Friday, February 23, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 25

The kickstarter to empower LGBTQ Teens by funding both the professional publishing of "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" AND the donation of  400 paperback copies of the novel to LGBTQ and Allied Teens has passed it's goal! Now, we're seeing how many more LGBTQ and Allied Teens we can empower! Please join in, and visit my Kickstarter Project here:

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In Chapter Twenty-Four, Mackenzie's Dad (doing his best impression of a police officer) shows up to question Wyatt about the vandalism, but Martin's mom calls his bluff. Mackenzie reaches out to Wyatt to help her conduct a seance to figure out if her mom is alive, and if not, if her mother has a message for her. Martin tags along, and there is a message for Mackenzie during the seance... just not what anyone expected – certainly not Wyatt. And then, when Wyatt and Martin get back to the B&B, there's the shocking revelation of what Wyatt's dad has done...

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

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Okay community, here's Chapter Twenty-Five!

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Chapter 25
Sunday January 25

            After thirty minutes, Wyatt was way downstream, and his run down-shifted to a walk. The bank on this side wasn’t much more than a footpath, and that petered out at a jumble of boulders up ahead. They formed an eight-foot waterfall that dropped into a swimming-deep pool before the stream narrowed down again. It wasn’t dramatic enough to be on any tours, but it was pretty beautiful all the same.
            He’d miss this when he got to San Francisco. Or maybe New York.
            Wyatt climbed over the rocks, still out of breath as he picked his way down the far side. The off-center flat stone in the pool was bright with sun, too far to get to without swimming. A flash of silver in the water caught his eye. A Steelhead.
            He was already all sweaty.
            Wyatt kicked off his muddy too-small sneakers, stripped down to his boxers, and put his clothes high on a rock. He was starting to feel cold, but he couldn’t think about it too much or he wouldn’t do it.
            “Aaahhhh!” With a shout he long-jumped in, and it was like some crazy ice-plunge as the water swallowed him up. Thrashing to the surface, he whipped the hair out of his eyes. Arms pumping, Wyatt kicked fast, and the ripples didn’t stop him. Six strokes and he pulled himself up on the flat boulder, baked in the sun. The air cooled down his wet skin and Wyatt shivered. But the sun was bright and hot. He looked around. This place was hidden in the woods, and even in the middle of summer, it was rare to see anyone – only the occasional hikers. And while it was warm for January, it was January. Wyatt listened carefully, but there was only the rush and fall of water. The high ta-ta-tah-ta trill of some red-winged blackbirds. The drip of his wet hair on the rock. He was alone.
            Go for it.
Stripping off his boxers, Wyatt wrung them and spread them out in the sun next to him. He lay back.
            The wash of it.
            The sun on his body, on his closed eyelids.
            And he unknotted, bit by bit.
            The bed was fake. His ‘proof’ was fake.
            But Lincoln was gay. Or bi. Or whatever you called it, he’d been in love with Joshua. Even if they didn’t have the bed. The letters proved it! And when Wyatt had gone to the online site for the Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois, there had been photos showing that Abe and Mary not only had separate beds, but separate bedrooms! But Abe and Joshua had shared a bed, even if it wasn’t that one, for four years.
            Wyatt started to warm up.
            Their whole town and everyone in it was being called gay. Queerville. And everyone was blaming Wyatt. But all he was doing was telling the truth about history.
            The solidness of the rock under him made him feel like he was solid, too. If only there was some way to make this part of Oregon gay-friendly so he wouldn’t have to move to a big city to be himself… That would be the fantasy.
            He inhaled the mineral-rich smell of the water. The mud on the bank. Squinting his eyes open, he caught the kaleidoscope of greens and browns all around him. Wyatt leaned back again and let the sun, radiant, fill him up.
            It felt good to be this free. Not hiding, not even behind clothes. And lying here, Wyatt didn’t feel vulnerable being naked. He felt powerful.
            His thoughts went to how his parents were on the defensive. How he’d been on the defensive, his whole life. It was maybe a way to avoid losing too badly, but defense was not how you won the game – any game. You won with offense.
            Wyatt sat up. He wasn’t even all dry yet, but he knew what he had to do. Holding his boxers high, he slipped back into the freezing water and swam-kicked to the bank. Dripping, he grabbed his cell phone out of his jeans pocket and speed-dialed Legal Advocates of Oregon.
            Rhonda picked up. “Hello? Wyatt?”
            “Can we sue them?” Wyatt asked her, toweling off with his sweatshirt and trying to not get the phone too wet.
            “What? Slow down.”
            “We should sue all of them – Principal Jackson, Mayor Rails, the school board, the people who write the history books! I mean, they’re all lying about Lincoln!”
            “If there’s any doubt about that, and there is, you have no case.” Rhonda said.
            “I don’t have any doubt!”
            She was quiet a moment. Wyatt tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder and pulled on his jeans. Finally, she said, “Answering their frivolous lawsuit with our own isn’t my style. It just alienates the same judges you want on your side another day.”
            Wyatt plopped down on a boulder. “But then how are we going to play offense? How are we ever going to win?”
            “We do what Civil Rights Activists do: Speak Truth to Power. And trust that Truth is our strongest weapon. We can talk about it more tonight.”
            Wyatt mumbled, “yeah,” but what was the point of talking any more if she wasn’t going to do it? His thumb was on ‘end call’ when he heard her again.
            “Wyatt? You’re doing it with your blog.”
            He hung up and pulled the rest of his clothes on, thinking about what she’d said.
            Truth to Power?
            He wasn’t. Not completely.
            He’d been telling the truth on the one hand and lying on the other. Just like Lincoln.
But, maybe, the truth about Abe and Joshua was strong enough on its own. Wyatt stood up, nerves jangling with energy at the thought. If the truth didn’t need the bed to still be true, and it didn’t… Maybe, it didn’t need him, either.
And that meant… he had the chance to do something Abraham Lincoln never did.

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            As Wyatt jogged back, carrying his wet boxers and sweatshirt, he decided to head past the School Rock. It was Sunday, no one would be there, and he’d get to check out their ‘Abe Lincoln Loved Joshua Speed’ in giant green and white letters. Charge him up to do this.
            Moving got Wyatt warm again, and he crossed over at the ford and cut up the ravine. The parking lots and outdoor basketball court were empty, and the place seemed abandoned. Wyatt slowed down as he neared the corner of the gym – he didn’t want to run into a big group of people by the rock. He just needed to see it for himself.
            He peeked around the corner to scope it out. No cars. No people. But the School Rock had been completely repainted. The whole thing. A light brown.
            Wyatt walked out slowly to the giant piece of caramel on the lawn. A few flecks of green and white paint were still on the grass, but otherwise, it was like what he and Martin had painted  last night had never been there.
            They had erased it. Like the truth about Abe had always been erased.
            Wyatt spun around and broke into a run.
            He was not going to be erased.

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            Wyatt paused just outside Martin’s doorway. Martin was playing his guitar and singing softly, like he was figuring out the words as he went along.
“Two lovers on their way
one wore blue and one wore gray
with their love locked safe away…”
He stopped, then strummed the opening chord and tried again, voice shimmering,
 “Two lovers on their way
one wore blue and one wore gray
 no one knew that they were gay…”
Sitting on the bed, Martin leaned forward to type on his laptop. He glanced over and saw Wyatt standing there. “Hey!” He hit a key and a screen saver popped up.
“Sounding good,” Wyatt told him, but his eyes were on the transformed computer screen. It showed an old-fashioned painting of… Wyatt moved closer to make sure. It was! Some naked guys by a river! Did Martin know he had just…? “What’s that?”
“Still trying to work out new lyrics for the ‘Two Brothers’ song.”
“No,” Wyatt’s eyes drew a line to the naked guys. “That.”
Martin turned and saw what Wyatt was staring at. “Thomas Eakins. Don’t laugh, but it’s called Swimming Hole.”
Wyatt could only imagine how much a guy could get teased for that.
He leaned in to study it. It wasn’t… sexual, they just weren’t wearing clothes. It was a bunch of guys hanging out. Swimming. Being themselves.
Wyatt put a hand on Martin’s arm. “Dude, you know I’m…?” It was so hard to knock down the wall he had spent forever building.
Martin pulled off his guitar and stood to face him. “You can say it, Wyatt. I am, too.”
“Okay.” Tears were in his eyes and Wyatt whispered it. “I’m gay.”
Martin put out his arms and Wyatt fell into him, sobbing. He didn’t have to hold it all in so tight anymore.
After a minute, Wyatt pulled back, wiped his nose with his sleeve. “I need to tell my folks.” He checked out the painting on Martin’s computer screen again. “They look… free.”
Martin didn’t take his eyes off Wyatt. “Yeah, I think they are.”

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            “You sure you want us here?” Martin whispered as Wyatt led him and Rhonda down the corridor to the living room where Wyatt had his dad and mom waiting.
            With Rhonda, who accepted her gay son, and Martin there with him, Wyatt figured it was insurance against his dad and mom freaking out too badly. They couldn’t disown him, or kick him out, or tell him they hated him – with witnesses. At least… that was the plan.
            Wyatt bobbed his head nervously. “Yeah.”
            Telling Rhonda had taken two minutes. He’d gotten a hug, and a little advice. “You might need to give them some time to get used to the idea. Think how long it took you to feel good about it.” But Wyatt couldn’t stop and think. This was like jumping into the stream – he had to do it fast or he’d get cold feet.
            Wyatt’s dad and mom looked up as they entered, and before Martin and Rhonda could even sit, Wyatt blurted it out: “I’m gay.”
            The room was silent. For what seemed like forever.
            Wyatt stole a glance at his dad, who had stopped restacking the wood in the iron log holder. Then, Wyatt took a quick peek at his mom in the lounge chair by the glass bookcase. They seemed afraid to move – like they were china and might break.
            “It’s not actually a bad thing…” Wyatt’s words faded out. He wanted to scream, disappear, explode. Was this the end of everything he knew? Were they going to hate him now? Would he lose them? Why didn’t they say anything?
            Wyatt’s dad cleared his throat. Twice. “So, this whole Lincoln thing was your way of…?
            “I don’t know.” Wyatt stood there, squirming. “It’s true, about Lincoln and Speed, and I thought it was like… a way to see how it would go?”
            “And it’s gone so spectacularly well, that now you’re telling us you’re gay, too?” His dad tossed the log he was holding onto the stone hearth, THUNK.
            Oh no.
            “Well, maybe it hasn’t gone that well, but… more people know the truth about Lincoln, at least.” Wyatt’s voice got really soft. “I wanted you to know about me, too.”
            “But, what about Mackenzie?” His mom asked, like she knew Wyatt was wrong. About who he was.
            Wyatt shook his head. “We were just friends.” Now wasn’t the time to feel guilty about Mackenzie and how he’d lied to her, too. About himself, and the séance. Blood pounded in his ears.
            His dad sighed. He and Wyatt’s mom exchanged a silent look, but it was parent-language, and Wyatt couldn’t read it. Had they expected this? Or had he hid it too well all these years?
            What were they going to do?
            “Lincoln did the right thing.” His dad started.
            No – the right thing by being closeted? By never speaking his truth? Wyatt’s eyes burned.
            His dad continued, “…Even when it wasn’t popular.” And then, his dad’s mouth slowly wrenched into a pained smile. “Maybe you learned that lesson better than I did.” He exhaled, buzzing his lips. “I guess, better to know the truth now than never.”
            What? Was he talking about the bed or Wyatt?
            His dad continued. “Gay or not, I’ll always admire President Lincoln. And I’ll always love you.”
            Wyatt didn’t want to ask it, but he had to. “Even if we lose this place because of me?”
            His dad looked right at him. “Even if this B&B comes crashing down around our ears.”
            “But, it’s your dream…”
            His dad shook his head, and gazed up as if seeing the whole building around them. “Maybe this will never be the success I want it to be. But my son? My Wyatt?” His dad’s voice caught for a moment. “You will never cease to make me proud.”
            He put his arms out, and then Wyatt did something he hadn’t done since he was a little kid. He rushed into them, wanting the reassurance of the hug, wanting to know it would all be okay.
            “Why are you wet?” his dad asked, but Wyatt just laughed and held him tighter.
“It’s going to be such rougher seas for you.” Wyatt’s mom stared into the empty fire grate. “I always thought that if I could just avoid making waves, my boat would never capsize. And I wanted that for you, too.” She scoffed. “But it doesn’t even work for me.”
She stood up, awkward. “I think my mother’s sister was a lesbian.”
“Great Aunt Freida?” Wyatt was stunned.
His mom shrugged. “She lived with this other woman for more than thirty years.”
“How come I’ve never heard this story?” Wyatt asked.
“Well, they didn’t advertise it.” His mom said. “You met Shara at the funeral.”
Wyatt had no idea which old woman it had been. But it blew his mind to know that even in their family, he wasn’t the only one…
Wyatt’s mom picked up the log from the hearth and placed it carefully with the others in the holder. “There are going to be so many mean, uneducated people to deal with...” She turned to Wyatt, wiping bark debris from her hands. “Are you ready for that?”
“I don’t know,” Wyatt said. “I guess… I have to be.”
We have to be.” His mom corrected. “And we will. Together.”
            Wyatt put out his arm and his mom stepped into the hug, letting her fancy blouse get wet against him. Her right arm clenched Wyatt’s ribs so fiercely it hurt, but there was no way he was going to complain.
            “I love you, Sweetie.” His mom said, her voice hoarse in his ear. “You’re my son, and I love you.”
            Wyatt managed to squeak the words out, “I love you guys, too.” He told himself to not cry. That this was a good thing. But his face was wet all the same.
            Standing by the door, Rhonda found Martin’s hand and squeezed it tight. He squeezed back as they watched.
            After a long moment of the ice thawing inside Wyatt, his dad held him out at arm’s length. “Now, you go take a hot shower. You’re shivering.” Wyatt didn’t even know he was.
            But it didn’t matter. He had told them. And it was okay.

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            Wyatt was all warm again and almost done toweling dry when he heard the knock on the outside of the bathroom door. “Wyatt?”
            Martin. His voice was tender. Wyatt double-knotted the towel around his waist.
            “I’m really happy for you. It took me three days to get to the hug.” He was just on the other side of the door.
But they didn’t need a door, or anything, between them anymore. Wyatt just had to be brave enough to act on what he’d finally said. His heart jackhammered in his chest.
There was a long pause, and then Martin said, “Congratulations, man.”
Do it! Wyatt held his towel tight with his left hand and with his right, whipped the bathroom door open. Martin was right there, his deep brown eyes meeting Wyatt’s. Wyatt leaned forward, lips together, to get a real first kiss…
“Whoa! Not so fast, astronaut.” Martin blocked him with a hand on Wyatt’s chest, pushing him back.
What about spooning in the not-Lincoln bed? Their hands touching in Martin’s room? The almost-kiss by the School Rock? “But I thought, now…?” Wyatt could feel his face get hot.
“You’re like travelling at supersonic speed. You just came out to other people for the first time. To me, my mom, your parents! Give that half a minute to sink in.”
“But I want to kiss you!” Wyatt did. He’d never been able to say it out loud before, and it sounded good. He wanted to know what it was like. He tried to lean over Martin’s hand, get his face next to his. Martin felt it too, didn’t he, this thing between them?
Martin’s hand, warm against Wyatt’s chest, held him away.
“Don’t you like me?” Wyatt was so confused.
“Yeah, but right now, you’d kiss a frog if it was gay.”
Wyatt tried to make a joke of it. “I hear some frogs turn into Princes!”
But Martin was all serious. “I don’t want to be wanted just because I’m the only other gay guy you know. That you’ve ever met. I want to be wanted for me.”
“I do!”
“Wyatt.” Martin stepped back, hand leaving Wyatt’s skin. The place over Wyatt’s heart where it had been was suddenly cold. Empty. “For now, let’s just be friends.”
Wyatt’s face must have betrayed him, because Martin said right away, like he didn’t want to hurt Wyatt’s feelings too much, “Good friends. And… let’s see where it goes.”
So Wyatt didn’t get his first real kiss.
All he got was his first gay ‘let’s be friends’ kiss-off.
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Endnotes for Chapter 25
Wyatt considers how Abe and Mary had separate bedrooms in their home, in contrast to Abe and Joshua sharing Joshua’s bed for four years. You can see the online photos of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois (showing Abe and Mary’s different bedrooms) here:
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