won’t need them.”
            She nodded a late ‘welcome’ to Wyatt as he kicked off his sneakers.
He gave her a half-smile. “How did it go with Jonathon?”
Mackenzie made a face, “I can’t talk about it. I have to concentrate on what we’re doing.”
“What are we doing, again?” Martin asked, settling his guitar on the bench and lining up his loafers neatly under it.
“Did you hear from her?” Wyatt asked. “Your mom?”
Wyatt had filled Martin in on Mackenzie’s missing mom on the way over, and they both looked at her expectantly.
“Follow me.” The shades were down, and Mackenzie led them along the darkened hallway to her bedroom.
Wyatt took it all in. Unlit candles set up in the four corners; North, South, East, West. Ivory Scrabble game letters A through Z arranged face-up on the back of a game board in the middle of the floor. She’d used black marker on the blank side of ten extra tiles for the numbers 0 to 9. And then on two pieces of paper, she’d drawn a sun with the word ‘Yes’ next to it, and a Moon by the word ‘No.’ There was also a pink plastic heart about the size of Wyatt’s palm, probably an old preschool toy, sitting on the board.
Another unlit candle with three wicks sat on the board, near a pen and paper, and a photo of Mackenzie’s mom laughing – Wyatt remembered that birthday party when Mackenzie had gotten a trampoline – she’d been twelve. Mackenzie’s hair today looked exactly like her Mom’s in the picture: red and super-long.
“We’re going to do a séance.” She told them.
“What?” Wyatt thought for a second that she was joking, but that was a lot of prep for a joke. “Why?”
“Mary had eight séances in the White House. Why more than once if it didn’t work?” Mackenzie lit the vanilla-scented candle on the board. “I think it did work.”
“Doesn’t it need to be dark out?” Wyatt asked.
“Why would ghosts care?” Martin shrugged, walking around the room and checking it out. “They don’t need sunglasses or anything.”
“Not ghosts, spirits.” Mackenzie corrected as she lit the other candles.
Martin picked up a two-sided framed postcard of Machu Picchu, Peru, and turned it over. He read aloud, “Dearest Mackenzie, the Incas were amazing! Hope to show you someday,”
“Hey! That’s personal!” Mackenzie raced over and took the framed postcard from him, re-setting it on her bedside table.
“It was just sitting there...” Martin looked at Wyatt. “The next line was happy birthdays. Not happy birthday.”
“It’s the last card she got from her mom.” Wyatt told him. “Right after she turned thirteen.”
Martin made a face like he’d really messed up. “Sorry…”
“You know what, let’s just focus.” Mackenzie said, heading back to her setup in the middle of the room’s white carpet. “This is a Spirit Board.” She plunged into explaining. They were each to sit on one side of the board, fingertips of both hands on the pink plastic heart, that she called a ‘planchette.’ She gave them strict instructions that they weren’t supposed to move it, but let the spirits move through them.
“You really think you can find out about your mom this way?” Wyatt tried to keep his voice gentle, but this was crazy.
Mackenzie just nodded yes.
Wyatt shared a dubious look with Martin, and they sat down.
“Sensi Jodi in Karate says that if you play a string on a biwa–” Mackenzie started but Martin interrupted her,
“What’s a biwa?”
“It’s like a Japanese guitar.” Mackenzie explained. “Anyway, she was saying that if you play a string on it, it will make the same string vibrate on another biwa. It’s sort of about teamwork and how the dojo has an energy you can tap into.”
Wyatt looked over and caught Martin nodding.
Mackenzie gave a nervous smile. “I’m thinking a séance probably needs an energy, too.”
She took a moment to focus, then sang a clear ‘G’ note. “Ahhh…” She motioned for Wyatt and Martin to join in.
Martin’s lips twitched like he was fighting back a laugh, and she stopped singing and gave him a stern look. “You promised.” She turned to Wyatt. “I’d do this by myself, but I can’t. It won’t work.”
Wyatt gave Martin a ‘come on, let’s try it’ look and they settled back in their places.
“Ahhh…” Mackenzie sang again, and this time they joined her. The air vibrated in harmony.
“Spirits, speak to us!” Mackenzie called out. They fell silent, staring at the plastic heart. “Is my mom there?”
Wyatt thought Mackenzie sounded like she was eight years old again.
They waited a long minute. No response.
“Maybe, ask it in a different way.” Martin suggested.
Mackenzie tried again. “Is there… a message for me?”
Another long wait. Just as Wyatt was about to say he didn’t think it was going to work, their hands slid as the planchette scraped three inches along the board to rest its point against the ‘D’ tile.
Wyatt jerked his hands away like it had burned him. Mackenzie and Martin let go fast, too, knocking some tiles off the board.
Wyatt’s eyes were wide. “I didn’t move it.”
“I didn’t either.” Martin seemed stone-serious now.
Mackenzie’s words sounded like they were squeezed out of her throat. “I know I didn’t.”
Wyatt stood up and paced. “I don’t know, Mackenzie. I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
“Please. I need to know.” Mackenzie blinked hard. “Please, Wyatt.”
Martin reset the letters on the board and gestured with his head for Wyatt to sit down again. “Come on. We said we’d help.”
Wyatt wasn’t happy about it, but he sat. Mackenzie nodded at Martin. She put out trembling fingers to once more join theirs on the planchette.
“Nobody let go.” Martin instructed. “Ask them again.”
Mackenzie spoke the words slowly. “Is. There. A. Message. For. Me?”
Four long seconds passed, and then the planchette swung into action, touching its point at
            It moved faster, and Wyatt saw the hair on Mackenzie’s arms was standing up.
            Mackenzie fought for breath
            Suddenly, the planchette shot off the board, hitting her trash can and making a hollow gong sound.
            Martin scrambled to write it all down.
            “Does it mean something to you?” Martin asked her.
            Mackenzie shook her head.
            The three of them stared at the message.
            It didn’t make any sense. But then, suddenly, Wyatt saw it. He gasped. “Look at it backwards.” He pointed as he spelled it out. “U. R. LOVED.”
            Mackenzie stumbled up with a wild animal scream. Then, her body seemed to crumble. Tears washed her onto her bed and she clutched a pillow to her stomach as waves of loss tossed her about.
            “I know that’s true.” Wyatt sat as close as he could to her, not sure she could hear him over her sobs. “She loves you. Wherever she is, your mom loves you.”
            Mackenzie just kept repeating, “She’s gone – She’s gone – She’s gone –”
            Wyatt held her now, rocking her back and forth. “I know. But she loves you, still.”
            It was all he could think to say, all he could give Mackenzie to hold onto amid the cross currents of grief that wracked her, until finally, exhausted, sleep came for her.

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            Careful to not let the cat out, Wyatt eased the condo door closed and he and Martin headed down to the street. Someone had tilled the dirt around the thorny-fingered cut-back rose bushes in the front planter, and something about the smell reminded Wyatt of a freshly dug grave. He shivered.
            Martin made sure his guitar was wedged carefully on the floor behind the driver’s seat, then got in. The second he’d closed the door and they were alone, Wyatt turned on him. “How could you lie to her like that?”
            “What?” Martin started up his mom’s Volvo to get them back to the B&B. Their moms had agreed he could drive the few blocks as long as they were extra careful.
            “Tell me the truth.” Wyatt crossed his arms and leaned against the door. “You moved the thingy.”
            Martin did a slow three-point turn to get them heading South on Grant before he said anything. “Otherwise, we were just going to sit there all day.”
            “I knew it! Martin, now she thinks her mom is dead!”
            “I didn’t sign it from her mom or anything. It could have been a message from a great-great-grandmother. Or… Cleopatra, for that matter.”
“Ha – ha.”
Martin slowed them down as they got to the four-way stop at 6th Street. “Right?”
            “No, one more. She’s sure the message was from her! Oh, grawww! And I broke your stupid code.” Wyatt pushed Martin’s arm. “I can’t believe you made me part of it!”
            “I’m driving here!” Martin scolded.
            Wyatt rolled his eyes. There was no traffic, they were going about 13 miles an hour, and it wasn’t like he’d punched Martin and made him lose control of the car or anything. He drives like an eighty year old. Wyatt seethed as he directed Martin through the painfully slow sequence of turns. Right on 7th. Left on Hayes. And right again into the B&B lot.
Martin’s foot jerked against the accelerator and the old car staggered into the spot. Wyatt braced himself, hoping they wouldn’t hit the foundation latticework. He didn’t want to have to repair it.
            Once they were safely landed and Martin got the car into park, he asked, “She’s not really going to believe it was her mom, will she?” He sounded a little guilty.
            Wyatt ran a hand through his own hair. “I’m going to have to tell her tomorrow that you lied to her. That we lied to her!”
            “I didn’t. We didn’t. She is loved.” Martin shut the car off. “You love her. Anyone can see that.”
            Wyatt sat up taller and tried to peek sideways. Was Martin maybe… jealous?

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A sampling of Op-Ed Pieces and Headlines From National Papers that Saturday
Queerville Problems in Oregon
            Teen Catches Lincoln With His Pants Down
            If Lincoln Was Alive Today, Would He Get Gay-Married?
            Small Town Re-Writes History One Gay Bed-Bug At A Time
Could Lincoln Be A Hero For A Whole New Generation?
            If Lincoln Had Gay Orgies In Springfield Then Hitler Was Santa Claus’ Brother
            Homosexuals Kill Lincoln… Again!

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Martin was on his laptop in the kitchen, reading Wyatt and his parents the headlines.
            Rhonda walked in, cell phone by her ear. “My contact at the John Stevens Show is calling again… John really wants Wyatt to come on his show.”
            “No!” Wyatt said it fast.
            Martin made a face like Wyatt was making the wrong call, but Wyatt wasn’t going to be set up again. Rhonda left to tell whoever was on the phone that the answer was no. For the third time. No to them and to everyone else who had been asking.
            The B&B line rang. They all froze. It had been non-stop since they had gotten back from Mackenzie’s. Either people screaming at them or cancellations. Wyatt and Martin weren’t allowed to pick it up.
It rang again.
            Wyatt’s dad’s face sagged like a condemned man as he walked over and picked it up on ring number four. He listened. “Yes.” Listened some more. Hung up. And then he just stood there, staring at the phone. Finally, he said, “That’s it.” and pulled the phone jack out of the wall. Then he walked out of the kitchen.
            This is my fault!
            Chair scraping, Wyatt jumped up to follow his dad. He heard him on the stairs. Where was he going?
            Wyatt found him in the Lincoln Room, stripping the sheets off the mattress. His dad usually washed them on the first of the month, but Wyatt guessed he was keeping busy.
The hairs on the pillow! Wyatt remembered in a panic, then found them on the lip of the china wash basin. …Where he’d left them when he’d been in here with Martin. Wyatt’s cheeks blazed just thinking about it. He tipped the hairs into the basin for safe-keeping.
Wyatt’s dad carefully pulled the flat bottom sheet out of the far corner. “Maybe we should call this place something else. Go back to being The Civil War Bed and Breakfast. Sell off all the Lincoln stuff while it’s still worth something.” Wyatt’s dad scanned the room with a sour expression. “Let someone else deal with this headache.”
“But-But…” Wyatt stammered. “What about the bed? Isn’t it always going to be worth a ton?”
His dad folded the sheet on top of the others, in a neater pile than Wyatt did his clean clothes, then crossed the room and shut the door. Wyatt flashed on Martin closing it, and wondered if his dad somehow knew about them being in here yesterday afternoon. If he knew about Wyatt. And then his dad said, “It’s not real.”
Wyatt wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
His dad gestured at the wood bed frame, which seemed naked without its sheets and pillow and quilt. “Well, it’s a real bed. And it’s from the same era, more or less. But it’s not Lincoln’s bed. Not from those years in Springfield. No one knows what happened to that bed.”
Wyatt felt his dad’s words knock the air out of him. “So this whole thing is… a fake?” He had really believed it. And he’d been telling everyone it was real. For years…
“You’ve got to sell people what they want.” His dad said, like that explained it.
Lies. He’d been selling lies. Wyatt had been selling lies.
“Wyatt? You can’t tell your mother.”
He had to get out of the room.
“I never meant for it to make you think Lincoln was gay!” His dad was calling after him, but Wyatt was through the door and already halfway down the stairs.
“You have to understand… Wyatt!”
He let the front door slam behind him, and pumped his legs. Zig-zagged to Grant Street and then down Jenson’s Stream Road. He made a right at the ford, and raced along the bank. Going with the water away from town. Away from everybody.

Away from all the lies.
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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 Twenty-Five? It will be posted on February 23, 2018. 

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