Friday, March 30, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 30

In Chapter Twenty-Nine, Mackenzie helps Wyatt navigate school, speaking to Jonathon (but Wyatt doesn't get to hear what they say.) Mackenzie joins Wyatt, Martin, and Wyatt's folks in the effort to get participants in a new kind of parade, and they get their first few entries... And, when they get the idea of using Wax Lincoln from their B and B in the back of their truck so the new parade will have at least one float, it's the first time Wyatt feels hopeful about pulling this whole thing off.

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

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Okay community, here's Chapter Thirty!

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Chapter 30
Thursday February 12

            Wyatt headed downstairs for breakfast and Martin was already in the kitchen, fiddling by the coffee machine. Probably making himself a warm coffee ice cream.
            “Morning,” Wyatt told his back, and grabbed the generic Cheerios and some milk from the fridge. He smell-checked it, then poured a bowl. He’d just crunched the first bite and sat at the table when Martin came over, hiding something behind his laptop.
            With a flourish, Martin pulled out a rainbow-sprinkle chocolate cupcake and set it in front of Wyatt. A single candle was lit on top. “Happy Lincoln’s birthday!” He winked at Wyatt, then sat and checked something on his computer.
            The cupcake smelled awesome. Way better than Wyatt’s cereal. “Thanks!”
            “Sure.” Martin said, but he kept reading. Was he working on some new lyric?
            Wyatt waited for him to stop whatever he was doing, but Martin didn’t. “You wanna watch me blow it out?” Wyatt asked.
            “I’m just trying to see if I can make something work.” Martin sounded frustrated. And then he was quiet, clacking his keyboard. For a long, long moment. The candle wax dripped onto the frosting like the first big drops of a rainstorm.
            “Sorry, I’m just, distracted. Go ahead.” He didn’t look up from his stupid computer. “There’s lot to do before Saturday.”
            Maybe Martin didn’t like Wyatt that much, after all. Maybe he didn’t care that he and his mom were leaving after the parade. Maybe the friends thing was because that was all Martin wanted them to be. But the cupcake meant… What? Maybe he was supposed to be more worried about the parade. Did Martin think some of their yesses wouldn’t show? That none of them would?
            The candle sputtered in the frosting and Wyatt blew it out, to put it out of its misery. Acrid and waxy, the smoke bit at his nose.
            The cupcake didn’t taste as good as he’d thought it would.

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Friday, February 13

            Mackenzie couldn’t stay to hang out for detention number twenty with Wyatt – too much to do for tomorrow. But it didn’t matter, since, like the day before, Wyatt was the only student in detention. Anyway, Jonathon and his sharks seemed focused on other things, whispering and planning and laughing among themselves. Wyatt didn’t know what they were up to, but they were leaving him alone, which worked for him just fine.
When the fifty-ninth minute clicked over and it was 3:15 p.m., Ms. Valens told Wyatt that he’d paid his dues to society and was free to go.
            Wyatt’s mom was there to pick him up, and the whole five minutes home they added to the punch-list of things still to do for the parade. His mom dictated, “…Check that the portable sinks will arrive with the toilets, and we need to test the sound system.” Wyatt knew he already had those on the list in his notebook, but checked anyway. It helped him not count all the new ‘Lincoln Was Great – Lincoln Was Straight!’ plastic yard signs.
            His mom pulled tight to the curb on the opposite side of the street from their B&B and told Wyatt, voice all relieved, “Some guests have already arrived.”
            “That’s awesome!” Wyatt was thinking that would help them make the bank payment. The plan was working!
            “Wyatt, there is one more thing…” His mom started, but Wyatt was already out of the truck and crossing the street.
“I’ve gotta talk to Martin! Tell me later, okay?” He had an idea for a sign on the truck grill and wanted to see what Martin thought they could make it out of. He took the front porch steps two at a time, and raced the stairs to Martin’s room.
            “Martin!” Wyatt swung open the door to Room Two but some woman was in there with short gray hair. Putting clothes in the drawer.
            “Hi!” She said, all bright and cheerful. “You must be the owners’ son. I’m Betty. Do you think I could get some extra towels?”
            Wyatt’s eyes searched the room. All of Martin’s stuff, and his guitar, had disappeared. He rushed to the bed and ripped up the blanket and all the sheets from their tight corner, exposing the blue and ivory ticking of the mattress. The dust-mite-proof cover was gone.
            Maybe Martin had doubled up with his mom so they could book the extra room…
            Wyatt ran down the hall to Room One. It was empty. Rhonda and the computers, the printer and satellite hook-up modems, all their things were gone.
            Wyatt almost tumbled down the stairs. His mom was standing in the entry, like she had known he’d come down.
            “Where’d they go?” It was hard for him to breathe.
            His mom shrugged sympathetically. “All they said was that there was something they had to do.”
            “So they’re just… gone?” Wyatt’s voice cracked. They’d said they’d stay until the parade!
His mom came over and put her hand on his arm. “With all the people coming, and things set for tomorrow, they knew we’d be okay. Maybe they just went to help someone else.”
But… They’d worked so hard to make this happen. To do this together! Maybe Martin had texted him. Wyatt checked his cell. Nothing.
He must have left a note!
            Wyatt tore up the stairs to his room, scanning the floor for an envelope. Some explanation. Another ‘Yours Forever.’
            He scoured the room, went through the laundry piles, turned things over on his desk, even pulled out the window seat cushions.
            The top comforter on his bed was all smoothed out, though. Weird. He never bothered to do that.
            Wyatt walked over, and there on the pillow, folded into a square, was the super ‘G’ T-shirt. Blue and tie-dyed and proud. The one that looked so great on Martin.
            But that was it.
            Wyatt picked it up, and held it to his face. He breathed it in deep, but it didn’t smell like Martin, just faintly of detergent and fabric softener. Like fingerprints wiped clean.
            He was gone.
            Martin was gone.
The parade was tomorrow at 9 a.m. In sixteen-and-a-half hours, Wyatt would either be eaten alive by sharks or he’d have to beat them off with his bare hands. Alone.
            I guess it’s easy to drop a ‘friend.’
            Wyatt felt hollowed out inside, like some guitar robbed of its strings. Mute.
He dialed Mackenzie, speaking past the lump in his throat. “Hey, we’ve still got a lot of work to do to finish the float. Come over to help?”
            “Hi…” Mackenzie sounded preoccupied. “I’m actually really swamped with homework. 3,000 words is a challenge.” Wyatt would have bet money she meant keeping it that short. Their papers were due Monday, but Wyatt wasn’t even going to bother. There was no way Mr. Clifton was going to pass him, even if he had the world’s most perfect paper.
            “Oh. Okay.” He hated that he sounded like a little kid, all disappointed.
            “…But I can be over as soon as I finish this draft.” Mackenzie said.
            “When’s that?”
            “How about I’ll come over for an hour or two around 9 p.m.?”
            Wyatt checked the time on his phone. Four-and-a-half hours from now. He sighed. “I guess. I’ll see you then.”

* *

            Around 6 p.m., Wyatt helped his dad carry out wax-Lincoln, being careful with the right-arm-that’s-out-to-shake. They had filled every room of the B&B. A few of their guests were couples – one of them two guys in their 30s with matching wedding rings – and nearly all of them had offered to pitch in with decorating the pickup. They set wax-Lincoln up, standing in the back of the truck. There was no way to anchor him, so Wyatt would ride along to make sure Lincoln didn’t tip over.
            An hour later, Betty splurged and ordered pizza for everyone so they could ‘keep at it.’ They still had to make thousands of little waxed paper flowers to stuff in the chicken-wire that, along with the painted two-by-fours, created an arbor that arced high over Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. More chicken-wire draped the moving blankets they’d placed around the sides of the truck, and that needed more six-inch squares of waxy colored paper stuffed through every bee-hive-like gap in the wire. Wyatt’s dad and mom seemed grateful that they didn’t have to figure out feeding everyone, and Wyatt was sent along to help their guest pick up the pizzas. She didn’t believe in delivery – “It always gets soggy.”
            “Just over here on the right,” Wyatt directed. As Betty pulled her BMW into the Pies and Pool lot, Wyatt saw the plastic ‘Lincoln Was Great – Lincoln Was Straight!’ ad in the small patch of grass in front. They were all over town now, a spreading plague of yard signs.
            They parked and headed to the entrance. Betty pressed her key remote and her trunk popped open. In one swift move, she yanked out the lawn sign, crossed the asphalt and tossed it in the back of her car, shutting the trunk with a quiet click. The whole maneuver took five seconds. The sign was gone, with no one the wiser. She winked at Wyatt as she walked back.
            Wyatt opened the front door for her with a bow. She’d earned it.
            The place was packed, pool balls clacking and air filled with the smell of beer hops and melted cheese. The first person Wyatt saw was Charlie, who was suddenly blocking his way. Charlie’s sneer was a mirror image of Jonathon. “Hey, it’s the big fag!”
            Wyatt felt braver with Betty there beside him. “I’m not just bigger. I’m better at it than you.”
            Betty’s snort emboldened Wyatt, and he walked around a speechless Charlie and led them towards the takeout counter in back.
“Nicely done, yourself.” Betty praised him, and Wyatt wished Martin had seen that. He shook his head, trying to push thoughts of Martin away when he heard Coach Rails laugh. He was talking with Mr. Asgur, who hosted the summer Civil War re-enactments on his farm. Mayor Rails was with her husband at one of the wooden booths. Becca sat with her parents, fiddling with her phone. Wyatt didn’t see Jonathon, but if Charlie and Jonathon’s family were here, chances were he was somewhere.
Wyatt kept going, wary…
From the pool table on the other side of the Mayor’s booth, Mr. Anderson from the bank called out, “So, Kelly, is there going to be a parade after all?” He was the guy putting the squeeze on Wyatt’s dad and mom.
Mayor Rails shook her head. “Nothing but a few stragglers.”
“Parade brought in a lot of business.” Mr. Anderson said.
Mayor Rails bristled. “The main thing is to get our town’s reputation back.”
Mr. Anderson’s tone got sharper. “Do you know what this whole thing is costing us?”
Coach Rails snorted. “If he knew how much you spent on that Mary Lincoln dress you’re not wearing tomorrow, he’d know for sure.”
They didn’t spot Wyatt, and he walked past fast.
Jonah, a college dropout who worked the counter as he pursued his dream of being a painter, waved as Wyatt and Betty approached. “Good timing, Wyatt! It just came out of the oven.” He started to ring up the order.
Betty pulled out her wallet and asked Wyatt, “Shouldn’t we say something about the parade?”
“No,” Wyatt whispered back. “Let’s just get the pizzas and get out of here.”
She made a frustrated face. Jonah set the five pizza boxes on the counter and Betty handed over her credit card.
“So maybe we need a different strategy.” Mr. Anderson was still arguing with Jonathon’s mom.
“What’s your pride cost, Benny?” The Mayor stood up, soda in hand. “Listen up everyone!” People quieted down. “We’re a tourist economy and look around: No tourists! The only important thing going on this weekend is getting us back on our feet. Save Lincoln’s reputation and our town. Nothing else matters!”
Betty smacked her palm against the counter, “That’s it!”
“I’ll wait for you outside.” Wyatt grabbed the pizzas.
He’d passed Jonah’s canvas of a dog playing internet poker and was half-way out the side door when Betty said, loud enough for the whole place to hear, “Actually, there IS something else important going on this weekend. An amazing parade, celebrating the real Abraham Lincoln!”
Oh man…
The sound of people shouting stopped when the door closed behind him. Wyatt was trying to figure out if he should go back inside to rescue this crazy woman when he noticed there were two people in the Mayor’s Hummer parked right in front of him. They were kissing.
He stepped closer. Who was in there?
It was Jonathon… but that chin-length black hair…
They didn’t see him, and Wyatt backed away slowly, like it was another basket of snakes he didn’t want to tip over.
He’d wait for Betty by her car.

* *

            Betty came out five minutes later, face flushed. “Idiots!”  She shook her head at Wyatt.
            “Yeah.” Wyatt managed, keeping the pizza boxes between him and the Mayor’s Hummer. They were still kissing!
            He got them back to the B&B, and while Betty told everyone what had happened and they all dove into the pizzas, Wyatt wandered upstairs. He passed Room Two.
            Where was Martin? He could call, but damn it, shouldn’t Martin be the one calling him? He knew the parade was tomorrow. Wyatt was so pissed at him! He grabbed his cell.

                        Wyatt                          7:24 p.m.
                        dude! where the hell are u?

            Of course, no response.
            Wyatt’s mind careened. And Mackenzie and Jonathon! She’d lied to him. How long had they been…?
He’d had this whole plan with Mackenzie and Martin to sell the cardboard Lincoln hats during the parade to help Wyatt’s family raise the money to stay in business, and now neither of them…
            His heart pounded and Wyatt felt like he might throw up. He texted Mackenzie, too.

                        Wyatt                          7:26 p.m.
                        i saw u and Jonathon. don’t
                        show up 2night. or 2morrow.
                        or ever.

            He hit send, and then shut his phone off. He was done, and didn’t want to hear from either of them.
            Martin was gone, and Mackenzie was making out with the enemy.
            Heading downstairs, he could hear all the guests in the parking lot just behind the kitchen, where they were decorating the pickup. It sounded like a party.
Wyatt walked over to his soldier. Still cute. Unchanged. Wyatt spoke to him, “It all finishes tomorrow, I guess. Wish me luck?”  His soldier just smiled out at him from 150 years ago. Frozen in time.
He was just a photo.
Wyatt turned away. He had to do this himself. He could sell the hats right after the parade. That was, if anyone was going to be there to buy them.
There were five boxes of the souvenir Lincoln hats stacked in the corner behind reception. They needed to get to the truck. He tried to lift the first one, but it was way too heavy for cardboard and glue. Wyatt opened it and it wasn’t hats – instead it was all these old books. He’d been supposed to check out how much they were worth online, but hadn’t gotten around to it.
            Wyatt hauled out the over-thousand-page book on top, Photographic History of The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Gettysburg.
            There on the cover was the photo. Flipped, or something. And cropped differently – all the guys in the background, behind the group of eleven, were missing. But there was his soldier. His gay fantasy soldier on the cover. Who was he?
            Wyatt scoured the jacket flaps, but there was no info about the cover image. It had to be in there somewhere. He flipped through the pages one-by-one from the beginning. Battlefields, tents, portraits of generals, injured soldiers in makeshift hospitals. He found the photo just like the one in their display case on page 47. The caption read:
            The first Virginia Militia, the “Richmond Grays,” answered the call. They did not take part in the final capture of Brown, but they did arrive in Charles Town, Virginia, in time to form a hollow square around a gallows where old John Brown was hanged after his trial.
…One of their number present was John Wilkes Booth, an actor.

            My soldier was a Confederate? On his way to the hanging of a guy who’d tried to free the slaves? And in the same regiment as John Wilkes Booth?
            It was hard to process that he’d been crushing on a Confederate soldier all these years. He’d been so sure the soldiers in the photo were Union… Wyatt looked past their antique rifles at his soldier. Knowing all that, he wasn’t so hot anymore.
            Maybe he was a gay Confederate. There had to have been some.
            But I’m fighting for the right side. Fighting to redeem Lincoln. Fighting to reclaim our gay history.
            Determination flooded through him. I guess… I really am a fighting soldier. The thought made Wyatt crack a smile.
He checked the other four boxes – they all had the Lincoln hats inside them. He grabbed a carton and hefted it easily. He’d stack them in the back of the pickup for tomorrow, and then help everyone finish transforming their truck into one amazing parade float.

* *

            At 11:10 p.m., the adults called it a night. Wax-Lincoln looked good under his arbor, waxed paper flowers hid all the chicken wire, and the home-made float was ready. The conversation and hot drinks moved inside to the kitchen.
            Wyatt let ten minutes pass and slipped out the front door, walking around the house to the pickup. Careful to not let anyone see him from the kitchen, he loaded his backpack with the brushes he’d washed out earlier and six pints of paint from the supplies. He gave wax-Lincoln under his plastic tarp a salute and headed out.
            The moon wasn’t up yet, and Wyatt kept his flashlight’s circle of light close to the ground. He remembered sneaking out with Martin the last time. How they had been a team. But he guessed, when the going got really tough, Martin just left. Like when he’d bailed on his old school and started homeschooling. Anyway, Wyatt was just a friend. Easy to discard. Pushing the thought down, he crossed the ford stones.
            Wyatt stayed on Jenson’s Stream Road to cut across the soccer field. Easier this way, with the heavy bag and flashlight.
            He got to the School Rock, still shouting out its message of hate,


            One-by-one, in the light from the gym, Wyatt pulled out his containers of paint and set them in a line on the grass: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple.
            What this rock needed was a big Gay Pride Rainbow.

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Endnotes for Chapter 30
When Wyatt discovers that his soldier was actually a Confederate, it's inspired by a real photo from the Photographic History of the Civil War: Fort Sumter to Gettysburg, Edited by William C. David and Bell I. Wiley, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Jan 1994. The photo and caption are on page 47 as cited, and a version of the photo including Wyatt’s soldier is on the cover. 

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